Climbing that mountain high took a few months of packing our lives up for the move of a lifetime! Moving from our home here to a new home 300 miles away was a huge undertaking…not only did I pack my entire life…I also packed memories and dealt with many mixed emotions. Never living far from home before, created a traumatic journey at times and yet…it was a wild at heart chapter of pure adrenaline in our spirits! Relocating our life by moving to an area, rich in cowboy culture and steeped in buckaroo tradition, was an exciting opportunity, as we would be managing a large 35,000 acre cattle ranch, doing something we both loved and knew how to do. We had many new adventures planned ahead…while some adventures were unexpected beyond belief.
Parts of this post may be a bit repetitive from my Split Seconds introduction post a few weeks ago…please bear with me as I felt there were some blanks that needed to be filled in on our life before the flash flood and specifically the day of the flash flood.
Moving day dawns…and the epic day of moving my lifetime begins!
“I’m Gonna Climb That Mountain High” was blaring from my stereo, as I pulled up to the familiar stop sign, at the junction of Highway 37 in my truck “Della” (we name our vehicles around here), pulling my horsetrailer just as dawn was breaking into a brilliant red sunrise as I sang along with Reba…
“Red Sun A Rising….Oooover That Hill” “I’ve Had Enough Of This Desert To Last From Now Until”….”This Could Be The Day I’ll Finally Find My Way Out!”
Tears ran down my cheeks as I sang in a quivery voice…I had just hugged Mom and Dad as I left the house…I wiped my tears and blew my nose…telling myself “It’s time to put my Big Girl panties on!” My parents would be fine…but I missed them already, and I was only 10 miles down the road…but they would come to visit! “Now darn it MJ, be a Big Girl!”
Giving “Della” the gas, I pulled onto Highway 37, and continued singing with Reba..while my kitty “Kalamazoo” laid beside me on his comfy blanket on the front seat..he was 11 that year…solid black, with just a bit of white on his tummy, he was my green-eyed Manx kitty with no tail of course and he had quite the “Cattitude”…he was my baby, Zippy or Zoo (as we called him) and he was given a tranquilizer shot from our vet early that morning before he left for the trip with me as he hated riding in the car…he equated it with going to the vet and he hated going to the vet!
My trailer was loaded with our much loved horses, my 10 year old red sorrel mare Lottie…oh how she loved to cut cattle and work them! She could dance and boogie down anytime and I hung on! She was beautiful and I do still look for Leo bred horses as she was a triple bred Leo mare…incredibly smart and when you did not need her fire, she was laid back…and always was a joy to ride…she trusted me and I trusted her. In later years when my Dad was ill and in a wheelchair we would go outside during the magic hour on a summer evening so he could watch Lottie herd a small bunch of cattle to a corner and then stand and wait to see which one would try to break away and she would go to work cutting them off and herding them back…Dad laughed and got such a kick out her…I miss her and I miss her…someday I know I will see her again.
(We had matching red hair and temperament too!)
And Odie, who was WB’s 6 year old black gelding…he was beautiful with his big eyes, very refined for a gelding and such a sweetheart! We raised him out of one of our best AQHA mares, Sally, who was a beautiful colored Grulla. Odie was a character much like Wild Bill! He set his own rules as he was due in early May and instead he was born July 9th! Both Sally and Odie had me up every night checking on them for months! His birth was normal and all was well with both mom and foal…we called him Odie for Overdue:)
My trip to our new home took about 9 hours driving, as I had a heavy load pulling my horsetrailer and I drive slow and easy when I have my horses behind me. I stopped along the way to let them out to stretch while offering water to them and Zippy…walking them around a bit to keep them balanced and happy. I started out the trip on a two lane country road leaving here…traveled about 80 miles of freeway before climbing up out of the Columbia River Gorge to Highway 97 which was two lane all the way to the ranch…but I made it and got the horses out who had big eyes and then Zippy who had even bigger eyes…and then we began to unload more boxes. Oh my gosh, I even brought 20 years of The Quarter Horse Journal…which is a heavy, monthly, horseman’s bible…when we moved the next time, away from the ranch, I donated them all to the AV ranch!
Moving into the historic white two-story 100 year old house above in the picture was an interesting ordeal as furniture now a days compared to 1900 furniture was a bit bigger…the house had lots of character and charm which I loved. Close to the house was a large 50′ by 50′ barn that you can see to the right with the pitch to the roof line and it also had the ranch tack room in it, where we kept several of our saddles and all of our horse tack…the smaller barn, was closer to the house and was called the Milk Barn, and we had lots of various corrals, the loading chute and a few smaller buildings, along with a small 100 year old ice house that we used to keep our vet medicines in. The historic ice house had thick walls and was without windows since its original purpose was to store and keep ice. All the corrals, barns and buildings were built on and around a dry creek bottom, called Newsom Creek.
As you turned into the ranch complex and crossed the cattle guard, the ranch house was to the left, with a small pasture next to the house and yard, where I kept our two horses Lottie and Odie…and to the right of the turn in was the equipment shed, with the shop joining on to it and straight ahead was where the barns and corral complex sat. In front of our house was an irrigated hay field and pasture that eventually led to the Crooked River. The ranch house and headquarters complex sat back about a 1/2 mile from the main highway, where you crossed the large bridge over the Crooked River to reach the ranch.
The above picture was taken in 1915 of the AV Ranch, at the time it was owned by Wallace and Ida Post…whom Post, Oregon was named after. The large two story house you see in the picture is the house we lived in…and looked pretty much the same except the balcony was gone. By the way, if you get an Oregon map out, draw an X from corner to corner, Post, Oregon is right in the very center of Oregon…and it was a small post office combined with a small grocery store, when we lived there.
It’s taken me several years to write about the flash flood, and even today I find it hard to talk about. It was a life changing event to me, as it was the most fearful experience I had ever felt. There was nothing that I could do…there was nothing anyone could do. It was overwhelming to witness the power of the water and the course of natural events caused by it. We barely escaped with our lives…one young man wasn’t as fortunate…loosing him and his horse was very difficult for his fiancé and his family…for us and our 15 yer old son, who found him a day later. The power of the water carried his body 8 miles and took his horse 16 miles…for many months there was a cloud of heaviness over the ranch and grief in all our hearts.
The deadly flash flood began 20 miles above us, on top of the Murray Mountains. During the afternoon the clouds continued to build and collide, producing a cloudburst of water and energy, it was estimated that 6″ of rain fell in 20 minutes on top of the mountains behind us…which began the run off of the water down the dry canyons. And instead of absorbing the water into the dry dirt, the water ran on top of the dry earth, taking juniper brush and logs with it, along with boulders and rocks, building the deadly energy of the water into a roaring wall of water and debris that was headed down canyons that converged into Newsom Creek, about 8 miles above us. Down at the ranch headquarters where we lived, we had very little rain. By the time the deadly wall of water hit Newsom Creek it took everything and anyone in its path…there were no warnings and it caught both man and animal off guard. We had no idea waking up that warm summer morning, that all hell would break loose that afternoon and by nightfall, our lives would forever be changed.
August 5, 1991 dawned like any other day that summer. It was hot with humidity and was hazy from the mixture of heat and dust. The summer had been unusual for us…as we were still settling in after moving our life to the ranch…I had spent the last two months unpacking, which was a huge task for me as it took time to figure out where to put things. By the 5th of August I was finally feeling like the end was in sight and the ranch was beginning to feel like home to me. I was able to look around and see our things here and there…I felt content as now I could concentrate on living the life of the ranch, helping my husband and getting to know the vast land we were on. I felt a new hope and anticipation for a new life with Wild Bill. I was finally back on a ranch doing what came natural…I loved waking up to cows and horses each day…it was pure heaven!
We were busy getting in the last of our hay crop for the coming winter months of feeding cattle. Wild Bill was running the bale wagon in one of the hay fields, which means he drove it and it picked up the hay bales loading it, then he drove it carrying the load of hay back to the haystack yard where he unloaded it into the stack. Youngest son, was swathing or cutting hay in another field and our oldest son Travis was bailing hay into hay bales in another field. We had one more issue to contend with…rattle snakes! They often would be wrapped up in the bales with their heads sticking out of the bale still alive and they could bite…so you had to be careful. The fields were spread out along the Crooked River for several miles and that day, Bill and the boys were all in different fields. In 1991, we did not have cell phones or two-way radios as we lived where we could not get a radio signal due to an iron mountain that was close to the house, so we had no way of communication on the ranch.
After everyone got up and got going that morning, I decided it was time to clean the house, doing my regular dusting and vacuuming, washing clothes and in general spiffing up the place. I was in and out of the house moving the water in the yard, watching for snakes as well, as the yard was a nice cool place for them to be! I had our two horses in a pasture next to the house, which I loved and they enjoyed the big trees to stand under for shade and being able to visit me. I often took turns on the horses, riding each of them out to find where Bill and his crew was for the day or the afternoon.
The ranch owner had several horses that summer that needed work and training so I was working with the very young ones getting them ready for the horse trainer who lived at the ranch for the summer. I had five weanlings in five separate steel paneled pens that Bill and Mike had set up for me the week before next to the house and close to the big barn. I also had an assortment of yearlings and two and three-year olds in the corrals next to the barn and was taking care of two aged mares of the owners in the pasture behind the equipment shop/shed. I was in horse heaven delight! My only complaint was a sore tummy from a horse kick a few days before but it was a long ways from my heart…an old saying that I heard growing up.
Bill and the boys came into the house at noon for lunch…I fixed them some sandwiches and we ate outside on the deck because it was a hot humid day and we had just bought a patio table and chairs a few days before. It was our first patio set and we all enjoyed sitting on the deck looking at the mountains, our horses and the cows…mostly we enjoyed the peaceful scenery and the quiet. As the guys were getting ready to go back out at 1:00, Bill said “You boys better pay attention to the sky this afternoon, it looks like we’ll see some lights in those clouds coming in. If you see any lightning, come into the house…don’t stay in the field. I remember thinking that Bill was right…I also thought that the clouds looked odd and appeared to be a different kind of cloud. They were moving in a swirl of sorts in a funny rotation. It looked like we were getting clouds from two different directions, and weather systems were colliding over head from the South and the Northeast. After Bill and the boys left I got busy again cleaning up the kitchen. It wasn’t long before I heard the wind picking up…never failed that after I cleaned we would have a dust storm…we lived on a gravel road as well, with lots of log trucks and traffic, as the road was a short cut over the mountains to Brother’s, Oregon.
About 2:30 a car drove up to the house, it was my neighbor from over the mountain. She had tried to go up the road down farther from us and ran into a bit of flooding ten miles up-country above us. She called her home to let her husband know that she would be taking a different route home. I asked her if we should be alarmed about the flooding…she said “No, the storm would pass…that it was just a little run off…nothing that doesn’t happen every once in a while.” I offered her a cup of coffee and we sat at my kitchen table talking about my great view of the meadows and made our acquaintances We had never met before and meeting other ranch wives was so important as you needed each other so I was happy to have made a connection to her. She left about 3:00 for her home and by then the wind was picking up with severe lightning and I was beginning to worry about Bill and the boys. I went outside to see what was happening…it was pitch black overhead and not because of dust. I sensed something very wrong about this storm…the clouds were almost a vortex of sorts and there was a funny feeling in the air…it had a strange color to the skies above and felt eerie…by now I was really worried. I remember praying for my neighbor to make it home safe and sound with her little girl.
Just as I was about to take the pick up out to look for my family, Travis, came in from the baler. We were standing in the mud/laundry room talking about the storm, he said it looked really bad up-country in the mountains behind us as they had been shrouded in black clouds all afternoon. I told him about our neighbor stopping in and taking a different road home due to the flooding on her usual road. We were starting to get a few sprinkles of rain by then but not much, except a nasty lightning and thunder storm. I was now feeling more panic as to where Bill and Greg were, so was Travis. It was roaring outside as the wind picked up blowing in bursts along with the thunder…it was black as coal out like it was 8:00 at night instead of 3:30. Greg came blasting through the door about then, looking frightened and said he saw the bale wagon sitting by the shop and figured Bill was with us.
We were all feeling on edge by now and didn’t know where to look for Bill. We finally decided to make a run for the shop and the barns to see where he was and what he was doing. No sooner had we decided that…then Bill burst in through the door. He had been hiding out in the little building we called the Ice House or vet medicine room. It was a 100 year old ice house that we converted to a vet/medicine room out in the corrals where we worked the cattle. He had been waiting for a break in the storm to make a run for the house. Luckily, he came in…as that little building was the first one to disintegrate when the wall of water hit…it had no windows, so Bill wouldn’t have been able to see the water in time to escape with his life.
Mike, the horse trainer, pulled up in the driveway about 3:45 getting out of the pick up with a serious concerned look, so Bill went out to see what was up. The boys and I were still standing in the mud room…when the lightning hit our phone on the wall with a loud popping sound and the phone was smoking…Greg started to walk over to it and I said “Don’t touch it”. He decided to go out and tell Bill and Mike about the phone. In a split second our power was surging…Travis and I decided we had better find the fuse box fast before the surging hurt our computer and blew our microwave as it was beeping away. Looking back I think it was warning us that all hell was about to break loose….
Stay tuned with me as we travel back to moments between life and death, with the rest of the story…to be continued.