Pages 657-663, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Butler County, Kansas by Vol. P. Mooney. Standard Publishing Company, Lawrence, Kan.: 1916. ill.; 894 pgs.


  HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY 657 cont'd

H. E. Cain.—To impart a vivid and intimate picture of an industry there is no better method than to tell the story of the men whose lives were spent in that industry. A view of the inner workings of cattle ranching is vividly seen in the life story of Elmer Cain, who for over a quarter of a century was closely connected with the Ramsey cattle ranch. To say that Mr. Cain knew the business from the grass roots to the stock yards is not exaggerating in the least. He was born near


658 HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY  

Rocklord, III., December 21, 1867, the eldest son of W. H. Cain, one of the early settlers of Lincoln township, whose history is found elsewhere in this volume. Elmer had a great love for horses, and his boyish dreams were of horses, cattle and cowboys. In 1885 his father moved to Kansas, settling on a farm on the high prairie of Lincoln township, where he sought to build a home and to wrest from the unwilling forces of nature a living for his family. During the dry years of 1886, 1887 and 1888, dollars were scarce in the Cain family, and to help out, Elmer, then a young fellow of eighteen, sought employment, and following the bent of his nature, he applied to A. C. Ramsey for work on the Buckeye Land and Cattle Company's ranch, and on March 8, 1886, began a business connection which lasted for over twenty-six years.

For the first three years Mr. Cain did general farm work and learned but little of the business of handling cattle. It was owing to what he afterward thought was a lucky accident that he almost suddenly became a full fledged cow puncher. During the winter of 1888, as he was returning from church his horse fell with him. For two weeks he was laid up with a broken foot. He was lame from this injury for several months and of course this put an end to the farm work and he was transferred to the cattle department. For twenty-three years from that time the very air that he breathed was the atmosphere of cattle; his dreams by night were of cattle; in the winter, of snow storms and feed and cattle; in the long summer months, of fences, wind mills, water tanks and cattle; of loading and unloading and counting cattle; of cattle by great train loads, always of cattle; cattle of all kinds and descriptions, from the well bred Herefords to the long horned, slab-sided, thin-shanked, vicious cattle of Texas and Old Mexico.

The business of the Buckeye Land and Cattle Company was largely that of grazing the big herds of the Texas ranchers, and in the earlier days of the ranch, the herds varied from 1,000 to 1,500 head, the greater part of these being mature steers. In the early nineties the grazing lands were extended, bigger herds contractd[sic] for, and the business expanded generally. About this time Elmer Cain was made foreman, a position he held during the remainder of his connection with the ranch. During the winter from six to eight men were required to feed and look after the cattle. In the summer three cowboys looked after the fences and water, and sometimes herds of 20,000 head. It was a hard life, but spiced with excitement and danger that fascinated and held that class of men, famous with rope and horse, and noted for their cool nerve and dashing courage.

During the early years, while Cain was rather new in the cattle business, the ranch had on pasture a bunch of wild western bulls. In the fall, when the bunch was rounded up and driven to the feed lots of the owners, for some reason two of the herd were left. After a few days the strays were discovered, and arrangements were made to round up, brand and ship these two bulls. The foreman and young Cain rounded


  HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY 659

up and drove the bulls into the big scale pen, sixteen feet wide by sixty-four feet long, with its branding chute at one end. Without any serious trouble they were driven into the pen, but were rather hot tempered and quarrelsome toward each other. The foreman held the gate to the branding chute open, while Cain, at the farther end of the scales pen, leaning far over the gate, cracked his whip at the bull nearest him, about the middle of the pen. The other bull was at the other end of the enclosure. There they stood, front legs wide apart and with lowered heads glaring at each other. At the crack of Cain's whip the bull at the farther end lunged suddenly, catching his adversary about the middle, knocking him with tremendous force against the gate over which Cain was leaning. It was all done in a few seconds. The force of the impact of the bull with the gate knocked his support from under him and Elmer found himself astride the bull and with his foot and leg wedged between the bull's ribs and the heavy boards of the scales pen. The pressure bent the rowell of his big spur around the heel of his foot, the spur probably saving his foot from being crushed. Cain lost no time in exchanging his seat on the bull's back to a safer place on the top board of the scale pen. After this display of bovine temperament the bulls walked quietly enough into the branding chute, and the smell of singeing hair and seared bull hide marked the next scene in the adventure with the bulls.

Another interesting and amusing incident of his early days on the ranch was with a bunch of Texas and Cherokee cows. Some of these cows, shipped to the ranch late in the fall, were thin and in poor condition. The hard winter would not improve them to any extent, and by spring some of the poorest would sometimes be so thin and weak that they couldn't get up after lying down for a while. Helping cattle to their feet was one of the details of a day's work during the spring. Finding a cow down and unable to get up, the cowboy would roll her up "natural" and with a lift and a twist of her tail the cow was brought to her feet. Now, to a range bred Texas or Cherokee cow, fighting is just as natural as eating, and to avoid her long horns, with which she would invariably seek to impale the cowman after being lifted to her feet, the cowboy kept a firm grasp on her tail, and by giving the cow a strong pull sideways, he could get out of her way by several feet. These cows would seldom go much out of their way to attack a man. One day in the spring, Cain and two of his men were driving a small herd across the prairie, when the cattle sighted a small pond of shallow water. Into the muddy water the cattle went, half a dozen of the thinnest cows sticking fast in the deep mud around the water hole. Cain dropped his rope over the nearest cow's horns, gave the rope a turn around his saddle horn, spoke to his horse and the cow was pulled to the bank. Dismounting, he "rolled her up natural" and turned to the next cow. Standing beside his horse, with his back to the cow on the bank, he was leaning over slightly as he adjusted his loop. In an instant he was


660 HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY  

sprawling in the dirt ten feet from where he stood. The cow he had rescued from the mud had, unseen by the other two men, got on her feet and true to her natural instinct, seeing a man on foot and within easy reach of her long horns, had used them effectively. This incident was a great joke on Elmer for a long time after.

The monotony of ranch life was broken by the occasional trips to town, which were always all day jobs. No matter how much or how little business he had to attend to, the cowboy stayed in town all day and often until late at night, though it is to his credit that Elmer Cain was not one of these revelers. On one occasion he took a bunch of horses to the blacksmith at El Dorado. With the four horses necked together and riding a big buckskin, well known to cattle men as the best "cutting horse" in the cattle country, he reached El Dorado without accident or adventure. After the horses were shod, stabled and fed in the livery barn, late in the afternoon he started for home. With the four horses necked together and with a thirty-foot rope from the middle pair to his saddle horn, he started up Main street. Not accustomed to the strange noises and sights of town life, the four horses started, first in a trot, which soon became a gallop. Thinking to check their speed, Cain pulled up shortly on his bridle reins. The big buckskin with stiffened legs, stopped instantly. Cain was always careless about his cinches, and that day was no exception, and, as usual, they were loose. The saddle was jerked from the horse's back to his ears and Cain landed in the hard street right under his horse's nose. With the skin torn from his face and blood streaming from his nose, he scrambled to his feet, slipping the saddle from the neck to its proper place on his pitching horse. Cain looked for his four horses, but they had been stopped by some men farther up the street. After washing his bloody face in ice water in L. H. Powell's office, near the scene of the accident, Mr. Cain changed his plans. Sure that the horses would go straight home, he untied the ropes which fastened them together abreast and turned them loose. Still excited, they struck the bridge over the Walnut like a charge of cavalry. Cain on his buckskin followed leisurely and about four milts[sic] overtook them where they were grazing quietly along the road.

The late summer and fall days were busy ones on the ranch. With daily telegrams from the owners to ship out of such and such a pasture so many cars of cattle to the market, the cowboy saw the strenuous side of ranch life. Late in the summer of 1897, Cain and his men were rounding up, cutting out and loading. In the bunch of cattle in the corrals was a big yellow Colorado steer with an absolute dislike for fences and close quarters, and with a great love and longing for the open range. While the cutting out was in progress this steer jumped the fence and made for a corn field. The boasted pride of the Ramsey ranch was that they never let a steer escape. Accordingly, Cain, with George Ramsey and Bill Piper, started for the corn field after the out-


  HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY 661

law. The big steer heard them coming and out from the big weeds and corn near the creek bank he went. Cain on his buckskin was a little in advance of the others, and as he neared the creek he saw a yellow streak moving with the speed of a race horse through the corn and weeds. Putting the spur to his horse he determined to keep in sight of the steer. When the steer reached the fence he jumped into a little pasture of about 100 acres and stopped out in the open. After getting through the fence Cain waited for the others to join him, and the four riders then attempted to drive the steer to the pasture where he belonged. When they got him near the fence, in spite of their united efforts, he bolted for the open. Taking his rope down, Cain and the buckskin went after the galloping outlaw, which made for the rough ground and rocks. Intent on dropping his rope, Cain paid no attention to the ground around or ahead, and just at the brink of a steep bank of twelve or fourteen feet, he made the throw and the rope encircled the head of the steer. His plunge over the bank put a terrific and sudden force to the strain on horse and rope. The buckskin, well trained to work of this kind, kept his feet, but the sudden lurch threw Cain from the saddle with his hand doubled under him. He fell and rolled down the bank almost under the steer. About this time in the affair Piper rode up and put his rope on the outlaw and together they drove and pulled him where he was wanted.

One summer the ranch had on pasture 1,000 head of steers from Old Mexico. Among the bunch of wild eyed bad actors were a couple of outlaws, and at any round up of the herd the two outlaws would break away. At the last round up these two steers made no change in their usual habits, and when Cain, with George Ramsey and Hart Lenord, found them they were with a little bunch of natives in a rough and hilly part of the range along the banks of the creek. When the boys approached the little herd one of the outlaws broke away from the bunch and made for the rough ground up the creek. George and Hart stayed with the herd and the red outlaw, while Elmer started after the other. The big grey could outrun almost any steer, and after a spirited little chase Cain was able to rope the steer. His intention was to take the captive back to the herd, but the long horned old Mexican had other plans and they were aggressive plans, too. Evidently the rope was not a stranger to him and he sought to use it to his own advantage. With all the strength of his muscles and his 1,200 pounds of weight, he pulled the rope taut, then suddenly, with the spring of the rope, he lunged wickedly at the horse and rider. These tactics he repeated systematically time after time and more than once the horse's tail was lifted on the points of the long horns. The situation was ticklish, to say the least, but Cain, who had never before turned loose a roped steer, had no intention of doing so now. So the fight continued. With his next lunge the maddened steer crossed to rope and Cain, quick to see his advantage, stuck his mount with his spur in an earnest effort to break the neck of his wicked antagonist. Many times in a tight place, it


662 HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY  

is the unexpected that happens. When the rope again pulled as tight as the strength of horse and steer could exert, the off strap on the saddle broke and Cain landed twenty feet from his horse, but still astride the big saddle. Never before was the situation so fraught with grave danger to the cowboy. His first act was to loosen the rope from the saddle horn and then, slipping backwards to a position behind his saddle, he raised the saddle on end and crouched behind it. The steer, making ready for another of its wicked lunges, backed up to get the spring of the rope, and finding himself loose, he ran away over the hill, while Cain breathed a sigh of relief. The fact that the black outlaw had this particular method of fighting, being one of the kind which always back up to get the spring of the rope before seeking to gore his antagonist, saved Cain's life. These adventures are only common examples of the life of the cowboy. Many situations, sometimes of almost daily occurence, try the nerve and cool judgment of the men who follow this strenuous calling. Your cowboy is usually a man who sees the humorous side of life as well as its more somber tints. One day Elmer Cain and Hart Lenord went after a couple of two-year-olds which had crawled through the fence into another pasture. The men roped the steers, but the one on which Cain put his rope showed the stubborn side of his nature to such an extent that he simply would neither lead nor drive. Pulling the rope tight with his horse in the path leading to the gate, Cain, with his temper considerably ruffled, walked to the rear of his stubborn charge and laid hold of his last appendage. With a vigorous twist of the steer's tail, he spoke to his well trained animal, which pulled like a work horse. This heroic treatment changed the steer's mind somewhat and in this way he was taken out. While this drama was being enacted, Hart rode over the hill, and at the sight he rolled off his horse with mirth.

During the twenty-six years that Mr. Cain was in the employ of the A. C. Ramsey ranch there existed between him and Mr. Ramsey a perfect understanding and appreciation of each other's merits. Besides the perfect confidence in his ability and judgment, on which he relied implicitly, Mr. Ramsey in many ways took pleasure in showing his appreciation of a man of the Elmer Cain type. These manifestations of his regard were often shown by the gift of a fancy pair of spurs, a bridle or a fine saddle, all dear to the heart of a cowboy. Though now following the staid and tame business of farming, Mr. Cain prizes among his choicest possessions these mementos of his cowboy days and the friendship of Mr. Ramsey.

On the occasion of Mr. Cain's marriage, February 12, 1908, Mr. Ramsey presented Mr. Cain and his bride a handsome house and lot in De Graff. A fact worthy of mention, which stands forth conspicuously different from the life and character of the average cowboy, and which seems to show more clearly the strength of the character we have attempted to portray, is the exemplary habits of the man with whom this review is concerned. Although his environment was such


  HISTORY OF BUTLER COUNTY 663

that the habits could easily have been formed. Mr. Cain never used tobacco or intoxicating liquor, of any kind, in his life. Instead of developing into a prodigal spendthrift, which would have been an easy road to travel, for to the average cowboy, money is of no apparent value, and cattlemen as a rule being great spenders, Mr. Cain saved his wages, and to his credit it must be said, that during those long, hard, dry years, when life on a Kansas farm was little more than a struggle for existence, it was these same wages that kept the mortgage off his father's farm.

Before he left the Ramsey ranch, Mr. Cain bought forty acres of land, two and one-half miles west of DeGraff, to which he has since added another 160, making a total of 200 acres. This farm is well improved and is directly across the road from the big ranch over which he rode for many years. Mr. Cain is now one of the prosperous and progressive farmers of Lincoln township. He is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge at Burns and he also belongs to the Knights of the Maccabees at El Dorado.


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Pages 657-663, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Butler County, Kansas by Vol. P. Mooney. Standard Publishing Company, Lawrence, Kan.: 1916. ill.; 894 pgs.


Tom & Carolyn Ward
Columbus, KS

tcward@columbus-ks.com


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