Tragedy on the Pryor Mountains

A Tribute to Climbs High and his father, Admiral

Dear Cloud Friends;

Lauryn, our Cloud Foundation whiz kid, and Erin, our college intern from Michigan, traveled with me from Colorado to the Pryor Mountains on July 27, 2011. It was a bittersweet journey.  In the early evening we drove to the low desert country in the Pryors, knowing that two of our “greeters” at the horse range gate, Admiral and his yearling son, Climbs High (Kapitan), had been struck and killed by a drunk driver just three days before.

Admiral

Climbs High - June 2011

With a sick feeling, I drove over the cattle guard and into the horse range. I have done this at least a hundred times. But, this time was different and horribly sad. Foolishly, I hoped Admiral and his sonwere still alive. Maybe I’d spot them in their usual places around the little lake that leads into the Bighorn River or near Crooked Creek and the cottonwood groves where I first saw the colt I named Climbs High.

It was late in the afternoon in May of last year. I drove over the cattle guard and saw a flash of bright red in the trees to my left.  I could just make out a horse getting up. The red that caught my eye, backlit in the late afternoon light, was afterbirth. A mare had just given birth! I grabbed my camera and silently slipped closer. The foal at the feet of the dun mare, Seneca, was just minutes old and still covered in the birth sack. His mother was licking the sack away. I noticed the older dun mare, Hightail, watching the new foal. She stood with Admiral and Seneca’s yearling son, Jesse James. Admiral, their band stallion, casually grazed a 100 feet or so away, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But, for me, something very special had happened.

On his wobbly legs for the first time

I watched the mare lick the newborn, defend him from a curious Hightail, and then gesture and “talk” to him, telling him to get up. She nipped him gently on his back and he responded as if by magic. The wet lump jerked and then struggled to get his wobbly legs under him. He fell a few times, before rising, legs trembling. I could see he was a boy. Minutes later, when he was barely dry, Seneca surprisingly started walking up the steep hill behind the trees. The colt dutifully followed her, with the rest of the family trailing behind. I marveled at the strength of the dark bay newborn. He had not even nursed, but he was climbing a mountain!

I walked around the base of the tall hill, hoping to see them emerge on top. The wind picked up as I struggled to walk higher on the rocky slope. Then I saw them—mother and son. The colt was finally nursing.

How Climbs High got his name

In the Indian tradition of naming a child for a deed or trait, I began calling the colt Climbs High. I watched him that summer, growing ever stronger, rough housing with his precocious brother only to run back to Seneca when the play got too rowdy.

Climbs High survived the exceptionally rugged winter, and became a sturdy yearling. He loved to graze and travel with Admiral, perhaps pretending he was a big stallion like his powerful father. Sadly, he would never grow up, for his life was taken, as was Admiral’s in one careless, senseless act. I miss them both and hope we can adequately repay the joy they brought so many visitors by encouraging the park service to erect bigger and better signage, warning drivers that there are wild horses here and they may travel near the roadsides.

It was 2am on Sunday morning when the drunk driver struck Admiral as he stood near a stud pile just a few feet off the right-hand side of the paved road. Then the speeding truck went on to plow into Climbs High, some 100 feet beyond.

Lauryn, Erin and I traveled back to the paved highway at the tail end of our trip to the Pryors to search for the bodies of Climbs High and Admiral. We spotted Hightail and Seneca on a high hill with two bay horses. If I had not known better, I would have thought the little family was miraculously reunited. But, through our binoculars and spotting scope, we could see the young bays were Seneca and Admiral’s two-year old bachelor son, Jesse James, and his four-year old bachelor friend, Hickok.

We searched near the scene of the crime and found the remains of Climbs High first and then, some distance away, Admiral. The Park Service had drug their bodies out of sight into a gully behind tall bushes. Although difficult, actually seeing their dead bodies brought some closure for me. Now I can imagine father and son wandering in peace in some special place where they will always be together.

Father & son, May 2011

Happy Trails,

Ginger

P.S. Our July/August Trip Message will follow.

*If you would like to encourage the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area to erect better signage to help prevent this kind of tragedy, click here.

For more photos of Admiral, Climbs High, and the rest of their family, click here.  To see the never before seen video of Climbs High minutes after he was born, click here. 

We hope you will continue supporting The Cloud Foundation and Ginger’s work to protect Cloud’s herd and the mustang herds of the West. Donate Here.

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19 Responses to “Tragedy on the Pryor Mountains”

  1. Jan Oxley Says:

    how very sad, such a terrible sham. I do hope they prosecute the drunk driver.

  2. Otherlyn Says:

    They now Joyfully run on the great green plain, in the Peace of Thisgoodplace. RIP ADMIRAL and CLIMBS HIGH. Thank you for gracing our world. May hearts followyou, and will honor your memory.

    Your FOB Fren, O

  3. Gail Watson Says:

    I read the tribute to Admiral and Climbs High and watched the video. I can honestly say both effected me very deeply and I can say without doubt is one of the most touching peices of writing I have ever read. My love to both of these beautiful horses and to those who remain and to all who battle to save them. I defy anyone to read this without being touched to their very soul. Very very special….xxx Gail

  4. Varada Linda Veum Says:

    Thanks for this. I hate to say it but drunk drivers probably do not read signs. It’s the drunk drivers that have to be prevented/eliminated. But thanks for the wonderful work you do!

  5. t6834bl Says:

    They will be running wild and free forever now…

  6. Jan Corrigan Says:

    Why aren’t there drunk driving laws for livestock? They are a living thing and just like family to lots of people.

  7. tonkawaton Says:

    We can go on since we know they are now running with the rest of the band that crossed Rainbow Bridge and we can hear them in the mighty THUNDER of their hooves before a storm.
    I hope that the driver gets more than a DWI ticket!

  8. Diana Nigon Says:

    Forwarding to FB for anyone who might be following the story of Montana’s last wild horse herd in the Pryor Mountains…

  9. kat Says:

    how sad, you say they were hit by a drunk driver…does that mean that they were caught and sentenced… bet not 😦
    I feel your loss at a life taken too soon.

  10. lorischmidt Says:

    Such a senseless tragic incident … i have added my tears and prayers to yours … it is such a rare thing to actually witness the birth of a wild horse and I understand how special this family must have been to you but the bond you had with them was stronger than any of us could imagine … Thank you for sharing and thanks for all that you do.

  11. Denise Says:

    Thank you for the post, TCF.

    I suggest that this blog entry become a condolence book for all wild equines and those humans that care about the injustices being perpetrated against our Nation for many things….the wild and domestic equine tragedy is just one thread in the garbage fabric that has become our moral conscience in this country.

    So sad Climbs High and Admiral that the caring couldn’t fix this mess in time for you. You will not forgotten and will become another cause of the grassroots effort to restore your families and ethical human behavior.

    So sad that the officials in your death did the WRONG thing.

    You are gone, but not lost and never forgotten.

  12. Louie Cocroft Says:

    Ginger, I stopped by to pay my respects. Thank you for this Beautiful Tribute. Some day, perhaps, we will all meet in Horse Heaven where there will be NO BLM, NO HELICOPTERS and NO DRUNK DRIVERS.

  13. margaret a gary Says:

    some day the people of this great country will wake up and see these beautiful animals for what they are before its to late!! thank you so much ginger!

  14. Jan Schultz Says:

    My condolences Ginger. Your pain is very evident. And my appreciation to Erin and Lauryn for being there.

  15. Jan Myers Says:

    I had heard of this tragedy but reading your story brought their lives new meaning to me. Thank you so much, Ginger for what you do and who you are! You will see your beloved friends again. Of that I am sure. Waiting ever so patiently just beyond heavens door.

  16. Kim Hancken Says:

    My friend and I visited the horses 7/23-7/30 and were greatly saddened to here of Admiral and Climbs High death. A BLM guy was the one who gave us the news. It was our pleasure to meet you Ginger and I appreciate your wonderful tribute. More signs..YES and less drunks !

  17. Amy Says:

    People often say that it takes a tragedy to bring about change. It just feels like there has been so much tragedy and seemingly so little real change for our wild brothers and sisters. I often feel so disheartened and depressed. No one seems to care when I try to tell others about it. It does my heart good to know there are folks out there fighting for them. Thank you for everything you do!

  18. Karen Schmiede Says:

    This is so sad. Thank you so much, Ginger for giving us some closure on this . It is just to bad that people have to drive drunk. What a great lose to horse lovers everywhere.

  19. Jan Says:

    just noticed that there are 2 photos of adminiral – and none of climbs high on front of this article

    did not know where else to post – got email from discovery/animal planet – they have a campaign on what are you R.O.A.R. about whether its wildlife, animal abuse, etc. so i went into volunteer group and posted a long letter that animal planet should do an investigation into the blm treatment of our wild horses – dont know if they will but you could log on and post a letter

    also happened to tape off tv a movie called wild stallion – about wild horses in utah – has wild horses in it – was out in 2009

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