Over the last several weeks I have been looking through some of Grandma’s history books. She has piles of them with all sorts of family stories. There is even a Holbrook history (who knew?!). I’ve been reading through them to get a sense of the ranch’s beginning. Ranching really is in the Eliason blood!
It really all began at Locomotive Springs, clear back in 1885 when he railroad was new. There was a railroad tycoon that realized that there was good land to be had after the construction of the railroad. He bought up thousands of acres, put some cows out, and created the Bar M Cattle Ranch. Being busy with the railroad business, he turned his ranch business over to his son. In turn, his son hired up foreman to do the daily work (probably because he was no cattleman himself!). This is where our story starts.
August Eliason, The Rancher’s great-great grandpa, had left home young looking for some work to live on. Somehow (the books don’t really say) he wound up working for Bar M as a foreman (we figure somewhere in his late teens). He would run with the cows from east of Kelton, Utah (5 miles east) to at least Holbrook, Idaho.
Being a business man and NOT a cattleman, the Bar M owner ran the ranch with little cow sense. When it came to the grass on range he would have the cowboys graze the range hard. That left little feed for the winter. Since they didn’t buy or put up any hay in the summer, this meant that during the winter it was hard eating for the cows.
In 1889, the blizzard of a lifetime came through. When cows get a hard storm they just start walking, the wind pushes them along until something stops them or they are exhausted. With nothing to stop the Bar M cattle, they walked for miles and miles. The snow covered what little feed that was there, leaving the thousands (like 45,000) of cattle to die. There wasn’t a lot the cowboys could do- they wouldn’t survive the storm looking for the herd. All they could do was wait.
Once they were able to get out to the cows they realized that their losses were huge, like astronomical. I read in some places say that they lost all but 10,000 cows but another said only 800 were found. Either way, more than 30,000 died! They said you could walk for miles walking only on the dead cows. I can’t image what that must have been like to experience! I hate when we lose one, I can’t fathom THOUSANDS!
At this point the Bar M just threw in the towel, dissolved the ranch and left everyone to fend for themselves, the cowboys and the cows. Grandpa August and a few cousins saw an opportunity to be had and decided to strike out on their own. They gathered up what unbranded cattle they could find and headed north into Idaho. Having already run the cows that way, they knew where to find good feed and water to set up as their ranch headquarters. They still would summer the cows in the Curlew Valley and then every fall they would head back to Locomotive to winter the cows.
Over the years they built up a few small shacks for cowboys to stay in through the winter. Cowboys would stay a few weeks at a time to feed and watch over the cows and then head home for a rest. We don’t do that anymore, but those old shacks are still around. I try to envision what it must have been like in those. No electricity, no running water, and nobody for miles. Incredible!
And it’s cool to think that the cows we have now are from some of the original cows that survived that blizzard. I guess even the cows have little bit of heritage to them!On our last trip to Locomotive to check, we took the long way home to go past what Grandpa August started with. We don’t own that piece anymore so we couldn’t go right up to it, but is was awesome to see it all in context, knowing how it all got started.