If you’ve hiked or ridden horseback on a difficult trail in the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range northeast of Grand Junction, you can bet Dave Knight traveled the same tough trail.
Knight was a part Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma who rode and hiked these same lands, beginning more than 100 years ago. In 1914, Knight homesteaded on land just outside of what’s now the Little Book Cliffs, and remnants of his cabin still stand on private land. But he spent much of his time on public range.
He herded ancestors of the wild horses that now live there. He also ran cattle on this range and briefly experimented, unsuccessfully, with grazing bison here.
Knight had a reputation as a tough-as-nails backcountry stockman. On one occasion, when his horse fell and broke Knight’s leg, Knight reportedly crawled several miles to the railroad tracks in De Beque Canyon and flagged down a railroad worker with a hand cart to take him to the hospital in Grand Junction.
Knight reportedly made his bed under any suitable rock outcropping he found. On cliffs high in the Book Cliffs, he hand-chiseled steps in the sandstone ledges, so he and his horses could travel with greater ease up and down steep faces.
Knight’s horses were predominantly grays, and they were valued by locals for their nimbleness in rugged country and their stamina.
Knight also had a reputation for enthusiastically protecting his range from overgrazing, reportedly using his rifle to run off other cowboys, cattlemen and sheepherders who attempted to bring their animals onto the range he claimed.