for the Fur-FishGame Magazine
and used in this paper by permission.
Most readers of western stories no doubt expect to find them highly embellished with the sensational blood and thunder type, pure myths and fiction. To such readers, I find myself offering apologies, as these articles may seem very flat and tasteless, but just the same, the Editor of this magazine wanted some true stories of cowboy life, and this is exactly what we are giving you.
The writer spent several years on the open range, and when you find us giving detailed information on certain subjects or aspects of the range, it is intended to enlighten those who have never had the opportunity of getting the knowledge first hand, therefore all the stories and incidents are founded on facts and real happenings over a period of several years, being given chronologically as far as possible. All photos are genuine, and not a child of an imaginative brain. Some of them are not of direct import or part of a ranch, but they are true western pictures with historical value according to a person's own views, whether it is the city or the great outdoors that appeals to them most.
If the things I set forth vary from the methods that other range men were accustomed to doing, you will understand it, but the fact that in any walk of life, men will reach the same ends and accomplish much the same result, but pursue a different method.
For instance, we penned our cows and calves, separating the calves from the cows for branding, while others perhaps roped the calf out in the open and dragged it to the branding irons, but in either case, the final results were the same. The suit is all wool, except for the button and buttonholes.
Some authorities estimate that soon after the Civil War, and up until 1891, the time that I am now writing of something like ten million cattle and one million horses were driven north from Texas and marked. Some of the principal points being, Abilene, Caldwell and Dodge City, Kansas. Of course many of these cattle finally found homes in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and other northern states.
During the summer of 1891 Al Hall, a long lanky, honest Englishman, in his early forties, with plenty of excess H's, or lack of them, as the case might be, came trailing into our camp on Day Creek, with about five or six hundred small Texas cattle.
Our people were afraid of the Texas fever, and politely requested him to move his cattle some distance farther east. It had been his intentions to throw them within our lines, and aid with the work, making our camp his home. He evidently had come up the trail with some large outfit, and had no personal camp paraphernalia. Another reason why he wanted to camp with us.
We cooked in the open, using inch legs, sixteen to eighteen inches in diameter and perhaps seven or eight inches deep, with a heavy rimmed lid to hold hot coals, for baking sour dough biscuits, pies, roasts, etc.
Al Hall, or just "Al" called them "skillets." So when our supply wagon went to Coldwater, Kansas for supplies, he put in his order for a "skillet," and said, "Be sure and get de lid." With his brogue, and as I said, omitting his H's, it sounded that way. At any rate, the bought him a regulation skillet and a tin lid. When he got it he said, "Godda, and I always called dem a spider."
It was both a laughable and a serious matter. When he would try to bake biscuits, hot coal on the thin lid, in a shallow skillet, would burn his biscuits before they had time to bake. For those reasons, and from a state of being lonely, camping entirely along with his small herd, he visited our camp often, but he never would say, "Ike." It was always "Hike."
He married in later life, and raised a fine family, made trips to his dear old England. Mutual friends informed me he was worth about a quarter million before his demise. Evidently, his many hardships paid him in a material way.
Many herds of wild horses were brought up north and sold to individuals. I being one of the victims, as you might say, purchased one, only to find those mild looking eyes very deceptive. This pretty little filly had a habit of raising her hind feet, one, then the other, quite rapidly, hitting one of your heels in the stirrup, then the other, unless you saved yourself by spreading your feet out and forwards. Quick as a flash she would then take advantage of that by forming a double bow knot, two speeds reverse, and one forward. After I had bit the dust a few times I turned her over to a real Texas rider who had drifted up the trail. He soon had her apparently gentle and meek. Al seeing her in that docile state, wanted to trade me an old, flea bitten, side sore, spavined pony for her. We finally made the swap by his paying eleven dollars to boot. He paid the one dollar, and the following spring, I called for the ten dollars, and found him with his face and arm all skinned up. He had allowed the filly to run all winter, and of course she was wild again. He said "Godda, and that little filly threw me off. My foot hung in de stirrup and she dragged me all over the countree." I told him I had come for the ten dollars. He said he was sorry but he did not have it, but as soon as he sold some cattle he would send it to me which he did.
We did not raise our ponies like they did in Texas, where it was part of each cow-puncher's duty to break so many ponies each spring, and learn to be real bronco busters. With few exceptions all of our saddle horses were quite tractable.
We had one beautiful, white horse with glass eyes, branded "JP." That also was the name he was known by. He came to us through purchase, and evidently some men had put a hatred in his heart which he never forgot. He never became safe enough to saddle without holding him by the jaw of the bridle, while reaching under for the saddle girth, otherwise, he would whirl with a flash and kick at you. He made up for that, with what we termed, "plenty of bottom." When on his back he answered each move of the body or rein, and the roads never seemed too long for his wonderful constitution, but you could never trust those heels.
The cutting and wearing effect of buffalo grass, and sand will wear away a pony's hoofs, especially the hind ones which we shod at intervals. Some would have to be thrown and hog tied for safety. J. P. was one of them. Even then, he managed to knock a tooth out of George Overocker, one of the older cow-boys and a real cowpuncher and bronco buster of his time, also one of the three men, now living, of the original "Half Circle Box" outfit, being at this writing a big wheat raiser in Comanche County, Kansas, as well as a proud grandpa. He was a great fellow.
It goes without saying, we burned wood and they would haul and stack great piles of it to last through the winter. That also was the time butchering a beef was permissible, as we could use it up without loss swinging them high in a tree from dogs and wolves.
One day, they brought up a fat cow roped around the horns. George, being a very fine shot, took careful aim, but she moved her head a trifle and the bullet cut the rope so near in two, that it gave way, and the infuriated beast charged him. He being on foot, made a race for that wood pile, an immense pile of loosely stacked limbs. He saved himself, but it was something of a feat to scramble up there like a monkey.
The fancy frills indulged in at the present day rodeos, were not a part of our work, and unnecessary. Once in a great while, a cow brute would get stubborn and try to run away from the herd. When you would overtake her, instead of turning back as they usually do, they sometimes put on all four wheel brakes, stopping so suddenly, even the best trained and wiriest pony will not be able to stop her. Then she will take another course. George stopped one of those that came the nearest to being a circus stunt, I ever saw pulled in line of regular work. By riding close and getting the cow by the tail, and while both her hind feet were in the air, he suddenly shot his pony forward. It threw and reversed her, much as a skidding car. She was so surprised and bewildered at the sudden turn, that when she got up facing the herd, she trotted right back. At first glance, it may seem real easy, but it must be timed to a split second, while those hind feet are in the air, and a novice might find himself in trouble.
April 29, 1927.
Our boys did not go in for those big ten gallon hats, as they were commonly spoken of today, but they did wear a real Stetson hat with a brim sufficient to protect them from the direct rays of the sun. They would absolutely turn the hardest rain and not soak through.
They took great pride in their boots made of the finest calf with beautiful figured tops. They were usually made to order, they could take the hardest rains and keep dry..
I have made excuses many times for detailing certain statements or things because I believe many of the readers are not familiar with the life I am writing about. A pommel slicker for instance, is made purposely for cowboys or for riding. Extra extensions being sewed in front, so when it is buttoned, it extends out over the horn and back over the cantle behind, and reaching to the ankles. The rain is warded off, instead of running down the seat of the saddle, which would happen with a straight walking slicker.
In making round-ups, sometimes the cattle would get to dragging too slowly to suit us. If in a hurry, all you had to do, was take your slicker by the collar and shake it at them. They would move much like a great wave, or tumble weeds in a strong wind.
During the season of 1891, the wolves kept increasing in numbers and getting bolder and bolder. I would like to qualify a statement I made about range cattle running from wolves by saying that a mother will stay and fight as long as her calf is alive. I have found many a cow after such a battle hidden away in a lonely canyon, badly torn and lacerated from the sharp fangs, buzzards flying and circling over.
I have never known the real answer for this, but some instinct must have been the answer. You might find them circling the second or third day while riding your line, then their absence would tell you their vigil was rewarded.
It would have been more humane to have put the poor beasts out of their misery, but we had no gun in our camp, guns being a matter of personal tastes and property. I presume these losses had much to do with Messrs. Mussett and Bidwell determining to close out everything after only one year's operation under their name.
During one of the fall roundups, a little freshet had raised the water in the Cimarron to about two feet in depth, and the sand was a little "rotten." (quicksandy). The river was pretty wide. Travel as I said, settles the sand. Geo. Overocker, had been over and knew the trail, so he took the lead and by keeping his eye on a land mark opposite, he was able to hold the trail. All riders were going single file and I was next to the last. The reason for that forward riders would make the trail for me, being the only boy, and the rear rider would be there to aid me if anything went wrong.
I was afraid of getting off the trail and was following the river ahead closely. He urged me to stay further back. The reason was obvious for any mishap caused his pony to go down, my horse would be right on top of him before he had a chance to escape.
All got over with dry feet, except the boss. He was riding his favorite horse, "Birdie," who was feeling good that morning and stepped off the trail enough to drop in the soft sand sufficiently to get the boss' feet in the water. He was almost across at the time. When I came out with dry feet and riding the worst horse in looks, on the ranch, little old weasened, pigeon toed pony, but honest and capable, it was too much for the boss.
He spurred up his Birdie, sat him on his haunches, and promised to make a roundup, cut the cattle and hold the cut, then take the cut to the next roundup. Cattlemen will appreciate that, as it is a job for eight or ten men. Of course he did not mean it, but to see me with my dry feet on that pony that never wasted his time and energy prancing was too much for him. After a half hour's ride in that nice, fall early morning air, it soon eased his ruffled feelings and each man was allowed to do his share of work.
The fall roundup, found us busy sweeping the range, grading cattle, selling calves one place, stock cows another, shipping beef cattle, and tailings. One particular bull, the season before, had shown considerable fight, and boss having his six shooter, pumped a couple of bullets into his paunch. He did not do so well after that, but it took much of the fight out temporarily. When it came time to clean up everything, he still showed fight, so they drove the cattle back, and when he refused to go to the cut, and taking a try at each rider who would go near him, the boss again gave him some lead. He did very nicely then until the "chute" pen ready for the car. No amount of prodding or urging would induce him to go into the car. Finally they roped him, running the rope through the car and fastened to a saddle horn dragging him in.
It goes without saying, we used only the best manila rope obtainable. It is astonishing how much strain is sometimes placed upon a lariat. In some sections of the country a cowpuncher will have the end of his rope fast to the saddle horn, taking the entire shock when roping, and you had better have your pony facing that steer so he can plant his feet in the earth to withstand it. A green man or pony, if caught unaware or sidewise to the steer, might find his pony pulled off his balance enough to fall perhaps, catching the rider with serious results. Another method is to have the end of your rope free. Just as soon as it hits the mark, with great rapidity, two or three turns are taken around the horn, with a few feet to spare, so you can ease up a little to withstand part of the shock. One of our men had a rawhide lasso. They are of course very strong and neat, but will stretch more or less when wet.
There is an old story told several generations ago about a man who made his traces from rawhide. Going to town one day in the rain, they began to stretch. When he got his team in town, the wagon was still in the country, but the sun came out, and as the traces began to shrink, the wagon came trailing in after dinner.
Many times in making camp, it was necessary to hustle wood that was dry, for the cook. If it was not on the ground you might espy some dead limbs in the trees. Making fast your rope, urging your pony ahead carefully, you usually could dislodge it, but sometimes a very stubborn limb would raise your pony's front feet from the ground. (short sentence omitted, unreadable)
I recall, two years ago, while riding out in the pasture with a nephew, Alva Trummel, who manages the Hall Ranch of 15,000 in Comanche County, Kansas, we found a man hopelessly stuck in the sand in an arroyo. He was traveling with his family of several children, in one of Lincoln's poor relations, commonly called a "flivver." Alva hooked on with his rope, tightened his cinch, and with what the car could do, he got him out easily.
Since the auto came into such general use, and so much touting, you will find as a rule, on through roads, in large pastures, cattle guards by the side of the wire gate, similar to railroad cattle guards. You can drive your car right over. No excuses to leave gates open which cause cattlemen needless trouble and worry in times past.
But to get back to the man who possessed the rawhide lasso, Bert Crews was something of an artist in his time braiding hair quirts and bridles. No difference what price you might pay for such an article rest assured the man making it would not earn a very handsome salary. It is slow, tedious work, and I think was mostly indulged in by Bert, much the same as a housewife loves to create the beautiful in fancy work.
I think I mentioned in an earlier chapter about a locoed pony, raring back with a rawhide slip noose, about his neck. We seldom left a horse tied that way, but this one had no more than been made fast until he went back on the rope. The pony was almost worthless from loco. The rope was the more valuable, but the better element in man, and the love for a horse prevailed, so they cut the rope.
May 4, 1927.
Now we will take you to Protection where we were shipping. During one of these train lot shipments, there was a slight discrepancy in our train being on time. It was night time, and these cattle being tail enders, we were not so careful of the shortage as in our higher classed beef shipments, besides cattle graze very little on the bed ground. It was decided to pen them, and take a night's sleep and rest. The train had come in during the night, searing those cattle. They evidently had "milled." Cattle men know the term. At any rate, each one seems to try for the center and circle around like a hugh mill stone. The pressure was so terrific, even in those pens, which seemed strong enough to hold elephants, that they gave way.
If any one heard it, they did not peep; just slept right on. The night before, we had cattle, and no train. The next morning, we had a train and no cattle. All hands were in the saddle and came in that night with all the cattle that could be found. The shrinkage must have been a very great loss. Some were locoed, some were big jawed, but the final clean up was on.
I do not think Webster says anything about a big jaw. I cannot tell you the why nor wherefore, but some attribute it to bad teeth. The jaw is much enlarged, and when the bones were bleaching on the prairie, we found the jaw bone was much enlarged and honey combed, very much like a sponge.
We did not purposely ship them. Stock inspectors would discover them and they had to be sold for soap grease, barely covering shipping charges. We would butcher them for our dogs as the necessity would arise. You will remember, we had as many as twenty eight at one time, and much cheaper to feed dogs in a regular way then feed wolves in an irregular way.
The last cow brute was finally driven away, the ponies sold. Otto Barby remained to look after the buildings and prevent undue trespassing.
It is a sad thing to break ties, such as those men were called upon to do. Most of them had spent many years together, sharing many hardships, going through many things, thick and thin. All of them entered into different lines of endeavor. After thirty five years, as far as I have learned, each one proved himself a good citizen and neighbor, and a real American.
It may not be amiss to tell you about an experience Otto had while looking after this property.
There was at that time, a little village ten miles south of Coldwater, Kansas, called Avilla. Henry Knecht, with a farm adjoining the town, also owned the general store and was postmaster, his father attending to it. A typical country store with a sand box built around the stove, where they would congregate and tell how they put down the rebellion, a regular spit and whittle club. Talking about The Farmers' Alliance, one fellow said, "you had to go 'baa' like a calf to get in." Two affable strangers came in, and talked about leasing the Gorham ten thousand acre tract, getting directions, etc. They called upon Otto, trading horses with him and again returned to town and the store, outstaying all with the exception of two besides Dad Knecht, manager of the store. At closing time, when they made some purchases, placing them in a burlap bag and explaining that they were leaving early the next morning. They tendered Dad a ten dollar bill. When he dug out his money to make change, he was facing a six shooter, the other two men being covered by his partner. One being a school teacher, only had a silver watch. Upon learning it was all he had to keep time with, they gave it back. About $125.00 was taken from Dad.
There was no blood shed, no beating him up to make him tell where the money was hidden. The bandits marched them outside, but right here is where they differ from moving pictures. One man covered them while the other mounted, and vice versa. Never did they turn their backs. After marching them about one half mile, they turned them back, and told them to run a race and see who could beat the other going back, placing a few shots near their heels.
Each one tried to outdo the other. It created much excitement, but the country was thinly settled and no telephones those days, and only eight miles to the then Cherokee Strip and Indian Territory. They turned out to be the noted Daltons. They later met their fate in Coffeyville, Kans., at an unsuccessful double bank hold up. Otto found his newly acquired horses were stolen, and of course, lost them.
In telling about horse steeling and how they used to string up guilty culprits, it was a bad thing for a man to get a stolen horse, especially if he was a stranger. Going back a few years from the time I am writing, I well remember such a case. The man made a good impression and such a strong appeal, that five or six heavily armed men brought him into Coldwater where he was able to prove his innocence.
At another time, two men had lived for some time at this town, coming there with quite a herd of horses, selling them off and living them up, until they were afoot. When word came that one was wanted for a crime, something evidently leaked, as they each stole a horse to escape on, but were captured and brought back. Not having confidence in the jail, two deputies, one named Joe Bowers, stood guard over them in my father's hotel.
I was only twelve or thirteen and a great deal of mob talk was going on. I remained by them all night. These men received four and three years respectively. It turned out that the one was only a friend, standing by his pal. They had not stolen the horses for gain, but to escape, otherwise the sentence would have been greater.
One of the men who assisted in the capture, was an officer of Englewood, Kansas. He was absolutely fearless, and did much to make Englewood a safe place for law abiding citizens to live in.
Englewood, being a border town and near the "No Man's Land" of that day, where each man was practically a law unto himself. "No Man's Land" could furnish the foundation for many hair raising stories, if a person was cognizant of its early history. I do not know why or wherefore, but "No Man's Land" was just that. It belonged to no state, but in later years, was made the tail end part of Oklahoma, Beaver, Texas and Cimarron counties.
Many honest, hardy, pioneer settlers took up their abode there, and as stated, "No Man's Land" belonging to no state, they had to make their own law, but you can readily see it became a mecca for many outlaws and hunted criminals. They would come over the border to Englewood, making life precarious for the honest pioneers and settlers. Naturally, I am going to stick up for the cowboys as I knew them, and believed if the truth was known, most of these wild orgies came from outlaws and hunted men, and the riff raff that was always found in any new settlement of that day and age.
Englewood never gained the reputation that Abilene and Dodge City had probably from the fact that many so called bad men passed out with their boots on before Englewood's time, but there were enough to give Mexican Fred, the officer I am speaking of something to do. He made Englewood a safe place to live in.
He was well educated, efficient, fearless and alert. I met him as a boy at the time they brought in the horse thieves. This is a story told to me in later years by a man I am sure was sincere and honest.
When Englewood was wild and woolly, Mexican Fred went out to quell a disturbance. The would be bad man made a motion to draw, but the officer beat him to it. Then it was found, the man was unarmed, which was considered a very grave matter, officer or not, it usually meant a life for a life. If the man had been armed, it of course was self defense, or in line of duty, and justified. Fred realizing the position he was in, started out to meet his fate like a man, going to his hotel, changing into his best clothes, and out on the streets unarmed to meet his doom like a man. As he walked up and down, not a move was made, not one of the law breaking elements laid a hand upon him. He may still be among the living.
In another part, I will tell you about a trip to Dodge City to help receive three train loads of cattle from New Mexico to be put on grass in the range we had preciously used for so many years.
May 6, 1927.
In the spring of 1892, Mr. Half of the H half H brand, who I understood was a Russian Jew, getting his start peddling goods from house to house with a pack on his back, then making an early day start in the cattle business in Texas and New Mexico, and at the time of above date, was the possessor of a million acre ranch, also a large horse ranch near San Antonio, and a wholesale store in San Antonio.
They evidently had a poor grass season in New Mexico at this time, because of the fact, he took a lease on the Gorham 10,000 acre pasture in the southwestern extremity of Comanche County, Kansas, to place some very thin cattle upon, which will be spoken of more graphically further on.
This range had been cleaned of every hoof the fall before, as noted in the previous chapter. Otto Barbee being left as a caretaker, Mr. Half's first move was to ship a carload of cattle ponies from his Texas range. A very intelligent Mexican, and a right hand man of the boss, accompanied the shipment.
At the railroad office, I saw him sign his first name, "Jesus." The last name I cannot spell and it does not matter. At any rate, later on, I heard the men call him, "Hasus," At least it sounded that way. I asked "Why do you call him that? I saw him sign his name plainly, and it is Jesus." Of course the laugh was on me as the Mexican pronunciation is "Ha-sus."
Three train loads of cattle were to be shipped to Dodge City, several men accompanying the shipment. It was Otto's duty to get a cook and extra man and take the remuda to Dodge in time to handle the cattle.
The railroads had been doing active business for five years in this locality, naturally all the cattle men had been availing themselves of the shorter drive, especially on cattle going to eastern markets like Kansas City and Chicago, but cattle coming from New Mexico at that time had to be driven from Dodge and with five years for nesters or settlers to locate on the best land and available water, it put a new aspect on driving cattle through in large herds. Therefore, it was Otto's duty to find a trail going up where he could bring those cattle back, and not run the risk of damage suits in inadvertently over-running someone's small fields, as well as to prevent small herds from getting into our outfit. Naturally wagon roads which were nothing but trails for the wheels had to be avoided more or less, taking the open prairie.
Otto had the reputation of being a past master at piloting a church wagon. I have often heard Capt. Mussett say, "If Otto could not get the wagon through, there was no use for anyone else to try." But I am getting ahead of the story.
He needed a cook. I had never really officiated in that capacity except for my personal needs while in camp with Ike the year before, but Otto was very versatile, being able to take his place wherever a man was needed on the range, and promised to help in a pinch. So the deal was on.
After the Half Circle Box closed out, selling everything of value, there was one old wagon left. The threads on the nut of the left hind wheel were worn and had the habit of coming off. Some old collared that did not fit the horses, hames and chain traces, lines and bridle without back band, belly band, breeding or throat latches were all they had left in the way of harness line. If the horses had been gentle and well broken, it would have been bad enough, but they ran off before we got started.
It is usually the cook's job to take care of his team and while this following narrative may not be interesting to you, it was quit a nightmare to me. Just the same, they had the horses all hitched ready to go, one man at the heads, horses blindfolded. Otto handed me the lines and said, "Get in," but I never got in. The man at the heads pulled the blindfolds and turned them loose. With one foot on the hub, they were off. That was as far as I got. Two more lunges and I was dangling at the ends of the lines. The boys jumped their saddle ponies and soon caught them. We had lost that hind wheel, but we wrapped a rag around the threads and tightened the nut, and were ready for a new start.
This time, they gave me time to get in before turning them loose, and they settled down after a short run. We were soon on the open prairie, and Otto would have to hunt a trail for the wagon. The horses would not stand as their shoulders were already getting sore and bruised from using misfit collars, so while he would be looking for a place that the wagon could go down and get up on the other side of the breaks and canyons, you had to keep driving around in a circle. Then when Otto would signal to come ahead, it was a mad scramble to drive down rough, unbroken roads and up the other side with no breaching on the harness.
The second morning, the horses' shoulders were very sore, and it took considerable urging to get them started, but after starting, it seemed they did not want to stop. If held down, they would squirm around and get out from under the outside chain trace and be facing the driver. Then the riders would have to come to the rescue. Finally we took rope and made back and belly bands so we could keep them in the harness, such as it was.
After a couple of hours on our second day out we came to a creek where a man had mired down with a load of posts. To avoid it, we had to go up a very steep bank. Otto gave orders to take it on the run. We got up but the double trees broke. I never did quite figure it out unless the momentum and a strong hold on the lines helped.
Well, we were up on the bank, miles from a town and no double tree, so a fence post was the answer. With no wire, we had to use ropes to fasten the single trees. As we were on a wagon road at that time, the men and remuda had drifted ahead, and those ropes had been making some slack. The wagon tongue was about to come down. Then a pretty steep canyon loomed up. Going down was all right, but as soon as the upgrades began, down came the tongue.
There was no time wasted in hopping out of that wagon with the lines and unfastening those traces. After the riders saw that I did not make the grade, back they came. Within a half mile was a farm house. Luckily he had no sugar, so we bored holes and made a pretty respectable double tree. The horses shoulders were so sore by that time, they did not want to go. Rearing high as they could and in coming down with no throat latches, one of the bridles came off, and away they went up that hill with the riders in front trying to stop them. Soon as we got them stopped, we found our hind wheel was gone.
That is why I called the trip a nightmare. There is an old adage that nothing is certain but taxes and death, and we were not sure of that. Trying to get along with some worn out equipment, which Mr. Gorham did not place enough value on to even try to cash it in when selling all his personal property. It just caused us one grief after another, but we finally came within sight of Dodge City, near our supper hour.
We did not go into Dodge City immediately, remaining on the south side of the Arkansas River and making camp, but it was not long until a horseman rode up with blood in his eye, ordering us off. Otto was there with the goods, and told him our business and made friends with him. It paid him, as you will learn later on as he no doubt was an old timer and knew what it meant to ship cattle from poor, dried up ranges.
Expecting our cattle in the next day, we tried to drive our horses through the river, as the stock yards were on the other side. The river was muddy and looked bad, and we could not make them take the water, so we drove the horses over the bridge and I was then really and truly for my first time in Dodge City.
Kid like, I had heard so much about Dodge City and her early day fame, that it was my overwhelming ambition to see Dodge City, her dance halls, gambling dens, "boot hill cemetery" where men who were slower on the draw than their adversaries, found a last resting place. Perhaps, I even wanted to see a killing or two, or a hanging. Mr. Gorham told me the bullets used to fly like hail stones, but no doubt that was a little strong.
Well there was the river, then the railroad, then the street and the stores lined out east and west. Of course, it was gentle at that time and I did not get to see a dance hall like the movies depict. So that's that. Not a shot was fired, not one man hung, no bucking horses down the street, no two-gun men visible.
Our cattle came in the next morning, and a cold, drizzling rain sat in. It was the middle of May and it was so chilly that an overcoat under a slicker felt good. I had never seen such thin cattle. Some had died in the cars, others in the yards and others on the bed ground. I have told of cattle freezing to death in May and people would look askance at me. Some were so far gone, no doubt they would have died regardless, but the cold rain took others.
With plenty of good grass around them, they did not at first seem to have the will power to avail themselves to the much needed nourishment, but would pile down around our camp and fire so closely that it was hard to get a meal. We stayed there a few days to allow them to recuperate before the drive because the very first thing was to take that river, and they needed vitality.
Our friend who was going to chase us from his land, of course came in for the hides. He and his men got busy and fared pretty well. I presume he sensed the idea there would be some cattle to skin.
It was slow trailing as the cattle were allowed to graze and drift along almost at their own pleasure, only making a few miles per day. As the sun came out and they getting all the grass they could eat, it is surprising how fast they will perk up. In a few days the herd was moving along nicely. In Dodge City, they bought horses more tractable for the wagon, besides it proved to be part of a cook's duty to follow the herd and pick up the young calves that were dropping and too young to walk. We hauled them in the wagon until they were able to shamble along.
May 20, 1927.
A few days out, a storm had been brewing all afternoon. That evening as we made camp, we saw in the far distance, a funnel shaped cloud. Otto said to me, "We will hear from that." And sure enough it was the cyclone that struck Harper and Wellington, Kansas, doing a great deal of damage.
That night, the clouds billowed and rolled, the lightning seemed to crack and the thunder roared. All hands were in the saddle. Even with the lightning playing around the horns of the cattle, I would rather have been in the saddle than with the wagon. Sleep was out of the question. If under the wagon, and they would stampede, a chuck wagon would not help them, and if in the wagon, it would be wrecked and a mere camp cook would be in a dickens of a fix. I was only a kid and it was my first experience staying with the wagon in a storm when I had always been in the saddle.
It was a tired bunch the next morning, but they never lost a cow. It was a mixed bunch of men who camped up on the plains with those cattle. Mr. Gorham always used white men in his outfits, except a colored headquarters cook. Otto of course was the dependable man on the job, and although they had a white man as boss for the men who came with him, Otto had to see the herd was going right, so as to avoid settlements and to have water and pilot the cook wagon when the bad places necessitated it.
We had failed to provision as heavily before leaving Dodge as we should besides that storm threw us behind, not making much headway the next day, so our chuck ran low.
I started to tell, we had a mixed bunch. There was a Mexican and a negro, a big strapping fellow, but he could ride. He ran out of tobacco, and I guess he imagined himself a bad man at such times, or badly abused, at any rate he said he was going to the next town that night if it was twenty miles away and get some tobacco. His boss said, "If you go, you can stay." (Just easy like.) Again he said, he would go if it was forty miles. The boss then stood up and said very emphatically, "You heard what I said. If you go, you can stay." He was a long ways from Texas and he had so sympathizers, besides a foreman must have discipline, so he decided not to go.
We were out of food after our evening meal. We had flour and coffee. Of course we had our sour dough biscuits and made a sort of gravy out of flour and water. Then men accepted the situation without a grumble for there was no use to complain. Otto went with me to this little town we were going to pass near, and stocked up hams, bacon, beans, prunes, dried apples, eggs, flour, coffee, etc.
Making camp early, he told me to put on some beans, then slice the ham for frying and put the bone joint in the beans. He had promised to aid me on that cooking job, but he did not get back from the herd in time. Knowing the boys would be hungry and having a two bushel sack of beans. I put on too many. As they began to swell, I had to ladle them into other vessels until I had beans and more beans, enough to feed a small army or the Boston Tea Party.
The real boss of the outfit, his name I do not remember, as I was only with them this one trip, was I thought, one of the very finest horsemen I ever saw. Oh boy, how he could sit a horse. You know there is lots of differences between riding a horse without daylight between you and the saddle or a rider grabbing leather with a lot of daylight between the rider and the saddle. This fellow seemed to be glued to the saddle while the horse was going through all the movements, sun fishing, bowing his back with head to the ground between his front legs and turning end for end, then suddenly rear up trying to throw himself backwards until he had really lost his control starting backwards. The rider nimbly sprung from the saddle to one side and before the horse could get up, he was crawling right into the saddle and was on his back when the horse was on his feet.
I considered it one of the finest and prettiest pieces of horsemanship I ever witnessed, and only a few to see it. Oh yes, I have seen a few ride. Buffalo Bill's riders during the World's Fair at Chicago, real outdoor rodeos and the range riders. They are all good and fine and worth seeing. Even the movies of Cheyenne and Pendleton roundups are thrilling, but it is an impossible task to keep the bucking horse or steer before the camera, and see all the actions and maneuvers from start to finish, which of course would be doubly interesting if it were possible to do so.
Mr. Half with all his supposed millions, joined the outfit enroute and roughed it with the rest of us, but he would not be a true cowman if he could not or would not do it. He came in with a black eye. One of his Texas punchers who knew him well enough asked the why of it. He just said, ""A man hit him in de eye." The fellow was inquisitive and wanted the details. He finally admitted that he had called the fellow a "tam liar," but he said, "A man was a tam fool to hit a man in de eye like dat." However, I have known many men who would take exceptions and fight quicker at the word liar, than other allegations that men in heated moments will pour out that sounds far more wicked and evil, but somehow or other, out where men are men and women are governors as some humorous fellow phrased it, men do not like the word "liar."
After that one bad storm with all riders out all night, the trip settled down mostly routine. The cattle drifted and grazed along slowly, taking on flesh each day with plenty of grass and water of which they had been deprived until they were practically ready for the bone yard. It is truly astonishing how starvation will make semi wild animals docile and apparently gentle, but, just as soon as they gain flesh and strength, the pep and ginger and wellness returns, but they have learned to know their friends and masters, and when placed on the bed ground at night with two men on guard ar each trick or guard duty, men who knew their stuff and sang or whistled or crooned lullaby's, the cattle will chew their cud and rest contented, and be ready for the next day's march.
Men usually had to stand two and one half hours guard, besides being in the saddle all day. It is wearisome enough when the weather is nice, but with storms and cold rains, perhaps yet even if you have a chance to roll into it. Slickers and tarpaulins will turn water when new, but it is like every business, you try to use them one more trip, or one more rain, besides you might carry a slicker for a month behind your saddle, then get tired hearing it flap, flap, all day long, day after day, then some fine morning you leave it in the wagon, and the wagon has gone ahead to make camp. Then for a change, it clouds up and of course you have no slicker, and its just bound to rain. The punchers will reel off this said refrain:
"My slicker's in the wagon
And I'm afraid it's going to rain,
And I tell you gentlemen
I'll never do it again.
And a ki yi yeppi, yeppi, yi, yi, yi, etc."
That of course is very trying on the patience, and they will swear to high heaven, they never will leave their slickers again, but they get caught more often than you would imagine.
Maybe a slow drizzle will come up in the night. The cattle are comparatively easy to hold, therefore men not on guard are getting their sleep. Usually two men are under one tarpaulin. The crease or valley between the sleepers fill and water starts to seep through. Your blankets get wet as well as the sleepers. It is tough luck with no sun to dry your bedding, no change of underwear, which of course has been used to sleep in. Pajamas or nighties were of unknown quantity, and I dare say, if a cowboy had such an outfit, they would ridicule and razz him until life would be unbearable, so he must slide into his trousers feeling miserable, and figure on a new tarpaulin. But the sun comes out again, and your bed is dry and no more rain for several weeks, the old tarp is O.K. you bet, besides a new one costs money, then zim, a cold fall rain or early spring rain may catch you, but no true cowman while on herd or a drive will desert his post any more than a soldier in time of war. He must and will stay on the job regardless of personal comforts or lack of them.
One afternoon where the country was pretty tough sledding for the chuck wagon, Otto as usual located a place that seemed passable to him. Not a road or a trail you understand, but a place that he was sure would answer for the purpose. Bumpety bump, down a broken hillside to the bottom of ravine or canyon, then at right angles, following the bed of the ravine which was dry, but right in the center was a small gully or washout that had been made from many rains, only about two feet wide and about the same in length. This situation or condition started right where the wagon would come down the hill. It was his idea to straddle the ditch, but somehow or other, I got cold feet and asked him to try it, that I would ride his horse. Sure enough, instead of being able to straddle the ditch, having no worthwhile brakes on the wagon, one horse and one side, or two wheels on one side of the wagon, dropped in the ditch. All that kept him from turning over was the opposite bank. The topmost part of the wheels rested tight against the bank and it simply could not turn over. It was only about one hundred yards until it leveled off in a small valley, but Otto won his point. He said the wagon would go through, and it did.
I do not suppose any one in this whole wide world, and that is taking in lots of territory, has a finer family of children than Otto Barbee of Knowles, Okla. A year or two ago, he told me, he had made a trip out in New Mexico with some of his family and had camped out, like old times, and he had enjoyed nothing more than he did getting back to Nature.
He has a ranch, stocked with cattle and raises wheat, but of course it is not like old times, when ranges were most endless, and outdoor camping predominated.
This is almost a biography, but I started to write the truth about cowboys, and if you could know such fellows as were on the old Half Circle Box ranch, you would agree with me that they were real cowboys, and to compare them with some of the movie scenes is ridiculous, although they are making heroes out of many of them today, but they are always shooting their way out. Oh well, people crave excitement, and must be entertained.
I drifted a long ways from that Creek Valley. We were getting nearer and nearer our home range, and one bright day, reached the gate and turned the cattle in the pasture, and in just no time they were taking on fresh and getting wild as any range cattle. It finished my cooking job and I drifted over to the T. A. outfit farther west, but that is another story.
May 27, 1927.
After finishing my job as cook from Dodge City with the H half H outfit to the Gorham pasture, my services were no longer needed. Alex Borland, one of the old Half Circle Box men, who had always kept a sort of weather eye upon me, recommended the T. A. outfit east of us, as they were in need of a man.
Alex was one of those fellows, generally spoken of as being - his own worst enemy, good hearted, good disposition and a very fine cowman and cow puncher, if you prefer. He was Texas bred and had been in the saddle as soon as he was able to hang on..
I have heard him tell of his first opportunity to shoot a buffalo. When he was getting near enough to shoot his horse got a whiff of them, and it was all off. He was just a boy at the time. He whipped and spurred and cried, but he never got near enough to shoot. Guess a horse must be educated to it, much the same as with elephants.
Alex seemed unable to control his thirst, when in town, consequently he was nearly always broke. When I first went to the ranch most of the men were paired off. Each man had his own bedding, and by throwing in with a pal naturally it was a better bed, and warmer in winter, so Alex wanted to throw in with me. I asked him what he had. He said, "Oh, a pair of hobble ropes and a slicker," which was about the truth, but as times rolled on and he had a chance to reciprocate by speaking a good word for me he did not hesitate to do so, so I landed soon after getting back from Dodge City in 1892 on the T. A., in what was previously spoken of as a two and one half mile strip along the Kansas border. This was, as explained before, an early day error in surveying, making a strip of land about three miles wide, beginning at the eastern terminus of No Man's Land and feather edging out to nothing at a point somewhere as far east as Arkansas City, Kansas. Our pasture beginning at the east end of the Gorham range, the general direction being south from Coldwater, Kansas, was about two and one half miles wide at this point, extending eastward for nineteen miles.
The cattle were owned by a Kansas City banker, Mr. D. T. Beals.
Surface water was not very plentiful on account of the pasture being narrowed down, so they put in seven wells and windmills scattered about where they would do the most good, damming up a "draw," as we called them, and let 'er pump. It in time formed good sized pools of water..
Mr. T. A. Brown, a typical city bred man and son-in-law of Mr. Beals, was sent out to us to act as superintendent. Grant Gardner was foreman, a fine horseman and a cowman who knew his stuff. He had a good bunch of men working under him, but they split their gang up into two and sometimes three outfits, and I never got the same deep fellowship feeling for them as I did my first love, the Half Circle Box boys, as I would be placed in first one camp then another..
They had one herd of twenty five hundred beef steers, then another herd of mixed cattle, she stuff, young steers and calves. Also at haying times they gathered up some men from Kiowa, Kansas. They cut hay from what was the Cherokee strip, just outside of our lines, hauling it over and stacking it just within our lines, working at intervals along that entire nineteen miles of pasture, then fence in the stacks. This pasture was part of the old C. P. Bar, but no regular ranch improvements just a makeshift house, one large room and a lean-to, and with winter coming on, Grant Gardner knew it would be colder than all out doors. Being resourceful, he did not ask for expenditure of money to be comfortable as he knew there would be no use for it after a year or two, so he began to literally dig in, burrowing out a semi cave, digging back in the hillside. As he did the banks made one side and one end, and on the other side he used a large log to bring the wall up to proper height, then boxed up the south end, having one door and window. At the opposite end he dug out a fire place. With a large center ridge pole, with small poles for rafters, then brush, hay and the dirt on top that had been dug out and dirt floor. Not the cleanest, but the warmest. We could defy the coldest weather, but Mr. Brown, as first stated, was a typical city man, and he could not adjust himself to the range, taking things as they come, and for the same reason he could not make a hit with the men. He was a misfit if there ever was one. He shipped himself in a small circus tent, three apartments, six foot wall affair, dining room, sleeping room and parlor I suppose. The next move was a board floor, then a cot. That was about all the furniture he moved in. Soon as the cold spell struck he found his cot was not a steam heated flat, the covers could slip, so he took a lariat, winding it around and around the cot and bedding, sliding in from the head, but any camper would know the answer. He froze out. Would he come into our dugout with its dirt floor and crudeness and warmth? Not on your life. He moved to town. When a man is too proud to get along with what his men must put up with, right then he loses their confidence and respect, and while they did not exactly go out of their way to make things harder for him. I am sure they never tried to make it easier.
The coffee was too strong for him. After frying the bacon, he wanted all the grease removed from the skillet except just what cling to it before frying eggs. They did not employ a regular cook. Any one and every one helped at meal time, and perhaps it was not always the best, but he never tried his lily white hands at the job. One time after he had visited one of the outside camps he returned with glowing tales of the best coffee he had ever drank on that ranch. On account of the wolves they had been day herding and night guarding the cattle, living in a tent and moving as grass was needed. Their coffee mill had been broken, so they had been putting in the whole grain or bean, and not much strength had been derived from it. It suited him just fine, and he urged Grant, who always was a willing hand at cooking when he was about, even if he was foreman, to try it out.
Grant was up early, and when Mr. Brown, showed up for breakfast his first words were, "How's the coffee, Grant?" "Oh Just fine, Mr. Brown, just fine." It was early morning and only a tallow dip for light. He took one swallow and said, "Gracious me, Grant, how much coffee did you put in there?" Grant showed him the half pound package (the old Arbuckle brand) he had left, but failed to mention the other full pound he had also put in. He said, "Well grant, I guess we will not buy any more coffee mills. It seems to go farther in whole grains.".
Two cattle men from Topeka came to the ranch one time looking for some two-year-old feeders. They were men who had experience and knew their business. Mr. Brown, being superintendent and representing the owner, it was his business to endeavor to make the sale. There was almost mutiny on the ranch at the time because of his inability to adjust himself to conditions. He really did not know how to get ten miles out on the range and find his way back. He would not, or could not ride a horse. He had a strong, two seated spring wagon he rode around in. Grant was over at one of the other camps at the time, and the men would only take orders from him, so they all turned Mr. Brown down one after another until I was last in line, and the only kid in the bunch. Of course I went as a guide.
It had turned pretty cold, which that prairie country is sometimes noted for. Mr. Brown conceived the idea of reversing the rear seat so his buyers would not have to face the cold wind. You know those old spring wagon seats were fastened down with clamp screws to hold them rigid. It had something to do with what I shall say later on.
Before starting out I put on my overcoat, then the slicker to turn the wind. It was necessary to take to the open prairie to locate bunches of cattle here and there, as they were on the open range at that time, in the Cherokee strip south of our two and one half mile pastures. Mr. Brown no doubt was to be pitied as much as censured. He was out of his environment, and was just as ept to call those buyers' attention to a good looking bunch of heifers as he was steers. Naturally he could not build up confidence in the men. After driving here and there looking at small bunches of cattle all morning, we drove into the tent to warm up. I had to care for the team and got some circulation before going to the fire.
They had one of those little, wood burning sheet iron stoves. Being pretty much isolated, some one was at fault for not getting a stove pipe for it. The smoke, of course, was pouring right into the tent. With one end of the tent open the smoke was supposed to escape, but it was hard on the eyes. All these things did not help matters.
After dinner, they decided they had enough and wanted to be returned to Coldwater, where they could catch a train for home. Mr. Brown was a hard driver and a careless driver, allowing his lines to hang very slack. He would do the driving while I would tell him where to go. As stated before, we were not following a wagon trail. When we came to a dry creek or arroyo, with banks of perhaps fifteen feet and a bottom of twenty five or thirty feet across, I told him we would go down at this point, then drive up the dry creek bed fifty or sixty feet where we could drive out again, but driving slack lines as he did, the team rushed directly over to the opposite side. No wagon or buggy could go up there, too rough and craggy. We came to a standstill, but at such a steep angle those men in the back seat facing the rear took a header into the soft sand in the bed of the creek..
I do not think I ever saw men so mad. If he ever had a chance to sell cattle to those men, he lost it right there. We had to unhitch and literally lift that wagon, one wheel at a time, and get it back down the bank and go out where first intended. These fellows would not have it any other way, so the lines were relinquished to me. The sale was all off. It was just a matter of getting to the railway station.
June 5, 1927.
One evening while most of us were in at headquarters, and soon after making our dugout, three men came riding in, one of them on a pack mule, and all heavily armed. Two of them looked enough alike to be brothers, black hair and mustaches, only one was much larger than the other one. The one on the pack mule was very light haired. Their story was, that they had been hunting down through the Nation, and this man's horse had stepped in a hole, breaking a leg, but that did not answer for him being with out a saddle. They were not too proud to sit in our dugout, or spread a blanket on the dirt floor, but we noticed one man always faced the door. When the candle was blown out a flicker of flame from the fireplace flared up momentarily, and I noticed them slip guns under their pillows. They seemed very alert for ordinary hunters..
Next morning after breakfast they were on their way. A few days later we got our newspapers. We did not have rural delivery those days. We read all about a bank robbery in Colorado, and how they escaped after shooting a horse out from under one man. The description tallied nicely, and a good, big reward was offered. It seemed too bad that we did not know about it, but probably it was just as well, as few cow punchers were carrying guns those days, especially our men, and there is no question but what those fellows would have shot their way out if anything was started. It was still Indian Territory and they were traveling near enough the line so they could dodge out in Kansas for meals and right back again, where no one could touch them except federal officers.
While I was in the line camp on the Day Creek the year before with Ike Mussett, my north terminus was the south line fence of the T. A. Outfit and their headquarters were only about two miles out of my way. I often found myself drifting in there at dinner time. At that time a John Wilson and wife worked for them, she doing the cooking, he was poisoning wolves. Mrs. Wilson certainly was a fine cook. She would have real boiled beef and potatoes with the jackets on, cool milk and everything, and it was quite a change from our two man camp. With a wind mill running all the time, the water was diverted through a cooling box, and milk and butter was kept nicely.
Grant Gardner had caught a cub wolf which was quite a pet, and apparently as gentle and likable as any dog, but it is a question if they ever outgrow their ancestry without crossbreeding. This water emptied into a large tank under a shade tree where the wolf was on a chain. Mrs. Wilson raised chickens and turkeys which was her own private property. About ever so often one would get in reach of the wolf, and he was sure to nab him. I happened to be there one day when he grabbed a turkey. It made her furious and rightfully so. She grabbed up a slat of wood and how she did belabor that wolf. Grant just laughed but you can put this in your hat that wolf never would touch her poultry when she was in sight.
The wolves had been killing a big four or five year old beef steer on an average of one per week. They do it by running behind and snapping at their ham string until they finally cut it, letting the steer down, and it is just a matter of finishing him. So they hired John to hunt wolves. He was out each day trapping, shooting and putting out strychnine. It is hard to poison a wolf, as they like their meat fresh. John's idea was to take a piece of meat or bacon, drag it on the end of a rope, making scented trails here and there, then put in the poison, but his version was it made the meat bitter and they many a time would spit it out immediately. Of course he got some wolves by each of his methods, but these are the things that caused them to change from ranging cattle to close herding with guard duty at night.
Mrs. Wilson was quite handy with a gun. When out in the yard one day while the men were at chuck she rushed into the house, grabbing a shotgun and ran out. Boom went the gun. It was a hawk after the chickens. She got him, first shot. She was not very large, but was capable and could take care of herself all right, don't worry about that.
Prairie fires were a grave menace on the range, and it was criminal to start a fire. If a guilty party was caught, which of course would be hard to place the blame, they would just about string him up. Cinders from railway engines started many fires. Each fall the railroads would plow furrows, then burn grass for maybe a hundred foot swath each side of the track. Even with that care when the section men would start burning the guard, it seemed some of the grass would be too great and patches would be left, then on a windy day the engine belching out hot cinders, some times would carry outside of the safety zone, and a fire would be on. The railroads would send out adjusters and pay the losses. All the little towns would turn out as a civic duty and burn guards around their town, and if a fire was coming your way, even with the guard burned, there were chances of a tumble weed blowing over and starting a fresh tire. So as I just said, it was an individual and a civic duty to get out and help fight fire. When it was sandy enough shovels made a good aid, but the usual way was to hastily load water barrels in a wagon and every one get burlap or gunny sacks. By keeping them wet, you can beat out the side fires. The great idea is, if possible, to have a place as stated already burned so the head of the fire will come to a dead end, and if fought systematically and judiciously, the side fires can be beaten out, as they can only travel rapidly going directly with the wind.
In the short buffalo grass, with a strong wind, a head fire will travel like a race horse, going through the country, destroying and leaving a wake of isolation. If side fires are allowed to burn, they will creep over and over until another fire will be raging, widening the holocaust, or the wind may change, causing a new menace. After putting up hay in several stacks, at short intervals, the entire distance of our nineteen mile pasture, they would plow guards and build a fence around the stacks to keep the cattle out. The grass was too green to burn the guards, at the time, and like other things in life, it was put off and neglected until one fine windy day a fire got away from some one, evidently a camper twenty miles below us. There was no one at headquarters but Mr. Brown and I. We of course, could see the heavy black smoke of the approaching fire, which would eventually burn some of our hay stacks. He ordered me to go alone and burn the guard around the stacks, which was about two miles south of headquarters. After viewing the situation, I returned without striking a match. Loose hay had blown over the furrows that had been plowed for some time, and it would have been absolute folly to try to burn those guards in such a high wind by myself. To have struck the match and allowed the fire to get out of control would simply lessen the time that farmers and settler further north within Kansas would have to get prepared for the oncoming conflagration, which in some cases they could only save themselves by starting a fresh fire, and soon as possible get their family and stock on the burned areas before the real or original fire reached them, but such methods were only resorted to when nothing else would do.
That night after Grant and the men came in he got busy and cooked up a lot of food, loaded up the water barrels, plow, plenty of burlap, etc., and the whole gang went out and fought those side line fires all night long, not only saving lots of our range, but stopped further progress of the fire when topographical conditions were such that the fire would creep back and back until a new head start was inevitable. We would throw up a couple furrows and perhaps start only a foot or two back. Men would wet burlap in readiness to prevent it jumping the furrow. After burning a narrow strip they could work back farther and farther until finally, after much effort, you would have a guard wide enough that a fire could not cross it. We stayed and followed up miles and miles of side lines, until we had the fire under complete control..
Some of you folks who imagine a cowboy had nothing to do but ride and shout and carry shooting arms, would have been surprised indeed if you would have had the opportunity to have lived among them, shared their labors, their hardships, joys and sorrows. No thought of pay for overtime, no bonus at the end of the year, no increase in pay for doing your duty. There were no returned contracts unsigned because we were only offered $500.00 or $10,000.00, more than we got the year before. Cowboys worked without contracts, and thirty dollars per month was the prevailing wages in that district. Just count "em" $360.00 per year. After buying clothing, boots, hats, shirts, blankets, slickers, tarpaulins, bedding, saddle, of course a saddle did not have to be replaced often, and granting a dollar went farther then than now, you must admit there could not be much left for dissipation.
June 17, 1927.
Grant Gardner seemed to have a lot of confidence in me, although I was pretty youthful. When there was something that he wanted done, and wanted to be sure it was done, he handed me the consignment. It meant many long, hard rides alone, but riding is just play for a boy.
Even in those days there usually was some one who would come in for a hazing, but it usually fell on the fellow who came along and imagined he knew it all. A long, lanky Missourian from the Ozark district wandered in, and needing an extra man Grant hired him. I don't know as I ever heard his name, but Grant nicknamed him "Missouri Chief." In a certain way he was rather witty and very droll in speech. One thing about him he would always try to do what he was told, whether from a sense of duty or because he wanted to please, or just did not know any better. Many things they did to him seem shameful in looking back over it now.
One time needing a load of provisions, they hired a fellow with three ponies and a little Spanish mule, making a light four horse team. It was necessary to drag the load through sand hills on the north side of the Cimarron river to the mouth of Sand Creek, slightly west of the Great Salt Plains. It was a long, hard trip, and took all the pep out of the team. The owner claimed that no one could stay on the mule. "Missouri Chief" of course was not taken into their confidence except that a three dollar pot was made up for the man who could ride the mule. Grant then offered to enter "Missouri Chief" as his rider. The fellow, wishing to please his foreman, was willing to try it. The mule was led down in the sand bed of the creek which was perhaps over one hundred feet wide at this point with running water occupying twenty-five feet or so at one edge.
It turned out, the mule was so exhausted that he refused to buck. Two of the men on horses were all set though and with a rope between them, and half hitch around their saddle horns, they rode on either side of the mule, catching the mule under his tall, having him headed towards the water at the time, where the sand is usually softer or a little rotten, as we call quick sand. When the mule's front feet went down, they turned him a somersault into the water..
"Missouri Chief" came up snorting and mad as a hornet. He told Grant if he would make those fellows stay away he would ride that mule. There was no three dollars put up for the feat, so to save his face he refused to keep the men behind the lines, and the deal was off. "Missouri Chief' never tumbled that the whole thing was a hoax.
Grant then made up a foot race for him, and had him training each day after dinner while the sun was boiling hot. He would have M. C. remove his boots, and run up and down the sand bed in his stocking feet to harden him, then wade in the water to take out any swelling, and back into the hot sand again, grinding the fine sand into his socks. He trained him during the heat of the day for a week or ten days, but when it came time to run the race, as Grant explained to him, it must be after dusk, so he would not be overheated.
The route Chief selected for the race course had one of those spreading cactus that grow on the prairie. Being in his stocking feet and his head held high, as he had been trained to do, he ran into it all right, and such a yell. Grant really was sorry afterwards, as he was a good-hearted fellow. I don't know how long M. C. was getting those thorns and fine stickers out, still he never blamed Grant, just thought he had veered in his course, and that it was an accident and was very sorry he had lost the race.
They had been making some roundups and another outfit was camping near us with their cut. Every one had to do guard duty, which was two to three hours, depending on how many men were in the outfit. The other outfit being short handed, Grant, loaned M. C. to them. They made the plea there was only one watch in the outfit, so when M. C. was called at midnight they showed him the north or polar star, and told him when it went down to call the next guard until daylight.
I was on guard with our herd from 12 midnight till 2:30 a.m., and my cattle being quiet, I rode over to call on him and explained how long it seemed on guard duty. he admitted the time did seem long.
We used two cinches on our saddles. Some localities only use one, but I still think a saddle sticks better with two cinches. We had one horse that would buck if cinched extra tight with the rear cinch. Grant gave this horse to M. C. We always kept our horses saddled during the night, whether on duty or not, so you could instantly be in the saddle if needed. After M. C. had his horse saddled and retired until his guard duty, one of the boys tightened the cinch. Ordinarily he would stand by the hour and not do a thing, but if made to move would start right in bucking. Well something caused the horse to move and he started right in ahead of time, thereby spoiling our fun.
Grant was a very fine rider himself and always smoked a big pipe. It was one of our regular treats to see him ride a large, blaze face bay. Many times it would buck his hat off, but he never lost that pipe. Strange as it may seem to you and as commonplace as you might think a bucking horse may become to a cowboy, they always stop and watch and get a kick out of watching a fellow rider. After all, only a few of our saddle horses would perform. Grant had to do things to get this horse started, like digging him in the flanks or ribs or rake his shoulders with his spurs.
I had a long, hard ride to make one day and Grant told me to take this horse, as he had plenty of bottom, which means stamina, and to keep my spurs out of his flank. He was so large and tall by the side of ordinary ponies it was necessary to find a raised place on the ground so I could mount him, without ramming my toes in his flank; which would cause me grief. If they bucked hard enough, I nearly always hit the gravel.
Some of the boys were always ready to put the scare in a kid anyway telling you if a certain horse would throw you you would go so high the birds would build a nest in your hat before you could come down. This trip I had to make was an outlying camp, where the men had to be absent, and I must stay until next day. There was nothing to do and nothing to read, and it got pretty lonesome.
I had one time asked one of the men just what enjoyment he derived from chewing tobacco. His reply was, "It helped him from being lonesome." It occurred to me it was about the proper time to try the system. Finding a plug I helped myself, and soon found he had told me the truth. I was not lonesome, but got pretty sick, then tried to kill the effect with sugar. It cured me of the tobacco pronto.
Shortly after I was transferred over to the mixed herd, considerable young stuff, which was an easy prey to wolves, so they were day herding and standing guard with a straw boss in charge. He had a kid younger than I, and all kid. He was on herd all day, being considered too young to stand the responsibility of night guard. The system worked like this: You and another man would go on day duty with this kid working until noon, allowing the cattle to scatter pretty freely, and not trample all the grass down like close herding would do. After noon two other men took the job, the extra kid staying on all day, in the evening, the cattle were brought on the bed ground, and with full stomachs, night guard was comparatively easy - only one man at a time. The first man was on until 10 p.m. He would ride around, then come in and box or run races with that kid, keeping camp awake. Seemed like you would not more than get asleep until he would come at 10 p.m. and say "your guard," which lasted until 12:30 a.m. I would then call the next man. He stayed until 3:00 a.m., then the fourth man held them until daylight.
It is true, you had one afternoon and one forenoon off duty, then the same on, but it would be too hot to sleep, and flies razzing you until you would give your kingdom, not for a horse, but for some sleep. I can sympathize with a sentinel going to sleep on duty. One night it seemed beyond my will power to keep awake longer. I have heard of men putting tobacco in their eyes at such times to keep going. Not using tobacco, I had no such recourse. Finally fearing that I would go to sleep in the saddle and fall off, I made up my mind to get down for a few minutes anyway, riding some little distance from the cattle so my presence on the ground would not frighten them. Just how long I was on the ground I do not know. Possibly only a few minutes, I dreamed that wolves had gotten into the herd, and that was what I was on duty to guard against. Rousing up startled, I jumped in the saddle and was riding into those cattle before I knew it. Nothing went wrong aside from some of the cattle getting up, but it was the first and last time to leave and shirk my duty.
When they transferred me back to headquarters to ride fence line I was not a bit sorry. Riding fence lines, you get to sleep at night, but it has its duties and responsibilities. Storms and wolves will cause cattle to run, creating a small stampede of small bunches or herds, and a stampede of small number is not such a momentous affair. Take two or three thousand cattle, and if they once start, they don't know what it is all about, but thousands of thundering hoofs and clashing horns, they seem to think the Old Harry is after them, and I doubt if several times the men in an outfit could hold them when once started.
One morning after a severe storm considerable fence was down. With the fresh rain, the tracks were plainly visible. There is the job of rebuilding the fence, the best you can, as well as, trailing those cattle, and cutting them out of your neighbor's cattle by your lonesome. Then the tumble weeds will start in the fall to roll and tumble ahead of the wind, banking up against the fence until the pressure will be so great in a strong wind that old posts will break off at the ground, maybe, tearing down several hundred feet of fence in one stretch. That means draw the staples and dig holes resetting the posts the best you can until a crew can go out with a wagon and rebuild it properly.
Across low lying creeks, or in fact most any place where the water flows after rains, may take out the fence. A single wire may be broken and a cow crawl out of the gap, so you must ride every foot of that fence and look carefully for tracks. Some one is paying you to safeguard their property so far as it is humanly possible to do so.
June 24, 1927.
When election time came on, there were only three in the whole outfit who were too young to vote. It was tacitly understood the cowboys had the right to suffrage at their nearest voting place, which was about eight miles from this mixed herd, and the herd was about ten miles from headquarters. Grant had me to go over to the herd, and gave me the kid, Charlie, and another chap. Being early in November the whole kit and boodle started to the voting place. They could easily have voted and been back at noon, but they made it a holiday, and came trailing in at what would have been sundown, if the sun was shining, but shortly after they left the weather began to change. The wind came up, it rained some, then sleeted and would spit snow. The cattle were very restless and uncomfortable, and drifted continuously. It was the first storm of the season, and no breaks of any kind. In order to keep them near camp at all it was necessary to force them into the wind, and at the least letup they would begin to drift back, going with the storm, so it was ride, ride, ride, ride and yell and yell, forcing them beyond our camp, giving our horses a chance to get their wind, and back and forth all day. We could not spare even one man long enough to cook a bite, so we took a cold bite and rode on.
The tent was a six foot wall affair and not properly anchored for the wind that day, neither had we time to care for it. It got loose at places, and the snow, sleet and rain blew in on the beds. It was rather a sorry mess and night coming on.
When those men came in we had every cow brute, but a frazzled bunch of kids cold and hungry and tired. Grant told me to go on into headquarters, so I would be there to ride my fence the next a.m., and he did not have to tell me twice. It meant a warm bed and dry place. Those men had to cook supper after dark, and stay with those cattle all night, and not a dry bed in camp. Darkness came almost immediately and snowing to beat the band. I had headed for our pasture fence and gained the inside of it, with eight miles more to go. By that time you could not see land marks. It was dark and the trail was not visible. Instead of taking the ordinary short cut for home which I had no confidence of being able to follow, I became somewhat alarmed and played safe. The pasture, as you know, was about two and a half miles wide, therefore I was only about one mile from the south fence, and by staying the general trend of the breaks and divides, it was a pretty safe bet to reach the fence and follow it until reaching the creek our headquarters were located upon, then follow the creek on in. The light at headquarters was the finest thing I ever saw. I was worried and admit it. Our habitation being the only one in miles and miles, besides, if I could not locate our own, what chance of finding others. No one wants to be fodder for hungry wolves.
Right away Grant hunted up a better place where those cattle would have some protection from the cold and wind. For the bed ground, he selected a large bend in a creek, high bank on one side and low, flat bottom with some timber fringed along the edges. By chopping down an old, dead tree and starting a fire at one end of the trunk it would smolder along, making heat for the night rider especially, for quite a while. They were using a small, three foot wall tent, with an extra fly over it. By dropping the center poles six inches in the earth, the sides came down so you could bank earth on them, keeping out the cold. With a little grass for a mattress and your blankets and tarpaulin, and sheet iron stove, it was warm, if not over comfortable and stylish.
By this time the kid, Charlie, had been promoted until he was standing night guard with the rest of us. The nights were longer and divided into more shifts. One morning with snow on the ground, he was boasting at breakfast how little he rode around the cattle while on guard. When he was called he rode around them, everything nice and quiet, so he pulled up to the burning log until time to be relieved, riding around once more as he went off duty. When daylight came, we noticed a bunch of twenty-five or thirty head of cattle slowly winding their way up the hill and over the divide, over a mile away. Those cattle might have gotten clear away, as the snow was several days old, the cattle being brought in each night and made many tracks. We never heard any more boasting about shirking duties. He was a happy go lucky kid, without any home, likable, but, irresponsible, always getting into petty devilment, practicing roping, but instead of roping a calf that he could handle, he would try it on a full grown animal, then the men would have to get his rope back. If no one was about, he would try to saddle the worst horses in the outfit. It never worried him to get thrown off and the horse run away with his saddle.
Grant was a great fellow. Soon as it would begin to get cold he would start putting on more clothes, like another shirt and trousers, an extra vest and coat until he would have about three whole outfits on, He had taken off some dirty socks, leaving them on the dirt floor of the tent for two or three weeks, when one day he said, "Well, these have been off long enough, they ought to be clean," so on they went. It is a wonder he did not get "cooties," but he did not. In the spring he would begin to shed clothing much like a horse would his winter suit, until he would get down to bed rock.
Summer came again, just like it always does, with day herding and standing guard as usual, the cattle scattered, three riders on duty, but not necessarily in sight of each other. The other men were lolling around camp, as it was their afternoon off. Charlie as usual had to seek society, and come over on my side of the hill out of sight of camp. I had been sniffling in the air and could see dark smoke away off, but he said it was down on the river, twenty miles away, then challenged me for a horse race. I told him he had better get back on his side of the cattle after the race was over. I could smell burning grass, and riding on a higher point where we could see better, we were amazed to see all the men out whooping and yelling, rounding those cattle in. They were loosely scattered over a section of ground. On account of the topography of the country, the men in camp were in a better position to see the on coming fire and acted promptly. The cook was instructed to fire the grass on the opposite side of the creek, and then move his wagon over there. It was a mad scramble then for all the riders to get those cattle into the same safety zone. That is when the old slicker comes in handy, when you ride at those cattle, yelling and shaking a dry, rattling slicker they move.
I presume we saved everything except one beachy, old steer. He showed fight and we had no time to play with him, although he might have saved himself, as we drove the last cow brute looking at each other and bawling, going over the creek bank into the burned zone the cook had prepared for us. The head fire rushed by us, taking everything, leaving us choking and eyes burning from the smoke - sort of an inferno.
There we were with a lot of cattle and no grass, and our owner in Kansas City. Did Grant sit down and weep and wail, and burn up the wires asking Mr. Beals what to do? He did not. He got away and located some grass twenty-five miles away and moved camp. That changed things all around. Mr. Brown was putting little time in on the ranch, preferring to live in town. With our headquarters range being pretty well destroyed also, they moved all the cattle out and Grant wished the job on me of staying there, riding over the pasture and looking around generally to see that no unnecessary trespassing would go on.
It was fully understood I could spend my days much as I saw fit, but I must stay there nights. It was certainly a lonesome proposition. He gave me his wolf for company. He was as large as a full grown one, but seemed as gentle and docile as a St. Bernard, but I did get lonesome and teased him, which was a silly and dangerous thing to do. He was on the end of a chain with just a strap around his neck. At such times as this, if he could have broken loose when lunging at me, no doubt he would have finished me. His eyes would fairly turn green and he would slobber at the mouth, but he had to depend upon me for food and water, and truth to tell, I did not tease him only a few times after all. The talking to him and giving him bites to eat and water he was again ready to be friendly and would lie down and roll over, showing every way he could that he had forgiven me. When I was gone all day he be very lonely. I tried tying him down by the creek where he could always have water, but he was like a pitiful dog, howling until I put him on the hill again by the house.
One evening as I was returning I noticed a man ride up and tie his horse at the corral, and start for the house. The wolf had gotten loose, and wanting company started loping toward the stranger. Not knowing he was gentle, he beat it around the house to the door. If the door had been locked I don't know what that fellow might have attempted to do. As I rode up I saw his face through the window, wild-eyed, for he had the scare of his life. When I dismounted the wolf came to be petted. He could easily lay his forepaws on my shoulders and his head as high as mine, wanting to lick your hands and face.
Whether you can take all the wolf cubs and make pets of them I do not know, neither do I know how long the wolf had been loose or whether he would have stayed around the house all day awaiting my return or not, but I do know he was always pleased when I returned. I would rather chance a wolf than a coyote. They are too treacherous, to my mind, and even when you think they are perfectly gentle they are apt to snap at you when least expected.
To the west of the T. A. headquarters were what was known as the Black Hills. They were in a direct line from the once thriving village of Avilla and the Half Circle Box ranch. In a former chapter I mentioned about an Indian upraising in the early days and a legend has it that a herder was killed by Indians in these hills and there were those who talked about ghosts stalking through these hills. Truth compels me to say I never met one. For the same reason when I formerly had to ride over those hills carrying the mail from Avilla to the ranch, I did not let any grass grow under my pony. Night birds or quail nesting in the sage brush by the road side would flutter up with quite a noise and give me quite a start, but as soon as I realized it was only a bird my hair would lay smooth on my head.
Some fellow who had not been with the T. A. outfit so very long had a trip that took him over these hills. Ordinarily, night riding is no bugbear to a cow hand, but finding the company and change interesting from routine camp life in our own camp, he remained pretty late. They loaded him full of early day reminiscences and elaborated the ghost story. With eight or ten miles to go, and having to go through these hills, he saw the ghost and rode his horse until he died from the effects.
Do you know what riding a horse until he has the thumps is, dear reader? How many of you ever saw a horse with the thumps? Our treatment, was similar to the way race horses are cared for after racing each heat, but he was too frightened to give his horse attention, consequently he died.
I do not think any of our men really gave the ghost story any strength. They just figured they had jumped a white cow up in the darkness, and as they were in a hurry, they went on their way.
Those Black Hills have out croppings similar to the waste from coal mines, hence the name. I am not a geologist, but always have believed there is coal in those hills. With coal in Colorado on the west, eastern Kansas on the east, McAlester southeast, leaves a big territory unproved.
Many poor settlers far from railroads, and coal at high prices, with winter staring them in the face, where no timber was a available, resorted to what they termed "buffalo chips," just plain cow chips, for fuel. After the sun and time had thoroughly dried them through and through they answer the purpose of fuel pretty well. The prairies were covered, and they were free for the gathering. They will not generate heat like other fuels, but you can cook and keep from freezing. Even our range camps would sometimes be embarrassed for wood fuel and would have to resort to buffalo chips.
One night we went into camp with so little fuel, what we had was restricted for the cook to get breakfast. The night was coming on and it was cold at night when hot coffee tasted good while on night guard. I slipped out with a burlap bag after dusk groping in the direction until I had my sack full of chips. When it came my time to stand guard I tried to build up a fire, but found my fuel was too green, not seasoned enough to burn. I was simply in hard luck, for it was bitter cold and getting colder, the last bunch of cattle to be delivered that fall, when all extra men would be let out, and I knew I was due for a piece of paper with a cow upon it. That was an expression the men used when paid off. Sure enough, next morning grant said, "You are nearer home now than you will be at the end of the drive. You can go now." I said, "Yes are a fine one. Let me stand guard a night like this, then fire me." He just laughed with his strong hearty laugh and said he did it so I could remember him.
Grant was one of the best natured wholesome fellows I ever was in camp with. Never would ask nor expect a man to do anything he was not ready or willing to do. There he was with his men facing a bitter cold, biting snow, apparently happy, smiling and in good humor. In fact, all the time I knew him I never actually saw him lose his head. It was the last time I ever saw Grant Gardner, and I say it with all sorrow.
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!
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