Round 'Em Up

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was July 1932, I was not quite 14 years old and I had received a phone call from my hero, Clem Gardner, asking if I would help round up the stock for the Calgary Stampede. He didn’t have to ask twice.

I was pretty proud to ride with Clem, who had been named the “Best All Around Cowboy” at the first Calgary Stampede in 1912, and in 1931, won the Stampede’s Rangeland Derby chuckwagon championship. A family friend, Clem ranched in the Pirmez Creek district, located on the south side of the Elbow River and surrounded by the Springbank, Jumping Pound and Bragg Creek communities west of Calgary, Alberta.

There he kept and cared for all the bucking horses, Brahma bulls and Brahma steers that the Calgary Stampede owned. From Clem’s own herd, he selected the cows for the wild cow milking and calves for the calf roping contests at the Calgary Stampede every year. He also supplied some of his own bucking horses and wild horses that grazed on the west end of what is now the Tsuu T’ina Nation southwest of Calgary. We knew it then as the Sarcee Indian Reserve. That was back many years before the Calgary Stampede established its own ranch in eastern Alberta. The roundup was quite a job. Clem planned to gather some 800 to 900 head of his cattle, the biggest herd that I had ever worked. I arrived at Clem’s and he gave me a horse to ride. I was impressed when he told me he had 70 broken saddlehorses. A lot of them were pretty darned good, too.

We got started early in the day while it was cool. There were two teams. Clem and his older daughter, Audrey, worked together, as did Clem’s friends, Charlie Mickle and George Copithorne. They rode into the herd and cut out 35 cows and 35 calves, ensuring that the calves matched in size. They picked out 30 two year old heifers for the boys’ steer riding, also matching them for size. I was the kid on that roundup – tall, gangly and excited. My job was to ride on the outside, keeping the herd together. Other riders kept the stock that had been selected separate from the main herd. When the sorting was finished, we drove the cattle into a big holding pasture that was surrounded by a seven or eight-wire fence. A big slough in the centre of the field provided good water. Because the heel flies were so bad, we couldn’t handle the cattle much until they settled down late in the day. It was after 4 p.m. before we finally headed toward Calgary. At the time, the city had a population of about 85,000. Of course, in July, we had a good, long evening, even before Daylight Saving Time.

Audrey and her sister, Joan, were very capable riders and very good with stock. They helped us trail the herd down a road that is now known as Highway eight until we crossed the Elbow River at Twin Bridges. From there, we went about two miles before coming to what today is Sarcee Trail. Then Clem, George Copithorne, Charlie Mickle, Vincent Robinson and I turned the herd south and rode through McPherson’s Coulee, about one mile west of 37 Street in Calgary. At that location, the military rented acreage that was fenced on the north and west sides for a firing range.

Clem had arranged for us to bed down at that location for the night. Since the cattle had been traveling quite a way, they were tired. They settled down pretty easy and the calves nursed. By then it was about 9 p.m. We slept out under the stars.

As it was just getting light - about 4 a.m. – we saddled up and headed out. We wanted to finish driving the herd into the exhibition grounds before Calgary really came to life. Clem’s cattle were pretty wild and spooked easily. Bicycles and people on foot upset them. They had just never seen anything like that.

The operators at the Glenmore Dam were expecting us and had turned the water flow down low so our stock could ford the Elbow River with no trouble. We crossed below what is now the Calgary Golf & Country Club. In those days, there was a lot of open ground in the south part of Calgary. Then we rode along and crossed Macleod Trail.

We continued driving the cattle down the road between the big Union Cemetery and the Field of Honour. The operators continued to hold the water level low until they thought we had had enough time to get across the Elbow River a second time to the Stampede Grounds. We actually crossed into Victoria Park with the herd about where the Indian Village is now located. From there, we drove the cattle straight into the centre field and the corrals where they were to stay for the duration of the Stampede. After we had settled the stock down and put our horses in the barn, Clem took all of us out for breakfast to Macrowan’s, a restaurant on ninth ave. near the Palliser Hotel which was a very popular establishment. Having breakfast in a restaurant was a rare treat for me, especially in the company of someone like Clem Gardner. He seemed to know everybody, and everybody seemed to know him.

Jack Dillon, who was Stampede manager at that time, saw to it that a car was available to take us to the restaurant and bring us back to the Exhibition grounds. After that treat, we saddled up our horses and rode back home. I don’t suppose I have ever enjoyed a trip as much as that one and I’ve been blessed to have had some good ones.

Winston Parker

At age 93, Winston Parker of Okotoks published a book called Saddles and Service in October 2011 that features a number of Calgary Stampede stories including the above.

Story submitted by Elaine Thomas

My hero, Clem Gardner, was a Western Canadian legend in his own time. He rode a bucking bronc named High Tower and went on to be named “Best All Around Cowboy” at the first Calgary Stampede in 1912.