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  • 1911
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accepting a small advance in currency, the boys departed. A brief hour’s shopping was indulged in, the principal purchases being two long-range rifles, cartridges and poison in abundance, when they hastened to the depot and caught a west-bound train. Horses had been left at Grinnell, and at evening the next day the two rode into headquarters on the Beaver.

Beyond question there are tides in the affairs of men. With the first shipment of cattle from the little ranch, poverty fled and an air of independence indicated the turn in the swing of the pendulum. Practical men, in every avenue of the occupation, had lent their indorsement to the venture of the brothers, the mettle of the pasture had been tested in the markets, and the future, with reasonable vigilance, rested on sure foundations.

The turn of the tide was noticeable at once. “I really think Uncle Dud would let me come home,” said Manly to the others, at supper. “There’s no occasion for my staying here this winter. Besides, I’m a tender plant; I’m as afraid of cold as a darky is of thunder. Wouldn’t I like to get a letter from Uncle Dud saying, ‘Come home, my little white chicken, come home!'”

“You can go in the spring,” said Joel. “We’re going to use four line-riders this winter, and there’s every reason why you’ll make a trusty one!”

“That’s one of the owners talking,” observed Sargent; “now listen to the foreman’s orders: The next thing is to brand every hoof up to date. Then, at the upper line-camp, comes the building of a new dug-out and stabling for four horses. And lastly, freight in plenty of corn. After that, if we fail to hold the cattle, it’s our own fault. No excuse will pass muster. Hold these cattle? It’s a dead immortal cinch! Joseph dear, make yourself a useful guest for the winter.”

A hopeful spirit lightened every task. The calves and their mothers were brought down to the home corral and branded in a single day. The Stoddard cattle, the title being conditional, were exempt, the Lazy H ranch brand fully protecting mutual interests. Only cripple, fagged, and stray cattle were branded, the latter numbering less than a hundred head, and were run into the Hospital brand, while the remainder bore the–Y of the ranch. The work was completed within a week, Dell making a hand which proved his nerve, either in the saddle or branding pen.

The first week in October was devoted to building the new dug-out and stable. The wagon was provisioned, every implement and tool on the ranch, from a hammer to a plough, was taken along, as well as the remuda, and the quartette sallied forth to the task as if it were a frolic. The site had been decided on during the haying, and on reaching the scene, the tent was set up, and the building of a shelter for man and horse was begun.

The dug-out of the West is built for comfort,–half cellar and the remainder sod walls. A southern slope was selected; an abrupt break or low bank was taken advantage of, admitting of four-foot cellar walls on three sides, the open end inclosed with massive sod walls and containing the door. The sod was broken by a team and plough, cut into lengths like brick, and the outside walls raised to the desired height. For roofing, a heavy ridge-pole was cut the length of the room, resting on stout upright posts. Lighter poles were split and laid compactly, like rafters, sheeted with hay, and covered with loose dirt to the depth of a foot. The floor was earthen; a half window east and west, supplemented by a door in the south, admitted light, making a cosy, comfortable shelter. A roomy stable was built on the same principle and from the same material.

The work was completed quickly, fuel for the winter gathered, when the quartette started homeward. “It looks like the halfway house at Land’s End,” said Manly, turning for a last look at the new improvements. “What are you going to call the new tepee?”

“Going to call it The Wagon,” answered Sargent, he and Dell having accepted the new line-camp as their winter quarters, “and let the latch-string hang on the outside. Whenever you can, you must bring your knitting and come over.”

CHAPTER XVIII

AN OPEN WINTER

An ideal Indian summer was enjoyed. Between the early and late fall frosts, the range matured into perfect winter pasturage. Light rains in September freshened the buffalo grass until it greened on the sunny slopes, cured into hay as the fall advanced, thus assuring abundant forage to the cattle.

Manly was the only one of the quartette not inured to a northern climate. A winter in Montana had made Sargent proof against any cold, while the brothers were native to that latitude if not to the plains. After building the line-camp and long before occupying it, the quartette paired off, Sargent and Dell claiming the new dug-out, while the other two were perfectly content with the old shack at headquarters. A healthy spirit of rivalry sprang up, extending from a division of the horses down to a fair assignment of the blankets.

Preparations for and a constant reference to the coming winter aroused a dread in Manly. “You remind me of our darky cook,” said Sargent, “up on the Yellowstone a few years ago. Half the trail outfit were detailed until frost, to avoid fever and to locate the cattle, and of course the cook had to stay. A squall of snow caught us in camp, and that poor darky just pined away. ‘Boss,’ he used to say to the foreman, shivering over the fire, ‘ah’s got to go home. Ah’s subjec’ to de rheumatics. Mah fambly’s a-gwine to be pow’ful uneasy ’bout me. Dis-a-yere country am no place fo’ a po’ ol’ niggah.'”

Two teams were employed in freighting in the corn, four round trips being required, Joel and Manly assuming the work. Supplies for the winter were brought in at the same time, among the first of which were four sacks of salt; and the curing of two barrels of corned beef fell a pleasant task to Dell and his partner. There was nothing new in pickling the meat, and with the exception of felling the beeves, the incident passed as part of the day’s work. Dell claimed the privilege of making the shots, which Sargent granted, but exercised sufficient caution to corral the beeves. Both fell in their tracks, and the novice gained confidence in his skill in the use of a rifle.

The first of December was agreed on to begin the riding of lines. That date found all the new cattle drifted above headquarters, and as it was some ten miles to the upper line-camp, an extremely liberal range was allowed the herd. Eight of the best wintered horses were stabled, and at first the line was maintained on the south bank of the Beaver. An outer line was agreed upon, five miles to the south; but until the season forced the cattle to the shelter of the valley, the inner one was kept under patrol. The outer was a purely imaginary line, extending in an immense half-circle, from headquarters to the new line-camp above. It followed the highest ground, and marked the utmost limit on the winter range on the south. Any sign or trace of cattle crossing it, drifting before a storm or grazing at leisure, must be turned back or trailed down.

The first and second weeks passed, the weather continuing fine. Many of the cattle ranged two and three miles north of the creek, not even coming in to water oftener than every other day. Several times the horsemen circled to the north; but as ranging wide was an advantage, the cattle were never disturbed. A light fall of soft snow even failed to bring the cattle into the valley.

Christmas week was ushered in with a display of animal instinct. The through and wintered cattle had mixed and mingled, the latter fat and furred, forging to the front in ranging northward, and instinctively leading their brethren to shelter in advance of the first storm. Between the morning and evening patrol of a perfect day, the herd, of its own accord, drifted into the valley, the leaders rioting in a wild frolic. Their appearance hastened the patrol of the inner line by an hour, every nook and shelter, including the old corral, being filled with frolicsome cattle. The calves were engaging each other in mimic fights, while the older cattle were scarring every exposed bank, or matting their foreheads in clay and soft dirt.

“What does it mean?” inquired Joel, hailing Sargent, when the line-riders met.

“It means that we’ll ride the outside line in the morning,” came the reply. “There’s a storm coming within twelve hours. At least, the herd say so.”

“What can we do?”

“Leave that to the cattle. They’ll not quit the valley unless driven out by a storm. The instinct that teaches them of the coming storm also teaches them how to meet it. They’ll bed in the blue-stem to-night, or hunt a cosy nook under some cut-bank.”

A meeting point on the outer line, for the next morning, was agreed upon, when the horsemen separated for the evening. “Get out early, and keep your eyes open for any trace of cattle crossing the line,” Sargent called back, as he reined homeward. “Dell and I will leave The Wagon at daybreak.”

The storm struck between midnight and morning. Dawn revealed an angry horizon, accompanied by a raw, blue-cold, cutting wind from the north. On leaving their quarters, both patrols caught the storm on an angle, edging in to follow the circle, their mounts snorting defiance and warming to the work in resisting the bitter morning. The light advanced slowly, a sifting frost filled the air, obscuring the valley, and not until the slope to the south was reached was the situation known.

No cattle were in sight or adrift. Within an hour after leaving the line-camp, the experienced eye of Sargent detected a scattering trace where an unknown number of cattle had crossed the line. Both he and Dell dismounted, and after studying the trail, its approach and departure, the range-bred man was able to give a perfect summary of the situation.

“There’s between fifty and a hundred head in this drift,” remarked Sargent, as the two remounted. “They’re through cattle; the storm must have caught them on the divide, north of the Beaver. They struck the creek in the flats and were driven out of the valley. The trail’s not over two hours old. Ride the line until you meet the other boys, and I’ll trail down these cattle. The sand dunes ought to catch them.”

Dell and Sargent separated. Five miles to the eastward Joel was met. Manly was reported at the rear, the two having intercepted a contingent of cattle approaching the line, and was then drifting the stragglers back to the valley. On Dell’s report, the brothers turned to the assistance of Sargent, retracing the western line, and finally bearing off for the sand hills. Several times the sun threatened to break through, lighting the valley, but without revealing any stir among the cattle in the shelter of the creek. In the short time since leaving their stables, the horses under saddle had whitened from the action of the frost on their sweaty coats, unheeded by their riders. There was no checking of mounts until the range of dunes was reached, when from the summit of a sand hill the stragglers were located in care of Sargent, and on the homeward drift. The cattle were so benumbed and bewildered from the cold that they had marched through the shelter of the dunes, and were overtaken adrift on the wind-swept plain.

The contingent numbered sixty-odd cattle, and with the help of the brothers were easily handled. Before recrossing the line, the sun burst forth, and on reaching the slope, the trio halted in parting. “A few hours of this sun,” said Sargent, “and we’ve got the upper hand of this storm. The wind or sun must yield. If the wind lulls, we’ll ride the inner line to-night and bed every hoof in the shelter of the creek. Pick up Manly, and we’ll ride the valley line about the middle of the afternoon.”

Joel turned homeward, scouting that portion of the line under patrol from headquarters. The drifting contingent was intrusted to Dell, leaving Sargent to retrace their division of the line, and before noon all had reached their quarters. From twenty to thirty miles had been covered that morning, in riding the line and recovering the lost, and at the agreed time, the relay horses were under saddle for the afternoon task. The sun had held sway, the wind had fallen, and as they followed up the valley, they encountered the cattle in large bunches, grazing to every quarter of the compass. They were not molested on the outward ride, but on the return trip, near evening, they were all turned back to the sheltering nooks and coves which the bends of the Beaver afforded. A crimpy night followed, but an early patrol in the morning found the cattle snug in the dry, rank grasses which grew in the first bottoms of the creek.

The first storm had been weathered. The third day, of their own accord, the cattle left the valley and grazed out on the northern divide. The line-riders relaxed their vigil, and in preparation for observing the Natal day, each camp put forth its best hunter to secure a venison. The absence of snow, during the storm, had held the antelope tributary to the Beaver, and locating game was an easy matter. To provide the roast, the spirit of rivalry was accented anew, and each camp fervently hoped for its own success.

A venison hung at headquarters before noon, Manly making a running shot at the leader of a band, which was surprised out of a morning siesta near the old trail crossing. If a quarry could only be found in the sand hills, a natural shelter for antelope, Sargent had flattered Dell into believing that his aim was equal to the occasion. The broken nature of the dune country admitted of stealthy approach, and its nearness to the upper camp recommended it as an inviting hunting ground. The disappointment of the first effort, due to moderated weather, was in finding the quarry far afield. A dozen bands were sighted from the protection of the sand hills, a mile out on the flat plain, but without shelter to screen a hunter. Sargent was equal to the occasion, and selecting a quarry, the two horses were unsaddled, the bridle reins lengthened by adding ropes, and crouching low, their mounts afforded the necessary screen as they grazed or were driven forward. By tacking right and left in a zigzag course they gained the wind, and a stealthy approach on the band was begun. The stabled horses grazed ravenously, sometimes together, then apart, affording a perfect screen for stalking.

After a seeming age to Dell, the required rifle range was reached, when the cronies flattened themselves in the short grass and allowed the horses to graze to their rope’s end. Sargent indicated a sentinel buck, presenting the best shot; and using his elbow for a rest, the rifle was laid in the hollow of Dell’s upraised hand and drawn firmly to his shoulder, and a prompt report followed. The shot went wild, throwing up a flash of dust before the band, which instantly whirled. The horses merely threw up their heads in surprise, attracting the startled quarry, which ran up within fifty yards of the repeating rifle. In the excitement of the moment instantly following the first shot, Dell had arisen to his knee, unmindful of the necessity of throwing another cartridge into the rifle barrel. “Shoot! Shoot!” whispered Sargent, as the band excitedly halted within pistol range. Dell fingered the trigger in vain. “Throw in a cartridge!” breathlessly suggested Sargent. The lever clicked, followed by a shot, which tore up the sod within a few feet of the muzzle of the rifle!

The antelope were away in a flash. Sargent rolled on the grass, laughing until the tears trickled down his cheeks, while Dell’s chagrin left him standing like a simpleton.

“I don’t believe this gun shoots true,” he ventured at last, too mortified to realize the weakness of his excuse. “Besides, it’s too easy on the trigger.”

“No rifle shoots true during buck ague season,” answered Sargent, not daring to raise his eyes. “When the grass comes next spring, those scars in the sod will grow over. Lucky that neither horse was killed. Honest, I’ll never breathe it! Not for worlds!”

Sargent’s irony was wasted. Dell, in a dazed way, recovered his horse, mounted, and aimlessly followed his bunkie. On reaching their saddles, the mental fog lifted, and as if awakening from a pleasant dream, the boy dismounted. “Did I have it?–the buck ague?” he earnestly inquired.

“You had symptoms of it,” answered Sargent, resaddling his horse. “Whenever a hunter tries to shoot an empty gun, or discharges one into the ground at his feet, he ought to take something for his nerves. It’s not fatal, and I have hopes of your recovery.”

The two turned homeward. Several times Sargent gave vent to a peal of laughter that rang out like a rifle report, but Dell failed to appreciate the humor of the situation.

“Well,” said the older one, as they dismounted at the stable, “if we have to fall back on corn beef for our Christmas dinner, I can grace it with a timely story. And if we have a saddle of venison, it will fit the occasion just as well.”

The inner line was ridden at evening. The cattle were caring for themselves; but on meeting the lads from headquarters, an unusual amount of banter and repartee was exchanged.

“Killed an antelope two days before you needed it,” remarked Sargent scathingly. “Well, well! You fellows certainly haven’t much confidence in your skill as hunters.”

“Venison improves with age,” loftily observed Manly.

“That’s a poor excuse. At best, antelope venison is dry meat. We located a band or two to-day, and if Dell don’t care for the shot, I’ll go out in the morning and bring in a fat yearling.”

“Is that your prospect for a Christmas roast?” inquired Manly with refined sarcasm. “Dell, better air your Sunday shirt to-morrow and come down to headquarters for your Christmas dinner. We’re going to have quite a spread.”

Dell threw a glance at Sargent. “Come on,” said the latter with polished contempt, reining his horse homeward. “Just as if we lived on beans at The Wagon! Just as if our porcelain-lined graniteware wasn’t as good as their tin plates! Catch us accepting! Come on!”

Sargent was equal to his boast. He returned the next day before noon, a young doe lashed to his saddle cantle, and preparations were made for an extensive dinner. The practical range man is usually a competent cook, and from the stores of the winter camp a number of extra dishes were planned. In the way of a roast, on the plains, a saddle of venison was the possible extreme, and the occupants of the line-camp possessed a ruddy health which promised appetites to grace the occasion.

Christmas day dawned under ideal conditions. Soft winds swayed the dead weeds and leafless shrubs, the water trickled down the creek from pool to pool, reminding one of a lazy, spring day, with droning bees and flights of birds afield. Sargent rode the morning patrol alone, meeting Joel at the halfway point, when the two dismounted, whiling away several hours in considering future plans of the ranch.

It was high noon when the two returned to their respective quarters. Dell had volunteered to supervise the roasting of the venison, and on his crony’s return, the two sat down to their Christmas dinner. What the repast lacked in linen and garnishment, it made up in stability, graced by a cheerfulness and contentment which made its partakers at peace with the world. Sargent was almost as resourceful in travel and story as Quince Forrest, and never at a loss for the fitting incident to grace any occasion.

Dell was a good listener. Any story, even at his own expense, was enjoyed. “Whether we had corn beef or venison,” said he to Sargent, “you promised to tell a story at dinner to-day.”

“The one that you reminded me of when you shot the rifle into the ground at your feet and scared the antelope away? No offense if I have to laugh; you looked like a simpleton.”

“Tell your story; I’m young, I’ll learn,” urged Dell.

“You may learn to handle a gun, and make the same mistake again, but in a new way. It’s live and learn. This man was old enough to be your father, but he looked just as witless as you did.”

“Let’s have the story,” impatiently urged the boy.

“It happened on a camp hunt. Wild turkeys are very plentiful in certain sections of Texas, and one winter a number of us planned a week’s shooting. In the party was a big, raw-boned ex-sheriff, known as one of the most fearless officers in the state. In size he simply towered above the rest of us.

“It was a small party, but we took along a commissary wagon, an ambulance, saddle horses, and plenty of Mexicans to do the clerking and coarse handwriting. It was quite a distance to the hunting grounds, and the first night out, we made a dry camp. A water keg and every jug on the ranch had been filled for the occasion, and were carried in the wagon.

“Before reaching the road camp, the big sheriff promised us a quail pot-pie for breakfast, and with that intent, during the afternoon, he killed two dozen partridges. The bird was very plentiful, and instead of picking them for a pot-pie, skinning such a number was much quicker. In the hurry and bustle of making the camp snug for the night, every one was busy, the sheriff in particular, in dressing his bag of quail. On finishing the task, he asked a Mexican to pour some water, and the horse wrangler reached into the wagon, at random, and emptied a small jug into the vessel containing the dressed birds.

“The big fellow adjourned to the rear and proceeded to wash and drain his quail. After some little time, he called to the cook: ‘Ignacio, I smell kerosene. Look in the wagon, please, and see if the lantern isn’t leaking.’

“‘In a minute,’ answered the cook, busy elsewhere.

“The sheriff went on washing the quail, and when about halfway through the task, he halted. ‘Ignacio, I smell that kerosene again. See if the lantern isn’t upset, or the oil jug leaking.’

“‘Just in a minute,’ came the answer as before. ‘My hands are in the flour.’

“The big man went on, sniffing the air from time to time, nearly finishing his task, when he stopped again and pleadingly said: ‘Ignacio, I surely smell kerosene. We’re out for a week, and a lantern without oil puts us in a class with the foolish virgins. Drop your work and see what the trouble is. There’s a leak somewhere.’

“The cook dusted the flour from his hands, clambered up on the wagon wheel, lifted the kerosene jug, pulled the stopper, smelt it, shook it, and lifted it above his head in search of a possible crack. The empty jug, the absence of any sign of leakage, gradually sifted through his mind, and he cast an inquiring glance at the big sheriff, just then finishing his task. Invoking heaven and all the saints to witness, he gasped, ‘Mr. Charlie, you’ve washed the quail in the kerosene!’

“The witless, silly expression that came into that big man’s face is only seen once in a lifetime,” said Sargent in conclusion. “I’ve been fortunate, I’ve seen it twice; once on the face of a Texas sheriff, and again, when you shot a hole in the ground with your eye on an antelope. Whenever I feel blue and want to laugh, I conjure up the scene of a Mexican, standing on a wagon wheel, holding a jug, and a six-footer in the background, smelling the fingers of one hand and then the other.”

CHAPTER XIX

AN INDIAN SCARE

The year closed with dry, open weather. The cattle scattered wide, ranging farther afield, unmolested except by shifting winds. The latter was a matter of hourly observation, affording its lesson to the brothers, and readily explained by the older and more practical men. For instance, a north or the dreaded east wind brought the herd into the valley, where it remained until the weather moderated, and then drifted out of its own free will. When a balmy south wind blew, the cattle grazed against it, and when it came from a western quarter, they turned their backs and the gregarious instinct to flock was noticeable. Under settled weather, even before dawn, by noting the quarter of the wind, it was an easy matter to foretell the movement of the herd for the coming day.

The daily tasks rested lightly. The line was ridden as usual, but more as a social event than as a matter of necessity. The occasional reports of Manly to his employer were flattering in the extreme. Any risk involved in the existing contract hinged on the present winter, and since it was all that could be desired, every fine day added to the advantage of Wells Brothers. So far their venture had been greeted with fair winds, and with not a cloud in the visible sky. Manly was even recalled by Mr. Stoddard early in February.

Month after month passed without incident. Spring came fully a fortnight earlier than the year before. By the middle of March, the willows were bent with pollen, the birds returned, and the greening slopes rolled away and were lost behind low horizons. The line-camp was abandoned, the cattle were scattered over the entire valley, and the instincts to garden were given free rein. The building of two additional tanks, one below the old trail crossing and the other near the new camp above, occupied a month’s time to good advantage. It enlarged the range beyond present needs; but the brothers were wrestling with a rare opportunity, and theirs was strictly a policy of expansion.

An occasional trip to the railroad, for supplies or pressing errand, was usually rewarded with important news. During the winter just passed, Kansas had quarantined against Texas cattle, and the trail was barred from that state. Early in May information reached the ranch that the market interests of Dodge City had moved over the line into Colorado, and had established a town on the railroad, to be known as Trail City. A feasible route lay open to the south, across No-Man’s-Land, into the Texas Panhandle, while scouting parties were out with the intent of locating a new trail to Ogalalla. It would cross the Republican River nearly due westward from headquarters, and in the neighborhood of one hundred miles distant.

“There you are,” said Sargent, studying a railroad folder. “You must have water for the herds, so the new market will have a river and a railroad. It simply means that the trail has shifted from the east to the west of your range. As long as the country is open, you can buy cattle at Trail City, hold them on the Colorado line until frost, and cross to your own range with a few days’ travel. It may prove an advantage after all.”

The blessing of sunshine and shower rested on the new ranch. The beaver ponds filled, the spill-ways of every tank ran like a mill race, and the question of water for the summer was answered. The cattle early showed the benefits of the favorable winter, and by June the brands were readable at a glance. From time to time reports from the outside world reached the brothers, and among other friendly letters received was an occasional inquiry from the commission firm, the factors named under the existing contract. The house kept in touch with the range, was fully aware of the open winter, and could easily anticipate its effects in maturing cattle for early shipment.

The solicitors of the firm, graduates of the range, were sent out a month in advance of other years. Wells Brothers were advised of a promised visit by one of the traveling agents of the commission house, and during the first week in July he arrived at headquarters. He was a practical man, with little concern for comfort, as long as there were cattle to look over. Joel took him in tow, mounted him on the pick of saddle horses, and the two leisurely rode the range.

“What does he say?” inquired Dell, after a day’s ride.

“Not a word,” answered Joel. “He can’t talk any more than I can. Put in all day just looking and thinking. He must like cattle that range wide, for we rode around every outside bunch. He _can_ talk, because he admitted we have good horses.”

Again the lesson that contact teaches was accented anew. At parting the following morning, in summing up the outlook, the solicitor surprised the brothers. “The situation is clear,” said he quietly. “You must ship early. Your double-wintered beeves will reach their prime this month. You may ship them any day after the 25th. Your single-wintered ones can follow in three weeks. The firm may be able to advise you when to ship. It’s only a fourteen-hour run to the yards, and if you work a beef-shipping outfit that’s up to date, you can pick your day to reach the market. Get your outfit together, keep in touch with the house by wire, and market your beef in advance of the glut from the Platte country.”

The solicitor lifted the lines over a livery team. “One moment,” said Joel. “Advise Mr. Stoddard that we rely on him to furnish us two men during the beef-shipping season.”

“Anything else?” inquired the man, a memorandum-book in hand.

“Where are the nearest ranches to ours?”

“On the Republican, both above and below the old trail crossing. There may be extra men over on the river,” said the solicitor, fully anticipating the query.

“That’s all,” said Joel, extending his hand.

The stranger drove away. The brothers exchanged a puzzled glance, but Sargent smiled. “That old boy sabes cows some little,” said the latter. “The chances are that he’s forgotten more about cattle than some of these government experts ever knew. Anyway, he reads the sign without much effort. His survey of this range and the outlook are worth listening to. Better look up an outfit of men.”

“We’ll gather the remuda to-day,” announced Joel. “While I’m gone to the Republican, you boys can trim up and gentle the horses.”

The extra mounts, freed the fall before, had only been located on the range, and must be gathered and brought in to headquarters at once. They had ranged in scattering bunches during the winter, and a single day would be required to gather and corral the ranch remuda. It numbered, complete, ninety-six horses, all geldings, and the wisdom of buying the majority a year in advance of their needs reflected the foresight of a veteran cowman. Many of them were wild, impossible of approach, the call of the plain and the free life of their mustang ancestors pulsing with every heart-beat, and several days would be required to bring them under docile subjection. There were scraggy hoofs to trim, witches’ bridles to disentangle, while long, bushy, matted tails must be thinned to a graceful sweep.

The beginning of work acted like a tonic. The boys sallied forth, mounted on their best horses, their spirits soaring among the clouds. During the spring rains, several small lakes had formed in the sand hills, at one of which a band of some thirty saddle horses was watering. The lagoon was on the extreme upper end of the range, fully fifteen miles from headquarters; and as all the saddle stock must be brought in, the day’s work required riding a wide circle. Skirting the sand dunes, by early noon all the horses were in hand, save the band of thirty. There was no occasion for all hands to assist in bringing in the absent ones, and a consultation resulted in Joel and Dell volunteering for the task, while Sargent returned home with the horses already gathered.

The range of the band was well known, and within a few hours after parting with Sargent, the missing horses were in hand. The brothers knew every horse, and, rejoicing in their splendid condition, they started homeward, driving the loose mounts before them. The most direct course to headquarters was taken, which would carry the cavalcade past the springs and the upper winter quarters. The latter was situated in the brakes of the Beaver, several abrupt turns of the creek, until its near approach, shutting out a western view of the deserted dug-out. The cavalcade was drifting home at a gentle trot, but on approaching The Wagon, a band of ponies was sighted forward and in a bend of the creek. The boys veered their horses, taking to the western divide, and on gaining it, saw below them and at the distance of only a quarter-mile, around the springs, an Indian encampment of a dozen tepees and lean-tos.

Dell and Joel were struck dumb at the sight. To add to their surprise, all the dogs in the encampment set up a howling, the Indians came tumbling from their temporary shelters, many of them running for their ponies on picket, while an old, almost naked leader signaled to the brothers. It was a moment of bewilderment with the boys, who conversed in whispers, never halting on their course, and when the Indians reached their ponies, every brave dashed up to the encampment. A short parley followed, during which signaling was maintained by the old Indian, evidently a chief; but the boys kept edging away, and the old brave sprang on a pony and started in pursuit, followed by a number of his band.

The act was tinder to powder. The boys gave rowel to their mounts, shook out their ropes, raised the long yell, and started the loose horses in a mad dash for home. It was ten long miles to headquarters, and their mounts, already fagged by carrying heavy saddles and the day’s work, were none too fresh, while the Indians rode bareback and were not encumbered by an ounce of extra clothing.

The boys led the race by fully five hundred yards. But instead of taking to the divide, the Indians bore down the valley, pursued and pursuers in plain sight of each other. For the first mile or so the loose horses were no handicap, showing clean heels and keeping clear of the whizzing ropes. But after the first wild dash, the remuda began to scatter, and the Indians gained on the cavalcade, coming fairly abreast and not over four hundred yards distant.

“They’re riding to cut us off!” gasped Dell. “They’ll cut us off from headquarters!”

“Our horses will outwind their ponies,” shouted Joel, in reply. “Don’t let these loose horses turn into the valley.”

The divide was more difficult to follow than the creek. The meanderings of the latter were crossed and recrossed without halting, while the watershed zigzagged, or was broken and cut by dry washes and coulees, thus retarding the speed of the cavalcade. The race wore on with varying advantage, and when near halfway to headquarters, the Indians turned up the slope as if to verify Dell’s forecast. At this juncture, a half-dozen of the loose horses cut off from the band and turned down the slope in plain sight of the pursuers.

[Illustration: THE FIRST ROUND-UP OF THE DAY]

“If it’s horses they want, they can have those,” shouted Joel. “Climbing that slope will fag their ponies. Come on; here’s where we have the best of it.”

The Indians were not to be pacified. Without a look they swept past the abandoned horses. The boys made a clear gain along a level stretch on the divide, maintaining their first lead, when the pursuers, baffled in cutting them off, turned again into the valley.

“It isn’t horses they want,” ventured Dell, with a backward glance.

“In the next dip, we’ll throw the others down the western slope, and ride for our lives,” answered Joel, convinced that a sacrifice of horses would not appease their pursuers.

The opportunity came shortly, when for a few minutes the brothers dipped from sight of the Indians. The act confused the latter, who scaled the divide, only to find the objects of their chase a full half-mile in the lead, but calling on the last reserve in their fagged horses. The pursuers gradually closed the intervening gap; but with the advantage of knowing every foot of the ground, the brothers took a tack which carried them into the valley at the old winter corral. From that point it was a straight stretch homeward, and, their horses proving their mettle, the boys dashed up to the stable, where Sargent was found at work among the other horses.

“Indians! Indians!” shouted Dell, who arrived in the lead. “Indians have been chasing us all afternoon. Run for your life, Jack!”

Joel swept past a moment later, accenting the situation, and as Sargent left the corral, he caught sight of the pursuing Indians, and showed splendid action in reaching the dug-out.

Breathless and gasping, Dell and Joel each grasped a repeating rifle, while Sargent, in the excitement of the moment, unable to unearth the story, buckled on a six-shooter. The first reconnoitre revealed the Indians halted some two hundred yards distant, and parleying among themselves. At a first glance, the latter seemed to be unarmed, and on Sargent stepping outside the shack, the leader, the old brave, simply held up his hand.

“They must be peaceful Indians,” said Sargent to the boys, and signaled in the leader.

The old Indian jogged forward on his tired pony, leaving his followers behind, and on riding up, a smile was noticeable on his wrinkled visage. He dismounted, unearthing from his scanty breech-clout a greasy, grimy letter, and tendered it to Sargent.

The latter scanned the missive, and turning to the boys, who had ventured forth, broke into a fit of laughter.

“Why, this is Chief Lone Wolf,” said Sargent, “from the Pine Ridge Agency, going down to see his kinsfolks in the Indian Territory. The agent at Pine Ridge says that Lone Wolf is a peaceful Indian, and has his permission to leave the reservation. He hopes that nothing but kindness will be shown the old chief in his travels, and bespeaks the confidence of any white settlers that he may meet on the way. You boys must have been scared out of your wits. Lone Wolf only wanted to show you this letter.”

Sargent conversed with the old chief in Spanish, the others were signaled in, when a regular powwow ensued. Dell and Joel shook hands with all the Indians, Sargent shared his tobacco with Lone Wolf, and on returning to their encampment at evening, each visitor was burdened with pickled beef and such other staples as the cow-camp afforded.

CHAPTER XX

HARVEST ON THE RANGE

Joel set out for the Republican the next morning and was gone four days. The beef ranches along the river had no men to spare, but constant inquiry was rewarded by locating an outfit whose holdings consisted of stock cattle. Three men were secured, their services not being urgently required on the home ranch until the fall branding, leaving only a cook and horse wrangler to be secured. Inquiry at Culbertson located a homesteader and his boy, anxious for work, and the two were engaged.

“They’re to report here on the 15th,” said Joel, on his return. “It gives us six men in the saddle, and we can get out the first shipment with that number. The cook and wrangler may be a little green at first, but they’re willing, and that masters any task. We’ll have to be patient with them–we were all beginners once. Any man who ever wrestled with a homestead ought to be able to cook.”

“Yes, indeed,” admitted Sargent. “There’s nothing develops a man like settling up a new country. It brings out every latent quality. In the West you can almost tell a man’s native heath by his ability to use baling wire, hickory withes, or rawhide.”

The instinct of cattle is reliable in selecting their own range. Within a week, depending on the degree of maturity, the herd, with unerring nutrient results, turns from one species of grass to another. The double-wintered cattle naturally returned to their former range; but in order to quicken the work, any beeves of that class found below were drifted above headquarters. It was a distinct advantage to leave the herd undisturbed, and with the first shipment drifted to one end of the range, a small round-up or two would catch all marketable beeves.

The engaged men arrived on the appointed date. The cook and wrangler were initiated into their respective duties at once. The wagon was equipped for the trail, vicious horses were gentled, and an ample mount allotted to the extra men. The latter were delighted over the saddle stock, and mounted to satisfy every desire, no task daunted their numbers. Sargent was recognized as foreman; but as the work was fully understood, the concerted efforts of all relieved him of any concern, except in arranging the details. The ranch had fallen heir to a complete camp kit, with the new wagon, and with a single day’s preparations, the shipping outfit stood ready to move on an hour’s notice.

It was no random statement, on the part of the solicitor, that Wells Brothers could choose the day on which to market their beef. Sargent had figured out the time, either forced or leisurely, to execute a shipment, and was rather impatient to try out the outfit in actual field work.

“Suppose we break in the outfit,” he suggested, “by taking a little swing around the range. It will gentle the horses, instruct the cook and wrangler, and give us all a touch of the real thing.”

Joel consulted a calendar. “We have four days before beginning to gather beeves,” he announced. “Let’s go somewhere and camp.”

“We’ll move to the old trail crossing at sun-up,” announced Sargent. “Roll your blankets in the morning, boys.”

A lusty shout greeted the declaration. It was the opening of the beef-shipping season, the harvest time of the year, and the boys were impatient to begin the work. But the best-laid plans are often interrupted. That evening a courier reached headquarters, bearing a message from the commission firm which read, “Have your double-wintered beeves on Saturday’s market.”

“That’s better,” said Sargent, glancing over the telegram. “The wagon and remuda will start for Hackberry Grove at sun-up. Have the messenger order ten cars for Friday morning. The shipment will be on Saturday’s market.”

Dawn found the outfit at attention. Every movement was made with alacrity. Two men assisted a husky boy to corral the remuda, others harnessed in a span of mules, and before the sun peeped over the horizon, the cavalcade moved out up the valley, the courier returning to the station. The drag-net from below would be thrown out from the old winter corral; but as an hour’s sun on the cattle rendered them lazy, half the horsemen halted until the other sighted the grove above. As early as advisable, the gradual circle was begun, turning the cattle into the valley, concentrating, and by slowly edging in, the first round-up of the day was thrown together, numbering, range run, fully six hundred head. Two men were detailed to hold the round-up compactly, Dell volunteered to watch the cut (the beeves selected), leaving the other three to cut out the marketable cattle which would make up the shipment. A short hour’s work followed, resulting in eighty-odd beeves being selected. Flesh, age, and the brand governed each selection, and when cut into a class by themselves, the mettle of the pasture was reflected in every beef.

The cut was grazed up to the second round-up, which contributed nearly double the former number. On finishing the work, a count of the beeves was made, which overran in numbers the necessary shipment. They were extremely heavy cattle, twenty head to the car was the limit, and it became necessary to trim or cull back to the desired number. Sargent and Joel passed on every rejected beef, uniform weight being desirable, until the shipment stood acceptable, in numbers, form, and finish.

The beeves were watered and grazed out on their course without delay. Three days and a half were allowed to reach the railroad, and a grazing pace would land the herd in the shipping pens in good season. The day’s work consisted in merely pointing and drifting the cattle forward, requiring only a few men, leaving abundant help to initiate the cook and wrangler in their field duties. Joel had been a close observer of the apparent ease with which a cook discharged his duty, frequently halting his wagon on a moment’s notice, and easily preparing a meal for an outfit of trail men within an hour. The main secret lay in the foresight, in keeping his work in advance, and Joel lent every assistance in coaching his cook to meet the emergency of any demand.

Sargent took the wrangler in hand. The different bunches of horses had seen service on the trail, were gentle to handle, and attention was called to observing each individual horse and the remuda as a whole. For instance, in summer, a horse grazes against the breeze, and if the remuda was freed intelligently, at darkness, the wind holding from the same quarter during the night, a practical wrangler would know where to find his horses at dawn. The quarter of the breeze was therefore always noted, any variation after darkness, as if subject to the whim of the wind, turning the course of the grazing remuda. As among men, there were leaders among horses, and by noting these and applying hobbles, any inclination to wander was restrained. Fortunately, the husky boy had no fear of a horse, his approach being as masterly as his leave-taking was gentle and kindly–a rare gift when unhobbling alone in the open.

“I’ll make a horse wrangler out of this boy,” said Sargent to the father, in the presence of Dell and Joel. “Before the summer ends, he’ll know every crook and turn in the remuda. There’s nothing like knowing your horses. Learn to trail down the lost; know their spirit, know them in health, lame and wounded. If a horse neighs at night, know why; if one’s missing in the morning, name him like you would an absent boy at school.”

The trip down to the railroad was largely a matter of patience. The beeves were given every advantage, and except the loss of sleep in night-herding, the work approached loafing against time. Three guards stood watch during the short summer nights, pushing the herd off its bed at dawn, grazing early and late, and resting through the noon hours.

An agreeable surprise awaited the original trio. The evening before loading out, the beeves must be penned, and Joel rode into the station in advance, to see that cars were in waiting and get the shipping details. As if sent on the same errand, Manly met him, having been ordered on from Trail City.

“I’ve been burning the wires all morning,” said he to Joel, “for a special train for this shipment. The agent wanted us to take a local freight from here, but I showed him there were other train shipments to follow. A telegram to the commission firm and another one to my old man done the work. Those old boys know how to pull the strings. A special train has been ordered, and you can name your own hour for leaving in the morning. I have a man with me; send us in horses and we’ll help you corral your beeves.”

Joel remained only long enough to confirm Manly’s foresight. Two horses were sent in by Dell, and the welcome addition of two extra men joined the herd, which was easily corralled at dusk of evening. An early hour was agreed upon to load out, the empty train came in promptly, and the first shipment of the year was cut into car lots and loaded out during a morning hour.

Before the departure of the train, an air of activity was noticeable around the bleak station. The train crew was insisting for a passenger schedule, there was billing to be done and contracts to execute, telegrams of notification to be sent the commission firm, and general instructions to the beef outfit. Joel and Sargent were to accompany the shipment, and on starting, while the engineer and conductor were comparing their running orders, Sargent called out from the rear of the caboose:–

“The best of friends must part,” said he, pretending to weep. “Here’s two bits; buy yourself some cheese and crackers, and take some candy home to the children. Manly, if I never come back, you can have my little red wagon. Dell, my dear old bunkie–well, you can have all my other playthings.”

The cattle train faded from sight and the outfit turned homeward. Horses were left at the station for Joel and Sargent, and the remainder of the outfit reached headquarters the following day. Manly had been away from the ranch nearly six months, and he and Dell rode the range, pending the return of the absent. Under ideal range conditions, the cattle of marketable age proved a revelation, having rounded into form beyond belief.

“That’s why I love cattle,” said Manly to Dell, while riding the range; “they never disappoint. Cattle endure time and season, with a hardiness that no other animal possesses. Given a chance, they repay every debt. Why, one shipment from these Stoddard cattle will almost wipe the slate. Uncle Dudley thought this was a fool deal, but Mr. Lovell seemed so bent on making it that my old man simply gave in. And now you’re going to make a fortune out of these Lazy H’s. No wonder us fool Texans love a cow.”

The absent ones returned promptly. “The Beaver valley not only topped the market for range cattle,” loftily said Sargent, “but topped it in price and weight. The beeves barely netted fifty-two dollars a head!”

Early shipments were urged from every quarter. “Hereafter,” said Joel, “the commission firm will order the trains and send us a practical shipper. There may rise a situation that we may have to rush our shipments, and we can’t spare men to go to market. It pays to be on time. Those commission men are wide awake. Look at these railroad passes, good for the year, that they secured for us boys. If any one has to go to market, we can take a passenger train, and leave the cattle to follow.”

The addition of two men to the shipping outfit was a welcome asset. The first consignment from the ranch gave the men a field-trial, and now that the actual shipping season was at hand, an allotment of horses was made. The numbers of the remuda admitted of mounting every man to the limit, and with their first shipment a success, the men rested impatiently awaiting orders.

The commission firm, with its wide knowledge of range and market conditions, was constantly alert. The second order, of ten days’ later date, was a duplicate of the first, with one less for fulfillment. The outfit dropped down to the old trail crossing the evening before, and by noon two round-ups had yielded twenty car-loads of straight Lazy H beeves. When trimmed to their required numbers, twenty-two to the car, they reflected credit to breeder and present owner.

In grazing down to the railroad, every hour counted. There was no apparent rush, but an hour saved at noon, an equal economy at evening and morning, brought the herd within summons of the shipping yards on time. That the beeves might be favored, they were held outside for the night, three miles from the corral, but an early sun found them safely inside the shipping pens. Two hours later, the full train was en route to market, in care of a practical shipper.

On yarding the beeves the customary telegram had been sent to the commission firm. No reply was expected, but within half an hour after the train left, a message, asking Joel to accompany the shipment, was received from Mr. Stoddard.

“You must go,” said Manly, scanning the telegram. “It isn’t the last cattle that he sold you that’s worrying my boss. He has two herds on the market this year, one at Trail City and the other at Ogalalla, and he may have his eye on you as a possible buyer. You have a pass; you can catch the eastern mail at noon, and overtake the cattle train in time to see the beeves unloaded.”

“Which herd did you come up with?” inquired Joel, fumbling through his pockets for the forgotten pass.

“With the one at Ogalalla. It’s full thirty-one hundred steers, single ranch brand, and will run about equally twos and threes. Same range, same stock, as your Lazy H’s, and you are perfectly safe in buying them unseen. Just the same cattle that you bought last year, with the advantage of a better season on the trail. All you need to do is to agree on the prices and terms; the cattle are as honest as gold and twice as good.”

“Leave me a horse and take the outfit home,” said Joel with decision. “If an order comes for more beeves, cut the next train from the Lazy H’s. I’ll be back in a day or two.”

Joel Wells was rapidly taking his degrees in the range school. At dusk he overtook the cattle train, which reached the market yards on schedule time. The shipper’s duty ceased with the unloading of the cattle, which was easily completed before midnight, when he and his employer separated. The market would not open until a late morning hour, affording ample time to rest and refresh the beeves, and to look up acquaintances in the office.

Joel had almost learned to dispense with sleep. With the first stir of the morning, he was up and about. Before the clerks even arrived, he was hanging around the office of the commission firm. The expected shipment brought the salesmen and members of the firm much earlier than usual, and Joel was saved all further impatience. Mr. Stoddard was summoned, and the last barrier was lifted in the hearty greeting between the manly boy and a veteran of their mutual occupation.

The shipment sold early in the day. An hour before noon, an interested party left the commission office and sauntered forth to watch the beeves cross the scale. It was the parting look of breeder, owner, and factor, and when the average weight was announced, Mr. Stoddard turned to the others.

“Look here, Mr. Joel,” said he, “are these the cattle I sold you last summer?”

“They carry your brand,” modestly admitted Joel.

“So I notice,” assentingly said the old cowman. “And still I can scarcely believe my eyes. Of course I’m proud of having bred these beeves, even if the lion’s share of their value to-day goes to the boys who matured them. I must be an old fogy.”

“You are,” smilingly said the senior member of the commission house. “Every up-to-date Texas cowman has a northern beef ranch. To be sure, as long as you can raise a steer as cheap as another man can raise a frying chicken, you’ll prosper in a way. Wells Brothers aren’t afraid of a little cold, and you are. In that way only, the lion’s share falls to them.”

“One man to his own farm, another to his merchandise,” genially quoted the old cowman, “and us poor Texans don’t take very friendly to your northern winters. It’s the making of cattle, but excuse your Uncle Dudley. Give me my own vine and fig tree.”

“Then wish the boys who brave the storm success,” urged the old factor.

“I do,” snorted the grizzled ranchman. “These beeves are a story that is told. I’m here to sell young Wells another herd of cattle. He’s my customer as much as yours. That’s the reason I urged his presence to-day.”

The atmosphere cleared. On the market and under the weight, each beef was paying the cost of three the year before; but it was the letter of the bond, and each party to the contract respected his obligation.

After returning to the office, on a petty pretext, Mr. Stoddard and Joel wandered away. They returned early in the afternoon, to find all accounts made up, and ready for their personal approval. The second shipment easily enabled Joel to take up his contract, and when the canceled document was handed him, Mr. Stoddard turned to the senior member of the firm.

“I’ve offered to duplicate that contract,” said he, “on the same price and terms, and for double the number of cattle. This quarantine raises havoc with delivery.”

“A liberal interpretation of the new law is in effect,” remarked the senior member. “There’s too many interests involved to insist on a rigid enforcement. The ban is already raised on any Panhandle cattle, and any north of certain latitudes can get a clean bill of health. If that’s all that stands in the way of a trade, our firm will use its good offices.”

“In that case,” said Joel, nodding to Mr. Stoddard, “we’ll take your herd at Ogalalla. Move it down to the old trail crossing on the Republican, just over the state line and north of our range. This firm is perfectly acceptable again as middlemen or factors,” he concluded, turning to the member present.

“Thank you,” said the old factor. “We’ll try and merit any confidence reposed. This other matter will be taken up with the quarantine authorities at once. Show me your exact range,” he requested, turning to a map and indicating the shipping station.

Wells Brothers’ range lay in the northwest corner of the state. The Republican River, in Nebraska, ran well over the line to the north, with unknown neighbors on the west in Colorado.

“It’s a clear field,” observed the old factor. “Your own are the only cattle endangered, and since you are the applicant for the bill of health, you absolve the authorities from all concern. Hurry in your other shipments, and the railroad can use its influence–it’ll want cattle to ship next year. The ranges must be restocked.”

There was sound logic in the latter statement. A telegram was sent to Ogalalla, to start the through herd, and another to the beef outfit, to hurry forward the next shipment. Joel left for home that night, and the next evening met his outfit, ten miles out from the Beaver, with a perfect duplicate of the former consignment. It was early harvest on the cattle ranges, and those who were favored with marketable beef were eager to avoid the heavy rush of fall shipments.

The beef herd camped for the night on the divide. Joel’s report provoked argument, and a buzz of friendly contention, as the men lounged around the tiny camp-fire, ran through the outfit.

“It may be the custom among you Texans,” protested one of the lads from the Republican, “but I wouldn’t buy a herd of cattle without seeing them. Buy three thousand head of cattle unseen? Not this one of old man Vivian’s boys! Oh, no!”

“Link, that kind of talk shows your raising,” replied Sargent. “Your view is narrow and illiberal. You haven’t traveled far. Your tickets cost somewhere between four and six bits.”

Manly lifted his head from a saddle, and turning on his side, gazed at the dying fire. “Vivian,” said he, “it all depends on how your folks bring you up. Down home we buy and sell by ages. A cow is a cow, a steer is a steer, according to his age, and so on down to the end of the alphabet. The cattle never misrepresent and there’s no occasion for seeing them. If you are laboring under the idea that my old man would use any deception to sell a herd, you have another guess coming. He’d rather lose his right hand than to misrepresent the color of a cow. He’s as jealous of his cattle as a miller is of his flour. These boys are his customers, last fall, this summer, and possibly for years to come. If he wanted them, Joel did perfectly right to buy the cattle unseen.”

The second train of Lazy H beeves reached the railroad on schedule time. The shipper was in waiting, cattle cars filled the side track, and an engine and crew could be summoned on a few hours’ notice. If corralled the night before, passing trains were liable to excite the beeves, and thereafter it became the usual custom to hold outside and safely distant.

The importance of restocking the range hurried the shipping operations. Instead of allowing the wagon to reach the station, at sunrise on the morning of shipping, it and the remuda were started homeward.

“We’ll gather beeves on the lower end of our range to-morrow,” said Joel to the cook and wrangler, “and there’s no need to touch at headquarters. Follow the trail to the old crossing, and make camp at the lower tank–same camp-ground as the first shipment of Lazy H’s. The rest of the outfit will follow, once these cattle are loaded out. You might have a late supper awaiting us–about ten o’clock to-night.”

The gates closed on the beeves without mishap. They were cut into car lots, from horseback, and on the arrival of the crew, the loading began. A short hour’s work saw the cattle aboard, when the dusty horsemen mounted and clattered into the straggling hamlet.

The homeward trip was like a picnic. The outfit halted on the first running water, and saddle pockets disgorged a bountiful lunch. The horses rolled, grazed the noon hours through, and again took up their former road gait. An evening halt was made on the Prairie Dog, where an hour’s grazing was again allowed, the time being wholly devoted to looking into the future.

“If we stock the range fully this fall,” said Joel, in outlining his plans, “it is my intention to build an emergency camp on this creek, in case of winter drifts. Build a dug-out in some sheltered nook, cache a little provision and a few sacks of corn, and if the cattle break the line, we can ride out of snug quarters any morning and check them. It beats waiting for a wagon and giving the drift a twenty-mile start. We could lash our blankets on a pack horse and ride it night or day.”

“What a long head!” approvingly said Sargent. “Joel, you could almost eat out of a churn. An emergency camp on the Prairie Dog is surely a meaty idea. But that’s for next winter, and beef shipping’s on in full blast right now. Let’s ride; supper’s waiting on the Beaver.”

CHAPTER XXI

LIVING IN THE SADDLE

The glow of a smouldering camp-fire piloted the returning horsemen safely to their wagon. A good night’s rest fitted them for the task of the day, which began at sunrise. The next shipment would come from the flotsam of the year before, many of which were heavy beeves, intended for army delivery, but had fallen footsore on the long, drouthy march. The past winter had favored the lame and halt, and after five months of summer, the bulk of them had matured into finished beef.

By shipping the different contingents separately, the brothers were enabled to know the situation at all times. No accounts were kept, but had occasion required, either Joel or Dell could have rendered a statement from memory of returns on the double and single wintered, as well as on the purchased cattle. Sale statements were furnished by the commission house, and by filing these, an account of the year’s shipments, each brand separate, could be made up at the end of the season.

The early struggle of Wells Brothers, in stocking their range, was now happily over. Instead of accepting the crumbs which fell as their portion, their credit and resources enabled them to choose the class of cattle which promised growth and quick returns. The range had proven itself in maturing beef, and the ranch thereafter would carry only sufficient cows to quiet and pacify its holdings of cattle.

“If this was my ranch,” said Sargent to the brothers at breakfast, “I’d stock it with two-year-old steers and double-winter every hoof. Look over those sale statements and you’ll see what two winters mean. That first shipment of Lazy H’s was as fat as mud, and yet they netted seven dollars a head less than those rag-tag, double-wintered ones. There’s a waste that must be saved hereafter.”

“That’s our intention,” said Joel. “We’ll ship out every hoof that has the flesh this year. Nearly any beef will buy three two-year-old steers to take his place. It may take another year or two to shape up our cattle, but after that, every hoof must be double-wintered.”

An hour after sunrise, the drag-net was drawing together the first round-up of the day. The importance of handling heavy beeves without any excitement was fully understood, and to gather a shipment without disturbing those remaining was a task that required patience and intelligence. Men on the outside circle merely turned the cattle on the extremes of the range; they were followed by inner horsemen, and the drag-net closed at a grazing pace, until the round-up halted on a few acres.

The first three shipments had tried out the remuda. The last course in the education of a cow-horse is cutting cattle out of a mixed round-up. On the present work, those horses which had proven apt were held in reserve, and while the first contingent of cattle was quieting down, the remuda was brought up and saddles shifted to four cutting horses. The average cow can dodge and turn quicker than the ordinary horse, and only a few of the latter ever combine action and intelligence to outwit the former. Cunning and ingenuity, combined with the required alertness, a perfect rein, coupled with years of actual work, produce that rarest of range mounts–the cutting horse.

Dell had been promised a trial in cutting out beeves. Sargent took him in hand, and mounted on two picked horses, they entered the herd. “Now, I’ll pick the beeves,” said the latter, “and you cut them out. All you need to do is to rein that horse down on your beef, and he’ll take him out of the herd. Of course you’ll help the horse some little; but if you let too many back, I’ll call our wrangler and try him out. That horse knows the work just as well as you do. Now, go slow, and don’t ride over your beef.”

The work commenced. The beeves were lazy from flesh, inactive, and only a few offered any resistance to the will of the horsemen. Dell made a record of cutting out fifty beeves in less than an hour, and only letting one reenter the herd. The latter was a pony-built beef, and after sullenly leaving the herd, with the agility of a cat, he whirled right and left on the space of a blanket, and beat the horse back into the round-up. Sargent lent a hand on the second trial, and when the beef saw that resistance was useless, he kicked up his heels and trotted away to join those selected for shipment.

“He’s laughing at you,” said Sargent. “He only wanted to try you out. Just wanted to show you that no red-headed boy and flea-bit horse could turn him. And he showed you.”

“This beats roping,” admitted Dell, as the two returned to the herd, quite willing to change the subject. “Actually when a beef reaches the edge of the herd, this horse swells up and his eyes pop out like door-knobs. You can feel every muscle in him become as rigid as ropes, and he touches the ground as if he was walking on eggs. Look at him now; goes poking along as if he was half asleep.”

“He’s a cutting horse and doesn’t wear himself out. Whenever you can strip the bridle off, while cutting out a beef, and handle your steer, that’s the top rung a cow-horse can reach. He’s a king pin–that’s royalty.”

A second round-up was required to complete the train-load of beeves. They were not uniform in weight or age, and would require reclassing before loading aboard the cars. Their flesh and finish were fully up to standard, but the manner in which they were acquired left them uneven, their ages varying from four to seven years.

“There’s velvet in this shipment,” said Sargent, when the beeves had been counted and trimmed. “These cattle can defy competition. Instead of five cents a head for watering last year’s drive, this year’s shipment from crumbs will net you double that amount. The first gathering of beef will square the account with every thirsty cow you watered last summer.”

An extra day was allowed in which to reach the railroad. The shipment must pen the evening before, and halting the herd within half a mile of the railway corrals, the reclassing fell to Joel and Sargent. The contingent numbered four hundred and forty beeves, and in order to have them marketable, all rough, heavy cattle must be cut into a class by themselves, leaving the remainder neat and uniform. A careful hour’s work resulted in seven car-loads of extra heavy beeves, which were corralled separately and in advance of the others, completing a long day in the saddle.

Important mail was awaiting Wells Brothers at the station. A permit from the state quarantine authorities had been secured, due to the influence of the commission house and others, admitting the through herd, then en route from Ogalalla. The grant required a messenger to meet the herd without delay, and Dell volunteered his services as courier. Darkness fell before supper was over and the messenger ready.

“One more shipment will clean up our beeves,” said Joel to his brother, “and those through cattle can come in the day we gather our last train. We’ll give them a clear field. If the herd hasn’t reached the Republican, push ahead until you meet it.”

A hundred-mile ride lay before Dell Wells. “You mean for the herd to follow the old trail,” he inquired, “and turn off opposite our middle tank?”

“That’s it; and hold the cattle under herd until we can count and receive them.”

Dell led out his horse and mounted. “Dog-toe will take me safely home to-night,” said he, “and we’ll reach the Republican by noon to-morrow. If the herd’s there, you haven’t an hour to waste. We’ll drop down on you in a day and a half.”

The night received courier and horse. A clatter of caution and advice followed the retreating figure out of hearing, when the others threw themselves down around the camp-fire. Early morning found the outfit astir, and as on the previous occasion, the wagon and remuda were started home at daybreak. The loading and shipping instructions were merely a repetition of previous consignments, and the train had barely left the station when the cavalcade rode to overtake the commissary.

The wagon was found encamped on the Prairie Dog. An hour’s rest was allowed, fresh horses were saddled, when Joel turned to the cook and wrangler: “Make camp to-night on the middle tank, below headquarters. We’ll ride on ahead and drift all the cattle up the creek. Our only round-up to-morrow will be well above the old winter corral. It’s our last gathering of beef, and we want to make a general round-up of the range. We’ll drift cattle until dark, so that it’ll be late when we reach camp.”

The outfit of horsemen followed the old trail, and only sighted the Beaver late in the afternoon. The last new tank, built that spring, was less than a mile below the old crossing; and veering off there, the drag-net was thrown across the valley below it, and a general drift begun. An immense half-circle, covering the limits of the range, pointed the cattle into the valley, and by moving forward and converging as the evening advanced, a general drift was maintained. The pace was barely that of grazing, and as darkness approached, all cattle on the lower end of the range were grazed safely above the night camp and left adrift.

The wagon had arrived, and the men reached camp by twos and threes. There was little danger of the cattle returning to their favorite range during the night, but for fear of stragglers, at an early hour in the morning the drag-net was again thrown out from camp. Headquarters was passed before the horsemen began encountering any quantity of cattle, and after passing the old winter corral, the men on the points of the half-circle were sent to ride the extreme limits of the range. By the middle of the forenoon, everything was adrift, and as the cattle naturally turned into the valley for their daily drink, a few complete circles brought the total herd into a general round-up, numbering over fifteen hundred head of mixed cattle.

Meanwhile the wagon and remuda had followed up the drift, dinner was waiting, and after the mid-day meal had been bolted, orders rang out. “Right here’s where all hands and the cook draw fresh horses,” said Sargent, “and get into action. It’s a bulky herd, and cutting out will be slow. The cook and wrangler must hold the beeves, and that will turn the rest of us free to watch the round-up and cut out.”

By previous agreement, in order to shorten the work, Joel was to cut out the remnant of double-wintered beeves, Manly the Lazy H’s, while Sargent and an assistant would confine their selections to the single-wintered ones in the —- Y brand. Each man would tally his own work, even car-loads were required, and a total would constitute the shipment. The cutting out began quietly; but after a nucleus of beeves were selected, their numbers gained at the rate of three to five a minute, while the sweat began to reek from the horses.

Joel cut two car-loads of prime beeves, and then tendered his services to Sargent. The cattle had quieted, and a fifth man was relieved from guarding the round-up, and sent to the assistance of Manly. A steady stream of beef poured out for an hour, when a comparison of figures was made. Manly was limited to one hundred and twenty head, completing an even thousand shipped from the brand, and lacking four, was allowed to complete his number. Sargent was without limit, the object being to trim the general herd of every heavy, rough beef, and a tally on numbers was all that was required. The work was renewed with tireless energy, and when the limit of twenty cars was reached, a general conference resulted in cutting two loads extra.

“That leaves the home cattle clean of rough stuff,” said Sargent, as he dismounted and loosened the saddle on a tired horse. “Any aged steers left are clean thrifty cattle, and will pay their way to hold another year. Turn the round-up adrift.”

After blowing their horses, a detail of men drifted the general herd up the creek. Others lent their assistance to the wrangler in corralling his remuda, and after relieving the cutting horses, the beeves were grazed down the valley. The outfit had not spent a night at headquarters in some time, the wagon serving as a substitute, and orders for evening freed all hands except two men on herd with the beeves.

The hurry of the day was over. On securing fresh horses, Joel and Sargent turned to the assistance of the detail, then drifting the main herd westward. The men were excused, to change mounts, and relieved from further duty until the guards, holding the beeves, were arranged for the night. The remnant of the herd was pushed up the creek and freed near Hackberry Grove, and on returning to overtake the beeves, the two horsemen crossed a spur of the tableland, jutting into the valley, affording a perfect view of the surrounding country.

With the first sweep of the horizon, their horses were reined to a halt. Fully fifteen miles to the northeast, and in a dip of the plain, hung an ominous dust cloud. Both horsemen read the sign at a glance.

Sargent was the first to speak. “Dell met the herd on the Republican,” said he with decision. “It’s the Stoddard cattle from Ogalalla. The pitch of their dust shows they’re trailing south.”

The sign in the sky was read correctly. The smoke from a running train and the dust from a trailing herd, when viewed from a distance, pitches upward from a horizon line, and the moving direction of train or herd is easily read by an observant plainsman. Sargent’s summary was confirmed on reaching headquarters, where Dell and the trail foreman were found, the latter regaling Manly and others with the chronicle of the new trail.

The same foreman as the year before was in charge of the herd. He protested against any step tending to delivery for that day, even to looking the cattle over. “Uncle Dud wouldn’t come,” said he, “and it’s up to me to make the delivery. I’ve been pioneering around all summer with this herd, and now that I’m my own boss, I’ll take orders from no one. We made rather a forced drive from the Republican, and I want a good night’s rest for both the herd and myself. Ten o’clock in the morning will be early enough to tender the cattle for delivery. In the mean time, our pilot, the red-headed clerk, will answer all questions. As for myself, I’m going to sleep in the new tent, and if any one calls or wakes me in the morning, I’ll get up and wear him out. I’ve lost a right smart of sleep this summer, and I won’t stand no trifling.”

Joel fully understood that the object in delay was to have the herd in presentable condition, and offered no objection. The beeves were grazed up opposite headquarters, and the guards were arranged for the night, which passed without incident. Thereafter, as a matter of precaution, a dead-line must be maintained between the wintered and the through cattle; and as Manly was to remain another year, he and an assistant were detailed to stay at headquarters. A reduced mount of horses was allowed them, and starting the beeves at daybreak, the wagon and remuda followed several hours later.

The trail foreman was humored in his wishes. It was nearly noon when the through herd was reached, grazed and watered to surfeiting, and a single glance satisfied Joel Wells that the cattle fully met every requirement. The question of age was disposed of as easily as that of quality.

“We gathered this year’s drive on our home ranges,” said the foreman, “and each age was held separate until the herds were made up. I started with fifteen hundred threes and sixteen hundred twos, with ten head extra of each age, in case of loss on the trail. Our count on leaving Ogalalla showed a loss of twelve head. I’m willing to class or count them as they run. Manly knows the make-up of the herd.”

Sargent and the brothers rode back and forth through the scattered cattle. It meant a big saving of time to accept them on a straight count, and on being rejoined by the foreman, Joel waived his intent to classify the cattle.

“I bought this herd on Mr. Stoddard’s word,” said he, “and I’m going to class it on yours. String out your cattle, and you and Manly count against Sargent and myself.”

A correct count on a large herd is no easy task. In trailing formation, the cattle march between a line of horsemen, but in the open the difficulty is augmented. A noonday sun lent its assistance in quieting the herd, which was shaped into an immense oval, and the count attempted. The four men elected to make the count cut off a number of the leaders, and counting them, sent them adrift. Thereafter, the trail outfit fed the cattle between the quartette, who sat their horses in speechless intensity, as the column filed through at random. Each man used a string, containing ten knots, checking the hundreds by slipping the knots, and when the last hoof had passed in review, the quiet of a long hour was relieved by a general shout, when the trail outfit dashed up to know the result.

“How many strays have you?” inquired Sargent of the foreman, as the quartette rode together.

“That’s so; there’s a steer and a heifer; we’ll throw them in for good measure. What’s your count?”

“Minus the strays, mine repeats yours at Ogalalla,” answered Sargent, turning to Joel.

“Thirty-one hundred and ten,” said the boy.

The trail foreman gave vent to a fit of laughter. “Young fellow,” said he, “I never allow no man to outdo me in politeness. If you bought these cattle on my old man’s word, I want you to be safe in receiving them. We’ll class them sixteen hundred twos, and fifteen hundred threes, and any overplus falls to the red-headed pilot. That’s about what Uncle Dud would call a Texas count and classification. Shake out your horses; dinner’s waiting.”

There were a few details to arrange. Manly must have an assistant, and an extra man was needed with the shipment, both of whom volunteered from the through outfit. The foreman was invited to move up to headquarters and rest to his heart’s content, but in his anxiety to report to his employer, the invitation was declined.

“We’ll follow up to-morrow,” said he, “and lay over on the railroad until you come in with our beeves. The next hard work I do is to get in touch with my Uncle Dudley.”

“Look here–how about it–when may we expect you home?” sputtered Manly, as the others hurriedly made ready to overtake the beef herd.

“When you see us again,” answered Joel, mounting his horse. “If this shipment strikes a good market, we may drop down to Trail City and pick up another herd. It largely depends on our bank account. Until you see or hear from us, hold the dead-line and locate your cattle.”

CHAPTER XXII

INDEPENDENCE

The trail outfit reached the railroad a day in advance of the beeves. Shipping orders were sent to the station agent in advance, and on the arrival of the herd the two outfits made short shift in classifying it for market and corralling the different grades of cattle.

Mr. Stoddard had been located at Trail City. Once the shipment was safely within the corral, notice was wired the commission firm, affording time for reply before the shipment would leave in the morning. An early call at the station was rewarded by receipt of a wire from the west. “Read that,” said the foreman, handing the telegram to Joel; “wants all three of us to come into the city.”

“Of course,” commented Joel, returning the message. “It’s clear enough. There’s an understanding between us. At the earliest convenience, after the delivery of the herd, we were to meet and draw up the final papers. We’ll all go in with this shipment.”

“And send the outfits across country to Trail City?”

“Throw the remudas together and let them start the moment the cattle train leaves. We can go back with Mr. Stoddard and meet the outfits at the new trail market.”

“That’s the ticket,” said the trail boss. “I’m dead tired of riding horses and eating at a wagon. Give me the plush cushions and let me put my little feet under a table once more.”

The heavy cattle train was promised a special schedule. The outfits received their orders, and at the usual hour in the morning, the shipment started to market. Weathered brown as a saddle, Dell was walking on clouds, lending a hand to the shipper in charge, riding on the engine, or hungering for the rare stories with which the trail foreman regaled the train crew. The day passed like a brief hour, the train threading its way past corn fields, country homes, and scorning to halt at the many straggling villages that dotted the route.

It was a red-letter day in the affairs of Wells Brothers. The present, their fifth shipment of the year, a total of over nineteen hundred beeves, was en route to market. Another day, and their operations in cattle, from a humble beginning to the present hour, could be condensed into a simple statement. The brothers could barely wait the intervening hours, and when the train reached the market and they had retired for the night, speculation ran rife in planning the future. And amid all their dreams and air castles, in the shadowy background stood two simple men whose names were never mentioned except in terms of loving endearment.

Among their many friends, Quince Forrest was Dell’s hero. “They’re all good fellows,” he admitted, “but Mr. Quince is a prince. He gave us our start in cattle. Our debt to him–well, we can never pay it. And he never owned a hoof himself.”

“We owe Mr. Paul just as much,” protested Joel. “He showed us our chance. When pa died, the settlers on the Solomon talked of making bound boys of us. Mr. Paul was the one who saw us as we are to-day.”

“I wish mother could have lived to see us now–shipping beeves by the train-load–and buying cattle by the thousand.”

An eager market absorbed the beeves, and before noon they had crossed the scale. A conference, jubilant in its nature, took place during the afternoon, in the inner office of the commission firm. The execution of a new contract was a mere detail; but when the chief bookkeeper handed in a statement covering the shipments of this and the previous year, a lull in the gayety was followed by a moment of intense interest. The account showed a balance of sixty-odd thousand dollars in favor of Wells Brothers!

“Give them a letter of credit for their balance,” said Mr. Stoddard, amid the general rejoicing. “And get us some passes; we’re all going out to Trail City to-night. There’s a few bargains on that market, and the boys want to stock their range fully.”

“Yours obediently,” said the old factor, beaming on his patrons. “And if the boys have any occasion to use any further funds, don’t hesitate to draw on us. The manner in which they have protected their credit entitles them to our confidence. Our customers come first. Their prosperity is our best asset. A great future lies before you boys, and we want a chance to help you reach it. Keep in touch with us; we may hear of something to your advantage.”

“In case we need it, can you get us another permit to bring Texas cattle into Kansas?” eagerly inquired Joel.

“Try us,” answered the old man, with a knowing look. “We may not be able to, but in securing business, railroads look years ahead.”

A jolly party of cowmen left for Trail City that night. Morning found their train creeping up the valley of the Arkansas. The old trail market of Dodge, deserted and forlorn-looking among the wild sunflower, was passed like a way station. The new market was only a mile over the state line, in Colorado, and on nearing their destination the party drew together.

“I’ve only got a remnant of a herd left,” said Mr. Stoddard, “and I want you to understand that there’s no obligation to even look at them. Mr. Lovell’s at his beef ranch in Dakota, and his men have not been seen since the herds passed north in June. But I’ll help you buy any cattle you want.”

In behalf of the brothers, Joel accepted the offer. “These Texas cattle,” he continued, “reach their maturity the summer following their fourth year. Hereafter, as fast as possible, we want to shape up our holdings so as to double-winter all our beef cattle. For that reason, we prefer to buy two-year-olds. We’ll look at your remnant; there would be no occasion to rebrand, which is an advantage.”

The train reached Trail City on time. The town was of mushroom growth–a straggling business street with fancy fronts, while the outer portions of the village were largely constructed of canvas. The Arkansas River passed to the south, numerous creeks put in to the main stream, affording abundant water to the herds on sale, while a bountiful range surrounded the market. Shipping pens, branding chutes, and every facility for handling cattle were complete.

The outfits were not expected in for another day. In the mean time, it became rumored about that the two boys who had returned with Mr. Stoddard and his trail foreman were buyers for a herd of cattle. The presence of the old cowman threw a barrier of protection around the brothers, except to his fellow drovers, who were made acquainted with his proteges and their errand freely discussed.

“These boys are customers of mine,” announced Mr. Stoddard to a group of his friends. “I sold them a herd at Dodge last year, and another at Ogalalla this summer. Range on the Beaver, in northwest Kansas. Just shipped out their last train of beeves this week. Had them on yesterday’s market. From what I gather, they can use about three thousand to thirty-five hundred head. At least their letter of credit is good for those numbers. Sorry I ain’t got the cattle myself. They naturally look to me for advice, and I feel an interest in the boys. Their outfit ought to be in by to-morrow.”

Mr. Stoddard’s voucher placed the brothers on a firm footing, and every attention was shown the young cowmen. An afternoon and a morning’s drive, and the offerings on the trail market had been carefully looked over, including the remnant of Mr. Stoddard. Only a few herds possessed their original numbers, none of which were acceptable to the buyers, while the smaller ones frequently contained the desired grade and age.

“Let me put you boys in possession of some facts,” urged Mr. Stoddard, in confidence to the brothers. “Most of us drovers are tired out, disgusted with the slight demand for cattle, and if you’ll buy out our little remnants and send us home–well, we’d almost let you name the price. Unless my herds are under contract, this is my last year on the trail.”

The remnant of Mr. Stoddard’s herd numbered around seven hundred head. They were largely twos, only a small portion of threes, and as an inducement their owner offered to class them at the lesser age, and priced them at the same figures as those delivered on the Beaver. On range markets, there was a difference in the selling value of the two ages, amounting to three dollars a head; and as one third of the cattle would have classed as threes, Joel waived his objection to their ages.

“We’ll take your remnant on one condition,” said he. “Start your outfits home, but you hang around until we make up our herd.”

“That’s my intention, anyhow,” replied Mr. Stoddard. “My advice would be to pick up these other remnants. Two years on a steer makes them all alike. You have seen cripple and fagged cattle come out of the kinks, and you know the advantage of a few cows; keeps your cattle quiet and on the home range. You might keep an eye open for any bargains in she stuff.”

“That’s just what Jack Sargent says,” said Dell; “that we ought to have a cow to every ten or fifteen steers.”

“Sargent’s our foreman,” explained Joel. “He’s a Texan, and knows cattle right down to the split in their hoof. With his and your judgment, we ought to make up a herd of cattle in a few days.”

The two outfits came in on the evening of the fourth day. The next morning the accepted cattle were counted and received, the through outfits relieved, the remudas started overland under a detail, and the remainder of the men sent home by rail. In acquiring a nucleus, Wells Brothers fell heir to a temporary range and camp, which thereafter became their headquarters.

A single day was wasted in showing the different remnants to Sargent, and relieved of further concern, Mr. Stoddard lent his best efforts to bring buyer and seller together. Barter began in earnest, on the different fragments acceptable in age and quality. Prices on range cattle were nearly standard, at least established for the present, and any yielding on the part of drovers was in classing and conceding ages. Bargaining began on the smaller remnants, and once the buyers began to receive and brand, there was a flood of offerings, and the herd was made up the second day. The —- Y was run on the different remnants as fast as received, and when completed, the herd numbered a few over thirty-four hundred head. The suggestion to add cows to their holdings was not overlooked, and in making up the herd, two fragments, numbering nearly five hundred, were purchased.

“The herd will be a trifle unwieldy,” admitted Sargent, “but we’re only going to graze home. And unless we get a permit, we had better hold over the line in Colorado until after the first frost.”

“Don’t worry about the permit,” admonished Mr. Stoddard; “it’s sure.”

“We’ll provision the wagon for a month,” said Joel, “and that will take us home, with or without a bill of health.”

The commissary was stocked, three extra men were picked up, and the herd started northward over the new Ogalalla trail. A week later it crossed the Kansas Pacific Railroad, when Joel left the herd, returning to their local station. A haying outfit was engaged, placed under the direction of Manly, and after spending a few days at headquarters, the young cowman returned to the railroad.

The expected permit was awaiting him. There was some slight danger in using it, without first removing their wintered cattle; and after a conference with Manly, it was decided to scout out the country between their range and the Colorado line. The first herd of cattle had located nicely, one man being sufficient to hold the dead-line; and taking a pack horse, Joel and Manly started to explore the country between the upper tributaries of the Beaver and the Colorado line.

A rifle was taken along to insure venison. Near the evening of the first day, a band of wild horses was sighted, the trail of which was back-tracked to a large lake in the sand hills. On resuming their scout in the morning, sand dunes were scaled, admitting of an immense survey of country, but not until evening was water in any quantity encountered. The scouts were beginning to despair of finding water for the night, when an immense herd of antelope was sighted, crossing the plain at an easy gallop and disappearing among the dunes. Following up the game trail, a perfect chain of lakes, a mile in length, was found at sunset. A venison was shot and a fat camp for the night assured.

The glare of the plain required early observation. The white haze, heat waves, and mirages were on every hand, blotting out distinct objects during the day. On leaving the friendly sand hills, the horsemen bore directly for the timber on the Republican, which was sighted the third morning, and reached the river by noon.

No sign or trace of cattle was seen. The distance between the new and old trail was estimated at one hundred miles, and judging from their hours in the saddle, the scouts hoped to reach the new crossing on the river that evening. The mid-day glare prevented observations; and as they followed the high ground along the Republican, at early evening indistinct objects were made out on the border of a distant mirage.

The scouts halted their horses. On every hand might be seen the optical illusions of the plain. Beautiful lakes, placid and blue, forests and white-capped mountains, invited the horsemen to turn aside and rest. But the allurement of the mirage was an old story, and holding the objects in view, they jogged on, halting from time to time as the illusions lifted.

Mirages arise at evening. At last, in their normal proportions, the objects of concern moved to and fro. “They’re cattle!” shouted Manly. “We’re near a ranch, or it’s the herd!”

“Yonder’s a smoke-cloud!” excitedly said Joel. “See it! in the valley! above that motte of cotton-woods!”

“It’s a camp! Come on!”

The herd had every appearance of being under control. As the scouts advanced, the outline of an immense loose herd was noticeable, and on a far, low horizon, a horseman was seen on duty. On reaching the cattle, a single glance was given, when the brands told the remainder of the story.

A detail of men was met leaving camp. Sargent was among them, and after hearty greetings were over, Joel outlined the programme: “After leaving the Republican,” said he, “there’s water between here and home in two places. None of them are over thirty miles apart–a day and a half’s drive. I have a bill of health for these cattle, and turn the herd down the river in the morning.”

The new trail crossing was only a few miles above on the river. The herd had arrived three days before, and finding grass and water in abundance, the outfit had gone into camp, awaiting word from home. There was no object in waiting any great distance from headquarters, and after a day’s travel down the Republican, a tack was made for the sand hills.

A full day’s rest was allowed the herd on the chain of lakes. By watering early, a long drive was made during the afternoon, followed by a dry camp, and the lagoon where the wild horses had been sighted was reached at evening the next day.

It was yet early in September, and for fear of fever, it was decided to isolate the herd until after the first frost. The camp was within easy touch of headquarters; and leaving Sargent and five men, the commissary, and half the remuda, the remainder returned to the Beaver valley. The water would hold the cattle, and even if a month elapsed before frost lifted the ban, the herd would enjoy every freedom.

The end of the summer’s work was in sight. The men from the Republican were paid for their services, commended for their faithfulness, and went their way. Preparations for winter were the next concern; and while holding the dead-line, plans for two new line-camps were outlined, one below the old trail crossing and the other an emergency shelter on the Prairie Dog. Forage had been provided at both points, and in outlining the winter lines, Joel submitted his idea for Manly’s approval.

“Sargent thinks we can hold the cattle on twenty miles of the Beaver valley,” said he, sketching the range on the ground at his feet. “We’ll have to ride lines again, and in case the cattle break through during a storm, we can work from our emergency camp on the Prairie Dog. In case that line is broken, we can drop down to the railroad and make another attempt to check any drift. And as a last resort, whether we hold the line or not, we’ll send an outfit as far south as the Arkansas River, and attend the spring round-ups from there north to the Republican. We have the horses and men, and no one can throw out a wider drag-net than our outfit. Let the winter come as it will; we can ride to the lead when spring comes.”

The future of Wells Brothers rested on sure foundations. Except in its new environment, their occupation was as old as the human race, our heroes being merely players in a dateless drama. They belonged to a period in the development of our common country, dating from a day when cattle were the corner-stone of one fourth of our national domain. They and their kind were our pioneers, our empire builders; for when a cowman pushed into some primal valley and possessed it with his herd, his ranch became an outpost on our frontier. The epoch was truly Western; their ranges were controlled without investment, their cattle roamed the virgin pastures of an unowned land.

Over twenty-five years have passed since an accident changed the course of the heroes of this story. Since that day of poverty and uncertain outlook, the brothers have been shaken by adversity, but have arisen triumphant over every storm. From their humble beginning, chronicled here, within two decades the brothers acquired no less than seven ranches in the Northwest, while their holdings of cattle often ran in excess of one hundred thousand head. The trail passed away within two years of the close of this narrative; but from their wide acquaintance with former drovers, cattle with which to restock their ranches were brought north by rail. Their operations covered a wide field, requiring trusty men; and with the passing of the trail, their first sponsors found ready employment with their former proteges. And to-day, in the many irrigation projects of the brothers, in reclaiming the arid regions, among the directors of their companies the names of J.Q. Forrest and John P. Priest may be found.

A new generation now occupies the Beaver valley. In the genesis of the West, the cowman, the successor of the buffalo and Indian, gave way to the home-loving instinct of man. The sturdy settler crept up the valley, was repulsed again and again by the plain, only to renew his assault until success crowned his efforts. It was then that the brothers saw their day and dominion passing into the hands of another. But instead of turning to new fields, they remained with the land that nurtured and rewarded them, an equally promising field opening in financing vast irrigation enterprises and in conserving the natural water supply.

Joel and Dell Wells live in the full enjoyment of fortunes wrested from the plain. They are still young men, in the prime of life, while the opportunities of a thrifty country invite their assistance and leadership on every hand. They are deeply interested in every development of their state, preferring those avenues where heroic endeavor calls forth their best exertion, save in the political arena.

Joel Wells was recently mentioned as an acceptable candidate for governor of his adopted state, but declined, owing to the pressure of personal interests. In urging his nomination, a prominent paper, famed for its support of state interests, in a leading editorial, paid one of our heroes the following tribute:–

“… What the state needs is a business man in the executive chair. We are all stockholders in common, yet the ship of state seems adrift, without chart or compass, pilot or captain. In casting about for a governor who would fully meet all requirements, one name stands alone. Joel Wells can give M—- a business administration. Educated in the rough school of experience, he has fought his way up from a poor boy on the plains to an enviable leadership in the many industries of the state. He could bring to the executive office every requirement of the successful business man, and impart to his administration that mastery which marks every enterprise of Wells Brothers….”

The golden age is always with us. If a moral were necessary to adorn this story, it would be that no poor boy need despair of his chance in life. The future holds as many prizes as the past. Material nature is prodigal in its bounty, and whether in the grass under our feet, or in harnessing the waterfall, we make or mar our success.