Search for cattle underway
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Alvy Ayers has been riding in this area for the last few days, looking for Charly Clay's work cattle. Clay had turned the cattle out on Running Water (Niobrara River) early last winter. Most of the bull team freight outfits have been turning their stock out to winter in the Platte River valley or on Sybile Creek. Alby has not been able to find many of the cattle around here. With the extreme cold in early December and several blizzards since then, they must have drifted south with the weather. Ayres made his first bull-train freighting trip to Wyoming Territory in 1865 pulling a load to Fort Laramie. He has been freighting with Charly Clay for the last few years. (Note: Alvy finally found the work cattle on the Platte River near the Nebraska state line.)
Charly Clay operates one of the largest bull team freighting outfits in the Wyoming Territory. Most of the time he uses five to eight yoke of oxen to a team (10 to 16 oxen). They usually pull two wagons hooked in tandem (one behind the other). With this arrangement a team can pull a load of from 5,000 to 8,000 pounds. The Bullwhackers (drivers) walk alongside the team urging them forward with their long bull whips. The whips are usually handmade and from 16 to 24 feet in length. The bullwhacker uses no lines or harness on his team. They are turned with shouted commands of "Gee" for a right hand turn and "Haw" for a turn to the left. The wheel yoke of oxen is the only one hooked to the wagon tongue, the others are all hooked to a long stout "swing" chain fastened to the end of the tongue. The next yoke in front of the wheelers is called the "first pointers." The next two or three are called the first, second, and third "swings" etc. On long drives the swing yokes were changed about at mid-day with a different swing in the lead for the afternoon.
Baled hay is one of the main items that Clay's freight outfit hauls. Many loads of hay are delivered to the stage stations and military posts of Fort Laramie and Fort Fetterman by his wagons. Much of the hay is provided by John Hunton on contracts with the army and the stage line. Hunton has haying crews working all summer on many of the meadows in the area. He uses a horse-powered hay press to make the bales in the fall and winter. Most of the bales weigh about 200 pounds, and are tied with wire or rope. The hay press has to be taken down to move it from one location to another. When it is set up and working with a crew they can bale from 25 to 50 bales in a day. Hunton and his crew also spend a lot of time repairing the hay press. Hay is so in demand that it sells at from $32 to $60 per ton to the forts and stage stations.
(Note: In 1882 Alvy Ayres started raising horses and cattle a few miles southwest of Fort Fettterman. The famed natural bridge that bears his name is located on the original Ayres ranch.)
(Information sources: "John Hunton's Diary, Volume 2, 1876-77," by G.L. Flannery; "The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes," by Agnes Wright Spring.)