THE PANIC OF '73
I have never forgotten those encouraging words of my first employer. Friends tided my finances over, and letters passed between my banker friend and myself, resulting in an appointment to meet him at Fort Worth early in February. There was no direct railroad at the time, the route being by St. Louis and Texarkana, with a long trip by stage to the meeting point. No definite agreement existed between us; he was simply paying me a visit, with the view of looking into the cattle trade then existing between our respective States. There was no obligation whatever, yet I had hopes of interesting him sufficiently to join issues with me in driving a herd of cattle. I wish I could describe the actual feelings of a man who has had money and lost it. Never in my life did such opportunities present themselves for investment as were tendered to me that winter. No less than half a dozen brands of cattle were offered to me at the former terms of half cash and the balance to suit my own convenience. But I lacked the means to even provision a wagon for a month's work, and I was compelled to turn my back on all bargains, many of which were duplicates of my former successes. I was humbled to the very dust; I bowed my neck to the heel of circumstances, and looked forward to the coming of my casual acquaintance.
I have read a few essays on the relation of money to a community. None of our family were ever given to theorizing, yet I know how it feels to be moneyless, my experience with Texas fever affording me a post-graduate course. Born with a restless energy, I have lived in the pit of despair for the want of money, and again, with the use of it, have bent a legislature to my will and wish. All of which is foreign to my tale, and I hasten on. During the first week in February I drove in to Fort Worth to await the arrival of my friend, Calvin Hunter, banker and stockman of Council Grove, Kansas. Several letters were awaiting me in the town, notifying me of his progress, and in due time he arrived and was welcomed. The next morning we started, driving a good span of mules to a buckboard, expecting to cover the distance to the Brazos in two days. There were several ranches at which we could touch, en route, but we loitered along, making wide detours in order to drive through cattle, not a feature of the country escaping the attention of my quiet little companion. The soil, the native grasses, the natural waters, the general topography of the country, rich in its primal beauty, furnished a panorama to the eye both pleasing and exhilarating. But the main interest centred in the cattle, thousands of which were always in sight, lingering along the watercourses or grazing at random.
We reached the Edwards ranch early the second evening. In the two days' travel, possibly twenty thousand cattle came under our immediate observation. All the country was an open range, brands intermingling, all ages and conditions, running from a sullen bull to seven-year-old beeves, or from a yearling heifer to the grandmother of younger generations. My anxiety to show the country and its cattle met a hearty second in Mr. Hunter, and abandoning the buckboard, we took horses and rode up the Brazos River as far as old Fort Belknap. All cattle were wintering strong. Turning south, we struck the Clear Fork above my range and spent a night at the ranch, where my men had built a second cabin, connecting the two by a hallway. After riding through my stock for two days, we turned back for the Brazos. My ranch hands had branded thirty-one hundred calves the fall before, and while riding over the range I was delighted to see so many young steers in my different brands. But our jaunt had only whetted the appetite of my guest to see more of the country, and without any waste of time we started south with the buckboard, going as far as Comanche County. Every day's travel brought us in contact with cattle for sale; the prices were an incentive, but we turned east and came back up the valley of the Brazos. I offered to continue our sightseeing, but my guest pleaded for a few days' time until he could hear from his banking associates. I needed a partner and needed one badly, and was determined to interest Mr. Hunter if it took a whole month. And thereby hangs a tale.
The native Texan is not distinguished for energy or ambition. His success in cattle is largely due to the fact that nearly all the work can be done on horseback. Yet in that particular field he stands at the head of his class; for whether in Montana or his own sunny Texas, when it comes to handling cattle, from reading brands to cutting a trainload of beeves, he is without a peer. During the palmy days of the Cherokee Strip, a Texan invited Captain Stone, a Kansas City man, to visit his ranch in Tom Green County and put up a herd of steers to be driven to Stone's beef ranch in the Cherokee Outlet. The invitation was accepted, and on the arrival of the Kansas City man at the Texan's ranch, host and guest indulged in a friendly visit of several days' duration. It was the northern cowman's first visit to the Lone Star State, and he naturally felt impatient to see the cattle which he expected to buy. But the host made no movement to show the stock until patience ceased to be a virtue, when Captain Stone moved an adjournment of the social session and politely asked to be shown a sample of the country's cattle. The two cowmen were fast friends, and no offense was intended or taken; but the host assured his guest there was no hurry, offering to get up horses and show the stock the following day. Captain Stone yielded, and the next morning they started, but within a few miles met a neighbor, when all three dismounted in the shade of a tree. Commonplace chat of the country occupied the attention of the two Texans until hunger or some other warning caused one of them to look at his watch, when it was discovered to be three o'clock in the afternoon. It was then too late in the day to make an extensive ride, and the ranchman invited his neighbor and guest to return to the ranch for the night. Another day was wasted in entertaining the neighbor, the northern cowman, in the meantime, impatient and walking on nettles until a second start was made to see the cattle. It was a foggy morning, and they started on a different route from that previously taken, the visiting ranchman going along. Unnoticed, a pack of hounds followed the trio of horsemen, and before the fog lifted a cougar trail was struck and the dogs opened in a brilliant chorus. The two Texans put spurs to their horses in following the pack, the cattle buyer of necessity joining in, the chase leading into some hills, from which they returned after darkness, having never seen a cow during the day. One trivial incident after another interfered with seeing the cattle for ten days, when the guest took his host aside and kindly told him that he must be shown the cattle or he would go home.
"You're not in a hurry, are you, captain?" innocently asked the Texan. "All right, then; no trouble to show the cattle. Yes, they run right around home here within twenty-five miles of the ranch. Show you a sample of the stock within an hour's ride. You can just bet that old Tom Green County has got the steers! Sugar, if I'd a-known that you was in a hurry, I could have shown you the cattle the next morning after you come. Captain, you ought to know me well enough by this time to speak your little piece without any prelude. You Yankees are so restless and impatient that I seriously doubt if you get all the comfort and enjoyment out of life that's coming to you. Make haste, some of you boys, and bring in a remuda; Captain Stone and I are going to ride over on the Middle Fork this morning. Make haste, now; we're in a hurry."
In due time I suppose I drifted into the languorous ways of the Texan; but on the occasion of Mr. Hunter's first visit I was in the need of a moneyed partner, and accordingly danced attendance. Once communication was opened with his Northern associates, we made several short rides into adjoining counties, never being gone over two or three days. When we had looked at cattle to his satisfaction, he surprised me by offering to put fifty thousand dollars into young steers for the Kansas trade. I never fainted in my life, but his proposition stunned me for an instant, or until I could get my bearings. The upshot of the proposal was that we entered into an agreement whereby I was to purchase and handle the cattle, and he was to make himself useful in selling and placing the stock in his State. A silent partner was furnishing an equal portion of the means, and I was to have a third of the net profits. Within a week after this agreement was perfected, things were moving. I had the horses and wagons, men were plentiful, and two outfits were engaged. Early in March a contract was let in Parker County for thirty-one hundred two-year-old steers, and another in Young for fourteen hundred threes, the latter to be delivered at my ranch. George Edwards was to have the younger cattle, and he and Mr. Hunter received the same, after which the latter hurried west, fully ninety miles, to settle for those bought for delivery on the Clear Fork. In the mean time my ranch outfit had gathered all our steer cattle two years old and over, having nearly twenty-five hundred head under herd on my arrival to receive the three-year-olds. This amount would make an unwieldy herd, and I culled back all short-aged twos and thin steers until my individual contingent numbered even two thousand. The contracted steers came in on time, fully up to the specifications, and my herd was ready to start on the appointed day.
Every dollar of the fifty thousand was invested in cattle, save enough to provision the wagons en route. My ranch outfit, with the exception of two men and ten horses, was pressed into trail work as a matter of economy, for I was determined to make some money for my partners. Both herds were to meet and cross at Red River Station. The season was favorable, and everything augured for a prosperous summer. At the very last moment a cloud arose between Mr. Hunter and me, but happily passed without a storm. The night before the second herd started, he and I sat up until a late hour, arranging our affairs, as it was not his intention to accompany the herds overland. After all business matters were settled, lounging around a camp-fire, we grew reminiscent, when the fact developed that my quiet little partner had served in the Union army, and with the rank of major. I always enjoy a joke, even on myself, but I flashed hot and cold on this confession. What! Reed Anthony forming a partnership with a Yankee major? It seemed as though I had. Fortunately I controlled myself, and under the excuse of starting the herd at daybreak, I excused myself and sought my blankets. But not to sleep. On the one hand, in the stillness of the night and across the years, came the accusing voices of old comrades. My very wounds seemed to reopen and curse me. Did my sufferings after Pittsburg Landing mean nothing? A vision of my dear old mother in Virginia, welcoming me, the only one of her three sons who returned from the war, arraigned me sorely. And yet, on the other hand, this man was my guest. On my invitation he had eaten my salt. For mutual benefit we had entered into a partnership, and I expected to profit from the investment of his money. More important, he had not deceived me nor concealed anything; neither did he know that I had served in the Confederate army. The man was honest. I was anxious to do right. Soldiers are generous to a foe. While he lay asleep in my camp, I reviewed the situation carefully, and judged him blameless. The next morning, and ever afterward, I addressed him by his military title. Nearly a year passed before Major Hunter knew that he and his Texas partner had served in the civil war under different flags.
My partner returned to the Edwards ranch and was sent in to Fort Worth, where he took stage and train for home. The straight two-year-old herd needed road-branding, as they were accepted in a score or more brands, which delayed them in starting. Major Hunter expected to sell to farmers, to whom brands were offensive, and was therefore opposed to more branding than was absolutely necessary. In order to overcome this objection, I tally-marked all outside cattle which went into my herd by sawing from each steer about two inches from the right horn. As fast as the cattle were received this work was easily done in a chute, while in case of any loss by stampede the mark would last for years. The grass was well forward when both herds started, but on arriving at Red River no less than half a dozen herds were waterbound, one of which was George Edwards's. A delay of three days occurred, during which two other herds arrived, when the river fell, permitting us to cross. I took the lead thereafter, the second herd half a day to the rear, with the almost weekly incident of being waterbound by intervening rivers. But as we moved northward the floods seemed lighter, and on our arrival at Wichita the weather settled into well-ordered summer.
I secured my camp of the year before. Major Hunter came down by train, and within a week after our arrival my outfit was settled with and sent home. It was customary to allow a man half wages returning, my partner approving and paying the men, also taking charge of all the expense accounts. Everything was kept as straight as a bank, and with one outfit holding both herds separate, expenses were reduced to a minimum. Major Hunter was back and forth, between his home town and Wichita, and on nearly every occasion brought along buyers, effecting sales at extra good prices. Cattle paper was considered gilt-edge security among financial men, and we sold to worthy parties a great many cattle on credit, the home bank with which my partners were associated taking the notes at their face. Matters rocked along, we sold when we had an opportunity, and early in August the remnant of each herd was thrown together and half the remaining outfit sent home. A drive of fully half a million cattle had reached Kansas that year, the greater portion of which had centred at Wichita. We were persistent in selling, and, having strong local connections, had sold out all our cattle long before the financial panic of '73 even started. There was a profitable business, however, in buying herds and selling again in small quantities to farmers and stockmen. My partners were anxious to have me remain to the end of the season, doing the buying, maintaining the camp, and holding any stock on hand. In rummaging through the old musty account-books, I find that we handled nearly seven thousand head besides our own drive, fifteen hundred being the most we ever had on hand at any one time.
My active partner proved a shrewd man in business, and in spite of the past our friendship broadened and strengthened. Weeks before the financial crash reached us he knew of its coming, and our house was set in order. When the panic struck the West we did not own a hoof of cattle, while the horses on hand were mine and not for sale; and the firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co. rode the gale like a seaworthy ship. The panic reached Wichita with over half the drive of that year unsold. The local banks began calling in money advanced to drovers, buyers deserted the market, and prices went down with a crash. Shipments of the best through cattle failed to realize more than sufficient to pay commission charges and freight. Ruin stared in the face every Texan drover whose cattle were unsold. Only a few herds were under contract for fall delivery to Indian and army contractors. We had run from the approaching storm in the nick of time, even settling with and sending my outfit home before the financial cyclone reached the prairies of Kansas. My last trade before the panic struck was an individual account, my innate weakness for an abundance of saddle horses asserting itself in buying ninety head and sending them home with my men.
I now began to see the advantages of shrewd and far-seeing business associates. When the crash came, scarce a dozen drovers had sold out, while of those holding cattle at Wichita nearly every one had locally borrowed money or owed at home for their herds. When the banks, panic-stricken themselves, began calling in short-time loans, their frenzy paralyzed the market, many cattle being sacrificed at forced sale and with scarce a buyer. In the depreciation of values from the prices which prevailed in the early summer, the losses to the Texas drovers, caused by the panic, would amount to several million dollars. I came out of the general wreck and ruin untouched, though personally claiming no credit, as that must be given my partners. The year before, when every other drover went home prosperous and happy, I returned "broke," while now the situation was reversed.
I spent a week at Council Grove, visiting with my business associates. After a settlement of the year's business, I was anxious to return home, having agreed to drive cattle the next year on the same terms and conditions. My partners gave me a cash settlement, and outside of my individual cattle, I cleared over ten thousand dollars on my summer's work. Major Hunter, however, had an idea of reëntering the market,--with the first symptom of improvement in the financial horizon in the East,--and I was detained. The proposition of buying a herd of cattle and wintering them on the range had been fully discussed between us, and prices were certainly an incentive to make the venture. In an ordinary open winter, stock subsisted on the range all over western Kansas, especially when a dry fall had matured and cured the buffalo-grass like hay. The range was all one could wish, and Major Hunter and I accordingly dropped down to Wichita to look the situation over. We arrived in the midst of the panic and found matters in a deplorable condition. Drovers besought and even begged us to make an offer on their herds, while the prevailing prices of a month before had declined over half. Major Hunter and I agreed that at present figures, even if half the cattle were lost by a severe winter, there would still be money in the venture. Through financial connections East my partners knew of the first signs of improvement in the money-centres of the country. As I recall the circumstances, the panic began in the East about the middle of September, and it was the latter part of October before confidence was restored, or there was any noticeable change for the better in the monetary situation. But when this came, it found us busy buying saddle horses and cattle. The great bulk of the unsold stock consisted of cows, heifers, and young steers unfit for beef. My partners contended that a three-year-old steer ought to winter anywhere a buffalo could, provided he had the flesh and strength to withstand the rigors of the climate. I had no opinions, except what other cowmen had told me, but was willing to take the chances where there was a reasonable hope of success.
The first move was to buy an outfit of good horses. This was done by selecting from half a dozen remudas, a trail wagon was picked up, and a complement of men secured. Once it was known that we were in the market for cattle, competition was brisk, the sellers bidding against each other and fixing the prices at which we accepted the stock. None but three-year-old steers were taken, and in a single day we closed trades on five thousand head. I received the cattle, confining my selections to five road and ten single-ranch brands, as it was not our intention to rebrand so late in the season. There was nothing to do but cut, count, and accept, and on the evening of the third day the herd was all ready to start for its winter range. The wagon had been well provisioned, and we started southwest, expecting to go into winter quarters on the first good range encountered. I had taken a third interest in the herd, paying one sixth of its purchase price, the balance being carried for me by my partners. Major Hunter accompanied us, the herd being altogether too large and unwieldy to handle well, but we grazed it forward with a front a mile wide. Delightful fall weather favored the cattle, and on the tenth day we reached the Medicine River, where, by the unwritten law of squatter's rights, we preëmpted ten miles of its virgin valley. The country was fairly carpeted with well-cured buffalo-grass; on the north and west was a range of sand-dunes, while on the south the country was broken by deep coulees, affording splendid shelter in case of blizzards or wintry storms.
A dugout was built on either end of the range. Major Hunter took the wagon and team and went to the nearest settlement, returning with a load of corn, having contracted for the delivery of five hundred bushels more. Meanwhile I was busy locating the cattle, scattering them sparsely over the surrounding country, cutting them into bunches of not more than ten to twenty head. Corrals and cosy shelters were built for a few horses, comfortable quarters for the men, and we settled down for the winter with everything snug and secure. By the first of December the force was reduced to four men at each camp, all of whom were experienced in holding cattle in the winter. Lines giving ample room to our cattle were established, which were to be ridden both evening and morning in any and all weather. Two Texans, both experts as trailers, were detailed to trail down any cattle which left the boundaries of the range. The weather continued fine, and with the camps well provisioned, the major and I returned to the railroad and took train for Council Grove. I was impatient to go home, and took the most direct route then available. Railroads were just beginning to enter the West, and one had recently been completed across the eastern portion of the Indian Territory, its destination being south of Red River. With nothing but the clothes on my back and a saddle, I started home, and within twenty-four hours arrived at Denison, Texas. Connecting stages carried me to Fort Worth, where I bought a saddle horse, and the next evening I was playing with the babies at the home ranch. It had been an active summer with me, but success had amply rewarded my labors, while every cloud had disappeared and the future was rich in promise.