The Ranch by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XIII. Ranch Activities
Big as it was, the ranch was only a feeder for the open range. Way down in southeastern Arizona its cattle had their birth and grew to their half-wild maturity. They won their living where they could, fiercely from the fierce desert. On the broad plains they grazed during the fat season; and as the feed shortened and withered, they retired slowly to the barren mountains. In long lines they plodded to the watering places; and in long, patient lines they plodded their way back again, until deep and indelible troughs had been worn in the face of the earth. Other living creatures they saw few, save the coyotes that hung on their flanks, the jackrabbits, the prairie dogs, the birds strangely cheerful in the face of the mysterious and solemn desert. Once in a while a pair of mounted men jog-trotted slowly here and there among them. They gave way to right and left, swinging in the free trot of untamed creatures, their heads high, their eyes wild. Probably they remembered the terror and ignominy and temporary pain of the branding. The men examined them with critical eye, and commented technically and passed on.
This was when the animals were alive with the fat grasses. But as the drought lengthened, they pushed farther into the hills until the boldest or hardiest of them stood on the summits, and the weakest merely stared dully as the mounted men jingled by. The desert, kind in her bounty, was terrible in her wrath. She took her toll freely and the dried bones of her victims rattled in the wind. The fittest survived. Durham died, Hereford lived through, and turned up after the first rains wiry, lean, and active.
Then came the round-up. From the hidden defiles, the buttes and ranges, the hills and plains, the cowboys drew their net to the centre. Each "drive" brought together on some alkali flat thousands of the restless, milling, bawling cattle. The white dust rose in a cloud against the very blue sky. Then, while some of the cowboys sat their horses as sentinels, turning the herd back on itself, others threaded a way through the multitude, edging always toward the border of the herd some animal uneasy in the consciousness that it was being followed. Surrounding the main herd, and at some distance from it, other smaller herds rapidly formed from the "cut." Thus there was one composed entirely of cows and unbranded calves; another of strays from neighbouring ranges; and a third of the steers considered worthy of being made into beef cattle.
In due time the main herd was turned back on the range; the strays had been cut out and driven home by the cowboys of their several owners; the calves had been duly branded and sent out on the desert to grow up. But there remained still compact the beef herd. When all the excitement of the round-up had died, it showed as the tangible profit of the year.
Its troubles began. Driven to the railroad and into the corrals, it next had to be urged to its first experience of sidedoor Pullmans. There the powerful beasts went frantic. Pike poles urged them up the chute into the cars. They rushed, and hesitated, and stopped and turned back in a panic. At times it seemed impossible to get them started into the narrow chute. On the occasion of one after-dark loading old J.B., the foreman, discovered that the excited steers would charge a lantern light. Therefore he posted himself, with a lantern, in the middle of the chute. Promply the maddened animals rushed at him. He skipped nimbly one side, scaled the fence of the chute. "Now keep 'em coming, boys!" he urged.
The boys did their best, and half filled the car. Then some other impulse seized the bewildered rudimentary brains; the cattle balked. J.B. did it again, and yet again, until the cars were filled.
You have seen the cattle trains, rumbling slowly along, the crowded animals staring stupidly through the bars. They are not having a particularly hard time, considering the fact that they are undergoing their first experience in travelling. Nowadays they are not allowed to become thirsty; and they are too car sick to care about eating. Car sick? Certainly; just as you or I are car sick, no worse; only we do not need to travel unless we want to. At the end of the journey, often, they are too wobbly to stand up. This is not weakness, but dizziness from the unwonted motion. Once a fool S.P.C.A. officer ordered a number of the Captain's steers shot on the ground that they were too weak to live. That greenhorn got into fifty-seven varieties of trouble.
Arrived at their journey's end the steers were permitted to get their sea legs off; and then were driven slowly to a cattle paradise--the ranch.
For there was flowing water always near to the thirsty nose; and rich grazing; and wonderful wagons from which the fodder was thrown abundantly; and pleasant shade from a mild and beneficent sun. The thin, wiry beasts of the desert lost their angles; they became fat, and curly of hair, and sleek of coat, and much inclined to kink up their tails and cavort off in clumsy buck jumps just from the sheer joy of living. For now they were, in good truth, beef cattle, the aristocracy of fifty thousand, the pick of wide ranges, the total tangible wealth of a great principality. To see them would come red-faced men with broad hats and linen dusters; and their transfer meant dollars and dollars.
I have told you these things lest you might have concluded that the Captain did nothing but shoot ducks and quail and ride the polo ponies around the enclosure. As a matter of fact, the Captain was always going to Arizona, or coming back, or riding here or driving there. When we went to the ranch, he looked upon our visit as a vacation, but even then he could not shoot with us as often as we all would have liked. On the Arizona range were the [JH] ranch, and the Circle I, and the Bar O, and the Double R, and the Box Springs, and others whose picturesque names I have forgotten. To manage them were cowpunchers; and appertaining thereunto were Chinese cooks, and horses, and pump mules, and grub lists, and many other things. The ranch itself was even more complicated an affair; for, as I have indicated, it meant many activities besides cattle. And then there was the buying and selling and shipping. The Captain was a busy man.
And the ranch was a busy place. Its population swung through the nations. Always the aristocracy was the cowboy. There were not many of him, for the cattle here were fenced and fattened; but a few were necessary to ride abroad in order that none of the precious beef be mired down or tangled in barbed wire; and that all of it be moved hither and yon as the pasture varied. And of course the driving, the loading and unloading of fresh shipments in and out demanded expert handling.
Some of them came from the desert, lean, bronzed, steady-eyed men addicted to "double-barrelled" (two cinch) saddles, ox-bow stirrups, straight-shanked spurs, tall-crowned hats, and grass ropes. They were plain "cowpunchers." Between them and the California "vaqueros," or "buckeroos", was always much slow and drawling argument. For the latter had been "raised different" in about every particular. They used the single-cinch saddle; long tapaderos; or stirrup hoods; curve-shanked spurs with jingling chains; low, wide-brimmed sombreros and rawhide ropes. And you who have gauged the earnestness of what might be called "equipment arguments" among those of a gentler calling, can well appreciate that never did bunk-house conversation lack.
Next to these cow riders and horse riders came probably the mule drivers. There were many teams of mules, and they were used for many things: such as plowing, cultivating, harvesting, haying, the building of irrigation checks and ditches, freighting, and the like. A team comprised from six to twelve individuals. The man in charge had to know mules--which is no slight degree of special wisdom; had to know loads; had to understand conditioning. His lantern was the first to twinkle in the morning as he doled out corn to his charges.
Then came the ruck of field hands of all types. The average field hand in California is a cross between a hobo and a labourer. He works probably about half the year. The other half he spends on the road, tramping it from place to place. Like the common hobo, he begs his way when he can; catches freight train rides; consorts in thickets with his kind. Unlike the common hobo, however, he generally has money in his pocket and always carries a bed-roll. The latter consists of a blanket or so, or quilt, and a canvas strapped around the whole. You can see him at any time plodding along the highways and railroads, the roll slung across his back. He much appreciates a lift in your rig; and sometimes proves worth the trouble. His labour raises him above the level degradation of the ordinary tramp; the independence of his spirit gives his point of view an originality; the nomadic stirring of his blood keeps him going. In the course of years he has crossed the length and breadth of the state a half dozen times. He has harvested apples in Siskiyou and oranges in Riverside; he has chopped sugar pine in the snows of the Sierras and manzanita on the blazing hillsides of San Bernardino; he has garnered the wheat of the great Santa Clara Valley and the alfalfa of San Fernando. And whenever the need for change or the desire for a drink has struck him, he has drawn his pay, strapped his bed roll, and cheerfully hiked away down the long and dusty trail.
That is his chief defect as a field hand--his unreliability. He seems to have no great pride in finishing out a job, although he is a good worker while he is at it. The Captain used to send in the wagon to bring men out, but refused absolutely to let any man ride in anything going the other way. Nevertheless the hand, when the wanderlust hit him, trudged cheerfully the long distance to town. I am not sure that a new type is not thus developing, a type as distinct in its way as the riverman or the cowboy. It is not as high a type, of course, for it has not the strength either of sustained and earnest purpose nor of class loyalty; but still it makes for new species. The California field hand has mother-wit, independence, a certain reckless, you-be-damned courage, a wandering instinct. He quits work not because he wants to loaf, but because he wants to go somewhere else. He is always on the road travelling, travelling, travelling. It is not hope of gain that takes him, for in the scarcity of labour wages are as high here as there. It is not desire for dissipation that lures him from labour; he drinks hard enough, but the liquor is as potent here as two hundred miles away. He looks you steadily enough in the eye; and he begs his bread and commits his depredations half humorously, as though all this were fooling that both you and he understood. What his impelling motive is, I cannot say; nor whether he himself understands it, this restlessness that turns his feet ever to the pleasant California highways, an Ishmael of the road.
But this very unreliability forces the ranchman to the next element in our consideration of the ranch's people--the Orientals. They are good workers, these little brown and yellow men, and unobtrusive and skilled. They do not quit until the job is done; they live frugally; they are efficient. The only thing we have against them is that we are afraid of them. They crowd our people out. Into a community they edge themselves little by little. At the end of two years they have saved enough capital to begin to buy land. At the end of ten years they have taken up all the small farms from the whites who cannot or will not live in competition with Oriental frugality. The valley, or cove, or flat has become Japanese. They do not amalgamate. Their progeny are Japanese unchanged; and their progeny born here are American citizens. In the face of public sentiment, restriction, savage resentment they have made head. They are continuing to make head. The effects are as yet small in relation to the whole of the body politic; but more and more of the fertile, beautiful little farm centres of California are becoming the breeding grounds of Japanese colonies. As the pressure of population on the other side increases, it is not difficult to foresee a result. We are afraid of them.
The ranchmen know this. "We would use white labour," say they, "if we could get it, and rely on it. But we cannot; and we must have labour!" The debt of California to the Orientals can hardly be computed. The citrus crop is almost entirely moved by them; and all other produce depends so largely on them that it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that without them a large part of the state's produce would rot in fields. We do not want the Oriental; and yet we must have him, must have more of him if we are to reach our fullest development. It is a dilemma; a paradox.
And yet, it seems to me, the paradox only exists because we will not face facts in a commonsense manner. As I remember it, the original anti-Oriental howl out here made much of the fact that the Chinaman and Japanese saved his money and took it home with him. In the peculiar circumstances we should not object to that. We cannot get our work done by our own people; we are forced to hire in outsiders to do it; we should expect, as a country, to pay a fair price for what we get. It is undoubtedly more desirable to get our work done at home; but if we cannot find the help, what more reasonable than that we should get it outside, and pay for it? If we insist that the Oriental is a detriment as a permanent resident, and if at the same time we need his labour, what else is there to do but pay him and let him go when he has done his job?
And he will go if pay is all he gets. Only when he is permitted to settle down to his favourite agriculture in a fertile country does he stay permanently. To be sure a certain number of him engages in various other commercial callings, but that number bears always a very definite proportion to the Oriental population in general. And it is harmless. It is not absolute restriction of immigration we want--although I believe immigration should be numerically restricted, but absolute prohibition of the right to hold real estate. To many minds this may seem a denial of the "equal rights of man." I doubt whether in some respects men have equal rights. Certainly Brown has not an equal right with Jones to spank Jones's small boy; nor do I believe the rights of any foreign nation paramount to our own right to safeguard ourselves by proper legislation.
These economics have taken us a long distance from the ranch and its Orientals. The Japanese contingent were mainly occupied with the fruit, possessing a peculiar deftness in pruning and caring for the prunes and apricots. The Chinese had to do with irrigation and with the vegetables. Their broad, woven-straw hats and light denim clothes lent the particular landscape they happened for the moment to adorn a peculiarly foreign and picturesque air.
And outside of these were various special callings represented by one or two men: such as the stable men, the bee keeper, the blacksmith and wagon-wright, the various cooks and cookees, the gardeners, the "varmint catcher," and the like.
Nor must be forgotten the animals, both wild and tame. Old Ben and Young Ben and Linn, the bird dogs; the dachshunds; the mongrels of the men's quarters; all the domestic fowls; the innumerable and blue-blooded hogs; the polo ponies and brood mares, the stud horses and driving horses and cow horses, colts, yearlings, the young and those enjoying a peaceful and honourable old age; Pollymckittrick; Redmond's cat and fifty others, half-wild creatures; vireos and orioles in the trees around the house; thousands and thousands of blackbirds rising in huge swarms like gnats; full-voiced meadowlarks on the fence posts; herons stalking solemnly, or waiting like so many Japanese bronzes for a chance at a gopher; red-tailed hawks circling slowly; pigeon hawks passing with their falcon dart; little gaudy sparrow hawks on top the telephone poles; buzzards, stately and wonderful in flight, repulsive when at rest; barn-owls dwelling in the haystacks, and horned owls in the hollow trees; the game in countless numbers; all the smaller animals and tiny birds in species too numerous to catalogue, all these drew their full sustenance of life from the ranch's smiling abundance.
And the mules; I must not forget them. I have the greatest respect for a mule. He knows more than the horse; just as the goose or the duck knows more than the chicken. Six days the mules on the ranch laboured; but on the seventh they were turned out into the pastures to rest and roll and stand around gossiping sociably, rubbing their long, ridiculous Roman noses together, or switching the flies off one another with their tasselled tails. Each evening at sunset all the various teams came in from different directions, converging at the lane, and plodding dustily up its length to the sheds and their night's rest. Five evenings thus they come in silence. But on the sixth each and every mule lifted up his voice in rejoicing over the morrow. The distant wayfarer--familiar with ranch ways--hearing this strident, discordant, thankful chorus far across the evening peace of the wide country, would thus have known this was Saturday night, and that to-morrow was the Sabbath, the day of rest!