Norm Schuchard

photo courtesy of the Missoulian

House and Horns

by Norman Schuchard

I was cowboying at the Haymaker Ranch north of Two Dot in the mid 70s. The owner bought 1700 yearling calves every spring. We fed them hay until May and then put them out on grass and watched them through the summer.

Jack Walls was the foreman. I was the cowboy. At the time, I lived in a trailer on the ranch with my wife and three children. Jack stayed in the Big House which had been a stage stop between Judith Gap and White Sulphur Springs in years past. It had 17 rooms.

Not long after the day of this story, Jack had moved on and our family moved up to the Big House. In December, we had an electrical fire. Smoke seeped out one side of the house. We were able to pull siding off and put the fire out. But the following April, the house caught fire again and burned to the ground during a terrible blizzard.

I almost ran over Sally and baby Scott when I drove up as the fire was taking down the house. After the house had burned down, we had to drive into Harlowton through the lower meadow, taking out a fence along the way to get through the deep snow. The owner bought us a new trailer where we lived until heading for California a year later.

Our yearling Hereford, Angus or Charolais weighed about 500 pounds when we got them and we fattened them up to 750 when we sent them on to market in the fall. Early on, Jack and I were busy branding, dehorning them and giving shots. In the summer, we kicked them out into the grass and kept an eye on them, treating them for pink eye and foul foot. Otherwise, we were busy morning to night with fence and building maintenance and general ranch work.

One never-to-be-forgotten fall day, Jack and I went out on the prairie to gather steers and bring them closer in to ship to market in a few days. My brother Dennis came along as well as Howard Stewart. Larry Hall (“I’d go a long way to see a good fire”) appeared with his motorcycle to lend a hand.

The four of us on horseback and Larry on his cycle headed out to the east pasture. Big Jack Walls, a typical braggart Texan in his 40s, led the group. I was in my 20s then and thought I was quite rider and cowboy.

We soon ran into Jim Hagberg in his pickup when we got to the county road. Jim said, “I just saw a bull moose down by the windmill (at the corner).” (Moose are uncommon visitors to the area. One appearing maybe every five years. Usually just a single straggler.)

Jack Walls says, “Let’s go rope him.” So, we headed out to see if we could spot him. We didn’t have to look very far.

The moose saw us coming. He jumped the fence, crossed the county road, and jumped the other fence. And, the way he went. Outa sight and over the hill. I didn’t think we would ever see him again.

We had to ride about a quarter mile to get into the next pasture. Dennis and Howard took the right flank - south end of the pasture. Jack and I went directly toward where we last saw the moose.

When we got over the hill, he had stopped. There he was. I didn’t want to try to rope him, at first. But, Jack wanted to press ahead. I figured we couldn’t catch him, anyway.

Still, I said, “You head him and I’ll heel him.” We took off after him on a dead run.

Then, I decided, “I’ll try to head him, after all.” Jack was riding a big fat, outa-shape quarterhorse. I was on my good thoroughbred.

I ran past Jack and his horse like they were standing still. I ran my thoroughbred as hard and as fast as he could run.

The moose was just trotting. He never even broke into a lope until we got to the end of the big flat.

Then, he started down a steep hill. I was able to catch up as he was going down the hill. I got close and roped him by two tips of his horns. Then, I dallied the rope around my saddlehorn.

I figured he’d give me a fight. I thought I would just undally and let him have my rope. But, he never fought. He acted just like a big old steer.

He never did get on the fight. The moose just kinda stood there. Jack finally caught up to where I was. Then, Howard and Dennis showed up. We didn’t know what we should do.

I’ll never forget what Howard said, “When I came over the hill and saw you had that moose roped, I didn’t believe my eyes.”

Brother Dennis roped the moose’s other horn after we decided to take him back to the scale house. We thought we would lock him up and call the game warden.

It was a hot, rugged day as we herded Mr. Moose. He must have been scared. The moose tugged at the rope and practically pulled our horses for the 2 miles to the scale house. We got him through a gate, but couldn’t get him to cross the gravel road.

Pretty soon, the moose thought, “To hell with you. I’m laying down right here in the borrow pit.” And, he did.

About that time, Dennis’s wife Shirley came driving up. She took a picture of Dennis sitting on the moose’s back. Then, I got on behind Dennis for another shot. As soon as I sat on him, he keeled over and died.

At first, we were hoping people would show up, so we could show off the moose. When he died, were glad nobody else appeared. Before long though, the whole town heard about our escapade.

We told Larry to go to the house and get the pickup. When he got back, we loaded the moose. Larry was supposed to drop the moose in the bush by the creek.

But when we got back to the house, he had the moose dressed out in the back of the pickup. He thought we should eat him. But, we wanted  nothing to do with that meat because it was full of fever. So, we made Larry take the carcass to the creek after all.

Some time later when Jack Walls had left the ranch, I went down and took the moose’s horns. I mounted and placed them in the Big House where my family made our home. But, the house - horns and all - went down in the Big House Fire.

I only chased a moose once in my life. That was enough.