The Great Saddle Mountain Horse Roundup of 1906

A correspondent for the Reading, Pennsylvania, Eagle submitted the following tale of the great horse roundup on Saddle Mountain and Lower Crab Creek in 1906. I have transcribed the article directly from a photographic copy of the issue of July 26, 1906, page 4. I have not edited spelling or place names from the original document, so you’ll find a few interesting variations on today’s geography.

A 1971 view of Red Rock Canyon, near Lower Crab Creek. This canyon, which was dry before irrigation arrived, served as a natural corral in pioneer roundups. Today it is flooded and provides sportsmen with fishing opportunities.

The Reading Eagle, Thursday, July 26, 1906. Page 4


Rounding Up Wild Range Horses In the State of Washington.

Regarding the last big round-up of horses in Washington State, a correspondent writes that Eastern Washington has for long years been known as the home of the will range horse, and many are the markets of the Central and Eastern States to which these horses have been shipped. Now, with the encroachment of the farmer to till the soil, the day of range riding and horse raising on the open range is about to vanish.

The southern half of Douglass county has heretofore offered an inviting range for horses, and there are thousands still running at large there on the sandy stretches of bunch grass and the deep green sloughs of the canons.

The first realization of the necessity of a complete round-up became known when ranchers began to build homes around Moses Lake and over the top of Frenchman hills, clear south into the canon of Lower Crab Creek. Wire fences were being put up, and the danger of injury to the range horses became every day more threatening.

The natural result of these movements was to show horsemen that there was a market for their property, and they finally got together and agreed to round up all the horses that could be gotten together. They began to realize that the old prices of $2.50 to $10 a head for horses on the range were a thing of the past, and many a man found he was really the possessor of enough horses to amount to quite a fortune.

In order to move concertedly, it was agreed to organize into a legal body and Thomas Burgen, of Ephrata, was elected foreman of the great drive. His plan was for 150 to 200 riders to sweep the entire range country of wild horses. A date was settled to begin the work and Ephrata was the starting point.

On a Thursday morning the first riding for horses began. Towering up to the south was Saddle mountain, or better known among the horsemen as Crab Creek mountain. This range rises from 600 to 1,500 feet above the level of the canon, precipitous on the north side, and gently sloping to the south toward the Columbia. About 75 riders were detailed to ascend the mountain opposite the camp and ride westward toward the mouth of Crab Creek, endeavoring to drive the wild horses before them. This meant some 40 miles of rough mountain riding for them.

The main body of the outfit, augmented here by the addition of another big camp outfit, drawn by six horses, and several white men and Indians, pushed leisurely on down the canon toward the Columbia.

The last five miles of this day’s march were through washed sand along the creek, interspersed with short stretches of basaltic rocks, and it was not until sundown that the Columbia was reached. Here were large corrals, and the result of the ride on the mountain was eagerly awaited by the camp. More men on fresh horses were sent into the mountains to assist the riders there, and about 8 o’clock the pounding of hoofs and the neighing of mares and colts heralded their approach.

Sweeping down the mountain through a narrow ravine, out of the clouds it seemed in the dim light, came the wild band, followed and herded by the riders, down to the water. They were all thirsty, and after a drink it was a short task to place them in corrals. Many of the riders’ horses had given out with the hard work. Some came in on foot and others had to camp on the mountain for the night.

About 400 horses were the result of the day’s work. Fully 1,500 had been started, but in the afternoon, when the riders and horses were tired, it was difficult to hold them and impossible to overtake them when they once got under way in their efforts to escape. This promiscuous gathering resulted in leaving many orphan colts with the band, and fully 50 were shot during the afternoon.

The partial failure of the ride of Crab Creek Mountain necessitated a conference of the horsemen, and it was finally decided to rest the horses and try once more. Accordingly, the next day’s work was taken on the south side of the Frenchman hill, lying to the north of Crab Creek, and a gently rolling country. The drive extends only about 15 miles, and about 600 horses were turned in at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

The fact that sheep had been through the country near the corrals now necessitated the driving of the saddle horses and wild band some eight miles from camp to forage, and more herders for the days and night wranglers for the saddle horses.

Some fine specimens of saddle horses were found among the wild band and they were speedily roped and saddled.

The following day Foreman Burgen laid a plan for riding the Saddle Mountain again. This time about 40 riders started up the canon to Ben Hutchinson’s ranch, some 20 miles from camp, and spent the night. In the morning they were on the mountain bright and early, and the first bunch of horses sighted was at once rounded up and held, and succeeding bunches run into them during the day. At the camp all were about early in the morning and by sunrise 50 or 60 riders started out around the end of the mountain with a herd of extra saddle horses to meet their comrades about noon and give them all fresh mounts. This plan resulted in nearly 900 horses being added to the wild band, although quite a number still eluded the riders.

One bunch, numbering from 100 to 150, all of the white or gray or spotted black and white and bred from Arabian stallions, could not be captured. It is known locally as the “wild goose band,” from the gray color and the straightaway runs they make. When their leaders decided to pull out, riders had to get out of the way or be run down, and no horses under saddle were able to keep pace with them. It is said that fully half of the band have never been branded nor felt the swish of a rope about them.

In 10 days 3,000 horses had been rounded up, but the big herd did not reach Ephrata, the shipping point, until a week later.


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