Tinderbox needed no urging as she and Tommy headed out of the corral gate. “Be gone an hour or so,” he told his cousin. Tommy wanted to ride up over the evening side of the ridge before he had to leave for his home in Nevada.
The wide-open skies of southeastern Montana made him feel at peace. Yet he had his own spread to get back to.
The horse flew with an easy gait through the high grasses. She had a feel for the land on which she was running and therefore Tommy gave the horse her head and let her lead the way.
Together they crested the ridge and walked down the slope. Tommy had spotted this area from his cousin’s small plane nearly three years ago. The canyon below the ridge looked peaceful and Tommy wanted to explore it.
Tinderbox made an excellent tour guide as she weaved her way down the canyon side. It was perfect for a cowboy like Tommy. All he had to do was lean back and enjoy. The horse appeared to know what to do.
Once in the canyon with three hundred foot walls surrounding them, Tommy got off the horse and walked awhile. Above them he could see the Petra glyphs of the long since vanished wild Indians. He paused and investigated a small cave opening then remounted Tinderbox for the journey back to the ranch house.
Tommy reached down and patted the horse on the neck and commented “I’m going to miss this place.” Tinderbox seemed to understand as she flicked her ears back momentarily and shook her head up and down.
Again she picked her way up out of the canyon with a gentle and graceful zigzag motion. Her footing was sure and she seemed to enjoy herself as much as the cowboy on her back.
The grasses waved in the breeze as they cleared the canyon edge and made a sweep along its lip. Tommy thought that this would be the perfect place to take a breather.
He climbed down from the creaking leather saddle and ground tethered Tinderbox. She immediately took advantage of the situation by burying her head in the sweet grass and started chewing away.
Tommy ambled over to the edge of the canyon to have a look straight down. Then he proceeded to follow the edge around and over the slight rise before him.
Kneeling down he picked up a small rock and tossed it into the canyon. It struck bottom in about a second. He stood up.
As he stood there surveying the scenery he noticed movement over to his left. Then he saw the massive head raise up, sniffing the air. It was a Cinnamon Bear.
The bear made a huffing noise then rose up on its back legs to get a better view. He stood and watched the lone man.
Tommy knew he had only a few choices. One was to be stupid and run, knowing that the bear could easily out pace him at any distance. Another was to find a shelf or even a handhold over the edge of the canyon. The last was to raise his hands above his head and make himself appear larger than he was as he backed away.
So Tommy raised his hands over his head and waved them. He yelled out at the bear. It stood there and watched him as Tommy stumbled and fell backwards onto the ground.
Tommy bounced back to his feet and looked for the bear. It had dropped on all fours and was running at him. Tommy turned and ran up and over the ridge.
Tinderbox was still in place yet was startled to see Tommy dashing at her. Tommy grabbed her reins as she danced in a circle. He gave up trying to mount her from the left side and grabbed the saddle horn flipping him into the saddle.
The horse was unaccustomed to the weight of the rider being thrust down on her wrong side, bolted head long for the ridge. Just as Tommy settled into the leather, Tinderbox discovered the bear.
She turned sideways as the bear ran head long at her. She screamed in terror and spun to the left as the bear glanced off her right side and Tommy’s leg.
Without hesitation she took off at a dead gallop up the ridge and out on to flat land. By this time Tommy was just holding on to the horn, as he could not manage to reach either rein.
Only when tinderbox was inside the coral yard did she slow down. Tommy sat there stunned as his cousin rushed out to see what the matter was.
Tommy did not have much to explain as he reached down and plucked a tuft of golden-red hair from the mountings of his stirrup. He showed it to his cousin then climbed down from the now-calm Tinderbox and walked her to the stables.
Inside the stables he unsaddled the horse and gave her some oats as he brushed her back. Then he sat back on a bail of hay and recalled how frightening the cinnamon bear had been. Then he put the tuft of hair into his medicine bag around his neck remembering that the Cinnamon Bear was usually called a Grizzly.