A Story of Tragedy to Triumph
by: Dennis Watson
Clay Basket, a stunning daughter of King Andrew, arrived at CrossTimbers Elk Ranch in December of 1994, along with thirteen other very frightened and bewildered elk calves. Dennis and JoAnn Watson and these fourteen calves began the process of learning the elk business together. In a very short time, and with a lot of human contact, the calves settled in to their new environment and "grew like a bunch of bad weeds". The rut of '95 gave way to the winter of '96, and then in February, tragedy reared its ugly head.
One morning while feeding, only eleven females were present - one short of what should have been there. A quick trip to "the woods" revealed our missing heifer. Clay Basket was lying down, very alert, but obviously, something was very wrong. We could see that her leg was broken, and there was enough blood to be sure that we indeed had a compound fracture to deal with. Now there we were, two neophytes in the elk business, no handling facilities - not even a dart gun, and no idea of what, if anything we could do for Clay Basket. Thank goodness for the great people that we had met while researching the elk business. Emergency calls went out to Rush Johnson, Glen Zebarth, and Ray Favero; and sure enough, we did have options to try to help her. Ray Favero even air freighted us his own personal dart gun so we could tranquilize Clay Basket, and find out exactly what we were dealing with. A vet examination the next day revealed a situation even worse than we had expected. The leg wasn't just broken, it was shattered. More emergency phone calls resulted in a trip to Oklahoma State University's Veterinary Hospital, where they had the only proper operating room facilities to deal with our problem. Clay Basket walked an eighth of a mile from where she was lying, into the trailer for the trip to OSU; the longest eighth of a mile I've ever walked - her leg dangling and flopping - but she did it.
Obviously, the leg was amputated. Due to the extensive damage to the bones and tissue, the open wounds that would be a constant source of infection, and the care that would be required after any type of surgery, this was deemed to be our best option. After five hours in the operating room, and a short recovery period at OSU, we brought Clay Basket home to a makeshift "horse stall" with a "crowd gate" included. She was so weak after this ordeal that she spent her first night back at home in the trailer. The next morning, she hopped into her "horse stall" and the recovery phase was under way - more antibiotic shots than any of us would like to remember, and then a secondary infection that prolonged this chapter even further. While in this "recovery room", Clay Basket discharged some tiny elk bones of the calf she was carrying when this ordeal started.
Through the spring and summer of '96, Clay Basket continued her recovery and learned to cope quite well with her disability. JoAnn and I weren't completely comfortable with her physical condition at the beginning of the rut, so we decided not to breed her that year. After all, elk are quite productive for a good number of years, and Clay Basket had a lot of years ahead of her. We put her in with the weaned calves where she became "Nanny Clay Basket". I'm sure that she provided this crop of calves a sense of security that they wouldn't have had if they had been alone, and she tolerated her new surroundings quite well; even if every once in a while, she would have to give a bunch of unruly calves a little "adult supervision". After the rut, when the bulls were removed, Clay Basket would occasionally meet us at the gate and want to leave the calves and rejoin the cowherd. In just a day or two though, she would be back at the gate again to return to the calves - probably noticed that the groceries were better on the calves side.
The rut of '97 produced Clay Basket's first calf - a heifer that we named New Dawn. I guess that we hoped that the name would commemorate a new beginning for Clay Basket's legacy; a legacy that could be built on a little firmer footing (pun intended). The next year, she produced a "bouncin' baby boy" - Andy's Pride; actually, the calf shown in the picture above, and what a striking two-year-old he has become. The breeding season of 1999 brought Clay Basket to another level in this continuing saga. You can only imagine the look on Kelly (Butler) Garrison's face when we introduced her to our AI cows that fall - Clay Basket among them. A quick look at the bull calf that she had raised the previous summer certainly confirmed that she had indeed earned the position of becoming one of our AI cows. Needless to say, Clay Basket was the first three-legged cow that Kelly had ever AI'd. That service resulted in a beautiful daughter of Revolution.
Clay Basket will live out her days here at CrossTimbers. She has a very special place in our hearts, and she plays it to the maximum. Every morning, after she has delivered her calf, we go out and feed her some extra feed (I don't think she can graze as efficiently as a four-legged elk). She always comes to meet us, and JoAnn sits in the pickup seat and holds the bucket so Clay Basket can eat, and get her morning dose of loving and attention. Very seldom do any of the other come up and interfere with this morning ritual. It's almost like they understand that Clay Basket has special needs that they don't.
Clay Basket's courage, and will to survive, never faltered throughout the terrible ordeal that she was forced to face. She has adapted to her handicap, and does just about everything that an elk is supposed to do. The one thing that she cannot do is stand on her back feet and "box" another elk to enforce her dominance over them. This has never been a problem though, as she was one of the more dominant females from the very beginning. Her position in life, within this herd, has remained virtually unchanged. And yes, she will "come to get you" when she hears a calf squeal at tagging time.
I can only hope that no one else ever has to endure what we have experienced with Clay Basket. But, having gone through all of this, there is now a very special bond between us. As cruel as it may have been, we feel much richer today by knowing "Momma Clay Basket".