- Historic Sites
The Long Drive
A cowboy’s own story of his experiences on the trail from Texas to Chicago
April 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 3
Ellis said, “You wear a Mason pin. Several of these men are Masons. I will see what I can do.” He took the men aside. They parleyed for an hour. Gawd, things looked bad. I did not know what would happen. After all we had been through I thought they might take the cattle. Then Ellis came over and said, “They voted to let you go on with a majority of one. Get out quick before some more come up.”
Brethren of the Mystic, I want to say to you here is where my Masonry done me some good. If it hadn’t been for that pin no one can tell what would have happened.
I said, “Boys, you know how to get them there in a hurry.” I said, “Ellis, there will be more trouble ahead. Can you help us through?”
He said he would, and another said he would help, then another and another until seven of the men volunteered and rode ahead to the town and the mayor. I told him to tell the ferryman we would have to leave ponies to pay for ferriage until we could sell some of the cattle. The ferriage came to seventy-two dollars. “Now,” said the ferryman, “I have a store up here. I see some of your men need some things to wear.” (The boys needed shoes and coats and everything.) “You come up to the store and get what you want.”
The ferryman was a Mason.
When I asked the men to set aside some ponies to pay him until I got money to send him, he would not listen.
“Now,” he said, “you may need a little money until you sell them.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out thirty dollars and said, “This will help you a little.”
The ferriage and trading had come to one hundred and twelve or fifteen dollars, and for all this he did not even have a scrap of paper to show—not even a scrap of paper.
Bartlett threw up his new hat and yelled, “Back home!” (Across the Mississippi, you know.) The boys was so glad. They said, “We are home now.” We was three or four weeks’ drive from Chicago but they said, “Back home.” They went into camp singing and joking that night.
Perry Case crossed the river near Jonesboro, Illinois, on September 6. Almost immediately, a group of cattle buyers made an offer for the herd. The price seemed fair to Perry, but he wanted Bushnell’s approval first—if the old man had survived the trip from Fort Smith. On a hunch, he wired the Union Stock Yards in Chicago: “ IS THERE A MAN THERE BY THE NAME OF UPTON BUSHNELL LOOKING FOR A DROVE OF TEXAS CATTLE ?” Soon an answer came back: “ AM HERE AND ALL RIGHT, BUSHNELL.” Perry was told not to sell yet, but to drive the cattle along the Illinois Central line; when Bushnell felt the market was right, he would wire Perry to ship the herd north to Chicago by train .
So the long drive continued; but as the days advanced into autumn, Bushnell kept stalling. The price would always be right the next week. Meanwhile the weather turned cold and the cattle grew lean; freezing rains came, and the market seemed to drop steadily with the mercury. On November 3, Perry finally reached Chicago, six months and almost 1,500 miles away from the McCabe ranch in Texas. By that time, Bushnell had no choice but to sell. “I never heard how he come out,” Perry remarked, “but they told me that when he got back to Ohio, he was walking and nearly barefoot.”
For Perry Case, nothing again in his life ever equalled the excitement of the cattle drive. The following spring he was married, and went to live on his father’s small farm in Ohio. Thereafter, success seemed always to evade him. Thrifty and hard-working as he was, Perry nevertheless suffered the fate of meager earnings and constant debt common to so many farmers in his time, for the years following the Civil War were a period of unremitting agricultural depression.
Over the years there was little to remind Perry of his one great adventure. Once, however, when he was an old man living with relatives in Indiana, he received a chance piece of news that recaptured the past for a moment, and even made him something of a local celebrity.
It seemed that one day an acquaintance went to see a circus in Fort Wayne. Among the performers was an elderly man in cowboy dress who did a rope-throwing act. When he was finished, drums rolled and the music stopped; he stepped forward, and holding up his hand, which had a finger missing, he asked whether a man named Perry Case was in the audience —and if not, was there anyone present who knew of his whereabouts? The old cowboy was none other than Perry’s erstwhile adversary, Texas Jack.
Later Perry’s friend went around to see Jack, who told him of the gun duel and how Perry had spared his life. The next day a Fort Wayne paper ran an account of Texas Jack’s request, and a reporter was sent to interview Perry. For a long time he carried the newspaper clippings in his pocket, along with a postcard that had on it a picture of a longhorn steer. But Perry never did meet Texas Jack again.