Green River Drift
by Dawn Ballou
October 7, 2004
Local ranchers have been grazing cattle on public land for more than a century in the Upper Green River Valley. Each spring, cattle are driven north onto the allotments and cold weather in the fall causes the animals to drift back down off the forest to head back to the home ranches for the winter.
The twice a year cattle drives have become known as the Green River Drift, and the fall drift is taking place right now. Ranchers who are members of the Upper Green River Cattle Association can be found moving herds of cattle south down the Green River Lakes road, Hwy 352, to the staging area adjacent to the Trapper's Point monument area about 5 miles west of Pinedale. The large groups of cattle are then moved to the cutting grounds where each rancher's cattle are sorted out by brand into their respective herds, to be driven in smaller cattle drives back to their home ranches.
In the 1890s, the first cattle associations were formed in the Upper Green River Valley as a result of extremely harsh winters that decimated local cattle herds. The Big Piney Roundup Association was formed in 1890. In 1916, the Upper Green River Cattle and Horse Growers Association was formed. The name was changed to the Upper Green River Cattle Association in 1925. In the 1930s, the association added driveways which allowed them to bypass private land and more easily funnel cattle to desired pasture areas. For more than a hundred years, local ranchers have worked with government entities to manage the range allotments and cattle use with the best management practices possible. The Green River Drift, cutting grounds, and driveways have been a part of our valley's history for so long now some people have suggested they be considered for historic recognition and designation.
The photos in this story were taken on Wednesday, October 7th, on a gorgeous sunny morning as cowboys and cowgirls sorted cattle by brand from the larger herd into smaller herds belonging to the respective ranches in the Association. This was a great photo opportunity to see real cowboys and cowgirls at work on a beautiful fall day in Wyoming. These dedicated ranchers often aren't so lucky to work in such pleasant weather! At the end of this photo session, we caught cowboys moving a herd from the Drift cutting grounds down the Green River Valley to the Sommers and Price ranches. Their cattle drive had the Wind River Range as the backdrop and made a wonderful picture to end our photo essay of a day with the ranchers on the Drift.
For those who would like to know more about the colorful and rich history of area ranching and the Green River Drift, local historian and teacher Jonita Sommers wrote a wonderful book about the Drift in 1994. This book is no longer available new, but if you watch the E-Bay used book market, there is the chance of happening on a used copy. It won't be cheap, but it is a unique and well-written historical compilation by someone whose family has been involved in the Drift for generations. Jonita is a thorough, dedicated researcher, and a highly-respected local authority on area ranching history. The 394-page hard bound book is entitled Green River Drift, A History of the Upper Green River Cattle Association, ISBN I-56044-280-8.
Photos by Dawn Ballou