From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 3, Number 22 - July 1, 1999
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Dead in a Flash
Lightning and cowboying in Sublette County.
by Cris Paravicini

Two yearlings, recently turned out onto Sublette County's summer pasture, didn't survive their first month here because Nature, in the form of a deadly lightning bolt, dropped them dead in their tracks as they nonchalantly grazed along the river bottom.

My husband, Rudy, stumbled onto their unlucky carcasses while 4-wheeling across the neighbor's pasture to adjust our river headgate. It looked as though someone had intentionally dragged them side by side near a marshy slough, he said, and then took the time to position their lifeless limbs into an exact mirror image.

Judging from the signs, though, the two yearlings had no doubt turned their tails toward the driving west wind and were leaning into each other waiting out the violent rainstorm when they were struck down.

They never knew what hit them - never saw it coming - and probably never felt any pain. They just dropped like a shot, without a hair singed.

Over the years, a similar fate has struck county livestock many times over; most ranchers lose at least one or two critters each year to lightning - a bold statement from the real Boss around here.

While talking to Joe and Dianne Boroff the other day, Joe said a single bolt of lightning once killed seven yearlings when a storm bunched them along a barbed-wire fence. He also recalled the time a powerful bolt hit dead center in a big stack of hay and by the next day, had turned the winter storehouse to a pile of smoldering ashes. We discussed how it seems that our lightning occurs more often in certain areas of the valley than others - perhaps where the ground charge can meet the sky charge easier.

Whenever I'm caught in a lightning storm while moving or checking cows, I always try to increase my chances of making it back to the barn by climbing off the old horse, hang my spurs over the saddle horn, and walk till the storm rolls on by. And for some reason, I never look back over my shoulder into the face of the storm.

Dianne laughed, however, saying that's not for her - she doesn't wait around wasting time - instead she kicks her horse out and makes fast tracks for the house.

One time Rudy and I were caught in a terrible lightning storm along Horse Creek - a place notorious for electrical fireworks. The storm came down on us fast. We could smell it coming before it began to pound us, and we could taste the hot snap in the air. The alkali ground was saturated, irrigation water stood all around us, and there was no place to run, no where to hide, so we hunkered under a willow bush beside our saddle horses while they hung their heads and turned their butts into the wind and rain.

We watched, awestruck, as the lightning hammered the high ground around us. No time was counted off between lightning flash and thunderclap. They became as one - wedded in fiery bliss. Bolts of fire skewed the ground, ripped up mud, and then bounced fireballs out through the buckbrush. It was spooky, but a breathtaking sight to behold.

When the storm finally moved off to the south, the horses shook the rain from their backs and the cows drifted out of the willows and back onto the grassy pastures. Rudy and I shook our heads, climbed back in the saddle, and finished the job we'd set out to do.

We've lost cattle and favorite horses, fence corners and shop wiring, hawks and owls in the wake of violent lightning storms. And we've lost a neighbor, too. Many years ago, Delbert Ball was killed while riding his horse across a field in the Upper Horse Creek Valley near Merna. A small, isolated thunderhead had rolled across the valley that day, and when it left, it took Delbert and his top saddle horse with it.

The other evening at chore time, darkness fell quickly as a storm dragged itself toward the ranch. The dogs and I hurried to turn the milk cow in with her calf and gather the eggs before it hit. The pasture cattle trotted toward the willows with their tails over their backs. I could smell the wet sage in the wisps of stirring air. The dogs were growing more nervous by the minute, whining and circling; and I cussed the mare and colt when they took a notion to run through the sheep, striking and whirling and kicking, as the ewes tried to herd the lambs together in the calm before the wreck.

Before we'd finished up at the coop, the rotten plastic on the wire windows had begun to rattle in the rising wind. I'd just made it to the end of the chute and through the gate, when the horizontal rain drove home.

The dogs beat me back to the house, and begged me to open the door. I let `em in, and we backed up to the fire to dry off, listening as the rest of the storm rumbled by.

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Copyright © 1999 The Sublette County Journal
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