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