Andy Adams.

The Log of a Cowboy A Narrative of the Old Trail Days online

. (page 1 of 22)
Online LibraryAndy AdamsThe Log of a Cowboy A Narrative of the Old Trail Days → online text (page 1 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Keith M. Eckrich, and the PG Online Distributed
Proofreaders Team

[Illustration: THE STAMPEDE]


A Narrative of the Old Trail Days



"Our cattle also shall go with us."
- _Exodus_ iv. 26.

[Illustration: The Riverside Press]


The Riverside Press, Cambridge









































Just why my father moved, at the close of the civil war, from Georgia
to Texas, is to this good hour a mystery to me. While we did not
exactly belong to the poor whites, we classed with them in poverty,
being renters; but I am inclined to think my parents were
intellectually superior to that common type of the South. Both were
foreign born, my mother being Scotch and my father a north of Ireland
man, - as I remember him, now, impulsive, hasty in action, and slow to
confess a fault. It was his impulsiveness that led him to volunteer
and serve four years in the Confederate army, - trying years to my
mother, with a brood of seven children to feed, garb, and house. The
war brought me my initiation as a cowboy, of which I have now, after
the long lapse of years, the greater portion of which were spent with
cattle, a distinct recollection. Sherman's army, in its march to the
sea, passed through our county, devastating that section for miles in
its passing.

Foraging parties scoured the country on either side of its path. My
mother had warning in time and set her house in order. Our work stock
consisted of two yoke of oxen, while our cattle numbered three cows,
and for saving them from the foragers credit must be given to my
mother's generalship. There was a wild canebrake, in which the cattle
fed, several hundred acres in extent, about a mile from our little
farm, and it was necessary to bell them in order to locate them when
wanted. But the cows were in the habit of coming up to be milked, and
a soldier can hear a bell as well as any one. I was a lad of eight at
the time, and while my two older brothers worked our few fields, I was
sent into the canebrake to herd the cattle. We had removed the bells
from the oxen and cows, but one ox was belled after darkness each
evening, to be unbelled again at daybreak. I always carried the bell
with me, stuffed with grass, in order to have it at hand when wanted.

During the first few days of the raid, a number of mounted foraging
parties passed our house, but its poverty was all too apparent, and
nothing was molested. Several of these parties were driving herds of
cattle and work stock of every description, while by day and by night
gins and plantation houses were being given to the flames. Our
one-roomed log cabin was spared, due to the ingenious tale told by my
mother as to the whereabouts of my father; and yet she taught her
children to fear God and tell the truth. My vigil was trying to one of
my years, for the days seemed like weeks, but the importance of hiding
our cattle was thoroughly impressed upon my mind. Food was secretly
brought to me, and under cover of darkness, my mother and eldest
brother would come and milk the cows, when we would all return home
together. Then, before daybreak, we would be in the cane listening for
the first tinkle, to find the cattle and remove the bell. And my day's
work commenced anew.

Only once did I come near betraying my trust. About the middle of the
third day I grew very hungry, and as the cattle were lying down, I
crept to the edge of the canebrake to see if my dinner was not
forthcoming. Soldiers were in sight, which explained everything.
Concealed in the rank cane I stood and watched them. Suddenly a squad
of five or six turned a point of the brake and rode within fifty feet
of me. I stood like a stone statue, my concealment being perfect.
After they had passed, I took a step forward, the better to watch them
as they rode away, when the grass dropped out of the bell and it
clattered. A red-whiskered soldier heard the tinkle, and wheeling his
horse, rode back. I grasped the clapper and lay flat on the ground, my
heart beating like a trip-hammer. He rode within twenty feet of me,
peering into the thicket of cane, and not seeing anything unusual,
turned and galloped away after his companions. Then the lesson, taught
me by my mother, of being "faithful over a few things," flashed
through my mind, and though our cattle were spared to us, I felt very

Another vivid recollection of those boyhood days in Georgia was the
return of my father from the army. The news of Lee's surrender had
reached us, and all of us watched for his coming. Though he was long
delayed, when at last he did come riding home on a swallow-marked
brown mule, he was a conquering hero to us children. We had never
owned a horse, and he assured us that the animal was his own, and by
turns set us on the tired mule's back. He explained to mother and us
children how, though he was an infantryman, he came into possession of
the animal. Now, however, with my mature years and knowledge of
brands, I regret to state that the mule had not been condemned and was
in the "U.S." brand. A story which Priest, "The Rebel," once told me
throws some light on the matter; he asserted that all good soldiers
would steal. "Can you take the city of St. Louis?" was asked of
General Price. "I don't know as I can take it," replied the general to
his consulting superiors, "but if you will give me Louisiana troops,
I'll agree to steal it."

Though my father had lost nothing by the war, he was impatient to go
to a new country. Many of his former comrades were going to Texas,
and, as our worldly possessions were movable, to Texas we started. Our
four oxen were yoked to the wagon, in which our few household effects
were loaded and in which mother and the smaller children rode, and
with the cows, dogs, and elder boys bringing up the rear, our caravan
started, my father riding the mule and driving the oxen. It was an
entire summer's trip, full of incident, privation, and hardship. The
stock fared well, but several times we were compelled to halt and
secure work in order to supply our limited larder. Through certain
sections, however, fish and game were abundant. I remember the
enthusiasm we all felt when we reached the Sabine River, and for the
first time viewed the promised land. It was at a ferry, and the
sluggish river was deep. When my father informed the ferryman that he
had no money with which to pay the ferriage, the latter turned on him
remarking, sarcastically: "What, no money? My dear sir, it certainly
can't make much difference to a man which side of the river he's on,
when he has no money."

Nothing daunted by this rebuff, my father argued the point at some
length, when the ferryman relented so far as to inform him that ten
miles higher up, the river was fordable. We arrived at the ford the
next day. My father rode across and back, testing the stage of the
water and the river's bottom before driving the wagon in. Then taking
one of the older boys behind him on the mule in order to lighten the
wagon, he drove the oxen into the river. Near the middle the water was
deep enough to reach the wagon box, but with shoutings and a free
application of the gad, we hurried through in safety. One of the wheel
oxen, a black steer which we called "Pop-eye," could be ridden, and I
straddled him in fording, laving my sunburned feet in the cool water.
The cows were driven over next, the dogs swimming, and at last, bag
and baggage, we were in Texas.

We reached the Colorado River early in the fall, where we stopped and
picked cotton for several months, making quite a bit of money, and
near Christmas reached our final destination on the San Antonio River,
where we took up land and built a house. That was a happy home; the
country was new and supplied our simple wants; we had milk and honey,
and, though the fig tree was absent, along the river grew endless
quantities of mustang grapes. At that time the San Antonio valley was
principally a cattle country, and as the boys of our family grew old
enough the fascination of a horse and saddle was too strong to be
resisted. My two older brothers went first, but my father and mother
made strenuous efforts to keep me at home, and did so until I was
sixteen. I suppose it is natural for every country boy to be
fascinated with some other occupation than the one to which he is
bred. In my early teens, I always thought I should like either to
drive six horses to a stage or clerk in a store, and if I could have
attained either of those lofty heights, at that age, I would have
asked no more. So my father, rather than see me follow in the
footsteps of my older brothers, secured me a situation in a village
store some twenty miles distant. The storekeeper was a fellow
countryman of my father - from the same county in Ireland, in fact - and
I was duly elated on getting away from home to the life of the

But my elation was short-lived. I was to receive no wages for the
first six months. My father counseled the merchant to work me hard,
and, if possible, cure me of the "foolish notion," as he termed it.
The storekeeper cured me. The first week I was with him he kept me in
a back warehouse shelling corn. The second week started out no better.
I was given a shovel and put on the street to work out the poll-tax,
not only of the merchant but of two other clerks in the store. Here
was two weeks' work in sight, but the third morning I took breakfast
at home. My mercantile career had ended, and forthwith I took to the
range as a preacher's son takes to vice. By the time I was twenty
there was no better cow-hand in the entire country. I could, besides,
speak Spanish and play the fiddle, and thought nothing of riding
thirty miles to a dance. The vagabond temperament of the range I
easily assimilated.

Christmas in the South is always a season of festivity, and the magnet
of mother and home yearly drew us to the family hearthstone. There we
brothers met and exchanged stories of our experiences. But one year
both my brothers brought home a new experience. They had been up the
trail, and the wondrous stories they told about the northern country
set my blood on fire. Until then I thought I had had adventures, but
mine paled into insignificance beside theirs. The following summer, my
eldest brother, Robert, himself was to boss a herd up the trail, and I
pleaded with him to give me a berth, but he refused me, saying: "No,
Tommy; the trail is one place where a foreman can have no favorites.
Hardship and privation must be met, and the men must throw themselves
equally into the collar. I don't doubt but you're a good hand; still
the fact that you're my brother might cause other boys to think I
would favor you. A trail outfit has to work as a unit, and dissensions
would be ruinous." I had seen favoritism shown on ranches, and
understood his position to be right. Still I felt that I must make
that trip if it were possible. Finally Robert, seeing that I was
overanxious to go, came to me and said: "I've been thinking that if I
recommended you to Jim Flood, my old foreman, he might take you with
him next year. He is to have a herd that will take five months from
start to delivery, and that will be the chance of your life. I'll see
him next week and make a strong talk for you."

True to his word, he bespoke me a job with Flood the next time he met
him, and a week later a letter from Flood reached me, terse and
pointed, engaging my services as a trail hand for the coming summer.
The outfit would pass near our home on its way to receive the cattle
which were to make up the trail herd. Time and place were appointed
where I was to meet them in the middle of March, and I felt as if I
were made. I remember my mother and sisters twitted me about the
swagger that came into my walk, after the receipt of Flood's letter,
and even asserted that I sat my horse as straight as a poker.
Possibly! but wasn't I going up the trail with Jim Flood, the boss
foreman of Don Lovell, the cowman and drover?

Our little ranch was near Cibollo Ford on the river, and as the outfit
passed down the country, they crossed at that ford and picked me up.
Flood was not with them, which was a disappointment to me, "Quince"
Forrest acting as _segundo_ at the time. They had four mules to the
"chuck" wagon under Barney McCann as cook, while the _remuda_, under
Billy Honeyman as horse wrangler, numbered a hundred and forty-two,
ten horses to the man, with two extra for the foreman. Then, for the
first time, I learned that we were going down to the mouth of the Rio
Grande to receive the herd from across the river in Old Mexico; and
that they were contracted for delivery on the Blackfoot Indian
Reservation in the northwest corner of Montana. Lovell had several
contracts with the Indian Department of the government that year, and
had been granted the privilege of bringing in, free of duty, any
cattle to be used in filling Indian contracts.

My worst trouble was getting away from home on the morning of
starting. Mother and my sisters, of course, shed a few tears; but my
father, stern and unbending in his manner, gave me his benediction in
these words: "Thomas Moore, you're the third son to leave our roof,
but your father's blessing goes with you. I left my own home beyond
the sea before I was your age." And as they all stood at the gate, I
climbed into my saddle and rode away, with a lump in my throat which
left me speechless to reply.



It was a nice ten days' trip from the San Antonio to the Rio Grande
River. We made twenty-five to thirty miles a day, giving the saddle
horses all the advantage of grazing on the way. Rather than hobble,
Forrest night-herded them, using five guards, two men to the watch of
two hours each. "As I have little hope of ever rising to the dignity
of foreman," said our _segundo_, while arranging the guards, "I'll
take this occasion to show you varmints what an iron will I possess.
With the amount of help I have, I don't propose to even catch a night
horse; and I'll give the cook orders to bring me a cup of coffee and a
cigarette before I arise in the morning. I've been up the trail before
and realize that this authority is short-lived, so I propose to make
the most of it while it lasts. Now you all know your places, and see
you don't incur your foreman's displeasure."

The outfit reached Brownsville on March 25th, where we picked up Flood
and Lovell, and dropping down the river about six miles below Fort
Brown, went into camp at a cattle ford known as Paso Ganado. The Rio
Grande was two hundred yards wide at this point, and at its then stage
was almost swimming from bank to bank. It had very little current, and
when winds were favorable the tide from the Gulf ran in above the
ford. Flood had spent the past two weeks across the river, receiving
and road-branding the herd, so when the cattle should reach the river
on the Mexican side we were in honor bound to accept everything
bearing the "circle dot" the left hip. The contract called for a
thousand she cattle, three and four years of age, and two thousand
four and five year old beeves, estimated as sufficient to fill a
million-pound beef contract. For fear of losses on the trail, our
foreman had accepted fifty extra head of each class, and our herd at
starting would number thirty-one hundred head. They were coming up
from ranches in the interior, and we expected to cross them the first
favorable day after their arrival. A number of different rancheros had
turned in cattle in making up the herd, and Flood reported them in
good, strong condition.

Lovell and Flood were a good team of cowmen. The former, as a youth,
had carried a musket in the ranks of the Union army, and at the end of
that struggle, cast his fortune with Texas, where others had seen
nothing but the desolation of war, Lovell saw opportunities of
business, and had yearly forged ahead as a drover and beef contractor.
He was well calculated to manage the cattle business, but was
irritable and inclined to borrow trouble, therefore unqualified
personally to oversee the actual management of a cow herd. In repose,
Don Lovell was slow, almost dull, but in an emergency was
astonishingly quick-witted and alert. He never insisted on temperance
among his men, and though usually of a placid temperament, when out of
tobacco - Lord!

Jim Flood, on the other hand, was in a hundred respects the antithesis
of his employer. Born to the soil of Texas, he knew nothing but
cattle, but he knew them thoroughly. Yet in their calling, the pair
were a harmonious unit. He never crossed a bridge till he reached it,
was indulgent with his men, and would overlook any fault, so long as
they rendered faithful service. Priest told me this incident: Flood
had hired a man at Red River the year before, when a self-appointed
guardian present called Flood to one side and said, - "Don't you know
that that man you've just hired is the worst drunkard in this

"No, I didn't know it," replied Flood, "but I'm glad to hear he is. I
don't want to ruin an innocent man, and a trail outfit is not supposed
to have any morals. Just so the herd don't count out shy on the day of
delivery, I don't mind how many drinks the outfit takes."

The next morning after going into camp, the first thing was the
allotment of our mounts for the trip. Flood had the first pick, and
cut twelve bays and browns. His preference for solid colors, though
they were not the largest in the _remuda_, showed his practical sense
of horses. When it came the boys' turn to cut, we were only allowed to
cut one at a time by turns, even casting lots for first choice. We had
ridden the horses enough to have a fair idea as to their merits, and
every lad was his own judge. There were, as it happened, only three
pinto horses in the entire saddle stock, and these three were the last
left of the entire bunch. Now a little boy or girl, and many an older
person, thinks that a spotted horse is the real thing, but practical
cattle men know that this freak of color in range-bred horses is the
result of in-and-in breeding, with consequent physical and mental
deterioration. It was my good fortune that morning to get a good mount
of horses, - three sorrels, two grays, two coyotes, a black, a brown,
and a _grulla_. The black was my second pick, and though the color is
not a hardy one, his "bread-basket" indicated that he could carry food
for a long ride, and ought to be a good swimmer. My judgment of him
was confirmed throughout the trip, as I used him for my night horse
and when we had swimming rivers to ford. I gave this black the name of
"Nigger Boy."

For the trip each man was expected to furnish his own accoutrements.
In saddles, we had the ordinary Texas make, the housings of which
covered our mounts from withers to hips, and would weigh from thirty
to forty pounds, bedecked with the latest in the way of trimmings and

Our bridles were in keeping with the saddles, the reins as long as
plough lines, while the bit was frequently ornamental and costly. The
indispensable slicker, a greatcoat of oiled canvas, was ever at hand,
securely tied to our cantle strings. Spurs were a matter of taste. If
a rider carried a quirt, he usually dispensed with spurs, though, when
used, those with large, dull rowels were the make commonly chosen. In
the matter of leggings, not over half our outfit had any, as a trail
herd always kept in the open, and except for night herding they were
too warm in summer. Our craft never used a cattle whip, but if
emergency required, the loose end of a rope served instead, and was
more humane.

Either Flood or Lovell went into town every afternoon with some of the
boys, expecting to hear from the cattle. On one trip they took along
the wagon, laying in a month's supplies. The rest of us amused
ourselves in various ways. One afternoon when the tide was in, we
tried our swimming horses in the river, stripping to our
underclothing, and, with nothing but a bridle on our horses, plunged
into tidewater. My Nigger Boy swam from bank to bank like a duck. On
the return I slid off behind, and taking his tail, let him tow me to
our own side, where he arrived snorting like a tugboat.

One evening, on their return from Brownsville, Flood brought word that
the herd would camp that night within fifteen miles of the river. At
daybreak Lovell and the foreman, with "Fox" Quarternight and myself,
started to meet the herd. The nearest ferry was at Brownsville, and it
was eleven o'clock when we reached the cattle. Flood had dispensed
with an interpreter and had taken Quarternight and me along to do the
interpreting. The cattle were well shed and in good flesh for such an
early season of the year, and in receiving, our foreman had been
careful and had accepted only such as had strength for a long voyage.
They were the long-legged, long-horned Southern cattle, pale-colored
as a rule, possessed the running powers of a deer, and in an ordinary
walk could travel with a horse. They had about thirty vaqueros under a
corporal driving the herd, and the cattle were strung out in regular
trailing manner. We rode with them until the noon hour, when, with the
understanding that they were to bring the herd to Paso Ganado by ten
o'clock the following day, we rode for Matamoros. Lovell had other
herds to start on the trail that year, and was very anxious to cross
the cattle the following day, so as to get the weekly steamer - the
only mode of travel - which left Point Isabel for Galveston on the
first of April.

The next morning was bright and clear, with an east wind, which
insured a flood tide in the river. On first sighting the herd that
morning, we made ready to cross them as soon as they reached the
river. The wagon was moved up within a hundred yards of the ford, and
a substantial corral of ropes was stretched. Then the entire saddle
stock was driven in, so as to be at hand in case a hasty change of
mounts was required. By this time Honeyman knew the horses of each
man's mount, so all we had to do was to sing out our horse, and Billy
would have a rope on one and have him at hand before you could
unsaddle a tired one. On account of our linguistic accomplishments,
Quarternight and I were to be sent across the river to put the cattle
in and otherwise assume control. On the Mexican side there was a
single string of high brush fence on the lower side of the ford,
commencing well out in the water and running back about two hundred
yards, thus giving us a half chute in forcing the cattle to take
swimming water. This ford had been in use for years in crossing
cattle, but I believe this was the first herd ever crossed that was
intended for the trail, or for beyond the bounds of Texas.

When the herd was within a mile of the river, Fox and I shed our
saddles, boots, and surplus clothing and started to meet it. The water
was chilly, but we struck it with a shout, and with the cheers of our
outfit behind us, swam like smugglers. A swimming horse needs freedom,
and we scarcely touched the reins, but with one hand buried in a mane
hold, and giving gentle slaps on the neck with the other, we guided
our horses for the other shore. I was proving out my black, Fox had a
gray of equal barrel displacement, - both good swimmers; and on
reaching the Mexican shore, we dismounted and allowed them to roll in
the warm sand.

Flood had given us general instructions, and we halted the herd about
half a mile from the river. The Mexican corporal was only too glad to
have us assume charge, and assured us that he and his outfit were ours

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAndy AdamsThe Log of a Cowboy A Narrative of the Old Trail Days → online text (page 1 of 22)