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My First Wild Cow, a story from the 1963 Penn State Field Camp. Illustration by Martin Jarrie.
A  version of Don Kelly's story, My First Wild Cow, appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of The Penn Stater alumni magazine (p. 13), accompanied by this illustration by Martin Jarrie

Ed Beutner, Rob Scholten, and Don Kelly on the Wild Cow Milking Contest

Ed BeutnerED BEUTNER: "I was working in Idaho, but I remember driving over to Lima to meet to spend the 4th of July with the field camp group and the other grad students (Baerbel Luchitta, Oscar Huh, Bob Ryder) who had gathered.  To uphold the honor of Penn State, several of the group (fortunately not including me) entered the wild cow milking contest at the local rodeo, an event which required consumption of a lot of beer by all of us beforehand.  This event involved a team of three being given a rope at the other end of which was a range cow. The goal was to get a perceptible amount of milk from the cow into a Coke bottle. The cow, on her part, tried to drag the trio face down across the arena through the dirt and cow poop"

, July 18, 1963, entitled "Geologists Defend University's Honor":

     "Who says students are getting soft?  Not those at the Penn State Geology Camp in Montana!

     This is to inform you that, at the Lima, Montana, rodeo the PSU Wild Cow Milking Team, consisting of Lynn Brant, Don Kelly and Mitch Smith, wrestled the maddest, snortingest, stampingest, bellowing range cow these parts have seen in many a year, held her fast by head and tail, and milked her to deafening applause in the stands in 52 seconds flat!

     True, they didn't win, but they did beat several teams of life-long husky cowpokes.  I figure the folks back East would want to know that Penn State's honor is being properly defended in the woolly West!

        ------ Robert Scholten, Associate Professor of Geology"

My First Wild Cow for Dear Old State
Or, Take one wild cow, add pop bottle and spit

by Donovan Kelly

Donovan KellyI hadn't thought about that wild cow, the one I attacked with a pop bottle, in a long time. I mean, who thinks much about the summer of 1963 these days? Shoot, I have trouble remembering last summer.

But there I was, in the middle of a vanity search, looking to see where Google might find my name on the web, when my summer of 63 popped up.  Who would have thought that Penn State had a web page just for the summer geology field camp program? Or that my 1963 field camp in Montana would have its own page and include a fleeting reference to me and my first wild cow?

It was not love at first sight.  It was war. The honor of all easterners was at stake. We saw how the good old boys of Montana looked at us. We saw them in their tall boots, jeans and long-sleeve shirts laughing at our shorts and tee shirts.

Maybe they thought we were after their women, but all we wanted was their geology. Just enough to fill our map, write a report and pass a class that had kept us on the road for 6 weeks.  This was my last class before graduation and I already had a real job waiting for me.  Geophysical Services Inc. had promised me a return to the Arctic and an assignment on the North Slope of Alaska. (What I got was West Texas, Louisiana, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.)

Before we could map Montana geology and drink local beer, we had to first win acceptance from the locals. Our leader, Dr. Scholten, said winning over the locals was an important lesson for all geologists to learn. You can look it up in my notes. Little did I know that I would spend 30 years at USGS doing just that, working with the news media to try and make the world safer for geologists.

Donovan KellyI think it was Dr. Scholten himself who suggested that we enter the local Lima rodeo to earn goodwill and show them we were just regular people. Or maybe it was the devil himself who suggested it, thinking he would get a good laugh.  Both got their laughs, and both were smart enough not to enter themselves. 

For a number of reasons, we passed up bull riding. In fact, the only event we were remotely qualified for was the wild cow milking contest. As fate would have it, I was the only student present who had actually milked anything before. Most of my milking experience had been with goats, but one summer I did dabble in cows. But what we faced was not those gentle Pennsylvania milking cows strapped in a barn and munching hay.  These were free-roaming cows fresh off the range that had never had any friendly human contact. Mama cows who were extra frantic because they were looking for their lost calves and whose udders were painfully swollen.

Did I mention that these 800-pound cows were running loose in an arena and being hooted on by the locals? My teammates, Lynn Brant and Mitch Smith, were to hold the cow still enough and long enough, for me to get some milk into a tight-lipped Coke bottle. "Got to see some color," the judges explained.

Our cow never got what I would call still, but I did manage to squirt some milk into the bottle and went racing back to the judges. I think we came in second. The judge looked at my cow-trodden and plop-plastered feet and proud grin and then at the bottle. "Looks like real milk," he said. "Most people know enough to just spit in the bottle."

Maybe it was a put down, but at least we were able to drink beer with the locals after that. And next time, I'll just spit in the bottle.

(P. S. Yes, I'm the one who got sick and spent a week in the Lima railroad hotel with Goldie who made me oatmeal and sent daily updates to my mother. Sorry, Lynn, I don't remember the partial eclipse. Just an excess of train whistles and oatmeal. After recovering, I stayed over at field camp after the other undergraduates left to finish my geology report. I ended up hitchhiking back to Pennsylvania. Rest of the story will cost you a beer. Send it to  [Don's website <> includes excerpts from his book "Quest for the Holy Grill: 50 Crummy But Good Restaurants Within Rambling Range of Washington, D.C."  The picture accompanying this piece, showing the correct way to eat corn, was originally published with a story in The Washington Post and appears on his website.]

Jerry BartholomewAnd an addendum from Jerry Bartholomew: Since I was not at the Rodeo, your "hands on" experience is important for people to appreciate the extent to which the field camp folks tried to blend in with the locals. In that same spirit, I don't know if you remember or not, but there was also a dance at the schoolhouse in Monida (south of Lima a few miles on I-15) that at least some of us went to.  That old school house was not in too bad of shape in 1983 when I moved to Butte, where I lived and worked for a decade, but it is now in ruins.