Hunewill Guest Ranch Cattle Drive, California
For over 102 years, generations of the Hunewill family have had their annual fall cattle drive. Learn how you can join in the fun on a California cattle drive vacation and about other great cattle drive holidays!
by Darley Newman
There are "City Slickers" type cattle drives put on for tourists and then there's the real thing-- where you can have a true old-west experience and drive cattle the old fashioned way. Though these true cattle drive holidays are rare to find, there are still special places where you can saddle up on an authentic cattle drive vacation. A few include the Double E Ranch in New Mexico, Bucking S Ranch in Wyoming, 63 Ranch in Montana and the over 100-year-old drive done at California's Hunewill Ranch.
Around 25 guests saddle up in November with Megan Hunewill and her family from Hunewill Guest Ranch to drive around 600 mother cows through canyons surrounded by dramatic tall mountains, along the Walker River, to their ranch in Smith Valley’s wide open sagebrush and high desert terrain. Many of the same guests come year after year to participate in this special adventure, leading cattle from their summer ranch in Bridgeport, California down to their winter ranch in Smith Valley, Nevada.
Megan is the fifth generation of her family to lead this cattle drive, and her children, the sixth generation, now help out too. Though her family still holds fast to these traditions, they are a rarity. She said that other ranches once did this same drive to the lower valleys in Nevada to get their livestock out of the snow, but now, they are the last ranch in the area that still uses horses to drive their cows out. Most of the other ranches have traded horsepower for vehicles.
Herding cattle at Hunewill Ranch. Photo by Dwayne Leonard.
The Hunewill’s have made some adjustments to make the cattle drive vacation more traveler friendly. While her dad once slept out along the drive, today, guests are taken back to the ranch each night to hot showers and comfortable beds. Each day, participants must wake earlier and earlier to go further and further afield, traveling 6 to 15 miles on horseback, depending on the day. At night, the cattle stay in corrals at neighboring ranches along the route.
The Hunewill’s have been at the Bridgeport ranch for 150 years. Started in 1861 by Napoleon Bonaparte Hunewill and his wife Esther, the ranch was originally conceived as a beef cattle operation to supply meat to the gold miners of the nearby town of Bodie, which today is a National Historic Landmark. Bodie was a small mining town at the time, but would later become a California boomtown, complete with a red light district. Like many ranches suffering the financial woes of the Great Depression, the Hunewill family decided to take in guests to supplement their income in the 1930’s and they’ve been taking in guests ever since.
Cattle Drive at Double E Ranch by the rugged Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
Like many real, working cattle drives, you must be an intermediate to advanced rider to participate, capable of loping out to catch a cow or cows that try to make a break.
“It’s special because my family has been doing it for so many years,” said Megan. “Just the experience with the people. We get really close with these people we’re riding with for 10 to 12 hours a day. It’s a shared fun, experience. Many people come back year after year.”
Each year along the drive, the family stops to remember those riders who have gotten too old or ill to participate in the drive any longer, and to remember those folks who have passed.