TELLS ABOUT TRAILING CATTLE, STAMPEDES AND INDIANS
By Cora Melton Cross
[This account is from J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, November, 1928]
Having come to her own, Texas in the late 1840s was a veritable panorama of beauty, comparable to a richly embroidered fabric of gorgeous color and magnificent proportion. Her hills were aflame with the Indian paintbrush and intricately patterned were her prairies of blue and gold, flaunting tall spikes of bear grass hung with waxen lily bells. Ribbon streams threaded their way like new run silver, bordered by trees running the gamut in shades of green. Valleys that were visioned through rosy, purplish mist, abounded with wildlife; the air, vibrant with bird song, was filled with mating calls, pulsing with romance and pregnant with danger. Skulking in the streamland glades or filing across the flower decked prairies were fiendish redskins, part and parcel of the whole, on murder and thievery bent.
The wild, unorganized gold rush to California in '49 had passed her by, but now, the unsuccessful participants, who had sufficient means to make the journey, were backtracking from the land of golden lure to the new State that promised much in sure return from the cattle industry.
In 1851, in a community of livestock farmers in the state of Tennessee, was a family, Neal by name, who were discussing pro and con the advisability of selling their farm home and risking all in the Texas wilds. A baby boy had just been christened W. F. in this home and it was not without misgivings as to the effects of such a journey that his parents contemplated the move. However, it was decided and without more ado the farm changed hands, with livestock reserved, household effects were loaded into covered wagons, the mother made comfortable therein, teams hitched up, livestock made ready for driving alongside and they were off. Notwithstanding the wagon caravan was horse and mule drawn, it required three months to land the pioneers in Colorado County, at which place home and ranch building was at once begun.
It was in this home that the boy, W. F. grew up with the country. His boyhood days were filled with tasks and responsibilities beyond his years, for that was the inheritance of the West for her pioneer children. Livestock had for him a fascination and while but a lad he made a top hand with cattle. Realizing that the life of a cowboy was one of endurance and hardship; or grinding work with stampedes, Indians, grubless periods and catch-as-catch-can sleep, oftentimes wrapped in a mingle blanket, the rain beating down in his face, or snowflakes covering him from sight, he declared for it unhesitatingly. For well he knew that there would be other times when the boys came together for the big round-ups in the spring, to cut brand and mark their cattle, when there was regular camp chow at mealtime. It was the call of one boy to another as they lay on their sugans with the stars overhead and the moon sailing along like a silver boat. There was the free swing of his horse beneath him, the creak of leather leggins, which no cowpuncher would belittle in his good opinion by calling chaps; the jangle of silver-rowed spurs, the bandying of pleasantries with Greasy, the cook, the wild hair raising stories told around the campfire and the hundred and one things that go to make up the everyday life of a Texas cowboy, on range and trail. And while W. F. familiarized himself with all of these things through years of experience, it was not until he had rounded out his twentieth year that his dream of trail driving was realized.
"It was the year of 1869 that I made my first and I might add, only, drive up the trail," said Mr. Neal, continuing with, "we had 1,000 head of beeves in the herd, bossed by W. H. Carleton and F. G. Mahon. They had bought the cattle from different people and had run a road brand on all of them to signify that they all belonged to one outfit. The cowpunchers who herded alongside of me on the trip were Bill Cherry, James Byars, Al Nave, Sam Nail, Ad Wiser and a negro boy by the name of Sam. Then there was old Amos, another negro, who cooked for us, and while I'll guarantee that he didn't know anything about these things called vitamins A and B, the way he could make out sourdough biscuit with his hands and bake them in that old Dutch oven, fry steak and hand out coffee so strong it would make the dead walk, was a caution. I can smell that coffee right now and when that scent struck a fellow's nostrils, it made a second call to `come and get,' wholly unnecessary. But getting back to what I was telling about that drive. The town of Columbus was, at that time, the terminal of the S. P. R. R. and we started the herd three miles west of there from a spot, now marked by the town of Glidden, a division point of that same road, between Houston and San Antonio. It was the first day of July, hot as blue blazes, a fine time for siestas, but calculated to make a fellow know that the sun was not under a cloud when he herded cattle along a dim trail headed for Abilene, Kanas. But a cowboy takes life as it comes
"We drove through Fort Worth and crossed the Trinity River somewhere near where the packing plants of Swift and Armour now stand. We went along by where the stockyards are located, too. There was not more than 400 or 500 inhabitants in the town and it wasn't anything to brag on at that. But we bought some flour at an old treadmill about a mile south of town, that was run by four yoke of bulls necked together around the wheel and tied to a post. When they stepped the wheel turned and furnished the power to grind the wheat. It was a crude arrangement but the flour was good and we were certainly glad to get it."
"The most exciting event happened on that drive the first night we spent in the Indian Territory. We hit Red River in the late afternoon, just in time to cross over and drive the herd out about seven miles the other side, before stopping to make camp. Everything was lovely and the goose hung high until a stiff wind blew up, quickly followed by rain. Dark came all at once, black as pitch, the rain began falling in torrents and talk about thunder; why it was so loud it seemed to fairly knock the horses' feet from under them. Lightning was fast and furious and of course, the cattle chose that time to make a run. Believe me, it was some stampede, too. We would see them only by the flashes of lightning, but two of the boys and I took it upon ourselves to follow them, which we did until they hit the river and then they stopped. We did not know what had caused them to quiet down so suddenly until the lightning showed up the water ahead. When I saw they were through with their run I discovered that I was dog tired, and when I got off of my horse I made for a big tree that I saw close by with a big root exposed. Lying down, I put my head on that root, for a pillow, and wet as a rat, without one bit of bedding, I went to sleep almost as soon as I touched the ground. I didn’t know a thing from that moment on until daybreak and I could not have enjoyed a sleep more if it had been on a good goose hair bed under dry blankets. When daylight came we drove the cattle that were there back to camp, to find the whole herd was gone excepting about 200 head. Well sir, we worked there a solid week finding and rounding up the rest of that herd, but we finally got them together and were off again for Abilene.
That was, as I said, my first and last drive up the trail. All of the halo surrounding it, in the telling by others of romance and adventure and Indians and stampedes and such like turned to dust in experiencing it for myself. And while I did not quit cattle work I just did not hanker after following another bunch up Kansas way.
"You know, or maybe you don't, but anyhow a cow-camp cook is in a class all by himself and he is subject to all the cowboys' jokes and fun-making. Old Amos was slow as all tarnation and we used to lose our temper and find it again at least half dozen times before he would get the chuck wagon in shape to start out in the mornings. Finally we decided to see if we couldn't speed him up a bit, since prodding did no good, so that night sitting around the fire one of the boys said: 'It wasn't far from here, well as I remember, when we went last year, that the Indians got after our cook. He was always slow about getting started in the mornings and one time we just left him to follow the herd and we hadn't gone far when we heard him yell and some of us came rushing back to see what was the matter and there was a great big bunch of Redskins after him. Yessiree, and they would have gotten him, too, I guess, if we hadn't heard him holler.'
Of course we were all in on it and set up a chorus of 'You don't say;' Well I declare!' 'Hope they don't come this drive,' and like exclamations all in a serious manner, and as if we were scared stiff and talk about eyes buggin' out, why you could have knocked Amos' eyes clean off and never touched his face. Next morning he was up and packed, ready to go before we had the herd moving. It worked alright for he never gave us one bit of trouble after that.
"You can find all kinds of characters working as cooks in a cow country. Of course, none of them measured up in the way of these new fangled ideas the cooks in hotels now have; but they knew how to cook plenty of good camp chuck that stuck to a fellow's ribs so that he could work cattle. The only meal at which cowboys have any fun yarning and discussing what happened during the day is at supper time. Sometimes one tells a good story that interests the cook, but if he is a little off his feed or got any sort of a grouch on, you can listen for him to say, 'Oh, swallow and git,' and the boys in an outfit generally know him well enough to hurry up doin' it. But as a rule the old range cooks were pretty good natured, however, and the crankier one was when things went crosswise and the drunker he got when he hit a town, the more you could swear by his cookin' when he was on the job . And there is one thing I can say for 'em that is worthwhile. No matter how hard the work, how big the bunch he had to cook for, how bad the weather nor how short and poor the grub was, he never showed his heels in a time of trail. He was faithful to his trust, no matter what ordeal it took him through. And he 'shorely' was a necessary adjunct to a cow camp.
"In the year of 1874 I married and founded a home and began establishing a ranch for myself, and I can not grumble at the way I have prospered since then. But the dearest of my possessions is my good wife, six children another half dozen grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. All our own children are married and paddling their own canoes, leaving wife and I to do the same. But we are mighty glad when they run in often, as they do, to see how we are getting along. I will be 79 next September and wife 72 the December following. Years go by awful fast after you pass 50. I sit and think sometimes about the old frontier days and wish with all my heart they were back again. They were the happiest I will ever know. All the cowboys who went up that drive with me have gone to the great beyond, unless it is the negroes I mentioned. I lost sight of them and don't know whether they are living or dead. I look about me and see the wonderful, changes and improvements in the country, the conveniences and discoveries, the equipment for pleasure, business, profit and all such, and then I think of the time when we did not have near as many wagon roads as there are railroads now, while we rode in ox wagons, on horseback, bareback lots of the time, in buggies and hacks and I can't help but wonder if we are as clean and honest and good hearted and unselfish and hospitable and friendly as we were then. Yes, sir, I liked the old days when 'Howdy, neighbor' was all the introduction a man needed to be asked to spend the night under your roof and I doubt if we enjoy a New York radio program today as much as we did some word that came to us, of ten times weeks after the incident happened, from the outside world. "I voted the first time in the year of 1870 against carpetbaggers and scallawaggers, and have been voting for good old fashioned government ever since, but I am beginning to believe that it doesn't always follow that it brings it if I do, for there are some scallawags, according to my notion, among the Democrats today, but I am still hanging and rattling with 'em, hoping they will have a change of heart. A good application of "leggins" would work a cure I am pretty sure, and I would 'shore' take the greatest pleasure in helping to administer that dose. "
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