Scott Burton on the Range
SCOTT BURTON ON THE RANGE
Scott Burton leaned eagerly forwardand searched the scenery which rolledsteadily past the Pullman window. Theother occupants of the car, worn out with thelong journey and surfeited with scenery, centeredtheir attention on their books or tried to sleepaway the weary miles. They had seen it all, orat least too much of it. But to Scott Burton itwas a new country and to him a new country wasof more absorbing interest than anything else.
Born in a little Massachusetts town, he hadlived a stay at home life with the single exceptionof his trip to a college in the Middle West. Buteven then, before he had any idea that he wouldever really have a chance to travel, it was alwaysthe tales of strange lands that fascinated him.He had been looking out of that car window forthree solid days just as intently as he was lookingnow and there was not a bump on the landscapewhich failed to interest him. He had laid overone night in St. Louis that he might not miss anythingby night travel, and another one in Pueblo.And still he stared at the country with almostunwinking eye.
A kindly old gentleman who had been watchinghim for some time, and whose curiosity waspiqued by the boy’s unusual alertness, droppedinto the seat beside him and opened a conversation.
“Pardon me,” he said. “Tell me if I annoyyou, but it hurts my eyes to read on the train, Ihave seen the country no end of times and I can’tsleep in the daytime. That leaves me nothing todo but watch my neighbors; and I have beenwatching you till I could not keep down my curiosityany longer.”
Scott was glad to have some one to talk to andhe liked the old man’s manner. Moreover, hefelt rather curious to know what had made theother man curious.
“I suppose I am rather curious looking,” Scottlaughed.
“No, no,” protested the old gentleman, “that isa very good pun, but it is not at all what I meant.”
“I did not mean it either,” said Scott, “I shallbe very glad of your company, especially if youhave seen the country so often.”
“Well,” said the old gentleman, hastening tosatisfy his curiosity, “I have been watching youstare out of that window for almost a whole daynow, and I simply could not wait any longer tolearn what you were hunting for.”
“I am afraid it will be horribly disappointingto you,” Scott smiled, “but I am only looking atthe country.”
“Looking at the country,” the old man echoed,“all day long.” He seemed not only disappointedbut also a little incredulous.
“Why, yes,” Scott said, “you see it is all newto me.”
“I don’t see what there is in this country thata man would want to look at for a whole day,”the old man insisted.
“But I have never seen a mountain before,”Scott answered, “and right over there is theGreat Divide. I have always been crazy to see amountain.”
“They are a grand sight,” said the old gentleman.“Those old peaks up there are like brothersto me. Yes, they must look pretty fine to astranger. They look pretty good to me when Ihave been away for a while. Mountains are agood deal like home folks, you don’t think muchabout them when you are with them all the time,but when you go away you are crazy to get backto them.”
“You live here then?” Scott asked politely.
“Live here,” exclaimed the old man indignantly,“wouldn’t live anywhere else. I reckonI have been living here longer than most anythingelse except those old mountains there.Why, I used to start out at the Mexican borderwith a herd of cattle every spring and graze ’emright north to Montana in time for the fall market.Right straight through we drove ’em andnever seen a settler the whole summer. I knewevery water hole from the Big Bend to MilesCity.”
“I’ve read about that,” said Scott becomingreally interested. “It must have been greatsport.”
“Sport! You bet it was. And there wasmoney in cattle, too, in the good old days beforethe settler and the sheep men came. Can’t chasea jack rabbit now,” he added a little bitterly,“without scratching your horse’s nose on a barbedwire fence.”
“Don’t the cattle men make any money now?”Scott asked.
“Some, but it’s mostly sheep in here now. Hadto go into sheep myself,” he grinned. “I fought’em for a long time but I saw it wasn’t any use,so I bought some myself, and I’ve made my pileout of ’em. There’s some that’s fighting themyet, but they’ll never get anywhere.”
“I suppose you had some pretty bitter fights,”Scott said encouragingly.
“I should remark. When I went into sheep,all the cattle men looked on me as a traitor. Thesheep men were mostly greasers then and I wasone of the first white men in this section to gointo it. I remember when I rode up from SanRosario with my first band of sheep and met oldTom Butler on the plain he tried to pull his gunon me, but I had the drop on him and I madehim set there while I told him what I thoughtof the situation. He did a lot of cussin’ andspittin’, but it soaked into him all right and whenI beat him onto the summer range in the spring,he sold out his cattle and bought him a bandof sheep. That’s where we had the fights, forthe summer range, up there on those old mountains.”
The old man looked dreamily toward the toweringmountains and Scott knew that he was livingover a story that would be good to hear.
“You had to race for the summer range, didn’tyou?” he asked.
“Race for it? Lord, yes! The whole caboodleof us would live as peaceable as a bunch of kittensdown on the plains all winter, but when springwas coming we all got sort of offish and nervous.Each man was scared to start too early for fearthere would not be any feed in the mountains,and he was scared to wait too long for fear theother fellow would beat him to it. I rememberone time when old Tim Murphy tied a sheep bellon his dog and led him by old José’s place in thenight going towards the mountains. It was twoweeks sooner than any one would have dared tomove, but José was so scared that he started hiswhole band before daylight and drove ’em tenmiles before he found out that Tim had fooledhim.”
“I suppose the government regulation ofthe range has spoiled all that now?” Scott suggested.
“Spoiled it!” the old man exclaimed, “Yes,they’ve spoiled it, and it’s a mighty good thing,too. There were lots of lambs lost in that springrace for the grass, many an acre of range spoiled,and many a small rancher ruined. Even whenyou succeeded in beating the other fellow to therange you never knew how long it would be ’tilsome bigger fellow would come along and crowdyou off. Now you know a year ahead just whatyou are going to get, how many head you canhold over, and that the grass will be there wheneveryou want to go.”
“But I thought the sheep men were opposedto the government regulation,” Scott protested.
“Humph,” grunted the old man contemptuously,“some of ’em are. They are the fellowswho want to hog the whole thing and crowd outthe little fellow. The government will not letthem do that and they are sore. Still think theyare bigger than Uncle Sam. I knew better rightfrom the first and took my medicine like a manand now I like it.”
“It is certainly building up the range,” Scottsaid; “they are supporting more sheep now thanunder the old system and doing it better.”
“Certainly they are,” agreed the old gentleman.“You seem to know a good deal about this country,young man, for any one who has never seena mountain before,” he added suspiciously.
Scott laughed. “I don’t know nearly as muchabout it as I should like to. I have been readingup on it because I am coming down here to work,but it seems as though the very things a fellowwants to know most are always left out of thebooks.”
“What are you going to do, if it is any of mybusiness?”
“It may be some of your business,” Scottlaughed. “I’m going to be a patrolman with theForest Service.”
“On what forest?”
“No, too far west, you will not get any ofmine there. You don’t know the west at all?”he asked musingly.
“Only what I have read,” Scott said. “I feelas though I know the timber pretty well, butI’m afraid I don’t know the stock business atall.”
“Well, I’m leaving you at the next station. Iget over your way once in a while and shall probablysee you again, if you stay there,” he addedwith a grin. “If you study the stock businessthe way you have been studying this country,and keep your eye on Jed Clark you will be allright. Don’t let them bluff you.” With thisadvice he walked back to his seat to collect histhings.
Scott turned back to his examination of thecountry, but his mind was busy with the old man’slast remarks. He had intimated that patrolmendid not last very long in that particular section,and had warned him specifically against one man.Evidently some of the former patrolmen had beenbluffed out. Well, he was willing to admit thathe was a tenderfoot with very little knowledgeof the stock business, but he made up his mindright there that no one was going to bluff him.He did not believe in going out to meet trouble,but he never dreamed how often the old man’sadvice would stand him in good stead. Possiblyif he had, he would have thought about it a littlelonger.
The train skirted the edges of queer, flat-toppedmesas which appeared to be scattered carelesslyabout the plain; timber crowned and green theywere in the midst of the dark brown of the driedup plains. Gradually the great mountains wereclosing in. Irregular saw-tooth ranges took theplace of the mesas, deep-cut gulches caused thetrack to make long detours—twenty miles in oneplace—to get a mile across a ravine. Far down inone of the narrow valleys he saw a flock of sheep,the first time in his life he had ever seen morethan twenty-five in any one bunch.