Reed Anthony, Cowman HTML version

XX. Holding The Fort
As in many other lines of business, there were ebb and flood tides in cattle. The
opening of the trail through to the extreme Northwest gave the range live stock
industry its greatest impetus. There have always been seasons of depression
and advances, the cycles covering periods of ten to a dozen years, the duration
of the ebb and stationary tides being double that of the flood. Outside influences
have had their bearing, and the wresting of an empire from its savage
possessors in the West, and its immediate occupancy by the dominant race in
ranching, stimulated cattle prices far beyond what was justified by the laws of
supply and demand. The boom in live stock in the Southwest which began in the
early '80's stands alone in the market variations of the last half-century. And as if
to rebuke the folly of man and remind him that he is but grass, Nature frowned
with two successive severe winters, humbling the kings and princes of the range.
Up to and including the winter of 1883-84 the loss among range cattle was
trifling. The country was new and open, and when the stock could drift freely in
advance of storms, their instincts carried them to the sheltering coulees, cut
banks, and broken country until the blizzard had passed. Since our firm began
maturing beeves ten years before, the losses attributable to winter were never
noticed, nor did they in the least affect our profits. On my ranches in Texas the
primitive law of survival of the fittest prevailed, the winter-kill falling sorest among
the weak and aging cows. My personal loss was always heavier than that of the
firm, owing to my holdings being mixed stock, and due to the fact that an animal
in the South never took on tallow enough to assist materially in resisting a winter.
The cattle of the North always had the flesh to withstand the rigors of the wintry
season, dry, cold, zero weather being preferable to rain, sleet, and the northers
that swept across the plains of Texas. The range of the new company was
intermediate between the extremes of north and south, and as we handled all
steer cattle, no one entertained any fear from the climate.
I passed a comparatively idle winter at my home on the Clear Fork. Weekly
reports reached me from the new ranch, several of which caused uneasiness, as
our fences were several times cut on the southwest, and a prairie fire, the work of
an incendiary, broke out at midnight on our range. Happily the wind fell, and by
daybreak the smoke arose in columns, summoning every man on the ranch, and
the fire was soon brought under control. As a precaution to such a possibility we
had burned fire-guards entirely around the range by plowing furrows one hundred
feet apart and burning out the middle. Taking advantage of creeks and
watercourses, natural boundaries that a prairie fire could hardly jump, we had cut
and quartered the pasture with fire-guards in such a manner that, unless there
was a concerted action on the part of any hirelings of our enemies, it would have
been impossible to have burned more than a small portion of the range at any
one time. But these malicious attempts at our injury made the outfit doubly