He impressed me, so I didn’t linger
As on him I put my finger
To be our top hand
Driving steers ‘cross the land
So I hired him, this boy Raney Springer
I had just returned the day before from my trip down south, and told Limerick that I had hired the man that would be our new trail boss. He would arrive in a few weeks in time for the roundup and a little training. This year he would accompany the Goodnight herd as our agent. If he proved out, next year he would be trail boss over our herd. Limerick and I had drunk a toast--or two--to our new acquisition. Apparently the cheap whiskey—Limerick’s Jack Daniel’s had run out long ago—had affected me more than I thought, for I woke up with that idiotic verse running through my head. (You would think that whatever “muse” I have could at least do better than to rhyme Springer with finger and linger!)
Our trust was not in vain. Raney was young, but already had a lot of experience. Goodnight told me he wished he had found him first. The fact is, he could’ve paid him more, but Charlie wouldn’t have done that—and Raney was the kind of fellow that once a commitment was made, he stuck with it.
And he had some good ideas, too. When he returned from that first drive with Goodnight, he suggested that we start using the new trail to the railhead at Abilene, Kansas. Sometimes us older fellows have to be convinced, but Springer was a thinker as well as a worker. He pointed out that the eastern markets were crying for beef, that the trail was much shorter, meaning the cattle would have more weight and be less stressed when they got to market. All that, of course meant more profit, since the steers would weight more, probably bring a better price, and we wouldn’t have to pay drovers for as many days on the trail. More profit was music to my ears and Limerick’s eyes practically got misty at the prospect.
Raney would help us get wintered in, then go back to Cuero to see his folks. That’s what he told us he was doing, but the fact is he was courting that Thigpen girl. It wasn’t really a secret, since I had know it from the beginning, and since I went to Cuero myself for a day or two to see Bachman on my annual Christmas trip to see Bettie.
So when he came up one spring and told us he had gotten married, it was no surprise—except that he wasn’t even old enough to vote yet. (Not that it mattered much--Texas was still in the grips of Reconstruction and the Radical Republicans!) He told us he had left Martha Ann with her folks while he was on the trail.
“How’s that young’un Will?” I asked him. “Guess he’s your new brother-in-law?”
“That ornery rascal has only two things on his mind, Boss. Being a cowboy and marrying Catherine Bachman! I’ve never seen a thirteen-year-old kid with that kind of ambition!”
“If you can call wanting to be a ‘cowboy’ an ambition,” I remarked.
“I’m afraid he holds me and my profession in high regard—too high. But what I’m really talking about is his attraction to Kate. I mean, she IS an attractive woman, but hell, she’s ten years older’n him. I might understand if it was the other way around—or even if he was twenty or so—but that just don’t seem natural for a thirteen-year-old kid! None of my business, though, I guess.”
Limerick chimed in. “Not that I have the slightest interest in this, but surely this ‘older woman’ has no interest in a BOY.”
“Well, now, that’s the damnedest thing about it, in a way,” Raney answered. “Kate is a nice looking woman, and there are fellows in Dewitt County who would be a good husband for her. But she seems not to have the least interest in any of them.”
“Is she attracted to this boy--‘Will’, was it?” Limerick asked
“Oh, she would probably say ‘He’s cute.’ but no, I don’t think in any serious sort of way. She is powerfully devoted to her Daddy, though. I really think she probably figures no man can measure up to him. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Parson Bachman sort of thinks that himself. I’m pretty sure he don’t encourage her to court.”
“That sounds like John,” I put in, “but whatever Katie does or doesn’t do ain’t getting theses cows seen after. Let’s get to it.”
Raney was right. The Abilene Trail—which became known as the Chisholm Trail—proved more profitable, and popular, than the Goodnight trail, though there were reasons to use the old one, and we occasionally did. As the rails took Texas beef east, it brought back settlers. More settlers meant more farms and towns, which made it harder to get cattle to market, so the railhead kept moving west.
We kept raising cattle in Texas. Goodnight had established his operation in Colorado. I never saw him, but we kept in touch with each other through what I guess you’d call cattlemen’s gossip. As in any business there were ups and downs, but Limerick was good manager, Springer was good trail boss and me, well I guess I was just lucky to be in association with those two.
But change was in the Texas wind.
As I said, the Chisholm Trail became popular. The cattle business was profitable, which brought people into the business that never should have messed with it. More cattlemen meant more cattle, which meant falling prices. We were holding on, but just barely.
The year 1874 was a banner year for Texas. Sometimes it seems like things go on forever hardly changing at all, then everything happens in a rush. First of all, Reconstruction was over--in Texas, anyhow. Now, Texas had done better during Reconstruction than a lot of the South, probably because there was so much room to grow. A lot of the Old South had become worn out with cotton planting. Freeing the slaves, although a good thing and long overdue, meant a lot of mouths to feed, and no good way to do it. The Lone Star State, however, had lots of room, lots of potential. The cattle business was part of that, but manufacturing, farming, and other industry—including the railroads—grew after the war.
In 1874 the US Army got serious about the Indians of the Southern Plains—the Comanches, the Kiowas, and the Southern Cheyennes—who had been given reservations in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories. Just a few years earlier, General Sherman had narrowly escaped losing his hair to a Kiowa war party. Texans had been complaining that the reservation Indians were raiding into the state. After an inspection tour where all seemed quiet, Sherman found that a wagon train on the same trail he had just traversed had been attacked and most of the people killed. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie at Fort Richardson—just a days ride or so from the ranch—was sent to capture and punish the guilty parties.
In the spring of ’74, buffalo hunters in the Panhandle were attacked. Those in the trading settlement of Adobe Walls were able to fight them off, but if the Indians caught a hunter on the plains, the hunter was a goner. When the army at Ft. Dodge got word of this, they decided to put an end to the Indian depredations in Texas once and for all. Units from Ft. Richardson and Ft. Concho in Texas, as well as forts in New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma converged on the plains. In September, Mackenzie caught the Comanches in Palo Duro Canyon. There were few casualties on either side, but the army destroyed the Indians’ lodges, food, clothing, and horses. The Comanches under Quanah held out for another year, but he could see the writing on the wall, and brought his followers into the reservation.
There are a few things worth mentioning here. First of all, some folks say that the hunters were on land that the government had promised the Indians in the Medicine Lodge Treaty. Now, I won’t say that the Indians didn’t have some grievances, but the fact is that the federal government never had any right to promise any land in Texas to anybody. When Texas joined the union, she retained the rights to all public land within her current boundaries. (We had to give up half of New Mexico to do it…but who needs eastern New Mexico?)
Secondly, some folks had criticized Mackenzie for killing those horses. Now, I hate to see the destruction of a good horse, but a few years earlier, Mackenzie had captured a herd of Indian horses, only to have the Indians recapture them a bit later—taking with them all of the command’s own mounts. I can only imagine how it galled all of those cavalrymen to walk hundreds of miles back to their post. Mackenzie was not going to let that happen again.
And lastly, I knew Quanah was a fierce warrior. Only after he surrendered did I learn he was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker and her Comanche husband Nocona. All those years ago, when we attacked the camp on the Pease, we knew Cynthia Ann’s son had escaped, but I had no idea he was the one causing us so much hell on the frontier. And it should be noted here also that Quanah was not only the greatest Comanche chief in war—but the greatest in peace as well, helping his people adjust to life on the reservation.
So by the end of 1875, the cattle market had crashed and the Plains were free of Indians. I got a letter from Charlie Goodnight.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention…while the Army was winning on the Plains, there was another victory of sorts hundreds of miles to the south. Just a day or two after Mackenzie’s victory in the Palo Duro, Mary Catherine Bachman said “I do” to William Henry Thigpen. She was twenty seven; he was seventeen.
I was down for my regular Christmas trip and it almost seemed to be getting harder than easier. Bettie looked more and more like her mother every day. By now she was nineteen and I fully expected that every letter I got from her to mention some beau. Apparently she was waiting until I came to see her.
Gundar Stedje seemed like a nice enough fellow, even with that name. I had known Mexicans, Germans, Irishmen, Englishmen, Scots, Frenchmen, Indians, and maybe one or two Poles and Italians--even a Jew or two. But this was my first honest-to-God Norwegian. I didn’t know much about them, so I didn’t know what to expect. If Gundar is at all typical, I can say that they are honest, hard-working people, fiercely loyal, and stubborn as hell—sort of like Germans.
Bettie had met the boy at church, which I guess was a good sign. Turns out Norskis are even more Lutheran than Germans, if that’s possible. The Weinheimers vouched for the boy’s character, and Bettie was plum goofy over him, so what could I do but give my blessing? And at least (last name) is easier to say than some. The boy was strong and good-looking, with hair just a shade darker than Bettie’s so at least the grandkids would be good-looking.
When I went to see Bachman that trip, he assured me that Catherine and Will were happy.
“I can’t say I would have picked Will as a husband for my oldest daughter,” he told me, “for a number of reasons, but he’s a hard worker and mature beyond his years…and he seems to love her with a passion. More importantly, she loves him. Here…let me show you their wedding pictures.”
He passed me a couple of the new-fangled photographs on postal cards. I thought it odd that their wedding pictures were separate—he in one shot and she in another.
John explained, “The photographer said that it was the best way to do it, since they wanted the postal cards—a little cheaper. To be honest, I think he was pretty certain the marriage wouldn’t ‘take’, so this way he provided Catherine with pictures she wouldn’t have to hide or alter if it didn’t. Or it may have been because they were dressed so differently that he thought it would look odd if they were side by side.”
Sure enough, Will was dressed like he just got off his horse. His Stetson hat was tilted rakishly, and one booted foot was propped on a wicker chair. In an effort to look older, he had grown a wispy moustache.
“That boy’s damn sure a cowboy, ain’t he? Couldn’t even put on a suit for his wedding!”
“Don’t be so hard on him, Dusty. If you’ll notice he IS wearing a suit—AND a tie,” John said with t twinkle in his eye.
I looked again. “Why, he damn sure is, ain’t he? I almost missed it underneath that bandana!”
We laughed, then Bachman handed me the other. “Here’s Catherine.”
Katie was all in white as a bride should be. I’d bet that dress set John back a few dollars, but it was none of my business.
“She’s a beauty,” I told him. He nodded. “John, are you OK with this? And how does Caroline feel?”
“Dusty you’re about to find out that no matter how old or how mature your daughter is, she will always be your little girl. Catherine is special to me, and I loved having her around, but I didn’t want her to be an old maid. If she and Will are happy—and remain so—then so am I. As for Caroline…it’s hard to say—but then I never could figure women.”
“Amen to that, Brother! Where are the newlyweds, anyway?”
“Will has taken a job with the King Ranch. Looks promising. They have some sort of plan there where employees can accumulate their own herd, depending on how long they stay. Will’s idea is to work until he has about a hundred head, then go off on his own. I tell you, the boy plans ahead.”
“I hope it works out for him. Personally I don’t think Richard King is all he wants folks to believe he is. But—I wish them the best.”
“What about you, Miles? I understand you’ve fallen on bad times.”
“Well, yeah, but things are looking up. We took a real beating this year on our cattle—all the ranchers did. Even Ol’ Goodnight up in Colorado. He’s like your new son-in-law, though—always working some deal. He got some Irishman or Englishman or something to back him on a project in Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle. Offered me a job. Think I’ll sell out to Limerick and take him up on it.”
“So your partner’s capable of doing that—buying you out?”
“You bet. Say, I’ll bet I forgot to tell you. ‘Course you knew Addy died.”
“Well, certainly, he’s Caroline’s brother. Got bit by a rattlesnake early last spring. Terrible thing. How’s Monica?”
“Yeah, it had warmed up and this big rattler come out of hibernating in the wood pile, full of venom and mad as hell. Addy wasn’t even thinking about it. He was a fine fellow and Monica loved him something fierce. But after he died she came out to see me and—here’s what I forgot to tell you--that damnyankee carpetbagging Irish son of a bitch paartner of mine is going to be my damnyankee carpetbagging Irish son of a bitch BROTHER-IN-LAW! Ain’t that a hell of a note? I had a Mexican mother, Spanish and French ancestors, a Southern father, married a German fraulein, gonna have a Norwegian son-in-law and a Yankee Irish brother in law! Hell, I’m going to write Ulysses S. Grant and tell him I want to be an ambassador!”
I stopped back in New Braunfels to see Bettie once more. I knew it would likely be a long time before I saw her again—the Panhandle is a long way from the Hill Country. I wished her the best, and told her I’d send her something when I got the ranch sold. She said that just having my blessing to marry Gundar was enough of a wedding present. She was a wonderful daughter—I think she would be disappointed to know that I always left feeling like I had failed her.
I was in no hurry to get to Pueblo, so I swung down to San Antone to look it over. I couldn’t believe the change in the old town. The downtown streets were paved with mesquite blocks, the railroad was coming, and the Alamo was a beer warehouse. I was tempted to stay one night in the Menger Hotel—just to say I had—but frugality restrained me.
I left San Antone on the road to Fort Concho. I wanted to travel the Goodnight trail one more time. Besides, while the Plains Indians had been subdued, the Apaches—and bandits--were still active in the southwest, and I figured the well-traveled routes were the safest for a fellow traveling alone. I was hardly alone, however, as there wasn’t a day pass I didn’t meet somebody or pass a ranch. Sheepmen were moving into the country, and I passed quite a few…what do they call them? Flocks? Herds? Anyway, a lot of sheep were being raised in the area. I never had much use for them myself, but they tell me that country’s ideal for them.
Fort Sumner had changed, too, as everything does. The Navajos had been allowed to return to their own part of the country and the government buildings had been purchased by Lucien Maxwell, a huge landowner that I ranked with the likes of Richard King. I decided to have a real meal while in Ft. Sumner and went to a café. Waiting tables and swamping out the place was a young fellow I wouldn’t have taken much notice of, except he made me think of my own boy, dead these many years. Johnny would have been about this kid’s age when he was killed by the Comanches.
Business was a little slow so I engaged the young man in conversation. He told me he had been born in New York, but had come west with his mother and step-father just a couple of years before. She had since passed away and her husband had abandoned the boy, so he was making his own way. He seemed destined to make a name for himself, so I asked him what it was—his name, that is.
“That depends, sir,” he answered politely. “I was born Bonney, but after my pa died, Ma married a McCarty, then Antrim. My first name is William and my middle name is Henry, and I’ve been called just about all combinations of those. Personally, I’m a little partial to ‘Billy’.”
Just then the proprietor of the joint stuck his head through the kitchen door and hollered, “Kid, I don’t pay you to chat, and these dishes ain’t washing themselves.”
Billy grinned as he headed toward the kitchen. “Or,” he said, “like everybody else, you can just call me ‘Kid’.”
I found Goodnight on the upper Canadian, mostly waiting to see if the Comanches were sure enough going to stay on the reservation. He became convinced they were, so we started moving cattle towards the Texas Panhandle. Charlie had hired a guide—a local fellow named Nicolas Martinez—a former Comanchero who knew all the old Indian trails. When I met him I kept thinking I had seen him before, finally deciding that he just reminded me of somebody I once knew. After all, I had grown up around Mexicans, and was related to a bunch of them.
One night around the campfire we got to telling tales and I told the old family story about L’Archeveque, my French ancestor who had lured LaSalle into a trap.
Nick’s eyes lit up. “You are related to Archibeque?”
“Well, my mother was, way back there. I guess that means I am. Why?”
“Senor Doosty, there are many Archibeques in New Mexico. Most of them are fine people. But there is one…he is hombre muy mal.”
“A bad fellow, eh? Why do you say that?”
“He would as soon kill you as look at you—and that is for his paisanos…his countrymen. For gringos, he would rather kill you as look at you. And if he thinks that his Spanish blood has been mingled with gringo blood…Senor, I would just keep that bit of information to myself.”
“Doesn’t mind being part French, but not part gringo, eh? Hell, I’ve always been proud of my Spanish heritage, but that French part I could do without, if I could. I’ll take heed, though, Nick. I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
There was a period of quiet and Nick pulled something out of his vest pocket. He rubbed it against the leg of his pants to shine it and looked at it in the firelight. I asked if I could see it.
“Si, but cuidado, senor. I have had it a long time. I carry it para buena suerte.”
“A good luck charm, eh?” I said as he dropped it in my hand.
It was originally a silver coin, minted in Mexico. Pieces had been cut out of the inside to form a star within a circle. At the points of the star were the letters T-E-X-A-S. The work was crude as if done by an unpracticed hand. I had seen a few of these. In my youth I had even made one or two myself. I flipped it over.
“Dios mio!” I said, reverting to the language of my childhood. “Where did you get this?”
“Many years ago, Senor. A bunch of loco Texans had gotten lost on the Llano. (Even today you need a New Mexican guide, no?)” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I was sent to rescue them. The young Texan who went with us gave me this silver coin in gratitude, but first, he carved his initials—J.F.M. I have kept it these many years as a token—and a good luck charm, as you call it. He was a fine young man—very polite, even if he was a Tejano Loco! Ha ha!”
“Did the Tejano Loco tell you his name was Pancho.”
“Si, senor. Pancho is short for Francisco, his middle name.”
“Do you recall the other Tejanos Locos calling him something else?”
“Si, but I do not recall what it was. It did not translate to Espanol, so he went by ‘Pancho’. (In those days I could not speak Engles well, as I do now.) It’s strange, but for some reason I think it had to do with dirt. Would they have called him ‘Dirty’?”
It was all I could do to keep from laughing and crying and screaming, all at the same time.
“No, they probably called him ‘Dusty’”
“Oh, si, senor, like you.” I wish that Austin photographer could have been there to get a picture of the way Nick’s mouth fell open and his eyes popped out.
“Era usted! Era usted!” he exclaimed over and over. “No puedo creerlo!”
“Believe it, mi amigo, it was me—Jackson Francisco Miles. J. F. M. -- Dusty.”
While we were cooling our heels at Camp Resolution I had carved out the coin using some of the blacksmith’s tools. It was a pretty rough piece of work—the kind of thing a kid does when he’s got time on his hands.
“Senor”, he said, “Senor Pancho,” as he embraced me. When he released me his face was wet with tears and I admit mine were a little misty. “I heard terrible things happened to you Tejanos after we parted—that many died. Perdóneme, senor, what could we do?”
“There’s nothing to forgive. You Comancheros saved our lives—from starvation, anyway. You can’t help what Armijo did.”
“Cierto” he said, wiping his eyes. “Governor Armijo was a cruel man. But I feel I must make amends, senor. You were my guest.”
“OK, Nick, here’s what you can do.”
“Si, senor, anything. Tell me anything, and I will do it for your pardon.”
“Quit calling me ‘senor’. Mi abuelo was ‘senor’. I’m just Dusty—or Pancho, if you wish.”
I was in for quite a surprise in the Texas Panhandle—or a whole hatful of them. To begin with, as we made our way down the Canadian, I noted that many New Mexican PASTORES had beat Goodnight into the area with their flocks of sheep. Some of them were no doubt sons of the men who had rescued the Santa Fe Expedition over a quarter century earlier. Casimero Romero, “El Pastor Primero”, was just a few years older than me and remembered those times well. Nick had a good time telling Romero about his “lucky coin”.
I had been in the Canadian Valley before, but not this part of it. I was amazed at how worn the trail was. Not only had it been used by Indians for centuries, but even in the 19th century it had been traveled by Comancheros, Explorers, Traders, California gold seekers, military expeditions—you name it. Nick and Charlie explained how Vial, a Frenchman in the service of Spain, had come this way, seeking a path from Santa Fe to San Antonio nearly a hundred years ago. The Bents had established a trading post here in ‘43, but the Comanches proved more warlike than the Cheyenne, and Bent had to be satisfied with his post on the Arkansas. Abert came surveying for the Topographical Engineers in ’45, Marcy in ’49 and ‘52, and Whipple in ’53, who was looking for a route for the transcontinental railroad. (The War nixed that deal.) They told me that Santa Fe trader Josiah Gregg was out here about the same time I was—except HE knew where he was and where he was going. (The smartasses got a real kick out of that!)
Kit Carson had come this way in ’64 trying to teach the Comanche and Kiowa a lesson, but nearly lost his…hair. Major “Beans” Evans traveled this way in ’68 chasing Indians toward Custer, and just a year or so previous, Major Price and soldiers from Fort Union in New Mexico had ridden here in what became known as The Red River War. That war culminated in the defeat of the Plains Indians, and that defeat is why we were here. While I was off shooting at Yankees, Charlie had stayed in the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers, and often tracked Indians onto the Llano Estacado. That was when he first became aware of Palo Duro Canyon, and saw its potential as a cattle ranch. And before we left the Canadian, Charlie had made an agreement with the pastores that if they would remain on the river, he would stay in the canyon.
The second surprise was the canyon itself--much larger than I had expected and beautiful. It wasn’t easy getting the cattle down into the canyon, and even harder to get the supply wagons down—they had to be disassembled and the pieces carried on mules. But once we got to the bottom—man what a sight! The Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River ambled through the canyon floor (though it could become a killer torrent at times), and the rock formations were striking. The canyon was covered with cottonwood and cedar. I don’t mean that little “scrub cedar” either. There were lots of big cedar trees. They have since all been harvested for fence posts.
Charlie was back in business. His partner, John Adair provided the capital, and Goodnight provided the know-how, and me—I just worked. To be honest, it was nice not to be managing—to just get up in the morning and know you were going to do your best, but also that whether the ranch succeeded or not was not hanging on your shoulders.
The open range was doomed. What a lot of people don’t understand is what doomed it. First of all, the folks back east were tired of stringy longhorn beef—they craved a fatter, more tender meat, impossible from an animal that ranged far and wide and reproduced at will. Better breeds of cattle were called for, and generally the Hereford fit the bill.
A better breed of stock called for more security in the way of fenced pastures. Fenced pastures needed a ready source of water, hence the windmill. Folks think that it was the smallholder or the farmer that closed the open range, but in the Texas Panhandle it was the big ranches—the JA (named for Goodnight’s partner), the Frying Pan, the T-Anchor…and probably the most notable of all, the XIT, which had 6,000 miles of fence. I’ll tell you more about it later.
In the beginning, the walls of the canyon proved enough of a fence, with a few riders at the open end of the canyon to keep the stock from drifting—and to keep the buffalo, which we had driven out, from drifting back in. Charlie had heard of this new kind of wire, however, and was curious. (One thing about Goodnight, he was always an innovator.) He sent me to San Antonio to see what I could find out. I think he was just trying to get an old man out of the way for a while. But to his credit, it provided a paid trip to see my daughter. And my grandson.
Yep, Bettie and Gundar had wasted no time in starting a family. Jack Canute Stedje was born a year after the wedding, named after his grandfathers. Bettie had faithfully continued sending me postal cards with pictures of the family and I was eager to see them all in person.
On the way down, I had to stop and see how the Limericks were doing. John seemed to have a sixth sense about the markets, and the ranch was thriving. He had brought in some good breeder stock and was improving the herd. Marriage to my little sis had been good for him, and was evident by his waistline. I had brought a bottle of bourbon as a gift, which he graciously accepted, then brought out his own bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
Startled, I asked him, “Been to Tennessee?”
“Fort Worth” he said. “You can get it there, now.”
“I’ll be damned. Well, open ‘er up and we’ll drink a toast to progress!”
He told me about some more improvements he had in mind for the place. “This spring we’re fixin’ to take the biggest herd yet down the trail…”
I almost choked on my whiskey. “What did you say?”
Stunned, he repeated, “We’re fixin’ to take…”
“Ha!” I interrupted, “I can’t believe it! My little sister has been able to accomplish what me, Palo Pinto County, and all the cowboys in Texas have been unable to do!”
“Dusty, what in hell are you talking about?”
“You really don’t know, do you, you damnyankee carperbagging son of a bitch! You just said ‘fixin’ to’! Monica has made a real Texan out of you!”
Monica had come in to see what the noise was all about. Limerick looked nonplussed. “No I didn’t,” he insisted. ”What I said was we’re fixin’ to…good God, you’re right!” He downed his shot of Jack Daniel’s.
“Here, now, no need to go wasting good sipping whiskey. As a matter of fact, fill your glass again and I’ll propose a toast.” He did, though experience had taught him to watch me closely. “Here’s to John Q. Limerick, a Boston Paddy, a Yankee soldier, a carpetbagging son of a bitch, a hell of a partner and brother-in-law, and finally…A TEXAN!!!”
Monica grabbed the bottle and said, “I’ll drink to that!” She downed a slug as Limerick and I stared. It brought tears to her eyes.There were tears in John’s eyes, too—and not all of them from the whiskey.
In a bit, he resumed the conversation. “As I was saying, we’re fixin' to take the biggest herd yet down the trail this spring. Of course Raney is still trail boss, but guess who will be his ramrod?”
“Hell, I don’t know. Not you, I hope.”
“Hardly—those days are over. His brother-in-law, Will Thigpen.”
“The hell you say! I thought he had a gravy train on the King Ranch—building up a herd or something like that.”
“To hear Will tell it,” Limerick explained, “all was not as it had been presented. He noticed that other cowboys would get close to acquiring a hundred head, and disappear without a trace.”
“What? Run off?” John shook his head. “Murdered?"
“Will says there no proof, of course, but the King Ranch is a large place with lots of remote areas—and lots of loyal KINENOS, who have been on the ranch for generations. It wouldn’t be hard to dispose of a body.”
“I’ll be damned. So did will try to collect his share?”
“Said he didn’t dare. He didn’t want to wind up at the bottom of an arroyo.”
“Well, King’s loss is our—uh, your—gain. What about Catherine?”
“Oh, she’ll come up here with him. We’ve built a place for Raney and Martha Ann--we’ll build another for Will and his wife. Not much—but enough to set up housekeeping in”
“I’ll bet that’s going to be tough on John Bachman.”
“Maybe, but he’s been talking about a move himself.”
“Mason County. According to Raney, the feud between the Suttons and the Taylors got so bad that the whole county pretty much had to choose sides. The principals are at peace now, but that sort of thing does a lot of damage to a community.”
“True.” I reached for the bottle. “Well, I’m a-FIXIN’ to have one more drink, and then I’m a-FIXIN’ to turn in. Reckon in the morning I’m a-FIXIN’ to head south.” Limerick grinned and hoisted his glass.
I would not go to Dewitt County this trip. It was a bit out of the way, and this WAS a business trip, after all. Bettie and Gundar had settled in Bosque County where he worked for a local farmer. The county was a hotbed of Norwegians, and if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, it is.
I got directions to the farm and rode up, marveling how much the country had changed since I first rode through in 1841 on my way to Santa Fe. My thoughts were deep in the past as I rode up to the house. A ghost appeared at the door and it shook me to my bones. Bettie ran to meet me and gave me a big hug.
“Why, Pa, you’re trembling like a leaf. Are you all right?”
I gave her another hug. “Baby girl,” I said, almost weeping. “You look so much like your mother. For a minute I thought you were.”
“That’s the best compliment you could give me, Pa.”
“Now where’s that young’un I’ve ridden so far to see?”
“So you didn’t come to see me, huh?” she teased. She had her mother’s looks but her pa’s sense of humor.
A tow-headed boy was peeping out of the door. Bettie called to him, “Jackie-boy, come meet your Grandpa.”
His blue eyes brightened and he ran to me. He stopped a few feet away, looked me up and down, and asked, “Are you a cowboy?”
I glanced at Bettie and she shrugged. “Do you want me to be?” I asked him. He nodded. “Then I’m a cowboy. Come give your Grandpa a hug!” And then I learned a man will do just about anything for a grandchild.