They Risked Their Lives To Bring Cattle to Missouri. Now They Faced A Journey Twics As Dangerous...
The only riches Texans had left after the Civil War were five million
maverick longhorns and the brains, brawn and boldness to drive them
north to where the money was. Now, Ralph Compton brings this violent and magnificent time to life in an extraordinary epic series based on the history-making trail drives.
The Oregon Trail
Lou Spencer, Dill Summer, and their fourteen Texas cowboys briught a herd up to Independence, Missouri, and sold half to a wagon train heading West. Then the Texans hired on, leading the battling greenhorn pioneers across the Missouri River, across Nebraska Territory, and into the wilds past Forts Laramie and Bridger. With winter closing in, Spencer's men were running out of time to reach the wide-open land of Oregon. And with a fortune in gold hidden in one of the pilgrims' wooden wagons-and outlaws circling like wolves-there were miles of shooting and dying still ahead.
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Ralph Compton stood six-foot-eight without his boots. His first novel in the Trail Drive series, The Goodnight Trail, was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Medicine Pipe Bearer Award for best debut novel. He was also the author of the Sundown Rider series and the Border Empire series. A native of St. Clair County, Alabama, Compton worked as a musician, a radio announcer, a songwriter, and a newspaper columnist before turning to writing westerns. He died in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1998.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1Lou and Waco didn’t talk much as they rode back to their herd and the rest of their riders. Eventually it was Lou who spoke.
“I reckon it’ll take both of us to explain this situation to the rest of the boys, so don’t just stand there lookin’ at me. Speak up.”
Waco laughed. “I don’t aim to say a word. You’re the talky one. Just make believe these seven ugly jaspers is all purty females with corn-silk hair and shapes only God could have created. You’ll have ‘em eatin’ out of your hand.”
“Once in a month of Sundays you come up with a sensible idea,” Lou said, casting him a sour look. “Just shut the hell up until it’s time to say yes or no to Applegate’s offer.”
The rest of the outfit had been watching for them, and there was an unspoken question in the eyes of every man as Lou and Waco dismounted. Lou wasted no time. He first told them of Applegate’s offer to buy half the herd at thirty dollars a head. There were unanimous shouts of approval, but Lou held up his hand.
“I’m not finished. We have more than one decision to make. Hear the rest, and then I’ll want some answers. But from one of you at a time.”
First he explained that the only emigrants with money to buy cattle had already done so. He told them there might not be another Oregon-bound wagon train for months because of the near impossibility of crossing the Rocky Mountains in winter. Finally he concluded with Applegate’s offer of forty and found and the suggestion they use the unsold half of the herd to carve out a ranch for themselves in the Willamette Valley. He allowed them a little time to digest what he’d said. They were Texans to the bone. Their boots were rough out, their trousers dark homespun, and their shirts faded blue or red flannel. Their wide-brimmed hats were in varying stages of deterioration as a result of dust, sweat, rain, and the merciless Texas sun. Lou spoke first to Red Brodie. His hair was red, his eyes green. His Colt was tied down on his left hip. He hailed from San Antonio. At twenty-four he was the oldest man in the outfit, a year older than Lou Spencer.
“Red,” said Lou, “you’re the oldest. How do you feel?”
“Thirty dollars a head is a fair price,” Brodie said, “and I’ll go along with that. But how do you know Applegate’s levelin’ with you when he says there’s nobody else to buy the other half of the herd? This old pilgrim needs cowboys, which he ain’t goin’ to have if we sell the rest of our herd and ride back to Texas.”
“Because Waco and me rode past most of the wagons in Applegate’s train,” said Lou, “and those who haven’t bought cattle for ranching are going to be farmers.”
“Except for them with sheep and goats,” Waco added helpfully.
“Sheep and goats?” the seven riders bawled in a single voice.
“Wasn’t no hogs that we could see,” said Waco.
Lou turned furious eyes on Waco, and if looks could have killed, the twenty-one-year-old rider would have been buzzard bait. Finally Lou had to face the seven riders who glared at him in varying stages of indignation.
“There are a few goats and some sheep,” Lou said, “but that won’t be a problem. All we’ll be concerned with will be the cattle. The last herd to come up the trail from Texas—three thousand head—were bought by families in Applegate’s party. The riders who sold the cattle have hired on for the drive to Oregon.”
“By God,” said Brodie, “it ain’t my ambition to have a cow ranch within a day’s ride of a damn sheepman. Not in Texas, Oregon, or nowhere else.”
There were shouts of approval from all the riders except Waco.
“In the morning,” Lou said, “we’ll deliver Applegate’s twenty-five hundred cows. Of the unsold half of the herd, I figure 277 head belong to me. I’ll want to cut them out and drive them along with the Applegate herd. I believe I’m entitled to two bulls, if nobody has any objections. I’ve got kin in Texas, but nothin’ else. If I don’t like it in Oregon, the trail runs both ways. The rest of you can do as you like with your part of the herd, and no hard feelings on my part.”
“I reckon I’ll cut out my cows and go with you,” said Waco. “Hell, if we don’t like it in Oregon, we can always drive the cows south to Nevada and sell ’em to the miners.”
“So you’re just goin’ to leave the rest of us here on our hunkers till another wagon train comes along,” said Sterling McCarty. He was from Austin, with black hair and deep brown eyes. He was twenty-three, and carried his Colt on his right hip.
“You can sit here, go west to St. Louis, or back to Texas,” Lou said.
“I sure as hell don’t aim to winter here,” Vic Sloan said. “We got no way of knowin’ if the next bunch of emigrants will be buyin’ cows or not.” Sloan was just nineteen, the youngest man in the outfit. From Laredo, he had sandy hair and pale blue eyes. He carried his Colt for a right-hand draw.
The six undecided riders turned their questioning eyes on Red Brodie, and he responded with a shrug of his shoulders. He was having some trouble facing them, for he had committed them and himself to a hostile position from which there seemed no retreat. Having no alternative to what Lou had proposed, Brodie was forced to pull in his horns. Each man must make his own decision, and Sterling McCarty was the first.
“Well, hell,” he grumbled, “just because a man don’t like the trail he’s bound to ride don’t mean he ain’t got the sand to do it. Havin’ no other choice, I’ll throw in, but by God, no sheep, you understand? Keep them damn woollies away from me.”
“I don’t like sheep any better than the rest of you,” Lou said, “but that don’t give us the right to round ’em all up and drive them off the edge of the world. We’re cattlemen and we’ll keep our distance. I reckon there’s enough territory in Oregon so’s we don’t have to build our spread right next to a sheep ranch. You got my word on that.”
Waco grinned in appreciation of Lou’s ability with words. Not only had he overcome their hostility, he had allowed them a means of backing away from their hasty negative decisions without too much damage to their pride.
“I’m already sick of this camp,” said Vic Sloan, “and I couldn’t last out the winter if I was of a mind to try. I’ll take Applegate’s offer.”
“Reckon I will too,” Del Konda said. He was twenty-one, from San Angelo, had brown hair and hazel eyes. His Colt was tied down on his right hip.
“I’m in,” said Josh Bryan. From Uvalde, he was a year older than Del. His hair was black, his eyes gray, and his Colt was belted for a right-hand draw.
All eyes shifted to Alonzo Gonzales and Black Jack Rhudy. Alonzo was Mexican and had been the outfit’s cook all the way from Texas. He had black hair and eyes, and carried his Colt beneath the waistband of his trousers. There was a Bowie knife down the back of his shirt, attached to a leather thong about his neck. While he looked younger, he claimed to be twenty-one. Black Jack had said he was twenty-three, and he looked it. He too was from Mexico. While he had the black hair and eyes of a Mexican, he had the high cheekbones and the coloring of an Indian. His Bowie was concealed as was Alonzo’s, but strapped about his lean middle were twin Colts in a buscadera rig.* Nobody knew Black Jack’s given name. The handle he used had been taken from the game that kept him broke most of the time. Alonzo the Mexican spoke first.
“If I am make this drive, I be cowboy, no?”
“You’ll be a cowboy, yes,” said Lou. “Applegate’s wife and daughters will do the cooking for the family and for us.”
“I think I go with you,” Alonzo said, “if I no have to cook. I start to feel like female servant.”
“Damn good thing you don’t look like one,” said Black Jack, “or you’d of been in big trouble by now. If there’s goin’ to be honest-to-God females doin’ the cooking, deal me in.”
“Since we ain’t carryin’ grub,” Waco said, “we won’t be needin’ five pack mules. What will we do with the extra ones?”
“They’ll all go with us,” said Lou. “We’ll still need our cooking and eating tools when we reach Oregon. Besides, I have the feeling this will be one hell of a drive. All the mules might not survive, and the extra ones won’t be extra anymore. We’ll move out tomorrow at first light. From what Applegate told us, the train won’t be moving out until June first. We’ll have to drive them far enough north of the river so they’ll have decent graze, and we may have to move them to new graze every day. For sure we’ll be driving them to the river to water.”
“My God,” Sterling McCarty said, “we got to loaf around these parts for two more weeks?”
“Loafing hell,” said Lou. “Except for Applegate and his family, we don’t know these people. We’ll have to watch the herd day and night. One good thunderstorm and they’ll scatter from here to yonder.”
“Like they done three times on the way from Texas,” Waco said.
“But they’re trailwise now,” said Vic Sloan, “and not so skittish.”
Red Brodie sighed. “Lou’s right. Cows never g...
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