A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Last updated: February 6, 2020
Late the next morning, the outfit left Kansas and crossed the line into “The Nations.” Ad and Ollie each drove one of the wagons Booth & Cloud were taking south on speculation. They moved right along, making an average of twenty-five miles a day down the well-marked cow trail. Light snows added to their discomfiture but failed to slow them up. In a little over thirty days they pulled in at Booth’s home plantation near Wharton, a hundred miles southeast of San Antonio and some forty miles north of the gulf.
Much of this was rough country, covered with mesquite and black chaparral, prickly pear and Spanish daggers. Below Wharton spread out a strange and fascinating land of huge live oaks, festooned with Spanish moss. On moonlight nights it seemed as unreal and ghostlike as the mirages the boys had seen in the shimmering summer heat of their own Kansas prairies.
That winter the two little Yankee boys worked side by side with ex-slaves, grubbing weeds out of the abandoned fields, patching holes in the hedge fences and on wet days shelling corn by hand. Booth was a hard master; and in late February when Raymond Cloud rode up with the news that they’d soon be starting for the Rio Grande country to gather a trail herd, both boys threw their hats in the air and shouted their joy.
They worked very little with cattle during the long months. There was some stock in the district, but most of the longhorns ranged in the vast, unfenced lands that stretched in a great half circle south and west of the Colorado River, curving in a mighty crescent along the gulf to the Rio Grande and the Mexican border. It was to this brush country, called the Brasada that Raymond and his men now started to pick up the herd to be headed north to the Kansas cow towns.
“I’m going to made you and Ollie regular hands,” he told the boys as they rode together on the second day out from Wharton. “I was figurin’ on making Ollie the horse wrangler, but I’m going to let Pancho do that. There’s a few mean broncs that Pancho has to roughbreak a little more when he gets the time. The pay is going to be thirty dollars a month.
“For each of us?” Ollie questioned incredulously.
Raymond smiled and nodded his head. “Yes siree; and that’s right on a man’s wages. But you’ve got to earn it. And night-herd the same as the rest of the men.”
For a time they jogged along in silence. Finally Raymond said “Soon’s dinner is over this noon Ad and I are headin’ for San Antonio. We’ll get the money there to pay for the herd, and we’ll catch up with you by Thursday night.”
When they pulled up at noon Raymond roped his palomino for himself and a long-geared blue roan for Ad. As soon as dinner was over they stepped up on their fresh mounts and headed up north. It was dark when they caught the snaky little San Antonio River, and followed the road as it ran by the great ghostlike ruins of the old Spanish mission. Raymond told the boy their names and they jogged along in the moonlight; Mission Espade first; the San Juan Capistrano; then San Jose`; and this one close enough to the city to see its light, was called Mission Concepcion.
Their ponies were a trifle jaded; but when they reached wide Commerce Street, they trotted smartly up to the lighted thoroughfare to the corner of Alamo Plaza, and then turned on down toward the old Mexican town. Raymond led the way to a livery stable with a corral behind. Five minutes later they were lined up at the bar of the Manger Hotel, with the Alamo a stone’s throw away.
Ad felt pretty much of a man standing there with his foot resting on the brass rail, even if his shoulders didn’t come up to the bar. There wasn’t a cowman in the place that ranked one-two-three alongside his boss. He couldn’t help showing his pride when Raymond, pushing his gray, flat-crowned hat back from his blond hair and shifting the weight of his Colt just a trifle, said to the bartender; “Bourbon for myself and a lime lemonade for my young friend.”
After supper Ad announced that he wanted to do a little spring shopping. He had forty dollars in gold that represented his total winter wages, and there were several items of personal equipment that he craved.
“All right, son,” the trail boss agreed. “You go right ahead with your shopping and then when you get through you drift on down to the La Casa Blanc—that’s the White House dance hall—and we’ll see a genuine Mexican fandango. Sabe?
It was almost ten o’clock when the boy made his way into the big square building with its big dance hall in the center, a long bar across the rear end, and tables along the two sides. A half hundred men, mostly with guns strapped low on their hips and broad-brimmed hats pushed on the backs of their heads, were standing at the bar or sprawled in chairs around the tables. A score or more Mexican girls were drinking and laughing with them. Ad located his boss seated at a table next to a black-eyed, thick-lipped girl in a short red dress that made no effort to cover her bare arms and shoulders. She was bantering with him to buy another drink. made no effort to buy another drink. With each round she received a brass check the size of a nickel piece. Later she would cash these in for ten cents each.
The trail boss hardly knew the boy in his new flannel shirt, checked trousers and bright scarf. From his right hip hung a .45 single-action Colt, in a worn holster.
The belt was filled with shiny cartridges, and on the left side rested a bowie knife with a ten-inch blade. Spurs, with wide rowels, made music on his new, high-heeled boots.
Raymond smiled as he took in the booted and spurred young knight. Then half in Spanish and half in English he introduced him to Marie.
The boy blushed as he nodded to the girl. “Seet down, my young fren’,” she said with a warn smile and a friendly look in her eyes. “Thee sees your first time in these plac’?”
The boy nodded and took the chair she pulled out for him.
“I theenk you are a good muchacho,” the amiable Marie went on. “An you shall see our leetle Felicia. She ees muy hermosa---very beautiful. An she ees nice gal. Not bad like de res’ of us gal. She dance here, an seeng—jes lak a bird . . . Here she come now to do de dance. “
The boy had never seen any living thing half so lovely as the little dancer who hurried to the center of the floor and bowed low to the center of the floor to the rough audience. Her black eyes set wide apart seemed to be deep pools of beauty and gentleness. Her whole face was radiant, her body slender and graceful. Yet for all her shyness she was strangely self-assured and adequate.
Soon her song was ended and there were shouts for an encore. This time it was a gay Spanish fandango, and suddenly the girl was beating her castanets and stamping the high heels of her red silk slippers to the gay Castilian music. Then came a mad lilting song, with a whirling gypsy dance as a finale. A moment later the girl disappeared through a door at the left of the hall toward the rear.
Marie led the way there. On the walls of the small room hung capes and street dresses. A fat old Mexican woman was tucking a black-and-red rebozo around Felicia’s shoulders, and warming her with honeyed words of praise and affection.
Marie spoke rapidly in Spanish. Then she took the boy’s hand and placed it in the soft white hand of the little singer. In another moment she left them and hurried back to the dance hall.
The boy and girl blushed as they shook hands. “Oh, you are a vaquero, no?” Felicia suggested, her eyes opening wide. Ad nodded, “And you sure can sing. Where’d you learn how?” “In Mexico. In Monterrey. But we came heer to San Antonio—how you say eet—dos annos? –two year ago. . . .Thees ees Tia Anita; she watch me for mi mama.” The young girl patted the fat hand pf the old servant.
“I’m goin’ up the Chisolm Trail with a herd of longhorns,” Ad boasted.
Felicia’s admiration was unbounded. “It ees wonderful to be a vacquero.”
Ad took off his hat and laid it on the table. He was glad he’d got his hair cut and had his new outfit. And it sure was nice of Raymond’s girl to bring him here. It didn’t bother him and longer to talk to this little singer. She felt sorry for her. There was something about her he couldn’t begin to explain; something tender and wistful that made a fellow think she was almost too sweet and good for this world.
First thing he knew he was telling her about how his mother had died way off in Kansas; and how he and his younger brother had come down the trail to Texas; and how some day he was going to have his own cattle ranch and be rich. The he’d come back and see her, and bring her a nice present.But right now it was time for her to sing again.
It was a little after ten that next morning when the trail boss came out of the bank on Commerce Street carrying two small, heavy white sacks in the crook of his left elbow. When he reached the stable he found Ad there waiting for him.
“Can’t get over that outfit you’re packing.” Raymond allowed with a grin. “You got on enough artillery to join the Texas Rangers. But maybe you’ll need it before we get through The Nations. Heard last night the Comanches and Kiowas were already making medicine, and that there may be raiding again this spring.”
Ad let his right hand pat the worn holster. “Got the ponies saddled up and ready, “ he announced.
Quickly Raymond dropped the small heavy bags in an old grain sack and tied a fast knot in the open end, leaving just room for the bags to rest easily end to end. “Hold this a minute, son,” he directed, settling the sack in Ad’s lap.
"Think I better tie this back of your saddle under that Yankee army coat of yourn. If we’d happen to meet up with a couple of strangers reckon they’d never suspicion you were carryin’ this.”
When they reached the street and were headed toward the south and the parade of the mission ruins, the trail boss rode close to the boy. “you just happen to be packing eight thousand dollars in twenty-dollar gold pieced, son. That’s to pay half on this herd they’re holding for us down in the brush country. ‘Course it’s just some grub you’re packing—that’s if anybody happens to ask you about it.“
Ad nodded, and then tried to conceal the fact that he’d just swallowed his Adam’s apple. But he made up for it when he swung the heavy holster a wee bit to the front of his leg. He could hold his reins just as well with his left hand, while the thumb of his right was hooked in his gun belt, with the brass tops of the cartridges gleaming like gold teeth.
They’d reach the edge of the town before either spoke again. Then Raymond said quite casually: “That was a right nice girl—that little singer.
Ad blushed. After a while he said: “I gave her Ollie’s scarf. But I still got the spurs I bought for him. “
The brush country, southwest of San Antonio, was a new kind of land to Ad. Now and again, as the trail outfit pushed deeper into this region, he’d hear something go crashing through the mesquite or heavy brush off to one side of the winding trail, and then maybe catch a glimpse of a lean longhorn critter running as if it were afraid of its own shadow.
“What’s the matter, Yank?” demanded a hard-faced, heavily built cowboy named Buck Jenkins. “Afraid one of them horned jackrabbits’ll attack you?”
Ad grinned but made no answer. Buck was the only man in the outfit who openly resented the two little Yankee boys. Buck had fought the last few months of the war in a Northern prison camp near Cairo, and he carried a bitter and consistent hate of all Yankees, regardless of age or sex.
As soon as he learned Ad and Ollie hailed from Kansas, he began finding fault with everything he did.
“Don’t pay any attention to that big-mouthed Buck’s remarks,” Raymond Cloud had quietly told Ad. “He’s still mad because us folks lost the war. He’ll get over it long before we get to Kansas.“
But Raymond was mistaken. Buck never missed a chance to rub it in on one or the other of the boys. Apparently, he was only waiting for the right moment before he picked a real quarrel.
There was plenty for the boys to think about as the cavalcade jogged along under the warm Texas sun. The dust from the remuda was not enough to bother the mounted men, but it was a portent of the thousand miles of dust that would mark the long trail that led from the gulf to some wild Kansas cow town. Much would happen under this heavy veil of dust—this low-hanging, choking cloud kicked up by twelve thousand cloven hoofs.
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