by Ken Allen

        When I look out over the muddy Bear River, now choked with cattails and carp, I see my footprints. The river once ran clear and carelessly through Papa's bottomlands as I once did. The day I raced across that soft loam prickly with straw, I left those footprints among the stubble. By the time I climbed that wooden rail trestle I was too late. Water now floods the plain, covering forever my footprints-and the wreck.
        I was born over in that farmhouse on the bluff above the river. But I grew up in that field, down where the cattails now crowd the rotten trestle, down where we once raised alfalfa. I can almost smell the green pungence of a fresh cutting blowing across the rutted road. Cows gave milk as sweet as ice cream when they were fed on our moist silage. Grandpa Roundy dry farmed hard red winter wheat over on the west side. His fences along the bench held back the tumbleweed and buck brush driven down the hills by the chilly whistling wind. He had a hard time keeping help. More than one hand started on a furrow at dawn and quit the team and plow under attack of the high sun even before reaching the far road.
      Uncle Ern raised sweet corn. In the late summer I'd ride my pony along the wide furrows between ripe stalks so high I'd lose sight of the craggy caps of the eastern mountains in the sea of tassel and silk. My people took up old Jim Bridger's wager. Bridger bet us Mormons a bushel of gold against the first bushel of corn grown here in Cache Valley. This place is so high and bitter the winters make the North Pole seem warm. We have summers so short that spring snow hardly melts before the fall blizzards. But Bridger didn't know what we could do. He lost his bet.
        Summer mornings, I loved to chase the scrambling varmints and chattering crickets off the river path on my way back from driving the cows out toward Grandpa's spread. That all changed when Cutler Dam turned back the two forks of the Bear into this stinking swamp. It's just as well. It hides the tears we shed here.
       I once wondered why both my folks moved here. When I saw the raw desert of Grandpa's home in Teasdale in the southern Utah highlands, I knew why Papa loved the rich loam in these bottomlands, warm and protected from the wind. It was so different from the barren red sand and sun that made hell seem cool and green. Mama's people came here before Papa. Mama walked behind the wagon all the way up here from Escalante when she was just eight. Uncle Ern followed Papa here to homestead the west side of this valley. And then right here in Benson Ward he met and fell in love with Mama's sister Leone. We called her Miss Roundy at school. I could understand why he loved her so much. They were married for forever in the Temple, that special place protecting the east bench of this ancient lake bed like a king's castle.
      I was eleven that late afternoon in '23 as I drove the cows down the rutted, dusty path along the bottomlands. Uncle Ern rumbled toward me in his nifty new Model T, honking to urge the herd. His arm hung out the window through slip-knotted loops in long braided ropes tied to a makeshift stanchion. The flat leather straps of blinderless halters stretched against the strain of the three compact draft horses. The ropes hummed from the combined vibrations of truck and team as the mares heaved and snorted. Their haunches rippled each time they reared to a backfire, rocking the rickety carriage. The ground shook each instant the huge hairy hooves vanished into roiling dust. That span was well-matched. In Papa's good hands they won every tractor pull I ever saw. Papa would never sell them. Uncle Ern never drove them. That day they had no mind to leave their own barn. With his free hand Uncle Ern shaded his brow below his flame red hair as he pulled up beside me. "Your papa's gone to fetch your Ma and your new baby sister from the hospital. So hurry your chores while I feed your pa's team. Then let's all have supper and welcome home your new sister!" he shouted over the engine din.
       "You bet!" I waved excitedly. I jerked the lead ropes then urged him and the team on past me. Uncle Ern headed off into the low sun toward his barn. Beaming, he moved as if to lift his hand. The ropes rippled, cutting his wave short as the chestnut mare jerked her head back. Ern just roared. I chuckled too as the team thundered by me, flipping manes and tails after the clattering machine. Our echoless laughter floated up with the stirring dust of the dry road.
      I was anxious to see my new sister for the first time-Afton, Papa named her, after the town in Wyoming where he worked last winter. It would be a grand family supper: fresh trout and corn-on-the-cob to stick in your teeth and homemade biscuits, smothered in butter right from the churn, washed down with raw milk chilled in the ice box I'd just filled with an ice block from our sawdust pit. I'd rather play with my cousins than haul heavy ice. They loved hide and seek or run, sheep, run. I wanted to show little John E. how the big boys pulled sticks. Lazy summer days were meant for fishing for trout near as big as the migrating geese. My brothers and I would take our bamboo poles and homemade hooks and catch a dozen along those bottomlands where the stream ran fast and clear. Or we'd try to turn our freckled faces into bronzed bodies, then cool the sizzling skin with a launch from the rope swing hanging from the willow over the pool.
      Uncle Ern rushed off west toward the bend beyond the trestle, straining and jerking against the horses. My cows lumbered on ahead east as I trailed. They were anxious to be milked. Swallows skimmed along the stream seeking mosquitoes. A whistle wailed behind me from the growling evening freight on the Oregon Short Line beyond the river heading from the north for Logan across the valley to the east. Its huffing sigh was lost among the chirping and buzzing and chatter of the summer afternoon. Smoke from the distant locomotive rose like a dark Chinese dragon to chase the sunlit clouds drifting eastward toward the reddening darkness. Clattering cars crawled up the river and down the valley, leaving a wake spreading across the ripe wheat fields like a boat riding on a golden sea. The snake headed past the west bend encircling Grandpa's grain elevators, elevators standing guard over the vast fields filled with the wealth of the homesteads.
      Grandpa had given the right-of-way across his western spread to get that spur line past his place. He could then ship his crops free to market. No need to haul endless freight wagons stacked high with gunny sacks. The Short Line even put a station behind his elevators and barns. The name fit: Cache Junction. There the Bear bent around the point of the mountain, just the right place for a spur over the bottomlands and back across the valley. Grandpa's place was like an island at the hub of paths and tracks and water. There the river disappeared in the southern marshes, and the northern tracks swept eastward out of the mountain sun, then across the lane onto the trestle over the bottomlands toward the far side of the valley.
      Shadows had begun to creep across the bottomlands that lazy summer afternoon as I turned away from the glare. It was a perfect time for a boy wondering what it was to be a man. What made a man like Uncle Ern so great? A wonderful wife and two children?  John E. Junior was just now crawling, and Verlye would soon start at her mother's one-room schoolhouse  up the river across from the church.
      The whistle of the freight wailed behind me beyond the tall corn. It wailed again as its pitch dropped. I paid no attention as I watched my shadow race ahead of me toward the corral. I had a lot of stock to feed and milk before supper, but then I could play. The smoke from our kitchen chimney wafted away in the breeze, inviting me to hurry toward Aunt Leone's hot biscuits and fresh butter.
      I spun as the horses thundered by my right shoulder, brushing me back, their heads outstretched toward home, alone, dragging reins in the dust. I nearly tripped on a thin tumbling stump still bound in rope.
      I winced. I had to look away. I raised my eyes. The locomotive ground slowly east to an unscheduled stop on the trestle above the bottomlands. It pushed a hulk ahead of it. I turned away. The sun flashed off the kitchen windows where Aunt Leone was pulling out the biscuits. Someone had to tell her.


 Benson Farmer Meets Death

 in Train-Auto Smash

 Horses Being Led Held Machine on Tracks

  Logan. Aug. 2--Refusal of a team to cross a railroad track ahead of a train cost Benson farmer J.E. Allen his life today. Allen 28 was enroute to his ranch with his team tied behind his car. At a grade crossing of the Oregon Short Line a short distance south of Cache Junction he noted the freight train coming and put on more speed. The horses held back. According to the engineer he was unable to stop the train. He reported that the horses were pulling back so strongly that the machine would be hit.
      When the train struck the auto, the rope broke freeing the horses. They raced away unhurt. The machine was carried 300 yards down the track. Allen was killed practically instantly.
      Allen is survived by his wife Leone Roundy Allen, his two children Verlye Allen 3 and John Ernest Allen 11 months.


Oct. 20, 1999 (c) 1999 KRA