A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Last updated: February 27, 2020
March 1, 1940
As told by Frazier Hunt, originally published in The Country Gentleman, December 1939, January, February, and March 1940
The outfit had been eight weeks getting out of Texas. It was not the end of April, but they were still keeping pace with the arrival of the new grass and the wild flowers.
Pushing northward at ten or twelve miles a day, they traveled through was seemed to be perpetual spring. Carpets of wild flowers spread out at their feet, and birds, happy in their love-making, sang for them. And always there were new scenes, rolling grassy prairies, broad alluring vistas—and endless, unforeseen dangers and hardships.
To the two little boys much of it appeared as if in a dream. They were riding the flanks of the herd now. At Fort Worth two of the hands had quit and Raymond had hired a pair of Mexicans. Ad and Ollie were promoted to swing and the newcomers sent back to eat the dust of the herd.
Buck Jenkins had sworn a yard of oaths when he found out that the two little Yankee boys were now his full equals in trail standing. That morning when he saw Ad saddling up, with his Colt strapped low on his right hip, he curled his lip and fairly snorted: “Better file the sights off’n that popgun you got there.” And when Ad asked what for he answered with an oath; “Somebody’ll take that gun away from you one of these days, and when they shove it down your throat it’ll feel better if it ain’t got sights.”
Ad quietly went on cinching up his saddle. All he wanted was that he and Ollie be left alone.
He often wished Felicia could see him making a full hand. He’d never forget what she called him that last night they were together: “Mi vaquero bravo” –my brave cowboy. It sounded like a love song to him. It’d sure be wonderful to see her again. Every night when he rode the circle, he thought of her. He wished now that he’d picked a fight with that fat young Mexican. He didn’t relish the idea of his being there and maybe worrying Felicia.
The cow trail swung a little to the west and then north after Red River Crossing. Drovers had grown tired of paying twenty-five cents a head toll to the grasping headmen of the Cherokee Nation for the privilege of passing through their lands. Off here west of the 98th meridian in the “wild Indian” county, they could trail northward for nothing—that is, if they were lucky.
Before the Civil War the whole vast and supposedly valueless Indian Territory—later to be known as Oklahoma—had been given permanently and irrevocably to the Five Civilized Tribes that had been moved from the Southern States east of the Mississippi. During the war most of their Southern Indians had been actively sympathetic to the Confederate cause. With the war ended they had been punished for their indiscretions by losing the western half of their vast and unused lands, that were now about to be allotted to the roaming horse tribes of the high plains—the Comanches, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Osages, Pawnees and the others.
The relentless drama of civilization was being rapidly unfolded. No time or land had ever furnished such a stage for such a story; a rolling stretch of high prairie, running the fifteen hundred miles from the Mexican border to Canadian land, and from the Rocky Mountains eastward for six or eight hundred miles to the edge of the moving frontier. Here lay a billion acres of free grass—the noblest stretch of pasture land in all the world. Yet, up to the middle sixties, a land held only by Indians and buffalo.
Across the empire of grass great trails ran from east to west. They had been worn deep with the wagons and pack trains of adventurous men and brave women moving westward from the country east of the Mississippi, to the rich and promising lands of Oregon, to the California gold fields, to the mines of Montana and Colorado. But these dreamers had their eyes focused only on the setting sun, and as they traveled down these roads of history—the Oregon, the overland, the Santa Fe trails—they had neither thought nor wish for these high plains and their magically cured grasses.
Then in the late sixties railroads began to push their steel arms deep into the high plains, across Nebraska, across Kansas and on to the Big Rocks. Their iron horses snorted and fumed as they carried westward their loads of settlers, nesters, homesteaders, “fool hoe men.”
This new stream of humanity was sweeping over the eastern edge of the high plains each year, pushing back farther and farther the restless frontier. Stubborn pioneers were discovering that wheat and even corn could grow on these wind--swept prairies. On west, in the lovely foothill country, freighting outfits and tiny trading ranches on the great trails had learned that oxen could be turned loose in winter, and, if left to choose their own shelter and feed, could be picked up in the spring strong and in flesh.
So it was that at the moment when the end of the Civil War let the human dam break, civilization marched in two great columns: the plowmen from the eastward, and the cowmen, with their herds of Texas cattle, from the southward. Later they were to become enemies and struggle bitterly for this empire of free land, but until well into the seventies they fought against a single common enemy—the Indian, supported solely by his buffalo. Most people had no concern about what the buffalo meant to the Indian.
The fact that it furnished his food, clothing, shelter, and had much to do with his religion, didn’t keep white men from slaughtering these great, helpless beasts in fantastic numbers. But the Indians knew that it meant their doom.
Few white men understood the Indian side or were concerned with it. One of these few had been the half-breed trader and Government interpreter, Jesse Chisholm, whose mother was a Cherokee and whose father was a Scotch trader. When the war had frightened the peaceful Wichita Indians from their lands along the North Canadian, in the center of Indian Territory, Jesse had guided then north to the protecting wing of the Federals and settled then in the creek bottoms that ran into the Arkansas in Southern Kansas. On this spot some day would arise a city that would proudly claim their name—Wichita. In 1865, Chisholm and his partner, J.R. Mead, arranged through a Government agent to guide the tribe back to its old lands on the North Canadian. Their trading wagons subsequently marked this 220 -mile trail from the Arkansas, in South Kansas, to the North Canadian, in the center of Indian Territory. Herds moving north in ’67 had found this trail, with its excellent creek and river crossings and watering places.
For a year this staunch friend of the Indians watched the herds come swinging up the trail that was forever to bear his name. Then a strange destiny overtook him. On March 4, 1868, he overate of bear’s grease that had been cooked in a brass kettle: and late that day the Indians buried him on Johnny Left-Hand Spring, on the bank of the North Canadian, nineteen miles west of the trail that was to give him immortality.
In years to come the traces that ran to the southward across the Red River and then on down to San Antonio were all to bear the name of the half-breed who had served so faithfully his mother’s people. It was to be known through eternity as The Chisholm Trail.
Probably it was best for Jesse Chisholm that he did not have to stay and witness the last acts of this drama of civilization. For soon to come was the vilest scene in the whole play. Millions of buffalo—the Indian’s sole support and the arc of his life and culture and religion—were to be wantonly destroyed for their hides; for white men knew that once the buffalo were out of the way the Indians must come to the reservations and these billion acres of grasslands would fall to their greedy hands as an overripe apple falls from a tree.
And here were two little boys, riding through this great drama, playing their silent parts and bravely facing danger and death.
Shortly after the outfit crossed the Washita in Southern Indian Territory, the weather turned mean again. For two days and nights it rained or drizzled almost steadily. Old Baldy used up the last of dry wood in his caddy, and then tried the buffalo chips the men gathered for him. But they were so soaked it was almost impossible to get them to burn. However, by superhuman efforts he always managed to have a pot of hot coffee for the men when they straggled in from all-night guard.
The weather partially cleared during the third day, and he was able to give them steak and biscuit for supper that night. Along about ten a wind rose that had the smell of a storm. Soon the night turned pitch black, and Raymond hurried all hands to the cattle. They were already on their feet and trying to move out when thunder broke through their bellowing. Half the sky seemed to unload its lightening at once.
Almost with the speed of the wind the herd broke into two parts, each section choosing its own direction. Men racing for their lives pointed their ponies from the path of the thundering herds. Soon these riders were pressing against the leaders, trying to turn them to the right and start them to milling.
Raymond, riding alongside of Ad and three others, could feel the frightened animals slowly giving way. They were actually turning their herd—they were bending it in a great half circle.
Suddenly in the weird blue light of the flashes, the riders saw a new and unbelievable danger. Their half of the cattle was charging squarely into the onrushing maddened beasts of the second herd. any man or horse caught between would be trampled into eternity.
In the next flash Ad saw Raymond bearing off to his left. Ad turned his pony and followed. The jaws of the trap were closing. The lane between the charging lines of tossing horns was less than a hundred feet wide.
He slid through. He was clear.
Ten seconds later the two herds struck square on. The impact was ghastly, unreal. It was almost as if two giant steam engines had suddenly appeared in the endless black prairie and raced headlong at each other.
Animals with broken horns, gouged eyes, torn sides, bruised heads and broken legs roared and bellowed in pain and anger. The stampede was over. The herd milled around the miserable field of carnage. Now and again some tender-hearted cowboy drew his six-shooter and dispatched a moaning creature dragging a broken leg.
The wild storm dissipated itself long before dawn. The day broke warm and promising. Exhausted men rounded up the animals and let them graze toward the north, while other riders searched for little bunches that had drifted away.
Toward evening the trail boss made a fresh count. They had lost forty-five head. “That’s the damnest run of hard luck I’ve ever had,” Raymond announced dejectedly. “Never saw a stampede like that in all my born days. Wonder what’ll come next?”
By ten o’clock one morning Raymond returned early from his early scouting and rejoined the outfit. They’d noon at a little creek that ran in to the Canadian. Old Baldy was ahead with his grub wagon, and Raymond told him to pull to the left of the trail about three or four miles on ahead. Then he jogged on back to the men. “We’ll let ‘em drink at that creek in small bunches,” he ordered. “There won’t be enough water to last if we ain’t careful. “
Ad was riding on the right side of the long line of cattle. The animals had not been watered since early the previous afternoon. It was dusty and hot, and their tongues were hanging out. The bawling was incessant.
Like an army general taking a review, Raymond pulled up and let the herd and its outriders parade by him. The cattle had put on quite a little flesh since they left their winter range. If they didn’t start running themselves thin in night stampedes they’d be in excellent shape in another month. This would be one of the first herds of the year to arrive at railhead in Kansas.
Raymond joined the two Mexican vaqueros at the rear, prodding along the lame and the lazy in the drags. The dust was plenty bad, even if there had been heavy rains a day or two before.
Almost imperceptibly he noticed that the moving line of cattle was slowing its pace. Something must be wrong. Instinctively he moved out to the right side of the long column and touched his horse with his spurs.
He could see that the whole line was halting. Something was blocking the slow moving stream of cattle. He dug in his spurs.
Low, rolling hills stretched toward the east and the north. The trail wound around these, debouching itself into the little valley of a creek bottom. Suddenly he was conscious of moving bits of color on the brow of these low ridges. Flashes of sunlight reflected strangely from bright gleaming objects.
Then he realized that the fantastic figures ahead were men—Indians on war paint and feathers; Indians armed with rifles and spears and deadly bows and arrows; Indian on the warpath.
There were hundreds of them. From three sides they were moving like ominous storm clouds toward the blocked herd. Raymond galloped ahead, loosing his pistol inn its tight holster as he rode toward the danger.
With a hundred yards still to go he pulled his horse down to a trot and then shortly to a walk. Thirty or forty painted Comanches surrounded George Ray. Sitting on his horse close by was the boy Ad. The bucks, their rifles held menacingly across their ponies’ withers, with their fingers on the triggers, were scowling at the two white.
“What do you want?” the trail boss demanded, halting a dozen feet from the chief. He figured he might as well make his bluff and get it over with.
Two or three of the Indians were shouting, “Whoa-haw! Whoa-haw!” Raymond knew that meant beef.
“You capitan?” a naked buck, wearing a brilliant war bonnet of eagle feathers, trimmed with beads and ermine, demanded contemptuously. He was obviously the head chief.
“Yes, I’m boss,” Raymond answered.
The Comanche spoke slowly. Hate was blazing from his eyes.
“Go back!” The Indian swung his bare arm toward the south. “Get out! This is Indians’ land.”
Glancing ahead Raymond saw a score of braves surrounding the grub wagon. He hoped that Baldy and old Levit, now well enough to ride on the seat, would not start shooting. There were too many of these Indians. He and his men might handle twenty or thirty, but not two hundred.
“The Great White Father has bought this beef for the Indians,” Raymond began slowly.
The Comanche shook his head. “We want buffalo. White men kill him. We starve. Our squaws and babies starve.”
The three white riders heard a rifle shot to their rear. A half dozen Indians had ridden into the herd and were shooting down steers.
Raymond held up his hand. “Stop them!” he ordered. “We’ll talk.”
The Indian grunted. “I take ten beef”.
“Five,” Raymond argued. “Five is plenty.”
The chief shook his head. “Ten,” he pronounced.
Raymond hesitated long enough to survey the scene. Already the young bucks had each shot down a steer. He suspected that this chief was Quanah Parker, irreconcilable half-breed, who was now the commanding figure of the whole Comanche tribe. Fort Sill was less than fifty miles away, but at Red River Crossing he had heard that the new fort was feebly garrisoned, and that the Comanches and Kiowas were about to start their annual spring raiding.
One false move and he would not only lose his cattle and remuda but the life of every man might be snuffed out. He glanced at his Segundo and Ad. They were sitting motionless on their ponies, their faces drawn and white, their fingers gripping their pistol butts. But it was silly to think of fighting.
“All right,” he finally granted. “Ten head.”
The chief turned to one of the naked warriors by his side. He spoke briefly in the Comanche dialect. The young man galloped off toward the Indians who were shooting into the herd.
Ahead at the wagon Baldy was cursing to himself as he handed out tobacco and dried fruit. The herd had moved off the trail and the cattle close to where the beeves were being killed had broken and were running to the east.
“Keep ‘em movin’” Raymond said, half under his breath, motioning with his head toward the scattered herd.
George Ray, the Segundo, swung his pony to the left and galloped toward the cattle.
“You better go, too, Ad,” Raymond added.
“I’m going to stay with you,” the boy answered.
The chief turned his pony toward the dead beeves. Raymond and Ad rode near by. There was no counting then. What difference did it make if they had killed an extra five or ten” Raymond couldn’t do anything about it.
Already a half hundred painted warriors had dashed up on their war ponies and, flinging themselves to the ground, were butchering the animals. The main herd moved toward the north. A scant mile to the eastward Raymond made out the dust of the remuda. Pancho was one smart Mexican; when the trouble came, he had quickly swung the cavvy to the left, pushing them as far out of the danger zone as he dared.
Raymond thought of his prize palomino. These Indians would gladly go to any length to secure such a beautiful and valuable animal as this California horse. He’d turned down $500 for him in San Antonio. If there was anything he’d fight for, it was his palomino. And it looked now as if the horse was safe.
Raymond raised his hand in farewell salute. The chief answered. The Indian had his mind on a chunk of raw beef liver.
There were more herds coming. That company of poorly mounted soldiers at Fort Sill could no more catch these Comanches than they could run down a herd of antelope. There was plenty of fresh meat here to last these Indians a day or two while their war ponies fattened on the new grass. Then they’d touch up another herd before moving south to raid the Staked Plains and the scattered ranches of West Texas.
To these Indians it seemed good to be alive on such a day in spring—to be alive and naked, with brother warriors riding near and hated white men to rob.
Raw beef liver was tasty. But not as good as liver ripped from a buffalo cow that was still kicking.
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