My brother’s horse, Ali Kahn was a fantastic cutting horse. Knute and his horse were like one entity working together, totally in sync. Ali Kahn could tell when a cow was about to change direction and maneuver to cut the cow off before the cow actually changed direction.
I could get on Ali Kahn, show him which cow I wanted in the corral, drop the reins and hang on. He would cut back-and-forth and drive the cow into the corral with no further help from me.
On one occasion, in the middle of the afternoon, Knute lay in the sun getting a full body tan. All of his clothes were in the back of a pickup. My uncle needed the pickup for something. He drove out to the alkali flats to get the pickup. He looked around and didn’t see my brother. So he just got in the pickup and drove it away with all my brother’s clothes. When my brother woke up and realized all his clothes were gone, he had to resign himself to his fate; he had to ride his horse 5 miles buck naked to the farmhouse where my uncle had taken the pickup with his clothes
Although Ali Khan was the world’s best cutting horse, he wasn’t a good driving horse. When I was in high school we started getting Tennessee Walkers. We bought two red mares. My dad bought one, and I bought the other. My dad’s mare was six years old, mine was two years old. We got them from a Tennessee Walkers’ ranch in the south west corner of North Dakota; on the borders of Montana and South Dakota. They were both wild, free range bred horses. They had to be roped off from another horse to catch them.
When they were roped and into the trailer, we drove them home to Thief River. Once in Thief River, my dad put them in the pasture across the road from our other horses for a few days, so that the horses could get used to each other. A few days later, we brought the two horses and put them in the pasture with our other horses. Ali Khan was used to being the top dog. Apparently, my dad’s new six-year-old mare, which he called Fly, was also used to being the top dog out in North Dakota. The two of them squared off and took turns kicking the other one in the rear end and in the belly. Both horses had taken a pretty good beating when Fly decided she had had enough. She turned and took off. She ran as fast as she could to the other end of the pasture and then right through a four strands of barbwire fence.
She hit the fence at full speed, the top two strands of barb wire snapped, her legs went over the bottom two strands. The fence did not slow her down. She kept going at full speed. Soon she was out of sight. We ran for the pickup and trailer. We pulled the trailer up to the pasture and loaded up my new two-year-old mare, Nellie. We hope that having Nellie with us would be easier to catch Fly because she knew Nellie.
My mom used her tracking skills to help us follow our runaway mare. After tracking her for 6 miles we saw her standing in a field staring at an Oak Forest in front of her. She had never seen trees and was afraid to go near this strange, dark and somewhat overwhelming environment. Using my new mare Nellie as a familiar face, we were able to approach Fly and catch her. Fly was so befuddled by the trees and the banks of greenery facing her that I think she was happy to get back in the trailer with Nellie.
In addition to our annual two-day ride to my uncle’s ranch in North Dakota, I walked (yes, you read this correctly: I walked) to North Dakota three times. I made these walks in the spring when I was done with swimming. I was not enrolled into any of the spring sports and after swimming all winter long, I didn’t know what to do with my energy. The first time was a one-day hike to Grand Forks, covering a distance of about 60 miles. I made the hike with Mike. He could walk up and down stairs on his hands and do handstand push-ups on the parallel bars. It turned out he had flatfeet and hiking really hurt his feet. He did walk on his hands for hundred yards or so now and then. He ended up dropping out of the hike at Euclid 35 miles into the hike, which was still 15 miles from Grand Forks. I continued on until I reached Highway 2. I hitchhiked to the nearest restaurant and called my mom to come and pick me up.
The next time I walked to North Dakota I went with Karl. We were planning to make it a two-day walk, all the way to my uncle’s ranch. We just carried a canteen and a small bedroll which consisted of a blanket and rain ponchos. We stopped to camp in Euclid on the first night. We were sleeping on the porch of an abandoned house. In the middle of the night we were woken up by a police officer. He asked for our names and where we came from. I think he thought we were runaways. But when he called our parents and found out that we were just on a hiking and camping trip, he let us get back to sleep. The second night we made it just a few miles past Grand Forks. It was raining, thundering and lightning like crazy. We tried sleeping in an open field but we were getting drenched. Ultimately, we found refuge from the storm in a large potato storage warehouse. We had just sat down, leaning against the inside of the building when there was a large flash outside accompanied by a ominous thunderclap. Karl got zapped in the ear. That was enough for him; we hiked back to Grand Forks, called our parents and went home.
On the third hiking trip to North Dakota I went with Rob. This time we took a pack horse. We weaved our way through Thief River Falls from my house. We had only gotten a few miles out of town when a motorcycle popped out of the ditch behind us. The motorcycle spooked our packhorse. He reared up, pulling the lead rope out of my hands, and took off running for home. It just so happened that my mom showed up about five minutes later with A&W burgers and root beer. We tracked the horse all the way back home. It’s amazing how horses have a built-in navigation system. He didn’t follow the route we took, instead he went home by the most direct route.
When we got home and got our packhorse ready once again we started out. This time we made it all the way to my uncle’s ranch in North Dakota in two days. We walked but we also found that we could run a long way, holding the horse’s tail and being pulled as we ran.
Knute and I made the next hiking trip. We had a packhorse and it took us three days to walk the ninety mile to Bemidji, while following the railroad tracks and pipeline.
Knute was an avid upland game hunter. He had an Irish setter named Amos. Amos was a small hunting dog, as opposed to a show Irish setter. He was a fantastic pointing dog. Amos got a good part of his training in Duluth where my brother went to for his first two years of medical school.
Knute would take Amos down to the flood plains by the St Croix River where it flows into Lake Superior. There were a lot of pheasants that feed on spilled grain from all of the trains travelling to Duluth to load their grain onto the large ships. The flood plains were undeveloped grasslands which were located within the city limits, so no firearms were allowed there for hunting.
Knute would hunt with a wrist-rocket” sling shot. Amos had to learn to point pheasants and hold them tight so that Knute could get close enough to shoot them.
The first day of our three-day hike Amos covered many miles for each mile we walked. He was up and back, far off on one side of us then far off on the other side. By about noon on the second day he was so tired and sore that he could barely move. We draped him over the packhorse and he happily rode in the saddle, so to speak for the rest of the day.
While we followed the railroad tracks, occasionally we would come to a ravine with a stream or creek flowing through it. We couldn’t take the horse across the railroad tracks, so we went down into the gulley, got across the water and back up other side. At one point, we encountered this particularly steep ravine with a lot of undergrowth and brush. The crossing was terribly rough on everyone, including the horse. We were completely exhausted when we got back to the top on the other side. Not knowing why, but while we were resting, I thought of this 1976 International Harvester Scout Terra pickup truck advertisement. It was well known at the time. I remember singing the jingle as we were recovering from our wearisome travels, “Scout the America others pass by” was the title of it.
Late on the second day it was dark and pouring down heavy rain. My brother and I were leading our packhorse wearing our cowboy hats and rain ponchos. Our horse had two large side packs with my Kentucky rifle slung over it. A reporter from Gonvick came and tried to interview us.
He took a picture of us in the rain but he stayed in his car. He was yelling questions to us in the pouring rain, thunder and lightning. Somebody else saw the photo of us in the Gonvick paper and told us that we could hardly be seen in the rain and the reporter had listed us as Kent and Earl instead of Knute and Eric.
Our family did a lot of fishing and camping on Lake of the Woods. First, we would drive up to Warroad to go fishing in the big water. That was really all about fishing and I thought it was boring. My mom loved to fish. We would get up early in the morning, drive all the way up to Warroad, go out and fish all day and then drive all the way back to Thief River late that night. I was the youngest and usually suffered from motion sickness in the car and the boat, unless I was constantly looking around. It was a bit much for me, and I never became an avid fisherman. Then we started to drive to Baudette, Minnesota where there was a lot of islands; excellent fishing spots apparently. We would swim, go ashore to cook our fish and have a shore lunch. We would also camp out or stay in a cabin resort. I loved those trips to Lake of the Woods. Once, when we were on Lake of the Woods, we got caught in a terrible storm. It was pouring and the fierce wind was creating huge whitecaps over the lake. We were taking on water, bailing like crazy and in danger of swamping or capsizing. Ultimately, we were able to get to one of the islands where we found an unoccupied cabin. We were not the only ones caught unawares by the storm. A few other people also found the cabin for refuge that night. We had food with us, so my mom cooked-up supper for everyone. We played cards and talked with these strangers that we had just met late into the night.
Even later when my brother and sister had graduated from high school, I started going to the northwest angle with my dad for fishing and camping trips.
NEXT TIME – SKIPPING SCHOOL TO FLOAT THE RIVER – CH. 7