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Opening The Campaign

From: The Outlet

"Well, gentlemen, if that is the best rate you can offer us, then we'll
drive the cattle. My boys have all been over the trail before, and your
figures are no inducement to ship as far as Red River. We are fully
aware of the nature of the country, but we can deliver the herds at
their destination for less than you ask us for shipping them one third
of the distance. No; we'll drive all the way."

The speaker was Don Lovell, a trail drover, and the parties addressed
were the general freight agents of three railroad lines operating in
Texas. A conference had been agreed upon, and we had come in by train
from the ranch in Medina County to attend the meeting in San Antonio.
The railroad representatives were shrewd, affable gentlemen, and
presented an array of facts hard to overcome. They were well aware of
the obstacles to be encountered in the arid, western portion of the
state, and magnified every possibility into a stern reality. Unrolling
a large state map upon the table, around which the principals were
sitting, the agent of the Denver and Fort Worth traced the trail from
Buffalo Gap to Doan's Crossing on Red River. Producing what was declared
to be a report of the immigration agent of his line, he showed by
statistics that whole counties through which the old trail ran had
recently been settled up by Scandinavian immigrants. The representative
of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas, when opportunity offered, enumerated
every disaster which had happened to any herd to the westward of his
line in the past five years. The factor of the International was equally
well posted.

"Now, Mr. Lovell," said he, dumping a bundle of papers on the table, "if
you will kindly glance over these documents, I think I can convince you
that it is only a question of a few years until all trail cattle will
ship the greater portion of the way. Here is a tabulated statement up to
and including the year '83. From twenty counties tributary to our line
and south of this city, you will notice that in '80 we practically
handled no cattle intended for the trail. Passing on to the next
season's drive, you see we secured a little over ten per cent. of the
cattle and nearly thirty per cent. of the horse stock. Last year, or for
'83, drovers took advantage of our low rates for Red River points, and
the percentage ran up to twenty-four and a fraction, or practically
speaking, one fourth of the total drive. We are able to offer the
same low rates this year, and all arrangements are completed with our
connecting lines to give live-stock trains carrying trail cattle a
passenger schedule. Now, if you care to look over this correspondence,
you will notice that we have inquiries which will tax our carrying
capacity to its utmost. The 'Laurel Leaf' and 'Running W' people alone
have asked for a rate on thirty thousand head."

But the drover brushed the correspondence aside, and asked for the
possible feed bills. A blanket rate had been given on the entire
shipment from that city, or any point south, to Wichita Falls, with one
rest and feed. Making a memorandum of the items, Lovell arose from the
table and came over to where Jim Flood and I were searching for Fort
Buford on a large wall map. We were both laboring under the impression
that it was in Montana, but after our employer pointed it out to us at
the mouth of the Yellowstone in Dakota, all three of us adjourned to
an ante-room. Flood was the best posted trail foreman in Don Lovell's
employ, and taking seats at the table, we soon reduced the proposed
shipping expense to a pro-rata sum per head. The result was not to
be considered, and on returning to the main office, our employer, as
already expressed, declined the proffered rate.

Then the freight men doubled on him, asking if he had taken into
consideration a saving in wages. In a two days' run they would lay down
the cattle farther on their way than we could possibly drive in six
weeks, even if the country was open, not to say anything about the wear
and tear of horseflesh. But Don Lovell had not been a trail drover for
nearly fifteen years without understanding his business as well as
the freight agents did theirs. After going over a large lot of other
important data, our employer arose to take his leave, when the agent
of the local line expressed a hope that Mr. Lovell would reconsider his
decision before spring opened, and send his drive a portion of the way
by rail.

"Well, I'm glad I met you, gentlemen," said the cowman at parting, "but
this is purely a business proposition, and you and I look at it from
different viewpoints. At the rate you offer, it will cost me one dollar
and seventy-five cents to lay a steer down on Red River. Hold on; mine
are all large beeves; and I must mount my men just the same as if they
trailed all the way. Saddle horses were worth nothing in the North last
year, and I kept mine and bought enough others around Dodge to make up
a thousand head, and sent them back over the trail to my ranch. Now, it
will take six carloads of horses for each herd, and I propose to charge
the freight on them against the cattle. I may have to winter my remudas
in the North, or drive them home again, and if I put two dollars a head
freight in them, they won't bring a cent more on that account. With the
cattle it's different; they are all under contract, but the horses must
be charged as general expense, and if nothing is realized out of them,
the herd must pay the fiddler. My largest delivery is a sub-contract for
Fort Buford, calling for five million pounds of beef on foot. It will
take three herds or ten thousand cattle to fill it. I was anxious to
give those Buford beeves an early start, and that was the main reason in
my consenting to this conference. I have three other earlier deliveries
at Indian agencies, but they are not as far north by several hundred
miles, and it's immaterial whether we ship or not. But the Buford
contract sets the day of delivery for September 15, and it's going to
take close figuring to make a cent. The main contractors are all right,
but I'm the one that's got to scratch his head and figure close and
see that there's no leakages. Your freight bill alone would be a nice
profit. It may cost us a little for water getting out of Texas, but
with the present outlet for cattle, it's bad policy to harass the herds.
Water is about the best crop some of those settlers along the trail have
to sell, and they ought to treat us right."

After the conference was over, we scattered about the city, on various
errands, expecting to take the night train home. It was then the middle
of February, and five of the six herds were already purchased. In spite
of the large numbers of cattle which the trail had absorbed in previous
years, there was still an abundance of all ages, anxious for a market.
The demand in the North had constantly been for young cattle, leaving
the matured steers at home. Had Mr. Lovell's contracts that year called
for forty thousand five and six year old beeves, instead of twenty,
there would have been the same inexhaustible supply from which to pick
and choose. But with only one herd yet to secure, and ample offerings on
every hand, there was no necessity for a hurry. Many of the herds driven
the year before found no sale, and were compelled to winter in the North
at the drover's risk. In the early spring of '84, there was a decided
lull over the enthusiasm of the two previous years, during the former
of which the trail afforded an outlet for nearly seven hundred thousand
Texas cattle.

In regard to horses we were well outfitted. During the summer of '83,
Don Lovell had driven four herds, two on Indian contract and two of
younger cattle on speculation. Of the latter, one was sold in Dodge for
delivery on the Purgatory River in southern Colorado, while the other
went to Ogalalla, and was disposed of and received at that point. In
both cases there was no chance to sell the saddle horses, and they
returned to Dodge and were sent to pasture down the river in the
settlements. My brother, Bob Quirk, had driven one of the other herds to
an agency in the Indian Territory. After making the delivery, early in
August, on his employer's orders, he had brought his remuda and outfit
into Dodge, the horses being also sent to pasture and the men home to
Texas. I had made the trip that year to the Pine Ridge Agency in Dakota
with thirty-five hundred beeves, under Flood as foreman. Don Lovell was
present at the delivery, and as there was no hope of effecting a sale of
the saddle stock among the Indians, after delivering the outfit at the
nearest railroad, I was given two men and the cook, and started back
over the trail for Dodge with the remuda. The wagon was a drawback, but
on reaching Ogalalla, an emigrant outfit offered me a fair price for the
mules and commissary, and I sold them. Lashing our rations and blankets
on two pack-horses, we turned our backs on the Platte and crossed the
Arkansaw at Dodge on the seventh day.

But instead of the remainder of the trip home by rail, as we fondly
expected, the programme had changed. Lovell and Flood had arrived in
Dodge some ten days before, and looking over the situation, had come to
the conclusion it was useless even to offer our remudas. As remnants
of that year's drive, there had concentrated in and around that market
something like ten thousand saddle horses. Many of these were from
central and north Texas, larger and better stock than ours, even though
care had been used in selecting the latter. So on their arrival, instead
of making any effort to dispose of our own, the drover and his foreman
had sized up the congested condition of the market, and turned buyers.
They had bought two whole remudas, and picked over five or six others
until their purchases amounted to over five hundred head. Consequently
on our reaching Dodge with the Pine Ridge horses, I was informed that
they were going to send all the saddle stock back over the trail to the
ranch and that I was to have charge of the herd. Had the trip been in
the spring and the other way, I certainly would have felt elated over my
promotion. Our beef herd that year had been put up in Dimmit County,
and from there to the Pine Ridge Agency and back to the ranch would
certainly be a summer's work to gratify an ordinary ambition.

In the mean time and before our arrival, Flood had brought up all the
stock and wagons from the settlement, and established a camp on Mulberry
Creek, south of Dodge on the trail. He had picked up two Texans who
were anxious to see their homes once more, and the next day at noon we
started. The herd numbered a thousand and sixty head, twenty of which
were work-mules. The commissary which was to accompany us was laden
principally with harness; and waving Flood farewell, we turned homeward,
leaving behind unsold of that year's drive only two wagons. Lovell had
instructed us never to ride the same horse twice, and wherever good
grass and water were encountered, to kill as much time as possible. My
employer was enthusiastic over the idea, and well he might be, for
a finer lot of saddle horses were not in the possession of any trail
drover, while those purchased in Dodge could have been resold in San
Antonio at a nice profit. Many of the horses had run idle several months
and were in fine condition. With the allowance of four men and a cook, a
draft-book for personal expenses, and over a thousand horses from which
to choose a mount, I felt like an embryo foreman, even if it was a back
track and the drag end of the season. Turning everything scot free
at night, we reached the ranch in old Medina in six weeks, actually
traveling about forty days.

But now, with the opening of the trail season almost at hand, the trials
of past years were forgotten in the enthusiasm of the present. I had a
distinct recollection of numerous resolves made on rainy nights, while
holding a drifting herd, that this was positively my last trip over the
trail. Now, however, after a winter of idleness, my worst fear was that
I might be left at home with the ranch work, and thus miss the season's
outing entirely. There were new charms in the Buford contract which
thrilled me,--its numerical requirements, the sight of the Yellowstone
again, and more, to be present at the largest delivery of the year to
the government. Rather than have missed the trip, I would have gladly
cooked or wrangled the horses for one of the outfits.

On separating, Lovell urged his foreman and myself to be at the depot in
good time to catch our train. That our employer's contracts for the year
would require financial assistance, both of us were fully aware. The
credit of Don Lovell was gilt edge, not that he was a wealthy cowman,
but the banks and moneyed men of the city recognized his business
ability. Nearly every year since he began driving cattle, assistance had
been extended him, but the promptness with which he had always met his
obligations made his patronage desirable.

Flood and I had a number of errands to look after for the boys on the
ranch and ourselves, and, like countrymen, reached the depot fully
an hour before the train was due. Not possessed of enough gumption to
inquire if the westbound was on time, we loitered around until some
other passengers informed us that it was late. Just as we were on the
point of starting back to town, Lovell drove up in a hack, and the three
of us paced the platform until the arrival of the belated train.

"Well, boys, everything looks serene," said our employer, when we had
walked to the farther end of the depot. "I can get all the money I need,
even if we shipped part way, which I don't intend to do. The banks admit
that cattle are a slow sale and a shade lower this spring, and are not
as free with their money as a year or two ago. My bankers detained me
over an hour until they could send for a customer who claimed to have a
very fine lot of beeves for sale in Lasalle County. That he is anxious
to sell there is no doubt, for he offered them to me on my own time, and
agrees to meet any one's prices. I half promised to come back next week
and go down with him to Lasalle and look his cattle over. If they show
up right, there will be no trouble in buying them, which will complete
our purchases. It is my intention, Jim, to give you the herd to fill
our earliest delivery. Our next two occur so near together that you will
have to represent me at one of them. The Buford cattle, being the last
by a few weeks, we will both go up there and see it over with. There are
about half a dozen trail foremen anxious for the two other herds, and
while they are good men, I don't know of any good reason for not pushing
my own boys forward. I have already decided to give Dave Sponsilier and
Quince Forrest two of the Buford herds, and I reckon, Tom, the last one
will fall to you."

The darkness in which we were standing shielded my egotism from public
view. But I am conscious that I threw out my brisket several inches
and stood straight on my bow-legs as I thanked old man Don for the
foremanship of his sixth herd. Flood was amused, and told me afterward
that my language was extravagant. There is an old superstition that if
a man ever drinks out of the Rio Grande, it matters not where he roams
afterward, he is certain to come back to her banks again. I had watered
my horse in the Yellowstone in '82, and ever afterward felt an itching
to see her again. And here the opportunity opened before me, not as a
common cow-hand, but as a trail boss and one of three in filling a five
million pound government beef contract! But it was dark and I was afoot,
and if I was a trifle "chesty," there had suddenly come new colorings to
my narrow world.

On the arrival of the train, several other westward-bound cowmen boarded
it. We all took seats in the smoker, it being but a two hours' run to
our destination. Flood and I were sitting well forward in the car, the
former almost as elated over my good fortune as myself. "Well, won't old
Quince be all puffed up," said Jim to me, "when the old man tells him
he's to have a herd. Now, I've never said a word in favor of either
one of you. Of course, when Mr. Lovell asked me if I knew certain trail
foremen who were liable to be idle this year, I intimated that he had
plenty of material in his employ to make a few of his own. The old man
may be a trifle slow on reaching a decision, but once he makes up his
mind, he's there till the cows come home. Now, all you and Quince need
to do is to make good, for you couldn't ask for a better man behind you.
In making up your outfit, you want to know every man you hire, and give
a preference to gray hairs, for they're not so liable to admire their
shadow in sunny or get homesick in falling weather. Tom, where you made
a ten-strike with the old man was in accepting that horse herd at Dodge
last fall. Had you made a whine or whimper then, the chances are you
wouldn't be bossing a herd this year. Lovell is a cowman who likes to
see a fellow take his medicine with a smile."

Next: Organizing The Forces

Previous: Padre Ignazio

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