A Winter Drift
The month of March was the last intrenchment in the wintry siege. If it could be
weathered, victory would crown the first good fight of the boys, rewarding their courage
in the present struggle and fortifying against future ones. The brothers had cast their lot
with the plains, the occupation had almost forced itself on them, and having tasted the
spice of battle, they buckled on their armor and rode forth. Without struggle or contest,
the worthy pleasures of life lose their nectar.
The general thaw came as a welcome relief. The cattle had gradually weakened, a round
dozen had fallen in sacrifice to the elements, and steps must be taken to recuperate the
"We must loose-herd hereafter," said Joel, rejoicing in the thawing weather. "A few warm
days and the corral will get miry. Unless the wolves return, we'll not pen the cattle again."
Dell was in high feather. "The winter's over," said he. "Listen to the creek talking to
itself. No, we'll not have to corral the herd any longer. Wasn't we lucky not to have any
more cattle winter-killed! Every day during the last month I felt that another week of
winter would take half the herd. It was good fighting, and I feel like shouting."
"It was the long distance between the corral and the divides that weakened the cattle,"
said Joel. "Hereafter we'll give them all the range they need and only put them under
close-herd at night. There may be squally weather yet, but little danger of a general
storm. After this thaw, farmers on the Solomon will begin their spring ploughing."
A fortnight of fine weather followed. The herd was given almost absolute freedom,
scattering for miles during the day, and only thrown together at nightfall. Even then, as
the cattle grazed entirely by day, a mile square of dry slope was considered compact
enough for the night. The extra horses, which had ranged for the winter around
Hackberry Grove, were seen only occasionally and their condition noted. The winter had
haired them like llamas, the sleet had worked no hardship, as a horse paws to the grass,
and any concern for the outside saddle stock was needless.
The promise of spring almost disarmed the boys. Dell was anxious to know the value of
the bales of peltry, and constantly urged his brother for permission to ride to the railroad
"What's your hurry?" was Joel's rejoinder. "I haven't shouted yet. I'm not sure that we're
out of the woods. Let's win for sure first."
"But we ought to write to Mr. Paul and Mr. Quince," urged the younger boy, by way of a
double excuse. "There may be a letter from them at Grinnell now. Let's write to our
friends in Texas and tell them that we've won the fight. The spring's here."