A Summer in a Canyon by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter X. More Camp-Fire Stories
'And still they watched the flickering of the blaze,
'Brava!' 'Bravissima!' 'Splendid, Polly!' exclaimed the boys. 'Bell, you're a great author!'
'Couldn't have done better myself--give you my word!' cried Jack, bowing profoundly to Bell and Polly in turn, and presenting them with bouquets of faded leaves hastily gathered from the ground.
'Polly covered herself with glory,' said the doctor; 'and I am very proud of your part in it, too, my little daughter. I have some knowledge of Pancho's capabilities as a narrator, and I think the "Story of Valerio" owes a good deal to you. Now, who comes next? Margery?'
'No, please,' said Margery, 'for I have another story. Take one of the boys, and let's have more facts.'
'Yes, something historic and profound, out of the encyclopaedia, from Jack,' said Polly, saucily.
'Thanks, Miss Oliver. With you for an audience any man might be inspired; but--'
'But not a BOY?'
'Mother, dear, remove that child from my sight, or I shall certainly shake her! Phil, go on, just to keep Polly quiet.'
'Very well. Being the oldest Californian present, I--'
'What about Dr. Paul?' asked the irrepressible Polly.
'He wasn't born here,' responded Philip, dryly, 'and I was.'
'I think that's a quibble,' interrupted Bell. 'Papa was here twenty years before you were.'
'It's not my fault that he came first,' answered Philip. 'Margery and I are not only the oldest Californians present, but the only ones. Isn't that so, sir?'
'Oh, if you mean that way, I suppose you are; but still papa helped frame the Constitution, and was here on the first Admission Day, and was one of the Vigilantes--and I think that makes him more of a real Californian than you. You've just "grown up with the country."'
'Bless my soul! What else could I do? I would have been glad to frame the Constitution, admit the State, and serve on the Vigilance Committee, if they had only waited for me; but they went straight ahead with the business, and when I was born there was nothing to do but stand round and criticise what they had done, or, as you express it, "grow up with the country." Well, as I was saying when I was interrupted--'
'Don't mention it. Uncle Doc has asked me to tell Mrs. Howard and Elsie how they carried on the rodeos ten or fifteen years ago. Of course I was only a little chap'--('VERY little,' murmured his sister)--'but never too small to stick on a horse, and my father used often to take me along. The rodeos nowadays are neither as great occasions, nor as exciting ones, as they used to be; but this is the way a rodeo is managed. When the spring rains are mostly over, and the grass is fine,--say in April--the ranchero of a certain ranch sends word to all his neighbours that he will hold a rodeo on a certain day or days. Of course the cattle used to stray all over the country, and get badly mixed, as there were no fences; so the rodeo was held for the purpose of separating the cattle and branding the calves that had never been marked.
'The owners of the various ranches assemble the night before, bringing their vaqueros with them. They start out very early in the morning, having had a cup of coffee, and ride to the "rodeo-ground," which is any flat, convenient place where canyons converge. Many of the cattle on the hills round about know the place, having been there before, and the vaqueros start after them and drive them to the spot.'
'How many vaqueros would there be?' asked Elsie.
'Oh, nine or ten, perhaps; and often from one thousand to three thousand cattle--it depends on the number of ranches and cattle represented. Some of the vaqueros form a circle round the cattle that they have driven to the rodeo-ground, and hold them there while others go back to the ranch for breakfast and fresh horses.'
'Fresh horses so soon?' said Mrs. Howard. 'I thought the mustangs were tough, hardy little beasts, that would go all day without dropping.'
'Yes, so they are; but you always have to begin to "part out" the cattle with the freshest and best-trained horses you have. The owners and their best vaqueros now go into the immense band of cattle, and try to get the cows and the unbranded calves separated from the rest. You can imagine what skilful engineering this takes, even though you never saw it. Two work together; they start a certain cow and calf and work them through the band of cattle until they near the outside, and then "rush" them to a place three or four hundred yards beyond, where other vaqueros are stationed to receive and hold them. Of course the cattle don't want to leave the band, and of course they don't want to stay in the spot to which they are driven.'
'I don't blame them!' cried Bell impetuously. 'Probably the cows remember the time when they were branded themselves, and they don't want their dear little bossies put through the same operation.'
'Very likely. Then more cows and calves are started in the same way; the greatest difficulty being had with the first lot, for the cattle always stay more contentedly together as the group grows larger. Occasionally one "breaks" and runs off on the hills, and a vaquero starts after him, throws the reata and lassos him, or "lass's" him, as the California boys say.'
'There must be frightful accidents,' said Mrs. Winship.
'Yes; but not so many as you would suppose, for the horsemanship, in its particular way, is something wonderful. When an ugly steer is lassoed and he feels the reata or lariat round his neck, he sometimes turns and "makes" for the horse, and unless the vaquero is particularly skilful he will be gored and his horse too; but he gives a dexterous turn to the lariat, the animal steps over it, gets tangled and thrown. Frequently an animal breaks a horn or a leg. Sometimes one fall is not enough; the steer jumps up and pursues the horse. Then the vaquero keeps a little ahead of him and leads him back to the rodeo-ground, where another vaquero lassos him by the hind legs and throws him, while the reata is taken off his neck.'
'There is another danger, too,' added Dr. Winship. 'The vaquero winds the reata very tightly round the pommel of his saddle to hold the steer, and he is likely to have his finger caught in the hair- rope and cut off.'
'Yes, I forgot that. Two or three of the famous old vaqueros about Santa Barbara--Jose Maria, Jose Antonio, and old Clemente--have each lost a finger. Well, the vaqueros at length form in a circle round the band of selected cattle. The ranch owner who gives the rodeo takes his own cattle that he has found--the ones bearing his brand, you know--and drives them in with the ones to be branded, leaving in the rodeo-ground the cattle bearing the brands of all the other rancheros. There has been much drinking of aguardiente (brandy) and everybody by this time is pretty reckless. Then they drive this selected band to the home corral, the vaqueros yelling, the cattle "calling," and the reatas whizzing and whistling through the air. If any unfortunate tries to escape his fate he is pursued, "lass'd," and brought back. By this time the cattle are pretty well heated and angry, and when they get into the crowded corral they horn each other and try to gore the horses. A fire is then built in one corner of the corral and the branding-irons are heated.'
'Oh! hold my hand, Polly, if the branding is going to begin, I hate it so,' exclaimed Elsie.
'I won't say much about it, but it's no worse than a thousand things that people have to bear every year of their lives. Animals never have to have teeth filled, for instance, nor limbs amputated--'
'Oh, just think of a calf with a wooden leg, or a cow with false teeth! Wouldn't it be funny?' laughed Bell.
'They don't have a thousand ills that human flesh is heir to, so they must be thankful they get off so easy. Well! the branding-irons are heated, as I say--each cattle-owner having his special brand, which is properly recorded, and which may be any device not previously used. Two men now catch the calves; one lassoing them by the head, the other by the legs. A third man takes the iron from the fire and brands the chosen letter or hieroglyphic on the animal's hind quarter.'
'Sometimes on the fore quarter, don't they?' asked Bell. 'I've seen brands there,--your horse has two, and our cow has one also.'
'Yes, a brand on the fore quarter shows that the animal has been sold, but it always has the original brand on the hind quarter. When a sale is effected, the new brand is put anywhere in front of the fifth rib, and this constitutes what they call a venta, or sale. If you notice some of the little "plugs" ridden by Santa Barbara boys, you'll see that they bear half a dozen brands. By the way, if the rodeo has been a very large one, they are several days branding the cattle, so they are turned out to pastorear a little while each day.'
'The brand was absolute sign of ownership, you know, girls,' said Dr. Winship; 'and though there was the greatest care exercised in choosing and recording the brands, there was plenty of opportunity for cheating. For instance, a man would often see unbranded cattle when riding about, and there was nothing to prevent his dismounting, building a fire, heating his iron, and putting his own brand on them. Then, at the next rodeo, they were simply turned over to him, for, as I say, the brand was absolute ownership.'
'Whene'er I take my rides abroad,
'How I should like to see a rodeo!' sighed Elsie. 'I can't imagine how the vaqueros can fling the reata while they are riding at full speed.'
'It isn't so very wonderful,' said Polly, nonchalantly 'the most ordinary people can learn it; why! your brother Jack can lasso almost as well as a Mexican.'
'And I can "lass" any stationary object myself,' cried Bell; 'a hitching-post, or even a door-knob; I can do it two or three times out of ten.'
'That shows immense skill,' answered Jack, 'but, as the thing you want to "lass" never does stay still, and as it is absolutely necessary to catch it more than three times out of ten, you probably wouldn't make a name and fortune as a vaquero. Juan Capistrano, by the way, used to be famous with the lariat. I had heard of his adventure with a bull on the island of Santa Rosa, and I asked him about it to-day; but he had so exhausted himself telling stories to Bell that he had very few words for me. You see there was a bull, on Santa Rosa island, so wild that they wanted to kill him; but nobody could do it, though he was a terror to any one who ventured on the island. They called him "Antiguelo," because of his long horns and long tail. He was such a terrible fighter that all the vaqueros were afraid to lass' him, for he always broke away with the lariat. You see a horse throws a bull by skill and not by strength, of course. You can choke almost any bull; but this one was too smart! he would crouch on his haunches and pull back until the rope nearly choked him and then suddenly "make" for the horse. Juan Capistrano had a splendid horse--you see as much depends on the horse as the man in such a case--and he came upon Antiguelo on the Cerro Negro and lass'd him. Well, did he fight? I asked. "Si, Senor." Well, what happened? "Yo lo mate" (I killed him), he said, with a shrug of his shoulders, and that's all I could get out of Juan regarding his adventure.'
'But you haven't done your share, you lazy boy,' objected Bell. 'You must tell us more.'
'What do you want to hear? I am up on all the animal and vegetable life of Southern California, full of interesting information concerning its old customs, can give you Spanish names for all the things that come up in ordinary conversation, and am the only man present who can make a raw-hide reata,' said Jack, modestly.
'Go on and tell us how, O great and wise reatero,' said Bell.
'I'll tell you that myself,' said Elsie, 'for I've seen him do it dozens of times, when he should have been studying his little lessons. He takes a big piece of raw hide, cuts a circle right out of the middle, and then cuts round and round this until he has one long continuous string, half an inch wide. He then stretches it and scrapes the hair off with a knife or a piece of glass, gets it into four strands, and braids it "round."'
'Perhaps you think braiding "round" is easy to do,' retorted Jack, in an injured tone; 'but I know it took me six months to learn to do it well.'
'I fail to see,' said his mother, 'how a knowledge of "braiding round" and lassoing of wild cattle is going to serve you in your university life and future career.'
'Oh yes, it will. I shall be the Buffalo Bill of Harvard, and I shall give charming little entertainments in my rooms, or in some little garden-plot suitable to the purpose.'
'Shall you make a point of keeping up with your class?' asked Mrs. Winship.
'Oh yes, unless they go too fast. My sports won't take any more time than rowing or baseball. They'll be a little more expensive, because I'll have to keep some wild cattle constantly on hand, and perhaps a vaquero or two; but a vaquero won't cost any more than a valet.'
'I didn't intend furnishing you with a valet,' remarked his mother.
'But I shall be self-supporting, mother dear. I shall give exhibitions on the campus, and the gate-money will keep me in luxury.'
'This is all very interesting,' said Polly, cuttingly; 'but what has it to do with California, I'd like to know?'
'Poor dear! Your brain is so weak. Can't you see that when I am the fashion in Cambridge, it will be noised about that I gained my marvellous skill in California? This will increase emigration. I don't pretend to say it will swell the population like the discovery of gold in '48, but it will have a perceptible effect.'
'You are more modest than a whole mossy bank of violets,' laughed Dr. Paul. 'Now, Margery, will you give us your legend?'
'Mine is the story of Juan de Dios (literally, Juan of God), and I'm sorry to say that it has a horse in it, like Polly's; only hers was a snow-white mare, and mine is a coal-black charger. But they wouldn't tell us any romantic love-stories; they were all about horses.'
STORY OF JUAN DE DIOS.
'In early days, when Americans were coming in to Santa Barbara, there were many cattle-buyers among them; and there were large bands of robbers all over the country who were ready to pounce on these travellers on their way to the great cattle ranchos, kill them, and steal their money and clothes, as well as their horses and trappings. No one could understand how the robbers got such accurate information of the movements of the travellers, unless they had a spy somewhere near the Mission, where they often stopped for rest and refreshment.
'Now, there was a certain young Indian vaquero in the employ of the padres at La Mission de la Purisima. He was a wonderful horseman, and greatly looked up to by his brother vaqueros, because he was so strong, alert, and handsome, and because he was always dressed elegantly in rich old Spanish embroideries and velvets, given to him, he said, by men for whom he had done great services.
'One day a certain traveller, a Spanish official of high degree, came from Monterey to wed his sweetheart, the daughter of the richest cattle-owner in all the country round. His spurs and bit and bridle were of solid silver; his jaquima (halter) was made of a hair rope whose strands had been dyed in brilliant colours; his tapaderos (front of the stirrups), mochilas (large leather saddle flaps), and sudaderos (thin bits of leather to protect the legs from sweat), were all beautifully stamped in the fashion used by the Mexicans; his saddle blankets and his housings were all superb, and he wore a broad sombrero encircled with a silver snake and trimmed with silver lace.
'The traveller stayed at La Purisima all night, and set out early in the morning to ride the last forty miles that separated him from his bride. But Juan and two other robbers were lying in wait for him behind a great rock that stood at the entrance of a lonely canyon. They appeared on horseback, one behind the unfortunate man and two in front, so that he could escape neither way. They finally succeeded in lassoing the horse and throwing him to the ground with his rider, who defended himself bravely with his knife, but was finally killed and robbed, Juan taking his clothes and trappings, and the other two dividing the contents of his purse. They could not have buried their victim as successfully as usual, or else they were surprised, and had to escape, for the body was found; and Juan, whom the padres had begun to view with suspicion, was nowhere to be found about the Mission. Troops were sent out in pursuit of him, for this particular traveller was a high official, and it was necessary that his death should be avenged. They at last heard that Juan had been seen going towards Santa Ynez Mission, and, pursuing him thither, they came upon him as he was driving a band of horses into a corral, and just in the act of catching his own horse, a noble and powerful animal, called Azabache, because of his jet-black colour. The men surrounded the corral, and ordered him to surrender. He begged them to wait until he had saddled Azabache, and then they might shoot them both down together. He asked permission to call three times (pegar tres gritos), and after the third call they were to shoot. His last wish was granted. He saddled and mounted his splendid horse, called once- -twice--thrice,--but when the last shout faded in the air, and the troops raised their muskets to fire, behold, there was no Juan de Dios to be seen. They had been surrounding the corral so that no one could have ridden out; they looked among the horses, but Asabache was nowhere to be found.
'Just then a joyous shout was heard, so ringing and triumphant that every man turned in the direction from which it came. There, galloping up the hillside, nearly half a mile distant, was Juan de Dios, mounted on his coal-black Azabache! But it was no common sunshine that deepened the gorgeous colours of his trappings and danced upon his silver spurs till they glistened like two great stars! It was a broad, glittering stream of light such as no mortal had ever seen before and which almost blinded the eyes; and over this radiant path of golden sunbeams galloped Juan de Dios, until he disappeared over the crest of the mountain. Then the light faded; the padres crossed themselves in silence and went home to their Mission! and Juan de Dios never was heard of more.'
Modest little Margery was hailed with such cheers that you could not have seen her cheeks for the blushes; and, just as the party began to think of forsaking the fascinating camp-fire for bed, Bell jumped up impetuously and cried, 'Here, Philip, give me the castanets, please. Polly and Jack, you play "Las Palomas" for me, and I'll sing and show you the dance of that pretty Mexican girl whom I saw at the ball given under the Big Grape Vine. Wait till I take off my hair ribbon. Lend me your scarf, mamma. Now begin!'
It is barely possible, but not likely, that anything prettier than Bell's Mexican danza was to be seen under the light of the September stars that night; although they were doubtless shining down upon a thousand lovely things. With all the brightness of her loosened hair rising and falling with the motion of her swaying figure--with her twinkling feet, her crimson cheeks and parted lips, she looked the very spirit of the dance, and her enraptured--audience only allowed her to stop when she was absolutely breathless.
'Oh what a beautiful evening!' exclaimed Elsie, when the celebration was finally over. 'Was there ever such a dear, dear canyon with such dear people in it! If it only wouldn't rain and we could live here for ever!'
'Rain, rain, stay away!
recited Polly, and then everybody went to their straw beds.