Bill May: Frank Groh's Oxen

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After Frank Groh's first adventurous trip from Leadville to Egeria Park in Routt County, he made preparations as quickly as possible to return to the prettiest place he'd ever seen and stake a homestead.

You will recall what a near brush with disaster Frank had experienced when he lost his horse, his gold and all of his clothing in the Grand River. Things had turned out well, though, when he found deer hides with which to clothe himself, trappers loaned him a horse to ride on to Egeria, and Tom Elliott entrusted him with eight horses to take to Leadville and sell.

The horses found a ready market, and Frank loaded a few possessions in a wagon pulled by an ox team and set out for Routt County.

When he reached the top of the steep hill above the Grand River, the oxen were very thirsty. When they smelled the river below, Frank could not control the team. They took the wagon right over a steep bluff instead of following the trail that took a longer route down a gentler grade.

The wagon was turned over and the tongue was broken out, but neither Frank nor his oxen were injured, and after reloading the wagon and making the necessary repairs, he was on his way again. This little affair did not seem to cause Frank to regard his oxen with less esteem than before. He was fond of telling others what a fine team they were, and what exceptionally smart animals they were.

Frank picked a location for his homestead 1 1/2 miles south of the present community of Toponas and set up camp. His first concern was to get a good cabin and barn built before winter set in. The timber where he must go to cut building logs was on the mountainside some distance from his camp. To cut and haul the logs required two days for each load.

On the first trip to the timber, the oxen were turned loose to graze on the lush grass while their master went about his work cutting down trees. That night the oxen continued to graze nearby, and were still there when he went back to felling trees the next morning.

By noon, enough logs had been cut to make a good load. Frank went to catch up his oxen to start loading the wagon, but the animals were nowhere to be seen. Most of the afternoon was spent locating the truants and it was very late indeed before Frank got back to the homestead with his load of logs that night.

Before starting out for the timber the next time, a bell was fastened to one ox so that if they strayed off again, they would be more easily found. Everything went exactly as it had the previous time. The oxen grazed contentedly, close at hand, as the homesteader went to work the next morning - but they had disappeared by noon when it was time to be hitched up to the wagon.

In vain, Frank listened for the bell as he searched for the missing culprits. At last they were found, but the ox wearing the bell was lying down while his mate carried mouthfuls of grass to him so that he would not ring the bell by trying to graze. In fact, the old boy had picked a spot along the creek bank to lie down, so that he could drink without getting up. When he got thirsty the other ox would hold the clapper of the bell with his tongue, so that the bell wouldn't ring when the bedded animal reached his head down over the creek bank to drink.

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