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

The big wild mustang hunt. We tire them out. The Indians capture our mess wagon and cook. Our bill of fare buffalo meat without salt.

It was a bright clear morning in September as we were all gathered at the old home ranch, prepared to start on the great mustang hunt. There was one of the best men from each of the big cattle ranges in the panhandle and Arizona country, making twenty of the best range riders ever assembled together for a single purpose, while we were mounted on the best and fastest horses the Texas and Arizona cattle country could produce, while a horse rustler had left four days before with twenty more equally as good horses, giving each of us two horses apiece. We carried with us four days’ rations, consisting of dried beef, crackers, potatoes, coffee we had no sugar. The mess wagon well stocked with provisions for a two months’ trip had also left four days before for a place in the wild horse district, where we knew the mustangs were to be found.

Many of the cattle men of Texas and Arizona were present to see us off, and the boss gave us a little talk on what was expected of us, and said, among other things, we were twenty of the best and gamest cow boys who ever roamed the western plains, and that he knew we would make good on hearing these words we one and all resolved to do our best.

And swinging into the saddle we emptied our guns as a parting salutation and started on a dead run across the plains towards the scene of our duty. After a hard ride of ten days we sighted a band of about seventy-five mustangs. We at once proceeded to run them down. It was decided that twenty of us should surround the herd in a large circle, ten or fifteen miles across, which would leave a space of several miles between each rider, but not of a greater distance than he could easily cover when he saw the band coming his way or heard our signals.

The horse rustler was to keep the extra horses at a place where they would be safe and at the same time handy to the riders. Our plans completed, each rider made preparations to start for his station. But here another difficulty arose. We had not yet seen anything of our cook and mess wagon. It had not arrived at the place agreed upon, although it had had ample time to do so. Our provisions which we carried were quite low, so after waiting as long as we could, and the mess wagon failing to show up, we decided to start the hunt and take our chances on grub from what we could knock over with our guns.

Accordingly the boys all started out for their several stations. After waiting a reasonable length of time to give them an opportunity to reach their positions, we made for the herd, which as near as we could judge contained about seventy-five of the prettiest horses it was ever my pleasure to see. The magnificent stallion who happened to be on guard had no sooner seen us than he gave the danger signal to the herd, who were off like the wind, led by a beautiful snow white stallion. To get them going was our only duty at present, and we well knew the importance of saving our saddle horses for the more serious work before us. Therefore we only walked our horses, or went on a dog trot, keeping a sharp lookout for the herd’s return.

The band of wild horses would run ten or fifteen miles across the prairie, where they would catch sight of the other boys, then off they would go in another direction, only to repeat the performance, as they struck the other side of the circle. In this way they would make from fifty to sixty miles to our ten, and we were slowly working them down. We kept them going this way day and night, not giving them a moment’s rest or time to eat. After keeping them on the go this way for ten days we were able to get within a mile of them and could see some of the stallions taking turns at leading the herd, while other stallions would be in the rear fighting them on. In a few days more we were near enough to begin shooting the stallions out of the herd. Then we could handle them a great deal better. At this time our want of grub began to tell on us. Our cook and mess wagon had not showed up, so we had long since given them up as lost. We believed they had been captured by the Indians and future events proved we were right.

Our only food consisted of buffalo meat of which we were able to secure plenty, but buffalo meat for breakfast, dinner and supper every day without bread or salt is not the most palatable bill of fare, especially when it is all we had day after day, without any prospect of a change until we got home. But we were game and resolved to stay with our work until it was finished, especially as we only had twenty men and everyone was badly needed in the work ahead of us, so we did not think we could spare a man to return home after grub. So we swallowed our buffalo meat day after day and kept the horses moving.

They were now pretty well worked down, and we proceeded to work them toward a place where we could begin to rope them. There were now only a few stallions left in the herd as we had shot nearly all of them, and the others were too tired to cause us any trouble. We had now been out of grub over three weeks except buffalo meat and such other game as we could bring down with our guns. Our fears that the cook and mess wagon had been captured by the Indians proved well founded, as we about this time met an outfit who had seen the place where the cook was killed. They said the surroundings indicated that quite a large band had surprised the cook and driver, but that they had put up a brave fight as evidenced by the large number of empty rifle and revolver shells scattered around. Our first impulse after hearing this was to start in pursuit of the red skins and get revenge, but calmer judgment showed that such a course would be useless, because the Indians had a couple of weeks start of us and we did not know what tribe had committed the offense as there were so many Indians in that part of the country and in the Indian territory, and besides our horses were in no shape to chase Indians, so much to our regret our comrades had to go unrevenged at least for the present, but we all swore to make the Indians pay dearly, especially the guilty ones, if it were possible to discover who they were. We continued to work the mustangs back and forth, and in thirty days from the time we started out we had about sixty head hemmed up in Yellow Fox Canyon and were roping and riding them. They were not hard to handle as they were so poor some of them could hardly walk. This was not to be wondered at, as we had kept them on the go for the past thirty days, never once giving them a moment’s rest day or night, and in that time they had very little to eat and no sleep. After roping and riding them all we got them together and headed for home.

Arriving at the ranch the mustangs were allowed to eat all they wanted and were roped and ridden until they were fairly well broken, when they were turned out with the other ranch horses. They proved good saddle horses, but as soon as they were turned out with the ranch horses they would start for their old feeding grounds, leading the other horses with them. We found it impossible to thoroughly domesticate them, so for that reason we gave them up as a bad proposition, and did not attempt to capture any more, though at that time thousands of wild mustangs were on the plains of Texas, Arizona, Wyoming and in fact all over the West. They were large, fine and as pretty a lot of horses as one could wish to see. They were seldom molested, though once in a while the Indians would make a campaign against them and capture a few, but not often, as they were so hard to capture. It was not worth the trouble, as it was almost impossible to approach them nearer than two miles, and there was always some stallions on the lookout while the others grazed over the plains, so it was out of the question to surprise them. At the first sign of danger the stallion sentinel would give his shrill neigh of warning and the herd were off like the wind.

We received unstinted praise from our employers for bringing to a successful conclusion the errand on which we were sent under such trying circumstances. But now that we were where grub was plentiful we looked on our experience as nothing to make a fuss over.

But we deeply regretted the loss of our cook and mess wagon, and we resolved that if we ever found the guilty parties to make it rather warm for them. This we never did, neither did we ever hear more of the fate of the cook. Our work, so far as trips on the trail were concerned, was over for this season, and we could count on a long rest until spring, as aside from range riding and feeding there was nothing doing around the home ranch. But sometimes the range riding kept us on the go pretty lively, especially during and after a big storm, which sometimes scattered the cattle all over the surrounding country, and it would take some lively riding to get them all together again. Then the Indians and the white cattle thieves would make raids on our herds, running them off in great numbers and stampeding the balance of the herd.

This generally resulted in us chasing them sometimes for miles over the prairies, and we generally were successful in recovering our cattle and punishing the cattle thieves in a manner that they did not soon forget. But then again sometimes they would stampede the herd in the night, and under the cover of darkness and the excitement would manage to make off with some of the best horses or the choicest cattle, and by the time we missed them the thieves would have such a start that it was impossible to overtake them, but if they were overtaken, vengeance was swift and sure.