AN ACTIVE SUMMER
The summer of 1878 closed with but a single cloud on the horizon. Like ourselves, a great many cattlemen had established beef ranches in the Cherokee Outlet, then a vacant country, paying a trifling rental to that tribe of civilized Indians. But a difference of opinion arose, some contending that the Cherokees held no title to the land; that the strip of country sixty miles wide by two hundred long set aside by treaty as a hunting ground, when no longer used for that purpose by the tribe, had reverted to the government. Some refused to pay the rent money, the council of the Cherokee Nation appealed to the general government, and troops were ordered in to preserve the peace. We felt no uneasiness over our holdings of cattle on the Strip, as we were paying a nominal rent, amounting to two bits a head a year, and were otherwise fortified in possession of our range. If necessary we could have secured a permit from the War Department, on the grounds of being government contractors and requiring a northern range on which to hold our cattle. But rather than do this, Major Hunter hit upon a happy solution of the difficulty by suggesting that we employ an Indian citizen as foreman, and hold the cattle in his name. The major had an old acquaintance, a half-breed Cherokee named LaFlors, who was promptly installed as owner of the range, but holding beeves for Hunter, Anthony & Co., government beef contractors.
I was unexpectedly called to Texas before the general settlement that fall. Early in the summer, at Dodge, I met a gentleman who was representing a distillery in Illinois. He was in the market for a thousand range bulls to slop-feed, and as no such cattle ever came over the trail, I offered to sell them to him delivered at Fort Worth. I showed him the sights around Dodge and we became quite friendly, but I was unable to sell him his requirements unless I could show the stock. It was easily to be seen that he was not a range cattleman, and I humored him until he took my address, saying that if he were unable to fill his wants in other Western markets he would write me later. The acquaintance resulted in several letters passing between us that autumn, and finally an appointment was made to meet in Kansas City and go down to Texas together. I had written home to have the buckboard meet us at Fort Worth on October 1, and a few days later we were riding the range on the Brazos and Clear Fork. In the past there never had been any market for this class of drones, old age and death being the only relief, and from the great number of brands that I had purchased during my ranching and trail operations, my range was simply cluttered with these old cumberers. Their hides would not have paid freighting and transportation to a market, and they had become an actual drawback to a ranch, when the opportunity occurred and I sold twelve hundred head to the Illinois distillery. The buyer informed me that they fattened well; that there was a special demand for this quality in the export trade of dressed beef, and that owing to their cheapness and consequent profit they were in demand for distillery feeding.
Fifteen dollars a head was agreed on as the price, and we earned it a second time in delivering that herd at Fort Worth. Many of the animals were ten years old, surly when irritated, and ready for a fight when their day-dreams were disturbed. There was no treating them humanely, for every effort in that direction was resented by the old rascals, individually and collectively. The first day we gathered two hundred, and the attempt to hold them under herd was a constant fight, resulting in every hoof arising on the bed-ground at midnight and escaping to their old haunts. I worked as good a ranch outfit of men as the State ever bred, I was right there in the saddle with them, yet, in spite of every effort, to say nothing of the profanity wasted, we lost the herd. The next morning every lad armed himself with a prod-pole long as a lance and tipped with a sharp steel brad, and we commenced regathering. Thereafter we corralled them at night, which always called for a free use of ropes, as a number usually broke away on approaching the pens. Often we hog-tied as many as a dozen, letting them lie outside all night and freeing them back into the herd in the morning. Even the day-herding was a constant fight, as scarcely an hour passed but some old resident would scorn the restraint imposed upon his liberties and deliberately make a break for freedom. A pair of horsemen would double on the deserter, and with a prod-pole to his ear and the pressure of a man and horse bearing their weight on the same, a circle would be covered and Toro always reëntered the day-herd. One such lesson was usually sufficient, and by reaching corrals every night and penning them, we managed, after two weeks' hard work, to land them in the stockyards at Fort Worth. The buyer remained with and accompanied us during the gathering and en route to the railroad, evidently enjoying the continuous performance. He proved a good mixer, too, and returned annually thereafter. For years following I contracted with him, and finally shipped on consignment, our business relations always pleasant and increasing in volume until his death.
Returning with the outfit, I continued on west to the new ranch, while the men began the fall branding at home. On arriving on the Double Mountain range, I found the outfit in the saddle, ironing up a big calf crop, while the improved herd was the joy and pride of my foreman. An altitude of about four thousand feet above sea-level had proved congenial to the thoroughbreds, who had acclimated nicely, the only loss being one from lightning. Two men were easily holding the isolated herd in their cañon home, the sheltering bluffs affording them ample protection from wintry weather, and there was nothing henceforth to fear in regard to the experiment. I spent a week with the outfit; my ranch foreman assured me that the brand could turn out a trail herd of three-year-old steers the following spring and a second one of twos, if it was my wish to send them to market. But it was too soon to anticipate the coming summer; and then it seemed a shame to move young steers to a northern climate to be matured, yet it was an economic necessity. Ranch headquarters looked like a trapper's cave with wolf-skins and buffalo-robes taken the winter before, and it was with reluctance that I took my leave of the cosy dugouts on the Double Mountain Fork.
On returning home I found a statement for the year and a pressing invitation awaiting me to come on to the national capital at once. The profits of the summer had exceeded the previous one, but some bills for demurrage remained to be adjusted with the War and Interior departments, and my active partner and George Edwards had already started for Washington. It was urged on me that the firm should make themselves known at the different departments, and the invitation was supplemented by a special request from our silent partner, the Senator, to spend at least a month at the capital. For years I had been promising my wife to take her on a visit to Virginia, and now when the opportunity offered, womanlike, she pleaded her nakedness in the midst of plenty. I never had but one suit at a time in my life, and often I had seen my wife dressed in the best the frontier of Texas afforded, which was all that ought to be expected. A day's notice was given her, the eldest children were sent to their grandparents, and taking the two youngest with us, we started for Fort Worth. I was anxious that my wife should make a favorable impression on my people, and in turn she was fretting about my general appearance. Out of a saddle a cowman never looks well, and every effort to improve his personal appearance only makes him the more ridiculous. Thus with each trying to make the other presentable, we started. We stopped a week at my brother's in Missouri, and finally reached the Shenandoah Valley during the last week in November. Leaving my wife to speak for herself and the remainder of the family, I hurried on to Washington and found the others quartered at a prominent hotel. A less pretentious one would have suited me, but then a United States senator must befittingly entertain his friends. New men had succeeded to the War and Interior departments, and I was properly introduced to each as the Texas partner of the firm of Hunter, Anthony & Co. Within a week, several little dinners were given at the hotel, at which from a dozen to twenty men sat down, all feverish to hear about the West and the cattle business in particular. Already several companies had been organized to engage in ranching, and the capital had been over-subscribed in every instance; and actually one would have supposed from the chat that we were holding a cattle convention in the West instead of dining with a few representatives and government officials at Washington.
I soon became the object of marked attention. Possibly it was my vocabulary, which was consistent with my vocation, together with my ungainly appearance, that differentiated me from my partners. George Edwards was neat in appearance, had a great fund of Western stories and experiences, and the two of us were constantly being importuned for incidents of a frontier nature. Both my partners, especially the Senator, were constantly introducing me and referring to me as a man who, in the course of ten years, had accumulated fifty thousand cattle and acquired title to three quarters of a million acres of land. I was willing to be a sociable fellow among my friends, but notoriety of this character was offensive, and in a private lecture I took my partners to task for unnecessary laudation. The matter was smoothed over, our estimates for the coming year were submitted, and after spending the holidays with my parents in Virginia, I returned to the capital to await the allotments for future delivery of cattle to the Army and Indian service. Pending the date of the opening of the bids a dinner was given by a senator from one of the Southern States, to which all members of our firm were invited, when the project was launched of organizing a cattle company with one million dollars capital. The many advantages that would accrue where government influence could be counted on were dwelt upon at length, the rapid occupation of the West was cited, the concentration of all Indian tribes on reservations, and the necessary requirements of beef in feeding the same was openly commented on as the opportunity of the hour. I took no hand in the general discussion, except to answer questions, but when the management of such a company was tendered me, I emphatically declined. My partners professed surprise at my refusal, but when the privacy of our rooms was reached I unburdened myself on the proposition. We had begun at the foot of the hill, and now having established ourselves in a profitable business, I was loath to give it up or share it with others. I argued that our trade was as valuable as realty or cattle in hand; that no blandishments of salary as manager could induce me to forsake legitimate channels for possibilities in other fields. "Go slow and learn to peddle," was the motto of successful merchants; I had got out on a limb before and met with failure, and had no desire to rush in where angels fear for their footing. Let others organize companies and we would sell them the necessary cattle; the more money seeking investment the better the market.
Major Hunter was Western in his sympathies and coincided with my views, the Senator was won over from the enterprise, and the project failed to materialize. The friendly relations of our firm were slightly strained over the outcome, but on the announcement of the awards we pulled together again like brothers. In the allotment for delivery during the summer and fall of 1879, some eighteen contracts fell to us,--six in the Indian Bureau and the remainder to the Army, four of the latter requiring northern wintered beeves. A single award for Fort Buford in Dakota called for five million pounds on foot and could be filled with Southern cattle. Others in the same department ran from one and a half to three million pounds, varying, as wanted for future or present use, to through or wintered beeves. The latter fattened even on the trail and were ready for the shambles on their arrival, while Southern stock required a winter and time to acclimate to reach the pink of condition. The government maintained several distributing points in the new Northwest, one of which was Fort Buford, where for many succeeding years ten thousand cattle were annually received and assigned to lesser posts. This was the market that I knew. I had felt every throb of its pulse ever since I had worked as a common hand in driving beef to Fort Sumner in 1866. The intervening years had been active ones, and I had learned the lessons of the trail, knew to a fraction the cost of delivering a herd, and could figure on a contract with any other cowman.
Leaving the arrangement of the bonds to our silent partner, the next day after the awards were announced we turned our faces to the Southwest. February 1 was agreed on for the meeting at Fort Worth, so picking up the wife and babies in Virginia, we embarked for our Texas home. My better half was disappointed in my not joining in the proposed cattle company, with its officers, its directorate, annual meeting, and other high-sounding functions. I could have turned into the company my two ranches at fifty cents an acre, could have sold my brand outright at a fancy figure, taking stock in lieu for the same, but I preferred to keep them private property. I have since known other cowmen who put their lands and cattle into companies, and after a few years' manipulation all they owned was some handsome certificates, possibly having drawn a dividend or two and held an honorary office. I did not then have even the experience of others to guide my feet, but some silent monitor warned me to stick to my trade, cows.
Leaving the family at the Edwards ranch, I returned to Fort Worth in ample time for the appointed meeting. My active partner and our segundo had become as thick as thieves, the two being inseparable at idle times, and on their arrival we got down to business at once. The remudas were the first consideration. Besides my personal holdings of saddle stock, we had sent the fall before one thousand horses belonging to the firm back to the Clear Fork to winter. Thus equipped with eighteen remudas for the trail, we were fairly independent in that line. Among the five herds driven the year before to our beef ranch in the Outlet, the books showed not over ten thousand coming four years old that spring, leaving a deficiency of northern wintered beeves to be purchased. It was decided to restock the range with straight threes, and we again divided the buying into departments, each taking the same division as the year before. The purchase of eight herds of heavy beeves would thus fall to Major Hunter. Austin and San Antonio were decided on as headquarters and banking points, and we started out on a preliminary skirmish. George Edwards had an idea that the Indian awards could again be relet to advantage, and started for the capital, while the major and I journeyed on south. Some former sellers whom we accidentally met in San Antonio complained that we had forsaken them and assured us that their county, Medina, had not less than fifty thousand mature beeves. They offered to meet any one's prices, and Major Hunter urged that I see a sample of the cattle while en route to the Uvalde country. If they came up to requirements, I was further authorized to buy in sufficient to fill our contract at Fort Buford, which would require three herds, or ten thousand head. It was an advantage to have this delivery start from the same section, hold together en route, and arrive at their destination as a unit. I was surprised at both the quality and the quantity of the beeves along the tributaries of the Frio River, and readily let a contract to a few leading cowmen for the full allotment. My active partner was notified, and I went on to the headwaters of the Nueces River. I knew the cattle of this section so well that there was no occasion even to look at them, and in a few days contracted for five herds of straight threes. While in the latter section, word reached me that Edwards had sublet four of our Indian contacts, or those intended for delivery at agencies in the Indian Territory. The remaining two were for tribes in Colorado, and notifying our segundo to hold the others open until we met, I took stage back to San Antonio. My return was awaited by both Major Hunter and Edwards, and casting up our purchases on through cattle, we found we lacked only two herds of cows and the same of beeves. I offered to make up the Indian awards from my ranches, the major had unlimited offerings from which to pick, and we turned our attention to securing young steers for the open market. Our segundo was fully relieved and ordered back to his old stamping-ground on the Colorado River to contract for six herds of young cattle. It was my intention to bring remudas down from the Clear Fork to handle the cattle from Uvalde and Medina counties, but my active partner would have to look out for his own saddle stock for the other beef herds. Hurrying home, I started eight hundred saddle horses belonging to the firm to the lower country, assigned two remudas to leave for the Double Mountain ranch, detailed the same number for the Clear Fork, and authorized the remaining six to report to Edwards on the Colorado River.
This completed the main details for moving the herds. There was an increase in prices over the preceding spring throughout the State, amounting on a general average to fully one dollar a head. We had anticipated the advance in making our contracts, there was an abundance of water everywhere, and everything promised well for an auspicious start. Only a single incident occurred to mar the otherwise pleasant relations with our ranchmen friends. In contracting for the straight threes from Uvalde County, I had stipulated that every animal tendered must be full-aged at the date of receiving; we were paying an extra price and the cattle must come up to specifications. Major Hunter had moved his herds out in time to join me in receiving the last one of the younger cattle, and I had pressed him into use as a tally clerk while receiving. Every one had been invited to turn in stock in making up the herd, but at the last moment we fell short of threes, when I offered to fill out with twos at the customary difference in price. The sellers were satisfied. We called them by ages as they were cut out, when a row threatened over a white steer. The foreman who was assisting me cut the animal in question for a two-year-old, Major Hunter repeated the age in tallying the steer, when the owner of the brand, a small ranchman, galloped up and contended that the steer was a three-year-old, though he lacked fully two months of that age. The owner swore the steer had been raised a milk calf; that he knew his age to a day; but Major Hunter firmly yet kindly told the man that he must observe the letter of the contract and that the steer must go as a two-year-old or not at all. In reply a six-shooter was thrown in the major's face, when a number of us rushed in on our horses and the pistol was struck from the man's hand. An explanation was demanded, but the only intelligent reply that could be elicited from the owner of the white steer was, "No G---- d---- Yankee can classify my cattle." One of the ranchmen with whom we were contracting took the insult off my hands and gave the man his choice,--to fight or apologize. The seller cooled down, apologies followed, and the unfortunate incident passed and was forgotten with the day's work.
A week later the herds on the Colorado River moved out. Major Hunter and I looked them over before they got away, after which he continued on north to buy in the deficiency of three thousand wintered beeves, while I returned home to start my individual cattle. The ranch outfit had been at work for ten days previous to my arrival gathering the three-year-old steers and all dry and barren cows. On my return they had about eight thousand head of mixed stock under herd and two trail outfits were in readiness, so cutting them separate and culling them down, we started them, the cows for Dodge and the steers for Ogalalla, each thirty-five hundred strong. Two outfits had left for the Double Mountain range ten days before, and driving night and day, I reached the ranch to find both herds shaped up and ready for orders. Both foremen were anxious to strike due north, several herds having crossed Red River as far west as Doan's Store the year before; but I was afraid of Indian troubles and routed them northeast for the old ford on the Chisholm trail. They would follow down the Brazos, cross over to the Wichita River, and pass about sixty miles to the north of the home ranch on the Clear Fork. I joined them for the first few days out, destinations were the same as the other private herds, and promising to meet them in Dodge, I turned homeward. The starting of these last two gave the firm and me personally twenty-three herds, numbering seventy-six thousand one hundred cattle on the trail.
An active summer followed. Each one was busy in his department. I met Major Hunter once for an hour during the spring months, and we never saw each other again until late fall. Our segundo again rendered valuable assistance in meeting outfits on their arrival at the beef ranch, as it was deemed advisable to hold the through and wintered cattle separate for fear of Texas fever. All beef herds were routed to touch at headquarters in the Outlet, and thence going north, they skirted the borders of settlement in crossing Kansas and Nebraska. Where possible, all correspondence was conducted by wire, and with the arrival of the herds at Dodge I was kept in the saddle thenceforth. The demand for cattle was growing with each succeeding year, prices were firmer, and a general advance was maintained in all grades of trail stock. On the arrival of the cattle from the Colorado River, I had them reclassed, sending three herds of threes on to Ogalalla. The upper country wanted older stock, believing that it withstood the rigors of winter better, and I trimmed my sail to catch the wind. The cows came in early and were started west for their destination, the rear herds arrived and were located, while Dodge and Ogalalla howled their advantages as rival trail towns. The three herds of two-year-olds were sold and started for the Cherokee Strip, and I took train for the west and reached the Platte River, to find our cattle safely arrived at Ogalalla. Near the middle of July a Wyoming cattle company bought all the central Texas steers for delivery a month later at Cheyenne, and we grazed them up the South Platte and counted them out to the buyers, ten thousand strong. My individual herds classed as Pan-Handle cattle, exempt from quarantine, netted one dollar a head above the others, and were sold to speculators from the corn regions on the western borders of Nebraska. One herd of cows was intended for the Southern and the other for the Uncompahgre Utes, and they had been picking their way through and across the mountains to those agencies during the summer mouths. Late in August both deliveries were made wholesale to the agents of the different tribes, and my work was at an end. All unsold remudas returned to Dodge, the outfits were sent home, and the saddle stock to our beef ranch, there to await the close of the summer's drive.