The winds of adversity were tempered by the welcome extended me by my old comrade and his wife. There was no concealment as to my financial condition, but when I explained the causes my former crony laughed at me until the tears stood in his eyes. Nor did I protest, because I so richly deserved it. Fortunately the circumstances of my friends had bettered since my previous visit, and I was accordingly relieved from any feeling of intrusion. In two short years the wheel had gone round, and I was walking heavily on my uppers and continually felt like a pauper or poor relation. To make matters more embarrassing, I could appeal to no one, and, fortified by pride from birth, I ground my teeth over resolutions that will last me till death. Any one of half a dozen friends, had they known my true condition, would have gladly come to my aid, but circumstances prevented me from making any appeal. To my brother in Missouri I had previously written of my affluence; as for friends in Palo Pinto County,--well, for the very best of reasons my condition would remain a sealed book in that quarter; and to appeal to Major Mabry might arouse his suspicions. I had handled a great deal of money for him, accounting for every cent, but had he known of my inability to take care of my own frugal earnings it might have aroused his distrust. I was sure of a position with him again as trail foreman, and not for the world would I have had him know that I could be such a fool as to squander my savings thoughtlessly.
What little correspondence I conducted that winter was by roundabout methods. I occasionally wrote my brother that I was wallowing in wealth, always inclosing a letter to Gertrude Edwards with instructions to remail, conveying the idea to her family that I was spending the winter with relatives in Missouri. As yet there was no tacit understanding between Miss Gertrude and me, but I conveyed that impression to my brother, and as I knew he had run away with his wife, I had confidence he would do my bidding. In writing my employer I reported myself as busy dealing in land scrip, and begged him not to insist on my appearance until it was absolutely necessary. He replied that I might have until the 15th of March in which to report at Austin, as my herd had been contracted for north in Williamson County. Major Mabry expected to drive three herds that spring, the one already mentioned and two from Llano County, where he had recently acquired another ranch with an extensive stock of cattle. It therefore behooved me to keep my reputation unsullied, a rather difficult thing to do when our escapade at Sherman was known to three other trail foremen. They might look upon it as a good joke, while to me it was a serious matter.
Had there been anything to do in Washington County, it was my intention to go to work. The dredging company had departed for newer fields, there was no other work in sight, and I was compelled to fold my hands and bide my time. My crony and I blotted out the days by hunting deer and turkeys, using hounds for the former and shooting the animals at game crossings. By using a turkey-call we could entice the gobblers within rifle-shot, and in several instances we were able to locate their roosts. The wild turkey of Texas was a wary bird, and although I have seen flocks of hundreds, it takes a crafty hunter to bag one. I have always loved a gun and been fond of hunting, yet the time hung heavy on my hands, and I counted the days like a prisoner until I could go to work. But my sentence finally expired, and preparations were made for my start to Austin. My friends offered their best wishes,--about all they had,--and my old comrade went so far as to take me one day on horseback to where he had an acquaintance living. There we stayed over night, which was more than half way to my destination, and the next morning we parted, he to his home with the horses, while I traveled on foot or trusted to country wagons. I arrived in Austin on the appointed day, with less than five dollars in my pocket, and registered at the best hotel in the capital. I needed a saddle, having sold mine in Wyoming the fall before, and at once reported to my employer. Fortunately my arrival was being awaited to start a remuda and wagon to Williamson County, and when I assured Major Mabry that all I lacked was a saddle, he gave me an order on a local dealer, and we started that same evening.
At last I was saved. With the opening of work my troubles lifted like a night fog before the rising sun. Even the first view of the remuda revived my spirits, as I had been allotted one hundred fine cow-horses. They had been brought up during the winter, had run in a good pasture for some time, and with the opening of spring were in fine condition. Many trail men were short-sighted in regard to mounting their outfits, and although we had our differences, I want to say that Major Mabry and his later associates never expected a man to render an honest day's work unless he was properly supplied with horses. My allowance for the spring of 1870 was again seven horses to the man, with two extra for the foreman, which at that early day in trailing cattle was considered the maximum where Kansas was the destination. Many drovers allowed only five horses to the man, but their men were frequently seen walking with the herd, their mounts mingling with the cattle, unable to carry their riders longer.
The receiving of the herd in Williamson County was an easy matter. Four prominent ranchmen were to supply the beeves to the number of three thousand. Nearly every hoof was in the straight ranch brand of the sellers, only some two hundred being mixed brands and requiring the usual road-branding. In spite of every effort to hold the herd down to the contracted number, we received one hundred and fifty extra; but then they were cattle that no justifiable excuse could be offered in refusing. The last beeves were received on the 22d of the month, and after cutting separate all cattle of outside brands, they were sent to the chute to receive the road-mark. Major Mabry was present, and a controversy arose between the sellers and himself over our refusal to road-brand, or at least vent the ranch brands, on the great bulk of the herd. Too many brands on an animal was an objection to the shippers and feeders of the North, and we were anxious to cater to their wishes as far as possible. The sellers protested against the cattle leaving their range without some mark to indicate their change of ownership. The country was all open; in case of a stampede and loss of cattle within a few hundred miles they were certain to drift back to their home range, with nothing to distinguish them from their brothers of the same age. Flesh marks are not a good title by which to identify one's property, where those possessions consist of range cattle, and the law recognized the holding brand as the hall-mark of ownership. But a compromise was finally agreed upon, whereby we were to run the beeves through the chute and cut the brush from their tails. In a four or five year old animal this tally-mark would hold for a year, and in no wise work any hardship to the animal in warding off insect life. In case of any loss on the trail my employer agreed to pay one dollar a head for regathering any stragglers that returned within a year. The proposition was a fair one, the ranchmen yielded, and we ran the whole herd through the chute, cutting the brush within a few inches of the end of the tail-bone. By tightly wrapping the brush once around the blade of a sharp knife, it was quick work to thus vent a chuteful of cattle, both the road-branding and tally-marking being done in two days.
The herd started on the morning of the 25th. I had a good outfit of men, only four of whom were with me the year before. The spring could not be considered an early one, and therefore we traveled slow for the first few weeks, meeting with two bad runs, three days apart, but without the loss of a hoof. These panics among the cattle were unexplainable, as they were always gorged with grass and water at bedding time, the weather was favorable, no unseemly noises were heard by the men on guard, and both runs occurred within two hours of daybreak. There was a half-breed Mexican in the outfit, a very quiet man, and when the causes of the stampedes were being discussed around the camp-fire, I noticed that he shrugged his shoulders in derision of the reasons advanced. The half-breed was my horse wrangler, old in years and experience, and the idea struck me to sound him as to his version of the existing trouble among the cattle. He was inclined to be distant, but I approached him cautiously, complimented him on his handling of the remuda, rode with him several hours, and adroitly drew out his opinion of what caused our two stampedes. As he had never worked with the herd, his first question was, did we receive any blind cattle or had any gone blind since we started? He then informed me that the old Spanish rancheros would never leave a sightless animal in a corral with sound ones during the night for fear of a stampede. He cautioned me to look the herd over carefully, and if there was a blind animal found to cut it out or the trouble would he repeated in spite of all precaution. I rode back and met the herd, accosting every swing man on one side with the inquiry if any blind animal had been seen, without results until the drag end of the cattle was reached. Two men were at the rear, and when approached with the question, both admitted noticing, for the past week, a beef which acted as if he might be crazy. I had them point out the steer, and before I had watched him ten minutes was satisfied that he was stone blind. He was a fine, big fellow, in splendid flesh, but it was impossible to keep him in the column; he was always straggling out and constantly shying from imaginary objects. I had the steer roped for three or four nights and tied to a tree, and as the stampeding ceased we cut him out every evening when bedding down the herd, and allowed him to sleep alone. The poor fellow followed us, never venturing to leave either day or night, but finally fell into a deep ravine and broke his neck. His affliction had befallen him on the trail, affecting his nervous system to such an extent that he would jump from imaginary objects and thus stampede his brethren. I remember it occurred to me, then, how little I knew about cattle, and that my wrangler and I ought to exchange places. Since that day I have always been an attentive listener to the humblest of my fellowmen when interpreting the secrets of animal life.
Another incident occurred on this trip which showed the observation and insight of my half-breed wrangler. We were passing through some cross-timbers one morning in northern Texas, the remuda and wagon far in the lead. We were holding the herd as compactly as possible to prevent any straying of cattle, when our saddle horses were noticed abandoned in thick timber. It was impossible to leave the herd at the time, but on reaching the nearest opening, about two miles ahead, I turned and galloped back for fear of losing horses. I counted the remuda and found them all there, but the wrangler was missing. Thoughts of desertion flashed through my mind, the situation was unexplainable, and after calling, shooting, and circling around for over an hour, I took the remuda in hand and started after the herd, mentally preparing a lecture in case my wrangler returned. While nooning that day some six or seven miles distant, the half-breed jauntily rode into camp, leading a fine horse, saddled and bridled, with a man's coat tied to the cantle-strings. He explained to us that he had noticed the trail of a horse crossing our course at right angles. The freshness of the sign attracted his attention, and trailing it a short distance in the dewy morning he had noticed that something attached to the animal was trailing. A closer examination was made, and he decided that it was a bridle rein and not a rope that was attached to the wandering horse. From the freshness of the trail, he felt positive that he would overtake the animal shortly, but after finding him some difficulty was encountered before the horse would allow himself to be caught. He apologized for his neglect of duty, considering the incident as nothing unusual, and I had not the heart even to scold him. There were letters in the pocket of the coat, from which the owner was identified, and on arriving at Abilene the pleasure was mine of returning the horse and accoutrements and receiving a twenty-dollar gold piece for my wrangler. A stampede of trail cattle had occurred some forty miles to the northwest but a few nights before our finding the horse, during which the herd ran into some timber, and a low-hanging limb unhorsed the foreman, the animal escaping until captured by my man.
On approaching Fort Worth, still traveling slowly on account of the lateness of the spring, I decided to pay a flying visit to Palo Pinto County. It was fully eighty miles from the Fort across to the Edwards ranch, and appointing one of my old men as segundo, I saddled my best horse and set out an hour before sunset. I had made the same ride four years previously on coming to the country, a cool night favored my mount, and at daybreak I struck the Brazos River within two miles of the ranch. An eventful day followed; I reeled off innocent white-faced lies by the yard, in explaining the delightful winter I had spent with my brother in Missouri. Fortunately the elder Edwards was not driving any cattle that year, and George was absent buying oxen for a Fort Griffin freighter. Good reports of my new ranch awaited me, my cattle were increasing, and the smile of prosperity again shed its benediction over me. No one had located any lands near my little ranch, and the coveted addition on the west was still vacant and unoccupied. The silent monitor within my breast was my only accuser, but as I rode away from the Edwards ranch in the shade of evening, even it was silenced, for I held the promise of a splendid girl to become my wife. A second sleepless night passed like a pleasant dream, and early the next morning, firmly anchored in resolutions that no vagabond friends could ever shake, I overtook my herd.
After crossing Red River, the sweep across the Indian country was but a repetition of other years, with its varying monotony. Once we were waterbound for three days, severe drifts from storms at night were experienced, delaying our progress, and we did not reach Abilene until June 15. We were aware, however, of an increased drive of cattle to the north; evidences were to be seen on every hand; owners were hanging around the different fords and junctions of trails, inquiring if herds in such and such brands had been seen or spoken. While we were crossing the Nations, men were daily met hunting for lost horses or inquiring for stampeded cattle, while the regular trails were being cut into established thoroughfares from increasing use. Neither of the other Mabry herds had reached their destination on our arrival, though Major Seth put in an appearance within a week and reported the other two about one hundred miles to the rear. Cattle were arriving by the thousands, buyers from the north, east, and west were congregating, and the prospect of good prices was flattering. I was fortunate in securing my old camp-ground north of the town; a dry season had set in nearly a month before, maturing the grass, and our cattle took on flesh rapidly. Buyers looked them over daily, our prices being firm. Wintered cattle were up in the pictures, a rate war was on between all railroad lines east of the Mississippi River, cutting to the bone to secure the Western live-stock traffic. Three-year-old steers bought the fall before at twenty dollars and wintered on the Kansas prairies were netting their owners as high as sixty dollars on the Chicago market. The man with good cattle for sale could afford to be firm.
At this juncture a regrettable incident occurred, which, however, proved a boon to me. Some busybody went to the trouble of telling Major Mabry about my return to Abilene the fall before and my subsequent escapade in Texas, embellishing the details and even intimating that I had squandered funds not my own. I was thirty years old and as touchy as gunpowder, and felt the injustice of the charge like a knife-blade in my heart. There was nothing to do but ask for my release, place the facts in the hands of my employer, and court a thorough investigation. I had always entertained the highest regard for Major Mabry, and before the season ended I was fully vindicated and we were once more fast friends.
In the mean time I was not idle. By the first of July it was known that three hundred thousand cattle would be the minimum of the summer's drive to Abilene. My extensive acquaintance among buyers made my services of value to new drovers. A commission of twenty-five cents a head was offered me for effecting sales. The first week after severing my connection with Major Seth my earnings from a single trade amounted to seven hundred and fifty dollars. Thenceforth I was launched on a business of my own. Fortune smiled on me, acquaintances nicknamed me "The Angel," and instead of my foolishness reflecting on me, it made me a host of friends. Cowmen insisted on my selling their cattle, shippers consulted me, and I was constantly in demand with buyers, who wished my opinion on young steers before closing trades. I was chosen referee in a dozen disputes in classifying cattle, my decisions always giving satisfaction. Frequently, on an order, I turned buyer. Northern men seemed timid in relying on their own judgment of Texas cattle. Often, after a trade was made, the buyer paid me the regular commission for cutting and receiving, not willing to risk his judgment on range cattle. During the second week in August I sold five thousand head and bought fifteen hundred. Every man who had purchased cattle the year before had made money and was back in the market for more. Prices were easily advanced as the season wore on, whole herds were taken by three or four farmers from the corn regions, and the year closed with a flourish. In the space of four months I was instrumental in selling, buying, cutting, or receiving a few over thirty thousand head, on all of which I received a commission.
I established a camp of my own during the latter part of August. In order to avoid night-herding his cattle the summer before, some one had built a corral about ten miles northeast of Abilene. It was a temporary affair, the abrupt, bluff banks of a creek making a perfect horseshoe, requiring only four hundred feet of fence across the neck to inclose a corral of fully eight acres. The inclosure was not in use, so I hired three men and took possession of it for the time being. I had noticed in previous years that when a drover had sold all his herd but a remnant, he usually sacrificed his culls in order to reduce the expense of an outfit and return home. I had an idea that there was money in buying up these remnants and doing a small jobbing business. Frequently I had as many as seven hundred cull cattle on hand. Besides, I was constantly buying and selling whole remudas of saddle horses. So when a drover had sold all but a few hundred cattle he would come to me, and I would afford him the relief he wanted. Cripples and sore-footed animals were usually thrown in for good measure, or accepted at the price of their hides. Some buyers demanded quality and some cared only for numbers. I remember effecting a sale of one hundred culls to a settler, southeast on the Smoky River, at seven dollars a head. The terms were that I was to cut out the cattle, and as many were cripples and cost me little or nothing, they afforded a nice profit besides cleaning up my herd. When selling my own, I always priced a choice of my cattle at a reasonable figure, or offered to cull out the same number at half the price. By this method my herd was kept trimmed from both ends and the happy medium preserved.
I love to think of those good old days. Without either foresight or effort I made all kinds of money during the summer of 1870. Our best patrons that fall were small ranchmen from Kansas and Nebraska, every one of whom had coined money on their purchases of the summer before. One hundred per cent for wintering a steer and carrying him less than a year had brought every cattleman and his cousin back to Abilene to duplicate their former ventures. The little ranchman who bought five hundred steers in the fall of 1869 was in the market the present summer for a thousand head. Demand always seemed to meet supply a little over half-way. The market closed firm, with every hoof taken and at prices that were entirely satisfactory to drovers. It would seem an impossibility were I to admit my profits for that year, yet at the close of the season I started overland to Texas with fifty choice saddle horses and a snug bank account. Surely those were the golden days of the old West.
My last act before leaving Abilene that fall was to meet my enemy and force a personal settlement. Major Mabry washed his hands by firmly refusing to name my accuser, but from other sources I traced my defamer to a liveryman of the town. The fall before, on four horses and saddles, I paid a lien, in the form of a feed bill, of one hundred and twenty dollars for my stranded friends. The following day the same man presented me another bill for nearly an equal amount, claiming it had been assigned to him in a settlement with other parties. I investigated the matter, found it to be a disputed gambling account, and refused payment. An attempt was made, only for a moment, to hold the horses, resulting in my incurring the stableman's displeasure. The outcome was that on our return the next spring our patronage went to another _bran_, and the story, born in malice and falsehood, was started between employer and employee. I had made arrangements to return to Texas with the last one of Major Mabry's outfits, and the wagon and remuda had already started, when I located my traducer in a well-known saloon. I invited him to a seat at a table, determined to bring matters to an issue. He reluctantly complied, when I branded him with every vile epithet that my tongue could command, concluding by arraigning him as a coward. I was hungering for him to show some resistance, expecting to kill him, and when he refused to notice my insults, I called the barkeeper and asked for two glasses of whiskey and a pair of six-shooters. Not a word passed between us until the bartender brought the drinks and guns on a tray. "Now take your choice," said I. He replied, "I believe a little whiskey will do me good."