How an Australian Shepherd Saved the Day

Autumn is the time of the year when livestock is rounded up and gathered to be shipped to market.  Calves are collected and weaned and any that weren’t marked during the spring are now branded and tagged. Before snow falls, clean up rides are made to gather any strays left behind during the main gather.   Finally, the bulls are gathered and moved to winter range or corralled in pastures where they are fed for the winter.

It is no different on the Taylor Ranch in Moab, Utah. One year, during the late fall with the threat of heavy snowfall, Joe Taylor and his father, Lester needed to move several hundred cows with calves and about 70 head of bulls from the high country down to a lower elevation. Normally, they wouldn’t have moved that many cows in such rough country with only two riders, but Joe’s brother, D. L. was in the hospital from a horseback riding accident.

They considered going to town to see if they could hire an extra hand, but they decided inexperienced help would be more trouble than it would be worth. Joe and his father decided to go ahead and move the herd from the Bar A down to the Fisher Valley by themselves.

They were headed north across a big open draw. Joe was working Taylor’s Whiskey. “Whiskey’s natural instinct was to go ahead of me,” said Joe.  “He worked the sides.  He would go up the right side of the herd and then come back around behind me and then head up the left side.”  Joe noticed Whiskey went back up the left side a second time.  He was half a mile away.  “He would disappear for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.  Then I could see him leave the herd and go straight west and run with his nose to the ground.  I really needed some help in the rear.  The calves were trying to cut back on me, but he was so far away from me – he couldn’t hear me yell at him.  I was pretty mad.  A little while later, I saw Whiskey bringing a 2,000 pound horned Hereford bull back to the herd at a dead run.  Not long after that, he brought back a huge polled Hereford bull.”

Only when Joe came upon a rise was he able to see what was happening, “It’s a bull’s instinct to go off by himself,” he explained, “and how Whiskey knew to keep those bulls from escaping is not something you can train a dog to do.  It is instinct pure and mysterious.”  It is a perfect example of how farm and ranch dogs bred for the real world need to be able to think for themselves and take action accordingly.  It is also one of the reasons they are so highly valued.

Another time, Joe and his brother were tracking a couple of wild young bulls through about eight inches of snow on the ground and followed them into the junipers and thickets.  “We had been chasing them long enough they were pretty tired.  Normally, I would have never gotten off my horse, but I had just won the Working Cow Horse class that spring and I didn’t want my mare to get hurt.  Wild cattle are usually afraid of you when you are on foot, so I got off and tied her up, but the next thing I knew, I was being charged by one of the bulls.  He was about 1500 to 1600 pounds.  I had no warning.  I grabbed the horns.  As he hit me, my hand slipped off the near horn.  He knocked me down and started mauling me.  All of a sudden I felt the pressure released, so I started crawling back towards my horse.

“When I looked back, I saw Whiskey had grabbed him by the nose and Oscar (sired by Whiskey) had grabbed him by the ham and put him on the ground.”  When Joe was safely on horse, his brother told the dogs to let the bull go. “I was all covered in snow.  I don’t remember it, but D.L. told me he knew something was wrong because he heard me scream like a Comanche and came a riding.” While Joe had been butted, hooked and knocked down by cows running by, that was the only time he had ever been pinned down and mauled.  Taylor’s Whiskey saved the day – he could be counted on to ward off an angry bull or mad mother cow.

Even though a dog’s life is far too short, four words can be said of these exceptional creatures, “Good job, old boy!”

 

The Colorado Connection – Some Aussie Trivia

Colorado was significant in birthing the development of the foundation bloodlines of the modern Australian Shepherd. Why? The Centennial State was an important hub for major horse and livestock events. Rodeos, horses, the National Western Stock Show, the Colorado State University, and the Western Horseman Magazine were common factors bringing together the early breeders.

– Fletcher Wood, a horseman, and cattleman and one of the first breeders, served as the Ring Master for the National Western Stock Show in Denver Colorado, one of the major livestock shows in the country. He was also the director of activities for the Jefferson Country Fairgrounds where some of the first Australian Shepherd dog shows and K-9 Khanas fashioned after the popular Gymkhana horse events were hosted.

Fletcher acquired Wood’s Jay, one of the breed’s foundation sires from Jay Sisler in 1949. He was a large, distinct blue (self merle with very little white trim) sired by Sisler’s Shorty and out of Sisler’s Trixie. Jay was a handy cow dog. Fletcher said, “Jay would heel cattle and worked the back end of cows, but didn’t like to go to the head of a cow until Fletcher started encouraging him to bark a little bit when a cow turned on him. Jay would bark in her face and turn her around and then he was fine, “he never did bark at the back ends, but he’d bark at the heads when they came to him.”

– Juanita Ely, who was the earliest documented breeder, had blue Australian Shepherds since the twenties. She and her husband ranched at Deer Trail, Colorado, which incidentally is where the first rodeo is believed to have been held. In 1950, they acquired Ely’s Blue, the famed Ghost Dog on the original IESR Registration Certificates. Ely’s dogs contributed to bloodlines from Colorado to California and the Pacific Northwest, including our bloodlines, Hartnagle’s Las Rocosa Aussies. Juanita was also my mother’s godmother.

-My family developed our bloodlines at the base of the Rocky Mountains where we raised sheep and cattle – hence the name, Las Rocosa. As fate would have it, our beautiful little Goody, a daughter of Ely’s Blue who was later registered as Wood’s Blue Shadow contributed not only to our bloodlines, but to Fletcher’s dogs and Dr. Heard’s Flintridge bloodlines.

– Green’s Kim AKA Mansker’s Kim was owned by Kenneth Green, a cattle rancher and veterinarian who’s rugged mountain ranch is now part of the Golden Gate Park.

 

– Steve Mansker, a race horse trainer, farrier and hunting guide became acquainted with Jay Sisler in the 40’s through rodeos, but it wasn’t until 1956 that he acquired Freckles from Jay. Later, in the early sixties while Steve was attending the Colorado State University he became associated with Joe Taylor who bought Taylor’s Rusty from him. CSU is also where Joe met the Petramalas who owned Tate, the dam of his beautiful Taylor’s Buena.

– In 1963, after Walt Lamar graduated from OSU with a degree in Agronomy (soils) he transferred to the Bureau of Reclamation at Grand Junction, Colorado. He met Steve Mansker at a rodeo in Meeker, Colorado, where he bought Lamar’s Scratch who was out of Freckles. Later on, after some stiff negotiations Walt was able to buy Lamar’s [Mansker’s] Turk from Steve.

– Another Colorado bred dog, Dale Martin’s Adobe Gypsy (out of two of Hank Weiscamp’s dogs) figures considerably in the pedigrees of hundreds of Aussies in the Pacific Northwest. Weiscamp’s dogs were mainly Joe Taylor’s breeding.

– The world-famous Flintridge bloodlines found in the largest percentage of modern Aussies were produced in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, by Dr. Weldon T. Heard. Heard, a veterinarian and sheep breeder used dogs from Wood and Ely bloodlines.

From these highly influential people and their Colorado bloodlines, breeders in other states began their own lines and Australian Shepherds were launched from relative anonymity to mainstream popularity.

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