The Happy Family Turn Nesters
From: The Flying U's Last Stand
"Say, Andy, where's them dry-farmers?" Big Medicine inquired at the top
of his voice when the Happy Family had reached the biscuit-and-syrup
stage of supper that evening.
"Oh, they're trying to make up their minds whether to bring the old
fannin'-mill along or sell it and buy new when they get here," Andy
informed him imperturbably. "The women-folks are busy going through
their rag bags, cutting the buttons off all the pants that ain't worth
patching no more, and getting father's socks all darned up."
The Happy Family snickered appreciatively; this was more like the Andy
Green with whom they were accustomed to deal.
"What's daughter doin', about now?" asked Cal Emmett, fixing his round,
baby-blue stare upon Andy.
"Daughter? Why, daughter's leaning over the gate telling him she
wouldn't never LOOK at one of them wild cowboys--the idea! She's
heard all about 'em, and they're too rough and rude for HER. And she's
promising to write every day, and giving him a lock of hair to keep in
the back of his dollar watch. Pass the cane Juice, somebody."
"Yeah--all right for daughter. If she's a good looker we'll see if she
don't change her verdict about cowboys."
"Who will? You don't call yourself one, do yuh?" Pink flung at him
"Well, that depends; I know I ain't any LADY broncho--hey, cut it out!"
This last because of half a biscuit aimed accurately at the middle of
his face. If you want to know why, search out the history of a
certain War Bonnet Roundup, wherein Pink rashly impersonated a lady
"Wher'e they going to live when they git here?" asked Happy Jack,
reverting to the subject of dry farmers.
"Close enough so you can holler from here to their back door, my boy--if
they have their say about it," Andy assured him cheerfully. Andy felt
that he could afford to be facetious now that he had Chip and Weary on
"Aw, gwan! I betche there ain't a word of truth in all that scarey
talk," Happy Jack fleered heavily.
"Name your bet. I'll take it." Andy filled his mouth with hot biscuit
and stirred up the sugar in his coffee like a man who is occupied
chiefly with the joys of the table.
"Aw, you ain't going to git me that way agin," Happy Jack declared.
"They's some ketch to it."
"There sure is, Happy. The biggest ketch you ever seen in your life.
It's ketch the Flying U outfit and squeeze the life out of it;
that's the ketch." Andy's tone had in it no banter, but considerable
earnestness. For, though Chip would no doubt convince the boys that the
danger was very real, there was a small matter of personal pride to urge
Andy into trying to convince, them himself, without aid from Chip or any
"Well, by golly, I'd like to see anybody try that there scheme," blurted
Slim. "That's all--I'd just like to see 'em TRY it once!"
"Oh, you'll see it, all right--and you won't have to wait long, either.
Just set around on your haunches a couple of weeks or so. That's all
you'll have to do, Slim; you'll see it tried, fast enough."
Pink eyed him with a wide, purple glance. "You'd like to make us fall
for that, wouldn't you?" he challenged warily.
Andy gave him a level look. "No, I wouldn't. I'd like to put one over
on you smart gazabos that think you know it all; but I don't want to
bad enough to see the Flying U go outa business just so I could holler
didn't-I-tell-you. There's a limit to what I'll pay for a josh."
"Well," put in the Native Son with his easy drawl, "I'm coming to the
centre with my ante, just for the sake of seeing the cards turned. Deal
'em out, amigo; state your case once more, so we can take a good, square
look at these dry-farmers."
"Yeah--go ahead and tell us what's bustin' the buttons off your vest,"
Cal Emmett invited.
"What's the use?" Andy argued. "You'd all just raise up on your hind
legs and holler your heads off. You wouldn't DO anything about it--not
if you knew it was the truth!" This, of course, was pure guile upon his
"Oh, wouldn't we? I guess, by golly, we'd do as much for the outfit as
what you would--and a hull lot more if it come to a show-down." Slim
swallowed the bait.
"Maybe you would, if you could take it out in talking," snorted Andy.
"My chips are in. I've got three-hundred-and-twenty acres picked out, up
here, and I'm going to file on 'em before these damned nesters get off
the train. Uh course, that won't be more'n a flea bite--but I can make
it interesting for my next door neighbors, anyway; and every flea bite
helps to keep a dog moving, yuh know."
"I'll go along and use my rights," Weary offered suddenly and seriously.
"That'll make one section they won't get, anyway."
Pink gave him a startled look across the table. "You ain't going to grab
it, are yuh?" he demanded disappointedly.
"I sure am--if it's three-hundred-and-twenty acres of land you mean. If
I don't, somebody else will." He sighed humorously. "Next summer you'll
see me hoeing spuds, most likely--if the law says I GOT to."
"Haw-haw-haw-w!" laughed Big Medicine suddenly. "It'd sure be worth the
price, jest to ride up and watch you two marks down on all fours weedin'
onions." He laughed again with his big, bull-like bellow.
"We don't have to do anything like that if we don't want to," put in
Andy Green calmly. "I've been reading up on the law. There's one little
joker in it I've got by heart. It says that homestead land can be used
for grazing purposes if it's more valuable for pasture than for crops,
and that actual grazing will be accepted instead of cultivation--if it
is grazing land. So--"
"I betche you can't prove that," Happy lack interrupted him. "I never
heard of that before--"
"The world's plumb full of things you never heard of, Happy," Andy told
him witheringly. "I gave Chip my copy of the homestead laws, and a plat
of the land up here; soon as he hands 'em back I can show you in cold
print where it says that very identical thing.
"That's what makes it look good to me, just on general principles," he
went on, his honest, gray eyes taking in the circle of attentive faces.
"If the bunch of us could pool our interests and use what rights we got,
we can corral about four thousand acres--and we can head off outsiders
from grazing in the Badlands, if we take our land right. We've been
overlooking a bet, and don't you forget it. We've been fooling around,
just putting in our time and drawing wages, when we could be owning our
own grazing land by now and shipping our own cattle, if we had enough
sense to last us overnight.
"A-course, I ain't crazy about turning nester, myself--but we've let
things slide till we've got to come through or get outa the game. It's
a fact, boys, about them dry-farmers coming in on us. That Minneapolis
bunch that the blonde lady works for is sending out a colony of farmers
to take up this land between here and the Bear Paws. The lady tipped her
hand, not knowing where I ranged and thinking I wouldn't be interested
in anything but her. She's a real nice lady, too, and goodlooking--but
a grafter to her last eye winker. And she hit too close home to suit me,
when she named the place where they're going to dump their colony."
"Where does the graft come in?" inquired Pink cautiously. "The farmers
get the land, don't they?"
"Sure, they get the land. And they pungle up a good-sized fee to
Florence Grace Hallman and her outfit, for locating 'em. Also there's
side money in it, near as I can find out. They skin the farmers somehow
on the fare out here. That's their business, according to the lady. They
prowl around through the government plats till they spot a few thousand
acres of land in a chunk; they take a look at it, maybe, and then they
boom it like hell, and get them eastern marks hooked--them with money,
the lady said. Then they ship a bunch out here, locate 'em on the land
and leave it up to THEM, whether they scratch a living or not. She said
they urge the rubes to bring all the stock they can, because there's
plenty of range left. She says they play that up big. You can see for
yourself how that'll work out, around here!"
Pink eyed him attentively, and suddenly his dimples stood deep. "All
right, I'm It," he surrendered.
"It'd be a sin not to fall for a yarn like that, Andy. I expect you made
it all up outa your own head, but that's all right. It's a pleasure to
be fooled by a genius like you. I'll go raising turnips and cabbages
"By golly, you couldn't raise nothing but hell up on that dry bench,"
Slim observed ponderously. "There ain't any water. What's the use uh
"They're going to tackle it, just the same," Andy pointed out patiently.
"Well, by golly, if you ain't just lyin' to hear yourself, that there
graftin' bunch had oughta be strung up!"
"Sure, they had. Nobody's going to argue about that. But seeing we can't
do that, the next best thing is to beat them to it. If they came out
here with their herd of pilgrims and found the land all took up--" Andy
smiled hypnotically upon the goggling group.
"Haw-haw-haw-w!" bawled Big Medicine. "It'd be wuth it, by cripes!"
"Yeah--it would, all right. If that talk Andy's been giving us is
straight, about grazing the land instead uh working it--"
"You can mighty quick find out," Andy retorted. "Go up and ask Chip
for them land laws, and that plat. And ask him what he thinks about the
deal. You don't have to take my word for it." Andy grinned virtuously
and pushed back his chair. From their faces, and the remarks they had
made, he felt very confident of the ultimate decision. "What about you,
Patsy?" he asked suddenly, turning to the bulky, bald German cook who
was thumping bread dough in a far corner. "You got any homestead or
desert rights you ain't used?"
"Py cosh, I got all der rights dere iss," Patsy returned querulously.
"I got more rights as you shmartys. I got soldier's rights mit fightin'.
Und py cosh, I use him too if dem fellers coom by us mit der dry farms
"Well, you son-of-a-gun!" Andy smote him elatedly upon a fat shoulder.
"What do you know about old Patsy for a dead game sport? By gracious,
that makes another three hundred and twenty to the good. Gee, it's lucky
this bunch has gone along turning up their noses at nesters and thinkin'
they couldn't be real punchers and hold down claims too. If any of us
had had sense enough to grab a piece of land and settle down to raise
families, we'd be right up against it now. We'd have to set back and
watch a bunch of down-east rubes light down on us like flies on spilt
molasses, and we couldn't do a thing."
"As it is, we'll all turn nesters for the good of the cause!" finished
Pink somewhat cynically, getting up and following Cal and Slim to the
"Aw, I betche they's some ketch to it!" gloomed Happy Jack. "I betche
Andy jest wants to see us takin' up claims on that dry bench, and then
set back and laugh at us fer bitin' on his josh."
"Well, you'll have the claims, won't you. And if you hang onto them
there'll be money in the deal some day. Why, darn your bomb-proof skull,
can't you get it into your system that all this country's bound to
settle up?" Andy's eyes snapped angrily. "Can't you see the difference
between us owning the land between here and the mountains, and a bunch
of outsiders that'll cut it all up into little fields and try to farm
it. If you can't see that, you better go hack a hole in your head with
an axe, so an idea can squeeze in now and then when you ain't looking!"
"Well, I betche there ain't no colony comin' to settle that there
bench," Happy Jack persisted stubbornly.
"Yes there is, by cripes!" trumpeted Big Medicine behind him. "Yes there
is! And that there colony is goin' to be us, and don't you forget it.
It's time I was doin' somethin' fer that there boy uh mine, by cripes!
And soon as we git that fence strung I'm goin' to hit the trail fer the
nearest land office. Honest to grandma, if Andy's lyin' it's goin' to be
the prof't'blest lie HE ever told, er anybody else. I don't care a cuss
about whether them dry-farmers is fixin' to light here or not. That
there land-pool looks good to ME, and I'm comin' in on it with all four
Big Medicine was nothing less than a human land slide when once he threw
himself into anything, be it a fight or a frolic. Now he blocked the
way to the door with his broad shoulders and his big bellow and his
enthusiasm, and his pale, frog-like eyes fixed their protruding stare
accusingly upon the reluctant ones.
"Cal, you git up there and git that plat and bring it here," he ordered.
"And fer criminy sakes git that table cleared off, Patsy, so's't we kin
have a place to lay it! What's eatin' on you fellers, standin' around
like girls to a party, waitin' fer somebody to come up and ast you to
dance! Ain't you got head enough to see what a cinch we got, if we only
got sense enough to play it! Honest to grandma you make me sick to look
at yuh! Down in Conconino County the boys wouldn't stand back and wait
to be purty-pleased into a thing like this. You're so scared Andy's got
a josh covered up somewheres, you wouldn't take a drink uh whisky if he
ast yuh up to the bar! You'd pass up a Chris'mas turkey, by cripes, if
yuh seen Andy washin' his face and lookin' hungry! You'd--"
What further reproach he would have heaped upon them was interrupted by
Chip, who opened the door just then and bumped Big Medicine in the back.
In his hand Chip carried the land plat and the pamphlets, and in his
keen, brown eyes he carried the light of battle for his outfit. The eyes
of Andy Green sent bright glances from him to Big Medicine, and on
to the others. He was too wise then to twit those others with their
unbelief. His wisdom went farther than that; for he remained very
much in the background of the conversation and contented himself with
answering, briefly and truthfully, the questions they put to him about
Florence Grace Hallman and the things she had so foolishly divulged
concerning her plans.
Chip spread the plat upon an end of the table hastily and effectually
cleared by a sweep of Big Medicine's arm, and the Happy Family crowded
close to stare down at the checker-board picture of their own familiar
bench land. They did not doubt, now--nor did they Hang back reluctantly.
Instead they followed eagerly the trail Chip's cigarette-yellowed finger
took across the map, and they listened intently to what he said about
The clause about grazing the land, he said, simplified matters a whole
lot. It was a cinch you couldn't turn loose and dry-farm that land and
have even a fair chance of reaping a harvest. But as grazing land they
could hold all the land along One Man Creek--and that was a lot. And the
land lying back of that, and higher up toward the foothills, they
could take as desert. And he maintained that Andy had been right in
his judgment: If they all went into it and pulled together they
could stretch a line of claims that would protect the Badland grazing
"I wouldn't ask you fellows to go into this," said Chip, straightening
from his stooping over the map and looking from one sober face to
another, "just to help the outfit. But it'll be a good thing for you
boys. It'll give you a foothold--something better than wages, if you
stay with your claims and prove up. Of course, I can't say anything
about us buying out your claims--that's fraud, according to Hoyle;
but you ain't simple-minded--you know your land won't be begging for a
buyer, in case you should ever want to sell.
"There's another thing. This will not only head off the dry-farmers
from overstocking what little range is left--it'll make a dead-line for
sheep, too. We've been letting 'em graze back and forth on the bench
back here beyond our leased land, and not saying much, so long as they
didn't crowd up too close, and kept going. With all our claims under
fence, do you realize what that'll mean for the grass?"
"Josephine! There's feed for considerable stock, right over there on our
claims, to say nothing of what we'll cover," exclaimed Pink.
"I'd tell a man! And if we get water on the desert claims--" Chip
grinned down at him. "See what we've been passing up, all this time.
We've had some of it leased, of course--but that can't be done again.
There's been some wire-pulling, and because we ain't politicians we got
turned down when the Old Man wanted to renew the lease. I can see now
why it was, maybe. This dry-farm business had something to do with it,
if you ask me."
"Gee whiz! And here we've been calling Andy a liar," sighed Cal Emmett.
"Aw, jest because he happened to tell the truth once, don't cut no ice,"
Happy Jack maintained with sufficient ambiguity to avert the natural
"Of course, it won't be any gold-mine," Chip added dispassionately.
"But it's worth picking up, all right; and if it'll keep out a bunch
of tight-fisted settlers that don't give a darn for anything but what's
inside their own fence, that's worth a lot, too."
"Say, my dad's a farmer," Pink declared defiantly in his soft treble.
"And while I think of it, them eastern farmers ain't so worse--not the
brand I've seen, anyway. They're narrow, maybe--but they're human.
Damn it, you fellows have got to quit talking about 'em as if they were
blackleg stock or grasshoppers or something."
"We ain't saying nothing aginst farmers AS farmers, Little One" Big
Medicine explained forebearingly. "As men, and as women, and as kids,
they're mighty nice folks. My folks have got an eighty-acre farm in
Wisconsin," he confessed unexpectedly, "and I think a pile of 'em. But
if they was to come out here, trying to horn in on our range, I'd lead
'em gently to the railroad, by cripes, and tell 'em goodbye so's't
they'd know I meant it! Can't yuh see the difference?" he bawled,
goggling at Pink with misleading savageness in his ugly face.
"Oh, I see," Pink admitted mildly. "I only just wanted to remind you
fellows that I don't mean anything personal and I don't want you to.
Say, what about One Man Coulee?" he asked suddenly. "That's marked
vacant on the map. I always thought--"
"Sure, you did!" Chip grinned at him wisely, "because we used it for
a line camp, you thought we owned a deed to it. Well, we don't. We had
that land leased, is all."
"Say, by golly, I'll file on that, then," Slim declared selfishly. For
One Man coulee, although a place of gruesome history, was also desirable
for one or two reasons. There was wood, for instance, and water, and a
cabin that was habitable. There was also a fence on the place, a corral
and a small stable. "If Happy's ghost don't git to playin' music too
much," he added with his heavy-handed wit.
"No, sir! You ain't going to have One Man coulee unless Andy, here, says
he don't want it!" shouted Big Medicine. "I leave it to Chip if Andy
hadn't oughta have first pick. He's the feller that's put us onto this,
by cripes, and he's the feller that's going to pick his claim first."
Chip did not need to sanction that assertion. The whole Happy Family
agreed unanimously that it should be so, except Slim, who yielded a bit
Till midnight and after, they bent heads over the plat and made plans
for the future and took no thought whatever of the difficulties that
might lie before them. For the coming colony they had no pity, and
for the balked schemes of the Homeseekers' Syndicate no compunctions
So Andy Green, having seen his stratagem well on the way to success,
and feeling once more the well-earned confidence of his fellows, slept
soundly that night in his own bed, serenely sure of the future.
Next: The First Blow In The Fight
Previous: Andy Takes A Hand In The Game