Guest Column

That awful September day

By Steve Moseley
Posted 9/14/21

The horror revealed itself in fits and starts on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range that awful September day.

Colleague and friend Chuck Hassler and I were dispatched by the Powell Tribune to …

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Guest Column

That awful September day

Posted

The horror revealed itself in fits and starts on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range that awful September day.

Colleague and friend Chuck Hassler and I were dispatched by the Powell Tribune to cover a Bureau of Land Management “gather” on the day destined to change America forever. He was there to observe, conduct interviews with officials, wild horse capture advocates and angry protesters alike. My task was to capture this amazing day with my cameras. And amazing it was — doubly so for a flatlander from Nebraska who never dreamed he would be privileged to see such a spectacle, never mind photograph it from close-up, huddled behind a burlap screen on an overlooking ridge.

Although we could not yet see it, in the distance we heard a BLM helicopter drumming a “thump, thump, thump” beat that grew louder and more palpable as the machine hazed a group of wild mustangs through a labyrinth of canyons toward the catch pens of the Britton Springs wild horse facility located above the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area between Lovell and the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains. When the copter came into view from our high vantage point, we saw it swaying back and forth above and behind a herd of running horses … not pushing too hard, but just hard enough to keep them galloping toward the trap. 

Near the corrals behind a huge boulder a man waited, holding a domesticated wild horse by its halter. At a signal from the pilot, he unsnapped the halter and released the “Judas horse” which immediately raced back to the pens, unintentionally leading its wild brethren to capture.

Later, as our group gathered in the shade near the holding pens and barn, the unbelievable 9/11 tragedy began to unfold. Ponderously. Excruciatingly slow.

This is remote, high desert country the words “hard scrabble” are insufficient to describe. Sagebrush, cactus, a few scruffy bushes … but mostly rocks and blazing sun at the base of the Pryor Mountains. The sparse range will allow only so many horses to survive, thus their own reproductivity, compounded by this unforgiving environment, makes periodic roundups necessary.

There are no cell signals here, no TV or radio either. It is like entering a time warp where the modern world is unwelcome.

A small BLM trailer had a satellite phone, but all the rest of us might as well have been buried in a deep cave. We knew something was up when faces turned ashen near the trailer as a BLM staffer emerged from the tiny hovel with the first announcement that something was going on in New York. Like everyone, we figured the first tower was some kind of unimaginable but innocent accident. The many reports that followed from the thin thread between us and rest of the planet — each more grim than the last — soon proved otherwise.

The second tower, then the Pentagon, then a crash in Pennsylvania; no survivors on board any of the planes and countless fatalities on the ground. I can tell you experiencing 9/11 in such a place — one that time still has yet to acknowledge — was like a psychic episode. An out-of-body experience.

Our copter — like all other aircraft in the United States — was grounded. Ordered out of the sky above that primitive, almost mystical setting.

Chuck took the news especially hard. Turning to me with a look of complete heartbreak and confusion, he asked, “Mose, does this mean we are at war?”

It was not a rhetorical question.

“Sure looks that way, Chuck,” I answered, and we were. What you and I never imagined that day, though, was that this war would never and will never end.

 

(Steve Moseley is the occasionally retired managing editor and lead photographer for the five-day York News-Times, hard by I-80 in southeast Nebraska. He served the Powell Tribune as sports editor/photographer more than 15 years ago, plus a temporary stint as sports editor in 2020. He receives guests at stevemoseley42@gmail.com.)

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