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Kangarooed








From: The Outlet

Lovell and his attorneys joined the cavalcade which returned to the
post, while we continued on south, fording the Missouri above Forrest's
camp. The two recovered beeves were recognized by their ranch brands as
belonging in Bee County, thus identifying them as having escaped from
Bob Quirk's herd, though he had previously denied all knowledge of them.
The cattle world was a small one, and it mattered little where an animal
roamed, there was always a man near by who could identify the brand
and give the bovine's past history. With the prospects bright for a new
owner on the morrow, these two wayfarers found lodgment among our own
for the night.

But when another day dawned, it brought new complications. Instead of
the early arrival of any receiving party, the appointed hour passed,
noon came, and no one appeared. I had ridden down to the lower camps
about the latter hour, yet there was no one who could explain, neither
had any word from the post reached Forrest's wagon. Sponsilier suggested
that we ride into Buford, and accordingly all three of us foremen
started. When we sighted the ford on the Missouri, a trio of horsemen
were just emerging from the water, and we soon were in possession of the
facts. Sanders, my brother, and Mike Sutton composed the party, and
the latter explained the situation. Orders from the War Department
had reached Fort Buford that morning, temporarily suspending the post
commander and his quartermaster from receiving any cattle intended for
that post, and giving notice that a special commissioner was then en
route from Minneapolis with full authority in the premises. The order
was signed by the first quartermaster and approved by the head of that
department; there was no going behind it, which further showed the
strength that the opposition were able to command. The little attorney
was wearing his war-paint, and we all dismounted, when Sanders
volunteered some valuable points on the wintering of Texas cattle in
the North. Sutton made a memorandum of the data, saying if opportunity
offered he would like to submit it in evidence at the final hearing. The
general opinion was that a court of inquiry would be instituted, and if
such was the case, our cause was not by any means hopeless.

"The chances are that the opposition will centre the fight on an
assignment of the original contract which they claim to hold," said the
lawyer, in conclusion. "The point was advanced yesterday that we were
intruders, while, on the other hand, the government was in honor bound
to recognize its outstanding obligation, no matter in whose hands it was
presented, so long as it was accompanied by the proper tender. A great
deal will depend on the viewpoint of this special commissioner; he may
be a stickler for red tape, with no concern for the service, as were
the post commander and quartermaster. Their possession of the original
document will be self-evident, and it will devolve on us to show that
that assignment was illegal. This may not be as easy as it seems, for
the chances are that there may be a dozen men in the gang, with numerous
stool-pigeons ready and willing to do their bidding. This contract may
demonstrate the possibility of a ring within a ring, with everything
working to the same end. The absence of Honest John Griscom at this
delivery is significant as proving that his presence at Dodge and
Ogalalla was a mistake. You notice, with the exception of Field and
Radcliff, they are all new men. Well, another day will tell the story."

The special commissioner could not arrive before the next morning. An
ambulance, with relay teams, had left the post at daybreak for Glendive,
and would return that night. Since the following promised to be a
decisive day, we were requested to bring every available man and report
at Fort Buford at an early hour. The trio returned to the post and we
foremen to our herds. My outfit received the news in anything but a
cheerful mood. The monotony of the long drive had made the men restless,
and the delay of a single day in being finally relieved, when looked
forward to, was doubly exasperating. It had been over six months since
we left the ranch in Medina, and there was a lurking suspicion among a
number of the boys that the final decision would be against our cattle
and that they would be thrown back on our hands. There was a general
anxiety among us to go home, hastened by the recent frosty nights and
a common fear of a Northern climate. I tried to stem this feeling,
promising a holiday on the morrow and assuring every one that we still
had a fighting chance.

We reached the post at a timely hour the next morning. Only three men
were left with each herd, my wrangler and cook accompanying us for the
day. Parent held forth with quite a dissertation on the legal aspects of
the case, and after we forded the river, an argument arose between him
and Jake Blair. "Don't talk to me about what's legal and what isn't,"
said the latter; "the man with the pull generally gets all that he goes
after. You remember the Indian and the white man were at a loss to know
how to divide the turkey and the buzzard, but in the end poor man got
the buzzard. And if you'll just pay a little more attention to humanity,
you may notice that the legal aspects don't cut so much figure as you
thought they did. The moment that cattle declined five to seven dollars
a head, The Western Supply Company didn't trouble themselves as to the
legality or the right or wrong, but proceeded to take advantage of the
situation at once. Neal, when you've lived about twenty-five years on
the cold charity of strangers, you'll get over that blind confidence and
become wary and cunning. It might be a good idea to keep your eye open
to-day for your first lesson. Anyhow don't rely too strong on the right
or justice of anything, but keep a good horse on picket and your powder
dry."

The commissioner had arrived early that morning and would take up
matters at once. Nine o'clock was set for the hearing, which would take
place in the quartermaster's office. Consultations were being held among
the two factions, and the only ray of light was the reported frigidity
of the special officer. He was such a superior personage that ordinary
mortals felt a chill radiating from his person on their slightest
approach. His credentials were from the War Department and were such as
to leave no doubt but that he was the autocrat of the situation, before
whom all should render homage. A rigid military air prevailed about the
post and grounds, quite out of the ordinary, while the officers' bar was
empty and silent.

The quartermaster's office would comfortably accommodate about one
hundred persons. Fort Buford had been rebuilt in 1871, the adobe
buildings giving place to frame structures, and the room in which the
hearing was to be held was not only commodious but furnished with good
taste. Promptly on the stroke of the hour, and escorted by the post
adjutant, the grand mogul made his appearance. There was nothing
striking about him, except his military bearing; he was rather young and
walked so erect that he actually leaned backward a trifle. There was no
prelude; he ordered certain tables rearranged, seated himself at one,
and called for a copy of the original contract. The post adjutant had
all the papers covering the situation in hand, and the copy was placed
at the disposal of the special commissioner, who merely glanced at
the names of the contracting parties, amount and date, and handed the
document back. Turning to the table at which Lovell and his attorneys
sat, he asked for the credentials under which they were tendering beeves
at Fort Buford. The sub-contract was produced, some slight memorandum
was made, and it was passed back as readily as was the original. The
opposition were calmly awaiting a similar request, and when it came,
in offering the papers, Congressman Y---- took occasion to remark: "Our
tender is not only on a sub-contract, but that agreement is fortified by
an assignment of the original award, by and between the War Department
and The Western Supply Company. We rely on the latter; you will find
everything regular."

The customary glance was given the bulky documents. Senator Aspgrain was
awaiting the opportune moment to attack the assignment. When it came,
the senator arose with dignity and, addressing the commissioner,
attempted to enter a protest, but was instantly stopped by that high
functionary. A frozen silence pervaded the room. "There is no occasion
for any remarks in this matter," austerely replied the government
specialist. "Our department regularly awarded the beef contract for this
post to The Western Supply Company. There was ample competition on
the award, insuring the government against exorbitant prices, and the
required bonds were furnished for the fulfillment of the contract. Right
then and there all interest upon the part of the grantor ceased until
the tender was made at this post on the appointed day of delivery. In
the interim, however, it seems that for reasons purely their own, the
grantees saw fit to sub-let their contract, not once but twice. Our
department amply protected themselves by requiring bonds, and the
sub-contractors should have done the same. That, however, is not the
matter at issue, but who is entitled to deliver on the original award.
Fortunately that point is beyond question; an assignment of the original
has always been recognized at the War Office, and in this case the
holders of the same are declared entitled to deliver. There is only
one provision,--does the article of beef tendered qualify under the
specifications? That is the only question before making this decision
final. If there is any evidence to the contrary, I am ready to hear it."

This afforded the opportunity of using Sanders as a witness, and Sutton
grasped the opportunity of calling him to testify in regard to wintering
Southern cattle in the North. After stating his qualifications as
a citizen and present occupation, he was asked by the commissioner
regarding his experience with cattle to entitle his testimony to
consideration. "I was born to the occupation in Texas," replied the
witness. "Five years ago this summer I came with beef cattle from Uvalde
County, that State, to this post, and after the delivery, accepted
a situation under the quartermaster here in locating and holding the
government's beeves. At present I am foreman and have charge of all
cattle delivered at or issued from this post. I have had five years'
experience in wintering Texas cattle in this vicinity, and have no
hesitancy in saying that it is a matter of the utmost importance that
steers should be in the best possible flesh to withstand our winters.
The losses during the most favorable seasons have averaged from one to
five per cent., while the same cattle in a severe season will lose from
ten to twenty-five, all depending on the condition of the stock with the
beginning of cold weather. Since my connection with this post we have
always received good steers, and our losses have been light, but above
and below this military reservation the per cent. loss has run as high
as fifty among thin, weak animals."

"Now, Mr. Sanders," said the special commissioner, "as an expert,
you are testifying as to the probable loss to the government in this
locality in buying and holding beef on its own account. You may now
state if you have seen the tender of beef made by Field, Radcliff & Co.,
and if so, anticipating the worst, what would be the probable loss if
their cattle were accepted on this year's delivery?"

"I was present at their inspection by the officers of this post,"
replied the witness, "and have no hesitancy in saying that should the
coming one prove as hard a winter as '82 was, there would be a loss of
fully one half these cattle. At least that was my opinion as expressed
to the post commander and quartermaster at the inspection, and they
agreed with me. There are half a dozen other boys here whose views on
wintering cattle can be had--and they're worth listening to."

This testimony was the brutal truth, and though eternal, was sadly
out of place. The opposition lawyers winced; and when Sutton asked if
permission would be given to hear the testimony of the post commander
and quartermaster, both familiar with the quality of cattle the
government had been receiving for years, the commissioner, having
admitted damaging testimony, objected on the ground that they were under
suspension, and military men were not considered specialists outside
their own vocation. Other competent witnesses were offered and objected
to, simply because they would not admit they were experts. Taking
advantage of the opening, Congressman Y---- called attention to a few
facts in passing. This unfortunate situation, he said, in substance, was
deeply regretted by his clients and himself. The War Department was
to be warmly commended for sending a special commissioner to hear the
matter at issue, otherwise unjust charges might have been preferred
against old and honored officers in the service. However, if specialists
were to be called to testify, and their testimony considered, as to what
per cent. of cattle would survive a winter, why not call on the weather
prophets to testify just what the coming one would be? He ridiculed the
attestations of Sanders as irrelevant, defiantly asserting that the only
question at issue was, were there five million pounds of dressed beef in
the tender of cattle by Field, Radcliff & Co. He insisted on the letter
in the bond being observed. The government bought cattle one year
with another, and assumed risks as did other people. Was there any man
present to challenge his assertion that the pounds quantity had been
tendered?

There was. Don Lovell arose, and addressing the special commissioner,
said: "Sir, I am not giving my opinion as an expert but as a practical
cowman. If the testimony of one who has delivered over ninety thousand
cattle to this government, in its army and Indian departments, is of
any service to you, I trust you will hear me patiently. No exception is
taken to your ruling as to who is entitled to deliver on the existing
award; that was expected from the first. I have been contracting beef to
this government for the past fifteen years, and there may be tricks in
the trade of which I am ignorant. The army has always demanded the best,
while lower grades have always been acceptable to the Indian Department.
But in all my experience, I have never tendered this government for its
gut-eating wards as poor a lot of cattle as I am satisfied that you
are going to receive at the hands of Field, Radcliff & Co. I accept
the challenge that there are not five million pounds of dressed beef
in their tender to-day, and what there is would be a disgrace to any
commonwealth to feed its convicts. True, these cattle are not intended
for immediate use, and I make the counter-assertion that this government
will never kill out fifty per cent. of the weight that you accept
to-day. Possibly you prefer the blandishments of a lobbyist to the
opinion of a practical cowman like Sanders. That's your privilege. You
refuse to allow us to show the relationship between The Western Supply
Company and the present holders of its assignment, and in doing so I
charge you with being in collusion with these contractors to defraud the
government!"

"You're a liar!" shouted Congressman Y----, jumping to his feet. The
only reply was a chair hurled from the hand of Sutton at the head of the
offender, instantly followed by a rough house. Several officers
present sprang to the side of the special commissioner, but fortunately
refrained from drawing revolvers. I was standing at some distance
from the table, and as I made a lunge forward, old man Don was hurled
backward into my arms. He could not whip a sick chicken, yet his
uncontrollable anger had carried him into the general melee and he had
been roughly thrown out by some of his own men. They didn't want him in
the fight; they could do all that was necessary. A number of soldiers
were present, and while the officers were frantically commanding them
to restore order, the scrap went merrily on. Old man Don struggled with
might and main, cursing me for refusing to free him, and when one of the
contractors was knocked down within easy reach, I was half tempted to
turn him loose. The "major-domo" had singled out Sponsilier and was
trying issues with him, Bob Quirk was dropping them right and left, when
the deposed commandant sprang upon a table, and in a voice like the hiss
of an adder, commanded peace, and the disorder instantly ceased.

The row had lasted only a few seconds. The opposing sides stood glaring
daggers at each other, when the commissioner took occasion to administer
a reproof to all parties concerned, referring to Texas in not very
complimentary terms. Dave Sponsilier was the only one who had the
temerity to offer any reply, saying, "Mr. Yank, I'll give you one
hundred dollars if you'll point me out the grave of a man, woman, or
child who starved to death in that state."

A short recess was taken, after which apologies followed, and the
commissioner resumed the hearing. A Western lawyer, named Lemeraux,
made a very plausible plea for the immediate acceptance of the tender of
Field, Radcliff & Co. He admitted that the cattle, at present, were not
in as good flesh as his clients expected to offer them; that they had
left the Platte River in fine condition, but had been twice quarantined
en route. He was cautious in his remarks, but clearly intimated that had
there been no other cattle in competition for delivery on this award,
there might have been no quarantine. In his insinuations, the fact was
adroitly brought out that the isolation of their herds, if not directly
chargeable to Lovell and his men, had been aided and abetted by them,
retarding the progress of his clients' beeves and forcing them to travel
as fast as twenty-five miles a day, so that they arrived in a jaded
condition. Had there been no interference, the tender of Field, Radcliff
& Co. would have reached this post ten days earlier, and rest would soon
have restored the cattle to their normal condition. In concluding, he
boldly made the assertion that the condition of his client's tender of
beef was the result of a conspiracy to injure one firm, that another
drover might profit thereby; that right and justice could be conserved
only by immediately making the decision final, and thus fearlessly
silencing any and all imputations reflecting on the character of this
government's trusted representatives.

The special commissioner assumed an air of affected dignity and
announced that a conclusion had been arrived at. Turning to old man Don,
he expressed the deepest regret that a civilian was beyond his power to
punish, otherwise he would have cause to remember the affront offered
himself; not that he personally cared, but the department of government
which he had the honor to serve was jealous of its good name. Under the
circumstances he could only warn him to be more guarded hereafter in
choosing his language, and assured Lovell that it was in his power to
escort any offender off that military reservation. Pausing a moment, he
resumed a judicial air, and summed up the situation:

"There was no occasion," said he, in an amiable mood, "to refer this
incident to the War Department if the authorities here had gone about
their work properly. Fortunately I was in Minneapolis adjusting some
flour accounts, when I was ordered here by the quartermaster-general.
Instead of attempting to decide who had the best tender of cattle,
the one with the legal right alone should have been considered. Our
department is perfectly familiar with these petty jealousies, which
usually accompany awards of this class, and generally emanate from
disappointed and disgruntled competitors. The point is well taken by
counsel that the government does not anticipate the unforeseen, and
it matters not what the loss may be from the rigors of winter, the
contractor is exempt after the day of delivery. If the cattle were
delayed en route, as has been asserted, and it was necessary to make
forced drives in order to reach here within the specified time, all this
should be taken into consideration in arriving at a final conclusion.
On his reinstatement, I shall give the quartermaster of this post
instructions, in receiving these cattle, to be governed, not so much by
their present condition as by what they would have been had there been
no interference. Now in behalf of the War Department, I declare the
award to The Western Supply Company, and assigned to Field, Radcliff,
and associates, to have been fulfilled to the satisfaction of all
parties concerned. This closes the incident, and if there is nothing
further, the inquiry will stand adjourned without date."

"One moment, if you please," said Don Lovell, addressing the
commissioner and contractors; "there is a private matter existing
between Field, Radcliff & Co. and myself which demands an understanding
between us. I hold a sum of money, belonging to them, as indemnity
against loss in driving ten thousand cattle from Southern Texas to this
post. That I will sustain a heavy loss, under your decision, is beyond
question. I am indemnified to the amount of about six dollars and a
half a head, and since the government is exempt from garnishment and
the contractors are wholly irresponsible, I must content myself with the
money in hand. To recover this amount, held as indemnity, suit has
been threatened against me. Of course I can't force their hands, but
I sincerely hope they will feel exultant enough over your kangaroo
decision to file their action before taking their usual outing in
Europe. They will have no trouble in securing my legal address, my
rating can be obtained from any commercial agency, and no doubt their
attorneys are aware of the statute of limitation in my state. I believe
that's all, except to extend my thanks to every one about Fort Buford
for the many kind attentions shown my counsel, my boys, and myself. To
my enemies, I can only say that I hope to meet them on Texas soil, and
will promise them a fairer hearing than was accorded me here to-day. Mr.
Commissioner, I have always prided myself on being a good citizen, have
borne arms in defense of my country, and in taking exception to your
decision I brand you as the most despicable member of The Western
Supply Company. Any man who will prostitute a trust for a money
consideration--"

"That's enough!" shouted the special commissioner, rising. "Orderly,
call the officer of the day, and tell him I want two companies of
cavalry to furnish an escort for this man and his herds beyond the
boundaries of this military reservation." Looking Lovell in the face, he
said: "You have justly merited a severe punishment, and I shall report
your reflections to the War and Indian departments, and you may find it
more difficult to secure contracts in the future. One of you officers
detail men and take charge of this man until the escort is ready. The
inquiry is adjourned."





Next: The Winter Of Our Discontent

Previous: A Soldier's Honor



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