Roping Elk

James E. Farley about 1904. NSHS RG2608-2116 (at left).

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 one of the elk and pursued it, and when Farley caught up with him, he had the elk at the end of his rope. “The first move I saw,” said Farley, “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.”

Who prevailed, Peterson or the elk? Learn the outcome of this contest and read another vignette from Nebraska’s colorful cowboy past in Timeline columns on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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