A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Last updated: February 6, 2020
Three nights later the outfit pitched its camp on the forks of a little creek that ran due north into the Nueces. It was a wild, forbidding land. Late that afternoon they had passed the burned ruins of a cabin; there was some discussion among the men as to whether it had been the work of apaches or Comanches.
“Wish Big Foot Wallace’d been there,” George Ray said passionately. “He’d have let a little daylight into them red devils. Wouldn’t have minded bein’ there myself, far as that’s concerned…. Back on the Frio, heard they killed Old Man Calvin Massey just the other day. His daughter-in-law was hidin’ in the brush with her three children and saw ‘em do it. They tried to find her but they couldn’t. she was in turrible shape when she crawled into Frio City.”
“Reckon they’d attack an outfit like ourn?” Ad asked.
“If they was enough of ‘em,” George answered. “Don’t worry—you’ll see plenty Injuns.”
“I’d like to get me a scalp,” Ollie bragged.
Ad looked over at his younger brother with disgust. “You’ll be lucky if you hold on to the one you got on your head.
Raymond Cloud stepped over to where the men were squatting on their heels or stretched out on the ground around the campfire. “Boys,” he began slowly, “we’re going to be in the saddle by sunup. Johnson’s ranch is only about three miles on south, and they promised to have to herd ready for us there by the first of March. That’s tomorrow.
Cook, you stay here and we’ll be back somewhere round noon for dinner. It’ll take us three-four days to road-brand and get shaped up.” He turned to the Mexican horse wrangler: “Pancho, have the remuda up here around daybreak.”
The men were crawling into their blankets a couple of hours later when Raymond returned from a visit at the Johnson ranch headquarters. The longhorn steers were all gathered and being held in a fenced pasture, he announced. Most of the she-stuff, the cows and two-year-old heifers, were being brought in now. There’d be no wait.
The fire died down and the camp grew silent. Overhead the blue dome of the sky sparkled with a million stars. Toward morning when the cook stirred himself, there was a chill in the air. By the time Pancho brought in the remuda, and the men had rubbed the sleep from their eyes, and pulled on their boots, the pink was beginning to capture the east half of the flat world.
A half hour earlier the men had finished their coffee, bacon and biscuit, and were in the saddle heading south. Only the cook and Pancho stayed behind.
Ad’s first glimpse of the 4H’s headquarters was not especially impressive. The house was a long, one-story frame affair, with a front porch running its entire length. A shed or two comprised the remainder of the buildings. Off two or three hundred yards to the east were the branding corrals.
A quarter mile away ran a much cruder and less substantial fence that enclosed somewhere near a mile square of country with a water holed in the far end. In this holding pasture were some fifteen hundred steers, all supposed to be all fours or better. They were still thin from the winter months, and some were al little short of four years old, but Raymond was buying them too cheap to complain.
The 600,00 Texas longhorns that had gone up the Chisholm Trail in ’71 had glutted the market, and tens of thousands of head had been held over to winter on dead northern grass through the uncertain Kansas season. When Booth and Cloud contracted for this herd in January, they set the price at six dollars for steers and heifers that were two and three or older. There was no mention made of calves; nobody wanted them, least of all the trail drivers. Half of the herd were to be big steers—beeves they called them; the other half were to be she-stuff, mostly aged cows but with some younger heifers, if it worked out that way.
Slowly the owner of the herd, with Raymond and George Ray, his segundo, riding close at hand, moved along the grazing cattle.
They were sure enough a tough looking bunch-lean, rangy, narrow hipped, bottle-necked, with long, sharp pointed horns that curved in every imaginable direction; some straight out at right angles to long, mournful heads; some straight up almost like goat horns; some forming great half circles; and now and then a critter with one horn stuck up in the air while the other flattened down over an eye. Their dangling ears were cut and carved into a dozen fantastic shapes, and their left sides bore the vented readings of many brands. Old Pap Johnson had acquired then from various smaller ranchers, and in devious and unknown ways. Some were barely three years old while other would be literally five time that age.
And for color they matched Joseph’s coat. If there was such a thing as a predominant color it was a yellowish-dun. Brindles came next- with browns, whites, smokies and paints of every conceivable mixture. And in the entire big herd there was not one ounce of real fat-unless you would care to call a greyhound fat. But oddly enough, if they were handled exactly right on the long drive north, and they “walked with the grass,” they would arrive at their Kansas terminal with ribs tallowed over and gaunt look gone. Nothing like new grass to make new cattle.
“We’ll road-brand first an’ then we’ll tally ‘em out,” Raymond announced to Old Pap Johnson and his own segundo.
Ad and Ollie had been told off to have the fire going and the irons hot. The outfit’s road brand was a single 7 almost a foot high on the left shoulder, and the business ends of the four irons had to be glowing hot.
It was a sweaty, tiresome and smelly job to brand these wild brush cattle. To brand permanently for a range it would have been easier to burn the brand when the animal was in the squeeze- chute, and held so tightly that he couldn’t move; but this road-branding was only for the trail and it was more a hair-brand than anything else.
Along toward four Raymond called a halt for the day. They had road-branded close to a thousand head. By eleven the next morning they finished with the beeves, and started branding the cows.
Off toward the west of the beef herd there ran a dry arroyo that at one point narrowed to a slit not more than fifteen feet wide, with high, steep sides. This bottle neck was an ideal place to make the count. The men now moved the grazing herd out toward the arroyo and strung them out in a long file. Old Pap Johnson and Raymond took their places opposite each other at the narrow mouth, while two or three cowboys sat their horses nearby.
In his left hand Raymond held a piece of rope three feet long with knots tied in it at regular intervals. Old Man Johnson had a handful of smooth pebbles in the left pocket of his vest. The right pocket was empty. As the long horns drifted by the two men silently counted the animals.
“Tally!” Raymond shouted when the hundredth animal went by.
Then he slipped the first knot of the rope through the fingers of his left hand.
“Tally!” repeated Old Pap Johnson. Quickly he took one of the smooth pebbles from the left-hand pocket of his vest and transferred it to the right.
The cattle drifted on. Now and again they would become a little frightened and try to bunch up. Then the extra men would quietly ride in and string them out again. Slowly the count went on. It was well after noon when the last steer lazied past.
The two men counted back over their knots and pebbles. They each made it 1551 head.
Raymond had sent word to his cook to have dinner ready for all hands, and early that morning he’d passed out the invitation. No one hurried, but as soon as the tin plates had been stacked up, the trail outfit changed mounts and started toward the cow herd. It was almost dark when the last critter had been tallied out. Both Raymond and Old Pap called it 1311-a grand total of 2862, and a good-sized trail herd for any outfit to hope to drive a thousand miles without undue loss.
Late the previous day the regular chuck wagon and three yoke of big, matched gray oxen had pulled into camp. Baldy Wart, beetle-browed, heavy-mustached, and short and chunky of body, had all six steers yoked up and on the drawbar, and was walking alongside the when he arrived. He had sworn at then persistently and affectionately for almost two weeks. Each had his own pet name and Baldy vowed each one knew it-Peanut and Outlaw, Judge and Robert E. Lee, parson and Snake Eye.
The six had been bought from a freighter in San Antonio, and Baldy had been sent there to provision his new wagon and make his way slowly down here to the Brasada country and contact the herd. Ike Waldron, who had been filling in as cook, would now assume his regular status as a cowhand; and the three ponies that had felt the disgrace of being used as lowly pack animals could bow their backs in early morning saddling the same as any other respectable cow pony.
Ad strode over to the outfit. “Can I help you any, Baldy?" The crusty old cook didn’t bother to look up, but he answered: “Git them hobbles from the back end of the wagon, an’ we’ll turn these wall-eyed elephants out to grass. They’re slower’n the second comin’.
Ad did as he was told. He knew that there was nothing like standing in with the cook. It meant many an extra bite when he’d come in hungry and half frozen.
Several of the men shouted greeting, while two or three others bantered the cook. “You don’t think you’ll ever keep up with us with that bunch of Mexican War veterans you just drove up, do you, Baldy?” George Ray prodded.
“Mean them oxen of mine?” Baldy countered. “Say, I could pull a cowboy right out of a dance hall with a single yoke of them beauties.”
Baldy celebrated his taking over with a bang-up breakfast the next morning. He had his Dutch oven half filled with thin steaks, as big as your hand, fried in red-hot grease. They’d almost melt in a man’s mouth. Baldy sure could cook when he set out to do it.
The second morning he fixed up another memorable breakfast. This would be the last day in camp. After the men had eaten, Raymond had then run a rope corral, using the chuck wagon for one side. They carried long, heavy ropes for this special purpose. Ad and Ollie were told to hold the ends tied to front and rear wheels of the wagon, while Pancho drove in the remuda. The men, with their ropes down and loops made, stood guard across the open end of the temporary corral.
“There’re ten of us and we got eighty-five head,” Raymond drawled. “That’ll give us eight mounts apiece with five extras. I’ll cut mine first and then, starting out with George, you men cut one each, round about. I’ll cut for the two punks,” and he nodded toward Ad and Ollie, leaning against the ends of taut ropes.
The trail boss moved slowly toward the band and then quickly threw a back hand loop and caught his palomino around the neck. Walking quietly up the rope he patted the horse’s neck, and then making a half-hitch around his nostrils led him outside the corral and turned him loose. Seven more time he repeated the performance, each time bringing out either a bay or a brown. Except for his cream-colored pet mount his string was made up of solid colors.
George Ray made the next throw and pulled up a sorrel called Chaparral. The gelding would make an excellent cutting horse when he needed one.
He had his eye on Midnight, a big-footed, pot-bellied black, that he hoped no one would pick on; he’d make a good swimming horse. One by one the next five men made their throws. Then Raymond nodded to Pancho, slouching down in his saddle a few feet outside the corral. “I weel ta’ thees caballo here, Don Raymon’,” he said patting his mount.
“Bueno!” Raymond eased over toward Ad. “Want that blue roan you rode to San Antonio?” questioned softly.
“That’s the one I was hoping I’d get-Old Bluebird.” The exuberance in the boy’s voice spoke his gratitude.
With the roan roped and outside, Raymond turned to Ollie. “How about you, son? Fancy that little gray over there-you know, Ginger Snaps?”
Ollies’ eyes sparkled. “That’s the one I’d like to have.”
Raymond missed his first throw but caught Ginger Snaps on the second. George came next, and round by round the men chose their mounts. It was a serious business. For the next three months these ponies they were choosing would be the mainstay of their existence. Their comfort and their very lives would depend on the choices they made.
They’d be riding at least two ponies each day and a third one on night herd. Eight mounts apiece were few enough. Raymond was easygoing and tolerant about most things, but he could be poison if a man let his mounts get bad backs or saddle sores.
And the trail boss saw to it that here were plenty of cold shoes and nails in the wagon and that every man had his string well shod.
It well on to noon when the men finished cutting the remuda. After dinner Raymond had the she-stuff thrown in with the beeves and the whole herd pushed a mile or two out into open country. They’d bed them down there at night, and then move out by sunup.
That was the big moment they were all waiting for-to hit the trail, to move out. All this other had been little more than child’s play. Now the hard grind would begin.
A thousand unforeseen things might happen along these thousand miles of beaten track. Outfits had gaily started north, only to reach their destination months lather with half their cattle gone, their remuda run off, some of their men lying in shallow graves along the trail or lost in the waters of angry, rushing rivers. Indians, lightening, storms, stampeded, high waters, dry drives, fever, man-killing horses-all these and more lay in wait for the northbound herds.
And there were two little boys, one not yet turned fifteen and the other barely thirteen, embarking on this overland voyage of endless danger and hardship.
They would ride the drags, urging along the tired and footsore stragglers. The dust of the trail would settle so thickly about them that at times they would be lost in its heavy gray clouds.
Now and again they’d pull up their horses and talk as only brothers can, Buck Jenkins and his unreasonable bitterness toward them seemed to weigh heavily on the imaginative mind of the of the younger boy. But Ad would only grimly shake his head. “Don’t worry about him, Ollie,” he'd say. “if he ever lays a hand on you I’ll work him over with a singletree from Baldy’s wagon. I ain’t scared none of the big bully.”
But he was bragging just a bit.
Two weeks later the outfit crossed the winding San Antonio River and camped three or four miles south of the old Mexican town. Raymond let half of the men gallop into the lovely and alluring city so that they might “twist the monkey’s tail.” The following day, with San Antonio to their rear, he and Ad and the men who had remained with the herd the previous evening, saddled fresh mounts and turned back down the trail for their own night off.
A barber shop was the first official stop, and then after a quick visit to a clothing store, Raymond led the way to the favorite Casa Blanca. Ad had drawn ten dollars from the boss and he still had more than half of it left.
“I got a little something I want to do, Raymond,” he remarked casually when he saw the three golden balls of the Lone Star Pawn Shop swinging invitingly over the sidewalk. “I’ll be along with you pretty soon.”
Ad was just a bit hesitant in explaining to the fay, bald clerk what he wanted. Casually he looked over the silver-embossed bits, and the rack of rifles and pistols. Finally he worked his way to a showcase holding a glittering assortment of jewelry displayed in purple-lined trays. The proprietor beamed when he finally caught his cue.
“Tell me, young Meester, is it for yourself or for some nice young fren’?” he questioned sympathetically.
Ad pushed back his hat and lied manfully. “Thought I might take a ring to my sister up in Kansas.”
“And how much money you would pay for a nize ring?”
“Oh, maybe five dollars.”
The salesman shook his head. “For fife dollars you won’t get much, my poy. For ten dollars here is something very fine.”
He reached in the case and brought out a small gold ring with a blue stone. Ad was entranced. He slipped it on the little finger of his left hand. It was the one ring in all the world that he wanted.
“I ain’t got quite ten dollars, “he finally admitted.
“How much you got? Nine dollars? Eight dollars?” And when the boy continued shaking his head he asked: “Vell seven-fifty, then?”
Ad pulled out his money and spilled it on the unpolished glass of the showcase. It counted up to six dollars and a quarter. It was a sale. The boy slipped the ring in his pocket and walked out as if he was treading on air.
Ten minutes later Marie was leading him to the tiny room at the rear of the dance floor.
But it was time for Felicia to work and the boy was shooed over to the table where Raymond and his men sat with Marie and two other girls. In a weird mixture of Spanish and English they teased him about Felicia. But Marie ordered them to hold their tongues. “It ees bad luck to say these thing,” she warned. “Thees boy is un muchacho bueno-one good boy. An Felicia ees veery beautiful an’ muy simpatica; how you say dat? -veery sympathectic. Thees boy an’ thees girl ees sweet lak de flower. Hey Don Raymon, you buy me wan leetle drink, eh?”
Felicia finished her encore and started for the tiny room in the rear. Bashfully Ad left the table and walked along the edge of the dance floor. He slowed down his pace when he saw that Felicia was standing by a table across the hall.
A flashily dressed, slick-haired young Mexican had his fat hand around her wrist and was detaining her. Even to Ad’s inexperienced eyes the scene was clear in its cheap and tawdry implications.
Felica was shaking her head, and the smile she flashed was haunting in its terror. Then she pulled her arm loose and hurried to the anteroom. She was sobbing when Ad pushed open the door and entered.
“Did that fella say anything bad to you?” Ad demanded. “I’ll be glad to take it up with him if you want me to.” The boy’s hand dropped to the butt of his Colt.
The girl shook her head. The old woman was wiping the tears from Felicia’s great black eyes.
Then the sobs stopped, and now Felicia was patting his shoulder. “Eet ees nodding,” She said with a brave smile. “He ees reech man an’ he ees bad man-but eet ees nodding.”
“I’d just like to see him do it again,” Ad threatened stubbornly.
Felicia’s eyes sparkled with pride and a strange new happiness. This way was ready and willing to fight for her. He was her champion, even if he was very young.
It was long after midnight when they slowly walked the three or four blocks to the tiny cottage where Felicia lived. The old Mexican woman trailed a few feet behind them. At the gate in the white picket fence Felicia held out both her slender hands to him. He’d been telling her how someday he would be a rich man, with herds of cattle and a great ranch, and how he’d be coming t see her. He’d forgotten all about the ring he had in his pocket.
Then he remembered, and brought it out and placed it in her hand. A little cry escaped her lips. She held the blue stone so that the warm moonbeams might dance on its many facets. Her tears of happiness suddenly became magnifying lenses. Under their magic the tiny stone became a priceless jewel.
Impulsively she threw her arms around the boy’s neck and kissed him.
Then she ran down the flower-bordered steps to the front door.
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