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The Long Drive
A cowboy’s own story of his experiences on the trail from Texas to Chicago
April 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 3
I didn’t think it concerned me so I lay still. That was the trouble with Bushnell. He could not let little things go that bothered the southerners. Dick had told me some more of the squabble of Bushnell and the southern drover at the time of the Red River crossing. It was worse than I had supposed. Bushnell said among other things when he got mad at the southern drover because he would not cut out his cattle and let us cross, that the only white man in the South was a nigger. They wouldn’t take thatl That wouldn’t go in the South, you know. They had been through four hard years of war and felt very bitter.
We started early next morning with the cattle. I was out in the middle of the stream when a man gave me a sign. I always wore my Mason pin right here on my coat where everyone could see it.
“Now,” he said, “I am going to tell you. When Merryman come up to tell you folks you could have the cattle if you would come back, it was a plan to get him.” He meant Bushnell. “They was mad at him for saying a nigger was the only white man in the South. They thought he would come for the cattle and they would get him. They haven’t got nothin’ agin you, so they won’t do anything, but they are still mad at Bushnell, and they may follow.”
I recalled the shot and that they said in the morning the nigger was not killed nor hurt very much, and I have always wondered why he was shot. Perhaps they expected me to come down and mix, but I didn’t.
We drove all day. In the evening we got a pen for the cattle, and we slept on top of a hog pen to keep out of the way of mice and rats. The forty head knew they was on the trail of the big herd and they went faster. We caught up on the fourth day.
When Merryman and I came up to the bunch, Bushnell was out waiting and hoping I would come. We had had a big drive that day to catch up with the drove. When I come up, I saw he was crying. The old man’s hand was shaking, and I said, “Squire, what is up?” He said the men was quarreling and he had quarreled, and three were going to quit and maybe more.
“Wait,” I said, “and come in camp later when you see everyone is feeling pretty good.”
Merryman and I rode on in with the cattle and I saw they was along a little marsh at the foot of the first mountains. There I found Dick, sitting on a log, hat off, head in his hands. A little way off was one of the horses mired in the mud. Dick got up and said, “For God’s sake, don’t leave us alone again.” Then Dick said they had been quarreling again, everyone, and so I said, “Come on into camp.”
I took off my hat and gave the old Texas yell. Most of the fellows yelled and came out. I saw three sulking over at one side. Says I, “What is the matter here?” They did not say much, and I looked all around and asked, “Where is Bushnell?”
Then they let loose. Said they did not know and did not care. They said he did not know how to drive a drove of cattle and he had too ugly a temper to manage them. I said, “He is an old man and is sick and has a lot of money tied up in these cattle. He is not himself.” Then I told them stories and Dick threw pebbles at that steer of the middle team of Fred’s. When we got old Fred to cuss or try to cuss—for he would stutter and couldn’t say a word—the fellows had to laugh, and a man can’t stay mad when he has to laugh. Then Bushnell came in and they got quiet.
He said, “Case, I am sick. I want you to take charge of things now and when I have anything to say, I will say it to you.”
When he went off, I said we would get off early to get over the mountains and I said, “You fellows will be with us, won’t you?” Two of them said, “Yes, if we don’t have to take orders from Bushnell.” The other said yes, he would go.
We was in the mountains where there was no feed. We crossed Eagle Gap and the Ouachita River and drove as long as we could see. We stopped on Fourche Mountains for the night and found so many rattlesnakes when we started to make camp that we moved on a mile. The Squire was worse. He could not stand to ride and stopped often and rested all day. I slept with him up by the wagon, when he told me that he didn’t think he could get much farther; the money was about all gone. He said to sell anything I could to get cash to pay the men helping us drive. He said he wished someone would offer him enough to make expenses and pay the men, that he would sell anytime. The wolves prowled around and howled all night. A night I won’t forget.
At daylight we was off again. It was hot—hot—Gawd it was hot. We drove over the mountains until, rather late, we came to Poteau River. There was six herds in the vicinity, waiting to go across. We ran into herds all along the way, but that was the most I saw in one place.
We got across and camped. The boys all went back to the river for a bath, and we got settled for the night. After some time I heard the revolvers across the river and I heard the noise. Our boys all got in their saddles, ready for the stampede if they come across the river; but the stampede went the other way. When daylight came, I started the herd, then went back, and it was the awfullest sight I ever see. Eight men, sixteen horses, and forty head of cattle killed and the horns knocked off I don’t know how many more cattle. Oh Gawd! I never want to see another sight like that.
We drove on over the Poteau Mountains. Things got worse and worse. We had to make a litter and carry Bushnell. We traveled that way, two men carrying him, for three days.