Justice In The Saddle





It was an hour after the usual time when we bedded down the cattle. The

wagon had overtaken us about sunset, and the cook's fire piloted us into

a camp fully two miles to the right of the trail. A change of horses was

awaiting us, and after a hasty supper Tupps detailed two young fellows

to visit Ogalalla. It required no urging; I outlined clearly what was

expected of their mission, requesting them to return by the way of

Flood's wagon, and to receive any orders which my employer might see fit

to send. The horse-wrangler was pressed in to stand the guard of one

of the absent lads on the second watch, and I agreed to take the other,

which fell in the third. The boys had not yet returned when our guard

was called, but did so shortly afterward, one of them hunting me up on

night-herd.



"Well," said he, turning his horse and circling with me, "we caught onto

everything that was adrift. The Rebel and Sponsilier were both in town,

in charge of two deputies. Flood and your brother went in with us, and

with the lads from the other outfits, including those across the river,

there must have been twenty-five of Lovell's men in town. I noticed that

Dave and The Rebel were still wearing their six-shooters, while among

the boys the arrests were looked upon as quite a joke. The two deputies

had all kinds of money, and wouldn't allow no one but themselves to

spend a cent. The biggest one of the two--the one who gave you the

cigar--would say to my boss: 'Sponsilier, you're a trail foreman from

Texas--one of Don Lovell's boss men--but you're under arrest; your

cattle are in my possession this very minute. You understand that,

don't you? Very well, then; everybody come up and have a drink on

the sheriff's office.' That was about the talk in every saloon and

dance-hall visited. But when we proposed starting back to camp, about

midnight, the big deputy said to Flood: 'I want you to tell Colonel

Lovell that I hold a warrant for his arrest; urge him not to put me to

the trouble of coming out after him. If he had identified himself to me

this afternoon, he could have slept on a goose-hair bed to-night instead

of out there on the mesa, on the cold ground. His reputation in this

town would entitle him to three meals a day, even if he was under

arrest. Now, we'll have one more, and tell the damned old rascal that

I'll expect him in the morning.'"



We rode out the watch together. On returning to Flood's camp, they had

found Don Lovell awake. The old man was pleased with the report, but

sent me no special word except to exercise my own judgment. The cattle

were tired after their long tramp of the day before, the outfit were

saddle weary, and the first rays of the rising sun flooded the mesa

before men or animals offered to arise. But the duties of another day

commanded us anew, and with the cook calling us, we rose to meet them.

I was favorably impressed with Tupps as a segundo, and after breakfast

suggested that he graze the cattle over to the North Platte, cross it,

and make a permanent camp. This was agreed to, half the men were

excused for the day, and after designating, beyond the river, a clump of

cottonwoods where the wagon would be found, seven of us turned and rode

back for Ogalalla. With picked mounts under us, we avoided the other

cattle which could be seen grazing northward, and when fully halfway to

town, there before us on the brink of the mesa loomed up the lead of

a herd. I soon recognized Jack Splann on the point, and taking a wide

circle, dropped in behind him, the column stretching back a mile and

coming up the bluffs, forty abreast like an army in loose marching

order. I was proud of those "Open A's;" they were my first herd, and

though in a hurry to reach town, I turned and rode back with them for

fully a mile.



Splann was acting under orders from Flood, who had met him at the

ford that morning. If the cattle were in the possession of any deputy

sheriff, they had failed to notify Jack, and the latter had already

started for the North Platte of his own accord. The "Drooping T" cattle

were in the immediate rear under Forrest's segundo, and Splann urged me

to accompany him that forenoon, saying: "From what the boys said this

morning, Dave and Paul will not be given a hearing until two o'clock

this afternoon. I can graze beyond the North Fork by that time, and then

we'll all go back together. Flood's right behind here with the 'Drooping

T's,' and I think it's his intention to go all the way to the river.

Drop back and see him."



The boys who were with me never halted, but had ridden on towards town.

When the second herd began the ascent of the mesa, I left Splann and

turned back, waiting on the brink for its arrival. As it would take the

lead cattle some time to reach me, I dismounted, resting in the shade of

my horse. But my rest was brief, for the clattering hoofs of a cavalcade

of horsemen were approaching, and as I arose, Quince Forrest and Bob

Quirk with a dozen or more men dashed up and halted. As their herds were

intended for the Crow and Fort Washakie agencies, they would naturally

follow up the south side of the North Platte, and an hour or two of

grazing would put them in camp. The Buford cattle, as well as Flood's

herd, were due to cross this North Fork of the mother Platte within ten

miles of Ogalalla, their respective routes thenceforth being north and

northeast. Forrest, like myself, was somewhat leary of entering the

town, and my brother and the boys passed on shortly, leaving Quince

behind. We discussed every possible phase of what might happen in case

we were recognized, which was almost certain if Tolleston or the Dodge

buyers were encountered. But an overweening hunger to get into Ogalalla

was dominant in us, and under the excuse of settling for our supplies,

after the herd passed, we remounted our horses, Flood joining us, and

rode for the hamlet.



There was little external and no moral change in the town. Several new

saloons had opened, and in anticipation of the large drive that year,

the Dew-Drop-In dance-hall had been enlarged, and employed three shifts

of bartenders. A stage had been added with the new addition, and a

special importation of ladies had been brought out from Omaha for the

season. I use the term LADIES advisedly, for in my presence one of the

proprietors, with marked courtesy, said to an Eastern stranger, "Oh,

no, you need no introduction. My wife is the only woman in town; all the

balance are ladies." Beyond a shave and a hair-cut, Forrest and I fought

shy of public places. But after the supplies were settled for, and some

new clothing was secured, we chambered a few drinks and swaggered about

with considerable ado. My bill of supplies amounted to one hundred and

twenty-six dollars, and when, without a word, I drew a draft for the

amount, the proprietor of the outfitting store, as a pelon, made me a

present of two fine silk handkerchiefs.



Forrest was treated likewise, and having invested ourselves in white

shirts, with flaming red ties, we used the new handkerchiefs to

otherwise decorate our persons. We had both chosen the brightest colors,

and with these knotted about our necks, dangling from pistol-pockets,

or protruding from ruffled shirt fronts, our own mothers would scarcely

have known us. Jim Flood, whom we met casually on a back street,

stopped, and after circling us once, said, "Now if you fellows just keep

perfectly sober, your disguise will be complete."



Meanwhile Don Lovell had reported at an early hour to the sheriff's

office. The legal profession was represented in Ogalalla by several

firms, criminal practice being their specialty; but fortunately Mike

Sutton, an attorney of Dodge, had arrived in town the day before on a

legal errand for another trail drover. Sutton was a frontier advocate,

alike popular with the Texas element and the gambling fraternity, having

achieved laurels in his home town as a criminal lawyer. Mike was born on

the little green isle beyond the sea, and, gifted with the Celtic wit,

was also in logic clear as the tones of a bell, while his insight into

human motives was almost superhuman. Lovell had had occasion in other

years to rely on Sutton's counsel, and now would listen to no refusal of

his services. As it turned out, the lawyer's mission in Ogalalla was

so closely in sympathy with Lovell's trouble that they naturally

strengthened each other. The highest tribunal of justice in Ogalalla was

the county court, the judge of which also ran the stock-yards during

the shipping season, and was banker for two monte games at the Lone Star

saloon. He enjoyed the reputation of being an honest, fearless jurist,

and supported by a growing civic pride, his decisions gave satisfaction.

A sense of crude equity governed his rulings, and as one of the citizens

remarked, "Whatever the judge said, went." It should be remembered that

this was in '84, but had a similar trouble occurred five years earlier,

it is likely that Judge Colt would have figured in the preliminaries,

and the coroner might have been called on to impanel a jury. But the

rudiments of civilization were sweeping westward, and Ogalalla was

nerved to the importance of the occasion; for that very afternoon a

hearing was to be given for the possession of two herds of cattle,

valued at over a quarter-million dollars.



The representatives of The Western Supply Company were quartered in

the largest hotel in town, but seldom appeared on the streets. They had

employed a firm of local attorneys, consisting of an old and a young

man, both of whom evidently believed in the justice of their client's

cause. All the cattle-hands in Lovell's employ were anxious to get a

glimpse of Tolleston, many of them patronizing the bar and table of the

same hostelry, but their efforts were futile until the hour arrived for

the hearing. They probably have a new court-house in Ogalalla now, but

at the date of this chronicle the building which served as a temple

of justice was poorly proportioned, its height being entirely out of

relation to its width. It was a two-story affair, the lower floor

being used for county offices, the upper one as the court-room. A long

stairway ran up the outside of the building, landing on a gallery in

front, from which the sheriff announced the sitting of the honorable

court of Keith County. At home in Texas, lawsuits were so rare that

though I was a grown man, the novelty of this one absorbed me. Quite a

large crowd had gathered in advance of the hour, and while awaiting

the arrival of Judge Mulqueen, a contingent of fifteen men from the

two herds in question rode up and halted in front of the court-house.

Forrest and I were lying low, not caring to be seen, when the three

plaintiffs, the two local attorneys, and Tolleston put in an appearance.

The cavalcade had not yet dismounted, and when Dorg Seay caught sight

of Tolleston, he stood up in his stirrups and sang out, "Hello there,

Archibald! my old college chum, how goes it?"



Judge Mulqueen had evidently dressed for the occasion, for with the

exception of the plaintiffs, he was the only man in the court-room who

wore a coat. The afternoon was a sultry one; in that first bottom of the

Platte there was scarcely a breath of air, and collars wilted limp as

rags. Neither map nor chart graced the unplastered walls, the unpainted

furniture of the room was sadly in need of repair, while a musty odor

permeated the room. Outside the railing the seating capacity of the

court-room was rather small, rough, bare planks serving for seats, but

the spectators gladly stood along the sides and rear, eager to catch

every word, as they silently mopped the sweat which oozed alike from

citizen and cattleman. Forrest and I were concealed in the rear, which

was packed with Lovell's boys, when the judge walked in and court opened

for the hearing. Judge Mulqueen requested counsel on either side to be

as brief and direct as possible, both in their pleadings and testimony,

adding: "If they reach the stock-yards in time, I may have to load out

a train of feeders this evening. We'll bed the cars, anyhow." Turning to

the sheriff, he continued: "Frank, if you happen outside, keep an eye up

the river; those Lincoln feeders made a deal yesterday for five hundred

three-year-olds.--Read your complaint."



The legal document was read with great fervor and energy by the

younger of the two local lawyers. In the main it reviewed the situation

correctly, every point, however, being made subservient to their

object,--the possession of the cattle. The plaintiffs contended that

they were the innocent holders of the original contract between the

government and The Western Supply Company, properly assigned; that they

had purchased these two herds in question, had paid earnest-money to

the amount of sixty-five thousand dollars on the same, and concluded by

petitioning the court for possession. Sutton arose, counseled a moment

with Lovell, and borrowing a chew of tobacco from Sponsilier, leisurely

addressed the court.



"I shall not trouble your honor by reading our reply in full, but

briefly state its contents," said he, in substance. "We admit that the

herds in question, which have been correctly described by road brands

and ages, are the property of my client. We further admit that the two

trail foremen here under arrest as accessories were acting under the

orders of their employer, who assumes all responsibility for their acts,

and in our pleadings we ask this honorable court to discharge them from

further detention. The earnest-money, said to have been paid on these

herds, is correct to a cent, and we admit having the amount in our

possession. But," and the little advocate's voice rose, rich in its

Irish brogue, "we deny any assignment of the original contract. The

Western Supply Company is a corporation name, a shield and fence of

thieves. The plaintiffs here can claim no assignment, because they

themselves constitute the company. It has been decided that a man cannot

steal his own money, neither can he assign from himself to himself. We

shall prove by a credible witness that The Western Supply Company is

but another name for John C. Fields, Oliver Radcliff, and the portly

gentleman who was known a year ago as 'Honest' John Griscom, one of his

many aliases. If to these names you add a few moneyed confederates, you

have The Western Supply Company, one and the same. We shall also prove

that for years past these same gentlemen have belonged to a ring, all

brokers in government contracts, and frequently finding it necessary to

use assumed names, generally that of a corporation."



Scanning the document in his hand, Sutton continued: "Our motive in

selling and accepting money on these herds in Dodge demands a word of

explanation. The original contract calls for five million pounds of beef

on foot to be delivered at Fort Buford. My client is a sub-contractor

under that award. There are times, your honor, when it becomes necessary

to resort to questionable means to attain an end. This is one of them.

Within a week after my client had given bonds for the fulfillment of his

contract, he made the discovery that he was dealing with a

double-faced set of scoundrels. From that day until the present moment,

secret-service men have shadowed every action of the plaintiffs. My

client has anticipated their every move. When beeves broke in price

from five to seven dollars a head, Honest John, here, made his boasts in

Washington City over a champagne supper that he and his associates would

clear one hundred thousand dollars on their Buford contract. Let us

reason together how this could be done. The Western Supply Company

refused, even when offered a bonus, to assign their contract to my

client. But they were perfectly willing to transfer it, from themselves

as a corporation, to themselves as individuals, even though they had

previously given Don Lovell a subcontract for the delivery of the bees.

The original award was made seven months ago, and the depreciation in

cattle since is the secret of why the frog eat the cabbage. My client is

under the necessity of tendering his cattle on the day of delivery, and

proposes to hold this earnest-money to indemnify himself in case of an

adverse decision at Fort Buford. It is the only thing he can do, as The

Western Supply Company is execution proof, its assets consisting of some

stud-horse office furniture and a corporate seal. On the other hand, Don

Lovell is rated at half a million, mostly in pasture lands; is a citizen

of Medina County, Texas, and if these gentlemen have any grievance, let

them go there and sue him. A judgment against my client is good. Now,

your honor, you have our side of the question. To be brief, shall these

old Wisinsteins come out here from Washington City and dispossess any

man of his property? There is but one answer--not in the Republic of

Keith."



All three of the plaintiffs took the stand, their testimony supporting

the complaint, Lovell's attorney refusing even to cross-examine any

one of them. When they rested their case Sutton arose, and scanning the

audience for some time, inquired, "Is Jim Reed there?" In response, a

tall, one-armed man worked his way from the outer gallery through the

crowd and advanced to the rail. I knew Reed by sight only, my middle

brother having made several trips with his trail cattle, but he was

known to every one by reputation. He had lost an arm in the Confederate

service, and was recognized by the gambling fraternity as the gamest man

among all the trail drovers, while every cowman from the Rio Grande to

the Yellowstone knew him as a poker-player. Reed was asked to take the

stand, and when questioned if he knew either of the plaintiffs, said:



"Yes, I know that fat gentleman, and I'm powerful glad to meet up with

him again," replied the witness, designating Honest John. "That man is

so crooked that he can't sleep in a bed, and it's one of the wonders

of this country that he hasn't stretched hemp before this. I made his

acquaintance as manager of The Federal Supply Company, and delivered

three thousand cows to him at the Washita Indian Agency last fall. In

the final settlement, he drew on three different banks, and one draft of

twenty-eight thousand dollars came back, indorsed, DRAWEE UNKNOWN. I

had other herds on the trail to look after, and it was a month before I

found out that the check was bogus, by which time Honest John had sailed

for Europe. There was nothing could be done but put my claim into a

judgment and lay for him. But I've got a grapevine twist on him now, for

no sooner did he buy a herd here last week than Mr. Sutton transferred

the judgment to this jurisdiction, and his cattle will be attached this

afternoon. I've been on his trail for nearly a year, but he'll come to

me now, and before he can move his beeves out of this county, the last

cent must come, with interest, attorney's fees, detective bills, and

remuneration for my own time and trouble. That's the reason that I'm so

glad to meet him. Judge, I've gone to the trouble and expense to get his

record for the last ten years. He's so snaky he sheds his name yearly,

shifting for a nickname from Honest John to The Quaker. In '80 he and

his associates did business under the name of The Army & Sutler Supply

Company, and I know of two judgments that can be bought very reasonable

against that corporation. His record would convince any one that he

despises to make an honest dollar."



The older of the two attorneys for the plaintiffs asked a few questions,

but the replies were so unsatisfactory to their side, that they soon

passed the witness. During the cross-questioning, however, the sheriff

had approached the judge and whispered something to his honor. As there

were no further witnesses to be examined, the local attorneys insisted

on arguing the case, but Judge Mulqueen frowned them down, saying:



"This court sees no occasion for any argument in the present case. You

might spout until you were black in the face and it wouldn't change my

opinion any; besides I've got twenty cars to send and a train of cattle

to load out this evening. This court refuses to interfere with the herds

in question, at present the property of and in possession of Don Lovell,

who, together with his men, are discharged from custody. If you're in

town to-night, Mr. Reed, drop into the Lone Star. Couple of nice monte

games running there; hundred-dollar limit, and if you feel lucky,

there's a nice bank roll behind them. Adjourn court, Mr. Sheriff."





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