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A Texas Matchmaker

XIV. A Two Years' Drouth
The spring of '78 was an early one, but the drouth continued, and after the hide
hunting was over we rode our range almost night and day. Thousands of cattle
had drifted down from the Frio River country, which section was suffering from
drouth as badly as the Nueces. The new wells were furnishing a limited supply of
water, but we rigged pulleys on the best of them, and when the wind failed we
had recourse to buckets and a rope worked from the pommel of a saddle. A
breeze usually arose about ten in the morning and fell about midnight. During the
lull the buckets rose and fell incessantly at eight wells, with no lack of suffering
cattle in attendance to consume it as fast as it was hoisted. Many thirsty animals
gorged themselves, and died in sight of the well; weak ones being frequently
trampled to death by the stronger, while flint hides were corded at every watering
point. The river had quit flowing, and with the first warmth of spring the pools
became rancid and stagnant. In sandy and subirrigated sections, under a March
sun, the grass made a sickly effort to spring; but it lacked substance, and so far
from furnishing food for the cattle, it only weakened them.
This was my first experience with a serious drouth. Uncle Lance, however, met
the emergency as though it were part of the day's work, riding continually with the
rest of us. During the latter part of March, Aaron Scales, two vaqueros, and
myself came in one night from the Ganso and announced not over a month's
supply of water in that creek. We also reported to our employer that during our
two days' ride, we had skinned some ten cattle, four of which were in our own
brand.
"That's not as bad as it might be," said the old ranchero, philosophically. "You
see, boys, I've been through three drouths since I began ranching on this river.
The second one, in '51, was the worst; cattle skulls were as thick along the
Nueces that year as sunflowers in August. In '66 it was nearly as bad, there
being more cattle; but it didn't hurt me very much, as mavericking had been good
for some time before and for several years following, and I soon recovered my
losses. The first one lasted three years, and had there been as many cattle as
there are now, half of them would have died. The spring before the second
drouth, I acted as _padrino_ for Tiburcio and his wife, who was at that time a
mere slip of a girl living at the Mission. Before they had time to get married, the
dry spell set in and they put the wedding off until it should rain. I ridiculed the
idea, but they were both superstitious and stuck it out. And honest, boys, there
wasn't enough rain fell in two years to wet your shirt. In my forty years on the
Nueces, I've seen hard times, but that drouth was the toughest of them all. Game
and birds left the country, and the cattle were too poor to eat. Whenever our
provisions ran low, I sent Tiburcio to the coast with a load of hides, using six yoke
of oxen to handle a cargo of about a ton. The oxen were so poor that they had to
stand twice in one place to make a shadow, and we wouldn't take gold for our
flint hides but insisted on the staples of life. At one point on the road, Tiburcio
 
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