Turning The Tables





"Keep away from me, you common cow-hands," said Sponsilier, as a group

of us waited for him at the foot of the court-house stairs. But Dave's

gravity soon turned to a smile as he continued: "Did you fellows notice

The Rebel and me sitting inside the rail among all the big augers?

Paul, was it a dream, or did we sleep in a bed last night and have a

sure-enough pillow under our heads? My memory is kind of hazy to-day,

but I remember the drinks and the cigars all right, and saying to some

one that this luck was too good to last. And here we are turned out in

the cold world again, our fun all over, and now must go back to those

measly cattle. But it's just what I expected."



The crowd dispersed quietly, though the sheriff took the precaution to

accompany the plaintiffs and Tolleston back to their hotel. The absence

of the two deputies whom we had met the day before was explained by the

testimony of the one-armed cowman. When the two drovers came downstairs,

they were talking very confidentially together, and on my employer

noticing the large number of his men present, he gave orders for them to

meet him at once at the White Elephant saloon. Those who had horses at

hand mounted and dashed down the street, while the rest of us took it

leisurely around to the appointed rendezvous, some three blocks distant.

While on the way, I learned from The Rebel that the cattle on which the

attachment was to be made that afternoon were then being held well up

the North Fork. Sheriff Phillips joined us shortly after we entered the

saloon, and informed my employer and Mr. Reed that the firm of Field,

Radcliff & Co. had declared war. They had even denounced him and the

sheriff's office as being in collusion against them, and had dispatched

Tolleston with orders to refuse service.



"Let them get on the prod all they want to," said Don Lovell to Reed and

the sheriff. "I've got ninety men here, and you fellows are welcome to

half of them, even if I have to go out and stand a watch on night-herd

myself. Reed, we can't afford to have our business ruined by such a set

of scoundrels, and we might as well fight it out here and now. Look at

the situation I'm in. A hundred thousand dollars wouldn't indemnify me

in having my cattle refused as late as the middle of September at Fort

Buford. And believing that I will be turned down, under my contract, so

Sutton says, I must tender my beeves on the appointed day of delivery,

which will absolve my bondsmen and me from all liability. A man can't

trifle with the government--the cattle must be there. Now in my case,

Jim, what would you do?"



"That's a hard question, Don. You see we're strangers up in this

Northwest country. Now, if it was home in Texas, there would be only one

thing to do. Of course I'm no longer handy with a shotgun, but you've

got two good arms."



"Well, gentlemen," said the sheriff, "you must excuse me for

interrupting, but if my deputies are to take possession of that herd

this afternoon, I must saddle up and go to the front. If Honest John and

associates try to stand up any bluffs on my office, they'll only run on

the rope once. I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Lovell, for the assurance of

any help I may need, for it's quite likely that I may have to call upon

you. If a ring of government speculators can come out here and refuse

service, or dictate to my office, then old Keith County is certainly on

the verge of decadence. Now, I'll be all ready to start for the North

Fork in fifteen minutes, and I'd admire to have you all go along."



Lovell and Reed both expressed a willingness to accompany the sheriff.

Phillips thanked them and nodded to the force behind the mahogany, who

dexterously slid the glasses up and down the bar, and politely inquired

of the double row confronting them as to their tastes. As this was the

third round since entering the place, I was anxious to get away, and

summoning Forrest, we started for our horses. We had left them at a barn

on a back street, but before reaching the livery, Quince concluded that

he needed a few more cartridges. I had ordered a hundred the day before

for my own personal use, but they had been sent out with the supplies

and were then in camp. My own belt was filled with ammunition, but on

Forrest buying fifty, I took an equal number, and after starting out of

the store, both turned back and doubled our purchases. On arriving at

the stable, whom should I meet but the Wyoming cowman who had left us at

Grinnell. During the few minutes in which I was compelled to listen to

his troubles, he informed me that on his arrival at Ogalalla, all the

surplus cow-hands had been engaged by a man named Tolleston for the

Yellowstone country. He had sent to his ranch, however, for an outfit

who would arrive that evening, and he expected to start his herd the

next morning. But without wasting any words, Forrest and I swung into

our saddles, waved a farewell to the wayfaring acquaintance, and rode

around to the White Elephant. The sheriff and quite a cavalcade of our

boys had already started, and on reaching the street which terminated

in the only road leading to the North Fork, we were halted by Flood to

await the arrival of the others. Jim Reed and my employer were still

behind, and some little time was lost before they came up, sufficient to

give the sheriff a full half-mile start. But under the leadership of

the two drovers, we shook out our horses, and the advance cavalcade were

soon overtaken.



"Well, Mr. Sheriff," said old man Don, as he reined in beside Phillips,

"how do you like the looks of this for a posse? I'll vouch that they're

all good cow-hands, and if you want to deputize the whole works, why,

just work your rabbit's foot. You might leave Reed and me out, but I

think there's some forty odd without us. Jim and I are getting a little

too old, but we'll hang around and run errands and do the clerking. I'm

perfectly willing to waste a week, and remember that we've got the chuck

and nearly a thousand saddle horses right over here on the North Fork.

You can move your office out to one of my wagons if you wish, and

whatever's mine is yours, just so long as Honest John and his friends

pay the fiddler. If he and his associates are going to make one hundred

thousand dollars on the Buford contract, one thing is certain--I'll lose

plenty of money on this year's drive. If he refuses service and you take

possession, your office will be perfectly justified in putting a good

force of men with the herd. And at ten dollars a day for a man and

horse, they'll soon get sick and Reed will get his pay. If I have to

hold the sack in the end, I don't want any company."



The location of the beeves was about twelve miles from town and but a

short distance above the herds of The Rebel and Bob Quirk. It was nearly

four o'clock when we left the hamlet, and by striking a free gait, we

covered the intervening distance in less than an hour and a half. The

mesa between the two rivers was covered with through cattle, and as we

neared the herd in question, we were met by the larger one of the two

chief deputies. The undersheriff was on his way to town, but on sighting

his superior among us, he halted and a conference ensued. Sponsilier and

Priest made a great ado over the big deputy on meeting, and after a

few inquiries were exchanged, the latter turned to Sheriff Phillips and

said:



"Well, we served the papers and I left the other two boys in temporary

possession of the cattle. It's a badly mixed-up affair. The Texas

foreman is still in charge, and he seems like a reasonable fellow. The

terms of the sale were to be half cash here and the balance at the point

of delivery. But the buyers only paid forty thousand down, and the trail

boss refuses to start until they make good their agreement. From what

I could gather from the foreman, the buyers simply buffaloed the young

fellow out of his beeves, and are now hanging back for more favorable

terms. He accepted service all right and assured me that our men would

be welcome at his wagon until further notice, so I left matters just as

I found them. But as I was on the point of leaving, that segundo of the

buyers arrived and tried to stir up a little trouble. We all sat down

on him rather hard, and as I left he and the Texas foreman were holding

quite a big pow-wow."



"That's Tolleston all right," said old man Don, "and you can depend on

him stirring up a muss if there's any show. It's a mystery to me how I

tolerated that fellow as long as I did. If some of you boys will corner

and hold him for me, I'd enjoy reading his title to him in a few plain

words. It's due him, and I want to pay everything I owe. What's the

programme, Mr. Sheriff?"



"The only safe thing to do is to get full possession of the cattle,"

replied Phillips. "My deputies are all right, but they don't thoroughly

understand the situation. Mr. Lovell, if you can lend me ten men, I'll

take charge of the herd at once and move them back down the river about

seven miles. They're entirely too near the west line of the county to

suit me, and once they're in our custody the money will be forthcoming,

or the expenses will mount up rapidly. Let's ride."



The under-sheriff turned back with us. A swell of the mesa cut off a

view of the herd, but under the leadership of the deputy we rode to

its summit, and there before and under us were both camp and cattle.

Arriving at the wagon, Phillips very politely informed the Texas foreman

that he would have to take full possession of his beeves for a few days,

or until the present difficulties were adjusted. The trail boss was

a young fellow of possibly thirty, and met the sheriff's demand with

several questions, but, on being assured that his employer's equity in

the herd would be fully protected without expense, he offered no serious

objection. It developed that Reed had some slight acquaintance with the

seller of the cattle, and lost no time in informing the trail boss

of the record of the parties with whom his employer was dealing.

The one-armed drover's language was plain, the foreman knew Reed by

reputation, and when Lovell assured the young man that he would be

welcome at any of his wagons, and would be perfectly at liberty to see

that his herd was properly cared for, he yielded without a word. My

sympathies were with the foreman, for he seemed an honest fellow, and

deliberately to take his herd from him, to my impulsive reasoning

looked like an injustice. But the sheriff and those two old cowmen were

determined, and the young fellow probably acted for the best in making a

graceful surrender.



Meanwhile the two deputies in charge failed to materialize, and on

inquiry they were reported as out at the herd with Tolleston. The

foreman accompanied us to the cattle, and while on the way he informed

the sheriff that he wished to count the beeves over to him and take a

receipt for the same. Phillips hesitated, as he was no cowman, but Reed

spoke up and insisted that it was fair and just, saying: "Of course,

you'll count the cattle and give him a receipt in numbers, ages, and

brands. It's not this young man's fault that his herd must undergo all

this trouble, and when he turns them over to an officer of the law he

ought to have something to show for it. Any of Lovell's foremen here

will count them to a hair for you, and Don and I will witness the

receipt, which will make it good among cowmen."



Without loss of time the herd was started east. Tolleston kept well

out of reach of my employer, and besought every one to know what this

movement meant. But when the trail boss and Jim Flood rode out to a

swell of ground ahead, and the point-men began filing the column through

between the two foremen, Archie was sagacious enough to know that the

count meant something serious. In the mean time Bob Quirk had favored

Tolleston with his company, and when the count was nearly half over,

my brother quietly informed him that the sheriff was taking possession.

Once the atmosphere cleared, Archie grew uneasy and restless, and as the

last few hundred beeves were passing the counters, he suddenly concluded

to return to Ogalalla. But my brother urged him not to think of going

until he had met his former employer, assuring Tolleston that the old

man had made inquiry about and was anxious to meet him. The latter,

however, could not remember anything of urgent importance between them,

and pleaded the lateness of the hour and the necessity of his immediate

return to town. The more urgent Bob Quirk became, the more fidgety

grew Archie. The last of the cattle were passing the count as Tolleston

turned away from my brother's entreaty, and giving his horse the rowel,

started off on a gallop. But there was a scattering field of horsemen

to pass, and before the parting guest could clear it, a half-dozen ropes

circled in the air and deftly settled over his horse's neck and himself,

one of which pinioned his arms. The boys were expecting something of

this nature, and fully half the men in Lovell's employ galloped up and

formed a circle around the captive, now livid with rage. Archie was

cursing by both note and rhyme, and had managed to unearth a knife and

was trying to cut the lassos which fettered himself and horse, when

Dorg Seay rode in and rapped him over the knuckles with a six-shooter,

saying, "Don't do that, sweetheart; those ropes cost thirty-five cents

apiece."



Fortunately the knife was knocked from Tolleston's hand and his

six-shooter secured, rendering him powerless to inflict injury to any

one. The cattle count had ended, and escorted by a cordon of mounted

men, both horse and captive were led over to where a contingent

had gathered around to hear the result of the count. I was merely a

delighted spectator, and as the other men turned from the cattle and

met us, Lovell languidly threw one leg over his horse's neck, and,

suppressing a smile, greeted his old foreman.



"Hello, Archie," said he; "it's been some little time since last we met.

I've been hearing some bad reports about you, and was anxious to meet up

and talk matters over. Boys, take those ropes off his horse and give him

back his irons; I raised this man and made him the cow-hand he is, and

there's nothing so serious between us that we should remain strangers.

Now, Archie, I want you to know that you are in the employ of my

enemies, who are as big a set of scoundrels as ever missed a halter.

You and Flood, here, were the only two men in my employ who knew all

the facts in regard to the Buford contract. And just because I wouldn't

favor you over a blind horse, you must hunt up the very men who

are trying to undermine me on this drive. No wonder they gave you

employment, for you're a valuable man to them; but it's at a serious

loss,--the loss of your honor. You can't go home to Texas and again

be respected among men. This outfit you are with will promise you the

earth, but the moment that they're through with you, you won't cut any

more figure than a last year's bird's nest. They'll throw you aside like

an old boot, and you'll fall so hard that you'll hear the clock tick in

China. Now, Archie, it hurts me to see a young fellow like you go wrong,

and I'm willing to forgive the past and stretch out a hand to save you.

If you'll quit those people, you can have Flood's cattle from here to

the Rosebud Agency, or I'll buy you a ticket home and you can help with

the fall work at the ranch. You may have a day or two to think this

matter over, and whatever you decide on will be final. You have shown

little gratitude for the opportunities that I've given you, but we'll

break the old slate and start all over with a new one. Now, that's all

I wanted to say to you, except to do your own thinking. If you're going

back to town, I'll ride a short distance with you."



The two rode away together, but halted within sight for a short

conference, after which Lovell returned. The cattle were being drifted

east by the deputies and several of our boys, the trail boss having

called off his men on an agreement of the count. The herd had tallied

out thirty-six hundred and ten head, but in making out the receipt, the

fact was developed that there were some six hundred beeves not in the

regular road brand. These had been purchased extra from another source,

and had been paid for in full by the buyers, the seller of the main herd

agreeing to deliver them along with his own. This was fortunate, as

it increased the equity of the buyers in the cattle, and more than

established a sufficient interest to satisfy the judgment and all

expenses.



Darkness was approaching, which hastened our actions. Two men from each

outfit present were detailed to hold the cattle that night, and were

sent on ahead to Priest's camp to secure their suppers and a change of

mounts. The deposed trail boss accepted an invitation to accompany us

and spend the night at one of our wagons, and we rode away to overtake

the drifting herd. The different outfits one by one dropped out and rode

for their camps; but as mine lay east and across the river, the course

of the herd was carrying me home. After passing The Rebel's wagon fully

a half mile, we rounded in the herd, which soon lay down to rest on the

bedground. In the gathering twilight, the camp-fires of nearly a

dozen trail wagons were gleaming up and down the river, and while we

speculated with Sponsilier's boys which one was ours, the guard arrived

and took the bedded herd. The two old cowmen and the trail boss had

dropped out opposite my brother's camp, leaving something like ten men

with the attached beeves; but on being relieved by the first watch,

Flood invited Sheriff Phillips and his deputies across the river to

spend the night with him.



"Like to, mighty well, but can't do it," replied Phillips. "The

sheriff's office is supposed to be in town, and not over on the North

Fork, but I'll leave two of these deputies with you. Some of you had

better ride in to-morrow, for there may be overtures made looking

towards a settlement; and treat those beeves well, so that there can be

no charge of damage to the cattle. Good-night, everybody."





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