October 16

A Mad Cow

This afternoon, as I was reading in my cabin, little Sam Edwards ran in, saying, “Mountain Jim wants to speak to you.”  This brought to my mind images of infinite worry, gauche servants, “please ma’ams,” contretemps, and the habit growing out of our elaborate and uselessly conventional life of magnifying the importance of similar trifles.  Then “things” came up, with the tyranny they exercise.  I really need nothing more than this log-cabin offers.  But elsewhere one must have a house and servants, and burdens and worries — not that one may be hospitable and comfortable, but for the “thick clay” in the shape of “things” which one has accumulated.  My log-house takes me about five minutes to “do,” and you could eat off the floor, and it needs no lock, as it contains nothing worth stealing.

But “Mountain Jim” was waiting while I made these reflections to ask us to take a ride; and he, Mr. and Mrs. Dewy, and I, had a delightful stroll through colored foliage, and then, when they were fatigued, I changed my horse for his beautiful mare, and we galloped and raced in the beautiful twilight, in the intoxicating, frosty air.  Mrs. Dewy wishes you could have seen us as we galloped down the pass, the fearful-looking ruffian on my heavy wagon horse, and I on his bare wooden saddle, from which beaver, mink, and marten tails, and pieces of skin, were hanging raggedly, with one spur, and feet not in the stirrups, the mare looking so aristocratic and I so beggarly!  Mr. Nugent is what is called “splendid company.”  With a sort of breezy mountain recklessness in everything, he passed remarkably acute judgments on men and events; on women also.  he has pathos, poetry, and humor, an intense love of nature, strong vanity in certain directions, an obvious desire to act and speak in character, and sustain his reputation as a desperado, a considerable acquaintance with literature, a wonderful verbal memory, opinions on every person and subject, a chivalrous respect for women in his manner, which makes it all the more amusing when he suddenly turns round upon one with some graceful ,raillery, a great power of fascination, and a love of children.  The children of this house run to him, and when he sits down they climb his broad shoulders and play with his curls.  They say in the house that “no one who has been here thinks any one worth speaking to after Jim,” but I think that this is probably an opinion which time would alter.  Somehow, he is kept always before the public of Colorado, for one can hardly take up a newspaper without finding a paragraph about him, a contribution by him, or a fragment of his biography.  Ruffian as he looks, the first word he speaks – to a lady, at least – places him on a level with educated gentlemen, and his conversation is brilliant, and full of the light and fitfulness of genius.  Yet, on the whole, he is a most painful spectacle is magnificent head shows so plainly the better possibilities which might have been his.  His life, in spite of a certain dazzle which belongs to it, is a ruined and wasted one, and one asks what of good can the future have in store for one who has for so long chosen evil?

September of the next year answered the question by laying him down in a dishonored grave, with a rifle bullet in his brain.

Shall I ever get away?  We were to have had a grand cattle-hunt yesterday, beginning at 6:30, but the horses were all lost.  Often out of fifty horses all that are worth anything are marauding, and a day is lost in hunting for them in the canyons.  However, before daylight this morning Evans called through my door, “Miss Bird, I say we’ve got to drive cattle fifteen miles, I wish you’d lend a hand; there’s not enough of us; I’ll give you a good horse.”

The scene of the drive is at a height of 7,500 feet, watered by two rapid rivers.  On all sides mountains rise to an altitude of from 11,000 to 15,000 feet, their skirts shaggy with pitch-pine forests, and scarred by deep canyons, wooded and boulder-strewn, opening upon the mountain pasture previously mentioned.  Two thousand head of half-wild Texan cattle are scattered in herds throughout the canyons, living on more or less suspicious terms with grizzly and brown bears, mountain lions, elk, mountain sheep, spotted deer, wolves, lynxes, wild cats, beavers, minks, skunks, chipmunks, eagles, rattlesnakes, and all the other two-legged, four-legged, vertebrate, and invertebrate inhabitants of this lonely and romantic region.  On the whole, they show a tendency rather to the habits of wild than of domestic cattle.  They march to water in Indian file, with the bulls leading, and when threatened, take strategic advantage of ridgy ground, slinking warily along in the hollows, the bulls acting as sentinels, and bringing up the rear in case of an attack from dogs.  Cows have to be regularly broken in for milking, being as wild as buffaloes in their unbroken state; but, owing to the comparative dryness of the grasses, and the system of allowing the calf to have the milk during the daytime, a dairy of 200 cows does not produce as much butter as a Devonshire dairy of fifty.  Some “necessary” cruelty is involved in the stockman’s “business” however humane he may be.  The system is one of terrorism, and from the time that the calf is bullied into the branding-pen, and the hot iron burns into his shrinking flesh, to the day when the fatted ox is driven down from his boundless pastures to be slaughtered in Chicago, “the fear and dread of man” are upon him.

The herds are apt to penetrate the savage canyons which come down from the Snowy Range, when they incur a risk of being snowed up and starved, and it is necessary now and then to hunt them out and drive them down to the “park.”  On this occasion, the whole were driven down for n muster, and for the purpose of branding the calves.

After a 6:30 breakfast this morning, we started, the party being composed of my host, a hunter from the Snowy Range, two stockmen from the Plains, one of whom rode a violent buck-jumper, and was said by his comrade to be the “best rider in North Americay,” and myself.  We were all mounted on Mexican saddles, rode, as the custom in, with light snaffle bridles, leather guards over our feet, and broad wooden stirrups, and each carried his lunch in a pouch slung on the lassoing horn of his saddle.  Four big, badly-trained dogs accompanied us.  It was a ride of nearly thirty miles, and of many hours, one of the most splendid I ever took.  We never got off our horses except to tighten the girths, we ate our lunch with our bridles knotted over our saddle-horns, started over the level at full gallop, leapt over trunks of trees, dashed madly down hillsides rugged with rocks or strewn with great stones, forded deep, rapid streams, saw lovely lakes and views of surpassing magnificence, startled a herd of elk with uncouth heads and monstrous antlers, and in the chase, which for some time was unsuccessful, rode to the very base of Long’s.  Peak, over 14,000 feet high, where the bright waters of one of the affluents of the Platte burst from the eternal snows through a canyon of indescribable majesty.  The sun was hot, but at n height of over 8,000 feet the air was crisp and frosty, and the enjoyment of riding a good horse under such exhilarating circumstances was extreme.  In one wild part of the ride we had to come down a steep hill, thickly wooded with pitch-pines, to leap over the fallen timber, and steer between the dead and living trees to avoid being “snagged,” or bringing down a heavy dead branch by an unwary touch.

Emerging from this, we caught sight of a thousand Texan cattle feeding in a valley below.  The leaders scented us, and, taking fright, began to move off in the direction of the open “park,”’ while we were about a mile from and above them.  “Head them off, boys!” our leader shouted; “all aboard; hark away!” and with something of the “High, tally-ho in the morning!” away we all went at a hand-gallop down-hill.  I could not hold my excited animal; down-hill, up-hill, leaping over rocks and timber, faster every moment the pace grew, and still the leader shouted, “Go it, boys!” and the horses dashed on at racing speed, passing and repassing each other, till my small but beautiful bay was keeping pace with the immense strides of the great buck-jumper ridden by “the finest rider in North Americay,” and I was dizzied and breathless by the pace at which we were going.  A shorter time than it takes to tell it brought us close to and abreast of the surge of cattle.  The bovine waves were a grand sight: huge bulls, shaped like buffaloes, bellowed and roared, and with great oxen and cows with yearling calves, galloped like racers, and we galloped alongside of them, and .shortly headed them, and in no time were placed as sentinels across the mouth of the valley.  It seemed like infantry awaiting the shock of cavalry as we stood as still as our excited horses would allow.  I almost quailed as the surge came on, but when it got close to us my comrades hooted fearfully, and we dashed forward with the dogs, and, with bellowing, roaring, and thunder of hoofs, the wave receded as it came.  I rode up to our leader, who received me with much laughter.  He said I was “a good cattleman,” and that he had forgotten that a lady was of the party till he saw me “come leaping over the timber, and driving with the others.”

It was not for two hours after this that the real business of driving began, and I was obliged to change my thoroughbred for a well-trained cattlehorse-a broncho, which could double like a hare, and go over any ground, I had not expected to work like a vachero, but so it was, and my Hawaiian experience was very useful.  We hunted the various canyons and known “camps,” driving the herds out of them; and, until we had secured 850 head in the corral some hours afterwards, we scarcely saw each other to speak to.  Our first difficulty was with a herd which got into some swampy ground, when a cow, which afterwards gave me an infinity of trouble, remained at bay for nearly an hour, tossing the dog three times, and resisting all efforts to dislodge her.  She had a large yearling calf with her, and Evans told me that the attachment of a cow to her first calf is sometimes so great that she will kill her second that the first may have the milk.  I got a herd of over a hundred out of a canyon by myself, and drove them down to the river with the aid of one badly-broken dog, which gave me more trouble than the cattle.  The getting over was most troublesome; a few took to the water readily and went across, but others smelt it, and then, doubling back, ran in various directions; while some attacked the dog as he was swimming, and others, after crossing headed back in search of some favorite companions which had been left behind, and one specially vicious cow attacked my horse over and over again.  It took an hour and a half of time and much patience to gather them all on the other side.

It was getting late in the day, and a snowstorm was impending, before I was joined by the other drivers and herds, and as the former had diminished to three, with only three dogs, it was very difficult to keep the cattle together.  You drive them as gently as possible, so as not to frighten or excite them, riding first on one side, then on the other, to guide them; and if they deliberately go in a wrong direction, you gallop in front and head them off.

In several visits to America I have observed that the Americans are far in advance of us and our colonial kinsment in their treatment of horses and other animals.  This was very apparent with regard to this Texan herd.  There were no stock-whips, no needless worrying of the animals in the excitement of sport.  Any dog seizing a bullock by his tail or heels would have been called off and punished, and quietness and gentleness were the rule.  The horses were ridden without whips, and with spurs so blunt that they could not hurt even a human skin, and were ruled by the voice and a slight pressure on the light snaffle bridle.  This is the usual plan, even where as in Colorado, the horses are bronchos, and inherit ineradicable vice.  I never yet saw a horse bullied into submission in the United States.

The great excitement is when one breaks away from the herd and gallops madly up and down hill, and you gallop after him anywhere, over and among rocks and trees, doubling when he doubles, and heading him back till you get him back again.  The bulls were quite easily managed, but the cows with calves, old or young, were most troublesome.  By accident I rode between one cow and her calf in a narrow place, and the cow rushed at me and was just getting her big horns under the horse, when he reared, and spun dexterously aside.  This kind of thing happened continually.  There was one very handsome red cow which became quite mad.  She had a calf with her nearly her own size, and thought every one its enemy, and though its horns were well developed, and it was quite able to take care of itself, she insisted on protecting it from all fancied dangers.  One of the dogs, a young, foolish thing, seeing that the cow was excited, took a foolish pleasure in barking at her, and she was eventually quite infuriated.  She turned to bay forty times at least; tore up the ground with her horns, tossed the great hunting dogs, tossed and killed the calves of two other cows, and finally became so dangerous to the rest of the herd that, just as the drive was ending, Evans drew his revolver and shot her, and the calf for which she had fought so blindly lamented her piteously.  She rushed at me several times mad with rage, but these trained cattle-horses keep perfectly cool, and, nearly without will on my part, mine jumped aside at the right moment, and foiled the assailant.  Just at dusk we reached the corral — an acre of grass enclosed by stout post-and-rail fences seven feet high, and by much patience and some subtlety lodged the whole herd within its shelter, without a blow, a shout, or even a crack of a whip, wild as the cattle were.  It was fearfully cold.  We galloped the last mile and a half in four and a half minutes, reached the cabin just as snow began to fall, and found strong, hot tea ready.

I.L.B.

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