Just another day in cow camp

For generations my family has lived in the mountains, most recently the Sierra Nevada.  My grandfather and his father ran a small cattle operation near Yosemite National Park for a number of years.  This entailed a three-day cattle drive (complete with a chuck wagon) up into the high country every spring, and the return drive every fall.  While up Kelty Chuck Wagonhigh, they lived in what they called “cow camp,” a two small-cabin arrangement with a bunk house and a cook house. Calling these shacks “houses” was extravagant flattery.

One fall morning, my grandfather, Oliver, discovered that he had left his sidearm rig – a revolver, holster and belt – hanging on a post at the corrals the night before. A heavy dew had formed overnight, leaving the exposed portions of the firearm damp. The wood-burning cook stove in the cook house, which was slightly warm from the night before, seemed like a good place to dry a handgun.  Oliver put the gun in the oven, closed the door, and off he went to do his morning chores.

You can probably see where this is going.

My great-grandfather, Ira, came in shortly thereafter and began making breakfast. This meant firing up the cook stove with fresh wood.  When breakfast was made, Ira called to Oliver to “come n’ get it!”  Oliver did not remember that the revolver was in the oven, which proved to be a tactical error of no small proportion.  Of course, the oven door faced the small, homemade table at whichKelty Meadow Corrals the two men sat down to eat.

Part way through the meal, the first shot rang out from the oven, slamming the door open and then part-way shut.  Peering from their seats on either side of the table, the men saw the revolver, smoke curling out of one cylinder and the barrel pointing to the back of the oven.

(Corrals at Kelty Meadows, where my grandfather hung his pistol belt overnight)

At that moment another round fired off.  Bullet fragments flew from the back wall of the oven, and the revolver slid off the rack and into the hinge area of the partly-open oven. Another round fired, hitting somewhere up in the rafters.

At this point, the two men had not moved from the table, even though they were less than six feet from “the action” and that action showed no sign of abating.  They were still staring at the revolver in the partly-open oven doorway, transfixed by the improbability of what they were seeing, when it fired another round.  This time, the bullet drove into the leg of the table at which they were seated.

“Oliver, get that gun out of the oven!” barked Ira, still not moving from his seat on the bench.  Oliver took a long stick from the wood box, picked up the revolver by the trigger guard, and tossed it out a window.  Breakfast was finished, and the day proceeded without further interruption.  No one knows if the gun was damaged by the three rounds that exited the cylinders not through the barrel.  In typical cowboy fashion, little was ever said about it after that.

Just another day in cow camp.

Fresno Dome(View of Fresno Dome from Kelty Meadows cow camp.  The Dome was a popular climbing haunt with my climbing partners and was used for climbing classes I taught.  Great days on great rock!)

Kelty Big Trees




(Right: giant sequoia stump and full-sized pines near the meadows and cow camp.)


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