Part 2 out of 4
The ease and apparent willingness with which some men revert to an
aimless life can best be accounted for by the savage or barbarian
instincts of our natures. The West has produced many types of the
vagabond,--it might be excusable to say, won them from every condition
of society. From the cultured East, with all the advantages which
wealth and educational facilities can give to her sons, they flocked;
from the South, with her pride of ancestry, they came; even the
British Isles contributed their quota. There was something in the
primitive West of a generation or more ago which satisfied them.
Nowhere else could it be found, and once they adapted themselves to
existing conditions, they were loath to return to former associations.
About the middle of the fifties, there graduated from one of our
Eastern colleges a young man of wealthy and distinguished family. His
college record was good, but close application to study during the
last year had told on his general health. His ambition, coupled with a
laudable desire to succeed, had buoyed up his strength until the final
graduation day had passed.
Alexander Wells had the advantage of a good physical constitution.
During the first year at college his reputation as an athlete had been
firmly established by many a hard fought contest in the college games.
The last two years he had not taken an active part in them, as his
studies had required his complete attention. On his return home, it
was thought by parents and sisters that rest and recreation would soon
restore the health of this overworked young graduate, who was now
two years past his majority. Two months of rest, however, failed to
produce any improvement, but the family physician would not admit that
there was immediate danger, and declared the trouble simply the result
of overstudy, advising travel. This advice was very satisfactory
to the young man, for he had a longing to see other sections of the
The elder Wells some years previously had become interested in western
and southern real estate, and among other investments which he had
made was the purchase of an old Spanish land grant on a stream called
the Salado, west of San Antonio, Texas. These land grants were made
by the crown of Spain to favorite subjects. They were known by name,
which they always retained when changing ownership. Some of these
tracts were princely domains, and were bartered about as though
worthless, often changing owners at the card-table.
So when travel was suggested to Wells, junior, he expressed a desire
to visit this family possession, and possibly spend a winter in its
warm climate. This decision was more easily reached from the fact
that there was an abundance of game on the land, and being a devoted
sportsman, his own consent was secured in advance. No other reason
except that of health would ever have gained the consent of his
mother to a six months' absence. But within a week after reaching the
decision, the young man had left New York and was on his way to Texas.
His route, both by water and rail, brought him only within eighty
miles of his destination, and the rest of the distance he was obliged
to travel by stage.
San Antonio at this time was a frontier village, with a mixed
population, the Mexican being the most prominent inhabitant. There was
much to be seen which was new and attractive to the young Easterner,
and he tarried in it several days, enjoying its novel and picturesque
life. The arrival and departure of the various stage lines for the
accommodation of travelers like himself was of more than passing
interest. They rattled in from Austin and Laredo. They were sometimes
late from El Paso, six hundred miles to the westward. Probably a brush
with the Indians, or the more to be dreaded Mexican bandits (for
these stages carried treasure--gold and silver, the currency of the
country), was the cause of the delay. Frequently they carried guards,
whose presence was generally sufficient to command the respect of the
Then there were the freight trains, the motive power of which was
mules and oxen. It was necessary to carry forward supplies and bring
back the crude products of the country. The Chihuahua wagon was drawn
sometimes by twelve, sometimes by twenty mules, four abreast in
the swing, the leaders and wheelers being single teams. For mutual
protection trains were made up of from ten to twenty wagons. Drivers
frequently meeting a chance acquaintance going in an opposite
direction would ask, "What is your cargo?" and the answer would be
frankly given, "Specie." Many a Chihuahua wagon carried three or four
tons of gold and silver, generally the latter. Here was a new book
for this college lad, one he had never studied, though it was
more interesting to him than some he had read. There was something
thrilling in all this new life. He liked it. The romance was real; it
was not an imitation. People answered his few questions and asked none
In this frontier village at a late hour one night young Wells
overheard this conversation: "Hello, Bill," said the case-keeper in
a faro game, as he turned his head halfway round to see who was the
owner of the monster hand which had just reached over his shoulder and
placed a stack of silver dollars on a card, marking it to win, "I've
missed you the last few days. Where have you been so long?"
"Oh, I've just been out to El Paso on a little pasear guarding the
stage," was the reply. Now the little pasear was a continuous night
and day round-trip of twelve hundred miles. Bill had slept and eaten
as he could. When mounted, he scouted every possible point of ambush
for lurking Indian or bandit. Crossing open stretches of country, he
climbed up on the stage and slept. Now having returned, he was anxious
to get his wages into circulation. Here were characters worthy of a
Interesting as this frontier life was to the young man, he prepared
for his final destination. He had no trouble in locating his father's
property, for it was less than twenty miles from San Antonio. Securing
an American who spoke Spanish, the two set out on horseback. There
were several small ranchitos on the tract, where five or six Mexican
families lived. Each family had a field and raised corn for bread. A
flock of goats furnished them milk and meat. The same class of people
in older States were called squatters, making no claim to ownership
of the land. They needed little clothing, the climate being in their
The men worked at times. The pecan crop which grew along the creek
bottoms was beginning to have a value in the coast towns for shipment
to northern markets, and this furnished them revenue for their simple
needs. All kinds of game was in abundance, including waterfowl in
winter, though winter here was only such in name. These simple people
gave a welcome to the New Yorker which appeared sincere. They offered
no apology for their presence on this land, nor was such in order, for
it was the custom of the country. They merely referred to themselves
as "his people," as though belonging to the land.
When they learned that he was the son of the owner of the grant, and
that he wanted to spend a few months hunting and looking about,
they considered themselves honored. The best jacal in the group was
tendered him and his interpreter. The food offered was something new,
but the relish with which his companion partook of it assisted young
Wells in overcoming his scruples, and he ate a supper of dishes he had
never tasted before. The coffee he declared was delicious.
On the advice of his companion they had brought along blankets. The
women of the ranchito brought other bedding, and a comfortable bed
soon awaited the Americanos. The owner of the jacal in the mean time
informed his guest through the interpreter that he had sent to a
near-by ranchito for a man who had at least the local reputation of
being quite a hunter. During the interim, while awaiting the arrival
of the man, he plied his guest with many questions regarding the
outside world, of which his ideas were very simple, vague, and
extremely provincial. His conception of distance was what he could
ride in a given number of days on a good pony. His ideas of wealth
were no improvement over those of his Indian ancestors of a century
previous. In architecture, the jacal in which they sat satisfied his
The footsteps of a horse interrupted their conversation. A few moments
later, Tiburcio, the hunter, was introduced to the two Americans with
a profusion of politeness. There was nothing above the ordinary in
the old hunter, except his hair, eyes, and swarthy complexion, which
indicated his Aztec ancestry. It might be in perfect order to remark
here that young Wells was perfectly composed, almost indifferent to
the company and surroundings. He shook hands with Tiburcio in a manner
as dignified, yet agreeable, as though he was the governor of his
native State or the minister of some prominent church at home. From
this juncture, he at once took the lead in the conversation, and kept
up a line of questions, the answers to which were very gratifying.
He learned that deer were very plentiful everywhere, and that on this
very tract of land were several wild turkey roosts, where it was
no trouble to bag any number desired. On the prairie portion of the
surrounding country could be found large droves of antelope. During
drouthy periods they were known to come twenty miles to quench their
thirst in the Salado, which was the main watercourse of this grant.
Once Tiburcio assured his young patron that he had frequently counted
a thousand antelope during a single morning. Then there was also the
javeline or peccary which abounded in endless numbers, but it was
necessary to hunt them with dogs, as they kept the thickets and came
out in the open only at night. Many a native cur met his end hunting
these animals, cut to pieces with their tusks, so that packs, trained
for the purpose, were used to bay them until the hunter could arrive
and dispatch them with a rifle. Even this was always done from
horseback, as it was dangerous to approach the javeline, for they
would, when aroused, charge anything.
All this was gratifying to young Wells, and like a congenial fellow,
he produced and showed the old hunter a new gun, the very latest model
in the market, explaining its good qualities through his interpreter.
Tiburcio handled it as if it were a rare bit of millinery, but managed
to ask its price and a few other questions. Through his companion,
Wells then engaged the old hunter's services for the following day;
not that he expected to hunt, but he wanted to acquaint himself with
the boundaries of the land and to become familiar with the surrounding
country. Naming an hour for starting in the morning, the two men shook
hands and bade each other good-night, each using his own language to
express the parting, though neither one knew a word the other said.
The first link in a friendship not soon to be broken had been forged.
Tiburcio was on hand at the appointed hour in the morning, and being
joined by the two Americans they rode off up the stream. It was
October, and the pecans, they noticed, were already falling, as
they passed through splendid groves of this timber, several times
dismounting to fill their pockets with nuts. Tiburcio frequently
called attention to fresh deer tracks near the creek bottom, and
shortly afterward the first game of the day was sighted. Five or six
does and grown fawns broke cover and ran a short distance, stopped,
looked at the horsemen, and then capered away.
Riding to the highest ground in the vicinity, they obtained a splendid
view of the stream, outlined by the foliage of the pecan groves that
lined its banks as far as the eye could follow either way. Tiburcio
pointed out one particular grove lying three or four miles farther up
the creek. Here he said was a cabin which had been built by a white
man who had left it several years ago, and which he had often used as
a hunting camp in bad weather. Feeling his way cautiously, Wells asked
the old hunter if he were sure that this cabin was on and belonged to
the grant. Being assured on both points, he then inquired if there was
anything to hinder him from occupying the hut for a few months. On the
further assurance that there was no man to dispute his right, he began
plying his companions with questions. The interpreter told him that it
was a very common and simple thing for men to batch, enumerating the
few articles he would need for this purpose.
They soon reached the cabin, which proved to be an improvement over
the ordinary jacal of the country, as it had a fireplace and chimney.
It was built of logs; the crevices were chinked with clay for mortar,
its floor being of the same substance. The only Mexican feature it
possessed was the thatched roof. While the Americans were examining it
and its surroundings, Tiburcio unsaddled the horses, picketing one and
hobbling the other two, kindled a fire, and prepared a lunch from some
articles he had brought along. The meal, consisting of coffee, chipped
venison, and a thin wafer bread made from corn and reheated over
coals, was disposed of with relish. The two Americans sauntered around
for some distance, and on their return to the cabin found Tiburcio
enjoying his siesta under a near-by pecan tree.
Their horses refreshed and rested, they resaddled, crossing the
stream, intending to return to the ranchito by evening. After leaving
the bottoms of the creek, Tiburcio showed the young man a trail made
by the javeline, and he was surprised to learn that an animal with so
small a foot was a dangerous antagonist, on account of its gregarious
nature. Proceeding they came to several open prairies, in one of
which they saw a herd of antelope, numbering forty to fifty, making
a beautiful sight as they took fright and ran away. Young Wells
afterward learned that distance lent them charms and was the greatest
factor in their beauty. As they rode from one vantage-point to another
for the purpose of sight-seeing, the afternoon passed rapidly.
Later, through the interpreter he inquired of Tiburcio if his services
could be secured as guide, cook, and companion for the winter, since
he had fully made up his mind to occupy the cabin. Tiburcio was
overjoyed at the proposition, as it was congenial to his tastes,
besides carrying a compensation. Definite arrangements were now
made with him, and he was requested to be on hand in the morning. On
reaching the ranchito, young Wells's decision was announced to their
host of the night previous, much to the latter's satisfaction. During
the evening the two Americans planned to return to the village in the
morning for the needed supplies. Tiburcio was on hand at the appointed
time, and here unconsciously the young man fortified himself in the
old hunter's confidence by intrusting him with the custody of his gun,
blankets, and several other articles until he should return.
A week later found the young hunter established in the cabin with the
interpreter and Tiburcio. A wagon-load of staple supplies was snugly
stored away for future use, and they were at peace with the world.
By purchase Wells soon had several saddle ponies, and the old hunter
adding his pack of javeline dogs, they found themselves well equipped
for the winter campaign.
Hunting, in which the young man was an apt scholar, was now the order
of the day. Tiburcio was an artist in woodcraft as well as in
his knowledge of the habits of animals and birds. On chilly or
disagreeable days they would take out the pack of dogs and beat the
thickets for the javeline. It was exciting sport to bring to bay a
drove of these animals. To shoot from horseback lent a charm, yet made
aim uncertain, nor was it advisable to get too close range. Many a
young dog made a fatal mistake in getting too near this little animal,
and the doctoring of crippled dogs became a daily duty. All surplus
game was sent to the ranchito below, where it was always appreciated.
At first the young man wrote regularly long letters home, but as it
took Tiburcio a day to go to the post-office, he justified himself
in putting writing off, sometimes several weeks, because it ruined
a whole day and tired out a horse to mail a letter. Hardships were
enjoyed. They thought nothing of spending a whole night going from one
turkey roost to another, if half a dozen fine birds were the reward.
They would saddle up in the evening and ride ten miles, sleeping
out all night by a fire in order to stalk a buck at daybreak, having
located his range previously.
Thus the winter passed, and as the limit of the young man's vacation
was near at hand, Wells wrote home pleading for more time, telling his
friends how fast he was improving, and estimating that it would take
at least six months more to restore him fully to his former health.
This request being granted, he contented himself by riding about the
country, even visiting cattle ranches south on the Frio River. Now and
then he would ride into San Antonio for a day or two, but there
was nothing new to be seen there, and his visits were brief. He had
acquired a sufficient knowledge of Spanish to get along now without an
When the summer was well spent, he began to devise some excuse to give
his parents for remaining another winter. Accordingly he wrote his
father what splendid opportunities there were to engage in cattle
ranching, going into detail very intelligently in regard to
the grasses on the tract and the fine opportunity presented for
establishing a ranch. The water privileges, the faithfulness of
Tiburcio, and other minor matters were fully set forth, and he
concluded by advising that they buy or start a brand of cattle on this
grant. His father's reply was that he should expect his son to return
as soon as the state of his health would permit. He wished to be a
dutiful son, yet he wished to hunt just one more winter.
So he felt that he must make another tack to gain his point. Following
letters noted no improvement in his health. Now, as the hunting season
was near at hand, he found it convenient to bargain with a renegade
doctor, who, for the consideration offered, wrote his parents that
their son had recently consulted him to see if it would be
advisable to return to a rigorous climate in his present condition.
Professionally he felt compelled to advise him not to think of leaving
Texas for at least another year. To supplement this, the son wrote
that he hoped to be able to go home in the early spring. This had the
desired effect. Any remorse of conscience he may have felt over the
deception resorted to was soon forgotten in following a pack of hounds
or stalking deer, for hunting now became the order of the day. The
antlered buck was again in his prime. His favorite range was carefully
noted. Very few hunts were unrewarded by at least one or more shots
at this noble animal. With an occasional visitor, the winter passed
as had the previous one. Some congenial spirit would often spend a few
days with them, and his departure was always sincerely regretted.
The most peculiar feature of the whole affair was the friendship of
the young man for Tiburcio. The latter was the practical hunter, which
actual experience only can produce. He could foretell the coming of
a norther twenty-four hours in advance. Just which course deer would
graze he could predict by the quarter of the wind. In woodcraft he was
a trustworthy though unquoted authority. His young patron often showed
him his watch and explained how it measured time, but he had no use
for it. He could tell nearly enough when it was noon, and if the
stars were shining he knew midnight within a few minutes. This he had
learned when a shepherd. He could track a wounded deer for miles, when
another could not see a trace of where the animal had passed. He could
recognize the footprint of his favorite saddle pony among a thousand
others. How he did these things he did not know himself. These
companions were graduates of different schools, extremes of different
nationalities. Yet Alexander Wells had no desire to elevate the old
hunter to his own standard, preferring to sit at his feet.
But finally the appearance of blades of grass and early flowers
warned them that winter was gone and that spring was at hand. Their
occupation, therefore, was at an end. Now how to satisfy the folks
at home and get a further extension of time was the truant's supreme
object. While he always professed obedience to parental demands, yet
rebellion was brewing, for he did not want to go East--not just yet.
Imperative orders to return were artfully parried. Finally remittances
were withheld, but he had no use for money. Coercion was bad policy
to use in his case. Thus a third and a fourth winter passed, and the
young hunter was enjoying life on the Salado, where questions of state
and nation did not bother him.
But this existence had an end. One day in the spring a conveyance
drove up to the cabin, and an elderly, well-dressed woman alighted.
With the assistance of her driver she ran the gauntlet of dogs and
reached the cabin door, which was open. There, sitting inside on a
dry cow-skin which was spread on the clay floor, was the object of
her visit, surrounded by a group of Mexican companions, playing a game
called monte. The absorbing interest taken in the cards had prevented
the inmates of the jacal from noticing the lady's approach until
she stood opposite the door. On the appearance of a woman, the game
instantly ceased. Recognition was mutual, but neither mother nor son
spoke a word. Her eye took in the surroundings at a glance. Finally
she spoke with a half-concealed imperiousness of tone, though her
voice was quiet and kindly.
"Alexander, if you wish to see your mother, come to San Antonio, won't
you, please?" and turning, she retraced her steps toward the carriage.
Her son arose from his squatting posture, hitching up one side of his
trousers, then the other, for he was suspenderless, and following at
a distance, scratching his head and hitching his trousers alternately,
he at last managed to say, "Ah, well--why--if you can wait a few
moments till I change my clothes, I'll--I'll go with you right now."
This being consented to, he returned to the cabin, made the necessary
change, and stood before them a picture of health, bewhiskered and
bronzed like a pirate. As he was halfway to the vehicle, he turned
back, and taking the old black hands of Tiburcio in his own, said in
good Spanish, though there was a huskiness in his voice, "That lady
is my mother. I may never see you again. I don't think I will. You may
have for your own everything I leave."
There were tears in the old hunter's eyes as he relinquished young
Wells's hands and watched him fade from his sight. His mother, unable
to live longer without him, had made the trip from New York, and now
that she had him in her possession there was no escape. They took the
first stage out of the village that night on their return trip for New
But the mother's victory was short-lived and barren. Within three
years after the son's return, he failed in two business enterprises in
which his father started him. Nothing discouraged, his parents offered
him a third opportunity, it containing, however, a marriage condition.
But the voice of a siren, singing of flowery prairies and pecan groves
on the Salado, in which could be heard the music of hounds and the
clattering of horses' hoofs at full speed following, filled every
niche and corner of his heart, and he balked at the marriage offer.
When the son had passed his thirtieth year, his parents became
resigned and gave their consent to his return to Texas. Long before
parental consent was finally obtained, it was evident to his many
friends that the West had completely won him; and once the desire
of his heart was secured, the languid son beamed with energy in
outfitting for his return. He wrung the hands of old friends with a
new grip, and with boyish enthusiasm announced his early departure.
On the morning of leaving, quite a crowd of friends and relatives
gathered at the depot to see him off. But when a former college chum
attempted to remonstrate with him on the social sacrifice which he was
making, he turned to the group of friends, and smilingly said, "That's
all right. You are honest in thinking that New York is God's country.
But out there in Texas also is, for it is just as God made it. Why,
I'm going to start a cattle ranch as soon as I get there and go back
to nature. Don't pity me. Rather let me pity you, who think, act, and
look as if turned out of the same mill. Any social sacrifices which
I make in leaving here will be repaid tenfold by the freedom and
advantages of the boundless West."
THE DOUBLE TRAIL
Early in the summer of '78 we were rocking along with a herd of Laurel
Leaf cattle, going up the old Chisholm trail in the Indian Territory.
The cattle were in charge of Ike Inks as foreman, and had been sold
for delivery somewhere in the Strip.
There were thirty-one hundred head, straight "twos," and in the single
ranch brand. We had been out about four months on the trail, and all
felt that a few weeks at the farthest would let us out, for the day
before we had crossed the Cimarron River, ninety miles south of the
state line of Kansas.
The foreman was simply killing time, waiting for orders concerning the
delivery of the cattle. All kinds of jokes were in order, for we all
felt that we would soon be set free. One of our men had been taken
sick, as we crossed Red River into the Nations, and not wanting to
cross this Indian country short-handed, Inks had picked up a young
fellow who evidently had never been over the trail before.
He gave the outfit his correct name, on joining us, but it proved
unpronounceable, and for convenience some one rechristened him Lucy,
as he had quite a feminine appearance. He was anxious to learn, and
was in evidence in everything that went on.
The trail from the Cimarron to Little Turkey Creek, where we were now
camped, had originally been to the east of the present one, skirting
a black-jack country. After being used several years it had been
abandoned, being sandy, and the new route followed up the bottoms
of Big Turkey, since it was firmer soil, affording better footing to
cattle. These two trails came together again at Little Turkey. At no
place were they over two or three miles apart, and from where they
separated to where they came together again was about seven miles.
It troubled Lucy not to know why this was thus. Why did these routes
separate and come together again? He was fruitful with inquiries as to
where this trail or that road led. The boss-man had a vein of humor in
his make-up, though it was not visible; so he told the young man that
he did not know, as he had been over this route but once before, but
he thought that Stubb, who was then on herd, could tell him how it
was; he had been over the trail every year since it was laid out.
This was sufficient to secure Stubb an interview, as soon as he was
relieved from duty and had returned to the wagon. So Ike posted one of
the men who was next on guard to tell Stubb what to expect, and to be
sure to tell it to him scary.
A brief description of Stubb necessarily intrudes, though this
nickname describes the man. Extremely short in stature, he was
inclined to be fleshy. In fact, a rear view of Stubb looked as though
some one had hollowed out a place to set his head between his ample
shoulders. But a front view revealed a face like a full moon. In
disposition he was very amiable. His laugh was enough to drive away
the worst case of the blues. It bubbled up from some inward source and
seemed perennial. His worst fault was his bar-room astronomy. If there
was any one thing that he shone in, it was rustling coffin varnish
during the early prohibition days along the Kansas border. His
patronage was limited only by his income, coupled with what credit he
Once, about midnight, he tried to arouse a drug clerk who slept in the
store, and as he had worked this racket before, he coppered the play
to repeat. So he tapped gently on the window at the rear where the
clerk slept, calling him by name. This he repeated any number of
times. Finally, he threatened to have a fit; even this did not work
to his advantage. Then he pretended to be very angry, but there was
no response. After fifteen minutes had been fruitlessly spent, he went
back to the window, tapped on it once more, saying, "Lon, lie still,
you little son-of-a-sheep-thief," which may not be what he said, and
walked away. A party who had forgotten his name was once inquiring
for him, describing him thus, "He's a little short, fat fellow, sits
around the Maverick Hotel, talks cattle talk, and punishes a power of
So before Stubb had even time to unsaddle his horse, he was approached
to know the history of these two trails.
"Well," said Stubb somewhat hesitatingly, "I never like to refer to
it. You see, I killed a man the day that right-hand trail was made:
I'll tell you about it some other time."
"But why not now?" said Lucy, his curiosity aroused, as keen as a
"Some other day," said Stubb. "But did you notice those three graves
on the last ridge of sand-hills to the right as we came out of the
Cimarron bottoms yesterday? You did? Their tenants were killed over
that trail; you see now why I hate to refer to it, don't you? I was
afraid to go back to Texas for three years afterward."
"But why not tell me?" said the young man.
"Oh," said Stubb, as he knelt down to put a hobble on his horse, "it
would injure my reputation as a peaceable citizen, and I don't mind
telling you that I expect to marry soon."
Having worked up the proper interest in his listener, besides exacting
a promise that he would not repeat the story where it might do
injury to him, he dragged his saddle up to the camp-fire. Making a
comfortable seat with it, he riveted his gaze on the fire, and with a
splendid sang-froid reluctantly told the history of the double trail.
"You see," began Stubb, "the Chisholm route had been used more or less
for ten years. This right-hand trail was made in '73. I bossed that
year from Van Zandt County, for old Andy Erath, who, by the way, was a
dead square cowman with not a hide-bound idea in his make-up. Son, it
was a pleasure to know old Andy. You can tell he was a good man, for
if he ever got a drink too much, though he would never mention her
otherwise, he always praised his wife. I've been with him up beyond
the Yellowstone, two thousand miles from home, and you always knew
when the old man was primed. He would praise his wife, and would call
on us boys to confirm the fact that Mary, his wife, was a good woman.
"That year we had the better of twenty-nine hundred head, all steer
cattle, threes and up, a likely bunch, better than these we are
shadowing now. You see, my people are not driving this year, which is
the reason that I am making a common hand with Inks. If I was to lay
off a season, or go to the seacoast, I might forget the way. In those
days I always hired my own men. The year that this right-hand trail
was made, I had an outfit of men who would rather fight than eat; in
fact, I selected them on account of their special fitness in the use
of firearms. Why, Inks here couldn't have cooked for my outfit
that season, let alone rode. There was no particular incident worth
mentioning till we struck Red River, where we overtook five or six
herds that were laying over on account of a freshet in the river. I
wouldn't have a man those days who was not as good in the water as
out. When I rode up to the river, one or two of my men were with me.
It looked red and muddy and rolled just a trifle, but I ordered one
of the boys to hit it on his horse, to see what it was like. Well, he
never wet the seat of his saddle going or coming, though his horse was
in swimming water good sixty yards. All the other bosses rode up, and
each one examined his peg to see if the rise was falling. One fellow
named Bob Brown, boss-man for John Blocker, asked me what I thought
about the crossing. I said to him, 'If this ferryman can cross our
wagon for me, and you fellows will open out a little and let me in,
I'll show you all a crossing, and it'll be no miracle either.'
"Well, the ferryman said he'd set the wagon over, so the men went back
to bring up the herd. They were delayed some little time, changing to
their swimming horses. It was nearly an hour before the herd came up,
the others opening out, so as to give us a clear field, in case of a
mill or balk. I never had to give an order; my boys knew just what
to do. Why, there's men in this outfit right now that couldn't have
greased my wagon that year.
"Well, the men on the points brought the herd to the water with a good
head on, and before the leaders knew it, they were halfway across
the channel, swimming like fish. The swing-men fed them in, free and
plenty. Most of my outfit took to the water, and kept the cattle
from drifting downstream. The boys from the other herds--good men,
too--kept shooting them into the water, and inside fifteen minutes'
time we were in the big Injun Territory. After crossing the saddle
stock and the wagon, I swam my horse back to the Texas side. I wanted
to eat dinner with Blocker's man, just to see how they fed. Might want
to work for him some time, you see. I pretended that I'd help him over
if he wanted to cross, but he said his dogies could never breast that
water. I remarked to him at dinner, 'You're feeding a mite better this
year, ain't you?' 'Not that I can notice,' he replied, as the cook
handed him a tin plate heaping with navy beans, 'and I'm eating rather
regular with the wagon, too.' I killed time around for a while, and
then we rode down to the river together. The cattle had tramped out
his peg, so after setting a new one, and pow-wowing around, I told him
good-by and said to him, 'Bob, old man, when I hit Dodge, I'll take a
drink and think of you back here on the trail, and regret that you are
not with me, so as to make it two-handed.' We said our 'so-longs' to
each other, and I gave the gray his head and he took the water like a
duck. He could outswim any horse I ever saw, but I drowned him in
the Washita two weeks later. Yes, tangled his feet in some vines in
a sunken treetop, and the poor fellow's light went out. My own candle
came near being snuffed. I never felt so bad over a little thing since
I burned my new red topboots when I was a kid, as in drownding that
"There was nothing else worth mentioning until we struck the Cimarron
back here, where we overtook a herd of Chisholm's that had come in
from the east. They had crossed through the Arbuckle Mountains--came
in over the old Whiskey Trail. Here was another herd waterbound, and
the boss-man was as important as a hen with one chicken. He told me
that the river wouldn't be fordable for a week; wanted me to fall back
at least five miles; wanted all this river bottom for his cattle; said
he didn't need any help to cross his herd, though he thanked me for
the offer with an air of contempt. I informed him that our cattle
were sold for delivery on the North Platte, and that we wanted to go
through on time. I assured him if he would drop his cattle a mile down
the river, it would give us plenty of room. I told him plainly that
our cattle, horses, and men could all swim, and that we never let a
little thing like swimming water stop us.
"No! No! he couldn't do that; we might as well fall back and take our
turn. 'Oh, well,' said I, 'if you want to act contrary about it, I'll
go up to the King-Fisher crossing, only three miles above here. I've
almost got time to cross yet this evening.'
"Then he wilted and inquired, 'Do you think I can cross if it swims
"'I'm not doing your thinking, sir,' I answered, 'but I'll bring
up eight or nine good men and help you rather than make a six-mile
elbow.' I said this with some spirit and gave him a mean look.
"'All right,' said he, 'bring up your boys, say eight o'clock, and we
will try the ford. Let me add right here,' he continued, 'and I'm a
stranger to you, young man, but my outfit don't take anybody's slack,
and as I am older than you, let me give you this little bit of advice:
when you bring your men here in the morning, don't let them whirl
too big a loop, or drag their ropes looking for trouble, for I've got
fellows with me that don't turn out of the trail for anybody.'
"'All right, sir,' I said. 'Really, I'm glad to hear that you have
some good men, still I'm pained to find them on the wrong side of the
river for travelers. But I'll be here in the morning,' I called back
as I rode away. So telling my boys that we were likely to have
some fun in the morning, and what to expect, I gave it no further
attention. When we were catching up our horses next morning for the
day, I ordered two of my lads on herd, which was a surprise to them,
as they were both handy with a gun. I explained it to them all,--that
we wished to avoid trouble, but if it came up unavoidable, to overlook
no bets--to copper every play as it fell.
"We got to the river too early to suit Chisholm's boss-man. He
seemed to think that his cattle would take the water better about ten
o'clock. To kill time my boys rode across and back several times to
see what the water was like. 'Well, any one that would let as little
swimming water as that stop them must be a heap sight sorry outfit,'
remarked one-eyed Jim Reed, as he rode out of the river, dismounting
to set his saddle forward and tighten his cinches, not noticing that
this foreman heard him. I rode around and gave him a look, and he
looked up at me and muttered, 'Scuse me, boss, I plumb forgot!' Then I
rode back and apologized to this boss-man: 'Don't pay any attention
to my boys; they are just showing off, and are a trifle windy this
"'That's all right,' he retorted, 'but don't forget what I told you
yesterday, and let it be enough said.'
"'Well, let's put the cattle in,' I urged, seeing that he was getting
hot under the collar. 'We're burning daylight, pardner.'
"'Well, I'm going to cross my wagon first,' said he.
"'That's a good idea,' I answered. 'Bring her up.' Their cook seemed
to have a little sense, for he brought up his wagon in good shape. We
tied some guy ropes to the upper side, and taking long ropes from the
end of the tongue to the pommels of our saddles, the ease with which
we set that commissary over didn't trouble any one but the boss-man,
whose orders were not very distinct from the distance between banks.
It was a good hour then before he would bring up his cattle. The main
trouble seemed to be to devise means to keep their guns and cartridges
dry, as though that was more important than getting the whole herd
of nearly thirty-five hundred cattle over. We gave them a clean cloth
until they needed us, but as they came up we divided out and were
ready to give the lead a good push. If a cow changed his mind about
taking a swim that morning, he changed it right back and took it.
For in less than twenty minutes' time they were all over, much to the
surprise of the boss and his men; besides, their weapons were quite
dry; just the splash had wet them.
"I told the boss that we would not need any help to cross ours, but
to keep well out of our way, as we would try and cross by noon, which
ought to give him a good five-mile start. Well, we crossed and nooned,
lying around on purpose to give them a good lead, and when we hit the
trail back in these sand-hills, there he was, not a mile ahead, and
you can see there was no chance to get around. I intended to take
the Dodge trail, from this creek where we are now, but there we were,
blocked in! I was getting a trifle wolfish over the way they were
acting, so I rode forward to see what the trouble was.
"'Oh, I'm in no hurry. You're driving too fast. This is your first
trip, isn't it?' he inquired, as he felt of a pair of checked pants
drying on the wagon wheel.
"'Don't you let any idea like that disturb your Christian spirit, old
man,' I replied with some resentment. 'But if you think I am driving
too fast, you might suggest some creek where I could delude myself
with the idea, for a week or so, that it was not fordable.'
"Assuming an air of superiority he observed, 'You seem to have forgot
what I said to you yesterday.'
"'No, I haven't,' I answered, 'but are you going to stay all night
"'I certainly am, if that's any satisfaction to you,' he answered.
"I got off my horse and asked him for a match, though I had plenty
in my pocket, to light a cigarette which I had rolled during the
conversation. I had no gun on, having left mine in our wagon, but
fancied I'd stir him up and see how bad he really was. I thought it
best to stroke him with and against the fur, try and keep on neutral
ground, so I said,--
"'You ain't figuring none that in case of a run to-night we're a
trifle close together for cow-herds. Besides, my men on a guard last
night heard gray wolves in these sand-hills. They are liable to show
up to-night. Didn't I notice some young calves among your cattle
this morning? Young calves, you know, make larruping fine eating for
"'Now, look here, Shorty,' he said in a patronizing tone, as though he
might let a little of his superior cow-sense shine in on my darkened
intellect, 'I haven't asked you to crowd up here on me. You are
perfectly at liberty to drop back to your heart's content. If wolves
bother us to-night, you stay in your blankets snug and warm, and
pleasant dreams of old sweethearts on the Trinity to you. We won't
need you. We'll try and worry along without you.'
"Two or three of his men laughed gruffly at these remarks, and threw
leer-eyed looks at me. I asked one who seemed bad, what calibre his
gun was. 'Forty-five ha'r trigger,' he answered. I nosed around over
their plunder purpose. They had things drying around like Bannock
squaws jerking venison.
"When I got on my horse, I said to the boss, 'I want to pass your
outfit in the morning, as you are in no hurry and I am.'
"'That will depend,' said he.
"'Depend on what?' I asked.
"'Depend on whether we are willing to let you,' he snarled.
"I gave him as mean a look as I could command and said tauntingly,
'Now, look here, old girl: there's no occasion for you to tear your
clothes with me this way. Besides, I sometimes get on the prod myself,
and when I do, I don't bar no man, Jew nor Gentile, horse, mare or
gelding. You may think different, but I'm not afraid of any man in
your outfit, from the gimlet to the big auger. I've tried to treat
you white, but I see I've failed. Now I want to give it out to you
straight and cold, that I'll pass you to-morrow, or mix two herds
trying. Think it over to-night and nominate your choice--be a
gentleman or a hog. Let your own sweet will determine which.'
"I rode away in a walk, to give them a chance to say anything they
wanted to, but there were no further remarks. My men were all hopping
mad when I told them, but I promised them that to-morrow we would
fix them plenty or use up our supply of cartridges if necessary. We
dropped back a mile off the trail and camped for the night. Early the
next morning I sent one of my boys out on the highest sand dune to
Injun around and see what they were doing. After being gone for
an hour he came back and said they had thrown their cattle off the
bed-ground up the trail, and were pottering around like as they aimed
to move. Breakfast over, I sent him back again to make sure, for I
wanted yet to avoid trouble if they didn't draw it on. It was another
hour before he gave us the signal to come on. We were nicely strung
out where you saw those graves on that last ridge of sand-hills, when
there they were about a mile ahead of us, moseying along. This side of
Chapman's, the Indian trader's store, the old route turns to the right
and follows up this black-jack ridge. We kept up close, and just
as soon as they turned in to the right,--the only trail there was
then,--we threw off the course and came straight ahead, cross-country
style, same route we came over to-day, except there was no trail
there; we had to make a new one.
"Now they watched us a plenty, but it seemed they couldn't make out
our game. When we pulled up even with them, half a mile apart, they
tumbled that my bluff of the day before was due to take effect without
further notice. Then they began to circle and ride around, and one
fellow went back, only hitting the high places, to their wagon and
saddle horses, and they were brought up on a trot. We were by this
time three quarters of a mile apart, when the boss of their outfit was
noticed riding out toward us. Calling one of my men, we rode out and
met him halfway. 'Young man, do you know just what you are trying to
do?' he asked.
"'I think I do. You and myself as cowmen don't pace in the same class,
as you will see, if you will only watch the smoke of our tepee. Watch
us close, and I'll pass you between here and the next water.'
"'We will see you in hell first!' he said, as he whirled his horse and
galloped back to his men. The race was on in a brisk walk. His wagon,
we noticed, cut in between the herds, until it reached the lead of his
cattle, when it halted suddenly, and we noticed that they were cutting
off a dry cowskin that swung under the wagon. At the same time two of
his men cut out a wild steer, and as he ran near their wagon one of
them roped and the other heeled him. It was neatly done. I called Big
Dick, my boss roper, and told him what I suspected,--that they were
going to try and stampede us with a dry cowskin tied to that steer's
tail they had down. As they let him up, it was clear I had called
the turn, as they headed him for our herd, the flint thumping at his
heels. Dick rode out in a lope, and I signaled for my crowd to come on
and we would back Dick's play. As we rode out together, I said to my
boys, 'The stuff's off, fellows! Shoot, and shoot to hurt!'
"It seemed their whole outfit was driving that one steer, and turning
the others loose to graze. Dick never changed the course of that
steer, but let him head for ours, and as they met and passed, he
turned his horse and rode onto him as though he was a post driven in
the ground. Whirling a loop big enough to take in a yoke of oxen, he
dropped it over his off fore shoulder, took up his slack rope, and
when that steer went to the end of the rope, he was thrown in the air
and came down on his head with a broken neck. Dick shook the rope off
the dead steer's forelegs without dismounting, and was just beginning
to coil his rope when those varmints made a dash at him, shooting and
"That called for a counter play on our part, except our aim was low,
for if we didn't get a man, we were sure to leave one afoot. Just for
a minute the air was full of smoke. Two horses on our side went down
before you could say 'Jack Robinson,' but the men were unhurt, and
soon flattened themselves on the ground Indian fashion, and burnt the
grass in a half-circle in front of them. When everybody had emptied
his gun, each outfit broke back to its wagon to reload. Two of my men
came back afoot, each claiming that he had got his man all right,
all right. We were no men shy, which was lucky. Filling our guns with
cartridges out of our belts, we rode out to reconnoitre and try and
get the boys' saddles.
"The first swell of the ground showed us the field. There were the
dead steer, and five or six horses scattered around likewise, but the
grass was too high to show the men that we felt were there. As the
opposition was keeping close to their wagon, we rode up to the scene
of carnage. While some of the boys were getting the saddles off the
dead horses, we found three men taking their last nap in the grass. I
recognized them as the boss-man, the fellow with the ha'r-trigger gun,
and a fool kid that had two guns on him when we were crossing their
cattle the day before. One gun wasn't plenty to do the fighting he was
hankering for; he had about as much use for two guns as a toad has for
"The boys got the saddles off the dead horses, and went flying back to
our men afoot, and then rejoined us. The fight seemed over, or there
was some hitch in the programme, for we could see them hovering
near their wagon, tearing up white biled shirts out of a trunk and
bandaging up arms and legs, that they hadn't figured on any. Our herd
had been overlooked during the scrimmage, and had scattered so that
I had to send one man and the horse wrangler to round them in. We had
ten men left, and it was beginning to look as though hostilities had
ceased by mutual consent. You can see, son, we didn't bring it on. We
turned over the dead steer, and he proved to be a stray; at least he
hadn't their road brand on. One-eyed Jim said the ranch brand belonged
in San Saba County; he knew it well, the X--2. Well, it wasn't long
until our men afoot got a remount and only two horses shy on the first
round. We could stand another on the same terms in case they attacked
us. We rode out on a little hill about a quarter-mile from their
wagon, scattering out so as not to give them a pot shot, in case they
wanted to renew the unpleasantness.
"When they saw us there, one fellow started toward us, waving his
handkerchief. We began speculating which one it was, but soon made him
out to be the cook; his occupation kept him out of the first round.
When he came within a hundred yards, I rode out and met him. He
offered me his hand and said, 'We are in a bad fix. Two of our crowd
have bad flesh wounds. Do you suppose we could get any whiskey back at
this Indian trader's store?'
"'If there is any man in this territory can get any I can if they
have it,' I told him. 'Besides, if your lay-out has had all the
satisfaction fighting they want, we'll turn to and give you a lift. It
seems like you all have some dead men over back here. They will
have to be planted. So if your outfit feel as though you had your
belly-full of fighting for the present, consider us at your service.
You're the cook, ain't you?'
"'Yes, sir,' he answered. 'Are all three dead?' he then inquired.
"'Dead as heck,' I told him.
"'Well, we are certainly in a bad box,' said he meditatingly. 'But
won't you all ride over to our wagon with me? I think our fellows are
pacified for the present.'
"I motioned to our crowd, and we all rode over to their wagon with
him. There wasn't a gun in sight. The ragged edge of despair don't
describe them. I made them a little talk; told them that their boss
had cashed in, back over the hill; also if there was any segundo in
their outfit, the position of big augur was open to him, and we were
at his service.
"There wasn't a man among them that had any sense left but the cook.
He told me to take charge of the killed, and if I could rustle a
little whiskey to do so. So I told the cook to empty out his wagon,
and we would take the dead ones back, make boxes for them, and bury
them at the store. Then I sent three of my men back to the store to
have the boxes ready and dig the graves. Before these three rode away,
I said, aside to Jim, who was one of them, 'Don't bother about any
whiskey; branch water is plenty nourishing for the wounded. It would
be a sin and shame to waste good liquor on plafry like them.'
"The balance of us went over to the field of carnage and stripped the
saddles off their dead horses, and arranged the departed in a row,
covering them with saddle blankets, pending the planting act. I sent
part of my boys with our wagon to look after our own cattle for the
day. It took us all the afternoon to clean up a minute's work in the
"I never like to refer to it. Fact was, all the boys felt gloomy for
weeks, but there was no avoiding it. Two months later, we met old man
Andy, way up at Fort Laramie on the North Platte. He was tickled to
death to meet us all. The herd had come through in fine condition. We
never told him anything about this until the cattle were delivered,
and we were celebrating the success of that drive at a near-by town.
"Big Dick told him about this incident, and the old man feeling his
oats, as he leaned with his back against the bar, said to us with a
noticeable degree of pride, 'Lads, I'm proud of every one of you. Men
who will fight to protect my interests has my purse at their command.
This year's drive has been a success. Next year we will drive twice
as many. I want every rascal of you to work for me. You all know how I
mount, feed, and pay my men, and as long as my name is Erath and I own
a cow, you can count on a job with me.'"
"But why did you take them back to the sand-hills to bury them?" cut
"Oh, that was Big Dick's idea. He thought the sand would dig easier,
and laziness guided every act of his life. That was five years ago,
son, that this lower trail was made, and for the reasons I have
just given you. No, I can't tell you any more personal experiences
to-night; I'm too sleepy."
No State in the Union was ever called upon to meet and deal with
the criminal element as was Texas. She was border territory upon her
admission to the sisterhood of States.
An area equal to four ordinary States, and a climate that permitted
of outdoor life the year round, made it a desirable rendezvous for
criminals. The sparsely settled condition of the country, the flow of
immigration being light until the seventies, was an important factor.
The fugitives from justice of the older States with a common impulse
turned toward this empire of isolation. Europe contributed her quota,
more particularly from the south, bringing with them the Mafia and
vendetta. Once it was the Ultima Thule of the criminal western world.
From the man who came for not building a church to the one who had
taken human life, the catalogue of crime was fully represented.
Humorous writers tell us that it was a breach of good manners to ask
a man his name, or what State he was from, or to examine the brand on
his horse very particularly. It can be safely said that there was a
great amount of truth mingled with the humor. Some of these fugitives
from justice became good citizens, but the majority sooner or later
took up former callings.
Along with this criminal immigration came the sturdy settler, the
man intent on building a home and establishing a fireside. Usually
following lines of longitude, he came from other Southern States. He
also brought with him the fortitude of the pioneer that reclaims the
wilderness and meets any emergency that confronts him. To meet and
deal with this criminal element as a matter of necessity soon became
an important consideration. His only team of horses was frequently
stolen. His cattle ran off their range, their ear-marks altered and
brands changed. Frequently it was a band of neighbors, together in
a posse, who followed and brought to bay the marauders. It was an
unlucky moment for a horse-thief when he was caught in possession of
another man's horse. The impromptu court of emergency had no sentiment
in regard to passing sentence of death. It was a question of guilt,
and when that was established, Judge Lynch passed sentence.
As the State advanced, the authorities enlisted small companies of men
called Rangers. The citizens' posse soon gave way to this organized
service. The companies, few in number at first, were gradually
increased until the State had over a dozen companies in the field.
These companies numbered anywhere from ten to sixty men. It can be
said with no discredit to the State that there were never half enough
companies of men for the work before them.
There was a frontier on the south and west of over two thousand miles
to be guarded. A fair specimen of the large things in that State was a
shoe-string congressional district, over eleven hundred miles long. To
the Ranger, then, is all credit due for guarding this western frontier
against the Indians and making life and the possession of property a
possibility. On the south was to be met the bandit, the smuggler, and
every grade of criminal known to the code.
A generation had come and gone before the Ranger's work was fairly
done. The emergency demanded brave men. They were ready. Not
necessarily born to the soil, as a boy the guardian of the frontier
was expert in the use of firearms, and in the saddle a tireless rider.
As trailers many of them were equal to hounds. In the use of that
arbiter of the frontier, the six-shooter, they were artists. As a
class, never before or since have their equals in the use of that arm
come forward to question this statement.
The average criminal, while familiar with firearms, was as badly
handicapped as woman would be against man. The Ranger had no equal.
The emergency that produced him no longer existing, he will never
have a successor. Any attempt to copy the original would be hopeless
imitation. He was shot at at short range oftener than he received his
monthly wage. He admired the criminal that would fight, and despised
one that would surrender on demand. He would nurse back to life a
dead-game man whom his own shot had brought to earth, and give a
coward the chance to run any time if he so desired.
He was compelled to lead a life in the open and often descend to the
level of the criminal. He had few elements in his makeup, and but a
single purpose; but that one purpose--to rid the State of crime--he
executed with a vengeance. He was poorly paid for the service
rendered. Frequently there was no appropriation with which to pay him;
then he lived by rewards and the friendship of ranchmen.
The Ranger always had a fresh horse at his command,--no one thought of
refusing him this. Rust-proof, rugged, and tireless, he gave the State
protection for life and property. The emergency had produced the man.
"Here, take my glass and throw down on that grove of timber yonder,
and notice if there is any sign of animal life to be seen," said
Sergeant "Smoky" C----, addressing "Ramrod," a private in Company X
of the Texas Rangers. The sergeant and the four men had been out on
special duty, and now we had halted after an all night's ride looking
for shade and water,--the latter especially. We had two prisoners,
(horse-thieves), some extra saddle stock, and three pack mules.
It was an hour after sun-up. We had just come out of the foothills,
where the Brazos has its source, and before us lay the plains, dusty
and arid. This grove of green timber held out a hope that within it
might be found what we wanted. Eyesight is as variable as men, but
Ramrod's was known to be reliable for five miles with the naked eye,
and ten with the aid of a good glass. He dismounted at the sergeant's
request, and focused the glass on this oasis, and after sweeping the
field for a minute or so, remarked languidly, "There must be water
there. I can see a band of antelope grazing out from the grove. Hold
your mules! Something is raising a dust over to the south. Good! It's
cattle coming to the water."
While he was covering the field with his glass, two of the boys were
threatening with eternal punishment the pack mules, which showed
an energetic determination to lie down and dislodge their packs by
"Cut your observations short as possible there, Ramrod, or there will
be re-packing to do. Mula, you hybrid son of your father, don't you
dare to lie down!"
But Ramrod's observations were cut short at sight of the cattle, and
we pushed out for the grove, about seven miles distant. As we
rode this short hour's ride, numerous small bands of antelope were
startled, and in turn stood and gazed at us in bewilderment.
"I'm not tasty," said Sergeant Smoky, "but I would give the preference
this morning to a breakfast of a well-roasted side of ribs of a nice
yearling venison over the salt hoss that the Lone Star State furnishes
this service. Have we no hunters with us?"
"Let me try," begged a little man we called "Cushion-foot." What his
real name was none of us knew. The books, of course, would show some
name, and then you were entitled to a guess. He was as quiet as a
mouse, as reliable as he was quiet, and as noiseless in his movements
as a snake. One of the boys went with him, making quite a detour from
our course, but always remaining in sight. About two miles out from
the grove, we sighted a small band of five or six antelope, who soon
took fright and ran to the nearest elevation. Here they made a stand
about half a mile distant. We signaled to our hunters, who soon
spotted them and dismounted. We could see Cushion sneaking through the
short grass like a coyote, "Conajo" leading the horses, well hidden
between them. We held the antelopes' attention by riding around in a
circle, flagging them. Several times Cushion lay flat, and we thought
he was going to risk a long shot. Then he would crawl forward like a
cat, but finally came to his knee. We saw the little puff, the band
squatted, jumping to one side far enough to show one of their number
down and struggling in the throes of death.
"Good long shot, little man," said the sergeant, "and you may have the
choice of cuts, just so I get a rib."
We saw Conajo mount and ride up on a gallop, but we held our course
for the grove. We were busy making camp when the two rode in with a
fine two-year-old buck across the pommel of Cushion's saddle. They
had only disemboweled him, but Conajo had the heart as a trophy of the
accuracy of the shot, though Cushion hadn't a word to say. It was
a splendid heart shot. Conajo took it over and showed it to the two
Mexican prisoners. It was an object lesson to them. One said to the
other, "Es un buen tirador."
We put the prisoners to roasting the ribs, and making themselves
useful in general. One man guarded them at their work, while all the
others attended to the hobbling and other camp duties.
It proved to be a delightful camp. We aimed to stay until sunset, the
days being sultry and hot. Our appetites were equal to the breakfast,
and it was a good one.
"To do justice to an occasion like this," said Smoky as he squatted
down with about four ribs in his hand, "a man by rights ought to have
at least three fingers of good liquor under his belt. But then we
can't have all the luxuries of life in the far West; sure to be
"I never hear a man hanker for liquor," said Conajo, as he poured out
a tin cup of coffee, "but I think of an incident my father used to
tell us boys at home. He was sheriff in Kentucky before we moved to
Texas. Was sheriff in the same county for twelve years. Counties are
very irregular back in the old States. Some look like a Mexican brand.
One of the rankest, rabid political admirers my father had lived away
out on a spur of this county. He lived good thirty miles from the
county seat. Didn't come to town over twice a year, but he always
stopped, generally over night, at our house. My father wouldn't have
it any other way. Talk about thieves being chummy; why, these two we
have here couldn't hold a candle to that man and my father. I can see
them parting just as distinctly as though it was yesterday. He would
always abuse my father for not coming to see him. 'Sam,' he would
say,--my father's name was Sam,--'Sam, why on earth is it that
you never come to see me? I've heard of you within ten miles of my
plantation, and you have never shown your face to us once. Do you
think we can't entertain you? Why, Sam, I've known you since you
weren't big enough to lead a hound dog. I've known you since you
weren't knee to a grasshopper.'
"'Let me have a word,' my father would put in, for he was very mild
in speaking; 'let me have a word, Joe. I hope you don't think for a
moment that I wouldn't like to visit you; now do you?'
"'No, I don't think so, Sam, but you don't come. That's why I'm
complaining. You never have come in the whole ten years you've been
sheriff, and you know that we have voted for you to a man, in our
neck of the woods.' My father felt this last remark, though I think
he never realized its gravity before, but he took him by one hand, and
laying the other on his shoulder said, 'Joe, if I have slighted you
in the past, I'm glad you have called my attention to it. Now, let me
tell you the first time that my business takes me within ten miles
of your place I'll make it a point to reach your house and stay all
night, and longer if I can.'
"'That's all I ask, Sam,' was his only reply. Now I've learned lots
of the ways of the world since then. I've seen people pleasant to each
other, and behind their backs the tune changed. But I want to say
to you fellows that those two old boys were not throwing off on each
other--not a little bit. They meant every word and meant it deep. It
was months afterwards, and father had been gone for a week when he
came home. He told us about his visit to Joe Evans. It was winter
time, and mother and us boys were sitting around the old fireplace in
the evening. 'I never saw him so embarrassed before in my life,' said
father. 'I did ride out of my way, but I was glad of the chance. Men
like Joe Evans are getting scarce.' He nodded to us boys. 'It was
nearly dark when I rode up to his gate. He recognized me and came down
to the gate to meet me. "Howdy, Sam," was all he said. There was a
troubled expression in his face, though he looked well enough, but he
couldn't simply look me in the face. Just kept his eye on the ground.
He motioned for a nigger boy and said to him, "Take his horse." He
started to lead the way up the path, when I stopped him. "Look here,
Joe," I said to him. "Now, if there's anything wrong, anything likely
to happen in the family, I can just as well drop back on the pike and
stay all night with some of the neighbors. You know I'm acquainted all
around here." He turned in the path, and there was the most painful
look in his face I ever saw as he spoke: "Hell, no, Sam, there's
nothing wrong. We've got plenty to eat, plenty of beds, no end of
horse-feed, but by G----, Sam, there isn't a drop of whiskey on the
"You see it was hoss and cabello, and Joe seemed to think the hoss
on him was an unpardonable offense. Salt? You'll find it in an empty
one-spoon baking-powder can over there. In those panniers that belong
to that big sorrel mule. Look at Mexico over there burying his fangs
in the venison, will you?"
Ramrod was on guard, but he was so hungry himself that he was good
enough to let the prisoners eat at the same time, although he kept
them at a respectable distance. He was old in the service, and had
gotten his name under a baptism of fire. He was watching a pass once
for smugglers at a point called Emigrant Gap. This was long before he
had come to the present company. At length the man he was waiting for
came along. Ramrod went after him at close quarters, but the fellow
was game and drew his gun. When the smoke cleared away, Ramrod had
brought down his horse and winged his man right and left. The smuggler
was not far behind on the shoot, for Ramrod's coat and hat showed he
was calling for him. The captain was joshing the prisoner about his
poor shooting when Ramrod brought him into camp and they were dressing
his wounds. "Well," said the fellow, "I tried to hard enough, but I
couldn't find him. He's built like a ramrod."
After breakfast was over we smoked and yarned. It would be two-hour
guards for the day, keeping an eye on the prisoners and stock, only
one man required; so we would all get plenty of sleep. Conajo had the
first guard after breakfast. "I remember once," said Sergeant Smoky,
as he crushed a pipe of twist with the heel of his hand, "we were
camped out on the 'Sunset' railway. I was a corporal at the time.
There came a message one day to our captain, to send a man up West on
that line to take charge of a murderer. The result was, I was sent by
the first train to this point. When I arrived I found that an
Irishman had killed a Chinaman. It was on the railroad, at a bridge
construction camp, that the fracas took place. There were something
like a hundred employees at the camp, and they ran their own
boarding-tent. They had a Chinese cook at this camp; in fact, quite a
number of Chinese were employed at common labor on the road.
"Some cavalryman, it was thought, in passing up and down from Fort
Stockton to points on the river, had lost his sabre, and one of this
bridge gang had found it. When it was brought into camp no one would
have the old corn-cutter; but this Irishman took a shine to it, having
once been a soldier himself. The result was, it was presented to
him. He ground it up like a machette, and took great pride in giving
exhibitions with it. He was an old man now, the storekeeper for the
iron supplies, a kind of trusty job. The old sabre renewed his
youth to a certain extent, for he used it in self-defense shortly
afterwards. This Erin-go-bragh--his name was McKay, I think--was in
the habit now and then of stealing a pie from the cook, and taking
it into his own tent and eating it there. The Chink kept missing his
pies, and got a helper to spy out the offender. The result was they
caught the old man red-handed in the act. The Chink armed himself with
the biggest butcher-knife he had and went on the warpath. He found the
old fellow sitting in his storeroom contentedly eating the pie. The
old man had his eyes on the cook, and saw the knife just in time to
jump behind some kegs of nuts and bolts. The Chink followed him with
murder in his eye, and as the old man ran out of the tent he picked
up the old sabre. Once clear of the tent he turned and faced him,
made only one pass, and cut his head off as though he were beheading
a chicken. They hadn't yet buried the Chinaman when I got there. I'm
willing to testify it was an artistic job. They turned the old man
over to me, and I took him down to the next station, where an old
alcalde lived,--Roy Bean by name. This old judge was known as 'Law
west of the Pecos,' as he generally construed the law to suit his own
opinion of the offense. He wasn't even strong on testimony. He was a
ranchman at this time, so when I presented my prisoner he only said,
'Killed a Chinese, did he? Well, I ain't got time to try the case
to-day. Cattle suffering for water, and three windmills out of repair.
Bring him back in the morning.' I took the old man back to the hotel,
and we had a jolly good time together that day. I never put a string
on him, only locked the door, but we slept together. The next morning
I took him before the alcalde. Bean held court in an outhouse, the
prisoner seated on a bale of flint hides. Bean was not only judge but
prosecutor, as well as counsel for the defense. 'Killed a Chinaman,
"'I did, yer Honor,' was the prisoner's reply.
"I suggested to the court that the prisoner be informed of his rights,
that he need not plead guilty unless he so desired.
"'That makes no difference here,' said the court. 'Gentlemen, I'm busy
this morning. I've got to raise the piping out of a two-hundred-foot
well to-day,--something the matter with the valve at the bottom. I'll
just glance over the law a moment.'
"He rummaged over a book or two for a few moments and then said,
'Here, I reckon this is near enough. I find in the revised statute
before me, in the killing of a nigger the offending party was fined
five dollars. A Chinaman ought to be half as good as a nigger. Stand
up and receive your sentence. What's your name?'
"'Jerry McKay, your Honor.'
"Just then the court noticed one of the vaqueros belonging to the
ranch standing in the door, hat in hand, and he called to him in
Spanish, 'Have my horse ready, I'll be through here just in a minute.'
"'McKay,' said the court as he gave him a withering look, 'I'll fine
you two dollars and a half and costs. Officer, take charge of
the prisoner until it's paid!' It took about ten dollars to cover
everything, which I paid, McKay returning it when he reached his camp.
Whoever named that alcalde 'Law west of the Pecos' knew his man."
"I'll bet a twist of dog," said Ramrod, "that prisoner with the black
whiskers sabes English. Did you notice him paying strict attention to
Smoky's little talk? He reminds me of a fellow that crouched behind
his horse at the fight we had on the head of the Arroyo Colorado and
plugged me in the shoulder. What, you never heard of it? That's so,
Cushion hasn't been with us but a few months. Well, it was in '82,
down on the river, about fifty miles northwest of Brownsville. Word
came in one day that a big band of horse-thieves were sweeping the
country of every horse they could gather. There was a number of the
old Cortina's gang known to be still on the rustle. When this report
came, it found eleven men in camp. We lost little time saddling up,
only taking five days' rations with us, for they were certain to
recross the river before that time in case we failed to intercept
them. Every Mexican in the country was terrorized. All they could tell
us was that there was plenty of ladrones and lots of horses, 'muchos'
being the qualifying word as to the number of either.
"It was night before we came to their trail, and to our surprise they
were heading inland, to the north. They must have had a contract to
supply the Mexican army with cavalry horses. They were simply sweeping
the country, taking nothing but gentle stock. These they bucked in
strings, and led. That made easy trailing, as each string left a
distinct trail. The moon was splendid that night, and we trailed as
easily as though it had been day. We didn't halt all night long on
either trail, pegging along at a steady gait, that would carry us
inland some distance before morning. Our scouts aroused every
ranch within miles that we passed on the way, only to have reports
exaggerated as usual. One thing we did learn that night, and that
was that the robbers were led by a white man. He was described in
the superlatives that the Spanish language possesses abundantly;
everything from the horse he rode to the solid braid on his sombrero
was described in the same strain. But that kind of prize was the kind
we were looking for.
"On the head of the Arroyo Colorado there is a broken country
interspersed with glades and large openings. We felt very sure that
the robbers would make camp somewhere in that country. When day broke
the freshness of the trail surprised and pleased us. They couldn't be
far away. Before an hour passed, we noticed a smoke cloud hanging low
in the morning air about a mile ahead. We dismounted and securely tied
our horses and pack stock. Every man took all the cartridges he could
use, and was itching for the chance to use them. We left the trail,
and to conceal ourselves took to the brush or dry arroyos as a
protection against alarming the quarry. They were a quarter of a mile
off when we first sighted them. We began to think the reports were
right, for there seemed no end of horses, and at least twenty-five
men. By dropping back we could gain one of those dry arroyos which
would bring us within one hundred yards of their camp. A young fellow
by the name of Rusou, a crack shot, was acting captain in the absence
of our officers. As we backed into the arroyo he said to us, 'If
there's a white man there, leave him to me.' We were all satisfied
that he would be cared for properly at Rusou's hands, and silence gave
"Opposite the camp we wormed out of the arroyo like a skirmish line,
hugging the ground for the one remaining little knoll between the
robbers and ourselves. I was within a few feet of Rusou as we sighted
the camp about seventy-five yards distant. We were trying to make out
a man that was asleep, at least he had his hat over his face, lying on
a blanket with his head in a saddle. We concluded he was a white man,
if there was one. Our survey of their camp was cut short by two shots
fired at us by two pickets of theirs posted to our left about one
hundred yards. No one was hit, but the sleeping man jumped to his feet
with a six-shooter in each hand. I heard Rusou say to himself, 'You're
too late, my friend.' His carbine spoke, and the fellow fell forward,
firing both guns into the ground at his feet as he went down.
"Then the stuff was off and she opened up in earnest. They fought all
right. I was on my knee pumping lead for dear life, and as I threw my
carbine down to refill the magazine, a bullet struck it in the heel of
the magazine with sufficient force to knock me backward. I thought I
was hit for an instant, but it passed away in a moment. When I tried
to work the lever I saw that my carbine was ruined. I called to the
boys to notice a fellow with black whiskers who was shooting from
behind his horse. He would shoot over and under alternately. I
thought he was shooting at me. I threw down my carbine and drew my
six-shooter. Just then I got a plug in the shoulder, and things
got dizzy and dark. It caught me an inch above the nipple, ranging
upward,--shooting from under, you see. But some of the boys must have
noticed him, for he decorated the scene badly leaded, when it was
over. I was unconscious for a few minutes, and when I came around the
fight had ended.
"During the few brief moments that I was knocked out, our boys had
closed in on them and mixed it with them at short range. The thieves
took to such horses as they could lay their hands on, and one fellow
went no farther. A six-shooter halted him at fifty yards. The boys
rounded up over a hundred horses, each one with a fiber grass halter
on, besides killing over twenty wounded ones to put them out of their
"It was a nasty fight. Two of our own boys were killed and three were
wounded. But then you ought to have seen the other fellows; we took no
prisoners that day. Nine men lay dead. Horses were dead and dying all
around, and the wounded ones were crying in agony.
"This white man proved to be a typical dandy, a queer leader for such
a gang. He was dressed in buckskin throughout, while his sombrero was
as fine as money could buy. You can know it was a fine one, for it
was sold for company prize money, and brought three hundred and fifty
dollars. He had nearly four thousand dollars on his person and in his
saddle. A belt which we found on him had eleven hundred in bills and
six hundred in good old yellow gold. The silver in the saddle was
mixed, Mexican and American about equally.
"He had as fine a gold watch in his pocket as you ever saw, while his
firearms and saddle were beauties. He was a dandy all right, and a
fine-looking man, over six feet tall, with swarthy complexion and hair
like a raven's wing. He was too nice a man for the company he was in.
We looked the 'Black Book' over afterward for any description of
him. At that time there were over four thousand criminals and outlaws
described in it, but there was no description that would fit him.
For this reason we supposed that he must live far in the interior of
"Our saddle stock was brought up, and our wounded were bandaged as
best they could be. My wound was the worst, so they concluded to send
me back. One of the boys went with me, and we made a fifty-mile ride
before we got medical attention. While I was in the hospital I got my
divvy of the prize money, something over four hundred dollars."
When Ramrod had finished his narrative, he was compelled to submit to
a cross-examination at the hands of Cushion-foot, for he delighted
in a skirmish. All his questions being satisfactorily answered,
Cushion-foot drew up his saddle alongside of where Ramrod lay
stretched on a blanket, and seated himself. This was a signal to the
rest of us that he had a story, so we drew near, for he spoke so low
that you must be near to hear him. His years on the frontier were rich
in experience, though he seldom referred to them.
Addressing himself to Ramrod, he began: "You might live amongst these
border Mexicans all your life and think you knew them; but every day
you live you'll see new features about them. You can't calculate
on them with any certainty. What they ought to do by any system of
reasoning they never do. They will steal an article and then give it
away. You've heard the expression 'robbing Peter to pay Paul.' Well,
my brother played the role of Paul once himself. It was out in Arizona
at a place called Las Palomas. He was a stripling of a boy, but could
palaver Spanish in a manner that would make a Mexican ashamed of his
ancestry. He was about eighteen at this time and was working in a
store. One morning as he stepped outside the store, where he slept,
he noticed quite a commotion over around the custom-house. He noticed
that the town was full of strangers, as he crossed over toward the
crowd. He was suddenly halted and searched by a group of strange men.
Fortunately he had no arms on him, and his ability to talk to them,
together with his boyish looks, ingratiated him in their favor, and
they simply made him their prisoner. Just at that moment an alcalde
rode up to the group about him, and was ordered to halt. He saw at a
glance they were revolutionists, and whirling his mount attempted to
escape, when one of them shot him from his horse. The young fellow
then saw what he was into.
"They called themselves Timochis. They belonged in Mexico, and a year
or so before they refused to pay taxes that the Mexican government
levied on them, and rebelled. Their own government sent soldiers after
them, resulting in about eight hundred soldiers being killed, when
they dispersed into small bands, one of which was paying Las Palomas a
social call that morning. Along the Rio Grande it is only a short
step at best from revolution to robbery, and either calling has its
"Well, they took my brother with them to act as spokesman in looting
the town. The custom-house was a desired prize, and when my brother
interpreted their desires to the collector, he consented to open
the safe, as life had charms for him, even in Arizona. Uncle Sam's
strong-box yielded up over a thousand dobes. They turned their
attention to the few small stores of the town, looting them of the
money and goods as they went. There was quite a large store kept by a
Frenchman, who refused to open, when he realized that the Timochi was
honoring the town with his presence. They put the boy in the front
and ordered him to call on the Frenchman to open up. He said afterward
that he put in a word for himself, telling him not to do any shooting
through the door. After some persuasion the store was opened and
proved to be quite a prize. Then they turned their attention to the
store where the boy worked. He unlocked it and waved them in. He went
into the cellar and brought up half a dozen bottles of imported French
Cognac, and invited the chief bandit and his followers to be good
enough to join him. In the mean time they had piled up on the counters
such things as they wanted. They made no money demand on him, the
chief asking him to set a price on the things they were taking. He
made a hasty inventory of the goods and gave the chief the figures,
about one hundred and ten dollars. The chief opened a sack that they
had taken from the custom-house and paid the bill with a flourish.
"The chief then said that he had a favor to ask: that my brother
should cheer for the revolutionists, to identify him as a friend. That
was easy, so he mounted the counter and gave three cheers of 'Viva los
Timochis!' He got down off the counter, took the bandit by the arm,
and led him to the rear, where with glasses in the air they drank to
'Viva los Timochis!' again. Then the chief and his men withdrew and
recrossed the river. It was the best day's trade he had had in a long
time. Now, here comes in the native. While the boy did everything
from compulsion and policy, the native element looked upon him with
suspicion. The owners of the store, knowing that this suspicion
existed, advised him to leave, and he did."
The two prisoners were sleeping soundly. Sleep comes easily to tired
men, and soon all but the solitary guard were wrapped in sleep, to
fight anew in rangers' dreams scathless battles!
* * * * *
There was not lacking the pathetic shade in the redemption of this
State from crime and lawlessness. In the village burying-ground of
Round Rock, Texas, is a simple headstone devoid of any lettering save
the name "Sam Bass." His long career of crime and lawlessness would
fill a good-sized volume. He met his death at the hands of Texas
Rangers. Years afterward a woman, with all the delicacy of her sex,
and knowing the odium that was attached to his career, came to this
town from her home in the North and sought out his grave. As only a
woman can, when some strong tie of affection binds, this woman went to
work to mark the last resting-place of the wayward man. Concealing her
own identity, she performed these sacred rites, clothing in mystery
her relation to the criminal. The people of the village would not have
withheld their services in well-meant friendship, but she shrank from
them, being a stranger.
A year passed, and she came again. This time she brought the stone
which marks his last resting-place. The chivalry of this generous
people was aroused in admiration of a woman that would defy the
calumny attached to an outlaw. While she would have shrunk from
kindness, had she been permitted, such devotion could not go
unchallenged. So she disclosed her identity.
She was his sister.
Bass was Northern born, and this sister was the wife of a respectable
practicing physician in Indiana. Womanlike, her love for a wayward
brother followed him beyond his disgraceful end. With her own hands
she performed an act that has few equals, as a testimony of love and
affection for her own.
For many years afterward she came annually, her timidity having worn
away after the generous reception accorded her at the hands of a
AT COMANCHE FORD
"There's our ford," said Juan,--our half-blood trailer,--pointing to
the slightest sag in a low range of hills distant twenty miles.
We were Texas Rangers. It was nearly noon of a spring day, and we
had halted on sighting our destination,--Comanche Ford on the Concho
River. Less than three days before, we had been lounging around camp,
near Tepee City, one hundred and seventy-five miles northeast of our
present destination. A courier had reached us with an emergency order,
which put every man in the saddle within an hour after its receipt.
An outfit with eight hundred cattle had started west up the Concho.
Their destination was believed to be New Mexico. Suspicion rested on
them, as they had failed to take out inspection papers for moving the
cattle, and what few people had seen them declared that one half the
cattle were brand burnt or blotched beyond recognition. Besides, they
had an outfit of twenty heavily armed men, or twice as many as were
required to manage a herd of that size.
Our instructions were to make this crossing with all possible haste,
and if our numbers were too few, there to await assistance before
dropping down the river to meet the herd. When these courier orders
reached us at Tepee, they found only twelve men in camp, with not an
officer above a corporal. Fortunately we had Dad Root with us, a man
whom every man in our company would follow as though he had been
our captain. He had not the advantage in years that his name would
indicate, but he was an exceedingly useful man in the service. He
could resight a gun, shoe a horse, or empty a six-shooter into a tree
from the back of a running horse with admirable accuracy. In dressing
a gun-shot wound, he had the delicate touch of a woman. Every man
in the company went to him with his petty troubles, and came away
delighted. Therefore there was no question as to who should be our
leader on this raid; no one but Dad was even considered.
Sending a brief note to the adjutant-general by this same courier,
stating that we had started with twelve men, we broke camp, and in
less than an hour were riding southwest. One thing which played into
our hands in making this forced ride was the fact that we had a number
of extra horses on hand. For a few months previous we had captured
quite a number of stolen horses, and having no chance to send into the
settlements where they belonged, we used them as extra riding horses.
With our pack mules light and these extra saddlers for a change, we
covered the country rapidly. Sixteen hours a day in the saddle makes
camp-fires far apart. Dad, too, could always imagine that a few miles
farther on we would find a fine camping spot, and his views were law
We had been riding hard for an hour across a tableland known as
Cibollo Mesa, and now for the first time had halted at sighting our
destination, yet distant three hours' hard riding. "Boys," said Dad,
"we'll make it early to-day. I know a fine camping spot near a big
pool in the river. After supper we'll all take a swim, and feel as
fresh as pond-lilies."
"Oh, we swim this evening, do we?" inquired Orchard. "That's a
Christian idea, Dad, cleanliness, you know. Do we look as though a
swim would improve our good looks?" The fact that, after a ride like
the one we were near finishing, every man of us was saturated with
fine alkaline dust, made the latter question ludicrous.
For this final ride we changed horses for the last time on the trip,
and after a three hours' ride under a mid-day torrid sun, the shade of
Concho's timber and the companionship of running water were ours.
We rode with a whoop into the camp which Dad had had in his mind all
morning, and found it a paradise. We fell out of our saddles, and
tired horses were rolling and groaning all around us in a few minutes.
The packs were unlashed with the same alacrity, while horses, mules,
and men hurried to the water. With the exception of two horses on
picket, it was a loose camp in a few moments' time. There was no
thought of eating now, with such inviting swimming pools as the spring
freshets had made.
Dad soon located the big pool, for he had been there before, and
shortly a dozen men floundered and thrashed around in it like a school
of dolphins. On one side of the pool was a large sloping rock, from
which splendid diving could be had. On this rock we gathered like kid
goats on a stump, or sunned ourselves like lizards. To get the benefit
of the deepest water, only one could dive at a time. We were so
bronzed from the sun that when undressed the protected parts afforded
a striking contrast to the brown bands about our necks. Orchard was
sitting on the rock waiting for his turn to dive, when Long John,
patting his naked shoulder, said admiringly,--
"Orchard, if I had as purty a plump shoulder as you have, I'd have my
picture taken kind of half careless like--like the girls do sometimes.
Wear one of those far-away looks, roll up your eyes, and throw up
your head like you was listening for it to thunder. Then while in that
attitude, act as if you didn't notice and let all your clothing fall
entirely off your shoulder. If you'll have your picture taken that way
and give me one, I'll promise you to set a heap of store by it, old
Orchard looked over the edge of the rock at his reflection in the
water, and ventured, "Wouldn't I need a shave? and oughtn't I to have
a string of beads around my swan-like neck, with a few spangles on it
to glitter and sparkle? I'd have to hold my right hand over this
old gun scar in my left shoulder, so as not to mar the beauty of the
picture. Remind me of it, John, and I'll have some taken, and you
shall have one."
A few minutes later Happy Jack took his place on the rim of the rock
to make a dive, his magnificent physique of six feet and two hundred
pounds looming up like a Numidian cavalryman, when Dad observed,
"How comes it, Jack, that you are so pitted in the face and neck with
pox-marks, and there's none on your body?"
"Just because they come that way, I reckon," was the answer
vouchsafed. "You may think I'm funning, lads, but I never felt so
supremely happy in all my life as when I got well of the smallpox. I
had one hundred and ninety dollars in my pocket when I took down with
them, and only had eight left when I got up and was able to go to
work." Here, as he poised on tiptoe, with his hands gracefully arched
over his head for a dive, he was arrested in the movement by a comment
of one of the boys, to the effect that he "couldn't see anything in
that to make a man so _supremely happy_."
He turned his head halfway round at the speaker, and never losing his
poise, remarked, "Well, but you must recollect that there was five of
us taken down at the same time, and the other four died," and he made
a graceful spring, boring a hole in the water, which seethed around
him, arising a moment later throwing water like a porpoise, as though
he wouldn't exchange his position in life, humble as it was, with any
one of a thousand dead heroes.
After an hour in the water and a critical examination of all the old
gun-shot wounds of our whole squad, and the consequent verdict that
it was simply impossible to kill a man, we returned to camp and began
getting supper. There was no stomach so sensitive amongst us that it
couldn't assimilate bacon, beans, and black coffee.
When we had done justice to the supper, the twilight hours of the
evening were spent in making camp snug for the night. Every horse
or mule was either picketed or hobbled. Every man washed his saddle
blankets, as the long continuous ride had made them rancid with sweat.
The night air was so dry and warm that they would even dry at night.
There was the usual target practice and the never-ending cleaning of
firearms. As night settled over the camp, everything was in order. The
blankets were spread, and smoking and yarning occupied the time until
sleep claimed us.
"Talking about the tight places," said Orchard, "in which a man often
finds himself in this service, reminds me of a funny experience which
I once had, out on the head-waters of the Brazos. I've smelt powder at
short range, and I'm willing to admit there's nothing fascinating in
it. But this time I got buffaloed by a bear.
"There are a great many brakes on the head of the Brazos, and in them
grow cedar thickets. I forget now what the duty was that we were there
on, but there were about twenty of us in the detachment at the time.
One morning, shortly after daybreak, another lad and myself walked
out to unhobble some extra horses which we had with us. The horses
had strayed nearly a mile from camp, and when we found them they were
cutting up as if they had been eating loco weed for a month. When we
came up to them, we saw that they were scared. These horses couldn't
talk, but they told us that just over the hill was something they were
"We crept up the little hill, and there over in a draw was the cause
of their fear,--a big old lank Cinnamon. He was feeding along, heading
for a thicket of about ten acres. The lad who was with me stayed and
watched him, while I hurried back, unhobbled the horses, and rushed
them into camp. I hustled out every man, and they cinched their hulls
on those horses rapidly. By the time we had reached the lad who had
stayed to watch him, the bear had entered the thicket, but unalarmed.
Some fool suggested the idea that we could drive him out in the open
and rope him. The lay of the land would suggest such an idea, for
beyond this motte of cedar lay an impenetrable thicket of over a
hundred acres, which we thought he would head for if alarmed. There
was a ridge of a divide between these cedar brakes, and if the bear
should attempt to cross over, he would make a fine mark for a rope.
"Well, I always was handy with a rope, and the boys knew it, so I and
three others who could twirl a rope were sent around on this divide,
to rope him in case he came out. The others left their horses and made
a half-circle drive through the grove, beating the brush and burning
powder as though it didn't cost anything. We ropers up on the divide
scattered out, hiding ourselves as much as we could in the broken
places. We wanted to get him out in the clear in case he played nice.
He must have been a sullen old fellow, for we were beginning to think
they had missed him or he had holed, when he suddenly lumbered out
directly opposite me and ambled away towards the big thicket.
"I was riding a cream-colored horse, and he was as good a one as ever
was built on four pegs, except that he was nervous. He had never seen
a bear, and when I gave him the rowel, he went after that bear like a
cat after a mouse. The first sniff he caught of the bear, he whirled
quicker than lightning, but I had made my cast, and the loop settled
over Mr. Bear's shoulders, with one of his fore feet through it. I
had tied the rope in a hard knot to the pommel, and the way my horse
checked that bear was a caution. It must have made bruin mad. My horse
snorted and spun round like a top, and in less time than it takes to
tell it, there was a bear, a cream-colored horse, and a man sandwiched
into a pile on the ground, and securely tied with a three-eighths-inch
rope. The horse had lashed me into the saddle by winding the rope, and
at the same time windlassed the bear in on top of us. The horse
cried with fear as though he was being burnt to death, while the bear
grinned and blew his breath in my face. The running noose in the rope
had cut his wind so badly, he could hardly offer much resistance. It
was a good thing he had his wind cut, or he would have made me sorry I
enlisted. I didn't know it at the time, but my six-shooter had fallen
out of the holster, while the horse was lying on my carbine.
"The other three rode up and looked at me, and they all needed
killing. Horse, bear, and man were so badly mixed up, they dared not
shoot. One laughed till he cried, another one was so near limp
he looked like a ghost, while one finally found his senses and,
dismounting, cut the rope in half a dozen places and untied the
bundle. My horse floundered to his feet and ran off, but before the
bear could free the noose, the boys got enough lead into him at close
quarters to hold him down. The entire detachment came out of the
thicket, and their hilarity knew no bounds. I was the only man in the
crowd who didn't enjoy the bear chase. Right then I made a resolve
that hereafter, when volunteers are called for to rope a bear, my
accomplishments in that line will remain unmentioned by me. I'll eat
my breakfast first, anyhow, and think it over carefully."
"Dogs and horses are very much alike about a bear," said one of the
boys. "Take a dog that never saw a bear in his life, and let him get
a sniff of one, and he'll get up his bristles like a javeline and tuck
his tail and look about for good backing or a clear field to run."
Long John showed symptoms that he had some yarn to relate, so we
naturally remained silent to give him a chance, in case the spirit
moved in him. Throwing a brand into the fare after lighting his
cigarette, he stretched himself on the ground, and the expected
"A few years ago, while rangering down the country," said he, "four
of us had trailed some horse-thieves down on the Rio Grande, when they
gave us the slip by crossing over into Mexico. We knew the thieves
were just across the river, so we hung around a few days, in the hope
of catching them, for if they should recross into Texas they were our
meat. Our plans were completely upset the next morning, by the
arrival of twenty United States cavalrymen on the cold trail of four
deserters. The fact that these deserters were five days ahead and had
crossed into Mexico promptly on reaching the river, did not prevent
this squad of soldiers from notifying both villages on each side of
the river as to their fruitless errand. They couldn't follow their own
any farther, and they managed to scare our quarry into hiding in the
interior. We waited until the soldiers returned to the post, when we
concluded we would take a little _pasear_ over into Mexico on our own
"We called ourselves horse-buyers. The government was paying like
thirty dollars for deserters, and in case we run across them, we
figured it would pay expenses to bring them out. These deserters
were distinguishable wherever they went by the size of their horses;
besides, they had two fine big American mules for packs. They were
marked right for that country. Everything about them was _muy grande_.
We were five days overtaking them, and then at a town one hundred and
forty miles in the interior. They had celebrated their desertion
the day previous to our arrival by getting drunk, and when the
horse-buyers arrived they were in jail. This last condition rather
frustrated our plans for their capture, as we expected to kidnap them
out. But now we had red tape authorities to deal with.
"We found the horses, mules, and accoutrements in a corral. They would
be no trouble to get, as the bill for their keep was the only concern
of the corral-keeper. Two of the boys who were in the party could
palaver Spanish, so they concluded to visit the alcalde of the town,
inquiring after horses in general and incidentally finding out when
our deserters would be released. The alcalde received the boys with
great politeness, for Americans were rare visitors in his town, and
after giving them all the information available regarding horses,
the subject innocently changed to the American prisoners in jail. The
alcalde informed them that he was satisfied they were deserters, and
not knowing just what to do with them he had sent a courier that very
morning to the governor for instructions in the matter. He estimated
it would require at least ten days to receive the governor's reply. In
the mean time, much as he regretted it, they would remain prisoners.
Before parting, those two innocents permitted their host to open a
bottle of wine as an evidence of the friendly feeling, and at the
final leave-taking, they wasted enough politeness on each other to win
"When the boys returned to us other two, we were at our wits' end. We
were getting disappointed too often. The result was that we made up
our minds that rather than throw up, we would take those deserters out
of jail and run the risk of getting away with them. We had everything
in readiness an hour before nightfall. We explained, to the
satisfaction of the Mexican hostler who had the stock in charge,
that the owners of these animals were liable to be detained in jail
possibly a month, and to avoid the expense of their keeping, we would
settle the bill for our friends and take the stock with us. When
the time came every horse was saddled and the mules packed and in
readiness. We had even moved our own stock into the same corral, which
was only a short distance from the jail.
"As night set in we approached the _carsel_. The turnkey answered our
questions very politely through a grated iron door, and to our request
to speak with the prisoners, he regretted that they were being fed at
that moment, and we would have to wait a few minutes. He unbolted the
door, however, and offered to show us into a side room, an invitation
we declined. Instead, we relieved him of his keys and made known our
errand. When he discovered that we were armed and he was our prisoner,
he was speechless with terror. It was short work to find the men we
wanted and march them out, locking the gates behind us and taking
jailer and keys with us. Once in the saddle, we bade the poor turnkey
good-by and returned him his keys.
"We rode fast, but in less than a quarter of an hour there was a
clanging of bells which convinced us that the alarm had been given.
Our prisoners took kindly to the rescue and rode willingly, but we
were careful to conceal our identity or motive. We felt certain
there would be pursuit, if for no other purpose, to justify official
authority. We felt easy, for we were well mounted, and if it came to a
pinch, we would burn powder with them, one round at least.
"Before half an hour had passed, we were aware that we were pursued.
We threw off the road at right angles and rode for an hour. Then, with
the North Star for a guide, we put over fifty miles behind us before
sunrise. It was impossible to secrete ourselves the next day, for we
were compelled to have water for ourselves and stock. To conceal the
fact that our friends were prisoners, we returned them their arms
after throwing away their ammunition. We had to enter several ranches
during the day to secure food and water, but made no particular effort
"About four o'clock we set out, and to our surprise, too, a number
of horsemen followed us until nearly dark. Passing through a slight
shelter, in which we were out of sight some little time, two of us
dropped back and awaited our pursuers. As they came up within hailing
distance, we ordered them to halt, which they declined by whirling
their horses and burning the earth getting away. We threw a few rounds
of lead after them, but they cut all desire for our acquaintance right
"We reached the river at a nearer point than the one at which we had
entered, and crossed to the Texas side early the next morning. We
missed a good ford by two miles and swam the river. At this ford was
stationed a squad of regulars, and we turned our prizes over within
an hour after crossing. We took a receipt for the men, stock,
and equipments, and when we turned it over to our captain a week
afterwards, we got the riot act read to us right. I noticed, however,
the first time there was a division of prize money, one item was for
the capture of four deserters."
"I don't reckon that captain had any scruples about taking his share
of the prize money, did he?" inquired Gotch.
"No, I never knew anything like that to happen since I've been in the
"There used to be a captain in one of the upper country companies that
held religious services in his company, and the boys claimed that
he was equally good on a prayer, a fight, or holding aces in a poker
game," said Gotch, as he filled his pipe.
Amongst Dad's other accomplishments was his unfailing readiness to
tell of his experiences in the service. So after he had looked over
the camp in general, he joined the group of lounging smokers and told
us of an Indian fight in which he had participated.
"I can't imagine how this comes to be called Comanche Ford," said Dad.
"Now the Comanches crossed over into the Panhandle country annually
for the purpose of killing buffalo. For diversion and pastime,
they were always willing to add horse-stealing and the murdering of
settlers as a variation. They used to come over in big bands to
hunt, and when ready to go back to their reservation in the Indian
Territory, they would send the squaws on ahead, while the bucks would
split into small bands and steal all the good horses in sight.
"Our old company was ordered out on the border once, when the
Comanches were known to be south of Red River killing buffalo. This
meant that on their return it would be advisable to look out for your
horses or they would be missing. In order to cover as much territory
as possible, the company was cut in three detachments. Our squad had
twenty men in it under a lieutenant. We were patrolling a country
known as the Tallow Cache Hills, glades and black-jack cross timbers
alternating. All kinds of rumors of Indian depredations were reaching
us almost daily, yet so far we had failed to locate or see an Indian.
"One day at noon we packed up and were going to move our camp farther
west, when a scout, who had gone on ahead, rushed back with the news
that he had sighted a band of Indians with quite a herd of horses
pushing north. We led our pack mules, and keeping the shelter of the
timber started to cut them off in their course. When we first sighted
them, they were just crossing a glade, and the last buck had just left
the timber. He had in his mouth an arrow shaft, which he was turning
between his teeth to remove the sap. All had guns. The first warning
the Indians received of our presence was a shot made by one of the
men at this rear Indian. He rolled off his horse like a stone, and
the next morning when we came back over their trail, he had that
unfinished arrow in a death grip between his teeth. That first shot
let the cat out, and we went after them.
"We had two big piebald calico mules, and when we charged those
Indians, those pack mules outran every saddle horse which we had, and
dashing into their horse herd, scattered them like partridges. Nearly
every buck was riding a stolen horse, and for some cause they couldn't
get any speed out of them. We just rode all around them. There proved
to be twenty-two Indians in the band, and one of them was a squaw. She
was killed by accident.
"The chase had covered about two miles, when the horse she was riding
fell from a shot by some of our crowd. The squaw recovered herself and
came to her feet in time to see several carbines in the act of
being leveled at her by our men. She instantly threw open the slight
covering about her shoulders and revealed her sex. Some one called out
not to shoot, that it was a squaw, and the carbines were lowered. As
this squad passed on, she turned and ran for the protection of the
nearest timber, and a second squad coming up and seeing the fleeing
Indian, fired on her, killing her instantly. She had done the very
thing she should not have done.
"It was a running fight from start to finish. We got the last one in
the band about seven miles from the first one. The last one to fall
was mounted on a fine horse, and if he had only ridden intelligently,
he ought to have escaped. The funny thing about it was he was
overtaken by the dullest, sleepiest horse in our command. The shooting
and smell of powder must have put iron into him, for he died a hero.
When this last Indian saw that he was going to be overtaken, his own
horse being recently wounded, he hung on one side of the animal
and returned the fire. At a range of ten yards he planted a bullet
squarely in the leader's forehead, his own horse falling at the same
instant. Those two horses fell dead so near that you could have tied
their tails together. Our man was thrown so suddenly, that he came to
his feet dazed, his eyes filled with dirt. The Indian stood not twenty
steps away and fired several shots at him. Our man, in his blindness,
stood there and beat the air with his gun, expecting the Indian to
rush on him every moment. Had the buck used his gun for a club, it
might have been different, but as long as he kept shooting, his enemy
was safe. Half a dozen of us, who were near enough to witness his
final fight, dashed up, and the Indian fell riddled with bullets.
"We went into camp after the fight was over with two wounded men and
half a dozen dead or disabled horses. Those of us who had mounts in
good fix scoured back and gathered in our packs and all the Indian and
stolen horses that were unwounded. It looked like a butchery, but our
minds were greatly relieved on that point the next day, when we found
among their effects over a dozen fresh, bloody scalps, mostly women
and children. There's times and circumstances in this service that
make the toughest of us gloomy."
"How long ago was that?" inquired Orchard.
"Quite a while ago," replied Dad. "I ought to be able to tell exactly.
I was a youngster then. Well, I'll tell you; it was during the
reconstruction days, when Davis was governor. Figure it out yourself."
"Speaking of the disagreeable side of this service," said Happy Jack,
"reminds me of an incident that took all the nerve out of every one
connected with it. When I first went into the service, there was a
well-known horse-thief and smuggler down on the river, known as El
Lobo. He operated on both sides of the Rio Grande, but generally stole
his horses from the Texas side. He was a night owl. It was nothing for
him to be seen at some ranch in the evening, and the next morning
be met seventy-five or eighty miles distant. He was a good judge of
horse-flesh, and never stole any but the best. His market was well in
the interior of Mexico, and he supplied it liberally. He was a typical
dandy, and like a sailor had a wife in every port. That was his weak
point, and there's where we attacked him.
"He had made all kinds of fun of this service, and we concluded to
have him at any cost. Accordingly we located his women and worked on
them. Mexican beauty is always over-rated, but one of his conquests
in that line came as near being the ideal for a rustic beauty as that
nationality produces. This girl was about twenty, and lived with a
questionable mother at a ranchito back from the river about thirty
miles. In form and feature there was nothing lacking, while the
smouldering fire of her black eyes would win saint or thief alike.
Born in poverty and ignorance, she was a child of circumstance, and
fell an easy victim to El Lobo, who lavished every attention upon her.
There was no present too costly for him, and on his periodical visits
he dazzled her with gifts. But infatuations of that class generally
have an end, often a sad one.
"We had a half-blood in our company, who was used as a rival to El
Lobo in gathering any information that might be afloat, and at
the same time, when opportunity offered, in sowing the wormwood of
jealousy. This was easy, for we collected every item in the form of
presents he ever made her rival senoritas. When these forces were
working, our half-blood pushed his claims for recognition. Our wages
and prize money were at his disposal, and in time they won. The
neglect shown her by El Lobo finally turned her against him,
apparently, and she agreed to betray his whereabouts the first
opportunity--on one condition. And that was, that if we succeeded in
capturing him, we were to bring him before her, that she might, in his
helplessness, taunt him for his perfidy towards her. We were willing
to make any concession to get him, so this request was readily
"The deserted condition of the ranchito where the girl lived was to
our advantage as well as his. The few families that dwelt there had
their flocks to look after, and the coming or going of a passer-by was
scarcely noticed. Our man on his visits carefully concealed the fact
that he was connected with this service, for El Lobo's lavish use
of money made him friends wherever he went, and afforded him all the
seclusion he needed.
"It was over a month before the wolf made his appearance, and we were