The evening before the Cherokee Strip was thrown open for settlement, a number of old
timers met in the little town of Hennessey, Oklahoma.
On the next day the Strip would pass from us and our employers, the cowmen. Some of
the boys had spent from five to fifteen years on this range. But we realized that we had
come to the parting of the ways.
This was not the first time that the government had taken a hand in cattle matters. Some
of us in former days had moved cattle at the command of negro soldiers, with wintry
winds howling an accompaniment.
The cowman was never a government favorite. If the Indian wards of the nation had a
few million acres of idle land, "Let it lie idle," said the guardian. Some of these civilized
tribes maintained a fine system of public schools from the rental of unoccupied lands.
Nations, like men, revive the fable of the dog and the ox. But the guardian was supreme--
the cowman went. This was not unexpected to most of us. Still, this country was a home
to us. It mattered little if our names were on the pay-roll or not, it clothed and fed us.
We were seated around a table in the rear of a saloon talking of the morrow. The place
was run by a former cowboy. It therefore became a rendezvous for the craft. Most of us
had made up our minds to quit cattle for good and take claims.
"Before I take a claim," said Tom Roll, "I'll go to Minnesota and peon myself to some
Swede farmer for my keep the balance of my life. Making hay and plowing fire guards
the last few years have given me all the taste of farming that I want. I'm going to
Montana in the spring."
"Why don't you go this winter? Is your underwear too light?" asked Ace Gee. "Now, I'm
going to make a farewell play," continued Ace. "I'm going to take a claim, and before I
file on it, sell my rights, go back to old Van Zandt County, Texas, this winter, rear up my
feet, and tell it to them scarey. That's where all my folks live."
"Well, for a winter's stake," chimed in Joe Box, "Ace's scheme is all right. We can get
five hundred dollars out of a claim for simply staking it, and we know some good ones.
That sized roll ought to winter a man with modest tastes."
"You didn't know that I just came from Montana, did you, Tom?" asked Ace. "I can tell
you more about that country than you want to know. I've been up the trail this year;
delivered our cattle on the Yellowstone, where the outfit I worked for has a northern
range. When I remember this summer's work, I sometimes think that I will burn my
saddle and never turn or look a cow in the face again, nor ride anything but a plow mule
and that bareback.