Lovell and his attorneys joined the cavalcade which returned to the

post, while we continued on south, fording the Missouri above Forrest's

camp. The two recovered beeves were recognized by their ranch brands as

belonging in Bee County, thus identifying them as having escaped from

Bob Quirk's herd, though he had previously denied all knowledge of them.

The cattle world was a small one, and it mattered little where an animal

roamed, there was always a man near by who could identify the brand

and give the bovine's past history. With the prospects bright for a new

owner on the morrow, these two wayfarers found lodgment among our own

for the night.

But when another day dawned, it brought new complications. Instead of

the early arrival of any receiving party, the appointed hour passed,

noon came, and no one appeared. I had ridden down to the lower camps

about the latter hour, yet there was no one who could explain, neither

had any word from the post reached Forrest's wagon. Sponsilier suggested

that we ride into Buford, and accordingly all three of us foremen

started. When we sighted the ford on the Missouri, a trio of horsemen

were just emerging from the water, and we soon were in possession of the

facts. Sanders, my brother, and Mike Sutton composed the party, and

the latter explained the situation. Orders from the War Department

had reached Fort Buford that morning, temporarily suspending the post

commander and his quartermaster from receiving any cattle intended for

that post, and giving notice that a special commissioner was then en

route from Minneapolis with full authority in the premises. The order

was signed by the first quartermaster and approved by the head of that

department; there was no going behind it, which further showed the

strength that the opposition were able to command. The little attorney

was wearing his war-paint, and we all dismounted, when Sanders

volunteered some valuable points on the wintering of Texas cattle in

the North. Sutton made a memorandum of the data, saying if opportunity

offered he would like to submit it in evidence at the final hearing. The

general opinion was that a court of inquiry would be instituted, and if

such was the case, our cause was not by any means hopeless.

"The chances are that the opposition will centre the fight on an

assignment of the original contract which they claim to hold," said the

lawyer, in conclusion. "The point was advanced yesterday that we were

intruders, while, on the other hand, the government was in honor bound

to recognize its outstanding obligation, no matter in whose hands it was

presented, so long as it was accompanied by the proper tender. A great

deal will depend on the viewpoint of this special commissioner; he may

be a stickler for red tape, with no concern for the service, as were

the post commander and quartermaster. Their possession of the original

document will be self-evident, and it will devolve on us to show that

that assignment was illegal. This may not be as easy as it seems, for

the chances are that there may be a dozen men in the gang, with numerous

stool-pigeons ready and willing to do their bidding. This contract may

demonstrate the possibility of a ring within a ring, with everything

working to the same end. The absence of Honest John Griscom at this

delivery is significant as proving that his presence at Dodge and

Ogalalla was a mistake. You notice, with the exception of Field and

Radcliff, they are all new men. Well, another day will tell the story."

The special commissioner could not arrive before the next morning. An

ambulance, with relay teams, had left the post at daybreak for Glendive,

and would return that night. Since the following promised to be a

decisive day, we were requested to bring every available man and report

at Fort Buford at an early hour. The trio returned to the post and we

foremen to our herds. My outfit received the news in anything but a

cheerful mood. The monotony of the long drive had made the men restless,

and the delay of a single day in being finally relieved, when looked

forward to, was doubly exasperating. It had been over six months since

we left the ranch in Medina, and there was a lurking suspicion among a

number of the boys that the final decision would be against our cattle

and that they would be thrown back on our hands. There was a general

anxiety among us to go home, hastened by the recent frosty nights and

a common fear of a Northern climate. I tried to stem this feeling,

promising a holiday on the morrow and assuring every one that we still

had a fighting chance.

We reached the post at a timely hour the next morning. Only three men

were left with each herd, my wrangler and cook accompanying us for the

day. Parent held forth with quite a dissertation on the legal aspects of

the case, and after we forded the river, an argument arose between him

and Jake Blair. "Don't talk to me about what's legal and what isn't,"

said the latter; "the man with the pull generally gets all that he goes

after. You remember the Indian and the white man were at a loss to know

how to divide the turkey and the buzzard, but in the end poor man got

the buzzard. And if you'll just pay a little more attention to humanity,

you may notice that the legal aspects don't cut so much figure as you

thought they did. The moment that cattle declined five to seven dollars

a head, The Western Supply Company didn't trouble themselves as to the

legality or the right or wrong, but proceeded to take advantage of the

situation at once. Neal, when you've lived about twenty-five years on

the cold charity of strangers, you'll get over that blind confidence and

become wary and cunning. It might be a good idea to keep your eye open

to-day for your first lesson. Anyhow don't rely too strong on the right

or justice of anything, but keep a good horse on picket and your powder


The commissioner had arrived early that morning and would take up

matters at once. Nine o'clock was set for the hearing, which would take

place in the quartermaster's office. Consultations were being held among

the two factions, and the only ray of light was the reported frigidity

of the special officer. He was such a superior personage that ordinary

mortals felt a chill radiating from his person on their slightest

approach. His credentials were from the War Department and were such as

to leave no doubt but that he was the autocrat of the situation, before

whom all should render homage. A rigid military air prevailed about the

post and grounds, quite out of the ordinary, while the officers' bar was

empty and silent.

The quartermaster's office would comfortably accommodate about one

hundred persons. Fort Buford had been rebuilt in 1871, the adobe

buildings giving place to frame structures, and the room in which the

hearing was to be held was not only commodious but furnished with good

taste. Promptly on the stroke of the hour, and escorted by the post

adjutant, the grand mogul made his appearance. There was nothing

striking about him, except his military bearing; he was rather young and

walked so erect that he actually leaned backward a trifle. There was no

prelude; he ordered certain tables rearranged, seated himself at one,

and called for a copy of the original contract. The post adjutant had

all the papers covering the situation in hand, and the copy was placed

at the disposal of the special commissioner, who merely glanced at

the names of the contracting parties, amount and date, and handed the

document back. Turning to the table at which Lovell and his attorneys

sat, he asked for the credentials under which they were tendering beeves

at Fort Buford. The sub-contract was produced, some slight memorandum

was made, and it was passed back as readily as was the original. The

opposition were calmly awaiting a similar request, and when it came,

in offering the papers, Congressman Y---- took occasion to remark: "Our

tender is not only on a sub-contract, but that agreement is fortified by

an assignment of the original award, by and between the War Department

and The Western Supply Company. We rely on the latter; you will find

everything regular."

The customary glance was given the bulky documents. Senator Aspgrain was

awaiting the opportune moment to attack the assignment. When it came,

the senator arose with dignity and, addressing the commissioner,

attempted to enter a protest, but was instantly stopped by that high

functionary. A frozen silence pervaded the room. "There is no occasion

for any remarks in this matter," austerely replied the government

specialist. "Our department regularly awarded the beef contract for this

post to The Western Supply Company. There was ample competition on

the award, insuring the government against exorbitant prices, and the

required bonds were furnished for the fulfillment of the contract. Right

then and there all interest upon the part of the grantor ceased until

the tender was made at this post on the appointed day of delivery. In

the interim, however, it seems that for reasons purely their own, the

grantees saw fit to sub-let their contract, not once but twice. Our

department amply protected themselves by requiring bonds, and the

sub-contractors should have done the same. That, however, is not the

matter at issue, but who is entitled to deliver on the original award.

Fortunately that point is beyond question; an assignment of the original

has always been recognized at the War Office, and in this case the

holders of the same are declared entitled to deliver. There is only

one provision,--does the article of beef tendered qualify under the

specifications? That is the only question before making this decision

final. If there is any evidence to the contrary, I am ready to hear it."

This afforded the opportunity of using Sanders as a witness, and Sutton

grasped the opportunity of calling him to testify in regard to wintering

Southern cattle in the North. After stating his qualifications as

a citizen and present occupation, he was asked by the commissioner

regarding his experience with cattle to entitle his testimony to

consideration. "I was born to the occupation in Texas," replied the

witness. "Five years ago this summer I came with beef cattle from Uvalde

County, that State, to this post, and after the delivery, accepted

a situation under the quartermaster here in locating and holding the

government's beeves. At present I am foreman and have charge of all

cattle delivered at or issued from this post. I have had five years'

experience in wintering Texas cattle in this vicinity, and have no

hesitancy in saying that it is a matter of the utmost importance that

steers should be in the best possible flesh to withstand our winters.

The losses during the most favorable seasons have averaged from one to

five per cent., while the same cattle in a severe season will lose from

ten to twenty-five, all depending on the condition of the stock with the

beginning of cold weather. Since my connection with this post we have

always received good steers, and our losses have been light, but above

and below this military reservation the per cent. loss has run as high

as fifty among thin, weak animals."

"Now, Mr. Sanders," said the special commissioner, "as an expert,

you are testifying as to the probable loss to the government in this

locality in buying and holding beef on its own account. You may now

state if you have seen the tender of beef made by Field, Radcliff & Co.,

and if so, anticipating the worst, what would be the probable loss if

their cattle were accepted on this year's delivery?"

"I was present at their inspection by the officers of this post,"

replied the witness, "and have no hesitancy in saying that should the

coming one prove as hard a winter as '82 was, there would be a loss of

fully one half these cattle. At least that was my opinion as expressed

to the post commander and quartermaster at the inspection, and they

agreed with me. There are half a dozen other boys here whose views on

wintering cattle can be had--and they're worth listening to."

This testimony was the brutal truth, and though eternal, was sadly

out of place. The opposition lawyers winced; and when Sutton asked if

permission would be given to hear the testimony of the post commander

and quartermaster, both familiar with the quality of cattle the

government had been receiving for years, the commissioner, having

admitted damaging testimony, objected on the ground that they were under

suspension, and military men were not considered specialists outside

their own vocation. Other competent witnesses were offered and objected

to, simply because they would not admit they were experts. Taking

advantage of the opening, Congressman Y---- called attention to a few

facts in passing. This unfortunate situation, he said, in substance, was

deeply regretted by his clients and himself. The War Department was

to be warmly commended for sending a special commissioner to hear the

matter at issue, otherwise unjust charges might have been preferred

against old and honored officers in the service. However, if specialists

were to be called to testify, and their testimony considered, as to what

per cent. of cattle would survive a winter, why not call on the weather

prophets to testify just what the coming one would be? He ridiculed the

attestations of Sanders as irrelevant, defiantly asserting that the only

question at issue was, were there five million pounds of dressed beef in

the tender of cattle by Field, Radcliff & Co. He insisted on the letter

in the bond being observed. The government bought cattle one year

with another, and assumed risks as did other people. Was there any man

present to challenge his assertion that the pounds quantity had been


There was. Don Lovell arose, and addressing the special commissioner,

said: "Sir, I am not giving my opinion as an expert but as a practical

cowman. If the testimony of one who has delivered over ninety thousand

cattle to this government, in its army and Indian departments, is of

any service to you, I trust you will hear me patiently. No exception is

taken to your ruling as to who is entitled to deliver on the existing

award; that was expected from the first. I have been contracting beef to

this government for the past fifteen years, and there may be tricks in

the trade of which I am ignorant. The army has always demanded the best,

while lower grades have always been acceptable to the Indian Department.

But in all my experience, I have never tendered this government for its

gut-eating wards as poor a lot of cattle as I am satisfied that you

are going to receive at the hands of Field, Radcliff & Co. I accept

the challenge that there are not five million pounds of dressed beef

in their tender to-day, and what there is would be a disgrace to any

commonwealth to feed its convicts. True, these cattle are not intended

for immediate use, and I make the counter-assertion that this government

will never kill out fifty per cent. of the weight that you accept

to-day. Possibly you prefer the blandishments of a lobbyist to the

opinion of a practical cowman like Sanders. That's your privilege. You

refuse to allow us to show the relationship between The Western Supply

Company and the present holders of its assignment, and in doing so I

charge you with being in collusion with these contractors to defraud the


"You're a liar!" shouted Congressman Y----, jumping to his feet. The

only reply was a chair hurled from the hand of Sutton at the head of the

offender, instantly followed by a rough house. Several officers

present sprang to the side of the special commissioner, but fortunately

refrained from drawing revolvers. I was standing at some distance

from the table, and as I made a lunge forward, old man Don was hurled

backward into my arms. He could not whip a sick chicken, yet his

uncontrollable anger had carried him into the general melee and he had

been roughly thrown out by some of his own men. They didn't want him in

the fight; they could do all that was necessary. A number of soldiers

were present, and while the officers were frantically commanding them

to restore order, the scrap went merrily on. Old man Don struggled with

might and main, cursing me for refusing to free him, and when one of the

contractors was knocked down within easy reach, I was half tempted to

turn him loose. The "major-domo" had singled out Sponsilier and was

trying issues with him, Bob Quirk was dropping them right and left, when

the deposed commandant sprang upon a table, and in a voice like the hiss

of an adder, commanded peace, and the disorder instantly ceased.

The row had lasted only a few seconds. The opposing sides stood glaring

daggers at each other, when the commissioner took occasion to administer

a reproof to all parties concerned, referring to Texas in not very

complimentary terms. Dave Sponsilier was the only one who had the

temerity to offer any reply, saying, "Mr. Yank, I'll give you one

hundred dollars if you'll point me out the grave of a man, woman, or

child who starved to death in that state."

A short recess was taken, after which apologies followed, and the

commissioner resumed the hearing. A Western lawyer, named Lemeraux,

made a very plausible plea for the immediate acceptance of the tender of

Field, Radcliff & Co. He admitted that the cattle, at present, were not

in as good flesh as his clients expected to offer them; that they had

left the Platte River in fine condition, but had been twice quarantined

en route. He was cautious in his remarks, but clearly intimated that had

there been no other cattle in competition for delivery on this award,

there might have been no quarantine. In his insinuations, the fact was

adroitly brought out that the isolation of their herds, if not directly

chargeable to Lovell and his men, had been aided and abetted by them,

retarding the progress of his clients' beeves and forcing them to travel

as fast as twenty-five miles a day, so that they arrived in a jaded

condition. Had there been no interference, the tender of Field, Radcliff

& Co. would have reached this post ten days earlier, and rest would soon

have restored the cattle to their normal condition. In concluding, he

boldly made the assertion that the condition of his client's tender of

beef was the result of a conspiracy to injure one firm, that another

drover might profit thereby; that right and justice could be conserved

only by immediately making the decision final, and thus fearlessly

silencing any and all imputations reflecting on the character of this

government's trusted representatives.

The special commissioner assumed an air of affected dignity and

announced that a conclusion had been arrived at. Turning to old man Don,

he expressed the deepest regret that a civilian was beyond his power to

punish, otherwise he would have cause to remember the affront offered

himself; not that he personally cared, but the department of government

which he had the honor to serve was jealous of its good name. Under the

circumstances he could only warn him to be more guarded hereafter in

choosing his language, and assured Lovell that it was in his power to

escort any offender off that military reservation. Pausing a moment, he

resumed a judicial air, and summed up the situation:

"There was no occasion," said he, in an amiable mood, "to refer this

incident to the War Department if the authorities here had gone about

their work properly. Fortunately I was in Minneapolis adjusting some

flour accounts, when I was ordered here by the quartermaster-general.

Instead of attempting to decide who had the best tender of cattle,

the one with the legal right alone should have been considered. Our

department is perfectly familiar with these petty jealousies, which

usually accompany awards of this class, and generally emanate from

disappointed and disgruntled competitors. The point is well taken by

counsel that the government does not anticipate the unforeseen, and

it matters not what the loss may be from the rigors of winter, the

contractor is exempt after the day of delivery. If the cattle were

delayed en route, as has been asserted, and it was necessary to make

forced drives in order to reach here within the specified time, all this

should be taken into consideration in arriving at a final conclusion.

On his reinstatement, I shall give the quartermaster of this post

instructions, in receiving these cattle, to be governed, not so much by

their present condition as by what they would have been had there been

no interference. Now in behalf of the War Department, I declare the

award to The Western Supply Company, and assigned to Field, Radcliff,

and associates, to have been fulfilled to the satisfaction of all

parties concerned. This closes the incident, and if there is nothing

further, the inquiry will stand adjourned without date."

"One moment, if you please," said Don Lovell, addressing the

commissioner and contractors; "there is a private matter existing

between Field, Radcliff & Co. and myself which demands an understanding

between us. I hold a sum of money, belonging to them, as indemnity

against loss in driving ten thousand cattle from Southern Texas to this

post. That I will sustain a heavy loss, under your decision, is beyond

question. I am indemnified to the amount of about six dollars and a

half a head, and since the government is exempt from garnishment and

the contractors are wholly irresponsible, I must content myself with the

money in hand. To recover this amount, held as indemnity, suit has

been threatened against me. Of course I can't force their hands, but

I sincerely hope they will feel exultant enough over your kangaroo

decision to file their action before taking their usual outing in

Europe. They will have no trouble in securing my legal address, my

rating can be obtained from any commercial agency, and no doubt their

attorneys are aware of the statute of limitation in my state. I believe

that's all, except to extend my thanks to every one about Fort Buford

for the many kind attentions shown my counsel, my boys, and myself. To

my enemies, I can only say that I hope to meet them on Texas soil, and

will promise them a fairer hearing than was accorded me here to-day. Mr.

Commissioner, I have always prided myself on being a good citizen, have

borne arms in defense of my country, and in taking exception to your

decision I brand you as the most despicable member of The Western

Supply Company. Any man who will prostitute a trust for a money


"That's enough!" shouted the special commissioner, rising. "Orderly,

call the officer of the day, and tell him I want two companies of

cavalry to furnish an escort for this man and his herds beyond the

boundaries of this military reservation." Looking Lovell in the face, he

said: "You have justly merited a severe punishment, and I shall report

your reflections to the War and Indian departments, and you may find it

more difficult to secure contracts in the future. One of you officers

detail men and take charge of this man until the escort is ready. The

inquiry is adjourned."

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