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Justice In The Saddle








From: The Outlet

It was an hour after the usual time when we bedded down the cattle. The
wagon had overtaken us about sunset, and the cook's fire piloted us into
a camp fully two miles to the right of the trail. A change of horses was
awaiting us, and after a hasty supper Tupps detailed two young fellows
to visit Ogalalla. It required no urging; I outlined clearly what was
expected of their mission, requesting them to return by the way of
Flood's wagon, and to receive any orders which my employer might see fit
to send. The horse-wrangler was pressed in to stand the guard of one
of the absent lads on the second watch, and I agreed to take the other,
which fell in the third. The boys had not yet returned when our guard
was called, but did so shortly afterward, one of them hunting me up on
night-herd.

"Well," said he, turning his horse and circling with me, "we caught onto
everything that was adrift. The Rebel and Sponsilier were both in town,
in charge of two deputies. Flood and your brother went in with us, and
with the lads from the other outfits, including those across the river,
there must have been twenty-five of Lovell's men in town. I noticed that
Dave and The Rebel were still wearing their six-shooters, while among
the boys the arrests were looked upon as quite a joke. The two deputies
had all kinds of money, and wouldn't allow no one but themselves to
spend a cent. The biggest one of the two--the one who gave you the
cigar--would say to my boss: 'Sponsilier, you're a trail foreman from
Texas--one of Don Lovell's boss men--but you're under arrest; your
cattle are in my possession this very minute. You understand that,
don't you? Very well, then; everybody come up and have a drink on
the sheriff's office.' That was about the talk in every saloon and
dance-hall visited. But when we proposed starting back to camp, about
midnight, the big deputy said to Flood: 'I want you to tell Colonel
Lovell that I hold a warrant for his arrest; urge him not to put me to
the trouble of coming out after him. If he had identified himself to me
this afternoon, he could have slept on a goose-hair bed to-night instead
of out there on the mesa, on the cold ground. His reputation in this
town would entitle him to three meals a day, even if he was under
arrest. Now, we'll have one more, and tell the damned old rascal that
I'll expect him in the morning.'"

We rode out the watch together. On returning to Flood's camp, they had
found Don Lovell awake. The old man was pleased with the report, but
sent me no special word except to exercise my own judgment. The cattle
were tired after their long tramp of the day before, the outfit were
saddle weary, and the first rays of the rising sun flooded the mesa
before men or animals offered to arise. But the duties of another day
commanded us anew, and with the cook calling us, we rose to meet them.
I was favorably impressed with Tupps as a segundo, and after breakfast
suggested that he graze the cattle over to the North Platte, cross it,
and make a permanent camp. This was agreed to, half the men were
excused for the day, and after designating, beyond the river, a clump of
cottonwoods where the wagon would be found, seven of us turned and rode
back for Ogalalla. With picked mounts under us, we avoided the other
cattle which could be seen grazing northward, and when fully halfway to
town, there before us on the brink of the mesa loomed up the lead of
a herd. I soon recognized Jack Splann on the point, and taking a wide
circle, dropped in behind him, the column stretching back a mile and
coming up the bluffs, forty abreast like an army in loose marching
order. I was proud of those "Open A's;" they were my first herd, and
though in a hurry to reach town, I turned and rode back with them for
fully a mile.

Splann was acting under orders from Flood, who had met him at the
ford that morning. If the cattle were in the possession of any deputy
sheriff, they had failed to notify Jack, and the latter had already
started for the North Platte of his own accord. The "Drooping T" cattle
were in the immediate rear under Forrest's segundo, and Splann urged me
to accompany him that forenoon, saying: "From what the boys said this
morning, Dave and Paul will not be given a hearing until two o'clock
this afternoon. I can graze beyond the North Fork by that time, and then
we'll all go back together. Flood's right behind here with the 'Drooping
T's,' and I think it's his intention to go all the way to the river.
Drop back and see him."

The boys who were with me never halted, but had ridden on towards town.
When the second herd began the ascent of the mesa, I left Splann and
turned back, waiting on the brink for its arrival. As it would take the
lead cattle some time to reach me, I dismounted, resting in the shade of
my horse. But my rest was brief, for the clattering hoofs of a cavalcade
of horsemen were approaching, and as I arose, Quince Forrest and Bob
Quirk with a dozen or more men dashed up and halted. As their herds were
intended for the Crow and Fort Washakie agencies, they would naturally
follow up the south side of the North Platte, and an hour or two of
grazing would put them in camp. The Buford cattle, as well as Flood's
herd, were due to cross this North Fork of the mother Platte within ten
miles of Ogalalla, their respective routes thenceforth being north and
northeast. Forrest, like myself, was somewhat leary of entering the
town, and my brother and the boys passed on shortly, leaving Quince
behind. We discussed every possible phase of what might happen in case
we were recognized, which was almost certain if Tolleston or the Dodge
buyers were encountered. But an overweening hunger to get into Ogalalla
was dominant in us, and under the excuse of settling for our supplies,
after the herd passed, we remounted our horses, Flood joining us, and
rode for the hamlet.

There was little external and no moral change in the town. Several new
saloons had opened, and in anticipation of the large drive that year,
the Dew-Drop-In dance-hall had been enlarged, and employed three shifts
of bartenders. A stage had been added with the new addition, and a
special importation of ladies had been brought out from Omaha for the
season. I use the term LADIES advisedly, for in my presence one of the
proprietors, with marked courtesy, said to an Eastern stranger, "Oh,
no, you need no introduction. My wife is the only woman in town; all the
balance are ladies." Beyond a shave and a hair-cut, Forrest and I fought
shy of public places. But after the supplies were settled for, and some
new clothing was secured, we chambered a few drinks and swaggered about
with considerable ado. My bill of supplies amounted to one hundred and
twenty-six dollars, and when, without a word, I drew a draft for the
amount, the proprietor of the outfitting store, as a pelon, made me a
present of two fine silk handkerchiefs.

Forrest was treated likewise, and having invested ourselves in white
shirts, with flaming red ties, we used the new handkerchiefs to
otherwise decorate our persons. We had both chosen the brightest colors,
and with these knotted about our necks, dangling from pistol-pockets,
or protruding from ruffled shirt fronts, our own mothers would scarcely
have known us. Jim Flood, whom we met casually on a back street,
stopped, and after circling us once, said, "Now if you fellows just keep
perfectly sober, your disguise will be complete."

Meanwhile Don Lovell had reported at an early hour to the sheriff's
office. The legal profession was represented in Ogalalla by several
firms, criminal practice being their specialty; but fortunately Mike
Sutton, an attorney of Dodge, had arrived in town the day before on a
legal errand for another trail drover. Sutton was a frontier advocate,
alike popular with the Texas element and the gambling fraternity, having
achieved laurels in his home town as a criminal lawyer. Mike was born on
the little green isle beyond the sea, and, gifted with the Celtic wit,
was also in logic clear as the tones of a bell, while his insight into
human motives was almost superhuman. Lovell had had occasion in other
years to rely on Sutton's counsel, and now would listen to no refusal of
his services. As it turned out, the lawyer's mission in Ogalalla was
so closely in sympathy with Lovell's trouble that they naturally
strengthened each other. The highest tribunal of justice in Ogalalla was
the county court, the judge of which also ran the stock-yards during
the shipping season, and was banker for two monte games at the Lone Star
saloon. He enjoyed the reputation of being an honest, fearless jurist,
and supported by a growing civic pride, his decisions gave satisfaction.
A sense of crude equity governed his rulings, and as one of the citizens
remarked, "Whatever the judge said, went." It should be remembered that
this was in '84, but had a similar trouble occurred five years earlier,
it is likely that Judge Colt would have figured in the preliminaries,
and the coroner might have been called on to impanel a jury. But the
rudiments of civilization were sweeping westward, and Ogalalla was
nerved to the importance of the occasion; for that very afternoon a
hearing was to be given for the possession of two herds of cattle,
valued at over a quarter-million dollars.

The representatives of The Western Supply Company were quartered in
the largest hotel in town, but seldom appeared on the streets. They had
employed a firm of local attorneys, consisting of an old and a young
man, both of whom evidently believed in the justice of their client's
cause. All the cattle-hands in Lovell's employ were anxious to get a
glimpse of Tolleston, many of them patronizing the bar and table of the
same hostelry, but their efforts were futile until the hour arrived for
the hearing. They probably have a new court-house in Ogalalla now, but
at the date of this chronicle the building which served as a temple
of justice was poorly proportioned, its height being entirely out of
relation to its width. It was a two-story affair, the lower floor
being used for county offices, the upper one as the court-room. A long
stairway ran up the outside of the building, landing on a gallery in
front, from which the sheriff announced the sitting of the honorable
court of Keith County. At home in Texas, lawsuits were so rare that
though I was a grown man, the novelty of this one absorbed me. Quite a
large crowd had gathered in advance of the hour, and while awaiting
the arrival of Judge Mulqueen, a contingent of fifteen men from the
two herds in question rode up and halted in front of the court-house.
Forrest and I were lying low, not caring to be seen, when the three
plaintiffs, the two local attorneys, and Tolleston put in an appearance.
The cavalcade had not yet dismounted, and when Dorg Seay caught sight
of Tolleston, he stood up in his stirrups and sang out, "Hello there,
Archibald! my old college chum, how goes it?"

Judge Mulqueen had evidently dressed for the occasion, for with the
exception of the plaintiffs, he was the only man in the court-room who
wore a coat. The afternoon was a sultry one; in that first bottom of the
Platte there was scarcely a breath of air, and collars wilted limp as
rags. Neither map nor chart graced the unplastered walls, the unpainted
furniture of the room was sadly in need of repair, while a musty odor
permeated the room. Outside the railing the seating capacity of the
court-room was rather small, rough, bare planks serving for seats, but
the spectators gladly stood along the sides and rear, eager to catch
every word, as they silently mopped the sweat which oozed alike from
citizen and cattleman. Forrest and I were concealed in the rear, which
was packed with Lovell's boys, when the judge walked in and court opened
for the hearing. Judge Mulqueen requested counsel on either side to be
as brief and direct as possible, both in their pleadings and testimony,
adding: "If they reach the stock-yards in time, I may have to load out
a train of feeders this evening. We'll bed the cars, anyhow." Turning to
the sheriff, he continued: "Frank, if you happen outside, keep an eye up
the river; those Lincoln feeders made a deal yesterday for five hundred
three-year-olds.--Read your complaint."

The legal document was read with great fervor and energy by the
younger of the two local lawyers. In the main it reviewed the situation
correctly, every point, however, being made subservient to their
object,--the possession of the cattle. The plaintiffs contended that
they were the innocent holders of the original contract between the
government and The Western Supply Company, properly assigned; that they
had purchased these two herds in question, had paid earnest-money to
the amount of sixty-five thousand dollars on the same, and concluded by
petitioning the court for possession. Sutton arose, counseled a moment
with Lovell, and borrowing a chew of tobacco from Sponsilier, leisurely
addressed the court.

"I shall not trouble your honor by reading our reply in full, but
briefly state its contents," said he, in substance. "We admit that the
herds in question, which have been correctly described by road brands
and ages, are the property of my client. We further admit that the two
trail foremen here under arrest as accessories were acting under the
orders of their employer, who assumes all responsibility for their acts,
and in our pleadings we ask this honorable court to discharge them from
further detention. The earnest-money, said to have been paid on these
herds, is correct to a cent, and we admit having the amount in our
possession. But," and the little advocate's voice rose, rich in its
Irish brogue, "we deny any assignment of the original contract. The
Western Supply Company is a corporation name, a shield and fence of
thieves. The plaintiffs here can claim no assignment, because they
themselves constitute the company. It has been decided that a man cannot
steal his own money, neither can he assign from himself to himself. We
shall prove by a credible witness that The Western Supply Company is
but another name for John C. Fields, Oliver Radcliff, and the portly
gentleman who was known a year ago as 'Honest' John Griscom, one of his
many aliases. If to these names you add a few moneyed confederates, you
have The Western Supply Company, one and the same. We shall also prove
that for years past these same gentlemen have belonged to a ring, all
brokers in government contracts, and frequently finding it necessary to
use assumed names, generally that of a corporation."

Scanning the document in his hand, Sutton continued: "Our motive in
selling and accepting money on these herds in Dodge demands a word of
explanation. The original contract calls for five million pounds of beef
on foot to be delivered at Fort Buford. My client is a sub-contractor
under that award. There are times, your honor, when it becomes necessary
to resort to questionable means to attain an end. This is one of them.
Within a week after my client had given bonds for the fulfillment of his
contract, he made the discovery that he was dealing with a
double-faced set of scoundrels. From that day until the present moment,
secret-service men have shadowed every action of the plaintiffs. My
client has anticipated their every move. When beeves broke in price
from five to seven dollars a head, Honest John, here, made his boasts in
Washington City over a champagne supper that he and his associates would
clear one hundred thousand dollars on their Buford contract. Let us
reason together how this could be done. The Western Supply Company
refused, even when offered a bonus, to assign their contract to my
client. But they were perfectly willing to transfer it, from themselves
as a corporation, to themselves as individuals, even though they had
previously given Don Lovell a subcontract for the delivery of the bees.
The original award was made seven months ago, and the depreciation in
cattle since is the secret of why the frog eat the cabbage. My client is
under the necessity of tendering his cattle on the day of delivery, and
proposes to hold this earnest-money to indemnify himself in case of an
adverse decision at Fort Buford. It is the only thing he can do, as The
Western Supply Company is execution proof, its assets consisting of some
stud-horse office furniture and a corporate seal. On the other hand, Don
Lovell is rated at half a million, mostly in pasture lands; is a citizen
of Medina County, Texas, and if these gentlemen have any grievance, let
them go there and sue him. A judgment against my client is good. Now,
your honor, you have our side of the question. To be brief, shall these
old Wisinsteins come out here from Washington City and dispossess any
man of his property? There is but one answer--not in the Republic of
Keith."

All three of the plaintiffs took the stand, their testimony supporting
the complaint, Lovell's attorney refusing even to cross-examine any
one of them. When they rested their case Sutton arose, and scanning the
audience for some time, inquired, "Is Jim Reed there?" In response, a
tall, one-armed man worked his way from the outer gallery through the
crowd and advanced to the rail. I knew Reed by sight only, my middle
brother having made several trips with his trail cattle, but he was
known to every one by reputation. He had lost an arm in the Confederate
service, and was recognized by the gambling fraternity as the gamest man
among all the trail drovers, while every cowman from the Rio Grande to
the Yellowstone knew him as a poker-player. Reed was asked to take the
stand, and when questioned if he knew either of the plaintiffs, said:

"Yes, I know that fat gentleman, and I'm powerful glad to meet up with
him again," replied the witness, designating Honest John. "That man is
so crooked that he can't sleep in a bed, and it's one of the wonders
of this country that he hasn't stretched hemp before this. I made his
acquaintance as manager of The Federal Supply Company, and delivered
three thousand cows to him at the Washita Indian Agency last fall. In
the final settlement, he drew on three different banks, and one draft of
twenty-eight thousand dollars came back, indorsed, DRAWEE UNKNOWN. I
had other herds on the trail to look after, and it was a month before I
found out that the check was bogus, by which time Honest John had sailed
for Europe. There was nothing could be done but put my claim into a
judgment and lay for him. But I've got a grapevine twist on him now, for
no sooner did he buy a herd here last week than Mr. Sutton transferred
the judgment to this jurisdiction, and his cattle will be attached this
afternoon. I've been on his trail for nearly a year, but he'll come to
me now, and before he can move his beeves out of this county, the last
cent must come, with interest, attorney's fees, detective bills, and
remuneration for my own time and trouble. That's the reason that I'm so
glad to meet him. Judge, I've gone to the trouble and expense to get his
record for the last ten years. He's so snaky he sheds his name yearly,
shifting for a nickname from Honest John to The Quaker. In '80 he and
his associates did business under the name of The Army & Sutler Supply
Company, and I know of two judgments that can be bought very reasonable
against that corporation. His record would convince any one that he
despises to make an honest dollar."

The older of the two attorneys for the plaintiffs asked a few questions,
but the replies were so unsatisfactory to their side, that they soon
passed the witness. During the cross-questioning, however, the sheriff
had approached the judge and whispered something to his honor. As there
were no further witnesses to be examined, the local attorneys insisted
on arguing the case, but Judge Mulqueen frowned them down, saying:

"This court sees no occasion for any argument in the present case. You
might spout until you were black in the face and it wouldn't change my
opinion any; besides I've got twenty cars to send and a train of cattle
to load out this evening. This court refuses to interfere with the herds
in question, at present the property of and in possession of Don Lovell,
who, together with his men, are discharged from custody. If you're in
town to-night, Mr. Reed, drop into the Lone Star. Couple of nice monte
games running there; hundred-dollar limit, and if you feel lucky,
there's a nice bank roll behind them. Adjourn court, Mr. Sheriff."





Next: Turning The Tables

Previous: Marshaling The Forces



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