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PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS

by Adolph Roenigk


CHAPTER VIII
A TALE ILLUSTRATING THE VAGARIES
OF KANSAS WEATHER
By Guy W. Von Shriltz, Cold Water, Kansas

     In Western Kansas there is current an axiom questioning the mental condition of him who would predict the future climatic conditions of the locality.
     Al Sugure voiced the sentiment of the saying when he warned Old Ike: “Anybody who’ll prophesy weather in this country is either a damn fool or a new-comer.”
     It was early winter at the Two Circle ranch away out near the Colorado line. I was inspecting fences for Uncle Sam, for it was during the period when the cattlemen persisted in enclosing Government Lands.
     About a dozen cow hands and myself lounged about the old Barney Gow camp house, while the wind from the miles and miles of open prairie, howled around the sod walls, rolled the dust from under the eaves into our faces and whistled through the key hole.
     Al had announced from the window that snow was falling, whereupon Old Ike said: “I told you fellers we was in fer a blizzard.” Then Al had voiced the warning.
     “I know, sonny,” returned Old Ike not in the least disturbed. “But when yuh feel the wind change like it did this morn’, an’ yuh can see uh long black line ‘way off in the northwest, yuh can bagin to shove y’ur thin stuff towards a wind break an’ see that a big hunk out uh y’ur chip pile’s been packed into the house.
     Old Ike tapped his pipe against a boot heel: “I mind one time, back in free-range days, when I learned a thing or two about weather an’ calves. That little white holster you’ve seen me packin’, when they was occasion, always makes me think uh that lesson I got. Some gun case that, eh? But I just can’t help feelin’ bad sometimes when I put it on. Like to hear about it, Don?”
     I eagerly assented, for Old Ike has given me many an idea which has eventually evolved into ham and eggs.
     Old Ike absently-mindedly searched his pockets for tobacco,

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but finding none placed the pipe upon the wide window sill.
     “I rode fer the Comanche Pool them days. They bought a bunch uh calves out in Colorado across the line here some place. I don’t mind the name uh the outfit where we got ‘em, but it was a perty long drive fer calves an’ we got a late start. We got ‘em cut out an’ lined out towards home in fine shape, an’ was feelin’ fine, but we had to go slow, so we didn’t make much time. We shoved them all they could stand, but you can’t rush a spring calf like yuh can a three year old steer, so ‘fore long we had a lot uh ‘em footsore an’ we was draggin’ along three or four miles a day.
     “We only had a little outfit--eight men b’sides the boss, the cook an’ wrangler, an’ with them five hundred calves we had some job. They wasn’t one night out uh ten when we didn’t herd ‘em, an’ yuh know what night herdin’ is with eight hands when y’ur horses are wore down to a shadder, an’ ever last one of em’s got saddle sores as big as y’ur hand.
     “’Bout ten miles from the state line the Pool boss met us. We was clean done up, an’ the calves was strung out fer a mile on the drive. They wasn’t a man who didn’t wish he was at home an’ the calves was in some hot place spelled with a big “H.” But King, the foreman, talked us into stayin’ with the calves ‘till we got to headquarters, er till they all froze to death--fer it was gittin’ almighty cold at night.
     “One morning while I was saddlin’ up Ole Checkers a gust uh wind whooped up all of a sudden an’ before we got on the trail a long black line begin to show up in the northwest. We all knowed what that meant, an’ the way we pushed them calves that mornin’ would make a sure enough subject fer a cruelty to animals lecture.
     “ ‘Bout eight o’clock the wind struck us fer fair an’ inside uh twenty minutes it was so cloudy it was purt’ near like night. B’fore another half hour we was sufferin’ from the cold an’ snow was all over the groun’. We couldn’t no more drive them calves east than Al could sprout a pair uh wings. The snow cut out faces like sleet in the heavy wind, an’ we couldn’t see a hundred feet. So we let ‘em drift.
     “They was a ranch ahead us us someplace, an’ if we could hit it we’d be all hunkey dory, but we wasn’t sure uh hittin’ it. It began to look to me as if the Comanche Pool was billed to

58

lose about five hundred calves. It sure did. The prairie was as flat as a pancake where the storm caught us, an’ we knowed they wouldn’t be fifty uh them calves left by next mornin’ unless the blizzard quit workin’, er we struck some rough country er run acrost that ranch.
     “I was s’posed to be proddin’ up the tail-enders, but I was mostly busy keepin’ myself warm. It was a tough proposition, boy, an’ old hand at the business as I was it was pitiful. I’ll never forget it. The little footsore fellers kept droppin’ behin’ ‘till they was a string uh the poor cryin’ doggies as far back as I could see through the storm.
     “The boys up ahead had been out uh sight a long time when the boss rode up an’ says to me: ‘Ike, we’re goin’ to camp. Go get the boys while I help Mathers put up the tent an’ start a fire.’
     “When I rode away I seen him stop an’ look up an’ down the long line uh little shaggy humped up calves, an’ when he shook his head sorrowful like an’ loped away I knowed he was a-thinkin’ what a shame it was to turn the helpless cow-babies loose in the storm.
     “The snow was six inches deep on the level, an’ come up to my horse’s belly in the hollers when I called in the boys. Ole Checkers was plum fagged when we got back to the wagon an’ I was pretty bad done up myself. I yanked off my saddle an’ tied my Navajo over Checkers b’fore I crawled into the fire. Some of the boys had come in ahead uh me an’ the rest stumbled in ‘till all had showed up except my side pardner, Jake Pine.
     “I waited a half hour, warmin’ up, then saddled a fresh horse an’ started out after Jake, fer he hadn’t rode up an’ I was worried about him.
     “The main bunch had drifted ‘way ahead by the time I left camp an’ it was quite a spell b’fore I caught up with any of ‘em but a little humped up straggler now an’ then.
     “If I lived to be as old as Me-boose-a-little, or what ever that oldest-in-the-world feller’s name was, I’ll never fergit how them pore little cryin’ doggies looked in that northerner. I c’u’d just see ‘em through the haze uh flyin’ snow, their heads down, their backs up, the snow comin’ to their knees where it wasn’t drifted an’ all but coverin’ ‘em up in the low places. I c’u’d hear ‘em bawl an’ bawl an’ when I shaded my eyes an’

59

looked back ag’in in the wind an’ snow, I c’u’d’ see the pore little tender footed fellers strung back along the trail ‘till they was clear out uh sight.
     “One little white baby-calf that had been skim milk raised at the place where we got the bunch, was at the hind end uh the main herd. The first time I noticed him in particular he’d got a little ways behin’. Then I seen that it was a hard proposition fer him to keep up. He kep’ stumblin’ an’ staggerin’ along tryin’ his best to stay with the others, but he wasn’t very stout an’ he’d get caught up only to lag ag’in before he had gone a hundred yards. It made a great big lump come up in my neck to watch him. He got worse an’ worse ‘till his wabbly little laigs begin to give ‘way. The first time he fell he got up easy, but ever’ time he went down it took him longer git onto his feet. Once he stayed down so long that I thought he was done for, then just as I got even with him he got up after a hard time uh tryin’. About that time he seemed to realize that he couldn’t keep up with the other calves an’ he lifted up his head an’ boys that bawl dug right down in my old heart.
     “Right in the middle uh the bawl he went down for keeps. The snow smothered the last part uh his baby-cry. I couldn’t stand any more . I took my gun out uh my saddle pocket an’ waded over to him. I b’lieve he knowed he couldn’t go no farther, ‘cause he looked up at me an’ tried to tell me about it. But I couldn’t sabe calf language. I reached down an’ patted him. He licked my mitten, b-a-a-in’ pittiful an’ weak. I was feelin; mighty bad about that time, an’ I had to shut my eyes when I pulled the trigger.
     “As I rode on after leavin’ the little daid white calf, I got so cold an’ felt so lost an’ hopeless that I begin to kinda figger, in a sort uh feelin’less way, where was the best place on the carcass uh a old dried up cow puncher to put the muzzlle uh a 45 to git the quickest an’ most painless results.
     “But after a little while I got too sleepy to think uh anything. Then I roused up a little, an’ got off my horse an’ walked an’ yellod ‘till got more awake. After that I took turns uh walkin’ an’ ridin’. When I’d walk I’ git warm, an’ then take it from me I suffered. But as long as I stayed on the horse I was so numb that the cold didn’t hurt me.
     “I ain’t got no idea how long I follered them calves. Ole Possum got so tired that he traveled as slow as the calves. The

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snow got deeper an’ deeper. After a while I got kinda dazed. I thought the foolishest things. I ‘magined I was in the bunk house at headquarters, an’ was warmin’ my hands by the fire, with the boys sittin’ ‘round’, havin’ a fine ole time. “Bout that time Ole Possum stumbled an’ woke up, an’ I was ‘fraid I’d fall off my horse in the snow an’ go to sleep. So I didn’t ride for what seemed a long, long time. When fin’lly I got so tired I simply couldn’t hoof it any farther I climbed back on the saddle an’ I thought I rode fer days and days. I thought I was at my ole home where I was a kid ag’in. Then I dreamed I was at Mike Castello’s saloon. Ever’ place I seemed to be there was a big fire an’ I was havin’ one thunder of a good time.
     “I don’t remember much after that ‘till I thought I was in my bunk tryin’ to sleep, an’ somebody wouldn’t let me. Who ever it was pulled me off my horse an’ mauled me aroun’ ‘till my think foundry begin to work a little bit. When he got me awake I seen that it was Jake. They was two other punchers, strangers, with him. Jake told me afterwards that I just looked at him kinda foolish an’ says, “Hello, Jake,” then lopped over in his arms.
     “It’s all a blank to me after recognizin’ Jake ‘till I dreamed that somebody was holdin’ me down an’ puttin’ come sort uh hot stuff on my face. I found out afterwards that they were rubbin’ me with snow.
     “After a while I come aroun’ enough to tell them that the outfit had made camp and was all O.K.
     “I guess that I missed Jake somehow when I gathered in the boys, so he rode on with the calves. He didn’t have no way uh knowin ’ how far he had been travelin’ alone when he found out that he was by hisself. He tried to go back a’g’in the storm, but couldn’t cut the mustard, so he give it up an’ turnin’ ‘round’ he rode straight ahead in the storm ‘till his horse dropped. Then he walked through the snow ‘till he was about froze an’ half crazy when he run into a barb’ wire fence. He says that he was so weak an’ glad when he found the fence that he cried like a baby. He follered the fence aroun’ ‘till he come to a house. It was only a little line camp with two men, but it couldn’t uh looked better to a froze puncher if it’d been a whole town with a red eye dispersery ever’ other door. The two line riders had warmed Jake up an’ then he got to thinkin’ that we might be

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needin’ him, which was just like Old Jake. So he borried a horse an’ started back just in time to find me goin’ under.
     “I tell you what, pards, it ain’t no fun to git froze. I’ve been shot, got my laig busted, had my horse fall an’ knock the livin’ daylights out uh me, an’ have had a fair sprinklin’ uh diseases; but that thawin’ out hurt me worse than anythin’ that ever happened to me before or since. It sure was tough on my ole system. Look at that stump uh a little finger. But I come out uh it, mostly in one night at the line camp, an’ was able, an’ just able, too, to climb onto Ole Posum next mornin’.
     “A little b’fore sun-up it cleared an’ me an’ Jake follered the daid calves strung back along the trail an’ found the outfit. They was perty tollerable glad to see us, fer they hadn’t slep’ much the night before, not knowin’ what might uh become uh me an’ Jake.
     “On the way back I run acrost the little white feller, an’ as I looked at him layin’ there all stiff, I had to mop my eyes when Jake wasn’t lookin’. Then I got down an’ took this piece uh hide to remember him by.”
     Old Ike took the holster down from a nail by his bunk and laid it across his knees, caressing the soft white hair. Then he picked up his pipe from the window sill, and forgetting that at the commencement of his story he had been unable to locate his tobacco, took it from his vest pocket and slowly worked open the neck of the sack with a stuby forefinger.
     As we sat and mused silently, our minds filled with thoughts aroused by Old Ike’s experiences and the wind suddenly stilled. Fifteen minutes later a damp earth underfoot, a gusty cold breeze and a few low, ragged, hurrying clouds overhead were all that remained of the fierce blizzard.
     At the corral Al, stopping to grasp his cinch, winked ludicrously at me and addressed the tall cedar gate post before him.
     “Anybody who’ll prophesy weather.”
     Old Ike winced.
     “’Bout time ‘twas gittin’ dark ain’t it, Pete? ” queried Highpockets innocently. But Old Ike made no comment.
     “Jerry,” yelled Al O-h-h-, Jerry.” The cook appeared at the kitchen door.
     “Yep.”
     “Got them chips packed in?”

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     Jerry had been present during Old Ike’s narrative. Without a word Old Ike saddled his horse and led him through the gate. Then he mounted the board fence where he commanded full attention.
     “It’s either a Damn fool er a new-comer. Just take y’ur choice. An’ they’ll be a couple uh gallone uh delirium tremens down to the Liberal Express office next time anybody goes to town.”
     Hilarity broke loose, and Old Ike was pronounced the best sport that ever straddled a horse’s ridge pole.

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Transcribed and submitted by his Great Grandniece L Ann Bowler

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