Lightoller's Cowboy career


Alex McLean

Does anyone know any information or any web sites to help with my research of Lightoller and his adventures in the Canadian West?

It would be much appreciated of someone could help me.

Bob Godfrey

This period of his life is well covered by a chapter in his biography 'Titanic Voyager' by Patrick Stenson. That's probably as good as you'll get.

Pat Winship

Here it is, straight from the cowboy's own account.

"There were three or four of us cowboys with some thousands of head of cattle to look after. Here again was a new experience. A happy life; a careless life. The stars for your blanket, the prairies for your bed, and your horse still your best friend. Cook what you have with you, when you can, and how you can. Plenty to eat, plenty to drink, nothing much to do so long as you keep your eyes open and the cattle well under control. But heaven help you when one of those brief, but terrific thunderstorms comes down and stampedes your bunch.

Some of these are fairly big horned beasts and, in their maddened stride, will rip up a horse like a piece of tissue paper. There is only one thing to do and that is to get to the leaders of the rush and head them off. You work away from the wind, as the tendency of cattle is always to turn tail to wind, and so you throw the head round, forming a huge circle, until, finally, with luck, the head of the stampede catches up with the stern. At that moment it is very necessary to be on the outer rim, for as one end catches up with the other, so they form literally a gigantic whirlpool, and the whole lot run up together in one solid mass. Not infrequently, a good bit of damage is done, but that cannot be helped. You will know all about the damage if you happen to be on the inside. Then there is only one way you will get out and that is by walking across the backs of the steers; but you can say "good-bye" to your horse.

This went on for a few weeks, till, sitting by the camp fire one night, smoking and thinking things out, I realised that what I had set myself out to do, namely, to make just enough money to grub stake myself and to head off again into the mountains, was impossible, partly because I had determined this nixt time to try the west side where there is less water, and more gold.

The ordinary life led by a cowboy doesn't tend to gather in the shekels, or perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say it isn't conducive to keeping them. Every so often a bunch of steers has to be taken to the railway, or somewhere near thereto, and having disposed of them, the temptation to "blue" one's heard-earned wealth in one great and glorious spree is usually too great to be withstood. Not necessarily a drinking spree, because, actually, there is little of that done in Canada.

For my part, I never spent five cents on drink until I had made the grub stake which would carry me out of the country.

But a cowboy who has been out on the prairire, seen no one, spoken to no one for weeks on end, must do all the crazy things that come into his mind when he gets into civilsation. He is like a big boy let loose.

The night I was considering all these things by the fire, there came into my mind a promise I had made before I had left England, that if things went against me I would come back. There was no question about my being up against it, and a promise is a promise. Furthermore, I could gather together more money, on my own job, at sea, than I ever should cow punching; so, just as quickly as I made up my mind to get out, I decided to go back.

It was with a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I sold, and said good-bye to my old pal Rufus. It hurt like hell, and does even yet. Still, it had to be done, so I got it over as quickly as possible and started off back to England in dead earnest.

C.H. Lightoller Titanic and Other Ships London, Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1935, pp.167-8

Alex McLean

Thanks so much Bob and Patricia. This will really help my research.