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of any of us, but I noticed he eased the holster on his belt forward, where it would be ready to his hand. We had called for a round of drinks, Officer taking one with us, when two men came out of the gambling hell, and halting at the bar, pretended to divide some money which they wished to have it appear they had won in the card room. Their conversation was loud and intended to attract attention, but Officer gave us the wink, and their ruse was perfectly understood. After taking a drink and attracting as much attention as possible over the division of the money, they separated, but remained in the room.

I was dealing the cards a few minutes later, when the long-haired man emerged from the gambling hell, and imitating the maudlin, sauntered up to the bar and asked for a drink. After being served, he walked about halfway to the door, then whirling suddenly, stepped to the end of the bar, placed his hands upon it, sprang up and stood upright on it. He whipped out two six-shooters, let loose a yell which caused a commotion throughout the room, and walked very deliberately the length of the counter, his attention centred upon the occupants of our table. Not attracting the notice he expected in our quarter, he turned, and slowly repaced the bar, hurling anathemas on Texas and Texans in general.

I saw The Rebel’s eyes, steeled to intensity, meet Flood’s across the table, and in that glance of our foreman he evidently read approval, for he rose rigidly with the stealth of a tiger, and for the first time that day his hand went to the handle of his six-shooter. One of the two pretended winners at cards saw the movement in our quarter, and sang out as a warning, “Cuidado, mucho.” The man on the bar whirled on the word of warning, and blazed away with his two guns into our corner. I had risen at the word and was pinned against the wall, where on the first fire a rain of dirt fell from the chinking in the wall over my head. As soon as the others sprang away from the table, I kicked it over in clearing myself, and came to my feet just as The Rebel fired his second shot. I had the satisfaction of seeing his long-haired adversary reel backwards, firing his guns into the ceiling as he went, and in falling crash heavily into the glassware on the back bar.

The smoke which filled the room left nothing visible for a few moments. Meantime Priest, satisfied that his aim had gone true, turned, passed through the rear room, gained his horse, and was galloping away to the herd before any semblance of order was restored. As the smoke cleared away and we passed forward through the room, John Officer had one of the three pardners standing with his hands to the wall, while his six-shooter lay on the floor under Officer’s foot. He had made but one shot into our corner, when the muzzle of a gun was pushed against his ear with an imperative order to drop his arms, which he had promptly done. The two others, who had been under the surveillance of our men at the forward table, never made a move or offered to bring a gun into action, and after the killing of their picturesque pardner passed together out of the house. There had been five or six shots fired into our corner, but the first double shot, fired when three of us were still sitting, went too high for effect, while the remainder were scattering, though Rod Wheat got a bullet through his coat, close enough to burn the skin on his shoulder.

The dead man was laid out on the floor of the saloon; and through curiosity, for it could hardly have been much of a novelty to the inhabitants of Frenchman’s Ford, hundreds came to gaze on the corpse and examine the wounds, one above the other through his vitals, either of which would have been fatal. Officer’s prisoner admitted that the dead man was his pardner, and offered to remove the corpse if released. On turning his six-shooter over to the proprietor of the place, he was given his freedom to depart and look up his friends.

As it was after sundown, and our wheel was refilled and ready, we set out for camp, where we found that Priest had taken a fresh horse and started back over the trail. No one felt any uneasiness over his absence, for he had demonstrated his ability to protect himself; and truth compels me to say that the outfit to a man was proud of him. Honeyman was substituted on our guard in The Rebel’s place, sleeping with me that night, and after we were in bed, Billy said in his enthusiasm: “If that horse thief had not relied on pot shooting, and had been modest and only used one gun, he might have hurt some of you fellows. But when I saw old Paul raising his gun to a level as he shot, I knew he was cool and steady, and I’d rather died right there than see him fail to get his man.”

CHAPTER XXII

OUR LAST CAMP-FIRE

By early dawn the next morning we were astir at our last camp on Sweet Grass, and before the horses were brought in, we had put on the wagon box and reloaded our effects. The rainy season having ended in the mountain regions, the stage of water in the Yellowstone would present no difficulties in fording, and our foreman was anxious to make a long drive that day so as to make up for our enforced lay-over. We had breakfasted by the time the horses were corralled, and when we overtook the grazing herd, the cattle were within a mile of the river. Flood had looked over the ford the day before, and took one point of the herd as we went down into the crossing. The water was quite chilly to the cattle, though the horses in the lead paid little attention to it, the water in no place being over three feet deep. A number of spectators had come up from Frenchman’s to watch the herd ford, the crossing being about half a mile above the village. No one made any inquiry for Priest, though ample opportunity was given them to see that the gray-haired man was missing. After the herd had crossed, a number of us lent a rope in assisting the wagon over, and when we reached the farther bank, we waved our hats to the group on the south side in farewell to them and to Frenchman’s Ford.

The trail on leaving the river led up Many Berries, one of the tributaries of the Yellowstone putting in from the north side; and we paralleled it mile after mile. It was with difficulty that riders could be kept on the right hand side of the herd, for along it grew endless quantities of a species of upland huckleberry, and, breaking off branches, we feasted as we rode along. The grade up this creek was quite pronounced, for before night the channel of the creek had narrowed to several yards in width. On the second day out the wild fruit disappeared early in the morning, and after a continued gradual climb, we made camp that night on the summit of the divide within plain sight of the Musselshell River. From this divide there was a splendid view of the surrounding country as far as eye could see. To our right, as we neared the summit, we could see in that rarefied atmosphere the buttes, like sentinels on duty, as they dotted the immense tableland between the Yellowstone and the mother Missouri, while on our left lay a thousand hills, untenanted save by the deer, elk, and a remnant of buffalo. Another half day’s drive brought us to the shoals on the Musselshell, about twelve miles above the entrance of Flatwillow Creek. It was one of the easiest crossings we had encountered in many a day, considering the size of the river and the flow of water. Long before the advent of the white man, these shoals had been in use for generations by the immense herds of buffalo and elk migrating back and forth between their summer ranges and winter pasturage, as the converging game trails on either side indicated. It was also an old Indian ford. After crossing and resuming our afternoon drive, the cattle trail ran within a mile of the river, and had it not been for the herd of northern wintered cattle, and possibly others, which had passed along a month or more in advance of us, it would have been hard to determine which were cattle and which were game trails, the country being literally cut up with these pathways.

When within a few miles of the Flatwillow, the trail bore off to the northwest, and we camped that night some distance below the junction of the former creek with the Big Box Elder. Before our watch had been on guard twenty minutes that night, we heard some one whistling in the distance; and as whoever it was refused to come any nearer the herd, a thought struck me, and I rode out into the darkness and hailed him.

“Is that you, Tom?” came the question to my challenge, and the next minute I was wringing the hand of my old bunkie, The Rebel. I assured him that the coast was clear, and that no inquiry had been even made for him the following morning, when crossing the Yellowstone, by any of the inhabitants of Frenchman’s Ford. He returned with me to the bed ground, and meeting Honeyman as he circled around, was almost unhorsed by the latter’s warmth of reception, and Officer’s delight on meeting my bunkie was none the less demonstrative. For nearly half an hour he rode around with one or the other of us, and as we knew he had had little if any sleep for the last three nights, all of us begged him to go on into camp and go to sleep. But the old rascal loafed around with us on guard, seemingly delighted with our company and reluctant to leave. Finally Honeyman and I prevailed on him to go to the wagon, but before leaving us he said, “Why, I’ve been in sight of the herd for the last day and night, but I’m getting a little tired of lying out with the dry cattle these cool nights, and living on huckleberries and grouse, so I thought I’d just ride in and get a fresh horse and a square meal once more. But if Flood says stay, you’ll see me at my old place on the point to-morrow.”

Had the owner of the herd suddenly appeared in camp, he could not have received such an ovation as was extended Priest the next morning when his presence became known. From the cook to the foreman, they gathered around our bed, where The Rebel sat up in the blankets and held an informal reception; and two hours afterward he was riding on the right point of the herd as if nothing had happened. We had a fair trail up Big Box Elder, and for the following few days, or until the source of that creek was reached, met nothing to check our course. Our foreman had been riding in advance of the herd, and after returning to us at noon one day, reported that the trail turned a due northward course towards the Missouri, and all herds had seemingly taken it. As we had to touch at Fort Benton, which was almost due westward, he had concluded to quit the trail and try to intercept the military road running from Fort Maginnis to Benton. Maginnis lay to the south of us, and our foreman hoped to strike the military road at an angle on as near a westward course as possible.

Accordingly after dinner he set out to look out the country, and took me with him. We bore off toward the Missouri, and within half an hour’s ride after leaving the trail we saw some loose horses about three miles distant, down in a little valley through which flowed a creek towards the Musselshell. We reined in and watched the horses several minutes, when we both agreed from their movements that they were hobbled. We scouted out some five or six miles, finding the country somewhat rough, but passable for a herd and wagon. Flood was anxious to investigate those hobbled horses, for it bespoke the camp of some one in the immediate vicinity. On our return, the horses were still in view, and with no little difficulty, we descended from the mesa into the valley and reached them. To our agreeable surprise, one of them was wearing a bell, while nearly half of them were hobbled, there being twelve head, the greater portion of which looked like pack horses. Supposing the camp, if there was one, must be up in the hills, we followed a bridle path up stream in search of it, and soon came upon four men, placer mining on the banks of the creek.

When we made our errand known, one of these placer miners, an elderly man who seemed familiar with the country, expressed some doubts about our leaving the trail, though he said there was a bridle path with which he was acquainted across to the military road. Flood at once offered to pay him well if he would pilot us across to the road, or near enough so that we could find our way. The old placerman hesitated, and after consulting among his partners, asked how we were fixed for provision, explaining that they wished to remain a month or so longer, and that game had been scared away from the immediate vicinity, until it had become hard to secure meat. But he found Flood ready in that quarter, for he immediately offered to kill a beef and load down any two pack horses they had, if he would consent to pilot us over to within striking distance of the Fort Benton road. The offer was immediately accepted, and I was dispatched to drive in their horses. Two of the placer miners accompanied us back to the trail, both riding good saddle horses and leading two others under pack saddles. We overtook the herd within a mile of the point where the trail was to be abandoned, and after sending the wagon ahead, our foreman asked our guests to pick out any cow or steer in the herd. When they declined, he cut out a fat stray cow which had come into the herd down on the North Platte, had her driven in after the wagon, killed and quartered. When we had laid the quarters on convenient rocks to cool and harden during the night, our future pilot timidly inquired what we proposed to do with the hide, and on being informed that he was welcome to it, seemed delighted, remarking, as I helped him to stake it out where it would dry, that “rawhide was mighty handy repairing pack saddles.”

Our visitors interested us, for it is probable that not a man in our outfit had ever seen a miner before, though we had read of the life and were deeply interested in everything they did or said. They were very plain men and of simple manners, but we had great difficulty in getting them to talk. After supper, while idling away a couple of hours around our camp-fire, the outfit told stories, in the hope that our guests would become reminiscent and give us some insight into their experiences, Bob Blades leading off.

“I was in a cow town once up on the head of the Chisholm trail at a time when a church fair was being pulled off. There were lots of old long-horn cowmen living in the town, who owned cattle in that Cherokee Strip that Officer is always talking about. Well, there’s lots of folks up there that think a nigger is as good as anybody else, and when you find such people set in their ways, it’s best not to argue matters with them, but lay low and let on you think that way too. That’s the way those old Texas cowmen acted about it.

“Well, at this church fair there was to be voted a prize of a nice baby wagon, which had been donated by some merchant, to the prettiest baby under a year old. Colonel Bob Zellers was in town at the time, stopping at a hotel where the darky cook was a man who had once worked for him on the trail. ‘Frog,’ the darky, had married when he quit the colonel’s service, and at the time of this fair there was a pickaninny in his family about a year old, and nearly the color of a new saddle. A few of these old cowmen got funny and thought it would be a good joke to have Frog enter his baby at the fair, and Colonel Bob being the leader in the movement, he had no trouble convincing the darky that that baby wagon was his, if he would only enter his youngster. Frog thought the world of the old Colonel, and the latter assured him that he would vote for his baby while he had a dollar or a cow left. The result was, Frog gave his enthusiastic consent, and the Colonel agreed to enter the pickaninny in the contest.

“Well, the Colonel attended to the entering of the baby’s name, and then on the dead quiet went around and rustled up every cowman and puncher in town, and had them promise to be on hand, to vote for the prettiest baby at ten cents a throw. The fair was being held in the largest hall in town, and at the appointed hour we were all on hand, as well as Frog and his wife and baby. There were about a dozen entries, and only one blackbird in the covey. The list of contestants was read by the minister, and as each name was announced, there was a vigorous clapping of hands all over the house by the friends of each baby. But when the name of Miss Precilla June Jones was announced, the Texas contingent made their presence known by such a deafening outburst of applause that old Frog grinned from ear to ear–he saw himself right then pushing that baby wagon.

“Well, on the first heat we voted sparingly, and as the vote was read out about every quarter hour, Precilla June Jones on the first turn was fourth in the race. On the second report, our favorite had moved up to third place, after which the weaker ones were deserted, and all the voting blood was centered on the two white leaders, with our blackbird a close third. We were behaving ourselves nicely, and our money was welcome if we weren’t. When the third vote was announced, Frog’s pickaninny was second in the race, with her nose lapped on the flank of the leader. Then those who thought a darky was as good as any one else got on the prod in a mild form, and you could hear them voicing their opinions all over the hall. We heard it all, but sat as nice as pie and never said a word.

“When the final vote was called for, we knew it was the home stretch, and every rascal of us got his weasel skin out and sweetened the voting on Miss Precilla June Jones. Some of those old long-horns didn’t think any more of a twenty-dollar gold piece than I do of a white chip, especially when there was a chance to give those good people a dose of their own medicine. I don’t know how many votes we cast on the last whirl, but we swamped all opposition, and our favorite cantered under the wire an easy winner. Then you should have heard the kicking, but we kept still and inwardly chuckled. The minister announced the winner, and some of those good people didn’t have any better manners than to hiss and cut up ugly. We stayed until Frog got the new baby wagon in his clutches, when we dropped out casually and met at the Ranch saloon, where Colonel Zellers had taken possession behind the bar and was dispensing hospitality in proper celebration of his victory.”

Much to our disappointment, our guests remained silent and showed no disposition to talk, except to answer civil questions which Flood asked regarding the trail crossing on the Missouri, and what that river was like in the vicinity of old Fort Benton. When the questions had been answered, they again relapsed into silence. The fire was replenished, and after the conversation had touched on several subjects, Joe Stallings took his turn with a yarn.

“When my folks first came to Texas,” said Joe, “they settled in Ellis County, near Waxahachie. My father was one of the pioneers in that county at a time when his nearest neighbor lived ten miles from his front gate. But after the war, when the country had settled up, these old pioneers naturally hung together and visited and chummed with one another in preference to the new settlers. One spring when I was about fifteen years old, one of those old pioneer neighbors of ours died, and my father decided that he would go to the funeral or burst a hame string. If any of you know anything about that black-waxy, hog-wallow land in Ellis County, you know that when it gets muddy in the spring a wagon wheel will fill solid with waxy mud. So at the time of this funeral it was impossible to go on the road with any kind of a vehicle, and my father had to go on horseback. He was an old man at the time and didn’t like the idea, but it was either go on horseback or stay at home, and go he would.

“They raise good horses in Ellis County, and my father had raised some of the best of them–brought the stock from Tennessee. He liked good blood in a horse, and was always opposed to racing, but he raised some boys who weren’t. I had a number of brothers older than myself, and they took a special pride in trying every colt we raised, to see what he amounted to in speed. Of course this had to be done away from home; but that was easy, for these older brothers thought nothing of riding twenty miles to a tournament, barbecue, or round-up, and when away from home they always tried their horses with the best in the country. At the time of this funeral, we had a crackerjack five year old chestnut sorrel gelding that could show his heels to any horse in the country. He was a peach,–you could turn him on a saddle blanket and jump him fifteen feet, and that cow never lived that he couldn’t cut.

“So the day of the funeral my father was in a quandary as to which horse to ride, but when he appealed to his boys, they recommended the best on the ranch, which was the chestnut gelding. My old man had some doubts as to his ability to ride the horse, for he hadn’t been on a horse’s back for years; but my brothers assured him that the chestnut was as obedient as a kitten, and that before he had been on the road an hour the mud would take all the frisk and frolic out of him. There was nearly fifteen miles to go, and they assured him that he would never get there if he rode any other horse. Well, at last he consented to ride the gelding, and the horse was made ready, properly groomed, his tail tied up, and saddled and led up to the block. It took every member of the family to get my father rigged to start, but at last he announced himself as ready. Two of my brothers held the horse until he found the off stirrup, and then they turned him loose. The chestnut danced off a few rods, and settled down into a steady clip that was good for five or six miles an hour.

“My father reached the house in good time for the funeral services, but when the procession started for the burial ground, the horse was somewhat restless and impatient from the cold. There was quite a string of wagons and other vehicles from the immediate neighborhood which had braved the mud, and the line was nearly half a mile in length between the house and the graveyard. There were also possibly a hundred men on horseback bringing up the rear of the procession; and the chestnut, not understanding the solemnity of the occasion, was right on his mettle. Surrounded as he was by other horses, he kept his weather eye open for a race, for in coming home from dances and picnics with my brothers, he had often been tried in short dashes of half a mile or so. In order to get him out of the crowd of horses, my father dropped back with another pioneer to the extreme rear of the funeral line.

“When the procession was nearing the cemetery, a number of horsemen, who were late, galloped up in the rear. The chestnut, supposing a race was on, took the bit in his teeth and tore down past the procession as though it was a free-for-all Texas sweepstakes, the old man’s white beard whipping the breeze in his endeavor to hold in the horse. Nor did he check him until the head of the procession had been passed. When my father returned home that night, there was a family round-up, for he was smoking under the collar. Of course, my brothers denied having ever run the horse, and my mother took their part; but the old gent knew a thing or two about horses, and shortly afterwards he got even with his boys by selling the chestnut, which broke their hearts properly.”

The elder of the two placer miners, a long-whiskered, pock-marked man, arose, and after walking out from the fire some distance returned and called our attention to signs in the sky, which he assured us were a sure indication of a change in the weather. But we were more anxious that he should talk about something else, for we were in the habit of taking the weather just as it came. When neither one showed any disposition to talk, Flood said to them,–

“It’s bedtime with us, and one of you can sleep with me, while I ‘ve fixed up an extra bed for the other. I generally get out about daybreak, but if that’s too early for you, don’t let my getting up disturb you. And you fourth guard men, let the cattle off the bed ground on a due westerly course and point them up the divide. Now get to bed, everybody, for we want to make a big drive tomorrow.”

CHAPTER XXIII

DELIVERY

I shall never forget the next morning,–August 26, 1882. As we of the third guard were relieved, about two hours before dawn, the wind veered around to the northwest, and a mist which had been falling during the fore part of our watch changed to soft flakes of snow. As soon as we were relieved, we skurried back to our blankets, drew the tarpaulin over our heads, and slept until dawn, when on being awakened by the foreman, we found a wet, slushy snow some two inches in depth on the ground. Several of the boys in the outfit declared it was the first snowfall they had ever seen, and I had but a slight recollection of having witnessed one in early boyhood in our old Georgia home. We gathered around the fire like a lot of frozen children, and our only solace was that our drive was nearing an end. The two placermen paid little heed to the raw morning, and our pilot assured us that this was but the squaw winter which always preceded Indian summer.

We made our customary early start, and while saddling up that morning, Flood and the two placer miners packed the beef on their two pack horses, first cutting off enough to last us several days. The cattle, when we overtook them, presented a sorry spectacle, apparently being as cold as we were, although we had our last stitch of clothing on, including our slickers, belted with a horse hobble. But when Flood and our guide rode past the herd, I noticed our pilot’s coat was not even buttoned, nor was the thin cotton shirt which he wore, but his chest was exposed to that raw morning air which chilled the very marrow in our bones. Our foreman and guide kept in sight in the lead, the herd traveling briskly up the long mountain divide, and about the middle of the forenoon the sun came out warm and the snow began to melt. Within an hour after starting that morning, Quince Forrest, who was riding in front of me in the swing, dismounted, and picking out of the snow a brave little flower which looked something like a pansy, dropped back to me and said, “My weather gauge says it’s eighty-eight degrees below freezo. But I want you to smell this posy, Quirk, and tell me on the dead thieving, do you ever expect to see your sunny southern home again? And did you notice the pock-marked colonel, baring his brisket to the morning breeze?”

Two hours after the sun came out, the snow had disappeared, and the cattle fell to and grazed until long after the noon hour. Our pilot led us up the divide between the Missouri and the headwaters of the Musselshell during the afternoon, weaving in and out around the heads of creeks putting into either river; and towards evening we crossed quite a creek running towards the Missouri, where we secured ample water for the herd. We made a late camp that night, and our guide assured us that another half day’s drive would put us on the Judith River, where we would intercept the Fort Benton road.

The following morning our guide led us for several hours up a gradual ascent to the plateau, till we reached the tableland, when he left us to return to his own camp. Flood again took the lead, and within a mile we turned on our regular course, which by early noon had descended into the valley of the Judith River, and entered the Fort Maginnis and Benton military road. Our route was now clearly defined, and about noon on the last day of the month we sighted, beyond the Missouri River, the flag floating over Fort Benton. We made a crossing that afternoon below the Fort, and Flood went into the post, expecting either to meet Lovell or to receive our final instructions regarding the delivery.

After crossing the Missouri, we grazed the herd over to the Teton River, a stream which paralleled the former watercourse,–the military post being located between the two. We had encamped for the night when Flood returned with word of a letter he had received from our employer and an interview he had had with the commanding officer of Fort Benton, who, it seemed, was to have a hand in the delivery of the herd. Lovell had been detained in the final settlement of my brother Bob’s herd at the Crow Agency by some differences regarding weights. Under our present instructions, we were to proceed slowly to the Blackfoot Agency, and immediately on the arrival of Lovell at Benton, he and the commandant would follow by ambulance and overtake us. The distance from Fort Benton to the agency was variously reported to be from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty miles, six or seven days’ travel for the herd at the farthest, and then good-by, Circle Dots!

A number of officers and troopers from the post overtook us the next morning and spent several hours with us as the herd trailed out up the Teton. They were riding fine horses, which made our through saddle stock look insignificant in comparison, though had they covered twenty-four hundred miles and lived on grass as had our mounts, some of the lustre of their glossy coats would have been absent. They looked well, but it would have been impossible to use them or any domestic bred horses in trail work like ours, unless a supply of grain could be carried with us. The range country produced a horse suitable to range needs, hardy and a good forager, which, when not overworked under the saddle, met every requirement of his calling, as well as being self-sustaining. Our horses, in fact, were in better flesh when we crossed the Missouri than they were the day we received the herd on the Rio Grande. The spectators from the fort quitted us near the middle of the forenoon, and we snailed on westward at our leisurely gait.

There was a fair road up the Teton, which we followed for several days without incident, to the forks of that river, where we turned up Muddy Creek, the north fork of the Teton. That noon, while catching saddle horses, dinner not being quite ready, we noticed a flurry amongst the cattle, then almost a mile in our rear. Two men were on herd with them as usual, grazing them forward up the creek and watering as they came, when suddenly the cattle in the lead came tearing out of the creek, and on reaching open ground turned at bay. After several bunches had seemingly taken fright at the same object, we noticed Bull Durham, who was on herd, ride through the cattle to the scene of disturbance. We saw him, on nearing the spot, lie down on the neck of his horse, watch intently for several minutes, then quietly drop back to the rear, circle the herd, and ride for the wagon. We had been observing the proceedings closely, though from a distance, for some time. Daylight was evidently all that saved us from a stampede, and as Bull Durham galloped up he was almost breathless. He informed us that an old cinnamon bear and two cubs were berrying along the creek, and had taken the right of way. Then there was a hustling and borrowing of cartridges, while saddles were cinched on to horses as though human life depended on alacrity. We were all feeling quite gala anyhow, and this looked like a chance for some sport. It was hard to hold the impulsive ones in check until the others were ready. The cattle pointed us to the location of the quarry as we rode forward. When within a quarter of a mile, we separated into two squads, in order to gain the rear of the bears, cut them off from the creek, and force them into the open. The cattle held the attention of the bears until we had gained their rear, and as we came up between them and the creek, the old one reared up on her haunches and took a most astonished and innocent look at us.

A single “woof” brought one of the cubs to her side, and she dropped on all fours and lumbered off, a half dozen shots hastening her pace in an effort to circle the horsemen who were gradually closing in. In making this circle to gain the protection of some thickets which skirted the creek, she was compelled to cross quite an open space, and before she had covered the distance of fifty yards, a rain of ropes came down on her, and she was thrown backward with no less than four lariats fastened over her neck and fore parts. Then ensued a lively scene, for the horses snorted and in spite of rowels refused to face the bear. But ropes securely snubbed to pommels held them to the quarry. Two minor circuses were meantime in progress with the two cubs, but pressure of duty held those of us who had fastened on to the old cinnamon. The ropes were taut and several of them were about her throat; the horses were pulling in as many different directions, yet the strain of all the lariats failed to choke her as we expected. At this juncture, four of the loose men came to our rescue, and proposed shooting the brute. We were willing enough, for though we had better than a tail hold, we were very ready to let go. But while there were plenty of good shots among us, our horses had now become wary, and could not, when free from ropes, be induced to approach within twenty yards of the bear, and they were so fidgety that accurate aim was impossible. We who had ropes on the old bear begged the boys to get down and take it afoot, but they were not disposed to listen to our reasons, and blazed away from rearing horses, not one shot in ten taking effect. There was no telling how long this random shooting would have lasted; but one shot cut my rope two feet from the noose, and with one rope less on her the old bear made some ugly surges, and had not Joe Stallings had a wheeler of a horse on the rope, she would have done somebody damage.

The Rebel was on the opposite side from Stallings and myself, and as soon as I was freed, he called me around to him, and shifting his rope to me, borrowed my six-shooter and joined those who were shooting. Dismounting, he gave the reins of his horse to Flood, walked up to within fifteen steps of mother bruin, and kneeling, emptied both six-shooters with telling accuracy. The old bear winced at nearly every shot, and once she made an ugly surge on the ropes, but the three guy lines held her up to Priest’s deliberate aim. The vitality of that cinnamon almost staggers belief, for after both six-shooters had been emptied into her body, she floundered on the ropes with all her former strength, although the blood was dripping and gushing from her numerous wounds. Borrowing a third gun, Priest returned to the fight, and as we slacked the ropes slightly, the old bear reared, facing her antagonist. The Rebel emptied his third gun into her before she sank, choked, bleeding, and exhausted, to the ground; and even then no one dared to approach her, for she struck out wildly with all fours as she slowly succumbed to the inevitable.

One of the cubs had been roped and afterwards shot at close quarters, while the other had reached the creek and climbed a sapling which grew on the bank, when a few shots brought him to the ground. The two cubs were about the size of a small black bear, though the mother was a large specimen of her species. The cubs had nice coats of soft fur, and their hides were taken as trophies of the fight, but the robe of the mother was a summer one and worthless. While we were skinning the cubs, the foreman called our attention to the fact that the herd had drifted up the creek nearly opposite the wagon. During the encounter with the bears he was the most excited one in the outfit, and was the man who cut my rope with his random shooting from horseback. But now the herd recovered his attention, and he dispatched some of us to ride around the cattle. When we met at the wagon for dinner, the excitement was still on us, and the hunt was unanimously voted the most exciting bit of sport and powder burning we had experienced on our trip.

Late that afternoon a forage wagon from Fort Benton passed us with four loose ambulance mules in charge of five troopers, who were going on ahead to establish a relay station in anticipation of the trip of the post commandant to the Blackfoot Agency. There were to be two relay stations between the post and the agency, and this detachment expected to go into camp that night within forty miles of our destination, there to await the arrival of the commanding officer and the owner of the herd at Benton. These soldiers were out two days from the post when they passed us, and they assured us that the ambulance would go through from Benton to Blackfoot without a halt, except for the changing of relay teams. The next forenoon we passed the last relay camp, well up the Muddy, and shortly afterwards the road left that creek, turning north by a little west, and we entered on the last tack of our long drive. On the evening of the 6th of September, as we were going into camp on Two Medicine Creek, within ten miles of the agency, the ambulance overtook us, under escort of the troopers whom we had passed at the last relay station. We had not seen Don Lovell since June, when we passed Dodge, and it goes without saying that we were glad to meet him again. On the arrival of the party, the cattle had not yet been bedded, so Lovell borrowed a horse, and with Flood took a look over the herd before darkness set in, having previously prevailed on the commanding officer to rest an hour and have supper before proceeding to the agency.

When they returned from inspecting the cattle, the commandant and Lovell agreed to make the final delivery on the 8th, if it were agreeable to the agent, and with this understanding continued their journey. The next morning Flood rode into the agency, borrowing McCann’s saddle and taking an extra horse with him, having left us instructions to graze the herd all day and have them in good shape with grass and water, in case they were inspected that evening on their condition. Near the middle of the afternoon quite a cavalcade rode out from the agency, including part of a company of cavalry temporarily encamped there. The Indian agent and the commanding officer from Benton were the authorized representatives of the government, it seemed, as Lovell took extra pains in showing them over the herd, frequently consulting the contract which he held, regarding sex, age, and flesh of the cattle.

The only hitch in the inspection was over a number of sore-footed cattle, which was unavoidable after such a long journey. But the condition of these tender-footed animals being otherwise satisfactory, Lovell urged the agent and commandant to call up the men for explanations. The agent was no doubt a very nice man, and there may have been other things that he understood better than cattle, for he did ask a great many simple, innocent questions. Our replies, however, might have been condensed into a few simple statements. We had, we related, been over five months on the trail; after the first month, tender-footed cattle began to appear from time to time in the herd, as stony or gravelly portions of the trail were encountered,–the number so affected at any one time varying from ten to forty head. Frequently well-known lead cattle became tender in their feet and would drop back to the rear, and on striking soft or sandy footing recover and resume their position in the lead; that since starting, it was safe to say, fully ten per cent of the entire herd had been so affected, yet we had not lost a single head from this cause; that the general health of the animal was never affected, and that during enforced layovers nearly all so affected recovered. As there were not over twenty-five sore-footed animals in the herd on our arrival, our explanation was sufficient and the herd was accepted. There yet remained the counting and classification, but as this would require time, it went over until the following day. The cows had been contracted for by the head, while the steers went on their estimated weight in dressed beef, the contract calling for a million pounds with a ten per cent leeway over that amount.

I was amongst the first to be interviewed by the Indian agent, and on being excused, I made the acquaintance of one of two priests who were with the party. He was a rosy-cheeked, well-fed old padre, who informed me that he had been stationed among the Blackfeet for over twenty years, and that he had labored long with the government to assist these Indians. The cows in our herd, which were to be distributed amongst the Indian families for domestic purposes, were there at his earnest solicitation. I asked him if these cows would not perish during the long winter–my recollection was still vivid of the touch of squaw winter we had experienced some two weeks previous. But he assured me that the winters were dry, if cold, and his people had made some progress in the ways of civilization, and had provided shelter and forage against the wintry weather. He informed me that previous to his labors amongst the Blackfeet their ponies wintered without loss on the native grasses, though he had since taught them to make hay, and in anticipation of receiving these cows, such families as were entitled to share in the division had amply provided for the animals’ sustenance.

Lovell returned with the party to the agency, and we were to bring up the herd for classification early in the morning. Flood informed us that a beef pasture had been built that summer for the steers, while the cows would be held under herd by the military, pending their distribution. We spent our last night with the herd singing songs, until the first guard called the relief, when realizing the lateness of the hour, we burrowed into our blankets.

“I don’t know how you fellows feel about it,” said Quince Forrest, when the first guard were relieved and they had returned to camp, “but I bade those cows good-by on their beds to-night without a regret or a tear. The novelty of night-herding loses its charm with me when it’s drawn out over five months. I might be fool enough to make another such trip, but I ‘d rather be the Indian and let the other fellow drive the cows to me–there ‘s a heap more comfort in it.”

The next morning, before we reached the agency, a number of gaudily bedecked bucks and squaws rode out to meet us. The arrival of the herd had been expected for several weeks, and our approach was a delight to the Indians, who were flocking to the agency from the nearest villages. Physically, they were fine specimens of the aborigines. But our Spanish, which Quarternight and I tried on them, was as unintelligible to them as their guttural gibberish was to us.

Lovell and the agent, with a detachment of the cavalry, met us about a mile from the agency buildings, and we were ordered to cut out the cows. The herd had been grazed to contentment, and were accordingly rounded in, and the task begun at once. Our entire outfit were turned into the herd to do the work, while an abundance of troopers held the herd and looked after the cut. It took about an hour and a half, during which time we worked like Trojans. Cavalrymen several times attempted to assist us, but their horses were no match for ours in the work. A cow can turn on much less space than a cavalry horse, and except for the amusement they afforded, the military were of very little effect.

After we had retrimmed the cut, the beeves were started for their pasture, and nothing now remained but the counting to complete the receiving. Four of us remained behind with the cows, but for over two hours the steers were in plain sight, while the two parties were endeavoring to make a count. How many times they recounted them before agreeing on the numbers I do not know, for the four of us left with the cows became occupied by a controversy over the sex of a young Indian–a Blackfoot–riding a cream-colored pony. The controversy originated between Fox Quarternight and Bob Blades, who had discovered this swell among a band who had just ridden in from the west, and John Officer and myself were appealed to for our opinions. The Indian was pointed out to us across the herd, easily distinguished by beads and beaver fur trimmings in the hair, so we rode around to pass our judgment as experts on the beauty. The young Indian was not over sixteen years of age, with remarkable features, from which every trace of the aborigine seemed to be eliminated. Officer and myself were in a quandary, for we felt perfectly competent when appealed to for our opinions on such a delicate subject, and we made every endeavor to open a conversation by signs and speech. But the young Blackfoot paid no attention to us, being intent upon watching the cows. The neatly moccasined feet and the shapely hand, however, indicated the feminine, and when Blades and Quarter-night rode up, we rendered our decision accordingly. Blades took exception to the decision and rode alongside the young Indian, pretending to admire the long plaits of hair, toyed with the beads, pinched and patted the young Blackfoot, and finally, although the rest of us, for fear the Indian might take offense and raise trouble, pleaded with him to desist, he called the youth his “squaw,” when the young blood, evidently understanding the appellation, relaxed into a broad smile, and in fair English said, “Me buck.”

Blades burst into a loud laugh at his success, at which the Indian smiled but accepted a cigarette, and the two cronied together, while we rode away to look after our cows. The outfit returned shortly afterward, when The Rebel rode up to me and expressed himself rather profanely at the inability of the government’s representatives to count cattle in Texas fashion. On the arrival of the agent and others, the cows were brought around; and these being much more gentle, and being under Lovell’s instruction fed between the counters in the narrowest file possible, a satisfactory count was agreed upon at the first trial. The troopers took charge of the cows after counting, and, our work over, we galloped away to the wagon, hilarious and care free.

McCann had camped on the nearest water to the agency, and after dinner we caught out the top horses, and, dressed in our best, rode into the agency proper. There was quite a group of houses for the attaches, one large general warehouse, and several school and chapel buildings. I again met the old padre, who showed us over the place. One could not help being favorably impressed with the general neatness and cleanliness of the place. In answer to our questions, the priest informed us that he had mastered the Indian language early in his work, and had adopted it in his ministry, the better to effect the object of his mission. There was something touching in the zeal of this devoted padre in his work amongst the tribe, and the recognition of the government had come as a fitting climax to his work and devotion.

As we rode away from the agency, the cows being in sight under herd of a dozen soldiers, several of us rode out to them, and learned that they intended to corral the cows at night, and within a week distribute them to Indian families, when the troop expected to return to Fort Benton. Lovell and Flood appeared at the camp about dusk–Lovell in high spirits. This, he said, was the easiest delivery of the three herds which he had driven that year. He was justified in feeling well over the year’s drive, for he had in his possession a voucher for our Circle Dots which would crowd six figures closely. It was a gay night with us, for man and horse were free, and as we made down our beds, old man Don insisted that Flood and he should make theirs down alongside ours. He and The Rebel had been joking each other during the evening, and as we went to bed were taking an occasional fling at one another as opportunity offered.

“It’s a strange thing to me,” said Lovell, as he was pulling off his boots, “that this herd counted out a hundred and twelve head more than we started with, while Bob Quirk’s herd was only eighty-one long at the final count;”

“Well, you see,” replied The Rebel, “Quirk’s was a steer herd, while ours had over a thousand cows in it, and you must make allowance for some of them to calve on the way. That ought to be easy figuring for a foxy, long-headed Yank like you.”

CHAPTER XXIV

BACK TO TEXAS

The nearest railroad point from the Blackfoot Agency was Silver Bow, about a hundred and seventy-five miles due south, and at that time the terminal of the Utah Northern Railroad. Everything connected with the delivery having been completed the previous day, our camp was astir with the dawn in preparation for departure on our last ride together. As we expected to make not less than forty miles a day on the way to the railroad, our wagon was lightened to the least possible weight. The chuck-box, water kegs, and such superfluities were dropped, and the supplies reduced to one week’s allowance, while beds were overhauled and extra wearing apparel of the outfit was discarded. Who cared if we did sleep cold and hadn’t a change to our backs? We were going home and would have money in our pockets.

“The first thing I do when we strike that town of Silver Bow,” said Bull Durham, as he was putting on his last shirt, “is to discard to the skin and get me new togs to a finish. I’ll commence on my little pattering feet, which will require fifteen-dollar moccasins, and then about a six-dollar checked cottonade suit, and top off with a seven-dollar brown Stetson. Then with a few drinks under my belt and a rim-fire cigar in my mouth, I’d admire to meet the governor of Montana if convenient.”

Before the sun was an hour high, we bade farewell to the Blackfoot Agency and were doubling back over the trail, with Lovell in our company. Our first night’s camp was on the Muddy and the second on the Sun River. We were sweeping across the tablelands adjoining the main divide of the Rocky Mountains like the chinook winds which sweep that majestic range on its western slope. We were a free outfit; even the cook and wrangler were relieved; their little duties were divided among the crowd and almost disappeared. There was a keen rivalry over driving the wagon, and McCann was transferred to the hurricane deck of a cow horse, which he sat with ease and grace, having served an apprenticeship in the saddle in other days. There were always half a dozen wranglers available in the morning, and we traveled as if under forced marching orders. The third night we camped in the narrows between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, and on the evening of the fourth day camped several miles to the eastward of Helena, the capital of the territory.

Don Lovell had taken the stage for the capital the night before; and on making camp that evening, Flood took a fresh horse and rode into town. The next morning he and Lovell returned with the superintendent of the cattle company which had contracted for our horses and outfit on the Republican. We corralled the horses for him, and after roping out about a dozen which, as having sore backs or being lame, he proposed to treat as damaged and take at half price, the _remuda_ was counted out, a hundred and forty saddle horses, four mules, and a wagon constituting the transfer. Even with the loss of two horses and the concessions on a dozen others, there was a nice profit on the entire outfit over its cost in the lower country, due to the foresight of Don Lovell in mounting us well. Two of our fellows who had borrowed from the superintendent money to redeem their six-shooters after the horse race on the Republican, authorized Lovell to return him the loans and thanked him for the favor. Everything being satisfactory between buyer and seller, they returned to town together for a settlement, while we moved on south towards Silver Bow, where the outfit was to be delivered.

Another day’s easy travel brought us to within a mile of the railroad terminus; but it also brought us to one of the hardest experiences of our trip, for each of us knew, as we unsaddled our horses, that we were doing it for the last time. Although we were in the best of spirits over the successful conclusion of the drive; although we were glad to be free from herd duty and looked forward eagerly to the journey home, there was still a feeling of regret in our hearts which we could not dispel. In the days of my boyhood I have shed tears when a favorite horse was sold from our little ranch on the San Antonio, and have frequently witnessed Mexican children unable to hide their grief when need of bread had compelled the sale of some favorite horse to a passing drover. But at no time in my life, before or since, have I felt so keenly the parting between man and horse as I did that September evening in Montana. For on the trail an affection springs up between a man and his mount which is almost human. Every privation which he endures his horse endures with him,–carrying him through falling weather, swimming rivers by day and riding in the lead of stampedes by night, always faithful, always willing, and always patiently enduring every hardship, from exhausting hours under saddle to the sufferings of a dry drive. And on this drive, covering nearly three thousand miles, all the ties which can exist between man and beast had not only become cemented, but our _remuda_ as a whole had won the affection of both men and employer for carrying without serious mishap a valuable herd all the way from the Rio Grande to the Blackfoot Agency. Their hones may be bleaching in some coulee by now, but the men who knew them then can never forget them or the part they played in that long drive.

Three men from the ranch rode into our camp that evening, and the next morning we counted over our horses to them and they passed into strangers’ hands. That there might he no delay, Flood had ridden into town the evening before and secured a wagon and gunny bags in which to sack our saddles; for while we willingly discarded all other effects, our saddles were of sufficient value to return and could be checked home as baggage. Our foreman reported that Lovell had arrived by stage and was awaiting us in town, having already arranged for our transportation as far as Omaha, and would accompany us to that city, where other transportation would have to be secured to our destination. In our impatience to get into town, we were trudging in by twos and threes before the wagon arrived for our saddles, and had not Flood remained behind to look after them, they might have been abandoned.

There was something about Silver Bow that reminded me of Frenchman’s Ford on the Yellowstone. Being the terminal of the first railroad into Montana, it became the distributing point for all the western portion of that territory, and immense ox trains were in sight for the transportation of goods to remoter points in the north and west. The population too was very much the same as at Frenchman’s, though the town in general was an improvement over the former, there being some stability to its buildings. As we were to leave on an eleven o’clock train, we had little opportunity to see the town, and for the short time at our disposal, barber shops and clothing stores claimed our first attention. Most of us had some remnants of money, while my bunkie was positively rich, and Lovell advanced us fifty dollars apiece, pending a final settlement on reaching our destination.

Within an hour after receiving the money, we blossomed out in new suits from head to heel. Our guard hung together as if we were still on night herd, and in the selection of clothing the opinion of the trio was equal to a purchase. The Rebel was very easily pleased in his selection, but John Officer and myself were rather fastidious. Officer was so tall it was with some little difficulty that a suit could be found to fit him, and when he had stuffed his pants in his boots and thrown away the vest, for he never wore either vest or suspenders, he emerged looking like an Alpine tourist, with his new pink shirt and nappy brown beaver slouch hat jauntily cocked over one ear. As we sauntered out into the street, Priest was dressed as became his years and mature good sense, while my costume rivaled Officer’s in gaudiness, and it is safe to assert two thirds of our outlay had gone for boots and hats.

Flood overtook us in the street, and warned us to be on hand at the depot at least half an hour in advance of train time, informing us that he had checked our saddles and didn’t want any of us to get left at the final moment. We all took a drink together, and Officer assured our foreman that he would be responsible for our appearance at the proper time, “sober and sorry for it.” So we sauntered about the straggling village, drinking occasionally, and on the suggestion of The Rebel, made a cow by putting in five apiece and had Officer play it on faro, he claiming to be an expert on the game. Taking the purse thus made up, John sat into a game, while Priest and myself, after watching the play some minutes, strolled out again and met others of our outfit in the street, scarcely recognizable in their killing rigs. The Rebel was itching for a monte game, but this not being a cow town there was none, and we strolled next into a saloon, where a piano was being played by a venerable-looking individual,–who proved quite amiable, taking a drink with us and favoring us with a number of selections of our choosing. We were enjoying this musical treat when our foreman came in and asked us to get the boys together. Priest and I at once started for Officer, whom we found quite a winner, but succeeded in choking him off on our employer’s order, and after the checks had been cashed, took a parting drink, which made us the last in reaching the depot. When we were all assembled, our employer informed us that he only wished to keep us together until embarking, and invited us to accompany him across the street to Tom Robbins’s saloon.

On entering the saloon, Lovell inquired of the young fellow behind the bar, “Son, what will you take for the privilege of my entertaining this outfit for fifteen minutes?”

“The ranch is yours, sir, and you can name your own figures,” smilingly and somewhat shrewdly replied the young fellow, and promptly vacated his position.

“Now, two or three of you rascals get in behind there,” said old man Don, as a quartet of the boys picked him up and set him on one end of the bar, “and let’s see what this ranch has in the way of refreshment.”

McCann, Quarternight, and myself obeyed the order, but the fastidious tastes of the line in front soon compelled us to call to our assistance both Bobbins and the young man who had just vacated the bar in our favor.

“That’s right, fellows,” roared Lovell from his commanding position, as he jingled a handful of gold coins, “turn to and help wait on these thirsty Texans; and remember that nothing’s too rich for our blood to-day. This outfit has made one of the longest cattle drives on record, and the best is none too good for them. So set out your best, for they can’t cut much hole in the profits in the short time we have to stay. The train leaves in twenty minutes, and see that every rascal is provided with an extra bottle for the journey. And drop down this way when you get time, as I want a couple of boxes of your best cigars to smoke on the way. Montana has treated us well, and we want to leave some of our coin with you.”