Ten In Texas
By A. H. Holt
Genre – Western
Time Period – 1910’s
Location – Texas, Pan Handle, XIT
Description – Camping overnight in a draw on the newly released lands of the old XIT Ranch. Will Gantry suddenly feels an odd and welcome sense of belonging
#Cattle #Cowboy #Farm #Home #Frontier #Historical #Farwell #Horses #Novel #Pan Handle #Ranch #Farming #Romance #Thriller #Texas #Western #Wild West #Settlers #XIT #Cattle Rustlers #Mexican Wolf #Texas Trail #Hereford cattle #Polled Angus Cattle #Adventure
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Will Gantry walked his horse down the middle of the broad dirt street. On his left he saw a hardware store, a lumberyard, and a livery stable. All three seemed to be doing a thriving business. Across the way, a two-story, barracks-like hotel appeared a beehive of activity. The building sat halfway up the hill from the railroad, its two-story bulk towering over the rest of the town.
Below the hotel and only a few hundred feet from the railroad, a new bungalow sat in the midst of a well-tended plot. Fruit trees, a kitchen garden and bright green sprigs of Rose of Sharon, newly planted but thriving nicely, surrounded the attractive place.
A semicircle of large touring cars, tops folded rakishly back, sat close to the brand-new railroad station gleaming in fresh yellow paint. Bold, black letters across the gable end announced the travelers’ arrival in Friona, Texas.
Three passenger cars, a baggage car, and a dozen freight cars shunted onto the siding next to the new station. A crowd of people stood in the bright sunshine, silent, listening to the words of a nattily dressed man. Will edged his horse closer so he could hear the speaker’s words.
The salesman delivered a spiel polished by repetition.
“Land is available in any direction, folks. You’ll find that prices are ridiculously low, the terms are within reach of anyone. All the area is virgin prairie, deep in top soil without the hazards of rocks, gullies, swamps, tree stumps or noxious weeds.”
The speaker, for all his eloquence, failed to mention the land also lacked sufficient rainfall to sustain farm crops. Finally, the man waved toward the line of waiting horseless carriages.
A wild rush for the automobiles followed his last remarks. Men clambered for seats as drivers bent to crank the motors to start the cars. Amid the roar of exhausts and swirls of dust, the loaded cars left the station yard. The majority turned either northwest or southeast, traveling over barely discernable paths.
Those men who didn’t take part in the general exodus from the Friona station gathered in small groups around the fast-talking land agents. As the sounds of the loaded cars died away, the knots of men separated to drift toward the hotel, the hardware store, and the lumber yard.
With a gentle pull on the reins, Will turned his horse to face the east. He watched with avid interest the activity around the box cars, as the big doors slid back to reveal farm machinery, household goods, and livestock.
Men and boys labored to roll farm wagons down plank ramps and guide them to the edge of the hard-packed dirt beside the tracks. Horses and mules, ears pointed forward, their legs still shaky from the jolting of the long train ride, picked their way down the rough board ramp.
The cold, clear water in the long wooden trough refreshed them. Familiar hands led them to be hitched to their own wagons. It took a lot of time to fit all the tools and implements into the wagons.
When it was time to load a wagon designated to haul household furniture, the ladies in the crowd came alive. Suggestions, demands, cries, even screams of caution rang out.
“That barrel has all my good dishes in it.”
“Don’t drop that box. It’s full of canned goods.”
“Careful. You scratched Great-Grandma’s bed.”
Despite all the hard work and anxiety of the unloading and reloading, Will sensed a holiday attitude among the settlers and a pioneer spirit. Each family seemed to know that somewhere out on the broad prairie, a tiny speck of land—a place to build a home—waited for them.
“Poor dreamin’ fools.”
There’s no question about it. Few of these families will stay and really prosper. Many will put forth a half-hearted effort, then quickly give in to the ravages of drought, loneliness, and the oppression of poverty. A small percentage are no more than opportunists looking for a gold-brick type of living that could never exist on the high plains of Texas.
The more serious-minded settlers among the group foresaw the hazards of climate and the difficulties of wresting a living, much less a fortune, from the unbroken sod. These families probably spent days discussing the possibilities of bettering their lot in the newly-opened lands. They expected what they already knew, nothing but hard work and privation.
Many risks were considered. Heads of families came ahead on excursion trains, their fares paid by a land company from Chicago or other cities, to inspect the plains country. For the most part, they liked what they saw. Upon their return home, they extolled the virtues of Texas.
Friends, family and neighbors met their glowing reports with true and imagined arguments against taking the risks. Did not wild Indians roam all of Texas, they asked? Would they find churches, schools, and hospitals?
Some believed repossession of Texas by Mexico was still a possibility. Others asked, ‘what kind of state is it that has to trade barren, God-forsaken land in order to build a capitol building? If Texas is so great, why isn’t it organized as New York City or even Milledgeville, Georgia are?’
Horny-handed farmers listened patiently. Wives, in-laws and neighbors argued and influenced many ambitious men to stay in the supposedly secure environment of the well-settled eastern or mid-western states. Others, the more determined ones, sold their farms to anxious neighbors and chartered box cars for the move to Texas.
The black horse stamped an impatient hoof.
“Be still.” Will spoke, as if to a person. He continued to watch the heavily-laden wagons leave the depot yard, their human cargoes chattering and bright-eyed with excitement.
The sun moved almost straight overhead before he turned to ride back up the main street. A large new building, also painted yellow, a block to the west, caught his eye. Tall black letters painted on the bright wall announced “Boarding House.”
Tying Apache at the hitch rack, Will entered the crowded dining room. The meal was being served “family style.” In boarding houses, that’s another way of saying, “We put the food on the table – you catch as catch can.”
Large china bowls of vegetables and platters of fried meat ranged down the middle of the table. Plates of hot biscuits passed from hand to hand and seldom completed even one round of the hungry diners.
Will found an empty chair and heaped his plate with the steaming vegetables. Meat was no problem on the trail, but fresh garden truck took too long to cook at a campfire. A huge platter stacked high with squares of golden cornbread was another welcome sight. He settled down to business and did full justice to his first home-cooked meal in months.
He didn’t join in the bits of conversation he heard between the clatter of dishes and the slurping of coffee. “This-here stranger, he walks up to me and he says, ‘Friend, what is your main money crop around here?'”
The speaker looked and sounded an old timer. “Suckers, I told him.” The old man’s story got a few chuckles and few hard looks from younger men dressed as land agents.
“For heaven’s sake no, absolutely not. Don’t go to Findley, there ain’t no water out there,” someone said. The remark proved to contain more truth than poetry. “I’d go south or southeast. There’s water, grass, and the best land thataway.”
Another speaker leaned toward his prospective customer. “Don’t go too far south. There’s a big ravine down there where a wild Indian couldn’t raise a ruckus with a full pint of whiskey.”
As a newcomer to the table, Will just listened. He noticed a group of big, broad-shouldered men with blond hair at the end of the table. They also remained quiet. When either of the men spoke, he spoke to a member of his own crowd. Their voices and arrangement of English words carried a distinct Germanic flavor.
Almost finished, Will looked around the table–how plainly these men wore their labels. The serious minded farmers, the flashily dressed salesmen, and the cold-eyed businessmen, most of them speculators, buying large tracts of land for profitable resale. These were men who never intended to spend even one night on the prairie.
Placing a coin on the table, Will got up and left. A quick glance around the town’s empty streets proved the inner man wants satisfaction three times a day. The crowds were inside, eating. He smiled sardonically as he untied his horses’ reins and climbed into the saddle. He remembered weeks without three square meals.
“Let’s go, Apache.” He turned the horse south toward the railroad.
Where the main street met the east-west road, an eager-voiced young salesman stepped out in front of his horse and looked up at Will. “Are you a landseeker?” he asked.
“Sure am. I’m A. Plowman, at your service, and what’s your name?” Will leaned toward the man with out-stretched hand.
“Aw, forget it.” Scowling at Will’s humor, the young man retreated, waving Will away.
Come on, Apache.” Will galloped west out of Friona along the dirt road beside the railroad tracks to check out the town of Bovina.
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