Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Bulls Fought Stirring Duel/1892 was Year of Drought

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 28 January 1962

The year of 1892 was very dry. The winter’s snow fall was light. The springs rains were less than usual. The summer heat brought drought and grass shortages to some ranges especially the Motinger district downstream from Wallula on the Washington side.

The largest cattle raiser of this district was John Penoyer. This was about the time the white-facee cattle from Hereford, England were horning in on the popularity of the short-horned breed. The three largest and finest herds of the white-faced cattle in the Northwest at that time were John Penoyer’s heard at Motinger, my uncle, John McKinney’s Rockwell herd near Silverton, OR, and Jack Splawn’s famous white-faced herd at Cowiche, Yakima County.

Every spring for five years, as soon as the three months winter school term had been completed at Kennewick, we piled the cook stove and our furniture on the big hay rack; hooked on a four-horse team and started an eight mile trek to our homestead claim at Maple Springs in the Horse Heaven Hills (Now known as Amon’s Wells). Father drove the four-horse team. Mother and sister Lottie drove our platform spring hack, which was filled with dishes and bedding. The milk cows calves were fenced away from their mothers. I began milking the herd of about 14 head.

Father and Charley were leaving at 5 AM in the lumber wagon for our orchard near Kennewick. The ditch company had gone broke. The ditch was dry. Father dug a well in a deep ravine near the orchard and was fortunate in striking a flow of water in quite a shallow well. Father and Charley pulled the water from the well with a well pulley, rope and five-gallon coal-oil cans used for buckets. They poured the water into the whiskey barrel on the lumber wagon bed. Then hauled it to the orchard and poured five gallons in a trench at the base of each tree. It was a back breaking job.

The prunes and apple tries died. They were able to keep the three acres of Winter Nelis Pears growing until the new ditch was built.

The first Sunday afternoon following our arrival, we were all resting in the shad of the house when our large black dog gave us warning that someone was approaching. We looked up the canyon road and saw a rather chubby man mounted on a very dusty horse coming towards us. As he approached the well, father met him. Neither he or his horse had had a drink since morning. He took a mouthful of cold water and washed out his quid of tobacco and raised his horse’s head out of the horse trough to keep him from drinking too much water. He stepped forward and grasped father’s extended hand and said, “My name is John Penoyer from Montinger. The drought has dried up my range. I am looking for pasture for my white-faced herd of registered Herefords, and a few riding, driving and work horses until fall rains come, if they ever do.” He had heard of father and his Black Angus. Also he knew my uncle John McKinney, and his white-faced herd near Silverton, Ore. Father said that the water here is the free gift of God. It will be necessary to enlarge the watering facilities. I do not intend to profit by your misfortune. You will only pay for the actual cost of these extra facilities.

Penoyer was quite moved by the proposition. He squinted his sharp blue eyes and said, “Yep, you’re just like they told me, a straight shootin’, just man.” “There wil be only three in my family; my ‘old lady’, a grandson, about the age of your second boy and myself. I will get the stock here at once on this fine range.” Penoyer left and then returned later. “Lum, I had to come back and tell you that I don’t think I should come here. That bull Rex, I have is a ficious fighter and he will hurt your muley bull.” Father said, “We will keep them in the open when they first meet where they will have plenty of room to carry on with their pawing, bellowing, charging and maneuvering. One or the other will be boss if you let them fight it out.”

Three days later, Penoyer arrived with his stock and family. The gates of all the corrals were open. They arrived before our stock had come in from the range for the night. Our muley bull, Caesar, got scent of the strange cattle and started on a run to investigate. He sighted Penoyer’s Hereford Bull and with a roar charged into the open corral and straight at Rex, Penoyer’s bull. The fight was on. It was vicious. In size and age the two bulls were evenly matched. Both jockeyed to take advantage of the steep terrain. The white face sparred with his long horns. The Black Angus seemed to be more agile of the two and kept maneuvering until with a sudden rush, butted the white face in the forehead between the horns with such force that he knocked the white face to its knees. He regained his feet and turned tail and ran bellowing, being helped generously by the Black Angus. The bull fight was over and no serious injury had been sustained.

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