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"The Way to the West" tells the story of the opening of the west, including the accounts of three early Americans Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Kit Carson. "The Story of the Cowboy" is a historical book about the cowboy in the American West close to the end of 19th century. "The Story of the Outlaw" is a study of the western desperado, with historical narratives of famous outlaws, the stories of noted border wars, vigilante movements, and armed conflicts on the frontier, including the profiles of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. "The Passing of the Frontier" explains the part of the frontier in history and what Lewis and Clark came up against when they passed it on their great expedition across the continent. Emerson Hough (1857–1923) was an American author best known for writing western stories, adventure tales and historical novels. His best known works include western novels The Mississippi Bubble and The Covered Wagon, The Young Alaskans series of adventure novels, and historical works The Way to the West and The Story of the Cowboy.
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The Story of the Cowboy
The Way to the West
The Story of the Outlaw
The Passing of the Frontier
Table of Contents
CHAPTER I. THE LONG TRAIL
CHAPTER II. THE RANCH IN THE SOUTH
CHAPTER III. THE RANCH IN THE NORTH
CHAPTER IV. THE COWBOY'S OUTFIT
CHAPTER V. THE COWBOY'S HORSE
CHAPTER VI. MARKS AND BRANDS
CHAPTER VII. FREE GRASS AND WATER FRONTS
CHAPTER VIII. THE DRIVE
CHAPTER IX. THE ROUND UP
CHAPTER X. DRIFTS AND STAMPEDES
CHAPTER XI. A DAY AT THE RANCH
CHAPTER XII. THE COWBOY'S AMUSEMENT
CHAPTER XIII. SOCIETY IN THE COW COUNTRY
CHAPTER XIV. THE NESTER
CHAPTER XV. THE RUSTLER
CHAPTER XVI. WARS OF THE RANGE
CHAPTER XVII. BEEF AND FREEDOM
CHAPTER XVIII. THE IRON TRAILS
CHAPTER XIX. UNSET ON THE RANGE
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In a certain Western city there is the studio of a sculptor whose ambition in life has been to perpetuate the memory of the West. He has sought to put into lasting form the types of that unique and rugged era of our national growth when the soldier and plainsman, the Indian and the cowboy were the citizens of that vast and unknown region. In the following out of that idea he has made in clay and bronze many things entitled to be called curious and beautiful. It is the fancy of this artist at times to take some of these forms and play at pictures with them for the entertainment of his guests. A revolving pedestal is placed in the centre of the room in such a way that the light of the fire or of the candles may cast a shadow from it upon the farther wall. Upon the pedestal is placed some figure which appears much magnified upon the white surface beyond, albeit somewhat blurred and softened in its lines. Now it is the likeness of the grizzly bear, now that of the buffalo, while again one sees the lean gray wolf, the tense figure of the flying antelope, or the reaching neck and cut chin of the panther. At one time a mounted Indian may flit upon the wall, or the soldier with sabre and spur. These things, curious and beautiful, form a wild and moving spectacle, coming as they do from a time which may now almost be said to belong to the past.
Upon a certain night this artist had played long with his pictures, when he picked up another figure, holding it for a moment somewhat lovingly, it seemed, before he placed it upon the little monument. "Look!" said he. There upon the wall, of the size of life, jaunty, erect, was the virile figure of a mounted man. He stood straight in the stirrups of his heavy saddle, but lightly and well poised. A coil of rope hung at his saddlebow. A loose belt swung a revolver low down upon his hip. A wide hat blew up and back a bit with the air of his travelling, and a deep kerchief fluttered at his neck. His arm, held lax and high, offered support to the slack reins so little needed in his riding. The small and sinewy steed beneath him was alert and vigorous as he. It was a figure vivid, keen, remarkable. Those who saw it gave it quick applause. When it vanished there was silence, for perhaps here were those who thought upon the story that had been told.
The story of the West is a story of the time of heroes. Of all those who appear large upon the fading page of that day, none may claim greater stature than the chief figure of the cattle range. Cowboy, cattle man, cow-puncher, it matters not what name others have given him, he has remained — himself. From the half-tropic to the half-arctic country he has ridden, his type, his costume, his characteristics practically unchanged, one of the most dominant and self-sufficient figures in the history of the land. He never dreamed he was a hero, therefore perhaps he was one. He would scoff at monument or record, therefore perhaps he deserves them.
Either chiselled or written record may distort if it merely extol. For this central figure of the cattle days, this early rider of the range, it is best to hope that he may not commonly be seen as thrown up on the air in a mirage, huge, grotesque, fantastic, but that he may rather be viewed clear cut against the Western sky, a glorious silhouette of the open air. Before many years have passed the original of such a picture will have disappeared. We shall listen in vain for the jingle of his spurs, or the creak of his leather gear, or the whipping of his scarf end on the wind. Tinkle and creak even now die away in the distance beyond. An explorer, a surveyor, a guide, a scout, a fighting man, he passed this way. If we study him, we shall study also the day in which he lived, more especially that early day which saw the opening and the climax of that drama of commerce — the cattle industry of the West.
So great an industry could exist only over a vast extent of country. Therefore, although its methods and its followers have had a curious permanency of type, it was foregone that locality should determine a certain variety in its practical customs. Obviously a just estimate of the entire industry or of its leading figure must include alike the dissimilar and the common points of view. This is not easily done, for the vocation of the cattle rancher, once curiously without section, has now become much sectionalized, and has been much modified by agricultural influx — the latter an influence which will produce still greater change in the coming generation, when all the possible farming lands shall have been tapped and tested, and when the farming man shall have begun to look about him and to travel more in a day of cheaper transportation. In the attempt to arrive at an estimate which should be representative and fair, the writer has found his own experience very much aided by that of many rancher friends living or owning property over a wide area of the cattle range. The counsel of these friends has been desirable and valuable in an undertaking such as that in hand. Especial thanks for critical suggestions are due Mr. George Bird Grinnell, author of the Story of the Indian. Mr. Grinnell's experience in the old and the new West has been a wide one, and his observation has extended to the small as well as the large features of practical ranch life, so that his aid has been a matter of good fortune. The writer concludes his labour with a sense of the inadequacy of the result, but feeling none the less that the theme itself is an interesting and worthy one.
CHICAGO, ILL., Dec. 10, 1896.
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It lies like a long rope thrown idly on the ground, abandoned by the hand that used it. Its strands are unbraided and have fallen apart, lying loose and forgotten upon the sandy soil. The wind is blowing dust across these disconnected threads, and the grasses are seeking to cover them, and the waters have in places washed them quite away. The frayed ends are disappearing. Soon the entire cord will have disappeared. The Long Trail of the cattle range will then be but a memory.
The braiding of a hundred minor pathways, the Long Trail lay like a vast rope connecting the cattle country of the South with that of the North. Lying loose or coiling, it ran for more than two thousand miles along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, sometimes close in at their feet, again hundreds of miles away across the hard table-lands or the well-flowered prairies. It traversed in a fair line the vast land of Texas, curled over the Indian Nations, over Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, and bent in wide overlapping circles as far west as Utah and Nevada; as far east as Missouri, Iowa, even Illinois; and as far north as the British possessions. Even to-day you may trace plainly its former course, from its faint beginnings in the lazy land of Mexico, the Ararat of the cattle range. It is distinct across Texas, and multifold still in the Indian lands. Its many intermingling paths still scar the iron surface of the Neutral Strip, and the plows have not buried all the old furrows in the plains of Kansas. Parts of the path still remain visible in the mountain lands of the far North. You may see the ribbons banding the hillsides to-day along the valley of the Stillwater, and along the Yellowstone and toward the source of the Missouri. The hoof marks are beyond the Musselshell, over the Bad Lands and the coulees and the flat prairies; and far up into the land of the long cold you may see, even to-day if you like, the shadow of that unparalleled pathway, the Long Trail of the cattle range. History has no other like it.
The Long Trail was surveyed and constructed in a century and a day. Over the Eed River of the South, a stream even to-day perhaps known but vaguely in the minds of many inhabitants of the country, there appeared, almost without warning, vast processions of strange horned kine — processions of enormous wealth, owned by kings who paid no tribute, and guarded by men who never knew a master. Whither these were bound, what had conjured them forth, whence they came, were questions in the minds of the majority of the population of the North and East to whom the phenomenon appeared as the product of a day. The answer to these questions lay deep in the laws of civilization, and extended far back into that civilization's history. The Long Trail was finished in a day. It was begun more than a century before that day, and came forward along the very appointed ways of time.
Senor Jose Montero, let us say, lived long ago, far down in the sunny land of Mexico. The mountains rose up blue beyond the hacienda, and before it the valleys lay wide and pleasant. Life here was very calm, alike for the haciendado and the barefoot peons who made a servile army about him. There was a little grain, there were a few fruits, and there were herds of cattle. Yes, there were the cattle, and there they had always been, longer than Jose Montero or his father could remember. It might be that they had always been there, though to be sure there was talk of one Cor-tez. The cattle might have come from another land, at another time. Quien sabe? In the splendid savagery of that land and time it made small difference when or whence they came. There they were, these cattle, lean of flank, broad of horn, clean-limbed, muscular, active, fierce, simply wild animals that knew no care save the hand of force. They produced food, and above all they produced hide and leather.
The sons of Jose Montero moved slowly north in course of years, and edged into the Indian country lying above the Rio Grande. The priests went with them, to teach them the management of los Indios reducidos. The horses and the herds of cattle went slowly north with their owners. Thus, far down in the vague Southwest, at some distant time, in some distant portion of old, mysterious Mexico, there fell into line the hoof prints which made the first faint beginnings of the Long Trail, merely the path of a half-nomadic movement along the line of the least resistance.
The descendants of Jose Montero's sons spread out over the warm country on both sides of the Rio Grande, and they grew and their herds grew. Many years of peace and quiet passed, broken only by such troubles as were caused by the Indians, with whom the sons of Montero fared for the most part understandingly. But one day, more than three quarters of a century ago, there appeared in that country men of fierce-bearded faces, many of blue eyes, and all of size and courage. There was war, long years of bitter, relentless, unrecorded war, a war of pillage and assassination, of theft and ambush. The fierce strangers from the North would not be driven back. They increased, they became more formidable. At times they even crossed the Rio Grande and drove away herds to their ranches to the north, these being little less than fortresses or barricades, their life one of armed but undaunted solicitude. In turn the sons of Montero made raids and sallies, and killed men and captured women, and drove away herds. The Long Trail began to deepen and extend. It received then, as it did later, a baptism of human blood such as no other pathway of the continent has known.
The nomadic and the warlike days passed, and there ensued a more quiet and pastoral time. The fierce strangers, perhaps reticent in regard to the methods by which they had obtained what they liked, now held that which they chose to call their own. It was the beginning of a feudalism of the range, a baronry rude enough, but a glorious one, albeit it began, like all feudalism, in large-handed theft and generous murdering. The flocks of these strong men, carelessly interlapping, increased and multiplied amazingly. They were hardly looked upon as wealth. The people could not eat a tithe of the beef, they could not use a hundredth of the leather. Over hundreds and hundreds of miles of ownerless grass lands, by the rapid waters of the mountains, by the slow streams of the plains or the long and dark lagoons of the low coast country, the herds of tens grew into droves of hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands.
Texas had become a republic and a State before a certain obvious and useful phenomenon in the economics of Nature had been generally recognised. Yet at some time and under some condition of observation it had been discovered that the short gray grass of the northern plains of Texas, which the buffalo loved so well, would rear cattle to a much greater size than those of the coast range. A cow of the hot and low country might not weigh more than five or six hundred pounds, whereas if driven north and allowed to range on the sun-cured short grasses, the buffalo grass, the gramma grass or the mesquite grass, the weight might increase fairly by one third. It was the simplest thing in the world to gain this increased value by driving the cattle from the lower to the upper ranges of the great State — always subject to the consent or to the enterprise of the savage tribes which then occupied that region.
This was really the dawning of the American cattle industry. The Long Trail thus received a gradual but unmistakable extension, always to the north, and along the line of the intermingling of the products of the Spanish and the Anglo-Saxon civilizations. Sometimes these fatter cattle were driven back and sold in Old Mexico, but there was no real market there. The thrust was always to the north. Chips and flakes of the great Southwestern herd began to be seen in the Northern States. As early as 1857 Texas cattle were driven to Illinois. In 1861 Louisiana was tried as an outlet without success. In 1867 a venturous drover took a herd across the Indian Nations, bound for California, and only abandoned the project because the plains Indians were then very bad in the country to the north. In 1869 several herds were driven from Texas to Nevada. These were side trails of the main cattle road. It seemed clear that a great population in the North needed the cheap beef of Texas, and the main question appeared to be one of transportation. No proper means for this offered. At Rockport and one or two other harborless towns on the Texas coast it was sought to establish canneries for the product of the range, but all these projects failed. A rapacious steamship line undertook to build up a carrying trade between Texas and New Orleans or Mobile, but this also failed. The civil war stopped almost all plans to market the range cattle, and the close of that war found the vast grazing lands of Texas covered fairly with millions of cattle which had no actual or determinate value. They were sorted and branded and herded after a fashion, but neither they nor their increase could be converted into anything but more cattle. The cry for a market became imperative.
Meantime the Anglo-Saxon civilization was rolling swiftly toward the upper West. The Indians were being driven from the plains. A solid army was pressing behind the vanguard of soldier, scout, and plainsman. The railroads were pushing out into a new and untracked empire. They carried the market with them. The market halted, much nearer, though still some hundreds of miles to the north of the great herd. The Long Trail tapped no more at the door of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, but leaped north again definitely, this time springing across the Red River and up to the railroads, along sharp and well-defined channels deepened in the year of 1866 alone by the hoofs of more than a quarter of a million cattle. In 1871, only five years later, over six hundred thousand cattle crossed the Red River for the Northern markets. Abilene, Newton, Wichita, Ellsworth, Great Bend, "Dodge" flared out into a swift and sometime evil blossoming. The coming of the markets did not make more fortunes than it lost for the Southern cattle owners, for the advent of the long-horned herds was bitterly contested in many sections of the North, but in spite of all a new industry was swiftly and surely established. Thus the men of the North first came to hear of the Long Trail and the men who made it, though really it had begun long ago and had been foreordained to grow.
By this time,1867 and 1868,the northern portions of the region immediately to the east of the Rocky Mountains had been sufficiently cleared of their wild inhabitants to admit a gradual though precarious settlement. It had been learned yet again that the buffalo grass and the sweet waters of the far North would fatten a range broadhorn to a stature far beyond any it could attain on the southern range. The Long Trail pushed rapidly still further to the north, where there still remained "free grass" and a new market. The territorial ranges needed many thousands of cattle for their stocking, and this demand took a large part of the Texas drive which came to Abilene, Great Bend, and Fort Dodge. Moreover, the Government was now feeding thousands of its new red wards, and these Indians needed thousands of beeves for rations, which were driven from the southern range to the upper army posts and reservations. Between this Government demand and that of the territorial stock ranges there was occupation for the men who made the saddle their home. The Long Trail, which long ago had found the black corn lands of Illinois and Missouri, now crowded to the West, until it had reached Utah and Nevada, and penetrated every open park and mesa and valley of Colorado, and found all the high plains of Wyoming. Cheyenne and Laramie became common words now, and drovers spoke as wisely of the dangers of the Platte as a year before they had mentioned those of the Bed River or the Arkansas. Nor did the Trail pause in its irresistible push to the north until it had found the last of the five great transcontinental lines, far in the British provinces, where in spite of a long season of ice and snow the uttermost edges of the great herd might survive, in a certain per cent at least, each year in an almost unassisted struggle for existence, under conditions different enough, it would seem, from those obtaining at the opposite extreme of the wild road way over which they came. The Long Trail of the cattle range was done. By magic the cattle industry had spread over the entire West. To-day many men think of that industry as belonging only to the Southwest, and many would consider that it was transferred to the North. Really it was not transferred but extended, and the trail of the old drive marks the line of that extension. To-day the Long Trail is replaced by other trails, product of the swift development of the West, and it remains as the connection, now for the most part historical only, between two phases of an industry which, in spite of differences of climate and condition, retain a similarity in all essential features. When the last steer of the first herd was driven into the corral at the Ultima Thule of the range, it was the pony of the American cowboy which squatted and wheeled under the spur and burst down the straggling street of the little frontier town. Before that time, and since that time, it was and has been the same pony, the same man, who have travelled the range, guarding and guiding the wild herds, from the romantic up to the commonplace days of the West. The American cowboy and the American cattle industry have been and are one and inseparable. The story of one is the story of the other.
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Description of the Western cattle industry, whether in regard to its features, its characters, or its environments, must be largely a matter of generalization. The cattle country itself covers a third of the entire territory of the United States. We have sought roughly to divide it into the two sections of the North and South, but it would trouble one to say where even a broad and indefinite line should be drawn which should act as a fair boundary between the two. Should we place that boundary, loosely speaking, somewhere at the central or southern line of the State of Kansas, we shall have established a demarcation at best arbitrary and in many ways inconclusive and inaccurate. Even if we presume that this indefinite line be sufficiently accurate, we shall have left, for our Southern ranch region, a domain many times larger than the entire territory of Great Britain, with a few of her choice provinces thrown into the bargain.
Over so large a region there must prevail some divergence of people and things; and in turn we must remember that all these people and things, more especially as they pertain to the story of the cattle man, have in later years been subject to much change. It would be very natural for any one who had but a partial acquaintance, or one limited to a few sections of so large a region, to consider as incorrect any specialized description which did not tally with his own observation in his own locality. Still more inaccurate might such an observer consider a description which covered accurately twenty years ago a section which he first sees to-day, in the last quarter of the century. For instance, a citizen of the type our friend the cowpuncher is wont to term a "pilgrim," might go to-day to some railroad point in the vast State of Texas, expecting to find there in full swing the rude ways of the past. He might expect to see the ranchman an uncouth personage, clad in the border garb once pictured in lurid literature or still more lurid drama, his speech full of strange oaths, his home a dugout or a shanty. Much surprised might this stranger be to discover his ranchman a comfortable individual, of well-cut business dress, guiltless of obvious weaponry, and plain and simple in speech. Still more surprised he might be to learn that this ranchman does not live upon his ranch at all, but in the town or city, perhaps many miles therefrom. The ranchman may have an office in the bank, and may be chief stockholder in that institution and other leading concerns of his town. He may be a member of the Legislature, or sheriff of his county, or candidate for higher office. His family may have a son in college, a daughter in the art school of a distant city. The ranch itself, if discovered, may be simply a vast and partly tilled farm, with white-painted buildings, with busy tenantry, and much modern machinery in intelligent use. This would be accurate description of a ranch in the South to-day. But it would be accurate only in particular, not in general, and it would never satisfy the inquirer who knows something of what ranch life once was and is to-day in ft wide and wild portion of the Western region.
If we sought to be more general in the outlook for a ranch fit to be called typically Southern, we should certainly have much latitude afforded us. Suppose it to be in the Indian Nations, taking it at that time before the Indians had grown wise in their day and generation, and before the United States Government had evicted many of those opulent tenants, the cattle men of the nations. Let us picture our ranch as lying along some timbered stream, such as the Cimarron, which flows just above the "black-jack" country of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. Here the land lies in long swelling rolls and ridges, with hills of short oak scrub, and wide intervals of prairie. Into the main stream of the river flow many smaller tributaries, and among these are some little creeks heading back among the hills in fresh, unfailing springs, whose waters flow always sweet and abundant throughout the year. Fancy some such little nook, well up in the hills, a half mile from the river, and in imagination surround it with the forest trees which should grow at such a spot. Well down the hillside, sheltered alike by the hill and by the forest from the cold winds which come from the north in winter, stands the ranch house. It is made of logs, much in the style of the lumberman's log house in the pine woods, except that the structure is more careless and less finished. The door is made of a single thickness of unplaned and unmatched boards. It hangs loose upon its rough wooden hinges, and its lock is a rude wooden latch the string whereof literally hangs upon the outside. Wide cracks are open about the edges of the door and about the windows and between the logs at the sides and ends of the room — for there is but one great room in the ranch house proper. Along the wall of this vast apartment are built sleeping bunks, similar to those used by the cabin dwellers of the pine woods. There is little furniture except a rough table or two, and a few stools or broken chairs. The clothing of the men lies under the bunks or hangs on pegs driven in the wall; for trunks, wardrobes, or private places for individual properties are unknown and unnecessary. The saddles, bridles, ropes, and other gear hang on strong pegs in the covered hallway or open-front room which connects the ranch room with the cook house. This connecting room or open hall is also the lounging place of the many dogs and hounds which make part of the live stock of the place. These dogs are used in the constant wolfing operations, and are a necessity on the ranch, but with them a continual feud is waged alike by the cook from whom they steal, and the foreman with whom they continually endeavour to sleep at night — this by reason of an affection much misplaced; for the foreman is a man of stern ideas of life. The cook house is also the dining hall, and here the same rude arrangements prevail as in the main apartment. There is a long pine table, two or three long wooden benches, perhaps a chair or two. There is a good cook stove, and the dishes are serviceable and clean, though not new or expensive. The cook has his bunk in the kitchen, and is left alone in his own domain, being held a man with whom it were not well to trifle.
The country of the Nations Has a climate hot in summer, though not extremely cold in winter, except for occasional cold storms of wind and snow. Such a storm is called a "norther"; by which we may know that we are upon a Southern ranch or one manned by Southern cowmen. In the North the same storm would be a "blizzard." On this range shelter for the cattle is never considered, and they fare well in the timbered hollows even in the roughest weather. Hay is of course something little known. It is a wild country, and game is abundant. The nearest railway point is one hundred miles to the north, let us say, at least at the time of our visit. The ranchmen do not see civilization more than once a year. They are lonely and glad of the company of an occasional deer hunter who may blunder down into the forbidden Indian lands. All men are welcome at the ranch, and no questions are asked of them. Every visitor goes to the table without invitation, and there all men eat in silence. One has seen at such a meal a hunter, a neighbouring ranchman bound for his place fifty miles below, and two suspected horse thieves, bound for some point not stated. No questions were asked of any of them. In this region, where news is the scarcest of commodities, the idea of gossip is unknown. The habit or the etiquette of the cowboy is not to talk. He is silent as an Indian. The ranch boss is the most taciturn of all. The visitor, when he comes to take his departure, if he is acquainted with the ways and the etiquette of ranch life, does not think of offering pay, no matter whether his stay has been for days, weeks, or months. If he be plainsman and not "pilgrim," no matter whether he be hunter, ranchman, or horse thief, he simply mounts, says "So long," and rides away. The taciturn foreman says "So long," and goes back to work. The foreman's name may be Jim, never anything more, about the place and among his own men. On the neighbouring ranges or at the round-up he is known perhaps as the "foreman on the Bar Y." Some of the cowboys on the Bar Y may be diagnosed to have come from Texas or some Southern cattle country. The foreman may once have lived in Texas. It is not etiquette to ask him. It is certain that he is a good cowman.
This may indicate one phase of ranch life south of our imaginary boundary line. It is, however, not comprehensive, and indeed perhaps not typically Southern. Let us suppose that the traveller has fared far to the south of the Indian Nations into the country along the Gulf coast of Texas. Here he is still on the cattle range, hut among surroundings distinctly different from those of the Indian Nations. The hardwood groves have disappeared and their place is taken by "mottes" of live oaks, whose boughs are draped in the dismal gray of the funereal Spanish moss. There is no word now of swamp or brush or timber, but we hear of chaparral and cactus and mesquite. We are at the southern extremity of the great cattle range. Here the cattle even to-day are not so large as those of the North. They run wild through a tangle of thorn and branch and brier. For miles and leagues — for here we shall hear also of "leagues" — the wilderness stretches away, dry, desolate, abominable. Water is here a prize, a luxury. A few scanty streams trickle down to the arms of the salt bays. Across some such small stream the cattle man has thrown a great dam, costing perhaps a small fortune, and built by an engineer not afraid to use masonry, for he knows what the sudden Southern floods may mean. Thus is formed a vast "tank," at which the cattle water, coming from unknown distances to quench a thirst not stayed completely by the cactus leaves whose thorns line their mouths as they do those of the wild deer of the region. These tanks are the abode of vast swarms of wild fowl which come in from the sea. About them crowds all the wild game of the country. In the mud along their trampled banks one sees the footprint of the cougar, of the "leopard cat," of the wild deer, the wild turkey, the wild hogs, and peccaries, all these blending with the tread of the many wading or swimming birds which find here their daily rendezvous. Sometimes such tanks run far into the open country back of the "wet prairie," as the sea marsh is generally called, and again they may run close down to the salt bays which make in from the Gulf. Sometimes this artificial water supply of the ranch is supplemented by a few natural lagoons of fresh water, which rarely go entirely dry. These lakes or lagoons or broken pond holes may run for miles through the swales in the coast forest — a forest the most forbidding of any in this whole great country in its ominous gray desolation of twisted trees covered with great festoons of that devil's decoration, the Spanish moss. It is a thirsty land, this of the brooding Southwest, this land of warmth and plenty, where life grows swiftly and is swiftly cut down. Here the cattle mature and breed more rapidly than in the North. They range over many miles of country, many of them forever unknown and uncounted, for the round-up in no part of the Western range is more trying than in the pathless thorny chaparral, where the rider can see but a few yards about him and where no general view is ever possible. Water is the one needful thing, and water is the loadstone which draws to view the cattle man's wealth as nothing else could do; for the cattle must drink.
They must drink, even though the suns of summer dry up the water pools till they are but masses of slime and mud, till they are worse than dry — till they have become traps and pitfalls more deadly than any that human ingenuity could devise. Into these treacherous abysses of bottomless and sticky mud the famished creatures wade, seeking a touch of water for their tongues. Weakened already by their long thirst, they struggle and plunge hopelessly in their attempt to get back to solid land. The hands of the waterless bogs hold them down. For a day the creature holds its head clear of the mud. Then its head sinks down. Lucky is it if there be water enough to make the mud soft, so that it soon covers the nostrils and cuts off the toiling breath. Above these traps of death clouds of buzzards are always soaring. Others drape the dismal live oaks in lines of sombre black, blending fitly with the sombre gray of the hanging moss. Along the banks of such dried water holes there are always lying hundreds of skeletons. The loss of life is unknown and uncounted. Horses, cows, calves, all the animals of the range perish here yearly in unestimated numbers. The loss of wealth is frightful in the aggregate, yet it is one of the ways of the cattle trade never to regard it and to take no means of preventing it. Indeed, nothing can be done to prevent it. It is the way of Nature. The rancher of the southern range will say to you that you shall have as your own property every horse you shall pull out of the mud, every horned head that you shall save from death in the depth of the waterless bogs. But though you take pony and rope and drag out helpless victim after victim, what then shall you do? They die upon the banks because they can not travel to other water, if indeed there be any other water within many miles. The tragedy goes on year after year, to what extent no one knows. The rancher comes to be entirely careless of it. The business of cattle ranching is primarily but a rude overlapping of the ways of Nature, and to Nature's care and protection are left the creatures whose lives are only partially taken in charge by their human owners.
These untrodden wildernesses of the coast range are now, strange to say, threaded by long lines of wire fence. A "pasture" is an inclosed tract of land perhaps forty or fifty miles square. In the long wire boundary fence there may not be a gate for twenty miles. The hunter who is lost there feels fortunate if he finds one of these long fences. Yet many a hunter, and many a new man on the range has found such a fence and followed it until he fell, mad with a thirst which he found no way of appeasing. The gray oaks and the evil cacti and the curled mesquite smile bitterly to-day over many such unfound wanderers. The native cowboys and range men know where the trail goes, where the gates are, where the ranch house is — far back, let us suppose, on the high prairie, where the windmills furnish sweet water in an unfailing supply. This house may be built of boards, simply and modestly, and it possibly is left unpainted. The house itself is a long and low one, with but a single story, and constructed with a wide hall extending through, so that the wind may blow in with what coolness it can claim in the torrid summer days. The rooms are large and airy, and the furniture is comfortable. There are green trees about this house, cottonwoods that have grown up tall and thin at the edge of the slender streams of water wasted from the windmill, and some audacious hand has actually planted flowers about a small plat of precious green. Apart from the house of the owner, which is at times occupied by himself and family, there is another and larger building of ruder furnishing. Here we find an interior not widely different from that of the ranch in the Indian Nations. We may find here, too, perhaps, a foreman whose only name is Jim. He has been foreman on the Star D for many years.
This country of the Texas coast is very hot, except in winter when the "northers" come, which chill the blood so strangely and which often kill hundreds of the weaker cattle with their mysterious, penetrating cold. Snow is never known here, and of winter as it is understood in the North there is practically none. The rainfall during the summer is extremely scant. All about the ranch house, miles and miles, as far as the eye can reach, the surface of the earth is gray and cheerless, with few trees inside the range of the low coast timber or chaparral. The hot sun in summer sets all the surface of the earth a-tremble, so that it moves and heaves and writhes. On the horizon float the strange pictures of the mirage. All men know there is no water where the mirage beckons. The water, rare, small, precious, is here, a jewel in this circle of green, this oasis in the apparent desert of the range.
Such is another ranch of the South. But with description so partial and imperfect we shall not even yet have covered our text sufficiently well to entitle us to leave it. We shall have left untouched and unindicated a vast territory of the Southern range where the cattle industry flourished for generations before it was dreamed of in the North. Suppose we move yet some hundreds of miles into the far Southwest, coming to that long arm of Spanish civilization which projects up from Mexico into the United States, last and lax hold upon a region which once bore the flag of Spain. Here, if anywhere to-day upon the cattle range, the ways of the past prevail, and here we shall find an environment as odd and picturesque as any. The Pecos and the Rio Grande rivers bound a vast and ill-known region, which has mountains and plains untraversed by the foot of the American tourist. Here we shall find villages unmarked on any map. We shall find men who in all their lives have never seen a railroad train nor heard the sound of the church-going bell. Life here, beyond that of any section of the United States, is ancient, simple, unprogressive, and truly pastoral in its features. In this far-away corner of the land the ways of modern life are slow to penetrate. The impact of Anglo-Saxon civilization is taken up by the vis inertias of the old Spanish ways. The vigorous Northerner becomes in a few years a slow-spoken and deliberate New Mexican. The cloudless blue sky, the soft warm air, the unvarying equanimity of Nature will have none of haste or worry. The country makes all men its own. It softens and blends and harmonizes all things and all men into its own indifferent calm.
The tone of our landscape here is not light, but deep in tint, a rich red brown which shades off into the plains and back into the darker colours of the mountains. You would call absolutely barren these wide tracts of land which lie shimmering and throbbing in the unscreened sun. The soil appears to be worthless sand or coarse baked earth. As you look out over such a country you can not believe it possible that it would support any animate life, unless it were this lizard upon the rock, or this hideous horned toad which crawls away from under foot, or these noisy prairie dogs which yelp here as they do upon the northern range. Yet this soil carries the rich gramma grass, whose little scattered tufts, not so large or so gray as those of the buffalo grass, cure and curl down upon the ground and form a range food of wondrous fattening quality.
We are in a mountain country here. The tablelands on which the cattle graze are more than four thousand feet above the level of the sea. The smaller table-lands or mesas are still more lofty. The foothills run up above six thousand feet, and back of these are mountains, sometimes low and brown, sometimes black with the heavy growth of pifions, sometimes high enough to have white tops for many months in winter. Snow never falls at this latitude over the lower valleys and mesas. Hay is rarely seen, except as imported in bales. The native Mexican sometimes makes a faint effort to cut a little hay, but does his mowing with a clumsy hoe. His grainfields are but little patches, and the reaping is done altogether with a sickle. In every way this is an ancient and pastoral land.
We are far down in the lower end of the great Rocky range, and at a point where little detached ranges and spurs run out from the main chain and make small mountain systems, each with a Spanish name of its own. We hear of the San Miguels, the Oscuras, the Sacra-mentos, the Magdalenas, the Capitans, the Nogales, the Bonitos, the Blancos, the Patos, the Carrizos. Out of each of these little subranges runs some one or more mountain streams, each stream called a rio, or river, no matter how small it may be. This high table-land is a waterless country. It may be that only one or two scant water holes are known in a space of a hundred or two hundred miles. A tiny well is a treasure. A rio is a fortune. In this region of rainless skies water is the one priceless thing.
The small river tumbles swiftly down out of the mountains, as any mountain stream, and it bears the mountain trout as do the waters of the upper ranges; yet after it has emerged from the mountains and passed through the foothills its course is very brief. In a few miles, perhaps twenty, forty, or fifty miles, it sinks and is lost forever in the sands of the plains. Many miles beyond there may be another river arising from the sand and struggling on a little way in the attempt to reach the Pecos or the Rio Grande. Without doubt these waters are connected with the great sheet of water which underlies all that region, and which will sometime be brought up by man to make this desert blossom. What there may be beneath the surface of the earth, however, does not concern our Mexican ranchero. It is enough for him that his father and his father's father held the land and owned the cattle. Bills of sale recording the curious old Spanish brands have been in his family for a long time.
This is an old cattle country. Countless rodeos have crossed these hills. Innumerable branding irons have been heated in the piñon fires of these corrals. None the less, this is in America, and hither the American cattle man was sure to come, in search of opportunity to follow the calling which offered to him so much of wealth and so much of fascination. His money or his methods were sure to make him a place even in so old and well-covered a country.
Let us suppose that we have come upon some such modern ranch, down in this ancient part of the cattle range. Back of the home ranch house there is a mountain range, which seems to be only a few miles away, but which is really more than fifty miles distant. It may be that the presence of the mountains has something to do with the water supply of the ranch. There are known to be several springs up in the mountains, and indeed the ranch owner has also purchased these, and has erected near them log houses from the timber of the mountains near at hand, each house being the home of its own party of the range riders. Between the foot of these mountains and the "home ranch" there is no stream of water nor any sign of one, nothing but a dreary expanse of brown and gray desolation. Yet here, by the ranch house, protected by a heavy fence from the intrusion of the animals, there bursts up out of the ground a strong spring of fresh water, strongly alkaline to be sure, but exceedingly valuable. This spring is the raison d'etre of the ranch house at this point, out on the wide plain, and far from the shelter of the arms of the mountain.
The waters of the great spring, carefully led and utilized, form at a distance of a mile or so from the house a shallow expanse or pool to which the cattle, over a range of probably twenty-five or thirty miles, come regularly to drink. The range near the water is much eaten down, so the animals go far out upon the plains to feed. They do not come to water every day, perhaps sometimes not even so often as once in every other day. An idler at the water pool, lying in wait for the antelope which often come in to water with the cattle, may see far away upon the horizon, toward the middle of the day, long trails and columns of dust, which grow more distinct as the moments pass, until they are seen to be caused by the hurrying squads of cattle coming in to water. They depart as they came, upon a rapid gallop, and their habit is one of the most singular things of the cattle range. Northern farm cattle would perish here, but these are animals seasoned for generations to this environment.
The ranch house here is an edifice entirely distinct in type, the adobe, typical dwelling of the Spanish Southwest. Never was human habitation more nicely adapted than this to the necessities of the country which produced it. No heat can penetrate these walls, more than three feet thick, of the sun-dried native brick or "Mobe." The building is exactly the color of the surrounding earth, and stands square and flat topped, like a great box thrown upon the ground. The roof, which has but the slightest slant from ridge to eaves, is made of heavy beams which hold up a covering, two or three feet in thickness, of hard, dry earth. This roof serves to turn the rain during the short rainy season of midsummer, and moreover it stops the vivid rays of the half-tropic sun. Within the 'dobe it is always cool, for it is a peculiarity of this climate that the heat is felt only when one is exposed directly to the sun.
The interior of this ranch house is rather attractive, with its walls whitewashed with gypsum, its deep window embrasures, and its hard dirt floor swept clean, as though it were made of wood. A former owner, let us say a wild young man whose family wished him to settle down, but who could not long remain settled at anything, once sought to beautify this place. He put lace curtains at the windows, and at great expense brought out a piano from the railroad, one hundred and fifty miles away. He even essayed rugs and pictures. Other times have brought other customs. The present owner cares more for his water front than for his curtains. The cowboys are welcome to come into this house. They throw their saddles down upon the bed or into the bath tub which once the former owner cherished. They go to sleep under the piano. One has seen their spurs, as they slept, tangled in the lace curtains of the windows. There is no one to order otherwise or to care otherwise. Lace curtains have little to do with raising cattle. There is no woman about the place. Nearly a dozen men live here. The head of the domestic economy is the cook, a German who was once a sailor. The responsible man of the outfit is the foreman, whose name is Jim, and who may have come from Texas. One does not know his other name. Jim is dark-haired, broad-shouldered, taciturn, direct of gaze.
A second building, also of adobe, stands at a little distance from the main ranch house, and this serves as general quarters for the men as well as for kitchen and dining hall. The structure, oddly enough, follows very closely the plan of the ranch house seen in the Indian Nations. There are really two buildings, connected by a covered way or open-air hail, which is open in front, and which serves as saddle room and storage place for odds and ends. The beds are merely bunks where the men unroll their blankets. In this country no man travels without taking his blankets with him. The furniture of the kitchen is simple, the dishes mostly of tin or ironstone china. The cook, who was a sailor, never learned to cook. To suit the local taste he makes feeble efforts at the peppery Spanish methods. Butter and milk are, of course, unknown on this ranch, as they are on all the ranches of the genuine cattle range, although thousands of cows are all about. There is no historical record of any such event as a cowboy being asked to milk a cow, nor is it likely that anything so improbable ever happened, for had it occurred, the cowboy must surely have evidenced his feelings over such a request in a manner interesting enough to be preserved among the traditions of the range.
At table each man takes off his "gun," this being one of the little courtesies of the land, but no one removes his hat of deliberate intention. It is polite for a stranger arriving at the ranch to leave his belt and revolver hanging on the pommel of his saddle, or to lay them aside upon entering the house. This is delicate proof that he is not "looking for any one." The country at the time of which we write is wild and lawless, and human life is very cheap. Each cowpuncher rides on his daily work with a Winchester in the holster under his leg, and carries at his hip the inevitable .45 revolver. The latter he may use for a chance shot at an antelope or deer, a coyote or a wolf, and it is handy for the killing of an occasional rattlesnake — whose presence, curled up under the shade of a Spanish bayonet plant, the cow pony is sure to detect and indicate by jumps and snorts of the most intense dislike. In the hands of the cowpuncher the revolver is a practical weapon. One recalls that one evening a cowboy came into camp with the tails of four "crogers" (cougar — the mountain lion) which he said he had met in a body at a little piece of chaparral. He seemed to think he had done nothing extraordinary in killing these animals with his revolver. At times the foreman, Jim, has been known to bring home an antelope which he has killed with his "six-shooter," but this is a feat rarely performed, and only to be attempted successfully by a master of the weapon.
Each home ranch has a corral, and the corral of the Circle Arrow outfit is worthy of our consideration. It is constructed of the most picturesquely crooked cedar logs, and there is not a nail in its whole composition. It is lashed together with rawhide at each joint or fastening, the hide being put on wet, and drying afterward into a rigid and steellike binding, which nothing less than a cataclysm could shake loose or tear apart. We are here upon the Spanish-American cattle range, and since time immemorial rawhide has been the natural material of the Mexican.
Most of the cowboys employed on the Circle Arrow outfit are Mexicans, or "Greasers," as all Mexicans are called by the American inhabitants. Their high-peaked hats, tight trousers and red sashes make them picturesque objects. These men do not speak any English, being popularly supposed to be too lazy to learn it. The speech of the American cowpunchers, on the other hand, is nearly as much Mexican as English, and in common conversation many Spanish words are met, permanently engrafted upon the local tongue and used in preference to their English equivalents. For instance, one rarely hears the word "yes a" it being usually given as the Spanish "si" The small numerals, one, two, etc., are usually spoken in Spanish, as uno, dos, etc. A horse is nearly always called caballo, a man an hombre, a woman a "moharrie" (mujer). Even cattle are sometimes called vacas, though this is not usual. The cow man of any range clings closely to the designation "cows" for all the horned creatures in his possession. Every one says agua when meaning "water." The Spanish diminutives are in common use in the English speech of this region, as chico, cJiiquito. The cowboy will speak of the "cavvieyah" or "cavvieyard" (caballado) instead of the "horse herd." One hears poco tiempo instead'of "pretty soon"; and this expression as coming from a native he will learn all too well, as also the expression mañana (to-morrow), which really means "maybe sometime, but probably never."
There are many common descriptive words used in the ranch work which would be strange to the Northern rancher, such as rincon, salado, rio, mesa, etc.; and many of the proper names would seem unusual, as applied to the Mexican cow hands, slim, dark, silent fellows, each with a very large hat and a very small cigarette, who answer as Jose, Juan, Pablo, Sanchez, or Antone, and who when they are uncertain answer, as do all their American fellows, with the all-convenient reply, "Quien sabe!" ("kin savvy," as the cowpuncher says).
The Northern ranch country got most of its customs, with its cattle, from the Spanish-American cattle country, and the latter has stamped upon the industry not only its methods but some of its speech. The cowboy's "chaps" are the chaparejos of the Spaniard, who invented them. Such words as latigo, aparejo, broncho are current all through the Northern mountain and plains region, and are firmly fixed in the vocabulary of the cow country of the entire West. Indeed, widely sundered as they are in geographical respects, it is but an easy and natural subsequent step, in manners, speech, and customs, from the ranch of the South to its close neighbour, the ranch of the North.
Table of Contents
It was in the North that there was first established what one would think an obvious principle, though it was one which the Texas rancher was slow to recognise — namely, that a fatted animal is worth more in the market than a lean one. On the range of the Southwest a cow was a cow, a "beef "—any animal over four years of age —was a beef, no matter what the individual differences. Far into the days of the cattle trade all Texas cattle were sold by the head and not by weight. The Northern rancher was the one to end this practice. He did not drive to market the sweepings of his range. Moreover, he saw that the beef-producing qualities of the old long-horned Texas breed could be much improved by the admixture of more approved blood. The cattle of England met the cattle of Spain, to the ultimate overcoming of the Southern type. In less than five years after the first Texas cattle came upon the territorial ranges, the latter were sending better cattle to Texas, over the very trail that had brought the first stock from the lower range. To-day the centre of the beef cattle trade is on the Northern range, and it is some portion of that range which the average Northern man has in mind when he speaks of the "cattle country."
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