I don’t think you can find a prettier place to ride than the Cat Creek Hills on the Highwood River. Gone are the days when you could ride for miles and miles through open country without even having to step down off of your horse and open a gate. But in this stretch of the country out west of Longview, Alberta, there are still plenty of trails that can take you both back into the mountains and back in time.
Not far from where this photo was taken, Cataract Creek flows into the Highwood River, now long overgrown, there used to be a trail that followed the creek south and west and then onto the Elk River and down into Montana. This was a Native American trail that was used by horse thieves to trail horses that had been stolen in Montana and Idaho north into Canada to be sold to the settlers.
But this old trail was a two-way street. Horses stolen in Canada then would be trailed south along this trail down into Montana, where they would be sold to unsuspecting customers. This trail was a well-worn path that kept the travellers, be they white or Native American, off of the prairie just to the east, where the warriors in the Blackfoot Tribe would have been happy to relieve them off their horses and, in some instances, their lives.
One day I would like to take a pack horse or two and see if I could follow this long-forgotten trail down to the Medicine Line as so many have done in the past. Recently, someone in our Cowboy Campus community asked what was on my bucket list, I didn’t have an answer for her then, but I suppose this would be high on it.
Bert Sheppard, a local rancher and historian, wrote in his book ‘Just About Nothing’ about the discovery of a cabin in a meadow just off Cataract Creek. In this cabin were found quantities of 44.40 brass cartridge cases, old-time cowboy boots and a red-collared yellow Towers Fish Brand riding slicker. But the most interesting discovery of this cabin was outside. Close to the cabin, he also found two graves, the occupants unknown.
My hypothesis is that this discreet old cabin hidden off of that old well-worn trail may have been a hideout for horse thieves travelling back and forth with their ill-gotten gains.
So as I roam around back in these hills, I not only like to take in the breathtaking scenery but also relieve the history. Who knows, one day, I myself may even stumble upon the remains of that long-forgotten cabin hidden in the pines along Cataract Creek. If only these hills could whisper their secrets, I’d be the first to sit down and listen.
If you liked this story and would like to learn more about cowboy history and the Western lifestyle from Keith, you’ll want to join the Cowboy Campus Club waitlist! When we relaunch the Cowboy Campus Club on our brand new platform, we’ll also be launching our new series, just for members, History & Horsemanship. In this series Keith travels and teaches you about the incredible history of the ranching, cowboying, and Native American history of the area. Learn more about the club here → https://www.cowboycampus.com/about-the-club
Photo credit in this article goes to Trent Schlamp Photography