Authors: Frank Gee Patchin
Title: The Pony Rider Boys in Texas
Or, The Veiled Riddle of the Plains
Author: Frank Gee Patchin
Release Date: December 10, 2006 [eBook #20087]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN TEXAS***
In the Land of the Cowboy
The Pony Riders Join the Outfit
Putting the Cows to Bed
The First Night in Camp
Cutting Out the Herd
Tad Takes a Desperate Chance
The Herd Fords the River
The Approach of the Storm
Chased by a Stampeding Herd
A Miraculous Escape
The Vigil on the Plains
Under a Strange Influence
Chunky Ropes a Cowboy
On a Wild Night Ride
Fording a Swollen River
A Brave Rescue
Making New Friends
Breaking in the Bronchos
Grit Wins the Battle
Dinner at the Ox Bow
A Call for Help
Lost in the Adobe Church
Solving the Mystery
for You, Kid!
the Wagon Lurched Pong Plunged Overboard.
Gave the Rope a Quick, Rolling Motion.
"Guns, I reckon."
"Sounds to me as if the town were being attacked. Just like war time, isn't
"Never having been to war, I can't say. But it's a noise all right."
The freckle-faced boy, sitting on his pony with easy confidence, answered his
companion's questions absently. After a careless glance up the street, he turned
to resume his study of the noisy crowds that were surging back and forth along
the main street of San Diego, Texas.
"Yes, it's a noise. But what is it all about?"
"Fourth of July, Ned. Don't you hear?"
"Hear it, Tad? I should say I do hear it. Yet I must confess that it is a
different sort of racket from any I've ever heard up North on the Fourth. Is
this the way they celebrate it down here?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"Why, a fellow might imagine that a band of wild Indians were tearing down on
him. Here they come! Look out! Me for a side street!"
The little Texas town was dressed in its finest, in honor of the great
national holiday, and the inhabitants for many miles around had ridden in at the
first streak of dawn, that they might miss none of the frolic.
A rapid explosion of firearms accompanied by a chorus of wild yells and
thrilling whoops, had caused Ned Rector to utter the exclamation of alarm. As he
did so, he whirled his pony about, urging the little animal into a side street
so that he might be out of the way of the body of men whom he saw rushing down
upon them on galloping ponies.
"Hurry, Tad!" he called from the protection of the side street.
That others in the street had heard, and seen as well, was evident from the
frantic haste with which they scrambled for the sidewalk, crowding those already
there over yard fences, into stores and stairways in an effort to get clear of
the roadway. A sudden panic had seized them, for well did they know the meaning
of the shooting and the shouting.
A band of wild, uncontrollable cowboys, free for the time from the exacting
work of the range, were sweeping down on the town, determined to do their part
in the observance of the day.
Yet, Tad Butler, the freckle-faced boy, remained where he was undisturbed by
the uproar, finding great interest in the excited throngs that were hurrying to
cover. Nor did he appear to be alarmed when, a moment later, he found himself
almost the sole occupant of the street at that point, with his pony backed up
against the curbing, tossing its head and champing its bit restlessly.
As for the freckle-faced boy and his companion, the reader no doubt has
recognized in them our old friends, Tad Butler and Ned Rector, the Pony Rider
Boys. After their exciting experiences in the Rockies, and their discovery of
the Lost Claim, which gave each of the boys a little fortune of his own, as
narrated in the preceding volume, "
The Pony Rider Boys in the
," the Pony Riders had turned toward Texas as the scene of their
next journeying. With Walter Perkins and Stacy Brown, the boys, under the
guidance of Professor Zepplin, were to join a cattle outfit at San Diego, whence
they were to travel northward with it.
This was to be one of the biggest cattle drives of recent years. A cattle
dealer, Mr. Thomas B. Miller, had purchased a large herd of Mexican cattle,
which he decided to drive across the state on the old trail, instead of shipping
them by rail, to his ranch in Oklahoma.
It had been arranged that the Pony Riders were to become members of the
working force of the outfit during what was called the "drive" across the State
of Texas. The boys were awaiting the arrival of the herd at San Diego on this
Fourth of July morning. Though they did not suspect it, the Pony Rider Boys were
destined, on this trip, to pass through adventures more thrilling, and hardships
more severe, than anything they had even dreamed of before.
The cattle had arrived late the previous evening, though the boys had not yet
been informed of the fact. The animals were to be allowed to graze and rest for
the day, while the cowmen, or such of them as could be spared, were given leave
to ride into town in small parties. It was the advance guard of the cowboys
whose shots and yells had stirred the people in the street to such sudden
On they came, a shouting, yelling mob.
Tad turned to look at them now.
The sight was one calculated to stir the heart and quicken the pulses of any
boy. But the face of Tad Butler reflected only mild curiosity as he gazed
inquiringly at the dashing horsemen, each one of whom was riding standing in his
stirrups waving sombrero and gun on high.
What interested the freckle-faced boy most was their masterful
"Y-e-e-e-o-w!" exploded the foremost of the riders.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
As many puffs of white smoke leaped into the air from the revolvers of the
"W-h-o-o-o-p-e!" they chorused in a mighty yell, letting go at the same time
a rattling fire.
As they swept down toward the spot where Tad was sitting on his pony, the
cowboys swung into line six abreast, thus filling the street from curb to
This time, however, instead of shooting into the air, they lowered the
muzzles of their revolvers, sending volley after volley into the street ahead of
them, the leaden missiles viciously kicking up the dirt into miniature clouds,
like those from heavy drops of rain in advance of a thunder squall.
Tad's pony began to show signs of nervousness.
"Whoa!" commanded the boy sharply, tightening his rein and pressing his knees
firmly against the animal's sides. The prancing pony was quickly mastered by its
rider, though it continued to shake its head in emphatic protest.
"Out of the way, you tenderfoot!" yelled a cowman, espying the boy and pony
directly in his path.
Tad Butler did not move.
"Y-e-e-e-o-w!" shrieked the band in a series of shrill cries.
When they saw that the boy was holding his ground so calmly, their revolvers
began to bark spitefully, flicking up a semicircle of dust about the pony's
feet, causing the little animal to prance and rear into the air.
At this Tad's jaws set stubbornly, his lips pressing themselves firmly
together. The boy brought his quirt down sharply on the pony's flank, at the
same time pressing the pointless rowels of his spurs against the sides of the
Though Tad determinedly held his mount in its place, he was no longer able to
check its rearing and plunging, for the wiry little animal was wholly unused to
such treatment. Besides, a volley of revolver bullets about its feet would
disturb the steadiest horse.
Two cowboys on his side of the street had driven their mounts toward the lad
with a yell. Tad did not wholly divine their purpose, though he knew that their
intent was to frighten him into giving them the street. He felt instinctively
that if he should refuse to do so, some sort of violence would be visited upon
It followed a moment later.
Observing that the boy had no intention of giving way to them, the two
cowboys held their course, their eyes fixed on the offending tenderfoot until
finally only a few rods separated them.
Suddenly, both men pulled their mounts sharply to the right, and, digging in
the spurs, plunged straight for Tad.
"So that's their game, is it?" thought the boy.
They were going to run him down.
Tad's eyes flashed indignantly, yet still he made no move to pull his pony
out of the street.
"Keep off!" he shouted. "Don't you run me down!"
"W-h-o-o-o-p!" howled the pair, at the same time letting go a volley right
under the hoofs of his pony. It seemed to the lad that the powder from their
weapons had burned his face, so close had the guns been when they pulled the
Tad had braced himself for the shock that he knew was coming, gathering the
reins tightly in his right hand and leaning slightly forward in his saddle.
They were fairly upon him now. Two revolvers exploded into the air,
accompanied by the long shrill yell of the plainsmen. But just when it seemed
that the lad must go down under the rush of beating hoofs, Tad all but lifted
his pony from the ground, turned the little animal and headed him in the
direction in which the wild horsemen were going.
The boy's clever horsemanship had saved him. Yet one of the racing cow ponies
struck the boy and his horse a glancing blow. For the moment, Tad felt sure his
left leg must have been broken. He imagined that he had heard it snap.
As he swept past the boy the cowboy had uttered a jeering yell.
Tad brought down his quirt with all his force on the rump of the kicking cow
pony, whose hoofs threatened to wound his own animal.
Then a most unexpected thing happenedthat is, unexpected to the cowboy.
Looking back at the boy he had attempted to unhorse, the cowman was leaning
over far to the left in his saddle when Tad struck his horse. The pony, under
the sting of the unexpected blow, leaped into the air with arching back and a
squeal of rage.
The cowboy's weight on the side of the startled animal overbalanced it and
the animal plunged sideways to the street. The cowpuncher managed to free his
left leg from the stirrup; but, quick as he was, he was not quick enough to save
himself wholly from the force of the fall. The fellow ploughed the dirt of the
street on his face, while the pony, springing to its feet, was off with a
The other cowpunchers set up a great jeering yell as they saw the unhorsing
of their companion by a mere boy, while the villagers and country folks laughed
as loudly as they dared.
Yet there was not one of them but feared that the angry cowpuncher would
visit his wrath upon the lad who had been the cause of his downfall.
With a roar of rage he scrambled to his feet.
In his fall the fellow's gun had been wrenched from his hand, and lay in the
He picked it up as he started for Tad Butler.
Tad, who had sat in his saddle calmly, now realized that he must act quickly
if he expected to save himself.
His plan was formed in a flash.
Digging in the spurs, and at the same time slapping the little animal smartly
on its side, the lad caused his little pony to leap violently forward.
"Drop that gun!"
As he uttered the stern command, the boy brought his quirt down across the
cowman's knuckles with a resounding whack.
The cowman with a yell of rage sprang at him, but the blow aimed at Tad
Butler's head never reached him.
At that instant a man, clad in the dress of a cowboy, leaped from the
sidewalk. He caught the angry cowman by the collar. From the way in which the
newcomer swung the fellow around it was evident that he was possessed of great
"Stop it!" he thundered.
Tad's assailant turned on the newcomer with an angry snarl, his rage now
beyond all control.
"Let me alone! Let me get at the cub!" he cried, making a vicious pass at the
The cowboy's blow was neatly parried and a mighty fist was planted squarely
between his eyes, sending him to earth in a heap.
"Get up!" commanded the man who had felled him.
The cowboy struggled to his feet, standing sullenly before his conqueror.
"Look at me, Lumpy! Didn't I tell you that I'd 'fire' you if you got into any
trouble in town to-day?"
The cowboy nodded.
"Is this the way you obey orders? What sort of recommend do you suppose Boss
Miller will give you when I tell him I found you trying to shoot up a kid?"
"I don't care. I ain't askin' any recommends. Besides, hehe got in"
"Never mind what he did. I saw it all. Get your pony and back to the camp for
yours. Let Bert come in your place. You get no more lay-offs till I see fit to
let you. Now, git!"
Thoroughly subdued, but with angry muttered protests, the cowboy, walked down
the street, jerking his pony's head about and swinging himself into the
"Don't be rough on the fellow. Let him stay."
The newcomer turned to Tad, glancing up at the boy inquiringly.
"Young fellow, you've got nervemore nerve than sense."
"Thank you. But I asked you to let the man stay. He won't do it again," urged
"I'm the best judge of that. And as for you, young fellow, I would advise you
to ride your pony away from here. First thing I know you will be mixing it up
with some of the rest of the bunch. I may not be around to straighten things out
then, and you'll get hurt."
"Thank you, sir. I think I have as much right here as anyone else. If those
are your men I should think you might be able to teach them to respect other
"What, teach a cowboy?" laughed the other. "You don't know the breed. Take my
advice and skip."
Tad's rescuer strode away.
The lad's introduction to cowboy life had not been of an encouraging nature,
though it was difficult for him to believe that all cowboys were like the one he
had just encountered.
"Well, you made a nice mess of it, didn't you?" chuckled Ned Rector, riding
up beside his companion a few minutes later. "I didn't see it, but I heard all
about it from Bob Stallings."
"Stallings? Who's he?"
"The foreman of the cowboys with whom we are going."
"And were those the fellows that tried to crowd me off the street?"
"I reckon those were the boys," said Ned Rector quietly.
"Then, I can see a nice time when we join them. They will have no love for me
after what has happened this morning. Where is the camp?"
"I don't know. Professor Zepplin says it's about four miles to the west of
"When do we join them?"
"Some time to-night. The foreman says they are going to start at daylight.
He's over at the hotel talking with the Professor now. He was telling the
Professor about your mix-up with Lumpy Bates. That's the name of the cowboy who
ran into you. And how he did laugh when I told him you belonged to our crowd,"
"What did he say?"
"Said he thought you'd do. He says we can't use our ponies on the drive."
"Why not?" asked Tad, looking up quickly.
"Because they are not trained on cattle work."
"Pshaw! I'm sorry. Have we got to leave them here?"
"No. He says we may turn them in with their herd, and use them for anything
we care to, except around the cattle. We shall have to ride some of the bronchos
when we are on duty."
"I think I see somebody falling off," laughed Tad. "Ever ride one of them,
"Well, you'll know more about them after you have."
"I think I should like to go over and see Mr. Stallings," declared Tad.
"All right, come along, then."
They found the foreman of the outfit discussing the plans for their journey
with Professor Zepplin, while Stacy Brown and Walter Perkins were listening with
"This is Master Tad Butler, Mr. Stallings," announced the Professor.
"I think I have met the young man before," answered the foreman, with a
"Tad, I am surprised that you should involve yourself in trouble so soon
after getting out of my sight. I"
"The boy was not to blame, Mr. Professor. My cowpunchers were wholly in the
wrong. But you need have no fears of any future trouble. The bunch will be given
to understand that the young gentlemen are to be well treated. You will find no
luxuries, but lots of hard work on a cattle drive, young men"
"Dodo we get plenty to eat?" interrupted Stacy Brown apprehensively.
All joined in the laugh at the lad's expense.
"Chunky's appetite is a wonderful thing, Mr. Stallings," said Tad.
"I think we shall be able to satisfy it," laughed the foreman. "Our cook is a
Chinaman. His name is Pong, but he knows how to get up a meal. I believe, if he
had nothing but sage grass and sand, he could make a palatable dish of them,
provided he had the seasoning. Have you boys brought your slickers with,
"What's a slicker?" demanded Chunky.
"A rubber blanket that"
"Oh yes. We bought an outfit of those at Austin," answered Tad. "Anything
else that you wish us to get?"
"The boys don't carry guns, do they?"
Professor Zepplin shook his head emphatically.
"Most certainly not. They can get into enough trouble without them. We have
rifles in our kit, but I imagine there will be little use for such weapons on
"You can't always tell about that," smiled the foreman. "I remember in the
old days, when we used to have to fight the rustlers, that a rifle was a pretty
good thing to have."
"Who were the rustlers?" asked Walter.
"Fellows who rustled cattle that didn't belong to them. But the old days have
passed. Such a drive as we are making now hasn't been done on so large a scale
in nearly twenty years."
"Why not?" asked Ned.
"The iron trails have put the old cow trails out of business."
"Iron trails?" wondered Tad.
"Railroads. We men of the plains refer to them as the iron trails. That's
what they are in reality. Professor, do you wish the boys to take their turns on
the herd to-night?"
"As you wish, Mr. Stallings. I presume they will be anxious to begin their
life as cowboys. I understand that's an ambition possessed by most of your
"All right," laughed the foreman. "I'll send them out as I find I can, with
some of the other cowpunchers, until they learn the ropes. There is too great a
responsibility on a night man to trust the boys alone with that work now. But
they can begin if they wish. I'll see first how the bunch get back from their
celebration of the glorious Fourth. You'll come out and have supper with
"No, I think not. We shall ride out just after supper, if you will have some
one to show us the way," answered the Professor.
"Sure, I'll send in Big-foot Sanders to pilot you out. You boys need not be
afraid of Big-foot. He's not half so savage as he looks, but he's a great hand
Big-foot Sanders rode up to the hotel shortly after six o'clock. Leading his
pony across the sidewalk, he poked his shaggy head just inside the door of the
"Ki-yi!" he bellowed, causing everybody within hearing of his voice to start
up in alarm. "Where's that bunch of tenderfeet?"
"Are you Mr. Sanders, from the Miller outfit?" asked the Professor, stepping
"Donno about the Mister. I'm Big-foot Sanders. I'm lookin' for a bunch of
yearlings that's going on with the outfit."
"The young gentlemen will join you in a moment, Mr. Sanders. They will ride
their ponies around from the stable and meet you in front of the house."
"You one of the bunch?"
"I am Professor Zepplin, a sort of companion, you know, for the young
"Huh!" grunted Big-foot. "I reckon you'd better forget the hard boiled hat
you're wearin' or the boys'll be for shooting it full of holes. Take my
advicedrop it, pardner."
"Oh, you mean this," laughed the Professor, removing his derby hat. "Thank
you. I shall profit by your advice, and leave it here when I start."
"All the bunch got hard boiled ones?"
"Oh, no. The boys have their sombreros," answered the Professor.
Big-foot grunted, but whether in disapproval or approval, Professor Zepplin
did not know. The cowpuncher threw himself into his saddle, on which he sat,
stolidly awaiting the arrival of the Pony Riders.
In a short time they came galloping from the stable at the rear of the hotel,
and pulled up, facing the cowman.
"This, Mr. Sanders, is Tad Butler," announced the Professor.
"Huh!" grunted Big-foot again. "Hello, Pinto!" he said after a sharp glance
into the freckled face. "Who's the gopher over there?"
"That's Stacy Brown, otherwise known as 'Chunky,'" laughed Tad. "This is Ned
Rector, and the young gentleman at your left is Walter Perkins, all members of
the Pony Rider Boys' party. We are ready to start whenever you are."
For answer, Big-foot touched his pony with a spur, the little animal
springing into a gallop without further command. The Pony Riders followed
immediately, Tad riding up beside the big, muscular looking cowboy, which
position he held for half an hour without having been able to draw a word from
Leaving the town due east of them, the party galloped off across the country
in a straight line until finally the cowman pointed off across the plain to
indicate where their destination lay.
A slow moving mass of red and brown and white met the inquiring gaze of the
boys. At first they were unable to make out what it was.
"Cows," growled the guide, observing that they did not understand.
"What are they doing, Mr. Sanders?" asked Tad.
"Don't 'mister' me. I'm Big-foot. Never had a handle to my name. Never expect
to. They're grazing. Be rounding them up for bed pretty soon. Ever been on a
Tad shook his head.
"We have been up in the Rockies on a hunting trip. This is my first
experience on the plains."
"Huh! Got good and plenty coming to you, then."
"And I am ready for it," answered the lad promptly. "The rougher the
"There's the bunch waiting for us. All of them got back from town. The
foreman don't allow the fellows to hang out nights when they're on a drive like
Now, the rest of the Pony Rider Boys, understanding that they were nearing
the camp of the cowboys, urged their ponies into a brisk gallop and drew up well
into line with Tad and Big-foot. That is, all did save Stacy Brown, who, as was
his habit lagged behind a few rods.
The cowboys were standing about watching the approach of the new arrivals
curiously, but not with any great enthusiasm, for they did not approve of having
a lot of tenderfeet with the outfit on a journey such as they were taking now.
They were bent on grim and serious businessman's workthe sort of labor that
brings out all that is in him. It was no place for weaklings, and none realized
this better than the cowmen themselves.
Yet, they did not know the mettle that was in these four young American boys,
though they were to realize it fully before the boundaries of the Lone Star
State, had been left behind them.
The Pony Riders dashed up to the waiting cowpunchers with a brave showing of
horsemanship, and sprang from their saddles their eyes glowing with excitement
Bob Stallings, the foreman, was the first to greet them.
"Fellows, this is the bunch I've been telling you about," was Bob's
introduction. "Where's Lumpy?" he demanded, glancing about him with a scowl.
"Lumpy's over behind the chuck wagon," answered the cowboy of whom the
question had been asked.
"Lumpy!" bellowed the foreman.
The fellow with whom Tad Butler had had such an unpleasant meeting, earlier
in the day, came forward reluctantly, a sudden scowl on his face.
"Lumpy, this is Tad Butler. Stick out your fist and shake hands with
Lumpy did so.
"Howd'y," he growled, but scarcely loud enough for any save Tad to hear.
The lad smiled up at him good-naturedly.
"You and I bumped ponies this morning, I guess," said Tad. "Maybe I was to
blame after all. I'll apologize, anyway, and I hope there will be no hard
"Lumpy!" warned Stallings when he noticed that the cowpuncher had made no
reply to Tad's apology.
"No hard feelings," grunted Lumpy Bates.
He was about to turn away and again seek the seclusion of the chuck wagon, as
the cook wagon was called by the cow boys, when Chunky came rolling along. In
the excitement of the meeting the boys had forgotten all about him. The Pony
Riders swung their sombreros and gave three cheers for Chunky Brown as he dashed
Chunky took off his sombrero and waved it at them.
Just then Chunky met with one of those unfortunate accidents that were always
occurring to him. His galloping pony put a forefoot into a gopher hole, going
down in a heap.
Chunky, however, kept on.
When the accident happened he was almost upon the waiting cowboys, his
intention having been to pull his pony up sharply to show off his horsemanship,
then drop off and make them a sweeping bow.
Stacy Brown was possessed of the true dramatic instinct, yet few things ever
came off exactly as he had planned them.
As he shot over the falling pony's head, his body described a half curve in
the air, his own head landing fairly in the pit of Lumpy Bates's stomach.
Cowboy and Pony Rider went over in a struggling heap, with the Pony Rider
Stacy had introduced himself to the cowboys in a most unusual manner, and to
the utter undoing of one of them, for the boy's head had for the moment, knocked
all the breath out of the surly Lumpy Bates.
The cowpunchers roared at the funny sight of the fat boy bowling over their
Stallings, however, fearing for the anger of Lumpy, sprang forward and hauled
the lad back by the collar, while Lumpy was allowed to get up when he got ready.
He did so a few seconds later, sputtering and growling, scarcely able to contain
"That's a bad way to get off a pony, young man," laughed the foreman. "I hope
you won't dismount in that fashion around the cattle at night. If you do, you
sure will stampede the herd."
Chunky grinned sheepishly.
"It doesn't take much to start a bunch of cows on the run after dark,"
continued the foreman, "I've known of such a thing as a herd being stampeded
because they were frightened at the rising moon. Haven't you, Big-foot?"
"The gopher'll do it, too; he's a clumsy lout," he answered, referring to
Stacy in a withering tone.
"And now, boys, I will tell you how our watches are divided, after which you
can go out with the cowboys and see them bed down the cows."
"Bed them down?" spoke up Chunky, his curiosity aroused. "That's funny. I
didn't know you had to put cattle to bed."
"You'll see that we do. Boys, the night of the cowman on the march is divided
into four tricks. The first guard goes on at half past eight, coming off at half
past ten. The second guard is on duty from that time till one o'clock in the
morning; the third, from that hour till half past three, while the fourth
remains out until relieved in the morning. He usually wakes up the cook, too.
And, by the way, you boys haven't made the acquaintance of Pong, have you? I'll
call him. Unless you get on the right side of Pong, you will suffer."
"Pong? That's funny. Sounds like ping-pong. I used to play that," interrupted
"Pong is as funny as his name, even if he is a Chinaman," laughed Stallings.
"Pong, come here."
The Chinaman, having heard his name spoken, was peering inquiringly from the
tail of the chuck wagon.
Hopping down, he trotted over to the group, his weazened, yellow face
wreathed in smiles.
"Shake hands with these young gentlemen, Pong. They will be with us for the
next two weeks," said the foreman.
"Allee same likee this," chuckled Pong, clasping his palms together and
gleefully shaking hands with himself.
"That's the Chinaman's idea of shaking hands," laughed Stallings. "He always
shakes hands with himself instead of the other fellow."
Stacy Brown suddenly broke into a loud laugh, attracting all eyes to him.
"Funniest thing I ever heard of," he muttered, abashed by the inquiring looks
directed at him.
"Now watch the heathen while I ask him what he is going to have for
breakfast," said the foreman. "Pong, what are you going to give us out of the
chuck wagon in the morning?"
"Allee same likee this," chattered the Chinaman, quickly turning to his
questioner, at the same time rapidly running through a series of pantomime
The Pony Riders looked at each other blankly.
"He says we are going to have fried bacon with hot biscuit and coffee,"
Stallings informed them with a hearty laugh. "Pong is not much of a talker.
That's about as much as you ever will hear him say. He's weak on talk and strong
The foreman glanced up at the sky.
"It's time to put the cows to bed. You young gentlemen may ride along on your
own ponies, but keep well back from the cattle. Those of you who go out to-night
will have to ride our ponies. All ready, now."
The entire outfit mounted and set off over the plain to where the cattle were
moving slowly about, but not grazing much. They had had their fill of grass and
water and were now ready for the night.
"Where's their beds?" asked Chunky, gazing about him curiously.
"Right ahead of you," answered Stallings.
The foreman's quick eye already had picked out a nice elevation on which the
old dry grass of the previous summer's growth lay matted like a carpet for the
cattle to bed down on.
"How many of them are there in the herd?" asked Tad.
"About two thousand. That was the first count. Since then we have picked up a
few stray cows. We will be cutting those out in a day or so, when you will see
some real cow work. Perhaps you will be able to help by that time."
Now the cowmen galloped out on the plain, separating widely until they had
practically surrounded the herd. They began circling slowly about the herd, at
the same time gradually closing in on them.
The animals appeared to understand fully what was expected of them, for they
had been on the road several nights already. Besides, having had their fill they
were anxious to turn in for the night.
As they found spots to their liking, the animals began to throw themselves
Tad uttered an exclamation of delight as he watched the steers going to their
knees in hundreds, then dropping on their sides, contentedly chewing their cuds.
It was such a sight as he never before had seen.
"What are those steers on the outside therethose fellows without any horns?"
"Those are the muleys. Having no horns, they keep well out of the bunch and
wait until the others have gone to bed as you see," the foreman informed him.
"You will notice after a while that they will lie down outside the circle. If
any of the cows get ugly during the night the muleys will spring up and get out
of the way."
In half an hour the last one of the great herd had "bedded down," and those
of the cowboys who were not on guard, rode leisurely back toward camp.
It had been decided that Tad Butler should go out on the first guard; Walter
Perkins on the second; Ned Rector third and Stacy Brown fourth.
Tad was all eagerness to begin. One of the cowmen exchanged ponies with him,
riding Tad's horse back to camp.
"You see, our ponies understand what is wanted of them," explained Stallings,
who had remained out for a while to give Tad some instruction in the work before
him. "Give the ordinary cow pony his head and he will almost tend a herd by
Three men ordinarily constituted the guard. In this case Tad Butler made a
fourth. Taking their stations some four rods from the edge of the herd, they
began lazily circling it, part going in one direction and part in another. In
this position it would have been well-nigh impossible for any animal to escape
without being noticed by the riders.
"Now, I guess you will be all right," smiled the foreman. "Make no sudden
moves to frighten the cattle."
"Do they ever run?" asked Tad.
"Run? Well, rather! And I tell you, it takes a long-legged Mexican steer to
set the pace. Those fellows can run faster than a horseat least some of them
can. A stampede is a thing most dreaded by the cowmen."
"Our ponies stampeded in the Rockies. I know something about that," spoke up
"Well, compare the stampeding of your four or five ponies with two thousand
head of wild steers and you'll get something like the idea of what it means. In
that case, unless you know your business you had better get out of the way as
fast as hoss-flesh will carry you. Now, Master Tad, I'll bid you good night and
leave you to your first night on the plains."
"How shall I know when to come in?"
"When the second guard comes out. You will hear them. If you should not they
will let you know as they pass you."
With that the foreman walked his pony away from the herd. After some little
time Tad heard him galloping toward camp.
At first Tad took the keenest enjoyment in his surroundings; then the
loneliness of the plains came over him. He began to feel a longing for human
A dense mantle of darkness settled down over the scene.
Remembering the advice of the foreman, the lad gave his pony the rein. The
hardy little animal, with nose almost touching the ground, began its monotonous
crawling pace about the herd. It seemed more asleep than awake.
In a short time a sheet of bright light appeared on the eastern horizon. Tad
looked at it inquiringly, then smiled.
"It's the moon," he decided.
The boy felt a great sense of relief in his lonely vigil. Just ahead of him
he saw a pony and rider leisurely approaching.
It proved to be Red Davis, one of the first guard.
Red waved his hand to the boy in passing, but no word was spoken on either
After having circled the herd twice, Tad suddenly discovered a small bunch of
cattle that had just scrambled to their feet and had begun grazing a little way
outside the circle. The rest of the herd were contentedly chewing their cuds in
the moonlight, grunting and blowing over contented stomachs.
The lad was not sure just what he ought to do. His first inclination was to
call to some of the other guards. Then, remembering the injunction placed upon
him by the foreman, he resisted the impulse.
"I am sure those cattle have no business off there," he decided after
watching them for a few moments in silent uncertainty. "I believe I will try to
get them back."
Tightening the grip on his reins and clucking to the pony, Tad headed for the
steers, that were slowly moving off, taking a step with every mouthful or
He steered his pony well outside and headed in toward them.
The pony, with keen intelligence, forced its way up to the leading steer and
sought to nose it around. The animal resisted and swung its sharp horns
perilously near to the side of the horse, which quickly leaped to one side,
almost upsetting its rider.
"Guess I'd better let the pony do it himself. He knows how and I don't,"
muttered Tad, slackening on the reins.
The straying animal was quickly turned and headed toward the herd, after
which the pony whirled and went after one of the others, turning this one, as it
did the others. In a short time the truants were all back in the herd.
"That's the way to do it, young fellow. I told the gang back there that the
Pinto had the stuff in him."
Tad turned sharply to meet the smiling face of Big-foot Sanders, who, sitting
on his pony, had been watching the boy's efforts and nodding an emphatic
"You'll make a cowman all right," said Big-foot.
The camp-fire was burning brightly when the first guard, having completed its
tour of duty, came galloping in.
In a few moments the sound of singing was borne to the ears of the
"What's the noise?" demanded Stacy Brown, sitting up with a half scared look
on his face.
"It's the 'Cowboy's Lament,'" laughed Bob Stallings. "Listen."
Off on the plain they heard a rich tenor voice raised in the song of the
"I don't call that much of a song," sniffed Chunky contemptuously after a
moment of silence on the part of the group. "Even if I can't sing, I can beat
"Better not try it out on the range," smiled the foreman.
"Not on the range? Why not?" demanded the boy.
"Bob thinks it might stampede the herd," spoke up Big-foot Sanders.
A loud laugh followed at Chunky's expense.
"When you get to be half as good a man on cows as your friend the Pinto,
here, you'll be a full grown man," added Big-foot. "The Pinto rounded up a bunch
of stray cows to-night as well as I could do it myself, and he didn't go about
it with a brass band either."
The foreman nodded, with an approving glance at Tad.
Tad's eyes were sparkling from the experiences of the evening, as well as
from the praise bestowed upon him by the big cowpuncher.
"The pony did most of it," admitted the lad. "I just gave him his head, and
that's all there was to it."
"More than most tenderfeet would have done," growled Big-foot.
Walter had gone out with the second guard, and the others had gathered around
the camp-fire for their nightly story-telling.
"Now, I don't want you fellows sitting up all night," objected the foreman.
"None of you will be fit for duty to-morrow. We've got a hard drive before us,
and every man must be fit as a fiddle. You can enjoy yourselves sleeping just as
well as sitting up."
"Humph!" grunted Curley Adams. "I'll give it as a horseback opinion that the
only way to enjoy such a night as this, is to sit up until you fall asleep with
your boots on. That's the way I'm going to do it, to-night."
The cowboy did this very thing, but within an hour he found himself alone,
the others having turned in one by one.