A 1,200-pound cow escaped an auction yard in Billings, Mont., and ran around… (Bob Zellar / Billings Gazette )
The story of a runaway cow that ran amok through downtown Billings this week has left many longtime Montana residents perplexed and frankly embarrassed: How could a cow get so out of hand that a police sniper had to be called in?
Where were the cowboys?
The comments section of the Billings Gazette, which first ran the story about the cow caper, is overflowing with recriminations of the what-has-happened-to-Montana type.
“This just illustrates how things have changed in the ol' West. Twenty-six years ago, a steer escaped from a stock trailer on the near west end and ran like mad. Wranglers — real ones, not some duded-up hat models — were in hot pursuit down Yellowstone on horseback and had that steer double-roped within three blocks,” one commentator wrote.
“I'm just a hick from Miles City with a pair of good cow dogs, but I'm pretty sure we could've had the cow under control, as could've some boys from Billings,” said another.
In fact, police say, this was no time to look for lariats.
The 1,200-pound cow that escaped while being loaded into the public auction yards Tuesday ran wild through the edge of downtown for more than an hour and a half, knocking over a bicyclist and injuring a trucker who had stepped out of his vehicle to watch the mayhem.
The trucker, Morgan Logan, told the Los Angeles Times he had a simple explanation for the reason his leg is now broken in two places: “I was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s what happened.”
Logan, 59, said he stepped out of his truck as he saw police chasing the fast-moving bovine down the street, and followed the officers’ commands to hide behind a car on the other side of the street.
The problem, he said, was that the cow soon showed up on that side of the street too. “She came at me once, and I flapped my arms and she went back up the street,” he said.
What Logan didn't know was that he was blocking her escape route. "It was the only clear route she had out of there, and she took it. And took me out doing it,” he said.
“She ran over me just like a rodeo bull would do to cowboys. She head-rammed me and just threw me in the air. Twelve hundred pounds of cow against 200 pounds of me is a big difference,” he said. “When I landed, I broke my leg.”
Police said they had no choice but to call in a sniper, who landed a single, fatal shot to the heart from about 70 yards away.
"If we were to call in some cowboys, some actual working cowboys from an area ranch, and there are some in the area, it would take quite awhile. It's not like we maintain a list of cowboys," Billings Police Lt. R.D. Harper said in an interview.
"The reason the cow was shot in the first place was it was becoming a bit of a public safety hazard. We already had one man that was injured. Rather than wait another hour and a half, we made what we thought was the best decision for public safety, which is our job."
Predictably, perhaps, in a state such as Montana, whose cities now contain more car salesmen and data entry clerks than cowhands, there were regrets expressed that the cow hadn’t survived her brief bid for freedom — irrespective of the fact that the animal had been bound, after all, for the auction yard.
"She most likely was probably headed to the packing house," Harper said.
The Missoulian newspaper in beansprout-land Missoula took the opportunity to remind everyone of "Molly B," the “freedom-loving bovine” named after “the Unsinkable Molly Brown” who in 2006 jumped over a 5 ½-foot fence at a packing plant, nearly got hit by a truck and swam the icy-cold Missouri River, coming so close to drowning that grown men turned their heads so as not to watch, in her bid to escape.
Then she regained her footing and rambled ashore.
The packing plant owner gave Molly B a reprieve and offered her a permanent home. When the packing house shut down, she was transferred to first one animal sanctuary, and then another: Her present home is in Stevensville, Mont.
Logan, for his part, said the cow in Billings would have calmed down if everyone would have stopped chasing her.
"A sniper to shoot a cow? My goodness, I thought that was hilarious," he said.
“It’s surprising how few people around in this younger generation have anything to do with a ranching life anymore. I grew up on a farm and a ranch, and I wasn’t scared of her," he said. "Until she run me over.”
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