Marshaling The Forces





Both herds had watered in the Smoky during the afternoon. The stranger's

cattle were not compelled to go down to the crossing, but found an easy

passage several miles above the regular ford. After leaving the river,

both herds were grazed out during the evening, and when darkness fell

we were not over three miles apart, one on either side of the trail. The

Wyoming cowman spent a restless night, and early the next morning rode

to the nearest elevation which would give him a view of his cattle.

Within an hour after sun-up he returned, elated over the fact that his

herd was far in the lead of ours, camp being already broken, while we

were only breakfasting. Matters were working out just as I expected. The

mixed herd under the Mexican corporal, by moving early and late, could

keep the lead of our beeves, and with the abundance of time at my

disposal we were in no hurry. The Kansas Pacific Railroad was but a few

days' drive ahead, and I advised our guest to take the train around

to Ogalalla and have a new outfit all ready to relieve the aliens

immediately on their arrival. Promising to take the matter under

consideration, he said nothing further for several days, his cattle in

the mean time keeping a lead of from five to ten miles.



The trail crossed the railroad at a switch east of Grinnell. I was

naturally expecting some word from Don Lovell, and it was my intention

to send one of the boys into that station to inquire for mail. There was

a hostelry at Grinnell, several stores and a livery stable, all dying an

easy death from the blight of the arid plain, the town profiting little

or nothing from the cattle trade. But when within a half-day's drive of

the railway, on overtaking the herd after dinner, there was old man Don

talking to the boys on herd. The cattle were lying down, and rather

than disturb them, he patiently bided his time until they had rested and

arose to resume their journey. The old man was feeling in fine spirits,

something unusual, and declined my urgent invitation to go back to

the wagon and have dinner. I noticed that he was using his own saddle,

though riding a livery horse, and in the mutual inquiries which were

exchanged, learned that he had arrived at Grinnell but a few days

before. He had left Camp Supply immediately after Forrest and Sponsilier

passed that point, and until Siringo came in with his report, he

had spent the time about detective headquarters in Kansas City. From

intimate friends in Dodge, he had obtained the full particulars of the

attempted but unsuccessful move of The Western Supply Company to take

possession of his two herds. In fact there was very little that I could

enlighten him on, except the condition of the cattle, and they spoke for

themselves, their glossy coats shining with the richness of silk. On the

other hand, my employer opened like a book.



"Tom, I think we're past the worst of it," said he. "Those Dodge people

are just a trifle too officious to suit me, but Ogalalla is a cow-town

after my own heart. They're a law unto themselves up there, and a cowman

stands some show--a good one against thieves. Ogalalla is the seat of an

organized county, and the town has officers, it's true, but they've got

sense enough to know which side their bread's buttered on; and a cowman

who's on the square has nothing to fear in that town. Yes, the whole

gang, Tolleston and all, are right up here at Ogalalla now; bought a

herd this week, so I hear, and expect to take two of these away from

us the moment we enter Keith County. Well, they may; I've seen bad men

before take a town, but it was only a question of time until the plain

citizens retook it. They may try to bluff us, but if they do, we'll meet

them a little over halfway. Which one of your boys was it that licked

Archie? I want to thank him until such a time as I can reward him

better."



The herd was moving out, and as Seay was working in the swing on the

opposite side, we allowed the cattle to trail past, and then rode round

and overtook him. The two had never met before, but old man Don warmed

towards Dorg, who recited his experience in such an inimitable manner

that our employer rocked in his saddle in spasms of laughter. Leaving

the two together, I rode on ahead to look out the water, and when

the herd came up near the middle of the afternoon, they were still

inseparable. The watering over, we camped for the night several miles

south of the railroad, the mixed herd having crossed it about noon. My

guest of the past few days had come to a point requiring a decision and

was in a quandary to know what to do. But when the situation had been

thoroughly reviewed between Mr. Lovell and the Wyoming man, my advice

was indorsed,--to trust implicitly to his corporal, and be ready to

relieve the outfit at the Platte. Saddles were accordingly shifted, and

the stranger, after professing a profusion of thanks, rode away on the

livery horse by which my employer had arrived. Once the man was well out

of hearing, the old trail drover turned to my outfit and said:



"Boys, there goes a warning that the days of the trail are numbered. To

make a success of any business, a little common sense is necessary. Nine

tenths of the investing in cattle to-day in the Northwest is being done

by inexperienced men. No other line of business could prosper in such

incompetent hands, and it's foolish to think that cattle companies and

individuals, nearly all tenderfeet at the business, can succeed. They

may for a time,--there are accidents in every calling,--but when the

tide turns, there won't be one man or company in ten survive. I only

wish they would, as it means life and expansion for the cattle interests

in Texas. As long as the boom continues, and foreigners and tenderfeet

pour their money in, the business will look prosperous. Why, even the

business men are selling out their stores and going into cattle. But

there's a day of reckoning ahead, and there's many a cowman in this

Northwest country who will never see his money again. Now the government

demand is a healthy one: it needs the cattle for Indian and military

purposes; but this crazy investment, especially in she stuff, I wouldn't

risk a dollar in it."



During the conversation that evening, I was delighted to learn that my

employer expected to accompany the herds overland to Ogalalla. There was

nothing pressing elsewhere, and as all the other outfits were within a

short day's ride in the rear, he could choose his abode. He was too good

a cowman to interfere with the management of cattle, and the pleasure of

his company, when in good humor, was to be desired. The next morning

a horse was furnished him from our extras, and after seeing us safely

across the railroad track, he turned back to meet Forrest or Sponsilier.

This was the last we saw of him until after crossing into Nebraska. In

the mean time my boys kept an eye on the Mexican outfit in our front,

scarcely a day passing but what we sighted them either in person or by

signal. Once they dropped back opposite us on the western side of

the trail, when Cedardall, under the pretense of hunting lost horses,

visited their camp, finding them contented and enjoying a lay-over. They

were impatient to know the distance to the Rio Platte, and G--G assured

them that within a week they would see its muddy waters and be relieved.

Thus encouraged they held the lead, but several times vaqueros dropped

back to make inquiries of drives and the water. The route was passable,

with a short dry drive from the head of Stinking Water across to the

Platte River, of which they were fully advised. Keeping them in sight,

we trailed along leisurely, and as we went down the northern slope of

the divide approaching the Republican River, we were overtaken at noon

by Don Lovell and Dave Sponsilier.



"Quirk," said the old man, as the two dismounted, "I was just telling

Dave that twenty years ago this summer I carried a musket with Sherman

in his march to the sea. And here we are to-day, driving beef to feed

the army in the West. But that's neither here nor there under the

present programme. Jim Flood and I have talked matters over pretty

thoroughly, and have decided to switch the foremen on the 'Open A' and

'Drooping T' cattle until after Ogalalla is passed. From their actions

at Dodge, it is probable that they will try and arrest the foreman of

those two herds as accessory under some charge or other. By shifting the

foremen, even if the ones in charge are detained, we will gain time and

be able to push the Buford cattle across the North Platte. The chances

are that they will prefer some charges against me, and if they do,

if necessary, we will all go to the lock-up together. They may have

spotters ahead here on the Republican; Dave will take charge of your

'Open A's' at once, and you will drop back and follow up with his

cattle. For the time being and to every stranger, you two will exchange

names. The Rebel is in charge of Forrest's cattle now, and Quince will

drop back with Paul's herd. Dave, here, gave me the slip on crossing the

Texas Pacific in the lower country, but when we reach the Union Pacific,

I want to know where he is, even if in jail. And I may be right there

with him, but we'll live high, for I've got a lot of their money."



Sponsilier reported his herd on the same side of the trail and about

ten miles to our rear. I had no objection to the change, for those arid

plains were still to be preferred to the lock-up in Ogalalla. My only

regret was in temporarily losing my mount; but as Dave's horses were

nearly as good, no objection was urged, and promising, in case either

landed in jail, to send flowers, I turned back, leaving my employer with

the lead herd. Before starting, I learned that the "Drooping T" cattle

were in advance of Sponsilier's, and as I soldiered along on my way

back, rode several miles out of my way to console my old bunkie, The

Rebel. He took my chaffing good-naturedly and assured me that his gray

hairs were a badge of innocence which would excuse him on any charge.

Turning, I rode back with him over a mile, this being my first

opportunity of seeing Forrest's beeves. The steers were large and rangy,

extremely uniform in ages and weight, and in general relieved me of

considerable conceit that I had the best herd among the Buford cattle.

With my vanity eased, I continued my journey and reached Sponsilier's

beeves while they were watering. Again a surprise was in store for me,

as the latter herd had, if any, the edge over the other two, while "The

Apple" was by all odds the prettiest road brand I had ever seen. I

asked the acting segundo, a lad named Tupps, who cut the cattle when

receiving; light was thrown on the situation by his reply.



"Old man Don joined the outfit the day we reached Uvalde," said he, "and

until we began receiving, he poured it into our foreman that this year

the cattle had to be something extra--muy escogido, as the Mexicans say.

Well, the result was that Sponsilier went to work with ideas pitched

rather high. But in the first bunch received, the old man cut a pretty

little four-year-old, fully a hundred pounds too light. Dave and Mr.

Lovell had a set-to over the beef, the old man refusing to cut him

back, but he rode out of the herd and never again offered to interfere.

Forrest was present, and at dinner that day old man Don admitted that

he was too easy when receiving. Sponsilier and Forrest did the trimming

afterward, and that is the secret of these two herds being so uniform."



A general halt was called at the head of Stinking Water. We were then

within forty miles of Ogalalla, and a day's drive would put us within

the jurisdiction of Keith County. Some time was lost at this last water,

waiting for the rear herds to arrive, as it was the intention to place

the "Open A" and "Drooping T" cattle at the rear in crossing this dry

belt. At the ford on the Republican, a number of strangers were noticed,

two of whom rode a mile or more with me, and innocently asked numerous

but leading questions. I frankly answered every inquiry, and truthfully,

with the exception of the names of the lead foreman and my own. Direct,

it was only sixty miles from the crossing on the Republican to Ogalalla,

an easy night's ride, and I was conscious that our whereabouts would

be known at the latter place the next morning. For several days before

starting across this arid stretch, we had watered at ten o'clock in the

morning, so when Flood and Forrest came up, mine being the third herd

to reach the last water, I was all ready to pull out. But old man Don

counseled another day's lie-over, as it would be a sore trial for the

herds under a July sun, and for a full day twenty thousand beeves grazed

in sight of each other on the mesas surrounding the head of Stinking

Water. All the herds were aroused with the dawn, and after a few hours'

sun on the cattle, the Indian beeves were turned onto the water and held

until the middle of the forenoon, when the start was made for the Platte

and Ogalalla.



I led out with "The Apple" cattle, throwing onto the trail for the first

ten miles, which put me well in advance of Bob Quirk and Forrest,

who were in my immediate rear. A well-known divide marked the halfway

between the two waters, and I was determined to camp on it that night.

It was fully nine o'clock when we reached it, Don Lovell in the mean

time having overtaken us. This watershed was also recognized as the

line of Keith County, an organized community, and the next morning

expectation ran high as to what the day would bring forth. Lovell

insisted on staying with the lead herd, and pressing him in as

horse-wrangler, I sent him in the lead with the remuda and wagon, while

Levering fell into the swing with the trailing cattle. A breakfast halt

was made fully seven miles from the bed-ground, a change of mounts, and

then up divide, across mesa, and down slope at the foot of which ran the

Platte. Meanwhile several wayfaring men were met, but in order to avoid

our dust, they took the right or unbranded side of our herd on meeting,

and passed on their way without inquiry. Near noon a party of six men,

driving a number of loose mounts and a pack-horse, were met, who also

took the windward side. Our dragmen learned that they were on their way

to Dodge to receive a herd of range horses. But when about halfway

down the slope towards the river, two mounted men were seen to halt the

remuda and wagon for a minute, and then continue on southward. Billy

Tupps was on the left point, myself next in the swing; and as the two

horsemen turned out on the branded side, their identity was suspected.

In reply to some inquiry, Tupps jerked his thumb over his shoulder as

much as to say, "Next man." I turned out and met the strangers, who had

already noted the road brand, and politely answered every question. One

of the two offered me a cigar, and after lighting it, I did remember

hearing one of my boys say that among the herds lying over on the head

of Stinking Water was an "Open A" and "Drooping T," but I was unable to

recall the owner's or foremen's names. Complimenting me on the condition

of my beeves, and assuring me that I would have time to water my herd

and reach the mesa beyond Ogalalla, they passed on down the column of

cattle.



I had given the cook an order on an outfitting house for new supplies,

saying I would call or send a draft in the morning. A new bridge had

been built across the Platte opposite the town, and when nearing

the river, the commissary turned off the trail for it, but the

horse-wrangler for the day gave the bridge a wide berth and crossed the

stream a mile below the village. The width of the river was a decided

advantage in watering a thirsty herd, as it gave the cattle room to

thrash around, filling its broad bed for fully a half mile. Fortunately

there were few spectators, but I kept my eye on the lookout for a

certain faction, being well disguised with dust and dirt and a month's

growth of beard. As we pushed out of the river and were crossing the

tracks below the railroad yards, two other herds were sighted coming

down to the water, their remudas having forded above and below our

cattle. On scaling the bluffs, we could see the trail south of the

Platte on which arose a great column of dust. Lovell was waiting with

the saddle stock in the hills beyond the town, and on striking the first

good grass, the cattle fell to grazing while we halted to await the

arrival of the wagon. The sun was still several hours high, and while

waiting for our commissary to come up, my employer and myself rode to

the nearest point of observation to reconnoitre the rear. Beneath us

lay the hamlet; but our eyes were concentrated beyond the narrow Platte

valley on a dust-cloud which hung midway down the farther slope. As we

watched, an occasional breeze wafted the dust aside, and the sinuous

outline of a herd creeping forward greeted our vision. Below the town

were two other herds, distinctly separate and filling the river for over

a mile with a surging mass of animals, while in every direction cattle

dotted the plain and valley. Turning aside from the panorama before us,

my employer said:



"Tom, you will have time to graze out a few miles and camp to the left

of the trail. I'll stay here and hurry your wagon forward, and wait for

Bob and Quince. That lead herd beyond the river is bound to be Jim's,

and he's due to camp on this mesa to-night, so these outfits must give

him room. If Dave and Paul are still free to act, they'll know enough

to water and camp on the south side of the Platte. I'll stay at Flood's

wagon to-night, and you had better send a couple of your boys into

town and let them nose around. They'll meet lads from the 'Open A' and

'Drooping T' outfits; and I'll send Jim and Bob in, and by midnight

we'll have a report of what's been done. If any one but an officer takes

possession of those two herds, it'll put us to the trouble of retaking

them. And I think I've got men enough here to do it."





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