The Freebooters of the Wilderness
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Title: The Freebooters of the Wilderness
Author: Agnes C. Laut
Release Date: April 4, 2006 [eBook #18116]
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE FREEBOOTERS OF THEWILDERNESS***
E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE FREEBOOTERS OF THE WILDERNESS
AGNES C. LAUT
"The Conquest of the Great Northwest," "Lords of the North," etc.
Moffat, Yard and Company
Copyright, 1910, by
Moffat, Yard and Company
Published September, 1910
Second Printing, October, 1910
I TO STRADDLE OR FIGHT II AN INTERLUDE THAT CAME UNANNOUNCED III THE CHALLENGE TO A LOSING FIGHT IV STACKING THE CARDS V THE CHOICE THAT COMES TO ALL MEN VI WHEREIN ONE PLAYS AN UNCONSCIOUS PART VII WHILE LAW MARKS TIME, CRIME SCORES VIII A VICTIM OF LAW'S DELAY IX EIGHT INTO MIGHT X THE HANDY MAN GETS BUSY XI SETTING OUT ON THE LONG TRAIL XII THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW VEILS ITSELF XIII THE MAN ON THE JOB XIV ON THE GAME TRAIL XV THE DESERT XVI BITTER WATERS XVII WHERE THE TRACKS ALL POINT ONE WAY
XVIII WITHOUT MALICE XIX BALLOTS TOR BULLETS XX A FAITH WORKABLE FOR MEN ON THE JOB XXI THE HAPPY AND TRIUMPHANT HOME-COMING XXII A DOWNY-LIPPED YOUTH IN GRAY FLANNELS XXIII IT AIN'T THE TRUTH I'M TELLIN' YOU: IT'S ONLY WHAT I'VE HEERD XXIV I AM UNCLE SAM XXV THE QUESTION IS—WHICH UNCLE SAM? XXVI THE AWAKENING XXVII THE AWAKENING CONTINUED XXVIII THE UNITED STATES OF THE WORLD
I have been asked how much of this tale of modern freebooters is true?In exactly which States have such episodes occurred? Have vast herdsof sheep been run over battlements? Have animals been bludgeoned todeath; have men been burned alive; have the criminals not only goneunpunished but been protected by the law-makers? Have sheriffs "hiddenunder the bed" and "handy men" bluffed the press? Have vast domains oftimber lands been stolen in blocks of thousands and hundreds ofthousands of acres through "dummy" entrymen? Have the federal lawofficers been shot to death above stolen coal mines? Have ReclamationEngineers, and Land Office field men, and Forest Rangers undergone suchhardships in Desert and Mountain, as portrayed here? Have they notonly undergone the hardship, but been crucified by the Government whichthey served for carrying out the laws of that Government? In a word,are latter day freebooters of our Western Wilderness playing the samegame in the great transmontane domain as the old-time pirates played onthe high seas? Is this a true story of "the Man on the Job" and "theMan on the Firing Line" and "the Man Higher Up" and the Looters?
I answer first that I am not writing of twenty years ago, or yesterday,or the day before yesterday, but to-day, the Year of our Lord1909-1910 in the most highly civilized country the world has everknown; in a country where self-government has reached a perfection ofprosperity and power not dreamed by poet or prophet. The menace toself-government from such national influences at work need not bedescribed. The triumph of such factors in national life means thewresting of self-government from the people into the hands of the few,a repetition of the struggle between the Robber Barons of the MiddleAges and the Commoners.
It seems almost incredible that such lawlessness and outrage andchicanery can exist in America—many of the outrages would disgraceRussia or Turkey—yet every episode related here has ten prototypes inLife, in Fact; not of twenty years ago, or yesterday, or the day beforeyesterday, but to-day. For instance, the number of sheep destroyedis given as fifteen thousand. The number destroyed in two countieswhich I had in mind when I wrote that chapter, by actual tally of theStock Association for the past six years, is sixty thousand. Last yearalone, five thousand in one State suffered every form of hideousmutilation—backs broken, entrails torn out; fifteen hundred in anadjoining State had their throats cut; three men were burned to death;one herder in a still more Northern State was riddled to death withbullets.
Or to take the case of the timber thefts, I refer to two hundredthousand acres in California. I might have referred to a million and ahalf in Washington and Oregon.
Or referring to the mineral lands, I mention two thousand acres ofcoal. I might have told another story of fifty thousand acres, or yetanother of three hundred thousand acres of gold and silver lands. WhenI narrate the shooting of a man at the head of a coal shaft, thestealing of Government timber by the half million dollars a yearthrough "the hatchet" trick, or the theft of two thousand acres by"dummies," I am stating facts known to every Westerner out on the spot.
In which States have these episodes occurred? Take an imaginary pointanywhere in Central Utah. Describe a circle round that point toinclude the timber and grazing sections of all the Rocky MountainStates from Northern Arizona to Montana and Washington. The episodesrelated here could be true of any State inside that circle except (inpart) one. Such forces are at work in all the Mountain States except(in part) one. That one exception is Utah. Utah has had and is havingtribulations of her own in the working out of self-government; but, forreasons that need not be given here, she has kept comparatively free ofrecent range wars and timber steals.
This story was suggested to me by a Land Office man—one of the men onthe firing line—who has stood the brunt of the fight against thefreebooters for twenty years and wrested many a victory. I may statethat he is still in the Service and will, I hope, remain in it formany a year; but these episodes are hinged round the Ranger, ratherthan the Land Office or Reclamation men, because, though the latter arefighting the same splendid fight, their work is of its very naturetransitory—dealing with the beginning of things; while the Ranger isthe man out on the job who remains on the firing line; unless—as myLand Office friend suggested—unless "he gets fired." As to thehardships suffered by the fighters, to quote one of them, "You bet:only more so."
Just as this volume goes to press, comes word of fires in Washington,Oregon, Idaho and Montana, destroying dozens of villages, hundreds oflives and millions of dollars worth of property in the NationalForests; and it is added—"the fires are incendiary." Why thisincendiarism? The story narrated here endeavors to answer thatquestion.
The international incidents thinly disguised are equally founded onfact and will be recognized by the dear but fast dwindling fraternityof good old-timers. The mother of the boy still lives her steadfastbeautiful creed on the Upper Missouri; and the old frontiersman stilllives on the Saskatchewan, one of the most picturesque and heroicfigures in the West to-day. I may say that both missionaries supporttheir schools as incidentally revealed here, without Government aidthrough their own efforts. Also, it was the stalwart man fromSaskatchewan who was sent searching the heirs to the estate of anembittered Jacobite of 1745; and those heirs refused to accept eitherthe wealth or the position for the very reasons set forth here.Calamity's story, too, is true—tragically true, though this is notall, not a fraction of her life story; but her name was not Calamity.
THE MAN ON THE JOB
FREEBOOTERS OF THE WILDERNESS
TO STRADDLE OR FIGHT
"Well," she asked, "are you going to straddle or fight?"
How like a woman, how like a child, how typical of the outsider'sshallow view of any struggle! As if all one had to do—was stand upand fight! Mere fighting—that was easy; but to fight to the lastditch only to find yourself beaten! That gave a fellow pause aboutbucking the challenge of everyday life.
Wayland punched both fists in the jacket pockets of his sage-greenService suit, and kicked a log back to the camp fire that smouldered infront of his cabin. If she had been his wife he would have explainedwhat a fool-thing it was to argue that all a man had to do was fight.Or if she had belonged to the general class—women—he could have mether with the condescending silence of the general class—man; but forhim, she had never belonged to any general class.
She savored of his own Eastern World, he knew that, though he had mether in this Western Back of Beyond half way between sky and earth onthe Holy Cross Mountain. Wayland could never quite analyze his ownfeelings. Her presence had piqued his interest from the first. Whenwe can measure a character, we can forfend against surprises—discountvirtues, exaggerate faults, strike a balance to our own ego; but whenwhat you know is only a faint margin of what you don't know, a siren ofthe unknown beckons and lures and retreats.
She had all of what he used to regard as culture in the old Easternlife, the jargon of the colleges, the smattering of things talkedabout, the tricks and turns of trained motions and emotions; but therewas a difference. There was no pretence. There was none of thefire-proof self-complacency—Self-sufficiency, she had, but notself-righteousness. Then, most striking contra-distinction of all tothe old-land culture, there was unconsciousness of self—face tosunlight, radiant of the joy of life, not anaemic and putrid of its ownegoism. She didn't talk in phrases thread-bare from use. She had allthe naked unashamed directness of the West that thinks in terms of lifeand speaks without gloze. She never side-stepped the facts of lifethat she might not wish to know. Yet her intrusion on such facts gavethe impression of the touch that heals.
The Forest Ranger had heard the Valley talk of MacDonald, the Canadiansheep rancher, belonging to some famous fur-trade clans that hadintermarried with the Indians generations before; and Wayland used towonder if it could be that strain of life from the outdoors that neverpretends nor lies that had given her Eastern culture the red-bloodeddirectness of the West. To be sure, such a character study was notless interesting because he read it through eyes glossy as an Indian's,under lashes with the curve of the Celt, with black hair that blewchanging curls to every wind. Indian and Celt—was that it, hewondered?—reserve and passion, self-control and yet the abandonment offorce that bursts its own barriers?
She had not wormed under the surface for some indirect answer thatwould betray what he intended to do. She had asked exactly what shewanted to know, with a slight accent on the—you.
"Are you going to straddle or fight?"
Wayland flicked pine needles from his mountaineering boots. Heanswered his own thoughts more than her question.
"All very well to say—fight; fight for all the fellows in the Land andForest