In Quarantine

We reached Miles City shortly after midnight. It was the recognized

cattle centre of Montana at that time, but devoid of the high-lights

which were a feature of the trail towns. The village boasted the usual

number of saloons and dance-houses, and likewise an ordinance compelling

such resorts to close on the stroke of twelve. Lovell had been there

before, and led the way to a well-known hostelry. The house was crowded,

and the best the night clerk could do was to give us a room with two

beds. This was perfectly satisfactory, as it was a large apartment

and fronted out on an open gallery. Old man Don suggested we take the

mattresses outside, but as this was my first chance to sleep in a bed

since leaving the ranch in March, I wanted all the comforts that were

due me. Sponsilier likewise favored the idea of sleeping inside, and our

employer yielded, taking the single bed on retiring. The night was warm,

and after thrashing around for nearly an hour, supposing that Dave and I

were asleep, old man Don arose and quietly dragged his mattress outside.

Our bed was soft and downy, but in spite of the lateness of the hour and

having been in our saddles at dawn, we tossed about, unable to sleep.

After agreeing that it was the mattress, we took the covering and

pillows and lay down on the floor, falling into a deep slumber almost

instantly. "Well, wouldn't that jar your eccentric," said Dave to me the

next morning, speaking of our inability to sleep in a bed. "I slept in

one in Ogalalla, and I wasn't over-full either."

Lovell remained with us all the next day. He was well known in Miles

City, having in other years sold cattle to resident cowmen. The day was

spent in hunting up former acquaintances, getting the lay of the land,

and feeling the public pulse on the matter of quarantine on Southern

cattle. The outlook was to our liking, as heavy losses had been

sustained from fever the year before, and steps had already been taken

to isolate all through animals until frost fell. Report was abroad that

there were already within the jurisdiction of Montana over one hundred

and fifty thousand through Texas cattle, with a possibility of one

third that number more being added before the close of the season. That

territory had established a quarantine camp on the Wyoming line, forcing

all Texas stock to follow down the eastern side of the Powder River.

Fully one hundred miles on the north, a dead-line was drawn from

Powderville on that watercourse eastward to a spur of the Powder River

Mountains, thus setting aside a quarantine ground ample to accommodate

half a million cattle. Local range-riders kept all the native and

wintered Texas cattle to the westward of the river and away from the

through ones, which was easily done by riding lines, the Southern herds

being held under constant control and hence never straying. The first

Texas herds to arrive naturally traveled north to the dead-line, and,

choosing a range, went into camp until frost relieved them. It was an

unwritten law that a herd was entitled to as much grazing land as it

needed, and there was a report about Miles City that the quarantine

ground was congested with cattle halfway from Powderville to the Wyoming


The outlook was encouraging. Quarantine was working a hardship to herds

along the old Powder River route, yet their enforced isolation was

like a tempered wind to our cause and cattle, the latter then leisurely

grazing across Dakota from the Little Missouri to the mouth of the

Yellowstone. Fortune favored us in many respects. About Miles City there

was no concealment of our mission, resulting in an old acquaintance of

Lovell's loaning us horses, while old man Don had no trouble in getting

drafts cashed to the amount of two thousand dollars. What he expected to

do with this amount of money was a mystery to Dave and myself, a mystery

which instantly cleared when we were in the privacy of our room at the


"Here, boys," said old man Don, throwing the roll of money on the bed,

"divide this wad between you. There might be such a thing as using

a little here and there to sweeten matters up, and making yourselves

rattling good fellows wherever you go. Now in the first place, I want

you both to understand that this money is clear velvet, and don't

hesitate to spend it freely. Eat and drink all you can, and gamble a

little of it if that is necessary. You two will saddle up in the morning

and ride to Powderville, while I will lie around here a few days and try

the market for cattle next year, and then go on to Big Horn on my way

to the Crow Agency. Feel your way carefully; locate the herds of Field,

Radcliff & Co., and throw everything in their way to retard progress.

It is impossible to foretell what may happen, and for that reason only

general orders can be given. And remember, I don't want to see that

money again if there is any chance to use it."

Powderville was a long day's ride from Miles City. By making an early

start and resting a few hours at noon, we reached that straggling

outpost shortly after nightfall. There was a road-house for the

wayfaring man and a corral for his beast, a general store, opposition

saloons, and the regulation blacksmith shop, constituting the business

interests of Powderville. As arriving guests, a rough but cordial

welcome was extended us by the keeper of the hostelry, and we mingled

with the other travelers, but never once mentioning our business. I was

uneasy over the money in our possession; not that I feared robbery, but

my mind constantly reverted to it, and it was with difficulty that I

refrained from continually feeling to see that it was safe. Sponsilier

had concealed his in his boot, and as we rode along, contended that

he could feel the roll chafing his ankle. I had tied two handkerchiefs

together, and rolling my share in one of them, belted the amount between

my overshirt and undershirt. The belt was not noticeable, but in making

the ride that day, my hand involuntarily went to my side where the money

lay, the action never escaping the notice of Sponsilier, who constantly

twitted me over my nervousness. And although we were tired as dogs after

our long ride, I awoke many times that night and felt to see if my money

was safe; my partner slept like a log.

Several cowmen, ranching on the lower Powder River, had headquarters at

this outpost. The next morning Sponsilier and I made their acquaintance,

and during the course of the day got a clear outline of the situation.

On the west the river was the recognized dead-line to the Wyoming

boundary, while two camps of five men each patroled the dividing line on

the north, drifting back the native stock and holding the through herds

in quarantine. The nearest camp was some distance east of Powderville,

and saddling up towards evening we rode out and spent the night at

the first quarantine station. A wagon and two tents, a relay of saddle

horses, and an arsenal of long-range firearms composed the outfit. Three

of the five men on duty were Texans. Making ourselves perfectly at home,

we had no trouble in locating the herds in question, they having already

sounded the tocsin to clear the way, claiming government beef recognized

no local quarantine. The herds were not over thirty miles to the south,

and expectation ran high as to results when an attempt should be made

to cross the deadline. Trouble had already occurred, where outfits

respecting the quarantine were trespassed upon by three herds, making

claim of being under government protection and entitled to the rights of

eminent domain. Fortunately several of the herds on the immediate line

had been bought at Ogalalla and were in possession of ranch outfits who

owned ranges farther north, and were anxious to see quarantine enforced.

These local cowmen would support the established authority, and trouble

was expected. Sponsilier and I widened the breach by denouncing these

intruders as the hirelings of a set of ringsters, who had no regard

for the rights of any one, and volunteered our services in enforcing

quarantine against them the same as others.

Our services were gratefully accepted. The next morning we were

furnished fresh horses, and one of us was requested, as we were

strangers, to ride down the country and reconnoitre the advance of

the defiant drovers. As I was fearful that Field or Radcliff might

be accompanying the herds, and recognize me, Sponsilier went instead,

returning late that evening.

"Well, fellows," said Dave, as he dismounted at the quarantine camp,

"I've seen the herds, and they propose to cross this dead-line of yours

as easily as water goes through a gourd funnel. They'll be here by noon

to-morrow, and they've got the big conversation right on tap to show

that the government couldn't feed its army if it wasn't for a few big

cowmen like them. There's a strange corporal over the three herds and

they're working on five horses to the man. But the major-domo's the

whole works; he's a windy cuss, and intimates that he has a card or two

up his sleeve that will put these quarantine guards to sleep when he

springs them. He's a new man to me; at least he wasn't with the gang at


During the absence of my partner, I had ridden the dead-line on the

north. A strip of country five miles wide was clear of cattle above the

boundary, while below were massed four herds, claiming the range from

the mountains to the Powder River. The leader of the quarantine guards,

Fred Ullmer, had accompanied me on the ride, and on our return we

visited three of the outfits, urging them to hold all their reserve

forces subject to call, in case an attempt was made to force the

dead-line. At each camp I took every possible chance to sow the seeds

of dissension and hatred against the high-handed methods of The Western

Supply Company. Defining our situation clearly, I asked each foreman, in

case these herds defied local authority, who would indemnify the owners

for the loss among native cattle by fever between Powderville and the

mouth of the Yellowstone. Would the drovers? Would the government?

Leaving these and similar thoughts for their consideration, Ullmer and I

had arrived at the first quarantine station shortly before the return of

my partner.

Upon the report of Sponsilier, Ullmer was appointed captain, and lost

no time in taking action. After dark, a scout was sent to Camp No. 2, a

meeting-place was appointed on Wolf Creek below, and orders were given

to bring along every possible man from the local outfits and to meet

at the rendezvous within an hour after sun-up the next morning. Ullmer

changed horses and left for Powderville, assuring us that he would rally

every man interested in quarantine, and have his posse below, on the

creek by sunrise. The remainder of us at headquarters were under orders

to bring all the arms and ammunition, and join the quarantine forces at

the meeting-place some five miles from our camp. We were also to touch

at and command the presence of one of the four outfits while en route.

I liked the determined action of Captain Ullmer, who I learned had

emigrated with his parents to Montana when a boy, and had grown into

manhood on the frontier. Sponsilier was likewise pleased with the

quarantine leader, and we lay awake far into the night, reviewing the

situation and trying to anticipate any possible contingency that might

thwart our plans. But to our best reasoning the horizon was clear, and

if Field, Radcliff & Co.'s cattle reached Fort Buford on the day of

delivery, well, it would be a miracle.

Fresh horses were secured at dawn, and breakfast would be secured en

route with the cow outfit. There were a dozen large-calibre rifles in

scabbards, and burdening ourselves with two heavy guns to the man and an

abundance of ammunition, we abandoned Quarantine Station No. 1 for the

time being. The camp which we were to touch at was the one nearest the

river and north of Wolf Creek, and we galloped up to it before the sun

had even risen. Since everything was coming our way, Sponsilier and I

observed a strict neutrality, but a tow-headed Texan rallied the outfit,


"Make haste, fellows, and saddle up your horses. Those three herds

which raised such a rumpus up on Little Powder have sent down word that

they're going to cross our dead-line to-day if they have to prize up

hell and put a chunk under it. We have decided to call their bluff

before they even reach the line, and make them show their hand for

all this big talk. Here's half a dozen guns and cartridges galore, but

hustle yourselves. Fred went into Powderville last night and will meet

us above at the twin buttes this morning with every cowman in town. All

the other outfits have been sent for, and we'll have enough men to make

our bluff stand up, never fear. From what I learn, these herds belong to

a lot of Yankee speculators, and they don't give a tinker's dam if all

the cattle in Montana die from fever. They're no better than anybody

else, and if we allow them to go through, they'll leave a trail of dead

natives that will stink us out of this valley. Make haste, everybody."

I could see at a glance that the young Texan had touched their pride.

The foreman detailed three men to look after the herd, and the balance

made hasty preparations to accompany the quarantine guards. A relief was

rushed away for the herders; and when the latter came in, they reported

having sighted the posse from Powderville, heading across country for

the twin buttes. Meanwhile a breakfast had been bolted by the guards,

Sponsilier, and myself, and swinging into our saddles, we rounded a

bluff bend of the creek and rode for the rendezvous, some three miles

distant. I noticed by the brands that nearly every horse in that country

had been born in Texas, and the short time in which we covered the

intervening miles proved that the change of climate had added to their

stability and bottom. Our first glimpse of the meeting-point revealed

the summit of the buttes fairly covered with horsemen. From their

numbers it was evident that ours was the last contingent to arrive; but

before we reached the twin mounds, the posse rode down from the lookout

and a courier met and turned us from our course. The lead herd had been

sighted in trail formation but a few miles distant, heading north, and

it was the intention to head them at the earliest moment. The messenger

inquired our numbers, and reported those arrived at forty-five, making

the posse when united a few over sixty men.

A juncture of forces was effected within a mile of the lead herd. It was

a unique posse. Old frontiersmen, with patriarchal beards and sawed-off

shotguns, chewed their tobacco complacently as they rode forward at a

swinging gallop. Beardless youths, armed with the old buffalo guns of

their fathers, led the way as if an Indian invasion had called them

forth. Soldiers of fortune, with Southern accents, who were assisting in

the conquest of a new empire, intermingled with the hurrying throng, and

two men whose home was in Medina County, Texas, looked on and approved.

The very horses had caught the inspiration of the moment, champing bits

in their effort to forge to the front rank, while the blood-stained

slaver coated many breasts or driveled from our boots. Before we met the

herd a halt was called, and about a dozen men were deployed off on each

flank, while the main body awaited the arrival of the cattle. The latter

were checked by the point-men and turned back when within a few hundred

yards of the main posse. Several horsemen from the herd rode forward,

and one politely inquired the meaning of this demonstration. The

question was met by a counter one from Captain Ullmer, who demanded to

know the reason why these cattle should trespass on the rights of others

and ignore local quarantine. The spokesman in behalf of the herd turned

in his saddle and gave an order to send some certain person forward.

Sponsilier whispered to me that this fellow was merely a segundo. "But

wait till the 'major-domo' arrives," he added. The appearance of the

posse and the halting of the herd summoned that personage from the rear

to the front, and the next moment he was seen galloping up the column of

cattle. With a plausible smile this high mogul, on his arrival, repeated

the previous question, and on a similar demand from the captain of

the posse, he broke into a jolly laugh from which he recovered with


"Why, gentlemen," said he, every word dripping with honeyed sweetness,

"this is entirely uncalled for. I assure you that it was purely an

oversight on my part that I did not send you word in advance that these

herds of mine are government cattle and not subject to local quarantine.

My associates are the largest army contractors in the country, these

cattle are due at Fort Buford on the 15th of this month, and any

interference on your part would be looked upon as an insult to the

government. In fact, the post commander at Fort Laramie insisted that he

be permitted to send a company of cavalry to escort us across Wyoming,

and assured us that a troop from Fort Keogh, if requested, would meet

our cattle on the Montana line. The army is jealous over its supplies,

but I declined all military protection, knowing that I had but to show

my credentials to pass unmolested anywhere. Now, if you care to look

over these papers, you will see that these cattle are en route to

Fort Buford, on an assignment of the original contract, issued by the

secretary of war to The Western Supply Company. Very sorry to put you to

all this trouble, but these herds must not be interfered with. I trust

that you gentlemen understand that the government is supreme."

As the papers mentioned were produced, Sponsilier kicked me on the

shin, gave me a quiet wink, and nodded towards the documents then being

tendered to Captain Ullmer. Groping at his idea, I rode forward, and

as the papers were being returned with a mere glance on the part of the

quarantine leader, I politely asked if I might see the assignment of the

original contract. But a quizzical smile met my request, and shaking out

the heavy parchment, he rapped it with the knuckles of his disengaged

hand, remarking as he returned it to his pocket, "Sorry, but altogether

too valuable to allow out of my possession." Just what I would have done

with the beribboned document, except to hand it over to Sponsilier,

is beyond me, yet I was vaguely conscious that its destruction was of

importance to our side of the matter at issue. At the same instant in

which my request was declined, the big medicine man turned to Captain

Ullmer and suavely remarked, "You found everything as represented, did


"Why, I heard your statement, and I have also heard it disputed from

other sources. In fact I have nothing to do with you except to enforce

the quarantine now established by the cattlemen of eastern Montana.

If you have any papers showing that your herds were wintered north of

latitude 37, you can pass, as this quarantine is only enforced against

cattle from south of that degree. This territory lost half a million

dollars' worth of native stock last fall from Texas fever, and this

season they propose to apply the ounce of preventive. You will have

ample time to reach your destination after frost falls, and your

detention by quarantine will be a good excuse for your delay. Now,

unless you can convince me that your herds are immune, I'll show you

a good place to camp on the head of Wolf Creek. It will probably be a

matter of ten to fifteen days before the quarantine is lifted, and we

are enforcing it against citizens of Montana and Texas alike, and no

exception can be made in your case."

"But, my dear sir, this is not a local or personal matter. Whatever you

do, don't invite the frown of the government. Let me warn you not to act

in haste. Now, remember--"

"You made your cracks that you would cross this quarantine line,"

interrupted Ullmer, bristlingly, "and I want you to find out your

mistake. There is no occasion for further words, and you can either

order your outfit to turn your cattle east, or I'll send men and do it


The "major-domo" turned and galloped back to his men, a number of whom

had congregated near at hand. The next moment he returned and haughtily

threatened to surrender the cattle then and there unless he was allowed

to proceed. "Give him a receipt for his beeves, Fred," quietly remarked

an old cowman, gently stroking his beard, "and I'll take these boys over

here on the right and start the cattle. That will be the safest way,

unless the gentleman can indemnify us. I lost ten thousand dollars'

worth of stock last fall, and as a citizen of Montana I have objections

to leaving a trail of fever from here to the mouth of the Yellowstone.

And tell him he can have a bond for his cattle," called back the old man

as he rode out of hearing.

The lead herd was pointed to the east, and squads of men rode down and

met the other two, veering them off on an angle to the right. Meanwhile

the superintendent raved, pleaded, and threatened without avail, but

finally yielded and refused the receipt and dispossession of his cattle.

This was just what the quarantine captain wanted, and the dove of peace

began to shake its plumage. Within an hour all three of the herds

were moving out for the head of Wolf Creek, accompanied only by the

quarantine guards, the remainder of the posse returning to their homes

or their work. Having ample time on our hands, Sponsilier and I expected

to remain at Station No. 1 until after the 10th of September, and

accordingly made ourselves at home at that camp. To say that we were

elated over the situation puts it mildly, and that night the two of us

lost nearly a hundred dollars playing poker with the quarantine guards.

A strict vigilance was maintained over the herds in question, but

all reports were unanimous that they were contentedly occupying their

allotted range.

But at noon on the third day of the enforced isolation, a messenger from

Powderville arrived at the first station. A troop of cavalry from Fort

Keogh, accompanied by a pack-train, had crossed the Powder River below

the hamlet, their avowed mission being to afford an escort for certain

government beef, then under detention by the local authorities. The

report fell among us like a flash of lightning. Ample time had elapsed

for a messenger to ride to the Yellowstone, and, returning with troops,

pilot them to the camps of Field, Radcliff & Co. A consultation was

immediately held, but no definite line of action had been arrived at

when a horseman from one of the lower camps dashed up and informed us

that the three herds were already trailing out for the dead-line,

under an escort of cavalry. Saddling up, we rallied what few men were

available, determined to make a protest, at least, in the interest of

humanity to dumb brutes. We dispatched couriers to the nearest camps and

the outer quarantine station; but before a posse of twenty men arrived,

the lead herd was within a mile of the dead-line, and we rode out and

met them. Fully eighty troopers, half of which rode in column formation

in front, halted us as we approached. Terse and to the point were

the questions and answers exchanged between the military arm of the

government and the quarantine authorities of Montana. When the question

arose of indemnity to citizens, in case of death to native cattle, a

humane chord was touched in the young lieutenant in command, resulting

in his asking several questions, to which the "major-domo" protested.

Once satisfied of the justice of quarantine, the officer, in defense of

his action, said:

"Gentlemen, I am under instructions to give these herds, intended for

use at Fort Buford, a three days' escort beyond this quarantine line.

I am very much obliged to you all for making so clear the necessity

of isolating herds of Texas cattle, and that little or no hardship may

attend my orders, you may have until noon to-morrow to drift all native

stock west of the Powder River. When these herds encamp for the night,

they will receive instructions not to move forward before twelve

to-morrow. I find the situation quite different from reports;

nevertheless orders are orders."

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