of beeves from our ranch in the Outlet, and as the bookkeeper could attend to that, I decided to go back. I offered other excuses for going, but home-hunger and the improved herd were the main reasons. It was a fortunate thing that I went home, for it enabled me to get into touch with the popular feeling in my adopted State over the outlook for live stock in the future. Up to this time there had been no general movement in cattle, in sympathy with other branches of industry, notably in sheep and wool, supply always far exceeding demand. There had been a gradual appreciation in marketable steers, first noticeable in 1876, and gaining thereafter about one dollar a year per head on all grades, yet so slowly as not to disturb or excite the trade. During the fall of 1879, however, there was a feeling of unrest in cattle circles in Texas, and predictions of a notable advance could be heard on every side. The trail had been established as far north as Montana, capital by the millions was seeking investment in ranching, and everything augured for a brighter future. That very summer the trail had absorbed six hundred and fifty thousand cattle, or possibly ten per cent of the home supply, which readily found a market at army posts, Indian agencies, and two little cow towns in the North. Investment in Texas steers was paying fifty to one hundred per cent annually, the whole Northwest was turning into one immense pasture, and the feeling was general that the time had come for the Lone Star State to expect a fair share in the profits of this immense industry.
Cattle associations, organized for mutual protection and the promotion of community interests, were active agencies in enlarging the Texas market. National conventions were held annually, at which every live-stock organization in the West was represented, and buyer and seller met on common ground. Two years before the Cattle Raisers’ Association of Texas was formed, other States and Territories founded similar organizations, and when these met in national assembly the cattle on a thousand hills were represented. No one was more anxious than myself that a proper appreciation should follow the enlargement of our home market, yet I had hopes that it would come gradually and not excite or disturb settled conditions. In our contracts with the government, we were under the necessity of anticipating the market ten months in advance, and any sudden or unseen change in prices in the interim between submitting our estimates and buying in the cattle to fill the same would be ruinous. Therefore it was important to keep a finger on the pulse of the home market, to note the drift of straws, and to listen for every rumor afloat. Lands in Texas were advancing in value, a general wave of prosperity had followed self-government and the building of railroads, and cattle alone was the only commodity that had not proportionally risen in value.
In spite of my hopes to the contrary, I had a well-grounded belief that a revolution in cattle prices was coming. Daily meeting with men from the Northwest, at Dodge and Ogalalla, during the summer just passed, I had felt every throb of the demand that pulsated those markets. There was a general inquiry for young steers, she stuff with which to start ranches was eagerly snapped up, and it stood to reason that if this reckless Northern demand continued, its influence would soon be felt on the plains of Texas. Susceptible to all these influences, I had returned home to find both my ranches littered with a big calf crop, the brand actually increasing in numbers in spite of the drain of trail herds annually cut out. But the idol of my eye was those half-blood calves. Out of a possible five hundred, there were four hundred and fifty odd by actual count, all big as yearlings and reflecting the selection of their parents. I loafed away a week at the canon camp, rode through them daily, and laughed at their innocent antics as they horned the bluffs or fought their mimic fights. The Double Mountain ranch was my pride, and before leaving, the foreman and I outlined some landed additions to fill and square up my holdings, in case it should ever be necessary to fence the range.
On my return to the Clear Fork, the ranch outfit had just finished gathering from my own and adjoining ranges fifteen hundred bulls for distillery feeding. The sale had been effected by correspondence with my former customer, and when the herd started the two of us drove on ahead into Fort Worth. The Illinois man was an extensive dealer in cattle and had followed the business for years in his own State, and in the week we spent together awaiting the arrival of his purchase, I learned much of value. There was a distinct difference between a range cowman and a stockman from the older Western States; but while the occupations were different, there was much in common between the two. Through my customer I learned that Western range cattle, when well fatted, were competing with grass beeves from his own State; that they dressed more to their gross weight than natives, and that the quality of their flesh was unsurpassed. As to the future, the Illinois buyer could see little to hope for in his own country, but was enthusiastic over the outlook for us ranchmen in the Southwest. All these things were but straws which foretold the course of the wind, yet neither of us looked for the cyclone which was hovering near.
I accompanied the last train of the shipment as far as Parsons, Kansas, where our ways parted, my customer going to Peoria, Illinois, while I continued on to The Grove. Both my partners and our segundo were awaiting me, the bookkeeper had all accounts in hand, and the profits of the year were enough to turn ordinary men’s heads. But I sounded a note of warning,–that there were breakers ahead,–though none of them took me seriously until I called for the individual herd accounts. With all the friendly advantages shown us by the War and Interior departments, the six herds from the Colorado River, taking their chances in the open market, had cleared more money per head than had the heavy beeves requiring thirty-three per cent a larger investment. In summing up my warning, I suggested that now, while we were winners, would be a good time to drop contracting with the government and confine ourselves strictly to the open market. Instead of ten months between assuming obligations and their fulfillment, why not reduce the chances to three or four, with the hungry, clamoring West for our market?
The powwow lasted several days. Finally all agreed to sever our dealings with the Interior Department, which required cows for Indian agencies, and confine our business to the open market and supplying the Army with beef. Our partner the Senator reluctantly yielded to the opinions of Major Hunter and myself, urging our loss of prestige and its reflection on his standing at the national capital. But we countered on him, arguing that as a representative of the West the opportunity of the hour was his to insist on larger estimates for the coming year, and to secure proportionate appropriations for both the War and Interior departments, if they wished to attract responsible bidders. If only the ordinary estimates and allowances were made, it would result in a deficiency in these departments, and no one cared for vouchers, even against the government, when the funds were not available to meet the same on presentation. Major Hunter suggested to our partner that as beef contractors we be called in consultation with the head of each department, and allowed to offer our views for the general benefit of the service. The Senator saw his opportunity, promising to hasten on to Washington at once, while the rest of us agreed to hold ourselves in readiness to respond to any call.
Edwards and I returned to Texas. The former was stationed for the winter at San Antonio, under instructions to keep in touch with the market, while I loitered between Fort Worth and the home ranch. The arrival of the list of awards came promptly as usual, but beyond a random glance was neglected pending state developments. An advance of two dollars and a half a head was predicted on all grades, and buyers and superintendents of cattle companies in the North and West were quietly dropping down into Texas for the winter, inquiring for and offering to contract cattle for spring delivery at Dodge and Ogalalla. I was quietly resting on my oars at the ranch, when a special messenger arrived summoning me to Washington. The motive was easily understood, and on my reaching Fort Worth the message was supplemented by another one from Major Hunter, asking me to touch at Council Grove en route. Writing Edwards fully what would be expected of him during my absence, I reached The Grove and was joined by my partner, and we proceeded on to the national capital. Arriving fully two weeks in advance of the closing day for bids, all three of us called and paid our respects to the heads of the War and Interior departments. On special request of the Secretaries, an appointment was made for the following day, when the Senator took Major Hunter and me under his wing and coached us in support of his suggestions to either department. There was no occasion to warn me, as I had just come from the seat of beef supply, and knew the feverish condition of affairs at home.
The appointments were kept promptly. At the Interior Department we tarried but a few minutes after informing the Secretary that we were submitting no bids that year in his division, but allowed ourselves to be drawn out as to the why and wherefore. Major Hunter was a man of moderate schooling, apt in conversation, and did nearly all the talking, though I put in a few general observations. We were cordially greeted at the War Office, good cigars were lighted, and we went over the situation fully. The reports of the year before were gone over, and we were complimented on our different deliveries to the Army. We accepted all flatteries as a matter of course, though the past is poor security for the future. When the matter of contracting for the present year was broached, we confessed our ability to handle any awards in our territory to the number of fifty to seventy-five thousand beeves, but would like some assurance that the present or forthcoming appropriations would be ample to meet all contracts. Our doubts were readily removed by the firmness of the Secretary when as we arose to leave, Major Hunter suggested, by way of friendly advice, that the government ought to look well to the bonds of contractors, saying that the beef-producing regions of the West and South had experienced an advance in prices recently, which made contracting cattle for future delivery extremely hazardous. At parting regret was expressed that the sudden change in affairs would prevent our submitting estimates only so far as we had the cattle in hand.
Three days before the limit expired, we submitted twenty bids to the War Department. Our figures were such that we felt fully protected, as we had twenty thousand cattle on our Northern range, while advice was reaching us daily from the beef regions of Texas. The opening of proposals was no surprise, only seven falling to us, and all admitting of Southern beeves. Within an hour after the result was known, a wire was sent to Edwards, authorizing him to contract immediately for twenty-two thousand heavy steer cattle and advance money liberally on every agreement. Duplicates of our estimates had been sent him the same day they were submitted at the War Office. Our segundo had triple the number of cattle in sight, and was then in a position to act intelligently. The next morning Major Hunter and I left the capital for San Antonio, taking a southern route through Virginia, sighting old battlefields where both had seen service on opposing sides, but now standing shoulder to shoulder as trail drovers and army contractors. We arrived at our destination promptly. Edwards was missing, but inquiry among our bankers developed the fact that he had been drawing heavily the past few days, and we knew that all was well. A few nights later he came in, having secured our requirements at an advance of two to three dollars a head over the prices of the preceding spring.
The live-stock interests of the State were centring in the coming cattle convention, which would be held at Fort Worth in February. At this meeting heavy trading was anticipated for present and future delivery, and any sales effected would establish prices for the coming spring. From the number of Northern buyers that were in Texas, and others expected at the convention, Edwards suggested buying, before the meeting, at least half the requirements for our beef ranch and trail cattle. Major Hunter and I both fell in with the idea of our segundo, and we scattered to our old haunts under agreement to report at Fort Worth for the meeting of the clans. I spent two weeks among my ranchmen friends on the headwaters of the Frio and Nueces rivers, and while they were fully awake to the advance in prices, I closed trades on twenty-one thousand two and three year old steers for March delivery. It was always a weakness in me to overbuy, and in receiving I could never hold a herd down to the agreed numbers, but my shortcomings in this instance proved a boon. On arriving at Fort Worth, the other two reported having combed their old stamping-grounds of half a dozen counties along the Colorado River, and having secured only fifteen thousand head. Every one was waiting until after the cattle convention, and only those who had the stock in hand could be induced to talk business or enter into agreements.
The convention was a notable affair. Men from Montana and intervening States and Territories rubbed elbows and clinked their glasses with the Texans to “Here’s to a better acquaintance.” The trail drovers were there to a man, the very atmosphere was tainted with cigar smoke, the only sounds were cattle talk, and the nights were wild and sleepless. “I’ll sell ten thousand Pan-Handle three-year-old steers for delivery at Ogalalla,” spoken in the lobby of a hotel or barroom, would instantly attract the attention of half a dozen men in fur overcoats and heavy flannel. “What are your cattle worth laid down on the Platte?” was the usual rejoinder, followed by a drink, a cigar, and a conference, sometimes ending in a deal or terminating in a friendly acquaintance. I had met many of these men at Abilene, Wichita, and Great Bend, and later at Dodge City and Ogalalla, and now they had invaded Texas, and the son of a prophet could not foretell the future. Our firm never offered a hoof, but the three days of the convention were forewarnings of the next few years to follow. I was personally interested in the general tendency of the men from the upper country to contract for heifers and young cows, and while the prices offered for Northern delivery were a distinct advance over those of the summer before, I resisted all temptations to enter into agreements. The Northern buyers and trail drovers selfishly joined issues in bearing prices in Texas; yet, in spite of their united efforts, over two hundred thousand cattle were sold during the meeting, and at figures averaging fully three dollars a head over those of the previous spring.
The convention adjourned, and those in attendance scattered to their homes and business. Between midnight and morning of the last day of the meeting, Major Hunter and I closed contracts for two trail herds of sixty-five hundred head in Erath and Comanche counties. Within a week two others of straight three-year-olds were secured,–one in my home county and the other fifty miles northwest in Throckmorton. This completed our purchases for the present, giving us a chain of cattle to receive from within one county of the Rio Grande on the south to the same distance from Red River on the north. The work was divided into divisions. One thousand extra saddle horses were needed for the beef herds and others, and men were sent south, to secure them. All private and company remudas had returned to the Clear Fork to winter, and from there would be issued wherever we had cattle to receive. A carload of wagons was bought at the Fort, teams were sent in after them, and a busy fortnight followed in organizing the forces. Edwards was assigned to assist Major Hunter in receiving the beef cattle along the lower Frio and Nueces, starting in ample time to receive the saddle stock in advance of the beeves. There was three weeks’ difference in the starting of grass between northern and southern Texas, and we made our dates for receiving accordingly, mine for Medina and Uvalde counties following on the heels of the beef herds from the lower country.
From the 12th of March I was kept in the saddle ten days, receiving cattle from the headwaters of the Frio and Nueces rivers. All my old foremen rendered valuable assistance, two and three herds being in the course of formation at a time, and, as usual, we received eleven hundred over and above the contracts. The herds moved out on good grass and plenty of water, the last of the heavy beeves had passed north on my return to San Antonio, and I caught the first train out to join the others in central Texas. My buckboard had been brought down with the remudas and was awaiting me at the station, the Colorado River on the west was reached that night, and by noon the next day I was in the thick of the receiving. When three herds had started, I reported in Comanche and Erath counties, where gathering for our herds was in progress; and fixing definite dates that would allow Edwards and my partner to arrive, I drove on through to the Clear Fork. Under previous instructions, a herd of thirty-five hundred two-year-old heifers was ready to start, while nearly four thousand steers were in hand, with one outfit yet to come in from up the Brazos. We were gathering close that year, everything three years old or over must go, and the outfits were ranging far and wide. The steer herd was held down to thirty-two hundred, both it and the heifers moving out the same day, with a remnant of over a thousand three-year-old steers left over.
The herd under contract to the firm in the home county came up full in number, and was the next to get away. A courier arrived from the Double Mountain range and reported a second contingent of heifers ready, but that the steers would overrun for a wieldy herd. The next morning the overplus from the Clear Fork was started for the new ranch, with orders to make up a third steer herd and cross Red River at Doan’s. This cleaned the boards on my ranches, and the next day I was in Throckmorton County, where everything was in readiness to pass upon. This last herd was of Clear Fork cattle, put up within twenty-five miles of Fort Griffin, every brand as familiar as my own, and there was little to do but count and receive. Road-branding was necessary, however; and while this work was in progress, a relay messenger arrived from the ranch, summoning me to Fort Worth posthaste. The message was from Major Hunter, and from the hurried scribbling I made out that several herds were tied up when ready to start, and that they would be thrown on the market. I hurried home, changed teams, and by night and day driving reached Fort Worth and awakened my active partner and Edwards out of their beds to get the particulars. The responsible man of a firm of drovers, with five herds on hand, had suddenly died, and the banks refused to advance the necessary funds to complete their payments. The cattle were under herd in Wise and Cook counties, both Major Hunter and our segundo had looked them over, and both pronounced the herds gilt-edged north Texas steers. It would require three hundred thousand dollars to buy and clear the herds, and all our accounts were already overdrawn, but it was decided to strain our credit. The situation was fully explained in a lengthy message to a bank in Kansas City, the wires were kept busy all day answering questions; but before the close of business we had authority to draw for the amount needed, and the herds, with remudas and outfits complete, passed into our hands and were started the next day. This gave the firm and me personally thirty-three herds, requiring four hundred and ninety-odd men and over thirty-five hundred horses, while the cattle numbered one hundred and four thousand head.
Two thirds of the herds were routed by way of Doan’s Crossing in leaving Texas, while all would touch at Dodge in passing up the country. George Edwards accompanied the north Texas herds, and Major Hunter hastened on to Kansas City to protect our credit, while I hung around Doan’s Store until our last cattle crossed Red River. The annual exodus from Texas to the North was on with a fury, and on my arrival at Dodge all precedents in former prices were swept aside in the eager rush to secure cattle. Herds were sold weeks before their arrival, others were met as far south as Camp Supply, and it was easily to be seen that it was a seller’s market. Two thirds of the trail herds merely took on new supplies at Dodge and passed on to the Platte. Once our heavy beeves had crossed the Arkansas, my partner and I swung round to Ogalalla and met our advance herd, the foreman of which reported meeting buyers as far south as the Republican River. It was actually dangerous to price cattle for fear of being under the market; new classifications were being introduced, Pan-Handle and north Texas steers commanding as much as three dollars a head over their brethren from the coast and far south.
The boom in cattle of the early ’80’s was on with a vengeance. There was no trouble to sell herds that year. One morning, while I was looking for a range on the north fork of the Platte, Major Hunter sold my seven thousand heifers at twenty-five dollars around, commanding two dollars and a half a head over steers of the same age. Edwards had been left in charge at Dodge, and my active partner reluctantly tore himself away from the market at Ogalalla to attend our deliveries of beef at army posts. Within six weeks after arriving at Dodge and Ogalalla the last of our herds had changed owners, requiring another month to complete the transfers at different destinations. Many of the steers went as far north as the Yellowstone River, and Wyoming and Nebraska were liberal buyers at the upper market, while Colorado, Kansas, and the Indian Territory absorbed all offerings at the lower point. Horses were even in demand, and while we made no effort to sell our remudas, over half of them changed owners with the herds they had accompanied into the North.
The season closed with a flourish. After we had wound up our affairs, Edwards and I drifted down to the beef ranch with the unsold saddle stock, and the shipping season opened. The Santa Fe Railway had built south to Caldwell that spring, affording us a nearer shipping point, and we moved out five to ten trainloads a week of single and double wintered beeves. The through cattle for restocking the range had arrived early and were held separate until the first frost, when everything would be turned loose on the Eagle Chief. Trouble was still brewing between the Cherokee Nation and the government on the one side and those holding cattle in the Strip, and a clash occurred that fall between a lieutenant of cavalry and our half-breed foreman LaFlors. The troops had been burning hay and destroying improvements belonging to cattle outfits, and had paid our range a visit and mixed things with our foreman. The latter stood firm on his rights as a Cherokee citizen and cited his employers as government beef contractors, but the young lieutenant haughtily ignored all statements and ordered the hay, stabling, and dug-outs burned. Like a flash of light, LaFlors aimed a six-shooter at the officer’s breast, and was instantly covered by a dozen carbines in the hands of troopers.
“Order them to shoot if you dare,” smilingly said the Cherokee to the young lieutenant, a cocked pistol leveled at the latter’s heart, “and she goes double. There isn’t a man under you can pull a trigger quicker than I can.” The hay was not burned, and the stabling and dug-outs housed our men and horses for several winters to come.
THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOM
The great boom in cattle which began in 1880 and lasted nearly five years was the beginning of a ruinous end. The frenzy swept all over the northern and western half of the United States, extended into the British possessions in western Canada, and in the receding wave the Texan forgot the pit from which he was lifted and bowed down and worshiped the living calf. During this brief period the great breeding grounds of Texas were tested to their utmost capacity to supply the demand, the canebrakes of Arkansas and Louisiana were called upon for their knotty specimens of the bovine race, even Mexico responded, and still the insatiable maw of the early West called for more cattle. The whirlpool of speculation and investment in ranches and range stock defied the deserts on the west, sweeping across into New Mexico and Arizona, where it met a counter wave pushing inland from California to possess the new and inviting pastures. Naturally the Texan was the last to catch the enthusiasm, but when he found his herds depleted to a remnant of their former numbers, he lost his head and plunged into the vortex with the impetuosity of a gambler. Pasture lands that he had scorned at ten cents an acre but a decade before were eagerly sought at two and three dollars, and the cattle that he had bartered away he bought back at double and triple their former prices.
How I ever weathered those years without becoming bankrupt is unexplainable. No credit or foresight must be claimed, for the opinions of men and babes were on a parity; yet I am inclined to think it was my dread of debt, coupled with an innate love of land and cattle, that saved me from the almost universal fate of my fellow cowmen. Due acknowledgment must be given my partners, for while I held them in check in certain directions, the soundness of their advice saved my feet from many a stumble. Major Hunter was an unusually shrewd man, a financier of the rough and ready Western school; and while we made our mistakes, they were such as human foresight could not have avoided. Nor do I withhold a word of credit from our silent partner, the Senator, who was the keystone to the arch of Hunter, Anthony & Co., standing in the shadow in our beginning as trail drovers, backing us with his means and credit, and fighting valiantly for our mutual interests when the firm met its Waterloo.
The success of our drive for the summer of 1880 changed all plans for the future. I had learned that percentage was my ablest argument in suggesting a change of policy, and in casting up accounts for the year we found that our heavy beeves had paid the least in the general investment. The banking instincts of my partners were unerring, and in view of the open market that we had enjoyed that summer it was decided to withdraw from further contracting with the government. Our profits for the year were dazzling, and the actual growth of our beeves in the Outlet was in itself a snug fortune, while the five herds bought at the eleventh hour cleared over one hundred thousand dollars, mere pin-money. I hurried home to find that fortune favored me personally, as the Texas and Pacific Railway had built west from Fort Worth during the summer as far as Weatherford, while the survey on westward was within easy striking distance of both my ranches. My wife was dazed and delighted over the success of the summer’s drive, and when I offered her the money with which to build a fine house at Fort Worth, she balked, but consented to employ a tutor at the ranch for the children.
I had a little leisure time on my hands that fall. Activity in wild lands was just beginning to be felt throughout the State, and the heavy holders of scrip were offering to locate large tracts to suit the convenience of purchasers. Several railroads held immense quantities of scrip voted to them as bonuses, all the charitable institutions of the State were endowed with liberal grants, and the great bulk of certificates issued during the Reconstruction regime for minor purposes had fallen into the hands of shrewd speculators. Among the latter was a Chicago firm, who had opened an office at Fort Worth and employed a corps of their own surveyors to locate lands for customers. They held millions of acres of scrip, and I opened negotiations with them to survey a number of additions to my Double Mountain range. Valuable water-fronts were becoming rather scarce, and the legislature had recently enacted a law setting apart every alternate section of land for the public schools, out of which grew the State’s splendid system of education. After the exchange of a few letters, I went to Fort Worth and closed a contract with the Chicago firm to survey for my account three hundred thousand acres adjoining my ranch on the Salt and Double Mountain forks of the Brazos. In my own previous locations, the water-front and valley lands were all that I had coveted, the tracts not even adjoining, the one on the Salt Fork lying like a boot, while the lower one zigzagged like a stairway in following the watercourse. The prices agreed on were twenty cents an acre for arid land, forty for medium, and sixty for choice tracts, every other section to be set aside for school purposes in compliance with the law. My foreman would designate the land wanted, and the firm agreed to put an outfit of surveyors into the field at once.
My two ranches were proving a valuable source of profit. After starting five herds of seventeen thousand cattle on the trail that spring, and shipping on consignment fifteen hundred bulls to distilleries that fall, we branded nineteen thousand five hundred calves on the two ranges. In spite of the heavy drain, the brand was actually growing in numbers, and as long as it remained an open country I had ample room for my cattle even on the Clear Fork. Each stock was in splendid shape, as the culling of the aging and barren of both sexes to Indian agencies and distilleries had preserved the brand vigorous and productive. The first few years of its establishment I am satisfied that the Double Mountain ranch increased at the rate of ninety calves to the hundred cows, and once the Clear Fork range was rid of its drones, a similar ratio was easily maintained on that range. There was no such thing as counting one’s holdings; the increase only was known, and these conclusions, with due allowance for their selection, were arrived at from the calf crop of the improved herd. Its numbers were known to an animal, all chosen for their vigor and thrift, the increase for the first two years averaging ninety-four per cent.
There is little rest for the wicked and none for a cowman. I was planning an enjoyable winter, hunting with my hounds, when the former proposition of organizing an immense cattle company was revived at Washington. Our silent partner was sought on every hand by capitalists eager for investment in Western enterprises, and as cattle were absorbing general attention at the time, the tendency of speculation was all one way. The same old crowd that we had turned down two winters before was behind the movement, and as certain predictions that were made at that time by Major Hunter and myself had since come true, they were all the more anxious to secure our firm as associates. Our experience and resultant profits from wintering cattle in southern Kansas and the Cherokee Strip were well known to the Senator, and, to judge from his letters and frequent conversations, he was envied by his intimate acquaintances in Congress. In the revival of the original proposition it was agreed that our firm might direct the management of the enterprise, all three of us to serve on the directorate and to have positions on the executive committee. This sounded reasonable, and as there was a movement on foot to lease the entire Cherokee Outlet from that Nation, if an adequate range could be secured, such a cattle company as suggested ought to be profitable.
Major Hunter and I were a unit in business matters, and after an exchange of views by letter, it was agreed to run down to the capital and hold a conference with the promoters of the proposed company. My parents were aging fast, and now that I was moderately wealthy it was a pleasure to drop in on them for a week and hearten their declining years. Accordingly with the expectation of combining filial duty and business, I took Edwards with me and picked up the major at his home, and the trio of us journeyed eastward. I was ten days late in reaching Washington. It was the Christmas season in the valley; every darky that our family ever owned renewed his acquaintance with Mars’ Reed, and was remembered in a way befitting the season. The recess for the holidays was over on my reaching the capital, yet in the mean time a crude outline of the proposed company was under consideration. On the advice of our silent partner, who well knew that his business associates were slightly out of their element at social functions and might take alarm, all banquets were cut out, and we met in little parties at cafes and swell barrooms. In the course of a few days all the preliminaries were agreed on, and a general conference was called.
Neither my active partner nor myself was an orator, but we had coached the silent member of the firm to act in our behalf. The Senator was a flowery talker, and in prefacing his remarks he delved into antiquity, mentioning the Aryan myth wherein the drifting clouds were supposed to be the cows of the gods, driven to and from their feeding grounds. Coming down to a later period, he referred to cattle being figured on Egyptian monuments raised two thousand years before the Christian era, and to the important part they were made to play in Greek and Roman mythology. Referring to ancient biblical times, he dwelt upon the pastoral existence of the old patriarchs, as they peacefully led their herds from sheltered nook to pastures green. Passing down and through the cycles of change from ancient to modern times, he touched upon the relation of cattle to the food supply of the world, and finally the object of the meeting was reached. In few and concise words, an outline of the proposed company was set forth, its objects and limitations. A pound of beef, it was asserted, was as staple as a loaf of bread, the production of the one was as simple as the making of the other, and both were looked upon equally as the staff of life. Other remarks of a general nature followed. The capital was limited to one million dollars, though double the capitalization could have been readily placed at the first meeting. Satisfactory committees were appointed on organization and other preliminary steps, and books were opened for subscriptions. Deference was shown our firm, and I subscribed the same amount as my partners, except that half my subscription was made in the name of George Edwards, as I wanted him on the executive committee if the company ever got beyond its present embryo state. The trio of us taking only one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, there was a general scramble for the remainder.
The preliminary steps having been taken, nothing further could be done until a range was secured. My active partner, George Edwards, and myself were appointed on this committee, and promising to report at the earliest convenience, we made preparations for returning West. A change of administration was approaching, and before leaving the capital, Edwards, my partners, and myself called on Secretaries Schurz of the Interior Department and Ramsey of the War Department. We had done an extensive business with both departments in the past, and were anxious to learn the attitude of the government in regard to leasing lands from the civilized Indian nations. A lease for the Cherokee Outlet was pending, but for lack of precedent the retiring Secretary of the Interior, for fear of reversal by the succeeding administration, lent only a qualified approval of the same. There were six million acres of land in the Outlet, a splendid range for maturing beef, and if an adequate-sized ranch could be secured the new company could begin operations at once. The Cherokee Nation was anxious to secure a just rental, an association had offered $200,000 a year for the Strip, and all that was lacking was a single word of indorsement from the paternal government.
Hoping that the incoming administration would take favorable action permitting civilized Indian tribes to lease their surplus lands, we returned to our homes. The Cherokee Strip Cattle Association had been temporarily organized some time previous,–not being chartered, however, until March, 1883,–and was the proposed lessee of the Outlet in which our beef ranch lay. The organization was a local one, created for the purpose of removing all friction between the Cherokees and the individual holders of cattle in the Strip. The officers and directors of the association were all practical cattlemen, owners of herds and ranges in the Outlet, paying the same rental as others into the general treasury of the organization. Major Hunter was well acquainted with the officers, and volunteered to take the matter up at once, by making application in person for a large range in the Cherokee Strip. There was no intention on the part of our firm to forsake the trail, this cattle company being merely a side issue, and active preparations were begun for the coming summer.
The annual cattle convention would meet again in Fort Worth in February. With the West for our market and Texas the main source of supply, there was no occasion for any delay in placing our contracts for trail stock. The closing figures obtainable at Dodge and Ogalalla the previous summer had established a new scale of prices for Texas, and a buyer must either pay the advance or let the cattle alone. Edwards and I were in the field fully three weeks before the convention met, covering our old buying grounds and venturing into new ones, advancing money liberally on all contracts, and returning to the meeting with thirty herds secured. Major Hunter met us at the convention, and while nothing definite was accomplished in securing a range, a hopeful word had reached us in regard to the new administration. Starting the new company that spring was out of the question, and all energies were thrown into the forthcoming drive. Representatives from the Northwest again swept down on the convention, all Texas was there, and for three days and nights the cattle interests carried the keys of the city. Our firm offered nothing, but, on the other hand, bought three herds of Pan-Handle steers for acceptance early in April. Three weeks of active work were required to receive the cattle, the herds starting again with the grass. My individual contingent included ten thousand three-year-old steers, two full herds of two-year-old heifers, and seven thousand cows. The latter were driven in two herds; extra wagons with oxen attached accompanied each in order to save the calves, as a youngster was an assistance in selling an old cow. Everything was routed by Doan’s Crossing, both Edwards and myself accompanying the herds, while Major Hunter returned as usual by rail. The new route, known as the Western trail, was more direct than the Chisholm though beset by Comanche and Kiowa Indians once powerful tribes, but now little more than beggars. The trip was nearly featureless, except that during a terrible storm on Big Elk, a number of Indians took shelter under and around one of our wagons and a squaw was killed by lightning. For some unaccountable reason the old dame defied the elements and had climbed up on a water barrel which was ironed to the side of the commissary wagon, when the bolt struck her and she tumbled off dead among her people. The incident created quite a commotion among the Indians, who set up a keening, and the husband of the squaw refused to be comforted until I gave him a stray cow, when he smiled and asked for a bill of sale so that he could sell the hide at the agency. I shook my head, and the cook told him in Spanish that no one but the owner could give a hill of sale, when he looked reproachfully at me and said, “Mebby so you steal him.”
I caught a stage at Camp Supply and reached Dodge a week in advance of the herds. Major Hunter was awaiting me with the report that our application for an extra lease in the Cherokee Strip had been refused. Those already holding cattle in the Outlet were to retain their old grazing grounds, and as we had no more range than we needed for the firm’s holding of stock, we must look elsewhere to secure one for the new company. A movement was being furthered in Washington, however, to secure a lease from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, blanket Indians, whose reservation lay just south of the Strip, near the centre of the Territory and between the Chisholm and Western trails. George Edwards knew the country, having issued cows at those agencies for several summers, and reported the country well adapted for ranging cattle. We had a number of congressmen and several distinguished senators in our company, and if there was such a thing as pulling the wires with the new administration, there was little doubt but it would be done. Kirkwood of Iowa had succeeded Schurz in the Interior Department, and our information was that he would at least approve of any lease secured. We were urged at the earliest opportunity to visit the Cheyenne and Arapahoe agency, and open negotiations with the ruling chiefs of those tribes. This was impossible just at present, for with forty herds, numbering one hundred and twenty-six thousand cattle, on the trail and for our beef ranch, a busy summer lay before us. Edwards was dispatched to meet and turn off the herds intended for our range in the Outlet, Major Hunter proceeded on to Ogalalla, while I remained at Dodge until the last cattle arrived or passed that point.
The summer of 1881 proved a splendid market for the drover. Demand far exceeded supply and prices soared upward, while she stuff commanded a premium of three to five dollars a head over steers of the same age. Pan-Handle and north Texas cattle topped the market, their quality easily classifying them above Mexican, coast, and southern breeding. Herds were sold and cleared out for their destination almost as fast as they arrived; the Old West wanted the cattle and had the range and to spare, all of which was a tempered wind to the Texas drover. I spent several months in Dodge, shaping up our herds as they arrived, and sending the majority of them on to Ogalalla. The cows were the last to arrive on the Arkansas, and they sold like pies to hungry boys, while all the remainder of my individual stock went on to the Platte and were handled by our segundo and my active partner. Near the middle of the summer I closed up our affairs at Dodge, and, taking the assistant bookkeeper with me, moved up to Ogalalla. Shortly after my arrival there, it was necessary to send a member of the firm to Miles City, on the Yellowstone River in Montana, and the mission fell to me. Major Hunter had sold twenty thousand threes for delivery at that point, and the cattle were already en route to their destination on my arrival. I took train and stage and met the herds on the Yellowstone.
On my return to Ogalalla the season was drawing to a feverish close. All our cattle were sold, the only delay being in deliveries and settlements. Several of our herds were received on the Platte, but, as it happened, nearly all our sales were effected with new cattle companies, and they had too much confidence in the ability of the Texas outfits to deliver to assume the risk themselves. Everything was fish to our net, and if a buyer had insisted on our delivering in Canada, I think Major Hunter would have met the request had the price been satisfactory. We had the outfits and horses, and our men were plainsmen and were at home as long as they could see the north star. Edwards attended a delivery on the Crazy Woman in Wyoming, Major Hunter made a trip for a similar purpose to the Niobrara in Nebraska, and various trail foremen represented the firm at minor deliveries. All trail business was closed before the middle of September, the bookkeepers made up their final statements, and we shook hands all round and broke the necks of a few bottles.
But the climax of the year’s profits came from the beef ranch in the Outlet. The Eastern markets were clamoring for well-fatted Western stock, and we sent out train after train of double wintered beeves that paid one hundred per cent profit on every year we had held them. The single wintered cattle paid nearly as well, and in making ample room for the through steers we shipped out eighteen thousand head from our holdings on the Eagle Chief. The splendid profits from maturing beeves on Northern ranges naturally made us anxious to start the new company. We were doing fairly well as a firm and personally, and with our mastery of the business it was but natural that we should enlarge rather than restrict our operations. There had been no decrease of the foreign capital, principally Scotch and English, for investment in ranges and cattle in the West during the summer just past, and it was contrary to the policy of Hunter, Anthony & Co. to take a backward step. The frenzy for organizing cattle companies was on with a fury, and half-breed Indians and squaw-men, with rights on reservations, were in demand as partners in business or as managers of cattle syndicates.
An amusing situation developed during the summer of 1881 at Dodge. The Texas drovers formed a social club and rented and furnished quarters, which immediately became the rendezvous of the wayfaring mavericks. Cigars and refreshments were added, social games introduced, and in burlesque of the general craze of organizing stock companies to engage in cattle ranching, our club adopted the name of The Juan-Jinglero Cattle Company, Limited. The capital stock was placed at five million, full-paid and non-assessable, with John T. Lytle as treasurer, E.G. Head as secretary, Jess Pressnall as attorney, Captain E.G. Millet as fiscal agent for placing the stock, and a dozen leading drovers as vice-presidents, while the presidency fell to me. We used the best of printed stationery, and all the papers of Kansas City and Omaha innocently took it up and gave the new cattle company the widest publicity. The promoters of the club intended it as a joke, but the prominence of its officers fooled the outside public, and applications began to pour in to secure stock in the new company. No explanation was offered, but all applications were courteously refused, on the ground that the capital was already over-subscribed. All members were freely using the club stationery, thus daily advertising us far and wide, while no end of jokes were indulged in at the expense of the burlesque company. For instance, Major Seth Mabry left word at the club to forward his mail to Kansas City, care of Armour’s Bank, as he expected to be away from Dodge for a week. No sooner had he gone than every member of the club wrote him a letter, in care of that popular bank, addressing him as first vice-president and director of The Juan-Jinglero Cattle Company. While attending to business Major Mabry was hourly honored by bankers and intimate friends desiring to secure stock in the company, to all of whom he turned a deaf ear, but kept the secret. “I told the boys,” said Major Seth on his return, “that our company was a close corporation, and unless we increased the capital stock, there was no hope of them getting in on the ground floor.”
In Dodge practical joking was carried to the extreme, both by citizens and cowmen. One night a tipsy foreman, who had just arrived over the trail, insisted on going the rounds with a party of us, and in order to shake him we entered a variety theatre, where my maudlin friend soon fell asleep in his seat. The rest of us left the theatre, and after seeing the sights I wandered back to the vaudeville, finding the performance over and my friend still sound asleep. I awoke him, never letting him know that I had been absent for hours, and after rubbing his eyes open, he said: “Reed, is it all over? No dance or concert? They give a good show here, don’t they?”
THE CHEYENNE AND ARAPAHOE CATTLE COMPANY
The assassination of President Garfield temporarily checked our plans in forming the new cattle company. Kirkwood of the Interior Department was disposed to be friendly to all Western enterprises, but our advices from Washington anticipated a reorganization of the cabinet under Arthur. Senator Teller was slated to succeed Kirkwood, and as there was no question about the former being fully in sympathy with everything pertaining to the West, every one interested in the pending project lent his influence in supporting the Colorado man for the Interior portfolio. Several senators and any number of representatives were subscribers to our company, and by early fall the outlook was so encouraging that we concluded at least to open negotiations for a lease on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation. A friendly acquaintance was accordingly to be cultivated with the Indian agent of these tribes. George Edwards knew him personally, and, well in advance of Major Hunter and myself, dropped down to the agency and made known his errand. There were already a number of cattle being held on the reservation by squaw-men, sutlers, contractors, and other army followers stationed at Fort Reno. The latter ignored all rights of the tribes, and even collected a rental from outside cattle for grazing on the reservation, and were naturally antagonistic to any interference with their personal plans. There had been more or less friction between the Indian agent and these usurpers of the grazing privileges, and a proposition to lease a million acres at an annual rental of fifty thousand dollars at once met with the sanction of the agent. Major Hunter and I were notified of the outlook, and at the close of the beef-shipping season we took stage for the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Agency. Our segundo had thoroughly ridden over the country, the range was a desirable one, and we soon came to terms with the agent. He was looked upon as a necessary adjunct to the success of our company, a small block of stock was set aside for his account, while his usefulness in various ways would entitle his name to grace the salary list. For the present the opposition of the army followers was to be ignored, as no one gave them credit for being able to thwart our plans.
The Indian agent called the head men of the two tribes together. The powwow was held at the summer encampment of the Cheyennes, and the principal chiefs of the Arapahoes were present. A beef was barbecued at our expense, and a great deal of good tobacco was smoked. Aside from the agent, we employed a number of interpreters; the council lasted two days, and on its conclusion we held a five years’ lease, with the privilege of renewal, on a million acres of as fine grazing land as the West could boast. The agreement was signed by every chief present, and it gave us the privilege to fence our range, build shelter and stabling for our men and horses, and otherwise equip ourselves for ranching. The rental was payable semiannually in advance, to begin with the occupation of the country the following spring, and both parties to the lease were satisfied with the terms and conditions. In the territory allotted to us grazed two small stocks of cattle, one of which had comfortable winter shelters on Quartermaster Creek. Our next move was to buy both these brands and thus gain the good will of the only occupants of the range. Possession was given at once, and leaving Edwards and a few men to hold the range, the major and I returned to Kansas and reported our success to Washington.
The organization was perfected, and The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company began operations with all the rights and privileges of an individual. One fourth of the capital stock was at once paid into the hands of the treasurer, the lease and cattle on hand were transferred to the new company, and the executive committee began operations for the future. Barbed wire by the carload was purchased sufficient to build one hundred miles of four-strand fence, and arrangements were made to have the same freighted one hundred and fifty miles inland by wagon from the railway terminal to the new ranch on Quartermaster Creek. Contracts were let to different men for cutting the posts and building the fence, and one of the old trail bosses came on from Texas and was installed as foreman of the new range. The first meeting of stockholders–for permanent organization–was awaiting the convenience of the Western contingent; and once Edwards was relieved, he and Major Hunter took my proxy and went on to the national capital. Every interest had been advanced to the farthest possible degree: surveyors would run the lines, the posts would be cut and hauled during the winter, and by the first of June the fences would be up and the range ready to receive the cattle.
I returned to Texas to find everything in a prosperous condition. The Texas and Pacific railway had built their line westward during the past summer, crossing the Colorado River sixty miles south of headquarters on the Double Mountain ranch and paralleling my Clear Fork range about half that distance below. Previous to my return, the foreman on my Western ranch shipped out four trains of sixteen hundred bulls on consignment to our regular customer in Illinois, it being the largest single shipment made from Colorado City since the railway reached that point. Thrifty little towns were springing up along the railroad, land was in demand as a result of the boom in cattle, and an air of prosperity pervaded both city and hamlet and was reflected in a general activity throughout the State. The improved herd was the pride of the Double Mountain ranch, now increased by over seven hundred half-blood heifers, while the young males were annually claimed for the improvement of the main ranch stock. For fear of in-and-in breeding, three years was the limit of use of any bulls among the improved cattle, the first importation going to the main stock, and a second consignment supplanting them at the head of the herd.
In the permanent organization of The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company, the position of general manager fell to me. It was my wish that this place should have gone to Edwards, as he was well qualified to fill it, while I was busy looking after the firm and individual interests. Major Hunter likewise favored our segundo, but the Eastern stockholders were insistent that the management of the new company should rest in the hands of a successful cowman. The salary contingent with the position was no inducement to me, but, with the pressure brought to bear and in the interests of harmony, I was finally prevailed on to accept the management. The proposition was a simple one,–the maturing and marketing of beeves; we had made a success of the firm’s beef ranch in the Cherokee Outlet, and as far as human foresight went, all things augured for a profitable future.
There was no intention on the part of the old firm to retire from the enviable position that we occupied as trail drovers. Thus enlarging the scope of our operations as cowmen simply meant that greater responsibility would rest on the shoulders of the active partners and our trusted men. Accepting the management of the new company meant, to a certain extent, a severance of my personal connection with the firm, yet my every interest was maintained in the trail and beef ranch. One of my first acts as manager of the new company was to serve a notice through our secretary-treasurer calling for the capital stock to be paid in on or before February 1, 1882. It was my intention to lay the foundation of the new company on a solid basis, and with ample capital at my command I gave the practical experiences of my life to the venture. During the winter I bought five hundred head of choice saddle horses, all bred in north Texas and the Pan-Handle, every one of which I passed on personally before accepting.
Thus outfitted, I awaited the annual cattle convention. Major Hunter and our segundo were present, and while we worked in harmony, I was as wide awake for a bargain in the interests of the new company as they were in that of the old firm. I let contracts for five herds of fifteen thousand Pan-Handle three-year-old steers for delivery on the new range in the Indian Territory, and bought nine thousand twos to be driven on company account. There was the usual whoop and hurrah at the convention, and when it closed I lacked only six thousand head of my complement for the new ranch. I was confining myself strictly to north Texas and Pan-Handle cattle, for through Montana cowmen I learned that there was an advantage, at maturity, in the northern-bred animal. Major Hunter and our segundo bought and contracted in a dozen counties from the Rio Grande to Red River during the convention, and at the close we scattered to the four winds in the interests of our respective work. In order to give my time and attention to the new organization, I assigned my individual cattle to the care of the firm, of which I was sending out ten thousand three-year-old steers and two herds of aging and dry cows. They would take their chances in the open market, though I would have dearly loved to take over the young steers for the new company rather than have bought their equivalent in numbers. I had a dislike to parting with an animal of my own breeding, and to have brought these to a ripe maturity under my own eye would have been a pleasure and a satisfaction. But such an action might have caused distrust of my management, and an honest name is a valuable asset in a cowman’s capital.
My ranch foremen made up the herds and started my individual cattle on the trail. I had previously bought the two remaining herds in Archer and Clay counties, and in the five that were contracted for and would be driven at company risk and account, every animal passed and was received under my personal inspection. Three of the latter were routed by way of the Chisholm trail, and two by the Western, while the cattle under contract for delivery at the company ranch went by any route that their will and pleasure saw fit. I saw very little of my old associates during the spring months, for no sooner had I started the herds than I hastened to overtake the lead one so as to arrive with the cattle at their new range. I had kept in touch with the building of fences, and on our arrival, near the middle of May, the western and southern strings were completed. It was not my intention to inclose the entire range, only so far as to catch any possible drift of cattle to the south or west. A twenty-mile spur of fence on the east, with half that line and all the north one open, would be sufficient until further encroachments were made on our range. We would have to ride the fences daily, anyhow, and where there was no danger of drifting, an open line was as good as a fence.
As fast as the cattle arrived they were placed under loose herd for the first two weeks. Early in June the last of the contracted herds arrived and were scattered over the range, the outfits returning to Texas. I reduced my help gradually, as the cattle quieted down and became located, until by the middle of summer we were running the ranch with thirty men, which were later reduced to twenty for the winter. Line camps were established on the north and east, comfortable quarters were built for fence-riders and their horses, and aside from headquarters camp, half a dozen outposts were maintained. Hay contracts were let for sufficient forage to winter forty horses, the cattle located nicely within a month, and time rolled by without a cloud on the horizon of the new cattle company. I paid a flying visit to Dodge and Ogalalla, but, finding the season drawing to a close and the firm’s cattle all sold, I contentedly returned to my accepted task. I had been buried for several months in the heart of the Indian Territory, and to get out where one could read the daily papers was a treat. During my banishment, Senator Teller had been confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, an appointment that augured well for the future of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company. Advices from Washington were encouraging, and while the new secretary lacked authority to sanction our lease, his tacit approval was assured.
The firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co. made a barrel of money in trailing cattle and from their beef ranch during the summer of 1882. I actually felt grieved over my portion of the season’s work for while I had established a promising ranch, I had little to show, the improvement account being heavy, owing to our isolation. It was doubtful if we could have sold the ranch and cattle at a profit, yet I was complimented on my management, and given to understand that the stockholders were anxious to double the capitalization should I consent. Range was becoming valuable, and at a meeting of the directors that fall a resolution was passed, authorizing me to secure a lease adjoining our present one. Accordingly, when paying the second installment of rent money, I took the Indian agent of the two tribes with me. The leading chiefs were pleased with my punctuality in meeting the rental, and a proposition to double their income of “grass” money met with hearty grunts of approval. I made the council a little speech,–my maiden endeavor,–and when it was interpreted to the squatting circle I had won the confidence of these simple aborigines. A duplicate of our former lease in acreage and terms was drawn up and signed; and during the existence of our company the best teepee in the winter or summer encampments, of either the Cheyennes or Arapahoes, was none too good for Reed Anthony when he came with the rent money or on other business.
Our capital stock was increased to two million dollars, in the latter half of which, one hundred thousand was asked for and allotted to me. I stayed on the range until the first of December, freighting in a thousand bushels of corn for the horses and otherwise seeing that the camps were fully provisioned before returning to my home in Texas. The winter proved dry and cold, the cattle coming through in fine condition, not one per cent of loss being sustained, which is a good record for through stock. Spring came and found me on the trail, with five herds on company account and eight herds under contract,–a total of forty thousand cattle intended for the enlarged range. All these had been bought north of the quarantine line in Texas, and were turned loose with the wintered ones, fever having been unknown among our holdings of the year before. In the mean time the eastern spur of fence had been taken down and the southern line extended forty miles eastward and north the same distance. The northern line of our range was left open, the fences being merely intended to catch any possible drift from summer storms or wintry blizzards. Yet in spite of this precaution, two round-up outfits were kept in the field through the early summer, one crossing into the Chickasaw Nation and the other going as far south as Red River, gathering any possible strays from the new range.
I was giving my best services to the new company. Save for the fact that I had capable foremen on my individual ranches in Texas, my absence was felt in directing the interests of the firm and personally. Major Hunter had promoted an old foreman to a trusted man, and the firm kept up the volume of business on the trail and ranch, though I was summoned once to Dodge and twice to Ogalalla during the summer of 1883. Issues had arisen making my presence necessary, but after the last trail herd was sold I returned to my post. The boom was still on in cattle at the trail markets, and Texas was straining every energy to supply the demand, yet the cry swept down from the North for more cattle. I was branding twenty thousand calves a year on my two ranches, holding the increase down to that number by sending she stuff up the country on sale, and from half a dozen sources of income I was coining money beyond human need or necessity. I was then in the physical prime of my life and was master of a profitable business, while vistas of a brilliant future opened before me on every hand.
When the round-up outfits came in for the summer, the beef shipping began. In the first two contingents of cattle purchased in securing the good will of the original range, we now had five thousand double wintered beeves. It was my intention to ship out the best of the single wintered ones, and five separate outfits were ordered into the saddle for that purpose. With the exception of line and fence riders,–for two hundred and forty miles were ridden daily, rain or shine, summer or winter,–every man on the ranch took up his abode with the wagons. Caldwell and Hunnewell, on the Kansas state line were the nearest shipping points, requiring fifteen days’ travel with beeves, and if there was no delay in cars, an outfit could easily gather the cattle and make a round trip in less than a month. Three or four trainloads, numbering from one thousand and fifty to fourteen hundred head, were cut out at a time and handled by a single outfit. I covered the country between the ranch and shipping points, riding night and day ahead in ordering cars, and dropping back to the ranch to superintend the cutting out of the next consignment of cattle. Each outfit made three trips, shipping out fifteen thousand beeves that fall, leaving sixty thousand cattle to winter on the range.
Several times that fall, when shipping beeves from Caldwell, we met up with the firm’s outfits from the Eagle Chief in the Cherokee Outlet. Naturally the different shipping crews looked over each other’s cattle, and an intense rivalry sprang up between the different foremen and men. The cattle of the new company outshone those of the old firm, and were outselling them in the markets, while the former’s remudas were in a class by themselves, all of which was salt to open wounds and magnified the jealousy between our own outfits. The rivalry amused me, and until petty personalities were freely indulged in, I encouraged and widened the breach between the rival crews. The outfits under my direction had accumulated a large supply of saddle and sleeping blankets procured from the Indians, gaudy in color, manufactured in sizes for papoose, squaw, and buck. These goods were of the finest quality, but during the annual festivals of the tribe Lo’s hunger for gambling induced him to part, for a mere song, with the blanket that the paternal government intended should shelter him during the storms of winter. Every man in my outfits owned from six to ten blankets, and the Eagle Chief lads rechristened the others, including myself, with the most odious of Indian names. In return, we refused to visit or eat at their wagons, claiming that they lived slovenly and were lousy. The latter had an educated Scotchman with them, McDougle by name, the ranch bookkeeper, who always went into town in advance to order cars. McDougle had a weakness for the cup, and on one occasion he fell into the hands of my men, who humored his failing, marching him through the streets, saloons, and hotels shouting at the top of his voice, “Hunter, Anthony & Company are going to ship!” The expression became a byword among the citizens of the town, and every reappearance of McDougle was accepted as a herald that our outfits from the Eagle Chief were coming in with cattle.
A special meeting of the stockholders was called at Washington that fall, which all the Western members attended. Reports were submitted by the secretary-treasurer and myself, the executive committee made several suggestions, the proposition, to pay a dividend was overwhelmingly voted down, and a further increase of the capital stock was urged by the Eastern contingent. I sounded a note of warning, called attention to the single cloud on the horizon, which was the enmity that we had engendered in a clique of army followers in and around Fort Reno. These men had in the past, were even then, collecting toll from every other holder of cattle on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation. That this coterie of usurpers hated the new company and me personally was a well-known fact, while its influence was proving much stronger than at first anticipated, and I cheerfully admitted the same to the stockholders assembled. The Eastern mind, living under established conditions, could hardly realize the chaotic state of affairs in the West, with its vicious morals, and any attempt to levy tribute in the form of blackmail was repudiated by the stockholders in assembly. Major Hunter understood my position and delicately suggested coming to terms with the company’s avowed enemies as the only feasible solution of the impending trouble. To further enlarge our holdings of cattle and leased range, he urged, would be throwing down the gauntlet in defiance of the clique of army attaches. Evidently no one took us seriously, and instead, ringing resolutions passed, enlarging the capital stock by another million, with instructions to increase our leases accordingly.
The Western contingent returned home with some misgivings as to the future. Nothing was to be feared from the tribes from whom we were leasing, nor the Comanche and his allies on the southwest, though there were renegades in both; but the danger lay in the flotsam of the superior race which infested the frontier. I felt no concern for my personal welfare, riding in and out from Fort Reno at my will and pleasure, though I well knew that my presence on the reservation was a thorn in the flesh of my enemies. There was little to fear, however, as the latter class of men never met an adversary in the open, but by secret methods sought to accomplish their objects. The breach between the Indian agent and these parasites of the army was constantly widening, and an effort had been made to have the former removed, but our friends at the national capital took a hand, and the movement was thwarted. Fuel was being constantly added to the fire, and on our taking a third lease on a million acres, the smoke gave way to flames. Our usual pacific measures were pursued, buying out any cattle in conflict, but fencing our entire range. The last addition to our pasture embraced a strip of country twenty miles wide, lying north of and parallel to the two former leases, and gave us a range on which no animal need ever feel the restriction of a fence. Ten to fifteen acres were sufficient to graze a steer the year round, but owing to the fact that we depended entirely on running water, much of the range would be valueless during the dry summer months. I readily understood the advantages of a half-stocked range, and expected in the future to allow twenty-five acres in the summer and thirty in the winter to the pasture’s holdings. Everything being snug for the winter, orders were left to ride certain fences twice a day,–lines where we feared fence-cutting,–and I took my departure for home.
HOLDING THE FORT
As in many other lines of business, there were ebb and flood tides in cattle. The opening of the trail through to the extreme Northwest gave the range live stock industry its greatest impetus. There have always been seasons of depression and advances, the cycles covering periods of ten to a dozen years, the duration of the ebb and stationary tides being double that of the flood. Outside influences have had their bearing, and the wresting of an empire from its savage possessors in the West, and its immediate occupancy by the dominant race in ranching, stimulated cattle prices far beyond what was justified by the laws of supply and demand. The boom in live stock in the Southwest which began in the early ’80’s stands alone in the market variations of the last half-century. And as if to rebuke the folly of man and remind him that he is but grass, Nature frowned with two successive severe winters, humbling the kings and princes of the range.
Up to and including the winter of 1883-84 the loss among range cattle was trifling. The country was new and open, and when the stock could drift freely in advance of storms, their instincts carried them to the sheltering coulees, cut banks, and broken country until the blizzard had passed. Since our firm began maturing beeves ten years before, the losses attributable to winter were never noticed, nor did they in the least affect our profits. On my ranches in Texas the primitive law of survival of the fittest prevailed, the winter-kill falling sorest among the weak and aging cows. My personal loss was always heavier than that of the firm, owing to my holdings being mixed stock, and due to the fact that an animal in the South never took on tallow enough to assist materially in resisting a winter. The cattle of the North always had the flesh to withstand the rigors of the wintry season, dry, cold, zero weather being preferable to rain, sleet, and the northers that swept across the plains of Texas. The range of the new company was intermediate between the extremes of north and south, and as we handled all steer cattle, no one entertained any fear from the climate.
I passed a comparatively idle winter at my home on the Clear Fork. Weekly reports reached me from the new ranch, several of which caused uneasiness, as our fences were several times cut on the southwest, and a prairie fire, the work of an incendiary, broke out at midnight on our range. Happily the wind fell, and by daybreak the smoke arose in columns, summoning every man on the ranch, and the fire was soon brought under control. As a precaution to such a possibility we had burned fire-guards entirely around the range by plowing furrows one hundred feet apart and burning out the middle. Taking advantage of creeks and watercourses, natural boundaries that a prairie fire could hardly jump, we had cut and quartered the pasture with fire-guards in such a manner that, unless there was a concerted action on the part of any hirelings of our enemies, it would have been impossible to have burned more than a small portion of the range at any one time. But these malicious attempts at our injury made the outfit doubly vigilant, and cutting fences and burning range would have proven unhealthful occupations had the perpetrators, red or white, fallen into the hands of the foreman and his men. I naturally looked on the bright side of the future, and in the hope that, once the entire range was fenced, we could keep trespassers out, I made preparations for the spring drive.
With the first appearance of grass, all the surplus horses were ordered down to Texas from the company ranch. There was a noticeable lull at the cattle convention that spring, and an absence of buyers from the Northwest was apparent, resulting in little or no trouble in contracting for delivery on the ranch, and in buying on company account at the prevailing prices of the spring before. Cattle were high enough as it was; in fact the market was top-heavy and wobbling on its feet, though the brightest of us cowmen naturally supposed that current values would always remain up in the pictures. As manager of the new company, I bought and contracted for fifty thousand steers, ten herds of which were to be driven on company account. All the cattle came from the Pan-Handle and north Texas, above the quarantine line, the latter precaution being necessary in order to avoid any possibility of fever, in mixing through and northern wintered stock. With the opening of spring two of my old foremen were promoted to assist in the receiving, as my contracts called for everything to be passed upon on the home range before starting the herds. Some little friction had occurred the summer before with the deliveries at the company ranch in an effort to turn in short-aged cattle. All contracts this year and the year before called for threes, and frequently several hundred long twos were found in a single herd, and I refused to accept them unless at the customary difference in price. More or less contention arose, and, for the present spring, I proposed to curb all friction at home, allotting to my assistants the receiving of the herds for company risk, and personally passing on seven under contract.
The original firm was still in the field, operating exclusively in central Texas and Pan-Handle cattle. Both my ranches sent out their usual contribution of steers and cows, consigned to the care of the firm, which was now giving more attention to quality than quantity. The absence of the men from the Northwest at the cattle convention that spring was taken as an omen that the upper country would soon be satiated, a hint that retrenchment was in order, and a better class of stock was to receive the firm’s attention in its future operations. My personal contingent of steers would have passed muster in any country, and as to my consignment of cows, they were pure velvet, and could defy competition in the upper range markets. Everything moved out with the grass as usual, and when the last of the company herds had crossed Red River, I rode through to the new ranch. The north and east line of fence was nearing completion, the western string was joined to the original boundary, and, with the range fully inclosed, my ranch foreman, the men, and myself looked forward to a prosperous future.
The herds arrived and were located, the usual round-up outfits were sent out wherever there was the possibility of a stray, and we settled down in pastoral security. The ranch outfit had held their own during the winter just passed, had trailed down stolen cattle, and knew to a certainty who the thieves were and where they came from. Except what had been slaughtered, all the stock was recovered, and due notice given to offenders that Judge Lynch would preside should any one suspected of fence-cutting, starting incendiary fires, or stealing cattle be caught within the boundaries of our leases. Fortunately the other cowmen were tiring of paying tribute to the usurpers, and our determined stand heartened holders of cattle on the reservation, many of whom were now seeking leases direct from the tribes. I made it my business personally to see every other owner of live stock occupying the country, and urge upon them the securing of leases and making an organized fight for our safety. Lessees in the Cherokee Strip had fenced as a matter of convenience and protection, and I urged the same course on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation, offering the free use of our line fences to any one who wished to adjoin our pastures. In the course of a month, nearly every acre of the surrounding country was taken, only one or two squaw-men holding out, and these claiming their ranges under Indian rights. The movement was made so aggressive that the usurpers were driven into obscurity, never showing their hand again until after the presidential election that fall.
During the summer a deputation of Cheyennes and Arapahoes visited me at ranch headquarters. On the last lease taken, and now inclosed in our pasture, there were a number of wild plum groves, covering thousands of acres, and the Indians wanted permission to gather the ripening fruit. Taking advantage of the opportunity, in granting the request I made it a point to fortify the friendly relations, not only with ourselves, but with all other cattlemen on the reservation. Ten days’ permission was given to gather the wild plums, camps were allotted to the Indians, and when the fruit was all gathered, I barbecued five stray beeves in parting with my guests. The Indian agent and every cowman on the reservation were invited, and at the conclusion of the festival the Quaker agent made the assembled chiefs a fatherly talk. Torpid from feasting, the bucks grunted approval of the new order of things, and an Arapahoe chief, responding in behalf of his tribe, said that the rent from the grass now fed his people better than under the old buffalo days. Pledging anew the fraternal bond, and appointing the gathering of the plums as an annual festival thereafter, the tribes took up their march in returning to their encampment.
I was called to Dodge but once during the summer of 1884. My steers had gone to Ogalalla and were sold, the cows remaining at the lower market, all of which had changed owners with the exception of one thousand head. The demand had fallen off, and a dull close of the season was predicted, but I shaded prices and closed up my personal holdings before returning. Several of the firm’s steer herds were unsold at Dodge, but on the approach of the shipping season I returned to my task, and we began to move out our beeves with seven outfits in the saddle. Four round trips were made to the crew, shipping out twenty thousand double and half that number of single wintered cattle. The grass had been fine that summer, and the beeves came up in prime condition, always topping the market as range cattle at the markets to which they were consigned. That branch of the work over, every energy was centred in making the ranch snug for the winter. Extra fire-guards were plowed, and the middles burned out, cutting the range into a dozen parcels, and thus, as far as possible, the winter forage was secured for our holdings of eighty thousand cattle. Hay and grain contracts had been previously let, the latter to be freighted in from southern Kansas, when the news reached us that the recent election had resulted in a political change of administration. What effect this would have on our holding cattle on Indian lands was pure conjecture, though our enemies came out of hiding, gloating over the change, and swearing vengeance on the cowmen on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation.
The turn of the tide in cattle prices was noticeable at all the range markets that fall. A number of herds were unsold at Dodge, among them being one of ours, but we turned it southeast early in September and wintered it on our range in the Outlet. The largest drive in the history of the trail had taken place that summer, and the failure of the West and Northwest to absorb the entire offerings of the drovers made the old firm apprehensive of the future. There was a noticeable shrinkage in our profits from trail operations, but with the supposition that it was merely an off year, the matter was passed for the present. It was the opinion of the directors of the new company that no dividends should he declared until our range was stocked to its full capacity, or until there was a comfortable surplus. This suited me, and, returning home, I expected to spend the winter with my family, now increased to four girls and six boys.
But a cowman can promise himself little rest or pleasure. After a delightful week spent on my western ranch, I returned to the Clear Fork, and during the latter part of November a terrible norther swept down and caught me in a hunting-camp twenty-five miles from home. My two oldest boys were along, a negro cook, and a few hands, and in spite of our cosy camp, we all nearly froze to death. Nothing but a roaring fire saved us during the first night of its duration, and the next morning we saddled our horses and struck out for home, riding in the face of a sleet that froze our clothing like armor. Norther followed norther, and I was getting uneasy about the company ranch, when I received a letter from Major Hunter, stating that he was starting for our range in the Outlet and predicting a heavy loss of cattle. Headquarters in the Indian Territory were fully two hundred and fifty miles due north, and within an hour after receiving the letter, I started overland on horseback, using two of my best saddlers for the trip. To have gone by rail and stage would have taken four days, and if fair weather favored me I could nearly divide that time by half. Changing horses frequently, one day out I had left Red River in my rear, but before me lay an uninhabited country, unless I veered from my course and went through the Chickasaw Nation. For the sake of securing grain for the horses, this tack was made, following the old Chisholm trail for nearly one hundred miles. The country was in the grip of winter, sleet and snow covering the ground, with succor for man and horse far apart. Mumford Johnson’s ranch on the Washita River was reached late the second night, and by daybreak the next morning I was on the trail, making Quartermaster Creek by one o’clock that day. Fortunately no storms were encountered en route, but King Winter ruled the range with an iron hand, fully six inches of snow covering the pasture, over which was a crusted sleet capable of carrying the weight of a beef. The foreman and his men were working night and day to succor the cattle. Between storms, two crews of the boys drifted everything back from the south line of fence, while others cut ice and opened the water to the perishing animals. Scarcity of food was the most serious matter; being unable to reach the grass under its coat of sleet and snow, the cattle had eaten the willows down to the ground. When a boy in Virginia I had often helped cut down basswood and maple trees in the spring for the cattle to browse upon, and, sending to the agency for new axes, I armed every man on the ranch with one, and we began felling the cottonwood and other edible timber along the creeks and rivers in the pasture. The cattle followed the axemen like sheep, eating the tender branches of the softer woods to the size of a man’s wrist, the crash of a falling tree bringing them by the dozens to browse and stay their hunger. I swung an axe with the men, and never did slaves under the eye of a task-master work as faithfully or as long as we did in cutting ice and falling timber in succoring our holding of cattle. Several times the sun shone warm for a few days, melting the snow off the southern slopes, when we took to our saddles, breaking the crust with long poles, the cattle following to where the range was bared that they might get a bit of grass. Had it not been for a few such sunny days, our loss would have been double what it was; but as it was, with the general range in the clutches of sleet and snow for over fifty days, about twenty per cent, of our holdings were winter-killed, principally of through cattle.
Our saddle stock, outside of what was stabled and grain-fed, braved the winter, pawing away the snow and sleet in foraging for their subsistence. A few weeks of fine balmy weather in January and February followed the distressing season of wintry storms, the cattle taking to the short buffalo-grass and rapidly recuperating. But just when we felt that the worst was over, simultaneously half a dozen prairie fires broke out in different portions of the pasture, calling every man to a fight that lasted three days. Our enemies, not content with havoc wrought by the elements, were again in the saddle, striking in the dark and escaping before dawn, inflicting injuries on dumb animals in harassing their owners. That it was the work of hireling renegades, more likely white than red, there was little question; but the necessity of preserving the range withheld us from trailing them down and meting out a justice they so richly deserved. Dividing the ranch help into half a dozen crews, we rode to the burning grass and began counter-firing and otherwise resorting to every known method in checking the consuming flames. One of the best-known devices, in short grass and flank-fires, was the killing of a light beef, beheading and splitting it open, leaving the hide to hold the parts together. By turning the animal flesh side down and taking ropes from a front and hind foot to the pommels of two saddles, the men, by riding apart, could straddle the flames, virtually rubbing the fire out with the dragging carcass. Other men followed with wet blankets and beat out any remaining flames, the work being carried on at a gallop, with a change of horses every mile or so, and the fire was thus constantly hemmed in to a point. The variations of the wind sometimes entirely checked all effort, between midnight and morning being the hours in which most progress was accomplished. No sooner was one section of the fire brought under control than we divided the forces and hastened to lend assistance to the next nearest section, the cooks with commissaries following up the firefighters. While a single blade of grass was burning, no one thought of sleeping, and after one third of the range was consumed, the last of the incendiary fires was stamped out, when we lay down around the wagons and slept the sleep of exhaustion.
There was still enough range saved to bring the cattle safely through until spring. Leaving the entire ranch outfit to ride the fences–several lines of which were found cut by the renegades in entering and leaving the pasture–and guard the gates, I took train and stage for the Grove. Major Hunter had returned from the firm’s ranch in the Strip, where heavy losses were encountered, though it then rested in perfect security from any influence except the elements. With me, the burning of the company range might be renewed at any moment, in which event we should have to cut our own fences and let the cattle drift south through an Indian country, with nothing to check them except Red River. A climax was approaching in the company’s existence, and the delay of a day or week might mean inestimable loss. In cunning and craftiness our enemies were expert; they knew their control of the situation fully, and nothing but cowardice would prevent their striking the final, victorious blow. My old partner and I were a unit as to the only course to pursue,–one which meant a dishonorable compromise with our enemies, as the only hope of saving the cattle. A wire was accordingly sent East, calling a special meeting of the stockholders. We followed ourselves within an hour. On arriving at the national capital, we found that all outside shareholders had arrived in advance of ourselves, and we went into session with closed doors and the committee on entertainment and banquets inactive. In as plain words as the English language would permit, as general manager of the company, I stated the cause for calling the meeting, and bluntly suggested the only avenue of escape. Call it tribute, blackmail, or what you will, we were at the mercy of as heartless a set of scoundrels as ever missed a rope, whose mercenaries, like the willing hirelings that they were, would cheerfully do the bidding of their superiors. Major Hunter, in his remarks before the meeting, modified my rather radical statement, with the more plausible argument that this tribute money was merely insurance, and what was five or ten thousand dollars a year, where an original investment of three millions and our surplus were in jeopardy? Would any line–life, fire, or marine–carry our risk as cheaply? These men had been receiving toll from our predecessors, and were then in a position to levy tribute or wreck the company.
Notwithstanding our request for immediate action, an adjournment was taken. A wire could have been sent to a friend in Fort Reno that night, and all would have gone well for the future security of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company. But I lacked authority to send it, and the next morning at the meeting, the New England blood that had descended from the Puritan Fathers was again in the saddle, shouting the old slogans of no compromise while they had God and right on their side. Major Hunter and I both keenly felt the rebuke, but personal friends prevented an open rupture, while the more conservative ones saw brighter prospects in the political change of administration which was soon to assume the reins of government. A number of congressmen and senators among our stockholders were prominent in the ascendant party, and once the new regime took charge, a general shake-up of affairs in and around Fort Reno was promised. I remembered the old maxim of a new broom; yet in spite of the blandishments that were showered down in silencing my active partner and me, I could almost smell the burning range, see the horizon lighted up at night by the licking flames, hear the gloating of our enemies, in the hour of their victory, and the click of the nippers of my own men, in cutting the wire that the cattle might escape and live.
I left Washington somewhat heartened. Major Hunter, ever inclined to look on the bright side of things, believed that the crisis had passed, even bolstering up my hopes in the next administration. It was the immediate necessity that was worrying me, for it meant a summer’s work to gather our cattle on Red River and in the intermediate country, and bring them back to the home range. The mysterious absence of any report from my foreman on my arrival at the Grove did not mislead me to believe that no news was good news, and I accordingly hurried on to the front. There was a marked respect shown me by the civilians located at Fort Reno, something unusual; but I hurried on to the agency, where all was quiet, and thence to ranch headquarters. There I learned that a second attempt to burn the range had been frustrated; that one of our boys had shot dead a white man in the act of cutting the east string of fence; that the same night three fires had broken out in the pasture, and that a squad of our men, in riding to the light, had run afoul of two renegade Cheyennes armed with wire-nippers, whose remains then lay in the pasture unburied. Both horses were captured and identified as not belonging to the Indians, while their owners were well known. Fortunately the wind veered shortly after the fires started, driving the flames back against the plowed guards, and the attempt to burn the range came to naught. A salutary lesson had been administered to the hirelings of the usurpers, and with a new moon approaching its full, it was believed that night marauding had ended for that winter. None of our boys recognized the white man, there being no doubt but he was imported for the purpose, and he was buried where he fell; but I notified the Indian agent, who sent for the remains of the two renegades and took possession of the horses. The season for the beginning of active operations on trail and for ranch account was fast approaching, and, leaving the boys to hold the fort during my absence, I took my private horses and turned homeward.
THE FRUITS OF CONSPIRACY
With a loss of fully fifteen thousand cattle staring me in the face, I began planning to recuperate the fortunes of the company. The cattle convention, which was then over, was conspicuous by the absence of all Northern buyers. George Edwards had attended the meeting, was cautious enough to make no contracts for the firm, and fully warned me of the situation. I was in a quandary; with an idle treasury of over a million, my stewardship would be subject to criticism unless I became active in the interests of my company. On the other hand, a dangerous cloud hung over the range, and until that was removed I felt like a man who was sent for and did not want to go. The falling market in Texas was an encouragement, but my experience of the previous winter had had a dampening effect, and I was simply drifting between adverse winds. But once it was known that I had returned home, my old customers approached me by letter and personally, anxious to sell and contract for immediate delivery. Trail drovers were standing aloof, afraid of the upper markets, and I could have easily bought double my requirements without leaving the ranch. The grass was peeping here and there, favorable reports came down from the reservation, and still I sat idle.
The appearance of Major Hunter acted like a stimulus. Reports about the new administration were encouraging–not from our silent partner, who was not in sympathy with the dominant party, but from other prominent stockholders who were. The original trio–the little major, our segundo, and myself–lay around under the shade of the trees several days and argued the possibilities that confronted us on trail and ranch. Edwards reproached me for my fears, referring to the time, nineteen years before, when as common hands we fought our way across the Staked Plain and delivered the cattle safely at Fort Sumner. He even taunted me with the fact that our employers then never hesitated, even if half the Comanche tribe were abroad, roving over their old hunting grounds, and that now I was afraid of a handful of army followers, contractors, and owners of bar concessions. Edwards knew that I would stand his censure and abuse as long as the truth was told, and with the major acting as peacemaker between us I was finally whipped into line. With a fortune already in hand, rounding out my forty-fifth year, I looted the treasury by contracting and buying sixty thousand cattle for my company.
The surplus horses were ordered down from above, and the spring campaign began in earnest. The old firm was to confine its operations to fine steers, handling my personal contribution as before, while I rallied my assistants, and we began receiving the contracted cattle at once. Observation had taught me that in wintering beeves in the North it was important to give the animals every possible moment of time to locate before the approach of winter. The instinct of a dumb beast is unexplainable yet unerring. The owner of a horse may choose a range that seems perfect in every appointment, but the animal will spurn the human selection and take up his abode on some flinty hills, and there thrive like a garden plant. Cattle, especially steers, locate slowly, and a good summer’s rest usually fortifies them with an inward coat of tallow and an outward one of furry robe, against the wintry storms. I was anxious to get the through cattle to the new range as soon as practicable, and allowed the sellers to set their dates as early as possible, many of them agreeing to deliver on the reservation as soon as the middle of May. Ten wagons and a thousand horses came down during the last days of March, and early in April started back with thirty thousand cattle at company risk.
All animals were passed upon on the Texas range, and on their arrival at the pasture there was little to do but scatter them over the ranch to locate. I reached the reservation with the lead herd, and was glad to learn from neighboring cowmen that a suggestion of mine, made the fall before, had taken root. My proposition was to organize all the cattlemen on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation into an association for mutual protection. By cooeperation we could present a united front to our enemies, the usurpers, and defy them in their nefarious schemes of exacting tribute. Other ranges besides ours had suffered by fire and fence-cutters during the winter just passed, and I returned to find my fellow cowmen a unit for organization. A meeting was called at the agency, every owner of cattle on the reservation responded, and an association was perfected for our mutual interest and protection. The reservation was easily capable of carrying half a million cattle, the tribes were pleased with the new order of things, and we settled down with a feeling of security not enjoyed in many a day.
But our tranquil existence received a shock within a month, when a cowboy from a neighboring ranch, and without provocation, was shot down by Indian police in a trader’s store at the agency. The young fellow was a popular Texan, and as nearly all the men employed on the reservation came from the South, it was with difficulty that our boys were restrained from retaliating. Those from Texas had little or no love for an Indian anyhow, and nothing but the plea of policy in preserving peaceful relations with the tribes held them in check. The occasional killing of cattle by Indians was overlooked, until they became so bold as to leave the hides and heads in the pasture, when an appeal was made to the agent. But the aborigine, like his white brother, has sinful ways, and the influence of one evil man can readily combat the good advice of half a dozen right-minded ones, and the Quaker agent found his task not an easy one. Cattle were being killed in remote and unfrequented places, and still we bore with it, the better class of Indians, however, lending their assistance to check the abuse. On one occasion two boys and myself detected a band of five young bucks skinning a beef in our pasture, and nothing but my presence prevented a clash between my men and the thieves. But it was near the wild-plum season, and as we were making preparations to celebrate that event, the killing of a few Indians might cause distrust, and we dropped out of sight and left them to the enjoyment of their booty. It was pure policy on my part, as we could shame or humble the Indian, and if the abuse was not abated, we could remunerate ourselves by with-holding from the rent money the value of cattle killed.
Our organization for mutual protection was accepted by our enemies as a final defiance. A pirate fights as valiantly as if his cause were just, and, through intermediaries, the gauntlet was thrown back in our faces and notice served that the conflict had reached a critical stage. I never discussed the issue direct with members of the clique, as they looked upon me as the leader in resisting their levy of tribute, but indirectly their grievances were made known. We were accused of having taken the bread out of their very mouths, which was true in a sense, but we had restored it tenfold where it was entitled to go,–among the Indians. With the exception of an occasional bottle of whiskey, none of the tribute money went to the tribes, but was divided among the usurpers. They waxed fat in their calling and were insolent and determined, while our replies to all overtures looking to peace were firm and to the point. Even at that late hour I personally knew that the clique had strength in reserve, and had I enjoyed the support of my company, would willingly have stood for a compromise. But it was out of the question to suggest it, and, trusting to the new administration, we politely told them to crack their whips.
The _fiesta_ which followed the plum gathering was made a notable occasion. All the cowmen on the reservation had each contributed a beef to the barbecue, the agent saw to it that all the principal chiefs of both tribes were present, and after two days of feasting, the agent made a Quaker talk, insisting that the bond between the tribes and the cowmen must be observed to the letter. He reviewed at length the complaints that had reached him of the killing of cattle, traceable to the young and thoughtless, and pointed out the patience of the cattlemen in not retaliating, but in spreading a banquet instead to those who had wronged them. In concluding, he warned them that the patience of the white man had a limit, and, while they hoped to live in peace, unless the stealing of beef was stopped immediately, double the value of the cattle killed would be withheld from the next payment of grass money. It was in the power of the chiefs present to demand this observance of faith among their young men, if the bond to which their signatures were attached was to be respected in the future. The leading chiefs of both tribes spoke in defense, pleading their inability to hold their young men in check as long as certain evil influences were at work among their people. The love of gambling and strong drink was yearly growing among their men, making them forget their spoken word, until they were known as thieves and liars. The remedy lay in removing these evil spirits and trusting the tribes to punish their own offenders, as the red man knew no laws except his own.
The festival was well worth while and augured hopefully for the future. Clouds were hovering on the horizon, however, and, while at Ogalalla, I received a wire that a complaint had been filed against us at the national capital, and that the President had instructed the Lieutenant-General of the Army to make an investigation. Just what the inquiry was to be was a matter of conjecture; possibly to determine who was supplying the Indians with whiskey, or probably our friends at Washington were behind the movement, and the promised shake-up of army followers in and around Fort Reno was materializing. I attended to some unsettled business before returning, and, on my arrival at the reservation, a general alarm was spreading among the cattle interests, caused by the cock-sure attitude of the usurpers and a few casual remarks that had been dropped. I was appealed to by my fellow cowmen, and, in turn, wired our friends at Washington, asking that our interests be looked after and guarded. Pending a report, General P.H. Sheridan arrived with a great blare of trumpets at Fort Reno for the purpose of holding the authorized investigation. The general’s brother, Michael, was the recognized leader of the clique of army followers, and was interested in the bar concessions under the sutler. Matters, therefore, took on a serious aspect. All the cowmen on the reservation came in, expecting to be called before the inquiry, as it was then clear that a fight must be made to protect our interests. No opportunity, however, was given the Indians or cattlemen to present their side of the question, and when a committee of us cowmen called on General Sheridan we were cordially received and politely informed that the investigation was private. I believe that forty years have so tempered the animosities of the Civil War that an honest opinion is entitled to expression. And with due consideration to the record of a gallant soldier, I submit the question, Were not the owners of half a million cattle on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation entitled to a hearing before a report was made that resulted in an order for their removal?
I have seen more trouble at a country dance, more bloodshed in a family feud, than ever existed or was spilled on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation. The Indians were pleased, the lessees were satisfied, yet by artfully concealing the true cause of any and all strife, a report, every word of which was as sweet as the notes of a flute, was made to the President, recommending the removal of the cattle. It was found that there had been a gradual encroachment on the liberties of the tribes; that the rental received from the surplus pasture lands had a bad tendency on the morals of the Indians, encouraging them in idleness; and that the present system retarded all progress in agriculture and the industrial arts. The report was superficial, religiously concealing the truth, but dealing with broad generalities. Had the report emanated from some philanthropical society, it would have passed unnoticed or been commented on as an advance in the interest of a worthy philanthropy but taken as a whole, it was a splendid specimen of the use to which words can be put in concealing the truth and cloaking dishonesty.
An order of removal by the President followed the report. Had we been subjects of a despotic government and bowed our necks like serfs, the matter would have ended in immediate compliance with the order. But we prided ourselves on our liberties as Americans, and an appeal was to be made to the first citizen of the land, the President of the United States. A committee of Western men were appointed, which would be augmented by others at the national capital, and it was proposed to lay the bare facts in the chief executive’s hands and at least ask for a modification of the order. The latter was ignorant in its conception, brutal and inhuman in its intent, ending in the threat to use the military arm of the government, unless the terms and conditions were complied with within a given space of time. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company, alone, not to mention the other members of our association equally affected, had one hundred and twenty-five thousand head of beeves and through steers on its range, and unless some relief was granted, a wayfaring man though a fool could see ruin and death and desolation staring us in the face. Fortunately Major Hunter had the firm’s trail affairs so well in hand that Edwards could close up the business, thus relieving my active partner to serve on the committee, he and four others offering to act in behalf of our association in calling on the President. I was among the latter, the only one in the delegation from Texas, and we accordingly made ready and started for Washington.
Meanwhile I had left orders to start the shipping with a vengeance. The busy season was at hand on the beef ranges, and men were scarce; but I authorized the foreman to comb the country, send to Dodge if necessary, and equip ten shipping outfits and keep a constant string of cattle moving to the markets. We had about sixty-five thousand single and double wintered beeves, the greater portion of which were in prime condition; but it was the through cattle that were worrying me, as they were unfit to ship and it was too late in the season to relocate them on a new range. But that blessed hope that springs eternal in the human breast kept us hopeful that the President had been deceived into issuing his order, and that he would right all wrongs. The more sanguine ones of the Western delegation had matters figured down to a fraction; they believed that once the chief executive understood the true cause of the friction existing on the reservation, apologies would follow, we should all be asked to remain for lunch, and in the most democratic manner imaginable everything would be righted. I had no opinions, but kept anticipating the worst; for if the order stood unmodified, go we must and in the face of winter and possibly accompanied by negro troops. To return to Texas meant to scatter the cattle to the four winds; to move north was to court death unless an open winter favored us.
On our arrival at Washington, all senators and congressmen shareholders in our company met us by appointment. It was an inactive season at the capital, and hopes were entertained that the President would grant us an audience at once; but a delay of nearly a week occurred. In the mean time several conferences were held, at which a general review of the situation was gone over, and it was decided to modify our demands, asking for nothing personally, only a modification of the order in the interest of humanity to dumb animals. Before our arrival, a congressman and two senators, political supporters of the chief executive, had casually called to pay their respects, and incidentally inquired into the pending trouble between the cattlemen and the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians. Reports were anything but encouraging; the well-known obstinacy of the President was admitted; it was also known that he possessed a rugged courage in pursuance of an object or purpose. Those who were not in political sympathy with the party in power characterized the President as an opinionated executive, and could see little or no hope in a personal appeal.
However, the matter was not to be dropped. The arrival of a deputation of cattlemen from the West was reported by the press, their purposes fully, set forth, and in the interim of waiting for an appointment, all of us made hay with due diligence. Major Hunter and I had a passing acquaintance at both the War and Interior departments, and taking along senators and representatives in political sympathy with the heads of those offices, we called and paid our respects. A number of old acquaintances were met, hold-overs from the former regime, and a cordial reception was accorded us. Now that the boom in cattle was over, we expressed a desire to resume our former business relations as contractors with the government. At both departments, the existent trouble on the Indian reservations was well known, and a friendly inquiry resulted, which gave us an opportunity to explain our position fully. There was a hopeful awakening to the fact that there had been a conspiracy to remove us, and the most friendly advances of assistance were proffered in setting the matter right. Public opinion is a strong factor, and with the press of the capital airing our grievances daily, sympathy and encouragement were simply showered down upon us.
Finally an audience with the President was granted. The Western delegation was increased by senators and representatives until the committee numbered an even dozen. Many of the latter were personal friends and ardent supporters of the chief executive. The rangemen were introduced, and we proceeded at once to the matter at issue. A congressman from New York stated the situation clearly, not mincing his words in condemning the means and procedure by which this order was secured, and finally asking for its revocation, or a modification that would permit the evacuation of the country without injury to the owners and their herds. Major Hunter, in replying to a question of the President, stated our position: that we were in no sense intruders, that we paid our rental in advance, with the knowledge and sanction of the two preceding Secretaries of the Interior, and only for lack of precedent was their indorsement of our leases withheld. It soon became evident that countermanding the order was out of the question, as to vacillate or waver in a purpose, right or wrong, was not a characteristic of the chief executive. Our next move was for a modification of the order, as its terms required us to evacuate that fall, and every cowman present accented the fact that to move cattle in the mouth of winter was an act that no man of experience would countenance. Every step, the why and wherefore, must be explained to the President, and at the request of the committee, I went into detail in making plain what the observations of my life had taught me of the instincts and habits of cattle,–why in the summer they took to the hills, mesas, and uplands, where the breezes were cooling and protected them from insect life; their ability to foretell a storm in winter and seek shelter in coulees and broken country. I explained that none of the cattle on the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation were native to that range, but were born anywhere from three to five hundred miles to the south, fully one half of them having arrived that spring; that to acquaint an animal with its new range, in cattle parlance to “locate” them, was very important; that every practical cowman moved his herds to a new range with the grass in the spring, in order that ample time should be allowed to acclimate and familiarize them with such shelters as nature provided to withstand the storms of winter. In concluding, I stated that if the existent order could be so modified as to permit all through cattle and those unfit for market to remain on their present range for the winter, we would cheerfully evacuate the country with the grass in the spring. If such relief could be consistently granted, it would no doubt save the lives of hundreds and thousands of cattle.
The President evidently was embarrassed by the justice of our prayer. He consulted with members of the committee, protesting that he should be spared from taking what would be considered a backward step, and after a stormy conference with intimate friends, lasting fully an hour, he returned and in these words refused to revoke or modify his order: “If I had known,” said he, “what I know now, I never would have made the order; but having made it, I will stand by it.”
Laying aside all commercial considerations, we had made our entreaty in behalf of dumb animals, and the President’s answer angered a majority of the committee. I had been rebuked too often in the past by my associates easily to lose my temper, and I naturally looked at those whose conscience balked at paying tribute, while my sympathies were absorbed for the future welfare of a quarter-million cattle affected by the order. We broke into groups in taking our leave, and the only protest that escaped any one was when the York State representative refused the hand of the executive, saying, “Mr. President, I have my opinion of a man who admits he is wrong and refuses to right it.” Two decades have passed since those words, rebuking wrong in high places, were uttered, and the speaker has since passed over to the silent majority. I should feel that these memoirs were incomplete did I not mention the sacrifice and loss of prestige that the utterance of these words cost, for they were the severance of a political friendship that was never renewed.
The autocratic order removing the cattle from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation was born in iniquity and bore a harvest unequaled in the annals of inhumanity. With the last harbor of refuge closed against us, I hastened back and did all that was human to avert the impending doom, every man and horse available being pressed into service. Our one hope lay in a mild winter, and if that failed us the affairs of the company would be closed by the merciless elements. Once it was known that the original order had not been modified, and in anticipation of a flood of Western cattle, the markets broke, entailing a serious commercial loss. Every hoof of single and double wintered beeves that had a value in the markets was shipped regardless of price, while I besought friends in the Cherokee Strip for a refuge for those unfit and our holding of through cattle. Fortunately the depreciation in live stock and the heavy loss sustained the previous winter had interfered with stocking the Outlet to its fall capacity, and by money, prayers, and entreaty I prevailed on range owners and secured pasturage for seventy-five thousand head. Long before the shipping season ended I pressed every outfit belonging to the firm on the Eagle Chief into service, and began moving out the through cattle to their new range. Squaw winter and snow-squalls struck us on the trail, but with a time-limit hanging over our heads, and rather than see our cattle handled by nigger soldiers, we bore our burdens, if not meekly, at least in a manner consistent with our occupation. I have always deplored useless profanity, yet it was music to my ears to hear the men arraign our enemies, high and low, for our present predicament. When the last beeves were shipped, a final round-up was made, and we started out with over fifty thousand cattle in charge of twelve outfits. Storms struck us en route, but we weathered them, and finally turned the herds loose in the face of a blizzard.
The removed cattle, strangers in a strange land, drifted to the fences and were cut to the quick by the biting blasts. Early in January the worst blizzard in the history of the plains swept down from the north, and the poor wandering cattle were driven to the divides and frozen to death against the line fences. Of all the appalling sights that an ordinary lifetime on the range affords, there is nothing to compare with the suffering and death that were daily witnessed during the month of January in the winter of 1885-86. I remained on the range, and left men at winter camps on every pasture in which we had stock, yet we were powerless to relieve the drifting cattle. The morning after the great storm, with others, I rode to a south string of fence on a divide, and found thousands of our cattle huddled against it, many frozen to death, partially through and hanging on the wire. We cut the fences in order to allow them to drift on to shelter, but the legs of many of them were so badly frozen that, when they moved, the skin cracked open and their hoofs dropped off. Hundreds of young steers were wandering aimlessly around on hoofless stumps, while their tails cracked and broke like icicles. In angles and nooks of the fence, hundreds had perished against the wire, their bodies forming a scaling ladder, permitting late arrivals to walk over the dead and dying as they passed on with the fury of the storm. I had been a soldier and seen sad sights, but nothing to compare to this; the moaning of the cattle freezing to death would have melted a heart of adamant. All we could do was to cut the fences and let them drift, for to halt was to die; and when the storm abated one could have walked for miles on the bodies of dead animals. No pen could describe the harrowing details of that winter; and for years afterward, or until their remains had a commercial value, a wayfarer could have traced the south-line fences by the bleaching bones that lay in windrows, glistening in the sun like snowdrifts, to remind us of the closing chapter in the history of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company.
The subsequent history of the ill-fated Cheyenne and Arapahoe Cattle Company is easily told. Over ninety per cent of the cattle moved under the President’s order were missing at the round-up the following spring. What few survived were pitiful objects, minus ears and tails, while their horns, both root and base, were frozen until they drooped down in unnatural positions. Compared to the previous one, the winter of 1885-86, with the exception of the great January blizzard, was the less severe of the two. On the firm’s range in the Cherokee Strip our losses were much lighter than during the previous winter, owing to the fact that food was plentiful, there being little if any sleet or snow during the latter year. Had we been permitted to winter in the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country, considering our sheltered range and the cattle fully located, ten per cent would have been a conservative estimate of loss by the elements. As manager of the company I lost five valuable years and over a quarter-million dollars. Time has mollified my grievances until now only the thorn of inhumanity to dumb beasts remains. Contrasted with results, how much more humane it would have been to have ordered out negro troops from Fort Reno and shot the cattle down, or to have cut the fences ourselves, and, while our holdings were drifting back to Texas, trusted to the mercy of the Comanches.
I now understand perfectly why the business world dreads a political change in administration. Whatever may have been the policy of one political party, the reverse becomes the slogan of the other on its promotion to power. For instance, a few years ago, the general government offered a bounty on the home product of sugar, stimulating the industry in Louisiana and also in my adopted State. A change of administration followed, the bounty was removed, and had not the insurance companies promptly canceled their risks on sugar mills, the losses by fire would have been appalling. Politics had never affected my occupation seriously; in fact I profited richly through the extravagance and mismanagement of the Reconstruction regime in Texas, and again met the defeat of my life at the hands of the general government.
With the demand for trail cattle on the decline, coupled with two severe winters, the old firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co. was ripe for dissolution. We had enjoyed the cream of the trade while it lasted, but conditions were changing, making it necessary to limit and restrict our business. This was contrary to our policy, though the spring of 1886 found us on the trail with sixteen herds for the firm and four from my own ranches, one half of which were under contract. A dry summer followed, and thousands of weak cattle were lost on the trail, while ruin and bankruptcy were the portion of a majority of the drovers. We weathered the drouth on the trail, selling our unplaced cattle early, and before the beef-shipping season began, our range in the Outlet, including good will, holding of beeves, saddle horses, and general improvements, was sold to a Kansas City company, and the old firm passed out of existence. Meanwhile I had closed up the affairs of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Company, returning a small pro rata of the original investment to shareholders, charging my loss to tuition in rounding out my education as a cowman.
The productive capacity of my ranches for years past safely tided me over all financial difficulties. With all outside connections severed, I was then enabled to give my personal attention to ranching in Texas. I was fortunate in having capable ranch foremen, for during my almost continued absence there was a steady growth, together with thorough management of my mixed cattle. The improved herd, now numbering over two thousand, was the pride of my operations in live stock, while my quarter and three-eighths blood steers were in a class by themselves.