Corinne Cowboys


The line of 31 horsemen snaked along the steep, rocky ridge that cupped a narrow beach on the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Below them, on the margin of sand, a sheepherder and his dogs moved their sheep from Squaw Springs.

The horsemen dismounted, and slipping and sliding down the hillside, led their horses to a large cave overlooking the water. After a 10-mile ride across the Promontory Mountains to the east, they’d arrived at their destination, a former Indian wintering ground.

The Explorers and Venturers of the Corinne Second Ward tethered their horses and prepared to eat lunch. With them were their advisers, Bill and Bob Smoot; several fathers and young brothers; Bishop Royal Norman and a counselor; the service and activities committee chairman; and their guide, veteran horseman Jesse Nicholas.

Because Corinne is a close-knit, rural ward, the young men sometimes enjoy sharing a variety of super activities with others in the ward. “We invite the young brothers along so they can get a taste of Exploring and look forward to it,” adviser Bill Smoot said.

This particular trek to the pair of caves formerly used by the Shoshone Indians took place during the Christmas holidays. A mild winter had left the area bare of snow, and the unseasonably high temperatures, ranging in the 40s, made horseback riding a pleasure.

This journey began one Wednesday morning when the youth met at the Smoot dairy farm to help load the stock into trucks and horse trailers. Bishop Norman, driving another truck filled with 10 horses, met them at the farm. They assembled for prayer and advice from the bishop. “Please no bullets in your pistols or rifles. We don’t want any shooting accidents, and you can load your guns when we get to a suitable place. Let’s remember to treat the property with respect so we’ll be welcomed back.”

After prayer they went by caravan the 50 miles to the Nick Chournos sheep corrals in Booze Valley near Promontory. The horses were unloaded, saddled and bridled, and everyone rode up Whittaker Pass, led by Brother Nicholas. Three of the horses carried double, including the bishop’s. The bishop explained that super activities such as this one have kept the Explorer program going well in the ward for the past 19 years, the length of service of the adviser. He noted that about 85 percent of the young men eventually go on missions. “During one five-year period, every one of them went on missions. I feel activities such as this help keep them interested in the Church.”

The Venturer adviser observed that the activities of the two groups have helped to cement father-and-son relationships. He said several dads have been encouraged into activity as a result.

Six mule deer sprang from under the cedars halfway up Whittaker Pass and bounded up the slope opposite the gully. The riders paused to watch. Some of the less conditioned—riders and horses—rested before moving on.

Bill Smoot, Explorer adviser, said that every other year they spend a week on a pack trip in the Uinta Mountains east of Corinne. “That way every Explorer gets at least one pack trip,” he said.

Super activities are not only events for the Explorers and Venturers, the adviser emphasized. During the spring the young men painted three houses belonging to widows in the ward and participated in other projects.

During the descent through South Canyon on the other side of Whittaker Pass, the horsemen broke into groups, with the slower horses bringing up the rear. Occasionally they stopped to admire the rugged winter beauty of the mountains.

One of the riders said another super event planned for the year will be a Tin Lizzie Derby involving all the posts in the stake. Each post will buy a car, an old clunker, for a nominal sum, get it into running condition if necessary, and compete in various skill tests.

“After that,” the Venturer adviser said, “they will sell the car and return the money to the respective posts. The goal is to see which unit can get the most money. They may advertise the car in the paper, sell it to a dealer, or break it down for parts,” he said.

Past activities have included visits to the Utah State Prison near Salt Lake City, to nearby military installations, and to the air traffic control facility at Salt Lake International Airport. They have boated on lakes, visited caverns, and attended rodeos.

These activities have served as confidence builders for some and have helped others better understand one another. This has resulted in a closer unity among the post members. In addition to opportunities for spiritual growth, the activities have kept them physically fit. Some of this unity and activity is demonstrated in the wrestling prowess of a half-dozen young men in the ward. Corinne Second Ward’s Aaronic Priesthood holders represent 50 percent of the local high school wrestling team. Some have won recognition in AAU-sanctioned wrestling events.

Because they come from a rural ward, they plan well in advance so their farm and stock work is taken care of in their absence. During the summer they have to plan around irrigation turns. Fortunately, there are often enough family members to take up the slack while they’re gone.

They rode several miles down the canyon through pasture country, then over the ridge surrounding Squaw Springs where the two caves were located. Brother Nicholas said artifacts found in the Indian caves have been removed for further study by a university. Thus visits to the caves don’t damage archaeological investigations. Brother Nicholas noted the caves were used during the winters by Shoshone Indians.

“One of them told my grandfather about the caves, but he never could find them. Tom Whittaker did, though, and that’s how I know of them.” He continued, “That Indian said that when he was a youngster, the entire band was trapped inside the upper cave by an enemy tribe. They got mighty dry before they were able to get out.”

The riders dismounted at the upper cave, and the lunches were unpacked from the saddlebags. There were several smashed sandwiches and flattened dessert packages, but all was eaten with good humor. A number of items were shared with others, and there was food left over.

After exploring the cave they carefully packed any litter into their saddlebags. The young men mounted again and rode down the hill where they investigated the lower cave before turning home.

Halfway back up South Canyon they met the property owner who was conferring with one of his herders. They exchanged greetings and rode around the grazing sheep. Because sheep scatter easily, owners don’t like visitors in the area. The Explorers had asked permission to travel through, so there was no problem.

Back at the sheep corrals the young men engaged in an impromptu target match, utilizing the soft drink cans retrieved from the cave. As they practiced with .22 caliber pistols and rifles, Bishop Norman said, “Had there not been sheep around we could have stopped along the way and practiced.”

After the horses were led into the trucks and the last round was fired, the Explorers and their guests loaded up for the return trip home.

Bill Smoot summed up the value of this trip and other super activities. “They help us grow closer together, boys and leaders. Every young man in our ward is active in the Church, and every leader knows each of the boys well. Part of the reason for that is because we plan regular super activities.”

[photos] Photos by Jed Clark