Roping Elk

Cowboys occasionally roped more than cattle or horses, as James E. Farley recalled in Solomon D. Butcher’s Pioneer History of Custer County, Nebraska (1901). “Towards the end of my cowboy career,” Farley said, “I worked for the Bar-T ranch, of which David Rankin was principal owner. This ranch was located on the Middle Loup.

“Large herds of elk roamed over this country at that time. While on the roundup in 1881 we sighted a large bunch which had winded us. The boys [set] off with their ropes and after them. C. W. Stern, John Carney, Bert Wilder, Charley Peterson, a green hand at the cattle business, and six or eight others were in the chase and there was enacted one of the most thrilling incidents ever witnessed on the plains of Nebraska.

“Peterson singled out the biggest buck in the bunch, and as soon as Charley began to press him hard, he left the bunch and ran in another direction, Peterson close at his heels. I knew that Charley would never let up until he had secured the buck, and I knew full as well that he would have trouble when he threw his rope over the powerful beast, as he never carried a gun. I followed him as fast as my horse could carry me. I lost sight of him for awhile in the chop hills, but soon discovered him again as I rode up on a little hill. He had the elk at the end of his rope about eighty rods from me.

“The first move I saw was the elk making a run on the rope, and when he came to the end of it he fell heavily to the ground. He then jumped up and charged Peterson’s horse. As he came on, head down, at the rate of about fifty miles an hour, Charlie spurred his horse to one side and let the elk pass, and gave him another tumble as the rope tightened up. I waited to see no more but galloped as fast as my horse could carry me to his assistance, as I knew that it was only a question of time when the infuriated brute would catch the fearless boy in one of his charges.

“As I rode up the elk was making his third charge, but Peterson evaded him again and gave him another tumble at the end of the rope. When about three hundred feet from Peterson the elk had again regained his feet, lowered his head for another charge, his eyes flashing fire, and with terrific bounds made for the plucky boy. It seemed to me that it would be impossible for him to get out of the way of those terrible horns. But again he let the elk pass by without touching him and again he brought the brute to the ground at the end of the rope, pulling him square over on his back.

“Quick as lightning Peterson reined his horse backward, tightened the rope, jumped out of the saddle, whipped out a big jack knife, and slashed it across the throat of the prostrate beast. I shouted to him with all my might to desist, as I expected to see him killed every second, but he heard nothing and saw nothing but that elk, and before I came up Peterson was back in his saddle.

‘What the devil did you do that for?’ I shouted as soon as I reached him. ‘I did na want loosse ma rope-da boys da laugh at ma.'”

Solomon D. Butcher’s photograph of James Farley about 1904. 

NSHS RG2608-2116

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