The Brothers Claim A Range
The next morning Straw dallied about until Dell brought up the crippled cattle. They
were uniform in size; rest was the one thing needful, and it now would be theirs amid
bountiful surroundings. They were driven up among the others, now scattered about in
plain sight in the valley above, presenting a morning scene of pastoral contentment.
"Even the calves are playing this morning," said Straw to Forrest, as the former entered
the tent. "A few cattle surely make this valley look good. What you want to do now is to
keep on drawing more. Don't allow no outfit to pass without chipping in, at least give
them the chance, and this trail hospital will be on velvet in no time. Of course, all Lovell
outfits will tear their shirts boosting the endowment fund, but that needn't bar the other
herds. Some outfits may have no cattle, but they can chip in a sore-back or crippled pony.
My idea is to bar no one, and if they won't come in, give them a chance to say they don't
want to. You ought to send word back to Dodge; any foreman going east or west from
there would give you his strays."
The conception of a trail refuge had taken root. The supply points were oases for
amusement, but a halfway haven for the long stretches of unsettled country, during the
exodus of Texas cattle to the Northwest, was an unknown port. The monotony of from
three to five months on the trail, night and day work, was tiring to men, while a glass of
milk or even an hour in the shade was a distinct relief. Straw was reluctant to go,
returning to make suggestions, by way of excuse, and not until forced by the advancing
day did he mount and leave to overtake his herd.
Again the trio was left alone. Straw had given Forrest a list of brands and a classification
of the cattle contributed, and a lesson in reading brands was given the boys. "Brands read
from left to right," said Forrest to the pair of attentive listeners, "or downward. If more
than one brand is on an animal, the upper one is the holding or one in which ownership is
vested. Character brands are known by name, and are used because difficult to alter.
There is scarcely a letter in the alphabet that a cattle thief can't change. When a cow brute
leaves its home range, it's always a temptation to some rustler to alter the brand, and
characters are not so easily changed."
The importance of claiming the range was pressing, and now that cattle were occupying
it, the opportunity presented itself. A notice was accordingly written, laying claim to all
grazing rights, from the Texas and Montana trail crossing on Beaver to the headwaters of
the same, including all its tributaries, by virtue of possession and occupancy vested in the
claimants, Wells Brothers. "How does that sound?" inquired Forrest, its author, giving a
literal reading of the notice. "Nothing small or stingy about that, eh? When you're getting,
"But where are we to get the cattle to stock such a big country?" pondered Joel. "It's
twenty miles to the head of this creek."