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Barb Wire

From: Bar-20 Days

After the flurry at Perry's Bend the Bar-20 settled down to the calm
routine work and sent several drive herds to their destination without
any unusual incidents. Buck thought that the last herd had been driven
when, late in the summer, he received an order that he made haste to
fill. The outfit was told to get busy and soon rounded up the necessary
number of three-year-olds. Then came the road branding, the final step
except inspection, and this was done not far from the ranch house, where
the facilities were best for speedy work.

Entirely recovered from all ill effects of his afternoon in Jackson's
store up in Perry's bend, Johnny Nelson waited with Red Connors on the
platform of the branding chute and growled petulantly at the sun, the
dust, but most of all at the choking, smarting odor of burned hair which
filled their throats and caused them to rub the backs of grimy hands
across their eyes. Chute-branding robbed them of the excitement, the
leaven of fun and frolic, which they always took from open or corral
branding--and the work of a day in the corral or open was condensed into
an hour or two by the chute. This was one cow wide, narrow at the bottom
and flared out as it went up, so the animal could not turn, and when
filled was, to use Johnny's graphic phrase, "like a chain of cows in a
ditch." Eight of the wondering and crowded animals, guided into the pen
by men who knew their work to the smallest detail and lost no time in
its performance, filed into the pen after those branded had filed out.
As the first to enter reached the farther end a stout bar dropped into
place, just missing the animal's nose; and as the last cow discovered
that it could go no farther and made up its mind to back out, it was
stopped by another bar, which fell behind it. The iron heaters tossed
a hot iron each to Red and Johnny and the eight were marked in short
order, making about two hundred and fifty they had branded in three
hours. This number compared very favorably with that of the second
chute where Lanky Smith and Frenchy McAlister waved cold irons and
sarcastically asked their iron men if the sun was supposed to provide
the heat; whereat the down-trodden heaters provided heat with great
generosity in their caustic retorts.

"Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me," sang Billy Williams, one of the
feeders. "But why in Jericho don't you fellers get a move on you? You
ain't no good on the platform--you ought to be mixing biscuits for
Cookie. Frenchy and Lanky are the boys to turn 'em out," he offered,

Red's weary air bespoke a vast and settled contempt for such inanities
and his iron descended against the side of the victim below him--he
would not deign to reply. Not so with Johnny, who could not refrain from
hot retort.

"Don't be a fool all the time," snapped Johnny. "Mind yore own
business, you shorthorn. Big-mouthed old woman, that's what--" his tone
dropped and the words sank into vague mutterings which a strangling
cough cut short. "Blasted idiot," he whispered, tears coming into his
eyes at the effort. Burning hair is bad for throat and temper alike.

Red deftly knocked his companion's iron up and spoke sharply. "You mind
yourn better--that makes the third you've tried to brand twice. Why
don't you look what yo're doing? Hot iron! Hot iron! What're you fellers
doing?" he shouted down at the heaters. "This ain't no time to go
to sleep. How d'ye expect us to do any work when you ain't doing any
yoreselves!" Red's temper was also on the ragged edge.

"You've got one in yore other hand, you sheep!" snorted one of the iron
heaters with restless pugnacity. "Go tearing into us when you--" he
growled the rest and kicked viciously at the fire.

"Lovely bunch," grinned Billy who, followed by Pete Wilson, mounted the
platform to relieve the branders. "Chase yoreselves--me an' Pete are
shore going to show you cranky bugs how to do a hundred an hour. Ain't
we, Pete? An' look here, you," he remarked to the heaters, "don't you
fellers keep us waiting for hot irons!"

"That's right! Make a fool out of yoreself first thing!" snapped one of
the pair on the ground.

"Billy, I never loved you as much as I do this minute," grinned Johnny
wearily. "Wish you'd 'a' come along to show us how to do it an hour

"I would, only--"

"Quit chinning an' get busy," remarked Red, climbing down. "The chute's
full; an' it's all yourn."

Billy caught the iron, gave it a preliminary flourish, and started to
work with a speed that would not endure for long. He branded five out of
the eight and jeered at his companion for being so slow.

"Have yore fun now, Billy," Pete replied with placid good nature.
"Before we're through with this job you'll be lucky if you can do two of
the string, if you keep up that pace."

"He'll be missing every other one," growled his heater with overflowing
malice. "That iron ain't cold, you Chinaman!"

"Too cold for me--don't miss none," chuckled Billy sweetly. "Fill the
chute! Fill the chute! Don't keep us waiting!" he cried to the guiders,
hopping around with feigned eagerness and impatience.

Hopalong Cassidy rode up and stopped as Red returned to take the place
of one of the iron heaters. "How they coming, Red?" he inquired.

"Fast. You can sic that inspector on 'em the first thing to-morrow
morning, if he gets here on time. Bet he's off som'ers getting full of
redeye. Who're going with you on this drive?"

"The inspector is all right--he's here now an' is going to spend the
night with us so as to be on hand the first thing to-morrow," replied
Hopalong, grinning at the hard-working pair on the platform. "Why, I
reckon I'll take you, Johnny, Lanky, Billy, Pete, an' Skinny, an'
we'll have two hoss-wranglers an' a cook, of course. We'll drive up
the right-hand trail through West Valley this time. It's longer, but
there'll be more water that way at this time of the year. Besides, I
don't want no more foot-sore cattle to nurse along. Even the West Valley
trail will be dry enough before we strike Bennett's Creek."

"Yes; we'll have to drive 'em purty hard till we reach the creek,"
replied Red, thoughtfully. "Say; we're going to have three thousand of
the finest three-year-old steers ever sent north out of these parts. An'
we ought to do it in a month an' deliver 'em fat an' frisky. We can feed
'em good for the last week."

"I just sent some of the boys out to drive in the cayuses," Hopalong
remarked, "an' when they get here you fellers match for choice an' pick
yore remuda. No use taking too few. About eight apiece'll do us nice. I
shore like a good cavvieyeh."

"Hullo, Hoppy!" came from the platform as Billy grinned his welcome
through the dust on his face. "Want a job?"

"Hullo yoreself," growled Pete. "Stick yore iron on that fourth steer
before he gets out, an' talk less with yore mouth."

"Pete's still rabid," called Billy, performing the duty Pete suggested.

"That may be the polite name for it," snorted one of the iron heaters,
testing an iron, "but that ain't what I'd say. Might as well cover the
subject thoroughly while yo're on it."

"Yes, verily," endorsed his companion.

"Here comes the last of 'em," smiled Pete, watching several cattle being
driven towards the chute. "We'll have to brand 'em on the move, Billy;
there ain't enough to fill the chute."

"All right; hot iron, you!"

Early the next morning the inspector looked them over and made his
count, the herd was started north and at nightfall had covered twelve
miles. For the next week everything went smoothly, but after that, water
began to be scarce and the herd was pushed harder, and became harder to

On the night of the twelfth day out four men sat around the fire in
West Valley at a point a dozen miles south of Bennett's Creek, and ate
heartily. The night was black--not a star could be seen and the south
wind hardly stirred the trampled and burned grass. They were thoroughly
tired out and their tempers were not in the sweetest state imaginable,
for the heat during the last four days had been almost unbearable even
to them and they had had their hands full with the cranky herd. They ate
silently, hungrily--there would be time enough for the few words they
had to say when the pipes were going for a short smoke before turning

"I feel like hell," growled Red, reaching for another cup of coffee, but
there was no reply; he had voiced the feelings of all.

Hopalong listened intently and looked up, staring into the darkness, and
soon a horseman was seen approaching the fire. Hopalong nodded welcome
and waved his hand towards the food, and the stranger, dismounting,
picketed his horse and joined the circle. When the pipes were lighted he
sighed with satisfaction and looked around the group. "Driving north, I

"Yes; an' blamed glad to get off this dry range," Hopalong replied.
"The herd's getting cranky an' hard to hold--but when we pass the creek
everything'll be all right again. An' ain't it hot! When you hear us
kick about the heat it means something."

"I'm going yore way," remarked the stranger. "I came down this trail
about two weeks ago. Reckon I was the last to ride through before the
fence went up. Damned outrage, says I, an' I told 'em so, too. They
couldn't see it that way an' we had a little disagreement about it. They
said as how they was going to patrol it."

"Fence! What fence?" exclaimed Red.

"Where's there any fence?" demanded Hopalong sharply.

"Twenty mile north of the creek," replied the stranger, carefully
packing his pipe.

"What? Twenty miles north of the creek?" cried Hopalong. "What creek?"

"Bennett's. The 4X has strung three strands of barb wire from Coyote
Pass to the North Arm. Thirty mile long, without a gate, so they says."

"But it don't close this trail!" cried Hopalong in blank astonishment.

"It shore does. They say they owns that range an' can fence it in all
they wants. I told 'em different, but naturally they didn't listen to
me. An' they'll fight about it, too."

"But they can't shut off this trail!" exclaimed Billy, with angry
emphasis. "They don't own it no more'n we do!"

"I know all about that--you heard me tell you what they said."

"But how can we get past it?" demanded Hopalong.

"Around it, over the hills. You'll lose about three days doing it, too."

"I can't take no sand-range herd over them rocks, an' I ain't going to
drive 'round no North Arm or Coyote Pass if I could," Hopalong replied
with quiet emphasis. "There's poison springs on the east an' nothing but
rocks on the west. We go straight through."

"I'm afraid that you'll have to fight if you do," remarked the stranger.

"Then we'll fight!" cried Johnny, leaning forward. "Blasted coyotes!
What right have they got to block a drive trail that's as old as
cattle-raising in these parts! That trail was here before I was born,
it's allus been open, an' it's going to stay open! You watch us go

"Yo're dead right, Kid; we'll cut that fence an' stick to this trail,
an' fight if we has to," endorsed Red. "The Bar-20 ain't crawling out of
no hole that it can walk out of. They're bluffing; that's all."

"I don't think they are; an' there's twelve men in that outfit,"
suggested the stranger, offhand.

"We ain't got time to count odds; we never do down our way when we know
we're right. An' we're right enough in this game," retorted Hopalong,
quickly. "For the last twelve days we've had good luck, barring the few
on this dry range; an' now we're in for the other kind. By the Lord,
I wish we was here without the cows to take care of--we'd show 'em
something about blocking drive trails that ain't in their little book!"

"Blast it all! Wire fences coming down this way now," mused Johnny,
sullenly. He hated them by training as much as he hated horse-thieves
and sheep; and his companions had been brought up in the same school.
Barb wire, the death-knell to the old-time punching, the bar to riding
at will, a steel insult to fire the blood--it had come at last.

"We've shore got to cut it, Red,--" began Hopalong, but the cook had to
rid himself of some of his indignation and interrupted with heat.

"Shore we have!" came explosively from the tail board of the chuck
wagon. "Got to lay it agin my li'l axe an' swat it with my big ol'
monkey wrench! An' won't them posts save me a lot of trouble hunting
chips an' firewood!"

"We've shore got to cut it, Red," Hopalong repeated slowly. "You an'
Johnny an' me'll ride ahead after we cross the creek to-morrow an' do
it. I don't hanker after no fight with all these cows on my han's, but
we've got to risk one."

"Shore!" cried Johnny, hotly. "I can't get over the gall of them fellers
closing up the West Valley drive trail. Why, I never heard tell of such
a thing afore!"

"We're short-handed; we ought to have more'n we have to guard the
herd if there's a fight. If it stampedes--oh, well, that'll work out
to-morrow. The creek's only about twelve miles away an' we'll start at
daylight, so tumble in," Hopalong said as he arose. "Red, I'm going out
to take my shift--I'll send Pete in. Stranger," he added, turning, "I'm
much obliged to you for the warning. They might 'a' caught us with our
hands tied."

"Oh, that's all right," hastily replied the stranger, who was in hearty
accord with the plans, such as they were. "My name's Hawkins, an' I
don't like range fences no more'n you do. I used to hunt buffalo all
over this part of the country before they was all killed off, an' I
allus rode where I pleased. I'm purty old, but I can still see an'
shoot; an' I'm going to stick right along with you fellers an' see it
through. Every man counts in this game."

"Well, that's blamed white of you," Hopalong replied, greatly pleased by
the other's offer. "But I can't let you do it. I don't want to drag you
into no trouble, an'--"

"You ain't dragging me none; I'm doing it myself. I'm about as mad as
you are over it. I ain't good for much no more, an' if I shuffles off
fighting barb wire I'll be doing my duty. First it was nesters, then
railroads an' more nesters, then sheep, an' now it's wire--won't it
never stop? By the Lord, it's got to stop, or this country will go
to the devil an' won't be fit to live in. Besides, I've heard of your
fellers before--I'll tie to the Bar-20 any day."

"Well, I reckon you must if you must; yo're welcome enough," laughed
Hopalong, and he strode off to his picketed horse, leaving the others to
discuss the fence, with the assistance of the cook, until Pete rode in.

Next: The Fence

Previous: The Bar-20 Returns

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