The quarantine guards returned to their camp. Our plans were suddenly and completely upset, and not knowing which way to turn, Sponsilier and I, slightly crestfallen, accompanied the guards. It was already late in the evening, but Captain Ullmer took advantage of the brief respite granted him to clear the east half of the valley of native cattle. Couriers were dispatched to sound the warning among the ranches down the river, while a regular round-up outfit was mustered among the camps to begin the drifting of range stock that evening. A few men were left at the two camps, as quarantine was not to be abandoned, and securing our borrowed horses, my partner and I bade our friends farewell and set out on our return for the Yellowstone. Merely touching at Powderville for a hasty supper, we held a northwest, cross-country course, far into the night, when we unsaddled to rest our horses and catch a few hours' sleep. But sunrise found us again in our saddles, and by the middle of the forenoon we were breakfasting with our friends in Miles City.
Fort Keogh was but a short distance up the river. That military interference had been secured through fraud and deception, there was not the shadow of a doubt. During the few hours which we spent in Miles, the cattle interests were duly aroused, and a committee of cowmen were appointed to call on the post commander at Keogh with a formidable protest, which would no doubt be supplemented later, on the return of the young lieutenant and his troopers. During our ride the night before, Sponsilier and I had discussed the possibility of arousing the authorities at Glendive. Since it was in the neighborhood of one hundred miles from Powderville to the former point on the railroad, the herds would consume nearly a week in reaching there. A freight train was caught that afternoon, and within twenty-four hours after leaving the quarantine camp on the Powder River, we had opened headquarters at the Stock Exchange Saloon in Glendive. On arriving, I deposited one hundred dollars with the proprietor of that bar-room, with the understanding that it was to be used in getting an expression from the public in regard to the question of Texas fever. Before noon the next day, Dave Sponsilier and Tom Quirk were not only the two most popular men in Glendive, but quarantine had been decided on with ringing resolutions.
Our standing was soon of the best. Horses were tendered us, and saddling one I crossed the Yellowstone and started down the river to arouse outlying ranches, while Sponsilier and a number of local cowmen rode south to locate a camp and a deadline. I was absent two days, having gone north as far as Wolf Island, where I recrossed the river, returning on the eastern side of the valley. At no ranch which was visited did my mission fail of meeting hearty approval, especially on the western side of the river, where severe losses from fever had been sustained the fall before. One ranch on Thirteen Mile offered, if necessary, to send every man in its employ, with their own wagon and outfit of horses, free of all charge, until quarantine was lifted. But I suggested, instead, that they send three or four men with their horses and blankets, leaving the remainder to be provided for by the local committee. In my two days' ride, over fifty volunteers were tendered, but I refused all except twenty, who were to report at Glendive not later than the morning of the 6th. On my return to the railroad, all arrangements were completed and the outlook was promising. Couriers had arrived from the south during my absence, bringing the news of the coming of the through Texas cattle, and warning the local ranches to clear the way or take the consequences. All native stock had been pushed west of the Powder and Yellowstone, as far north as Cabin Creek, which had been decided on as the second quarantine-line. Daily reports were being received of the whereabouts of the moving herds, and at the rate they were traveling, they would reach Cabin Creek about the 7th. Two wagons had been outfitted, cooks employed, and couriers dispatched to watch the daily progress of the cattle, which, if following the usual route, would strike the deadline some distance south of Glendive.
During the next few days, Sponsilier and I were social lions in that town, and so great was our popularity we could have either married or been elected to office. We limited our losses at poker to so much an evening, and what we won from the merchant class we invariably lost among the volunteer guards and cowmen, taking our luck with a sangfroid which proved us dead-game sports, and made us hosts of friends. We had contributed one hundred dollars to the general quarantine fund, and had otherwise made ourselves popular with all classes in the brief time at our command. Under the pretense that we might receive orders at any time to overtake our herds, we declined all leadership in the second campaign about to be inaugurated against Texas fever. Dave and I were both feeling rather chesty over the masterful manner in which we had aroused the popular feeling in favor of quarantine in our own interest, at the same time making it purely a local movement. We were swaggering about like ward-heelers, when on the afternoon of the 5th the unexpected again happened. The business interests of the village usually turned out to meet the daily passenger trains, even the poker-games taking a recess until the cars went past. The arrival and departure of citizens of the place were noted by every one, and strangers were looked upon with timidity, very much as in all simple communities. Not taking any interest in the passing trains, Sponsilier was writing a letter to his girl in Texas, while I was shaking dice for the cigars with the bartender of the Stock Exchange, when the Eastbound arrived. After the departure of the train, I did not take any notice of the return of the boys to the abandoned games, or the influx of patrons to the house, until some one laid a hand on my shoulder and quietly said, "Isn't your name Quirk?"
Turning to the speaker, I was confronted by Mr. Field and Mr. Radcliff, who had just arrived by train from the west. Admitting my identity, I invited them to have a cigar or liquid refreshment, inquiring whence they had come and where their cattle were. To my surprise, Fort Keogh was named as their last refuge, and the herds were reported to cross the railroad within the next few days. Similar questions were asked me, but before replying, I caught Sponsilier's eye and summoned him with a wink. On Dave's presenting himself, I innocently asked the pair if they did not remember my friend as one of the men whom they had under arrest at Dodge. They grunted an embarrassed acknowledgment, which was returned in the same coin, when I proceeded to inform them that our cattle crossed the railroad at Little Missouri ten days before, and that we were only waiting the return of Mr. Lovell from the Crow Agency before proceeding to our destination. With true Yankee inquisitiveness, other questions followed, the trend of which was to get us to admit that we had something to do with the present activities in quarantining Texas cattle. But I avoided their leading queries, and looked appealingly at Sponsilier, who came to my rescue with an answer born of the moment.
"Well, gentlemen," said Dave, seating himself on the bar and leisurely rolling a cigarette, "that town of Little Missouri is about the dullest hole that I was ever water-bound in. Honestly, I'd rather be with the cattle than loafing in it with money in my pocket. Now this town has got some get-up about it; I'll kiss a man's foot if he complains that this burg isn't sporty enough for his blood. They've given me a run here for my white alley, and I still think I know something about that game called draw-poker. But you were speaking about quarantine. Yes; there seems to have been a good many cattle lost through these parts last fall. You ought to have sent your herds up through Dakota, where there is no native stock to interfere. I'd hate to have cattle coming down the Powder River. A friend of mine passed through here yesterday; his herd was sold for delivery on the Elkhorn, north of here, and he tells me he may not be able to reach there before October. He saw your herds and tells me you are driving the guts out of them. So if there's anything in that old 'ship-fever theory,' you ought to be quarantined until it snows. There's a right smart talk around here of fixing a dead-line below somewhere, and if you get tied up before reaching the railroad, it won't surprise me a little bit. When it comes to handling the cattle, old man Don has the good hard cow-sense every time, but you shorthorns give me a pain."
"What did I tell you?" said Radcliff, the elder one, to his partner, as they turned to leave.
On nearing the door, Mr. Field halted and begrudgingly said, "See you later, Quirk."
"Not if I see you first," I replied; "you ain't my kind of cowmen."
Not even waiting for them to pass outside, Sponsilier, from his elevated position, called every one to the bar to irrigate. The boys quit their games, and as they lined up in a double row, Dave begged the bartenders to bestir themselves, and said to his guests: "Those are the kid-gloved cowmen that I've been telling you about--the owners of the Texas cattle that are coming through here. Did I hang it on them artistically, or shall I call them back and smear it on a shade deeper? They smelt a mouse all right, and when their cattle reach Cabin Creek, they'll smell the rat in earnest. Now, set out the little and big bottle and everybody have a cigar on the side. And drink hearty, lads, for to-morrow we may be drinking branch water in a quarantine camp."
The arrival of Field and Radcliff was accepted as a defiance to the local cattle interests. Popular feeling was intensified when it was learned that they were determined not to recognize any local quarantine, and were secretly inquiring for extra men to guard their herds in passing Glendive. There was always a rabble element in every frontier town, and no doubt, as strangers, they could secure assistance in quarters that the local cowmen would spurn. Matters were approaching a white heat, when late that night an expected courier arrived, and reported the cattle coming through at the rate of twenty miles a day. They were not following any particular trail, traveling almost due north, and if the present rate of travel was maintained, Cabin Creek would be reached during the forenoon of the 7th. This meant business, and the word was quietly passed around that all volunteers were to be ready to move in the morning. A cowman named Retallac, owner of a range on the Yellowstone, had previously been decided on as captain, and would have under him not less than seventy-five chosen men, which number, if necessary, could easily be increased to one hundred.
Morning dawned on a scene of active operations. The two wagons were started fully an hour in advance of the cavalcade, which was to follow, driving a remuda of over two hundred saddle horses. Sponsilier and I expected to accompany the outfit, but at the last moment our plans were changed by an incident and we remained behind, promising to overtake them later. There were a number of old buffalo hunters in town, living a precarious life, and one of their number had quietly informed Sheriff Wherry that they had been approached with an offer of five dollars a day to act as an escort to the herds while passing through. The quarantine captain looked upon that element as a valuable ally, suggesting that if it was a question of money, our side ought to be in the market for their services. Heartily agreeing with him, the company of guards started, leaving their captain behind with Sponsilier and myself. Glendive was a county seat, and with the assistance of the sheriff, we soon had every buffalo hunter in the town corralled. They were a fine lot of rough men, inclined to be convivial, and with the assistance of Sheriff Wherry, coupled with the high standing of the quarantine captain, on a soldier's introduction Dave and I made a good impression among them. Sponsilier did the treating and talking, his offer being ten dollars a day for a man and horse, which was promptly accepted, when the question naturally arose who would stand sponsor for the wages. Dave backed off some distance, and standing on his left foot, pulled off his right boot, shaking out a roll of money on the floor.
"There's the long green, boys," said he, "and you fellows can name your own banker. I'll make it up a thousand, and whoever you say goes with me. Shall it be the sheriff, or Mr. Retallac, or the proprietor of the Stock Exchange?"
Sheriff Wherry interfered, relieving the embarrassment in appointing a receiver, and vouched that these two Texans were good for any reasonable sum. The buffalo hunters approved, apologizing to Sponsilier, as he pulled on his boot, for questioning his financial standing, and swearing allegiance in every breath. An hour's time was granted in which to saddle and make ready, during which we had a long chat with Sheriff Wherry and found him a valuable ally. He had cattle interests in the country, and when the hunters appeared, fifteen strong, he mounted his horse and accompanied us several miles on the way. "Now, boys," said he, at parting, "I'll keep an eye over things around town, and if anything important happens, I'll send a courier with the news. If those shorthorns attempt to offer any opposition, I'll run a blazer on them, and if necessary I'll jug the pair. You fellows just buffalo the herds, and the sheriff's office will keep cases on any happenings around Glendive. It's understood that night or day your camp can be found on Cabin Creek, opposite the old eagle tree. Better send me word as soon as the herds arrive. Good luck to you, lads."
Neither wagons nor guards were even sighted during our three hours' ride to the appointed campground. On our arrival tents were being pitched and men were dragging up wood, while the cooks were busily preparing a late dinner, the station being fully fifteen miles south of the railroad. Scouts were thrown out during the afternoon, corrals built, and evening found the quarantine camp well established for the comfort of its ninety-odd men. The buffalo hunters were given special attention and christened the "Sponsilier Guards;" they took again to outdoor life as in the old days. The report of the scouts was satisfactory; all three of the herds had been seen and would arrive on schedule time. A hush of expectancy greeted this news, but Sponsilier and I ridiculed the idea that there would be any opposition, except a big talk and plenty of bluffing.
"Well, if that's what they rely on," said Captain Retallac, "then they're as good as in quarantine this minute. If you feel certain they can't get help from Fort Keogh a second time, those herds will be our guests until further orders. What we want to do now is to spike every possible chance for their getting any help, and the matter will pass over like a summer picnic. If you boys think there's any danger of an appeal to Fort Buford, the military authorities want to be notified that the Yellowstone Valley has quarantined against Texas fever and asks their cooperation in enforcing the same."
"I can fix that," replied Sponsilier. "We have lawyers at Buford right now, and I can wire them the situation fully in the morning. If they rely on the military, they will naturally appeal to the nearest post, and if Keogh and Buford turn them down, the next ones are on the Missouri River, and at that distance cavalry couldn't reach here within ten days. Oh, I think we've got a grapevine twist on them this time."
Sponsilier sat up half the night wording a message to our attorneys at Fort Buford. The next morning found me bright and early on the road to Glendive with the dispatch, the sending of which would deplete my cash on hand by several dollars, but what did we care for expense when we had the money and orders to spend it? I regretted my absence from the quarantine camp, as I was anxious to be present on the arrival of the herds, and again watch the "major-domo" run on the rope and fume and charge in vain. But the importance of blocking assistance was so urgent that I would gladly have ridden to Buford if necessary. In that bracing atmosphere it was a fine morning for the ride, and I was rapidly crossing the country, when a vehicle, in the dip of the plain, was sighted several miles ahead. I was following no road, but when the driver of the conveyance saw me he turned across my front and signaled. On meeting the rig, I could hardly control myself from laughing outright, for there on the rear seat sat Field and Radcliff, extremely gruff and uncongenial. Common courtesies were exchanged between the driver and myself, and I was able to answer clearly his leading questions: Yes; the herds would reach Cabin Creek before noon; the old eagle tree, which could be seen from the first swell of the plain beyond, marked the quarantine camp, and it was the intention to isolate the herds on the South Fork of Cabin. "Drive on," said a voice, and, in the absence of any gratitude expressed, I inwardly smiled in reward.
I was detained in Glendive until late in the day, waiting for an acknowledgment of the message. Sheriff Wherry informed me that the only move attempted on the part of the shorthorn drovers was the arrest of Sponsilier and myself, on the charge of being accomplices in the shooting of one of their men on the North Platte. But the sheriff had assured the gentlemen that our detention would have no effect on quarantining their cattle, and the matter was taken under advisement and dropped. It was late when I started for camp that evening. The drovers had returned, accompanied by their superintendent, and were occupying the depot, burning the wires in every direction. I was risking no chances, and cultivated the company of Sheriff Wherry until the acknowledgment arrived, when he urged me to ride one of his horses in returning to camp, and insisted on my taking a carbine. Possibly this was fortunate, for before I had ridden one third the distance to the quarantine camp, I met a cavalcade of nearly a dozen men from the isolated herds. When they halted and inquired the distance to Glendive, one of their number recognized me as having been among the quarantine guards at Powderville. I admitted that I was there, turning my horse so that the carbine fell to my hand, and politely asked if any one had any objections. It seems that no one had, and after a few commonplace inquiries were exchanged, we passed on our way.
There was great rejoicing on Cabin Creek that night. Songs were sung, and white navy beans passed current in numerous poker-games until the small hours of morning. There had been nothing dramatic in the meeting between the herds and the quarantine guards, the latter force having been augmented by visiting ranchmen and their help, until protest would have been useless. A routine of work had been outlined, much stricter than at Powderville, and a surveillance of the camps was constantly maintained. Not that there was any danger of escape, but to see that the herds occupied the country allotted to them, and did not pollute any more territory than was necessary. The Sponsilier Guards were given an easy day shift, and held a circle of admirers at night, recounting and living over again "the good old days." Visitors from either side of the Yellowstone were early callers, and during the afternoon the sheriff from Glendive arrived. I did not know until then that Mr. Wherry was a candidate for reelection that fall, but the manner in which he mixed with the boys was enough to warrant his election for life. What endeared him to Sponsilier and myself was the fund of information he had collected, and the close tab he had kept on every movement of the opposition drovers. He told us that their appeal to Fort Keogh for assistance had been refused with a stinging rebuke; that a courier had started the evening before down the river for Fort Buford, and that Mr. Radcliff had personally gone to Fort Abraham Lincoln to solicit help. The latter post was fully one hundred and fifty miles away, but that distance could be easily covered by a special train in case of government interference.
It rained on the afternoon of the 9th. The courier had returned from Fort Buford on the north, unsuccessful, as had also Mr. Radcliff from Fort Lincoln on the Missouri River to the eastward. The latter post had referred the request to Keogh, and washed its hands of intermeddling in a country not tributary to its territory. The last hope of interference was gone, and the rigors of quarantine closed in like a siege with every gun of the enemy spiked. Let it be a week or a month before the quarantine was lifted, the citizens of Montana had so willed it, and their wish was law. Evening fell, and the men drew round the fires. The guards buttoned their coats as they rode away, and the tired ones drew their blankets around them as they lay down to sleep. Scarcely a star could be seen in the sky overhead, but before my partner or myself sought our bed, a great calm had fallen, the stars were shining, and the night had grown chilly.
The old buffalo hunters predicted a change in the weather, but beyond that they were reticent. As Sponsilier and I lay down to sleep, we agreed that if three days, even two days, were spared us, those cattle in quarantine could never be tendered at Fort Buford on the appointed day of delivery. But during the early hours of morning we were aroused by the returning guards, one of whom halted his horse near our blankets and shouted, "Hey, there, you Texans; get up--a frost has fallen!"
Sure enough, it had frosted during the night, and the quarantine was lifted. When day broke, every twig and blade of grass glistened in silver sheen, and the horses on picket stood humped and shivering. The sun arose upon the herds moving, with no excuse to say them nay, and orders were issued to the guards to break camp and disperse to their homes. As we rode into Glendive that morning, sullen and defeated by a power beyond our control, in speaking of the peculiarity of the intervention, Sponsilier said: "Well, if it rains on the just and the unjust alike, why shouldn't it frost the same."