U. S. SERVICE SERIES.
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. FORESTERS
BY FRANCIS ROLT-WHEELER
With Thirty-eight Illustrations from Photographs taken by the U. S. Forest Service
LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
To My Son Roger's Friend
Much of the wilderness is yet but little trod. Great stretches of virgin forest still remain within whose dim recesses nothing is changed since the days the Indians dwelt in them. The mystery and the adventure are not sped, the grandeur and the companionship still pulse among the glades, the "call of the wild" is an unceasing cry, and to that call the boy responds.
But if this impulse to return to the shelter of the wilds be still so strong, how greatly more intense does it become when we awaken to the fact that the forest needs our help even more than we need its sense of freedom. When we perceive that the fate of these great belts of untamed wilderness lies in the hands of a small group of men whose mastery is absolute, when first we realize that national benefits—great almost beyond the believing—are intrusted to these men, surely Desire and Duty leap to grip hands and pledge themselves to the service of the forests of our land. To breathe the magnificent spaces of the West, to reveal the wealth and beauty of our great primeval woods, to acclaim the worth of the men who administer them, and to show splendid possibilities to a lad of grit and initiative is the aim and purpose of
CHAPTER I ENTERING THE SERVICE
CHAPTER II PUTTING A STOP TO GUN-PLAY
CHAPTER III THE FIGHT IN THE COULEE
CHAPTER IV PICKING A LIVELY BRONCHO
CHAPTER V A TUSSLE WITH A WILD-CAT
CHAPTER VI IN THE HEART OF THE FOREST
CHAPTER VII WILBUR IN HIS OWN CAMP
CHAPTER VIII DOWNING A GIANT LUMBERJACK
CHAPTER IX A HARD FOE TO CONQUER
CHAPTER X A FOURTH OF JULY PERIL
CHAPTER XI AMIDST A CATTLE STAMPEDE
CHAPTER XII ALMOST TRAMPLED TO DEATH
CHAPTER XIII HOW THE FOREST WON A GREAT DOCTOR
CHAPTER XIV A ROLLING CLOUD OF SMOKE
CHAPTER XV THE FOREST ABLAZE
CHAPTER XVI IN THE MIDST OF A SEA OF FIRE
The Giants of the Forest and the Men Who Safeguard Them A Forest Fire out of Control Good Forestry Management Bad Forestry Management The Tie-cutters' Boys Deforested and Washed Away As Bad as Anything in China How Young Forests are Destroyed Where Sheep are Allowed Cowboys at the Round-up Patrolling a Coyote Fence Reducing the Wolf Supply Where Ben and Mickey Burned the Brush The Cabin of the Old Ranger Stamping It Government Property Wilbur's Own Camp Just about Ready to Shoot Train-load from One Tree Wilbur's Own Bridge Where the Supervisor Stayed Measuring a Fair-sized Tree Running a Telephone Line Nursery for Young Trees Plantation of Young Trees Sowing Pine Seed Planting Young Trees What Tree-planting Will Do The First Conservation Expert Sand Burying a Pear Orchard No Water, No Forests. No Forests, No Water With Water! "That's One Painter Less, Anyhow!" "Smoke! And How am I Going to Get There?" "Keep It from Spreading, Boys!" "Get Busy Now, When It Breaks into the Open!"
THE BOY WITH THE U. S. FORESTERS
ENTERING THE SERVICE
"Hey, Wilbur, where are you headed for?"
The boy addressed, who had just come through the swing-doors of an office building in Washington, did not slacken his pace on hearing the question, but called back over his shoulder:
"To the forest, of course. Come along, Fred."
"But—" The second speaker stopped short, and, breaking into a run, caught up with his friend in a few steps.
"You certainly seem to be in a mighty big hurry to get there," he said.
"We don't loaf on our service," answered the boy with an air of pride.
His friend broke into a broad grin. He had known Wilbur Loyle for some time, and was well aware of his enthusiastic nature.
"How long has it been 'our' service?" he queried, emphasizing the pronoun.
"Ever since I was appointed," rejoined Wilbur exultantly.
"I'm glad the appointment has had time to soak in; it didn't take long, did it?" Wilbur flushed a little, and his chum, seeing this, went on laughingly: "Don't mind my roasting, old man, only you were 'way up in the clouds."
The boy's expression cleared instantaneously, and he laughed in reply.
"I suppose I was," he said, "but it's great to feel you've got the thing you've been working for. As you know, Fred, I've been thinking of this for years; in fact, I've always wanted it, and I've worked hard to get it. And then the Chief Forester's fine; he's just fine; I liked him ever so much."
"Did you have much chance to talk with him?"
"Yes, quite a lot. I thought I was likely enough to meet him, and p'raps he would formally tell me I was appointed and then bow me out of the office. Not a bit of it. He told me all about the Service, showed me just what there was in it for the country, and I tell you what—he made me feel that I wanted to go right straight out on the street and get all the other boys to join."
"Well, he showed me that the Forest Service gave a fellow a chance to make good even better than in the army or the navy. There you have to follow orders mainly; there's that deadly routine besides, and you don't get much of a chance to think for yourself; but in the Forest Service a chap is holding down a place of trust where he has a show to make good by working it out for himself."
"Sounds all right," said the older boy. "Anyway, I'm glad if you're glad."
"What I like about it," went on Wilbur, "is the bigness of the whole thing and the chance a chap has to show what he's made of. Glad? You bet I'm glad!"
"You weren't so sure whether you were going to like it or not when you went in to see about it," said Fred.
"Oh, yes, I was. I knew I was going to like it all right. But I didn't know anything about where I might be sent or how I would be received."
"I think it's just ripping," said his friend, "that it looks so good to you, starting out. It makes a heap of difference, sometimes, how a thing begins."
"It surely does. Right now, the whole thing seems too good to be true."
"Well," said the other, "as long as it strikes you that way I suppose you're satisfied now for all the grind you did preparing for it. But I don't believe it would suit me. It might be all right to be a Forest Ranger, but you told me one time that you had to start in as a Fire Guard, a sort of Fire Policeman, didn't you?"
"Well, that doesn't sound particularly exciting."
"Why not? What more excitement do you want than a forest fire! Isn't that big enough for you?"
"The fire would be all right," answered the older boy, "but it's the watching and waiting for it that would get me."
"You can't expect to have adventures every minute anywhere," said Wilbur, "but even so, you're not standing on one spot like a sailor in a crow's nest, waiting for something to happen; you're in the saddle, riding from point to point all day long, sometimes when there is a trail and sometimes when there isn't, out in the real woods, not in poky, stuffy city streets. You know, Fred, I can't stand the city; I always feel as if I couldn't breathe."
"All right, Wilbur," said the other, "it's your own lookout, I suppose. Me for the city, though."
Just then, and before Fred could make any further reply, a hand was laid on Wilbur's shoulder, and the lad, looking around, found the Chief Forester walking beside them.
"Trying to make converts already, Loyle?" he asked with a smile, nodding pleasantly to the lad's companion.
"I was trying to, sir," answered the boy, "but I don't believe Fred would ever make one of us."
The Chief Forester restrained all outward trace of amusement at the lad's unconscious coupling of the head of the service and the newest and youngest assistant, and, turning to the older boy, said questioningly:
"Why not, Fred?"
"I was just saying to Wilbur, sir," he replied in a stolid manner, "that a Forest Guard's life didn't sound particularly exciting. It might be all right when a fire came along, but I should think that it would be pretty dull waiting for it, week after week."
"Not exciting enough?" The boys were nearly taken off their feet by the energy of the speaker. "Not when every corner you turn may show you smoke on the horizon? Not when every morning finds you at a different part of the forest and you can't get there quick enough to convince yourself that everything is all right? Not when you plunge down ravines, thread your way through and over fallen timber, and make up time by a sharp gallop wherever there's a clearing, knowing that every cabin you pass is depending for its safety on your care? And then that is only a small part of the work. If you can't find excitement enough in that, you can't find it in anything."
"Yes—" began Fred dubiously, but the Chief Forester continued:
"And as for the responsibility! I tell you, the forest is the place for that. We need men there, not machines. On the men in the forest millions of dollars' worth of property depends. More than that, on the care of the Forest Guards hangs perhaps the stopping of a forest fire that otherwise would ravage the countryside, kill the young forest, denude the hills of soil, choke with mud the rivers that drain the denuded territory, spoil the navigable harbors, and wreck the prosperity of all the towns and villages throughout that entire river's length."
"I hadn't realized there was so much in it," replied Fred, evidently struck with the Forester's earnestness.
"You haven't any idea of how much there is in it. Not only for the work itself, but for you. Wild horses can't drag a man out of the Service once he's got in. It has a fascination peculiarly its own. The eager expectancy of vast spaces, the thrill of adventure in riding off to parts where man seldom treads, and the magnificent independence of the frontiersman, all these become the threads of which your daily life is made."
"It sounds fine when you put it that way, sir," said Fred, his eyes kindling at the picture. "But it's hardly like that at first, is it?"
"Certainly it is! Does the life of a fireman in a big city fire department strike you as being interesting or exciting?"
"Oh, yes, sir!"
"It isn't to be compared with that of the Forest Guard. A city fireman is only one of a company huddled together in a little house, not greatly busy until the fire telegraph signal rings. But suppose there were only one fireman for the whole city, that he alone were responsible for the safety of every house, that instead of telegraphic signaling he must depend on his trusty horse to carry him to suitable vantage points, and on his eyesight when there; suppose that he knew there was a likelihood of fire every hour out of the twenty-four, and that during the season he could be sure of two or three a week, don't you think that fireman would have a lively enough time of it?"
"He surely would," said Wilbur.
"Aside from the fact that there are not as many people involved, that's not unlike a Forest Guard's position. I tell you, he's not sitting around his shack trying to kill time." Then, turning sharply to the older boy, the Chief Forester continued:
"What do you want to be?"
"I had wanted to be a locomotive engineer, sir," was the boy's reply, "but now I think I'll stay in the city."
"It was the excitement of the life that appealed to you, was it?"
"Yes, sir. I guess so."
"True, there's a good deal of responsibility there, when you stand with your hand on the throttle of a fast express, knowing that the lives of the passengers are in your hand. There's a good deal of pride, too, in steering a vessel through a dangerous channel or in a stormy sea; there's a thrill of power when you sight a big gun and know that if you were in warfare the defense of your country might lie in your skill and aim. But none of these is greater than the sense of power and trust reposing in the men of the Forest Service, to whom Uncle Sam gives the guardianship and safe-keeping of millions of acres of his property and the lives of thousands of his citizens."
The Chief Forester watched the younger of his companions, who was striding along the Washington street, and casting rapid glances from building to building as he went along, as though he expected to see flame and smoke pouring from every window, and that the city's safety lay in his hands. Smiling slightly, very slightly, and addressing himself to the older boy, although it was for the benefit of his new assistant that he was speaking, the Forester continued:
"It's really more like the work of a trusted army scout than anything else. In the old days of Indian warfare,"—both boys gave a quick start of increased attention—"the very finest men and the most to be trusted were the scouts. They were men of great bravery, of undaunted loyalty, of great wariness, and filled with the spirit of dashing adventure. They were men who took their lives in their own hands. Going before the main body of the army, single-handed, if need be, they would stave off the attacks of Indian foes and would do battle with outposts and pickets. If the force were too great, they would map out the lay of the land and devise a strategical plan of attack, then, without rest or food often, would steal back to the main body, and, laying their information in the hands of the general, would act as guides if he ordered a forward movement."
"But how—" interrupted Fred.
"I was just coming to that," replied the Forester in response to his half-uttered query. "A Forest Guard is really a Forest Scout. There have been greater massacres at the hands of the Fire Tribe than from any Indian tribe that ever roamed the prairies. Hundreds, yes, thousands of lives were lost in the days before the Forest Service was in existence by fires which Forest Scouts largely could have prevented. Why, I myself can recall seeing a fire in which nearly a thousand and a half persons perished."
"In one fire?"
"Just in one fire. What would you think if you were told that in a forest in front of you were several thousand savages, all with their war-paint on, waiting a chance to break forth on the villages of the plain, that you had been chosen for the post of honor in guarding that strip of plain, and that the lives of those near by depended on your alertness? If they had picked you out for that difficult and important post, do you think that you would go and stand your rifle up against a tree and look for some soft nice mossy bank on which to lie down and go to sleep?"
"I'd stay on the job till I dropped," answered Wilbur quickly and aggressively.
"There's really very little difference between the two positions," said the Chief Forester. "No band of painted savages can break forth from a forest with more appalling fury than can a fire, none is more difficult to resist, none can carry the possibility of torture to its hapless victims more cruelly, none be so deaf to cries of mercy as a fire. Instead of keeping your ears open for a distant war-whoop, you have to keep your eyes open for the thin up-wreathing curl of smoke by day, or the red glow and flickering flame at night, which tells that the time has come for you to show what stuff you are made of. On the instant must you start for the fire, though it may be miles away, crossing, it may be, a part of the forest through which no trail has been made, plunging through streams which under less urgency would make you hesitate to try them, single-handed and 'all on your own,' to fight Uncle Sam's battles against his most dangerous and most insistent foe."
"But if you can't put it out?" suggested Fred.
"It has got to be put out," came the sharp reply, with an insistence of manner that told even more than the words. "There isn't anything else to it. If you have to get back to headquarters or send word there, if all the Rangers in the forest have to be summoned, if you have to ride to every settlement, ranch, and shack on the range, yes, if you have to rouse up half the State, this one thing is sure—the fire has got to be put out."
"But can you get help?"
"Nearly always. In the first place, the danger is mutual and everybody near the forest or in it will suffer if the fire spreads. In the second place, the Service is ready to pay men a fair wage for the time consumed in putting out a fire, and even the Ranger has the right to employ men to a limited extent. Sometimes the blaze can be stopped without great difficulty, at other times it will require all the resources available under the direction of the Forest Supervisor, but in the first resort it depends largely upon the Guard. A young fellow who is careless in such a post as that is as great a traitor to his country as a soldier would be who sold to the enemy the plans of the fort he was defending, or a sailor who left the wheel while a battle-ship was threading a narrow and rocky channel."
"What starts these forest fires, sir?" asked Fred.
"All sorts of things, but most of them arise from one common cause—carelessness. There are quite a number of instances in which fires have been started by lightning, but they are few in number as compared with those due to human agency. The old tale of fires being caused by two branches of a dead tree rubbing against each other is, of course, a fable."
"But I should think any one would know enough not to start a forest fire," exclaimed the older boy. "I'm not much on the woods, but I think I know enough for that."
"It isn't deliberate, it's careless," repeated the Forester. "Sometimes a camper leaves a little fire smoldering when he thinks the last spark is out; sometimes settlers who have to burn over their clearings allow the blaze to get away from them; when Indians are in the neighborhood they receive a large share of the blame, and the hated tramp is always quoted as a factor of mischief. In earlier days, sparks from locomotives were a constant danger, and although the railroad companies use a great many precautions now to which formerly they paid no heed, these sparks and cinders are still a prolific cause of trouble. And beside this carelessness, there is a good deal of inattention and neglect. The settlers will let a little fire burn for days unheeded, waiting for a rain to come along and put it out, whereas if a drought ensues and a high wind comes up, a fire may arise that will leap through the forest and leave them homeless, and possibly even their own lives may have to pay the penalty of their recklessness."
"But what I don't understand," said Fred, "is how people get caught. It's easy enough to see how a forest could be destroyed, but I should think that every one could get out of the way easily enough. It must take a tree a long while to burn, even after it gets alight, especially if it's a big one."
"A big forest fire, fanned by a high wind, and in the dry season," answered the Chief Forester, "could catch the fastest runner in a few minutes. The flames repeatedly have been known to overtake horses on the gallop, and where there are no other means of escape the peril is extreme."
"But will green trees burn so fast?" the older boy queried in surprise. "I should have thought they were so full of sap that they wouldn't burn at all."
"The wood and foliage of coniferous trees like spruce, fir, and pine are so full of turpentine and resin that they burn like tinder. The heat is almost beyond the power of words to express. The fire does not seem to burn in a steady manner, the flames just breathe upon an immense tree and it becomes a blackened skeleton which will burn for hours.
"The actual temperature in advance of the fire is so terrific that the woods begin to dry and to release inflammable vapors before the flames reach them, when they flash up and add their force to the fiery hurricane. It is almost unbelievable, too, the way a crown-fire will jump. Huge masses of burning gas will be hurled forth on the wind and ignite the trees two and three hundred yards distant. Fortunately, fires of this type are not common, most of the blazes one is likely to encounter being ground fires, which are principally harmful in that they destroy the forest floor."
"But I should have thought," said Wilbur, "that such fires could only get a strong hold in isolated parts where nobody lives."
"Not at all. Sometimes they begin quite close to the settlements, like the destructive fire at Hinckley, Minnesota, in 1894, which burned quietly for a week, and could have been put out by a couple of men without any trouble; but sometimes they start in the far recesses of the forest and reach their full fury very quickly. Of course, every fire, even the famous Peshtigo fire, started as a little bit of a blaze which either of you two boys could have put out."
"How big a fire was that, sir?" asked Fred.
"It covered an area of over two thousand square miles."
"Great Caesar!" ejaculated Wilbur after a rapid calculation, "that would be a strip twenty miles wide and a hundred miles long."
The Chief Forester nodded.
"It wiped the town of Peshtigo entirely off the map," he said. "The people were hemmed in, ringed by fire on every side, and out of a population of two thousand, scarcely five hundred escaped. Flight was hopeless and rescue impossible."
"And could this have been stopped after it got a hold at all?" asked Wilbur seriously, realizing the gravity of the conditions that some day he might have to face. "Could not something have been done?"
"It could have been prevented," said the Chief Forester fiercely, "and as I said, in the first few hours either one of you boys could have put it out. But there have been many others like it since, and probably there will be many others yet to come. Even now, there are hundreds of towns and villages near forest lands utterly unprovided with adequate fire protection. Some of them are near our national forests, and it is our business to see that no danger comes to them. Think of a fire like that of Peshtigo, think that if it had been stopped at the very beginning a thousand and a half lives would have been saved, and then ask yourself whether the work of a Forest Guard is not just about as fine a thing as any young fellow can do."
[Footnote 1: While this volume was in the press, forest fires of the utmost violence broke out in Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Over two hundred lives were lost, many of them of members of the Forest Service, and hundreds of thousands of acres of timber were destroyed.]
Wilbur turned impulsively to his chum.
"You'll just have to join us, Fred," he said. "I don't see how any one that knows anything about it can keep out. You could go to a forestry school this summer and start right in to get ready for it."
"I'll think about it," said the older boy.
The Chief Forester was greatly pleased with the lad's eagerness to enroll his friend, and, turning to him, continued:
"I don't want you to think it's all fire-fighting in the forest, though, Loyle; so I'll give you an idea of some of the other opportunities which will come your way in forest work. I suppose both of you boys hate a bully? I know I used to when I was at school."
"I think," said Wilbur impetuously, "that a bully's just about the worst ever."
"I do, too," joined in Fred.
"Well, you'll have a chance to put down a lot of bullying. You look surprised, eh? You don't see what bullying has to do with forestry? It has, a great deal, and I'll show you how. I suppose you know that a forest is a good deal like a school?"
"Well, no," admitted Wilbur frankly, "I don't quite see how."
"A forest is made up of a lot of different kind of trees, isn't it, just as a school is made up of a lot of boys? And each of these trees has an individuality, just in the same way that each boy has an individuality. That, of course, is easy to see. But what is more important, and much less known, is that just as the school as a whole gets to have a certain standard, so does the forest as a whole."
"That seems queer," remarked Fred.
"Perhaps it does, but it's true none the less. In many schools there are some boys bigger than others, but who are not good for as much, and they're always picking at the others and crowding them down. In the same way in a forest there are always some worthless trees, trying to crowd out the ones which are of more value. As the trees of better value are always sought for their timber, that gives the worthless stuff a good chance to get ahead. One of the duties of a Forester, looking after his section of the forest, is to see that every possible chance is given to the good over the bad."
"It's really like having people to deal with!" cried Fred in surprise. "It sounds as if a tree were some kind of a human being."
"There are lots of people," said the Chief Forester, "who think of trees and speak of trees just exactly as if they were people like themselves. And it isn't even only the growing of the right kind of trees, but there are lots of ways of handling them under different conditions and at different ages. Thus, a Forester must be able to make his trees grow in height up to a certain stage, then stop their further growth upwards and make them put on diameter."
"But how can you get a tree to grow in a certain way?" asked Fred in utter amazement.
"Get Loyle here to tell you all about it. I suppose you learned that at the Ranger School, didn't you?" he added, turning to the younger boy.
"Yes, sir. We had a very interesting course in silviculture."
"But just to give you a rough idea, Fred," continued the Forester, "you know that some trees need a lot of light. Consequently, if a number of young trees are left fairly close together, they will all grow up straight as fast as they can, without putting out any branches near the bottom, and all their growth will be of height."
"See, Fred," interjected Wilbur, "that's why saplings haven't got any twigs except just at the top."
"Just so," said the Forester. "Presently," he continued, "as these young trees grow up together, one will overtop the rest. If the adjacent small trees be cut down when this tallest tree has reached a good height, it will spread at the top in order to get as much sunlight as possible. In order to carry a large top the diameter of the trunk must increase. So, by starting the trees close together and allowing one of them to develop alone after a certain height has been reached, the Forester has persuaded that tree first to grow straight and high, and then to develop girth, affording the finest and most valuable kind of lumber. That's just one small example of the scores of possibilities that lie in the hands of the expert Forester. By proper handling a forest can be made to respond to training, as I said, just as a school might do."
"I can tell you a lot more things, Fred, just as wonderful as that," commented Wilbur.
The Chief Forester nodded.
"I'd like to hear you myself," he said; "I'd rather listen to something about trees than eat. But I've got to go now. I'll see you again soon, Loyle," and with a parting good wish to both boys, he crossed the street and went on his way.
PUTTING A STOP TO GUN-PLAY
Wilbur was sitting in the writing-room of the hotel where he was staying while in Washington, just finishing a letter home telling of his good-fortune and his appointment, when a bell-boy came to tell him that his uncle, Mr. Masseth, was downstairs waiting to see him. This uncle had been a great inspiration to Wilbur, for he was prominent in the Geological Survey, and had done some wonderful work in the Canyon of the Colorado. Wilbur hurried down at once.
"Congratulations!" the geologist said, as soon as the boy appeared. "So you came through with flying colors, I hear."
"Every one was just as fine as could be," answered the lad. "But how did you know about it, uncle?"
"You wrote me that you were going to call on the Chief Forester to-day, and so I took the trouble to telephone to one of the men in the office who would be likely to know the result of your interview."
"Isn't it bully?"
"Yes," said the older man with a quiet laugh, "I think it is 'bully,' as you call it. But I didn't call only to congratulate you; I thought perhaps you would like to come with me to-night and meet some of the men in the Forest Service who are really doing things out West. If you do, there's no time to waste."
"You bet I do," the boy replied hastily. "But what is it all about?"
"It's a lecture on forestry in China, but it happens to come at the same time as a meeting of the District Foresters, so they're all in town. Trot along upstairs and get your hat, and we can talk about it on the way."
The geologist sauntered over to an acquaintance who was standing in the hotel lobby near by, but he had hardly exchanged half a dozen sentences with him when Wilbur reappeared, ready to go.
"You see," said Masseth as they left the hotel, "it is a good plan for you to meet as many of the leaders of your profession as you can, not only because their friendship may be useful to you, nor yet only because they are all pleasant fellows, but because forestry is a profession, a very large and complex one, and it is a revelation sometimes to see what can be made of it. I know myself, whenever I meet a great geologist I always feel a little better to think I can say, 'I am a geologist, too.' So you, I hope, may be able to say some day, 'I am a Forester, too.'"
"I'm one now," said Wilbur elatedly.
"You're not, you're only a cub yet," corrected his uncle sharply; "don't let your enthusiasm run away with your good sense. You are no more a Forester yet than a railroad bill-clerk is a transportation expert."
"All right, uncle," said Wilbur, "I'll swallow my medicine and take that all back. I'm not even the ghost of a Forester—yet."
"You will meet the real article to-night. As I told you, the District Foresters are East for a conference, and this lecture is given before the Forestry Association. So you will have a good chance of sizing up the sort of men you are likely to be with."
"Will the Forest Supervisors be there, too?"
"I should imagine not. There may be one or two in town. But the Supervisors alone would make quite a gathering if they were all here. There are over a hundred, are there not? You ought to know."
"Just a hundred and forty-one now—about one to each forest."
"And there are only six District Foresters?"
"Yes. One is in Montana, one in Colorado, one in New Mexico, one in Utah, one in California, and one in Oregon. And they have under their charge, so I learned to-day, nearly two hundred million acres of land, or, in other words, territory larger than the whole state of Texas and five times as large as England and Wales."
"I had forgotten the figures," said the geologist. "That gives each District Forester a little piece of land about the size of England to look after. And they can tell you, most of them, on almost every square mile of that region, approximately how much marketable standing timber may be found there, what kinds of trees are most abundant, and in what proportion, and roughly, how many feet of lumber can be cut to the acre. It's always been wonderful to me. That sort of thing takes learning, though, and you've got to dig, Wilbur, if you want to be a District Forester some day."
"I'm going to get there some day, all right."
"If you try hard enough, you may. By the way, there's one of them going in now. That's the house, on the other side of the Circle."
The boy looked across the curve and scanned all the men going in the same direction, quite with a feeling of companionship. One of the men who overtook and passed them, giving a hearty greeting to Masseth as he went by, was Roger Doughty, a young fellow who had distinguished himself in the Geological Survey, having taken a trip from south to north of Alaska, and Wilbur's companion felt a twinge of regret that his nephew had not entered his own service.
Wilbur, however, was always a "woods" boy, and even in his early childish days had been possessed with a desire to camp out. He had read every book he could lay hands on that dealt with "the great outdoors," and would ten thousand times over rather have been Daniel Boone than George Washington. Seeing his intense pleasure in that life, his father had always allowed him to go off into the wilds for his holidays, and in consequence he knew many little tricks of woodcraft and how to make himself comfortable when the weather was bad. His father, who was a lawyer, had wanted him to enter that profession, but Wilbur had been so sure of his own mind, and was so persistent that at his request he had been permitted to go to the Colorado Ranger School. From this he had returned even more enthusiastic than before, and Masseth, seeing that by temperament Wilbur was especially fitted for the Forest Service, had urged the boy's father to allow him to enter for it, and did not attempt to conceal his satisfaction with Wilbur's success.
"Why, Masseth, how did you get hold of Loyle?" asked the Chief Forester as the two came up the walk together.
"Didn't you know he was my nephew?" was the surprised reply.
"No," answered their host as they paused on the threshold, "he never said anything to me about it."
The geologist looked inquiringly at his young relative.
"I thought," said Wilbur, coloring, "that if I said anything about knowing you, before I was appointed, it would look as though I had done it to get a pull. I didn't think it would do me any good, anyhow; and even if it had, I felt that I'd rather not get anything that way."
"It wouldn't have helped you a bit," said the Chief Forester, "and, as you see, you did not need it. I'm glad, too, that you did not mention it at the time." He nodded his appreciation of the boy's position as they passed into the room beyond.
The place was thoroughly typical of the gathering and the occasion. The walls were hung with some magnificent trophies, elk and moose heads, one stuffed fish of huge size was framed beside the door, and there were numberless photographs of trees and forests, cross-sections of woods, and comparisons of leaves and seeds. Although in the heart of Washington, there was a breath and fragrance in the room, which, to the boy, seemed like old times in the woods. The men, too, that were gathered there showed themselves to be what they were—men who knew the great wide world and loved it. Every man seemed hearty in manner and thoroughly interested in whatever was going on.
Masseth was called away, soon after they entered the room, and Wilbur, left to himself, sauntered about among the groups of talkers, looking at the various trophies hung on the walls. As he drew near to one of the smaller groups, however, he caught the word "gun-play," so he edged up to the men and listened. One of them, seeing the lad, moved slightly to one side as an unspoken invitation to be one of them, and Wilbur stepped up.
The man who was speaking was comparing the present peaceful administration of the forests with the conditions that used to exist years ago, before the Service had been established, and when the Western "bad man" was at the summit of his power.
"It was during the cattle and sheep war that a fellow had to be pretty quick on the draw," said one.
"The Service had a good enough man for that, all right," suggested another member of the same group, "there wasn't any of them who could pull a bead quicker than our grazing Chief yonder." Wilbur turned and saw crossing the room a quiet-looking, spare man, light-complexioned, and apparently entirely inoffensive. "I guess they were ready enough to give him a wide berth when it came to gun-play."
"Talking about the cattle war," said the first speaker, "the worst trouble I ever had, or rather, the one that I hated to go into most, was back in those days. I was on the old Plum Creek Timber Land Reserve, now a portion of the Pike National Forest. A timber trespass sometimes leads to a very pretty scrap, and a cattle mix-up usually spells 'War' with a capital 'W,' but this had both."
"You get them that way sometimes," said a middle-aged, red-headed man, who was standing by.
"Had some down your way, too, I reckon?"
"Plenty of 'em. But go ahead with the yarn."
"Well, this bunch that I'm speaking of had skipped out from Montana; they were 'wanted' there, and they had come down and started cutting railroad ties in a secluded canyon forming one of the branches of West Plum Creek. They were hated good and plenty, these same tie-cutters, because they had a reputation of being too handy with their guns, and consequently causing a decrease in the calf crop. The cattlemen used to drop in on them every once in a while, but the tie-cutters were foxy, and they were never caught with the goods. Of course, there was a moral certainty that they weren't buying meat, but nothing could be proved against them, and the interchanges of compliments, while lively and picturesque enough, never took the form of lead, although it was expected every time they met."
"Had this been going on long?"
"Several months, I reckon," answered the former Ranger, "before I heard of it. This was just before that section of the country was taken over by the Forest Service. As soon as notice was given that the district in question was to be placed under government regulations, a deputation to the tie-cutters loped down on their cow-ponies to convey the cheerful news. Expressing, of course, the profoundest sympathy for them, the spokesman of the cattle group volunteered the information that they could wrap up their axes in tissue paper, tie pink ribbons on their rifles and go home, because any one caught cutting timber on the reserve, now that it was a reserve, would go to the Pen for fifteen years."
"What a bluff!"
"Bluff it certainly was. It didn't work, either. One of the tie-cutters in reply suggested that the cowmen should go back and devote their time to buying Navajo saddle-blankets and silver-mounted sombreros, since ornamenting the landscape was all they had to do in life; another replied that if a government inspector ever set eyes on their cattle he'd drive them off the range as a disgrace to the State; and a third capped the replies with the terse answer that no ten United States officers and no hundred and ten cattlemen could take them out alive."
"That wouldn't make the cow-camp feel happy a whole lot," remarked the red-headed man.
"There wasn't any shooting, though, as I said before, though just how it kept off I never rightly could understand. At all events they fixed it so that we heard of it in a hurry. Then both sides awaited developments. The tie-cutters kept their hands off the cattle for a while, and the cowmen had no special business with railroad ties, so that, aside from snorting at each other, no special harm was done.
"But, of course, the timber trespass question had to be investigated, and the Supervisor, who was then located at Colorado Springs, arranged to make the trip with me to the tie-cutters' camp from a small station about fifty miles north of the Springs. I met him at the station as prearranged. We were just about to start when a telegram was handed him calling him to another part of the forest in a hurry."
"Tough luck," said one of the listeners.
"It surely was—for me," commented the narrator. "The camp to which we had intended going was twenty-six miles into the mountains, and going up there alone didn't appeal to me a little bit. However, the Supervisor told me to start right out, to get an idea of how much timber had been cut, and in what kind of shape the ground had been left, and in short, to 'nose around a little,' as he put it himself."
"That was hardly playing the game, sending you up there alone," said one of the men.
"I thought at the time that it wasn't, but what could he do? The matter had to be investigated, and he had been sent for and couldn't come with me. But he was considerate enough, strongly urging me not to get killed, 'as Rangers were scarce.'"
"That was considerate!"
"Yes, wasn't it? But early the next morning I started for the canyon where the outlaws were said to be in hiding. The riding was fair, so I made good time on the trail and got to the entrance of the canyon about the middle of the day. A few hundred feet from the fork of the stream I came to a little log cabin, occupied by a miner and his family. I took lunch with them and told them my errand. Both the man and his wife begged me not to go up to the camp alone, as they had heard the tie-cutters threaten to kill at sight any stranger found on their land."
"Why didn't you propose that the miner should go up to the camp with you?"
"I did. But he remarked that up to date he had succeeded in keeping out of the cattlemen-lumbermen trouble, and that he was going to keep right along keeping out. He suggested that if there was going to be any funeral in the immediate vicinity he wasn't hankering to take any more prominent part than that of a mourner, and that the title-role of such a performance wasn't any matter of envy with him. However, I succeeded in persuading him to come part of the way with me, and secured his promise that he would listen for any shooting, and if I should happen to resign involuntarily from the Service by the argument of a bullet, that he would volunteer as a witness in the case."
"I don't altogether blame him, you know," said the red-headed man; "you said he had a wife there, and interfering with other folks' doings isn't healthy."
"I didn't blame him either," said the first speaker, "but I would have liked to have him along. A little farther up the canyon I came to a recently built log cabin, covered with earth. An old man stood at the door and I greeted him cheerily. We had a moment's chat, and then I asked him the way to the cabin where the tie-cutters lived. Judge of my surprise when he told me this was their cabin, and that they lived with him. By the time I had secured this much information the two younger men had come out, and one of them, Tom, wanted to know what I was after. I stated my business, briefly. There was a pause.
"'Ye 'low as ye're agoin' to jedge them ties,' he said slowly. 'Wa'al I 'low we'll sort 'er go along. Thar's a heap o' fow-el in these yar parts, stranger, an' I 'low I'll take a gun.'
"The other brother, who seemed more taciturn, turned and nodded to two youngsters who had come out of the cabin while Tom was speaking. The elder of the two, a boy about thirteen years old, went into the shack and returned in a moment bringing out two rifles. I turned the broncho's head up the trail, but Tom interposed.
"'I 'low,' he said, 'that ye'll hev ter leave yer horse-critter right hyar; thar ain't much of er trail up the mount'n.'
"I wasn't particularly anxious to get separated from my horse, and that cabin was just about the last place I would have chosen to leave him; but there was no help for it, and as I would have to dismount anyway to get into the timber, I slipped out of the saddle and put the hobbles on. But when we came to start, the two men wanted me to go first. I balked at that. I told them that I wasn't in the habit of walking up a mountain trail in front of two men with guns, and that they would have to go first and show the way. They grumbled, but, seeing that I meant it, they turned and silently walked up the mountainside ahead of me.
"They stopped at an old prospect shaft that was filled to the brim with water, and wanted me to come close to the hole and look at it, telling me some cock-and-bull story about it, and calling my attention to some supposed outcrop of rich ore that could be seen under the water. But I refused flatly to go a step nearer than I then was, telling them that I wished to get to those ties immediately.
"At an old cabin they halted again, and Tom wanted to know which was 'the best shot in the bunch.' I was not in favor of trying guns or anything of that sort, especially when there seemed no reason for it, knowing how easy it would be for a shot to go wide, and so I urged them to lead on to the ties. But Tom insisted upon shooting, and though his brother did not seem quite to follow the other's plans, still he chimed in with him, and the only thing I could do was to agree with what grace I could. But I decided to make this a pretext for disposing of some of their superfluous ammunition.
"Pulling my six-shooter, I told Jim to put an old sardine can, that was lying on the ground near by, on the stump of a tree about twenty-five or thirty yards distant. Then I told him to lean his rifle against the cabin while placing the can on the tree. This he did. I stepped over to the cabin and took the gun as though to look after it. Then I walked over to where Tom stood, telling him to blaze away at the can on the tree. While he was doing so I slipped the cartridges out of Jim's gun and put them in my pocket.
"By the time that Tom had fired three shots Jim came up and I told the former to hand over the rifle and let his brother try. Quite readily he did so. Of course, there were only two cartridges left in the gun, for it was a half-magazine, but Jim expected to take the third shot with his own rifle. When he had fired twice, however, and reached out his hand for the other gun, I handed it to him with the remark that it was empty. For a minute or two things looked black, because both men saw that they had been tricked. But I had the drop on them, and since they were both disarmed I felt considerably easier."
"How did it end up?" asked the red-haired listener.
"It was easy enough after that, as long as I didn't turn my back to them or let either get too near. We went together and counted the ties, returning to the cabin where I had left my horse. When the tie-cutters found, however, that the cattlemen had deliberately exaggerated the penalty for timber trespass in the hope that they would resist and thus get themselves into serious trouble with the government, their anger was diverted from me. By joining in with them in a sweeping denunciation of the cow-camp, and by pointing out that no harsh measures were intended against them, they came to look on me as friend instead of foe."
"What was done about the trespass?"
"It was pretty early in the days of the Service, and, as you remember, we let them down easily at first so that no undue amount of friction should be caused. I think some small fine, purely nominal, was exacted, and the tie-cutters got into harmonious relations with the Supervisor later. But those same boys told me, just as I was starting for home, that they intended to drop me in that old prospect shaft, or, failing that, to pump me full of holes."
The speaker had hardly finished when a scattering of groups and an unfolding of chairs took place and the lecturer for the evening was announced. He won Wilbur's heart at once by an appreciative story of a young Chinese boy, a civil service student in his native province, who had accompanied him on a portion of his trip through China in order to learn what might be done toward the improvement of his country.
"He was a bright lad, this Fo-Ho," said the lecturer, "and it was very largely owing to him that I extended my trip a little and went to Fou-Ping. I visited Fo-Ho's family home, where the graves of his ancestors were—you know how powerful ancestor-worship still is in China. Such a scene of desolation I never saw, and, I tell you, I was sorry for the boy. There was the town that had been his father's home deserted and in ruins.
"Two hundred years before, in this same place now so thickly strewn with ruins, there had been no one living, and the mountains were accounted impassable because of the dense forests. But in 1708 a Mongol horde under a powerful chieftain settled in the valley, and the timber began to be cut recklessly. Attracted by the fame of this chieftain, other tribes poured down into these valleys, until by 1720 several hundred thousand persons were living where thirty years before not a soul was to be seen. The cold winters of Mongolia drew heavily upon the fuel resources of the adjacent forests, and a disastrous fire stripped hundreds of square miles. Farther and farther afield the inhabitants had to go for fuel, until every stick which would burn had been swept clear; bleaker and more barren grew the vicinity, until at last the tribes had to decamp, and what was once a dense forest and next a smiling valley has become a hideous desert which even the vultures have forsaken."
Masseth leaned over toward Wilbur and whispered:
"You don't have to go as far away as China. There are some terrible cases of deforestation right here in the United States."
The lecturer then launched into a description of the once great forests of China, and quoted the words of writers less than three centuries ago who depicted the great Buddhist monasteries hid deep in the heart of densely wooded regions. Then, with this realization of heavily forested areas in mind, there was flashed upon the screen picture after picture of desolation. Cities, once prosperous, were shown abandoned because the mountains near by had become deforested. Man could not live there because food could not grow without soil, and all the soil had been washed away from the slopes. The streams, once navigable, were choked up with the silt that had washed down. When rains came they acted as torrents, since there was no vegetation to hold the water and the lower levels became flooded.
"Nature made the world a garden," said the speaker, "and man is making it a desert. Our children and our children's children for countless generations are to enjoy the gardens we leave, or bewail the deserts we create."
Startling, too, was the manner in which the lecturer showed the unhappy fate of countries which an unthinking civilization had despoiled. The hills and valleys where grew the famous cedars of Lebanon are almost treeless now, and Palestine, once so luxuriant, is bare and lonely. Great cities flourished upon the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates where were the hanging gardens of Babylon and the great hunting parks of Nineveh, yet now the river runs silently between muddy banks, infertile and deserted, save for a passing nomad tribe. The woods of ancient Greece are not less ruined than her temples; the forests of Dalmatia whence came the timber that built the navies of the ancient world are now barren plateaus, shelterless and waste; and throughout a large part of southern Europe and northern Africa, man has transformed the smile of nature into a mask of inflexible severity.
"But," said Wilbur, turning excitedly to his uncle, as soon as the lecturer had closed, "isn't there anything that can be done to make those places what they were before?"
"Not often, if it is allowed to go too far," said the geologist. "It takes time, of course, for all the soil to be washed away. But wherever the naked rock is exposed the case is hopeless. You can't grow anything, even cactus, on a rock. Lichens, of course, may begin, but hundreds of thousands of years are required to make soil anew."
"But if it's taken in time?"
"Then you can reforest by planting. But that's slow and costly. It requires millions of dollars to replant a stretch of forest which would have renewed itself just by a little careful lumbering, for Nature is only too ready to do the work for nothing if given a fair chance."
By this time the gathering had broken up in large part and a number of those who had come only to hear the lecture had gone. Some of the Forest Service men, however, were passing through the corridors to the dining-room. At the door Wilbur paused hesitatingly. He had not been invited to stay, but at the same time he felt that he could hardly leave without thanking his uncle, who at the time was strolling toward the other portion of the house, deeply engrossed in conversation. In this quandary the Chief Forester, all unknown to the lad, saw his embarrassment, and with the quick intuition so characteristic of the man, divined the cause.
"Come along, Loyle, come along in," he said, "you're one of us now."
Wilbur, with a grateful look, passed on into the reception-room. A moment later he heard his name called, and, turning, came face to face with a tall young fellow, bronzed and decisive looking.
"My name's Nally," he said, "and I hear you're going to one of my forests. Mr. Masseth was telling me that you're his nephew. I guess we'll start right in by having our first feed together. This is hardly camping out," he added, looking around the well-appointed and handsome room, "but the grub shows that it's the Service all right."
The District Forester motioned to the table which was heaped with dozens upon dozens of baked apples, flanked by several tall pitchers of milk.
"There you have it," he continued, "back to nature and the simple life. It's all right to go through a Ranger School and to satisfy the powers that be about your fitness, but that isn't really getting to the inside of the matter. It's when you feel that you've had the chance to come right in and take the regular prescribed ritual of a baked apple and a glass of milk in the house of the Chief Forester that you can feel you're the real thing in the Service."
THE FIGHT IN THE COULEE
When, a few days later, Wilbur found himself standing on the platform of the little station at Sumber, with the cactus-clad Mohave desert about him and the slopes of the Sierra Nevada beyond, he first truly realized that his new life was beginning. His journey out from Washington had been full of interest because the District Forester had accompanied him the greater part of the way, and had taken the opportunity to explain how varied were the conditions that he would find in the Sequoia forest to which he had been assigned. In large measure the District Forester's especial interest, Wilbur realized, was due to the fact that Masseth had told him of the boy's intention to go to college and thence through the Yale Forestry School, having had beforehand training as Guard, and possibly later as Ranger.
But, as the train pulled out of the station, and Wilbur looked over the sage-brush and sparse grass, seeming to dance under the shimmering heat-waves of the afternoon sun, he suddenly became conscious that the world seemed very large and that everything he knew was very far away. The strange sense of doubt as to whether he were really himself, a curious feeling that the desert often induces, swept over him, and he was only too ready to enter into conversation when a small, wiry man, with black hair and quick, alert eyes, came up to him with the rolling walk that betokens a life spent in the saddle, and said easily:
The boy returned a friendly "Good-afternoon," and waited for the stranger to continue.
"She looks some as if you was the whole pack on this deal," was the next remark.
"Well," replied Wilbur, looking at him quizzically, "I wasn't conscious of being crowded here."
The range-rider followed the boy's glance around the immediate neighborhood, noting the station agent and the two or three figures in front of the general store, who formed the sum of the visible population, and nodded.
"Bein' the star performer, then," he went on, "it might be a safe bet that you was sort of prospectin' for the Double Bar J."
"That was the name of the ranch," said the boy. "I was told to go there and get a couple of ponies."
"An' how was you figurin' on gettin' to the ranch? Walkin'?"
"Not if I could help it. And that," he added, pointing to the desert, "I should think would be mean stuff to walk on."
"Mean she is," commented Wilbur's new acquaintance, "but even s'posin' that you did scare up a pony, how did you dope it out that you would hit up the right trail? This here country is plumb tricky. And the trail sort of takes a nap every once in a while and forgets to show up."
"I didn't expect to find my way alone," said the boy. "If nobody had been here, I'd have found somebody to show me—"
"Hold hard," said the cowboy, interrupting, "till I look over that layout. If you hadn't ha' found anybody, you'd ha' found somebody? Shuffle 'em up a bit, pard, and try a new deal."
"But," continued Wilbur, not paying any attention to the interruption, "I fully expected that some one from the ranch would be here to meet me."
"If all your conjectoors comes as near bein' accurate as that same," said the other, "you c'd set up as a prophet and never call the turn wrong. Which I'm some attached to the ranch myself."
"I thought you were, probably," said Wilbur, "and I'm much obliged to you, if you came to meet me."
"That's all right! But if you're ready, maybe we'd better start interviewin' the scenery on the trail. How about chuck?"
"Thanks," said the boy, "I had dinner on the car."
"An' you're thirsty none?"
"Not especially. But," he added, not wishing to offend his companion, "if you are, go ahead."
"Well, if you don't mind," began the other, then he checked himself. "I guess I c'n keep from dyin' of a cracked throat until we get there," he added. "C'n you ride?"
"Yes!" said Wilbur decisively.
The cowboy turned half round to look at him with a dubious smile.
"You surely answers that a heap sudden," he said. "An' I opine that's some risky as a general play."
"Why?" asked the boy.
"Bein' too sure in three-card Monte has been a most disappointin' experience to many a gent, an' has been most condoocive to transfers of ready cash."
"But that's just guessing," said Wilbur. "I'm talking of what I know."
"Like enough you never heard about Quick-Finger Joe?" queried the cowboy. "Over-confidence hastens his exit quite some."
"No," answered Wilbur quickly, scenting a story, "I never even heard of him. Who was he?"
"This same Joe," began the range-rider, "is a tow-haired specimen whose manly form decorates the streets of this here metropolis of Sumber that you've been admirin'. He has the name of bein' the most agile proposition on a trigger that ever shot the spots off a ten o' clubs. He makes good his reputation a couple of times, and then gets severely left alone. To him, one day, while he is standin' takin' a little refreshment, comes up a peaceful and inoffensive-lookin' stranger, who has drifted into town promiscuous-like in the course of the afternoon. He addresses Joe some like this:
"'Which I hears with profound admiration that you're some frolicsome and speedy on gun-play?'
"Joe, tryin' to hide his blushes, admits that his hand can amble for his hip right smart. Whereupon the amiable-appearin' gent makes some sort of comment, just what no one ever knew, but it seems tolerable superfluous an' sarcastic, an' instantaneous there's two shots. When the smoke clears away a little, Joe is observed to be occupyin' a horizontal position on the floor and showin' a pronounced indisposition to move. The stranger casually remarks:
"'Gents, this round's on me. I shore hates to disturb your peaceful converse on a balmy evenin' like this yere in a manner so abrupt an' sudden-like. But he had to get his, some time, an' somebody's meditations would hev to be disturbed. This hyar varmint, gents, what is now an unopposed candidate for a funeral pow-wow, was a little too previous with his gun agin my younger brother. It's a case of plain justice, gents; my brother was without weapons, and he—' pointing to the figure on the floor, 'he knew it. Line up, gents, and give it a name!'"
"What did they do to the stranger?" asked Wilbur eagerly, divided between admiration of the quickness of the action and consternation at the gravity of the result.
"They compliments him some on the celerity of his shootin', and feels a heap relieved by Joe's perpetual absence. An' the moral o' this little tale is that you're hittin' a fast clip for trouble when you go around prompt and aggressive to announce your own virtoos. I'm not advancin' any criticism as to your shinin' talents in the way of ridin', pard, but you haven't been long enough in this here vale of tears to be what you might call experienced."
"I've ridden a whole lot," said Wilbur, who was touchy on the point and proud of his horsemanship, "and while I don't say that there isn't a horse I can't ride, I can say that I've never seen one yet. I started in to ride pretty nearly as soon as I started to walk."
"I don't want to mar your confidence none," replied the cowboy, "an' I likes a game sport who'll bet his hand to the limit, though I generally drops my stake on the other side. But if some mornin' you sh'd find the ground rearin' up and hittin' you mighty sudden, don't forget that I gave you a plain steer. Here's your cayuse."
Wilbur had been a little disappointed that the cowboy should not have shown up as ornamentally as he had expected, not wearing goatskin "chaps" or rattlesnake hatbands, and not even having a gorgeous saddle-blanket on his pony, but the boy felt partly rewarded when he saw him just put his toe in the stirrup and seem to float into the saddle. The pony commenced dancing about in the most erratic way, but Wilbur noted that his companion seemed entirely unaware that the horse was not standing still, although his antics would have unseated any rider that the boy previously had seen. He was conscious, moreover, that his climb into his own saddle was very different from that which he had witnessed, but he really was a good rider for a boy, and felt quite at home as soon as they broke into the loping canter of the cow-pony.
"I understood," said Wilbur as they rode along, "that I should meet the Ranger at the ranch. His name was given to me as Rifle-Eye Bill, because I was told he had been a famous hunter before he joined the Service. I thought at first you might be the Ranger, but he was described to me as being very tall."
"Which he does look some like a Sahaura cactus on the Arizona deserts," said the range-rider, "an' I surely favor him none. But that mistake of yours naterally brings it to me that I haven't what you might say introdooced myself. Which my baptismal handle is more interestin' than useful, an' I lays it by. So I'll just hand you the title under which I usually trots, bein' 'Bob-Cat Bob,' ridin' for the Double Bar J."
"Not having risen to any later title," said Wilbur good-humoredly, "I've got to be satisfied with the one I started with. I'm generally called Wilbur."
"Which is sure unfamiliar to me. I opine it's a new brand on the range." He flourished his sombrero in salute, so that his pony bucked twice and then tried to bolt. Wilbur watched and envied him the absolute ease with which he brought down the broncho to a quiet lope again.
"I'm going to join the Forest Service," the boy explained, knowing that according to the etiquette of the West no question would be asked about his business, but that he would be expected to volunteer some statement, "and my idea in coming to the ranch was to pick up a couple of horses and go on to the forest with the Ranger. I understand the Supervisor, Mr. Merritt, is very busy with some timber sales, and I didn't know whether the Ranger would be able to get away."
"I kind o' thought you might be headed for the Forest Service, since you was goin' along with Rifle-Eye," said the cowboy. "An' if you're goin' with him, you'll be all right."
"The Service looks pretty good to me," said Wilbur.
"I've no kick comin' agin the National Forests," said Bob-Cat, "we've always been treated white enough. Of course, there's always some soreheads who want to stampede the range and gets peevish when they're balked, but I guess the Service is a good thing all round. It don't appeal none to me, o' course. If I held all the cards, I'd rip down every piece of barbed wire west of the Mississippi, let the sheepmen go to the ranges beside the canals o' Mars or some other ekally distant region, an' git back to the good old days o' the Jones 'n' Plummer trail. But then, I sure enough realize that I'm not the only strikin' feature o' the landscape an' there's others that might have a say."
"I guess the present way is the best in the long run at that, for all I hear," said Wilbur, "because every one now has a fair show. You can't have cattle and sheep overrunning everywhere without absolutely ruining the forests. Especially sheep. They can destroy a forest and make it as though it had never existed."
"I'm huggin' love of sheep none," said the cowboy, "an' my mental picter of the lower regions is a place what smells strong of sheep. But I sure miss my throw on any idee as to how they could do up a forest of big trees."
"They do, just the same."
"How? Open her up, pard, an' explain. I'm listenin' mighty attentive."
"This way," began the boy, remembering some of the talks he had heard at the Ranger School. "When a dry year comes, if the sheep are allowed into the forest, the grass, which is poor because of the dryness, soon gets eaten down. Then the sheep begin to browse on the young shoots and seedlings, and even will eat the leaves off the young saplings that they can reach, thus destroying all the baby trees and checking the growth of those that are a little more advanced. When this goes on for two or three seasons all the young growth is gone. Since there are no saplings, no young shoots, and no seedlings, the forest never recovers, but becomes more like a park with stretches of grass between clumps of trees. Then, when these trees die, there are no others to take their place and the forest is at an end."
"How about cattle?"
"They're not nearly as bad. Cattle won't eat leaves unless they have to. And they don't browse so close, nor pack down the ground as hard with their hoofs. If there's grass enough to go round, cattle won't injure a forest much, but, of course, the grazing has got to be restricted or else the same sort of thing will happen that goes on when sheep are let in."
"Never knew before," said the boy's companion, "why I ought ter hate sheep. Jest naterally they're pizen to me, but I never rightly figured out why I allers threw them in the discard. Now I know. There's a heap of satisfaction in that. It's like findin' that a man you sure disagreed with in an argyment is a thunderin' sight more useful to the community dead than he was alive. It don't alter your feelin's none, but it helps out strong on the ensooin' explanations."
"Are there many sheep out here?"
"There's a tidy few. But it's nothin' like Montana. You ought ter get Rifle-Eye Bill to tell you of the old days o' the sheep an' cattle war. The debates were considerable fervent an' plenty frequent, an' a Winchester or two made it seem emphatic a whole lot."
"Was Rifle-Eye mixed up in it?"
"Which he's allers been a sort of Florence Nightingale of the Rockies, has old Rifle-Eye," was the reply. "I don't mean in looks—but if a feller's shot up or hurt, or anythin' of that kind, it isn't long before the old hunter turns up, takes him to some shack near by and persuades somebody to look after him till he gets around again. An' we've got a little lady that rides a white mare in these here Sierras who's a sure enough angel. I don't want to know her pedigree, but when it comes to angels, she's It. An' when she an' Rifle-Eye hitches up to do the ministerin' act, you'd better believe the job's done right. I never heard but of one man that ever said 'No' to Rifle-Eye, no matter what fool thing he asked."
"How was that?" asked Wilbur.
"It was the wind-up of one o' these here little differences of opinion on the sheep question, same as I've been tellin' you of. It happened somewhar up in Oregon, although I've forgotten the name o' the ranch. Rifle-Eye could tell you the story better'n I can, but he won't. It was somethin' like this:
"There was a big coulee among the hills, an', one summer, when there'd been a prairie fire that wiped out a lot o' feed, a bunch o' cattle was headed into this coulee. Three cowpunchers and a cook with the chuck wagon made up the gang. But this yar cook was one o' them fellers what's not only been roped by bad luck, but hog-tied and branded good and plenty. He had been the boss of a ranch, a small one, but he'd fallen foul o' the business end of a blizzard, an' he'd lost every blamed head o' cattle that he had. He lost his wife, too."
"How did she come in on it?"
"It was this way. She heard, or thought she heard, some one callin' outside, a little ways from the house. She s'posed, o' course, that it was the men who had tackled the storm in the hope o' savin' some o' the cattle, an' she ran out o' the door to give 'em an answerin' hail so as they could git an idee as to the direction o' the house. But she hadn't gone but a few steps when the wind caught her—leastways, that was how they figured it out afterwards—and blew her along a hundred feet or so before she could catch breath, and then she stumbled and fell. She got up, sort o' dazed, most like, and tried to run back to the shack. But in the blindin' snow nothin' o' the house could be seen, an' though she tried to fight up in that direction against the wind, she must have gone past it a little distance to the left. They didn't find her until two days after when the blizzard had blown itself out, an' there she was, stone dead, not more than a half a mile away from the house.
"The boss was near crazy when they found her, an' he never was fit for much afterwards. There was a child, only a little shaver then, who was asleep in the house at the time his mother run out to answer the shout she reckoned she heard. So, since the rancher wasn't anyways overstocked on female relations, an' he had the kid to look after, the one-time boss went out as a camp cook an' took the boy along. He was rustlin' the chuck for this bunch I'm a-tellin' you about, that goes into the coulee.
"By 'n' by, a week or so afterward, a herd o' sheep comes driftin' into this same valley, bein' ekally short for feed, an' the herders knocks up a sort o' corral an' looks to settle down. The cowpunchers pays 'em an afternoon call, an' suggests that the air outside the coulee is a lot healthier for sheep—an' sheepmen—an' that onless they makes up their minds to depart, an' to make that departure a record-breaker for speed, they'll make their relatives sure a heap mournful. The sheepmen replies in a vein noways calculated to bring the dove o' peace hoverin' around, an' volunteers as a friendly suggestion that the cattlemen had best send to town and order four nice new tombstones before ringin' the curtain up on any gladiatorial pow-wow. When the cowpunchers rides back, honors is even, an' each side is one man short.
"Now, this coulee, which is the scene of these here operations, is so located that there's only one way out. Most things in life there's more, but in this here particular coulee, the openin' plays a lone hand. As the cattlemen got there first, and went 'way back to the end o' the ravine, the sheepmen are nearer to what you might call the valley door. If the cowpunchers could have made a get-away, it's a cinch that they'd have headed for the ranch an' brought back enough men with them to make their persuasion plenty urgent. But the herders ain't takin' any chances of allowin' the other side to better their hand, an' when, one night, a cowpuncher tries to rush it, they pots him as pretty as you please. The cook, who's cuddlin' his Winchester at the time, fires at the flash and disposes o' the herder, sort o' evenin' matters up. This leaves only one cowpuncher and the cook. There's still three men at the herders' camp.
"Then the cook, he indooces a bullet to become sufficient intimate with one o' the herder's anatomy, but gits a hole in the leg himself an' is laid up. The other cowpuncher runs the gauntlet an' gits out safe. He hikes back the next day with a bunch o' boys, an' they follows up the herders an' wipes out that camp for fair, an' stampedes the herd over the nearest canyon. Then they circles back to the coulee to pick up the cook.
"When they gits there, they surely finds themselves up against evidences of a tragedy. The cook, he's lyin' on the floor of the shack, dead as a nail, an' near him is the kid, who's still holdin' a table-knife in his hand, but who's lyin' unconscious from a wound in the head. The way they dopes it out, there's been a free-for-all fight in the place between the two remainin' herders an' the wounded cook, an' it looks some as if the kid had tried to help his dad by jabbin' at the legs o' the herders with a knife and been booted in the side o' the head to keep him quiet."
"How old was the youngster, then, Bob-Cat?" asked Wilbur.
"Seven or eight, I guess, maybe not so much," replied the other, "a nice, bright little kid, so I've heard. But there was somethin' broke, I reckon, by the blow he had, an' he never got over it. The boys took him back to the ranch an' doctored him the best they knew how, but they was buckin' fate an' had to quit, lettin' the kid git better or worse as it might turn out."
"But where does Rifle-Eye come in?"
"This way. Just before round-up, Rifle-Eye comes along, showin' he has the whole story salted down, though where he larned it gits me, and proposes that sence it was the sheepmen that injured the lad, it's up to them to look after him. At first the boys objects, sayin' that the kid was a cowpuncher's kid, but Rifle-Eye convinces 'em that the youngster's locoed for fair, that he's likely to stay that way for good an' all, and sence they agrees they can't ever make anythin' out of him, they lets him go.
"Then Rifle-Eye, he takes this unfortunate kid to the man that owned the sheep. He's a big owner, this man, and runs thirty or forty herds. The old hunter—this was all before he was a Ranger, you know—he puts it right up to the sheep-owner, who's a half-Indian, by the way, an' tells him that he's got to look after the boy. The old skinflint says 'No,' and this here, as I was sayin', is the only time that any one ever turned down old Rifle-Eye."
"And what happened to the boy?" queried Wilbur.
"The old hunter tries to shame this here sheep-owner into doin' the right thing, but he didn't have any more shame in him than a turkey buzzard; an' then he tries to bluff him an' says he'll make him keep the kid, but the old sinner jest whined around an' wouldn't give any sort o' satisfaction at all. So Rifle-Eye, he shakes the dust o' that house off'n his feet so good an' hard that he mighty nearly shakes the nails out of his boot-heels, an' hunts up a legal shark. Then an' there he adopts this half-witted youngster, an' has kep' him ever sence."
"How long ago was this?"
"Fifteen years an' more, I reckon. The kid's big now, an' strong as a bull moose, but he's a long way from bein' right in his head. He lives up in the woods, a piece back here, an' I reckon you'll find Rifle-Eye there as often as you will at his own cabin further along the range, although he never sleeps indoors at either place."
"Never sleeps indoors?"
"That's a straight string. He's got a decent enough shack where the boy is, but as soon as it gits dark, old Rifle-Eye he jest makes a pile o' cedar boughs, builds up a fire, an' goes to sleep. For fifty years he ain't slept under a roof summer or winter, an' when once he was in a town over-night, which was about the boy, as I was tellin' ye, he had to get up an' go on the roof to sleep. Lucky," added Bob-Cat with a grin, "it was a flat roof."
"Fifty years is a long time," commented the boy.
"Old Rifle-Eye ain't any spring chicken. He shouldered a musket in the Civil War, an' durin' the Indian mix-ups was generally found floatin' around wherever the fun was thickest. He was mighty close friends with the Pacific scout, old 'Death-on-th'-Trail,' who handed in his time at Portland not long ago."
"Handed in his time?" questioned Wilbur, then, as the meaning of the phrase flashed upon him, "oh, yes, I see, you mean he died."
"Sure, pard, died. You ought ter git Rifle-Eye Bill to spin you some yarns about 'Death-on-th'-Trail.' He'll deny that he's any shakes himself, but he'll talk about his old campmate forever."
The cowboy pointed with his hand to a long, low group of buildings that had just come within sight.
"See, Wilbur," he said, "there's the Double Bar J."
PICKING A LIVELY BRONCHO
On seeing the ranch, Bob-Cat and Wilbur had put their ponies to a burst of speed and in a few minutes they reached the corral. The buildings, while comfortable enough, were far from pretentious, and even their strangeness scarcely made up to the boy for the lack of the picturesque. Then, of course, the fact that the cattle at that time of year were scattered all over the range and consequently that none of them were in sight, rendered it still less like his ideal of a cattle ranch, where he had half expected to see thousands of long-horned cattle tossing their heads the while that cowboys galloped around them shouting and firing off pistols.
In contrast with this, the dwelling, the bunk-house, the cooking shack, and the other frame sheds, all of the neutral gray that unpainted wood becomes when exposed to the weather, seemed very unexciting indeed. But when the lad turned to the corral, he felt that there was compensation there. Several hundred horses were in the enclosure, of many colors and breeds, but the greater part of them Indian ponies, or containing a strain of the mustang, and smaller and shaggier than the horses he had been accustomed to ride in his Illinois home.
The boy turned to his companion, his eyes shining with excitement.
"Do you suppose that I can buy any of those horses that I want to?" he said.
"If you're totin' along a pile of dinero, you might," was the reply, "but there's a few cayuses in there that would surely redooce a big roll o' bills to pretty skinny pickin's. For example, this little bay I'm ridin' now ain't any special wonder, an' maybe he's only worth about fifty dollars, but you can't buy him for five hundred. I reckon, though, you c'n trot away with most of 'em in there for ninety or a hundred dollars apiece."
"I hadn't expected to pay more than seventy or seventy-five," said Wilbur, his native shrewdness coming to the front, "and I think I ought to be able to pick up a good horse or two for that, don't you think?"
"There's allers somethin' that ain't worth much to be got cheap," said the cowboy, "but I don't look friendly none on payin' a cheap price for a horse. Speakin' generally, there's somethin' that every feller likes a whole lot, an' out here, where domestic life ain't our chief play, it's mostly a horse. Leastways, when I hit the long trail, I'll be just as sorry to leave some ponies behind as I will humans."
"A horse can be a great chum," assented Wilbur. "So can a dog."
"No dogs in mine," said Bob-Cat emphatically, "they reminds me too much o' sheep. But when it comes to a horse, I tell ye, there's a lot more in the deal than buyin' an animal to carry you; there's buyin' somethin' that all the money in the world can't bring you sometimes—an' that's a friend."
Wilbur waited a moment without reply, and then the cowboy, deliberately changing the topic to cloak any strain of sentiment which he thought he might have been betrayed into showing, continued:
"How about saddles?"
"I'd been thinking about that," replied the boy, "and I thought I'd wait until I got out here before deciding. You can't use an English saddle-tree, of course, and I hate it anyway, and one like yours is too big. Those lumbering Mexican saddles always look to me as if they were as big a load for a little pony to carry as a man."
"Sure, they're heavy. But you can't do any ropin' without them. If you try 'n' rope on a small saddle the girth'll pretty near cut a pony in two. But you ain't got any ropin' to do, so I sh'd think an army saddle-tree would be about right. There's Rifle-Eye Bill comin' out of the bunk-house now. Ask him. He'll know."
Wilbur looked up, and saw emerging from the door of the bunk-house a tall, gaunt mountaineer. He strolled over to the corral with a long, loose-jointed stride.
"Got him, all right, Bob-Cat, did you?" he said in a measured drawl, then, turning to the boy, added: "Glad to see you, son."
"I've been hearing all about you, sir," answered Wilbur, "and I'm awfully glad to meet you here." He was about to dismount, but noting that Bob-Cat had merely thrown a leg over the horn of his saddle, he stayed where he was.
The old Ranger looked him over critically and closely, so that Wilbur felt himself flushing under the direct gaze, though he met the clear gray eye of his new acquaintance without flinching. Presently the latter turned to the range-rider.
"What do you think of him?" he asked in a slow, curiously commanding way.
Bob-Cat squirmed uneasily.
"You is sure annoyin'," he said in an aggrieved manner, "askin' me to go on record so plumb sudden. I'm no mind-reader."
There was a pause, but the Ranger quietly waited.
"It's embarrassin'," said Bob-Cat, "to try an' trot out a verdic' on snap-jedgment. I don't know."
Rifle-Eye, quite unperturbed, looked at him steadily and inquiringly.
"You know what you think," he said.
"He's sure green," replied the cowboy, shrugging his shoulders in protest, "an' he ain't much more humble-minded than a hen that's jest laid an egg of unusooal size, but I reckon he's got the makin's."
"It's a good thing to be green," said the old Ranger thoughtfully, "nothin' grows much after it's dry, Bob-Cat. The heart's got to be green anyway. Ye git hard to bend an' easy to break when ye're gettin' old."
"Then it's a cinch you'll never get old," promptly responded the other.
But the mountaineer continued talking, half to himself:
"An' he's too sure of himself! Wa'al, he's young yet. I've seen a pile o' sickness in my day, Bob-Cat, but that's about the easiest one to cure there is."
"Bein' young. Well, son, ye'd better turn the pony in."
The boy dismounted, and, half in pique at the dubious character given him by Bob-Cat and half in thanks for the meeting at the station and the ride, he turned to the cowboy, and said:
"I'm glad I've 'got the makings' anyway, and I'm much obliged, Bob-Cat, for all the yarns you told me on the trail. But, next time I come to the ranch I'll try not to be as green, and I know I'll not be as young."
The cowboy laughed.
"It's no use tryin' to dodge Rifle-Eye," he said. "You stand about as good a chance as if you was tryin' to sidestep a blizzard or parryin' the charge from a Gatlin' gun. If he asks a question you can gamble every chip in your pile that you're elected, and you've got to ante up with the answer whether it suits your hand or no."
Wilbur, following the suggestion of the Ranger, unsaddled his pony, turned him into the corral, and hung his saddle on the fence. Then together they went up to the house, where Wilbur met the boss, and after a few moments' chat they returned to the corral.
As the lad had come to the ranch especially for the purpose of buying a couple of ponies, he was anxious to transact the business as quickly as possible, and together with Bob-Cat and Rifle-Eye he scanned the horses in the enclosure, endeavoring to display, as he did so, what little knowledge of horseflesh he possessed. After the boy had commented on several, Rifle-Eye pointed out first one and then a second which he had previously decided on as being the best animals for the boy. But Wilbur's eye was attracted to a fine sorrel, and, turning to Rifle-Eye, he said decidedly:
"I want that one!"
The old Ranger, remarking quietly that it was a fine horse, but not suitable to the purpose for which Wilbur wanted the animal, passed on to the discussion of several other ponies near by, teaching the boy to discern the fine points of a horse, not for beauty, but for service.
But as soon as he had finished speaking, after a purely perfunctory assent, Wilbur burst out again:
"But, Rifle-Eye, I really want that sorrel most."
"You really think you want him?"
"You wouldn't if you knew a little more about horses, son," said the Ranger. "It's all right to be sure what you want, but what you want is to be sure that what you want is right."
"Oh, I'm sure I'm right," answered the boy confidently.
"You can't be too careful choosin' a horse," commented Rifle-Eye. "Choosin' a horse is a good deal like pickin' out a sugar pine for shakes. You know what shakes are?"
"No, Rifle-Eye," answered the boy.
"They're long, smooth, split sheets of wood that the old-timers used for shingles. There's lots of sugar pine that'll make the finest kind o' lumber, an' all of it's good for fuel, but there ain't one tree in a hundred that'll split naturally an' easily into shakes. An' there ain't more'n one man in a hundred as can tell when a tree will do. But when you do get one just right, it's worth any ten other trees. An' the pine that's good ain't because it's a pretty tree to look at, or an easy one to cut down, or because of any other reason than that the grain's right. Same way with a horse. It ain't for his looks, nor for his speed, nor because he's easy to ride, nor for his strength you want him, but because his grain's right."
"Well, I'm sure that sorrel looks just right."
"Do looks always tell?"
"Oh, I can always tell a horse by his looks," replied Wilbur boastfully. "Anyhow, I want him."
"Persistent?" chuckled Bob-Cat, who was standing by enjoying every word, "why, cockle-burs ain't nothin' to him."
"But, supposin'," the old scout began gently, "I told you that the sorrel was the worst you could have, not the best?"
"But he ain't," broke in Bob-Cat, who could not bear to hear a friend's pony harshly criticised, "that's one of Bluey's string, an' he allers had good horses."
"There—you hear," said Wilbur triumphantly.
"I said—for the boy, Bob-Cat," answered the old Ranger firmly.
"I—I suppose you would have good reasons," said Wilbur, answering the old scout's question, "but I want him just the same, and I don't see why I can't buy him, if he's for sale. It's my money!"
"Sure, it's your money. An' the sorrel's a good horse," said the cowboy, to whom the persistence of Wilbur was giving great delight.
The Ranger slowly turned his head in silent rebuke, but although Bob-Cat was conscious of it, he was enjoying the fun too much to stop.
"You know he couldn't ride the sorrel, Bob-Cat," said Rifle-Eye reproachfully.
"But I can ride him, I know," said Wilbur. "I'm a good rider, really I am. And he looks gentle, besides. He is gentle, isn't he, Bob-Cat?"