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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
“Yes,” a little boy says. “He is here, just come. I’ll go and fetch him.”
The old scout come up. He was a hard-looking one, but he said he knew the swamp by the short cut and could easily head the man off.
“But,” I said, “you never saw such a horse as Bob. He can go faster than any horse you ever saw.”
Now the scout said, “I have trees to sight by. Don’t any of you fellows cross that swamp that don’t want to, because there is a few rods that if you would step off either way you would never get out. You follow me, keep your eye on that tree; don’t take it off. If my horse steps off, one foot goes in, don’t you turn out but follow just the same and if someone behind you gets in, throw him a rope.”
Two of the fellows went around, but four went through with the scout. I never thought about danger when I started; all I thought about was getting Bob. But I had not got in but a few yards where the ground was shaking all around that I wouldn’t have been glad to have been out.
We didn’t get through any too quick. They expected to have to wait. They said he couldn’t get around the marsh that quick.
The old scout rode over to some thicket bushes on the river and hid us there. He pretended to be coming across the river and was going to meet the stole-horse rider. He was hardly in the river when we heard the horse’s hoofs. I knew it was Bob.
The scout said, “Hello, you ridin’ right smart.”
“Got a new horse? Tradin’?”
“Who you trade with?”
“Oh, that drove that went through a week ago.”
“Hold on, that horse is too warm, don’t let him drink. Now see here Ben” (the old scout knew the man), “you stole that horse.”
Oh, the look on the old scout’s face —Gawd—how they hated horse thieves.
“Now Ben, I would shoot you right here, but I know you hain’t an ordinary horse thief. You own up that you stole that horse.”
The scout blew his whistle. Out we rode. I rode right up and Sal and Bob knew each other. He was just tickled.
The men said, “We ought to hang him up right here.”
“No,” I said, “I’ve got my pony. That’s all I care for.” I asked them to let him go and says I, “He ain’t no ordinary horse thief. He wanted the pony so bad. Let him go, he has a wife and children!”
It was likely he went up the first tree when I was out of sight. I did not care to look back.
Well, I had my pony, and old Sal too. It was late, about dark, and raining. Back to camp where the boys was waiting by the Red River was a hundred miles. When I started, the landlord put up lunch for that evening and the next day. I rode Bob, and Sal followed with the lunch tied on. I tied it on just as I always did to the back of the saddle, but no man was riding Sal, you understand: there was a jolt and I lost it.
I laid down without any supper and staked the ponies out to pasture. As soon as daybreak I started on. I calculated to reach camp by the middle of afternoon. It was what the cowboys called a hard ride. Up to fifty miles is a “right smart,” I had learned. I rode all day without food. When I reached camp, they had gone!
I knew what they had done. The river had gone down, and they had undertook to cross. I followed down the trail. The prairie grass was down. One could have followed that trail for a year until the new grass grew up through it.
When I got down I saw a rider coming. I was always looking out over the prairie for Indians or someone. When I got up a little closer I saw it was Dick and he had his hand over his mouth. Thinks I, what the devil? He knew I might let out one of them Texas yells that you can hear farther than a gun shot. I kept still and when he got up, says I, “Dick, what is up?”
Says he, “We are in the worst mixup we have been in. Set down.” Then he says, “The river went down and Bushnell decided to go on. We wanted to wait until you got back but Bushnell said you would never come.” All day, Dick said, they see another drove of cattle ahead of them working to get across the river. The lead steer of that herd would go across, and when the bunch got to the center and struck the current where the river ran fast, they turned round and come back. There they was. The leader on the other side and the herd on this side; time and time again they would get to the center with the herd and they would wheel round and come back.
Dick said Bushnell drove ours right up and thought ours would go right across. Our leaders went and the herd followed. Then the leaders crossed the current, and when the herd struck the current the cattle of the other drove turned right around again and came back. Ours came with them. Bushnell told them to cut out their steers.
Dick told me all this but I knew how it was. The drover was a southerner and did not like Bushnell.
“Dick,” I said, “do these fellows know that you have seen me?”
He said, “No.”
“Then,” I says, “you go back the way you come and tell Bushnell and the boys so as no one can hear, that I am alright and will be there soon. Then you take particular pains to let them fellows think that you are all scared to death of me.”