Texans in the 1870's cherished the same illusions that they still cling to nearly ninety years later--that Texas should have the largest and greatest of whatever was worth the effort. And one item that was worth the effort was a new state Capitol which should be larger than any other state capitol building in the United States and taller than the national Capitol in Washington. The only difficulty with realizing that desire was that such a building would cost money, and in the 1870's and early 1880's the Texas Legislature was dominated by economy-minded Grangers, none eager to spend public moneys or to raise taxes.
There was, however, a way out. By the treaty which brought Texas into the Union and other settlements of the next decade the state retained her public lands, so that in the period following the Civil War Texas still had millions of acres to dispose of. Since so much of the public land was in that semiarid section known as the Panhandle and was not likely to attract individual buyers within the immediate future, the state liked to grant the land in that area to encourage railroad building or similar projects. To the state government the land was so much dirt and grass, isolated away beyond the fringe of civilization. On the other hand, money was hard come by. The logic therefore was irresistible: contract to have a Capitol built, but pay for it with land, which is plentiful and practically worthless, instead of with money, which is scarce and dear.
The result was that in 1882 the Sixteenth Texas Legislature appropriated three million acres in the Panhandle, to be allotted to whoever would build a suitable state house. The information was broadcast throughout the United States, and even from abroad inquiries were received, but when the deadline for bids had passed, only two bidders had come forward. Apparently the prospect of becoming the owner of the nation's largest tract staggered and frightened most land-hungry Americans.
But not one group of Chicagoans. Without going into the intricacies of their individual arrangements, suffice it to say that Mattheas Schnell received the contract to build the Capitol, shortly transferred three quarters of his holdings to a group that came to be known as the Capitol Syndicate, and then sold the other quarter to the same group.
The Capital Syndicate was composed of John V. Farwell, Chicago's largest dry goods wholesaler; his brother, Charles B. Farwell, a congressman who had helped organize the Republican Party in Illinois, had sponsored Lincoln for President, and seemed likely to follow him up the trail to the White House; Amos Babcock, another prominent Republican office maker; and Abner Taylor, politically inclined but better known perhaps as the chief contractor in rebuilding Chicago following its Great Fire a decade earlier. Taylor would build the Capital; the others would supply the business and political sagacity necessary to carry off an operation of this magnitude.
In a way it is incredible that a quartet of hardheaded Midwestern business and political figures, none of them with a ranching background, would undertake to run a spread in size three times the largest one in existence today. Further, that with their supposed acumen they would obligate themselves to build what at that time was one of the nation's more expensive edifices is equally fantastic. And when you consider that far payment they were taking land which none of them had ever seen, land a hundred miles from the nearest railhead and almost as far from the nearest outpost that could pass for a real town, and that they were going into the cattle business full tilt, without any attempt to build slowly, the improbabilities increase.
Like good businessmen, the Farwells, Babcock, and Taylor intended for their ranching enterprise to pay. Furthermore, they intended to use their gigantic holdings to settle the country. They would be ranchers only so long as the land could not be utilized for other purposes, especially agriculture; but eventually they planned to subdivide, become a land-selling syndicate, and get out of ranching. How many years it would be till "eventually" they had no way of knowing.
Since to stock the ranch required more money than they had readily available, the syndicate formed the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company Limited, in London, selling bonds to the English, who had already invested heavily in the American cattle industry, but who nonetheless were willing to risk their capital in one more enterprise. By 1885 the steps in making the start had been taken, Abner Blocker, a trail driver of considerable experience, had devised a brand and given the ranch a name, and word had been sent to Texas cattlemen that the XIT was buying.
By November, 1886, more than 110,000 cattle had been purchased for 1 1/3 million dollars. From that time forward the XIT maintained about 150,000 head on its 3,000,000 acres, trailing cattle to the northern buyers in Kansas and elsewhere, operating a finishing ranch in Montana for some 10,000 head annually, and in general conducting a full-scale ranching enterprise.
There was, of course, more to running a ranch than raising money and raising steers. From the beginning the XIT was placed more and more under fence. In the first year alone 781 miles were fenced; each year this total was increased until finally the equivalent of 6,000 miles of single-strand fence were strung--enough fence to run from New York to Los Angeles and return, and still have several hundred miles left over.
Fencing was not instituted so much to keep intruders out as to keep XIT cattle at home. Within the first few years the Farwells and their associates began a policy of controlled breeding, introducing Hereford, Shorthorn, and Angus to upgrade or replace the scrubby Texas cattle which they originally purchased or bred. By 1900 the XIT consisted of seven divisions with ninety-four separate pastures, each with its particular purpose.
Despite the care and organization that went into the operation, the XIT was slow to show a profit, and when the profits did come, they were insufficient to satisfy the English bondholders, many of whom had held their bonds far beyond maturity with no prospect of redemption. Faced with receivership, the syndicate decided in 1901 to begin selling its land wholesale. The first purchaser was Major George W. Littlefield of Austin, who bought 235,858 acres of the yellow Houses Division. By the end of the year nearly a half million acres had been sold for more than a million dollars. With those sales and with each subsequent sale the number of cattle was reduced, until by 1912 the XIT was no longer in the cattle business. From that time forward the syndicate interested itself almost exclusively in colonization and development until by 1950 the Farwell heirs retained only twenty thousand acres--or less than .007 per cent of the original tract.
In the nearly seven decades of its existence before 1950 the XIT had seen the vision of the original partners of the Capitol Syndicate realized. The nine counties, plus the thin slice of Cochran County into which the XIT lapped over, that composed the ranch had become fine agricultural acreage, with good yields of wheat, cotton, and sorghums. The area still had spaciousness, but 100,000 people now lived where formerly 150 cowboys and a handful of foremen, women, and children had been the total population. Railroads and highways crisscrossed the ranch area; women met in Wednesday study clubs and men in Chambers of Commerce; and law and respect for order had replaced a morality sometimes enforced by strong-arm methods. Civilization, whatever that is, had marched on.
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Chapter 2: Work
When 150 cowhands and their 150,000 cattle and more thousands of horses filled the rough rectangle--almost 200 miles long and averaging 27 miles wide--that made up the XIT, what was their life like? Ranching, even in the 1880's, was not all horseback riding, trailing cattle to Dodge City, or heading a stampede. When you read or listen to the serious reminiscences of the old hands, you perceive that these men thought of themselves first of all, not as knights on horseback, not as romantic half-tamed champions of freedom, but as workingmen, as men who put in long hours for small pay, who knew the monotony of routine, who knew the weariness of protracted exposure, who went from September to Christmas without haircuts or and who in later days hurt with every change of weather because of broken bones improperly set generations ago. In those decades between 1885 and 1912, what sort of work had they done?
One answer can be found in the writings of W. A. Askew, who as a scantling of a lad in Marble Falls had often listened to the blasting of stone for the new state Capitol fifty miles away. Askew went west to the XIT when he was not quite twenty-one. His first few days were filled with odd jobs, and then he was given a man's assignment--rescuing cattle bogged in the quicksand. It was wearing work, tedious and a bit dangerous.
"We soon found," remembers Askew, "that it was best when a cow had to be pulled out of the sand to rope her around the neck, because we could pull their horns off. We had plenty of bog-pulling to do. When a cow got her hoofs under the sand she could not pull them out and stand up too. We had many trying experiences in this place."
When the boss came by and told Askew to break camp and head for ranch headquarters, Askew had just one comment:
"I was glad to get where we had a cook."
R. M. Dudley worked the bog season alone during successive spring seasons in the 1890's, often pulling out as many as five cows in a day from the Punta de Agua or the Rito Blanco. Heel flies were especially bad those years, causing the cattle to run to any mudhole and stand there most of the day to protect their heels. Charlie Burrus once saw thirty head bogged in an abandoned tank during heel-fly time. When the cattle would start to leave, the cows would find that they were effectively chained down, and could only wait till some bog rider happened their way. If the bog rider did not come in time, then the steer became a statistic, for an animal left overnight would become so chilled that he would not likely live even if rescued the next day.
Dudley's procedure was to scratch round and remove sand from one leg at a time, as, in his words, "the quicksand would settle and become solid as a wood floor." Once he had the animal out of the bog and to its feet, he would catch it by the tail and pull it to whichever side the animal tried to turn, always keeping the animal's head and horns away from him. "Usually a few back-and-forth turns like that and the animal is ready to go straight away; then the cowboy can mount his horse and ride on looking for another unfortunate victim."
Trying to reach water rather than rescuing cattle from its treachery was the chore of another hand, Bill Benson, who chiefly drilled wells.
"In some places," recalls Nils M. Akeson, "it was hard to get water, but Bill had the patience of job and would hammer on a boulder for a long time to keep the well hole straight. One time he was drilling a well west of the Harrington Dam in a Yellow Houses pasture, had been there for some time when we came along with our outfit to build a tank, expecting the well to have been finished. Bill said he was going to make a well out of it. Well, we risked his judgment. It was to be a small tank and we would lose time going and coming back; so we went ahead and built the tank and went on our way. However, in a few days, the foreman of the ranch wanted Bill to leave that place for the time and go over in the Silver Lake Pasture and drill a well there, as it was badly needed.
"Bill did so, and it was about a year before he ever returned to finish the well.... But he made a well out of it and it stood the test and he got his pay for the well and we received the $125.00 for our tank."
J. S. Beasley rode track. The Fort Worth and Denver Railroad, which slanted across a Buffalo Springs pasture of the XIT, was not fenced in the 1880's and was responsible for any livestock killed on its right-of-way. "The track had to be rode every other day," and then Beasley would ride another fifteen miles to Farwell Park to turn in his report.
"In riding this line," writes Beasley, "I very frequently came across wolves, and one morning I came across an old wolf and four pups at an old carcass. I succeed in killing the old wolf and all the pups."
No mercy was shown wolves, for next to fire, rustlers, and drouth, they were the dreaded enemy, often with two bounties on their scalps from both the county and the XIT. Hunting lobos---or "loafers," as they were more commonly called-could be a means of picking up extra money. Again it was lonely work, far from the chuck wagon and far from companions. When R. M. Dudley quit the XIT in 1896, he started wolf hunting for the LE and LS spread in Oldham and Potter counties at $35 a month. In addition, he was to receive $5 a scalp from the county. His ranch furnished everything--food, eight horses in summer and four in winter, two rifles and a Colt .45, and all the ammunition he could shoot. Once in a while he was called off his hunting for cow work, but mostly he just rode and hunted.
On the other hand Charles H. Burrus looked on lobo hunting as a sport, and if he could get close to one while on a good horse, in a spirit of high jinks he would try to ride down the wolf and rope him rather than shoot the animal. The certain bounty was secondary to the chase and the catch.
Not so lonely but considerably more wearying was the work of branding. Blue Stevens didn't actually get into branding on his first job for the XIT, but his work laid the foundation for the branders. Stevens gathered cow chips for twenty-one straight days, picking up "enough ... to brand all the cattle in Texas, I thought."
At the Buffalo Springs camp in 1888 J. S. Beasley met with about fifteen other hands, including two ropers, two bulldoggers, two men to handle the irons, and two men to use the knife (for earmarks, and so forth). Together they started for the pasture to brand, the chuck wagon following behind with instructions to stop on a familiar knoll for lunch.
"The riders were to prowl the pasture," remembers Beasley, "and bring all the calves to a certain slope and hold them in a bunch while the workers did the branding. As a calf was finished, he was cut out to a bunch of his kind; then they were all turned loose at the same time." Usually several hundred head were rounded up at a time.
John Land, who worked for the XIT before the Oklahoma territory was opened to white settlement, writes in some detail of the procedures of branding, as well as the wandering nature of some roundups.
"When a cow and calf were cut out so that the calf could be branded," he recalls, "the brand on the cow was examined and the cow's calf was branded identical with its mother. If an outside cow, the brand was usually a 'runing, brand on the calf . Some of the ranches sent 'outside' men as far as three hundred miles away to attend other roundups. Many of the cowhands at that time carried branding irons on their saddles, the handle of the iron being short for convenience and the brand in the form of a J so that it could be used for a `running' brand on any maverick they chanced to come across. This was later made illegal in Texas.
"One of the fresh things in my memory is that I gathered several mossheads. They were steers six or seven years old and wild as deer and had the habit of making their gitaway from the stray bunch after night. So I got Joe Tate, Cross L man, help me and we need them to do this. We would catch these mossheads and cut the cords of one of their front legs and through these efforts I turned several mossheads and many other XIT cattle back on their home range.
"There were several notable events on that general roundup when I worked for the XIT's. The day of the roundup\near the headwaters of the Cimarron there came up a hail storm on the east side of the Rabbit Ear Mountain that killed a sheepherder and two thousand sheep The hail fell to the depth of about six inches. The next day the boys roped a bear and brought it into camp. They had caught him in the brakes of the Cimarron. From there on down Ute Creek to the Canadian River we had such men as Charles Carson with us--a son of Kit Carson, the noted scout. Also Crawford, the poet who wrote the poem of Mady Coleman. This Mady Coleman was supposed to have thrown a bouquet of flowers into the Canadian River and dared her lover to go and get it for her. He died in the attempt.
She will juggle you in the palm of her hand
And throw you headlong into hell.
"And as the roundup drifted down Ute Creek Roy Lackey joined us. He was the boy who had been sent to college in the East by his folks and when they sent him enough money to come home on he spent it, so had to walk home. But when he had arrived in the cow country he borrowed a horse, a bad one of course, but when Roy rode the horse and fanned him with his Derby he had before him the cheapest bunch of cowhands you ever saw."
S. R. Cooper, who was "neither a writer of stories nor portry," came to the Spring Lake Division of the XIT in 1890, along with a brother and an uncle "that was hauling cedar posts." Let him tell his own story:
"I had my bed and saddle just looking for a job at that time. I was just sixteen and had never worked on a large ranch but had a desire to be a cowboy. My home was in Mobeetie at that time. Well, as we drove up to the ranch there were about sixteen or twenty men at the corrals and were branding and dehorning 1100 head of cattle they had purchased from a northern ranch. They were mixed cattle or what we call stock cattle from calves up to eight or ten years old and they were branding and dehorning in a large chute, sawing the horns off with handsaws and chopping the old bulls' horns off with an ax, as the saws were too slow for the hard horns of the older bulls.
"Well, we stopped there and watered the team and I inquired about a job and one of the boys pointed to a medium-sized man and said 'There is the boss.' So I went to ask him for a job and was informed the job was there. I drug my bed and saddle, which was an old Texas cack that had seen several years of service, and I started in. It was a hot day and the dust was bad as the 1100 head of cattle milled in the pens south of the branding chute and cows lowing, and calves bawling and bulls bellowing until you would have to holler to make a man hear you, that was right at you, and before you got your mouth shut again it and your throat would be filled with dust and smoke from the burning hair, for the air or what little breeze there was, was from the south. So we got the full benefit of dust, smoke, and noise of it all but I was enjoying it as I was now a cowboy and on a big ranch.
"Well, about the middle of the afternoon I was sweaty and covered with dust, as well as all the rest of the boys, but I was not used to it, and I was a little too hot, and I drank some of the good cold water just fresh pumped by one of the windmills, and I began to feel dizzy, and I could not hardly see; so I crept under one of the wagons standing there loaded with prairie coal. This was the fuel they used in the eighties to heat their branding irons with and also for cooking. Well, I lay there for some time and felt bad, and I was afraid the boss might fire me the first day, but I finely crawled out and went to work again handing hot irons to one that stuck them on (done the branding) and I would put the cold irons back in the fire to get them hot again.
"Well, the first day finely past, and my bunk bed felt good to me that night, but my brother and uncle was to come back by in about three days and I had begun to wonder if I had not better return home with them to Mobeetie. But they came by and I did not get to see them, so was just there with saddle and bed and not even a horse of my own. So it was up to me to make the best of it and besides I was a little more reconciled. When the boss, Mr. Frank Yearwood, sent me with a man to work on wells and windmills, but I did not know much about well work, so I could hardly make a hand at that. We were out about ten days on well work and came back to the ranch for repairs and we stayed at the ranch two or three days and he left me there as we had already learned to dislike each other; and the boss's brother, Mr. Yearwood, let me help him hoe some corn, and I and another boy milked the cows. In a few days the chuck wagon and the boys and the boss came in by the ranch. They had been branding calves in the pasture that belonged to the No. 6 ranch, and when they left the ranch on another branding trip I was taken along and gathered up prairie coal for the cook and to heat the branding irons with. I used a team and wagon for this purpose and some days when I had time I would help wrangle horses or help day-herd the saddle horses [loose herd]. They also had to stand night guard over the saddle horses and I was rung in on that job. Some two hours was considered the time for each to stand guard."
It is not surprising that young Cooper did not make a hand at windmilling. Many cowboys did, but few actually wanted to, as it was one of the lonelier jobs, a sort of solitary unconfinement. Ina Chillcut, the younger sister of Tobe Pitts, foreman of the Buffalo Springs Division in the 1890's, recalls seeing the walls and doors of these line camps filled with bits of prose and poetry written by cowhands eaten by loneliness and boredom. Sometimes, she says, you would run across sentences on walls that hadn't seen a human being in years.
Earl Davis oiled windmills--"about forty or fifty"--along the New Mexico border. His most vivid memory, however, is not of the work involved, but of the winter he spent in a windmill camp in the northwest corner of the Middle Water Pasture.
"I was very young and that camp was so lonesome. While I was there they stopped in for dinner. There was the Blanks family and the schoolteacher, Mattie Technor, and also Donnie Bell, and we sure had a time getting dinner, which was beans, bacon, prunes, and sour-dough biscuits and black coffee. They were just coming from Buffalo Springs. They had been up there for Christmas to spend a week, and Tobe Pitts gave a big dance and dinner. The girls was telling me about it. I sure enjoyed their visit."
The feeling of isolation also looms large in the reminiscences of Roy J. Frye. Working out of Yellow Houses headquarters between 1893 and 1898, he first rode line, greased windmills, and looked after fence. The next year he worked with the cow outfit, wrangling horses. But the winter he cannot forget was the one spent fifteen miles from the headquarters ranch:
"I stayed in camp nine months by myself and sometimes I wouldn't see anybody for eight or ten days. I looked after the cattle in that pasture, the South Pasture.
"I've done everything on the ranch; went up trail to Channing a number of times. Plowed fireguards and helped burn them out and helped fight prairie fires and helped brand calves. I've seen lots of wild mustang horses and hundreds of antelopes, and while working there I roped a wildcat and I still have its hide.
"I married in 1898 and me and my wife went to the Yellow Houses Ranch and cooked at the headquarters. The ranch had a meadow about fifteen miles north of the headquarters and I helped put up hay and helped haul hay to the headquarters."
What looms largest in Jack H. Williams' memory of windmilling is not the replacing of wheels or the building of towers, but the team of horses that helped him and Ben Johnson in their repair and upkeep rounds.
"Our team of horses was the best for this business that I ever saw. Sierra Grande was a long gangling black horse that knew more about what he was doing than most of the fellows who tried to drive him. His mate, Good-Eye, was a big dappled gray, blind in one eye. He didn't know so much, but he went along with Sierra Grande, and did his part when it came time to pull. We pulled sucker rods and pipe, and raised towers with this team, and I marvelled at what we could do with two horses.
"Pulling sucker rods was a snap. We would fasten the blocks up in the tower and hook on to the rods, and maybe I would drive the team the first two or three pulls, as there was considerable weight to a string of sucker rods in a 300-to-350-foot well. Then after that, we just wrapped the lines up on Sierra Grande's hames, and I worked up in the tower, and Ben on the ground. Each time a rod came up Ben would sing out his 'Who-o-o,' and the team would turn and come back to the tower, ready for another pull."
As with Frye, windmilling was only one of a variety of chores for some of the hands. J. W. Armstrong remembers: "My first job was the plowing of ground for the planting of sorghum for feed. I was a freighter for one year freighting supplies of salt, chuck, hay, windmill supplies, in fact anything needed on the ranch, from Farwell Park [Perico] and Channing to Middle Water Ranch. I windmilled for four years and looked after thirty-six mills on the Middle Water Division; later I drilled twenty wells in the division: Buffalo Springs, Rito Blanco, and Middle Water."
Another odd-job man was Jack Bradley. "I worked at anything that was to be done," he recalls. "Windmill helper a while and then run the windmill wagon a while myself. Cooked several times a few days at a time. When any cow work was to be done I was with them also, fencing, haying, and tanking, and in 1897 the last trail herd that was ever driven from the XIT I helped to gather that."
But no one progressed from one ranch job to another with the combination of zest and truculence of a hand whose name, Blue Stevens, could have been invented in Hollywood. Stevens did dirty work--he once complained that he had "picked up enough cow chips to heat branding irons for every cow in the U.S.A.," and he did deadly routine; but to him it was all a challenge and an opportunity, and his account reads as if he reveled in every moment:
"My work was all kinds: pick up chips, wrangle horses, cow punching, drove a freight wagon, plowed corn, the last a funny pice of work. My boss, Mack Huffman, told me to take my team hitch to a plow he had fixed just like he wanted it. I did, plowed all day and the cultivator had three plows on it; so there was a streak all through the field of weeds. Five cowboys had to hoe, and, well, the boss couldn't tell until the next morning what was wrong or played on him. Mr. Boyce, our general manager, was there to see us start work. When we run the cultivator under the shed Huffman said, 'Blue, did you plow that corn with one plow off?' I said, 'You're getting $75.00 per month to tell me what to do. I am getting $25.00 to do it.' Mr. Boyce told him I did him right.
"My boss, Mack Huffman, sent me to Amarillo with a freight-team wagon, a six-mule team 'jerk line.' I never had no experience in freighting. The boss said when I went to load my freight, 'Hook up four mules,' which I did. I had the wrong mules in the lead. So I went to drive up to the drugstore to load on a barrel of oil, when the leaders [mules] saw the wagon-yard gate open, and went in the yard, tore the steps and porch off the drugstore. The men come to help me out and said I had the wrong team in the lead. I soon discovered that. They, the men, wrote the boss his freighter had torn up everything.
"When I got in to the ranch the boys helped me to unhitch so they could have the mail. I wouldn't let 'em have it until they did.
"The Boss said, 'Blue, what did you do in Amarillo? The man wrote you tore down everything in sight.' I said they told the truth.
"I learned to paint, freight, plow without a plow, drive six mules with one line.
"I forgot to tell about running the mower--that was expensive experience learning a cowboy how to mow hay. I did not know how to get the sickle in the guards; so with Jo Anderson's help we went to cutting the guards off with a cold chisel. We cut for one half a day and the boss, Mack Huffman, come to the camp. The first word he said to us was, 'Cowboys, what are you doing?' I said, 'Fixing to put this sickle in the guards.' He showed us in about five minutes how to raise it up and push the sickle in. That shows you what 1890 cowboys knew about farming. We knew nothing about that but did know how to round up cattle and string them out on the trail.
"These modern cowboys string their herds in trailers. That is the reason cowboys today sing the old trail song, 'Roll on little Dogies,' where the old-time cowboys sang, 'Go on little dogies, for Montana is your new home, for it is your misfortune and not my own.'
"My first trail herd work was in 1886. Joe Ferguson boss of the herd. We drove this herd from twenty-five miles south Fort Worth to Schleicher County, Texas.
"I was in Ballinger, Texas, when the first train came in. I come in on the first train that come into Seymour, Texas; we had a big ball in the courthouse that night.
"In 1889 I come to the Fish Ranch. It was sixty-five miles from Midland, Texas, and that was my postoffice. We got our mail not by air but by freight wagon. What would these eastern cowboys do? Sing a lament song, 'I am going back to Mother; she has a feather bed.' It took a boy with 'guts' to stay in those days. Those that stayed were the best cowboys I ever saw. I loved them all.
"In McCullough County before I worked on the XIT we held a herd at the head of the Colorado River in the Long S range. We had a corral to pen the cattle in, but those bulls would get back in the herd in the daytime and we would cut them out every night when we went to pen. Cutting a bull out of a herd was a dangerous job. They were Spanish bulls, and would hurt a horse.
"There were lots of cactus in that country; so we would rope the cactus, pull it up by rope, get the cactus by the root, and sling it on the bull's back. Say, cowboy, that bull made a lane through the herd of cattle, never come back to our herd no more.
"When the Long S outfit rounded up at the waterplace where we was holding the herd Red Beach was wagon boss. When he rode in to cut out the calves to brand, the bulls all ran out. Red and those 'peelers' went after the bulls but never brought them back.
"The boss rode up to the Rafter T man, Frank Shelton, and said, 'Cowboys, what have you done to those bulls?' Frank said, 'We just cut them out of the herd.' Red Beach said to Frank, 'It takes a fool on a race horse to head them bulls.'"
For variety of experience J. W. Standifer could run Blue Stevens a close race. Standifer took more than a score of pages to exhaust his reminiscences, most of which are scattered throughout this book. In this small excerpt we get some idea of the gusto with which Standifer met the frequent fickleness of cowboy fortune, the sudden switching of assignments, and even the caprices of Panhandle weather:
"Next morning every one was assigned their various jobs, and mine fell to cutting dead cottonwood into stove wood. It was like cutting sponge--ever time my ax hit it bounced back. I held this mean job for two days. Then about six or eight of us were loaded into a four-mule wagon, headed for Buffalo Springs, about one hundred miles north. Frank Owens and a man named Jones are the only names of the men I can recall now, except the Negro Hal. One pair of the mules had never been hitched up before, and were as wild as deer. That morning before we could get them hitched up they jerked Jones down in the grass burs, and he even had burs in his hair when he got up. We drove forty miles that day, and our mules were almost given out when we turnedthem out that night at Middle Water.
"Next morning bright and early we started on the sixtymile end of our journey and arrived at Buffalo Springs that night with a much gentler team of mules.
"There had recently been a prairie fire that had burned out a lot of fence posts on the eastern string of the Buffalo Springs Division fence. About six or eight of us were sent out on this job, with a camping outfit, to repair it. Among the men besides myself were Joe Adams and Bob Roebuck. I remember this trip especially well, as I got my first experience with 'graybacks' [cooties] while on it.
"We were on this trip about ten days. Another severe snowstorm blew up while we were out. I had never been in very many, and didn't have sense enough to be afraid. But Joe Adams had presence of mind enough to make us dig a hole in the ground. It wasn't hard to dig in the sand, we dug it to the depth of about ten feet, and large enough for us all to get in, with a small fire in the middle.
"Next morning everything was covered with snow, and the wind still blowing a gale, but the sun was shining. So we went back to work. And during the day I had the misfortune to lose my hat--the wind whipped it off my head and simply blew it away. I was forced to wear a flour sack tied round my head for two days. On the third day we ran into some windmill men, and one of them had an extra cap, which he gave to me.
"We worked hard, but when one is young and healthy you get a lot of excitement and fun out of everything.
"I wish I could recall just half of the amusing and exciting things that happened. I remember a little incident that happened about this time. Four or five of the boys, including myself, were riding along about halfway between Buffalo Springs and where Dalhart is now and we rode onto about fifteen head of buffalo. We gave chase and one of the boys, I don't recall his name, caught a calf. We tied it down and tried to catch another but were unsuccessful. And when we got back the one we had tied down had gotten away. I guess we were so excited that we didn't take time to tie him well enough.
"In December, 1888, I drew my pay and headed for Burnet County. I had worked nine months, and only spent $5.00 of my wages.
"April 12, 1895, I began work again on the XIT Ranch. I was quartered at Rito Blanco, and I remember it was so cold that seven or eight bulls froze to death right out in front of the barn, only a day or two after I got there. J. E. Moore was division boss then and the longhorns had been somewhat thinned out, and replaced with Polangus and Hereford pureblooded stock. All the longhorns were kept on the Rito Blanco division. Alamositas [Little Cottonwoods] was the Black Muley Division.
"In 1897 and '98 Boyce got us boys to take up claims on the school lands that was fenced in with the XIT Ranch land. And the company would give us twenty-five cents an acre for it after we had proven up on it. This was to keep out nesters.
"In the winter we boys were put out in line camps, usually by ourselves. Two winters I stayed in a little 'dobe-and-rock shack, called Cheyenne line camp. I rode fences and bog lots of the cattle would get in the quicksand along the Canadian River. Also lots of the creeks had bog holes on them. In the early spring the heel flies would run the cattle in the creek and lots of them bogged down. It was a hard job for one man and horse to pull some of them out, too, if they were in very deep. Moore had Walter Prestiss to ride bog in a wagon one winter, Walter said that was the funniest way he ever saw anyone ride bog before. I was living by myself, but an old man named Johnnie Mack lived about half a mile from me, and raised a garden and some chickens. I got one of my horses choked to death one night, so Johnnie Mack skinned and cut off a hind quarter and took it home for his chickens to eat. He hung it up and each day he'd cut them off some of it. One day we had both been gone all day, and when we got to his house some one had cut off a big piece of the horses' hind quarter. We never knew who it was, but he evidently took it for a nice fat beef's hind quarter.
"We also branded a few mavericks while in line camp, which reminds me of what happened to Duke one winter. He was camped at Alamositas, about twenty miles from where I was, but we often met. One day I met him and he was the worst bunged up fellow I ever saw. He had been trying to brand a maverick, and some way he had gotten wound up in the rope between the horse and steer; he said he wasn't able to ride for several days. We always had plenty of good eats, especially since Duke was boss. The wagon always had all the beef it could use and in winter they fattened seven or eight spayed cows. In that country beef kept without any curing even in summer."
Whether the job was astride or afoot, concerned with lazing turtles or insistent bulls, most of the hands felt pride in merely belonging to the XIT. W. J. Cook expresses it this way:
"It was in the spring of 1887 that I drew into camp at the Alamositas, a part of the XIT. The trail herd of the OB cattle belonged to Snyder's of Georgetown, Texas, in charge of Duck Arnet. Colonel [Barbecue] Campbell was general manager at the time and Billy Ney was ranch boss. Ney put me to work the day I pulled in. I was pretty proud of that too. It meant a lot to me that a big outfit like the XIT would hire me on the first deal.
"The first four days I ran branding irons on the branding chute. We branded several thousand head; we knew how to work in those days, and we didn't dilly around either.
"It was spring on the range, and you know what that meant. Well, just after we finished that job Bill Ney sent me to New Mexico to work with the general roundup. We started in at Seven Rivers near the Pecos and worked up the Pecos River. We worked through the Lightning Rod, the VN, the Jingle Bob, LFD, the [inverse]DDD, and some more ranges. We wound up somewhere around Fort Sumner. I left for the ranch with 185 head of XIT cattle and turned them loose in Silver Lake Pasture.
"Things were changed up quite a bit when I got back. A. G. Boyce had taken Colonel Campbell's place and Billy Ney was gone. Frank Yearwood had taken his place as boss of my division. I worked with Yearwood's wagon there through the fall and early winter. There had been an extra amount of cattle brought in that year, bought in the South. Spring Lake and Yellow Houses pastures were packed. We had to drive part of the herds north to the breaks in the Alamositas."
After that began some real work.