Authors: Randy D. Smith
Tags: #Western, #Short Stories
Other Boson Books by Randy D. Smith
Bohanin's Last Days
Heroes of the Santa Fe Trail: 1821-1900
The Devil's Staircase
The Red River Ring
and Other Stories of the Old West
Randy D. Smith
An imprint of
C&M Online Media Inc.
ISBN (print): 978-0-917990-94-6
Copyright 2009 Randy D. Smith
All rights reserved
For information contact
C&M Online Media Inc.
3905 Meadow Field Lane
Raleigh, NC 27606
Tel: (919) 233-8164
e-mail: [email protected]
Designed by JoEllen Lowry
Ty Lee Driscoll and Red River Sam Go A-Mavericking or One of Twenty Years Running Iron and Busting Ponies in Texas Comanche Country
Ty Lee Driscoll and Red River Sam Bonnet decided that they were tired of working for wages and set out for the Mesquite Canyon country with six of their best dogs to catch some cimarrones. Old Dil Townsen was never much to work for anyhow, so Ty Lee and Sam figured if they were going to risk life and limb chasing wild cattle through the mesquite and thorns for two bits a head they might as well be doing it on their own for two dollars. There were plenty of Longhorns still prowling the brush country south of San Antonio free for the taking and the markets in New Orleans were high. Some said a man could get six dollars Yankee gold for good cattle and the boys figured they could have a couple of hundred head there in three months. That was more money than them old boys had seen since they came to Texas during the warâcertainly more than they would ever even smell working for that scrawny swindler, Townsen. Any man who begrudged good maverickers extra flour and coffee after they branded a hundred head from only two weeks work was nothing more than a skinflint and potential horse cutter. They were the best there was at catching cimarroneâbar none. Let Old Dil just try to replace them. He'd learn the value of an extra pound of coffee and three-pound sack of flour for hardworking wranglers with the best catch dogs in Texas. Nothing more need be said on the matter.
Ty Lee was a tall, lanky drink of water with about half his teeth gone, a hawk nose and eyes so hollow they looked like they belonged on a strangled cat. His night horse was a knock-kneed grulla mustang gelding with all four legs black from the fetlocks down. He called that bronc Fester, but nobody could figure where he came up with such a handle. Old Fester was a good one and could see in the dark better than any ten other broomtails a man could assemble. Ty Lee had a new Mother Hubbard saddle that he paid fifteen dollars for in Austin. He was partial to wearing red and brown plaid wool pants with the legs stuffed down stovepipe black army boots and always sported a pair of ten-pointed Mexican spurs. He wore an old broad-brimmed brown felt hat so loose and floppy that he had to sew up the front of the brim to the crown with rawhide thongs to keep it from blowing down and blinding him in a hard cow chase. He carried a '51 Navy Colt in a cross-draw holster and packed a Zouave carbine in his saddle boot that he liberated off a dead Yankee just after Yellow Tavern. His shirt was so threadbare and ragged that most gents wondered why he wore it at all. His elbows were plum tan from exposure as he had worn clear through both his long johns and linsey woolsey shirt long before the spring green-up. But he was a goer, could like to paint the sky yellow with a lasso, and the best damned night herder in Texas.
Red River Sam Bonnet was the more sedate and showy of the partners. He was every bit as skinny as Ty Lee but didn't ride like a sack of bones rolling down a railroad grade. He also took more pride in his appearance. Although his mustache hadn't been trimmed in months and draped over his bottom lip like an old horse blanket on a fence rail, he did own a whalebone hair comb and used it every morning that he could. He liked to part his hair down the middle like a town dandy and herd the excess locks over and behind his ears. If he kept his hat on tight his hair tended to stay in place, so he usually had his tie-down string drawn tight against his chin. He was fond of wearing a fancy fireman's red wool bib shirt and gold silk scarf that he claimed was given him by a sporting lady named Naomi, more famously called Sugar Lil around Houston. He packed a finely tuned Confederate dragoon .44 six shooter and Rio Grande camp knife. They were carried in a matching star concho-decorated loop holster and sheath. Sam was the brains of the outfit, but that didn't say much. Generally, he had a broad plan for the day devised before Ty Lee finished his breakfast coffee, and Ty Lee wasn't much to challenge authority or argue trivialities as long as whatever they were doing was from the back of a horse or rail of a bar.
The boys had been saddle pards for over two years and rode for Townsen most of that time. They had their own string of six ponies and some fine mongrel catch dogs bred mainly from a bluetick bitch and whatever came along when she was in heat. They raised them from pups and sold the bitches when they had some cow sense trained into them. Now that the old bitch had passed on, they ran four roan brothers, and a couple of brindle hounds of no relation. They called them Tobe, Rye, Musket, Flowers, Stinky, and No-Good, with No-Good being the best of the pack. He was a lop-eared, scarred-muzzle blue like his momma with a put-out left eye and a disposition reasonably akin to a rabid wolf. But he was hell in the thickets and unafraid of any beast on two, four, or six legs. If a man could quirt him bad enough he minded most of the time, but nobody, man nor dog, turned his back on him if he was on the prod. He may have looked like sin, but his teeth were good and he knew how to use them. Both men usually quirted him with a revolver in the other hand just in case he took it upon himself to go for the nose or throat like he did a fighting bull. Musket was probably the second best dog because he was easier to handle, a good brawler, and regularly brought in game. The boys couldn't remember how many snakes, armadillos, and rabbits Musket had shared for the campfire. He had developed a taste for rats of late and the boys weren't up to sharing, even though they appreciated the gesture. The other problem with Musket was that he might take it upon himself to go hunting right in the middle of a wild cow catch if something scared up. But since No-Good liked fighting better than eating, the other dogs usually hung it out with him. Generally it worked out for the best if a man could beat No-Good badly enough to settle him down after the cattle were lassoed.
They located a thick stand of cedars along a creek and set up a maverick camp. They built themselves a crude lacco to keep their fleabags dry and a rambling cedarwood holding corral set through the creek channel. The first night out they managed to flush thirty head of mossbacks, yearling calves, and young bulls. They decided on a left-hip running iron brand they labeled the Rafter-I. It was easy to slap on and they hadn't seen anything similar in the country. They also dewlapped the left ear. Neither man was unhappy with the look of the cattle they brought in. For a bunch of wild linebacks, they weren't so thin that the sun shined through them in the dawn light, and only one old cow was footsore.
The pickings were better than the Williamson county country where Townsen had settled, and after working four miles or so of canyon ambushes, they had seventy-five head corralled and branded in the first seven days with only four headshot to keep their ponies from being gutted. They kept huge mill fires burning each night around the corrals to fence break the new stock. They guessed that some of the three-year-olds would probably weigh out at six hundred pounds. Both agreed that there were several bunches they had missed and if their luck and the corral held, they could put together at least a herd of a hundred or so before breaking camp.
That was about the situation when they had their first bad break and lost No-Good. They were making a late evening sweep when Musket flushed a varmint leading No-Good and Stinky into some rocky hills above a dry slough. The boys didn't see the flush but could tell they had something up when Musket went to baying on the scent. They didn't think too much of it until the bays turned to cries and yelps. It was so bad that Ty Lee figured they had a mountain cat or bad boar cornered and were getting cut to ribbons. He lit out after them to shoot whatever it was before one of them was ruined.
The rocks were so steep that he had to tie up his pony and climb the face on foot. Just to be safe, he checked the loads in his Colt and hobbled his gelding. He had to climb several hundred yards into the hills before he came upon the awful sight. He found No-Good rolling in the dirt and wiping his muzzle with his forepaws, yelping like he had turpentine painted on his crap hole. He was riddled with porcupine quills from the top of his head to the bottom of his neck. Being No-Good, he had waded right in for first blood and had taken the brunt of the quills. Musket and Stinky were perforated with quills as well, but nowhere near as seriously as No-Good. They were baying at the base of a black oak with a boar porcupine perched quietly in the first fork. Angry that his dogs could have been ruined, Ty Lee pulled his Navy without thinking and blew that porcupine right out of his perch, whereupon the dogs set to him again only to take on more quills. Ty Lee had to quirt them both back from the corpse before they were blinded as well.
Old No-Good had only one good eye to spare and that porcupine did his work on it. It was already turning gray with poison. He was a miserable beast and Ty Lee knew there was no hope of saving his sight. He pulled his Navy again and sent No-Good to hell where he was sure the devil would find good use for him gnawing on some Yankee carpetbagger's ass. The boys spent the rest of the night by the campfire jerking quills from the other dogs. By morning, both dogs were sick, but they managed to shake the poison and were as good as new within the week.
Sam figured it was a bad sign and said they needed to get their seventy-five head started for New Orleans. He was tired of taking chances with the scrawny beasts they were finding when he had good cattle already branded and ready to break trail. He figured they could pick up a few more along the way. Besides, with No-Good dead and two other dogs sick, that was all the cattle two wranglers could probably handle through the hardwoods and swamps. So, they saddled up and started the herd for the coast, hoping to trail break the herd in the open before the trees closed in.
They pushed the cattle hard for twenty-four hours to keep them worn down until they settled in. Right off they realized they had a bad bunch of runners. A mosshorned, linebacked blue cow settled in at the lead, but she was skittish and had that wild-eyed look common to a lobo that had never known anything but thicket and brush, choya and cactus. She had a raggedy-ass, bloat-bellied, red-roan, bull calf on the teat that was just as crazy as she was. They set off at a near lope and never backed off the lead for two days. It was all the boys could do to keep the drag brought up tight. Sam tried to maintain the point, but wore out a pony every four hours just keeping her and her homely whelp held back. Ty Lee and the dogs were kept busy on the drag and wing, keeping the rest within sight. When they made camp on the second night, they had to mill the herd for an hour before it settled. It was then that the boys decided to turn for Rockport and see if they could find a buyer assembling a herd for New Orleans. There wasn't a prayer of holding this bunch together once they hit the swamps and boggy bayous without hiring some more cowboys, and risking wage money they didn't have.
They fought that mob of Longhorns for the next two days wondering what that old mosshorn cow would pull next. She'd jump two feet to clear a stick no bigger than a garter snake, shy at the song of a meadowlark, and balk at a foot-wide spring. She hooked anything that came between her and that calf. When they did reach a fair-sized river, she jumped in and began swimming for the far shore before the others could even drink. The only reason the boys didn't shoot her was for the hope that if she would eventually settle, they'd have a fine leader and could loaf the rest of the way into Rockport.
About mid-morning they spied three old boys waiting for them as they came out of a stand of locust. The leader was a rough-looking lout riding a glass-eyed, scrawny bay. He had a Burnside carbine resting across his lap and a Colt Navy perched high in a cross draw holster. The other two were just common raggedy-ass hands packing rusty Colts and looking more like grub line riders than anything a good outfit would hire on. The leader held up his hand, like he was the law or something, for the boys to hold up their cattle. The problem was that once the mossback cow had set her mind to make for the next line of underbrush, she was the deuces to stop.
While Sam tried to work them into a mill, those three just sat there on their ponies like they were of independent means. Sam decided right then and there that if they weren't the sort to lend a hand when they were the ones calling the halt that they were probably scalawags or outcast Missouri Redlegs. When Ty Lee and the dogs finally brought up the dregs and the remuda, Sam turned his pony to face them.
“Where you boys going with them cattle?” the lout asked.
Sam was in no mood to palaver and decided to be abrupt. “Going to shit after the hogs eat 'em,” he said.
The lout didn't particularly like the comment. “You know whose range you're on?” he said with the grim look of a guy with a new grown hemorrhoid.
“Since when is this closed range?” Sam asked before spitting a wad of tobacco at the glass eye's forefeet.
“You're on Dunham range,” the lout said.
“Who's Dunham? You?” Sam shot back.
“We ride for him.”
Sam gave out the expression of a gent who had just blundered on a well-used outhouse.
“You some kind of a gun outfit?”
“We protect our cattle and our range.”
“If you can manage to move that crowbait more than six feet and take a look at them cattle you'll notice right quick that they have a Rafter-I road brand. They sure don't have any other brands.”
“Where'd you get them?” the lout asked.
“Ain't none of your affair. They was mavericks and now they're carrying a road brand. That's the end of it.” Sam figured these three for herd cutters and looked over his shoulder to see what Ty Lee was up to in case he needed him.
Ty Lee was just leaning on his saddle horn, smiling, scratching, and watching like a freshly paid hooker looking through a sweet shop window. The pack gathered round his pony like old saddle pards and waited for their orders. Sam knew that whenever Ty Lee smiled like that he was ready to fracas when given the word.
“We're a-gonna need a toll for crossing our range,” the lout pronounced. He acted pious enough to be some Baptist sky pilot on a soul-saving visit to a Methodist divorcee.