|Tracking in the snow|
The Sieben Four Adventure
By Marylu Weber
At one mile above sea-level, winter comes early to the Sieben Live Stock Company ranch nestled in the foothills of the Big Belt Mountains of Montana. The four wild young stallions that had been purchased from Theodore Roosevelt National Park had been gelded and kept together in a large corral separated from the ranch headquarters so they could adjust to ranch life gradually. They had plenty to eat and drink, but something in their hearts must have been drawing them back to the wild. One day in early winter while having lunch at Cooper Hibbard’s house, Iain Davis saw that Sage, Hawthorne, and Peace Pipe were on the wrong side of the fence around their corral. Tomahawk was still inside but running back and forth trying to figure out how the others had gained freedom. Iain watched as Tomahawk too jumped the narrow space between the wooden gate and the gatepost and all four galloped up the hill behind the corrals. When a couple of them dropped their heads to graze Iain hoped they would stay on the sunny slope about ¾ of a mile from the corral complex. With any luck he could somehow lure them back into the corrals, but the young horses had other ideas and within the hour disappeared over a high ridge into what was wild, rugged breaks filled with all sorts of wildlife, including bears and mountain lions.
Iain took two bales of good hay up the mountain to entice the horses back or maybe even catch them there. Hawthorne, always the tamer of the four, came with the others behind him. Iain was able to get within 100 yards of them, but it was too much pressure for the wilder horses and they all ran farther into the rough country. As more snow came Iain was able to track the horses but never get close to them. Several times he saw the tracks of mountain lions following the horses. Fascinated with the mountain lion tracks and how the dust from the barren areas the cat had walked on would drop off onto the snow tracks, Iain took his phone out and took a few pictures of the large tracks. As he crouched there in the snow, intrigued with the size of the tracks and the dust encircling each indentation from the cat’s pads, he noticed that the wind was quickly blowing the dust away. The cat must have been in that very spot only minutes earlier. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to be crouching in the snow so soon after the cat had passed that way; maybe he was being watched at that very moment. After all a pocket knife wasn't much of a weapon against a mountain lion. With the hair standing up on the back of his neck and being much more aware of possible hiding spots for the big cats, Iain hiked back out to the safety of the ranch, deciding the wild horses would have to fend for themselves or come back to the safety of the corrals on their own.
It was almost three months since the horses had run away to freedom. Efforts to bring them back were scrapped because of the weather and the difficulty in traversing the back country in winter. Would the ranchers ever see those four ungrateful equines again? They could travel for 100s of miles if they wanted to. Would they starve or become dinner for the mountain lions? It was anyone’s guess, but toward spring some hunters reported seeing horses not too far from the corral complex so this time Iain baited his corral with hay, a mare in heat, and later another gelding. The adventurous boys seemed to long for the company of the mare and her companion and gradually came back to the corral. Seeing that they were hanging around by the corrals Iain was able to sneak in, open the corral gate, run down the fence line, and hide so that he could close the gate again if he was lucky enough to have them go in. One by one the wary young horses entered the corral and went to eating the delicious hay. The adventure was over and, though a little thin, they had all survived winter blizzards, pawing through drifts for forage, eating snow for water, and the teeth of the big cats. It was no different than life in the Badlands of North Dakota to the four wild horses, but the cowboys on the ranch were not going to take any more chances, the four were separated and put with four groups of domestic saddle horses so that they were not drawn to the wild country any more.That was the end of their adventure, but not the end of their story.
|showing the size of this track|
|showing the dust in the track|
|The horses disappeared over the hills to the right.|