Oakley Cattle Drive: A Western Tradition
What makes the American west the “West” as the world knows it? Is it the great stretches of blue skies, sweeping and diverse landscapes, or the history of cowboys and native americans? I think it’s a combination of all of those things. There is plenty of space for both new and old traditions. One tradition that is undeniably a truly “western” experience is a cattle drive, a unique part of our heritage and history in Utah. Summit County is lucky to be the home of traditional cattle drives for working ranches. I had the chance to join the Leavitt family for their annual cattle drive, and it was an adventure not to be forgotten!
The Leavitt family, and their family members before them, have been driving cattle from the lush pastures of the Kamas Valley to the Uinta Mountains on the same permit of 160 years. Each year in the Spring, they drive their cattle up Weber Canyon Road, through South Fork, and into the free range land in the Uintas. Then, in the Autumn, they round them up to bring them back to the safety of the pastures for the winter.
The drive started early in the morning. My job was to wave a flag to traffic, signaling for drivers to slow down on the five mile stretch on New Lane and Weber Canyon Road. Keeping 50+ calves and cows in order is no easy chore! At one point, a calf and cow pair separated from the herd, which lead to a miniature rodeo in attempt to return them to the herd. Once we turned off the main road, and headed up South Fork Canyon, everyone - cows and people alike - seemed to relax a little bit.
About half way up, we stopped in a beautiful meadow to relax and have breakfast. While the adults set up the stoves and prepared eggs, bacon, and pancakes, the children played in the nearby creek. One grandchild proudly caught a snake, and it became a badge of honor to not only hold the snake, but give it a kiss! The family sat together sharing stories and reminiscing about past drives, rodeos, and family jokes.
Sheri Kaye Leavitt grew up doing the drive alongside her entire extended family. Now she does it alongside her husband, children, grandchildren, and life long friends. On this drive there were 3 generations, with a three week old baby girl being the newest addition to the family tradition. Sheri Kaye says, “other than there being more traffic than there used to be, things are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. Things have not changed a lot.” Men and women still ride on horseback to round up the cattle, they have the breakfast picnic in the same meadow, and the same people come year after year.
By tagging along for the cattle drive, I was reminded that this is an important part of our heritage, and realized that this is an amazing cultural and family tradition. I hope it is a tradition which will be kept alive for generations to come!