Andy Adams.

Wells Brothers The Young Cattle Kings online

. (page 11 of 17)
Online LibraryAndy AdamsWells Brothers The Young Cattle Kings → online text (page 11 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ill-wind to some, but the Beaver valley was not only exempt but could
extend relief.

After supper, hosts and guests adjourned to the tent. Forrest had
unearthed the winter struggle of his protégés, and gloating over the
manner in which the boys had met and overcome the unforeseen, he assumed
an observant attitude in addressing his employer.

"You must be working a sorry outfit up on the Little Missouri," said he,
"to lose ten per cent of straight steer cattle. My boys, here on the
Beaver, report a measly loss of twelve head, out of over five hundred
cattle. And you must recollect that these were rag-tag and bob-tail, the
flotsam of a hundred herds, forty per cent cripples, walking on
crutches. Think of it! Two per cent loss, under herd, a sleet over the
range for six weeks, against your ten per cent kill on an open range.
You must have a slatterly, sore-thumbed lot of men on your beef ranch."

Mr. Lovell was discouraged over the outlook of his cattle interests.
"That was a first report that you are quoting from," said he to Forrest.
"It was more prophecy than statement. We must make allowances for young
men. There is quite a difference between getting scared and being hurt.
My beef outfit has orders to go three hundred miles south of our range
and cover all round-ups northward. It was a severe winter, and the drift
was heavy, but I'm not worrying any about that sore-fingered outfit.
Promptly meeting government contracts is our work to-day. My cattle are
two weeks behind time, and the beef herds must leave Dodge to-morrow.
Help me figure it out: Can you put me on the railroad by noon?" he
concluded, turning to Joel.

"Easily, or I can carry a message to-night."

"There's your programme," said Forrest, interceding. "One of these boys
can take you to Grinnell in time for the eastbound train. Wire your beef
herds to pull out for the Platte. You can trust the water to improve
from here north."

"And you?" inquired the drover, addressing his foreman.

"I'll take the buckboard and go north until I meet Paul. That will cover
the last link in the trail. We'll know our water then, and time our
drives to help the cattle. It's as clear as mud."

"Just about," dubiously answered Mr. Lovell. "Unless I can get an
extension of time on my beef contracts, the penalty under my bonds will
amount to a fortune."

"The army is just as well aware of this drouth as you are," said
Forrest, "and the War Department will make allowances. The government
don't expect the impossible."

"Yes," answered the old drover with feeling. "Yes, but it exacts a bond,
and stipulates the daily forfeiture, and if any one walks the plank,
it's not your dear old Uncle Samuel. And it matters not how much sleep I
lose, red tape never worries."

The boys made a movement as if to withdraw, and Forrest arose. "The
programme for to-morrow, then, is understood," said the latter. "The
horses will be ready at daybreak."

It was midnight when the trio sought their blankets. On the part of the
brothers, there was a constant reference to their guest, the drover, and
a desire, if in their power, to aid him in every way.

"I wanted you boys to meet and get acquainted with Mr. Lovell," said
Forrest, as all were dozing off to sleep. "There is a cowman in a
thousand, and his word carries weight in cattle matters. He's rather
deep water, unless you cross or surprise him. I nagged him about the men
on his beef ranch. He knew the cattle wouldn't winter kill when they
could drift, and the round-up will catch every living hoof. He was too
foxy to borrow any trouble there, and this long yell about the drouth
interfering with delivery dates keeps the trail outfits against the
bits. Admitting his figures, the water expense won't be a drop in the
bucket. It affords good worrying and that keeps the old man in fighting
form. I'm glad he came along; treat him fair and square, and his
friendship means something to you, boys."




CHAPTER XIV

AN ILL WIND


The start to the station was made at four o'clock in the morning. Joel
accompanied the drover, the two best horses being under saddle, easily
capable of a road gait that would reach the railroad during the early
forenoon. The direct course lay across country, and once the sun flooded
the Beaver valley, the cowman swung around in the saddle and his
practical eye swept the range. On sighting Hackberry Grove, the broken
country beyond, including the sand hills, he turned to his guide.

"My boy," said Mr. Lovell, "you brothers have a great future before you.
This is an ideal cattle range. The very grass under our horses' feet
carries untold wealth. But you lack cattle. You have the range here for
thousands where you are running hundreds. Buy young steers; pay any
price; but get more cattle. The growth of young steers justifies any
outlay. Come down to Dodge about the first of August. This drouth is
liable to throw some bargains on that market. Be sure and come. I'll
keep an eye open in your interest on any cattle for sale."

The old drover's words bewildered Joel. The ways and means were not
entirely clear, but the confidence of the man in the future of the
brothers was gratifying. Meanwhile, at the little ranch the team stood
in waiting, and before the horseman had passed out of sight to the south
the buckboard started on its northern errand. Dell accompanied it,
protesting against his absence from home, but Forrest brushed aside
every objection.

"Come on, come on," said he to Dell; "you have no saddle, and we may be
back to-night. We're liable to meet Paul on the Republican. Turn your
ranch loose and let it run itself. Come on; we ain't halfway through our
figuring."

Joel returned after dark. Priest had left Ogalalla, to the north, the
same day that Forrest and his employer started up the trail from the
south, and at the expected point the two foremen met. The report showed
water in abundance from the Republican River northward, confirming
Forrest's assertion to his employer, and completing the chain of waters
between Dodge and Ogalalla. Priest returned with the buckboard, which
reached the Beaver after midnight, and aroused Joel out of heavy sleep.

"I just wanted to say," said Priest, sitting on the edge of Joel's bunk,
"that I had my ear to the ground and heard the good fighting. Yes, I
heard the sleet cracking. You never saw me, but I was with you the night
you drifted to the Prairie Dog. Take it all along the line, wasn't it
good fighting?"

"Has Dell told you everything?" inquired Joel, sitting up in his
blankets.

"Everything, including the fact that he got lost the night of the March
drift, while going home after a pack horse. Wouldn't trust poor old
Dog-toe, but run on the rope himself! Landed down the creek here a few
miles. News to you? Well, he admits that the horse forgot more than he
himself ever knew. That's a hopeful sign. As long as a man hearkens to
his horse, there is no danger of bad counsel being thrust on him."

The boys were catching, at first hand, an insight into the exacting
nature of trail work. Their friends were up with the dawn, and while
harnessing in the team, Forrest called Joel's attention to setting the
ranch in order to water the passing herds.

"I was telling Dell yesterday," said he, "the danger of Texas fever
among wintered cattle, and you must isolate your little herd until
after frost falls. Graze your cattle up around Hackberry Grove, and keep
a dead-line fully three miles wide between the wintered and through
trail herds. Any new cattle that you pick up, cripples or strays, hold
them down the creek - between here and the old trail crossing. For fear
of losing them you can't even keep milk cows around the ranch, so turn
out your calves. Don't ask me to explain Texas fever. It's one of the
mysteries of the trail. The very cattle that impart it after a winter in
the north catch the fever and die like sheep. It seems to exist, in a
mild form, in through, healthy cattle, but once imparted to native or
northern wintered stock, it becomes violent and is usually fatal. The
sure, safe course is to fear and avoid it."

The two foremen were off at an early hour. Priest was again in charge of
Lovell's lead herd, and leaving the horse that he had ridden to the
Republican River in care of the boys, he loitered a moment at parting.

"If my herd left Dodge at noon yesterday," said he, mentally
calculating, "I'll overtake it some time to-morrow night. Allowing ten
days to reach here - "

He turned to the boys. "This is the sixteenth of June. Well, come out on
the divide on the morning of the twenty-fifth and you will see a dust
cloud in the south. The long distance between waters will put the herd
through on schedule time. Come out and meet me."

The brothers waved the buckboard away. The dragging days were over. The
herds were coming, and their own little ranch promised relief to the
drover and his cattle.

"Mr. Quince says the usual price for watering trail herds is from one to
three cents a head," said Dell, as their friends dipped from sight. "The
government, so he says, allows three cents for watering cavalry horses
and harness mules. He tells me that the new settlers, in control of the
water on the trail, in northern Texas, fairly robbed the drovers this
year. The pastoral Texan, he contends, shared his canteen with the
wayfarer, and never refused to water cattle. He wants us to pattern
after the Texans - to give our water and give it freely. When Mr. Lovell
raised the question of arranging to water his herds from our beaver
ponds, do you remember how Mr. Quince answered for us? I'm mighty glad
money wasn't mentioned. No money could buy Dog-toe from me. And Mr.
Lovell gave us three of our best horses."

"He offered me ten dollars for taking him to the railroad," said Joel,
"but I looked him square in the eye and refused the money. He says we
must buy more cattle. He wants me to come to Dodge in August, and
I'm going."

Dell treated the idea of buying cattle with slight disdain.
"You - going - to - buy - more - cattle?" said he, accenting each word. "Any
one tell your fortune lately?"

"Yes," answered the older boy. "I'm having it told every day. One of
those two men, the gray-haired one on that buckboard, - stand here and
you can see them, - told me over a year ago that this range had a value,
and that we ought to skirmish some cattle, some way, and stock it. What
he saw clearly then, I see now, and what Mr. Lovell sees now, you may
see a year hence. These men have proved their friendship, and why stand
in our own light? Our ability to hold cattle was tested last winter, and
if this range is an asset, there may be some way to buy more cattle. I'm
going to Dodge in August."

Dell was silenced. There was ample time to set the ranch in order.
Turning away from the old trail, on the divide, and angling in to
headquarters, and thence northward, was but a slight elbow on the
general course of the trail herds. The long distance across to the
Republican would compel an early watering on the Beaver, that the cattle
might reach the former river the following evening. The brothers knew to
a fraction the grazing gait of a herd, the trailing pace, and could
anticipate to an hour the time required to move a herd from the Prairie
Dog to the Beaver.

The milk cows and calves were turned back into the general herd. The
dead-line was drawn safely below Hackberry Grove, between imaginary
landmarks on either slope, while on the creek, like a sentinel, stood a
lone willow which seemed to say, "Thus far shalt thou go and no
farther." The extra horses, now in the pink of condition, were brought
home and located below the ranch, and the house stood in order.

The arrival of the first herd had been correctly calculated. The
brothers rode out late on the morning designated, but did not reach the
divide. The foremost herd was met within seven miles of the Beaver, the
leaders coming on with the steady stride of thirsty cattle that had
scented water. Priest was nowhere in sight, but the heavy beeves
identified the herd, and when the boys hailed a point man, the
situation cleared.

"Mr. Paul - our boss?" repeated the point man. "He's setting up a
guide-board, back on the divide, where we turned off from the old
trail. Say, does this dim wagon track we're following lead to Wells
Brothers' ranch?"

"It does," answered Joel. "You can see the willows from the next swell
of the prairie," added Dell, as the brothers passed on.

It was a select herd of heavy beeves. In spite of the drouth
encountered, the cattle were in fine condition, and as the herd snailed
forward at its steady march, the sweep of horn, the variety of color,
the neat outline of each animal blended into a pastoral picture of
strength and beauty.

The boys rode down the advancing column. A swing man on the opposite
side of the herd waved his hand across to the brothers, and while the
two were speculating as to who he might be, a swing lad on the left
reined out and saluted the boys.

With hand extended, he smilingly inquired, "Don't you remember the day
we branded your cattle? How did the Two Bars and the - - Y
cows winter?"

"It's Billy Honeyman," said Dell, beaming. "Who is that man across the
herd, waving at us?" he inquired, amid hearty greeting.

"That's Runt Pickett, the little fellow who helped us brand - the lad who
rushed the cattle. The herd cuts him off from shaking hands. Turn your
horses the other way and tell me how you like it out West."

Dell turned back, but Joel continued on. The column of beeves was fully
a mile in length. After passing the drag end of the herd, the wagon and
remuda were sighted, later met, with the foreman still at the rear. The
dust cloud of yet another herd arose in the distance, and while Joel
pondered on its location over the divide, a horseman emerged from a dip
in the plain and came toward him in a slow gallop.

"There's no foreman with the next herd," explained Priest, slacking his
horse into a walk, "and the segundo wasn't sure which swell was the real
divide. We trailed two herds past your ranch last summer, but the frost
has mellowed up the soil and the grass has overgrown the paths until
every trace is gone. I planted a guide-post and marked it 'Lovell's
Trail,' so the other foremen will know where to turn off. All the old
man's herds are within three or four days' drive, and after that it's
almost a solid column of cattle back to Dodge. Forrest is in charge of
the rear herd, and will pick up any of our abandoned cattle."

The two shook out their mounts, passed the commissary and saddle stock,
but halted a moment at the drag end of the herd. "We've been dropping
our cripples," explained Priest, "but the other herds will bring them
through. There's not over one or two here, but I'm going to saw off
three horses on Wells Brothers. Good ones, too, that is, good for
next year."

A halt was made at the lead of the herd, and some directions given the
point man. It was still early in the forenoon, and once man and boy had
fairly cleared the leaders in front, a signal was given and the cattle
turned as a single animal and fell to grazing. The wagon and remuda
never halted; on being joined by the two horsemen, they continued on
into the Beaver. Eleven o'clock was the hour named to water the herd,
and punctual to the moment the beeves, with a mile-wide front, were
grazed up to the creek.

The cattle were held around the pools for an hour. Before dinner was
over, the acting foreman of the second herd rode in, and in mimicking a
trail boss, issued some drastic orders. The second herd was within
sight, refused to graze, and his wagon was pulling in below the ranch
for the noon camp.

Priest looked at his watch. "Start the herd," said he to his own men.
"Hold a true northward course, and camp twelve miles out to-night. I may
not be with you, but water in the Republican at six o'clock to-morrow
evening. Bring in your herd, young fellow," he concluded, addressing
the segundo.

The watering of a trail herd is important. Mere opportunity to quench
thirst is not sufficient. The timid stand in awe of the strong, and the
excited milling cattle intimidate the weak and thirsty. An hour is the
minimum time, during which half the herd may drink and lie down,
affording the others the chance to approach without fear and slake
their thirst.

The acting foreman signaled in his herd. The beeves around the water
were aroused, and reluctantly grazed out on their course, while the
others came on with a sullen stride that thirst enforces. The previous
scene of contentment gave way to frenzy. The heavy beeves, equally
select with the vanguard, floundered into the pools, lowed in their joy,
drank to gorging, fought their fellows, staggered out of the creek, and
dropped to rest in the first dust or dry grass.

Priest trimmed his own beeves and remuda. A third herd appeared, when he
and the acting foreman culled over both horses and cattle, and sent the
second herd on its way. Each of the three advance herds must reach the
Republican the following day, and it was scant two o'clock when the
third one trailed out from the Beaver. With mature cattle there were
few cripples, and the day ended with an addition to the little ranch of
the promised horses and a few tender-footed beeves. There were two more
herds of heavy beef cattle to follow, which would arrive during the next
forenoon, and the old foreman remained over until the last cattle,
intended for army delivery, had passed the ranch.

The herd never fails. Faith in cattle is always rewarded. From that far
distant dawn when man and his ox started across the ages the one has
ever sustained the other. The two rear beef herds promptly reached the
Beaver the next morning, slaked their thirst, and passed on before noon.

"This lets me out as your guest," said Priest to the boys, when the last
herd was trimmed. "Bob Quirk will now follow with six herds of contract
cattle. He's the foreman of the second herd of beeves, but Mr. Lovell
detailed him to oversee this next division across to the Platte. Forrest
will follow Quirk with the last five herds of young steers, slated for
the old man's beef ranch on the Little Missouri. That puts our cattle
across the Beaver, but you'll have plenty of company for the next month.
Mr. Lovell has made a good talk for you boys around Dodge, and if you'll
give these trail drovers this water, it will all come back. As cowmen,
there are two things that you want to remember - that it'll rain again,
and that the cows will calve in the spring."

Priest had barely left the little ranch when Bob Quirk arrived. Before
dismounting, he rode around the pools, signaled in a wagon and remuda,
and returned to the tent.

"This is trailing cattle with a vengeance," said he, stripping his
saddle from a tired horse. "There has been such a fight for water this
year that every foreman seems to think that unless he reaches the river
to-day it'll be dry to-morrow. Five miles apart was the limit agreed on
before leaving Dodge, and here I am with six herds - twenty thousand
cattle! - within twenty miles of the Beaver. For fear of a stampede last
night, we threw the herds left and right, two miles off the trail. The
Lord surely loves cattle or the earth would have shook from
running herds!"

That afternoon and the next morning the second division of the Lovell
herds crossed the Beaver. Forrest rode in and saluted the boys with his
usual rough caress.

"Saddle up horses," said he, "and drop back and come through with the
two rear herds, There's a heavy drag end on each one, and an extra man
to nurse those tender cows over here, to home and friends, will be
lending a hand to the needy. I'll run the ranch while you're gone. One
of you to each, the fourth and fifth herds, remember. I'll meet you
to-morrow morning, and we'll cut the cripples out and point them in to
the new tanks below. Shake out your fat horses, sweat them up a
little - you're needed at the rear of Lovell's main drive."

The boys saddled and rode away in a gallop. Three of the rear herds
reached the Beaver that afternoon, watered, and passed on to safe camps
beyond. One of Quirk's wagons had left a quarter of beef at
headquarters, and Forrest spent the night amid peace and plenty where
the year before he lay wounded.

The next morning saw the last of the Lovell herds arrive. The lead one
yielded ninety cripples, and an hour later the rear guard disgorged a
few over one hundred head. The two contingents were thrown together, the
brothers nursed them in to the new tanks, where they were freed on a
perfect range. A count of the cripples and fagged cattle, culled back at
headquarters, brought the total discard of the sixteen herds up to two
hundred and forty-odd, a riffraff of welcome flotsam, running from a
young steer to a seven-year-old beef. The sweepings had paid the
reckoning.

Several other trail foremen, scouting in advance of their herds, had
reached the Beaver, or had been given assurance that water was to be had
in abundance. A measurement of the water was awaited with interest, and
once the rear herd grazed out from the beaver ponds, Forrest and the
brothers rode around the pools to take soundings.

"I cut notches on willow roots, at each beaver dam, and the loss runs
from four to six inches, the lower pools suffering the heaviest," said
Joel, summing up the situation.

"They're holding like cisterns," exultingly said Forrest. "Fifty
thousand cattle watered, and only lowered the pools on an average of
five inches. The upper one's still taking water - that's the reason it's
standing the drain. Write it in the sand or among the stars, but the
water's here for this year's drive. Go back and tell those waiting
foremen to bring on their cattle. Headquarters ranch will water every
trail herd, or break a tug trying."




CHAPTER XV

WATER! WATER!


"Bring on your herds," said Joel, addressing a quartette of trail
foremen resting under the sunshade. "Our water is holding out better
than we expected. The Lovell cattle only lowered the ponds a trifle.
From the present outlook, we can water the drive."

"That's a big contract," reluctantly admitted a "Running W" trail boss.
"I had word on the railroad yesterday that the Arkansaw River at Dodge
was only running at night."

"Water is reported plentiful around Ogalalla and beyond," doggedly said
a pock-marked foreman.

"That'll tempt the herds to cross over," urged the Running W man. "The
faraway hills are always green."

The conversation took a new tack. "Who knows the estimate on the total
drive this year?" inquired a swarthy, sun-burned little man, addressing
the pock-marked foreman.

"A rough estimate places the drive at six hundred and fifty thousand
head," came the languid reply.

"There you are," smilingly said the Running W boss, turning to Joel.
"Better revise your water estimate."

"Not now," answered Joel, meeting smile with smile. "Later on I may have
to hedge, but for the present, bring on your cattle."

"That's to the point," languidly said a tall, blond Texan, arising. "My
cattle must have water this evening."

The other trail foremen arose. "We all understand," remarked the
pock-marked man to the others, "that this is the place where we drop our
strays, fagged and crippled stuff. These are the boys that Mr. Lovell
mentioned as worthy of any cattle that must be abandoned."

"At Wells Brothers' ranch, on the Beaver," assentingly said the little
man.

"Our lead herds will not have many cripples," said the Running W
foreman, turning to the boys. "A few days' rest is everything to a
tender-footed steer, and what cattle the lead ones drop, the rear ones
have orders to bring through to you."

"Thank you, sir," said Joel frankly. "We want to stock our range, and
crippled cattle are as good as gold to us."

Spurs clanked as the men turned to their mounts. The boys followed, and
Dell overtook the blond Texan. "If you need a hand on the drag end of
your herd," said the boy to the tall foreman, "I'll get up a fresh horse
and overtake you."

"Make it a horse apiece," said the young man, "and I'll sign your
petition for the post office - when this country has one. I'm as good
as afoot."

The other foremen mounted their horses. "I'll overtake you," said Joel
to the trio, "as soon as I change mounts. Whoever has the lead herd,
come in on the water above the field. The upper pools are the deepest,
and let your cattle cover the water evenly."

"I'm in the lead," said the pock-marked man. "But we'll have to come up
to the water in trailing formation. The cattle have suffered from


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryAndy AdamsWells Brothers The Young Cattle Kings → online text (page 11 of 17)