For 10 or more years she was an orphan trapped in a wilderness prison with no means of escape. Finally, she was spotted and a rescue launched.
Within sight of freedom,
she was killed. One bullet to the head.
just a "wild" Hereford. She would have died of old age had a Sierra
Club hiking group not discovered her in May 1992. Instead, before
she died, the lone Chimney Canyon Cow in southern Utah hogged far
more than her Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Her plight attracted
the attention of people from California to Virginia and generated
more than a dozen federal agency reports.
the root of most problems, it was her parents' fault. Years ago,
her pregnant mother wandered into the Chimney Canyon complex on the
San Rafael Swell, the geologic spinebone in the center of Utah. Who
owned the cow or where it came from, nobody knows - or will say. A
bulldozed mining road led the stray onto a ledge that stair-stepped
into the fingers of Chimney Canyon.
alcoves, oddly textured walls, and mineral leaches that create
patterns resembling Arabic script, Chimney Canyon is one of the
most beautiful canyons in the swell. It is a little-known place and
many hikers would prefer that it remain that
After the adventuresome bovine discovered
Chimney Canyon, what was left of the road washed away. Surrounded
by canyon walls, there was no escape for the expectant
Her calf was orphaned at a young age;
what happened to the mother, no one
Chimney Canyon is officially a "wilderness
study area." A grazing allotment still exists in the area just
below where the cow was found, but livestock operations there
ceased in 1988. Yet the lone cow remained and left the impression
that a thundering herd roamed the bottoms - according to some
"It was nearly impossible to find an
area of Chimney Canyon where cattle had not wreaked havoc," Robert
Bordasch of Boulder, Colo., wrote in May 1992 to Jim Parker, then
director of BLM for Utah. "The land around the springs and under
the shade trees was completely churned up and destroyed."
BLM had no knowledge of cattle in Chimney
Canyon. In June 1992, a few weeks after the Sierra Club trip, range
conservationist David Orr rode a horse into the backcountry.
According to his report, he saw "no signs of cattle."
Tell that to the Sierra Club national hiking
group, led by Hanksville, Utah, resident Steve Allen, author of the
book Canyoneering - The San Rafael Swell. Backpackers with him
filed more complaints.
"There are wild,
non-allotment cattle in the upper end of Chimney Canyon that the
BLM should remove as they are very destructive to the riparian
(stream bank) habitat," wrote Harvey Halpern of Cambridge,
Added Glen Buelteman of Sebastopol, Calif.:
"We camped for a night in this area and got our water from the
stream, only to find later that there was a great pile of cowshit
lying in the water just upstream."
BLM's San Rafael Resource Manager Penelope Dunn contacted one of
the ranchers who used to run cattle in Chimney Canyon and asked him
to remove any strays. But the rancher, whose name was not released,
said the canyon was impenetrable.
Since there was
no brand on the cow's flank, the BLM decided to legally "impound"
the beast if no owner came forward. A formal "Notice of
Impoundment" was published in two area newspapers. The cow was now
officially a fugitive.
On April 20, 1993, another
search was launched after the cow was spotted from an airplane
during a wild horse inventory. Five BLM employees saw the cow, but
their horses could not cross the washed-out
"It will be expensive to get the cow out,
but it can be done," reported Orr, the BLM range conservationist.
"We do not think that it will be worth the effort to get her out.
She cannot reproduce and though she is leaving plenty of evidence
of her existence, she is probably not doing damage to the
With the field reports in, BLM
Manager Dunn told Sierra Club hike leader Allen that "our staff did
not feel any adverse resource damage was occurring as a result of
the cow's presence."
Allen responded that the
BLM team never went far enough up Chimney Canyon to see the damage
the cow was doing. He and others asked why the rancher who last
held the allotment should not be responsible for removing the
"I am surprised to hear about the issue of
financial feasibility, etc., since it is my understanding that the
owner of the cow is responsible for any damage that the cow is
doing and for getting it out," wrote Charles Bagley Jr. of Seattle,
who sent his complaints on to Interior Secretary Bruce
Backpacker Allen offered another
solution: "With your permission, I would be happy to shoot the cow,
perhaps in winter when other backcountry users are not present."
The BLM was reluctant to order an execution.
Many employees remembered all too well when 17 head of destructive,
unbranded, stranded cattle in Desolation Canyon were shot by BLM
officers in 1989. There had been a storm of protest by ranchers
with threats of violence made toward BLM bosses who OK'd the
Still, the chorus of recreationists
calling for an assassination of the Chimney Canyon Cow was getting
"I am infuriated at the failure of the
BLM and the rancher who put the errant cow into Chimney Canyon to
take responsibility for the ecological damage it is doing," wrote
Karen Wood of Missoula, Mont. "Shoot the cow!'
way, replied Dunn. "I am troubled that destruction is your solution
to the problem," the BLM manager replied in September 1993. "This
is simply not a choice I am ready to make at this time."
Instead, she called upon "concerned citizens' to
volunteer to rebuild the road into Chimney Canyon, allowing
wranglers on horseback to lasso the cow and lead her to greener
pastures, where she would be sold at
This triggered more paperwork: an
Environmental Analysis of the Chimney Canyon Temporary Trail
Improvement and Rehabilitation and a Wilderness Interim Management
Post Reclamation Period Impairment/Non-impairment Evaluation
By late September, Steve Allen had
organized a road-rebuilding team. Two BLM staffers supervised the
one-day project and the volunteers left, satisfied they had done a
The big day had arrived. On Sept. 28,
1993, five BLM employees and a volunteer cowboy ventured into
Chimney Canyon and roped the legendary cow just before
They camped in the canyon, and the next
morning began hazing the cow toward freedom. It was not
A veteran cowhand suggested the beast was
at least 10, maybe 15 years old. While crossing a ravine, the cow
fell. She butted a wrangler who tried to help her up, then panicked
and jumped off a four-foot ledge, falling onto her
"After some time, the decision was made to
put her down," BLM staffer Ruben Conde reported. "In this spot I
dispatched her with a single round from my .45-caliber Sig Sauer
Agency officials were unable to
provide a price tag for the cow recovery project, but after three
search parties, several staff reports and loads of public comment,
a 74-page chronology and report was
Chip Ward of Grantsville, one of the
volunteer road-builders, shakes his head at the saga. "Even in
Bombay, they aren't this concerned about a cow." Meanwhile, the
rebuilt road has washed out and no vehicle can penetrate the
canyon. Visitors who manage to hike in report that its vegetation
As for the agency, area manager
Penelope Dunn says she is not uncomfortable with what the Bureau of
Land Management did in Chimney Canyon. "I would rather have people
shaking their heads over how we tried to help the cow," she said,
"rather than being criticized for shooting the cow."
As for Allen, he's "absolutely satisfied by the
result," although he admits the cow crusade took on a life of its
own. Cows, he believes, do far more to harm a wilderness than
Salt Lake Tribune
reporter Christopher Smith investigated this story by filing a
Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Land