"Crossing the Kern"
by Lauren Stoner
The Kern River stretched out before the Carters. The grass around the Kern was thick and verdant; trees dotted the landscape nearby. The river was wide and full; the current swirled forcefully down the river.
Chad Carter and Sky rode up to the edge of the river and Chad dismounted. He turned his head from side to side, surveying the river conditions. Mitch Carter dismounted Chase and walked over beside Chad.
“What do you think? Is it crossable?” Mitch pushed his hat back on his head and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“It’s crossable,” Chad answered, “it’ll just be difficult.” Chad straightened up and sighed. “I was hoping the river wouldn’t be so high.”
“Well, we don’t have a moment to lose so let’s get these cattle moving.” Mitch pulled himself back onto Chase and went to pass the news on to the other cowhands.
Chad mounted Sky and rode to the chuck wagon where Andi and Levi were sitting. “I’ll need you both to help get the cattle across the river.
Andi and Levi looked at each other in excitement. “We get to help out?” Levi looked at Chad in surprise and delight.
“Just this once,” Chad said strictly. “And you two better not cause any problems. Just do as I say. Now go saddle up the extra horses.” Chad rode off and barked out orders to the other cowhands.
“Yessir,” the two saluted.
Andi’s mount was a fiery chestnut mare, Sahara. Andi quickly saddled the mare and joined the other cowhands. The cowhands were whooping and shouting as the cattle began plunging into the river.
Andi and Sahara reached the water and Sahara walked in obediently. The water splash soaked Andi’s pant legs, bringing a nice relief from the scorching sun. The Kern River was quite deep; deeper than Andi thought. Sahara had to crane her neck to keep it above the rushing river.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Andi spotted something. Andi turned her head and saw a calf struggling to swim the wide river. Andi straightened up in the saddle and called for Chad.
“Chad! Chad, look! The calf! It’s going to drown!”
Chad turned around and looked at the calf. “I’m sorry but we have to leave it.”
“What?” Andi looked up in shock. “We can’t just leave it to die!”
“We don’t have a choice. We have to keep moving and worry about the rest of the cattle. This river current is worse than I thought.” Chad turned back and focused his attention on the rest of the herd.
“Chad!” Andi protested.
“Andi! I don’t have time to argue; do as I told you and help out!”
Andi tried to block out the calf’s plaintive cries and she tried to help the rest of the cowhands but she couldn’t! She couldn’t leave that poor calf to die a cruel death. Andi grabbed the coil of rope from her saddle and tied one end of it around the saddle horn. The rest of it she slung over her shoulder. She took a deep breath and leaped in the water.
The cold water hit Andi like a slap across the face. It stung every inch of her body and the water instantly soaked her clothing. Andi kicked her arms and her legs and propelled herself to the surface. She gulped in a breath of oxygen and searched for the calf.
“Andi! What on earth do you think you’re doing?!” Chad’s irritated voice rose over the river current.
Andi ignored him and swam over to the calf. She neared the calf and began speaking in gentle tones. “Hey little guy. Let me help you out,” Andi took the rope coil and went to fit the rope over the calf’s neck.
“Andi! Get back on your horse!” Chad hollered.
Andi held her breath and swung the rope around the calf’s head. It landed perfectly around the calf’s neck and Andi pulled the rope tight. “I did it!” Andi exclaimed.
“Andrea Carter!” Chad shouted.
Andi looked up and saw Chad a good distance up the river. Why is he so far up? Andi wondered. Suddenly Andi realized that the river current was dragging her downstream. I got to get out of here! Andi searched for Sahara and saw the mare swimming towards shore. Andi tried to paddle her way towards Sahara but the current was too strong.
“Help!” Andi shouted.
To her relief, Chad was already on his way to help her. He and Sky made their way to Sahara and Chad jumped on the mare. He yelled at Andi to grab onto the rope and he would pull her in. Andi managed to paddle near the calf and seize hold of the rope. Chad slapped the reins against Sahara’s flank and she swam for shore, dragging Andi and the calf behind her.
Andi staggered ashore and fell down in the grass, gasping for breath. Chad marched over beside her and grabbed her by the shoulders.
“What on earth were you thinking?! You could’ve drowned! You could’ve—” Chad paused and stared Andi in the eyes. “Are you alright?”
Andi stared back at Chad in surprise. “I’m alright. I just couldn’t let that calf go.”
Chad frowned but nodded his head. “I didn’t want to lose him either but it was just too risky to try and save him. I’m glad you saved him, but next time, do as you’re told! Mother would have my hide if anything would’ve happened to you!” Chad wiped the sweat off his brow. “You sure had me worried.”
“Thanks for saving me, Chad.” Andi hugged her brother.
“Aw, c’mon! You’re getting me all wet,” Chad gently pushed Andi away. “Go get dried off and get back in the chuck wagon. We need to get back on the trail.”