Part 2 out of 4
"They're looking for a range. I told them any agreement reached must be
made with Mr. Quince. But now that you are here, you will do just as
well. They'll be in soon."
"I'm liable to tell them to ride on," said the gray-haired foreman. "I'm
jealous, and I want it distinctly understood that I'm a silent partner
in this ranch. How many cattle have you?"
"Nearly three hundred and fifty, not counting the calves."
"Forrest only rustled you three hundred and fifty cattle? The lazy
wretch--he ought to be hung for ingratitude!"
"Oh, no," protested Joel; "Mr. Quince has been a father to Dell and
"Wait until I come back from Dodge, and I'll show you what a rustler I
am," said Priest, arising to give his horse to the wrangler and issue
directions in regard to camping.
The arrival of Dell and the cowmen prevented further converse between
Priest and his protege. For the time being a soldier's introduction
sufficed between the Texans, but Dell came in for a rough caress. "What
do you think of the range?" inquired the trail foreman, turning to the
men, and going direct to the subject.
"It meets every requirement for ranching," replied the elder cowman,
"and I'm going to make these boys a generous offer."
"This man will act for us," said Joel to the two cowmen, with a jerk of
his thumb toward Priest.
"Well, that's good," said the older man, advancing to Priest. "My name
is Allen, and this is my son Hugh."
"And my name is Priest, a trail foreman in the employ of Don Lovell,"
said the gray-haired man, shaking hands with the Texans.
"Mr. Lovell was expected in Dodge the day we left," remarked the younger
man in greeting. "We had hopes of selling him our herd."
"What is your county?" inquired the trail boss, searching his pockets
for a telegram.
"And when did you leave Dodge?"
"Just ten days ago."
"Then you need no range--your cattle are sold," said Priest, handing the
older man a telegram.
The two scanned the message carefully, and the trail foreman continued:
"This year my herd was driven to fill a sub-contract, and we delivered
it last week at old Camp Clark, on the North Platte. From there the main
contractor will trail the beef herd up to the Yellowstone. Old man Don
was present at the delivery, and when I got back to Ogalalla with the
oufit, that message was awaiting me. I'm now on my way to Dodge to
receive the cattle. They go to the old man's beef ranch on the Little
Missouri. It says three thousand Comanche County two-year-olds,
"It's our cattle," said the son to his father. "We have the only
straight herd of Comanche County two-year-olds at Dodge City. That
commission man said he would sell them before we got back."
The elder Texan turned to the boys with a smile. "I reckon we'll have to
declare all negotiations off regarding this range. I had several good
offers to make you, and I'm really sorry at this turn of events. I had
figured out a leasing plan, whereby the rentals of this range would
give you boys a fine schooling, and revert to you on the eldest
attaining his majority. We could have pooled our cattle, and your
interests would have been carried free."
"You needn't worry about these boys," remarked Priest, with an air of
interest; "they have silent partners. As to schooling, I've known some
mighty good men who never punched the eyes out of the owl in their old
A distant cry of dinner was wafted up the creek. "That's a welcome
call," said Priest, arising. "Come on, everybody. My cook has orders to
tear his shirt in getting up a big dinner."
A short walk led to the camp. "This outfit looks good to me," said the
elder cowman to Priest, "and you can count on my company to the
"You're just the man I'm looking for," replied the trail boss. "We're
making forty miles a day, and you can have charge until we reach Dodge."
"But I only volunteered as far as the railroad," protested the genial
"Yes; but then I know you cowmen," contended Priest. "You have lived
around a wagon so long and love cow horses so dearly, that you simply
can't quit my outfit to ride on a train. Two o'clock is the hour for
starting, and I'll overtake you before evening."
The outfit had been reduced to six men, the remainder having been
excused and sent home from Ogalalla. The remuda was in fine condition,
four changes of mounts a day was the rule, and on the hour named, the
cavalcade moved out, leaving its foreman behind. "Angle across the plain
and enter the trail on the divide, between here and the Prairie Dog,"
suggested Priest to his men. "We will want to touch here coming back,
and the wagon track will point the way. Mr. Allen will act as segundo."
Left to themselves, the trio resolved itself into a ways and means
committee. "I soldiered four years," said Priest to the boys, once the
sunshade was reached, "and there's nothing that puts spirit and courage
into the firing line like knowing that the reserves are strong. It's
going to be no easy task to hold these cattle this winter, and now is
the time to bring up the ammunition and provision the camp. The army
can't march unless the mules are in condition, and you must be well
mounted to handle cattle. Ample provision for your saddle stock is the
"We're putting up a ton of hay a day," said Joel, "and we'll have two
hundred shocks of fodder."
"That's all right for rough forage, but you must have corn for your
saddle stock," urged the man. "Without grain for the mounts, cavalry is
useless. I think the railroad supplies, to settlers along its line,
coal, lumber, wire, and other staples at cost. I'll make inquiry
to-morrow and let you know when we return. One hundred bushels of corn
would make the forage reserves ample for the winter."
"We've got money enough to buy it," admitted Joel. "I didn't want to
take it, but Mr. Quince said it would come in handy."
"That covers the question of forage, then," said Priest. "Now comes the
question of corrals and branding."
"Going to brand the calves?" impulsively inquired Dell, jumping at
"The calves need not be branded before next spring," replied the
practical man, "but the herd must be branded this fall. If a blizzard
struck the cattle on the open, they would drift twenty miles during a
night. These through Texas cattle have been known to drift five hundred
miles during the first winter. You must guard against a winter drift,
and the only way is to hold your cattle under herd. If you boys let
these cattle out of your hand, away from your control, they'll drift
south to the Indian reservations and be lost. You must hold them in
spite of storms, and you will need a big, roomy inclosure in which to
corral the herd at night."
"There's the corn field," suggested Dell.
"It has no shelter," objected Priest. "Your corral must protect against
the north and west winds."
"The big bend's the place," said Joel. "The creek makes a perfect
horseshoe, with bluff banks almost twenty feet high on the north and
northwest. One hundred yards of fencing would inclose five acres. Our
cows used to shelter there. It's only a mile above the house."
"What's the soil, and how about water?" inquired the gray-haired
"It's a sand-bar, with a ripple and two long pools in the circle of the
creek," promptly replied Joel.
"Bring in the horses," said Priest, looking at his watch; "I'll have
time to look it over before leaving."
While awaiting the horses, the practical cowman outlined to Joel certain
alterations to the corral at the stable, which admitted of the addition
of a branding chute. "You must cut and haul the necessary posts and
timber before my return, and when we pass north, my outfit will build
you a chute and brand your cattle the same day. Have the materials on
the ground, and I'll bring any needful hardware from the railroad."
A short canter brought the committee to the big bend. The sand-bar was
overgrown with weeds high as a man's shoulder on horseback, but the
leader, followed by the boys, forced his mount through the tangle until
the bend was circled. "It's an ideal winter shelter," said Priest,
dismounting to step the entrance, as a preliminary measurement. "A
hundred and ten yards," he announced, a few minutes later, "coon-skin
measurement. You'll need twenty heavy posts and one hundred stays. I'll
bring you a roll of wire. That water's everything; a thirsty cow chills
easily. Given a dry bed and contented stomach, in this corral your herd
can laugh at any storm. It's almost ready made, and there's nothing
niggardly about its proportions."
"When will we put the cattle under herd?" inquired Dell as the trio rode
"Oh, about the second snowstorm," replied Priest. "After squaw winter's
over, there's usually a month to six weeks of Indian summer. It might be
as late as the first of December, but it's a good idea to loose-herd
awhile; ride around them evening and morning, corral them and leave the
gates open, teach them to seek a dry, cosy bed, at least a month before
putting the cattle under close-herd. Teach them to drink in the corral,
and then they'll want to come home. You boys will just about have to
live with your little herd this winter."
"We wintered here once," modestly said Joel, "and I'm sure we can do it
again. The storms are the only thing to dread, and we can weather them."
"Of course you can," assured the trail boss. "It's a ground-hog case;
it's hold these cattle or the Indians will eat them for you. Lost during
one storm, and your herd is lost for good."
"And about horses: will one apiece be enough?" queried Joel. "Mr. Quince
thought two stabled ones would do the winter herding."
"One corn-fed pony will do the work of four grass horses," replied the
cowman. "Herding is no work for horses, provided you spare them. If you
must, miss your own dinner, but see that your horse gets his. Dismount
and strip the bridle off at every chance, and if you guard against
getting caught out in storms, one horse apiece is all you need."
On reaching the homestead, Priest shifted his saddle to a horse in
waiting, and announced his regrets at being compelled to limit his
visit. "It may be two weeks before I return," said he, leading his horse
from the corral to the tent, "but we'll point in here and lend a hand in
shaping you up for winter. Forrest is liable to have a herd of his own,
and in that case, there will be two outfits of men. More than likely,
we'll come through together."
Hurried as he professed to be, the trail foreman pottered around as if
time was worthless, but finally mounted. "Now the commissary is
provisioned," said he, in summing up the situation, "to stand a winter's
siege, the forage is ample, the corral and branding chute is half
done--well, I reckon we're the boys to hold a few cattle. Honest Injun,
I hope it will storm enough this winter to try you out; just to see what
kind of thoroughbreds you really are. And if any one else offers to buy
an interest in this range," he called back, as a happy afterthought,
"just tell them that you have all the partners you need."
ALL IN THE DAY'S WORK
The brief visit of Priest proved a tonic to the boys. If a firing line
of veteran soldiers can be heartened, surely the spirit and courage of
orphan waifs needed fortifying against the coming winter. The elements
have laughed at the hopes and ambitions of a conqueror, and an
invincible army has trailed its banners in the snow, unable to cope with
the rigors of the frost king. The lads bent anew to their tasks with a
cheerfulness which made work mere play, sweetening their frugal fare,
and bringing restful sleep. The tie which began in a mercenary agreement
had seemingly broken its bonds, and in lieu, through the leaven of human
love, a new covenant had been adopted.
"If it's a dry, open winter," said Dell at breakfast next morning,
"holding these cattle will be nothing. The water holds them now
[Illustration: JOEL WELLS AND HIS SPANISH COW-PONY]
"Yes," replied Joel, "but we must plan to meet the worst possible
winter. A blizzard gives little warning, and the only way to overcome
one is to be fully prepared. That's what Mr. Paul means by bringing up
the ammunition. We must provide so as to be able to withstand a
"Well, what's lacking?" insisted Dell.
"Fuel. Take an axe with you this morning, and after riding around the
cattle, cut and collect the dead and fallen timber in Hackberry Grove.
Keep an eye open for posts and stays--I'll cut them while you're hauling
wood. Remember we must have the materials on the ground when Mr. Paul
returns, to build a corral and branding chute."
Axe and scythe were swung that morning with renewed energy. Within a
week the required amount of hay was in stack, while the further supply
of forage, promised in the stunted corn, was daily noted in its
Without delay the scene of activity shifted. The grove was levied on, a
change of axe-men took place, while the team even felt a new impetus by
making, instead of one, two round trips daily. The fuel supply grew, not
to meet a winter's, but a year's requirements. Where strength was
essential, only the best of timber was chosen, and well within the time
limit the materials for corral and branding chute were at hand on the
ground. One task met and mastered, all subsequent ones seemed easier.
"We're ahead of time," said Joel with a quiet air of triumph, as the
last load of stays reached the corral site. "If we only knew the plans,
we might dig the post-holes. The corn's still growing, and it won't do
to cut until it begins to ripen--until the sugar rises in the stock. We
can't turn another wheel until Mr. Paul returns."
Idleness was galling to Joel Wells. "We'll ride the range to-day," he
announced the following morning. "From here to the ford doesn't matter,
but all the upper tributaries ought to be known. We must learn the
location of every natural shelter. If a storm ever cuts us off from the
corrals, we must point the herd for some other port."
"The main Beaver forks only a few miles above Hackberry Grove,"
"Then we'll ride out the south fork to-day and come back through the
sand hills. There must be some sheltered nooks in that range of dunes."
That the morning hour has gold in its mouth, an unknown maxim at the new
ranch, mattered nothing. The young cowmen were up and away with the
rising sun, riding among and counting the different bunches of cattle
encountered, noting the cripples, and letting no details of the
conditions of the herd, in their leisurely course up the creek, escape
The cattle tallied out to an animal, and were left undisturbed on their
chosen range. Two hours' ride brought the boys to the forks of the
Beaver, and by the middle of the forenoon the south branch of the creek
was traced to its source among the sand dunes. If not inviting, the
section proved interesting, with its scraggy plum brush, its unnumbered
hills, and its many depressions, scalloped out of the sandy soil by the
action of winds. Coveys of wild quail were encountered, prairie chicken
took wing on every hand, and near the noon hour a monster gray wolf
arose from a sunny siesta on the summit of a near-by dune, and sniffed
the air in search of the cause of disturbance. Unseen, the boys reined
in their horses, a windward breeze favored the view for a moment, when
ten nearly full-grown cubs also arose and joined their mother in
scenting the horsemen. It was a rare glimpse of wary beasts, and like a
flash of light, once the human scent was detected, mother and whelps
skulked and were lost to sight in an instant.
"They're an enemy of cattle," whispered Joel when the cubs appeared.
"The young ones are not old enough yet to hunt alone, and are still
following their mother. Their lair is in these hills, and if this proves
a cold winter, hunger will make them attack our cattle before spring. We
may have more than storms to fight. There they go."
"How are we to fight them?" timidly asked Dell. "We have neither dog nor
"Mr. Paul will know," replied Joel with confidence. "They'll not bother
us while they can get food elsewhere."
The shelter of a wolf-pack's lair was not an encouraging winter refuge
to drifting cattle. The boys even shook out their horses for a short
gallop in leaving the sand dunes, and breathed easier once the open of
the plain was reached. Following a low watershed, the brothers made a
wide detour from the Beaver, but on coming opposite the homestead, near
the middle of the afternoon, they turned and rode directly for the
ranch, where a welcome surprise greeted them.
Four men were at work on the branding chute. A single glance revealed
both Priest and Forrest among the quartette. On riding up to the stable
corral, in the rough reception which followed, the lads were fairly
dragged from their saddles amid hearty greetings. "Well, here we are
again, and as busy as cranberry merchants," said Priest, once order
"Where's your herd?" inquired Joel.
"He hasn't any," interrupted Forrest; "he's working for me. About this
time to-morrow evening, I'll split this ranch wide open with two herds,
each of thirty-five hundred two-year-old steers. I'm coming with some
style this time. You simply can't keep a good man down."
"There were two herds instead of one to go to the old man's beef ranch,"
explained Priest. "We brought along a couple extra men and came through
a day ahead. We can't halt our cattle, but we can have the chute and
corrals nearly ready when the herds arrive. All we'll lack is the
hardware, and the wagons will reach here early during the afternoon."
The homestead presented a busy scene for the remainder of the day. Every
old tool on the ranch was brought into service, and by twilight the
outlines of the branding chute had taken form. The stable corral was
built out of heavy poles and posts, with a capacity of holding near one
hundred cattle, and by a very slight alteration it could be enlarged,
with branding conveniences added.
At this point it was deemed advisable to enlighten the boys regarding
the title of stray cattle. Forrest and Priest had talked the matter over
between themselves, and had decided that the simple truth concerning the
facts was the only course to adopt. The older of the two men, by the
consent of years, was delegated to instruct the lads, and when the
question of brands to be adopted by the new ranch was under
consideration, the chance presented itself.
"In starting this ranch," said the gray-haired foreman to the boys, as
they all sat before the tent in the twilight, "we'll have to use two
brands. Cattle are conveyed from one owner to another by bill-of-sale.
In a big pastoral exodus like the present, it is simply impossible to
keep strays out of moving herds. They come in at night, steal in while a
herd is passing through thickets, while it is watering, and they may not
be noticed for a month. Under all range customs, strays are recognized
as flotsam. Title is impossible, and the best claim is due to the range
that gives them sustenance. It has always been customary to brand the
increase of strays to the range on which they are found, and that will
entitle you to all calves born of stray mothers."
The brothers were intent listeners, and the man continued: "For fear of
winter drifting, and that they may be identified, we will run all these
strays into Two Bars on the left hip, which will be known as the
'Hospital' brand. For the present, that will give us an asylum for that
branch of flotsam gathered, and as trustees and owners of the range, all
increase will fall to Wells Brothers. However, in accepting this
deputyship, you do so with the understanding that the brand is merely a
tally-mark, and that in no way does it deprive the owner of coming
forward to prove and take possession of his property. This method
affords a refuge to all strays in your possession, and absolves you from
any evil intent. All other cattle coming under your control, with the
knowledge and consent of the owner or his agent, are yours in fee
simple, and we will run them into any brand you wish to adopt."
"But suppose no one ever calls for these stray cows?" said Joel,
"Then let them live out their days in peace," advised Forrest. "The
weeds grow rankly wherever a cow dies, and that was the way their
ancestors went. One generation exempts you."
The discovery of wolves in that immediate vicinity was not mentioned
until the following morning. The forces were divided between the tasks,
and as Priest and Joel rode up the valley to the site of the new corral,
the disclosure was made known.
"Wolves? Why, certainly," said Priest, answering his own query. "Wolves
act as a barometer in forecasting the coming of storms. Their activity
or presence will warn you of the approach of blizzards, and you want to
take the hint and keep your weather eye open. When other food becomes
scarce, they run in packs and will kill cattle. You are perfectly safe,
as yours will be either under herd or in a corral. Wolves always single
out an animal to attack; they wouldn't dare enter an inclosure. Taken
advantage of in their hunger, they can be easily poisoned. A wolf dearly
loves kidney suet or fresh tallow, and by mixing strychnine with either,
they can be lured to their own destruction."
The post-holes were dug extra deep for the corral. The work was
completed before noon, the gate being the only feature of interest. It
was made double, fifty feet wide, and fastened in the centre to a strong
post. The gate proper was made of wire, webbed together with stays,
admitting of a pliability which served a double purpose. By sinking an
extra post opposite each of the main ones, the flexibility of the gate
also admitted of making a perfect wing, aiding in the entrance or exit
of a herd. In fastening the gate in the centre short ropes were used,
and the wire web drawn taut to the tension of a pliable fence. "You boys
will find this short wing, when penning a herd, equal to an extra man,"
assured the old foreman.
The first round-up on the new ranch took place that afternoon. Forrest
took the extra men and boys, and riding to the extreme upper limits of
the range, threw out the drag-net of horsemen and turned homeward. The
cattle ranged within a mile or two on either side of the creek, and by
slowly closing in and drifting down the Beaver, the nucleus of the ranch
was brought into a compact herd. There was no hurry, as ample time must
be allowed for the arrival of the wagons and stretching of the wire, in
finishing and making ready the upper corral for its first reception of
cattle. There was a better reason for delay, which was held in reserve,
as a surprise for the boys.
As expected, the wagons and remudas arrived at the new ranch hours in
advance of the herds. The horse wranglers were detailed by Priest, and
fitting an axle to the spool of wire, by the aid of ropes attached to
the pommels of two saddles, it was rolled up to the scene of its use at
an easy canter. The stretching of the wire was less than an hour's work,
the slack being taken up by the wranglers, ever upholding Texas
methods, from the pommels of saddles, while Priest clinched the strands
with staples at the proper tension. The gates were merely a pliable
extension of the fence, the flexible character requiring no hinges.
"Now, when the stays are interwoven through the wire, and fastened in
place with staples, there's a corral that will hold a thousand cattle,"
said one of the wranglers admiringly.
It was after sunset when the herd was penned. Forrest, after counting
the round-up to his satisfaction, detailed Dell and Joel to graze the
herd in a bend of the Beaver, out of sight and fully a mile above, and
taking the extra men returned to the homestead. The trail herds had
purposely arrived late, expecting to camp on the Beaver that night, and
were met by their respective foremen while watering for the day. In
receiving, at Dodge, two large herds of one-aged cattle, both foremen,
but more particularly Forrest, in the extra time at his command, had
levied on the flotsam of the herds from which his employer was buying,
until he had accumulated over one hundred cattle. Priest had secured,
among a few friends and the few herds with which he came in contact,
scarcely half that number, and still the two contingents made a very
material increase to the new ranch.
The addition of these extra cattle was the surprise in reserve. Joel and
Dell had never dreamed of a further increase to the ranch stock, and
Forrest had timed the corralling of the original and late contingents as
the climax of the day's work. Detailing both of the boys on the point,
as the upper herd was nearing the corral, it was suddenly confronted by
another contingent, rounding a bend of the creek from the opposite
quarter. Priest had purposely detailed strange men, coached to the point
of blindness, in charge of the new addition, and when the two bunches
threatened to mix, every horseman present except the boys seemed blind
to the situation.
Dell and Joel struggled in vain--the cattle mixed. "Well, well," said
Forrest, galloping up, "here's a nice come-off! Trust my own boys to
point a little herd into a corral, and they let two bunches of cattle
mix! Wouldn't that make a saint swear!"
"Those other fellows had no man in the lead or on the point," protested
Dell dejectedly. "They were looking away off yonder, and their cattle
walked into ours. Where were you?"
"One of my men was telling me about an old sweetheart of his down on
the Trinity River, and it made me absent-minded. I forgot what we were
doing. Well, it's too late in the day to separate them now. We'll pen
them until morning."
The appearance of Priest and the readiness with which the strange men
assisted in corralling the herd shortly revealed the situation to the
crafty Joel. On the homeward canter, the gray-haired foreman managed to
drop a word which lightened Dell's depression and cleared up the
That was a great night on the Beaver. The two wagons camped together,
the herds bedded on either side of the creek, and the outfits mingled
around the same camp-fire. Rare stories were told, old songs were sung,
the lusty chorus of which easily reached the night-herders, and was
answered back like a distant refrain.
The next morning the herds moved out on their way without a wasted step.
Two men were detailed from each outfit, and with the foremen and the
boys, a branding crew stood ready for the task before them. The chute
had been ironed and bolted the evening previous, and long before the
early rays of the sun flooded the valley of the Beaver, the first
contingent of cattle arrived from the upper corral.
The boys adopted Bar Y as their brand. The chute chambered ten grown
cattle, and when clutched in a vise-like embrace, with bars fore and
aft, the actual branding, at the hands of two trail foremen, was quickly
over. The main herd was cut into half a dozen bunches, and before the
noon hour arrived, the last hoof had passed under the running irons and
bore the new owner's brand or tally-mark.
Only a short rest was allowed, as the herds were trailing the limit of
travel, and must be overtaken by evening. When crossing the railroad a
few days before, it was learned that Grinnell was the railroad depot for
settlers' supplies, and the boys were advised to file their order for
corn, and to advance a liberal payment to insure attention. All details
of the ranch seemed well in hand, the cattle were in good condition to
withstand a winter, and if spirit and confidence could be imparted, from
age to youth, the sponsors of the venture would have felt little concern
for the future. If a dry, open winter followed, success was assured; if
the reverse, was it right to try out the very souls of these waifs in a
The foremen and their men left early in the afternoon. On reaching a
divide, which gave the party of horsemen a last glimpse of the Beaver,
the cavalcade halted for a parting look.
"Isn't it a pretty range?" said Forrest, gazing far beyond the hazy
valley. "I wish we knew if those boys can stick out the winter."
"Stick? We'll make them stick!" said Priest, in a tone as decisive as if
his own flesh and blood had been insulted.
THE LINES OF INTRENCHMENT
The boys watched the cavalcade until it faded away in the swells of the
plain. At each recurring departure of their friends, in spite of all
bravado to the contrary, a pall of loneliness crept into the hearts of
the waifs. Theirs had been a cheerless boyhood; shifted about from
pillar to post, with poverty their one sure companion, they had tasted
of the wormwood in advance of their years. Toys such as other lads
played with for an hour and cast aside were unknown in their lives, and
only the poor substitute for hoop, horse, or gun had been theirs. In the
struggle for existence, human affection was almost denied them. A happy
home they had never known, and the one memory of their childhood worthy
of remembrance was the love of a mother, which arose like a lily in the
mire of their lives, shedding its fragrance more fully as its loss
Joel was the more sensitive of the brothers. Forrest had fully discussed
the coming winter with the older lad, and as an incentive to
watchfulness had openly expressed doubt of the ability of the boys to
battle with the elements. The conversation was depressing, and on the
departure of the men, the boys resumed the discussion of the matter
"Mr. Quince thinks we can't hold these cattle," said Joel, watching the
receding horsemen. "He's afraid a storm will catch us several miles out
and cut us off from reaching the corral. Well, it will be my fault if
Dell made a boastful remark, but the older boy only intensified his gaze
at the fading cavalcade. A vision of his youthful sufferings flashed
through his mind, and a mist, closely akin to tears, dimmed his eyes. He
had learned the lesson that poverty teaches, unaware that the storm
which rocks also roots the oak, but unable to make the comparison or
draw the inference between surrounding nature and himself. For an
instant the horsemen dipped from view, changing the scene, and a picture
rose up, a vision of the future, of independence, of a day when he would
take his place as a man among men. The past was beyond his control, its
bridges burned, but the future was worth battling for; and as if
encouraged by invisible helpers, the boy turned his face to the valley
of the Beaver.
"We'll hold these cattle or starve," said he, unconsciously answering
his gray-haired sponsor, fading from sight over the last divide. "Hold
them. I can hold them alone."
"There's no danger of starving," commented Dell, following his brother
into the tent. "We have provisions for a year."
"Then we'll hold the herd or freeze," answered Joel, almost hissing the
words--words which became a slogan afterward.
The cattle drifted back to their chosen range. The late addition mixed
and mingled with the others, now attached to the valley, with its
abundance of grass and water. Nothing was said about the first four
horses, from which the boys understood that they were, at least for the
present, left in their charge. All told, sixteen horses, fully half of
which were fit for saddle, were at the service of the ranch, ample in
number in proportion to the cattle secured.
It was only the middle of August. An accident, and a little over two
months' time, had changed the character of the Beaver valley. With no
work pressing, the brothers rode the range, circling farther to the west
and south, until any country liable to catch a winter drift became
familiar to sight. Northward ho! the slogan of every drover had ceased,
and the active trail of a month before had been deserted. The new ranch
had no neighbors, the nearest habitation was on the railroad to the
south, and the utter loneliness of the plain was only overcome by active
work. To those who love them, cattle and horses are good company, and in
their daily rides the lads became so familiar with the herd that in the
absence of brands they could have readily identified every animal by
flesh marks alone. Under almost constant contact with the boys, the
cattle became extremely gentle, while the calves even grew so
indifferent that they reluctantly arose from their beds to avoid a
The cutting, curing, and garnering home the field of corn was a welcome
task. It augmented the forage supply, assuring sustenance to the saddle
horses, an important feature in withstanding the coming winter siege. An
ideal fall favored the ranch, the dry weather curing the buffalo grass
on the divides, until it was the equal of hay, thus assuring the cattle
of ample grazing until spring. The usual squaw winter passed in a swirl
of snow, a single angry day, to be followed by a month of splendid
Indian summer. Its coming warned the lads; the order for corn was
placed; once a week the cattle were brought in and corralled, and the
ranch was made snug against the wintry months.
The middle of November was as early as the railroad would agree to
deliver the corn. It would take three days to go and come, and an equal
number of round trips would be required to freight the grain from the
railroad to the ranch. The corn had been shelled and sacked at elevator
points, eastward in the State, and in encouraging emigration the
railroad was glad to supply the grain at cost and freightage.
The hauling fell to Joel. He had placed the order, making a deposit, and
identification was necessary with the agent. On the very first trip to
Grinnell, a mere station on the plain, a surprise awaited the earnest
boy. As if he were a citizen of the hamlet, and in his usual quiet way,
Paul Priest greeted Joel on his arrival. The old foreman had secretly
left a horse with the railroad agent at Buffalo, where the trail
crossed, had kept in touch with the delivery of corn at stations
westward, and had timed his affairs so as to meet and pay a final visit
to his protegees.
"A battle is sometimes lost by a very slight oversight or accident,"
said the man to the boy. "The ammunition may get damaged, slippery
ground might prevent the placing of a battery at an opportune moment,
or the casting of a horse's shoe might delay a courier with an important
order. I feel an interest in your little ranch, and when I know that
everything is done that can be done to fortify against the coming
winter, I'll go home feeling better. There is such a thing as killing
the spirit of a soldier, and if I were to let you boys try and fail, it
would affect your courage to face the future. That's the reason I've
dropped off to take a last look at your lines of intrenchment. We've got
to hold those cattle."
"Mr. Quince thinks we won't, but let the winter come as it may, we're
going to hold the herd," simply said the boy.
There was a resolution, an earnestness, in the words of the lad that
pleased the man. "Your Mr. Quince has seen some cold winters on the
range," said the latter, "and that's the reason he fears the worst. But
come as it will, if we do all in our power, put up the best fight in us,
and fail, then we are blameless. But with my experience, if I let you
fail, when you might have won, then I have done you an injury."
That was the platform on which men and boys stood, the outline on which
their mutual venture must stand or fall, and admitted of no shirking on
the part of any one. The most minute detail, down to a change of clean
saddle blankets, for winter work, must be fully understood. The death of
a horse in which reliance rested, at an unfortunate moment, might mean
the loss of the herd, and a clean, warm blanket on a cold day was the
merciful forethought of a man for his beast. No damp, frosty, or frozen
blanket must be used on the Wells ranch.
On the return trip, an early start was made. A night camp was necessary,
at the halfway point, the dread of which was robbed of its terrors by
the presence of a veteran of the open. Before leaving the depot, Priest
unearthed a number of bundles, "little things that might come in handy,"
among which was a sack of salt and two empty oak barrels. The latter
provoked an inquiry from Joel, and an explanation was forced at
"Did you notice a big steer that came in with the last cattle, and which
was overlooked in branding?" inquired Priest, meeting the boy's query
with a question.
"A mottled beef, branded 7L?"
"That's the steer. Why do you reckon we overlooked branding him?"
"Dell and I thought it was an oversight."
"When you see what I'm going to do with that salt and these barrels,
then you'll see that it was no neglect. That steer has undergone several
Northern winters, has reached his prime, and the governor's cellar won't
have any better corn beef this winter than the Wells ranch. Seven or
eight hundred pounds of pickled beef is an important item in the winter
intrenchments. In fact, it's an asset to any cow camp. There are so many
little things that may come in handy."
The second morning out from the station, Priest bore off on a course
that would land him well above the grove on the Beaver. He had never
been over the range, and not wishing to waste a day with a loaded wagon,
he angled away for the sand hills which formed the divide, sloping away
to the branches of the main creek. Noon found him on the south fork;
cattle were encountered near the juncture, and as he approached the
grove, a horseman rode out as if to dispute the passage of an intruder.
The old foreman noticed the boyish figure and delayed the meeting,
reining in to critically examine cattle which he had branded some three
months before. With diligent intent, the greeting was kept pending, the
wayfarer riding away on a tangent and veering back on his general
course, until Dell's suspicion was aroused. The return of Priest was so
unexpected that the boy's eyes filled with tears, and the two rode
along until the grove was reached, when they dismounted.
"If I had known that you were coming," said Dell, "I could have made
coffee here. It was so lonesome at the ranch that I was spending the day
among the cattle."
"A cowman expects to miss his dinner occasionally," admitted Priest;
"that's why they all look so long and hungry. Where does that 7L
"The big mottled fellow?--Why, down near the corral," replied the boy,
repeating and answering the question.
"I want to look him over," simply said the old foreman.
The two remounted and continued down the valley. The noon hour had
brought the herd in for its daily water, and no animal was overlooked on
the homeward ride. The summer gloss had passed and the hairy, shaggy,
winter coats of the cattle almost hid the brands, while three to six
months' rest on a perfect range was reflected in the splendid condition
of the general herd.
"That's one feature of the winter intrenchments that needn't worry us,"
said Priest; "the cattle have the tallow to withstand any
"And the horses are all rolling fat," added Dell. "They range below the
ranch; and there isn't a cripple or sore back among them. There's the
They were nearing the last contingent of cattle. Priest gave the
finished animal a single glance, and smiled. "Outsiders say," said he,
"that it's a maxim among us Texans never to eat your own beef. The adage
is worth transplanting. We'll beef him. The lines of intrenchment are
The latter remarks were not fully understood by Dell, but on the arrival
of the wagon that evening, and a short confidence between the brothers,
the horizon cleared. Aside from the salt and barrels, there were
sheepskin-lined coats and mittens, boots of heavy felting, flannels over
and under, as if the boys were being outfitted for a polar expedition.
"It may all come in handy," said a fatherly voice, "and a soldier out on
sentinel duty ought to be made comfortable. In holding cattle this
winter, it's part of the intrenchments."
A cyclone cellar served as a storeroom for the sacked corn. Joel was
away by early sun-up, on the second trip to the station, while those
left behind busied themselves in strengthening the commissary. The
barrels were made sweet and clean with scalding water, knives were
ground, and a crude platform erected for cooling out meat. Dell, on the
tip-toe of expectancy, danced attendance, wondering how this quiet man
would accomplish his ends, and unable to wholly restrain his curiosity.
"Watch me closely," was the usual reply. "You will probably marry young,
and every head of a family, on a ranch, ought to know how to cure corn
beef. Give me a week of frosty nights, and the lesson is yours. Watch
The climax of the day was felling the beef. Near the middle of the
afternoon, the two rode out, cut off a small contingent of cattle,
including the animal wanted, and quietly drifted them down to the
desired location. Dell's curiosity had given way to alertness, and when
the old foreman shook out a rope, the boy instinctively knew that a
moment of action was at hand. Without in the least alarming the other
cattle, the cast was made, the loop opened in mid-air, settled around
the horns, cut fast by a jerk of the rope, and the contest between man
and animal began. It was over in a moment. The shade of a willow was the
chosen spot, and as the cattle were freed, the steer turned, the
horseman taking one side of the tree and the beef the other, wrapping
several turns of the rope in circling on contrary courses. The instant
the big fellow quieted, on its coming to a level, a pistol flashed, and
the beef fell in his tracks. That was the programme--to make the kill in
the shade of the willow. And it was so easily done.
"That's about all we can do on horseback," said the gray-haired Texan,
dismounting. "You may bring the knives."
Every step in the lesson was of interest to Dell. Before dark the beef
was cut into suitable pieces and spread on the platform to drain and
cool. During the frosty night following, all trace of animal heat passed
away, and before sunrise the meat was salted into barrels. Thereafter,
or until it was drained of every animal impurity, the beef was spread on
the platform nightly, the brine boiled and skimmed, until a perfect
pickle was secured. It was a matter of a week's concern, adding to the
commissary two barrels of prime corned beef, an item of no small value
in the line of sustenance.
The roping of the beef had not been overlooked. "I can't see what made
the loop open for you yesterday," said Dell the next morning; "it won't
open for me."
Priest took the rope from the boy. "What the tail means to a kite, or
the feather to an arrow," said he, running out an oval noose, "the same
principle applies to open the loop of a rope. The oval must have a heavy
side, which you get by letting the Hondo run almost halfway round the
loop, or double on one side. Then when you make your cast, the light
side will follow the heavy, and your loop will open. In other words,
what the feather is to the arrow, the light side is to the heavy, and if
you throw with force, the loop must open."
It seemed so easy. Like a healthy boy, Dell had an ambition to be a
fearless rider and crack roper. During the week which followed, in the
saddle or at leisure, the boy never tired of practicing with a rope,
while the patient man called attention to several wrist movements which
lent assistance in forming a perfect loop. The slightest success was
repeated to perfection; unceasing devotion to a task masters it, and
before the visit ended, the perfect oval poised in the air and the rope
seemingly obeyed the hand of Dell Wells.
"It's all right to master these little details of the cattle business,"
said Priest to Dell, "but don't play them as lead cards. Keep them up
your sleeve, as a private accomplishment, for your own personal use.
These fancy riders and ropers are usually Sunday men. When I make up an
outfit for the trail, I never insist on any special attainments. Just so
he's good natured, and no danger of a rainy night dampening the twinkle
in his eye, that's the boy for me. Then if he can think a little, act
quick, clear, and to the point, I wouldn't care if he couldn't rope a
cow in a month."
In considering the lines of resistance, the possibility of annoyance
from wolves was not overlooked. There was an abundance of suet in the
beef, several vials of strychnine had been provided, and a full gallon
of poisoned tallow was prepared in event of its needs. While Joel was
away after the last load of corn, several dozen wooden holders were
prepared, two-inch auger holes being sunk to the depth of five or six
inches, the length of a wolf's tongue, and the troughs charred and
smoked of every trace of human scent.
That the boys might fully understand the many details, the final
instructions were delayed until Joel's return. "Always bear in mind that
a wolf is a wary beast," admonished Priest, "and match your cunning
against his. Make no mistake, take no chances, for you're dealing with a
crafty enemy. About the troughs on the ground, surrounding the bait,
every trace of human scent must be avoided. For that reason, you must
handle the holder with a spear or hay fork, and if you have occasion to
dismount, to refill a trough, carry a board to alight on, remembering to
lower and take it up by rope, untouched even by a gloved hand. The scent
of a horse arouses no suspicion; in fact, it is an advantage, as it
In loading a bait, an object lesson was given, using unpoisoned suet.
"After throwing off all suspicion," continued Priest, illustrating the
process, "the next thing is to avoid an overdose. An overdose acts as an
emetic, and makes a wise wolf. For that reason, you must pack the tallow
in the auger hole, filling from a half to two thirds full. Force Mr.
Wolf to lick it out, administer the poison slowly, and you are sure of
his scalp. You will notice I have bored the hole in solid wood, to
prevent gnawing, and you must pack the suet firmly, to prevent spilling,
as a crafty wolf will roll a trough over and over to dislodge the bait.
Keep your holders out in the open, exposed to the elements, scald the
loading tools before using, and you have the upper hand of any wolves
that may molest your cattle."
The trail foreman spent a pleasant two weeks at the Wells ranch. After
the corn was in store, the trio rode the range and reviewed every
possible line of defense. Since the winter could not be foreseen, the
only safe course was to anticipate the worst, and barring the burning of
the range from unseen sources, the new ranch stood prepared to withstand
a winter siege. Everything to forefend against a day of stress or trial
had been done, even to instilling courage into youthful hearts.
"There's only one thing further that comes to mind," said the practical
man, as they rode homeward, "and that is to face an unexpected storm. If
a change of weather threatens, point your herd to meet it, and then if
you are caught out, you will have the storm in your back to drift the
cattle home. Shepherds practice that rule, and the same applies to
cattle under herd."
All horses were to be left at the new ranch for the winter. Dell
volunteered to accompany their guest to the railroad and bring back the
extra mount, thus leaving five of Lovell's horses in possession of the
boys. On the day of departure, at breakfast, after a final summary of
the lines of resistance, the trio dallied about the table, the trail
foreman seemingly reluctant to leave.
"It's a common remark among us drovers," said Priest, toying with his
coffee cup, "that a cowman is supposed to do his sleeping in the winter.
But the next few months you boys must reverse that rule. Not that you
need to deny yourselves abundant rest, but your vigilance should never
sleep. Let your concern for the herd be the first and last thought of
the day, and then I'll get my beauty sleep this winter. The unforeseen
may happen; but I want you to remember that when storms howl the
loudest, your Mr. Quince and I will be right around the bend of the
creek, with our ear to the ground, the reserves, listening to the good
fight you boys are making. Of course you could call the reserves, but
you want the glory of the good fighting and the lust of victory, all to
yourselves. That's the way I've got you sized up--die rather than show
the white feather. Come on, Dell; we're sleeping in the summer."
A WINTRY CRUCIBLE
The dreaded winter was at hand. Scarcely a day passed but the harbingers
of air and sky sounded the warning approach of the forthcoming siege.
Great flights of song and game birds, in their migration southward, lent
an accent as they twittered by or honked in mid-air, while scurrying
clouds and squally weather bore witness of approaching winter.
The tent was struck and stored away. The extra saddle stock was freed
for the winter, and located around Hackberry Grove. The three best
horses were given a ration of corn, and on Dell's return from the
railroad, the cattle were put under herd. The most liberal freedom must
be allowed; with the numbers on hand, the term _close_ herding would
imply grazing the cattle on a section of land, while _loose_ herding
would mean four or five times that acreage. New routes must be taken
daily; the weather would govern the compactness and course of the herd,
while a radius of five miles from the corral was a liberal range.
The brothers were somewhat familiar with winter on the plains. Cold was
to be expected, but if accompanied by sunshine and a dry atmosphere,
there was nothing to fear. A warm, fine day was usually the forerunner
of a storm, the approach of which gave little warning, requiring a
sleepless vigilance to avoid being taken unaware or at a disadvantage.
The day's work began at sunrise. Cattle are loath to leave a dry bed,
and on throwing open the corral gates, it was often necessary to enter
and arouse the herd. Thereafter, under normal conditions, it was a
matter of pointing, keeping up the drag cattle, allowing the herd to
spread and graze, and contracting and relaxing as occasion required. In
handling, it was a decided advantage that the little nucleus had known
herd restraint, in trailing overland from Texas, and were obedient, at a
distance of fifty yards, to the slightest whistle or pressure of a
herdsman. Under favorable conditions, the cattle could be depended on to
graze until noon, when they were allowed an hour's rest, and the circle
homeward was timed so as to reach the corral and water by sunset. The
duties of each day were a repetition of the previous one, the moods of
the old and younger cattle, sedate and frolicsome, affording the only
variety to the monotony of the task.
"Holding these cattle is going to be no trouble at all," said Dell, as
they rode homeward, at the end of the first day's herding. "My horse
never wet a hair to-day."
"Don't shout before you're out of the woods," replied Joel. "The first
of April will be soon enough to count our chickens. To-morrow is only
the beginning of December."
"Last year we shucked corn up until Christmas."
"Husking corn is a burnt bridge with me. We're herding cattle this
winter. Sit straight in your saddle."
A week of fine weather followed. The boys were kept busy, early and
late, with the details of house and stable. A new route each day was
taken with the herd, and after penning in the evening, it was a daily
occurrence, before bedtime, to walk back to the corral and see that all
was secure. Warning of approach and departure, on the part of the boys,
either by whistling or singing, was always given the cattle, and the
customary grunting of the herd answered for its own contentment. A
parting look was given the horses, their forage replenished, and every
comfort looked after to the satisfaction of their masters. By nature,
horses are distant and slow of any expression of friendship; but an
occasional lump of sugar, a biscuit at noon-time, with the present
ration of grain, readily brought the winter mounts to a reliance, where
they nickered at the approaching footsteps of their riders.
The trust of the boys, in their winter mounts, entitles the latter to a
prominent place in the line of defense. Rowdy, Joel's favorite, was a
veteran cow horse, dark brown in color, and, under the saddle, restless,
with a knowledge of his work that bordered on the human. Dell favored
Dog-toe, a chestnut in color, whose best point was a perfect rein, and
from experience in roping could halt from any gait on the space of a
blanket. The relay horse was named Coyote, a cinnamon-colored mount,
Spanish marked in a black stripe down his back, whose limbs were
triple-ringed above the knees, or where the body color merged with the
black of his legs. Their names had followed them from the trail, one of
which was due to color marks, one to disposition, while that of Dell's
chestnut was easily traceable, from black marks in his hoofs quartering
The first storm struck near the middle of December. It was preceded by
an ideal day; like the promise of spring, a balmy south wind swept the
range, while at night a halo encircled the moon.
"It will storm within three days," said Dell, as the boys strolled up to
the corral for a last look at the sleeping cattle. "There are three
stars inside the circle around the moon. That's one of Granny
"Well, we'll not depend on signs," replied Joel. "These old granny omens
may be all right to hatch chickens by, but not to hold cattle. All
advice on that point seems to rely on corn-fed saddle horses and
The brothers spent the customary hour at the corral. From the bluff bank
which encircled the inclosure, the lads looked down on the contented
herd, their possession and their promise; and the tie of man and his
beast was accented anew in their youthful hearts.
"Mr. Paul was telling me on one of our rides," said Joel, gazing down on
the sleeping herd, "that we know nothing of the human race in an age so
remote that it owned no cattle. He says that when the pyramids of Egypt
were being built, ours was then an ancient occupation. I love to hear
Mr. Paul talk about cattle. Hark!"
The long howl of a wolf to the south was answered by a band to the
westward, and echoed back from the north in a single voice, each
apparently many miles distant. Animal instinct is usually unerring, and
the boys readily recalled the statement of the old trail foreman, that
the howling of wolves was an omen of a forthcoming storm.
"Let it come," said Joel, arising and starting homeward. "We'll meet it.
Our course to-morrow will be northwest."
It came with little warning. Near the middle of the following afternoon,
a noticeable lull in the wind occurred, followed by a leaden horizon on
the west and north. The next breeze carried the icy breath of the
northwest, and the cattle turned as a single animal. The alert horsemen
acted on the instant, and began throwing the cattle into a compact herd.
At the time they were fully three miles from the corral, and when less
than halfway home, the storm broke in splendid fury. A swirl of snow
accompanied the gale, blinding the boys for an instant, but each lad
held a point of the herd and the raging elements could be depended on to
bring up the rear.
It was no easy victory. The quarter from which the storm came had been
anticipated to a fraction. The cattle drifted before its wrath, dropped
into the valley just above the corral, where the boys doubled on the
outside point, and by the aid of a wing-gate turned the wandering herd
into the enclosure. The rear, lashed by the storm, instinctively
followed the leaders, and the gates were closed and roped securely.
It was a close call. The lesson came vividly near to the boys.
"Hereafter," said Joel, "all signs of a storm must be acted upon. We
corraled these cattle by a scratch. Now I know what a winter drift
means. A dozen men couldn't turn this herd from the course of to-day's
storm. We must hold nearer the corral."
The boys swung into their saddles, and, trusting to their horses, safely
reached the stable. A howling night followed; the wind banked the snow
against every obstacle, or filled the depressions, even sifting through
every crack and crevice in the dug-out. The boys and their mounts were
snug within sod walls, the cattle were sheltered in a cove of the creek,
and the storm wailed its dirges unheeded.
Dawn broke cold and clear. Sun-dogs flanked the day's harbinger and
sunrise found the boys at the corral gate. The cattle lazily responded
to their freedom, the course led to the nearest divide, wind-swept of
snow, and which after an hour's sun afforded ample grazing for the day.
The first storm of the winter had been met, and its one clear lesson
lent a dread to any possible successors. The herd in the grip of a
storm, cut off from the corral, had a new meaning to the embryo cowmen.
The best advice is mere theory until applied, and experience in the
practical things of life is not transferable.
The first storm was followed by ideal winter weather until Christmas
day. The brothers had planned an extra supper on that occasion,
expecting to excuse Dell during the early afternoon for the culinary
task, and only requiring his services on corraling the herd at evening.
The plan was feasible, the cattle were herd-broke, knew their bed and
water, and on the homeward circle all that was required was to direct
and time the grazing herd. The occasion had been looked forward to,
partly because it was their very own, their first Christmas spread, and
partly on account of some delicacies that their sponsor had forced on
Dell on parting at the railroad, in anticipation of the day. The bounds
of the supper approached a banquet, and the question of appetites to
grace the occasion was settled.
The supper was delayed. Not from any fault in the planning, but the
weather had not been consulted. The herd had been grazed out on a
northwest course for the day, and an hour after noon, almost the time at
which Dell was to have been excused, a haze obscured the sun and dropped
like a curtain around the horizon. Scurrying clouds appeared, and before
the herd could be thrown together and started, a hazy, leaden sky shot
up, almost due west, heralding the quarter of the coming storm. The herd
sensed the danger and responded to the efforts of the horsemen; but
before a mile had been covered, it was enveloped in swirling snow and
veering its march with the course of the storm. The eddying snow blinded
the boys as to their direction; they supposed they were pointing the
cattle into the valley, unaware that the herd had changed its course on
the onslaught of the elements. Confidence gave way to uncertainty, and
when sufficient time had elapsed to more than have reached the corral,
conjecture as to their location became rife. From the moment the storm
struck, both boys had bent every energy to point the herd into the
valley, but when neither slope nor creek was encountered, the fact
asserted itself that they were adrift and at the mercy of the elements.
"We've missed the corral," shouted Dell. "We're lost!"
"Not yet," answered Joel, amid the din of the howling storm. "The
creek's to our right. Loosen your rope and we'll beat these leaders into
The plying of ropes, the shouting of boys, and the pressure of horses
merely turned the foremost cattle, when a new contingent forged to the
front, impelled onward by the fury of the storm. Again and again the
boys plied the fear of ropes and the force of horses, but each effort
was futile, as new leaders stepped into the track of the displaced ones,
and the course of the herd was sullenly maintained.
The battle was on, and there were no reserves within call. In a crisis
like the present, moments drag like hours, and the firing line needed
heartening. A knowledge of the country was of no avail, a rod or two was
the limit of vision, and the brothers dared not trust each other out of
sight. Time moved forward unmeasured, yet amid all Joel Wells remained
in possession of a stanch heart and an unbewildered mind. "The creek's
to our right," was his battle cry. "Come on; let's turn these lead
cattle once more."
Whether it was the forty-ninth or hundredth effort is not on record, but
at some point in the good fight, the boys became aware that the cattle
were descending a slope--the welcome, southern slope of the Beaver
valley! Overhead the storm howled mercilessly, but the shelter of the
hillside admitted of veering the herd on its course, until the valley
was reached. No knowledge of their location was possible, and all the
brothers could do was to cross to the opposite point, and direct the
herd against the leeward bank of the creek. Every landmark was lost,
with the herd drifting at will.
The first recognition was due to animal instinct. Joel's horse neighed,
was answered by Dell's, and with slack rein, the two turned a few rods
aside and halted at their stable door. Even then the boys could scarcely
identify their home quarters, so enveloped was the dug-out in
"Get some matches," said Joel, refusing to dismount. "There's no halting
these cattle short of the second cut-bank, below on the left. Come on;
we must try and hold the herd."
The sullen cattle passed on. The halt was only for a moment, when the
boys resumed their positions on the point and front. Allowing the cattle
to move, assured a compact herd, as on every attempt to halt or turn it,
the rear forged to the front and furnished new leaders, and in unity lay
a hope of holding the drifting cattle.
The lay of the Beaver valley below headquarters was well known. The
banks of the creek shifted from a valley on one side, to low,
perpendicular bluffs on the other. It was in one of these meanderings of
the stream that Joel saw a possible haven, the sheltering cut-bank that
he hoped to reach, where refuge might be secured against the raging
elements. It lay several miles below the homestead, and if the drifting
herd reached the bend before darkness, there was a fighting chance to
halt the cattle in a protected nook. The cove in mind was larger than
the one in which the corral was built, and if a successful entrance
could only be effected--but that was the point.
"This storm is quartering across the valley," said Joel, during a lull,
"and if we make the entrance, we'll have to turn the herd on a direct
angle from the course of the wind. If the storm veers to the north, it
will sweep us out of the valley, with nothing to shelter the cattle this
side of the Prairie Dog. It's make that entrance, or abandon the herd,
and run the chance of overtaking it."
"We'll rush them," said Dell. "Remember how those men, the day we
branded, rushed the cattle into the branding chute."
"They could do things that we wouldn't dare--those were trail men."
"The cattle are just as much afraid of a boy as of a man; they don't
know any difference. You point them and I'll rush them. Remember that
story Mr. Quince told about a Mexican boy throwing himself across a
gateway, and letting a thousand range horses jump over him? You could do
that, too, if you had the nerve. Watch me rush them."
It seemed an age before the cut-bank was reached. The meanderings of the
creek were not even recognizable, and only an occasional willow could be
identified, indicating the location of the present drift. Occasionally
the storm thickened or lulled, rendering it impossible to measure the
passing time, and the dread of nightfall was intensified. Under such
stress, the human mind becomes intensely alert, and every word of
warning, every line of advice, urged on the boys by their sponsors, came
back in their hour of trial with an applied meaning. This was no dress
parade, with the bands playing and horses dancing to the champing of
their own bits; no huzzas of admiring throngs greeted this silent,
marching column; no love-lit eyes watched their hero or soft hand waved
lace or cambric from the border of this parade ground.
A lone hackberry tree was fortunately remembered as growing near the
entrance to the bend which formed the pocket. When receiving the cattle
from the trail, it was the landmark for dropping the cripples. The tree
grew near the right bank of the creek, the wagon trail passed under it,
making it a favorite halting place when freighting in supplies. Dell
remembered its shade, and taking the lead, groped forward in search of
the silent sentinel which stood guard at the gateway of the cove. It was
their one hope, and by zigzagging from the creek to any semblance of a
road, the entrance to the nook might be identified.
The march of the herd was slow and sullen. The smaller cattle sheltered
in the lee of the larger, moving compactly, as if the density of the
herd radiated a heat of its own. The saddle horses, southern bred and
unacclimated, humped their backs and curled their heads to the knee,
indicating, with the closing day, a falling temperature. Suddenly, and
as clear as the crack of a rifle, the voice of Dell Wells was heard in
"Come on, Joel; here's our hackberry! Here's where the fight is won or
lost! Here's where you point them while I rush them! Come quick!"
The brothers shifted positions. It was the real fight of the day.
Responding to spur and quirt, the horses sprang like hungry wolves at
the cattle, and the gloomy column turned quartering into the eye of the
storm. But as on every other attempt to turn or mill the drifting herd,
new leaders forged to the front and threatened to carry the drift past
the entrance to the pocket. The critical moment had arrived.
Dismounting, with a coiled rope in hand, Dell rushed on the volunteer
leaders, batting them over the heads, until they whirled into the
angling column, awakened from their stupor and panic-stricken from the
assault of a boy, who attacked with the ferocity of a fiend, hissing
like an adder or crying in the eerie shrill of a hyena in the same
breath. It worked like a charm! Its secret lay in the mastery of the
human over all things created. Elated by his success, Dell stripped his
coat, and with a harmless weapon in each hand, assaulted every
contingent of new leaders, striking right and left, throwing his weight
against their bodies, and by the magic of his mimic furies forcing them
Meanwhile Joel had succeeded in holding the original leaders in line,
and within a hundred yards from the turn, the shelter of the bend was
reached. The domestic bovine lows for the comfort of his stable, and no
sooner had the lead cattle entered the sheltering nook, than their
voices arose in joyous lowing, which ran back through the column for the
first time since the storm struck. Turning to the support of Dell, the
older boy lent his assistance, forcing the angle, until the drag end of
the column had passed into the sheltering haven. The fight was won, and
to Dell's courage, in the decisive moment, all credit was due. The human
is so wondrously constructed and so infinite in variety, that where one
of these brothers was timid the other laughed at the storm, and where
physical courage was required to assault a sullen herd, the daring of
one amazed the other. Cattle are the emblem of innocence and strength,
and yet a boy--in spite of all that has been written to the
contrary--could dismount in the face of the wildest stampede, and by
merely waving a handkerchief split in twain the frenzied onrush of three
Dell recovered his horse, and the brothers rode back and forth across
the mouth of the pocket. The cattle were milling in an endless
merry-go-round, contented under the sheltering bluffs, lowing for mates
and cronies, while above howled the elements with unrelenting fury.
"We'll have to guard this entrance until the cattle bed down for the
night," remarked Joel, on surveying the situation. "I wonder if we
could start a fire."
"I'll drop back to the hackberry and see if I can rustle some wood,"
said Dell, wheeling his horse and following the back trail of the
cattle. He returned with an armful of dry twigs, and a fire was soon
crackling under the cliff. A lodgment of old driftwood was found below
the bend, and as darkness fell in earnest, a cosy fire threw its shadows
over the nook.
A patrol was established and the night's vigil begun. The sentinel beat
was paced in watches between the boys, the width of the gateway being
about two hundred yards. There was no abatement of the storm, and it was
hours before all the cattle bedded down. The welfare of the horses was
the main concern, and the possibility of reaching home before morning
was freely discussed. The instinct of the horses could be relied on to
find the way to their stable, but return would be impossible before
daybreak. The brothers were so elated over holding the cattle that any
personal hardship was endurable, and after a seeming age, a lull in the
elements was noticeable and a star shone forth. Joel mounted his horse
and rode out of the cove, into the open valley, and on returning
announced that the storm had broken and that an attempt to reach
home was safe.
Quietly as Arabs, the boys stole away, leaving the cattle to sleep out
the night. Once the hackberry was reached, the horses were given free
rein, when restraint became necessary to avoid galloping home. The snow
crunched underfoot, the mounts snorted their protest at hindrance,
vagrant breezes and biting cold cut the riders to the marrow, but on
approaching the homestead the reins were shaken out and the horses
dashed up to the stable door.
"There's the morning star," observed Joel, as he dismounted.
"If we're going to be cowmen," remarked Dell, glancing at the star as he
swung out of the saddle, "hereafter we'll eat our Christmas supper
Dawn found the boys in the saddle. A two hours' respite had freshened
horses and riders. The morning was crimpy cold, but the horses warmed to
the work, and covered the two miles to the bend before the sun even
streaked the east. Joel rode a wide circle around the entrance to the
cove, in search of cattle tracks in the snow, and on finding that none
had offered to leave their shelter, joined his brother at the rekindled
fire under the cliff. The cattle were resting contentedly, the fluffy
snow underneath having melted from the warmth of their bodies, while the
diversity of colors in the herd were blended into one in harmony with
the surrounding scene. The cattle had bedded down rather compactly, and
their breathing during the night had frosted one another like window
glass in a humid atmosphere. It was a freak of the frost, sheening the
furry coats with a silver nap, but otherwise inflicting no harm.
The cattle were allowed to rise of their own accord. In the interim of
waiting for the sun to flood the cove, the boys were able to get an
outline on the drift of the day previous. Both agreed that the herd was
fully five miles from the corral when the storm struck, and as it
dropped into the valley near the improvements (added to their present
location), it had drifted fully eight miles in something like
"Lucky thing for us that it was a local storm," said Joel, as he hovered
over the fire. "Had it struck out of the north we would be on the
Prairie Dog this morning with nothing but snowballs for breakfast.
Relying on signs did us a heap of good. It was a perfect day, and within
thirty minutes we were drifting blindly. It's all easy to figure out in
advance, but storms don't come by programme. The only way to hold cattle
on these plains in the winter is to put your trust in corn-fed saddle
horses, and do your sleeping in the summer."
"I wonder when the next storm will strike," meditated Dell.
"It will come when least expected, or threaten for days and days and
never come at all," replied Joel. "There's no use sitting up at night to
figure it out. Rouse out the cattle, and I'll point them up the divide."
The sunshine had crept into the bend, arousing the herd, but the cattle
preferred its warmth to a frosty breakfast, and stood around in bunches
until their joints limbered and urgent appetites sent them forth. In
spite of the cold, the sun lent its aid, baring the divides and
wind-swept places of snow; and before noon, the cattle fell to feeding
so ravenously that the herdsmen relayed each other, and a dinner for boy
and horse was enjoyed at headquarters. In the valley the snow lay in
drifts, but by holding the cattle on divides and southern slopes, they
were grazed to contentment and entered their own corral at the customary
hour for penning. Old axes had been left at hand, and the first cutting
of ice, to open the water for cattle, occupied the boys for fully an
hour, after which they rode home to a well-earned rest.
Three days of zero weather followed. Sun-dogs, brilliant as rainbows and
stately as sentinels, flanked the rising sun each morning, after which
the cold gradually abated, and a week after, a general thaw and warm
winds swept the drifts out of the valley. It was a welcome relief; the
cattle recovered rapidly, the horses proved their mettle, while the boys
came out more than victors. They were inuring rapidly to their new
occupation; every experience was an asset in meeting the next one,
while their general fibre was absorbing strength from the wintry trial
on the immutable plain.
Only once during the late storm were wolves sighted. Near the evening of
the second day, a band of three made its appearance, keeping in the
distance, and following up the herd until it was corraled at the regular
hour. While opening the ice, the boys had turned their horses loose
among the cattle, and on leading them out of the corral, the trio of
prowlers had crept up within a hundred yards. With a yell, the boys
mounted and made a single dash at them, when the wolves turned, and in
their hurried departure fairly threw up a cloud of snow.
"That's what Mr. Quince means by that expression of his, 'running like a
scared wolf,'" said Joel, as he reined in old Rowdy.
"When will we put out the poison?" breathlessly inquired Dell, throwing
his mount back on his haunches in halting.
"Just as soon as they begin to hang around. Remind me, and we'll look
for tracks around the corral in the morning. My, but they were beauties!
How I would like to have one of their hides for a foot-rug!"
"The first heavy snow that comes will bring them out of the sand hills,"
said Dell, as they rode home. "Mr. Paul said that hunger would make
them attack cattle. Oh, if we could only poison all three!"
Dell rambled on until they reached the stable. He treated his mind to
visions of wealth, and robes, and furry overcoats. The wolves had
located the corral, the winter had barely begun, but the boys were aware
of the presence of an enemy.
A complete circle of the corral was made the following morning. No
tracks were visible, nor were any wolves sighted before thawing weather
temporarily released the range from the present wintry grip. A fortnight
of ideal winter followed, clear, crisp days and frosty nights, ushering
in a general blizzard, which swept the plains from the British
possessions to the Rio Grande, and left death and desolation in its
pathway. Fortunately its harbingers threw its menace far in advance,
affording the brothers ample time to reach the corral, which they did at
a late evening hour. The day had been balmy and warm, the cattle came
in, gorged from a wide circle over buffalo grass, the younger ones, as
if instinctive of the coming storm and in gratitude of the shelter, even
kicking up their heels on entering the gates. The boys had ample time to
reach headquarters, much in doubt even then whether a storm would
strike or pass away in blustering threats.
It began at darkness, with a heavy fall of soft snow. Fully a foot had
fallen by bedtime, and at midnight the blizzard struck, howling as if
all the demons of night and storm were holding high carnival. Towards
morning a creeping cold penetrated the shack, something unknown before,
and awoke the boys, shivering in their blankets. It was near their hour
for rising, and once a roaring fire warmed up the interior of the room,
Joel took a peep without, but closed the door with a shudder.
"It's blowing a hurricane," said he, shivering over the stove. "This is
a regular blizzard--those others were only squalls. I doubt if we can
reach the stable before daybreak. Those poor cattle--"
The horses were their first concern. As was their usual custom, well in
advance of daybreak an attempt was made to reach and feed the saddle
stock. It was Joel's task, and fortifying himself against the elements
without, he announced himself as ready for the dash. It was less than a
dozen rods between shack and stable, and setting a tallow dip in the
window for a beacon, he threw open the door and sprang out. He possessed
a courage which had heretofore laughed at storms, but within a few
seconds after leaving the room, he burst open the door and fell on
"I'm blinded," he murmured. "Put out the light and throw a blanket over
my head. The sifting snow cut my eyes like sand. I'll come around in a
Daybreak revealed nothing worse from the driving snow than inflamed eyes
and roughened cheeks, when another attempt was made to succor the
horses. Both boys joined in the hazard, lashing themselves together with
a long rope, and reached the stable in safety. On returning, Dell was
thrown several times by the buffeting wind, but recovered his feet, and,
following the rope, the dug-out was safely reached.
"That's what happened to me in the darkness," said Joel, once the
shelter of the house was reached. "I got whipped off my feet, lost my
bearings, and every time I looked for the light, my eyes filled
[Illustration: DELL WELLS]
There was no abatement of the blizzard by noon. It was impossible to
succor the cattle, but the boys were anxious to reach the corral, which
was fully a mile from the shack. Every foot of the creek was known, and
by hugging the leeward bank some little protection would be afforded and
the stream would lead to the cattle. Near the middle of the afternoon,
there was a noticeable abatement in the swirling snow, when the
horses were blanketed to the limit and an effort made to reach the
corral. By riding bareback it was believed any drifts could be forced,
at least allowing a freedom to the mounts returning, in case the boys
lost their course.
The blizzard blew directly from the north, and crossing the creek on a
direct angle, Joel led the way, forcing drifts or dismounting and
trampling them out until a pathway was made. Several times they were
able to make a short dash between known points, and by hugging the
sheltering bank of the creek, safely reached the corral. The cattle were
slowly milling about, not from any excitement, the exercise being merely
voluntary and affording warmth. The boys fell to opening up the water,
the cattle crowding around each opening and drinking to their
contentment. An immense comb of snow hung in a semicircle around the
bend, in places thirty feet high and perpendicular, while in others it
concaved away into recesses and vaults as fantastic as frosting on a
window. It was formed from the early, softer snow, frozen into place,
while the present shifting frost poured over the comb into the sheltered
cove, misty as bride's veiling, and softening the grotesque background
to a tint equaled only in the fluffy whiteness of swan's-down.
The corral met every requirement. Its protecting banks sheltered the
herd from the raging blizzard; the season had inured the cattle, given
them shaggy coats to withstand the cold, and only food was lacking in
the present trial. After rendering every assistance possible, the boys
remained at the corral, hoping the sun would burst forth at evening,
only to meet disappointment, when their horses were given free rein and
carried them home in a short, sure dash.
A skirmish for grazing ensued. During the next few days there was little
or no sunshine to strip the divides of snow, but the cattle were taken
out and given every possible chance. The first noticeable abatement of
the storm was at evening of the third day, followed by a diminishing
fourth, when for the first time the herd was grazed to surfeiting. The
weather gradually faired off, the cattle were recovering their old form,
when a freak of winter occurred. A week from the night the blizzard
swept down from the north, soft winds crept up the valley, promising
thawing weather as a relief to the recent wintry siege. But dawn came
with a heavy snow, covering the range, ending in rain, followed by a
freezing night, when the snow crusted to carry the weight of a man, and
hill and valley lay in the grip of sleet and ice.
It was the unforeseen in the lines of intrenchment. The emergency
admitted of no dallying. Cattle do not paw away obstacles as do horses
and other animals to reach the grass, and relief must come in the form
of human assistance. Even the horses were helpless, as the snow was too
deep under the sleet, and any attempt to trample out pathways would have
left the winter mounts bleeding and crippled. The emergency demanded
men, but two boys came to the front in a resourceful manner. In their
old home in Ohio, threshing flails were sometimes used, and within an
hour after daybreak Joel Wells had fashioned two and was breaking a
trail through the sleet to the corral.
The nearest divide lay fully a mile to the north. To reach it with the
cattle, a trail, a rod or more in width, would have to be broken out.
Leaving their horses at the corral, the brothers fell at the task as if
it had been a threshing floor, and their flails rang out from contact
with the icy sleet. By the time they had reached the divide it was high
noon, and the boys were wearied by the morning task. The crusted snow
lay fully six inches deep on an average, and if sustenance was rendered
the cattle, whose hungry lowing reached equally hungry boys, the icy
crust must be broken over the feeding grounds.
It looked like an impossible task. "Help me break out a few acres," said
Joel, "and then you can go back and turn out the cattle. Point them up
the broken-out trail, and bring my horse and come on ahead of the herd.
If we can break out a hundred acres, even, the cattle can nose around
and get down to the grass. It's our one hope."
The hungry cattle eagerly followed up the icy lane. By breaking out the
shallow snow, the ground was made passably available to the feeding
herd, which followed the boys as sheep follow a shepherd. Fortunately
the weather was clear and cold, and if temporary assistance could be
rendered the cattle, a few days' sunshine would bare the ground on
southern slopes and around broken places, affording ample grazing. The
flails rung until sunset, the sleet was shattered by acres, and the
cattle led home, if not sufficiently grazed, at least with
An inch of soft snow fell the following night, and it adhered where
falling, thus protecting the sleet. On the boys reaching the corrals at
an unusually early hour, a new menace threatened. The cattle were
aroused, milling excitedly in a compact mass, while outside the
inclosure the ground was fairly littered with wolf tracks. The herd,
already weakened by the severity of the winter, had been held under a
nervous strain for unknown hours, or until its assailants had departed
with the dawn. The pendulum had swung to an evil extreme; the sleet
afforded splendid footing to the wolves and denied the cattle their
"Shall we put out poison to-night?" inquired Dell, on summing up the
"There's no open water," replied the older boy, "and to make a dose of
poison effective, it requires a drink. The bait is to be placed near
running water--those were the orders. We've got five hundred cattle here
to succor first. Open the gates."
The second day's work in the sleet proved more effective. The sun
scattered both snow and ice; southern slopes bared, trails were beaten
out to every foot of open ground, and by the middle of the afternoon
fully a thousand acres lay bare, inviting the herd to feast to its
heart's content. But a night on their feet had tired out the cattle, and
it was with difficulty that they were prevented from lying down in
preference to grazing. On such occasions, the boys threw aside their
flails, and, mounting their horses, aroused the exhausted animals,
shifting them to better grazing and holding them on their feet.
"This is the first time I ever saw cattle too tired to eat," said Joel,
as the corral gates were being roped shut. "Something must be done. Rest
seems as needful as food. This is worse than any storm yet. Half of them
are lying down already. We must build a bonfire to-night. Wolves are
afraid of a fire."
Fully half the cattle refused to drink, preferring rest or having eaten
snow to satisfy their thirst. The condition of the herd was alarming,
not from want of food, but from the hungry prowlers of the night. Before
leaving, the brothers built a little fire outside the gate, as best they
could from the fuel at hand, expecting to return later and replenish the
wood supply from headquarters.
The boys were apt in adopting Texas methods. Once the horses were fed
and their own supper eaten, the lads fastened onto two dry logs, and
from pommels dragged them up to the tiny blaze at the corral opening. It
was early in the evening, the herd was at rest, and the light of the
bonfire soon lit up the corral and threw fancy shadows on the combing
snow which formed the upper rim. The night was crimping cold, and at a
late hour the boys replenished the fire and returned home. But as they
dismounted at the stable, the hunting cry of a wolf pack was wafted down
the valley on the frosty air, and answered by a band far to the south in
the sand hills.
"They're coming again," said Joel, breathlessly listening for the
distant howling to repeat. "The fire ought to hold them at a distance
until nearly morning. Let's feed the horses and turn in for the night."
Daybreak found the boys at the corral. No wolves were in sight, but on
every hand abundant evidence of their presence during the night was to
be seen. Nearly all the cattle were resting, while the remainder,
principally mother cows, were arrayed in battle form, fronting one of
the recesses under the combing rim of snow. On riding within the corral,
the dread of the excited cows proved to be a monster wolf, crouching on
a shelf of snow. He arose on his haunches and faced the horsemen,
revealing his fangs, while his breast was covered with tiny icicles,
caused by the driveling slaver during the night's run. His weight was
responsible for his present plight, he having ventured out on the
fragile comb of snow above, causing it to cave down; and in the
bewilderment of the moment he had skurried to the safety of the ledge on
which he then rested.
It was a moment of excitement. A steady fire of questions and answers
passed between the younger and older brother. The wolf was in hand, the
horns of a hundred angry cows held the enemy prisoner, and yet the boys
were powerless to make the kill. The situation was tantalizing.
"Can't we poison him?" inquired Dell, in the extremity of the moment.
"Certainly. Hand it to him on a plate--with sugar on it."
"If Mr. Paul had only left us his pistol," meditated Dell, as a
"Yes, you could about hit that bank with a six-shooter. It's the risk of
a man's life to wound that wolf. He's cornered. I wouldn't dismount
within twenty feet of him for this herd."
"I could shoot him from Dog-toe. This is the horse from which Mr. Paul
killed the beef. All trail horses are gun-proof."
"My, but you are full of happy ideas. We've got to let that wolf go--we
can't make the kill."
"I have it!" shouted Dell, ignoring all rebuffs. "Dog-toe is a roping
horse. Throw wide the gates. Give me a clear field, and I'll lasso that
wolf and drag him to death, or wrap him to the centre gatepost and you
can kill him with a fence-stay. Dog-toe, I'm going to rope a wolf from
your back," added Dell, patting the horse's neck and turning back to the
gate. "Show me the mettle of the State that bred you."
"You're crazy," said Joel, "but there's no harm in trying it. Whatever
happens, stick to your saddle. Cut the rope if it comes to a pinch. I'll
get a fence-stay."
Ever since the killing of the beef, Dell had diligently practiced with a
rope. It responded to the cunning of his hand, and the danger of the
present moment surely admitted of no false calculations. Dell dismounted
with a splendid assurance, tightened the cinches, tied his rope good and
firm to the fork of the saddle tree, mounted, and announced himself as
ready. The cattle were drifted left and right, opening a lane across the
corral, and Dell rode forward to study the situation. Joel took up a
position at the gate, armed only with a heavy stay, and awaited the
working out of the experiment.
The hazard savored more of inexperience than of courage. Dell rode
carelessly back and forth, edging in nearer the ledge each time,
whirling his loop in passing, at which the cowering animal arose in an
attitude of defense. Nodding to Joel that the moment had come, as the
horse advanced and the enemy came within reach, the singing noose shot
out, the wolf arose as if to spring, and the next instant Dog-toe
whirled under spur and quirt, leaving only a blur behind as he shot
across the corral. Only his rider had seen the noose fall true, the taut
rope bespoke its own burden, and there was no time to shout. For an
instant, Joel held his breath, only catching a swerve in the oncoming
horse, whose rider bore down on the centre post of the double gate, the
deviation of course being calculated to entangle the rope's victim. The
horse flashed through the gate, something snapped, the rope stood in
air, and a dull thud was heard in the bewilderment of the moment. The
blur passed in an instant, and a monster dog wolf lay at the gatepost,
relaxing in a spasm of death.
Dell checked his horse and returned, lamenting the loss of a foot's
length from his favorite rope. It had cut on the saddle tree, and thus
saved horse and rider from an ugly fall.
"He lays right where I figured to kill him--against that post," said
Dell, as he reined in and looked down on the dead wolf. "Do you want
his hide, or can I have it?"
"Drag him aside," replied Joel, "while I rouse out the cattle. I'll have
to sit up with you to-night."
HOLDING THE FORT
The valley lay in the grasp of winter. On the hills and sunny slopes,
the range was slowly opening to the sun. The creek, under cover of ice
and snow, forced its way, only yielding to axes for the time being and
closing over when not in use.
The cattle required no herding. The chief concern of the brothers was to
open more grazing ground, and to that end every energy was bent. The
range already opened lay to the north of the Beaver, and although double
the distance, an effort was made to break out a trail to the divide on
the south. The herd was turned up the lane for the day, and taking their
flails, the boys began an attack on the sleet. It was no easy task, as
it was fully two miles to the divide, a northern slope, and not affected
by the sun before high noon.
The flails rang out merrily. From time to time the horses were brought
forward, their weight shattering the broken sleet and assisting in
breaking out a pathway. The trail was beaten ten feet in width on an
average, and by early noon the divide was reached. Several thousand
acres lay bare, and by breaking out all drifts and depressions running
north and south across the watershed, new grazing grounds could be
A discovery was made on the return trip. The horses had been brought
along to ride home on, but in testing the sleet on the divide, the sun
had softened the crust until it would break under the weight of either
of the boys. By walking well outside the trail, the sleet crushed to the
extent of five or six feet, and by leading their horses, the pathway was
easily doubled in width. Often the crust cracked to an unknown distance,
easing from the frost, which the boys accepted as the forerunner of
"We'll put out poison to-night," said Dell. "It will hardly freeze a
shoal, and I've found one below the corral."
"I'm just as anxious as you to put out the bait," replied Joel, "but we
must take no chances of making our work sure. The moment the cattle quit
drinking, the water holes freeze over. This is regular old
"I'll show you the ripple and leave it to you," argued the younger boy.
"Under this crust of sleet and snow, running water won't freeze."
"Along about sunset we can tell more about the weather for to-night,"
said Joel, with a finality which disposed of the matter for the present.
On reaching the corral, the older boy was delighted with the splendid
trail broken out, but Dell rode in search of a known shallow in the
creek. An old wood road crossed on the pebbly shoal, and forcing his
horse to feel his way through the softened crust, a riplet was unearthed
as it purled from under an earthen bank.
"Here's your running water," shouted Dell, dropping the reins and
allowing Dog-toe to drink. "Here you are--come and see for yourself."
Joel was delighted with Dell's discovery. In fact, the water, after
emerging from under a concave bank, within a few feet passed under
another arch, its motion preventing freezing.
"Don't dismount," said Joel, emphasizing caution, "but let the horses
break a narrow trail across the water. This is perfect. We'll build
another fire to-night, and lay a half dozen baits around this
The pelt of the dead wolf was taken, when the boys cantered in home.
Time was barely allowed to bolt a meal, when the loading of the wooden
troughs was begun. Every caution urged was observed; the basins were
handled with a hay fork, sledded to the scene, and dropped from
horseback, untouched by a human hand. To make sure that the poison would
be found, a rope was noosed to the carcass and a scented trace was made
from every quarter, converging at the open water and tempting baits.
"There," said Dell, on completing the spoor, "if that doesn't get a
wolf, then our work wasn't cunningly done."
"Now, don't forget to throw that carcass back on the ledge, under the
comb," added Joel. "Wolves have a reputation of licking each other's
bones, and we must deny them everything eatable except poisoned suet."
The herd would not return of its own accord, and must be brought in to
the corral. As the boys neared the divide and came in sight of the
cattle, they presented a state of alarm. The presence of wolves was at
once suspected, and dashing up at a free gallop, the lads arrived in
time to save the life of a young steer. The animal had grazed beyond the
limits of the herd, unconscious of the presence of a lurking band of
wolves, until attacked by the hungry pack. Nothing but the energetic use
of his horns saved his life, as he dared not run for fear of being
dragged down, and could only stand and fight.
The first glimpse of the situation brought the boys to the steer's
rescue. Shaking out their horses, with a shout and clatter of hoofs,
they bore down on the struggle, when the wolves suddenly forsook their
victim and slunk away. The band numbered eight by easy count, as they
halted within two hundred yards and lay down, lolling their tongues as
if they expected to return and renew the attack.
"Did you ever hear of anything like this?" exclaimed Dell, as the
brothers reined in their horses to a halt. "Attacking in broad
"They're starving," replied Joel. "This sleet makes it impossible to get
food elsewhere. One of us must stay with the cattle hereafter."
"Well, we saved a steer and got a wolf to-day," boastfully said Dell.
"That's not a bad beginning."
"Yes, but it's the end I dread. If this weather lasts a month longer,
some of these cattle will feed the wolves."
There was prophecy in Joel's remark. The rescued animal was turned into
the herd and the cattle started homeward. At a distance, the wolves
followed, peeping over the divide as the herd turned down the pathway
leading to the corral. Fuel had been sledded up, and after attending to
the details of water and fire, the boys hurried home.
The weather was a constant topic. It became the first concern of the
morning and the last observation of the night. The slightest change was
noticeable and its portent dreaded. Following the blizzard, every
moderation of the temperature brought more snow or sleet. Unless a
general thaw came to the relief of the cattle, any change in the weather
A sleepless night followed. It was later than usual when the boys
replenished the fire and left the corral. Dell's imagination covered the
limits of all possibilities. He counted the victims of the poison for
the night, estimated the number of wolves tributary to the Beaver,
counted his bales of peltry, and awoke with a start. Day was breaking,
the horses were already fed, and he was impatient for saddles and away.
"How many do you say?" insisted Dell, as they left the stable.
"One," answered Joel.
"Oh, we surely got seven out of those eight."
"There were only six baits. You had better scale down your estimate.
Leave a few for luck."
Nothing but the cold facts could shake Dell's count of the chickens.
Joel intentionally delayed the start, loitering between house and
corral, and when no longer able to restrain his impulsive brother,
together they reached the scene. Dell's heart failed him--not a dead
wolf lay in sight. Every bait had been disturbed. Some of the troughs
had been gnawed to splinters, every trace of the poisoned suet had been
licked out of the auger holes, while the snow was littered with
"Our cunning must be at fault," remarked Joel, as he surveyed the scene
and empty basins.
Dell looked beaten. "My idea is that we had too few baits for the number
of visitors. See the fur, where they fought over the tallow. That's it;
there wasn't enough suet to leave a good taste in each one's mouth. From
the looks of the ground, there might have been fifty wolves."
The boy reasoned well. Experience is a great school. The brothers awoke
to the fact that in the best laid plans of mice and men the unforeseen
is ever present. Their sponsors could only lay down the general rule,
and the exceptions threw no foreshadows. No one could foresee that the
grip of winter would concentrate and bring down on the little herd the
hungry, roving wolf packs.
"Take out the herd to-day," said Dell, "and let me break out more
running water. I'll take these basins in and refill them, make new ones,
and to-night we'll put out fifty baits."
The cattle were pointed up the new trail to the southern divide. Joel
took the herd, and Dell searched the creek for other shallows tributary
to the corral. Three more were found within easy distance, when the
troughs were gathered with fork and sled, and taken home to be refilled.
It was Dell Wells's busy day. Cunning and caution were his helpers;
slighting nothing, ever crafty on the side of safety, he cut, bored, and
charred new basins, to double the original number. After loading, for
fear of any human taint, he dipped the troughs in water and laid them in
the shade to freeze. A second trip with the sled was required to
transport the basins up to the corral, the day's work being barely
finished in time for him to assist in penning the herd.
"How many baits have you?" was Joel's hail.
"You'll need them. Three separate wolf packs lay in sight all the
afternoon. Several times they crept up within one hundred yards of the
cattle. One band numbered upwards of twenty."
"Let them come," defiantly said Dell. "The banquet is spread.
Everything's done, except to drag the carcass, and I didn't want to do
that until after the cattle were corraled."
The last detail of the day was to build a little fire, which would die
out within an hour after darkness. It would allow the cattle time to bed
down and the packs to gather. As usual, it was not the intention of the
boys to return, and as they mounted their horses to leave, all the
welled-up savage in Dell seemed to burst forth.
"Welcome, Mr. Wolf, welcome," said he, with mimic sarcasm and a gesture
which swept the plain. "I've worked like a dog all day and the feast is
ready. Mrs. Wolf, will you have a hackberry plate, or do you prefer the
scent of cottonwood? You'll find the tender, juicy kidney suet in the
ash platters. Each table seats sixteen, with fresh water right at hand.
Now, have pallets and enjoy yourselves. Make a night of it. Eat, drink,
and be merry, for to-morrow your pelts are mine."
"Don't count your chickens too soon," urged Joel.
"To-morrow you're mine!" repeated Dell, ignoring all advice. "I'll
carpet the dug-out with your hides, or sell them to a tin peddler."
"You counted before they were hatched this morning," admonished his
brother. "You're only entitled to one guess."
"Unless they got enough to sicken them last night," answered Dell with
emphasis, "nothing short of range count will satisfy me."
A night of conjecture brought a morning with results. Breakfast was
forgotten, saddles were dispensed with, while the horses, as they
covered the mile at a gallop, seemed to catch the frenzy of expectation.
Dell led the way, ignoring all counsel, until Dog-toe, on rounding a
curve, shied at a dead wolf in the trail, almost unhorsing his rider.
"There's one!" shouted Dell, as he regained his poise. "I'll point them
out and you count. There's another! There's two more!"
It was a ghastly revel. Like sheaves in a harvest field, dead wolves lay
around every open water. Some barely turned from the creek and fell,
others struggled for a moment, while a few blindly wandered away for
short distances. The poison had worked to a nicety; when the victims
were collected, by actual count they numbered twenty-eight. It was a
victory to justify shouting, but the gruesome sight awed the brothers
into silence. Hunger had driven the enemy to their own death, and the
triumph of the moment at least touched one sensitive heart.
"This is more than we bargained for," remarked Joel in a subdued voice,
after surveying the ravages of poison.
"Our task is to hold these cattle," replied Dell. "We're soldiering this
winter, and our one duty is to hold the fort. What would Mr. Paul say if
we let the wolves kill our cattle?"
After breakfast Joel again led the herd south for the day, leaving Dell
at the corral. An examination of the basins was made, revealing the fact
that every trace of the poisoned suet had been licked out of the
holders. Of a necessity, no truce with the wolf became the slogan of the
present campaign. No mushy sentiment was admissible--the fighting was
not over, and the powder must be kept dry. The troughs were accordingly
sledded into the corral, where any taint from the cattle would further
disarm suspicion, and left for future use.
The taking of so many pelts looked like an impossible task for a boy.
But Dell recalled, among the many experiences with which Forrest, when a
cripple, regaled his nurses, was the skinning of winter-killed cattle
with a team. The same principle applied in pelting a wolf, where by very
little aid of a knife, about the head and legs, a horse could do the
work of a dozen men. The corral fence afforded the ready snubbing-post,
Dog-toe could pull his own weight on a rope from a saddle pommel, and
theory, when reduced to the practical, is a welcome auxiliary. The head
once bared, the carcass was snubbed to the centre gate post, when a
gentle pull from a saddle horse, aided by a few strokes of a knife, a
second pull, and the pelt was perfectly taken. It required steady
mounting and dismounting, a gentle, easy pull, a few inches or a foot,
and with the patience of a butcher's son, Dog-toe earned his corn and
his master a bale of peltry.
Evening brought report of further annoyance of wolves. New packs had
evidently joined forces with the remnants of the day before, as there
was neither reduction in numbers nor lessening in approach or attitude.
"Ours are the only cattle between the Republican River in Nebraska and
the Smoky River in this State," said Joel, in explanation. "Rabbits and
other rodents are at home under this sleet, and what is there to live
on but stock? You have to hold the cattle under the closest possible
herd to avoid attack."
"That will made the fighting all the better," gloatingly declared Dell.
"Dog-toe and I are in the fur business. Let the wolves lick the bones of
their brethren to-night, and to-morrow I'll spread another banquet."
The few days' moderation in the weather brought a heavy snowfall that
night. Fortunately the herd had enjoyed two days' grazing, but every
additional storm had a tendency to weaken the cattle, until it appeared
an open question whether they would fall a prey to the wolves or succumb
to the elements. A week of cruel winter followed the local storm, during
which three head of cattle, cripples which had not fully recuperated, in
the daily march to the divides fell in the struggle for sustenance and
fed the wintry scavengers. It was a repetition of the age-old struggle
for existence--the clash between the forces of good and evil, with the
wolf in the ascendant.
The first night which would admit of open water, thirty-one wolves fell
in the grip of poison. It was give and take thereafter, not an eye for
an eye, but in a ratio of ten to one. The dug-out looked like a
trapper's cave, carpeted with peltry, while every trace of sentiment
for the enemy, in the wintry trial which followed, died out in the
hearts of the boys.
Week after week passed, with the elements allied with the wolves against
the life of the herd. On the other hand, a sleepless vigilance and
sullen resolve on the part of the besieged, aided by fire and poison,
alone held the fighting line. To see their cattle fall to feed the
wolves, helpless to relieve, was a bitter cup to the struggling boys.
A single incident broke the monotony of the daily grind. One morning
near the end of the fifth week, when the boys rode to the corral at an
early hour, in order to learn the result of poison, a light kill of
wolves lay in sight around the open water. While they were attempting to
make a rough count of the dead from horseback, a wolf, supposed to be
poisoned, sprang fully six feet into the air, snapping left and right
before falling to the ground. Nothing but the agility of Rowdy saved
himself or rider, who was nearly unhorsed, from being maimed or killed
from the vicious, instant assault.