An old-fashioned cattle drive comes to life

“Cows are a’comin.’” It sounds like a Willie Nelson song, doesn’t it? I just drove up the road to see if the annual cattle drive has arrived. Nope, not yet.

Dean Heller’s field is where all 675 cows will spend the night. Neighbor Maranne Thieme graciously welcomes the wranglers to gather at her place across the road, to corral and water their horses for the night. Each year, a group of guests and ranch hands rides for five days along the back road between Bridgeport and Smith Valley, herding cattle. Each night, they return to the Hunewill Ranch for a hot meal and a soft bed. (There’s an unconfirmed rumor that some guests even have a massage.) This year, a sudden snowstorm puts ice on the road, so the drive is late by a day.

Early the next morning, I open my back door and hear a cow mooing in the distance. I grab my cup of coffee and raisin bread toast, and am on my way to Hudson Aurora. I plotz on my folding chair and await the excitement. This is the last day the cows are on the road. I heard from an old geezer that these cows have been making the Bridgeport/Smith Valley trip so often, they know they are almost home to the north side of our valley.

All of the cows are “with calf”, so not walking for another day is not an odious thought. The sun is warm, there is no wind, and the snow-topped Sierras are directly in front of me. Perfect. I settle into blissful anticipation.

The first cowboy to arrive is riding a golden palomino. He gives the appearance of being a prince of industry; perhaps a CEO of a big corporation. Today, he is a wrangler. He happens to remember me from last year. “Hi, Ron,” he says, and immediately carries on saying, “You should talk with Norma here. You were both in showbusiness.” Norma waves my way. She is seated next to Ted Holloway in the front of Ted’s chuckwagon. Ted is a gnarly old cowboy who was raised out on the desert without benefit of indoor plumbing and electricity. Shootin’ rattlers was considered a physical education course, in the one-room schoolhouse he attended.

A young family joins me. Troy, a young lad, walks up to Ted. Ted keeps the two big draft horses steady and has a chat with Troy. His parents beam. The connection between generations is a golden.

The moment arrives. Six hundred and seventy-five cows plod on and on, ever closer to the end of their trek. Wranglers coax them to stay in line. One cow stops in front of us, startled to see a human up close, and then joins the throng. Betsy Hunewill smiles, says hello, and passes by. The entire Hunewill family is part of this project.

And so, it goes. All in perfect harmony. When asked, each rider says they have had a wonderful ride.

The cattle drive holds a special place in my heart. It’s the end of the rainbow; people doing their job with satisfaction; guests fulfilling a dream; and, all with a good business ethic. Look close enough, and you’ll see why this is the greatest country in the world.

Ron Walker can be reached at


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