EARLY in July, 1882, I made my first beef shipment of that season, from Ogallala to Chicago. I sent Concho Curly ahead in charge of the first train-load, and myself followed with the second. While to me uneventful, for Curly the trip was big with interest.
Bred and reared in Menard County, on a little tributary of the Concho River that long stood the outermost line of settlement in central west Texas, Curly was about as raw a product as the wildest mustang ranging his native hills. Seldom far off his home range before the preceding year's trail drive, never in a larger city than the then small town of Fort Worth, for Curly Chicago was nothing short of a wilderness of wonders. His two days' stay there left him awed and puzzled.
It was the second morning of our return journey before I could get much out of him. Before that he had sat silent, in a brown study, answering only in monosyllables anything I said to him.
At length, however, another friendly inquiry developed what he was worrying about.
"Come, come, Curly!" I said, "tell us what you saw. Had a good time, didn't you?"
"Wall, I should remark. Them short-horns is junin' round so thick back thar a stray long-horn hain't no sorta show to git to know straight up from sideways 'fore he gits plumb lost in them deep cañons whar all th' sign is tramped out an' thar's no trees to blaze for back-tracking yourself.
"What they-all gits to live on is the mysteriousest mystery to me; don't raise or grow nothin'; got no grass, or cows to graze on her ef they had her. 'Course some of them's got spondulix their daddies left them, an' can buy; th' rest—wall, mebbe so th' rest is jest nachally cannibiles, an' eats up each other."
And how nearly Curly was right about the "cannibiles"—at least, metaphorically—he doubtless never learned.
"Wall, I should say I shore did," he replied. "I shore went to a the-a-ter, but she didn't get my funny-bone busy none."
"Why, Curly," I asked, "how's that?"
"Wall, you see it's thisaway. When you turned me loose down to th' stockyards, I axed th' commission man what was th' ring-tailedest lally-cooler of a hotel in town, an' he tells me she's th' Palmer House.
"Then I ropes a kid an' hobbles him with four bits long enough to run me through th' milling herd of short-horns as fer as th' Palmer.
"On th' way I stops to a store an' buys a new hat, an' a pair o' high-heel boots, an' a new suit, shirt, an' red handkerchief, an' a little ol' humany war sack with a handle on her, an' inter her I puts my belt an' spurs.
"Then, when I gets fixed up jest like them city folks, I pikes along to th' Palmer, an' in I goes.
"An' she was a shore lally-cooler all right! More prittys about th' fixin' up o' that house that I'd allowed anything but a woman could pack.
"Wall, when I got in I axed for Mr. Palmer, an' a little feller in sorta soldier-brass-button-clothes runs me up to a little close pen with a fence round her slicker than airy bar in Fort Worth—all glass an' shiny wood an' dandy stones. In that thar pen was a quick-talkin', smart-aleck feller, with a di'mond big as a engin' head-light staked out in th' middle of his bald-faced shirt.
"That feller shore rubbed my hair th' wrong way th' minute he shot his mouth off, with:
"'Wall, what kin I do for you, young feller?'
"'You cain't do a ding thing for me, Mr. Man,' I ups an' tells him. 'Hain't got nairy business with pikers like you-all. I don't git to Chicago often, but when I do I plays with nothin' but blue chips, an' bets th' limit every whirl.'
"'Wall, what do you want, anyway?' he jerks out.
"'Want to see Mr. Palmer; got some p'rticular business with him,' says I.
"'Sorry, sir,' says he, 'Mr. Palmer ain't around this time of day. Is your business with him private?'
"'I reckon she are private,' says I; 'want to see him an' find out ef I kin git to stay all night in this yere hotel of his'n.'
"An' I reckon about that time that thar smart aleck must o' thought of somethin' powerful funny that'd happened lately, for right thar he broke out laughin' fit to kill his fool self—jest nachally laughed till he like to died.
"When finally he comes to, he up an' says:
"'Why, I sometimes attend to business like that for Mr. Palmer; guess I can fix you. Here, write your name down there.'
"'Now see here, Mr. Man, my name don't draw no big lot of money, but she shorely don't get fastened to any dociments I don't sabe.'
"Then that blasted idiot thought o' somethin' else so plumb funny he lites in laughin' agin till he nigh busts.
"When he gits out o' his system all the laugh she cain't hold easy, he tells me th' big book is jest nothin' but a tally they use to count you in when you comes to stay to th' hotel an' to count you out when you goes.
"That didn't look onreasonable none to me, so I says:
"'Son, she goes.'
"An' when he hands me a writin' tool, not noticin' she wa'n't a pencil, I sticks her in my mouth to git her ready to write good, an' gits my dod-burned mouth so full of ink I reckon 'tain't all out yet; an' while I was writin' in th' book, 'Stonewall Jackson Kip, Deadman Ranch, Nebraska,' Mr. Man he slips off behind a big safe and empties out a few more laughs he couldn't git to hold longer.
"An' does you know, ol' man, this mornin' I been gittin' a sort of a s'spicion that Palmer piker was laughin' at me inkin' my mouth, maybe; blamed lucky I didn't see it then, or I'd shore leaded him a few.
"Wall, when Mr. Man had got done examinin' my turkey tracks in the book, he gits a key an' comes back, hits a bell, an' hollers, 'Front!' Then, when one o' them little soldier-button fellers comes runnin', an' th' piker passes him th' key an' sings out, 'Gentleman to No. 1492!' th' kid he makes a dive for my war sack. But you bet your alce I grabs him pronto, an' says:
"'See here, son, they ain't more'n about two million worth o' valuables in that thar war sack, so I wouldn't be broke none ef you ducked with her; but I reckon Stonewall's strong enough to pack his'n without th' help of no sawed-off like you-all.'
"Then Mr. Kid he up an' chases me over to a railroad car that's built on tracks runnin' straight up in th' air plumb to th' top of th' house, an' into her we gits—all free, you sabe; didn't have to buy no ticket.
"Wall, sir, when th' feller ridin' her socked in th' spurs, that thar car humped herself once or twice an' then hit a gait that would make a U. P. express look like she was standin' still, an' in less time than Nebo takes to draw a gun, thar we was at th' top floor, about a mile higher, I reckon, than folks was ever meant to live.
"An' say! By cripes! when I come to look out o' th' winder in my room, I thought I'd have to stake myself to th' bed to be safe. Lookin' out was jest like lookin' down from th' top o' Laramie Peak on th' spread of th' main range—little ol' peaks an' deep cañons everywhere, with signal-fires throwin' up smoke columns from every peak, like Injuns signalin' news. She shore looked a rough country to try to make any short cuts across.
"When I'd got washed up some, I sticks my gun in my waist-band an' goes out an' down to th' ground on that little ol' upstandin' railroad, an' axes one o' them soldier boys th' trail to the grub-pile. He grins some an' takes me into a room so pow'ful big and crowded with folks I allowed 'bout everybody in town must be eatin' there.
"Soon as I got sot down, here comes a coon an' hands me a printed sheet bigger'n th' Llano Weekly Clarion. An' when I told him I was much obliged, but I'd come to eat an' not to read, blamed ef that thar coon didn't think o' somethin' so funny he nigh split hisself. 'Pears like mos' everybody has a most onusual lot of laugh in 'em back thar.
"Wall, bein' dod-burned hungry, an' allowin' I'd have a bang-up feed, an' rememberin' you Yankees talkin' on th' round-up 'bout what slick eatin' lobsters makes, I tells th' coon to bring me a dozen lobsters an' a cup of coffee.
"'Wha-what's dat you say, boss? How many lobsters does you want?' says th' coon.
"'A plumb dozen, you black hash-slinger!' says I, 'an' hump yourself pronto, for my tape-worm's hollerin' for fodder.'
"Wall, thar I set for about twenty minutes, hopin' lobsters was bigger'n oysters an' wonderin' ef I'd ordered enough to fill up me an' th' worm, when, lookin' up, here comes up th' room a p'rcession of twelve niggers, each nigger carryin' a plate about half th' size of a saddle-blanket, an' on each plate a whale of a big red critter, most all laigs an' claws, that looked like a overgrowed Gila monster with war-paint on.
"An' when th' lead coon stops in front of me an' says, 'Here's your dozen lobsters, sir,' I jest nachally nigh fell dead right thar, knowin' Stonewall was up agin it harder'n ever before in his life.
"Say! I never wanted a cayuse so bad in my life; ef I had one I'd shore have skipped—forked him an' split the scenery open gittin' away from them war-painted animiles—but thar I was afoot!
"So I bunches up my nerve an' says:
"'Say, coon, I done expected a bunch of th' boys to feed with me, but they hain't showed up. Me an' th' worm will tackle a pair of them red jaspers, an' you fellers put the other ten where they cain't git away till th' boys comes.'
"Then, not lettin' on to th' city chaps settin' an' grinnin' all round me that I wa'n't raised in th' same lot with lobsters, I takes my knife an' fork an' lites in to go to eatin', when I'll just be eternally hanged if I didn't nigh go crazy to find them critturs was jest nachally all hoofs an' horns—nairy a place on 'em from end to end airy human's jaws could ever git to feed on.
"An' I was about to jerk my gun an' shoot one apart to find out what his insides was like, when a feller settin' next showed me how to knock th' horns off an' git at th' meat proper.
"Then me an' th' worm got busy good an' plenty, for th' meat was sweeter an' tenderer even than 'possum.
"Before we got done we shore chambered five of them animiles, an' when I paid th' bill an' sashayed out, it was with regrets I didn't have my war sack handy to pack off th' rest in.
"Come evenin', I moseyed up to Mr. Man's pen an' axed him what was th' finest, highest-priced show in town, an' he told me she was to a the-a-ter called th' Op'ra.
"So out I goes, an' ropes another kid an' gits him to steer me to her.
"Arrived to th' the-a-ter, I prances up to th' ticket-wagon an' says, sorta reckless:
"'Pardner, jest hand me out a dociment for th' best place to set in you got; price is no object. It's th' best in your show for Stonewall,' privately allowin' to myself he might stick me up for as much as a dollar and a half.
"Twenty-fi-five plunks to git to set a hour or so to see a little ol' fool play-actin'! I'll just be horn-swiggled if that wa'n't goin' some for Stonewall! Nigh three weeks' wages to git to 'ante an' come in,' an' no tellin' what raises he'd have to stand after drawin' cards!
"However, allowin' I'd take a chance, I skinned off five fives from my little ol' bank-roll and passes 'em over to Mr. Holdup, an' then he picks up an' shuffles a deck of little cards an' deals me off six of them.
"Course I didn't know whatever his game was, makin' me a dead foul deal deliberate thataway, but knowin' she spelled trouble, I shoves one of th' cards back to him an' says:
"'Mr. Holdup, I don't know jest what liberties a gentleman is allowed to take with a deck back here, but out West whar I come from a feller caught in a pot with more'n five cards in his hand is generally buried th' next day, an' bein' as all his business in this world ain't quite settled yet, five cards will do your Uncle Stonewall.'
"Couldn't make out anyway what he give me all them dociments for, unless one o' th' coons down to th' hotel had tipped him off my bunch of lobster-eaters was liable to drop in an' want to set with me.
"Was you ever to that Op'ra The-a-ter, ol' man? By cripes! but she was shore a honey-cooler for big! Honest, th' main corral would hold a full trail herd of three thousand head easy.
"Wall, when I gits in, a young feller in more soldier-buttons axes to see my cards, an' then he steers me down thro' a narrow chute runnin' along one side of th' big corral to a little close-pen, with a low fence in front, right down to one end of where they was play-actin', an' right atop of th' band.
"Dead opposite was a high stack of little pens like mine, all full of folks—same, I reckon, above me—an' then back further three or four big pens, one above the other, over where you come in.
"An' mebbe so them pens wa'n't packed none! Don't believe thar was a empty corner anywhere except mine. Jest packed everywhere with men and women.
"Th' men all looked alike, an' most of th' women Stonewall could a liked.
"Th' men all had on black clothes, with bald-faced shirts to match their bald heads.
"Th' women—wall, the feller that couldn't get suited in that bunch needn't wear out no leather huntin' round outside. An' thar was a lot of them honey-coolers settin' close round me that kept lookin' up my way an' laughin' so sorta friendly like that it shore got to be real sociable.
"Wall, sir, that band was playin' to beat any band you ever heard—horns an' fiddles an' drums; horns that worked like a accordeon, pullin' in an' out; ol' mossback he-fiddles that must a been more'n a hundred years old to git to grow so big; drums with bellies big an' round as your mammy's soap kettle; an' th' boss music-maker on a perch in th' middle of th' bunch, shakin' a little carajo pole to beat the brains out any of th' outfit that wa'n't workin' to suit him.
"Some of th' tunes was sweet an' slow enough so you could follow 'em afoot, but most of 'em was so fast a feller'd need to be runnin' 'em on his top-cutting horse to git close enough to tell if they was real music or jest a hullabaloo big noise.
"But what s'rprised me most, ol' man, was to find that that thar the-a-ter was built up round one of the roughest, rockiest, wildest pieces of country I ever saw outside th' Black Hills, it layin' in th' end whar they was play-actin'. It shore looked like a side cañon up nigh th' head-waters of Rapid Creek, big boulders, an' pines, an' cliffs, an' a fall carryin' as much water as Deadman Creek.
"An' weather! Say, that little ol' the-a-ter cañon could put up a worse storm than you or me ever see in the Rockies. She was thunderin' and lightenin' till I was dead sure we was all in for a water-spout, an' I reckon one must a come after I left.
"I always thought the-a-ters was built to be funny in, but that one was jest nachally full o' hell's own grief as long as I got to stay in her. Nothin' doin' but sufferin' an' murderin' meanness.
"Plumb alone, an' lost in th' cañon, I reckon, was a pore little gal, 'bout sixteen year old, leanin' on a stump close up to whar I was settin', an' sobbin' fit to kill herself. She had 'bout next to nothin' on, an' was that ga'nted up an' lean 'peared like she was nigh starved to death.
"An' thar she hung an' cried an' cried till it 'peared to me some o' th' women folks ought to a gone to her; but they-all never noticed none, an' went right on gassin' with their fellers.
"Finally, when she got so weak I thought she was goin' to drop, out from behind a boulder slips a great big feller—all hair an' whiskers but his laigs, for he had on nothin' but a fur huntin'-shirt comin' half-way to his knees—an' in his hand he carries a long bilduque skelping-knife.
"'Fore I realized he meant trouble, he makes a jump an' grabs th' gal by th' shoulder an' shakes her scandalous, an' while he's shakin' he's sorta half-talkin' an' half-singin' to her in some kind of talk so near like Spanish I thought I could ketch some of it.
"By cripes! but that feller was hot good an' plenty over something he claimed she'd did.
"An' when, half-sobbin' an' singin', she 'peared to be tellin' him she hadn't, an' to go off an' let her alone, he shook an' abused her more'n ever, till it struck me it was about time for neighborin' men folks to hop in an' take a hand, for it was plumb plain she was a pore, sweet-faced, innercent little crittur that couldn't done no harm to a hummin' bird.
"'Bout that time, Mr. Hairyman he hops back a step or two, stands an' scowls an' grits his teeth at th' gal for a minute, an' then he raises his knife, sorta crouches for a jump, an' sings out, near as I could make it out:
"'Maudite! Folle! Folle! Say Fini!'
"But before he could lite on her with his knife, I hopped out of my close-pen into the cañon, jammed my .45 in his ear, an' observes:
"'Mr. Hairyman, you're a liar, an' it's Stonewall Kip, of Concho, tellin' you!'
"'Little Maudy thar ain't full, an' she don't have to say airy a thing she don't want to; an' if you don't pull your freight sudden for th' brush, I'll shore shoot six different kinds of meanness outen your low-down murderin' carcass!'
"Th' way his whiskers skipped over boulders makin' his getaway was some active, while th' pore little gal she jest drops off in a dead faint an' lays thar till some folks comes down the gulch an' carries her off.
"An' while I was driftin' through the chute toward the main gate of th' big pen, to git out, there was th' blamedest cheerin', yellin', an' hand-clappin' you ever heard away from a stump-speakin', but whatever she was all about Stonewall didn't stop to ax."
Gracias por leer!