A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Last updated: February 6, 2020
It was a mean herd of mossyhorns. Most of them were old and tough, and when their great horns were so covered with dark scales and wrinkles that they looked as if they were hung with dried moss.
“Never saw such an ornery-looking bunch of critters in my life,” Bill Bland commented dryly as he rode the flank alongside Ad. “If we ever get these bush-poppers as far as Wyoming I’ll figure we’re plenty lucky.
Ad didn’t say anything but he thought plenty. This drive would be dangerous to suit anybody, and it would end somewhere in the Wyoming land that he’d been dreaming so much about. He’d see new country. Maybe he’d stay up there.
“Hope we’ll get back to Texas alive,” Bill went on dryly. “Hear this Long Drive is bad going.”
“Reckon we can make it—if anybody can,” Ad ventured. He’d never ridden with as hard a bunch of hombres as this outfit. It’d take more than bad rivers and stampeded and dry drives and even Indians to stop them.
Three weeks after the herd left the Brasada country near the Rio Grande, the outfit forded the twisting, treacherous San Antonio River, and two afternoons later camped a few miles east of the lovely old city. Ad was to go in with the first half of the men for his night off.
It was almost eleven o’clock when he finished with the barbershop and made one or two little purchases. This time instead of going straight into the big dance hall of the Casa Blanca, he hurried down the path that led to the door of the small side room. He knocked softly and in a few moments the door was opened.
There, silhouetted by the light, stood a slender woman in a ruffled, black silk gown, cut low around the throat, showing the soft white arms and bare shoulders. The boy took off his wide-brimmed hat, and the single word “Felicia” came from his astonished lips.
The girl looked into the boy’s wide-open eyes. “Tu!” she spoke softly, using the intimate word for “you.”
The boy made not move, and the next moment the girl clapped her hands and cried out to the old Mexican woman, hovering in the background: “Tia Anita! Look! Eet ees heem! He ees come!” Then she held out both her hands to the boy.
Dancing with happiness, she led him inside the little room and closed the door. Embarrassed, he pulled a paper bundle from the pocket of his coat and handed it to Felicia. Ten seconds later the excited girl had a black and red rebozo about her shoulders. “Eeet ees beautiful,” she cried. “An’ you are so beeg. You are a beeg vacquero now. Eet ees wonderful!”
The boy was beginning to find words again: “You don’t look the same either, Felicia. You got your hair al done up now like a regular lady.”
The girl's fingers touched the high-back Spanish ornament set in her hair, and then her soft hand caressed ever so lightly the cheeks of the boy. “ Theenk maybe you neevair come back to me,” she plagued him.
Didn’t you get my letter that I wrote you this winter?” he asked.
“Si, si—but it did not geeve the address. But I know that same day you come back. Seet down, my fren’.”
So it was that the lonely boy and the lonely girl began their few short hours of happy reunion. When her work was ended, they walked home together. At the gate of the little adobe house the old woman left them alone while they said their good-by.
“Every night when I’m out under the stars with the cattle I keep thinking about you,” Ad said falteringly. “I ain’t going to ever forget you. And some day when I get rich I’m coming back for you…. Would you go up the trail with me then?”
The girl nodded her head. “An’ all de time I theenk of you too. When I sing ees to you I sing. An’ when I dance eet ees for you I dance.” Her soft hands turned the boy’s face so that in the moonlight she could see the earnest look in his eyes.
Then she kissed his lips, and a second later was flying up the steps.
The herd at last was headed straight north—walking with the grass.
For Ad the pages and chapters in this second edition of his trail book differed little from the first. He missed his old night- herd pardner, Levit Wells, but gradually Charley Reed began to fill the empty place in his life. Charley could sing the Texas Lullaby or Cow Tamer better than most waddies, and he could play the harmonica too. When he’d cup his hands around his mouth organ he could put an extra mournful touch on even the saddest of the cowboy ballads.
It didn’t take so very much to make a cow hand feel triste all over. All he had to do is was to think about his girl back home, or his poor old mother, or about what a hard lonesome life he was leading. Cowboys on the great sweeping prairies were as close to the stars and the Big Something as sailors on the boundless sea. A puncher knew that he was just a tiny cork bobbing about in an ocean of eternity—a horseman on a phantom mount riding into the night and the everlasting wind.
So the weeks swung by, and the first thing the men knew they were pushing across the Kansas line. A stray rider told them they should have followed a trail that ran northwest of Salt Creek across Cherokee Outlet in The Nations, but the boss wasn’t impressed. He now ordered the herd pointed toward the northeast; he figured there’d be better grass off the main-traveled route. But early next morning he found he’d made a mistake.
He was riding up with the points when, a quarter mile ahead, he saw a dozen men or more leave a sod house and start toward the trailing herd. Soon he could make out that they were carrying guns. He shook loose his reins. There was nothing to do but face this new and unforeseen menace head on.
He pulled up in front of the group. He could see that most of the weapons were shotguns, and he knew instinctively that these bearded, hard-bitten men were nesters, “Fool hoe men” who had as little love for Texas as he had for them.
One stoop-shouldered, poorly dressed man in a greasy worn black hat with a wide floppy brim, stepped out and raised his hand. “You’ve gone just as far as you’re going, Mister,” he said, biting out his words, and spitting contemptuously.
“Get that herd out of here or we’ll fill it full of buckshot—and maybe you too.”
Bill Bland was no coward, but he knew when the odds were too great. “I just want to pass my herd through, gentlemen. I won’t let ‘em graze until night comes.”
“You won’t never let ‘em graze round here,” the old nester asserted. “We’ve had enough of your Texas fever killing our stock. And we’ve had enough of you Texas fellers and your bullying. We ain’t going to waste no time arguin’. That way’s west. If you’re smart you’ll get going.”
Bill eased himself deep in the saddle hopin’ to break the strain by appearing calm and casual. “But this is Government cattle. I’m delivering ‘em to Red Cloud agency for the Indians.”
“That’s double reason why they ain’t a-coming through here,” a younger man cut in. He, too, was poorly dressed, and his thin cheeks and deep-set gaunt eyes proved the hard days and bitter nights he’d lived through. “Why don’t the Government do something for us homesteaders ‘stead of helping a bunch of dirty, thieving, killing Indians? …. Don’t argue with ‘em no more, Jess.
The older man motioned for the interloper to keep still….” Now listen to me, young man,” he began, turning to Bland. “Our legislature made a law last session that here was to be no cattle trailed east of this line. We’re seeing to it that it’s enforced…. Best thing you can do is to head west along the south side of the Arkansas. It’s a nice grassy valley. You can cross at a place called Great Bend. From there the trail goes on to Hayes City, and then you can head on north.“
Charley Reed and Ad and George Ray had joined the trail boss by this time. George was scowling at the despised, hoemen. Suddenly he pulled close to Bill, his right hand on his pistol butt.
“Why don’t you tell this bunch of dirt-eating shorthorns to go to hell?“ he blurted out, tying it up with a string of oaths.
In a second the four men on horseback were looking down the muzzles of a dozen shotguns. A lean man with a bad limp walked slowly toward George. “It’d give me quite a lot of pleasure to blow you off that horse,” he said between his teeth. “I fought your kind all the way from Donelson to Savannah. To kill one more of you wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all.”
Bill Bland looked over the play. “Turn the herd west,” he said in a low voice. Then he nodded at the men on foot, “All right, Yanks. Guess you-al win.”
This was not the first time hoemen had bent the cow trail to the west. In the end-a scarce ten years away-it would be bent completely out of Kansas.
Two weeks later the herd forded the Arkansas a little below the Great Bend. The next day they nooned on Walnut Creek, and in less than a week crossed the Smoky Hill and were camped alongside Big Creek, a few miles from the buzzing cow town of Hays City, on the Kansas Pacific Railroad.
While they were nooning that day a buyer rode up in a buggy to look over the cattle. Bill Bland explained that the herd was bound for the Indian country and was not for sale, but as it was near dinnertime he insisted that the visitor eat with them.
“Well, reckon next year Fort Dodge, on southwest of here on the Santa Fe, will be the big cattle market,” the buyer prophesied, lighting his cigar. “Hays City’s about through. Homesteaders are beginning to crowd in here. It’s nothing short of a crime to see ‘em turning this good grass wrong side up.”
Ain’t there no law that can protect the rancher?” the trail boss questioned.
“Law’s all the other way,” the cattle buyer answered. “There’s ten voters who are farmers to one stockman. What chance has a cowman against a proposition like that…The other day I had supper with a friend who had just come from Illinois. He said they’re making a new kind of wire back there called barbed wire—for fencing cattle pastures.”
“Bet this bunch of long-eared jack rabbits I got here would go through it at forty-mile and hour,” Bill said.
“Don’t know about that,” the cattle buyer replied with a shake of his head. “This wire’s tough, and it’s got long barbs tied onto it ever’ six or eight inches.”
“Costs too much money, don’t it?”
The buyer shook his head. “Cheapest good fence there is—cheaper’n boards or any kind of homemade fence. They say there’s never been anything like it. Some day it’ll mean the end of open ranges.”
Bill and the others let the momentous words sink in. Slowly the stranger went on: “But, of course, that’ll take a long time. There’s lots of free land left. Why, the Indians still got millions of acres of grass. But it won’t be long until the Government’ll find a way to get ‘em off and turn it over to cowmen.”
“Letting white men kill off the buffalo is about the best idea the Washington Government ever had. Indians can’t live as savages unless they got their buffalo. So if you kill them off, there ain’t nothing left for the Indians to do but go on the reservations. Then the whites can have all them millions of acres of buffalo range for their cattle. It’ll be a great boom for Texas when that happens, Mr. Bland. You’ll have hundreds of new ranches to stock.”
Ad was listening intently. A little shyly he pushed into the conversation. “How about the Wyoming Territory country” Reckon the upper part’s going to be opened up before long?“
“Was talkin’ only yesterday to a feller who knows all about that,” the buyer answered. “name’s Buffalo Bill Cody. He came form around Hayes. Made his reputation killing buffalo for the railroad contractors, and he used to scout for General Custer, along with Wild Bill Hickock. He said this whole Indian mess would be coming to a head before long. Seems like this discovering gold in the Black Hills up in Dakota Territory last year was like throwing a match in a keg of powder.
“You see, the Government made some kind of a foolish treaty with the Indians in 1868 that was supposed to deed ‘em all this Black Hills country and the land around Powder River and the Big Horns in Wyoming Territory.“
Bill Bland mulled this over. Then he said” “How do the Back Hills fit into this picture?”
“Well, last summer General Custer went in there to look around, and it seems like they found plenty gold. And now there’s a big rush of miners and people trying to get in, and the army is supposed to keep ‘em out. The Indians are mad as hornets, and it looks like they might go on the warpath. They been killing people all spring up around the Platte. Guess they ain’t going to give in easy. They got a big chief named Sitting Bull who’s head of all the hostiles. And there’s another big chief named Red Cloud.“
“Red Cloud?” Bill Bland repeated. “Why this herd is for him. We’re to deliver it to the Red Cloud Agency.”
“Well, my friend, I don’t care for your job.” The buyer got to his feet. “Guess I better be goin’ back to town, boys. Thanks for the dinner. Hope you all get through with the hair still on your heads.”
The herd of big beeves pushed on north from Fort Hayes and three weeks later struck the wide shallow Platte some ten miles west of Fort Kearney. The trail boss was uncertain about the exact location of the Red Cloud Agency, but he figured it was somewhere near the Platte and close to the Wyoming border.
From a wagon-covered emigrant who drifted into camp that night, the men heard further rumors of unrest among the Indians. Not far from here, this very spring, a raiding party swooped down on a wagon and murdered a man and his wife and three children.
“And this is 1875—and the war has been over for ten years,” Bill Bland said for utter contempt for a supreme government that would permit such things to happen.
Next morning, he turned the herd west along the south side of the Platte and headed toward hostile Indian country.
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