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Cowboy Life on the Sidetrack

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Cowboy Life on the Sidetrack
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Author(s): Frank Benton
Date Published: 2013/04
Page Count: 120
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-091-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-090-1

All the characters of the Wild West around the Union Pacific Railroad

This concise book concentrates on the cowboys and the characters and events which surrounded them during the halcyon days of the ‘Wild West’ in 19th century America. The author writes from a position of authority, for he worked as a cowboy himself for a while and with them for over thirty years of his life on the plains of Wyoming. The railroad was an essential part of the cowboy’s story and indeed it became the ultimate destination, for without it their valuable livestock would never have reached the insatiable markets of the North American continent. The railroad featured in this book—the great Union Pacific—runs unerringly through the pages of this narrative just as it should. Cowboys were well known for spinning yarns to entertain themselves around the campfire after the day’s work was done and there is certainly an element of that in this book, as each chapter has its own theme or concentrates on the exploits of a single character—whether hostile Indian, good man or villain. While tall-tales might be suspected, the author asserts the authenticity of what he has written and so the reader can look forward to real insights into the raucous and freewheeling lives of the men and women who helped found a nation.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

We had always four men on night herd at a time, each gang standing night guard three hours, when they were relieved by another four men. The first gang was 8 to 11 o’clock in the evening; the next 11 till 2 and the last guard stood from 2 till daylight, and then started the herd travelling north again. I kept two old cow hands and two green ones on each guard, and had been nine days on the trail; had travelled about a hundred miles without any mishap. We had bright moonlight nights. The grass was fine, being about the first of June, and I was beginning to feel a little easier, when one night we were camped on a high rolling prairie near the Wyoming line.<br>
Curley and three other men had just went on guard at 2 o’clock in the morning. The moon was shining bright as day. Everything was as still as could be, the old long-horned outlaws all lying down sleeping, probably dreaming of the cactus-covered hillsides in their old home in Arizona. Curley was on the north side of the herd and rolling a cigarette. He forgot my oft-repeated injunction not to light a parlour match around the herd in the night, but scratched one on his saddle horn. When that match popped, there was a roar like an earthquake and the herd was gone in the wink of an eyelid; just two minutes from the time Curley scratched his match, that wild, crazy avalanche of cattle was running over that camp outfit, two and three deep.<br>
But at that first roar, I was out of my blankets, running for my hoss and hollering, “Come on, boys!” with a rising inflection on “boys.” The old hands knew what was coming and were on their hosses soon as I was, but the tenderfeet stampeded their own hosses trying to get onto them, and their hosses all got away except two, and when their riders finally got on them, they took across the hills as fast as they could go out the way of that horde of oncoming wild-eyed demons. The men who lost their hosses crawled under the front end of the big heavy roundup wagon, and for a wonder the herd didn’t overturn the wagon, although lots of them broke their horns on it and some broke their legs.<br>
When I lit in the saddle, and looked around, five of my cowboys was lined up side of me, their hosses jumping and snorting, for them old cow hosses scented the danger and I only had time to say, “Keep cool; hold your hosses’ heads high, boys, and keep two hundred yards ahead of the cattle for at least five miles. If your hoss gives out try to get off to one side,” and then that earthquake (as one of the tenderfeet called it when he first woke up) was at our heels, and we were riding for our own lives as well as to stop the cattle, because if a hoss stumbled or stepped in a badger hole there wouldn’t be even a semblance of his rider left after those thousands of hoofs had got through pounding him. I was riding a Blackhawk Morgan hoss with wonderful speed and endurance and very sure footed, which was the main thing, and I allowed the herd to get up in a hundred yards of me, and seeing the country was comparatively smooth ahead of me, I turned in my saddle and looked back at the cattle.<br>
I had been in stampedes before, but nothing like this. The cattle were running their best, all the cripples and drags in the lead, their sore feet forgotten. Every steer had his long tail in the air, and those 4,000 waving tails made me think of a sudden whirlwind in a forest of young timber. Once in a while I could see a little ripple in the sea of shining backs, and I knew a steer had stumbled and gone down and his fellows had tramped him into mincemeat as they went over him. They were constantly breaking one another’s big horns as they clashed and crowded together, and I could hear their horns striking and breaking above the roar of the thousands of hoofs on the hard ground.<br>
As my eyes moved over the herd and to one side, I caught sight of a rider on a grey hoss, using whip and spur, trying to get ahead of the cattle, and I knew at a glance it was Curley, as none of the other boys had a grey hoss that night. I could see he was slowly forging ahead and getting nearer the lead of the cattle all the time.<br>
We had gone about ten or twelve miles and had left the smooth, rolling prairie behind us and were thundering down the divide on to the broken country along Crow Creek. Now, cattle on a stampede all follow the leaders, and after I and my half dozen cowboys had ridden in the lead of that herd for twelve or fifteen miles, gradually letting the cattle get close to us, but none by us, why we were the leaders, and when we began to strike that rough ground, my cowboys gradually veered to the left, so as to lead the herd away from the creek and onto the divide again. But Curley was on the left side of the herd. None of the other boys had noticed him, and when the herd began to swerve to the left, it put him on the inside of a quarter moon of rushing, roaring cattle. I hollered and screamed to my men, but in that awful roar could hardly hear my own voice, let alone make my men hear me, and just then we went down into a steep gulch and up the other side. I saw the hind end of the herd sweep across from their course of the quarter circle towards the leaders, saw the grey hoss and Curley go over the bank of the gulch out of sight amidst hordes of struggling animals. But as I looked back at the cattle swarming up the other bank I looked in vain for that grey hoss and his curly-haired rider. Sick at heart, I thought of what was lying in the bottom of that gulch in place of the sunny-haired boy my partner had sent out to me, and I wished that eighty thousand dollars worth of hides, horns and hoofs that was still thundering on behind was back in the cactus forests of Arizona.<br>
As the herd swung out on the divide they split in two, part of them turning to the left, making a circle of about two miles, myself and two cowboys heading this part of the herd and keeping them running in a smaller circle all the time till they stopped. The other part of the herd kept on for about five miles further, then they split in two, and the cowboys divided and finally got both bunches stopped; not, however, till one bunch had gone about ten miles beyond where I had got the first herd quieted.<br>
It was now broad daylight, and I started back to the gulch where poor Curley had disappeared. When I came in sight of the gulch, I saw his dead hoss, trampled into an unrecognizable mass, lying in the bottom of the gulch, but could see nothing of Curley. While gazing up and down the gulch which was overhung with rocks in places, I heard someone whistling a tune, and looking in that direction, saw Curley with his back to me, perched on a rock whistling as merry as a bird.<br>
He told me that as his hoss tumbled over the rocky bank, he fell off into a crevice, and crawling back under the rocks, he watched the procession go over him.<br>
We were three days getting the cattle back to where they had started and two hundred of them were dead or had to be shot, and hundreds had their horns broken off and hanging by slivers. It had cost in dead cattle and damage to the living at least $10,000. But I was so glad to get that curly-headed scamp back alive and unhurt I never said a word to him.