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Andy Adams' Firsthand Account of a Cattle Drive

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Andy Adams describes a cattle drive from Texas toward Oklahoma. This comes from one of the best books ever written about those cattle drives, "The Log of a Cowboy," which was published in 1903, though the events described here happened 20-25 years earlier. Reading the book, you can see where Larry McMurtry got the inspiration (to say the least) for "Lonesome Dove." As we pick up the narrative, they're just about to leave Texas and drive the cattle into what became Oklahoma:


"It was a nice open country between the Wichita and Pease rivers. On reaching the latter, we found an easy stage of water for crossing, though there was every evidence that the river had been on a recent rise, the débris of a late freshet littering the cutbank, while high-water marks could be easily noticed on the trees along the river bottom. Summer had advanced until the June freshets were to be expected, and for the next month we should be fortunate if our advance was not checked by floods and falling weather. The fortunate stage of the Pease encouraged us, however, to hope that possibly the Red River, two days drive ahead, would be fordable. The day on which we expected to reach it, [foreman] Flood set out early to look up the ford which had then been in use but a few years, and which in later days was known as Doan's Crossing on Red River. Our foreman returned before noon and reported a favorable stage of water for the herd, and a new ferry that had been established for wagons. With this good news, we were determined to put that river behind us in as few hours as possible, for it was a common occurrence that a river which was fordable at night was the reverse by daybreak. McCann was sent ahead with the wagon, but we held the saddle horses with us to serve as leaders in taking the water at the ford.

The cattle were strung out in trailing manner nearly a mile, and on reaching the river near the middle of the afternoon, we took the water without a halt or even a change of horses. This boundary river on the northern border of Texas was a terror to trail drovers, but on our reaching it, it had shallowed down, the flow of water following several small channels. One of these was swimming, with shallow bars intervening between the channels. But the majestic grandeur of the river was apparent on every hand,—with its red, bluff banks, the sediment of its red waters marking the timber along its course, while the driftwood, lodged in trees and high on the banks, indicated what might be expected when she became sportive or angry. That she was merciless was evident, for although this crossing had been in use only a year or two when we forded, yet five graves, one of which was less than ten days old, attested her disregard for human life. It can safely be asserted that at this and lower trail crossings on Red River, the lives of more trail men were lost by drowning than on all other rivers together. Just as we were nearing the river, an unknown horseman from the south overtook our herd. It was evident that he belonged to some through herd and was looking out the crossing. He made himself useful by lending a hand while our herd was fording, and in a brief conversation with Flood, informed him that he was one of the hands with a "Running W" herd, gave the name of Bill Mann as their foreman, the number of cattle they were driving, and reported the herd as due to reach the river the next morning. He wasted little time with us, but recrossed the river, returning to his herd, while we grazed out four or five miles and camped for the night.

I shall never forget the impression left in my mind of that first morning after we crossed Red River into the Indian lands. The country was as primitive as in the first day of its creation. The trail led up a divide between the Salt and North forks of Red River. To the eastward of the latter stream lay the reservation of the Apaches, Kiowas, and Comanches, the latter having been a terror to the inhabitants of western Texas. They were a warlike tribe, as the records of the Texas Rangers and government troops will verify, but their last effective dressing down was given them in a fight at Adobe Walls by a party of buffalo hunters whom they hoped to surprise. As we wormed our way up this narrow divide, there was revealed to us a panorama of green-swarded plain and timber-fringed watercourse, with not a visible evidence that it had ever been invaded by civilized man, save cattlemen with their herds. Antelope came up in bands and gratified their curiosity as to who these invaders might be, while old solitary buffalo bulls turned tail at our approach and lumbered away to points of safety. Very few herds had ever passed over this route, but buffalo trails leading downstream, deep worn by generations of travel, were to be seen by hundreds on every hand. We were not there for a change of scenery or for our health, so we may have overlooked some of the beauties of the landscape. But we had a keen eye for the things of our craft. We could see almost back to the river, and several times that morning noticed clouds of dust on the horizon. Flood noticed them first. After some little time the dust clouds arose clear and distinct, and we were satisfied that the "Running W" herd had forded and were behind us, not more than ten or twelve miles away.

At dinner that noon, Flood said he had a notion to go back and pay Mann a visit. "Why, I've not seen 'Little-foot' Bill Mann," said our foreman, as he helped himself to a third piece of "fried chicken" (bacon), "since we separated two years ago up at Ogalalla on the Platte. I'd just like the best in the world to drop back and stay with his outfit one night and complain of his chuck. Then I'd like to tell him how we had passed them, starting ten days' drive farther south. He must have been amongst those herds laying over on the Brazos."

"Why don't you go, then?" said Fox Quarternight. "Half the outfit could hold the cattle now with the grass and water we're in at present."

"I'll go you one for luck," said our foreman. "Wrangler, rustle in your horses the minute you're through eating. I'm going visiting."

We all knew what horse he would ride, and when he dropped his rope on "Alazanito," he had not only picked his own mount of twelve, but the top horse of the entire remuda,—a chestnut sorrel, fifteen hands and an inch in height, that drew his first breath on the prairies of Texas. No man who sat him once could ever forget him. Now, when the trail is a lost occupation, and reverie and reminiscence carry the mind back to that day, there are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. There were emergencies in which the horse was everything, his rider merely the accessory. But together, man and horse, they were the force that made it possible to move the millions of cattle which passed up and over the various trails of the West.

When we had caught our horses for the afternoon, and Flood had saddled and was ready to start, he said to us, "You fellows just mosey along up the trail. I'll not be gone long, but when I get back I shall expect to find everything running smooth. An outfit that can't run itself without a boss ought to stay at home and do the milking. So long, fellows!"


------- Andy Adams, "The Log of a Cowboy," 1903. This classic account is still in print and you can buy it at your favorite online bookstore. TRULY worth reading!


Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.

Posted : 27th December 2019 7:09 pm