A PROSPEROUS YEAR
An open winter favored the cattle on the Medicine River. My partners in Kansas wrote me encouragingly, and plans were outlined for increasing our business for the coming summer. There was no activity in live stock during the winter in Texas, and there would be no trouble in putting up herds at prevailing prices of the spring before. I spent an inactive winter, riding back and forth to my ranch, hunting with hounds, and killing an occasional deer. While visiting at Council Grove the fall before, Major Hunter explained to our silent partner the cheapness of Texas lands. Neither one of my associates cared to scatter their interests beyond the boundaries of their own State, yet both urged me to acquire every acre of cheap land that my means would permit. They both recited the history and growth in value of the lands surrounding The Grove, telling me how cheaply they could have bought the same ten years before,--at the government price of a dollar and a quarter an acre,--and that already there had been an advance of four to five hundred per cent. They urged me to buy scrip and locate land, assuring me that it was only a question of time until the people of Texas would arise in their might and throw off the yoke of Reconstruction.
At home general opinion was just the reverse. No one cared for more land than a homestead or for immediate use. No locations had been made adjoining my ranch on the Clear Fork, and it began to look as if I had more land than I needed. Yet I had confidence enough in the advice of my partners to reopen negotiations with my merchant friend at Austin for the purchase of more land scrip. The panic of the fall before had scarcely affected the frontier of Texas, and was felt in only a few towns of any prominence in the State. There had been no money in circulation since the war, and a financial stringency elsewhere made little difference among the local people. True, the Kansas cattle market had sent a little money home, but a bad winter with drovers holding cattle in the North, followed by a panic, had bankrupted nearly every cowman, many of them with heavy liabilities in Texas. There were very few banks in the State, and what little money there was among the people was generally hoarded to await the dawn of a brighter day.
My wife tells a story about her father, which shows similar conditions prevailing during the civil war. The only outlet for cotton in Texas during the rebellion was by way of Mexico. Matamoros, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, waxed opulent in its trade of contrabrand cotton, the Texas product crossing the river anywhere for hundreds of miles above and being freighted down on the Mexican side to tide-water. The town did an immense business during the blockade of coast seaports, twenty-dollar gold pieces being more plentiful then than nickels are to-day, the cotton finding a ready market at war prices and safe shipment under foreign flags. My wife's father was engaged in the trade of buying cotton at interior points, freighting it by ox trains over the Mexican frontier, and thence down the river to Matamoros. Once the staple reached neutral soil, it was palmed off as a local product, and the Federal government dared not touch it, even though they knew it to be contrabrand of war. The business was transacted in gold, and it was Mr. Edwards's custom to bury the coin on his return from each trading trip. My wife, then a mere girl and the oldest of the children at home, was taken into her father's confidence in secreting the money. The country was full of bandits, either government would have confiscated the gold had they known its whereabouts, and the only way to insure its safety was to bury it. After several years trading in cotton, Mr. Edwards accumulated considerable money, and on one occasion buried the treasure at night between two trees in an adjoining wood. Unexpectedly one day he had occasion to use some money in buying a cargo of cotton, the children were at a distant neighbor's, and he went into the woods alone to unearth the gold. But hogs, running in the timber, had rooted up the ground in search of edible roots, and Edwards was unable to locate the spot where his treasure lay buried. Fearful that possibly the money had been uprooted and stolen, he sent for the girl, who hastily returned. As my wife tells the story, great beads of perspiration were dripping from her father's brow as the two entered the woods. And although the ground was rooted up, the girl pointed out the spot, midway between two trees, and the treasure was recovered without a coin missing. Mr. Edwards lost confidence in himself, and thereafter, until peace was restored, my wife and a younger sister always buried the family treasure by night, keeping the secret to themselves, and producing the money on demand.
The merchant at Austin reported land scrip plentiful at fifteen to sixteen dollars a section. I gave him an order for two hundred certificates, and he filled the bill so promptly that I ordered another hundred, bringing my unlocated holdings up to six hundred sections. My land scrip was a standing joke between my wife and me, and I often promised her that when we built a house and moved to the Clear Fork, if the scrip was still worthless she might have the certificates to paper a room with. They were nicely lithographed, the paper was of the very best quality, and they went into my wife's trunk to await their destiny. Had it been known outside that I held such an amount of scrip, I would have been subjected to ridicule, and no doubt would have given it to some surveyor to locate on shares. Still I had a vague idea that land at two and a half cents an acre would never hurt me. Several times in the past I had needed the money tied up in scrip, and then I would regret having bought it. After the loss of my entire working capital by Texas fever, I was glad I had foresight enough to buy a quantity that summer. And thus I swung like a pendulum between personal necessities and public opinion; but when those long-headed Yankee partners of mine urged me to buy land, I felt once more that I was on the right track and recovered my grasp. I might have located fifty miles of the valley of the Clear Fork that winter, but it would have entailed some little expense, the land would then have been taxable, and I had the use of it without outlay or trouble.
An event of great importance to the people of Texas occurred during the winter of 1873-74. The election the fall before ended in dispute, both great parties claiming the victory. On the meeting of the legislature to canvass the vote, all the negro militia of the State were concentrated in and around the capitol building. The Reconstruction régime refused to vacate, and were fighting to retain control; the best element of the people were asserting in no unmistakable terms their rights and bloodshed seemed inevitable. The federal government was appealed to, but refused to interfere. The legislature was with the people, and when the latter refused to be intimidated by a display of force, those in possession yielded the reins, and Governor Coke was inaugurated January 15, 1874; and thus the prediction of my partners, uttered but a few mouths before, became history.
Major Hunter came down again about the last of February. Still unshaken in his confidence in the future of Texas, he complimented me on securing more land scrip. He had just returned from our camps on the Medicine River, and reported the cattle coming through in splendid condition. Gray wolves had harassed the herd during the early winter; but long-range rifles and poison were furnished, and our men waged a relentless war on these pirates along the Medicine. Cattle in Texas had wintered strong, which would permit of active operations beginning earlier than usual, and after riding the range for a week we were ready for business. It was well known in all the surrounding country that we would again be in the market for trail cattle, and offerings were plentiful. These tenders ran anywhere from stock cattle to heavy beeves; but the market which we were building up with farmers at Council Grove required young two and three year old steers. It again fell to my province to do the buying, and with the number of brands for sale in the country I expected, with the consent of my partners, to make a new departure. I was beginning to understand the advantages of growing cattle. My holdings of mixed stock on the Clear Fork had virtually cost me nothing, and while they may have been unsalable, yet there was a steady growth and they were a promising source of income. From the results of my mavericking and my trading operations I had been enabled to send two thousand young steers up the trail the spring before, and the proceeds from their sale had lifted me from the slough of despond and set me on a financial rock. Therefore my regard for the eternal cow was enhancing.
Home prices were again ten dollars for two-year-old steers and twelve for threes. Instead of buying outright at these figures, my proposition was to buy individually brands of stock cattle, and turn over all steers of acceptable ages at prevailing prices to the firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co. in making up trail herds. We had already agreed to drive ten thousand head that spring, and my active partner readily saw the advantages that would accrue where one had the range and outfit to take care of the remnants of mixed stock. My partners were both straining their credit at home, and since it was immaterial to them, I was given permission to go ahead. This method of buying might slightly delay the starting of herds, and rather than do so I contracted for three thousand straight threes in Erath County. This herd would start ten days in advance of any other, which would give us cattle on the market at Wichita with the opening of the season. My next purchase was two brands whose range was around the juncture of the main Brazos and Clear Fork, adjoining my ranch. These cattle were to be delivered at our corrals, as, having received the three-year-olds from both brands the spring before, I had a good idea how the stock ought to classify. A third brand was secured up the Clear Fork, adjacent to my range, supposed to number about three thousand, from which nothing had been sold in four years. This latter contingent cost me five dollars a head, but my boys knew the brand well enough to know that they would run forty per cent steer cattle. In all three cases I bought all right and title to the brand, giving them until the last day of March to gather, and anything not tendered for count on receiving, the tail went with the hide.
From these three brands I expected to make up the second herd easily. With no market for cattle, it was safe to count on a brand running one third steers or better, from which I ought to get twenty-five per cent of age for trail purposes. Long before any receiving began I bought four more brands outright in adjoining counties, setting the day for receiving on the 5th of April, everything to be delivered on my ranch on the Clear Fork. There were fully twenty-five thousand cattle in these seven brands, and as I had bought them all half cash and the balance on six months' time, it behooved me to be on the alert and protect my interests. A trusty man was accordingly sent from my ranch to assist in the gathering of each of the four outside brands, to be present at all round-ups, to see that no steer cattle were held back, and that the dropping calves were cared for and saved. This precaution was not taken around my ranch, for any animal which failed to be counted my own men would look out for by virtue of ownership of the brand. My saddle horses were all in fine condition, and were cut into remudas of ninety head each, two new wagons were fitted up, and all was ready to move.
The Erath County herd was to be delivered to us on the 20th of March. George Edwards was to have charge, and he and Major Hunter started in ample time to receive the cattle, the latter proving an apt scholar, while the former was a thorough cowman. In the mean time I had made up a second outfit, putting a man who had made a number of trips with me as foreman in charge, and we moved out to the Clear Fork. The first herd started on the 22d, Major Hunter accompanying it past the Edwards ranch and then joining us on my range. We had kept in close touch with the work then in progress along the Brazos and Clear Fork, and it was probable that we might be able to receive in advance of the appointed day. Fortunately this happened in two cases, both brands overrunning all expectations in general numbers and the quantity of steer cattle. These contingents were met, counted, and received ten miles from the ranch, nothing but the steers two years old and upward being brought in to the corrals. The third brand, from west on the Clear Fork, came in on the dot, and this also surprised me in its numbers of heavy steer cattle. From the three contingents I received over thirteen thousand head, nearly four thousand of which were steers of trail age. On the first day of April we started the second herd of thirty-five hundred twos and threes, the latter being slightly in the majority, but we classified them equally. Major Hunter was pleased with the quality of the cattle, and I was more than satisfied with results, as I had nearly five hundred heavy steers left which would easily qualify as beeves. Estimating the latter at what they ought to net me at Wichita, the remnants of stock cattle cost me about a dollar and a half a head, while I had received more cash than the amount of the half payment.
The beef steers were held under herd to await the arrival of the other contingents. If they fell short in twos and threes, I had hopes of finding an outlet for my beeves with the last herd. The young stuff and stock cattle were allowed to drift back on their own ranges, and we rested on our oars. We had warning of the approach of outside brands, several arriving in advance of appointment, and they were received at once. As before, every brand overran expectations, with no shortage in steers. My men had been wide awake, any number of mature beeves coming in with the mixed stock. As fast as they arrived we cut all steers of desirable age into our herd of beeves, sending the remnant up the river about ten miles to be put under loose herd for the first month. Fifteen-thousand cattle were tendered in the four brands, from which we cut out forty-six hundred steers of trail age. The numbers were actually embarrassing, not in stock cattle, but in steers, as our trail herd numbered now over five thousand. The outside outfits were all detained a few days for a settlement, lending their assistance, as we tally-marked all the stock cattle before sending them up the river to be put under herd. This work was done in a chute with branding irons, running a short bar over the holding-brand, the object being to distinguish animals received then from what might be gathered afterward. There were nearly one hundred men present, and with the amount of help available the third herd was ready to start on the morning of the 6th. It numbered thirty-five hundred, again nearly equal in twos and threes, my ranch foreman having charge. With the third herd started, the question arose what to do with the remnant of a few over sixteen hundred beeves. To turn them loose meant that with the first norther that blew they would go back to their own range. Major Hunter suggested that I drive an individual herd. I tried to sell him an interest in the cattle, but as their ages were unsuited to his market, he pleaded bankruptcy, yet encouraged me to fill up the herd and drive them on my own account.
Something had to be done. I bought sixty horses from the different outfits then waiting for a settlement, adding thirty of my own to the remuda, made up an outfit from the men present, rigged a wagon, and called for a general round-up of my range. Two days afterward we had fifteen hundred younger steers of my own raising in the herd, and on the 10th of the month the fourth one moved out. A day was lost in making a general settlement, after which Major Hunter and I rode through the mixed cattle under herd, finding them contentedly occupying nearly ten miles of the valley of the Clear Fork. Calves were dropping at the rate of one hundred a day, two camps of five men each held them on an ample range, riding lines well back from the valley. The next morning we turned homeward, passing my ranch and corrals, which but a few days before were scenes of activity, but now deserted even by the dogs. From the Edwards ranch we were driven in to Fort Worth, and by the middle of the month reached Wichita.
No herds were due to arrive for a month. My active partner continued on to his home at The Grove, and I started for our camps on the Medicine River. The grass was coming with a rush, the cattle were beginning to shed their winter coats, and our men assured me that the known loss amounted to less than twenty head. The boys had spent an active winter, only a few storms ever bunching the cattle, with less than half a dozen contingents crossing the established lines. Even these were followed by our trailers and brought back to their own range; and together with wolfing the time had passed pleasantly. An incident occurred at the upper camp that winter which clearly shows the difference between the cow-hand of that day and the modern bronco-buster. In baiting for wolves, many miles above our range, a supposed trail of cattle was cut by one of the boys, who immediately reported the matter to our Texas trailer at camp. They were not our cattle to a certainty, yet it was but a neighborly act to catch them, so the two men took up the trail. From appearances there were not over fifteen head in the bunch, and before following them many miles, the trailer became suspicious that they were buffalo and not cattle. He trailed them until they bedded down, when he dismounted and examined every bed. No cow ever lay down without leaving hair on its bed, so when the Texan had examined the ground where half a dozen had slept, his suspicions were confirmed. Declaring them buffalo, the two men took up the trail in a gallop, overtaking the band within ten miles and securing four fine robes. There is little or no difference in the tracks of the two animals. I simply mention this, as my patience has been sorely tried with the modern picturesque cowboy, who is merely an amateur when compared with the men of earlier days.
I spent three weeks riding the range on the Medicine. The cattle had been carefully selected, now four and five years old, and if the season was favorable they would be ready for shipment early in the fall. The lower camp was abandoned in order to enlarge the range nearly one third, and after providing for the wants of the men, I rode away to the southeast to intercept the Chisholm trail where it crossed the Kansas line south of Wichita. The town of Caldwell afterward sprang up on the border, but at this time among drovers it was known as Stone's Store, a trading-post conducted by Captain Stone, afterward a cowman, and already mentioned in these memoirs. Several herds had already passed on my arrival; I watched the trail, meeting every outfit for nearly a week, and finally George Edwards came snailing along. He reported our other cattle from seven to ten days behind, but was not aware that I had an individual herd on the trail. Edwards moved on to Wichita, and I awaited the arrival of our second outfit. A brisk rivalry existed between the solicitors for Ellsworth and Wichita, every man working faithfully for his railroad or town, and at night they generally met in social session over a poker game. I never played a card for money now, not that my morals were any too good, but I was married and had partners, and business generally absorbed me to such an extent that I neglected the game.
I met the second herd at Pond Creek, south in the Cherokee Outlet, and after spending a night with them rode through to Wichita in a day and night. We went into camp that year well up the Arkansas River, as two outfits would again hold the four herds. Our second outfit arrived at the chosen grazing grounds on time, the men were instantly relieved, and after a good carouse in town they started home. The two other herds came in without delay, the beeves arriving on the last of the month. Barely half as many cattle would arrive from Texas that summer, as many former drovers from that section were bankrupt on account of the panic of the year before. Yet the market was fairly well supplied with offerings of wintered Texans, the two classes being so distinct that there was very little competition between them. My active partner was on hand early, reporting a healthy inquiry among former customers, all of whom were more than pleased with the cattle supplied them the year before. By being in a position to extend a credit to reliable men, we were enabled to effect sales where other drovers dared not venture.
Business opened early with us. I sold fifteen hundred of my heaviest beeves to an army contractor from Wyoming. My active partner sold the straight three-year-old herd from Erath County to an ex-governor from Nebraska, and we delivered it on the Republican River in that State. Small bunches of from three to five hundred were sold to farmers, and by the first of August we had our holdings reduced to two herds in charge of one outfit. When the hipping season began with our customers at The Grove, trade became active with us at Wichita. Scarcely a week passed but Major Hunter sold a thousand or more to his neighbors, while I skirmished around in the general market. When the outfit returned from the Republican River, I took it in charge, went down on the Medicine, and cut out a thousand beeves, bringing them to the railroad and shipping them to St. Louis. I never saw fatter cattle in my life. When we got the returns from the first consignment, we shipped two trainloads every fortnight until our holding's on the Medicine were reduced to a remnant. A competent bookkeeper was employed early in the year, and in keeping our accounts at Wichita, looking after our shipments, keeping individual interests, by brands, separate from the firm's, he was about the busiest man connected with the summer's business. Aside from our drive of over thirteen thousand head, we bought three whole herds, retailing them in small quantities to our customers, all of which was profitable. I bought four whole remudas on personal account, culled out one hundred and fifty head and sold them at a sacrifice, sending home the remaining two hundred saddle horses. I found it much cheaper and more convenient to buy my supply of saddle stock at trail terminals than at home. Once railroad connections were in operation direct between Kansas and Texas, every outfit preferred to go home by rail, but I adhered to former methods for many years.
In summing up the year's business, never were three partners more surprised. With a remnant of nearly one hundred beeves unfit for shipment, the Medicine River venture had cleared us over two hundred per cent, while the horses on hand were worth ten dollars a head more than what they had cost, owing to their having wintered in the North. The ten thousand trail cattle paid splendidly, while my individual herd had sold out in a manner, leaving the stock cattle at home clear velvet. A programme was outlined for enlarging our business for the coming year, and every dollar of our profits was to be reinvested in wintering and trailing cattle from Texas. Next to the last shipment, the through outfit went home, taking the extra two hundred saddle horses with it, the final consignment being brought in to Wichita for loading out by our ranch help. The shipping ended in October. My last work of the year was the purchase of seven thousand three-year-old steers, intended for our Medicine River range. We had intentionally held George Edwards and his outfit for this purpose, and cutting the numbers into two herds, the Medicine River lads led off for winter quarters. We had bought the cattle worth the money, but not at a sacrifice like the year before, neither would we expect such profits. It takes a good nerve, but experience has taught me that in land and cattle the time of the worst depression is the time to buy. Major Hunter accompanied the herds to their winter quarters, sending Edwards with his outfit, after their arrival on the Medicine, back to Texas, while I took the train and reached home during the first week in November.