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Continued from Branding:

Shortly after branding, every cow and calf was gathered from the brush and small ravines in the nearby pastures and driven into a tight cluster. Yry and Dallas trailed the herd 25 long, dusty miles to the rail yards in Sheridan from where they’d be shipped out for sale and slaughter.

The journey began at sunup. She was grateful to be paired up with Dallas. They got along well. He teased her mercilessly, but his teasing was kind and it warmed her heart to recognize that he was paying attention to her and remembered little things she’d mentioned about her life. Between robust horselaughs, his patient tutorage about horses and cattle and the land that supported the cattle filled her head with the possibilities and necessities of her new life. Claire had shared that Dallas was married, but it was a difficult relationship. His wife was often absent. Exactly why or where she went was never mentioned. There were no children; the situation seemed an inconvenience.

At noon a truck from the ranch caught up with them to deliver lunch and two fresh horses. It was a slow and tedious process. The cattle could not be pushed too fast, for fear of burning off precious weight. As the sun rose higher in the sky, so did the temperature. Smells of sweaty horses, warm leather, and green, bovine pungence mingled with the dull rumble of kibitzing cattle. It was lulling. After lunch Yry was surprised to find herself nodding off in the saddle. Just before the sun set they pulled into the ranch of a friend of George’s. The cattle squirmed into an enclosure where hay was pitched over the fence to them. Early the next morning they would make the final push to the rail yards a few miles away.

Yry tagged along with the ranchers as they met in town for dinner, drinks, and ranch talk. George bought drinks and dinner for his host who would also be putting all of them up for the night. When Yry was finally shown her little cot for the night, she fell into it and went to sleep immediately, a truly unusual event for her.

The next day they drove the herd to the railroad yards where they’d be separated into three groups: cows, calves, and steers. The brand inspector weighed and inspected each animal, recording the results on lading sheets. George’s 60 filled two cattle cars headed for Sioux City Stockyards in Iowa. George trucked smaller allotments to Billings, which was less work, but the return was smaller and, of course, cost-prohibitive for a lot of this size.