Camp Supply





In gala spirits we broke camp the next morning. The herd had left the

bed-ground at dawn, and as the outfit rode away to relieve the last

guard, every mother's son was singing. The cattle were a refreshing

sight as they grazed forward, their ragged front covering half a mile

in width. The rest of the past few days had been a boon to the few

tender-footed ones. The lay-over had rejuvenated both man and beast.

From maps in our possession we knew we were somewhere near the western

border of the Chickasaw Nation, while on our left was the reservation of

three blanket tribes of Indians. But as far as signs of occupancy were

concerned, the country was unmarked by any evidence of civilization. The

Chisholm Cattle Trail, which ran from Red River to the Kansas line, had

almost fallen into disuse, owing to encroachments of settlements south

of the former and westward on the latter. With the advancement of

immigration, Abilene and Ellsworth as trail terminals yielded to the

tide, and the leading cattle trace of the '70's was relegated to local

use in '84.



The first guard was on the qui vive for the outfit whose camp-fire they

had sighted the night before. I was riding with Clay Zilligan on the

left point, when he sighted what we supposed was a small bunch of cattle

lying down several miles distant. When we reached the first rise of

ground, a band of saddle horses came in view, and while we were trying

to locate their camp, Jack Splann from the opposite point attracted our

attention and pointed straight ahead. There a large band of cattle under

herd greeted our view, compelling us to veer to the right and intersect

the trail sooner than we intended. Keeping a clear half-mile between

us, we passed them within an hour and exchanged the compliments of the

trail. They proved to be "Laurel Leaf" and "Running W" cattle, the

very ones for which the International Railway agent at the meeting in

February had so boastfully shown my employer the application for cars.

The foreman was cursing like a stranded pirate over the predicament in

which he found himself. He had left Santo Gertrudo Ranch over a month

before with a herd of three thousand straight two-year-old steers.

But in the shipment of some thirty-three thousand cattle from the two

ranches to Wichita Falls, six trains had been wrecked, two of which were

his own. Instead of being hundreds of miles ahead in the lead of the

year's drive, as he expected, he now found himself in charge of a camp

of cripples. What few trains belonging to his herd had escaped the ditch

were used in filling up other unfortunate ones, the injured cattle from

the other wrecks forming his present holdings.



"Our people were anxious to get their cattle on to the market early this

year," said he, "and put their foot into it up to the knee. Shipping

to Red River was an experiment with them, and I hope they've got their

belly full. We've got dead and dying cattle in every pasture from the

falls to the river, while these in sight aren't able to keep out of

the stench of those that croaked between here and the ford. Oh, this

shipping is a fine thing--for the railroads. Here I've got to rot all

summer with these cattle, just because two of my trains went into the

ditch while no other foreman had over one wrecked. And mind you, they

paid the freight in advance, and now King and Kennedy have brought suit

for damages amounting to double the shipping expense. They'll get it all

right--in pork. I'd rather have a claim against a nigger than a railroad

company. Look at your beeves, slick as weasels, and from the Nueces

River. Have to hold them in, I reckon, to keep from making twenty miles

a day. And here I am--Oh, hell, I'd rather be on a rock-pile with a ball

and chain to my foot! Do you see those objects across yonder about two

miles--in that old grass? That's where we bedded night before last and

forty odd died. We only lost twenty-two last night. Oh, we're getting in

shape fast. If you think you can hold your breakfast down, just take a

ride through mine. No, excuse me--I've seen them too often already."



Several of the boys and myself rode into the herd some little distance,

but the sight was enough to turn a copper-lined stomach. Scarcely an

animal had escaped without more or less injury. Fully one half were

minus one or both horns, leaving instead bloody stumps. Broken bones

and open sores greeted us on every hand; myriads of flies added to the

misery of the cattle, while in many instances there was evidence of

maggots at work on the living animal. Turning from the herd in disgust,

we went back to our own, thankful that the rate offered us had been

prohibitory. The trials and vexations of the road were mere nothings to

be endured, compared to the sights we were then leaving. Even what

we first supposed were cattle lying down, were only bed-grounds, the

occupants having been humanely relieved by unwaking sleep. Powerless to

render any assistance, we trailed away, glad to blot from our sight and

memory such scenes of misery and death.



Until reaching the Washita River, we passed through a delightful

country. There were numerous local trails coming into the main one, all

of which showed recent use. Abandoned camp-fires and bed-grounds were to

be seen on every hand, silent witnesses of an exodus which was to mark

the maximum year in the history of the cattle movement from Texas.

Several times we saw some evidence of settlement by the natives, but as

to the freedom of the country, we were monarchs of all we surveyed.

On arriving at the Washita, we encountered a number of herds, laboring

under the impression that they were water-bound. Immediate entrance at

the ford was held by a large herd of young cattle in charge of a negro

outfit. Their stock were scattered over several thousand acres, and

when I asked for the boss, a middle-aged darky of herculean figure was

pointed out as in charge. To my inquiry why he was holding the ford, his

answer was that until to-day the river had been swimming, and now he was

waiting for the banks to dry. Ridiculing his flimsy excuse, I kindly

yet firmly asked him either to cross or vacate the ford by three o'clock

that afternoon. Receiving no definite reply, I returned to our herd,

which was some five miles in the rear. Beyond the river's steep,

slippery banks and cold water, there was nothing to check a herd.



After the noonday halt, the wrangler and myself took our remuda and went

on ahead to the river. Crossing and recrossing our saddle stock a number

of times, we trampled the banks down to a firm footing. While we were

doing this work, the negro foreman and a number of his men rode up and

sullenly watched us. Leaving our horses on the north bank, Levering and

I returned, and ignoring the presence of the darky spectators, started

back to meet the herd, which was just then looming up in sight. But

before we had ridden any distance, the dusky foreman overtook us and

politely said, "Look-ee here, Cap'n; ain't you-all afraid of losin' some

of your cattle among ours?" Never halting, I replied, "Not a particle;

if we lose any, you eat them, and we'll do the same if our herd absorbs

any of yours. But it strikes me that you had better have those lazy

niggers throw your cattle to one side," I called back, as he halted his

horse. We did not look backward until we reached the herd; then as we

turned, one on each side to support the points, it was evident that a

clear field would await us on reaching the river. Every horseman in the

black outfit was pushing cattle with might and main, to give us a clean

cloth at the crossing.



The herd forded the Washita without incident. I remained on the south

bank while the cattle were crossing, and when they were about half over

some half-dozen of the darkies rode up and stopped apart, conversing

among themselves. When the drag cattle passed safely out on the farther

bank, I turned to the dusky group, only to find their foreman

absent. Making a few inquiries as to the ownership of their herd, its

destination, and other matters of interest, I asked the group to express

my thanks to their foreman for moving his cattle aside. Our commissary

crossed shortly afterward, and the Washita was in our rear. But that

night, as some of my outfit returned from the river, where they had been

fishing, they reported the negro outfit as having crossed and encamped

several miles in our rear.



"All they needed was a good example," said Dorg Seay. "Under a white

foreman, I'll bet that's a good lot of darkies. They were just about the

right shade--old shiny black. As good cowhands as ever I saw were nigs,

but they need a white man to blow and brag on them. But it always ruins

one to give him any authority."



Without effort we traveled fifteen miles a day. In the absence of any

wet weather to gall their backs, there was not a horse in our remuda

unfit for the saddle. In fact, after reaching the Indian Territory, they

took on flesh and played like lambs. With the exception of long hours

and night-herding, the days passed in seeming indolence as we swept

northward, crossing rivers without a halt which in previous years had

defied the moving herds. On arriving at the Cimarron River, in reply to

a letter written to my employer on leaving Texas behind us, an

answer was found awaiting me at Red Fork. The latter was an Indian

trading-post, located on the mail route to Fort Reno, and only a few

miles north of the Chisholm Crossing. The letter was characteristic

of my employer. It contained but one imperative order,--that I should

touch, either with or without the herd, at Camp Supply. For some

unexplained reason he would make that post his headquarters until after

the Buford herds had passed that point. The letter concluded with the

injunction, in case we met any one, to conceal the ownership of the herd

and its destination.



The mystery was thickening. But having previously declined to borrow

trouble, I brushed this aside as unimportant, though I gave my outfit

instructions to report the herd to every one as belonging to Omaha men,

and on its way to Nebraska to be corn-fed. Fortunately I had ridden

ahead of the herd after crossing the Cimarron, and had posted the outfit

before they reached the trading-station. I did not allow one of my boys

near the store, and the herd passed by as in contempt of such a wayside

place. As the Dodge cut-off left the Chisholm Trail some ten miles above

the Indian trading-post, the next morning we waved good-bye to the old

cattle trace and turned on a northwest angle. Our route now lay up the

Cimarron, which we crossed and recrossed at our pleasure, for the sake

of grazing or to avoid several large alkali flats. There was evidence of

herds in our advance, and had we not hurried past Red Fork, I might have

learned something to our advantage. But disdaining all inquiry of the

cut-off, fearful lest our identity be discovered, we deliberately walked

into the first real danger of the trip.



At low water the Cimarron was a brackish stream. But numerous

tributaries put in from either side, and by keeping above the river's

ebb, an abundance of fresh water was daily secured from the river's

affluents. The fifth day out from Red Rock was an excessively sultry

one, and suffering would have resulted to the herd had we not been

following a divide where we caught an occasional breeze. The river

lay some ten miles to our right, while before us a tributary could be

distinctly outlined by the cottonwoods which grew along it. Since early

morning we had been paralleling the creek, having nooned within sight of

its confluence with the mother stream, and consequently I had considered

it unnecessary to ride ahead and look up the water. When possible, we

always preferred watering the herd between three and four o'clock in the

afternoon. But by holding our course, we were certain to intersect the

creek at about the usual hour for the cattle's daily drink, and besides,

as the creek neared the river, it ran through an alkali flat for some

distance. But before the time arrived to intersect the creek on our

course, the herd turned out of the trail, determined to go to the creek

and quench their thirst. The entire outfit, however, massed on the right

flank, and against their will we held them on their course. As their

thirst increased with travel, they made repeated attempts to break

through our cordon, requiring every man to keep on the alert. But we

held them true to the divide, and as we came to the brow of a small hill

within a quarter-mile of the water, a stench struck us until we turned

in our saddles, gasping for breath. I was riding third man in the swing

from the point, and noticing something wrong in front, galloped to the

brow of the hill. The smell was sickening and almost unendurable, and

there before us in plain view lay hundreds of dead cattle, bloated and

decaying in the summer sun.



I was dazed by the awful scene. A pretty, greenswarded little valley

lay before me, groups of cottonwoods fringed the stream here and there,

around the roots of which were both shade and water. The reeking stench

that filled the air stupefied me for the instant, and I turned my horse

from the view, gasping for a mouthful of God's pure ozone. But our

beeves had been scenting the creek for hours, and now a few of the

leaders started forward in a trot for it. Like a flash it came to me

that death lurked in that water, and summoning every man within hearing,

I dashed to the lead of our cattle to turn them back over the hill.

Jack Splann was on the point, and we turned the leaders when within

two hundred yards of the creek, frequently jumping our horses over the

putrid carcasses of dead cattle. The main body of the herd were trailing

for three quarters of a mile in our rear, and none of the men dared

leave their places. Untying our slickers, Splann and I fell upon the

leaders and beat them back to the brow of the hill, when an unfortunate

breeze was wafted through that polluted atmosphere from the creek to the

cattle's nostrils. Turning upon us and now augmented to several hundred

head, they sullenly started forward. But in the few minutes' interim,

two other lads had come to our support, and dismounting we rushed them,

whipping our slickers into ribbons over their heads. The mastery of man

again triumphed over brutes in their thirst, for we drove them in a rout

back over the divide.



Our success, however, was only temporary. Recovering our horses we beat

the cattle back, seemingly inch by inch, until the rear came up, when we

rounded them into a compact body. They quieted down for a short while,

affording us a breathing spell, for the suddenness of this danger

had not only unnerved me but every one of the outfit who had caught a

glimpse of that field of death. The wagon came up, and those who needed

them secured a change of horses. Leaving the outfit holding the herd,

Splann and I took fresh mounts, and circling around, came in on the

windward side of the creek. As we crossed it half a mile above the scene

of disaster, each of us dipped a hand in the water and tasted it. The

alkali was strong as concentrated lye, blistering our mouths in the

experiment. The creek was not even running, but stood in long, deep

pools, clear as crystal and as inviting to the thirsty as a mountain

spring. As we neared the dead cattle, Splann called my attention to the

attitude of the animals when death relieved them, the heads of fully

two thirds being thrown back on their sides. Many, when stricken, were

unable to reach the bank, and died in the bed of the stream. Making a

complete circle of the ghastly scene, we returned to our own, agreeing

that between five and six hundred cattle had met their fate in those

death-dealing pools.



We were not yet out of the woods. On our return, many of the cattle were

lying down, while in the west thunder-clouds were appearing. The North

Fork of the Canadian lay on our left, which was now our only hope for

water, yet beyond our reach for the day. Keeping the slight divide

between us and the creek, we started the herd forward. Since it was

impossible to graze them in their thirsty condition, I was determined to

move them as far as possible before darkness overtook us. But within an

hour we crossed a country trail over which herds had passed on their way

northwest, having left the Chisholm after crossing the North Fork. At

the first elevation which would give me a view of the creek, another

scene of death and desolation greeted my vision, only a few miles

above the first one. Yet from this same hill I could easily trace the

meanderings of the creek for miles as it made a half circle in our

front, both inviting and defying us. Turning the herd due south, we

traveled until darkness fell, going into camp on a high, flat mesa of

several thousand acres. But those evening breezes wafted an invitation

to come and drink, and our thirsty herd refused to bed down. To add to

our predicament, a storm thickened in the west. Realizing that we were

confronting the most dangerous night in all my cattle experience, I

ordered every man into the saddle. The remuda and team were taken in

charge by the wrangler and cook, and going from man to man, I warned

them what the consequences would be if we lost the herd during the

night, and the cattle reached the creek.



The cattle surged and drifted almost at will, for we were compelled to

hold them loose to avoid milling. Before ten o'clock the lightning was

flickering overhead and around us, revealing acres of big beeves, which

in an instant might take fright, and then, God help us. But in that

night of trial a mercy was extended to the dumb brutes in charge. A warm

rain began falling, first in a drizzle, increasing after the first hour,

and by midnight we could hear the water slushing under our horses' feet.

By the almost constant flashes of lightning we could see the cattle

standing as if asleep, in grateful enjoyment of the sheeting downpour.

As the night wore on, our fears of a stampede abated, for the buffalo

wallows on the mesa filled, and water was on every hand. The rain ceased

before dawn, but owing to the saturated condition underfoot, not a hoof

lay down during the night, and when the gray of morning streaked the

east, what a sense of relief it brought us. The danger had passed.



Near noon that day, and within a few miles of the North Fork, we rounded

an alkaline plain in which this deadly creek had its source. Under the

influence of the season, alkali had oozed up out of the soil until it

looked like an immense lake under snow. The presence of range cattle

in close proximity to this creek, for we were in the Cherokee Strip,

baffled my reasoning; but the next day we met a range-rider who

explained that the present condition of the stream was unheard of

before, and that native cattle had instinct enough to avoid it. He

accounted for its condition as due to the dry season, there being no

general rains sufficient to flood the alkaline plain and thoroughly

flush the creek. In reply to an inquiry as to the ownership of the

unfortunate herds, he informed me that there were three, one belonging

to Bob Houston, another to Major Corouthers, and the third to a man

named Murphy, the total loss amounting to about two thousand cattle.



From this same range-man we also learned our location. Camp Supply lay

up the North Fork some sixty miles, while a plain trail followed up the

first bottom of the river. Wishing to avoid, if possible, intersecting

the western trail south of Dodge, the next morning I left the herd to

follow up, and rode into Camp Supply before noon. Lovell had sighted me

a mile distant, and after a drink at the sutler's bar, we strolled aside

for a few minutes' chat. Once I had informed him of the locality of

the herd and their condition, he cautioned me not to let my business

be known while in the post. After refreshing the inner man, my employer

secured a horse and started with me on my return. As soon as the flag

over Supply faded out of sight in our rear, we turned to the friendly

shade of the timber on the North Fork and dismounted. I felt that the

precaution exercised by the drover was premonitory of some revelation,

and before we arose from the cottonwood log on which we took seats, the

scales had fallen from my eyes and the atmosphere of mystery cleared.



"Tom," said my employer, "I am up against a bad proposition. I am

driving these Buford cattle, you understand, on a sub-contract. I was

the second lowest bidder with the government, and no sooner was the

award made to The Western Supply Company than they sent an agent who

gave me no peace until they sublet their contract. Unfortunately for me,

when the papers were drawn, my regular attorney was out of town, and I

was compelled to depend on a stranger. After the articles were executed,

I submitted the matter to my old lawyer; he shook his head, arguing

that a loophole had been left open, and that I should have secured an

assignment of the original contract. After studying the matter over, we

opened negotiations to secure a complete relinquishment of the award.

But when I offered the company a thousand dollars over and above what

they admitted was their margin, and they refused it, I opened my eyes to

the true situation. If cattle went up, I was responsible and would have

to fill my contract; if they went down, the company would buy in the

cattle and I could go to hell in a hand-basket for all they cared.

Their bond to the government does me no good, and beyond that they are

irresponsible. Beeves have broken from four to five dollars a head, and

unless I can deliver these Buford herds on my contract, they will lose

me fifty thousand dollars."



"Have you any intimation that they expect to buy in other cattle?" I

inquired.



"Yes. I have had a detective in my employ ever since my suspicions

were aroused. There are two parties in Dodge this very minute with the

original contract, properly assigned, and they are looking for cattle to

fill it. That's why I'm stopping here and lying low. I couldn't explain

it to you sooner, but you understand now why I drove those Buford herds

in different road brands. Tom, we're up against it, and we've got to

fight the devil with fire. Henceforth your name will be Tom McIndoo,

your herd will be the property of the Marshall estate, and their agent,

my detective, will be known as Charles Siringo. Any money or supplies

you may need in Dodge, get in the usual form through the firm of Wright,

Beverly & Co.--they understand. Hold your herd out south on Mulberry,

and Siringo will have notice and be looking for you, or you can find him

at the Dodge House. I've sent a courier to Fort Elliott to meet Dave and

Quince, and once I see them, I'll run up to Ogalalla and wait for you.

Now, until further orders, remember you never knew a man by the name of

Don Lovell, and by all means don't forget to use what wits Nature gave

you."





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