I rein King toward the trail to the Death Canyon Ranger Station, five miles away in the mountains. The two packhorses turn to follow. The year is 1959. I’m moving in for the summer.
The mare is carrying a bag of oats, my bedroll, clothing, and odds and ends of equipment and supplies. Sandy’s right side pannier is filled with groceries. His left box is empty. But a folding steel cot is lashed to the outside.
When we get to the ranger station the horses are well sweated from the steep climb up the canyon. I tie King to a tree and Sandy to the hitching rail spiked to the cabin wall.
Then I make a greenhorn mistake. I tie the mare to the other end of the same rail.
When I unlash the cot and lift it off the pannier, Sandy rolls back an eye, lets out a what-the-hell-is-that? snort, and rears. The mare, panicked by his panic, rears too. Together they jerk the hitching rail off the cabin and, dragging it between them, stampede into the pines by the corral.
The rail breaks as the horses pass on each side of a tree, freeing them from each other. The heavy pannier on Sandy’s right side shatters against another tree, sending groceries flying. Both horses disappear upstream into the timber.
A meadow is visible beyond the trees. Walking up the trail toward it, I’m unsure what to do. I’m especially concerned that the horses might circle around behind me and head back down the canyon together, the mare still carrying her pack. That would not create a good impression at Headquarters my first day on the job.
The mare stands trembling just inside the meadow, still tied to her half the rail. As I take her halter rope and calm her, I can see Sandy further on. He’s head up, looking back, and trotting in circles.
Tying the mare to a tree near the cabin, I go back for Sandy. He has slowed to a walk and is puffing heavily. Taking his head, I see why he keeps running. The smashed pannier has snagged on the pack rope and, dragging behind, had been “chasing him” around and around the meadow.
When the horses are unpacked, unsaddled, watered, and snuffling in their oat boxes in the corral, I gather groceries scattered among the trees. Odds and ends keep turning up all summer, including a can of corned beef I come across at the end of August, the day before I leave Death Canyon for the last time.
Story by : Don M Ricks in his Life’s stories