HARVEST ON THE RANGE
Joel set out for the Republican the next morning and was gone four days. The beef ranches along the river had no men to spare, but constant inquiry was rewarded by locating an outfit whose holdings consisted of stock cattle. Three men were secured, their services not being urgently required on the home ranch until the fall branding, leaving only a cook and horse wrangler to be secured. Inquiry at Culbertson located a homesteader and his boy, anxious for work, and the two were engaged.
"They're to report here on the 15th," said Joel, on his return. "It gives us six men in the saddle, and we can get out the first shipment with that number. The cook and wrangler may be a little green at first, but they're willing, and that masters any task. We'll have to be patient with them--we were all beginners once. Any man who ever wrestled with a homestead ought to be able to cook."
"Yes, indeed," admitted Sargent. "There's nothing develops a man like settling up a new country. It brings out every latent quality. In the West you can almost tell a man's native heath by his ability to use baling wire, hickory withes, or rawhide."
The instinct of cattle is reliable in selecting their own range. Within a week, depending on the degree of maturity, the herd, with unerring nutrient results, turns from one species of grass to another. The double-wintered cattle naturally returned to their former range; but in order to quicken the work, any beeves of that class found below were drifted above headquarters. It was a distinct advantage to leave the herd undisturbed, and with the first shipment drifted to one end of the range, a small round-up or two would catch all marketable beeves.
The engaged men arrived on the appointed date. The cook and wrangler were initiated into their respective duties at once. The wagon was equipped for the trail, vicious horses were gentled, and an ample mount allotted to the extra men. The latter were delighted over the saddle stock, and mounted to satisfy every desire, no task daunted their numbers. Sargent was recognized as foreman; but as the work was fully understood, the concerted efforts of all relieved him of any concern, except in arranging the details. The ranch had fallen heir to a complete camp kit, with the new wagon, and with a single day's preparations, the shipping outfit stood ready to move on an hour's notice.
It was no random statement, on the part of the solicitor, that Wells Brothers could choose the day on which to market their beef. Sargent had figured out the time, either forced or leisurely, to execute a shipment, and was rather impatient to try out the outfit in actual field work.
"Suppose we break in the outfit," he suggested, "by taking a little swing around the range. It will gentle the horses, instruct the cook and wrangler, and give us all a touch of the real thing."
Joel consulted a calendar. "We have four days before beginning to gather beeves," he announced. "Let's go somewhere and camp."
"We'll move to the old trail crossing at sun-up," announced Sargent. "Roll your blankets in the morning, boys."
A lusty shout greeted the declaration. It was the opening of the beef-shipping season, the harvest time of the year, and the boys were impatient to begin the work. But the best-laid plans are often interrupted. That evening a courier reached headquarters, bearing a message from the commission firm which read, "Have your double-wintered beeves on Saturday's market."
"That's better," said Sargent, glancing over the telegram. "The wagon and remuda will start for Hackberry Grove at sun-up. Have the messenger order ten cars for Friday morning. The shipment will be on Saturday's market."
Dawn found the outfit at attention. Every movement was made with alacrity. Two men assisted a husky boy to corral the remuda, others harnessed in a span of mules, and before the sun peeped over the horizon, the cavalcade moved out up the valley, the courier returning to the station. The drag-net from below would be thrown out from the old winter corral; but as an hour's sun on the cattle rendered them lazy, half the horsemen halted until the other sighted the grove above. As early as advisable, the gradual circle was begun, turning the cattle into the valley, concentrating, and by slowly edging in, the first round-up of the day was thrown together, numbering, range run, fully six hundred head. Two men were detailed to hold the round-up compactly, Dell volunteered to watch the cut (the beeves selected), leaving the other three to cut out the marketable cattle which would make up the shipment. A short hour's work followed, resulting in eighty-odd beeves being selected. Flesh, age, and the brand governed each selection, and when cut into a class by themselves, the mettle of the pasture was reflected in every beef.
The cut was grazed up to the second round-up, which contributed nearly double the former number. On finishing the work, a count of the beeves was made, which overran in numbers the necessary shipment. They were extremely heavy cattle, twenty head to the car was the limit, and it became necessary to trim or cull back to the desired number. Sargent and Joel passed on every rejected beef, uniform weight being desirable, until the shipment stood acceptable, in numbers, form, and finish.
The beeves were watered and grazed out on their course without delay. Three days and a half were allowed to reach the railroad, and a grazing pace would land the herd in the shipping pens in good season. The day's work consisted in merely pointing and drifting the cattle forward, requiring only a few men, leaving abundant help to initiate the cook and wrangler in their field duties. Joel had been a close observer of the apparent ease with which a cook discharged his duty, frequently halting his wagon on a moment's notice, and easily preparing a meal for an outfit of trail men within an hour. The main secret lay in the foresight, in keeping his work in advance, and Joel lent every assistance in coaching his cook to meet the emergency of any demand.
Sargent took the wrangler in hand. The different bunches of horses had seen service on the trail, were gentle to handle, and attention was called to observing each individual horse and the remuda as a whole. For instance, in summer, a horse grazes against the breeze, and if the remuda was freed intelligently, at darkness, the wind holding from the same quarter during the night, a practical wrangler would know where to find his horses at dawn. The quarter of the breeze was therefore always noted, any variation after darkness, as if subject to the whim of the wind, turning the course of the grazing remuda. As among men, there were leaders among horses, and by noting these and applying hobbles, any inclination to wander was restrained. Fortunately, the husky boy had no fear of a horse, his approach being as masterly as his leave-taking was gentle and kindly--a rare gift when unhobbling alone in the open.
"I'll make a horse wrangler out of this boy," said Sargent to the father, in the presence of Dell and Joel. "Before the summer ends, he'll know every crook and turn in the remuda. There's nothing like knowing your horses. Learn to trail down the lost; know their spirit, know them in health, lame and wounded. If a horse neighs at night, know why; if one's missing in the morning, name him like you would an absent boy at school."
The trip down to the railroad was largely a matter of patience. The beeves were given every advantage, and except the loss of sleep in night-herding, the work approached loafing against time. Three guards stood watch during the short summer nights, pushing the herd off its bed at dawn, grazing early and late, and resting through the noon hours.
An agreeable surprise awaited the original trio. The evening before loading out, the beeves must be penned, and Joel rode into the station in advance, to see that cars were in waiting and get the shipping details. As if sent on the same errand, Manly met him, having been ordered on from Trail City.
"I've been burning the wires all morning," said he to Joel, "for a special train for this shipment. The agent wanted us to take a local freight from here, but I showed him there were other train shipments to follow. A telegram to the commission firm and another one to my old man done the work. Those old boys know how to pull the strings. A special train has been ordered, and you can name your own hour for leaving in the morning. I have a man with me; send us in horses and we'll help you corral your beeves."
Joel remained only long enough to confirm Manly's foresight. Two horses were sent in by Dell, and the welcome addition of two extra men joined the herd, which was easily corralled at dusk of evening. An early hour was agreed upon to load out, the empty train came in promptly, and the first shipment of the year was cut into car lots and loaded out during a morning hour.
Before the departure of the train, an air of activity was noticeable around the bleak station. The train crew was insisting for a passenger schedule, there was billing to be done and contracts to execute, telegrams of notification to be sent the commission firm, and general instructions to the beef outfit. Joel and Sargent were to accompany the shipment, and on starting, while the engineer and conductor were comparing their running orders, Sargent called out from the rear of the caboose:--
"The best of friends must part," said he, pretending to weep. "Here's two bits; buy yourself some cheese and crackers, and take some candy home to the children. Manly, if I never come back, you can have my little red wagon. Dell, my dear old bunkie--well, you can have all my other playthings."
The cattle train faded from sight and the outfit turned homeward. Horses were left at the station for Joel and Sargent, and the remainder of the outfit reached headquarters the following day. Manly had been away from the ranch nearly six months, and he and Dell rode the range, pending the return of the absent. Under ideal range conditions, the cattle of marketable age proved a revelation, having rounded into form beyond belief.
"That's why I love cattle," said Manly to Dell, while riding the range; "they never disappoint. Cattle endure time and season, with a hardiness that no other animal possesses. Given a chance, they repay every debt. Why, one shipment from these Stoddard cattle will almost wipe the slate. Uncle Dudley thought this was a fool deal, but Mr. Lovell seemed so bent on making it that my old man simply gave in. And now you're going to make a fortune out of these Lazy H's. No wonder us fool Texans love a cow."
The absent ones returned promptly. "The Beaver valley not only topped the market for range cattle," loftily said Sargent, "but topped it in price and weight. The beeves barely netted fifty-two dollars a head!"
Early shipments were urged from every quarter. "Hereafter," said Joel, "the commission firm will order the trains and send us a practical shipper. There may rise a situation that we may have to rush our shipments, and we can't spare men to go to market. It pays to be on time. Those commission men are wide awake. Look at these railroad passes, good for the year, that they secured for us boys. If any one has to go to market, we can take a passenger train, and leave the cattle to follow."
The addition of two men to the shipping outfit was a welcome asset. The first consignment from the ranch gave the men a field-trial, and now that the actual shipping season was at hand, an allotment of horses was made. The numbers of the remuda admitted of mounting every man to the limit, and with their first shipment a success, the men rested impatiently awaiting orders.
The commission firm, with its wide knowledge of range and market conditions, was constantly alert. The second order, of ten days' later date, was a duplicate of the first, with one less for fulfillment. The outfit dropped down to the old trail crossing the evening before, and by noon two round-ups had yielded twenty car-loads of straight Lazy H beeves. When trimmed to their required numbers, twenty-two to the car, they reflected credit to breeder and present owner.
In grazing down to the railroad, every hour counted. There was no apparent rush, but an hour saved at noon, an equal economy at evening and morning, brought the herd within summons of the shipping yards on time. That the beeves might be favored, they were held outside for the night, three miles from the corral, but an early sun found them safely inside the shipping pens. Two hours later, the full train was en route to market, in care of a practical shipper.
On yarding the beeves the customary telegram had been sent to the commission firm. No reply was expected, but within half an hour after the train left, a message, asking Joel to accompany the shipment, was received from Mr. Stoddard.
"You must go," said Manly, scanning the telegram. "It isn't the last cattle that he sold you that's worrying my boss. He has two herds on the market this year, one at Trail City and the other at Ogalalla, and he may have his eye on you as a possible buyer. You have a pass; you can catch the eastern mail at noon, and overtake the cattle train in time to see the beeves unloaded."
"Which herd did you come up with?" inquired Joel, fumbling through his pockets for the forgotten pass.
"With the one at Ogalalla. It's full thirty-one hundred steers, single ranch brand, and will run about equally twos and threes. Same range, same stock, as your Lazy H's, and you are perfectly safe in buying them unseen. Just the same cattle that you bought last year, with the advantage of a better season on the trail. All you need to do is to agree on the prices and terms; the cattle are as honest as gold and twice as good."
"Leave me a horse and take the outfit home," said Joel with decision. "If an order comes for more beeves, cut the next train from the Lazy H's. I'll be back in a day or two."
Joel Wells was rapidly taking his degrees in the range school. At dusk he overtook the cattle train, which reached the market yards on schedule time. The shipper's duty ceased with the unloading of the cattle, which was easily completed before midnight, when he and his employer separated. The market would not open until a late morning hour, affording ample time to rest and refresh the beeves, and to look up acquaintances in the office.
Joel had almost learned to dispense with sleep. With the first stir of the morning, he was up and about. Before the clerks even arrived, he was hanging around the office of the commission firm. The expected shipment brought the salesmen and members of the firm much earlier than usual, and Joel was saved all further impatience. Mr. Stoddard was summoned, and the last barrier was lifted in the hearty greeting between the manly boy and a veteran of their mutual occupation.
The shipment sold early in the day. An hour before noon, an interested party left the commission office and sauntered forth to watch the beeves cross the scale. It was the parting look of breeder, owner, and factor, and when the average weight was announced, Mr. Stoddard turned to the others.
"Look here, Mr. Joel," said he, "are these the cattle I sold you last summer?"
"They carry your brand," modestly admitted Joel.
"So I notice," assentingly said the old cowman. "And still I can scarcely believe my eyes. Of course I'm proud of having bred these beeves, even if the lion's share of their value to-day goes to the boys who matured them. I must be an old fogy."
"You are," smilingly said the senior member of the commission house. "Every up-to-date Texas cowman has a northern beef ranch. To be sure, as long as you can raise a steer as cheap as another man can raise a frying chicken, you'll prosper in a way. Wells Brothers aren't afraid of a little cold, and you are. In that way only, the lion's share falls to them."
"One man to his own farm, another to his merchandise," genially quoted the old cowman, "and us poor Texans don't take very friendly to your northern winters. It's the making of cattle, but excuse your Uncle Dudley. Give me my own vine and fig tree."
"Then wish the boys who brave the storm success," urged the old factor.
"I do," snorted the grizzled ranchman. "These beeves are a story that is told. I'm here to sell young Wells another herd of cattle. He's my customer as much as yours. That's the reason I urged his presence to-day."
The atmosphere cleared. On the market and under the weight, each beef was paying the cost of three the year before; but it was the letter of the bond, and each party to the contract respected his obligation.
After returning to the office, on a petty pretext, Mr. Stoddard and Joel wandered away. They returned early in the afternoon, to find all accounts made up, and ready for their personal approval. The second shipment easily enabled Joel to take up his contract, and when the canceled document was handed him, Mr. Stoddard turned to the senior member of the firm.
"I've offered to duplicate that contract," said he, "on the same price and terms, and for double the number of cattle. This quarantine raises havoc with delivery."
"A liberal interpretation of the new law is in effect," remarked the senior member. "There's too many interests involved to insist on a rigid enforcement. The ban is already raised on any Panhandle cattle, and any north of certain latitudes can get a clean bill of health. If that's all that stands in the way of a trade, our firm will use its good offices."
"In that case," said Joel, nodding to Mr. Stoddard, "we'll take your herd at Ogalalla. Move it down to the old trail crossing on the Republican, just over the state line and north of our range. This firm is perfectly acceptable again as middlemen or factors," he concluded, turning to the member present.
"Thank you," said the old factor. "We'll try and merit any confidence reposed. This other matter will be taken up with the quarantine authorities at once. Show me your exact range," he requested, turning to a map and indicating the shipping station.
Wells Brothers' range lay in the northwest corner of the state. The Republican River, in Nebraska, ran well over the line to the north, with unknown neighbors on the west in Colorado.
"It's a clear field," observed the old factor. "Your own are the only cattle endangered, and since you are the applicant for the bill of health, you absolve the authorities from all concern. Hurry in your other shipments, and the railroad can use its influence--it'll want cattle to ship next year. The ranges must be restocked."
There was sound logic in the latter statement. A telegram was sent to Ogalalla, to start the through herd, and another to the beef outfit, to hurry forward the next shipment. Joel left for home that night, and the next evening met his outfit, ten miles out from the Beaver, with a perfect duplicate of the former consignment. It was early harvest on the cattle ranges, and those who were favored with marketable beef were eager to avoid the heavy rush of fall shipments.
The beef herd camped for the night on the divide. Joel's report provoked argument, and a buzz of friendly contention, as the men lounged around the tiny camp-fire, ran through the outfit.
"It may be the custom among you Texans," protested one of the lads from the Republican, "but I wouldn't buy a herd of cattle without seeing them. Buy three thousand head of cattle unseen? Not this one of old man Vivian's boys! Oh, no!"
"Link, that kind of talk shows your raising," replied Sargent. "Your view is narrow and illiberal. You haven't traveled far. Your tickets cost somewhere between four and six bits."
Manly lifted his head from a saddle, and turning on his side, gazed at the dying fire. "Vivian," said he, "it all depends on how your folks bring you up. Down home we buy and sell by ages. A cow is a cow, a steer is a steer, according to his age, and so on down to the end of the alphabet. The cattle never misrepresent and there's no occasion for seeing them. If you are laboring under the idea that my old man would use any deception to sell a herd, you have another guess coming. He'd rather lose his right hand than to misrepresent the color of a cow. He's as jealous of his cattle as a miller is of his flour. These boys are his customers, last fall, this summer, and possibly for years to come. If he wanted them, Joel did perfectly right to buy the cattle unseen."
The second train of Lazy H beeves reached the railroad on schedule time. The shipper was in waiting, cattle cars filled the side track, and an engine and crew could be summoned on a few hours' notice. If corralled the night before, passing trains were liable to excite the beeves, and thereafter it became the usual custom to hold outside and safely distant.
The importance of restocking the range hurried the shipping operations. Instead of allowing the wagon to reach the station, at sunrise on the morning of shipping, it and the remuda were started homeward.
"We'll gather beeves on the lower end of our range to-morrow," said Joel to the cook and wrangler, "and there's no need to touch at headquarters. Follow the trail to the old crossing, and make camp at the lower tank--same camp-ground as the first shipment of Lazy H's. The rest of the outfit will follow, once these cattle are loaded out. You might have a late supper awaiting us--about ten o'clock to-night."
The gates closed on the beeves without mishap. They were cut into car lots, from horseback, and on the arrival of the crew, the loading began. A short hour's work saw the cattle aboard, when the dusty horsemen mounted and clattered into the straggling hamlet.
The homeward trip was like a picnic. The outfit halted on the first running water, and saddle pockets disgorged a bountiful lunch. The horses rolled, grazed the noon hours through, and again took up their former road gait. An evening halt was made on the Prairie Dog, where an hour's grazing was again allowed, the time being wholly devoted to looking into the future.
"If we stock the range fully this fall," said Joel, in outlining his plans, "it is my intention to build an emergency camp on this creek, in case of winter drifts. Build a dug-out in some sheltered nook, cache a little provision and a few sacks of corn, and if the cattle break the line, we can ride out of snug quarters any morning and check them. It beats waiting for a wagon and giving the drift a twenty-mile start. We could lash our blankets on a pack horse and ride it night or day."
"What a long head!" approvingly said Sargent. "Joel, you could almost eat out of a churn. An emergency camp on the Prairie Dog is surely a meaty idea. But that's for next winter, and beef shipping's on in full blast right now. Let's ride; supper's waiting on the Beaver."