Branding Rock Trek: A Journey through Time Clover Creek— Suzanne Huxhold

There are special places in this world. Places that, for often-inexplicable reasons, attract people and extract emotion far beyond what is considered normal. The Wailing Wall, for example, Mecca. Graceland.

I went to one of those places a couple months ago. It wasn’t Graceland, but it was pretty amazing. I get misty just thinking about it, in fact.

Our summer cowboy, Joe, took me there.

“Young lady,” he told me one morning while standing in my kitchen, “you’d better see Branding Rock.”

Because I’d follow Joe to the bowels of Hell if he told me it was a good idea, I agreed. “Yes,” I said, having no idea what or where Branding Rock could be, “I’d better.”

A week later, I crammed my son, my two little cousins, my mom and my uncle in my Jeep  and took off after Joe and my dad, who rode in Joe’s pickup.

Joe, being Joe, took the long way to Branding Rock, of course. He does it for his own reasons; to check on cows, to show off the scenery, to teach us a lesson; I don’t really know. Joe is, in many ways, a mystery. I think that every morning when he comes in my driveway at 5 o’clock.

All I knew was I was in the Jeep for nine hours on pitted roads so steep they made my nose bleed, with two other adults and three children under 10 with no snacks and one can of Pepsi to share between us. After the air conditioner in the Jeep overheated at Hour 4, I was pretty sure I HAD followed Joe into the bowels of Hell.

He stopped at Pole Creek to show us a tiny spring. “How you holding up?” he shouted merrily.

I gave him a brave smile. “Oh, fine,” I managed. I leaned over the seat to swipe at the children, whose whining had reached a fever pitch. “Not much farther, I bet.” I’d spent a fair amount of time in the Bennett Mountains, and I’d estimated we’d already seen damn near most of it that day.

“Nope, we’re practically on top of it,” he assured me.

Three hours later, Joe stopped in a meadow. Now, I’d tell you where this meadow was, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Besides, I was so delirious from the constant refrain of “When are we going to get there? From the backseat (my mother can be such a baby at sometimes), I couldn’t tell you where the meadow was if you held a knife to my throat. Somewhere between Clover Creek and Canada, anyway.

Joe got out of his pickup and touched his chin thoughtfully. “Now, I know that rock’s around here someplace.”

We started off into the meadow, looking, Joe told us, for a rock about yea-big and so far across. He spread his hands out.

It was all I could do not to cry. There were at least a hundred thousand rocks in that meadow matching his vague description. But one doesn’t cry in front of one’s idols, I reminded myself sternly. I commenced searching.

A long time later, someone, I can’t remember who, found the rock. I wasn’t expecting much. I had been secretly hoping we’d NEVER find it, if you want to know the truth. By this stage in the game, Gooding was only 20 miles away. Gooding had water and restaurants.

But when I saw Branding Rock, well…there are no words. It was worth whatever Hell-bowel I’d had to breach to get there. I’d found my Mecca. My Graceland.

Branding Rock, yea-big and so far across and a secret to all but a privileged few, has etched into its red-black surface the brands of 94 people who have come before me. Ninety-four people, over an uncounted number of years, had made the arduous journey to this unmarked spot in the wilderness to carve upon this rock their legacy. My father, the owner of the triangle-bar brand under which we run, took out his pocketknife and made it 95.

The brands were weather-worn. Some had faded into oblivion after 100 years in the Idaho wind and rain. Some were unrecognizably small. Some were so old, lichen had grown over the top of them, obscuring their subtle relief. But Joe knew most of them, and we forgot about the nine hours it took to get there, the whining, and the air conditioner as we sat and listened to the old stories of cattle ranchers long gone but not forgotten.

I was confronted with my history, and I was awestruck. It wasn’t Graceland, but it was damn close.

The following was written by Cowboy Joe’s daughter, Elora Parrot Harmon. Elora is shown here with her husband, Wayne, and their great-grandbaby, Zeke, as Cowboy Joe’s legacy lives on.

Wayne, Elora & Baby ZekeOn July 4, 2005, 4:00 pm Daddy went to be with Jesus.  He left us with a life time of memories and a love for the cowboy life and the mountains that he wanted to share with all his family. July 9, 2005 we held a “Celebration of Daddy’s life.” So many family and friends came to pay their respects they could not get into the service.We traveled from Gooding, Idaho, in a funeral procession to Hagerman, Idaho, about 30 miles. When we came to the Brailsford Ranch where Daddy was born 88 years ago on July 22, 1916, we put the casket onto a horse-drawn hay wagon, just like the one he used to feed the cows for so many years. All the grandchildren sat on bales of hay around the casket.  His grandchildren were the love of his life, and he longed to share his life with each one of them. Later they told me that it was a good way to say goodbye to their Grandpa, telling stories of the adventures they had while staying with Daddy in the cow camp up in the mountains. In a second wagon, his three remaining children and his two remaining sisters rode behind the casket. The sisters shared stories of their childhood memories as well.  Between the wagons the grand kids led Daddy’s horse, saddled and bridled with his boots on the saddle backwards.  In death as in life, he was the center of his family. We rode the wagons through Hagerman to the cemetery in a funeral procession. Just as in his life, which started at one end of Hagerman, lived most of his life in the center, and was laid to rest at the other end of Hagerman. A great man is gone, but his legacy will live on in the hearts of his children and grandchildren and continue for generations to come.

 

5 Comments

  1. by Wanda

    On June 27, 2013

    You would not believe this; but a feeling came over me as I read the first and second article of a man who, though of another race and occupation, seemed so much like my deceased Dad though they were born exactly one month apart to the day.

    My Dad was an army Sergeant who was loved by his troops and loved even more by his adoring family. Dad passed away on July 21, 2010 at age 84.

    Thanks for writing this article about the beauty, peace, and mystery of country living. My Dad was “just country” at heart.

    Hope you all are friends up there.

    Good night Joe. Good night Dad.

  2. by Elora Parrott Harmon

    On June 28, 2013

    Judy, thank you for sharing Suzi’s story of Branding Rock. A true story, Daddy did enjoy taking the long way to show off the country he loved. There are not many true cowboys left. It is truly a story of the legacy of southern Idaho and the pioneers who paved the way for us to live and carry on their legacy. I hope all who read about “Cowboy Joe” will learn to love this beautiful land God has granted us to live in.

  3. by Kim Wilson

    On June 28, 2013

    I really enjoyed this story. Suzanne has a way of pulling you in from the beginning.. I felt like I was in the jeep with all those kids just driving along. I was sad to read that the older brandings were wearing away with the weather. It reminded me of the grave markers so old and worn that you can’t read the name written on them. It reminds me that we need to leave a legacy for our families to remember us by. Cowboy Joe did this with his family. A legacy of memories of time spent together is so much more valuable than a legacy of money or things. Money and things grow worn but memories can’t be destroyed.

  4. by Mark Kind

    On May 29, 2014

    Great story. I was once privileged to read Suzanne’s writing at least weekly, and she had many stories about Cowboy Joe. Rest in peace.

  5. by Tim Azbill

    On July 7, 2015

    I always enjoyed stories about Joe. My Great Grand mother was Ada Bray and by Grandmother was Mattie leola (Crist) Gibson

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