My Adventures in the West
by Joseph Wegley 1867 - 1946
My work was practically done except to milk a cow, saddle a horse, etc. The ranch kept me as winter man so as to have me in the spring to get their saddle horses together as I knew that particular range and their horses. The boss and his family lived in the ranch house, while I stayed in the bunk house but I ate in the range house. I had a snap.
That winter, I had a continual ringing in my ears. Along towards spring, I went to Glendive to see a doctor. Dr. Hunt traced my trouble back to the time when I had been overheated branding calves at the N. Y. corral. He told me to quit tobacco and not work in the sun anymore for a year or so. Well, owing to the fact that the ranch had kept me on the payroll during the winter, it was awful news for me to tell the boss who by now seemed like a brother to me. It was almost spring, so that made it all the worse. But I told him and he took it all right. He said it was no fault of mine.
I had saved some money and didn’t necessarily have to get a job right away, but I didn’t like to be idle. The word of my leaving got circulated around in a very few days.
One day, my old friend Nick Buttleman, the horseman whom I had worked for before, came to the ranch. He said, “Joe, I understand you are quitting cow punching.” I told him the circumstances. He said, “I would like to hire you to go to North Dakota with horses. I am going to take a trail herd down to dispose of it.” I could not get the idea of not wrestling calves any more, but wrestle horses instead. He told me that I needn’t touch a horse as far as wrestling was concerned. He said he wanted me to learn the business of selling and trading. He also said that they would catch and handle the horses, and that I might possibly be required to herd occasionally. I hired to him.
Now I am through punching cows for the reason just explained and also for the reason that there was no future to the business. I had learned the art and knew the work as well as almost any man on the range. To be sure, there were boys that could rope and ride better than I could, but I knew how and I never had the desire to be an expert rider or roper. I never wanted to be a “Bad” man. I just wanted to know the work and ways of the boys, and I got it.
Before I go into detail about this real horse life, I want to give you a history of the range country. Some I saw myself and some I got from reliable sources, as they happened before my time.
This man, Henry Lewis, whom I worked for in Montana, was a Dane by birth. He had come to the country several years before I had, and was a cowboy that was free to talk which was different from most of the cowboys. That was the main reason why the public in general still consider the cowboy life a kind of mystery. Most of them were more for action and less for talk.
He told me that along in the early eighties, there were a bunch of what might be called pirates. On this range, men were mostly outlaws from where they came from. They settled over the range and built themselves small ranches and organized similar to the city’s underworld of today. They stole the legitimate ranchers’ stock and tried and did intimidate some of them. If a stockman would bother them too much in their unlawful work, some night a bunch of them would ride up to his ranch and call him out. He, thinking of course that someone was in distress or something, would come to the door. Then they would shoot him and ride away. Any man had to have an iron nerve to go up against such a deal alone.
If one had one of them arrested, they would block the jury with their friends the jury would at least disagree so things came pretty much their way. It being a splendid range, naturally, it attracted larger stock men so the range began to fill up with stock and cowboys. This lawless bunch got their harvest from the honest stockmen’s hard work. They kept getting bolder until it go unbearable, but the officers were helpless. This was the origination of what was called the Junde Linch Law, now call the mob law.
It came to a point where the law abiding citizens seeing no possible manner in which they could get justice decided to take the law into their own hands. They organized also. When one of the “bad” boys got too bad, a committee would call on him, select a jury of five substantial stockmen, take this gentleman before the jury, and if he couldn’t satisfy this bunch that they were mistaken, they would say “Guilty.” Then he would be disposed of, never to bother the range again, but this was a slow process. They weren’t getting any place, so the whole range called a meeting at a point above Glendive on the north side of the Yellowstone river on the prairie. Here it was decided to make a general round-up of the undesirable parasites.