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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
She said, “I haven’t enough clothes to cover my nakedness.”
Fred came back and told me. I went down and said, “Lady, would you wear a man’s shirt?”
“Yes,” she said she would.
“And I have a man’s overcoat—you can make a skirt.”
She said, “I have nothing to make it with.”
So old Fred got out the thread and needles. Bartlett was the smallest man in the lot, so we sent one of his white shirts.
The next day the woman came up in the original hobble skirt, but no woman in a hobble skirt was ever as proud as that woman.
On August 23, Perry Case and his men crossed over into southern Missouri. Even though they were no more than two weeks’ drive away from the Mississippi River and Illinois, their hardships had by no means ended: they had run headlong into a drought area. Creek beds were dry, and water was nowhere to be found. Crossing the Black River, thirsty cattle drank so much that several died. To make matters worse, Perry discovered that the Missouri farmers were openly hostile to cattle drivers.
We met a man from Illinois. He said, “You are aware that it is unlawful to drive Texas cattle in Missouri, hain’t you?”
“No,” I said, “I did not know anything about it.”
He said some herd had passed through, and from the ground where the Texas cattle had eaten, the native cattle had took Spanish fever. Should one of the native cattle come in and stop to eat at a spot where the Texas cattle had breathed or left scent of body from over night, they would start to bellow and paw as if they smelt fresh blood. They would then start drooling and staggering, not drink, gnaw roots and the ground about them, and finally fall over dead. Nothing could save them: they had Spanish fever.
That was why they passed the law prohibiting Texas cattle to pass through the state.
There I was. What to do? I didn’t think I had more than two or three days’ drive in Missouri to the Mississippi, where we could cross into Illinois. If we went back down and crossed the Mississippi from Arkansas, we must also cross the Ohio River. Our money was gone, the boys’ clothes gone, the weather getting cool. I didn’t want to break their laws, and I was afraid they might take all the cattle if we did. But if we went back to Arkansas and crossed the Mississippi and Ohio it would take much more for the ferry and who could tell what we would run into then.
I rode ahead to Jackson, Missouri, and picked out a way. We waited several days for the cattle to fill well and for the moon to get full so that we would have a moonlight night. I decided to try it.
We started one evening and drove all night and all the next day and the next night. We never stopped the herd. In this time I rode ahead and picked out the trail. I planned to not drive near one of the settlements and had a way picked within seven miles of Jackson. There it was fenced in and we had to drive the road.
When we came to the edge of the prairie seven miles from Jackson at daylight in the morning, the herd had fed two hours and was pretty well filled. At daybreak I knew there would be trouble. I had said, “Boys, we are in the wrong. Don’t let’s start any of the trouble. We are wrong and are disobeying the laws so we will have to take a little. If there is any shooting let them fire the first shot.”
A party of six or eight men came up and before long sixteen men were there. They asked for the owner of the drove. I told them I expected that the owner was dead and I was in charge. They said, “Did you not know it was against the law to drive Texas cattle through this state?”
“Yes sir, I did.”
“Then why the devil are you doing it?”
A horse came up then as fast as his rider could make him ride. Someone said, “That is Squire Ellis.”
He stopped short in front of me and said, “I have come to save bloodshed.”
Old Fred boiled up, an old soldier in the war, four years. He said, “B-b-by God, we w-w-w-on’t be shot down.”
I said, “See here, men. I want to tell you about this. I did not come this way just to break your laws, and I don’t want to cause anyone any trouble. We started from Ohio, and have been through some tight places. The man who bought these cattle lost his nerve; he was an old man and sick. We sent him home to die. I am taking these cattle through for his widow and family and to get enough to pay these men. We are out of money. Our cattle haven’t had salt for weeks. We haven’t had enough to eat ourselves. My men all need clothes. They have been through a good deal, and can’t stand much more. I did not know you had passed this law until I got here. You made this law since I started. Now we have come fast. Nowhere in Missouri have we stopped where there was settlers until here on the edge of the prairie. None of your cattle are exposed. If you will keep them away from this pasture until a rain or three days of heavy dew, your cattle will not catch the Spanish fever.”
One of the riders spurred up his horse and cracked his whip. “That is the damn Yank of it,” he said. I shook my head at old Fred and Bartlett. That was hard for soldiers to take.