Fort Buford





We were at our rope's end. There were a few accounts to settle in

Glendive, after which we would shake its dust from our feet. Very few

of the quarantine guards returned to town, and with the exception of

Sheriff Wherry, none of the leading cowmen, all having ridden direct

for their ranches. Long before the train arrived which would carry us to

Little Missouri, the opposition herds appeared and crossed the railroad

west of town. Their commissaries entered the village for supplies, while

the "major-domo," surrounded by a body-guard of men, rode about on his

miserable palfrey. The sheriff, fearing a clash between the victorious

and the vanquished, kept an eye on Sponsilier and me as we walked the

streets, freely expressing our contempt of Field, Radcliff & Co., their

henchmen and their methods. Dave and I were both nerved to desperation;

Sheriff Wherry, anxious to prevent a conflict, counciled with the

opposition drovers, resulting in their outfits leaving town, while the

principals took stage across to Buford.



Meanwhile Sponsilier had wired full particulars to our employer at Big

Horn. It was hardly necessary, as the frost no doubt was general all

over Montana, but we were anxious to get into communication with Lovell

immediately on his return to the railroad. We had written him from

Miles of our failure at Powderville, and the expected second stand at

Glendive, and now the elements had notified him that the opposition

herds were within striking distance, and would no doubt appear at Buford

on or before the day of delivery. An irritable man like our employer

would neither eat nor sleep, once the delivery at the Crow Agency was

over, until reaching the railroad, and our message would be awaiting him

on his return to Big Horn. Our train reached Little Missouri early in

the evening, and leaving word with the agent that we were expecting

important messages from the west, we visited the liveryman and inquired

about the welfare of our horses. The proprietor of the stable informed

us that they had fared well, and that he would have them ready for us on

an hour's notice. It was after dark and we were at supper when the first

message came. An immediate answer was required, and arising from the

table, we left our meal unfinished and hastened to the depot. From then

until midnight, messages flashed back and forth, Sponsilier dictating

while I wrote. As there was no train before the regular passenger the

next day, the last wire requested us to have the horses ready to meet

the Eastbound, saying that Bob Quirk would accompany Lovell.



That night it frosted again. Sponsilier and I slept until noon the next

day without awakening. Then the horses were brought in from pasture, and

preparation was made to leave that evening. It was in the neighborhood

of ninety miles across to the mouth of the Yellowstone, and the chances

were that we would ride it without unsaddling. The horses had had a two

weeks' rest, and if our employer insisted on it, we would breakfast with

the herds the next morning. I was anxious to see the cattle again and

rejoin my outfit, but like a watched pot, the train was an hour late.

Sponsilier and I took advantage of the delay and fortified the inner

man against the night and the ride before us. This proved fortunate, as

Lovell and my brother had supper en route in the dining-car. A running

series of questions were asked and answered; saddles were shaken out of

gunny-sacks and cinched on waiting horses as though we were starting

to a prairie fire. Bob Quirk's cattle had reached the Crow Agency in

splendid condition, the delivery was effected without a word, and old

man Don was in possession of a letter from Flood, saying everything had

passed smoothly at the Rosebud Agency.



Contrary to the expectation of Sponsilier and myself, our employer was

in a good humor, fairly walking on the clouds over the success of his

two first deliveries of the year. But amid the bustle and rush, in view

of another frosty night, Sponsilier inquired if it would not be a good

idea to fortify against the chill, by taking along a bottle of brandy.

"Yes, two of them if you want to," said old man Don, in good-humored

approval. "Here, Tom, fork this horse and take the pitch out of him," he

continued; "I don't like the look of his eye." But before I could reach

the horse, one of my own string, Bob Quirk had mounted him, when in

testimony of the nutritive qualities of Dakota's grasses, he arched his

spine like a true Texan and outlined a worm-fence in bucking a circle.



The start was made during the gathering dusk. Sponsilier further

lifted the spirits of our employer, as we rode along, by a clear-cut

description of the opposition cattle, declaring that had they ever

equaled ours, the handling they had received since leaving Ogalalla,

compared to his, would class them with short twos in the spring against

long threes in the fall. Within an hour the stars shone out, and after

following the river some ten miles, we bore directly north until

Beaver Creek was reached near midnight. The pace was set at about an

eight-mile, steady clip, with an occasional halt to tighten cinches or

shift saddles. The horses were capable of a faster gait without tiring,

but we were not sure of the route and were saving them for the finish

after daybreak. Early in the night we were conscious that a frost was

falling, and several times Sponsilier inquired if no one cared for a nip

from his bottle. Bob Quirk started the joke on Dave by declining; old

man Don uncorked the flask, and, after smelling of the contents, handed

it back with his thanks. I caught onto their banter, and not wishing

to spoil a good jest, also declined, leaving Sponsilier to drink alone.

During the night, whenever conversation lagged, some one was certain to

make reference to the remarks which are said to have passed between the

governors of the Carolinas, or if that failed to provoke a rise, ask

direct if no one had something to ward off the chilly air. After being

refused several times, Dave had thrown the bottle away, meeting these

jests with the reply that he had a private flask, but its quality was

such that he was afraid of offending our cultivated tastes by asking us

to join him.



Day broke about five in the morning. We had been in the saddle nearly

ten hours, and were confident that sunrise would reveal some landmark to

identify our location. The atmosphere was frosty and clear, and once the

gray of dawn yielded to the rising sun, the outline of the Yellowstone

was easily traced on our left, while the bluffs in our front shielded

a view of the mother Missouri. In attempting to approach the latter we

encountered some rough country and were compelled to turn towards the

former, crossing it, at O'Brien's roadhouse, some seven miles above the

mouth. The husbanded reserves of our horses were shaken out, and shortly

afterward smoke-clouds from camp-fires, hanging low, attracted our

attention. The herds were soon located as they arose and grazed away

from their bed-grounds. The outfits were encamped on the eastern side of

the Yellowstone; and before leaving the government road, we sighted in

our front a flag ascending to greet the morning, and the location of

Fort Buford was established. Turning towards the cattle, we rode for the

lower wagon and were soon unsaddling at Forrest's camp. The latter

had arrived two days before and visited the post; he told us that

the opposition were there in force, as well as our own attorneys. The

arrival of the cattle under contract for that military division was the

main topic of discussion, and Forrest had even met a number of civilian

employees of Fort Buford whose duties were to look after the government

beeves. The foreman of these unenlisted attaches, a Texan named Sanders,

had casually ridden past his camp the day before, looking over the

cattle, and had pronounced them the finest lot of beeves tendered the

government since his connection with that post.



"That's good news," said Lovell, as he threw his saddle astride the

front wheel of the wagon; "that's the way I like to hear my cattle

spoken about. Now, you boys want to make friends with all those

civilians, and my attorneys and Bob and I will hobnob around with the

officers, and try and win the good will of the entire post. You want to

change your camp every few days and give your cattle good grazing and

let them speak for themselves. Better kill a beef among the outfits, and

insist on all callers staying for meals. We're strangers here, and we

want to make a good impression, and show the public that we were born

white, even if we do handle cattle for a living. Quince, tie up the

horses for us, and after breakfast Bob and I will look over the herds

and then ride into Fort Buford.--Trout for breakfast? You don't mean

it!"



It was true, however, and our appetites did them justice. Forrest

reported Splann as having arrived a day late, and now encamped the last

herd up the valley. Taking our horses with us, Dave and I set out

to look up our herds and resume our former positions. I rode through

Sponsilier's cattle while en route to my own, and remembered the first

impression they had made on my mind,--their uniformity in size and

smoothness of build,--and now found them fatted into finished form, the

herd being a credit to any drover. Continuing on my way, I intercepted

my own cattle, lying down over hundreds of acres, and so contented

that I refused to disturb them. Splann reported not over half a dozen

sore-footed ones among them, having grazed the entire distance from

Little Missouri, giving the tender cattle a good chance to recover. I

held a circle of listeners for several hours, in recounting Sponsilier's

and my own experiences in the quarantine camps, and our utter final

failure, except that the opposition herds had been detained, which would

force them to drive over twenty miles a day in order to reach Buford on

time. On the other hand, an incident of more than ordinary moment had

occurred with the cattle some ten days previous. The slow movement of

the grazing herds allowed a great amount of freedom to the boys and was

taken advantage of at every opportunity. It seems that on approaching

Beaver Creek, Owen Ubery and Runt Pickett had ridden across to it for

the purpose of trout-fishing. They were gone all day, having struck the

creek some ten or twelve miles west of the cattle, expecting to fish

down it and overtake the herds during the evening. But about noon they

discovered where a wagon had been burned, years before, and near by were

five human skeletons, evidently a family. It was possibly the work of

Indians, or a blizzard, and to prove the discovery, Pickett had brought

in one of the skulls and proposed taking it home with him as a memento

of the drive. Parent objected to having the reminder in the wagon, and a

row resulted between them, till Splann interfered and threw the gruesome

relic away.



The next morning a dozen of us from the three herds rode into the post.

Fort Buford was not only a military headquarters, but a supply depot

for other posts farther west on the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

The nearest railroad connection was Glendive, seventy-six miles up the

latter stream, though steamboats took advantage of freshets in the river

to transport immense supplies from lower points on the Missouri where

there were rail connections. From Buford westward, transportation was

effected by boats of lighter draft and the regulation wagon train. It

was recognized as one of the most important supply posts in the West; as

early as five years previous to this date, it had received in a single

summer as many as ten thousand beeves. Its provision for cavalry was

one of its boasted features, immense stacks of forage flanking those

quarters, while the infantry barracks and officers' quarters were large

and comfortable. A stirring little town had sprung up on the outside,

affording the citizens employment in wood and hay contracts, and

becoming the home of a large number of civilian employees, the post

being the mainstay of the village.



After settling our quarantine bills, Sponsilier and I each had money

left. Our employer refused even to look at our expense bills until

after the delivery, but urged us to use freely any remaining funds in

cultivating the good will of the citizens and soldiery alike. Forrest

was accordingly supplied with funds, with the understanding that he was

to hunt up Sanders and his outfit and show them a good time. The beef

foreman was soon located in the quartermaster's office, and, having been

connected with the post for several years, knew the ropes. He had come

to Buford with Texas cattle, and after their delivery had accepted

a situation under the acting quartermaster, easily rising to the

foremanship through his superior abilities as a cowman. It was like a

meeting of long-lost brothers to mingle again with a cow outfit, and

the sutler's bar did a flourishing business during our stay in the post.

There were ten men in Sanders's outfit, several of whom besides himself

were Texans, and before we parted, every rascal had promised to visit us

the next day and look over all the cattle.



The next morning Bob Quirk put in an early appearance at my wagon. He

had passed the other outfits, and notified us all to have the cattle

under convenient herd, properly watered in advance, as the post

commandant, quartermaster, and a party of minor officers were going to

ride out that afternoon and inspect our beeves. Lovell, of course, would

accompany them, and Bob reported him as having made a ten-strike with

the officers' mess, not being afraid to spend his money. Fortunately the

present quartermaster at Buford was a former acquaintance of Lovell,

the two having had business transactions. The quartermaster had been

connected with frontier posts from Fort Clark, Texas, to his present

position. According to report, the opposition were active and waging an

aggressive campaign, but not being Western men, were at a disadvantage.

Champagne had flowed freely at a dinner given the night before by our

employer, during which Senator Aspgrain, in responding to a toast, had

paid the army a high tribute for the part it had played in reclaiming

the last of our western frontier. The quartermaster, in replying, had

felicitously remarked, as a matter of his own observation, that the

Californian's love for a horse was only excelled by the Texan's love for

a cow, to which, amid uproarious laughter, old man Don arose and bowed

his acknowledgment.



My brother changed horses and returned to Sponsilier's wagon. Dave had

planned to entertain the post beef outfit for dinner, and had insisted

on Bob's presence. They arrived at my herd near the middle of the

forenoon, and after showing the cattle and remuda, we all returned to

Sponsilier's camp. These civilian employees furnished their own mounts,

and were anxious to buy a number of our best horses after the delivery

was over. Not even a whisper was breathed about any uncertainty of our

filling the outstanding contract, yet Sanders was given to understand

that Don Lovell would rather, if he took a fancy to him, give a man a

horse than sell him one. Not a word was said about any opposition to our

herds; that would come later, and Sanders and his outfit were too good

judges of Texas cattle to be misled by any bluster or boastful talk.

Sponsilier acted the host, and after dinner unearthed a box of cigars,

and we told stories and talked of our homes in the sunny South until

the arrival of the military party. The herds had been well watered

about noon and drifted out on the first uplands, and we intercepted the

cavalcade before it reached Sponsilier's herd. They were mounted on

fine cavalry horses, and the only greeting which passed, aside from a

military salute, was when Lovell said: "Dave, show these officers your

beeves. Answer any question they may ask to the best of your ability.

Gentlemen, excuse me while you look over the cattle."



There were about a dozen military men in the party, some of them

veterans of the civil war, others having spent their lifetime on our

western frontier, while a few were seeing their first year's service

after leaving West Point. In looking over the cattle, the post commander

and quartermaster were taken under the wing of Sanders, who, as only

a man could who was born to the occupation, called their attention to

every fine point about the beeves. After spending fully an hour with

Sponsilier's herd, the cavalcade proceeded on to mine, Lovell rejoining

the party, but never once attempting to draw out an opinion, and again

excusing himself on reaching my cattle. I continued with the military,

answering every one's questions, from the young lieutenant's to

the veteran commandant's, in which I was ably seconded by the

quartermaster's foreman. My cattle had a splendid fill on them and

eloquently spoke their own praises, yet Sanders lost no opportunity to

enter a clincher in their favor. He pointed out beef after beef, and

vouched for the pounds net they would dress, called attention to their

sameness in build, ages, and general thrift, until one would have

supposed that he was a salesman instead of a civilian employee.



My herd was fully ten miles from the post, and it was necessary for the

military to return that evening. Don Lovell and a number of the boys had

halted at a distance, and once the inspection was over, we turned and

rode back to the waiting group of horsemen. On coming up, a number of

the officers dismounted to shift saddles, preparatory to starting on

their return, when the quartermaster halted near our employer and said:



"Colonel Lovell, let me say to you, in all sincerity, that in my

twenty-five years' experience on this frontier, I never saw a finer

lot of beeves tendered the government than these of yours. My position

requires that I should have a fair knowledge of beef cattle, and the

perquisites of my office in a post of Buford's class enable me to employ

the best practical men available to perfect the service. I remember

the quality of cattle which you delivered four years ago to me at Fort

Randall, when it was a six-company post, yet they were not as fine a lot

of beeves as these are. I have always contended that there was nothing

too good in my department for the men who uphold the colors of our

country, especially on the front line. You have been a soldier yourself

and know that I am talking good horsesense, and I want to say to you

that whatever the outcome of this dispute may be, if yours are the best

cattle, you may count on my support until the drums beat tattoo. The

government is liberal and insists on the best; the rank and file are

worthy, and yet we don't always get what is ordered and well paid for.

Now, remember, comrade, if this difference comes to an issue, I'm right

behind you, and we'll stand or be turned down together."



"Thank you, Colonel," replied Mr. Lovell. "It does seem rather

fortunate, my meeting up with a former business acquaintance, and at

a time when I need him bad. If I am successful in delivering on this

Buford award, it will round out, during my fifteen years as a drover,

over a hundred thousand cattle that I have sold to the government for

its Indian and army departments. There are no secrets in my business;

the reason of my success is simple--my cattle were always there on the

appointed day, humanely handled, and generally just a shade better than

the specifications. My home country has the cattle for sale; I can tell

within two bits a head what it will cost to lay them down here, and it's

music to my ear to hear you insist on the best. I agree with you that

the firing-line is entitled to special consideration, yet you know that

there are ringsters who fatten at the expense of the rank and file. At

present I haven't a word to say, but at noon to-morrow I shall tender

the post commander at Ford Buford, through his quartermaster, ten

thousand beeves, as a sub-contractor on the original award to The

Western Supply Company." The post commander, an elderly, white-haired

officer, rode over and smilingly said: "Now, look here, my Texas friend,

I'm afraid you are borrowing trouble. True enough, there has been a

protest made against our receiving your beeves, and I don't mince my

words in saying that some hard things have been said about you. But we

happen to know something about your reputation and don't give credit for

all that is said. Your beeves are an eloquent argument in your favor,

and if I were you I wouldn't worry. It is always a good idea in this

Western country to make a proviso; and unless the unforeseen happens,

the quartermaster's cattle foreman will count your beeves to-morrow

afternoon; and for the sake of your company, if we keep you a day or two

longer settling up, I don't want to hear you kick. Now, come on and go

back with us to the post, as I promised my wife to bring you over to our

house this evening. She seems to think that a man from Texas with ten

thousand cattle ought to have horns, and I want to show her that she's

mistaken. Come on, now, and not a damned word of protest out of you."



The military party started on their return, accompanied by Lovell. The

civilian attaches followed at a respectful distance, a number of us

joining them as far as Sponsilier's camp. There we halted, when Sanders

insisted on an explanation of the remarks which had passed between our

employer and his. Being once more among his own, he felt no delicacy

in asking for information--which he would never think of doing with his

superiors. My brother gave him a true version of the situation, but it

remained for Dave Sponsilier to add an outline of the opposition herds

and outfits.



"With humane treatment," said Dave, "the cattle would have qualified

under the specifications. They were bought at Ogalalla, and any of the

boys here will tell you that the first one was a good herd. The market

was all shot to pieces, and they picked them up at their own price. But

the owners didn't have cow-sense enough to handle the cattle, and put

one of their own gang over the herds as superintendent. They left Cabin

Creek, below Glendive, on the morning of the 10th, and they'll have

to travel nearly twenty miles a day to reach here by noon to-morrow.

Sanders, you know that gait will soon kill heavy cattle. The outfits

were made up of short-card men and dance-hall ornaments, wild enough to

look at, but shy on cattle sabe. Just so they showed up bad and wore a

six-shooter, that was enough to win a home with Field and Radcliff.

If they reach here on time, I'll gamble there ain't ten horses in the

entire outfit that don't carry a nigger brand. And when it comes to the

big conversation--well, they've simply got the earth faded."



It was nearly sundown when we mounted our horses and separated for the

day. Bob Quirk returned to the post with the civilians, while I hastened

back to my wagon. I had left orders with Splann to water the herd a

second time during the evening and thus insure an easy night in holding

the cattle. On my return, they were just grazing out from the river,

their front a mile wide, making a pretty picture with the Yellowstone

in the background. But as I sat my horse and in retrospect reviewed my

connection with the cattle before me and the prospect of soon severing

it, my remuda came over a near-by hill in a swinging trot for their

second drink. Levering threw them into the river below the herd, and

turning, galloped up to me and breathlessly asked: "Tom, did you see

that dust-cloud up the river? Well, the other cattle are coming. The

timber cuts off your view from here, besides the sun's gone down, but I

watched their signal for half an hour from that second hill yonder.

Oh, it's cattle all right; I know the sign, even if they are ten miles

away."





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