Dumb Cows

Max Dickson, Paul McKinnon herding cattle

Max Dickson, Paul McKinnon herding cattle

The Stacey push rake, later run by Gary with a car chassis

The Stacey push rake, later run by Gary with a car chassis

Early attempts to grow vegetables and grain met with unqualified failure in Rich County; in fact, the first settlers found themselves very nearly starving as they struggled with old techniques and crops to grow in the short season and cold climate. Eventually they found success growing oats and barley and alfalfa. The sheep and cattle that ate the alfalfa and barley also became important, because that’s about all that would thrive at almost 7,000 feet altitude on the high pasture land. Over the next three generations cattle and sheep became the primary source of income, and the Woodruff people became ranchers.

That’s how everyone in Woodruff came to know about cattle and sheep. They came to recognize a horse was a man’s best help. Horses were smart and obedient and eager to please. If a man took care of his horse, it would serve him well for many years. But a cow…well, everyone knew a cow was not very smart. If a cow broke through a fence all the others would follow even if the grazing on the other side wasn’t as good. Sometimes they would break out for no other reason than to get to the other side of the fence, eat poisonous plants and die. One couldn’t count on a cow to follow any sensible pattern of action just because he liked you or wanted to please you.

One day Bill Stacey was assigned by his dad to rake the hay which had been cut. Riding the hay rake wasn’t all that hard, but getting the hay into neat, straight winrows and finishing before dark was a challenge. As soon as he got into the field and began to line up the winrows, the cows broke through the fence.

If a cow ate alfalfa before it had dried, she would bloat and die. Bill’s father had warned him never to allow cows into the alfalfa field, and he knew he had to do something. Leaving his work, Bill had to unhitch the horse from the rake, jump on its back, and ride to where the cows had broken down the fence.

Old fences (in the far background) were easier to break through

Old fences (in the far background) were easier to break through

He shooed the cows back into the field and repaired the fence as best he could with the tools he had. Returning to his work, he redoubled his efforts, anxious to finish in his allotted time. However, it wasn’t long before the cows found the weak place and broke down the fence again, causing Bill to stop his work once again, unhitch the horse, and ride bareback to the freedom-loving cows. He was impatient with them the second time, but it was nothing compared to how he felt about it when it happened again.

“Maybe I could keep those doggone cows under control right from here,” he thought with his Engineer’s mind. “All I’d have to do is take this flipper out of my pocket, get a nice rock in it and give those cows a whack that would teach them to stay away from that fence.” Putting a few stones in his pocket, he cradled one in the rubber center of the flipper he had made by suspending a piece of rubber between the two forks of a whittled tree branch. The more he thought about his new plan, the better he felt about it. Now he could keep his horse on task raking hay.

Once again the cows broke down the fence and began eating alfalfa. Bill pulled the stone cradled in the rubber back as far as his work-hardened hands could pull. He was only about twelve or fourteen years old, but often worked like a man, no stranger to long exertion. He aimed at the side of the biggest cow. “This will teach you,” he muttered under his breath.

But a split second before he let fly, the rubber broke, releasing all its stored energy directly into Bill’s surprised face. What was intended as a lesson to a disobedient cow became a painful lesson for a young farm boy. “I hate cows,” he yelled, rubbing the growing red blotch on his face as he began to run. “I hate cows, and I hate you more than any other cow!”

Hayrake, Woodruff collection, Utah State Historical Society, 2001

Hayrake, Woodruff collection, Utah State Historical Society, 2001

By then he had reached the unsuspecting cow munching grass on the wrong side of the fence. With all the energy he could muster, Bill kicked that cow in the side. She turned and began to run back to her approved pasture, but not before she received an earful of angry accusations and several hard kicks to the side.

Bill repaired the fence and angrily forced the animals to the other side of the field. But as the intense pain in his face began to subside, he regretted his temper tantrum because he had lost the Spirit. His Father would not approve of what he had done. Looking around the field to see if he was being watched, he silently vowed never to lose control as he had that day.

Bill Stacey learned two lessons that day. He discovered cows don’t learn very fast. More importantly, he found that even if one feels justified, anger and loss of control never solve problems: they only create new ones because the Spirit can’t be there.

It was a lesson he never forgot. To his dying day he cautioned against anger and contention of any kind. His early lesson taught him the value of self-control, but more importantly, he learned the damage done by anger. The lesson was re-learned as he watched people and realized the spirit leaves when one is angry. “All you have to do is feel mad at someone,” he said, “and the spirit is gone. It doesn’t even matter who is at fault. The spirit won’t stay when you’re mad or if you talk or think negatively about someone. If we allow contention and blame to come into our families, the spirit won’t be with the family. If criticism and anger are a part of a marriage, the Holy Ghost can’t be a part of it.

The Stacey family in 1952. They tried to be peaceful.

The Stacey family in 1952. They tried to be peaceful.

“Satan is targeting families more and more. He is making war on the Saints, and has made family relationships his focus. Every angry or accusing thought must be controlled. We can only do that with the help of the Atonement. But we can do it. There must be no anger in our hearts, or our families will suffer. It’s a lesson we all must learn.”