"I can't think of anything
that gives me more pleasure today
Deer feeding with longhorn cattle and mustang ponies; stupendous droves of buffalo, thieving, murderous bands of Indians, covered wagon trains and cowboys whanging away at the same old treadmill. The smell of burning campfires, sizzling bacon and boiling coffee in the air. And the long trail lying far and away with tired men learning through torturous days in the saddle to replace foolishness and fret with kindliness; thereby glimpsing a quiet moment ''neath the stars--the great unhurried God who gets to everything in His own good time.
That was the Texas of Henry Smith's boyhood and trail driving days or the way the picture worded itself in my mind as he talked at length of frontier life when danger stalked red-handed with adventure, hard work and simple pleasures through a land that was at once beautiful, resourceful and perilous.
Smith said in part: "Seems sort of strange to me that cowboys in general are considered tough 'hombres' for no better reason than that they lived in the open, for the most part on the back of a cow pony or a mustang bronc, that divided time and united efforts in bucking, sidewinding and sunfishing until his rider landed on the ground often with his body and 'map' scrambled like a skillet of eggs. If he happened to hit lucky he got up to straddle him again and beat him over the head with a wet rope until he settled down to a lope that was good for all time to come. Some folks never seemed to think that a fellow could appreciate looking at a hillside of bluebonnets or miles of prairie all covered with yellow, white, red and a most every other color of wild flowers. But he was supposed to never miss smelling every dead carcass on the range, drink from all the boggy water holes, ride like blazes 'cross sunburnt grass, sagebrush, broomweed, alkali wastes and belly deep sand without rhyme or reason. As a matter of fact, he did do that, all of it, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I can't think of anything that gives me more pleasure today than I used to get rounding up longhorns in the spring with everything green and pretty. Or following the trail in the fall when the leaves were most as bright as flowers."
Henry Smith's opinion about cowboy life is worth while; for he has belonged ever since his legs were long enough to stride a horse far enough to hold him on.
It was in 1847 that Smith's parents joined a covered wagon caravan bound from Tennessee to that part of Texas now termed Llano County. But after a month of listening to the monotonous creaking and rumbling of the wagons over rough sod roads, whinneying horses and lowing cows, answered by newborn calves that had been hustled into wagon troughs until legs grew strong enough to travel, and the various other nerve-racking accompaniments that contrive to make a trip of endurance almost unendurable; the Smiths pulled to one side and pitched their tent temporarily in the Red River Valley, then a broad expanse of waving grassland. In 1854 they again took up the trail where they had left off the year previous and made for their first objectivethe Llano county of today. Here the long dreamed of Smith cattle ranch became a reality, with substantial housing for what eventually became a family of eight children and their parents. Of these several boys and girls Henry alone survives.
Relates Horrible Murder by Indians.
"When my oldest brother Charles went through four years of service in the Confederacy without a scratch, we sort of felt like he was bullet-proof," Smith said. "But I reckon that sense of security made us suffer all the more when we learned of his terrible suffering and tragic death. It happened in 1865 about five miles east of Fredericksburg, on Palo Alto Creek, as he was returning from Kerr County in a covered wagon. He wasn't afraid of the devil himself, oftentimes remarking in the few months' interval between his homecoming from service and the time he was killed, 'that anybody who could get through that blue-coat hell could live always.' But he reckoned without the crafty maneuvers of the fiendish redskins. He had camped on the bank of a creek, evidently wholly unaware of the nearness of a band of Comanches that were scouting to find whether he was alone or not, drawing closer with every move as they discovered that he was.
"From all indications he was preparing to cook his supper when the attack was made. Just how it all happened nobody will ever know, but he must have suffered mortal agony, for some folks living about amile away said they heard his frantic calls for help. But realizing that the cause was more than likely Indians, they were afraid to risk going to him in the dark. Early the following morning they went to where they judged the cries came from. Cautiously approaching the wagon, which they saw was half-charred, they discovered brother's body, perforated with bullets and prickly with arrows as a procupine with quills. Not content with that, the fiends had slashed it until recognition was almost impossible. They had stolen his horses and set fire to his wagon which, for some unexplainable reason, failed to burn completely, then made a safe getaway. Seems almost unbelievable in this time of splendid facilities for news transference, to say that while the scene of the killing was but twenty-five miles distant, we did not hear of it for a week. Now a thing like that would be broadcast all over Texas within two hours."
Rides Line Near Fort Concho With Blocker Outfit.
"I stayed with my parents helping to run the cattle and ranch until I was 20 years old, then I struck out for myself. The years of 1883 and 1884 I worked in a line camp in Concho County for John Blocker. Our lineimaginary, of coursehad a camp located midway of it and we worked from there five miles each day, up and down the Concho River. Our object was to keep the cattle on the north side. If they succeeded in crossing the river we went after 'em. And the colder the weather the more certain they were to drift across. Work? Well, I'll say it wasn't anything else. The more it sleeted and snowed and the heavier the freeze, the surer the cattle were to drift in big bunches. Not just the Blocker holdings, we turned back thousands of head belonging to men who ranched almost unbelievable distances away. The winters both of those years were unusually hard. The river froze almost entirely across in places where the channel was deep and the stream moved slowly.
"It was pretty tough going sometimes when we sighted a Blocker steer on the far side to hit the icy water and turn him back to home grazing. But we plunged in as if we never thought of taking anything but ice cold baths. Blocker's road brand was a left-handed 7. That is a 7 made backward and we didn't let many that wore it get out of our range. Line-riding was a great institution for the cattlemen on the Texas frontier and for the life of me I don't see how they could have made out without it. There wasn't a fence of any kind excepting pole or rail corrals, and in that prairie country not much timber growth to make 'em of. Anyhow, it wouldn't have been practical with the number of cattle run then on open range. Barbed-wire was, for the most part, unknown. And there was nothing to keep the immense herds of cattle in West Texas from drifting clean to the Gulf excepting the line riders. And believe me, when an old blue norther headed across the prairie country, bringing sleety, snowy cold with it, those old longhorns didn't fail to drift before it.
"Old Fort Concho was running full blast those days, garrisoned with negro soldiers. And you can guess just about how much use a West Texas cowpuncher had for 'em. Not one of the Blocker men in that line camp but took pleasure in keeping 'em in hot water all the time. The nearer boiling it was the more we enjoyed it.
"The Government had a number of large-sized, well-made boats that were kept chained to the river band for use in emergencies. And we boys were just itching to get hold of one from the time we discovered 'em till we did it. Took us some time to find one far enough away from the post to be safe to make a try for. But when we did we went after it without a minute's wait. Two of us were selected, me being one of them, to file the chain, tow the boat downstream to where we could climb in and use the oars so they could not be heard at the fort, the remainder of the outfit, guns in hand, rode guard along the bank and the way we paddled that boat after we got in it was a caution. A beaver would have been ashamed of his speed alongside of us. When we got to a point near the camp we chained her up and believe it or not, we kept that thing the balance of the winter. Many a fine boat ride we had in it and many a high jinks we cut in the water when we rocked it till it landed us overboard. Generally such pranks ended in a water fight, with hunks of ice for weapons, and we had to keep busy to prevent freezing.
"Whether the boat was ever missed at headquarters, and of course it was, we never knew. Anyhow they didn't suspicion us of being guilty or we'd have heard something about it. I reckon it was a good thing they didn't too, for I can see how that more than one in that camp was a 'spoilin' to make a first-class target out of one. And he would have done it at the slightest provocation."
(Continued next month.)