grazing across to our destination, the most direct route was adopted. The first week after leaving the Niobrara was without incident, except the meeting with a band of Indians, who were gathering and drying the wild fruit in which the country abounded. At first sighting their camp we were uneasy, holding the herd close together; but as they proved friendly, we relaxed and shared our tobacco with the men. The women were nearly all of one stature, short, heavy, and repulsive in appearance, while the men were tall, splendid specimens of the aborigines, and as uniform in a dozen respects as the cattle we were driving. Communication was impossible, except by signs, but the chief had a letter of permission from the agent at Pine Ridge, allowing himself and band a month’s absence from the reservation on a berrying expedition. The bucks rode with us for hours, silently absorbed in the beeves, and towards evening turned and galloped away for their encampment.
It must have been the latter part of July when we reached the South Fork of the Big Cheyenne River. The lead was first held by one and then the other herd, but on reaching that watercourse, we all found it more formidable than we expected. The stage of water was not only swimming, but where we struck it, the river had an abrupt cut-bank on one side or the other. Sponsilier happened to be in the lead, and Forrest and myself held back to await the decision of the veteran foreman. The river ran on a northwest angle where we encountered it, and Dave followed down it some distance looking for a crossing. The herds were only three or four miles apart, and assistance could have been rendered each other, but it was hardly to be expected that an older foreman would ask either advice or help from younger ones. Hence Quince and myself were in no hurry, nor did we intrude ourselves on David the pathfinder, but sought out a crossing up the river and on our course. A convenient riffle was soon found in the river which would admit the passage of the wagons without rafting, if a cut-bank on the south side could be overcome. There was an abrupt drop of about ten feet to the water level, and I argued that a wagon-way could be easily cut in the bank and the commissaries lowered to the river’s edge with a rope to the rear axle. Forrest also favored the idea, and I was authorized to cross the wagons in case a suitable ford could be found for the cattle. My aversion to manual labor was quite pronounced, yet John Q. Forrest wheedled me into accepting the task of making a wagon-road. About a mile above the riffle, a dry wash cut a gash in the bluff bank on the opposite side, which promised the necessary passageway for the herds out of the river. The slope on the south side was gradual, affording an easy inlet to the water, the only danger being on the other bank, the dry wash not being over thirty feet wide. But we both agreed that by putting the cattle in well above the passageway, even if the current was swift, an easy and successful ford would result. Forrest volunteered to cross the cattle, and together we returned to the herds for dinner.
Quince allowed me one of his men besides the cook, and detailed Clay Zilligan to assist with the wagons. We took my remuda, the spades and axes, and started for the riffle. The commissaries had orders to follow up, and Forrest rode away with a supercilious air, as if the crossing of wagons was beneath the attention of a foreman of his standing. Several hours of hard work were spent with the implements at hand in cutting the wagon-way through the bank, after which my saddle horses were driven up and down; and when it was pronounced finished, it looked more like a beaver-slide than a roadway. But a strong stake was cut and driven into the ground, and a corral-rope taken from the axle to it; without detaching the teams, the wagons were eased down the incline and crossed in safety, the water not being over three feet deep in the shallows. I was elated over the ease and success of my task, when Zilligan called attention to the fact that the first herd had not yet crossed. The chosen ford was out of sight, but had the cattle been crossing, we could have easily seen them on the mesa opposite. “Well,” said Clay, “the wagons are over, and what’s more, all the mules in the three outfits couldn’t bring one of them back up that cliff.”
We mounted our horses, paying no attention to Zilligan’s note of warning, and started up the river. But before we came in view of the ford, a great shouting reached our ears, and giving our horses the rowel, we rounded a bend, only to be confronted with the river full of cattle which had missed the passageway out on the farther side. A glance at the situation revealed a dangerous predicament, as the swift water and the contour of the river held the animals on the farther side or under the cut-bank. In numerous places there was footing on the narrow ledges to which the beeves clung like shipwrecked sailors, constantly crowding each other off into the current and being carried downstream hundreds of yards before again catching a foothold. Above and below the chosen ford, the river made a long gradual bend, the current and deepest water naturally hugged the opposite shore, and it was impossible for the cattle to turn back, though the swimming water was not over forty yards wide. As we dashed up, the outfit succeeded in cutting the train of cattle and turning them back, though fully five hundred were in the river, while not over one fifth that number had crossed in safety. Forrest was as cool as could be expected, and exercised an elegant command of profanity in issuing his orders.
“I did allow for the swiftness of the current,” said he, in reply to a criticism of mine, “but those old beeves just drifted downstream like a lot of big tubs. The horses swam it easy, and the first hundred cattle struck the mouth of the wash square in the eye, but after that they misunderstood it for a bath instead of a ford. Oh, well, it’s live and learn, die and forget it. But since you’re so d– strong on the sabe, suppose you suggest a way of getting those beeves out of the river.”
It was impossible to bring them back, and the only alternative was attempted. About three quarters of a mile down the river the cut-bank shifted to the south side. If the cattle could swim that distance there was an easy landing below. The beeves belonged to Forrest’s herd, and I declined the proffered leadership, but plans were outlined and we started the work of rescue. Only a few men were left to look after the main herds, the remainder of us swimming the river on our horses. One man was detailed to drive the contingent which had safely forded, down to the point where the bluff bank shifted and the incline commenced on the north shore. The cattle were clinging, in small bunches, under the cut-bank like swallows to a roof for fully a quarter-mile below the mouth of the dry wash. Divesting ourselves of all clothing, a squad of six of us, by way of experiment, dropped over the bank and pushed into the river about twenty of the lowest cattle. On catching the full force of the current, which ran like a mill-race, we swept downstream at a rapid pace, sometimes clinging to a beef’s tail, but generally swimming between the cattle and the bluff. The force of the stream drove them against the bank repeatedly, but we dashed water in their eyes and pushed them off again and again, and finally landed every steer.
The Big Cheyenne was a mountain stream, having numerous tributaries heading in the Black Hills. The water was none too warm, and when we came out the air chilled us; but we scaled the bluff and raced back after more cattle. Forrest was in the river on our return, but I ordered his wrangler to drive all the horses under saddle down to the landing, in order that the men could have mounts for returning. This expedited matters, and the work progressed more rapidly. Four separate squads were drifting the cattle, but in the third contingent we cut off too many beeves and came near drowning two fine ones. The animals in question were large and strong, but had stood for nearly an hour on a slippery ledge, frequently being crowded into the water, and were on the verge of collapse from nervous exhaustion. They were trembling like leaves when we pushed them off. Runt Pickett was detailed to look especially after those two, and the little rascal nursed and toyed and played with them like a circus rider. They struggled constantly for the inshore, but Runt rode their rumps alternately, the displacement lifting their heads out of the water to good advantage. When we finally landed, the two big fellows staggered out of the river and dropped down through sheer weakness, a thing which I had never seen before except in wild horses.
A number of the boys were attacked by chills, and towards evening had to be excused for fear of cramps. By six o’clock we were reduced to two squads, with about fifty cattle still remaining in the river. Forrest and I had quit the water after the fourth trip; but Quince had a man named De Manse, a Frenchman, who swam like a wharf-rat and who stayed to the finish, while I turned my crew over to Runt Pickett. The latter was raised on the coast of Texas, and when a mere boy could swim all day, with or without occasion. Dividing the remaining beeves as near equally as possible, Runt’s squad pushed off slightly in advance of De Manse, the remainder of us riding along the bank with the horses and clothing, and cheering our respective crews. The Frenchman was but a moment later in taking the water, and as pretty and thrilling a race as I ever witnessed was in progress. The latter practiced a trick, when catching a favorable current, of dipping the rump of a steer, thus lifting his fore parts and rocking him forward like a porpoise. When a beef dropped to the rear, this process was resorted to, and De Manse promised to overtake Pickett. From our position on the bank, we shouted to Runt to dip his drag cattle in swift water; but amid the din and splash of the struggling swimmers our messages failed to reach his ears. De Manse was gaining slowly, when Pickett’s bunch were driven inshore, a number of them catching a footing, and before they could be again pushed off, the Frenchman’s cattle were at their heels. A number of De Manse’s men were swimming shoreward of their charges, and succeeded in holding their beeves off the ledge, which was the last one before the landing. The remaining hundred yards was eddy water; and though Pickett fought hard, swimming among the Frenchman’s lead cattle, to hold the two bunches separate, they mixed in the river. As an evidence of victory, however, when the cattle struck a foothold, Runt and each of his men mounted a beef and rode out of the water some distance. As the steers recovered and attempted to dislodge their riders, they nimbly sprang from their backs and hustled themselves into their ragged clothing.
I breathed easier after the last cattle landed, though Forrest contended there was never any danger. At least a serious predicament had been blundered into and handled, as was shown by subsequent events. At noon that day, rumblings of thunder were heard in the Black Hills country to the west, a warning to get across the river as soon as possible. So the situation at the close of the day was not a very encouraging one to either Forrest or myself. The former had his cattle split in two bunches, while I had my wagon and remuda on the other side of the river from my herd. But the emergency must be met. I sent a messenger after our wagon, it was brought back near the river, and a hasty supper was ordered. Two of my boys were sent up to the dry wash to recross the river and drift our cattle down somewhere near the wagon-crossing, thus separating the herds for the night. I have never made claim to being overbright, but that evening I did have sense or intuition enough to take our saddle horses back across the river. My few years of trail life had taught me the importance of keeping in close touch with our base of subsistence, while the cattle and the saddle stock for handling them should under no circumstances ever be separated. Yet under existing conditions it was impossible to recross our commissary, and darkness fell upon us encamped on the south side of the Big Cheyenne.
The night passed with almost constant thunder and lightning in the west. At daybreak heavy dark clouds hung low in a semicircle all around the northwest, threatening falling weather, and hasty preparations were made to move down the stream in search of a crossing. In fording the river to breakfast, my outfit agreed that there had been no perceptible change in the stage of water overnight, which quickened our desire to move at once. The two wagons were camped close together, and as usual Forrest was indifferent and unconcerned over the threatening weather; he had left his remuda all night on the north side of the river, and had actually turned loose the rescued contingent of cattle. I did not mince my words in giving Mr. Forrest my programme, when he turned on me, saying: “Quirk, you have more trouble than a married woman. What do I care if it is raining in London or the Black Hills either? Let her rain; our sugar and salt are both covered, and we can lend you some if yours gets wet. But you go right ahead and follow up Sponsilier; he may not find a crossing this side of the Belle Fourche. I can take spades and axes, and in two hours’ time cut down and widen that wagon-way until the herds can cross. I wouldn’t be as fidgety as you are for a large farm. You ought to take something for your nerves.”
I had a mental picture of John Quincy Forrest doing any manual labor with an axe or spade. During our short acquaintance that had been put to the test too often to admit of question; but I encouraged him to fly right at the bank, assuring him that in case his tools became heated, there was always water at hand to cool them. The wrangler had rustled in the wagon-mules for our cook, and Forrest was still ridiculing my anxiety to move, when a fusillade of shots was heard across and up the river. Every man at both wagons was on his feet in an instant, not one of us even dreaming that the firing of the boys on herd was a warning, when Quince’s horsewrangler galloped up and announced a flood-wave coming down the river. A rush was made for our horses, and we struck for the ford, dashing through the shallows and up the farther bank without drawing rein. With a steady rush, a body of water, less than a mile distant, greeted our vision, looking like the falls of some river, rolling forward like an immense cylinder. We sat our horses in bewilderment of the scene, though I had often heard Jim Flood describe the sudden rise of streams which had mountain tributaries. Forrest and his men crossed behind us, leaving but the cooks and a horse-wrangler on the farther side. It was easily to be seen that all the lowlands along the river would be inundated, so I sent Levering back with orders to hook up the team and strike for tall timber. Following suit, Forrest sent two men to rout the contingent of cattle out of a bend which was nearly a mile below the wagons. The wave, apparently ten to twelve feet high, moved forward slowly, great walls lopping off on the side and flooding out over the bottoms, while on the farther shore every cranny and arroyo claimed its fill from the avalanche of water. The cattle on the south side were safe, grazing well back on the uplands, so we gave the oncoming flood our undivided attention. It was traveling at the rate of eight to ten miles an hour, not at a steady pace, but sometimes almost halting when the bottoms absorbed its volume, only to catch its breath and forge ahead again in angry impetuosity. As the water passed us on the bluff bank, several waves broke over and washed around our horses’ feet, filling the wagon-way, but the main volume rolled across the narrow valley on the opposite side. The wagons had pulled out to higher ground, and while every eye was strained, watching for the rescued beeves to come out of the bend below, Vick Wolf, who happened to look upstream, uttered a single shout of warning and dashed away. Turning in our saddles, we saw within five hundred feet of us a second wave about half the height of the first one. Rowels and quirts were plied with energy and will, as we tore down the river-bank, making a gradual circle until the second bottoms were reached, outriding the flood by a close margin.
The situation was anything but encouraging, as days might elapse before the water would fall. But our hopes revived as we saw the contingent of about six hundred beeves stampede out of a bend below and across the river, followed by two men who were energetically burning powder and flaunting slickers in their rear. Within a quarter of an hour, a halfmile of roaring, raging torrent, filled with floating driftwood, separated us from the wagons which contained the staples of life. But in the midst of the travail of mountain and plain, the dry humor of the men was irrepressible, one of Forrest’s own boys asking him if he felt any uneasiness now about his salt and sugar.
“Oh, this is nothing,” replied Quince, with a contemptuous wave of his hand. “These freshets are liable to happen at any time; rise in an hour and fall in half a day. Look there how it is clearing off in the west; the river will be fordable this evening or in the morning at the furthest. As long as everything is safe, what do we care? If it comes to a pinch, we have plenty of stray beef; berries are ripe, and I reckon if we cast around we might find some wild onions. I have lived a whole month at a time on nothing but land-terrapin; they make larruping fine eating when you are cut off from camp this way. Blankets? Never use them; sleep on your belly and cover with your back, and get up with the birds in the morning. These Lovell outfits are getting so tony that by another year or two they’ll insist on bathtubs, Florida water, and towels with every wagon. I like to get down to straight beans for a few days every once in a while; it has a tendency to cure a man with a whining disposition. The only thing that’s worrying me, if we get cut off, is the laugh that Sponsilier will have on us.”
We all knew Forrest was bluffing. The fact that we were water-bound was too apparent to admit of question, and since the elements were beyond our control, there was no telling when relief would come. Until the weather moderated in the hills to the west, there was no hope of crossing the river; but men grew hungry and nights were chilly, and bluster and bravado brought neither food nor warmth. A third wave was noticed within an hour, raising the water-gauge over a foot. The South Fork of the Big Cheyenne almost encircled the entire Black Hills country, and with a hundred mountain affluents emptying in their tribute, the waters commanded and we obeyed. Ordering my men to kill a beef, I rode down the river in the hope of finding Sponsilier on our side, and about noon sighted his camp and cattle on the opposite bank. A group of men were dallying along the shore, but being out of hearing, I turned back without exposing myself.
On my return a general camp had been established at the nearest wood, and a stray killed. Stakes were driven to mark the rise or fall of the water, and we settled down like prisoners, waiting for an expected reprieve. Towards evening a fire was built up and the two sides of ribs were spitted over it, our only chance for supper. Night fell with no perceptible change in the situation, the weather remaining dry and clear. Forrest’s outfit had been furnished horses from my remuda for guard duty, and about midnight, wrapping ourselves in slickers, we lay down in a circle with our feet to the fire like cave-dwellers. The camp-fire was kept up all night by the returning guards, even until the morning hours, when we woke up shivering at dawn and hurried away to note the stage of the water. A four-foot fall had taken place during the night, another foot was added within an hour after sun-up, brightening our hopes, when a tidal wave swept down the valley, easily establishing a new high-water mark. Then we breakfasted on broiled beefsteak, and fell back into the hills in search of the huckleberry, which abounded in that vicinity.
A second day and night passed, with the water gradually falling. The third morning a few of the best swimmers, tiring of the diet of beef and berries, took advantage of the current and swam to the other shore. On returning several hours later, they brought back word that Sponsilier had been up to the wagons the afternoon before and reported an easy crossing about five miles below. By noon the channel had narrowed to one hundred yards of swimming water, and plunging into it on our horses, we dined at the wagons and did justice to the spread. Both outfits were anxious to move, and once dinner was over, the commissaries were started down the river, while we turned up it, looking for a chance to swim back to the cattle. Forrest had secured a fresh mount of horses, and some distance above the dry wash we again took to the water, landing on the opposite side between a quarter and half mile below. Little time was lost in starting the herds, mine in the lead, while the wagons got away well in advance, accompanied by Forrest’s remuda and the isolated contingent of cattle.
Sponsilier was expecting us, and on the appearance of our wagons, moved out to a new camp and gave us a clear crossing. A number of the boys came down to the river with him, and several of them swam it, meeting the cattle a mile above and piloting us into the ford. They had assured me that there might be seventy-five yards of swimming water, with a gradual entrance to the channel and a half-mile of solid footing at the outcome. The description of the crossing suited me, and putting our remuda in the lead, we struck the muddy torrent and crossed it without a halt, the chain of swimming cattle never breaking for a single moment. Forrest followed in our wake, the one herd piloting the other, and within an hour after our arrival at the lower ford, the drag-end of the “Drooping T” herd kicked up their heels on the north bank of the Big Cheyenne. Meanwhile Sponsilier had been quietly sitting his horse below the main landing, his hat pulled down over his eye, nursing the humor of the situation. As Forrest came up out of the water with the rear guard of his cattle, the opportunity was too good to be overlooked.
“Hello, Quince,” said Dave; “how goes it, old sport? Do you keep stout? I was up at your wagon yesterday to ask you all down to supper. Yes, we had huckleberry pie and venison galore, but your men told me that you had quit eating with the wagon. I was pained to hear that you and Tom have both gone plum hog-wild, drinking out of cowtracks and living on wild garlic and land-terrapin, just like Injuns. Honest, boys, I hate to see good men go wrong that way.”
CHAPTER XVIII. THE LITTLE MISSOURI
A week later we crossed the Belle Fourche, sometimes called the North Fork of the Big Cheyenne. Like its twin sister on the south, it was a mountain river, having numerous affluents putting in from the Black Hills, which it encircled on the north and west. Between these two branches of the mother stream were numerous tributaries, establishing it as the best watered country encountered in our long overland cruise. Besides the splendid watercourses which marked that section, numerous wagontrails, leading into the hills, were peopled with freighters. Long ox trains, moving at a snail’s pace, crept over hill and plain, the common carrier between the mines and the outside world. The fascination of the primal land was there; the buttes stood like sentinels, guarding a king’s domain, while the palisaded cliffs frowned down, as if erected by the hand Omnipotent to mark the boundary of nations.
Our route, after skirting the Black Hills, followed up the Belle Fourche a few days, and early in August we crossed over to the Little Missouri River. The divide between the Belle Fourche and the latter stream was a narrow one, requiring little time to graze across it, and intercepting the Little Missouri somewhere in Montana. The course of that river was almost due north, and crossing and recrossing it frequently, we kept constantly in touch with it on our last northward tack. The river led through sections of country now known as the Bad Lands, but we found an abundance of grass and an easy passage. Sponsilier held the lead all the way down the river, though I did most of the advance scouting, sometimes being as much as fifty miles in front of the herds. Near the last of the month we sighted Sentinel Butte and the smoke of railroad trains, and a few days later all three of us foremen rode into Little Missouri Station of the Northern Pacific Railway. Our arrival was expected by one man at least; for as we approached the straggling village, our employer was recognized at a distance, waving his hat, and a minute later all three of us were shaking hands with Don Lovell. Mutual inquiries followed, and when we reported the cattle fine as silk, having never known a hungry or thirsty hour after leaving the North Platte, the old man brightened and led the way to a well-known saloon.
“How did I fare at Omaha?” said old man Don, repeating Forrest’s query. “Well, at first it was a question if I would be hung or shot, but we came out with colors flying. The United States marshal who attempted to take possession of the cattle on the North Platte went back on the same train with us. He was feeling sore over his defeat, but Sutton cultivated his acquaintance, and in mollifying that official, showed him how easily failure could be palmed off as a victory. In fact, I think Mike overcolored the story at my expense. He and the marshal gave it to the papers, and the next morning it appeared in the form of a sensational article. According to the report, a certain popular federal officer had gone out to Ogalalla to take possession of two herds of cattle intended for government purposes; he had met with resistance by a lot of Texas roughs, who fatally shot one of his deputies, wounding several others, and killing a number of horses during the assault; but the intrepid officer had added to his laurels by arresting the owner of the cattle and leader of the resisting mob, and had brought him back to face the charge of contempt in resisting service. The papers freely predicted that I would get the maximum fine, and one even went so far as to suggest that imprisonment might teach certain arrogant cattle kings a salutary lesson. But when the hearing came up, Sutton placed Jim Reed and me in the witness-box, taking the stand later himself, and we showed that federal court that it had been buncoed out of an order of injunctive relief, in favor of the biggest set of ringsters that ever missed stretching hemp. The result was, I walked out of that federal court scot free. And Judge Dundy, when he realized the injustice that he had inflicted, made all three of us take dinner with him, fully explaining the pressure which had been brought to bear at the time the order of relief was issued. Oh, that old judge was all right. I only hope we’ll have as square a man as Judge Dundy at the final hearing at Fort Buford. Do you see that sign over there, where it says Barley Water and Bad Cigars? Well, put your horses in some corral and meet me there.”
There was a great deal of news to review. Lovell had returned to Ogalalla; the body of Tolleston had been recovered and given decent burial; delivery day of the three Indian herds was at hand, bringing that branch of the season’s drive to a close. But the main thing which absorbed our employer was the quarantine that the upper Yellowstone country proposed enforcing against through Texas cattle. He assured us that had we gone by way of Wyoming and down the Powder River, the chances were that the local authorities would have placed us under quarantine until after the first frost. He assured us that the year before, Texas fever had played sad havoc among the native and wintered Southern cattle, and that Miles City and Glendive, live-stock centres on the Yellowstone, were up in arms in favor of a rigid quarantine against all through cattle. If this proved true, it was certainly an ill wind to drovers on the Powder River route; yet I failed to see where we were benefited until my employer got down to details.
“That’s so,” said he; “I forgot to tell you boys that when Reed and I went back to Ogalalla, we found Field, Radcliff & Co. buying beeves. Yes, they had bought a remuda of horses, rigged up two wagons, and hired men to take possession of our ‘Open A’ and ‘Drooping T’ herds. But meeting with disappointment and having the outfit on their hands, they concluded to buy cattle and go ahead and make the delivery at Buford. They simply had to do it or admit that I had called their hands. But Reed and I raised such a howl around that town that we posted every man with beeves for sale until the buyers had to pony up the cash for every hoof they bought. We even hunted up young Murnane, the seller of the herd that Jim Reed ran the attachment on; and before old Jim and I got through with him, we had his promise not to move out of Keith County until the last dollar was in hand. The buyers seemed to command all kinds of money, but where they expect to make anything, even if they do deliver, beats me, as Reed and I have got a good wad of their money. Since leaving there, I have had word that they settled with Murnane, putting a new outfit with the cattle, and that they have ten thousand beef steers on the way to Fort Buford this very minute. They are coming through on the North Platte and Powder River route, and if quarantine can be enforced against them until frost falls, it will give us a clear field at Buford on the day of delivery. Now it stands us in hand to see that those herds are isolated until after the 15th day of September.”
The atmosphere cleared instantly. I was well aware of the ravages of splenic fever; but two decades ago every drover from Texas denied the possibility of a through animal in perfect health giving a disease to wintered Southerners or domestic cattle, also robust and healthy. Time has demonstrated the truth, yet the manner in which the germ is transmitted between healthy animals remains a mystery to this day, although there has been no lack of theories advanced. Even the theorists differed as to the manner of germ transmission, the sporule, tick, and ship fever being the leading theories, and each having its advocates. The latter was entitled to some consideration, for if bad usage and the lack of necessary rest, food, and water will produce fever aboard emigrant steamships, the same privations might do it among animals. The overdriving of trail cattle was frequently unavoidable, dry drives and the lack of grass on arid wastes being of common occurrence. However, the presence of fever among through cattle was never noticeable to the practical man, and if it existed, it must have been very mild in form compared to its virulent nature among natives. Time has demonstrated that it is necessary for the domestic animals to walk over and occupy the same ground to contract the disease, though they may drink from the same trough or stream of water, or inhale each other’s breath in play across a wire fence, without fear of contagion. A peculiar feature of Texas fever was that the very cattle which would impart it on their arrival, after wintering in the North would contract it and die the same as natives. The isolation of herds on a good range for a period of sixty days, or the falling of frost, was recognized as the only preventive against transmitting the germ. Government rewards and experiments have never demonstrated a theory that practical experience does not dispute.
The only time on this drive that our attention had been called to the fever alarm was on crossing the wagon trail running from Pierre on the Missouri River to the Black Hills. I was in the lead when a large bull train was sighted in our front, and shortly afterward the wagon-boss met me and earnestly begged that I allow his outfit to pass before we crossed the wagon-road. I knew the usual form of ridicule of a herd foreman, but the boss bull-whacker must have anticipated my reply, for he informed me that the summer before he had lost ninety head out of two hundred yoke of oxen. The wagon-master’s appeal was fortified by a sincerity which won his request, and I held up my cattle and allowed his train to pass in advance. Sponsilier’s herd was out of sight in my rear, while Forrest was several miles to my left, and slightly behind me. The wagon-boss rode across and made a similar request of Forrest, but that worthy refused to recognize the right of way to a bull train at the expense of a trail herd of government beeves. Ungentlemanly remarks are said to have passed between them, when the boss bull-whacker threw down the gauntlet and galloped back to his train. Forrest pushed on, with ample time to have occupied the road in crossing, thus holding up the wagon train. My herd fell to grazing, and Sponsilier rode up to inquire the cause of my halting. I explained the request of the wagon-master, his loss the year before and present fear of fever, and called attention to the clash which was imminent between the long freight outfit in our front and Forrest’s herd to the left, both anxious for the right of way. A number of us rode forward in clear view of the impending meeting. It was evident that Forrest would be the first to reach the freight road, and would naturally hold it while his cattle were crossing it. But when this also became apparent to the bull train, the lead teams drove out of the road and halted, the rear wagons passing on ahead, the two outfits being fully a mile apart. There were about twenty teams of ten yoke each, and when the first five or six halted, they unearthed old needle rifles and opened fire across Forrest’s front. Once the range was found, those long-range buffalo guns threw up the dust in handfuls in the lead of the herd, and Forrest turned his cattle back, while the bull train held its way, undisputed. It was immaterial to Forrest who occupied the road first, and with the jeers of the freighters mingled the laughter of Sponsilier and my outfit, as John Quincy Forrest reluctantly turned back.
This incident served as a safety-valve, and whenever Forrest forged to the lead in coming down the Little Missouri, all that was necessary to check him was to inquire casually which held the right of way, a trail herd or a bull train.
Throughout the North, Texas fever was generally accepted as a fact, and any one who had ever come in contact with it once, dreaded it ever afterward. So when the devil was sick the devil a monk would be; and if there was any advantage in taking the contrary view to the one entertained by all drovers, so long as our herds were free, we were not like men who could not experience a change of opinion, if in doing so the wind was tempered to us. Also in this instance we were fighting an avowed enemy, and all is fair in love and war. And amid the fumes of bad cigars, Sponsilier drew out the plan of campaign.
“Now, let’s see,” said old man Don, “tomorrow will be the 25th day of August. I’ve got to be at the Crow Agency a few days before the 10th of next month, as you know we have a delivery there on that date. Flood will have to attend to matters at Rosebud on the 1st, and then hurry on west and be present at Paul’s delivery at Fort Washakie. So you see I’ll have to depend on two of you boys going up to Glendive and Miles and seeing that those cow-towns take the proper view of this quarantine matter. After dinner you’ll fall back and bring up your herds, and after crossing the railroad here, the outfits will graze over to Buford. We’ll leave four of our best saddle horses here in a pasture, so as to be independent on our return. Since things have changed so, the chances are that I’ll bring Bob Quirk back with me, as I’ve written Flood to help The Rebel sell his remuda and take the outfit and go home. Now you boys decide among yourselves which two of you will go up the Yellowstone and promote the enforcement of the quarantine laws. Don’t get the impression that you can’t do this, because an all-round cowman can do anything where his interests are at stake. I’ll think the programme out a little more clearly by the time you bring up the cattle.”
The herds were not over fifteen miles back up the river when we left them in the morning. After honoring the village of Little Missouri with our presence for several hours, we saddled up and started to meet the cattle. There was no doubt in my mind but that Sponsilier would be one of the two to go on the proposed errand of diplomacy, as his years, experience, and good solid sense entitled him to outrank either Forrest or myself. I knew that Quince would want to go, if for no other reason than to get out of working the few days that yet remained of the drive. All three of us talked the matter of quarantine freely as we rode along, yet no one ventured any proposition looking to an agreement as to who should go on the diplomatic mission. I was the youngest and naturally took refuge behind my years, yet perfectly conscious that, in spite of the indifferent and nonchalant attitude assumed, all three of us foremen were equally anxious for the chance. Matters remained undecided; but the next day at dinner, Lovell having met us before reaching the railroad, the question arose who should go up to Miles City. Dave and Quince were also eating at my wagon, and when our employer forced an answer, Sponsilier innocently replied that he supposed that we were all willing to leave it to him. Forrest immediately approved of Dave’s suggestion. I gave my assent, and old man Don didn’t qualify, hedge, or mince his words in appointing the committees to represent the firm of Lovell.
“Jealous of each other, ain’t you? Very well; I want these herds grazed across to Buford at the rate of four miles a day. Nothing but a Mexican pastor, or a white man as lazy as Quince Forrest can fill the bill. You’re listening, are you, Quince? Well, after the sun sets to-night, you’re in charge of ten thousand beeves from here to the mouth of the Yellowstone. I want to put every ounce possible on those steers for the next twenty days. We may have to make a comparison of cattle, and if we should, I want ours to lay over the opposition like a double eagle does over a lead dime. We may run up against a lot of red tape at Fort Buford, but if there is a lick of cow-sense among the government representatives, we want our beeves to speak for themselves. Fat animals do their own talking. You remember when every one was admiring the fine horse, the blind man said, ‘Isn’t he fat?’ Now, Dave, you and Tom appoint your segundos, and we’ll all catch the 10:20 train west to-night.”
I dared to risk one eye on Forrest. Inwardly I was chuckling, but Quince was mincing along with his dinner, showing that languid indifference which is inborn to the Texan. Lovell continued to monopolize the conversation, blowing on the cattle and ribbing up Forrest to see that the beeves thenceforth should never know tire, hunger, or thirst. The commissaries had run low; Sponsilier’s cook had been borrowing beans from us for a week past, while Parent point-blank refused to share any more of our bacon. The latter was recognized as a staple in trail-work, and it mattered not how inviting the beef or venison might be, we always fell back to bacon with avidity. When it came time to move out on the evening lap, Forrest’s herd took the lead, the other two falling in behind, the wagons pulling out for town in advance of everything. Jack Splann had always acted as segundo in my absence, and as he had overheard Lovell’s orders to Forrest, there was nothing further for me to add, and Splann took charge of my “Open A’s.”
When changing mounts at noon, I caught out two of my best saddlers and tied one behind the chuckwagon, to be left with a liveryman in town. Leaving old man Don with the cattle, all three of us foremen went into the village in order to secure a few staple supplies with which to complete the journey.
It can be taken for granted that Sponsilier and myself were feeling quite gala. The former took occasion, as we rode along, to throw several bouquets at Forrest over his preferment, when the latter turned on us, saying: “You fellows think you’re d–d smart, now, don’t you? You’re both purty good talkers, but neither one of you can show me where the rainbow comes in in rotting along with these measly cattle. It’s enough to make a man kick his own dog. But I can see where the old man was perfectly right in sending you two up to Miles City. When you fellows work your rabbit’s foot, it will be Katy with those Washington City schemers–more than likely they’ll not draw cards when they see that you are in the game–When it comes to the real sabe, you fellows shine like a tree full of owls. Honest, it has always been a wonder to me that Grant didn’t send for both of you when he was making up his cabinet.”
The herds crossed the railroad about a mile west of Little Missouri Station. The wagons secured the needed supplies, and pulled out down the river, leaving Sponsilier and myself foot-loose and free.
Lovell was riding a livery horse, and as neither of us expected him to return until it was too dark to see the cattle, we amused ourselves by looking over the town. There seemed to be a great deal of freighting to outlying points, numerous ox and mule trains coming in and also leaving for their destinations. Our employer came in about dusk, and at once went to the depot, as he was expecting a message. One had arrived during his absence, and after reading it, he came over to Dave and me, saying:
“It’s from Mike Sutton. I authorized him to secure the services of the best lawyer in the West, and he has just wired me that he has retained Senator Aspgrain of Sioux City, Iowa. They will report at Fort Buford on September the 5th and will take care of any legal complications which may arise. I don’t know who this senator is, but Mike has orders not to spare any expense as long as we have the other fellow’s money to fight with. Well, if the Iowa lawyers are as good stuff as the Iowa troops were down in Dixie, that’s all I ask. Now, we’ll get our suppers and then sack our saddles–why, sure, you’ll need them; every good cowman takes his saddle wherever he goes, though he may not have clothes enough with him to dust a fiddle.”
CHAPTER XIX. IN QUARANTINE
We reached Miles City shortly after midnight. It was the recognized cattle centre of Montana at that time, but devoid of the high-lights which were a feature of the trail towns. The village boasted the usual number of saloons and dance-houses, and likewise an ordinance compelling such resorts to close on the stroke of twelve. Lovell had been there before, and led the way to a well-known hostelry. The house was crowded, and the best the night clerk could do was to give us a room with two beds. This was perfectly satisfactory, as it was a large apartment and fronted out on an open gallery. Old man Don suggested we take the mattresses outside, but as this was my first chance to sleep in a bed since leaving the ranch in March, I wanted all the comforts that were due me. Sponsilier likewise favored the idea of sleeping inside, and our employer yielded, taking the single bed on retiring. The night was warm, and after thrashing around for nearly an hour, supposing that Dave and I were asleep, old man Don arose and quietly dragged his mattress outside. Our bed was soft and downy, but in spite of the lateness of the hour and having been in our saddles at dawn, we tossed about, unable to sleep. After agreeing that it was the mattress, we took the covering and pillows and lay down on the floor, falling into a deep slumber almost instantly. “Well, wouldn’t that jar your eccentric,” said Dave to me the next morning, speaking of our inability to sleep in a bed. “I slept in one in Ogalalla, and I wasn’t over-full either.”
Lovell remained with us all the next day. He was well known in Miles City, having in other years sold cattle to resident cowmen. The day was spent in hunting up former acquaintances, getting the lay of the land, and feeling the public pulse on the matter of quarantine on Southern cattle. The outlook was to our liking, as heavy losses had been sustained from fever the year before, and steps had already been taken to isolate all through animals until frost fell. Report was abroad that there were already within the jurisdiction of Montana over one hundred and fifty thousand through Texas cattle, with a possibility of one third that number more being added before the close of the season. That territory had established a quarantine camp on the Wyoming line, forcing all Texas stock to follow down the eastern side of the Powder River. Fully one hundred miles on the north, a dead-line was drawn from Powderville on that watercourse eastward to a spur of the Powder River Mountains, thus setting aside a quarantine ground ample to accommodate half a million cattle. Local range-riders kept all the native and wintered Texas cattle to the westward of the river and away from the through ones, which was easily done by riding lines, the Southern herds being held under constant control and hence never straying. The first Texas herds to arrive naturally traveled north to the dead-line, and, choosing a range, went into camp until frost relieved them. It was an unwritten law that a herd was entitled to as much grazing land as it needed, and there was a report about Miles City that the quarantine ground was congested with cattle halfway from Powderville to the Wyoming line.
The outlook was encouraging. Quarantine was working a hardship to herds along the old Powder River route, yet their enforced isolation was like a tempered wind to our cause and cattle, the latter then leisurely grazing across Dakota from the Little Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone. Fortune favored us in many respects. About Miles City there was no concealment of our mission, resulting in an old acquaintance of Lovell’s loaning us horses, while old man Don had no trouble in getting drafts cashed to the amount of two thousand dollars. What he expected to do with this amount of money was a mystery to Dave and myself, a mystery which instantly cleared when we were in the privacy of our room at the hotel.
“Here, boys,” said old man Don, throwing the roll of money on the bed, “divide this wad between you. There might be such a thing as using a little here and there to sweeten matters up, and making yourselves rattling good fellows wherever you go. Now in the first place, I want you both to understand that this money is clear velvet, and don’t hesitate to spend it freely. Eat and drink all you can, and gamble a little of it if that is necessary. You two will saddle up in the morning and ride to Powderville, while I will lie around here a few days and try the market for cattle next year, and then go on to Big Horn on my way to the Crow Agency. Feel your way carefully; locate the herds of Field, Radcliff & Co., and throw everything in their way to retard progress. It is impossible to foretell what may happen, and for that reason only general orders can be given. And remember, I don’t want to see that money again if there is any chance to use it.”
Powderville was a long day’s ride from Miles City. By making an early start and resting a few hours at noon, we reached that straggling outpost shortly after nightfall. There was a road-house for the wayfaring man and a corral for his beast, a general store, opposition saloons, and the regulation blacksmith shop, constituting the business interests of Powderville. As arriving guests, a rough but cordial welcome was extended us by the keeper of the hostelry, and we mingled with the other travelers, but never once mentioning our business. I was uneasy over the money in our possession; not that I feared robbery, but my mind constantly reverted to it, and it was with difficulty that I refrained from continually feeling to see that it was safe. Sponsilier had concealed his in his boot, and as we rode along, contended that he could feel the roll chafing his ankle. I had tied two handkerchiefs together, and rolling my share in one of them, belted the amount between my overshirt and undershirt. The belt was not noticeable, but in making the ride that day, my hand involuntarily went to my side where the money lay, the action never escaping the notice of Sponsilier, who constantly twitted me over my nervousness. And although we were tired as dogs after our long ride, I awoke many times that night and felt to see if my money was safe; my partner slept like a log.
Several cowmen, ranching on the lower Powder River, had headquarters at this outpost. The next morning Sponsilier and I made their acquaintance, and during the course of the day got a clear outline of the situation. On the west the river was the recognized dead-line to the Wyoming boundary, while two camps of five men each patroled the dividing line on the north, drifting back the native stock and holding the through herds in quarantine. The nearest camp was some distance east of Powderville, and saddling up towards evening we rode out and spent the night at the first quarantine station. A wagon and two tents, a relay of saddle horses, and an arsenal of long-range firearms composed the outfit. Three of the five men on duty were Texans. Making ourselves perfectly at home, we had no trouble in locating the herds in question, they having already sounded the tocsin to clear the way, claiming government beef recognized no local quarantine. The herds were not over thirty miles to the south, and expectation ran high as to results when an attempt should be made to cross the deadline. Trouble had already occurred, where outfits respecting the quarantine were trespassed upon by three herds, making claim of being under government protection and entitled to the rights of eminent domain. Fortunately several of the herds on the immediate line had been bought at Ogalalla and were in possession of ranch outfits who owned ranges farther north, and were anxious to see quarantine enforced. These local cowmen would support the established authority, and trouble was expected. Sponsilier and I widened the breach by denouncing these intruders as the hirelings of a set of ringsters, who had no regard for the rights of any one, and volunteered our services in enforcing quarantine against them the same as others.
Our services were gratefully accepted. The next morning we were furnished fresh horses, and one of us was requested, as we were strangers, to ride down the country and reconnoitre the advance of the defiant drovers. As I was fearful that Field or Radcliff might be accompanying the herds, and recognize me, Sponsilier went instead, returning late that evening.
“Well, fellows,” said Dave, as he dismounted at the quarantine camp, “I’ve seen the herds, and they propose to cross this dead-line of yours as easily as water goes through a gourd funnel. They’ll be here by noon to-morrow, and they’ve got the big conversation right on tap to show that the government couldn’t feed its army if it wasn’t for a few big cowmen like them. There’s a strange corporal over the three herds and they’re working on five horses to the man. But the major-domo’s the whole works; he’s a windy cuss, and intimates that he has a card or two up his sleeve that will put these quarantine guards to sleep when he springs them. He’s a new man to me; at least he wasn’t with the gang at Ogalalla.”
During the absence of my partner, I had ridden the dead-line on the north. A strip of country five miles wide was clear of cattle above the boundary, while below were massed four herds, claiming the range from the mountains to the Powder River. The leader of the quarantine guards, Fred Ullmer, had accompanied me on the ride, and on our return we visited three of the outfits, urging them to hold all their reserve forces subject to call, in case an attempt was made to force the dead-line. At each camp I took every possible chance to sow the seeds of dissension and hatred against the high-handed methods of The Western Supply Company. Defining our situation clearly, I asked each foreman, in case these herds defied local authority, who would indemnify the owners for the loss among native cattle by fever between Powderville and the mouth of the Yellowstone. Would the drovers? Would the government? Leaving these and similar thoughts for their consideration, Ullmer and I had arrived at the first quarantine station shortly before the return of my partner.
Upon the report of Sponsilier, Ullmer was appointed captain, and lost no time in taking action. After dark, a scout was sent to Camp No. 2, a meeting-place was appointed on Wolf Creek below, and orders were given to bring along every possible man from the local outfits and to meet at the rendezvous within an hour after sun-up the next morning. Ullmer changed horses and left for Powderville, assuring us that he would rally every man interested in quarantine, and have his posse below, on the creek by sunrise. The remainder of us at headquarters were under orders to bring all the arms and ammunition, and join the quarantine forces at the meeting-place some five miles from our camp. We were also to touch at and command the presence of one of the four outfits while en route. I liked the determined action of Captain Ullmer, who I learned had emigrated with his parents to Montana when a boy, and had grown into manhood on the frontier. Sponsilier was likewise pleased with the quarantine leader, and we lay awake far into the night, reviewing the situation and trying to anticipate any possible contingency that might thwart our plans. But to our best reasoning the horizon was clear, and if Field, Radcliff & Co.’s cattle reached Fort Buford on the day of delivery, well, it would be a miracle.
Fresh horses were secured at dawn, and breakfast would be secured en route with the cow outfit. There were a dozen large-calibre rifles in scabbards, and burdening ourselves with two heavy guns to the man and an abundance of ammunition, we abandoned Quarantine Station No. 1 for the time being. The camp which we were to touch at was the one nearest the river and north of Wolf Creek, and we galloped up to it before the sun had even risen. Since everything was coming our way, Sponsilier and I observed a strict neutrality, but a tow-headed Texan rallied the outfit, saying:
“Make haste, fellows, and saddle up your horses. Those three herds which raised such a rumpus up on Little Powder have sent down word that they’re going to cross our dead-line to-day if they have to prize up hell and put a chunk under it. We have decided to call their bluff before they even reach the line, and make them show their hand for all this big talk. Here’s half a dozen guns and cartridges galore, but hustle yourselves. Fred went into Powderville last night and will meet us above at the twin buttes this morning with every cowman in town. All the other outfits have been sent for, and we’ll have enough men to make our bluff stand up, never fear. From what I learn, these herds belong to a lot of Yankee speculators, and they don’t give a tinker’s dam if all the cattle in Montana die from fever. They’re no better than anybody else, and if we allow them to go through, they’ll leave a trail of dead natives that will stink us out of this valley. Make haste, everybody.”
I could see at a glance that the young Texan had touched their pride. The foreman detailed three men to look after the herd, and the balance made hasty preparations to accompany the quarantine guards. A relief was rushed away for the herders; and when the latter came in, they reported having sighted the posse from Powderville, heading across country for the twin buttes. Meanwhile a breakfast had been bolted by the guards, Sponsilier, and myself, and swinging into our saddles, we rounded a bluff bend of the creek and rode for the rendezvous, some three miles distant. I noticed by the brands that nearly every horse in that country had been born in Texas, and the short time in which we covered the intervening miles proved that the change of climate had added to their stability and bottom. Our first glimpse of the meeting-point revealed the summit of the buttes fairly covered with horsemen. From their numbers it was evident that ours was the last contingent to arrive; but before we reached the twin mounds, the posse rode down from the lookout and a courier met and turned us from our course. The lead herd had been sighted in trail formation but a few miles distant, heading north, and it was the intention to head them at the earliest moment. The messenger inquired our numbers, and reported those arrived at forty-five, making the posse when united a few over sixty men.
A juncture of forces was effected within a mile of the lead herd. It was a unique posse. Old frontiersmen, with patriarchal beards and sawed-off shotguns, chewed their tobacco complacently as they rode forward at a swinging gallop. Beardless youths, armed with the old buffalo guns of their fathers, led the way as if an Indian invasion had called them forth. Soldiers of fortune, with Southern accents, who were assisting in the conquest of a new empire, intermingled with the hurrying throng, and two men whose home was in Medina County, Texas, looked on and approved. The very horses had caught the inspiration of the moment, champing bits in their effort to forge to the front rank, while the blood-stained slaver coated many breasts or driveled from our boots. Before we met the herd a halt was called, and about a dozen men were deployed off on each flank, while the main body awaited the arrival of the cattle. The latter were checked by the point-men and turned back when within a few hundred yards of the main posse. Several horsemen from the herd rode forward, and one politely inquired the meaning of this demonstration. The question was met by a counter one from Captain Ullmer, who demanded to know the reason why these cattle should trespass on the rights of others and ignore local quarantine. The spokesman in behalf of the herd turned in his saddle and gave an order to send some certain person forward. Sponsilier whispered to me that this fellow was merely a segundo. “But wait till the ‘major-domo’ arrives,” he added. The appearance of the posse and the halting of the herd summoned that personage from the rear to the front, and the next moment he was seen galloping up the column of cattle. With a plausible smile this high mogul, on his arrival, repeated the previous question, and on a similar demand from the captain of the posse, he broke into a jolly laugh from which he recovered with difficulty.
“Why, gentlemen,” said he, every word dripping with honeyed sweetness, “this is entirely uncalled for. I assure you that it was purely an oversight on my part that I did not send you word in advance that these herds of mine are government cattle and not subject to local quarantine. My associates are the largest army contractors in the country, these cattle are due at Fort Buford on the 15th of this month, and any interference on your part would be looked upon as an insult to the government. In fact, the post commander at Fort Laramie insisted that he be permitted to send a company of cavalry to escort us across Wyoming, and assured us that a troop from Fort Keogh, if requested, would meet our cattle on the Montana line. The army is jealous over its supplies, but I declined all military protection, knowing that I had but to show my credentials to pass unmolested anywhere. Now, if you care to look over these papers, you will see that these cattle are en route to Fort Buford, on an assignment of the original contract, issued by the secretary of war to The Western Supply Company. Very sorry to put you to all this trouble, but these herds must not be interfered with. I trust that you gentlemen understand that the government is supreme.”
As the papers mentioned were produced, Sponsilier kicked me on the shin, gave me a quiet wink, and nodded towards the documents then being tendered to Captain Ullmer. Groping at his idea, I rode forward, and as the papers were being returned with a mere glance on the part of the quarantine leader, I politely asked if I might see the assignment of the original contract. But a quizzical smile met my request, and shaking out the heavy parchment, he rapped it with the knuckles of his disengaged hand, remarking as he returned it to his pocket, “Sorry, but altogether too valuable to allow out of my possession.” Just what I would have done with the beribboned document, except to hand it over to Sponsilier, is beyond me, yet I was vaguely conscious that its destruction was of importance to our side of the matter at issue. At the same instant in which my request was declined, the big medicine man turned to Captain Ullmer and suavely remarked, “You found everything as represented, did you?”
“Why, I heard your statement, and I have also heard it disputed from other sources. In fact I have nothing to do with you except to enforce the quarantine now established by the cattlemen of eastern Montana. If you have any papers showing that your herds were wintered north of latitude 37, you can pass, as this quarantine is only enforced against cattle from south of that degree. This territory lost half a million dollars’ worth of native stock last fall from Texas fever, and this season they propose to apply the ounce of preventive. You will have ample time to reach your destination after frost falls, and your detention by quarantine will be a good excuse for your delay. Now, unless you can convince me that your herds are immune, I’ll show you a good place to camp on the head of Wolf Creek. It will probably be a matter of ten to fifteen days before the quarantine is lifted, and we are enforcing it against citizens of Montana and Texas alike, and no exception can be made in your case.”
“But, my dear sir, this is not a local or personal matter. Whatever you do, don’t invite the frown of the government. Let me warn you not to act in haste. Now, remember–“
“You made your cracks that you would cross this quarantine line,” interrupted Ullmer, bristlingly, “and I want you to find out your mistake. There is no occasion for further words, and you can either order your outfit to turn your cattle east, or I’ll send men and do it myself.”
The “major-domo” turned and galloped back to his men, a number of whom had congregated near at hand. The next moment he returned and haughtily threatened to surrender the cattle then and there unless he was allowed to proceed. “Give him a receipt for his beeves, Fred,” quietly remarked an old cowman, gently stroking his beard, “and I’ll take these boys over here on the right and start the cattle. That will be the safest way, unless the gentleman can indemnify us. I lost ten thousand dollars’ worth of stock last fall, and as a citizen of Montana I have objections to leaving a trail of fever from here to the mouth of the Yellowstone. And tell him he can have a bond for his cattle,” called back the old man as he rode out of hearing.
The lead herd was pointed to the east, and squads of men rode down and met the other two, veering them off on an angle to the right. Meanwhile the superintendent raved, pleaded, and threatened without avail, but finally yielded and refused the receipt and dispossession of his cattle. This was just what the quarantine captain wanted, and the dove of peace began to shake its plumage. Within an hour all three of the herds were moving out for the head of Wolf Creek, accompanied only by the quarantine guards, the remainder of the posse returning to their homes or their work. Having ample time on our hands, Sponsilier and I expected to remain at Station No. 1 until after the 10th of September, and accordingly made ourselves at home at that camp. To say that we were elated over the situation puts it mildly, and that night the two of us lost nearly a hundred dollars playing poker with the quarantine guards. A strict vigilance was maintained over the herds in question, but all reports were unanimous that they were contentedly occupying their allotted range.
But at noon on the third day of the enforced isolation, a messenger from Powderville arrived at the first station. A troop of cavalry from Fort Keogh, accompanied by a pack-train, had crossed the Powder River below the hamlet, their avowed mission being to afford an escort for certain government beef, then under detention by the local authorities. The report fell among us like a flash of lightning. Ample time had elapsed for a messenger to ride to the Yellowstone, and, returning with troops, pilot them to the camps of Field, Radcliff & Co. A consultation was immediately held, but no definite line of action had been arrived at when a horseman from one of the lower camps dashed up and informed us that the three herds were already trailing out for the dead-line, under an escort of cavalry. Saddling up, we rallied what few men were available, determined to make a protest, at least, in the interest of humanity to dumb brutes. We dispatched couriers to the nearest camps and the outer quarantine station; but before a posse of twenty men arrived, the lead herd was within a mile of the dead-line, and we rode out and met them. Fully eighty troopers, half of which rode in column formation in front, halted us as we approached. Terse and to the point were the questions and answers exchanged between the military arm of the government and the quarantine authorities of Montana. When the question arose of indemnity to citizens, in case of death to native cattle, a humane chord was touched in the young lieutenant in command, resulting in his asking several questions, to which the “major-domo” protested. Once satisfied of the justice of quarantine, the officer, in defense of his action, said:
“Gentlemen, I am under instructions to give these herds, intended for use at Fort Buford, a three days’ escort beyond this quarantine line. I am very much obliged to you all for making so clear the necessity of isolating herds of Texas cattle, and that little or no hardship may attend my orders, you may have until noon to-morrow to drift all native stock west of the Powder River. When these herds encamp for the night, they will receive instructions not to move forward before twelve to-morrow. I find the situation quite different from reports; nevertheless orders are orders.”
CHAPTER XX. ON THE JUST AND THE UNJUST
The quarantine guards returned to their camp. Our plans were suddenly and completely upset, and not knowing which way to turn, Sponsilier and I, slightly crestfallen, accompanied the guards. It was already late in the evening, but Captain Ullmer took advantage of the brief respite granted him to clear the east half of the valley of native cattle. Couriers were dispatched to sound the warning among the ranches down the river, while a regular round-up outfit was mustered among the camps to begin the drifting of range stock that evening. A few men were left at the two camps, as quarantine was not to be abandoned, and securing our borrowed horses, my partner and I bade our friends farewell and set out on our return for the Yellowstone. Merely touching at Powderville for a hasty supper, we held a northwest, cross-country course, far into the night, when we unsaddled to rest our horses and catch a few hours’ sleep. But sunrise found us again in our saddles, and by the middle of the forenoon we were breakfasting with our friends in Miles City.
Fort Keogh was but a short distance up the river. That military interference had been secured through fraud and deception, there was not the shadow of a doubt. During the few hours which we spent in Miles, the cattle interests were duly aroused, and a committee of cowmen were appointed to call on the post commander at Keogh with a formidable protest, which would no doubt be supplemented later, on the return of the young lieutenant and his troopers. During our ride the night before, Sponsilier and I had discussed the possibility of arousing the authorities at Glendive. Since it was in the neighborhood of one hundred miles from Powderville to the former point on the railroad, the herds would consume nearly a week in reaching there. A freight train was caught that afternoon, and within twenty-four hours after leaving the quarantine camp on the Powder River, we had opened headquarters at the Stock Exchange Saloon in Glendive. On arriving, I deposited one hundred dollars with the proprietor of that bar-room, with the understanding that it was to be used in getting an expression from the public in regard to the question of Texas fever. Before noon the next day, Dave Sponsilier and Tom Quirk were not only the two most popular men in Glendive, but quarantine had been decided on with ringing resolutions.
Our standing was soon of the best. Horses were tendered us, and saddling one I crossed the Yellowstone and started down the river to arouse outlying ranches, while Sponsilier and a number of local cowmen rode south to locate a camp and a deadline. I was absent two days, having gone north as far as Wolf Island, where I recrossed the river, returning on the eastern side of the valley. At no ranch which was visited did my mission fail of meeting hearty approval, especially on the western side of the river, where severe losses from fever had been sustained the fall before. One ranch on Thirteen Mile offered, if necessary, to send every man in its employ, with their own wagon and outfit of horses, free of all charge, until quarantine was lifted. But I suggested, instead, that they send three or four men with their horses and blankets, leaving the remainder to be provided for by the local committee. In my two days’ ride, over fifty volunteers were tendered, but I refused all except twenty, who were to report at Glendive not later than the morning of the 6th. On my return to the railroad, all arrangements were completed and the outlook was promising. Couriers had arrived from the south during my absence, bringing the news of the coming of the through Texas cattle, and warning the local ranches to clear the way or take the consequences. All native stock had been pushed west of the Powder and Yellowstone, as far north as Cabin Creek, which had been decided on as the second quarantine-line. Daily reports were being received of the whereabouts of the moving herds, and at the rate they were traveling, they would reach Cabin Creek about the 7th. Two wagons had been outfitted, cooks employed, and couriers dispatched to watch the daily progress of the cattle, which, if following the usual route, would strike the deadline some distance south of Glendive.
During the next few days, Sponsilier and I were social lions in that town, and so great was our popularity we could have either married or been elected to office. We limited our losses at poker to so much an evening, and what we won from the merchant class we invariably lost among the volunteer guards and cowmen, taking our luck with a sangfroid which proved us dead-game sports, and made us hosts of friends. We had contributed one hundred dollars to the general quarantine fund, and had otherwise made ourselves popular with all classes in the brief time at our command. Under the pretense that we might receive orders at any time to overtake our herds, we declined all leadership in the second campaign about to be inaugurated against Texas fever. Dave and I were both feeling rather chesty over the masterful manner in which we had aroused the popular feeling in favor of quarantine in our own interest, at the same time making it purely a local movement. We were swaggering about like ward-heelers, when on the afternoon of the 5th the unexpected again happened. The business interests of the village usually turned out to meet the daily passenger trains, even the poker-games taking a recess until the cars went past. The arrival and departure of citizens of the place were noted by every one, and strangers were looked upon with timidity, very much as in all simple communities. Not taking any interest in the passing trains, Sponsilier was writing a letter to his girl in Texas, while I was shaking dice for the cigars with the bartender of the Stock Exchange, when the Eastbound arrived. After the departure of the train, I did not take any notice of the return of the boys to the abandoned games, or the influx of patrons to the house, until some one laid a hand on my shoulder and quietly said, “Isn’t your name Quirk?”
Turning to the speaker, I was confronted by Mr. Field and Mr. Radcliff, who had just arrived by train from the west. Admitting my identity, I invited them to have a cigar or liquid refreshment, inquiring whence they had come and where their cattle were. To my surprise, Fort Keogh was named as their last refuge, and the herds were reported to cross the railroad within the next few days. Similar questions were asked me, but before replying, I caught Sponsilier’s eye and summoned him with a wink. On Dave’s presenting himself, I innocently asked the pair if they did not remember my friend as one of the men whom they had under arrest at Dodge. They grunted an embarrassed acknowledgment, which was returned in the same coin, when I proceeded to inform them that our cattle crossed the railroad at Little Missouri ten days before, and that we were only waiting the return of Mr. Lovell from the Crow Agency before proceeding to our destination. With true Yankee inquisitiveness, other questions followed, the trend of which was to get us to admit that we had something to do with the present activities in quarantining Texas cattle. But I avoided their leading queries, and looked appealingly at Sponsilier, who came to my rescue with an answer born of the moment.
“Well, gentlemen,” said Dave, seating himself on the bar and leisurely rolling a cigarette, “that town of Little Missouri is about the dullest hole that I was ever water-bound in. Honestly, I’d rather be with the cattle than loafing in it with money in my pocket. Now this town has got some get-up about it; I’ll kiss a man’s foot if he complains that this burg isn’t sporty enough for his blood. They’ve given me a run here for my white alley, and I still think I know something about that game called draw-poker. But you were speaking about quarantine. Yes; there seems to have been a good many cattle lost through these parts last fall. You ought to have sent your herds up through Dakota, where there is no native stock to interfere. I’d hate to have cattle coming down the Powder River. A friend of mine passed through here yesterday; his herd was sold for delivery on the Elkhorn, north of here, and he tells me he may not be able to reach there before October. He saw your herds and tells me you are driving the guts out of them. So if there’s anything in that old ‘ship-fever theory,’ you ought to be quarantined until it snows. There’s a right smart talk around here of fixing a dead-line below somewhere, and if you get tied up before reaching the railroad, it won’t surprise me a little bit. When it comes to handling the cattle, old man Don has the good hard cow-sense every time, but you shorthorns give me a pain.”
“What did I tell you?” said Radcliff, the elder one, to his partner, as they turned to leave.
On nearing the door, Mr. Field halted and begrudgingly said, “See you later, Quirk.”
“Not if I see you first,” I replied; “you ain’t my kind of cowmen.”
Not even waiting for them to pass outside, Sponsilier, from his elevated position, called every one to the bar to irrigate. The boys quit their games, and as they lined up in a double row, Dave begged the bartenders to bestir themselves, and said to his guests: “Those are the kid-gloved cowmen that I’ve been telling you about–the owners of the Texas cattle that are coming through here. Did I hang it on them artistically, or shall I call them back and smear it on a shade deeper? They smelt a mouse all right, and when their cattle reach Cabin Creek, they’ll smell the rat in earnest. Now, set out the little and big bottle and everybody have a cigar on the side. And drink hearty, lads, for to-morrow we may be drinking branch water in a quarantine camp.”
The arrival of Field and Radcliff was accepted as a defiance to the local cattle interests. Popular feeling was intensified when it was learned that they were determined not to recognize any local quarantine, and were secretly inquiring for extra men to guard their herds in passing Glendive. There was always a rabble element in every frontier town, and no doubt, as strangers, they could secure assistance in quarters that the local cowmen would spurn. Matters were approaching a white heat, when late that night an expected courier arrived, and reported the cattle coming through at the rate of twenty miles a day. They were not following any particular trail, traveling almost due north, and if the present rate of travel was maintained, Cabin Creek would be reached during the forenoon of the 7th. This meant business, and the word was quietly passed around that all volunteers were to be ready to move in the morning. A cowman named Retallac, owner of a range on the Yellowstone, had previously been decided on as captain, and would have under him not less than seventy-five chosen men, which number, if necessary, could easily be increased to one hundred.
Morning dawned on a scene of active operations. The two wagons were started fully an hour in advance of the cavalcade, which was to follow, driving a remuda of over two hundred saddle horses. Sponsilier and I expected to accompany the outfit, but at the last moment our plans were changed by an incident and we remained behind, promising to overtake them later. There were a number of old buffalo hunters in town, living a precarious life, and one of their number had quietly informed Sheriff Wherry that they had been approached with an offer of five dollars a day to act as an escort to the herds while passing through. The quarantine captain looked upon that element as a valuable ally, suggesting that if it was a question of money, our side ought to be in the market for their services. Heartily agreeing with him, the company of guards started, leaving their captain behind with Sponsilier and myself. Glendive was a county seat, and with the assistance of the sheriff, we soon had every buffalo hunter in the town corralled. They were a fine lot of rough men, inclined to be convivial, and with the assistance of Sheriff Wherry, coupled with the high standing of the quarantine captain, on a soldier’s introduction Dave and I made a good impression among them. Sponsilier did the treating and talking, his offer being ten dollars a day for a man and horse, which was promptly accepted, when the question naturally arose who would stand sponsor for the wages. Dave backed off some distance, and standing on his left foot, pulled off his right boot, shaking out a roll of money on the floor.
“There’s the long green, boys,” said he, “and you fellows can name your own banker. I’ll make it up a thousand, and whoever you say goes with me. Shall it be the sheriff, or Mr. Retallac, or the proprietor of the Stock Exchange?”
Sheriff Wherry interfered, relieving the embarrassment in appointing a receiver, and vouched that these two Texans were good for any reasonable sum. The buffalo hunters approved, apologizing to Sponsilier, as he pulled on his boot, for questioning his financial standing, and swearing allegiance in every breath. An hour’s time was granted in which to saddle and make ready, during which we had a long chat with Sheriff Wherry and found him a valuable ally. He had cattle interests in the country, and when the hunters appeared, fifteen strong, he mounted his horse and accompanied us several miles on the way. “Now, boys,” said he, at parting, “I’ll keep an eye over things around town, and if anything important happens, I’ll send a courier with the news. If those shorthorns attempt to offer any opposition, I’ll run a blazer on them, and if necessary I’ll jug the pair. You fellows just buffalo the herds, and the sheriff’s office will keep cases on any happenings around Glendive. It’s understood that night or day your camp can be found on Cabin Creek, opposite the old eagle tree. Better send me word as soon as the herds arrive. Good luck to you, lads.”
Neither wagons nor guards were even sighted during our three hours’ ride to the appointed campground. On our arrival tents were being pitched and men were dragging up wood, while the cooks were busily preparing a late dinner, the station being fully fifteen miles south of the railroad. Scouts were thrown out during the afternoon, corrals built, and evening found the quarantine camp well established for the comfort of its ninety-odd men. The buffalo hunters were given special attention and christened the “Sponsilier Guards;” they took again to outdoor life as in the old days. The report of the scouts was satisfactory; all three of the herds had been seen and would arrive on schedule time. A hush of expectancy greeted this news, but Sponsilier and I ridiculed the idea that there would be any opposition, except a big talk and plenty of bluffing.
“Well, if that’s what they rely on,” said Captain Retallac, “then they’re as good as in quarantine this minute. If you feel certain they can’t get help from Fort Keogh a second time, those herds will be our guests until further orders. What we want to do now is to spike every possible chance for their getting any help, and the matter will pass over like a summer picnic. If you boys think there’s any danger of an appeal to Fort Buford, the military authorities want to be notified that the Yellowstone Valley has quarantined against Texas fever and asks their cooperation in enforcing the same.”
“I can fix that,” replied Sponsilier. “We have lawyers at Buford right now, and I can wire them the situation fully in the morning. If they rely on the military, they will naturally appeal to the nearest post, and if Keogh and Buford turn them down, the next ones are on the Missouri River, and at that distance cavalry couldn’t reach here within ten days. Oh, I think we’ve got a grapevine twist on them this time.”
Sponsilier sat up half the night wording a message to our attorneys at Fort Buford. The next morning found me bright and early on the road to Glendive with the dispatch, the sending of which would deplete my cash on hand by several dollars, but what did we care for expense when we had the money and orders to spend it? I regretted my absence from the quarantine camp, as I was anxious to be present on the arrival of the herds, and again watch the “major-domo” run on the rope and fume and charge in vain. But the importance of blocking assistance was so urgent that I would gladly have ridden to Buford if necessary. In that bracing atmosphere it was a fine morning for the ride, and I was rapidly crossing the country, when a vehicle, in the dip of the plain, was sighted several miles ahead. I was following no road, but when the driver of the conveyance saw me he turned across my front and signaled. On meeting the rig, I could hardly control myself from laughing outright, for there on the rear seat sat Field and Radcliff, extremely gruff and uncongenial. Common courtesies were exchanged between the driver and myself, and I was able to answer clearly his leading questions: Yes; the herds would reach Cabin Creek before noon; the old eagle tree, which could be seen from the first swell of the plain beyond, marked the quarantine camp, and it was the intention to isolate the herds on the South Fork of Cabin. “Drive on,” said a voice, and, in the absence of any gratitude expressed, I inwardly smiled in reward.
I was detained in Glendive until late in the day, waiting for an acknowledgment of the message. Sheriff Wherry informed me that the only move attempted on the part of the shorthorn drovers was the arrest of Sponsilier and myself, on the charge of being accomplices in the shooting of one of their men on the North Platte. But the sheriff had assured the gentlemen that our detention would have no effect on quarantining their cattle, and the matter was taken under advisement and dropped. It was late when I started for camp that evening. The drovers had returned, accompanied by their superintendent, and were occupying the depot, burning the wires in every direction. I was risking no chances, and cultivated the company of Sheriff Wherry until the acknowledgment arrived, when he urged me to ride one of his horses in returning to camp, and insisted on my taking a carbine. Possibly this was fortunate, for before I had ridden one third the distance to the quarantine camp, I met a cavalcade of nearly a dozen men from the isolated herds. When they halted and inquired the distance to Glendive, one of their number recognized me as having been among the quarantine guards at Powderville. I admitted that I was there, turning my horse so that the carbine fell to my hand, and politely asked if any one had any objections. It seems that no one had, and after a few commonplace inquiries were exchanged, we passed on our way.
There was great rejoicing on Cabin Creek that night. Songs were sung, and white navy beans passed current in numerous poker-games until the small hours of morning. There had been nothing dramatic in the meeting between the herds and the quarantine guards, the latter force having been augmented by visiting ranchmen and their help, until protest would have been useless. A routine of work had been outlined, much stricter than at Powderville, and a surveillance of the camps was constantly maintained. Not that there was any danger of escape, but to see that the herds occupied the country allotted to them, and did not pollute any more territory than was necessary. The Sponsilier Guards were given an easy day shift, and held a circle of admirers at night, recounting and living over again “the good old days.” Visitors from either side of the Yellowstone were early callers, and during the afternoon the sheriff from Glendive arrived. I did not know until then that Mr. Wherry was a candidate for reelection that fall, but the manner in which he mixed with the boys was enough to warrant his election for life. What endeared him to Sponsilier and myself was the fund of information he had collected, and the close tab he had kept on every movement of the opposition drovers. He told us that their appeal to Fort Keogh for assistance had been refused with a stinging rebuke; that a courier had started the evening before down the river for Fort Buford, and that Mr. Radcliff had personally gone to Fort Abraham Lincoln to solicit help. The latter post was fully one hundred and fifty miles away, but that distance could be easily covered by a special train in case of government interference.
It rained on the afternoon of the 9th. The courier had returned from Fort Buford on the north, unsuccessful, as had also Mr. Radcliff from Fort Lincoln on the Missouri River to the eastward. The latter post had referred the request to Keogh, and washed its hands of intermeddling in a country not tributary to its territory. The last hope of interference was gone, and the rigors of quarantine closed in like a siege with every gun of the enemy spiked. Let it be a week or a month before the quarantine was lifted, the citizens of Montana had so willed it, and their wish was law. Evening fell, and the men drew round the fires. The guards buttoned their coats as they rode away, and the tired ones drew their blankets around them as they lay down to sleep. Scarcely a star could be seen in the sky overhead, but before my partner or myself sought our bed, a great calm had fallen, the stars were shining, and the night had grown chilly.
The old buffalo hunters predicted a change in the weather, but beyond that they were reticent. As Sponsilier and I lay down to sleep, we agreed that if three days, even two days, were spared us, those cattle in quarantine could never be tendered at Fort Buford on the appointed day of delivery. But during the early hours of morning we were aroused by the returning guards, one of whom halted his horse near our blankets and shouted, “Hey, there, you Texans; get up–a frost has fallen!”
Sure enough, it had frosted during the night, and the quarantine was lifted. When day broke, every twig and blade of grass glistened in silver sheen, and the horses on picket stood humped and shivering. The sun arose upon the herds moving, with no excuse to say them nay, and orders were issued to the guards to break camp and disperse to their homes. As we rode into Glendive that morning, sullen and defeated by a power beyond our control, in speaking of the peculiarity of the intervention, Sponsilier said: “Well, if it rains on the just and the unjust alike, why shouldn’t it frost the same.”
CHAPTER XXI. FORT BUFORD
We were at our rope’s end. There were a few accounts to settle in Glendive, after which we would shake its dust from our feet. Very few of the quarantine guards returned to town, and with the exception of Sheriff Wherry, none of the leading cowmen, all having ridden direct for their ranches. Long before the train arrived which would carry us to Little Missouri, the opposition herds appeared and crossed the railroad west of town. Their commissaries entered the village for supplies, while the “major-domo,” surrounded by a body-guard of men, rode about on his miserable palfrey. The sheriff, fearing a clash between the victorious and the vanquished, kept an eye on Sponsilier and me as we walked the streets, freely expressing our contempt of Field, Radcliff & Co., their henchmen and their methods. Dave and I were both nerved to desperation; Sheriff Wherry, anxious to prevent a conflict, counciled with the opposition drovers, resulting in their outfits leaving town, while the principals took stage across to Buford.
Meanwhile Sponsilier had wired full particulars to our employer at Big Horn. It was hardly necessary, as the frost no doubt was general all over Montana, but we were anxious to get into communication with Lovell immediately on his return to the railroad. We had written him from Miles of our failure at Powderville, and the expected second stand at Glendive, and now the elements had notified him that the opposition herds were within striking distance, and would no doubt appear at Buford on or before the day of delivery. An irritable man like our employer would neither eat nor sleep, once the delivery at the Crow Agency was over, until reaching the railroad, and our message would be awaiting him on his return to Big Horn. Our train reached Little Missouri early in the evening, and leaving word with the agent that we were expecting important messages from the west, we visited the liveryman and inquired about the welfare of our horses. The proprietor of the stable informed us that they had fared well, and that he would have them ready for us on an hour’s notice. It was after dark and we were at supper when the first message came. An immediate answer was required, and arising from the table, we left our meal unfinished and hastened to the depot. From then until midnight, messages flashed back and forth, Sponsilier dictating while I wrote. As there was no train before the regular passenger the next day, the last wire requested us to have the horses ready to meet the Eastbound, saying that Bob Quirk would accompany Lovell.
That night it frosted again. Sponsilier and I slept until noon the next day without awakening. Then the horses were brought in from pasture, and preparation was made to leave that evening. It was in the neighborhood of ninety miles across to the mouth of the Yellowstone, and the chances were that we would ride it without unsaddling. The horses had had a two weeks’ rest, and if our employer insisted on it, we would breakfast with the herds the next morning. I was anxious to see the cattle again and rejoin my outfit, but like a watched pot, the train was an hour late. Sponsilier and I took advantage of the delay and fortified the inner man against the night and the ride before us. This proved fortunate, as Lovell and my brother had supper en route in the dining-car. A running series of questions were asked and answered; saddles were shaken out of gunny-sacks and cinched on waiting horses as though we were starting to a prairie fire. Bob Quirk’s cattle had reached the Crow Agency in splendid condition, the delivery was effected without a word, and old man Don was in possession of a letter from Flood, saying everything had passed smoothly at the Rosebud Agency.
Contrary to the expectation of Sponsilier and myself, our employer was in a good humor, fairly walking on the clouds over the success of his two first deliveries of the year. But amid the bustle and rush, in view of another frosty night, Sponsilier inquired if it would not be a good idea to fortify against the chill, by taking along a bottle of brandy. “Yes, two of them if you want to,” said old man Don, in good-humored approval. “Here, Tom, fork this horse and take the pitch out of him,” he continued; “I don’t like the look of his eye.” But before I could reach the horse, one of my own string, Bob Quirk had mounted him, when in testimony of the nutritive qualities of Dakota’s grasses, he arched his spine like a true Texan and outlined a worm-fence in bucking a circle.
The start was made during the gathering dusk. Sponsilier further lifted the spirits of our employer, as we rode along, by a clear-cut description of the opposition cattle, declaring that had they ever equaled ours, the handling they had received since leaving Ogalalla, compared to his, would class them with short twos in the spring against long threes in the fall. Within an hour the stars shone out, and after following the river some ten miles, we bore directly north until Beaver Creek was reached near midnight. The pace was set at about an eight-mile, steady clip, with an occasional halt to tighten cinches or shift saddles. The horses were capable of a faster gait without tiring, but we were not sure of the route and were saving them for the finish after daybreak. Early in the night we were conscious that a frost was falling, and several times Sponsilier inquired if no one cared for a nip from his bottle. Bob Quirk started the joke on Dave by declining; old man Don uncorked the flask, and, after smelling of the contents, handed it back with his thanks. I caught onto their banter, and not wishing to spoil a good jest, also declined, leaving Sponsilier to drink alone. During the night, whenever conversation lagged, some one was certain to make reference to the remarks which are said to have passed between the governors of the Carolinas, or if that failed to provoke a rise, ask direct if no one had something to ward off the chilly air. After being refused several times, Dave had thrown the bottle away, meeting these jests with the reply that he had a private flask, but its quality was such that he was afraid of offending our cultivated tastes by asking us to join him.
Day broke about five in the morning. We had been in the saddle nearly ten hours, and were confident that sunrise would reveal some landmark to identify our location. The atmosphere was frosty and clear, and once the gray of dawn yielded to the rising sun, the outline of the Yellowstone was easily traced on our left, while the bluffs in our front shielded a view of the mother Missouri. In attempting to approach the latter we encountered some rough country and were compelled to turn towards the former, crossing it, at O’Brien’s roadhouse, some seven miles above the mouth. The husbanded reserves of our horses were shaken out, and shortly afterward smoke-clouds from camp-fires, hanging low, attracted our attention. The herds were soon located as they arose and grazed away from their bed-grounds. The outfits were encamped on the eastern side of the Yellowstone; and before leaving the government road, we sighted in our front a flag ascending to greet the morning, and the location of Fort Buford was established. Turning towards the cattle, we rode for the lower wagon and were soon unsaddling at Forrest’s camp. The latter had arrived two days before and visited the post; he told us that the opposition were there in force, as well as our own attorneys. The arrival of the cattle under contract for that military division was the main topic of discussion, and Forrest had even met a number of civilian employees of Fort Buford whose duties were to look after the government beeves. The foreman of these unenlisted attaches, a Texan named Sanders, had casually ridden past his camp the day before, looking over the cattle, and had pronounced them the finest lot of beeves tendered the government since his connection with that post.
“That’s good news,” said Lovell, as he threw his saddle astride the front wheel of the wagon; “that’s the way I like to hear my cattle spoken about. Now, you boys want to make friends with all those civilians, and my attorneys and Bob and I will hobnob around with the officers, and try and win the good will of the entire post. You want to change your camp every few days and give your cattle good grazing and let them speak for themselves. Better kill a beef among the outfits, and insist on all callers staying for meals. We’re strangers here, and we want to make a good impression, and show the public that we were born white, even if we do handle cattle for a living. Quince, tie up the horses for us, and after breakfast Bob and I will look over the herds and then ride into Fort Buford.–Trout for breakfast? You don’t mean it!”
It was true, however, and our appetites did them justice. Forrest reported Splann as having arrived a day late, and now encamped the last herd up the valley. Taking our horses with us, Dave and I set out to look up our herds and resume our former positions. I rode through Sponsilier’s cattle while en route to my own, and remembered the first impression they had made on my mind,–their uniformity in size and smoothness of build,–and now found them fatted into finished form, the herd being a credit to any drover. Continuing on my way, I intercepted my own cattle, lying down over hundreds of acres, and so contented that I refused to disturb them. Splann reported not over half a dozen sore-footed ones among them, having grazed the entire distance from Little Missouri, giving the tender cattle a good chance to recover. I held a circle of listeners for several hours, in recounting Sponsilier’s and my own experiences in the quarantine camps, and our utter final failure, except that the opposition herds had been detained, which would force them to drive over twenty miles a day in order to reach Buford on time. On the other hand, an incident of more than ordinary moment had occurred with the cattle some ten days previous. The slow movement of the grazing herds allowed a great amount of freedom to the boys and was taken advantage of at every opportunity. It seems that on approaching Beaver Creek, Owen Ubery and Runt Pickett had ridden across to it for the purpose of trout-fishing. They were gone all day, having struck the creek some ten or twelve miles west of the cattle, expecting to fish down it and overtake the herds during the evening. But about noon they discovered where a wagon had been burned, years before, and near by were five human skeletons, evidently a family. It was possibly the work of Indians, or a blizzard, and to prove the discovery, Pickett had brought in one of the skulls and proposed taking it home with him as a memento of the drive. Parent objected to having the reminder in the wagon, and a row resulted between them, till Splann interfered and threw the gruesome relic away.
The next morning a dozen of us from the three herds rode into the post. Fort Buford was not only a military headquarters, but a supply depot for other posts farther west on the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. The nearest railroad connection was Glendive, seventy-six miles up the latter stream, though steamboats took advantage of freshets in the river to transport immense supplies from lower points on the Missouri where there were rail connections. From Buford westward, transportation was effected by boats of lighter draft and the regulation wagon train. It was recognized as one of the most important supply posts in the West; as early as five years previous to this date, it had received in a single summer as many as ten thousand beeves. Its provision for cavalry was one of its boasted features, immense stacks of forage flanking those quarters, while the infantry barracks and officers’ quarters were large and comfortable. A stirring little town had sprung up on the outside, affording the citizens employment in wood and hay contracts, and becoming the home of a large number of civilian employees, the post being the mainstay of the village.
After settling our quarantine bills, Sponsilier and I each had money left. Our employer refused even to look at our expense bills until after the delivery, but urged us to use freely any remaining funds in cultivating the good will of the citizens and soldiery alike. Forrest was accordingly supplied with funds, with the understanding that he was to hunt up Sanders and his outfit and show them a good time. The beef foreman was soon located in the quartermaster’s office, and, having been connected with the post for several years, knew the ropes. He had come to Buford with Texas cattle, and after their delivery had accepted a situation under the acting quartermaster, easily rising to the foremanship through his superior abilities as a cowman. It was like a meeting of long-lost brothers to mingle again with a cow outfit, and the sutler’s bar did a flourishing business during our stay in the post. There were ten men in Sanders’s outfit, several of whom besides himself were Texans, and before we parted, every rascal had promised to visit us the next day and look over all the cattle.
The next morning Bob Quirk put in an early appearance at my wagon. He had passed the other outfits, and notified us all to have the cattle under convenient herd, properly watered in advance, as the post commandant, quartermaster, and a party of minor officers were going to ride out that afternoon and inspect our beeves. Lovell, of course, would accompany them, and Bob reported him as having made a ten-strike with the officers’ mess, not being afraid to spend his money. Fortunately the present quartermaster at Buford was a former acquaintance of Lovell, the two having had business transactions. The quartermaster had been connected with frontier posts from Fort Clark, Texas, to his present position. According to report, the opposition were active and waging an aggressive campaign, but not being Western men, were at a disadvantage. Champagne had flowed freely at a dinner given the night before by our employer, during which Senator Aspgrain, in responding to a toast, had paid the army a high tribute for the part it had played in reclaiming the last of our western frontier. The quartermaster, in replying, had felicitously remarked, as a matter of his own observation, that the Californian’s love for a horse was only excelled by the Texan’s love for a cow, to which, amid uproarious laughter, old man Don arose and bowed his acknowledgment.
My brother changed horses and returned to Sponsilier’s wagon. Dave had planned to entertain the post beef outfit for dinner, and had insisted on Bob’s presence. They arrived at my herd near the middle of the forenoon, and after showing the cattle and remuda, we all returned to Sponsilier’s camp. These civilian employees furnished their own mounts, and were anxious to buy a number of our best horses after the delivery was over. Not even a whisper was breathed about any uncertainty of our filling the outstanding contract, yet Sanders was given to understand that Don Lovell would rather, if he took a fancy to him, give a man a horse than sell him one. Not a word was said about any opposition to our herds; that would come later, and Sanders and his outfit were too good judges of Texas cattle to be misled by any bluster or boastful talk. Sponsilier acted the host, and after dinner unearthed a box of cigars, and we told stories and talked of our homes in the sunny South until the arrival of the military party. The herds had been well watered about noon and drifted out on the first uplands, and we intercepted the cavalcade before it reached Sponsilier’s herd. They were mounted on fine cavalry horses, and the only greeting which passed, aside from a military salute, was when Lovell said: “Dave, show these officers your beeves. Answer any question they may ask to the best of your ability. Gentlemen, excuse me while you look over the cattle.”
There were about a dozen military men in the party, some of them veterans of the civil war, others having spent their lifetime on our western frontier, while a few were seeing their first year’s service after leaving West Point. In looking over the cattle, the post commander and quartermaster were taken under the wing of Sanders, who, as only a man could who was born to the occupation, called their attention to every fine point about the beeves. After spending fully an hour with Sponsilier’s herd, the cavalcade proceeded on to mine, Lovell rejoining the party, but never once attempting to draw out an opinion, and again excusing himself on reaching my cattle. I continued with the military, answering every one’s questions, from the young lieutenant’s to the veteran commandant’s, in which I was ably seconded by the quartermaster’s foreman. My cattle had a splendid fill on them and eloquently spoke their own praises, yet Sanders lost no opportunity to enter a clincher in their favor. He pointed out beef after beef, and vouched for the pounds net they would dress, called attention to their sameness in build, ages, and general thrift, until one would have supposed that he was a salesman instead of a civilian employee.
My herd was fully ten miles from the post, and it was necessary for the military to return that evening. Don Lovell and a number of the boys had halted at a distance, and once the inspection was over, we turned and rode back to the waiting group of horsemen. On coming up, a number of the officers dismounted to shift saddles, preparatory to starting on their return, when the quartermaster halted near our employer and said:
“Colonel Lovell, let me say to you, in all sincerity, that in my twenty-five years’ experience on this frontier, I never saw a finer lot of beeves tendered the government than these of yours. My position requires that I should have a fair knowledge of beef cattle, and the perquisites of my office in a post of Buford’s class enable me to employ the best practical men available to perfect the service. I remember the quality of cattle which you delivered four years ago to me at Fort Randall, when it was a six-company post, yet they were not as fine a lot of beeves as these are. I have always contended that there was nothing too good in my department for the men who uphold the colors of our country, especially on the front line. You have been a soldier yourself and know that I am talking good horsesense, and I want to say to you that whatever the outcome of this dispute may be, if yours are the best cattle, you may count on my support until the drums beat tattoo. The government is liberal and insists on the best; the rank and file are worthy, and yet we don’t always get what is ordered and well paid for. Now, remember, comrade, if this difference comes to an issue, I’m right behind you, and we’ll stand or be turned down together.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” replied Mr. Lovell. “It does seem rather fortunate, my meeting up with a former business acquaintance, and at a time when I need him bad. If I am successful in delivering on this Buford award, it will round out, during my fifteen years as a drover, over a hundred thousand cattle that I have sold to the government for its Indian and army departments. There are no secrets in my business; the reason of my success is simple–my cattle were always there on the appointed day, humanely handled, and generally just a shade better than the specifications. My home country has the cattle for sale; I can tell within two bits a head what it will cost to lay them down here, and it’s music to my ear to hear you insist on the best. I agree with you that the firing-line is entitled to special consideration, yet you know that there are ringsters who fatten at the expense of the rank and file. At present I haven’t a word to say, but at noon to-morrow I shall tender the post commander at Ford Buford, through his quartermaster, ten thousand beeves, as a sub-contractor on the original award to The Western Supply Company.” The post commander, an elderly, white-haired officer, rode over and smilingly said: “Now, look here, my Texas friend, I’m afraid you are borrowing trouble. True enough, there has been a protest made against our receiving your beeves, and I don’t mince my words in saying that some hard things have been said about you. But we happen to know something about your reputation and don’t give credit for all that is said. Your beeves are an eloquent argument in your favor, and if I were you I wouldn’t worry. It is always a good idea in this Western country to make a proviso; and unless the unforeseen happens, the quartermaster’s cattle foreman will count your beeves to-morrow afternoon; and for the sake of your company, if we keep you a day or two longer settling up, I don’t want to hear you kick. Now, come on and go back with us to the post, as I promised my wife to bring you over to our house this evening. She seems to think that a man from Texas with ten thousand cattle ought to have horns, and I want to show her that she’s mistaken. Come on, now, and not a damned word of protest out of you.”
The military party started on their return, accompanied by Lovell. The civilian attaches followed at a respectful distance, a number of us joining them as far as Sponsilier’s camp. There we halted, when Sanders insisted on an explanation of the remarks which had passed between our employer and his. Being once more among his own, he felt no delicacy in asking for information–which he would never think of doing with his superiors. My brother gave him a true version of the situation, but it remained for Dave Sponsilier to add an outline of the opposition herds and outfits.
“With humane treatment,” said Dave, “the cattle would have qualified under the specifications. They were bought at Ogalalla, and any of the boys here will tell you that the first one was a good herd. The market was all shot to pieces, and they picked them up at their own price. But the owners didn’t have cow-sense enough to handle the cattle, and put one of their own gang over the herds as superintendent. They left Cabin Creek, below Glendive, on the morning of the 10th, and they’ll have to travel nearly twenty miles a day to reach here by noon to-morrow. Sanders, you know that gait will soon kill heavy cattle. The outfits were made up of short-card men and dance-hall ornaments, wild enough to look at, but shy on cattle sabe. Just so they showed up bad and wore a six-shooter, that was enough to win a home with Field and Radcliff. If they reach here on time, I’ll gamble there ain’t ten horses in the entire outfit that don’t carry a nigger brand. And when it comes to the big conversation– well, they’ve simply got the earth faded.”
It was nearly sundown when we mounted our horses and separated for the day. Bob Quirk returned to the post with the civilians, while I hastened back to my wagon. I had left orders with Splann to water the herd a second time during the evening and thus insure an easy night in holding the cattle. On my return, they were just grazing out from the river, their front a mile wide, making a pretty picture with the Yellowstone in the background. But as I sat my horse and in retrospect reviewed my connection with the cattle before me and the prospect of soon severing it, my remuda came over a near-by hill in a swinging trot for their second drink. Levering threw them into the river below the herd, and turning, galloped up to me and breathlessly asked: “Tom, did you see that dust-cloud up the river? Well, the other cattle are coming. The timber cuts off your view from here, besides the sun’s gone down, but I watched their signal for half an hour from that second hill yonder. Oh, it’s cattle all right; I know the sign, even if they are ten miles away.”
CHAPTER XXII. A SOLDIER’S HONOR
Delivery day dawned with a heavy fog hanging over the valley of the Yellowstone. The frosts had ceased, and several showers had fallen during the night, one of which brought our beeves to their feet, but they gave no serious trouble and resumed their beds within an hour. There was an autumn feeling in the atmosphere, and when the sun arose, dispelling the mists, a glorious September day was ushered in. The foliage of the timber which skirted either river was coloring from recent frosts, while in numerous places the fallen leaves of the cottonwood were littering the ground. Enough rain had fallen to settle the dust, and the signal of the approaching herds, seen the evening before, was no longer visible.
The delay in their appearance, however, was only temporary. I rode down to Sponsilier’s camp early that morning and reported the observations of my wrangler at sundown. No one at the lower wagon had noticed the dust-clouds, and some one suggested that it might be a freight outfit returning unloaded, when one of the men on herd was seen signaling the camp’s notice. The attention of the day-herders, several miles distant, was centered on some object up the river; and mounting our horses, we rode for the nearest elevation, from which two herds were to be seen on the opposite side, traveling in trail formation. There was no doubting their identity; and wondering what the day would bring forth, we rode for a better point of observation, when from behind a timbered bend of the river the lead of the last herd appeared. At last the Yellowstone Valley held over twenty thousand beef cattle, in plain sight of each other, both factions equally determined on making the delivery on an award that required only half that number. Dismounting, we kept the herds in view for over an hour, or until the last one had crossed the river above O’Brien’s road-house, the lead one having disappeared out of sight over on the main Missouri.
This was the situation on the morning of September 15. As we returned to Sponsilier’s wagon, all the idle men about the camp joined our cavalcade, and we rode down and paid Forrest’s outfit