Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

On The Just And The Unjust

From: The Outlet

The quarantine guards returned to their camp. Our plans were suddenly
and completely upset, and not knowing which way to turn, Sponsilier and
I, slightly crestfallen, accompanied the guards. It was already late
in the evening, but Captain Ullmer took advantage of the brief respite
granted him to clear the east half of the valley of native cattle.
Couriers were dispatched to sound the warning among the ranches down the
river, while a regular round-up outfit was mustered among the camps to
begin the drifting of range stock that evening. A few men were left at
the two camps, as quarantine was not to be abandoned, and securing our
borrowed horses, my partner and I bade our friends farewell and set out
on our return for the Yellowstone. Merely touching at Powderville for
a hasty supper, we held a northwest, cross-country course, far into
the night, when we unsaddled to rest our horses and catch a few hours'
sleep. But sunrise found us again in our saddles, and by the middle of
the forenoon we were breakfasting with our friends in Miles City.

Fort Keogh was but a short distance up the river. That military
interference had been secured through fraud and deception, there was not
the shadow of a doubt. During the few hours which we spent in Miles,
the cattle interests were duly aroused, and a committee of cowmen were
appointed to call on the post commander at Keogh with a formidable
protest, which would no doubt be supplemented later, on the return of
the young lieutenant and his troopers. During our ride the night
before, Sponsilier and I had discussed the possibility of arousing the
authorities at Glendive. Since it was in the neighborhood of one hundred
miles from Powderville to the former point on the railroad, the herds
would consume nearly a week in reaching there. A freight train was
caught that afternoon, and within twenty-four hours after leaving the
quarantine camp on the Powder River, we had opened headquarters at the
Stock Exchange Saloon in Glendive. On arriving, I deposited one hundred
dollars with the proprietor of that bar-room, with the understanding
that it was to be used in getting an expression from the public in
regard to the question of Texas fever. Before noon the next day, Dave
Sponsilier and Tom Quirk were not only the two most popular men in
Glendive, but quarantine had been decided on with ringing resolutions.

Our standing was soon of the best. Horses were tendered us, and saddling
one I crossed the Yellowstone and started down the river to arouse
outlying ranches, while Sponsilier and a number of local cowmen rode
south to locate a camp and a deadline. I was absent two days, having
gone north as far as Wolf Island, where I recrossed the river, returning
on the eastern side of the valley. At no ranch which was visited did my
mission fail of meeting hearty approval, especially on the western side
of the river, where severe losses from fever had been sustained the fall
before. One ranch on Thirteen Mile offered, if necessary, to send every
man in its employ, with their own wagon and outfit of horses, free of
all charge, until quarantine was lifted. But I suggested, instead, that
they send three or four men with their horses and blankets, leaving the
remainder to be provided for by the local committee. In my two days'
ride, over fifty volunteers were tendered, but I refused all except
twenty, who were to report at Glendive not later than the morning of the
6th. On my return to the railroad, all arrangements were completed and
the outlook was promising. Couriers had arrived from the south during
my absence, bringing the news of the coming of the through Texas cattle,
and warning the local ranches to clear the way or take the consequences.
All native stock had been pushed west of the Powder and Yellowstone,
as far north as Cabin Creek, which had been decided on as the second
quarantine-line. Daily reports were being received of the whereabouts of
the moving herds, and at the rate they were traveling, they would
reach Cabin Creek about the 7th. Two wagons had been outfitted, cooks
employed, and couriers dispatched to watch the daily progress of the
cattle, which, if following the usual route, would strike the deadline
some distance south of Glendive.

During the next few days, Sponsilier and I were social lions in that
town, and so great was our popularity we could have either married or
been elected to office. We limited our losses at poker to so much an
evening, and what we won from the merchant class we invariably lost
among the volunteer guards and cowmen, taking our luck with a sangfroid
which proved us dead-game sports, and made us hosts of friends. We had
contributed one hundred dollars to the general quarantine fund, and had
otherwise made ourselves popular with all classes in the brief time at
our command. Under the pretense that we might receive orders at any time
to overtake our herds, we declined all leadership in the second campaign
about to be inaugurated against Texas fever. Dave and I were both
feeling rather chesty over the masterful manner in which we had aroused
the popular feeling in favor of quarantine in our own interest, at the
same time making it purely a local movement. We were swaggering about
like ward-heelers, when on the afternoon of the 5th the unexpected again
happened. The business interests of the village usually turned out to
meet the daily passenger trains, even the poker-games taking a recess
until the cars went past. The arrival and departure of citizens of
the place were noted by every one, and strangers were looked upon
with timidity, very much as in all simple communities. Not taking any
interest in the passing trains, Sponsilier was writing a letter to
his girl in Texas, while I was shaking dice for the cigars with the
bartender of the Stock Exchange, when the Eastbound arrived. After the
departure of the train, I did not take any notice of the return of the
boys to the abandoned games, or the influx of patrons to the house,
until some one laid a hand on my shoulder and quietly said, "Isn't your
name Quirk?"

Turning to the speaker, I was confronted by Mr. Field and Mr. Radcliff,
who had just arrived by train from the west. Admitting my identity, I
invited them to have a cigar or liquid refreshment, inquiring whence
they had come and where their cattle were. To my surprise, Fort Keogh
was named as their last refuge, and the herds were reported to cross the
railroad within the next few days. Similar questions were asked me, but
before replying, I caught Sponsilier's eye and summoned him with a wink.
On Dave's presenting himself, I innocently asked the pair if they did
not remember my friend as one of the men whom they had under arrest at
Dodge. They grunted an embarrassed acknowledgment, which was returned in
the same coin, when I proceeded to inform them that our cattle crossed
the railroad at Little Missouri ten days before, and that we were only
waiting the return of Mr. Lovell from the Crow Agency before proceeding
to our destination. With true Yankee inquisitiveness, other questions
followed, the trend of which was to get us to admit that we had
something to do with the present activities in quarantining Texas
cattle. But I avoided their leading queries, and looked appealingly at
Sponsilier, who came to my rescue with an answer born of the moment.

"Well, gentlemen," said Dave, seating himself on the bar and leisurely
rolling a cigarette, "that town of Little Missouri is about the dullest
hole that I was ever water-bound in. Honestly, I'd rather be with the
cattle than loafing in it with money in my pocket. Now this town has got
some get-up about it; I'll kiss a man's foot if he complains that this
burg isn't sporty enough for his blood. They've given me a run here
for my white alley, and I still think I know something about that game
called draw-poker. But you were speaking about quarantine. Yes; there
seems to have been a good many cattle lost through these parts last
fall. You ought to have sent your herds up through Dakota, where there
is no native stock to interfere. I'd hate to have cattle coming down the
Powder River. A friend of mine passed through here yesterday; his herd
was sold for delivery on the Elkhorn, north of here, and he tells me
he may not be able to reach there before October. He saw your herds and
tells me you are driving the guts out of them. So if there's anything
in that old 'ship-fever theory,' you ought to be quarantined until it
snows. There's a right smart talk around here of fixing a dead-line
below somewhere, and if you get tied up before reaching the railroad,
it won't surprise me a little bit. When it comes to handling the cattle,
old man Don has the good hard cow-sense every time, but you shorthorns
give me a pain."

"What did I tell you?" said Radcliff, the elder one, to his partner, as
they turned to leave.

On nearing the door, Mr. Field halted and begrudgingly said, "See you
later, Quirk."

"Not if I see you first," I replied; "you ain't my kind of cowmen."

Not even waiting for them to pass outside, Sponsilier, from his elevated
position, called every one to the bar to irrigate. The boys quit their
games, and as they lined up in a double row, Dave begged the bartenders
to bestir themselves, and said to his guests: "Those are the kid-gloved
cowmen that I've been telling you about--the owners of the Texas cattle
that are coming through here. Did I hang it on them artistically, or
shall I call them back and smear it on a shade deeper? They smelt a
mouse all right, and when their cattle reach Cabin Creek, they'll smell
the rat in earnest. Now, set out the little and big bottle and everybody
have a cigar on the side. And drink hearty, lads, for to-morrow we may
be drinking branch water in a quarantine camp."

The arrival of Field and Radcliff was accepted as a defiance to the
local cattle interests. Popular feeling was intensified when it was
learned that they were determined not to recognize any local quarantine,
and were secretly inquiring for extra men to guard their herds in
passing Glendive. There was always a rabble element in every frontier
town, and no doubt, as strangers, they could secure assistance in
quarters that the local cowmen would spurn. Matters were approaching
a white heat, when late that night an expected courier arrived, and
reported the cattle coming through at the rate of twenty miles a day.
They were not following any particular trail, traveling almost due
north, and if the present rate of travel was maintained, Cabin Creek
would be reached during the forenoon of the 7th. This meant business,
and the word was quietly passed around that all volunteers were to be
ready to move in the morning. A cowman named Retallac, owner of a range
on the Yellowstone, had previously been decided on as captain, and would
have under him not less than seventy-five chosen men, which number, if
necessary, could easily be increased to one hundred.

Morning dawned on a scene of active operations. The two wagons were
started fully an hour in advance of the cavalcade, which was to follow,
driving a remuda of over two hundred saddle horses. Sponsilier and I
expected to accompany the outfit, but at the last moment our plans were
changed by an incident and we remained behind, promising to overtake
them later. There were a number of old buffalo hunters in town, living
a precarious life, and one of their number had quietly informed Sheriff
Wherry that they had been approached with an offer of five dollars a day
to act as an escort to the herds while passing through. The quarantine
captain looked upon that element as a valuable ally, suggesting that if
it was a question of money, our side ought to be in the market for their
services. Heartily agreeing with him, the company of guards started,
leaving their captain behind with Sponsilier and myself. Glendive was a
county seat, and with the assistance of the sheriff, we soon had every
buffalo hunter in the town corralled. They were a fine lot of rough men,
inclined to be convivial, and with the assistance of Sheriff Wherry,
coupled with the high standing of the quarantine captain, on a soldier's
introduction Dave and I made a good impression among them. Sponsilier
did the treating and talking, his offer being ten dollars a day for a
man and horse, which was promptly accepted, when the question naturally
arose who would stand sponsor for the wages. Dave backed off some
distance, and standing on his left foot, pulled off his right boot,
shaking out a roll of money on the floor.

"There's the long green, boys," said he, "and you fellows can name your
own banker. I'll make it up a thousand, and whoever you say goes with
me. Shall it be the sheriff, or Mr. Retallac, or the proprietor of the
Stock Exchange?"

Sheriff Wherry interfered, relieving the embarrassment in appointing a
receiver, and vouched that these two Texans were good for any reasonable
sum. The buffalo hunters approved, apologizing to Sponsilier, as he
pulled on his boot, for questioning his financial standing, and swearing
allegiance in every breath. An hour's time was granted in which to
saddle and make ready, during which we had a long chat with Sheriff
Wherry and found him a valuable ally. He had cattle interests in the
country, and when the hunters appeared, fifteen strong, he mounted his
horse and accompanied us several miles on the way. "Now, boys," said he,
at parting, "I'll keep an eye over things around town, and if anything
important happens, I'll send a courier with the news. If those
shorthorns attempt to offer any opposition, I'll run a blazer on them,
and if necessary I'll jug the pair. You fellows just buffalo the herds,
and the sheriff's office will keep cases on any happenings around
Glendive. It's understood that night or day your camp can be found on
Cabin Creek, opposite the old eagle tree. Better send me word as soon as
the herds arrive. Good luck to you, lads."

Neither wagons nor guards were even sighted during our three hours' ride
to the appointed campground. On our arrival tents were being pitched and
men were dragging up wood, while the cooks were busily preparing a late
dinner, the station being fully fifteen miles south of the railroad.
Scouts were thrown out during the afternoon, corrals built, and evening
found the quarantine camp well established for the comfort of its
ninety-odd men. The buffalo hunters were given special attention and
christened the "Sponsilier Guards;" they took again to outdoor life as
in the old days. The report of the scouts was satisfactory; all three
of the herds had been seen and would arrive on schedule time. A hush of
expectancy greeted this news, but Sponsilier and I ridiculed the idea
that there would be any opposition, except a big talk and plenty of

"Well, if that's what they rely on," said Captain Retallac, "then
they're as good as in quarantine this minute. If you feel certain they
can't get help from Fort Keogh a second time, those herds will be our
guests until further orders. What we want to do now is to spike every
possible chance for their getting any help, and the matter will pass
over like a summer picnic. If you boys think there's any danger of an
appeal to Fort Buford, the military authorities want to be notified
that the Yellowstone Valley has quarantined against Texas fever and asks
their cooperation in enforcing the same."

"I can fix that," replied Sponsilier. "We have lawyers at Buford right
now, and I can wire them the situation fully in the morning. If they
rely on the military, they will naturally appeal to the nearest post,
and if Keogh and Buford turn them down, the next ones are on the
Missouri River, and at that distance cavalry couldn't reach here within
ten days. Oh, I think we've got a grapevine twist on them this time."

Sponsilier sat up half the night wording a message to our attorneys at
Fort Buford. The next morning found me bright and early on the road to
Glendive with the dispatch, the sending of which would deplete my cash
on hand by several dollars, but what did we care for expense when we
had the money and orders to spend it? I regretted my absence from the
quarantine camp, as I was anxious to be present on the arrival of the
herds, and again watch the "major-domo" run on the rope and fume and
charge in vain. But the importance of blocking assistance was so urgent
that I would gladly have ridden to Buford if necessary. In that bracing
atmosphere it was a fine morning for the ride, and I was rapidly
crossing the country, when a vehicle, in the dip of the plain, was
sighted several miles ahead. I was following no road, but when the
driver of the conveyance saw me he turned across my front and signaled.
On meeting the rig, I could hardly control myself from laughing
outright, for there on the rear seat sat Field and Radcliff, extremely
gruff and uncongenial. Common courtesies were exchanged between
the driver and myself, and I was able to answer clearly his leading
questions: Yes; the herds would reach Cabin Creek before noon; the
old eagle tree, which could be seen from the first swell of the plain
beyond, marked the quarantine camp, and it was the intention to isolate
the herds on the South Fork of Cabin. "Drive on," said a voice, and, in
the absence of any gratitude expressed, I inwardly smiled in reward.

I was detained in Glendive until late in the day, waiting for an
acknowledgment of the message. Sheriff Wherry informed me that the only
move attempted on the part of the shorthorn drovers was the arrest
of Sponsilier and myself, on the charge of being accomplices in the
shooting of one of their men on the North Platte. But the sheriff
had assured the gentlemen that our detention would have no effect on
quarantining their cattle, and the matter was taken under advisement and
dropped. It was late when I started for camp that evening. The drovers
had returned, accompanied by their superintendent, and were occupying
the depot, burning the wires in every direction. I was risking no
chances, and cultivated the company of Sheriff Wherry until the
acknowledgment arrived, when he urged me to ride one of his horses in
returning to camp, and insisted on my taking a carbine. Possibly this
was fortunate, for before I had ridden one third the distance to the
quarantine camp, I met a cavalcade of nearly a dozen men from the
isolated herds. When they halted and inquired the distance to Glendive,
one of their number recognized me as having been among the quarantine
guards at Powderville. I admitted that I was there, turning my horse so
that the carbine fell to my hand, and politely asked if any one had
any objections. It seems that no one had, and after a few commonplace
inquiries were exchanged, we passed on our way.

There was great rejoicing on Cabin Creek that night. Songs were sung,
and white navy beans passed current in numerous poker-games until the
small hours of morning. There had been nothing dramatic in the meeting
between the herds and the quarantine guards, the latter force having
been augmented by visiting ranchmen and their help, until protest would
have been useless. A routine of work had been outlined, much stricter
than at Powderville, and a surveillance of the camps was constantly
maintained. Not that there was any danger of escape, but to see that
the herds occupied the country allotted to them, and did not pollute any
more territory than was necessary. The Sponsilier Guards were given an
easy day shift, and held a circle of admirers at night, recounting and
living over again "the good old days." Visitors from either side of the
Yellowstone were early callers, and during the afternoon the sheriff
from Glendive arrived. I did not know until then that Mr. Wherry was
a candidate for reelection that fall, but the manner in which he mixed
with the boys was enough to warrant his election for life. What
endeared him to Sponsilier and myself was the fund of information he
had collected, and the close tab he had kept on every movement of the
opposition drovers. He told us that their appeal to Fort Keogh for
assistance had been refused with a stinging rebuke; that a courier had
started the evening before down the river for Fort Buford, and that Mr.
Radcliff had personally gone to Fort Abraham Lincoln to solicit help.
The latter post was fully one hundred and fifty miles away, but
that distance could be easily covered by a special train in case of
government interference.

It rained on the afternoon of the 9th. The courier had returned from
Fort Buford on the north, unsuccessful, as had also Mr. Radcliff from
Fort Lincoln on the Missouri River to the eastward. The latter post had
referred the request to Keogh, and washed its hands of intermeddling in
a country not tributary to its territory. The last hope of interference
was gone, and the rigors of quarantine closed in like a siege with
every gun of the enemy spiked. Let it be a week or a month before the
quarantine was lifted, the citizens of Montana had so willed it, and
their wish was law. Evening fell, and the men drew round the fires. The
guards buttoned their coats as they rode away, and the tired ones drew
their blankets around them as they lay down to sleep. Scarcely a star
could be seen in the sky overhead, but before my partner or myself
sought our bed, a great calm had fallen, the stars were shining, and the
night had grown chilly.

The old buffalo hunters predicted a change in the weather, but beyond
that they were reticent. As Sponsilier and I lay down to sleep, we
agreed that if three days, even two days, were spared us, those cattle
in quarantine could never be tendered at Fort Buford on the appointed
day of delivery. But during the early hours of morning we were aroused
by the returning guards, one of whom halted his horse near our blankets
and shouted, "Hey, there, you Texans; get up--a frost has fallen!"

Sure enough, it had frosted during the night, and the quarantine was
lifted. When day broke, every twig and blade of grass glistened in
silver sheen, and the horses on picket stood humped and shivering. The
sun arose upon the herds moving, with no excuse to say them nay, and
orders were issued to the guards to break camp and disperse to their
homes. As we rode into Glendive that morning, sullen and defeated by
a power beyond our control, in speaking of the peculiarity of the
intervention, Sponsilier said: "Well, if it rains on the just and the
unjust alike, why shouldn't it frost the same."

Next: Fort Buford

Previous: In Quarantine

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 1267