CLEAR FORK AND SHENANDOAH
I arrived home in good time for the fall work. The first outfit relieved at Wichita had instructions to begin, immediately on reaching the ranch, a general cow-hunt for outside brands. It was possible that a few head might have escaped from the Clear Fork range and returned to their old haunts, but these would bear a tally-mark distinguishing them from any not gathered at the spring delivery. My regular ranch hands looked after the three purchased brands adjoining our home range, but an independent outfit had been working the past four months gathering strays and remnants in localities where I had previously bought brands. They went as far south as Comanche County and picked up nearly one hundred "Lazy L's," scoured the country where I had purchased the two brands in the spring of 1872, and afterward confined themselves to ranges from which the outside cattle were received that spring. They had made one delivery on the Clear Fork of seven hundred head before my return, and were then away on a second cow-hunt.
On my reaching the ranch the first contingent of gathered cattle were under herd. They were a rag-tag lot, many of them big steers, while much of the younger stuff was clear of earmark or brand until after their arrival at the home corrals. The ranch help herded them by day and penned them at night, but on the arrival of the independent outfit with another contingent of fifteen hundred the first were freed and the second put under herd. Counting both bunches, the strays numbered nearly a thousand head, and cattle bearing no tally-mark fully as many more, while the remainder were mavericks and would have paid the expenses of the outfit for the past four months. I now had over thirty thousand cattle on the Clear Fork, holding them in eleven brands, but decided thereafter to run all the increase in the original "44." This rule had gone into effect the fall previous, and I now proposed to run it on all calves branded. Never before had I felt the necessity of increasing my holdings in land, but with the number of cattle on hand it behooved me to possess a larger acreage of the Clear Fork valley. A surveyor was accordingly sent for, and while the double outfit was branding the home calf crop, I located on the west end of my range a strip of land ten miles long by five wide. At the east end of my ranch another tract was located, five by ten miles, running north and taking in all that country around the junction of the Clear Fork with the mother Brazos. This gave me one hundred and fifty sections of land, lying in the form of an immense Lazy L, and I felt that the expense was justified in securing an ample range for my stock cattle.
My calf crop that fall ran a few over seven thousand head. They were good northern Texas calves, and it would cost but a trifle to run them until they were two-year-olds; and if demand continued in the upper country, some day a trail herd of steers could easily be made up from their numbers. I was beginning to feel rather proud of my land and cattle; the former had cost me but a small outlay, while the latter were clear velvet, as I had sold thirty-five hundred from their increase during the past two years. Once the surveying and branding was over, I returned to the Edwards ranch for the winter. The general outlook in Texas was for the better; quite a mileage of railroad had been built within the State during the past year, and new and prosperous towns had sprung up along their lines. The political situation had quieted down, and it was generally admitted that a Reconstruction government could never again rear its head on Texas soil. The result was that confidence was slowly being restored among the local people, and the press of the State was making a fight for recognition, all of which augured for a brighter future. Living on the frontier and absent the greater portion of the time, I took little interest in local politics, yet could not help but feel that the restoration of self-government to the best elements of our people would in time reflect on the welfare of the State. Since my advent in Texas I had been witness to the growth of Fort Worth from a straggling village in the spring of 1866 to quite a pretentious town in the fall of 1874.
Ever since the partnership was formed I had been aware of and had fostered the political ambitions of the firm's silent member. He had been prominently identified with the State of Kansas since it was a territory, had held positions of trust, and had been a representative in Congress, and all three of us secretly hoped to see him advanced to the United States Senate. We had fully discussed the matter on various occasions, and as the fall elections had gone favorably, the present was considered the opportune time to strike. The firm mutually agreed to stand the expense of the canvass, which was estimated on a reasonable basis, and the campaign opened with a blare of trumpets. Assuming the rôle of a silent partner, I had reports furnished me regularly, and it soon developed that our estimate on the probable expense was too low. We had boldly entered the canvass, our man was worthy, and I wrote back instructing my partners to spare no expense in winning the fight. There were a number of candidates in the race and the legislature was in session, when an urgent letter reached me, urging my presence at the capital of Kansas. The race was narrowing to a close, a personal consultation was urged, and I hastened north as fast as a relay of horses and railroad trains could carry me. On my arrival at Topeka the fight had almost narrowed to a financial one, and we questioned if the game were worth the candle. Yet we were already involved in a considerable outlay, and the consultation resulted in our determination to win, which we did, but at an expense of a little over four times the original estimate, which, however, afterward proved a splendid investment.
I now had hopes that we might enlarge our operations in handling government contracts. Major Hunter saw possibilities along the same line, and our silent partner was awakened to the importance of maintaining friendly relations with the Interior and War departments, gathering all the details in contracting beef with the government for its Indian agencies and army posts in the West. Up to date this had been a lucrative field which only a few Texas drovers had ventured into, most of the contractors being Northern and Eastern men, and usually buying the cattle with which to fill the contracts near the point of delivery. I was impatient to get into this trade, as the Indian deliveries generally took cows, and the army heavy beef, two grades of cattle that at present our firm had no certain demand for. Also the market was gradually moving west from Wichita, and it was only a question of a few years until the settlements of eastern Kansas would cut us off from our established trade around The Grove. I had seen Abilene pass away as a market, Wichita was doomed by the encroachments of agriculture, and it behooved us to be alert for a new outlet.
I made up my mind to buy more land scrip. Not that there had been any perceptible improvement in wild lands, but the general outlook justified its purchase. My agent at Austin reported scrip to be had in ordinary quantities at former prices, and suggested that I supply myself fully, as the new administration was an economical one, and once the great flood of certificates issued by the last Reconstruction régime were absorbed, an advance in land scrip was anticipated. I accordingly bought three hundred sections more, hardly knowing what to do with it, yet I knew there was an empire of fine grazing country between my present home and the Pecos River. If ever the Comanches were brought under subjection there would be ranches and room for all; and our babies were principally boys.
Major Hunter came down earlier than usual. He reported a clear, cold winter on the Medicine and no serious drift of cattle, and expressed the belief that we would come through with a loss not exceeding one per cent. This was encouraging, as it meant fat cattle next fall, fit for any market in the country. It was yet too early to make any move towards putting up herds for the trail, and we took train and went down the country as far as Austin. There was always a difference in cattle prices, running from one to two dollars a head, between the northern and southern parts of the State. Both of us were anxious to acquaint ourselves with the different grades, and made stops in several intervening counties, looking at cattle on the range and pricing them. We spent a week at the capital city and met all the trail drovers living there, many of whom expected to put up herds for that year southeast on the Colorado River. "Shanghai" Pierce had for some time been a prominent figure in the markets of Abilene and Wichita, driving herds of his own from the extreme coast country. But our market required a better quality than coasters and Mexican cattle, and we turned back up the country. Before leaving the capital, Major Hunter and I had a long talk with my merchant friend over the land scrip market, and the latter urged its purchase at once, if wanted, as the issue afloat was being gradually absorbed. Already there had been a noticeable advance in the price, and my partner gave me no peace until I bought, at eighteen dollars a section, two hundred certificates more. Its purchase was making an inroad on my working capital, but the major frowned on my every protest, and I yielded out of deference to his superior judgment.
Returning, we stopped in Bell County, where we contracted for fifteen thousand two and three year old steers. They were good prairie-raised cattle, and we secured them at a dollar a head less than the prices prevailing in the first few counties south of Red River. Major Hunter remained behind, arranging his banking facilities, and I returned home after my outfits. Before leaving Bell County, I left word that we could use fifty good men for the trail, but they would have to come recommended by the ranchmen with whom we were dealing. We expected to make up five herds, and the cattle were to be ready for delivery to us between the 15th and 30th of March. I hastened home and out to the ranch, gathered our saddle stock, outfitted wagons, and engaged all my old foremen and twenty trusty men, and we started with a remuda of five hundred horses to begin the operations of the coming summer. Receiving cattle with me was an old story by this time, and frequently matters came to a standstill between the sellers and ourselves. We paid no attention to former customs of the country; all cattle had to come up full-aged or go into the younger class, while inferior or knotty stags were turned back as not wanted. Scarcely a day passed but there was more or less dispute; but we proposed paying for them, and insisted that all cattle tendered must come up to the specifications of the contract. We stood firm, and after the first two herds were received, all trouble on that score passed, and in making up the last three herds there was actually a surplus of cattle tendered. We used a road brand that year on all steers purchased, and the herds moved out from two to three days apart, the last two being made up in Coryell, the adjoining county north.
George Edwards had charge of the rear herd. There were fourteen days between the first and the last starts, a fortnight of hard work, and we frequently received from ten to thirty miles distant from the branding pens. I rode almost night and day, and Edwards likewise, while Major Hunter kept all the accounts and settled with the sellers. As fast as one herd was ready, it moved out under a foreman and fourteen men, one hundred saddle horses, and a well-stocked commissary. We did our banking at Belton, the county seat, and after the last herd started we returned to town and received quite an ovation from the business men of the village. We had invested a little over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in cattle in that community, and a banquet was even suggested in our honor by some of the leading citizens. Most of the contracts were made with merchants, many of whom did not own a hoof of cattle, but depended on their customers to deliver the steers. The business interests of the town were anxious to have us return next year. We declined the proposed dinner, as neither Major Hunter nor myself would have made a presentable guest. A month or more had passed since I had left the ranch on the Clear Fork, the only clothes I had were on my back, and they were torn in a dozen places from running cattle in the brush. My partner had been living in cow-camps for the past three weeks, and preferred to be excused from receiving any social attentions. So we thanked our friends and started for the railroad.
Major Hunter went through to The Grove, while I stopped at Fort Worth. A buckboard from home was awaiting me, and the next morning I was at the Edwards ranch. A relay team was harnessed in, and after counting the babies I started for the Clear Fork. By early evening I was in consultation with my ranch foreman, as it was my intention to drive an individual herd if everything justified the venture. I never saw the range on the Clear Fork look better, and the books showed that we could easily gather two thousand twos and threes, while the balance of the herd could be made up of dry and barren cows. All we lacked was about thirty horses, and my ranch hands were anxious to go up the trail; but after riding the range one day I decided that it would be a pity to disturb the pastoral serenity of the valley. It was fairly dotted with my own cattle; month-old calves were playing in groups, while my horse frequently shied at new-born ones, lying like fawns in the tall grass. A round-up at that time meant the separation of mothers from their offspring and injury to cows approaching maternity, and I decided that no commercial necessity demanded the sacrifice. Then again it seemed a short-sighted policy to send half-matured steers to market, when no man could bring the same animals to a full development as cheaply as I could. Barring contagious diseases, cattle are the healthiest creatures that walk the earth, and even on an open range seldom if ever does one voluntarily forsake its birthplace.
I spent two weeks on the ranch and could have stayed the summer through, for I love cattle. Our lead herd was due on the Kansas state line early in May, so remaining at the Edwards ranch until the last possible hour, I took train and reached Wichita, where my active partner was awaiting me. He had just returned from the Medicine River, and reported everything serene. He had made arrangements to have the men attend all the country round-ups within one hundred miles of our range. Several herds had already reached Wichita, and the next day I started south on horseback to meet our cattle at Caldwell on the line, or at Pond Creek in the Cherokee Outlet. It was going to be difficult to secure range for herds within fifteen miles of Wichita, and the opinion seemed general that this would be the last year that town could hope to hold any portion of the Texas cattle trade. On arriving at Pond Creek I found that fully half the herds were turning up that stream, heading for Great Bend, Ellsworth, Ellis, and Nickerson, all markets within the State of Kansas. The year before nearly one third the drive had gone to the two first-named points, and now other towns were offering inducements and bidding for a share of the present cattle exodus.
Our lead herd arrived without an incident en route. The second one came in promptly, both passing on and picking their way through the border settlements to Wichita. I waited until the third one put in an appearance, leaving orders for it and the two rear ones to camp on some convenient creek in the Outlet near Caldwell. Arrangements were made with Captain Stone for supplying the outfits, and I hurried on to overtake the lead herds, then nearing Wichita. An ample range was found but twenty miles up the Arkansas River, and the third day all the Bell County men in the two outfits were sent home by train. The market was much the same as the year before: one herd of three thousand two-year-olds was our largest individual sale. Early in August the last herd was brought from the state line and the through help reduced to two outfits, one holding cattle at Wichita and the other bringing in shipments of beeves from the Medicine River range. The latter were splendid cattle, fatted to a finish for grass animals, and brought top prices in the different markets to which they were consigned. Omitting details, I will say it was an active year, as we bought and sold fully as many more as our drive amounted to, while I added to my stock of saddle horses an even three hundred head.
An amusing incident occurred with one of my men while holding cattle that fall at Wichita. The boys were in and out of town frequently, and one of them returned to camp one evening and informed me that he wanted to quit work, as he intended to return to Wichita and kill a man. He was a good hand and I tried to persuade him out of the idea, but he insisted that it was absolutely necessary to preserve his honor. I threatened to refuse him a horse, but seeing that menace and persuasion were useless, I ordered him to pick my holdings of saddle stock, gave him his wages due, and told him to be sure and shoot first. He bade us all good-by, and a chum of his went with him. About an hour before daybreak they returned and awoke me, when the aggrieved boy said: "Mr. Anthony, I didn't kill him. No, I didn't kill him. He's a good man. You bet he's a game one. Oh, he's a good man all right." That morning when I awoke both lads were out on herd, and I had an early appointment to meet parties in town. Major Hunter gave me the story immediately on my arrival. The boys had located the offender in a store, and he anticipated the fact that they were on his trail. As our men entered the place, the enemy stepped from behind a pile of clothing with two six-shooters leveled in their faces, and ordered a clerk to relieve the pair of their pistols, which was promptly done. Once the particulars were known at camp, it was looked upon as a good joke on the lad, and whenever he was asked what he thought of Mr. Blank, his reply invariably was, "He's a good man."
The drive that year to the different markets in Kansas amounted to about five hundred thousand cattle. One half this number were handled at Wichita, the surrounding country absorbing them to such an extent that when it came time to restock our Medicine River range I was compelled to go to Great Bend to secure the needed cattle. All saddle horses, both purchased and my own remudas, with wagons, were sent to our winter camps by the shipping crew, so that the final start for Texas would be made from the Medicine River. It was the last of October that the last six trains of beeves were brought in to the railroad for shipment, the season's work drawing to an end. Meanwhile I had closed contracts on ten thousand three-year-old steers at "The Bend," so as fast as the three outfits were relieved of their consignment of beeves they pulled out up the Arkansas River to receive the last cattle of the year. It was nearly one hundred miles from Wichita, and on the arrival of the shipping crews the herds were received and started south for their winter range. Major Hunter and I accompanied the herds to the Medicine, and within a week after reaching the range the two through outfits started home with five wagons and eight hundred saddle horses.
It was the latter part of November when we left our winter camps and returned to The Grove for the annual settlement. Our silent partner was present, and we broke the necks of a number of champagne bottles in properly celebrating the success of the year's work. The wintered cattle had cleared the Dutchman's one per cent, while every hoof in the through and purchased herds was a fine source of profit. Congress would convene within a week, and our silent partner suggested that all three of us go down to Washington and attend the opening exercises. He had already looked into the contracting of beef to the government, and was particularly anxious to have my opinion on a number of contracts to be let the coming winter. It had been ten years since I left my old home in the Shenandoah Valley, my parents were still living, and all I asked was time enough to write a letter to my wife, and buy some decent clothing. The trio started in good time for the opening of Congress, but once we sighted the Potomac River the old home hunger came on me and I left the train at Harper's Ferry. My mother knew and greeted me just as if I had left home that morning on an errand, and had now returned. My father was breaking with years, yet had a mental alertness that was remarkable and a commercial instinct that understood the value of a Texas cow or a section of land scrip. The younger members of the family gathered from their homes to meet "Texas" Anthony, and for ten continuous days I did nothing but answer questions, running from the color of the baby's eyes to why we did not drive the fifteen thousand cattle in one herd, or how big a section of country would one thousand certificates of land scrip cover. My visit was broken by the necessity of conferring with my partners, so, promising to spend Christmas with my mother, I was excused until that date.
At the War and Interior departments I made many friends. I understood cattle so thoroughly that there was no feature of a delivery to the government that embarrassed me in the least. A list of contracts to be let from each department was courteously furnished us, but not wishing to scatter our business too wide, we submitted bids for six Indian contracts and four for delivery to army posts on the upper Missouri River. Two of the latter were to be northern wintered cattle, and we had them on the Medicine River; but we also had a sure market on them, and it was a matter of indifference whether we secured them or not. The Indian contracts called for cows, and I was anxious to secure as many as possible, as it meant a market for the aging she stuff on my ranch. Heretofore this class had fulfilled their mission in perpetuating their kind, had lived their day, and the weeds grew rankly where their remains enriched the soil. The bids would not be opened until the middle of January, and we should have notice at once if fortunate in securing any of the awards. The holiday season was approaching, Major Hunter was expected at home, and the firm separated for the time being.