Like a cowboy's therapy: The Green River Drift's 70-mile cattle drive

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The cattle thrust is an enduring awesome of the American West. The representation of pugnacious cowboys pushing immense herds of cows crossed the unfastened scope is stamped connected our imaginations. 

But by the 21st period – with occidental states increasing and changing accelerated - astir horseback cattle drives person been tally disconnected the scope by suburban sprawl, authorities regulation, little beef consumption, and the instrumentality of protected predators. 

But there's a radical of stubborn men and women successful Wyoming who each outpouring propulsion thousands of cows on the aforesaid 70-mile way their ancestors pioneered 125 years ago. As we archetypal reported past fall, this throwback to the aged westbound is called the Green River Drift, and it's the longest-running cattle thrust near successful America. 

Just aft dawn 1 Saturday successful June of 2021, I'm trying to assistance Wyoming rancher Albert Sommers and his squad determination hundreds of cows – astir of them mothers with caller calves – successful a unreality of particulate toward precocious greenish pastures wherever they'll graze each summer.

Albert Sommers: And if you consciousness inclined, Bill, you tin whistle. You tin yell. 

Bill Whitaker: I tin bash thing to m-- determination these-- 

Albert Sommers: This is similar a cowboy's therapy. You get to dependable everything out. 

I bash the champion I can, but it's not rather arsenic bully arsenic small Shad Swain, the lad of Albert's ranching partner, Ty.

Bill Whitaker: Shad is 5 years old? 

Ty Swain: He is. 

Bill Whitaker: Shad, if you tin bash this I tin bash this, ok? 

greenriverdriftscreengrabs07.jpg Shad Swain, Ty Swain, analogous Bill Whitaker and Albert Sommers connected the Green River Drift

Shad got to bash it with a sour pome lollipop successful his mouth. All of us, with the assistance of immoderate fearless herding dogs, determination cattle implicit hills, crossed creeks, done shimmering groves of aspen, on what cowboys telephone driveways and crossed highways, northbound toward those distant mountains. 

Bill Whitaker: How agelong does it instrumentality you to get them to the summertime feeding area? 

Albert Sommers: So it-- it takes astir 13 days from erstwhile we commencement to erstwhile we get up determination wherever we wanna be. We question up to astir 60 to 70 miles. 

Albert Sommers is 1 of 11 ranchers who enactment unneurotic to thrust much than 7,000 caput of cattle connected the Green River Drift. Those 11 ranches each prevarication successful Wyoming's Green River Valley, southbound of Jackson Hole. Here, the Wyoming scope is to the west, the upwind stream scope is to the east, the vale betwixt is portion bone-dry precocious godforsaken and verdant stream drainage wherever Native Americans erstwhile hunted buffalo. Today, the Green River runs done Albert Sommers' ranch. 

Bill Whitaker: And your family's been doing this however long? 

Albert Sommers: My family's been doing this since astir 1903. 

Albert's neighbour Jeannie Lockwood's household has been astatine it adjacent longer.

Jeannie Lockwood: This was my granddad's ranch. He homesteaded this successful 1889. 

Her ranch is astir 20 miles southbound of Albert Sommers' place. We joined her connected horseback earlier dawn the time she started moving her cattle north, on the aforesaid way her household has trekked for 125 years.

Bill Whitaker: So you're going to beryllium doing this for the adjacent 2 weeks? 

Jeannie Lockwood: Yes. Yeah.

Bill Whitaker: Getting up astatine 4 o'clock successful the morning. 

Jeannie Lockwood: Or 3. Or 2:30. 

Bill Whitaker: Or 2:30. 

greenriverdriftscreengrabs08.jpg   Jeannie Lockwood

Those aboriginal starts hardly comparison to what old-timers endured erstwhile cowboys stayed retired nether the stars each nighttime and the prima each time until they got the herd to precocious pastures.

Today, they spell location aft each day's drive. The adjacent greeting they trailer their horses backmost to wherever they'd near the cattle, circular up those that person strayed, and determination them retired again earlier dawn. The aged chuckwagon: it's been replaced by a cooler and the tailgate of a pickup truck. 

Bill Whitaker: But compared to what your gramps did-- 

Jeannie Lockwood: Our ancestors, yeah. 

Bill Whitaker: This is easy. 

Jeannie Lockwood: Yeah, we person it easy. 

A greeting thrust connected Wyoming's Green River Drift 03:20

Only ranchers would telephone this easy. Driving cattle is hot, dusty, demanding and they'll beryllium fortunate to marque a $50 nett per cattle erstwhile they yet nonstop them to market. Jeannie's girl Haley and son-in-law France assistance wrangle the herd, her husband, Milford, shuttles the equine trailers. They each near "regular" jobs and moved backmost to the ranch respective years agone aft Jeannie's brother, who had been moving the place, died successful an accident. 

Jeannie Lockwood: It takes each of america to bash it, it seems like. So...

Jeannie was a librarian. 

Bill Whitaker: So what is it astir this spot that makes you springiness up regular, mean American jobs and travel backmost present to bash this truly hard work? 

Jeannie Lockwood: Well, archetypal of all, it was location to me. And it was hard enactment for my parents. And I cognize it was hard enactment for my grandparents. And I conscionable couldn't spot lettin' it go. Labor of love, it's called. Yeah.

Bill Whitaker:  Where's the emphasis? Labor oregon love? 

Jeannie Lockwood: Love. 

Love mightiness prolong the Green River Drift, but it was calved successful crisis. 

Clint Gilchrist: The wintertime of 1889/'90-- is truly what started the Drift. 

Clint Gilchrist is simply a historiographer who grew up successful this vale and has written astir that harsh winter. 

Clint Gilchrist: And it killed disconnected the immense bulk of the cattle herds that were here, due to the fact that they weren't prepared for a atrocious winter. Nobody had prepared for a atrocious winter. 

greenriverdriftscreengrabs11.jpg   Clint Gilchrist

White settlers were not prepared. Native tribes, which the U.S. authorities drove disconnected the onshore to marque country for homesteaders, knew that winters successful the Green River Valley could beryllium merciless.

Clint Gilchrist: The Shoshone Indians and the Crow Indians were 1 of the ascendant tribes successful these areas. And they didn't wintertime here. They wintered implicit connected the different broadside of the mountains, wherever it was, you know, little elevation. 

After that brutal winter, ranchers realized they had to determination their cattle retired of the vale agelong capable to turn a harvest of hay. 

Bill Whitaker:  So portion the cattle are up successful the uplands, you're capable to turn hay. 

Albert Sommers:  Right. 

Bill Whitaker:  And that feeds them each wintertime long. 

Albert Sommers: Right. And truthful that was the genesis of what we telephone "The Drift." 

"The Drift," Albert Sommers says, due to the fact that erstwhile the archetypal autumn frost chills the mountains, the cows instinctively caput for home.

Bill Whitaker: And conscionable connected their own? Turn astir and commencement coming back?

Albert Sommers: Turn astir and start, we unfastened the gates…

Bill Whitaker: Drift back? 

Albert Sommers: And they drift back. In the spring, we thrust them. In the fall, they drift. 


When the Drift began 125 years ago, determination were nary regulations, nary subdivisions, conscionable wide unfastened range. 

Now, ranchers thrust their cattle to U.S. Forest Service onshore - the largest grazing allotment successful the state - 127,000 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Last summer, they paid the national authorities $1.35 a period for each cattle and her calf.

How overmuch each rancher volition beryllium is tallied astatine a spot called the "counting gate." It's Jamie Burgess' occupation to work brands oregon receptor tags and telephone retired which cows beryllium to which ranch portion his woman Rita adds up the totals. 

When the cows yet scope upland pastures, they are handed disconnected to "range riders" similar Brittany Heseltine, whose occupation is to ticker implicit them each summer. 

Bill Whitaker: And you're up present by yourself? 

Brittany Heseltine: Yes. Just me, my horses, my 3 dogs and a cat. 

Bill Whitaker: How agelong altogether? 

Brittany Heseltine: It'll beryllium astir 5 months. 

greenriverdriftscreengrabs15.jpg   Brittany Heseltine

Every time for those 5 months, Brittany is retired astatine dawn to cheque connected the 600 oregon truthful cattle successful her care.

Brittany Heseltine: First happening successful the morning, you travel retired connected a rise. And particularly successful the fall, the elk are bugling and conscionable talking to each other. 

Brittany earned her grade successful veterinary subject successful 2019. This was her 3rd summertime arsenic a scope rider.

Bill Whitaker: It's truly hard work. What's the attraction? What's the draw?

Brittany Heseltine: Something astir it speaks to my soul. I truly can't picture what. But each wintertime agelong I'm, like, "Oh, mates months more, mates months more. And past I'll beryllium up astatine home." 

Her location for the summertime was a tiny trailer successful an isolated camp; disconnected the grid, nary moving water, nary compartment service. At the commencement of past summer, 4 of the 5 Drift scope riders were women.

Bill Whitaker: You told america that you thought women made the champion scope riders. Why would that be? 

Jeannie Lockwood: They're hard workers. And I can't accidental that they're, you know, the men aren't good. But the women don't spell to municipality and arsenic overmuch arsenic immoderate of the men kinda person a inclination to-- 

Bill Whitaker: Visit the tavern?

Jeannie Lockwood:  Yeah. They'll spell connected the different broadside of the mountain. 

Bill Whitaker: So what happened to the cowboys? (LAUGH) 

Brittany Heseltine:  I don't know. Maybe they're conscionable not chopped retired for it.


There's quality up present and information too. Since listed arsenic endangered species, wolf and grizzly carnivore populations person exploded successful these mountains. Brittany keeps way of the calves they kill. 

Brittany Heseltine: If it was really killed by a predator past determination volition beryllium bruising connected the fell connected the inside. And it-- it's precise obvious. 

Jeannie Lockwood: You know, similar past twelvemonth we mislaid 24 calves, didn't travel home.

Albert Sommers: Now we suffer betwixt 10 and 15% of our calves. 

Bill Whitaker: It sounds similar a lot.

Albert Sommers: It's a lot. It would interruption america if it weren't for-- compensation programme by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

Bill Whitaker: So you get paid for each carnal you lose? 

Albert Sommers: We do. 

Predators aren't the lone menace to these ranchers. A increasing chorus of critics reason cattle shouldn't graze connected nationalist lands astatine all. Consumption of beef is declining and truthful is the fig of ranches connected the drift. There were much than 20 successful the aboriginal 1990s, today, conscionable 11.

The Green River Drift is truthful iconic that the cattle thrust has earned a spot connected the National Register of Historic Places. These remaining ranchers are determined to spot that it's not conscionable relegated to past books.

Bill Whitaker: So what does it mean to you to beryllium doing what your begetter and your gramps did, connected the aforesaid land?

Albert Sommers: It's hard to speech about. Means a lot. It means a lot.


Albert Sommers has nary children, truthful to sphere this onshore and its tradition, he's acceptable up what's called a conservation easement. Preservationists person paid him to hold that his ranch volition ne'er beryllium developed oregon subdivided, and to let the nationalist to usage the onshore for recreation. That statement volition besides use to his partner, Ty Swain, arsenic helium takes implicit and to his lad Shad erstwhile and if helium picks up the reins.

Bill Whitaker: So with the conservation easement, this onshore volition not change. It volition enactment the same. 

Albert Sommers: It volition enactment the same. Well, nary onshore stays the same. But-- but this onshore volition not beryllium developed. And I volition spell to my sedate peacefully with that knowledge. But conscionable not tomorrow. 

Many traditions person near their people connected this land: Native Americans were forced to springiness mode to fur traders, pioneers and homesteaders. Today it's the cowboy mode of beingness that is warring to clasp on.

Jeannie Lockwood: It's choky each year. I mean, we're down to the past dime astatine the extremity of the year.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds similar you're not successful it for the money. 

Jeannie Lockwood:  No sir. No, we're not. You know, and if idiosyncratic says, you know, you're a affluent rancher, lone affluent successful the information that we get to bash what we bash and we unrecorded wherever we unrecorded and we get to spot the prima travel up implicit those mountains. That's the affluent portion of this job, it's not the money.

Jeannie Lockwood and her household are driving their cattle connected the Drift again this summer. So is Albert Sommers, though aft 31 years successful complaint of the thrust he's handed that work disconnected to idiosyncratic else. And Brittany Hazeltine, the young pistillate we met up successful the precocious country, she's besides backmost successful the saddle this summer. And this year, she was enactment successful complaint of hiring each the different scope riders.

Produced by Rome Hartman. Associate producer, Sara Kuzmarov. Broadcast associate, Emilio Almonte. Edited by Craig Crawford.

In: Wyoming