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The Cattle Rustlers

From: Arizona Nights

Dawn broke, so we descended through wet grasses to the canon. There,
after some difficulty, we managed to start a fire, and so ate
breakfast, the rain still pouring down on us. About nine o'clock, with
miraculous suddenness, the torrent stopped. It began to turn cold.
The Cattleman and I decided to climb to the top of the butte after
meat, which we entirely lacked.

It was rather a stiff ascent, but once above the sheer cliffs we found
ourselves on a rolling meadow tableland a half-mile broad by, perhaps,
a mile and a half in length. Grass grew high; here and there were
small live oaks planted park-like; slight and rounded ravines
accommodated brooklets. As we walked back, the edges blended in the
edges of the mesa across the canon. The deep gorges, which had
heretofore seemed the most prominent elements of the scenery, were
lost. We stood, apparently, in the middle of a wide and undulating
plain, diversified by little ridges, and running with a free sweep to
the very foot of the snowy Galiuros. It seemed as though we should be
able to ride horseback in almost any given direction. Yet we knew that
ten minutes' walk would take us to the brink of most stupendous
chasms--so deep that the water flowing in them hardly seemed to move;
so rugged that only with the greatest difficulty could a horseman make
his way through the country at all; and yet so ancient that the bottoms
supported forests, rich grasses, and rounded, gentle knolls. It was a
most astonishing set of double impressions.

We succeeded in killing a nice, fat white-tail buck, and so returned to
camp happy. The rain, held off. We dug ditches, organised shelters,
cooked a warm meal. For the next day we planned a bear hunt afoot, far
up a manzanita canon where Uncle Jim knew of some "holing up" caves.

But when we awoke in the morning we threw aside our coverings with some
difficulty to look on a ground covered with snow; trees laden almost to
the breaking point with snow, and the air filled with it.

"No bear today" said the Cattleman.

"No," agreed Uncle Jim drily. "No b'ar. And what's more, unless yo're
aimin' to stop here somewhat of a spell, we'll have to make out to-day."

We cooked with freezing fingers, ate while dodging avalanches from the
trees, and packed reluctantly. The ropes were frozen, the hobbles
stiff, everything either crackling or wet. Finally the task was
finished. We took a last warming of the fingers and climbed on.

The country was wonderfully beautiful with the white not yet shaken
from the trees and rock ledges. Also it was wonderfully slippery. The
snow was soft enough to ball under the horses' hoofs, so that most of
the time the poor animals skated and stumbled along on stilts. Thus we
made our way back over ground which, naked of these difficulties, we
had considered bad enough.

Imagine riding along a slant of rock shelving off to a bad tumble, so
steep that your pony has to do more or less expert ankle work to keep
from slipping off sideways. During the passage of that rock you are
apt to sit very light. Now cover it with several inches of snow, stick
a snowball on each hoof of your mount, and try again. When you have
ridden it--or its duplicate--a few score of times, select a steep
mountain side, cover it with round rocks the size of your head, and
over that spread a concealing blanket of the same sticky snow. You are
privileged to vary these to the limits of your imagination.

Once across the divide, we ran into a new sort of trouble. You may
remember that on our journey over we had been forced to travel for some
distance in a narrow stream-bed. During our passage we had scrambled
up some rather steep and rough slopes, and hopped up some fairly high
ledges. Now we found the heretofore dry bed flowing a good eight
inches deep. The steep slopes had become cascades; the ledges,
waterfalls. When we came to them, we had to "shoot the rapids" as best
we could, only to land with a PLUNK in an indeterminately deep pool at
the bottom. Some of the pack horses went down, sousing again our
unfortunate bedding, but by the grace of fortune not a saddle pony lost
his feet.

After a time the gorge widened. We came out into the box canon with
its trees. Here the water spread and shoaled to a depth of only two or
three inches. We splashed along gaily enough, for, with the exception
of an occasional quicksand or boggy spot, our troubles were over.

Jed Parker and I happened to ride side by side, bringing up the rear
and seeing to it that the pack animals did not stray or linger. As we
passed the first of the rustlers' corrals, he called my attention to

"Go take a look," said he. "We only got those fellows out of here two
years ago."

I rode over. At this point the rim-rock broke to admit the ingress of
a ravine into the main canon. Riding a short distance up the ravine, I
could see that it ended abruptly in a perpendicular cliff. As the
sides also were precipitous, it became necessary only to build a fence
across the entrance into the main canon to become possessed of a corral
completely closed in. Remembering the absolute invisibility of these
sunken canons until the rider is almost directly over them, and also
the extreme roughness and remoteness of the district, I could see that
the spot was admirably adapted to concealment.

"There's quite a yarn about the gang that held this hole," said Jed
Parker to me, when I had ridden back to him "I'll tell you about it

We climbed the hill, descended on the Double R, built a fire in the
stove, dried out, and were happy. After a square meal--and a dry
one--I reminded Jed Parker of his promise, and so, sitting cross-legged
on his "so-gun" in the middle of the floor, he told us the following

There's a good deal of romance been written about the "bad man," and
there's about the same amount of nonsense. The bad man is justa plain
murderer, neither more nor less. He never does get into a real, good,
plain, stand-up gunfight if he can possibly help it. His killin's are
done from behind a door, or when he's got his man dead to rights.
There's Sam Cook. You've all heard of him. He had nerve, of course,
and when he was backed into a corner he made good; he was sure sudden
death with a gun. But when he went for a man deliberate, he didn't
take no special chances. For a while he was marshal at Willets.
Pretty soon it was noted that there was a heap of cases of resisting
arrest, where Sam as marshal had to shoot, and that those cases almost
always happened to be his personal enemies. Of course, that might be
all right, but it looked suspicious. Then one day he killed poor old
Max Schmidt out behind his own saloon. Called him out and shot him in
the stomach. Said Max resisted arrest on a warrant for keepin' open
out of hours! That was a sweet warrant to take out in Willets, anyway!
Mrs. Schmidt always claimed that she saw that deal played, and that,
while they were talkin' perfectly peacable, Cook let drive from the hip
at about two yards' range. Anyway, we decided we needed another
marshal. Nothin' else was ever done, for the Vigilantes hadn't been
formed, and your individual and decent citizen doesn't care to be
marked by a gun of that stripe. Leastwise, unless he wants to go in
for bad-man methods and do a little ambusheein' on his own account.

The point is, that these yere bad men are a low-down, miserable
proposition, and plain, cold-blood murderers, willin' to wait for a
sure thing, and without no compunctions whatsoever. The bad man takes
you unawares, when you're sleepin', or talkin', or drinkin', or lookin'
to see what for a day it's goin' to be, anyway. He don't give you no
show, and sooner or later he's goin' to get you in the safest and
easiest way for himself. There ain't no romance about that.

And, until you've seen a few men called out of their shacks for a
friendly conversation, and shot when they happen to look away; or asked
for a drink of water, and killed when they stoop to the spring; or
potted from behind as they go into a room, it's pretty hard to believe
that any man can be so plumb lackin' in fair play or pity or just
natural humanity.

As you boys know, I come in from Texas to Buck Johnson's about ten year
back. I had a pretty good mount of ponies that I knew, and I hated to
let them go at prices they were offerin' then, so I made up my mind to
ride across and bring them in with me. It wasn't so awful far, and I
figured that I'd like to take in what New Mexico looked like anyway.

About down by Albuquerque I tracked up with another outfit headed my
way. There was five of them, three men, and a woman, and a yearlin'
baby. They had a dozen hosses, and that was about all I could see.
There was only two packed, and no wagon. I suppose the whole
outfit--pots, pans, and kettles--was worth five dollars. It was just
supper when I run across them, and it didn't take more'n one look to
discover that flour, coffee, sugar, and salt was all they carried. A
yearlin' carcass, half-skinned, lay near, and the fry-pan was, full of

"Howdy, strangers," says I, ridin' up.

They nodded a little, but didn't say nothin'. My hosses fell to
grazin', and I eased myself around in my saddle, and made a cigareet.
The men was tall, lank fellows, with kind of sullen faces, and sly,
shifty eyes; the woman was dirty and generally mussed up. I knowed
that sort all right. Texas was gettin' too many fences for them.

"Havin' supper?" says I, cheerful.

One of 'em grunted "Yes" at me; and, after a while, the biggest asked
me very grudgin' if I wouldn't light and eat, I told them "No," that I
was travellin' in the cool of the evenin'.

"You seem to have more meat than you need, though," says I. "I could
use a little of that."

"Help yourself," says they. "It's a maverick we come across."

I took a steak, and noted that the hide had been mighty well cut to
ribbons around the flanks and that the head was gone.

"Well," says I to the carcass, "No one's going to be able to swear
whether you're a maverick or not, but I bet you knew the feel of a
brandin' iron all right."

I gave them a thank-you, and climbed on again. My hosses acted some
surprised at bein' gathered up again, but I couldn't help that.

"It looks like a plumb imposition, cavallos," says I to them, "after an
all-day, but you sure don't want to join that outfit any more than I do
the angels, and if we camp here we're likely to do both."

I didn't see them any more after that until I'd hit the Lazy Y, and had
started in runnin' cattle in the Soda Springs Valley. Larry Eagen and
I rode together those days, and that's how I got to know him pretty
well. One day, over in the Elm Flat, we ran smack on this Texas outfit
again, headed north. This time I was on my own range, and I knew where
I stood, so I could show a little more curiosity in the case.

"Well, you got this far," says I.

"Yes," says they.

"Where you headed?"

"Over towards the hills."

"What to do?"

"Make a ranch, raise some truck; perhaps buy a few cows."

They went on.

"Truck" says I to Larry, "is fine prospects in this country."

He sat on his horse looking after them.

"I'm sorry for them" says he. "It must he almighty hard scratchin'."

Well, we rode the range for upwards of two year. In that time we saw
our Texas friends--name of Hahn--two or three times in Willets, and
heard of them off and on. They bought an old brand of Steve McWilliams
for seventy-five dollars, carryin' six or eight head of cows. After
that, from time to time, we heard of them buying more--two or three
head from one man, and two or three from another. They branded them
all with that McWilliams iron--T 0--so, pretty soon, we began to see
the cattle on the range.

Now, a good cattleman knows cattle just as well as you know people, and
he can tell them about as far off. Horned critters look alike to you,
but even in a country supportin' a good many thousand head, a man used
to the business can recognise most every individual as far as he can
see him. Some is better than others at it. I suppose you really have
to be brought up to it. So we boys at the Lazy Y noted all the cattle
with the new T 0, and could estimate pretty close that the Hahn outfit
might own, maybe, thirty-five head all told.

That was all very well, and nobody had any kick comin'. Then one day
in the spring, we came across our first "sleeper."

What's a sleeper? A sleeper is a calf that has been ear-marked, but
not branded. Every owner has a certain brand, as you know, and then he
crops and slits the ears in a certain way, too. In that manner he
don't have to look at the brand, except to corroborate the ears; and,
as the critter generally sticks his ears up inquirin'-like to anyone
ridin' up, it's easy to know the brand without lookin' at it, merely
from the ear-marks. Once in a great while, when a man comes across an
unbranded calf, and it ain't handy to build a fire, he just ear-marks
it and let's the brandin' go till later. But it isn't done often, and
our outfit had strict orders never to make sleepers.

Well, one day in the spring, as I say, Larry and me was ridin', when we
came across a Lazy Y cow and calf. The little fellow was ear-marked
all right, so we rode on, and never would have discovered nothin' if a
bush rabbit hadn't jumped and scared the calf right across in front of
our hosses. Then we couldn't help but see that there wasn't no brand.

Of course we roped him and put the iron on him. I took the chance to
look at his ears, and saw that the marking had been done quite recent,
so when we got in that night I reported to Buck Johnson that one of the
punchers was gettin' lazy and sleeperin'. Naturally he went after the
man who had done it; but every puncher swore up and down, and back and
across, that he'd branded every calf he'd had a rope on that spring.
We put it down that someone was lyin', and let it go at that.

And then, about a week later, one of the other boys reported a
Triangle-H sleeper. The Triangle-H was the Goodrich brand, so we
didn't have nothin' to do with that. Some of them might be sleeperin'
for all we knew. Three other cases of the same kind we happened across
that same spring.

So far, so good. Sleepers runnin' in such numbers was a little
astonishin', but nothin' suspicious. Cattle did well that summer, and
when we come to round up in the fall, we cut out maybe a dozen of those
T 0 cattle that had strayed out of that Hahn country. Of the dozen
there was five grown cows, and seven yearlin's.

"My Lord, Jed," says Buck to me, "they's a heap of these youngsters
comin' over our way."

But still, as a young critter is more apt to stray than an old one
that's got his range established, we didn't lay no great store by that
neither. The Hahns took their bunch, and that's all there was to it.

Next spring, though, we found a few more sleepers, and one day we came
on a cow that had gone dead lame. That was usual, too, but Buck, who
was with me, had somethin' on his mind. Finally he turned back and
roped her, and threw her.

"Look here, Jed," says he, "what do you make of this?"

I could see where the hind legs below the hocks had been burned.

"Looks like somebody had roped her by the hind feet," says I.

"Might be," says he, "but her heels lame that way makes it look more
like hobbles."

So we didn't say nothin' more about that neither, until just by luck we
came on another lame cow. We threw her, too.

"Well, what do you think of this one?" Buck Johnson asks me.

"The feet is pretty well tore up," says I, "and down to the quick, but
I've seen them tore up just as bad on the rocks when they come down out
of the mountains."

You sabe what that meant, don't you? You see, a rustler will take a
cow and hobble her, or lame her so she can't follow, and then he'll
take her calf a long ways off and brand it with his iron. Of course,
if we was to see a calf of one brand followin' of a cow with another,
it would be just too easy to guess what had happened.

We rode on mighty thoughtful. There couldn't be much doubt that cattle
rustlers was at work. The sleepers they had ear-marked, hopin' that no
one would discover the lack of a brand. Then, after the calf was
weaned, and quit followin' of his mother, the rustler would brand it
with his own iron, and change its ear-mark to match. It made a nice,
easy way of gettin' together a bunch of cattle cheap.

But it was pretty hard to guess off-hand who the rustlers might be.
There were a lot of renegades down towards the Mexican line who made a
raid once in a while, and a few oilers [2] livin' near had water holes
in the foothills, and any amount of little cattle holders, like this T
0 outfit, and any of them wouldn't shy very hard at a little sleeperin'
on the side. Buck Johnson told us all to watch out, and passed the
word quiet among the big owners to try and see whose cattle seemed to
have too many calves for the number of cows.

The Texas outfit I'm tellin' you about had settled up above in this
Double R canon where I showed you those natural corrals this morning.
They'd built them a 'dobe, and cleared some land, and planted a few
trees, and made an irrigated patch for alfalfa. Nobody never rode over
this way very much, 'cause the country was most too rough for cattle,
and our ranges lay farther to the southward. Now, however, we began to
extend our ridin' a little.

I was down towards Dos Cabesas to look over the cattle there, and they
used to send Larry up into the Double R country. One evenin' he took
me to one side.

"Look here, Jed," says he, "I know you pretty well, and I'm not ashamed
to say that I'm all new at this cattle business--in fact, I haven't
been at it more'n a year. What should be the proportion of cows to
calves anyhow?"

"There ought to be about twice as many cows as there're calves," I
tells him.

"Then, with only about fifty head of grown cows, there ought not to be
an equal number of yearlin's?"

"I should say not," says I. "What are you drivin' at?"

"Nothin' yet," says he.

A few days later he tackled me again.

"Jed," says he, "I'm not good, like you fellows are, at knowin' one cow
from another, but there's a calf down there branded T 0 that I'd pretty
near swear I saw with an X Y cow last month. I wish you could come
down with me."

We got that fixed easy enough, and for the next month rammed around
through this broken country lookin' for evidence. I saw enough to
satisfy me to a moral certainty, but nothin' for a sheriff; and, of
course, we couldn't go shoot up a peaceful rancher on mere suspicion.
Finally, one day, we run on a four-months' calf all by himself, with
the T 0 iron onto him--a mighty healthy lookin' calf, too.

"Wonder where HIS mother is!" says I.

"Maybe it's a 'dogie,'" says Larry Eagen--we calls calves whose mothers
have died "dogies."

"No," says I, "I don't hardly think so. A dogie is always under size
and poor, and he's layin' around water holes, and he always has a big,
sway belly onto him. No, this is no dogie; and, if it's an honest
calf, there sure ought to be a T 0 cow around somewhere."

So we separated to have a good look. Larry rode up on the edge of a
little rimrock. In a minute I saw his hoss jump back, dodgin' a
rattlesnake or somethin', and then fall back out of sight. I jumped my
hoss up there tur'ble quick, and looked over, expectin' to see nothin'
but mangled remains. It was only about fifteen foot down, but I
couldn't see bottom 'count of some brush.

"Are you all right?" I yells.

"Yes, yes!" cries Larry, "but for the love of God, get down here as
quick as you can."

I hopped off my hoss and scrambled down somehow.

"Hurt?" says I, as soon as I lit.

"Not a bit--look here."

There was a dead cow with the Lazy Y on her flank.

"And a bullet-hole in her forehead," adds Larry. "And, look here, that
T 0 calf was bald-faced, and so was this cow."

"Reckon we found our sleepers," says I.

So, there we was. Larry had to lead his cavallo down the barranca to
the main canon. I followed along on the rim, waitin' until a place
gave me a chance to get down, too, or Larry a chance to get up. We
were talkin' back and forth when, all at once, Larry shouted again.

"Big game this time," he yells. "Here's a cave and a mountain lion
squallin' in it."

I slid down to him at once, and we drew our six-shooters and went up to
the cave openin', right under the rim-rock. There, sure enough, were
fresh lion tracks, and we could hear a little faint cryin' like woman.

"First chance," claims Larry, and dropped to his hands and knees at the

"Well, damn me!" he cries, and crawls in at once, payin' no attention
to me tellin' him to be more cautious. In a minute he backs out,
carryin' a three-year-old goat.

"We seem to be in for adventures to-day," says he. "Now, where do you
suppose that came from, and how did it get here?"

"Well," says I, "I've followed lion tracks where they've carried
yearlin's across their backs like a fox does a goose. They're tur'ble

"But where did she come from?" he wonders.

"As for that," says I, "don't you remember now that T 0 outfit had a
yearlin' kid when it came into the country?"

"That's right," says he. "It's only a mile down the canon. I'll take
it home. They must be most distracted about it."

So I scratched up to the top where my pony was waitin'. It was a
tur'ble hard climb, and I 'most had to have hooks on my eyebrows to get
up at all. It's easier to slide down than to climb back. I dropped my
gun out of my holster, and she went way to the bottom, but I wouldn't
have gone back for six guns. Larry picked it up for me.

So we went along, me on the rim-rock and around the barrancas, and
Larry in the bottom carryin' of the kid.

By and by we came to the ranch house, stopped to wait. The minute
Larry hove in sight everybody was out to once, and in two winks the
woman had that baby. They didn't see me at all, but I could hear, plain
enough, what they said. Larry told how he had found her in the cave,
and all about the lion tracks, and the woman cried and held the kid
close to her, and thanked him about forty times. Then when she'd wore
the edge off a little, she took the kid inside to feed it or somethin'.

"Well," says Larry, still laughin', "I must hit the trail."

"You say you found her up the Double R?" asks Hahn. "Was it that cave
near the three cottonwoods?"

"Yes," says Larry.

"Where'd you get into the canyon?"

"Oh, my hoss slipped off into the barranca just above."

"The barranca just above," repeats Hahn, lookin' straight at him.

Larry took one step back.

"You ought to be almighty glad I got into the canyon at all," says he.

Hahn stepped up, holdin' out his hand.

"That's right," says he. "You done us a good turn there."

Larry took his hand. At the same time Hahn pulled his gun and shot him
through the middle.

It was all so sudden and unexpected that I stood there paralysed.

Larry fell forward the way a man mostly will when he's hit in the
stomach, but somehow he jerked loose a gun and got it off twice. He
didn't hit nothin', and I reckon he was dead before he hit the ground.
And there he had my gun, and I was about as useless as a pocket in a

No, sir, you can talk as much as you please, but the killer is a
low-down ornery scub, and he don't hesitate at no treachery or
ingratitude to keep his carcass safe.

Jed Parker ceased talking. The dusk had fallen in the little room, and
dimly could be seen the recumbent figures lying at ease on their
blankets. The ranch foreman was sitting bolt upright, cross-legged. A
faint glow from his pipe barely distinguished his features.

"What became of the rustlers?" I asked him.

"Well, sir, that is the queer part. Hahn himself, who had done the
killin', skipped out. We got out warrants, of course, but they never
got served. He was a sort of half outlaw from that time, and was
killed finally in the train hold-up of '97. But the others we tried
for rustling. We didn't have much of a case, as the law went then, and
they'd have gone free if the woman hadn't turned evidence against them.
The killin' was too much for her. And, as the precedent held good in a
lot of other rustlin' cases, Larry's death was really the beginnin' of
law and order in the cattle business."

We smoked. The last light suddenly showed red against the grimy
window. Windy Bill arose and looked out the door.

"Boys," said he, returning. "She's cleared off. We can get back to the
ranch tomorrow."

[2] "Oilers"--Greasers--Mexicans.

Next: The Drive

Previous: The Remittance Man

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