Frontier Reporter Dirt asks...
Dusty Cowboys herding cattle

Question by Frontier Reporter, June 7, 1878:

Howdy there, boys. What brings you and your herd here to The Flat?

map of Western TrailTall Cowboy answers:

Well, now, that's a story in itself. Me and my partners weren't aiming to pass through Ft. Griffin and The Flat at all, not at all. Four weeks ago, when our outfit left South Texas, we were planning on trailing our herd north through Ft. Worth on the Chisholm Trail, like we did back in '76, on the way to Kansas.

photo of longhorns grazing near Ft. GriffinBut, this trip, we were forced to change trails at Belton. There we learned that, up ahead toward Ft. Worth, the trail was blocked to cattle drivers. It seems that, since the last time we went up the trail, farmers have taken over. They've planted crops and aren't letting cows cross their land. So we had to abandon the Old Chisholm Trail. We changed direction, pointing our cattle north up the Leon River, toward Ft. Griffin.

photo of longhorn grazingOnce we got here at Griffin, we made a fine cow camp on the south bank of the Clear Fork. We found plenty of rest and range for the cows and shade for the trail hands. Tomorrow, after the cows are inspected, we'll cross the river and join this new Western Trail. It'll guide us up through Indian Territory and into Dodge City, Kansas, where we hope to sell our cattle. Otherwise, it's another long haul all the way up to Montana.

photo of a chuckwagon I like this town you've built. It's a wide-open kind of place. It seems like a man could get anything he wanted here at The Flat, maybe even some decent chow. A man gets tired of eating chuckwagon food. It's always the same old thing—beans, bacon, coffee, and biscuits, three meals a day—every day.

But before we haul off and find ourselves a fancy restaurant, I have to go to the general store. My gloves are worn thin, cut clear through in some places, from roping stray steers. photo of old saddlebagI can't buy an expensive pair here, though, because I don't have much money. Trail hands get paid at the end of the trail. Once I get to Dodge, though, I can buy a whole new outfit if I want, that is, if we can find a buyer there for our beeves.

photo of Cowboys at The FlatAfter I buy new gloves, Shorty wants to visit a barbershop for a shave and a haircut. Then we'll head over to the photography studio so he can have picture made while he's still gussied up.

By that time, we'll have worked up a good appetite. We'll grab a bite and then it'll be time for our big blowout. That saloon across the street seems a good place to of old spur Those piano tunes drifting through the saloon door are drawing us toward the place like cows to water. After a few hands of poker and a toddy or two in there, we'll be new men. After a month of 18-hour workdays, cowboys just have to blow off some steam every now and again to shake off this blasted trail dust.

photo of cowboys herding in a dust stormTime's a wasting. Before we know it, it'll be midnight and our turn for night duty. Every cowpuncher is taking a shift watching the cows tonight. We always watch them like hawks at night—wolves, you know. But tonight we'll have to keep an especially sharp eye out. This town is crawling with men so desperate for money they'd rustle our cattle—and right under the nose of the U.S. Cavalry.

Enough talk—it's time for action! Let's get going, Shorty. So long for now. [He takes out his pistol and shoots it into the air three times, throwing his head way back and laughing hard.] Yee-haw!

Credits: Character dialogue by Lisa Waller Rogers; top illustration by Charles Shaw; photos of cowboys at The Flat and trailing a herd through dust storm courtesy of the Old Jail Art Center, Albany (Robert Nail Collection); Texas longhorns near Fort Griffin by Bob Stiba; saddle bag and spur found near Fort Griffin, photos by Lester Galbraith.

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