it was by our own men, we separated, and, circling right and left, began to throw the herd together. Some of us rode up the river bank and soon located the trouble. We had not ridden a quarter of a mile before we passed a number of our herd bogged, these having reentered the river for their noonday drink, and on coming up with the men who had done the shooting, we found them throwing the herd out from the water. They reported that a large number of cattle were bogged farther up the river.
All hands rounded in the herd, and drifting them out nearly a mile from the river, left them under two herders, when the remainder of us returned to the bogged cattle. There were by actual count, including those down at the crossing, over eighty bogged cattle that required our attention, extending over a space of a mile or more above the island ford.
The outlook was anything but pleasing. Flood was almost speechless over the situation, for it might have been guarded against. But realizing the task before us, we recrossed the river for dinner, well knowing the inner man needed fortifying for the work before us. No sooner had we disposed of the meal and secured a change of mounts all round, than we sent two men to relieve the men on herd. When they were off, Flood divided up our forces for the afternoon work.
“It will never do,” said he, “to get separated from our commissary. So, Priest, you take the wagon and _remuda_ and go back up to the regular crossing and get our wagon over somehow. There will be the cook and wrangler besides yourself, and you may have two other men. You will have to lighten your load; and don’t attempt to cross those mules hitched to the wagon; rely on your saddle horses for getting the wagon over. Forrest, you and Bull, with the two men on herd, take the cattle to the nearest creek and water them well. After watering, drift them back, so they will be within a mile of these bogged cattle. Then leave two men with them and return to the river. I’ll take the remainder of the outfit and begin at the ford and work up the river. Get the ropes and hobbles, boys, and come on.”
John Officer and I were left with The Rebel to get the wagon across, and while waiting for the men on herd to get in, we hooked up the mules. Honeyman had the _remuda_ in hand to start the minute our herders returned, their change of mounts being already tied to the wagon wheels. The need of haste was very imperative, for the river might rise without an hour’s notice, and a two-foot rise would drown every hoof in the river as well as cut us off from our wagon. The South Canadian has its source in the Staked Plains and the mountains of New Mexico, and freshets there would cause a rise here, local conditions never affecting a river of such width. Several of us had seen these Plains rivers,–when the mountain was sportive and dallying with the plain,–under a clear sky and without any warning of falling weather, rise with a rush of water like a tidal wave or the stream from a broken dam. So when our men from herd galloped in, we stripped their saddles from tired horses and cinched them to fresh ones, while they, that there might be no loss of time, bolted their dinners. It took us less than an hour to reach the ford, where we unloaded the wagon of everything but the chuck-box, which was ironed fast. We had an extra saddle in the wagon, and McCann was mounted on a good horse, for he could ride as well as cook. Priest and I rode the river, selecting a route; and on our return, all five of us tied our lariats to the tongue and sides of the wagon. We took a running start, and until we struck the farther bank we gave the wagon no time to sink, but pulled it out of the river with a shout, our horses’ flanks heaving. Then recrossing the river, we lashed all the bedding to four gentle saddle horses and led them over. But to get our provisions across was no easy matter, for we were heavily loaded, having taken on a supply at Doan’s sufficient to last us until we reached Dodge, a good month’s journey. Yet over it must go, and we kept a string of horsemen crossing and recrossing for an hour, carrying everything from pots and pans to axle grease, as well as the staples of life. When we had got the contents of the wagon finally over and reloaded, there remained nothing but crossing the saddle stock.
The wagon mules had been turned loose, harnessed, while we were crossing the wagon and other effects; and when we drove the _remuda_ into the river, one of the wheel mules turned back, and in spite of every man, reached the bank again. Part of the boys hurried the others across, but McCann and I turned back after our wheeler. We caught him without any trouble, but our attempt to lead him across failed. In spite of all the profanity addressed personally to him, he proved a credit to his sire, and we lost ground in trying to force him into the river. The boys across the river watched a few minutes, when all recrossed to our assistance.
“Time’s too valuable to monkey with a mule to-day,” said Priest, as he rode up; “skin off that harness.”
It was off at once, and we blindfolded and backed him up to the river bank; then taking a rope around his forelegs, we threw him, hog-tied him, and rolled him into the water. With a rope around his forelegs and through the ring in the bridle bit, we asked no further favors, but snaked him ignominiously over to the farther side and reharnessed him into the team.
The afternoon was more than half spent when we reached the first bogged cattle, and by the time the wagon overtook us we had several tied up and ready for the mule team to give us a lift. The herd had been watered in the mean time and was grazing about in sight of the river, and as we occasionally drifted a freed animal out to the herd, we saw others being turned in down the river. About an hour before sunset, Flood rode up to us and reported having cleared the island ford, while a middle outfit under Forrest was working down towards it. During the twilight hours of evening, the wagon and saddle horses moved out to the herd and made ready to camp, but we remained until dark, and with but three horses released a number of light cows. We were the last outfit to reach the wagon, and as Honeyman had tied up our night horses, there was nothing for us to do but eat and go to bed, to which we required no coaxing, for we all knew that early morning would find us once more working with bogged cattle.
The night passed without incident, and the next morning in the division of the forces, Priest was again allowed the wagon to do the snaking out with, but only four men, counting McCann. The remainder of the outfit was divided into several gangs, working near enough each other to lend a hand in case an extra horse was needed on a pull. The third animal we struck in the river that morning was the black steer that had showed fight the day before. Knowing his temper would not be improved by soaking in the quicksand overnight, we changed our tactics. While we were tying up the steer’s tail and legs, McCann secreted his team at a safe distance. Then he took a lariat, lashed the tongue of the wagon to a cottonwood tree, and jacking up a hind wheel, used it as a windlass. When all was ready, we tied the loose end of our cable rope to a spoke, and allowing the rope to coil on the hub, manned the windlass and drew him ashore. When the steer was freed, McCann, having no horse at hand, climbed into the wagon, while the rest of us sought safety in our saddles, and gave him a wide berth. When he came to his feet he was sullen with rage and refused to move out of his tracks. Priest rode out and baited him at a distance, and McCann, from his safe position, attempted to give him a scare, when he savagely charged the wagon. McCann reached down, and securing a handful of flour, dashed it into his eyes, which made him back away; and, kneeling, he fell to cutting the sand with his horns. Rising, he charged the wagon a second time, and catching the wagon sheet with his horns, tore two slits in it like slashes of a razor. By this time The Rebel ventured a little nearer, and attracted the steer’s attention. He started for Priest, who gave the quirt to his horse, and for the first quarter mile had a close race. The steer, however, weakened by the severe treatment he had been subjected to, soon fell to the rear, and gave up the chase and continued on his way to the herd.
After this incident we worked down the river until the outfits met. We finished the work before noon, having lost three full days by the quicksands of the Canadian. As we pulled into the trail that afternoon near the first divide and looked back to take a parting glance at the river, we saw a dust cloud across the Canadian which we knew must he the Ellison herd under Nat Straw. Quince Forrest, noticing it at the same time as I did, rode forward and said to me, “Well, old Nat will get it in the neck this time, if that old girl dallies with him as she did with us. I don’t wish him any bad luck, but I do hope he’ll bog enough cattle to keep his hand in practice. It will be just about his luck, though, to find it settled and solid enough to cross.” And the next morning we saw his signal in the sky about the same distance behind us, and knew he had forded without any serious trouble.
THE NORTH FORK
There was never very much love lost between government soldiers and our tribe, so we swept past Camp Supply in contempt a few days later, and crossed the North Fork of the Canadian to camp for the night. Flood and McCann went into the post, as our supply of flour and navy beans was running rather low, and our foreman had hopes that he might be able to get enough of these staples from the sutler to last until we reached Dodge. He also hoped to receive some word from Lovell.
The rest of us had no lack of occupation, as a result of a chance find of mine that morning. Honeyman had stood my guard the night before, and in return, I had got up when he was called to help rustle the horses. We had every horse under hand before the sun peeped over the eastern horizon, and when returning to camp with the _remuda_, as I rode through a bunch of sumach bush, I found a wild turkey’s nest with sixteen fresh eggs in it. Honeyman rode up, when I dismounted, and putting them in my hat, handed them up to Billy until I could mount, for they were beauties and as precious to us as gold. There was an egg for each man in the outfit and one over, and McCann threw a heap of swagger into the inquiry, “Gentlemen, how will you have your eggs this morning?” just as though it was an everyday affair. They were issued to us fried, and I naturally felt that the odd egg, by rights, ought to fall to me, but the opposing majority was formidable,–fourteen to one,–so I yielded. A number of ways were suggested to allot the odd egg, but the gambling fever in us being rabid, raffling or playing cards for it seemed to be the proper caper. Raffling had few advocates.
“It reflects on any man’s raising,” said Quince Forrest, contemptuously, “to suggest the idea of raffling, when we’ve got cards and all night to play for that egg. The very idea of raffling for it! I’d like to see myself pulling straws or drawing numbers from a hat, like some giggling girl at a church fair. Poker is a science; the highest court in Texas has said so, and I want some little show for my interest in that speckled egg. What have I spent twenty years learning the game for, will some of you tell me? Why, it lets me out if you raffle it.” The argument remained unanswered, and the play for it gave interest to that night.
As soon as supper was over and the first guard had taken the herd, the poker game opened, each man being given ten beans for chips. We had only one deck of cards, so one game was all that could be run at a time, but there were six players, and when one was frozen out another sat in and took his place. As wood was plentiful, we had a good fire, and this with the aid of the cook’s lantern gave an abundance of light. We unrolled a bed to serve as a table, sat down on it Indian fashion, and as fast as one seat was vacated there was a man ready to fill it, for we were impatient for our turns in the game. The talk turned on an accident which had happened that afternoon. While we were crossing the North Fork of the Canadian, Bob Blades attempted to ride out of the river below the crossing, when his horse bogged down. He instantly dismounted, and his horse after floundering around scrambled out and up the bank, but with a broken leg. Our foreman had ridden up and ordered the horse unsaddled and shot, to put him out of his suffering.
While waiting our turns, the accident to the horse was referred to several times, and finally Blades, who was sitting in the game, turned to us who were lounging around the fire, and asked, “Did you all notice that look he gave me as I was uncinching the saddle? If he had been human, he might have told what that look meant. Good thing he was a horse and couldn’t realize.”
From then on, the yarning and conversation was strictly _horse_.
“It was always a mystery to me,” said Billy Honeyman, “how a Mexican or Indian knows so much more about a horse than any of us. I have seen them trail a horse across a country for miles, riding in a long lope, with not a trace or sign visible to me. I was helping a horseman once to drive a herd of horses to San Antonio from the lower Rio Grande country. We were driving them to market, and as there were no railroads south then, we had to take along saddle horses to ride home on after disposing of the herd. We always took favorite horses which we didn’t wish to sell, generally two apiece for that purpose. This time, when we were at least a hundred miles from the ranch, a Mexican, who had brought along a pet horse to ride home, thought he wouldn’t hobble this pet one night, fancying the animal wouldn’t leave the others. Well, next morning his pet was missing. We scoured the country around and the trail we had come over for ten miles, but no horse. As the country was all open, we felt positive he would go back to the ranch.
“Two days later and about forty miles higher up the road, the Mexican was riding in the lead of the herd, when suddenly he reined in his horse, throwing him back on his haunches, and waved for some of us to come to him, never taking his eyes off what he saw in the road. The owner was riding on one point of the herd and I on the other. We hurried around to him and both rode up at the same time, when the vaquero blurted out, ‘There’s my horse’s track.’
“‘What horse?’ asked the owner.
“‘My own; the horse we lost two days ago,’ replied the Mexican.
“‘How do you know it’s your horse’s track from the thousands of others that fill the road?’ demanded his employer.
“‘Don Tomas,’ said the Aztec, lifting his hat, ‘how do I know your step or voice from a thousand others?’
“We laughed at him. He had been a peon, and that made him respect our opinions–at least he avoided differing with us. But as we drove on that afternoon, we could see him in the lead, watching for that horse’s track. Several times he turned in his saddle and looked back, pointed to some track in the road, and lifted his hat to us. At camp that night we tried to draw him out, but he was silent.
“But when we were nearing San Antonio, we overtook a number of wagons loaded with wool, lying over, as it was Sunday, and there among their horses and mules was our Mexican’s missing horse. The owner of the wagons explained how he came to have the horse. The animal had come to his camp one morning, back about twenty miles from where we had lost him, while he was feeding grain to his work stock, and being a pet insisted on being fed. Since then, I have always had a lot of respect for a Greaser’s opinion regarding a horse.”
“Turkey eggs is too rich for my blood,” said Bob Blades, rising from the game. “I don’t care a continental who wins the egg now, for whenever I get three queens pat beat by a four card draw, I have misgivings about the deal. And old Quince thinks he can stack cards. He couldn’t stack hay.”
“Speaking about Mexicans and Indians,” said Wyatt Roundtree, “I’ve got more use for a good horse than I have for either of those grades of humanity. I had a little experience over east here, on the cut off from the Chisholm trail, a few years ago, that gave me all the Injun I want for some time to come. A band of renegade Cheyennes had hung along the trail for several years, scaring or begging passing herds into giving them a beef. Of course all the cattle herds had more or less strays among them, so it was easier to cut out one of these than to argue the matter. There was plenty of herds on the trail then, so this band of Indians got bolder than bandits. In the year I’m speaking of, I went up with a herd of horses belonging to a Texas man, who was in charge with us. When we came along with our horses–only six men all told–the chief of the band, called Running Bull Sheep, got on the bluff bigger than a wolf and demanded six horses. Well, that Texan wasn’t looking for any particular Injun that day to give six of his own dear horses to. So we just drove on, paying no attention to Mr. Bull Sheep. About half a mile farther up the trail, the chief overtook us with all his bucks, and they were an ugly looking lot. Well, this time he held up four fingers, meaning that four horses would be acceptable. But the Texan wasn’t recognizing the Indian levy of taxation that year. When he refused them, the Indians never parleyed a moment, but set up a ‘ki yi’ and began circling round the herd on their ponies, Bull Sheep in the lead.
“As the chief passed the owner, his horse on a run, he gave a special shrill ‘ki yi,’ whipped a short carbine out of its scabbard, and shot twice into the rear of the herd. Never for a moment considering consequences, the Texan brought his six-shooter into action. It was a long, purty shot, and Mr. Bull Sheep threw his hands in the air and came off his horse backward, hard hit. This shooting in the rear of the horses gave them such a scare that we never checked them short of a mile. While the other Indians were holding a little powwow over their chief, we were making good time in the other direction, considering that we had over eight hundred loose horses. Fortunately our wagon and saddle horses had gone ahead that morning, but in the run we overtook them. As soon as we checked the herd from its scare, we turned them up the trail, stretched ropes from the wheels of the wagon, ran the saddle horses in, and changed mounts just a little quicker than I ever saw it done before or since. The cook had a saddle in the wagon, so we caught him up a horse, clapped leather on him, and tied him behind the wagon in case of an emergency. And you can just bet we changed to our best horses. When we overtook the herd, we were at least a mile and a half from where the shooting occurred, and there was no Indian in sight, but we felt that they hadn’t given it up. We hadn’t long to wait, though we would have waited willingly, before we heard their yells and saw the dust rising in clouds behind us. We quit the herd and wagon right there and rode for a swell of ground ahead that would give us a rear view of the scenery. The first view we caught of them was not very encouraging. They were riding after us like fiends and kicking up a dust like a wind storm. We had nothing but six-shooters, no good for long range. The owner of the horses admitted that it was useless to try to save the herd now, and if our scalps were worth saving it was high time to make ourselves scarce.
“Cantonment was a government post about twenty-five miles away, so we rode for it. Our horses were good Spanish stock, and the Indians’ little bench-legged ponies were no match for them. But not satisfied with the wagon and herd falling into their hands, they followed us until we were within sight of the post. As hard luck would have it, the cavalry stationed at this post were off on some escort duty, and the infantry were useless in this case. When the cavalry returned a few days later, they tried to round up those Indians, and the Indian agent used his influence, but the horses were so divided up and scattered that they were never recovered.”
“And did the man lose his horses entirely?” asked Flood, who had anteed up his last bean and joined us.
“He did. There was, I remember, a tin horn lawyer up about Dodge who thought he could recover their value, as these were agency Indians and the government owed them money. But all I got for three months’ wages due me was the horse I got away on.”
McCann had been frozen out during Roundtree’s yarn, and had joined the crowd of story-tellers on the other side of the fire. Forrest was feeling quite gala, and took a special delight in taunting the vanquished as they dropped out.
“Is McCann there?” inquired he, well knowing he was. “I just wanted to ask, would it be any trouble to poach that egg for my breakfast and serve it with a bit of toast; I’m feeling a little bit dainty. You’ll poach it for me, won’t you, please?”
McCann never moved a muscle as he replied, “Will you please go to hell?”
The story-telling continued for some time, and while Fox Quarternight was regaling us with the history of a little black mare that a neighbor of theirs in Kentucky owned, a dispute arose in the card game regarding the rules of discard and draw.
“I’m too old a girl,” said The Rebel, angrily, to Forrest, “to allow a pullet like you to teach me this game. When it’s my deal, I’ll discard just when I please, and it’s none of your business so long as I keep within the rules of the game;” which sounded final, and the game continued.
Quarternight picked up the broken thread of his narrative, and the first warning we had of the lateness of the hour was Bull Durham calling to us from the game, “One of you fellows can have my place, just as soon as we play this jack pot. I’ve got to saddle my horse and get ready for our guard. Oh, I’m on velvet, anyhow, and before this game ends, I’ll make old Quince curl his tail; I’ve got him going south now.”
It took me only a few minutes to lose my chance at the turkey egg, and I sought my blankets. At one A.M., when our guard was called, the beans were almost equally divided among Priest, Stallings, and Durham; and in view of the fact that Forrest, whom we all wanted to see beaten, had met defeat, they agreed to cut the cards for the egg, Stallings winning. We mounted our horses and rode out into the night, and the second guard rode back to our camp-fire, singing:–
“Two little niggers upstairs in bed, One turned ober to de oder an’ said,
‘How ’bout dat short’nin’ bread, How ’bout dat short’nin’ bread?'”
At Camp Supply, Flood received a letter from Lovell, requesting him to come on into Dodge ahead of the cattle. So after the first night’s camp above the Cimarron, Flood caught up a favorite horse, informed the outfit that he was going to quit us for a few days, and designated Quince Forrest as the _segundo_ during his absence.
“You have a wide, open country from here into Dodge,” said he, when ready to start, “and I’ll make inquiry for you daily from men coming in, or from the buckboard which carries the mail to Supply. I’ll try to meet you at Mulberry Creek, which is about ten miles south of Dodge. I’ll make that town to-night, and you ought to make the Mulberry in two days. You will see the smoke of passing trains to the north of the Arkansaw, from the first divide south of Mulberry. When you reach that creek, in case I don’t meet you, hold the herd there and three or four of you can come on into town. But I’m almost certain to meet you,” he called back as he rode away.
“Priest,” said Quince, when our foreman had gone, “I reckon you didn’t handle your herd to suit the old man when he left us that time at Buffalo Gap. But I think he used rare judgment this time in selecting a _segundo_. The only thing that frets me is, I’m afraid he’ll meet us before we reach the Mulberry, and that won’t give me any chance to go in ahead like a sure enough foreman. Fact is I have business there; I deposited a few months’ wages at the Long Branch gambling house last year when I was in Dodge, and failed to take a receipt. I just want to drop in and make inquiry if they gave me credit, and if the account is drawing interest. I think it’s all right, for the man I deposited it with was a clever fellow and asked me to have a drink with him just as I was leaving. Still, I’d like to step in and see him again.”
Early in the afternoon of the second day after our foreman left us, we sighted the smoke of passing trains, though they were at least fifteen miles distant, and long before we reached the Mulberry, a livery rig came down the trail to meet us. To Forrest’s chagrin, Flood, all dressed up and with a white collar on, was the driver, while on a back seat sat Don Lovell and another cowman by the name of McNulta. Every rascal of us gave old man Don the glad hand as they drove around the herd, while he, liberal and delighted as a bridegroom, passed out the cigars by the handful. The cattle were looking fine, which put the old man in high spirits, and he inquired of each of us if our health was good and if Flood had fed us well. They loitered around the herd the rest of the evening, until we threw off the trail to graze and camp for the night, when Lovell declared his intention of staying all night with the outfit.
While we were catching horses during the evening, Lovell came up to me where I was saddling my night horse, and recognizing me gave me news of my brother Bob. “I had a letter yesterday from him,” he said, “written from Red Fork, which is just north of the Cimarron River over on the Chisholm route. He reports everything going along nicely, and I’m expecting him to show up here within a week. His herd are all beef steers, and are contracted for delivery at the Crow Indian Agency. He’s not driving as fast as Flood, but we’ve got to have our beef for that delivery in better condition, as they have a new agent there this year, and he may be one of these knowing fellows. Sorry you couldn’t see your brother, but if you have any word to send him, I’ll deliver it.”
I thanked him for the interest he had taken in me, and assured him that I had no news for Robert; but took advantage of the opportunity to inquire if our middle brother, Zack Quirk, was on the trail with any of his herds. Lovell knew him, but felt positive he was not with any of his outfits.
We had an easy night with the cattle. Lovell insisted on standing a guard, so he took Rod Wheat’s horse and stood the first watch, and after returning to the wagon, he and McNulta, to our great interest, argued the merits of the different trails until near midnight. McNulta had two herds coming in on the Chisholm trail, while Lovell had two herds on the Western and only one on the Chisholm.
The next morning Forrest, who was again in charge, received orders to cross the Arkansaw River shortly after noon, and then let half the outfit come into town. The old trail crossed the river about a mile above the present town of Dodge City, Kansas, so when we changed horses at noon, the first and second guards caught up their top horses, ransacked their war bags, and donned their best toggery. We crossed the river about one o’clock in order to give the boys a good holiday, the stage of water making the river easily fordable. McCann, after dinner was over, drove down on the south side for the benefit of a bridge which spanned the river opposite the town. It was the first bridge he had been able to take advantage of in over a thousand miles of travel, and to-day he spurned the cattle ford as though he had never crossed at one. Once safely over the river, and with the understanding that the herd would camp for the night about six miles north on Duck Creek, six of our men quit us and rode for the town in a long gallop. Before the rig left us in the morning, McNulta, who was thoroughly familiar with Dodge, and an older man than Lovell, in a friendly and fatherly spirit, seeing that many of us were youngsters, had given us an earnest talk and plenty of good advice.
“I’ve been in Dodge every summer since ’77,” said the old cowman, “and I can give you boys some points. Dodge is one town where the average bad man of the West not only finds his equal, but finds himself badly handicapped. The buffalo hunters and range men have protested against the iron rule of Dodge’s peace officers, and nearly every protest has cost human life. Don’t ever get the impression that you can ride your horses into a saloon, or shoot out the lights in Dodge; it may go somewhere else, but it don’t go there. So I want to warn you to behave yourselves. You can wear your six-shooters into town, but you’d better leave them at the first place you stop, hotel, livery, or business house. And when you leave town, call for your pistols, but don’t ride out shooting; omit that. Most cowboys think it’s an infringement on their rights to give up shooting in town, and if it is, it stands, for your six-shooters are no match for Winchesters and buckshot; and Dodge’s officers are as game a set of men as ever faced danger.”
Nearly a generation has passed since McNulta, the Texan cattle drover, gave our outfit this advice one June morning on the Mulberry, and in setting down this record, I have only to scan the roster of the peace officials of Dodge City to admit its correctness. Among the names that graced the official roster, during the brief span of the trail days, were the brothers Ed, Jim, and “Bat” Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jack Bridges, “Doc” Holliday, Charles Bassett, William Tillman, “Shotgun” Collins, Joshua Webb, Mayor A.B. Webster, and “Mysterious” Dave Mather. The puppets of no romance ever written can compare with these officers in fearlessness. And let it be understood, there were plenty to protest against their rule; almost daily during the range season some equally fearless individual defied them.
“Throw up your hands and surrender,” said an officer to a Texas cowboy, who had spurred an excitable horse until it was rearing and plunging in the street, leveling meanwhile a double-barreled shotgun at the horseman.
“Not to you, you white-livered s—- of a b—-,” was the instant reply, accompanied by a shot.
The officer staggered back mortally wounded, but recovered himself, and the next instant the cowboy reeled from his saddle, a load of buckshot through his breast.
After the boys left us for town, the remainder of us, belonging to the third and fourth guard, grazed the cattle forward leisurely during the afternoon. Through cattle herds were in sight both up and down the river on either side, and on crossing the Mulberry the day before, we learned that several herds were holding out as far south as that stream, while McNulta had reported over forty herds as having already passed northward on the trail. Dodge was the meeting point for buyers from every quarter. Often herds would sell at Dodge whose destination for delivery was beyond the Yellowstone in Montana. Herds frequently changed owners when the buyer never saw the cattle. A yearling was a yearling and a two year old was a two year old, and the seller’s word, that they were “as good or better than the string I sold you last year,” was sufficient. Cattle were classified as northern, central, and southern animals, and, except in case of severe drouth in the preceding years, were pretty nearly uniform in size throughout each section. The prairie section of the State left its indelible imprint on the cattle bred in the open country, while the coast, as well as the piney woods and black-jack sections, did the same, thus making classification easy.
McCann overtook us early in the evening, and, being an obliging fellow, was induced by Forrest to stand the first guard with Honeyman so as to make up the proper number of watches, though with only two men on guard at a time, for it was hardly possible that any of the others would return before daybreak. There was much to be seen in Dodge, and as losing a night’s sleep on duty was considered nothing, in hilarious recreation sleep would be entirely forgotten. McCann had not forgotten us, but had smuggled out a quart bottle to cut the alkali in our drinking water. But a quart amongst eight of us was not dangerous, so the night passed without incident, though we felt a growing impatience to get into town. As we expected, about sunrise the next morning our men off on holiday rode into camp, having never closed an eye during the entire night. They brought word from Flood that the herd would only graze over to Saw Log Creek that day, so as to let the remainder of us have a day and night in town. Lovell would only advance half a month’s wages–twenty-five dollars–to the man. It was ample for any personal needs, though we had nearly three months’ wages due, and no one protested, for the old man was generally right in his decisions. According to their report the boys had had a hog-killing time, old man Don having been out with them all night. It seems that McNulta stood in well with a class of practical jokers which included the officials of the town, and whenever there was anything on the tapis, he always got the word for himself and friends. During breakfast Fox Quarternight told this incident of the evening.
“Some professor, a professor in the occult sciences I think he called himself, had written to the mayor to know what kind of a point Dodge would be for a lecture. The lecture was to be free, but he also intimated that he had a card or two on the side up his sleeve, by which he expected to graft onto some of the coin of the realm from the wayfaring man as well as the citizen. The mayor turned the letter over to Bat Masterson, the city marshal, who answered it, and invited the professor to come on, assuring him that he was deeply interested in the occult sciences, personally, and would take pleasure in securing him a hall and a date, besides announcing his coming through the papers.
“Well, he was billed to deliver his lecture last night. Those old long horns, McNulta and Lovell, got us in with the crowd, and while they didn’t know exactly what was coming, they assured us that we couldn’t afford to miss it. Well, at the appointed hour in the evening, the hall was packed, not over half being able to find seats. It is safe to say there were over five hundred men present, as it was announced for ‘men only.’ Every gambler in town was there, with a fair sprinkling of cowmen and our tribe. At the appointed hour, Masterson, as chairman, rapped for order, and in a neat little speech announced the object of the meeting. Bat mentioned the lack of interest in the West in the higher arts and sciences, and bespoke our careful attention to the subject under consideration for the evening. He said he felt it hardly necessary to urge the importance of good order, but if any one had come out of idle curiosity or bent on mischief, as chairman of the meeting and a peace officer of the city, he would certainly brook no interruption. After a few other appropriate remarks, he introduced the speaker as Dr. J. Graves-Brown, the noted scientist.
“The professor was an oily-tongued fellow, and led off on the prelude to his lecture, while the audience was as quiet as mice and as grave as owls. After he had spoken about five minutes and was getting warmed up to his subject, he made an assertion which sounded a little fishy, and some one back in the audience blurted out, ‘That’s a damned lie.’ The speaker halted in his discourse and looked at Masterson, who arose, and, drawing two six-shooters, looked the audience over as if trying to locate the offender. Laying the guns down on the table, he informed the meeting that another interruption would cost the offender his life, if he had to follow him to the Rio Grande or the British possessions. He then asked the professor, as there would be no further interruptions, to proceed with his lecture. The professor hesitated about going on, when Masterson assured him that it was evident that his audience, with the exception of one skulking coyote, was deeply interested in the subject, but that no one man could interfere with the freedom of speech in Dodge as long as it was a free country and he was city marshal. After this little talk, the speaker braced up and launched out again on his lecture. When he was once more under good headway, he had occasion to relate an exhibition which he had witnessed while studying his profession in India. The incident related was a trifle rank for any one to swallow raw, when the same party who had interrupted before sang out, ‘That’s another damn lie.’
“Masterson came to his feet like a flash, a gun in each hand, saying, ‘Stand up, you measly skunk, so I can see you.’ Half a dozen men rose in different parts of the house and cut loose at him, and as they did so the lights went out and the room filled with smoke. Masterson was blazing away with two guns, which so lighted up the rostrum that we could see the professor crouching under the table. Of course they were using blank cartridges, but the audience raised the long yell and poured out through the windows and doors, and the lecture was over. A couple of police came in later, so McNulta said, escorted the professor to his room in the hotel, and quietly advised him that Dodge was hardly capable of appreciating anything so advanced as a lecture on the occult sciences.”
Breakfast over, Honeyman ran in the _remuda_, and we caught the best horses in our mounts, on which to pay our respects to Dodge. Forrest detailed Rod Wheat to wrangle the horses, for we intended to take Honeyman with us. As it was only about six miles over to the Saw Log, Quince advised that they graze along Duck Creek until after dinner, and then graze over to the former stream during the afternoon. Before leaving, we rode over and looked out the trail after it left Duck, for it was quite possible that we might return during the night; and we requested McCann to hang out the lantern, elevated on the end of the wagon tongue, as a beacon. After taking our bearings, we reined southward over the divide to Dodge.
“The very first thing I do,” said Quince Forrest, as we rode leisurely along, “after I get a shave and hair-cut and buy what few tricks I need, is to hunt up that gambler in the Long Branch, and ask him to take a drink with me–I took the parting one on him. Then I’ll simply set in and win back every dollar I lost there last year. There’s something in this northern air that I breathe in this morning that tells me that this is my lucky day. You other kids had better let the games alone and save your money to buy red silk handkerchiefs and soda water and such harmless jimcracks.” The fact that The Rebel was ten years his senior never entered his mind as he gave us this fatherly advice, though to be sure the majority of us were his juniors in years.
On reaching Dodge, we rode up to the Wright House, where Flood met us and directed our cavalcade across the railroad to a livery stable, the proprietor of which was a friend of Lovell’s. We unsaddled and turned our horses into a large corral, and while we were in the office of the livery, surrendering our artillery, Flood came in and handed each of us twenty-five dollars in gold, warning us that when that was gone no more would be advanced. On receipt of the money, we scattered like partridges before a gunner. Within an hour or two, we began to return to the stable by ones and twos, and were stowing into our saddle pockets our purchases, which ran from needles and thread to .45 cartridges, every mother’s son reflecting the art of the barber, while John Officer had his blond mustaches blackened, waxed, and curled like a French dancing master. “If some of you boys will hold him,” said Moss Strayhorn, commenting on Officer’s appearance, “I’d like to take a good smell of him, just to see if he took oil up there where the end of his neck’s haired over.” As Officer already had several drinks comfortably stowed away under his belt, and stood up strong six feet two, none of us volunteered.
After packing away our plunder, we sauntered around town, drinking moderately, and visiting the various saloons and gambling houses. I clung to my bunkie, The Rebel, during the rounds, for I had learned to like him, and had confidence he would lead me into no indiscretions. At the Long Branch, we found Quince Forrest and Wyatt Roundtree playing the faro bank, the former keeping cases. They never recognized us, but were answering a great many questions, asked by the dealer and lookout, regarding the possible volume of the cattle drive that year. Down at another gambling house, The Rebel met Ben Thompson, a faro dealer not on duty and an old cavalry comrade, and the two cronied around for over an hour like long lost brothers, pledging anew their friendship over several social glasses, in which I was always included. There was no telling how long this reunion would have lasted, but happily for my sake, Lovell–who had been asleep all the morning–started out to round us up for dinner with him at the Wright House, which was at that day a famous hostelry, patronized almost exclusively by the Texas cowmen and cattle buyers.
We made the rounds of the gambling houses, looking for our crowd. We ran across three of the boys piking at a monte game, who came with us reluctantly; then, guided by Lovell, we started for the Long Branch, where we felt certain we would find Forrest and Roundtree, if they had any money left. Forrest was broke, which made him ready to come, and Roundtree, though quite a winner, out of deference to our employer’s wishes, cashed in and joined us. Old man Don could hardly do enough for us; and before we could reach the Wright House, had lined us up against three different bars; and while I had confidence in my navigable capacity, I found they were coming just a little too fast and free, seeing I had scarcely drunk anything in three months but branch water. As we lined up at the Wright House bar for the final before dinner, The Rebel, who was standing next to me, entered a waiver and took a cigar, which I understood to be a hint, and I did likewise.
We had a splendid dinner. Our outfit, with McNulta, occupied a ten-chair table, while on the opposite side of the room was another large table, occupied principally by drovers who were waiting for their herds to arrive. Among those at the latter table, whom I now remember, was “Uncle” Henry Stevens, Jesse Ellison, “Lum” Slaughter, John Blocker, Ike Pryor, “Dun” Houston, and last but not least, Colonel “Shanghai” Pierce. The latter was possibly the most widely known cowman between the Rio Grande and the British possessions. He stood six feet four in his stockings, was gaunt and raw-boned, and the possessor of a voice which, even in ordinary conversation, could be distinctly heard across the street.
“No, I’ll not ship any more cattle to your town,” said Pierce to a cattle solicitor during the dinner, his voice in righteous indignation resounding like a foghorn through the dining-room, “until you adjust your yardage charges. Listen! I can go right up into the heart of your city and get a room for myself, with a nice clean bed in it, plenty of soap, water, and towels, and I can occupy that room for twenty-four hours for two bits. And your stockyards, away out in the suburbs, want to charge me twenty cents a head and let my steer stand out in the weather.”
After dinner, all the boys, with the exception of Priest and myself, returned to the gambling houses as though anxious to work overtime. Before leaving the hotel, Forrest effected the loan of ten from Roundtree, and the two returned to the Long Branch, while the others as eagerly sought out a monte game. But I was fascinated with the conversation of these old cowmen, and sat around for several hours listening to their yarns and cattle talk.
“I was selling a thousand beef steers one time to some Yankee army contractors,” Pierce was narrating to a circle of listeners, “and I got the idea that they were not up to snuff in receiving cattle out on the prairie. I was holding a herd of about three thousand, and they had agreed to take a running cut, which showed that they had the receiving agent fixed. Well, my foreman and I were counting the cattle as they came between us. But the steers were wild, long-legged coasters, and came through between us like scared wolves. I had lost the count several times, but guessed at them and started over, the cattle still coming like a whirlwind; and when I thought about nine hundred had passed us, I cut them off and sang out, ‘Here they come and there they go; just an even thousand, by gatlins! What do you make it, Bill?’
“‘Just an even thousand, Colonel,’ replied my foreman. Of course the contractors were counting at the same time, and I suppose didn’t like to admit they couldn’t count a thousand cattle where anybody else could, and never asked for a recount, but accepted and paid for them. They had hired an outfit, and held the cattle outside that night, but the next day, when they cut them into car lots and shipped them, they were a hundred and eighteen short. They wanted to come back on me to make them good, but, shucks! I wasn’t responsible if their Jim Crow outfit lost the cattle.”
Along early in the evening, Flood advised us boys to return to the herd with him, but all the crowd wanted to stay in town and see the sights. Lovell interceded in our behalf, and promised to see that we left town in good time to be in camp before the herd was ready to move the next morning. On this assurance, Flood saddled up and started for the Saw Log, having ample time to make the ride before dark. By this time most of the boys had worn off the wire edge for gambling and were comparing notes. Three of them were broke, but Quince Forrest had turned the tables and was over a clean hundred winner for the day. Those who had no money fortunately had good credit with those of us who had, for there was yet much to be seen, and in Dodge in ’82 it took money to see the elephant. There were several variety theatres, a number of dance halls, and other resorts which, like the wicked, flourish best under darkness. After supper, just about dusk, we went over to the stable, caught our horses, saddled them, and tied them up for the night. We fully expected to leave town by ten o’clock, for it was a good twelve mile ride to the Saw Log. In making the rounds of the variety theatres and dance halls, we hung together. Lovell excused himself early in the evening, and at parting we assured him that the outfit would leave for camp before midnight. We were enjoying ourselves immensely over at the Lone Star dance hall, when an incident occurred in which we entirely neglected the good advice of McNulta, and had the sensation of hearing lead whistle and cry around our ears before we got away from town.
Quince Forrest was spending his winnings as well as drinking freely, and at the end of a quadrille gave vent to his hilarity in an old-fashioned Comanche yell. The bouncer of the dance hall of course had his eye on our crowd, and at the end of a change, took Quince to task. He was a surly brute, and instead of couching his request in appropriate language, threatened to throw him out of the house. Forrest stood like one absent-minded and took the abuse, for physically he was no match for the bouncer, who was armed, moreover, and wore an officer’s star. I was dancing in the same set with a red-headed, freckled-faced girl, who clutched my arm and wished to know if my friend was armed. I assured her that he was not, or we would have had notice of it before the bouncer’s invective was ended. At the conclusion of the dance, Quince and The Rebel passed out, giving the rest of us the word to remain as though nothing was wrong. In the course of half an hour, Priest returned and asked us to take our leave one at a time without attracting any attention, and meet at the stable. I remained until the last, and noticed The Rebel and the bouncer taking a drink together at the bar,–the former apparently in a most amiable mood. We passed out together shortly afterward, and found the other boys mounted and awaiting our return, it being now about midnight. It took but a moment to secure our guns, and once in the saddle, we rode through the town in the direction of the herd. On the outskirts of the town, we halted. “I’m going back to that dance hall,” said Forrest, “and have one round at least with that whore-herder. No man who walks this old earth can insult me, as he did, not if he has a hundred stars on him. If any of you don’t want to go along, ride right on to camp, but I’d like to have you all go. And when I take his measure, it will be the signal to the rest of you to put out the lights. All that’s going, come on.” There were no dissenters to the programme. I saw at a glance that my bunkie was heart and soul in the play, and took my cue and kept my mouth shut. We circled round the town to a vacant lot within a block of the rear of the dance hall. Honeyman was left to hold the horses; then, taking off our belts and hanging them on the pommels of our saddles, we secreted our six-shooters inside the waistbands of our trousers. The hall was still crowded with the revelers when we entered, a few at a time, Forrest and Priest being the last to arrive. Forrest had changed hats with The Rebel, who always wore a black one, and as the bouncer circulated around, Quince stepped squarely in front of him. There was no waste of words, but a gun-barrel flashed in the lamplight, and the bouncer, struck with the six-shooter, fell like a beef. Before the bewildered spectators could raise a hand, five six-shooters were turned into the ceiling. The lights went out at the first fire, and amidst the rush of men and the screaming of women, we reached the outside, and within a minute were in our saddles. All would have gone well had we returned by the same route and avoided the town; but after crossing the railroad track, anger and pride having not been properly satisfied, we must ride through the town.
On entering the main street, leading north and opposite the bridge on the river, somebody of our party in the rear turned his gun loose into the air. The Rebel and I were riding in the lead, and at the clattering of hoofs and shooting behind us, our horses started on the run, the shooting by this time having become general. At the second street crossing, I noticed a rope of fire belching from a Winchester in the doorway of a store building. There was no doubt in my mind but we were the object of the manipulator of that carbine, and as we reached the next cross street, a man kneeling in the shadow of a building opened fire on us with a six-shooter. Priest reined in his horse, and not having wasted cartridges in the open-air shooting, returned the compliment until he emptied his gun. By this time every officer in the town was throwing lead after us, some of which cried a little too close for comfort. When there was no longer any shooting on our flanks, we turned into a cross street and soon left the lead behind us. At the outskirts of the town we slowed up our horses and took it leisurely for a mile or so, when Quince Forrest halted us and said, “I’m going to drop out here and see if any one follows us. I want to be alone, so that if any officers try to follow us up, I can have it out with them.”
[Illustration: CELEBRATING IN DODGE]
As there was no time to lose in parleying, and as he had a good horse, we rode away and left him. On reaching camp, we secured a few hours’ sleep, but the next morning, to our surprise, Forrest failed to appear. We explained the situation to Flood, who said if he did not show up by noon, he would go back and look for him. We all felt positive that he would not dare to go back to town; and if he was lost, as soon as the sun arose he would be able to get his bearings. While we were nooning about seven miles north of the Saw Log, some one noticed a buggy coming up the trail. As it came nearer we saw that there were two other occupants of the rig besides the driver. When it drew up old Quince, still wearing The Rebel’s hat, stepped out of the rig, dragged out his saddle from under the seat, and invited his companions to dinner. They both declined, when Forrest, taking out his purse, handed a twenty-dollar gold piece to the driver with an oath. He then asked the other man what he owed him, but the latter very haughtily declined any recompense, and the conveyance drove away.
“I suppose you fellows don’t know what all this means,” said Quince, as he filled a plate and sat down in the shade of the wagon. “Well, that horse of mine got a bullet plugged into him last night as we were leaving town, and before I could get him to Duck Creek, he died on me. I carried my saddle and blankets until daylight, when I hid in a draw and waited for something to turn up. I thought some of you would come back and look for me sometime, for I knew you wouldn’t understand it, when all of a sudden here comes this livery rig along with that drummer–going out to Jetmore, I believe he said. I explained what I wanted, but he decided that his business was more important than mine, and refused me. I referred the matter to Judge Colt, and the judge decided that it was more important that I overtake this herd. I’d have made him take pay, too, only he acted so mean about it.”
After dinner, fearing arrest, Forrest took a horse and rode on ahead to the Solomon River. We were a glum outfit that afternoon, but after a good night’s rest were again as fresh as daisies. When McCann started to get breakfast, he hung his coat on the end of the wagon rod, while he went for a bucket of water. During his absence, John Officer was noticed slipping something into Barney’s coat pocket, and after breakfast when our cook went to his coat for his tobacco, he unearthed a lady’s cambric handkerchief, nicely embroidered, and a silver mounted garter. He looked at the articles a moment, and, grasping the situation at a glance, ran his eye over the outfit for the culprit. But there was not a word or a smile. He walked over and threw the articles into the fire, remarking, “Good whiskey and bad women will be the ruin of you varmints yet.”
Herds bound for points beyond the Yellowstone, in Montana, always considered Dodge as the halfway landmark on the trail, though we had hardly covered half the distance to the destination of our Circle Dots. But with Dodge in our rear, all felt that the backbone of the drive was broken, and it was only the middle of June. In order to divide the night work more equitably, for the remainder of the trip the first and fourth guards changed, the second and third remaining as they were. We had begun to feel the scarcity of wood for cooking purposes some time past, and while crossing the plains of western Kansas, we were frequently forced to resort to the old bed grounds of a year or two previous for cattle chips. These chips were a poor substitute, and we swung a cowskin under the reach of the wagon, so that when we encountered wood on creeks and rivers we could lay in a supply. Whenever our wagon was in the rear, the riders on either side of the herd were always on the skirmish for fuel, which they left alongside the wagon track, and our cook was sure to stow it away underneath on the cowskin.
In spite of any effort on our part, the length of the days made long drives the rule. The cattle could be depended on to leave the bed ground at dawn, and before the outfit could breakfast, secure mounts, and overtake the herd, they would often have grazed forward two or three miles. Often we never threw them on the trail at all, yet when it came time to bed them at night, we had covered twenty miles. They were long, monotonous days; for we were always sixteen to eighteen hours in the saddle, while in emergencies we got the benefit of the limit. We frequently saw mirages, though we were never led astray by shady groves of timber or tempting lakes of water, but always kept within a mile or two of the trail. The evening of the third day after Forrest left us, he returned as we were bedding down the cattle at dusk, and on being assured that no officers had followed us, resumed his place with the herd. He had not even reached the Solomon River, but had stopped with a herd of Millet’s on Big Boggy. This creek he reported as bottomless, and the Millet herd as having lost between forty and fifty head of cattle in attempting to force it at the regular crossing the day before his arrival. They had scouted the creek both up and down since without finding a safe crossing. It seemed that there had been unusually heavy June rains through that section, which accounted for Boggy being in its dangerous condition. Millet’s foreman had not considered it necessary to test such an insignificant stream until he got a couple of hundred head of cattle floundering in the mire. They had saved the greater portion of the mired cattle, but quite a number were trampled to death by the others, and now the regular crossing was not approachable for the stench of dead cattle. Flood knew the stream, and so did a number of our outfit, but none of them had any idea that it could get into such an impassable condition as Forrest reported.
The next morning Flood started to the east and Priest to the west to look out a crossing, for we were then within half a day’s drive of the creek. Big Boggy paralleled the Solomon River in our front, the two not being more than five miles apart. The confluence was far below in some settlements, and we must keep to the westward of all immigration, on account of the growing crops in the fertile valley of the Solomon. On the westward, had a favorable crossing been found, we would almost have had to turn our herd backward, for we were already within the half circle which this creek described in our front. So after the two men left us, we allowed the herd to graze forward, keeping several miles to the westward of the trail in order to get the benefit of the best grazing. Our herd, when left to itself, would graze from a mile to a mile and a half an hour, and by the middle of the forenoon the timber on Big Boggy and the Solomon beyond was sighted. On reaching this last divide, some one sighted a herd about five or six miles to the eastward and nearly parallel with us. As they were three or four miles beyond the trail, we could easily see that they were grazing along like ourselves, and Forrest was appealed to to know if it was the Millet herd. He said not, and pointed out to the northeast about the location of the Millet cattle, probably five miles in advance of the stranger on our right. When we overtook our wagon at noon, McCann, who had never left the trail, reported having seen the herd. They looked to him like heavy beef cattle, and had two yoke of oxen to their chuck wagon, which served further to proclaim them as strangers.
Neither Priest nor Flood returned during the noon hour, and when the herd refused to lie down and rest longer, we grazed them forward till the fringe of timber which grew along the stream loomed up not a mile distant in our front. From the course we were traveling, we would strike the creek several miles above the regular crossing, and as Forrest reported that Millet was holding below the old crossing on a small rivulet, all we could do was to hold our wagon in the rear, and await the return of our men out on scout for a ford. Priest was the first to return, with word that he had ridden the creek out for twenty-five miles and had found no crossing that would be safe for a mud turtle. On hearing this, we left two men with the herd, and the rest of the outfit took the wagon, went on to Boggy, and made camp. It was a deceptive-looking stream, not over fifty or sixty feet wide. In places the current barely moved, shallowing and deepening, from a few inches in places to several feet in others, with an occasional pool that would swim a horse. We probed it with poles until we were satisfied that we were up against a proposition different from anything we had yet encountered. While we were discussing the situation, a stranger rode up on a fine roan horse, and inquired for our foreman. Forrest informed him that our boss was away looking for a crossing, but we were expecting his return at any time; and invited the stranger to dismount. He did so, and threw himself down in the shade of our wagon. He was a small, boyish-looking fellow, of sandy complexion, not much, if any, over twenty years old, and smiled continuously.
“My name is Pete Slaughter,” said he, by way of introduction, “and I’ve got a herd of twenty-eight hundred beef steers, beyond the trail and a few miles back. I’ve been riding since daybreak down the creek, and I’m prepared to state that the chance of crossing is as good right here as anywhere. I wanted to see your foreman, and if he’ll help, we’ll bridge her. I’ve been down to see this other outfit, but they ridicule the idea, though I think they’ll come around all right. I borrowed their axe, and to-morrow morning you’ll see me with my outfit cutting timber to bridge Big Boggy. That’s right, boys; it’s the only thing to do. The trouble is I’ve only got eight men all told. I don’t aim to travel over eight or ten miles a day, so I don’t need a big outfit. You say your foreman’s name is Flood? Well, if he don’t return before I go, some of you tell him that he’s wasting good time looking for a ford, for there ain’t none.”
In the conversation which followed, we learned that Slaughter was driving for his brother Lum, a widely known cowman and drover, whom we had seen in Dodge. He had started with the grass from north Texas, and by the time he reached the Platte, many of his herd would be fit to ship to market, and what were not would be in good demand as feeders in the corn belt of eastern Nebraska. He asked if we had seen his herd during the morning, and on hearing we had, got up and asked McCann to let him see our axe. This he gave a critical examination, before he mounted his horse to go, and on leaving said,–
“If your foreman don’t want to help build a bridge, I want to borrow that axe of yours. But you fellows talk to him. If any of you boys has ever been over on the Chisholm trail, you will remember the bridge on Rush Creek, south of the Washita River. I built that bridge in a day with an outfit of ten men. Why, shucks! if these outfits would pull together, we could cross to-morrow evening. Lots of these old foremen don’t like to listen to a cub like me, but, holy snakes! I’ve been over the trail oftener than any of them. Why, when I wasn’t big enough to make a hand with the herd,–only ten years old,–in the days when we drove to Abilene, they used to send me in the lead with an old cylinder gun to shoot at the buffalo and scare them off the trail. And I’ve made the trip every year since. So you tell Flood when he comes in, that Pete Slaughter was here, and that he’s going to build a bridge, and would like to have him and his outfit help.”
Had it not been for his youth and perpetual smile, we might have taken young Slaughter more seriously, for both Quince Forrest and The Rebel remembered the bridge on Rush Creek over on the Chisholm. Still there was an air of confident assurance in the young fellow; and the fact that he was the trusted foreman of Lum Slaughter, in charge of a valuable herd of cattle, carried weight with those who knew that drover. The most unwelcome thought in the project was that it required the swinging of an axe to fell trees and to cut them into the necessary lengths, and, as I have said before, the Texan never took kindly to manual labor. But Priest looked favorably on the suggestion, and so enlisted my support, and even pointed out a spot where timber was most abundant as a suitable place to build the bridge.
“Hell’s fire,” said Joe Stallings, with infinite contempt, “there’s thousands of places to build a bridge, and the timber’s there, but the idea is to cut it.” And his sentiments found a hearty approval in the majority of the outfit.
Flood returned late that evening, having ridden as far down the creek as the first settlement. The Rebel, somewhat antagonized by the attitude of the majority, reported the visit and message left for him by young Slaughter. Our foreman knew him by general reputation amongst trail bosses, and when Priest vouched for him as the builder of the Rush Creek bridge on the Chisholm trail, Flood said, “Why, I crossed my herd four years ago on that Rush Creek bridge within a week after it was built, and wondered who it could be that had the nerve to undertake that task. Rush isn’t over half as wide a bayou as Boggy, but she’s a true little sister to this miry slough. So he’s going to build a bridge anyhow, is he?”
The next morning young Slaughter was at our camp before sunrise, and never once mentioning his business or waiting for the formality of an invitation, proceeded to pour out a tin cup of coffee and otherwise provide himself with a substantial breakfast. There was something amusing in the audacity of the fellow which all of us liked, though he was fifteen years the junior of our foreman. McCann pointed out Flood to him, and taking his well-loaded plate, he went over and sat down by our foreman, and while he ate talked rapidly, to enlist our outfit in the building of the bridge. During breakfast, the outfit listened to the two bosses as they discussed the feasibility of the project,–Slaughter enthusiastic, Flood reserved, and asking all sorts of questions as to the mode of procedure. Young Pete met every question with promptness, and assured our foreman that the building of bridges was his long suit. After breakfast, the two foremen rode off down the creek together, and within half an hour Slaughter’s wagon and _remuda_ pulled up within sight of the regular crossing, and shortly afterwards our foreman returned, and ordered our wagon to pull down to a clump of cotton woods which grew about half a mile below our camp. Two men were detailed to look after our herd during the day, and the remainder of us returned with our foreman to the site selected for the bridge. On our arrival three axes were swinging against as many cottonwoods, and there was no doubt in any one’s mind that we were going to be under a new foreman for that day at least. Slaughter had a big negro cook who swung an axe in a manner which bespoke him a job for the day, and McCann was instructed to provide dinner for the extra outfit.
The site chosen for the bridge was a miry bottom over which oozed three or four inches of water, where the width of the stream was about sixty feet, with solid banks on either side. To get a good foundation was the most important matter, but the brush from the trees would supply the material for that; and within an hour, brush began to arrive, dragged from the pommels of saddles, and was piled into the stream. About this time a call went out for a volunteer who could drive oxen, for the darky was too good an axeman to be recalled. As I had driven oxen as a boy, I was going to offer my services, when Joe Stallings eagerly volunteered in order to avoid using an axe. Slaughter had some extra chain, and our four mules were pressed into service as an extra team in snaking logs. As McCann was to provide for the inner man, the mule team fell to me; and putting my saddle on the nigh wheeler, I rode jauntily past Mr. Stallings as he trudged alongside his two yoke of oxen.
About ten o’clock in the morning, George Jacklin, the foreman of the Millet herd, rode up with several of his men, and seeing the bridge taking shape, turned in and assisted in dragging brush for the foundation. By the time all hands knocked off for dinner, we had a foundation of brush twenty feet wide and four feet high, to say nothing about what had sunk in the mire. The logs were cut about fourteen feet long, and old Joe and I had snaked them up as fast as the axemen could get them ready. Jacklin returned to his wagon for dinner and a change of horses, though Slaughter, with plenty of assurance, had invited him to eat with us, and when he declined had remarked, with no less confidence, “Well, then, you’ll be back right after dinner. And say, bring all the men you can spare; and if you’ve got any gunny sacks or old tarpaulins, bring them; and by all means don’t forget your spade.”
Pete Slaughter was a harsh master, considering he was working volunteer labor; but then we all felt a common interest in the bridge, for if Slaughter’s beeves could cross, ours could, and so could Millet’s. All the men dragging brush changed horses during dinner, for there was to be no pause in piling in a good foundation as long as the material was at hand. Jacklin and his outfit returned, ten strong, and with thirty men at work, the bridge grew. They began laying the logs on the brush after dinner, and the work of sodding the bridge went forward at the same time. The bridge stood about two feet above the water in the creek, but when near the middle of the stream was reached, the foundation gave way, and for an hour ten horses were kept busy dragging brush to fill that sink hole until it would bear the weight of the logs. We had used all the acceptable timber on our side of the stream for half a mile either way, and yet there were not enough logs to complete the bridge. When we lacked only some ten or twelve logs, Slaughter had the boys sod a narrow strip across the remaining brush, and the horsemen led their mounts across to the farther side. Then the axemen crossed, felled the nearest trees, and the last logs were dragged up from the pommels of our saddles.
It now only remained to sod over and dirt the bridge thoroughly. With only three spades the work was slow, but we cut sod with axes, and after several hours’ work had it finished. The two yoke of oxen were driven across and back for a test, and the bridge stood it nobly. Slaughter then brought up his _remuda_, and while the work of dirting the bridge was still going on, crossed and recrossed his band of saddle horses twenty times. When the bridge looked completed to every one else, young Pete advised laying stringers across on either side; so a number of small trees were felled and guard rails strung across the ends of the logs and staked. Then more dirt was carried in on tarpaulins and in gunny sacks, and every chink and crevice filled with sod and dirt. It was now getting rather late in the afternoon, but during the finishing touches, young Slaughter had dispatched his outfit to bring up his herd; and at the same time Flood had sent a number of our outfit to bring up our cattle. Now Slaughter and the rest of us took the oxen, which we had unyoked, and went out about a quarter of a mile to meet his herd coming up. Turning the oxen in the lead, young Pete took one point and Flood the other, and pointed in the lead cattle for the bridge. On reaching it the cattle hesitated for a moment, and it looked as though they were going to balk, but finally one of the oxen took the lead, and they began to cross in almost Indian file. They were big four and five year old beeves, and too many of them on the bridge at one time might have sunk it, but Slaughter rode back down the line of cattle and called to the men to hold them back.
“Don’t crowd the cattle,” he shouted. “Give them all the time they want. We’re in no hurry now; there’s lots of time.”
They were a full half hour in crossing, the chain of cattle taking the bridge never for a moment being broken. Once all were over, his men rode to the lead and turned the herd up Boggy, in order to have it well out of the way of ours, which were then looming up in sight. Slaughter asked Flood if he wanted the oxen; and as our cattle had never seen a bridge in their lives, the foreman decided to use them; so we brought them back and met the herd, now strung out nearly a mile. Our cattle were naturally wild, but we turned the oxen in the lead, and the two bosses again taking the points, moved the herd up to the bridge. The oxen were again slow to lead out in crossing, and several hundred head of cattle had congested in front of the new bridge, making us all rather nervous, when a big white ox led off, his mate following, and the herd began timidly to follow. Our cattle required careful handling, and not a word was spoken as we nursed them forward, or rode through them to scatter large bunches. A number of times we cut the train of cattle off entirely, as they were congesting at the bridge entrance, and, in crossing, shied and crowded so that several were forced off the bridge into the mire. Our herd crossed in considerably less time than did Slaughter’s beeves, but we had five head to pull out; this, however, was considered nothing, as they were light, and the mire was as thin as soup. Our wagon and saddle horses crossed while we were pulling out the bogged cattle, and about half the outfit, taking the herd, drifted them forward towards the Solomon. Since Millet intended crossing that evening, herds were likely to be too thick for safety at night. The sun was hardly an hour high when the last herd came up to cross. The oxen were put in the lead, as with ours, and all four of the oxen took the bridge, but when the cattle reached the bridge, they made a decided balk and refused to follow the oxen. Not a hoof of the herd would even set foot on the bridge. The oxen were brought back several times, but in spite of all coaxing and nursing, and our best endeavors and devices, they would not risk it. We worked with them until dusk, when all three of the foremen decided it was useless to try longer, but both Slaughter and Flood promised to bring back part of their outfits in the morning and make another effort.
McCann’s camp-fire piloted us to our wagon, at least three miles from the bridge, for he had laid in a good supply of wood during the day; and on our arrival our night horses were tied up, and everything made ready for the night. The next morning we started the herd, but Flood took four of us with him and went back to Big Boggy. The Millet herd was nearly two miles back from the bridge, where we found Slaughter at Jacklin’s wagon; and several more of his men were, we learned, coming over with the oxen at about ten o’clock. That hour was considered soon enough by the bosses, as the heat of the day would be on the herd by that time, which would make them lazy. When the oxen arrived at the bridge, we rode out twenty strong and lined the cattle up for another trial. They had grazed until they were full and sleepy, but the memory of some of them was too vivid of the hours they had spent in the slimy ooze of Big Boggy once on a time, and they began milling on sight of the stream. We took them back and brought them up a second time with the same results. We then brought them around in a circle a mile in diameter, and as the rear end of the herd was passing, we turned the last hundred, and throwing the oxen into their lead, started them for the bridge; but they too sulked and would have none of it. It was now high noon, so we turned the herd and allowed them to graze back while we went to dinner. Millet’s foreman was rather discouraged with the outlook, but Slaughter said they must be crossed if he had to lay over a week and help. After dinner, Jacklin asked us if we wanted a change of horses, and as we could see a twenty mile ride ahead of us in overtaking our herd, Flood accepted.
When all was ready to start, Slaughter made a suggestion. “Let’s go out,” he said, “and bring them up slowly in a solid body, and when we get them opposite the bridge, round them in gradually as if we were going to bed them down. I’ll take a long lariat to my white wheeler, and when they have quieted down perfectly, I’ll lead old Blanco through them and across the bridge, and possibly they’ll follow. There’s no use crowding them, for that only excites them, and if you ever start them milling, the jig’s up. They’re nice, gentle cattle, but they’ve been balked once and they haven’t forgotten it.”
What we needed right then was a leader, for we were all ready to catch at a straw, and Slaughter’s suggestion was welcome, for he had established himself in our good graces until we preferred him to either of the other foremen as a leader. Riding out to the herd, which were lying down, we roused and started them back towards Boggy. While drifting them back, we covered a front a quarter of a mile in width, and as we neared the bridge we gave them perfect freedom. Slaughter had caught out his white ox, and we gradually worked them into a body, covering perhaps ten acres, in front of the bridge. Several small bunches attempted to mill, but some of us rode in and split them up, and after about half an hour’s wait, they quieted down. Then Slaughter rode in whistling and leading his white ox at the end of a thirty-five foot lariat, and as he rode through them they were so logy that he had to quirt them out of the way. When he came to the bridge, he stopped the white wheeler until everything had quieted down; then he led old Blanco on again, but giving him all the time he needed and stopping every few feet. We held our breath, as one or two of the herd started to follow him, but they shied and turned back, and our hopes of the moment were crushed. Slaughter detained the ox on the bridge for several minutes, but seeing it was useless, he dismounted and drove him back into the herd. Again and again he tried the same ruse, but it was of no avail. Then we threw the herd back about half a mile, and on Flood’s suggestion cut off possibly two hundred head, a bunch which with our numbers we ought to handle readily in spite of their will, and by putting their _remuda_ of over a hundred saddle horses in the immediate lead, made the experiment of forcing them. We took the saddle horses down and crossed and recrossed the bridge several times with them, and as the cattle came up turned the horses into the lead and headed for the bridge. With a cordon of twenty riders around them, no animal could turn back, and the horses crossed the bridge on a trot, but the cattle turned tail and positively refused to have anything to do with it. We held them like a block in a vise, so compactly that they could not even mill, but they would not cross the bridge.
When it became evident that it was a fruitless effort, Jacklin, usually a very quiet man, gave vent to a fit of profanity which would have put the army in Flanders to shame. Slaughter, somewhat to our amusement, reproved him: “Don’t fret, man; this is nothing,–I balked a herd once in crossing a railroad track, and after trying for two days to cross them, had to drive ten miles and put them under a culvert. You want to cultivate patience, young fellow, when you’re handling dumb brutes.”
If Slaughter’s darky cook had been thereabouts then, and suggested a means of getting that herd to take the bridge, his suggestion would have been welcomed, for the bosses were at their wits’ ends. Jacklin swore that he would bed that herd at the entrance, and hold them there until they starved to death or crossed, before he would let an animal turn back. But cooler heads were present, and The Rebel mentioned a certain adage, to the effect that when a bird or a girl, he didn’t know which, could sing and wouldn’t, she or it ought to be made to sing. He suggested that we hold the four oxen on the bridge, cut off fifteen head of cattle, and give them such a running start, they wouldn’t know which end their heads were on when they reached the bridge. Millet’s foreman approved of the idea, for he was nursing his wrath. The four oxen were accordingly cut out, and Slaughter and one of his men, taking them, started for the bridge with instructions to hold them on the middle. The rest of us took about a dozen head of light cattle, brought them within a hundred yards of the bridge, then with a yell started them on a run from which they could not turn back. They struck the entrance squarely, and we had our first cattle on the bridge. Two men held the entrance, and we brought up another bunch in the same manner, which filled the bridge. Now, we thought, if the herd could be brought up slowly, and this bridgeful let off in their lead, they might follow. To June a herd of cattle across in this manner would have been shameful, and the foreman of the herd knew it as well as any one present; but no one protested, so we left men to hold the entrance securely and went back after the herd. When we got them within a quarter of a mile of the creek, we cut off about two hundred head of the leaders and brought them around to the rear, for amongst these leaders were certain to be the ones which had been bogged, and we wanted to have new leaders in this trial. Slaughter was on the farther end of the bridge, and could be depended on to let the oxen lead off at the opportune moment. We brought them up cautiously, and when the herd came within a few rods of the creek the cattle on the bridge lowed to their mates in the herd, and Slaughter, considering the time favorable, opened out and allowed them to leave the bridge on the farther side. As soon as the cattle started leaving on the farther side, we dropped back, and the leaders of the herd to the number of a dozen, after smelling the fresh dirt and seeing the others crossing, walked cautiously up on the bridge. It was a moment of extreme anxiety. None of us spoke a word, but the cattle crowding off the bridge at the farther end set it vibrating. That was enough: they turned as if panic-stricken and rushed back to the body of the herd. I was almost afraid to look at Jacklin. He could scarcely speak, but he rode over to me, ashen with rage, and kept repeating, “Well, wouldn’t that beat hell!”
Slaughter rode back across the bridge, and the men came up and gathered around Jacklin. We seemed to have run the full length of our rope. No one even had a suggestion to offer, and if any one had had, it needed to be a plausible one to find approval, for hope seemed to have vanished. While discussing the situation, a one-eyed, pox-marked fellow belonging to Slaughter’s outfit galloped up from the rear, and said almost breathlessly, “Say, fellows, I see a cow and calf in the herd. Let’s rope the calf, and the cow is sure to follow. Get the rope around the calf’s neck, and when it chokes him, he’s liable to bellow, and that will call the steers. And if you never let up on the choking till you get on the other side of the bridge, I think it’ll work. Let’s try it, anyhow.”
We all approved, for we knew that next to the smell of blood, nothing will stir range cattle like the bellowing of a calf. At the mere suggestion, Jacklin’s men scattered into the herd, and within a few minutes we had a rope round the neck of the calf. As the roper came through the herd leading the calf, the frantic mother followed, with a train of excited steers at her heels. And as the calf was dragged bellowing across the bridge, it was followed by excited, struggling steers who never knew whether they were walking on a bridge or on _terra firma_. The excitement spread through the herd, and they thickened around the entrance until it was necessary to hold them back, and only let enough pass to keep the chain unbroken.
They were nearly a half hour in crossing, for it was fully as large a herd as ours; and when the last animal had crossed, Pete Slaughter stood up in his stirrups and led the long yell. The sun went down that day on nobody’s wrath, for Jacklin was so tickled that he offered to kill the fattest beef in his herd if we would stay overnight with him. All three of the herds were now over, but had not this herd balked on us the evening before, over nine thousand cattle would have crossed Slaughter’s bridge the day it was built.
It was now late in the evening, and as we had to wait some little time to get our own horses, we stayed for supper. It was dark before we set out to overtake the herd, but the trail was plain, and letting our horses take their own time, we jollied along until after midnight. We might have missed the camp, but, by the merest chance, Priest sighted our camp-fire a mile off the trail, though it had burned to embers. On reaching camp, we changed saddles to our night horses, and, calling Officer, were ready for our watch. We were expecting the men on guard to call us any minute, and while Priest was explaining to Officer the trouble we had had in crossing the Millet herd, I dozed off to sleep there as I sat by the rekindled embers. In that minute’s sleep my mind wandered in a dream to my home on the San Antonio River, but the next moment I was aroused to the demands of the hour by The Rebel shaking me and saying,–“Wake up, Tom, and take a new hold. They’re calling us on guard. If you expect to follow the trail, son, you must learn to do your sleeping in the winter.”
After leaving the country tributary to the Solomon River, we crossed a wide tableland for nearly a hundred miles, and with the exception of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, without a landmark worthy of a name. Western Kansas was then classified, worthily too, as belonging to the Great American Desert, and most of the country for the last five hundred miles of our course was entitled to a similar description. Once the freshness of spring had passed, the plain took on her natural sunburnt color, and day after day, as far as the eye could reach, the monotony was unbroken, save by the variations of the mirages on every hand. Except at morning and evening, we were never out of sight of these optical illusions, sometimes miles away, and then again close up, when an antelope standing half a mile distant looked as tall as a giraffe. Frequently the lead of the herd would be in eclipse from these illusions, when to the men in the rear the horsemen and cattle in the lead would appear like giants in an old fairy story. If the monotony of the sea can be charged with dulling men’s sensibilities until they become pirates, surely this desolate, arid plain might be equally charged with the wrongdoing of not a few of our craft.
On crossing the railroad at Grinnell, our foreman received a letter from Lovell, directing him to go to Culbertson, Nebraska, and there meet a man who was buying horses for a Montana ranch. Our employer had his business eye open for a possible purchaser for our _remuda_, and if the horses could be sold for delivery after the herd had reached its destination, the opportunity was not to be overlooked. Accordingly, on reaching Beaver Creek, where we encamped, Flood left us to ride through to the Republican River during the night. The trail crossed this river about twenty miles west of Culbertson, and if the Montana horse buyer were yet there, it would be no trouble to come up to the trail crossing and look at our horses.
So after supper, and while we were catching up our night horses, Flood said to us, “Now, boys, I’m going to leave the outfit and herd under Joe Stallings as _segundo_. It’s hardly necessary to leave you under any one as foreman, for you all know your places. But some one must be made responsible, and one bad boss will do less harm than half a dozen that mightn’t agree. So you can put Honeyman on guard in your place at night, Joe, if you don’t want to stand your own watch. Now behave yourselves, and when I meet you on the Republican, I’ll bring out a box of cigars and have it charged up as axle grease when we get supplies at Ogalalla. And don’t sit up all night telling fool stories.”
“Now, that’s what I call a good cow boss,” said Joe Stallings, as our foreman rode away in the twilight; “besides, he used passable good judgment in selecting a _segundo_. Now, Honeyman, you heard what he said. Billy dear, I won’t rob you of this chance to stand a guard. McCann, have you got on your next list of supplies any jam and jelly for Sundays? You have? That’s right, son–that saves you from standing a guard tonight. Officer, when you come off guard at 3.30 in the morning, build the cook up a good fire. Let me see; yes, and I’ll detail young Tom Quirk and The Rebel to grease the wagon and harness your mules before starting in the morning. I want to impress it on your mind, McCann, that I can appreciate a thoughtful cook. What’s that, Honeyman? No, indeed, you can’t ride my night horse. Love me, love my dog; my horse shares this snap. Now, I don’t want to be under the necessity of speaking to any of you first guard, but flop into your saddles ready to take the herd. My turnip says it’s eight o’clock now.”
“Why, you’ve missed your calling–you’d make a fine second mate on a river steamboat, driving niggers,” called back Quince Forrest, as the first guard rode away.
When our guard returned, Officer intentionally walked across Stallings’s bed, and catching his spur in the tarpaulin, fell heavily across our _segundo_.
“Excuse me,” said John, rising, “but I was just nosing around looking for the foreman. Oh, it’s you, is it? I just wanted to ask if 4.30 wouldn’t be plenty early to build up the fire. Wood’s a little scarce, but I’ll burn the prairies if you say so. That’s all I wanted to know; you may lay down now and go to sleep.”
Our camp-fire that night was a good one, and in the absence of Flood, no one felt like going to bed until drowsiness compelled us. So we lounged around the fire smoking the hours away, and in spite of the admonition of our foreman, told stories far into the night. During the early portion of the evening, dog stories occupied the boards. As the evening wore on, the subject of revisiting the old States came up for discussion.
“You all talk about going back to the old States,” said Joe Stallings, “but I don’t take very friendly to the idea. I felt that way once and went home to Tennessee; but I want to tell you that after you live a few years in the sunny Southwest and get onto her ways, you can’t stand it back there like you think you can. Now, when I went back, and I reckon my relations will average up pretty well,–fought in the Confederate army, vote the Democratic ticket, and belong to the Methodist church,–they all seemed to be rapidly getting locoed. Why, my uncles, when they think of planting the old buck field or the widow’s acre into any crop, they first go projecting around in the soil, and, as they say, analyze it, to see what kind of a fertilizer it will require to produce the best results. Back there if one man raises ten acres of corn and his neighbor raises twelve, the one raising twelve is sure to look upon the other as though he lacked enterprise or had modest ambitions. Now, up around that old cow town, Abilene, Kansas, it’s a common sight to see the cornfields stretch out like an ocean.
“And then their stock–they are all locoed about that. Why, I know people who will pay a hundred dollars for siring a colt, and if there’s one drop of mongrel blood in that sire’s veins for ten generations back on either side of his ancestral tree, it condemns him, though he may be a good horse otherwise. They are strong on standard bred horses; but as for me, my mount is all right. I wouldn’t trade with any man in this outfit, without it would be Flood, and there’s none of them standard bred either. Why, shucks! if you had the pick of all the standard bred horses in Tennessee, you couldn’t handle a herd of cattle like ours with them, without carrying a commissary with you to feed them. No; they would never fit here–it takes a range-raised horse to run cattle; one that can rustle and live on grass.”
[Illustration: STORY TELLING]
“Another thing about those people back in those old States: Not one in ten, I’ll gamble, knows the teacher he sends his children to school to. But when he has a promising colt to be shod, the owner goes to the blacksmith shop himself, and he and the smith will sit on the back sill of the shop, and they will discuss how to shoe that filly so as to give her certain knee action which she seems to need. Probably, says one, a little weight on her toe would give her reach. And there they will sit and powwow and make medicine for an hour or two. And while the blacksmith is shoeing her, the owner will tell him in confidence what a wonderful burst of speed she developed yesterday, while he was speeding her on the back stretch. And then just as he turned her into the home stretch, she threw a shoe and he had to check her in; but if there’d been any one to catch her time, he was certain it was better than a two-ten clip. And that same colt, you couldn’t cut a lame cow out of the shade of a tree on her. A man back there–he’s rich, too, though his father made it–gave a thousand dollars for a pair of dogs before they were born. The terms were one half cash and the balance when they were old enough to ship to him. And for fear they were not the proper mustard, he had that dog man sue him in court for the balance, so as to make him prove the pedigree. Now Bob, there, thinks that old hound of his is the real stuff, but he wouldn’t do now; almost every year the style changes in dogs back in the old States. One year maybe it’s a little white dog with red eyes, and the very next it’s a long bench-legged, black dog with a Dutch name that right now I disremember. Common old pot hounds and everyday yellow dogs have gone out of style entirely. No, you can all go back that want to, but as long as I can hold a job with Lovell and Flood, I’ll try and worry along in my own way.”
On finishing his little yarn, Stallings arose, saying, “I must take a listen to my men on herd. It always frets me for fear my men will ride too near the cattle.”
A minute later he called us, and when several of us walked out to where he was listening, we recognized Roundtree’s voice, singing:–
“Little black bull came down the hillside, Down the hillside, down the hillside, Little black bull came down the hillside, Long time ago.”
“Whenever my men sing that song on guard, it tells me that everything is amply serene,” remarked our _segundo_, with the air of a field-marshal, as we walked back to the fire.
The evening had passed so rapidly it was now almost time for the second guard to be called, and when the lateness of the hour was announced, we skurried to our blankets like rabbits to their warrens. The second guard usually got an hour or two of sleep before being called, but in the absence of our regular foreman, the mice would play. When our guard was called at one o’clock, as usual, Officer delayed us several minutes looking for his spurs, and I took the chance to ask The Rebel why it was that he never wore spurs.
“It’s because I’m superstitious, son,” he answered. “I own a fine pair of silver-plated spurs that have a history, and if you’re ever at Lovell’s ranch I’ll show them to you. They were given to me by a mortally wounded Federal officer the day the battle of Lookout Mountain was fought. I was an orderly, carrying dispatches, and in passing through a wood from which the Union army had been recently driven, this officer was sitting at the root of a tree, fatally wounded. He motioned me to him, and when I dismounted, he said, ‘Johnny Reb, please give a dying man a drink.’ I gave him my canteen, and after drinking from it he continued, ‘I want you to have my spurs. Take them off. Listen to their history: as you have taken them off me to-day, so I took them off a Mexican general the day the American army entered the capital of Mexico.'”
The outfit were awakened out of sleep the next morning by shouts of “Whoa, _mula_! Whoa, you mongrel outcasts! Catch them blankety blank mules!” accompanied by a rattle of chain harness, and Quince Forrest dashed across our _segundo’s_ bed, shaking a harness in each hand. We kicked the blankets off, and came to our feet in time to see the offender disappear behind the wagon, while Stallings sat up and yawningly inquired “what other locoed fool had got funny.” But the camp was awake, for the cattle were leisurely leaving the bed ground, while Honeyman, who had been excused from the herd with the first sign of dawn, was rustling up the horses in the valley of the Beaver below camp. With the understanding that the Republican River was a short three days’ drive from our present camp, the herd trailed out the first day with not an incident to break the monotony of eating and sleeping, grazing and guarding. But near noon of the second day, we were overtaken by an old, long-whiskered man and a boy of possibly fifteen. They were riding in a light, rickety vehicle, drawn by a small Spanish mule and a rough but clean-limbed bay mare. The strangers appealed to our sympathy, for they were guileless in appearance, and asked so many questions, indicating that ours might have been the first herd of trail cattle they had ever seen. The old man was a free talker, and innocently allowed us to inveigle it out of him that he had been down on the North Beaver, looking up land to homestead, and was then on his way up to take a look at the lands along the Republican. We invited him and the boy to remain for dinner, for in that monotonous waste, we would have been only too glad to entertain a bandit, or an angel for that matter, provided he would talk about something else than cattle. In our guest, however, we found a good conversationalist, meaty with stories not eligible to the retired list; and in return, the hospitality of our wagon was his and welcome. The travel-stained old rascal proved to be a good mixer, and before dinner was over he had won us to a man, though Stallings, in the capacity of foreman, felt it incumbent on him to act the host in behalf of the outfit. In the course of conversation, the old man managed to unearth the fact that our acting foreman was a native of Tennessee, and when he had got it down to town and county, claimed acquaintanceship with a family of men in that locality who were famed as breeders of racehorses. Our guest admitted that he himself was a native of that State, and in his younger days had been a devotee of the racecourse, with the name of every horseman in that commonwealth as well as the bluegrass regions of Kentucky on his tongue’s end. But adversity had come upon him, and now he was looking out a new country in which to begin life over again.
After dinner, when our _remuda_ was corralled to catch fresh mounts, our guest bubbled over with admiration of our horses, and pointed out several as promising speed and action. We took his praise of our horseflesh as quite a compliment, never suspecting flattery at the hands of this nomadic patriarch. He innocently inquired which was considered the fastest horse in the _remuda_, when Stallings pointed out a brown, belonging to Flood’s mount, as the best quarter horse in the band. He gave him a critical examination, and confessed he would never have picked him for a horse possessing speed, though he admitted that he was unfamiliar with range-raised horses, this being his first visit in the West. Stallings offered to loan him a horse out of his mount, and as the old man had no saddle, our _segundo_ prevailed on McCann to loan his for the afternoon. I am inclined to think there was a little jealousy amongst us that afternoon, as to who was best entitled to entertain our company; and while he showed no partiality, Stallings seemed to monopolize his countryman to our disadvantage. The two jollied along from point to rear and back again, and as they passed us riders in the swing, Stallings ignored us entirely, though the old man always had a pleasant word as he rode by.
“If we don’t do something to wean our _segundo_ from that old man,” said Fox Quarternight, as he rode up and overtook me, “he’s liable to quit the herd and follow that old fossil back to Tennessee or some other port. Just look at the two now, will you? Old Joe’s putting on as much dog as though he was asking the Colonel for his daughter. Between me and you and the gatepost, Quirk, I ‘m a little dubious about the old varmint–he talks too much.”
But I had warmed up to our guest, and gave Fox’s criticism very little weight, well knowing if any one of us had been left in charge, he would have shown the old man similar courtesies. In this view I was correct, for when Stallings had ridden on ahead to look up water that afternoon, the very man that entirely monopolized our guest for an hour was Mr. John Fox Quarternight. Nor did he jar loose until we reached water, when Stallings cut him off by sending all the men on the right of the herd to hold the cattle from grazing away until every hoof had had ample time to drink. During this rest, the old man circulated around, asking questions as usual, and when I informed him that, with a half mile of water front, it would take a full hour to water the herd properly, he expressed an innocent amazement which seemed as simple as sincere. When the wagon and _remuda_ came up, I noticed the boy had tied his team behind our wagon, and was riding one of Honeyman’s horses bareback, assisting the wrangler in driving the saddle stock. After the wagon had crossed the creek, and the kegs had been filled and the teams watered, Stallings took the old man with him and the two rode away in the lead of the wagon and _remuda_ to select a camp and a bed ground for the night. The rest of us grazed the cattle, now thoroughly watered, forward until the wagon was sighted, when, leaving two men as usual to nurse them up to bed, the remainder of us struck out for camp. As I rode in, I sought out my bunkie to get his opinion regarding our guest. But The Rebel was reticent, as usual, of his opinions of people, so my inquiries remained unanswered, which only served to increase my confidence in the old man.
On arriving at camp we found Stallings and Honeyman entertaining our visitor in a little game of freeze-out for a dollar a corner, while McCann looked wistfully on, as if regretting that his culinary duties prevented his joining in. Our arrival should have been the signal to our wrangler for rounding in the _remuda_ for night horses, but Stallings was too absorbed in the game even to notice the lateness of the hour and order in the saddle stock. Quarternight, however, had a few dollars burning holes in his pocket, and he called our horse rustler’s attention to the approaching twilight; not that he was in any hurry, but if Honeyman vacated, he saw an opportunity to get into the game. The foreman gave the necessary order, and Quarternight at once bargained for the wrangler’s remaining beans, and sat into the game. While we were catching up our night horses, Honeyman told us that the old man had been joking Stallings about the speed of Flood’s brown, even going so far as to intimate that he didn’t believe that the gelding could outrun that old bay harness mare which he was driving. He had confessed that he was too hard up to wager much on it, but he would risk a few dollars on his judgment on a running horse any day. He also said that Stallings had come back at him, more in earnest than in jest, that if he really thought his harness mare could outrun the brown, he could win every dollar the outfit had. They had codded one another until Joe had shown some spirit, when the old man suggested they play a little game of cards for fun, but Stallings had insisted on stakes to make it interesting, and on the old homesteader pleading poverty, they had agreed to make it for a dollar on the corner. After supper our _segundo_ wanted to renew the game; the old man protested that he was too unlucky and could not afford to lose, but was finally persuaded to play one more game, “just to pass away the evening.” Well, the evening passed, and within the short space of two hours, there also passed to the supposed lean purse of our guest some twenty dollars from the feverish pockets of the outfit. Then the old man felt too sleepy to play any longer, but loitered around some time, and casually inquired of his boy if he had picketed their mare where she would get a good bait of grass. This naturally brought up the proposed race for discussion.
“If you really think that that old bay palfrey of yours can outrun any horse in our _remuda_,” said Stallings, tauntingly, “you’re missing the chance of your life not to pick up a few honest dollars as you journey along. You stay with us to-morrow, and when we meet our foreman at the Republican, if he’ll loan me the horse, I’ll give you a race for any sum you name, just to show you that I’ve got a few drops of sporting blood in me. And if your mare can outrun a cow, you stand an easy chance to win some money.”
Our visitor met Joe’s bantering in a timid manner. Before turning in, however, he informed us that he appreciated our hospitality, but that he expected to make an early drive in the morning to the Republican, where he might camp several days. With this the old man and the boy unrolled their blankets, and both were soon sound asleep. Then our _segundo_ quietly took Fox Quarternight off to one side, and I heard the latter agree to call him when the third guard was aroused. Having notified Honeyman that he would stand his own watch that night, Stallings, with the rest of the outfit, soon joined the old man in the land of dreams. Instead of the rough shaking which was customary on arousing a guard, when we of the third watch were called, we were awakened in a manner so cautious as to betoken something unusual in the air. The atmosphere of mystery soon cleared after reaching the herd, when Bob Blades informed us that it was the intention of Stallings and Quarternight to steal the old man’s harness mare off the picket rope, and run her against their night horses in a trial race. Like love and war, everything is fair in horse racing, but the audacity of this proposition almost passed belief. Both Blades and Durham remained on guard with us, and before we had circled the herd half a dozen times, the two conspirators came riding up to the bed ground, leading the bay mare. There was a good moon that night; Quarternight exchanged mounts with John Officer, as the latter had a splendid night horse that had outstripped the outfit in every stampede so far, and our _segundo_ and the second guard rode out of hearing of both herd and camp to try out the horses.
After an hour, the quartette returned, and under solemn pledges of secrecy Stallings said, “Why, that old bay harness mare can’t run fast enough to keep up with a funeral. I rode her myself, and if she’s got any run in her, rowel and quirt won’t bring it out. That chestnut of John’s ran away from her as if she was hobbled and side-lined, while this coyote of mine threw dust in her face every jump in the road from the word ‘go.’ If the old man isn’t bluffing and will hack his mare, we’ll get back our freeze-out money with good interest. Mind you, now, we must keep it a dead secret from Flood–that we’ve tried the mare; he might get funny and tip the old man.”
We all swore great oaths that Flood should never hear a breath of it. The conspirators and their accomplices rode into camp, and we resumed our sentinel rounds. I had some money, and figured that betting in a cinch like this would be like finding money in the road.
But The Rebel, when we were returning from guard, said, “Tom, you keep out of this race the boys are trying to jump up. I’ve met a good many innocent men in my life, and there’s something about this old man that reminds me of people who have an axe to grind. Let the other fellows run on the rope if they want to, but you keep your money in your pocket. Take an older man’s advice this once. And I’m going to round up John in the morning, and try and beat a little sense into his head, for he thinks it’s a dead immortal cinch.”
I had made it a rule, during our brief acquaintance, never to argue matters with my bunkie, well knowing that his years and experience in the ways of the world entitled his advice to my earnest consideration. So I kept silent, though secretly wishing he had not taken the trouble to throw cold water on my hopes, for I had built several air castles with the money which seemed within my grasp. We had been out then over four months, and I, like many of the other boys, was getting ragged, and with Ogalalla within a week’s drive, a town which it took money to see properly, I thought it a burning shame to let this opportunity pass. When I awoke the next morning the camp was astir, and my first look was in the direction of the harness mare, grazing peacefully on the picket rope where she had been tethered the night before.
Breakfast over, our venerable visitor harnessed in his team, preparatory to starting. Stallings had made it a point to return to the herd for a parting word.
“Well, if you must go on ahead,” said Joe to the old man, as the latter was ready to depart, “remember that you can get action on your money, if you still think that your bay mare can outrun that brown cow horse which I pointed out to you yesterday. You needn’t let your poverty interfere, for we’ll run you to suit your purse, light or heavy. The herd will reach the river by the middle of the afternoon, or a little later, and you be sure and stay overnight there,–stay with us if you want to,–and we’ll make up a little race for any sum you say, from marbles and chalk to a hundred dollars. I may be as badly deceived in your mare as I think you are in my horse; but if you’re a Tennesseean, here’s your chance.”
But beyond giving Stallings his word that he would see him again during the afternoon or evening, the old man would make no definite proposition, and drove away. There was a difference of opinion amongst the outfit, some asserting that we would never see him again, while the larger portion of us were at least hopeful that we would. After our guest was well out of sight, and before the wagon started, Stallings corralled the _remuda_ a second time, and taking out Flood’s brown and Officer’s chestnut, tried the two horses for a short dash of about a hundred yards. The trial confirmed the general opinion of the outfit, for the brown outran the chestnut over four lengths, starting half a neck in the rear. A general canvass of the outfit was taken, and to my surprise there was over three hundred dollars amongst us. I had over forty dollars, but I only promised to loan mine if it was needed, while Priest refused flat-footed either to lend or bet his. I wanted to bet, and it would grieve me to the quick if there was any chance and I didn’t take it–but I was young then.
Flood met us at noon about seven miles out from the Republican with the superintendent of a cattle company in Montana, and, before we started the herd after dinner, had sold our _remuda_, wagon, and mules for delivery at the nearest railroad point to the Blackfoot Agency sometime during September. This cattle company, so we afterwards learned from Flood, had headquarters at Helena, while their ranges were somewhere on the headwaters of the Missouri. But the sale of the horses seemed to us an insignificant matter, compared with the race which was on the tapis; and when Stallings had made the ablest talk of his life for the loan of the brown, Flood asked the new owner, a Texan himself, if he had any objections.
“Certainly not,” said he; “let the boys have a little fun. I’m glad to know that the _remuda_ has fast horses in it. Why didn’t you tell me, Flood?–I might have paid you extra if I had known I was buying racehorses. Be sure and have the race come off this evening, for I want to see it.”
And he was not only good enough to give his consent, but added a word of advice. “There’s a deadfall down here on the river,” said he, “that robs a man going and coming. They’ve got booze to sell you that would make a pet rabbit fight a wolf. And if you can’t stand the whiskey, why, they have skin games running to fleece you as fast as you can get your money to the centre. Be sure, lads, and let both their whiskey and cards alone.”
While changing mounts after dinner, Stallings caught out the brown horse and tied him behind the wagon, while Flood and the horse buyer returned to the river in the conveyance, our foreman having left his horse at the ford. When we reached the Republican with the herd about two hours before sundown, and while we were crossing and watering, who should ride up on the Spanish mule but our Tennessee friend. If anything, he was a trifle more talkative and boastful than before, which was easily accounted for, as it was evident that he was drinking; and producing a large bottle which had but a few drinks left in it, insisted on every one taking a drink with him. He said he was encamped half a mile down the river, and that he would race his mare against our horse for fifty dollars; that if we were in earnest, and would go back with him and post our money at the tent, he would cover it. Then Stallings in turn became crafty and diplomatic, and after asking a number of unimportant questions regarding conditions, returned to the joint with the old man, taking Fox Quarternight. To the rest of us it looked as though there was going to be no chance to bet a dollar even. But after the herd had been watered and we had grazed out some distance from the river, the two worthies returned. They had posted their money, and all the conditions were agreed upon; the race was to take place at sundown over at the saloon and gambling joint. In reply to an earnest inquiry by Bob Blades, the outfit were informed that we might get some side bets with the gamblers, but the money already posted was theirs, win or lose. This selfishness was not looked upon very favorably, and some harsh comments were made, but Stallings and Quarternight were immovable.
We had an early supper, and pressing in McCann to assist The Rebel in grazing the herd until our return, the cavalcade set out, Flood and the horse buyer with us. My bunkie urged me to let him keep my money, but under the pretense of some of the outfit wanting to borrow it, I took it with me. The race was to be catch weights, and as Rod Wheat was the lightest in our outfit, the riding fell to him. On the way over I worked Bull Durham out to one side, and after explaining the jacketing I had got from Priest, and the partial promise I had made not to bet, gave him my forty dollars to wager for me if he got a chance. Bull and I were good friends, and on the understanding that it was to be a secret, I intimated that some of the velvet would line his purse. On reaching the tent, we found about half a dozen men loitering around, among them the old man, who promptly invited us all to have a drink with him. A number of us accepted and took a chance against the vintage of this canvas roadhouse, though the warnings of the Montana horse buyer were fully justified by the quality of the goods dispensed. While taking the drink, the old man was lamenting his poverty, which kept him from betting more money, and after we had gone outside, the saloonkeeper came and said to him, in a burst of generous feeling,–
“Old sport, you’re a stranger to me, but I can see at a glance that you’re a dead game man. Now, if you need any more money, just give me a bill of sale of your mare and mule, and I’ll advance you a hundred. Of course I know nothing about the merits of the two horses, but I noticed your team as you drove up to-day, and if you can use any more money, just ask for it.”
The old man jumped at the proposition in delighted surprise; the two reentered the tent, and after killing considerable time in writing out a bill of sale, the old graybeard came out shaking a roll of bills at us. He was promptly accommodated, Bull Durham making the first bet of fifty; and as I caught his eye, I walked away, shaking hands with myself over my crafty scheme. When the old man’s money was all taken, the hangers-on of the place became enthusiastic over the betting, and took every bet while there was a dollar in sight amongst our crowd, the horse buyer even making a wager. When we were out of money they offered to bet against our saddles, six-shooters, and watches. Flood warned us not to bet our saddles, but Quarternight and Stallings had already wagered theirs, and were stripping them from their horses to turn them over to the saloonkeeper as stakeholder. I managed to get a ten-dollar bet on my six-shooter, though it was worth double the money, and a similar amount on my watch. When the betting ended, every watch and six-shooter in the outfit was in the hands of the stakeholder, and had it not been for Flood our saddles would have been in the same hands.
It was to be a three hundred yard race, with an ask and answer start between the riders. Stallings and the old man stepped off the course parallel with the river, and laid a rope on the ground to mark the start and the finish. The sun had already set and twilight was deepening when the old man signaled to his boy in the distance to bring up the mare. Wheat was slowly walking the brown horse over the course, when the boy came up, cantering the mare, blanketed with an old government blanket, over the imaginary track also. These preliminaries thrilled us like the tuning of a fiddle for a dance. Stallings and the old homesteader went out to the starting point to give the riders the terms of the race, while the remainder of us congregated at the finish. It was getting dusk when the blanket was stripped from the mare and the riders began jockeying for a start. In that twilight stillness we could hear the question, “Are you ready?” and the answer “No,” as the two jockeys came up to the starting rope. But finally there was an affirmative answer, and the two horses were coming through like arrows in their flight. My heart stood still for the time being, and when the bay mare crossed the rope at the outcome an easy winner, I was speechless. Such a crestfallen-looking lot of men as we were would be hard to conceive. We had been beaten, and not only felt it but looked it. Flood brought us to our senses by calling our attention to the approaching darkness, and setting off in a gallop toward the herd. The rest of us trailed along silently after him in threes and fours. After the herd had been bedded and we had gone in to the wagon my spirits were slightly lightened at the sight of the two arch conspirators, Stallings and Quarternight, meekly riding in bareback. I enjoyed the laughter of The Rebel and McCann at their plight; but when my bunkie noticed my six-shooter missing, and I admitted having bet it, he turned the laugh on me.
“That’s right, son,” he said; “don’t you take anybody’s advice. You’re young yet, but you’ll learn. And when you learn it for yourself, you’ll remember it that much better.”
That night when we were on guard together, I eased my conscience by making a clean breast of the whole affair to my bunkie, which resulted in his loaning me ten dollars with which to redeem, my six-shooter in the morning. But the other boys, with the exception of Officer, had no banker to call on as we had, and when Quarternight and Stallings asked the foreman what they were to do for saddles, the latter suggested that one of them could use the cook’s, while the other could take it bareback or ride in the wagon. But the Montana man interceded in their behalf, and Flood finally gave in and advanced them enough to redeem their saddles. Our foreman had no great amount of money with him, but McCann and the horse buyer came to the rescue for what they had, and the guns were redeemed; not that they were needed, but we would have been so lonesome without them. I had worn one so long I didn’t trim well without it, but toppled forward and couldn’t maintain my balance. But the most cruel exposure of the whole affair occurred when Nat Straw, riding in ahead of his herd, overtook us one day out from Ogalalla.