Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Passing of the Frontier by Emerson Hough

Part 1 out of 2

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Kelly Library Of St. Gregory's University; Thanks To Alev Akman.



New Haven: Yale University Press
Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co.
London: Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press




Chapter I. The Frontier In History

The frontier! There is no word in the English language more
stirring, more intimate, or more beloved. It has in it all the
elan of the old French phrase, En avant! It carries all of the
old Saxon command, Forward!! It means all that America ever
meant. It means the old hope of a real personal liberty, and yet
a real human advance in character and achievement. To a genuine
American it is the dearest word in all the world.

What is, or was, the frontier? Where was it? Under what stars did
it lie? Because, as the vague Iliads of ancient heroes or the
nebulous records of the savage gentlemen of the Middle Ages make
small specific impingement on our consciousness today, so also
even now begin the tales of our own old frontier to assume a
haziness, an unreality, which makes them seem less history than
folklore. Now the truth is that the American frontier of history
has many a local habitation and many a name. And this is why it
lies somewhat indefinite under the blue haze of the years, all
the more alluring for its lack of definition, like some old
mountain range, the softer and more beautiful for its own

The fascination of the frontier is and has ever been an undying
thing. Adventure is the meat of the strong men who have built the
world for those more timid. Adventure and the frontier are one
and inseparable. They suggest strength, courage,
hardihood--qualities beloved in men since the world
began--qualities which are the very soul of the United States,
itself an experiment, an adventure, a risk accepted. Take away
all our history of political regimes, the story of the rise and
fall of this or that partisan aggregation in our government; take
away our somewhat inglorious military past; but leave us forever
the tradition of the American frontier! There lies our comfort
and our pride. There we never have failed. There, indeed, we
always realized our ambitions. There, indeed, we were efficient,
before that hateful phrase was known. There we were a melting-pot
for character, before we came to know that odious appellation
which classifies us as the melting-pot of the nations.

The frontier was the place and the time of the strong man, of the
self-sufficient but restless individual. It was the home of the
rebel, the protestant, the unreconciled, the intolerant, the
ardent--and the resolute. It was not the conservative and tender
man who made our history; it was the man sometimes illiterate,
oftentimes uncultured, the man of coarse garb and rude weapons.
But the frontiersmen were the true dreamers of the nation. They
really were the possessors of a national vision. Not statesmen
but riflemen and riders made America. The noblest conclusions of
American history still rest upon premises which they laid.

But, in its broadest significance, the frontier knows no country.
It lies also in other lands and in other times than our own. When
and what was the Great Frontier? We need go back only to the time
of Drake and the sea-dogs, the Elizabethan Age, when all North
America was a frontier, almost wholly unknown, compellingly
alluring to all bold men. That was the day of new stirrings in
the human heart. Some strange impulse seemed to act upon the soul
of the braver and bolder Europeans; and they moved westward, nor
could have helped that had they tried. They lived largely and
blithely, and died handsomely, those old Elizabethan adventurers,
and they lie today in thousands of unrecorded graves upon two
continents, each having found out that any place is good enough
for a man to die upon, provided that he be a man.

The American frontier was Elizabethan in its quality--childlike,
simple, and savage. It has not entirely passed; for both
Elizabethan folk and Elizabethan customs are yet to be found in
the United States. While the half-savage civilization of the
farther West was roaring on its way across the continent--while
the day of the keelboatman and the plainsman, of the
Indian-fighter and the miner, even the day of the cowboy, was
dawning and setting--there still was a frontier left far behind
in the East, near the top of the mountain range which made the
first great barrier across our pathway to the West. That
frontier, the frontier of Boone and Kenton, of Robertson and
Sevier, still exists and may be seen in the Cumberland--the only
remaining part of America which is all American. There we may
find trace of the Elizabethan Age--idioms lost from English
literature and American speech long ago. There we may see the
American home life as it went on more than a hundred years ago.
We may see hanging on the wall the long muzzle-loading rifle of
an earlier day. We may see the spinning-wheel and the loom. The
women still make in part the clothing for their families, and the
men still make their own household furniture, their own farming
implements, their own boots.

This overhanging frontier of America is a true survival of the
days of Drake as well as of the days of Boone. The people are at
once godly and savage. They breed freely; they love their homes;
they are ever ready for adventure; they are frugal, abstemious,
but violent and strong. They carry on still the half-religious
blood feuds of the old Scotch Highlands or the North of Ireland,
whence they came. They reverence good women. They care little for
material accumulations. They believe in personal ease and
personal independence. With them life goes on not in the slow
monotony of reiterated performance, but in ragged profile, with
large exertions followed by large repose. Now that has been the
fashion of the frontier in every age and every land of all the
world. And so, by studying these people, we may even yet arrive
at a just and comprehensive notion of what we might call the
"feel" of the old frontier.

There exists, too, yet another Saxon frontier in a far-off
portion of the world. In that strange country, Australia,
tremendous unknown regions still remain, and the wild pastoral
life of such regions bids fair to exist yet for many years. A
cattle king of Queensland held at one time sixty thousand square
miles of land. It is said that the average size of pastoral
holdings in the northern territory of Australia is two hundred
and seventy-five thousand acres. Does this not recall the old
times of free range in the American West?

This strange antipodal civilization also retains a curious flavor
of Elizabethan ideas. It does not plan for inordinate fortunes,
the continual amassing of money, but it does deliberately plan
for the use by the individual of his individual life. Australian
business hours are shorter than American. Routine is less
general. The individual takes upon himself a smaller load of
effort. He is restive under monotony. He sets aside a great part
of his life for sport. He lives in a large and young day of the
world. Here we may see a remote picture of our own American
West--better, as it seems to me, than that reflected in the rapid
and wholly commercialized development of Western Canada, which is
not flavored by any age but this.

But much of the frontier of Australia is occupied by men of means
who had behind them government aid and a semi-paternal
encouragement in their adventures. The same is true in part of
the government-fostered settlement of Western Canada. It was not
so with the American West. Here was not the place of the rich man
but of the poor man, and he had no one to aid him or encourage
him. Perhaps no man ever understood the American West who did not
himself go there and make his living in that country, as did the
men who found it and held it first. Each life on our old frontier
was a personal adventure. The individual had no government behind
him and he lacked even the protection of any law.

Our frontier crawled west from the first seaport settlements,
afoot, on horseback, in barges, or with slow wagon-trains. It
crawled across the Alleghanies, down the great river valleys and
up them yet again; and at last, in days of new transportation, it
leaped across divides, from one river valley to another. Its
history, at first so halting, came to be very swift--so swift
that it worked great elisions in its own story.

In our own day, however, the Old West generally means the old cow
country of the West--the high plains and the lower foothills
running from the Rio Grande to the northern boundary. The still
more ancient cattle-range of the lower Pacific Slope will never
come into acceptance as the Old West. Always, when we use these
words, we think of buffalo plains and of Indians, and of their
passing before the footmen and riders who carried the phantom
flag of Drake and the Virgin Queen from the Appalachians to the
Rockies--before the men who eventually made good that glorious
and vaunting vision of the Virginia cavaliers, whose party turned
back from the Rockfish Gap after laying claim in the name of King
George on all the country lying west of them, as far as the South

The American cow country may with very good logic arrogate to
itself the title of the real and typical frontier of all the
world. We call the spirit of the frontier Elizabethan, and so it
was; but even as the Elizabethan Age was marked by its contact
with the Spanish civilization in Europe, on the high seas, and in
both the Americas, so the last frontier of the American West also
was affected, and largely, deeply, by Spanish influence and
Spanish customs. The very phraseology of range work bears proof
of this. Scores of Spanish words are written indelibly in the
language of the Plains. The frontier of the cow-range never was
Saxon alone.

It is a curious fact also, seldom if ever noted, that this Old
West of the Plains was very largely Southern and not Northern on
its Saxon side. No States so much as Kentucky and Tennessee and,
later, Missouri--daughters of Old Virginia in her
glory--contributed to the forces of the frontiersmen. Texas,
farther to the south, put her stamp indelibly upon the entire
cattle industry of the West. Visionary, impractical, restless,
adventurous, these later Elizabethan heroes--bowing to no yoke,
insisting on their own rights and scorning often the laws of
others, yet careful to retain the best and most advantageous
customs of any conquered country--naturally came from those
nearest Elizabethan countries which lay abandoned behind them.

If the atmosphere of the Elizabethan Age still may be found in
the forgotten Cumberlands, let us lay claim to kinship with
yonder roystering heroes of a gallant day; for this was ever the
atmosphere of our own frontier. To feel again the following
breezes of the Golden Hind, or see again, floating high in the
cloudless skies, the sails of the Great Armada, was the privilege
of Americans for a double decade within the memory of men yet
living, in that country, so unfailingly beloved, which we call
the Old West of America.

Chapter II. The Range

When, in 1803, those two immortal youths, Meriwether Lewis and
William Clark, were about to go forth on their great journey
across the continent, they were admonished by Thomas Jefferson
that they would in all likelihood encounter in their travels,
living and stalking about, the mammoth or the mastodon, whose
bones had been found in the great salt-licks of Kentucky. We
smile now at such a supposition; yet it was not unreasonable
then. No man knew that tremendous country that lay beyond the
mouth of the Missouri.

The explorers crossed one portion of a vast land which was like
to nothing they had ever seen--the region later to become the
great cattle-range of America. It reached, although they could
know nothing of that, from the Spanish possessions on the south
across a thousand miles of short grass lands to the present
Canadian boundary line which certain obdurate American souls
still say ought to have been at 54 degrees 40 minutes, and not
where it is! From the Rio Grande to "Fifty-four forty," indeed,
would have made nice measurements for the Saxon cattle-range.

Little, however, was the value of this land understood by the
explorers; and, for more than half a century afterwards, it
commonly was supposed to be useless for the occupation of white
men and suitable only as a hunting-ground for savage tribes. Most
of us can remember the school maps of our own youth, showing a
vast region marked, vaguely, "The Great American Desert," which
was considered hopeless for any human industry, but much of which
has since proved as rich as any land anywhere on the globe.

Perhaps it was the treeless nature of the vast Plains which
carried the first idea of their infertility. When the first
settlers of Illinois and Indiana came up from south of the Ohio
River they had their choice of timber and prairie lands. Thinking
the prairies worthless--since land which could not raise a tree
certainly could not raise crops--these first occupants of the
Middle West spent a generation or more, axe in hand, along the
heavily timbered river-bottoms. The prairies were long in
settling. No one then could have predicted that farm lands in
that region would be worth three hundred dollars an acre or
better, and that these prairies of the Mississippi Valley would,
in a few generations, be studded with great towns and would form
a part of the granary of the world.

But, if our early explorers, passing beyond the valley of the
Missouri, found valueless the region of the Plains and the
foothills, not so the wild creatures or the savage men who had
lived there longer than science records. The buffalo then ranged
from the Rio Grande to the Athabaska, from the Missouri to the
Rockies, and beyond. No one seems to have concluded in those days
that there was after all slight difference between the buffalo
and the domestic ox. The native cattle, however, in untold
thousands and millions, had even then proved beyond peradventure
the sustaining and strengthening nature of the grasses of the

Now, each creature, even of human species, must adjust itself to
its environment. Having done so, commonly it is disposed to love
that environment. The Eskimo and the Zulu each thinks that he has
the best land in the world: So with the American Indian, who,
supported by the vast herds of buffalo, ranged all over that
tremendous country which was later to be given over to the white
man with his domestic cattle. No freer life ever was lived by any
savages than by the Horse Indians of the Plains in the buffalo
days; and never has the world known a physically higher type of

On the buffalo-range--that is to say, on the cattle-range which
was to be--Lewis and Clark met several bands of the Sioux--the
Mandans and the Assiniboines, the Blackfeet, the Shoshones.
Farther south were the Pawnees, the Kaws, the Otoes, the Osages,
most of whom depended in part upon the buffalo for their living,
though the Otoes, the Pawnees, the Mandans, and certain others
now and then raised a little corn or a few squashes to help out
their bill of fare. Still farther south dwelt the Kiowas, the
Comanches, and others. The Arapahoes, the Cheyennes, the Crows,
and the Utes, all hunters, were soon to come into the ken of the
white man. Of such of these tribes as they met, the youthful
captains made accounting, gravely and with extraordinary
accuracy, but without discovering in this region much future for
Americans. They were explorers and not industrial investigators.

It was nearly half a century after the journey of Lewis and Clark
that the Forty-Niners were crossing the Plains, whither,
meanwhile, the Mormons had trekked in search of a country where
they might live as they liked. Still the wealth of the Plains
remained untouched. California was in the eyes of the world. The
great cow-range was overleaped. But, in the early fifties, when
the placer fields of California began to be less numerous and
less rich, the half-savage population of the mines roared on
northward, even across our northern line. Soon it was to roll
back. Next it worked east and southeast and northeast over the
great dry plains of Washington and Oregon, so that, as readily
may be seen, the cow-range proper was not settled as most of the
West was, by a directly westbound thrust of an eastern
population; but, on the contrary, it was approached from several
different angles--from the north, from the east, from the west
and northwest, and finally from the south.

The early, turbulent population of miners and adventurers was
crude, lawless, and aggressive. It cared nothing whatever for the
Indian tribes. War, instant and merciless, where it meant murder
for the most part, was set on foot as soon as white touched red
in that far western region.

All these new white men who had crowded into the unknown country
of the Plains, the Rockies, the Sierras, and the Cascades, had to
be fed. They could not employ and remain content with the means
by which the red man there had always fed himself. Hence a new
industry sprang up in the United States, which of itself made
certain history in that land. The business of freighting supplies
to the West, whether by bull-train or by pack-train, was an
industry sui generic, very highly specialized, and pursued by men
of great business ability as well as by men of great hardihood
and daring.

Each of these freight trains which went West carried hanging on
its flank more and more of the white men. As the trains returned,
more and more was learned in the States of the new country which
lay between the Missouri and the Rockies, which ran no man knew
how far north, and no man could guess how far south. Now appears
in history Fort Benton, on the Missouri, the great northern
supply post--just as at an earlier date there had appeared Fort
Hall, one of the old fur-trading posts beyond the Rockies, Bent's
Fort on the Arkansas, and many other outposts of the new Saxon
civilization in the West.

Later came the pony express and the stage coach which made
history and romance for a generation. Feverishly, boisterously, a
strong, rugged, womanless population crowded westward and formed
the wavering, now advancing, now receding line of the great
frontier of American story.

But for long there was no sign of permanent settlement on the
Plains, and no one thought of this region as the frontier. The
men there who were prospecting and exploiting were classified as
no more than adventurers. No one seems to have taken a lesson
from the Indian and the buffalo. The reports of Fremont long
since had called attention to the nourishing quality of those
grasses of the high country, but the day of the cowboy had not
yet dawned. There is a somewhat feeble story which runs to the
effect that in 1866 one of the great wagon-trains, caught by the
early snows of winter, was obliged to abandon its oxen on the
range. It was supposed that, of course, the oxen must perish
during the winter. But next spring the owners were surprised to
find that the oxen, so far from perishing, had flourished very
much--indeed, were fat and in good condition. So runs the story
which is often repeated. It may be true, but to accredit to this
incident the beginnings of the cattle industry in the Indian
country would surely be going too far. The truth is that the cow
industry was not a Saxon discovery. It was a Latin enterprise,
flourishing in Mexico long before the first of these miners and
adventurers came on the range.

Something was known of the Spanish lands to the south through the
explorations of Pike, but more through the commerce of the
prairies--the old wagon trade from the Missouri River to the
Spanish cities of Sante Fe and Chihuahua. Now the cow business,
south of the Rio Grande, was already well differentiated and
developed at the time the first adventurers from the United
States went into Texas and began to crowd their Latin neighbors
for more room. There it was that our Saxon frontiersmen first
discovered the cattle industry. But these southern and northern
riflemen--ruthless and savage, yet strangely
statesmanlike--though they might betimes drive away the owners of
the herds, troubled little about the herds themselves. There was
a certain fascination to these rude strangers in the slow and
easeful civilization of Old Spain which they encountered in the
land below them. Little by little, and then largely and yet more
largely, the warriors of San Jacinto reached out and began to
claim lands for themselves--leagues and uncounted leagues of
land, which had, however, no market value. Well within the memory
of the present generation large tracts of good land were bought
in Texas for six cents an acre; some was bought for half that
price in a time not much earlier. Today much of that land is
producing wealth; but land then was worthless--and so were cows.

This civilization of the Southwest, of the new Republic of Texas,
may be regarded as the first enduring American result of contact
with the Spanish industry. The men who won Texas came mostly from
Kentucky and Tennessee or southern Ohio, and the first colonizer
of Texas was a Virginian, Stephen Fuller Austin. They came along
the old Natchez Trace from Nashville to the Mississippi
River--that highway which has so much history of its own. Down
this old winding trail into the greatest valley of all the world,
and beyond that valley out into the Spanish country, moved
steadily the adventurers whose fathers had but recently crossed
the Appalachians. One of the strongest thrusts of the American
civilization thus entered the cattle-range at its lower end,
between the Rio Grande and the Red River.

In all the several activities, mining, freighting, scouting,
soldiering, riding pony express, or even sheer adventuring for
what might come, there was ever a trading back and forth between
home-staying men and adventuring men. Thus there was an
interchange of knowledge and of customs between East and West,
between our old country and our new. There was an interchange,
too, at the south, where our Saxon civilization came in touch
with that of Mexico.

We have now to note some fundamental facts and principles of the
cattle industry which our American cattlemen took over ready-made
from the hands of Mexico.

The Mexicans in Texas had an abundance of small, hardy horses of
African and Spanish breed, which Spain had brought into the New
World--the same horses that the Moors had brought into Spain--a
breed naturally hardy and able to subsist upon dry food. Without
such horses there could have been no cattle industry. These
horses, running wild in herds, had crossed to the upper Plains.
La Verendrye, and later Lewis and Clark, had found the Indians
using horses in the north. The Indians, as we have seen, had
learned to manage the horse. Formerly they had used dogs to drag
the travois, but now they used the "elk-dog," as they first
called the horse.

In the original cow country, that is, in Mexico and Texas,
countless herds of cattle were held in a loose sort of ownership
over wide and unknown plains. Like all wild animals in that warm
country, they bred in extraordinary numbers. The southern range,
indeed, has always been called the breeding range. The cattle had
little value. He who wanted beef killed beef. He who wanted
leather killed cattle for their hides. But beyond these scant and
infrequent uses cattle had no definite value.

The Mexican, however, knew how to handle cows. He could ride a
horse, and he could rope cattle and brand them. Most of the
cattle of a wide range would go to certain water-holes more or
less regularly, where they might be roughly collected or
estimated. This coming of the cattle to the watering-places made
it unnecessary for owners of cattle to acquire ranch land. It was
enough to secure the water-front where the cows must go to drink.
That gave the owner all the title he needed. His right to the
increase he could prove by another phenomenon of nature, just as
inevitable and invariable as that of thirst. The maternal
instinct of a cow and the dependence of the calf upon its mother
gave the old rancher of immemorial times sufficient proof of
ownership in the increase of his herd. The calf would run with
its own mother and with no other cow through its first season. So
that if an old Mexican ranchero saw a certain number of cows at
his watering-places, and with them calves, he knew that all
before him were his property--or, at least, he claimed them as
such and used them.

Still, this was loose-footed property. It might stray away after
all, or it might be driven away. Hence, in some forgotten time,
our shrewd Spaniard invented a system of proof of ownership which
has always lain at the very bottom of the organized cow industry;
he invented the method of branding. This meant his sign, his
name, his trade-mark, his proof of ownership. The animal could
not shake it off. It would not burn off in the sun or wash off in
the rain. It went with the animal and could not be eradicated
from the animal's hide. Wherever the bearer was seen, the brand
upon its hide provided certain identification of the owner.

Now, all these basic ideas of the cow industry were old on the
lower range in Texas when our white men first drifted thither.
The cattle industry, although in its infancy, and although
supposed to have no great future, was developed long before Texas
became a republic. It never, indeed, changed very much from that
time until the end of its own career.

One great principle was accepted religiously even in those early
and crude days. A man's cow was HIS cow. A man's brand was HIS
brand. There must be no interference with his ownership. Hence
certain other phases of the industry followed inevitably. These
cattle, these calves, each branded by the iron of the owner, in
spite of all precautions, began to mingle as settlers became more
numerous; hence came the idea of the round-up. The country was
warm and lazy. If a hundred or a thousand cows were not
collected, very well. If a calf were separated from its mother,
very well. The old ranchers never quarreled among themselves.
They never would have made in the South anything like a cattle
association; it was left for the Yankees to do that at a time
when cows had come to have far greater values. There were few
arguments in the first rodeos of the lower range. One rancher
would vie with his neighbor in generosity in the matter of
unbranded calves. Haggling would have been held contemptible. On
the lower range in the old times no one cared much about a cow.
Why should one do so? There was no market for cows--no one who
wished to buy them. If one tendered a Mexican cinquo pesos for a
yearling or a two-year-old, the owner might perhaps offer the
animal as a gift, or he might smile and say "Con mucho gusto" as
he was handed a few pieces of silver. There were plenty of cows
everywhere in the world!

Let us, therefore, give the old Spaniard full credit alike in
picturesque romance and in the organized industry of the cow. The
westbound thrust which came upon the upper part of the range in
the days of more shrewd and exacting business methods was simply
the best-known and most published phase of frontier life in the
cow country; hence we have usually accepted it as typical. It
would not be accurate to say that the cattle industry was
basically much influenced or governed by northern or eastern men.
In practically all of its great phenomena the frontier of the old
cow-range was southern by birth and growth.

There lay, then, so long unused, that vast and splendid land so
soon to write romantic history of its own, so soon to come into
the admiration or the wonder of a great portion of the earth--a
land of fascinating interest to the youth of every country, and a
region whose story holds a charm for young and old alike even
today. It was a region royal in its dimensions. Far on the west
it was hedged by the gray-sided and white-topped mountains, the
Rockies. Where the buffalo once lived, the cattle were to live,
high up in the foothills of this great mountain range which ran
from the Rio Grande to Canada. On the east, where lay the
Prairies rather than the Plains, it was a country waving with
high native grasses, with many brilliant flowers hiding among
them, the sweet-William, the wild rose, and often great masses of
the yellow sunflower.

>From the Rio Grande to the Athabaska, for the greater part, the
frontier sky was blue and cloudless during most of the year. The
rainfall was not great. The atmosphere was dry. It was a cheerful
country, one of optimism and not of gloom. In the extreme south,
along the Rio Grande, the climate was moister, warmer, more
enervating; but on the high steppes of the middle range in
Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, western Nebraska, there lay the
finest out-of-doors country, man's country the finest of the

But for the time, busy with more accustomed things, mining and
freighting and fighting and hunting and trading and trapping, we
Americans who had arrived upon the range cared little for cows.
The upper thrust of the great herds from the south into the north
had not begun. It was after the Civil War that the first great
drives of cattle from the south toward the north began, and after
men had learned in the State of Texas that cattle moved from the
Rio Grande to the upper portions of the State and fed on the
mesquite grass would attain greater stature than in the hot coast
country. Then swiftly, somewhat luridly, there leaped into our
comprehension and our interest that strange country long loosely
held under our flag, the region of the Plains, the region which
we now call the Old West.

In great bands, in long lines, slowly, towheaded, sore-footed,
the vast gatherings of the prolific lower range moved north, each
cow with its title indelibly marked upon its hide. These cattle
were now going to take the place of those on which the Indians
had depended for their living these many years. A new day in
American history had dawned.

Chapter III. The Cattle Trails

The customary method of studying history by means of a series of
events and dates is not the method which we have chosen to
employ in this study of the Old West. Speaking generally, our
minds are unable to assimilate a condensed mass of events and
dates; and that is precisely what would be required of us if we
should attempt here to follow the ways of conventional history.
Dates are at best no more than milestones on the pathway of time;
and in the present instance it is not the milestones but the road
itself with which we are concerned. Where does the road begin?
Why comes it hither? Whither does it lead? These are the real

Under all the exuberance of the life of the range there lay a
steady business of tremendous size and enormous values. The
"uproarious iniquity" of the West, its picturesqueness, its
vividness--these were but froth on the stream. The stream itself
was a steady and somber flood. Beyond this picturesqueness of
environment very few have cared to go, and therefore sometimes
have had little realization of the vastness of the cowboy's
kingdom, the "magnitude of the interests in his care, or the
fortitude, resolution, and instant readiness essential to his
daily life." The American cowboy is the most modern
representative of a human industry that is second to very few in

Julius Caesar struck the note of real history: Quorum pars magna
fui--"Of which I was a great part." If we are to seek the actual
truth, we ought most to value contemporary records,
representations made by men who were themselves a part of the
scenes which they describe. In that way we shall arrive not
merely upon lurid events, not alone upon the stereotyped
characters of the "Wild West," but upon causes which are much
more interesting and immensely more valuable than any merely
titillating stories from the weirdly illustrated Apocrypha of the
West. We must go below such things if we would gain a just and
lasting estimate of the times. We ought to look on the old range
neither as a playground of idle men nor as a scene of hysterical
and contorted human activities. We ought to look upon it from the
point of view of its uses to mankind. The explorers found it a
wilderness, the home of the red man and the buffalo. What were
the underlying causes of its settlement and development?

There is in history no agency so wondrous in events, no working
instrumentality so great as transportation. The great seeking of
all human life is to find its level. Perhaps the first men
traveled by hollowed logs down stream. Then possibly the idea of
a sail was conceived. Early in the story of the United States men
made commercial journeys from the head of the Ohio to the mouth
of the Mississippi by flatboats, and came back by keelboats. The
pole, the cordelle, the paddle, and the sail, in turn helped them
to navigate the great streams which led out into the West. And
presently there was to come that tremendous upheaval wrought by
the advent of the iron trails which, scorning alike waterways and
mountain ranges, flung themselves almost directly westward across
the continent.

The iron trails, crossing the northern range soon after the Civil
War, brought a market to the cattle country. Inevitably the men
of the lower range would seek to reach the railroads with what
they had to sell--their greatest natural product, cattle on the
hoof. This was the primary cause of the great northbound drives
already mentioned, the greatest pastoral phenomena in the story
of the world.

The southern herds at that time had no market at their doors.
They had to go to the market, and they had to go on foot. That
meant that they must be driven northward by cattle handlers who
had passed their days in the wild life of the lower range. These
cowmen of course took their character and their customs northward
with them, and so they were discovered by those enthusiastic
observers, newly arrived by rail, whom the cowmen were wont to
call "pilgrims."

Now the trail of the great cattle drives--the Long Trail-was a
thing of tremendous importance of itself and it is still full of
interest. As it may not easily be possible for the author to
better a description of it that was written some twenty years
ago, that description is here again set down.*

* "The Story of the Cowboy," by E. Hough. Appleton. 1897.
Reprinted by permission.

The braiding of a hundred minor pathways, the Long Trail lay like
a vast rope connecting the cattle country of the South with that
of the North. Lying loose or coiling, it ran for more than two
thousand miles along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains,
sometimes close in at their feet, again hundreds of miles away
across the hard tablelands or the well-flowered prairies. It
traversed in a fair line the vast land of Texas, curled over the
Indian Nations, over Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and
Montana, and bent in wide overlapping circles as far west as Utah
and Nevada; as far east as Missouri, Iowa, even Illinois; and as
far north as the British possessions. Even today you may trace
plainly its former course, from its faint beginnings in the lazy
land of Mexico, the Ararat of the cattle-range. It is distinct
across Texas, and multifold still in the Indian lands. Its many
intermingling paths still scar the iron surface of the Neutral
Strip, and the plows have not buried all the old furrows in the
plains of Kansas. Parts of the path still remain visible in the
mountain lands of the far North. You may see the ribbons banding
the hillsides today along the valley of the Stillwater, and along
the Yellowstone and toward the source of the Missouri. The hoof
marks are beyond the Musselshell, over the Bad Lands and the
coulees and the flat prairies; and far up into the land of the
long cold you may see, even today if you like, the shadow of that
unparalleled pathway, the Long Trail of the cattle-range. History
has no other like it.

The Long Trail was surveyed and constructed in a century and a
day. Over the Red River of the South, a stream even today perhaps
known but vaguely in the minds of many inhabitants of the
country, there appeared, almost without warning, vast processions
of strange horned kine--processions of enormous wealth, owned by
kings who paid no tribute, and guarded by men who never knew a
master. Whither these were bound, what had conjured them forth,
whence they came, were questions in the minds of the majority of
the population of the North and East to whom the phenomenon
appeared as the product of a day. The answer to these questions
lay deep in the laws of civilization, and extended far back into
that civilization's history. The Long Trail was finished in a
day. It was begun more than a century before that day, and came
forward along the very appointed ways of time.... Thus, far
down in the vague Southwest, at some distant time, in some
distant portion of old, mysterious Mexico, there fell into line
the hoof prints which made the first faint beginnings of the Long
Trail, merely the path of a half nomadic movement along the line
of the least resistance.

The Long Trail began to deepen and extend. It received then, as
it did later, a baptism of human blood such as no other pathway
of the continent has known. The nomadic and the warlike days
passed, and there ensued a more quiet and pastoral time. It was
the beginning of a feudalism of the range, a barony rude enough,
but a glorious one, albeit it began, like all feudalism, in
large-handed theft and generous murdering. The flocks of these
strong men, carelessly interlapping, increased and multiplied
amazingly. They were hardly looked upon as wealth. The people
could not eat a tithe of the beef; they could not use a hundredth
of the leather. Over hundreds and hundreds of miles of ownerless
grass lands, by the rapid waters of the mountains, by the slow
streams of the plains or the long and dark lagoons of the low
coast country the herds of tens grew into droves of hundreds and
thousands and hundreds of thousands. This was really the dawning
of the American cattle industry.

Chips and flakes of the great Southwestern herd began to be seen
in the Northern States. As early as 1857 Texas cattle were driven
to Illinois. In 1861 Louisiana was, without success, tried as an
outlet. In 1867 a venturous drover took a herd across the Indian
Nations, bound for California, and only abandoned the project
because the Plains Indians were then very bad in the country to
the north. In 1869 several herds were driven from Texas to
Nevada. These were side trails of the main cattle road. It seemed
clear that a great population in the North needed the cheap beef
of Texas, and the main question appeared to be one of
transportation. No proper means for this offered. The Civil War
stopped almost all plans to market the range cattle, and the
close of that war found the vast grazing lands of Texas covered
fairly with millions of cattle which had no actual or determinate
value. They were sorted and branded and herded after a fashion,
but neither they nor their increase could be converted into
anything but more cattle. The cry for a market became imperative.

Meantime the Anglo-Saxon civilization was rolling swiftly toward
the upper West. The Indians were being driven from the Plains. A
solid army was pressing behind the vanguard of soldier, scout,
and plainsman. The railroads were pushing out into a new and
untracked empire. They carried the market with them. The market
halted, much nearer, though still some hundred of miles to the
north of the great herd. The Long Trail tapped no more at the
door of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, but leaped north again
definitely, this time springing across the Red River and up to
the railroads, along sharp and well-defined channels deepened in
the year of 1866 alone by the hoofs of more than a quarter of a
million cattle.

In 1871, only five years later, over six hundred thousand cattle
crossed the Red River for the Northern markets. Abilene, Newton,
Wichita, Ellsworth, Great Bend, Dodge, flared out into a swift
and sometime evil blossoming. Thus the men of the North first
came to hear of the Long Trail and the men who made it, although
really it had begun long ago and had been foreordained to grow.

By this time, 1867 and 1868, the northern portions of the region
immediately to the east of the Rocky Mountains had been
sufficiently cleared of their wild inhabitants to admit a gradual
though precarious settlement. It had been learned yet again that
the buffalo grass and the sweet waters of the far North would
fatten a range broadhorn to a stature far beyond any it could
attain on the southern range. The Long Trail pushed rapidly even
farther to the north where there still remained "free grass" and
a new market. The territorial ranges needed many thousands of
cattle for their stocking, and this demand took a large part of
the Texas drive which came to Abilene, Great Bend, and Fort
Dodge. Moreover, the Government was now feeding thousands of its
new red wards, and these Indians needed thousands of beeves for
rations, which were driven from the southern range to the upper
army posts and reservations. Between this Government demand and
that of the territorial stock ranges there was occupation for the
men who made the saddle their home.

The Long Trail, which had previously found the black corn lands
of Illinois and Missouri, now crowded to the West, until it had
reached Utah and Nevada, and penetrated every open park and mesa
and valley of Colorado, and found all the high plains of Wyoming.
Cheyenne and Laramie became common words now, and drovers spoke
as wisely of the dangers of the Platte as a year before they had
mentioned those of the Red River or the Arkansas. Nor did the
Trail pause in its irresistible push to the north until it had
found the last of the five great transcontinental lines, far in
the British provinces. Here in spite of a long season of ice and
snow the uttermost edges of the great herd might survive, in a
certain percentage at least, each year in an almost unassisted
struggle for existence, under conditions different enough, it
would seem, from those obtaining at the opposite extreme of the
wild roadway over which they came.

The Long Trail of the cattle-range was done! By magic the cattle
industry had spread over the entire West. Today many men think of
that industry as belonging only to the Southwest, and many would
consider that it was transferred to the North. Really it was not
transferred but extended, and the trail of the old drive marks
the line of that extension.

Today the Long Trail is replaced by other trails, product of the
swift development of the West, and it remains as the connection,
now for the most part historical only, between two phases of an
industry which, in spite of differences of climate and condition,
retain a similarity in all essential features. When the last
steer of the first herd was driven into the corral at the Ultima
Thule of the range, it was the pony of the American cowboy which
squatted and wheeled under the spur and burst down the straggling
street of the little frontier town. Before that time, and since
that time, it was and has been the same pony and the same man who
have traveled the range, guarding and guiding the wild herds,
from the romantic to the commonplace days of the West.

Chapter IV. The Cowboy

The Great West, vast and rude, brought forth men also vast and
rude. We pass today over parts of that matchless region, and we
see the red hills and ragged mountain-fronts cut and crushed into
huge indefinite shapes, to which even a small imagination may
give a human or more than human form. It would almost seem that
the same great hand which chiseled out these monumental forms had
also laid its fingers upon the people of this region and
fashioned them rude and ironlike, in harmony with the stern faces
set about them.

Of all the babes of that primeval mother, the West, the cowboy
was perhaps her dearest because he was her last. Some of her
children lived for centuries; this one for not a triple decade
before he began to be old. What was really the life of this child
of the wild region of America, and what were the conditions of
the experience that bore him, can never be fully known by those
who have not seen the West with wide eyes--for the cowboy was
simply a part of the West. He who does not understand the one can
never understand the other.

If we care truly to see the cowboy as he was and seek to give our
wish the dignity of a real purpose, we should study him in
connection with his surroundings and in relation to his work.
Then we shall see him not as a curiosity but as a product--not as
an eccentric driver of horned cattle but as a man suited to his

Large tracts of that domain where once the cowboy reigned supreme
have been turned into farms by the irrigator's ditch or by the
dry-farmer's plan. The farmer in overalls is in many instances
his own stockman today. On the ranges of Arizona, Wyoming, and
Texas and parts of Nevada we may find the cowboy, it is true,
even today: but he is no longer the Homeric figure that once
dominated the plains. In what we say as to his trade, therefore,
or his fashion in the practice of it, we speak in terms of thirty
or forty years ago, when wire was unknown, when the round-up
still was necessary, and the cowboy's life was indeed that of the

By the costume we may often know the man. The cowboy's costume
was harmonious with its surroundings. It was planned upon lines
of such stern utility as to leave no possible thing which we may
call dispensable. The typical cowboy costume could hardly be said
to contain a coat and waistcoat. The heavy woolen shirt, loose
and open at the neck, was the common wear at all seasons of the
year excepting winter, and one has often seen cowboys in the
winter-time engaged in work about the yard or corral of the ranch
wearing no other cover for the upper part of the body but one or
more of these heavy shirts. If the cowboy wore a coat he would
wear it open and loose as much as possible. If he wore a "vest"
he would wear it slouchily, hanging open or partly unbuttoned
most of the time. There was a reason for this slouchy habit. The
cowboy would say that the vest closely buttoned about the body
would cause perspiration, so that the wearer would quickly chill
upon ceasing exercise. If the wind were blowing keenly when the
cowboy dismounted to sit upon the ground for dinner, he would
button up his waistcoat and be warm. If it were very cold he
would button up his coat also.

The cowboy's boots were of fine leather and fitted tightly, with
light narrow soles, extremely small and high heels. Surely a more
irrational foot-covering never was invented; yet these tight,
peaked cowboy boots had a great significance and may indeed be
called the insignia of a calling. There was no prouder soul on
earth than the cowboy. He was proud of being a horseman and had a
contempt for all human beings who walked. On foot in his
tight-toed boots he was lost; but he wished it to be understood
that he never was on foot. If we rode beside him and watched his
seat in the big cow saddle we found that his high and narrow
heels prevented the slipping forward of the foot in the stirrup,
into which he jammed his feet nearly full length. If there was a
fall, the cowboy's foot never hung in the stirrup. In the corral
roping, afoot, his heels anchored him. So he found his little
boots not so unserviceable and retained them as a matter of
pride. Boots made for the cowboy trade sometimes had fancy tops
of bright-colored leather. The Lone Star of Texas was not
infrequent in their ornamentation.

The curious pride of the horseman extended also to his gloves.
The cowboy was very careful in the selection of his gloves. They
were made of the finest buckskin, which could not be injured by
wetting. Generally they were tanned white and cut with a deep
cuff or gauntlet from which hung a little fringe to flutter in
the wind when he rode at full speed on horseback.

The cowboy's hat was one of the typical and striking features of
his costumes. It was a heavy, wide, white felt hat with a heavy
leather band buckled about it. There has been no other head
covering devised so suitable as the Stetson for the uses of the
Plains, although high and heavy black hats have in part
supplanted it today among stockmen. The boardlike felt was
practically indestructible. The brim flapped a little and, in
time, was turned up and perhaps held fast to the crown by a
thong. The wearer might sometimes stiffen the brim by passing a
thong through a series of holes pierced through the outer edge.
He could depend upon his hat in all weathers. In the rain it was
an umbrella; in the sun a shield; in the winter he could tie it
down about his ears with his handkerchief.

Loosely thrown about the cowboy's shirt collar was a silk
kerchief. It was tied in a hard knot in front, and though it
could scarcely be said to be devoted to the uses of a neck scarf,
yet it was a great comfort to the back of the neck when one was
riding in a hot wind. It was sure to be of some bright color,
usually red. Modern would-be cowpunchers do not willingly let
this old kerchief die, and right often they over-play it. For the
cowboy of the "movies," however, let us register an unqualified
contempt. The real range would never have been safe for him.

A peculiar and distinctive feature of the cowboy's costume was
his "chaps" (chaparejos). The chaps were two very wide and
full-length trouser-legs made of heavy calfskin and connected by
a narrow belt or strap. They were cut away entirely at front and
back so that they covered only the thigh and lower legs and did
not heat the body as a complete leather garment would. They were
intended solely as a protection against branches, thorns, briers,
and the like, but they were prized in cold or wet weather.
Sometimes there was seen, more often on the southern range, a
cowboy wearing chaps made of skins tanned with the hair on; for
the cowboy of the Southwest early learned that goatskin left
with the hair on would turn the cactus thorns better than any
other material. Later, the chaps became a sort of affectation on
the part of new men on the range; but the old-time cowboy wore
them for use, not as a uniform. In hot weather he laid them off.

In the times when some men needed guns and all men carried them,
no pistol of less than 44-caliber was tolerated on the range, the
solid framed 45-caliber being the one almost universally used.
The barrel was eight inches long, and it shot a rifle cartridge
of forty grains of powder and a blunt-ended bullet that made a
terrible missile. This weapon depended from a belt worn loose
resting upon the left hip and hanging low down on the right hip
so that none of the weight came upon the abdomen. This was
typical, for the cowboy was neither fancy gunman nor army
officer. The latter carries the revolver on the left, the butt
pointing forward.

An essential part of the cow-puncher's outfit was his "rope."
This was carried in a close coil at the side of the saddle-horn,
fastened by one of the many thongs scattered over the saddle. In
the Spanish country it was called reata and even today is
sometimes seen in the Southwest made of rawhide. In the South it
was called a lariat. The modern rope is a well-made
three-quarter-inch hemp rope about thirty feet in length, with a
leather or rawhide eye. The cowboy's quirt was a short heavy
whip, the stock being of wood or iron covered with braided
leather and carrying a lash made of two or three heavy loose
thongs. The spur in the old days had a very large rowel with
blunt teeth an inch long. It was often ornamented with little
bells or oblongs of metal, the tinkling of which appealed to the
childlike nature of the Plains rider. Their use was to lock the

His bridle--for, since the cowboy and his mount are inseparable,
we may as well speak of his horse's dress also--was noticeable
for its tremendously heavy and cruel curbed bit, known as the
"Spanish bit." But in the ordinary riding and even in the
exciting work of the old round-up and in "cutting out," the
cowboy used the bit very little, nor exerted any pressure on the
reins. He laid the reins against the neck of the pony opposite to
the direction in which he wished it to go, merely turning his
hand in the direction and inclining his body in the same way. He
rode with the pressure of the knee and the inclination of the
body and the light side-shifting of both reins. The saddle was
the most important part of the outfit. It was a curious thing,
this saddle developed by the cattle trade, and the world has no
other like it. Its great weight--from thirty to forty pounds--was
readily excusable when one remembers that it was not only seat
but workbench for the cowman. A light saddle would be torn to
pieces at the first rush of a maddened steer, but the sturdy
frame of a cow-saddle would throw the heaviest bull on the range.
The high cantle would give a firmness to the cowboy's seat when
he snubbed a steer with a sternness sufficient to send it rolling
heels over head. The high pommel, or "horn," steel-forged and
covered with cross braids of leather, served as anchor post for
this same steer, a turn of the rope about it accomplishing that
purpose at once. The saddle-tree forked low down over the pony's
back so that the saddle sat firmly and could not readily be
pulled off. The great broad cinches bound the saddle fast till
horse and saddle were practically one fabric. The strong wooden
house of the old heavy stirrup protected the foot from being
crushed by the impact of the herd. The form of the cow-saddle has
changed but little, although today one sees a shorter seat and
smaller horn, a "swell front" or roll, and a stirrup of open
"ox-bow" pattern.

The round-up was the harvest of the range. The time of the calf
round-up was in the spring after the grass had become good and
after the calves had grown large enough for the branding. The
State Cattle Association divided the entire State range into a
number of round-up districts. Under an elected round-up captain
were all the bosses in charge of the different ranch outfits sent
by men having cattle in the round-up. Let us briefly draw a
picture of this scene as it was.

Each cowboy would have eight or ten horses for his own use, for
he had now before him the hardest riding of the year. When the
cow-puncher went into the herd to cut out calves he mounted a
fresh horse, and every few hours he again changed horses, for
there was no horse which could long endure the fatigue of the
rapid and intense work of cutting. Before the rider stretched a
sea of interwoven horns, waving and whirling as the densely
packed ranks of cattle closed in or swayed apart. It was no
prospect for a weakling, but into it went the cow-puncher on his
determined little horse, heeding not the plunging, crushing, and
thrusting of the excited cattle. Down under the bulks of the
herd, half hid in the whirl of dust, he would spy a little curly
calf running, dodging, and twisting, always at the heels of its
mother; and he would dart in after, following the two through the
thick of surging and plunging beasts. The sharp-eyed pony would
see almost as soon as his rider which cow was wanted and he
needed small guidance from that time on. He would follow hard at
her heels, edging her constantly toward the flank of the herd, at
times nipping her hide as a reminder of his own superiority. In
spite of herself the cow would gradually turn out toward the
edge, and at last would be swept clear of the crush, the calf
following close behind her. There was a whirl of the rope and the
calf was laid by the heels and dragged to the fire where the
branding irons were heated and ready.

Meanwhile other cow-punchers are rushing calves to the branding.
The hubbub and turmoil increase. Taut ropes cross the ground in
many directions. The cutting ponies pant and sweat, rear and
plunge. The garb of the cowboy is now one of white alkali which
hangs gray in his eyebrows and moustache. Steers bellow as they
surge to and fro. Cows charge on their persecutors. Fleet
yearlings break and run for the open, pursued by men who care not
how or where they ride.

We have spoken in terms of the past. There is no calf round-up of
the open range today. The last of the roundups was held in Routt
County, Colorado, several years ago, so far as the writer knows,
and it had only to do with shifting cattle from the summer to the
winter range.

After the calf round-up came the beef round-up, the cowman's
final harvest. This began in July or August. Only the mature or
fatted animals were cut out from the herd. This "beef cut" was
held apart and driven on ahead from place to place as the
round-up progressed. It was then driven in by easy stages to the
shipping point on the railroad, whence the long trainloads of
cattle went to the great markets.

In the heyday of the cowboy it was natural that his chief
amusements should be those of the outdoor air and those more or
less in line with his employment. He was accustomed to the sight
of big game, and so had the edge of his appetite for its pursuit
worn off. Yet he was a hunter, just as every Western man was a
hunter in the times of the Western game. His weapons were the
rifle, revolver, and rope; the latter two were always with him.
With the rope at times he captured the coyote, and under special
conditions he has taken deer and even antelope in this way,
though this was of course most unusual and only possible under
chance conditions of ground and cover. Elk have been roped by
cowboys many times, and it is known that even the mountain sheep
has been so taken, almost incredible as that may seem. The young
buffalo were easy prey for the cowboy and these he often roped
and made captive. In fact the beginnings of all the herds of
buffalo now in captivity in this country were the calves roped
and secured by cowboys; and these few scattered individuals of a
grand race of animals remain as melancholy reminders alike of a
national shiftlessness and an individual skill and daring.

The grizzly was at times seen by the cowboys on the range, and if
it chanced that several cowboys were together it was not unusual
to give him chase. They did not always rope him, for it was
rarely that the nature of the country made this possible.
Sometimes they roped him and wished they could let him go, for a
grizzly bear is uncommonly active and straightforward in his
habits at close quarters. The extreme difficulty of such a
combat, however, gave it its chief fascination for the cowboy. Of
course, no one horse could hold the bear after it was roped, but,
as one after another came up, the bear was caught by neck and
foot and body, until at last he was tangled and tripped and
about till he was helpless, strangled, and nearly dead. It is
said that cowboys have so brought into camp a grizzly bear,
forcing him to half walk and half slide at the end of the ropes.
No feat better than this could show the courage of the plainsman
and of the horse which he so perfectly controlled.

Of such wild and dangerous exploits were the cowboy's amusements
on the range. It may be imagined what were his amusements when he
visited the "settlements." The cow-punchers, reared in the free
life of the open air, under circumstances of the utmost freedom
of individual action, perhaps came off the drive or round-up
after weeks or months of unusual restraint or hardship, and felt
that the time had arrived for them to "celebrate." Merely great
rude children, as wild and untamed and untaught as the herds they
led, they regarded their first look at the "settlements" of the
railroads as a glimpse of a wider world. They pursued to the
uttermost such avenues of new experience as lay before them,
almost without exception avenues of vice. It is strange that the
records of those days should be chosen by the public to be held
as the measure of the American cowboy. Those days were brief, and
they are long since gone. The American cowboy atoned for them by
a quarter of a century of faithful labor.

The amusements of the cowboy were like the features of his daily
surroundings and occupation--they were intense, large, Homeric.
Yet, judged at his work, no higher type of employee ever existed,
nor one more dependable. He was the soul of honor in all the ways
of his calling. The very blue of the sky, bending evenly over all
men alike, seemed to symbolize his instinct for justice.
Faithfulness and manliness were his chief traits; his
standard--to be a "square man."

Not all the open range will ever be farmed, but very much that
was long thought to be irreclaimable has gone under irrigation or
is being more or less successfully "dryfarmed." The man who
brought water upon the arid lands of the West changed the entire
complexion of a vast country and with it the industries of that
country. Acres redeemed from the desert and added to the realm of
the American farmer were taken from the realm of the American

The West has changed. The curtain has dropped between us and its
wild and stirring scenes. The old days are gone. The house dog
sits on the hill where yesterday the coyote sang. There are
fenced fields and in them stand sleek round beasts, deep in crops
such as their ancestors never saw. In a little town nearby is the
hurry and bustle of modern life. This town is far out upon what
was called the frontier, long after the frontier has really gone.
Guarding its ghost here stood a little army post, once one of the
pillars, now one of the monuments of the West.

Out from the tiny settlement in the dusk of evening, always
facing toward where the sun is sinking, might be seen riding, not
so long ago, a figure we should know. He would thread the little
lane among the fences, following the guidance of hands other than
his own, a thing he would once have scorned to do. He would ride
as lightly and as easily as ever, sitting erect and jaunty in the
saddle, his reins held high and loose in the hand whose fingers
turn up gracefully, his whole body free yet firm in the saddle
with the seat of the perfect horseman. At the boom of the cannon,
when the flag dropped fluttering down to sleep, he would rise in
his stirrups and wave his hat to the flag. Then, toward the edge,
out into the evening, he would ride on. The dust of his riding
would mingle with the dusk of night. We could not see which was
the one or the other. We could only hear the hoofbeats passing,
boldly and steadily still, but growing fainter, fainter, and more

* For permission to use in this chapter material from the
author's "The Story of the Cowboy," acknowledgment is made to D.
Appleton & Co.

Chapter V. The Mines

If the influence of the cattle industry was paramount in the
development of the frontier region found by the first railways,
it should not be concluded that this upthrust of the southern
cattle constituted the only contribution to the West of that day.
There were indeed earlier influences, the chief of which was the
advent of the wild population of the placer mines. The riches of
the gold-fields hastened the building of the first
transcontinental railroads and the men of the mines set their
mark also indelibly upon the range.

It is no part of our business here to follow the great
discoveries of 1849 in California.* Neither shall we chronicle
the once-famous rushes from California north into the Fraser
River Valley of British Columbia; neither is it necessary to
mention in much detail the great camps of Nevada; nor yet the
short-lived stampede of 1859 to the Pike's Peak country in
Colorado. The rich placer fields of Idaho and Montana, from which
enormous amounts were taken, offer typical examples of the mining
communities of the Rockies.

* See Stewart Edward White: "The Forty-Niners" ("Chronicles of

We may never know how much history remains forever unwritten. Of
the beginnings of the Idaho camps there have trickled back into
record only brief, inconsequent, and partial stories. The miners
who surged this way and that all through the Sierras, the upper
Cascades, north into the Selkirks, and thence back again into the
Rockies were a turbulent mob. Having overrun all our mountain
ranges, following the earlier trails of the traders and trappers,
they now recoiled upon themselves and rolled back eastward to
meet the advancing civilization of the westbound rails, caring
nothing for history and less for the civilized society in which
they formerly had lived. This story of bedlam broken loose, of
men gone crazed, by the sudden subversion of all known values
and all standards of life, was at first something which had no
historian and can be recorded only by way of hearsay stories
which do not always tally as to the truth.

The mad treasure-hunters of the California mines, restless,
insubordinate, incapable of restraint, possessed of the belief
that there might be gold elsewhere than in California, and having
heard reports of strikes to the north, went hurrying out into the
mountains of Oregon and Washington, in a wild stampede, all eager
again to engage in the glorious gamble where by one lucky stroke
of the pick a man might be set free of the old limitations of
human existence.

So the flood of gold-seekers--passing north into the Fraser River
country, south again into Oregon and Washington, and across the
great desert plains into Nevada and Idaho--made new centers of
lurid activity, such as Oro Fino, Florence, and Carson. Then it
was that Walla Walla and Lewiston, outfitting points on the
western side of the range, found place upon the maps of the land,
such as they were.

Before these adventurers, now eastbound and no longer facing
west, there arose the vast and formidable mountain ranges which
in their time had daunted even the calm minds of Meriwether Lewis
and William Clark. But the prospectors and the pack-trains alike
penetrated the Salmon River Range. Oro Fino, in Idaho, was old in
1861. The next great strikes were to be made around Florence.
Here the indomitable packer from the West, conquering unheard-of
difficulties, brought in whiskey, women, pianos, food, mining
tools. Naturally all these commanded fabulous prices. The price
for each and all lay underfoot. Man, grown superman, could
overleap time itself by a stroke of the pick! What wonder
delirium reigned!

These events became known in the Mississippi Valley and farther
eastward. And now there came hurrying out from the older regions
many more hundreds and thousands eager to reach a land not so far
as California, but reputed to be quite as rich. It was then, as
the bull-trains came in from the East, from the head of
navigation on the Missouri River, that the western outfitting
points of Walla Walla and Lewiston lost their importance.

Southward of the Idaho camps the same sort of story was repeating
itself. Nevada had drawn to herself a portion of the wild men of
the stampedes. Carson for its day (1859-60) was a capital not
unlike the others. Some of its men had come down from the upper
fields, some had arrived from the East over the old Santa Fe
Trail, and yet others had drifted in from California.

All the camps were very much alike. A straggling row of log
cabins or huts of motley construction; a few stores so-called,
sometimes of logs, or, if a saw-mill was at hand, of rude sawn
boards; a number of saloons, each of which customarily also
supported a dance-hall; a series of cabins or huts where dwelt
individual men, each doing his own cooking and washing; and
outside these huts the uptorn earth--such were the camps which
dotted the trails of the stampedes across inhospitable deserts
and mountain ranges. Church and school were unknown. Law there
was none, for of organized society there was none. The women who
lived there were unworthy of the name of woman. The men strode
about in the loose dress of the camp, sometimes without
waistcoat, sometimes coatless, shod with heavy boots, always

If we look for causes contributory to the history of the
mining-camp, we shall find one which ordinarily is
overlooked--the invention of Colt's revolving pistol. At the time
of the Civil War, though this weapon was not old, yet it had
attained very general use throughout the frontier. That was
before the day of modern ammunition. The six-shooter of the
placer days was of the old cap-and-ball type, heavy,
long-barreled, and usually wooden-handled. It was the general
ownership of these deadly weapons which caused so much bloodshed
in the camps. The revolver in the hands of a tyro is not
especially serviceable, but it attained great deadliness in the
hands of an expert user. Such a man, naturally of quick nerve
reflexes, skillful and accurate in the use of the weapon through
long practice, became a dangerous, and for a time an
unconquerable, antagonist.

It is a curious fact that the great Montana fields were doubly
discovered, in part by men coming east from California, and in
part by men passing west in search of new gold-fields. The first
discovery of gold in Montana was made on Gold Creek by a
half-breed trapper named Francois, better known as Be-net-see.
This was in 1852, but the news seems to have lain dormant for a
time--naturally enough, for there was small ingress or egress for
that wild and unknown country. In 1857, however, a party of
miners who had wandered down the Big Hole River on their way back
east from California decided to look into the Gold Creek
discovery, of which they had heard. This party was led by James
and Granville Stuart, and among others in the party were Jake
Meeks, Robert Hereford, Robert Dempsey, John W. Powell, John M.
Jacobs, Thomas Adams, and some others. These men did some work on
Gold Creek in 1858, but seem not to have struck it very rich, and
to have withdrawn to Fort Bridger in Utah until the autumn of
1860. Then a prospector by the name of Tom Golddigger turned up
at Bridger with additional stories of creeks to the north, so
that there was a gradual straggling back toward Gold Creek and
other gulches. This prospector had been all over the Alder Gulch,
which was ere long to prove fabulously rich.

It was not, however, until 1863 that the Montana camps sprang
into fame. It was not Gold Creek or Alder Gulch, but Florence and
other Idaho camps, that, in the summer and autumn of 1862,
brought into the mountains no less than five parties of
gold-seekers, who remained in Montana because they could not
penetrate the mountain barrier which lay between them and the
Salmon River camps in Idaho.

The first of these parties arrived at Gold Creek by wagon-train
from Fort Benton and the second hailed from Salt Lake. An
election was held for the purpose of forming a sort of community
organization, the first election ever known in Montana. The men
from the East had brought with them some idea of law and
organization. There were now in the Montana fields many good men
such as the Stuart Brothers, Samuel T. Hauser, Walter Dance, and
others later well known in the State. These men were prominent in
the organization of the first miners' court, which had occasion
to try--and promptly to hang--Stillman and Jernigan, two ruffians
who had been in from the Salmon River mines only about four days
when they thus met retribution for their early crimes. An
associate of theirs, Arnett, had been killed while resisting
arrest. The reputation of Florence for lawlessness and bloodshed
was well known; and, as the outrages of the well-organized band
of desperadoes operating in Idaho might be expected to begin at
any time in Montana, a certain uneasiness existed among the
newcomers from the States.

Two more parties, likewise bound for Idaho and likewise baffled
by the Salmon River range, arrived at the Montana camps in the
same summer. Both these were from the Pike's Peak country in
Colorado. And in the autumn came a fifth--this one under military
protection, Captain James L. Fisk commanding, and having in the
party a number of settlers bound for Oregon as well as miners for
Idaho. This expedition arrived in the Prickly Pear Valley in
Montana on September 21, 1862, having left St. Paul on the 16th
of June, traveling by steamboat and wagon-train. While Captain
Fisk and his expedition pushed on to Walla Walla, nearly half of
the immigrants stayed to try their luck at placer-mining. But the
yield was not great and the distant Salmon River mines, their
original destination, still awaited them. Winter was approaching.
It was now too late in the season to reach the Salmon River
mines, five hundred miles across the mountains, and it was four
hundred miles to Salt Lake, the nearest supply post; therefore,
most of the men joined this little army of prospectors in
Montana. Some of them drifted to the Grasshopper diggings, soon
to be known under the name of Bannack--one of the wildest
mining-camps of its day.

These different origins of the population of the first Montana
camps are interesting because of the fact that they indicate a
difference in the two currents of population which now met here
in the new placer fields. In general the wildest and most
desperate of the old-time adventurers, those coming from the
West, had located in the Idaho camps, and might be expected in
Montana at any time. In contrast to these, the men lately out
from the States were of a different type, many of them sober,
most of them law-abiding, men who had come out to better their
fortunes and not merely to drop into the wild and licentious life
of a placercamp. Law and order always did prevail eventually in
any mining community. In the case of Montana, law and order
arrived almost synchronously with lawlessness and desperadoism.

Law and order had not long to wait before the arrival of the
notorious Henry Plummer and his band from Florence. Plummer was
already known as a bad man, but was not yet recognized as the
leader of that secret association of robbers and murderers which
had terrorized the Idaho camps. He celebrated his arrival in
Bannack by killing a man named Cleveland. He was acquitted in the
miners' court that tried him, on the usual plea of self-defense.
He was a man of considerable personal address.

The same tribunal soon assembled once more to try three other
murderers, Moore, Reeves, and Mitchell, with the agreement that
the men should have a jury and should be provided with counsel.
They were all practically freed; and after that the roughs grew
bolder than ever. The Plummer band swore to kill every man who
had served in that court, whether as juryman or officer. So well
did they make good their threat that out of the twenty-seven men
thus engaged all but seven were either killed or driven out of
the country, nine being murdered outright. The man who had acted
as sheriff of this miners' court, Hank Crawford, was unceasingly
hounded by Plummer, who sought time and again to fix a quarrel on
him. Plummer was the best shot in the mountains at that time, and
he thought it would be easy for him to kill his man and enter the
usual plea of self-defense. By good fortune, however, Crawford
caught Plummer off his guard and fired upon him with a rifle,
breaking his right arm. Plummer's friends called in Dr. Glick,
the best physician in Bannack, to treat the wounded man, warning
him that if he told anything about the visit he would be shot
down. Glick held his peace, and later was obliged to attend many
of the wounded outlaws, who were always engaged in affairs with

Of all these wild affrays, of the savage life which they denoted,
and of the stern ways in which retribution overtook the
desperadoes of the mines, there is no better historian than
Nathaniel P. Langford, a prominent citizen of the West, who
accompanied the overland expedition of 1862 and took part in the
earliest life of Montana. His work, "Vigilante Days and Ways," is
an invaluable contemporary record.

It is mentally difficult for us now fully to restore these
scenes, although the events occurred no earlier than the Civil
War. "Life in Bannack at this time," says Langford, "was perfect
isolation from the rest of the world. Napoleon was not more of an
exile on St. Helena than a newly arrived immigrant from the
States in this region of lakes and mountains. All the great
battles of the season of 1862--Antietam, Fredericksburg, Second
Bull Run--all the exciting debates of Congress, and the more
exciting combats at sea, first became known to us on the arrival
of newspapers and letters in the spring of 1863.

The Territory of Idaho, which included Montana and nearly all
Wyoming, was organized March 3, 1863. Previous to that time
western Montana and Idaho formed a part of Washington Territory,
of which Olympia was the capital, and Montana, east of the
mountains, belonged to the Territory of Dakota, of which the
capital was Yankton, on the Missouri. Langford makes clear the
political uncertainties of the time, the difficulty of enforcing
the laws, and narrates the circumstances which led to the
erection in 1864 of the new Territory of Montana, comprising the
limits of the present State.*

* The Acts of Congress organizing Territories and admitting
States are milestones in the occupation of this last West. On the
eve of the Civil War, Kansas was admitted into the Union; during
the war, the Territories of Colorado, Nevada, Dakota, Arizona,
Idaho, and Montana were organized, and Nevada was admitted as a
State. Immediately after the war, Nebraska was admitted and
Wyoming was organized as a Territory. In the Centennial Year
(1876) Colorado became a State. In 1889 and 1890 North and South
Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming were admitted as
States. In the latter year Oklahoma was carved out of the Indian
Territory. Utah with its Mormon population was kept waiting at
the doors of the Union until 1896. Oklahoma became a State in
1907; Arizona and New Mexico were admitted in 1912.

In Montana as elsewhere in these days of great sectional
bitterness, there was much political strife; and this no doubt
accounts for an astonishing political event that now took place.
Henry Plummer, the most active outlaw of his day, was elected
sheriff and entrusted with the enforcement of the laws! He made
indeed a great show of enforcing the laws. He married, settled
down, and for a time was thought by some of the ill-advised to
have reformed his ways, although in truth he could not have

By June, 1863, the extraordinarily rich strike in Alder Gulch had
been made. The news of this spread like wildfire to Bannack and
to the Salmon River mines in Idaho as well, and the result was
one of the fiercest of all the stampedes, and the rise, almost
overnight, of Virginia City. Meanwhile some Indian fighting had
taken place and in a pitched battle on the Bear River General
Connor had beaten decisively the Bannack Indians, who for years
had preyed on the emigrant trains. This made travel on the
mountain trails safer than it had been; and the rich Last Chance
Gulch on which the city of Helena now stands attracted a
tremendous population almost at once. The historian above cited
lived there. Let him tell of the life.

"One long stream of active life filled the little creek on its
auriferous course from Bald Mountain, through a canyon of wild
and picturesque character, until it emerged into the large and
fertile valley of the Pas-sam-a-ri...the mountain stream
called by Lewis and Clark in their journal "Philanthropy River."
Lateral streams of great beauty pour down the sides of the
mountain chain bounding the valley.... Gold placers were
found upon these streams and occupied soon after the settlement
at Virginia City was commenced.... This human hive, numbering
at least ten thousand people, was the product of ninety days.
Into it were crowded all the elements of a rough and active
civilization. Thousands of cabins and tents and brush wakiups...
were seen on every hand. Every foot of the gulch...was
undergoing displacement, and it was already disfigured by huge
heaps of gravel which had been passed through the sluices and
rifled of their glittering contents.... Gold was abundant,
and every possible device was employed by the gamblers, the
traders, the vile men and women that had come in with the miners
into the locality, to obtain it. Nearly every third cabin was a
saloon where vile whiskey was peddled out for fifty cents a
drink in gold dust. Many of these places were filled with
gambling tables and gamblers.... Hurdy-gurdy dance-houses
were numerous.... Not a day or night passed which did not
yield its full fruition of vice, quarrels, wounds, or murders.
The crack of the revolver was often heard above the merry notes
of the violin. Street fights were frequent, and as no one knew
when or where they would occur, every one was on his guard
against a random shot.

"Sunday was always a gala day.... The stores were all open....
Thousands of people crowded the thoroughfares ready to rush
in the direction of any promised excitement. Horse-racing was
among the most favored amusements. Prize rings were formed, and
brawny men engaged in fisticuffs until their sight was lost and
their bodies pommelled to a jelly, while hundreds of onlookers
cheered the victor.... Pistols flashed, bowie knives
flourished, and braggart oaths filled the air, as often as men's
passions triumphed over their reason. This was indeed the reign
of unbridled license, and men who at first regarded it with
disgust and terror, by constant exposure soon learned to become a
part of it and forget that they had ever been aught else. All
classes of society were represented at this general exhibition.
Judges, lawyers, doctors, even clergymen, could not claim
exemption. Culture and religion afforded feeble protection, where
allurement and indulgence ruled the hour."

Imagine, therefore, a fabulously rich mountain valley twelve
miles in extent, occupied by more than ten thousand men and
producing more than ten millions of dollars before the close of
the first year! It is a stupendous demand on any imagination. How
might all this gold be sent out in safe-keeping? We are told that
the only stage route extended from Virginia City no farther than
Bannack. Between Virginia City and Salt Lake City there was an
absolute wilderness, wholly unsettled, four hundred and
seventy-five miles in width. "There was no post office in the
Territory. Letters were brought from Salt Lake first at a cost of
two dollars and a half each, and later in the season at one
dollar each. All money at infinite risk was sent to the nearest
express office at Salt Lake City by private hands."

Practically every man in the new gold-fields was aware of the
existence of a secret band of well-organized ruffians and
robbers. The general feeling was one of extreme uneasiness. There
were plenty of men who had taken out of the ground considerable
quantities of gold, and who would have been glad to get back to
the East with their little fortunes, but they dared not start.
Time after time the express coach, the solitary rider, the
unguarded wagon-train, were held up and robbed, usually with the
concomitant of murder. When the miners did start out from one
camp to another they took all manner of precautions to conceal
their gold dust. We are told that on one occasion one party bored
a hole in the end of the wagon tongue with an auger and filled it
full of gold dust, thus escaping observation! The robbers learned
to know the express agents, and always had advice of every large
shipment of gold. It was almost useless to undertake to conceal
anything from them; and resistance was met with death. Such a
reign of terror, such an organized system of highway robbery,
such a light valuing of human life, has been seldom found in any
other time or place.

There were, as we have seen, good men in these camps--although
the best of them probably let down the standards of living
somewhat after their arrival there; but the trouble was that the
good men did not know one another, had no organization, and
scarcely dared at first to attempt one. On the other hand, the
robbers' organization was complete and kept its secrets as the
grave; indeed, many and many a lonesome grave held secrets none
ever was to know. How many men went out from Eastern States and
disappeared, their fate always to remain a mystery, is a part of
the untold story of the mining frontier.

There are known to have been a hundred and two men killed by
Plummer and his gang; how many were murdered without their fate
ever being discovered can not be told. Plummer was the leader of
the band, but, arch-hypocrite that he was, he managed to keep his
own connection with it a secret. His position as sheriff gave him
many advantages. He posed as being a silver-mine expert, among
other things, and often would be called out to "expert" some new
mine. That usually meant that he left town in order to commit
some desperate robbery. The boldest outrages always required
Plummer as the leader. Sometimes he would go away on the pretense
of following some fugitive from justice. His horse, the fleetest
in the country, often was found, laboring and sweating, at the
rear of his house. That meant that Plummer had been away on some
secret errand of his own. He was suspected many times, but
nothing could be fastened upon him; or there lacked sufficient
boldness and sufficient organization on the part of the
law-and-order men to undertake his punishment.

We are not concerned with repeating thrilling tales, bloody
almost beyond belief, and indicative of an incomprehensible
depravity in human nature, so much as we are with the causes and
effects of this wild civilization which raged here quite alone in
the midst of one of the wildest of the western mountain regions.
It will best serve our purpose to retain in mind the twofold
character of this population, and to remember that the frontier
caught to itself not only ruffians and desperadoes, men undaunted
by any risk, but also men possessed of a yet steadier personal
courage and hardihood. There were men rough, coarse, brutal,
murderous; but against them were other men self-reliant, stern,
just, and resolved upon fair play.

That was indeed the touchstone of the entire civilization which
followed upon the heels of these scenes of violence. It was fair
play which really animated the great Montana Vigilante movement
and which eventually cleaned up the merciless gang of Henry
Plummer and his associates. The centers of civilization were far
removed. The courts were powerless. In some cases even the
machinery of the law was in the hands of these ruffians. But so
violent were their deeds, so brutal, so murderous, so unfair,
that slowly the indignation of the good men arose to the
white-hot point of open resentment and of swift retribution. What
the good men of the frontier loved most of all was justice. They
now enforced justice in the only way left open to them. They did
this as California earlier had done; and they did it so well that
there was small need to repeat the lesson.

The actual extermination of the Henry Plummer band occurred
rather promptly when the Vigilantes once got under way. One of
the band by the name of Red Yager, in company with yet another by
the name of Brown, had been concerned in the murder of Lloyd
Magruder, a merchant of the Territory. The capture of these two
followed closely upon the hanging of George Ives, also accused of
more than one murder. Ives was an example of the degrading
influence of the mines. He was a decent young man until he left
his home in Wisconsin. He was in California from 1857 to 1858.
When he appeared in Idaho he seemed to have thrown off all
restraint and to have become a common rowdy and desperado. It is
said of him that "few men of his age ever had been guilty of so
many fiendish crimes."

Yager and Brown, knowing the fate which Ives had met, gave up
hope when they fell into the hands of the newly organized
Vigilantes. Brown was hanged; so was Yager; but Yager, before his
death, made a full confession which put the Vigilantes in
possession of information they had never yet been able to

* Langford gives these names disclosed by Yager as follows:
"Henry Plummer was chief of the band; Bill Bunton, stool pigeon
and second in command; George Brown, secretary; Sam Bunton,
roadster; Cyrus Skinner, fence, spy, and roadster; George Shears,
horse thief and roadster; Frank Parish, horse thief and roadster;
Hayes Lyons, telegraph man and roadster; Bill Hunter, telegraph
man and roadster; Ned Ray, council-room keeper at Bannack City;
George Ives, Stephen Marshland, Dutch John (Wagner), Alex Carter,
Whiskey Bill (Graves), Johnny Cooper, Buck Stinson, Mexican
Franks Bob Zachary, Boone Helm, Clubfoot George (Lane), Billy
Terwiliger, Gad Moore were roadsters." Practically all these were
executed by the Vigilantes, with many others, and eventually the
band of outlaws was entirely broken up.

Much has been written and much romanced about the conduct of
these desperadoes when they met their fate. Some of them were
brave and some proved cowards at the last. For a time, Plummer
begged abjectly, his eyes streaming with tears. Suddenly he was
smitten with remorse as the whole picture of his past life
appeared before him. He promised everything, begged everything,
if only life might be spared him--asked his captors to cut off
his ears, to cut out his tongue, then strip him naked and banish
him. At the very last, however, he seems to have become composed.
Stinson and Ray went to their fate alternately swearing and
whining. Some of the ruffians faced death boldly. More than one
himself jumped from the ladder or kicked from under him the box
which was the only foothold between him and eternity. Boone Helm
was as hardened as any of them. This man was a cannibal and
murderer. He seems to have had no better nature whatever. His
last words as he sprang off were "Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let her
rip!" Another man remarked calmly that he cared no more for
hanging than for drinking a glass of water. But each after his
own fashion met the end foreordained for him by his own lack of
compassion; and of compassion he received none at the hands of
the men who had resolved that the law should be established and
should remain forever.

There was an instant improvement in the social life of Virginia
City, Bannack, and the adjoining camps as soon as it was
understood that the Vigilantes were afoot. Langford, who
undoubtedly knew intimately of the activities of this
organization, makes no apology for the acts of the Vigilantes,
although they did not have back of them the color of the actual
law. He says:

"The retribution dispensed to these daring freebooters in no
respect exceeded the demands of absolute justice.... There
was no other remedy. Practically the citizens had no law, but if
law had existed it could not have afforded adequate redress. This
was proven by the feeling of security consequent upon the
destruction of the band. When the robbers were dead the people
felt safe, not for themselves alone but for their pursuits and
their property. They could travel without fear. They had
reasonable assurance of safety in the transmission of money to
the States and in the arrival of property over the unguarded
route from Salt Lake. The crack of pistols had ceased, and they
could walk the streets without constant exposure to danger. There
was an omnipresent spirit of protection, akin to that omnipresent
spirit of law which pervaded older and more civilized
communities....Young men who had learned to believe that the
roughs were destined to rule and who, under the influence of that
faith, were fast drifting into crime shrunk appalled before the
thorough work of the Vigilantes. Fear, more potent than
conscience, forced even the worst of men to observe the
requirements of society, and a feeling of comparative security
among all classes was the result."

Naturally it was not the case that all the bad men were thus
exterminated. From time to time there appeared vividly in the
midst of these surroundings additional figures of solitary
desperadoes, each to have his list of victims, and each himself
to fall before the weapons of his enemies or to meet the justice
of the law or the sterner meed of the Vigilantes. It would not be
wholly pleasant to read even the names of a long list of these;
perhaps it will be sufficient to select one, the notorious Joseph
Slade, one of the "picturesque" characters of whom a great deal
of inaccurate and puerile history has been written. The truth
about Slade is that he was a good man at first, faithful in the
discharge of his duties as an agent of the stage company. Needing
at times to use violence lawfully, he then began to use it
unlawfully. He drank and soon went from bad to worse. At length
his outrages became so numerous that the men of the community
took him out and hanged him. His fate taught many others the risk
of going too far in defiance of law and decency.

What has been true regarding the camps of Florence, Bannack, and
Virginia City, had been true in part in earlier camps and was to
be repeated perhaps a trifle less vividly in other camps yet to
come. The Black Hills gold rush, for instance, which came after
the railroad but before the Indians were entirely cleared away,
made a certain wild history of its own. We had our Deadwood stage
line then, and our Deadwood City with all its wild life of
drinking, gambling, and shooting--the place where more than one
notorious bad man lost his life, and some capable officers of the
peace shared their fate. To describe in detail the life of this
stampede and the wild scenes ensuing upon it is perhaps not
needful here. The main thing is that the great quartz lodes of
the Black Hills support in the end a steady, thrifty, and
law-abiding population.

All over that West, once so unspeakably wild and reckless, there
now rise great cities where recently were scattered only
mining-camps scarce fit to be called units of any social compact.
It was but yesterday that these men fought and drank and dug
their own graves in their own sluices. At the city of Helena, on
the site of Last Chance Gulch, one recalls that not so long ago
citizens could show with a certain contemporary pride the old
dead tree once known as "Hangman's Tree." It marked a spot which
might be called a focus of the old frontier. Around it, and in
the country immediately adjoining, was fought out the great
battle whose issue could not be doubted--that between the new and
the old days; between law and order and individual lawlessness;
between the school and the saloon; between the home and the
dance-hall; between society united and resolved and the
individual reverted to worse than savagery.

Chapter VI. The Pathways Of The West

Since we have declared ourselves to be less interested in bald
chronology than in the naturally connected causes of events which
make chronology worth while, we may now, perhaps, double back
upon the path of chronology, and take up the great early highways
of the West--what we might call the points of attack against the

The story of the Santa Fe Trail, now passing into oblivion, once
was on the tongue of every man. This old highroad in its heyday
presented the most romantic and appealing features of the earlier
frontier life. The Santa Fe Trail was the great path of commerce
between our frontier and the Spanish towns trading through Santa
Fe. This commerce began in 1822, when about threescore men
shipped certain goods across the lower Plains by pack-animals. By
1826 it was employing a hundred men and was using wagons and
mules. In 1830, when oxen first were used on the trail, the trade
amounted to $120,000 annually; and by 1843, when the Spanish
ports were closed, it had reached the value of $450,000,
involving the use of 230 wagons and 350 men. It was this great
wagon trail which first brought us into touch with the Spanish
civilization of the Southwest. Its commercial totals do not bulk
large today, but the old trail itself was a thing titanic in its
historic value.

This was the day not of water but of land transport; yet the
wheeled vehicles which passed out into the West as common
carriers of civilization clung to the river valleys--natural
highways and natural resting places of homebuilding man. This has
been the story of the advance of civilization from the first
movements of the world's peoples. The valleys are the cleats of
civilization's golden sluices.

There lay the great valley of the Arkansas, offering food and
water, an easy grade and a direct course reaching out into the
West, even to the edge of the lands of Spain; and here stood
wheeled vehicles able to traverse it and to carry drygoods and
hardware, and especially domestic cotton fabrics, which formed
the great staple of a "Santa Fe assortment." The people of the
Middle West were now, in short, able to feed and clothe
themselves and to offer a little of their surplus merchandise to
some one else in sale. They had begun to export! Out yonder, in a
strange and unknown land, lay one of the original markets of

On the heels of Lewis and Clark, who had just explored the
Missouri River route to the Northwest, Captain Zebulon Pike of
the Army, long before the first wheeled traffic started West, had
employed this valley of the Arkansas in his search for the
southwestern delimitations of the United States. Pike thought he
had found the head of the Red River when after a toilsome and
dangerous march he reached the headwaters of the Rio Grande. But
it was not our river. It belonged to Spain, as he learned to his
sorrow, when he marched all the way to Chihuahua in old Mexico
and lay there during certain weary months.

It was Pike's story of the far Southwest that first started the
idea of the commerce of the Santa Fe Trail. In that day geography
was a human thing, a thing of vital importance to all men. Men
did not read the stock markets; they read stories of adventure,
tales of men returned from lands out yonder in the West.
Heretofore the swarthy Mexicans, folk of the dry plains and hills
around the head of the Rio Grande and the Red, had carried their
cotton goods and many other small and needful things all the way
from Vera Cruz on the seacoast, over trails that were long,
tedious, uncertain, and expensive. A far shorter and more natural
trade route went west along the Arkansas, which would bring the
American goods to the doors of the Spanish settlements. After
Pike and one or two others had returned with reports of the
country, the possibilities of this trade were clear to any one
with the merchant's imagination.

There is rivalry for the title of "Father of the Santa Fe Trail."
As early as 1812, when the United States was at war with England,
a party of men on horseback trading into the West, commonly
called the McKnight, Baird, and Chambers party, made their way
west to Santa Fe. There, however, they met with disaster. All
their goods were confiscated and they themselves lay in Mexican
jails for nine years. Eventually the returning survivors of this
party told their stories, and those stories, far from chilling,
only inflamed the ardor of other adventurous traders. In 1821
more than one American trader reached Santa Fe; and, now that the
Spanish yoke had been thrown off by the Mexicans, the goods,
instead of being confiscated, were purchased eagerly.

It is to be remembered, of course, that trading of this sort to
Mexico was not altogether a new thing. Sutlers of the old fur
traders and trappers already had found the way to New Spain from
the valley of the Platte, south along the eastern edge of the
Rockies, through Wyoming and Colorado. By some such route as that
at least one trader, a French creole, agent of the firm of Bryant
& Morrison at Kaskaskia, had penetrated to the Spanish lands as
early as 1804, while Lewis and Clark were still absent in the
upper wilderness. Each year the great mountain rendezvous of the
trappers--now at Bent's Fort on the Arkansas, now at Horse Creek
in Wyoming, now on Green River in Utah, or even farther beyond
the mountains--demanded supplies of food and traps and ammunition
to enable the hunters to continue their work for another year.
Perhaps many of the pack-trains which regularly supplied this
shifting mountain market already had traded in the Spanish

It is not necessary to go into further details regarding this
primitive commerce of the prairies. It yielded a certain profit;
it shaped the character of the men who carried it on. But what is
yet more important, it greatly influenced the country which lay
back of the border on the Missouri River. It called yet more men
from the eastern settlements to those portions which lay upon the
edge of the Great Plains. There crowded yet more thickly, up to
the line between the certain and the uncertain, the restless
westbound population of all the country.

If on the south the valley of the Arkansas led outward to New
Spain, yet other pathways made out from the Mississippi River
into the unknown lands. The Missouri was the first and last of
our great natural frontier roads. Its lower course swept along
the eastern edge of the Plains, far to the south, down to the
very doors of the most adventurous settlements in the Mississippi
Valley. Those who dared its stained and turbulent current had to
push up, onward, northward, past the mouth of the Platte, far to
the north across degrees of latitude, steadily forward through a
vast virgin land. Then the river bent boldly and strongly off to
the west, across another empire. Its great falls indicated that
it headed high; beyond the great falls its steady sweep westward
and at last southward, led into yet other kingdoms.

When we travel by horse or by modern motor car in that now
accessible region and look about us, we should not fail to
reflect on the long trail of the upbound boats which Manuel Lisa
and other traders sent out almost immediately upon the return of
the Lewis and Clark expedition. We should see them struggling up
against that tremendous current before steam was known, driven by
their lust for new lands. We may then understand fully what we
have read of the enterprises of the old American Fur Company, and
bring to mind the forgotten names of Campbell and Sublette, of
General Ashley and of Wyeth--names to be followed by others
really of less importance, as those of Bonneville and Fremont.
That there could be farms, that there ever might be homes, in
this strange wild country, was, to these early adventurers,

Then we should picture the millions of buffalo which once covered
these plains and think of the waste and folly of their
slaughtering. We should see the long streams of the Mackinaw
boats swimming down the Missouri, bound for St. Louis, laden with
bales of buffalo and beaver peltry, every pound of which would be
worth ten dollars at the capital of the fur trade; and we should
restore to our minds the old pictures of savage tribesmen, decked
in fur-trimmed war-shirts and plumed bonnets, armed with lance
and sinewed bow and bull-neck shield, not forgetting whence they
got their horses and how they got their food.

The great early mid-continental highway, known as the Oregon
Trail or the Overland Trail, was by way of the Missouri up the
Platte Valley, thence across the mountains. We know more of this
route because it was not discontinued, but came steadily more and
more into use, for one reason after another. The fur traders used
it, the Forty-Niners used it, the cattlemen used it in part, the
railroads used it; and, lastly, the settlers and farmers used it
most of all.

In physical features the Platte River route was similar to that
of the Arkansas Valley. Each at its eastern extremity, for a few
days' travel, passed over the rolling grass-covered and
flower-besprinkled prairies ere it broke into the high and dry
lands of the Plains, with their green or grey or brown covering
of practically flowerless short grasses. But between the two
trails of the Arkansas and the Platte there existed certain wide
differences. At the middle of the nineteenth century the two
trails were quite distinct in personnel, if that word may be
used. The Santa Fe Trail showed Spanish influences; that of the
Platte Valley remained far more nearly American.

Thus far the frontier had always been altering the man who came
to it; and, indirectly, always altering those who dwelt back of
the frontier, nearer to the Appalachians or the Atlantic. A new
people now was in process of formation--a people born of a new
environment. America and the American were conceiving. There was
soon to be born, soon swiftly to grow, a new and lasting type of
man. Man changes an environment only by bringing into it new or
better transportation. Environment changes man. Here in the
midcontinent, at the mid-century, the frontier and the ways of
the frontier were writing their imprint on the human product of
our land.

The first great caravans of the Platte Valley, when the
wagon-trains went out hundreds strong, were not the same as the
scattering cavalcade of the fur hunters, not the same as the
ox-trains and mule-trains of the Santa Fe traffic. The men who
wore deepest the wheel marks of the Oregon Trail were neither
trading nor trapping men, but homebuilding men--the first real
emigrants to go West with the intent of making homes beyond the

The Oregon Trail had been laid out by the explorers of the fur
trade. Zealous missionaries had made their way over the trail in
the thirties. The Argonauts of '49 passed over it and left it
only after crossing the Rockies. But, before gold in California
was dreamed of, there had come back to the States reports of
lands rich in resources other than gold, lying in the far
Northwest, beyond the great mountain ranges and, before the
Forty-Niners were heard of, farmers, homebuilders, emigrants, men
with their families, men with their household goods, were
steadily passing out for the far-off and unknown country of

The Oregon Trail was the pathway for Fremont in 1842, perhaps the
most overvalued explorer of all the West; albeit this comment may
to some seem harsh. Kit Carson and Bill Williams led Fremont
across the Rockies almost by the hand. Carson and Williams
themselves had been taken across by the Indian tribes. But
Fremont could write; and the story which he set down of his first
expedition inflamed the zeal of all. Men began to head out for
that far-away country beyond the Rockies. Not a few scattered
bands, but very many, passed up the valley of the Platte. There
began a tremendous trek of thousands of men who wanted homes
somewhere out beyond the frontier. And that was more than ten
years before the Civil War. The cow trade was not dreamed of; the
coming cow country was overleaped and ignored.

Our national horizon extended immeasurably along that dusty way.
In the use of the Oregon Trail we first began to be great. The
chief figure of the American West, the figure of the ages, is not
the long-haired, fringed-legging man riding a raw-boned pony, but
the gaunt and sadfaced woman sitting on the front seat of the
wagon, following her lord where he might lead, her face hidden in
the same ragged sunbonnet which had crossed the Appalachians and
the Missouri long before. That was America, my brethren! There
was the seed of America's wealth. There was the great romance of
all America--the woman in the sunbonnet; and not, after all, the
hero with the rifle across his saddle horn. Who has written her
story? Who has painted her picture?

They were large days, those of the great Oregon Trail, not always
pleasingly dramatic, but oftentimes tragic and terrible. We speak
of the Oregon Trail, but it means little to us today; nor will
any mere generalities ever make it mean much to us. But what did
it mean to the men and women of that day? What and who were those
men and women? What did it mean to take the Overland Trail in the
great adventure of abandoning forever the known and the safe and
setting out for Oregon or California at a time when everything in
the far West was new and unknown? How did those good folk travel?
Why and whither did they travel?

There is a book done by C. F. McGlashan, a resident of Truckee,
California, known as "The History of the Donner Party," holding a
great deal of actual history. McGlashan, living close to Donner
Lake, wrote in 1879, describing scenes with which he was
perfectly familiar, and recounting facts which he had from direct
association with participants in the ill-fated Donner Party. He
chronicles events which happened in 1846--a date before the
discovery of gold in California. The Donner Party was one of the
typical American caravans of homeseekers who started for the
Pacific Slope with no other purpose than that of founding homes

Book of the day: