Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson, Jr.
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.
Story blurb: Three cowhands with a dream of owning a cattle ranch make a heroic pioneer trek across uncharted mountain ranges to open up the frontier grasslands in northern British Columbia during the early 1930s.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t found it until now.
In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.
The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history–with allowances for the cowboy’s tendency to exaggerate–made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.
In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”
The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”
So with little more than that, they head for Canada in an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”
Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail’ (the ‘ Trail of ’98’), which:
Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.
That was merely the beginning!
Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.
It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal of any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.
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