Today, I was supposed to take a picture of something handed down to me from my parents. I thought of lots of things.... my wiry, curly hair, complements of my dad, my cooking and baking skills, from my mom. Scott suggested my Bible, which was given to me in my twenties from my parents.
But then I remembered something in the bottom drawer of my nightstand:
I grew up on a ranch, about 80 miles north of where I live right now, as the crow flies. My parents and my aunt and uncle lived on our ranch that my grandparents and great-grandparents lived on. Originally my great-grandpa Brem Barrett lived right down on the north side of the Missouri river, north and east of Mosby, but west of Skibby's bottom. During the New Deal in the 1930s, the original ranch was in the way of the newly constructed Fort Peck Reservoir. The family's land was taken by the federal government, just like many farmers and ranchers along the river on both sides.
One of the coolest things about where I grew up was the fact that the famous Long X Ranch from Texas which established itself in 1902 was down south of our house. The remnants of the barns and the bunkhouses were still in decent shape when I was little. At one point, the Long X Ranch had over 7000 head of cattle that they ran from the mouth of the Fourchette Bay all the way up to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. It too had been relocated after the flooded river bottoms forced it to, and by the 30s, the Montana branch of the Texas ranch was out of business.
My Great-grandpa Brem Barrett and Charlie Stuart, member of the Long X Crew
Brem and his family, wife and 6 daughters, moved north about 15 miles to the place where my dad and uncle were raised, as well as my siblings and my cousins. We were raised horseback, and spent many hours gathering cattle down on what is part of the CMR wildlife refuge. When I was really young, our cattle were down almost on the river at times. I remember seeing herds of over 100 bull elk, and 300 cow/calf elk while we moved cows. Along the creeks and meadows we could always find remnants of homesteads where the original families either droughted out, or were bought out by larger land owners.
I spent lots of time daydreaming on the back of my horse. I learned to whistle with my fingers while I was horseback. I would think about how the Indians used to ride across the land we were on... when I was really little, I would bounce along with Bill, my fat little white pony and keep my eyes peeled toward the hills and rough country to see if they were watching us. I think I read too many books... I learned how to figure things out from very sketchy instructions: head for that gate over there.... And by keeping my eye on my dad in his blue coat and sorrel horse in one direction and my uncle in his red coat and white horse in the other, I could figure out the general direction we were going. I'd look at the fence line and watch the posts until I could make out a gate, and then followed the herd that way. It was easier to "use my head" than to poke along in the wrong direction and get called a "hammerhead" later on.
As I got older, my dad always used to say he'd rather have my sister Terri and I as his hired hands than anyone else. We knew what to do, where to go, and we'd get things done right the first time. It was when I was in jr. high that my dad gave me spurs. They weren't just any spurs, they were the spurs of my Grandma Gladys, daughter of Brem, whom I had never met. My dad was just 16 when both of his parents were killed in a collision when they were driving their pick-up and crossed the railroad tracks west of Malta, thinking they were clear because of the blinding sun. Interestingly enough, three of my grandma's sisters married south-siders, all from the Jordan area. My great-aunt Clara married Charlie Pierson, my great-aunt Shirley married John Ryan, and my great-aunt Ethel married Phil Fellman.
Like most women of her generation and region, Grandma Gladys was quite the hand, and she wore the spurs when she was working with her dad and her husband. It was a pretty cool thing that my dad let me wear them. I used them all through high school and through college when I would come home to help. I used them the summer I worked on a dude ranch in college too.
Nowadays, they don't get much use as we don't use horses around here. Maybe someday I can pass them along to Allison if she finally talks her daddy into getting her the horse she wants so badly. Regardless, they are a neat family heirloom, and it's pretty cool to look back and think about their history.