[Edit – One of the anonymous locals sent me this poem, it made me chuckle I thought I’d post it lol!]
Let’s begin by shattering an illusion. For those who saw City Slickers and are convinced you’d happily pay good money to fulfill the fantasy of that kind of rough and tumble cattle drive, better think again.
In point of fact, being a cowboy on most cattle drives means little more than working under extremely arduous conditions, from sunup to sundown, where you just push and push and then push some more, all day long, with no stops along the way to rest your weary butt, or even take time out for lunch.
You must mind your overworked horse with all its accompanying accouterments, put up and take down your own tent, be responsible for your personal luggage, bolt down hastily prepared, mostly dreadful meals, and – perhaps the final indignity – go without showers for days on end. Should the realism of that less than bucolic scene paint a pretty picture for you, have at it.
The week-long Powder River Wagon Train & Cattle Drive, out of Broadus, MT, provides a far superior alternative. “We’d like to think we run the Cadillac of cattle drives,” says Wagon Master Tracy Fruit, and is he ever on the money.
The folks from Broadus provide you with a full-tilt, live-action cattle drive which kicks off from a ranch just outside town, then ends up, six days later, back in beautiful downtown Broadus. However in a conscientious effort to bolster the commerce of their small community, they’ve also turned the circuitous journey into a relaxing western excursion.
Between the kitchen staff, the transportation crew, the Guest Wranglers, et al, there are more than 50 in help, which amounts to practically one staffer for each guest.
The eclectic group of guests is composed of families with kids, (mom/dad/sis & bud); single women hoping to find a little romance with real life mountain men; big city young men in cowboy hats looking to stretch the outer limits of their machismo; plus your every day garden variety of grandmothers, bankers, lawyers, horse people, and of course cowboy/cowgirl wannabes.
On a typical day, you’ll steer the herd of mobile beef into camp about four in the afternoon and find – to your complete relief – that your personal tent has already been set up for you. Furthermore, your luggage has been delivered in advance of your arrival from last night’s camping spot.
Generators set up at each campsite power a half dozen showers. You have no idea how great a cool, bracing shower feels after a hot day’s ride. There are also, right across from the showers, a bank of sanitary and not-unpleasant portable toilets already in place. Sure beats the daylights out of having to run off into the bushes whenever nature calls.
You are also welcomed by an enormous red and white striped tent, which serves as a combination town hall/dining room/saloon/opera house/dance hall. After showering, you might choose to mosey on over to the main tent where you can belly up to the bar to pop open a chilled beer, belt down a whisky, drink some lemonade, participate in a spontaneous game of cards, practice your lassoing, or simply relax until you hear the dinner bell.
Montana is cattle country, a land where vegetarians are still regarded as heretical eccentrics, so be prepared to find various presentations of meat (steaks, prime ribs, bacon, barbecued beef, sausages, etc.) at every meal. Clearly, this is no place for vegetarians to be hosting a convention. Still, for those who subscribe to the philosophy of Red-Meat/Red-Death, there are also enough servings of salads, veggies, pastas, beans, cornbreads, fresh fruits and desserts to keep malnourishment at bay.
Each evening, after dinner, some form of entertainment four-wheels all the way in from town and in short time, a singer is belting out country/western songs to the accompaniment of amplified electric guitars. Guests become fast friends, joining in to learn the basics of country western dancing.
Come 7:00am, your gentle wake-up call arrives when a pair of Guest Wranglers goes from tent to tent slipping welcome cups of freshly brewed coffee into outstretched hands, making it that much easier for you to rise and shine.
After a hearty (and I do mean hearty!) breakfast of pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, muffins, fruit, biscuits with gravy, you pack up your luggage, deposit it outside your tent, and head for the corral. There, the horse (with whom you have been bonding since it was first assigned to you) gets saddled up and, by 9:00am, the entire wagon train is ready to roll out.
The horses used on this drive are not your typical tired trail horses, more used to moping along, nose to tail. These are genuine ranch horses of varying temperaments, from subdued to spirited, which have been designated based upon your ability as a horse person. Thus, depending upon your skill (and your courage) you can either gallop to your heart’s desire, straight across seemingly endless plains, hell bent for leather or; if you’re less inclined toward maintaining breakneck speeds, you can assist in steering the cattle, clippity-clopping along the trail at your own leisurely pace.
There are water and lemonade stops along the way to quench your thirst. There’s also a leisurely buffet luncheon of salads, lunch meats, cheeses, watermelon and cookies served daily, in the shade, alongside the chuckwagon.
Should you feel to achy-breaky one morning from either too much horseback riding or too much line dancing the night before, you can always opt to sit-this-one-out and spend the day as a passenger in one of the teamster-driven covered wagons which accompany the drive.
While riding, you pass beneath Montana’s aptly-named Big Sky, through some of the most beautiful country you’re likely to see anywhere. Not a day passes when you won’t be spotting pockets of antelope, mule deer, jackrabbits, pheasant, and even patriotic eagles soaring overhead.
City Slickers may have looked like fun, but you can bet it wasn’t comfortable. So the choice is yours. Be a real cowboy on a genuine cattle drive, cough up about $950 for the experience and work all day and stay filthy and eat lousy meals and sleep out in the rain. Or, “For a Few Dollars More” (per Clint Eastwood), you can not only be a real cowboy or cowgirl for a week, you can also be one living comfortably along the magnificent Montana trail on the Powder River Wagon Train & Cattle Drive, the Cadillac of cattle drives.