A week later we crossed the Belle Fourche, sometimes called the North Fork of the Big Cheyenne. Like its twin sister on the south, it was a mountain river, having numerous affluents putting in from the Black Hills, which it encircled on the north and west. Between these two branches of the mother stream were numerous tributaries, establishing it as the best watered country encountered in our long overland cruise. Besides the splendid watercourses which marked that section, numerous wagontrails, leading into the hills, were peopled with freighters. Long ox trains, moving at a snail's pace, crept over hill and plain, the common carrier between the mines and the outside world. The fascination of the primal land was there; the buttes stood like sentinels, guarding a king's domain, while the palisaded cliffs frowned down, as if erected by the hand Omnipotent to mark the boundary of nations.
Our route, after skirting the Black Hills, followed up the Belle Fourche a few days, and early in August we crossed over to the Little Missouri River. The divide between the Belle Fourche and the latter stream was a narrow one, requiring little time to graze across it, and intercepting the Little Missouri somewhere in Montana. The course of that river was almost due north, and crossing and recrossing it frequently, we kept constantly in touch with it on our last northward tack. The river led through sections of country now known as the Bad Lands, but we found an abundance of grass and an easy passage. Sponsilier held the lead all the way down the river, though I did most of the advance scouting, sometimes being as much as fifty miles in front of the herds. Near the last of the month we sighted Sentinel Butte and the smoke of railroad trains, and a few days later all three of us foremen rode into Little Missouri Station of the Northern Pacific Railway. Our arrival was expected by one man at least; for as we approached the straggling village, our employer was recognized at a distance, waving his hat, and a minute later all three of us were shaking hands with Don Lovell. Mutual inquiries followed, and when we reported the cattle fine as silk, having never known a hungry or thirsty hour after leaving the North Platte, the old man brightened and led the way to a well-known saloon.
"How did I fare at Omaha?" said old man Don, repeating Forrest's query. "Well, at first it was a question if I would be hung or shot, but we came out with colors flying. The United States marshal who attempted to take possession of the cattle on the North Platte went back on the same train with us. He was feeling sore over his defeat, but Sutton cultivated his acquaintance, and in mollifying that official, showed him how easily failure could be palmed off as a victory. In fact, I think Mike overcolored the story at my expense. He and the marshal gave it to the papers, and the next morning it appeared in the form of a sensational article. According to the report, a certain popular federal officer had gone out to Ogalalla to take possession of two herds of cattle intended for government purposes; he had met with resistance by a lot of Texas roughs, who fatally shot one of his deputies, wounding several others, and killing a number of horses during the assault; but the intrepid officer had added to his laurels by arresting the owner of the cattle and leader of the resisting mob, and had brought him back to face the charge of contempt in resisting service. The papers freely predicted that I would get the maximum fine, and one even went so far as to suggest that imprisonment might teach certain arrogant cattle kings a salutary lesson. But when the hearing came up, Sutton placed Jim Reed and me in the witness-box, taking the stand later himself, and we showed that federal court that it had been buncoed out of an order of injunctive relief, in favor of the biggest set of ringsters that ever missed stretching hemp. The result was, I walked out of that federal court scot free. And Judge Dundy, when he realized the injustice that he had inflicted, made all three of us take dinner with him, fully explaining the pressure which had been brought to bear at the time the order of relief was issued. Oh, that old judge was all right. I only hope we'll have as square a man as Judge Dundy at the final hearing at Fort Buford. Do you see that sign over there, where it says Barley Water and Bad Cigars? Well, put your horses in some corral and meet me there."
There was a great deal of news to review. Lovell had returned to Ogalalla; the body of Tolleston had been recovered and given decent burial; delivery day of the three Indian herds was at hand, bringing that branch of the season's drive to a close. But the main thing which absorbed our employer was the quarantine that the upper Yellowstone country proposed enforcing against through Texas cattle. He assured us that had we gone by way of Wyoming and down the Powder River, the chances were that the local authorities would have placed us under quarantine until after the first frost. He assured us that the year before, Texas fever had played sad havoc among the native and wintered Southern cattle, and that Miles City and Glendive, live-stock centres on the Yellowstone, were up in arms in favor of a rigid quarantine against all through cattle. If this proved true, it was certainly an ill wind to drovers on the Powder River route; yet I failed to see where we were benefited until my employer got down to details.
"That's so," said he; "I forgot to tell you boys that when Reed and I went back to Ogalalla, we found Field, Radcliff & Co. buying beeves. Yes, they had bought a remuda of horses, rigged up two wagons, and hired men to take possession of our 'Open A' and 'Drooping T' herds. But meeting with disappointment and having the outfit on their hands, they concluded to buy cattle and go ahead and make the delivery at Buford. They simply had to do it or admit that I had called their hands. But Reed and I raised such a howl around that town that we posted every man with beeves for sale until the buyers had to pony up the cash for every hoof they bought. We even hunted up young Murnane, the seller of the herd that Jim Reed ran the attachment on; and before old Jim and I got through with him, we had his promise not to move out of Keith County until the last dollar was in hand. The buyers seemed to command all kinds of money, but where they expect to make anything, even if they do deliver, beats me, as Reed and I have got a good wad of their money. Since leaving there, I have had word that they settled with Murnane, putting a new outfit with the cattle, and that they have ten thousand beef steers on the way to Fort Buford this very minute. They are coming through on the North Platte and Powder River route, and if quarantine can be enforced against them until frost falls, it will give us a clear field at Buford on the day of delivery. Now it stands us in hand to see that those herds are isolated until after the 15th day of September."
The atmosphere cleared instantly. I was well aware of the ravages of splenic fever; but two decades ago every drover from Texas denied the possibility of a through animal in perfect health giving a disease to wintered Southerners or domestic cattle, also robust and healthy. Time has demonstrated the truth, yet the manner in which the germ is transmitted between healthy animals remains a mystery to this day, although there has been no lack of theories advanced. Even the theorists differed as to the manner of germ transmission, the sporule, tick, and ship fever being the leading theories, and each having its advocates. The latter was entitled to some consideration, for if bad usage and the lack of necessary rest, food, and water will produce fever aboard emigrant steamships, the same privations might do it among animals. The overdriving of trail cattle was frequently unavoidable, dry drives and the lack of grass on arid wastes being of common occurrence. However, the presence of fever among through cattle was never noticeable to the practical man, and if it existed, it must have been very mild in form compared to its virulent nature among natives. Time has demonstrated that it is necessary for the domestic animals to walk over and occupy the same ground to contract the disease, though they may drink from the same trough or stream of water, or inhale each other's breath in play across a wire fence, without fear of contagion. A peculiar feature of Texas fever was that the very cattle which would impart it on their arrival, after wintering in the North would contract it and die the same as natives. The isolation of herds on a good range for a period of sixty days, or the falling of frost, was recognized as the only preventive against transmitting the germ. Government rewards and experiments have never demonstrated a theory that practical experience does not dispute.
The only time on this drive that our attention had been called to the fever alarm was on crossing the wagon trail running from Pierre on the Missouri River to the Black Hills. I was in the lead when a large bull train was sighted in our front, and shortly afterward the wagon-boss met me and earnestly begged that I allow his outfit to pass before we crossed the wagon-road. I knew the usual form of ridicule of a herd foreman, but the boss bull-whacker must have anticipated my reply, for he informed me that the summer before he had lost ninety head out of two hundred yoke of oxen. The wagon-master's appeal was fortified by a sincerity which won his request, and I held up my cattle and allowed his train to pass in advance. Sponsilier's herd was out of sight in my rear, while Forrest was several miles to my left, and slightly behind me. The wagon-boss rode across and made a similar request of Forrest, but that worthy refused to recognize the right of way to a bull train at the expense of a trail herd of government beeves. Ungentlemanly remarks are said to have passed between them, when the boss bull-whacker threw down the gauntlet and galloped back to his train. Forrest pushed on, with ample time to have occupied the road in crossing, thus holding up the wagon train. My herd fell to grazing, and Sponsilier rode up to inquire the cause of my halting. I explained the request of the wagon-master, his loss the year before and present fear of fever, and called attention to the clash which was imminent between the long freight outfit in our front and Forrest's herd to the left, both anxious for the right of way. A number of us rode forward in clear view of the impending meeting. It was evident that Forrest would be the first to reach the freight road, and would naturally hold it while his cattle were crossing it. But when this also became apparent to the bull train, the lead teams drove out of the road and halted, the rear wagons passing on ahead, the two outfits being fully a mile apart. There were about twenty teams of ten yoke each, and when the first five or six halted, they unearthed old needle rifles and opened fire across Forrest's front. Once the range was found, those long-range buffalo guns threw up the dust in handfuls in the lead of the herd, and Forrest turned his cattle back, while the bull train held its way, undisputed. It was immaterial to Forrest who occupied the road first, and with the jeers of the freighters mingled the laughter of Sponsilier and my outfit, as John Quincy Forrest reluctantly turned back.
This incident served as a safety-valve, and whenever Forrest forged to the lead in coming down the Little Missouri, all that was necessary to check him was to inquire casually which held the right of way, a trail herd or a bull train.
Throughout the North, Texas fever was generally accepted as a fact, and any one who had ever come in contact with it once, dreaded it ever afterward. So when the devil was sick the devil a monk would be; and if there was any advantage in taking the contrary view to the one entertained by all drovers, so long as our herds were free, we were not like men who could not experience a change of opinion, if in doing so the wind was tempered to us. Also in this instance we were fighting an avowed enemy, and all is fair in love and war. And amid the fumes of bad cigars, Sponsilier drew out the plan of campaign.
"Now, let's see," said old man Don, "tomorrow will be the 25th day of August. I've got to be at the Crow Agency a few days before the 10th of next month, as you know we have a delivery there on that date. Flood will have to attend to matters at Rosebud on the 1st, and then hurry on west and be present at Paul's delivery at Fort Washakie. So you see I'll have to depend on two of you boys going up to Glendive and Miles and seeing that those cow-towns take the proper view of this quarantine matter. After dinner you'll fall back and bring up your herds, and after crossing the railroad here, the outfits will graze over to Buford. We'll leave four of our best saddle horses here in a pasture, so as to be independent on our return. Since things have changed so, the chances are that I'll bring Bob Quirk back with me, as I've written Flood to help The Rebel sell his remuda and take the outfit and go home. Now you boys decide among yourselves which two of you will go up the Yellowstone and promote the enforcement of the quarantine laws. Don't get the impression that you can't do this, because an all-round cowman can do anything where his interests are at stake. I'll think the programme out a little more clearly by the time you bring up the cattle."
The herds were not over fifteen miles back up the river when we left them in the morning. After honoring the village of Little Missouri with our presence for several hours, we saddled up and started to meet the cattle. There was no doubt in my mind but that Sponsilier would be one of the two to go on the proposed errand of diplomacy, as his years, experience, and good solid sense entitled him to outrank either Forrest or myself. I knew that Quince would want to go, if for no other reason than to get out of working the few days that yet remained of the drive. All three of us talked the matter of quarantine freely as we rode along, yet no one ventured any proposition looking to an agreement as to who should go on the diplomatic mission. I was the youngest and naturally took refuge behind my years, yet perfectly conscious that, in spite of the indifferent and nonchalant attitude assumed, all three of us foremen were equally anxious for the chance. Matters remained undecided; but the next day at dinner, Lovell having met us before reaching the railroad, the question arose who should go up to Miles City. Dave and Quince were also eating at my wagon, and when our employer forced an answer, Sponsilier innocently replied that he supposed that we were all willing to leave it to him. Forrest immediately approved of Dave's suggestion. I gave my assent, and old man Don didn't qualify, hedge, or mince his words in appointing the committees to represent the firm of Lovell.
"Jealous of each other, ain't you? Very well; I want these herds grazed across to Buford at the rate of four miles a day. Nothing but a Mexican pastor, or a white man as lazy as Quince Forrest can fill the bill. You're listening, are you, Quince? Well, after the sun sets to-night, you're in charge of ten thousand beeves from here to the mouth of the Yellowstone. I want to put every ounce possible on those steers for the next twenty days. We may have to make a comparison of cattle, and if we should, I want ours to lay over the opposition like a double eagle does over a lead dime. We may run up against a lot of red tape at Fort Buford, but if there is a lick of cow-sense among the government representatives, we want our beeves to speak for themselves. Fat animals do their own talking. You remember when every one was admiring the fine horse, the blind man said, 'Isn't he fat?' Now, Dave, you and Tom appoint your segundos, and we'll all catch the 10:20 train west to-night."
I dared to risk one eye on Forrest. Inwardly I was chuckling, but Quince was mincing along with his dinner, showing that languid indifference which is inborn to the Texan. Lovell continued to monopolize the conversation, blowing on the cattle and ribbing up Forrest to see that the beeves thenceforth should never know tire, hunger, or thirst. The commissaries had run low; Sponsilier's cook had been borrowing beans from us for a week past, while Parent point-blank refused to share any more of our bacon. The latter was recognized as a staple in trail-work, and it mattered not how inviting the beef or venison might be, we always fell back to bacon with avidity. When it came time to move out on the evening lap, Forrest's herd took the lead, the other two falling in behind, the wagons pulling out for town in advance of everything. Jack Splann had always acted as segundo in my absence, and as he had overheard Lovell's orders to Forrest, there was nothing further for me to add, and Splann took charge of my "Open A's."
When changing mounts at noon, I caught out two of my best saddlers and tied one behind the chuckwagon, to be left with a liveryman in town. Leaving old man Don with the cattle, all three of us foremen went into the village in order to secure a few staple supplies with which to complete the journey.
It can be taken for granted that Sponsilier and myself were feeling quite gala. The former took occasion, as we rode along, to throw several bouquets at Forrest over his preferment, when the latter turned on us, saying: "You fellows think you're d--d smart, now, don't you? You're both purty good talkers, but neither one of you can show me where the rainbow comes in in rotting along with these measly cattle. It's enough to make a man kick his own dog. But I can see where the old man was perfectly right in sending you two up to Miles City. When you fellows work your rabbit's foot, it will be Katy with those Washington City schemers--more than likely they'll not draw cards when they see that you are in the game--When it comes to the real sabe, you fellows shine like a tree full of owls. Honest, it has always been a wonder to me that Grant didn't send for both of you when he was making up his cabinet."
The herds crossed the railroad about a mile west of Little Missouri Station. The wagons secured the needed supplies, and pulled out down the river, leaving Sponsilier and myself foot-loose and free.
Lovell was riding a livery horse, and as neither of us expected him to return until it was too dark to see the cattle, we amused ourselves by looking over the town. There seemed to be a great deal of freighting to outlying points, numerous ox and mule trains coming in and also leaving for their destinations. Our employer came in about dusk, and at once went to the depot, as he was expecting a message. One had arrived during his absence, and after reading it, he came over to Dave and me, saying:
"It's from Mike Sutton. I authorized him to secure the services of the best lawyer in the West, and he has just wired me that he has retained Senator Aspgrain of Sioux City, Iowa. They will report at Fort Buford on September the 5th and will take care of any legal complications which may arise. I don't know who this senator is, but Mike has orders not to spare any expense as long as we have the other fellow's money to fight with. Well, if the Iowa lawyers are as good stuff as the Iowa troops were down in Dixie, that's all I ask. Now, we'll get our suppers and then sack our saddles--why, sure, you'll need them; every good cowman takes his saddle wherever he goes, though he may not have clothes enough with him to dust a fiddle."