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Frank Bird Linderman.

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something stranger ? Hev a little somethin'
with us."

"I'll take a seegar," said the bearded man.

"Shore," said Shorty. "Shore, take what
ye want. Yer choice is yer own."

A bob-tailed shepherd dog was at the heels
of the stranger. His alert eyes followed
every movement of his master and those
about him. Timid and unused to the bois-
terous cow-punchers, he was careful to keep

[91 ]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

out of everybody's way, and, at the same
time, to remain on the ground.

The man lighted the cigar and went out
of the place, the dog giving evidence of joy
at the move.

"Sheepherder," said Shorty in disgust.

"A gentle shepherd; real gentle," supple-
mented Buck Bowers. "Baa-ba-baa!" he
called after the retreating man.

"Should think they'd git lonesome, fel-
lers," said Shorty as he thoughtfully rolled
a cigarette.

"Lonesome? No!" said Buck, disgust-
edly. "They always got a grouch an* a
Waterbury watch, an' when they ain't
nursin' the one they're windin' the other.
Ain't got no time to git lonesome, them
fellers."

"Never did see that one before. Must be
a new one," said Slim. "Wow! but it's
rainin'. Big Alkali'll be up, shore. Let's

[92]



AT THE BAR



not ride to-night. Let's stick, an* breeze in
the mornin'."

"All right. We'll have another," agreed
the Kid. And the night wore away. One
by one the crowd had melted.

Buck, who had been the first to go, was
the first to come back to the saloon at day-
light. Ott Canaday was tending bar.

"Have a mornin's mornin', Buck?" asked
Ott.

"Shore. Say, somebody's stole my saddle-
blanket, an' it's a Navajo, too."

"Where did ye leave it, Buck ?"

"Down to the stable. Everything's there
but the blanket. I wouldn't take a pretty
for the blanket neither."

"Mebby the boys hev jobbed ye."

"Mebby, but I don't believe it."

"Any strangers "

"Say!" interrupted Buck. "I bet that
sheepherder took it. Where's Slim ?"
[93]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"Ain't seen him," said Ott.

"I'll make a roundup right now," said
Buck, and he went outside.

Half an hour later seven horsemen rode
up to the saloon. Buck had found the boys.
He got down and came in.

"Ott," he said, "where's that there sheriff's
star ye uster hev that one from Texas ? "

"In my war sack," said Ott. "Why ?"

"Git it."

Buck polished the badge of office on his
chaps and pinned it to his shirt under his
coat.

Then the cavalcade rode out of town,
silently for once. A fine, drizzling rain was
falling, and the gumbo flats were next to
impassable. Long, V-shaped flocks of wild
geese were flying northward, and there were
great puddles of water before the saloon
and about the hitch-rack. Milk River was
overflowing its banks, and Big Alkali would

[94]



AT THE BAR



swim a horse. Out on the ranges the young
grass was short, but vividly green, while the
cottonwoods and quaking aspens back of the
town were just venturing to put forth a
promise of foliage.

"Yahee! Yahee! ay ay ay. Ya-
hee!" Bang! Bang!

One lone cow-puncher stood on the rail-
road's right of way in the rain. He was
alternately yelling and shooting at tin cans
that littered the ground near by. Save for
him, the lone disturber, the town was quiet,
as if resigned to any fate.

Cashelhofer's cat crawled from under the
porch and began to pick his way gingerly
through the mud. He was going to the
shed behind the hotel. Suddenly the cat's
tail grew to double size, and ^ignoring the
gumbo, he tore away for shelter as the
"posse" dashed up before the saloon with
the sheepherder, a prisonerJ

[95]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"Git down," commanded Buck.

The sheepherder obeyed instantly.

"Don't try nothin', pardner," said the
sheriff, as the frightened man looked across
the muddy road. "I'd as lief kill ye as not.
Come on." And he conducted him into the
saloon, followed by the faithful "posse."

"Keep yer eyes on him, boys," said Buck.
"If he makes a break, plug him. I'll go an'
find the judge." He turned toward the
door.

"If supposin' " said Slim. "'Course
Fm only supposing but suppose he offered
to buy a drink, shall we let him ?"

Buck pondered. "Oh, if he should want
to loosen up "

"I I want to," said the prisoner. "I
intended to treat." His voice shook. "I
was going to ask ye honest, I was, sheriff."

He drew a worn wallet from his pocket.

The eyes of the "posse" grew large. It

[96]



AT THE BAR



was well filled. The sheepherder selected a
bill from the store and laid it on the bar.
Ott served the drinks, but offered no change.

"Has he got yer blanket, sheriff?" he
asked as he laid the bill in the cash-drawer.

"Did hev, but he ain't now."

"I'm sorry for him, then. The judge is
pretty hard on thieves," he said as he mopped
the bar with a towel. He was wondering
who the judge might be.

But Buck had chosen. "Seen Judge Cos-
grove this mornin', Ott ? "

"He's over to Hank's playin' pin er a
piano fer a sick man," he said.

"I'll go git him," said Buck.

"Wait, wait, sheriff. I want to treat the
boys agin."

"All right. He might move, but I reckon
I kin find him. Shoot !"

The sheepherder laid a silver dollar on
the bar.

(971



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"Come agin, sport," said Ott. "The
crowd has growed some."

It had. The place was filled, for the news
had spread. The prisoner produced an-
other bill in lieu of the dollar, and it went the
way of the first. He made no comment.

"Did you want to see me, sheriff?" And
Harry Cosgrove elbowed his way to the
bar.

"Yes, yer honor. I've got a prisoner
here. If it's all the same to you an* an'
yer docket won't be upset, I'd like fer ye to
hear the case now."

The judge considered a moment. " What's
the prisoner charged with ?"

"StealinV said Buck.

"A thief? Is that possible well! Who's
his attorney?"

"Ain't got none yet, judge. Better ap-
point a lawyer for him. He's a stranger."

The judge pondered. "See if ye can find
[98]



AT THE BAR



Attorney Barry. I saw him in town. Mr.
Colby will prosecute, of course," he said
finally.

Slim went to find Bud Barry, and Buck
found Colby in the hotel.

The judge shook hands with the attorneys
as they came in, and the trial began on the
spot.

"Your honor," began Colby, "I shall
prove beyond a doubt that the defendant
stole, took, and carried away one Navajo
saddle-blanket from the stable in Malta
last night. I shall prove, also, that the
property belongs to Buck er Mr. Bowers,
the sheriff, an' "

"May it please yer honor," Barry's voice
drowned Colby's. "My client wants to
buy a drink for the judge and those here as-
sembled. I move the court that he be per-
mitted to do so."

"The court will entertain the motion,"

[99]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER



said Cosgrove. "Court is recessed for five



minutes."



At the expiration of the allotted time the
judge rapped upon the card -table. Order
was promptly resumed.

"Proceed, Mr. Colby," said the court.

"I shall also prove," continued Colby,
"that the prisoner at the bar the bar of
justice, yer honor is a dissolute character,
and I will show by my witnesses that other
crimes than the one he is now charged with
are standing against him in another State.
Your honor, murder is "

"May it please the honorable court,"
again Bud Barry interrupted, "my client
begs, nay, implores, the court to allow him
an opportunity to show his respect and es-
teem for this city by purchasing further
refreshments. I therefore move the court,
asking the indulgence of the gifted prose-
cuting attorney, that we recess for five
minutes."

[ ioo]



AT THE BAR



"The court stands recessed for five min-
utes," said the judge.

That round of drinks cost fifteen dollars.
The place was packed to the door. The
sheepherder's pile dwindled fast.

Wedged between two members of the
"posse" Buck found him in the crowd.
"I'm sorry for you," he whispered. "Fve
jest heared the boys talkin'. They want to
hang ye. Yer hoss is standin' out in front
an' I'm goin' to help ye. I've got back my
blanket an' I don't hold no grudge. When
the court calls to order I'll start a fight.
Listen to me careful."

"I'm listenin'," said the trembling man.

"Well, ye'd better or they'll hang ye. Jest
as soon as the judge raps on that table I'll
jump onto the prosecutin' attorney. That'll
start a row, see ? Soon's it starts, you git.
Git out of that door an' onto yer hoss. Then
ride like hell. Don't stop, an' don't never
come back."



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"I won't if I can only git away," quavered
the man.

Rap, rap, rap. It was the court pounding
the table with the butt of a six-shooter.
There was instant commotion. The sched-
uled row was sudden, and Buck's on-
slaught fierce.

Interest was transferred to the fight,
which all but two or three thought was on
the square, when a horse tore out of town
followed by a dog. The water splashed
from the puddles as he passed.

"Pore little dog," said Buck. "It's a
gait he ain't never hit before but he's got
a nose, an' he kin trail him, mebby," he
laughed. "Set 'em up, Ott."



I 102]



PAP'S PINTO

"TT7E were away up on the Madison
* * once, Andy Stevens and I," said
Bill. "We'd been hunting elk, and our
horses set us afoot. They'd gone, and we
spent several days hunting them before we
decided they had pulled out for good. It
was high time we were getting out, and one
night we were discussing ways and means
when an old man came into the light of our
camp-fire. His hair was white, and he wore
a long beard. He was slim and not very
tall. His eyes were blue; and his name was
Pap Medders. Pap was an old prospector;
one of the school that have followed the buf-
falo to the Sand Hills, you know. He sat
down and we told him that we were afoot.
"'Hosses?' he asked.
" 'Yes, horses,' said Andy.
[103]



.ON A PASSING FRONTIER

" Pap poked the fire spitefully. 'Humph/
he said. 'I uster use hosses in these moun-
tains till experience led me agin the fact that
God A'mighty wa'n't jokin' when he made a
burro. An' he wa'n't. He made him a-
purpose. You always know where a burro
is at. It don't matter where or when ye
camp the first thing ye see when ye poke
yer head out of yer blankets in the mornin'
is a pair of jackass ears. Ye kin camp in a
blizzard or on a desert where there ain't
enough grass to chink the cracks between the
ribs of a sand-fly. It don't make no differ-
ence. Mr. Burro is with ye when ye want
to move.

f< On the other hand take a cayuse.
Camp on the best spot the Lord ever fer-
tilized fer feed, an* when ye wake up in the
mornin' what do ye see ? His tracks ! Yes,
sir, his doggone tracks a-p'intin' out of the
country. That's what ye see. Hosses nigh



PAP'S PINTO



wore me out. I'd git mad an* tie 'em up
nights figgerin' I'd sooner see their bones at
daybreak than their trail down a gulch.
Then I'd git sorry fer 'em tied up at night
that way an' turn 'em loose. Shore as I did
I'd spend a week lookin' fer 'em.

" ' I hed a pack-hoss once hed several,
fer as that's concerned, but the one I want
to tell ye of was the one that weaned me fer
keeps. He was a glass-eyed, Roman-nosed
pinto, with one real soft, bluish eye that
looked like it belonged to a choir-singer.
The other one was no relation to it, an' the
devil peeped from under the lashes that hid
it when he slept. I got him from a half-
breed on the Flathead Reservation, an'
I'm a-bettin' that all the cayuse cussedness
that wa'n't bound up in his hide is hid away
somewhere in the make-up of a rattlesnake.
There couldn't a-been enough left over after
his creation to have enthused a much bigger

[105]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

carcass. His end was sudden an* some pain-
ful, but when I look back I ain't burdened
none with remorse ner regret, fer he courted
it from the time I first got my rope on him
till he went an* made the play that won him
a place in memory.

Twas ten years ago, an' I was on my
way to a minin' stampede, south. I hed
my twenty-five years' gatherin' on the lump
o' cussedness, an' was a-hittin' the trail
across the country afoot. Him an' me hed
no end o' trouble tryin' to boss the outfit.
I uster tie him up o' nights on account of his
noticeable desire to quit the game, an'
every mornin' I'd hev to break him all over
agin. I'd blindfold him, tie up a leg, an'
pack him, but ye never could tell when he'd
turn himself to buckin' in the middle of the
day. I hed many a narrow escape from
losin' him an' my outfit, but managed to
snub him up by diggin' my heels into the
[ 106]



PAP'S PINTO



ground an' stayin' with him. Mean ! That
devil hed even the magpies buffaloed, an' I
never knowed one to fly over his shadder fer
fear o' bad luck. He was fit fer one thing,
an' that was to bait a bear-trap in the foot-
hills, somewheres.

" 'When that hoss first commenced a real
flirtation with fate was one night when I'd
camped in a bad stretch o' desert. It got
dark on me, an' I hed to hev daylight not
knowin' the country, so I found a place where
there was jest enough feed to keep the pinto
prospectin'. I pulled the pack, looked high
an' low fer a picket-pin I'd been packin', but
'twas gone, so I jest held onto the rope an*
let him feed around while I ate a bite. There
wa'n't nothin' to build a fire out of, an' I
could see that a storm was brewin'. It was
only April, an* the weather was uncertain.
The sky was gittin' black, an' the wind must
hev slid over a snowbank some place, fer it
[ 107]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

felt as chilly as frog legs agin the back o'
my neck. It come in gusts. Then it would
die down till it sounded like somebody was
whisperin' behind me, an' I felt like I'd been
doin' somethin' that was drawin' interest.

'' ' I tied my pet to the pack-saddle, after
fixin' it fer a pillow, an' crawled into the
blankets, allowin' to keep a hold of the cinch
of the saddle in order to be ready to help him
finish anything he might start. I'd bought
some new woollen drawers. They was coarse
an* irritated my skin. I didn't expect to
sleep none, but I figgered I'd rest a lot better
with them drawers off, so I shed 'em. That's
where I was a fool, but I tucked 'em under
the blankets with my pants. To make sure
of the pinto I spread the pack mantle over
the bed and then tied the cinch of the saddle
to it. I was dead sure I could ketch hold of
it somewhere if he should pull the saddle
from under my head.

[ 108 1



PAP'S PINTO



" * I'd been in bed about an hour when I
felt a drop of rain on my face. A few min-
utes later a big black cloud that had been
creepin' up over me began to let out sleet. It
wa'n't so bad at first, an' the canvas mantle
kept the blankets dry. But the hoss got to
snortin' an' pawin' till he made me nervous.
Then the wind began to whoop it up, an'
at every extra hard gust the pinto would try
the rope. It was half sleet and half snow
now, an* it cut my face till I could hardly
stand it. It was freezin' to the bed an' the
camp truck, an' I couldn't see six inches
ahead of my nose. I was cussin' myself fer
takin' them pants an' drawers off when
z-z-zip ! went the pack mantle over my
head. It was covered with ice an' was stiff
as a rawhide. The noise it made scared the
pinto, an' in the mix-up I lost my hold on
the mantle. My hands was numb. I
couldn't hang on, an' away he went, draggin'

[109]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

the pack-saddle, mantle, an' rope into the
night.

" * I lit on my feet, runnin' like a wild man
runnin' after a stampeded hoss in a bliz-
zard an' in the dark.

' When I come to my senses an' tumbled
to the fix I was in I stopped an' listened, but
the wind sung in my ears an' drowned any
sound I might have heard if the night had
been still. The stingin' sleet cut my bare
legs like the lash of a four-hoss whip. My
feet was so numb that I didn't even feel
the cactus I stepped on, but I knowed I'd
feel 'em next day, if I lived. God ! how the
wind did blow. It jest seemed that it
would lift the boulders out of the ground.
I knowed I couldn't foller the pinto, so I
started back fer the bed.

" 'Then a truth that made my hair white
pried itself into my brain. I didn't have no
more idea where that bed was than a blind
[ no]



PAP'S PINTO



mole. I jest weakened then; an' shivered.
I was learnin' a lesson that night that I know
by heart till yit.

" ' I wandered around. I had to. Every
time a big gust would come I'd honker down
an* try to shield as much of me as I could.
The parts that had to take it felt like they
was bleedin'. An' dark ! Ye couldn't have
drilled a hole in the blackness with a ten-
pound hammer an' inch steel. Where there
wasn't any cactus there was rocks, an' they
was slippery as all time. I'd fall; and it
took all my nerve to keep down a sneakin'
desire to give it up. But it was a fall that
brought me luck. I went kerflop, an' heared
a noise near me. I knowed it was the pin-
to's hoofs agin the rocks. I figgered the
saddle had ketched an' hung him up. An*
it had.

" ' I got him. He tried to bolt, but I hung
on like a wood-tick. I couldn't untie the



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

rope from the saddle cinch, so I had to drag
the mantle an' pack the saddle. I set the
hoss to work by makin' him trot around me,
figurin' he'd let me know if he hit the blan-
kets by raisin' hell, an' he did. 'Most got
away, but I held on till me an' the saddle
hung up in a rock pile not far from the bed.
I got back to it, but it was a mass of ice an*
partly covered with snow. Daylight was
hours off yit, so I wrapped the driest of the
blankets around me an' kept the pinto com-
pany till daylight. I'd a-killed him if I'd
dared, but I was afraid I couldn't pack
enough on my back to git me out.

"'The storm let up when mornin' come.
Soon's I could see I got the pack onto the
pinto, an' pulled out, without eatin' anything,
allowin' to make camp at the first wood an'
water I run across.

" 'Along about noon the sun come out.
My clothes was a-warmin' up some. The

[ 112]



PAP'S PINTO



pack was a-steamin* like wet blankets al-
ways do in the sun, an* I was feelin' a little
more like myself. I was sufferin' a heap,
but awful thankful to git out alive. There
was signs o' grass showin' now an* agin, an'
I allowed that I was soon goin' to find a place
where I could make another camp. The
thought of a chance fer coffee was a-makin'
my mouth water when the pinto got a
"wire" from the devil an' bolted.

" * I was so doggone sore an' stiff that I
wa'n't quick enough to snub him, an' the
rope sizzed through my hands like a hot
iron. He was gone with my grub an'
blankets, an' me God only knowed how fer
from a camp or settlement. I started to
run after him, knowin' that my life depended
on ketchin' him, but he disappeared over a
hill with everything lashed to his ornery
back. Runnin' was mighty painful to me,
but I figgered it was my last sprint, most
[ "3 1



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

likely, an' I done the best that was in me.
I hiked up the hill he'd gone over, an' when
I got to the top I spots him jest makin'
the next raise o' ground, about a quarter
away, hittin' the high spots in his effort
to leave me fer the coyotes.

c * Soon's I got my eye on him I dropped
to one knee, took a rest with my elbow agin
the other, drawed a bead on his anatomy
with my old Sharps, an' sent a .45 a-whistlin'
into his constitution. He went over in a
pile, an' I took my own time a-gittin' to him
an* unpackin'.

"'Whenever I hear a feller tellin' what a
friend to man a hoss is, me an' memory takes
a little sneak back through the years to a
pile o' bones on the desert; where in the
shadders I kin see the only creature that
ever sighed fer the pinto that creature bein*
a buzzard.'"

t 114]



THE BULLET'S PROOF

BILL DEETS laid a dry stick on the
fire and spread his hands before the
blaze. "It's a mean cuss that'll shoot a man
when his hands are up," he said. "Yet I
know a case where it was done; an' the
worst of it is the murdered man had been a
pardner of the feller that killed him. Put
them two facts together an' prove 'em on a
man; then if he ain't fit for hell-fire, the
devil's been slandered.

"You remember when the Great Northern
train was held up years ago near Belton, of
course? Well, Jack White, the leader of
the gang, got away. He was supposed to
have hid in the hills. The railroad company
and the Government, an' I reckon the State,
too, offered rewards for him, dead or alive,
but no one ever found him. It was a big
chunk of money that they put up, but I
t"5l



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

forget just how much it was. Around
five thousand dollars, I guess.

"I was camped near the South Fork of
the Flathead. Twa'n't far from Belton;
about three miles, mebby. I'd been there
all the summer and fall. The holdup was
along in February, near as I remember
now. And I was figuring on a move as
soon as the break-up came in the spring.
One night a man came into camp. I knew
him as soon's I set eyes on him. It was
Jack White. We'd known each other over
on the other side.

'"What you doin' here, man? Don't
ye know there's big money up for your scalp ? '

"'Yes,' he told me. 'I know they'll pay
for me, dead or alive, but I didn't figure you
was that kind of a friend, Bill.'

"'I ain't/ I says. 'I don't want no blood-
money no time, but I don't want you to
hang around here, neither. I want you
[116]



THE BULLET'S PROOF



to drift. I ain't seen you not yet, any-
way.'

"'Bill,' he says, 'I ain't got a cent. I'm
clean out of grub and every ca'tridge is gone.
Can't ye stake me ? '

"'There's some grub there. Steal it/
I says. 'What you shoo tin' ?'

'"Forty-five Colt an' 40-82 Winchester.'

"'I can't do nothin' for you, Jack,' I says,
after he told me. 'Might take a blanket. I
ain't lookin'. Nights are cold.'

'"I'm in a bad fix, Bill,' he says. 'Won't
you go down to the valley an' tell Curley to
bring me some ammunition an' some money ?'

"'Curley !' I says. 'I wouldn't trust that
man farther'n I could see him through my
rifle sights.'

"Mebby not,' he says, 'but Curley is an
old pardner of mine. We have set around
camp-fires together. Besides that, he owes
me a chunk of money borrowed money.



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

I'll trust him if you'll go an' tell him where he
can find me.'

"I went. Curley said he'd come up the
next day. I didn't want to figure in it, so
I left camp to hunt deer. White had left
it, too, an' had made him a place somewhere
close. I didn't know just where, an' I
didn't want to know, neither.

"I'll never forget that day. I was touchy
as a girl. When I'd step on snow that was
crusted the noise my moccasins made would
make my back prickle. I couldn't seem to
keep my mind off Jack White. I jumped a
dozen deer but didn't git a shot. Finally
I decided to go back to camp. Something
seemed to pull me that way. I hadn't gone
far on the back trail when I heard a twig
pop. I stopped an' looked careful. Then
I saw two men coming up a deer trail. One
of 'em was Curley. The other feller was a
stranger.

I 118]



THE BULLET'S PROOF



"'Mighty cur'ous route/ I thought, 'if
they're on the square.' Pretty soon they
saw me, an' Curley got nervous with his
Winchester.

"'Where you goin'?' I asked.

"'Coin' to arrest White. Where is he?'
he says.

' ' How do I know where he is now ? '
An' I looked him in the eye. I made up my
mind pretty quick that I stood to git in bad,
so I turned an' tried to hunt agin.

"They went on toward my camp. I felt
rotten. I felt worse'n I can tell ye; but,
you see, if I cut in, I'd be guilty of something
er other. So I tried to find a deer. A half
hour that seemed lots longer went by.
Then I gave it up. I just couldn't hunt.

"I started for camp. Bang! I wasn't
one hundred yards from the place when I
heard a shot. 'Poor old Jack,' I thought.
'They've got ye.'



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"They had, too. He was lyin' in the trail
when I come up, an* them two was standin*
by him. All the mad I own flared up in me.

"'What did you kill him for? Yer own
pardner, too, you skunk/ I says to Curley.

"'Well well/ he stammers. 'I told him
to put up his hands, and he wouldn't. He
went for his gun. I had to shoot quick.
I knew him, an' he was a bad man/

"'Was he?' I says.

"Then I pulled Jack White's gun from its
scabbard an' showed it to 'em. There
wasn't a ca'tridge in it.

"After that I leaned over Jack an' tried to
stick my finger in the bullet-hole. His arms
were down, an' my finger wouldn't go in.
I raised his arms up over his head. My
finger slipped right into the wound. See?"



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THE INDIAN'S GOD


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Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanOn a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest → online text (page 4 of 8)