A Soldier's Honor





Delivery day dawned with a heavy fog hanging over the valley of the

Yellowstone. The frosts had ceased, and several showers had fallen

during the night, one of which brought our beeves to their feet, but

they gave no serious trouble and resumed their beds within an hour.

There was an autumn feeling in the atmosphere, and when the sun arose,

dispelling the mists, a glorious September day was ushered in. The

foliage of the timber which skirted either river was coloring from

recent frosts, while in numerous places the fallen leaves of the

cottonwood were littering the ground. Enough rain had fallen to settle

the dust, and the signal of the approaching herds, seen the evening

before, was no longer visible.



The delay in their appearance, however, was only temporary. I rode down

to Sponsilier's camp early that morning and reported the observations

of my wrangler at sundown. No one at the lower wagon had noticed the

dust-clouds, and some one suggested that it might be a freight outfit

returning unloaded, when one of the men on herd was seen signaling the

camp's notice. The attention of the day-herders, several miles distant,

was centered on some object up the river; and mounting our horses, we

rode for the nearest elevation, from which two herds were to be seen on

the opposite side, traveling in trail formation. There was no doubting

their identity; and wondering what the day would bring forth, we rode

for a better point of observation, when from behind a timbered bend of

the river the lead of the last herd appeared. At last the Yellowstone

Valley held over twenty thousand beef cattle, in plain sight of each

other, both factions equally determined on making the delivery on an

award that required only half that number. Dismounting, we kept the

herds in view for over an hour, or until the last one had crossed the

river above O'Brien's road-house, the lead one having disappeared out of

sight over on the main Missouri.



This was the situation on the morning of September 15. As we returned

to Sponsilier's wagon, all the idle men about the camp joined our

cavalcade, and we rode down and paid Forrest's outfit a social visit.

The latter were all absent, except the cook, but shortly returned from

down the river and reported the opposition herds to be crossing the

Missouri, evidently going to camp at Alkali Lake.



"Well, I've been present at a good many deliveries," said Quince

Forrest, as he reined in his horse, "but this one is in a class by

itself. We always aimed to get within five or ten miles of a post

or agency, but our friends made a worthy effort to get on the

parade-ground. They did the next best thing and occupied the grazing

where the cavalry horses have been herded all summer. Oh, their cattle

will be hog-fat in a few days. Possibly they expect to show their cattle

in town, and not trouble the quartermaster and comandante to even saddle

up--they're the very kind of people who wouldn't give anybody trouble if

they could help it. It wouldn't make so much difference about those

old frontier officers or a common cowman, but if one of those young

lieutenants was to get his feet wet, the chances are that those

Washington City contractors would fret and worry for weeks. Of course,

any little inconvenience that any one incurred on their account, they'd

gladly come all the way back from Europe to make it right--I don't

think."



While we were discussing the situation, Bob Quirk arrived at camp. He

reported that Lovell, relying on the superiority of our beeves, had

waived his right to deliver on the hour of high noon, and an inspection

of the other cattle would be made that evening. The waiver was made at

the request of the leading officers of Fort Buford, all very friendly to

the best interests of the service and consequently ours, and the object

was to silence all subsequent controversy. My brother admitted that

some outside pressure had been brought to bear during the night, very

antagonistic to the post commander, who was now more determined than

ever to accept none but the best for their next year's meat supply. A

well-known congressman, of unsavory reputation as a lobbyist in aiding

and securing government contracts for his friends, was the latest

addition to the legal forces of the opposition. He constantly mentioned

his acquaintances in the War Department and maintained an air of

assurance which was very disconcerting. The younger officers in the

post were abashed at the effrontery of the contractors and their legal

representatives, and had even gone so far as to express doubts as to

the stability of their positions in case the decision favored Lovell's

cattle. Opinion was current that a possible shake-up might occur at

Buford after the receipt of its beef supply, and the more timorous ones

were anxious to get into the right wagon, instead of being relegated to

some obscure outpost.



It was now evident that the decisive issue was to occur over the

delivery of the contending herds. Numerous possibilities arose in my

imagination, and the various foremen advanced their views. A general

belief that old man Don would fight to the last was prevalent, and

amidst the discussions pro and con, I remarked that Lovell could take a

final refuge behind the indemnity in hand.



"Indemnity, hell!" said Bob Quirk, giving me a withering look; "what is

sixty-five thousand dollars on ten thousand beeves, within an hour of

delivery and at thirty-seven and a half a head? You all know that the

old man has strained his credit on this summer's drive, and he's got

to have the money when he goes home. A fifteen or twenty per cent.

indemnity does him no good. The Indian herds have paid out well, but

if this delivery falls down, it will leave him holding the sack. On the

other hand, if it goes through, he will be, financially, an independent

man for life. And while he knows the danger of delay, he consented as

readily as any of us would if asked for a cigarette-paper. He may come

out all right, but he's just about white enough to get the worst of it.

I've read these Sunday-school stories, where the good little boy always

came out on top, but in real life, especially in cattle, it's quite

different."



My brother's words had a magical effect. Sponsilier asked for

suggestions, when Bob urged that every man available go into the post

and accompany the inspection party that afternoon. Since Forrest and

himself were unknown, they would take about three of the boys with

them, cross the Missouri, ride through and sum up the opposition cattle.

Forrest approved of the idea, and ordered his cook to bestir himself

in getting up an early dinner. Meanwhile a number of my boys had ridden

down to Forrest's wagon, and I immediately dispatched Clay Zilligan back

to my cattle to relieve Vick Wolf and inform the day-herders that we

might not return before dark. Wolf was the coolest man in my employ, had

figured in several shooting scrapes, and as he was a splendid shot,

I wanted to send him with Forrest and my brother. If identified as

belonging to Lovell's outfits, there was a possibility that insult might

be offered the boys; and knowing that it mattered not what the odds

were, it would be resented, I thought it advisable to send a man who

had smelt powder at short range. I felt no special uneasiness about my

brother, in fact he was the logical man to go, but a little precaution

would do no harm, and I saw to it that Sponsilier sent a good

representative.



About one o'clock we started, thirty strong. Riding down the

Yellowstone, the three detailed men, Quince Forrest, and my brother soon

bore off to the left and we lost sight of them. Continuing on down the

river, we forded the Missouri at the regular wagon-crossing, and within

an hour after leaving Forrest's camp cantered into Fort Buford. Sanders

and his outfit were waiting in front of the quartermaster's office, the

hour for starting having been changed from two to three, which afforded

ample time to visit the sutler's bar. Our arrival was noticed about the

barracks, and evidently some complaint had been made, as old man Don

joined us in time for the first round, after which he called Dave and

me aside. In reply to his inquiry regarding our presence, Sponsilier

informed him that we had come in to afford him an escort, in case he

wished to attend the inspection of the opposition herds; that if there

was any bulldozing going on he needn't stand behind the door. Dave

informed him that Bob and Quince and three of the other boys would meet

us at the cattle, and that he need feel no hesitancy in going if it was

his wish. It was quite evident that Mr. Lovell was despondent, but he

took courage and announced his willingness to go along.



"It was my intention not to go," said he, "though Mr. Aspgrain and

Sutton both urged that I should. But now since you boys all feel the

same way, I believe I'll go. Heaven and earth are being moved to have

the other cattle accepted, but there are a couple of old war-horses at

the head of this post that will fight them to the last ditch, and then

some. I'm satisfied that my beeves, in any market in the West, are worth

ten dollars a head more than the other ones, yet there is an effort

being made to turn us down. Our claims rest on two points,--superiority

of the beef tendered, and the legal impossibility of a transfer from

themselves, a corporation, to themselves as individuals. If there is

no outside interference, I think we will make the delivery before

noon to-morrow. Now, I'll get horses for both Mr. Sutton and Senator

Aspgrain, and you see that none of the boys drink too much. Sanders and

his outfit are all right, and I want you lads to remind me to remember

him before we leave this post. Now, we'll all go in a little party by

ourselves, and I don't want a word out of a man, unless we are asked for

an opinion from the officers, as our cattle must argue our cause."



A second drink, a cigar all round, and we were ready to start. As

we returned to our mounts, a bustle of activity pervaded the post.

Orderlies were leading forth the best horses, officers were appearing in

riding-boots and gauntlets, while two conveyances from a livery in town

stood waiting to convey the contractors and their legal representatives.

Our employer and his counsel were on hand, awaiting the start, when the

quartermaster and his outfit led off. There was some delay among the

officers over the change of a horse, which had shown lameness, while the

ringsters were all seated and waiting in their vehicles. Since none of

us knew the trail to Alkali Lake, some one suggested that we follow up

the quartermaster and allow the military and conveyances to go by the

wagon-road. But Lovell objected, and ordered me forward to notice the

trail and course, as the latter was a cut-off and much nearer than by

road. I rode leisurely past the two vehicles, carefully scanning every

face, when Mr. Field recognized and attempted to halt me, but I answered

him with a contemptuous look and rode on. Instantly from the rigs came

cries of "Stop that man!" "Halt that cowboy!" etc., when an orderly

stepped in front of my horse and I reined in. But the shouting and my

detention were seen and heard, and the next instant, led by Mike

Sutton, our men dashed up, scaring the teams, overturning both of the

conveyances, and spilling their occupants on the dusty ground. I admit

that we were a hard-looking lot of cow-hands, our employer's grievance

was our own, and just for an instant there was a blue, sulphuric tinge

in the atmosphere as we accented our protest. The congressman scrambled

to his feet, sputtering a complaint to the post commander, and when

order was finally restored, the latter coolly said:



"Well, Mr. Y-----, when did you assume command at Fort Buford? Any

orders that you want given, while on this military reservation, please

submit them to the proper authorities, and if just, they will receive

attention. What right have you or any of your friends to stop a man

without due process? I spent several hours with these men a few days

ago and found them to my liking. I wish we could recruit the last one of

them into our cavalry. But if you are afraid, I'll order out a troop of

horse to protect you. Shall I?"



"I'm not at all afraid," replied Mr. Raddiff, "but feel under obligation

to protect my counsel. If you please, Colonel."



"Captain O'Neill," said the commandant, turning to that officer, "order

out your troop and give these conveyances ample protection from now

until their return from this cattle inspection. Mr. Lovell, if you wish

to be present, please ride on ahead with your men. The rest of us will

proceed at once, and as soon as the escort arrives, these vehicles will

bring up the rear."



As we rode away, the bugles were calling the troopers.



"That's the way to throw the gaff into them," said Sutton, when we had

ridden out of hearing. "Every time they bluff, call their hand, and

they'll soon get tired running blazers. I want to give notice right now

that the first mark of disrespect shown me, by client or attorney, I'll

slap him then and there, I don't care if he is as big as a giant. We are

up against a hard crowd, and we want to meet them a little over halfway,

even on a hint or insinuation. When it comes to buffaloing the opposite

side, that's my long suit. The history of this case shows that the

opposition has no regard for the rights of others, and it is up to us to

try and teach them that a love of justice is universal. Personally,

I'm nothing but a frontier lawyer from Dodge, but I'm the equal of any

lobbyist that ever left Washington City."



Alkali Lake was some little distance from the post. All three of the

herds were holding beyond it, a polite request having reached them to

vacate the grazing-ground of the cavalry horses. Lovell still insisted

that we stand aloof and give the constituted authorities a free,

untrammeled hand until the inspection was over. The quartermaster and

his assistants halted on approaching the first herd, and giving them

a wide berth, we rode for the nearest good point of observation.

The officers galloped up shortly afterward, reining in for a short

conversation, but entering the first herd before the arrival of the

conveyances and their escort. When the latter party arrived, the nearest

one of the three herds had been passed upon, but the contractors stood

on the carriage seats and attempted to look over the cordon of troopers,

formed into a hollow square, which surrounded them. The troop were

mounted on chestnut horses, making a pretty sight, and I think they

enjoyed the folly and humor of the situation fully as much as we did.

On nearing the second herd, we were met by the other boys, who had given

the cattle a thorough going-over and reported finding two "Circle Dot"

beeves among the opposition steers. The chances are that they had walked

off a bed-ground some night while holding at Ogalalla and had been

absorbed into another herd before morning. My brother announced his

intention of taking them back with us, when Sponsilier taunted him with

the fact that there might be objections offered.



"That'll be all right, Davy," replied Bob; "it'll take a bigger and

better outfit than these pimps and tin-horns to keep me from claiming

my own. You just watch and notice if those two steers don't go back with

Forrest. Why, they had the nerve to question our right even to look them

over. It must be a trifle dull with the GIRLS down there in Ogalalla

when all these 'babies' have to turn out at work or go hungry."



Little time was lost in inspecting the last herd. The cattle were thrown

entirely too close together to afford much opportunity in looking them

over, and after riding through them a few times, the officers rode away

for a consultation. We had kept at a distance from the convoy, perfectly

contented so long as the opposition were prisoners of their own

choosing. Captain O'Neill evidently understood the wishes of his

superior officer, and never once were his charges allowed within hailing

distance of the party of inspection. As far as exerting any influence

was concerned, for that matter, all of us might have remained back at

the post and received the report on the commander's return. Yet there

was a tinge of uncertainty as to the result, and all concerned wanted

to hear it at the earliest moment. The inspection party did not keep us

long in waiting, for after a brief conference they turned and rode for

the contractors under escort. We rode forward, the troop closed up in

close formation about the two vehicles, and the general tension rose to

that of rigidity. We halted quietly within easy hearing distance, and

without noticing us the commandant addressed himself to the occupants of

the conveyances, who were now standing on the seats.



"Gentlemen," said he, with military austerity, "the quality and

condition of your cattle places them beyond our consideration. Beef

intended for delivery at this post must arrive here with sufficient

flesh to withstand the rigors of our winter. When possible to secure

them, we prefer Northern wintered cattle, but if they are not available,

and we are compelled to receive Southern ones, they must be of the first

quality in conformation and flesh. It now becomes my duty to say to you

that your beeves are rough, have been over-driven, are tender-footed and

otherwise abused, and, having in view the best interests of the service,

with the concurrence of my associates, I decline them."



The decision was rendered amid breathless silence. Not a word of

exultation escaped one of our party, but the nervous strain rather

intensified.



Mr. Y----, the congressman, made the first move. Quietly alighting from

the vehicle, he held a whispered conversation with his associates, very

composedly turned to the commandant, and said:



"No doubt you are aware that there are higher authorities than the post

commander and quartermaster of Fort Buford. This higher court to which I

refer saw fit to award a contract for five million pounds of beef to be

delivered at this post on foot. Any stipulations inserted or omitted in

that article, the customary usages of the War Department would govern.

If you will kindly look at the original contract, a copy of which is in

your possession, you will notice that nothing is said about the quality

of the cattle, just so the pounds avoirdupois are there. The government

does not presume, when contracting for Texas cattle, that they will

arrive here in perfect order; but so long as the sex, age, and weight

have been complied with, there can be no evasion of the contract. My

clients are sub-contractors, under an assignment of the original award,

are acting in good faith in making this tender, and if your decision

is against them, we will make an appeal to the War Department. I am not

presuming to tell you your duty, but trust you will take this matter

under full advisement before making your decision final."



"Mr. Y--, I have received cattle before without any legal advice

or interference of higher authority. Although you have ignored his

presence, there is another man here with a tender of beef who is

entitled to more than passing consideration. He holds a sub-contract

under the original award, and there is no doubt but he is also acting in

good faith. My first concern as a receiving agent of this government is

that the goods tendered must be of the first quality. Your cattle fall

below our established standards here, while his will take rank as the

finest lot of beeves ever tendered at this post, and therefore he is

entitled to the award. I am not going to stand on any technicalities

as to who is legally entitled to make this delivery; there have been

charges and counter-charges which have reached me, the justice of which

I cannot pass on, but with the cattle it is quite different. I lack but

five years of being retired on my rank, the greater portion of which

service has been spent on this frontier, and I feel justified in the

decision made. The government buys the best, insists on its receiving

agents demanding the same, and what few remaining years I serve the

flag, there will be no change in my policy."



There was a hurried conference. The "major-domo" was called into the

consultation, after which the congressman returned to the attack.



"Colonel, you are forcing us to make a protest to the War Department. As

commander at Fort Buford, what right have you to consider the tender

of any Tom, Dick, or Harry who may have cattle to sell? Armed with

an assignment of the original award, we have tendered you the pounds

quantity required by the existing contract, have insisted on the

acceptance of the same, and if refused, our protest will be in the War

Office before that sun sets. Now, my advice is--"



"I don't give a damn for you nor your advice. My reputation as a soldier

is all I possess, and no man can dictate to nor intimidate me. My past

record is an open book and one which I am proud of; and while I have the

honor to command at Fort Buford, no threats can terrify nor cause me to

deviate from my duty. Captain O'Neill, attend orders and escort these

vehicles back to their quarters."



The escort loosened out, the conveyances started, and the inspection was

over. We were a quiet crowd, though inwardly we all felt like shouting.

We held apart from the military party, and when near the herd which held

the "Circle Dot" steers, my brother and a number of the boys galloped

on ahead and cut out the animals before our arrival. On entering the

wagon-road near the post, the military cavalcade halted a moment for us

to come up. Lovell was in the lead, and as we halted the commandant said

to him: "We have decided to receive your cattle in the morning--about

ten o'clock if that hour will be convenient. I may not come over, but

the quartermaster's Mr. Sanders will count for us, and you cowmen ought

to agree on the numbers. We have delayed you a day, and if you will put

in a bill for demurrage, I will approve it. I believe that is all. We'll

expect you to spend the night with us at the post. I thought it best to

advise you now, so that you might give your men any final orders."





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