By William Jones
The Harvard Monthly, 28 July 1899
HOW’D Lydie an’ me come to be out yar on this Bar-X-Bar ranch? Well, it wuz like this. You know mother died when Lydie was six an’ I wuz four, an’ guess it sorter hit dad prutty hard, ‘cause before long he went, too. Aunt Susie ‘bout same time wuz humpin’ to keep ‘live; an’ so Uncle Lon, hearin’ ‘bout it, came to our little village in East Tennessee, an’ fetch’d Lydie an’ me ‘way out yar in this Injun country. This yar dog-shantie, bein’ the best one o’ the cabins in the camp, Uncle Lon gave to Lydie an’ me to live in all by ourselves.
The fust mornin’ we wuk up an’ saw the saddles, bridles, ropes, leather leggins, and a pile uv other things hangin’ on the pegs in the walls an’ lyin’ all roun’ us on the floor, it sorter made us wish we wuz back with Auntie in our own little room upstairs, whar we left our playhouse things. But ‘twuz lonesomer still for Lydie an’ me holdin’ ‘ands as we us’t set in the door an’ on the fences round yar lookin’ over the prairies, an’ seein’ nothin’, nothin’ at all but the long-horned doggies and the broncs feedin’ ‘way off yon’er. God! But we did bawl at fust for to see once more our blue smoky mountains, an’ to be back with those fresh water kriks with all sorts uv trees an’ bushes growin’ ‘long ‘em; fer they wuz times pruttier ‘an this old Salty Canadian an’ these God-forsaken dry weather kriks with nothin’ but cottonwoods an’ willers stickin’ up ‘long ‘em.
An’ thar wuz no place to go to ‘cept Johnson’s store over on the Lone Star Trail; an’ the old man kept nothin’ but stick candy, an’ it wuz so sleepy ridin’ thar in the old supply wagon, ‘cause it tuk all day goin’ and comin’. An’ thar wuz no Sunday School an’ no picnics, an’ no nothin’anywhar, not even boys and girls to drop the handkerchief an’ play hide-and-seek with. But sometimes little bareheaded Injun boys and girls came ridin’ by with their mothers and fathers, an’ they wuz dressed in the funniest clothes, sometimes the boys wearin’ nothin’ to cover their legs. They wuz not good, ‘cause they wudn’t stop to talk an’ play. But their mothers and das wuz good, ‘cause they gave us beaded things to hang roun’ our necks, an’ moccasins to wear on our feet. Guess they got sorter stuck on Lydie, ‘cause soon as Uncle Lon told ‘em she came from the East they up an’ called her Wabanagwa, morning star. An’ from that time on the punchers gave the glad ‘an to every Injun who show’d up at the ranch.
But the punchers wuz gooder ‘an the Injuns, ‘cause soon as Lydie an’ me could ride, they kinder liked to ‘ave us with ‘em ridin’ the range. An’ such fun it wuz too, gallopin’ with the boys when they wuz runnin’ a turkey down, an’, jest for fun, chasin’ a coyote an’ ropin’ ‘im. It sorter went ‘g’inst the grain at fust for Lydie to see the onery little coyote squattin’ back an’ chokin’ his eyeballs out; but bimeby she got so she could stan’ it, an’, when the fun wuz over, to plunk ‘im ‘tween the eyes with a six-shooter as well as any o’ the boys. An’ you bet they sorter liked to see her do the trick, too.
But most fun uv all for Lydie an’ me wuz when the other cow outfits us’t to come over to our camp, when Uncle Lon wuz goin’ to round up the range. An’ early uv a mornin’ yer could ‘a’ seen the punchers ridin’ up from all the camps, their broncs a-jumpin’ an’ a-prancin’, their spurs a-jinglin’, an’ their sombreros sot back on their heads: some uv ‘em whistlin’, some of em’ singing’, and all uv ‘em as happy an’ free as the winds an’ the doggies on the range. An’ they stopt in front of the fence of our dog-shantie. Lydie’s an’ mine, I mean. An’ we wuz thar too, Lydie an’ me, sittin’ on our ponies clost to Uncle Lon, an’ listenin’ to ‘im tellin’ the punchers which way to go to find the doggies. An’ then Uncle Lon rides off with the rest uv ‘em, takin’ Lydie an’ me ‘long. An’ as we go ridin’ past groves of black-jack oaks, the bucks, the does an’ the fawns wud peck at us a jiffy; an’ then, switchin’ their white fuzzy tails, they wud go jumpin’ away to hell an’ gone.
Bimeby after reachin’ the head of a krik, Uncle Lon starts a bunch of cattle down the valley toward the salt grounds an’ tells Lydie an’ me to dog ‘em. I tell you it jest made you feel like livin’ to see the long horns comin’ with head an’ tail up, down the buttes an’ over the prairies, to join our bunch headin’ for the round-up ground. Now an’ then a doggie wud turn roun’ an’ stop; an’ shakin’ his head, he wud sniff an’ look at Lydie, as if he wuz jest sorter askin’ who she wuz, with her cheeks all red, her big white bonnet flappin’ on her back, her long brown hair blowin’ in the wind, an’ wearing clothes giddier and pruttier ‘an the other punchers. Then snortin’ an’ kickin’ up his heels, he goes lickity cut back into the herd. An’ after the boys came in from the other parts uv the range with their herds, an’ when all the doggies wuz rounded up on the salt grounds, Lydie an’ me us’t to help the boys hold ‘em while others uv ‘em did the cuttin’ out. A fust Uncle Lon wuz sorter shy ‘bout lettin’ Lydie do cuttin’; but bimeby, seein’ how well she rode, he got so he kinder liked, same as the other punchers, to watch her stickin’ on her cuttin’ pony as she went dartin’ after a wild long horn.
Such wuz the happy times Lydie an’ me wuz havin’, growin’ up together on the Bar-X-Bar ranch, an’ forgettin’ everythin’ ‘bout our old home back in Tennessee. But we never forgot Aunt Susie an’ she never forgot us. She kept askin’ Uncle Lon to send us East to school, an’ it sorter troubled ‘im a heap. Guess ‘twas ‘long ‘bout brandin’ time, jest after the Spring round-up, when Uncle Lon got a long letter from Aunt Susie, tellin’ ‘im she wuz all well now, an’ that she wuz goin’ out East to Boston in the Fall. An’ she told ‘im how nice it wud be to take Lydie ‘long an’ put her in a school out thar.
Well, you know this jest suited Uncle Lon to have Lydie with Auntie, ‘cause ‘twuz a heap uv trouble on his mind to see Lydie growin’ up without schoolin’. She wuz twelve now, and in a little while she wud be a woman. Uncle Lon told Lydie I’d have to stay with ‘im to sorter get on to the hang uv things, so that when the time comes for him to pass in his checks, I’d be able to step into his boots.
O’course Lydie wuz dead ‘g’inst goin’ without me, but somehow she an’ Uncle Lon made it up an’ she said she wud go, go in September, when Uncle Lon shipped the beeves to St. Louis. An’ it wuzn’t long, seem’d like a day or so, before September wuz here and the beeves wuz on the trail. Now it ain’t no use tellin’ you how Lydie helped me rustle the hosses; an’ how she an’ me in the early part uv every night rode round the doggies with the boys singin’ to ‘em, “Bury me not on the Lone Prairie,” an’ some more of those other puncher songs, those songs, you know, which sorter make the long horns dozy, and make ‘em lie down to sleep chewin’ their cud. An’ it wuzn’t long either before we had the doggies on the cars at the shippin’ p’int, an’ on the way to St. Louis. An’ Lydie kep’ wavin’ her bonnet to us from the back door uv the caboose, till the cars went roun’ the bend. That wuz the last we saw uv her.
’Long ‘bout two weeks Uncle Lon an’ the punchers who went to St. Louis with ‘im came back. I got my fust letter from Lydie ‘bout the time, tellin’ me that as soon as she an’ Auntie got to Boston, she went straight to see them people who’d been sendin’ us Youth’s Companions ever since we came out from Tennessee. Then she told me what a big house they had, and how she tol ‘em to scratch her name off an’ put mine instid, an’ thar wuz a whole lot uv other things she told me. An’ she said folks wuz as thick as fleas on a dog, an’ she wuz as lonesome as a calf in a corral, yellin’ for its mother. Well you wudn’t believe it ef I tell you Lydie wuz out in that country for seven years, going to school an’ growin’ up to be a woman. Uncle Lon an’ me saw by the pictures she sent us every year, she wuz growing’. God! an’ Lydia wuz a-gettin pruttier an’ pruttier all the time. She waun’t wearin’ any more calico dresses. Her dresses now had frills an’ a whole lot uv funny—well—you know what I mean—her dresses wuz pretty as hell—that’s all.
But the best part uv her wuz that she never forgot Uncle Lon an’ me out here in this God-forsaken country. She wuz allus asking ‘bout the boys, the broncs, the doggies, an’ about the round-ups, the brandin’ times and every dam thing else. An’ when I us’t to stand in the old man Johnson’s door, watching that four-mule stage rollin’ through the dust down the slope, I saw jest two things—Lydie’s letter and my Youth’s Companion.
One day long ‘bout the middle uv February, the best letter uv ‘em all came tellin’ Uncle Lon an’ me that some big ramrod in Washington wanted her to come out to the Deep Fork Agency to teach the Injuns. God! but that wuz good news, an’ she wuz comin’ in two weeks too. An’ she was goin’ to stay with us till September. It wuz jest like her to tell Uncle Lon an’ me to come hoss-back to Seymour an’ fetch an extra hoss, ‘cause she thought it wud be a pile uv fun ridin’ over to camp. Now Uncle Lon wuzn’t lively fallin’ to the idee uv Lydie ridin’ seventy five miles, ‘cause she hadn’t been ridin’ for a long time, an’ besides the stage could ‘a’ carried her as far as Johnson’s store. But Lydie has done said it, an’ so Uncle Lon thought o’course it had to go that way.
Uncle Lon an’ me moved out uv the dog-shantie which Lydie an’ me us’t to live in before she went away. The boys all joined hands in scrubbin’ an’ sweepin’ it clean, in fixin’ the windows, the door, an’ the fireplace, an’ in diggin’ down into the middle uv the stack to get the sweetest smellin’ hay for Lydie’s bed. The shantie wuz mighty different after Uncle Lon had spread the buffalo robes on the floor; but we know’d it wuz going to look a dam sight pruttier when Lydie had her pictures and prutty things hangin’ on the walls. An’ it wuz mighty good, I tell you, to see them Injun women comin’ round, steppin’ soft-like, you know, an’ askin’ how many days yet Wabanagwa wud be here. An’ old Sam Johnson, bless his soul, he wuz jest grinnin’ like a possum an’ treatin’ everybody to the cigars, ‘cause he sold more shirts, neckties, boots an’ all sorts uv duds those last two weeks than he had all year. An’ he said the Bar-X-Bar punchers wuzn’t the only boys who wuz a-dudenin’ it, either.
When Uncle Lon an’ me stopt over night at the Seven C ranch—this wuz half way, you know, to Seymour—seem’d like the punchers yar couldn’t do enough to make us feel at ’ome. Just like some of the boys over at camp, thar wuz some yar who was just a little bit too dam good to me. Uncle Lon told me when we crawled in bed that night that Lydie wuz goin’ to have a reg’lar hog killin’ time watchin’ these punchers makin’ dam fools uv ‘emselves.
Next day ‘bout sun-down Uncle Lon an’ me rode into Seymour. It wuzn’t no game place, jest a railroad station, a soldier camp, an’ an eatin’ house with a stable or two. Bein’ as Lydie’s train wuz comin’ at five in the mornin’, we climbed in our bunks sorter early. Slept! I didn’t know a thing till Uncle Lon nudg’d me in the ribs an’ told me to come down stairs.
I went down kinder rubbin’ my eyes, an’ sorter thinkin’ what Lydie wuz goin’ to look like, but my God! jest as soon as I pushed open the door, thar she wuz standin’ before me. Well, I ain’t goin’ tell you what we did, but you jest oughter seen Uncle Lon standin’ by the stove holdin’ the candle ‘bove him, an’ smilin’, an’ lookin’ the happiest I ever seen im.
Bimeby, after I got my nerve back, an’ Lydie and’ me wuz settin’ by the stove holdin’ ‘ands like we us’t to long ago, Uncle Lon tried to make her change her mind, an’ take the stage that mornin’ for Johnson’s store; but her mind wuz sot on hoss-back ridin’, an that settled it.
But the stage took her trunks, two uv ‘em, an’ dam big ones too. I never saw a mornin’ like that one when we rode out uv Seymour. The winds wuz as soft as the Gulf breezes in May, an’ the doggies an’ broncs we pass’d wuz grazin’ with one eye sorter shut. Seem’d like Spring wuz yar sure ‘nough, an’ everything wuz kinder comin’ our way. An’ while Lydie an’ me wuz ridin’ side by side, talkin’ an’ laffin’, an’ singin’ “Dixie,” an’ lot uv ‘em other songs the punchers us’t to sing, Uncle Lon wuz ridin’ ‘head, jest listenin’ an’ feelin’ happy-like.
Things wuz jest goin’ smooth as greas’d molasses, till we got ‘bout ten mile from the Seven C oaks, when Uncle Lon stopt his hoss; an’ p’intin’ to the northwest, said he wuzn’t a bit stuck on the looks o’that black speck uv a cloud hangin’ off yon’er. God! but the dam thing grow’d an’ stretch’d, till in five minutes the whole northwest wuz black with rollin’, growlin’ clouds. An’ the winds began to cut into us like icicles.
It wuzn’t long, I tell you, before Uncle Lon tucked Lydie snugly in couple o’blankets an’ lit out for the Seven C oaks, yellin’ all the time to us to keep a-comin’. An’ Lydie—she thought’ it wuz jest fun skootin’ like this over the prairies, an; she kep’ a-laffin’ and ta’kin’. The wind wuzn’t lettin’ up an’ the snow wuz flyin’ thick. Bimeby Lydie wuz gettin’ mummer an’ mummer all the time; an’ when we got ‘bout two miles from the Seven C oaks, she began to say sorter girl-like that she wuz gettin’ mighty sleepy an’ she want’d to get down to go to sleep.
Uncle Lon hearin’ her, jump’d off his hoss; an’ after rubbin’ her cheeks an’ hands, he gets her into his big yeller slicker, an’ away we go ag’in till we make the oaks. We sorter slow’d up to let the broncs blow, but we didn’t stop a dam bit, I tell you, ‘cause the snow wuz hidin’ the trail, an’ the night wuz gettin’ blacker an’ blacker all the time. Maybe you think we didn’t feel sorter good when comin’ out uv the oaks into the bottom, we saw the little candle light twinklin’ in the window of the Seven C dog-shantie ‘cross the river. When we got to the ford, we found the river chuck full uv floatin’ ice, an’ the poor little broncs jest didn’t have the sand to push in. But by poppin’ our six shooters, an’ yelling our heads off, Uncle Lon an’ me at last got the Seven C men down to push the ferry over to us.
God! wuzn’t they surprised to see it wuz us! O’ course, the boys wuz jest dead anxious to make it comfortable for us, ‘specially for Lydie, an’ they did too. But poor Lydie, havin’ such a sore throat, couldn’t eat, couldn’t talk, couldn’t laff, nor couldn’t do nothin’. An’ when she couldn’t sleep ‘cause uv the fever which wuz comin’ on her, Uncle Lon began to take it prutty hard. An’ the boys, seein’ ‘em take on so, jest begg’d ‘im to tell ‘em to do any dam thing so they could help ‘em out. Well—the up-shot uv it all wuz, ‘long ‘bout midnight, after the wind had died down an’ the snow had stop’t fallin’, two uv ‘em lit out for the doctor at Deep Fork Agency.
The doc came ‘long towards sundown, but bein’ like the rest uv ‘em government beggars at the Agency, guess he wuzn’t quite on to his business. To be square with ‘em, maybe he had an off day, or else Lydie wuz too far gone. Anyhow he couldn’t head off her fever; an’ so ‘bout sun-up, while the boys wuz standin’ roun’ her, she jest sorter shut her eyes, sleepin-like, an’, with a little smile on her cheeks, she came to the end uv her trail.
Now it ain’t no use uv my tellin’ you how the boys tuk it. O’course they wuz cow-boys, but, God bless ‘em, they wuz white men too, an’ bein’ white men they wuz as full uv grit as the best uv ‘em; but don’t you know, it wuz jest sorter like gettin’ the drop on ‘em, for ‘em to see a little woman, our Lydie, layin’ thar before ‘em so still, an’—an’ so prutty.
Well, as Lydie had wished it, an’ as the Bar-X-Bar boys wud have it, we put her away in a six by three on the butte lookin’ down on the salt grounds. Thar wuz no fuss an no frills, no readin’ an’ no singin’. We jest wrapped her in blankets an’ in a tarpaulin, an buried our Lydie, our little woman, like a cow-boy.