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The Little Missouri








From: The Outlet

A week later we crossed the Belle Fourche, sometimes called the North
Fork of the Big Cheyenne. Like its twin sister on the south, it was
a mountain river, having numerous affluents putting in from the Black
Hills, which it encircled on the north and west. Between these two
branches of the mother stream were numerous tributaries, establishing
it as the best watered country encountered in our long overland cruise.
Besides the splendid watercourses which marked that section, numerous
wagontrails, leading into the hills, were peopled with freighters. Long
ox trains, moving at a snail's pace, crept over hill and plain, the
common carrier between the mines and the outside world. The fascination
of the primal land was there; the buttes stood like sentinels, guarding
a king's domain, while the palisaded cliffs frowned down, as if erected
by the hand Omnipotent to mark the boundary of nations.

Our route, after skirting the Black Hills, followed up the Belle Fourche
a few days, and early in August we crossed over to the Little Missouri
River. The divide between the Belle Fourche and the latter stream was a
narrow one, requiring little time to graze across it, and intercepting
the Little Missouri somewhere in Montana. The course of that river was
almost due north, and crossing and recrossing it frequently, we kept
constantly in touch with it on our last northward tack. The river led
through sections of country now known as the Bad Lands, but we found an
abundance of grass and an easy passage. Sponsilier held the lead all the
way down the river, though I did most of the advance scouting, sometimes
being as much as fifty miles in front of the herds. Near the last of the
month we sighted Sentinel Butte and the smoke of railroad trains, and a
few days later all three of us foremen rode into Little Missouri Station
of the Northern Pacific Railway. Our arrival was expected by one man
at least; for as we approached the straggling village, our employer was
recognized at a distance, waving his hat, and a minute later all three
of us were shaking hands with Don Lovell. Mutual inquiries followed, and
when we reported the cattle fine as silk, having never known a hungry or
thirsty hour after leaving the North Platte, the old man brightened and
led the way to a well-known saloon.

"How did I fare at Omaha?" said old man Don, repeating Forrest's query.
"Well, at first it was a question if I would be hung or shot, but we
came out with colors flying. The United States marshal who attempted to
take possession of the cattle on the North Platte went back on the
same train with us. He was feeling sore over his defeat, but Sutton
cultivated his acquaintance, and in mollifying that official, showed him
how easily failure could be palmed off as a victory. In fact, I think
Mike overcolored the story at my expense. He and the marshal gave it
to the papers, and the next morning it appeared in the form of a
sensational article. According to the report, a certain popular federal
officer had gone out to Ogalalla to take possession of two herds of
cattle intended for government purposes; he had met with resistance by
a lot of Texas roughs, who fatally shot one of his deputies, wounding
several others, and killing a number of horses during the assault; but
the intrepid officer had added to his laurels by arresting the owner of
the cattle and leader of the resisting mob, and had brought him back
to face the charge of contempt in resisting service. The papers freely
predicted that I would get the maximum fine, and one even went so far as
to suggest that imprisonment might teach certain arrogant cattle kings
a salutary lesson. But when the hearing came up, Sutton placed Jim Reed
and me in the witness-box, taking the stand later himself, and we
showed that federal court that it had been buncoed out of an order of
injunctive relief, in favor of the biggest set of ringsters that ever
missed stretching hemp. The result was, I walked out of that federal
court scot free. And Judge Dundy, when he realized the injustice that
he had inflicted, made all three of us take dinner with him, fully
explaining the pressure which had been brought to bear at the time the
order of relief was issued. Oh, that old judge was all right. I only
hope we'll have as square a man as Judge Dundy at the final hearing at
Fort Buford. Do you see that sign over there, where it says Barley Water
and Bad Cigars? Well, put your horses in some corral and meet me there."

There was a great deal of news to review. Lovell had returned to
Ogalalla; the body of Tolleston had been recovered and given decent
burial; delivery day of the three Indian herds was at hand, bringing
that branch of the season's drive to a close. But the main thing which
absorbed our employer was the quarantine that the upper Yellowstone
country proposed enforcing against through Texas cattle. He assured
us that had we gone by way of Wyoming and down the Powder River, the
chances were that the local authorities would have placed us under
quarantine until after the first frost. He assured us that the year
before, Texas fever had played sad havoc among the native and wintered
Southern cattle, and that Miles City and Glendive, live-stock centres on
the Yellowstone, were up in arms in favor of a rigid quarantine against
all through cattle. If this proved true, it was certainly an ill wind
to drovers on the Powder River route; yet I failed to see where we were
benefited until my employer got down to details.

"That's so," said he; "I forgot to tell you boys that when Reed and I
went back to Ogalalla, we found Field, Radcliff & Co. buying beeves.
Yes, they had bought a remuda of horses, rigged up two wagons, and
hired men to take possession of our 'Open A' and 'Drooping T' herds. But
meeting with disappointment and having the outfit on their hands, they
concluded to buy cattle and go ahead and make the delivery at Buford.
They simply had to do it or admit that I had called their hands. But
Reed and I raised such a howl around that town that we posted every man
with beeves for sale until the buyers had to pony up the cash for every
hoof they bought. We even hunted up young Murnane, the seller of the
herd that Jim Reed ran the attachment on; and before old Jim and I got
through with him, we had his promise not to move out of Keith County
until the last dollar was in hand. The buyers seemed to command all
kinds of money, but where they expect to make anything, even if they
do deliver, beats me, as Reed and I have got a good wad of their money.
Since leaving there, I have had word that they settled with Murnane,
putting a new outfit with the cattle, and that they have ten thousand
beef steers on the way to Fort Buford this very minute. They are coming
through on the North Platte and Powder River route, and if quarantine
can be enforced against them until frost falls, it will give us a clear
field at Buford on the day of delivery. Now it stands us in hand to see
that those herds are isolated until after the 15th day of September."

The atmosphere cleared instantly. I was well aware of the ravages of
splenic fever; but two decades ago every drover from Texas denied the
possibility of a through animal in perfect health giving a disease to
wintered Southerners or domestic cattle, also robust and healthy.
Time has demonstrated the truth, yet the manner in which the germ is
transmitted between healthy animals remains a mystery to this day,
although there has been no lack of theories advanced. Even the theorists
differed as to the manner of germ transmission, the sporule, tick, and
ship fever being the leading theories, and each having its advocates.
The latter was entitled to some consideration, for if bad usage and
the lack of necessary rest, food, and water will produce fever aboard
emigrant steamships, the same privations might do it among animals. The
overdriving of trail cattle was frequently unavoidable, dry drives and
the lack of grass on arid wastes being of common occurrence. However,
the presence of fever among through cattle was never noticeable to the
practical man, and if it existed, it must have been very mild in form
compared to its virulent nature among natives. Time has demonstrated
that it is necessary for the domestic animals to walk over and occupy
the same ground to contract the disease, though they may drink from the
same trough or stream of water, or inhale each other's breath in play
across a wire fence, without fear of contagion. A peculiar feature of
Texas fever was that the very cattle which would impart it on their
arrival, after wintering in the North would contract it and die the same
as natives. The isolation of herds on a good range for a period of sixty
days, or the falling of frost, was recognized as the only preventive
against transmitting the germ. Government rewards and experiments have
never demonstrated a theory that practical experience does not dispute.

The only time on this drive that our attention had been called to the
fever alarm was on crossing the wagon trail running from Pierre on the
Missouri River to the Black Hills. I was in the lead when a large bull
train was sighted in our front, and shortly afterward the wagon-boss
met me and earnestly begged that I allow his outfit to pass before we
crossed the wagon-road. I knew the usual form of ridicule of a herd
foreman, but the boss bull-whacker must have anticipated my reply, for
he informed me that the summer before he had lost ninety head out of
two hundred yoke of oxen. The wagon-master's appeal was fortified by a
sincerity which won his request, and I held up my cattle and allowed his
train to pass in advance. Sponsilier's herd was out of sight in my rear,
while Forrest was several miles to my left, and slightly behind me. The
wagon-boss rode across and made a similar request of Forrest, but that
worthy refused to recognize the right of way to a bull train at the
expense of a trail herd of government beeves. Ungentlemanly remarks are
said to have passed between them, when the boss bull-whacker threw down
the gauntlet and galloped back to his train. Forrest pushed on, with
ample time to have occupied the road in crossing, thus holding up the
wagon train. My herd fell to grazing, and Sponsilier rode up to inquire
the cause of my halting. I explained the request of the wagon-master,
his loss the year before and present fear of fever, and called attention
to the clash which was imminent between the long freight outfit in our
front and Forrest's herd to the left, both anxious for the right of way.
A number of us rode forward in clear view of the impending meeting. It
was evident that Forrest would be the first to reach the freight road,
and would naturally hold it while his cattle were crossing it. But when
this also became apparent to the bull train, the lead teams drove out of
the road and halted, the rear wagons passing on ahead, the two outfits
being fully a mile apart. There were about twenty teams of ten yoke
each, and when the first five or six halted, they unearthed old needle
rifles and opened fire across Forrest's front. Once the range was found,
those long-range buffalo guns threw up the dust in handfuls in the lead
of the herd, and Forrest turned his cattle back, while the bull train
held its way, undisputed. It was immaterial to Forrest who occupied the
road first, and with the jeers of the freighters mingled the laughter
of Sponsilier and my outfit, as John Quincy Forrest reluctantly turned
back.

This incident served as a safety-valve, and whenever Forrest forged to
the lead in coming down the Little Missouri, all that was necessary to
check him was to inquire casually which held the right of way, a trail
herd or a bull train.

Throughout the North, Texas fever was generally accepted as a fact,
and any one who had ever come in contact with it once, dreaded it ever
afterward. So when the devil was sick the devil a monk would be; and
if there was any advantage in taking the contrary view to the one
entertained by all drovers, so long as our herds were free, we were not
like men who could not experience a change of opinion, if in doing so
the wind was tempered to us. Also in this instance we were fighting an
avowed enemy, and all is fair in love and war. And amid the fumes of bad
cigars, Sponsilier drew out the plan of campaign.

"Now, let's see," said old man Don, "tomorrow will be the 25th day of
August. I've got to be at the Crow Agency a few days before the 10th
of next month, as you know we have a delivery there on that date. Flood
will have to attend to matters at Rosebud on the 1st, and then hurry on
west and be present at Paul's delivery at Fort Washakie. So you see I'll
have to depend on two of you boys going up to Glendive and Miles and
seeing that those cow-towns take the proper view of this quarantine
matter. After dinner you'll fall back and bring up your herds, and after
crossing the railroad here, the outfits will graze over to Buford. We'll
leave four of our best saddle horses here in a pasture, so as to be
independent on our return. Since things have changed so, the chances are
that I'll bring Bob Quirk back with me, as I've written Flood to help
The Rebel sell his remuda and take the outfit and go home. Now you boys
decide among yourselves which two of you will go up the Yellowstone and
promote the enforcement of the quarantine laws. Don't get the impression
that you can't do this, because an all-round cowman can do anything
where his interests are at stake. I'll think the programme out a little
more clearly by the time you bring up the cattle."

The herds were not over fifteen miles back up the river when we left
them in the morning. After honoring the village of Little Missouri with
our presence for several hours, we saddled up and started to meet the
cattle. There was no doubt in my mind but that Sponsilier would be one
of the two to go on the proposed errand of diplomacy, as his years,
experience, and good solid sense entitled him to outrank either Forrest
or myself. I knew that Quince would want to go, if for no other reason
than to get out of working the few days that yet remained of the drive.
All three of us talked the matter of quarantine freely as we rode along,
yet no one ventured any proposition looking to an agreement as to who
should go on the diplomatic mission. I was the youngest and naturally
took refuge behind my years, yet perfectly conscious that, in spite of
the indifferent and nonchalant attitude assumed, all three of us foremen
were equally anxious for the chance. Matters remained undecided; but the
next day at dinner, Lovell having met us before reaching the railroad,
the question arose who should go up to Miles City. Dave and Quince
were also eating at my wagon, and when our employer forced an answer,
Sponsilier innocently replied that he supposed that we were all willing
to leave it to him. Forrest immediately approved of Dave's suggestion.
I gave my assent, and old man Don didn't qualify, hedge, or mince his
words in appointing the committees to represent the firm of Lovell.

"Jealous of each other, ain't you? Very well; I want these herds grazed
across to Buford at the rate of four miles a day. Nothing but a Mexican
pastor, or a white man as lazy as Quince Forrest can fill the bill.
You're listening, are you, Quince? Well, after the sun sets to-night,
you're in charge of ten thousand beeves from here to the mouth of the
Yellowstone. I want to put every ounce possible on those steers for the
next twenty days. We may have to make a comparison of cattle, and if we
should, I want ours to lay over the opposition like a double eagle
does over a lead dime. We may run up against a lot of red tape at
Fort Buford, but if there is a lick of cow-sense among the government
representatives, we want our beeves to speak for themselves. Fat animals
do their own talking. You remember when every one was admiring the
fine horse, the blind man said, 'Isn't he fat?' Now, Dave, you and
Tom appoint your segundos, and we'll all catch the 10:20 train west
to-night."

I dared to risk one eye on Forrest. Inwardly I was chuckling, but Quince
was mincing along with his dinner, showing that languid indifference
which is inborn to the Texan. Lovell continued to monopolize the
conversation, blowing on the cattle and ribbing up Forrest to see that
the beeves thenceforth should never know tire, hunger, or thirst. The
commissaries had run low; Sponsilier's cook had been borrowing beans
from us for a week past, while Parent point-blank refused to share any
more of our bacon. The latter was recognized as a staple in trail-work,
and it mattered not how inviting the beef or venison might be, we always
fell back to bacon with avidity. When it came time to move out on the
evening lap, Forrest's herd took the lead, the other two falling in
behind, the wagons pulling out for town in advance of everything.
Jack Splann had always acted as segundo in my absence, and as he had
overheard Lovell's orders to Forrest, there was nothing further for me
to add, and Splann took charge of my "Open A's."

When changing mounts at noon, I caught out two of my best saddlers and
tied one behind the chuckwagon, to be left with a liveryman in town.
Leaving old man Don with the cattle, all three of us foremen went into
the village in order to secure a few staple supplies with which to
complete the journey.

It can be taken for granted that Sponsilier and myself were feeling
quite gala. The former took occasion, as we rode along, to throw several
bouquets at Forrest over his preferment, when the latter turned on us,
saying: "You fellows think you're d--d smart, now, don't you? You're
both purty good talkers, but neither one of you can show me where the
rainbow comes in in rotting along with these measly cattle. It's enough
to make a man kick his own dog. But I can see where the old man was
perfectly right in sending you two up to Miles City. When you fellows
work your rabbit's foot, it will be Katy with those Washington City
schemers--more than likely they'll not draw cards when they see that you
are in the game--When it comes to the real sabe, you fellows shine like
a tree full of owls. Honest, it has always been a wonder to me that
Grant didn't send for both of you when he was making up his cabinet."

The herds crossed the railroad about a mile west of Little Missouri
Station. The wagons secured the needed supplies, and pulled out down the
river, leaving Sponsilier and myself foot-loose and free.

Lovell was riding a livery horse, and as neither of us expected him to
return until it was too dark to see the cattle, we amused ourselves by
looking over the town. There seemed to be a great deal of freighting to
outlying points, numerous ox and mule trains coming in and also leaving
for their destinations. Our employer came in about dusk, and at once
went to the depot, as he was expecting a message. One had arrived during
his absence, and after reading it, he came over to Dave and me, saying:

"It's from Mike Sutton. I authorized him to secure the services of the
best lawyer in the West, and he has just wired me that he has retained
Senator Aspgrain of Sioux City, Iowa. They will report at Fort Buford
on September the 5th and will take care of any legal complications which
may arise. I don't know who this senator is, but Mike has orders not to
spare any expense as long as we have the other fellow's money to fight
with. Well, if the Iowa lawyers are as good stuff as the Iowa troops
were down in Dixie, that's all I ask. Now, we'll get our suppers and
then sack our saddles--why, sure, you'll need them; every good cowman
takes his saddle wherever he goes, though he may not have clothes enough
with him to dust a fiddle."





Next: In Quarantine

Previous: Water-bound



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