Cattle Trails
From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This page: Cattle Trails continued, Ogallala, "Powder River, Let 'er Buck!"

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About This Site

An N Bar herd crossing Powder River, 1886, photo by Laton Alton Huffman.

The N Bar was a brand owned by E. S. "Zeke" and Henry H. J. Newman's Niobrara Land and Cattle Company. The company started in Texas and in 1878 trailed 10-15,000 head to Nebraska. In 1882, the Company trailed 12,000 head to Powder River. The Company failed as a result of the winter of 1886-1887.

Powder River has been described as being "a mile wide and an inch deep." Yet because of the war cry of cowboys, picked up by American troops, "Powder River, Let 'er Buck," the river has a fame well beyond its size. According to Lander cattleman, Edward J. Farlow (1861-1951), author of Powder River, Let 'er Buck (Annals of Wyoming, Vol 11, No. 1, 1939) and Wind River Adventures: My Life in Frontier Wyoming, the expression originated with a cattle drive along Powder River to Casper:

Some hands trailing cows to the railroad at Casper in the autumn of 1893 bedded down near the headwaters of Powder river, near the present Hiland, Wyoming, one night. They talked about crossing Powder River repeatedly the next morning, and spoke of getting their swimming horses. The next morning one cowboy, Missouri Bill Shultz, changed horses to get a good swimmer. Making thir various crossings, they discovered that in the fall at that place, Powder River was just deep enought to wet a horse's hoof, and had barely enough energy to trickle from one hole to another.

When they got to Casper, Missouri Bill toasted the hands like this: "Boys, come and have a drink on me. I've crossed Powder River" They had the drinks, then a few more and were getting pretty sociable. When Missouri Bill again ordered he said to the boys, "Have another drink on me, I've swum Powder River," this time with a distinct emphasis on the words Powder River. "Yes, sir, by God, Powder River," with a little stronger emphasis. when the drinks were all set up he said, "Well, here's to Powder River, let 'er Buck!"

Soon he grew louder and was heard to say, "Powder River is coming upeeyeeep! -- Yes sir, Powder River is rising," and soon after with a yip and a yell, he pulls out his old six-gun and throwed a few shots through the ceiling and yelled, "Powder River is up, come an' have 'nother drink." Bang! Bang! "Yeow, I'm a wolf and it's my night to howl. Powder River is out of 'er banks. I'm wild and woolly and full o' fleas and never been curried below the knees!"

Bill was loaded for bear, and that is the first time I ever heard the slogan, and from there it went around the world.

Fording Powder River.

According to Fred L. Beger, writing in The Stars and Stripes, January 31, 1919, the war cry of cowboys was picked up by American troops during World War I from the Montana National Guard. The war cry has been used by the University of Wyoming since at least the 1930's when the expression was used in Lorna Kooi Simpson's Come On, Wyoming:

Come On, Wyoming

Come on, Wyoming, you've got to fight today.
For we want a victory.
Come on, Wyoming, you've got to win today,
for the university.
Come on, Wyoming, we all depend on you;
We are loyal through and through
Powder river, let're buck, let'er buck, Wyoming!!

Powder River, near Leiter, Sheridan County, Wyoming

[Writer's note: The name Powder River is used without the definite article "the." Indeed, noted Colorado historian Hebert O. Brayer has been critized for referring to the waterway as "the Powder River."]

Wyoming Trail Herd, 1880's. Photo by C. D. Kirkland

Nevertheless, like a caravan, the herd would proceed at a rate of about ten miles a day from Texas northward to Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. And as it proceeded further to the north, the more likely it was to run into the thunderstorms of the great plains and the possibilities of a stampede.

Stampede, portion of engraving by E. Boyd Smith.

Next page: Stampedes.