by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Heck Reel was on the northbound stage today. For the last few years he has been moving a lot of freight from Cheyenne, Rock River and Medicine Bow to Fort Laramie and Fort Fetterman. He is probably checking on facilities, route and potential business in anticipation of extending his freighting activities into the Black Hills. (NOTE: A while later he started freighting to the Hills and had a set of corrals located on Old Woman Creek, near where DeGering's ranch is now located.)
Freighters traveling in large trains are relatively safe along the trail, sometimes 200-300 men are with these large trains. Small freighters, who work for themselves, are much more likely to be robbed of valuable freight, money or even murdered by bands of renegade Indians or white outlaws.
The freighters are an unheralded group, but they transport the tools, machinery, provisions, clothing and other necessities that make civilization possible in the Black Hills. The life-blood of the stage line also flows through freighting channels as they keep the food, feed and supplies stocked at the stage station.
The Bull team freighters are a particularly interesting group. Some of them are even known to stretch the truth a little with their tales. The following conversation is said to have taken place in Cheyenne between a bullwhacker, who had just arrived, and a bystander on the sidewalk. Observing a particularly scrawny looking bull in the team, the bystander remarked, "Old man, you work that ox too hard, don't you? He's a perfect walking skeleton."
"No, pard he don't pull a cussed pound an' I only use him to hold up that end o' the yoke. He use ter be a rattler to pull, an' would tackle a mountain ef ye'd hitch him to it, an' thet dam rushin' nater o' his is jes' what ruined him. Goin' up to Deadwood las' trip, I got stuck on Hat Creek an' the critters couldn't budge the load. I'd about give up, an' war goin' ter wait fur some other teams ter come an' help me out, when I thought I'd try es once more. I got beside old Bruiser, thar, an' when all was ready, gin a yell an' ye jes' ought to a seen thet cuss straighten out. He stood out ez straight thet whipstock, an his eyes hung clar down to his nose. All to once I heered a kind of a tear-r-r an' so help me, pard, that cuss went right through the yoke, leavin' his hide layin' quiverin' beside the tongue o' the wagon an' he stood thar without hair or hide on him ahind o' whar the yoke sot. I got the skin open and backed him inter it, but he hasn't been the same steer since, an' don't seem tuh thrive with a cuss. It's a fact, pard, an' I kin prove it by every other steer in the team. Wohow, git up, January, whoo-boy."
And the team moved off to an outfitting hours.
(Information sources: The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes, by Agnes Wright Spring; Hat Creek and Hard Times, by Edward C. Bryant.)