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head were recovered, the net proceeds of the raid.


The ranchmen were exultant and enjoyed in antici-
pation the glory of their return home. They had
impressive spoils to carry back, bundles of neat
little Indian arrows, buckskin and raw hide, and
best of all, an entire bunch of horses. These
would make an appropriate background to the
thrilling account of an Indian fight. As they
squatted round the fire after supper they rehearsed
the story of the adventure, and each contributed
to the version of the other some vivid, telling
detail. Their own outfit had been of nine horses,
and the entire bunch of twenty-four were turned
loose to graze for the night ; to the neck of the
leader of this band, as usual, a bell was attached,
the tinkle of which would make it easy to find them
next morning.

In the night the two Apaches stole back ; one
drove away at full speed through the night all the
animals except one mount, which he left with the
other ; this other stayed close to the camp, keeping
in his hand the leader's bell, which at regular
intervals he tinkled.

In the morning the ranchmen woke up. Evi-
dently the horses were close to camp, for they
could hear the leader's bell tinkling as he moved
about grazing. They therefore determined not to
trouble to fetch them till they had had some break-
fast. The sun was high and warm when they set
out leisurely to drive them into camp, only to see
the Apache vanishing with his bell at full gallop
through the woods. Shamefaced and wearied, they
had to walk many miles home in their high-heeled



boots and carrying their saddles and Winchesters,
to be consoled for their misadventure by the in-
exorable derision of their friends.

Other risks have disappeared too. The business
man has come to set up his indispensable machine,
the law. It works pretty well. There is no more
brigandage except according to the regular rules
of business. Where firearms are always carried,
killings must still occur : but they may not be
carried in town, and the enforcement of the
law to that effect makes a Western town quite
safe ; safer, indeed, than in the large capitals of
that joyfully anarchical country, by the action of
whose strange political system an outlaw, as in
Milwaukee, can become head of the police. The
carnival frolics of old times are obsolete. No
longer does a cowpuncher, merry with whisky, ride
his horse into a saloon and rope the bar-tender;
or shoot the lights out of a dancing-hall ; or with
revolver bullets playfully knock the heels off the
boots of a commercial traveller ; or hold up a
Chinese restaurant in fun. Out of town, where
guns are carried, there is no alcohol to be got.
Coarse and brutal men cannot be expected to
stand the often intolerable strain of cow-work
without outbursts of wrath. But they do not,
when sober, go further than verbal threats of
" shooting the son of a gun plumb between the
eyes." If killing a Mexican is still a peccadillo,
they know the United States marshals will hunt
them all over the continent if they, without good
reason, shoot a white man.


The " Long Trail " work has disappeared too.
Railways now carry the cattle from South and
West to the North, and the iron network gets
closer every year. There are still, however, long
drives to be made, but they last only days, not
weeks and months. The circumstances are here
easy ; the trail is short and familiar and friendly.
Even these few days of grinding toil and anxious
nights, however, are severe work. Before the
east has grown grey, horses are saddled by the
light of the camp-fire. Without halt or change,
the day of glare and dust is spent in pushing on
the long train of sore-footed and reluctant animals.
At dark, after a day of aching labour, the task is
not over. These wild creatures, who have never
been in a herd before, must be guarded. Great
fires must be kept alight to reassure them. Guards
must ride round them incessantly talking or singing
to them. If the weather is dark and rainy they
will not stop on their beds but begin drifting, and
those who have been riding all day must ride all
night to hold them. Or suddenly, for some occult
reason, the unguessed proximity of a mountain
lion, or even a horse shivering, they will, with
electric rapidity, rise together and thunder away
stampeding in the dark. If the blind mass of
charging brutes take your direction you must ride
for your life in the dark. This kind of experience,
continued over a period of months, must have been
a great school of patience and endurance.

Finally the open range itself, with the absence
of enclosures which is the distinguishing peculiarity


of ranching and from which all its characteristics
flow, is disappearing too. The barbed-wire fences
are creeping up upon it everywhere, and in another
decade it will be almost unknown. As the constant
process of subdividing the ranches goes on, the
ranch itself diminishes and sinks into a farm.
With the open range the cowpuncher will vanish :
he reverts, after his brilliant flight, to the grub
condition of herd. Enclosed land and separate
ownership, in spite of the expense of fence-building
and maintenance and every other improvement,
becomes the only satisfactory system, as soon as
all the good land is occupied ; the open range
could only be transitory and temporary. The en-
joyment of the land must be exclusive, especially in
countries where water is scanty and grass is very,
incredibly spare. You may cross a good cattle
country for miles without seeing any kine, and the
proper allowance is thirty or forty acres to the head.
If it is not exclusive, after the pioneer has con-
fronted the dangers and overcome the difficulties,
other men will press into the country with fresh
herds and overstock it. These intruders would
ruin the original occupier. In a dry hot country
the effects of overstocking pass belief; the de-
structive powers of cows far surpass the feeble
powers of man. They eat off the grass, always
very thin, and trample the roots till it dies. Grassy
stretches become a barren wilderness. Then, as
there is no turf to retain the rain water, it drains
off the ground as soon as it falls. One consequence
of this is that the trees, unsustained by continual


moisture and only occasionally soaked, die off.
Another consequence is that the rivers, instead
of being gentle and perpetual streams, are either
high dangerous torrents after rain, or broad beds of
stones in dry weather. In a few years cows could
turn Eden and all its verdure into a salt and dry
desert. From these disastrous encroachments the
barbed-wire fence is a protection. It also hampers,
if not ruins, the professional cattle-thief. He does
not get an opportunity of putting his brand on
other cattlemen's calves. It excludes that arch-
enemy, the sheepman. His innocent flock are the
dread and terror of the cattlemen. Omnivorous
and ubiquitous, they shave the barren country clean
of all its food. A sheep does not browse carelessly,
or capriciously, like other beasts ; he eats rapidly,
systematically, and closely. Not only so, but he
leaves an odour on the ground so that no other
animal will feed there. An indignant cattleman
will find a whole stretch of his range denuded by a
passing flock, and the cattle fled from the country
looking for unsoiled herbage. All these advantages
given by the barbed wire are fatal to the open
range ; the squat, ugly fences have covered the
plains and are invading the mountains. As the
ranch sinks into a mere cattle-farm, the cowpuncher
too degenerates, and returns to his abject con-
dition of farm labourer, from which he emerged for
a short time. This retrogression, of course, has
only gone a certain distance and will not be com-
pleted for many years. There are huge spaces of
open range, and many of the enclosed ranches are


as big as a small English county. The cattle
spread over this large area must be tended, and
can only be tended on horseback ; the country is
wild and deserted. The cattle are often as wild
as the game, and to control them hard riding is
required. Among the game there are dangerous
animals, and the character of your neighbours is
often dubious. Firearms are still carried. The only
roof to be found is that of the rough ranch-house,
and life is spent under the sky by day, and by
night round the camp-fire. The world is distant
and its noise faint and occasional. This is the life
of the cowpuncher, which draws to it those who
feel pent and chafed by urban and sedentary life,
and who prefer the monotony of the wilderness
and the saddle to that of the street and the office-


" The rains with drowsy patter beat
Upon the roofs ; in the wet street
They turn each rut into a rill,
And pools with thousand dimples fill.
Drop by drop from down the eaves
They ticking fall : the rustling leaves
Drizzle their burden on the mould.
The cheerless air is drear and cold,
But every sight and every sound
Reminds me now of English ground."

JOE, the cook, sat by the fireplace of the front
room with his boots on the chimneypiece, wearing
his spurs. All day a deluge of rain had been
pouring, and had swollen the creek that emptied
itself into the Gila till its angry murmur could
be heard at the Diamond Heart Ranch. Joe was
reading a book, and I had just come in from
riding. The door that led straight into the room
from the downpour suddenly opened, and the
foreman and a second cowpuncher came in, whom
we expected out from town. They had been riding
all day, and the water streamed from the broad
brims of their sombreros ; without a word they
drew off their dank gloves and knelt next to me
by the fire. They were left ungreeted by Joe, who,
without shifting his position, surveyed us and our
clothes steeped in water. He remarked


" Hell, is it raining ? "

The second cowpuncher answered

" I guess it will be soon."

He and the foreman had been riding the whole
of a short winter day out from town, saddling
by the light of a lantern in the morning, and only
reaching the ranch when night had begun to spread
its dark wings. According to their custom, they
had taken no food with them. Hungry, and numb
with the insensibility of extreme fatigue, we re-
mained kneeling in silence before the huge fire-
place that opened like the mouth of a cavern. Joe
rolled off into the kitchen to cook us some food,
and we could hear the martial clank of his spurs
as he moved about. For he was turned into a
cook from being a cowpuncher by staying at home
instead of riding out. Two others, Fritz Reinhold,
a friend of mine and a visitor at the Diamond
Heart's, and Hay, a bear-trapper who was spending
the night there on his way through to town, joined
us, and we sat down in the dark kitchen to our

The menu is invariable for every meal, and any
change or improvement would outrage these con-
servatives. Pieces of beef fried black in fat ;
" biscuit," that is, small scones, new-made and hot ;
and black coffee, according to the Texan recipe,
strong enough to float steel wedges in ; savage
food, but with one great merit, not small under
those circumstances, that of being very rapidly
prepared, and no doubt this is the reason of its
adoption by those who, late or pressed, must yet


cook for themselves. Within a few minutes of
its being decided to unpack the mules and make
a camp, a meal of this kind is ready, and the tastes
for this unpalatable food, thus acquired by neces-
sity, become inveterate and exclusive ; the resources
of a kitchen, when it is at hand, are disdained and

When we gathered again round the fire our
spirits were bettter. On the floor of the yawning
fireplace logs were piled, glowing and crackling,
that threw up columns of flame. The torpor of
protracted hunger had disappeared, and the chill
damp began to lift from our limbs.

The second cowpuncher was asked if there was
any news from Magdalena, from which he had
ridden out ; and in a matter-of-fact way he told
us of a killing. A foreman was trying to get two
of his men to leave town for the ranch, it being
then about two in the morning. All were drunk,
and from dispute they passed to insult. Challenged,
the foreman had put down his six-shooter and belt
on the sidewalk and fought one of his men with his
fists. The other man, Ben, seeing his companion
worsted, had seized the foreman's own revolver
and began firing at him at random. None of the
original combatants had been hurt, but a Mexican
who had run up at the sound had received a shot
through the heart, and a marshal who had attempted
to arrest him another in his throat. The character
of these two victims was bad, and the cowpuncher
voiced the general satisfaction at their disappear-
ance and at this eminently successful issue to the


fight. We all felt that on this occasion at least the
workings of Providence were not inscrutable.

My friend Reinhold, who had listened to this
account with the deepest interest, made this

" That Mexican did not have much of a show."

" Show ! " exclaimed the second cowpuncher.
" He had no more show than a cat in hell without

The first cowpuncher had known Ben in his
boyhood, and spoke of him

"That boy Ben was the coolest I ever struck.
He and another boy got them a dummy, and used
to stick it up outside people's houses at night, call
out, and then get away and hide. Some got scared,
some got mad at it, and some shot it. One night
they set it down outside an old man's house. The
old man, he comes out and sez, ' How d'ye do ? '
Of course he gets no answer. 'What do you
want ? ' he sez; and he don't get no answer, neither.
Then he got hot and shouts, 'God damn ye, get
out ; I don't want no sons of guns like you about
the place.' Finally, he reached behind the door,
grabbed a Winchester, and shot. The dummy fell
down backwards. The old man walked up to it :
he jes' laughed. ' Boys/ he sez, ' if any of you is
round, jes' walk up. I guess the drinks is on me.' '

The flames burnt high, and the long tongues
licked the vaulted top of the fireplace. The cow-
puncher saw his audience was amused, and un-
folded his story further.

" There was a little bridge over a canyon. One


night they set the dummy on it, and hid below
in the canyon. There were thick trees and bushes
on both sides of the canyon that made the bridge
dark at both ends, and the moon was full, so that
the middle of the bridge was in the light. It was
summer time, and there had been a camp meeting
with hymns and prayers and preaching. They
knew a good many folk would come back that way.
By and by Ben's brother, Sam, and John Downes
comes along, riding. They were riding young
horses, and the horses got scared and refused to
go past the figure. Sam asked the man in the
middle of the bridge to move ; the dummy natur-
ally stayed there. After shouting some, Sam got
hot and mad, and drew his six-shooter and shot
it. As it fell, one of the boys under the bridge
cried out

'"ByGod! I'm killed/

" Sam and John Downes rode off like bats out of
hell. They thought they had killed a man. After
a while the rest of the people come along and they
sees a body lying in the middle of the bridge.
They send for some matches to see who it was.
But they never goes near it ; they were too
frightened the body wasn't quite dead. While they
was getting the matches, the preacher he was
praying away at the side of the canyon for the
dead man. When the matches come, the preacher
goes to the middle of the bridge and looked.

" ' Hell ! ' he sez, ' he's only a damned dummy.'

"Ben went home and found his brother Sam
fixing to leave the country. He made him change


his mind and go hide in the pasture. For three
days he kept him out hiding in the brakes, and
brought him food, and loaded him with all kinds
of tales about the sheriff and his posse. I guess
it was Ben who had to leave the country when
Sam found out."

He finished his story laughing, and reached for
his revolver where it lay on the chimney. He

" Sam was sure a good fellow. He gave me this

The grim, compact little instrument of death had
a look of deadly and lightning precision. He was
proud of its handles with their ugly decoration
of mother-of-pearl. It had served him well.
While foreman of a ranch in Old Mexico he had
dismissed one of the hands, a Mexican. That
night he was squatting on one side of the fire,
when the cook, who was kneeling on the other
side facing him, shouted " Look out ! " and pointed
to something behind the cowpuncher's back, who,
without turning round, pulled his gun and shot
over his own shoulder, twisting his head. He had
been only just in time. His shot killed the dis-
missed Mexican, who had crept out with a knife
from behind the waggon to stab him. The point
of the knife was a few inches from the back of
the cowpuncher as he fell. Reinhold asked if he
could look at the handles and fingered it curiously.

He was interested in everything, being a traveller,
the son of a German sausage-maker of vast wealth
who made sausages for all Germany and most of


the civilised world. The father had begun life as
a waiter, but in the hours of his leisure had applied
himself to the study of chemistry. In a laboratory
where he contrived to get the post of assistant, he
conducted experiments in the treatment of food-
stuffs. He there discovered preparations of which
he still retained the patent and exclusive monopoly,
by which meat and bone, the refuse of slaughter-
houses and knackers' yards, might be given all the
rich and delicate flavours of pork. His sausage
factories, and the vast hives where his employees
lodged, now occupied the area of a small city, and
there were few consumers or connoisseurs who
did not prefer his pigless pork to the inferior pro-
ducts of the real animal. His riches were great,
and his success in life had been recognised in many
ways by his grateful countrymen. He had been
the subject of a sonnet by the German Emperor,
and there were few of the reigning dynasties of
Germany who had not borrowed money from him.
He had thought it right that his son, destined to be
the manager of a business whose branches stretched
over the whole civilised world, should receive an
education more deep and extensive than he had
himself enjoyed. Young Reinhold was now at his
fourth university, having taken courses with bril-
liant success at Gottingen, Paris, and Oxford. His
father had wished him to pursue some study in
America, and had sent him to take a degree in
Pastoral Theology at the University of Amphipolis,
Wyoming, U.S.A. His reason for selecting this
new and rather unknown foundation for his son,


in preference to the more antique and famous
universities like Harvard and Yale, was his per-
sonal friendship with the munificent founder and
first chancellor of Amphipolis, the great Western
banker, Cadwallader K. Jones, whose chain of
banks extended from Chicago to San Francisco.
He had expected this friendship would be useful
to his son, but his hopes had been disappointed.
Reinhold had never been able even to make the
acquaintance of the great financier, who was at
that moment purging a term of three years' penal
servitude in the penitentiary of Denver for an
infringement of the banking laws of the State of
Colorado ; but he had penetrated deeply into the
study of Pastoral Theology, and was taking a
holiday in the Rockies before returning to the
management of the sausage business. I had met
him at Oxford, where our acquaintance had begun
by my being carried back from another college to
Balliol one evening by Reinhold and a German
friend of his, who had the muscles of trained
gymnasts, from a meeting of an advanced political
and philosophical society to which I belonged.
Subsequently I became less insensible to his kind-
ness than on our first meeting, and we had become
friends. I had come across him again in the
famous slaughter-houses of Chicago, where he was
inspecting with curiosity the obsolete methods of
making pork out of pig.

The cowpuncher's story revived a memory in
the mind of the foreman. He said

" Ben was sure smart. There was a little old


Dutchman who had lost all his money in Texas.
One day the Dutchman was making talk in a
saloon and he sez

" < You show me a man from Texas and I show
you a son of a gun.'

" Ben was sitting by and had a six-shooter near.
He grabs the six-shooter and jumps up and sez

" < Well, I'm from Texas.'

" The little Dutchman hastily pointed to himself
and said

" < Well, I am de son of a gun ! ' "

Joe got up and flung a huge log upon the
glowing edifices of the smouldering fire. The
burning palaces crumbled, and fresh flames flung
themselves to attack the new wood. The foreman
said to him

"You're making that fire too hot, Joe, it will
soon be burning like hell."

" I don't know what hell's like, I've never been
there," answered Joe.

I mentioned that if I had been in Magadalena
I could have seen the shooting from the window
of the hotel. Hay, the bear-trapper, who with the
discretion of an old hand had hitherto kept his
peace among strangers, now ventured on a remi-

" I have only seen one shooting, and that was
by Darnel. You remember Darnel, don't you,
Jack ? " he addressed the cowpuncher.

The second cowpuncher answered

" I only met him once, rode into Magdalena
with him. It was cold, God damn, cold enough


to freeze the tail off a brass monkey. The ground
was frozen harder than the hinges of hell."

Hay continued

" Darnel got spoilt by his popularity after the
Spanish War. He thought he could do what he
pleased. One day he was drunk and rode his
horse into a saloon, roped the bar-tender and
dragged him out of the house. The bar-tender
was a good fellow and let him go. Then he started
to shoot the town up. I was in my room and my
landlord rushed up and told me. I was only a kid
and had just come out from Missouri ; it was like
candy to me. I ran up to the top of the house and
saw Darnel coming down the sidewalk. People
had heard the shooting and there was no one in
streets, except a nigger, on the other side of the
road to Darnel, leaning against a tree and eating on
a piece of pie. Just as he was putting his big white
teeth into it, Darnel shot it away from between his
fingers and mouth. The nigger fainted and fell
down; I never saw anything so funny in my life.
Then he went into the Chinese restaurant to shoot
it up, but Charley, the owner, rushed out of the
kitchen with a knife as long as his own pigtail and
chased Darnel, six-shooter and all, round and
round the town."

The foreman said

" I knew Darnel's father ; he was a cranky old
man ; used to disappear for months and years
without warning/'

Joe added

" He was the oddest old man I ever see. One


day he went down to the creek to get some water
without his hat. He come back two years after-
wards and raised hell because his hat could not
be found. Another time there was some Indians
camping on the hill behind his house. The old man
said he would run 'em off it. He did too but he
was in the lead."

The second cowpuncher asked Hay

" What become of Darnel ? Wasn't he shot ? "

" He was killed in cold blood in a saloon at Las
Cruces," Hay informed him. " He was shot right
between the eyes."

Reinhold asked

" What had he done ? "

" Nothing," Hay answered. " The man jerked his
gun ; Darnel was standing at the bar and turned
his head round and the man shot him right between
the eyes."

Reinhold insisted

" But why did he do it ? "

" I dunno," was the answer. " I guess he wanted
to see somebody drop. He was just mean."

In the deep warmth of the fire I had fallen into
a kind of somnolence. The foreman looked at his
big watch and said

" I think it is time to roost."

Most of us rose, and I lighted my candle and
passed down the dark, draughty passage. In my
room, under the rafters of hewn logs, I pulled off
my boots and fell into the soft blankets. Through
the thin partition I could here Joe's voice, who felt
cold as he got into bed. He was exclaiming


" God damn cold storage ! If I owned a ranch
I would buy these blankets and use them as a

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Online LibraryPeter WrightA three-foot stool → online text (page 2 of 17)