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Tolleston Butts In








From: The Outlet

Morning dawned on a scene of pastoral grandeur. The valley of the North
Platte was dotted with cattle from hill and plain. The river, well
confined within its low banks, divided an unsurveyed domain of
green-swarded meadows like a boundary line between vast pastures. The
exodus of cattle from Texas to the new Northwest was nearing flood-tide,
and from every swell and knoll the solitary figure of the herdsman
greeted the rising sun.

Sponsilier and I had agreed to rejoin our own outfits at the first
opportunity. We might have exchanged places the evening before, but I
had a horse and some ammunition at Dave's camp and was just contentious
enough not to give up a single animal from my own mount. On the other
hand, Mr. Dave Sponsilier would have traded whole remudas with me; but
my love for a good horse was strong, and Fort Buford was many a weary
mile distant. Hence there was no surprise shown as Sponsilier rode up to
his own wagon that morning in time for breakfast. We were good friends
when personal advantages did not conflict, and where our employer's
interests were at stake we stood shoulder to shoulder like comrades. Yet
Dave gave me a big jolly about being daffy over my horses, well knowing
that there is an indescribable nearness between one of our craft and his
own mount. But warding off his raillery, just the same and in due time,
I cantered away on my own horse.

As I rode up the North Fork towards my outfit, the attached herd was
in plain view across the river. Arriving at my own wagon, I saw a mute
appeal in every face for permission to go to town, and consent was
readily granted to all who had not been excused on a similar errand
the day before. The cook and horse-wrangler were included, and the
activities of the outfit in saddling and getting away were suggestive of
a prairie fire or a stampede. I accompanied them across the river, and
then turned upstream to my brother's camp, promising to join them later
and make a full day of it. At Bob's wagon they had stretched a fly, and
in its shade lounged half a dozen men, while an air of languid indolence
pervaded the camp. Without dismounting, I announced myself as on the way
to town, and invited any one who wished to accompany me. Lovell and Reed
both declined; half of Bob's men had been excused and started an hour
before, but my brother assured me that if I would wait until the deposed
foreman returned, the latter's company could be counted on. I waited,
and in the course of half an hour the trail boss came back from his
cattle. During the interim, the two old cowmen reviewed Grant's siege of
Vicksburg, both having been participants, but on opposite sides. While
the guest was shifting his saddle to a loaned horse, I inquired if there
was anything that I could attend to for any one at Ogalalla. Lovell
could think of nothing; but as we mounted to start, Reed aroused
himself, and coming over, rested the stub of his armless sleeve on my
horse's neck, saying:

"You boys might drop into the sheriff's office as you go in and also
again as you are starting back. Report the cattle as having spent a
quiet night and ask Phillips if he has any word for me."

Turning to the trail boss he continued: "Young man, I would suggest that
you hunt up your employer and have him stir things up. The cattle will
be well taken care of, but we're just as anxious to turn them back to
you as you are to receive them. Tell the seller that it would be well
worth his while to see Lovell and myself before going any farther. We
can put him in possession of a few facts that may save him time and
trouble. I reckon that's about all. Oh, yes, I'll be at this wagon all
evening."

My brother rode a short distance with us and introduced the stranger as
Hugh Morris. He proved a sociable fellow, had made three trips up the
trail as foreman, his first two herds having gone to the Cherokee Strip
under contract. By the time we reached Ogalalla, as strong a fraternal
level existed between us as though we had known each other for years.
Halting for a moment at the sheriff's office, we delivered our messages,
after which we left our horses at the same corral with the understanding
that we would ride back together. A few drinks were indulged in before
parting, then each went to attend to his own errands, but we met
frequently during the day. Once my boys were provided with funds, they
fell to gambling so eagerly that they required no further thought on my
part until evening. Several times during the day I caught glimpses of
Tolleston, always on horseback, and once surrounded by quite a cavalcade
of horsemen. Morris and I took dinner at the hotel where the trio of
government jobbers were stopping. They were in evidence, and amongst
the jolliest of the guests, commanding and receiving the best that
the hostelry afforded. Sutton was likewise present, but quiet and
unpretentious, and I thought there was a false, affected note in the
hilarity of the ringsters, and for effect. I was known to two of the
trio, but managed to overhear any conversation which was adrift. After
dinner and over fragrant cigars, they reared their feet high on an outer
gallery, and the inference could be easily drawn that a contract, unless
it involved millions, was beneath their notice.

Morris informed me that his employer's suspicions were aroused, and
that he had that morning demanded a settlement in full or the immediate
release of the herd. They had laughed the matter off as a mere incident
that would right itself at the proper time, and flashed as references a
list of congressmen, senators, and bankers galore. But Morris's employer
had stood firm in his contentions, refusing to be overawed by flattery
or empty promises. What would be the result remained to be seen, and the
foreman and myself wandered aimlessly around town during the afternoon,
meeting other trail bosses, nearly all of whom had heard more or less
about the existing trouble. That we had the sympathy of the cattle
interests on our side goes without saying, and one of them, known as
"the kidgloved foreman," a man in the employ of Shanghai Pierce, invoked
the powers above to witness what would happen if he were in Lovell's
boots. This was my first meeting with the picturesque trail boss, though
I had heard of him often and found him a trifle boastful but not a bad
fellow. He distinguished himself from others of his station on the trail
by always wearing white shirts, kid gloves, riding-boots, inlaid spurs,
while a heavy silver chain was wound several times round a costly
sombrero in lieu of a hatband. We spent an hour or more together,
drinking sparingly, and at parting he begged that I would assure my
employer that he sympathized with him and was at his command.

The afternoon was waning when I hunted up my outfit and started them
for camp. With one or two exceptions, the boys were broke and perfectly
willing to go. Morris and I joined them at the livery where they had
left their horses, and together we started out of town. Ordering them
to ride on to camp, and saying that I expected to return by way of Bob
Quirk's wagon, Morris and myself stopped at the court-house. Sheriff
Phillips was in his office and recognized us both at a glance. "Well,
she's working," said he, "and I'll probably have some word for you late
this evening. Yes, one of the local attorneys for your friends came in
and we figured everything up. He thought that if this office would throw
off a certain per cent. of its expense, and Reed would knock off the
interest, his clients would consent to a settlement. I told him to go
right back and tell his people that as long as they thought that way,
it would only cost them one hundred and forty dollars every twenty-four
hours." The lawyer was back within twenty minutes, bringing a draft,
covering every item, and urged me to have it accepted by wire. The bank
was closed, but I found the cashier in a poker-game and played his hand
while he went over to the depot and sent the message. "The operator has
orders to send a duplicate of the answer to this office, and the moment
I get it, if favorable, I'll send a deputy with the news over to the
North Fork. Tell Reed that I think the check's all right this time, but
we'll stand pat until we know for a certainty. We'll get an answer by
morning sure."

The message was hailed with delight at Bob Quirk's wagon. On nearing the
river, Morris rode by way of the herd to ask the deputies in charge to
turn the cattle up the river towards his camp. Several of the foreman's
men were waiting at my brother's wagon, and on Morris's return he
ordered his outfit to meet the beeves the next morning and be in
readiness to receive them back. Our foremen were lying around temporary
headquarters, and as we were starting for our respective camps for the
night, Lovell suggested that we hold our outfits all ready to move out
with the herds on an hour's notice. Accordingly the next morning, I
refused every one leave of absence, and gave special orders to the
cook and horse-wrangler to have things in hand to start on an emergency
order. Jim Flood had agreed to wait for me, and we would recross the
river together and hear the report from the sheriff's office. Forrest
and Sponsilier rode up about the same time we arrived at his wagon, and
all four of us set out for headquarters across the North Fork. The sun
was several hours high when we reached the wagon, and learned that an
officer had arrived during the night with a favorable answer, that the
cattle had been turned over to Morris without a count, and that the
deputies had started for town at daybreak.

"Well, boys," said Lovell, as we came in after picketing our horses,
"Reed, here, wins out, but we're just as much at sea as ever. I've
looked the situation over from a dozen different viewpoints, and the
only thing to do is graze across country and tender our cattle at Fort
Buford. It's my nature to look on the bright side of things, and yet I'm
old enough to know that justice, in a world so full of injustice, is a
rarity. By allowing the earnest-money paid at Dodge to apply, some kind
of a compromise might be effected, whereby I could get rid of two of
these herds, with three hundred saddle horses thrown back on my hands at
the Yellowstone River. I might dispose of the third herd here and give
the remuda away, but at a total loss of at least thirty thousand dollars
on the Buford cattle. But then there's my bond to The Western Supply
Company, and if this herd of Morris's fails to respond on the day of
delivery, I know who will have to make good. An Indian uprising, or the
enforcement of quarantine against Texas fever, or any one of a dozen
things might tie up the herd, and September the 15th come and go and no
beef offered on the contract. I've seen outfits start out and never
get through with the chuck-wagon, even. Sutton's advice is good; we'll
tender the cattle. There is a chance that we'll get turned down, but if
we do, I have enough indemnity money in my possession to temper the wind
if the day of delivery should prove a chilly one to us. I think you had
all better start in the morning."

The old man's review of the situation was a rational one, in which Jim
Reed and the rest of us concurred. Several of the foremen, among them
myself, were anxious to start at once, but Lovell urged that we kill
a beef before starting and divide it up among the six outfits. He also
proposed to Flood that they go into town during the afternoon and freely
announce our departure in the morning, hoping to force any issue that
might be smouldering in the enemy's camp. The outlook for an early
departure was hailed with delight by the older foremen, and we younger
and more impulsive ones yielded. The cook had orders to get up something
extra for dinner, and we played cards and otherwise lounged around until
the midday meal was announced as ready. A horse had been gotten up for
Lovell to ride and was on picket, all the relieved men from the attached
herd were at Bob's wagon for dinner, and jokes and jollity graced the
occasion. But near the middle of the noon repast, some one sighted
a mounted man coming at a furious pace for the camp, and shortly the
horseman dashed up and inquired for Lovell. We all arose, when the
messenger dismounted and handed my employer a letter. Tearing open the
missive, the old man read it and turned ashy pale. The message was from
Mike Sutton, stating that a fourth member of the ring had arrived during
the forenoon, accompanied by a United States marshal from the federal
court at Omaha; that the officer was armed with an order of injunctive
relief; that he had deputized thirty men whom Tolleston had gathered,
and proposed taking possession of the two herds in question that
afternoon.

"Like hell they will," said Don Lovell, as he started for his horse. His
action was followed by every man present, including the one-armed guest,
and within a few minutes thirty men swung into saddles, subject to
orders. The camps of the two herds at issue were about four and five
miles down and across the river, and no doubt Tolleston knew of their
location, as they were only a little more than an hour's ride from
Ogalalla. There was no time to be lost, and as we hastily gathered
around the old man, he said: "Ride for your outfits, boys, and bring
along every man you can spare. We'll meet north of the river about
midway between Quince's and Tom's camps. Bring all the cartridges you
have, and don't spare your horses going or coming."

Priest's wagon was almost on a line with mine, though south of the
river. Fortunately I was mounted on one of the best horses in my string,
and having the farthest to go, shook the kinks out of him as old Paul
and myself tore down the mesa. After passing The Rebel's camp, I held my
course as long as the footing was solid, but on encountering the first
sand, crossed the river nearly opposite the appointed rendezvous. The
North Platte was fordable at any point, flowing but a midsummer stage
of water, with numerous wagon crossings, its shallow channel being about
one hundred yards wide. I reined in my horse for the first time near the
middle of the stream, as the water reached my saddle-skirts; when I came
out on the other side, Priest and his boys were not a mile behind me. As
I turned down the river, casting a backward glance, squads of horsemen
were galloping in from several quarters and joining a larger one which
was throwing up clouds of dust like a column of cavalry. In making a
cut-off to reach my camp, I crossed a sand dune from which I sighted the
marshal's posse less than two miles distant. My boys were gambling among
themselves, not a horse under saddle, and did not notice my approach
until I dashed up. Three lads were on herd, but the rest, including
the wrangler, ran for their mounts on picket, while Parent and myself
ransacked the wagon for ammunition. Fortunately the supply of the latter
was abundant, and while saddles were being cinched on horses, the cook
and I divided the ammunition and distributed it among the men. The
few minutes' rest refreshed my horse, but as we dashed away, the boys
yelling like Comanches, the five-mile ride had bested him and he fell
slightly behind. As we turned into the open valley, it was a question if
we or the marshal would reach the stream first; he had followed an old
wood road and would strike the river nearly opposite Forrest's camp.
The horses were excited and straining every nerve, and as we neared
our crowd the posse halted on the south side and I noticed a conveyance
among them in which were seated four men. There was a moment's
consultation held, when the posse entered the water and began fording
the stream, the vehicle and its occupants remaining on the other side.
We had halted in a circle about fifty yards back from the river-bank,
and as the first two men came out of the water, Don Lovell rode forward
several lengths of his horse, and with his hand motioned to them to
halt. The leaders stopped within easy speaking distance, the remainder
of the posse halting in groups at their rear, when Lovell demanded the
meaning of this demonstration.

An inquiry and answer followed identifying the speakers. "In pursuance
of an order from the federal court of this jurisdiction," continued the
marshal, "I am vested with authority to take into my custody two herds,
numbering nearly seven thousand beeves, now in your possession, and
recently sold to Field, Radcliff & Co. for government purposes. I
propose to execute my orders peaceably, and any interference on your
part will put you and your men in contempt of government authority. If
resistance is offered, I can, if necessary, have a company of United
States cavalry here from Fort Logan within forty-eight hours to enforce
the mandates of the federal court. Now my advice to you would be to turn
these cattle over without further controversy."

"And my advice to you," replied Lovell, "is to go back to your federal
court and tell that judge that as a citizen of these United States, and
one who has borne arms in her defense, I object to having snap judgment
rendered against me. If the honorable court which you have the pleasure
to represent is willing to dispossess me of my property in favor of
a ring of government thieves, and on only hearing one side of the
question, then consider me in contempt. I'll gladly go back to Omaha
with you, but you can't so much as look at a hoof in my possession. Now
call your troops, or take me with you for treating with scorn the orders
of your court."

Meanwhile every man on our side had an eye on Archie Tolleston, who
had gradually edged forward until his horse stood beside that of the
marshal. Before the latter could frame a reply to Lovell's ultimatum,
Tolleston said to the federal officer:

"Didn't my employers tell you that the old ---- -- -- ---- would defy
you without a demonstration of soldiers at your back? Now, the laugh's
on you, and--"

"No, it's on you," interrupted a voice at my back, accompanied by a
pistol report. My horse jumped forward, followed by a fusillade of shots
behind me, when the hireling deputies turned and plunged into the river.
Tolleston had wheeled his horse, joining the retreat, and as I brought
my six-shooter into action and was in the act of leveling on him, he
reeled from the saddle, but clung to the neck of his mount as the animal
dashed into the water. I held my fire in the hope that he would right in
the saddle and afford me a shot, but he struck a swift current, released
his hold, and sunk out of sight. Above the din and excitement of the
moment, I heard a voice which I recognized as Reed's, shouting, "Cut
loose on that team, boys! blaze away at those harness horses!" Evidently
the team had been burnt by random firing, for they were rearing and
plunging, and as I fired my first shot at them, the occupants sprang out
of the vehicle and the team ran away. A lull occurred in the shooting,
to eject shells and refill cylinders, which Lovell took advantage of by
ordering back a number of impulsive lads, who were determined to follow
up the fleeing deputies.

"Come back here, you rascals, and stop this shooting!" shouted the old
man. "Stop it, now, or you'll land me in a federal prison for life!
Those horsemen may be deceived. When federal courts can be deluded with
sugar-coated blandishments, ordinary men ought to be excusable."

Six-shooters were returned to their holsters. Several horses and two men
on our side had received slight flesh wounds, as there had been a random
return fire. The deputies halted well out of pistol range, covering the
retreat of the occupants of the carriage as best they could, but leaving
three dead horses in plain view. As we dropped back towards Forrest's
wagon, the team in the mean time having been caught, those on foot
were picked up and given seats in the conveyance. Meanwhile a remuda of
horses and two chuck-wagons were sighted back on the old wood road, but
a horseman met and halted them and they turned back for Ogalalla. On
reaching our nearest camp, the posse south of the river had started on
their return, leaving behind one of their number in the muddy waters of
the North Platte.

Late that evening, as we were preparing to leave for our respective
camps, Lovell said to the assembled foremen: "Quince will take Reed and
me into Ogalalla about midnight. If Sutton advises it, all three of us
will go down to Omaha and try and square things. I can't escape a severe
fine, but what do I care as long as I have their money to pay it with?
The killing of that fool boy worries me more than a dozen fines. It
was uncalled for, too, but he would butt in, and you fellows were all
itching for the chance to finger a trigger. Now the understanding is
that you all start in the morning."





Next: Crossing The Niobrara

Previous: Turning The Tables



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