I was on Goodnight’s nickel, so this time I stayed at the Menger. Actually, Charlie had insisted — said it was a good place to meet other cattlemen, swap stories, and maybe pick up an idea or two--just as long as I didn’t stay too long. I checked in, got settled in my room, and went for a stroll. I never ceased to be amazed at the changes in the old town since my childhood. “Bexar” was really a small town and this city had grown up around it. I passed by the Navarro house, the governor’s mansion, La Villita. I saw where the Council House had once stood, where the trouble with the Comanches had really gotten serious. As I walked I wondered if that council had ended peacefully, how would things be different today. Would Klara…but I pushed it out of my mind. There in front of me stood the Alamo.
It amazed that the structure still stood. It was a little surprising that Santa Anna had not destroyed it after the battle, but I guess he thought he would crush the revolution so completely that it would not matter. Of course, not a lot of the original mission still existed. The outside walls were all gone — taken for other building projects around the area. The only things that remained were part of the “long barracks” and the church, with that being what everyone thought of as “The Alamo”.
After annexation, the US Army took it over, rebuilding the church front to its present look, including the curved top and cutting two windows in the second story. I daresay most people never knew that the original design called for matching towers flanking the church, which were begun but never finished. I couldn’t help but think of the men who died there, and how close I came to becoming an orphan myself. It took a lot of imagination, however, as the long barracks had been converted into a giant general merchandise store, and the church was a warehouse.
What had really struck me though was that someone was building a fence in the middle of Military Plaza. I could see the post holes and the fence posts, but I didn’t see any planking. “Strange,” I thought, “to be building a fence in that spot.” Watching the whole operation was a young man all decked out in a suit who seemed to be unusually interested in the project.
By now my stroll was over and I went back into the hotel to see what was going on. As I was looking around the lobby I heard my name called. I turned to see Bill Blocker, a fellow rancher from the Blanco area, accompanied by a younger man.
“Dusty,” he said as he pumped my hand. “How the hell are you?”
“Fine, Bill,” I said. “Good to see. How are things on the Pedernales?”
“Same as always in the cattle business, Dusty — just one step away from bankruptcy.” I laughed. Blocker was one of the most financially secure ranchers I knew. But he learned the business from the ground up, like I did, and was as common as they come. “I’d like you to meet my little brother, Abner. Ab, this is Dusty Miles, one of the rangiest old mossbacks you’ll ever run across.”
The young fellow offered his hand and said, “Pleased to meet you Mr. Miles.”
“Same here, young fellow, but…”
Bill cut me off. “Hell, Ab, Dusty ain’t ‘Mister’ to nobody!”
“Very well,” Ab said as we continued to shake. “Dusty.”
“So is Bill here teaching you everything he knows about the cattle business?”
“Hell, Dusty, Ab here learned everything I knew a long time ago. I’m trying to pick up pointers from him. Say, are you still up in Palo Pinto County? Seems I heard you sold out.”
I told him how my “partner turned brother in law” was buying the place from me and I was a simple drov… er, COWBOY, again.
“Don’t tell me you’ve taken to calling yourself a ‘cowboy’ — and if you’re so damned simple, what are you doing staying at the Menger?”
“You caught me, Bill. You remember Goodnight, don’t you? He’s partnering with an Irish fellow in the Palo Duro Canyon, and I’m sort of his special agent, I guess you’d say. You know anything about this new wire?”
“Bob wire? Heard of it. Personally I can’t say I approve of it, but Ab here is all for it. I’m ready to let him try it — when he gets his own place!” We all laughed, but I believe I saw a gleam in Ab’s eye. We agreed to meet later for a drink and then parted. As the Blockers made their exit, they almost bumped into the young dandy who had been watching the fencing operation. Bill turned and hollered, “If I don’t see you again, tell Goodnight I said ‘howdy’!”
The dandy turned to look at Bill’s departing form, then turned to me. He turned to me and inquired, “Pardon me, sir. Did he say ‘Goodnight’?”
A bit unsettled by his brashness, I replied warily, “Well, yeah — that’s the fellow’s name I work for. A cattleman.”
“Good lord, sir everyone knows Charles Goodnight — or has heard of him. And you work for him? In what capacity, may I ask?”
I was through being polite. “You’re a nosy little bastard, ain’t you?”
He blushed. “Forgive me a thousand times, sir.” He put out his hand. “My name is John W. Gates and I represent the Washburn-Moen Company.”
“I guess you could say that Mr…”
“Miles. But whatever it is your selling, I really don’t have the….”
“Mr. Miles.” I didn’t mind this slick salesman using the term. “Washburn and Moen are the foremost manufacturers of barbed wire -- light as air, stronger than whiskey, and cheap as dirt”.” He had my interest. “We believe it to be the finest method available for holding stock.
“Mr. Gates, where are you from?”
“Why, Illinois, sir. Why?”
“I don’t know what kind of cattle you have up there in Illinois, but I’ll bet they ain’t Texas longhorns. I have been around longhorns all of my life and I seriously doubt that any product short of steel pipe can hold longhorns.”
“You are right to be skeptical, sir. But what if I could prove it to you? At this very instance I am having constructed a pen — or to use your term, a corral — of barb wire. Perhaps you saw it in Military Plaza. This corral will be ready within a week, at which time I will place several head of longhorns — right off the range — into said corral. I invite you to watch.”
“Well, I’d love to, Mr. Gates, I really would. But as good natured as Ol’ Charlie is, I don’t think he would approve me spending a week in the Menger at his expense.”
“Am I to understand, Mr. Miles, that you are an agent for Charles Goodnight? Presumably with purchasing power? I’ll tell you what — I will pay for whatever time extra you are here, in order that you may see the demonstration. I ask only this: if you are convinced of the strength, the durability, the overall superiority of Washburn and Moen barbed wire, then purchases of the same for the JA Ranch will be made from me.”
It sounded tempting.
“Tell you what” he continued, “I’ll throw in board as well as the room.”
“Mr. Gates you got yourself a deal.”
I don’t know if Gates made that deal with anybody else or not, but there were lots of folks to watch when he brought the animals longhorns in. I could tell by looking at them that the longhorns were the real article — not some critters he had tamed for the show. They were not accustomed to being penned, and they were not going to take it lying down. I reckon to them, it looked there wasn’t even anything there between the posts — not anything substantial anyway. At first the just kind of nosed up against the wire like it wasn’t there. When they realized it was, they looked puzzled. One yearling took a run at it and we all scattered, sure the flimsy-looking wire would not hold up against the huge animal’s onslaught. He hit it hard. It bloodied his nose, but held. They all tried it again and again until they finally gave up — beaten. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but that moment spelled doom for the open range.
The fancy salesman was almost beside himself with glee. “So … what do you say, Mr. Miles?”
“Just two things, Mr. Gates. The first is, I believe you can count on a large order from the JA.” I paused.
“And the second thing, Mr. Miles?”
“Hell, John, call me Dusty. All my friends do.”
When I returned to the JA, Charlie was pleased with my report. He and Adair knew the only way the cattle business could remain profitable was to improve the grade of beef, and the only way to do that was to keep prime breeding stock in fenced pastures. In later years Charlie also bred cattle with buffalo to produce “cattalo”. The hybrid was not popular, so the project was allowed to die.
Speaking of buffalo, it’s sort of funny to think that Charlie and guys like him — and me — were somewhat responsible for the near extinction of the buffalo. To Goodnight’s credit, he saved them, by hunting down some of the last remnants of the great herds and putting them under his protection. The same can be said of the Indians, and Comanches in particular. In later years he was one of their fiercest supporters.
Adair was a “funny turned feller” as Papa used to say. He was some sort of nobility, and had no use for a hired man. That is, he certainly saw himself as better. The Adairs were busy people with lots of irons in the fire and didn’t care much for the rustic Texas Panhandle except for the money it made and the game he could hunt. (I’ve heard tell that on one of his first hunting trips in Colorado, he shot his own horse dead and nearly got himself killed.)
Once when the Adair were visiting the JA to check on their investment, they were just sitting down to supper (Adair called in dinner) when I stopped by to tell Charlie about something on the ranch. Molly Goodnight, who was as good as gold, invited me to join them, which any Texas rancher’s wife would have done. (Well, maybe not Henrietta King.) It would have been impolite to refuse, and Molly would have insisted, so I sat at the place she sat.
With a disgusted “Harrumph”, John Adair said he would not eat at a table with a “servant”. I could tell Charlie was irritated, to put it mildly. Personally, I wanted to punch the arrogant son of a bitch in the mouth, but didn’t out of deference to the fact that I was the guest, the ladies were present, and I was pushing 60. I started to leave, but Molly wouldn’t let me. Finally Adair picked up his plate and moved to a small table where he ate by himself. I felt vindicated when Mrs. Adair remained seated. During the conversation that followed (after an awkward silence), I started to tell the story about Falconer on the Santa Fe Expedition asking where my boss was. I have learned, however, that sometimes with age comes wisdom, and I kept my mouth shut!
Charlie was open-minded in other ways. Bose Ikard had been a top hand in Parker and Palo Pinto Counties, and had been up the trail several times with Goodnight and Loving. Goodnight said he trusted Bose “farther than any living man. He was my detective, banker, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico, and the other wild country I was in." Bose had started life a slave in Mississippi.
Once I was in Tascosa buying supplies. (The town had grown up out of Casimero Romero’s plaza on the Atascosa Creek.) I had entered a store and placed my order which was being loaded on the wagon outside. When the wagon was about half-loaded, a one of the Mexican freighters came in.
The proprietor, Mike Hanrahan, became livid. “Get the hell out of here, you damn greaser!” he shouted. The man immediately backed out. “Damn lazy bean-eaters always hanging around. Don’t know why they don’t go back where they came from.”
I stepped to the door and told the man loading the wagon to stop. I turned back to the man at the counter.
“Has it not occurred to you the Spanish — and the Mexicans -- were here first? That man’s ancestors were exploring this land while yours were living in grass huts in Ireland.”
“I don’t give a damn. I don’t want the brown bastards in my store.”
“Fair enough,” I said, then turned to the man loading the wagon. “Start taking that stuff off.”
“What are you getting riled up about Miles? You a Greaser lover?”
“You might say that, Hanrahan. My mother’s name was Angela Maria Archibeque-Vasquez.” I really poured on the accent. “Does that tell you anything? And I’ll let you in on something else. If a colored man shows up and you talk to HIM like that, you better hope it ain’t Bose Ikard, or you’ll have Charles Goodnight himself to deal with.”
I was climbing in the wagon to head for Tascosa’s other store when I heard somebody call me.
“Hey, Mister!” I turned to see a young man. “Hey I appreciate what you told that bastard back there. I was thinking about teaching him a lesson myself.”
“Well, thanks. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but there was no call for him to be that way. Hell, wasn’t too long ago in this country that Irishmen were run out of places.”
He persisted. “Maybe I ought to go back there yet.” There was something in his eye I didn’t like. And there was something that seemed familiar.
“Let it go. You can’t change him. And even if you did, there’d probably be another just like him come in. Come down to the saloon and I’ll buy you a drink, uhhh…?”
“Billy …Bill Bonney. Most folks just call me ‘the Kid’. I’ll take a rain check on the drink, but thanks. I’ve got to go check on my horses.”
I’m sure my face was white. Until now I had no idea that the kid I had met a few years ago in Fort Sumner swamping out the café had become “Billy the Kid”, noted gunman, rustler, and horse thief. He waved as mounted his horse and rode off. I wondered if I had just saved Hanrahan’s life. And I wondered if the horses the Kid was checking on were really his.
Goodnight was not the only cattleman to realize the potential of the Panhandle. Looking back, it seems like it was almost a race, once the Indians were gone. George Littlefield moved in and founded the LIT. Leigh Dyer, Goodnight’s brother-in-law, started a ranch on the plains above the canyon that became the T-Anchor. A fast operator named Lee started the LE ranch and soon partnered with Lucien Scott in the LS. It was obvious the Panhandle was filling up — with cattle if not with people.
(The PASTORES, or sheep men, were getting crowded out. They were peaceful men, and untrained in the ways of the American legal system of land transactions. Well, that may not be fair. They were probably were aware that they did not stand a Chinaman’s chance of a fair trial, civil or criminal. Lee may have had some questionable business practices, but unlike some others, he paid for the land along the Canadian that was preempted by the PASTORES. Casimero Romero, seeing the writing on the wall that the future belonged to the cattlemen, sold out and urged the others to do the same.)
By now there were three towns — if you can call them that — in the Panhandle. The first, on the eastern side, was Sweetwater--on the creek by the same name. It was originally a hide camp for buffalo hunters, and grew up around Fort Elliott. When the citizens of that town applied for a Post Office, “Sweetwater” was already taken, so they changed it to “Mobeetie”. They claimed that “mobeetie” was the Indian word for “sweet water”, but since every Comanche or Kiowa I ever met sort of snickered when he heard the name, I tend to believe some local wag who knew a little “Indian” wasn’t pulling somebody’s leg. Once when Goodnight had invited some reservation Comanches onto the JA, I’m almost certain I heard one of them complain that he had stepped in the “mobeetie”.
The second town was Tascosa, though some might say it was really the first, as Romero had begun it as a plaza that developed into a town. (You know, Americans are liable to think that anything that existed before they got there doesn’t count — but I sure wouldn’t get into a “mobeetie”-slinging contest over it!) Tascosa was originally called “Atascosa” meaning boggy, again taking its name from the creek it was on. And again, there was already an Atascosa, Texas, so in order to get a post office the Anglos, never much for extra syllables, dropped the first one resulting in the official name.
Mobeetie was founded by buffalo hunters, and Tascosa by stockmen, so it follows that they were pretty rough towns. A lot of the ranchers, Goodnight included, would not allow alcohol on the ranch, so Mobeetie and Tascosa were the places where the cowboys let off steam. The damnedest thing, though, was the bunch of Methodists that founded a town as a “Christian Colony”. Promoted as a “sobriety settlement”, folks started calling it “Saints Roost”. Well, the “sinners” called it that, I guess. The locals called it Clarendon. The whole prospect seemed kind of strange to me to start with, but I reckon it’s not a lot different than what Stephen Austin was trying to do when he colonized Texas. And just as Austin’s attempts to keep out the riff-raff were not completely successful, neither were Clarendon’s. I understand that there are folks there now who take a nip now and again, and I also hear that a few Baptists have slipped in—may be the same bunch! I can’t fault the community, however. Of the three, it is the only one to survive into the 20th century — though it had to move to the railroad to do it.
I’ll have more to say about the railroad in a bit, but before that happened, there was one more ranch that bears telling about.
I mentioned how San Antonio was growing, but that was just an example of what was happening all over Texas. In Austin, the legislature had realized that the capitol building, built in 1846 right after annexation, was inadequate for the needs — and the image -- of the state Texas had become. They set aside three million acres of land in the Panhandle to finance the construction of a new one. It was obvious that the west was filling up, and it was only a matter of time until farmers and small ranchers began settling in the Texas Panhandle. As is typical amongst lawmakers, they had been dragging their feet on the issue until the old capitol building caught on fire and burned. (It’s a shame a few of them weren’t in it at the time.)
That put things on a fast track, so a pair of brothers in Chicago named Farwell, with Amos Babcock and Abner Taylor, formed the Capitol Syndicate. Plans were made to raise cattle on the property until the railroads came and the land could be sold in smaller parcels at higher prices. In return for the land, the Syndicate would finance the construction of the new capitol building. It came to about a dollar per acre — probably more than three times what Goodnight ever paid.
A ranch has to have a brand, of course, to prove ownership. The first brands, like so much of the cattle business, began with the Spanish. I understand that even ol’ Cabeza de Vaca had a brand that represented — you guessed it — a cow’s head. A brand had to be simple to produce, but hard to alter, in order to deter theft. I had left the JA and was working for the Syndicate when the first herd of longhorns was delivered. Ab Blocker, the young man I had met in San Antone a few years previous, had driven them from Fort Concho, and branded them with a big XIT on their sides.
“Who came up with that brand? I asked Ab. He admitted it was his idea, but that Barbecue Campbell, the ranch foreman had gone along with it.
“Does it mean anything? I mean, does it stand for anybody’s initials or anything like that?”
“Nope,” Ab told me, “but just try to change it into something else. Plus,” he added, “it can all be done with a straight bar.”
I looked at it again, and damned if he wasn’t right!
I left the JA, as I said, and went to work for what became the XIT. I can’t really say why — just time to change, I guess. You work for a fellow long enough and one of you starts feeling like he owns the other. Adair was irritating, but he wasn’t around much. I was getting older, too, and a lot of the JA is in rugged country. I have a lot of great memories of the JA. I guess I’m going to have to write them down sometime.
I remember one incident I want to mention, though. Goodnight and Adair always had their eyes open for more land. I don’t know how much the JA eventually controlled, but it was a bunch. I say ‘controlled’, for the ways of Goodnight, Dyer, and most of the early ranchers were different than the Capitol Syndicate. The XIT actually owned — by deed — all of their land. Goodnight and the others would buy claims for the best watering holes, but leave the land between as open range — though effective controlled by those who owned the water. That’s why the windmill became the other thing — coupled with barb wire — that really opened the Texas Panhandle and the rest of the American West to settlement by smallholders. When a farmer relied on springs for his water, he was at the mercy of the big rancher. But with a fenced pasture and a windmill, he could tell the big guy to go suck and egg. It’s amazing to think that the wind we so often cursed became the thing that made the land prosperous.
Anyway, to get back to my story … the JA was always looking for more land. I was with Charlie one day as we scouted along Tule creek. We came to a rocky ford and I had the strangest feeling I had been here before. Then it hit me: when I was with the Santa Fe Expedition, we crossed the Tule at this spot. Not the first time — oh hell, no. The first time we were being led by Sutton and Cooke and crossed Tule Canyon itself. Buy when we returned to pick up MacLeod and the others, we crossed at this ford. The New Mexican guides had told me that this was where the original Spanish explorers had crossed, naming the creek for the reeds — “tule” in Spanish — that grew nearby in the springs. A town grew up not far from there. I understand that they wanted to name it “Tule” after the creek —sort of like Mobeetie and Tascosa and even Amarillo, for that matter. They wanted to name it Tule, but guess what? If you guessed that there was already a Tule, Texas, you’re wrong. This time it was an error in Washington (surely not!) when a clerk for the United States Post Office misread the application, and approved the name “Tulia”. I guess the locals decided it was easier to keep than to change, and as far as I know, I’ve never heard of another Tulia.
While I’m on the subject, I’ll note that Tulia was one of the unique spots in the Texas Panhandle that did not have to move when the railroad came through. Most places, Amarillo included, either moved or died, but the tracks came right through Tulia — or close enough, anyway. Tulians (I guess that’s what you’d call them) saw the opportunity and built the town — which was well established as the county seat by that time--between the courthouse square and the railroad.
I know I’m rambling a lot, but at 84 I guess I’m entitled to it.
As I say I went to work for the XIT. At my age I was still good for a day’s work. My old war injury occasionally flared up, but I could still do most jobs — for a little while - -“not as good as I once was, but as good once as I ever was” as they say. The XIT not only owned all their land, but was determined to fence it and install windmills. It was truly a modern operation. I was all over it, but generally assigned to the Escarbada section, as it was where the graded cattle were kept. I guess that may be because the graded cattle were a little less wild than the longhorns and the steers — safer for an “old man” like me. The first few times I crossed the Tierra Blanca Creek, where the division headquarters stood, I got the same feeling I got when I crossed that ford at the Tule. The creek had been almost a highway for traders in the early part of the century. I don’t know why Sutton couldn’t see that. I guess it’s because, being from around Austin and such, we were not plainsmen — and the Comancheros were.
The west was becoming less wild
Young County was really quite mild
And the Bosque Region
Had half-breed Norwegians
As Bettie had child after child
“Oh, Grandpa,” she said and blushed, when I told her I woke up thinking of that rhyme. “You’re incorrigible.”
“If that means hungry, you’re right!”
My little girl, now the mother of four, was fixing breakfast. Two girls had come after Jackie, then another boy. The first girl was named after her grandmother, except with a “C” — Clara. It would have been hard for me, except the kid had gotten my brown eyes—and they called her Sissy. (Her middle name was Anne, after her mother, and in honor of Gunder’s mother.)
The second girl was Lorena Jane. Lorena after the old song (which I had picked up from soldiers at Fort Griffin and used to sing when Bettie was a child) and Jane from nobody in particular — it just went well with Lorena. The second boy (and I wondered if it was the last, but didn’t have the guts to ask) was Henry Miles. “We wanted to honor Uncle Henry and Aunt Hilda, and we like the idea of using surnames for middle names, but neither Gunder nor I could bear the thought of naming a child ‘Weinheimer’.”
“Good idea,” I thought. At least I THINK I thought it, but Bettie glanced at me and I wondered if maybe I had said it out loud. A man who spends a lot of time alone gets used to speaking his thoughts, which can cause problems in polite company.
“How come you didn’t name him ‘Gunder’ or even ‘Gunderson’?”
“Ohhh, Papa Stedje would have LOVED that — and I would have gone along--but Gunder says it’s time to start using American names. We might name the next one ‘Gunther’ though. That wouldn’t be bad.” I guess that settled the question of whether there were more coming. I couldn’t help but wonder how many more I might have had if….
“Here you go Grandpa,” Bettie said as she placed before me a plate of eggs, sausage, and lefse — a sort of potato tortilla. I preferred biscuits, or even tortillas, but this was some sort of Norwegian dish that Gunder liked and Bettie had perfected. It could have been worse — she could have served lutefisk. “Maybe now you will be more ‘corrigible’!” she said with a twinkle in her eyes as she patted my shoulder. God, how she reminded me of her mother!
I suppose every father worries how his children will survive. With a son, it’s the career he chooses, or whether he will be honest, trustworthy, and a hard worker. With a daughter most fathers don’t worry about these things — they transfer them to the son – in – law. Fortunately, Gunder was a fine husband and father. He was a hard worker and desired the best for his family. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the best prospects in Bosque County. By the 1880s the lands available for homesteads had long since been claimed and made into prosperous farms. Some land was for sale of course — it always is — but at prices that were hard for a young man to pay. He was the third son of a successful Norwegian farmer, and not likely to inherit any land. So he continued to work for wages with a growing family to provide for.
One evening when the kids had been put to bed, I hesitantly broached a subject that had been on my mind. “Gunder,” I began cautiously, “Bettie.” They looked at me. “What are your plans? For the future, I mean.” I could see Gunder’s eyes darken. “How do you intend to continue providing for your family?”
I have touched a nerve. Bettie became agitated and Gunder got mad. “I work hard, Grandpa Miles. I’m doing the best I can.”
“I know that. I could not ask for a better husband for my daughter, or a better father for my grandchildren. But I’m going to say something I want you to think about.”
The next morning was tense as I packed to leave. As an old … well, cowboy, I didn’t have much and it didn’t take long. Bettie fixed me a good breakfast, but the joy was gone. Gunder was already at work in a neighbor’s field.
“So you’re headed back to the Panhandle today, Pa? The kids have enjoyed having you here.”
I looked at her. She touched my shoulder. “So have I, Pa. You know I have. You don’t have to go now.”
“I think we both know I’d better. There may be XIT cows that won’t eat for anybody but me.” She chuckled. I went on. “I didn’t mean to offend Gunder with my offer.”
“I know Pa. But he really wants to make his own way.”
“But damn it, Bettie, he WOULD be!” My voice rose in frustration. “I’m not…” I turned to face her and noticed she was on the verge of tears. Like her mother, she didn’t cry often, so this was serious. “I’m sorry, Sweetheart. I’ll say no more about it.” But I couldn’t help asking. “Are all Norskis this stubborn?”
With a wry smile she nodded, “Apparently. If I ever find one who isn’t, I’ll be sure to let you know. Are you headed back the way you came?”
“No, I saw Moni and Limerick on the way down. Katie Bach … uh, Thigpen said that John and Caroline had moved to Coleman County. Think I’ll head back that way and get preached at.”
“Yep, Santa Anna. Used to be a Ranger camp there, and John always admired the area. Railroad’s coming through and John plans on getting in on the growth, I guess.”
“Okay, Pa, but you be careful and don’t get into trouble in Santa Anna.”
“Better not. The way I hear it, Ol’ Bachman’s the Justice of the Peace. I’d hate to get thrown in jail and give him a captive audience to preach to.” I mounted up. There was a little pain in my chest. That old war wound could sure act up at times. I’m sure that’s what it was.
And why did I always ride away feeling like I had failed that girl?
I returned to the XIT, but not to the Capitol Syndicate, as such. Desperately needing an infusion of money, John Farwell had convinced English investors to back the project. They formed the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company of London. I couldn’t get away from the Brits — first Falconer, then Adair, now these guys. For the most part though, it was still the XIT. The exciting part was that the railroad was coming. Other changes were in the wind, too, but they were more personal.
At the start of the War, Texas had less than 500 miles of railroads. Afterward, however, the race was on to connect Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and other cities. By the 1880s several companies were pushing into the Panhandle. This was exactly what the Capitol Syndicate had been hoping for. The other ranches weren’t disappointed, as it meant no more long drives to market — with the accompanying losses.
For a while, life in Tascosa went on as usual, but when it became apparent that the railroad would miss it, more and more people began to move. Most of them went to a new settlement on Amarillo creek. Can you guess what the name was?
The New Mexican traders and PASTORES had named the creek. Some say it was after the yellowish dirt along the creek, but Nick Martinez had a different opinion.
“Name a creek after dirt?” he snorted. “The Spanish language is too beautiful to waste on dirt!”
“Really?” I asked him. “What about the Tierra Blanca. My mama taught me that that means ‘white dirt’. And ‘canyon blanco’?” I queried.
“OK, OK” (I was always amazed at how quickly people unfamiliar with English began using ‘OK’.) “Sometimes even the Spanish have been so frustrated at the lack of features in this region that they resorted to naming things after the dirt. But, amigo” he went on, “have you ever been here in the spring when the FLORES AMARILLAS are blooming?”
“Indeed I have.” It didn’t happen every spring, but sometimes the yellow flowers bloomed in such profusion that even tough CIBOLEROS and hard-bitten Comanchers would be impressed by their beauty.
“And that is how the creek got its name, Pancho. Pssshhh,” he snorted again, “From the dirt! “
Of course, the name in Spanish would be pronounced “ahm-a-REE-oh” but it didn’t take the gringos long to change it to “am-a-RELL-uh”. They did the same thing with the Rio del Tule. The Spanish pronunciation was “TOO-lay”, and even the early settlers and cowboys called it “Tooley”. But write it on a map, and the gringos will destroy the beautiful pronunciation.
So when the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad was built through the Panhandle, new towns were born, the chief one being Amarillo. It began in a site near Amarillo Lake — sometimes called Wild Horse Lake — but when it became apparent the town site was too low, Henry Sanborn of the Frying Pan ranch essentially moved it about a mile to the southeast.
I said that when I returned from seeing my daughter, change was in the wind. Back in those days, there was no “paid vacation”. Even the cowboys who had gone on strike in ’83 had never dreamed of anything like that. Cowboy work was seasonal, and I had no trouble getting “time off” when I went to see Bettie. I always went around Christmastime when work was light and the ranch foreman would just as soon not have an extra hand to pay. I was a good hand, and they knew I would be back, so it worked out for everybody. Not getting paid for a month offered no hardship for me, as I was frugal with my money, the trip didn’t cost much, and I was still getting regular payments for my share of the ranch in Palo Pinto County. I could not afford to retire, as such, but I could certainly take a break now and then. (If only that Norski son – in – law would not be so stubborn!)
But this time, when I came back it was a little different. Calvin Newbury, the boss, did not seem eager to see me.
“MIles…” Calvin started, then paused. When he started back up he sounded angry. “Well, hell, Dusty, the fact is you’re just getting a little long in the tooth. I know you’re a good man and a hard worker, but you just can’t keep up with these young bucks. If you hadn’t left I could’ve kept you on, but I’ve got orders to cut back — and no new hires unless he’s a young fellow — and then only as a replacement for somebody that’s quit.” His tone got a little softer. “Hell, Dusty, I don’t know what to do. If it was up to me, you could stay here forever. But it ain’t up to me. It’s straight from headquarters. Hell, maybe straight from London for all I know.”
To say it didn’t bother me would be a lie. I was mad as hell. “You sorry son of a bitch” was all I could say. Calvin didn’t say a word and I knew I was taking it out on the wrong man. I also knew Calvin would do anything he could for me. A younger man than Newbury might have enjoyed it, but I knew this wasn’t the first time Calvin had had to do this. I also knew that he knew that some day it would be his turn to be put out to pasture.
“Maybe you could hunt wolves for the bounty, Dusty,” he offered.
“If I can get them to come close enough. There was a time when I could’ve challenged Billy Dixon to a shooting match, Calvin, but my eyes sure ain’t what they used to be. I guess nothing is — and I guess that’s what this is all about, ain’t it? Hell there ain’t hardly any wolves left, anyway.”
“You might try the LIT or the LX. Some of those bosses are still pissed over that strike several years ago. They might give preference to a fellow they know wasn’t involved. And there’s no question you know about stock.”
“Calvin, you’re a good man, and I may do that. I don’t reckon there’d be any problem leaving my boodle here until I light somewhere.”
“Hell, Dusty, I ain’t throwing you out. I just ain’t hiring you. Come in and get some grub. I’m sure Ol’ Boyce wouldn’t begrudge that.”
“That tight son of a bitch? Don’t count on it!”
This would be as good a time as any to talk about the counties of the Texas Panhandle. Unlike anywhere else in the state, they are perfectly square, most of them, and those that aren’t — along the western edge — are at least perfectly rectangular. Now I’m no expert, but what generally happened in the early days is this: people would begin to move into an area that had no legal representation in the legislature. When enough moved in, they could petition that the county be organized, with a county court and other officers. The county would generally follow some natural boundaries such as rivers or property lines. The residents would select a name for the new county, as well.
In 1876, the state legislature realized they had an unusual opportunity. Since the Panhandle had just been cleared of Indians, people would begin moving in, eventually petitioning for organization of the county. The boundaries of the Panhandle were straight lines on the north, west, and east. Sometimes the organization of a county could get heated as the residents could not agree on the boundaries, the names, or where the county seat should be. Looking at a map of the Panhandle, the legislature arrived at what seemed like an obvious solution: create the counties NOW, designating their boundaries as straight lines, and giving them names. Beginning at the top of the Panhandle, they drew off horizontal lines every thirty miles until they began to run into counties that were already organized. Turning the ruler vertically, and beginning at the eastern boundary, they drew four lines to create twenty counties. They continued this plan with a little variation for several tiers to the south. Exactly where the Panhandle starts and ends geographically is open for discussion (and argument) but I’m talking about the top 26 counties in Texas for this explanation. Most of those are exactly 30 miles square. A few — the four on the west — are larger. A couple -- on the southwestern and southeastern corners — are smaller. You’ll have to get the reason for that from somebody smarter than me — which shouldn’t be too hard. Oh — the reason for thirty miles is that it was assumed — or hoped — that the county seats would be in the center of the counties. Thirty miles could be easily traveled in a day horseback, making it easy — or at least accessible — for circuit courts. I guess that also explains why the counties on the west are larger by a few miles — the judges and courts would not be riding into New Mexico.
“OK,” I can almost hear the lawmakers say, “now that we’ve gotten them created, let’s name them. Where are the historical documents? We’ll get the names off those.”
That’s probably not EXACTLY how they did it, but pretty close, I betcha. It would make a lot of sense if you were sitting at a desk in Austin. But that’s why most West Texas counties have no relation whatsoever to the folks they are named for — as well as other peculiarities. For example, if you ever saw Moore County — one of the driest in the area — you would wonder why it had the name of the Commodore of the Texas Navy. And why does the Canadian River cut off the southeastern edge? Why are some county seats so far from the center? And why are there Sherman and Dimmitt Counties, but they are no where near the communities of the same name? Why is there a Smith and a Deaf Smith County? As with many other things, you can blame the state legislature — a bunch of good old boys trying to do their best (to give them credit they probably don’t deserve) but fouling things up in the process.
So much for the history and geography lesson
It was a tough time. I was over 60 now and showing it. An active outdoor life — with plenty of beef -- had kept me in good condition, but that will only go so far. I could not see as well nor ride as long as I had. My old war wound was hurting more all the time, and my joints told me when the weather was about to change. I had never been worth a damn at cooking, and I could never handle heights, so oiling windmills was out of the question. Being a swamper in a saloon was a possibility, but I hated to even consider it. I would give the ranches a shot. Maybe some of my old cronies were in a position to hire a reliable, if not too flexible, ranch hand. All the ranches were now in the hands of British investors, so I doubted it.
I decided to sort of headquarter in Dumas, a new town in Moore County, as it would be easy to ride from there to any of the other ranches looking for work.
I wrote Bettie to tell her that I was no longer at the XIT, and she could write me at General Delivery, Dumas. I didn’t tell her why.
When I left the post office I went looking for a bite to eat and found a small café. The young proprietor spoke with an oddly familiar accent, so I asked where he hailed from.
“South Carolina,” he said.
“I thought maybe so. Know any Rutledges?”
He laughed at that. “Why there weren’t any Rutledges would set foot in my part of the state.” He looked at me warily. “You ain’t one, are you?”
It was my turn to laugh. “Not so’s you’d notice. I guess my grandmother was one, or something. My daddy was from South Carolina—Francis Marion Rutledge Miles.”
“I recognize all of those names up to the ‘Miles’. Are you kin to Francis Marion?”
“’Fraid I have to plead ‘not guilty’ to that one. Apparently my granddaddy thought highly of him, to name my daddy after him.”
“You can’t find anybody from Carolina that doesn’t think highly of The Swamp Fox. If it wasn’t for him, hell, we’d all still be speaking English!” He laughed and I realized he meant it to be funny. “New to Dumas?”
“Hell, ain’t everybody?” the town was just a few years old. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” I didn’t go into detail. “What brings a young man from the Palmetto State out here to this godforsaken country?” I was not in the best of spirits.
“Probably the same thing that brought your daddy to Texas. Opportunity! Progress. A chance to get a head! The War ended thirty years ago, but you’d never know it, the way folks back home — well, back there — talk about it. I may not make it big in the eatery business, but I make a good meal at a fair price. What’ll you have, sir?”
“You know, young man. I’ve been eating the same thing most of my life. You got anything new? But not strange — I mean nothing Norwegian or Greek or anything like that.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about Greek food, or Norwegian, but on the way out here I stopped in Athens, Texas where I found something new.”
“Nope, nothing but beef. As far as I know, it doesn’t even have a name. Tell you what, sir, let me fix you one, and if you don’t like it, you won’t have to pay for it.”
“How do you know I’ll be honest with you?”
“Come on, sir. A Texas cowboy be dishonest?”
I heard the meat hit the skillet and seconds later I could smell it. In a short while he brought me this specialty of his — fried ground beef between two pieces of bread, with an onion on it. It smelled wonderful. It tasted wonderful! I was still unemployed with little prospect of finding a job. I was still old, and I still hurt. But that ground beef sandwich was like a tonic to me.
“Boy,” I said, “you better get a name for this thing — and patent it while you’re at it.”
“I thought you’d like it.”
“I’ll be back for one of these.” I offered my hand. “My name is Miles. But folks call me Dusty.”
He gave me a firm handshake. “And mine is Mills. You can call me Marcus. “
Early next morning I packed my gear and went looking for job. I rode out to the LIT headquarters in Oldham County. Old Man Littlefield was long gone from the place, selling out to — you guessed it — British investors. Frank Mitchell was the boss, or “range manager” as they were now called. He likely was not really involved in the hiring, so I went to see Ed Paine, one of the “pasture bosses”. He was not a kid, but he was younger than me — hell, everybody was anymore. I had met him a time or two, but didn’t really know him. I did not relish the prospect of looking for a job.
It stuck in my craw to call these guys ‘mister’. Goodnight was always “Charlie” — even when everybody else called him ‘Colonel’. Loving was “Oliver”. It wasn’t that I didn’t have manners — mama had raised me right — it’s just I always felt like I was crawling to someone who knew less about the situation than I did, and it galled me. But I swallowed my pride.
“Mr. Paine, I’m looking for a job.”
He looked me over for a bit and finally said, “Don’t I know you?”
“Yessir, I’m Dusty Miles. Fresh off the XIT.”
“Oh sure, I remember you. What’s this ‘Mr. Paine’ business?”
I breathed a little easier. “Just wanted to be polite, Ed. My mama raised me right.”
“I’m sure she did. You say you’re looking for a job?”
I was pretty sure from the way he talked that he was not raised in Texas, but his voice wasn’t as irritating as Limerick’s. “Yessir. I can do most stuff. Ride, fix fence. I can rope a little, but I have an old war injury that acts up once in a while, and it makes me miss a loop now and again.” (I hated to play on a man’s sympathy, but sometimes being a veteran helps.”
“War injury … Indian Wars?”
“Uhhh, no sir. I was wounded at Gettysburg. Spent the rest of the war in a Yank … uh, Northern prison camp.” I had decided he was some sort of Yankee.
“Oh, a CONFEDERATE Veteran.” I couldn’t tell if he was surprised I was that old, or disgusted because I had fought for the Confederacy. This was not going well, but I stuck it out.
“That’s right.” I damned sure wasn’t ashamed of it. “But I fought Indians, too. With Charlie Goodnight.” Damn. The more I talked, the older I sounded. “Was with him when we rescued Cynthia Ann Parker.”
“Never mind.” Paine was obviously not a Texan.
His eyes narrowed. “You weren’t involved in that strike back in ’83 were you?”
That one caught me off guard. I had not been involved in the strike, but not because I wasn’t in sympathy with the cowboys who were. And some of these Yankee fellows looked at unions much more favorably than I did. Just answer the question, I told myself.
“Can you oil windmills?” he asked hopefully.
This was not going well at all. “Ed, I’d like to say that I can do any damn thing you need on this ranch, but we’d both know that’s not true. I don’t think of myself as a coward. I have faced Mexican lances, Yankee cannon, outlaw rifles, and Comanche arrows. But I cannot climb a windmill tower without my head spinning. If that’s the only job you have, I’ll have to turn it down.”
Ed gave a wry smile. Can’t stand the damn things myself, Miles.” He went on. “I know you’re a good man, and at one time were a top hand. But I’m afraid I can’t offer you a full-time job.”
“Yessir, I understand.” Damn.
“However,” he continued, “a few days ago a man riding fence was killed when lightning struck the wire a mile away. It was a tragedy, but that fence still needs to be checked and repaired. My top hands are all busy. If you want that job, it’s yours — till it’s finished. That’s the best I can do.”
“Ed, I’ll take it. Fencing ain’t my favorite, but it’s on the ground and horseback — mostly. When do you want me to start?”
“Right now, if you can. The fence is southwest of here several miles. It’ll be afternoon when you get there, so you can make half a day’s wages today.”
“Thank you, Ed. I’ll make sure that fence is in tip top shape.” That’s what I said out loud. “Cheap bastard!” is what I was thinking. Damn, I’m getting cranky in my old age.
At the end of two weeks, I was closer to Dumas than the ranch, so about noon on Saturday, I rode into town. If Paine wanted to dock me half a day, so be it. I knew it was no use, but stopped by the post office.
“Any mail for Dusty Miles?” I asked at the window. “The clerk looked through the General Delivery.
“Nope. Got a couple for Jackson Miles. You know him?”
Two letters? Must be a different Miles, but I decided to look. “That’s me.” He looked at me skeptically, but figured it didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference either way, so he handed me the letters.
This was strange — and probably not good news. One was from Bettie. That didn’t bother me, but the other was from her husband, and that scared me. I decided to read the letters over a good meal and headed for Marcus’s café.
He had made a few improvements. A big sign out front said “MM Diner”. Underneath he had written a slogan: “Eat here and you’ll say ‘MM!’”. My uneducated guess is that the boy did NOT have a future in advertising.
“Hey, Dusty,” Marcus greeted me warmly. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Been riding fence for the LIT,” I told him, “but got tired of eating jerky. I kept dreaming about those sandwiches you make. How about one now? Did you ever come up with a name for it?”
“Not really. Thought about the ‘Mm-wich’…gets my initials in there like on my place.”
“Yeah, well, I’d keep working on it, if I were you. Got a couple letters here from my family — think I’ll read them while you cook that sandwich.”
I didn’t know which one to open first, but since Bettie was blood, I decided to start there.
This letter is very difficult for me to write, as by birth and training I have learned to keep my emotions to myself.
Pa, I want to tell you how much I love you and how proud I am of you. I know you blame yourself because you were not there when the Comanches came, and because you were not able to see me much when I was growing up. If I am honest, I have to admit that there was a time when I held some of that against you, but now that I have a family, I can only imagine the strength of character it took for you to leave your family to do what you saw as your duty. I couldn’t do it, and I pray that neither Gunder nor any of my children ever has to make that decision. (All this talk about war with Spain has Jackie excited. What is a mother to do?)
Pa, I know you loved Ma. I think that’s probably the best gift that parents can give a child — that they love each other. You also loved Johnny, and taught him to be a hard working, honest young man. While you were fighting in the War, I know he often talked of you, and whenever he had a tough decision to make, he based it what he thought you would do. Ma tried to get him in the “hidey hole” with me that day, but he refused, saying it was his duty to protect the family. “It’s what Pa would do.” Those are the last words I remember him saying.
I know you blame yourself for his and Ma’s death, but you are the only one. I know you wanted Ma to move to a more secure area, but she refused. We — you grownups anyway —were all focused on the war in the east and nobody could see then that the Indians would take the opportunity to rampage the way they did. It wasn’t your fault. You were fighting for Texas and I’m proud of you.
I also feel like you blame yourself, because you could not raise me. Pa, what you did for me was the best anyone could do. Uncle Henry and Aunt Hilda were wonderful foster parents, and since they never had children, what you did made three people extremely happy. Uncle Henry idolizes you and used to tell me stories about when he first met you. Did he really swear like that? And though I know he would have loved to have a child of his own, he always made sure that I knew who my father was. When he introduced me, he would say, “This is Bettie, my niece who I love like a daughter.”
He also used to tell me how he begged Ma to come live with him while you were gone. He would get so mad when she refused. “Diese storrisch Deutsch hausfrau!” he would say, as he read her letters of refusal. (“That stubborn German housewife!” -- he can swear in English, but when he’s really angry he lapses into German!) Pa, Ma stayed because she loved you, and us kids, and wanted to have a home — OUR home — ready when you came back. And we prayed every night you would.
Your devotion to me was — is — unsurpassed. A lot of men took the opportunity of the War, or the West, to abandon their families. You could have done that. Even after you got me settled in with the Weinheimers, no one would have blamed you if you had dropped out of the picture, out of my life, and let them adopt me. I guess if I’m honest, I’d have to say there were times — during those difficult periods we all go through — that I wished you had. At times like that, Uncle Henry would take me in his arms and say, “Dear, dear Bettie. If I could have a daughter I would want her just like you. For some reason, God has seen fit not to give me that daughter, but in His Grace and Mercy, he has given me, not only a niece that I love like my own daughter, but in a small way, he has given me back my sister.” A tear would always come to his eye and he would say, “And you are so very, very much like her.”
And I know that made it harder for you — that I look so much like Ma, but I’m proud that I do--she was a beautiful woman — but I know it’s hard for you.
When I think of what God has given me, Pa, I often want to say “Too much, it’s too much! I had a loving mother. I have a loving Uncle and Aunt, who raised me as their own when my father couldn’t. I have a terrific husband whom I adore, and who has blessed me with six lovely children. I have a heavenly Father who loves me and watches over me, and I have an earthly father who loves me, and cares for me, and wants the best for me. I don’t deserve these blessings!” (I guess that’s the Lutheran in me — ha ha!)
I know you are getting older and are not able to do the things you once did. Come live with us, Pa. We can make it work somehow. Come get to know your grandchildren.
Your loving and grateful daughter,
Marcus put the sandwich down just as I finished. “Are you okay, Dusty.”
Good question … and I knew I could never get that sandwich past the lump in my throat.
I nodded and opened the letter from Gunder, fearful of what it might say.
Dear Grampa Miles
First, I assure you that Bettie, the children, and myself are all fine. Since you never get a letter from me, that might be of some concern. We are all OK.
Now, then … this letter is very difficult for me to write, as by birth and training I have learned to keep my emotions to myself.
I want to tell you I love your daughter very much. She is very proud of you, which has given me much to live up to. I want to provide for her, so that she and the children will be proud of me. And yes, you, too.
I have been working very hard and trying to save some money to buy a farm of my own. As I’m sure you know, it is very difficult, with six children. It seems like every time I get some money put by, something comes up. I’ll bet you faced the same circumstances trying to build your ranch.
I have thought a lot about your offer and have a counter offer to make. It looks like the only way I will ever have enough for a place of my own is when I am old and the kids are grown. I would rather do better than that, so here is the deal. I have saved enough, I think, to build a home, but can’t accumulate enough for a farm. When you were here, you made an offer to get us settled on a farm in the Panhandle, as land is cheaper there. Is the offer still good? I will take you up on it on one condition — that I build the house, and that you come and live with us in it. I know a lot about farming. Maybe you can teach me something about ranching. And my kids will get to know their cowboy grandfather — ha ha!
If you decide not to accept my counter-offer, there will be no hard feelings. I wouldn’t blame you. I apologize for being so stubborn for so long. I am Norwegian and can’t help it. Bettie is half-German, raised German, and is stubborn, too. God help the kids — ha ha!
I await your answer. I would say patiently, but I am as impatient as I am stubborn — ha ha! Please let me know as soon as possible.
PS. When I said all is well, I was fibbing just a bit. Jackie has been talking about joining the army to fight Spain. All this talk by Mr. Roosevelt has him excited. I would rather he not, but he is old enough. What can a father do? (He has said nothing to his Mama yet--thank goodness!)
“Well, ain’t that a hell of a note!” I muttered.
“You sure you’re okay, Dusty?”
“Huh?” I had forgotten where I was. The sandwich was still in front of me. Mills had gone all out to make a big one. “Yeah, boy, I’m better than OK. This town got a telegraph office?”
“I think there’s one at the mercantile store.” He glanced at the clock. “But they’ll be closing soon. GOOD news, I hope.”
“The best. Wrap up this sandwich and I’ll take it with me.” While he was doing that, I realized I had a job. What would they think if I just didn’t show up? I had never done that before.
“Marcus, you ever just walk out on a job?”
“Just once, Dusty. Right before I came to Texas. I was an office clerk and the manager was a real bastard, so one day I just tossed my keys on his desk and walked out. He was lucky though.”
“How’s that?” I asked as I paid out.
“What I really wanted to do was piss on him.”
I laughed as he handed me the sandwich. I hefted it.
“Boy you made a big one this time.”
“I threw in some fried potatoes. But the sandwich IS a big one.”
I hefted it again as I went out the door towards the mercantile. “Hell, boy, it must be a WHOPPER!”
I raced down the street — well, as fast as I could go, anyway. I still had a lump in my throat. The proprietor was just closing up.
“I’d like to send a telegram.”
“Sorry, store’s closing.”
“This is an emergency.” He looked doubtful, but had pity on an old man. He pushed the door open, walked over to the telegraph office, and handed me a blank.
I wrote: “Offer accepted. Catching next train.”
The man seemed put out. “Can’t be MUCH of an emergency. I opened back up for five words?”
“Just send it and tell me what I owe you. You can have my sandwich for your trouble.”
Bettie was confused. She did not know that Gunder had written his letter, so when the Western Union boy appeared at the door, she thought I was accepting her offer to come live with them, and would be there any moment. But since it was addressed to Gunder, she took it to him, and was immediately shocked to hear him shout a very Texan (and very UN-Norwegian) “YAHOO!” When he told her about his offer, it was her turn to shout.
I didn’t want to wait for the stage to take me to Amarillo, so I immediately saddled my horse and rode all night to get to Channing where I could catch a train. As I headed southeast by rail, I marveled at the changes I had seen in my time. I was traveling through a lot of the same country I had traversed in ’41 going the other direction on my way to Santa Fe. At Fort Worth I sent a postcard to Ed Paine at the LIT: “Thanks for everything. Better opportunity arose. I won’t be back.” I was just a charity case there, anyway. They knew it and I knew it.
I arrived in Clifton in good order. Bettie, Gunder, and all the kids had come to take me home. It didn’t take us long to get down to business.
“So…where do you recommend?” Gunder asked.
“Opportunities abound in the Panhandle,” I told him, “and I’ve thought about it on the way here. “ I spread out a map I had brought along. “For my money, I would recommend Deaf Smith County. (We still pronounced it “Deef Smith” back then. Erastus Smith was a spy and guide for Houston, and was hard of hearing. He came by the house to see Papa a few times when I was a kid. As maps were printed and more educated “outlanders” came, the pronunciation became “def”.)
I explained. “It’s not much now, but the railroad will be through within a year or two. That will make shipping more accessible and products more available. There is available land there—land good for farming and ranching. I went through it when it all belonged to the Comanches, and I worked there on the XIT. They erected windmills all over the place, so I know there is available water. Several old XIT men have settled in the area.
“There are other options, of course. Swisher County is growing. Like Deaf Smith County, I was there when it was all prairie and again when I worked for Goodnight. There are good folks there, but no railroad as yet, or any plans for one.
“I’ve been staying in Dumas, but something will have to happen for it to ever be successful – like a gold strike, or something. Damn fine place to eat there, though,” wishing I had one of Marcus’s “whoppers” right then.
“What is the seat of Deaf Smith County?”
“La Plata right now, but that will probably change to Bluewater when the railroad comes through. It’s on the Tierra Blanca.”
We talked and made plans for several days. I got acquainted again with the grandkids and had a long talk with Jackie about the situation in Cuba. I didn’t try to talk him out of military service if it came to war, but I did suggest he join the navy as a chance to see parts of the world he would never see otherwise. (His mother was mad at me when he took me up on it, but when he came back in one piece I think she forgave me.)
I went back to make the arrangements. It was a good thing, too, as there were all kinds of slick real estate men trying to do newcomers out of a dollar. When they found I was looking for land, they swarmed me like flies. They had all kinds of schemes, too. Fast cars, phony hotels, “bootlegged” schools they would move from place to place. When they found out I had been an XIT hand, they left me alone — I knew what the land was, and what it was worth.
We settled on a piece of ground about eight miles west of Bluewater, which was changed (the post office wouldn’t allow it) to Hereford, in honor of the purebred whiteface cattle that had been brought in. As the town grew, they even named a street Miles. Gunder said it was because they were named after heroes of the Spanish-American War, like Dewey, Roosevelt, and Lawton. He said the street was named for General Nelson A. Miles, who took Puerto Rico.
“Ol’ Bear Coat? The one who wasn’t there to help Mackenzie at Palo Duro? Surely not!” I teased. “No, I’m pretty sure it’s after me. After all, I was here in ’41!”
“That’s right Pa,” Bettie chimed in, “but you didn’t know where ‘here’ was, did you?” I never COULD put anything past that child!
I have had a hell of a life — and I mean that in the best possible way. I have had experiences that most people can only dream of. I have lived within the same geographical boundaries all of my life (so far) and yet been a citizen of four different nations: Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. My heritage extends to at least three other nations — England, Spain and France. My wife was German, my partner Irish, my son-in-law Norwegian (which makes my grandchildren half-Norskis, God help them!). And I have even known one or two Okies that were good folks (though, as Charlie Goodnight once remarked to his wife “Damned few, Molly, damned few!”).
When I was born — and for most of my life — the fastest a man could go was as fast as a horse could carry him. And it had been that way since the beginning of creation. By the time I was middle-aged the locomotive was setting speed records, and we thought that was the limit. Now you can take the train from Austin to Santa Fe and be there in less time than it took us to get from Brushy Creek to the Brazos — and not get shot at by Mexicans or Indians, neither! (Though I’ll admit the food in the train stations is only slightly better than the lizards we ate!) Even Tulia got a railroad a couple of years ago. Dumas is still waiting for a gold strike — or maybe oil. Now THAT’S something I couldn’t have even imagined back when I was working on the LIT. (Of course, all the oil in the Texas Panhandle could be put in a thimble.)
Now, eight years into the 20th Century, an automobile is occasionally seen, and I understand a couple of bicycle mechanics in Ohio have figured out how to fly. To fly! How many times during the “Runaway Scrape” did we look at the birds and wish we could fly to safety away from Santa Anna’s army! (I still spend most of my time at the speed a horse or team can take me.)
I’m older now than my Daddy or my mother ever got to, but not yet as old as Bachman when he died. I don’t relish the thought of getting much older and the weakness and pains that go with it. (The old Gettysburg wound still acts up sometimes.) But I can’t say I’m ready to die, either. Maybe if I could figure out for sure where I was going TO, I’d be ready to go … but I’m still not sure.
Mama was a good Catholic. She tried to raise me that way, but it was hard in pre-independence Texas, and even harder in the Republic. Papa was born an Episcopalian who converted to Catholicism to become a “Texican”, but not much of either. My beloved Karla was a Lutheran, but it was hard to practice that on the frontier, too. (I don’t know much about Heaven, but I can’t imagine her being anywhere else. Then again, all the angels would be jealous of her beauty, and that might cause a problem.)
John Bachman started as a Lutheran, but converted to Methodism. I guess if anybody practiced what they preached it was John. I can’t question that whatever he “got” changed him. He used to talk to me about religion when he thought I’d listen. I didn’t much like it — it made me uncomfortable. Still does.
I have a lot of questions that remain unanswered. I’ve seen a baby survive typhoid, only to die when his beloved grandmother gave him a treat of cornbread. And the grandmother could never quite recover and pined away until she died. A beautiful woman and fine young boy just trying to scrabble by were mutilated at the hands of Indians, while the “man of the house” was a thousand miles away killing men who had been his countrymen, and yet could not die himself. I have faced starvation, and twice been imprisoned — not for doing bad things, but for doing what I thought was right.
I’ve seen a godly, humble man who never spoke a profane word die of gangrene in a godforsaken western outpost, while his partner, who rarely let a sentence leave his mouth without an oath, survived — and survives to this day. (Not that I would wish ill on Goodnight -- he is a fine and fair man. But why did a good man like Oliver Loving die such a horrible death?)
As a kid I remember seeing a man who had been scalped by Comanches and lived to tell about it. He had been left for dead, but his friend’s wife had a dream that the man still lived, and urged her husband and others to rescue him. Preachers will tell you that the soul goes to Heaven upon death, but if that’s so, why did the man’s sister — who had died weeks earlier and whose death was unknown to him at the time — appear to him and tell him help was on they way?
I have seen the prairies of Texas in all their glory, green and lush. And I have seen droughts when a cow couldn’t find a nourishing blade of grass anywhere, and die of starvation. I have seen flowing rivers, beautiful canyons, and the wide open Texas sky. I have seen the stars at night so close it was just unbelievable that you couldn’t grab a handful. I have known the love of my mother and father, the love of a woman, and the love of children and grandchildren. When I think of those, I have no trouble with the concept of God.
But I have also seen raging fires that destroyed thousands of acres and every creature in its path. I have seen floods that swept so clean that you could not tell that any human had ever lived there. I have seen the destruction of tornadoes and hurricanes — one that took the life of several Catholic sisters and the orphans they were trying to save. I have seen men — who many religious people claim is the highest creation of God — I have seen men cheat, steal, rape, lie, murder, and otherwise brutalize and take advantage of the weak and defenseless. On the other hand, I have seen men perform selfless acts and give all they had — including their lives — for others, some of them vile and undeserving of life.
I used to ask myself — especially in those horrible days after I got the news of Klara and little John — why am I still alive? Was it because I was “lucky”? Or maybe because I was unlucky? Was it because I was smarter — or maybe dumber—than others? Was it my active life, my diet, my outlook? Was there a special purpose I was intended for?
Why have I lived so long? I used to ask it a lot, until I finally got the answer, and here it is. I am still alive, because … I have not died yet! If you have a better answer, I’m open to hearing it — but I’ll bet you I’ve already heard it or thought it. I’m alive because I just haven’t died. I just hope when I go, I’m on horseback, looking up at that beautiful Texas sky.
People will ask me sometimes, “Have you lived in Texas all your life?” I know what they’re asking, but it’s sort of an irritating way to say it — sort of implies that my life is over, that I’m already dead. So I just respond “All my life? Hell, no — not yet, anyway! I’ve just lived in Texas damn near FOREVER!”
“Should I call Father Casey, Dr. Hanna?”
The doctor continued to examine the old man, brought in a few hours earlier. “Is he Catholic, Sister Winefred?” This was important at St. Anthony’s Sanitarium, Amarillo’s only hospital. Not for medical care, for the Sisters of Charity gave excellent care to anyone. But for the dying, it was a matter of grave importance.
“That I don’t know. But it surely wouldn’t hurt,” the sister said.
“He’s in pretty bad shape all right. How did this happen?”
“He stepped out in front of an automobile on Polk Street.”
“On PURPOSE?” the doctor queried. “A suicide?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. He may not have seen the vehicle coming. Or if he did, he thought he was going to stop.”
“Why would he assume that?”
“Well, doctor, the way I got it was that the driver had just taken delivery of one of those new Ford automobiles — the Model P, or D …s omething like that.”
“The Model T. Go on Sister.”
“He was unaccustomed to driving an automobile. He was seen pulling back on the steering mechanism as he yelled ‘Whoa! Whoa, damn you!’ Sister Winefred made the sign of the cross as quick penance for using the swear word. “After he hit the man, he remembered where the brake was.”
“The pedestrian made no effort to move?”
“No, but the witnesses seemed to think he was as puzzled as the driver when the automobile wouldn’t stop on command! And the poor driver. He’s shattered. He says he’ll never drive again. He was doing well in the restaurant business, so he bought an automobile. He knew the man, apparently. Says he used to come into his café for hamburgers.”
“Hmmm.” The doctor looked at the patient again. “It would take a miracle to save him. But I’ll leave it up to you about calling the priest.”
“Has the man said anything since the accident” Father Casey asked.
Just some mumblings. They don’t make much sense, but I’ve written them down in case his family shows up.
The patient stirred and opened one eye. “Father Muldoon! Here to baptize Jesus, I presume?”
The nun and the priest looked at each other. “What was that all about, do you think?” Sister Winefred asked. “Who is Father Muldoon? And who is Jesus? The man doesn’t look Mexican, and yet he used the Spanish pronunciation.”
“I don’t know, but I think it answers our questions about him being Catholic. I’ll prepare to administer last rites. What, by the way, has he said?”
The sister produced a piece of paper. His first words were: “It hurts.”
“That’s natural” said Father Casey.
The sister continued, “Then: ‘And what I suspects is’.
The Padre looked puzzled. “He said it like that—with bad grammar?”
“I’m sure of it. Later he said, ‘I’m leaving this life and the next is…’”
“Next is what?” asked the priest.
“He was out again for awhile,” replied the sister, “Then he said, ‘In crossing that river’. I suppose he means River Jordan.”
“I suppose,” replied the father. “Or the Canadian. Maybe he thinks he’s going for another hamburger.”
“And then: ‘To Heaven by flivver.’ Strange, Father. You don’t think he’s, er, POSSESSED, do you?”
The priest smiled, “I’m certain he’s not, Sister Winefred. ‘Flivver’ is another name for the Ford Model T. Apparently the man is more cognizant than we give him credit for. Watch over him, while I prepare.”
When the priest returned, Sister Winefred was weeping. I believe you’re too late, Father. I think he’s gone.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“Yes, another peculiar line. He said, ‘If not there, then leave me in Texas’.”
“Strange, indeed. Was that all, sister?”
“Not quite. Right before you came back in, he raised off the bed again, his eyes were wide open, and, as if he recognized someone, he said ‘Klara?’ Then he dropped and hasn’t moved.”
Out in Llano Cemetery, there’s a crumbling marble marker. If you have a lot of patience, you can make out the lettering:
Jackson Francisco “Dusty” Miles
1824 – 1909
Beloved Son, Brother,
Husband, Father, Grandfather
Citizen of the Colony, the Republic, and the State
Pioneer, Ranger, Soldier, Stockman and
“It hurts, and what I suspects is
I’m leaving this life and the next is
In crossing that river
To Heaven by flivver
If not there, then leave me in Texas”
His family thought it was hilarious, but fitting.
So did he.