The Last Cowboy
Walter Banning shifted in his saddle as he started down the last incline to reach his designation at the bottom of the mountain. Walt set high in his saddle and was just over 6 feet tall, weighed about 180 with pepper grey hair that hung out of his Stetson and topped off with a pepper grey moustache. Walt was thinking as he rode down that he hoped there would be supplies once again at the bottom. The last two times there had not been any supplies left. For the trucks now used at the ranch could not make the steep climb up to the mountain valley where Walt stayed. Although he had stored supplies from all the other times he was now running out of much of the staples he needed. Walt manned a winter meadow high in the mountains of Montana for the Butter- Bar ranch and had spent the last five years watching the cattle that would be brought up before the first snow falls and then driven down in the spring with there calves to the main ranch.
The year was 1920 and Walter Banning was now 70 years old and he had worked for the Butter Bar ranch for 20 years and loved the peace and serenity of the mountain valley. Five years ago Mr. J.R. Butter had offered the mountain valley job to Walt who he knew did not like all the new fangled ways that was coming into running a cattle ranch. Like using motor cycles to run the fence lines and to even herd the cattle from one pasture to another or the trucks now being used to haul the cattle to the rail head. The Butter Bar ranch encompassed over 50,000 acres and carried over 10000 head of cattle. Only when some of the cows were brought up to the mountain valley were horse’s used for the most part on the ranch. Just did not fit into Walt’s life style of being a cowboy on a cattle ranch. But having worked for Mr. Butter for the last 20 years and a top hand, Mr. Butter had offered the valley job and Walt had gladly accepted. There was a well built three room cabin that had a large front porch and a big barn to stable his horses and at the back of the cabin was a smoke house to smoke or to hang meat in. Walt kept 4 horses and one pack mule that he used but most of the time would allow 3 to roam free in the valley except when he needed to change. The valley grass was adequate during the winter to supply the horses and the cattle during the long winter months. Now just turning to spring time and the remaining cowboys on the ranch would be coming up to drive the cattle back down. Every once in awhile Walt would make the journey down to the ranch but the last two years had not. His thoughts were; “Hmm, nothing down there for me anymore and I love it here so why abuse this old body making that trip every spring”. His valley was situated between two mountain ranges with the one on the West side much higher than the other one on the Eastern side. This seemed to allow most of the storms and heavy mountain snow to flow over the valley and not deposit enormous amounts of snowfall into the valley. Walt’s words; “This is perfect”. Mr. Butter along with the supplies he sent up would always include a bank statement for Walt’s account in Stacy, Montana for the $175 he received each month.
Now reaching the bottom of the incline Walt found twelve big tote sacks of his supplies and wonders why there was much more than before but just guesses since they had missed him twice they just sent up extra supplies and begin to load them on the pack animal. “Well guess everything is still ok down on the ranch but was getting a little worried”. Then having loaded the supplies on the mule, Walt mounts and starts the long trip back to the cabin, thinking; “Guess will be dark before I can get back and can only take six of these back but I can come back in the morning and get the rest but that’s ok as I have what I need now”. There was a note on one of the sacks that stated; “We will be up next week for the cows, Grady Butler”. “Guess ole Grady is still the foreman and that’s a good sign”. For Grady and Walt had both started working for the Better Bar at the same time and Grady had made foreman several years ago but the two remained close friends. Grady, however, had been able to go with the changes that were taking place and now for the most part drove one of the Model A trucks around the ranch. Walt; “Grady, how you can get off your horse and drive one of those contraptions is beyond me”. Grady; Now, Walt, I have set a horse for nigh on to 30 years and don’t see nothing wrong with a little comfort in my advancing years, something you should try”. Walt; “Never, Grady, never”. Walt now smiling as he remembered there conversation just before taking the mountain valley job. The trails up to the cabin was through canyons and switch backs and had been widen from the many cattle that had been brought up and then driven back down to the ranch. “Guess I’d better go out tomorrow after I get back with the rest of the supplies and start rounding up any strays and get the cattle ready for the wranglers to pick up next week”. “Not going back down with them as I have enough in those sacks to last till next winter”. “Just plant my little garden and set back and enjoy these days and evenings”. I’ll have them leave a couple of the calves to have some fresh meat and can always kill a deer or two also”.
The next morning found Walt putting up the last of the supplies after going back down and bring back the rest of the supplies and then remounting his favorite horse (Easy) and begins going to where he knew some of the cows would have moved away from the valley proper and started moving them back to the main herd. This would keep him busy for the rest of the week but felt by that Friday he had the herd ready to be moved and set down on the porch and lit his pipe and enjoyed the afternoon setting sun and waited for the wranglers to come up the next morning. The next morning after a good hearty breakfast finds Walt setting on the porch drinking coffee and smoking his pipe when he could hear the wranglers coming up to the cabin. “Hmm, only six cowboys and there use to be twelve to twenty come up, now what is going on?” Walt already having saddle his horse walks down and mounts as the cowboys ride up and there is Grady and two others he knew but the other three he had never seen before. “Might slim on wranglers, Grady”. “This will have to do as it is almost impossible to get good hands these days”. Walt; “It’s all that new stuff you are bringing in down on the ranch, Grady, don’t want nothing to do with it”. Grady; “You riding down with us this time?” “Nope, going to stay right here”. Grady; “Like to introduce you to someone then”. “What now, Grady?” “This here next to me is J.R. Butter the 11, and he is going to stay up here with you this summer”. “No way, Grady, I stay here alone”. “Walt, Mr. Butter sent his son here to stay the summer and by damn you will take care of him”. “I for one am not going back and tell J. R. that Walt Banning who you let live here for nothing is not going to look after his only son for the summer”. “Well you put it like that guess I’m oblige to keep him here for a spell”. “Like I said, Walt, for the summer”. “Ok, ok”. Walt reaches across and holds out his hand to the young man beside Grady and says; “Hope you know what you are getting into, son, as this is not always a kind place to stay”. J.R Butter 11, “Pop, I’m not your son for one and I don’t like this any better than you do but I will honor my father’s request”. Walt; “First of all I’m not your Pop and I know your not my son so just call me Walt and I’ll call you JR, Ok?” “How old are you JR?” “16”. “Great now I am looking after puppies, Grady”. “Not my doing, Walt, Mr. Butter wants JR to experience all phases of running a ranch this size and I for one am going to help him anyway I can and you had better do the same for neither of us are going to find jobs like we have much longer”. “That’s why I have the extra supplies then”. “Yep, now help us get these cows moving down the mountain and you and JR can settle any differences you might have later”. Grady had brought up a lead cow that had been used several times before and equipped with a bell it wasn’t long before they had the herd moving down the mountain. Walt observed JR during this time and thought; “Hell, he sets like a dude who has never moved cattle before”. “This is going to be one hell of a summer for ole Walt Banning, maybe I should have just ridden down to the ranch and picked up my pay from the bank and moved on as I aint no baby setter”. Walt and JR followed the herd to the first switch back and pulled off to the side and as Grady rode by he said; “Walt, you know we now have baling machines pulled by tractors that bale the grass into hay for feeding all the cattle”. “Grady, Grady, don’t know if I know you anymore”. “Ha-ha, have a good summer, Walt”. “Probably be my last, Grady”. “Hell, Walt, you are as old as me and neither of us are spring chickens”. “Yea, yea, see you Grady”. Walt turns his horse and says; “Come on JR lets go to your new home”. “Ya, know if you would set more in the middle of that saddle it would make it a lot easier on your butt”. “Don’t need any help in how to ride a horse”. Walt breaks into a run and looking back sees JR just trying to hold on to the saddle horn and both reins had fallen and guess Walt feeling sorry for him stopped until JR trotted by and Walt moved beside the horse and picked up the reins and handed them to JR but then just kept going toward the cabin. Riding into the barn and unsaddling and putting the saddle over one of the stalls and then rubbing the horse down and putting it out in the lot and then finished Walt goes back to the porch just as JR comes riding up. JR; “Why did you leave me, you know I don’t know my way around here”. “If my father hadn’t sent me here I just ride back and catch up with the herd”. Walt; “Well, guess I figured you knew how to ride so well you could find your way here”. JR standing beside his horse says; “Pop, we are about the same size so I think I’ll just whip your butt”. “Told you to call me Walt, Sir, or Mr. Banning but never again call me Pop”. “Don’t believe we should be fighting right off as we will be together for quite a spell and besides I am much older than you and wouldn’t be a fair fight”. JR; “We are about the same size and ages don’t matter so come on out here and take your licking or do I have to come up there”. “Well don’t want to break my chair so guess I’ll just come down there”. As Walt steps in front of JR, JR throws a round house right which Walt ducked back and then threw out a right jab and then another which rocked JR back from the rock hard fists and then Walt crossed with a left hand hook and flush on the jaw and then caught JR as he slumped forward against Walt. Then leaning him up against the horse railing Walt goes back up to his chair and takes his pipe and loads it and with a match lights it and takes a long drag and thinking; “This damn sure is going to be one hell of a summer for ole Walt Banning”.
J.R. Butter 11 moaning softly and rubbing his jaw sets up straight and says; “What the hell did you hit me with feels like my jaw is broken”. Walt; “Now that you are awake, take your gelding and put him up in the barn lot”. “Be sure you rub him down and get him some of those oats in the barrel”. JR; “You ain’t heard the last of this, Walt”. “Well, at least you learned my name”. When JR comes back from the barn he was carrying a tote sack over one shoulder and Walt stands up and says; “Come on I’ll show you your room just glad this cabin has two sleeping rooms”. While JR was putting up his clothes Walt walks down to the barn and finds JR’s saddle setting on the floor of the barn and the gelding standing against the back wall of the barn. Swearing a cuss word he picks the saddle up and puts it over a stall and then gets a bucket and puts some oats in it and slowly walks up to the gelding which just stood there as Walt lets him eat some of the oats and then leads him to go out into the lot. Going back to the cabin and throwing open the door of JR’s room and saying; “I’m just going to say this one time and you had better listen carefully”. “We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot but we will be together for quite a spell and I’m not going to have you mope around and not pull your share, so wise up or we are going to have a rough summer”. “Now I’ve said my piece and if you have any problems let’s hear them now”. JR looks at Walt and says; “Sorry Walt, guess I was just mad and upset with my father for making me come up here and not stay on the ranch”. So would begin the relationship of one 16 year old and one 70 year old man in a mountain valley of Montana.
JR; “Just what do you do up here during the summer and not go back down to the ranch?” “JR, I’ve been in a war, Indian wars, gunfights, starving, beaten up several times and a cowboy for many years and now I just want my peace and quite and enjoy my last few years with out any hassle from anyone”. “I started building a holding pen last year to put the cows in during a heavy snow fall and guess I’ll finish that this year and then there’s cutting the firewood and splitting it for the stove and the cooking stove”. “This valley is five miles long and almost two miles wide and sometimes I just ride out and spend a few days under the stars or go fishing in a mountain fed pond bout a mile from the cabin and catch trout to eat or sometimes just ride up in the mountains and do some deer hunting or goat hunting”. JR; “What year were you born, Walt?” “1850”. “Where?” “Little town in southern Arkansas right next to the Louisiana border called Higgins”. “I see and sorry bout not putting up my horse”. “No problem as long as it doesn’t happen again”. “It won’t, I promise”. “Good, after a few days we’ll ride out and I’ll show you the valley and we can do some of that trout fishing I mentioned”.
For the next three days the two stayed around the cabin to let JR get use to the area around the cabin but Walt did take JR to the mountain stream behind the cabin and showed him the washing hole he had made damning up the stream. “Now you can bathe in the hole but that water is ice cold or you can carry a few buckets up to the cabin and let the sun warm the water up some and then bathe”. JR; “Which do you prefer?” “When I’m lazy I just undress and jump in and swear like crazy and soap real quick and jump out, ha-ha”. JR found that Walt was an excellent cook and made sourdough biscuits that melted in your mouth along with bacon slabs, fried potato’s and warmed over beans for breakfast and coffee. Supper consisted of more beans, potatoes, corn fritters, or left over biscuits with coffee. Walt; “We’ll put one of the calves they left down pretty soon and have steaks and stew to kind of freshen up our meals”. “Nothing like a good steak or a big pot of stew, no sir-re”. “Then we can kill a deer and I’ll make some jerky to munch on during the day”. “Thought about having some chicken and turkeys up here but there are so many varmints that would love to eat them that I just get by without”? JR; “Walt, can you teach me to cook some?” “You bet”. From that would become the first of many things and lessons that Walt taught JR Butter 11 on how to be a cowboy. Walt kept JR at the cabin for the next three days to let him become familiar with his surroundings but then on the fourth he banged on his door and shouts; Ok, JR, time to go to work, get up”. Startled but getting up and putting on his clothes and then stumbles out into the kitchen and; “What?” “Grady said your dad wanted you to learn everything about running a ranch so this morning your lessons start at this place”. “Doing what?”
“Today we start laying in firewood for the winter, your breakfast is on the table and you eat while I get what we will need ready to go”. “This morning I’ll saddle your horse but from now on that will be your responsibility”. “Why cut firewood now as it’s not snowing or cold?” “Two reasons, one is you are here to help and two the warm period is short up here and I always lay in wood early”. The place that Walt selected was only about one half mile from the cabin and for the next four days from sun up to almost sun down they cut wood. Walt explained to JR on the first day how he cut and then moved the logs back to the cabin to be cut up and split and stacked. How to work a cross cut saw and; “Don’t ride the saw, when I push you pull and when I pull you push”. But many times it was; “Dammn it, JR; you pull when I push quit riding the saw”. “Ok you knock off the limbs while I hitch up the mule to pull the log back to the cabin”. JR; “Walt, this aint no fun”. “JR, life aint no fun and you had better learn that quick for what has to be done just has to be done”. “I thought we were going trout fishing?” “In due time, JR, in due time”. Oh, JR, complained and Walt had to keep pushing him to keep going and would doctor the busted blisters on his hands at night in the cabin but by the fourth day and maybe just sensing they were almost finished his mood lightened and he did not fall asleep at the table that last night as he had done the previous three nights over supper that Walt fixed. The next morning he was up when Walt got up and asked to help with the breakfast. Walt showed him how to mix up the biscuits and put in the oven and; “Make sure you don’t burn them”. Over breakfast, Walt; “JR, how come I never saw you at the ranch all those years I worked there?” “My mom died when I was two and dad sent me to live with his sister in Chicago to go to school and be brought up there”. Don’t think he had the time for me back then”. “Did not like it there but that’s all I knew although I did get to come back to the ranch one summer until now”. “Hmm, I see, well lets clean up we have work to do today?” “Oh hell, what now, Walt?” “We’ll work on the holding lot I started last year and maybe between the two of us we can finish it”. “Guess fishing or hunting is out”. “Now JR”. “I know, I know, what has to be done, has to be done”. The work on the fence would take them one week to complete as the sapling poles had to be cut and brought to the site and post holes dug and the poles fitted and with JR’s help Walt had decided to make it even larger that he previously had planned. During that week the two developed a closer relationship with a lot of bantering and laughing between the two. Walt; “How was school for you, JR?” “Ok, I guess, but only finished high school”. Walt; “I only got through the third grade”. “Third grade, why?” “The teacher ran off with the blacksmith’s wife and no one came to fill his place so my schooling ended although my mom helped me with some writing and math work”. JR; “What did your dad do for a living?” “He was a traveling shoe salesman and was not home very much so it was just mom and me most of the time”. Walt; “That’s the last pole now only have to make the gate and we will be finished”. JR; “Walt, look no more blisters”. “Ha-ha, now grab that pole and let’s start on the gate”.
The next morning over breakfast, Walt; “Today we’ll clean up and rest and I’ll show you how to make a blanket roll and tomorrow morning thought we might take a ride and hang out for a few days in the valley, maybe even do a little trout fishing”. “Sounds great, Walt”. Later as the sun got higher they took baths in the creek hole and washed clothes to hang out and dry. JR; “You sure be right about that water being cold nearly froze before I could wash off”. “Told you it don’t take long to bathe there”. Later Walt showed JR how to make his bed roll to strap at the back of his saddle and then pulled out a Winchester rifle with scabbard and said; “Never know what we might run into so always safer to carry a rifle or pistol”. JR; “You mentioned varmints around just what kind are they?” “Well, mink, a few beavers still here, fox, cougar, coon, and I’ve only seen it once but there is a big grizzly bear that comes through the valley occasionally”. “Have found a couple of the cattle that he killed and ate but never have hunted him and guess he leave me alone, I’ll just do the same”. “The cougar’s stay up on the mountains for the most part but have seen a couple in the valley since I’ve been here”. “Wow, sounds like some of the animal in the zoo they have in Chicago”. “Now, JR, have you ever shot a rifle before?” “No”. “Well let’s take this one out and let you shoot it a few times so I’ll know you won’t shoot me”. “Really, Walt, I would like that”. After about a half of box of shells JR was able to hit most of the tin cans that Walt had put up for him to shoot at. “JR, you learned fast and now I’ll show you have to clean and care for that Winchester properly”. Later after they had eaten a supper of beans with bacon, corn fritters and coffee and setting out on the porch with Walt smoking his pipe and JR setting on the steps leaned up against a post he said; “Walt would you mind telling me a little about where you grew up in Arkansas?” “Why would you want to know that as there ain’t much to tell?” Oh, don’t really know, but being raised in the city and not doing much of anything just wondering how you ended up being a cowboy”. Walt gets up and walks to the edge of the porch and taps the tobacco out of his pipe and after setting back down reloads and fires a match and finally said; “Well, Higgins were a small town spect no more that 100 people lived in or around it. There was a mercantile store, a barber shop, the blacksmith shop and old Doc Johnson had an office there”. “Let’s see, oh yea, and one small hotel that had three rooms and also served meals and liquor in guess you would call it a saloon but was pretty small”. “Then two churches, one Methodist and the other Baptist, a one room school house and Doc Johnson had a small drug store next to his office”. “The dirt streets behind the town proper had most of the houses the towns’ folks lived in with a few that were located outside of the town itself”. “Our house was one that was just outside of town and my mom took in sewing and helped out Doc Johnson at the drug store”. “Like I said my dad was never home much and did not stay long when he came back”. “Mom let me play with the other boys in town until I started to school and then told me I was going to have to help out and find ways to make some money after school to help out”. “I didn’t mind that and found work sometimes at Bailey’s mercantile and the Johnson’s blacksmith shop and the money I got and gave to mom and she would sometimes give me a nickel to spend on what I wanted”. “That went on until Thornberry, the teacher, ran off with Johnson’s wife and the school closed down”. JR; “What did you do then?” Walt paused while he relit his pipe and then; “I was nine years old and had made money working and kind of liked the feeling it gave so I hustled every job I could until one day, Zeke Taylor, a black man invited me to go fishing with him on the Mississippi River which was only about a half of mile from Higgins”. “Member having to talk and talk to mom before she let me go but go I did and guess it changed my life for a time”. “Zeke only fished for catfish and only for what his family needed but after only two times going with him and learning how to catch them I started bringing a tote sack home and selling them in town for two bits for a big one and 10 cents for two small ones”. “When the pickens got slow in Higgins I started walking the two miles to Strong, Louisiana which was a much larger town and selling there”. “Then it got to where I was fishing every other day and selling the rest but it really helped my mom out and she got to just staying home and only taking in sewing work”. “Now JR, that’s enough of my life and it’s getting late so let’s turn in and get an early start in the morning, Ok?” “Yea, thanks Walt, I enjoyed that”.
The next morning both up early and eating breakfast and Walt begins to show JR what they would need to take being out several days. JR watched and helped where he could and then they went out to the barn to catch and saddle there horses. The horses were in the lot and while Walt just walked up and pulled the muzzle of his horse and he walked with him to be saddled, JR had a little more problems until Walt came and said; “All critters liked to be treated and loved and if you show them that most will always respond and do what you ask”. “Now reach up and breathe in your horse’s nostril so he will identify with you and speak softly and he should just follow you to be saddled”. JR, “Well I’ll be dammed look at him just standing there, thanks, Walt”. Now both saddled Walt led them back behind the cabin and crossed the stream and headed toward where they had cut wood two weeks ago. Walt; “Won’t to show you something JR, so we’ll ride this side of the valley for a ways”. The wood line was heavy with tree’s up to the start of the mountains but they rode just outside of the timber for about one mile until Walt turned into the timber and rode up to a steep rise and then along side of it for a ways. There he turned into a narrow canyon trail and JR riding behind they rode in until coming out in a large opening. JR could see old poles stuck in the ground and many lying on the ground and said; “What is this, Walt?” “This be an old Cheyenne burial ground and sacred ground to them”. “Indians, any around here?” “Nope all the Northern Cheyenne have moved to the reservation in Montana now but for many years they made there hunting grounds and camps’ in Wyoming and Montana”. “Long time ago though, I fought against them and then lived with them for a time and an honorable people they are”. “When was that, Walt?” “Don’t recollect the exact date but some time in the 70’s”. JR; “Can I ride around some?” “Ok but don’t disturb any thing or move any of the poles, ok”. JR rides off and Walt dismounts and brings out his pipe and fills and lights it and waits for JR. Then he reaches in his saddle bag and pulls out a reed flute and begins to fill the canyon opening with a mournful but beautiful sound that echoes down the canyon walls. JR at the other end apparently hearing the music turns around and comes galloping back toward Walt shouting; “You hear that, you hear that?” Walt slips the flute back into the saddle bags and as JR. slides to a stop says; “Yea I heard that what do you think it was?” Don’t know but sounded like some kind of music I have never heard”. “Told you this was sacred grounds maybe you disturbed one of them?” “I never touched anything just like you told me, Walt”. Walt pulls the flute out again and plays another tune as JR just set with open mouth and listened. “What does it mean?” It’s a burial tune the Cheyenne play when ever one of them is put on the poles”. JR; “You ever have been to a Cheyenne burial?” “Just once”. “Really, what happened?” “It was when I was living with a Cheyenne band led by there Chief Big Feather”. “I was accepted and had been made a blood brother of Big Feather”. “For the most part it was a slow and easy life with hunting, fishing and bonding with all that were in the band”. “But there would come times when the Cheyenne and Crow would have wars or battles over hunting grounds or reasons I never understood except maybe they just could not get along or being close to each other”. “Well, one day a group of squaws were out gathering fire wood when a war party of Crow came up on them and took two of the maidens off with them”. “The others hurried back to camp and the alarm went out and soon a party of braves along with me was ready to give chase and retrieve the maidens that had been kidnapped”. Chief Big Feather’s band was not large and he only had 20 braves but we all rode after the Crow war party and caught up with them but could see there were 30 or 40 of them, but not stopping Chief Big Feather led us to attack them”. “It were a bloody battle but I was able to knock five or six off there horses with my rifle when one came charging at Little Feather who had been dismounted from his pony and was just standing there and the Crow with a long lance was just about to reach him I pulled my horse between them but took the lance in my side and was knocked off my horse but then lying on the ground I took my pistol and shot the brave before he could turn and lance Little Feather”. “Guess it turned out he was the war party’s sub-chief and the rest of the Crow braves broke off the fight and fled but had left the two Cheyenne maidens and they were rescued”. JR; “What happened to you with the lance wound?” “It weren’t good as I was bleeding pretty good but they picked me up and laid me across my saddle and started back to our camp but guess I passed out on the way back because I don’t remember anything else after that”. “They told me that I lay for two days with the medicine man applying salve and herbs to bring me around but I did not awaken and they thought I had quit breathing and then I was taking to the poles for burial and placed there”. “Now white men are not buried in a Cheyenne burial ground but Chief Big Feather allowed it because the young brave I saved was his only son, Little Feather”. Walt; “JR, he was about your age too”. “Well what happened as you are still here?” “It started raining buckets after they left me and guess that’s what brought me around and lo and behold, Little Feather had stayed with me even during that hard rain and saw me moving and grabbed my arm and then helped me slide off the poles and then went and got his Father and they took me back and I slowly recovered from the lance wound but still carry a ugly scar to remind me of my near death”. “The sad part is the Cheyenne lost three braves in the fight and none of them escaped the poles”. Walt; “Enough for now lets ride some more”. JR with new found respect in his eyes said; “Ok, Walt, I would love to ride with you”.
They rode back out of the burial grounds and Walt turned them to ride down to the end of the valley before turning again toward the pond located toward the center of the valley. The two rode in silence as Walt was remembering and JR was thinking of all the lessons and things that Walt had helped him with and thinking about him having lived with the Cheyenne Indians”. Then coming up on a mountain stream being fed by the melting snow from the WesternSideMountains. The stream was wide and flowing fast but did have small pools ever so far apart. JR could now see the large pond just ahead and knew that’s where they were heading for. There were trees that grew all around the pond but Walt picked on a spot and rode into the trees and said; “This is where we will camp” and begins unloading and putting his pack he had been carry behind him down on the ground. JR stops and likewise does the same with his pack. He could see that this place had been used before as the remains of a camp fire and a small clearing close to the fire place was evident. Walt; “While I get the fishing stuff ready, you collect some of the branches to make a fire and we’ll try to catch a couple of trout for our dinner”. Walt took off two circular tubes and pulled out two limber fly rods and begins to string them up to be able to fish with. When JR. comes back with an arm load of dry wood he says; “Come with me JR and let me show you how these things work”. Walking down to the pond Walt begins to flick out line with the rod he was carrying and with JR watching the line sang out across the pond to lightly land several yards out and Walt flicking again and the line came sailing over his head and then again came flying out across the pond. Then a swirl of water erupted as the artificial fly hit the water and Walt snapping back said; “Damn, missed that one but that’s all there is to it JR but you have to be quick to catch them as they are wary of flies from the many times I have been here”. “Looks easy is that other pole mine?” “Yep, might take you a few times to get it to land where you want it but I spect you’ll catch on”. JR took the other one and moved further away and begins learning how to cast a fly rod and not have it wrapped around his feet but learned quickly and was able to start casting out further and further when suddenly a big swirl hit his bait and pulling back he had the trout and begins to pull it back by walking backwards and Walt; “No, no wind the reel and keep the line tight, boy you have a nice one there”. When the trout was landed and JR saying; “I caught it, Walt, I caught it”. Walt; “Damn JR, that has to go about two pounds that’s really a nice one”. Walt caught two and even though JR did not catch any more Walt says; “With that big one you caught and my two smaller ones we have enough for tonight, you build a fire and I’ll get these trout ready to cook”. “Damn good job, JR”. JR all swelled up reeled in his line and ran back to the camp site and laid his rod against a tree started a fire with the dry wood and it wasn’t long till Walt came up and had the trout cleaned and had cut two limbs that made a Y and a longer one to run through the fish. Walt; “Now that fire is to big and hot for right now but as it gets a lot of coals we can cook the fish”. Then taking out a small pot and opening a can of beans poured it in to pot and it also was ready to place next to the fire and then had several of the sourdough biscuits from there breakfast to have too. It would be a meal that JR would always remember and he devoured his portion of the trout and beans and said; “Don’t know when I have ever tasted anything as good as this was”. Walt smiling at JR’s comment said; “Nothing like a good meal over a camp fire under the stars”. Then showing JR how to fold out his bed roll and use his saddle to lean against and putting a few sticks on the smoldering fire they set back as a bright full moon begins to illuminate the camp.
JR; “Walt, I am really enjoying my time here with you and living up here, would you mind telling me more of how you grew up?” “You see where I lived was in what they call a brownstone house with many along the street on both sides and they were three stories high”. “Not many places to play or to have fun with the other boys I grew up with except out in the middle of the street”. Walt; “Yea could see where that would not be a great place to grow up in, but really there is not much for me to tell about my child hood days except I continued to fish and sell them and in 61 the War between the States broke out and many of the men in both towns left there to join up”. “Hell, me I wanted to go with them but was only eleven years old and mom would have had a hissy fit”. “My dad never returned home after the war broke out and mom and I never heard from him again”. “My mom died in the spring of 63 and Doc. Johnson said it was from something that was eating her up from inside” “I buried her out behind the Methodist Church for she was a fervent church goer”. “The townsfolk’s did not know what to do with me but I was 13 and big for my age so I just stayed in our home and continued to fish”. “Then early in 64 a large number of southern soldiers came through town heading toward the Mississippi River heading for a fight with Yankee soldiers coming down the river”. “They stopped in Higgins for a few days and I got to hanging around there camp just outside of Higgins and one soldier, Tom Tanner, kind of took me in and the first thing I knew they allowed me to join up and be a soldier but something I had wanted to do since the war begin”. “Never having fired a rifle or pistol, Tom got me a old muzzle loader and powder and shells but then showed me how to use and fire the rifle kind of like I showed you and I got pretty good with it”. “I went home and took some clothes and blankets and food and Tom showed me how to make my bedroll and from then on until we marched out I stayed in camp with them”. “Tom told me they were part of the 2nd Regiment of the Arkansas 3rd and he had been with them since a large battle at a place called Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas and they had continuously fallen back down through Little Rock, then another battle at Jenkins Ferry and now here in Higgins”. “Sure don’t look good for the south but we will continue to fight on”. “We have about 100 men with us here and expect a hard fight when the Yankee’s come down the river, you sure you want to get into this, Walt?” “I just answered, yes, not knowing what I was getting into but guess you could say I had visions of glory going through my mind of what battle would be like”. “Have to say now though there ain’t any glory in any fight or battle no where, no sir-re”. Walt fell silent for a spell and JR; “Walt, what happened?” “We marched out of Higgins the next morning and headed for the Mississippi River and then turned upstream and stayed about a quarter of a mile from the river”. “They had sent out scouts to find where the Yankee’s might land there troops and we set up there over looking the river along a long gradual bend in the river and waited”. The Captain and Sergeants had us spread out behind a small hill over looking the river and it was a cold camp that night with no fires allowed”. “We had two cannons they brought with them and they were just behind all the troops lined up in a single row and we waited”. “The next morning just after day break three wooden Northern gunboats came down the river and anchored in the slack water of the river and soon two large stern wheelers carrying the Yankee troops turned into the bank and Yankee soldiers begin to disembark from the two boats”. “The Captain gave the order for the cannons to fire at the gunboats and for the troops to fire at the Yankee’s unloading and a thunderous sound it was to this fourteen year old ears and I just fired in there direction but never knew if I hit anything”. “The first salvo of cannon fire missed the gunboats and they begin to return fire with there front mounted cannons and there were explosions all around us and some men were just blown away but we continued to shoot down on them but more and more Yankee’s unloaded and took shelter behind a bank that the river had cut during high water and returning fire toward us”. “One of the gunboats was hit and just sank in the river but then cannon fire from the other two knocked out our two cannons and by now there had to be over two hundred of the Yankee’ troops unloaded and the stern wheelers backed out and went down river”. “The gunboats then begin to concentrate on our troops and many explosions were going off all around me and then the Yankee’s charged toward us and shouting and hollering but the southern boys had fought many battles before and laid down a blanket of fire that stopped the charge of most of them but several kept coming up the hill and one was heading straight for me but I had just reloaded and shaking but taking aim I fired and he went tumbling back down the hill”. “Now, JR, that be the first man I killed and it weren’t no time for joy or happiness for I felt bad about shooting him but I figured it was him or me and like I always say, What’s done is done”. “Just be hard on a fourteen year old to kill someone and something you don’t get over easy”. “The Yankee troops were seasoned troops and out numbering us so much they continued to apply pressure against us and the gunboats were exacting a heavy toil on our troops until the Captain called for us to move back or some might just say to run like hell to get away from the cannon’s and the Yankee troops”. “Now I was unhurt but Tom Tanner had taken a musket ball in the shoulder but I ran my arm around his waist and we hightailed it out of there with me half carrying him and him trying to help as much as he could”. “Now that was my first fight or battle but it’s getting late so I might finish this story some other time but put a couple of sticks on the fire and let’s get some shut eye time”. “Ok, Walt”. JR would lay there on his bedroll for a long time and looking up through the trees at the stars and reflecting on the new life he was living and learning with Walt’s guidance.
The next morning Walt woke up early but JR was not there and getting up and stretching first spotted him down by the pond casting again and again out into the pond. Smiling some but then stoking up the coals in the fire he prepared there breakfast. Then filling up his pipe just laid down again by his blanket roll and saddle and waited for JR. When JR came back he was all excited and said; “Caught three, Walt, and one was bigger than yesterday but I let them all go, is that ok?” “Yep, don’t need more right now but we will catch some later today. They stayed there for two more days and Walt seeing how much JR was loving the fishing just let him catch what they would eat for there meals. The third morning getting low on other food Walt said; “Let’s load up and start back toward the cabin this morning and maybe put one of the calves down and then I can start smoking some meat”. “Ok, Walt, I’m ready to go”. They rode down the western side of the valley so JR could see the terrain and Walt said; “Whoa, JR.” and taking out a looking glass put it to his eye and then handed it to JR and said; “Look just to the left of that big tree and tell me what you see?” JR looking and then says; “What is that, Walt?” “That is a cougar or some call them mountain lions and she has two cubs with her just beyond where you are looking”. “Wow, I see them”. Walt takes the glass back as the cougar sensing them moved back into the tree line and they rode back to the cabin. But then to there surprise as they rode up there set Grady and Mr. J.R. Butter on the porch waiting. Walt; “Well Grady and Mr. Butter what brings you two all the way up here?” Mr. Butter; “Just wondered if my son was giving any problems or do I need to take him back?” Walt; “I think I’ll just let JR answer that, sir”. Mr. Butter; “What say you, Jr.?” “Don’t want to leave here as Walt has taught me things I never thought about while living in Chicago, so dad, I want to stay for the rest of the summer here if that’s ok with you”. “Just wanted to make sure you two were not at odds as Grady thought you might be, now Walt, you have any of those biscuits to make and we’ll eat with you two”. Walt; “Yes sir, won’t take long to make a batch and this time I’ll let JR make them for you after we put our horse’s up”. “JR, you say, well I never, but we certainly will wait for that”. The meal turned out great as JR biscuits were as good as Walt could make and with the beans, potatoes and bacon and coffee the four had a great meal and Mr. Butter; “Never thought I would see my son make sourdough biscuits like this”. After supper the four set out on the porch till late that night and JR was excited and telling his father all the things he had learned and how much he was enjoying his time here in the valley. Walt and Grady set off to the side while the father and son were talking and Grady smoking and Walt puffing on his pipe they listened and occasionally joined in the talk. Must have been around mid-night and Walt stood up and said; “Mr. Butter you take my bunk and me and Grady will bed down in the barn and JR you start breakfast for all of us in the morning”. JR; “You bet, Walt, come on dad and I’ll show you your bunk”. Mr. Butter; “JR, I know the way as I had this cabin built but you lead me on, see you two cowboys in the morning”. Grady and Walt walk down to the barn and fix a place to sleep against there saddles and lying there talked for a while and then Grady says; “Walt, you have made a man out of a boy don’t know when I seen J.R. that happy and proud as tonight”. Walt; “Well, we had a couple of problems just after you left but got that straightened out and guess it’s been ok so far”. “You show him the Cheyenne burial ground?” “Yep, played the flute too, and that kind of scared him some”. “Ha-ha, bet it did, good night Walt”.
The next day Grady and Mr. Butter stayed and help Walt and JR with the calf and having it quartered and hung in the smoke house around noon they took there leave to ride back down to the ranch. As they were leaving J.R.; “JR, you listen to Walt and I’ll spect you’ll learn a lot more”. “Sure will dad”. After the two left, JR; “What do we do today, Walt” “We’ll fire up the smoker and begin smoking all that meat before it spoils and this will take a couple of days and nights so one of us will have to monitor the fire to keep it going”. “Good, I’ll help with that”. Later that day and JR putting more wood on the smoker and Walt setting on the porch and JR comes back and sets on the steps. JR; “Walt?” “Yea”. “While I lived in Chicago there would be a wagon that would come by and it was selling ice and my aunt would buy a block and keep it in a box but it would keep meat and vegetables fresh for a long time”. “Hmm, that’s interesting as there are ice shelf’s up on the mountain, now that gives me something to think about and now you are teaching me, ha-ha”. “Walt, would you mind telling me more about your time in the southern army?” Walt peers down at JR and; “Don’t know why you are so interested in this old cowboy’s life but anyway”. “Let’s see after the fight on the river our company went south into Louisiana and to Baton Rouge”.
“We stayed there for a month and the rest of the Arkansas Regiment joined us along with some Louisiana troops and then we crossed the Mississippi River into Mississippi”. “Wont’ go into all the battles we had there but we had several but always moving further south as the Yankee’s were just too many and better equipped than we were”. “Then in 65 the war was over and we were allowed to muster out and I along with Tom who had completely recovered from his wound, head for New Orleans, Louisiana”. JR; “You didn’t go back to Higgins?” “Nope, nothing there anymore for me and being 15 and still alive from the war wanted to see and do other things I guess”. JR; “Gee, just 15, don’t think I could do all that”. “How long did you and your friend stay in New Orleans?” “Almost three years and work was hard to find when we first got there but we both found a job at a warehouse and something I didn’t really like but we got a little money to be able have a place to stay and eat with and like I always say if you start something be sure and finish it”. “Now that’s enough of my time for I want you to describe that box your aunt had that held the ice”.
They stayed with the smoke house through the next day and Walt declared the meat ready and then told JR; “Now we go and cut some Aspen to make that box cause I got a pretty good idea how to make it”. They pulled several Aspen logs back to the cabin and Walt cut and split them various lengths and with JR’s help begin fitting and nailing them together with a floor, a door and roof and it was turning out to be a good size box and JR; “Wow, Walt what are were going to keep in here as it’s pretty big”. “Ha-ha, just got started and guess your’ right but it will do and now to fill in the cracks in the sides and floor and roof”. They dug mud out of the stream and Walt and JR pushed the mud into the cracks from both sides and as it dried it sealed there new ice box tight. When they had finished and Walt looked at JR and laughed out loud as JR was covered in mud but JR was pointing back at Walt and said; “Guess we take a bath now, huh?” “Probably be a good idea and wash these clothes, JR”. After the bath’s Walt cut off two nice steaks from the calf and fixed there supper and JR, “Man, Walt, you were right nothing like a good steak”. Walt; “Yea, I’m stuffed now, but tomorrow we’ll ride up and bring down some of the ice off the mountain and see how that ice box really works”. The next morning they saddle up with Walt giving JR one of his winter coats for the cold trip in the mountain and taking the mule and several tote sacks and an axe they start across the valley to the West Side Mountains. When they reach the first part, Walt; “This is how I go up this side most of the time as it is pretty easy on the horse’s but will get us high enough to reach the ice shelf’s”. For the most part the two rode in silence as JR was observing everything about the trail and the climb up and on some parts it was a very narrow trail that led higher and he could look back down into the valley. Then coming up on one place that was flatter than the rest of the trail, Walt’s horse shied and tried to pull back and he motioned for JR to stop. Standing up in his stirrups he begins to look around and then spotted a deer that was half eaten just off to there right and; “Stay quite, JR, let me look around with the glasses first”. Taking the glass out and looking both ways and up higher finally spotted what he was looking for and handed the glass to JR. “Look up and to your right on that ledge and tell me what you see?” “Nothing, Walt” “Look up a little more then”. “Wow, wow, what, that a bear?” “That’s the grizzly I told you about and we must have spooked him from his kill, guess he was full but we need to watch behind us now as don’t want him to circle behind us and come after us”. “Come after us, why?” “We are in his range now and we have disturbed his place so just need to be careful as they are not something to mess with”. JR was more nervous than Walt and from then on kept looking back down the trail as they climbed up to the ice shelf. They were now in the snow of the mountain that did not melt during the summer and reaching a certain place, Walt dismounted and taking the axe climbed up further and scrapping off some of the snow begins to use the axe on the ice underneath and several large pieces begins to fall down to where JR was holding the horse’s and mule. Then scrambling back down they load up the ice in the tote sacks and Walt says; “Take your rifle out and hold it across yo
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