After Round-Up came the roundup.
On a gray and rainy morning in the middle of September, Karl Jensen, a rancher from Butter Creek, stopped in Ukiah to pick me up. We loaded my horse into his stock trailer, stopped again to get his partner, a cowboy from Hermiston who had ridden for Karl before, and drove up into the mountains.
Karl manages over 300 head of cattle on private and public land west of Ukiah. It was time to bring them home.
The gravel road out to Buckaroo Flats was long and bumpy. Karl and his partner chowed down on sandwiches as we drove. I took the hint and opened my lunch bag.
A few minutes later we saw cows. They stood quietly near the road while we unloaded our horses. When we trotted toward them they high-tailed off through the brush and scattered trees. Karl kicked his horse into a lope. I followed him over the rough ground, hanging on to my saddle while we skirted downed logs and strained to catch a glimpse of our quarry in the drifting rain. We caught up with them at a pond and spent the rest of the morning trailing them down to cow camp.
By the end of the first day we had gathered eight pair. Not the most encouraging start. We had also changed a flat tire, spooked a herd of elk and tended a lame horse.
Karl rode almost every day for two weeks. I went when I could, like the other occasional volunteers. They told me that helping with the gathering and cattle drives is an old tradition around Pendleton.
The area we rode, between Ukiah and Heppner, has been summer range for over a hundred years. An early map in the Forest Service office shows stock driveways lacing the mountains, connecting the high pastures with the lower winter range on the Columbia Plateau.
The riding was a challenge, for both me and my horse. We spent one afternoon at a sorting corral with two other ranchers and a couple hundred head of cattle. My little mare spun to block errant calves and cut others out from the main bunch like a real cow pony. I rode home that day with a new appreciation for cowboys and their horses.
Through the last weeks of September cows arrived daily in the pastures around Ukiah. Their moos and bellows filled the valley. The sorting corrals, unused most of the year, became scenes of intense activity as the calves and cows were separated. In the middle of October the stock trucks arrived to haul them off to the feed lot or winter quarters.
This year's roundup was over.