Jim Hicks: Up Here In Johnson County, The Hills Are Turning A Beautiful Green

Guest columnist Jim Hicks writes: "It seems that every year they plan the state soccer tournament at the Polo Grounds near Bighorn, the weather includes cold winds, rain, sleet, and snow with very short breaks of sunshine."

Jim Hicks

May 18, 20215 min read

Johnson county wyoming scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

BUFFALO – Some of the readers of this column can remember when the Beach Boys were the hot musical group with songs with lyrics like “Help, help, help Ramona.”

That could be the theme song for Frank Peck these days because of a minor “mule” problem he was involved with about three weeks ago.

Frank and Pat have owned, packed and rode mules for years.  Last year Frank decided they needed a new mule and spotted one at a sale.

A middle aged lady rode “Ramona” through the sale ring and she (the mule) showed no sign of being anything but gentle.

Frank bought Ramona and used her in his pack string for the rest of the summer and fall.  She never gave him a bit of grief. This spring he decided to saddle 

Ramona and see just how smooth she might be for riding. Not showing any sign of discontent as he tightened the cinch, Frank was comfortable stepping into the stirrup and swinging up into the saddle.

That’s when Ramona demonstrated the other side of her personality. In seconds Frank was airborne and looking down at some very hard ground.  He learned some bad things can happen when 64-year-old bones hit hardpan prairie. 

Frank had separated his hip, and is walking with a stick. 

Not deterred, Frank bought another mule in Cody and named it “Ron.”  Then he and Pat decided Ramona should stay in the pack string. 

In case you were wondering what caused the very cold weather this past weekend . . . it was an automatic thing.

It seems that every year they plan the state soccer tournament at the Polo Grounds near Bighorn, the weather includes cold winds, rain, sleet, and snow with very short breaks of sunshine.

Last weekend was not exception, and teams (along with associated families) from all over Wyoming gathered for the event. It’s amazing to see a nearly two-mile parking lot that rings some 15 or 20 soccer fields that have been laid out on the polo grounds. 

Most of Johnson County is turning green as a few warm days and a few showers have jump-started grass in this part of the state. More rain and some warm days will be critical to the chances of avoiding a drought this summer and fall.

We never seem to know for sure. Perhaps this is why “seasoned” stockmen and women of this area don’t seem to get excited over the weather. They’ve seen worse.

Talking to a few old timers, we’ve heard them say Clear Creek was no more than a trickle by the end of May in1988 (just 33 years ago). 

That was the year Yellowstone Park burned, and about 16,000 acres of timber west of Buffalo went up in smoke during “The Lost Fire.”

Local hikers had seen the smoke a day or two earlier, but it was not located until it exploded into a major blaze on a hot Sunday afternoon. The Johnson County Fair and Rodeo was underway when people in the grandstands noticed a yellow tint to the light. 

Looking back toward the mountains they could see the huge columns of smoke blocking the afternoon sun. The Bench Sitters recall the fire burned well into September and over $3 million was spent fighting it.

The main fire camp was located at Circle Park. Many local people worked to provide “taxi service” from the camp to town, haul supplies and a number of other jobs.

It’s amazing how Mother Nature can heal things. Young trees have regenerated in the burn area. As another 30 years pass, most signs of that fire will be gone.

If it gets too dry in the coming weeks, we’ll take up a collection so the guy who claims to be “the most unlucky citizen of Buffalo” can wash his car. The Bench Sitters have given him the nick-name of “Bad News.”

He swears it rains every time he washes that rusty old 1972 Dodge. 

We’ve all known people who don’t seem to ever be able to see the bright side of anything.  

You don’t want to get old “Bad News” talking about politics. He can ruin a pretty good day in 15 minutes. 

When Liz Cheney got demoted his comment was . . . “that’s what she gets for telling the truth!”

He makes a huge conflict out of the smallest of issues. 

Bad News thinks a quarterback is a refund, and General Motors was in the army. 

His wife told us he spent 20 minutes looking at a bottle of orange juice at the IGA store because it said “concentrate”.

She also said he sold their car for gas money, and didn’t think he was supposed to use his AM radio after lunch.

We hope you are having a better day that old “Bad News.”

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Jim Hicks