April 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 3
A cowboy’s own story of his experiences on the trail from Texas to Chicago
Tales of the great longhorn herds which thronged the plains of Texas lured many fortune seekers there after the Civil War. One of them was an elderly livestock buyer named Upton Bushnell, who set out from Ohio in the spring of 1866. Bushnell had reckoned that beef fetching no more than three or four dollars a head in the poor and underpopulated Southwest was worth ten times as much up North—an opportunity for profit that many others were to discover after him. Although most of the 260,000 head of cattle driven north that year went only as far as the western Missouri railheads—Abilene and the other Kansas cow towns would have their heyday later—Bushnell planned to take his herd directly to the Chicago stockyards. That a sizable part of it reached its goal after incredible hardships was largely due to the efforts of his able head man, a young Indiana farmer named Perry Case. What follows is Case’s hitherto unpublished story of the long drive, told when he was an old man. Relying on a memory undimmed by age, and his carefully-kept diary, he dictated this account to a relative, Mrs. Nancy Gay Case Hughes of Chicago, shortly before his death in 1926.
A New Orleans we saw our first Texas cattle. They was loaded on cars to go east. And oh, such horses, Gawd! I never see such splendid horses!
Bushnell, talking with a man, says, “I am going to Texas after a load of cattle.”
The man says, “You are aware that you can’t buy Texas cattle with greenbacks, hain’t you?”
“No,” says he, “I don’t know anything about that.”
“Well,” he said, “you can’t buy a beef steer with a bushel basket full of greenbacks. Many can’t read or write and can’t tell a one from a twenty. They won’t take paper. You will have to have gold.”
We had two days to wait for the steamship. In the meantime Bushnell says to Dick and me, “Boys, we will go down to the bank here and get our money changed. You will have to go with me because it will be too heavy for one man to carry. We will divide it up. Each one will carry a third. It will be heavy enough then.”
The cashier brought out the money in rolls of gold. My Gawd, we could never have carried silver. We went aboard the ship for the night. We always managed, on account of this money, to all be together as much as we could. Dick hid his money in his belt. I put mine in a handkerchief tied around my neck under my shirt.
Our ship, the I. S. Harris , left New Orleans next morning for Galveston, Texas. The Mississippi don’t mix with salt water for two or three miles; you can see the muddy waters of the Mississippi far out in the bay. About that time it began getting rough. It wasn’t what the sailors called rough, but it was rough enough that Bartlett, Bushnell, and Fred Lewis wasn’t out of their berths the rest of the trip—two days and two nights. Dick would go to Fred twenty times a day and ask him if he was better just to hear old Fred stutter and spit, “O-n-no, b-b-b-by God!” Oh, he stuttered worse than any man I ever knew. And Dick would just die laughing.
When we landed in Galveston, we learned we had to wait until evening for a boat to Houston. At Houston we took a little railroad called Texas Central north to a little town called Millican. No grading was done, just ties laid down on the surface. The train ran slowly. Once the train stopped. We didn’t understand and looked out, and there was the engineer off buying a pail of berries of some women picking beside of the tracks. We stopped for the passengers to drink at a spring, and we stopped at every ranch.
At Millican we stayed at a hotel. After supper we was sitting on the veranda in front of the hotel smoking cigars. (They all call porches verandas there.)
We heard a revolver shotl A man cried out three times, each cry getting weaker. Dick jumped up and said, “That was a man shot.”
I glanced around and saw everyone sitting still, not even taking their cigars out of their mouths. I pulled Dick by the pants to sit down. He was white as a sheet. The man’s cries was terrible but I see every one sitting still.
Some boys came along going the way of the shots. It wasn’t but a minute or two until back they come, and as they passed, one of the men took his cigar out of his mouth and said, “Who was shot, boys?”
“Oh, Texas Jack shot such and such a one.”
The man said, “Kill him?”
Dick said, “Why did he kill him?”
“Oh,” said the man, “probably just a tenderfoot.”
“That Jack is a bad one,” the other man said.
We gathered more about the fellow. They said he was quick on the draw and a sure shot. He knew everyone was afraid of him. He did not have to pay for what he wanted, horse or drinks. He took what he wanted and was likely to shoot the man for giving it to him, or innocent men for no reason at all. (Though desperadoes were common on the Texas frontier, and murder was an all-too-frequent occurrence, one cannot help but feel that this “shooting” was a well-contrived hoax perpetrated on the credulous and still gullible northern “tenderfeet.” [Ed.])
The next day Bushnell was getting worse. The seasickness was getting the best of him. He did not get better of it. The doctor said, “You will have to lie still.”
Bushnell was not better on the third day. In the evening we was sitting in the hotel lobby. I was playing a fiddle that was there. I looked up and saw Bushnell trying to come downstairs. He was hanging on the banister and could hardly make the steps. Dick jumped up to help him down. I says to the landlord, “Can’t you give us a room downstairs? He is too weak to climb the stairs.”
The landlord said there was only his room and the hired girl’s room downstairs. The girl spoke up and said she would be glad to give up her room to help a sick man. So Dick went up for the medicine and our guns, and we took the girl’s room for the night.
The next morning the landlord rapped at our door. Says he, “Is your room all right?”
We three, Bushnell, Dick, and me, always slept together when possible, with our heads against the door on account of the money.
The landlord couldn’t get in.
I says, “Not up yet,” and looked around. “Yes, we are all right.”
“Then you are the only ones,” says he. “Everyone in the hotel has been chloroformed and robbed. One of the girls, the one that changed rooms with you, has not come to, yet.”
Fred and Bartlett had been robbed with the rest. Sid Bartlett lost thirty dollars. Fred Lewis would never tell how much.
During the three days in Millican we had picked up five ponies and was ready to start toward the cow country as soon as Bushnell was able to ride. When he said he would get out where they could not chloroform us, we packed up and started. We rode not more than a mile when we had to stop for him to rest. That was the way we traveled all day.
We rode slowly, resting often for Bushnell. It was just the end of the rainy season. No rain, but mud in the road to the axles. Oxen lay dead along the road where they had played out from pulling heavy loads in the deep mud. Carts stood stuck in the mud where the drivers had gone off and left them. We got twenty or twenty-five miles by the middle of the afternoon when we came to a plantation house. We liked to put up early because we didn’t want to travel after dark, and we asked to stay all night at the plantation. The man asked us to “sit awhile” and a nigger took our horses.
It was an old plantation home just as it had been before the war. The planter’s name was A. J. Moore. He treated us to everything that was the best. We had the first milk and butter that we had had since we arrived in Texas. In the evening when the Negroes came up from the fields there was forty mules and every one had a nigger wench riding. They were singing! Such a concert I never heard.
In the morning after breakfast they brought our horses. When we were ready to take leave, Bushnell asked what was our bill? I will never forget how that planter looked. He stared for a long time, then said, “I have never been guilty of taking money from a guest and I won’t start on you.”
You see, Bushnell did not understand these southern people. They were so hospitable. This man had fought four years in the Southern Army, but he treated us just as though we was from the South.
We hadn’t got that day, oh, maybe three or four miles, when we come across a party of men with a dead man tied on a horse. We said, “What is the matter?”
They said they found him up above a little piece, tied to an Osage orange tree with sixteen bullet holes in him. He was a rider from the store at Millican and had took some merchandise from the store to the little store up above. Someone thought he had some money. He never carried any, but someone had thought so and shot him with sixteen bullet holes.
It was there we had a talk. I said, “You see the conditions and the country we are in, men shot down in cold blood, sharpers, robbers, bad men. Do you want to turn back, or go on? What do you want to do? We have this money and they know it. There has been an attempt to get it and we don’t know what may happen.”
“No,” Bushnell said. Bushnell was no coward. “I don’t want to go back home, but if I had known the conditions the country is in I never would have come.”
“Well,” I said, “you are an old man, sick, and need your rest. But here we are, four of us, Bartlett and Fred, two old soldiers, and Dick and me. One of us will always keep watch. They know we have this money.” After that one of us watched every night.
The progress of Perry Case and his companions into the Texas cow country was slow, for Bushnell was still ailing. On April ay, they reached the town of Waco on the Brazos River; another day’s journey across the plains brought them to a ranch owned by a man named McCabe, from whom Bushnell purchased seven hundred head of cattle. McCabe also agreed to furnish experienced cowhands for the first part of the drive north, and to teach Bushnell and his men some of the rudiments of handling the tough, semiwild longhorns. Much of that instruction, however, consisted of riding the “greenhorn Yanks” through the thorny chaparral, or trying to get them lost. Even so, Perry Case had a fine time; his single regret was that one of McCabe’s sons refused to sell him a beautiful sorrel colt named Bob. During the two-week interlude at the ranch, Perry had several opportunities to make side trips. On one of these sight-seeing jaunts with his friend Dick Bear, he confronted the desperado, Texas Jack. It was a meeting that nearly cost Perry Case his life, and when it was over he was glad that he had taken time during his stay at the ranch to practice with his six-shooter.
Old McCabe said, “You want to get used to the saddle, how would you like to ride to Boiling Springs?” He told us about it. I asked how far it was.
“Oh,” says he, “right smart ride. I could send you a shorter way, but you not being used to following a trail had better take the main trail.”
We decided to take the main trail, which was the longest. This route took us to an inn which was about half way to the Springs. The trail turned and we were told that we could get directions there.
We stopped at the inn for dinner. While we were eating in the dining room off the barroom, the proprietor’s children came running in crying to their mother, “Texas Jack is coming. Texas Jack is coming down the road.”
The mother picked them up in her arms and ran away somewhere.
Dick looked at me and I at him. Our first thought was that he was coming there after us to take the money that we carried on us. Upon inquiring from the girl, however, we learned that he was alone and coming from the opposite direction. That convinced us that he did not know about us and was not looking for us. We knew that he would spot us as strangers, and we had heard many times about his tactics with tenderfoots. Not a day had passed that his name was not mentioned since the first night we heard tell of Texas Jack, that night sitting on the veranda in Millican. I recalled the man that was shot crying out three times in death and I looked over at Dick and he was white as a sheet.
I said, “Dick, you will have to control yourself and get some color in your face.” Dick was always that way. With any fight he turned pale, but when the fighting began he was there with the best of them.
I figured then just how things would happen. Jack would come in the barroom with a gun in each hand. I knowed, for I heard tell, he’d kick the door open with his foot so’s both hands was free. That was the way he always did.
Then I took my gun out of the holster and put the flap inside. I pushed the holster around in front of my hipbone. I cocked the revolver and put it in the holster carefully so that I could get to the trigger quick and easy. By this time I had gained some skill in shooting from the hip without moving my arm, by this way taking anyone unawares. Then I pulled my large red bandana handkerchief out as if I was wiping my hands. It would not be unnatural for one coming out from eating and unaware of danger to be wiping his hands on his handkerchief. I was careful though that I was using only one corner and the rest was hanging down in front of my gun. I was being careful also that my right hand should be free when I should need it.
We heard Jack fling open the door into the barroom and let out a yell: “Everybody to the bar for drinks.” We heard shots follow and falling glass and we knew he had shot the tops off the bottles. We heard scuffling of feet and knew that everyone was at the bar.
I nodded to Dick, and we got up and walked toward the barroom door. The door was open between the rooms, and we started to cross to the other side of the room to the outside door when Jack spied us.
“Hello, stranger,” he said. “Come up and have a drink.”
“No sir,” I said, “I am not a drinking man.”
“The hell you ain’t. You can dance then, can’t you?” With these words he whipped out his revolver and fired at my feet.
With the flash of his revolver I had mine and fired. His revolver dropped to the floor. The blood spurted from his finger and he was so surprised he did not seem to notice it. A more surprised man I never hope to see. He looked at me and said, “Who the hell are you?”
Says I, “A tenderfoot.”
“You are the first man that ever got the drop on Texas Jack,” he said, and stood pale and still, white as a sheet, expecting another shot, which according to rules I had a right to take and shoot the man down in cold blood.
Says I, “You had better attend to that finger.”
A man hollered out in the crowd, “Go for him Jack—don’t let a tenderfoot clean you up!”
Jack stood just where he had stood all the time looking at me. He was young and good-looking, with good clothes. He said slowly, “I’ll ask you now if you have ever seen as quick a shot as that? His is the quickest draw I ever saw. This man has given me my life and I’m going to take it.” He put a handkerchief around his finger, touched his hat and bowed. He went out, got on his horse, and rode away alone. (Almost nothing is known of Perry Case’s adversary, who was one of a legion of anonymous cow country hoodlums. His last name seems to have been Thorn, and he was, in later years, a circus performer. (He is not, however, to be confused with another and better-known “Texas Jack,” also a showman, J. B. Omohundro.) Evidently, Perry’s bullet not only cost Texas Jack a finger, but tempered his criminal aspirations as well. [Ed.])
Everyone in the barroom wanted to talk to me. I was popular right off. They wanted to know how I learned to shoot, what I did, where I was going, and a lot of questions. Dick wanted to go back to the ranch but we went on to the Springs. There was two of Jack’s gang in the inn when the shooting occurred. We didn’t know if they would follow or not, but they was scared. You see it was all an accident that I hit him just that way, but they didn’t know that.
When Dick and I got back to the ranch the next evening, the cowboys fired their revolvers, let out Texas yells, and gave us a great reception. The news that I got Texas Jack reached the ranch before we did. Bushnell saw a chance and said, “Why yes, that is why I hired him, because he was a crack shot.” It was all fixed then. We was no longer “greenhorn Yanks,” we was “crack shots.”
This boy wanted me to have his horse. I got Texas Jack when everyone else was afraid of him, and I was a hero to young McCabe. When he said, “I will sell him for $35 in gold” (and that was a lot of money when any other horse, good ones too, could be bought for $5), I gave him the money so quick he did not have time to change his mind.
And that is how I got Bob. Without Bob I would not be alive to tell this story.
The rest of the stay at McCabe’s ranch was different. They treated us all different after I cleaned up Jack. The hands took pains to show us about handling the cattle and how to rig up our camp wagon.
McCabe’s men was to help nine days and furnish two cowboys after that, but we needed more. There was a halfbreed who said he would go with us and help drive, but he was afraid of the way the cowboys would treat him. I said, “Gray Eagle, no one will bother you. You go just like the other ones.” He was good with the stampede and I knew it.
May 11 we was to start, but the Brazos River was so high that we waited three more days. May 15 we started with the herd. The day was warm and pleasant. We calculated to drive fast the first few days in order to get the cattle as far as possible. Some herds have been known to stampede and return to their native range after as much as three days’ drive.
We had a great time crossing that first river. Dick was on a colt. One of the steers wouldn’t take the water. He turned with a sniff and made for Dick’s horse. Dick was green and the horse was awkward, and the steer ran his long horn in the horse’s flank such a length that it threw Dick. The steer turned on Dick. Dick jumped up and ran. The riders pulled their revolvers quick. I saw the flash and heard them fire, but they didn’t hit the steer right. One of them steers would stand up under as much lead as any buffalo that ever walked the prairie. Dick ran. I saw they didn’t get the steer, and I couldn’t think of anything but Dick in danger and I rode right up. The boys said they yelled to me to keep out of the way of the bullets, but I never heard them. All I could see was that steer and Dick. Dick ran toward the river. The boys said, “Jump in” and we could get him out, but Dick could not swim and he would not jump. I shot fast, five shots, the last one got him. The steer went down on all his knees. Dick saw him and went down in a heap too, white as death, but all right.
Gawd, I never heard the fellows warn me to stay out of the way of their bullets.
The river was so swift, we had to take apart the wagon and make a raft to cross. For nine miles there was woods to drive through before we came out on the prairie where the cattle could eat. I learned woods was the hardest driving there was. It was hard to keep the cattle in sight and all moving together. We got in all thirteen miles the first day. The drivers considered that a good day’s drive.
Stampedes! We had plenty. Gawd! I don’t know how many. No one can imagine if he has never seen one. I can’t describe it. You never know when you may have one. The night horses are always saddled and bridled, ready. There you lie sleeping, dreaming of home, maybe, and then three shots ring out. You pull your stake and call, “Bob.” Then you hear the steers. Oh, the thunder of their hoofs was like the worst storm you ever heard. Maybe you are driving along. All is quiet and a rabbit jumps up and one of them steers jumps and snorts, and off they go. Sometimes you just have them stopped, and off they go again.
Old Bushnell could not do much. He could not stand the run. We did not expect him to do much; he was too old a man. Bartlett and Fred, old soldiers, been through the war and all, could face bullets and Indians with any of them, but not them steers on a stampede. They would not do it.
There is nothing for anyone to do but ride, ride with them, keep still and ride; ride until you come up to the leader. That is where Gray Eagle came in. He would ride along beside the leader. The steers would follow. He would lead them around and around in a large circle first, then make it smaller and smaller. The steers would follow. He would lead and they wouldn’t know what they was following. They would run off a cliff or jump into a river if it happened to be in the path. They couldn’t stop anyway. The ones behind pushed them forward and rushed on.
The prairie was full of stray cattle that kept getting in with our herd. We spent a good deal of time cutting them out and stampeding them in another direction, only to find at night they had been following and had overtaken us. They called the unbranded cattle mavericks, and in spite of all we could do many followed our herd all the way.
We had camped several days during which time we had butchered some mavericks. (I learned early that no driver expected to eat his own cattle.) The pasture was good and our cattle filled up ready for the big drive to the Trinity River. The river was down and we expected to start the next morning, when it started raining again. All night long the rain poured down, the thunder rolled, and the sky was lighted with flashes. The cattle never lay down. They milled around and clashed horns, uneasy all night. Everybody was in the saddle, watching and singing to the cattle to keep them quiet. We didn’t suppose anyone could sleep anyway. We missed Fred and Bartlett, and in the morning the boys said, “Where the hell was you?” The funny part of it was that Bartlett and Fred, accustomed to sleeping during the roar of battle and noises of the Army, slept through it all. It poured down rain all that day. The second night Dick and I lay down on cradle rolls with water all around us. The next day it rained. We slept on dung hills to get out of the water. There was nothing dry to burn and no fire to cook with. What we had to eat for a week was honey and crackers. The water we drank came from a mudhole. The boys all got the blues.
Then one night, came what the Texas boys called a “norther.” The wind blew in from the north on our wet clothes and we almost froze to death. We put on our overcoats and could not keep warm then. Dick said he did not know it could be cold in hell. For two days and three nights we tried to get warm. Dick lay there one night; it was too cold to sleep. He said, “Perry, are you awake? Put your hand out.” There under his arm was a little kitten, all curled up asleep. We did not know where she came from; there had been no house in ten miles. Dick put her in the wagon in the morning with Fred, and he let her ride.
After the “norther” the weather warmed up and it began raining again. One of them rainy nights we had an awful stampede. I was asleep on the ground and I heard the revolvers signal they was off. I called to Bob, but Bob was right there. He came running up and stopped. He stopped barely long enough for me to get my foot in the stirrup and he was off. We didn’t have any time to lose. The steers came on fast, about on us. I wasn’t afraid they could overtake us—they couldn’t catch Bob if he could see—but it was so dark I couldn’t see my horse’s head before me. I wasn’t afraid Bob would stumble. He never stumbled in his life, but I thought of them holes in the prairie, made by little prairie animals, where a horse running in the dark and not being able to see, might step and fall. Bob knew! He knew just as well as I did that he was running for his life as well as mine. All of a sudden I felt Bob halt—halt for just a fraction of a second and gather himself for a jump. I knew it was a jump and a big one; I was ready in the stirrup. He sprang into the air and it seemed we was off the ground two minutes. I wondered what it was and if there was any ground at all. I thought it must be a wide gulch. Then his front feet caught the ground, but I felt his back feet miss and go down. My foot in the stirrup caught the ground. I was off the saddle, pulling on it and lifting Bob with all my might. How he fought! He made it. He hesitated just an instant for me to get my foot in the stirrup, and he was off. The first cattle went into the gulch, and the others over them and on. I could feel their breath. After quite a run, the cattle scattered and we stopped.
The next morning the boys went back to gather up the cattle and found, in what they called a “wash,” fifteen head of cattle that fell in and broke their necks, or did not get out of the way of the ones coming behind. I never saw it. Dick did. When he come back he sat down and looked at me. I said, “What’s up?”
He said, “Perry, how the devil did you jump that gulch? You and Bob must have jumped at least thirty feet. There is not a spot where you could have got over less than thirty feet.”
I knew it. There was not a horse in the herd that could have jumped it; not a horse anywhere unless trained especially.
We waited near the river. Bushnell went ahead scouting and came back one afternoon with the news that the Trinity was down enough to cross. We had a clear evening. Old Fred killed a beef and got the first meal in a week. A little pig joined up with the herd. He was about the size of our kitten. I don’t know where he come from—there was not a house around for miles.
The next day we crossed the Trinity in the worst place possible. I don’t know why Bushnell picked out that place. We had seven miles of wood to drive through. The banks of the river went straight up, and there was a fast current. Then we had a twelve mile drive to get a pen for the night. It was late, and everybody sore.
Somebody said, “Look there,” and there was that little pig swimming the river like a deer and not making any complaint about it. That saved the day. Everybody felt better. The pig got up the bank his self, and when the herd trailed in at dark the pig was with them.
One afternoon I was riding off on one flank of the herd and Dick was riding on the other near some woods. I looked over and there was Dick pulling his revolver. I thought, “Now what?” so I rode up.
“What you got?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Dick, ready to pull, hand up all ready.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Hold onl Don’t you dare shoot.”
“What is it?” he asked.
It was a little deer, a fawn, three or four hours old, hidden in the grass with hardly enough showing to tell what it was. Its little mother had told it to lie down perfectly flat and to keep still no matter what happened until she got back. Maybe she had gone for water and maybe to lead away an enemy. She knew that the safest thing for it to do until it could travel was to lie close to the earth and even the eye of a wolf could not find it, though a few feet away. They can not smell a newborn fawn.
I got off my horse and put my hand on it. The little fellow got up and followed me. I said, “Wouldn’t you be proud to kill this?” Dick touched it and saw its pretty eyes and said he wanted to stay a week. All the boys had come up to see what it was all about. It followed them all around. When we got ready to leave, we had to tie it up with a rope of long grass to keep it from following us. Before it could kick loose, we jumped on our horses and rode away fast.
We watched, and after a while we saw his little brown mother come through the woods and look all around, come careful; then call it, bleat, you know.
If I had let Dick kill that fawn, he would never have gotten over it. The boys all talked about it. You can’t describe a stampede nor a little fawn.
Gawd, Dick used to talk about that one in the middle of the night.
We had great times.
One of the boys got stung with a stinging lizard. One of the fellows brought in a horned toad one night. They killed a snake that measured twelve feet. Bartlett saw a rattlesnake just as it struck a steer in the leg. He shot the rattlesnake, but we had to shoot the steer too.
Near Greenville the prairie was burning. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d seen. Because of the pasture being destroyed we had to turn out of our way five miles. The cattle got scared of the fire and we had to be in the saddle all night, but it was a beautiful sight. Beyond Greenville, we camped with a preacher for the night. We had a good pen for the cattle, and the boys had all the ripe plums and blackberries they could eat. That was a treat!
One evening we camped early and lay resting around the wagon. Old Fred was cooking mess, while the first pickets of the night watched the cattle off a half mile or so. Gray Eagle suddenly threw himself on the ground and listened.
He said, “Indians—coming—fast--three.”
We were just around the bend in a river at a sharp turn. We all heard horses coming then and jumped up with our guns loaded, ready. When they come around the curve, we yelled, “Halt!” We saw then to our surprise that one of them had a little white girl ahead of him.
I said, “Where did you get that child?”
One said, “Father kill brother.”
I said, “And you stole her for revenge?”
The same one said, “Father kill brother.”
I said, “Why did he kill your brother? Did your brother drive off his cattle and horses?”
They didn’t say anything.
I said, “I don’t want to take sides with you or the cowhands neither one, but this little girl must go back to her mother and you go on before her father comes back and shoots you.”
We was well up to the Red River and across the Red was the Indian nation. (What is now the state of Oklahoma was, in 1866, Indian Territory divided in “nations” among tribes that had been driven out of other parts of the United States. [Ed.]) One day I was scouting ahead of the herd when I saw a man walking toward me. As I rode up I noticed he was staggering and weaving as if he was about to fall. It always means an accident if a man is on the plains without a horse. When I got close I saw his face was covered with blood and his skull cut wide open. His clothes was soaked with blood.
I said, “Did the Indians get you?”
He looked right at me for a full minute or more, then said, “Yes.” He was that dazed.
I said, “Was you with that drove ahead of us about a day’s drive?” After a long time he said, “Yes.”
I took him up on my horse so that the cattle would not see him walking. Anyone walking is strange to them and unusual enough that they might either rush him and kill him or be frightened and stampede.
We took him to the wagon and gave him water, and after a long, long sleep he could remember what had happened. He said they camped beside a stream for the night, twelve of them and their cattle and horses, and the first thing they knew they was surrounded by Indians. He could not tell how many. Every other man was killed; they had left him for dead. When he came to, the cattle and horses had been driven away and he had started walking.
We carried him with us a few days until we met a Mexican with four horses in a row, each tied to the tail of the one ahead of him. He said he would take the man back down the trail.
We drove up to Clarksville, where the cattle got in the streets and turned and ran back. We stopped them back about five miles but found twenty-odd head gone. Dick went to look for them, and we drove on and found pasture and waited for him to catch up. After two days’ wait, Fred went back to look for Dick.
While camped waiting for Dick and Fred to come and the river to fall, we noticed off at a short piece another camp. The country around the Red River was full of herds waiting for the river to go down. We rode over and found a camp of riders with five hundred Mexican mustangs.
We returned to our camp for the night, and that night came one of the worst stampedes we ever had. I don’t know what started it, no one knows. Three quick revolver shots told us they was off and they was headed straight for the horse camp.
When I saw the stampede was for the horse camp, I rode. Bob was fastest so I got there and told them what was coming. They got out their horses but, oh, what a stampede! The cattle ran straight into the horse camp, and the horses stampeded. The cattle scared the horses and the horses the cattle. There was nothing to do. All we tried to do was keep a bunch in sight. When daylight come, there they was, mustangs and steers, all mixed up. Here a group, there a group, and dead ones all over the prairie.
We spent the day sorting them up. Fred and Dick came up with the lost ones, but things went bad. Bushnell quarreled with his help. He did not understand the southerners, and they did not like a Yankee boss. When he quarreled, the men quit, and because of shortage of help the others had to be in the saddle night and day. Everybody had the blues; we had been out over a month up to the Red River.
That night Bob was stole!
It happened when I was asleep. Bob was staked out, saddled and bridled, five or six rods away. One of the pickets missed him. He called me and said, “Perry, your Bob is gone!”
I reached up and pulled the stake: the rope had been cut! That settled it. If the stake had been pulled I would have thought Bob was around near and would come when I called, but the rope was cut.
I said to the picket man, “How long has he been gone?”
He said, “He was there the last ride around.”
I knew then he must have been gone ten or fifteen minutes, no more.
I recalled that at the last river south of the Red a man was hired to help us across. He took a fancy to Bob right away. Everybody did, but all the time he was helping he watched him and tried to trade for him and then to buy him, and offered me more than any horse was worth then.
But I said, “No sir, I don’t want you to offer anything. I don’t want to sell him.”
He helped us around the swamp that lay along the river. It was a half day’s drive around the swamp. We paid him and expected we was through with him. That had been a week or ten days and we had driven a hundred miles, but I knew it was him. He had followed and stole my horse.
“Bushnell,” I said, “I want old Sal.” She was the only horse who stood any chance of catching him.
Bushnell said, “I will pay you for the pony. You stay here. If you go, you will be shot.”
I said, “That man wanted a horse worse than any man I ever see but one. That’s me.”
Bushnell said, “He won’t shoot fair. He will get you from the bushes.”
I said, “He wants to hit me first shot then.”
It was just morning light when I started. I rode for the little village by the swamp, where I thought I could get help. When I got there it was late afternoon.
I rode up to the hotel. The proprietor was standing there. He knew something was wrong. I explained my horse was stole and I thought that the man who lived across the river stole him. Says I, “If one of you will help, I will pay you for it.”
Here is where my Mason pin come in play. When I gave the sign, several fellows volunteered to go. The landlord said, “If you could cut through the swamp, you could save a lot of time and maybe head him off. There is one and only one that knows a passage through the swamp. If that old scout was only here he—”
“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.”
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.”
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.
Our money was all gone.
When we got near Fort Smith, Fred took a cow in and sold her and got some supplies. I killed a beef. We had meat. We found good pasture for the cattle, and I went in to town with Bushnell.
When we crossed the Arkansas River at Fort Smith we sent Bushnell home. The steamer came to Fort Smith but once a week, then only when the water was high enough. I bought Bushnell’s ticket, put money in his sock, and put him aboard. He felt very bad when I bid him gopdbye. The old man was crying and couldn’t talk. He took the Pilgrim steamer at 4 P.M., July 25, for home.
There I was for the first time with all the responsibility on me. All the men that had started from the ranch with us had gone back. There was only Bartlett, Fred, Dick, and me, with what help we could get. Money was short. Everybody was blue.
Turning eastward to follow a trail through the rugged Ozark region of northern Arkansas, Perry Case pointed his herd toward the Mississippi River. He now found himself in country which had been so devastated by the late war that it had not yet begun to recover more than a year after the end of hostilities. Though the settlers here were for the most part pro-Southern, they had suffered as much from the ravages of Confederate guerrillas in their midst—bushwhackers—as from the reprisals of Union troops. Often the bushwhackers were recognized desperadoes like the infamous Quantrill who made the war an excuse for looting and killing. But the Union men were no less guilty of brutality in their efforts to destroy these lawless irregulars. In the end, it was an innocent civilian population that was victimized most.
About a day’s drive from Prairie Grove Prairie Grove, (a settlement in the northwest corner of Arkansas, was the scene of a bloody, if inconclusive, Civil War engagement in December, 1863. [Ed.]) we come out on a big spring along the White River. It was a rough country, with no feed for our cattle, but we stopped for water. They said the Union soldiers had burned up everything the year before.
We saw two little boys who said they hadn’t seen any bread for six weeks but they lived mighty well now: they had peas to eat.
“What the devil did you live on?” Bartlett asked.
“June bugs and field mice,” the boys said.
These boys were war victims. We saw hundreds of people like these, left destitute by the war. Histories of the North don’t tell this, but this is how it was and I am going to tell it.
We drove on over the mountains: there was no water, no grass, nothing but rocks. What to do? The cattle’s feet got sore on the stones, and yet we couldn’t stop. We had to drive on for feed. We gave a man $5 to help us across the Osage Creek and the Osage Mountains. In Carrollton everything had been burned but we found a field where the grass had grown up that year, and we camped a day for the cattle to eat. The boys butchered a beef and washed their shirts.
We made a big drive to Baker’s Prairie, seventeen or eighteen miles, and it began to rain, and got dark before we could make camp. I had a hard chill and a fever. The thunderstorm scared the cattle and they stampeded all over the country. It was a hard night on the boys, everybody was riding all night but me, and I lay there and wondered what we was going to do. It was three hundred miles from there to the Mississippi River. Our money was all gone, but we couldn’t sell anything. The people through there had no money. The salt for our cattle was all gone. The boys needed clothes. I thought of Bushnell and didn’t wonder he got sick.
The next day I was no better. The boys gathered up the cattle and killed a beef. Dick rode, trying to get me medicine. I had a hard shake, and lay in the wagon all day. I wasn’t any better the next day. The boys all had the blues. I lay there burning up with fever for a week. The cattle had pasture, but we had to drink from the same mudhole with the cattle, and carry that a mile.
Bartlett brought me a drink, and when he came in the wagon I said, “Where is your hat?”
He said he lost it a week ago in a stampede.
I looked down at his feet and said, “For God’s sake, are you barefoot too?”
That was enough.
I said, “Tell the boys to get ready to start in the morning. We got to get out where we can sell something.”
We started on the next day. It was better, but oh, what pitiful sights. We came to a place where three roads come together, and there was four boys. Someone called to the boys and asked them where they lived. No houses in sight. There wasn’t a house left standing. The Union soldiers had burned everything.
They said, “Over in the big cave.”
Someone said, “How many are there of you?”
“Oh, right smart.”
By this time I knew that “right smart” meant there was a whole lot. I said, “I would like to ride over with you.”
At the cave, two women came out. They had three or four kinds of material pinned around them, pinned with thorns, not pins, mind you.
I said, “You have iron kettles, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” they said.
“And I see salt.”
“Yes, the hoops was burned from the barrels but the salt would not burn.”
I called the men and killed the mavericks, and we filled all the iron kettles with meat and salted it down in all the vessels we could manage to round up.
The women was ashamed to come out before the men but I told them to not be afraid, that not one of my men would dare to mistreat them. I begged the women not to let the children eat all they could at first but to give them just broth at first.
An old, old woman came out with a stick in each hand to help her walk. She was bent over almost to the stick, and her hair was gray and not combed; it hung around her face all tangled up. She was a pitiful sight.
She said, “Mister, do you care if I pray?”
I told the fellows to get off their horses and take off their hats. Gawd, I never heard such a prayer. It was thanks given for an answered prayer, a prayer to send them food, and she had had her prayer answered. I never heard a prayer in all my life touch me like that. I can’t tell it yet without crying.
Now why had them mavericks followed all the way from Texas? We tried to drive them back and to cut them out but they wouldn’t leave. They wasn’t branded and it was against the law to have them in the herd, but we couldn’t drive them back. I would not have dared to kill Bushnell’s cattle to feed these people. Now I know why the strays had followed all the way, but I could not understand it until then.
We drove on over the mountain and passed the little hill where they had buried them that died. Oh, rows and rows of little graves!
We found more near Yellville in caves, half starved. We left them meat and hardtack; that was all we had.
Not all these women were bushwhackers’ wives. Some of them was women who had good homes; their husbands had gone to war. The soldiers burned them out alike. That evening we stopped at an old plantation. No fences, no trees, but rich land that had grown up to grass for the cattle. A girl came out and said we could not camp there.
Old Fred was b-b-b-ing, stuttering so he couldn’t say a word when I come up. There she was, a girl, young and pretty, but awful thin and poor. Her eyes was large, and dark all around them.
She said, “You can’t stop on this plantation.”
Says I, “How far to the next one?”
She says, “A wee bit.”
I knew this was only a mile or two and I says to the boys, “Go on.”
Then I said, “Why are you here alone?”
Says she, “I wouldn’t talk to you a minute but for the pin you wear. My father was a Mason, and my oldest brother. They were both killed on the battlefield. The news killed my mother. Then bushwhackers stole all our horses and cattle and even the chickens. They sent home from the war my youngest brother to die: he had gangrene in his foot. Our buildings were burned by the Union soldiers, and I did not have a spade to bury my brother when he died. I dug that grave there with my hands and covered it with evergreens.”
“What are you waiting for?” I asked.
“But you are a young woman,” I said. “You might get away and maybe marry and have a family of your own and live a life yet.”
She burst into tears then. All the time she’d been dry-eyed.
“No! No!” she said. “The only man I would marry is dead on the battlefield with my father and brother. We would have been married as soon as the war was over, so I am waiting to die. The only thing that I dread is to die here and have the wild animals eat my body.”
I said, “I won’t leave you here like this. What the devil do you eat?”
She said that she ate wintergreen berries and wild plums, and rolled stones in front of the cave at night.
Then I said, “I will take you back to these people at the crossroad.”
“No!” she said, she would not ride a Yank’s horse. Gawd, she had spunk.
Then I said, “You can walk it?” She said, “Yes,” that she had many times.
Then I said, “I will leave you here on only one condition, that you will promise to go to them.”
She considered this a long time, then she said she would.
I said, “You look like a girl who will keep your word.”
She said, “Yes,” that she would go.
I can’t tell about them all but there was one widow, made a widow by the war, told of the Yanks burning the house over her sick sister. She asked them to spare the house for her sister’s sake, but they carried her out and burned the house. There was not a fruit tree left. They even burned the spring house where the last drink of milk was. She buried her sister with her hands, covered her with boughs and reeds. No wonder these southerners hated the people from the North. We left her hardtack and meat.
Then there was a woman and two boys. Fred said to the boys, “W-w-what do you eat?”
“Oh, we got melons now.”
Fred went down to see their house and took them some meat. The woman put her head out and said not to come any nearer.
Fred asked why.
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.
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.
In January, 1926, Perry Case died, aged eighty-eight. He must have suspected that the end was near, for it had been not more than a few weeks since he had finished dictating to Mrs. Hughes the story of his long drive up from Texas sixty years earlier.