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The 1952 Hashknife Branding
(The following was posted as part of Picture the West in February 2008, and is repeated here as an important part of American ranch history.)
Nevada poet, writer, and gathering organizer Smoke Wade shared photos "depicting the 1952 branding of the Hashknife calves at the Cactus Flat branding corral, which sets on a flat along the Grande Ronde River in Washington. The Grande Ronde is a tributary of the Snake River, and Cactus Flat is about a mile from the Snake." Smoke tells:It was my lot in life to be born the grandson of J.H. "Jidge" Tippett, a Hells Canyon area cattle baron. At the time of his death in 1963, he had pieced together a system of cattle ranches in SE Washington and NE Oregon that incorporated the use of over one hundred thousand acres of range land. This ranch system was comprised of five full time independent ranches, one seasonal ranch and at least one summer cow camp operation.
Jidge’s father’s family fell off the Oregon Trail some where around Butter Creek Oregon. By the time he was a young man, his family was living in Wallowa county, Oregon where he began building his empire. Jidge started out as a thirty-dollar-a-month sheepherder. The Hells Canyon of the Snake River region along the Idaho-Oregon border was well suited for sheep. The steep terrain and harsh climate made it difficult to raise cattle. There was little grass for gazing in the canyon during the hot summer months, and the steep canyon walls offered sparse feed at other times. Yet, Jidge was able to find a way to piece together his formula for success.
By splicing together a network of failed homesteads, he slowly began building an empire that would reach its heyday at the time of his death. By the early 1940s his children were becoming adults and he incorporated the ranch operation by placing each of his children on one of the ranches that he was accumulating. My mother was one of his children. This family partnership resulted in the Corporation brand, the Hashknife.
While each of the family partners was allowed to have their own brand and cattle, the bulk of the herd was of the Hashknife brand. Jidge owned one half of all cattle bearing the Hashknife brand, while the remaining half was divided equally between the partner family members. Some of Jidge’s children sold out of the partnership, and by 1952, there were four partners left in the Hashknife Corporation, my parents, two uncles and my grandparents.
To make the extensive ranch system work in such a harsh climate required the use of grazing land that could be used in the different seasons. Two ranches were for summer and fall pasture. Jidge acquired extensive grazing leases on Forest Service land where the summer Cold Springs cow camp operation was. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land was "free grazed." Four of the ranches were sheltered in Hells Canyon and its tributaries, and these ranches were the "home ranches" for my family members. The home ranches were suited for late fall and early spring pasture as well as winter feeding and calving sites.
And, so our life followed the seasons, far from towns, stores, telephones, and modern convinces. We were born to the saddle, we lived a self-sustaining wilderness life, and, on occasions, the outside world would come peeking in to see what life lived twenty years behind the times was like. 1952 was one of those years.
Spring branding of the calf crop took place on each of the home ranches. The Rogersburg ranch where I was raised always contained one of the largest winter herds due to the extensive winter range we had. The calf crop was sizable and each year the spring branding at Cactus Flat was a joint operation for all family members. Often folks from town or perhaps college students would come up and join with us at branding time. In 1952, a journalist from a local newspaper, Bonnie Butler, brought with her a journalist from France. The French lady created quite a stir amongst the Hells Canyon cowboys during the branding, and fortunately, someone recorded this branding event on camera.
It was spring branding time for the Hashknife cattle operation. The cattle were herded towards the Cactus Flat corral which was on a flat along the Grande Ronde River in Southeastern Washington.
The old corral on Cactus Flat was on a bench along the Grande Ronde river about one mile from its confluence with the Snake River. Ironically, French fur trappers had named the "Ronde" for the peculiar way that the river wound its way through the canyon in giant u-shaped loops. This coincidence bore special interest to the foreign journalist. Many of the calves were born on Cactus Flat. At branding time, the cattle were herded towards the corral and separated—calves on the inside, cows on the outside.
The cows and calves were herded into the corral gate. The visible brand, the "X Quarter Circle," was my grandfather's brand.
Once the corral was full, the gates were closed and the rest of the cows and calves were held on the flat near by. Besides the branding crew, a group of cowboys were required to hold the cattle outside the corral. Note several of the cows display the Hashknife brand (Bar-D).
Once the corral is full, it was time to cut out (separate) the cows from the calves. The Grande Ronde river can be seen in the background. The road on the other side of the river was the way to town. From the Cactus Flat corral, it was a long 30 mile drive to the nearest town of Asotin, Washington.
The calves mill about in the corral while the mother cows wait anxiously out side the fence. During this time the term "bawling" became self explanatory.
The branding fire was built and the irons were heated to red hot in preparation of marking the calves. The fire also would heat a pot of coffee and the coals would cook a fresh order of mountain oysters for midday snacks. Branding was required by law to show ownership of the cattle.
While the calves and cows were being separated in the corral, a pit was dug and a hot fire started to heat the branding irons to a red-hot condition. The branding irons in this photo from left to right are: "4 F Slash," my father's brand; "UN," my uncle Biden Tippett's brand; two "J Inverted J" irons, my uncle Jack Tippett's brand; and three "Hashknife" branding irons. Along the back row there are six branding irons that resemble pipes and two smaller irons with the number "2." The pipe-like irons were the de-horning irons used to sear the young horns on the calves to prevent horns from growing. The number "2" irons were jaw brands to indicate the year of the birth of the calf, in this case—1952.
The Hashknife was the most common used brand on our ranch and represented the partnership cattle belonging to my parents, my uncles and my grandfather, J.H. "Jidge" Tippett. Ironically, the Hashknife brand of my past greatly resembles the BAR-D brand of my present.
Often the team roping method was used to catch and hold a calf while the branding crew branded, de-horned, castrated and vaccinated the calf. The man on the horse with his back to the camera is my father. I am the youth in front of the horse.
The calves were roped, team roping style, and stretched out on the ground. Sometimes, the use of a snubbing post was incorporated in lieu of team roping. The calves would be branded, de-horned, vaccinated, steer calves castrated, and often a waddle or dewlap was cut into the animal’s skin for easy identification from a distance. We also incorporated the use of jaw brands with a number depicting the year the calves were born. This was important as we retained many heifers for brood cows and we needed to know how old they were. In 1952, it was common to hold the steers for market until they had been through two summers. We called them "two-year olds," and the jaw brand was a way of keeping the steer herds separate.
At branding time, everyone on the ranch helps out. In this photo, a young Smoke Wade handles the front leg tie down rope.
This Cactus Flat branding took place a few years prior to the branding of 1952. In the fore ground, one can see the use of a "snubbing post" in lieu of using the team roping method. As was common at our branding, several calves at a time were roped and branding to speed the process. The young people sitting on the corral fence are students from Washington State College now known as Washington State University, Pullman, Washington.
The use of the de-horning iron is well demonstrated in this photo. The young man doing the de-horning is Joe Thompson, a ranch hand that worked for our family operation for many years. The ranch hand was always an integral part of running a successful cattle operation. Joe later become a ranch owner in Idaho.
The Hashknife brand is being applied by my uncle Biden Tippett.My father, Don Fouste, carries the de-horning iron and a knife with a straight blade. Two types of knives were used in the branding process. While the castrating knife was a special blade often provided as an additional blade on most pocket knives in those days, a longer straight blade was used to cut the nub of the horn from the calf prior to using the de-horning iron.Others in the photo are uncle Jack Tippett on the left and neighboring rancher, Pete Edgemond on the right. It has always been a western ranching tradition for neighbors to help out during branding time.
This remarkable photo is of a calf with the freshly applied Hashknife brand, the number "2" jaw brand depicting that the branding took place in 1952, the de-horned marks on his head, and what was called a "dew-lap" cut on his neck skin. The dew-lap was a way of cutting a piece of skin that would permanently hang from the animal to make their ownership easily recognizable. This over cut dew-lap was used in conjunction with the Hashknife brand. Some brand owners used an under cut dew-lap, while still others would cut what was known as a "waddle" on the side of the animals face or perhaps on their rear quarters.The two ladies in the photograph are journalists covering the branding for an unknown publication. The lady with the sunglasses is from France.Note the braided rawhide rope on the saddle, and the always present rain slicker tied on behind the saddle.
At branding time, as was the custom then, the crew would take a long lunch break and large midday meals would be consumed followed by a nap. The afternoon work shift would often end at dark. And the next day would begin before sunrise.
Several of the Hashknife cowboys take a deserved rest break from the branding. My grandfather, J. H. "Jidge" Tippett, leans against the truck tire and appears to be entertaining the lady journalist from France with his stories about life in Hells Canyon.The photo records the authentic cowboy garb of the region and the era. Note the cuffed trouser legs of the reclining cowboy, uncle Biden Tippett. It was common for men to wear their new blue jeans un-washed for a time period and they often cuffed the legs of their pants. Eventually, repeated laundering would cause the jeans to shrink-to-fit and the cuffs would disappear. Many of the men also favored blue denim shirts, though my grandfather leaned preferred wool in all seasons.Hats were usually course straw or battered felt. And lace up work shoes were as common as pointy-toed cowboy boots. In the steep canyon country, a cowboy spent a great deal of time leading his horse, and shoes were often preferred to cowboy boots.When the branding was completed at Cactus Flat, the Grande Ronde cattle were herded up a side canyon to an elevation two-thousand feet above the river where they remained until it was time to move them on to the higher summer pasture which was closer to the five-thousand foot elevation. The short cattle drive up this canyon would start early in the morning and end after stars were twinkling in the sky. Remarkably, the calves survived the branding ordeal with few complications. My father always told me that the calves actually enjoyed the branding process because it felt so good when it was over.
The branding had come to an end and it was time to move the cow and calf herd towards late spring pasture. This herd would be trailed up the distant canyon to an elevation about 2000' feet higher than the Cactus Flat branding corral. Trailing this herd two miles up the canyon would begin in earnest at daylight the next day and the night sky would be blazing stars before the cattle reached the ridge top. The herd would remain there about a month and a half, then the spring roundup would bring them back down to the river and the long drive to higher, summer pasture would begin.And, again this photo depicts style and custom of the era. Cowgirls were often prone to wearing sleeveless shirts, and cowboys were not opposed to walking.As a result of the journalists attending the Hashknife branding of 1952, we gained some notoriety as Hells Canyon cowboys which later lead to a feature article about canyon cattle ranching in Popular Mechanics. Jidge became Cattleman of the Year in the state of Washington, and went on to visit cattle ranches in South America where he made lasting friendships with Argentine cattlemen. His empire began to crumble after his death. The ranches were divided to sole ownership of his children. In the 1970’s, the U.S. Congress passed the Hells Canyon National Recreation Act and cattle ranching in the canyon became a thing of the past. Cactus Flat is now owned by the Washington Game Department. they have subsequently torn down the corral and erased all evidence of its existence. Today, I still own, in partnership with my siblings, 160 acres of the old ranch that we keep for sentimental reasons.
This story of branding would be no different from hundreds of other branding stories experienced by cattlemen everywhere, except for one thing—the Hashknife brand. While the Hells Canyon way of cowboy life slipped away from me over the years, a similar brand surfaced and became a big part of my life—the Bar-D, the brand of CowboyPoetry.com.
Destiny is not for us to understand. It is for us to accept. It is my lot in life to live from beginning and, perhaps to the end, connected to the Brand. From cowboy to cowboy poet, the brand shaped like a Bar-D, that was then the Hashknife, is the common link that connects my past to the present.
I hope this story lends an insight to the reader as to what real cowboy life was like 56 years ago in the Hells Canyon region.
The Joseph Creek School
(The following was posted as part of Picture the West in December 2007, and is repeated here as an important part of American ranch history.)
Nevada poet, writer, and gathering organizer Smoke Wade shared the above 1905 photo of the one-room school in Joseph Creek, Washington, which he attended for six years (and which his grandmother, mother, brother, cousins, aunt and uncles attended), more photos, and some history and recollections. He writes:
The Joseph Creek school house was built in the late 1890's to offer rural school service for the children of local homesteaders and ranchers. The school district, Asotin County No. 23, was officially organized February 8, 1896. The school was originally called the "Bradley School" after one of the first settlers in the canyon. Later the name was changed to the "Bly School" to coincide with the nearby Bly Post Office that opened November 24, 1896. The nearest town with a school house was 40 miles away—by horse or boat. Joseph Creek is a side canyon of Hells Canyon of the Snake River.
A new school district, Rogersburg District No. 30, was organized some six miles to the north on January 28, 1913. The Rogersburg School District discontinued and consolidated with the Joseph Creek School District on May 7, 1923, forming a new consolidated District No. 300. Often, the Joseph Creek School was mistakenly referred to as the Rogersburg School. The Joseph Creek School ceased operation circa 1936 due to lack of grade school age students in the canyon.
A rare photo of the Rogersburg School circa 1913. My grandmother taught school here when it first opened in 1913. She was just out of high school. The school district closed in 1923. This school house was located on mile from our ranch house. My father moved this building next to our barn in 1950 and converted it to a shop. The building comprised two small rooms, one for a class room, the other for the teacher's apartment. Note that there was not a barn for the horses that the kids rode to school, nor was there a wood shed for the wood. Had this school district remained in operation, I would have had an easy one-mile hike to school rather than the six-mile ride to the Joseph Creek School.
The school house sat vacant until 1951. At that time, five country boys needed schooling, so along with a hired hand's son, a school teacher's daughter, two first cousins and my brother, I began the first year of my formal education. The attendance dropped to four students during each of the next four years with seven students comprising the final class of 1957.
This 1990 photo shows the teacher's apartment (teacherage) that was added in the 1930s at the rear of the school house.
Class of 1954: Country boys just cannot adjust to having a class photo taken without acting up. Teacher, Lorene Spangler on the left, I'm on the right. The wild plumb tree as a back drop would indicate springtime when the photo was taken.
Smoke Wade stands at the head of the class. Since my hair is combed, it must have been school photo day
Class of 1955: The library corner of the one room school house. Note the cowboy shoes that we wore. I'm at the far right. We never called ourselves "cowboy," for we were "ranchers" and we thought of "cowboys" as those that rode in rodeos. And we seldom wore pointed-toed cowboy boots in those days.
This is a photo from the 1956-57 school year. It is one of my favorite photos as it shows the closeness of our class. L to R, my older brother, Donnie, my two cousins, Wayne and Ervie Tippett, and me. The school house had been closed since circa 1936, then re-opened in 1951, yet the tulip plant between the legs of Wayne Tippett survived all those years and bloomed early each spring during our tenure at the Joseph Creek School.
The last class to attend the school house. The photo was taken at the beginning of the school year in 1956. The teacher was Mrs. Mallory. She became ill before the school year ended and Mrs. Spangler returned to close the school year. This was the largest student body we had during the six years I attended the school. I'm in the rear row, far left.
An article from an unknown newspaper dated May 27, 1954. These are the last three rural school districts in Asotin County, Washington as of that date. The Joseph Creek School is on the left. In this article, it was incorrectly referred to as the "Rogersburg School." I'm the young feller referred to as Bobby Fouste.
The teachers seemed to change every year. Perhaps four rowdy country boys were a bit much for the school marms. Yet, of significance, the last school teacher we had in 1957, Lorene (Fulton) Spangler, also taught classes to my mother in this school during the early 1930s.
At the closing of the Joseph Creek School in June of 1957, parents of the students, alumni of the 1930s, and the class of 1957 join for a final photograph. The teacher, Lorene (Fulton) Spangler, is at the far right. I'm third from right, sitting.
photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski; see her gallery of western performers and others at her site here.
The Log Trough
These days, the livestock watering trough is usually made of shiny silver colored corrugated metal and it probably was purchased from the local farm and ranch supply store. Or it may be an old porcelain bath tub that has been recycled and used as a stock trough. In either case, the most noticeable thing about the modern day watering trough may well be the bubbly looking brown algae that floats on the surface if the flow of water is too slow. Such was not always the case. There was a time when a watering trough had its own personality and character.
circa 1949 - The rider is unknown. The wood pipe feeding the watering trough is still in place, but the spring box has been relocated uphill behind the bushes to a more secure location. The pipe feeds the trough from the spring box.
The trough was there in 1948, my first memory of it, and
it was still there in 1968, the last time I visited it. By 1990 it had
disappeared along with the cow camp cabins when a forest fire swept
through the area.
Behind the trough was a pole fence made of peeled Lodge Pole Pine. Large mountain plants grew all around the wet areas. Close by grew huge White and Douglas Fir trees. Chipmunks drank there and red berries grew on unknown plants. The berries were round and hard, and they were excellent ammunition for the bean shooters that we made from the stalks of other plants that grew behind the trough.
Cold water came from a pipe that was fed by a small spring box which was uphill from the trough. The water was sweet and clear, and it was so cold, that even on a hot August day, it would hurt our teeth. In the spring box one could find a jar of sourdough starter left for the next person to use. It was a big responsibility to maintain the starter. Wandering travelers could look forward to sourdough biscuits or hotcakes, along with an unlocked cabin, any time they felt need for food and shelter.
circa 1945 - The log trough used for the cow camp cooler is on the immediate right of the photo. A spring box is seen at the far end of the log trough, and the pipe is made of wood. A second log trough can be seen in the middle of the photo through the gate. The building below the gate is the new cook house built of boards, and the cabin above the gate is the older log cook house. What appears to be a power line is a single strand telephone line that connected several of the remote cow camps, fire look outs, and Forest Ranger stations via a hand crank telephone system.
The old log trough lay covered in snow all winter long, but during the summer it was alive. Sometimes little water beetles would be found swimming along underwater like jerky little submarines. During the August roundup, the trough would be the camp's ice box. Not for meat or eggs however, for these were stored in the meat box on the cabin porch. The bears loved the meat box and would tear it down at night and scare the heck out of everybody. Lacking ice or refrigeration at the cow camp, it fell upon the trough and the meat box to keep our food from spoiling.
Sometimes there were watermelons swimming in the trough, and usually there were a couple of gallons of fresh ranch milk snuggled down in the cold water. Often there would be a few bottles of Nehi strawberry soda or a case of Olympia stubby beer bottles resting quietly at one end. Now, the men wouldn't admit that there was beer in the trough, but it was there just as sure as there was a bottle of White Horse scotch whiskey hidden in an upper cabinet of the cabin. The bottles of White Rock club soda bobbing at one end of the trough indicated that a bottle of scotch couldn't be far away.
The trough is well hidden by the summer over growth on the right side of the photo
We would sometimes make boats from yellowing cucumbers and float them in the trough. Sometimes we could find an old sardine can with the top wound back on a key and use it for an outboard motor boat. And when we were feeling brave on a hot summer day, the log trough became our swimming hole.
There were many of these log troughs located through out our summer range. One still remained when I last visited the area in 2005 at what was called the Old Cold Springs cow camp. Since then, another forest fire has burned through the area and it is unknown if the trough survived. These springs had been used for perhaps thousands of years by the Nez Perce people, and during the 1950s one set of teepee poles still remained leaned against the branch of a fir tree. The poles disappeared during a forest fire a number of years ago.
circa late 1950s - The fill pipe has been changed from wood to steel, and the trough shows wear from years of use and seasonal abuse. This photo pictures the pole fence behind it.
circa 1950s - Not far from the log trough a set of teepee poles rested against the branches of a fir tree. The springs were used by the Nez Perce people for many years until the Nez Perce War of 1877. During the time our family used the springs for our summer cow camp, it was not uncommon to find many sets of teepee poles, artifacts and ruts left by the travois travelers as the Nez Perce migrated through the area on their seasonal march between summer and winter living areas.
Like many things in a cowboy’s life, the log trough is now just a memory. But memories like these are worth having. Life is good when a person can have fond memories of places and things like the old log trough.
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