A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Last updated: February 6, 2020
The next two years slipped swiftly past. It was now early June, 1874, and dreams were already beginning to come true for the slender young cowboy and his father. In the rich bottom lands below the house, forty acres of corns danced in the blazing Kansas sun.
For the boy, now seventeen, the two short years had been busy, crowded ones. During a few short weeks of each of the two winters he had ridden his pony five miles to a sod schoolhouse. He could read and spell, and even write some now.
It was a great day when he addressed his first letter to Felicia. It read:
Deer Felicia: I would like to see you. I am well and hope you are the same. Some day I can ride my pony bluebird to Texas to see you. Your frend, Addison Spaugh, Marion Center, Kas.
Weeks later at Easter time a gaily colored card in an envelope came addressed to Ad. At the bottom of the card four words had been written in pencil: “Su amiga cara, Felicia.”
He figured out the word amiga. That meant friend. But he didn’t know that “su” was yours, and “cara” meant dear. But “friend” was enough to make his happy. And besides, this was the first letter he had ever received. One night while he was herding Crane’s cattle, he confided his dreams of love to Porcupine. He was disappointed when the old fellow mildly expressed his doubts about “Mex gals.”
But subsequent events drove Porcupine’s skepticism from Ad’s mind. For one thing, in these early July days of his second summer at home, a brassy sun beat down pitilessly on the young corn. The ends of the long, tender leaves began to curl and turn a sickly color.
If rain didn’t come in ten days the corn and the grass would be burned up. Ad and his father were counting heavily on both. The corn crop would bring them some badly needed cash. And they’d have to start almost at once cutting grass on creek bottoms for winter hay. The fifty head of cows that they had bought on time from Mr. Crane already were showing the effects of the hot, dry days.
The rain certainly couldn’t hold off much longer. But men of the good earth always tempered their despair with tomorrow’s hopes. Surely the kind Lord would not strike down these courageous Kansas pioneers with two years of bad luck in a row. Crops hadn’t been too bad in the summer of ’73, but the panic had ruined prices, and the country had been overrun with Texas herds that could not be sold at any price and had been held over the winter.
Men and women searched the blue-white skies for rain clouds. But there was no rain.
Then, strangely enough, a cloud showed itself far off to the west. It was an odd cloud, It hung quite close to the earth. No one had ever seen anything quite like if before.
It couldn’t be a cyclone. Kansas twisters came whirling along faster than one of the new Atchison Railroad trains. This was slow-moving and there was something foreboding and sinister about it. Men watched it with helpless fear as they had watched death steal into lonely frontier homes on black nights.
Then the Thing reached them, overtook them in all its pitiless and devastating cruelty. Grown men and women prayed; then they cursed and tore their hair. But this living plague of destruction marched ahead on its billion feet.
Grasshoppers! Great, evil-looking creatures, devouring the hopes of brave dreamers. Grasshoppers marching in regiments, in brigades, in armies—eating every living thing in their broad path; laying waste a countryside, breaking hearts, destroying faith, defying God and the devil alike.
Then almost as quickly as they came, they were gone. The boy and his father walked silently across the bare earth where once had stood their green fields of corn. Then they strode over the land that only a few days before had been rich hay flats.
All was ruined. They had been betrayed. They and their dreams had been mocked and laughed at.
“We can take the cows back to Mr. Crane,” the father said in a dry, hard voice. “Maybe he’ll let us give ‘em to him and tear up our notes.”
Ad waited almost a minute before he spoke. “I can go back to Texas this fall,” he said slowly. “I can send you some money then. I’ll send you at least half of all I earn. Maybe more’n that.”
The father patted the boy’s shoulder, and his eyes were moist. Ad was a good boy. He was true and manly. He wanted only to help.
Down around Cowskin Creek, a few miles south of Wichita, Ad threw in with a trail outfit returning to Texas.
He hardly looked seventeen, or to be exact, his seventeen and a half. Even in his high-heeled cowboy boots he wasn’t more than five feet six inches tall, but he was wiry and round chested, and hard as nails. The Kansas of the past two summers had burned his skin to a dark tan. And he was a fully competent cow hand, sure fire with a rope, and plenty of cow sense. Most of one year on the Cottonwood range back in central Kansas he had worked with a foreman from California and he had finely polished his range technique under this master cowman. While he never thought of himself as a peeler, he could ride any horse in the average rough string.
He often wondered what he’d say to Felicia when he met her. He’d written her two or three times but he wasn’t much good at letter writing. He’d received funny little half-English, half-Spanish notes in reply. He knew that she’d been thinking a good deal about him too.
It was late August when the little cavalcade pointed to the east around San Antonio and made camp on the twisting, faithless river that bore its name. The next morning Ad said good-by to the men who had been so kind to him, and pulled on into the city.
At the livery stable where he and Raymond had put up their horses two years before, he heard a familiar squall and then George Ray was pumping his arm.
“Been-a-wondering and a-wondering about you,” George declared. “Saw your brother Ollie last year going up the trail, but I ain’t seen hide not hair since we drove them bush-poppers north two summers ago. . . . How come?”
Ad told the story of how the grasshopper plague had ruined him and his father, and how he had just arrived in town and was looking for a job.
“Say, Bill Bland was in here less’n an hour ago looking for a man to ride herd on a bunch of stock cattle forty mile south of here. Let’s go find him. Maybe you can auger yourself into a job.”
The top hand led the way down the street. At the fifth bar they located a tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped man with a pair of gray-blue eyes that one second could be warm and friendly and the next second hard and cold as steel. He’d been a boy soldier in the Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia, and he had brought back from the war a definite sense of the cheapness of human life. Fearless, experienced, tolerant and liberal, he was nevertheless a killer.
“Bill,” George drawled, “this boy heah is one of the finest hands ever I worked with. He can rope anything that’s got hair on it—and he’s plumb trustworthy. We rode up the Chisholm Trail together two years ago, and I can tell you that he’ll do to ride the rivers with.”
The lean foreman slowly looked the boy over. Finally he said: We’re only paying winter wages. How’d twenty-five a month strike you?”
“Whatever you say,” Ad agreed, trying not to appear too pleased.
“You’ll have to cook for yourself, but we’ll haul out the grub for you. When can you start?”
“Would tomorrow be too late?”
“That’ll be all right. The pasture you’ll be line-riding is about thirty miles west of the home ranch, but they’ll fix you out from headquarters….And maybe when the grass gets green you can go up the trail with us.”
Once in the street Ad stepped out briskly in the direction of the Casa Blanca. He was afraid it would be too early to find Felicia there, but it would be worth the chance. Two or three girls were sauntering up the little walk that led to the side room. He saw that one of them was Marie, and he hurried toward her, shouting her name.
At first she did not recognize him.
“Marie, it’s me,” he stammered. “You know—Raymond Cloud’s friend?”
“Oh yes, Don Ramon’s muchacho. De sweetheart pf de leetle Felicia?”
“Yes. That’s me. Where is she? Where is Felicia?” He was gripping Marie’s bare arm and his eyes asked an answer.
“Felicia? Oh, she go long time ago to Monterrey. Maybe two month ago.”
“For good? Ain’t she ever coming back?”
“Oh sure. She come back. Maybe nex’ month. She go to Monterrey to tak’ de museec lesson. She come back.”
“She’s all right then? She’s good, huh?”
“Sure ting. And all de time she mak’ de talk ‘bout you. But you are beeg boy now—all de same as man.”
Ad grinned. For an hour he walked in the sunlight, conscious only that there was beauty and happiness in the world.Riding line fence and keeping track of the two thousand head of stock cattle in the Big Pasture was a hard and lonely job for the seventeen-year-old boy. His camp was an old pole cabin, such as the courageous Texas pioneers built out of material at hand in the early days. The sides were upright poles and the roof of brush was covered with a foot of dirt. Every two weeks a wagon came out from the home ranch with grub for him, and grain for his mounts.
He had forty miles of fence to ride on the ten-mile-square range. One morning he’d take in two ten-mile side, and then gallop back to his cabin across the middle of the range, The following morning he would ride the other two sides.
Christmas morning he rode over to the home ranch and sat in at a big dinner. That evening Bill Bland, the foreman, told him the news; they’d start for the Rio Grande county in about six weeks.
And they’d head the herd up the forbidden Indian land above the North Platte—to the Red Cloud Agency. That would be drive enough to suit anyone.
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