When the spirit of a man is once broken, he becomes useless. On the trail it is necessary to have some diversion from hard work, long hours, and exposure to the elements. With man and beast, from the Brazos to Red River was a fire test of physical endurance. But after crossing into the Chickasaw Nation, a comparatively new country would open before us. When the strain of the past week was sorest, in buoying up the spirits of my outfit, I had promised them rest and recreation at the first possible opportunity.
Fortunately we had an easy ford. There was not even an indication that there had been a freshet on the river that spring. This was tempering the wind, for we were crippled, three of the boys being unable to resume their places around the herd on account of inflamed eyes. The cook had weathered the sand-storm better than any of us. Sheltering his team, and fastening his wagon-sheet securely, he took refuge under it until the gale had passed. Pressing him into the service the next morning, and assigning him to the drag end of the herd, I left the blind to lead the blind in driving the wagon. On reaching the river about the middle of the forenoon, we trailed the cattle across in a long chain, not an animal being compelled to swim. The wagon was carried over on a ferryboat, as it was heavily loaded, a six weeks' supply of provisions having been taken on before crossing. Once the trail left the breaks, on the north side of the river, we drew off several miles to the left and went into camp for the remainder of the day. Still keeping clear of the trail, daily we moved forward the wagon from three to five miles, allowing the cattle to graze and rest to contentment. The herd recuperated rapidly, and by the evening of the fourth day after crossing, the inflammation was so reduced in those whose eyes were inflamed, that we decided to start in earnest the next morning.
The cook was ordered to set out the best the wagon afforded, several outside delicacies were added, and a feast was in sight. G--G Cederdall had recrossed the river that day to mail a letter, and on his return proudly carried a basket of eggs on his arm. Three of the others had joined a fishing party from the Texas side, and had come in earlier in the day with a fine string of fish. Parent won new laurels in the supper to which he invited us about sundown. The cattle came in to their beds groaning and satiated, and dropped down as if ordered. When the first watch had taken them, there was nothing to do but sit around and tell stories. Since crossing Red River, we had slept almost night and day, but in that balmy May evening sleep was banished. The fact that we were in the Indian country, civilized though the Indians were, called forth many an incident. The raids of the Comanches into the Panhandle country during the buffalo days was a favorite topic. Vick Wolf, however, had had an Indian experience in the North with which he regaled us at the first opportunity.
"There isn't any trouble nowadays," said he, lighting a cigarette, "with these blanket Indians on the reservations. I had an experience once on a reservation where the Indians could have got me easy enough if they had been on the war-path. It was the first winter I ever spent on a Northern range, having gone up to the Cherokee Strip to avoid--well, no matter. I got a job in the Strip, not riding, but as a kind of an all-round rustler. This was long before the country was fenced, and they rode lines to keep the cattle on their ranges. One evening about nightfall in December, the worst kind of a blizzard struck us that the country had ever seen. The next day it was just as bad, and bloody cold. A fellow could not see any distance, and to venture away from the dugout meant to get lost. The third day she broke and the sun came out clear in the early evening. The next day we managed to gather the saddle horses, as they had not drifted like the cattle.
"Well, we were three days overtaking the lead of that cattle drift, and then found them in the heart of the Cheyenne country, at least on that reservation. They had drifted a good hundred miles before the storm broke. Every outfit in the Strip had gone south after their cattle. Instead of drifting them back together, the different ranches rustled for their own. Some of the foremen paid the Indians so much per head to gather for them, but ours didn't. The braves weren't very much struck on us on that account. I was cooking for the outfit, which suited me in winter weather. We had a permanent camp on a small well-wooded creek, from which we worked all the country round.
"One afternoon when I was in camp all alone, I noticed an Indian approaching me from out of the timber. There was a Winchester standing against the wagon wheel, but as the bucks were making no trouble, I gave the matter no attention. Mr. Injun came up to the fire and professed to be very friendly, shook hands, and spoke quite a number of words in English. After he got good and warm, he looked all over the wagon, and noticing that I had no sixshooter on, he picked up the carbine and walked out about a hundred yards to a little knoll, threw his arms in the air, and made signs.
"Instantly, out of the cover of some timber on the creek a quarter above, came about twenty young bucks, mounted, and yelling like demons. When they came up, they began circling around the fire and wagon. I was sitting on an empty corn-crate by the fire. One young buck, seeing that I was not scaring to suit him, unslung a carbine as he rode, and shot into the fire before me. The bullet threw fire and ashes all over me, and I jumped about ten feet, which suited them better. They circled around for several minutes, every one uncovering a carbine, and they must have fired a hundred and fifty shots into the fire. In fact they almost shot it out, scattering the fire around so that it came near burning up the bedding of our outfit. I was scared thoroughly by this time. If it was possible for me to have had fits, I'd have had one sure. The air seemed full of coals of fire and ashes. I got good practical insight into what hell's like. I was rustling the rolls of bedding out of the circle of fire, expecting every moment would be my last. It's a wonder I wasn't killed. Were they throwing lead? Well, I should remark! You see the ground was not frozen around the fire, and the bullets buried themselves in the soft soil.
"After they had had as much fun as they wanted, the leader gave a yell and they all circled the other way once, and struck back into the timber. Some of them had brought up the decoy Indian's horse when they made the dash at first, and he suddenly turned as wild as a Cheyenne generally gets. When the others were several hundred yards away, he turned his horse, rode back some little distance, and attracted my attention by holding out the Winchester. From his horse he laid it carefully down on the ground, whirled his pony, and rode like a scared wolf after the others. I could hear their yells for miles, as they made for their encampment over on the North Fork. As soon as I got the fire under control, I went out and got the carbine. It was empty; the Indian had used its magazine in the general hilarity. That may be an Indian's style of fun, but I failed to see where there was any in it for me."
The cook threw a handful of oily fish-bones on the fire, causing it to flame up for a brief moment. With the exception of Wayne Outcault, who was lying prone on the ground, the men were smoking and sitting Indian fashion around the fire. After rolling awhile uneasily, Outcault sat up and remarked, "I feel about half sick. Eat too much? Don't you think it. Why, I only ate seven or eight of those fish, and that oughtn't to hurt a baby. There was only half a dozen hard-boiled eggs to the man, and I don't remember of any of you being so generous as to share yours with me. Those few plates of prunes that I ate for dessert wouldn't hurt nobody-- they're medicine to some folks. Unroll our bed, pardner, and I'll thrash around on it awhile."
Several trail stories of more or less interest were told, when Runt Pickett, in order to avoid the smoke, came over and sat down between Burl Van Vedder and me. He had had an experience, and instantly opened on us at short range. "Speaking of stampedes," said Runt, "reminds me of a run I was in, and over which I was paid by my employer a very high compliment. My first trip over the trail, as far north as Dodge, was in '78. The herd sold next day after reaching there, and as I had an old uncle and aunt living in middle Kansas, I concluded to run down and pay them a short visit. So I threw away all my trail togs--well, they were worn out, anyway--and bought me a new outfit complete. Yes, I even bought button shoes. After visiting a couple of weeks with my folks, I drifted back to Dodge in the hope of getting in with some herd bound farther north--I was perfectly useless on a farm. On my return to Dodge, the only thing about me that indicated a cow-hand was my Texas saddle and outfit, but in toggery, in my visiting harness, I looked like a rank tenderfoot.
"Well, boys, the first day I struck town I met a through man looking for hands. His herd had just come in over the Chisholm Trail, crossing to the western somewhere above. He was disgusted with his outfit, and was discharging men right and left and hiring new ones to take their places. I apologized for my appearance, showed him my outfit, and got a job cow-punching with this through man. He expected to hold on sale a week or two, when if unsold he would drift north to the Platte. The first week that I worked, a wet stormy night struck us, and before ten o'clock we lost every hoof of cattle. I was riding wild after little squads of cattle here and there, guided by flashes of lightning, when the storm finally broke. Well, there it was midnight, and I didn't have a hoof of cattle to hold and no one to help me if I had. The truth is, I was lost. Common horse-sense told me that; but where the outfit or wagon was was anybody's guess. The horses in my mount were as good as worthless; worn out, and if you gave one free rein he lacked the energy to carry you back to camp. I ploughed around in the darkness for over an hour, but finally came to a sudden stop on the banks of the muddy Arkansaw. Right there I held a council of war with myself, the decision of which was that it was at least five miles to the wagon.
"After I'd prowled around some little time, a bright flash of lightning revealed to me an old deserted cabin a few rods below. To this shelter I turned without even a bid, unsaddled my horse and picketed him, and turned into the cabin for the night. Early the next morning I was out and saddled my horse, and the question was, Which way is camp? As soon as the sun rose clearly, I got my bearings. By my reasoning, if the river yesterday was south of camp, this morning the wagon must be north of the river, so I headed in that direction. Somehow or other I stopped my horse on the first little knoll, and looking back towards the bottom, I saw in a horseshoe which the river made a large bunch of cattle. Of course I knew that all herds near about were through cattle and under herd, and the absence of any men in sight aroused my curiosity. I concluded to investigate it, and riding back found over five hundred head of the cattle we had lost the night before. 'Here's a chance to make a record with my new boss,' I said to myself, and circling in behind, began drifting them out of the bottoms towards the uplands. By ten o'clock I had got them to the first divide, when who should ride up but the owner, the old cowman himself--the sure enough big auger.
"'Well, son,' said my boss, 'you held some of them, didn't you?' 'Yes,' I replied, surly as I could, giving him a mean look, 'I've nearly ridden this horse to death, holding this bunch all night. If I had only had a good man or two with me, we could have caught twice as many. What kind of an outfit are you working, anyhow, Captain?' And at dinner that day, the boss pointed me out to the others and said, 'That little fellow standing over there with the button shoes on is the only man in my outfit that is worth a ---- ----.'"
The cook had finished his work, and now joined the circle. Parent began regaling us with personal experiences, in which it was evident that he would prove the hero. Fortunately, however, we were spared listening to his self-laudation. Dorg Seay and Tim Stanley, bunkies, engaged in a friendly scuffle, each trying to make the other get a firebrand for his pipe. In the tussle which followed, we were all compelled to give way or get trampled underfoot. When both had exhausted themselves in vain, we resumed our places around the fire. Parent, who was disgusted over the interruption, on resuming his seat refused to continue his story at the request of the offenders, replying, "The more I see of you two varmints the more you remind me of mule colts."
Once the cook refused to pick up the broken thread of his story, John Levering, our horse-wrangler, preempted the vacated post. "I was over in Louisiana a few winters ago with a horse herd," said John, "and had a few experiences. Of all the simple people that I ever met, the 'Cajin' takes the bakery. You'll meet darkies over there that can't speak a word of anything but French. It's nothing to see a cow and mule harnessed together to a cart. One day on the road, I met a man, old enough to be my father, and inquired of him how far it was to the parish centre, a large town. He didn't know, except it was a long, long ways. He had never been there, but his older brother, once when he was a young man, had been there as a witness at court. The brother was dead now, but if he was living and present, it was quite possible that he would remember the distance. The best information was that it was a very long ways off. I rode it in the mud in less than two hours; just about ten miles.
"But that wasn't a circumstance to other experiences. We had driven about three hundred horses and mules, and after disposing of over two thirds of them, my employer was compelled to return home, leaving me to dispose of the remainder. I was a fair salesman, and rather than carry the remnant of the herd with me, made headquarters with a man who owned a large cane-brake pasture. It was a convenient stopping-place, and the stock did well on the young cane. Every week I would drive to some distant town eighteen or twenty head, or as many as I could handle alone. Sometimes I would sell out in a few days, and then again it would take me longer. But when possible I always made it a rule to get back to my headquarters to spend Sunday. The owner of the cane-brake and his wife were a simple couple, and just a shade or two above the Arcadians. But they had a daughter who could pass muster, and she took quite a shine to the 'Texas-Hoss-Man,' as they called me. I reckon you understand now why I made that headquarters?--there were other reasons besides the good pasturage.
"Well, the girl and her mother both could read, but I have some doubt about the old man on that score. They took no papers, and the nearest approach to a book in the house was an almanac three years old. The women folks were ravenous for something to read, and each time on my return after selling out, I'd bring them a whole bundle of illustrated papers and magazines. About my fourth return after more horses,--I was mighty near one of the family by that time,--when we were all seated around the fire one night, the women poring over the papers and admiring the pictures, the old man inquired what the news was over in the parish where I had recently been. The only thing that I could remember was the suicide of a prominent man. After explaining the circumstances, I went on to say that some little bitterness arose over his burial. Owing to his prominence it was thought permission would be given to bury him in the churchyard. But it seems there was some superstition about permitting a self-murderer to be buried in the same field as decent folks. It was none of my funeral, and I didn't pay overmuch attention to the matter, but the authorities refused, and they buried him just outside the grounds, in the woods.
"My host and I discussed the matter at some length. He contended that if the man was not of sound mind, he should have been given his little six feet of earth among the others. A horse salesman has to be a good second-rate talker, and being anxious to show off before the girl, I differed with her father. The argument grew spirited yet friendly, and I appealed to the women in supporting my view. My hostess was absorbed at the time in reading a sensational account of a woman shooting her betrayer. The illustrations covered a whole page, and the girl was simply burning, at short range, the shirt from off her seducer. The old lady was bogged to the saddle skirts in the story, when I interrupted her and inquired, 'Mother, what do you think ought to be done with a man who commits suicide?' She lowered the paper just for an instant, and looking over her spectacles at me replied, 'Well, I think any man who would do that ought to be made to support the child.'"
No comment was offered. Our wrangler arose and strolled away from the fire under the pretense of repicketing his horse. It was nearly time for the guards to change, and giving the last watch orders to point the herd, as they left the bed-ground in the morning, back on an angle towards the trail, I prepared to turn in. While I was pulling off my boots in the act of retiring, Clay Zilligan rode in from the herd to call the relief. The second guard were bridling their horses, and as Zilligan dismounted, he said to the circle of listeners, "Didn't I tell you fellows that there was another herd just ahead of us? I don't care if they didn't pass up the trail since we've been laying over, they are there just the same. Of course you can't see their camp-fire from here, but it's in plain view from the bed-ground, and not over four or five miles away. If I remember rightly, there's a local trail comes in from the south of the Wichita River, and joins the Chisholm just ahead. And what's more, that herd was there at nine o'clock this morning, and they haven't moved a peg since. Well, there's two lads out there waiting to be relieved, and you second guard know where the cattle are bedded."