Tales from the Tread: Living off the land in Routt County
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
On March 29, the Tread of Pioneers Museum partnered with the Community Agriculture Alliance for Agriculture Appreciation Week to feature tasty dishes and fascinating speakers for the museum’s “Taste of History” food series.
The series, now in its fourth year, presents various themes and topics focused on historic cooking methods, recipes and food tastings from the past. The Taste of History topic was “Living Off the Land: Food from Ranching and Hunting.”
The event drew upon Routt County’s deep agricultural roots and traditions. Featured dishes made with local bison, lamb, beef and elk were enjoyed by all as the local ranchers talked about their trades.
Nick Osadchuck, of Lucky 8 Bison Ranch, spoke about the differences between cattle and bison, as well as the importance of conservation to sustain the species. Osadchuck described why bison are considered low maintenance animals: they usually stay where they are supposed to be, know when breeding season is and usually don’t need help calving.
While bison provide high quality meat, and they are relatively easy to manage, bison can also run more than 30 miles per hour and jump 6 feet from standing, making them the most dangerous animal to raise.
Shiloh Whaley provided humorous insight into living on a Routt County ranch where both sheep and cattle are raised. “I’m a cowboy’s daughter, and I’m married to a cowboy, so you can imagine what it’s like (raising sheep with cowboys),” she said, “but I like to make things difficult.”
Although it takes dedication to raise animals and ranch at high altitude, Whaley and her family are happy living a traditional way of life close to the land where she is part of a multi-generational Routt County ranching family.
After Centennial rancher and Routt County Cattlewoman Jo Stanko spoke about cattle ranching, a vital part of Routt County throughout its history, Routt County native Linda Long spoke poetically about elk hunting in the Yampa Valley.
“As an elk hunter, there is nothing more beautiful than … a ray of sunshine cutting through the trees. … Winter is written in the breeze … then, breaking the silence you hear the bugling of a bull elk in the distance.”
Long has been hunting her entire life. “It was our way of life. It assured us of having meat through the winter,” she said. “My two brothers and I all had to share a gun. Dad gave us each three shells (bullets) to carry. That was it; that was all we could afford …”
To this day Long only carries three bullets, as she was taught “that it doesn’t take a whole box of bullets to get an animal.” Long is now passing down the traditions of the family hunting trips. “My hunting party is my two granddaughters and my great-granddaughter. … We share the hunting stories of past times. As for me, the mountains have grown taller and steeper … I sit more often watching the clouds move across the skies, but when that silence breaks again from a bugling elk … my heart still pounds … when I see the excitement in my grandkids’ eyes. It brings back beautiful memories. It’s the way of life for all of us.”
Routt County is lucky to have these people who keep the area’s history alive by telling stories, passing down skills and traditions, and being a part of the rich heritage of the Yampa Valley.
Rachel Pozzo is the intern for Tread of Pioneers Museum
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