Mingling With The Exodus

By noon the herd had grazed out five miles on its way. The boys were

so anxious to get off that on my return the camp was deserted with the

exception of the cook and the horse-wrangler, none even returning for

dinner. Before leaving I had lunched at Los Lobos with its owner, and on

reaching the wagon, Levering and I assisted the cook to harness in

and start the commissary. The general course of the Nueces River was

southeast by northwest, and as our route lay on the latter angle, the

herd would follow up the valley for the first day. Once outside the

boundaries of our camp of the past week, the grass matted the ground

with its rank young growth. As far as the eye could see, the mesas,

clothed in the verdure of spring, rolled in long swells away to the

divides. Along the river and in the first bottom, the timber and

mesquite thickets were in leaf and blossom, while on the outlying

prairies the only objects which dotted this sea of green were range

cattle and an occasional band of horses.

The start was made on the 27th of March. By easy drives and within

a week, we crossed the "Sunset" Railway, about thirty miles to the

westward of the ranch in Medina. On reaching the divide between the

Leona and Frio rivers, we sighted our first herd of trail cattle,

heading northward. We learned that some six herds had already passed

upward on the main Frio, while a number of others were reported as

having taken the east fork of that river. The latter stream almost

paralleled the line between Medina and Uvalde counties, and as we

expected some word from headquarters, we crossed over to the east fork.

When westward of and opposite the ranch, Runt Pickett was sent in for

any necessary orders that might be waiting. By leaving us early in the

evening he could reach headquarters that night and overtake us before

noon the next day. We grazed leisurely forward the next morning, killing

as much time as possible, and Pickett overtook us before the wagon had

even gone into camp for dinner. Lovell had not stopped on his return

from the west, but had left with the depot agent at the home station a

letter for the ranch. From its contents we learned that the other two

Buford herds had started from Uvalde, Sponsilier in the lead, one on the

24th and the other the following day. Local rumors were encouraging in

regard to grass and water to the westward, and the intimation was

clear that if favorable reports continued, the two Uvalde herds would

intersect an old trail running from the head of Nueces Canon to the

Llano River. Should they follow this route there was little hope of

their coming into the main western trail before reaching the Colorado

River. Sponsilier was a daring fellow, and if there was a possible

chance to get through beyond the borders of any settlement, he was

certain to risk it.

The letter contained no personal advice. Years of experience in trail

matters had taught my employer that explicit orders were often harmful.

The emergencies to be met were of such a varied nature that the best

method was to trust to an outfit worming its way out of any situation

which confronted it. From the information disclosed, it was evident

that the other Buford herds were then somewhere to the northwest, and

possibly over a hundred miles distant. Thus freed from any restraint,

we held a due northward course for several days, or until we encountered

some rocky country. Water was plentiful and grass fairly good, but those

flinty hills must be avoided or sorefooted beeves would be the result.

I had seen trails of blood left by cattle from sandy countries on

encountering rock, and now the feet of ours were a second consideration

to their stomachs. But long before the herd reached this menace, Morg

Tussler and myself, scouting two full days in advance, located a safe

route to the westward. Had we turned to the other hand, we should have

been forced into the main trail below Fredericksburg, and we preferred

the sea-room of the boundless plain. From every indication and report,

this promised to be the banner year in the exodus of cattle from the

South to the then new Northwest. This latter section was affording the

long-looked-for outlet, by absorbing the offerings of cattle which came

up from Texas over the trail, and marking an epoch barely covering a

single decade.

Turning on a western angle, a week's drive brought us out on a high

tableland. Veering again to the north, we snailed along through a

delightful country, rich in flora and the freshness of the season. From

every possible elevation, we scanned the west in the hope of sighting

some of the herd which had followed up the main Frio, but in vain.

Sweeping northward at a leisurely gait, the third week out we sighted

the Blue Mountains, the first familiar landmark on our course. As the

main western trail skirted its base on the eastward, our position was

easily established.

So far the cattle were well behaved, not a run, and only a single

incident occurring worth mention. About half an hour before dawn one

morning, the cook aroused the camp with the report that the herd was

missing. The beeves had been bedded within two hundred yards of the

wagon, and the last watch usually hailed the rekindling of the cook's

fire as the first harbinger of day. But on this occasion the absence of

the usual salutations from the bed-ground aroused Parent's suspicion. He

rushed into camp, and laboring under the impression that the cattle

had stampeded, trampled over our beds, yelling at the top of his lungs.

Aroused in the darkness from heavy sleep, bewildered by a bright fire

burning and a crazy man shouting, "The beeves have stampeded! the herd's

gone! Get up, everybody!" we were almost thrown into a panic. Many of

the boys ran for their night-horses, but Clay Zilligan and I fell on the

cook and shook the statement out of him that the cattle had left their

beds. This simplified the situation, but before I could recall the men,

several of them had reached the bed-ground. As fast as horses could be

secured, others dashed through the lighted circle and faded into the

darkness. From the flickering of matches it was evident that the boys

were dismounting and looking for some sign of trouble. Zilligan was

swearing like a pirate, looking for his horse in the murky night; but

instead of any alarm, oaths and derision greeted our ears as the men

returned to camp. Halting their horses within the circle of the fire,

Dorg Seay said to the cook:

"Neal, the next time you find a mare's nest, keep the secret to

yourself. I don't begrudge losing thirty minutes' beauty sleep, but

I hate to be scared out of a year's growth. Haven't you got cow-sense

enough to know that if those beeves had run, they'd have shook the

earth? If they had stampeded, that alarm clock of yours wouldn't be a

circumstance to the barking of the boys' guns. Why, the cattle haven't

been gone thirty minutes. You can see where they got up and then quietly

walked away. The ground where they lay is still steaming and warm. They

were watered a little too soon yesterday and naturally got up early this

morning. The boys on guard didn't want to alarm the outfit, and just

allowed the beeves to graze off on their course. When day breaks, you'll

see they ain't far away, and in the right direction. Parent, if I didn't

sabe cows better than you do, I'd confine my attention to a cotton


Seay had read the sign aright. When day dawned the cattle were in plain

view about a mile distant. On the return of the last guard to camp, Vick

Wolf explained the situation in a few words. During their watch the herd

had grown restless, many of the cattle arising; and knowing that dawn

was near at hand, the boys had pushed the sleepy ones off their beds

and started them feeding. The incident had little effect on the

irrepressible Parent, who seemed born to blunder, yet gifted with a

sunny disposition which atoned for his numerous mistakes.

With the Blue Mountains as our guiding star, we kept to the westward of

that landmark, crossing the Llano River opposite some Indian mounds.

On reaching the divide between this and the next water, we sighted two

dust-clouds to the westward. They were ten to fifteen miles distant, but

I was anxious to hear any word of Sponsilier or Forrest, and sent Jake

Blair to make a social call. He did not return until the next day, and

reported the first herd as from the mouth of the Pecos, and the more

distant one as belonging to Jesse Presnall. Blair had stayed all night

with the latter, and while its foreman was able to locate at least a

dozen trail herds in close proximity, our two from Uvalde had neither

been seen nor heard of. Baffled again, necessity compelled us to turn

within touch of some outfitting point. The staples of life were running

low in our commissary, no opportunity having presented itself to obtain

a new supply since we left the ranch in Medina over a month before.

Consequently, after crossing the San Saba, we made our first tack to the


Brady City was an outfitting point for herds on the old western trail.

On coming opposite that frontier village, Parent and I took the wagon

and went in after supplies, leaving the herd on its course, paralleling

the former route. They had instructions to camp on Brady Creek that

night. On reaching the supply point, there was a question if we could

secure the simple staples needed. The drive that year had outstripped

all calculations, some half-dozen chuck-wagons being in waiting for

the arrival of a freight outfit which was due that morning. The nearest

railroad was nearly a hundred miles to the eastward, and all supplies

must be freighted in by mule and ox teams. While waiting for the freight

wagons, which were in sight several miles distant, I made inquiry of the

two outfitting stores if our Buford herds had passed. If they had,

no dealings had taken place on the credit of Don Lovell, though both

merchants knew him well. Before the freight outfit arrived, some one

took Abb Blocker, a trail foreman for his brother John, to task for

having an odd ox in his wheel team. The animal was a raw, unbroken "7L"

bull, surly and chafing under the yoke, and attracted general attention.

When several friends of Blocker, noticing the brand, began joking him,

he made this explanation: "No, I don't claim him; but he came into my

herd the other night and got to hossing my steers around. We couldn't

keep him out, and I thought if he would just go along, why we'd put him

under the yoke and let him hoss that chuck-wagon to amuse himself. One

of my wheelers was getting a little tenderfooted, anyhow."

On the arrival of the freight outfit, short shift was made in

transferring a portion of the cargo to the waiting chuck-wagons. As we

expected to reach Abilene, a railroad point, within a week, we took on

only a small stock of staple supplies. Having helped ourselves, the only

delay was in getting a clerk to look over our appropriation, make out

an itemized bill, and receive a draft on my employer. When finally

the merchant in person climbed into our wagon and took a list of the

articles, Parent started back to overtake the herd. I remained behind

several hours, chatting with the other foremen.

None of the other trail bosses had seen anything of Lovell's other

herds, though they all knew him personally or by reputation, and

inquired if he was driving again in the same road brand. By general

agreement, in case of trouble, we would pick up each other's cattle; and

from half a cent to a cent a head was considered ample remuneration in

buying water in Texas. Owing to the fact that many drovers had

shipped to Red River, it was generally believed that there would be no

congestion of cattle south of that point. All herds were then keeping

well to the westward, some even declaring their intention to go through

the Panhandle until the Canadian was reached.

Two days later we came into the main trail at the crossing of the

Colorado River. Before we reached it, several ominous dust-clouds hung

on our right for hours, while beyond the river were others, indicating

the presence of herds. Summer weather had already set in, and during

the middle of the day the glare of heat-waves and mirages obstructed our

view of other wayfarers like ourselves, but morning and evening we were

never out of sight of their signals. The banks of the river at the ford

were trampled to the level of the water, while at both approach and exit

the ground was cut into dust. On our arrival, the stage of water was

favorable, and we crossed without a halt of herd, horses, or commissary.

But there was little inducement to follow the old trail. Washed into

ruts by the seasons, the grass on either side eaten away for miles,

there was a look of desolation like that to be seen in the wake of an

army. As we felt under obligations to touch at Abilene within a few

days, there was a constant skirmish for grass within a reasonable

distance of the trail; and we were early, fully two thirds of the drive

being in our rear. One sultry morning south of Buffalo Gap, as we were

grazing past the foot of Table Mountain, several of us rode to the

summit of that butte. From a single point of observation we counted

twelve herds within a space of thirty miles both south and north, all

moving in the latter direction.

When about midway between the Gap and the railroad we were met at noon

one day by Don Lovell. This was his first glimpse of my herd, and his

experienced eye took in everything from a broken harness to the peeling

and legibility of the road brand. With me the condition of the cattle

was the first requisite, but the minor details as well as the more

important claimed my employer's attention. When at last, after riding

with the herd for an hour, he spoke a few words of approbation on the

condition, weight, and uniformity of the beeves, I felt a load lifted

from my shoulders. That the old man was in a bad humor on meeting us was

evident; but as he rode along beside the cattle, lazy and large as oxen,

the cockles of his heart warmed and he grew sociable. Near the middle of

the afternoon, as we were in the rear, looking over the drag steers, he

complimented me on having the fewest tender-footed animals of any herd

that had passed Abilene since his arrival. Encouraged, I ventured the

double question as to how this one would average with the other Buford

herds, and did he know their whereabouts. As I recall his reply, it

was that all Nueces Valley cattle were uniform, and if there was any

difference it was due to carelessness in receiving. In regard to the

locality of the other herds, it was easily to be seen that he was

provoked about something.

"Yes, I know where they are," said he, snappishly, "but that's all the

good it does me. They crossed the railroad, west, at Sweetwater, about a

week ago. I don't blame Quince, for he's just trailing along, half a day

behind Dave's herd. But Sponsilier, knowing that I wanted to see him,

had the nerve to write me a postal card with just ten words on it,

saying that all was well and to meet him in Dodge. Tom, you don't know

what a satisfaction it is to me to spend a day or so with each of the

herds. But those rascals didn't pay any more attention to me than if I

was an old woman. There was some reason for it--sore-footed cattle, or

else they have skinned up their remudas and didn't want me to see them.

If I drive a hundred herds hereafter, Dave Sponsilier will stay at home

as far as I'm concerned. He may think it's funny to slip past, but this

court isn't indulging in any levity just at present. I fail to see the

humor in having two outfits with sixty-seven hundred cattle somewhere

between the Staked Plain and No-Man's-Land, and unable to communicate

with them. And while my herds are all contracted, mature beeves have

broke from three to five dollars a head in price since these started,

and it won't do to shout before we're out of the woods. Those fool boys

don't know that, and I can't get near enough to tell them."

I knew better than to ask further questions or offer any apologies for

others. My employer was naturally irritable, and his abuse or praise

of a foreman was to be expected. Previously and under the smile of

prosperity, I had heard him laud Sponsilier, and under an imaginary

shadow abuse Jim Flood, the most experienced man in his employ. Feeling

it was useless to pour oil on the present troubled waters, I excused

myself, rode back, and ordered the wagon to make camp ahead about four

miles on Elm Creek. We watered late in the afternoon, grazing thence

until time to bed the herd. When the first and second guards were

relieved to go in and catch night-horses and get their supper, my

employer remained behind with the cattle. While feeding during the

evening, we allowed the herd to scatter over a thousand acres. Taking

advantage of the loose order of the beeves, the old man rode back and

forth through them until approaching darkness compelled us to throw them

together on the bedground. Even after the first guard took charge, the

drover loitered behind, reluctant to leave until the last steer had lain

down; and all during the night, sharing my blankets, he awoke on every

change of guards, inquiring of the returning watch how the cattle were


As we should easily pass Abilene before noon, I asked him as a favor

that he take the wagon in and get us sufficient supplies to last until

Red River was reached. But he preferred to remain behind with the herd,

and I went instead. This suited me, as his presence overawed my outfit,

who were delirious to see the town. There was no telling how long he

would have stayed with us, but my brother Bob's herd was expected at

any time. Remaining with us a second night, something, possibly the

placidness of the cattle, mellowed the old man and he grew amiable with

the outfit, and myself in particular. At breakfast the next morning,

when I asked him if he was in a position to recommend any special route,

he replied:

"No, Tom, that rests with you. One thing's certain; herds are going to

be dangerously close together on the regular trail which crosses Red

River at Doan's. The season is early yet, but over fifty herds have

already crossed the Texas Pacific Railway. Allowing one half the herds

to start north of that line, it gives you a fair idea what to expect.

When seven hundred thousand cattle left Texas two years ago, it was

considered the banner year, yet it won't be a marker to this one. The

way prices are tumbling shows that the Northwest was bluffing when they

offered to mature all the cattle that Texas could breed for the next

fifty years. That's the kind of talk that suits me, but last year there

were some forty herds unsold, which were compelled to winter in the

North. Not over half the saddle horses that came up the trail last

summer were absorbed by these Northern cowmen. Talk's cheap, but it

takes money to buy whiskey. Lots of these men are new ones at the

business and may lose fortunes. The banks are getting afraid of cattle

paper, and conditions are tightening. With the increased drive this

year, if the summer passes without a slaughter in prices, the Texas

drovers can thank their lucky stars. I'm not half as bright as I might

be, but this is one year that I'm smooth enough not to have unsold

cattle on the trail."

The herd had started an hour before, and when the wagon was ready to

move, I rode a short distance with my employer. It was possible that he

had something to say of a confidential nature, for it was seldom that

he acted so discouraged when his every interest seemed protected by

contracts. But at the final parting, when we both had dismounted and sat

on the ground for an hour, he had disclosed nothing. On the contrary,

he even admitted that possibly it was for the best that the other Buford

herds had held a westward course and thus avoided the crush on the main

routes. The only intimation which escaped him was when we had remounted

and each started our way, he called me back and said, "Tom, no doubt but

you've noticed that I'm worried. Well, I am. I'd tell you in a minute,

but I may be wrong in the matter. But I'll know before you reach Dodge,

and then, if it's necessary, you shall know all. It's nothing about

the handling of the herds, for my foremen have always considered my

interests first. Keep this to yourself, for it may prove a nightmare.

But if it should prove true, then we must stand together. Now, that's

all; mum's the word until we meet. Drop me a line if you get a chance,

and don't let my troubles worry you."

While overtaking the herd, I mused over my employer's last words. But

my brain was too muddy even to attempt to solve the riddle. The most

plausible theory that I could advance was that some friendly cowmen

were playing a joke on him, and that the old man had taken things too

seriously. Within a week the matter was entirely forgotten, crowded out

of mind by the demands of the hour. The next night, on the Clear Fork

of the Brazos, a stranger, attracted by our camp-fire, rode up to the

wagon. Returning from the herd shortly after his arrival, I recognized

in our guest John Blocker, a prominent drover. He informed us that he

and his associates had fifty-two thousand cattle on the trail, and that

he was just returning from overtaking two of their five lead herds.

Knowing that he was a well-posted cowman on routes and sustenance,

having grown up on the trail, I gave him the best our camp afforded,

and in return I received valuable information in regard to the country

between our present location and Doan's Crossing. He reported the

country for a hundred miles south of Red River as having had a dry,

backward spring, scanty of grass, and with long dry drives; and further,

that in many instances water for the herds would have to be bought from

those in control.

The outlook was not to my liking. The next morning when I inquired of

our guest what he would advise me to do, his answer clearly covered the

ground. "Well, I'm not advising any one," said he, "but you can draw

your own conclusions. The two herds of mine, which I overtook, have

orders to turn northeast and cross into the Nations at Red River

Station. My other cattle, still below, will all be routed by way of

Fort Griffin. Once across Red River, you will have the Chisholm Trail,

running through civilized tribes, and free from all annoyance of blanket

Indians. South of the river the grass is bound to be better than on the

western route, and if we have to buy water, we'll have the advantage of


With this summary of the situation, a decision was easily reached. The

Chisholm Trail was good enough for me. Following up the north side

of the Clear Fork, we passed about twenty miles to the west of Fort

Griffin. Constantly bearing east by north, a few days later we crossed

the main Brazos at a low stage of water. But from there to Red River was

a trial not to be repeated. Wire fences halted us at every turn. Owners

of pastures refused permission to pass through. Lanes ran in the wrong

direction, and open country for pasturage was scarce. What we dreaded

most, lack of drink for the herd, was the least of our troubles,

necessity requiring its purchase only three or four times. And like a

climax to a week of sore trials, when we were in sight of Red River a

sand and dust storm struck us, blinding both men and herd for hours. The

beeves fared best, for with lowered heads they turned their backs to

the howling gale, while the horsemen caught it on every side. The cattle

drifted at will in an uncontrollable mass. The air was so filled with

sifting sand and eddying dust that it was impossible to see a mounted

man at a distance of fifty yards. The wind blew a hurricane, making it

impossible to dismount in the face of it. Our horses trembled with fear,

unsteady on their feet. The very sky overhead darkened as if night

was falling. Two thirds of the men threw themselves in the lead of the

beeves, firing six-shooters to check them, which could not even be heard

by the ones on the flank and in the rear. Once the herd drifted against

a wire fence, leveled it down and moved on, sullen but irresistible.

Towards evening the storm abated, and half the outfit was sent out in

search of the wagon, which was finally found about dark some four miles


That night Owen Ubery, as he bathed his bloodshot eyes in a pail of

water, said to the rest of us: "Fellows, if ever I have a boy, and tell

him how his pa suffered this afternoon, and he don't cry, I'll cut a

switch and whip him until he does."

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