buckbrush coulee

Coulee, a word common to the West and the upper Plains, derives from French fur traders’ incursions along the rivers of northern North America. Although coulée in French means flowing, like lava, to French Canadian trappers it meant a sluggish stream or a ravine that held occasional, seasonal water. West of the Missouri, however, a coulee is generally dry—except during pouring rain—a high-walled valley cut into a hill or escarpment, as along the Missouri Breaks. Its baleful cousin, the buckbrush coulee, is so dense at its base with the browse frequented by deer (the height of a buck, thus perhaps its name) that you might hear a rancher say to a newly hired hand on horseback, “Don’t try to ride up that buckbrush coulee.”

Larry Woiwode