Others in the group nodded their heads. "Yes, land is solid!"
Leaning heavily on his cane a little old man with a long white mustache and sharp eyes denounced the lottery method. "'Taint right, 'taint. Don't give a feller a chanct. Look at me with my rheumatiz and I got as good a chanct as any of 'em—brains nor legs don't count in this. Now in the Oklahomy Run ..." And he told about the Oklahoma Run of almost a generation before, when speed and strategy were necessary if one were to be first on the land to stake a claim. But the Oklahoma Run, for all its drama and its violence, dwindled in importance beside these Drawings with their fabulous areas and their armies of people.
Across the prairie came the sound of horses' hoofs and the heavy rumbling of a wagon. A locator with a hayrack full of seekers was coming at a reckless pace, not stopping for the trails. At the reservation gate he brought the team to a quick stop that almost threw his passengers off the wagon. Some of them were so stiff and sore they couldn't get off their cushion of hay; others were unable to stand after they got up. But the locator was not disturbed by a little thing like that. He waved his right arm, taking in at one sweep the vacant expanse to the rim of the horizon and shouted:
"Here's your land, folks. Here's your land." He was locating them en masse at $15 to $25 a head. No hunting up corner stakes. It all looked alike to these bewildered people, anyhow, drunk as they were with the intoxication that land lotteries produce.
He turned his weary team and human cargo around and started back to town. A wholesale locator had no time for sleep. He must collect another hayrackful of seekers early next morning.
Some of these landseekers tried to analyze the reasons for this great movement, the factors which had swept them along with this tidal wave of human migration. "We're concentrated too much in cities," they said, "crowded and stifled, and our roots are choked. We have to go back to the land where a man can grow himself the things he needs to live on, and where his children can grow up with the country—and have a place in it."
Our attitude toward the land is peculiar to America. The European conception of a plot of ground on which a family is rooted for generations has little meaning for people who move by the thousands onto untamed acres, transform it into plowed fields and settlements and towns, and move on endlessly to plow new fields.
This constantly renewed search for fresh pastures has kept the country vital, just as the existence of its Western Public Lands has kept it democratic. For its endurance the American spirit owes much to its frontier.
Beside me stood a thin-faced, hollow-chested young man, a newspaper reporter from Chicago. He ran lean fingers through brown, straggly hair, looking from the Strip, reaching to the horizon, to the people waiting to shape it according to their needs. "Great copy," he said lamely, but he made no entry in his notebook.
Outside another gate, five miles or so beyond the main entrance from McClure, was a little trading post, Cedar Fork, on the Smith ranch. The long buildings were said to have been a sort of fort in the Indian war days. The seekers overflowed even here, and when the swift darkness settled on the plains, stayed for the night, the women filling the store and house while the men slept in the barn loft or haystacks, or even in their vehicles.
They wrapped themselves in heavy coats or blankets against the biting chill of an October night—after a day so hot the tenderfeet sweltered and blistered under the midday sun.
The next morning there was frost, with the air sharp and fresh. The Smiths tried to feed the shivering, hungry seekers. The seekers always seemed to be hungry. Kettles and washboilers full of coffee, slabs of bacon sizzling in great pans, and, one after another, into the hot grease slid a case of eggs. Home-baked bread was sliced into a washtub. Shaking with cold, coat collars turned up, shawls and blankets wrapped about them, tired, hollow-eyed and disheveled, the seekers looked like a banished people fleeing from persecution. But they were not disheartened.
On October 14 the "Drawing" started. The registrations were put into sealed envelopes, tossed into boxes, shuffled up, and drawn out one at a time, numbered as they were drawn out—as many numbers as there were claims—with an additional number to allow for those who did not file or whose applications were rejected. Then the filing of the winners began. Most of the seekers had already selected their claims. They had six months' time in which to establish residence on the land.
The stampede was over. After three weeks of high-pitched excitement the seekers were gone, the plains regained their silence, and the settlers around McClure were left to face the frontier winter with its desolation and hardships. The void after the crowds had gone was worse than if they had never come. The weather had turned raw and gray, and there was a threat of snow in the air. Exhausted and let down, Ida Mary and I were desperately blue.
And then we saw someone coming across the plains—the only moving figure to be seen in the cold gray dusk. From the dim outline we could barely make out horse and rider, but we knew them both—Wilomene on old Buckskin. She was riding slowly as though there were nothing left out here now but time.
She wore a dark red flannel shirtwaist, a divided skirt of black wool, a suede jacket and black cap like a jockey's. There was an easy strength and self-assurance in her carriage. She crossed the firebreak and rode up over the ridge calling her cheery "Hoo-hoo-hoo!"
"She's going to stay all night," exclaimed Ida Mary, seeing the small bag dangling from the saddlehorn.
After supper we counted the dimes we had earned from the postcards—more than $50. And far into the night we talked of the people who had invaded the Strip.
Next spring there would be life again over the plains when the "lucky numbers" came out to live on the Strip. Would the reporter from Chicago be among them, and the mystery girl with the baby in her arms, and Pa Wagor—and a young cartoonist from Milwaukee?
It was something to look forward to when the blizzards shut us off from the world.
NO PLACE FOR CLINGING VINES
The settlers of the McClure district went on with their work as though there had never been a land opening. The men fed their stock and hauled fuel for winter, while the women tacked comforters and sewed and patched heavy clothing.
Ida Mary went on with her school work and I continued to wrestle with the newspaper. We put a little shed back of the shack where we could set buckets of coal and keep the water can handy. With the postcard money we bought a drum for the stovepipe, to serve as an oven. One either baked his own bread or did without it.
Huey Dunn did some late fall plowing. "What are you plowing your land for now, with winter coming?" neighbors asked.
"For oats next spring," Huey replied; "if the damn threshing machine gets around to thresh out the oatstack in time to sow 'em."
The homesteaders shook their heads. There was no figuring out when Huey Dunn would do things. This time he was far ahead of them. They did not know that fall plowing, to mellow and absorb the moisture from winter snow and spring rain, was the way to conquer the virgin soil. They had to find it out through hard experience. Fallowing, Huey called it.
Lasso said, "The range is no place for clingin' vines, 'cause there hain't nothin' to cling to." Ida Mary, under that quiet manner of hers, had always been self-reliant, and I was learning not to cling.
I lived in the print shop a great deal of the time that winter—an unusually open winter, barring a few blizzards and deep snows. I slept on a rickety cot in one corner of the room, cooking my meals on the monkey stove; and often I ate over at Randall's, who served meals for a quarter to anyone who cared to stop, the table filled with steaming dishes of well-cooked food. I liked to take the midday meal there, and meet people coming through on the stage. They furnished most of the news for the McClure Press.
Driving back and forth from print shop to claim on Pinto was like crossing the desert on a camel. Pinto was too lazy to trot uphill and too stiff to trot down, and as the country was rough and rolling, there was not much of the trail on which we could make any time. He could have jogged up a little, but he was too stubborn. He had lived with the Indians too long.
That old pony had a sly, artful eye and a way of shaking his head that was tricky—and try to catch him loose on the prairie with a bucket of oats as a coaxer! There were times on the trail when one could not see him moving except at close range. When he took such a spell, one of us drove while the other walked alongside, "persuading" him to keep ahead of the buggy. As there wasn't a tree or shrub in that part of the country, we were reduced to waving a hat in front of him like a cowboy taunting a bucking horse in the ring, or waving a dry cornstalk at him—but all with the same effect.
A little brown-and-white spotted animal with long brown mane and tail, he was the most noticeable as well as notorious piece of horseflesh in that region, and according to a few who "knew him when—," he had a past; a reputation as an outlaw and a dislike for the white man as a result of his part in an Indian skirmish against a band of white settlers. Now, like the Indian, he had become subdued with age and conquest; but like the Indian, too, stubborn and resentful. From him we learned much about how to deal with the Indian.
One evening when I had stopped at the school for Ida Mary we saw a snowstorm coming like a white smoke. We were only half a mile from home, but in blizzards, we had been warned, one can easily become lost within a few feet of his own door. Many plainsmen have walked all night in a circle trying to find a familiar shack or barn and perished within a few yards of shelter. Even in daytime one did not dare, in some of those blinding furies, to go from house to barn without holding on to a rope or clothesline kept stretched from one building to the other for that purpose.
We could not take a chance on Pinto's slow pace, so we got out of the buggy and ran as fast as we could, leaving him to follow. We were barely inside when the storm broke over the shack. As the snow came in blinding sheets we became anxious about the pony, but there was nothing we could do that night. We opened the door a crack and looked out. We could not see our hands before us, and the howling of the wind and beating of snow against the shack made it impossible to hear any other sound.
Cowering in that tiny shack, where thin building-paper took the place of plaster, the wind screaming across the plains, hurling the snow against that frail protection, defenseless against the elemental fury of the storm, was like drifting in a small boat at sea, tossed and buffeted by waves, each one threatening to engulf you.
Next day the blizzard broke and we found Pinto standing in the hayshed, still hitched to the buggy, quietly munching hay.
When the landseekers had left and the plains had seemed emptier and more silent than before, it had seemed to Ida Mary and me, let down from our high-pitched excitement, that there was not much incentive in doing anything. But, after all, there was no time to be bored that winter. The grim struggle to hang on demanded all our energy.
When I had first visited the McClure Press, I had looked distastefully at Myrtle's ink-stained hands and face, and at the black apron stiff with ink which she wore at her work. Now there were nights when, after turning the press or addressing papers still wet with ink until midnight, I fell upon the cot and slept without washing or undressing. At such times Myrtle, with her cheerful unconcern, became an exalted creature.
The next morning I would make a stab at cleaning myself up, eat breakfast on the small inking table drawn close to the fire, with a clean paper over the black surface for a tablecloth, and go to work again.
When blizzards raged they drove the snow through the shack like needles of steel. There was not a spot where I could put that cot to keep dry, so I covered my face with the blankets, which in the morning were drifted over with snow. Where did the lumber industry get hold of all the knotholes it sold the poor homesteader?
For a girl who had come to the prairie for her health, I was getting heroic treatment, wrestling all day with the heavy, old-fashioned, outworn printing press, heavy manual labor for long hours, sleeping with the snow drifting over me at night.
It was during one of these great storms that I rode in one of the last covered wagons, one of the few tangible links between the pioneers of the past and the pioneers of the present—and a poignant, graphic reminder that men and women had endured storm and discomfort and disaster for decades as we were enduring them now, and as people would continue to endure them as long as the land remained to be conquered.
One morning after the hardest snowstorm I had seen, I awoke in the print shop to find myself corralled by snowdrifts which the wind had driven up over the windows and four or five feet high in front of the door. I could barely see over the top of the upper panes.
That was Friday. Until Sunday I waited, cut off from the world—wondering about Ida Mary! If she were alone in that tar-paper shack, what chance would she have? Was she cold and frightened? With the snow piled in mountainous drifts she would be as inexorably cut off from help as though she were alone on the plains. The things that happen to the people one loves are so much worse than the ones that happen to ourselves—but the things that may happen are a nightmare. As the hours dragged on I paced up and down the print shop, partly because being hemmed in made me restless, partly to keep warm, wondering whether the neighbors would remember that Ida Mary was alone—fearing that they might think she was in McClure with me.
On Sunday, a passage was dug from the print shop so that I could get out—not a path so much as a canyon between the walls of snow, and a neighbor with a covered wagon offered to take me home—or to try to.
He drove a big, heavy draft team. The horses floundered and stuck and fell; plunged out of one drift into another. Galen got out and shoveled ahead while I drove, resting the horses after each plunge. The ravines we skirted and finally got up onto the ridge.
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived, and already the skies were closing in, gray upon the white plains. The grayish-white canvas of the wagon, and the team almost the same color blended into the drab picture, darker shadows against the gray curtain of earth and sky, until we came to the shack.
The Dunns had remembered, as they so often did, that Ida Mary was alone, and they had shoveled a path to the door for her. And she was safe, waiting tranquilly until it would be possible to return to the school again. In such weather the school remained closed, as there was no way for the children to reach it, through the deep drifts, without the risk of freezing to death.
With Ida Mary safe in the covered wagon, we started back at once to McClure. Having broken the drifts on the first trip, it was not hard going, but it was midnight when we reached the print shop.
On cold, bad days the Dunns, getting their own children home from school, would see to it that Ida Mary got back safely, and Mrs. Dunn would insist that she stay with them on such nights. "Now you go, Huey, and bring Teacher back. Tell her the trapdoor is down so the attic will be warm for her and the children to sleep." And when she came, Mrs. Dunn would say, with that clear, jolly laugh of hers, "Now, if you're expecting Imbert Miller, he can come right on over," which he did.
Imbert Miller was a young native westerner whose family had been ranchers out there for a good many years. He was a well-built, clean-cut young man who had been attracted to Ida Mary from the beginning, and whatever her own feelings for him, she liked claim life a lot better after she met him. All during that bitter winter Imbert came over every Sunday, dressed in neat blue serge and white collar. Some of the settlers said that was how they could tell when Sunday came, seeing Imbert ride by dressed up like that. He dropped in, sometimes, through the week in clean blue shirt and corduroys for an evening of cards or reading or talking.
In fact, the evenings were no longer lonely as they had been at first, nor were we always exhausted. We were young and demanded some fun, and feminine enough to find life more interesting when the young men who were homesteading began to gather at the shack in little groups. In spite of the difficulties of getting any place in the winter, and the distances which had to be traveled, the young people began to see a lot of each other; the romances which naturally developed made the winter less desolate.
Sometimes we would gather at Wilomene's for supper—honey served with flaky hot biscuits baked in one of the very few real cookstoves to be found on a homestead. Wilomene had a big shack, with blue paper on the wall and a real range instead of a monkey stove with a drum set up in the stovepipe for an oven—not many settlers could boast even a drum. And always the supper was seasoned with Wilomene's laughter.
In fair weather I printed both back and front pages of the paper, and in storms, when ink and machinery froze up—another complication in dealing with the press—I printed the front page only, with headlines that rivaled the big dailies. There was no news to warrant them, but they were space-fillers. A dance at McClure would do for a scarehead. I put in the legal notices, whatever news items I had handy or had time to set up, and stuck in boilerplate as a filler. I could not count the times I used the same plate over—but the settlers didn't mind reading it again; they had little else to do in midwinter.
One day there came an indistinct message over the telephone line, which consisted mainly of barb-wire fences, saying that the railroads were blocked by storm and the stages were delayed. I threw down my mallet and went home. There would be nothing on which to print the paper.
On the first stage to get through, four or five days later, there was a note from the proof king: "Do not fail to publish last week's paper, properly dated, along with the current issue." As long as there was one proof notice running, the newspaper could not skip a single week.
When the two editions were printed I went home very ill. During the course of a busy and eventful life I have managed—perhaps I should say happened—to be a trail-breaker many times. And always I have had a frail body which seemed bent on collapsing at the wrong time. Robust health I have always coveted, but I have come to the conclusion that it is not an essential in getting things done, and I have learned to ignore as far as possible my lack of physical endurance.
The Widow Fergus came over and waited on me all night, using her simple home remedies. It cost at least $25 to get a doctor out there, and many times the emergency was over one way or the other before he arrived. Homesteaders could not afford to call a doctor except in critical cases, and they relied for the most part upon the amateur knowledge and help of their neighbors.
From the beginning cooperation had been one of the strongest elements in western life. When no foundation for a civilized life has been laid, when every man must start at the beginning in providing himself with such basic necessities as food and shelter, when water holes are few and far between and water to sustain life must be carried many miles, men have to depend on each other. Only together could the western settlers have stood at all; alone they would have perished. In times of sickness and individual disaster, it was the community that came to the rescue. If only for self-preservation, it had to.
The next time the prints were held up by a storm I bought a roll of wrapping paper at Randall's store, cut it into strips, and got the paper out.
When I took the papers into the post office to mail, Mrs. Randall laughed out loud, but Mr. Randall said reassuringly: "That's right, Miss Ammons; learning to meet emergencies in this country is a valuable thing."
The proof-sheet king wrote: "It is regrettable that a paper like that should go into the government Land Offices—such an outlaw printer—"
I replied cheerfully, "Oh, I sent the land officials a good one. They can read every number."
And printers were not to be found on every quarter-section.
Meantime, while I was hammering the paper into shape, Ida Mary had settled the doubts of the homesteaders who feared that a slight young city girl could not handle a frontier school. She was a good teacher. She had a way of discipline with the half-grown plains boys who were larger and stronger than she, and who, but for her serene firmness, would have refused to accept her authority. Instead, they arrived early to build the fire for her in the mornings, carried the heavy pails of drinking water, and responded eagerly to her teaching. By means of the school, she began to create a new community interest.
Another and perhaps the biggest factor in the community life of that section was the Randall settlement at McClure. The Randalls threw up a crude shell of a building for a community hall and now and then gave a party or a dance for the homesteaders. Typical of the complete democracy of the plains, everyone was invited, and everyone, young and old, came. The parents put their children to bed in the lodge quarters of the Halfway House while they joined in the festivity. The older ones square-danced in the middle of the hall and we younger ones waltzed and polkaed in a long line down the outside ring.
It was not always easy to get music for both round and square dances at the same time, but Old Joe, a fiddler ever since the—Custer's battle, was it?—would strike one bar in waltz time and the next in rhythm to the "allemande left" of the square dances, and we got along beautifully. Some of the homesteaders helped out with guitars; a few cowboys, riding in from remote ranches, played accompaniments on jew's-harps; other cow punchers contributed to the music as they danced with clicking of spurs and clatter of high-heeled boots. And always the Randalls had a big kettle of coffee to serve with the box lunches the guests provided for themselves.
At Christmas Ida Mary and I were invited by the Millers for a house party. It was the first well-established home we had seen since we reached South Dakota. A small farm house, plainly furnished, but it had been a home for a long time.
The Millers were counted a little above the average westerner in their method of living. Stockmen on a small scale, they ran several hundred head of cattle. Mrs. Miller was a dignified, reserved woman who maintained shiny order in her house. "She even scalds her dishes," folks said, which by the water-hauling populace was considered unpardonable aristocracy. Imbert was the pride and mainstay of his parents. There were warm fires, clean soft beds, and a real Christmas dinner. There was corn-popping, and bob-sledding with jingling bells behind a prancing team, with Imbert and Ida Mary sitting together as Imbert drove.
Imbert's devotion to Ida was casually accepted by the prairie folk. They all knew him—a likable, steady young fellow, who seemed to have a way with the girls. Homestead girls came and went, and flirtations to break the monotony while they stayed were nothing unusual.
But when Imbert paid $10 for the teacher's box at a box-social held at the schoolhouse one night, the old-timers gaped. It looked, they said, as if that little tenderfoot teacher had Imbert Miller lariated. It beat thunder how the western fellows did fall for eastern schoolmarms. Ten dollars for a shoe box, without knowing what there was in it! Most of the bachelor homesteaders bought boxes with a view to what they would get to eat—potato salad and homemade cake.
Because we were no longer oppressed by a sense of loneliness, Ida and I came to love best of all the evenings at home in the tiny shack with its gay cushions and bright curtains; we enjoyed the good hot supper of spuds and bacon, or rabbit which some neighbor had brought; hot biscuits, chokecherry jelly and coffee simmering gently on the back of the stove. Such a feast, however, was only on rare occasions. After supper, with the world shut out, we read the mail from home. "You've done so well, girls, I'm proud of you," our father wrote. "I'll be looking to see you home next spring."
I believe Ida Mary was happier that winter than she had ever been, and her work was easier for her than mine for me, with fewer hardships, thanks to the Dunns and to Imbert who did much to make it easier for her.
During that whole winter the Randalls were the mainstay of the community. They were one of those families who are the backbone of the old West, always ready to serve their neighbors. They were like old trees standing alone on the prairie, that have weathered the storms and grown strong, with their sheltering branches outspread.
When there were signs of a blizzard in the air, it was the Randalls who sent out their sleighs to round up the women who lived alone and bring them in to shelter. When a doctor was needed, the Randalls got one. Young Mrs. Layton was having her first baby sooner than she expected. It was a black night, twenty below zero. The makeshift telephone line was out of order, as it usually was when it was needed.
Mr. Randall called his sons. "You'll have to go for Doc Newman.... Yes, I know it's a bad trip. But you boys know how to take care of yourselves. Make it—if you can." And they rode hell-for-leather.
It seemed to me there never was a time when at least one of the Randalls wasn't riding horseback over the prairie with an urgent message or errand for the homesteaders. Pay? Hell, no! Weren't these newcomers funny!
I remember one evening in January with a storm raging. I had run to the Randalls' house from the print shop. They sent the sleigh to pick up Ida Mary and Wilomene. By dark half a dozen men were marooned at the Halfway House, three of them strangers passing through, three of them plainsmen unable to get home. A little later two homestead women, who had come in from Pierre on the stage and could not go on, joined us.
Somehow there was room for all of them in the big, bare-floored living room. Chairs with an odd assortment of calico-covered cushions were scattered over the room. Crude, old-fashioned tables were set here and there, each with a coal-oil lamp. By the light from the brightly polished chimneys some read newspapers more than a week old, others looked hungrily through the mail-order catalogs which always piled up in country post offices. And Wilomene White, telling some of her homestead anecdotes, filled the room with laughter. Her most harassing experiences seemed funny to Wilomene.
In the middle of the room the big heating stove, stoked with coal, grew red hot as the wind howled and whistled down the chimney and the snow lashed against the windows of the old log house.
Opening off one end of the long room were the small cubicles that served as bedrooms where the women guests would sleep, crowded together, two or three in a bed. Cots would be put up in the living room for the Randall young ones. But the strangers? Leave that to the Randalls—always room for a few more.
"Do you know," said Mr. Randall, "I am never happier than on a night like this, sitting around the fire, knowing my family are all here and safe; and that strangers from out of the storm have found shelter under my roof."
When the weather grew milder and I could ride back and forth again almost daily, it was Mr. Randall who had one of the boys on the ranch wrangle me a range pony which, he said, was "broke" to ride. He was broke to ride. The only difficulty was to mount him. It was all right once one got on his back, but only an expert bronco buster could do it. Every time I set foot in the stirrup he went up in the air, pitched, and bucked and sun-fished.
I couldn't draw $10 a week as a printer and waste my time on an outlaw bronc. So I solved it by tying him short with a heavy lariat to the corner post of the hay barn so that he could not get his head up or down, nor his heels up very far. Then I gave one leap into the saddle, Ida cut the rope close to his neck, and away we went to the print shop, where I wrestled with the old, worn-out press. Fortunately, there was no trick to dismounting, although I always expected the worst.
* * * * *
One day I broke loose. I had worked all morning and used up half a can of grease on the press, and still it stuck. I picked up a hammer and tried to break it to pieces. I threw one piece of battered equipment after another across the prairie. ("Don't go near the print shop," a little Randall boy warned all comers; "the printer's a-actin'.")
I scrubbed the ink from my hands and face and boarded the stage. I was off to Presho to meet the proof-sheet king.
E. L. Senn was a magnate in the frontier newspaper field. His career is particularly interesting because it is, in more ways than one, typical of the qualities which made many western men successful. Basically, he was a reformer, a public-spirited man who backed, with every means at his command, and great personal courage, the issues he believed for the good of the country, and fought with equal intensity those which were harmful.
In the early nineties he had moved out to a homestead and started a small cattle ranch. In itself that was a daring gesture, as outlaw gangs—cattle rustlers and horse thieves—infested the region and had become so bold and influential that it was difficult to get any settlers to take up land in it. He started his first newspaper on his homestead, miles from a post office, for the purpose of carrying on his fight with the cattle thieves. In retaliation the outlaws burned him out.
E. L. Senn promptly moved his paper to the nearest post office at a small crossroads station to continue the fight. He incorporated in this paper final proof notices for the settlers. When the fight with the rustlers had been waged to a successful close, he expanded his final-proof business; now he owned the greatest proof-sheet monopoly that ever operated in the West, with a chain of thirty-five papers strung over that part of South Dakota.
As civilization pushed into a new district the king picked up another printing outfit and made entry to the Post Office Department at Washington of another newspaper. Sometimes he moved his own outfits from one region to another, but often he merely shut the door on an old plant not worth moving and let it return to scrap-iron while the print shop tumbled down with it.
It cost a lot of money, he used to complain, with investments depreciating like that and the proof business so short-lived, when the settlers filled a section and all proved up at once. And he had to run a paper a year before it became a legal publication.
But the proof sheets soon became gold mines, the plants costing but a few hundred dollars and the expenses of operating only ten to fifteen dollars a week—a cheap printer, the prints, the ink. Established at inland post offices they became the nuclei for crossroad trading points.
At this time he had embarked on another cause, prohibition, which was causing great excitement in South Dakota. A few years later, with his proof sheets extending through the Black Hills, he bought a newspaper in Deadwood, the notorious old mining town which is usually associated in people's minds with the more lurid aspects of the Wild West. He found conditions all that they had been painted, dominated by underworld vice rings, with twenty-four saloons for its population of 3000, and gambling halls, operated as openly as grocery stores, running twenty-four hours a day. Even the two dance halls exceeded all that has been written about similar places.
With his newspaper as his only weapon E. L. Senn set out to clean up Deadwood. In the fight he sunk his own profits until he had to sell most of his newspapers, emerging from it almost penniless.
It was this doughty warrior whose printing press I had strewn widely over the prairie. When he entered the hotel in Presho where I was awaiting him my courage almost failed me. He was wise enough not to ask me what was wrong. He must have been secretly amused by the very small, frightened girl with the determined expression in her direct blue eyes.
To my surprise, he asked no questions. Instead he took me to supper and then to a moving picture, the first I had seen in the West. His kindness so melted my exasperation with the press that I was at a loss to know how to begin the fighting talk I had come to make. But the film ended with a woman driving sheepmen off her claim, and with that example to fortify my ebbing courage, I asked for a new printing press. And I got it!
The "new" press was a second-hand one, but in comparison to the Noah's Ark model it was a mechanical wonder. I did not know that the proof king was facing a financial crisis at that time. But I've always thought the blow of having to buy a press was not half so bad as the shock of having a printer who would ask for one.
While I was enjoying the new press one day the Reeds came by McClure.
"Well, good-by, folks."
"Oh, are you going?"
"Yes, proved up. Going back to God's country."
God's country to the Reeds was Missouri; to others it was Illinois, or Iowa or Ohio. Day after day homesteaders left with their final receipt as title to their land, pending issuance of a government patent. Throwing back the type of the "dead" notices, I could almost tell who would be pulling out of the country.
"Going back in time to get in the spring crop," farmers would say.
Land grabbers they were called. Taking 160 acres of land with them, and leaving nothing. Most of them never came back.
And while this exodus was taking place, here and there a settler was drifting onto the Lower Brule, a "lucky number" who had come ahead of time—there was so much to do getting settled. And by these restless signs of change over the plains, we knew that it was spring.
And one week I set up for the paper, "Notice is hereby given that Ida Mary Ammons has filed her intention to make proof ..."
With the first tang of spring in the air we cleaned the shack, put up fresh curtains and did a little baking. Then we grew reckless and went into an orgy of extravagance—we took a bath in the washtub. Wash basins were more commensurate with the water supply. Then we scrubbed the floor with the bath water. In one way and another, the settlers managed to develop a million square miles of frontier dirt without a bathtub on it.
For the first time we stopped to take stock, to look ahead. For months there had been time and energy for nothing but getting through the winter. We had been too busy to discuss any plans beyond the proving up.
"What are we going to do after we prove up?" I asked, and Ida Mary shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted.
In some ways it was a relief to have the end in sight. I hated the minute routine of putting a paper together, with one letter of type at a time. I hated the hard mechanical work. Most of our neighbors were proving up, going back. But we realized, with a little shock of surprise, that we did not want to go back. Imperceptibly we had come to identify ourselves with the West; we were a part of its life, it was a part of us. Its hardships were more than compensated for by its unshackled freedom. To go back now would be to make a painful readjustment to city life; it would mean hunting jobs, being tied to the weariness of office routine. The opportunities for a full and active life were infinitely greater here on the prairie. There was a pleasant glow of possession in knowing that the land beneath our feet was ours.
For a little while we faced uncertainly the problem that other homesteaders were facing—that of going back, of trying to fit ourselves in again to city ways. But the eagerness to return to city life had gone. Then, too, there was something in the invigorating winter air and bright sunshine which had given me new resistance. There had been a continuous round of going down, and coming back with a second wind; but I had gained a little each time and was stronger now than before.
In the mid-afternoon, after our orgy of spring house-cleaning, with everything fresh and clean, Ida Mary said, "Someone is coming—straight across our land."
"Who is it?" I asked. We had learned to recognize every horse in that part of the country a mile away. But this was not a plainsman.
We rushed into the shack and made a mad scramble through the trunk, but before we could get dressed there came a knock at the door. "Will you wait a moment, please?" I called. It was the custom of the plains for a man to wait outside while his hostess dressed or put her house in order, there being no corner where he could stay during the process. If the weather prohibited outdoor waiting, he could retire to the hayshed.
A pleasant voice said, "I'll be glad to wait." But as I whispered, "Throw me those slippers," and Ida Mary said sotto voce, "What dress shall I wear?" we heard a muffled chuckle through the thin walls.
When we threw open the door to a slightly built man with brown hair and a polished air about him, I knew it was the cartoonist from Milwaukee. Only a city man and an artist could look like that.
"How do you do, Mr. Van Leshout."
"How did you know?" he said, as he came in.
"So you were a Lucky Number, after all," seemed a more appropriate response than telling him that it was spring and something had been bound to happen, something like the arrival of a cartoonist from Milwaukee.
"Are you going to be a settler?" Ida Mary asked doubtfully.
He laughed. Yes, he had taken a homestead close to the Sioux settlement so that he could paint some Indian pictures.
Odd how we kept forgetting the Indians, but up to now we hadn't even seen one, nor were we likely to, we thought, barricaded as they were in their own settlement. "But they are wonderful," he assured us enthusiastically; "magnificent people to paint; old, seamed faces and some really beautiful young ones. Character, too, and glamor!"
We invited him to tea, but he explained that he must get back to his claim before dark. It was already too late, Imbert told him; he would have to wait for the moon to rise. Imbert had dropped in, as he had a habit of doing, and seeing him through the eyes of an easterner we realized what fascination the lives of these plainsmen had for city men.
In honor of the occasion we got out the china cups, a wanton luxury on the plains, and tea and cake. As they rode off, Van Leshout called to us: "Come over to the shack. I built it myself. You'll know it by the crepe on the door."
As the two men melted into the darkness we closed the door reluctantly against the soft spring air. Strange that we had found prairie life dull!
One morning soon after the unexpected appearance of the Milwaukee cartoonist I awoke to find the prairie in blossom. Only in the spring is there color over that great expanse; but for a few weeks the grass is green and the wild flowers bloom in delicate beauty—anemones, tiny white and yellow and pink blossoms wherever the eye rests. I galloped to the print shop with the wind blowing through my hair, rejoicing in the sudden beauty, and found myself too much in holiday mood to get to work.
Suddenly I looked up from the type case to find an arresting figure in the doorway, a middle-aged man with an air of power and authority about him.
"I'm waiting for the stage," he said. "May I come in?"
I offered him the only chair there was—an upturned nail keg—and he sat down.
"Where do you come from?" he asked abruptly.
"St. Louis," I said.
"But why come out here to run a newspaper?"
"I didn't. I came to homestead with my sister, but the job was here."
Because he was amused at the idea, because the function of these frontier papers seemed unimportant to him, I began to argue the point, and finally, thoroughly aroused, described the possibilities which grew in my own mind as I discussed them. There was a tremendous job for the frontier newspaper to do, I pointed out. Did he know the extent of this great homestead movement and the future it promised? True, the frontier papers were small in size, but they could become a power in the development of this raw country.
"How?" he demanded.
I think I fully realized it for the first time myself then. "As a medium of cooperation," I told him.
He got up and walked to the window, hands in pockets, and looked out over the prairie. Then he turned around. "But the development of this country is a gigantic enterprise," he protested. "It would require the backing of corporations and millions of dollars. In fact, it's too big for any organization but the government to tackle. It's no job for a woman." His eyes twinkled as he contrasted my diminutive size with the great expanse of undeveloped plains. "What could you do?"
"Of course it's big," I admitted, "and the settlers do need lots of money. But they need cooperation, too. Their own strength, acting together, counts more than you know. And a newspaper could be made a voice for these people."
"Utopian," he decided.
Bill appeared at the door to tell him that "The stage has been a-waitin' ten minutes, now."
He handed me his card, shook hands and rushed out. I looked at the card: "Halbert Donovan and Company, Brokers, Investment Bankers, New York City." The fact that such men were coming into the country, looking it over, presaged development. Not only the eyes of the landseekers but those of industry and finance were turning west.
I stared after the stagecoach until it was swallowed up in distance. My own phrases kept coming back to me. There was a job to be done, a job for a frontier newspaper, and soon the McClure Press would be a thing of the past—as soon as the homesteaders had made proof. Slowly an idea was taking shape.
I slammed the print-shop door shut, mounted Pinto and loped home. I turned the horse loose to graze and walked into the shack. With my back against the door in a defensive attitude I said abruptly, "I'm going to start a newspaper on the reservation."
Ida Mary slowly put down the bread knife. "But where are you going to get the money?" she asked practically.
"I don't know, yet. I have to plan what to do first, don't I, and then look around for a way to do it." That was the formula followed day after day by the settlers.
"It's too bad you didn't register for a claim in the Drawing," she said thoughtfully. "After all, there is no reason why you shouldn't have a claim too."
"I could still get a homestead on the Brule," I declared, "and I can run the newspaper on the homestead."
The more we discussed the plan the more Ida Mary liked the idea of moving to the Strip where so many new people would be coming. We would work together, we planned, and the influence of the newspaper would radiate all over the reservation. But, it occurred to us, coming abruptly down to earth, with no roads or telephones or mail service, how were the settlers to receive the radiation?
This was a stickler, but having gone so far with our plans we were reluctant to abandon them. Where there was a newspaper there should be a post office. Then we would start a post office! Through it the land notices would be received and the newspaper mailed to the subscribers. The settlers could get the paper and their mail at the same place. We decided that Ida Mary would run it. Somehow it did not occur to us that the government has something to say about post offices and who shall run them. Or that the government might not want to put a post office on my homestead just to be obliging.
But once a person has learned to master difficulties as they come up, he begins to feel he can handle anything; so Ida took her final proof receipt to a loan office in Presho.
"How much can I borrow on this?" she asked, handing it to the agent.
"Oh, about eight hundred dollars."
"That isn't enough. Most homesteaders are getting a thousand-dollar loan when they prove up."
"Yes, but your land's a mile long and only a quarter wide—"
Ida Mary was not easily bluffed. She reached for the receipt. "I'll try Sedgwick at the bank."
"We'll make it nine hundred," the agent said, "but not a cent more. I know that quarter section; it's pretty rough."
Homesteading was no longer a precarious venture. A homesteader could borrow $1000 on almost any quarter-section in the West—more on good land, well located. It was a criminal offense to sell or mortgage government land, but who could wait six months or a year for the government to issue a patent (deed) to the land? Many of the settlers must borrow money to make proof. So the homestead loan business became a sleight-of-hand performance.
The homesteader could not get this receipt of title until he paid the Land Office for the land, and he could not pay for the land until he had the receipt to turn over to the loan agent. So it was all done simultaneously—money, mortgages, final-proof receipts; like juggling half a dozen balls in the air at once. It was one of the most ingenious methods of finance in operation. Banks and loan companies went into operation to handle homestead loans, and eastern capital began flowing in for the purpose.
Being familiar with Land Office procedure from my work on the McClure Press, I knew that not every winner of a claim on the Lower Brule reservation would come to prove it up. A few of them would relinquish their rights. The buying and selling of relinquishments, in fact, became a big business for the land agents. There was a mad rush for relinquishments on the Strip, where landseekers were paying as high as $1000 to $1200 for the right to file on a claim.
I wanted a relinquishment on the reservation, in the very center of it, and I found one for $400.
Then I made a deal with a printing equipment firm for a small plant—a new one! And, although there were only a dozen settlers or so on the land, I pledged 400 proof notices as collateral.
These proofs at $5 apiece were as sure as government bonds; that is, if the settlers on the Brule stayed long enough to prove up, if the newspaper lived, and if no one else started a paper in competition. But on that score the printers' supply company was satisfied. Its officers thought there was no danger of anyone else trailing an outfit into that region.
We arranged for straight credit on lumber for a print shop, there being nothing left to mortgage. From now on we were dealing in futures. In just two short weeks I had become a reckless plunger, aided and abetted by Ida Mary. The whole West was gambling on the homesteaders' making good.
Long we hesitated over the letter home, telling of our new plans. Under the new laws, one must stay on a claim fourteen months, instead of the eight months required when Ida Mary had filed. At last we wrote to explain that we were not coming home this spring. We were going on to a new frontier.
Earnestly as we believed in the plans we had made, it was hard to make that letter carry our convictions, difficult to explain the logic of our moving to an Indian reservation so that Ida Mary could run a non-existent post office in order to mail copies of a non-existent newspaper to non-existent settlers. Looking at it like that, we were acting in blind faith.
* * * * *
And one day a funny little caravan made its way across the prairie, breaking a new trail as it went. A shack with a team hitched to it, a wagon loaded with immigrant goods; and a printing press; ahead, leading the way, a girl on horseback.
Again it was Huey Dunn who jacked up our old shack that morning when the term of school was over and put it on wheels for the trip to the reservation—twelve miles around by McClure, a few miles closer by a short-cut across the plains. Huey decided on the latter way, and I rode on ahead to see that the load of printing equipment should be put on the right quarter-section, while Ida Mary came in the shack. She sat in the rocking chair, gazing placidly out of the window as it made its way slowly across the plains.
We had hired two homesteaders to haul out lumber and put up a small building for the newspaper and post office, although we had not yet got the necessary petition signed for a post office. We could not do that before the settlers arrived. A small shed room was built a few feet from the business structure as a lean-to for our migratory shack.
When I arrived at the claim the men who had hauled out the load of equipment were gone. Suddenly there came on one of those torrential downpours that often deluge the dry plains in spring. It was pitch black as night came on, and no sight of Huey and Ida Mary. The rain stopped at length. Throwing on a sweater, I paced back and forth through the dripping grass listening for the sound of the horses. At last I went back and crouched over the fire in the little lean-to, waiting. There was nothing else I could do.
At midnight Huey arrived with the shack. He and Ida Mary were cold and wet and hungry. They had not had a bite to eat since early morning. Just as they had reached Cedar Creek, usually a little dry furrow in the earth, a flood of water came rushing in a torrent, making a mad, swollen stream that spread rapidly, and they were caught in it. When they got in the middle of the stream the shack began to fill with water. Huey grabbed Ida Mary and got her on one horse while he mounted the other, and the horses swam to land.
The next morning the sun came out, flooding the new-washed plains. It was a different world from the harsh, drab prairie to which we had come eight months ago. Here the earth was a soft green carpet, heavily sprinkled with spring flowers, white and lavender hyacinths, bluebells, blossoms flaming red, yellow and blue, and snow-white, waxen flowers that wither at the touch and yet bloom on the hard desert.
Huey Dunn squared the migratory shack and rolled the wheels from under. And there in the Land of the Burnt Thigh, the Indians' name for the Brule, I filed my claim and started a newspaper. The only woman, so it was recorded, ever to establish a newspaper on an Indian reservation. And if one were to pick up the first issues of that newspaper he would see under the publisher's name, "Published on Section 31, Township 108 North, Range 77W, of the 5th Principal Meridian," the only way of describing its location.
Ida's claim had seemed to us at first sight to be in the midst of nowhere. Compared to this, it had been in a flourishing neighborhood. For here there was nothing but the land—waiting. No sign of habitation, no living thing—yes, an antelope standing rigid against the horizon. For a terrified moment it seemed that there could be no future here—only time. And Ida Mary and I shrank from two very confident young women to two very young and frightened girls.
But there was work to be done. Our tar-covered cabin sat parallel to and perhaps ten feet from the drop-siding print shop—a crude store building 12 x 24 feet, which we called the Brule business block. We had a side door put on near the back end of each building so that we could slip easily from house to shop. We did a little remodeling of our old shack. Befitting our new position as business leaders, we built a 6 x 8 shed-roof kitchen onto the back of the shack and a clothes closet in one end of it; we even bought a little cookstove with an oven in it.
One morning we saw a team and wagon angling across the Strip toward our place. Upon the top of the wagon there perched a high rectangular object, a funny-looking thing, bobbing up and down as the wagon jolted over the rough ground. It was Harvey with the outhouse. There was nothing left now on Ida Mary's claim but the mortgage.
Confronted suddenly by so many problems of getting started, I stood "just plumb flabbergasted," as Coyote Cal, a cowpuncher, always remarked when unexpectedly confronted by a group of women.
And yet I knew what I wanted to do. I had known since the day I heard myself telling the New York broker. An obscure little newspaper in a desolate homestead country: but, given courage enough, that little printing outfit would be a tool, a voice for the people's needs. It was a gigantic task, this taming of the frontier.
And meantime, getting down to reality, I had a newspaper without a country, without a living thing but prairie dogs and rattlesnakes to read it. And around us a hundred thousand acres on which no furrow had ever been turned.
We did not know where to begin. There wasn't a piece of kindling wood on the whole reservation. We had brought what food and water we could with us. Food, fuel, water. Those were basic problems that had to be met.
And then, within a week, almost imperceptibly, a change began to come over the reservation. The Lucky Numbers were coming onto the land. On the claim to the west a house went up and wagons of immigrant goods were unloaded. Ida Mary rode over one evening and found that our new neighbor was a farmer, Christopher Christopherson, from Minnesota. He had brought plows and work horses and was ready to break sod, another example of the farmers who were leaving the settled states for cheap land farther west.
Mrs. Christopherson was a thrifty Swedish farm woman who would manage well. There was a big family of children, and each child old enough to work was given work to do.
Around us new settlers were arriving daily and we felt that the time had come to start out among them with our post-office petition. With Pinto as our only means of transportation it proved to be a slow job.
One day, dropping suddenly down off the tableland into a draw, I came squarely upon a shack. I rode up, and an old white-whiskered man invited me in. His wife, a gray-haired, sharp-featured woman, appeared to me much younger than he. I explained my errand.
"For mercy sake," the woman said, "here you are starting a post office and I thought you was one of them high-falutin' city homesteaders a rec-connoiterin' around. Listen to that, Pa, a post office in four miles of us."
The woman put out a clean cup and plate. "Set up," she said. "We ain't signing any petition till you've had your dinner. There's plenty of biscuit. I stirred up an extry cup of flour and I said to Pa, 'They'll be et!'"
I ate salt pork, biscuit and sorghum while she talked.
"So you're going to handle newspapers too. Oh, print one!" She sighed. "Seems to me that would be a pestiferous job. We're going to have a newspaper out here, Pa, did you ever—?" Pa never did.
Where had I seen these two old people before, and heard this woman talk?
"Where you from?" she asked, but before I could answer, she went on, "We're from Blue Springs."
Pa wrote "David H. Wagor" on the petition.
One morning Imbert Miller came with his team and buggy to take us out into a more remote district to get signers. We found two or three farmers, a couple of business men with their families, and several young bachelors, each building the regular rough-lumber shack. They were surprised and elated over the prospect of a post office.
After wandering over a long vacant stretch, Imbert began to look for a place where he could feed the horses and get us some food. At last we saw bright new lumber glistening in the sun. As we drove up to the crudely built cabin we saw an emblem painted on the front—a big black circle with the letter V in it, and underneath, the word "Rancho." Standing before the open doorway was an easel with a half-finished Indian head on it.
"Van Leshout's!" Ida Mary exclaimed.
He came out, unshaven, and sweeping an old paint-daubed hat from his head with a low bow. "It's been years since I saw a human being," he exclaimed. "You'll want grub."
Building a cabin, learning to prepare his own meals, getting accustomed to solitude were new experiences for the cartoonist from Milwaukee.
"Not many courses," he said, as he dragged the spuds out from under the bunk; "just two—b'iled potatoes, first course; flapjacks and 'lasses, second course; and coffee."
"You've discovered the Indians," we said, pointing to the canvas.
The Indians, yes, but they hadn't been much of a cure for loneliness. What were we doing on the reservation?
We brought out the post-office petition and told him about the newspaper. I explained that I had filed on a claim on the reservation.
"I looked for the crepe on the door as we drove up," I told him.
"You have a claim on the reservation? To hell with the crepe!" he said in high spirits.
On the road home, seeing Imbert's elation, it occurred to me that I had never taken into consideration the fact that Imbert Miller lived near the borders of the reservation and that the "fence" would not separate him from Ida Mary now. How deeply she had weighed the question I did not know.
We sent in the post-office petition and the federal authorities promptly established a post office for the Lower Brule on my homestead and appointed Ida Mary postmistress. She was the only woman ever to run a post office on an Indian reservation, the data gatherers said. The government named it Ammons.
So we had a postmistress and a post office, with its tiers of empty, homemade pigeonholes ready to receive the mail.
And we discovered there was no way to get any mail in or out!
BUILDING EMPIRES OVERNIGHT
That spring I saw a country grow. Perhaps Rome wasn't built in a day, but the Brule was—almost. The incredible speed of the transformation of the untouched plains; the invasion of the settlers in droves, lighting on the prairies like grasshoppers; the appearance, morning after morning, of new shacks, as though they had sprung up overnight; the sound of hammers echoing through the clear, light air; plows at last tearing at the unbroken ground—the wonder of it leaves me staggered now, but then I was caught up in the breathless rush, the mad activity to get things done. The Lucky Numbers were coming, coming.
A few weeks before, we had set up our shack in a wilderness. Now there were shacks everywhere and frantic activity. The plains had come to life. Over them, where there had been bleak emptiness, loomed tents, white against the green background, where the settlers could sleep until they were able to build houses. There was no time to rest, no time to pause—here where there had been nothing but time.
Late one evening a wagon loaded with immigrant goods and a shabby car loaded with children passed our place. The drivers stopped on a nearby claim, threw their bedding on the ground, and slept there. Their deadline for establishing residence was up that night. All over the plains that intensive race went on, the hurried arrival of settlers before their time should expire, the hasty throwing up of shelter against the weather, the race to plant crops in the untamed soil so that there would be food later on.
A land where one must begin at the beginning! Everything to be done, and things crying to be done all at once. Those three basic needs, food, fuel, water—problems which must be solved without delay.
Moving in a network, criss-cross in every direction, wagons and teams hauled in immigrant goods, lumber and machinery, fence posts and fuel; post holes supplemented those dug by the prairie dogs; strings of barb-wire ran threadlike over the unbroken stretch.
From day to day we saw the prairie change, saw new, crude houses thrown up, saw the first furrows broken in the stubborn soil, saw men and women pit themselves against the frontier and shape it to their purpose and their needs.
Among these people there were many more dirt farmers than had settled around McClure, but at least 50 per cent of the immigrants were young men and women from various walks of life, business and professions, who had come for health or adventure; or because the land, through sale or mortgage, would give them a start in life. While it is doubtless true that these latter contributed little to the permanent building of the West, the zest with which they enjoyed its advantages, the gallantry with which they faced its hardships, contributed no small part to increasing the morale of the settlers as a whole.
Almost every settler scooped out a dam at the foot of a slope for water supply. We had Chris Christopherson plow one for us. These dams were nothing but waterholes twelve to fifteen feet in diameter and two or three feet deep. There should be late spring rains to fill them for the summer. There were! While the settlers were still plowing and planting and making their dams it began to rain. And when the frontier is wet, it's wet all over. Dry creeks swelled to overflowing, and small ravines became creeks, and it kept on raining. Both Ida Mary and I were caught in one of those downpours and had to swim the horses across swift-rising Cedar Creek.
Much of those first days were like chapters from Genesis, and to add to the similarity we now had the Flood! The seed shot out of the ground and the fields were green. The gardens grew like Jack's beanstalk. The thick grass stood a foot high. And the dams were full of water.
And Ida Mary and I were literally in the center of this maze of activity, this mushroom growth of a country. And Ammons was actually on the map!
My sister wrote to the Postal Department for a mail carrier and found out she would have to solve that problem for herself.
"We aren't cut out to cope with the plains," I said.
"How did you happen to find that out?" asked Ida Mary.
"I didn't. A New York broker told me."
We had to find some way to get mail in and out. We couldn't back up on the trail, once we had started. There was no place to back to. So we bought a team and started a U. S. mail route, hauling mail three times a week from the stage line at McClure.
It was the thing that had to be done, but sometimes, when we had a moment for reflection, we were a little aghast. Carrying a mail route in homestead country was a far cry from life in St. Louis. It began to seem as though we rarely acted according to plan out here; rather, we were acted upon by unforeseen factors, so that our activities were constantly shifting, taking on new form, leading in new directions. The only consistent thing about them was that they never back-trailed!
Now and then we hired boys to help us with heavy jobs which were beyond our strength, and occasionally a young prairie girl, Ada Long, fourteen years old, went for the mail. It was against the law to let anyone who happened to be handy carry the mail, but the settlers had to have postal service.
Ada was fair, with long yellow braids, strong and accustomed to the hard ways of the prairie. She could hitch up a team and drive it like a man. There was only one drawback to Ada. On Saturday when we were busiest she went home and to church; and on Sunday she hung out the washing. Ada was a loyal Adventist.
Settlers meeting on the trail hailed one another with "Hello! Where you from? I'm from Illinois"—or Virginia—or Iowa. "You breakin'?" They had no time for backgrounds. It didn't matter what the newcomers might have been. That was left beyond the reservation gate. One's standing was measured by what he could do and what kind of neighbor he would make. And always the question, "Where you from?" Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin.
Bronco Benny, riding through one day, said, "I never seen so many gals in my life. Must be a trainload of 'em. Some pretty high-headed fillies among 'em, too." Bronco Benny knew no other language than that of the horse world in which he lived.
Not only dirt farmers but many others became sodbreakers. The sod was heavy, and with the great growth of grass it took all the strength of man and teams, four to six horses hitched to a plow, to turn it. Steady, slow, furrow by furrow, man and beast dripping with sweat, they broke fields of the virgin earth.
How deep to plow, how to cultivate this land, few of them knew. The more experienced farmers around the Strip, like Huey Dunn, would know. Here was a service the newspaper could perform by printing such information for the newcomers. Subscriptions for the paper began coming in before we were ready to print it. We named it The Reservation Wand, and how it ever was accepted in that man's country with a name like that is beyond me. The first issue was distributed by homesteaders passing by and two carriers.
Subscriptions came in rapidly at a dollar a year. Not only did most of the settlers subscribe, but they put in subscriptions for friends and relatives, so that these might know something of the country and its activities. And in their rush of getting settled it was easier to have the printer set up the news and run it off on a press than to take the time to write a letter. Outsiders could not send in subscriptions by mail until the newspaper had an address other than a section number of the claim on which it was printed.
Food, shelter, fuel were still the pressing problems. An army had peopled a land without provisions. Trade was overwhelmed and the small towns could not get supplies shipped in fast enough. New business enterprises were following this rush as lightning does a lightning rod. There was bedlam. One could not get a plowshare sharpened, a bolt, or a bushel of coal without making the long trip to town. One could not get a pound of coffee or a box of matches on the whole reservation.
The settlers began to clamor for a store in connection with the newspaper and the post office. Their needs ran more to coffee and sugar and nails than to newspapers. They had to have a store for a few essential commodities at least.
A store? I objected strenuously. We had already embarked on enough enterprises, and running a store had no place among them. But practical Ida was really interested in the project. It wasn't such a bad idea, she decided. Our money was dwindling, the newspaper would not become a paying proposition for some time, and the only revenue from the post office was the meager cancellation of stamps.
We could hire the hauling done, she pointed out, grappling at once with the details. And it would be a real service to the settlers. That was what we had wanted to provide—the means didn't matter so much.
So we planked down a cash payment at a wholesale-retail store at Presho for a bill of goods, got credit for the rest of it, threw up an ell addition on the back of the shop for the newspaper, and stuck a grocery store where the newspaper had been.
All this time we had been so submerged in activities connected with getting settled, starting and operating a newspaper, a post office, and now a store, that we had overlooked a rather important point—that on an Indian reservation one might reasonably expect Indians. We had forgotten the Indians.
And one afternoon they came. On horseback and in wagons, war bonnets and full regalia glittering in the sun, the Indians were coming straight toward the Ammons settlement. Neither of us had ever seen an Indian outside of a Wild West show.
We were terrified. Into the shack we scurried, locked doors and windows, and peeped out through a crack in the drawn blind.
The Indians had stopped and turned their horses loose to graze. We could hear them walking around the store and print shop—and then came savage mutterings outside our door and heavy pounding. We crawled under the bed. A woman we knew had escaped being scalped once by hiding behind a shock of corn. But there was no such refuge here.
"How! How kill 'em?" an old Indian was bellowing. No use trying to escape. This was the end.
Trembling, hearts pounding, we opened the door. Two big savage-looking creatures with battered faces stood there motioning toward the shop where a group of them were sauntering in and out.
"How kill 'em?" they still muttered. Dazed, we followed them. They had taken possession of the shop. Women were sitting on the floor, some with papooses strapped to their backs. Men with hair hanging loose, or braided down their backs, tied with red string, were picking up everything in the print shop, playing like children with new toys.
They led us into the store, muttering, "Shu-hum-pah; she-la," as they pointed to the shelves. At last we found they wanted sugar and tobacco, and we lost no time in filling the order.
At sunset they rode away toward the Indian settlement, and we discovered that we had been misled by the talk of "segregation." To us that had meant that the Indians were behind some high barricade. But there wasn't a thing to separate us from the tribe but another barb-wire fence, with the gates down.
For several days after the red men came we moved in a nightmare of fear. The Sioux had cherished this tall grass country as a hunting ground, and we had invaded it. Suppose they were intent upon revenge!
Then, absorbed in our many duties, we almost forgot about the Indians. But a week after their first visit they came again. They arrived shortly before sundown, adorned in beads and feathers, stopped across the trail, and to our horror pitched camp. Pinto commenced to neigh and kept it up, a restless whinny, eager for his own people.
It looked as though the whole Sioux tribe had moved over to Ammons. While the men unhitched and unsaddled, the squaws—for the most part large shapeless creatures totally unlike the slim Indian maid of fiction, and indescribably dirty—started small fires with twigs they had brought with them. By now Ma Wagor, the gray-haired woman from Blue Springs, was in the store every day, helping out, and she was as terrified as Ida and I. It seems there were no Indians in Blue Springs. They were among the few contingencies for which Ma Wagor was not amply prepared.
By chance a strange cowboy came through about sundown and stopped for a package of tobacco. While he dexterously rolled a cigarette with one hand we surrounded him, three panic-stricken women. Did he think the Indians were on the war path, we asked, our teeth chattering.
"Oh, I don't know," he answered carelessly, "can't tell a speck about an Indian. Couldn't blame 'em, could you, with these landgrabbers invadin' their range?"
The logic of this had already occurred to us, and we were not particularly cheered by the cowboy's confirmation of our worst suspicions.
"What do you suppose they're buildin' them fires for?" Ma Wagor was anxious to know.
Sourdough couldn't say as to that. But he 'lowed it might be to burn the scalps in.
At that we missed Ma. She had slipped into the house to wash her feet. Ma was a great believer in preparedness, whether having something cooked ahead for supper, or clean feet for heaven.
Instinctively I put my hand on my shock of fair hair to make sure it was still in place. It had always been a nuisance, but now I felt a passionate eagerness to keep it where it was.
The Indians stretched their tepees and cooked their supper. The prairie around them was alive with bony horses and hungry-looking dogs. It was the impatient yelping of the dogs about the kettles rather than any sounds from the soft-footed Indians which we heard.
The cowboy threw his cigarette on the floor, stamped on it with a jingle of spurs, and drawled, "Guess I'll be percolatin'—got to ride night-herd."
Ma Wagor grabbed him by his wide belt. "You're goin' to do your night-herdin' right in front of this shack," she declared grimly. "You've got your pistol and we women need protection." Looking at Ma's set jaw he promised to hang around that night.
Locked in the shack, we waited for the cowboy's signal of attack. He'd "shoot 'em down as fast as they crossed the trail," he assured us, but we were not so confident of his prowess.
"I'd send for Pa," Ma Wagor said dismally, "but what good would he do? And one of us has got to be left to prove up the claim." It was unlikely, according to Ma, that anyone in that cabin would survive. But as the night wore on everything across the trail became quiet and at last we threw ourselves across the bed, exhausted. We woke next morning to find our cowboy gone and the Indians cooking breakfast.
Two leather-skinned men with hair hanging loose over their shoulders and faces painted in red and copper hues led a big-boned horse up to the door and walked into the store. They pointed to the shelves, held up ten fingers, then pointed to the horse. They wanted to trade it for ten dollars' worth of groceries.
Ida Mary did not bother to look at the horse. She traded. The last thing that would have occurred to her at that moment was to disagree with any wishes the Indians might express. We found out later that the old mare was stone-blind and locoed.
Within a week we had the corral full of horses—the lame, the halt and the blind. We would have traded the whole store for anything that the Indians wanted, to get rid of them.
Sourdough, who belonged to the Scotty Phillips outfit over on the Indian lands, had ridden straight on to do night-herd duty. Every cowpuncher, it seemed, must play at least one trick on the tenderfeet.
Then one day a handsomely built young buck, straight as an arrow, walked into the print shop. "How Kola!" he said, and then introduced himself as Joe Two-Hawk. He was a college graduate, it appeared, and he explained that "How Kola" was the friendly greeting of the Sioux, a welcome to the two white girls who ran the settlement.
Many of these young Indians went East to Indian colleges, acquiring, along with their education, a knowledge of civilized ways to which they adapted themselves with amazing rapidity. On returning to the reservations, however, in many cases, perhaps in most, they discarded one by one, as though they had never been, the ways of the white man, and reverted to their primitive customs and ways of life. Nor should they be too thoughtlessly condemned for it. Among civilized peoples the same urge for an escape from responsibility exists, thwarted often enough merely by necessity, or by the pressure of convention and public opinion. The Indians who have reverted to type, discarded the ways of civilization for a tepee and primitive uncleanliness, follow the path of least resistance. Traditions of accomplishment as we know them have no meaning for the Indians; and the way of life for which his own traditions have fitted him has been denied him.
How Kola! That must be what the old warrior was bellowing the day we thought he had said he would kill us. Old Two-Hawk laughed at that when his son Joe interpreted it in Sioux.
Old Two-Hawk explained us to his son, of whom he was manifestly very proud. He pointed to me. "He-paleface-prints-paper"; then to Ida Mary, "Him-paleface-trades-horses." Thus the Brule Indians distinguished us from each other.
Joe Two-Hawk had come as a sort of emissary from the Brules. They wanted us, he explained, to make Ammons an Indian trading post. Looking at the corral, we felt, to our sorrow, that they had already done so. Joe Two-Hawk said they had wood and berries in abundance along the Missouri River, which ran through the Indian lands. They wanted to exchange them for merchandise. And the settlers, we knew, needed the Indian commodities.
So to the newspaper, the post office, the store, the mail route, the heavy hauling, we added an Indian trading post, trading groceries for fence posts; subscriptions to The Wand for berries—very few of them could read it, but they didn't mind that—it was a trade. Joe Two-Hawk became a mediator and interpreter until Ida Mary and I learned enough of the Sioux language to carry on. We tried to figure out a way, in this trading, to make back our loss on the menagerie we had collected at Ammons. Those bare store shelves worried us. Then, one morning, the old, blind, locoed mare turned up with a fine colt by her side. We were getting even.
And we no longer minded that the gate was open between the Indian lands and the section of the Brule which had been thrown open to white settlers. While the gate stood open, enmity and mutual suspicion could not exist, and the path between it and Ammons was beaten hard and smooth.
The Indians came in processions with loaded wagons; unloaded, turned their horses loose on the range and sat around—men and women—for hours at a time on floor or ground, dickering. Ida Mary became as expert at it as they were. It was not long before The Wand had legal work from them, the settling of estates, notices pertaining to land affairs, etc. And that led, logically enough, to Ida Mary's being appointed a notary public.
"Want to sell your land, girls?" a man from Presho asked us one day. "That's what I drove out for. I have a buyer anxious to get a claim on the Brule and I believe he would pay $1200 for this relinquishment. A quick profit."
"Sell? No!" we declared. "With such demand for land on the Strip we may be able to get $2500 for it when it is proved up."
He agreed. A raw quarter-section of deeded land just outside the border had sold the other day for $3500, he informed us. With all the breaking and improvement going on over the Brule, it was predicted by real-estate boosters that choice homesteads here would be worth $4000 to $5000 in another year or so—after the land was deeded.
Within sixty days after the arrival of the first Lucky Number on his claim the 200 square miles of the Brule would be filled. The winners had filed consecutively, so many numbers each day for that length of time. Their time to establish residence would thus expire accordingly. Already the broad expanse of grassland we had seen during our first week on the Brule was changed beyond recognition, shacks everywhere, fields plowed, movement and activity. The frontier had receded once more before the advancing tide of civilization. Within sixty days!
With the price of claims soaring, it became a mecca for claim jumpers. They circled around ready to light on the land like buzzards on a carcass. They watched every quarter-section for the arrival of the settler. If he were not on his land by dark of the last day, some "spotter" was likely to jump the claim and next morning rush to the Land Office and slap a contest on it.
They were unlike the claim jumpers of the older pioneer days who jumped the land because they wanted it for a home. Many of these men would not have proved up a claim at any price. But in many instances they brought landseekers with them who legally filed contests and homesteading rights over the settler. They paid the claim jumpers well for their services in getting hold of the land. Often, being strangers, the landseekers did not know that these "spotters" were not land agents.
They were a ruthless lot as a whole, these claim jumpers. They took long chances, illegally selling relinquishments and skipping the country before they were caught. Some of them even threatened or intimidated newcomers who knew nothing about the West or its land laws.
Of a different type were unscrupulous locating agents who used the technicalities of the homestead law to operate the despicable "contest" business. Whether they had any grounds for contesting a homestead or not, they could claim they had, and the settler must then either go to trial to defend his rights or give up the land. It was a serious problem for the settlers.
So many strangers came and went that the homesteaders seldom identified these land thieves, but the print shop, set high in the middle of the plains, was like a ranger's lookout where we could watch their maneuvers; they traveled in rickety cars or with team and buggy, often carrying camping equipment with them. By the way they drove or rode back and forth, we could spot the "spotters."
They often stopped at the settlement for tobacco or a lunch out of the store—and a little information.
"Whose shack is that off to the southwest?" a man asked one morning, reading off the claim numbers from a slip of paper. He was a ruddy-faced man dressed in a baggy checkered suit with a heavy gold watch chain across the front of his vest and a big flashy ring.
"Belongs to a woman from Missouri," Ida Mary told him. "She had a neighbor build the shack for her."
"No one living there," he said.
"Oh, yes," Ida Mary improvised rapidly, "she was in here yesterday on the way to town for furniture. Won't be back until tomorrow night."
He looked doubtful. "Doesn't look to me as though anyone ever slept there. Not a thing in the shack—no bed."
Ida Mary called out to me, "Edith, didn't you lend that woman some bedding yesterday?"
"Yes," I declared, "so she could sleep there a few nights before the deadline."
All our early training in truth-telling was lost in the skirmish, and sometimes I doubted if the truth was left in us. But there was zest in this outwitting of men who would have defrauded the settlers if they could.
One day I noticed two men driving back and forth over a vacant claim nearby. At sundown no one had established residence. I watched the maneuvers of the two men.
"Ida," I called, "those men are going to jump that claim."
I looked over my land plat and saw that the homestead belonged to Rosie Carrigan from Ohio. It was the last day of grace. She had until midnight to get there.
It was a moonlight night. Ida Mary saddled Pinto and rode down the draw toward the claim. From a slope where she could not be seen she watched the two men. The evening wore on. At eleven o'clock, secure in the knowledge that the owner had failed to arrive, the men pitched camp.
Ida Mary rode quietly up the draw and galloped up to the cabin. "They are sleeping on the claim," she said breathlessly. This meant that next morning, as soon as the Land Office opened, one of them would be there to slap a contest on the land, while the other held possession. It also meant that when Rosie Carrigan arrived she would find her homestead gone.
"What shall we do?" I asked anxiously.
Ida Mary considered for a moment. "One of us must be Rosie Carrigan," she decided. She ran out to hitch the team to the wagon while I hurriedly dragged a few things out of the house and loaded them—things such as an immigrant must carry with him, bedding, boxes, a traveling bag or two. We threw them in the wagon, circled off a mile or two, and then drove straight back onto the land. A few rods from the claim-jumpers we drove a stake, hung a lantern on it, and began to unhitch, shivering with excitement and apprehension.
The noise of our arrival roused the two men, who stirred, and then with an exclamation got to their feet. We saw the flare of a match. One of them had drawn out his watch and was looking at it. Under the smoked-lantern light we looked at ours—it was ten minutes to twelve!
We heard them murmur to each other, but continued unhitching the horses, dragging the hastily assembled articles out of the wagon. Then my heart began to pound. One of the men walked over to us. He was short, burly, heavy-jawed.
"Here, you can't stay here! Where do you think you are?" he demanded.
We made no answer, but the bed I contrived to make under his watching eyes was a hopeless tangle.
"We're on this land ..." he blustered. He was trying to run a bluff, to find out whether we were on the right quarter-section or whether, like him, we were land-grabbers.
"I guess I'll have to have your identification," he said again. "What's your name?"
"Rosie Carrigan," I answered, "from Ohio. What are you doing on my land, anyway? You have no right here!"
He hesitated, weighing the situation and the possibilities.
"Get off!" I blazed at him.
He got. The two men rolled up their bedding and moved on, and Ida Mary and I sat limply on the ground watching them go.
In case they should come back we decided to hold the land for the night, gathered up the bedding, and slept in the wagon—when we slept.
At daybreak we were wakened by the rumble of a heavy-loaded wagon coming slowly over the prairie behind a limping team. A tall, slim girl and a slight boy sat high on the front seat. They drove up beside our wagon. Fastened on the back of their load was a chicken coop, and as they stopped a rooster stuck its head out and crowed.
The girl was Rosie Carrigan. The boy was her brother. And the rooster was the first of his kind to settle on the reservation. They had been delayed by footsore horses. But no land-grabbers, no one except ourselves, ever knew that Rosie Carrigan did not establish residence at ten minutes before midnight.
Not long after this, a rough-looking stranger rode up to an old man's shack and took some papers out of his pocket. "There's some mistake here, pardner," he said. "Looks like you're on the wrong quarter. This is section—" he read the description, "and it happens to be mine."
"But that's the number of the claim I filed on at the Drawing," the old man assured him.
After much arguing and bullying, with the old man contending he was right, the stranger ordered him off the land.
"You don't pull that stuff on me, pardner; you'd better vacate."
"Now keep your shirt on, stranger," the old man said, with a twitching of his long white mustache, inviting him in for a bite to eat while he hunted up his land receipts.
"I'm all crippled up with the rheumatiz," he groaned as he hobbled back into a corner of the room to get the papers. "A pore way for the gov'ment to open up land, I says.
"Now down in the Oklahomy Run we used speed and brains to stake a claim, beating the other fellow to it. But it was a tough bunch down there, and sometimes, stranger, we—" he turned and pointed a gun straight at the man seated at the table, "we used a gun."
The old man who had stood leaning on his cane at the Drawing, complaining that neither legs nor brains counted in winning a claim, used his ingenuity to hold one.
During those last days of settling, Ida Mary and I lived in a state of tension and suspense. We watched our land plat and often rode out over the prairie to watch for the arrival of settlers whose land was being spotted. After a few of our deceptions, the claim jumpers became wary of the newspaper and cursed "that snip of a newspaper woman." And the girl who ran the post office was a government employee.
Here was a job for The Wand. In the next issue there appeared a black-headline article. It began:
"It has been reported that owing to the swift settlement of the Brule, Secret Service Agents from the Federal Land Department are being sent out to protect the settlers against claim jumpers who are said to be nesting there. This tampering with government lands is a criminal offense, and it is understood that legal action will be pushed against all offenders."
One afternoon some two weeks later there walked into the print shop a man with an official manner about him. He called for the publisher of the paper.
"What do you know about this?" he demanded, pointing to the article. "What authority did you have for it?"
I was speechless. He was a Federal Agent.
"Well," I said at last, defiantly, "if the government is not furnishing agents on the land to look after these things, it should."
And it did. The agent looked into the matter, claim-jumping quieted down, there were fewer "spotters" swarming around, and soon, when their six months of grace had expired, the Lucky Numbers were all on the ground.
EASY AS FALLING OFF A LOG
"Any old cayuse can enter a race," Bronco Benny remarked one day. "It's coming in under the wire that counts."
Ida Mary and I had saddled ourselves with a newspaper, a post office, a grocery store, an Indian trading post, and all the heavy labor of hauling, delivery of mail and odd jobs that were entailed. We were appalled to realize the weight of the responsibility we had assumed, with every job making steady, daily demands on us, with the Ammons finances to be juggled and stretched to cover constant demands on them. And there was no turning back.
The Lucky Numbers were all settled on their claims. Already trails were broken to the print shop from every direction. There was no time to plan, no time in which to wonder how one was to get things done. The important thing was to keep doing them. On the whole Strip there was not a vacant quarter-section. Already a long beaten trail led past the print-shop door north and south from Pierre to Presho; another crossed the reservation east and west from McClure to the Indian tepees and the rangeland beyond. Paths led in from all parts of the Strip like spokes, with Ammons the hub around which the wheel of the reservation's activities revolved.
From every section of the settlement the people gravitated to my claim; they came with their needs, with their plans, with their questions. In the first days we heard their needs rather than filled them, and the store and print shop became a place for the exchange of ideas and news, so that I was able to distinguish before long between the needs of the individual and those which were common to all, to clarify in my own mind the problems that beset the settlers as a whole, and to learn how some among them solved these problems.
Subscriptions for The Wand came in from the outside world, from people who had friends homesteading on the Brule, and from people interested in the growth of the West. We had almost a thousand subscriptions at a dollar a year, and the money went into a team, equipment, and operation expenses. Ma Wagor helped in the store—she liked the "confusement," she said. She loved having people around her, and her curiosity about them all was insatiable. Ida or I generally made the mail trip.
The heavy labor we hired done when we could, but many times we hitched the team to the big lumber wagon and drove to Presho to bring out our own load of goods, including barrels of coal-oil and gasoline for automobiles, for there were quite a few cars on the reservation. Automobiles, in fact, were the only modern convenience in the lives of these modern pioneers who stepped from the running board straight back into the conditions of covered-wagon days.
The needs of the people were tremendous and insistent. And the needs of the people had to find expression in some way if they were to be met. The print shop was ready, The Wand was ready, I was ready—the only hitch was that I couldn't operate the new press we had bought, because we couldn't put it together. Ida Mary and I labored futilely with bolts and screws and other iron parts for two days.
I had sat down in the doorway to rest, exhausted by my tussle with the machinery, when I saw a man coming from the Indian settlement. He appeared against the horizon as if he had ridden out of the ether, riding slowly, straight as an Indian, but as he came closer I saw he was a white man. At the door he dismounted, threw the reins on the ground, and walked past me into the store, lifting his slouch hat as he entered. A man rather short of stature, sturdy, with a wide-set jaw and flat features that would have been homely had they not been so strong.
He looked with surprise through the open door of the print shop with its stalled machinery.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
I explained my predicament. "I can't put the thing together and I don't know what to do about it. It would be almost impossible to get an experienced printer out here to start it for me."
He smiled broadly, walked into the shop, and without a word fixed the forms, adjusted the press and turned out the first issue of that strange-fated newspaper.
He would accept no pay and no thanks. "My name is Farraday, Fred Farraday," he said. "I'll ride over next Friday and help you get the paper out."
With that he mounted his blue-roan pony and rode away as deliberately as he had come. Every Friday after that he returned to help print the paper. Naturally we were curious about the man who had solved our desperate need for a printer in so surprising a way, but Fred was content to come week after week and disappear again on the horizon without any explanation as to who he was, where he came from, where he went when he rode out of sight each Friday.
We tried him with hints, with bland suppositions, with bare-faced questions, and could not break through his taciturnity. But even Fred had no defense against Ma Wagor's curiosity, and little by little, through her persistent questioning, we learned that he had a homestead near the Agency, that he had run a newspaper in the Northwest, and that he had been connected with the Indian Service.
The business of the newspaper increased rapidly, and advertising began to come in from the small surrounding towns. Ma Wagor was kept busy in the store, selling groceries to the Indians who camped around for a day dickering, and to the white settlers who were generally in a hurry. So little time! So much to do! Ida Mary helped me in the print shop, and before long we found we needed an expert typesetter. And I found one—unlikely as it may seem—on an adjoining claim. Kathryn Slattery, tall and slim and red-haired, preferred setting type to sitting alone in her shack, and with her striking appearance as an added attraction the popularity of the settlement with the young men homesteaders mounted.
In this odd fashion I found on the prairie both a printer and a typesetter, and for problems of format for The Wand there was always the cartoonist from Milwaukee. Late one afternoon I spied a strange, moving object in the far distance, something that bobbed up and down with the regularity of a clock pendulum. I asked Ida Mary in some bewilderment whether she could identify it. At last we saw it was a stiff-jointed quadruped with some sort of jumping-jack on top, bouncing up and down at every step. As it drew closer, heading for the shop, Ida Mary began to laugh. "It's Alexander Van Leshout," she said.
The cartoonist scrambled down from his mount and led the old, stiff-jointed, sway-backed horse up to the door. "I would have called sooner," he explained, sweeping off his hat in a low bow, "but I have been breaking in my new steed. Let me introduce Hop-Along Cassidy."
It was the newspaper that had brought him, he went on to say. "Editorially it's not so bad, but the make-up would give anyone sore eyes." It was Van Leshout who helped with the make-up of the paper, and he made drawings and had plates made that would do credit to any newspaper.
He was a strange character in this setting, like an exotic plant in an old-fashioned garden, and his eccentricities aroused considerable amusement among the settlers, although he became in time a favorite with them, serving as a sort of counter-irritant to the strain of pioneer life. Men who trudged all day through the broiling sun turning furrows in that stubborn soil were entertained by the strange antics of a man who sat before his cabin in the shade (when there was any) painting the Indians. It was a rare treat to hear him go on, they admitted, but he was not to be taken seriously.