Nov 5, 2015

Local author writes new book about 'McCulloch' Peaks

She’s picking up where she left off.

“Behind the Shadows: McCulloch Peaks Early History and Stories,” is a sequel to author Phyllis Preator’s first book, “Facts and Legends: Behind the McCulloch Peaks Mustangs.” The new publication connects the McCulloch Peaks’ history and horses or vice versa.

“It was just too much to put in one book,” Preator said in a recent cell phone interview one she appropriately gave as she rode on horseback in the Peaks.

"Everyone needs a place for their heart to call home,” Preator said. “Mine is the McCulloch Peaks, for it is there that my inner self can truly relax. As I once read another author's words, ‘The desert offers elbow room for one's spirit.’”

“I love it out here in the Peaks,” Preator said, while the wind murmured into the phone like soothing background music.

Author Phyllis Preator, riding in her home turf, the McCulloch Peaks. Photo courtesy Lynette Hawkins Kelley
Incidentally, the Peaks were named after a cowboy named Peter McCulloch, not McCullough, though that is the common spelling today, Preator said.

The Peaks run roughly east from Cody past Powell. Motorists heading west to Cody on U.S. Highway 14-A can look to their left to view the 200,000-acre range on the south side of the Shoshone River. Likewise those departing Cody to travel east to Greybull on U.S. Highway 14-16-20 can view the Peaks to their left (north). The wild horse management area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, occupies 110,000 acres.

McCulloch’s mustangs were largely overlooked, but they’ve gained in popularity over the last decade.

“Now our horses have gone global through artists and photographers,” Preator said.

McCulloch wild horses are descended from settler stock when free grazing was permitted in the Peaks.

“I’m not saying there weren’t horses before then,” she said.

Before homesteading began in the Big Horn Basin, Native Americans procured horses in Mexico and the local Crow Tribe traded for those horses. The Crow had an estimated 10,000 horses by the early 1800s, Preator said in her book.

“Native American tribes rode horses descended from Spanish bloodlines,” she said.

Petite equines occupied the Peaks ages ago.

Eohippus were here around 50 million years ago. Eohippus stood about 12-24 inches tall.

“They were tiny little things,” Preator said.

Preator’s book examines more than just mustangs. The stories are as real as the locals who shared their recollections in the book.

One of the most popular stories was the Japanese balloon bomb floating over the Peaks and Willwood during World War II.

With the Japanese’s air force hamstrung due to American bombing missions, the Japanese devised explosive balloons, known as Fugos. Up to 10,000 were launched with around 1,000 reaching the continental United States. One such balloon packed nearly 60 pounds of explosives, Preator said.

The FBI’s official Wyoming count was eight Fugos, but following her interviews, she believed the number of balloon bombs to be much higher, Preator said.

In Preator’s book, Keith Bloom remembers seeing Fugos remains below the Peaks near the Shoshone River in 1944. A ring of light-weight metal was found that hung below the balloon. Also recovered were bits of balloon’s skin of really resilient paper, Bloom said. They kept a fragment of the balloon for many years.

“I wish we still had it,” Preator said.

Lynette Hawkins Kelley provided many of the photographs in Preator’s book.

“Nettie (Kelley) is never found without her camera, Preator said. “She loves it out there.”

Preator is a genuine Westerner from her western garb to her pickup truck toting a horse trailer to the saddle she sits in.

Since she was a teenager, Preator has been riding the sagebrush in the Peaks. For nearly 20 years Preator organized reenactment Pony Express rides. Her father, Leonard Foxworthy, bestowed Preator the apt nickname, SageCreek Annie, she said.

“I like the solitude,” Preator said from her horse. “I like being out here. It’s very spiritual to me.”

Some ask Preator if she gets scared when her only company are her trusty mount, Laredo, and dog, Otter.

“What would I be afraid of out here?” Preator asks. “This is my home.”

Preator wants her ashes spread over Whistle Creek, she said.

At first blush that seems a somber request.

But Preator’s poem “The Wind Knows My Name,” illuminates her bond to the land she loves: “It is there that I wish to be turned loose to ride those winds... It is there that I’ll be able to drift forever into the draws and along familiar ridges.”

Preator will deliver a presentation about her book at the Homesteader Museum in Powell at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10.


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