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Cattle Brands

A Winter Round-Up
An hour before daybreak one Christmas morning in the Cherokee Strip, six hundred
horses were under saddle awaiting the dawn. It was a clear, frosty morning that bespoke
an equally clear day for the wolf _rodeo_. Every cow-camp within striking distance of
the Walnut Grove, on the Salt Fork of the Cimarron, was a scene of activity, taxing to the
utmost its hospitality to man and horse. There had been a hearty response to the invitation
to attend the circle drive-hunt of this well-known shelter of several bands of gray wolves.
The cowmen had suffered so severely in time past from this enemy of cattle that the
Cherokee Strip Cattle Association had that year offered a bounty of twenty dollars for
wolf scalps.
The lay of the land was extremely favorable. The Walnut Grove was a thickety covert on
the north first bottom of the Cimarron, and possibly two miles wide by three long. Across
the river, and extending several miles above and below this grove, was the salt plain--an
alkali desert which no wild animal, ruminant or carnivorous, would attempt to cross,
instinct having warned it of its danger. At the termination of the grove proper, down the
river or to the eastward, was a sand dune bottom of several miles, covered by wild plum
brush, terminating in a perfect horseshoe a thousand acres in extent, the entrance of
which was about a mile wide. After passing the grove, this plum-brush country could be
covered by men on horseback, though the chaparral undergrowth of the grove made the
use of horses impracticable. The Cimarron River, which surrounds this horseshoe on all
sides but the entrance, was probably two hundred yards wide at an average winter stage,
deep enough to swim a horse, and cold and rolling.
Across the river, opposite this horseshoe, was a cut-bank twenty feet high in places, with
only an occasional cattle trail leading down to the water. This cut-bank formed the
second bottom on that side, and the alkaline plain--the first bottom--ended a mile or more
up the river. It was an ideal situation for a drive-hunt, and legend, corroborated by
evidences, said that the Cherokees, when they used this outlet as a hunting-ground after
their enforced emigration from Georgia, had held numerous circle hunts over the same
ground after buffalo, deer, and elk.
The rendezvous was to be at ten o'clock on Encampment Butte, a plateau overlooking the
entire hunting-field and visible for miles. An hour before the appointed time the clans
began to gather. All the camps within twenty-five miles, and which were entertaining
participants of the hunt, put in a prompt appearance. Word was received early that
morning that a contingent from the Eagle Chief would be there, and begged that the start
be delayed till their arrival. A number of old cowmen were present, and to them was
delegated the duty of appointing the officers of the day. Bill Miller, a foreman on the
Coldwater Pool, an adjoining range, was appointed as first captain. There were also
several captains over divisions, and an acting captain placed over every ten men, who
would be held accountable for any disorder allowed along the line under his special
charge.
 
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