Reed Anthony, Cowman by Andy Adams
Chapter XV. Harvest Home
The firm's profits for the summer of '77 footed up over two hundred thousand dollars. The government herds from the Cherokee Outlet paid the best, those sent to market next, while the through cattle remunerated us in the order of beeves, young steers, and lastly cows. There was a satisfactory profit even in the latter, yet the same investment in other classes paid a better per cent profit, and the banking instincts of my partners could be relied on to seek the best market for our capital. There was nothing haphazard about our business; separate accounts were kept on every herd, and at the end of the season the percentage profit on each told their own story. For instance, in the above year it cost us more to deliver a cow at an agency in the Indian Territory than a steer at Dodge City, Kansas. The herds sold in Colorado had been driven at an expense of eighty-five cents a head, those delivered on the Republican River ninety, and every cow driven that year cost us over one dollar a head in general expense. The necessity of holding the latter for a period of four months near agencies for issuing purposes added to the cost, and was charged to that particular department of our business.
George Edwards and my active partner agreed to restock our beef ranch in the Outlet, and I returned to Missouri. I make no claim of being the first cowman to improve the native cattle of Texas, yet forty years' keen observation has confirmed my original idea,--that improvement must come through the native and gradually. Climatic conditions in Texas are such that the best types of the bovine race would deteriorate if compelled to subsist the year round on the open range. The strongest point in the original Spanish cattle was their inborn ability as foragers, being inured for centuries to drouth, the heat of summer, and the northers of winter, subsisting for months on prickly pear, a species of the cactus family, or drifting like game animals to more favored localities in avoiding the natural afflictions that beset an arid country. In producing the ideal range animal it was more important to retain those rustling qualities than to gain a better color, a few pounds in weight, and a shortening of horns and legs, unless their possessor could withstand the rigors of a variable climate. Nature befriends the animal race. The buffalo of Montana could face the blizzard, while his brother on the plains of Texas sought shelter from the northers in canons and behind sand-dunes, guided by an instinct that foretold the coming storm.
I accompanied my car of thoroughbred bulls and unloaded them at the first station north of Fort Worth. They numbered twenty-five, all two-year-olds past, and were representative of three leading beef brands of established reputation. Others had tried the experiment before me, the main trouble being in acclimation, which affects animals the same as the human family. But by wintering them at their destination, I had hopes of inuring the importation so that they would withstand the coming summer, the heat of which was a sore trial to a northern-bred animal. Accordingly I made arrangements with a farmer to feed my car of bulls during the winter, hay and grain both being plentiful. They had cost me over five thousand dollars, and rather than risk the loss of a single one by chancing them on the range, an additional outlay of a few hundred dollars was justified. Limiting the corn fed to three barrels to the animal a month, with plenty of rough feed, ought to bring them through the winter in good, healthy form. The farmer promised to report monthly on their condition, and agreeing to send for them by the first of April, I hastened on home.
My wife had taken a hand in the building of the new house on the Clear Fork. It was quite a pretentious affair, built of hewed logs, and consisted of two large rooms with a hallway between, a gallery on three sides, and a kitchen at the rear. Each of the main rooms had an ample fireplace, both hearths and chimneys built from rock, the only material foreign to the ranch being the lumber in the floors, doors, and windows. Nearly all the work was done by the ranch hands, even the clapboards were riven from oak that grew along the mother Brazos, and my wife showed me over the house as though it had been a castle that she had inherited from some feudal forbear. I was easily satisfied; the main concern was for the family, as I hardly lived at home enough to give any serious thought to the roof that sheltered me. The original buildings had been improved and enlarged for the men, and an air of prosperity pervaded the Anthony ranch consistent with the times and the success of its owner.
The two ranches reported a few over fifteen thousand calves branded that fall. A dim wagon road had been established between the ranches, by going and returning outfits during the stocking of the new ranch the spring before, and the distance could now be covered in two days by buckboard. The list of government contracts to be let was awaiting my attention, and after my estimates had been prepared, and forwarded to my active partner, it was nearly the middle of December before I found time to visit the new ranch. The hands at Double Mountain had not been idle, snug headquarters were established, and three line camps on the outskirts of the range were comfortably equipped to shelter men and horses. The cattle had located nicely, two large corrals had been built on each river, and the calves were as thrifty as weeds. Gray wolves were the worst enemy encountered, running in large bands and finding shelter in the cedar brakes in the canons and foothills which border on the Staked Plain. My foreman on the Double Mountain ranch was using poison judiciously, all the line camps were supplied with the same, and an active winter of poisoning wolves was already inaugurated before my arrival. Long-range rifles would supplement the work, and a few years of relentless war on these pests would rid the ranch of this enemy of live stock.
Together my foreman and I planned for starting an improved herd of cattle. A canon on the west was decided on as a range, as it was well watered from living springs, having a valley several miles wide, forming a park with ample range for two thousand cattle. The bluffs on either side were abrupt, almost an in closure, making it an easy matter for two men to loose-herd a small amount of stock, holding them adjoining my deeded range, yet separate. The survival of the fittest was adopted as the rule in beginning the herd, five hundred choice cows were to form the nucleus, to be the pick of the new ranch, thrift and formation to decide their selection. Solid colors only were to be chosen, every natural point in a cow was to be considered, with the view of reproducing the race in improved form. My foreman--an intelligent young fellow--was in complete sympathy, and promised me that he would comb the range in selecting the herd. The first appearance of grass in the spring was agreed on as the time for gathering the cows, when he would personally come to the Clear Fork and receive the importation of bulls, thus fully taking all responsibility in establishing the improved herd. By this method, unless our plans miscarried, in the course of a few years we expected to be raising quarter-bloods in the main ranch stock, and at the same time retaining all those essential qualities that distinguish the range-raised from the domestic-bred animal.
On my return to the Clear Fork, which was now my home, a letter from my active partner was waiting, informing me that he and Edwards would reach Texas about the time the list of awards would arrive. They had been unsuccessful in fully stocking our beef ranch, securing only three thousand head, as prices were against them, and the letter intimated that something must be done to provide against a repetition of this unforeseen situation. The ranch in the Outlet had paid us a higher per cent on the investment than any of our ventures, and to neglect fully stocking it was contrary to the creed of Hunter, Anthony & Co. True, we were double-wintering some four thousand head of cattle on our Cherokee range, but if a fair allowance of awards was allotted the firm, requiring northern wintered cattle in filling, it might embarrass us to supply the same when we did not have the beeves in hand; it was our business to have the beef.
At the appointed time the buckboard was sent to Fort Worth, and a few days later Major Hunter and our main segundo drove up to the Clear Fork. Omitting all preludes, atmosphere, and sunsets, we got down to business at once. If we could drive cattle to Dodge City and market them for eighty-five cents, we ought to be able to deliver them on our northern range for six bits, and the horses could be returned or sold at a profit. If any of our established trade must be sacrificed, why, drop what paid the least; but half stock our beef ranch? Never again! This was to be the slogan for the coming summer, and, on receiving the report from Washington, we were enabled to outline a programme for the year. The gradually advancing prices in cattle were alarming me, as it was now perceptible in cows, and in submitting our bids on Indian awards I had made the allowance of one dollar a head advance over the spring before. In spite of this we were allotted five contracts from the Interior Department and seven to the Army, three of the latter requiring ten thousand northern wintered beeves,--only oversold three thousand head. Major Hunter met my criticisms by taking the ground that we virtually had none of the cattle on hand, and if we could buy Southern stock to meet our requirements, why not the three thousand that we lacked in the North. Our bids had passed through his hands last; he knew our northern range was not fully stocked, and had forwarded the estimates to our silent partner at Washington, and now the firm had been assigned awards in excess of their holdings. But he was the kind of a partner I liked, and if he could see his way clear, he could depend on my backing him to the extent of my ability and credit.
The business of the firm had grown so rapidly that it was deemed advisable to divide it into three departments,--the Army, the Indian, the beef ranch and general market. Major Hunter was specially qualified to handle the first division, the second fell to Edwards, and the last was assumed by myself. We were to consult each other when convenient, but each was to act separately for the firm, my commission requiring fifteen thousand cattle for our ranch in the Outlet, and three herds for the market at Dodge City. Our banking points were limited to Fort Worth and San Antonio, so agreeing to meet at the latter point on the 1st of February for a general consultation, we separated with a view to feeling the home market. Our man Edwards dropped out in the central part of the State, my active partner wished to look into the situation on the lower Nueces River, and I returned to the headwaters of that stream. During the past two summers we had driven five herds of heavy beeves from Uvalde and adjoining counties, and while we liked the cattle of that section, it was considered advisable to look elsewhere for our beef supply. Within a week I let contracts for five herds of two and three year old steers, then dropped back to the Colorado River and bought ten thousand more in San Saba and McCulloch counties. This completed the purchases in my department, and I hastened back to San Antonio for the expected consultation. Neither my active partner nor my trusted man had arrived, nor was there a line to indicate where they were or when they might be expected, though Major Hunter had called at our hotel a few days previously for his mail. The designated day was waning, and I was worried by the non-appearance of either, when I received a wire from Austin, saying they had just sublet the Indian contracts.
The next morning my active partner and Edwards arrived. The latter had met some parties at the capital who were anxious to fill our Indian deliveries, and had wired us in the firm's name, and Major Hunter had taken the first train for Austin. Both returned wreathed in smiles, having sublet our awards at figures that netted us more than we could have realized had we bought and delivered the cattle at our own risk. It was clear money, requiring not a stroke of work, while it freed a valuable man in outfitting, receiving, and starting our other herds, as well as relieving a snug sum for reinvestment. Our capital lay idle half the year, the spring months were our harvest, and, assigning Edwards full charge of the cattle bought on the Colorado River, we instructed him to buy for the Dodge market four herds more in adjoining counties, bringing down the necessary outfits to handle them from my ranch on the Clear Fork. Previous to his return to San Antonio my active partner had closed contracts on thirteen thousand heavy beeves on the Frio River and lower Nueces, thus completing our purchases. A healthy advance was noticeable all around in steer cattle, though hardly affecting cows; but having anticipated a growing appreciation in submitting our bids, we suffered no disappointment. A week was lost in awaiting the arrival of half a dozen old foremen. On their arrival we divided them between us and intrusted them with the buying of horses and all details in making up outfits.
The trails leading out of southern Texas were purely local ones, the only established trace running from San Antonio north, touching at Fort Griffin, and crossing into the Nations at Red River Station in Montague County. All our previous herds from the Uvalde regions had turned eastward to intercept this main thoroughfare, though we had been frequently advised to try a western outlet known as the Nueces Canon route. The latter course would bring us out on high tablelands, but before risking our herds through it, I decided to ride out the country in advance. The canon proper was about forty miles long, through which ran the source of the Nueces River, and if the way were barely possible it looked like a feasible route. Taking a pack horse and guide with me, I rode through and out on the mesa beyond. General McKinzie had used this route during his Indian campaigns, and had even built mounds of rock on the hills to guide the wayfarer, from the exit of the canon across to the South Llano River. The trail was a rough one, but there was grass sufficient to sustain the herds and ample bed-grounds in the valleys, and I decided to try the western outlet from Uvalde. An early, seasonable spring favored us with fine grass on which to put up and start the herds, all five moving out within a week of each other. I promised my foremen to accompany them through the canon, knowing that the passage would be a trial to man and beast, and asked the old bosses to loiter along, so that there would be but a few hours' difference between the rear and lead herds.
I received sixteen thousand cattle, and the four days required in passing through Nueces Canon and reaching water beyond were the supreme physical test of my life. It was a wild section, wholly unsettled, between low mountains, the river-bed constantly shifting from one flank of the valley to the other, while cliffs from three to five hundred feet high alternated from side to side. In traveling the first twenty-five miles we crossed the bed of the river twenty-one times; and besides the river there were a great number of creeks and dry arroyos putting in from the surrounding hills, so that we were constantly crossing rough ground. The beds of the streams were covered with smooth, water-worn pebbles, white as marble, and then again we encountered limestone in lava formation, honeycombed with millions of sharp, up-turned cells. Some of the descents were nearly impossible for wagons, but we locked both hind wheels and just let them slide down and bounce over the boulders at the bottom. Half-way through the canon the water failed us, with the south fork of the Llano forty miles distant in our front. We were compelled to allow the cattle to pick their way over the rocky trail, the herds not over a mile apart, and scarcely maintaining a snail's pace. I rode from rear to front and back again a dozen times in clearing the defile, and noted that splotches of blood from tender-footed cattle marked the white pebbles at every crossing of the river-bed. On the evening of the third day, the rear herd passed the exit of the canon, the others having turned aside to camp for the night. Two whole days had now elapsed without water for the cattle.
I had not slept a wink the two previous nights. The south fork of the Llano lay over twenty miles distant, and although it had ample water two weeks before, one of the foremen and I rode through to it that night to satisfy ourselves. The supply was found sufficient, and before daybreak we were back in camp, arousing the outfits and starting the herds. In the spring of 1878 the old military trail, with its rocky sentinels, was still dimly defined from Nueces Canon north to the McKinzie water-hole on the South Llano. The herds moved out with the dawn. Thousands of the cattle were travel-sore, while a few hundred were actually tender-footed. The evening before, as we came out into the open country, we had seen quite a local shower of rain in our front, which had apparently crossed our course nearly ten miles distant, though it had not been noticeable during our night's ride. The herds fell in behind one another that morning like columns of cavalry, and after a few miles their stiffness passed and they led out as if they had knowledge of the water ahead. Within two hours after starting we crossed a swell of the mesa, when the lead herd caught a breeze from off the damp hills to the left where the shower had fallen the evening before. As they struck this rise, the feverish cattle raised their heads and pulled out as if that vagrant breeze had brought them a message that succor and rest lay just beyond. The point men had orders to let them go, and as fast as the rear herds came up and struck this imaginary line or air current, a single moan would surge back through the herd until it died out at the rear. By noon there was a solid column of cattle ten miles long, and two hours later the drag and point men had trouble in keeping the different herds from mixing. Without a halt, by three o'clock the lead foremen were turning their charges right and left, and shortly afterward the lead cattle were plunging into the purling waters of the South Llano. The rear herds turned off above and below, filling the river for five miles, while the hollow-eyed animals gorged themselves until a half dozen died that evening and night.
Leaving orders with the foremen to rest their herds well and move out half a day apart, I rode night and day returning to Uvalde. Catching the first stage out, I reached San Antonio in time to overtake Major Hunter, who was awaiting the arrival of the last beef herd from the lower country, the three lead ones having already passed that point. All trail outfits from the south then touched at San Antonio to provision the wagons, and on the approach of our last herd I met it and spent half a day with it,--my first, last, and only glimpse of our heavy beeves. They were big rangy fellows many of them six and seven years old, and from the general uniformity of the herd, I felt proud of the cowman that my protege and active partner had developed into. Major Hunter was anxious to reach home as soon as possible, in order to buy in our complement of northern wintered cattle; so, settling our business affairs in southern Texas, the day after the rear beeves passed we took train north. I stopped in the central part of the State, joining Edwards riding night and day in covering his appointments to receive cattle; and when the last trail herd moved out from the Colorado River there were no regrets.
Hastening on home, on my arrival I was assured by my ranch foreman that he could gather a trail herd in less than a week. My saddle stock now numbered over a thousand head, one hundred of which were on the Double Mountain ranch, seven remudas on the trail, leaving available over two hundred on the Clear Fork. I had the horses and cattle, and on the word being given my ranch foreman began gathering our oldest steers, while I outfitted and provisioned a commissary and secured half a dozen men. On the morning of the seventh day after my arrival, an individual herd, numbering thirty-five hundred, moved out from the Clear Fork, every animal in the straight ranch brand. An old trail foreman was given charge, Dodge City was the destination, and a finer herd of three-year-olds could not have been found in one brand within the boundaries of the State. This completed our cattle on the trail, and a breathing spell of a few weeks might now be indulged in, yet there was little rest for a cowman. Not counting the contracts to the Indian Bureau, sublet to others, and the northern wintered beeves, we had, for the firm and individually, seventeen herds, numbering fifty-four thousand five hundred cattle on the trail. In order to carry on our growing business unhampered for want of funds, the firm had borrowed on short time nearly a quarter-million dollars that spring, pledging the credit of the three partners for its repayment. We had been making money ever since the partnership was formed, and we had husbanded our profits, yet our business seemed to outgrow our means, compelling us to borrow every spring when buying trail herds.
In the mean time and while we were gathering the home cattle, my foreman and two men from the Double Mountain ranch arrived on the Clear Fork to receive the importation of bulls. The latter had not yet arrived, so pressing the boys into work, we got the trail herd away before the thoroughbreds put in an appearance. A wagon and three men from the home ranch had gone after them before my return, and they were simply loafing along, grazing five to ten miles a day, carrying corn in the wagon to feed on the grass. Their arrival found the ranch at leisure, and after resting a few days they proceeded on to their destination at a leisurely gait. The importation had wintered finely,--now all three-year-olds,--but hereafter they must subsist on the range, as corn was out of the question, and the boys had brought nothing but a pack horse from the western ranch. This was an experiment with me, but I was ably seconded by my foreman, who had personally selected every cow over a month before, and this was to make up the beginning of the improved herd. I accompanied them beyond my range and urged seven miles a day as the limit of travel. I then started for home, and within a week reached Dodge City, Kansas.
Headquarters were again established at Dodge. Fortunately a new market was being developed at Ogalalla on the Platte River in Nebraska, and fully one third the trail herds passed on to the upper point. Before my arrival Major Hunter had bought the deficiency of northern wintered beeves, and early in June three herds started from our range in the Outlet for the upper Missouri River army posts. We had wintered all horses belonging to the firm on the beef ranch, and within a fortnight after its desertion, the young steers from the upper Nueces River began arriving and were turned loose on the Eagle Chief, preempting our old range. One outfit was retained to locate the cattle, the remaining ones coming in to Dodge and returning home by train. George Edwards lent me valuable assistance in handling our affairs economically, but with the arrival of the herds at Dodge he was compelled to look after our sub-contracts at Indian agencies. The latter were delivered in our name, all money passed through our hands in settlement, so it was necessary to have a man on the ground to protect our interests. With nothing but the selling of eight herds of cattle in an active market like Dodge, I felt that the work of the summer was virtually over. One cattle company took ten thousand three-year-old steers, two herds were sold for delivery at Ogalalla, and the remaining three were placed within a month after their arrival. The occupation of the West was on with a feverish haste, and money was pouring into ranches and cattle, affording a ready market to the drover from Texas.
Nothing now remained for me but to draw the threads of our business together and await the season's settlement in the fall. I sold all the wagons and sent the remudas to our range in the Outlet, while from the first cattle sold the borrowed money was repaid. I visited Ogalalla to acquaint myself with its market, looked over our beef ranch in the Cherokee Strip during the lull, and even paid the different Indian agencies my respects to perfect my knowledge of the requirements of our business. Our firm was a strong one, enlarging its business year by year; and while we could not foresee the future, the present was a Harvest Home to Hunter, Anthony & Co.