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In The Saddle








From: The Fighting Edge

White winter covered the sage hills and gave the country a bleak and
desolate look. The Slash Lazy D riders wrapped up and went out over the
wind-swept mesas to look after the cattle cowering in draws or drifting
with the storm. When Bob could sleep snugly in the bunkhouse he was
lucky. There were nights when he shivered over a pine-knot fire in the
shelter of a cutbank with the temperature fifteen degrees below zero.

At this work he won the respect of his fellows. He could set his teeth
and endure discomfort with any of them. It was at sharp danger crises
that he had always quailed. He never shirked work or hardship, and he
never lied to make the way easier or more comfortable. Harshaw watched
him with increasing approval. In Dillon he found all but one of the
essential virtues of the cowboy--good humor, fidelity, truth, tenacity,
and industry. If he lacked courage in the face of peril the reason was no
doubt a constitutional one.

A heavy storm in February tried the riders to capacity. They were in the
saddle day and night. For weeks they appeared at the ranch only at odd
intervals, haggard, unshaven, hungry as wolves. They ate, saddled fresh
mounts, and went out into the drifts again tireless and indomitable.

Except for such food as they could carry in a sack they lived on elk
trapped in the deep snow. The White River country was one of the two or
three best big game districts in the United States.[3] The early settlers
could get a deer whenever they wanted one. Many were shot from the doors
of their cabins.

While Harshaw, Dud, and Bob were working Wolf Creek another heavy snow
fell. A high wind swept the white blanket into deep drifts. All day the
riders ploughed through these to rescue gaunt and hungry cattle. Night
caught them far from the cabin where they had been staying.

They held a consultation. It was bitter weather, the wind still blowing.

"Have to camp, looks like," Harshaw said.

"We'll have a mighty tough night without grub and blankets," Dud said
doubtfully. "She's gettin' colder every minute."

"There's a sheltered draw below here. We'll get a good fire going
anyhow."

In the gulch they found a band of elk.

"Here's our supper an' our beds," Dud said.

They killed three.

While Bob gathered and chopped up a down and dead tree the others skinned
the game. There was dry wood in Harshaw's saddle-bags with which to start
a fire. Soon Dillon had a blaze going which became a crackling, roaring
furnace. They ate a supper of broiled venison without trimmings.

"Might be a heap worse," Dud said while he was smoking afterward before
the glowing pine knots. "I'm plenty warm in front even if I'm about
twenty below up an' down my spine."

Presently they rolled up in the green hides and fell asleep.

None of them slept very comfortably. The night was bitter, and they found
it impossible to keep warm.

Bob woke first. He decided to get up and replenish with fuel the fire. He
could not rise. The hide had frozen stiff about him. He shouted to the
others.

They, too, were helpless in the embrace of their improvised
sleeping-bags.

"Have to roll to the fire an' thaw out," Harshaw suggested.

This turned out to be a ticklish job. They had to get close enough to
scorch their faces and yet not near enough to set fire to the robes. More
than once Bob rolled over swiftly to put out a blaze in the snow.

Dud was the first to step out of his blanket. In a minute or two he had
peeled the hides from the others.

An hour later they were floundering through the drifts toward the cabin
on Wolf Creek. Behind each rider was strapped the carcass of an elk.

"Reminds me of the time Blister went snow blind," Harshaw said. "Up
around Badger Bend it was. He got lost an' wandered around for a coupla
days blind as a bat. Finally old Clint Frazer's wife seen him wallowin'
in the drifts an' the old man brought him in. They was outa grub an' had
to hoof it to town. Clint yoked his bull team an' had it break trail. He
an' the wife followed. But Blister he couldn't see, so he had to hang on
to one o' the bulls by the tail. The boys joshed him about that quite a
while. He ce'tainly was a sight rollin' down Main Street anchored to that
critter's tail."

"I'll bet Blister was glad to put his foot on the rail at Dolan's," Dud
murmured. "I'd be kinda glad to do that same my own se'f right now."

"Blister went to bed and stayed there for a spell. He was a sick man."
Harshaw's eye caught sight of some black specks on a distant hillside.
"Cattle. We'll come back after we've onloaded at the cabin."

They did. It was long after dark before they reached shelter again.

The riders of the Slash Lazy D were glad to see spring come, though it
brought troubles of its own. The weather turned warm and stayed so. The
snow melted faster than the streams could take care of it. There was high
water all over the Blanco country. The swollen creeks poured down into
the overflowing river. Three punchers in the valley were drowned inside
of a week, for that was before the bridges had been built.

While the water was still high Harshaw started a trail herd to Utah.

-----

[3] According to old-timers the automobile is responsible for the
extermination of the game supply going on so rapidly. The pioneers
at certain seasons provided for their needs by killing blacktail and
salting down the meat. But they were dead shots and expert hunters.
The automobile tourists with high-power rifles rush into the hills
during the open season and kill male and female without distinction.
For every deer killed outright three or four crawl away to die later
from wounds. One ranchman reports finding fifteen dead deer on one
day's travel through the sage.





Next: The Rio Blanco Puts In A Claim

Previous: Bob Crawls His Hump Sudden



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