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




Chapter VIII.


LOCATING A HERD AND ESTABLISHING CAMP -- HERDING BY DAY AND GUARDING BY NIGHT -- SELLING ON THE PRAIRIE -- COUNTING ON THE RANGE -- COW-BOY ON THE WAR PATH -- LIFE AND LABORS OF THE COW-BOY -- THE BAD CHARACTERS THAT GATHER AT CATTLE TOWNS -- THE DANCE HOUSE -- "SHANGHAI PIERCE" -- GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF TEXAN DROVERS.

     No sooner had it become a conceded fact that Abilene, as a cattle depot, was a success, than trades' people from all points came to the village and, after putting up temporary houses, went into business. Of course the saloon, the billiard table, the ten-pin alley, the gambling table--in short, every possible device for obtaining money in both an honest and dishonest manner, were abundant.

     Fully seventy-five thousand cattle arrived at Abilene during the summer of 1868, and at the opening of the market in the spring fine prices were realized and snug fortunes were made by such drovers as were able to effect a sale of their herds. It was the custom to locate herds as near the village as good water and plenty of grass could be found. As soon as the herd is located upon its summer grounds a part of the help is discharged, as it requires less labor to hold than to travel. The camp was usually located near some living water or spring where sufficient wood for camp purposes could be easily obtained. After selecting the spot for the camp, the wagon would be drawn up. Then a hole dug in the ground in which to build a fire of limbs of trees or drift wood gathered to the spot, and a permanent camp instituted by unloading the contents of the wagon upon the ground. And such a motley lot of assets as come out of one of those camp carts would astonish one, and beggar minute description: a lot of saddles and horse-blankets, a camp-kettle, coffee-pot, bread pan, battered tin cups, a greasy mess chest, dirty soiled blankets, an ox yoke, a log chain, spurs and quirts, a coffee-mill, a broken-halved ax, bridles, picket-ropes, and last, but not least, a side or two of fat mast-fed bacon; to which add divers pieces of raw hide in various stages of dryness. A score of other articles not to be thought of will come out of that exhaustless camp cart. But one naturally inquires what use would a drover have for a raw-hide. dry or fresh ? Uses infinite; nothing breaks about a drover's outfit that he cannot mend with strips or thongs of raw-hide. He mends his bridle or saddle or picket-rope, or sews his ripping pants or shirt, or lashes a broken wagon tongue, or binds on a loose tire, with raw-hide. In short, a raw-hide is a concentrated and combined carpenter and blacksmith shop, not to say saddler's and tailor's shop, to the drover. Indeed, it is said that what a Texan cannot make or mend with a rawhide is not worth having, or is irretrievably broken into undistinguishable fragments. It is asserted that the agricultural classes of that State fasten their plow points on with rawhide, but we do not claim to be authority on Texan agriculture, therefore cannot vouch for this statement. The herd is brought upon its herd ground and carefully watched during the day, but allowed to scatter out over sufficient territory to feed. At nightfall it is gathered to a spot selected near the tent, and there rounded up and held during the night. One or more cow-boys are on duty all the while, being relieved at regular hours by relays fresh aroused from slumber, and mounted on rested ponies, and for a given number of hours they ride slowly and quietly around the herd, which, soon as it is dusk, lies down to rest and ruminate. About midnight every animal will arise, turn about for a few moments, and then lie down again near where it arose, only changing sides so as to rest. But if no one should be watching to prevent straggling, it would be but a short time before the entire herd would be up and following off the leader, or some uneasy one that would rather travel than sleep or rest. All this is easily checked by the cow-boy on duty. But when storm is imminent, every man is required to have his horse saddled ready for an emergency. The ponies desired for use are picketed out, which is done by tying one end of a half inch rope, sixty or seventy feet long, around the neck of the pony and fastening the other end to a pointed iron or wooden stake, twelve or more inches long, which is driven in the firm ground. As all the strain is laterally and none upward, the picket pin will hold the strongest horse. The length of the rope is such as to permit the animal to graze over considerable space, and when he has all the grass eat off within his reach, it is only necessary to move the picket pin to give him fresh and abundant pasture. Such surplus ponies as are not in immediate use, are permitted to run with the cattle or herded to themselves, and when one becomes jaded by hard usage he is turned loose and a rested one caught with the lasso and put to service. Nearly all cow-boys can throw the lasso well enough to capture a pony or a beef when they desire so to do. Day after day the cattle are held under herd and cared for by the cow-boys, whilst the drover is looking out for a purchaser for his herd, or a part thereof, especially if it be a mixed herd--which is a drove composed of beeves, three, two and one year old steers, heifers and cows. To those desiring any one or more classes of such stock as he may have, the drover seeks to sell, and if successful, has the herd rounded up and cuts out the class sold; and after counting carefully until all parties are satisfied, straightway delivers them to the purchaser. The counting of the cattle, like the separating or cutting out, is invariably done on horseback. Those who do the counting, take positions a score of paces apart, whilst the cow-boys cut off small detachments of cattle and force them between those counting, and when the bunch or cut is count ed satisfactorily, the operation is repeated until all are counted. Another method is to start the herd off, and when it is well drawn out, to begin at the head and count back until the last are numbered. As a rule, stock cattle are sold by the herd, and often beeves are sold in the same manner, but in many instances sale is made by the pound, gross weight. The latter manner is much the safest for the inexperienced, for he then pays only for what he gets; but the Texan prefers to sell just as he buys at home, always by the head. However, in late years, it is becoming nearly the universal custom to weigh all beeves sold in Northern markets.

     Whilst the herd is being held upon the same grazing grounds, often one or more of the cow- boys, not on duty, will mount their ponies and go to the village nearest camp and spend a few hours; learn all the items of news or gossip concerning other herds and the cow-boys belonging thereto. Besides seeing the sights, he gets such little articles as may be wanted by himself and comrades at camp; of these a supply of tobacco, both chewing and smoking forms one of the principle, and often recurring wants. The cow-boy almost invariably smokes or chews tobacco generally both; for the time drags dull at camp or herd ground. Their is nothing new or exciting occurring to break the monotony of daily routine events. Sometimes the cow-boys off duty will go to town late in the evening and there join with some party of cow-boys--whose herd is sold and they preparing to start home -- in having a jolly time. Often one or more of them will imbibe too much poison whisky and straightway go on the "warpath." Then mounting his pony he is ready to shoot anybody or anything; or rather than not shoot at all, would fire up into the air, all the while yelling as only a semicivilized being can. At such times it is not safe to be on the streets, or for that matter within a house, for the drunk cow-boy would as soon shoot into a house as at anything else. Many incidents could be told of their crazy freaks; and freaks more villainous than crazy, but space forbids, save one only. In 1868 a party of young men mostly residents of Abilene, numbering six or seven, were returning from a walk, at a late hour, when all of a sudden they heard the footsteps of a running pony, each moment coming nearer. Before they could scarce divine the meaning thereof, a mounted, crazy, drunk cow-boy was upon them. Yelling in demoniacal voice to halt; adding horrible oaths, abuse and insult. Before the young men fully comprehended the situation, the cow-boy was rushing around them at a furious rate of speed, firing both his revolvers over their heads in the darkness, demanding an immediate contribution from each one of a ten dollar note, swearing instant death to every one who refused to comply at once with his request.

     The party of young men were entirely unarmed, and in imminent danger of being shot. But no time was to be lost. As a subterfuge, one of the young men, a drover began talking in the kindest tone of voice, saying to the cow-boy: "Now hold on; we are all cow-boys just off of trail, and have been out to see a little fun. We have no money with us, but if you will just go with me to the Cottage, you shall have all the ten dollar notes you want. Certainly, certainly, sir anything you want you can have, if you will only go with me to the hotel. Certainly, certainly, sir!"

     Whilst this was being played, each of the other boys betook himself to his hands and knees and crawled away in the darkness until a few paces were gained, then tried his utmost capacity in running to a place of safety. In the meantime the cow-boy followed the spokesman, swearing instant death to every one if the money was not forthcoming. No sooner did they reach the Cottage than the young drover, after reassuring the cow-boy of his intention to get him the money passed inside the hotel, and at once rushed for his pistols. But friends, who comprehended his intent and seeing "shoot in his eye," prevented him from going outside again. The cow-boy having his suspicions aroused by the delay whirled his pony and dashed off for the village, screeching and yelling in genuine Indian style as he went. Coming to a large, open fronted tent, he dashed toward it, emptying the last loaded chamber of his revolver into it; then drawing his huge knife, cut the tent from end to end, and when it had fallen to the ground at his feet, rushed his pony over it, and was off for a bagnio, where he robbed every inmate of their money, jewelry and other valuables; then turned his pony's head toward the cattle trail and was off for Texas.

     Such hard cases made it necessary to institute corporate government in the village. It was a hard struggle before law and order was established, and to maintain it cost the utmost firmness and perpetual vigilance. It was often necessary to disarm drunken cow-boys and such roughs as inevitably congregate at frontier commercial centers, which could be done only by force and terror. No quiet turned man could or would care to take the office of marshal, which jeopardized his life; hence the necessity of employing a desperado, one who feared nothing, and would as soon shoot an offending subject as to look at him.

     The life of the cow-boy in camp is routine and dull. His food is largely of the "regulation" order, but a feast of vegetables he wants and must have, or scurvy would ensue. Onions and potatoes are his favorites. but any kind of vegetables will disappear in haste when put within his reach. In camp, on the trail, on the ranch in Texas, with their countless thousands of cattle, milk and butter are almost unknown, not even milk or cream for the coffee is had. Pure shiftlessness and the lack of energy are the only reasons for this privation, and to the same reasons can be assigned much of the privations and hardships incident to ranching.

     It would cost but little effort or expense to add a hundred comforts, not to say luxuries, to the life of a drover and his cow-boys. They sleep on the ground, with a pair of blankets for bed and cover. No tent is used, scarcely any cooking utensils, and such a thing as a camp cook-stove is unknown. The warm water of the branch or the standing pool is drank; often it is yellow with alkali and other poisons. No wonder the cow-boy gets sallow and unhealthy, and deteriorates in manhood until often he becomes capable of any contemptible thing; no wonder he should become half-civilized only, and take to whisky with a love excelled scarcely by the barbarous Indian.

     When the herd is sold and delivered to the purchaser, a day of rejoicing to the cow-boy has come, for then he can go, free and have a jolly time; and it is a jolly time they have. Straightway after settling with their employers the barber shop is visited, and three to six months' growth of hair is shorn off, their long-grown, sunburnt beard "set" in due shape, and properly blacked; next a clothing store of the Israelitish style is "gone through," and the cow-boy emerges a new man, in outward appearance, everything being new, not excepting the hat and boots, with star decorations about the tops, also a new _____, well in short everything new. Then for fun and frolic. The bar-room, the theatre, the gambling-room, the bawdy house, the dance house, each and all come in for their full share of attention. In any of these places an affront, or a slight, real or imaginary, is cause sufficient for him to unlimber one or more "mountain howitzers," invariably found strapped to his person, and proceed to deal out death in unbroken doses to such as may be in range of his pistols, whether real friends or enemies, no matter, his anger and bad whisky urge him on to deeds of blood and death.



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