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Camp Supply

From: The Outlet

In gala spirits we broke camp the next morning. The herd had left the
bed-ground at dawn, and as the outfit rode away to relieve the last
guard, every mother's son was singing. The cattle were a refreshing
sight as they grazed forward, their ragged front covering half a mile
in width. The rest of the past few days had been a boon to the few
tender-footed ones. The lay-over had rejuvenated both man and beast.
From maps in our possession we knew we were somewhere near the western
border of the Chickasaw Nation, while on our left was the reservation of
three blanket tribes of Indians. But as far as signs of occupancy were
concerned, the country was unmarked by any evidence of civilization. The
Chisholm Cattle Trail, which ran from Red River to the Kansas line, had
almost fallen into disuse, owing to encroachments of settlements south
of the former and westward on the latter. With the advancement of
immigration, Abilene and Ellsworth as trail terminals yielded to the
tide, and the leading cattle trace of the '70's was relegated to local
use in '84.

The first guard was on the qui vive for the outfit whose camp-fire they
had sighted the night before. I was riding with Clay Zilligan on the
left point, when he sighted what we supposed was a small bunch of cattle
lying down several miles distant. When we reached the first rise of
ground, a band of saddle horses came in view, and while we were trying
to locate their camp, Jack Splann from the opposite point attracted our
attention and pointed straight ahead. There a large band of cattle under
herd greeted our view, compelling us to veer to the right and intersect
the trail sooner than we intended. Keeping a clear half-mile between
us, we passed them within an hour and exchanged the compliments of the
trail. They proved to be "Laurel Leaf" and "Running W" cattle, the
very ones for which the International Railway agent at the meeting in
February had so boastfully shown my employer the application for cars.
The foreman was cursing like a stranded pirate over the predicament in
which he found himself. He had left Santo Gertrudo Ranch over a month
before with a herd of three thousand straight two-year-old steers.
But in the shipment of some thirty-three thousand cattle from the two
ranches to Wichita Falls, six trains had been wrecked, two of which were
his own. Instead of being hundreds of miles ahead in the lead of the
year's drive, as he expected, he now found himself in charge of a camp
of cripples. What few trains belonging to his herd had escaped the ditch
were used in filling up other unfortunate ones, the injured cattle from
the other wrecks forming his present holdings.

"Our people were anxious to get their cattle on to the market early this
year," said he, "and put their foot into it up to the knee. Shipping
to Red River was an experiment with them, and I hope they've got their
belly full. We've got dead and dying cattle in every pasture from the
falls to the river, while these in sight aren't able to keep out of
the stench of those that croaked between here and the ford. Oh, this
shipping is a fine thing--for the railroads. Here I've got to rot all
summer with these cattle, just because two of my trains went into the
ditch while no other foreman had over one wrecked. And mind you, they
paid the freight in advance, and now King and Kennedy have brought suit
for damages amounting to double the shipping expense. They'll get it all
right--in pork. I'd rather have a claim against a nigger than a railroad
company. Look at your beeves, slick as weasels, and from the Nueces
River. Have to hold them in, I reckon, to keep from making twenty miles
a day. And here I am--Oh, hell, I'd rather be on a rock-pile with a ball
and chain to my foot! Do you see those objects across yonder about two
miles--in that old grass? That's where we bedded night before last and
forty odd died. We only lost twenty-two last night. Oh, we're getting in
shape fast. If you think you can hold your breakfast down, just take a
ride through mine. No, excuse me--I've seen them too often already."

Several of the boys and myself rode into the herd some little distance,
but the sight was enough to turn a copper-lined stomach. Scarcely an
animal had escaped without more or less injury. Fully one half were
minus one or both horns, leaving instead bloody stumps. Broken bones
and open sores greeted us on every hand; myriads of flies added to the
misery of the cattle, while in many instances there was evidence of
maggots at work on the living animal. Turning from the herd in disgust,
we went back to our own, thankful that the rate offered us had been
prohibitory. The trials and vexations of the road were mere nothings to
be endured, compared to the sights we were then leaving. Even what
we first supposed were cattle lying down, were only bed-grounds, the
occupants having been humanely relieved by unwaking sleep. Powerless to
render any assistance, we trailed away, glad to blot from our sight and
memory such scenes of misery and death.

Until reaching the Washita River, we passed through a delightful
country. There were numerous local trails coming into the main one, all
of which showed recent use. Abandoned camp-fires and bed-grounds were to
be seen on every hand, silent witnesses of an exodus which was to mark
the maximum year in the history of the cattle movement from Texas.
Several times we saw some evidence of settlement by the natives, but as
to the freedom of the country, we were monarchs of all we surveyed.
On arriving at the Washita, we encountered a number of herds, laboring
under the impression that they were water-bound. Immediate entrance at
the ford was held by a large herd of young cattle in charge of a negro
outfit. Their stock were scattered over several thousand acres, and
when I asked for the boss, a middle-aged darky of herculean figure was
pointed out as in charge. To my inquiry why he was holding the ford, his
answer was that until to-day the river had been swimming, and now he was
waiting for the banks to dry. Ridiculing his flimsy excuse, I kindly
yet firmly asked him either to cross or vacate the ford by three o'clock
that afternoon. Receiving no definite reply, I returned to our herd,
which was some five miles in the rear. Beyond the river's steep,
slippery banks and cold water, there was nothing to check a herd.

After the noonday halt, the wrangler and myself took our remuda and went
on ahead to the river. Crossing and recrossing our saddle stock a number
of times, we trampled the banks down to a firm footing. While we were
doing this work, the negro foreman and a number of his men rode up and
sullenly watched us. Leaving our horses on the north bank, Levering and
I returned, and ignoring the presence of the darky spectators, started
back to meet the herd, which was just then looming up in sight. But
before we had ridden any distance, the dusky foreman overtook us and
politely said, "Look-ee here, Cap'n; ain't you-all afraid of losin' some
of your cattle among ours?" Never halting, I replied, "Not a particle;
if we lose any, you eat them, and we'll do the same if our herd absorbs
any of yours. But it strikes me that you had better have those lazy
niggers throw your cattle to one side," I called back, as he halted his
horse. We did not look backward until we reached the herd; then as we
turned, one on each side to support the points, it was evident that a
clear field would await us on reaching the river. Every horseman in the
black outfit was pushing cattle with might and main, to give us a clean
cloth at the crossing.

The herd forded the Washita without incident. I remained on the south
bank while the cattle were crossing, and when they were about half over
some half-dozen of the darkies rode up and stopped apart, conversing
among themselves. When the drag cattle passed safely out on the farther
bank, I turned to the dusky group, only to find their foreman
absent. Making a few inquiries as to the ownership of their herd, its
destination, and other matters of interest, I asked the group to express
my thanks to their foreman for moving his cattle aside. Our commissary
crossed shortly afterward, and the Washita was in our rear. But that
night, as some of my outfit returned from the river, where they had been
fishing, they reported the negro outfit as having crossed and encamped
several miles in our rear.

"All they needed was a good example," said Dorg Seay. "Under a white
foreman, I'll bet that's a good lot of darkies. They were just about the
right shade--old shiny black. As good cowhands as ever I saw were nigs,
but they need a white man to blow and brag on them. But it always ruins
one to give him any authority."

Without effort we traveled fifteen miles a day. In the absence of any
wet weather to gall their backs, there was not a horse in our remuda
unfit for the saddle. In fact, after reaching the Indian Territory, they
took on flesh and played like lambs. With the exception of long hours
and night-herding, the days passed in seeming indolence as we swept
northward, crossing rivers without a halt which in previous years had
defied the moving herds. On arriving at the Cimarron River, in reply to
a letter written to my employer on leaving Texas behind us, an
answer was found awaiting me at Red Fork. The latter was an Indian
trading-post, located on the mail route to Fort Reno, and only a few
miles north of the Chisholm Crossing. The letter was characteristic
of my employer. It contained but one imperative order,--that I should
touch, either with or without the herd, at Camp Supply. For some
unexplained reason he would make that post his headquarters until after
the Buford herds had passed that point. The letter concluded with the
injunction, in case we met any one, to conceal the ownership of the herd
and its destination.

The mystery was thickening. But having previously declined to borrow
trouble, I brushed this aside as unimportant, though I gave my outfit
instructions to report the herd to every one as belonging to Omaha men,
and on its way to Nebraska to be corn-fed. Fortunately I had ridden
ahead of the herd after crossing the Cimarron, and had posted the outfit
before they reached the trading-station. I did not allow one of my boys
near the store, and the herd passed by as in contempt of such a wayside
place. As the Dodge cut-off left the Chisholm Trail some ten miles above
the Indian trading-post, the next morning we waved good-bye to the old
cattle trace and turned on a northwest angle. Our route now lay up the
Cimarron, which we crossed and recrossed at our pleasure, for the sake
of grazing or to avoid several large alkali flats. There was evidence of
herds in our advance, and had we not hurried past Red Fork, I might have
learned something to our advantage. But disdaining all inquiry of the
cut-off, fearful lest our identity be discovered, we deliberately walked
into the first real danger of the trip.

At low water the Cimarron was a brackish stream. But numerous
tributaries put in from either side, and by keeping above the river's
ebb, an abundance of fresh water was daily secured from the river's
affluents. The fifth day out from Red Rock was an excessively sultry
one, and suffering would have resulted to the herd had we not been
following a divide where we caught an occasional breeze. The river
lay some ten miles to our right, while before us a tributary could be
distinctly outlined by the cottonwoods which grew along it. Since early
morning we had been paralleling the creek, having nooned within sight of
its confluence with the mother stream, and consequently I had considered
it unnecessary to ride ahead and look up the water. When possible, we
always preferred watering the herd between three and four o'clock in the
afternoon. But by holding our course, we were certain to intersect the
creek at about the usual hour for the cattle's daily drink, and besides,
as the creek neared the river, it ran through an alkali flat for some
distance. But before the time arrived to intersect the creek on our
course, the herd turned out of the trail, determined to go to the creek
and quench their thirst. The entire outfit, however, massed on the right
flank, and against their will we held them on their course. As their
thirst increased with travel, they made repeated attempts to break
through our cordon, requiring every man to keep on the alert. But we
held them true to the divide, and as we came to the brow of a small hill
within a quarter-mile of the water, a stench struck us until we turned
in our saddles, gasping for breath. I was riding third man in the swing
from the point, and noticing something wrong in front, galloped to the
brow of the hill. The smell was sickening and almost unendurable, and
there before us in plain view lay hundreds of dead cattle, bloated and
decaying in the summer sun.

I was dazed by the awful scene. A pretty, greenswarded little valley
lay before me, groups of cottonwoods fringed the stream here and there,
around the roots of which were both shade and water. The reeking stench
that filled the air stupefied me for the instant, and I turned my horse
from the view, gasping for a mouthful of God's pure ozone. But our
beeves had been scenting the creek for hours, and now a few of the
leaders started forward in a trot for it. Like a flash it came to me
that death lurked in that water, and summoning every man within hearing,
I dashed to the lead of our cattle to turn them back over the hill.
Jack Splann was on the point, and we turned the leaders when within
two hundred yards of the creek, frequently jumping our horses over the
putrid carcasses of dead cattle. The main body of the herd were trailing
for three quarters of a mile in our rear, and none of the men dared
leave their places. Untying our slickers, Splann and I fell upon the
leaders and beat them back to the brow of the hill, when an unfortunate
breeze was wafted through that polluted atmosphere from the creek to the
cattle's nostrils. Turning upon us and now augmented to several hundred
head, they sullenly started forward. But in the few minutes' interim,
two other lads had come to our support, and dismounting we rushed them,
whipping our slickers into ribbons over their heads. The mastery of man
again triumphed over brutes in their thirst, for we drove them in a rout
back over the divide.

Our success, however, was only temporary. Recovering our horses we beat
the cattle back, seemingly inch by inch, until the rear came up, when we
rounded them into a compact body. They quieted down for a short while,
affording us a breathing spell, for the suddenness of this danger
had not only unnerved me but every one of the outfit who had caught a
glimpse of that field of death. The wagon came up, and those who needed
them secured a change of horses. Leaving the outfit holding the herd,
Splann and I took fresh mounts, and circling around, came in on the
windward side of the creek. As we crossed it half a mile above the scene
of disaster, each of us dipped a hand in the water and tasted it. The
alkali was strong as concentrated lye, blistering our mouths in the
experiment. The creek was not even running, but stood in long, deep
pools, clear as crystal and as inviting to the thirsty as a mountain
spring. As we neared the dead cattle, Splann called my attention to the
attitude of the animals when death relieved them, the heads of fully
two thirds being thrown back on their sides. Many, when stricken, were
unable to reach the bank, and died in the bed of the stream. Making a
complete circle of the ghastly scene, we returned to our own, agreeing
that between five and six hundred cattle had met their fate in those
death-dealing pools.

We were not yet out of the woods. On our return, many of the cattle were
lying down, while in the west thunder-clouds were appearing. The North
Fork of the Canadian lay on our left, which was now our only hope for
water, yet beyond our reach for the day. Keeping the slight divide
between us and the creek, we started the herd forward. Since it was
impossible to graze them in their thirsty condition, I was determined to
move them as far as possible before darkness overtook us. But within an
hour we crossed a country trail over which herds had passed on their way
northwest, having left the Chisholm after crossing the North Fork. At
the first elevation which would give me a view of the creek, another
scene of death and desolation greeted my vision, only a few miles
above the first one. Yet from this same hill I could easily trace the
meanderings of the creek for miles as it made a half circle in our
front, both inviting and defying us. Turning the herd due south, we
traveled until darkness fell, going into camp on a high, flat mesa of
several thousand acres. But those evening breezes wafted an invitation
to come and drink, and our thirsty herd refused to bed down. To add to
our predicament, a storm thickened in the west. Realizing that we were
confronting the most dangerous night in all my cattle experience, I
ordered every man into the saddle. The remuda and team were taken in
charge by the wrangler and cook, and going from man to man, I warned
them what the consequences would be if we lost the herd during the
night, and the cattle reached the creek.

The cattle surged and drifted almost at will, for we were compelled to
hold them loose to avoid milling. Before ten o'clock the lightning was
flickering overhead and around us, revealing acres of big beeves, which
in an instant might take fright, and then, God help us. But in that
night of trial a mercy was extended to the dumb brutes in charge. A warm
rain began falling, first in a drizzle, increasing after the first hour,
and by midnight we could hear the water slushing under our horses' feet.
By the almost constant flashes of lightning we could see the cattle
standing as if asleep, in grateful enjoyment of the sheeting downpour.
As the night wore on, our fears of a stampede abated, for the buffalo
wallows on the mesa filled, and water was on every hand. The rain ceased
before dawn, but owing to the saturated condition underfoot, not a hoof
lay down during the night, and when the gray of morning streaked the
east, what a sense of relief it brought us. The danger had passed.

Near noon that day, and within a few miles of the North Fork, we rounded
an alkaline plain in which this deadly creek had its source. Under the
influence of the season, alkali had oozed up out of the soil until it
looked like an immense lake under snow. The presence of range cattle
in close proximity to this creek, for we were in the Cherokee Strip,
baffled my reasoning; but the next day we met a range-rider who
explained that the present condition of the stream was unheard of
before, and that native cattle had instinct enough to avoid it. He
accounted for its condition as due to the dry season, there being no
general rains sufficient to flood the alkaline plain and thoroughly
flush the creek. In reply to an inquiry as to the ownership of the
unfortunate herds, he informed me that there were three, one belonging
to Bob Houston, another to Major Corouthers, and the third to a man
named Murphy, the total loss amounting to about two thousand cattle.

From this same range-man we also learned our location. Camp Supply lay
up the North Fork some sixty miles, while a plain trail followed up the
first bottom of the river. Wishing to avoid, if possible, intersecting
the western trail south of Dodge, the next morning I left the herd to
follow up, and rode into Camp Supply before noon. Lovell had sighted me
a mile distant, and after a drink at the sutler's bar, we strolled aside
for a few minutes' chat. Once I had informed him of the locality of
the herd and their condition, he cautioned me not to let my business
be known while in the post. After refreshing the inner man, my employer
secured a horse and started with me on my return. As soon as the flag
over Supply faded out of sight in our rear, we turned to the friendly
shade of the timber on the North Fork and dismounted. I felt that the
precaution exercised by the drover was premonitory of some revelation,
and before we arose from the cottonwood log on which we took seats, the
scales had fallen from my eyes and the atmosphere of mystery cleared.

"Tom," said my employer, "I am up against a bad proposition. I am
driving these Buford cattle, you understand, on a sub-contract. I was
the second lowest bidder with the government, and no sooner was the
award made to The Western Supply Company than they sent an agent who
gave me no peace until they sublet their contract. Unfortunately for me,
when the papers were drawn, my regular attorney was out of town, and I
was compelled to depend on a stranger. After the articles were executed,
I submitted the matter to my old lawyer; he shook his head, arguing
that a loophole had been left open, and that I should have secured an
assignment of the original contract. After studying the matter over, we
opened negotiations to secure a complete relinquishment of the award.
But when I offered the company a thousand dollars over and above what
they admitted was their margin, and they refused it, I opened my eyes to
the true situation. If cattle went up, I was responsible and would have
to fill my contract; if they went down, the company would buy in the
cattle and I could go to hell in a hand-basket for all they cared.
Their bond to the government does me no good, and beyond that they are
irresponsible. Beeves have broken from four to five dollars a head, and
unless I can deliver these Buford herds on my contract, they will lose
me fifty thousand dollars."

"Have you any intimation that they expect to buy in other cattle?" I

"Yes. I have had a detective in my employ ever since my suspicions
were aroused. There are two parties in Dodge this very minute with the
original contract, properly assigned, and they are looking for cattle to
fill it. That's why I'm stopping here and lying low. I couldn't explain
it to you sooner, but you understand now why I drove those Buford herds
in different road brands. Tom, we're up against it, and we've got to
fight the devil with fire. Henceforth your name will be Tom McIndoo,
your herd will be the property of the Marshall estate, and their agent,
my detective, will be known as Charles Siringo. Any money or supplies
you may need in Dodge, get in the usual form through the firm of Wright,
Beverly & Co.--they understand. Hold your herd out south on Mulberry,
and Siringo will have notice and be looking for you, or you can find him
at the Dodge House. I've sent a courier to Fort Elliott to meet Dave and
Quince, and once I see them, I'll run up to Ogalalla and wait for you.
Now, until further orders, remember you never knew a man by the name of
Don Lovell, and by all means don't forget to use what wits Nature gave

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