Wells Brothers HTML version
An Open Winter
An ideal Indian summer was enjoyed. Between the early and late fall frosts, the range
matured into perfect winter pasturage. Light rains in September freshened the buffalo
grass until it greened on the sunny slopes, cured into hay as the fall advanced, thus
assuring abundant forage to the cattle.
Manly was the only one of the quartette not inured to a northern climate. A winter in
Montana had made Sargent proof against any cold, while the brothers were native to that
latitude if not to the plains. After building the line-camp and long before occupying it, the
quartette paired off, Sargent and Dell claiming the new dug-out, while the other two were
perfectly content with the old shack at headquarters. A healthy spirit of rivalry sprang up,
extending from a division of the horses down to a fair assignment of the blankets.
Preparations for and a constant reference to the coming winter aroused a dread in Manly.
"You remind me of our darky cook," said Sargent, "up on the Yellowstone a few years
ago. Half the trail outfit were detailed until frost, to avoid fever and to locate the cattle,
and of course the cook had to stay. A squall of snow caught us in camp, and that poor
darky just pined away. 'Boss,' he used to say to the foreman, shivering over the fire, 'ah's
got to go home. Ah's subjec' to de rheumatics. Mah fambly's a-gwine to be pow'ful
uneasy 'bout me. Dis-a-yere country am no place fo' a po' ol' niggah.'"
Two teams were employed in freighting in the corn, four round trips being required, Joel
and Manly assuming the work. Supplies for the winter were brought in at the same time,
among the first of which were four sacks of salt; and the curing of two barrels of corned
beef fell a pleasant task to Dell and his partner. There was nothing new in pickling the
meat, and with the exception of felling the beeves, the incident passed as part of the day's
work. Dell claimed the privilege of making the shots, which Sargent granted, but
exercised sufficient caution to corral the beeves. Both fell in their tracks, and the novice
gained confidence in his skill in the use of a rifle.
The first of December was agreed on to begin the riding of lines. That date found all the
new cattle drifted above headquarters, and as it was some ten miles to the upper line-
camp, an extremely liberal range was allowed the herd. Eight of the best wintered horses
were stabled, and at first the line was maintained on the south bank of the Beaver. An
outer line was agreed upon, five miles to the south; but until the season forced the cattle
to the shelter of the valley, the inner one was kept under patrol. The outer was a purely
imaginary line, extending in an immense half-circle, from headquarters to the new line-
camp above. It followed the highest ground, and marked the utmost limit on the winter
range on the south. Any sign or trace of cattle crossing it, drifting before a storm or
grazing at leisure, must be turned back or trailed down.
The first and second weeks passed, the weather continuing fine. Many of the cattle
ranged two and three miles north of the creek, not even coming in to water oftener than
every other day. Several times the horsemen circled to the north; but as ranging wide was