Recalling adventures of a horse packer

Thursday, August 8, 2019
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Cooking in the West

One of the unsung heroes of the horse world is the horse packer. He has to understand horse anatomy and mule psychology, spend long days in the saddle, have nerves of steel, a strong back, and it helps if he ends up in one piece at the other end of the trail. Jerry Yoder was the packer for the K Lazy 3 when it was owned by Brett and Julie Todd, and I was always really nice to Jerry (just ask him), because he was responsible for the eggs and other valuables that I needed to cook with. He also looked the other way when forbidden things like Malibu Rum and paper plates were tucked into the pack boxes even after the loads had been balanced.

Jerry often headed up the trail with mules that were so green they were not only experiencing their first day of packing but also their first day of being saddled. I really don’t know how he has lived this long, but amazingly he is not even slightly disfigured. I asked Jerry to write down the details of one of his most memorable green mule wrecks. This is what he wrote:

So here’s how I remember it . . .I was bouncing down the trail to the trailhead riding a green mule named Kitty and leading four others. They’d only been down the trail once before, but things were going pretty good, and we were close to getting out to the trailhead. I remember a little while before the wreck that Rowdy said we’ll make it out by 3:30 p.m.

It was hot, and I was sleepy. I was riding along contemplating whether it was partly cloudy or mostly sunny. About that time we met a couple hikers, a guy and a gal with the two customary dogs. They didn’t know the difference between a horse and a mule, and their dogs had obviously not been around stock. They both gathered their dogs in their arms and stepped off the trail. My mule started misbehaving a bit, backing up and jumping around a little, and my string was kinda balling up around me. The last mule in my string was kinda up at the front with me, which is not really a good practice.

About that time the little gray dog the guy was holding wriggled loose, and here he came, barking joyfully and heading straight for my mules. The guy hollered that it’s ok if he gets kicked. I said something like, “I hope to tell ya he’s gonna get stomped!” Sure enough, Spike, the last mule in the string, reared up and struck, but he missed. About that time, Kitty decided to spin around, and we were off stampeding wide open back down the trail! Some of my mules were behind me, some in front, and some beside. All of Rowdy’s string was in front, and we were about three wide going down the one mule-wide trail. I’ve been in wrecks before, but generally whatever is wrecking you doesn’t keep following you down the trail and keep wrecking you!

Not only was the dog running with us, but his owner kept running behind us. The dog didn’t have much choice though, because he was surrounded by stampeding mules, so it was run or be trampled, but the guy was in pretty good shape, and he was keeping up with us and scaring my mules even worse. Kitty was off on the side of the trail, so we were jumping deadfall logs and such. My hat kept coming loose, and I kept smashing it back on, but finally I gave it up and let it go. Every now and again, I could see the dog down below my toe, and Kitty kept trying to stomp him whenever he came close.

The whole time I was trying to turn Kitty’s head and get it twisted around into my lap, but even though I gave it all I had, she was still totally out of control. After we went about a 1/4 mile or so, we were closing in on a bridge that is 3 feet wide, and I am thinking that something is going to have to give, because we are never gonna make it across that bridge 3 wide. One of Rowdy’s mules (Frosty) had a load on, and fortunately it rolled under his belly which pulled him off balance, and he fell in the trail. This was lucky, because it caused the other mules to split to one side or the other and stop. Except for mine. Kitty blew on by and down across the bridge. We must have been somewhat lined out by now, because I was too busy to look back, but we made it just fine. At the end of the bridge there was a 90 degree turn to the left, and I was still trying to twist Kitty’s head around to the right. I was hoping that she’d turn off the trail out into the rhubarb and then maybe stop. Sure enough, that’s what she did. There was a little steep bank there, so as she went up it, I had to lean forward a bit. She reared up for one last try at stomping the dog, which was still under us, and her head smacked me square in the nose, knocking me back out of the saddle and bloodying my nose. Everybody kind of came to a stop then except for 2 of my mules, who kept heading down the trail.

I stood up, gathered up Kitty, and the two mules I had left. The hiker had picked up my hat. Rowdy said he didn’t seem too eager to bring it down to me at first. When he reached me, he was very apologetic, but I tried to lighten the mood and told him if I thought he had let the dog go on purpose, I’d probably bloody his nose too. I didn’t really want to fess up about how dumb it was to be riding a green mule and leading green ones too!

I found the two mules on down the trail about 3/8 of a mile eating grass like nothing had happened. When we were all finally gathered up and ready to leave again, I told Rowdy it’d be fine if he led the way even though he had been way wrong about what time we would get to the trailhead!

Although Jerry has a lot of great stories, he doesn’t seem to have any recipes to share, so this week I have recipes for summer treats that are easy and delicious!

Ice Cream Sundae Dessert

3 C. crushed chocolate sandwich cookies

1/2 C. margarine

1/2 gal. softened ice cream, your favorite

8 oz. carton whipped topping, thawed

2 to 3 T. chocolate syrup

1/4 C. chopped pecans

In bowl, mix cookie crumbs with margarine. Press in 9 X 13 pan. Carefully spread ice cream over crust. Spread with whipped topping. Drizzle syrup on top. Sprinkle with nuts. Freeze until firm for 2 to 4 hours.

Caramel Cashew Bars

1/2 C. shortening

1/2 C. butter, softened

3/4 C. granulated sugar

3/4 C. packed brown sugar

1 T. vanilla

2 1/4 C. flour

1 t. cinnamon

1 t. baking soda

1 1/2 C. chopped salted cashews

14 oz. bag caramels, unwrapped

1/4 C. milk

Spray 15 X 10 X 1 pan with cooking spray. Beat shortening, butter, and sugars with mixer until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour, cinnamon, and soda. Stir in 1 C. cashews. Spread dough in pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Heat caramels and milk over medium heat, stirring until caramels are melted. Spread over slightly cooled bars. Sprinkle remaining cashews on top. Makes 48 bars.

Company Is Coming Cookies

1 C. butter

1 C. sugar

1 C. brown sugar

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1 1/2 C. flour

1 t. cream of tartar

1 t. soda

1 t. salt

3 C. quick oats

Mix shortening, sugars, and 2 eggs. Then add cream of tartar, soda, and salt. Mix and add vanilla, flour, and oats. Shape into a roll 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate two hours. Slice into thin slices and bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.