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IV. Christmas
The branding on the home range was an easy matter. The cattle were compelled
to water from the Nueces, so that their range was never over five or six miles
from the river. There was no occasion even to take out the wagon, though we
made a one-night camp at the mouth of the Ganso, and another about midway
between the home ranch and Shepherd's Ferry, pack mules serving instead of
the wagon. On the home range, in gathering to brand, we never disturbed the
mixed cattle, cutting out only the cows and calves. On the round-up below the
Ganso, we had over three thousand cattle in one rodeo, finding less than five
hundred calves belonging to Las Palomas, the bulk on this particular occasion
being steer cattle. There had been little demand for steers for several seasons
and they had accumulated until many of them were fine beeves, five and six
years old.
When the branding proper was concluded, our tally showed nearly fifty-one
hundred calves branded that season, indicating about twenty thousand cattle in
the Las Palomas brand. After a week's rest, with fresh horses, we re-rode the
home range in squads of two, and branded any calves we found with a running
iron. This added nearly a hundred more to our original number. On an open
range like ours, it was not expected that everything would be branded; but on
quitting, it is safe to say we had missed less than one per cent of our calf crop.
The cattle finished, we turned our attention to the branding of the horse stock.
The Christmas season was approaching, and we wanted to get the work well in
hand for the usual holiday festivities. There were some fifty _manadas_ of mares
belonging to Las Palomas, about one fourth of which were used for the rearing of
mules, the others growing our saddle horses for ranch use. These bands
numbered twenty to twenty-five brood mares each, and ranged mostly within
twenty miles of the home ranch. They were never disturbed except to brand the
colts, market surplus stock, or cut out the mature geldings to be broken for
saddle use. Each _manada_ had its own range, never trespassing on others, but
when they were brought together in the corral there was many a battle royal
among the stallions.
I was anxious to get the work over in good season, for I intended to ask for a two
weeks' leave of absence. My parents lived near Cibollo Ford on the San Antonio
River, and I made it a rule to spend Christmas with my own people. This year, in
particular, I had a double motive in going home; for the mouth of San Miguel and
the McLeod ranch lay directly on my route. I had figured matters down to a
fraction; I would have a good excuse for staying one night going and another
returning. And it would be my fault if I did not reach the ranch at an hour when an
invitation to remain over night would be simply imperative under the canons of
Texas hospitality. I had done enough hard work since the dance at Shepherd's to