KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
CATTLE TRADE OF THE WEST AND SOUTHWEST, BY JOSEPH G. McCOY




Chapter IV.


OPPOSITION OF SETTLERS -- HOW IT WAS OVERCOME -- CONTRACTORS FOR SUPPLYING INDIANS WITH BEEF -- FEEDING POOR LO AND FAMILY -- HOW IT IS DONE -- CAPT. E. B. MILLETT -- COL. J. J. MYERS.

     We have stated previously that there were but few settlers near Abilene, but in the eastern portion of the county there were quite a thick settlement of farmers, all comparatively poor, struggling hard to make a home and a competence, but with the usual privations, hardships and misfortunes that attend the pioneer settlers of every new country. A full and comprehensive statement of all an average new settler endures before himself and family are comfortable, is a theme that few have done justice, and a theme for a better article than many that find prominent places in the public press of the day.

     But the few settlers that were near Abilene became greatly excited about the proposed introduction of Texas cattle in the county, and after talking the matter over privately among themselves they determined to organize a company to stampede every drove of cattle that came into the county, and to this end elected one of the most intelligent of their number to be their captain, and bound themselves in a solemn pledge to stand by each other and to keep up their organization until the proposed introduction of Texas cattle was abandoned. We think certain old seedy politicians whom we have before mentioned, were at the bottom of this organization. However, to conciliate this resistance and dissolve this hostile organization was the work of a day. Word was sent to the captain, a determined follower, but withal a man of good practical sense, with a sharp eye for the main chance, to call as many of his company as possible to a meeting at his cabin on a designated evening whereat the matter of Texan cattle would be discussed pro and con in a friendly manner by parties representing both sides in interest. When the appointed afternoon came, several Texan drovers who had lately arrived in advance of their herds, to inspect the prospects of Abilene as a cattle market, accompanied the party who was building the shipping facilities at Abilene, to the captain's cabin where a few settlers had gathered, feeling that a fight was quite as likely to be the result of the meeting as anything else. By a previous arrangement made, on the way to the captain's domicile by the cattlemen, the Illinoisan took the "stump" and proceeded to talk to the settlers in a calm, friendly spirit, and in a manner that impressed every hearer with his sincerity. He told the settlers that he came among them to do them good, not harm, to build them up and not tear them down, to enrich and not impoverish them, to give unto them a home cash market for their farm products and to make their county burg a head center of a great commerce, that would justly excite the envy of every rival town in the valley. Then the speaker pointed out how the immense influx of men camping on the adjacent prairies would need every aliment of life, and told them that if they taxed their little farms to their utmost in raising grain and vegetables, yet they could not furnish a tithe of the amount that would be needed, and of course if the supply was small and the demand great, the prices must and would be exhorbitantly high, and that the only trouble would be that they could or would not furnish one-half the amount needed, no matter what the price might be. In addition to the above named advantages there was that of an opportunity to invest their savings in cheap, young cattle, which would pay one hundred per cent. in ten months and consume only the hay, straw and cornstalks and such unmarketable farm products. Whilst this little talk was being made, nearly every drover present, by previous arrangement, went to bartering with the Kansans for butter, eggs, potatoes, onions, oats, corn, and such other produce as they might be able to use at camp, and always paying from one-fourth to double the price asked by the settlers. At the conclusion of the meeting the Captain said he had got a "sight" of the cattle trade that was new and convincing to him. "And, gentlemen," said he, "if l can make any money out of this cattle trade, I am not afraid of 'Spanish fever ;' but if I can't make any money out of this cattle trade, then I am d--d fraid of 'Spanish fever.'" The entire hostile organization dissolved without any farther trouble, and before a single steer was "stampeded." The captain of the company was accused by his comrades of turning traitor and selling out, but the fact is that his good sense dictated the course he finally took, and but few years elapsed before a substantial frame house and miles of good fencing, with other comforts and substantial improvements, aside from a fine herd of wintered fat Texan cattle, were among the fruits that he enjoyed by following the course marked out and suggested to him at that meeting. Many others who, at the time the cattle trade was first established at Abilene, were living in "dug-outs" or mere hovels constructed of poles and dirt, and whose poverty was extreme, were soon enabled to build themselves beautiful houses, and provide other comforts that they could not have afforded for years later, had it not been for the money expended annually by the stock men in their midst. All these things soon dawned on the minds of many of the settlers, and there was soon a strong cattle trade party among them men friendly to the trade and powerful enough to neutralize the efforts and influence of the few who remained hostile.

     An incident occurred during the fall of 1867 that illustrates the enormous profits, not to say swindles, of contractors for the supply of beef for the Indians, under the old system of feeding poor "Lo" and family. As it illustrates more than one phase of the Western way of doing things, we venture to to relate it: A Texan drover, whose herd consisted largely of young stock cattle, arrived at Abilene, and shortly obtained an offer of $11 per head for his stock, which offer he refused, but borrowed $1,000 and went to Leavenworth, and got on a spree, which lasted until the cattle season was over and the grass was killed by the frost and his cattle began to die of poverty and cold. Then he returned, bringing a government contractor with him, who hought his herd at six dollars per head and straightway, after getting from some settlers a half dozen of large rough oxen which he turned in with the herd, proceeded to drive them 140 miles southwest to Fort Larned, where upon arrival he turned the entire herd over to an Indian agent at an estimated average net weight of six hundred pounds gross. The price was six and one-fourth cents per pound net weight, or thirty-seven dollars and one-half per head or a profit of fully thirty dollars per head. When it is remembered that the entire herd would not have averaged four hundred pounds gross, the financial brilliancy, not to say villiany, of the transaction is apparent. But in those days an Indian contract was only another name for a big steal and swindle. Not one contract in each hundred made was ever filled in letter and spirit. Often the cattle would be delivered at an agreed average of net weighs greater than the actual gross weight, and when delivered on one day would be stole from the government agent at night and re-delivered the next day. Of course the government agent was entirely innocent and was not conniving with the contractor. Oh no! It is some one else that is on the make, not Indian agents.

     They are pure self-sacrificing patriots, and are notorious for their abhorrence or money, for don't they always get poor in a year, when taking care of some little starving remnant of a tribe; and are compelled to remove their families from a sumptuous log cabin to an abhorred brick mansion abounding with lawns, drives, arbors, statuary, and other afflictions peculiar to that class of poverty. It would take volumes to chronicle the unalloyed benevolence and disinterested virtues of that army of noble men who rush to the front of civilization and offer themselves for immolation upon the altar of some Indian agency. The immortal Washington's deeds of love, performed for his enslaved countrymen, pale into the mellow glow of phosphorus, or the "Jack O'Lantern" of the marsh when compared with the brilliant, heroic, self-abnegation of an Indian agent.

     We doubt not but that the battallions set to guard the Commissary stores of the pearly eternal city, seen by none of earth save the wandering Peri, will be chosen from the ranks of the Indian Agents of the West.

     We are glad to note that under the present system of managing the Indians of the plains, much of the wholesale plundering of the Government has been prevented. But we yet see a greater desire among those who strive to obtain Government contracts for furnishing the Indians with beef, to obtain the supplying of such agencies as are farthest out from civilization, and where superior officials will trouble the contractor with their presence least, and where the facilities for obtaining correct weights are the most limited. Of course this arises from a desire existing in the breasts of the contractors to feed full-blood "Los" instead of half-breeds and mongrels -- such as are on the border of civilization and at semi-savage agencies -- and in nowise arises from any desire to have an opportunity to perpetrate, in collusion with the Indian Agent, a stupendous swindle on the Government. Oh no! Perish the thought, and blistered be the tongue that says so. By far the larger portion of the cattle consumed by the Northern Indians are bought on the western plains of Kansas, after their arrival from Texas. A lively struggle is witnessed every spring among the drovers who try to get their cattle into the Indian contracts. It now takes between thirty and forty thousand head of cattle annually to feed the Indians of the Upper Missouri country. After purchasing them in Western Kansas, they are put upon the road or trail and driven northward, from four to eight hundred miles, and delivered in installments to the various agencies, and as soon as delivered are slain and devoured by the hungry redskins.

     The Regulations require full grown beeves for the Indian supply, but often cows and stock cattle are put in, and are in fact preferred by the Indians to older cattle. A cow forward with calf is a delicious morsel to their palate, especially the unborn calf, which, "From its mother's womb is untimely ripped," is devoured with a relish peculiar to the fastidious epicurian tastes of the "Noble red man." In the winter, that portion of the herd which is held for the last installments during February and March, get very poor, in fact often reel as they walk with poverty and starvation.

     For they have been held without sufficient food for months, in a most rigorous climate. Indeed it is not uncommon for the poor brutes to freeze stiff and dead during the bitter cold nights incident to those regions. If they could have a sufficiency of good, nourishing food, they would be able to withstand far greater degrees of cold than that under which they perish miserably. It is not difficult to imagine about what grade of beef -- about how fat and juicy --Mr. "Lo" is permitted to gorge himself with, semi-occasionally, during the winter and early spring months. If there are no facilities for weighing provided by Government, it is usual for the contractor and Indian agent to estimate the weight, or "guess off" the herd or lot of cattle about being turned over. Just here is where great frauds upon the miserable Indians as well as the Government are perpetrated. It once was not uncommon to get an estimated average weight fully fifty per cent. greater than the real weight. This sometimes arose from the lack of corrupt judgment in the agent, but much oftener it was the result of his corrupt villainy. What "arguments" a contractor would be most likely to use in dealing with an agent, both out on the wilds of the Great West, can be easier imagined than described. It is not unfrequent that one-half of the number of cattle only that are contracted to be furnished, are taken to the vicinity of the agency. How a fellow can fill a contract for ten thousand head of cattle, with only five thousand head, is a proposition that most any Indian contractor can solve and explain, if he will. But whatever numbers and whatever weights agreed upon by the agent and contractor, are set forth in a voucher, wherein Uncle Samuel is made the debtor. Upon presentation of these vouchers, properly certified, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Interior Department, pays the sum therein called for, or draws a check against the appropriation previously made by Congress for feeding the Indians. Could our readers see those untutored redskins go for the bullock, once it is turned over to them and shot down, it would perhaps go far towards dispelling that halo of sentimentality with which certain dreamy poets and maudlin writers have clothed the degraded, miserable beings. The very parts of the animal that a civilized being rejects as unfit to be eaten in any shape whatever, are the very richest, and first to be devoured dainties, according to Mr. "Lo's" notion of "good things."

     Northern men usually obtain the contracts to furnish the Indians with beef, and they contract with Southern drovers to furnish the cattle delivered at, or near the various agencies, at which the Government turns over other supplies, such as flour, meal, bacon, blankets, &c. It requires no small amount of determined will, and stamina, as well as practical knowledge of handling cattle on the plains, to be a successful Northern drover. Their hardships and privations are four fold greater than are endured by the average driver from Texas to Kansas. The trail is through an unsettled country. The weather stormy and soon bitter cold winter sets in, and there are few comfortable days before the opening of the following spring, which occurs much later than in more Southern latitudes. For several years in succession Capt. E. B. Millet, of Texas, has furnished cattle to Indian contractors, for the Upper Missouri River agencies.

     He began driving north in 1866, and was one of the drovers who turned their herds east from Baxter Springs along the Arkansas line around or past the blockaded districts of Missouri. On reaching the Mississippi rive his cattle were too poor in flesh to put upon the market, and not, meeting a Northern feeder to whom he could dispose of his herd, he wended his way into eastern central Illinois, and there went into winter quarters. Buying feed for his cattle until after the lapse of a few months, he was able to sell them, but not at such figures as sufficiently paid him for his labor, risk, and hardship endured. When he returned to Texas in the later part of the winter of 1866, and 1867, it was with the fixed opinion that driving Texan cattle north was unprofitable, and in fact next thing to impracticable. So the following summer of 1867, he was not among the few drovers who ventured to start herds northward, for of that he felt he had had enough. But when the drovers of 1867 returned to Texas and told of Abilene, the Captain was among the first to gather a very choice herd of eight hundred beeves and put them upon the trail to Western Kansas. After carefully driving his herd for about sixty days, after crossing Red river, he found himself and herd in the immediate vicinity of Abilene. Selecting excellent herding grounds convenient to the village, the Captain took up his quarters at the Drovers' Cottage and awaited farther developments, hoping for the appearance of a buyer. He did not wait long, for he had one of the most carefully selected and driven herds that could be found on the market, and it was of this herd that a certain Illinoisan selected two hundred and twenty-four choice beeves, mentioned elsewhere, upon which he essayed to get back some of his losses of the previous year, but with what results suffice it to say that, the Illinoisan's returns from that drove of catle, good and fat though they were, were fully six thousand dollars less than his investment. The balance of the Captain's herd was sold at remunerative figures to a packer, later in the fall. So the first year's operation was highly satisfactory, and the determination was formed to continue the business. He could fully appreciate the benefits of a shipping depot to which he could bring his herds unmolested by mobs and thieves; where he would stand a good chance of meeting a buyer; or, if he choose, could go unmolested direct to any desired market in the north. The Captain obtained his military title in the confederate army, where he won honorable distinction, and made innumerable friends. Indeed it would be difficult to find a superior example of a high-minded, dignified Southern gentleman than he. Quiet in turn of mind and manner, is never heard talking loud and coarsely, not even to his inferiors or subordinates. Perhaps the entire droving fraternity could not furnish a better student, or one who loves to pass so many of his leisure hours in reading, and there is not in the western cattle trade a better informed or better read man than Capt. Millet. In his various business undertakings he has been at least moderately successful. He has driven from one thousand to eight thousand cattle annually, but seldom, if ever, ships or packs on his own account; always preferring to sell on the plains, and if need be, drive to any desired point in the Territories, to accomplish the desired object. He has spent several winters in the upper Missouri river country, and furnished thousands of cattle to Government contractors for Indian supplies. To Nevada and Idaho he has sent one or more herds and, after wintering and fattening, sold them to the mining villages of those regions. He is a man of great energy and integrity of character, with clear solid business ideas.

     The demand for cheap cattle in the Territories, at the close of the war, was very great, and the supplying thereof aided materially in making Abilene a success. For each year there were large numbers of stock cattle brought there from Texas, many more than could have possibly found purchasers, if there had been no territorial demand. Almost every territory in the Union is well adapted to raising cattle, and in each there is and has been more or less demand for beef, from those engaged in mining and other vocations. The markets thus created, always afforded good prices, and that in gold. Besides, just at that time the Union, and Central Pacific Railroads were in process of construction, employing many thousands of men who, of course, had to be fed. All of these circumstances conspired to make an active demand for all grades of cattle, and when it is remembered that a succession of drouthy seasons had destroyed nearly all the cattle in California, it will be seen that the supply must needs come principally from east of the Rocky Mountains.

     As we have remarked, the demand for cattle to supply the Territories was great, and the turning of attention of territorial operators to Abilene as a place to buy, greatly aided that point in becoming a complete market -- one in which any kind, sort, or sized cattle could either be bought or sold; and the driving of herds purchased at Abilene, to the Territories, became quite as common as driving from Texas to Abilene. There were certain Texan drovers who looked almost exclusively to the territorial operators for buyers for their stock. In case they succeeded in meeting a purchaser, the drovers would often deliver their herds at some agreed point, in whichever Territory the buyer might desire. In such cases, the same outfit and the same cow-boys that came from Texas with the stock, would go on to its territorial destination. Perhaps the most prominent drover engaged in supplying the territorial demand, is Col. J. J. Myers, of Lockhart, Texas. In June, 1867, during the first visit of the Illinoisan to the West, and whilst his project of a cattle shipping depot was not yet fully determined upon, and whilst stopping temporarily at the Hale House in Junction City, he was introduced to a small sized, quiet gentlemen, who was evidently entering that class upon whose head Time had began to sprinkle her silver frosts. The gentleman was introduced as being late from Texas; and here, thought the Illinoisan, was just the man before whom to lay the plan of the contemplated project, and thus secure the Texan's judgment upon it-whether or not it was plausible or advisable, and if such a shipping depot was created, would the Texan drovers bring their herds to it. So, inviting the venerable gentleman to take a walk, they strolled off to a lumber pile, on a vacant lot, and there sat down, deeply engaged in conversation, for two or more hours; in which time the Illinoisan explained his contemplated project fully, and noted closely the comment and opinions of the Texan drover, for such he proved to be. He there told that young Illinoisan that such a depot, for cattle sale and shipment, was the greatest need of Texan stock men, and that whoever would establish and conduct such an enterprise, upon legitimate business principles, would be a benefactor to the entire Texan live stock interest, and would undoubtedly receive all the patronage that could reasonably be desired. From the hour of that informal interview between the Texan drover and the Illinoisan, the project, such as was soon developed at Abilene, became a fixed fact or purpose in the mind of its projector. There are moments in ones existence when a decision, or a purpose arrived at, shapes future actions and events -- even changes the whole tenor of ones life and labor. Such was the effect of the two brief hours spent in conversation by the Texan drover and the llinoisan. When they shook hands and parted, there existed in the breast of the Illinoisan an impression that he had been talking to a sincere, honest man, who spoke his convictions without deceit or without any desire whatever to mislead any one, but with a firmly fixed determination to give only correct information. The decisions and determinations formed at that interview, fixed the life and labor of the Illinoisan. That Texan drover was Col. J. J. Myers, a man of that peculiar build and statue that can endure untold physical hardships without fatigue. There are few men in the West or Northwest who have so thorough a knowledge -- gathered from actual travel and observation of all the Territories of the Union, as Col. Myers. One of his early tours over the West was made across the continent with John C. Fremont, on his famous exploring expedition. This occurred almost forty years ago, when the Colonel was but a youth, just entering into vigorous manhood. Such a strong desire to roam became implanted in his bosom, that he did not give himself rest until he had traversed almost every foot of territory between the Mississippi river and the Pacific ocean. And when he had seen all that dame Nature had to show, he turned his attention to stock ranching in Texas, making his home at Lockhart. He too was a drover in 1866, and endured all kinds of outrages before he was able to sell his herd. But in 1867 he decided to drive into Western Kansas, and so flank all settlements, and take his chances to find a purchaser some where on the frontier, but just where he could sell, he did not know. The Colonel was among Abilene's first patrons and warmest friends, and so long as it was a market, he annually made his appearance with from four thousand to sixteen thousand head of cattle; which, of course, were driven in several herds, never more than three thousand head in one herd.

     The class of cattle the Colonel usually drove was just suited for the territorial demand; therefore, he never shipped but few car loads. For four years he sold his herds to parties living in Salt Lake, genuine Mormons of the true polygamist faith, and delivered his stock to them in Utah. The Mormons, as all well know, are very clannish people and, especially the lay members, are little disposed to trade with, or buy anything of a Gentile. Therefore, to avoid this religious prejudice, and in order to get into and through the Territory without trouble, or having to pay exorbitant damage bills to the Latter Day Saints; it was his practice to instruct his men to tell every resident of Utah they met, that the cattle belonged to Heber Kimball, one of the elders or high priests in Mormondom. No matter whose farm the cattle run over nor how much damage they done to crops it was all settled amicably by telling the residents that the cattle were Elder Kimball's. No charge or complaint was ever made, after that statement was heard, and it did appear that if Heber Kimball's cattle should run over the saints bodily and tread them into the earth, it would have been all right, and not a murmur would have been heard to escape their lips. When the cattle reached their destination, the Colonel never went near them, but allowed Elder Kimball to dispose of them always as if they were his own, which he could do at a rapid rate. The Mormons appeared to consider it a great privilege to buy of the Sainted Elder, although they were paying from one to three dollars in gold more per head for the cattle than they would have had to pay to the Gentile drover. Indeed, they would not have bought the same stock of the Gentile at any price. When it is known that this people are such complete dupes of cunning smart men, is it any wonder that they submit to be plucked like a goose, for the benefit of their quondlam keepers? Or is it anything strange that their leaders manage to get immensely rich? But Utah, notwithstanding her great city and her immense mining population, has now more than a supply of cattle for her own consumption, and is beginning to export cattle to Chicago and the east.

     Several thousand head of fat beeves were driven from Utah over the mountains to Cheyenne and there shipped to Chicago during the year 1873. So there is no longer a demand for stock cattle in that Territory. There are few Texan drovers who handle or drive more cattle from Texas than Col. Myers -- few are more widely or favorably known than he. He is a man of great experience and solid judgment, and one that has few enemies, but wherever he is known his name is spoken with respect, akin to love and admiration. He is a man true to his pledges, and one who would not reap advantage from, or oppress a fellow man, simply because he had the power, or the legal right to so do. When he is given the title of "A father in Israel" among the drovers, there will found few, if any, who will dispute his right of his worthiness of the appellation.



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