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A Family Reunion








From: The Outlet

The hospitality of a trail wagon was aptly expressed in the invitation
to enjoy ourselves. Some one had exercised good judgment in selecting
a camp, for every convenience was at hand, including running water and
ample shade from a clump of cottonwoods. Turning our steaming horses
free, we threw ourselves, in complete abandonment and relaxation, down
in the nearest shade. Unmistakable hints were given our host of certain
refreshments which would be acceptable, and in reply Forrest pointed to
a bucket of creek water near the wagon wheel, and urged us not to be at
all backward.

Every one was well fortified with brown cigarette papers and smoking
tobacco, and singly and in groups we were soon smoking like hired hands
and reviewing the incidents of the morning. Forrest's cook, a tall,
red-headed fellow, in anticipation of the number of guests his wagon
would entertain for the day, put on the little and the big pot. As it
only lacked an hour of noon on our arrival, the promised fresh beef
would not be available in time for dinner; but we were not like guests
who had to hurry home--we would be right there when supper was ready.

The loss of a night's sleep on my outfit was a good excuse for an
after-dinner siesta. Untying our slickers, we strolled out of hearing
of the camp, and for several hours obliterated time. About three o'clock
Bob Quirk aroused and informed us that he had ordered our horses, and
that the signal of Sponsilier's cattle had been seen south on the trail.
Dave was impatient to intercept his herd and camp them well down the
creek, at least below the regular crossing. This would throw Bob's and
my cattle still farther down the stream; and we were all determined
to honor Forrest with our presence for supper and the evening hours.
Quince's wrangler rustled in the horses, and as we rejoined the camp the
quarters of a beef hung low on a cottonwood, while a smudge beneath them
warned away all insect life. Leaving word that we would return during
the evening, the eleventh-hour guests rode away in the rough, uneven
order in which we had arrived. Sponsilier and his men veered off to
the south, Bob Quirk and his lads soon following, while the rest of us
continued on down the creek. My cattle were watering when we overtook
them, occupying fully a mile of the stream, and nearly an hour's ride
below the trail crossing. It takes a long time to water a big herd
thoroughly, and we repeatedly turned them back and forth across the
creek, but finally allowed them to graze away with a broad, fan-like
front. As ours left the stream, Bob's cattle were coming in over a mile
above, and in anticipation of a dry camp that night, Parent had been
advised to fill his kegs and supply himself with wood.

Detailing the third and fourth guard to wrangle the remuda, I sent
Levering up the creek with my brother's horses and to recover our loaned
saddle stock; even Bob Quirk was just thoughtless enough to construe a
neighborly act into a horse trade. About two miles out from the creek
and an equal distance from the trail, I found the best bed-ground of the
trip. It sloped to the northwest, was covered with old dry grass, and
would catch any vagrant breeze except an eastern one. The wagon was
ordered into camp, and the first and second guards were relieved just
long enough to secure their night-horses. Nearly all of these two
watches had been with me during the day, and on the return of Levering
with the horses, we borrowed a number of empty flour-sacks for beef, and
cantered away, leaving behind only the cook and the first two guards.

What an evening and night that was! As we passed up the creek, we
sighted in the gathering twilight the camp-fires of Sponsilier and my
brother, several miles apart and south of the stream. When we reached
Forrest's wagon the clans were gathering, The Rebel and his crowd being
the last to come in from above. Groups of saddle horses were tied among
the trees, while around two fires were circles of men broiling beef over
live coals. The red-headed cook had anticipated forty guests outside of
his own outfit, and was pouring coffee into tin cups and shying biscuit
right and left on request. The supper was a success, not on account of
the spread or our superior table manners, but we graced the occasion
with appetites which required the staples of life to satisfy. Then we
smoked, falling into groups when the yarning began. All the fresh-beef
stories of our lives, and they were legion, were told, no one group
paying any attention to another.

"Every time I run a-foul of fresh beef," said The Rebel, as he settled
back comfortably between the roots of a cottonwood, with his back to its
trunk, "it reminds me of the time I was a prisoner among the Yankees.
It was the last year of the war, and I had got over my first desire to
personally whip the whole North. There were about five thousand of
us held as prisoners of war for eleven months on a peninsula in the
Chesapeake Bay. The fighting spirit of the soldier was broken in
the majority of us, especially among the older men and those who had
families. But we youngsters accepted the fortunes of war and were glad
that we were alive, even if we were prisoners. In my mess in prison
there were fifteen, all having been captured at the same time, and many
of us comrades of three years' standing.

"I remember the day we were taken off the train and marched through the
town for the prison, a Yankee band in our front playing national airs
and favorites of their army, and the people along the route jeering us
and asking how we liked the music. Our mess held together during the
march, and some of the boys answered them back as well as they could.
Once inside the prison stockade, we went into quarters and our mess
still held together. Before we had been there long, one day there was a
call among the prisoners for volunteers to form a roustabout crew. Well,
I enlisted as a roustabout. We had to report to an officer twice a day,
and then were put under guard and set to work. The kind of labor I liked
best was unloading the supplies for the prison, which were landed on a
near-by wharf. This roustabout crew had all the unloading to do, and the
reason I liked it was it gave us some chance to steal. Whenever there
was anything extra, intended for the officers, to be unloaded, look out
for accidents. Broken crates were common, and some of the contents was
certain to reach our pockets or stomachs, in spite of the guard.

"I was a willing worker and stood well with the guards. They never
searched me, and when they took us outside the stockade, the captain of
the guard gave me permission, after our work was over, to patronize the
sutler's store and buy knick-knacks from the booths. There was
always some little money amongst soldiers, even in prison, and I was
occasionally furnished money by my messmates to buy bread from a baker's
wagon which was outside the walls. Well, after I had traded a few
times with the baker's boy, I succeeded in corrupting him. Yes, had him
stealing from his employer and selling to me at a discount. I was a good
customer, and being a prisoner, there was no danger of my meeting his
employer. You see the loaves were counted out to him, and he had to
return the equivalent or the bread. At first the bread cost me ten cents
for a small loaf, but when I got my scheme working, it didn't cost me
five cents for the largest loaves the boy could steal from the bakery. I
worked that racket for several months, and if we hadn't been exchanged,
I'd have broke that baker, sure.

"But the most successful scheme I worked was stealing the kidneys out of
beef while we were handling it. It was some distance from the wharf to
the warehouse, and when I'd get a hind quarter of beef on my shoulder,
it was an easy trick to burrow my hand through the tallow and get a
good grip on the kidney. Then when I'd throw the quarter down in the
warehouse, it would be minus a kidney, which secretly found lodgment in
a large pocket in the inside of my shirt. I was satisfied with one or
two kidneys a day when I first worked the trick, but my mess caught on,
and then I had to steal by wholesale to satisfy them. Some days, when
the guards were too watchful, I couldn't get very many, and then again
when things were lax, 'Elijah's Raven' would get a kidney for each man
in our mess. With the regular allowance of rations and what I could
steal, when the Texas troops were exchanged, our mess was ragged enough,
but pig-fat, and slick as weasels. Lord love you, but we were a great
mess of thieves."

Nearly all of Flood's old men were with him again, several of whom were
then in Forrest's camp. A fight occurred among a group of saddle horses
tied to the front wheel of the wagon, among them being the mount of
John Officer. After the belligerents had been quieted, and Officer had
removed and tied his horse to a convenient tree, he came over and joined
our group, among which were the six trail bosses. Throwing himself down
among us, and using Sponsilier for a pillow and myself for footstool, he
observed:

"All you foremen who have been over the Chisholm Trail remember the
stage-stand called Bull Foot, but possibly some of the boys haven't.
Well, no matter, it's just about midway between Little Turkey Creek and
Buffalo Springs on that trail, where it runs through the Cherokee Strip.
I worked one year in that northern country--lots of Texas boys there
too. It was just about the time they began to stock that country with
Texas steers, and we rode lines to keep our cattle on their range. You
bet, there was riding to do in that country then. The first few months
that these Southern steers are turned loose on a new range, Lord! but
they do love to drift against a breeze. In any kind of a rain-storm,
they'll travel farther in a night than a whole outfit can turn them back
in a day.

"Our camp was on the Salt Fork of the Cimarron, and late in the fall
when all the beeves had been shipped, the outfit were riding lines and
loose-herding a lot of Texas yearlings, and mixed cattle, natives to
that range. Up in that country they have Indian summer and Squaw winter,
both occurring in the fall. They have lots of funny weather up there.
Well, late one evening that fall there came an early squall of Squaw
winter, sleeted and spit snow wickedly. The next morning there wasn't
a hoof in sight, and shortly after daybreak we were riding deep in our
saddles to catch the lead drift of our cattle. After a hard day's ride,
we found that we were out several hundred head, principally yearlings of
the through Texas stock. You all know how locoed a bunch of dogies can
get--we hunted for three days and for fifty miles in every direction,
and neither hide, hair, nor hoof could we find. It was while we were
hunting these cattle that my yarn commences.

"The big augers of the outfit lived in Wichita, Kansas. Their foreman,
Bibleback Hunt, and myself were returning from hunting this missing
bunch of yearlings when night overtook us, fully twenty-five miles from
camp. Then this Bull Foot stage came to mind, and we turned our horses
and rode to it. It was nearly dark when we reached it, and Bibleback
said for me to go in and make the talk. I'll never forget that nice
little woman who met me at the door of that sod shack. I told her our
situation, and she seemed awfully gracious in granting us food and
shelter for the night. She told us we could either picket our horses
or put them in the corral and feed them hay and grain from the
stage-company's supply. Now, old Bibleback was what you might call shy
of women, and steered clear of the house until she sent her little boy
out and asked us to come in. Well, we sat around in the room, owly-like,
and to save my soul from the wrath to come, I couldn't think of a
word that was proper to say to the little woman, busy getting supper.
Bibleback was worse off than I was; he couldn't do anything but look at
the pictures on the wall. What was worrying me was, had she a husband?
Or what was she doing away out there in that lonesome country? Then
a man old enough to be her grandfather put in an appearance. He was
friendly and quite talkative, and I built right up to him. And then we
had a supper that I distinctly remember yet. Well, I should say I do--it
takes a woman to get a good supper, and cheer it with her presence,
sitting at the head of the table and pouring the coffee.

"This old man was a retired stage-driver, and was doing the wrangling
act for the stage-horses. After supper I went out to the corral and
wormed the information out of him that the woman was a widow; that her
husband had died before she came there, and that she was from Michigan.
Amongst other things that I learned from the old man was that she had
only been there a few months, and was a poor but deserving woman. I
told Bibleback all this after we had gone to bed, and we found that our
finances amounted to only four dollars, which she was more than welcome
to. So the next morning after breakfast, when I asked her what I owed
her for our trouble, she replied so graciously: 'Why, gentlemen, I
couldn't think of taking advantage of your necessity to charge you for
a favor that I'm only too happy to grant.' 'Oh,' said I, 'take this,
anyhow,' laying the silver on the corner of the table and starting
for the door, when she stopped me. 'One moment, sir; I can't think of
accepting this. Be kind enough to grant my request,' and returned the
money. We mumbled out some thanks, bade her good-day, and started for
the corral, feeling like two sheep thieves. While we were saddling
up--will you believe it?--her little boy came out to the corral and gave
each one of us as fine a cigar as ever I buttoned my lip over. Well,
fellows, we had had it put all over us by this little Michigan woman,
till we couldn't look each other in the face. We were accustomed to
hardship and neglect, but here was genuine kindness enough to kill a
cat.

"Until we got within five miles of our camp that morning, old Bibleback
wouldn't speak to me as we rode along. Then he turned halfway in his
saddle and said: 'What kind of folks are those?' 'I don't know,' I
replied, 'what kind of people they are, but I know they are good ones.'
'Well, I'll get even with that little woman if it takes every sou in my
war-bags,' said Hunt.

"When within a mile of camp, Bibleback turned again in his saddle and
asked, 'When is Christmas?' 'In about five weeks,' I answered. 'Do you
know where that big Wyoming stray ranges?' he next asked. I trailed onto
his game in a second. 'Of course I do.' 'Well,' says he, 'let's kill him
for Christmas and give that little widow every ounce of the meat. It'll
be a good one on her, won't it? We'll fool her a plenty. Say nothing to
the others,' he added; and giving our horses the rein we rode into camp
on a gallop.

"Three days before Christmas we drove up this Wyoming stray and beefed
him. We hung the beef up overnight to harden in the frost, and the next
morning bright and early, we started for the stage-stand with a good
pair of ponies to a light wagon. We reached the widow's place about
eleven o'clock, and against her protests that she had no use for so
much, we hung up eight hundred pounds of as fine beef as you ever set
your peepers on. We wished her a merry Christmas, jumped into the wagon,
clucked to the ponies, and merely hit the high places getting away. When
we got well out of sight of the house--well, I've seen mule colts
play and kid goats cut up their antics; I've seen children that was
frolicsome; but for a man with gray hair on his head, old Bibleback Hunt
that day was the happiest mortal I ever saw. He talked to the horses; he
sang songs; he played Injun; and that Christmas was a merry one, for
the debt was paid and our little widow had beef to throw to the dogs. I
never saw her again, but wherever she is to-night, if my prayer counts,
may God bless her!"

Early in the evening I had warned my boys that we would start on our
return at ten o'clock. The hour was nearly at hand, and in reply to my
inquiry if our portion of the beef had been secured, Jack Splann said
that he had cut off half a loin, a side of ribs, and enough steak for
breakfast. Splann and I tied the beef to our cantle-strings, and when
we returned to the group, Sponsilier was telling of the stampede of
his herd in the Panhandle about a month before. "But that run wasn't
a circumstance to one in which I figured once, and in broad daylight,"
concluded Dave. It required no encouragement to get the story; all we
had to do was to give him time to collect his thoughts.

"Yes, it was in the summer of '73," he finally continued. "It was my
first trip over the trail, and I naturally fell into position at the
drag end of the herd. I was a green boy of about eighteen at the time,
having never before been fifty miles from the ranch where I was born.
The herd belonged to Major Hood, and our destination was Ellsworth,
Kansas. In those days they generally worked oxen to the chuck-wagons,
as they were ready sale in the upper country, and in good demand
for breaking prairie. I reckon there must have been a dozen yoke of
work-steers in our herd that year, and they were more trouble to me than
all the balance of the cattle, for they were slothful and sinfully lazy.
My vocabulary of profanity was worn to a frazzle before we were out a
week, and those oxen didn't pay any more attention to a rope or myself
than to the buzzing of a gnat.

"There was one big roan ox, called Turk, which we worked to the wagon
occasionally, but in crossing the Arbuckle Mountains in the Indian
Territory, he got tender-footed. Another yoke was substituted, and in a
few days Turk was on his feet again. But he was a cunning rascal and
had learned to soldier, and while his feet were sore, I favored him with
sandy trails and gave him his own time. In fact, most of my duties were
driving that one ox, while the other boys handled the herd. When his
feet got well--I had toadied and babied him so--he was plum ruined.
I begged the foreman to put him back in the chuck team, but the cook
kicked on account of his well-known laziness, so Turk and I continued to
adorn the rear of the column. I reckon the foreman thought it better
to have Turk and me late than no dinner. I tried a hundred different
schemes to instill ambition and self-respect into that ox, but he was an
old dog and contented with his evil ways.

"Several weeks passed, and Turk and I became a standing joke with
the outfit. One morning I made the discovery that he was afraid of a
slicker. For just about a full half day, I had the best of him, and
several times he was out of sight in the main body of the herd. But he
always dropped to the rear, and finally the slicker lost its charm to
move him. In fact he rather enjoyed having me fan him with it--it seemed
to cool him. It was the middle of the afternoon, and Turk had dropped
about a quarter-mile to the rear, while I was riding along beside and
throwing the slicker over him like a blanket. I was letting him
carry it, and he seemed to be enjoying himself, switching his tail in
appreciation, when the matted brush of his tail noosed itself over
one of the riveted buttons on the slicker. The next switch brought
the yellow 'fish' bumping on his heels, and emitting a blood-curdling
bellow, he curved his tail and started for the herd. Just for a minute
it tickled me to see old Turk getting such a wiggle on him, but the next
moment my mirth turned to seriousness, and I tried to cut him off from
the other cattle, but he beat me, bellowing bloody murder. The slicker
was sailing like a kite, and the rear cattle took fright and began
bawling as if they had struck a fresh scent of blood. The scare flashed
through the herd from rear to point, and hell began popping right then
and there. The air filled with dust and the earth trembled with the
running cattle. Not knowing which way to turn, I stayed right where I
was--in the rear. As the dust lifted, I followed up, and about a mile
ahead picked up my slicker, and shortly afterward found old Turk,
grazing contentedly. With every man in the saddle, that herd ran seven
miles and was only turned by the Cimarron River. It was nearly dark when
I and the roan ox overtook the cattle. Fortunately none of the swing-men

had seen the cause of the stampede, and I attributed it to fresh blood,
which the outfit believed. My verdant innocence saved my scalp that
time, but years afterward I nearly lost it when I admitted to my old
foreman what had caused the stampede that afternoon. But I was a trail
boss then and had learned my lesson."

The Rebel, who was encamped several miles up the creek, summoned his
men, and we all arose and scattered after our horses. There was quite a
cavalcade going our way, and as we halted within the light of the fires
for the different outfits to gather, Flood rode up, and calling Forrest,
said: "In the absence of any word from old man Don, we might as well
all pull out in the morning. More than likely we'll hear from him at
Grinnell, and until we reach the railroad, the Buford herds had better
take the lead. I'll drag along in the rear, and if there's another move
made from Dodge, you will have warning. Now, that's about all, except to
give your cattle plenty of time; don't hurry. S'long, fellows."





Next: All In The Day's Work

Previous: At Sheriff's Creek



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