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Marshaling The Forces

From: The Outlet

Both herds had watered in the Smoky during the afternoon. The stranger's
cattle were not compelled to go down to the crossing, but found an easy
passage several miles above the regular ford. After leaving the river,
both herds were grazed out during the evening, and when darkness fell
we were not over three miles apart, one on either side of the trail. The
Wyoming cowman spent a restless night, and early the next morning rode
to the nearest elevation which would give him a view of his cattle.
Within an hour after sun-up he returned, elated over the fact that his
herd was far in the lead of ours, camp being already broken, while we
were only breakfasting. Matters were working out just as I expected. The
mixed herd under the Mexican corporal, by moving early and late, could
keep the lead of our beeves, and with the abundance of time at my
disposal we were in no hurry. The Kansas Pacific Railroad was but a few
days' drive ahead, and I advised our guest to take the train around
to Ogalalla and have a new outfit all ready to relieve the aliens
immediately on their arrival. Promising to take the matter under
consideration, he said nothing further for several days, his cattle in
the mean time keeping a lead of from five to ten miles.

The trail crossed the railroad at a switch east of Grinnell. I was
naturally expecting some word from Don Lovell, and it was my intention
to send one of the boys into that station to inquire for mail. There was
a hostelry at Grinnell, several stores and a livery stable, all dying an
easy death from the blight of the arid plain, the town profiting little
or nothing from the cattle trade. But when within a half-day's drive of
the railway, on overtaking the herd after dinner, there was old man Don
talking to the boys on herd. The cattle were lying down, and rather
than disturb them, he patiently bided his time until they had rested and
arose to resume their journey. The old man was feeling in fine spirits,
something unusual, and declined my urgent invitation to go back to
the wagon and have dinner. I noticed that he was using his own saddle,
though riding a livery horse, and in the mutual inquiries which were
exchanged, learned that he had arrived at Grinnell but a few days
before. He had left Camp Supply immediately after Forrest and Sponsilier
passed that point, and until Siringo came in with his report, he
had spent the time about detective headquarters in Kansas City. From
intimate friends in Dodge, he had obtained the full particulars of the
attempted but unsuccessful move of The Western Supply Company to take
possession of his two herds. In fact there was very little that I could
enlighten him on, except the condition of the cattle, and they spoke for
themselves, their glossy coats shining with the richness of silk. On the
other hand, my employer opened like a book.

"Tom, I think we're past the worst of it," said he. "Those Dodge people
are just a trifle too officious to suit me, but Ogalalla is a cow-town
after my own heart. They're a law unto themselves up there, and a cowman
stands some show--a good one against thieves. Ogalalla is the seat of an
organized county, and the town has officers, it's true, but they've got
sense enough to know which side their bread's buttered on; and a cowman
who's on the square has nothing to fear in that town. Yes, the whole
gang, Tolleston and all, are right up here at Ogalalla now; bought a
herd this week, so I hear, and expect to take two of these away from
us the moment we enter Keith County. Well, they may; I've seen bad men
before take a town, but it was only a question of time until the plain
citizens retook it. They may try to bluff us, but if they do, we'll meet
them a little over halfway. Which one of your boys was it that licked
Archie? I want to thank him until such a time as I can reward him

The herd was moving out, and as Seay was working in the swing on the
opposite side, we allowed the cattle to trail past, and then rode round
and overtook him. The two had never met before, but old man Don warmed
towards Dorg, who recited his experience in such an inimitable manner
that our employer rocked in his saddle in spasms of laughter. Leaving
the two together, I rode on ahead to look out the water, and when
the herd came up near the middle of the afternoon, they were still
inseparable. The watering over, we camped for the night several miles
south of the railroad, the mixed herd having crossed it about noon. My
guest of the past few days had come to a point requiring a decision and
was in a quandary to know what to do. But when the situation had been
thoroughly reviewed between Mr. Lovell and the Wyoming man, my advice
was indorsed,--to trust implicitly to his corporal, and be ready to
relieve the outfit at the Platte. Saddles were accordingly shifted, and
the stranger, after professing a profusion of thanks, rode away on the
livery horse by which my employer had arrived. Once the man was well out
of hearing, the old trail drover turned to my outfit and said:

"Boys, there goes a warning that the days of the trail are numbered. To
make a success of any business, a little common sense is necessary. Nine
tenths of the investing in cattle to-day in the Northwest is being done
by inexperienced men. No other line of business could prosper in such
incompetent hands, and it's foolish to think that cattle companies and
individuals, nearly all tenderfeet at the business, can succeed. They
may for a time,--there are accidents in every calling,--but when the
tide turns, there won't be one man or company in ten survive. I only
wish they would, as it means life and expansion for the cattle interests
in Texas. As long as the boom continues, and foreigners and tenderfeet
pour their money in, the business will look prosperous. Why, even the
business men are selling out their stores and going into cattle. But
there's a day of reckoning ahead, and there's many a cowman in this
Northwest country who will never see his money again. Now the government
demand is a healthy one: it needs the cattle for Indian and military
purposes; but this crazy investment, especially in she stuff, I wouldn't
risk a dollar in it."

During the conversation that evening, I was delighted to learn that my
employer expected to accompany the herds overland to Ogalalla. There was
nothing pressing elsewhere, and as all the other outfits were within a
short day's ride in the rear, he could choose his abode. He was too good
a cowman to interfere with the management of cattle, and the pleasure of
his company, when in good humor, was to be desired. The next morning
a horse was furnished him from our extras, and after seeing us safely
across the railroad track, he turned back to meet Forrest or Sponsilier.
This was the last we saw of him until after crossing into Nebraska. In
the mean time my boys kept an eye on the Mexican outfit in our front,
scarcely a day passing but what we sighted them either in person or by
signal. Once they dropped back opposite us on the western side of
the trail, when Cedardall, under the pretense of hunting lost horses,
visited their camp, finding them contented and enjoying a lay-over. They
were impatient to know the distance to the Rio Platte, and G--G assured
them that within a week they would see its muddy waters and be relieved.
Thus encouraged they held the lead, but several times vaqueros dropped
back to make inquiries of drives and the water. The route was passable,
with a short dry drive from the head of Stinking Water across to the
Platte River, of which they were fully advised. Keeping them in sight,
we trailed along leisurely, and as we went down the northern slope of
the divide approaching the Republican River, we were overtaken at noon
by Don Lovell and Dave Sponsilier.

"Quirk," said the old man, as the two dismounted, "I was just telling
Dave that twenty years ago this summer I carried a musket with Sherman
in his march to the sea. And here we are to-day, driving beef to feed
the army in the West. But that's neither here nor there under the
present programme. Jim Flood and I have talked matters over pretty
thoroughly, and have decided to switch the foremen on the 'Open A' and
'Drooping T' cattle until after Ogalalla is passed. From their actions
at Dodge, it is probable that they will try and arrest the foreman of
those two herds as accessory under some charge or other. By shifting the
foremen, even if the ones in charge are detained, we will gain time and
be able to push the Buford cattle across the North Platte. The chances
are that they will prefer some charges against me, and if they do,
if necessary, we will all go to the lock-up together. They may have
spotters ahead here on the Republican; Dave will take charge of your
'Open A's' at once, and you will drop back and follow up with his
cattle. For the time being and to every stranger, you two will exchange
names. The Rebel is in charge of Forrest's cattle now, and Quince will
drop back with Paul's herd. Dave, here, gave me the slip on crossing the
Texas Pacific in the lower country, but when we reach the Union Pacific,
I want to know where he is, even if in jail. And I may be right there
with him, but we'll live high, for I've got a lot of their money."

Sponsilier reported his herd on the same side of the trail and about
ten miles to our rear. I had no objection to the change, for those arid
plains were still to be preferred to the lock-up in Ogalalla. My only
regret was in temporarily losing my mount; but as Dave's horses were
nearly as good, no objection was urged, and promising, in case either
landed in jail, to send flowers, I turned back, leaving my employer with
the lead herd. Before starting, I learned that the "Drooping T" cattle
were in advance of Sponsilier's, and as I soldiered along on my way
back, rode several miles out of my way to console my old bunkie, The
Rebel. He took my chaffing good-naturedly and assured me that his gray
hairs were a badge of innocence which would excuse him on any charge.
Turning, I rode back with him over a mile, this being my first
opportunity of seeing Forrest's beeves. The steers were large and rangy,
extremely uniform in ages and weight, and in general relieved me of
considerable conceit that I had the best herd among the Buford cattle.
With my vanity eased, I continued my journey and reached Sponsilier's
beeves while they were watering. Again a surprise was in store for me,
as the latter herd had, if any, the edge over the other two, while "The
Apple" was by all odds the prettiest road brand I had ever seen. I
asked the acting segundo, a lad named Tupps, who cut the cattle when
receiving; light was thrown on the situation by his reply.

"Old man Don joined the outfit the day we reached Uvalde," said he, "and
until we began receiving, he poured it into our foreman that this year
the cattle had to be something extra--muy escogido, as the Mexicans say.
Well, the result was that Sponsilier went to work with ideas pitched
rather high. But in the first bunch received, the old man cut a pretty
little four-year-old, fully a hundred pounds too light. Dave and Mr.
Lovell had a set-to over the beef, the old man refusing to cut him
back, but he rode out of the herd and never again offered to interfere.
Forrest was present, and at dinner that day old man Don admitted that
he was too easy when receiving. Sponsilier and Forrest did the trimming
afterward, and that is the secret of these two herds being so uniform."

A general halt was called at the head of Stinking Water. We were then
within forty miles of Ogalalla, and a day's drive would put us within
the jurisdiction of Keith County. Some time was lost at this last water,
waiting for the rear herds to arrive, as it was the intention to place
the "Open A" and "Drooping T" cattle at the rear in crossing this dry
belt. At the ford on the Republican, a number of strangers were noticed,
two of whom rode a mile or more with me, and innocently asked numerous
but leading questions. I frankly answered every inquiry, and truthfully,
with the exception of the names of the lead foreman and my own. Direct,
it was only sixty miles from the crossing on the Republican to Ogalalla,
an easy night's ride, and I was conscious that our whereabouts would
be known at the latter place the next morning. For several days before
starting across this arid stretch, we had watered at ten o'clock in the
morning, so when Flood and Forrest came up, mine being the third herd
to reach the last water, I was all ready to pull out. But old man Don
counseled another day's lie-over, as it would be a sore trial for the
herds under a July sun, and for a full day twenty thousand beeves grazed
in sight of each other on the mesas surrounding the head of Stinking
Water. All the herds were aroused with the dawn, and after a few hours'
sun on the cattle, the Indian beeves were turned onto the water and held
until the middle of the forenoon, when the start was made for the Platte
and Ogalalla.

I led out with "The Apple" cattle, throwing onto the trail for the first
ten miles, which put me well in advance of Bob Quirk and Forrest,
who were in my immediate rear. A well-known divide marked the halfway
between the two waters, and I was determined to camp on it that night.
It was fully nine o'clock when we reached it, Don Lovell in the mean
time having overtaken us. This watershed was also recognized as the
line of Keith County, an organized community, and the next morning
expectation ran high as to what the day would bring forth. Lovell
insisted on staying with the lead herd, and pressing him in as
horse-wrangler, I sent him in the lead with the remuda and wagon, while
Levering fell into the swing with the trailing cattle. A breakfast halt
was made fully seven miles from the bed-ground, a change of mounts, and
then up divide, across mesa, and down slope at the foot of which ran the
Platte. Meanwhile several wayfaring men were met, but in order to avoid
our dust, they took the right or unbranded side of our herd on meeting,
and passed on their way without inquiry. Near noon a party of six men,
driving a number of loose mounts and a pack-horse, were met, who also
took the windward side. Our dragmen learned that they were on their way
to Dodge to receive a herd of range horses. But when about halfway
down the slope towards the river, two mounted men were seen to halt the
remuda and wagon for a minute, and then continue on southward. Billy
Tupps was on the left point, myself next in the swing; and as the two
horsemen turned out on the branded side, their identity was suspected.
In reply to some inquiry, Tupps jerked his thumb over his shoulder as
much as to say, "Next man." I turned out and met the strangers, who had
already noted the road brand, and politely answered every question. One
of the two offered me a cigar, and after lighting it, I did remember
hearing one of my boys say that among the herds lying over on the head
of Stinking Water was an "Open A" and "Drooping T," but I was unable to
recall the owner's or foremen's names. Complimenting me on the condition
of my beeves, and assuring me that I would have time to water my herd
and reach the mesa beyond Ogalalla, they passed on down the column of

I had given the cook an order on an outfitting house for new supplies,
saying I would call or send a draft in the morning. A new bridge had
been built across the Platte opposite the town, and when nearing
the river, the commissary turned off the trail for it, but the
horse-wrangler for the day gave the bridge a wide berth and crossed the
stream a mile below the village. The width of the river was a decided
advantage in watering a thirsty herd, as it gave the cattle room to
thrash around, filling its broad bed for fully a half mile. Fortunately
there were few spectators, but I kept my eye on the lookout for a
certain faction, being well disguised with dust and dirt and a month's
growth of beard. As we pushed out of the river and were crossing the
tracks below the railroad yards, two other herds were sighted coming
down to the water, their remudas having forded above and below our
cattle. On scaling the bluffs, we could see the trail south of the
Platte on which arose a great column of dust. Lovell was waiting with
the saddle stock in the hills beyond the town, and on striking the first
good grass, the cattle fell to grazing while we halted to await the
arrival of the wagon. The sun was still several hours high, and while
waiting for our commissary to come up, my employer and myself rode to
the nearest point of observation to reconnoitre the rear. Beneath us
lay the hamlet; but our eyes were concentrated beyond the narrow Platte
valley on a dust-cloud which hung midway down the farther slope. As we
watched, an occasional breeze wafted the dust aside, and the sinuous
outline of a herd creeping forward greeted our vision. Below the town
were two other herds, distinctly separate and filling the river for over
a mile with a surging mass of animals, while in every direction cattle
dotted the plain and valley. Turning aside from the panorama before us,
my employer said:

"Tom, you will have time to graze out a few miles and camp to the left
of the trail. I'll stay here and hurry your wagon forward, and wait for
Bob and Quince. That lead herd beyond the river is bound to be Jim's,
and he's due to camp on this mesa to-night, so these outfits must give
him room. If Dave and Paul are still free to act, they'll know enough
to water and camp on the south side of the Platte. I'll stay at Flood's
wagon to-night, and you had better send a couple of your boys into
town and let them nose around. They'll meet lads from the 'Open A' and
'Drooping T' outfits; and I'll send Jim and Bob in, and by midnight
we'll have a report of what's been done. If any one but an officer takes
possession of those two herds, it'll put us to the trouble of retaking
them. And I think I've got men enough here to do it."

Next: Justice In The Saddle

Previous: All In The Day's Work

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