ESTABLISHING A NEW RANCH
I hardly knew Fort Worth on my return. The town was in the midst of a boom. The foundations of many store buildings were laid on Monday morning, and by Saturday night they were occupied and doing a land-office business. Lots that could have been bought in the spring for one hundred dollars were now commanding a thousand, while land scrip was quoted as scarce at twenty-five cents an acre. I hurried home, spoke to my wife, and engaged two surveyors to report one week later at my ranch on the Clear Fork. Big as was the State and boundless as was her public domain, I could not afford to allow this advancing prosperity to catch me asleep again, and I firmly concluded to empty that little tin trunk of its musty land scrip. True enough, the present boom was not noticeable on the frontier, yet there was a buoyant feeling in the air that betokened a brilliant future. Something enthused me, and as my creed was land and cattle, I made up my mind to plunge into both to my full capacity.
The last outfit to return from the summer's drive was detained on the Clear Fork to assist in the fall branding. Another one of fifteen men all told was chosen from the relieved lads in making up a surveying party, and taking fifty saddle horses and a well-stocked commissary with us, we started due west. I knew the country for some distance beyond Fort Griffin, and from late maps in possession of the surveyors, we knew that by holding our course, we were due to strike a fork of the mother Brazos before reaching the Staked Plain. Holding our course contrary to the needle, we crossed the Double Mountain Fork, and after a week out from the ranch the brakes which form the border between the lowlands and the Llano Estacado were sighted. Within view of the foothills which form the approach of the famous plain, the Salt and Double Mountain forks of the Brazos are not over twelve miles apart. We traveled up the divide between these two rivers, and when within thirty miles of the low-browed borderland a halt was called and we went into camp. From the view before us one could almost imagine the feelings of the discoverer of this continent when he first sighted land; for I remember the thrill which possessed our little party as we looked off into either valley or forward to the menacing Staked Plain in our front. There was something primal in the scene,--something that brought back the words, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Men who knew neither creed nor profession of faith felt themselves drawn very near to some great creative power. The surrounding view held us spellbound by its beauty and strength. It was like a rush of fern-scents, the breath of pine forests, the music of the stars, the first lovelight in a mother's eye; and now its pristine beauty was to be marred, as covetous eyes and a lust of possession moved an earth-born man to lay hands on all things created for his use.
Camp was established on the Double Mountain Fork. Many miles to the north, a spur of the Plain extended eastward, in the elbow of which it was my intention to locate the new ranch. A corner was established, a meridian line was run north beyond the Salt Fork and a random one west to the foothills. After a few days one surveyor ran the principal lines while the other did the cross-sectioning and correcting back, both working from the same camp, the wagon following up the work. Antelope were seen by the thousands, frequently buffaloes were sighted, and scarcely a day passed but our rifles added to the larder of our commissary supplies. Within a month we located four hundred sections, covering either side of the Double Mountain Fork, and embracing a country ten miles wide by forty long. Coming back to our original meridian line across to the Salt Fork, the work of surveying that valley was begun, when I was compelled to turn homeward. A list of contracts to be let by the War and Interior departments would be ready by December 1, and my partners relied on my making all the estimates. There was a noticeable advance of fully one dollar a head on steer cattle since the spring before, and I was supposed to have my finger on the pulse of supply and prices, as all government awards were let far in advance of delivery. George Edwards had returned a few days before and reported having stocked the new ranch in the Outlet with twelve thousand steers. The list of contracts to be let had arrived, and the two of us went over them carefully. The government was asking for bids on the delivery of over two hundred thousand cattle at various posts and agencies in the West, and confining ourselves to well-known territory, we submitted bids on fifteen awards, calling for forty-five thousand cattle in their fulfillment.
Our estimates were sent to Major Hunter for his approval, who in turn forwarded them to our silent partner at Washington, to be submitted to the proper departments. As the awards would not be made until the middle of January, nothing definite could be done until then, so, accompanied by George Edwards, I returned to the surveying party on the Salt Fork of the Brazos. We found them busy at their work, the only interruption having been an Indian scare, which only lasted a few days. The men still carried rifles against surprise, kept a scout on the lookout while at work, and maintained a guard over the camp and remuda at night. During my absence they had located a strip of country ten by thirty miles, covering the valley of the Salt Fork, and we still lacked three hundred sections of using up the scrip. The river, along which they were surveying, made an abrupt turn to the north, and offsetting by sections around the bend, we continued on up the valley for twenty miles or until the brakes of the Plain made the land no longer desirable. Returning to our commencement point with still one hundred certificates left, we extended the survey five miles down both rivers, using up the last acre of scrip. The new ranch was irregular in form, but it controlled the waters of fully one million acres of fine grazing land and was clothed with a carpet of nutritive grasses. This was the range of the buffalo, and the instinct of that animal could be relied on in choosing a range for its successor, the Texas cow.
The surveying over, nothing remained but the recording of the locations at the county seat to which for legal purposes this unorganized country was attached. All of us accompanied the outfit returning, and a gala week we spent, as no less than half a dozen buffalo robes were secured before reaching Fort Griffin. Deer and turkey were plentiful, and it was with difficulty that I restrained the boys from killing wantonly, as they were young fellows whose very blood yearned for the chase or any diverting excitement. We reached the ranch on the Clear Fork during the second week in January, and those of the outfit who had no regular homes were made welcome guests until work opened in the spring. My calf crop that fall had exceeded all expectations, nearly nine thousand having been branded, while the cattle were wintering in splendid condition. There was little or nothing to do, a few hunts with the hounds merely killing time until we got reports from Washington. In spite of all competition we secured eight contracts, five with the army and the remainder with the Indian Bureau.
Then the work opened in earnest. My active partner was due the first of February, and during the interim George Edwards and I rode a circle of five counties in search of brands of cattle for sale. In the course of our rounds a large number of whole stocks were offered us, but at firmer prices, yet we closed no trades, though many brands were bargains. It was my intention to stock the new ranch on the Double Mountain Fork the coming summer, and if arrangements could be agreed on with Major Hunter, I might be able to repeat my success of the summer of '74. Emigration to Texas was crowding the ranches to the frontier, many of them unwillingly, and it appealed to me strongly that the time was opportune for securing an ample holding of stock cattle. The appearance of my active partner was the beginning of active operations, and after we had outlined the programme for the summer and gone through all the details thoroughly, I asked for the privilege of supplying the cows on the Indian contracts. Never did partners stand more willingly by each other than did the firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co., and I only had to explain the opportunity of buying brands at wholesale, sending the young steers up the trail and the aging, dry, and barren cows to Indian agencies, to gain the hearty approval of the little Yankee major. He was entitled to a great deal of credit for my holdings in land, for from his first sight of Texas, day after day, line upon line, precept upon precept, he had urged upon me the importance of securing title to realty, while its equivalent in scrip was being hawked about, begging a buyer. Now we rejoiced together in the fulfillment of his prophecy, as I can lay little claim to any foresight, but am particularly anxious to give credit where credit is due.
With an asylum for any and all remnants of stock cattle, we authorized George Edwards to close trades on a number of brands. Taking with us the two foremen who had brought beef herds out of Uvalde County the spring before, the major and I started south on the lookout for beeves. The headwaters of the Nueces and its tributaries were again our destination, and the usual welcome to buyers was extended with that hospitality that only the days of the open range knew and practiced. We closed contracts with former customers without looking at their cattle. When a ranchman gave us his word to deliver us as good or better beeves than the spring before, there was no occasion to question his ability, and the cattle never deceived. There might arise petty wrangles over trifles, but the general hungering for a market among cowmen had not yet been satiated, and they offered us their best that we might come again. We placed our contracts along three rivers and over as many counties, limiting the number to ten thousand beeves of the same ages and paying one dollar a head above the previous spring. One of our foremen was provided with a letter of credit, and the two were left behind to make up three new and complete outfits for the trail.
This completed the purchase of beef cattle. Two of our contracts called for northern wintered beeves, which would be filled out of our holdings in the Cherokee Outlet. We again stopped in central Texas, but prices were too firm, and we passed on west to San Saba and Lampasas counties, where we effected trades on nine thousand five hundred three-year-old steers. My own outfits would drop down from the Clear Fork to receive these cattle, and after we had perfected our banking arrangements the major returned to San Antonio and I started homeward. George Edwards had in the mean time bargained for ten brands, running anywhere from one to five thousand head, paying straight through five to seven dollars, half cash and the balance in eight months, everything to be delivered on the Clear Fork. We intentionally made these deliveries late--during the last week in March and the first one in April--in order that Major Hunter might approve of the three herds of cows for Indian delivery. Once I had been put in possession of all necessary details, Edwards started south to join Major Hunter, as the receiving of the Nueces River beeves was set for from the 10th to the 15th of March.
I could see a busy time ahead. There was wood to haul for the branding, three complete outfits to start for the central part of the State, new wagons to equip for the trail, and others to care for the calf crop while en route to the Double Mountain Fork. There were oxen to buy in equipping teams to accompany the stock cattle to the new ranch, two yoke being allowed to each wagon, as it was strength and not speed that was desired. My old foremen rallied at a word and relieved me of the lesser details of provisioning the commissaries and engaging the help. Trusty men were sent to oversee and look out for my interests in gathering the different brands, the ranges of many of them being fifty to one hundred miles distant. The different brands were coming from six separate counties along the border, and on their arrival at my ranch we must be ready to receive, brand, and separate the herds into their respective classes, sending two grades to market and the remnant to their new home at the foot of the Staked Plain. The condition of the mules must be taken into consideration before the army can move, and in cattle life the same reliance is placed on the fitness for duty of the saddle horses. I had enough picked ones to make up a dozen remudas if necessary, and rested easy on that score. The date for receiving arrived and found us all ready and waiting.
The first herd was announced to arrive on the 25th of March. I met it ten miles from the ranch. My man assured me that the brand as gathered was intact and that it would run fifty per cent dry cows and steers over two years old. A number of mature beeves even were noticeable and younger steers were numerous, while the miscellany of the herd ran to every class and condition of the bovine race. Two other brands were expected the next day, and that evening the first one to arrive was counted and accepted. The next morning the entire herd was run through a branding chute and classified, all steers above a yearling and dry and aging cows going into one contingent and the mixed cattle into another. In order to save horseflesh, this work was easily done in the corrals. By hanging a gate at the exit of the branding chute, a man sat overhead and by swinging it a variation of two feet, as the cattle trailed through the trough in single file, the herd was cut into two classes. Those intended for the trail were put under herd, while the stock cattle were branded into the "44" and held separate. The second and third herds were treated in a similar manner, when we found ourselves with over eleven thousand cattle on hand, with two other brands due in a few days. But the evening of the fourth day saw a herd of thirty-three hundred steers on its way to Kansas, while a second one, numbering two hundred more than the first, was lopped off from the mixed stuff and started west for the Double Mountain Fork.
The situation was eased. A conveyance had been sent to the railroad to meet my partner, and before he and Edwards arrived two other brands had been received. A herd of thirty-five hundred dry cows was approved and started at once for the Indian Territory, while a second one moved out for the west, cleaning up the holdings of mixed stuff. The congestion was again relieved, and as the next few brands were expected to run light in steers, everything except cows was held under herd until all had been received. The final contingent came in from Wise County and were shaped up, and the last herd of cows, completing ten thousand five hundred, started for the Washita agency. I still had nearly sixty-five hundred steers on hand, and cutting back all of a small overplus of thin light cows, I had three brands of steers cut into one herd and four into another, both moving out for Dodge City. This left me with fully eight thousand miscellany on hand, with nothing but my ranch outfit to hold them, close-herding by day and bedding down and guarding them by night. Settlements were made with the different sellers, my outstanding obligations amounting to over one hundred thousand dollars, which the three steer herds were expected to liquidate. My active partner and George Edwards took train for the north. The only change in the programme was that Major Hunter was to look after our deliveries at army posts, while I was to meet our herds on their arrival in Dodge City. The cows were sold to the firm, and including my individual cattle, we had twelve herds on the trail, or a total of thirty-nine thousand five hundred head.
On the return of the first outfit from the west, some three weeks after leaving, the herd of stock cattle was cut in two and started. But a single man was left on the Clear Fork, my ranch foreman taking one herd, while I accompanied the other. It requires the patience of a saint to handle cows and calves, two wagons to the herd being frequently taxed to their capacity in picking up the youngsters. It was a constant sight to see some of the boys carrying a new-born calf across the saddle seat, followed by the mother, until camp or the wagon was reached. I was ashamed of my own lack of patience on that trip, while irritable men could while away the long hours, nursing along the drag end of a herd of cows and their toddling offspring. We averaged only about ten miles a day, the herds were large and unwieldy, and after twelve days out both were scattered along the Salt Fork and given their freedom. Leaving one outfit to locate the cattle on the new range, the other two hastened back to the Clear Fork and gathered two herds, numbering thirty-five hundred each, of young cows and heifers from the ranch stock. But a single day was lost in rounding-up, when they were started west, half a day apart, and I again took charge of an outfit, the trip being an easy one and made in ten days, as the calves were large enough to follow and there were no drag cattle among them. On our arrival at the new ranch, the cows and heifers were scattered among the former herds, and both outfits started back, one to look after the Clear Fork and the other to bring through the last herd in stocking my new possessions. This gave me fully twenty-five thousand mixed cattle on my new range, relieving the old ranch of a portion of its she stuff and shaping up both stocks to better advantage.
It was my intention to make my home on the Clear Fork thereafter, and the ranch outfit had orders to build a comfortable house during the summer. The frontier was rapidly moving westward, the Indian was no longer a dread, as it was only a question of time until the Comanche and his ally would imitate their red brethren and accept the dole of the superior race. I was due in Dodge City the first of June, the ranches would take care of themselves, and touching at the Edwards ranch for a day, I reached "Dodge" before any of the herds arrived. Here was a typical trail town, a winter resort for buffalo hunters, no settlement for fifty miles to the east, and an almost boundless range on which to hold through Texas cattle. The business was bound to concentrate at this place, as all other markets were abandoned within the State, while it was easily accessible to the mountain regions on the west. It was the logical meeting point for buyers and drovers; and while the town of that day has passed into history as "wicked Dodge," it had many redeeming features. The veneer of civilization may have fallen, to a certain extent, from the wayfaring man who tarried in this cow town, yet his word was a bond, and he reverenced the pure in womanhood, though to insult him invited death.
George Edwards and Major Hunter had become such great chums that I was actually jealous of being supplanted in the affections of the Yankee major. The two had been inseparable for months, visiting at The Grove, spending a fortnight together at the beef ranch in the Outlet, and finally putting in an appearance at Dodge. Headquarters for the summer were established at the latter point, our bookkeeper arrived, and we were ready for business. The market opened earlier than at more eastern points. The bulk of the sales were made to ranchmen, who used whole herds where the agricultural regions only bought cattle by the hundreds. It was more satisfactory than the retail trade; credit was out of the question, and there was no haggling over prices. Cattle companies were forming and stocking new ranges, and an influx of English and Scotch capital was seeking investment in ranches and live stock in the West,--a mere forerunner of what was to follow in later years.
Our herds began arriving, and as soon as an outfit could be freed it was started for the beef ranch under George Edwards, where a herd of wintered beeves was already made up to start for the upper Missouri River. Major Hunter followed a week later with the second relieved outfit, and our cattle were all moving for their destinations. The through beef herds from the upper Nueces River had orders to touch at old Fort Larned to the eastward, Edwards drifted on to the Indian agencies, and I bestirred myself to the task of selling six herds of young cattle at Dodge. Once more I was back in my old element, except that every feature of the latter market was on an enlarged scale. Two herds were sold to one man in Colorado, three others went under contract to the Republican River in Nebraska, and the last one was cut into blocks and found a market with feeders in Kansas. Long before deliveries were concluded to the War or Interior departments, headquarters were moved back to The Grove, my work being done. In the interim of waiting for the close of the year's business, our bookkeeper looked after two shipments of a thousand head each from the beef ranch, while I visited my brother in Missouri and surprised him by buying a carload of thoroughbred bulls. Arrangements were made for shipping them to Fort Worth during the last week in November, and promising to call for them, I returned to The Grove to meet my partners and adjust all accounts for the year.