Early Pioneer Days in Texas
Ten Years a Cowboy in the Wild West
Ever since I first learned to ride a horse I was trained to work with herds and care for horses and cattle. Even before I could ride horseback I herded a large flock of sheep. In those days wolves and other carniverous animals were prowling around so plentifully that it required the utmost vigilance, both by night and by day, to keep them from being killed and eaten. We had to pen them in stockades built of heavy rails and logs near the house and guarded by good bear dogs to keep the wolves and panthers away. The sheep were very necessary to us then, and profitable. From their wool we carded, spun and wove our clothing, our bed clothes and our cloth. From their flesh we got our meat food. We made our own clothes then, and they were all wool and a full, wide yard. Every young woman and matron knew how to manufacture clothing for herself and for her children, and many a woman has made a suit for her husband and sons from the wool of the sheep that were raised in their own corral.
As I grew older I had to herd cattle and horses. On the prairies the luxuriant grasses grew in such an abundance that it was very profitable to raise horses, cattle and hogs. Often the grass grew as high as the horses' sides. In the summer there was an abundance of grass on the high ground, and in the winter the cattle would fatten on the grass in the bottoms. Hogs fattened on persimmons, pecans and hickory and walnuts. Farmers could borrow money at a very low rate of interest and mortgages were very rare. A man borrowed on his honor then and confidence prevailed, and there were no losses which required the honest man to bear because of the rascality of the man who absconded. Every one practiced the golden rule, doing unto others as they would be done by not as it seems to be the rule today, to do others or else they will do you.
There were no railroads then, and to market our stock we would round up our stock and drive them to Kansas or Nebraska, feeding them on the grasses on the way. Often for several months we would not be under a roof, sleeping out in the open, camping, exposed to the rigors of the weather, swimming rivers, in storms and rains, in bright and dark days, the thundering and lightning often stampeding the cattle, necessitating labor and work to round them up sometimes in the most trying conditions.
The first trip I took I shall never forget. I had been used to having the comforts of home, with plenty of good milk, butter and eggs, chicken, fruits, vegetables and good wholesome made bread, and a nice soft feather bed to sleep on. But my ! What a change when I started on the journey to the market with the cattle my first introduction to driving the cattle on that long journey over the Chisholm trail to Kansas. How my bones ached and my appetite groaned, and how I longed for my happy, comfortable home. It required all my courage, ambition and determination to keep me on my way, and you may be sure the brackish, unfiltered water, and the coarse cornbread and fat bacon, and badly made coffee was not gratifying to the desires of my digestive organs. Nor did it have the effect of easing my mind in fact, for a few days I almost starved. The cowboys and the cook called me the parson. They taunted me because I would not eat their crude food, and said: "Parson, you'll come to your appetite by and by" and I did, for I soon got so I could eat any old thing they fixed and in any old way. Often after a long, hard day, I would arrive in camp almost exhausted after running after stampeded cattle, sometimes being gone all night, with lightning flashes and thunder roaring and rain beating, or sleet beating in my face to sit down to a meal of corn-pone and fat bacon, washing it down with badly concocted coffee.
The discomforts of the trail were not alone the hard bed of the prairie, nor the badly cooked meals, but we also had the dangers of the ever- present, murderous Indians. They lurked in every possible place that would give them a hiding place, and infested the country all along the route. Always on the warpath, painted in their hideous colors, armed with bows, arrows and their scalping knives, ready to slaughter the cowboys that they might rob them of their cattle. It was the will of the great Spirit that I should be delivered, though thousands of my brave fellows were slaughtered by these bloodthirsty devils, and their cattle stolen. Many a night, after a tedious and dangerous chasing of stampeded cattle, have we gone without supper and breakfast, and found ourselves ten or fifteen miles from camp, all alone with seventy-five or one hundred head of cattle, at the mercy of the ever-present onslaught of the treacherous Red Man, who was only too eager to take our lives that he might get our cattle. How it lingers in my memory, and I shall remember it to my dying day, how, when I would come in from the strain of the weariness and care of the trail, to find that the other cowboys who had gone in at intervals from rounding up their stampeded cattle, had left me nothing to eat, and how well I remember the cook as he would say to me: "Just wait, Parson, and I'll soon start a fire and have you some bread and coffee," and he would then gather up some of the weeds and grass and start to make me something to eat, telling me that he would have something for the Parson, even if he only had grass and weeds to cook it with. I would be so hungry that I couldn't wait, and would pitch in and eat ravenously of the raw meat, and as I think of it now, it tasted better than anything I ever ate in my life, although I was wet and weary and exhausted. Emergency and necessity makes us do things sometimes that we abhor under other conditions, and I learned in those days that a man will do things sometimes he says he would never do. One must experience the need of a situation before he is capable of knowing what he would do if he had to do it. It is the experienced who have the most sympathy, and it teaches patience to have to bear up against adversities.
Another scene comes vividly to my mind on a night of extreme disorder. The night was so dark and the storm so menacing that we could not see the distance of the length of our arm, except when a flash of lightning illuminated the way for us. Feeling our way, not knowing what we might run into, nor what we were running over, the frightened cattle rushing ahead of us invisible except as we could see them ahead of us when the lightning flashed, we were obliged to press on, for fear they would all be lost. For three days and nights we had been in the saddle nearly all the time. How we longed for the rest of the bed, rough as it was, where we could rest our bodies and give ourselves over to a good, sound sleep. While we were riding on this way, suddenly my brother's horse lit in a mudhole and his feet stuck, throw- ing the horse to the ground and my brother somersaulted over his head, the horse sinking up to his breast, turned over on my brother as he fell and seriously hurt his left leg, arm and breast. I stopped and got off my horse to help him, but he said, "No, go full speed and catch my horse," for the horse, after falling, had got up and ran after the fleeing, stampeding cattle. By the frequent use of the quirt and spurs I succeeded, by giving my horse his head, in reaching the herd, and finally located the horse and brought him back to my brother. But what a time I had in locating him, for with the howling of the wind and the howl of the wolves, and the cries of the panthers, and the hooting owls, I would hear him first in one place and then another, and many a wild goose chase I had, as I thought I heard his voice calling me in many different places. When I finally reached him I found him badly crippled, and with much difficulty and some help from him, succeeded in getting him in the saddle, when I had to take him back to camp, where our wagon and mess tent was. How he suffered, and for several days we were obliged to take him in the wagon, which was drawn by ox teams, before he was able to mount his horse again. This accident, no doubt, shortened his life, as he never fully recovered from the injury he sustained on this terrible night's experience he always complained ever after of the pain in his breast. As I look back on those momentous days, with the dangers and exposures, and compare them with the comforts of today, made possible by the self-sacrificing pioneering of the men and women of those days, I wonder and exclaim: Surely the goodness and mercy of the guiding hand and protecting care of our gracious heavenly Father has ever protected and followed me, and words fail to express my gratitude and thankfulness to Him for His goodness to me. Millions have died since I came into existence, and yet He has thought well to leave me here. For some useful purpose He has kept me here, some helpful mission He intends I should do. I trust God will give me grace to do what He would have me do, and that I may use the talent He has given me, vigorously, courageously, for truth, honor, justice and mercy all along the path of life, till I reach the great beyond.
There were so many events in my life in the early days that it is, of course, impossible to narrate them all. One of the momentous times that I remember while we were driving our. cattle was at a place where we had corraled them in a valley between two mountains, whose steep, rocky sides reared up almost perpendicularly, and on the other side was a deep, steep bank, while at the entrance of the valley we had stationed two cowboys, whom we felt certain would have no difficulty in controlling the cattle from making their escape. My brother and I had laid down with our clothes on, as was our custom when we were in expectancy of an immediate awakening from the stampeding cattle. About midnight there was a rush, like an avalanche of the long-legged Southern Texas-Spanish cattle which were grazing nearby there must have been nearly ten thousand of them. They came rushing pell-mell over the rocks and hillsides, and the motion and noise is indescribable. I shall never forget the terrific commotion as they came towards our bunch and mingled with them. Our cattle were so frightened, and so hard to manage that we were almost desperate to separate them the following day. It took us all day to get them apart, and one of our fellows lost his hat and the cattle ground it to shreds under their hoofs; so he was compelled to wear a red bandana until we reached Kansas. He had such a spectacular appearance that we nicknamed him our "Heap Big Indian Chief." Many of our cattle were dehorned from the rush of the wild steers, and several were so badly bruised that we were compelled to kill them to relieve them of their distress. We lost many by the swollen streams in crossing the rivers, and often both riders and horses were lost in endeavoring 1 to ford the streams. It was hard sometimes to get the herd across a stream, but after we would get one started it would usually result in the rest following without any further trouble. It was on one of these occasions that I nearly lost my life. We had to swim the rivers on horseback, and we usually constructed a raft to float over our wagon. It was on the Big Walnut Creek, in the Osage Nation, near the Kansas line. A swollen stream was rapidly flowing in the creek, and we were anxious to cross before night came on. On the opposite bank was a log raft tied to a tree, and I told my brother Loss that I was going to swim across for that raft so we could ford our wagon and grub across. So I took hold of the rope with my teeth after tieing two thirty-foot lariats together, started to swim across. I got along first rate until I reached about the middle, when the weight of the rope in the water caused me to have fear that I should be unable to bear up. But I was so determined to carry out my plan that I held on with grim desperation, and was drawn under the water. I was not frightened, and preserved my presence of mind. My brother yelled for me to let go of the rope, but being of a persistent disposition, I held on desperately, and as I was drawn under I would hold my breath so that I would not strangle. I only had a short distance to go to reach the other shore, when I found my strength was about to give way. I made one strong effort, and was just about to give up when, in standing in the water, I found I could just touch bottom, and this gave me courage to make one more effort, and after two or three more strokes I succeeded in grasping hold of a strong limb in a bush hanging on the edge of the bank, which saved me from going under. I was so fatigued and worn out that I lay there holding to the branch for several minutes before I could gather enough strength to crawl out on the shore and walk up to where the raft was tied. It did not take long to get the raft over and ferry our traps and grub, but it seemed an age when I was swimming across that dangerous overflowing river. It took me several days to get over that little experience, and I have often thought if that river had been another yard wider I would have been on the other shore, where mankind never has come back.
As my memory takes me back to those long drives to market with our cattle, and I compare them with the conveniences of today, I cannot help but feel that the present generation owes a great debt of gratitude to the pioneers who blazed the trail for the vast possibilities that are all about us. Gone are the days when we would loiter around the markets for days at a time waiting for the price for our cattle, letting them fatten on the nutritious grass so plentiful everywhere until they would fatten so we should be able to get our price. Meanwhile we would live on fish and game, and we would keep our cattle calmly feeding, with occasionally a few barrels of salt to keep them in good condition. The land is now nearly all taken up, and it is not so free to find as then, and we shall never see them again those days when a man was in fact monarch of all he surveyed. We did not appreciate our privileges then. Had we had the foresight, what opportunities we might have accomplished. It teaches me the lesson that we should make good use of our opportunities, and we will then have plenty for the rainy days. But each dark cloud has its silver lining, so after all is the fact that the opportunities lost were lost only to be made brighter for others, who have reaped the benefits of the sacrifices of those who were willing to give their lives in settling this, then, barren waste, and build homes and rear children for the development of what is now our great and glorious common- wealth.