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 gave him time to get back, and I took care to comb out my hair and whiskers. They reached down here to my waist. My hair was long too. I hadn’t cut it since the presidential election because of a bet I made about the election.
I knew how they would do it. Old Bushnell would say, “I wish’t Case was here.”
Then old Bartlett would say, “We would get across some way.”
They’d say, “Who the hell is this Case that you think could do so much?”
Old Bushnell would say, “He is my head man and in charge when he gets here.”
And Dick would say, “You know, the fellow that cleaned out Texas Jack.”
Round a little bend in the river I came. I had combed out my whiskers and took off my hat. I had took particular pains they should see that. When I rode up, I gave the old Texas cowboy yell and they all threw up their hats.
I said, “What’s the matter that you don’t get these cattle across here, it is getting late. See, it is getting dark. Why don’t you drive them over?”
Then says Bushnell, “See here, these fellows won’t let us cut out their cattle; they say if ours go across, theirs go across.”
“The hell they do,” in my best, you know the roughest way I could. I have to laugh yet. Dick said I looked like I would scare the devil. The fellows jumped on their horses. I yelled to the fellows across the river to bring back the leaders. Then I said, “Whose boats are these?” This one said it was his, and that one said another was his. You see Bushnell had hired some men from the little village to help them across the river. Then I said, “You fellows that own these boats and can manage them, get another fellow with a long sharp stick and row out there where the cattle start to turn, and you punch them in the neck and don’t let them turn—don’t let them get started back. Now,” I says, “you fellows get your cattle out of here.”
Their boss says, “I will give you $25 to get us across.”
I says, “Fellows, your cattle hain’t fit to cross. They hain’t in any condition.” They was eating branches as big as my fingers then, they was so hungry. I said, “You take your leaders when they come over and drive your herd back here a couple of miles and let them eat for a couple of days. Then you watch what we do and you can do the same.”
Then the boys strung our cattle out. They made a long line, and the leader started across. When one turned his head, the boys in the boats with long sticks would prick them in the neck. And they went right across. We was over in the Indian Territory then. The nation of the Choctaws.
There was Indians all along. We watched our horses all the time. We never left them staked alone to pasture, but we took pains to not molest any of the Indians. When we came out on good feeding ground, we talked it over. Bushnell wanted I should take two men and go ahead and ask the Indians to pass through their territory. I decided two or twenty would not help if the Indians decided to attack. I rode ahead of the herd alone to the Indian village, where they told me I would find the chief. There was Indians all along.
When I rode up to the village, the old Indian chief come out. He had two warriors with him. I did not know what to do, but I rode right up.
The chief said to go right through and we would not be molested. I don’t know whether we would have been or not if I had not asked, but they kept their word. Oh, we had to watch to keep the Indians from stealing our cattle. They would do it if they got a chance but they did not try to harm us.
Bushnell and his party cut across the southeastern corner of the Indian Territory, and proceeded north along a trail known as the “line road,” which ran just inside the Arkansas border. The going became increasingly difficult. In the middle of July, the heat on the open plains was terrific; feed was scarce, and several head of cattle died from eating a poisonous weed. Bushnell quarreled with his men, and the men quarreled among themselves. It seemed to Perry Case that the old man was beginning to lose his nerve.
About a week’s drive from the Red River, a man came and said he had all forty head of our cattle that ran back in the night after we crossed. He said we could have them for a dollar a head if we would come and get them.
The man who come was named Merryman. Bushnell said I should go back with Merryman and get the cattle. We rode hard. We slept on a porch one night, and one day we rode in Arkansas, Choctaw nation, and Texas. We met four droves of cattle coming out at Red River. One drover attempted to cross with a dozen horses and drowned eight. An awful sight!
Merryman took me to his house for supper, and I was served hot biscuits, the first I had had since I left the ranch almost two months before. That was a treat. I rode out of the village on the prairie and staked out Bob for the night. I had not been asleep long when I heard a shot. I lay still. I could not take my horse very well so I stayed there. I thought it might be a plan to get me away from my horse. Merryman ran by where I lay. I said, “What is it?”
He said, “A nigger has been shot down here.”