Thunder Butte

June 15, 2005

The Dumbest Dog

Old Pard was the dumbest dog you ever saw. Somebody gave him to me when I was in about the seventh grade. He was big, even for a puppy. He was really red like an Irish Setter, except that he was bigger, heavier, and broader. And, he had more energy than could be expected from a dog his size. This was odd, too, because Pard never ate much—usually just my left over sandwich, which was more likely than not a mashed potato between two slices of bread.

I always considered Pard a dummy because he would never do anything that I told him. He just had too much energy to sit around and listen to some silly prairie kid. I used to spend hours trying to teach that dog something, but it was always a waste of time.

Pard was dumb alright, but I can’t count the number of times he stepped in to keep me out of trouble. One day, the Briscoe boys who lived nearby came over to visit. We got into a fight, like we always did. Dale was the oldest, followed by Jack, Billy and finally David, who was just a few years old. Even little Billy used to try to hit me once a fight got going. Well, this particular day, they got me down and pounded me good until Pard caught onto what was going on. Pard quickly scattered them like a flock of birds because he demonstrated fast that he was willing to chew up the whole bunch of them.

I often would explore Thunder Butte with Pard at my side. We would have a great time. We explored the cherry orchard and ate choke cherries by the handful. We explored the caves at the top of the butte where people had scratched their names and messages probably going all the way back into prehistory. On each trip, Pard would sniff out and grab a rattlesnake that I was about to step on. By rapidly shaking the rattler, he would beat it to pieces on the rocks. On most of these excursions, he would kill at least one rattler, and sometimes he would get two or three. He was dumb, alright, but he saved me from all of those rattlers without once ever getting bitten.

Another great trick of old Pard`s was catching my horse when it tried to run away. Almost every sheepherder and cowboy that I ever knew, at one time or another, had tried to teach a dog to catch their horse. Yet, never once did I ever hear of one accomplishing this feat until Pard came along. Usually, when you got off your horse out on the prairie, you would just “ground hitch” him. That is, you would just drop the reins on the ground. The horse didn’t like to walk with the reins trailing because he would step on them and they would jerk the bit in his mouth, which would snap his head back. Lots of horses could be ground hitched. Still, some were smart enough to know that if they ran, the reins would fly out to the side and wouldn’t get stepped on. Well, Pard thought that a running horse with flying reins made for a great game. Being a dog who always wanted to play, he just got right into the spirit of the thing—chasing the horse, catching the reins in his mouth, and pulling the horse to a stop. Then, he would tug and pull, eventually leading the horse back to me. Dumb old Pard! He saved me from being stranded so many times. This was something no one could ever teach a dog.

Pard died one winter when I was away in high school or college. They said he was always listless when I didn’t come home anymore. He just didn’t have anything to do. Or maybe in his own poor, dumb way, he just missed me too much.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Wednesday, June 15, 2005 | (0) comments |

June 11, 2005

More Friend than Owl

One day, when I was young, my mother and I were out riding our horses northwest of our ranch on Thunder Butte Creek. We came down into a draw where there were a lot of trees and brush. As we rode down the draw we noticed a dead owl lying at the foot of a large cottonwood tree. We got off the horses and looked to see the owl had only been dead a short time. While we were looking over the large owl, we heard a screeching sound coming from the large cottonwood and discovered there was some kind of nest up in the tree. My mother climbed that tree and came back down with a baby Great Gray Hoot Owl.

We took the owl home and then tried to figure out what to do with him. We couldn’t turn him loose because his mother was dead. So, we decided to tie a string to one of his legs and the other end to a peg in the ground. Since it was summer time he needed no shelter. But, what would we feed him? My mother had some fresh beef in the house, so we cut small strips of the beef and I held a strip in front of the owl. He opened his mouth so large that all you could see was his mouth. I dropped the strip of beef in to the gaping mouth, he swallowed, and then he continued to screech. Well, he didn’t stop screeching until he had consumed about one pound of beef.

No one in the family could think of a name that fit this little animal, so from the beginning he was only known as "Owley." The morning after finding Owley, the first thing I heard on waking was Owley screeching. I got out my .22 single shot rifle, got on my horse, and went hunting for Owley’s breakfast. Before long I shot a jackrabbit, which I took home and cut into about six pieces. I would hold each piece in front of Owley, he would open his enormous beak, I would drop in the rabbit, and he would gulp it down and open up for more.

That first day I went hunting and shot two rabbits, a gopher, and a couple of nondescript birds. He ate it all. This became my daily routine. I would have some breakfast, then get the rifle and go hunting for Owley. A few hours after he ate, I would check on Owley, and near him I would always find small piles of bones, a few of the larger feathers and small bits of fur. All the rest had gone to make Owley one of the largest owl specimens in South Dakota.

From the beginning I heard all of the usual negative comments about keeping a wild animal, but I was not dissuaded from keeping Owley. Before long, I took the string off Owley`s leg and he would follow me around the yard. Soon he became a fixture on the front porch. We just took him for granted, and he seemed to take for granted that I would supply enough meat to keep him happy.

Within a year Owley had become an enormous owl. He probably stood two feet in height. He was always fat as a little pig because of the great amount of game he ate. Before the summer was over, when I would start out to hunt, I would always discover Owley flying along, slightly behind and to the right of me. He always flew along with me in this same position. As soon as I would shoot small game, he would instantly swoop down and recover it. I would then tie the game to my saddle and when we had the days supply, we would return to the ranch. Only then would Owley eat. If it was small game like a gopher, he would just tear it in two and swallow it. If it was larger, like a jackrabbit, I would cut it in several pieces and leave it on the ground and he would tear it up and swallow it.

Over time, Owley became more and more independent, hunting on his own. But, strangely, he always brought home the mice, gophers and birds that he caught. He would lay the game on the ground by the house and when he got hungry he would start his peculiar screeching until I came and held one of the animals out for him, then he would tear it up and swallow it.

Altogether, Owley was a most enjoyable pet. If he was not around when I came out of the house, I would call, “Owley, Owley, Owley,” and in a couple of minutes, I would hear him screeching off in the woods, then come flying like a bullet and land on my shoulder. Owley developed huge, long talons, but never once did he ever scratch me or hurt me in any way. I always marveled that he could land on my shoulder with such speed and never seem to touch me with his talons.

Some time later, my parents moved to another place, closer to the school. Of course Owley went with us. He never had to be secured in any way. It seems that he always knew that his security was with the family. When school started, Owley went right along with me. Sometimes he wouldn’t be around when I left for school in the morning, but when I came out at recess, he would be waiting. He was a great hit with the other kids, landing on their heads and shoulders. Of course, things hit the fan when one of the parents discovered a mark on one of their little darlings. The teacher then sent a note home to my parents that Owley would have to be restrained and was no longer welcome at school. I guess that was to be expected, so there were no hard feelings. We just built a cage and kept Owley locked up during school hours.

Over time, it became harder and harder for Owley to tolerate his prison life. Before the winter was over, Owley just disappeared. Increasingly, he would be gone for long periods of time and, eventually, he didn’t come back.

The next summer, one day when I was out in the woods along Thunder Butte Creek, I heard a screech, felt a thud, and there was Owley sitting on my shoulder. This was at least ten miles from where I had last seen him. After a nice visit, Owley flew away. I always felt that he had found a mate and was raising a family of his own. Sure enough, the following summer, when I was in the same area, I spotted two giant owls circling high in the sky. I called out, “Owley, Owley, Owley,” and before long, this giant owl, landed in a nearby tree and seemingly screeched out the whole sordid story of owl love and raising an owl family.

For the rest of my life I have always found myself getting teary-eyed, but happy, whenever I saw or heard anything about owls.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Saturday, June 11, 2005 | (0) comments |