By Ralph H. Records
This article is based on the personal recollections of L. S. Records, a cowboy who rode the range in Oklahoma from 1878 until 1884. He was born in Indiana in 1856, removed to southeastern Kansas in 1870, freighted with bull teams in southeastern Kansas from 1871 to 1873, cooked for government employees at Osage Agency, now Pawhuska, in 1874, and bought cattle in the Cherokee Indian Nation from 1873 to 1877. He close-herded at Dodge City in the summer of 1878, rode the point on Oliver Ewells' herd to his range on the Eagle Chief in western Oklahoma, returned to work for the Comanche Pool, participated in the packhorse roundup of 1879, the wagon roundups of 1881, 1882, 1883, and the last roundup of 1884. He rode for the T-5 in 1879, trapped anal hunted with Frank Tracy, also a T-5 cowhand, on the Eagle Chief and Cimarron rivers during the winter of 1879-80, rode for the Spade ranch four years, and had charge of the Spade beef-herd drives to Caldwell in 1884. He had a third interest with two brothers, Francis and Charles, in a ranch on the Ninniscah in western Kansas, 1877-1884, was associated with William Malaley and Major Hood on the Pole Cat ranch south of Caldwell, 1885, and terminated his range career in August, 1887, as foreman of the old Spade ranch.1
The cow country of Oklahoma was cosmopolitan. Three of Laban's closest friends, Fayette Thomas, Tip McCracken, and Oliver Ewell, were Southerners. Thomas was born in Alabama,2 McCracken in North Carolina,3 and Ewell in Virginia.4 His old foreman of the Spade ranch, 1880-1883, was Sam Fling, an Iowan. Frank Bates, owner of the Spade ranch, came from Elmira, New York, and Frank Streeter from Ohio.5 Charles Siringo,6 "Texas" Dave Thomas, John Watkins and many others were from Texas. Ervin Timberlake was a Confederate Soldier; Nate Keys was a fifer in the Union Army; and Ike Berry and William Dunlap also served in the Union Army. William Malaley, born in Alabama in 1850, ran away from home and became a dispatch-bearer in the Union Army.7 Frank Newcomer, son of a banker at Emporia, Kansas, and John Beck, were tubercular. Their relatives felt that life on the range would help them.
1"The Recollections of a Cowboy of the Seventies and Eighties." MS in possession of Ralph H. Records, Norman, Oklahoma.
When one reads western fiction or views a cowboy film he is apt to believe that all cowhands dressed alike and that their garb was spectacular. This was not true of the seasoned cowhands of the seventies and eighties. Laban's first hats had low crowns and wide brims. But from 1880 onward he wore John B. Stetson hats. His first one was dove-colored or dark grey and cost nine dollars. His high-heeled boots were always the best in quality. The heels gave the rider a brace when the horse came to a sudden stop; there was no danger of the foot going through the stirrup. He wore a soft-leather belt, two and a half inches wide, and drab-yellow in color. A webbed cartridge-bandolier was attached to the belt. A silk handkerchief costing a dollar was tied around his neck. When dust flew thick and fast it was brought up over the nose. During the cold winter of 1880-1881, "I dressed so heavy I could lie on the ground and sleep with comfort," he remarked. He wore woolen breeches, and overalls outside. Fleece-lined underwear, a woolen shirt, and a knit woolen blouse further added to his protection.8
Of winters he wound a red, knit, woolen comforter around his waist and stuffed the ends of the garment under his belt. Most men preferred to wear this garment around the neck. His hands were protected by soft-ribbed gloves, and by a pair of wool-lined mittens over them. When adjusting anything about the saddle he removed only the mittens. The overcoat was long and heavy. A skeleton cap with made-in eyelets covered his face. He wore only thin nickel socks, made of cotton, and arctics over his boots.
Every cowpuncher furnished his own saddle, bridle, blankets and clothing, but the company furnished the rope and mounts. A mount usually comprised four horses. Laban's rope was thirty feet in length; others preferred fifty-foot lengths. He did not want the extra weight on his saddle. All the border towns such as Caldwell, Hunnewell, Harper, Medicine Lodge, and Kiowa, enjoyed a great trade with the cowmen of the Cherokee Outlet.9
The cowhand usually was well fed. The ranch wagon was used to haul supplies from time to time. Yorke, Parker and Draper of Caldwell sold thousands of dollars of supplies to the ranch foremen. They permitted the cowhands to establish a charge account, and kept a post office for them. It was unnecessary to go to a bank to cash checks. Consequently this general merchandising store was the cowhand's headquarters while he was in town. In the summer of 1882 Laban had charge of 3500 head of cattle on the Skeleton near the present site of Enid, Oklahoma. When supplies were needed, he drove the wagon to Caldwell. It was a two-day trip. All kinds of canned fruits, and bacon, flour, sugar, syrup, beans, condiments, and tobacco, were found in a single load. After the herd on the Skeleton was driven to the Spade ranch in
the autumn, Bates and Payne paid the Caldwell firm twelve hundred dollars.10
All of the cowhand's eating equipment,—knives, forks, spoons, plates, and cups,—were made of tin. The water bucket was made of cedar and bound with brass hoops. The cook served meats and vegetables with a long-handled spoon and a long-handled fork. The cowhands seldom lacked meat. And much fresh meat was available on all the great ranges of the Cherokee Outlet. When the spring roundups were finished, many a ranch foreman found unbranded cows on his range. These were butchered, and beef was served. Two cowhands on the T-5 ate numerous wild turkey when high waters on the Salt Fork and Eagle Chief marooned their supply wagon for nearly ten days in 1878. In 1879 they ate a two-year-old buffalo which Laban killed with a six-shooter. In the roundup of 1881 three wagon outfits served bear steak. Bill Mills roped the animal and chained it to a wagon. This occurred in the Gloss Mountains of the Cheyenne and Arapaho country. Occasionally antelope were killed and served. The T-5 cook served channel catfish during the spring and early summer of 1879. The ranch house was on the bank of the Eagle Chief.11
From 1874 to 1883 the cowhands of western Indian Territory rode an open range. Major Drumm was the first cattleman to bring a herd to the Strip. When the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association was formed nine years later, fifty-eight cattle companies occupied more than three million acres in the Outlet.12
Since Drumm was his own foreman from 1870 to 1886, he kept very close watch over his men. Laban remarked, "A cowpuncher could stay all night quicker at Major Drumm's camp than any other in the Southwest." The Major's men went to bed at ten o'clock and got up at four in the morning. Abe Manee told Laban he carried an extra blanket in the summer time and slept until sun-up. The Major remarked that if he fed his men too well they became indifferent about their work. When Laban was riding for the Spade outfit in the winter of 1880-1881, he spent one night with Drumm's outfit. A heavy snow storm struck before the men got into their bunks. The Major hurried them off to bed and ordered his cook to be out at 3:30 A. M., and the boys to take their lines an hour later. The guest ate breakfast with Drumm about two hours later, and the two soon got into an argument. Drumm defended his point of view by saying that, when the snow started falling, the cattle started walking. The guest replied that, if he would mount his horse and ride through the tall grass in the flats and buffalo wallows, he would find his
1249 Cong., 1 sess., Senate Report No. 1278, pp. 308-10; Meade L. McClure, Major Andrew Drumm, 1828-1919. (A sketch prepared and read by Meade L. McClure before the Missouri Valley Historical Society, May 31, 1919), 11-14, 24.
cattle lying in warm beds completely shielded from the driving storm. When the cowhand returned to the Spade ranch, he saw scores of upthrust horns in the heavy grass on Drumm's range. Then he wished he had taken the Major with him. Many men rode the line for Drumm, but Laban was not one of them. He had heard and seen too much to become a Drumm man.13
On the other hand the cowhands of the Spade outfit were well-fed. The foreman, Sam Fling, an experienced cowman, kept his riders out of the weather until the storm passed. He knew by experience that the cattle would begin to move when they became hungry. So the Spade policy was especially popular with the cowhands.
The annual spring roundup was the most outstanding event in the cattle country. The first important one was the packhorse roundup of 1879. The cooks at the headquarters of each ranch were instructed to be prepared to feed a certain number of men at a given time, and the foreman to have an ample supply of grain ready. But the arrangement was a miserable failure. As they moved from one range to another, the ranch representatives proceeded to round up all the cattle in sight and then to cut out and segregate those belonging to other ranches. No one could tell in advance when this would be accomplished. Once the cutting process was begun, it must continue until it was finished. They could not stop to eat when meals were prepared. So the cook's efforts were largely wasted. Beginning with the eighties, wagons were used until the ranges were completely fenced, in 1883.14
When the cattlemen met in their March meeting, usually at Caldwell, they designated a captain of the roundup. He prepared in advance a diagram of each of the great ranges, indicated the direction the roundup should take, and set the day when the ranch representatives should meet for their instructions. The date was set when the captain observed that the cattle had shed most of their winter coat of hair. A clear view of the brand was the essential thing. Abner Wilson, Major Drumm's foreman, was the captain of the roundup in 1880. It was managed so well, the Southwestern Cattlemen's Association, in their March meeting of 1881, voted to give Wilson a hundred-dollar saddle. Many cowhands were in Caldwell at the time. Solicitors were instructed to seek contributions. Laban saw a solicitor approach Ike Pryor, a cattleman from San Antonio. Ike pulled a quarter from his vest pocket and said: "There, take that. It will buy a horn string for the hundred-dollar saddle!" And thus the contributions rolled in! Wilson had to pay at least seventy-five percent of the cost of the saddle.15
When the cattlemen learned that the day was set for the roundup to begin, each foreman was notified to send one representative. Every man attending the roundup must be an experienced cowhand, have good eyesight, and be expert at observing brands and earmarks. The experienced cowhand knew that no two cows were alike in disposition. Almost at a glance he could spot the easy-going types. In forming a cut his nucleus was begun by quietly separating a sleepy, plodding fellow from the main herd. Then, one by one, others were slowly headed toward the lone fellow chewing his cud. When the cowhand saw the second animal throw his ears forward, he returned to the herd for another. The shifting-forward of the ears meant that the second animal had sighted the first one and would join him. This technique was more desirable, however, when beef herds were being selected from the main herd on the home range.16
The ranch representative must know all about the horses from which his mount was to be selected. Good cutting and roping horses were ideal for the roundups. Not every ranch sent a wagon outfit. Perhaps one ranch out of five or six actually sent one. The foremen of the other ranches arranged for their roundup representatives to accompany the wagon.17
In 1881, Laban and his brothers, who occupied a range on the Chikaskia in Pratt County, Kansas, conducted a roundup of their own when green grass began to show. Thirty of their cattle were missing. Since they were associated with E. H. Chapin of near Medicine Lodge, Laban took Chapin's wagon and mule team, and invited six other small cattlemen of Barber County to join him in the spring roundup. They met the ranch representatives of the Cherokee Outlet near Fort Cantonement on the North Canadian, a short distance south of the Cimarron. The roundup moved north and east through the Cherokee Outlet, thence northwest into Barber and Comanche Counties, Kansas.18
The roundup of 1882 began at the north fork of the Canadian River, near the present site of Oklahoma City and worked westward to a point near Fort Reno. Of nights the wagons, more than a dozen in number, were camped in a column along the stream. The Cheyenne Indians were numerous, and the presence of so many cow outfits was a source of provocation. The young Cheyennes were smarting under the treatment they had received at the hands of the United States Government. One evening when the whole wagon column was encamped, a young Indian came to one of the wagons and claimed a horse which George Jones, a Texas cowboy, had been riding. Jones terminated the argument by beating the Indian over the head with a quirt. The next morn-
ing as the wagon train, was getting under way, Amos Chapman, a government scout, escorting a small detachment of soldiers, passed by on the opposite side of the river. The scout walked with a list, for he had been wounded in the Buffalo Wallow fight of 1874. Without slackening his pace he called: "You fellows had better be pulling out of there. We're going up to the Indians' War council to try to talk them into keeping the peace. If I can't persuade them, they'll be right out killing every white man they can." Chapman was successful, however.19
The wagon outfits turned away from the Canadian toward the Cimarron and crossed the roughest country of western Oklahoma. It was apparent that the cattle drift from Kansas and the Outlet could not extend farther west. This country proved to be difficult for the wagon outfits to control their saddle horses. A dozen separate ranch representatives were attached to the Crooked Creek Pool wagon, and, of course, they had a large bunch of horses. It was the custom of the cow country for part of the men to ride in front of the loose saddle horses, and the rest behind them. The Barber County outfit had difficulty trying to keep the Pool horses away from theirs. When the column came to a hair-pin turn around a deep canyon, the Barber men looked across and save all of the riders with the Pool wagon bunched behind their loose horses, having a good visit. Then the Barber men turned the Crooked Creek Pool horses back toward the south. Bill Mills, of the Pool, was the first to see what had occurred. He rode down the face of the steep canyon to head them off. He lay back on his horse's rump to keep it from turning a somersault. "I believe that was the most reckless ride I ever saw," Laban remarked. Mills had a terrible climb up the face of the canyon on the opposite side, but came out near the lead of the herd. Thereafter the Crooked Creek Pool observed the custom of the cow country.20
When the roundup outfits crossed the Cimarron they worked the Cherokee Outlet. Laban transferred to Major Drumm's wagon which was in charge of Henry Johnson, captain of the Cherokee Outlet roundup. Johnson's cut comprised Drumm's, Campbell's, Streeter's, and those of the Barber County Association. The roundup worked east until they came to Turkey Creek where they experienced a severe hail storm. The cattle were bedded in a bend of the stream, and Johnson's wagon was stopped near a deep pool of water at the bottom of a high bank. The opening of the bend was only twenty rods across. It would be easy for two men to stand guard or ride the line, so it appeared. After night set in some one foolishly staked a horse so it could graze across the line to be ridden during the night. When blinding flashes of
lightning revealed heavy storm clouds, Johnson told Ad Martin and Laban to take the first guard. It was not long until rain fell in torrents. Then it began to hail. That stampeded the herd. The two riders had just passed one another. Martin was headed toward the open flat. He dashed to turn them toward the high bank, but his horse tripped over the high, taut rope and rolled on the ground. Laban whirled to help Martin, but twenty-five longhorns beat him to the crossing and ran to the prairie beyond. Martin was soon in his saddle and held the rest at the turn behind the bank.21
Laban rode after the terrified animals. "Hail as large as my fist began falling, and one hit me between the shoulders on the spine," he stated. When one of the big slugs struck a cow in the back of the head, she dropped to her knees. Nearly the whole herd were bawling as if they were being killed. When they saw the rider, they turned and crowded closely around his horse, trying to get their heads under shelter. "I was as badly scared as the cattle and my horse. The wind was blowing a gale, sheet lightning was playing, and the roar of the hail was terrifying. I knew if one of those slugs hit me on the head, it might kill me or knock me off my horse. Suddenly in this turmoil and fright, Ad Martin came dashing up behind me with a wooden waterbucket on his head. I was glad to see Ad coming, for he always wore a million dollar smile and he brought it with him." But one of the big slugs hit the bucket and another knocked the horse to his knees.22
The storm passed as suddenly as it came. As the cowhands were returning with the stampeded cows, Johnson rode up and remarked, "I just came to see whether you fellows were dead or alive." Then he told Martin and Records that the saddle horses had stampeded to the blackjacks. It was near morning when the horses and cattle were recovered. Johnson's men lay around for a day waiting for the other wagon outfits to recover their cattle and saddle horses. Their cattle and horses had stampeded in every direction, for none of the riders cared to expose themselves to the hail.23
The roundup outfit had a great deal of fun when former governor, James Hamilton of Kansas, sent his cowhands to join the roundup of 1882. They were green and unfamiliar with the custom of the cow country. They wore broad-brimmed white hats with the brims rolled up in front and turned down at the back. They carried white-handle six-shooters and butcher knives and wore big spurs with bells on them. The stirrups were hitched
23Ibid., 378-80. This incident occurred a few miles northwest of the present site of Hennessey, Oklahoma.
so high, the riders' knees were nearly even with the seats of their saddles, and they leaned over their saddle horns like jockeys riding race horses. Ike Berry, a sedate-looking man with a full beard, decided to have some fun. When one of Hamilton's freaks cut a cow from the center of the herd, Berry charged after him swearing and yelling, "Hold on there. Stop! You can't take that cow!" Soon Berry was surrounded by Hamilton's cowhands. But Ike rode out like a whirlwind. Some of his associates rode over to see what had happened. "Why did you let that fellow get away with that cow?" Laban asked. Berry replied, "Ike Berry's hide isn't bullet-proof, and I saw I was getting too close to that six-shooter mob."24
The roundup of 1882 ended at Medicine Lodge, Kansas. When the saloons closed at midnight, the cowhands from the Cherokee Outlet stepped outside and emptied their six-shooters twice round, whooping and yelling the while. Laban was night-herding in Antelope Flat southeast of town, and knew at once what was going on. In fact Nate Priest, the town marshal, told him during the day what was likely to happen. When Priest threatened reprisals, Laban told him that the cowhands were entitled to some fun, for they had spent much money in the town. Priest thought it over, then changed his mind. He walked to his country home and stayed there.25
The roundup of 1883 was the most important of all. The previous year the cattlemen of northern Oklahoma started fencing their ranges, and were anxious to have an extensive roundup far to the south. Many of the outfits went as far as the Washita. The representatives of the Drumm and Spade ranches, "Texas Dave" Thomas and Laban Records, were instructed to take the Texas trail about the first of April, and join the Comanche County Pool's wagon outfit. But they connected with the Barber County wagon instead. A thin mist was falling, and they deposited their bedding in the wagon.26
The forenoon of the second day the wagon reached John Chapin's store, and Laban observed that the Cimarron River "was awfully high." Chapin and the Spade representative were friends of some years standing. Since it was impossible to cross the swollen river with a loaded wagon, Chapin was induced to lend the stage company's row boat.27 At that moment a number of Cheyenne Indian boys jumped out of a brand-new farm wagon and swam across the river. They were bound for Caldwell, Kansas, to entrain for the Indian school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The
27The Southwestern Stage Company passenger coaches stopped at the store. It was near the river crossing, not far from the present site of Dover, Oklahoma. See Ridings, op. cit., 32; Dale, op. cit., 64.
boys' driver, an old German unfamiliar with the Cimarron, attempted to cross. His team disappeared twice before they finally climbed out on the north bank, pulling only the running gears of the wagon. But the driver floated down stream in his wagon box, shouting, "Help! Help! I want help!!!," until the Indians overtook him and turned him shoreward. Laban gave the Indians a dollar and a half in silver to take the Barber wagon across the river, while he and the other cowhands swam their own horses behind the loose saddle horses.28
The Barber men overtook the Comanche County Pool wagon at the North Canadian, and it was also at flood stage. The two outfits made a raft and ferried their wagons across. Then the horses took the water. Laban was on Little Dog, a Kingsbury and Dunson horse, an excellent swimmer, who had the habit of letting down to find out how deep the water was. He "sank to the bottom and left me about ten feet above, waiting for him to come up," his master mused.29
Much venison was served, because deer were numerous and not difficult to stalk. The Indians were eating beef furnished them by the United States Government.30
When the cow outfits gathered around a big fire, the theme of discussion was the amount of cattle rustling reported between the two Canadian rivers. The Strip men were told they would not be permitted to cut out any of the "burnt" cattle. Laban was armed with a six-shooter and a brand book. And no one from the north had forgotten his six-shooter.31
As soon as the Kansas and Strip men reached the South Canadian, they had their first roundup. "It was a regular rustlers' roundup," Laban added. The rustlers had four thousand head in their roundup, and it was difficult to find stray cattle because of so many different brands. The riders from the north spent three days in the presence of the rustlers, but neither group suffered a casualty.32
The Spade representative joined the 4D wagon and went to the Washita River. They worked through the Caddo Indian reservation, and then moved toward the Arbuckle trail. The whole outfit was on short rations and a number of the younger cowhands threatened to leave. But the fact that Fort Reno was at least fifty miles away was a strong deterrent. When they overtook the wagon on Deer Creek, the hungry riders ate palatable food for the first time in nearly two days. The next morning the Spade representative rode through White Bead's herd on the Arbuckle trail. The old Cheyenne,
30See E. E. Dale, ed., A Rider of the Cherokee Strip, (Houghton, Miflin, Co., Boston, 1936), 73, 86-88, 89, 90-7.
dressed in Indian regalia, carrying a buffalo gun, and wearing an eagle feather in his hair, sat like a statue on his horse. Farther north the cowhands passed a Mennonite mission and admired the Pole Angus cattle. They spent one night at old Fort Cantonement and arrived at ranch headquarters the first week of June. Then the Spade representative transferred to Drumm's wagon and spent another month working the ranges of Barber and Comanche counties in Kansas. He returned to the Spade headquarters on the 4th of July. "It was the longest roundup I ever attended, and I lay in the shade ten days before resuming work again," he concluded.33
Riding the line on the great ranges during the seventies was not lacking in danger and excitement. The cowhand must be resourceful and ready to meet all emergencies. When Laban started to work on the T-5 in the spring of 1879 the cowhands were riding in pairs, because Dull Knife's northern Cheyennes had killed some cowhands in September, 1878. The T-5 extended from the site of the present Cherokee, Oklahoma, to the present site of Fairview, south of the Cimarron. In dimensions it must have been thirty miles long and twelve wide. As long as the herd grazed on the northern half of the range, the cowhands bunked and ate at the large headquarters ranch house.34 As the summer wore on, and as dry weather prevailed, the great herd moved farther and farther away from the stream. So a tent was carried to Big Timber and other camp sites as the herd shifted its grazing ground. Some of the riders occupied two line dugouts near the Cimarron. One was in the lower portion of the range south of the river.35
Besides the cattle, a herd of mares belonging to A. G. Johnson, T-5 ranch owner of Dodge City, ran at large on the range. One day Laban saw a number of Mexicans riding across the range, but thought nothing of it at the time. Two days later the foreman reported that the mares were missing. So he detailed Laban to take the Texas trail northwest and recover them. Soon a steady rain set in, and the parched earth released a dense fog that made it nearly impossible to follow the trail. Suddenly seven or eight Mexicans dashed up and surrounded the lone rider. They were talking excitedly among themselves. The cowhand got his six-shooter ready; it was hidden under his slicker. Presently one of the Mexicans rode up, "took the butt end of his quirt and lifted up the front part of my slicker so as to see the brand on my horse's shoulder. The brand was a T-5, and that saved my life. The mares had a small flying -v- on the shoulder. So the Mexican leader guessed I had no connection with
34The T-5 ranch house, catch pens, corrals, stable, grain bin, etc., were on the left bank of the Eagle Chief, a mile west and a half south of the present Carmen, Oklahoma.
the outfit that owned the mares."36 After a hurried consultation with his associates, the leader said, "Adios!" and the band disappeared in the fog. The horses were recovered later by some officers sent out from Dodge City.37
Late in the summer the T-5 herd was moved across the Cimarron to the southern part of the range. When the supply of provisions needed replenishing, the cook was sent to Kiowa, Kansas, with a wagon. He had not covered half the distance when a band of Pottawatomie Indians, returning from an unsuccessful hunting expedition in the Panhandle, rode up and asked for something to eat. He was terribly frightened. The fact that the Indians wore what the cowhands called "stove-pipe" hats, meant nothing to him. When he saw they were not going to kill him, he gave them his lunch out of sheer gratitude.38
Not long after the cook's return to camp, George McDonald carelessly remarked that he heard Cheyenne Indians shooting at deer, but had not seen an Indian. Laban cautioned him not to mention Indians in the presence of Jim, "for he might stampede and leave us." More than a week passed. At supper time, shortly after he had returned from his line, McDonald told of seeing the tracks of three Indians at a small spring where he stopped to drink during the day. That was enough for Jim. The T-5 riders had to do their own cooking, and their number had been reduced from eight to four. What is more, the lines were far more difficult to ride, because the herd constantly crowded to the farthest edge of the range; the grass was so dry and scant. Consequently the riders were in the saddle from daylight to dark. Then when Fayette Thomas foundered on venison, three were left to ride the lines for several days.39
Laban was obliged to ride one line alone. Early one afternoon he saw two horsemen in a great flat approaching from the south. Although they were nearly a mile away, he realized they were Indians carrying Long Toms or Big Fifties. The guns were pointed to the right, and he saw flashes of sunlight from the barrels. "Just then three Indians came riding through a buffalo pass in the sandhills only fifty yards to my right. It froze my blood." The leader of the three gave the high sign. "I interpreted it to mean " 'Come
36A. G. "Gus" Johnson, owner of the T-5 ranch, had recently bought the mares. L. S. Records recalled that the -v- was a trail branch Johnson did not want to mar the appearance of the animal with an additional brand. (Ibid., 221-23). For additional information on Johnson, see Robert M. Wright, Dodge City, the Cowboy Capital (Wichita, Wichita Eagle Press, c 1913), p. 261.
37Ibid., 223. Laban found all the small creeks and gullies filled with water, the farther northwest he traveled. That was another reason why he gave up the chase.
here! We want you! If you don't come, we'll get you anyhow!!"40
The cowhand decided to bluff them. He dashed at them with great speed, but stopped five feet short. They were caught off guard, for the leader had a Winchester in a scabbard fastened to his saddle under his leg. The Indian was the first to speak. He tried to find out who owned the cattle, if the cowhand was a Texan, or an employee of the Agency at Fort Reno. First the Indian threatened and blustered; then the cowhand staged a demonstration. When the Indians with the long guns appeared, the cowhand roweled his horse up the side of a sandhill and brought them in range of his cocked six-shooter. Then he deliberately misinformed the Indians as to the location of the T-5 camp. When the five Cheyennes rode to the top of a huge hill to get a view of it, the cowhand dashed through a buffalo pass in the sandhills and rode across the range in the opposite direction, to his comrades.41
The cowhand had his mettle tested again three years later when he and a shepherd dog halted a great cattle drift on the Spade ranch in the winter of 1882. A heavy snow storm had blanketed the range. When the weather cleared, the cattle began to hunt for something to eat. About four o'clock in the afternoon when the cowhand and faithful old Shep were in a canyon, at least a thousand longhorns traveling south in a fast walk, about twenty abreast, poured over the bluff into the canyon. This initial herd proved to be only a portion of the great drift. The cowhand yelled and pounded his leggings while Shep barked furiously. In time the sun dipped below the horizon, and still the cattle came, but by ten o'clock only a few stragglers were coming. The cowhand and his dog had turned the herds of several ranges back north by way of an adjoining canyon.42
When the crunching of the cattle's feet on the frozen snow died in the distance, "I recall the sense of overwhelming lonliness and helplessness that came over me. The blue dome of heaven was studded with a myriad of sparkling stars. Suddenly, within a few rods of me, I heard the most unearthly howl ever throated by a coyote. The old rascal near me had heard Shep's cry for help. So he called the whole pack to come to the kill." The dog was afraid his master was going to leave him. But the cowhand was determined not to permit Shep to be torn to pieces by the sneaking coyotes. Since the dog could no longer sustain his weight on his lacerated feet, the cowhand lifted him on the horse, and, at midnight, deposited him by the warm fire in the headquarters ranch dugout. Foreman Fling called "Dutch" George to prepare a midnight meal for the hungry cowhand and ailing dog.43
During the summer of 1884 Laban personally conducted two large beef-herd drives to Caldwell. The second trip was a hazardous one, for the Salt Fork was at flood stage. Jim Lee's herd earlier in the day started across but turned back and scattered across the country south of the river. Timberlake warned Laban not to try it. But he was determined. The herd was permitted to graze for some time near the river so as to familiarize them with the smells and sounds from the water. Then the wagon bog and bolsters were tied securely to the running gears. Each man was assigned to a post. Laban and John Watkins took the water with the lead steers and rode the point. The other four were spaced by twos alongside the swimming column, while Charlie Ritchie followed in the wagon.44
Some of the animals were so frightened they attempted to jump on the backs of the horses. When Laban saw the lead steers throw their ears forward, he knew they had sighted the north shore. That was the sign for the cowhands to break contact and make for land. The rest of the herd followed the leaders. When they felt the solid turf beneath them, the herd stampeded and thundered over a range of sandhills into a flat beyond. But Laban and Watkins were ready for them and soon started them to milling. That broke the force of the stampede. The herd was delivered at Caldwell the day the owner, Frank Bates, had set.45
A capable and energetic cowhand usually saved his employer thousands of dollars in a year's time. He was adept with the branding iron, and with his sharp knife changed the young bulls and stallions into steers and geldings. When screw worms infested cattle, he knew what to do. Laban secured cresylic ointment at Caldwell and treated the animals on the open range. Little Cream, his favorite mount, was a master roping horse. The rider had nothing to do but throw the rope. The horse did all the rest; he was perfect with his timing. When the huge steer hit the turf, his horns were planted in the sod. The roper dismounted and pulled the home end of the rope through the loop. As the rider started after another animal, a second cowhand came along and applied the medicine.46
Although the cowboy has had his chroniclers and interpreters, the public at large has not been given an adequate appraisal of his more solid but less spectacular services.