Vail Daily letter: The real cowgirl
It was with great sadness that I read of the passing of Alline Ross, a dear and respected old friend of mine. She was the epitome of what a real lady of the West was, equally at home in the saddle or in front of a sewing machine creating beautiful Western suits for herself. She was soft spoken, but you always knew there was steel behind those piercing blue eyes.
I often helped local ranchers with cattle drives, and I think one of my first with Alline was also one of my hardest.
Late one fall, we had gathered cattle above Warren Gulch where the Diamond Star Ranch now is, and as we started to descend into the canyon a veritable blizzard hit us. Neither our horses or the cattle felt like pushing into the face of it, but Alline knew just the right places to push the herd and we finally got them down into the relative protection of the canyon floor and home.
Others might have quit and come back for them another day, but not Alline. I think her granddaughter Trish was with us that day, just a teenager, but she toughed it just as well.
Another time I arrived at her corral in the early morning to find her limping badly, having been attacked by a mother cow the night before. But we were scheduled to gather strays, so that was what she was going to do.
She had decided to ride a great big green-broke gelding that she had driven into a pen, as there was no way to catch him even in the corral. Keep in mind Alline was probably all of 5-foot-1 or so, and with much wrestling and being lifted off the ground a few times, she got the bridle on him; my help firmly denied.
We finally got the gelding into the trailer, loaded my horse behind him, and then came a lesson in 4-wheeling with Alline at the wheel of their old Jeep pickup. She was too short to work the clutch and gear shift well, so she handled it by scooting way down in the seat and making it work by sheer determination. Barely able to see over the dash, we nonetheless survived to come over the back hill into the new Beaver Creek Golf Course and remove two wandering bulls that were making themselves unwelcome. And the green-broke horse had a good day and a good lesson.
Once, against her good sense, she let me talk her into bringing her good horse to town to participate in the first-ever team penning event at the county fair. In a timed event, two people on horses enter the arena, ride down to a herd of cows at the other end of the arena, and cut out three head that have common numbers painted on their backs. Then you have to bring them away from the herd and put them in a pen.
Alline and I were the first team up, and we had no idea how this was supposed to go. But we knew we could herd cows. So we quietly rode into the herd, found our three cows and just as quietly brought them back to the pen, thinking we had done a pretty good job.
Well, enter the next team, a couple of young cowboys who whooped, whipped and spurred into the herd, scattered them everywhere, luckily ran into their three cows in the melee, and penned their cows about 20 times faster than Alline and I had.
She wasn’t at all impressed and thought that was no way to handle cows, timed event or not. She always refused to push cows beyond their comfort and at times I thought it would take a week to go a mile.
In those days if someone would refer to me as a “cowgirl,” I would firmly deny that I lived up to that description, because to me Alline was the epitome of all that encompassed. She was a herdsman tending her cattle, she was a farmer overseeing crops, she was a horsewoman extraordinaire, and when you can do all that, you earn the right to be labeled a real woman of the west. And that she was.
I only wish she might have stayed in the area longer so we could have shared some wonderful memories. I hope especially her family has enjoyed some of mine. She will always be in my heart.