There recently was a news article in the Missoulian about the wild horses up Eight Mile, northeast of Stevensville. That got me to thinking about my own family’s connection with those horses. I talked with my brothers to get their take on the story and see what they remembered. Tom didn’t remember much but then he wasn’t really into horses. Dean, on the other hand, had a very good memory of those horses and the ones that our dad and Uncle Sam brought home from up Eight Mile.
Our dad, Paul Jaques, and his half brother, Sam Wicker, bought and sold horses all their lives. From dude and pack strings at Sam’s Spotted Bear Lodge up the South Fork of the Flathead to bringing young horses to the remount station just east of Perma, up by Plains, they were always looking for horses to buy and sell. They gathered horses off of Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake. They bought, broke and sold horses during World War II. This jaunt up Eight Mile for horses was probably their last venture, and adventure, together as Uncle Sam died shortly after Dad brought the horses home.
My folks moved to the Bitterroot from the Big Draw up by Elmo in about 1948. My grandparents had purchased a small ranch west of Victor and Mom and Dad lived on it. They raised a small herd of beef cows, milked about 30 cows for the cheese factory in Hamilton, and of course had horses. There was a small corral for the milk cows that butted up against the barn but that was the extent of the corrals at that time. The corral was made out of rails and was about six feet high.
Dad and Sam went and rounded up the horses and brought home about eight or nine head. (Neither Dean nor Tom knew much about the round up or how they got the horses home.) They brought the horses home and turned them out on the west side of the barn. Dean said a couple of days later, he and Dad went out to bring them in. They were horseback and were running the wild herd into the corral. The horses rounded the barn, went into the corral and sailed right up and over the other side of the corral and galloped up the hill to trees.
Well, that meant that before any more work would be done with the horses, the corral needed to be made taller. Dad and the boys went to the woods where they brought home not rails but logs and rebuilt the corral. It was now about 10 feet tall and made with logs that were anywhere from 18 to 24 inches in diameter. The posts were even bigger with one being about three feet around and sunk deep in the ground for a snubbing post.
The construction of the new corral took quite a while so these horses were in the pasture and still snorty as could be. Mom told the story of how fascinated I was with them and was always watching them from the yard, which was fenced in. I was only two but one day I got out and followed them, along with my dog Bounce. Mom said she saw me up trailing the horses with the dog at my heels. I was still in diapers and had shucked my pants, and my diaper as I followed the horses who stayed just ahead of me, never chasing me. Another time I was in the bed of the pickup as Dad was feeding. By then the horses were not as afraid of people and would come to the pickup during feeding time. Dad looked away just as one horse stuck his head over the side of the pickup. When Dad looked back, I had my arms up around the horse’s neck. That really scared Dad but never bothered me a bit!
Once the corral was finished, Dad and Dean set about breaking the horses. I say breaking because at that time, that was what it was called, breaking a horse to ride. Because they were wild, there was a lot of ground time where the horse was gentled by sacking out (flipping a gunny sack over the horse and hitting it with the sack), and snubbing the horse to a broke horse and letting it buck until it quit. Dad did the initial riding but Dean and Tom had their riding to do too.
Although the horses were to be sold, each one of us kids was given a horse. Dean got a gray horse named Butch. Tom had one too but he didn’t really remember its name. Even though I was only two, Dad gave me a pretty copper colored mare and I named her Penny. Unfortunately, Penny never really lost her wild streak and two years later, Dad traded her to Wally Weber for the horse Buck who was the best horse ever.
Dean and Butch made quite a pair. That gray horse taught him a lot of things that made Dean the horseman he is now. Dean was 11 at the time he broke him out and he kept the horse for a few years before selling him and starting on two more horses. (Dad’s only advice for us was never to marry a horse, they were always for sale.)
These horses may have come from the Zumwalt ranch which was up Miller Creek. Oral Zumwalt was a rodeo producer and held a big rodeo up there every Mother’s Day. His horses were well known and perhaps the best known of all was Trails End, a saddle bronc. We would go to the rodeo every year and watch as they bucked the flaxen maned sorrel out and then unsaddle him. I watched in awe as some young kid from the audience was chosen to get up on him and ride him. He was as gentle as could be. I remember Dad saying that Trails End came from the same herd of horses as Butch and Penny.
Horses have always been a part of our lives and this is just one more story from my family’s history.