An Affair


Feb 15, 2013
This tale and follow up story was on the Yahoo archive. I am re-posting it to the Backcountrypost. Then I will post the pictures, which no longer display on the Yahoo, as Picasa is defunct

The reason why I am doing this is because of what happened yesterday, 25 years and 2 months after the events of this story. That will be the third post

See below...

I try to pick one thing every week to go through and toss out the clutter that seems to accumulate in my life. A few weeks back, it was the stack of old business cards. Hadn't done this job in 20 years and many of the cards elicited smiles and the occasional growl and groan. I came upon one card in particular that interested.

Some 15 plus years back, my group encountered a cow laying helplessly in a wash. The events of the next few hours were memorable and led to the tale being recorded around a campfire by Bucky one evening, up on Smithsonian Butte. He transcribed it and it is in my story collection, under "An Affair."

Here staring at me was a business card from one Bill Cotton, the SAR guy who came upon us, after the cow and been born. These folks were part of the story. I looked at the should be the same, right? Being that it is only 15 plus years, right? I call, leave a message. The answering machine identifies no name, so I explain the story. I figure some stranger is going to get the strangest message of his life. I leave the next day on my March trip.

When I get back, there is a message from the fella. Gives another number and wants to chat. I call and sure enough, its the same guy and he is still in touch with half his crew from that day. I send him the story and he writes back with THE REST OF THE STORY. What happened after we went off on our hike...So for the first time ever, the WHOLE story in one place. First read the original rendition by yours truly, even if you have in the past, so all the pieces tie together between the two stories, then read Bill's adventures of later that afternoon. What a day!!

Here is my tale, followed by the letter from Bill and the rest of the story. My comments here were taped around the fire by Bucky, when the single malt scotch flowed freely

An Affair by Ram

So, we're in the Escalante out of Harris Wash, and there's this area called Red Breaks. It's really no formal canyon, as much as a series of them. The rock formations are very colorful. The structure of the hike is a walkabout, follow your heart. Pitney and I, many years ago, go on over to the place. I pull basically what I pulled the other day ... I ended up going in a different drainage, a little — of that, and it was very satisfying. We had a great day and everything. It wasn't till a couple months later, when I came upon another map, that it was as clear as could be — I hadn't been in Red Breaks. I had been in a completely different area, actually still not publicized anywhere. One of my secret gems. It was a mistake. So, OK, let's go to Red Breaks.

It was a couple years later and we were going to go there but, well, there were other priorities ... so we gave it a pass. Then, the next time we were going to go there it rained and—you know its dirt roads down there—so we didn't go then either. So, I'm sitting there, 0 for 3. Then I think—at about the ten year point from when I first tried to go—I got a new crew: this guy who soloed Denali and his girlfriend at the time, who didn't end up being his wife; also this artist from Southern New Mexico—wild character, sees things other don't.

So we start in the proper place, the proper starting point. Very, very boring wash for about a mile. Until about ¾ of a mile into the wash, we come upon this cow, just lying down in the wash. I'm looking at the scene thinking, `nope, you're not even going to make it to hamburger.' And these other three people, who were with me, start to pour out all this compassion and emotion and stuff like that and start hiking feverously around looking for water ... but we're in a place with no water ... but, they find some. They're filling ziplocks with water and bringing them back for this cow.

I'm sitting over on the sidelines in the shade, going, "I can't believe this is happening," smoking cigarettes. And I'm like, "come on guys — you know — hamburger!?"

One of the guys is pacing back and forth, saying, "What are we gonna do, what are we gonna do?"

Finally they decide they're going to push this thing on its side. So they push it on its side and a huge placenta comes pouring out the backside of the cow. OK. I say to myself, `this is definitely not happening now.' So it's more, `what are we gonna do.' There's now major indecision in the group. And I realize nothings going to happen unless I do something, cuz at this point they've all kind of frozen. I had these glacier gloves with the fingertips cut out and stuff like that. Now this was probably not the smartest thing I've ever done, but I decided I'd try to deliver this calf ...

The event so far from start to finish was an hour and a half or so, and I must say that the eyes of the beastie showed appreciation, as it was lapping up the water from the ziplocks. There was no water there—how did they find it anyway? The placenta was huge and sticking out. It was 18, 20 inches wide where it was sticking out, it was probably eight inches wide where the child was. OK ... So at this point I reached my hands in the equivalent of horizontal on both sides, and slipped my hands in, reaching all the way in. I started to tug and tried to pull. I didn't know if this was the right thing to do but it was action. There are three people dying over this big piece of hamburger, and no one can do anything because they're paralyzed ... so I figure well, what do I have to lose. It's slimy. It smells. Fluids all around. Purple and blue, the richness of it. And what's happening is the placenta is too slippery. As I'm pulling, I'm losing grip. Actually, this would possibly be considered like a canyoneering technique, because people are behind me, putting their arms around me, pulling on me to get more leverage. A team effort at this point. And finally, pop. I stumbled for a second. The placenta popped on out. And all of a sudden there are a pair of hooves sticking out. It's breached. I reach back inside and around to the top of the thing, to the top of the head, and push it down. And finally with a great deal of effort, two or three misses, the head pops out. Rest of the body comes pretty easily. And I'm sitting there, like, just covered in f—ing embryonic cow fluid. And sand.

Q: Did it turn to you and go, "Daddy?"

No. What happened was, we brought it over to Mom and she licked it clean and nudged it. My friends took the role, and I also to some extent, to get it up on its feet. It was shivering. I got naming rights. His name was `Breaks.'

At this time, right during all this, a Search and Rescue team from Ft. Collins, about ten or 12 people, show up there on an exercise—from my hometown—they call themselves the `Straw Dogs' or something. They kind of took control. They had latex gloves and a lot of stuff I wish I had had just previously. I sat there and said, please douse me in alcohol. I took an alcohol bath, took my clothing off, packed it in a garbage bag, and wore other people's clothing. Anyway, at this point I felt I had earned what I needed, and I was like, "Guys, can we go on the hike now?"

These Search and Rescue guys had taken control of the situation. A funny thing is that one of our guys, the guy who had soloed Denali, had run out to the trailhead to find the rancher to let him know that this critical situation was going on, right. As soon as he hit the parking lot and jumped in his car and drove like 15 seconds, he passed the rancher who owned the cow, who didn't find out about the situation until hours later.

OK ... so, we go off on the hike. Breaks is all cleaned up. He's now up on his legs. And it's a lovely hike. We don't have the energy to do as much as we might have. I have good pictures from that day. So we come back and we stumble on the site again, right. There's a note from the rancher, thanking us for saving the baby. And there's the mother cow laying there. It's throat is slit. They shoot horses, don't they. It affected me, but it devastated the people around me. All this drama had happened all around us, and it touched me despite my best efforts to have it not do so.

Anyway, I'm exhausted later at a restaurant in Escalante, and I call my wife, and get the answering machine. So I tell the machine a brief outline of what happened. The "well, you always worried I'd touch another woman"–quote that I made was the only thing she heard and for 3 days—until I spoke to her next—she was devastated with the impression that I had had an affair. Got to see the canyon, anyway • Epilogue •

Telling the story recently, this city slicker was told, with some deserved ridicule, that `hoofs first' is natures way with calves. Clever of me to switch him around! Our rural expert assured me that Mom was in `deep trouble,' based on how we found her, and that we probably saved the calf while not killing the Mom, who was too far gone. Sure I didn't help her, though. Hope you enjoyed Ram

This from Bill yesterday

Steve, It's a great surprise to hear form you. I too have told this tale many an evening with Scotch as well. We should have a reunion. Although we should leave our Swiss Army Knives and latex gloves behind! Below you can see roughly how I've told the tale. I've cc'd the others in our group that I have emails for. I'll look at some of your other stories soon. Bill

Norman's Rescue

Five of us search and rescue team members, Julie, George, Fern, Brett and I, were on Spring Break vacation in Utah. We planned on a five-day trip into one of the Escalante tributaries. For a warm-up we headed into the Red Breaks for a day hike.

A few miles in we came upon a group of fellow canyoneers gathered around a cow stuck in the sand who had just given birth. It turns out this group was from Fort Collins too. We tried to get the cow to drink and get her out of the sand but to no avail. One of our group, Fern, was an aspiring veterinarian, just excepted into vet school. He helped the calf and mother. Fern knew the calf needed liquid, especially colostrum. We tried to get milk from the mom, but she was all dried up. We did get the calf water by putting it in latex glove with a hole pricked in a finger. I'm not sure when we named the calf, his name was Norman in our tales. The first group headed on as we planned our rescue.

Getting Norman colostrum was our priority. We recalled seeing ranchers leave a horse trailer near our camp and ride off on the mesas above us. Brett and I climbed out of the canyon in search of the ranchers. We had two search and rescue radios in our group, long before FRS radios, so we were able to keep connected.

Shortly after we got to a four-wheel-drive road, a ranch girl came out in an old pick up. We anxiously tried to wave her down, but she didn't want to stop. She seemed rather wary of us city slickers. She finally did stop and told her our story. She said she was on her way out to go to school. Her family was several miles back in driving cattle. We convinced her to drive us out to our vehicles so we could drive back in.

Racing back in my trusty 4Runner we came upon the ranchers. We told them about the calf. They were preoccupied with the drive. I guess one calf doesn't amount to much when you've got an entire herd to worry about. They didn't have enough people to free anyone up from the cattle drive. Brett and I watched glumly as they mosied along.

We noticed they were having trouble dealing with the horse the girl had left behind. The riderless steed tugged at his reins driving the cowboy to distraction. Bret, a somewhat experienced rider -- after all his girlfriend had a horse -- volunteered to help out. The ranchers looked skeptically at Brett in his shorts and gators. This was Boulder, Utah, not Colorado after all. What the heck they decided. Worst he could do was fall off. Yippie yi yay! Avacodos and ice axes anyone? Bret hopped up and not only was able to control the horse, but also helped with the drive.

I radioed George and told him of our situation. George, Fern and Julie decided to try to carry the Norman up to the mesa top so it would be closer to the drive.First they had to dispatch the poor cow, which Fern assessed was too far gone, especially with the ranchers' lack of interest. All they had to do the deed was a Swiss Army knife. But at least Fern knew how to get the job done as humanely as possible. Carrying a calf up a canyon side proved no easy feat, but the three persevered.

After an hour or so of driving the cattle, the Norman's team got managed to get the calf out of the canyon, but still at least a mile from the road.

We used signal mirrors to show our exact positions to each other and the ranchers. When the ranchers saw the mirror flash that thought that was pretty cool and a couple of them rode off toward the flash. It wasn't long before they returned with Norman over a saddle.

That evening we were finding mochi balls, building cow pie trees, and laughing over our adventures when the ranchers returned with five pounds of hamburger. We looked shocked at the fresh meat. They assured us Norman was fine having enjoyed his first sip of colostrum.

Grille on! -- Bill Cotton​


Feb 15, 2013
At this time, right during all this, a Search and Rescue team from Ft. Collins, about 6 people, show up they call themselves the `SAR Dogs' or something.

This from Bill many years ago

Five of us search and rescue team members, Julie, George, Fern, Brett and I, were on Spring Break vacation in Utah. We planned on a five-day trip into one of the Escalante tributaries. For a warm-up we headed into the Red Breaks for a day hike.

This from yesterday.....I sometimes I have issues with blood clots. I was getting a sonogram at the medical facility. I try to get whoever is treating me invested in me and try to make their work day amusing and fun....... for the technician, doctor, nurse, everyone. So after stories about some adventures, Julie, who is giving me the sonogram mentions that she was involved in SAR, back in the day. It hits me. I ask if she knows Bill Cotton. The sonogram stops. A look of suspicion comes over her face. She says "yes. He is my ex-husband." We stare each other down. I ask if she was on a trip to Escalante 25 years ago, where a cow was birthed. Cautiously she says yes. DAMN.

So we indeed had met, for half and hour, 600 miles away, 25 years and two months ago, in a boring open wash in Escalante. Pretty remarkable, says I. More so for the fact we figured that out. I mean it was only a little over 9,200 days ago. We adventure people move in some of the same "slip streams," and come upon each other more often than statistics would normally apply......but this? Waaay out there. A final thought. How many times do we brush by these meetings, unawares, for every time we actually connect the dots. Feeling a bit of awe today.
Last edited:


Oct 30, 2016
Great story! Thanks for sharing it.
  • Like
Reactions: ram


Feb 15, 2013
@ram This is a great read and story.

I worked a dairy farm for a short time and helped deliver a few calves. To go in without the sleeve with a cow in unknown circumstance... I will just say Respect.

Ignorance is bliss. I just wanted to do that dang hike, after all those years. I had and still have no idea of the risks I incurred. o_Oo_O


Because I am able.
Dec 31, 2017
Awww what an amazing story! Thanka for sharing that. Glad you captured photos.
The whole time I was thinking of City Slickers and then the other group names the calf Norman hahaha


May 18, 2012
Great story. Shame Cow Canyon has already been taken for the Escalante region or you could have had a re-naming.
(makes my "rescue" seem very boring!!)

(PS Does this mean you've now found a way to rescue your Picasaweb archives?)

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.