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KO Rodeo Ground's Oral Zumwalt - by Lee Hames - Part 2 - 'Travel to Miles City and Sunday Creek'

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From Lewistown to Miles City and Sunday Creek

Rounding up wild horses for the CBC Company in Miles City, Montana wasn’t any ordinary job and Hames knew it. By the time the summer ended he had enough stories for a lifetime.

It took two days for them to cover the 225 miles to Miles City from Lewistown. The CBC Company offices were located on Main Street in Miles City, in between the Miles City Saddlery and the Range Riders Café. Here they met Sid Vollin, a range boss for the CBC, and a future member of the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

“When the three of us entered the office door a tall, middle-aged cowboy arose from a desk to greet us. ‘Hello Zoomie, hello Red, glad to see you boys. Our roundup will start in a few days and I need some good horse runners.’ We shook hands and sat down at the desk. Sid passed some papers across the desk to Zoomie and said, ‘Here are your payroll sheets. You have to sign these to collect your wages.’ Zoomie pushed the papers over to me and said, ‘Put your name on one sheet, my name on one and give the other to Red.’”

“Sid frowned and remarked, ‘I didn’t know you had any kids Zoomie, in fact I didn’t think your were married.’”

“’The kid is not mine, he has been traveling with Red and me trying to learn how to rodeo. You know his Dad, Cracker Jack from the Bitterroot.’”

“Sid said, ‘The Company doesn’t usually hire any kids but since his Dad may have some horses in the roundup we can call him a Rep for his dad. I know that there are some Circle Y horses running in the Big Dry country. All of the horses that we round up will be returned to their owners or shipped to the canneries and never return to this range. The government guarantees us so much per head for taking the horses from public lands. We keep half the money for our work and the horse owners get the other half. The kid can keep track of Cracker’s horses. It is 45 miles out to the ranch so you boys better stay in town tonight. We will be running two wagons. Rainbow will take the west wagon out through the Porcupines and Big Dry country and I will take the east wagon through Crow Rock and the Jordan country. The two wagons will meet up on the Missouri at Hell Creek. Rainbow has two of his boys with him and I will have my boy and your kid with me, and Zoomie and Red will also be on my wagon. You had better pick up some company tickets before you leave.’”

Hell Creek State Park is close to 110 miles from Miles City and is located on the Missouri River/ Ft. Peck Reservoir north of Jordan, Montana. Construction of Fort Peck Dam began in 1933.

“Zoomie looked at the bowlful of different colored tickets and said, “’What are these things for?’”

“'Well', said Sid, ‘We like our cowboys to leave town with a full belly and a smile on their faces. Our brand is on the front of these tickets and whenever you use a ticket, just sign your name on the other side. The green tickets pay for a 50 cent meal at the Range Riders Café. The orange tickets pay for a 25 cent drink at Bennies and the red tickets pay for a $2 lay at any ‘red-light house’ in Miles City. The businesses who accept the tickets turn them in to the company to get their money and the value of the tickets is deducted from the cowboy’s pay at the end of the month. This is an old, established custom that has been followed by the ranchers in this area since the Texas trail driving days.’”

“Zoomie says, ‘I don’t think we will be needing any tickets. We have money if we want to spend it and we don’t go to the red-light houses.’”

“Sid looked surprised. ‘You mean to say that you guys don’t ever buy any ‘loving?’”

“’That is right, there are so many women trying to give it away that it seems foolish to spend our hard earned money on it,’ said Zoomie.”

“’Well, Zoomie, being young and good-looking you probably do have more opportunities than the rest of us. I have heard you are quite a ladies man, is that true?’”

“Zoomie said, ‘I don’t know if I am a ladies man or not but I will tell you one thing for sure, if I had gotten half as much as I have been accused of getting, it probably would have killed me.’”

“Sid began to discuss his plans for the roundup. This was rather a sad event for Sid. The Company was sending their cowboys out on their last roundup and was going out of the horse raising business.”

‘“Boys', said Sid, ‘This roundup will be making history. I doubt if there will ever again be a chuck wagon pulled out on a horse roundup and we will be using two of them on this one. There may be a few cow outfits that will still be using a chuck wagon for a few more years, but the day of the big horse outfits is gone. I hear that old Bill Brown of the Horseshoe Bar down in southeastern Oregon is going out of business this year, too. I believe that the Horseshoe Bar and the CBC outfits were probably the two largest horse outfits that the world has ever known. I have heard cowboys from this area and buckeroos from Oregon argue about how many horses each outfit had owned. I have heard some men claim that there were as many as 60,000 head on the CBC but I doubt if that is true. I met Bill Brown once when I was at the Pendleton Roundup and he claimed that at one time he paid taxes on 20,000 head of horses. That is almost exactly the most that has been run by the CBC while I have been the ranch manager. I doubt that the Company has 5,000 head now.’”

While the number of feral, or wild horses, was anyone’s guess, Sid Vollin was likely right when he cited the reduction of horses by this time. Although we never see the date for this adventure, it could have been anywhere between 1933 to 1936. Hames was born 1919 and evidently had just started High School classes.

In the book, Roamin’ Wyomin’: Circlin’ Great Divide Basin, by Tom Cullen, the author states it is estimated that in 1900 2,000,000 wild horses roamed the west, but by the end of WW1 this amount was reduced by several hundred thousand. Cullen further estimated that by 1926, the number was about 1,000,000 and when the Taylor Grazing Act passed in 1934, the population was about 150,000.

Cullen also gives a short history of the CBC:

“In 1923, three Chappel brothers, Philip M., Ernest S., and Earle S., assumed ownership of the abandoned Schamuss Brothers packing plant in Rockford, Illinois, registered their Ken-L-Ration trademark, and produced the first commercial dog food. Within the next few years, their products gained an international reputation. In 1928, C.B.C, a new corporation, was formed in Miles City, Montana, the principal place of business. C.B.C. leased a million and a half acres of rangeland in Wyoming and Montana, rounding up and shipping wild horses to their Rockford plant.”

While still in Miles City the three paid a visit to the Saddlery, where Hames was “wide-eyed,” looking at the equipment for sale.

“I looked wistfully at the nice gloves and said, ‘I don’t have much money, do you think the Company would advance me some?’”

‘“Nope,” said Zoomie, ‘they only advance money for two things: whiskey and women. Throw in a pair for the kid and he can pay me for them later.’”

When done shopping Zoomie and Red proposed a final trip to ‘Bennie’s Bar’, before they began the roundup. [The Bennie referred to here was likely Bennie Binion Sr., who was famous throughout the west for horses and gambling.]

Hames described it thus:

“Darkness was beginning to settle over the town as we left the Saddlery. Down at the far end of Main Street the music was playing a little louder, the street lights were a little dimmer and the whiskey a little cheaper. Little red bulbs lit up the stairways that led up to the rooms above the bars. Men were constantly going up and down those stairs like yo-yo’s. Whatever they did up those stairs didn’t take long as you could see a man go up the stairs and in a very short time he was back at the bar.

“Bennie’s Bar was in the middle of the block. The swinging doors were constantly moving as noisy, cursing, drinking cowboys went in and out. This was a tough, wide-open bar where anything went and where you entered at your own risk. Gambling was illegal in Montana but you wouldn’t know it if you went to Bennie’s. There were blackjack tables in one corner, a crap table in another, two stud poker tables in the center of the room while over in another corner a Chinaman was mucking a Pan game that had 20 decks of cards in it.”

“As we ordered drinks at the bar, Zoomie told me, ‘These guys in here are double-toughs. When they fight, it is with knives, guns, clubs, feet, fists and teeth. If a fight starts, drop to your hands and knees and crawl to the nearest door. The only code of honor they have in here is to not hit or kick a man who is trying to stay out of the fight. If he is trying to leave they know he wants no part in the fray. Don’t worry about Red and me, we have been here before and know how to take care of ourselves.’”

“Zoomie barely got the words out of his mouth when a big ruckus erupted directly behind us. Half a dozen men were engaged in a free-for-all and it looked like some of the others were going to enter the affair. Glancing at each other, the three of us made a hasty retreat towards the door. Looking back, Zoomie said, ‘We escaped with our lives so we had better head for our rooms as we have to get up early.”’

The following day found them traveling to Sunday Creek, the CBC Ranch headquarters. Dust was everywhere: “In Eastern Montana, you could stand in mud to your knees and have dust blow into your eyes.”

Here, the operation focused on horses only.

“There was no house in sight, just a few sheds and acres and acres of big, high pole corrals. In the shade of the sheds, horses were standing with their feet tied up with soft, loose ropes while the cowboys trimmed their feet and nailed on their shoes. Some of the horses reared, pawed at the air and fell down. If a horse went down, a cowboy sat quietly on his side and continued with the shoeing. As soon as a horse was shod, the cowboy turned him loose and started the process all over with another horse.”

They were about to start cowboying for the CBC.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 09:18