HEROES OF THE FRONTIER
EDGAR BEECHER BRONSON
Author of "Reminiscences of a Ranchman"
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON —— NEW YORK —— TORONTO
A. C. McCLURG & CO.
Published September 10, 1910
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, England
The author acknowledges his indebtedness to the editors of periodicals in which some of this material has appeared, for permission to use the same in this volume.
CHAPTER I LOVING'S BEND
CHAPTER II A COW-HUNTERS' COURT
CHAPTER III A SELF-CONSTITUTED EXECUTIONER
CHAPTER IV TRIGGERFINGERITIS
CHAPTER V A JUGGLER WITH DEATH
CHAPTER VI AM AERIAL BIVOUAC
CHAPTER VII THE EVOLUTION OF A TRAIN ROBBER
CHAPTER VIII CIRCUS DAY AT MANCOS
CHAPTER IX ACROSS THE BORDER
CHAPTER X THE THREE-LEGGED DOE AND THE BLIND BUCK
CHAPTER XI THE LEMON COUNTY HUNT
CHAPTER XII EL TIGRE
CHAPTER XIII BUNKERED
CHAPTER XIV THEY WHO MUST BE OBEYED
CHAPTER XV DJAMA AOUT'S HEROISM
CHAPTER XVI A MODERN COEUR-DE-LION
From San Antonio to Fort Griffin, Joe Loving's was a name to conjure with in the middle sixties. His tragic story is still told and retold around camp-fires on the Plains.
One of the thriftiest of the pioneer cow-hunters, he was the first to realize that if he would profit by the fruits of his labor he must push out to the north in search of a market for his cattle. The Indian agencies and mining camps of northern New Mexico and Colorado, and the Mormon settlements of Utah, were the first markets to attract attention. The problem of reaching them seemed almost hopeless of solution. Immediately to the north of them the country was trackless and practically unknown. The only thing certain about it was that it swarmed with hostile Indians. What were the conditions as to water and grass, two prime essentials to moving herds, no one knew. To be sure, the old overland mail road to El Paso, Chihuahua, and Los Angeles led out west from the head of the Concho to the Pecos; and once on the Pecos, which they knew had its source indefinitely in the north, a practicable route to market should be possible.
But the trouble was to reach the Pecos across the ninety intervening miles of waterless plateau called the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain. This plain was christened by the early Spanish explorers who, looking out across its vast stretches, could note no landmark, and left behind them driven stakes to guide their return. An elevated tableland averaging about one hundred miles wide and extending four hundred miles north and south, it presents, approaching anywhere from the east or the west, an endless line of sharply escarped bluffs from one hundred to two hundred feet high that with their buttresses and re-entrant angles look at a distance like the walls of an enormous fortified town. And indeed it possesses riches well worth fortifying.
While without a single surface spring or stream from Devil's River in the south to Yellow House Canon in the north, this great mesa is nevertheless the source of the entire stream system of central and south Texas. Absorbing thirstily every drop of moisture that falls upon its surface, from its deep bosom pours a vitalizing flood that makes fertile and has enriched an empire,—a flood without which Texas, now producing one-third of the cotton grown in the United States, would be an arid waste. Bountiful to the south and east, it is niggardly elsewhere, and only two small springs, Grierson and Mescalero, escape from its western escarpment.
A driven herd normally travels only twelve to seventeen miles a day, and even less than this in the early Spring when herds usually are started. It therefore seemed a desperate undertaking to enter upon the ninety-mile "dry drive," from the head of the Concho to the Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos, wherein two-thirds of one's cattle were likely to perish for want of water.
Joe Loving was the first man to venture it, and he succeeded. He traversed the Plain, fought his way up the Pecos, reached a good market, and returned home in the Autumn, bringing a load of gold and stories of hungry markets in the north that meant fortunes for Texas ranchmen. This was in 1866. It was the beginning of the great "Texas trail drive," which during the next twenty years poured six million cattle into the plains and mountains of the Northwest. Of this great industrial movement, Joe Loving was the pioneer.
At this time Fort Sumner, situated on the Pecos about four hundred miles above Horsehead Crossing, was a large Government post, and the agency of the Navajo Indians, or such of them as were not on the war-path. Here, on his drive in the Summer of 1867, Loving made a contract for the delivery at the post the ensuing season of two herds of beeves. His partner in this contract was Charles Goodnight, later for many years the proprietor of the Palo Duro ranch in the Pan Handle.
Loving and Goodnight were young then; they had helped to repel many a Comanche assault upon the settlements, had participated in many a bloody raid of reprisal, had more than once from the slight shelter of a buffalo-wallow successfully defended their lives, and so they entered upon their work with little thought of disaster.
Beginning their round-up early in March as soon as green grass began to rise, selecting and cutting out cattle of fit age and condition, by the end of the month they reached the head of the Concho with two herds, each numbering about two thousand head. Loving was in charge of one herd and Goodnight of the other.
Each outfit was composed of eight picked cowboys, well drilled in the rude school of the Plains, a "horse wrangler," and a cook. To each rider was assigned a mount of five horses, and the loose horses were driven with the herd by day and guarded by the "horse wrangler" by night. The cook drove a team of six small Spanish mules hitched to a mess wagon. In the wagon were carried provisions, consisting principally of bacon and jerked beef, flour, beans, and coffee; the men's blankets and "war sacks," and the simple cooking equipment. Beneath the wagon was always swung a "rawhide"—a dried, untanned, unscraped cow's hide, fastened by its four corners beneath the wagon bed. This rawhide served a double purpose: first, as a carryall for odds and ends; and second, as furnishing repair material for saddles and wagons. In it were carried pots and kettles, extra horseshoes, farriers' tools, and firewood; for often long journeys had to be made across country which did not furnish enough fuel to boil a pot of coffee. On the sides of the wagon, outside the wagon box, were securely lashed the two great water barrels, each supplied with a spigot, which are indispensable in trail driving. Where, as in this instance, exceptionally long dry drives were to be made other water kegs were carried in the wagons.
Such wagons were rude affairs, great prairie schooners, hooded in canvas to keep out the rain. Some of them were miracles of patchwork, racked and strained and broken till scarcely a sound bit of iron or wood remained, but, all splinted and bound with strips of the cowboy's indispensable rawhide, they wabbled crazily along, with many a shriek and groan, threatening every moment to collapse, but always holding together until some extraordinary accident required the application of new rawhide bandages. I have no doubt there are wagons of this sort in use in Texas to-day that went over the trail in 1868.
The men need little description, for the cowboy type has been made familiar by Buffalo Bill's most truthful exhibitions of plains life. Lean, wiry, bronzed men, their legs cased in leather chaparejos, with small boots, high heels, and great spurs, they were, despite their loose, slouchy seat, the best rough-riders in the world.
Cowboy character is not well understood. Its most distinguishing trait was absolute fidelity. As long as he liked you well enough to take your pay and eat your grub, you could, except in very rare instances, rely implicitly upon his faithfulness and honesty. To be sure, if he got the least idea he was being misused he might begin throwing lead at you out of the business end of a gun at any time; but so long as he liked you, he was just as ready with his weapons in your defence, no matter what the odds or who the enemy. Another characteristic trait was his profound respect for womanhood. I never heard of a cowboy insulting a woman, and I don't believe any real cowboy ever did. Men whose nightly talk around the camp-fire is of home and "mammy" are apt to be a pretty good sort. And yet another quality for which he was remarkable was his patient, uncomplaining endurance of a life of hardship and privation equalled only among seafarers. Drenched by rain or bitten by snow, scorched by heat or stiffened by cold, he passed it all off with a jest. Of a bitterly cold night he might casually remark about the quilts that composed his bed: "These here durned huldys ain't much thicker 'n hen skin!" Or of a hot night: "Reckon ole mammy must 'a stuffed a hull bale of cotton inter this yere ole huldy." Or in a pouring rain: "'Pears like ole Mahster's got a durned fool idee we'uns is web-footed." Or in a driving snow storm: "Ef ole Mahster had to git rid o' this yere damn cold stuff, he might 'a dumped it on fellers what 's got more firewood handy."
Vices? Well, such as the cowboy had, some one who loves him less will have to describe. Perhaps he was a bit too frolicsome in town, and too quick to settle a trifling dispute with weapons; but these things were inevitable results of the life he led.
In driving a herd over a known trail where water and grass are abundant, an experienced trail boss conforms the movement of his herd as near as possible to the habit of wild cattle on the range. At dawn the herd rises from the bed ground and is "drifted" or grazed, without pushing, in the desired direction. By nine or ten o'clock they have eaten their fill, and then they are "strung out on the trail" to water. They step out smartly, two men—one at either side—"pointing" the leaders; and "swing" riders along the sides push in the flanks, until the herd is strung out for a mile or more, a narrow, bright, particolored ribbon of moving color winding over the dark green of hill and plain. In this way they easily march off six to nine miles by noon. When they reach water they are scattered along the stream, drink their fill and lie down. Dinner is then eaten, and the boys not on herd doze in the shade of the wagon, until, a little after two o'clock, the herd rise of their own accord and move away, guided by the riders. Rather less distance is made in the afternoon. At twilight the herd is rounded up into a close circular compact mass and "bedded down" for the night; the first relief of the night guard riding slowly round, singing softly and turning back stragglers. If properly grazed, in less than a half-hour the herd is quiet and at rest; and, barring an occasional wild or hungry beast trying to steal away into the darkness, so they lie till dawn unless stampeded by some untoward incident.
Every two or three hours a new "relief" is called and the night guard changed. Round and round all night ride the guards, jingling their spurs and droning some low monotonous song, recounting through endless stanzas the fearless deeds of some frontier hero, or humming some love ditty rather too passionate for gentle ears.
But when a ninety-mile drive across the Staked Plain is to be done, all this easy system is changed. In order to make the journey at all the pace must be forced to the utmost, and the cattle kept on their legs and moving as long as they can stand.
Therefore, when Loving and Goodnight reached the head of the Concho, two full days' rest were taken to recuperate the "drags," or weaker cattle. Then, late one afternoon, after the herd had been well grazed and watered, the water barrels and kegs filled, the herd was thrown on the trail and driven away into the west, without halt or rest, throughout the night. Thus, driving in the cool of the night and of the early morning and late evening, resting through the heat of midday when travel would be most exhausting, the herd was pushed on westward for three nights and four days.
On these dry drives the horses suffer most, for every rider is forced, in his necessary daily work, to cover many times the distance travelled by the herd, and therefore the horses, doing the heaviest work, are refreshed by an occasional sip of the precious contents of the water barrels—as long as it lasts. By night of the second day of this drive every drop of water is consumed, and thereafter, with tongues parched and swollen by the clouds of dust raised by the moving multitude, thin, drawn, and famished for water, men, horses, and cattle push madly ahead.
Come at last within fifteen miles of the Pecos, even the leaders, the strongest of the herd, are staggering along with dull eyes and drooping heads, apparently ready to fall in their tracks. Suddenly the whole appearance of the cattle changes; heads are eagerly raised, ears pricked up, eyes brighten; the leaders step briskly forward and break into a trot. Cow-hunters say they smell the water. Perhaps they do, or perhaps it is the last desperate struggle for existence. Anyway, the tide is resistless. Nothing can check them, and four men gallop in the lead to control and handle them as much as possible when they reach the stream. Behind, the weaker cattle follow at the best pace they can. In this way over the last stage a single herd is strung out over a length of four or five miles.
Great care is needed when the stream is reached to turn them in at easy waterings, for in their maddened state they would bowl over one another down a bluff of any height; and they often do so, for men and horses are almost equally wild to reach the water, and indifferent how they get there.
However, the Pecos was reached and the herds watered with comparatively small losses, and both Loving's and Goodnight's outfits lay at rest for three days to recuperate at Horsehead Crossing. Then the drive up the wide, level valley of the Pecos was begun, through thickets of tornilla and mesquite, horses and cattle grazing belly-deep in the tall, juicy zacaton.
The perils of the Llano Estacado were behind them, but they were now in the domain of the Comanche and in hourly danger of ambush or open attack. They found a great deal of Indian "sign," their trails and camps; but the "sign" was ten days or two weeks old, which left ground for hope that the war parties might be out on raids in the east or south. After travelling four days up the Pecos without encountering any fresh "sign," they concluded that the Indians were off on some foray; therefore it was decided that Loving might with reasonable safety proceed ahead of the herds to make arrangements at Fort Sumner for their delivery, provided he travelled only by night, and lay in concealment during the day.
In Loving's outfit were two brothers, Jim and Bill Scott, who had accompanied his two previous Pecos drives, and were his most experienced and trusted men. He chose Jim Scott for his companion on the dash through to Fort Sumner. When dark came, Loving mounted a favourite mule, and Jim his best horse; then, each well armed with a Henry rifle and two six-shooters, with a brief "So long, boys!" to Goodnight and the men, they trotted off up the trail. Riding rapidly all night, they hid themselves just before dawn in the rough hills below Pope's Crossing, ate a snack, and then slept undisturbed till nightfall. As soon as it was good dusk they slipped down a ravine to the river, watered their mounts, and resumed the trail to the north. This night also was uneventful, except that they rode into, and roused, a great herd of sleeping buffalo, which ran thundering away over the Plain.
Dawn came upon them riding through a level country about fifteen miles below the present town of Carlsbad, without cover of any sort to serve for their concealment through the day. They therefore decided to push on to the hills above the mouth of Dark Canon. Here was their mistake. Had they ridden a mile or two to the west of the trail and dismounted before daylight, they probably would not have been discovered. It was madness for two men to travel by day in that country, whether fresh sign had been seen or not. But, anxious to reach a hiding place where both might venture to sleep through the day, they pressed on up the trail. And they paid dearly the penalty of their foolhardiness.
Other riders were out that morning, riders with eyes keen as a hawk's, eyes that never rested for a moment, eyes set in heads cunning as foxes and cruel as wolves. A war party of Comanches was out and on the move early, and, as is the crafty Indian custom, was riding out of sight in the narrow valley below the well-rounded hills that lined the river. But while hid themselves, their scouts were out far ahead, creeping along just beneath the edge of the Plain, scanning keenly its broad stretches, alert for quarry. And they soon found it.
Loving and Jim hove in sight!
To be sure they were only two specks in the distance, but the trained eyes of these savage sleuths quickly made them out as horsemen, and white men.
Halting for the main war party to come up, they held a brief council of war, which decided that the attack should be delivered two or three miles farther up the river, where the trail swerved in to within a few hundred yards of the stream. So the scouts mounted, and the war party jogged leisurely northward and took stand opposite the bend in the trail.
On came Loving and Jim, unwarned and unsuspecting, their animals jaded from the long night's ride. They reached the bend. And just as Jim, pointing to a low round hill a quarter of a mile to the west of them, remarked, "Thar'd be a blame good place to stan' off a bunch o' Injuns," they were startled by the sound of thundering hoofs off on their right to the east. Looking quickly round they saw a sight to make the bravest tremble.
Racing up out of the valley and out upon them, barely four hundred yards away, came a band of forty or fifty Comanche warriors, crouching low on their horses' withers, madly plying quirt and heel to urge their mounts to their utmost speed.
Their own animals worn out, escape by running was hopeless. Cover must be sought where a stand could be made, so they whirled about and spurred away for the hill Jim had noted. Their pace was slow at the best. The Indians were gaining at every jump and had opened fire, and before half the distance to the hill was covered a ball broke Loving's thigh and killed his mule. As the mule pitched over dead, providentially he fell on the bank of a buffalo-wallow—a circular depression in the prairie two or three feet deep and eight or ten feet in diameter, made by buffalo wallowing in a muddy pool during the rains.
Instantly Jim sprang to the ground, gave his bridle to Loving, who lay helpless under his horse, and turned and poured a stream of lead out of his Henry rifle that bowled over two Comanches, knocked down one horse, and stopped the charge.
While the Indians temporarily drew back out of range, Jim pulled Loving from beneath his fallen mule, and, using his neckerchief, applied a tourniquet to the wounded leg which abated the hemorrhage, and then placed him in as easy a position as possible within the shelter of the wallow, and behind the fallen carcass of the mule. Then Jim led his own horse to the opposite bank of the wallow, drew his bowie knife and cut the poor beast's throat: they were in for a fight to the death, and, outnumbered twenty to one, must have breastworks. As the horse fell on the low bank and Jim dropped down behind him, Loving called out cheerily:
"Reckon we're all right now, Jim, and can down half o' them before they get us. Hell! Here they come again!"
A brief "Bet yer life, ole man. We'll make 'em settle now," was the only reply.
Stripped naked to their waist-cloths and moccasins, with faces painted black and bronze, bodies striped with vermilion, with curling buffalo horns and streaming eagle feathers for their war bonnets, no warriors ever presented a more ferocious appearance than these charging Comanches. Their horses, too, were naked except for the bridle and a hair rope loosely knotted round the barrel over the withers.
On they came at top speed until within range, when with that wonderful dexterity no other race has quite equalled, each pushed his bent right knee into the slack of the hair rope, seized bridle and horse's mane in the left hand, curled his left heel tightly into the horse's flank, and dropped down on the animal's right side, leaving only a hand and a foot in view from the left. Then, breaking the line of their charge, the whole band began to race round Loving's entrenchment in single file, firing beneath their horses' necks and gradually drawing nearer as they circled.
Loving and Jim wasted no lead. Lying low behind their breastworks until the enemy were well within range, they opened a fire that knocked over six horses and wounded three Indians. Balls and arrows were flying all about them, but, well sheltered, they remained untouched. The fire was too hot for the Comanches and they again withdrew.
Twice again during the day the Indians tried the same tactics with no better result. Later they tried sharpshooting at long range, to which Loving and Jim did not even reply. At last, late in the afternoon, they resorted to the desperate measure of a direct charge, hoping to ride over and shoot down the two white men. Up they came at a dead run five or six abreast, the front rank firing as they ran. But, badly exposed in their own persons, the fire from the buffalo-wallow made such havoc in their front ranks that the savage column swerved, broke, and retreated.
Night shut down. Loving and Jim ate the few biscuits they had baked and some raw bacon. Then they counselled with one another. Their thirst was so great, it was agreed they must have water at any cost. They knew the Indians were unlikely to attempt another attack until dawn, and so they decided to attempt to reach the stream shortly after midnight. Although it was scarcely more than fifteen hundred yards, that was a terrible journey for Loving. Compelled to crawl noiselessly to avoid alarming the enemy, Jim could give him little assistance. But going slowly, dragging his shattered leg behind him without a murmur, Loving followed Jim, and they reached the river safely and drank.
It was now necessary to find new cover. For long distances the banks of the Pecos are nearly perpendicular, and ten to twenty feet high. At flood the swift current cuts deep holes and recesses in these banks. Prowling along the margin of the stream, Jim found one of these recesses wide enough to hold them both, and deep enough to afford good defence against a fire from the opposite shore, Above them the bank rose straight for twenty feet. Thus they could not be attacked by firing, except from the other side of the river; and while the stream was only thirty yards wide, the opposite bank afforded no shelter for the enemy.
In the gray dawn the Indians crept in on the first entrenchment and sprang inside the breastworks with upraised weapons, only to find it deserted. However, the trail of Loving's dragging leg was plain, and they followed it down to the river, where, coming unexpectedly in range of the new defences, two of their number were killed outright.
Throughout the day they exhausted every device of their savage cunning to dislodge Loving, but without avail. They soon found the opposite bank too exposed and dangerous for attack from that direction. Burning brush dropped from above failed to lodge before the recess, as they had hoped it might. The position seemed impregnable, so they surrounded the spot, resolved to starve the white men out.
Loving and Jim had leisure to discuss their situation. Loving was losing strength from his wound. They had no food but a little raw bacon. Without relief they must inevitably be starved out. It was therefore agreed that Jim should try to reach Goodnight and bring aid. It was a forlorn hope, but the only one. The herds must be at least sixty miles back down the trail. Jim was reluctant to leave, but Loving urged it as the only chance.
As soon as it was dark, Jim removed all but his under-clothing, hung his boots round his neck, slid softly into the river, and floated and swam down stream for more than a quarter of a mile. Then he crept out on the bank. On the way he had lost his boots, which more than doubled the difficulty and hardship of his journey. Still he struck bravely out for the trail, through cactus and over stones. He travelled all night, rested a few hours in the morning, resumed his tramp in the afternoon, and continued it well-nigh through the second night.
Near morning, famished and weak, with feet raw and bleeding, totally unable to go farther, Jim lay down in a rocky recess two or three hundred yards from the trail, and went to sleep.
It chanced that the two outfits lay camped scarcely a mile farther down the trail. At dawn they were again en route, and both passed Jim without rousing or discovering him. Then a strange thing happened. Three or four horses had strayed away from the "horse wrangler" during the night, and Jim's brother Bill was left behind to hunt them. Circling for their trail, he found and followed it, followed it until it brought him almost upon the figure of a prostrate man, nearly naked, bleeding, and apparently dead. Dismounting and turning the body over, Bill was startled to find it to be his brother Jim. With great difficulty Jim was roused; he was then helped to mount Bill's horse, and hurried on to overtake the outfit. Coffee and a little food revived him so that he could tell his story.
Neither danger nor property was considered where help was needed, in those days. Goodnight instantly ordered six men to shift saddles to their strongest horses, left the outfits to get on as best they might, and spurred away with his little band to his partner's relief.
Loving had a close call the day after Jim left. The Comanches had other plans to carry out, or perhaps they were grown impatient. In any event, they crossed the river and raced up and down the bluff, firing beneath their horses' necks. It was a miracle Loving was not hit; but, lying low and watching his chance, he returned such a destructive fire that the Comanches were forced to draw off. The afternoon passed without alarm. As a matter of fact, the remaining Comanches had given up the siege as too dear a bargain, and had struck off southwest toward Guadalupe Peak.
When night came, Loving grew alarmed over his situation. Jim might be taken and killed. Then no chance would remain for him where he lay. He must escape through the Indians and try to reach the trail at the crossing in the big bend four miles north. Here his own outfits might reach him in time. Therefore, he started early in the night, dragged himself painfully up the bluff, and reached the plain. He might have lain down by the trail near by; but supposing the Comanches still about, he set himself the task of reaching the big bend.
Starving, weak from loss of blood, his shattered thigh compelling him to crawl, words cannot describe the horror of this journey. But he succeeded. Love of life carried him through. And so, late the next afternoon, the afternoon of the day Goodnight started to his relief, Loving reached the crossing, lay down beneath a mesquite bush near the trail, and fell into a swoon. Ever since, this spot has been known as Loving's Bend. It is half a mile below the present town of Carlsbad.
At dusk of the evening on which Loving reached the ford, a large party of Mexican freighters, travelling south from Fort Sumner to Fort Stockton, arrived and pitched their camp near where he lay But Loving did not hear them. He was far into the dark valley and within the very shadow of Death. Help must come to him; he could not go to it. Luckily it came.
While some were unharnessing the teams, others wert out to fetch firewood. In the darkness one Mexican, thinking he saw a big mesquite root, seized it and gave a tug. It was Loving's leg. Startled and frightened, the Mexican yelled to his mates:
"Que vienen, hombres! Que vienen por el amor de Dios! Aqui esta un muerto."
Others came quickly, but it was not a dead man they found, as their mate had called. Dragged from under the mesquite and carried to the fire, Loving was found still breathing. The spark of life was very low, however, and the mescal given him as a stimulant did not serve to rouse him from his stupor. But the next morning, rested somewhat from his terrible hardships and strengthened by more mescal, he was able to take some food and tell his story. The Mexicans bathed and dressed his wound as well as they could, and promised to remain in camp until his friends should come up.
Before noon Goodnight and his six men galloped in. They had reached his entrenchment that morning, guided by the Indian sign around about it, and had discovered and followed his trail. Goodnight hired a party of the Mexicans to take one of their carretas and convey Loving through to Fort Sumner. With the Fort still more than two hundred miles away, there was small hope he could survive the journey, but it must be tried. A rude hammock was improvised and slung beneath the canvas cover of the carreta, and, placed within it, Loving was made as comfortable as possible. After a nine days' forced march, made chiefly by night, the Mexicans brought their crazy old carreta safely into the post.
While with rest and food Loving had been gaining in strength, the heat and the lack of proper care were telling badly on his wound. Goodnight had returned to the outfits, and, after staying with them a week, he had brought them through as far as the Rio Penasco without further mishap. Then placing the two herds in charge of the Scott brothers, he himself made a forced ride that brought him into Sumner only one day behind Loving.
Goodnight found his partner's condition critical. Gangrene had attacked the wound. It was apparent that nothing but amputation of the wounded leg could save him. The medical officer of the post was out with a scouting cavalry detail, and only a hospital steward was available for the operation. To trust the case to this man's inexperience seemed murder. Therefore, Goodnight decided to send a rider through to Las Vegas, the nearest point where a surgeon could be obtained.
Here arose what seemed insuperable difficulties. From Fort Sumner to Las Vegas the distance is one hundred and thirty miles. Much travelled by freight teams carrying government supplies, the road was infested throughout with hostile Navajos, for whom the freight trains were the richest spoils they could have. Offer what he would, Goodnight could find no one at the Fort bold enough to ride through alone and fetch a surgeon. He finally raised his offer to a thousand dollars for any one who would make the trip. It was a great prize, but the danger was greater than the prize. No one responded. To go himself was impossible; their contract must be fulfilled.
At this juncture a hero appeared. His name was Scot Moore. Moore was the contractor then furnishing wood and hay to the post. Coming in from one of his camps and learning of the dilemma, himself a friend of Loving, he instantly went to Goodnight.
"Charlie," he said, "why in the world did you not send for me before? Joe shall not die here like a dog if I can save him. I've got a young Kentucky saddle mare here that's the fastest thing on the Pecos. I'll be in Vegas by sun-up to-morrow morning, and I'll be back here sometime to-morrow night with a doctor, if the Navajos don't get us. Pay? Pay be damned. I'm doin' it for old Joe; he'd go for me in a minute. If I'm not back by nine o'clock to-morrow night, Charlie, send another messenger and just tell old Joe that Scot did his best."
"It's mighty good of you, Scot," replied Goodnight, "I never will forget it, nor will Joe. You know I'd go myself if I could."
"That's all right, pardner," said Scot. "Just come over to my camp a spell and look over some papers I want you to attend to if I don't show up."
And they strolled away. Officers and other bystanders shook their heads sadly.
"Devilish pity old Scot had to come in."
"Might 'a known nobody could hold him from goin'."
"He'll make Vegas all right in a night run if the mare don't give out, but God help him when he starts back with a doctor in a wagon; ain't one chance in a thousand he'll got through."
"Well, if any man on earth can make it, bet your alce Scot will."
These were some of the comments. Scot Moore was known and loved from Chihuahua to Fort Lyon. One of the biggest-hearted, most amiable and generous of men, ha was known as the coolest and most utterly fearless in a country where few men were cowards.
At nightfall, the mare well fed and groomed and lightly saddled, Scot mounted, bearing no arms but his two pistols, called a careless "Hasta luego, amigos" to his friends, and trotted off up the road. For two hours he jogged along easily over the sandy stretches beyond the Bosque Redondo. Then getting out on firmer ground, the mare well warmed, he gave her the rein and let her out into a long, low, easy lope that scored the miles off famously. And so he swept on throughout the night, with only brief halts to cool the mare and give her a mouthful of water, through Puerta de Luna, past the Canon Pintado, up the Rio Gallinas, past sleeping freighters' camps and Mexican placitas. Twice he was fired upon by alarmed campers who mistook him for a savage marauder, but luckily the shots flew wild.
The last ten miles the noble mare nearly gave out, but, a friend's life the stake he was riding for, Scot's quirt and spurs lifted her through.
Half an hour after sunrise, before many in the town were out of bed, Scot rode into the plaza of Las Vegas and turned out the doctor, whom he knew.
Dr. D—— was no coward by any means, but it took all Scot's eloquence and persuasiveness to induce him to consent to hazard a daylight journey through to Sumner, for he well knew its dangers. Scarcely a week passed without news of some fearful massacre or desperate defence. But, stirred by Scot's own heroism or perhaps tempted by the heavy fee to be earned, he consented.
Having breakfasted and gotten the best team in town hitched to a light buckboard, Scot and the doctor were rolling away into the south on the Sumner trail before seven o'clock, over long stretches of level grassy mesa and past tall black volcanic buttes.
Driving on without interruption or incident, shortly after noon they approached the head of the Arroyo de los Enteros, down which the trail descended to the lower levels of the great Pecos Valley. Enteros Canon is about three miles long, rarely more than two hundred yards wide, its sides rocky, precipitous, and heavily timbered, through which wound the wagon trail, exposed at every point to a perfect ambuscade. It was the most dreaded stretch of the Vegas-Sumner road, but Scot and the doctor drew near it without a misgiving, for no sign of the savage enemy had they seen.
Just before reaching the head of the canon, the road wound round a high butte. Bowling rapidly along, Scot half dozing with fatigue, the doctor, unused to the plains, alert and watchful, they suddenly turned the hill and came out upon the immediate head of the canon, when suddenly the doctor cried, seizing Scot's arm:
"Good God, Scott, look! For God's sake, look!"
And it was time. There on either hand, to their right and to their left, tied by their lariats to drooping pinon bough, stood fifty or sixty Navajo ponies. The ponies were bridled and saddled. Upon some were tied lances and on others arms. All were dripping with sweat and heaving of flank, their knife-marked ears drooping with fatigue; not more than five minutes could have elapsed since their murderous riders had left them. Apparently it was an ambush laid for them, and they were already surrounded. Even the cool Scot shook himself in surprise to find that he was still alive.
Overcome with terror, the doctor cried: "Turn, Scot! Turn, for Heaven's sake! It's our only chance to pull for Vegas."
But Scot had been reflecting. With wits sharpened by a thousand perils and trained in scores of desperate encounters, he answered: "Doc, you're wrong; dead wrong. We're safe as if we were in Fort Union. If they were laying for us we'd be dead now. No, they are after bigger game. They have sighted a big freight outfit coming up from the Pecos, and are laying for that in the canon. We can slide through without seeing a buck or hearing a shot. We'll go right on down Entoros, old boy."
"Scot, you're crazy," said the doctor. "I will not go a step. Let's run for Vegas. Any instant we may be attacked. Why, damn your fool soul, they've no doubt got a bead on us this minute."
With a sharp stroke of his whip, Scot started the team into a smart trot down into the canon. Then he turned to the doctor and quietly answered: "Doc, you seem to forget that Joe Loving is dying, and that I promised to fetch you. Reckon you'll have to go!" And down they went into what seemed the very jaws of death.
But Scot was right. It was a triumph of logic. The Navajos were indeed lying for bigger game.
And so it happened that, come safely through the canon, out two miles on the plain they met a train off eight freight teams travelling toward Vegas. They stopped and gave the freighters warning, told what they had seen, begged them to halt and corral their wagons. But it was no use. The freighters thought themselves strong enough to repel any attack, and drove on into the canon.
None of them came out.
And to this day the traveller through Enteros may see pathetic evidence of their foolhardiness in a scattered lot of weather-worn and rusted wheel tires and hub bands.
Before midnight Scot and the doctor reached Sumner, having changed teams twice at Mexican placitas. Covering two hundred and sixty miles in less than thirty hours, Scot Moore had kept his word! Unhappily, however, Joe Loving had become so weak that he died under the shock of the operation.
Now Scot Moore himself is dead and gone, but the memory of his heroic ride should live as long as noble deeds are sung.
A COW-HUNTERS' COURT
The recent death of Shanghai Rhett, at Llano, Texas, makes another hole in the rapidly thinning ranks of the pioneer Texas cow-hunters. Cow-hunting in early days was the industry upon which many of the greatest fortunes of the State were founded, and from it sprang the great cattle-ranch industry that between the years 1866 and 1885 converted into gold the rich wild grasses of the tenantless plains and mountains of Texas, New Mexico, the Indian Territory, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Dakota, and Montana.
The economic value of this great industrial movement in promoting the settlement and development of that vast region of the West lying between the ninety-eighth and one hundred and twentieth meridians, and embracing half the total area of the United States, is comprehended by few who were not personally familiar with the conditions of its rise and progress. There can be no question that the ranch industry hastened the occupation and settlement of the Plains by at least thirty years. Farming in those wilds was then an impossibility. Remote from railways, unmapped, and untrod by white men, it was under the sway of hostile Indians, before whose attacks isolated farming settlements, with houses widely scattered, would have been defenceless,—alike in their position and in their inexperience in Indian warfare. Then, moreover, there was neither a market nor means of transportation or the farmer's product. All these conditions the Texas cow-hunters changed, and they did it in little more than a decade.
In Texas were bred the leaders and the rank and file of that great army of cow-hunters whose destiny it was to become the pioneers of this vast region. Pistol and knife were the treasured toys of their childhood; they were inured to danger and to hardship; they were expert horsemen, trained Indian-fighters, reckless of life but cool in its defence; and thus they were an ideal class for the pacification of the Plains.
Shanghai Rhett's death removed one of the comparatively few survivors of this most interesting and eventful past.
In Texas after the war, when Shang was young, a pony, a lariat, a six-shooter, and a branding iron were sufficient instruments for the acquisition of wealth. A trained eye and a practised hand were necessary for the effective use of pistol and lariat; the running iron anybody could wield; therefore, while a necessary feature of equipment, the iron was a secondary affair. The pistol was useful in settling annoying questions of title; the horse and the lariat, in taking possession after title was settled; the iron, in marking the property with a symbol of ownership. The property in question was always cattle.
Before the war, cattle were abundant in Texas. Fences were few. Therefore, the cattle roamed at will over hill and plain. To determine ownership each owner adopted a distinctive "mark and brand." The owner's mark and brand were put upon the young before they left their mothers, and upon grown cattle when purchases were made. Thus the broad sides and quarters of those that changed hands many times were covered over with this barbarous record of their various transfers.
The system of marking and branding had its origin among the Mexicans. Marking consists in cutting the ears or some part of the animal's hide in such a way as to leave a permanent distinguishing mark. One owner would adopt the "swallow fork," a V-shaped piece cut out of the tip of the ear; another, the "crop," the tip of the ear cut squarely off; another, the "under-half crop," the under half of the tip of the ear cut away; another, the "over-half crop," the reverse of the last; another, the "under-bit," a round nick cut in the lower edge of the ear; another, the "over-bit," the reverse of the last; another, the "under-slope," the under half of the ear removed by cutting diagonally upward; another, the "over-slope," the reverse of the last; another, the "grub," the ear cut off close to the head; another, the "wattle," a strip of the hide an inch wide and two or three inches long, either on forehead, shoulder, or quarters, skinned and left hanging by one end, where before healing it leaves a conspicuous lump; another, the "dewlap," three or four inches of the loose skin under the throat skinned down and left hanging.
Branding consists in applying a red-hot iron to any part of the animal for six or eight seconds, until the hide is seared. Properly done, hair never again grows on the seared surface and the animal is "branded for life." A small five-inch brand on a young calf becomes a great twelve-to-eighteen-inch mark by the time the beast is fully grown.
In Mexico the art of branding dates back to the time when few men were lettered and most men used a rubrica mark or flourish instead of a written signature. Thus, in Mexico the brand is always a device, whatever complex combination of lines and circles the whim of the owner may conceive. In this country the brand was usually a combination of letters or numerals, though sometimes shapes and forms are represented. Branding and marking cattle and horses is certainly a most cruel practice, but under the old conditions of the open range, where individual ownerships numbered thousands of head, no other means existed of contradistinguishing title.
During the war these vast herds grew and increased unattended, neglected by owners, who were in the field with the armies of the Confederacy. So it happened that hundreds of thousands of cattle ranged the plains of Texas after the war, unmarked and unbranded, wild as the native game, to which no man could establish title. This situation afforded an opportunity which the hard-riding and desperate men who found themselves stranded on this far frontier after the wreck of the Confederacy were quick to seize. Shang Rhett was one of them. From chasing Federal soldiers they turned to chasing unbranded steers, and found the latter occupation no less exciting and much more profitable than the former.
First, bands of free companions rode together and pooled their gains. Then the thrift of some and the improvidence of others set in motion the immutable laws of distribution. Soon a class of rich and powerful individual owners was created, who employed great outfits of ten to fifty men each, splendidly mounted and armed. These outfits were in continually moving camps, and travelled light, without wagons or tents. The climate being mild even in winter, seldom more than two blankets to the man were carried for bedding. The cooking paraphernalia were equally simple, at the most consisting of a coffee pot, a frying-pan, a stew kettle, and a Dutch oven. Each man carried a tin cup tied to his saddle. Plates, knives, and forks were considered unnecessary luxuries, as every man wore a bowie knife at his belt, and was dexterous in using his slice of bread as a plate to hold whatever delicacy the frying-pan or kettle might contain. Sometimes even the Dutch oven was dispensed with, and bread was baked by winding thin rolls of dough round a stick and planting the stick in the ground, inclined over a bed of live coals. Often the frying-pan was left behind, and the meat roasted on a stick over the fire; and no meat in the world was ever so delicious as a good fat side of ribs so roasted.
The wild, unbranded cattle were everywhere—in the cross-timbers of the Palo Pinto, in the hills and among the post oaks of the Concho and the Llano, on the broad savannas of the Lower Guadalupe and the Brazos, in the plains and mesquite thickets of the Nueces and the Frio. And through these wild regions, on the outer fringe of settlement, ranged the cow-hunters, as merry and happy a lot as ever courted adventure, careless of their lives.
Of adventure and hazard the cow-hunters had quite enough to keep the blood tingling. They had to deal with wild men as well as wild cattle. Comanches and Kiowas, the old lords of the manor, were bitterly disputing every forward movement of the settler along the whole frontier. No community, from Griffin to San Antonio, escaped their attacks and depredations. Indeed, these incursions were regular monthly visitations, made always "in the light of the moon." A war party of naked bucks on naked horses, the lightest and most dexterous cavalry in the world, would slip softly near some isolated ranch or lonely camp by night. The cleverest and cunningest would dismount and steal swiftly in upon their quarry. Slender, sinewy, bronze figures creeping and crouching like panthers, crafty as foxes, fierce and merciless as maddened bulls, their presence was rarely known until the blow fell. Sometimes they were content to steal the settlers' horses, and by daylight be many miles away to the west or north. Sometimes they fired buildings and shot down the inmates as they ran out. Sometimes they crept silently into camps, knifed or tomahawked one or more of the sleepers, and stole away, all so noiselessly that others sleeping near were undisturbed. Sometimes they lay in ambush about a camp till dawn, and then with mad war-whoops charged among the sleepers with their deadly arrows and tomahawks.
Against these wily marauders the cow-hunters could never abate their guard. And it was these same cow-hunters the Indians most dreaded, for they were tireless on a trail and utterly reckless in attack. It was not often the Indians got the best of them, and then only by ambush, or overwhelming numbers. Better armed, of stouter hearts in a stand-up fight, little bands of these cow-hunters often soundly thrashed war parties out-numbering them ten to one.
Then it not infrequently fell out that collisions occurred between rival outfits of cow-hunters, disputes over territory or cattle, which led to bitter feuds not settled till one side or the other was killed off or run out of the country. Battles royal were fought more than once in which a score or more of men were killed, wherein the casus belli was a difference as to the ownership of a brindle steer.
These men were a law unto themselves. Courts were few and far between on the line of the outer settlements. Powder and lead came cheaper than attorneys' fees, and were, moreover, found to be more effective. Thus the rifle and pistol were almost invariably the cow-hunters' court of first and last resort for disputes of every nature. Except in rare instances where there happened to be survivors among the families of the original plaintiff and defendant, this form of litigation was never prolonged or tiresome. When there were any survivors the case was sure to be re-argued.
Occasionally, of course, in the immediate settlements a case would be brought to formal trial before a judge and jury. While, as a rule, the procedure of these courts conformed to the statutes and was formal enough, rather startling informalities sometimes characterized their sessions. A case in point, of which Shang Rhett was the hero, occurred at Llano.
At that time the town of Llano could boast of only one building, a big rough stone house, loop-holed for defence against the Indians. Under this one roof the enterprising owner assembled a variety of industries and performed a variety of functions that would dismay the most versatile man of any older community. Here he kept a general store, operated blacksmith and wheelwright shops, served as post-master, ran a hotel, and sat as justice of the peace. Indeed, he got so much in the habit of self-reliance in all emergencies, that in more than one instance he subjected himself to some criticism by calmly sitting as both judge and jury in cases wherein he had no jurisdiction. Getting a jury at Llano was no easy task. Often the country for miles around might be scoured without producing a full panel.
Llano being the county seat, and this the only house in town, it somewhat naturally from time to time enjoyed temporary distinction as a court house, when at long intervals the Llano County court met. The accommodations, however, were inconveniently limited—so limited in fact that on one occasion at least they were responsible for a sad miscarriage of justice.
A murder trial was on. One of the earliest settlers, a man well known and generally liked, had killed a newcomer. It was felt that he had given his victim no chance for his life, else he probably would not have been brought to trial at all. And even in spite of the prevailing disapproval, there was an undercurrent of sympathy for him in the community.
However, court met and the case was called. Several settlers were witnesses in the case. It was, therefore, considered a remarkable and encouraging evidence of Llano County's growth in population when the District Attorney succeeded in raking together enough men for a jury. At noon of the second day of the trial the evidence was all in, arguments of counsel finished, and the case given to the jury. The prisoner's case seemed hopeless. A clearly premeditated murder had been proved, against which scarcely any defence was produced.
Judge, jury, prisoner, and witnesses all had dinner together in the "court-room," which was always demeaned from its temporary dignity as a hall of justice, to the humble rank of a dining-room as soon as court adjourned. Directly after dinner the jury withdrew for deliberation, in custody of two bailiffs.
The house was large, to be sure, but its capacity was already so far taxed that it could not provide a jury room. It was therefore the custom of the bailiffs to use as a jury room an open, mossy glade shaded by a great live oak tree on the farther bank of the Llano, and distant two or three hundred yards from the court house. Here, therefore, the jury were conducted, the bailiffs retired to some distance, and discussion of a verdict was begun. In spite of the weight of evidence against him, two or three were for acquittal. The others said they were "damned sorry; Jim was a mighty good feller, but it 'peared like they'd have to foller the evidence." So the discussion pro and con ran on into the mid-afternoon without result.
It was an intensely hot afternoon, the air close and heavy with humidity, an hour when all Texans who can do so take a siesta. Judge and counsel were snoozing peacefully on the gallery of the distant court house, and the two bailiffs guarding the "jury room," overcome by habit and the heat, were stretched at full length on the ground, snoring in concert. This situation made the opportunity for a friend at court. Shang Rhett was the friend awaiting this opportunity. Stepping lightly out of the brush where he had been concealed, a few paces brought him among the jurors.
"Howdy! boys?" Shang drawled. "Pow'ful hot evenin', ain't it! Moseyin' roun' sort o' lonesome like, I thought mebbe so you fellers 'd be tired o' talkin' law, an' I'd jes' step over an' pass the time o' day an' give you a rest."
A rude diplomat, perhaps, Shang was nevertheless a cunning one. Several jurors expressed their appreciation of his sympathy and one answered: "Tired o' talkin'! Wall, I reckon so. I'm jes' tireder an' dryer 'n if I'd been tailin' down beef steers all day. My ol' tongue's been a-floppin' till thar ain't nary 'nother flop left in her 'nless I could git to ile her up with a swaller o' red-eye, an—" regretfully—"I reckon thar ain't no sort o' chanst o' that."
"Thar ain't, hey?" replied Shang, producing a big jug from the brush near by. "'Pears like, 'nless I disremember, thar's some red-eye in this yere jug."
Upon examination the jug was found to be nearly full; but, passed and repassed around the "jury room," it was not long before the jug was empty, and the jury full.
Shrewdly seizing the proper moment before the jurors got drunk enough to be obstinate and combative, Shang made his appeal. "Fellers," he said, "I allows you all knows that Jim's my friend, an' I reckon you cain't say but what he 's been a mighty good friend to more'n one o' you. Course, I know he got terrible out o' luck when he had t' kill this yer Arkinsaw feller. But then, boys, Arkinsawyers don't count fer much nohow, do they? Pow'ful onery, no account lot, sca'cely fit to practise shootin' at. We fellers ain't a-goin' to lay that up agin Jim, air we? We ain't a-goin' to help this yer jack-leg prosecutin' attorney send ol' Jim up. Why, fellers, we knows well enough that airy one o' us might 'a done the same thing ef we'd been out o' luck, like Jim was, in meetin' up with this yer Arkinsawyer afore we'd had our mornin' coffee. What say, boys? Bein' as how any o' us might be in Jim's boots mos' any day, reckon we'll have to turn him loose?"
Shang's pathetic appeal for Jim's life clearly won outright more than half the jury, but there were several who, while their sympathies were with Jim, "'lowed they'd have to bring a verdic' accordin' to the evidence."
"Verdic'? Why, fellers," retorted Jim's advocate, "whar's the use of a fool verdic'? 'Sposin' we fellers was goin' to be verdicked? This is a time for us fellers to stan' together, shua'. I'll tell you what le's do; le's all slip off inter th' brush, cotch our hosses an' pull our freight fer home. This yer court ain't goin' to git airy jury but us in Llano 'till a new one's growed, an' if we skip I reckon they'll have to turn Jim loose."
This alternative met all objections. In a moment the "jury room" was empty.
Shortly thereafter the two bailiffs, awakened by a clatter of hoofs over the rocky hills behind them, were doubly shocked to find the only tenant of the "jury room" an empty jug.
One of the bailiffs sighted some of the escaping jurors and opened fire; the other hastened to alarm the court. The latter, running toward the house, met the judge and counsel who had been roused by the firing, and yelled out: "Jedge, the hull jury's stampeded! Bill's winged two o' them. Gi' me a fast hoss an' a lariat an' mebbe so I'll cotch some more."
Two or three jurors who were too much fuddled with drink to saddle and mount were quickly captured. The rest escaped. Of course, the court was outraged and indignant, but it was powerless. So Jim was released, thanks to Shang's diplomacy and eloquence. And, by the way, in the dark days that came to ranchmen in 1885, Jim, risen to be a well-known and powerful banker in ——— City, furnished the ready money necessary to save Shang's imperilled fortune; and when at length he heard that Shang was at death's door, Jim found the time to leave his large affairs and come all the way up from ——— to Llano to bid his old friend farewell.
For two or three years after the war the cow-hunters were busy accumulating cattle. From Palo Pinto to San Diego great outfits were working incessantly, scouring the wilds for unbranded cattle.
Directly an animal was sighted, one or two of these riders would spur in pursuit, rope him by horns or legs, and throw him to the ground. Then dismounting and springing nimbly upon the prostrate beast, they quickly fastened the beast's feet with a "hogtie" hitch so that he could not rise, a fire was built, the short saddle iron heated, and the beast branded. The feet were then unbound and the cow-hunter made a flying leap into his saddle, and spurred away to escape the infuriated charge sure to be delivered by his maddened victim.
In this work horses were often fatally gored and not a few men lost their lives. Notwithstanding the fact that it was such a downright desperate task, the men became so expert that they did not even hesitate to tackle, alone and single-handed, great bulls of twice the weight of their small ponies; they roped, held, threw, and branded them. The least accident or mistake, a slip of the foot, a stumble by one's horse, a breaking cinch, a failure to maintain full tension on the lariat, slowness in dismounting to tie an animal or in mounting after it was untied—any one of these things happening meant death, unless the cow-hunter could save himself with a quick and accurate shot. Indeed the boys so loved this work and were so proud of their skill, that when an unusually vicious old "mossback" was encountered, each strove to be the first catch and master him. And God knows they should have loved it, as must any man with real red blood coursing through his veins, for it was not work; I libel it to call it work; it was rather sport, and the most glorious sport in the world. Riding to hounds over the stiffest country, or hunting grizzly in juniper thickets, is tame beside cow-hunting in the old days.
The happiest period of my life was my first five years on the range in the early seventies. Indeed it was a period so happy that memory plays me a shabby trick to recall its incidents and fire me with longings for pleasures I may never again experience. Its scenes are all before me now, vivid as if of yesterday.
The night camp is made beside a singing stream or a bubbling spring; the night horses are caught and staked; there is a roaring, merry fire of fragrant cedar boughs; a side of fat ribs is roasting on a spit before the fire, its sweet juices hissing as they drop into the flames, and sending off odors to drive one ravenous; the rich amber contents of the coffee pot is so full of life and strength that it is well-nigh bursting the lid with joy over the vitality and stimulus it is to bring you. Supper eaten, there follow pipe and cigarette, jest and bandinage [Transcriber's note: badinage?] over the day's events; stories and songs of love, of home, of mother; and rude impromptu epics relating the story of victories over vicious horses, wild beasts, or savage Indians. When the fire has burnt low and become a mass of glowing coals, voices are hushed, the camp is still, and each, half hypnotized by gazing into the weirdly shifting lights of the dying embers, is wrapped in introspection. Then, rousing, you lie down, your canopy the dark blue vault of the heavens, your mattress the soft, curling buffalo grass. After a night of deep refreshing sleep you spring at dawn with every faculty renewed and tense. Breakfast eaten, you catch a favorite roping-horse, square and heavy of shoulder and quarter, short of back, with wide nervous nostrils, flashing eyes, ears pointing to the slightest sound, pasterns supple and strong as steel, and of a nerve and temper always reminding you that you are his master only by sufferance. Now begins the day's hunt. Riding softly through cedar brake or mesquite thicket, slipping quickly from one live oak to another, you come upon your quarry, some great tawny yellow monster with sharp-pointed, wide-spreading horns, standing startled and rigid, gazing at you with eyes wide with curiosity, uncertain whether to attack or fly. Usually he at first turns and runs, and you dash after him through timber or over plain, the great loop of your lariat circling and hissing about your head, the noble horse between your knees straining every muscle in pursuit, until, come to fit distance, the loop is cast. It settles and tightens round the monster's horns, and your horse stops and braces himself to the shock that may either throw the quarry or cast horse and rider to the ground, helpless, at his mercy. Once he is caught, woe to you if you cannot master and tie him, for a struggle is on, a struggle of dexterity and intelligence against brute strength and fierce temper, that cannot end till beast or man is vanquished!
Thus were the great herds accumulated in Texas after the war. But cattle were so abundant that their local value was trifling. Markets had to be sought. The only outlets were the mining camps and Indian agencies of the Northwest, and the railway construction camps then pushing west from the Missouri River. So the Texans gathered their cattle into herds of two thousand to three thousand head each, and struck north across the trackless Plains. Indeed this movement reached such proportions that, excepting in a few narrow mining belts, there is scarcely one of the greater cities and towns between the ninety-eighth and one hundred and twentieth meridians which did not have its origin as a supply point for these nomads. Figures will emphasize the magnitude of the movement. The cattle-drive northward from Texas between the years 1866 and 1885 was approximately as follows:
1866 260,000 1877 201,000 1867 35,000 1878 265,649 1868 75,000 1879 257,927 1869 350,000 1880 394,784 1870 350,000 1881 250,000 1871 600,000 1882 250,000 1872 350,000 1883 265,000 1873 404,000 1884 416,000 1874 166,000 1885 350,000 1875 151,618 ————- 1876 321,998 Total 5,713,976
The range business on a large and profitable scale was long since practically done and ended. In Texas there remain very few open ranges capable of turning off fair grass beef. With the good lands farmed and the poor lands exhausted, the ranges have become narrower every year; and every year the cost of getting fat grass steers has been eating deeper and deeper into the rangeman's pocket. Of course, there are still isolated ranges where the rangemen still hang on, but they are not many, and most of them must soon fall easy prey to the ploughshare.
When the rangeman was forced to lease land in Texas, or buy water fronts in the Territories and build fences, his fate was soon sealed. With these conditions, he soon found that the sooner he reduced his numbers, improved his breed, and went on tame feed, the better. A corn shock is now a more profitable close herder than any cowpuncher who ever wore spurs. This is a sad thing for an old rangeman to contemplate, but it is nevertheless the simple truth. Soon the merry crack of the six Footer will no more be heard in the land, its wild and woolly manipulator being driven across the last divide, with faint show of resistance, by an unassuming granger and his all-conquering hoe.
The rangeman, like many another in the past, has served his purpose and survived his usefulness. His work is practically done, and few realize what a noble work it has been, or what its cost in hardship and danger.
I refer, of course, not alone to the development of a great industry, which in its time has added millions to the material wealth of the country, but to its collateral results and influence. But for the venturesome rangeman and his rifle, millions of acres, from the Gulf in the South to Bow River in the far Canadian Northwest, now constituting the peaceful, prosperous homes of hundreds of thousands of thrifty farmers, would have remained for many years longer what it had been from the beginning—a hunting and battle ground for Indians, and a safe retreat for wild game.
What was the hardship, and what the personal risk with which this great pioneer work was accomplished, few know except those who had a hand in it, and they as a rule, were modest men who thought little of what they did, and now that it is done, say less.
A SELF-CONSTITUTED EXECUTIONER
Some think it fair to give a man warnin' you intend to kill him on sight, an' then get right down to business as soon as you meet. But that ain't no equal chance for both. The man that sees his enemy first has the advantage, for the other is sure to be more or less rattled.
"Others consider it a square deal to stan' back to back with drawn pistols, to walk five paces apart an' then swing and shoot. But even this way is open to objections. While both may be equally brave an' determined, one may be blamed nervous, like, an' excitable, while the other is cool and deliberate; one may be a better shot than the other, or one may have bad eyes.
"I tell you, gentlemen, none o' these deals are fair; they are murderous. If you want to kill a man in a neat an' gentlemanly way that will give both a perfectly equal show for life, let both be put in a narrow hole in the ground that they can't git out of, their left arms securely tied together, their right hands holdin' bowie knives, an' let them cut, an' cut an' cut till one is down."
His heavy brow contracted into a fierce frown; his black eyes narrowed and glittered balefully; his surging blood reddened the bronzed cheeks.
"Let them cut, I say, cut to a finish. That's fightin', an' fightin' dead fair. Ah!" and the hard lines of the scarred face softened into a look of infinite longing and regret, "if only I could find another man with nerve enough to fight me that way!"
The speaker was Mr. Clay Allison, formerly of Cimarron, later domiciled at Pope's Crossing. His listeners were cowboys. The scene was a round-up camp on the banks of the Pecos River near the mouth of Rocky Arroyo. Mr. Allison was not dilating upon a theory. On the contrary, he was eminently a man of practice, especially in the matters of which he was speaking. Indeed he was probably the most expert taker of human life that ever heightened the prevailing dull colors of a frontier community. Early in his career the impression became general that his favorite tint was crimson.
And yet Mr. Allison was in no sense an assassin. I never knew him to kill a man whom the community could not very well spare. While engaged as a ranchman in raising cattle, he found more agreeable occupation for the greater part of his time in thinning out the social weeds that are apt to grow quite too luxuriantly for the general good in new Western settlements. His work was not done as an officer of the law either. It was rather a self-imposed task, in which he performed, at least to his own satisfaction, the double functions of judge and executioner. And in the unwritten code governing his decisions all offences had a common penalty—death.
Mr. Allison was born with a passion for fighting, and he indulged the passion until it became a mania. The louder the bullets whistled, the redder the gleaming blades grew, the more he loved it.
Yet no knight of old that rode with King Arthur was ever a more chivalrous enemy. He hated a foul blow as much as many of his contemporaries loved "to get the drop," which meant taking your opponent unawares and at hopeless disadvantage. In fact in most cases he actually carried a chivalry so far as to warn the doomed man, a week or two in advance, of the precise day and hour when he might expect to die. And as Mr. Allison was known to be most scrupulous in standing to his word, and as the victim knew there was no chance of a reprieve, this gave him plenty of time to settle up his affairs and to prepare to cross the last divide. Thus the estates of gentlemen who happened to incur Mr. Allison's disapproval were usually left in excellent condition and gave little trouble to the probate courts.
Of course the gentlemen receiving these warnings were under no obligations to await Mr. Allison's pleasure. Some suddenly discovered that they had imperative business in other and remote parts of the country. Others were so anxious to save him unnecessary trouble that they frequented trails he was known to travel, and lay sometimes for hours and days awaiting him, making themselves as comfortable as possible in the meantime behind some convenient boulder or tall nopal, or in the shady recesses of a mesquite thicket. But they might as well have saved all this bother, for the result was the same. Mr. Allison could always spare the time to journey even from New Mexico to Montana where it was necessary to the fulfilment of a promise to do so.
To those who were impatient and sought him out in advance, he was ever obliging and proved ready to meet them where and when and how they pleased. It was all the same to him. To avoid annoying legal complications, he was known to have more than once deliberately given his opponent the first shot.
In the early eighties a band of horse rustlers were playing great havoc among the saddle stock in north-eastern New Mexico. It was chiefly through Mr. Allison's industry and accurate marksmanship that their numbers were reduced below a convenient working majority. The leader vowed vengeance on Allison. One day they met unexpectedly in the stage ranch at the crossing of the Cimarron.
Mr. Allison invited the rustler to take a drink. The invitation was accepted. It was remarked by the bystanders that while they were drinking neither seemed to take any especial interest in the brazen pictures that constituted a feature of the Cimarron bar and were the pride of its proprietor. The next manoeuvre in the game was a proposition by Mr. Allison that they retire to the dining-room and have some oysters. Unable to plead any other engagement to dine, the rustler accepted. As they sat down at table, both agreed that their pistols felt heavy about their waists, and each drew his weapon from the scabbard and laid it on his knees.
While the Cimarron ranch was noted for the best cooking on the trail, other gentlemen at dinner seemed oddly indifferent to its delicacies, nervously gulped down a few mouthfuls and then slipped quietly out of the room, leaving loaded plates.
Presently Mr. Allison dropped a fork on the floor—perhaps by accident—and bent as if to pick it up. An opening in his enemy's guard the rustler could not resist: he grabbed the pistol lying in his lap and raised it quickly, but in doing so he struck the muzzle beneath the edge of the table, causing an instant's delay. It was, however, enough; Allison had pitched sideways to the floor, and, firing beneath the table, converted a bad rustler into a good one.
Dodge City used to be one of the hottest places on the Texas trail. It was full of thugs and desperadoes of the worst sort, come to prey upon the hundreds of cowboys who were paid off there. This money had to be kept in Dodge at any cost. Usually the boys were easy game. What money the saloons failed to get was generally gambled off against brace games of faro or monte. And those who would neither drink nor play were waylaid, knocked down, and robbed.
On one occasion when the Hunter and Evans "Jinglebob" outfits were in town, they objected to some of these enforced levies as unreasonably heavy. A pitched battle on the streets resulted. Many of the boys were young and inexperienced, and they were getting quite the worst of it, when Clay Allison happened along and took a hand.
The fight did not last much longer. When it was over, it was discovered that several of Dodge's most active citizens had been removed from their field of usefulness. For the next day or two, "Boot Hill" (the local graveyard) was a scene of unusual activity.
From all this it fell out that a few days later when Clay Allison rode alone out of Dodge returning home, he was ambushed a few miles from town by three men and shot from his horse. Crippled too badly to resist, he lay as if dead. Thinking their work well done, the three men came out of hiding, kicked and cursed him, shot two or three more holes in him, and rode back to town. But Allison, who had not even lost consciousness, had recognized them. A few hours later the driver of a passing wagon found him and hauled him into town. After lingering many weeks between life and death, Allison recovered. As soon as they heard that he was convalescing, the three who had attacked him wound up their affairs and fled the town.
When able to travel Allison sold his ranch. Questioned by his friends as to his plans, he finally admitted that he felt it a duty to hunt down the men who had ambushed him; remarked that he feared they might bushwhack some one else if they were not removed.
Number One of the three men he located in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Cheyenne was then a law-abiding community, and Allison could not afford to take any chances of court complications that would interfere with the completion of his work. He therefore spent several days in covertly watching the habits of his adversary. From the knowledge thus gained he was able one morning suddenly to turn a street corner and confront Number One. Without the least suspicion that Allison was in the country, the man, knowing that his life hung by a thread, jerked his pistol and fired on the instant. As Allison had shrewdly calculated, his enemy was so nervous that his shot flew wild. Number One did not get a second shot. At the inquest several witnesses of the affray swore that Allison did not even draw until after the other had fired.
Several weeks later Number Two was found in Tombstone, Arizona, a town of the good old frontier sort that had little use for coroners and juries, so the fighting was half fair. Half an hour after landing from the stagecoach, Allison encountered his man in a gambling-house. Number Two remained in Tombstone—permanently—while Mr. Allison resumed his travels by the evening coach.
The hunt for Number Three lasted several months. Allison followed him relentlessly from place to place through half a dozen States and Territories, until he was located on a ranch near Spearfish, Dakota.
They met at last, one afternoon, within the shadow of the Devil's Tower. In the duel that ensued, Allison's horse was killed under him. This occasioned him no particular inconvenience, however, for he found that Number Three's horse, after having a few hours' rest, was able to carry him into Deadwood, where he caught the Sidney stage.
With this task finished, Mr. Allison was able to return to commercial pursuits. He settled at Pope's Crossing on the Pecos River, in New Mexico, bought cattle, and stocked the adjacent range. Pecos City, the nearest town, lay fifty miles to the south.
Started as a "front camp" during the construction of the Texas Pacific Railway in 1880, for five or six years Pecos contrived to rock along without any of the elaborate municipal machinery deemed essential to the government and safety of urban communities in the effete East. It had neither council, mayor, nor peace officer. An early experiment in government was discouraging.
In 1883 the Texas Pacific station-agent was elected mayor. His name was Ewing, a little man with fierce whiskers and mild blue eyes. Two nights after the election a gang of boys from the "Hash Knife" outfit were in town; fearing circumscription of some of their privileges, the election did not have their approval. Gleaming out of the darkness fifty yards away from the Lone Wolf Saloon, the light of Mayor Ewing's office window offered a most tempting target. What followed was very natural—in Pecos.
The Mayor was sitting at his table receiving train orders, when suddenly a bullet smashed the telegraph key beside his hand and other balls whistled through the room bearing him a message he had no trouble in reading. Rushing out into the darkness, he spent the night in the brush, and toward morning boarded an east-bound freight train. Mayor Ewing had abdicated. The railway company soon obtained another station-agent, but it was some years before the town got another mayor.
On Pecos carnival nights like this, when some of the cowboys were in town, prudent people used to sleep on the floor of Van Slyke's store with bags of grain piled round their blankets two tiers deep, for no Pecos house walls were more than inch boards.
At this early period of its history the few wandering advance agents of the Gospel who occasionally visited Pecos were not well received. They were not abused; they were simply ignored. When not otherwise occupied, the average Pecosite had too much whittling on hand to find time to "'tend meetin'"; of this every pine drygoods box in the town bore mute evidence, its fair sides covered with innumerable rude carvings cut by aimless hands.
This prevailing indifference to religion shocked Mr. Allison. As opportunity offered he tried to remedy it, and as far as his evangelical work went it was successful. One Tuesday morning about ten o'clock he walked into the Lone Wolf Saloon, laid two pistols on the end of the bar next the front door, and remarked to Red Dick, the bartender, that he intended to turn the saloon into a church for a couple of hours and did not want any drinks sold or cards thrown during the services.
Taking his stand just within the doorway, pistol in hand, Mr. Allison began to assemble his congregation. The first comer was Billy Jansen, the leading merchant of the town. As he was passing the door Clay remarked:
"Good-mornin', Mr. Jansen, won't you please step inside? Religious services will be held here shortly an' I reckon you'll be useful in the choir."
The only reply to Billy's protest of urgent business was a gesture that made Billy think going to church would be the greatest pleasure he could have that morning.
Mr. Allison never played favorites at any game, and so all passers were stopped: merchants, railway men, gamblers, thugs, cowboys, freighters—all were stopped and made to enter the saloon. The least furtive movement to draw a gun or to approach the back door received prompt attention from the impromptu evangelist that quickly restored order in the congregation. When fifty or sixty men had been brought into this improvised fold, Mr. Allison closed the door and faced about.
"Fellers," he said, "this meetin' bein' held on the Pecos, I reckon we'll open her by singin' 'Shall We Gather at the River?' Of course we're already gathered, but the song sort o' fits. No gammon now, fellers; everybody sings that knows her."
The result was discouraging. Few in the audience knew any hymn, much less this one. Only three or four managed to hoarsely drawl through two verses.
The hymn finished—as far as anybody could sing it—Mr. Allison said:
"Now, fellers, we'll pray. Everybody down!"
Only a few knelt. Among the congregation were some who regarded the affair as sacrilegious, and others of the independent frontier type were unaccustomed to dictation. However, a slight narrowing of the cold black eyes and a significant sweep of the six-shooter brought every man of them to his knees, with heads bowed over faro lay-outs and on monte tables.
"O Lord!" began Allison, "this yere's a mighty bad neck o' woods, an' I reckon You know it. Fellers don' think enough o' their souls to build a church, an' when a pa'son comes here they don' treat him half white. O Lord! make these fellers see that when they gits caught in the final round-up an' drove over the last divide, they don' stan' no sort o' show to git to stay on the heavenly ranch 'nless they believes an' builds a house to pray an' preach in. Right here I subscribes a hundred dollars to build a church, an' if airy one o' these yere fellers don' tote up accordin' to his means, O Lord, make it Your pers'n'l business to see that he wears the Devil's brand and ear mark an' never gits another drop o' good spring water.
"Of course, I allow You knows I don' sport no wings myself, but I want to do what's right ef You'll sort o' give a shove the proper way. An' one thing I want You to understan'; Clay Allison's got a fast horse an' is tol'able handy with his rope, and he's goin' to run these fellers into Your corral even if he has to rope an' drag 'em there. Amen. Everybody git up!"
While he prayed in the most reverent tone he could command, and while his attitude was one of simple supplication, Mr. Allison never removed his keen eyes from the congregation.
"Reckon we'll sing again, boys, an' I want a little more of it. Le's see what you-all knows."
At length six or eight rather sheepishly owned knowing "Old Hundred," and it was sung.
Then the sermon was in order.
"Fellers," he began, "my ole mammy used to tell me that the only show to shake the devil off your trail was to believe everythin' the Bible says. What yer mammy tells you 's bound to be right, dead right, so I think I'll take the sentiment o' this yere round-up on believin'. O' course, as a square man I'm boun' to admit the Bible tells some pow'ful queer tales, onlike anythin' we-'uns strikes now days. Take that tale about a fish swallerin' a feller named Jonah; why, a fish 't could swaller a man 'od have to be as big in the barrel as the Pecos River is wide an' have an openin' in his face bigger'n Phantom Lake Cave. Nobody on the Pecos ever see such a fish. But I wish you fellers to distinctly understan' it's a fact. I believes it. Does you? Every feller that believes a fish swallered Jonah, hold up his right hand!"
It is sad to have to admit that only two or three hands were raised.
"Well, I'll be durned," the evangelist continued, "you air tough cases. That's what's the matter with you; you are shy on faith. You fellers has got to be saved, an' to be saved you got to believe, an' believe hard, an' I'm agoin' to make you. Now hear me, an' mind you don' forget it's Clay Allison talkin' to you: I tells you that when that thar fish had done swallerin' Jonah, he swum aroun' fer a hull hour lookin' to see if thar was a show to pick up any o' Jonah's family or friends. Now what I tells you I reckon you're all bound to believe. Every feller that believes that Jonah was jes' only a sort of a snack fer the fish, hold up his right hand; an' if any feller don' believe it, this yere ol' gun o' mine will finish the argiment."
Further exhortation was unnecessary; all hands went up.
And so the sermon ran on for an hour, a crude homily full of rude metaphor, with little of sentiment or pleading, severely didactic, mandatory as if spoken in a dungeon of the Inquisition. When Red Dick passed the hat among the congregation for a subscription to build a church, the contribution was general and generous. Many who early in the meeting were full of rage over the restraint, and vowing to themselves to kill Allison the first good chance they got, finished by thinking he meant all right and had taken about the only practicable means "to git the boys to 'tend meetin'."
In the town of Toyah, twenty miles west of Pecos, a gentleman named Jep Clayton set the local spring styles in six-shooters and bowie knives, and settled the hash of anybody who ventured to question them. A reckless bully, he ruled the town as if he owned it.
One day John McCullough, Allison's brother-in-law and ranch foreman, had business in Toyah. Clayton had heard of Allison but knew little about him. Drunk and quarrelsome, he hunted up McCullough, called him every abusive name he could think of before a crowd, and then suggested that if he did not like it he might send over his brother-in-law Allison, who was said to be a gun fighter. A mild and peaceable man himself, McCullough avoided a difficulty and returned to Pecos.
Two days later a lone horseman rode into Toyah, stopped at Youngbloods' store, tied his horse, and went in. Approaching the group of loafers curled up on boxes at the rear of the store, he inquired:
"Can any of you gentlemen tell me if a gentleman named Clayton, Jep Clayton, is in town, an' where I can find him?"
They replied that he had been in the store an hour before and was probably near by.
As the lone horseman walked out of the door, one the loungers remarked:
"I believe that's Clay Allison, an' ef it is it's all up with Jep."
He slipped out and gave Jep warning, told him Allison was in town, that he had known him years before, and that Jep had better quit town or say his prayers. Concluding, he said, "You done barked up the wrong tree this time, sure."
Allison went on from one saloon to another, at each making the same polite inquiry for Mr. Clayton's whereabouts. At last, out on the street Allison met a party of eight men, a crowd Clayton had gathered, and repeated his inquiry. A man stepped out of the group and said: "My name's Clayton, an' I reckon yours is Allison. Look here, Mr. Allison, this is all a mistake. I——"
"Why, what's a mistake? Didn't you meet Mr. McCullough the other day?"
"Didn't you abuse him shamefully?"
"Well, yes, but——"
"Didn't you send me an invite to come over here?"
"Well, yes, I did, but it was a mistake, Mr. Allison; I was drunk. It was whiskey talkin'; nothin' more. I'm terrible sorry. It was jes' whiskey talk."
"Whiskey talk, was it? Well, Mr. Clayton, le's step in the saloon here and get some whiskey an' see if it won't set you goin' again. I believe I'd enjoy hearin' jes' a few words o' your whiskey talk."