informed of the fact. He stayed at an outside pastor’s camp, visiting the ranch only after dark. A corral was mentioned, where within a few days’ time, at the farthest, he would pen a bunch of saddle horses. There had once been wells at this branding pen, but on their failing to furnish water continuously they had been abandoned. El Lobo had friends at his command to assist him in securing the best horses in the country. So accordingly we planned to pay our respects to him at these deserted wells.
“The second night of our watch, we were rewarded by having three men drive into these corrals about twenty saddle horses. They had barely time to tie their mounts outside and enter the pen, when four of us slipped in behind them and changed the programme a trifle. El Lobo was one of the men. He was very polite and nice, but that didn’t prevent us from ironing him securely, as we did his companions also.
“It was almost midnight when we reached the ranchito where the girl lived. We asked him if he had any friends at this ranch whom he wished to see. This he denied. When we informed him that by special request a lady wished to bid him farewell, he lost some of his bluster and bravado. We all dismounted, leaving one man outside with the other two prisoners, and entered a small yard where the girl lived. Our half-blood aroused her and called her out to meet her friend, El Lobo. The girl delayed us some minutes, and we apologized to him for the necessity of irons and our presence in meeting his Dulce Corazon. When the girl came out we were some distance from the jacal. There was just moonlight enough to make her look beautiful.
“As she advanced, she called him by some pet name in their language, when he answered her gruffly, accusing her of treachery, and turned his back upon her. She approached within a few feet, when it was noticeable that she was racked with emotion, and asked him if he had no kind word for her. Turning on her, he repeated the accusation of treachery, and applied a vile expression to her. That moment the girl flashed into a fiend, and throwing a shawl from her shoulders, revealed a pistol, firing it twice before a man could stop her. El Lobo sank in his tracks, and she begged us to let her trample his lifeless body. Later, when composed, she told us that we had not used her any more than she had used us, in bringing him helpless to her. As things turned out it looked that way.
“We lashed the dead thief on his horse and rode until daybreak, when we buried him. We could have gotten a big reward for him dead or alive, and we had the evidence of his death, but the manner in which we got it made it undesirable. El Lobo was missed, but the manner of his going was a secret of four men and a Mexican girl. The other two prisoners went over the road, and we even reported to them that he had attempted to strangle her, and we shot him to save her. Something had to be said.”
The smoking and yarning had ended. Darkness had settled over the camp but a short while, when every one was sound asleep. It must have been near midnight when a number of us were aroused by the same disturbance. The boys sat bolt upright and listened eagerly. We were used to being awakened by shots, and the cause of our sudden awakening was believed to be the same,–a shot. While the exchange of opinion was going the round, all anxiety on that point was dispelled by a second shot, the flash of which could be distinctly seen across the river below the ford.
As Dad stood up and answered it with a shrill whistle, every man reached for his carbine and flattened himself out on the ground. The whistle was answered, and shortly the splash of quite a cavalcade could be heard fording the river. Several times they halted, our fire having died out, and whistles were exchanged between them and Root. When they came within fifty yards of camp and their outlines could be distinguished against the sky line in the darkness, they were ordered to halt, and a dozen carbines clicked an accompaniment to the order.
“Who are you?” demanded Root.
“A detachment from Company M, Texas Rangers,” was the reply.
“If you are Rangers, give us a maxim of the service,” said Dad.
“_Don’t wait for the other man to shoot first_,” came the response.
“Ride in, that passes here,” was Dad’s greeting and welcome.
They were a detachment of fifteen men, and had ridden from the Pecos on the south, nearly the same distance which we had come. They had similar orders to ours, but were advised that they would meet our detachment at this ford. In less than an hour every man was asleep again, and quiet reigned in the Ranger camp at Comanche Ford on the Concho.
AROUND THE SPADE WAGON
It was an early spring. The round-up was set for the 10th of June. The grass was well forward, while the cattle had changed their shaggy winter coats to glossy suits of summer silk. The brands were as readable as an alphabet.
It was one day yet before the round-up of the Cherokee Strip. This strip of leased Indian lands was to be worked in three divisions. We were on our way to represent the Coldwater Pool in the western division, on the annual round-up. Our outfit was four men and thirty horses. We were to represent a range that had twelve thousand cattle on it, a total of forty-seven brands. We had been in the saddle since early morning, and as we came out on a narrow divide, we caught our first glimpse of the Cottonwoods at Antelope Springs, the rendezvous for this division. The setting sun was scarcely half an hour high, and the camp was yet five miles distant. We had covered sixty miles that day, traveling light, our bedding lashed on gentle saddle horses. We rode up the mesa quite a little distance to avoid some rough broken country, then turned southward toward the Springs. Before turning off, we could see with the naked eye signs of life at the meeting-point. The wagon sheets of half a dozen chuck-wagons shone white in the dim distance, while small bands of saddle horses could be distinctly seen grazing about.
When we halted at noon that day to change our mounts, we sighted to the northward some seven miles distant an outfit similar to our own. We were on the lookout for this cavalcade; they were supposed to be the “Spade” outfit, on their way to attend the round-up in the middle division, where our pasture lay. This year, as in years past, we had exchanged the courtesies of the range with them. Their men on our division were made welcome at our wagon, and we on theirs were extended the same courtesy. For this reason we had hoped to meet them and exchange the chronicle of the day, concerning the condition of cattle on their range, the winter drift, and who would be captain this year on the western division, but had traveled the entire day without meeting a man.
Night had almost set in when we reached the camp, and to our satisfaction and delight found the Spade wagon already there, though their men and horses would not arrive until the next day. To hungry men like ourselves, the welcome of their cook was hospitality in the fullest sense of the word. We stretched ropes from the wagon wheels, and in a few moments’ time were busy hobbling our mounts. Darkness had settled over the camp as we were at this work, while an occasional horseman rode by with the common inquiry, “Whose outfit is this?” and the cook, with one end of the rope in his hand, would feel the host in him sufficiently to reply in tones supercilious, “The Coldwater Pool men are with us this year.”
Our arrival was heralded through the camp with the same rapidity with which gossip circulates, equally in a tenement alley or the upper crust of society. The cook had informed us that we had been inquired for by some Panhandle man; so before we had finished hobbling, a stranger sang out across the ropes in the darkness, “Is Billy Edwards here?” Receiving an affirmative answer from among the horses’ feet, he added, “Come out, then, and shake hands with a friend.”
Edwards arose from his work, and looking across the backs of the circle of horses about him, at the undistinguishable figure at the rope, replied, “Whoever you are, I reckon the acquaintance will hold good until I get these horses hobbled.”
“Who is it?” inquired “Mouse” from over near the hind wheel of the wagon, where he was applying the hemp to the horses’ ankles.
“I don’t know,” said Billy, as he knelt among the horses and resumed his work,–“some geranium out there wants me to come out and shake hands, pow-wow, and make some medicine with him; that’s all. Say, we’ll leave Chino for picket, and that Chihuahua cutting horse of Coon’s, you have to put a rope on when you come to him. He’s too touchy to sabe hobbles if you don’t.”
When we had finished hobbling, and the horses were turned loose, the stranger proved to be “Babe” Bradshaw, an old chum of Edwards’s. The Spade cook added an earthly laurel to his temporal crown with the supper to which he shortly invited us. Bradshaw had eaten with the general wagon, but he sat around while we ate. There was little conversation during the supper, for our appetites were such and the spread so inviting that it simply absorbed us.
“Don’t bother me,” said Edwards to his old chum, in reply to some inquiry. “Can’t you see that I’m occupied at present?”
We did justice to the supper, having had no dinner that day. The cook even urged, with an earnestness worthy of a motherly landlady, several dishes, but his browned potatoes and roast beef claimed our attention. “Well, what are you doing in this country anyhow?” inquired Edwards of Bradshaw, when the inner man had been thoroughly satisfied.
“Well, sir, I have a document in my pocket, with sealing wax but no ribbons on it, which says that I am the duly authorized representative of the Panhandle Cattle Association. I also have a book in my pocket showing every brand and the names of its owners, and there is a whole raft of them. I may go to St. Louis to act as inspector for my people when the round-up ends.”
“You’re just as windy as ever, Babe,” said Billy. “Strange I didn’t recognize you when you first spoke. You’re getting natural now, though. I suppose you’re borrowing horses, like all these special inspectors do. It’s all right with me, but good men must be scarce in your section or you’ve improved rapidly since you left us. By the way, there is a man or four lying around here that also represents about forty-seven brands. Possibly you’d better not cut any of their cattle or you might get them cut back on you.”
“Do you remember,” said Babe, “when I dissolved with the ‘Ohio’ outfit and bought in with the ‘LX’ people?”
“When you what?” repeated Edwards.
“Well, then, when I was discharged by the ‘Ohio’s’ and got a job ploughing fire-guards with the ‘LX’s.’ Is that plain enough for your conception? I learned a lesson then that has served me since to good advantage. Don’t hesitate to ask for the best job on the works, for if you don’t you’ll see some one get it that isn’t as well qualified to fill it as you are. So if you happen to be in St. Louis, call around and see me at the Panhandle headquarters. Don’t send in any card by a nigger; walk right in. I might give you some other pointers, but you couldn’t appreciate them. You’ll more than likely be driving a chuck-wagon in a few years.”
These old cronies from boyhood sparred along in give-and-take repartee for some time, finally drifting back to boyhood days, while the harshness that pervaded their conversation before became mild and genial.
“Have you ever been back in old San Saba since we left?” inquired Edwards after a long meditative silence.
“Oh, yes, I spent a winter back there two years ago, though it was hard lines to enjoy yourself. I managed to romance about for two or three months, sowing turnip seed and teaching dancing-school. The girls that you and I knew are nearly all married.”
“What ever became of the O’Shea girls?” asked Edwards. “You know that I was high card once with the eldest.”
“You’d better comfort yourself with the thought,” answered Babe, “for you couldn’t play third fiddle in her string now. You remember old Dennis O’Shea was land-poor all his life. Well, in the land and cattle boom a few years ago he was picked up and set on a pedestal. It’s wonderful what money can do! The old man was just common bog Irish all his life, until a cattle syndicate bought his lands and cattle for twice what they were worth. Then he blossomed into a capitalist. He always was a trifle hide-bound. Get all you can and can all you get, took precedence and became the first law with your papa-in-law. The old man used to say that the prettiest sight he ever saw was the smoke arising from a ‘Snake’ branding-iron. They moved to town, and have been to Europe since they left the ranch. Jed Lynch, you know, was smitten on the youngest girl. Well, he had the nerve to call on them after their return from Europe. He says that they live in a big house, their name’s on the door, and you have to ring a bell, and then a nigger meets you. It must make a man feel awkward to live around a wagon all his days, and then suddenly change to style and put on a heap of dog. Jed says the red-headed girl, the middle one, married some fellow, and they live with the old folks. He says the other girls treated him nicely, but the old lady, she has got it bad. He says that she just languishes on a sofa, cuts into the conversation now and then, and simply swells up. She don’t let the old man come into the parlor at all. Jed says that when the girls were describing their trip through Europe, one of them happened to mention Rome, when the old lady interrupted: ‘Rome? Rome? Let me see, I’ve forgotten, girls. Where is Rome?’
“‘Don’t you remember when we were in Italy,’ said one of the girls, trying to refresh her memory.
“‘Oh, yes, now I remember; that’s where I bought you girls such nice long red stockings.’
“The girls suddenly remembered some duty about the house that required their immediate attention, and Jed says that he looked out of the window.”
“So you think I’ve lost my number, do you?” commented Edwards, as he lay on his back and fondly patted a comfortable stomach.
“Well, possibly I have, but it’s some consolation to remember that that very good woman that you’re slandering used to give me the glad hand and cut the pie large when I called. I may be out of the game, but I’d take a chance yet if I were present; that’s what!”
They were singing over at one of the wagons across the draw, and after the song ended, Bradshaw asked, “What ever became of Raneka Bill Hunter?”
“Oh, he’s drifting about,” said Edwards. “Mouse here can tell you about him. They’re old college chums.”
“Raneka was working for the ‘-BQ’ people last summer,” said Mouse, “but was discharged for hanging a horse, or rather he discharged himself. It seems that some one took a fancy to a horse in his mount. The last man to buy into an outfit that way always gets all the bad horses for his string. As Raneka was a new man there, the result was that some excuse was given him to change, and they rung in a spoilt horse on him in changing. Being new that way, he wasn’t on to the horses. The first time he tried to saddle this new horse he showed up bad. The horse trotted up to him when the rope fell on his neck, reared up nicely and playfully, and threw out his forefeet, stripping the three upper buttons off Bill’s vest pattern. Bill never said a word about his intentions, but tied him to the corral fence and saddled up his own private horse. There were several men around camp, but they said nothing, being a party to the deal, though they noticed Bill riding away with the spoilt horse. He took him down on the creek about a mile from camp and hung him.
“How did he do it? Why, there was a big cottonwood grew on a bluff bank of the creek. One limb hung out over the bluff, over the bed of the creek. He left the running noose on the horse’s neck, climbed out on this overhanging limb, taking the rope through a fork directly over the water. He then climbed down and snubbed the free end of the rope to a small tree, and began taking in his slack. When the rope began to choke the horse, he reared and plunged, throwing himself over the bluff. That settled his ever hurting any one. He was hung higher than Haman. Bill never went back to the camp, but struck out for other quarters. There was a month’s wages coming to him, but he would get that later or they might keep it. Life had charms for an old-timer like Bill, and he didn’t hanker for any reputation as a broncho-buster. It generally takes a verdant to pine for such honors.
“Last winter when Bill was riding the chuck line, he ran up against a new experience. It seems that some newcomer bought a range over on Black Bear. This new man sought to set at defiance the customs of the range. It was currently reported that he had refused to invite people to stay for dinner, and preferred that no one would ask for a night’s lodging, even in winter. This was the gossip of the camps for miles around, so Bill and some juniper of a pardner thought they would make a call on him and see how it was. They made it a point to reach his camp shortly after noon. They met the owner just coming out of the dug-out as they rode up. They exchanged the compliments of the hour, when the new man turned and locked the door of the dug-out with a padlock. Bill sparred around the main question, but finally asked if it was too late to get dinner, and was very politely informed that dinner was over. This latter information was, however, qualified with a profusion of regrets. After a confession of a hard ride made that morning from a camp many miles distant, Bill asked the chance to remain over night. Again the travelers were met with serious regrets, as no one would be at camp that night, business calling the owner away; he was just starting then. The cowman led out his horse, and after mounting and expressing for the last time his sincere regrets that he could not extend to them the hospitalities of his camp, rode away.
“Bill and his pardner moseyed in an opposite direction a short distance and held a parley. Bill was so nonplussed at the reception that it took him some little time to collect his thoughts. When it thoroughly dawned on him that the courtesies of the range had been trampled under foot by a rank newcomer and himself snubbed, he was aroused to action.
“‘Let’s go back,’ said Bill to his pardner, ‘and at least leave our card. He might not like it if we didn’t.’
“They went back and dismounted about ten steps from the door. They shot every cartridge they both had, over a hundred between them, through the door, fastened a card with their correct names on it, and rode away. One of the boys that was working there, but was absent at the time, says there was a number of canned tomato and corn crates ranked up at the rear of the dug-out, in range with the door. This lad says that it looked as if they had a special grievance against those canned goods, for they were riddled with lead. That fellow lost enough by that act to have fed all the chuck-line men that would bother him in a year.
“Raneka made it a rule,” continued Mouse, “to go down and visit the Cheyennes every winter, sometimes staying a month. He could make a good stagger at speaking their tongue, so that together with his knowledge of the Spanish and the sign language he could converse with them readily. He was perfectly at home with them, and they all liked him. When he used to let his hair grow long, he looked like an Indian. Once, when he was wrangling horses for us during the beef-shipping season, we passed him off for an Indian on some dining-room girls. George Wall was working with us that year, and had gone in ahead to see about the cars and find out when we could pen and the like. We had to drive to the State line, then, to ship. George took dinner at the best hotel in the town, and asked one of the dining-room girls if he might bring in an Indian to supper the next evening. They didn’t know, so they referred him to the landlord. George explained to that auger, who, not wishing to offend us, consented. There were about ten girls in the dining-room, and they were on the lookout for the Indian. The next night we penned a little before dark. Not a man would eat at the wagon; every one rode for the hotel. We fixed Bill up in fine shape, put feathers in his hair, streaked his face with red and yellow, and had him all togged out in buckskin, even to moccasins. As we entered the dining-room, George led him by the hand, assuring all the girls that he was perfectly harmless. One long table accommodated us all. George, who sat at the head with our Indian on his right, begged the girls not to act as though they were afraid; he might notice it. Wall fed him pickles and lump sugar until the supper was brought on. Then he pushed back his chair about four feet, and stared at the girls like an idiot. When George ordered him to eat, he stood up at the table. When he wouldn’t let him stand, he took the plate on his knee, and ate one side dish at a time. Finally, when he had eaten everything that suited his taste, he stood up and signed with his hands to the group of girls, muttering, ‘Wo-haw, wo-haw.’
“‘He wants some more beef,’ said Wall. ‘Bring him some more beef.’ After a while he stood up and signed again, George interpreting his wants to the dining-room girls: ‘Bring him some coffee. He’s awful fond of coffee.’
“That supper lasted an hour, and he ate enough to kill a horse. As we left the dining-room, he tried to carry away a sugar-bowl, but Wall took it away from him. As we passed out George turned back and apologized to the girls, saying, ‘He’s a good Injun. I promised him he might eat with us. He’ll talk about this for months now. When he goes back to his tribe he’ll tell his squaws all about you girls feeding him.'”
“Seems like I remember that fellow Wall,” said Bradshaw, meditating.
“Why, of course you do. Weren’t you with us when we voted the bonds to the railroad company?” asked Edwards.
“No, never heard of it; must have been after I left. What business did you have voting bonds?”
“Tell him, Coon. I’m too full for utterance,” said Edwards.
“If you’d been in this country you’d heard of it,” said Coon Floyd. “For a few years everything was dated from that event. It was like ‘when the stars fell,’ and the ‘surrender’ with the old-time darkies at home. It seems that some new line of railroad wanted to build in, and wanted bonds voted to them as bonus. Some foxy agent for this new line got among the long-horns, who own the cattle on this Strip, and showed them that it was to their interests to get a competing line in the cattle traffic. The result was, these old long-horns got owly, laid their heads together, and made a little medicine. Every mother’s son of us in the Strip was entitled to claim a home somewhere, so they put it up that we should come in and vote for the bonds. It was believed it would be a close race if they carried, for it was by counties that the bonds were voted. Towns that the road would run through would vote unanimously for them, but outlying towns would vote solidly against the bonds. There was a big lot of money used, wherever it came from, for we were royally entertained. Two or three days before the date set for the election, they began to head for this cow-town, every man on his top horse. Everything was as free as air, and we all understood that a new railroad was a good thing for the cattle interests. We gave it not only our votes, but moral support likewise.
“It was a great gathering. The hotels fed us, and the liveries cared for our horses. The liquid refreshments were provided by the prohibition druggists of the town and were as free as the sunlight. There was an underestimate made on the amount of liquids required, for the town was dry about thirty minutes; but a regular train was run through from Wichita ahead of time, and the embarrassment overcome. There was an opposition line of railroad working against the bonds, but they didn’t have any better sense than to send a man down to our town to counteract our exertions. Public sentiment was a delicate matter with us, and while this man had no influence with any of us, we didn’t feel the same toward him as we might. He was distributing his tickets around, and putting up a good argument, possibly, from his point of view, when some of these old long-horns hinted to the boys to show the fellow that he wasn’t wanted. ‘Don’t hurt him,’ said one old cow-man to this same Wall, ‘but give him a scare, so he will know that we don’t indorse him a little bit. Let him know that this town knows how to vote without being told. I’ll send a man to rescue him, when things have gone far enough. You’ll know when to let up.’
“That was sufficient. George went into a store and cut off about fifty feet of new rope. Some fellows that knew how tied a hangman’s knot. As we came up to the stranger, we heard him say to a man, ‘I tell you, sir, these bonds will pauperize unborn gener–‘ But the noose dropped over his neck, and cut short his argument. We led him a block and a half through the little town, during which there was a pointed argument between Wall and a “Z—-” man whether the city scales or the stockyards arch gate would be the best place to hang him. There were a hundred men around him and hanging on to the rope, when a druggist, whom most of them knew, burst through the crowd, and whipping out a knife cut the rope within a few feet of his neck. ‘What in hell are you varments trying to do?’ roared the druggist. ‘This man is a cousin of mine. Going to hang him, are you? Well, you’ll have to hang me with him when you do.’
“‘Just as soon make it two as one,’ snarled George. ‘When did you get the chips in this game, I’d like to know? Oppose the progress of the town, too, do you?’
“‘No, I don’t,’ said the druggist, ‘and I’ll see that my cousin here doesn’t.’
“‘That’s all we ask, then,’ said Wall; ‘turn him loose, boys. We don’t want to hang no man. We hold you responsible if he opens his mouth again against the bonds.’
“‘Hold me responsible, gentlemen,’ said the druggist, with a profound bow. ‘Come with me, Cousin,’ he said to the Anti.
“The druggist took him through his store, and up some back stairs; and once he had him alone, this was his advice, as reported to us later: ‘You’re a stranger to me. I lied to those men, but I saved your life. Now, I’ll take you to the four-o’clock train, and get you out of this town. By this act I’ll incur the hatred of these people that I live amongst. So you let the idea go out that you are my cousin. Sabe? Now, stay right here and I’ll bring you anything you want, but for Heaven’s sake, don’t give me away.’
“‘Is–is–is the four o’clock train the first out?’ inquired the new cousin.
“‘It is the first. I’ll see you through this. I’ll come up and see you every hour. Take things cool and easy now. I’m your friend, remember,’ was the comfort they parted on.
“There were over seven hundred votes cast, and only one against the bonds. How that one vote got in is yet a mystery. There were no hard drinkers among the boys, all easy drinkers, men that never refused to drink. Yet voting was a little new to them, and possibly that was how this mistake occurred. We got the returns early in the evening. The county had gone by a handsome majority for the bonds. The committee on entertainment had provided a ball for us in the basement of the Opera House, it being the largest room in town. When the good news began to circulate, the merchants began building bonfires. Fellows who didn’t have extra togs on for the ball got out their horses, and in squads of twenty to fifty rode through the town, painting her red. If there was one shot fired that night, there were ten thousand.
“I bought a white shirt and went to the ball. To show you how general the good feeling amongst everybody was, I squeezed the hand of an alfalfa widow during a waltz, who instantly reported the affront offered to her gallant. In her presence he took me to task for the offense. ‘Young man,’ said the doctor, with a quiet wink,’ this lady is under my protection. The fourteenth amendment don’t apply to you nor me. Six-shooters, however, make us equal. Are you armed?’
“‘I am, sir.’
“‘Unfortunately, I am not. Will you kindly excuse me, say ten minutes?’
“‘Certainly, sir, with pleasure.’
“‘There are ladies present,’ he observed. ‘Let us retire.’
“On my consenting, he turned to the offended dame, and in spite of her protests and appeals to drop matters, we left the ballroom, glaring daggers at each other. Once outside, he slapped me on the back, and said, ‘Say, we’ll just have time to run up to my office, where I have some choice old copper-distilled, sent me by a very dear friend in Kentucky.’
“The goods were all he claimed for them, and on our return he asked me as a personal favor to apologize to the lady, admitting that he was none too solid with her himself. My doing so, he argued, would fortify him with her and wipe out rivals. The doctor was a rattling good fellow, and I’d even taken off my new shirt for him, if he’d said the word. When I made the apology, I did it on the grounds that I could not afford to have any difference, especially with a gentleman who would willingly risk his life for a lady who claimed his protection.
“No, if you never heard of voting the bonds you certainly haven’t kept very close tab on affairs in this Strip. Two or three men whom I know refused to go in and vote. They ain’t working in this country now. It took some of the boys ten days to go and come, but there wasn’t a word said. Wages went on just the same. You ain’t asleep, are you, Don Guillermo?”
“Oh, no,” said Edwards, with a yawn, “I feel just like the nigger did when he eat his fill of possum, corn bread, and new molasses: pushed the platter away and said, ‘Go way, ‘lasses, you done los’ yo’ sweetness.'”
Bradshaw made several attempts to go, but each time some thought would enter his mind and he would return with questions about former acquaintances. Finally he inquired, “What ever became of that little fellow who was sick about your camp?”
Edwards meditated until Mouse said, “He’s thinking about little St. John, the fiddler.”
“Oh, yes, Patsy St. John, the little glass-blower,” said Edwards, as he sat up on a roll of bedding. “He’s dead long ago. Died at our camp. I did something for him that I’ve often wondered who would do the same for me–I closed his eyes when he died. You know he came to us with the mark on his brow. There was no escape; he had consumption. He wanted to live, and struggled hard to avoid going. Until three days before his death he was hopeful; always would tell us how much better he was getting, and every one could see that he was gradually going. We always gave him gentle horses to ride, and he would go with us on trips that we were afraid would be his last. There wasn’t a man on the range who ever said ‘No’ to him. He was one of those little men you can’t help but like; small physically, but with a heart as big as an ox’s. He lived about three years on the range, was welcome wherever he went, and never made an enemy or lost a friend. He couldn’t; it wasn’t in him. I don’t remember now how he came to the range, but think he was advised by doctors to lead an outdoor life for a change.
“He was born in the South, and was a glass-blower by occupation. He would have died sooner, but for his pluck and confidence that he would get well. He changed his mind one morning, lost hope that he would ever get well, and died in three days. It was in the spring. We were going out one morning to put in a flood-gate on the river, which had washed away in a freshet. He was ready to go along. He hadn’t been on a horse in two weeks. No one ever pretended to notice that he was sick. He was sensitive if you offered any sympathy, so no one offered to assist, except to saddle his horse. The old horse stood like a kitten. Not a man pretended to notice, but we all saw him put his foot in the stirrup three different times and attempt to lift himself into the saddle. He simply lacked the strength. He asked one of the boys to unsaddle the horse, saying he wouldn’t go with us. Some of the boys suggested that it was a long ride, and it was best he didn’t go, that we would hardly get back until after dark. But we had no idea that he was so near his end. After we left, he went back to the shack and told the cook he had changed his mind,–that he was going to die. That night, when we came back, he was lying on his cot. We all tried to jolly him, but each got the same answer from him, ‘I’m going to die.’ The outfit to a man was broke up about it, but all kept up a good front. We tried to make him believe it was only one of his bad days, but he knew otherwise. He asked Joe Box and Ham Rhodes, the two biggest men in the outfit, six-footers and an inch each, to sit one on each side of his cot until he went to sleep. He knew better than any of us how near he was to crossing. But it seemed he felt safe between these two giants. We kept up a running conversation in jest with one another, though it was empty mockery. But he never pretended to notice. It was plain to us all that the fear was on him. We kept near the shack the next day, some of the boys always with him. The third evening he seemed to rally, talked with us all, and asked if some of the boys would not play the fiddle. He was a good player himself. Several of the boys played old favorites of his, interspersed with stories and songs, until the evening was passing pleasantly. We were recovering from our despondency with this noticeable recovery on his part, when he whispered to his two big nurses to prop him up. They did so with pillows and parkers, and he actually smiled on us all. He whispered to Joe, who in turn asked the lad sitting on the foot of the cot to play Farewell, my Sunny Southern Home.’ Strange we had forgotten that old air,–for it was a general favorite with us,–and stranger now that he should ask for it. As that old familiar air was wafted out from the instrument, he raised his eyes, and seemed to wander in his mind as if trying to follow the refrain. Then something came over him, for he sat up rigid, pointing out his hand at the empty space, and muttered, ‘There
stands–mother–now–under–the–oleanders. Who is–that with–her? Yes, I had–a sister. Open–the–windows. It–is–getting–dark–dark–dark.’
“Large hands laid him down tenderly, but a fit of coughing came on. He struggled in a hemorrhage for a moment, and then crossed over to the waiting figures among the oleanders. Of all the broke-up outfits, we were the most. Dead tough men bawled like babies. I had a good one myself. When we came around to our senses, we all admitted it was for the best. Since he could not get well, he was better off. We took him next day about ten miles and buried him with those freighters who were killed when the Pawnees raided this country. Some man will plant corn over their graves some day.”
As Edwards finished his story, his voice trembled and there were tears in his eyes. A strange silence had come over those gathered about the camp-fire. Mouse, to conceal his emotion, pretended to be asleep, while Bradshaw made an effort to clear his throat of something that would neither go up nor down, and failing in this, turned and walked away without a word. Silently we unrolled the beds, and with saddles for pillows and the dome of heaven for a roof, we fell asleep.
THE RANSOM OF DON RAMON MORA
On the southern slope of the main tableland which divides the waters of the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers in Texas, lies the old Spanish land grant of “Agua Dulce,” and the rancho by that name. Twice within the space of fifteen years was an appeal to the sword taken over the ownership of the territory between these rivers. Sparsely settled by the descendants of the original grantees, with an occasional American ranchman, it is to-day much the same as when the treaty of peace gave it to the stronger republic.
This frontier on the south has undergone few changes in the last half century, and no improvements have been made. Here the smuggler against both governments finds an inviting field. The bandit and the robber feel equally at home under either flag. Revolutionists hatch their plots against the powers that be; sedition takes on life and finds adherents eager to bear arms and apply the torch.
Within a dozen years of the close of the century just past, this territory was infested by a band of robbers, whose boldness has had few equals in the history of American brigandage. The Bedouins of the Orient justify their freebooting by accounting it a religious duty, looking upon every one against their faith as an Infidel, and therefore common property. These bandits could offer no such excuse, for they plundered people of their own faith and blood. They were Mexicans, a hybrid mixture of Spanish atrocity and Indian cruelty. They numbered from ten to twenty, and for several months terrorized the Mexican inhabitants on both sides of the river. On the American side they were particular never to molest any one except those of their own nationality. These they robbed with impunity, nor did their victims dare to complain to the authorities, so thoroughly were they terrified and coerced.
The last and most daring act of these marauders was the kidnapping of Don Ramon Mora, owner of the princely grant of Agua Dulce. Thousands of cattle and horses ranged over the vast acres of his ranch, and he was reputed to be a wealthy man. No one ever enjoyed the hospitality of Agua Dulce but went his way with an increased regard for its owner and his estimable Castilian family. The rancho lay back from the river probably sixty miles, and was on the border of the chaparral, which was the rendezvous of the robbers. Don Ramon had a pleasant home in one of the river towns. One June he and his family had gone to the ranch, intending to spend a few weeks there. He had notified cattle-buyers of this vacation, and had invited them to visit him there either on business or pleasure.
One evening an unknown vaquero rode up to the rancho and asked for Don Ramon. That gentleman presenting himself, the stranger made known his errand: a certain firm of well-known drovers, friends of the ranchero, were encamped for the night at a ranchita some ten miles distant. They regretted that they could not visit him, but they would be pleased to see him. They gave as an excuse for not calling that they were driving quite a herd of cattle, and the corrals at this little ranch were unsafe for the number they had, so that they were compelled to hold outside or night-herd. This very plausible story was accepted without question by Don Ramon, who well understood the handling of herds. Inviting the messenger to some refreshment, he ordered his horse saddled and made preparation to return with this pseudo vaquero. Telling his family that he would be gone for the night, he rode away with the stranger.
There were several thickety groves, extending from the main chaparral out for considerable distance on the prairie, but not of as rank a growth as on the alluvial river bottoms. These thickets were composed of thorny underbrush, frequently as large as fruit trees and of a density which made them impenetrable, except by those thoroughly familiar with the few established trails. The road from Agua Dulce to the ranchita was plain and well known, yet passing through several arms of the main body of the chaparral. Don Ramon and his guide reached one of these thickets after nightfall. Suddenly they were surrounded by a dozen horsemen, who, with oaths and jests, told him that he was their prisoner. Relieving Don Ramon of his firearms and other valuables, one of the bandits took the bridle off his horse, and putting a rope around the animal’s neck, the band turned towards the river with their captive. Near morning they went into one of their many retreats in the chaparral, fettering their prisoner. What the feelings of Don Ramon Mora were that night is not for pen to picture, for they must have been indescribable.
The following day the leader of these bandits held several conversations with him, asking in regard to his family, his children in particular, their names, number, and ages. When evening came they set out once more southward, crossing the Rio Grande during the night at an unused ford. The next morning found them well inland on the Mexican side, and encamped in one of their many chaparral rendezvous. Here they spent several days, sometimes, however, only a few of the band being present. The density of the thickets on the first and second bottoms of this river, extending back inland often fifty miles, made this camp and refuge almost inaccessible. The country furnished their main subsistence; fresh meat was always at hand, while their comrades, scouting the river towns, supplied such comforts as were lacking.
Don Ramon’s appeals to his captors to know his offense and what his punishment was to be were laughed at until he had been their prisoner a week. One night several of the party returned, awoke him out of a friendly sleep, and he was notified that their chief would join them by daybreak, and then he would know what his offense had been. When this personage made his appearance, he ordered Don Ramon released from his fetters. Every one in camp showed obeisance to him. After holding a general conversation with his followers, he approached Don Ramon, the band forming a circle about the prisoner and their chief.
“Don Ramon Mora,” he began, with mock courtesy, “doubtless you consider yourself an innocent and abused person. In that you are wrong. Your offense is a political one. Your family for three generations have opposed the freedom of Mexico. When our people were conquered and control was given to the French, it was through the treachery of such men as you. Treason is unpardonable, Senor Mora. It is useless to enumerate your crimes against human liberty. Living as you do under a friendly government, you have incited the ignorant to revolution and revolt against the native rulers. Secret agents of our common country have shadowed you for years. It is useless to deny your guilt. Your execution, therefore, will be secret, in order that your co-workers in infamy shall not take alarm, but may meet a similar fate.”
Turning to one of the party who had acted as leader at the time of his capture, he gave these instructions: “Be in no hurry to execute these orders. Death is far too light a sentence to fit his crime. He is beyond a full measure of justice.” There was a chorus of “bravos” when the bandit chief finished this trumped-up charge. As he turned from the prisoner, Don Ramon pleadingly begged, “Only take me before an established court that I may prove my innocence.”
“No! sentence has been passed upon you. If you hope for mercy, it must come from there,” and the chief pointed heavenward. One of the band led out the arch-chief’s horse, and with a parting instruction to “conceal his grave carefully,” he rode away with but a single attendant.
As they led Don Ramon back to his blanket and replaced the fetters, his cup of sorrow was full to overflowing. Oddly enough the leader, since sentence of death had been pronounced upon his victim, was the only one of the band who showed any kindness. The others were brutal in their jeers and taunts. Some remarks burned into his sensitive nature as vitriol burns into metal. The bandit leader alone offered little kindnesses.
Two days later, the acting chief ordered the irons taken from the captive’s feet, and the two men, with but a single attendant, who kept a respectful distance, started out for a stroll. The bandit chief expressed his regret at the sad duty which had been allotted him, and assured Don Ramon that he would gladly make his time as long as was permissible.
“I thank you for your kindness,” said Don Ramon, “but is there no chance to be given me to prove the falsity of these charges? Am I condemned to die without a hearing?”
“There is no hope from that source.”
“Is there any hope from any source?”
“Scarcely,” replied the leader, “and still, if we could satisfy those in authority over us that you had been executed as ordered, and if my men could be bribed to certify the fact if necessary, and if you pledge us to quit the country forever, who would know to the contrary? True, our lives would be in jeopardy, and it would mean death to you if you betrayed us.”
“Is this possible?” asked Don Ramon excitedly.
“The color of gold makes a good many things possible.”
“I would gladly give all I possess in the world for one hour’s peace in the presence of my family, even if in the next my soul was summoned to the bar of God. True, in lands and cattle I am wealthy, but the money at my command is limited, though I wish it were otherwise.”
“It is a fortunate thing that you are a man of means. Say nothing to your guards, and I will have a talk this very night with two men whom I can trust, and we will see what can be done for you. Come, senor, don’t despair, for I feel there is some hope,” concluded the bandit.
The family of Don Ramon were uneasy but not alarmed by his failure to return to them the day following his departure. After two days had passed, during which no word had come from him, his wife sent an old servant to see if he was still at the ranchita. There the man learned that his master had not been seen, nor had there been any drovers there recently. Under the promise of secrecy, the servant was further informed that, on the very day that Don Ramon had left his home, a band of robbers had driven into a corral at a ranch in the _monte_ a remudo of ranch horses, and, asking no one’s consent, had proceeded to change their mounts, leaving their own tired horses. This they did at noonday, without so much as a hand raised in protest, so terrified were the people of the ranch.
On the servant’s return to Agua Dulce, the alarm and grief of the family were pitiful, as was their helplessness. When darkness set in Senora Mora sent a letter by a peon to an old family friend at his home on the river. The next night three men, for mutual protection, brought back a reply. From it these plausible deductions were made:–
That Don Ramon had been kidnapped for a ransom; that these bandits no doubt were desperate men who would let nothing interfere with their plans; that to notify the authorities and ask for help might end in his murder; and that if kidnapped for a ransom, overtures for his redemption would be made in due time. As he was entirely at the mercy of his captors, they must look for hope only from that source. If reward was their motive, he was worth more living than dead. This was the only consolation deduced. The letter concluded by advising them to meet any overture in strict confidence. As only money would be acceptable in such a case, the friend pledged all his means in behalf of Don Ramon should it be needed.
These were anxious days and weary nights for this innocent family. The father, no doubt, would welcome death itself in preference to the rack on which he was kept by his captors. Time is not considered valuable in warm climates, and two weary days were allowed to pass before any conversation was renewed with Don Ramon.
Then once more the chief had the fetters removed from his victim’s ankles, with the customary guard within call. He explained that many of the men were away, and it would be several days yet before he could know if the outlook for his release was favorable. From what he had been able to learn so far, at least fifty thousand dollars would be necessary to satisfy the band, which numbered twenty, five of whom were spies. They were poor men, he further explained, many of them had families, and if they accepted money in a case like this, self-banishment was the only safe course, as the political society to which they belonged would place a price on their heads if they were detected.
“The sum mentioned is a large one,” commented Don Ramon, “but it is nothing to the mental anguish that I suffer daily. If I had time and freedom, the money might be raised. But as it is, it is doubtful if I could command one fifth of it.”
“You have a son,” said the chief, “a young man of twenty. Could he not as well as yourself raise this amount? A letter could be placed in his hands stating that a political society had sentenced you to death, and that your life was only spared from day to day by the sufferance of your captors. Ask him to raise this sum, tell him it would mean freedom and restoration to your family. Could he not do this as well as you?”
“If time were given him, possibly. Can I send him such a letter?” pleaded Don Ramon, brightening with the hope of this new opportunity.
“It would be impossible at present. The consent of all interested must first be gained. Our responsibility then becomes greater than yours. No false step must be taken. To-morrow is the soonest that we can get a hearing with all. There must be no dissenters to the plan or it fails, and then–well, the execution has been delayed long enough.”
Thus the days wore on.
The absence of the band, except for the few who guarded the prisoner, was policy on their part. They were receiving the news from the river villages daily, where the friends of Don Ramon discussed his absence in whispers. Their system of espionage was as careful as their methods were cruel and heartless. They even got reports from the ranch that not a member of the family had ventured away since its master’s capture. The local authorities were inactive. The bandits would play their cards for a high ransom.
Early one morning after a troubled night’s rest, Don Ramon was awakened by the arrival of the robbers, several of whom were boisterously drunk. It was only with curses and drawn arms that the chief prevented these men from committing outrages on their helpless captive.
After coffee was served, the chief unfolded his plot to them, with Don Ramon as a listener to the proceedings. Addressing them, he said that the prisoner’s offense was not one against them or theirs; that at best they were but the hirelings of others; that they were poorly paid, and that it had become sickening to him to do the bloody work for others. Don Ramon Mora had gold at his command, enough to give each more in a day than they could hope to receive for years of this inhuman servitude. He could possibly pay to each two thousand dollars for his freedom, guaranteeing them his gratitude, and pledging to refrain from any prosecution. Would they accept this offer or refuse it? As many as were in favor of granting his life would deposit in his hat a leaf from the mesquite; those opposed, a leaf from the wild cane which surrounded their camp.
The vote asked for was watched by the prisoner as only a man could watch whose life hung in the balance. There were eight cane leaves to seven of the mesquite. The chief flew into a rage, cursed his followers for murderers for refusing to let the life blood run in this man, who had never done one of them an injury. He called them cowards for attacking the helpless, even accusing them of lack of respect for their chief’s wishes. The majority hung their heads like whipped curs. When he had finished his harangue, one of their number held up his hand to beg the privilege of speaking.
“Yes, defend your dastardly act if you can,” said the chief.
“Capitan,” said the man, making obeisance and tapping his breast, “there is an oath recorded here, in memory of a father who was hanged by the French for no other crime save that he was a patriot to the land of his birth. And you ask me to violate my vow! To the wind with your sympathy! To the gallows with our enemies!” There was a chorus of “bravos” and shouts of “Vivi el Mejico,” as the majority congratulated the speaker.
When the chief led the prisoner back to his blanket, he spoke hopefully to Don Ramon, explaining that it was the mescal the men had drunk which made them so unreasonable and defiant. Promising to reason with them when they were more sober, he left Don Ramon with his solitary guard. The chief then returned to the band, where he received the congratulations of his partners in crime on his mock sympathy. It was agreed that the majority should be won over at the next council, which they would hold that evening.
The chief returned to his prisoner during the day, and expressed a hope that by evening, when his followers would be perfectly sober, they would listen to reason. He doubted, however, if the sum first named would satisfy them, and insisted that he be authorized to offer more. To this latter proposition Don Ramon made answer, “I am helpless to promise you anything, but if you will only place me in correspondence with my son, all I possess, everything that can be hypothecated shall go to satisfy your demands. Only let it be soon, for this suspense is killing me.”
An hour before dark the band was once more summoned together, with Don Ramon in their midst. The chief asked the majority if they had any compromise to offer to his proposition of the morning, and received a negative answer. “Then,” said he, “remember that a trusting wife and eight children, the eldest a lad of twenty, the youngest a toddling tot of a girl, claim a husband and a father’s love at the hands of the prisoner here. Are you such base ingrates that you can show no mercy, not even to the innocent?”
The majority were abashed, and one by one fell back in the distance. Finally a middle-aged man came forward and said, “Give us five thousand dollars in gold apiece, the money to be in hand, and the prisoner may have his liberty, all other conditions made in the morning to be binding.”
“Your answer to that, Don Ramon?” asked the chief.
“I have promised my all. I ask nothing but life. I may have friends who will assist. Give me an opportunity to see what can be done.”
“You shall have it,” replied the chief, “and on its success depends your liberty or the consequences.”
Going amongst the band, he ordered them to meet again in three days at one of their rendezvous near Agua Dulce; to go by twos, visit the river towns on the way, to pick up all items of interest, and particularly to watch for any movement of the authorities.
Retaining two of his companions to act as guards, the others saddled their horses and dispersed by various routes. The chief waited until the moon was well up, then abandoned their camp of the last ten days and set out towards Agua Dulce. To show his friendship for his victim, he removed all irons, but did not give freedom to Don Ramon’s horse, which was led, as before.
It was after midnight when they recrossed the river to the American side, using a ford known to but a few smugglers. When day broke they were well inland and secure in the chaparral. Another night’s travel, and they were encamped in the place agreed upon. Reports which the members of the band brought to the chief showed that the authorities had made no movement as yet, so evidently this outrage had never been properly reported.
Don Ramon was now furnished paper and pencil, and he addressed a letter to his son and family. The contents can easily be imagined. It concluded with an appeal to secrecy, and an order to observe in confidence and honor any compact made, as his life and liberty depended on it. When this missive had passed the scrutiny of the bandits, it was dispatched by one of their number to Senora Mora. It was just two weeks since Don Ramon’s disappearance, a fortnight of untold anguish and uncertainty to his family.
The messenger reached Agua Dulce an hour before midnight, and seeing a light in the house, warned the inmates of his presence by the usual “Ave Maria,” a friendly salutation invoking the blessings of the saints on all within hearing. Supposing that some friend had a word for them, the son went outside, meeting the messenger.
“Are you the son of Don Ramon Mora?” asked the bandit.
“I am,” replied the young man; “won’t you dismount?”
“No. I bear a letter to you from your father. One moment, senor! I have within call half a dozen men. Give no alarm. Read his instructions to you. I shall expect an answer in half an hour. The letter, senor.”
The son hastened into the house to read his father’s communication. The bandit kept a strict watch over the premises to see that no demonstration was made against him. When the half hour was nearly up, the son came forward and tendered the answer. Passing the compliments of the moment, the man rode away as airily as though the question were of hearts instead of life. The reply was first read by Don Ramon, then turned over to the chief. It would require a second letter, which was to be called for in four days. Things were now nearing the danger point. They must be doubly vigilant; so all but the chief and two guards scattered out and watched every movement. Two or three towns on the river were to have special care. Friends of the family lived in these towns. They must be watched. The officers of the law were the most to be feared. Every bit of conversation overheard was carefully noted, with its effects and bearing.
At the appointed time, another messenger was sent to the ranch, but only a part of the band returned to know the result. The sum which the son reported at his command was very disappointing. It would not satisfy the leaders, and there would be nothing for the others. It was out of the question to consider it. The chief cursed himself for letting his sympathy get the better of him. Why had he not listened to the majority and been true to an accepted duty? He called himself a woman for having acted as he had–a man unfit to be trusted.
Don Ramon heard these self-reproaches of the chief with a heavy heart, and when opportunity occurred, he pleaded for one more chance. He had many friends. There had not been time enough to see them all. His lands and cattle had not been hypothecated. Give him one more chance. Have mercy.
“I was a fool,” said the chief, “to listen to a condemned man’s hopes, but having gone so far I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.” Turning to Don Ramon, he said, “Write your son that if twice the sum named in his letter is not forthcoming within a week, it will be too late.”
The chief now became very surly, often declaring that the case was hopeless; that the money could never be raised. He taunted his captive with the fact that he had always considered himself above his neighbors, and that now he could not command means enough to purchase the silence and friendship of a score of beggars! His former kindness changed to cruelty at every opportunity; and he took delight in hurling his venom on his helpless victim.
Dispatching the letter, he ordered the band to scatter as before, appointing a meeting place a number of days hence. After the return of the messenger, he broke camp in the middle of the night, not forgetting to add other indignities to the heavy irons already on his victim. During the ensuing time they traveled the greater portion of each night. To the prisoner’s questions as to where they were he received only insulting replies. His inquiries served only to suggest other cruelties. One night they set out unusually early, the chief saying that they would recross the river before morning, so that if the ransom was not satisfactory, the execution might take place at once. On this night the victim was blindfolded. After many hours of riding–it was nearly morning when they halted–the bandage was removed from his eyes, and he was asked if he knew the place.
“Yes, it is Agua Dulce.”
The moon shone over its white stone buildings, quietly sleeping in the still hours of the night, as over the white, silent slabs of a country churchyard. Not a sound could be heard from any living thing. They dismounted and gagged their prisoner. Tying their horses at a respectable distance, they led their victim toward his home. Don Ramon was a small man, and could offer no resistance to his captors. They cautioned him that the slightest resistance would mean death, while compliance to their wishes carried a hope of life.
Cautiously and with a stealthy step, they advanced like the thieves they were, their victim in the iron grasp of two strong guards, while a rope with a running noose around his neck, in the hands of the chief, made their gag doubly effective. A garden wall ran within a few feet of the rear of the house, and behind it they crouched. The only sound was the labored breathing of their prisoner. Hark! the cry of a child is heard within the house. Oh, God! it is his child, his baby girl. Listen! The ear of the mother has heard it, and her soothing voice has reached his anxious ear. His wife–the mother of his children–is now bending over their baby’s crib. The muscles of Don Ramon’s arms turn to iron. His eyes flash defiance at the grinning fiends who exult at his misery. The running noose tightens on his neck, and he gasps for breath. As they lead him back to his horse, his brain seems on fire; he questions his own sanity, even the mercy of Heaven.
When the sun arose that morning, they were far away in one of the impenetrable thickets in which the country abounded. Since his capture Don Ramon had suffered, but never as now. Death would have been preferable, not that life had no claims upon him, but that he no longer had hopes of liberty. The uncertainty was unbearable. The bandits exercised caution enough to keep all means of self-destruction out of his reach. Hardened as they were, they noticed that their last racking of the prisoner had benumbed even hope.
Sleep alone was kind to him, though he usually awoke to find his dreams a mockery. That night the answer to the second demand would arrive. A number of the band came in during the day and brought the rumor that the governor of the State had been notified of their high-handed actions. It was thought that a company of Texas Rangers would be ordered to the Rio Grande. This meant action, and soon. When the reply came from the son of Don Ramon, he was notified to have the money ready at a certain abandoned ranchita, though the amount, now increased, was not as large as was expected. It required two days longer for the delivery, which was to be made at midnight, and to be accompanied by not over two messengers.
At this juncture, a squad of ten Texas Rangers disembarked at the nearest point on the railroad to this river village. The emergency appeal, which had finally reached the governor’s ear, was acted upon promptly, and though the men seemed very few in number, they were tried, experienced, fearless Rangers, from the crack company of the State. There was no waste of time after leaving the train. The little command set out apparently for the river home of Don Ramon, distant nearly a hundred miles. After darkness had set in, the captain of the squad cut his already small command in two, sending a lieutenant with four men to proceed by way of Agua Dulce ranch, the remainder continuing on to the river. The captain refused them even pack horse or blanket, allowing them only their arms. He instructed them to call themselves cowboys, and in case they met any Mexicans, to make inquiries for a well-known American ranch which was located in the chaparral. With a few simple instructions from his superior, the lieutenant and squad rode away into the darkness of a June night.
It was in reality the dark hour before dawn when they reached Agua Dulce. As secretly as possible the lieutenant aroused Don Ramon’s wife and sought an interview with her. Speaking Spanish fluently, he explained his errand and her duty to put him in possession of all the facts in the case. Bewildered, as any gentlewoman would be under the circumstances, she reluctantly told the main facts. This officer treated Senora Mora with every courtesy, and was eventually rewarded when she requested him and his men to remain her guests until her son should return, which would be before noon. She explained that he would bring a large sum of money with him, which was to be the ransom price of her husband, and which was to be paid over at midnight within twenty miles of Agua Dulce. This information was food and raiment to the Ranger.
The senora of Agua Dulce sent a servant to secrete the Ranger’s horses in a near-by pasture, and with saddles hidden inside the house, before the people of the ranch or the sun arose, five Rangers were sleeping under the roof of the _Casa primero_.
It was late in the day when the lieutenant awoke to find Don Ramon, Jr., ready to welcome and join in furnishing any details unknown to his mother. The commercial instincts of the young man sided with the Rangers, but the mother–thank God!–knew no such impulses and thought of nothing save the return of her husband, the father of her brood. The officer considered only duty–being an unknown quantity to him. He assured his hostess that if she would confide in them, her husband would be returned to her with all dispatch. Concealing such things as he considered advisable from both mother and son, he outlined his plans. At the appointed time and place the money should be paid over and the compact adhered to to the letter. He reserved to himself and company, however, to furnish any red light necessary.
An hour after dark, a messenger, Don Ramon, Jr., and five Rangers set out to fulfill all contracts pending and understood. The abandoned ranchita in the _monte_–the meeting point–had been at one time a stone house of some pretensions, where had formerly lived its builder, a wealthy, eccentric recluse. It had in previous years, however, been burned, so that now only crumbling walls remained, a gloomy, isolated, though picturesque ruin, standing in an opening several acres in extent, while trails, once in use, led to and from it.
When the party arrived within two miles of the meeting point, an hour in advance of the appointed time, a halt was called. Under the direction of the lieutenant, the son and his companion were to proceed by an old trail, forsaking the regular pathway leading from Agua Dulce to the old ranch. The Ranger squad tied their horses and followed a respectful distance behind, near enough, however, to hear in case any guards might halt them. They were carefully cautioned not even to let Don Ramon, if he were present, know that rescue from another quarter was at hand. When the two sighted the ruin they noticed a dim light within the walls. Then, without a single challenge, they dashed up to the old house, amid a clatter of hoofs, and shouts of welcome from the bandits.
The messengers were unarmed, and once inside the house were made prisoners, ironed, and ordered into a corner, where crouched Don Ramon Mora, now enfeebled by mental racking and physical abuse. The meeting of father and son will be spared the reader, yet in the young man’s heart was a hope that he dared not communicate.
The night was warm. A fire flickered in the old fireplace, and around its circle gathered nine bandits to count and gloat over the blood money of their victim, as a miser might over his bags of gold. The bottle passed freely round the circle, and with toast and taunt and jeer the counting of the money was progressing. Suddenly, and with as little warning as if they had dropped down from among the stars, five Texas Rangers sprang through windows and doors, and without a word a flood of fire frothed from the mouths of ten six-shooters, hurling death into the circle about the fire. There was no cessation of the rain of lead until every gun was emptied, when the men sprang back, each to his window or door, where a carbine, carefully left, awaited his hand to complete the work of death. In the few moments that elapsed, the smoke arose and the fire burned afresh, revealing the accuracy of their aim. As they reentered to review their work, two of the bandits were found alive and untouched, having thrown themselves in a corner amid the confusion of smoke in the onslaught. Thus they were spared the fate of the others, though the ghastly sight of seven of their number, translated from life into death, met their terrorized gaze. Human blood streamed across the once peaceful hearth, while brains bespattered life-sized figures in bas-relief of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child which adorned the broad columns on either side of the ample fireplace. In the throes of death, one bandit had floundered about until his hand rested in the fire, producing a sickening smell from the burning flesh.
As Don Ramon was released, he stood for a few moments half dazed, looking in bewilderment at the awful spectacle before him. Then as the truth gradually dawned upon him,–that this sacrifice of blood meant liberty to himself,–he fell upon his knees among the still warm bodies of his tormentors, his face raised to the Virgin in exultation of joy and thanksgiving.
THE PASSING OF PEG-LEG
In the early part of September, ’91, the eastern overland express on the Denver and Rio Grande was held up and robbed at Texas Creek. The place is little more than a watering-station on that line, but it was an inviting place for hold-ups.
Surrounded by the fastnesses of the front range of the Rockies, Peg-Leg Eldridge and his band selected this lonely station as best fitted for the transaction in hand. To the southwest lay the Sangre de Cristo range, in which the band had rendezvoused and planned this robbery. Farther to the southwest arose the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide, in whose silent solitude an army might have taken refuge and hidden.
It was an inviting country to the robber. These mountains offered retreats that had never known the tread of human footsteps. Emboldened by the thought that pursuit would be almost a matter of impossibility, they laid their plans and executed them without a single hitch.
About ten o’clock at night, as the train slowed up as usual to take water, the engineer and fireman were covered by two of the robbers. The other two–there were only four–cut the express car from the train, and the engineer and fireman were ordered to decamp. The robbers ran the engine and express car out nearly two miles, where, by the aid of dynamite, they made short work of a through safe that the messenger could not open. The express company concealed the amount of money lost to the robbers, but smelters, who were aware of certain retorts in transit by this train, were not so silent. These smelter products were in gold retorts of such a size that they could be made away with as easily as though they had reached the mint and been coined.
There was scarcely any excitement among the passengers, so quickly was it over. While the robbery was in progress the wires from this station were flashing the news to headquarters. At a division of the railroad one hundred and fifty-six miles distant from the scene of the robbery, lived United States Marshal Bob Banks, whose success in pursuing criminals was not bounded by the State in which he lived. His reputation was in a large measure due to the successful use of bloodhounds. This officer’s calling compelled him to be both plainsman and mountaineer. He had the well-deserved reputation of being as unrelenting in the pursuit of criminals as death is in marking its victims.
Within half an hour after the robbery was reported at headquarters, an engine had coupled to a caboose at the division where the marshal lived. He was equally hasty. To gather his arms and get his dogs aboard the caboose required but a few moments’ time.
Everything ready, they pulled out with a clear track to their destination. Heavy traffic in coal had almost ruined the road-bed, but engine and caboose flew over it regardless of its condition. Halfway to their destination the marshal was joined by several officials, both railway and express. From there the train turned westward, up the valley of the Arkansas. Here was a track and an occasion that gave the most daring engineer license to throw the throttle wide open.
The climax of this night’s run was through the Grand Canon of the Arkansas. Into this gash in the earth’s surface plunged the engineer, as though it were an easy stretch of down-grade prairie. As the engine rounded turns, the headlight threw its rays up serried columns of granite half a mile high,–columns that rear their height in grotesque form and Gothic arch, polished by the waters of ages.
As the officials agreed, after a full discussion with the marshal of every phase and possibility of capture, the hope of this night’s work and the punishment of the robbers rested almost entirely on three dogs lying on the floor, and, as the rocking of the car disturbed them, growling in their dreams. In their helplessness to cope with this outrage, they turned to these dumb animals as a welcome ally. Under the guidance of their master they were an aid whose value he well understood. Their sense of smell was more reliable than the sense of seeing in man. You can believe the dog when you doubt your own eyes. His opinion is unquestionably correct.
As the train left the canon it was but a short run to the scene of the depredation. During the night the few people who resided at this station were kept busy getting together saddle-horses for the officer’s posse. This was not easily done, as there were few horses at the station, while the horses of near-by ranches were turned loose in the open range for the night. However, upon the arrival of the train, Banks and the express people found mounts awaiting them to carry them to the place of the hold-up.
After the robbers had finished their work during the fore part of the night, the train crew went out and brought back to the station the engine and express car. The engine was unhurt, but the express car was badly shattered, and the through safe was ruined by the successive charges of dynamite that were used to force it to yield up its treasure. The local safe was unharmed, the messenger having opened it in order to save it from the fate of its larger and stronger brother. The train proceeded on its way, with the loss of a few hours’ time and the treasure of its express.
Day was breaking in the east as the posse reached the scene. The marshal lost no time circling about until the trail leaving was taken up. Even the temporary camp of the robbers was found in close proximity to the chosen spot. The experienced eye of this officer soon determined the number of men, though they led several horses. It was a cool, daring act of Peg-Leg and three men. Afterward, when his past history was learned, his leadership in this raid was established.
Peg-Leg Eldridge was a product of that unfortunate era succeeding the civil war. During that strife the herds of the southwest were neglected to such an extent that thousands of cattle grew to maturity without ear-mark or brand to identify their owner. A good mount of horses, a rope and a running-iron in the hands of a capable man, were better than capital. The good old days when an active young man could brand annually fifteen calves–all better than yearlings–to every cow he owned, are looked back to to this day, from cattle king to the humblest of the craft, in pleasant reminiscence, though they will come no more. Eldridge was of that time, and when conditions changed, he failed to change with them. This was the reason that, under the changed condition of affairs, he frequently got his brand on some other man’s calf. This resulted in his losing a leg from a gunshot at the hands of a man he had thus outraged. Worse, it branded him for all time as a cattle thief, with every man’s hand against him. Thus the steps that led up to this September night were easy, natural, and gradual. This child of circumstances, a born plainsman like the Indian, read in plain, forest, and mountain, things which were not visible to other eyes. The stars were his compass by night, the heat waves of the plain warned him of the tempting mirage, while the cloud on the mountain’s peak or the wind in the pines which sheltered him alike spoke to him and he understood.
The robbers’ trail was followed but a few miles, when their course was well established. They were heading into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Several hours were lost here by the pursuing party, as they were compelled to await the arrival of a number of pack horses; so when the trail was taken up in earnest they were at least twelve hours behind the robbers.
In the ascent of the foot-hills the dogs led the posse, six in number, a merry chase. As they gradually rose to higher altitudes the trail of the robbers was more compact and easy to follow, except for the roughness of the mountain slope. Frequently the trail was but a single narrow path. Old game trails, where the elk and deer, drifting in the advance of winter, crossed the range, had been followed by the robbers. These game trails were certain to lead to the passes in the range. Thus, by the instinct given to the deer and elk against the winter’s storm, the humblest of His creatures had blazed for these train robbers an unerring pathway to the mountain’s pass.
Along these paths the trail was so distinct that the dogs were an unnecessary adjunct to the pursuing party. These hounds, one of which was a veteran in the service, while the other two, being younger, were without that practice which perfects, showed an exuberance of energy and ambition in following the trail. The ancestry of the dogs was Russian. Hounds of this breed never give mouth, thus warning the hunted of their approach. Man-hunting is exciting sport. The possibility, though the trail may look hours old, that any turn of the trail may disclose the fugitives, keeps at the highest tension every nerve of the pursuer.
All day long the marshal and posse climbed higher and higher on the rugged mountainside. Night came on as they reached the narrow plateau that formed the crest of the mountain, on which they found several small parks. Here they made the first halt since the start in the morning. The necessity of resting their saddle stock was very apparent to Banks, though he would gladly have pushed on. The only halt he could expect of the robbers was to save their own horses, and he must do the same. Forcing a tired horse an extra hour has left many an amateur rider afoot. He realized this. Knowing the necessity of being well mounted, the robbers had no doubt splendid horses. This was a reasonable supposition.
Near midnight the marshal and posse set out once more on the trail. He was compelled to take it afoot now, depending on his favorite dog, which was under leash, the posse following with the mounts. The dogs led them several miles southward on this mountain crest. Here was where the dogs were valuable. The robbers had traveled in some places an entire mile over lava beds, not leaving as much as a trace which the eye could detect. Having the advantage of daylight, the robbers selected a rocky cliff, over which they began the descent of the western slope of this range. The ingenuity displayed by them to throw pursuit from their trail marked Peg-Leg as an artist in his calling. But with the aid of dogs and the dampness of night, their trail was as easily followed as though it had been made in snow.
This declivity was rough, and in places every one was compelled to dismount. Progress was extremely slow, and when the rising sun tipped the peaks of the Continental Range, before them lay the beautiful landscape where the Rio Grande in a hundred mountain streams has her fountain-head. With only a few hours’ rest for men and animals during the day, night fell upon them before they had reached the mesa at the foot-hills on the western slope. An hour before nightfall they came upon the first camp or halt of the robbers. They had evidently spent but a short time here, there being no indication that they had slept. Criminals are inured to all kinds of hardship. They have been known to go for days without sleep, while smugglers, well mounted, have put a hundred miles of country behind them in a single night.
The marshal and party pushed forward during the night, the country being more favorable. When morning came they had covered many a mile, and it was believed they had made time, as the trail seemed fresher. There were several ranches along the main stream in the valley, which the robbers had avoided with well-studied caution, showing that they had passed through in the daytime. There are several lines of railroad running through this valley section. These they crossed at points between stations, where observation would be almost impossible either by day or night. Inquiries at ranches failed on account of the lack of all accurate means of description. The posse was maintaining a due southwest course that was carrying them into the fastnesses of the main range of the western continent. Another full day of almost constant advance, and the trail had entered the undulating hills forming the approach of this second range of mountains. Physical exertion was beginning to tell on the animals, and they were compelled to make frequent halts in the ascent of this range.
The fatigue was showing in the two younger dogs. Their feet had been cut in several places in crossing the first range of mountains. During the past nights in the valley, though their master was keeping a sharp lookout, they encountered several places where sand-burrs were plentiful. These burrs in the tender inner part of a dog’s foot, if not removed at once, soon lame it. Many times had the poor creatures lain down, licking their paws in anguish. On examination during the previous night, their feet were found to be webbed with this burr. Now, on climbing this second mountain, they began to show the lameness which their master so much feared, until it was almost impossible to make them take any interest in the trail. The old dog, however, seemed nothing the worse for his work.
On reaching the first small park near the summit of this range, the pursuers were so exhausted that they lay down and took their first sleep, having been over three days and a half on the trail. The marshal himself slept several hours, but he was the last to go to sleep and the first to awake. Before going to sleep, and on arising, he was particular to bathe the dogs’ feet. The nearest approach to a liniment that he possessed was a lubricating tube for guns, which he fortunately had with him. This afforded relief.
It was daybreak when the pursuers took up the trail. The plateau on the crest of this range was in places several miles wide, having a luxuriant growth of grass upon it. The course of the robbers continued to the southwest. The pursuers kept this plateau for several miles, and before descending the western slope of the range an abandoned camp was found, where the pursued had evidently made their first bunks. Indications of where horses had been picketed for hours, and where both men and horses had slept were evident. The trail where it left this deserted camp was in no wise encouraging to the marshal, as it looked at least thirty-six hours old. As the pursuers began the descent, they could see below them where the San Juan River meanders to the west until her waters, mingling with others, find their outlet into the Pacific. It was a trial of incessant toil down the mountain slope, wearisome alike to man and beast. Near the foot-hill of this mountain they were rewarded by finding a horse which the robbers had abandoned on account of an accident. He was an extremely fine horse, but so lame in the shoulders, apparently owing to a fall, that it was impossible to move him. The trail of the robbers kept in the foot-hills, finally doubling back an almost due east course. Now and then ranches were visible out on the mesa, but in all instances they were carefully avoided by the pursued.
Spending a night in these hills, the posse prepared to make an early start. Here, however, they met their first serious trouble. Both of the younger dogs had feet so badly swollen that it was impossible to make them take any interest in the trail. After doing everything possible for them, their owner sent them to a ranch which was in sight several miles below in the valley. Several hours were lost to the party by this incident, though they were in no wise deterred in following the trail, still having the veteran dog. Late that afternoon they met a _pastor_ who gave them a description of the robbers.
“Yesterday morning,” said the shepherd, in broken Spanish, “shortly after daybreak, four men rode into my camp and asked for breakfast. I gave them coffee, but as I had no meat in my quarters, they tried to buy a lamb, which I have no right to sell. After drinking the coffee they tendered me money, which I refused. On leaving, one of their number rode into my flock and killed a kid. Taking it with him, he rode away with the others.”
A good description of the robbers was secured from this simple shepherd,–a full description of men, horses, colors, and condition of pack. The next day nothing of importance developed, and the posse hugged the shelter of the hills skirting the mountain range, crossing into New Mexico. It was late that night when they went into camp on the trail. They had pushed forward with every energy, hoping to lessen the intervening distance between them and the robbers. The following morning on awakening, to the surprise and mortification of everybody, the old dog was unable to stand upon his feet. While this was felt to be a serious drawback, it did not necessarily check the chase.
In bringing to bay over thirty criminals, one of whom had paid the penalty of his crime on the gallows, master and dog had heretofore been an invincible team. Old age and physical weakness had now overtaken the dog in an important chase, and the sympathy he deserved was not withheld, nor was he deserted. Tenderly as a mother would lift a sick child, Banks gathered him in his arms and lifted him to one of the posse on his horse. To the members of the posse it was a touching scene: they remembered him but a few months before pursuing a flying criminal, when the latter–seeing that escape was impossible and turning to draw his own weapon upon the officer, whose six-shooter had been emptied at the fugitive, but who with drawn knife was ready to close with him in the death struggle–immediately threw down his weapon and pleaded for his life.
Yet this same officer could not keep back the tears that came into his eyes as he lifted this dumb comrade of other victories to a horse. With an earnest oath he brushed the incident away by assuring his posse that unless the earth opened and swallowed up the robbers they could not escape. A few hours after taking up the trail, a ranch was sighted and the dog was left, the instructions of the Good Samaritan being repeated. At this ranch they succeeded in buying two fresh horses, which proved a valuable addition to their mounts.
Now it became a hunt of man by man. To an experienced trailer like the marshal there was little difficulty in keeping the trail. That the robbers kept to the outlying country was an advantage. Yet the latter traveled both night and day, while pursuit must of necessity be by day only. With the fresh horses secured, they covered a stretch of country hardly credible.
During the day they found a place where the robbers had camped for at least a full day. A trail made by two horses had left this camp, and returned. The marshal had followed it to a rather pretentious Mexican rancho, where there was a small store kept. Here a second description of the two men was secured, though neither one was Peg-Leg. He was so indelibly marked that he was crafty enough to keep out of sight of so public a place as a store. These two had tried unsuccessfully to buy horses at this rancho.
The next morning the representative of the express company left the posse to report progress. He was enabled to give such an exact description of the robbers that the company, through their detective system, were not long in locating the leader. The marshal and posse pushed on with the same unremitting energy. The trail was now almost due east. The population of the country was principally Mexican, and even Mexicans the robbers avoided as much as possible. They had, however, bought horses at several ranches, and were always liberal in the use of money, but very exacting in regard to the quality of horseflesh they purchased; the best was none too good for them. They passed north of old Santa Fe town, and entering a station on the line of railway by that name late at night, they were liberal patrons of the gaming tables that the town tolerated. The next morning they had disappeared.
At no time did the pursuers come within two days of them. This was owing to the fact that they traveled by night as well as day. At the last-mentioned point messages were exchanged with the express company with little loss of time. Banks had asked that certain points on the railway be watched in the hope of capture while crossing the country, but the effort was barren of results. In following the trail the marshal had recrossed the continuation of the first range of mountains which they had crossed to the west ten days before, or the morning after the robbery, three hundred miles southward. There was nothing difficult in the passage of this range of mountains, and now before them stretched the endless prairie to the eastward. Here Banks seriously felt the loss of his dogs. This was a country that they could be used in to good advantage. It would then be a question of endurance of men and horses. As it was, he could work only by day. Two lines of railway were yet to be crossed if the band held its course. The same tactics were resorted to as formerly, yet this vigilance and precaution availed nothing, as Peg-Leg crossed them carefully between two of the watched places. Owing to his occupation, he knew the country better by night than day.
Banks was met by the officials of the express company on one of these lines of railroad. The exhaustive amount of information that they had been able to collect regarding this interesting man with the wooden leg was astonishing. From out of the abundance of the data there were a few items that were of interest to the officer. Several of Eldridge’s haunts when not actively engaged in his profession were located. In one of these haunts was a woman, and toward this one he was heading, though it was many a weary mile distant.
At the marshal’s request the express people had brought bloodhounds with them. The dogs proved worthless, and the second day were abandoned. When the trail crossed the Gulf Railway the robbers were three days ahead. The posse had now been fourteen days on the trail. Banks followed them one day farther, himself alone, leaving his tired companions at a station near the line of the Panhandle of Texas. This extra day’s ride was to satisfy himself that the robbers were making for one of their haunts. They kept, as he expected, down between the two Canadians.
After following the trail until he was thoroughly satisfied of their destination, the marshal retraced his steps and rejoined his posse. The first train carried him and the posse back to the headquarters of the express company.
Two weeks later, at a country store in the Chickasaw Nation, there was a horse race of considerable importance. The country side were gathered to witness it. The owners of the horses had made large wagers on the race. Outsiders wagered money and livestock to a large amount. There were a number of strangers present, which was nothing unusual. As the race was being run and every eye was centred on the outcome, a stranger present put a six-shooter to a very interested spectator’s ear, and informed him that he was a prisoner. Another stranger did the same thing to another spectator. They also snapped handcuffs on both of them. One of these spectators had a peg-leg. They were escorted to a waiting rig, and when they alighted from it were on the line of a railroad forty miles distant. One of these strangers was a United States marshal, who for the past month had been very anxious to meet these same gentlemen.
Once safe from the rescue of friends of these robbers, the marshal regaled his guest with the story of the chase, which had now terminated. He was even able to give Eldridge a good part of his history. But when he attempted to draw him out as to the whereabouts of the other two, Peg was sullenly ignorant of anything. They were never captured, having separated before reaching the haunt of Mr. Eldridge. Eldridge was tried in a Federal court in Colorado and convicted of train robbery. He went over the road for a term of years far beyond the lease of his natural life. He, with the companion captured at the same time, was taken by an officer of the court to Detroit for confinement. When within an hour’s ride of the prison–his living grave–he raised his ironed hands, and twisting from a blue flannel shirt which he wore a large pearl button, said to the officer in charge:–
“Will you please take this button back and give it, with my compliments, to that human bloodhound, and say to him that I’m sorry that I didn’t anticipate meeting him? If I had, it would have saved you this trip with me. He might have got me, but I wouldn’t have needed a trial when he did.”
IN THE HANDS OF HIS FRIENDS
There was a painting at the World’s Fair at Chicago named “The Reply,” in which the lines of two contending armies were distinctly outlined. One of these armies had demanded the surrender of the other. The reply was being written by a little fellow, surrounded by grim veterans of war. He was not even a soldier. But in this little fellow’s countenance shone a supreme contempt for the enemy’s demand. His patriotism beamed out as plainly as did that of the officer dictating to him. Physically he was debarred from being a soldier; still there was a place where he could be useful.
So with Little Jack Martin. He was a cripple and could not ride, but he could cook. If the way to rule men is through the stomach, Jack was a general who never knew defeat. The “J+H” camp, where he presided over the kitchen, was noted for good living. Jack’s domestic tastes followed him wherever he went, so that he surrounded himself at this camp with chickens, and a few cows for milk. During the spring months, when the boys were away on the various round-ups, he planted and raised a fine garden. Men returning from a hard month’s work would brace themselves against fried chicken, eggs, milk, and fresh vegetables. After drinking alkali water for a month and living out of tin cans, who wouldn’t love Jack? In addition to his garden, he always raised a fine patch of watermelons. This camp was an oasis in the desert. Every man was Jack’s friend, and an enemy was an unknown personage. The peculiarity about him, aside from his deformity, was his ability to act so much better than he could talk. In fact he could barely express his simplest wants in words.
Cripples are usually cross, irritable, and unpleasant companions. Jack was the reverse. His best qualities shone their brightest when there were a dozen men around to cook for. When they ate heartily he felt he was useful. If a boy was sick, Jack could make a broth, or fix a cup of beef tea like a mother or sister. When he went out with the wagon during beef-shipping season, a pot of coffee simmered over the fire all night for the boys on night herd. Men going or returning on guard liked to eat. The bread and meat left over from the meals of the day were always left convenient for the boys. It was the many little things that he thought of which made him such a general favorite with every one.
Little Jack was middle-aged when the proclamation of the President opening the original Oklahoma was issued. This land was to be thrown open in April. It was not a cow-country then, though it had been once. There was a warning in this that the Strip would be next. The dominion of the cowman was giving way to the homesteader. One day Jack found opportunity to take Miller, our foreman, into his confidence. They had been together five or six years. Jack had coveted a spot in the section which was to be thrown open, and he asked the foreman to help him get it. He had been all over the country when it was part of the range, and had picked out a spot on Big Turkey Creek, ten miles south of the Strip line. It gradually passed from one to another of us what Jack wanted. At first we felt blue about it, but Miller, who could see farther than the rest of us, dispelled the gloom by announcing at dinner, “Jack is going to take a claim if this outfit has a horse in it and a man to ride him. It is only a question of a year or two at the farthest until the rest of us will be guiding a white mule between two corn rows, and glad of the chance. If Jack goes now, he will have just that many years the start of the rest of us.”
We nerved ourselves and tried to appear jolly after this talk of the foreman. We entered into quite a discussion as to which horse would be the best to make the ride with. The ranch had several specially good saddle animals. In chasing gray wolves in the winter those qualities of endurance which long races developed in hunting these enemies of cattle, pointed out a certain coyote-colored horse, whose color marks and “Dead Tree” brand indicated that he was of Spanish extraction. Intelligently ridden with a light rider he was First Choice on which to make this run. That was finally agreed to by all. There was no trouble selecting the rider for this horse with the zebra marks. The lightest weight was Billy Edwards. This qualification gave him the preference over us all.
Jack described the spot he desired to claim by an old branding-pen which had been built there when it had been part of the range. Billy had ironed up many a calf in those same pens himself. “Well, Jack,” said Billy, “if this outfit don’t put you on the best quarter section around that old corral, you’ll know that they have throwed off on you.”
It was two weeks before the opening day. The coyote horse was given special care from this time forward. He feasted on corn, while others had to be content with grass. In spite of all the bravado that was being thrown into these preparations, there was noticeable a deep undercurrent of regret. Jack was going from us. Every one wanted him to go, still these dissolving ties moved the simple men to acts of boyish kindness. Each tried to outdo the others, in the matter of a parting present to Jack. He could have robbed us then. It was as bad as a funeral. Once before we felt similarly when one of the boys died at camp. It was like an only sister leaving the family circle.
Miller seemed to enjoy the discomfiture of the rest of us. This creedless old Christian had fine strata in his make-up. He and Jack planned continually for the future. In fact they didn’t live in the present like the rest of us. Two days before the opening, we loaded up a wagon with Jack’s effects. Every man but the newly installed cook went along. It was too early in the spring for work to commence. We all dubbed Jack a boomer from this time forward. The horse so much depended on was led behind the wagon.
On the border we found a motley crowd of people. Soldiers had gathered them into camps along the line to prevent “sooners” from entering before the appointed time. We stopped in a camp directly north of the claim our little boomer wanted. One thing was certain, it would take a better horse than ours to win the claim away from us. No sooner could take it. That and other things were what all of us were going along for.
The next day when the word was given that made the land public domain, Billy was in line on the coyote. He held his place to the front with the best of them. After the first few miles, the others followed the valley of Turkey Creek, but he maintained his course like wild fowl, skirting the timber which covered the first range of hills back from the creek. Jack followed with the wagon, while the rest of us rode leisurely, after the first mile or so. When we saw Edwards bear straight ahead from the others, we argued that a sooner only could beat us for the claim. If he tried to out-hold us, it would be six to one, as we noticed the leaders closely when we slacked up. By not following the valley, Billy would cut off two miles. Any man who could ride twelve miles to the coyote’s ten with Billy Edwards in the saddle was welcome to the earth. That was the way we felt. We rode together, expecting to make the claim three quarters of an hour behind our man. When near enough to sight it, we could see Billy and another horseman apparently protesting with one another. A loud yell from one of us attracted our man’s attention. He mounted his horse and rode out and met us. “Well, fellows, it’s the expected that’s happened this time,” said he. “Yes, there’s a sooner on it, and he puts up a fine bluff of having ridden from the line; but he’s a liar by the watch, for there isn’t a wet hair on his horse, while the sweat was dripping from the fetlocks of this one.”
“If you are satisfied that he is a sooner,” said Miller, “he has to go.”
“Well, he is a lying sooner,” said Edwards.
We reined in our horses and held a short parley. After a brief discussion of the situation, Miller said to us: “You boys go down to him,–don’t hurt him or get hurt, but make out that you’re going to hang him. Put plenty of reality into it, and I’ll come in in time to save him and give him a chance to run for his life.”
We all rode down towards him, Miller bearing off towards the right of the old corral,–rode out over the claim noticing the rich soil thrown up by the mole-hills. When we came up to our sooner, all of us dismounted. Edwards confronted him and said, “Do you contest my right to this claim?”
“I certainly do,” was the reply.
“Well, you won’t do so long,” said Edwards. Quick as a flash Mouse prodded the cold steel muzzle of a six-shooter against his ear. As the sooner turned his head and looked into Mouse’s stern countenance, one of the boys relieved him of an ugly gun and knife that dangled from his belt. “Get on your horse,” said Mouse, emphasizing his demand with an oath, while the muzzle of a forty-five in his ear made the order undebatable. Edwards took the horse by the bits and started for a large black-jack tree which stood near by. Reaching it, Edwards said, “Better use Coon’s rope; it’s manilla and stronger. Can any of you boys tie a hangman’s knot?” he inquired when the rope was handed him.
“Yes, let me,” responded several.
“Which limb will be best?” inquired Mouse.
“Take this horse by the bits,” said Edwards to one of the boys, “till I look.” He coiled the rope sailor fashion, and made an ineffectual attempt to throw it over a large limb which hung out like a yard-arm, but the small branches intervening defeated his throw. While he was coiling the rope to make a second throw, some one said, “Mebby so he’d like to pray.”
“What! him pray?” said Edwards. “Any prayer that he might offer couldn’t get a hearing amongst men, let alone above, where liars are forbidden.”
“Try that other limb,” said Coon to Edwards; “there’s not so much brush in the way; we want to get this job done sometime to-day.” As Edwards made a successful throw, he said, “Bring that horse directly underneath.” At this moment Miller dashed up and demanded, “What in hell are you trying to do?”
“This sheep-thief of a sooner contests my right to this claim,” snapped Edwards, “and he has played his last cards on this earth. Lead that horse under here.”
“Just one moment,” said Miller. “I think I know this man–think he worked for me once in New Mexico.” The sooner looked at Miller appealingly, his face blanched to whiteness. Miller took the bridle reins out of the hands of the boy who was holding the horse, and whispering something to the sooner said to us, “Are you all ready?”
“Just waiting on you,” said Edwards. The sooner gathered up the reins. Miller turned the horse halfway round as though he was going to lead him under the tree, gave him a slap in the flank with his hand, and the sooner, throwing the rowels of his spurs into the horse, shot out from us like a startled deer. We called to him to halt, as half a dozen six-shooters encouraged him to go by opening a fusillade on the fleeing horseman, who only hit the high places while going. Nor did we let up fogging him until we emptied our guns and he entered the timber. There was plenty of zeal in this latter part, as the lead must have zipped and cried near enough to give it reality. Our object was to shoot as near as possible without hitting.
Other horsemen put in an appearance as we were unsaddling and preparing to camp, for we had come to stay a week if necessary. In about an hour Jack joined us, speechless as usual, his face wreathed in smiles. The first step toward a home he could call his own had been taken. We told him about the trouble we had had with the sooner, a story which he seemed to question, until Miller confirmed it. We put up a tent among the black-jacks, as the nights were cool, and were soon at peace with all the world.
At supper that evening Edwards said: “When the old settlers hold their reunions in the next generation, they’ll say, ‘Thirty years ago Uncle Jack Martin settled over there on Big Turkey,’ and point him out to their children as one of the pioneer fathers.”
No one found trouble in getting to sleep that night, and the next day arts long forgotten by most of us were revived. Some plowed up the old branding-pen for a garden. Others cut logs for a cabin. Every one did two ordinary days’ work. The getting of the logs together was the hardest. We sawed and chopped and hewed for dear life. The first few days Jack and one of the boys planted a fine big garden. On the fourth day we gave up the tent, as the smoke curled upward from our own chimney, in the way that it does in well-told stories. The last night we spent with Jack was one long to be remembered. A bright fire snapped and crackled in the ample fireplace. Every one told stories. Several of the boys could sing “The Lone Star Cow-trail,” while “Sam Bass” and “Bonnie Black Bess” were given with a vim.
The next morning we were to leave for camp. One of the boys who would work for us that summer, but whose name was not on the pay-roll until the round-up, stayed with Jack. We all went home feeling fine, and leaving Jack happy as a bird in his new possession. As we were saddling up to leave, Miller said to Jack, “Now if you’re any good, you’ll delude some girl to keep house for you ‘twixt now and fall. Remember what the Holy Book says about it being hard luck for man to be alone. You notice all your boomer neighbors have wives. That’s a hint to you to do likewise.”
We were on the point of mounting, when the coyote horse began to act up in great shape. Some one said to Edwards, “Loosen your cinches!” “Oh, it’s nothing but the corn he’s been eating and a few days’ rest,” said Miller. “He’s just running a little bluff on Billy.” As Edwards went to put his foot in the stirrup a second time, the coyote reared like a circus horse. “Now look here, colty,” said Billy, speaking to the horse, “my daddy rode with Old John Morgan, the Confederate cavalry raider, and he’d be ashamed of any boy he ever raised that couldn’t ride a bad horse like you. You’re plum foolish to act this way. Do you think I’ll walk and lead you home?” He led him out a few rods from the others and mounted him without any trouble. “He just wants to show Jack how it affects a cow-horse to graze a few days on a boomer’s claim,–that’s all,” said Edwards, when he joined us.
“Now, Jack,” said Miller, as a final parting, “if you want a cow, I’ll send one down, or if you need anything, let us know and we’ll come a-running. It’s a bad example you’ve set us to go booming this way, but we want to make a howling success out of you, so we can visit you next winter. And mind what I told you about getting married,” he called back as he rode away.
We reached camp by late noon. Miller kept up his talk about what a fine move Jack had made; said that we must get him a stray beef for his next winter’s meat; kept figuring constantly what else he could do for Jack. “You come around in a few years and you’ll find him as cosy as a coon, and better off than any of us,” said Miller, when we were talking about his farming. “I’ve slept under wet blankets with him, and watched him kindle a fire in the snow, too often not to know what he’s made of. There’s good stuff in that little rascal.”
About the ranch it seemed lonesome without Jack. It was like coming home from school when we were kids and finding mother gone to the neighbor’s. We always liked to find her at home. We busied ourselves repairing fences, putting in flood-gates on the river, doing anything to keep away from camp. Miller himself went back to see Jack within ten days, remaining a week. None of us stayed at the home ranch any more than we could help. We visited other camps on hatched excuses, until the home round-ups began. When any one else asked us about Jack, we would blow about what a fine claim he had, and what a boost we had given him. When we buckled down to the summer’s work the gloom gradually left us. There were men to be sent on the eastern, western, and middle divisions of the general round-up of the Strip. Two men were sent south into the Cheyenne country to catch anything that had winter-drifted. Our range lay in the middle division. Miller and one man looked after it on the general round-up.
It was a busy year with us. Our range was full stocked, and by early fall was rich with fat cattle. We lived with the wagon after the shipping season commenced. Then we missed Jack, although the new cook did the best he knew how. Train after train went out of our pasture, yet the cattle were never missed. We never went to camp now; only the wagon went in after supplies, though we often came within sight of the stabling and corrals in our work.
One day, late in the season, we were getting out a train load of “Barb Wire” cattle, when who should come toddling along on a plow nag but Jack himself. Busy as we were, he held quite a levee, though he didn’t give down much news, nor have anything to say about himself or the crops. That night at camp, while the rest of us were arranging the guards for the night, Miller and Jack prowled off in an opposite direction from the beef herd, possibly half a mile, and afoot, too. We could all see that something was working. Some trouble was bothering Jack, and he had come to a friend in need, so we thought. They did not come back to camp until the moon was up and the second guard had gone out to relieve the first. When they came back not a word was spoken. They unrolled Miller’s bed and slept together.
The next morning as Jack was leaving us to return to his claim, we overheard him say to Miller, “I’ll write you.” As he faded from our sight, Miller smiled to himself, as though he was tickled about something. Finally Billy Edwards brought things to a head by asking bluntly, “What’s up with Jack? We want to know.”
“Oh, it’s too good,” said Miller. “If that little game-legged rooster hasn’t gone and deluded some girl back in the State into marrying him, I’m a horse-thief. You fellows are all in the play, too. Came here special to see when we could best get away. Wants every one of us to come. He’s built another end to his house, double log style, floored both rooms and the middle. Says he will have two fiddlers, and