A Stampede on the Ft. Graham Trail - Written for Frontier Times, by D. B. Smith, Bonham, Texas
In the early seventies this scribe went with a neighbor to Salado Mills, down below Belton, with a load of wheat. Shepherd Neff, the brother of Pat M. Neff, was there also with a kinsman awaiting their turn to get their grinding. After two days both groups got their grinding, so with flour, shorts and bran stowed away under covered wagons, we both started home late in the afternoon. It was the last of March but the weather was fine and the grass good. We camped on a little glade near a spring, which headed a branch that ran into the Lampasas river. A large herd of South Texas cattle was browsing not far away. The boss came to our camp to get some recruits, as two or three of his boys were down with measles. He was anxious, he said, to get to the west of the Perry Hills where the grass was reported good. As he just wanted the new hands until his sick boys got up, and as two or three days drive would land us near our homes, Shep and myself agreed to go with the herd.
We went immediately to the cow camp where the chuck wagons and surplus ponies were herded. The wagons and extra ponies were driven direct from one camp to the next night camp, while the herd were driven along the grassy ridges, avoiding the towns and settlements. As Shepherd Neff knew well the country from the Lampasas to the Bosque he was a valuable aid to the boss.
We took our turn at midnight relieving the first shift, but the sky was clear and the moon having come up about ten, made the night ideal. Nothing disturbed our riding around the outer edge of the cattle, and about two in the morning nearly all the cattle ceased browsing, many lay down, while others stood chewing their cuds. So we dismounted, and held our lariats to let our ponies graze, but ready to mount at a moment's notice. An occasional wolf howl, many jack rabbits jumping up here and there, with a lone cougar mourning in the far distance, made up for the otherwise dreary wee hours of the first night out.
The next day we made good progress camping this side of Nolan creek, near Belton. The third day or fourth night out we reached Cedar Creek, and the fifth night we herded on Stampede Creek, some six or more miles from Neff Grove.
After we had eaten our irregular meal, for we were lucky to get even two chances per day at the chuck wagons, the boss came to the wagon camp and said he feared a storm, as the day had been hot and still, with a dark streak hanging in the northwest, so both shifts were ordered to stay in saddle till after midnight, or until the danger was over. The chuck wagons and ponies were driven farther away for safety, out of danger of a prospective stampede.
Shep and myself rode together along the front and passed the time reciting the incidents of the last few days, for where possible, cowboys rode two and two, for company and protection. The cloud in the northwest seemed to hang there and no signs of a storm were noticed, except the restless cattle and the double howls of the coyotes.
Sometime after midnight, it becoming very still, Shep remarked: "Tighten your girths, make sure your lariat and mount, there is something coming." In about ten or fifteen minutes we heard a roaring in the northwest, the lightning flashed and a keen clap of thunder brought the herd, some thousand South Texas long horns, to their feet and off they dashed. The herd partly divided where we were, so Shep ordered me to go to the right and he dashed to the left .
My pony forged ahead of the long horns, while I yelled, shouted and whooped to the top of my voice, gradually turning the leaders to the right. With claps of thunder, streaks of lightning and a downpour of rain and hail, the cattle lowing, some bellowing, with an occasional yell from a cowboy comrade, we raced, jostled the cattle, jumped ravines and gullies for some two hours.
At first the headers seemed to divide, as before stated, Shep and myself being in the lead, he turned his part, the smaller, faster, and these soon turned back to the main bunch. My leaders at first turned to the right but met the outer edge, with cowboys yelling, coming towards the left. Thus our wings met, gradually changed back and made a dead straight run north. My pony became a little jaded, but with spur and quirt I urged him on mostly for my own safety, for if the full bunch had overtaken me and my pony fell, I would have been at the mercy of their thousands of tramping feet. The front of the cattle must have run two or three miles and the line was getting thin and long strung out. About the break of day, the lightning and thunder became less intense, and the cattle gradually slowed down to a trot, and looking just ahead I observed the noted "Haunted hill." The leaders turned to the right, then I spurred my pony to the left around the hill and met the leaders about two thirds around and turned them back. In a few minutes another boy came from the other outer edge and turned them back. The cattle gradually milled around, some began to graze, while others began to lie down. Then other boys came from both sides and about six of us held the half mile front in check until most of the other cattle had come up.
We let them graze and held the line until about noon; then the clouds drifted away, the sun shone out, and the sick boys with fresh ponies came to our relief. One of the boys went with Shep and myself to the Neff home to bring back the ponies, and from these I went to my home' a few miles north. I believe I slept for three days after that allnight run, but soon was ready for another cattle stampede.