The Huffing Heifers of the Headwaters
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
It’s the first day of the fourth month, which traditionally honors the art of the prank. It’s a day to celebrate foolery, to enjoy a good laugh at somebody else’s expense. And while there’s still a few good tricks to be had around these parts, a humorous story is posted in their stead. It’s one never before published; hopefully, it makes you laugh.
Every time I drive south of Leadville during the warmer weather months and see the cattle out in the pastures, particularly in the triangular meadow that sits between the turn off for Beaver Lake Estates and Highway 24, I think of this story. It’s an old tale from the new west.
I served on the Parkville Water District Board for the 8 years. I learned a lot about water law and Colorado’s unique “first in use, first in right” approach to the regulations which guide people’s access to this natural resource.
Protecting those rights is important because while you may not be using that water at the time, you will need it for future growth. So even during Leadville’s leaner years, it was important to keep on top of the paperwork and perform the various state tests in order to secure Parkville’s senior water rights for future generations.
During my time on the water board, some of the work crew’s field reports read like something from an old west novel. Like when Jimmy was caught fishing up at Big Evans Reservoir during a routine patrol and was reprimanded for violating the “no fishing” policy posted all along Leadville’s primary drinking reservoir. He was, however, allowed to take his catch with him because the guys knew it was his dinner, for the next few days. Or there was the time a small group of water board representatives had to confront Jamie who was living in an abandoned cabin up in Stumptown. The discussion was about relocating his outdoor bathroom facilities a bit further away from the tributaries which eventually met up with the Parkville’s east side water source. None of these incidents were big threats to Leadville’s water system, but simply neighborly conflicts that needed resolutions. However, the incredible mountain scenery which provided the backdrop for these conversations always lent some additional drama.
And so it goes for this next story: The Huffing Heifers of the Headwaters. For months, the story had been unfolding in the minutes from the water board meetings as Parkville was required to monitor water activity in several areas, including the triangular meadow that sits between the turn off for Beaver Lake Estates and Highway 24 as it continues south.
Even though the calendar read 21st century, Lake County was still utilizing homemade water monitoring devices rather than the industry standard’s submersible smart sensors. But you learn to work with what you have and so the Parkville crews crafted some relatively simple, measuring devices from PVC pipes, speared them into the ground, and spaced them out according to state standards, covering the area of the triangular meadow.
Overall the plan seemed to be working well, although the crew was looking for ways to shorten the data collection process which required them to walk the fields and manually record the measurements retrieved from the devices. It was a relatively easy task, particularly in the velvety green of summer’s foliage. However, the homemade rain-collectors became a bit harder to detect as fall came on and the grasses faded to a creamy camouflage making the routine record taking more of a hide-and-seek venture. To complicate things even further during their last venture into the fields a local rancher had his cows out grazing in that meadow, adding a few dozen live obstacles to the chore. And cattle don’t take well to grown men running through the meadows looking for water-monitoring devices that were hidden among autumn’s fading colors.
That was more or less where the story left off. So when the next water board meeting opened with the following statement, I was all ears.
“So we had a little situation down south of town last week,” Parkville’s General Manager started off. The crew decided that during their next trek into the meadow, the boys would bring with them some bright orange fluorescent spray paint. The plan was to run a quick orange line up each and every one of those PVC monitoring devices thereby tagging them and making them easier to see in the off-white fields. They figured it would not only improve efficiency but also help to ease some growing tensions with the local rancher whose cows were getting spooked every time the guys would erratically cut-across the feeding fields looking for the camouflaged devices.
“Well, it seemed like a good idea,” the water manager continued with his story. “But just as the guys got back to the office, my phone rang. It was the Sheriff and he told me I needed to get back down there, right away!”
As he pulled off Highway 24 the water manager could see the Sheriff standing in the middle of that field with the local rancher, his shotgun resting across his chest. Both were surrounded by nearly a dozen cows, all of whom had a bright orange streak of spray paint running right down the middle of their foreheads.
He had to keep himself from laughing, as he headed out to the duo, the rancher calling out while pointing to his herd, “look and see what your boys have done.” But he already knew what the trouble was. In fact, it was pretty clear that every one of those cows had rubbed up their heads up against the devices that had been freshly sprayed; the strong odor had attracted them.
It took a few minutes to get the facts straightened out, but they did. The water manager was finally able to convince the rancher that his crew did not intentionally tag his cows. It was just that his beautiful bovines simply couldn’t resist the smell of that fresh paint. Those hoofers just huffed their hearts out, rubbing their heads up against the devices, many of which had now been compromised or completely destroyed in the process.
For all you animal lovers, it was reported that none of the cows seemed any worse from the incident, all happily chewing their cud as the rancher, lawman and water manager worked through the situation. And eventually, the cattle’s newly acquired bright orange brands wore off.
These days you can still catch a glimpse of the old measuring devices out in the fields. Of course, they pale in comparison to today’s technology which doesn’t provide for much interaction with cows, or the need to get out of the truck, for that matter. The homemade devices have all gone to the wayside now. But not the old tales from the new west. Those are stories still worth telling, especially when you live In The ‘Ville.
Journalist Kathy Bedell Owns The Great Pumpkin, LLC, a digital media company that publishes Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org