National Geographic : 1945 Aug
Grass Makes Wyoming Fat BY FREDERICK SIMPICH HIGH up on wind-swept Continental Di vide hangs the spectacular State of Wyoming. It's so high up that streams rising here fairly fall down in their babbling haste to join faraway Columbia, Colorado, and Mississippi systems. Roads to near neighbors Nebraska, Mon tana, Idaho, and Colorado run downhill. The State averages more than 14 miles above sea level, and Gannett Peak, the highest, reaches to 13,785 feet. Down some of Wyoming's mountain slopes, on avalanche days, boulders big as houses may come tumbling; landscape here is still in the making. "Parts of our State are so rough," joked a cowboy, "that an owl would break his wings trying to fly over them. From dinosaur to dude ranch this region has seen a long span of life and a merry one. Wild Animals Still at Large Most of Yellowstone National Park* lies within the State. Roaming in Wyoming you still meet many wild animals. On open-range roads antelope herds raced our car. Once we stopped, I waved my hat slowly, and the curious animals edged cautiously to ward us to investigate. Beavers annoy farm ers, building dams in their irrigation ditches. And Jackson Hole ranchers have to throw rocks and build high fences to keep maraud ing elk from tearing down their haystacks. Today, on lush leagues of wild grass in this, one of the grassiest of our States, herds of sheep and cattle form walking chemical works. Eating grass where dinosaurs ate it eons ago, they turn it into meat, fat, hides for shoes, and wool for clothes. Human population averages about 2'2 per square mile, as against 504 in Massachusetts. Twenty times more domestic animals than people live here. This State is rich in oil, coal, and iron. It has bean and sugar-beet fields and makes mil lions from dude ranches, but grass is above all. Even the early fur trappers noticed that in spring deer and buffalo were in good shape. They simply pawed off the snow in winter and fed on last year's grass. Later, when Oregon Trail emigrants swarmed through, they marveled at the waving sea of summer verdure, belly-deep to oxen. Though Northern markets were their origi nal goal, it was grass which soon led Texans to drive millions of cattle up the trails. In 1884 alone an estimated 300,000 came. I talked with veterans who made this long march. They swam flooded rivers, choked on dust, lived frugally, spent wild nights in cow towns along the way, gambled their wages, and got knocked down and run over in stampedes. In such bovine panics some steers crowded so close they broke off each other's horns or stumbled to the ground and got pounded by so many hoofs that their bodies were worn almost clean of hair! From Hoofs, Horns, and Tails to Prize Bulls You could talk a lifetime about the wonders of Wyoming, especially if you're from Wyo ming! Yet its luxuriant grass, for herds and flocks that fatten on it, is the theme that is re peated like a popular song through the whole musical story of the State. Styles in cows change, as do automobile bodies.t The great-great-grandmother of to day's fat, sluggish, white-faced bovine, heavy with T-bones and prime ribs, may have been just a skinny, gully-jumping Texas heifer. In the late 1870's such longhorn brutes of the trail sold here for as little as $7 or $8 each. Now their carefully crossbred descendants, as prize bulls, sell even to faraway overseas stock farms for incredibly high prices. One Here ford heifer sold near Cheyenne in October, 1944, for $20,000 (page 155). Wyoming's State flower is the Indian paint brush. But the best-known State trademark is the picture of a cowboy sticking on a buck ing bronco. It greets you on signboards, cafe menus, and on every auto tag. Bovine "social register" is the State Brand Book. It lists some 20,000 cow marks and their owners' names. "Searing a sign on an animal's hide to show ownership is as old as slave branding," says Russell Thorp, former Secretary of the Wyoming Stock Growers As sociation (page 186). Oldest brand in continuous use here is the "M hook," owned by the Myers family. A stenographer designed it from the M hook in Pitman shorthand. "Brands may look like hieroglyphics to you," said Mr. Thorp, "but they're plain as auto tags to cowmen, and they form the base * See "Fabulous Yellowstone," by Frederick G. Vos burgh, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1940, and "Our National Parks," by L. F . Schmecke bier, June, 1912. t See "Taurine World," by Alvin Howard Sanders, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1925.