I’ve been through just about everything in my life. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, quicksand, threat of nuclear war, and last but not least, covid.
My encounter with quicksand wasn’t so much sand as mud. When the tide goes out of Cook Inlet in Anchorage, Alaska, a thick mud made of silt and clay is left behind. You can walk across it, but don’t stop and jiggle feet, because it quickly turns to goo. Many a person has been trapped in this muck, with several people tragically drowned when water came rushing back in.
I became mired on one fishing expedition and was fortunate to be wearing hip waders. My brother and a friend quickly lifted me out of the rubber boots. With some effort, they were able to yank them loose as well. I only made that mistake one time. Newcomers to Anchorage are warned about walking on the mudflats. I’d been told, but gave it little thought up until then.
One thing I never encountered is a stampede. Vintage western movies dramatize them all the time, and in some cases, regurgitated the same film footage over and over. I became good at recognizing such.
We were driving from Lake Havasu City, Arizona to Chapman, Kansas a few years back. Part of this trip took us through through Texas on US-54. I could smell the Dalhart cattle feedlot before seeing it. Tooting my horn to say hello as we rolled past, my wife asked me to cease, claiming the animals might stampede. I respectfully obliged.
A fellow at a gas station said there was close to 60,000 head crammed in that place. They were hunched together tighter than raisins in a box. It’s hard to envision delicious hamburger patties and steaks originating from such a ghastly scene.
I’ve often wondered if stampedes were something dreamed up by Hollywood producers. After a bit of research, I came across a newspaper account of one taking place in Arizona in 1891. It’s rather a short story, so I’ll transcribe things exactly as is from the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph. I did make a couple of slight sentence adjustments, as they were quite archaic in composition.
Stampede in the Mule Mountains
“A drive of 900 head of steers, to be delivered at Wilcox for J.V. Vickers, had reached a gap in the Mule Mountains, on the way from the southern part of the county, on Friday night, when for some unforeseen reason they stampeded and scattered in all directions.
The stampede occurred at about eleven o’clock at night and when daylight came, but 238 head were in sight. A stampede to most people unacquainted with the range, is believed to amount to some similar act of cussedness as a cow kicking over the milk bucket, or a bull jumping over the garden fence and eating the cabbages. A stampede, however, is an entirely different thing.
Imagine 700 steers in a race away from some object which they imagine is after them, each one trying to outrun the one ahead of him; the air trembling with the sounds of their hooves; trampling each other under foot and carrying everything before them.
After the band, in the present instance, had passed the level country they made for the mountains with seven cowboys after them, trying to control them and allay their fear. All night long they rode through brush and rocks to head them off from getting back to their old range. When daylight came the horses and men presented a sorry looking sight.
The clothes were nearly torn off from the men and the horses bleeding and crippled from contact with brush and rock in the darkness, and 237 head of cattle to be seen out of nearly 1000 head was a discouraging outlook.
Word was brought to Tombstone, and fresh men and horses went to the rescue and the work of rounding them up still goes on. But one steer was killed; he fell and was trampled to death by those which followed.
When they broke, they made directly for the camp where the wagon and supplies and bedding were located. It seemed as though there would be nothing left of it, or the occupant of the wagon, who was asleep. The cook, however, heard the noise and being no tenderfoot, he grasped the situation and a blanket at the same time. Standing up, he waved the blanket in the face of the oncoming avalanche. The effect was marvelous; the terror-stricken animals parted, went around the camp, and came together on the other side.
The cattle belonged to Dick Clark, the Snake Ranch, Fred Herrera, and others. It is expected that by tomorrow they will be on their way to Wilcox.”
Looking back on my trip to Kansas, perhaps honking at those incarcerated steers in Dalhart, Texas was the right thing to do. Had they stampeded and escaped from that horrible place, a few might’ve made it south to Mexico unscathed. In western movies, that’s where outlaws on the run always go.
There’s another popular sanctuary for creatures on the lam a bit further down the trail, with Oatman, Arizona being refuge to quite the population of wild burros. Those four-legged creatures will never starve as long as visitors with sacks of alfalfa cubes keep stopping by.
Next time I’m driving on US-54 and pass that cattle prison camp, I’ll honk for all it’s worth. Most definitely, 60,000 stampeding steers can easily bust through the metal fences, and I doubt there’s enough real cowboys left in Texas to stop them. Slowing to a crawl, I’ll yell out an open car window with my best western drawl, while pointing the way,
“Head west little dogies and don’t look back ’til you git to Oatman. You’ll be welcome there, at least by the tourists!”