In the spring of 1887 I went to work for the “RL” outfit located on the
Musselshell River in Montana. The outfit belonged to the Ryan Brothers
of Kansas City. They run about 25,000 head of cattle, and run three
wagons and worked about 20 men to each wagon, and had about 500 head of
That year they had a contract with the government to supply the Sioux
Indians with 5,000 beef cattle. We gathered the first herd of 2,500 and
trailed them to landing Rock Agency on the Missouri River in North
Dakota. We were about four months on the trail and I don’t remember of
seeing one wire fence or farming ranch on the trip.
We swam those cattle across the Yellowstone River east of Miles City. We
were four days trying to get those cattle across. It was in the month of
June and at the time of high water—the river was bank full and at least
a quarter of a mile wide. We tried every way anybody had ever heard of
to get those cattle to take that water. We would bring them to the river
every day and fight them all day, but it was no go. We would then drive
them back from the river and night herd them and try again the next day.
Finally we decided to hold them off water for twenty-four hours, and
then drove them all into the river at once. It worked. It was sure some
sight, the 2,500 head all swimming at once.
We had a wonderful trip after that. We only moved them about eight or
ten miles a day and with plenty grass and water they got very fat. It
was the custom them days to butcher a calf on anybody’s range, so we had
plenty good meat.
When we arrived at the end of our journey, we had to herd those cattle
for about three months, as we only delivered 250 head a week. We held
them about twenty miles from the Agency, and each week we cut out the
fattest ones and took them to the Agency. After we had been there about
a week all the cowboys quit and went back to Montana, which only left
the boss, the cook and myself with 2,500 cattle to hold, and as there
was no white men in that part of the country, the boss had to hire some
Indians to help hold the cattle. Those Indians could not understand one
word of English and we couldn’t talk much Indian, so we were in a pretty
Our horses didn’t like the smell of the Indian, and they persisted in
getting on on the right-hand side, and, of course, our horses objected
to that. They all wore moccasins and they would put their foot so far
through the stirrup when a horse got scared when they were getting on
and they would fall down and their foot would hang in the stirrup, so
the boss and myself put in most of our time catching loose horses.
One day a steamboat came up the Missouri River and it blowed the
whistle. Now those cattle had never heard a steamboat whistle before.
They were scattered over an area of about four miles feeding. It sure
scared them. They first run together all in one bunch, and we might have
checked them but those Indians got excited and scared them worse than
ever. One Indian was running his horse pretty close to the lead of the
cattle and giving war whoops, and his horse fell down and throwed him
right in among the cattle. I sure thought he was killed and hoped he
was, but he never got a scratch. After we got the cattle stopped, he
made signs that he enjoyed it very much, as it reminded him of hunting
All cattlemen know that cattle do not get over a scare like that very
soon, and those were all longhorned Texas steers and would scare of
their own shadow, and when one jumped they all went. So that night when
we put them on the bed-ground, the boss wouldn’t put the Indians on
night guard as he knew they would scare them for sure. So he put me on
first guard, and he brought his bed and night horse out to the herd so
he would be close if anything happened. He staked his horse and went to
I was riding around the herd and they all seemed to be settled down
fine, when all at once, quick as you could snap your finger, they were
all running. It was very dark and it sounded like thunder when that herd
stampeded. I was badly scared and I tried to stay in the lead of them as
much as I could, but they would swing first one way and then another. I
think they run about three miles, when something came out of the herd
right longside of me. I knew it wasn’t a steer. It made a different
noise from anything else that I had heard. I thought it was a ghost, and
I pretty near fainted. It was the boss’ horse dragging the stake rope
and the stirrups and saddle a-popping that scared the cattle and me,
too. The horse had pulled his stake pin and stampeded the herd. After
this ghost had disappeared, I got the cattle stopped but I still didn’t
know what it was. I didn’t know where I was or where camp was, so I
tried to sing and talk to the cattle and wait for help. Some of them
began to bawl and I knew that was a good sign, as cattle will not scare
so bad when some of them are bawling. In about an hour I heard the boss
whistling and coming my way. He had walked to camp and got another
horse, and come hunting me. He stayed the rest of the night with me.
Luckily we had not lost any of them, as they all stayed together, but
there was a lot of broken horns and lame cattle, as they had piled up
several times in the run.
For several days those cattle were very nervous and we had considerable
trouble watering them. A steer would see a little rock or a piece of
grass that didn’t look just right—he would jump and away they would all
After about a month the other herd came and we had more cowboys. We were
all right then as we had plenty of help, and began delivering beef to
I remember one delivery we made, the boss sent me with a pack outfit and
my orders were to camp about halfway of the twenty miles we had to go
and make coffee for the cowboys that were bringing the cattle. It was
raining that day, and as we were on the Indian reservation there was
very little wood to build a fire with, so when I got to the place I was
to camp everything was wet and nothing to make a fire with. I saw a pine
box about two feet long in a cottonwood tree. I got it down and broke it
up and inside of it were a few dried bones and a few pieces of red
flannel. It was an Indian papoose grave—that was the way they buried
their dead. I dumped the bones out and made a fire out of the box.
Old man Ryan, one of the owners of the cattle, was with us that day, and
came ahead of the cattle to get some coffee. When he seen I had coffee
made, he was very pleased, and told me I was a great boy. But when he
went to pour out his coffee, he spied those bones. He asked me what they
were, and when I told him he nearly fainted, and would not touch the
coffee. But it didn’t affect those hungry cowboys when they got there;
they told me I was wonderful, but the old gentleman said I was simply
terrible. The old man was a very devout Catholic and said I would surely
go to Hell when I died.
We would put those cattle in the government corral and an army officer
would just look them over and accept them. They didn’t weigh them, but
bought them so much a head.
After the inspector passed on them, they would call five or six Indians
with their rifles. They would get up on the corral fence and shoot every
one of them before they touched one. Then the army officer would take so
many Indian families to each steer and let them divide it up. There was
three tribes there, with a chief at the head of each tribe. I don’t know
how many Indians was in each tribe but it looked like about 3,000
In about two hours there wouldn’t even be a tail of a steer left. Each
family took their portion and went to their different camp grounds.
Those three chiefs’ names were Sitting Bull, Rain in the Face, and
Gall—the latter two looked like old seasoned warriors, both had been
wounded in battle several times. Sitting Bull was a younger man and
looked like he had some white blood in his veins.
The old time Indians claimed Sitting Bull was not the great warrior that
he got credit for and that he did not plan the massacre of General
Custer and that Rain in the Face was the great man in that battle.
Every time those steers were shot down in the corral, before any beef
was divided, Rain in the Face made a speech—I don’t know what it was
about, but the roar of applause was terrific.
That fall when we got the beef all delivered, we took the saddle horses
to Mandan, North Dakota, on the Northern Pacific Railroad and shipped
them back to Montana.
The cowboys went by passenger train. Those cowboys had been on the
Indian reservation all summer and could not get any refreshments, and as
they had all their wages they made Mandan a lively town for a Hay and a
night. There was about twenty of them, and it was some job getting them
cowboys loaded on that train, and after we got started it took the train
crew all their time to keep them straight.
Them days they heated the chair cars with a coal heating stove. One old
cowboy got a raw steak out of the diner, and before the conductor knew
it he was cooking it on top of the stove and the car was full of smoke.
The conductor took it away from him and throwed it out of the car and
gave the old man hell. The old man was very mad and told the conductor
he didn’t know nothing, as that was the proper way to cook a steak.
Another fellow bought a suit of clothes in Mandan and decided to change
clothes in the parlor car. He got into quite a dispute with the train
crew, but finally got his new suit on. He said they were too damn
particular about riding on trains.
We were all at the RL ranch one afternoon ready to start on the spring
roundup next morning. We saw a rider coming very fast. When he rode in
we all knew him. His name was George Shepord. His horse was all sweat
and about winded.
Someone said, “Hello, George. What is the matter?” He set on his horse
and didn’t say anything for about a minute—then he said, “I killed John
Matt about two hours ago.”
John run a saloon at what was known at that time as Musselshell
Crossing, a stage station.
George’s story was that him and Matt were playing poker single-handed
that day and got into a dispute over a pot. George said Matt tried to
steal a twenty dollar gold piece out of the pot. They got in an argument
over it. They both had guns (all cowboys wore guns those days)—Matt
reached for his gun but George beat him to it and killed him right there
at the poker table.
George got on his horse and came to where we were and the boss notified
the Sheriff. The boss knew George very well and liked him very much, so
he took George to a big patch of brush down the river and hid him out
until things got cleared up and the boss detailed one of the cowboys to
carry food to him.
George was very desperate at first and would not agree to give himself
up—so the sign agreed on between George and the other boy was that the
cowboy was to whistle When he came near the brush patch. This boy told
me afterwards he would begin whistling a mile before he got to the brush
patch, and when he got there he would be so damn nervous he couldn’t
whistle at all.
Finally the boss got George to give himself up and the fact that no one
saw the shooting and George’s testimony was all there was, he got clear
on the grounds of self-defense.
It’s a strange coincidence, but I worked with another fellow that killed
a man the year before in Gold Butte, Montana, and he and George worked
together for the RL outfit. His name was Frank McPartland—and they were
both the quietest and mild-mannered men in the outfit. So as the old
saying goes: “You can’t tell how far the frog can jump by looking at
Frank and his partner were wintering in a cabin in Gold Butte and got
into a fight over a gallon of whiskey they had—anyway that was what
started the fight. Gold Butte was about two days’ ride to Fort Benton,
which was the county seat and the nearest place to get in touch with an
Frank stayed with the corpse and sent a neighbor after the sheriff and
coroner. When they arrived they had to stay all night in the cabin and
when it came time to go to bed there were only two bunks. Frank gave one
to the sheriff and coroner. They asked him where he was going to sleep.
He said with his partner. He said, “I slept with him when he was alive—I
don’t see why I shouldn’t now.”
Frank was in jail for about a year and as Gold Butte was at that time an
Indian reservation, he had to be tried in the Federal Court which was at
Fort Keogh near Miles City.
He got free, too, from the fact nobody saw the killing but him.
When I worked for the RL outfit, we used to work along the Yellowstone
River. There was one place where there was quite a little settlement of
farmers. The place was known as Pease Bottom. We always camped a couple
of days right on the edge of the Bottom.
My memory of it is the whole female population of the Bottom was two
girls, a widow and a married lady.
Always the day before we made this camp the cowboys shined their spurs
and bridles and put on clean shirts (if they had one) as they knew all
the lady folks would be at the roundup and boy, what a show those forty
or fifty cowboys would put on for those four or five ladies. If a
cowboy’s horse didn’t buck, he would make him buck. If no cattle broke
out of the roundup, some fellow would cut one out and take it around and
around in front of the ladies. Of course, the ladies applauded us
all—and we didn’t know who was the favorite but, of course, each one
thought in his own mind he was the best.
Every year when we camped and worked the country close to Pease Bottom
it was understood by everybody that we would have a dance at night in
some one of the farmers’ houses, as the people in this little valley
really enjoyed those events just as much as we did.
Our cook played the banjo and a mouth harp, both of which he always
carried with him. He had a kind of a frame fixed around his head so he
could play them both at once. He only played two or three tunes, such as
“Turkey-in-the-Straw,” “Hell Among the Yearlings” (which was a cowboy
title) and maybe a waltz or two, but those pieces answered the purpose
for all dances.
We danced mostly quadrilles, I remember, and one time some stranger
happened to be at one of those dances and he asked the cook to play some
dance tune that he never heard of and it came near to causing a riot, as
that was one thing the cook prided himself on—that he knew and could
play any tune that anyone asked for, regardless of how difficult. So he
played “Buffalo Girls,” or some other old-timer. The fellow said that it
was not the tune he asked for and it started a hot argument right now.
We all said the cook was right and the stranger didn’t know what he was
talking about. Of course, we didn’t know anything about music, but we
did know we had to stand by the cook, as he was the only musician we
had. He wouldn’t stand for any criticism of his music and would quit
playing and break up the dance.
In those days the foreman of an outfit wore better clothes and rode a
better rig than the average cowboy and really was in a class by himself,
so when we went to those dances he was usually more popular than the
regular cowboy, and was often shown favors among the girls. In fact, we
would have to take another fellow for a partner instead of a girl
sometimes—the ladies was so scarce.
I recall what seems to me to be very amusing now. There was a school
teacher at one of those Pease Bottom dances and she was a great favorite
with everybody and every cowboy tried to pick her for a partner, if
possible. The floor manager had called a dance with “Ladies’ Choice.” I
heard that call and figured I was out for that dance—and took a big chew
of tobacco—when to my surprise this little lady stepped up to me and
asked me for that dance. Now I had no chance to get rid of that chew and
rather than let this little queen know I chewed tobacco or lose that
dance, I swallowed the whole works, tobacco juice and all.
It is hard to imagine the high regard and respect we had for those good
women of that day, as we saw so few of them—and as I know good women
appreciate those things, I believe they liked us and valued our
friendship. Why I have known some old hard-faced cowpuncher that had a
grouch about something and when one of those women would give him some
little attention his face would soften up until you couldn’t tell it
from the face of the Virgin Mary.
For a good many years there was a section of the country along the
Canadian border and the Milk River that the cattlemen thought was no
good for cattle—but in the late eighties and early nineties they
discovered that it was a much better cattle country than the Missouri
and Yellowstone country as it produced a buffalo-grass that I think had
no equal for fattening cattle. It was a short grass, but had plenty of
fattening qualities, especially in the Sweet Grass Hills area. I have
seen steers so fat we could hardly drive them into the roundups.
So nearly all the Judith Basin and Moccasin outfits moved into that
country. They had to swim all their herds across the Missouri River and
it was between a quarter and a half mile wide and swimming water from
bank to bank.
Most of the herds were crossed at a place called Judith Landing, an old
steamboat landing in the early days. It was afterwards named Claggot.
There was a man by the name of Bill Norris who had a store and saloon
there, and for a few years, while these herds were crossing, he reaped a
rich harvest off the cowboys. Charlie Russell helped swim some of those
herds and he told me he believed Bill made his own whiskey and must have
made it especially for swimming cattle, as when a cowboy got about three
drinks of that whiskey the Missouri River looked like a very small
creek. It made him plenty brave. There must have been some truth in what
Charlie said, as I cannot recall where one cowboy was drowned.
I went over to that country about the spring of 1890 and went to work
for the TL outfit, which belonged to McNamar and Broadwater. They had a
ranch in the Bear Paw Mountains.
When I went to the ranch and asked for work, the boss said it was too
early in the spring to hire any men as the roundup wouldn’t start for a
long time, but would hire a bronc rider if he could get a good one. Now
I had rode broncs and rough strings (which is spoiled horses) for
several years and had no fear of any horse and had a good opinion of
myself. So I told him I was sure a bronc rider. Now I had wintered
pretty hard that winter as I had lived in town and had sold everything I
had in the way of a good rig and looked pretty seedy. They had four or
five steady men on the ranch. I didn’t know any of them, and as I didn’t
have any boots, only a cheap pair of shoes, one spur and an old
rattle-trap saddle, they didn’t think I looked like a bronc fighter.
Anyway the boss took a chance and hired me.
The next day he had the men run in the saddle bunch to pick out some
horses to ride to gather those colts I was to break that ranged down in
the Badlands. He looked the bunch over quite a while, as he said he
wanted to find a good strong horse for me. He finally found him. I
remember his name yet—it was “Humpy,” a very pretty horse. He said,
“This fellow might hump up a little but that is all. He is a good
I told him I didn’t mind that; in fact I was in hopes he would do
something, as I had an idea they didn’t rate me very high. Anyway I
mounted Humpy—and about that time they turned the loose horses out of
the corral. Humpy wanted to go with them. I gave him a pull and down
went his head. I hit him with my hat and took a rake at him with that
one spur. The next thing I knew I was on the ground about ten feet in
front of him, but I held to my hackamore rope. He didn’t get away from
When I got up and looked around everything was as silent as a graveyard.
Those men and the boss were sitting on their horses looking at each
other with a grin on their faces, that I couldn’t tell whether it was
pity or disgust and, of course, I had no alibi. I got back on Humpy and
took another rake at him and he galloped off as nice as you please.
We had about two miles to ride to the house. Nobody said anything, only
the boss. He said he was afraid some of them colts would buck harder
than Humpy did. I didn’t answer him.
But before we got ready to gather those colts, somebody brought a horse
to the ranch that the outfit had sold to a livery stable in Big Sandy
for a buggy horse. I found out afterwards that the reason was nobody
could ride him. He had a wide reputation and was known as S.Y. (from his
brand) all over the country. The weather being bad when they sold him on
trial to the livery stable they didn’t hitch him up for about a month
and had fed him grain all that time. So when they did try him out he
kicked the buggy all to pieces and ran away. So they sent him home, as
they didn’t want him. He was a beautiful horse, weighed about 1150 and
built like a greyhound, and I was itching to tie into S.Y., as I knew my
standing was bad, and I asked the boss to let me try him out. He told me
it would be useless, as one of the best riders in the state had given
that horse up as a bad job. Then I kidded him and told him I didn’t
think the horse could buck at all, was just a plow horse. Anyway I rode
S.Y. and as I knew I had to make good, I scratched him everywhere I
could reach him and, of course, I was made from then on. I never rode
him again and I know I was lucky that day, as that horse had throwed
better riders than I ever was.
I broke about thirty head of colts for the outfit before I quit the job.
When I was young I never stayed anywhere very long. If I didn’t get
fired, I would quit and in the winter time I liked to live in town, so
when spring came and time to go to work, I was always broke. No saddle,
no boots, no nothing. If possible I would hunt Charlie Russell up for
help. I used to think up a pretty good hard luck tale to tell him. But
before I got started he would laugh and say, “What do you need now?”
Charlie didn’t always have money either, but had good credit and could
always get anything he wanted. Indians, cowboys, gamblers, everybody
borrowed off Charlie and I don’t know if they all paid him back or
not—if they didn’t Charlie would never tell it to anyone.
I have often wondered if horses go crazy like humans. The reason I say
this is that while I was breaking horses for the TL outfit, they had a
fine imported stallion—paid three thousand dollars for him. They had an
old man taking care of him. His name was Cayouse George. He knew
stallions thoroughly, had done that kind of work for several years. This
horse had always been gentle as a lamb. He had him in a box stall loose.
He used to go in there and feed and curry him and lead him to water. One
day two men were stacking hay outside the barn, when they heard a
terrible racket inside. They ran in there and the horse had George by
the side with his teeth and was throwing him up and down, trying to get
him under his feet. One of the boys hit him on the head with a club and
they dragged George outside. Meantime that horse roared like a lion.
They sent George to town to be doctored.
The next morning the boss told me to water the stallion. He said, “Just
take his bridle to the box stall. Hold it up. He will take the bit and
lead him to water.” I did as he told me, but I had a forty-five Colt in
my bed. I went and got that first, filled it full of bullets and cocked
it. I held the bridle up for the stallion to take with one hand and held
the gun with the other, and kept that position until he was watered and
back in the stall.
A few mornings later the boss came out when I was watering him. He
looked me and the stud over and told me I needn’t water him anymore,
which pleased me very much. I believe if he had even winked at me I
would have killed him, as I was deathly afraid of him. They carried
water to him for a while, then hitched him in a four horse team and
started to town. He died on the way—being soft, they overworked him.
A few years after the big outfits moved their herds to the Milk River
country, cattle got very thick along the Canadian line and as there was
no fences anywhere the cattle would naturally drift into Canada and they
could go hundreds of miles without anything to stop them on the finest
kind of grass, which was fine for the Montana cattlemen.
But there were some Canadian cow ranches started (mostly Americans) and
a contention started about so many American cattle coming into Canada
without duty being paid on them. So there was a kind of a gentleman’s
agreement made between the Montana cattlemen and the police captain of
the Alberta Division that the cattlemen would put line riders at all the
police camps, which was twenty to forty miles apart, and keep all cattle
out of Canada which, of course, was just a joke, as I was one of those
line riders for two years.
My orders were to kill all the good beef the Mounties could eat and have
them write a report that read something like the following: “American
cowboy rode 15 miles in Western direction. No American cattle seen.
Policeman Smith rode 15 miles in Eastern direction. No American cattle
in sight.” Those reports went to Ottawa, Canadian headquarters twice a
I was always under the impression the Captain of the Alberta Division
was getting his right hand greased by the cattlemen.
I recall an amusing thing that happened. A report leaked through to
Ottawa that those reports were not all true, so the Canadian government
sent a special army officer out there to investigate.
I was at Police Camp named Writing on Stone the evening he arrived with
an escort on horseback. They had rode the trail from the railroad
station and it being a cool evening and the cattle out grazing, he saw
thousands of American cattle on his way.
The next day the old boy got all his regimental regalia with his escort
and a tally man together and started out to make a tally and a report on
those cattle. Now it turned out to be a very hot day and when he got on
the ground, there wasn’t a cow to be seen, as the cattle had all drifted
back into the big bend of the Milk River to water and as the Captain
would be lost if he got a mile off the trail (and those cattle had went
about 10 miles) he was stuck. On his way back to the railroad, he met my
partner who was staying at another police camp. He said, “I say, Cowboy,
where are all those cattle I saw last evening on this trail?” This
fellow was a Texan and had quite a sense of humor. He said, “Damned if I
know, Captain. I think they saw your hole card and all went back to
Montana.” Of course the Captain didn’t understand that kind of language.
But we didn’t hear anymore from him. I don’t know what report he
made—but the cattle continued to graze on Canadian soil for several
It was pretty soft for those cattlemen of those days. Every year two or
three big outfits would pool together and take thirty or forty men, a
big band of saddle horses, chuck and bed wagons, and go to the Port of
Entry on the Canadian line. There they would report that they were going
into Canada to gather and take all American cattle out of Canada which,
of course, sounded good to the Canadian government.
Now, what they would do was go into Canada and work for several weeks
and roundup all the American cattle they could find and bring them out
to Montana and report the same just like they did when they went in.
They would take them about three or four miles across the line into
Montana—several thousand head—then they would brand the calves, cut out
the beef cattle that was fit to ship—and then turn the main herd loose
right there and, of course, in a couple of days those cattle would all
be back in Canada, and nothing to bother about for another year.
Of course, it didn’t do any harm to anyone as the grass was going to
waste and somebody should get benefit out of it. The amusing part about
it was that my job was to keep all American cattle from crossing the
line and to have all or as many as possible to drift across. But the
Mounted Police and I got along fine. I butchered the finest beef I could
find and that was all they wanted or cared about and didn’t question how
many American cattle came into Canada.
I sure had a lot of fun with those policemen. A great many of them came
right out of the city of London, England, and knew nothing about the
West or Western ways.
While I was there the Mounted Police force bought a bunch of horses from
a big horse outfit for the police to ride to patrol the line. Those
horses had been broke by cowboys that rode and handled horses much
different from the regimental way and the policemen had a great deal of
trouble with some of those horses. There was one horse brought to a
police station on Milk River that they could not ride and in order to
get rid of him there had to be made a very lengthy report. I read that
report and it covered a whole sheet of paper. It went into details as to
his disposition, how he had bucked off several policemen, giving the
name of each man, and pictured the horse as a regular man-eater. At any
rate it took about a month to get this horse condemned. Then they
detailed an army officer and a policeman to go and bring this horse to
army headquarters, which was 100 miles. They stayed over night at
Writing on Stone where I was at that time. I tried to get the officer to
give me five dollars to ride the horse. He said he could not do that but
would like very much to see him rode. So I rode him. He was a very nice
horse and as far as bucking, he didn’t jump two feet off the ground. A
lady could have rode him.
I joked the officer about the horse and he said the main objection was
no one could mount him in regimental way. My description of the
regimental way of getting on would be to fall on, instead of getting on
and, of course, the horse didn’t savvy that. I tried to buy the horse,
but they couldn’t sell him until he had went through the form of being
condemned, which was surely some red tape.
Charlie Russell spent one summer in Canada and told me a funny
experience he had. There was an old retired army captain up in northern
Canada who went into the cattle business and had occasion to swim a
bunch of cattle across quite a large river. He tried for several days
and in different ways to make those cattle cross the stream but couldn’t
make it work.
So he built some blinds made out of green rawhide stretched on frames
and put them on the river bank where the cattle were to cross and put a
man behind each blind. So when the cowboys drove the cattle to the edge
of the river and the captain got his position he gave the command, “Men
behind rawhide—charge!” which they did. Now one can imagine those wild
cattle when a lot of men charged in among them on foot. They stampeded
and went to the hills and the captain had a hard time gathering them and
getting them back to the river, and he immediately removed the blinds,
as the cattle would not work the regimental way.
That is something I never found out about cattle—you may try for days to
get cattle to take swimming water and use every means that you can think
of and they will not go. Then some other day they will walk right into
the water without any trouble.
Another thing in the old days a cowman weaned his calves. The range cow
would wean it herself and when I was ranching in a small way I would
wean the calves and keep them away from the cows for months, and some of
them would go back to the mothers and when the cow would have a calf the
next year she would leave the young calf and take up with the yearling.
I have had cows that would nurse a steer sometimes until he was three
years old and bigger than she was. My guess is that nobody knows these
secrets but the cows themselves.
I believe cows has different ideas just like cowboys have. I worked for
an outfit one time and the boss sent two of us out together to hunt some
saddle horses we had lost on the roundup. We had a pack horse, bedding
I noticed the first day out this fellow was eating some little pills and
he wouldn’t tell me what they were, and thinking of his disposition and
the way he acted, I know now it was morphine.
Those horses we were hunting were supposed to be ranging on a big flat
down on the Missouri River and we had to take one certain ridge to get
in there. The ridge was about 15 miles long and if at any time we found
out we were on the wrong ridge we had to come back and take another one.
Now we were both uncertain about this ridge and I tried every way I knew
to get his opinion on which ridge to take, as he was in a very bad mood
just at that time. It was getting late in the evening. I was anxious to
get to the river and make camp before dark. Anyway I had to choose the
ridge, which proved to be the wrong one and we had to make camp in a
very disagreeable place—no shelter—and we were pretty cold before
morning. While we were making camp, I made the remark it was tough luck
that we got on the wrong ridge. He said he knew damn well we were taking
the wrong ridge, but it was none of his business, and he wasn’t going to
say anything about it, so one can see he had a very lovable disposition.
We didn’t hold much conversation while we were getting supper and soon
after I saw he was dividing the bedding, which was a very small amount,
so I decided he did not want to sleep with me. So I took my cut and went
to bed. He set by the fire. We had coffee enough to last about a week,
but he made coffee and drank it all night, so when I got up we didn’t
have any coffee for breakfast. I think those little pills gave out on
him and he used the coffee as a substitute. Anyway he must have got
kindhearted in the night sometime, as when I woke up in the morning he
had throwed his blankets on me.
In a few days we found the horses we were looking for, and as our horses
were tired, we decided to catch fresh horses out of the bunch we found
to ride. We drove them up against a cut bank and roped two of them. One
was a nice looking little fellow—the other one was a big, sleepy-looking
guy. So I offered him his choice of the two horses. He thought the
little horse looked kind of wild, so took the big fellow. However, when
he went to saddle him he found him pretty bravo.
Anyway he got on him and the show started. This fellow had the longest
nose I ever saw on a man. Some way in the bucking and mix-up, the saddle
horn hit him on that big nose, but he rode him. I went to stop our loose
horses and waited for him to catch up. When he came to where I was, the
first thing I saw of him was that big nose—all blood and swelled up
twice as big as it was before. I pretended not to see it and looked the
other way, and asked him how he liked his horse.
He said, “How do I like him? Look at my nose!” and, of course, I had to
look. Well, I nearly fell off my horse laughing, which I was ashamed of,
but I couldn’t help it, as he was sure a funny sight and he being such a
grouch made it more comical.
I nicknamed him “Curlew,” which is a bird with a long bill.
When we got back to the ranch the other boys all took up the name and
called him Curlew. This lasted about a week and he was getting pretty
sore. So one day he called us all together and said, “The next man that
calls me ‘Curlew’ can shed his coat and get ready for battle. I am not
going to stand for this name any longer.”
Now this fellow could sure fight and we all knew it, so he got nothing
but silence—but we still called him Curlew behind his back.
One day there was a bunch of us riding—most of us was behind him. I
whistled like a curlew. He stopped and turned around and looked us over.
He didn’t know who had whistled, but he looked at me pretty vicious, so
I was careful where I whistled after that.
When I lived with the Northwest Mounted Police, working for the Montana
cattlemen, I kept three horses furnished me by the cow outfits. I had
very little to do. My horses were fed plenty of grain by the police and
the sergeant detailed a policeman every two weeks on cook duty. Most of
those boys had been raised in the city. Some of them were highly
educated and were remittance men who had come from very wealthy families
in England and were given a small allowance from their families. So they
knew nothing about the West or camp life. The result was we got some
very poor cooking, but they were perfect gentlemen and had the highest
sense of honor I have ever known.
They had never known mosquitoes before (and we had plenty of them on
Milk River in summertime). They called them “blooming American flies”
and said “they not only bite one through to the pores of the skin but
would bloody well bite through your trousers.”
In the wintertime we were quite isolated, as the snow usually got very
deep and there wasn’t much travel. We played whist (which I believe is
an old English game) those long winter evenings for 25 cents a game and
would have some hot arguments as to the rules of the game, so that we
all went to bed mad every night—but everybody would be ready for play
again the next night. If someone from the outside had heard us, it would
have been like the man shipwrecked on an island who thought he was in a
country of nothing but wild animals. He finally saw campfire smoke. He
crawled up close to listen and find out what it was, when he heard
someone say, “What the hell did you play that ace for?” He thought for a
moment and said, “Thank God, I am in civilization.”