MY EXPERIENCE ON THE RANGE AND ON THE TRAIL
Written by A. Huffmeyer, San Antonio.
From Frontier Times Magazine, April, 1924
The subject of this article was born in Kendall County, Texas, on a farm on the Guadalupe River, November 25, 1855. I was left an orphan at 4 years of age and taken to Castroville and put in charge of a foster mother by the name of Christilles. This was just a short time before the Civil War, and I lived there until after its close.
Those were hard times in this country. People thought they were making great sacrifices during the World War just ended; if they had gone through what the old pioneers of the Civil War had to they would see they had a picnic compared to that. Such a thing as a real cup of coffee was not to be had at all. Instead they roasted corn and acorns and mixed certain portions together and used it. Sugar, flour, syrup, or even the commonest grades of molasses, were luxuries not to be thought of.
I don't remember ever getting as much as a stick of barberpole candy for Christmas, nor a pair of shoes, even for Sunday wear. Fortunately, we had plenty of good fat beef, and milk and butter, and cornbread and vegetables we could raise, so nobody had to suffer the pangs of hunger.
On January 1, 1866, when I was 10 years old, my Uncle Louis Oge, who had a ranch out on the Frio River, Frio county, took charge of me and placed me in Saint Mary's College, San Antonio, where I stayed until January 1. 1870. About that time he came to San Antonio after a load of provisions and decided to take me along out to the ranch, mostly as company to his young wife, he having just recently married.
Now, you can imagine how glad I was to get out of that college, after having been cooped up for four long years. I felt like a bird out of a cage.
I was then 14 years old and never had any experience in ranch life. His ranch was located 35 miles southwest of where Pearsall is now, this being long before that town was started, and four miles above Frio Town, the county seat, which was just laid out and organized that year. His nearest neighbor was James Blackaller, who lived about 200 yards away, and the next nearest was Jake Vinton, two miles above on the river.
Well, after uncle had his wagon loaded we started for the ranch. The first day we traveled 32 miles, camping on the Francisco Creek, seven miles south of Castroville, which was about the last settlement on our trip. So far everything had gone all right, but the next day things were getting to look scary to me —nothing but heavy brush and prickly pear to see. I could imagine there was a bunch of Indians lying for us in every thicket. The only ranch we passed that day was the John Redus ranch on the Hondo.
After that there were no more until we reached home. The second day we camped on the Seco, about 12 miles from our destination, and just before we got to the creek we found where someone had killed a wild hog and left about one-half of it, only taking the hams and ribs. I asked my uncle who could have killed it. He replied possibly some ranchman living several miles up the creek.
That explanation was probably true, but it did not satisfy me at all. I could not think of anything but Indians having done it. So after we selected a camping ground a little way from the main road and, having had supper, spread down our pallet on the ground and turned in.
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My uncle was soon snoring away, but you can bet your life this kid did not sleep a wink that night for fear a bunch of Indians would pounce upon and kill us But my fears were all uncalled for, as nothing outside of the howling coyotes and lobo wolves, which were feasting on the remnant of the aforementioned hog, was heard. So next day noon we reached our destination without any mishaps, and Mrs. Oge seemed very glad to see us, after having been alone for a week, with only a young negro named Henry Toilet as company. So next day uncle and the Negro Henry saddled up their cow ponies and went at their daily work, which was roping and branding mavericks. Now perhaps many readers of this article will wonder what a maverick was, so I will explain how the name originated.
Before the war Mr. Sam Maverick, the father of Sam, Albert and William Maverick, now living in San Antonio, was the largest stockman in this part of the country, having many thousand head of cattle, and during the war all available men were forced to take up arms and go to war, which left no one to look after cattle or anything else. The consequence of which brought on thousands of unbranded cattle from one to three and four years old, so after the war when the soldiers returned they found conditions as above stated and everybody who could afford to buy a few cow ponies got busy and commenced roping and branding those cattle, and since Mr. Maverick's holdings were so much larger than anyone else's the natural supposition with every one was that most of them belonged to him; hence the name.
Well, my job on the ranch soon got on my nerves, and I soon began to yearn to go out with uncle and Henry and help them rope and brand mavericks; so after about six months of that kind of life, I finally persuaded my uncle to let me accompany them on their rounds.
So he ordered Mr. Charley Stewart, a Yankee living at the Sheidly ranch, four miles below on the river, who made saddle-making a business, to make a saddle and bridle for me. I think the anticipations of that event were the happiest of my whole life. So in about ten days my outfit was ready, saddle, bridle, blanket and rope. The first thing I did after getting it, I disobeyed orders and got into trouble.
My uncle caught one of the gentlest ponies for me and saddled it. He sent me down to Friotown after a few pound of nails. So I got upon my pony and started to town. I had hardly gone a mile when I saw a bunch of cattle and three mavericks amongst them. Well, that was too much for me. I could not pass by without trying to catch one of those suckers.
I took down my rope and decided to rope one of them and tie it to a mesquite sappling and let Henry come down and brand and mark it. Fortunately, this was in a pretty open stretch of country, and my pony knew his business. So I took after them end selected the nicest one, a big brindle colored fellow, and soon caught up with him. I commenced throwing my rope at him. After about seven or eight trials I finally caught hint after he was thoroughly exhausted.
I had no trouble in tying him to a tree. Unfortunately for me I failed to drop the bridle reins over my pony’s neck to the ground, in which case he would have remained on the spot, as he was accustomed to. While I was tying the maverick to the sapling, my pony just trotted away back to the ranch.
When I took after him he went faster and faster, and I was left afoot going back to the ranch, you can imagine now my uncle felt when he saw that pony come loping up to the ranch without the rider.
He jumped on a horse and leading my pony came down to find out what had happened. He soon saw me coming along and asked what the trouble was. So I up and told him what had happened that I had a fine maverick tied down the road for him.
"I didn’t send you out to rope mavericks, I sent you after nails!" He further reprimanded me sharply for disobeying orders, so I remounted my pony and fulfilled my errand. This ended my first experience in roping mavericks.
After that I soon got on to the ways of catching them. While my uncle and Henry would catch from fifteen to twenty a day each, I would come along with ten to twelve, until 1 got to be about as good as they were.
This work kept on for about three years. Then Mr. Calvin Woodward and Mr. Oge formed a partnership and embarked in the Kansas drives, making their first drive in 1873, and taking up a herd each successive spring until 1883, I think. The first real beef cattle, however, that were driven out of that country was done by Bishop and Collins, who commenced buying up aged steers in 1868 and driving them down to Indianola and shipping them to New Orleans. Those were the cream of the steer cattle in those days, buying nothing under four and five years old up to ten and twelve years, and paying from eight to ten dollars per head.
They would buy up from 200 to 250 head at a time, and as Mr. Oge had a large beef pen on his ranch, they made that one of their stopping places. I venture to say they had many steers in their herds that would weigh from 1,200 to 1,600 or 1,800 pounds. They looked like corn fed cattle.
People were honest in those times. Bishop and Collins paid cash in gold coin for all the beeves they bought and carried their money buckled around their waist. Because everybody was armed to the teeth on account of Indians there never was any stick 'em up stunts pulled off. As is customary today, I have seen Mr. Collins unbuckle his belt crammed full of yellow boys and hang it on a mesquite limb over his pallet and lie down to sleep soundly all night. Never once thinking of taking any chances of losing it.
In January, 1873, Woodward and Oge prepared to take up their first herd; so got up a bunch of cowboys, mostly Mexicans, rounding up all the beef cattle they could get along with the mavericks, and after branding the latter they would turn them and the she cattle loose on the range. Their foreman was Henry Curtis from Goliad. He and myself being the only white men in the bunch with from six to eight Mexican vaqueros as company.
We first worked out all the country tributary to the ranch, holding all the steer cattle we secured, regardless of whom they belonged to. In those days the cattlemen were only too glad to get rid of their cattle in that way, trusting to the drivers' honesty in paying for them on their return. After working out all the country around the ranch we would go out to certain pens which had been put up at permanent waterholes and work from one to another. As soon as we rounded up several hundred head of beeves we would send them to the ranch, and kept that up until they had the required amount.
Our camping outfit consisted of an old coffee pot and skillet and lid, and a tin cup for each man. Our provisions were a bag of cornmeal and about ten pounds of green coffee and salt, which we packed on one of the gentlest ponies we had, each man having a couple of blankets, a blue army overcoat, which was about the only thing we could get to keep warm (but not dry, as they were not waterproof). This was long before the fish brand slickers was invented. During severe rain storms and protracted wet spell, we surely were up against a tough proposition, as we had to sit up all night when it rained, never having as much as a tent to sleep under.
Still, with all the hardships we had to undergo I don't remember of ever any of us getting seriously ill. Our menu on these rounds was very simple. From one year's end to the other we had cornbread, beef and black coffee. While the cornbread was baking, with tallow for shortening, the beef would be broiling on a stick, and I can assure you it tasted mighty good, since we killed nothing but the choicest heifer yearlings, and in the summer season, on account of the blowflies, we were obliged to kill one every evening and as we never had anything at noon we just made supper and breakfast out of it. The balance was thrown away for the javalins. Talk about a hungry bunch of men, when we hit camp at dusk and had not a bite to eat since breakfast, hustling cattle all day, we were some hungry then. We would have to kill our meat for supper. In order to ease our hunger a bit we would take the liver out of the yearling as soon as possible and throw it on the coals to roast, then take the leaf of fat and broil it over the liver and in about ten minutes we could be breaking our fast, while the full meal was being prepared, and you can bet your sweet life we enjoyed our meals.
In the fall of 1876 1 decided to work for myself a while, so after having bought three cow ponies I set out to roping and branding mavericks on my own hook. It took me quite a while to decide on what brand and mark to put on them. Finally I selected 7T6 on the left side and crop the right and under half crop the left. I stayed at the ranch during this time doing chores mornings and evenings for my board and lodging. After about six weeks of this work I had branded something over 250 head of mavericks. One of my chums asked me one day whether I had ever recorded my brand and mark in the county records, to him I replied in the negative. So he told me I had better get busy and attend to it at once before someone else did it for me in his name. Well, that was all news to me, as I did not even know I had to do it. When I told the county clerk the brand and mark I wanted recorded, he said why that brand had already been recorded, several weeks ago by so and so. Well, I almost fell over with the shock it gave me. For being such a bonehead I lost all my hard work by not knowing so simple a thing as that.
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