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Adventures on the Cattle Trail

Published May 13th, 2017 by Unknown


A. Collett Sanders, Littlefield, Texas,

I will give a short sketch of my life as trail boss from the '70's up to the end of the trail driving from Texas to the Northern markets.

The first herd I drove was for J. H. Stephens, well known as "Uncle Henry." He had fourteen nephews driving for him one year, and they all called him uncle Henry, so we did too. While driving one of his herds I had quite an experience with the Indians. When we got as far as Smoky hill River in Nebraska we found it out of its banks. As grass was plentiful and time no object, we decided to wait for the river to run down. Before long there were eight or nine herds waiting on the south bank for the river to get low enough to cross. A few miles east of our camps was a small settlement with a little schoolhouse nearby. A young lady, one of the settler's daughters, was teaching the school. While we were waiting there, about eighty-five or ninety Indians came along on a hunt, stopped at the schoolhouse and killed and scalped the teacher and two of the children. The Indians did not try to get away, as they knew the Government would do nothing with them, only carry them back to the reservation.

Some of the settlers came out to our camps and told us what had happened . They were greatly distressed over the matter, especially the young lady's father, and wanted to know if we could aid them in any way. Our men talked the situation over and we decided to go after the Indians. We elected a man by the name of Moore, from Nueces County, as our captain. He sent two men with one of the settlers to follow the Indians and locate their camps . They found them four miles west of the foot of a big sand hill, on the south side of the hill. Moore took four men from each trail camp, making thirty-two cowboys in all, and also a few of the settlers.

We were well armed—the trail men always were—and we were ready to fight to the utmost, for we were all very much wrought up over the crime which the Indians had just committed. After locating their camps we waited till about 3 o'clock in the morning, then went to the foot of the hill, dismounted and left our horses in care of two of the settlers. We walked to the top of the hill and did not have to wait long before the Indians began to get up and stretch themselves. When they were all sitting up on their beds we turned a volley from our Winchesters on them, and before they had time to recover from their astonishment we fired on them again. They began to run, but we got two more shots at them before they were out of gun reach. Every cowboy had sent a death message, for when the smoke had cleared away we found seventy-five dead and dying Indians. I do not think I killed any however, for I was so scared I think I overshot.

Only about fifteen ever showed up at the reservation. The majority never returned. The soldiers were sent out to bury them.

On another trip while working for Uncle Henry Stephens we boys got hungry for fresh meat. As we were going through the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, the second day after we had crossed Red River we saw a herd of buffalo. Two of my men cut out a 2-year-old heifer, one roped her by the head, the other by the heels and strung her out, while a third man cut her throat. I do not believe the modern cowboy could pull off a stunt like that.

In 1885 I went to Oldham County in the Panhandle and drove for the L. S. Cattle Company from Tascosa to Montana. On my last drive for these people the ranch foreman, J. E. McAllister, sent with me a young man from Illinois who had come to Texas to learn trail work. We reached Cimarron River in No Man's Land and camped in the valley. Just after we had finished our supper and saddled the night horses it began to rain and we all had to go to the herd and stay through the night, but my new recruit did not show up. The next morning I asked him why he did not go with us. He said he could not find one of his socks, so he crawled in the mess wagon with the cask to wait till daylight to find it. After that we all called him "Socks."

When we reached the Arkansas River it was up but we put the cattle in and they were swimming fine until my right hand pointer stopped to make a cigarette and they got to milling on a sandbar in the middle of the river. I had already crossed to the north side, but seeing them milling, I swam back and roped a cow and dragged her out by the horn of the saddle. Then all the cattle followed her to the north bank. About the time I landed and turned my cow loose I heard someone crying for help. I looked and saw it was Socks. He had in some way got loose from his horse and was about to drown. I threw him a rope. He grabbed at it but missed it. I threw him the rope again and he caught it and held on until I pulled him out. We rolled him on the grass till we got the water out of him. Always after that, when we came to a swollen stream, we had to make a raft to carry him over.

I worked one year for Tom Moore of Llano County and one year for George W. Littlefield of Gonzales County. From 1887 to the end of the trail driving I drove for the Worsham Cattle Company, known as the R-2 outfit. I drove five herds for them. All the cattlemen for whom I ever worked are now dead and many of the foremen.

I was born in, Lavaca County, Texas, and reared in Gonzales County. My father, J. L. Sanders, settled in Lavaca County in 1848, after he came out of the Mexican War. I have passed my three score and ten milepost and am still hale and hearty. Sometimes I sigh for the old cattle trail days.

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