A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Last updated: March 3, 2020
Niobrara County Historical Society / Stagecoach Museum
March 1, 1940
As told by Frazier Hunt, originally published in The Country Gentleman, December 1939, January, February, and March 1940
They shipped the beef that fall from Pine Bluffs and, three days later, the outfit was back on Horse Creek at the home ranch, and the horses thrown on their own range. The cattle would be left to look after themselves, with only a rider or two to keep track of them.
The foreman called Ad to one side. “Reckon you and Boots’ll have to range-herd them horses again this winter,” he said. “We can’t take no chances with as valuable a pony herd as we got. I want you to take charge.”
Ad accepted the sentence. He knew he was thoroughly learning the business of the open range, and that he was getting along. He’d ridden almost every inch of country from the South Platte to the North Platte, and from the Rockies deep into Nebraska. He was already a top hand, and he was only started. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, and somehow or other he’d get there.
First of all, he wanted to land a job as a foreman. That was the only way he could make enough money to start a little outfit of his own. Herds were already beginning to drift above the North Platte into the old Indian country, and he’d want to be heading up there himself before the choice locations were taken up and the range crowded. Most of the Indians in the Powder River and Yellowstone country had been rounded up by General Miles, but there were still a few brands of irreconcilables wandering in the millions of acres of rough country of this vast Wyoming-Montana-Dakota land.
Ad would be twenty-two this coming April. He’d been working hard now for twelve years. Half of every cent he’d earned up to the day he was twenty-one had gone home to his father, but he wouldn’t have to keep sending money from now on. He’d got his brother Amos to come on out to Wyoming and he’d landed him a good job. His folks had moved to Nickerson, Kansas, and were doing a little better. Ollie was working in a bank in Indiana; he’d punched cattle down in Texas for three or four years and then drifted back East.
The next spring Ad quit the JHD and hired out to John Sparks’ outfit, with Bill Shaw as foreman. Shaw in turn sent him to “rep” with the Two Bar outfit, owned by Swan Brothers and Frank, over in the Laramie Peak country.
The roundup was in charge of an old-time Texan, Zack Thomson, regular foreman of the Swan Brothers and Frank outfit. Alexander H. Swan was an Easterner who had come to Wyoming Territory with the railroad, while his partner, Joe Frank, was a Californian and one of the heirs of the great Michael Reece estate. (Later this outfit was sold to a Scotch concern, and under the title of the Swan Land and Cattle Company weathered every onslaught of good times and hard times, and ended up as the most famous outfit in Wyoming cow history.)
Zack took a liking to the way Ad worked and saw to it that he always rode near him. They were now working the headwaters of a creek some twelve or fifteen miles north of Cheyenne. This particular noon Ad was riding alongside Zack.
“Looks like we got some visitors,” the roundup boss announced when they started toward Zack’s wagon.
Ad could see a two-seated spring wagon standing near the grub wagon, with the team unhitched and tied to the wheels. Two saddle ponies were hobbled and grazing nearby.
“Recon its Swan and Frank,” Zack casually remarked. “Wonder who the others are.”
They rode on a few seconds, and now they could see plainly that one of the visitors was a girl. She was sitting on the ground, leaning against a wheel of the wagon. She’d taken off her gay little hat and the June wind was playing havoc with her heavy brown hair. Her head was thrown back and she was laughing at something one of the men was saying.
The two riders pulled up their horses, stepped down and dropped their long reins to the ground. Ad carefully loosened his cinch and shook the saddle so that a little air could circulate under the wet blanket. Cow ponies were taught to stand as if hitched, when their long reins were dropped to the ground.
Ad had met Alec Swan and Joe Frank; and after Zack had been introduced to Miss Bailey and her father, and to a Mr. Manville and Mr. Peck, Ad’s turn came.
“Here, Estelle,” Alec Swan said his eyes twinkling, “here’s your real cowboy for you. Ad, take care of Miss Bailey while we talk over a little business with Zack.”
Ad took off his gray sombrero and bowed to the young woman. He had on his working clothes and he hadn’t shaved for a week, but for some reason the warm and friendly welcome in her hazel eyes relieved him of embarrassment.
She held out her hand to him. “Pull me up, please,” she commanded. “Come and help me see if I have Moon staked out properly.”
Her close-fitting riding habit matched her wealth of waving hair. And when she smiled at him Ad thought he had never seen such lovely teeth and such warm generous lips.
“See you’re ridin’ one of those silly side-saddles,” he remarked wryly.
She looked up at him and laughter rippled like swift-running water. “You wouldn’t want me to ride astride dressed in men’s trousers, would you?”
Ad grinned. “Well. I’m afraid that horned shinplaster you got there wasn’t built for roping longhorns and swimming rivers.”
“You do all those things?” she questioned admiringly.
“I been working around cattle since I was ten. I was only fourteen when I started up the Chisholm Trail with my first herd of Texas longhorns.”
Her eyes opened wide when she looked into his blue ones. “You are a real cowboy, aren’t you?”
“No more’n any of the rest of ‘em. He answered slowly. “But I’m not going to be just a cowboy all my life. . . “
Then before he knew it, he was telling this lovely sympathetic young woman all about his dream of going above the North Platte, picking out a range in the virgin country and some day building his own ranch. And she repaid his confidence by explaining how her mother was dead and how she had come West from New York State with her father, Samuel L. Bailey, who was looking into mining investments for a group of Eastern capitalists; and how deeply the pure air and the mountains and the endless rolling prairies had touched her.
“I’d like to stay in this beautiful country forever,” she said softly, gazing at the mountains far to the west.
Estelle Bailey insisted on holding her own tin plate and cup while the cook filled them. Then she led the way to the edge of the circle of men and had Ad sit down beside her. She demanded that Ad explain all about how roundups worked and how the open range was run. Then she questioned him about the great drives up the Chisholm Trail.
Before the two quite knew it, the others had finished their dinner, and the remuda was brought up. Ad had said good-by reluctantly and had roped a fresh mount, when he heard Zack calling him.
“You won’t need to go on circle this afternoon, Ad,” the foreman said. “Mr. Swan’s got something he wants to talk with you about.”
Ad dropped the reins and walked over toward the big cowman. Mr. Swan was standing by the wagon chatting with his guests, Mr. Manville and Mr. Peck.
“Ad,” Swan began, “these gentlemen here are going into the cow business. Zack has recommended you to me, and I’m passing you on to their tender mercies.” Then he turned on his heel and strode away.
Mr. Manville did most of the talking. He and Mr. Peck were businessmen from Milwaukee, he explained, and they’d decided to come West and invest in cattle. They’d already contracted for 2000 Oregon steers to be delivered on the Laramie Plains the end of July. What they wanted was a foreman to go in the new country above the North Platte, pick out a range and then rig up an outfit, receive the cattle, and then drive them to the chosen location. Quietly they questioned Ad as to his experience, and within twenty minutes for the time the conversation opened they hired him as foreman at $75 a month and keep. It would be some weeks, however, before Mr. Manville would be ready to start out from Cheyenne in search of a range. Meantime, Ad would help finish the roundup.
For a half hour more the three men talked grass and cattle. Presently the team was being hitched to the buggy, and Ad turned to help Estelle bridle her mare.
“Guess I might as well tell you my good luck,” he said slowly.
“You mean you got the job?” she asked, her eyes dancing.
He nodded. “we’re going to pick out a new range in the old Indian country. That’s what I always wanted to do.”
Her voice was proud and kind. “That’s splendid!” she exclaimed. “I’m terribly glad.”
Ad carefully tightened the double cinches. Then he formed a stirrup with his two strong hands and boosted her up to her saddle.
“Why don’t you ride a ways with is?” she suggested. “It’ll be fun.” Ad hesitated.
“Come on,” she begged. “I’ve got a lot of things I want to talk to you about….Why I haven’t even told you where to write to me.”
But by the time Ad turned back, just at dusk, he had found out all about where to write her—and many more things. In a day or two he’d be riding into Cheyenne to have an evening with her. It’d mean he’d have to spend the rest of the night in the saddle getting back to camp by sunup, but he didn’t mind.
Within the week she and her father would be returning to the East. But they’d be coming back some day.
It wasn’t long before the roundup was working Iron Mountain country over between Cheyenne Pass and Cheyenne. One noon the outfit camped for dinner at the mouth of the pass. They’d pretty well cleaned up the country, and everyone figured on jogging on in to the cow-town capital that afternoon and having a little fun. Zack Thomason had ridden in that morning and left Ad in charge of the roundup.
The forenoon was cold and stormy for late May and a gray haze settled down over the tops of the mountains. The wind was rising and it began spitting snow. The clouds were beginning to roll down off the sides of the high hills into the valleys and plains, and every indication was that the country was in for one of those severe spring snowstorms that plague the mountain country.
Dinner was over and the men were tightening their cinches in preparation for a final circle, when a little girl of nine came down the canyon at a full gallop. Her hair was streamlining down her back and her eyes were red from weeping. Obviously, she was bearing bad news.
The men solicitously gathered around her panting horse, but she burst into tears when she tried to talk, Kindly hands lifted her down and tried to soothe her distress. Soon they could made out her story.
Early that morning her eight-year-old brother had left their ranch on foot to find his pony that had broken away from the grazing rope. When he had not returned in an hour or so the little girl and her mother had become worried and had tried to find him. The father was bullwhacking a Cheyenne-Deadwood freight outfit and there was no man around the little ranch. Finally, the frightened girl had ridden for help.
Ad immediately called off the afternoon roundup, and all hands mounted and rode to the ranch. They were able the pick up the trail of the boy heading toward Cheyenne Pass, but soon it was lost. It seemed certain, however, that the lad was following his pony through the pass and out by Pole Mountain, where the canyon debouched into the Laramie Plains.
It was snowing hard when the men reached the head of the canyon, and Ad ordered them to spread out for the hunt. There were close to a hundred men all told; and splitting into two groups with the old covered-wagon trail between them, they formed a skirmish line, riding close enough to one another to insure no chance of missing the boy. Three or four miles on west on the old California Trail was a small parkland and Ad instructed the men to meet there. If anyone found the boy he was to telegraph the news by three pistol shots.
It was mid afternoon when the men, empty-handed and grim, met at the park. Again Ad instructed the cowboys to spread out and meet some miles ahead at the north side of Pole Mountain.
It was dark when the searchers gathered at the designated point. All hopes of a night off in Cheyenne had long ago vanished. A helpless little boy was wandering about in these dangerous wastes, hungry and half frozen. There was grave doubt if he could survive the cold of these high foothills. And there were other hazards even more terrible than an easy death from exposure.
The snowstorm had eased off, and soon the heavy clouds parted and a full moon cut through the menacing darkness. A third and fourth net was spread. Then, about nine o’clock, when hope was pretty well abandoned, the echo of three rapid shots rolled up and down the hills. The men eagerly strode toward the sound.
There in the snow was the clear footprint of the boy. Ad took the lead, urging his horse forward at a trot. A half hour later someone pointed out a figure far ahead. The men galloped forward.
It was the boy alright. When the men in the lead shouted to him he started to run. Ad flung himself from his horse and, pleading with the boy to stop, followed him on foot. But Ad’s high-heeled boots made his steps slow and uncertain in the wet snow, and the frenzied lad outran him.
One of the men quietly took down his rope and made a loop. It seemed a cruel thing to lasso the boy, but there was no other way they could catch him. When the little fellow was jerked off his feet, Ad hurried up to him and took him in his arms. The crazed and exhausted lad struggled the best he could. Then he gave up and clinging to his rescuer, sobbed his heart out.
Ad shook free his slicker and quickly pulled off his coat. He wrapped it around the wet and shaking figure. Then he lifted him to the arms of Jim Harkness, who had a child of his own at home.
A quarter way back to the ranch it started to snow hard. The moon hid its face behind dark clouds and the trail became indistinct. A pack of gray timber wolves crossed the trail a little ahead of the strange cavalcade. Ad and the men in the lead actually rode straight into the snarling, bristling animals. The boy screamed when he saw the man-killers, then he nestled back into Jim’s arms and was soon deep in a sleep of complete exhaustion. The men shuddered when they realized what his fate might have been.
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