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History of Western Nebraska and Its People







   When the Cheyenne and Northern railroad was built, the trail went into disuse. The cattle were brought north by rail and unloaded at Wendover, and trailed from there into the Big Horn Basin and the British possessions.

   I "skinned mules" on the head of Pole (Lodgepole) creek, Horse creek and the Chugwater, and I cooked for an outfit from the rive to "the basin." I had had no experience at cooking to amount to anything, but I could boil spuds and beans, make "sore-finger bread," and make good coffee. The recipe for good coffee is "a couple of hands full to a dipper of water." What more does a hungry man want? Also I had the advantage over some cooks in that I kept my dishes cleaned up after every meal, and I was always on the job.

   When the boys would pass a settlement where there were any girls, some of the settlers would be sure to have a roundup dance. Either among the boys, or among the settlers there were fiddlers. Among the cowboys, I knew several; there was Runey Campbell, Ed Stemler, Ed Wright and Ark. Hughes - all



History of Western Nebraska and Its People

alive today (1919), and still able to draw a bow across the strings. In fact I would like to go to one of the old fashioned dances, with the old fashioned music, and a crowd of the old timers. To be sure, it would be nothing like the gymnastic performances of the new people, the dips, the trots, and the wiggles that we are told is dancing now.

   When near one of the old frontier towns, the boys were due for a little relaxation.



Four Old Time Cowpunchers
Left to right, standing: John Shear, Jimmy Tate,
sitting: Johnny Frantz and Frank Fritz

   One down at Sidney, Jimmy Tate and Johnny Frantz had gone to town, and everybody knew what that meant. Each would try to excel the other in some prank, or deed of daring. Riding their horses into saloons, sitting on the floor of a grocery store in tests of endurance eating cove oysters from the can by the handful, and such other general foolishness.
Late that night six rapid fire shots, and the sharp staccato of horse's hoofs announced the return of Johnny, and with him was Tate's riderless horse. The boys tumbled out of their blankets and tarpaulins, and Johnny tumbled from his horse. He told a sort of an incoherent, reproachful tale that Tate was dead, back in the road.

   All were more or less concerned, for Tate was supposed to have intentions of giving evidence against the Bay State Company concerning some of their acquisition of land from the government, and the empty saddle looked bad, for Jimmy was a good rider, even when intoxicated. "Long" (Wyatt) Heard, now (1919) and before of Uvalde county Texas, then headquartered on Pumpkin creek, was telling about it. He said the story they got from Johnny was that Tate had fallen from his horse and was killed.
"But how do you know that he is dead?" was asked.

   With all sincerity Frantz told them that he had stopped, and called to Tate several times, and received no answer, and then he had "rode over him two or three times, and he never moved."

   Jimmy came out of it all right, but afterwards died with his boots on, in the same old town of Sidney, and many believed that his revelations concerning the land matters had something to do with his sudden and violent death. He now lies in "Boots Graveyard," a part of the Sidney cemetery, that was set aside for the boys who died in the classic way of the early west.

   "Bad men" were always drifting in and out of the early camps, and through the frontier towns, and it was somewhat difficult to distinguish the real from the make-believe. Occasionally one would make his bluff stand up for a time, but he eventually met someone that "called him."

   In the "Ole Cheyenne" it used to be the standing joke that a cowpuncher who had taken on too much of the load, was a candidate for Hat creek. Why Hat creek was the proposed destination for a fellow that was full, is more than I ever learned. But that stream, if it may be called a stream, is up towards the headwaters of White river, and was on the line of the trail from Fort Laramie to Deadwood. Sending them up Hat creek became a classic in western expression, symbolizing a drunken cowpuncher, and it never failed to humiliate and shame.

   One time a "bad man" drifted into Cheyenne, and his name was enough to strike terror to tenderfeet. "Red Path Bill" was a dread combination. "Bill" was a favorite name in the wild first years of the west, especially if the person was a bad man; but "Red Path" prefixed would certainly indicate for a bad man nothing less than a trail of human gore.

   Red Path Bill was hungry - voracious for human bones to crush in his mighty jaws, and


History of Western Nebraska and Its People


he was famishing for drink - red liquor of the first magnitude, and mixed with human blood. He could not be appeased. Pounds of steak - blood raw - or such stale things as coffee and common bar drinks, could not satisfy such an appetite as he possessed.

   So he rambled from place to place, until he found the place of Harry Hynds.

   Hynds came to Cheyenne in the early years, and joined with a man named Elliot in the trade of blacksmithing. He had a strong arm, and was not afraid to use it; and he was also a reader of human character. He quit blacksmithing, and opened an emporium of entertainment and refreshments. There he had to know the science of humankind to survive.

   His business developed, and at the time Red Path Bill appeared, the place contained a vestibule, with cigars and the like; and behind swinging doors of mahogany was a mahogany bar and crystal glass, and then a third room separated from the second by swinging doors of green. In this latter room were the choice of any number of tame amusements: the faro box, the roulette wheel, monte, twenty-one, craps, poker and sometimes keno.

   These interested, amused and entertained, and sometimes broke and hurried a man up hat creek.

   Gambling was a quiet vice and the besetting sin of the cowboy was this activity - great activity - and noise. He was tired of the mighty reaches of the prairie, and was glad to be where he could bump into something. He had wearied of the silent solitudes, and he wanted the reverberation of sound. So the gun - that six gun - its roar within the confines of a room, was different from the futile little pops out on the open range. The jingling glass, and his pride of marksmanship that often plunged a room in darkness, was the transcendent glory of the new free west. Especially was this true, when an unwilling and half wild mustang had been coaxed, rowled, jabbed and coerced, rearing over thresholds into unaccustomed haunts. Furthermore the boys did enjoy seeing the gamblers duck for cover under the tables or behind the bar.

   Red Path Bill, with moccasined feet came silently in. His deep voice called for the strongest at the bar, and then, to the swinging doors of the inner room. Suddenly he was electrified. A heavy fist smote simultaneously each door, and they swung wide. With spectacular effect he had made an entrance. No one seemed to notice him, and he was offended.

   "I'm Red Path Bill," he roared, and glared about to see if anyone dared dispute it. None did. Instead, the man at the wheel droned: "Double OO in the green," and the rumble of "Deuce-Nine," or "a natural," or "an alsa," came from different parts of the room. These expressions may have been a reference to his entrance, or they may have referred to the plays at the different tables. Smiles here and there would have indicated the former. The games and the players went on as usual. Red Path Bill was offended. Somebody had killed his act in the vaudeville of life. He went about annoying the players, who tolerated him with rare good nature, until he trod upon the toes of a bystander.

   Fred Ashford was working in the Union Pacific shops at the time. He had for several years whacked bulls on the Black Hills route for Billy Hecht. Fred was a man of medium stature and prodigious strength.He quit freighting in 1882 and joined a cow outfit, and then later went into the shops.

   To step upon a man's toes in the west was an affront and a challenge, and when Red Path Bill picked Ashford for the offense, he did not know his man. Fred's right arm swung once. The rest were better told by a humbled and contrite spirit.

   "I am what remains of Red Path Bill. They took a caseknife and tried to scrape me off the wall where I had been splattered, but they could not get enough to do much good."

   Each of the classes that inhabited the early west held the other in contempt. That is: the early soldier always treated the cowboys as "herdsmen" and the cowboys returned the sentiment with vigor. The gamblers respected the men of the range for their money, for the game way they took a loss, but generally with utter contempt for their skill at cards. Occasionally they miscalculated. Sandy Ingraham caught a fellow "out on a limb" once in the Capitol saloon of Cheyenne. After a delay of careful deliberation of fifty minutes, he called the gambler's bet of seven hundred dollars, and won with "two deuces."

   Captain Chas. King, who wrote Trumpeter Fred, and other tales of local color, always used the offensive appellation "herdsman." Thus the whipping of a drunken or saucy soldier by a cowboy or freighter was always considered legitimate sport.

   Occasionally the cow outfits would sweep down on old Fort Fetterman, or some other camp or sub-station in the Fort Laramie district, and would rope the mountain howitzers, and antiquated brass cannon, jerking them from their positions, would drag them about the fort. Soldiers knew better than to interfere with such pranks, for when the sport was over, the boys would make amends.



History of Western Nebraska and Its People

   When there came real Indian troubles, the civilian was a valuable asset. An average freighter or cowman was much better skilled in the tactics of Indian warfare, and were needed when trouble arose.


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Contributed by Sandy Smith

© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Sandy Smith, Ted & Carole Miller