As traffic began to build on Interstate 75 near Detroit on a recent afternoon, a 1,200-pound steer suddenly darted onto the highway, followed by a cowboy on a horse, spinning his lasso.
The steer, named Lester, had been spotted near a gravel pit along the interstate, and Lester’s owner, who runs an animal sanctuary, was worried the bovine would run into traffic and cause an accident.
“He’s a real escape artist,” Littlejohn said of the steer.
Littlejohn, 29, makes his living as a horse trainer and cow catcher in North Adams, Mich., about 80 miles from Detroit. This was the second time he’d been asked to help capture Lester.
Six weeks earlier, Littlejohn had snagged Lester with a lasso and returned him, but Lester is wily, and soon he was on the loose once more.
“He jumped through a wooden fence and never skipped a beat,” Littlejohn explained about the male bovine.
This time, Littlejohn knew what he was up against: Lester is fast, and Littlejohn wasn’t sure if he’d be able to catch him this time. The stakes were high because of the interstate.
Lester had been on the loose again for about six weeks when he was spotted May 20 grazing close to Interstate 75 near the village of Holly. The steer’s owner got a call about a Lester sighting — Lester was famous in the area after his first escape.
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The owner called Littlejohn, but since it was beginning to get dark outside, Littlejohn waited until the next day to make the two-hour drive. He and his fiancée, Trina Resendez, 30, and hired hand Austin Collier, 24, loaded up five hounds and three horses, including Littlejohn’s horse, Bucky, and headed out to Holly to round up Lester.
Resendez and Collier help Littlejohn train horses and often accompany him on cow-catching calls to help capture the loose bovines.
“When we got to the gravel pit area where he’d been seen hanging out in the trees and grazing on grass, I got saddled up,” said Littlejohn. “It looked to me like Lester had tried to make a little home there. As soon as he saw us, he took off running. And before I knew it, he popped out of the trees, onto the highway.”
Littlejohn said he had already contacted the Michigan State Police to let them know he was next to the interstate trying to capture a wild steer. So when Lester ran out into traffic at around 2 p.m. that Sunday, troopers were able to slow traffic in both directions, he said.
When the steer took off running, Littlejohn and Bucky gave chase.
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“I didn’t want somebody to lose their life over a cow,” Littlejohn said, noting that as a cow catcher, he generally refers to all bovines — male and female — as cows.
“Cow-catching is what people call it in our world,” he said.
In a Michigan State Police dash cam video posted on Twitter (and filled with comments like “Holy Cow” and “I had no idea we had cowboys in Michigan!”) Littlejohn can be seen galloping after the steer in the middle of the interstate and confidently spinning his rope above his head.
“I knew I had one shot to get him,” Littlejohn said.
Some ATV riders who had spotted Lester can also be seen in the video, Littlejohn said, but they were not officially involved in the rescue.
When Littlejohn let his lasso fly, it landed perfectly around Lester’s neck, causing the steer to immediately slow down as it headed toward the interstate’s grassy median.
“Then the cow jumped the guardrail, and Trina raced over and put another rope on him and held him,” he said. “Roping a cow in the middle of the freeway was definitely a first for all of us.”
After Lt. Michael Shaw of the Michigan State Police posted a video with western-themed music on Twitter about the capture of the wayward steer, he added commentary, including that the crew chasing Lester was “a team of wranglers comprised of men and women comparable to the cast of Yellowstone.”
He added that troopers were on standby.
“Eventually after much tom foolery, the critter was captured and removed from the freeway,” Shaw wrote. “Troopers reopened the freeway and things quickly got back to normal. The bovine was not charged and is back in the pasture with a story to tell all the other livestock.”
Shaw said he was relieved the roundup ended without injuries.
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“It’s not every day that you see a steer or a cowboy along the freeway here in metro Detroit,” he said. “We knew [the tweet] would be what our followers would expect from us. But we also want to remind people the freeway is a dangerous place, and we’re glad no one was hurt.”
Littlejohn returned Lester to his owner, who runs a farm animal sanctuary, he said, noting that he hopes the steer won’t plow through the fence a third time.
Lester’s owner is trying to make sure of that.
“I’m very glad he’s back — he seems happy to be home,” said Melissa Borden, 49, owner of the Devoted Barn in Oakland County, Mich., noting that Lester was born at the sanctuary about four years ago.
“I honestly believe that he was trying to find his way home and that’s how he ended up next to the interstate,” she said. “He wanted to get back to his buddies on the farm.”
Littlejohn said he was glad to play a part in getting him back to the sanctuary.
“He’s one clever cow, but dang, I sure hope I don’t have to go look for him again,” he said. “The freeway chase was rough — he knew the game already because I’d caught him before. That chase could have turned bad in a heartbeat.”
The first time Littlejohn caught Lester, the steer had escaped through a fence with several other bovines, Littlejohn said.
“We got them all back pretty quick, but then Lester got out again on his own right after that,” he said.
Littlejohn said he grew up roping and riding in Michigan and that he started working in the cow-catching business about eight years ago. “I practice at home on anything that moves,” he said.
He estimates that he is called to round up about 200 loose cows every year.
“Cowboys are a dying breed — most people today would rather play video games than ride a horse,” he said, noting that he also works as a rodeo pickup man — a rider who swoops in to rescue cowboys at competitions when they are bucked off horses and bulls.
“There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of running as fast as you can on your horse to chase down a 1,000-pound cow that doesn’t want to be caught,” Littlejohn added, explaining that he uses hounds to help track down the loose animals.
He said he gets a kick out of the new nickname people have given him since he lassoed Lester in the middle of afternoon traffic.
“They’re calling me the ‘I-75 Cowboy,’” he said. “I suppose there are worse things.”
Source: Washington Post
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