How Corral Creek Was Named

by Joe McCarter (In His Father's Voice)

Me and Card and an older feller named Bill Horton are finishin' up supper in Hornton's cabin over on the Salmon River. Bill leans back in his chair an' stokin' up his pipe says, "Whereabouts on the Camas Prairie do you boys come from anyway?" We both said Corral Creek, an' Bill kinda smiles and hesitates a little like he's reachin' back a long ways and then asks, "Do either of you know how Corral crik got its name?

Bill Horton Ranger in SalmonBill Horton at his cabin on the Salmon River in Idaho circa 1910

The time was a year or two before Janey and me were married, and we was over in the Salmon River country lookin' for some place to settle and maybe homestead where the snow didn't get six feet deep.

Bill's cabin was servin' as a district ranger station for the Forest Service ol' Teddy Roosevelt had set up, and Bill had been named a district ranger not long after. Most of them earliest rangers were people like ol' Bill that mostly just knew the mountain country, and I knew of more than one old buckaroo that got jobs.

We'd had a little spare time after hayin' to take a team and light wagon to haul our camp, and took off up the Wood River and over Galena summit and down the Salmon. We was most interested in the country around Challis and the Pahsimeroi as we'd heard the winters was pretty light there for some reason or other.

We'd hit Bill's cabin late in the afternoon the second day out, and he'd told us to unhitch and turn the team in with his horses and come in and visit. I'd heard of Bill when I used to help out over on the ol' man's place at Carey. He'd one time been married to one of ol' Archie Billingsley's daughters and, though it hadn't took, he'd stayed in the country and buckarooed for different outfits around.

Well, to get back to Bill's question about the namin' of Corral Creek, I said we'd always figgered that it was named for the set of corrals the Hutchins and Moore outfit had built on the school section a couple of miles south of the baseline. They'd fenced the section for a gatherin' field sometime in the late seventies and were one of the first outfits to run cattle on the Prairie.

Bill said he knew of these corrals and their history, but the creek had been named after another corral, just a single big round one up the East Fork a little ways that had been built a good fifteen or twenty years before the Hutchins and Moore corrals.

Since he'd mentioned it, I remember when I was a kid, seein' the remains of a corral a half-mile or so up the creek from where Dave Harness had homesteaded. There hadn't been much left then, just rotted out fir poles and posts scattered around in a circle. I remember wonderin' at the time who woulda had use for such a big corral, but of course emigrants goin' to Oregon had been trailin' through the Prairie for many years before my time.

Bill went on sayin' he'd first seen that corral when he was fifteen or sixteen years old and it had been in good shape then. He'd hooked up with a horse trail herd outfit in eastern Nebraska and came west with them. He said in them days there were several outfits that did little but drive horses, both east and west, tradin' both ways between the big farmin' country in the east and the mostly western Oregon country that was settlin' up fast.

There were lots of range horses all through Idaho and Oregon – some of 'em sorta loose herded and claimed by Indians and others – and some that were plumb wild, although the early settlers had brought draft stock that had begin to get mixed in with the range horses. There was usually some kind of market, even for pure cayuses in the east and of course after all the trouble of trailin' a horse herd east and gettin' rid of 'em, it didn't make much sense to ride back empty handed, so to speak. Accordin' to Bill, these outfits weren't too picky about acquirin' horses at either end.

Of course in the west it was mostly a matter of just runnin' range horses and sortin' the most likely lookin' away until you had, usually, from three to five hundred head to take east. If some of them happened to be local-branded horses that had been turned out to flesh up a little, so much the better. Horses showin' harness marks were of considerable more value in the east.

Since it wasn't common to find loose horses in the east, they did some dickerin' and tradin' for stock to take back. But, again, if they'd run on to a horse that appeared to be loose, he'd usually get a free trip west.

Since a lot of what they done was usually a matter of hurry up, the trail outfits never used a wagon, but carried necessary grub, camp gear, and the hands' war bags on pack horses. After the horses were trail broke, they could cover 50 or 60 miles a day without too much of a strain.

Bill said most of the herds would trail through the Prairie since it was a little more off the beaten path, and the feed was always good. While it wasn't exactly half way east, it was easy to keep a herd together there because the feed was so good. Horses would tend to forget a little about leavin' for home the first time they didn't see a rider. The Corral crik corral was used if some work was needed to be done on brands or even, if there was time, breakin' likely-lookin' cayuses to lead.

He said the trail bosses were, for the most part, successful and later moved on to useful lives. Their business was built around the sound principle of supply and demand. Farmers would be short of horses after they'd got a drive together and, when a round trip was made, there'd be a good market back where they'd started from. So most of 'em got out with some money. However there was one outfit Bill knew of though that got caught in eastern Wyoming and ever'one clear down to the cook was strung up.

"Anyways," Bill says, "it was a great life for a kid and a chance to ride some of the best horses in the country."

Archie Billingsley's Mules

He went on to tell about how on one of these drives he'd first run into Archie Billingsley. At the time ol' Arch had a pretty good stock layout started in the Hagerman valley. Archie was one of those real old time westerners. He'd been a pony express rider and later a stage driver and wound up marryin' a Mormon woman he'd run into somewhere along the line in one of old Brig's colonies. He'd settled on the crik in the Hagerman valley that was later named for him.

But times were tough and when cash was extra short, he'd make up a horse drive to the east. Bill says he was really startin' to get ahead pretty well when, on a gatherin' for one of his starts to the east, he managed to get ahold of twenty-six government mules from an army camp somewhere in eastern Oregon. Now, each of these mules had US branded on their jaw and the government in them days was real thorough about trackin' down any property it came up short of. Archie's guts was much admired, but them in the business sure questioned his judgment on the mules.

It near turned out that luck would see 'im through with the mules, although it took two or three years to get rid of most of 'em. His real trouble started when he got real attached to one team. They were such a good team that while he'd had chances to turn 'em, he just couldn't bring himself to part the 'em and was finally caught red-handed by an Army Inspector General. Arch managed to stay out of the federal pen, but it cost 'im most of everthing he owned, includin' the Hagerman layout, and he wound up movin' to Carey and startin' over from scratch.

Archie and the Mormon Day Celebration

I can remember Archie Billingsley from when I was a kid and spent a summer or two over by Carey. Thinkin' back, I have to tell Bill about the best recollection I have of him.

It was about Archie at a Mormon Day celebration one year. Seems like the local Bishop for some time had been makin' a special project outta gettin' Archie officially into the church which meant gettin' 'im baptized. But Archie seemed to think this was takin' things too far, and he'd always managed, when things got tight, to get out of it some way.

Seems as though the elders had got their heads together and figgered out that since ol' Arch would be in a mood to celebrate the big doings comin' up the twenty-third anyway, it wouldn't take but a few more drinks and some wise preparation to get 'im into the Main Street horse trough.

Well the big day arrives, and the horse trough had been prayed over and ever'thing was all set. Things seemed to be goin' pretty well as planned as he'd drank even more of the elders' whiskey than they figgered necessary. I was watchin' as they begin easin' Archie from the church towards the trough. While he ain't lookin' exactly overjoyed, he's so far standin' bein' led along pretty good 'til they get 'im up next to the trough.

There wasn't any question about Archie bein' drunk, but all of the sudden it become plain enough that he ain't necessarily pacified as well. Archie, as has been said, was an ol' pony express rider and wasn't much bigger than the average jockey, but he seems at last to figger out the meanin' of the horse trough and starts diggin' in his heels.

He somehow manages to shake off the two brethren ahold of his arms and begins feelin' himself all over and findin' he's been relieved of his trusty old Colt don't improve his disposition none. So he starts lookin' around for some other weapon. The only thing close was a gate bar out of the corral by the trough.

Trouble bein' at first Archie was a little too full to get more then one end of the pole off the ground at a time, but after a few tries, finally does get the pole up over his shoulder and pryin' down as hard as he could, shoulders it and weavin' and unsteady as he is, makes a real fancy pivot. It ain't all that pretty, but I'll tell ya that fir pole aswingin' sure moves the crowd back.

This workin' so good seems to make 'im feel better, and he gets the pole shouldered agin and makes another pivot, not as fast as the first, but it coulda still smarted pretty good if anybody woulda been in reach. The last circle seemed to bring on some dizziness on top of the booze and Archie, still with the pole, just fell over in a heap and went to sleep.

There was quite a bit of sentiment among the crowd to just finish the job anyway, but the Bishop overruled it and they left Arch snorin' away and went on with the celebration.

Bill laughed pretty good over the story and said, "Ya know, the Mormons never did get ol' Arch baptized, but the government sure broke 'im of stealin' mules."

Bill Horton's Last Drive

Bill went on to tell about his last drive with Archie back east. They'd got back with a pretty fair bunch of mostly mustangs, but had got fair prices and were feelin' good 'til they'd had trouble gettin' much of a herd put together to take back to Oregon. Horse prices were pretty high with very few sound horses available, but they only had around fifty head or so for the drive back.

Comin' back up the Platte river they're still doin' some scoutin' along for likely horseflesh when they run into a stud horse that really takes Archie's eye. The stud is a big leggy, sorrel Shire as pretty as a picture and looks to weigh upwards of a ton. This one horse is worth more in Oregon than all the rest of their herd put together.

Trouble bein' he's in a little stud corral attached right to a barn and the whole place is painted up and well kept, prosperous lookin'. So figgerin' a way to get away with the stud is gonna take some doin'.

Their horse bunch is out on open land two or three miles off and they go back to start workin' on a plan. The next day, being' a Sunday, Arch himself rides back to see if possibly the farmer is a church goer and, sure enough, watches the ol' granger load the whole family and even what appeared like a hired hand into a light wagon and head off towards town which is several miles off.

Arch heads back feelin' pretty good because with good timin' come next Sunday, he could have several hours head start. Well, countin' the ol' feller that's come along on the drive for cook, there's five of 'em in camp and Archie lines them out. One feller and the cook will handle the herd and sorta ease along and they're gonna have to camp each night at certain springs or groves that's agreed on and easy to find.

Arch, who'll be leadin' the stud along and the other two hands who are gonna act as decoys will follow along, mostly to the north of the regular trail where there's good open country and buffalo grass sod that's hard to track on.

It'll be up to the decoys to follow along behind Archie and keep lookin' for riders and, when they come, to lead 'em away from Archie and the stud. He figures the farmer and his neighbors and county sheriff will be out in force and things ain't likely to calm down much 'til they get outta Nebraska which is about another 200 miles or so.

They spend the rest of the week layin' pretty low, restin' and grainin' their saddle horses and stayin' out of the way in general. Sunday they pack up the camp and start the bunch and Arch takes Bill and another young feller named Jay, on the best horses they have, back to the farmstead. It lays off a main road, up a short lane and Arch heads up the lane and just walks right into the barn and unties the stud and leads 'im out while Bill and Jay watch the road. Well, things are lookin' pretty good, and they hit a good stiff trot while they're gettin' outta the lanes and onto open country. The horse leads along real good and though he's broke a sweat, seems to be standin' it pretty good.

Bill says, "As soon as we're outta the lanes and in open country, Jay and me drop back and spread out watchin' over our shoulders for the riders that are bound to come. The country is kinda rollin' and when toppin' a rise you can see a pretty good ways as there ain't a tree any place. Now and then I can see Archie and the stud horse and they're still gainin' a little on me like we'd planned.

"I don't see a soul until late afternoon when, sure enough, after just toppin' a little hill I look back and see several riders. They're comin' at a pretty fair lick, but I ain't worried. The horse underneath me could outrun anything these jayhawkers had from a distance of a quarter-mile to the Pacific Ocean. Besides, he ain't turned a hair all day and their horses is bound to be jaded some.

"I let 'em get within about a quarter a mile, lettin' on like I don't see 'em. As soon as I whip up, headin' off to the north some, they begin to shoot. I ain't too worried as, at that distance, shootin' off a runnin' horse, even comin' close to me is gonna be just luck.

"I'm gainin' fast on 'em when I damn near get cut off by three more riders comin' in from my right. The bunch must of split up some, looking for hard-to-find tracks, and these fellers, hearin' the shootin' are comin' hell bent towards me and only a 100 yards or so off.

"Well now it's really a case of hurry up. I'm standin' up in the stirrups and leanin' down over my horse's neck like a jockey and whippin' on both sides. These last fellers are beginnin' to show now, and I can see dust spurt up closer than's real comfortable ever' now and then.

"I'm startin' to gain on 'em pretty good though, when all of the sudden I hear a thud and damned if a round don't hit my saddle's cantle and lodge in the forks. Fellers, let me tell ya, it was just damn fortunate I was a standin' up in the stirrups or those ol' grangers woulda sure made a steer outta me.

"After a few miles I'd gained plenty of room, and I could only see 'em now and again. I settled my horse down to an easy lope and finally clear back to a walk. The sun was about down, and I headed back to where we'd agreed to meet the first night out. I was the only one who'd seen anybody, but the slug in my saddle which I dug out with a pocket knife, showed 'em these fellers followin' meant business.

"We started damn early the next morning with Jay and me on fresh horses to do the decoyin'. This day it was Jay who they give a run to, but since most of 'em seemed to be ridin' the same horses as the day before, so it didn't last as long as my chase did.

"Me and Jay had two more brushes with 'em on later days, but we was pretty well into Wyoming by that time, and the races were fairly short.

"We give Fort Hall a wide berth and headed for the Craters of the Moon country. It was another favorite of the horse trailers since there was almost no way you could track anybody through it. There were pockets of good bunch grass scattered around through the lava and we slowed up, although still keepin' our eyes peeled.

"We finally pulled on over to the Camas Prairie country and let our stock enjoy the good bunch grass. It had been a rainy spring and there was places the grass would tickle your stirrups as you rode through it.

"Arch fixed up a bill of sale for the stud. He always kept some blanks on hand, and we branded the horse in the Corral crik corral to match the bill of sale.

"This was the last trip I made east. I guess thinkin' about that slug I'd dug outta my saddle helped make up my mind. I got a job buckarooin' with one of the early cow outfits in the country."


Well, me and Card continued on with our trip the next day. The country we seen was some of the best range in the state, but all the good land had been taken up by then, and we would be stayin' on Corral crik for the time bein'.

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