Jack Emberly.

Jack Emberly.

ALONG THE FRASER: An unwritten law in the Cariboo

As fires threaten livestock and disrupt lives, the Cariboo code of helping neighbors lives on.

“There’s “an unwritten law among good cattlemen,” writes Harry Marriot, in Cariboo Cowboy.

Harry Marriot was a cowboy on the famous Gang Ranch near Clinton in 1912.

“Never leave a critter standing way out somewhere,” he said. “Put it in with yours and send the owner word when he could come and get it.”

Today, as fires threaten livestock and disrupt lives, the Cariboo code of helping neighbors lives on.

Rob Unger keeps 13 head of cattle a few miles west of the village on the Clinton-Pavillion Road; hairy longhorns called Scottish Highlands.

In early June, I took pictures of critters who mosey up to the fence so you can scratch their heads. Unger tells of a young woman leaning over a rail to kiss a bull on the lips.

In early June, there was no smoke above the forested hills beneath the nearby Hesperian Ranch, a riding stable run by Wayne Griffith; none when I said goodbye to Mexican Mike Dier and his wife, Anna, at the Gold Trail RV Park.

Unger was getting ready for a trip to the Yukon. He’d been planning to drive the Dempster Hwy.

But a few days later, fire broke out in Ashcroft, and not long after, fanned the Elephant Hill fire – a blaze that dozens of helicopters, and fire fighters from around the world could not stop from cantering northwards.

“I wasn’t comfortable when I left in mid-June,” recalled Unger. “Cache Creek looked like Hiroshima, dark brown smoke in the air. But it was east of us. I didn’t think it would blow back.”

“Just in case,” Unger said, “I called the 100 Mile Haulers.”

They’re Kamloops area ranchers who voluntarily evacuate, pasture, and feed animals at their own expense until their owners can retrieve them.

Katheryn Morgan, is the group’s founder.

“On my first night, I hauled a couple of horses for a friend. An older couple worried about fire needed to move a couple of pigs. I met other people – 46 – who know how to get things done.”

The group’s name refers to the willingness to drive 100 miles.

On Aug. 2, Colin and his dog arrived at Unger’s place.

“In 10 minutes they’d loaded 10 calves and cows,” Unger told me.

He arrived home Aug. 3, having cut his trip short to help with three bulls.

“It was well after midnight. The air was thick with smoke. Blue lights on RCMP cars – Colin’s escort – were flashing. It was surrealistic. I can’t say enough for people like Colin. They have a lot of compassion.”

Unger had a special connection to one cow. Earlier this year, he’d nursed it back to health after it got its hind quarters caught in a steel Tombstone feeder with vertical pipes.

The cow couldn’t get up, and Unger couldn’t lift it.

In Marriot’s day, it would have been destroyed. That wasn’t an option.

“You go through a lot of difficult times with these animals,” he says, “minus 15 degrees in winter, calving times in the bush. You get attached.”

A rancher in 100 Mile offered a sling to lift the cow. It was used in a horror movie called Lake Placid.

Cows were lowered into the water to feed a hungry crocodile the size of Godzilla.

With the help of neighbors, Unger got his cow – which had a calf – into a barn.

“Seeing it heal had an exhilarating affect on me,” recalls Unger. “I ran down the road screaming, I did it.”

Unger says Hwy 97 might open this week. I’ll go back. There are more stories to tell – merchants who stayed open to serve the needs of fire fighters, emergency service workers, neighbors.

Marriot explained that in 1912.

“A man might not have a lot of friends,” he said, “but he sure as hell needs good neighbors.”

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.