THE CENTENNIAL YEAR
I returned to Texas early in January. Quite a change had come over the situation since my leaving home the spring before. Except on the frontier, business was booming in the new towns, while a regular revolution had taken place within the past month in land values. The cheapness of wild lands had attracted outside capital, resulting in a syndicate being formed by Northern capitalists to buy up the outstanding issue of land scrip. The movement had been handled cautiously, and had possibly been in active operation for a year or more, as its methods were conducted with the utmost secrecy. Options had been taken on all scrip voted to corporations in the State and still in their possession, agents of the syndicate were stationed at all centres where any amount was afloat, and on a given day throughout the State every certificate on the market was purchased. The next morning land scrip was worth fifty dollars a section, and on my return one hundred dollars a certificate was being freely bid, while every surveyor in the State was working night and day locating lands for individual holders of scrip.
This condition of affairs was largely augmented by a boom in sheep. San Antonio was the leading wool market in the State, many clips having sold as high as forty cents a pound for several years past on the streets of that city. Free range and the high price of wool was inviting every man and his cousin to come to Texas and make his fortune. Money was feverish for investment in sheep, flock-masters were buying land on which to run their bands, and a sheepman was an envied personage. Up to this time there had been little or no occasion to own the land on which the immense flocks grazed the year round, yet under existing cheap prices of land nearly all the watercourses in the immediate country had been taken up. Personally I was dumfounded at the sudden and unexpected change of affairs, and what nettled me most was that all the land adjoining my ranch had been filed on within the past month. The Clear Fork valley all the way up to Fort Griffin had been located, while every vacant acre on the mother Brazos, as far north as Belknap, was surveyed and recorded. I was mortified to think that I had been asleep, but then the change had come like a thief in the night. My wife's trunk was half full of scrip, I had had a surveyor on the ground only a year before, and now the opportunity had passed.
But my disappointment was my wife's delight, as there was no longer any necessity for keeping secret our holdings in land scrip. The little tin trunk held a snug fortune, and next to the babies, my wife took great pride in showing visitors the beautiful lithographed certificates. My ambition was land and cattle, but now that the scrip had a cash value, my wife took as much pride in those vouchers as if the land had been surveyed, recorded, and covered with our own herds. I had met so many reverses that I was grateful for any smile of fortune, and bore my disappointment with becoming grace. My ranch had branded over eight thousand calves that fall, and as long as it remained an open range I had room for my holdings of cattle. There was no question but that the public domain was bountiful, and if it were necessary I could go farther west and locate a new ranch. But it secretly grieved me to realize that what I had so fondly hoped for had come without warning and found me unprepared. I might as well have held title to half a million acres of the Clear Fork Valley as a paltry hundred and fifty sections.
Little time was given me to lament over spilt milk. On the return from my first trip to the Clear Fork, reports from the War and Interior departments were awaiting me. Two contracts to the army and four to Indian agencies had been awarded us, all of which could be filled with through cattle. The military allotments would require six thousand heavy beeves for delivery on the upper Missouri River in Dakota, while the nation's wards would require thirteen thousand cows at four different agencies in the Indian Territory. My active partner was due in Fort Worth within a week, while bonds for the faithful fulfillment of our contracts would be executed by our silent partner at Washington, D.C. These awards meant an active year to our firm, and besides there was our established trade around The Grove, which we had no intention of abandoning. The government was a sure market, and as long as a healthy demand continued in Kansas for young cattle, the firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co. would be found actively engaged in supplying the same.
Major Hunter arrived under a high pressure of enthusiasm. By appointment we met in Fort Worth, and after carefully reviewing the situation we took train and continued on south to San Antonio. I had seen a herd of beeves, a few years before, from the upper Nueces River, and remembered them as good heavy cattle. There were two dollars a head difference, even in ages among younger stock, between the lower and upper counties in the State, and as it was pounds quantity that we wanted for the army, it was our intention to look over the cattle along the Nueces River before buying our supply of beeves. We met a number of acquaintances in San Antonio, all of whom recommended us to go west if in search of heavy cattle, and a few days later we reached Uvalde County. This was the section from which the beeves had come that impressed me so favorably; I even remembered the ranch brands, and without any difficulty we located the owners, finding them anxious to meet buyers for their mature surplus cattle. We spent a week along the Frio, Leona, and Nueces rivers, and closed contracts on sixty-one hundred five to seven year old beeves. The cattle were not as good a quality as prairie-raised north Texas stock, but the pounds avoirdupois were there, the defects being in their mongrel colors, length of legs, and breadth of horns, heritages from the original Spanish stock. Otherwise they were tall as a horse, clean-limbed as a deer, and active on their feet, and they looked like fine walkers. I estimated that two bits a head would drive them to Red River, and as we bought them at three dollars a head less than prevailing prices for the same-aged beeves north of or parallel to Fort Worth, we were well repaid for our time and trouble.
We returned to San Antonio and opened a bank account. The 15th of March was agreed on to receive. Two remudas of horses would have to be secured, wagons fitted up, and outfits engaged. Heretofore I had furnished all horses for trail work, but now, with our enlarging business, it would be necessary to buy others, which would be done at the expense of the firm. George Edwards was accordingly sent for, and met us at Waco. He was furnished a letter of credit on our San Antonio bank, and authorized to buy and equip two complete outfits for the Uvalde beeves. Edwards was a good judge of horses, there was an abundance of saddle stock in the country, and he was instructed to buy not less than one hundred and twenty-five head for each remuda, to outfit his wagons with four-mule teams, and announce us as willing to engage fourteen men to the herd. Once these details were arranged for, Major Hunter and myself bought two good horses and struck west for Coryell County, where we had put up two herds the spring before. Our return met with a flood of offerings, prices of the previous year still prevailed, and we let contracts for sixty-five hundred three-year-old steers and an equal number of dry and barren cows. We paid seven dollars a head for the latter, and in order to avoid any dispute at the final tender it was stipulated that the offerings must be in good flesh, not under five nor over eight years old, full average in weight, and showing no evidence of pregnancy. Under local customs, "a cow was a cow," and we had to be specific.
We did our banking at Waco for the Coryell herds. Hastening north, our next halt was in Hood County, where we bought thirty-three hundred two-year-old steers and three thousand and odd cows. This completed eight herds secured--three of young steers for the agricultural regions, and five intended for government delivery. We still lacked one for the Indian Bureau, and as I offered to make it up from my holdings, and on a credit, my active partner consented. I was putting in every dollar at my command, my partners were borrowing freely at home, and we were pulling together like a six-mule team to make a success of the coming summer's work. It was now the middle of February, and my active partner went to Fort Worth, where I did my banking, to complete his financial arrangements, while I returned to the ranch to organize the forces for the coming campaign. All the latter were intrusted to me, and while I had my old foremen at my beck and call, it was necessary to employ five or six new ones. With our deliveries scattered from the Indian Territory to the upper Missouri River, as well as our established trade at The Grove, two of us could not cover the field, and George Edwards had been decided on as the third and trusted man. In a practical way he was a better cowman than I was, and with my active Yankee partner for a running mate they made a team that would take care of themselves in any cow country.
A good foreman is a very important man in trail work. The drover or firm may or may not be practical cowmen, but the executive in the field must be the master of any possible situation that may arise, combining the qualities of generalship with the caution of an explorer. He must be a hail-fellow among his men, for he must command by deserving obedience; he must know the inmost thoughts of his herd, noting every sign of alarm or distress, and willingly sacrifice any personal comfort in the interest of his cattle or outfit. I had a few such men, boys who had grown up in my employ, several of whom I would rather trust in a dangerous situation with a herd than take active charge myself. No concern was given for their morals, but they must be capable, trustworthy, and honest, as they frequently handled large sums of money. All my old foremen swore by me, not one of them would accept a similar situation elsewhere, and in selecting the extra trail bosses their opinion was valued and given due consideration.
Not having driven anything from my ranch the year before, a fine herd of twos, threes, and four-year-old steers could easily be made up. It was possible that a tenth and individual herd might be sent up the country, but no movement to that effect was decided on, and my regular ranch hands had orders only to throw in on the home range and gather outside steer cattle and dry cows. I had wintered all my saddle horses on the Clear Fork, and once the foremen were decided on, they repaired to the ranch and began outfitting for the start. The Coryell herds were to be received one week later than the beef cattle, and the outfits would necessarily have to start in ample time to meet us on our return from the upper Nueces River country. The two foremen allotted to Hood County would start a week later still, so that we would really move north with the advance of the season in receiving the cattle under contract. Only a few days were required in securing the necessary foremen, a remuda was apportioned to each, and credit for the commissary supplies arranged for, the employment of the men being left entirely to the trail bosses. Taking two of my older foremen with me, I started for Fort Worth, where an agreeable surprise awaited me. We had been underbidden at the War Department on both our proposals for northern wintered beeves. The fortunate bidder on one contract was refused the award,--for some duplicity in a former transaction, I learned later,--and the Secretary of War had approached our silent partner to fill the deficiency. Six weeks had elapsed, there was no obligation outstanding, and rather than advertise and relet the contract, the head of the War Department had concluded to allot the deficiency by private award. Major Hunter had been burning the wires between Fort Worth and Washington, in order to hold the matter open until I came in for a consultation. The department had offered half a cent a pound over and above our previous bid, and we bribed an operator to reopen his office that night and send a message of acceptance. We had ten thousand cattle wintering on the Medicine River, and it would just trim them up nicely to pick out all the heavy, rough beeves for filling an army contract.
When we had got a confirmation of our message, we proceeded on south, accompanied by the two foremen, and reached Uvalde County within a week of the time set for receiving. Edwards had two good remudas in pastures, wagons and teams secured, and cooks and wranglers on hand, and it only remained to pick the men to complete the outfits. With three old trail foremen on the alert for good hands while the gathering and receiving was going on, the help would be ready in ample time to receive the herds. Gathering the beeves was in active operation on our arrival, a branding chute had been built to facilitate the work, and all five of us took to the saddle in assisting ranchmen in holding under herd, as we permitted nothing to be corralled night or day. The first herd was completed on the 14th, and the second a day later, both moving out without an hour's delay, the only instructions being to touch at Great Bend, Kansas, for final orders. The cattle more than came up to expectations, three fourths of them being six and seven years old, and as heavy as oxen. There was something about the days of the open range that left its impression on animals, as these two herds were as uniform in build as deer, and I question if the same country to-day has as heavy beeves.
Three days were lost in reaching Coryell County, where our outfits were in waiting and twenty others were at work gathering cattle. The herds were made up and started without a hitch, and we passed on to Hood County, meeting every date promptly and again finding the trail outfits awaiting us. Leaving my active partner and George Edwards to receive the two herds, I rode through to the Clear Fork in a single day. A double outfit had been at work for the past two weeks gathering outside cattle and had over a thousand under herd on my arrival. Everything had worked out so nicely in receiving the purchased herds that I finally concluded to send out my steers, and we began gathering on the home range. By making small round-ups, we disturbed the young calves as little as possible. I took charge of the extra outfit and my ranch foreman of his own, one beginning on the west end of my range, the other going north and coming down the Brazos. At the end of a week the two crews came together with nearly eight thousand cattle under herd. The next day we cut out thirty-five hundred cows and started them on the trail, turning free the remnant of she stuff, and began shaping up the steers, using only the oldest in making up thirty-two hundred head. There were fully two thousand threes, the remainder being nearly equally divided between twos and fours. No road branding was necessary; the only delay in moving out was in provisioning a wagon and securing a foreman. Failing in two or three quarters, I at last decided on a young fellow on my ranch, and he was placed in charge of the last herd. Great Bend was his destination, I instructed him where to turn off the Chisholm trail,--north of the Salt Fork in the Cherokee Outlet,--and he started like an army with banners.
I rejoined my active partner at Fort Worth. The Hood County cattle had started a week before, so taking George Edwards with us, we took train for Kansas. Major Hunter returned to his home, while Edwards and I lost no time in reaching the Medicine River. A fortnight was spent in riding our northern range, when we took horses and struck out for Pond Creek in the Outlet. The lead herds were due at this point early in May, and on our arrival a number had already passed. A road house and stage stand had previously been established, the proprietor of which kept a register of passing herds for the convenience of owners. None of ours were due, yet we looked over the "arrivals" with interest, and continued on down the trail to Red Fork. The latter was a branch of the Arkansas River, and at low water was inclined to be brackish, and hence was sometimes called the Salt Fork, with nothing to differentiate it from one of the same name sixty miles farther north. There was an old Indian trading post at Red Fork, and I lay over there while Edwards went on south to meet the cows. His work for the summer was to oversee the deliveries at the Indian agencies, Major Hunter was to look after the market at The Bend, and I was to attend to the contracts at army posts on the upper Missouri. Our first steer herd to arrive was from Hood County, and after seeing them safely on the Great Bend trail at Pond Creek, I waited for the other steer cattle from Coryell to arrive. Both herds came in within a day of each other, and I loitered along with them, finally overtaking the lead one when within fifty miles of The Bend. In fair weather it was a delightful existence to loaf along with the cattle; but once all three herds reached their destination, two outfits held them, and I took the Hood County lads and dropped back on the Medicine. Our ranch hands had everything shaped up nicely, and by working a double outfit and making round-ups at noon, when the cattle were on water, we quietly cut out three thousand head of our biggest beeves without materially disturbing our holdings on that range. These northern wintered cattle were intended for delivery at Fort Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. The through heavy beeves from Uvalde County were intended for Fort Randall and intermediate posts, some of them for reissue to various Indian agencies. The reservations of half a dozen tribes were tributary to the forts along the upper Missouri, and the government was very liberal in supplying its wards with fresh beef.
The Medicine River beeves were to be grazed up the country to Fort Lincoln. We passed old Fort Larned within a week, and I left the outfit there and returned to The Bend. The outfit in charge of the wintered cattle had orders to touch at and cross the Missouri River at Fort Randall, where I would meet them again near the middle of July. The market had fairly opened at Great Bend, and I was kept busy assisting Major Hunter until the arrival of the Uvalde beef herds. Both came through in splendid condition, were admired by every buyer in the market, and passed on north under orders to graze ten miles a day until reaching their destination. By this time the whereabouts of all the Indian herds were known, yet not a word had reached me from the foreman of my individual cattle after crossing into the Nations. It was now the middle of June, and there were several points en route from which he might have mailed a letter, as did all the other foremen. Herds, which crossed at Red River Station a week after my steers, came into The Bend and reported having spoken no "44" cattle en route. I became uneasy and sent a courier as far south as the state line, who returned with a comfortless message. Finally a foreman in the employ of Jess Evens came to me and reported having taken dinner with a "44" outfit on the South Canadian; that the herd swam the river that afternoon, after which he never hailed them again. They were my own dear cattle, and I was worrying; I was overdue at Fort Randall, and in duty bound to look after the interests of the firm. Major Hunter came to the rescue, in his usual calm manner, and expressed his confidence that all would come out right in the end; that when the mystery was unraveled the foreman would be found blameless.
I took a night train for the north, connected with a boat on the Missouri River, and by finally taking stage reached Fort Randall. The mental worry of those four days would age an ordinary man, but on my arrival at the post a message from my active partner informed me that my cattle had reached Dodge City two weeks before my leaving. Then the scales fell from my eyes, as I could understand that when inquiries were made for the Salt Fork, some wayfarer had given that name to the Red Fork; and the new Dodge trail turned to the left, from the Chisholm, at Little Turkey, the first creek crossed after leaving the river. The message was supplemented a few days later by a letter, stating that Dodge City would possibly be a better market than the Bend, and that my interests would be looked after as well as if I were present. A load was lifted from my shoulders, and when the wintered cattle passed Randall, the whole post turned out to see the beef herd on its way up to Lincoln. The government line of forts along the Missouri River had the whitest lot of officers that it was ever my good fortune to meet. I was from Texas, my tongue and colloquialisms of speech proclaimed me Southern-born, and when I admitted having served in the Confederate army, interest and attention was only heightened, while every possible kindness was simply showered on me.
The first delivery occurred at Fort Lincoln. It was a very simple affair. We cut out half a dozen average beeves, killed, dressed, and weighed them, and an honest average on the herd was thus secured. The contract called for one and a half million pounds on foot; our tender overran twelve per cent; but this surplus was accepted and paid for. The second delivery was at Fort Pierre and the last at Randall, both of which passed pleasantly, the many acquaintances among army men that summer being one of my happiest memories. Leaving Randall, we put in to the nearest railroad point returning, where thirty men were sent home, after which we swept down the country and arrived at Great Bend during the last week in September. My active partner had handled his assignment of the summer's work in a masterly manner, having wholesaled my herd at Dodge City at as good figures as our other cattle brought in retail quantities at The Bend. The former point had received three hundred and fifty thousand Texas cattle that summer, while every one conceded that Great Bend's business as a trail terminal would close with that season. The latter had handled nearly a quarter-million cattle that year, but like Abilene, Wichita, and other trail towns in eastern Kansas, it was doomed to succumb to the advance guard of pioneer settlers.
The best sale of the year fell to my active partner. Before the shipping season opened, he sold, range count, our holdings on the Medicine River, including saddle stock, improvements, and good will. The cattle might possibly have netted us more by marketing them, but it was only a question of time until the flow of immigration would demand our range, and Major Hunter had sold our squatter's rights while they had a value. A new foreman had been installed on our giving up possession, and our old one had been skirmishing the surrounding country the past month for a new range, making a favorable report on the Eagle Chief in the Outlet. By paying a trifling rental to the Cherokee Nation, permission could be secured to hold cattle on these lands, set aside as a hunting ground. George Edwards had been rotting all summer in issuing cows at Indian agencies, but on the first of October the residue of his herds would be put in pastures or turned free for the winter. Major Hunter had wound up his affairs at The Bend, and nothing remained but a general settlement of the summer's work. This took place at Council Grove, our silent partner and Edwards both being present. The profits of the year staggered us all. I was anxious to go home, the different outfits having all gone by rail or overland with the remudas, with the exception of the two from Uvalde, which were property of the firm. I had bought three hundred extra horses at The Bend, sending them home with the others, and now nothing remained but to stock the new range in the Cherokee Outlet. Edwards and my active partner volunteered for this work, it being understood that the Uvalde remudas would be retained for ranch use, and that not over ten thousand cattle were to be put on the new range for the winter. Our silent partner was rapidly awakening to the importance of his usefulness in securing future contracts with the War and Indian departments, and vaguely outlining the future, we separated to three points of the compass.