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A Wintry Crucible
The dreaded winter was at hand. Scarcely a day passed but the harbingers of air and sky
sounded the warning approach of the forthcoming siege. Great flights of song and game
birds, in their migration southward, lent an accent as they twittered by or honked in mid-
air, while scurrying clouds and squally weather bore witness of approaching winter.
The tent was struck and stored away. The extra saddle stock was freed for the winter, and
located around Hackberry Grove. The three best horses were given a ration of corn, and
on Dell's return from the railroad, the cattle were put under herd. The most liberal
freedom must be allowed; with the numbers on hand, the term _close_ herding would
imply grazing the cattle on a section of land, while _loose_ herding would mean four or
five times that acreage. New routes must be taken daily; the weather would govern the
compactness and course of the herd, while a radius of five miles from the corral was a
liberal range.
The brothers were somewhat familiar with winter on the plains. Cold was to be expected,
but if accompanied by sunshine and a dry atmosphere, there was nothing to fear. A warm,
fine day was usually the forerunner of a storm, the approach of which gave little warning,
requiring a sleepless vigilance to avoid being taken unaware or at a disadvantage.
The day's work began at sunrise. Cattle are loath to leave a dry bed, and on throwing
open the corral gates, it was often necessary to enter and arouse the herd. Thereafter,
under normal conditions, it was a matter of pointing, keeping up the drag cattle, allowing
the herd to spread and graze, and contracting and relaxing as occasion required. In
handling, it was a decided advantage that the little nucleus had known herd restraint, in
trailing overland from Texas, and were obedient, at a distance of fifty yards, to the
slightest whistle or pressure of a herdsman. Under favorable conditions, the cattle could
be depended on to graze until noon, when they were allowed an hour's rest, and the circle
homeward was timed so as to reach the corral and water by sunset. The duties of each day
were a repetition of the previous one, the moods of the old and younger cattle, sedate and
frolicsome, affording the only variety to the monotony of the task.
"Holding these cattle is going to be no trouble at all," said Dell, as they rode homeward,
at the end of the first day's herding. "My horse never wet a hair to-day."
"Don't shout before you're out of the woods," replied Joel. "The first of April will be soon
enough to count our chickens. To-morrow is only the beginning of December."
"Last year we shucked corn up until Christmas."
"Husking corn is a burnt bridge with me. We're herding cattle this winter. Sit straight in
your saddle."