The nine-year old girl in front of me was mostly knees and elbows, and showed signs of eventually being a tall woman. Also of being a beautiful woman, for she had her mother’s full-moon colored hair. I thought that Bettie would be shy, not having seen me since she was five, but she apparently had her mother’s boldness as well. I was also afraid she would have nothing to do with me, thinking I had abandoned her, but I was wrong there, too.
After recuperating to the point where I was ambulatory, I had spent the rest of the year in a Northern prison camp. It was no church picnic, I can tell you that, but beat the hell out of Perote. When the War was finally over, I made my way back to Texas the best way I could. Before I left the hospital I had wished Limerick the best and told him if he ever needed a job and could find his way to Texas, I’d see what I could do. He just snorted in that irritating Boston-damnyankee way and said “I’ll remember that. Palo Pinto, right?” I knew I’d never hear from him again. And for a damnyankee—he wasn’t a bad fellow.
From the hospital I was transferred to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington DC. After Appamattox—well, really after the Battle of Palomito Ranch when Texas finally surrendered, I was released and made my way back home. Thanks to some old friends of Papa’s I was able to borrow enough to book steamboat passage all the way to Jefferson. Henry Weinheimer and his wife Hilda had taken her in to their home in New Braunfels. They had loved her as if she was their own, but always careful to remind her that someday her father was coming home.
She was the only one left of my little family. And she looked so much like her mother I wanted to cry every time I looked at her. Part of me desperately wanted to take her with me, back to the ranch in Palo Pinto County, but part of me knew that I could not provide her with a decent home. I didn’t even know what kind of home I could provide for myself. The land was still there, but what would be left of the house, the corrals? The stock had all been taken by the Comanches, and I had no money to start again. Mama had died while I was being held prisoner. Addison had lost a leg and he and Monica had sold the homestead and moved to DeWitt County.
I took Bettie for a ride and told her how much I loved her. I also told her that I had no plan for making a living and didn’t know where I would end up. With a heavy heart I told her that I felt it was best to leave her with Henry and Hilda for now—until times were better. And then I waited for her reaction.
She breathed a big sigh of relief. “Oh, Pa!” she said. “You don’t know how much I was hoping for that! I love you, but Uncle Henry and Auntie Hilda have been so kind—and really need me around.” She hugged me tight and I could tell she was crying—we both were.
I stayed a few more days with Henry and Hilda and Bettie, but it was pretty awkward and I needed to be making a living. Henry had done well for himself during the War, making saddles, harness, and other leather goods for the Confederate Army. Always the shrewd Dutchman, he had insisted on being paid in gold rather than Confederate scrip, so he was not suffering as bad as most Texans.
I had been thinking about making my way up to Palo Pinto—maybe hooking up with Goodnight and seeing if I could hire on as a drover until I could make a grubstake. I was planning on walking. Can’t say as how I relished the idea, but I knew I could do it. Henry, however, in an uncommon show of generosity, fitted me out with a saddle, bridle, and a fine horse. When I told him I would pay him back as soon as possible, he insisted that I take it as a gift.
“I can’t do that,” I told him.
“I don’t know why everyone thinks only Germans are stubborn,” he responded. “I’m giving it to you as thanks for your service in the Army.”
“Oh, hell, Henry,” I shot back. “ Can see through that. You didn’t even believe in the Confederate cause.”
“Neither did you,” as I recall. He had a point. “Besides, you served proudly and you deserve more than what you got.”
He held up his hand. “I’m not finished. You did your duty as a Texan. You suffered a wound that could have killed you. And…” he paused and spoke softly, “you lost your family in the process. Please, take the horse and rig. If not for yourself, then take it for…my sister.”
My own pain had been so deep in losing my wife and son, it had not occurred to me that Henry had also lost a very close relative.
“But…I deserted her.”
“Nonsense, you hard-headed, dumbass, Texan son-of-a-seahorse!” Henry had worked hard on cleaning up his sailor language, but in moments of high excitement, he suffered lapses. “You fought for your country—or at least what you thought your country was. That’s what soldiers do. And she could have moved her if she had wanted. We begged her to do that when we heard how the Comanche raids had increased. She refused. She wanted to keep the ranch going—for you. Mein Gott, Dusty. do you think she would want me to do less?”
I hadn’t realized that Henry had offered sanctuary to Klara and John. And I began to see that if I accepted his gift, it would in some way—at least in his eyes—be making all her hard work and sacrifice mean something.
“Henry,” I said as I took the reins, “You’re a fine man. I couldn’t wish for a better brother-in-law…or a better caretaker for my daughter.”
“So…are you headed north?”
“Not right away. I thought I might drop down to Cuero to see Bachman. How’s he doing/”
“Well, fine, Dusty. You know he’s ‘got religion’ now?”
“That may not be so bad, Henry. Hell, I did some thinking on it myself when I realized how close I came to dying. Had a lot of honest questions. Don’t know that I got any satisfactory answers, though. Maybe Bachman can answer them for me.”
“Maybe so, Dusty. It’s just that he’s a Methodist, now. A preacher—and so, well passionate!”
As soon as I tracked Bachman down, I could see Henry was right about one thing—John was definitely passionate. He and Caroline now had eight young'uns—the youngest a babe in arms. I didn’t stay with them long. John was busy teaching school, and obviously Caroline didn’t have time to talk, with all those kids running around. When John and I did get a chance to visit, all he wanted to talk about was religion. He had come to peace with God about Klara’s death, but I just couldn’t.
Texas, like the rest of the South, was in a bad way. Nobody had any money and we were treated like a conquered territory, with blue-coated soldiers everywhere. I thought about getting back into the Rangers, but there were a couple of problems with that. One is that I was getting to old to spend my life that way—riding miles and miles in a day, sleeping on the ground at night, often at a cold and dry camp. Or so I thought.
The other was that the Rangers didn’t exist anymore. The new Republican governor, installed as part of Reconstruction, had done away with them and appointed a state police force.
“Mark my words, Miles,” John told me one night in a break from his usual religious talk. “There will be trouble over this. Most of these men on the State Police are thieves and thugs just waiting for an opportunity. Even here in Dewitt County there have been rumblings of a feud that will likely lead to bloodshed.”
“You watch yourself then,” I told him, “but it shouldn’t affect me none. I’m headed north. Got an old buddy up in Palo Pinto County might have a place for me.”
A few days later I was riding up top Goodnight’s place. I had finally gotten used to riding again. Four years without mounting a horse makes a fellow forget that his legs don’t naturally grow that way.
I wasn’t sure if Charlie would be glad to see me or not. He had stayed in the Rangers while I was off chasing Yankees. As a matter of fact, it was his company that had ridden up and scared off the Comanches before they could burn my place. He was the one that had found Bettie in the hidey-hole.
I needn’t have worried.
“Dusty Miles, you ol’ horse-faced, hog-wallerin’ son of a bitch!” he hollered when he recognized me. It appeared that Charles Goodnight, unlike Bachman, had remained untouched by religion. Charlie was one of the profanest men I ever knew—except for maybe Henry when he first arrived in Texas. And it was always funny, because Oliver Loving was one of the gentlest, most soft-spoken men I ever knew. But they knew each other, and they knew cattle, and they would have built a great cattle empire, I’m sure, if Loving had not gotten killed by Indians. As it was, Charlie did pretty well—but at this time that was a long way in the future.
“What are your plans, Dusty?” Charlie asked me after the, uh, pleasantries were over. “You going back to raising stock? Your place’ll need to be rebuilt first.”
I told him I really didn’t have any plans. I tried to thank him fro saving my daughter’s life, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
“Hell, just doing my job—you know that. Say, I could use a good cowhand around here. I mean a good cowhand. I can get all the cowboys I need—which is fine once they get trail broke—but it takes somebody that knows stock to get these rangy longhorns lined out to trail.”
“Trail? Where are you trailing them to? There’s no soldiers in Belknap any more. And beef is so common in Texas that you couldn’t make your money back in Austin or San Antonio.”
“Tell him, Ollie,” Goodnight remarked to Loving, who had been mostly silent.
“You are quite perceptive, Dusty,” Oliver began. “There is no market for beef in Texas. But Uncle Sam is trying his best to keep the Indians penned up on reservations. Tells them he’ll feed them beef if they stay put and learn to farm.”
“Ha! I can’t see a Comanche with a hoe in his hand—unless he was trying to kill somebody with it.”
“I agree,” Loving went on, “but over in New Mexico, the army is watching over the Navajos they rounded up and put near Ft. Sumner.”
“New Mexico? You aren’t talking about trailing a bunch of rangy longhorns across the Llano, are you?”
“Now, damn it, Dusty, let Oliver finish. And don’t go running down the Llano. There’s some fine cattle country there, if we could ever get the Comanches and Kiowas off of it.”
“Number one, don’t count on the Comanches just waltzing on to a reservation saying ‘I’m through ravaging and pillaging now. Where do I get my seed and rake?’. Number two, that land is as flat as a pancake. You couldn’t hire enough cowboys to watch over them. And number three, there’s damn little water there.”
“Blast your stubborn hide, Miles, nobody ever said you could make a farmer out of a Comanche. (Well, maybe some of them Quakers back east, but nobody that’s had any dealings with them.) But as for making a ranch, there’s a big canyon up there that would keep the cattle in fine—it would just take a few men to watch one end of it. There’s a stream running through the canyon—and besides, there’s more water on the Llano than you might believe.”
“Well there was damn little when I crossed it in ’41. But anyway, Oliver, you were saying…?"
“Right, Dusty. I was saying that we would trail the cattle to the army posts in New Mexico and maybe points further north. We won’t go across the Llano—that’s Comanche country and, as you have observed, the availability of potable water situation can be, uh, sporadic. We propose to trail them southwest to the Pecos, then up that river to Fort Sumner and the Navajo reservation. We figure the government will pay upwards of a nickel a pound for fresh beef.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Well, I’ll be damned. You boys are bound to make your fortune—if you don’t die of thirst, or get scalped, or tromped in a stampede, or starve to death. But hell, if you’ll have me, I’m in with you.”
“Damn straight, we’ll have you!” Goodnight exclaimed. “And you’re right about Indians, stampedes, and thirst—but by God, we damn sure won’t starve to death, will we Ollie?”
Loving looked skeptically at Goodnight, then at me. “Charlie here has had a brainstorm…and like most of his ideas, it looks like it actually may work. We’ll tell you about it later.”
And so, here I was, 46 years old…rounding up longhorns, preparing to ride miles and miles, sleeping on the ground, probably in a cold or dry camp. I would be facing stampedes, floods, thirst and Indians. Sometimes I amaze myself. But Loving was right about one thing—I wouldn’t starve to death.
Goodnight had rigged up an army surplus Studebaker wagon to take on the trail. It would carry bedrolls, medicine, and, most importantly—our food. Up until then a drover would have to carry his own food, which usually consisted of jerked meat and other dried foods. But up until that time cattle drives—and there had been some long ones—had been through somewhat settled areas where food could be obtained. The Goodnight-Loving Trail was over vast distances of emptiness.
I’m not indicating in any way that we ate like kings. We ate a lot of beef and a lot of beans. Once in a while we might get a little fresh game, but it was mostly beef and beans, beef and beans—but to tell the truth it was probably better than a lot of folks in Texas were eating in those days.
After the cattle were rounded up, we had to get them used to trailing. Longhorns are rangy animals. They can run fast when “boogered”, and they don’t like to be driven—at least not for the first several days. That’s where an experienced hand was needed most. Once they got “lined out” and used to the trail, it wasn’t particularly hard work—dusty, tiring, and boring, yes—but generally hard. A lot of young fellows thought a cattle drive would be fun. Many as young as sixteen and even younger would try it. That’s how the name “cowboy” came about—they were just boys. Those of us with a little age and experience preferred to be called drovers.
The idea was not to get them to market as fast as possible, but as fat as possible—“fat” being a relative term when you’re talking about longhorns. Let’s just say, with as much beef as possible. So once the herd got lined out, it was the drover’s job to keep it gradually moving in the right direction, but at a pace where the cattle could graze. There were circumstances, or course, that would govern that—the availability of grass, the next watering hole, danger of Indian attacks, put generally the herd moved at a pretty slow pace. On a good day a herd would travel ten miles.
There were times, however, when all hell broke loose. Something—or nothing—would get one of the steers “boogered” and they would jump up and bolt away. And if you think a steer is clumsy and lumbering, you have never seen a yearling longhorn get moving. He can be on four feet in an instant and running so fast even the fastest horse has a hard time catching him. This was hell at any time, but double hell at night, when you rode as fast as you could to reach the lead steers, with you only light the moon or flashes of lightning. Many a good man rode off the edge of a draw to his death during a stampede. The idea in reaching the leaders was to get the herd “milling”—running in a tighter and tighter circle until it was so tight they had nowhere to go and had to stop. It would get a young heart going and damn near stop an old one!
The chuck wagon was indeed a dandy invention—and a truly Texas one. But most of the cowboy’s trade—and lingo—came from the first herders in the New World—the Spanish, and later, the Mexicans. I think I told you where the word Lariat” came from. “Stampede”, for example, came from the Spanish “estampida”. Corral, chaps, and bronco are all derived from Spanish. Even “buckaroo” comes from the Spanish “vaquero”, and ”rodeo” is Spanish for “roundup” (and pronounced ro-DAY-o in that language.) There are lots of other examples, but I’m not here to give you a language lesson.