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Cattle Brands: A Collection of Western Camp-Fire Stories, Page 2

Andy Adams



  Towards the wind-up of the Cherokee Strip Cattle Association it becamehard to ride a chuck-line in winter. Some of the cattle companieson the range, whose headquarters were far removed from the scene ofactive operations, saw fit to give orders that the common custom offeeding all comers and letting them wear their own welcome out must bestopped. This was hard on those that kept open house the yearround. There was always a surplus of men on the range in the winter.Sometimes there might be ten men at a camp, and only two on thepay-roll. These extra men were called "chuck-line riders." Probablyeight months in the year they all had employment. At many camps theywere welcome, as they would turn to and help do anything that waswanted done.

  After a hard freeze it would be necessary to cut the ice, so that thecattle could water. A reasonable number of guests were no drawback ata time like this, as the chuck-line men would be the most active inopening the ice with axes. The cattle belonging to those who kept openhouse never got so far away that some one didn't recognize the brandand turn them back towards their own pasture. It was possible to castbread upon the waters, even on the range.

  The new order of things was received with many protests. Late in thefall three worthies of the range formed a combine, and laid carefulplans of action, in case they should get let out of a winter's job."I've been on the range a good while," said Baugh, the leader of thistrio, "but hereafter I'll not ride my horses down, turning back thebrand of any hidebound cattle company."

  "That won't save you from getting hit with a cheque for your time whenthe snow begins to drift," commented Stubb.

  "When we make our grand tour of the State this winter," remarked ArabAb, "we'll get that cheque of Baugh's cashed, together with our own.One thing sure, we won't fret about it; still we might think thatriding a chuck-line would beat footing it in a granger country,broke."

  "Oh, we won't go broke," said Baugh, who was the leader in the ideathat they would go to Kansas for the winter, and come back in thespring when men are wanted.

  So when the beef season had ended, the calves had all been branded upand everything made snug for the winter, the foreman said to the boysat breakfast one morning, "Well, lads, I've kept you on the pay-rollas long as there has been anything to do, but this morning I'll haveto give you your time. These recent orders of mine are sweeping, forthey cut me down to one man, and we are to do our own cooking. I'msorry that any of you that care to can't spend the winter with us.It's there that my orders are very distasteful to me, for I know whatit is to ride a chuck-line myself. You all know that it's no waste ofaffection by this company that keeps even two of us on the pay-roll."

  While the foreman was looking up accounts and making out the time ofeach, Baugh asked him, "When is the wagon going in after the winter'ssupplies?"

  "In a day or two," answered the foreman. "Why?"

  "Why, Stubby, Arab, and myself want to leave our saddles and privatehorses here with you until spring. We're going up in the State for thewinter, and will wait and go in with the wagon."

  "That will be all right," said the foreman. "You'll find things rightside up when you come after them, and a job if I can give it to you."

  "Don't you think it's poor policy," asked Stubb of the foreman, asthe latter handed him his time, "to refuse the men a roof and the bitethey eat in winter?"

  "You may ask that question at headquarters, when you get your timecheque cashed. I've learned not to think contrary to my employers; notin the mouth of winter, anyhow."

  "Oh, we don't care," said Baugh; "we're going to take in the State fora change of scenery. We'll have a good time and plenty of fun on theside."

  The first snow-squall of the season came that night, and the wagoncould not go in for several days. When the weather moderated the threebade the foreman a hearty good-by and boarded the wagon for town,forty miles away. This little village was a supply point for the rangecountry to the south, and lacked that diversity of entertainment thatthe trio desired. So to a larger town westward, a county seat, theyhastened by rail. This hamlet they took in by sections. There werethe games running to suit their tastes, the variety theatre with itspainted girls, and handbills announced that on the 24th of Decemberand Christmas Day there would be horse races. To do justice to allthis melted their money fast.

  Their gay round of pleasure had no check until the last day of theraces. Heretofore they had held their own in the games, and the firstday of the races they had even picked several winners. But grief wasin store for Baugh the leader, Baugh the brains of the trio. He hadnamed the winners so easily the day before, that now his confidenceknew no bounds. His opinion was supreme on a running horse, thoughhe cautioned the others not to risk their judgment--in fact, they hadbetter follow him. "I'm going to back that sorrel gelding, that wonyesterday in the free-for-all to-day," said he to Stubb and Arab, "andif you boys go in with me, we'll make a killing."

  "You can lose your money on a horse race too quick to suit me,"replied Stubb. "I prefer to stick to poker; but you go ahead and winall you can, for spring is a long ways off yet."

  "My observation of you as a poker player, my dear Stubby, is that yougenerally play the first hand to win and all the rest to get even."

  They used up considerable time scoring for the free-for-all runningrace Christmas Day, during which delay Baugh not only got all hismoney bet, but his watch and a new overcoat. The race went off withthe usual dash, when there were no more bets in sight; and when itended Baugh buttoned up the top button of his coat, pulled hishat down over his eyes, and walked back from the race track in ameditative state of mind, to meet Stubb and Arab Ab.

  "When I gamble and lose I never howl," said Baugh to his friends, "butI do love a run for my money, though I didn't have any more chanceto-day than a rabbit. I'll take my hat off to the man that got it,however, and charge it up to my tuition account."

  "You big chump, you! if you hadn't bet your overcoat it wouldn't be sobad. What possessed you to bet it?" asked Stubb, half reprovingly.

  "Oh, hell, I'll not need it. It's not going to be a very cold winter,nohow," replied Baugh, as he threw up one eye toward the warm sun."We need exercise. Let's walk back to town. Now, this is a littleunexpected, but what have I got you boy's for, if you can't help afriend in trouble. There's one good thing--I've got my board paidthree weeks in advance; paid it this morning out of yesterday'swinnings. Lucky, ain't I?"

  "Yes, you're powerful lucky. You're alive, ain't you?" said Stubb,rubbing salt into his wounds.

  "Now, my dear Stubby, don't get gay with the leading lady; you may getin a bad box some day and need me."

  This turn of affairs was looked upon by Stubb and Arab as quite a jokeon their leader. But it was no warning to them, and they continuedto play their favorite games, Stubb at poker, while Arab gave hisattention to monte. Things ran along for a few weeks in this manner,Baugh never wanting for a dollar or the necessary liquids that cheerthe despondent. Finally they were forced to take an inventory of theircash and similar assets. The result was suggestive that they wouldhave to return to the chuck-line, or unearth some other resource. Thecondition of their finances lacked little of the red-ink line.

  Baugh, who had been silent during this pow-wow, finally said, "Myboard will have to be provided for in a few days, but I have an idea,struck it to-day, and if she works, we'll pull through to grass likefour time winners."

  "What is it?" asked the other two, in a chorus.

  "There's a little German on a back street here, who owns a bar-roomwith a hotel attached. He has a mania to run for office; in fact,there's several candidates announced already. Now, the conventiondon't meet until May, which is in our favor. If my game succeeds, wewill be back at work before that time. That will let us out easy."

  As their finances were on a parity with Baugh's, the others werewilling to undertake anything that looked likely to tide them over thewinter. "Leave things to me," said Baugh. "I'll send a friend aroundto sound our German, and see what office he
thinks he'd like to have."

  The information sought developed the fact that it was the office ofsheriff that he wanted. When the name was furnished, the leader ofthis scheme wrote it on a card--Seigerman, Louie Seigerman,--nottrusting to memory. Baugh now reduced their finances further for ashave, while he meditated how he would launch his scheme. An hourafterwards, he walked up to the bar, and asked, "Is Mr. Seigerman in?"

  "Dot ish my name, sir," said the man behind the bar.

  "Could I see you privately for a few minutes?" asked Baugh, whohimself could speak German, though his tongue did not indicate it.

  "In von moment," said Seigerman, as he laid off his white apron andcalled an assistant to take his place. He then led the way to a backroom, used for a storehouse. "Now, mine frendt, vat ish id?" inquiredLouie, when they were alone.

  "My name is Baughman," said he, as he shook Louie's hand with a heartygrip. "I work for the Continental Cattle Company, who own a rangein the strip adjoining the county line below here. My people havesuffered in silence from several bands of cattle thieves who haveheadquarters in this county. Heretofore we have never taken anyinterest in the local politics of this community. But this year wepropose to assert ourselves, and try to elect a sheriff who willdo his sworn duty, and run out of this county these rustling cattlethieves. Mr. Seigerman, it would surprise you did I give you thefigures in round numbers of the cattle that my company have lost bythese brand-burning rascals who infest this section.

  "Now to business, as you are a business man. I have come to ask you toconsent to your name being presented to the county convention,which meets in May, as a candidate for the office of sheriff of thiscounty."

  As Louie scratched his head and was meditating on his reply, Baughmancontinued: "Now, we know that you are a busy man, and have given thismatter no previous thought, so we do not insist on an immediate reply.But think it over, and let me impress on your mind that if you consentto make the race, you will have the support of every cattle-man inthe country. Not only their influence and support, but in a selfishinterest will their purses be at your command to help elect you. Thisrequest of mine is not only the mature conclusion of my people, but wehave consulted others interested, and the opinion seems unanimous thatyou are the man to make the race for this important office."

  "Mr. Baughman, vill you not haf one drink mit me?" said Seigerman, ashe led the way towards the bar.

  "If you will kindly excuse me, Mr. Seigerman, I never like to indulgewhile attending to business matters. I'll join you in a cigar,however, for acquaintance' sake."

  When the cigars were lighted Baugh observed, "Why, do you keep hotel?If I had known it, I would have put up with you, but my bill is paidin advance at my hotel until Saturday. If you can give me a good roomby then, I'll come up and stop with you."

  "You can haf any room in mine house, Mr. Baughman," said Seigerman.

  As Baugh was about to leave he once more impressed on Louie the natureof his call. "Now, Mr. Seigerman," said Baughman, using the Germanlanguage during the parting conversation, "let me have your answer atthe earliest possible moment, for we want to begin an active canvassat once. This is a large county, and to enlist our friends in yourbehalf no time should be lost." With a profusion of "Leben Sie wohls"and well wishes for each other, the "Zweibund" parted.

  Stubb and Arab were waiting on a corner for Baugh. When he returned hewithheld his report until they had retreated to the privacy of theirown room. Once secure, he said to both: "If you would like to knowwhat an active, resourceful brain is, put your ear to my head,"tapping his temple with his finger, "and listen to mine throb andpurr. Everything is working like silk. I'm going around to board withhim Saturday. I want you to go over with me to-morrow, Stubby, andgive him a big game about what a general uprising there is amongstthe cowmen for an efficient man for the office of sheriff, and make itstrong. I gave him my last whirl to-day in German. Oh, he'll run allright; and we want to convey the impression that we can rally thecattle interests to his support. Put up a good grievance, mind you!You can both know that I begged strong when I took this cigar inpreference to a drink."

  "It's certainly a bad state of affairs we've come to when you refusewhiskey. Don't you think so, Stubby?" said Arab, addressing the oneand appealing to the other. "You never refused no drink, Baugh, youknow you didn't," said Stubb reproachfully.

  "Oh, you little sawed-off burnt-offering, you can't see the policythat we must use in handling this matter. This is a delicate play,that can't be managed roughshod on horseback. It has food, shelter,and drink in it for us all, but they must be kept in the background.The main play now is to convince Mr. Seigerman that he has a call toserve his country in the office of sheriff. Bear down heavy on theemergency clause. Then make him think that no other name but LouieSeigerman will satisfy the public clamor. Now, my dear Stubby, I knowthat you are a gifted and accomplished liar, and for that reason Iinsist that you work your brain and tongue in this matter. Keep yourown motive in the background and bring his to the front. That's theidea. Now, can you play your part?"

  "Well, as I have until to-morrow to think it over, I'll try," saidStubb.

  The next afternoon Baugh and Stubb sauntered into Louie's place, andreceived a very cordial welcome at the hands of the proprietor. Baughintroduced Stubb as a friend of his whom he had met in town that day,and who, being also interested in cattle, he thought might be able tooffer some practical suggestions. Their polite refusal to indulge in asocial glass with the proprietor almost hurt his feelings.

  "Let us retire to the rear room for a few moments of conversation, ifyou have the leisure," said Baugh.

  Once secure in the back room, Stubb opened his talk. "As my friendMr. Baughman has said, I'm local manager of the Ohio Cattle Companyoperating in the Strip. I'm spending considerable time in your town atpresent, as I'm overseeing the wintering of something like a hundredsaddle horses and two hundred and fifty of our thoroughbred bulls.We worked our saddle stock so late last fall, that on my advice thesuperintendent sent them into the State to be corn-fed for the winter.The bulls were too valuable to be risked on the range. We had overfifty stolen last season, that cost us over three hundred dollars ahead. I had a letter this morning from our superintendent, asking meto unite with what seems to be a general movement to suppress thishigh-handed stealing that has run riot in this county in the past.Mr. Baughman has probably acquainted you with the general sentimentin cattle circles regarding what should be done. I wish to assureyou further that my people stand ready to use their best endeavorsto nominate a candidate who will pledge himself to stamp out thisdisgraceful brand-burning and cattle-rustling. The little protectionshown the livestock interests in this western country has actuallydriven capital out of one of the best paying industries in the West.But it is our own fault. We take no interest in local politics. Anyone is good enough for sheriff with us. But this year there seemsto be an awakening. It may be a selfish interest that prompts thisuprising; I think it is. But that is the surest hope in politics forus. The cattle-men's pockets have been touched, their interests havebeen endangered. Mr. Seigerman, I feel confident that if you willenter the race for this office, it will be a walk-away for you. Nowconsider the matter fully, and I might add that there is a brighterfuture for you politically than you possibly can see. I wish I hadbrought our superintendent's letter with me for you to read.

  "He openly hints that if we elect a sheriff in this county this fallwho makes an efficient officer, he will be strictly in line for theoffice of United States Marshal of western Kansas and all theIndian Territory. You see, Mr. Seigerman, in our company we have asstock-holders three congressmen and one United States senator. I haveseen it in the papers myself, and it is a common remark Down East, soI'm told, that the weather is chilly when an Ohio man gets left. Nowwith these men of our company interested in you, there would be norefusing them the appointment. Why, it would give you the naming offifty deputies--good easy money in every one of them. You could sitback in a well-appointed government offic
e and enjoy the comforts oflife. Now, Mr. Seigerman, we will see you often, but let me suggestthat your acceptance be as soon as possible, for if you positivelydecline to enter the race, we must look in some other quarter for anavailable man." Leaving these remarks for Seigerman's reflections, hewalked out of the room.

  As Seigerman started to follow, Baugh tapped him on the shoulderto wait, as he had something to say to him. Baugh now confirmedeverything said, using the German language. He added, "Now, my friendStubb is too modest to admit who his people really are, but the OhioCattle Company is practically the Standard Oil Company, but they don'twant it known. It's a confidence that I'm placing in you, and requestyou not to repeat it. Still, you know what a syndicate they are andthe influence they carry. That very little man who has been talkingto you has better backing than any cow-boss in the West. He's a safe,conservative fellow to listen to."

  When they had rejoined Stubb in the bar-room, Baugh said to Seigerman,"Don't you think you can give us your answer by Friday next, so yourname can be announced in the papers, and an active canvass begunwithout further loss of time?"

  "Shentlemens, I'll dry do," said Louie, "but you will not dake a drinkmit me once again, aind it?"

  "No, thank you, Mr. Seigerman," replied Stubb.

  "He gave me a very fine cigar yesterday; you'll like them if you tryone," said Baugh to Stubb. "Let it be a cigar to-day, Mr. Seigerman."

  As Baugh struck a match to light his cigar, he said to Stubb, "I'mcoming up to stop with Mr. Seigerman to-morrow. Why don't you joinus?"

  "I vould be wery much bleased to haf you mine guest," said Louie,every inch the host.

  "This is a very home-like looking place," remarked Stubb. "I may comeup; I'll come around Sunday and take dinner with you, anyhow."

  "Do, blease," urged Louie.

  There was a great deal to be said, and it required two languages toexpress it all, but finally the "Dreibund" parted. The next dayBaugh moved into his new quarters, and the day following Stubb was sopleased with his Sunday dinner that he changed at once.

  "I'm expecting a man from Kansas City to-morrow," said Baugh to Louieon Sunday morning, "who will know the sentiment existing in cattlecircles in that city. He'll be in on the morning train."

  Stubb, in the mean time, had coached Arab as to what he should say. AsBaugh and he had covered the same ground, it was thought best to haveArab Ab the heeler, the man who could deliver the vote to order.

  So Monday morning after the train was in, the original trio entered,and Arab was introduced. The back room was once more used as a councilchamber where the "Fierbund" held an important session.

  "I didn't think there was so much interest being taken," began ArabAb, "until my attention was called to it yesterday by the presidentand secretary of our company in Kansas City. I want to tell you thatthe cattle interests in that city are aroused. Why, our secretaryshowed me the figures from his books; and in the 'Tin Cup' brandalone we shipped out three hundred and twelve beeves short, out oftwenty-nine hundred and ninety-six bought two years ago. My employers,Mr. Seigerman, are practical cowmen, and they know that those steersnever left the range without help. Nothing but lead or Texas fever cankill a beef. We haven't had a case of fever on our range for years,nor a winter in five years that would kill an old cow. Why, ourpresident told me if something wasn't done they would have to abandonthis country and go where they could get protection. His final orderswere to do what I could to get an eligible man as a candidate, which,I'm glad to hear from my friends here, we have hopes of doing. Thenwhen the election comes off, we must drop everything and get every manto claim a residence in this county and vote him here. I'll admit thatI'm no good as a wire-puller, but when it comes to getting out thevoters, there's where you will find me as solid as a bridge abutment.

  "Why, Mr. Seigerman, when I was skinning mules for Creech & Lee,contractors on the Rock Island, one fall, they gave me my orders,which was to get every man on the works ready to ballot. I lined themup and voted them like running cattle through a branding-chute to puton a tally-mark or vent a brand. There were a hundred and seventy-fiveof those dagoes from the rock-cut; I handled them like dipping sheepfor the scab. My friends here can tell you how I managed voting thebonds at a little town east of here. I had my orders from the samepeople I'm working for now, to get out the cow-puncher element in theStrip for the bonds. The bosses simply told me that what they wantedwas a competing line of railroad. And as they didn't expect to pay theobligations, only authorize them,--the next generation could attend tothe paying of them,--we got out a full vote. Well, we ran in fromfour to five hundred men from the Strip, and out of over seven hundredballots cast, only one against the bonds. We hunted the town all overto find the man that voted against us; we wanted to hang him! Theonly trouble I had was to make the boys think it was a straight upDemocratic play, as they were nearly all originally from Texas. Now,my friends here have told me that they are urging you to accept thenomination for sheriff. I can only add that in case you consent, mypeople stand ready to give their every energy to this coming campaign.As far as funds are concerned to prosecute the election of anacceptable sheriff to the cattle interests, we would simply be floodedwith it. It would be impossible to use one half of what would beforced on us. One thing I can say positively, Mr. Seigerman: theywouldn't permit you to contribute one cent to the expense of yourelection. Cattle-men are big-hearted fellows--they are friends worthhaving, Mr. Seigerman."

  Louie drew a long breath, and it seemed that a load had been liftedfrom his mind by these last remarks of Arab's.

  "How many men are there in the Strip?" asked Arab of the others.

  "On all three divisions of the last round-up there were somethinglike two thousand," replied Baugh. "And this county adjoins the CattleCountry for sixty miles on the north," said Arab, still continuinghis musing, "or one third of the Strip. Well, gentlemen," he went on,waking out of his mental reverie and striking the table with his fist,"if there's that many men in the country below, I'll agree to vote onehalf of them in this county this fall."

  "Hold on a minute, aren't you a trifle high on your estimate?" askedStubb, the conservative, protestingly.

  "Not a man too high. Give them a week's lay-off, with plenty to drinkat this end of the string, and every man will come in for fifty mileseither way. The time we voted the bonds won't be a marker to thiselection."

  "He's not far wrong," said Baugh to Stubb. "Give the rascals a chancefor a holiday like that, and they will come from the south line of theStrip."

  "That's right, Mr. Seigerman," said Arab. "They'll come from the westand south to a man, and as far east as the middle of the next county.I tell you they will be a thousand strong and a unit in voting. Watchmy smoke on results!"

  "Well," said Stubb, slowly and deliberately, "I think it's high timewe had Mr. Seigerman's consent to make the race. This counting of ourforces and the sinews of war is good enough in advance; but Imust insist on an answer from Mr. Seigerman. Will you become ourcandidate?"

  "Shentlemens, how can I refuse to be one sheriff? The cattle-mens mustbe protec. I accep."

  The trio now arose, and with a round of oaths that would have made thecaptain of a pirate ship green with envy swore Seigerman had takena step he would never regret. After the hearty congratulation on hisacceptance, they reseated themselves, when Louie, in his gratitude,insisted that on pleasant occasions like this he should be permittedto offer some refreshments of a liquid nature.

  "I never like to indulge at a bar," said Stubb. "The people whom Iwork for are very particular regarding the habits of their trustedmen."

  "It might be permissible on occasions like this to break certainestablished rules," suggested Baugh, "besides, Mr. Seigerman can bringit in here, where we will be unobserved."

  "Very well, then," said Stubb, "I waive my objections forsociability's sake."

  When Louie had retired for this purpose, Baugh arose to his fulldignity and six foot three, and said to the other two, bowing, "Youruncle, my dears, w
ill never allow you to come to want. Pin your faithto the old man. Why, we'll wallow in the fat of the land until thegrass comes again, gentle Annie. Gentlemen, if you are gentlemen,which I doubt like hell, salute the victor!" The refreshment wasbrought in, and before the session adjourned, they had lowered thecontents of a black bottle of private stock by several fingers.

  The announcement of the candidacy of Mr. Louis Seigerman in the nextweek's paper (by aid of the accompanying fiver which went with the"copy") encouraged the editor, that others might follow, to write ashort, favorable editorial. The article spoke of Mr. Seigerman as aleading citizen, who would fill the office with credit to himself andthe community. The trio read this short editorial to Louie daily forthe first week. All three were now putting their feet under the tablewith great regularity, and doing justice to the vintage on invitation.The back room became a private office for the central committee offour. They were able political managers. The campaign was beginningto be active, but no adverse reports were allowed to reach thecandidate's ears. He actually had no opposition, so the reports camein to the central committee.

  It was even necessary to send out Arab Ab to points on the railroadto get the sentiments of this and that community, which were alwaysfavorable. Funds for these trips were forced on them by the candidate.The thought of presenting a board bill to such devoted friends neverentered mine host's mind. Thus several months passed.

  The warm sun and green blades of grass suggested springtime. Theboys had played the role as long as they cared to. It had served thepurpose that was intended. But they must not hurt the feelings ofSeigerman, or let the cause of their zeal become known to theirbenefactor and candidate for sheriff. One day report came in of somedefection and a rival candidate in the eastern part of the county. Allhands volunteered to go out. Funds were furnished, which the centralcommittee assured their host would be refunded whenever they could getin touch with headquarters, or could see some prominent cowman.

  At the end of a week Mr. Seigerman received a letter. The excusesoffered at the rich man's feast were discounted by pressing orders.One had gone to Texas to receive a herd of cattle, instead of a fewoxen, one had been summoned to Kansas City, one to Ohio. The letterconcluded with the assurance that Mr. Seigerman need have no fear butthat he would be the next sheriff.

  The same night that the letter was received by mine host, this talewas retold at a cow-camp in the Strip by the trio. The hard winter wasover.

  At the county convention in May, Seigerman's name was presented. Oneach of three ballots he received one lone vote. When the news reachedthe boys in the Strip, they dubbed this one vote "Seigerman's PerCent," meaning the worst of anything, and that expression became abyword on the range, from Brownsville, Texas, to the Milk River inMontana.