Read CHAPTER VII of The Life and Adventures of Nat Love Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick", free online book, by Nat Love, on

I learn to speak Spanish and am made chief brand reader. The big round-ups. Riding the 7-Y-L steer. Long rides. Hunting strays.

Having now fairly begun my life as a cowboy, I was fast learning the many ins and outs of the business, while my many roamings over the range country gave me a knowledge of it not possessed by many at that time. Being of a naturally observant disposition, I noticed many things to which others attached no significance. This quality of observance proved of incalculable benefit to me in many ways during my life as a range rider in the western country. My employment with the Pete Gallinger company took me all over the Pan Handle country, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico with herds of horses and cattle for market and to be delivered to other ranch owners and large cattle breeders. Naturally I became very well acquainted with all the many different trails and grazing ranges located in the stretch of country between the north of Montana and the Gulf of Mexico, and between the Missouri state line and the Pacific ocean. This whole territory I have covered many times in the saddle, sometimes at the rate of eighty or one hundred miles a day. These long rides and much traveling over the country were of great benefit to me, as it enabled me to meet so many different people connected with the cattle business and also to learn the different trails and the lay of the country generally.

Among the other things that I picked up on my wanderings, was a knowledge of the Spanish language, which I learned to speak like a native. I also became very well acquainted with the many different brands scattered over this stretch of country, consequently it was not long before the cattle men began to recognize my worth and the Gallinger company made me their chief brand reader, which duties I performed for several years with honor to myself and satisfaction to my employers. In the cattle country, all the large cattle raisers had their squad of brand readers whose duty it was to attend all the big round-ups and cuttings throughout the country, and to pick out their own brands and to see that the different brands were not altered or counterfeited. They also had to look to the branding of the young stock.

During the big round-ups it was our duty to pick out our brand, and then send them home under the charge of our cowboys, likewise the newly branded stock. After each brand was cut out and started homeward, we had to stay with the round up to see that strays from the different herds from the surrounding country did not again get mixed up, until the different home ranges were reached. This work employed a large number of cowboys, who lived, ate and often slept in the saddle, as they covered many hundreds of miles in a very short space of time. This was made possible as every large cattleman had relays of horses sent out over the country where we might be expected to touch, and so we could always count on finding a fresh horse awaiting us at the end of a twenty-five or a fifty mile ride. But for us brand readers there was no rest, we merely changed our saddles and outfit to a fresh horse and were again on the go. After the general round up was over, cowboy sports and a good time generally was in order for those engaged in it. The interest of nearly all of us centered in the riding of what was known as the 7 Y-L steer. A big long horn wild steer, generally the worst in the herd, was cut out and turned loose on the open prairie. The cow boy who could rope and ride him would get the steer as his reward, and let me assure you dear reader, that it was not so easy as it sounds, as the steer separated from its fellows would become extremely ferocious and wild, and the man who attempted to rope and ride him would be in momentary danger of losing his life, if he relaxed in the least his vigilance and caution, because a wild steer is naturally ferocious. Even in cutting them out of the round up I have known them to get mad and attack the cowboys who only saved themselves by the quickness of their horses, or the friendly intervention of a comrade who happened to be near to rope the maddened long horn, and thus divert his attention to other things. But in the case of the 7 Y-L steer such intervention is against the rules, and the cowboy who attempts to rope and ride the steer must at all times look out for himself. I have seen two horses and their riders gored to death in this sport, and I have had to shoot more than one steer to save myself and horse after my horse had fallen with me and placed himself as well as me at the maddened beast’s mercy. At such times it takes a cool head and a steady hand as no random shot will stop a wild steer. The bullet must be placed in a certain spot, the center of the forehead, to accomplish its mission. The last time I had a horse fall with me in roping the 7 Y-L steer, he fell as the steer was but a few feet away, falling in such a way that my leg caught under the saddle, holding me fast. Quick as I could I gave the steer a bullet in the head and he stumbled and fell dead on top of my horse and me, so that the boys had to interfere to the extent of dragging the steer and horse off of my leg.

The cowboy who is successful in roping the steer must then mount and ride him. If he does that successfully the steer becomes his personal property to do with as he will, only a slight reward for the risking of his life and the trouble of accomplishing the feat. But it is done more for sport’s sake than anything else, and the love of showing off, a weakness of all cow boys more or less. But really it takes a high class of horsemanship to ride a long horn, to get on his back and stay there as he runs, jumps, pitches side ways, backwards, forward, up and down, then over the prairie like a streak of lightning. I have had the experience and I can assure you it is no child’s play. More than one 7 Y-L steer has fallen to my lot, but I had to work for it, and work hard. After all it was only part of the general routine of the cow boy’s life, in which danger plays so important a part. It is seldom thought of being merely a matter of course, and none of us would have foregone the sport, had we known that sure death awaited us as the result, because above all things, the test of a cow boy’s worth is his gameness and his nerve. He is not supposed to know what fear means, and I assure you there are very few who know the meaning of that word.

Most of my readers no doubt have heard of the great round ups and cuttings, connected with the cattle raiser’s life. But not one in a hundred has any idea as to how an immense herd of wild cattle are handled in a big round up. My many years of experience has given me unusual knowledge on the subject, and you may bring any cattleman or boss to me, and I will guarantee to answer any question he can ask me about the cattle business. The first general round up occurs about the first of April. This round up is to run in all the near cattle belonging to each man, and head them toward our respective ranges. If we find any other brand mixed up with ours we head them toward their own range, and keep our own together. Every cow boy does the same and in this way every cattleman is enable to get his own brand together on his own range, so that when the next general round up occurs he will have most of his near cattle together on the home range. In order to get the cattle together in the first general round up, we would have to ride for hundreds of miles over the country in search of the long horn steers and old cows that had drifted from the home range during the winter and were now scattered to the four winds of heaven. As soon as they were found they were started off under the care of cow boys for the place agreed upon for the general round up, whether they belonged to us or not, while the rest of us continued the search. All the cow boys from the many different outfits working this way enabled us to soon get all the strays rounded up in one great herd in which the cattle of a dozen different owners were mixed up together. It then became our duty to cut out our different herds and start them homewards. Then we had to brand the young stock that had escaped that ordeal at the hands of the range riders. On finding the strays and starting them homewards, we had to keep up the search, because notwithstanding the fact that we had done range riding or line riding all winter, a large number of cattle would manage to evade the vigilance of the cow boys and get away. These must all be accounted for at the great round up, as they stood for dollars and cents, profit and loss to the great cattle kings of the west. In going after these strayed and perhaps stolen cattle we boys always provided ourselves with everything we needed, including plenty of grub, as sometimes we would be gone for nearly two months and sometimes much longer. It was not an uncommon occurrence for us to have shooting trouble over our different brands. In such disputes the boys would kill each other if others did not interfere in time to prevent it, because in those days on the great cattle ranges there was no law but the law of might, and all disputes were settled with a forty-five Colt pistol. In such cases the man who was quickest on the draw and whose eye was the best, pretty generally got the decision. Therefore it was of the greatest importance that the cow boy should understand his gun, its capabilities and its shooting qualities. A cow boy would never carry anything but the very best gun obtainable, as his life depended on it often. After securing a good gun the cow boy had to learn how to use it, if he did not already know how. In doing so no trouble or expense was spared, and I know there were very few poor shots on the ranges over which we rode and they used the accomplishment to protect themselves and their employer’s cattle from the Indian thiefs and the white desperadoes who infested the cattle country, and who lost no opportunity to stampede the herds and run off large numbers of them. Whenever this happened it generally resulted in a long chase and a fierce fight in which someone was sure to get hurt, and hurt badly. But that fact did not bother us in the least. It was all simply our duty and our business for which we were paid and paid good, and so we accepted things as they came, always ready for it whatever it might be, and always taking pride in our work in which we always tried to excel.

Christmas, De, 1872, is a day in my memory which time cannot blot out. I and a number of friends were in a place called Holbrook, Ariz. A dispute started over a saddle horse with the following result. Arizona Bob drew his forty-five Colt revolver, but before he had time to fire he was instantly killed by A. Jack. Then a general fight ensued in which five horses and three men were killed.

It was a sad thing for me to see my friends dead in a corral on a Christmas morning, but I helped bury the dead and took care of the wounded. The names were A. Jack, Wild Horse Pete and Arizona Bill.