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Category: The Border and the Buffalo
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Dockum and I for the first few days worked together. We two skinned thirty-three of this killing. Hadley and Cyrus worked together for a short time. It was now a busy time. Some days thirty and forty-odd hides, then a good day with eighty-five, and one day in February, one hundred and seventy-one; then again the same month, 203; and these 203 were killed on less than ten acres of ground. 

My experience with the Woods had helped me. In starting I had learned to keep my knives in good order and how to handle and manipulate them. But it was here I learned to simplify, lighten, and speed the work.

We fastened a forked stick to the center of the hind axle-tree of a wagon, letting the end drag on the ground on an incline to say 20 degrees; fastened a chain or rope to the same axle, then we would drive up quartering to the carcass and hook the loose end of the chain over a front leg. After skinning the upper side down, then start the team up and pull the dead animal up a little, and stop. (The stick prevented the wagon from backing up.) Then we would skin the belly down mid-sides; start the team again, and pull the carcass over, having rolled the first side of the hide close to the backbone. Then we would skin down to the backbone, and the hide was separated from the carcass. We would then throw the hide in the wagon, and proceed as before until all the hides were skinned from the dead carcasses.

Many times we had in one killing more hides than the two ponies could pull to camp, in which case we spread the hide, flesh side down, by the carcass, in order to get them when there was a slack time in the work.

After the first ten days I went alone with the team, except on the occasion of a big day's killing. Each night Charley got out his memorandum book and I got mine, and we put down the number of hides I had skinned that day. Isolated as we were, we kept track of the days of the week and the month of the year. This was Dockum's work. He was very methodical in everything he did.

He and Frank, the boy, attended to the reloading of the shells, pegged out the hides, and from three to five days after they were pegged out they turned them flesh side down, and every other day turned them back, until they were dried; after which they were stacked one on top of the other until the pile was eight feet high. Then they cut strings from a green hide and tied an end in a peg-hole at each corner of the bottom hide, ran it through the holes of the top one, then drew them down as tight as they could and tied them.

The pile was then ready for market. This work, together with cooking and general camp-work, kept them both very busy at times. We classified our hides as we piled them. All bulls to themselves, the cows the same way; the robe hides to themselves, and the younger animals into what was called the kip pile.

Charlie as a rule did the most of his killing from 8 A. M. until noon, but made some good killings in the evening, in which the carcasses would lie all night before being skinned. These would bloat up and the hide would be tight and stiff, which made the work more tedious. We had to be more careful, too; for it was the pride of the skinner to bring in hides free from knife-gashes.

We had good hunting at this camp until the last of February, when all at once the buffaloes were not to be seen.

"Oh, well," said Charley, "we need a little rest and diversion anyhow;" for we made hay while the sun shone.

I thought so, too, for we then had stacked up and drying 2003 hides, 902 of them I had skinned, and was so accredited. This was an average of 22 buffaloes a day for 41 days. At 25 cents per hide I had earned $225.50.

One evening on coming into camp with my day's work in the wagon, I noticed a broken, jagged table-rock disconnected from the mesa, or table-land, to the north of it, and a nearly level space of ground, sixty yards wide, from the rock to the main plateau. All the land for a mile east, west and south, was what would be called second-bottom land. I had gone five miles that day and skinned nineteen buffaloes that had been killed the evening before; and I had lost considerable time in finding the killing, having been misdirected to the place, as I claimed, and "not paying strict enough attention to directions," as Charlie claimed. In a joking way he said: "You've been lost before, have you not?"

It was early twilight as I was passing the table-rock, and about one mile and a half from camp, when I noticed a large panther making leaps toward the rock, coming from the mesa; and I reported this in camp on my arrival there. Cyrus said that he saw a bear that morning, and it was coming out of a gypsum cave near the river. So we thought, now we will hunt for panther first, and bear next.

The second day after the buffaloes disappeared, Charlie, Cyrus and myself went to the rock—all on foot. We climbed up on top of it, and noted that it covered an acre or more of ground, perfectly bare, and was crossed and recrossed by crevices that mostly ran down to the bottom. Some of these were too wide to jump across; some we could step over. On the eastern side we noticed a gradual break from summit to base, and a pretty well beaten pathway in it. There were the skeletons of several deer and buffaloes, calves and yearlings, scattered all around the base of this rocky, caverned and creviced little wonder spot. We peered in and through every nook and crevice, as we thought, but did not find a panther.

Charlie suggested that we leave and go on up the mesa proper, which we did, and after coming up on the summit of it we sat down on a large stone. The west side of this plateau was very precipitous, and irregular and very rugged and was some fifty feet higher than the bottom or plain below. We were seated close to this western edge, when all at once Charlie said, "Look yonder!" at the same time raising the big fifty to his face. At that I caught sight of a large panther, and said, "Don't shoot yet, Charlie; it doesn't see us; let's watch it a little;" for it was coming nearer all the time, along the foot of the escarpment. We all three had our guns at a "ready." It was moving slowly, and stepping methodically, with a soft, velvety step, looking out on the plain to the westward. When it got to within about seventy-five yards of us, Charlie could stand it no longer, and pulled trigger, at which it leaped high in air, and as it struck the ground Cy and I both shot. When we got down to it we found we had all three struck it. We soon had its hide off, and when we got back on the bluff we saw, about a mile to the west of us, twelve buffalo bulls, in single file, slowly marching toward our camp.

Charlie said: "Now, John, there's your chance. Try your hand on them now. You've got the wind in your favor; take a dog-trot toward camp and you can get to that big ravine just west of camp ahead of them."

I worked my way down off the table-land; and upon getting down to the plain I took a good sweeping trot, carrying my "44" in my right hand most of the time, but changing to the left hand occasionally, for a short time.

Sure enough, I got to the ravine before they did. I dropped down to a sitting position, set up my rest-sticks, placed the muzzle end of the gun in the crotch, and was ready. By the lay of the ground, and the direction of the wind, they had not been able to scent or see me; and when they came in sight they were at the head of the defile that I was upon the slope of.

They were now 200 yards from me, moving along in an ordinary walk. They would pass to the west of me about sixty-odd yards. I waited until they got pretty well opposite to me, and made a good lung shot on the leader. He crowned up his back, and made a lunge forward and stopped stock-still. The others at crack of the gun jumped sidewise from me, and started off up the slope of the ravine. I was reloaded in a jiffy and pulled down at the one in front, and gave him a quartering shot that ranged forward into its vital organs.

The others whirled again and started back up the draw. This gave me a good shot at the one in front, and when I hit him he turned around and started down the draw in the direction they were headed at first.

I shot at another and heard the bullet strike; I must have hit one of his horns, for he whirled around twice and I then saw him run down and hook the first one I had shot, that was down and struggling.

I reloaded, and taking a careful aim at the farthest one from me, which was now about 300 yards, I pulled down on him and fired. In the mean time, the one that had hooked the dying one bolted down the ravine, and I shot at him until he went around a bend a quarter of a mile below.

There were now only three of the twelve in sight, one quite dead, the second one I shot, down and kicking; the third one had come nearly opposite the first one and had lain down, and was weaving his great mop of a head to right and left. I thought he was dying. I rose up and started to go to the head of the draw. Just then he got up on his feet, bowed his back and raised his tail nearly straight up. I shot him twice more, in quick succession. Down he went, never to rise. Then I went to the head of the draw and some two hundred yards west there was one in plain sight, standing with his head from me, and no others in sight. I knew then in all reason I had wounded him.

Sitting down and placing my gun in the rest-sticks, I drew a fine bead on him, holding the muzzle of the gun just at the top of the rump. When I fired it seemed to me that the whole hind part of his body rose clear off the ground. He made a few lumbering, awkward jumps forward, turned sidewise, crouched down on his hunkers, and just as I was getting ready to shoot again he fell over on his left side, kicked up his feet violently for a few seconds and gave up to fate.

I had killed four out of the twelve. By counting my shells I found I had shot thirteen times. I took the tongues from the four and went to camp, boiled tongue being a luxury. Dockum, Hadley and Frank were in camp when I got there. They had heard the shooting, and seemed surprised when they learned that it was I doing it and that I had killed four out of twelve with only thirteen shots.

When Charlie and Cyrus came in, shortly after I had reached camp, we had the four tongues cooking in a kettle; and when the former heard that I had killed the four buffaloes, he said:

"Cook, I believe if you had had your gun when you were lost on the South Canadian you would have made your living."

I took my hide team and drove out and skinned the four buffaloes I had killed, thus earning one dollar on that holiday.

The next morning Charlie got on his hunting-horse and rode south across the Brazos. He said on leaving us that he would ride until he found good hunting again. Cyrus and I struck out for the place he had seen the bear. After reaching the place, we explored the region pretty thoroughly; found plenty of fresh signs, but we did not see one the entire day. We were both afoot, and roamed at will as thought or fancy pleased us.

Wending our way toward camp, we came to some rough breaks near the Brazos, and saw a large eagle alight on a jutting crag. It had a jack rabbit in its talons, and commenced eating it. It was fully two hundred yards from us, and if it saw us at all it ignored our presence.

"Cyrus," I said, "I would like to have that eagle."

"He is yours if you can get him," he replied.

I then said, "If you will stay where you are and give me a few moments' time I believe I'll get it."

He said, "All right."

I took three or four steps backward, and, bringing a thorn-bush between the eagle and myself, I started across a little valley and came up under the bluff where the eagle was standing on the crag. I scaled the gypsum butte and got up near the summit and peeped over, and there he was, not more than fifty yards from me. I drew a fine bead, and fired. He plunged over the crag and rolled to the bottom—_dead_.

I picked him up and went on into camp. I had heard that eagle-oil was the best kind of gun-oil. He was large, very fat, and had fine plumage. We saved all the oil for our guns, and I bundled the feathers together and kept them until the next summer, when I traded them to a young Cheyenne would-be warrior for a pinto pony that the Quohada Comanches afterward stole from me in the spring of 1877.

When Cyrus and I got to camp we found Charlie, our hunter, there. He brought us good word for more hunting. It was understood that we were to move camp the next morning, cross the Brazos, and go to near the summit of the divide, between it and Croton creek, where he had found a spring of nearly fresh water, with several pools below it. Speaking of Croton creek, it surely was properly named. For a sudden, immediate and effective laxative, it was a whole apothecary shop.

This camp was nearly four miles from the first camp, and here we had fair hunting until the latter part of March. Then one morning on going to our lookout, not a buffalo could be seen. We were all satisfied, for we wanted a rest and change.

At this camp we got 906 hides, and I had skinned 407 of them, thereby earning $101.75.

We had run short of primers a few days previous to this lull in the hunt, and hearing big guns every day in different directions from us, Hadley was delegated to hunt up a camp, in the hope of getting enough primers to tide us over until Hadley could make a trip to Fort Griffin, where there was a supply store. The first camp he found was the Carr and Causey outfit, which had killed 3700 buffaloes. They were out of flour, and were getting low on all kinds of ammunition except primers; but were looking for a man whom they had sent to Griffin to return in a short time.

"Yes, they would divide primers if we would divide flour."

So the exchange was made, they getting fifty pounds of flour, and we getting one thousand primers.

From this camp Dockum and I went with Hadley to our first camp and helped him to load 200 hides. He went to Fort Griffin, and did not get back for seven weeks. Our flour and coffee gave out, and we were three days without bread, when fortunately we heard of John Goff's camp to the southeast of us, and that he had nearly one thousand pounds of flour and would divide with us.

I took my hunting team and went to his camp, which I confess I found by accident more than by design. I had not gone five miles until I saw the great mass of moving creatures, on their annual northern swing. Looking to the east and south as far as the eye could reach, it seemed to me that I saw nothing but a solid mass of bison; and I had to either turn back or go through them. The wind was from the north, and they were heading it and were moving in a quick-step gait. I was supposed to be at this time ten miles from Goff's.

I had heard of stampedes where they ran over everything in their way, and I thought "now should I get out into that big field of animals and they _did_ make a run, there would be annihilation." Then I thought "to go back to camp with word that I was turned back by the main herd would be construed as weakness."

Looking to the southwest and west, I saw a moving sea of that one countless host. I decided that I was just as safe going ahead as turning back. So, taking the landmark in view that I was to go to, I started on, and was soon among them. Of course there were intervals of bare ground; but they were small in comparison to the ground actually covered by the buffaloes. As I drove on, they would veer to my right in front and to my left in rear; the others following on behind them, would hardly seem to vary their course.

I had gone perhaps five miles in this way, when all fear from them seemingly disappeared; and, looking that day at that most wonderful sight, I thought it would take the standing army of the United States years to exterminate them. In fact, it was the opinion of conservative hunters as late as the New Year of 1877 that the present army of hunters were not killing the original herds, but only the natural increase.

When I had arrived at the landmark that I started for, I was only two miles from Goff's camp. I was directed to turn a northeast course, and by going half a mile farther I would come to the head of a ravine that his camp was on. I had not gone more than half the distance when, boom! boom! came the sound of death-dealing shots, off the northwest. And not more than half a mile from me it was boom! boom! boom! in such quick succession that it sounded more like a skirmish than a hunt. It was then that the buffaloes filed to the right and commenced running, jamming, and crowding one another, and were crossing the route ahead of me, going eastward pretty rapidly.

I turned east and traveled more than a mile with a compact mass of fleeing, wild, frantic, ferocious-looking beasts. On each side of me and soon ahead of me I heard the same deep-toned notes of the big fifty. Then it was that I saw a large mass of the herd east of me wheel to the right and make a run to the south. Those that were north of my route of travel passed on northward to the Salt Fork of the Brazos breaks; and the prairie was clear in front of me.

On looking ahead I saw a horseman approaching, and meeting him he proved to one of the Quinn Brothers. He informed me that his camp was still four miles east, and that I would find John Goff's camp about three miles northwest. So I turned northwest and started for the camp, and had not gone far until all the buffaloes in sight were again moving northward. When I had traveled as far as I thought I ought to have gone, I came up to a steep gully, thirty feet wide and fully forty feet deep, with steep-cut banks on both sides. I stopped and craned my neck in every direction, but saw no sign of a camp. Thinking I had gone far enough, I turned to the south to head across the gully. I was along close to the bank when I saw down in the gully and ahead of me a cougar, feeding on the carcass of a buffalo. I got out of the wagon; unhitched the team; tied it to the wagon; took my 44, and stooping low, stole up to nearly opposite the cougar, in plain sight of it, not more than sixty yards from where it was feeding. The tawny, dirty-yellow-looking brute appeared to be totally oblivious of my presence. I stretched out on my belly, and, placing a large buffalo-chip in front of me, let the muzzle end of the gun rest on it, and then watched him for a minute or more. He would get hold of the flesh and try to gnaw and pull until he got a mouthful, then would raise his head and gulp down what flesh he had torn loose, and dive in again. After he had done this way twice and was busy getting another mouthful, I shot him, pulling for the butt of the left ear. He never knew what hurt him. I went down to where it and the buffalo lay, and, taking my ripping-knife out of the scabbard, I scalped the cougar, taking both ears and the frontal hide down to the lower end of the upper jaw, including the lips. Then I also amputated one of the forelegs at the knee, and hurried back to the wagon.

As I was hitching up, John Goff himself rode up and asked me how in the world I happened to be here. At first sight I formed an unfavorable impression of him. He had long hair and was the dirtiest, greasiest and smokiest looking mortal I had ever seen, as he sat there on a fleet-looking horse, holding in his hands a 44 Sharp's rather carelessly.

I replied that I was hunting John Goff's camp, and had been drifted out of my way by the buffaloes, and had seen a cougar down in the gully and killed it, and was going on to find a crossing of the gully and continue my hunt for the camp.

"What do you want to see Goff about?" he asked.

I told him I wanted to get some flour of him; had heard that he had quite a lot on hand.

"All right; I'm John Goff; turn round and follow me," which I did, and found his camp two miles from where I supposed it was, and in a different direction.

After we reached his camp he treated me like a nobleman. Said when he first saw me he "felt a little suspicious, on account of one of the hunters north of him having some hides stolen a few days before; and he did not know but I might be the same party." He added that he was "not particularly given to suspicion; but having only heard of the theft the evening before, and seeing me on his hunting-grounds the next day, led him to be somewhat suspicious." He said the northern hunters were just north of him, and the Quinn boys east of him; but that he thought the parties that had stolen the hides were meat-hunters from the edge of the settlement on the Clear fork of the Brazos.

I told him that I belonged to one of the northern outfits, and stated the facts of our case just as they existed, whereupon, he let me have 300 pounds of flour, stating to me that the buffaloes would soon pass north, and he would break up his camp as soon as the bulk of the herd had passed.

From him I learned that a man named Hickey was at Fort Griffin as agent for Lobenstein & Company, of Leavenworth, Kansas, with instructions to buy all the buffalo-hides offered for sale; to pay for them on the range and haul them to Fort Worth, Texas, with freight teams. He also gave me the price-list that Hickey was paying. I stayed all night at Goff's, and at daylight the next morning Goff piloted me out a near way to the open plain, where I called his attention to a landmark near our camp. We parted with the usual parting salutation, "so-long," a phrase common on the frontier for "good-by."

At 2 P. M. I was in our own camp, and not a soul there to greet me. Upon looking around I soon satisfied myself that all were busy skinning buffaloes. Charlie's hunting-horse was close hobbled near camp, his saddle lying by the tepee that we slept in, and a big pile of empty shells were lying by the ammunition-box.

I unhitched and turned out my team; built a fire, and pitched into bread-making. We had been living on sour-dough bread for the last month, and the boys had now gone five days without any bread. So I got of Goff a five-pound can of baking-powder; and I had an agreeable surprise and a bountiful supply of baking-powder biscuits for the boys when they came into camp, which was just as the sun went down.

It did seem to me that if I had been gone a year there could not have been a more joyful meeting. They all agreed that the old saying that "bread is the staff of life" was true, and that I was indeed fortunate both in going and coming through that apparently endless mass of buffaloes; for as I came back through them there seemed to be but little difference in the solidity of the herd from the day before; and within gunshot of camp as I drove in there were hundreds of them moving northward. Charlie had killed 197 the afternoon before, and took his knives and went early the next morning with the boys about one and one-half miles to help skin those buffaloes. Cyrus, Frank and Dockum had skinned forty-six the same evening they were killed.

All night long these ill-fated creatures passed our camp in silent tread, save the rattling of their dewclaws. We were all up early the next morning; and after breakfast Charlie went up over the slope toward Croton creek. Soon the work of death began; and by the time I had hitched up and driven on to the divide he had killed thirty-eight, mostly bulls.

I saw when I drove up on the ridge that the great mass of the buffaloes had passed by. But looking as far south as my point of view extended, I could see scattering bands of from five to twenty straggling along bringing up the rear.

After killing the thirty-eight, Charlie came to meet me, and said:

"John, it will soon be mighty poor hunting around here. The bulk of the buffaloes have passed; and I have been thinking, from what you told me last night about that man Hickey and his prices, that I would better sell this hunt to him, and let him receive them in camp. Now will you take my hunting-horse to-morrow, go to Fort Griffin, and make a deal with him for me? I'll pay you five dollars a day for what time you are gone; and I believe that is more than you'll make skinning buffaloes from this on."

I said: "All right, Charlie; I'll go."

He passed on up the divide, and I down to the thirty-eight carcasses, and went to work. There were twenty old stub-horned bulls in this killing; two of this lot were smooth, sharp-horned six-year-olds; the remainder were spikes, excepting three cows. The spikes were two- and three-year-olds, which skinned nearly as easily as cows.

I began work about 8 o'clock, and did not get them all skinned till sundown. I did not hear the hunters' guns during the day and wondered why; and I kept looking for Cyrus to come and skin a portion of the thirty-eight. It was dark when I got to camp, bringing half of the hides; and it was all the ponies could pull to the top of the divide.

On arriving at camp I found all there but Cyrus Reed. Charlie had killed eighteen head near where he had made the big killing two days before; and Cyrus had gone to skin them about 11 A. M. It was thought he had ample time to get to camp before I did.

I unhitched and ate my supper, and no Cyrus. We were all a little concerned about him, and were talking of going out to look after him, when we heard the sound of a gun not far from camp. Charlie picked up his gun and fired it off in the air. Then we heard Cyrus answer as he gave the Comanche yell, which I will attempt to describe later on.

He had finished his work and started for camp along what is called a hogback—a narrow ridge between two deep ravines—when he met a bear strolling down the ridge as he was driving up, and his ponies getting scent of it, they whirled suddenly, and team, wagon and hides went plunging, tumbling and rolling off the hogback.

In the scramble, both ponies got loose from the wagon, thanks to an old, half-rotten and toggled-up set of harness. The horses bolted back down the cañon; the bear in the meantime shambling off down the other side; and Cyrus had only time enough, after the near line broke, to grab his gun and hop out of the wagon before it upset.

He had followed the ponies to where the gully came out on the flat, and seeing they had turned north toward the river, he followed them until dusk; then, not coming in sight of them, he took a course for camp, and was not certain where he was until we had answered his shot. He said he never had had such a reckless abandon of the common civilities of life as those two cayuses manifested on this occasion.

The next morning Charlie started on his hunting-horse for the runaways; and Cyrus and I took my team to bring in the wreck. With a hatchet, rawhide, and a few nails, we patched up the tongue and reach of the wagon; got it back upon the hogback by driving to the mouth of the gully. The hides had all rolled out when the wagon first upset, near the summit of the ridge, but we soon had all in as good order as before; and when we drove into camp we found Charlie with the runaway ponies.

I then said to him that "I could ride to Quinn's camp yet that day; I would go by Goff's and get from him or his camp man a landmark to go by, and thought I would have no trouble in making it; that Goff had told me there was an old military trail from Quinn's to Griffin."

Well, I started, with my 44 in front of me, a boot-leg for a holster, fastened to the pommel of my saddle. I was at Goff's by 3 P. M.; and saw only three small bands of bison on the way. How unlike the three days previous! It seemed to me like Sunday!

I then thought: What fertile soil! And what profitable and beautiful homes this region would make if only moisture were assured! How seemingly ruthless this slaughter of the thousands of tons of meat, one of the most wholesome and nutritious diets, as a rule, in the world! Who ever heard of an epidemic or any contagious disease among the American bison? How many of those of whom Christ said, "These ye shall always have with ye," whose wan features and lusterless eyes would brighten and sparkle at the opportunity of feasting upon the choice selections of this choice meat? Yes, even to crack the marrow-bones and eat with his scant allowance of bread, this choicest and richest of butterine from everybody's herd, with neither brand nor earmark made and recorded.

Then a slight feeling of remorse would come over me for the part I was taking in this greatest of all "hunts to the death." Then I would justify myself with the recollection of what General Sheridan had said; and I pictured to myself a white school-house on that knoll yonder where a mild maid was teaching future generals and statesmen the necessity of becoming familiar with the three R's. Back there on that plateau I could see the court-house of a thriving county seat. On ahead is a good site for a church of any Christian denomination. Down there where those two ravines come together would be a good place for a country store and postoffice. Some of these days we will hear the whistle and shriek of a locomotive as she comes through the gap near the Double Mountain fork of the Brazos. And not long until we can hear in this great southwest the lowing of the kine, the bleating sheep, and the morning crow of the barnyard Chanticleer, instead of the blood-curdling war-whoop of the Kiowas and the hideous yell of the merciless Comanches.

I reached Goff's camp, and found him there. After half an hour's talk with him, he directed me how to find Quinn's.

He said: "Now, you travel this course," pointing southeast. "About six miles will take you to the McKinzie trail. It is very plain. You could not cross it in daylight without observing it. When you get to it, take the eastern trend of it; go on about five miles; on coming up on a ridge you'll see Quinn's camp straight ahead of you about two miles, just on the right-hand side of the trail." The way was so plain and the lay of the land so even that I was at Quinn's just at sundown.

Here I found Mr. Hickey, the hide-buyer, whom I had expected to find in Fort Griffin. There were twelve thousand hides piled here, two thousand of them that the two Quinn Brothers had killed and traded for. The rest belonged to different outfits, who had made the entire winter's hunt within a radius of twenty-five miles of here. Hickey met the owners of these hides that day and purchased them.

After talking with three of the hunters who were camped there for the night, and getting from them some pointers on Hickey's ideas of classification and his general methods of dealing, I approached him the next morning, by saying, "Mr. Hickey, I understand you are from Leavenworth, Kansas."

He said: "Yes; do you know anything about the place?"

I told him, "Not since the Rebellion."

This brought all those present into nearly an hour's conversation about the past and down to the present. All agreed that there was a hopeful and bright future for our country.

Hickey asked me where my hide camp was and how many hides I had. I told him I was working for Charles Hart; that we were the so-called northern hunters; that we had about 3000 prime hides; that we were assured by Rath & Wright, of Dodge City, that they would come after our hides and give us top prices, no matter how far south we hunted.

He was a quick, impulsive, genial Irishman, who did not want Rath & Wright to get a hide south of the Red river. He asked me if I would pilot him to our camp. I told him I would; and that there were several other camps within gun-hearing of ours.

In a few moments we were saddled up and off. I found him to be a good conversationalist, well informed, and in possession of knowledge upon the latest current events. He said all of Lobenstein & Co.'s hides went to Europe; that the English army accouterments of a leather kind were being replaced with buffalo leather, on account of its being more pliant and having more elasticity than cow-hide; that buffalo leather was not fit for harness, shoes, or belting; but for leather buffers it could not be excelled. As we were passing a place where lay eighty-odd carcasses, he halted, and for the space of five or more minutes, rapidly reeled off in that rich clarion Irish brogue, as my recollection serves me now, something like this:

"Well: the howly smoke! Did I iver see such wanton distruction? No regard whativer to economy! What beautiful combs and other ornaments thim horns would make for the ladies! The money, mon alive, in the glue! What a harvest for an upholsterer in that hair on their heads! Ivery pound of that mate could and should be utilized at a fine commercial advantage. The very bones have a good money value for compost and sugar-refining. More than one thousand dollars going to waste before our eyes." "Mon alive," he said, turning to me, "this will amount to multiplied millions between the Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers. It is all right and all wrong; right to kill and get the hides; wrong to waste the carcass!"

But all was not wasted. When the army of hunters had annihilated those massive, sturdy creatures, the hair and bone scavengers followed them up with four- and six-horse, mule, or ox teams. They gathered up and hauled to the nearest railroad station every vestige of buffalo hair and bones that could be found.

I saw in 1874, the year before the great buffalo slaughter began in earnest, a rick of buffalo bones, on the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way, and twenty miles ahead of the track from Granada, Colorado, piled twelve feet high, nearly that wide at the base, and one-half mile long. Seven, eight, nine, and ten dollars per ton was realized from them alone.

So, friend Hickey, after all it was not _all_ waste. It was claimed that during the year 1876 one hundred and fifty-five thousand hides went down the Missouri river on steamboats from Montana; that one hundred and seventy thousand went East over the Santa Fe, and that two hundred thousand were shipped from Fort Worth, Texas.

Now I do not vouch for the accuracy of these figures; but I believe the shipping bills from all these points for that year would be but little short of that number, and might exceed it.

I do know from personal observation that for every hide they got to a market one and a half hides were destroyed on the range from various causes. Some of the inexperienced hunters failed to poison their buffalo-hides in summer and they were rendered unmarketable by the hide-bugs, which soon made them worthless.

All hunters agree that a large percentage of all buffaloes were badly wounded, and walked from the field of slaughter to some isolated ravine, or brush thicket, and died a lingering death. And when found, if they were, the hide was unsalable. Go to Laguna Sabinas, Laguna Plata, Double Lakes, Mustang Lake, on the Staked Plains, and note the tens of thousands of buffaloes that were mired down and perished in a miry, muddy loblolly, to say nothing of the many thousands quicksanded in the Canadian, North and South Red rivers, the Pease, and the many tributaries of the Brazos river.

And the reason so many perished in this way was because for the last few years of their existence, there were multiplied numbers of big and little outfits camped at the most available fresh-water places, ready to bombard them wherever and whenever they came in sight. They were kept on the go; and when they would find a place that was free from a fusillade of lead from the big long-range guns, they would rush and crowd in pell-mell, crowding, jamming, and trampling down both the weak and the strong, to quench a burning thirst. Many of them were rendered insane from their intolerable, unbearable thirst.

Mr. Hickey arrived at our camp late in the afternoon, and found everybody present. Not a buffalo had been seen that day.

The next morning Charley and Hickey went to the first camp. Mr. Hickey made some little examination of the hides, and they returned. A satisfactory deal had been made between them. He gave Charlie a check for two thousand dollars, and agreed to pay the balance as soon as the hides reached Fort Griffin. It was agreed that each was to bear equally the expense of keeping a man to watch the hides until Hickey could get a freight train to come and get them.

Charlie said he would move the present camp about three miles southeast, below the mouth of Croton creek, and at the head of the south breaks of the Brazos, where the buffaloes had not trampled and destroyed the range for our horses, and he had found a splendid spring of water there, and close by it was a high peak, that overlooked the surrounding country. "And," he added, "that will be our camp until the hides are moved from the range. All the hunting I care for now is just to make expenses until then. Then I will pull north and make a summer hunt in the Canadian country."

I now felt that I'd better ask for the job of watching the two old hide camps. So I said: "You, gentlemen, make me an offer, by the day, to look after those hides until the freight teams come."

Charlie said: "I was just going to offer you the job. Reed said he would like the job himself. We will fix some way between this and morning. Mr. Hickey is going to stay all night, and that will give us plenty of time to arrange matters."

From that on, Reed was not the same Cyrus. He noted to Dockum that Charlie had made it a point to show favors to me, giving me, whenever he could, the skinning of the buffaloes closest to camp, and generally the best ground to drive over, and that I had never skinned but one killing of buffaloes that lay overnight; which all had a grain of truth in it. Dockum assured him that there was no intentional affront given or meant. The fact was there was a comradeship that existed between us, on account of our both being Union ex-soldiers, that Cyrus was a stranger to. When Dockum informed me of Cyrus's feelings, I went to him and told him that I was sorry he had misconstrued Charlie's actions; admitted to him that I had, by the lay of the ground and advantage of teams, been able to bring in a few more hides than he. One of his ponies would balk at the most unseasonable times, and frequently delay and fret him. But Cyrus never was the same as of yore.

The next morning, Hickey and Charlie employed me to look after the hide camps. We moved that day to the place before mentioned; I took Hickey out of the breaks and pointed out to him a landmark. We separated, and I came back to camp. The next day I made a pad and rigged me up a pair of rope stirrups, rode one of the ponies I had used in the team, and made a trip to both of the old camps. It was stipulated that I was to be at each once every day.

On my return to camp the third day, Frank, being alone in camp, informed me that he "seed a animal" go in a gulch close by and he took old "Once-in-a-while." This was the name of an old army needle-gun whose firing-pin was so worn that one would have to snap it three or four times before it would explode the primer. Some shells it would not fire at all, and again others would go at first trial. Hence, we named that gun "Once-in-a-while."

"Yes," he said, "I went there, and it was in under the overjut in the head of the gulch, and I bent down and could see it, and it snarled at me. I snapped three or four times, and the thing lashed its tail and had red eyes."

I said: "Why, Frank, you ought not to have gone there with that gun. That is either a panther or a cougar; you might have been killed or badly hurt."

He said: "I did get skeart, and ran back to camp."

From what he told me, and his description of the place, I thought I would not tackle it myself. It might have kittens in the cave, or washout proper, and unless it was given an unerring shot there might be a bad mix-up.

I said: "You make me some coffee; I'll watch from the lookout; and when you get everything ready, come up and watch while I come down and eat." He came up in about twenty minutes; I handed him my gun and went to camp, which was one hundred paces off.

While I was eating, Charlie and a stranger rode into camp. I briefly stated the situation, when the stranger unbuttoned his shirt-collar and said:

"This is what I got from a painter in Arkansaw."

And a horrible-looking wound it had been. Commencing at the collar-bone, and running to the lower end of his ribs, were unmistakable marks of all the claws of one foot of the animal he had battled with.

This man was the much-known Jack Greathouse. I had just finished my meal when Frank fired and at the same time called out, "There it goes!"

And sure enough: out on the plain open ground it was making the most wonderful leaps I have ever before or since seen a wild animal make. It was heading uphill, between where Frank was and ourselves. Charlie and Greathouse both drew their guns on it, but withheld their fire until it had passed by far enough so there was no possible danger of a glancing bullet striking Frank. They both fired at about the same time.

The animal turned and circled around the lookout Frank was on, and he broke down the hill on a run for camp. I met him, and having my cartridge-belt still on me, I took the gun from him, threw in a cartridge and hurried on to the western slope of the lookout just in time to see it was one of the largest of panthers, as I thought, that ever was. Its entrails were dragging on the ground as it went over the bank and into the same cover it had broken from before. I could not get a bead on it.

Charlie, Greathouse and I were soon at the place where it took to cover; but, peer over the escarpment as we would, from either side, or by going down along the edge of the bank, we could not get a glimpse of it. We could hear it sigh, and whine, and every once in a while it would make a noise like a long-drawn-out yawn. We decided that the best way to do was to place a night-watch at the entrance to the place where the panther was.

Dockum and Cyrus had now come to camp; and evening coming on, we divided into parties by twos, and kept a constant watch. Charlie and I took first watch. We all carried and dragged up dry brush and wood, from just below where a cross-break came down.

As darkness approached, we took a pile of brush, wound some green thongs around it securely, set this afire and dropped it down over the escarpment. Then we tossed sticks and brush down upon this from time to time. The flames leaped up, making fantastic and weird-looking all the objects around. Shaggy-haired and rough-dressed hunters passed backward and forward.

A beautiful calm starlight night! The almost constant whining and yowling of the wounded panther; now and again the distant howl of the gray wolf; the yelping ventriloquism of the snapping coyote, a few seemingly trying to make one believe there were thousands of them; the occasional swish of the night-hawk; and the flapping around and overhead of the numerous bats we had disturbed and started from dark recesses in cracks or crevices, their favorite hiding-places,—all this was as entertaining as going to a theater or some other place of amusement.

And to us it was a diversion from the constant rush and hard work of the preceding six weeks or more, with just enough excitement to make it exhilarating.

Our watch ended long before anyone thought of sleep. We had brought up from camp the most of our bedding and spread it down by twos close to the escarpment. Dockum and Greathouse took the second watch, leaving the last watch for Cyrus and Frank.

I had just got to sleep, and it was just at the close of the second watch, when I was awakened by a never-to-be-forgotten ear-piercing scream, sounding like a woman in distress. We were all on our feet instantly, when, flop, flounder and cry; and finally, the panther had worked itself out to the edge of the opening. Lying flat on its right side and in a wheezy, gasping, guttural noise, as if it were trying to talk, it "gave up the ghost." We all then gathered up our blankets and went to camp and to sleep.

The next morning Frank went down to the gulch and tied a rope around the dead panther, and we pulled it up hand over hand to the cut bank. We skinned the panther "shot-pouch fashion," as the term is mostly applied, and stuffed the hide as tight as we could tamp it with buffalo hair. We placed it on its all-fours, and what time we kept it we had some fun.

This man Greathouse, who was afterward universally known as "Arkansaw Jack," told me that at his camp he had a good saddle-horse which he would sell me, and would loan me his partner's saddle until I could get one. I made arrangements for him to bring the horse over, and if it suited me I would buy it. He said it was only about six miles to his camp; and he would bring the horse over the next day, which he did, and I bought it.

Cyrus seemed to want to get away; and Charlie sold to him the team and wagon I had used.

Just then, Dockum took a notion that he wanted to go home to his family in Kansas.

So it was arranged that they would all go to Fort Griffin, where Charlie could get his check cashed and settle up in full with all of them. They were to start in three more days. Charlie and I settled up before they left, and I had to my credit, including the two days I was credited with when I went to find Hickey, the hide-buyer, $345.75.

Charlie found a few straggling bands of buffalo, and killed quite a number from them.

The morning they all pulled out for Griffin I was left alone, in charge of 3363 hides, less the 200 Hadley had started with, in three different camps.

It was now the early part of April.

As Charlie bade me "good-by," he being the last one to leave the camp, he said he would be back in six days. I had just three quarts of flour (for we had loaned "Arkansaw Jack" a portion of the flour we got from Goff) and about one-half pound of coffee. Out of the twelve pounds of coffee we got from Goff we had used all but what was left with me.

I saddled up and made the rounds of the other camps and was back by midday. After frying some choice meat and making a cup of coffee, I ate my dinner and went upon the lookout.

While there I determined at the first opportunity to be the owner of a pair of good field-glasses. Looking to the southwest, some five or six miles away, I saw what I took to be a team traveling in an easterly direction. I looked so long and so intently that my eyes watered, and for a little time everything blurred. I made up my mind to find out for sure what it was. I brought "Keno," my horse, in, and saddled up. Before starting I cut a china-wood pole, about twelve feet long, sharpened one end, tied an old red shirt on the other end, went up on the lookout, and, like a discoverer, planted my standard. There were two other round-tops, one about three miles west, and the other about two miles northeast of this one. They all had a similarity, and I wished to be sure to not get misled, in case I might be at times in some place where I could not distinguish one from another of the three. Taking a good look again south and west, I was satisfied now it was a team I saw. So I decided to travel south toward the McKinzie trail. Coming down and mounting "Keno," off we started in a little fox-trot. After going about five miles I came to a well-beaten trail, turned west on it, and soon met the team in a depression of the land. The driver was none other than Hi. Bickerdyke. He told me it was about ten miles back to his camp; that he and the two men with him had 1700 hides, all in one camp; that the farthest carcass from camp was not over one and one-half miles; that his camp was on a tributary of the Salt Fork, coming in from the south side. He had heard of our success through "Arkansaw Jack," who was at his camp a few days before. Said he was "crazy for a chew of tobacco." I had about one-third of a plug of Lorillard with me, and plenty in camp. I cut enough from the piece to do me and gave him the rest; whereupon he said, "My troubles have come to an end."

We talked for some minutes, and down the trail he went, going after supplies, and I back to camp. My standard could plainly be seen for three or four miles in any direction, at that time of the year, for the atmosphere was not hazy.

How different this first night alone in this camp from the ones I spent alone a few months before! I now had blankets, a good gun, and a horse to ride.

I was awakened the next morning by the gobbling of turkeys, and for the next three weeks there was an incessant gobble! gobble! gobble! The fifth day, as I was going from the second to the first camp, I came to and crossed a travois trail going in a southwest course. This trail was made sometime between the time I had passed here coming back the day before and the time I discovered it.

Indians? Yes, sure enough! I looked all around me, but moved on until I came in sight of the old first camp, and saw that it looked all right. I turned back and rode to the travois trail, followed it about three miles, and decided that there might be two or three families in the outfit. I had learned enough about wild Indians to know that they did not drag lodge-poles when on plunder raids. That when you saw a travois trail they were moving and had their women, children, and dogs along. Was it a visiting party going to see the Staked Plains Apaches? If so, they had a pass from the commanding officer at Fort Sill. If not, then they had secretly stolen away from the agency at Fort Sill. I felt I must know more about it; but how was I to find out?

While I was pondering, I happened to think of the red shirt and how I had advertised myself. I followed the trail about a quarter of a mile farther, where it turned down a long narrow draw, then turned "Keno" to the left and rode to my own camp. After dismounting I threw the bridle-rein on the ground, went up on the lookout, pushed the flag-pole over, and scanned the country over, but saw no unusual sign.

I had some cold meat left over from breakfast, and four biscuits. I put the biscuits in my coat pockets, took the meat in one hand and the gun in the other, and went up on the lookout again and sat down and ate my lunch, surveying the surrounding country as I ate. After a short time I went down and carried my powder, lead, and all the shells and reloading tools out of camp, and cached[2] them about one hundred and fifty yards away; then I got on "Keno" and rode nearly due west about two miles. Coming to some excellent buffalo-grass, I dismounted and let "Keno" graze for nearly half an hour. When I remounted I said, "Now, "Keno," for Arkansaw Jack's camp, if we can find it." I thought from what he had told us that a little more north and west, about four miles, would strike it.

[2] CACHE (French; pronounced _cash_). A hole in the ground used as a hiding-place for provisions or other articles.

"Keno" and I struck out. We had gone about one mile and a half when we struck the travois trail again, heading southwest. About a mile farther on I came to a place where eighteen buffaloes had been skinned, close to a slight ravine. On the west of the carcasses, by looking closely, I found the tracks of the wagon that had hauled the hides to camp. I followed it up. It took me down the ravine; but in another mile I was at his camp.

There were four men in camp and all were sitting under an awning, which they had made of poles covered with buffalo-hides. They were playing draw poker, using cartridges to ante with. Each was trying to win the others' interest in the piles of buffalo-hides they had stacked up around camp. This I learned afterward.

At sight of me, and before I had yet dismounted, through courtesy to a visitor, the game abruptly closed. Arkansaw Jack recognized me instantly; and remembering my name sang out, "Hello, Cook! glad to see you; light and unsaddle."

As I dismounted they all came forward, and Arkansaw introduced me to the other three men. After which I said, "Gentlemen, there is a fresh travois trail; the Indians are going southwest, and they passed about two miles from here."

Jack said, "Get the horses, boys, quick!"

The horses were soon saddled up and one of the boys, Charles Emory, who was known only as "Squirrel-eye" on the range, said, "Now, look here, boys, let's have an understanding; what are we going to do?"

I said: "By all means let's understand one another."

"Yes," said George Cornett, "we don't want to bulge in on a band of peaceable Tonkaways and play the devil before we know it."

Squirrel-eye said: "Tonks don't travois; they are Kiowas or Comanches."

"Well," said Jack, "we ought to find out something about them; so here goes."

We all started for the trail with no better understanding of what we were each one to do than before we began our talk.

After we reached the trail, Cornett took out of their case a large pair of binoculars and said: "Boys, let's ride up on that hill to our right and take a squint over the country." When we arrived at the top of the hill we could see the breaks of the Double Mountain fork of the Brazos. Cornett adjusted his glasses and looked for some time to the southwest, and observing no sign of them we all proceeded along the travois trail. After following it a distance, Cornett said: "I believe they are runaways, and that they passed through here in the night-time. There are no hunters south of here and only one camp west of us. They have a guide. Some renegade from them that lives with the Apaches has sneaked into Fort Sill and he has piloted them through here in the night, in order to keep them from being seen. The next thing we will hear of is soldiers after them."

This fellow was raised on the northern frontier of Texas, near Henrietta; and by that was authorized to speak. We accepted his version of the affair, and went back to Arkansaw's camp, where I stayed all night.

The next morning I rode east to the Indian trail and followed back to where my trail between the two first hide camps crossed it. I had not followed this trail far until I came in sight of a horse ahead of me. I was then in a sag between two higher points of land on each side of me. I rode "Keno" upon top of the one to my right, being the side my own camp was on, but several miles away. Then riding and looking along I came up close to the animal near the edge of a small plain. It was a steel-gray mare, nearly as large as the ordinary American horse, branded O Z on the left shoulder. She was perfectly gentle and as sound as a dollar. And now, I thought, if this doesn't prove to be some hunter's animal, it's mine. I dismounted and by holding out my hat and talking to her, she let me walk up to her, put the end of "Keno's" bridle-rein over her neck, and, holding it with one hand, I loosened my lariat from the saddle with the other, tied the rope around her neck, mounted "Keno," and rode on, the mare leading up nicely and traveling by the side of "Keno."

After going on to the upper hide-pile and seeing that every thing was all right, I pulled back for headquarters camp, arriving there in mid-afternoon. The sixth day had come and gone, and no Charlie. And where was Hadley? He too should have been back long ago.

After I had been on meat straight for five days I broke for Goff's camp, early the next morning, only to find it abandoned, the hides all gone, too. I had agreed to be at all of our hide camps once each day, and not having time to go to Quinn's and return in time to make my rounds, and hoping for Charlie's return, I pulled back and made my regular trip without bread. Two days later I went to Arkansaw Jack's, and found Cornett there alone, on meat straight. I stayed all night with him, and made my pilgrimage to the camps the next day. And to sum it all up—I was on meat straight for fourteen days.

To make a long story short, Charlie was twenty-one days getting back to camp. But he had had a glorious spree. He got his check cashed at the post sutler's; paid all the boys up, and deposited all that was coming to me with the sutler, taking his receipt for it. He had flour, coffee, sugar, and lots of different kinds of delicacies, and a brand-new saddle for me.

He said: "I never intended to get drunk; but what could a fellow do? There were about thirty outfits camped on the Clear fork of the Brazos, under big pecan trees; and we all had a time. Oh, you'll hear about it; and I might just as well tell you. I got drunk one day and went to sleep under a big pecan tree, close to the edge of the river-bank, and some of the fellers set that stuffed panther in front of me. They had put glass marbles in the eye-holes, and when I waked up it took me by surprise, and I jumped back and fell over the bank into ten feet of water. And if they hadn't been there to fish me out I guess I'd have drowned my fool self."

All the time he was talking he was making bread, and flying around, hurrying everything along, demeaning himself and bemoaning his _fate_, as he called it. Said he did not want to get drunk; for he knew what his sufferings with remorse were when sobering up. "Now," said he, "please be as easy on me as you can. I know I have disappointed you; and I'm sorry for it."

Poor fellow! when I told him that I was one among many other unfortunates who could deeply sympathize with him, he broke down and cried like a child.

Charlie said he could not hear a thing of Hadley. And when we did hear from him, it was to learn that he had gotten off the Fort Griffin trail and had gone a long way south to the Phantom Hill country. And as he was a man that never was in a hurry and loved to talk as long as anyone would listen to him, it was no wonder he had taken seven weeks to go to Fort Griffin and back, about seventy-five miles. And when he did come he drove into camp with a four-mule team and new thimble-skein wagon, having traded his oxen and freight wagon for the rig he brought in.

He was by no means profuse in excuses for his long absence. All he said was that he missed his way, and had a chance to trade for the mule outfit and had to wait nearly three weeks for one of the mule teams to come from Fort Worth. After hearing this and how he bragged on his mules, it exasperated me so that I told him he was one man that I would not go to a dog-fight with, let alone trucking up with him on the frontier. He made no reply whatever.

Charlie called upon him for a statement for the hides he left camp with, and for an invoice for the stuff he brought back. All he could tell was that he got $325 for the hides; that the stuff he brought back cost $150; that he had given $100 of the balance that he got for the hides for boot between teams, and that he intended to make everything come out all right when he got through freighting the hides.

It did not take Charlie and Hadley long to settle up; and Mr. Hadley pulled out. He and Cyrus meeting in Griffin went into partnership in hunting. Charlie, by Hickey's request, had staked a trail from Quinn's to our camp. Every two miles or so he had driven a stake, on the highest places he passed over, with a thin box-lid nailed to it, and the words written on the lid: "TO HART'S CAMP."

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