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The Changing of the ‘W’ on Stud Horse Mountain

It was 1966 and my cousin Billy Johnson, who lived just past the first turnoff to Cub Creek Road, had just graduated from Winthrop High School (YAY WINTHROP PIRATES!). Billy showed up at our farm (hereunto known as the Johnson Farm, the old Bing place or the John and Mary Banes place) on horseback at dusk one evening and wanted my brother Dawane and me to help him change the big ‘W’ on the side of the Stud Horse mountain to ‘66’, the year of his graduation, as it was the tradition of the graduating class to do so.

Dawane saddled up my dad’s horse and I saddled up mine and we set off up our long driveway past Ken White’s place. We forged the Chewuch ditch near Clarence Rader’s house and started up Stud Horse to the big Winthrop ‘W’.

The ‘W’ was a bunch of white boards. I have no idea who originally put it there, it just had been there all my life. The first time it really came to mind for me was in Mrs. Kendrick’s third grade class when she announced Winthrop would be on a spelling test. She then had to leave the room for some reason and everyone in the class rushed to windows and looked up on the Stud Horse to see how to spell Winthrop. She was probably in the hall looking through the door window laughing herself silly.

Anyway, it was dark by the time we got to the ‘W’, the proper time for the execution of nefarious deeds, as was part of Billy's plan. We set about changing it to a big 66. You wouldn’t think so but it was a fair amount of work. When we were finished we were pretty happy with ourselves and sat above the ‘W’/’66’ for a time, taking a well-deserved break and just enjoying the evening. I had been on the Stud Horse a lot in my youth, however being up there at night was unique.

It was getting late so we started down the Stud Horse. When we came above Clarence Rader’s place, Billy was leading on his horse. Then came Dawane on our dad’s horse named Tony, and I was last.

Sometimes fun can turn to tragedy and so was the case that night. Dawayne's horse Tony got tangled up in a downed, barbed wire fence that had been there for God-knows-how-many years. I had seen panicked horses before but not like that. Tony was terrified. He threw Dawane to the ground and bolted into the dark, dragging barb wire and sage brush with him. It was all Billy and I could do to keep our horses from doing the same.

I talked to Dawane before I wrote this story and was touched at how profoundly the recollection of the events that night effected him still. I talked to Billy as well and we came to the conclusion it was a “you know what happens when you are having fun kind of thing”. Still, I must include here, the screams from Tony and the terror he endured would grieve the heart of the most hardened of men.

Dawane took my horse, and he and Billy set off into the dark in pursuit of Tony. They found him above Shaffer's place. His leg had been cut to the bone at the knee and just below the knee. We got him back to our farm and dad tended him until we could get a vet to look at him. It was afternoon the next day when the vet finally showed up. The vet didn’t give us much hope but said the wound would have to heal from the inside out.

I don't recall how many days passed before Tony's leg got infected and he had to be put down; It was a hard week for everyone. A lot of things happened on our farm next to the river. Not all of them were good, but I am glad I was raised there and wouldn’t trade my experiences having been so for anything.

My name is Steven C. Johnson; just a man who sat in front of his keyboard and fell head-first into the abyss of my own fertile memory.


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