The Magic of Wild Horse Valley
Pan had a change of heart. No matter how Hookey teased or tormented him he could never again make him angry. Pan saw Hookey with different eyes. He was unutterably happy now with a horse and saddle too, and went about singing: "My trade is cinchin' saddles an' pullin' bridle reins. One day two strange men arrived at the Smith homestead. They had still hard faces, intent gray eyes; they packed guns, and one of them wore a bright star on his vest. These men took Hookey away with them. And after they were gone the cowboys told Pan that Hookey was wanted for horse stealing.
Young as Pan was he understood the enormity of that crime in the eyes of cowboys. He felt terribly hurt and betrayed. Long indeed was it before he forgot Hookey. Swiftly that winter passed. Pan had a happy growing time of it. Study had not seemed so irksome, perhaps owing to the fact that he had a horse and saddle; he could ride to and fro; he often stopped to see Lucy who was now big enough to want to go to school herself; and the teacher had won his love.
Pan kept out of fights with Dick Hardman until one recess when Dick called him "teacher's pet. So this time, though he had hardly picked a fight, he was the first to strike. With surprising suddenness he hit the big Dick square on the nose. When Dick got up howling and swearing, his face was hideous with dirt and blood. Then began a battle that dwarfed the one in the barn. Pan had grown considerably. He was quick and strong, and when once his mother's fighting blood burned in him he was as fierce as a young savage.
But again Dick whipped him. Miss Hill, grieved and sorrowful, sent Pan home with a note. It chanced that both his father and mother were at home when he arrived. They stood aghast at his appearance. The lad thought he had ruined himself forever with Miss Amanda Hill. But to his amaze and joy he had not. Next day she kept him in after school, cried over him, kissed him, talked long and earnestly.
All that Pan remembered was: "Something terrible will come of your hate for Dick Hardman if you don't root it out of your heart. At Christmas time the parents of the school children gave a party at the schoolhouse. Every one on the range for miles around was there. Pan for once had his fill of seeing cowboys.
Miss Amanda was an attraction no cowboys could resist. That night Pan spoke his first piece entitled: "Sugar-tooth Dick for sweeties was sick. To Pan it seemed a silly piece, but he spoke it to please Miss Amanda, and because it was a hit at Dick Hardman.
To his surprise he received a roar of applause.
After the supper, dancing began. Some of the cowboys got drunk. There were fights, two of which Pan saw, to his thrilling fear and awe. It was long past midnight when he yielded to the intense drowsiness that overcame him. When he awoke at dawn they were still dancing. Winter passed. Spring came with roundups too numerous for Pan to keep track of. And a swift happy summer sped by. That fall a third uncle settled in the valley. He was an older brother of Pan's father, whom they called Old Uncle Ike. He was a queer old bachelor, lived alone, and did not invite friendliness.
Pan was told to stay away from him. Old Uncle Ike was crabby and hard; when a boy, his heart had been broken by an unfaithful sweetheart; he had shot her lover and run away to war. After serving through the Civil War he fought Indians, and had lived an otherwise wild life. But Pan was only the keener to see and know Old Uncle Ike. He went boldly to make his acquaintance. He found a sad-faced, gray old man, sitting alone.
He did not find the old man unfriendly. Pan was welcome, and soon they became fast friends. Every Saturday Pan rode over to Uncle Ike's place, stealing some of the time he was supposed to be spending with Lucy. The little girl pouted and cried and railed at Pan for such base desertion, but he only laughed at her. Any time he wanted he could have Lucy. She grew sweeter and more lovable as she grew older, facts Pan took to his heart, but he chose the old man's stories of war and Indians in preference to Lucy's society.
Months passed, and Pan grew tall and supple, with promise of developing the true horseman's build. Then the spring when he was twelve years old arrived and his father consented to let him ride for wages at the roundup. He joined a big outfit. There were over fifty cowboys, two bed wagons, two chuck wagons, and strings of horses too numerous to count. A new horse to ride twice a day! This work was as near paradise as Pan felt he had ever been. But for one circumstance, it would have been absolutely perfect, and that was that he had no boots. A fast-riding cowboy without boots! In the heat of action, amid the whirling loop of bawling calves and cows, when the dry dust rose to stop up Pan's nostrils and cake on his hot sweaty face, when the ropes were whistling, the cowboys yelling, the brand iron sizzling, all he felt was the wild delight of it, the thrill of the risk, the excitement, the constant stirring life and motion.
During leisure hours, however, he was always confronted with his lack of rider's equipment. And so it went always and forever. The cowboys could not help that. It was born in them, born of the atmosphere and spirit of the singular life they lived. Nevertheless Pan loved them, and they were good to him. His best friends in this outfit were Si and Slick, both horse wranglers, whose real names Pan never learned. That roundup was prolific of wonderful experiences.
One night when a storm threatened the foreman called to the cowboys not on duty; "Talk to 'em low, boys, fer they're gettin' ready. He meant that the herd of cattle was likely to stampede. And when the thunder and rain burst the herd broke away with a trampling roar. Pan got soaked to the skin and lost in the rain.
When he returned to camp only the cook and wagons were there. Next morning the cowboys straggled in in bunches, each driving part of the stampeded herd. Pan just had time to see a terribly pitching red horse come tearing into the circle of cowboys. His rider went shooting over his head to alight among them. Then what a scattering! That red fiend spoiled the breakfast and cleaned out the camp. How the cowboys reviled the poor fellow who had been thrown! Broke yore collar bone? And Si, the horse wrangler said: "Charlie, I reckon it's onconsiderate of you to exercise yore pet hoss on our stummicks.
One of the amazing things that happened during the winter was the elopement of Miss Amanda Hill with a cowboy. Pan did not like this fellow very well, but the incident heightened his already magnificent opinion of cowboys. Pan never forgot Lucy's first day of school when he rode over with her sitting astride behind him, "ringin' his neck," as a cowboy remarked. Pan had not particularly been aware of that part of the performance for he was used to having Lucy cling to him.
That embarrassed him. He dropped her off rather unceremoniously at the door, and went to put his horse in the corral. She was little and he was big, which fact further bore upon his consciousness, through the giggles of the girls and gibes of the boys. But they did not make any change in his attitude toward Lucy. All winter he took her to and from school on his horse.
The summer following, he worked for his Uncle Ike. As Pan grew older time seemed so much shorter than when he was little. There was so much to do.
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And all at once he was fifteen years old. His mother gave him a party on that birthday, which was marked on his memory by the attention his boy friends paid to Lucy. She was by far the prettiest girl in the valley. He did not know exactly what to make of his resentment, nor of the queer attitude of proprietorship he had assumed over her. He was destined to learn more about his state of mind. It happened the next day at school during the noon hour. That late November, a spell of Indian summer weather had lingered, and the pupils ate their lunches out under the trees.
Suddenly Lucy came running up to Pan, who as usual was having a care for his horse. Her golden hair was flying, disheveled. She was weeping. Her big violet eyes streamed with tears. She was wiping her face with most expressive disgust. I never told 'cause I knew you'd fight But now he's done it. He grabbed me and kissed me! Before all the boys!
Pan looked steadily at her tear-wet face, seeing Lucy differently. She was not a baby any more. For some strange reason beyond his understanding he was furious with her. Pushing her aside he strode toward the group of boys, leering close by. Dick Hardman, a strapping big lad now, edged back into the crowd. Pan violently burst into it, forcing the boys back, until he confronted his adversary.
On Dick's sallow face the brown freckles stood out prominently. Something in the look and advance of Pan had intimidated him. But he blustered, he snarled. One hour from that moment they were still fighting. They had fought from the grove to the schoolyard, from there down the road and back again. Bloody, ragged, black, they beat, tore, hit, bit and clawed each other.
The teacher, wringing her hands, called upon the other boys to separate the belligerents. They had tried, but in vain, and only got kicked for their pains. The girls, most of them, screamed and cried. But not Lucy! White faced and with dilated eyes she watched that struggle. All the spectators, even the youngest, seemed to recognize it as a different kind of a fight from any that had ever occurred before. At last the teacher sent some of the children for help from the nearest farmhouse. Dick would lower his head and lunge at Pan, trying to butt him in the abdomen.
Twice he had bowled Pan over, to his distinct advantage. But the crafty Pan, timing another and last attack of this kind, swung up his knee with terrific force, square into Dick's face. Down Dick plumped, rolled over on his back, yelling loudly. Suddenly he ceased, he raised up on one elbow, he spat blood, and something that rattled on the gravel.
A tooth! His grimy hand went trembling to his blood-stained mouth. He felt of his front teeth. One was gone, others were loose. Vanity, Dick's distinguishing characteristic, suffered a terrible blow. Staggering to his feet, fetching a stone with him, he glared at Pan: "I'll—kill—you! He flung the stone with deadly intent. But Pan dodged it and leaped at him. Dick ran hard toward the schoolhouse, stooping to snatch up stones, and turning to fling them at Pan. The yelling boys scattered, the frightened girls fled. Pan was not to be outdone at any kind of fight.
He returned stone for stone, the last of which struck Dick low down in the leg. Like a crippled beast Dick shrieked and plunged into the schoolhouse, slamming shut the door. But Pan, rushing after, grabbed up a rock and flung it so powerfully that it split the door and knocked it off the hinges. Pan rushed in to receive full in the face a long, thick teacher's ruler thrown by Dick.
It knocked him flat. Picking it up Pan brandished it and charged his enemy. Dick ran along the blackboard, and jerking up one eraser after another he threw them. His aim was poor. His strength waning. His courage had gone. As for Pan it was as if the long fight had only inspired him to renewed ferocity and might. The truth was that a hot dancing fire in Pan's blood had burned to white intensity, unquenchable and devastating. Suddenly Dick made for the teacher's table. An idea, an inspiration showed in his renewed speed. Pan divined its purpose.
Leaping upon the desks he endeavored to head Dick off. Too late! When Pan sprang off the last desk to the platform Dick had turned—with the teacher's long paper knife in his hand and baleful hate in his prominent eyes. Later, when the children outside dared to peep into the schoolroom they neither saw nor heard anything of the fighters. But fearing they were just hiding behind the benches, ready for a renewed fusillade, not one of the pupils dared go in.
The teacher had hurried down the road to meet the men some of the boys had fetched. And these men were Jim Blake and Bill Smith who had been riding home from the range. When they entered the schoolroom with the teacher fearfully following, and only Lucy of all the scholars daring to come too, they found the fight was over. Dick lay unconscious on the floor with a bloody forehead.
Pan sat crouched on the platform, haggard and sullen, with face, shirt, hands all bloody. Reckon you've been fightin' like a cowboy for shore this time," said Pan's father in his matter of fact way. Let's look at you Jim, take a look at that lad on the floor. What the hell? Boy, you've been stabbed! He tottered on his feet, and his right hand was pressed tight to his left shoulder, high up, where the broken haft of the paper knife showed between his red-stained fingers. Bill Smith's anger vanished in alarm, and something stern and grim took its place.
Just then Lucy broke away from the teacher and confronted him. Smith," she burst out poignantly. I—I stuck up my nose at Dick. He said things that—that weren't nice I slapped him. Then he grabbed me, kissed me I ran to Pan— and—and told him Oh, that made Pan fight. Smith looked gravely down into the white little face with the distended violet eyes, slowly losing their passion. He seemed to be struck with something that he had never seen before. They did not meet again during the winter.
It was a hard winter. Pan left school and stayed close to home, working for his mother, and playing less than any time before. He did not like to be reminded of Dick. It sent an electric spark to the deep-seated smoldering mine in his breast. When springtime came Pan joined the roundup in earnest, for part of the cattle and outfit now belonged to his father.
Out on the range the forty riders waited for the wagons. There were five cowboys from Big Sandy in Pan's bunch and several more arrived from the Crow Roost country. Old Dutch John, a famous range character, was driving the chuck wagon. At one time he had been a crony of Pan's father, and that attracted Pan to the profane old grizzled cook. He could not talk without swearing and, if he replied to a question that needed only yes or no, he would supplement it with a string of oaths. Next day the outfit rode the west side of Dobe Creek, rounding up perhaps a thousand cattle. Pete Blaine and Hookey roped calves while Pan helped hold up.
On the following day the riders circled Blue Lakes, where cattle swarmed. Old John had yelled to the boys: "Hey, punchers, heave at them today. You gotta throw an awful mess of 'em heah. These two lakes were always dry, except during the spring; and now they were full, with green grass blanketing the range as far as eye could see.
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By Monday long lines of cattle moved with flying dust down to the spot chosen for the roundup. As the herds closed in, the green range itself seemed to be moving. When thrown together all these cattle formed a sea of red and white, from which roared an incessant bawling. It looked impossible to separate cows and calves from the others. But dozens of fearless cowboys, riding in here and in there, soon began to cut out the cows and calves.
It was a spectacle that inspired Pan as never before. The wagons were lined up near the lake, their big white canvas tops shining in the afternoon sun, and higher on a bench stood the "hoodelum" or bed wagon, so stocked with bedrolls that it resembled a haystack. Beyond the margin of the lake, four hundred fine saddle horses grazed and kicked and bit at one another. Beyond the saddle horses grazed the day herd of cattle. And over on the other side dinned the melee over the main herd, the incessant riding, yelling of the cowboys and the bawling of the cows.
When all the cows and calves were cut out, a rider of each outfit owning cattle on that range would go through to claim those belonging to his brand. Next the herd of bulls and steers, old cows and yearlings, would be driven back out upon the range. Fires were started, and as there was no wood on that range, buffalo chips were used instead. It took many cowboys to collect sufficient for their needs. At sunset, when the branding of calves was finished, each cowboy caught a horse for night duty.
Pan got one he called Old Paint. A long lanky red-faced rider detached himself from the others, and strode with jingling spurs over to look at Pan's horse. Don't ever tie that hoss to a stake pin. He's the best cow hoss I ever slung a leg over. The puncher who broke him an' reached him all he knows was my pard, long ago.
An' he's daid. Kid, he'd roll over in his grave if he knowed ol' Cal was tied to a picket pin. We called him Old Paint. Haven't forked him yet. Dad got him from a lady last winter. She was trying to work him to a cart. But he balked. She said she poured some hot water on See heah, kid, I'll stake you to a good night hoss. Turn Ol' Cal loose, an' whenever you need to do some real fancy separatin' jest set your frusky on ol' Cal. Better tie to your stirrups if you're perticler aboot keepin' your seat, 'cause 'at ol' pony can sure git from under a cowhand. Blowy pointed out one of his horses.
Why bunkie, I got more mean horses than I can start to keep gentle. I just fetched thet one to stake my friends. Pan saddled up the horse indicated, and found him the best he had ever mounted. That experience led to his acquaintance with Blowy. He was a ceaseless talker, hence his name, but beloved by all the outfit. Pan learned something from every cowboy he met and it was not all for the best. That roundup was Pan's real introduction to the raw range. When the time came for the outfit to break up, with each unit taking its own cattle, the boss said to Pan, "Come ride fer me.
Pan, flushed and pleased, mumbled his thanks, but he had to work for his father. Then he and the boy with him, Joe Crawley, bade their comrades good-by, especially loath to part with Old Dutch, and started home with their cows and calves. They crossed the old Indian battlefield where Colonel Shivington gave the famous order to his soldiers: "Kill 'em all. Nits make lice! Pan and Joe set out from there for Limestone Creek with their small herd and extra horses.
Pan wanted to bring Old Calico, but he had drifted off to the range. There was something in the air, storm perhaps, or such conditions that have strange effect upon beasts. Pan and Joe fought their cattle and horses all that day, and most of the night. They could not make them travel. Halting where they were they kept guard till dawn, then tried to drive their outfit on. But not for several hours could they move them. At length, however, the stock began to get dry, and string out and travel.
Late in the afternoon the boys reached Limestone. They found three old cows stuck in the mud, up to their eyes, with only their horns and faces showing. It took long hard work to get them out. They made camp there, turning the cows and calves loose, as this was their range.
Why the Wild Horse Model?
The following morning Pan and Joe rode up to the next boghole. They found seventeen mired cattle. There were six thousand cattle watering along that stream. When the water was low, as it was then, the cattle mired by the hundreds. They returned to camp, got their supper, took fresh horses, and worked half the night pulling cows out of the mud. By sunrise the next morning the boys were at work again. Some of the mired cattle had died, others had kinks in their necks and had to be killed. Farther up the creek conditions grew worse, and the biggest pool on the range looked from a distance like a small lake dotted with ducks.
I'm ridin' in after men an' wagons. We'll move the camp up heah. It's the wust I ever seen, an' we'll lose a heap of stock. There's a loblolly of blue gumbo mud an' no bottom. An' by thunder we're stuck heah for Lord knows how long. That fall Jim Blake sold his farm, and took his family to New Mexico. He had not been prospering in the valley, and things had gone from bad to worse. Pan did not get home in time to say good-by to Lucy—something that hurt in an indefinable way. He had not forgotten Lucy for in his mind she had become a steadfast factor in his home life.
She left a little note of farewell, simple and loyal, hopeful, yet somehow stultified. Not so childish as former notes! Time flew by and Lucy might be growing up. The Hardmans had also moved away from the valley, where, none of the neighbors appeared to know. But Pan was assured of two facts concerning them; firstly that Dick had gotten into a serious shooting scrape in which he had wounded a rancher's son, and secondly that from some unexpected and unknown source the Hardmans had acquired or been left some money. Pan promptly forgot his boyhood enemy.
This winter was the last that he spent at home. He rode the Limestone range that summer, and according to cowboys' gossip was fast developing all the qualities that pertained to the best riders of the day. Upon returning home he found that his father had made unwise deals and was not getting along very well. Grasping settlers had closed in on the range. Rustlers had ridden down from the north, raiding the valley. During Pan's absence a little sister was born, which was indeed joyful news for him. And as he played with the baby he was reminded of Lucy. What had become of her?
It occurred to Pan that sooner or later he must hunt her up. Pan decided that he could not remain idle during the winter. He could have had plenty to do at home, working without wages, but that was no longer to be thought of. So he decided to join two other adventurous cowboys who had planned to go south, and in the spring come back with some of the great herds being driven north. But Pan liked the vast ranges of the Lone Star State, and he rode there for two years, inevitably drifting into the wild free life of the cowboys.
Sometimes he sent money home to his mother, but that was seldom, because he was always in debt. She wrote him regularly, which fact was the only link between him and the old home memories. Thought of Lucy returned now and then, on the lonely rides on night watches, and it seemed like a sweet melancholy dream. Never a word did he hear of her. Spring had come again when he rode into the Panhandle, and as luck would have it he fell in with an outfit who were driving cattle to Montana, a job that would take until late fall.
To his chagrin stories of his wildness had preceded him. Ill rumor travels swiftly. Pan was the more liked and respected by these riders. But he feared that gossip of the southern ranges would reach his mother. He would go home that fall to reassure her of his well-being, and that he was not one of those "bad, gun-throwing cowboys. But late fall found him cheated of his long summer's wages, without money and job.
He would not ride a "grub line" home, so he found a place with a rancher in Montana. He learned to hate the bleak ranges of that northern state, the piercing blasts of wind, the ice and snow. Spring saw him riding south toward his old stamping grounds. But always he was drifting, with the swift months flying by as fleet as the mustangs he rode, and he did not reach home.
The Cimarron, the Platte, the Arkansas ranges came to know the tracks of his horses; and after he had drifted on, to remember him as few cowboys were remembered. At twenty years of age Panhandle Smith looked older—looked the hard life, the hard fare, the hard companionship that had been his lot as an American cowboy. He had absorbed all the virtues of that remarkable character, and most of the vices. But he had always kept aloof from women.
His comrades gave many forceful and humorous reasons for his apparent fear of the sex, but they never understood him. Pan never lost the reverence for women his mother had instilled in him, nor his first and only love for Lucy Blake. One summer night Pan was standing night-guard duty for his cowboy comrade, who was enamored of the daughter of the rancher for whom they worked.
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Jim was terribly in love, and closely pressed by a rival from another outfit. This night was to be the crucial one. Pan had to laugh at his friend. He was funny, he was pathetic, so prone to be cast down one moment and the next raised aloft to the skies, according to the whim of the capricious young lady. Many times Pan had ridden and worked with a boy afflicted with a similar malady. This night, however, Pan had been conscious of encroaching melancholy.
Perhaps it was a yearning for something he did not know how to define. The night was strange, a sultry oppressive one, silent except for the uneasy lowing of the herd, a rumble of thunder from the dark rolling clouds. A weird yellow moon hung just above the horizon. The range spread away dark, lonely and wild. No wind stirred. The wolves and coyotes were quiet. All at once to Pan the whole world seemed empty. It was an unaccountable feeling.
The open range, the solitude, the herd of cattle in his charge, the comrades asleep, the horses grazing round their pickets—these always sufficient things suddenly lost their magic potency. He divined at length that he was homesick. And by the time the lay watch was ended he had determined to quit his job and ride home. On his way home Panhandle Smith rode across the old Limestone range that had been the scene of his first cowboy activities. It had not changed, although the cattle were not so numerous. Familiar as yesterday were the bogholes, where he and his partner—what was that cow-puncher's name?
Pan made camp on the rocky ford where a brook joined the Limestone. It was thirty miles to Littleton, farther to Las Animas, and his pack horse was tired. He cooked his meager meal, and unrolled his bed, and as on many a hundred other nights he lay down under the open sky. But his wakefulness was new. He could not get to sleep for long. The nearer he got home the stranger and deeper his thoughts. Moving on next day he kept sharp lookout among the cattle for his father's brand. But he saw no sign of it. At length, toward sunset, after passing thousands of cattle, he concluded in surprise that his father's stock no longer ran this range.
Too many homesteads and fences! He reached Littleton at dark. It had grown to be a sizable settlement. Pan treated himself to a room at the new hotel, and after supper went out to find somebody he knew. It was Saturday night and the town was full of riders and ranchers. He expected to meet an old acquaintance any moment, but to his further surprise he did not. Finally he went to Campbell's store, long a fixture in the settlement of that country.
John Campbell, huge of build, with his long beard and ruddy face, appeared exactly the same as when he used to give Pan a stick of candy. It did seem a long time, now. Campbell did not recognize him. Perhaps if he was not remembered personally he might have the good luck to be unknown in reputation. Say, you've sprung up. We've heerd a lot about you—nothin' of late years, though, now I tax myself Cowboy, you've seen some range life, if talk is true. Campbell," replied Pan, with a smile. I wrote a couple of times, but she never answered. Old deal with Hardman that stood for years.
Mebbe you never knowed about it. There are ranchers around here who swear Hardman drove sharp deals. Wal, your father sold the homestead an' left. Reckon it's been over a year. Marco is the name of the place. New country up there. Gold an' silver minin', some cattle outfits goin' in, an lately I heerd of some big wild-hoss deals on.
He said they stepped high, wide an' handsome up there. But he was sore at Hardman, an' the funny thing is he wasn't sore till some time after Hardman left these parts. Mebbe he learned somethin'. An' you can learn whatever it was if you hunt up them ranchers who once got stung by Hardman. Dad will tell me Jim Blake, now, what become of him? An' he went to Marco first.
Reckon Hardman sent him up there to scout around. But they left soon after. In fact, now I tax myself, several homesteaders from hereabouts went. There's a boom over west, Pan, an' this here country is gettin' crowded. Pan went to the seclusion of his room, and there in the dark, sleepless, he knew the pangs of remorse. Without realizing the flight of years, always meaning to return home, to help father, mother, little sister, to take up again with his never-forgotten Lucy—he had allowed the wild life of the range to hold him too long.
Excuses were futile. Suppose he had failed to save money— suppose he had become numbered among those whom his old schoolteacher had called "bad cowboys"! Pride, neglect, love of the range and new country, new adventure had kept him from doing his duty by his parents. That hour was indeed dark and shameful for Panhandle Smith. Instead of drowning his grief in drink, as would have been natural for a cowboy, he let it work its will upon him.
He deserved the pangs of self-reproach, the futile wondering, the revived memories that roused longings stronger than that which had turned him on the homeward trail. Next day Pan sold his outfit except the few belongings he cherished, and boarded a west-bound stage.
Once on the way he recovered from his brooding mood and gradually awakened to the fact that he was riding to a new country, a new adventure—the biggest of his life—in which he must make amends to his mother, and to Lucy. Quite naturally he included Lucy in the little circle of beloved ones—Lucy, whom he had deserted for the open range, for pitching horses and running steers, for the dust and turmoil of the roundup, for the long day ride and the lonely night watch, for the gaming table, the bottle, the gun—for all that made life so thrilling to the American cowboy.
Riding by stage was not new to Pan, though he had never before taken more than a day's journey. The stage driver, Jim Wells, was an old-timer. He had been a pony-express rider, miner, teamster and freighter, and now, grizzled and scarred he liked to perch upon the driver's seat of the stage, chew tobacco and talk.
His keen eyes took Pan's measure in one glance. I got a plumb good memory fer names an' faces. I got it. Cowpuncher named Panhandle rode down street draggin' a bolt of red calico thet unwound an' stampeded all the hosses. Might thet lad have happened to be you? There's a funny old lady inside what's powerful afeerd of bandits, an' there's a gurl. I seen her takin' in your size an' spurs, an' thet gun you pack sort of comfortable like. An' there's a gambler, too, if I ever seen one.
Reckon I'm agoin' to enjoy this ride. After the next stop, where the travelers got dinner, Pan returned to the stage to find a young lady perched upon the driver's seat. She had serious gray eyes and pale cheeks. He had become aware of the appearance of a flashily dressed, hawk-eyed individual about to enter the stage. Father is with me, but he never sees anything. I have been annoyed," she replied. The stage driver arrived, and surveyed the couple on the seat with a wink and a grin and a knowing look that quite embarrassed the young lady. Wal, you'll shore be all right ridin' between me an' my young friend Panhandle Smith.
I'm on my way with my father to visit relatives in California. Pan soon found it needful to make conversation, in order to keep the loquacious old stage driver from talking too much. He had told Miss Newman about Pan's escapade with the red calico, and had launched upon another story about him, not funny at all to Pan, but one calculated to make conquest of a romancing young girl. Pan managed to shut Wells up, but too late. Miss Newman turned bright eyes upon Pan. I wondered how you could walk. You're not serious Was that true about your riding round Cheyenne dragging yards and yards of red calico behind your horse?
It was silly of me. I fear I had been looking upon something beside calico that was red. But her tone, her look, and the intimation conveyed a subtle flattery to Pan. It seemed that whenever he approached young women he always received similar impressions. That was seldom, for his encounters with girls were few and far between.
He could not help feeling pleased, somehow embarrassed, and rather vaguely elated. He divined danger for him in these potent impressions. Without ever understanding why he had avoided friendships with girls. And so they bandied words and laughs from one to another, while the long white road stretched ahead, and rolled behind under the wheels. The girl was plainly curious, interested, fascinated. Old Jim, after the manner of westerners, was bent on making a conquest for Pan. And Pan, trying hard to make himself appear only an ordinary and quite worthless cowboy, succeeded only in giving an opposite impression.
The little lady rode three whole days on the driver's seat between Pan and Wells. She made the hours flee. When the stage reached Las Vegas, she got off with her father and turned in the crowd to wave good-by. Her eyes were wistful with what might have been. They haunted Pan for days, over the mountain uplands and on and on.
Pan cherished the experience. To him it had been just a chance meeting with a nice girl, but somehow it opened his eyes to what he had missed. The way of cowboys with girls was the one way in which he had been totally unfamiliar. What he had missed was not the dancing and flirting and courting that cowboys loved so well, but something he could not quite grasp. It belonged to the never-fading influence of his mother; and likewise it had some inscrutable association with little Lucy Blake. Surely she could not be little now.
She was a grown girl, a young woman like this Emily Newman, beautiful perhaps, with all the nameless charms women had for men. Pan grew conscious of a mounting eagerness to see Lucy, and each day during the ride across the desert the feeling augmented, and with it a bewilderment equally incomprehensible to him. New Mexico was strange and new.
He saw the desert through eyes intensified by emotion. He knew the plains from Montana to Texas. But this was different country, with its stretches of valley, its walls of red and yellow, its strange shafts of rock, its amber ranges, and far away on every horizon the dim purple and white of great peaks were magnificent. The Mormon ranches were scattered along the few green valleys. Cattle were scarce, only a few herds dotting the endless sweeps of green sage and bleached grass. As he traveled farther westward, however, the numbers of wild horses increased until they ran into the thousands.
Horses had meant more to Pan than anything. In his wanderings up and down the western slope of the prairie land east of the Rockies he had often encountered wild horses, and had enjoyed many a chase after them. Every cowboy was a wild horse hunter, on occasions. If he had ridden these desert ranges, he would inevitably have become permanently a hunter and lover of wild horses. Moreover, Pan did not see why there would not be vastly more money in it than in punching cows. He grew charmed with the idea. Western New Mexico at last! It appeared a continuation and a magnifying of all the color and wildness and vastness.
Sand dunes and wastes of black lava, dry lake beds and cone-shaped extinct volcanoes, with the ragged crater mouths gaping, low ranges of yellow cedar-dotted hills, valleys of purple, and green forests on the mountain slopes—all these in endless variety were new to the cowboy of the plains. Water was conspicuous for its absence, though at long intervals of travel he crossed a stream. The homesteader, that hopeful and lonely pioneer, was as scarce as the streams.
One night, hours after dark, the stage rolled into Marco, with Pan one of five passengers. Sunset had overtaken them miles from their destination.
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At that time Pan thought the country wild and beautiful in the extreme. Darkness had soon blotted out the strange formations of colored rocks, the endless sweep of valley, the cold white peaks in the far distance. How unusual the swelling of his heart! The long three-week ride had ended. The stage had rolled down a main street the like of which Pan had never even imagined. It was crude, rough, garish with lights and stark board fronts of buildings, and a motley jostling crowd of men; women, too, were not wanting in the throngs streaming up and down.
Again it was Saturday night. Always it appeared Pan hit town on this of all nights. Noise and dust filled the air. Pan pulled down his bag, and mounted the board steps of the hotel the stage driver had announced. If Pan had not been keenly strung, after long weeks, with the thought of soon seeing his mother, father, his little sister and Lucy, he would yet have been excited over this adventure beyond the Rockies. Contrary to his usual habit of throwing his money to the winds like most cowboys, he had exercised rigid economy on this trip. Indeed, it was the first time he had ever done such a thing.
He had between four and five hundred dollars, consisting of wages he had saved and the proceeds from the sale of his horses and outfit. There was no telling in what difficulties he might find his father and what need there might be for his money. So Pan took cheap lodgings, and patronized a restaurant kept by a Chinaman. He chose a table at which sat a young man whose face and hands and clothes told of rough life in the open in contact with elemental things.
Pan could catch such significance as quickly as he could the points of a horse. He belonged to that fraternity himself. From Texas. I never saw any gold but a few gold eagles, and they've sure been scarce enough. Pan's frankness, and that something simple and careless about him, combined with his appearance, always created the best of impressions upon men. His companion grinned across the table, as if he had shared Pan's experience.
I heard you comin' before I saw you My name's Brown. Now tell me, Brown, have you seen or heard anything of my dad, Bill Smith? But I haven't mingled much. Been layin' pretty low, because the fact is I think I've struck a rich claim. An' it's made me cautious. Four of those rounded up had to be euthanized. Additionally, a foal was put down on Saturday after breaking its leg. The emergency Mustang roundup, which is being done under the supervision of the U. Forest Service, began last Thursday. Much to their credit residents in the Cold Creek community stated that although they were sad to see the horses go they are glad to see them being rescued from sure disaster before it was too late.
Forest Service spokeswoman Erica Hupp said that BLM officials were aware of the reports but that they were not pursuing them just now. The range is grossly overpopulated and overgrazed. This with summer being not that far away. How do I know? What makes me qualified to say that you want to ask?