Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Chief Joe Experience

I have always wanted to ride the Chief Joseph Trail Ride. This is a special ride retracing the route of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce people after defying orders to move to the reservation in 1877. Sadly, we all know that it didn't end well. After the Nez Perce people faced the hardships of miles, starvation, illness, battles and death, it all ended at Bear Paw when Chief Joseph surrendered.The atrocities of what the U.S. government did to the Indians in those days should not be forgotten. Especially in todays political world where so much is rapidly changing. The heart of the Nez Perce and all American Native tribes are strong and amazing. They have endured a great deal and are tough beyond words. 

There are different ways to experience the historic route of 1300+ miles. There is an auto route, a back roads route, or you can hop on an Appaloosa horse and participate through the Appaloosa Horse Club as they complete a segment of trail each year. The ride was launched in 1965 by the late George Hatley who has done so much for the Appaloosa for many years! These riders love the horse, the history and they return year after year! Jim and Anne Mischel have never missed an event! Unfortunately Jim was taken into the hospital at Billings and then went home. Anne has ridden it 47 times and now comes to just enjoy it and her extended Chief Joe family!

I got back into Appaloosas a couple years ago and placed the CJTR on my wish list. After adding up the $$ and deciding I just couldn't do it, I offered my services as a driver. Since this is a point to point ride people need drivers. I thought this would be a great way to go and it was! Thank you Dennis Schultz for letting me drive your rig daily and also for the privilege of rubbing on your wonderful mare.

A part of the CJTR is the traditional picket line. This line is moved everyday, like every other part of this ride gets moved daily. Often trailers are parked tightly depending upon the size of the camp spot for the night. Plus those riders who are dependent upon the club to move their tent and supplies daily really need the picket line. I am sure right now all my endurance friends are cringing at the thought of their horse on a picket line.
Seymour Young Dog, a member of the Lakota Tribe, gave the Blessing for the 5 - day ride.
Each morning began with Seymour playing Indian music or Doc Rustebakke and his  ♫"Time to get up in the morning"♫ song. LOL Breakfast was served at 6 AM, you went through the lunch line and put together your day's lunch, then saddled up and got ready to move out at 8 AM.
After the riders ride out, behind them are the Doc, the Vet and the farrier, plus the pack mule with daily emergency supplies. Oh and did I mention the trail is NOT marked? All the people in neon vests are Scouts and Wranglers who keep everything on course and under control. Emergencies are handled on the spot, one rider was whisked off to Billings but he improved and returned the next day.
Then camp is broken down, packed up and on the road. The caravan stretched for miles over dusty roads through the plains and mountains, past old homesteads and ranches.
Then it all gets put back together in the new camp site. Andy and Ervin park everyone so all the rigs fit into camp. The kitchen crews go to work on sandwiches for tomorrows lunches, then they begin working on what's for dinner! And every night it was something fantastic! Wednesday is steak night!
At days end riders return to camp, sore and tired but smiling!

After which it was dinner, dancing and live music! We sure had it much easier than the Nez Perce did in 1877!!

The next day it all begins again. Another breakfast. Another ride. More fun. For 5 days! And this year it was 101.5 miles. It doesn't take long to realize that this isn't just a ride. It truly is an experience!
Homesteads of all sizes, types and shapes dotted the country. This may have been a school house?

The big sky blessed us with spectacular sunsets!

The Nez Perce signing the Lord's Prayer, it was raining and it rained a lot.

Rain gear became a necessity.

Another homestead on Ford Creek
The route spent many miles in the Judith Basin and the Judith Mountains. Local historians came in for dinner and told us tales of the history of the region, including Fort Maginnis, Mainden, Half Moon Pass and many other historic sites.

I wonder if this is what an ambush looked like?

Some traditional western gear.
I saw lots of antelope and this one was a beauty!

The horses are what make it all magical!
This years route went from Ryegate to Roy, MT. Next year it continues up to the Bear Paw Battlefield. Volumes have been written on the Chief Joseph history and my blog just barely touches it. In 2016, the CJTR will have covered the route three times! And at the end of that ride their horses will set foot onto an old historic battle field filled with ghosts of history! I get chills just thinking about it. If I get there it will be an honor to photograph riders in whatever traditional regalia they choose for this one-of-a-kind historic event!