The late Bob Brislawn is known by the USDA as being the founder of the Spanish Mustang as an American horse breed. I can remember a large picture of him in Life magazine in January 1969, in which he was wearing his trademark large Stetson with a small American flag protruding up out of the hatband. The Life magazine article about wild mustangs featured a bit of Bob’s history and his dedicated efforts to save the Spanish mustang as a breed. He had worked for the U.S. Geological Survey during the early 20th Century as a packer hauling supplies and equipment by using packhorses and covered a lot of rugged miles in the west. The horses he used were Spanish mustangs, a dependable breed he admired for their tough dependability and surefooted endurance.
I wrote a letter to him to let him know how much I enjoyed the article and a week or so later, I received a letter back from him and we became pen pals thereafter. I long had the bug to go mule deer hunting out west, and when I asked Bob if I could possibly hunt on his Cayuse Ranch near Oshoto in northeastern Wyoming, he gave me a warm “come and do it”.
In October 1970, I ventured west from Michigan with a couple of friends. At that time, you could buy a nonresident Wyoming mule deer license over the counter for $25, but that would soon all change. On the way to the ranch, we passed by “Oshoto” which was a building, and the sign near it said, “Population 5”. Once we were at the ranch we met Bob’s son Emmett, who operated the ranch and was a true cowboy, and he and his family were gracious hosts.
It turns out Bob was in Utah at the time with his brother checking out an isolated herd of wild mustangs to see if they qualified for the breed registry (certain physical characteristics are required). While there, Bob and his brother made an unexpected appearance as stand-ins in the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” starring Robert Redford, which was being filmed in the same locale. In the movie’s very beginning, there is the brief scene at a trading post of an elderly gentleman with a handlebar moustache and wearing a big, broad-brimmed Stetson, which the movie director had wanted replaced with something more “authentic”. After a debate with Bob about western history, the Stetson was allowed to stay in place!
On that hunt, my 2 friends and I bagged our mule deer bucks, which wasn’t nearly as easy as we thought it would be. I found out the hard way that when you drop a deer on the spot in certain rugged and steep terrain, it can be an ordeal getting it out!
In 1971, nonresidents had to apply by mail for Wyoming hunting licenses, and for deer, the price had doubled. Unfortunately, I didn’t get drawn. However, in 1972, I was drawn for a pronghorn antelope license and found myself headed for the Cayuse Ranch once again, to do a solo hunt, which I rather enjoyed because I didn’t have to follow anyone else’s schedules. I headed out in my new Ford Pinto with a Coleman pop-tent, sleeping bag, rifle and cooler stowed in the back.
This is when I first met Bob Brislawn in person, and I can state that he represented a bona fide man of the west. In his 80’s at the time, he was very personable and spry as ever, and I was automatically invited to eat my meals at his table, with him doing the cooking. It was a fine and memorable time I much enjoyed. He lived in a small trailer on the ranch and had no desire for modern conveniences, and I stayed in my tent nearby. We talked a lot about horses, especially Spanish mustangs, as well as I listened to western history from someone who had witnessed a lot of it. Bob once had a verbal confrontation with hired gunmen who rode up and wanted him to sell his homestead for a pittance, or else, which could still happen in the west during the early 20th Century. No shots were fired during the tense moment, and the gunmen left emptyhanded.
One morning during my hunt, Bob’s son, Emmett, knowing I was an experienced “farm boy”, asked if I could help him castrate some hogs, to which I agreed. I was expecting some piglets, but they turned out to be pigs a tad bigger than that, just rounded up off the range, and herded into a small corral. Well, folks, it was an interesting time “hog-tussling”, but we got ‘er done! Bob and I, of course, dined on “mountain oysters” that night!
One hot mid-afternoon found me just below a hilltop glassing an amazing number of pronghorns heading to a windmill and water tank down in the valley below, and I planned how to go about my approach. This was a treeless country featuring sagebrush (I love the aromatic smell of sagebrush in the autumn air), but it offered some rolling terrain, including a handy gulley, if I could reach it without being spotted by a lot of watchful, very sharp eyes.
I soon bagged my pronghorn buck after stalking and crawling into range, where I discovered Wyoming prairies have an almost invisible cactus in the undergrowth which will stick with you for quite a while. I had been expecting to have to make a long shot, but when I peeked over the lip of the gulley I had crawled into, the nice pronghorn buck of my choice had moved and was standing only 30 yards away, and my .308 Model 99 Savage lever-action, put him down on the spot.
I field-dressed the buck, tucked the liver (which Bob had requested for supper if I lucked out) back into the abdomen and tied its legs together to form a backpack of sorts when I slid my arms through the legs. It was then a hot and sweaty hike out, back to camp, and I can remember Bob wearing his big Stetson and standing by the windmill near his trailer, while watching my approach. Yep, folks, he and I dined on fresh antelope liver that night. You name it, Bob sure new how to cook on his woodstove by kerosene lantern light after dark, and he made the best pancakes in the morning!
Before heading back to Michigan, I took Bob for a trip to nearby (somewhat anyway) Sundance, Wyoming. I will never forget going into the local saloon (which had its own share of history) with Bob and see him stroll right up to the polished wooden bar, put his boot up on a brass foot-railing while cocking his Stetson back and order us a round of Jack Daniels. The scene sort of reminded me of the old black and white movie “The Virginian”, and I was glad I was wearing my Stetson too, because a ballcap would have been way out of place right then!
My fine time spent with Bob Brislawn, a true man of the west, will never be forgotten.