I worked with Goodnight and Loving for a couple of years. On the second trip, Oliver was attacked by Comanches and died of his wounds. He was a great man and it was a terrible loss. It’s amazing to think that a man who had trailed cattle to New Orleans, Chicago, and Denver would die of gangrene in an outpost like Fort Sumner. I guess it’s another one of those vagaries of human existence I have yet to figure out.
In no way would I have ever wished harm to Oliver, but the fact is that I was getting older and trail driving is for young men. I hated to say anything, as Loving was older than me by several years, but it was time to find a more settled job. I approached Charlie after he had sold the cattle to the fort and told him I was quitting. He offered me a job on one of the ranches he and Loving had established in New Mexico or Colorado, but I refused.
“I’m a Texan, Charlie, born and bred. I could never be happy living anywhere else. If you ever decide you want to ranch again in Texas, give me a holler.”
“I may do that,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about setting up in the Panhandle--when they finally get the Comanches to stay on a reservation.”
“Yeah, well, that’s more like if they get the Comanches on a reservation, and not very damn likely, at that. By then I’ll be too old for anything, much less punching cattle. But I’ll be watching you from a cloud somewhere.”
He roared at that. “Hell, you’ll never die,” he said, “and when you do, if you can see me at all, it’ll be through a cloud, all right—a cloud of smoke!” He wrote me a draft on his bank account in Weatherford and wished me the best. “You just remember what I said. You’re a damn good stockman and you’ll never be happy away from cattle.”
He was right, though I had never questioned it. The fact is, unlike the younger “cow-boys” who spent their earnings as soon as they got paid, I had saved mine. I had an idea to get in the cattle market myself. I wasn’t really looking for a partner, but fate provided me one.
It was getting late in the year when I got back to Palo Pinto. I had worked on my place a little when I wasn’t on the trail—just enough to make it livable…and sellable. It had too many painful memories for me to want to try to make another life there. I was working on getting it fixed up to sell, so I would have a grubstake somewhere else. My plans had not fully congealed yet when I rode into town to deposit Goodnight’s check.
“Good day, Mr. Miles,” the bank teller greeted me. “Good to have you back in town for a while.” I never felt comfortable being called “mister”, but this fellow was young enough to be my son, so I guess it was okay. I expect his bosses pretty much required it of him.
“Maybe for longer than a while. Anything going on here?”
“Well, that depends of if you mean here at the bank, here in Palo Pinto, or here in Texas…but mostly the answer is no. The Republicans are still in control, the Union—uh, Federal—Army is more of a nuisance than any real help against Indians, and the damnyankee carpetbaggers are taking over.”
“Your bosses let you use the word ‘damn’ in public?”
He grinned. “Only when talking about Yankees…or damnyankees.” He handed me my receipt, then added as an afterthought, “Speaking of that, there was one in town looking for you.”
“A damnyankee. Now, you wouldn’t be turning scalawag on us, would you Mr. Miles?”
That would be an insult coming from some, but I just grinned back and said “Not bloody likely! Who was this fellow? What did he want?”
“I don’t really know much about it. He came in here and asked if I knew you. I told him I knew who you were, but that you were out of town on business and didn’t know when you’d return. It was just a day or two ago. He’s probably still in town.”
“What did he look like?”
“I’m sorry but I really can’t say—just average, I guess. The way he talked, though was funny as hell.” Then nervously as he glanced toward the president’s office, “I mean, he had a peculiar way of speaking. To be honest, Mr. Miles, when he spoke I just wanted to slap him!”
I walked into the saloon and found the man I was looking for, wearing a derby hat, surrounded by a group of men who were clenching and unclenching their fists as they listened to him. Any minute now he was going down.
“Here now, fellows,” I broke in, “You wouldn’t want to rough up one of Robert E. Lee’s veterans would you?”
One of the local toughs glanced at me. “What the hell do you mean, Miles? This damnyankee is obviously a carpetbagging son of a bitch.”
“’Fraid you’ve made a mistake, young fellow. I met this man in the army. By the way, where was it you served your country?” I asked the young smart aleck.
He and the others backed down. Confederate veterans were not rare in Palo Pinto County, but I did have the added celebrity of being a prisoner of war, a son of a Texas Army veteran, and a survivor of the Santa Fe expedition—not to mention being a former Ranger and “rescuer” of Cynthia Ann Parker.
“Now why don’t you fine young men go find something productive to do.” They sulked off. When the last one had left, I turned to their intended victim.
“Limerick, you damnyankee carpetbagging son of a bitch! What in the hell are you doing in Texas? I guess you know that I just saved your sorry Irish ass!”
“Nonsense, Miles” (God, there was that Boston accent again—I wanted to slap him myself!) “I could have taken them. Besides,” he added, “I thought it was the US Cavalry that always arrived in the nick of time—not the Confederate Army!”
“Limerick, I can’t say that I’m sorry to see you, but talk like that in Reconstruction Texas will get you killed! And there’s not one damn thing the Confederate Army, the US Cavalry, or the Texas Rangers could do about it.
“And let me tell you this right now. I know what kind of fellow you are. I owe my life to you—maybe we’re even now. You’re as common a man as I have ever seen. But there’s something about that Boston accent that sets a Texan’s teeth on edge. It comes across as arrogant—like you think you’re better than everybody else. I know you can’t help it, but for God’s sake don’t advertise it! Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
“You’re on, Dusty.” and then more subdued, “And don’t think I don’t appreciate what you just did. I realized I was in trouble and was mighty glad to see you. I was surprised you lied to save me, though.”
“Like hell I did. Just think about what I said. You served under Robert E. Lee, right? I never said General Lee, as Colonel was as high a rank as he ever held in the US Army. I also said I knew you in the army, didn’t I? Those boys knew I served the Confederacy Army. If they wanted to assume that you did too, that was their mistake. Of course, I may tell a lie now and then, but not to save your sorry ass. Now, what’ll you have?”
Limerick turned to the bartender “A shot of Irish whiskey, my good man.”
“Damn it, Limerick, are all you Yanks so hard headed?” I turned to the bartender. “Give us a bottle of good Kentucky bourbon! I’ll show this carpertbagger what cultured people drink!!”
We found a table and opened the bottle. Limerick admitted that the bourbon was pretty good, but the next time was on him and we would open the special stock he had purchased in Tennessee on his way to Texas.
“There’s a young man in Lynchburg that makes a damned fine whiskey. I bought it special and saved it for when I could drink it with you—or over your grave.”
“Yeah, I can see you drinking it at my grave—then returning to make sure I got some of it too—after it had passed through!”
“Not a bad idea,” he commented dryly. “So, Dusty, what in hell have you been up to?”
We caught each other up the best we could. There may have been a time when the two of us could have finished the bottle at one sitting, but that time had passed a long time ago. He told me that after the War he had bounced around New England, doing first one thing and then another. He had determined that the future of the country was in the West, and Texas was a good place to start, since he had connections—meaning me, mostly.
“Damned poor connections,” I told him, “and all the camels have been turned loose.”
He laughed, poured himself another, and sipped while I told him where I had been since our parting.
“By the way”, I told him, “you Yanks like to harp about Andersonville, but I don’t know that your prisons were any better!”
“Probably not,” he allowed, “but since we won, we got to write the history. But what about your daughter?” he asked tentatively.
I told him how I had left Bettie with her uncle and aunt, but tried to see her once a year. How I was trying to be something she could be proud of, and how I was hoping to make some money I could leave her. I told him I had just left Goodnight—which prompted him to remind me of that damn limerick I had made up in the hospital. I said I was thinking about starting a small herd again on my own.
“I don’t suppose you’d consider a partner—someone who knows how to keep books?”
“As a matter of fact, not being worth a damn at keeping them myself, I was wondering how I could possible succeed. Do you know anybody who’s any good at it?”
“I just happen to know of a damnyankee carpetbagging son of a bitch who once served Robert E. Lee as a quartermaster. Will that do?”
“As long as he’s not a damyankee carpetbagging IRISH son of a bitch, we can probably work it out.”
“Sorry, then. I guess you’ll have to look elsewhere.”
“Well, hell” I said, “I had hoped to do a little better than that, but I guess it’ll have to do.”
When we went to his hotel room to get his things, he came out with a carpetbag.
“My God, man, do you have death wish? Traveling around Texas toting that thing?”
“They’re all the rage for traveling,” he said, “and so help me I had no idea!”
If he survived a year, I would be surprised.
So I was in business with John Quincy Francis Limerick. I knew cattle and he knew bookkeeping. He was a damn shrewd trader, too, so we got the highest price for our cattle and paid the lowest price for our supplies.
The first year we didn’t have much stock, so we contracted with Goodnight to drive them for us. Limerick insisted that he would go on the drive. His stated purpose was to look out for our interests, but I knew he really wanted to see what a trail drive was like.
He found out. They had hell at Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos. That was always the case, but that year it was worse. There was also a brush with Comanches and one with Apaches. When he finally got back, he vowed that he had had his fill of trail driving.
“And I’ve got to thank you, Dusty, for teaching me to ride. We weren’t far along the trail when a couple of young bucks, assuming that my Boston accent and derby hat spelled ‘greenhorn’, decided to test my mettle by providing me with a not-quite-broken horse. Thanks to your training, I was able to ride him to a standstill. I think I had their respect after that.”
He also told me about the army chasing the Indians. “Sheridan has determined that the way to subdue the southern tribes is to attack them in winter quarters. Custer attacked a camp of peaceful Cheyennes under Black Kettle on the Washita in Oklahoma. “Beans” Evans raided a Comanche camp and only lost one man! Custer, that arrogant bastard, was not so fortunate!”
“I thought he was your famed ‘boy general’ hero of the Union Army! Funny thing is, he was stationed around Austin right after the War. He determined to keep his men civil and disallowed any foraging or looting. Bachman indicated they kind of liked the guy—for a damnyankee. Ain’t that a hell of a note John? Here you are criticizing one of the North’s heroes, while I’m defending him!”
“Well Dusty, I can’t say as how I know the man personally, but they say he abandoned some of his men to the Cheyennes on the Washita. And during the War a lot of good men were killed following the likes of him.”
“Limerick, there’s one thing we agree on. War is hell.”
Sometime around Christmas I made my way down to New Braunfels to see Bettie, and to visit with Henry and Hilda Weinheimer. I hate to admit it, but these visits hurt me something fierce. Bettie was looking more like her mother every trip. It hurt me to see her, and it hurt me to leave her. But I was glad I could stay in touch. Henry and Hilda were good to her, and provided her things I couldn’t. Each year she presented me with a tintype of herself. This year I could afford to give her one of me, made special for the occasion by a photographer in Austin.
While I was in the general area, I liked to drift down to Cuero and visit Bachman. I was always warmly greeted, and I could take his preaching for a while—if he didn’t lean on me too hard. When I called, there was another man there—a preacher, by the way he dressed. I hated to interrupt, but apparently their visit was over. As he walked down the steps, John called after him “I will continue to pray for you, Brother Hardin.” The man waved in thanks and walked away.
“Hardin, Hardin…where have I heard that name recently?”
“That man” Bachman told me, “is Brother James Hardin, a fellow Methodist minister.”
“Well, I haven’t been keeping track of preachers lately.”
With a sigh Bachman added. “You have probably heard of his son, whom he in high hopes named after the founder of the Methodist Church.”
“The founder of…who was…oh yeah, John Wesley. That’s where I’ve heard the name. John Wesley Hardin. Killed some soldiers, I recall. Ain’t he just a kid?”
“Wes is fifteen. And he’s breaking his father’s heart. That’s why he was here—to ask me to pray for him.” Then Bachman cheered up a bit and asked me how things were. He probably meant it from a religious angle, but I told him about quitting Goodnight and partnering with Limerick. I figured he knew more about Bettie than I did, but I showed him the picture.
“A fine likeness,” he said, just before there was knock on the door. A boy about ten or so stood on the porch.
“Howdy, Reverend Bachman” he said, removing his hat, and craning to see around John. “How are you today?”
“I’m fine, Will, and Catherine is busy. But I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine from the early days. Will Thigpen, meet Dusty Miles. Dusty, Will.”
I put out my hand to shake. The little guy was obviously on a mission, and I was an unexpected—and unwanted—part of it. The name seemed to sink in as he shook, however and, forgetting himself, asked, “What the hell kinda name is Dusty Miles?” Recovering, he glanced at the parson and said “Pleased to meet you Mr. Miles. What an interesting name.”
Something about the kid was amusingly honest. “Well,” I told him, “the Dusty part is just a nickname—and fairly appropriate, since I raise cattle and have traveled many ‘dusty miles’. But what kind of name is…what was it again?”
“THigpen,” he said, with emphasis on the “th”. “It’s an old English name, so Pa tells me.” His eyes widened. “Did you say you’re a cowboy?”
I winced. It looked like that term was going to stick. “Actually I’m a rancher. I have trailed cattle for Charles Goodnight, so I guess you could call me a ‘cowboy’…though I prefer the term ‘drover’.”
“My sister’s boyfriend is a cowboy—though he says ‘stock-driver’. A good one, too. They’re going to get married! I’m going to be a cowboy some day!” He looked around one more time as if seeking someone, frowned, then said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Miles. And good to see you, Reverend Bachman. Tell Catherine I came by.” Before either of us could respond, he was gone.
As John shut the door, our eyes met and we both laughed. “What was that all about?” I asked.
“The Thigpens” John explained, “moved to Texas shortly before the war. They’re fine people, but a little coarse.”
“Sort of like the Miles bunch,” I countered. John blushed. “But what’s this about Catherine?”
“Young Will has become enamored of my oldest daughter. She thinks it’s cute and, against my wishes, encourages him. He says he’s going to marry her someday!” His brow furrowed.
“Good God, man…uh, I mean good grief, man, you can’t be taking the boy seriously! She must have ten years on him. And she’s growing into a good-looking woman, if you don’t mind me saying so. Somebody will steal her out from under you long before that kid gets a chance.”
“You may be right, Dusty. In some ways I hope you are, but Catherine is a joy to have around. I hope no one ‘steals’ her anytime soon.” He changed the subject. “Say, Dusty, do you need a good hand?”
“Well, I damn sure…I mean darn sure don’t need no ten-year old kid—just to get him away from your daughter.”
John laughed. “First of all Dusty, I appreciate you trying to keep from swearing in front of me, but we’ve know each other a long time. If the Lord can’t convict you of it, there’s no way I can. (And don’t tell my wife, but I occasionally lapse, myself.) And secondly, no, I wasn’t trying to get you to take Will. I was thinking about the young man he mentioned. I hear Raney Springer is—to use your terms—a damn fine drover. He has had enough experience to be a good trail boss, especially under your tutelage.”
“As a matter of fact, Limerick and I were talking about the need for an experienced hand. I’ll check this Springer fellow out.”