Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
If you live long enough, you start to think you’ve seen it all. Somewhere along the highway of life you often lose that wild-eyed innocence that you once had. As a child, when everything is new and exciting, the world can be a wonderous place.
If you prepare yourself, or rather your parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors make you prepare yourself, the future as an adult can be just as eye-opening, and just as wonderous a place.
Hoping you never become that old, jaded man or woman who hates the world around them, and eventually detests their own existence is something to strive for, yes, you should avoid it at all costs.
One of the joys of being a writer is the chance to hear people relate their life stories, or at least, the major milestones in their lives that separate their experience from the mundane.
Old timers with that gleam still remaining in their eye are the best.
Tales told to me by my late friend Jake Korrel of his life as a 20-something during the Great Depression come to mind. Jake was born in 1914 and passed away 10 years ago early next month, and he had that gleam until the end.
A modern-day mountain man, his stories, and his grin, even at 98 years old, were infectious.
We shared similar stories of wild horses in the Gas Hills one memorable afternoon.
You’ve probably spotted a few wild horses in that area as well, or perhaps on Green Mountain, and definitely in the Red Desert if you’ve looked.
Too many of what we consider wild horses are just domestic horses dumped by cruel, clueless people that don’t want to feed them anymore, so they sentence them to slow death by starvation. But some are truly wild, descended from feral horses whose ancestors learned to adapt to the harsh conditions of the high desert.
If you enjoy exploring that high desert in eastern Fremont County you’ve probably noticed three to four-foot-high pyramidal piles of horse road apples. Those piles are warnings to other horses, and to humans as well. That’s how a dominant studhorse marks his territory. The process is similar to dogs, wolves, and coyotes marking their territory, along with grizzly bears. A big boar bear will scratch high on the trunks of pine and spruce trees. If you’re ambling through the National Forest near Dubois and spot scratches 9, 10, or even 11 feet up on the side of a tree, there’s a bear, a big bear in the area.
Bears are always a threat as are cow moose and bison, but few people think of a horse as dangerous. If you think that, maybe you should reconsider.
I encountered an angry “alpha male” studhorse one afternoon trout fishing in the Gas Hills, but my story pales in comparison to my friend Jake’s tale.
I had a string of brook trout as I was heading back to my truck along Sage Hen Creek when I spotted a big horse on the horizon. I was about 200 yards from the truck, and he was at least a half mile away. When he started to gallop towards me I knew what he was up to. I took off as well. I was a bit younger then and a 200-yard sprint wasn’t much, but the prospect of facing an angry, wild stallion, unarmed on foot didn’t intrigue me. I beat the snot-blowing 1200-pound stud to the truck by 20 seconds.
I had my Remington 870 12 gauge in the cab but never thought of using it. This was his territory. I was the intruder. He circled the truck a few times, snorting and stomping then headed out when I started the engine.
Jake wasn’t so lucky. Jake lived an amazing life full of wild adventures that lasted almost a century, and this is just one.
Jake’s stories were always riveting as he described a Wyoming that is long gone into legend. Jake was born in Lincoln, Nebraska but came to Wyoming as a two-year-old and never left. He grew up in rural Goshen County near Lingle but dropped out of elementary school in third grade after a teacher threw him out of class one day for smelling like a skunk. Jake was sprayed the day before checking traps near his home.
He began working on ranches and as a trapper. It’s his work as a trapper in the “Dirty Thirties” that found him face to face with a black stallion with malice on its mind.
Jake was running a trap line as a young man during the Great Depression. He was working the same Sage Hen Creek area for beaver, skunk, bobcat, badger, coyote, and fox, only over half a century earlier.
Jake drove a sheep wagon, an early camper trailer of the plains, behind a two-horse team, out to the Gas Hills to set up camp. His only companions were a couple of border collies, his two-horse team, and his prize possession, an 1894 Winchester .30-30.
Jake said times were tough, and often he didn’t have enough money for .30-30 shells. He was down to only one as he worked the trap lines. He carried a .22 revolver and a pocketknife, but they weren’t much in the way of self-defense.
That afternoon he had the .22 with him, as well as the .30-30 when the stallion spotted him.
Jake was a long way, several miles, from his wagon, and his dogs were off on their own.
“It was a good thing the dogs were away,” Jake said. “They weren’t much of a match for that stud.”
His .22 was pretty useless against a wild stallion with its blood up.
Jake had one .30-30 cartridge left in his lever action rifle.
“I waited until that big bastard was almost on top of me,” Jake said. “I knew I only had one shot. It was him or me, and if I missed it was me.”
At 20 feet Jake shot the charging stallion in the chest. The big horse flipped up, but his momentum carried him past Jake.
“I had to jump out of the way,” Jake said. “Even though I killed him he would have broken one or both of my legs if he hit me.”
It was from Jake that I learned to look for those big piles marking a stud horse’s territory, the higher the pile, the bigger the horse.
It’s something I look for every time I venture into the Gas Hills. Whether to hunt rocks, look for pioneer artifacts, or to watch sage grouse in their mating dances, it’s wise to look for those warning signs.
For people who claim you don’t know crap, you can tell them you do, you know the signs.