Excellent riders as were the boy ranchers,
it took them some little time and effort to calm their
ponies and bring the frightened animals to an easy
canter which gave Bud and his cousins a chance to consider
“Whew!” exclaimed the
ranchman’s son as he eased up on the reins and
patted the neck of his mount. “That was
“Not much dot about it!” chuckled
“For a pun like that you ought
to be forced to drink a bottle or two of Tosh Elixer!”
retorted Bud. “How about it, Dick?”
“I’m with you! That
was rotten not much dot I
suppose that’s a play on the word doubt not
much dot about it that dash!
Oh, somebody hold me!” and he shook his fist
at his brother.
“I was thinking we’d soon
need somebody to hold our horses,” said Nort,
not a little pleased at his own joking words, however
nonsensical his two companions thought them.
“That’s what I want to
know,” chimed in Bud. “All of a sudden
my pinto here started off as if there was a race.”
“Same with me,” went on Dick.
“Something must have frightened the ponies,”
“Yes, and we’ve got to
find out what it was,” declared Bud. “Come
on back.” He wheeled his mount as he spoke.
“Maybe we can’t get ’em back,”
“Well, at the place where they
begin to balk we’ll know the trouble started,”
suggested the ranchman’s son. “And
we’ll know we have to look for the trouble right
“What do you reckon it could
have been to make them bolt so suddenly?” Dick
wanted to know.
“Skunks, maybe,” was the thought Nort
“Not many skunks in this neighborhood,
thank goodness,” said Bud. “I wouldn’t
say there aren’t any, but I’ve never heard
“Or smelled them,” added Nort.
“That’s right smelled
’em, either, and, what’s more, I don’t
want to! No, I don’t believe it was skunks.”
was Dick’s next contribution. “Horses
are afraid of rattlers all right.”
“Yes, and with good reason,”
Bud said, “though I don’t know as I ever
heard of a horse dying from a side-winder’s bite.
It may happen, but, personally, I can’t prove
it. All the same I don’t believe it was
rattlers, though there are plenty in this region.”
“Why couldn’t it have been snakes?”
“Well, if any rattlers had sounded
their warning, and they always do rattle before they
strike, we would have heard them as well as the horses
would, and I didn’t hear anything.”
“No, I didn’t, either,”
Dick and Nort admitted in turn. “But what
was it, then?” Nort asked.
“It was something the horses
smelled!” declared Bud with conviction.
“They got a whiff of something they didn’t
like and they lit out like all possessed.”
“Do you mean a bear?” asked Dick.
“Bear what?” came from
Bud who had urged his pony somewhat ahead of the mounts
of his cousins.
“Did the horses smell a bear,
do you think?” went on Dick. “You
know a bear, even a tame circus one, will set a cow
pony off quicker than anything else.”
“Yes,” agreed Bud.
“But I hardly think this was a bear. There
are probably some back in the woods and hills, but
they don’t very often venture into the open,
especially at this time of year. And if it had
been a bear I think I would have winded him.”
“I don’t know about that,”
came from Nort. “You know a horse, and
almost any other animal, has a keener sense of smell
than most humans. The horses might have smelled
something we didn’t.”
“That’s true enough,”
assented Bud. “But the fact of the matter
is I noticed a queer sort of smell just before the
horses bolted. It wasn’t very strong,
and was more like perfume than anything else.
In fact I thought it might be some sort of flower
or perhaps an herb the ponies stepped on and crushed.
I was just going to mention it to you fellows when
the rush began and I had my hands full, same as you
did. Either of you notice any smell?”
Nort and Dick had to confess that
they had not, but Dick added:
“You’ve lived out of doors
more than we have, Bud, and you got a better nose I
mean for smelling, not for shape!” he added as
Bud’s hand went to his olfactory organ.
“So you might have caught a whiff of something
“There’s something in
that, though I don’t like to boast,” said
Bud. “I’m pretty sure that’s
what it was a queer smell the ponies didn’t
like, and feared, and so they ran away from it.”
“But what kind of a smell could it be?”
“Maybe we’ll find out
when we get back to where the thing happened that
is if the ponies will go back,” spoke Bud.
However there seemed to be no trouble
on this score, for, as the boys came nearer and nearer
to the place whence the animals had started on their
dash, there was no sign of fear or nervousness.
The steeds trotted on as they had done over any other
stretch of the range, and the deepest breathing of
which the boys were capable betrayed to their alert
noses not the slightest taint in the air.
“This is mighty queer!”
murmured Bud as he guided his mount to and fro around
the locality. “Mighty queer!”
“It’s almost as if we had dreamed it,”
“It was no dream the way I had
to pull my horse back!” declared Dick, and the
others agreed with him.
“Well, I guess we’ll have
to give it up and put it down as part of the unsolved
mystery of Dot and Dash,” said Bud as he wheeled
his horse around and headed for the ranch house.
“Unless you want to take a ride
up there again,” suggested Nort.
“Where do you mean?”
Nort pointed to the defile that
gulch which the boys had named Smugglers’ Glen and
“We might catch the old man in Elixer Cave.”
“What good would that do?”
asked Dick. “You don’t imagine he
had anything to do with scaring our horses; do you?”
“Not exactly,” replied
his brother. “But, seeing we’re so
near the place, I thought we might give it the once
“Not much point to it,”
said Bud. “There’s nothing to be
learned up there. No, I guess it was some sort
of queer weed or flower I smelled and which also frightened
the ponies. I wish I knew more about botany.
I might find out what it was,” and he looked
at the trampled grass over which they were now riding.
But it gave no clew.
“If there’s a weed, the
mere smell of which causes a horse to bolt,”
said Nort, “it may be the thing that’s
causing the cattle to die. Maybe it’s the
poison weed that caused so many deaths here.”
“I can’t believe anything
as strange as that,” declared Bud. “But
after we get things running well I’m going to
have a doctor, or a chemist or somebody who knows
about such things come out here and look the place
over. We’ve got to get to the bottom of
His cousins agreed with him.
However there was nothing they could do at present.
So they rode back to the ranch where they told their
strange experience, and suggested to Billee, Snake
and the other cowboys that it would be well for them
to be on the watch, to find out if any strange weed
or flower growing in Death Valley was responsible
for the sinister manifestations.
“It may be a new brand of loco
weed,” suggested Yellin’ Kid in his big
voice. “Some of that’s deadly.”
“To eat, yes, but not to smell,”
Bud reminded him. “But you may be right
at that. Keep your eyes open, boys.”
“Loco weed!” exclaimed
Billee. “I’ve had experience with
that I mean some ponies I once owned went
crazy from it. It sure is queer stuff.”
He referred to a species of bean plant, growing in
some sections of the west. Horses and cattle
who inadvertently eat this weed with their other fodder
run madly about as if insane and often have to be shot.
Sometimes loco weed is powerful enough to kill, it
is said by some, though there is a doubt on this point.
But none of the cowboys had ever heard of the odor
from loco weed doing any damage.
The incident of the ponies running
away was soon forgotten in the rush and detail of
work that soon piled up at Dot and Dash ranch.
More cattle were put out to graze, to thus fatten
up for market. More hands were hired and the
place soon was almost as busy, big and important as
the boys’ ranch in Happy Valley, or the original
one at Diamond X.
There was one thing Bud and his cousins
noticed and spoke of, however, and this was that all
their cowboys came from distant places, with the exception
of Billee, Kid and Snake. All the hands hired
gave their addresses as of ranches far removed from
Death Valley. And though when they first started
business the boy ranchers had endeavored to hire hands
in Los Pompan, they were not successful.
“Why don’t you want to
sign on with us?” Bud asked more than one.
“Oh, well, I don’t have
nothin’ against you, personal, boss,” would
be the answer, “but I don’t jest like
Then Bud and his cousins knew that
the sinister reputation of Dot and Dash was at the
bottom of the refusal.
But enough men from other places were
hired to run the ranch, and matters were shaping themselves
nicely. Bud sent word home that in spite of
the sensational stories, and the one or two strange
happenings the boys had themselves experienced, it
looked as if the proposition would be a successful
and paying one. Fah Moo was a jewel of a cook
and there was soon established quite a happy little
family at Dot and Dash.
Then, without warning, another blow fell.
It was decided that some of the original
herd, purchased with the ranch, could now be sold,
as cattle on the hoof were bringing good prices.
And, talking it over one night, Bud and his chums
planned to cut out a number of fat steers and ship
“I’ll ride over to that
range in the morning,” Bud told his cousins at
the conclusion of the conference, “and give the
bunch the once-over. Then you two can do the
cutting out for I’ve got to go to town the next
few days to sign up some papers for dad. So I’ll
leave the shipment to you.”
“It will be our first from here,” said
“Yes,” agreed his brother.
“And I hope they don’t die before we get
’em to the loading chutes.”
“Not much danger, I guess,”
Bud remarked. “This jinx seems to be passing
us up. Guess it got tired of the way we came
back at it. Well, I’ll go over the first
thing in the morning and next day you can begin to
round up and cut out.”
“When’ll you be back?”
Nort asked his cousin when Bud slung his leg over
the saddle next morning. The two Shannon boys
were to be busy at some duties about the ranch during
their cousin’s absence.
“Oh, I’ll be back by noon,” was
So Bud rode away, singing the Cowboy’s
Lament, and idly flipping the end of his lariat.
Noon came almost before Nort and Dick
realized it, so busy were they, and when Fah Moo cried:
“Klum an’ glit it!” which was the
signal for dinner, Nort exclaimed:
“Bud isn’t back yet!”
“No,” said Dick.
“Maybe he found the herd farther off than he
counted on. But he’ll be along before
However, Bud did not show up, and
when all the cowboys had eaten, and the afternoon
began to wane without the return of the ranch owner’s
son, his cousins looked at each other with anxious
“Where do you reckon he is?” asked Dick.
“That’s hard to say, but ”
“Say, let’s ride out that
way!” interrupted Dick. “We’ve
finished here and ”
He did not complete the sentence,
but his brother knew what was implied. Accordingly
a little later, saying nothing to the other hands,
the two saddled their ponies and started out on the
trail to that part of the ranch situated near Smugglers’
Glen, where the original bunch of cattle were grazing.
“I don’t like this disappearance
on Bud’s part,” said Nort, as they rode
“Is it a disappearance?” asked Dick, pointedly.
“What else is it? He hasn’t come
To this Dick returned no answer, but
there were anxious looks on the faces of the boy ranchers
as they urged their ponies forward.