Towards the wind-up of the Cherokee Strip Cattle Association it became hard to ride a chuck-line in winter. Some of the cattle companies on the range, whose headquarters were far removed from the scene of active operations, saw fit to give orders that the common custom of feeding all comers and letting them wear their own welcome out must be stopped. This was hard on those that kept open house the year round. There was always a surplus of men on the range in the winter. Sometimes there might be ten men at a camp, and only two on the pay-roll. These extra men were called "chuck-line riders." Probably eight months in the year they all had employment. At many camps they were welcome, as they would turn to and help do anything that was wanted done.
After a hard freeze it would be necessary to cut the ice, so that the cattle could water. A reasonable number of guests were no drawback at a time like this, as the chuck-line men would be the most active in opening the ice with axes. The cattle belonging to those who kept open house never got so far away that some one didn't recognize the brand and turn them back towards their own pasture. It was possible to cast bread upon the waters, even on the range.
The new order of things was received with many protests. Late in the fall three worthies of the range formed a combine, and laid careful plans of action, in case they should get let out of a winter's job. "I've been on the range a good while," said Baugh, the leader of this trio, "but hereafter I'll not ride my horses down, turning back the brand of any hidebound cattle company."
"That won't save you from getting hit with a cheque for your time when the snow begins to drift," commented Stubb.
"When we make our grand tour of the State this winter," remarked Arab Ab, "we'll get that cheque of Baugh's cashed, together with our own. One thing sure, we won't fret about it; still we might think that riding a chuck-line would beat footing it in a granger country, broke."
"Oh, we won't go broke," said Baugh, who was the leader in the idea that they would go to Kansas for the winter, and come back in the spring when men are wanted.
So when the beef season had ended, the calves had all been branded up and everything made snug for the winter, the foreman said to the boys at breakfast one morning, "Well, lads, I've kept you on the pay-roll as long as there has been anything to do, but this morning I'll have to give you your time. These recent orders of mine are sweeping, for they cut me down to one man, and we are to do our own cooking. I'm sorry that any of you that care to can't spend the winter with us. It's there that my orders are very distasteful to me, for I know what it is to ride a chuck-line myself. You all know that it's no waste of affection by this company that keeps even two of us on the pay-roll."
While the foreman was looking up accounts and making out the time of each, Baugh asked him, "When is the wagon going in after the winter's supplies?"
"In a day or two," answered the foreman. "Why?"
"Why, Stubby, Arab, and myself want to leave our saddles and private horses here with you until spring. We're going up in the State for the winter, and will wait and go in with the wagon."
"That will be all right," said the foreman. "You'll find things right side up when you come after them, and a job if I can give it to you."
"Don't you think it's poor policy," asked Stubb of the foreman, as the latter handed him his time, "to refuse the men a roof and the bite they eat in winter?"
"You may ask that question at headquarters, when you get your time cheque cashed. I've learned not to think contrary to my employers; not in the mouth of winter, anyhow."
"Oh, we don't care," said Baugh; "we're going to take in the State for a change of scenery. We'll have a good time and plenty of fun on the side."
The first snow-squall of the season came that night, and the wagon could not go in for several days. When the weather moderated the three bade the foreman a hearty good-by and boarded the wagon for town, forty miles away. This little village was a supply point for the range country to the south, and lacked that diversity of entertainment that the trio desired. So to a larger town westward, a county seat, they hastened by rail. This hamlet they took in by sections. There were the games running to suit their tastes, the variety theatre with its painted girls, and handbills announced that on the 24th of December and Christmas Day there would be horse races. To do justice to all this melted their money fast.
Their gay round of pleasure had no check until the last day of the races. Heretofore they had held their own in the games, and the first day of the races they had even picked several winners. But grief was in store for Baugh the leader, Baugh the brains of the trio. He had named the winners so easily the day before, that now his confidence knew no bounds. His opinion was supreme on a running horse, though he cautioned the others not to risk their judgment--in fact, they had better follow him. "I'm going to back that sorrel gelding, that won yesterday in the free-for-all to-day," said he to Stubb and Arab, "and if you boys go in with me, we'll make a killing."
"You can lose your money on a horse race too quick to suit me," replied Stubb. "I prefer to stick to poker; but you go ahead and win all you can, for spring is a long ways off yet."
"My observation of you as a poker player, my dear Stubby, is that you generally play the first hand to win and all the rest to get even."
They used up considerable time scoring for the free-for-all running race Christmas Day, during which delay Baugh not only got all his money bet, but his watch and a new overcoat. The race went off with the usual dash, when there were no more bets in sight; and when it ended Baugh buttoned up the top button of his coat, pulled his hat down over his eyes, and walked back from the race track in a meditative state of mind, to meet Stubb and Arab Ab.
"When I gamble and lose I never howl," said Baugh to his friends, "but I do love a run for my money, though I didn't have any more chance to-day than a rabbit. I'll take my hat off to the man that got it, however, and charge it up to my tuition account."
"You big chump, you! if you hadn't bet your overcoat it wouldn't be so bad. What possessed you to bet it?" asked Stubb, half reprovingly.
"Oh, hell, I'll not need it. It's not going to be a very cold winter, nohow," replied Baugh, as he threw up one eye toward the warm sun. "We need exercise. Let's walk back to town. Now, this is a little unexpected, but what have I got you boy's for, if you can't help a friend in trouble. There's one good thing--I've got my board paid three weeks in advance; paid it this morning out of yesterday's winnings. Lucky, ain't I?"
"Yes, you're powerful lucky. You're alive, ain't you?" said Stubb, rubbing salt into his wounds.
"Now, my dear Stubby, don't get gay with the leading lady; you may get in a bad box some day and need me."
This turn of affairs was looked upon by Stubb and Arab as quite a joke on their leader. But it was no warning to them, and they continued to play their favorite games, Stubb at poker, while Arab gave his attention to monte. Things ran along for a few weeks in this manner, Baugh never wanting for a dollar or the necessary liquids that cheer the despondent. Finally they were forced to take an inventory of their cash and similar assets. The result was suggestive that they would have to return to the chuck-line, or unearth some other resource. The condition of their finances lacked little of the red-ink line.
Baugh, who had been silent during this pow-wow, finally said, "My board will have to be provided for in a few days, but I have an idea, struck it to-day, and if she works, we'll pull through to grass like four time winners."
"What is it?" asked the other two, in a chorus.
"There's a little German on a back street here, who owns a bar-room with a hotel attached. He has a mania to run for office; in fact, there's several candidates announced already. Now, the convention don't meet until May, which is in our favor. If my game succeeds, we will be back at work before that time. That will let us out easy."
As their finances were on a parity with Baugh's, the others were willing to undertake anything that looked likely to tide them over the winter. "Leave things to me," said Baugh. "I'll send a friend around to sound our German, and see what office he thinks he'd like to have."
The information sought developed the fact that it was the office of sheriff that he wanted. When the name was furnished, the leader of this scheme wrote it on a card--Seigerman, Louie Seigerman,--not trusting to memory. Baugh now reduced their finances further for a shave, while he meditated how he would launch his scheme. An hour afterwards, he walked up to the bar, and asked, "Is Mr. Seigerman in?"
"Dot ish my name, sir," said the man behind the bar.
"Could I see you privately for a few minutes?" asked Baugh, who himself could speak German, though his tongue did not indicate it.
"In von moment," said Seigerman, as he laid off his white apron and called an assistant to take his place. He then led the way to a back room, used for a storehouse. "Now, mine frendt, vat ish id?" inquired Louie, when they were alone.
"My name is Baughman," said he, as he shook Louie's hand with a hearty grip. "I work for the Continental Cattle Company, who own a range in the strip adjoining the county line below here. My people have suffered in silence from several bands of cattle thieves who have headquarters in this county. Heretofore we have never taken any interest in the local politics of this community. But this year we propose to assert ourselves, and try to elect a sheriff who will do his sworn duty, and run out of this county these rustling cattle thieves. Mr. Seigerman, it would surprise you did I give you the figures in round numbers of the cattle that my company have lost by these brand-burning rascals who infest this section.
"Now to business, as you are a business man. I have come to ask you to consent to your name being presented to the county convention, which meets in May, as a candidate for the office of sheriff of this county."
As Louie scratched his head and was meditating on his reply, Baughman continued: "Now, we know that you are a busy man, and have given this matter no previous thought, so we do not insist on an immediate reply. But think it over, and let me impress on your mind that if you consent to make the race, you will have the support of every cattle-man in the country. Not only their influence and support, but in a selfish interest will their purses be at your command to help elect you. This request of mine is not only the mature conclusion of my people, but we have consulted others interested, and the opinion seems unanimous that you are the man to make the race for this important office."
"Mr. Baughman, vill you not haf one drink mit me?" said Seigerman, as he led the way towards the bar.
"If you will kindly excuse me, Mr. Seigerman, I never like to indulge while attending to business matters. I'll join you in a cigar, however, for acquaintance' sake."
When the cigars were lighted Baugh observed, "Why, do you keep hotel? If I had known it, I would have put up with you, but my bill is paid in advance at my hotel until Saturday. If you can give me a good room by then, I'll come up and stop with you."
"You can haf any room in mine house, Mr. Baughman," said Seigerman.
As Baugh was about to leave he once more impressed on Louie the nature of his call. "Now, Mr. Seigerman," said Baughman, using the German language during the parting conversation, "let me have your answer at the earliest possible moment, for we want to begin an active canvass at once. This is a large county, and to enlist our friends in your behalf no time should be lost." With a profusion of "Leben Sie wohls" and well wishes for each other, the "Zweibund" parted.
Stubb and Arab were waiting on a corner for Baugh. When he returned he withheld his report until they had retreated to the privacy of their own room. Once secure, he said to both: "If you would like to know what an active, resourceful brain is, put your ear to my head," tapping his temple with his finger, "and listen to mine throb and purr. Everything is working like silk. I'm going around to board with him Saturday. I want you to go over with me to-morrow, Stubby, and give him a big game about what a general uprising there is amongst the cowmen for an efficient man for the office of sheriff, and make it strong. I gave him my last whirl to-day in German. Oh, he'll run all right; and we want to convey the impression that we can rally the cattle interests to his support. Put up a good grievance, mind you! You can both know that I begged strong when I took this cigar in preference to a drink."
"It's certainly a bad state of affairs we've come to when you refuse whiskey. Don't you think so, Stubby?" said Arab, addressing the one and appealing to the other. "You never refused no drink, Baugh, you know you didn't," said Stubb reproachfully.
"Oh, you little sawed-off burnt-offering, you can't see the policy that we must use in handling this matter. This is a delicate play, that can't be managed roughshod on horseback. It has food, shelter, and drink in it for us all, but they must be kept in the background. The main play now is to convince Mr. Seigerman that he has a call to serve his country in the office of sheriff. Bear down heavy on the emergency clause. Then make him think that no other name but Louie Seigerman will satisfy the public clamor. Now, my dear Stubby, I know that you are a gifted and accomplished liar, and for that reason I insist that you work your brain and tongue in this matter. Keep your own motive in the background and bring his to the front. That's the idea. Now, can you play your part?"
"Well, as I have until to-morrow to think it over, I'll try," said Stubb.
The next afternoon Baugh and Stubb sauntered into Louie's place, and received a very cordial welcome at the hands of the proprietor. Baugh introduced Stubb as a friend of his whom he had met in town that day, and who, being also interested in cattle, he thought might be able to offer some practical suggestions. Their polite refusal to indulge in a social glass with the proprietor almost hurt his feelings.
"Let us retire to the rear room for a few moments of conversation, if you have the leisure," said Baugh.
Once secure in the back room, Stubb opened his talk. "As my friend Mr. Baughman has said, I'm local manager of the Ohio Cattle Company operating in the Strip. I'm spending considerable time in your town at present, as I'm overseeing the wintering of something like a hundred saddle horses and two hundred and fifty of our thoroughbred bulls. We worked our saddle stock so late last fall, that on my advice the superintendent sent them into the State to be corn-fed for the winter. The bulls were too valuable to be risked on the range. We had over fifty stolen last season, that cost us over three hundred dollars a head. I had a letter this morning from our superintendent, asking me to unite with what seems to be a general movement to suppress this high-handed stealing that has run riot in this county in the past. Mr. Baughman has probably acquainted you with the general sentiment in cattle circles regarding what should be done. I wish to assure you further that my people stand ready to use their best endeavors to nominate a candidate who will pledge himself to stamp out this disgraceful brand-burning and cattle-rustling. The little protection shown the livestock interests in this western country has actually driven capital out of one of the best paying industries in the West. But it is our own fault. We take no interest in local politics. Any one is good enough for sheriff with us. But this year there seems to be an awakening. It may be a selfish interest that prompts this uprising; I think it is. But that is the surest hope in politics for us. The cattle-men's pockets have been touched, their interests have been endangered. Mr. Seigerman, I feel confident that if you will enter the race for this office, it will be a walk-away for you. Now consider the matter fully, and I might add that there is a brighter future for you politically than you possibly can see. I wish I had brought our superintendent's letter with me for you to read.
"He openly hints that if we elect a sheriff in this county this fall who makes an efficient officer, he will be strictly in line for the office of United States Marshal of western Kansas and all the Indian Territory. You see, Mr. Seigerman, in our company we have as stock-holders three congressmen and one United States senator. I have seen it in the papers myself, and it is a common remark Down East, so I'm told, that the weather is chilly when an Ohio man gets left. Now with these men of our company interested in you, there would be no refusing them the appointment. Why, it would give you the naming of fifty deputies--good easy money in every one of them. You could sit back in a well-appointed government office and enjoy the comforts of life. Now, Mr. Seigerman, we will see you often, but let me suggest that your acceptance be as soon as possible, for if you positively decline to enter the race, we must look in some other quarter for an available man." Leaving these remarks for Seigerman's reflections, he walked out of the room.
As Seigerman started to follow, Baugh tapped him on the shoulder to wait, as he had something to say to him. Baugh now confirmed everything said, using the German language. He added, "Now, my friend Stubb is too modest to admit who his people really are, but the Ohio Cattle Company is practically the Standard Oil Company, but they don't want it known. It's a confidence that I'm placing in you, and request you not to repeat it. Still, you know what a syndicate they are and the influence they carry. That very little man who has been talking to you has better backing than any cow-boss in the West. He's a safe, conservative fellow to listen to."
When they had rejoined Stubb in the bar-room, Baugh said to Seigerman, "Don't you think you can give us your answer by Friday next, so your name can be announced in the papers, and an active canvass begun without further loss of time?"
"Shentlemens, I'll dry do," said Louie, "but you will not dake a drink mit me once again, aind it?"
"No, thank you, Mr. Seigerman," replied Stubb.
"He gave me a very fine cigar yesterday; you'll like them if you try one," said Baugh to Stubb. "Let it be a cigar to-day, Mr. Seigerman."
As Baugh struck a match to light his cigar, he said to Stubb, "I'm coming up to stop with Mr. Seigerman to-morrow. Why don't you join us?"
"I vould be wery much bleased to haf you mine guest," said Louie, every inch the host.
"This is a very home-like looking place," remarked Stubb. "I may come up; I'll come around Sunday and take dinner with you, anyhow."
"Do, blease," urged Louie.
There was a great deal to be said, and it required two languages to express it all, but finally the "Dreibund" parted. The next day Baugh moved into his new quarters, and the day following Stubb was so pleased with his Sunday dinner that he changed at once.
"I'm expecting a man from Kansas City to-morrow," said Baugh to Louie on Sunday morning, "who will know the sentiment existing in cattle circles in that city. He'll be in on the morning train."
Stubb, in the mean time, had coached Arab as to what he should say. As Baugh and he had covered the same ground, it was thought best to have Arab Ab the heeler, the man who could deliver the vote to order.
So Monday morning after the train was in, the original trio entered, and Arab was introduced. The back room was once more used as a council chamber where the "Fierbund" held an important session.
"I didn't think there was so much interest being taken," began Arab Ab, "until my attention was called to it yesterday by the president and secretary of our company in Kansas City. I want to tell you that the cattle interests in that city are aroused. Why, our secretary showed me the figures from his books; and in the 'Tin Cup' brand alone we shipped out three hundred and twelve beeves short, out of twenty-nine hundred and ninety-six bought two years ago. My employers, Mr. Seigerman, are practical cowmen, and they know that those steers never left the range without help. Nothing but lead or Texas fever can kill a beef. We haven't had a case of fever on our range for years, nor a winter in five years that would kill an old cow. Why, our president told me if something wasn't done they would have to abandon this country and go where they could get protection. His final orders were to do what I could to get an eligible man as a candidate, which, I'm glad to hear from my friends here, we have hopes of doing. Then when the election comes off, we must drop everything and get every man to claim a residence in this county and vote him here. I'll admit that I'm no good as a wire-puller, but when it comes to getting out the voters, there's where you will find me as solid as a bridge abutment.
"Why, Mr. Seigerman, when I was skinning mules for Creech & Lee, contractors on the Rock Island, one fall, they gave me my orders, which was to get every man on the works ready to ballot. I lined them up and voted them like running cattle through a branding-chute to put on a tally-mark or vent a brand. There were a hundred and seventy-five of those dagoes from the rock-cut; I handled them like dipping sheep for the scab. My friends here can tell you how I managed voting the bonds at a little town east of here. I had my orders from the same people I'm working for now, to get out the cow-puncher element in the Strip for the bonds. The bosses simply told me that what they wanted was a competing line of railroad. And as they didn't expect to pay the obligations, only authorize them,--the next generation could attend to the paying of them,--we got out a full vote. Well, we ran in from four to five hundred men from the Strip, and out of over seven hundred ballots cast, only one against the bonds. We hunted the town all over to find the man that voted against us; we wanted to hang him! The only trouble I had was to make the boys think it was a straight up Democratic play, as they were nearly all originally from Texas. Now, my friends here have told me that they are urging you to accept the nomination for sheriff. I can only add that in case you consent, my people stand ready to give their every energy to this coming campaign. As far as funds are concerned to prosecute the election of an acceptable sheriff to the cattle interests, we would simply be flooded with it. It would be impossible to use one half of what would be forced on us. One thing I can say positively, Mr. Seigerman: they wouldn't permit you to contribute one cent to the expense of your election. Cattle-men are big-hearted fellows--they are friends worth having, Mr. Seigerman."
Louie drew a long breath, and it seemed that a load had been lifted from his mind by these last remarks of Arab's.
"How many men are there in the Strip?" asked Arab of the others.
"On all three divisions of the last round-up there were something like two thousand," replied Baugh. "And this county adjoins the Cattle Country for sixty miles on the north," said Arab, still continuing his musing, "or one third of the Strip. Well, gentlemen," he went on, waking out of his mental reverie and striking the table with his fist, "if there's that many men in the country below, I'll agree to vote one half of them in this county this fall."
"Hold on a minute, aren't you a trifle high on your estimate?" asked Stubb, the conservative, protestingly.
"Not a man too high. Give them a week's lay-off, with plenty to drink at this end of the string, and every man will come in for fifty miles either way. The time we voted the bonds won't be a marker to this election."
"He's not far wrong," said Baugh to Stubb. "Give the rascals a chance for a holiday like that, and they will come from the south line of the Strip."
"That's right, Mr. Seigerman," said Arab. "They'll come from the west and south to a man, and as far east as the middle of the next county. I tell you they will be a thousand strong and a unit in voting. Watch my smoke on results!"
"Well," said Stubb, slowly and deliberately, "I think it's high time we had Mr. Seigerman's consent to make the race. This counting of our forces and the sinews of war is good enough in advance; but I must insist on an answer from Mr. Seigerman. Will you become our candidate?"
"Shentlemens, how can I refuse to be one sheriff? The cattle-mens must be protec. I accep."
The trio now arose, and with a round of oaths that would have made the captain of a pirate ship green with envy swore Seigerman had taken a step he would never regret. After the hearty congratulation on his acceptance, they reseated themselves, when Louie, in his gratitude, insisted that on pleasant occasions like this he should be permitted to offer some refreshments of a liquid nature.
"I never like to indulge at a bar," said Stubb. "The people whom I work for are very particular regarding the habits of their trusted men."
"It might be permissible on occasions like this to break certain established rules," suggested Baugh, "besides, Mr. Seigerman can bring it in here, where we will be unobserved."
"Very well, then," said Stubb, "I waive my objections for sociability's sake."
When Louie had retired for this purpose, Baugh arose to his full dignity and six foot three, and said to the other two, bowing, "Your uncle, my dears, will never allow you to come to want. Pin your faith to the old man. Why, we'll wallow in the fat of the land until the grass comes again, gentle Annie. Gentlemen, if you are gentlemen, which I doubt like hell, salute the victor!" The refreshment was brought in, and before the session adjourned, they had lowered the contents of a black bottle of private stock by several fingers.
The announcement of the candidacy of Mr. Louis Seigerman in the next week's paper (by aid of the accompanying fiver which went with the "copy") encouraged the editor, that others might follow, to write a short, favorable editorial. The article spoke of Mr. Seigerman as a leading citizen, who would fill the office with credit to himself and the community. The trio read this short editorial to Louie daily for the first week. All three were now putting their feet under the table with great regularity, and doing justice to the vintage on invitation. The back room became a private office for the central committee of four. They were able political managers. The campaign was beginning to be active, but no adverse reports were allowed to reach the candidate's ears. He actually had no opposition, so the reports came in to the central committee.
It was even necessary to send out Arab Ab to points on the railroad to get the sentiments of this and that community, which were always favorable. Funds for these trips were forced on them by the candidate. The thought of presenting a board bill to such devoted friends never entered mine host's mind. Thus several months passed.
The warm sun and green blades of grass suggested springtime. The boys had played the role as long as they cared to. It had served the purpose that was intended. But they must not hurt the feelings of Seigerman, or let the cause of their zeal become known to their benefactor and candidate for sheriff. One day report came in of some defection and a rival candidate in the eastern part of the county. All hands volunteered to go out. Funds were furnished, which the central committee assured their host would be refunded whenever they could get in touch with headquarters, or could see some prominent cowman.
At the end of a week Mr. Seigerman received a letter. The excuses offered at the rich man's feast were discounted by pressing orders. One had gone to Texas to receive a herd of cattle, instead of a few oxen, one had been summoned to Kansas City, one to Ohio. The letter concluded with the assurance that Mr. Seigerman need have no fear but that he would be the next sheriff.
The same night that the letter was received by mine host, this tale was retold at a cow-camp in the Strip by the trio. The hard winter was over.
At the county convention in May, Seigerman's name was presented. On each of three ballots he received one lone vote. When the news reached the boys in the Strip, they dubbed this one vote "Seigerman's Per Cent," meaning the worst of anything, and that expression became a byword on the range, from Brownsville, Texas, to the Milk River in Montana.