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A Tenderfoot In Colorado

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Now back in print, A Tenderfoot in Colorado is R. B. Townshend's classic account of his time in the wild frontier territory known as Colorado. Townshend arrived in the Rockies in 1869, fresh from Cambridge, England, with $300 in his pockets. He found friends among some of Colorado's more colorful characters, people who taught him much about life on the frontier. Jake Chisolm taught him how to shoot after rescuing him from two men preparing to skin him at poker. Wild Bill of Colorado taught him the meaning of "the drop" and warned him against wearing a gun in town unless he wanted trouble. Capturing the Western vernacular more accurately than any other writer, Townshend includes vivid details of life in the West, where he killed a buffalo, prospected for gold, and was present for the official government conference with the Ute Indians after gold was discovered on their lands.

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I Enter the Tenderfoot

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A TENDERFOOT IN COLORADO

IN 1869 I found myself five thousand miles to the westward of Old England, in a car on the newly opened Union Pacific Railroad, with a good hope of being safely landed by it in the part of the Far West known as Wyoming Territory, U.S.A. I was a tenderfoot, though the title itself was strange to me; but I was out to learn, and when I heard the strange word used by a man near me on the car I turned to my neighbour, a friendly Westerner with whom I had had lots of conversation since we left Omaha, Neb., and asked:

“What on earth does he mean by a tenderfoot?” He looked at me with a smile, saw his chance, and started to spread himself.

“It began like this,” he explained. “Some ten or eleven years back, when they first struck gold in Gregory Gulch, and every soul who could started to get to Pike’s Peak, or bust, a good five hundred miles across the Great Plains, there was lots of fellers that jes’ hoofed it on their ten toes the whole blessed road. You can bet their feet was pretty well skinned for them by the time they got to Pike’s Peak, and naturally the other fellers who’d been before ’em and got healed up first set themselves up for real old-timers, and took the notion of calling every new arrival a tenderfoot.”

 

II Exit the Tenderfoot

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NEXT morning when I came down to breakfast in the Cheyenne hotel my friend Mr. Crocker was not visible.

“He’s gone out early on business,” so the clerk in the office informed me, which was only to be expected.

A live Western business man doesn’t allow much grass to grow under his feet, and if he was going on by stage to Denver that afternoon he’d have to hustle. Well, if I must see Cheyenne without a chaperon, I had got one lesson from him yesterday, a lesson of sorts!

Uncertain what to try, I turned my steps towards a huge tent, rather like a circus tent, which with other smaller ones round it had located itself on the outskirts of Cheyenne city.

The attraction that drew me thither was the legend, “Professor MacDowell’s Museum,” visible from afar, for it was inscribed on the big tent roof in black letters a yard long. I wondered a little what sort of things they would have to show in the Cheyenne museum; maybe geological specimens with ores from the mines, and perhaps dried plants and stuffed animals from the Rockies. Hopefully I entered; there seemed to be nobody about. Perhaps 9 a.m. was too early for the museum to be open. Presently, however, I plumped on to a rather washed-out, shifty-eyed, pallid youth, who stared hard at me with that same quizzical look I was quickly learning to recognize; and it was disgustingly obvious how clearly he saw at first glance that here came a tenderfoot.

 

III Three Per Cent

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I WISH I could remember more of that first Western stage drive from Cheyenne to Denver. There were several of us passengers on Wells Fargo’s coach, but the man who caught my attention from the first was the coachman or stage-driver, who was Bill Updike. He was a singular being: his closest attention was fixed unremittingly upon the horses he controlled so deftly with the four lines, the word he used for reins, held in his two hands, the near reins in his left, the off in his right; but he kept the other side of his brain free as air for lively and humorous talk with his passengers. I was by no means the only tenderfoot on board, and for all of us alike Bill did the honours of the new Territory we had just entered, as he himself would have put it, in ·A number 1 style. From Cheyenne the road ran due south for over a hundred miles, keeping parallel the whole way to the main range of the Rocky Mountains; Long’s Peak, thirty miles to the west was by far the highest of them that we could see, rising as it did to an elevation of nearly 15,000 feet, or some 9000 above the road we were travelling. Between this great peak and the Plains rose endless minor mountain ranges mostly from 8000 to 12,000 feet high, while the road itself took its course out on the Plains, still farther to the east so as to avoid the almost impassable mountain gorges. Rocky mountains they truly were, both in name and nature. Their sides, when not bare rock, showed dark with pines; but, east of them, where our road ran, the country consisted of bare treeless rolling downs covered with yellow grass, which Bill informed us was cured by the sun as regular as the year went round into natural hay of the finest quality.

 

IV Tiger Bill

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THOUGH I was too shy to introduce myself to Governor McCook in Gove’s workshop, fortune nevertheless was kind enough to help me in the matter just when I most needed her help, and by good luck I got to know a friend of his. This was a Mr. Matthews, a travelling artist, who was going round the principal towns of the Territory with a panorama of his own painting. He was a quick and clever draughtsman, and he had fixed it up with Governor McCook that he should go down to Los Pinos, where the Governor was to open a new agency for the Southern Utes on the Pacific slope. The scheme was that Matthews should do pictures of him for Harper’s Weekly. At least he told me it was for Harper’s, but of course I could not really say if it mayn’t have also been for other illustrated papers. Anyway I feel sure he said Harper’s.

“I’ll do him up in style,” said Mr. Matthews, “do him as the Apostle of Civilization! Oh, I’ll give ’em Governor McCook nobly extending the right hand of fellowship to his Red Brethren. Red sons of biscuits I call ’em.” He gave a sneering laugh. “But that don’t go down with the high-toned public back East. We’re both of us from Ohio, the Governor and me, and I’ll show them Eastern ducks Governor McCook inaugurating the new era of peace and goodwill with the savage denizens of the wilderness.” He laughed more sneeringly than ever. “Oh, Harper’s ’ll just ladle it out fine,” he said, “and the Governor’ll be as pleased as punch; I’ve got it fixed up with him so I’ll get my pay for the work, and then everybody will be suited all round.”

 

V Wild Bill of Colorado

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THE next day Matthews and I crossed the Divide, which rose to about 3000 feet above Denver or some 9000 above sea. Up here was not open grass country but a magnificent forest of Rocky Mountain pines, and here therefore were established several sawmills in full swing, from which came the sawn lumber out of which Denver was built. Roughly, the gradient going up the Divide was about 50 feet to the mile, and I discovered that I was going to have lots of walking exercise on this trip, for every time we came to a hill Matthews would sing out “Chance to walk!” and I, nothing loath, took the hint, hopped off the spring seat, and hoofed it to the top. If the hill was really steep we both walked.

At the top of the Divide we came into full view of Pike’s Peak. I am no hand at describing scenery, but a truly noble mountain it is. The height is something well over 14,000 feet or about 1000 feet lower than Mont Blanc; the shape distinctly recalled to me the great Monarch of the Alps, but the colour of Pike’s Peak is absolutely different. Mont Blanc is intensely white, the pure cold white of the eternal snow; on Pike’s Peak no white snow can you see in summer, but instead are endless cliffs and gullies of naked granite, all glowing red, which tower away up into the sky far above the dark pine-clad ranges at their feet. Here, distant a good thousand miles and more from any large body of water, and elevated more than a mile vertically above sea level, the dry air is crystalline, clear, translucent. Pike’s Peak from fifty miles off seems so close that you might think you had only to stretch out your hand in order to touch it; you feel inclined to say, “I’ll just stroll quietly up there to-morrow morning before breakfast,” while in the back of your mind you know perfectly well that a whole week would hardly give you time enough to get to it and up it.

 

VI Our Red Brothers

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FROM Cañon City we plunged into the mountains, and a wonderful journey we had over the old toll-road; a rocky road it was and no mistake, but Matthews could drive and the mules were staunch and we did get up and down some awful hills. But to ease the work Matthews left his panorama in its huge coffin-like box at a little mountain town, and thus lightened we reached at last the summit of the Poncho Pass between the valley of the Arkansaw and the San Luis Park.

Here we had an interesting meeting. Three men were coming out of the wild mountains off beyond the Park to the west where they had been looking for gold. The three were Dick Irwin, a well-known prospector whom Matthews had met before, and two others. Of course I knew none of them, but Dick and Matthews started off nineteen to the dozen, for the three told us we were the first white men they had seen after coming out of the wild. Naturally the first thing Matthews wanted to know was how much gold they had found, but to this the reply was guarded. Dick hadn’t discovered any gulch mines that amounted to anything. He had got a lot of specimens, however, in the packs, but how much these would prove to be worth he couldn’t say, not till they had been submitted to the tests of the assayer. He was guardedly hopeful.

 

VII Wild Justice

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RETURNING to Denver, I parted company with Matthews; to tell the truth, I was a bit tired of his everlasting sneers, so often (as I thought) directed against better men than himself. Besides, I thought I was competent now to stand on my own feet instead of going around on a personally conducted tour. Naturally my first step was to buy a horse. For this I went to Billy and Hi Ford, who had brought some 1500 head of wild bronco stock—bronco is Spanish for unbroken—from California to Denver where they were selling them as rapidly as they could get them broken in. Ford Brothers soon took my measure and for I think $60 fitted me out with a little brown mare, who had been ridden several times. They put me very carefully on her, and I went down the Platte a few miles and put up at a ranch. Along the main freighting roads most ranches would take you in overnight and give you supper, bed and breakfast for $1.50, or if your horse had to be fed also, for $2.25. A snowstorm came on that night and I lay there two days till the weather improved. The little brown mare had done herself uncommonly well in the barn, and when I tried to climb on to her back on the third morning she began to play up. The friendly and much amused ranchman lent me a helping hand, however, and at last I got myself fixed in the saddle with my blanket-roll padding me in well there and the ranchman hanging tight on to her head.

 

VIII Our Lost Paradise

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I RETURNED from Evans to Denver feeling more strongly than ever the attraction of the cattle business in this glorious country of unlimited free range, but I had not quite made up my mind as yet to go in for it. Also, before deciding, there was still one place I particularly wanted to see, the Wet Mountain Valley, of which I had heard men speak very highly. I was told that the whole floor of the valley was open grazing land like the Plains, but it was shut in by pine-clad mountains, which provided splendid natural shelter for stock. So I struck out for Cañon City on Methusalem, knowing that from there some sort of road or trail into the Valley could be found. Stopping overnight at a ranch on Fountain Creek on my road, a man told me that, if I cared to ride off my route for a mile or so up the cañon where the creek came out of the mountains, I should there behold the sight of my life.

“That’s a real big spring of pure soda-water,” he explained, “bubbling up into a great basin out of the solid rock, and from thar’ it runs over and tumbles into the Fountain Creek; you never saw the like of it in all your born days.”

 

IX The Expanding Bean

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NO, I hadn’t lost any Kiowas, neither had Lew and I lost any Utes. The fact was, our Ute scare had rather put both him and me off the notion of taking up that Saguache ranch. Lew had two women to think of, and the mere thought of the awful position of the two Godfrey women when those Utes held us there in the hollow of their hand was enough. True, the Plains Indians, if they ever got hold of you and yours, were every bit as bad, but then their range was fifty times the size of the Utes’: they had the whole of the great Buffalo range, the Plains, to wander in, about a million of square miles: that allowed all parties a little elbow room, and, with any luck, one might settle on the Plains and never see an Indian.

So Lew and I made tracks back to Denver again, where we joined up with his friend, Ex-Governor A. C. Hunt, and with him we went out on the Plains south of the Divide to look for another site for a ranch. Hunt told us he knew of a place that he thought would do for us, and he took us there all right. It was on the head of Black Squirrel Creek, one of the many dry creeks running south from the Divide to the Arkansas. The spot we pitched on lay about twelve miles south of the Bijou Basin and ten miles from the great pine forest that covered the top of the Divide. Forty miles away to the west stood Pike’s Peak, its glorious red granite dome towering 14,000 feet into the sky, over double the height of our ranch, which was but some 6,000 odd. We were fifty miles due north of the Arkansas River, thirty miles east of that Manitou Spring I had already visited, and twenty-five miles east of the place on Fountain Creek where Colorado Springs was afterwards built. You could locate it by these bearings on the map in a moment.

 

X My Running Fight

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LEW came in to Denver with the waggon from the ranch, to find me completely mended up. We went round town together to see our friends, and right there in Gus Cheever’s office we ran on to a man who had for sale just the very thing we thought we wanted next, namely, a bunch of cattle.

The owner of the cattle was Major Oakes, and he had them down at a ranch some way off on the Platte where they were kept. I rather think the ranchman had them on the shares; that was a common arrangement in those days. We went down there with the Major and we liked the cattle; they certainly seemed all right, and we bought the lot. They were American cattle, that is to say, the same breed as our English dairy stock, quite unlike the tall, gaunt, long-horned Spanish stock that came from Texas which were now pouring into Southern Colorado. There were about fifty of them and the cows were broke gentle to milk; the head of the herd was old Charley, a big white bull with red ears, the same colour as the wild white cattle of Chillingham, and many of the calves and young stock took their markings from him. We also took over a bay cow-pony who as well as the bull was called Charley. Both the pony and these American cattle were perfectly quiet, so much so that Lew and I settled to take them straight down over the Divide to the ranch, he driving the waggon and I herding the cattle along.

 

XI Wolves and Crows

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LEW and Jud went on cutting house logs and fence posts and fence poles up on the Divide, for we were going to have a real good barn for the horses and corrals for the cattle as well as a six-roomed log house for the family. Meantime my business was to keep an eye on our bunch of cattle and slay all the antelope I could. At Weir’s Mill the meat got us sawn boards to line the corral and to make the floors of the house. I did my hunting on horseback now, getting off Charley and leaving him to graze, “tied to the ground,” as the phrase was, by the reins being pulled over his head and dropped while I stalked the game on foot. And Charley being perfectly gentle I could also pack the meat home on him. At the ranch I kept the two bronco mares picketed, and I turned Charley loose nights to feed, knowing he would not go far from them.

And then one morning Charley turned up lame. Dead lame he was, and no error, and I couldn’t in the least account for it. It wasn’t the shoeing, for he was barefoot, of course, like all cow ponies in those days. Oh, how I wished Lew would turn up; he’d be sure to know; he knew such a lot about horses.

 

XII On My Own

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DOCTOR JUSTICE was of course a regular professional man; I should never have dreamed of having any other. But there were others; and to Denver just at this time there had come a man who was a most soul-stirring preacher, and also a most astonishing wonderworker. I cannot remember the name of the religious denomination that he belonged to, or claimed to belong to, but his miracles were in all men’s mouths. He preached that if you would only believe and be converted and let him baptize you properly by immersion in the big ditch from the South Platte which supplied water to Denver you could be cured of any mortal thing. Myself, I never heard him preach; that wasn’t my style; but Suse Howell did. Dr. Justice had told me that her terrible epilepsy was incurable, hopelessly incurable. But she listened to that preacher, and she believed, or at any rate thought she’d give him a try.

The consequence was that one day I found myself a member of a small Denver crowd on one side of the Platte ditch, in the middle of which stood the preacher nearly waist-deep in water, while on the other side there descended from buggies or covered waggons convert after convert, clad in a sort of bathing costume, and they one by one went down into the water and were there put completely under by the preacher and came out again relieved of all their sins. The crowd amid which I stood was unbelieving and not disinclined to scoff.

 

XIII The Battle of the Bulls

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CAPTAIN,” said Gus to me, “you hear that bull?” We listened. From far off across the rolling swells of the prairie came a voice like the shrill blare of a war trumpet. It was the full-throated challenge of a mighty bull.

“That got to be Mr. Randall’s big red bull,” said Gus. “I know the way he talk. He the boss bull of Brackett Creek; and them Brackett Creek cattle coming right now down the gulch t’other side that hill yonder.”

It was a glorious July day and the three of us, Gus and I and Tom Russell, were riding along the slopes that stretch downwards from Holcombe Hollow, driving before us all the cattle we could find to the round-up near Big Springs, eight miles east of me. Fred Pracht had taken up a claim there and brought in a small herd of Texas cattle. Also Nusbaum Brothers had started a ranch with well over a thousand head north-west of me, so that the range was getting to be pretty full.

At the sound of that shrill challenge a mile away every pair of horns was lifted up in the band of cows and young steers in front of us, and every head was turned expectantly in that direction, while several of the beasts lowed in a subdued hesitating fashion in answer. But there was another answer also given to the challenge, and of a different quality. In the very rear of our bunch marched sedately the big white bull to whom the cowboys of the range had given the name of General Grant. He was the boss of Holcombe Hollow, and no other bull there durst dispute his rights. “Let us have peace!” he always seemed to say (like his great namesake), and if any other bull offered to argue with him on the matter, the General, in the interests of peace, knocked him endways in a minute. He was a noble brute to see. His glossy hide shone like white satin in the sun; on his broad brow and between his horns was a frontlet of crisp-curled hair, and from his massive neck and chest a dewlap hung down that almost swept the ground.

 

XIV A Texas Nursery

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ON a blazing hot noon in early summer I was riding around over the range looking for a stray horse. The endless rolling surface of the prairie seemed absolutely bare of cattle, so far, at least, as one could depend upon what the eye told one. For it was one of the days when the “smoke” was strong, “smoke” being the name we used to give to the mirage. Out in Colorado all the baffling uncertainty of vision that makes for mystery, all illusion, all glamour, belong to the dazzling hours of midday and not to the gloaming.

In the early morning, and towards evening, there is no “smoke” and no mystery, for out there on the great plains, five thousand feet above sea level in the very driest part of the American continent, the air is of an incredible transparency. Forty miles from my ranch the huge red granite dome of Pike’s Peak heaved up its beetling crags against the western sky, and at sunrise every crack and crevice of the rocks showed as sharp and clear-cut as though they were only half a mile off. Northwards the stem of one solitary pine, ten miles away, made a thin black line against the sky, and I once knew a single horseman detected by the keen sight of a frontiers-man standing in front of my ranch over on Holcombe bluffs across a distance of fully two leagues.

 

XV Hide and Seek with Dog-Soldiers

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THERE was quite an excitement in the cow-camps when Joe Fallon, who had a small cattle ranch not far from mine, went and got married. That was because of the novelty of the thing. Of course there were a good few married ranchmen up on the Divide, or settled along such creeks as the Fountain, where farming by irrigation was carried on, but among the pioneer cattle-men out on the Great Plains in the early seventies I do not remember a single one who had a wife. So when a muslin curtain was seen draping the window of Joe’s cabin, sure sign of a woman having taken up her abode there, we bachelors of the cow-camps hesitated a little before intruding on the newly-made bride. Pretty soon, however, Joe turned up one morning at my ranch, and confided to me a secret. Mrs. Joe was discontented. I don’t mean discontented with him of course, for even if it were so Joe wasn’t exactly the sort of man to proclaim it; she was discontented with the grub. She was tired of living on beans and bacon, and Joe had nothing else for her. She had expressed a longing for fresh meat, but the weather was too hot to kill a beef. There were plenty of antelope running around indeed, but Joe had knocked the front sight of his rifle all awry somehow, and no man alive can kill antelope on the plains with a rifle that doesn’t shoot straight. So here was Joe come to ask if I would lend him my Sharpe’s ·50 calibre in order that he might kill an antelope for his pining bride.

 

XVI A Bull in a Barn

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TOM RUSSELL and I got along very well, but he was rather a way-up cowpuncher for so modest-sized a bunch as mine, and after a while he left me to take charge of a far bigger and more important herd. I picked up another cowboy named Kizer who had come up from Texas with a herd, though originally he was a “mean white” hailing from Florida.

“Look here,” said I to Kizer one sharp December day, “all the antelope have left this range and I’m blessed if I’m going to live on bacon all winter.”

Small wonder that they left after Rebel Jim sent in three hundred antelope carcasses to Colorado City in the first three weeks of September, all of which he killed with his telescope-sighted rifle within six miles of my Colorado ranch. I don’t blame him. He was hunting for a living; he got it too.

“In Texas,” said Kizer, “when we was short of beef we mostly killed a maverick.”

The herd with which he had come up had been camped far out on the Plains: he had never been in Colorado before.

“Colorado is not Texas,” said I with emphasis. “Colorado’s too high-toned to let common fellers like you and me kill mavericks. We’re not school trustees. Special law here assigns all such un-branded animals found at large to the trustees of the school fund.”

 

XVII The Fate of the Maverick

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THE Texas shores of the Gulf of Mexico are bordered by a string of low islands, covered with rich grass, forming individually perfect little paradises for the stockman. At the time when the great Civil War between the Federals and the Confederates began, one of these islands belonged to a certain gentleman of the name of Maverick, who, like a chivalrous Southerner, went off to the front, leaving the cowboys to take care of his cattle. Ere long, however, the conscription was put in operation, the cowboys were swept in, and the cattle were left to take care of themselves. When Colonel Maverick returned to his island ranch four years later, on the conclusion of the war, he found that his cattle had run wild, and of course everything under four years old was neither marked nor branded. Accordingly he brought a host of cowboys over from the mainland to round them up, but the intended stock had grown wilder than buffalo, and when the cowboys hustled them out of the brakes the whole herd ran violently down into the warm waters of the Gulf and cheerfully swam away across the narrow strait to the mainland beyond. No sooner had they landed than they proceeded to scatter over all creation and become mixed up with numberless other herds, and it took the poor Colonel years and years to collect them again. To the older cattle which had been properly branded he had, of course, a good title, but naturally his cowboys maintained whenever they came across an unbranded animal anywhere in the course of their wanderings that it was one of the younger members of the escaped herd; and malicious report had it that the Colonel’s cows must all have given birth to triplets. Anyhow, the word to “maverick” passed into common use all over the West to signify the practice of seizing upon any stray animal, whether branded or not, that might or might not be yours. If it wasn’t yours it was stealing to take it, but stealing is an ugly word, and people preferred to talk about “mavericking.”

 

XVIII The King of the Prairie

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OF old the buffalo bull was the king beast of the prairie. Who was there but man to dispute his sovereignty? The bull elk carried a pair of horns like the branches of an oak, and the mustang stallion could kick like a hurricane, but the buffalo bull weighed two thousand pounds as he stood in his tracks, and the biggest elk or mustang that ever stepped was as a child’s toy beside him. Old Ephraim, the grizzly, might indeed have made a hard tussle for it with his terrible claws and fangs, but his surly strength mostly chose to expend itself in other directions; too many of his ancestors had had their ribs driven in by a pair of strong sharp horns set in a head of adamant for him to take any chances, and he preferred to give best to the bull buffalo without a fight. As for the rest of the animals, they followed the example of their betters, and left the king of the prairie severely alone, only the lank grey wolf sneaked in the rear of the herds, where battle and old age and lightning flash and tempest provided victims enough to keep the hunger-bitten scavenger of the prairies from starvation. And so the millions of buffalo lived on, proud and happy, generation after generation, until the last quarter of the last century.

 

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