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At Sheriff's Creek








From: The Outlet

The sun had nearly set when we galloped into Bob Quirk's camp. Halting
only long enough to advise my brother of the escape of Tolleston and
his joining the common enemy, I asked him to throw any pursuit off our
trail, as I proposed breaking camp that evening. Seay and myself put
behind us the few miles between the two wagons, and dashed up to mine
just as the outfit were corralling the remuda for night-horses. Orders
rang out, and instead of catching our regular guard mounts, the boys
picked the best horses in their strings. The cattle were then nearly
a mile north of camp, coming in slowly towards the bed-ground, but a
half-dozen of us rushed away to relieve the men on herd and turn the
beeves back. The work-mules were harnessed in, and as soon as the
relieved herders secured mounts, our camp of the past few days was
abandoned. The twilight of evening was upon us, and to the rattling of
the heavily loaded wagon and the shouting of the wrangler in our rear
were added the old herd songs. The cattle, without trail or trace to
follow, and fit ransom for a dozen kings in pagan ages, moved north as
if imbued with the spirit of the occasion.

A fair moon favored us. The night was an ideal one for work, and about
twelve o'clock we bedded down the herd and waited for dawn. As we
expected to move again with the first sign of day, no one cared to
sleep; our nerves were under a high tension with expectation of what the
coming day might bring forth. Our location was an unknown quantity. All
agreed that we were fully ten miles north of the Saw Log, and, with the
best reasoning at my command, outside the jurisdiction of Ford County.
The regular trail leading north was some six or eight miles to the
west, and fearful that we had not reached unorganized territory, I was
determined to push farther on our course before veering to the left.
The night halt, however, afforded us an opportunity to compare notes
and arrive at some definite understanding as to the programme of the
forthcoming day. "Quirk, you missed the sight of your life," said Jake
Blair, as we dismounted around the wagon, after bedding the cattle, "by
not being there when the discovery was made that these 'Open A's' were
Don Lovell's cattle. Tolleston, of course, made the discovery; but
I think he must have smelt the rat in advance. Archie and the buyers
arrived for a late dinner, and several times Tolleston ran his eye over
one of the boys and asked, 'Haven't I met you somewhere?' but none of
them could recall the meeting. Then he got to nosing around the wagon
and noticing every horse about camp. The road-brand on the cattle threw
him off the scent just for a second, but when he began reading the
ranch-brands, he took a new hold. As he looked over the remuda, the
scent seemed to get stronger, and when he noticed the 'Circle Dot' on
those work-mules, he opened up and bayed as if he had treed something.
And sure enough he had; for you know, Tom, those calico lead mules
belonged in his team last year, and he swore he'd know them in hell,
brand or no brand. When Archie announced the outfit, lock, stock,
and barrel, as belonging to Don Lovell, the old buyers turned pale as
ghosts, and the fat one took off his hat and fanned himself. That act
alone was worth the price of admission. But when we boys were appealed
to, we were innocent and likewise ignorant, claiming that we always
understood that the herd belonged to the Marshall estate, but then we
were just common hands and not supposed to know the facts in the case.
Tolleston argued one way, and we all pulled the other, so they drove
away, looking as if they hoped it wasn't true. But it was the sight of
your life to see that fat fellow fan himself as he kept repeating, 'I
thought you boys hurried too much in buying these cattle.'"

The guards changed hourly. No fire was allowed, but Parent set out all
the cold food available, and supplementing this with canned goods,
we had a midnight lunch. Dorg Seay regaled the outfit with his recent
experience, concealing nothing, and regretfully admitting that his
charge had escaped before the work was finished. A programme was
outlined for the morrow, the main feature of which was that, in case of
pursuit, we would all tell the same story. Dawn came between three and
four on those June mornings, and with the first streak of gray in the
east we divided the outfit and mounted our horses, part riding to push
the cattle off their beds and the others to round in the remuda. Before
the herd had grazed out a half-mile, we were overtaken by half the
outfit on fresh mounts, who at once took charge of the herd. When the
relieved men had secured horses, I remained behind and assisted in
harnessing in the team and gathering the saddle stock, a number of
which were missed for lack of proper light. With the wagon once started,
Levering and myself soon had the full remuda in hand and were bringing
up the rear in a long, swinging trot. Before the sun peeped over the
eastern horizon, we passed the herd and overtook the wagon, which
was bumping along over the uneven prairie. Ordering the cook to have
breakfast awaiting us beyond a divide which crossed our front, I turned
back to the herd, now strung out in regular trailing form. The halt
ahead would put us full fifteen miles north of our camp on the Saw
Log. An hour later, as we were scaling the divide, one of the point-men
sighted a posse in our rear, coming after us like fiends. I was riding
in the swing at the time, the herd being strung out fully a mile, and on
catching first sight of the pursuers, turned and hurried to the rear. To
my agreeable surprise, instead of a sheriff's posse, my brother and five
of his men galloped up and overtook us.

"Well, Tom, it's a good thing you moved last night," said Bob, as he
reined in his reeking horse. "A deputy sheriff and posse of six men had
me under arrest all night, thinking I was the Quirk who had charge of
Don Lovell's 'Open A' herd. Yes, they came to my camp about midnight,
and I admitted that my name was Quirk and that we were holding Lovell's
cattle. They guarded me until morning,--I slept like an innocent babe
myself,--when the discovery was made that my herd was in a 'Circle
Dot' road-brand instead of an 'Open A,' which their warrant called for.
Besides, I proved by fourteen competent witnesses, who had known me for
years, that my name was Robert Burns Quirk. My outfit told the posse
that the herd they were looking for were camped three miles below, but
had left during the afternoon before, and no doubt were then beyond
their bailiwick. I gave the posse the horse-laugh, but they all went
down the creek, swearing they would trail down that herd of Lovell's.
My cattle are going to follow up this morning, so I thought I'd ride on
ahead and be your guest in case there is any fun to-day."

The auxiliary was welcomed. The beeves moved on up the divide like
veterans assaulting an intrenchment. On reaching a narrow mesa on the
summit, a northwest breeze met the leaders, and facing it full in the
eye, the herd was allowed to tack westward as they went down the farther
slope. This watershed afforded a fine view of the surrounding country,
and from its apex I scanned our rear for miles without detecting any
sign of animate life. From our elevation, the plain dipped away in every
direction. Far to the east, the depression seemed as real as a trough
in the ocean when seen from the deck of a ship. The meanderings of this
divide were as crooked as a river, and as we surveyed its course one of
Bob's men sighted with the naked eye two specks fully five miles distant
to the northwest, and evidently in the vicinity of the old trail. The
wagon was in plain view, and leaving three of my boys to drift the
cattle forward, we rode away with ravenous appetites to interview
the cook. Parent maintained his reputation as host, and with a lofty
conversation reviewed the legal aspect of the situation confronting us.
A hasty breakfast over, my brother asked for mounts for himself and
men; and as we were corralling our remuda, one of the three lads on herd
signaled to us from the mesa's summit. Catching the nearest horses at
hand, and taking our wrangler with us, we cantered up the slope to our
waiting sentinel.

"You can't see them now," said Burl Van Vedder, our outlook; "but wait
a few minutes and they'll come up on higher ground. Here, here, you are
looking a mile too far to the right--they're not following the cattle,
but the wagon's trail. Keep your eyes to the left of that shale
outcropping, and on a line with that lone tree on the Saw Log. Hold
your horses a minute; I've been watching them for half an hour before
I called you; be patient, and they'll rise like a trout. There! there
comes one on a gray horse. See those two others just behind him. Now,
there come the others--six all told." Sure enough, there came the
sleuths of deputy sheriffs, trailing up our wagon. They were not over
three miles away, and after patiently waiting nearly an hour, we rode to
the brink of the slope, and I ordered one of the boys to fire his pistol
to attract their attention. On hearing the report, they halted, and
taking off my hat I waved them forward. Feeling that we were on safe
territory, I was determined to get in the first bluff, and as they rode
up, I saluted the leader and said:

"Good-morning, Mr. Sheriff. What are you fooling along on our wagon
track for, when you could have trailed the herd in a long lope? Here
we've wasted a whole hour waiting for you to come up, just because the
sheriff's office of Ford County employs as deputies 'nesters' instead
of plainsmen. But now since you are here, let us proceed to business,
or would you like to breakfast first? Our wagon is just over the other
slope, and you-all look pale around the gills this morning after
your long ride and sleepless night. Which shall it be, business or
breakfast?"

Haughtily ignoring my irony, the leader of the posse drew from his
pocket several papers, and first clearing his throat, said in an
imperious tone, "I have a warrant here for the arrest of Tom Quirk,
alias McIndoo, and a distress warrant for a herd of 'Open A'--"

"Old sport, you're in the right church, but the wrong pew," I
interrupted. "This may be the state of Kansas, but at present we are
outside the bailiwick of Ford County, and those papers of yours are
useless. Let me take those warrants and I'll indorse them for you, so as
to dazzle your superiors on their return without the man or property. I
was deputized once by a constable in Texas to assist in recovering some
cattle, but just like the present case they got out of our jurisdiction
before we overtook them. The constable was a lofty, arrogant fellow like
yourself, but had sense enough to keep within his rights. But when it
came to indorsing the warrant for return, we were all up a stump, and
rode twenty miles out of our way so as to pass Squire Little's ranch and
get his advice on the matter. The squire had been a justice in Tennessee
before coming to our state, and knew just what to say. Now let me take
those papers, and I'll indorse them 'Non est inventus,' which is Latin
for SCOOTED, BY GOSH! Ain't you going to let me have them?"

"Now, look here, young man," scornfully replied the chief deputy,
"I'll--"

"No, you won't," I again interrupted. "Let me read you a warrant from
a higher court. In the name of law, you are willing to prostitute
your office to assist a gang of thieves who have taken advantage of an
opportunity to ruin my employer, an honest trail drover. The warrant
I'm serving was issued by Judge Colt, and it says he is supreme in
unorganized territory; that your official authority ceases the moment
you step outside your jurisdiction, and you know the Ford County line is
behind us. Now, as a citizen, I'll treat you right, but as an official,
I won't even listen to you. And what's more, you can't arrest me or any
man in my outfit; not that your hair's the wrong color, but because
you lack authority. I'm the man you're looking for, and these are Don
Lovell's cattle, but you can't touch a hoof of them, not even a stray.
Now, if you want to dispute the authority which I've sighted, all you
need to do is pull your guns and open your game."

"Mr. Quirk," said the deputy, "you are a fugitive from justice, and I
can legally take you wherever I find you. If you resist arrest, all the
worse, as it classes you an outlaw. Now, my advice is--"

But the sentence was never finished, for coming down the divide like a
hurricane was a band of horsemen, who, on sighting us, raised the long
yell, and the next minute Dave Sponsilier and seven of his men dashed
up. The boys opened out to avoid the momentum of the onslaught, but the
deputies sat firm; and as Sponsilier and his lads threw their horses
back on their haunches in halting, Dave stood in his stirrups, and
waving his hat shouted, "Hurrah for Don Lovell, and to hell with the
sheriff and deputies of Ford County!" Sponsilier and I were great
friends, as were likewise our outfits, and we nearly unhorsed each other
in our rough but hearty greetings. When quiet was once more restored,
Dave continued: "I was in Dodge last night, and Bob Wright put me next
that the sheriff was going to take possession of two of old man Don's
herds this morning. You can bet your moccasins that the grass didn't
grow very much while I was getting back to camp. Flood and The Rebel
took fifteen men and went to Quince's support, and I have been scouting
since dawn trying to locate you. Yes, the sheriff himself and five
deputies passed up the trail before daybreak to arrest Forrest and take
possession of his herd--I don't think. I suppose these strangers are
deputy sheriffs? If it was me, do you know what I'd do with them?"

The query was half a command. It required no order, for in an instant
the deputies were surrounded, and had it not been for the cool judgment
of Bob Quirk, violence would have resulted. The primitive mind is slow
to resent an affront, and while the chief deputy had couched his last
remarks in well-chosen language, his intimation that I was a fugitive
from justice, and an outlaw in resisting arrest, was tinder to stubble.
Knowing the metal of my outfit, I curbed the tempest within me, and
relying on a brother whom I would gladly follow to death if need be, I
waved hands off to my boys. "Now, men," said Bob to the deputies, "the
easiest way out of this matter is the best. No one here has committed
any crime subjecting him to arrest, neither can you take possession of
any cattle belonging to Don Lovell. I'll renew the invitation for you to
go down to the wagon and breakfast, or I'll give you the best directions
at my command to reach Dodge. Instead of trying to attempt to accomplish
your object you had better go back to the chaparral--you're spelled
down. Take your choice, men."

Bob's words had a soothing effect. He was thirty-three years old and a
natural born leader among rough men. His advice carried the steely ring
of sincerity, and for the first time since the meeting, the deputies
wilted. The chief one called his men aside, and after a brief
consultation my brother was invited to join them, which he did. I
afterwards learned that Bob went into detail in defining our position
in the premises, and the posse, once they heard the other side of the
question, took an entirely different view of the matter. While the
consultation was in progress, we all dismounted; cigarettes were rolled,
and while the smoke arose in clouds, we reviewed the interim since
we parted in March in old Medina. The sheriff's posse accompanied my
brother to the wagon, and after refreshing themselves, remounted their
horses. Bob escorted them back across the summit of the mesa, and the
olive branch waved in peace on the divide.

The morning was not far advanced. After a brief consultation, the two
older foremen urged that we ride to the relief of Forrest. A hint was
sufficient, and including five of my best-mounted men, a posse of twenty
of us rode away. We held the divide for some distance on our course, and
before we left it, a dust-cloud, indicating the presence of Bob's herd,
was sighted on the southern slope, while on the opposite one my cattle
were beginning to move forward. Sponsilier knew the probable whereabouts
of Forrest, and under his lead we swung into a free gallop as we dropped
down the northern slope from the mesa. The pace was carrying us across
country at a rate of ten miles an hour, scarcely a word being spoken, as
we shook out kink after kink in our horses or reined them in to recover
their wind. Our objective point was a slight elevation on the plain,
from which we expected to sight the trail if not the herds of Flood,
Forrest, and The Rebel. On reaching this gentle swell, we reined in and
halted our horses, which were then fuming with healthy sweat. Both creek
and trail were clearly outlined before us, but with the heat-waves
and mirages beyond, our view was naturally restricted. Sponsilier felt
confident that Forrest was north of the creek and beyond the trail,
and again shaking out our horses, we silently put the intervening miles
behind us. Our mounts were all fresh and strong, and in crossing the
creek we allowed them a few swallows of water before continuing our
ride. We halted again in crossing the trail, but it was so worn by
recent use that it afforded no clue to guide us in our quest. But from
the next vantage-point which afforded us a view, a sea of cattle greeted
our vision, all of which seemed under herd. Wagon sheets were next
sighted, and finally a horseman loomed up and signaled to us. He proved
to be one of Flood's men, and under his direction Forrest's camp and
cattle were soon located. The lad assured us that a pow-wow had been in
session since daybreak, and we hurried away to add our numbers to its
council. When we sighted Forrest's wagon among some cottonwoods, a
number of men were just mounting to ride away, and before we reached
camp, they crossed the creek heading south. A moment later, Forrest
walked out, and greeting us, said:

"Hello, fellows. Get down and let your horses blow and enjoy yourselves.
You're just a minute late to meet some very nice people. Yes, we had the
sheriff from Dodge and a posse of men for breakfast. No--no particular
trouble, except John Johns, the d--fool, threw the loop of his rope over
the neck of the sheriff's horse, and one of the party offered to unsling
a carbine. But about a dozen six-shooters clicked within hearing, and he
acted on my advice and cut gun-plays out. No trouble at all except a big
medicine talk, and a heap of legal phrases that I don't sabe very clear.
Turn your horses loose, I tell you, for I'm going to kill a nice fat
stray, and towards evening, when the other herds come up, we'll have
a round-up of Don Lovell's outfits. I'll make a little speech, and
on account of the bloodless battle this morning, this stream will be
rechristened Sheriff's Creek."





Next: A Family Reunion

Previous: En Passant



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