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each other’s location. Several times during the forenoon, when a swell of the plain afforded us a temporary westward view, we caught glimpses of Forrest’s cattle as they snailed forward, fully five miles distant and barely noticeable under the low sky-line. The Indian herds had given us a good start in the morning, and towards evening as the mirages lifted, not a dust-signal was in sight, save one far in our lead.

The month of June, so far, had been exceedingly droughty. The scarcity of water on the plains between Dodge and Ogalalla was the dread of every trail drover. The grass, on the other hand, had matured from the first rank growth of early spring into a forage, rich in sustenance, from which our beeves took on flesh and rounded into beauties. Lack of water being the one drawback, long drives, not in miles but hours, became the order of the day; from four in the morning to eight at night, even at an ox’s pace, leaves every landmark of the day far in the rear at nightfall. Thus for the next few days we moved forward, the monotony of existence broken only by the great variety of mirage, the glare of heat-waves, and the silent signal in the sky of other voyageurs like ourselves. On reaching Pig Boggy, nothing but pools greeted us, while the regular crossing was dry and dusty and paved with cattle bones. My curiosity was strong enough to cause me to revisit the old bridge which I had helped to build two seasons before; though unused, it was still intact, a credit to the crude engineering of Pete Slaughter. After leaving the valley of the Solomon, the next running water was Pawnee Fork, where we overtook and passed six thousand yearling heifers in two herds, sold the winter before by John Blocker for delivery in Montana. The Northwest had not yet learned that Texas was the natural breeding-ground for cattle, yet under favorable conditions in both sections, the ranchman of the South could raise one third more calves from an equal number of cows.

The weather continued hot and sultry. Several times storms hung on our left for hours which we hoped would reach us, and at night the lightning flickered in sheets, yet with the exception of cooling the air, availed us nothing. But as we encamped one night on the divide before reaching the Smoky River, a storm struck us that sent terror to our hearts. There were men in my outfit, and others in Lovell’s employ, who were from ten to twenty years my senior, having spent almost their lifetime in the open, who had never before witnessed such a night. The atmosphere seemed to be overcharged with electricity, which played its pranks among us, neither man nor beast being exempt. The storm struck the divide about two hours after the cattle had been bedded, and from then until dawn every man was in the saddle, the herd drifting fully three miles during the night. Such keen flashes of lightning accompanied by instant thunder I had never before witnessed, though the rainfall, after the first dash, was light in quantity. Several times the rain ceased entirely, when the phosphorus, like a prairie fire, appeared on every hand. Great sheets of it flickered about, the cattle and saddle stock were soon covered, while every bit of metal on our accoutrements was coated and twinkling with phosphorescent light. My gauntlets were covered, and wherever I touched myself, it seemed to smear and spread and refuse to wipe out. Several times we were able to hold up and quiet the cattle, but along their backs flickered the ghostly light, while across the herd, which occupied acres, it reminded one of the burning lake in the regions infernal. As the night wore on, several showers fell, accompanied by almost incessant bolts of lightning, but the rainfall only added moisture to the ground and this acted like fuel in reviving the phosphor. Several hours before dawn, great sheets of the fiery elements chased each other across the northern sky, lighting up our surroundings until one could have read ordinary print. The cattle stood humped or took an occasional step forward, the men sat their horses, sullen and morose, forming new resolutions for the future, in which trail work was not included. But morning came at last, cool and cloudy, a slight recompense for the heat which we had endured since leaving Dodge.

With the breaking of day, the herd was turned back on its course. For an hour or more the cattle grazed freely, and as the sun broke through the clouds, they dropped down like tired infantry on a march, and we allowed them an hour’s rest. We were still some three or four miles eastward of the trail, and after breakfasting and changing mounts we roused the cattle and started on an angle for the trail, expecting to intercept it before noon. There was some settlement in the Smoky River Valley which must be avoided, as in years past serious enmity had been engendered between settlers and drovers in consequence of the ravages of Texas fever among native cattle. I was riding on the left point, and when within a short distance of the trail, one of the boys called my attention to a loose herd of cattle, drifting south and fully two miles to the west of us. It was certainly something unusual, and as every man of us scanned them, a lone horseman was seen to ride across their front, and, turning them, continue on for our herd. The situation was bewildering, as the natural course of every herd was northward, but here was one apparently abandoned like a water-logged ship at sea.

The messenger was a picture of despair. He proved to be the owner of the abandoned cattle, and had come to us with an appeal for help. According to his story, he was a Northern cowman and had purchased the cattle a few days before in Dodge. He had bought the outfit complete, with the understanding that the through help would continue in his service until his range in Wyoming was reached. But it was a Mexican outfit, foreman and all, and during the storm of the night before, one of the men had been killed by lightning. The accident must have occurred near dawn, as the man was not missed until daybreak, and like ours, his cattle had drifted with the storm. Some time was lost in finding the body, and to add to the panic that had already stricken the outfit, the shirt of the unfortunate vaquero was burnt from the corpse. The horse had escaped scathless, though his rider met death, while the housings were stripped from the saddle so that it fell from the animal. The Mexican foreman and vaqueros had thrown their hands in the air; steeped in superstition, they considered the loss of their comrade a bad omen, and refused to go farther. The herd was as good as abandoned unless we could lend a hand.

The appeal was not in vain. Detailing four of my men, and leaving Jack Splann as segundo in charge of our cattle, I galloped away with the stranger. As we rode the short distance between the two herds and I mentally reviewed the situation, I could not help but think it was fortunate for the alien outfit that their employer was a Northern cowman instead of a Texan. Had the present owner been of the latter school, there would have been more than one dead Mexican before a valuable herd would have been abandoned over an unavoidable accident. I kept my thoughts to myself, however, for the man had troubles enough, and on reaching his drifting herd, we turned them back on their course. It was high noon when we reached his wagon and found the Mexican outfit still keening over their dead comrade. We pushed the cattle, a mixed herd of about twenty-five hundred, well past the camp, and riding back, dismounted among the howling vaqueros. There was not the semblance of sanity among them. The foreman, who could speak some little English, at least his employer declared he could, was carrying on like a madman, while a majority of the vaqueros were playing a close second. The dead man had been carried in and was lying under a tarpaulin in the shade of the wagon. Feeling that my boys would stand behind me, and never offering to look at the corpse, I inquired in Spanish of the vaqueros which one of the men was their corporal. A heavy-set, bearded man was pointed out, and walking up to him, with one hand I slapped him in the face and with the other relieved him of a six-shooter. He staggered back, turned ashen pale, and before he could recover from the surprise, in his own tongue I berated him as a worthless cur for deserting his employer over an accident. Following up the temporary advantage, I inquired for the cook and horse-wrangler, and intimated clearly that there would be other dead Mexicans if the men were not fed and the herd and saddle stock looked after; that they were not worthy of the name of vaqueros if they were lax in a duty with which they had been intrusted.

“But Pablo is dead,” piped one of the vaqueros in defense.

“Yes, he is,” said G–G Cederdall in Spanish, bristling up to the vaquero who had volunteered the reply; “and we’ll bury him and a half-dozen more of you if necessary, but the cattle will not be abandoned–not for a single hour. Pablo is dead, but he was no better than a hundred other men who have lost their lives on this trail. If you are a lot of locoed sheep-herders instead of vaqueros, why didn’t you stay at home with the children instead of starting out to do a man’s work. Desert your employer, will you? Not in a country where there is no chance to pick up other men. Yes, Pablo is dead, and we’ll bury him.”

The aliens were disconcerted, and wilted. The owner picked up courage and ordered the cook to prepare dinner. We loaned our horses to the wrangler and another man, the remuda was brought in, and before we sat down to the midday meal, every vaquero had a horse under saddle, while two of them had ridden away to look after the grazing cattle. With order restored, we set about systematically to lay away the unfortunate man. A detail of vaqueros under Cederdall prepared a grave on the nearest knoll, and wrapping the corpse in a tarpaulin, we buried him like a sailor at sea. Several vaqueros were visibly affected at the graveside, and in order to pacify them, I suggested that we unload the wagon of supplies and haul up a load of rock from a near-by outcropping ledge. Pablo had fallen like a good soldier at his post, I urged, and it was befitting that his comrades should mark his last resting-place. To our agreeable surprise the corporal hurrahed his men and the wagon was unloaded in a jiffy and dispatched after a load of rock. On its return, we spent an hour in decorating the mound, during which time lament was expressed for the future of Pablo’s soul. Knowing the almost universal faith of this alien race, as we stood around the finished mound, Cederdall, who was Catholic born, called for contributions to procure the absolution of the Church. The owner of the cattle was the first to respond, and with the aid of my boys and myself, augmented later by the vaqueros, a purse of over fifty dollars was raised and placed in charge of the corporal, to be expended in a private mass on their return to San Antonio. Meanwhile the herd and saddle stock had started, and reloading the wagon, we cast a last glance at the little mound which made a new landmark on the old trail.

The owner of the cattle was elated over the restoration of order. My contempt for him, however, had not decreased; the old maxim of fools rushing in where angels feared to tread had only been again exemplified. The inferior races may lack in courage and leadership, but never in cunning and craftiness. This alien outfit had detected some weakness in the armor of their new employer, and when the emergency arose, were ready to take advantage of the situation. Yet under an old patron, these same men would never dare to mutiny or assert themselves. That there were possible breakers ahead for this cowman there was no doubt; for every day that those Mexicans traveled into a strange country, their Aztec blood would yearn for their Southern home. And since the unforeseen could not be guarded against, at the first opportunity I warned the stranger that it was altogether too soon to shout. To his anxious inquiries I replied that his very presence with the herd was a menace to its successful handling by the Mexican outfit. He should throw all responsibility on the foreman, or take charge himself, which was impossible now; for an outfit which will sulk and mutiny once will do so again under less provocation. When my curtain lecture was ended, the owner authorized me to call his outfit together and give them such instructions as I saw fit.

We sighted our cattle but once during the afternoon. On locating the herd, two of my boys left us to return, hearing the message that the rest of us might not put in an appearance before morning. All during the evening, I made it a point to cultivate the acquaintance of several vaqueros, and learned the names of their master and rancho. Taking my cue from the general information gathered, when we encamped for the night and all hands, with the exception of those on herd, had finished catching horses, I attracted their attention by returning the six-shooter taken from their corporal at noontime. Commanding attention, in their mother tongue I addressed myself to the Mexican foreman.

“Felipe Esquibil,” said I, looking him boldly in the face, “you were foreman of this herd from Zavalla County, Texas, to the Arkansaw River, and brought your cattle through without loss or accident.

“The herd changed owners at Dodge, but with the understanding that you and your vaqueros were to accompany the cattle to this gentleman’s ranch in the upper country. An accident happens, and because you are not in full control, you shift the responsibility and play the baby act by wanting to go home. Had the death of one of your men occurred below the river, and while the herd was still the property of Don Dionisio of Rancho Los Olmus, you would have lost your own life before abandoning your cattle. Now, with the consent and approval of the new owner, you are again invested with full charge of this herd until you arrive at the Platte River. A new outfit will relieve you on reaching Ogalalla, and then you will be paid your reckoning and all go home. In your immediate rear are five herds belonging to my employer, and I have already sent warning to them of your attempted desertion. A fortnight or less will find you relieved, and the only safety in store for you is to go forward. Now your employer is going to my camp for the night, and may not see you again before this herd reaches the Platte. Remember, Don Felipe, that the opportunity is yours to regain your prestige as a corporal–and you need it after to-day’s actions. What would Don Dionisio say if he knew the truth? And do you ever expect to face your friends again at Los Olmus? From a trusted corporal back to a sheep-shearer would be your reward–and justly.”

Cederdall, Wolf, and myself shook hands with several vaqueros, and mounting our horses we started for my camp, taking the stranger with us. Only once did he offer any protest to going. “Very well, then,” replied G–G, unable to suppress his contempt, “go right back. I’ll gamble that you sheathe a knife before morning if you do. It strikes me you don’t sabe Mexicans very much.”

Around the camp-fire that night, the day’s work was reviewed. My rather drastic treatment of the corporal was fully commented upon and approved by the outfit, yet provoked an inquiry from the irrepressible Parent. Turning to the questioner, Burl Van Vedder said in dove-like tones: “Yes, dear, slapped him just to remind the varmint that his feet were on the earth, and that pawing the air and keening didn’t do any good. Remember, love, there was the living to be fed, the dead to bury, and the work in hand required every man to do his duty. Now was there anything else you’d like to know?”

CHAPTER XII. MARSHALING THE FORCES

Both herds had watered in the Smoky during the afternoon. The stranger’s cattle were not compelled to go down to the crossing, but found an easy passage several miles above the regular ford. After leaving the river, both herds were grazed out during the evening, and when darkness fell we were not over three miles apart, one on either side of the trail. The Wyoming cowman spent a restless night, and early the next morning rode to the nearest elevation which would give him a view of his cattle. Within an hour after sun-up he returned, elated over the fact that his herd was far in the lead of ours, camp being already broken, while we were only breakfasting. Matters were working out just as I expected. The mixed herd under the Mexican corporal, by moving early and late, could keep the lead of our beeves, and with the abundance of time at my disposal we were in no hurry. The Kansas Pacific Railroad was but a few days’ drive ahead, and I advised our guest to take the train around to Ogalalla and have a new outfit all ready to relieve the aliens immediately on their arrival. Promising to take the matter under consideration, he said nothing further for several days, his cattle in the mean time keeping a lead of from five to ten miles.

The trail crossed the railroad at a switch east of Grinnell. I was naturally expecting some word from Don Lovell, and it was my intention to send one of the boys into that station to inquire for mail. There was a hostelry at Grinnell, several stores and a livery stable, all dying an easy death from the blight of the arid plain, the town profiting little or nothing from the cattle trade. But when within a half-day’s drive of the railway, on overtaking the herd after dinner, there was old man Don talking to the boys on herd. The cattle were lying down, and rather than disturb them, he patiently bided his time until they had rested and arose to resume their journey. The old man was feeling in fine spirits, something unusual, and declined my urgent invitation to go back to the wagon and have dinner. I noticed that he was using his own saddle, though riding a livery horse, and in the mutual inquiries which were exchanged, learned that he had arrived at Grinnell but a few days before. He had left Camp Supply immediately after Forrest and Sponsilier passed that point, and until Siringo came in with his report, he had spent the time about detective headquarters in Kansas City. From intimate friends in Dodge, he had obtained the full particulars of the attempted but unsuccessful move of The Western Supply Company to take possession of his two herds. In fact there was very little that I could enlighten him on, except the condition of the cattle, and they spoke for themselves, their glossy coats shining with the richness of silk. On the other hand, my employer opened like a book.

“Tom, I think we’re past the worst of it,” said he. “Those Dodge people are just a trifle too officious to suit me, but Ogalalla is a cow-town after my own heart. They’re a law unto themselves up there, and a cowman stands some show–a good one against thieves. Ogalalla is the seat of an organized county, and the town has officers, it’s true, but they’ve got sense enough to know which side their bread’s buttered on; and a cowman who’s on the square has nothing to fear in that town. Yes, the whole gang, Tolleston and all, are right up here at Ogalalla now; bought a herd this week, so I hear, and expect to take two of these away from us the moment we enter Keith County. Well, they may; I’ve seen bad men before take a town, but it was only a question of time until the plain citizens retook it. They may try to bluff us, but if they do, we’ll meet them a little over halfway. Which one of your boys was it that licked Archie? I want to thank him until such a time as I can reward him better.”

The herd was moving out, and as Seay was working in the swing on the opposite side, we allowed the cattle to trail past, and then rode round and overtook him. The two had never met before, but old man Don warmed towards Dorg, who recited his experience in such an inimitable manner that our employer rocked in his saddle in spasms of laughter. Leaving the two together, I rode on ahead to look out the water, and when the herd came up near the middle of the afternoon, they were still inseparable. The watering over, we camped for the night several miles south of the railroad, the mixed herd having crossed it about noon. My guest of the past few days had come to a point requiring a decision and was in a quandary to know what to do. But when the situation had been thoroughly reviewed between Mr. Lovell and the Wyoming man, my advice was indorsed,–to trust implicitly to his corporal, and be ready to relieve the outfit at the Platte. Saddles were accordingly shifted, and the stranger, after professing a profusion of thanks, rode away on the livery horse by which my employer had arrived. Once the man was well out of hearing, the old trail drover turned to my outfit and said:

“Boys, there goes a warning that the days of the trail are numbered. To make a success of any business, a little common sense is necessary. Nine tenths of the investing in cattle to-day in the Northwest is being done by inexperienced men. No other line of business could prosper in such incompetent hands, and it’s foolish to think that cattle companies and individuals, nearly all tenderfeet at the business, can succeed. They may for a time,–there are accidents in every calling,–but when the tide turns, there won’t be one man or company in ten survive. I only wish they would, as it means life and expansion for the cattle interests in Texas. As long as the boom continues, and foreigners and tenderfeet pour their money in, the business will look prosperous. Why, even the business men are selling out their stores and going into cattle. But there’s a day of reckoning ahead, and there’s many a cowman in this Northwest country who will never see his money again. Now the government demand is a healthy one: it needs the cattle for Indian and military purposes; but this crazy investment, especially in she stuff, I wouldn’t risk a dollar in it.”

During the conversation that evening, I was delighted to learn that my employer expected to accompany the herds overland to Ogalalla. There was nothing pressing elsewhere, and as all the other outfits were within a short day’s ride in the rear, he could choose his abode. He was too good a cowman to interfere with the management of cattle, and the pleasure of his company, when in good humor, was to be desired. The next morning a horse was furnished him from our extras, and after seeing us safely across the railroad track, he turned back to meet Forrest or Sponsilier. This was the last we saw of him until after crossing into Nebraska. In the mean time my boys kept an eye on the Mexican outfit in our front, scarcely a day passing but what we sighted them either in person or by signal. Once they dropped back opposite us on the western side of the trail, when Cedardall, under the pretense of hunting lost horses, visited their camp, finding them contented and enjoying a lay-over. They were impatient to know the distance to the Rio Platte, and G–G assured them that within a week they would see its muddy waters and be relieved. Thus encouraged they held the lead, but several times vaqueros dropped back to make inquiries of drives and the water. The route was passable, with a short dry drive from the head of Stinking Water across to the Platte River, of which they were fully advised. Keeping them in sight, we trailed along leisurely, and as we went down the northern slope of the divide approaching the Republican River, we were overtaken at noon by Don Lovell and Dave Sponsilier.

“Quirk,” said the old man, as the two dismounted, “I was just telling Dave that twenty years ago this summer I carried a musket with Sherman in his march to the sea. And here we are to-day, driving beef to feed the army in the West. But that’s neither here nor there under the present programme. Jim Flood and I have talked matters over pretty thoroughly, and have decided to switch the foremen on the ‘Open A’ and ‘Drooping T’ cattle until after Ogalalla is passed. From their actions at Dodge, it is probable that they will try and arrest the foreman of those two herds as accessory under some charge or other. By shifting the foremen, even if the ones in charge are detained, we will gain time and be able to push the Buford cattle across the North Platte. The chances are that they will prefer some charges against me, and if they do, if necessary, we will all go to the lock-up together. They may have spotters ahead here on the Republican; Dave will take charge of your ‘Open A’s’ at once, and you will drop back and follow up with his cattle. For the time being and to every stranger, you two will exchange names. The Rebel is in charge of Forrest’s cattle now, and Quince will drop back with Paul’s herd. Dave, here, gave me the slip on crossing the Texas Pacific in the lower country, but when we reach the Union Pacific, I want to know where he is, even if in jail. And I may be right there with him, but we’ll live high, for I’ve got a lot of their money.”

Sponsilier reported his herd on the same side of the trail and about ten miles to our rear. I had no objection to the change, for those arid plains were still to be preferred to the lock-up in Ogalalla. My only regret was in temporarily losing my mount; but as Dave’s horses were nearly as good, no objection was urged, and promising, in case either landed in jail, to send flowers, I turned back, leaving my employer with the lead herd. Before starting, I learned that the “Drooping T” cattle were in advance of Sponsilier’s, and as I soldiered along on my way back, rode several miles out of my way to console my old bunkie, The Rebel. He took my chaffing good-naturedly and assured me that his gray hairs were a badge of innocence which would excuse him on any charge. Turning, I rode back with him over a mile, this being my first opportunity of seeing Forrest’s beeves. The steers were large and rangy, extremely uniform in ages and weight, and in general relieved me of considerable conceit that I had the best herd among the Buford cattle. With my vanity eased, I continued my journey and reached Sponsilier’s beeves while they were watering. Again a surprise was in store for me, as the latter herd had, if any, the edge over the other two, while “The Apple” was by all odds the prettiest road brand I had ever seen. I asked the acting segundo, a lad named Tupps, who cut the cattle when receiving; light was thrown on the situation by his reply.

“Old man Don joined the outfit the day we reached Uvalde,” said he, “and until we began receiving, he poured it into our foreman that this year the cattle had to be something extra–muy escogido, as the Mexicans say. Well, the result was that Sponsilier went to work with ideas pitched rather high. But in the first bunch received, the old man cut a pretty little four-year-old, fully a hundred pounds too light. Dave and Mr. Lovell had a set-to over the beef, the old man refusing to cut him back, but he rode out of the herd and never again offered to interfere. Forrest was present, and at dinner that day old man Don admitted that he was too easy when receiving. Sponsilier and Forrest did the trimming afterward, and that is the secret of these two herds being so uniform.”

A general halt was called at the head of Stinking Water. We were then within forty miles of Ogalalla, and a day’s drive would put us within the jurisdiction of Keith County. Some time was lost at this last water, waiting for the rear herds to arrive, as it was the intention to place the “Open A” and “Drooping T” cattle at the rear in crossing this dry belt. At the ford on the Republican, a number of strangers were noticed, two of whom rode a mile or more with me, and innocently asked numerous but leading questions. I frankly answered every inquiry, and truthfully, with the exception of the names of the lead foreman and my own. Direct, it was only sixty miles from the crossing on the Republican to Ogalalla, an easy night’s ride, and I was conscious that our whereabouts would be known at the latter place the next morning. For several days before starting across this arid stretch, we had watered at ten o’clock in the morning, so when Flood and Forrest came up, mine being the third herd to reach the last water, I was all ready to pull out. But old man Don counseled another day’s lie-over, as it would be a sore trial for the herds under a July sun, and for a full day twenty thousand beeves grazed in sight of each other on the mesas surrounding the head of Stinking Water. All the herds were aroused with the dawn, and after a few hours’ sun on the cattle, the Indian beeves were turned onto the water and held until the middle of the forenoon, when the start was made for the Platte and Ogalalla.

I led out with “The Apple” cattle, throwing onto the trail for the first ten miles, which put me well in advance of Bob Quirk and Forrest, who were in my immediate rear. A well-known divide marked the halfway between the two waters, and I was determined to camp on it that night. It was fully nine o’clock when we reached it, Don Lovell in the mean time having overtaken us. This watershed was also recognized as the line of Keith County, an organized community, and the next morning expectation ran high as to what the day would bring forth. Lovell insisted on staying with the lead herd, and pressing him in as horse-wrangler, I sent him in the lead with the remuda and wagon, while Levering fell into the swing with the trailing cattle. A breakfast halt was made fully seven miles from the bed-ground, a change of mounts, and then up divide, across mesa, and down slope at the foot of which ran the Platte. Meanwhile several wayfaring men were met, but in order to avoid our dust, they took the right or unbranded side of our herd on meeting, and passed on their way without inquiry. Near noon a party of six men, driving a number of loose mounts and a pack-horse, were met, who also took the windward side. Our dragmen learned that they were on their way to Dodge to receive a herd of range horses. But when about halfway down the slope towards the river, two mounted men were seen to halt the remuda and wagon for a minute, and then continue on southward. Billy Tupps was on the left point, myself next in the swing; and as the two horsemen turned out on the branded side, their identity was suspected. In reply to some inquiry, Tupps jerked his thumb over his shoulder as much as to say, “Next man.” I turned out and met the strangers, who had already noted the road brand, and politely answered every question. One of the two offered me a cigar, and after lighting it, I did remember hearing one of my boys say that among the herds lying over on the head of Stinking Water was an “Open A” and “Drooping T,” but I was unable to recall the owner’s or foremen’s names. Complimenting me on the condition of my beeves, and assuring me that I would have time to water my herd and reach the mesa beyond Ogalalla, they passed on down the column of cattle.

I had given the cook an order on an outfitting house for new supplies, saying I would call or send a draft in the morning. A new bridge had been built across the Platte opposite the town, and when nearing the river, the commissary turned off the trail for it, but the horse-wrangler for the day gave the bridge a wide berth and crossed the stream a mile below the village. The width of the river was a decided advantage in watering a thirsty herd, as it gave the cattle room to thrash around, filling its broad bed for fully a half mile. Fortunately there were few spectators, but I kept my eye on the lookout for a certain faction, being well disguised with dust and dirt and a month’s growth of beard. As we pushed out of the river and were crossing the tracks below the railroad yards, two other herds were sighted coming down to the water, their remudas having forded above and below our cattle. On scaling the bluffs, we could see the trail south of the Platte on which arose a great column of dust. Lovell was waiting with the saddle stock in the hills beyond the town, and on striking the first good grass, the cattle fell to grazing while we halted to await the arrival of the wagon. The sun was still several hours high, and while waiting for our commissary to come up, my employer and myself rode to the nearest point of observation to reconnoitre the rear. Beneath us lay the hamlet; but our eyes were concentrated beyond the narrow Platte valley on a dust-cloud which hung midway down the farther slope. As we watched, an occasional breeze wafted the dust aside, and the sinuous outline of a herd creeping forward greeted our vision. Below the town were two other herds, distinctly separate and filling the river for over a mile with a surging mass of animals, while in every direction cattle dotted the plain and valley. Turning aside from the panorama before us, my employer said:

“Tom, you will have time to graze out a few miles and camp to the left of the trail. I’ll stay here and hurry your wagon forward, and wait for Bob and Quince. That lead herd beyond the river is bound to be Jim’s, and he’s due to camp on this mesa to-night, so these outfits must give him room. If Dave and Paul are still free to act, they’ll know enough to water and camp on the south side of the Platte. I’ll stay at Flood’s wagon to-night, and you had better send a couple of your boys into town and let them nose around. They’ll meet lads from the ‘Open A’ and ‘Drooping T’ outfits; and I’ll send Jim and Bob in, and by midnight we’ll have a report of what’s been done. If any one but an officer takes possession of those two herds, it’ll put us to the trouble of retaking them. And I think I’ve got men enough here to do it.”

CHAPTER XIII. JUSTICE IN THE SADDLE

It was an hour after the usual time when we bedded down the cattle. The wagon had overtaken us about sunset, and the cook’s fire piloted us into a camp fully two miles to the right of the trail. A change of horses was awaiting us, and after a hasty supper Tupps detailed two young fellows to visit Ogalalla. It required no urging; I outlined clearly what was expected of their mission, requesting them to return by the way of Flood’s wagon, and to receive any orders which my employer might see fit to send. The horse-wrangler was pressed in to stand the guard of one of the absent lads on the second watch, and I agreed to take the other, which fell in the third. The boys had not yet returned when our guard was called, but did so shortly afterward, one of them hunting me up on night-herd.

“Well,” said he, turning his horse and circling with me, “we caught onto everything that was adrift. The Rebel and Sponsilier were both in town, in charge of two deputies. Flood and your brother went in with us, and with the lads from the other outfits, including those across the river, there must have been twenty-five of Lovell’s men in town. I noticed that Dave and The Rebel were still wearing their six-shooters, while among the boys the arrests were looked upon as quite a joke. The two deputies had all kinds of money, and wouldn’t allow no one but themselves to spend a cent. The biggest one of the two–the one who gave you the cigar–would say to my boss: ‘Sponsilier, you’re a trail foreman from Texas–one of Don Lovell’s boss men–but you’re under arrest; your cattle are in my possession this very minute. You understand that, don’t you? Very well, then; everybody come up and have a drink on the sheriff’s office.’ That was about the talk in every saloon and dance-hall visited. But when we proposed starting back to camp, about midnight, the big deputy said to Flood: ‘I want you to tell Colonel Lovell that I hold a warrant for his arrest; urge him not to put me to the trouble of coming out after him. If he had identified himself to me this afternoon, he could have slept on a goose-hair bed to-night instead of out there on the mesa, on the cold ground. His reputation in this town would entitle him to three meals a day, even if he was under arrest. Now, we’ll have one more, and tell the damned old rascal that I’ll expect him in the morning.'”

We rode out the watch together. On returning to Flood’s camp, they had found Don Lovell awake. The old man was pleased with the report, but sent me no special word except to exercise my own judgment. The cattle were tired after their long tramp of the day before, the outfit were saddle weary, and the first rays of the rising sun flooded the mesa before men or animals offered to arise. But the duties of another day commanded us anew, and with the cook calling us, we rose to meet them. I was favorably impressed with Tupps as a segundo, and after breakfast suggested that he graze the cattle over to the North Platte, cross it, and make a permanent camp. This was agreed to, half the men were excused for the day, and after designating, beyond the river, a clump of cottonwoods where the wagon would be found, seven of us turned and rode back for Ogalalla. With picked mounts under us, we avoided the other cattle which could be seen grazing northward, and when fully halfway to town, there before us on the brink of the mesa loomed up the lead of a herd. I soon recognized Jack Splann on the point, and taking a wide circle, dropped in behind him, the column stretching back a mile and coming up the bluffs, forty abreast like an army in loose marching order. I was proud of those “Open A’s;” they were my first herd, and though in a hurry to reach town, I turned and rode back with them for fully a mile.

Splann was acting under orders from Flood, who had met him at the ford that morning. If the cattle were in the possession of any deputy sheriff, they had failed to notify Jack, and the latter had already started for the North Platte of his own accord. The “Drooping T” cattle were in the immediate rear under Forrest’s segundo, and Splann urged me to accompany him that forenoon, saying: “From what the boys said this morning, Dave and Paul will not be given a hearing until two o’clock this afternoon. I can graze beyond the North Fork by that time, and then we’ll all go back together. Flood’s right behind here with the ‘Drooping T’s,’ and I think it’s his intention to go all the way to the river. Drop back and see him.”

The boys who were with me never halted, but had ridden on towards town. When the second herd began the ascent of the mesa, I left Splann and turned back, waiting on the brink for its arrival. As it would take the lead cattle some time to reach me, I dismounted, resting in the shade of my horse. But my rest was brief, for the clattering hoofs of a cavalcade of horsemen were approaching, and as I arose, Quince Forrest and Bob Quirk with a dozen or more men dashed up and halted. As their herds were intended for the Crow and Fort Washakie agencies, they would naturally follow up the south side of the North Platte, and an hour or two of grazing would put them in camp. The Buford cattle, as well as Flood’s herd, were due to cross this North Fork of the mother Platte within ten miles of Ogalalla, their respective routes thenceforth being north and northeast. Forrest, like myself, was somewhat leary of entering the town, and my brother and the boys passed on shortly, leaving Quince behind. We discussed every possible phase of what might happen in case we were recognized, which was almost certain if Tolleston or the Dodge buyers were encountered. But an overweening hunger to get into Ogalalla was dominant in us, and under the excuse of settling for our supplies, after the herd passed, we remounted our horses, Flood joining us, and rode for the hamlet.

There was little external and no moral change in the town. Several new saloons had opened, and in anticipation of the large drive that year, the Dew-Drop-In dance-hall had been enlarged, and employed three shifts of bartenders. A stage had been added with the new addition, and a special importation of ladies had been brought out from Omaha for the season. I use the term LADIES advisedly, for in my presence one of the proprietors, with marked courtesy, said to an Eastern stranger, “Oh, no, you need no introduction. My wife is the only woman in town; all the balance are ladies.” Beyond a shave and a hair-cut, Forrest and I fought shy of public places. But after the supplies were settled for, and some new clothing was secured, we chambered a few drinks and swaggered about with considerable ado. My bill of supplies amounted to one hundred and twenty-six dollars, and when, without a word, I drew a draft for the amount, the proprietor of the outfitting store, as a pelon, made me a present of two fine silk handkerchiefs.

Forrest was treated likewise, and having invested ourselves in white shirts, with flaming red ties, we used the new handkerchiefs to otherwise decorate our persons. We had both chosen the brightest colors, and with these knotted about our necks, dangling from pistol-pockets, or protruding from ruffled shirt fronts, our own mothers would scarcely have known us. Jim Flood, whom we met casually on a back street, stopped, and after circling us once, said, “Now if you fellows just keep perfectly sober, your disguise will be complete.”

Meanwhile Don Lovell had reported at an early hour to the sheriff’s office. The legal profession was represented in Ogalalla by several firms, criminal practice being their specialty; but fortunately Mike Sutton, an attorney of Dodge, had arrived in town the day before on a legal errand for another trail drover. Sutton was a frontier advocate, alike popular with the Texas element and the gambling fraternity, having achieved laurels in his home town as a criminal lawyer. Mike was born on the little green isle beyond the sea, and, gifted with the Celtic wit, was also in logic clear as the tones of a bell, while his insight into human motives was almost superhuman. Lovell had had occasion in other years to rely on Sutton’s counsel, and now would listen to no refusal of his services. As it turned out, the lawyer’s mission in Ogalalla was so closely in sympathy with Lovell’s trouble that they naturally strengthened each other. The highest tribunal of justice in Ogalalla was the county court, the judge of which also ran the stock-yards during the shipping season, and was banker for two monte games at the Lone Star saloon. He enjoyed the reputation of being an honest, fearless jurist, and supported by a growing civic pride, his decisions gave satisfaction. A sense of crude equity governed his rulings, and as one of the citizens remarked, “Whatever the judge said, went.” It should be remembered that this was in ’84, but had a similar trouble occurred five years earlier, it is likely that Judge Colt would have figured in the preliminaries, and the coroner might have been called on to impanel a jury. But the rudiments of civilization were sweeping westward, and Ogalalla was nerved to the importance of the occasion; for that very afternoon a hearing was to be given for the possession of two herds of cattle, valued at over a quarter-million dollars.

The representatives of The Western Supply Company were quartered in the largest hotel in town, but seldom appeared on the streets. They had employed a firm of local attorneys, consisting of an old and a young man, both of whom evidently believed in the justice of their client’s cause. All the cattle-hands in Lovell’s employ were anxious to get a glimpse of Tolleston, many of them patronizing the bar and table of the same hostelry, but their efforts were futile until the hour arrived for the hearing. They probably have a new court-house in Ogalalla now, but at the date of this chronicle the building which served as a temple of justice was poorly proportioned, its height being entirely out of relation to its width. It was a two-story affair, the lower floor being used for county offices, the upper one as the court-room. A long stairway ran up the outside of the building, landing on a gallery in front, from which the sheriff announced the sitting of the honorable court of Keith County. At home in Texas, lawsuits were so rare that though I was a grown man, the novelty of this one absorbed me. Quite a large crowd had gathered in advance of the hour, and while awaiting the arrival of Judge Mulqueen, a contingent of fifteen men from the two herds in question rode up and halted in front of the court-house. Forrest and I were lying low, not caring to be seen, when the three plaintiffs, the two local attorneys, and Tolleston put in an appearance. The cavalcade had not yet dismounted, and when Dorg Seay caught sight of Tolleston, he stood up in his stirrups and sang out, “Hello there, Archibald! my old college chum, how goes it?”

Judge Mulqueen had evidently dressed for the occasion, for with the exception of the plaintiffs, he was the only man in the court-room who wore a coat. The afternoon was a sultry one; in that first bottom of the Platte there was scarcely a breath of air, and collars wilted limp as rags. Neither map nor chart graced the unplastered walls, the unpainted furniture of the room was sadly in need of repair, while a musty odor permeated the room. Outside the railing the seating capacity of the court-room was rather small, rough, bare planks serving for seats, but the spectators gladly stood along the sides and rear, eager to catch every word, as they silently mopped the sweat which oozed alike from citizen and cattleman. Forrest and I were concealed in the rear, which was packed with Lovell’s boys, when the judge walked in and court opened for the hearing. Judge Mulqueen requested counsel on either side to be as brief and direct as possible, both in their pleadings and testimony, adding: “If they reach the stock-yards in time, I may have to load out a train of feeders this evening. We’ll bed the cars, anyhow.” Turning to the sheriff, he continued: “Frank, if you happen outside, keep an eye up the river; those Lincoln feeders made a deal yesterday for five hundred three-year-olds.–Read your complaint.”

The legal document was read with great fervor and energy by the younger of the two local lawyers. In the main it reviewed the situation correctly, every point, however, being made subservient to their object,–the possession of the cattle. The plaintiffs contended that they were the innocent holders of the original contract between the government and The Western Supply Company, properly assigned; that they had purchased these two herds in question, had paid earnest-money to the amount of sixty-five thousand dollars on the same, and concluded by petitioning the court for possession. Sutton arose, counseled a moment with Lovell, and borrowing a chew of tobacco from Sponsilier, leisurely addressed the court.

“I shall not trouble your honor by reading our reply in full, but briefly state its contents,” said he, in substance. “We admit that the herds in question, which have been correctly described by road brands and ages, are the property of my client. We further admit that the two trail foremen here under arrest as accessories were acting under the orders of their employer, who assumes all responsibility for their acts, and in our pleadings we ask this honorable court to discharge them from further detention. The earnest-money, said to have been paid on these herds, is correct to a cent, and we admit having the amount in our possession. But,” and the little advocate’s voice rose, rich in its Irish brogue, “we deny any assignment of the original contract. The Western Supply Company is a corporation name, a shield and fence of thieves. The plaintiffs here can claim no assignment, because they themselves constitute the company. It has been decided that a man cannot steal his own money, neither can he assign from himself to himself. We shall prove by a credible witness that The Western Supply Company is but another name for John C. Fields, Oliver Radcliff, and the portly gentleman who was known a year ago as ‘Honest’ John Griscom, one of his many aliases. If to these names you add a few moneyed confederates, you have The Western Supply Company, one and the same. We shall also prove that for years past these same gentlemen have belonged to a ring, all brokers in government contracts, and frequently finding it necessary to use assumed names, generally that of a corporation.”

Scanning the document in his hand, Sutton continued: “Our motive in selling and accepting money on these herds in Dodge demands a word of explanation. The original contract calls for five million pounds of beef on foot to be delivered at Fort Buford. My client is a sub-contractor under that award. There are times, your honor, when it becomes necessary to resort to questionable means to attain an end. This is one of them. Within a week after my client had given bonds for the fulfillment of his contract, he made the discovery that he was dealing with a double-faced set of scoundrels. From that day until the present moment, secret-service men have shadowed every action of the plaintiffs. My client has anticipated their every move. When beeves broke in price from five to seven dollars a head, Honest John, here, made his boasts in Washington City over a champagne supper that he and his associates would clear one hundred thousand dollars on their Buford contract. Let us reason together how this could be done. The Western Supply Company refused, even when offered a bonus, to assign their contract to my client. But they were perfectly willing to transfer it, from themselves as a corporation, to themselves as individuals, even though they had previously given Don Lovell a subcontract for the delivery of the beees. The original award was made seven months ago, and the depreciation in cattle since is the secret of why the frog eat the cabbage. My client is under the necessity of tendering his cattle on the day of delivery, and proposes to hold this earnest-money to indemnify himself in case of an adverse decision at Fort Buford. It is the only thing he can do, as The Western Supply Company is execution proof, its assets consisting of some stud-horse office furniture and a corporate seal. On the other hand, Don Lovell is rated at half a million, mostly in pasture lands; is a citizen of Medina County, Texas, and if these gentlemen have any grievance, let them go there and sue him. A judgment against my client is good. Now, your honor, you have our side of the question. To be brief, shall these old Wisinsteins come out here from Washington City and dispossess any man of his property? There is but one answer–not in the Republic of Keith.”

All three of the plaintiffs took the stand, their testimony supporting the complaint, Lovell’s attorney refusing even to cross-examine any one of them. When they rested their case Sutton arose, and scanning the audience for some time, inquired, “Is Jim Reed there?” In response, a tall, one-armed man worked his way from the outer gallery through the crowd and advanced to the rail. I knew Reed by sight only, my middle brother having made several trips with his trail cattle, but he was known to every one by reputation. He had lost an arm in the Confederate service, and was recognized by the gambling fraternity as the gamest man among all the trail drovers, while every cowman from the Rio Grande to the Yellowstone knew him as a poker-player. Reed was asked to take the stand, and when questioned if he knew either of the plaintiffs, said:

“Yes, I know that fat gentleman, and I’m powerful glad to meet up with him again,” replied the witness, designating Honest John. “That man is so crooked that he can’t sleep in a bed, and it’s one of the wonders of this country that he hasn’t stretched hemp before this. I made his acquaintance as manager of The Federal Supply Company, and delivered three thousand cows to him at the Washita Indian Agency last fall. In the final settlement, he drew on three different banks, and one draft of twenty-eight thousand dollars came back, indorsed, DRAWEE UNKNOWN. I had other herds on the trail to look after, and it was a month before I found out that the check was bogus, by which time Honest John had sailed for Europe. There was nothing could be done but put my claim into a judgment and lay for him. But I’ve got a grapevine twist on him now, for no sooner did he buy a herd here last week than Mr. Sutton transferred the judgment to this jurisdiction, and his cattle will be attached this afternoon. I’ve been on his trail for nearly a year, but he’ll come to me now, and before he can move his beeves out of this county, the last cent must come, with interest, attorney’s fees, detective bills, and remuneration for my own time and trouble. That’s the reason that I’m so glad to meet him. Judge, I’ve gone to the trouble and expense to get his record for the last ten years. He’s so snaky he sheds his name yearly, shifting for a nickname from Honest John to The Quaker. In ’80 he and his associates did business under the name of The Army & Sutler Supply Company, and I know of two judgments that can be bought very reasonable against that corporation. His record would convince any one that he despises to make an honest dollar.”

The older of the two attorneys for the plaintiffs asked a few questions, but the replies were so unsatisfactory to their side, that they soon passed the witness. During the cross-questioning, however, the sheriff had approached the judge and whispered something to his honor. As there were no further witnesses to be examined, the local attorneys insisted on arguing the case, but Judge Mulqueen frowned them down, saying:

“This court sees no occasion for any argument in the present case. You might spout until you were black in the face and it wouldn’t change my opinion any; besides I’ve got twenty cars to send and a train of cattle to load out this evening. This court refuses to interfere with the herds in question, at present the property of and in possession of Don Lovell, who, together with his men, are discharged from custody. If you’re in town to-night, Mr. Reed, drop into the Lone Star. Couple of nice monte games running there; hundred-dollar limit, and if you feel lucky, there’s a nice bank roll behind them. Adjourn court, Mr. Sheriff.”

CHAPTER XIV. TURNING THE TABLES

“Keep away from me, you common cow-hands,” said Sponsilier, as a group of us waited for him at the foot of the court-house stairs. But Dave’s gravity soon turned to a smile as he continued: “Did you fellows notice The Rebel and me sitting inside the rail among all the big augers? Paul, was it a dream, or did we sleep in a bed last night and have a sure-enough pillow under our heads? My memory is kind of hazy to-day, but I remember the drinks and the cigars all right, and saying to some one that this luck was too good to last. And here we are turned out in the cold world again, our fun all over, and now must go back to those measly cattle. But it’s just what I expected.”

The crowd dispersed quietly, though the sheriff took the precaution to accompany the plaintiffs and Tolleston back to their hotel. The absence of the two deputies whom we had met the day before was explained by the testimony of the one-armed cowman. When the two drovers came downstairs, they were talking very confidentially together, and on my employer noticing the large number of his men present, he gave orders for them to meet him at once at the White Elephant saloon. Those who had horses at hand mounted and dashed down the street, while the rest of us took it leisurely around to the appointed rendezvous, some three blocks distant. While on the way, I learned from The Rebel that the cattle on which the attachment was to be made that afternoon were then being held well up the North Fork. Sheriff Phillips joined us shortly after we entered the saloon, and informed my employer and Mr. Reed that the firm of Field, Radcliff & Co. had declared war. They had even denounced him and the sheriff’s office as being in collusion against them, and had dispatched Tolleston with orders to refuse service.

“Let them get on the prod all they want to,” said Don Lovell to Reed and the sheriff. “I’ve got ninety men here, and you fellows are welcome to half of them, even if I have to go out and stand a watch on night-herd myself. Reed, we can’t afford to have our business ruined by such a set of scoundrels, and we might as well fight it out here and now. Look at the situation I’m in. A hundred thousand dollars wouldn’t indemnify me in having my cattle refused as late as the middle of September at Fort Buford. And believing that I will be turned down, under my contract, so Sutton says, I must tender my beeves on the appointed day of delivery, which will absolve my bondsmen and me from all liability. A man can’t trifle with the government–the cattle must be there. Now in my case, Jim, what would you do?”

“That’s a hard question, Don. You see we’re strangers up in this Northwest country. Now, if it was home in Texas, there would be only one thing to do. Of course I’m no longer handy with a shotgun, but you’ve got two good arms.”

“Well, gentlemen,” said the sheriff, “you must excuse me for interrupting, but if my deputies are to take possession of that herd this afternoon, I must saddle up and go to the front. If Honest John and associates try to stand up any bluffs on my office, they’ll only run on the rope once. I’m much obliged to you, Mr. Lovell, for the assurance of any help I may need, for it’s quite likely that I may have to call upon you. If a ring of government speculators can come out here and refuse service, or dictate to my office, then old Keith County is certainly on the verge of decadence. Now, I’ll be all ready to start for the North Fork in fifteen minutes, and I’d admire to have you all go along.”

Lovell and Reed both expressed a willingness to accompany the sheriff. Phillips thanked them and nodded to the force behind the mahogany, who dexterously slid the glasses up and down the bar, and politely inquired of the double row confronting them as to their tastes. As this was the third round since entering the place, I was anxious to get away, and summoning Forrest, we started for our horses. We had left them at a barn on a back street, but before reaching the livery, Quince concluded that he needed a few more cartridges. I had ordered a hundred the day before for my own personal use, but they had been sent out with the supplies and were then in camp. My own belt was filled with ammunition, but on Forrest buying fifty, I took an equal number, and after starting out of the store, both turned back and doubled our purchases. On arriving at the stable, whom should I meet but the Wyoming cowman who had left us at Grinnell. During the few minutes in which I was compelled to listen to his troubles, he informed me that on his arrival at Ogalalla, all the surplus cow-hands had been engaged by a man named Tolleston for the Yellowstone country. He had sent to his ranch, however, for an outfit who would arrive that evening, and he expected to start his herd the next morning. But without wasting any words, Forrest and I swung into our saddles, waved a farewell to the wayfaring acquaintance, and rode around to the White Elephant. The sheriff and quite a cavalcade of our boys had already started, and on reaching the street which terminated in the only road leading to the North Fork, we were halted by Flood to await the arrival of the others. Jim Reed and my employer were still behind, and some little time was lost before they came up, sufficient to give the sheriff a full half-mile start. But under the leadership of the two drovers, we shook out our horses, and the advance cavalcade were soon overtaken.

“Well, Mr. Sheriff,” said old man Don, as he reined in beside Phillips, “how do you like the looks of this for a posse? I’ll vouch that they’re all good cow-hands, and if you want to deputize the whole works, why, just work your rabbit’s foot. You might leave Reed and me out, but I think there’s some forty odd without us. Jim and I are getting a little too old, but we’ll hang around and run errands and do the clerking. I’m perfectly willing to waste a week, and remember that we’ve got the chuck and nearly a thousand saddle horses right over here on the North Fork. You can move your office out to one of my wagons if you wish, and whatever’s mine is yours, just so long as Honest John and his friends pay the fiddler. If he and his associates are going to make one hundred thousand dollars on the Buford contract, one thing is certain–I’ll lose plenty of money on this year’s drive. If he refuses service and you take possession, your office will be perfectly justified in putting a good force of men with the herd. And at ten dollars a day for a man and horse, they’ll soon get sick and Reed will get his pay. If I have to hold the sack in the end, I don’t want any company.”

The location of the beeves was about twelve miles from town and but a short distance above the herds of The Rebel and Bob Quirk. It was nearly four o’clock when we left the hamlet, and by striking a free gait, we covered the intervening distance in less than an hour and a half. The mesa between the two rivers was covered with through cattle, and as we neared the herd in question, we were met by the larger one of the two chief deputies. The undersheriff was on his way to town, but on sighting his superior among us, he halted and a conference ensued. Sponsilier and Priest made a great ado over the big deputy on meeting, and after a few inquiries were exchanged, the latter turned to Sheriff Phillips and said:

“Well, we served the papers and I left the other two boys in temporary possession of the cattle. It’s a badly mixed-up affair. The Texas foreman is still in charge, and he seems like a reasonable fellow. The terms of the sale were to be half cash here and the balance at the point of delivery. But the buyers only paid forty thousand down, and the trail boss refuses to start until they make good their agreement. From what I could gather from the foreman, the buyers simply buffaloed the young fellow out of his beeves, and are now hanging back for more favorable terms. He accepted service all right and assured me that our men would be welcome at his wagon until further notice, so I left matters just as I found them. But as I was on the point of leaving, that segundo of the buyers arrived and tried to stir up a little trouble. We all sat down on him rather hard, and as I left he and the Texas foreman were holding quite a big pow-wow.”

“That’s Tolleston all right,” said old man Don, “and you can depend on him stirring up a muss if there’s any show. It’s a mystery to me how I tolerated that fellow as long as I did. If some of you boys will corner and hold him for me, I’d enjoy reading his title to him in a few plain words. It’s due him, and I want to pay everything I owe. What’s the programme, Mr. Sheriff?”

“The only safe thing to do is to get full possession of the cattle,” replied Phillips. “My deputies are all right, but they don’t thoroughly understand the situation. Mr. Lovell, if you can lend me ten men, I’ll take charge of the herd at once and move them back down the river about seven miles. They’re entirely too near the west line of the county to suit me, and once they’re in our custody the money will be forthcoming, or the expenses will mount up rapidly. Let’s ride.”

The under-sheriff turned back with us. A swell of the mesa cut off a view of the herd, but under the leadership of the deputy we rode to its summit, and there before and under us were both camp and cattle. Arriving at the wagon, Phillips very politely informed the Texas foreman that he would have to take full possession of his beeves for a few days, or until the present difficulties were adjusted. The trail boss was a young fellow of possibly thirty, and met the sheriff’s demand with several questions, but, on being assured that his employer’s equity in the herd would be fully protected without expense, he offered no serious objection. It developed that Reed had some slight acquaintance with the seller of the cattle, and lost no time in informing the trail boss of the record of the parties with whom his employer was dealing. The one-armed drover’s language was plain, the foreman knew Reed by reputation, and when Lovell assured the young man that he would be welcome at any of his wagons, and would be perfectly at liberty to see that his herd was properly cared for, he yielded without a word. My sympathies were with the foreman, for he seemed an honest fellow, and deliberately to take his herd from him, to my impulsive reasoning looked like an injustice. But the sheriff and those two old cowmen were determined, and the young fellow probably acted for the best in making a graceful surrender.

Meanwhile the two deputies in charge failed to materialize, and on inquiry they were reported as out at the herd with Tolleston. The foreman accompanied us to the cattle, and while on the way he informed the sheriff that he wished to count the beeves over to him and take a receipt for the same. Phillips hesitated, as he was no cowman, but Reed spoke up and insisted that it was fair and just, saying: “Of course, you’ll count the cattle and give him a receipt in numbers, ages, and brands. It’s not this young man’s fault that his herd must undergo all this trouble, and when he turns them over to an officer of the law he ought to have something to show for it. Any of Lovell’s foremen here will count them to a hair for you, and Don and I will witness the receipt, which will make it good among cowmen.”

Without loss of time the herd was started east. Tolleston kept well out of reach of my employer, and besought every one to know what this movement meant. But when the trail boss and Jim Flood rode out to a swell of ground ahead, and the point-men began filing the column through between the two foremen, Archie was sagacious enough to know that the count meant something serious. In the mean time Bob Quirk had favored Tolleston with his company, and when the count was nearly half over, my brother quietly informed him that the sheriff was taking possession. Once the atmosphere cleared, Archie grew uneasy and restless, and as the last few hundred beeves were passing the counters, he suddenly concluded to return to Ogalalla. But my brother urged him not to think of going until he had met his former employer, assuring Tolleston that the old man had made inquiry about and was anxious to meet him. The latter, however, could not remember anything of urgent importance between them, and pleaded the lateness of the hour and the necessity of his immediate return to town. The more urgent Bob Quirk became, the more fidgety grew Archie. The last of the cattle were passing the count as Tolleston turned away from my brother’s entreaty, and giving his horse the rowel, started off on a gallop. But there was a scattering field of horsemen to pass, and before the parting guest could clear it, a half-dozen ropes circled in the air and deftly settled over his horse’s neck and himself, one of which pinioned his arms. The boys were expecting something of this nature, and fully half the men in Lovell’s employ galloped up and formed a circle around the captive, now livid with rage. Archie was cursing by both note and rhyme, and had managed to unearth a knife and was trying to cut the lassos which fettered himself and horse, when Dorg Seay rode in and rapped him over the knuckles with a six-shooter, saying, “Don’t do that, sweetheart; those ropes cost thirty-five cents apiece.”

Fortunately the knife was knocked from Tolleston’s hand and his six-shooter secured, rendering him powerless to inflict injury to any one. The cattle count had ended, and escorted by a cordon of mounted men, both horse and captive were led over to where a contingent had gathered around to hear the result of the count. I was merely a delighted spectator, and as the other men turned from the cattle and met us, Lovell languidly threw one leg over his horse’s neck, and, suppressing a smile, greeted his old foreman.

“Hello, Archie,” said he; “it’s been some little time since last we met. I’ve been hearing some bad reports about you, and was anxious to meet up and talk matters over. Boys, take those ropes off his horse and give him back his irons; I raised this man and made him the cow-hand he is, and there’s nothing so serious between us that we should remain strangers. Now, Archie, I want you to know that you are in the employ of my enemies, who are as big a set of scoundrels as ever missed a halter. You and Flood, here, were the only two men in my employ who knew all the facts in regard to the Buford contract. And just because I wouldn’t favor you over a blind horse, you must hunt up the very men who are trying to undermine me on this drive. No wonder they gave you employment, for you’re a valuable man to them; but it’s at a serious loss,–the loss of your honor. You can’t go home to Texas and again be respected among men. This outfit you are with will promise you the earth, but the moment that they’re through with you, you won’t cut any more figure than a last year’s bird’s nest. They’ll throw you aside like an old boot, and you’ll fall so hard that you’ll hear the clock tick in China. Now, Archie, it hurts me to see a young fellow like you go wrong, and I’m willing to forgive the past and stretch out a hand to save you. If you’ll quit those people, you can have Flood’s cattle from here to the Rosebud Agency, or I’ll buy you a ticket home and you can help with the fall work at the ranch. You may have a day or two to think this matter over, and whatever you decide on will be final. You have shown little gratitude for the opportunities that I’ve given you, but we’ll break the old slate and start all over with a new one. Now, that’s all I wanted to say to you, except to do your own thinking. If you’re going back to town, I’ll ride a short distance with you.”

The two rode away together, but halted within sight for a short conference, after which Lovell returned. The cattle were being drifted east by the deputies and several of our boys, the trail boss having called off his men on an agreement of the count. The herd had tallied out thirty-six hundred and ten head, but in making out the receipt, the fact was developed that there were some six hundred beeves not in the regular road brand. These had been purchased extra from another source, and had been paid for in full by the buyers, the seller of the main herd agreeing to deliver them along with his own. This was fortunate, as it increased the equity of the buyers in the cattle, and more than established a sufficient interest to satisfy the judgment and all expenses.

Darkness was approaching, which hastened our actions. Two men from each outfit present were detailed to hold the cattle that night, and were sent on ahead to Priest’s camp to secure their suppers and a change of mounts. The deposed trail boss accepted an invitation to accompany us and spend the night at one of our wagons, and we rode away to overtake the drifting herd. The different outfits one by one dropped out and rode for their camps; but as mine lay east and across the river, the course of the herd was carrying me home. After passing The Rebel’s wagon fully a half mile, we rounded in the herd, which soon lay down to rest on the bedground. In the gathering twilight, the camp-fires of nearly a dozen trail wagons were gleaming up and down the river, and while we speculated with Sponsilier’s boys which one was ours, the guard arrived and took the bedded herd. The two old cowmen and the trail boss had dropped out opposite my brother’s camp, leaving something like ten men with the attached beeves; but on being relieved by the first watch, Flood invited Sheriff Phillips and his deputies across the river to spend the night with him.

“Like to, mighty well, but can’t do it,” replied Phillips. “The sheriff’s office is supposed to be in town, and not over on the North Fork, but I’ll leave two of these deputies with you. Some of you had better ride in to-morrow, for there may be overtures made looking towards a settlement; and treat those beeves well, so that there can be no charge of damage to the cattle. Good-night, everybody.”

CHAPTER XV. TOLLESTON BUTTS IN

Morning dawned on a scene of pastoral grandeur. The valley of the North Platte was dotted with cattle from hill and plain. The river, well confined within its low banks, divided an unsurveyed domain of green-swarded meadows like a boundary line between vast pastures. The exodus of cattle from Texas to the new Northwest was nearing flood-tide, and from every swell and knoll the solitary figure of the herdsman greeted the rising sun.

Sponsilier and I had agreed to rejoin our own outfits at the first opportunity. We might have exchanged places the evening before, but I had a horse and some ammunition at Dave’s camp and was just contentious enough not to give up a single animal from my own mount. On the other hand, Mr. Dave Sponsilier would have traded whole remudas with me; but my love for a good horse was strong, and Fort Buford was many a weary mile distant. Hence there was no surprise shown as Sponsilier rode up to his own wagon that morning in time for breakfast. We were good friends when personal advantages did not conflict, and where our employer’s interests were at stake we stood shoulder to shoulder like comrades. Yet Dave gave me a big jolly about being daffy over my horses, well knowing that there is an indescribable nearness between one of our craft and his own mount. But warding off his raillery, just the same and in due time, I cantered away on my own horse.

As I rode up the North Fork towards my outfit, the attached herd was in plain view across the river. Arriving at my own wagon, I saw a mute appeal in every face for permission to go to town, and consent was readily granted to all who had not been excused on a similar errand the day before. The cook and horse-wrangler were included, and the activities of the outfit in saddling and getting away were suggestive of a prairie fire or a stampede. I accompanied them across the river, and then turned upstream to my brother’s camp, promising to join them later and make a full day of it. At Bob’s wagon they had stretched a fly, and in its shade lounged half a dozen men, while an air of languid indolence pervaded the camp. Without dismounting, I announced myself as on the way to town, and invited any one who wished to accompany me. Lovell and Reed both declined; half of Bob’s men had been excused and started an hour before, but my brother assured me that if I would wait until the deposed foreman returned, the latter’s company could be counted on. I waited, and in the course of half an hour the trail boss came back from his cattle. During the interim, the two old cowmen reviewed Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, both having been participants, but on opposite sides. While the guest was shifting his saddle to a loaned horse, I inquired if there was anything that I could attend to for any one at Ogalalla. Lovell could think of nothing; but as we mounted to start, Reed aroused himself, and coming over, rested the stub of his armless sleeve on my horse’s neck, saying:

“You boys might drop into the sheriff’s office as you go in and also again as you are starting back. Report the cattle as having spent a quiet night and ask Phillips if he has any word for me.”

Turning to the trail boss he continued: “Young man, I would suggest that you hunt up your employer and have him stir things up. The cattle will be well taken care of, but we’re just as anxious to turn them back to you as you are to receive them. Tell the seller that it would be well worth his while to see Lovell and myself before going any farther. We can put him in possession of a few facts that may save him time and trouble. I reckon that’s about all. Oh, yes, I’ll be at this wagon all evening.”

My brother rode a short distance with us and introduced the stranger as Hugh Morris. He proved a sociable fellow, had made three trips up the trail as foreman, his first two herds having gone to the Cherokee Strip under contract. By the time we reached Ogalalla, as strong a fraternal level existed between us as though we had known each other for years. Halting for a moment at the sheriff’s office, we delivered our messages, after which we left our horses at the same corral with the understanding that we would ride back together. A few drinks were indulged in before parting, then each went to attend to his own errands, but we met frequently during the day. Once my boys were provided with funds, they fell to gambling so eagerly that they required no further thought on my part until evening. Several times during the day I caught glimpses of Tolleston, always on horseback, and once surrounded by quite a cavalcade of horsemen. Morris and I took dinner at the hotel where the trio of government jobbers were stopping. They were in evidence, and amongst the jolliest of the guests, commanding and receiving the best that the hostelry afforded. Sutton was likewise present, but quiet and unpretentious, and I thought there was a false, affected note in the hilarity of the ringsters, and for effect. I was known to two of the trio, but managed to overhear any conversation which was adrift. After dinner and over fragrant cigars, they reared their feet high on an outer gallery, and the inference could be easily drawn that a contract, unless it involved millions, was beneath their notice.

Morris informed me that his employer’s suspicions were aroused, and that he had that morning demanded a settlement in full or the immediate release of the herd. They had laughed the matter off as a mere incident that would right itself at the proper time, and flashed as references a list of congressmen, senators, and bankers galore. But Morris’s employer had stood firm in his contentions, refusing to be overawed by flattery or empty promises. What would be the result remained to be seen, and the foreman and myself wandered aimlessly around town during the afternoon, meeting other trail bosses, nearly all of whom had heard more or less about the existing trouble. That we had the sympathy of the cattle interests on our side goes without saying, and one of them, known as “the kidgloved foreman,” a man in the employ of Shanghai Pierce, invoked the powers above to witness what would happen if he were in Lovell’s boots. This was my first meeting with the picturesque trail boss, though I had heard of him often and found him a trifle boastful but not a bad fellow. He distinguished himself from others of his station on the trail by always wearing white shirts, kid gloves, riding-boots, inlaid spurs, while a heavy silver chain was wound several times round a costly sombrero in lieu of a hatband. We spent an hour or more together, drinking sparingly, and at parting he begged that I would assure my employer that he sympathized with him and was at his command.

The afternoon was waning when I hunted up my outfit and started them for camp. With one or two exceptions, the boys were broke and perfectly willing to go. Morris and I joined them at the livery where they had left their horses, and together we started out of town. Ordering them to ride on to camp, and saying that I expected to return by way of Bob Quirk’s wagon, Morris and myself stopped at the court-house. Sheriff Phillips was in his office and recognized us both at a glance. “Well, she’s working,” said he, “and I’ll probably have some word for you late this evening. Yes, one of the local attorneys for your friends came in and we figured everything up. He thought that if this office would throw off a certain per cent. of its expense, and Reed would knock off the interest, his clients would consent to a settlement. I told him to go right back and tell his people that as long as they thought that way, it would only cost them one hundred and forty dollars every twenty-four hours. The lawyer was back within twenty minutes, bringing a draft, covering every item, and urged me to have it accepted by wire. The bank was closed, but I found the cashier in a poker-game and played his hand while he went over to the depot and sent the message. The operator has orders to send a duplicate of the answer to this office, and the moment I get it, if favorable, I’ll send a deputy with the news over to the North Fork. Tell Reed that I think the check’s all right this time, but we’ll stand pat until we know for a certainty. We’ll get an answer by morning sure.”

The message was hailed with delight at Bob Quirk’s wagon. On nearing the river, Morris rode by way of the herd to ask the deputies in charge to turn the cattle up the river towards his camp. Several of the foreman’s men were waiting at my brother’s wagon, and on Morris’s return he ordered his outfit to meet the beeves the next morning and be in readiness to receive them back. Our foremen were lying around temporary headquarters, and as we were starting for our respective camps for the night, Lovell suggested that we hold our outfits all ready to move out with the herds on an hour’s notice. Accordingly the next morning, I refused every one leave of absence, and gave special orders to the cook and horse-wrangler to have things in hand to start on an emergency order. Jim Flood had agreed to wait for me, and we would recross the river together and hear the report from the sheriff’s office. Forrest and Sponsilier rode up about the same time we arrived at his wagon, and all four of us set out for headquarters across the North Fork. The sun was several hours high when we reached the wagon, and learned that an officer had arrived during the night with a favorable answer, that the cattle had been turned over to Morris without a count, and that the deputies had started for town at daybreak.

“Well, boys,” said Lovell, as we came in after picketing our horses, “Reed, here, wins out, but we’re just as much at sea as ever. I’ve looked the situation over from a dozen different viewpoints, and the only thing to do is graze across country and tender our cattle at Fort Buford. It’s my nature to look on the bright side of things, and yet I’m old enough to know that justice, in a world so full of injustice, is a rarity. By allowing the earnest-money paid at Dodge to apply, some kind of a compromise might be effected, whereby I could get rid of two of these herds, with three hundred saddle horses thrown back on my hands at the Yellowstone River. I might dispose of the third herd here and give the remuda away, but at a total loss of at least thirty thousand dollars on the Buford cattle. But then there’s my bond to The Western Supply Company, and if this herd of Morris’s fails to respond on the day of delivery, I know who will have to make good. An Indian uprising, or the enforcement of quarantine against Texas fever, or any one of a dozen things might tie up the herd, and September the 15th come and go and no beef offered on the contract. I’ve seen outfits start out and never get through with the chuck-wagon, even. Sutton’s advice is good; we’ll tender the cattle. There is a chance that we’ll get turned down, but if we do, I have enough indemnity money in my possession to temper the wind if the day of delivery should prove a chilly one to us. I think you had all better start in the morning.”

The old man’s review of the situation was a rational one, in which Jim Reed and the rest of us concurred. Several of the foremen, among them myself, were anxious to start at once, but Lovell urged that we kill a beef before starting and divide it up among the six outfits. He also proposed to Flood that they go into town during the afternoon and freely announce our departure in the morning, hoping to force any issue that might be smouldering in the enemy’s camp. The outlook for an early departure was hailed with delight by the older foremen, and we younger and more impulsive ones yielded. The cook had orders to get up something extra for dinner, and we played cards and otherwise lounged around until the midday meal was announced as ready. A horse had been gotten up for Lovell to ride and was on picket, all the relieved men from the attached herd were at Bob’s wagon for dinner, and jokes and jollity graced the occasion. But near the middle of the noon repast, some one sighted a mounted man coming at a furious pace for the camp, and shortly the horseman dashed up and inquired for Lovell. We all arose, when the messenger dismounted and handed my employer a letter. Tearing open the missive, the old man read it and turned ashy pale. The message was from Mike Sutton, stating that a fourth member of the ring had arrived during the forenoon, accompanied by a United States marshal from the federal court at Omaha; that the officer was armed with an order of injunctive relief; that he had deputized thirty men whom Tolleston had gathered, and proposed taking possession of the two herds in question that afternoon.

“Like hell they will,” said Don Lovell, as he started for his horse. His action was followed by every man present, including the one-armed guest, and within a few minutes thirty men swung into saddles, subject to orders. The camps of the two herds at issue were about four and five miles down and across the river, and no doubt Tolleston knew of their location, as they were only a little more than an hour’s ride from Ogalalla. There was no time to be lost, and as we hastily gathered around the old man, he said: “Ride for your outfits, boys, and bring along every man you can spare. We’ll meet north of the river about midway between Quince’s and Tom’s camps. Bring all the cartridges you have, and don’t spare your horses going or coming.”

Priest’s wagon was almost on a line with mine, though south of the river. Fortunately I was mounted on one of the best horses in my string, and having the farthest to go, shook the kinks out of him as old Paul and myself tore down the mesa. After passing The Rebel’s camp, I held my course as long as the footing was solid, but on encountering the first sand, crossed the river nearly opposite the appointed rendezvous. The North Platte was fordable at any point, flowing but a midsummer stage of water, with numerous wagon crossings, its shallow channel being about one hundred yards wide. I reined in my horse for the first time near the middle of the stream, as the water reached my saddle-skirts; when I came out on the other side, Priest and his boys were not a mile behind me. As I turned down the river, casting a backward glance, squads of horsemen were galloping in from several quarters and joining a larger one which was throwing up clouds of dust like a column of cavalry. In making a cut-off to reach my camp, I crossed a sand dune from which I sighted the marshal’s posse less than two miles distant. My boys were gambling among themselves, not a horse under saddle, and did not notice my approach until I dashed up. Three lads were on herd, but the rest, including the wrangler, ran for their mounts on picket, while Parent and myself ransacked the wagon for ammunition. Fortunately the supply of the latter was abundant, and while saddles were being cinched on horses, the cook and I divided the ammunition and distributed it among the men. The few minutes’ rest refreshed my horse, but as we dashed away, the boys yelling like Comanches, the five-mile ride had bested him and he fell slightly behind. As we turned into the open valley, it was a question if we or the marshal would reach the stream first; he had followed an old wood road and would strike the river nearly opposite Forrest’s camp. The horses were excited and straining every nerve, and as we neared our crowd the posse halted on the south side and I noticed a conveyance among them in which were seated four men. There was a moment’s consultation held, when the posse entered the water and began fording the stream, the vehicle and its occupants remaining on the other side. We had halted in a circle about fifty yards back from the river-bank, and as the first two men came out of the water, Don Lovell rode forward several lengths of his horse, and with his hand motioned to them to halt. The leaders stopped within easy speaking distance, the remainder of the posse halting in groups at their rear, when Lovell demanded the meaning of this demonstration.

An inquiry and answer followed identifying the speakers. “In pursuance of an order from the federal court of this jurisdiction,” continued the marshal, “I am vested with authority to take into my custody two herds, numbering nearly seven thousand beeves, now in your possession, and recently sold to Field, Radcliff & Co. for government purposes. I propose to execute my orders peaceably, and any interference on your part will put you and your men in contempt of government authority. If resistance is offered, I can, if necessary, have a company of United States cavalry here from Fort Logan within forty-eight hours to enforce the mandates of the federal court. Now my advice to you would be to turn these cattle over without further controversy.”

“And my advice to you,” replied Lovell, “is to go back to your federal court and tell that judge that as a citizen of these United States, and one who has borne arms in her defense, I object to having snap judgment rendered against me. If the honorable court which you have the pleasure to represent is willing to dispossess me of my property in favor of a ring of government thieves, and on only hearing one side of the question, then consider me in contempt. I’ll gladly go back to Omaha with you, but you can’t so much as look at a hoof in my possession. Now call your troops, or take me with you for treating with scorn the orders of your court.”

Meanwhile every man on our side had an eye on Archie Tolleston, who had gradually edged forward until his horse stood beside that of the marshal. Before the latter could frame a reply to Lovell’s ultimatum, Tolleston said to the federal officer:

“Didn’t my employers tell you that the old — — – —- would defy you without a demonstration of soldiers at your back? Now, the laugh’s on you, and–“

“No, it’s on you,” interrupted a voice at my back, accompanied by a pistol report. My horse jumped forward, followed by a fusillade of shots behind me, when the hireling deputies turned and plunged into the river. Tolleston had wheeled his horse, joining the retreat, and as I brought my six-shooter into action and was in the act of leveling on him, he reeled from the saddle, but clung to the neck of his mount as the animal dashed into the water. I held my fire in the hope that he would right in the saddle and afford me a shot, but he struck a swift current, released his hold, and sunk out of sight. Above the din and excitement of the moment, I heard a voice which I recognized as Reed’s, shouting, “Cut loose on that team, boys! blaze away at those harness horses!” Evidently the team had been burnt by random firing, for they were rearing and plunging, and as I fired my first shot at them, the occupants sprang out of the vehicle and the team ran away. A lull occurred in the shooting, to eject shells and refill cylinders, which Lovell took advantage of by ordering back a number of impulsive lads, who were determined to follow up the fleeing deputies.

“Come back here, you rascals, and stop this shooting!” shouted the old man. “Stop it, now, or you’ll land me in a federal prison for life! Those horsemen may be deceived. When federal courts can be deluded with sugar-coated blandishments, ordinary men ought to be excusable.”

Six-shooters were returned to their holsters. Several horses and two men on our side had received slight flesh wounds, as there had been a random return fire. The deputies halted well out of pistol range, covering the retreat of the occupants of the carriage as best they could, but leaving three dead horses in plain view. As we dropped back towards Forrest’s wagon, the team in the mean time having been caught, those on foot were picked up and given seats in the conveyance. Meanwhile a remuda of horses and two chuck-wagons were sighted back on the old wood road, but a horseman met and halted them and they turned back for Ogalalla. On reaching our nearest camp, the posse south of the river had started on their return, leaving behind one of their number in the muddy waters of the North Platte.

Late that evening, as we were preparing to leave for our respective camps, Lovell said to the assembled foremen: “Quince will take Reed and me into Ogalalla about midnight. If Sutton advises it, all three of us will go down to Omaha and try and square things. I can’t escape a severe fine, but what do I care as long as I have their money to pay it with? The killing of that fool boy worries me more than a dozen fines. It was uncalled for, too, but he would butt in, and you fellows were all itching for the chance to finger a trigger. Now the understanding is that you all start in the morning.”

CHAPTER XVI. CROSSING THE NIOBRARA

The parting of the ways was reached. On the morning of July 12, the different outfits in charge of Lovell’s drive in ’84 started on three angles of the compass for their final destination. The Rosebud Agency, where Flood’s herd was to be delivered on September 1, lay to the northeast in Dakota. The route was not direct, and the herd would be forced to make quite an elbow, touching on the different forks of the Loup in order to secure water. The Rebel and my brother would follow up on the south side of the North Platte until near old Fort Laramie, when their routes would separate, the latter turning north for Montana, while Priest would continue along the same watercourse to within a short distance of his destination. The Buford herds would strike due north from the first tributary putting in from above, which we would intercept the second morning out.

An early start was the order of the day. My beeves were pushed from the bed-ground with the first sign of dawn, and when the relief overtook them, they were several miles back from the river and holding a northwest course. My camp being the lowest one on the North Fork, Forrest and Sponsilier, also starting at daybreak, naturally took the lead, the latter having fully a five-mile start over my outfit. But as we left the valley and came up on the mesa, there on an angle in our front, Flood’s herd snailed along like an army brigade, anxious to dispute our advance. The point-men veered our cattle slightly to the left, and as the drag-end of Flood’s beeves passed before us, standing in our stirrups we waved our hats in farewell to the lads, starting on their last tack for the Rosebud Agency. Across the river were the dim outlines of two herds trailing upstream, being distinguishable from numerous others by the dust-clouds which marked the moving from the grazing cattle. The course of the North Platte was southwest, and on the direction which we were holding, we would strike the river again during the afternoon at a bend some ten or twelve miles above.

Near the middle of the forenoon we were met by Hugh Morris. He was discouraged, as it was well known now that his cattle would be tendered in competition with ours at Fort Buford. There was no comparison between the beeves, ours being much larger, more uniform in weight, and in better flesh. He looked over both Forrest’s and Sponsilier’s herds before meeting us, and was good enough judge of cattle to know that his stood no chance against ours, if they were to be received on their merits. We talked matters over for fully an hour, and I advised him never to leave Keith County until the last dollar in payment for his beeves was in hand. Morris thought this was quite possible, as information had reached him that the buyers had recently purchased a remuda, and now, since they had failed to take possession of two of Lovell’s herds, it remained to be seen what the next move would be. He thought it quite likely, though, that a settlement could be effected whereby he would be relieved at Ogalalla. Mutually hoping that all would turn out well, we parted until our paths should cross again.

We intercepted the North Fork again during the afternoon, watering from it for the last time, and the next morning struck the Blue River, the expected tributary. Sponsilier maintained his position in the lead, but I was certain when we reached the source of the Blue, David would fall to the rear, as thenceforth there was neither trail nor trace, map nor compass. The year before, Forrest and I had been over the route to the Pine Ridge Agency, and one or the other of us must take the lead across a dry country between the present stream and tributaries of the Niobrara. The Blue possessed the attributes of a river in name only, and the third day up it, Sponsilier crossed the tributary to allow either Forrest or myself to take the lead. Quince professed a remarkable ignorance and faulty memory as to the topography of the country between the Blue and Niobrara, and threw bouquets at me regarding my ability always to find water. It is true that I had gone and returned across this arid belt the year before, but on the back trip it was late in the fall, and we were making forty miles a day with nothing but a wagon and remuda, water being the least of my troubles. But a compromise was effected whereby we would both ride out the country anew, leaving the herds to lie over on the head waters of the Blue River. There were several shallow lakes in the intervening country, and on finding the first one sufficient to our needs, the herds were brought up, and we scouted again in advance. The abundance of antelope was accepted as an assurance of water, and on recognizing certain landmarks, I agreed to take the lead thereafter, and we turned back. The seventh day out from the Blue, the Box Buttes were sighted, at the foot of which ran a creek by the same name, and an affluent of the Niobrara. Contrary to expectations, water was even more plentiful than the year before, and we grazed nearly the entire distance. The antelope were unusually tame; with six-shooters we killed quite a number by flagging, or using a gentle horse for a blind, driving the animal forward with the bridle reins, tacking frequently, and allowing him to graze up within pistol range.

The Niobrara was a fine grazing country. Since we had over two months at our disposal, after leaving the North Platte, every advantage was given the cattle to round into form. Ten miles was a day’s move, and the different outfits kept in close touch with each other. We had planned a picnic for the crossing of the Niobrara, and on reaching that stream during the afternoon, Sponsilier and myself crossed, camping a mile apart, Forrest remaining on the south side. Wild raspberries had been extremely plentiful, and every wagon had gathered a quantity sufficient to make a pie for each man. The cooks had mutually agreed to meet at Sponsilier’s wagon and do the baking, and every man not on herd was present in expectation of the coming banquet. One of Forrest’s boys had a fiddle, and bringing it along, the festivities opened with a stag dance, the “ladies” being designated by wearing a horse-hobble loosely around their necks. While the pies were baking, a slow process with Dutch ovens, I sat on the wagon-tongue and played the violin by the hour. A rude imitation of the gentler sex, as we had witnessed in dance-halls in Dodge and Ogalalla, was reproduced with open shirt fronts, and amorous advances by the sterner one.

The dancing ceased the moment the banquet was ready. The cooks had experienced considerable trouble in restraining some of the boys from the too free exercise of what they looked upon as the inalienable right of man to eat his pie when, where, and how it best pleased him. But Sponsilier, as host, stood behind the culinary trio, and overawed the impetuous guests. The repast barely concluded in time for the wranglers and first guard from Forrest’s and my outfit to reach camp, catch night-horses, bed the cattle, and excuse the herders, as supper was served only at the one wagon. The relieved ones, like eleventh-hour guests, came tearing in after darkness, and the tempting spread soon absorbed them. As the evening wore on, the loungers gathered in several circles, and the raconteur held sway. The fact that we were in a country in which game abounded suggested numerous stories. The delights of cat-hunting by night found an enthusiast in each one present. Every dog in our memory, back to early boyhood, was properly introduced and his best qualities applauded. Not only cat-hounds but coon-dogs had a respectful hearing.

“I remember a hound,” said Forrest’s wrangler, “which I owned when a boy back in Virginia. My folks lived in the foot-hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in that state. We were just as poor as our poorest neighbors. But if there was any one thing that that section was rich in it was dogs, principally hounds. This dog of mine was four years old when I left home to go to Texas. Fine hound, swallow marked, and when he opened on a scent you could always tell what it was that he was running. I never allowed him to run with packs, but generally used him in treeing coon, which pestered the cornfields during roasting-ear season and in the fall. Well, after I had been out in Texas about five years, I concluded to go back on a little visit to the old folks. There were no railroads within twenty miles of my home, and I had to hoof it that distance, so I arrived after dark. Of course my return was a great surprise to my folks, and we sat up late telling stories about things out West. I had worked with cattle all the time, and had made one trip over the trail from Collin County to Abilene, Kansas.

“My folks questioned me so fast that they gave me no show to make any inquiries in return, but I finally eased one in and asked about my dog Keiser, and was tickled to hear that he was still living. I went out and called him, but he failed to show up, when mother explained his absence by saying that he often went out hunting alone now, since there was none of us boys at home to hunt with him. They told me that he was no account any longer; that he had grown old and gray, and father said he was too slow on trail to be of any use. I noticed that it was a nice damp night, and if my old dog had been there, I think I’d have taken a circle around the fields in the hope of hearing him sing once more. Well, we went back into the house, and after talking awhile longer, I climbed into the loft and went to bed. I didn’t sleep very sound that night, and awakened several times. About an hour before daybreak, I awoke suddenly and imagined I heard a hound baying faintly in the distance. Finally I got up and opened the board window in the gable and listened. Say, boys, I knew that hound’s baying as well as I know my own saddle. It was old Keiser, and he had something treed about a mile from the house, across a ridge over in some slashes. I slipped on my clothes, crept downstairs, and taking my old man’s rifle out of the rack, started to him.

“It was as dark as a stack of black cats, but I knew every path and byway by heart. I followed the fields as far as I could, and later, taking into the timber, I had to go around a long swamp. An old beaver dam had once crossed the outlet of this marsh, and once I gained it, I gave a long yell to let the dog know that some one was coming. He answered me, and quite a little while before day broke I reached him. Did he know me? Why, he knew me as easy as the little boy knew his pap. Right now, I can’t remember any simple thing in my whole life that moved me just as that little reunion of me and my dog, there in those woods that morning. Why, he howled with delight. He licked my face and hands and stood up on me with his wet feet and said just as plain as he could that he was glad to see me again. And I was glad to meet him, even though he did make me feel as mellow as a girl over a baby.

“Well, when daybreak came, I shot a nice big fat Mr. Zip Coon out of an old pin-oak, and we started for home like old pardners. Old as he was, he played like a puppy around me, and when we came in sight of the house, he ran on ahead and told the folks what he had found. Yes, you bet he told them. He came near clawing all the clothing off them in his delight. That’s one reason I always like a dog and a poor man–you can’t question their friendship.”

A circus was in progress on the other side of the wagon. From a large rock, Jake Blair was announcing the various acts and introducing the actors and actresses. Runt Pickett, wearing a skirt made out of a blanket and belted with a hobble, won the admiration of all as the only living lady lion-tamer. Resuming comfortable positions on our side of the commissary, a lad named Waterwall, one of Sponsilier’s boys, took up the broken thread where Forrest’s wrangler had left off.

“The greatest dog-man I ever knew,” said he, “lived on the Guadalupe River. His name was Dave Hapfinger, and he had the loveliest vagabond temperament of any man I ever saw. It mattered nothing what he was doing, all you had to do was to give old Dave a hint that you knew where there was fish to be caught, or a bee-course to hunt, and he would stop the plow and go with you for a week if necessary. He loved hounds better than any man I ever knew. You couldn’t confer greater favor than to give him a promising hound pup, or, seeking the same, ask for one of his raising. And he was such a good fellow. If any one was sick in the neighborhood, Uncle Dave always had time to kill them a squirrel every day; and he could make a broth for a baby, or fry a young squirrel, in a manner that would make a sick man’s mouth water.

“When I was a boy, I’ve laid around many a camp-fire this way and listened to old Dave tell stories. He was quite a humorist in his way, and possessed a wonderful memory. He could tell you the day of the month, thirty years before, when he went to mill one time and found a peculiar bird’s nest on the way. Colonel Andrews, owner of several large plantations, didn’t like Dave, and threatened to prosecute him once for cutting a bee-tree on his land. If the evidence had been strong enough, I reckon the Colonel would. No doubt Uncle Dave was guilty, but mere suspicion isn’t sufficient proof.

“Colonel Andrews was a haughty old fellow, blue-blooded and proud as a peacock, and about the only way Dave could get even with him was in his own mild, humorous way. One day at dinner at a neighboring log-rolling, when all danger of prosecution for cutting the bee-tree had passed, Uncle Dave told of a recent dream of his, a pure invention. ‘I dreamt,’ said he, ‘that Colonel Andrews died and went to heaven. There was an unusually big commotion at St. Peter’s gate on his arrival. A troop of angels greeted him, still the Colonel seemed displeased at his reception. But the welcoming hosts humored him forward, and on nearing the throne, the Almighty, recognizing the distinguished arrival, vacated the throne and came down to greet the Colonel personally. At this mark of appreciation, he relaxed a trifle, and when the Almighty insisted that he should take the throne seat, Colonel Andrews actually smiled for the first time on earth or in heaven.’

“Uncle Dave told this story so often that he actually believed it himself. But finally a wag friend of Colonel Andrews told of a dream which he had had about old Dave, which the latter hugely enjoyed. According to this second vagary, the old vagabond had also died and gone to heaven. There was some trouble at St. Peter’s gate, as they refused to admit dogs, and Uncle Dave always had a troop of hounds at his heels. When he found that it was useless to argue the matter, he finally yielded the point and left the pack outside. Once inside the gate he stopped, bewildered at the scene before him. But after waiting inside some little time unnoticed, he turned and was on the point of asking the gate-keeper to let him out, when an angel approached and asked him to stay. There was some doubt in Dave’s mind if he would like the place, but the messenger urged that he remain and at least look the city over. The old hunter goodnaturedly consented, and as they started up one of the golden streets Uncle Dave recognized an old friend who had once given him a hound pup. Excusing himself to the angel, he rushed over to his former earthly friend and greeted him with warmth and cordiality. The two old cronies talked and talked about the things below, and finally Uncle Dave asked if there was any hunting up there. The reply was disappointing.

“Meanwhile the angel kept urging Uncle Dave forward to salute the throne. But he loitered along, meeting former hunting acquaintances, and stopping with each for a social chat. When they finally neared the throne, the patience of the angel was nearly exhausted; and as old Dave looked up and saw Colonel Andrews occupying the throne, he rebelled and refused to salute, when the angel wrathfully led him back to the gate and kicked him out among his dogs.”

Jack Splann told a yarn about the friendship of a pet lamb and dog which he owned when a boy. It was so unreasonable that he was interrupted on nearly every assertion. Long before he had finished, Sponsilier checked his narrative and informed him that if he insisted on doling out fiction he must have some consideration for his listeners, and at least tell it within reason. Splann stopped right there and refused to conclude his story, though no one but myself seemed to regret it. I had a true incident about a dog which I expected to tell, but the audience had become too critical, and I kept quiet. As it was evident that no more dog stories would be told, the conversation was allowed to drift at will. The recent shooting on the North Platte had been witnessed by nearly every one present, and was suggestive of other scenes.

“I have always contended,” said Dorg Seay, “that the man who can control his temper always shoots the truest. You take one of these fellows that can smile and shoot at the same time–they are the boys that I want to stand in with. But speaking of losing the temper, did any of you ever see a woman real angry,–not merely cross, but the tigress in her raging and thirsting to tear you limb from limb? I did only once, but I have never forgotten the occasion. In supreme anger the only superior to this woman I ever witnessed was Captain Cartwright when he shot the slayer of his only son. He was as cool as a cucumber, as his only shot proved, but years afterward when he told me of the incident, he lost all control of himself, and fire flashed from his eyes like from the muzzle of a six-shooter. ‘Dorg,’ said he, unconsciously shaking me like a terrier does a rat, his blazing eyes not a foot from my face, ‘Dorg, when I shot that cowardly — —- — —, I didn’t miss the centre of his forehead the width of my thumb nail.’

“But this woman defied a throng of men. Quite a few of the crowd had assisted the night before in lynching her husband, and this meeting occurred at the burying-ground the next afternoon. The woman’s husband was a well-known horse-thief, a dissolute, dangerous character, and had been warned to leave the community. He lived in a little village, and after darkness the evening before, had crept up to a window and shot a man sitting at the supper-table with his family. The murderer had harbored a grudge against his victim, had made threats, and before he could escape, was caught red-handed with the freshly fired pistol in his hand. The evidence of guilt was beyond question, and a vigilance committee didn’t waste any time in hanging him to the nearest tree.

“The burying took place the next afternoon. The murdered man was a popular citizen, and the village and country turned out to pay their last respects. But when the services were over, a number of us lingered behind, as it was understood that the slayer as well as his victim would be interred in the same grounds. A second grave had been prepared, and within an hour a wagon containing a woman, three small children, and several Mexicans drove up to the rear side of the inclosure. There was no mistaking the party, the coffin was carried in to the open grave, when every one present went over to offer friendly services. But as we neared the little group the woman picked up a shovel and charged on us like a tigress. I never saw such an expression of mingled anger and anguish in a human countenance as was pictured in that woman’s face. We shrank from her as if she had been a lioness, and when at last she found her tongue, every word cut like a lash. Livid with rage, the spittle frothing from her mouth, she drove us away, saying:

“‘Oh, you fiends of hell, when did I ask your help? Like the curs you are, you would lick up the blood of your victim! Had you been friends to me or mine, why did you not raise your voice in protest when they were strangling the life out of the father of my children? Away, you cowardly hounds! I’ve hired a few Mexicans to help me, and I want none of your sympathy in this hour. Was it your hand that cut him down from the tree this morning, and if it was not, why do I need you now? Is my shame not enough in your eyes but that you must taunt me further? Do my innocent children want to look upon the faces of those who robbed them of a father? If there is a spark of manhood left in one of you, show it by leaving me alone! And you other scum, never fear but that you will clutter hell in reward for last night’s work. Begone, and leave me with my dead!'”

The circus had ended. The lateness of the hour was unobserved by any one until John Levering asked me if he should bring in my horse. It lacked less than half an hour until the guards should change, and it was high time our outfit was riding for camp. The innate modesty of my wrangler, in calling attention to the time, was not forgotten, but instead of permitting him to turn servant, I asked him to help our cook look after his utensils. On my return to the wagon, Parent was trying to quiet a nervous horse so as to allow him to carry the Dutch oven returning. But as Levering was in the act of handing up the heavy oven, one of Forrest’s men, hoping to make the animal buck, attempted to place a briar stem under the horse’s tail. Sponsilier detected the movement in time to stop it, and turning to the culprit, said: “None of that, my bully boy. I have no objection to killing a cheap cow-hand, but these cooks have won me, hands down. If ever I run across a girl who can make as good pies as we had for supper, she can win the affections of my young and trusting heart.”

CHAPTER XVII. WATER-BOUND

Our route was carrying us to the eastward of the Black Hills. The regular trail to the Yellowstone and Montana points was by the way of the Powder River, through Wyoming; but as we were only