The Rules of the Game
Stewart Edward White
Part 5 out of 12
more. I've had complete reports on it. I know what I'm doing."
"It'll _keep_ them, all right," spoke up the younger, "which is saying
they won't die. But they'll come out in the fall awful pore."
"I'm using my judgment as to that," said Plant.
"Yore judgment is pore," said the younger Pollock, bluntly. "You got to
be a cattleman to know about them things."
"Well, I know Simeon Wright don't put in cattle where he's going to
lose on them," replied Plant. "If he's willing to risk it, I'll back his
"Wright's a crowder," the older Pollock took up the argument quietly.
"He owns fifty thousand head. Me and George, here, we have five hunderd.
He just aims to summer his cattle, anyhow. When they come out in the
fall, he will fat them up on alfalfa hay. Where is George and me and the
Mortons and the Carrolls, and all the rest of the mountain folks going
to get alfalfa hay? If our cattle come out pore in the fall, they ain't
no good to us. The range is overstocked with a thousand more cattle on
it. We're pore men, and Wright he owns half of Californy. He's got a
million acres of his own without crowdin' in on us."
"This is the public domain, for all the public----" began Plant,
pompously, but George Pollock, the younger, cut in.
"We've run this range afore you had any Forest Reserves, afore you came
into this country, Henry Plant, and our fathers and our grandfathers!
We've built up our business here, and we've built our ranches and we've
made our reg'lations and lived up to 'em! We ain't going to be run off
our range without knowin' why!"
"Just because you've always hogged the public land is no reason why you
should always continue to do so," said Plant cheerfully.
"Who's the public? Simeon Wright? or the folks up and down the
mountains, who lives in the country?"
"You've got the same show as Wright or anybody else."
"No, we ain't," interposed Jim Pollock, "for we're playin' a different
"Well, what is it you want me to do, anyway?" demanded Plant. "The man
has his permit. You can't expect me to tell him to get to hell out of
there when he has a duly authorized permit, do you?"
The Pollocks looked at each other.
"No," hesitated Jim, at last. "But we're overstocked. Don't issue no
such blanket permits next year. The range won't carry no more cattle
than it always has."
"Well, I'll have it investigated," promised Plant. "I'll send out a
grazing man to look into the matter."
He nodded a dismissal, and the two men, rising slowly to their feet,
prepared to mount. They looked perplexed and dissatisfied, but at a
loss. Plant watched them sardonically. Finally they swung into the
saddle with the cowman's easy grace.
"Well, good day," said Jim Pollock, after a moment's hesitation.
"Good day," returned Plant amusedly.
They rode away down the forest aisles. The pack mule fell in behind
them, ringing his tiny, sweet-toned bell, his long ears swinging at
Plant watched them out of sight.
"Most unreasonable people in the world," he remarked to Bob and Oldham.
"They never can be made to see sense. Between them and these confounded
sheepmen--I'd like to get rid of the whole bunch, and deal only with
_business_ men. Takes too much palaver to run this outfit. If they gave
me fifty rangers, I couldn't more'n make a start." He was plainly out of
"How many rangers do you get?" asked Bob.
"Twelve," snapped Plant.
Bob saw eight of the twelve in sight, either idle or working on such
matters as the steps hewed from the section of pine log. He said
nothing, but smiled to himself.
Shortly after he took his leave. Plant, his good humour entirely
recovered, bellowed after him a dozen jokes and invitations.
Down the road a quarter-mile, just before the trail turned off to the
mill, Bob and his guide, who was riding down the mountain, passed a man
on horseback. He rode a carved-leather saddle, without
tapaderos.[Footnote: Stirrup hoods] A rawhide riata hung in its loop on
the right-hand side of the horn. He wore a very stiff-brimmed hat
encircled by a leather strap and buckle, a cotton shirt, and belted
trousers tucked into high-heeled boots embroidered with varied patterns.
He was a square-built but very wiry man, with a bold, aggressive,
half-hostile glance, and rode very straight and easy after the manner of
the plains cowboy. A pair of straight-shanked spurs jingled at his
heels, and he wore a revolver.
"Shelby," explained the guide, after this man had passed. "Simeon
Wright's foreman with these cattle you been hearing about. He ain't
never far off when there's something doing. Guess he's come to see about
how's his fences."
Bob rode jubilantly into camp. The expedition had taken him all the
afternoon, and it was dropping dusk when he had reached the mill.
"We can get busy," he cried, waving the permit at Welton. "Here it is!"
Welton smiled. "I knew that, my boy," he replied, "and we're already
busy to the extent of being ready to turn her loose to-morrow morning.
I've sent down a yard crew to the lower end of the flume; and I've
started Max to rustling out the teams by 'phone."
Next day the water was turned into the flume. Fifty men stood by.
Rapidly the skilled workmen applied the clamps and binders that made of
the boards a compact bundle to be given to the rushing current. Then
they thrust it forward to the drag of the water. It gathered headway,
rubbing gently against the flume, first on one side, then on the other.
Its weight began to tell; it gathered momentum; it pushed ahead of its
blunt nose a foaming white wave; it shot out of sight grandly, careening
from side to side. The men cheered.
"Well, we're off!" said Bob cheerfully.
"Yes, we're off, thank God!" replied Welton.
From that moment the affairs of the new enterprise went as well as could
be expected. Of course, there were many rough edges to be smoothed off,
but as the season progressed the community shaped itself. It was indeed
a community, of many and diverse activities, much more complicated, Bob
soon discovered, than any of the old Michigan logging camps. A great
many of the men brought their families. These occupied separate
shanties, of course. The presence of the women and children took away
much of that feeling of impermanence associated with most pioneer
activities. As without exception these women kept house, the company
"van" speedily expanded to a company store. Where the "van" kept merely
rough clothing, tobacco and patent medicines, the store soon answered
demands for all sorts of household luxuries and necessities. Provisions,
of course, were always in request. These one of the company's
bookkeepers doled out.
"Mr. Poole," the purchaser would often say to this man, "next time a
wagon comes up from Sycamore Flats would you just as soon have them
bring me up a few things? I want a washboard, and some shoes for Jimmy,
and a double boiler; and there ought to be an express package for me
from my sister."
"Sure! I'll see to it," said Poole.
This meant a great deal of trouble, first and last, what with the
charges and all. Finally, Welton tired of it.
"We've got to keep a store," he told Bob finally.
With characteristic despatch he put the carpenters to work, and sent for
lists of all that had been ordered from Sycamore Flats. A study of
these, followed by a trip to White Oaks, resulted in the equipment of a
store under charge of a man experienced in that sort of thing. As time
went on, and the needs of such a community made themselves more evident,
the store grew in importance. Its shelves accumulated dress goods, dry
goods, clothing, hardware; its rafters dangled with tinware and kettles,
with rope, harness, webbing; its bins overflowed with various
food-stuffs unknown to the purveyor of a lumber camp's commissary, but
in demand by the housewife; its one glass case shone temptingly with
fancy stationery, dollar watches, and even cheap jewelry. There was
candy for the children, gum for the bashful maiden, soda pop for the
frivolous young. In short, there sprang to being in an astonishingly
brief space of time a very creditable specimen of the country store. It
was a business in itself, requiring all the services of a competent man
for the buying, the selling, and the transportation. At the end of the
year it showed a fair return on the investment.
"Though we'd have to have it even at a dead loss," Welton pointed out,
"to hold our community together. All we need is a few tufts of chin
whiskers and some politics to be full-fledged gosh-darn mossbacks."
The storekeeper, a very deliberate person, Merker by name, was much
given to contemplation and pondering. He possessed a German pipe of
porcelain, which he smoked when not actively pestered by customers. At
such times he leaned his elbows on the counter, curved one hand about
the porcelain bowl of his pipe, lost the other in the depths of his
great seal-brown beard, and fell into staring reveries. When a customer
entered he came back--with due deliberation--from about one thousand
miles. He refused to accept more than one statement at a time, to
consider more than one person at a time, or to do more than one thing at
"Gim'me five pounds of beans, two of sugar, and half a pound of tea!"
demanded Mrs. Max.
Merker deliberately laid aside his pipe, deliberately moved down the
aisle behind his counter, deliberately filled his scoop, deliberately
manipulated the scales. After the package was duly and neatly encased,
labelled and deposited accurately in front of Mrs. Max, Merker looked
her in the eye.
"Five pounds of beans," said he, and paused for the next item.
The moment the woman had departed, Merker resumed his pipe and his
Welton was immensely amused and tickled.
"Seems to me he might keep a little busier," grumbled Bob.
"I thought so, too, at first," replied the older man, "but his store is
always neat, and he keeps up his stock. Furthermore, he never makes a
mistake--there's no chance for it on his one-thing-at-a-time system."
But it soon became evident that Merker's reveries did not mean vacancy
of mind. At such times the Placid One figured on his stock. When he put
in a list of goods required, there was little guess-work as to the
quantities needed. Furthermore, he had other schemes. One evening he
presented himself to Welton with a proposition. His waving brown hair
was slicked back from his square, placid brow, his wide, cowlike eyes
shone with the glow of the common or domestic fire, his brown beard was
neat, and his holiday clothes were clean. At Welton's invitation he sat,
but bolt upright at the edge of a chair.
"After due investigation and deliberation," he stated, "I have come to
the independent conclusion that we are overlooking a means of revenue."
"As what?" asked Welton, amused by the man's deadly seriousness.
"Hogs," stated Merker.
He went on deliberately to explain the waste in camp garbage, the price
of young pigs, the cost of their transportation, the average selling
price of pork, the rate of weight increase per month, and the number
possible to maintain. He further showed that, turned at large, they
would require no care. Amused still at the man's earnestness, Welton
tried to trip him up with questions. Merker had foreseen every
"I'll turn it over to you. Draw the necessary money from the store
account," Welton told him finally.
Merker bowed solemnly and went out. In two weeks pigs appeared. They
became a feature of the landscape, and those who experimented with
gardens indulged in profanity, clubs and hog-proof fences. Returning
home after dark, the wayfarer was apt to be startled to the edge of
flight by the grunting upheaval of what had seemed a black shadow under
the moon. Bob in especial acquired concentrated practice in horsemanship
for the simple reason that his animal refused to dismiss his first
hypothesis of bears.
Nevertheless, at the end of the season Merker gravely presented a duly
made out balance to the credit of hogs.
Encouraged by the success of this venture, he next attempted chickens.
But even his vacant-eyed figuring had neglected to take into
consideration the abundance of such predatory beasts and birds as
wildcats, coyotes, raccoons, owls and the swift hawks of the falcon
"I had thought," he reported to the secretly amused Welton, "that even
in feeding the finer sorts of garbage to hogs there might be an economic
waste; hogs fatten well enough on the coarser grades, and chickens will
eat the finer. In that I fell into error. The percentage of loss from
noxious varmints more than equals the difference in the cost of eggs. I
further find that the margin of profits on chickens is not large enough
to warrant expenditures for traps, dogs and men sufficient for
"And how does the enterprise stand now?" asked Welton.
"We are behind."
"H'm. And what would you advise by way of retrenchment?"
"I should advise closing out the business by killing the fowl," was
Merker's opinion. "Crediting the account with the value of the chickens
as food would bring us out with a loss of approximately ten dollars."
"Fried chicken is hardly applicable as lumber camp provender," pointed
out Welton. "So it's scarcely a legitimate asset."
"I had considered that point," replied Merker, "and in my calculations I
had valued the chickens at the price of beef."
Welton gave it up.
Another enterprise for which Merker was responsible was the utilization
of the slabs and edgings in the construction of fruit trays and boxes.
When he approached Welton on the subject, the lumberman was little
inclined to be receptive to the idea.
"That's all very well, Merker," said he, impatiently; "I don't doubt
it's just as you say, and there's a lot of good tray and box material
going to waste. So, too, I don't doubt there's lots of material for
toothpicks and matches and wooden soldiers and shingles and all sorts of
things in our slashings. The only trouble is that I'm trying to run a
big lumber company. I haven't time for all that sort of little monkey
business. There's too much detail involved in it."
"Yes, sir," said Merker, and withdrew.
About two weeks later, however, he reappeared, towing after him an
elderly, bearded farmer and a bashful-looking, hulking youth.
"This is Mr. Lee," said Merker, "and he wants to make arrangements with
you to set up a little cleat and box-stuff mill, and use from your
Mr. Lee, it turned out, had been sent up by an informal association of
the fruit growers of the valley. Said informal association had been
formed by Merker through the mails. The store-keeper had submitted such
convincing figures that Lee had been dispatched to see about it. It
looked cheaper in the long run to send up a spare harvesting engine, to
buy a saw, and to cut up box and tray stuff than to purchase these
necessities from the regular dealers. Would Mr. Welton negotiate? Mr.
Welton did. Before long the millmen were regaled by the sight of a
snorting little upright engine connected by a flapping, sagging belt to
a small circular saw. Two men and two boys worked like beavers. The
racket and confusion, shouts, profanity and general awkwardness were
something tremendous. Nevertheless, the pile of stock grew, and every
once in a while six-horse farm wagons from the valley would climb the
mountain to take away box material enough to pack the fruit of a whole
district. To Merker this was evidently a profound satisfaction. Often he
would vary his usual between-customer reverie by walking out on his
shaded verandah, where he would lean against an upright, nursing the
bowl of his pipe, gazing across the sawdust to the diminutive and
rackety box-plant in the distance.
Welton, passing one day, laughed at him.
"How about your economic waste, Merker?" he called. "Two good men could
turn out three times the stuff all that gang does in about half the
"There are no two good men for that job," replied Merker unmoved. His
large, cowlike eyes roved across the yards. "Men grow in a generation;
trees grow in ten," he resumed with unexpected directness. "I have
calculated that of a great tree but 40 per cent. is used. All the rest
is economic waste--slabs, edging, tops, stumps, sawdust." He sighed. "I
couldn't get anybody to consider your toothpick and matches idea, nor
the wooden soldiers, nor even the shingles," he ended.
"You didn't quote me in the matter, did you?" he asked at length.
"I did not take the matter as official. Would I have done better to have
"Lord, no!" cried Welton fervently.
"The sawdust ought to make something," continued Merker. "But I am
unable to discover a practical use for it." He indicated the great
yellow mound that each day increased.
"Yes, I got to get a burner for it," said Welton, "it'll soon swamp us."
"There might be power in it," mused Merker. "A big furnace, now----"
"For heaven's sake, man, what for?" demanded Welton.
"I don't know yet," answered the store-keeper.
Merker amused and interested Welton, and in addition proved to be a
valuable man for just his position. It tickled the burly lumberman, too,
to stop for a moment in his rounds for the purpose of discussing with
mock gravity any one of Marker's thousand ideas on economic waste,
Welton discovered a huge entertainment in this. One day, however, he
found Merker in earnest discussion with a mountain man, whom the
store-keeper introduced as Ross Fletcher. Welton did not pay very much
attention to this man and was about to pass on when his eye caught the
gleam of a Forest Ranger's badge. Then he stopped short.
"Merker!" he called sharply.
The store-keeper looked up.
"See here a minute. Now," said Welton, as he drew the other aside, "I
want one thing distinctly understood. This Government gang don't go
here. This is my property, and I won't have them loafing around. That's
all there is to it. Now understand me; I mean business. If those fellows
come in here, they must buy what they want and get out. They're a lazy,
loafing, grafting crew, and I won't have them."
Welton spoke earnestly and in a low tone, and his face was red. Bob,
passing, drew rein in astonishment. Never, in his long experience with
Welton, had he seen the older man plainly out of temper. Welton's usual
habit in aggravating and contrary circumstances was to show a surface,
at least, of the most leisurely good nature. So unprecedented was the
present condition that Bob, after hesitating a moment, dismounted and
Merker was staring at his chief with wide and astonished eyes, and
plucking nervously at his brown beard.
"Why, that is Ross Fletcher," he gasped. "We were just talking about the
economic waste in the forests. He is a good man. He isn't lazy. He--"
"Economic waste hell!" exploded Welton. "I won't have that crew around
here, and I won't have my employees confabbing with them. I don't care
what you tell them, or how you fix it, but you keep them out of here.
Understand? I hate the sight of one of those fellows worse than a
Merker glanced from Welton to the ranger and back again perplexed.
"But--but--" he stammered. "I've known Ross Fletcher a long time. What
can I say--"
Welton cut in on him with contempt.
"Well, you'd better say something, unless you want me to throw him off
the place. This is no corner saloon for loafers."
"I'll fix it," offered Bob, and without waiting for a reply, he walked
over to where the mountaineer was leaning against the counter.
"You're a Forest Ranger, I see," said Bob.
"Yes," replied the man, straightening from his lounging position.
"Well, from our bitter experiences as to the activities of a Forest
Ranger we conclude that you must be very busy people--too busy to waste
time on us."
The man's face changed, but he evidently had not quite arrived at the
drift of this.
"I think you know what I mean," said Bob.
A slow flush overspread the ranger's face. He looked the young man up
and down deliberately. Bob moved the fraction of an inch nearer.
"Meaning I'm not welcome here?" he demanded.
"This place is for the transaction of business only. Can I have Merker
get you anything?"
Fletcher shot a glance half of bewilderment, half of anger, in the
direction of the store-keeper. Then he nodded, not without a certain
dignity, at Bob.
"Thanks, no," he said, and walked out, his spurs jingling.
"I guess he won't bother us again," said Bob, returning to Welton.
The latter laughed, a trifle ashamed of his anger.
"Those fellows give me the creeps," he said, "like cats do some people.
Mossbacks don't know no better, but a Government grafter is a little
more useless than a nigger on a sawlog."
He went out. Bob turned to Merker.
"Sorry for the row," he said briefly, for he liked the gentle, slow
man. "But they're a bad lot. We've got to keep that crew at arm's length
for our own protection."
"Ross Fletcher is not that kind," protested Merker. "I've known him for
"Well, he's got a nerve to come in here. I've seen him and his kind
holding down too good a job next old Austin's bar."
"Not Ross," protested Merker again. "He's a worker. He's just back now
from the high mountains. Mr. Orde, if you've got a minute, sit down. I
want to tell you about Ross."
Willing to do what he could to soften Merker's natural feeling, Bob
swung himself to the counter, and lit his pipe.
"Ross Fletcher is a ranger because he loves it and believes in it," said
Merker earnestly. "He knows things are going rotten now, but he hopes
that by and by they'll go better. His district is in good shape. Why,
let me tell you: last spring Ross was fighting fire all alone, and he
went out for help and they docked him a day for being off the reserve!"
"You don't say," commented Bob.
"You don't believe it. Well, it's so. And they sent him in after sheep
in the high mountains early, when the feed was froze, and wouldn't allow
him pay for three sacks of barley for his animals. And Ross gets sixty
dollars a month, and he spends about half of that for trail tools and
fire tools that they won't give him. What do you think of that?"
"Merker," said Bob kindly, "I think your man is either a damn liar or a
damn fool. Why does he say he does all this?"
"He likes the mountains. He--well, he just believes in it."
"I see. Are there any more of these altruists? or is he the only bird of
Merker caught the irony of Bob's tone.
"They don't amount to much, in general," he admitted. "But there's a
few--they keep the torch lit."
"I supposed their job was more in the line of putting it out," observed
Bob; then, catching Merker's look of slow bewilderment, he added: "So
there are several."
"Yes. There's good men among 'em. There's Ross, and Charley Morton, and
Tom Carroll, and, of course, old California John."
Bob's amused smile died slowly. Before his mental vision rose the
picture of the old mountaineer, with his faded, ragged clothes, his
beautiful outfit, his lean, kindly face, his steady blue eyes, guarding
an empty trail for the sake of an empty duty. That man was no fool; and
Bob knew it. The young fellow slid from the counter to the floor.
"I'm glad you believe in your friend, Merker," said he "and I don't
doubt he's a fine fellow; but we can't have rangers, good, bad, or
indifferent, hanging around here. I hope you understand that?"
Merker nodded, his wide eyes growing dreamy.
"It's an economic waste," he sighed, "all this cross-purposes. Here's
you a good man, and Ross a good man, and you cannot work in harmony
because of little things. The Government and the private owner should
conduct business together for the best utilization of all raw
"Merker," broke in Bob, with a kindly twinkle, "you're a Utopian."
"Mr. Orde," returned Merker with entire respect, "you're a lumberman."
With this interchange of epithets they parted.
The establishment of the store attracted a great many campers.
California is the campers' state. Immediately after the close of the
rainy season they set forth. The wayfarer along any of the country roads
will everywhere meet them, either plodding leisurely through the
charming landscape, or cheerfully gipsying it by the roadside. Some of
the outfits are very elaborate, veritable houses on wheels, with doors
and windows, stove pipes, steps that let down, unfolding devices so
ingenious that when they are all deployed the happy owners are
surrounded by complete convenience and luxury. The man drives his ark
from beneath a canopy; the women and children occupy comfortably the
living room of the house--whose sides, perchance, fold outward like
wings when the breeze is cool and the dust not too thick. Carlo frisks
joyously ahead and astern. Other parties start out quite as cheerfully
with the delivery wagon, or the buckboard, or even--at a pinch--with the
top buggy. For all alike the country-side is golden, the sun warm, the
sky blue, the birds joyous, and the spring young in the land. The
climate is positively guaranteed. It will not rain; it will shine; the
stars will watch. Feed for the horses everywhere borders the roads. One
can idle along the highways and the byways and the noways-at-all,
utterly carefree, surrounded by wild and beautiful scenery. No wonder
half the state turns nomadic in the spring.
And then, as summer lays its heats--blessed by the fruit man, the
irrigator, the farmer alike--over the great interior valleys, the people
divide into two classes. One class, by far the larger, migrates to the
Coast. There the trade winds blowing softly from the Pacific temper the
semi-tropic sun; the Coast Ranges bar back the furnace-like heat of the
interior; and the result is a summer climate even nearer
perfection--though not so much advertised--than is that of winter. Here
the populace stays in the big winter hotels at reduced rates, or rents
itself cottages, or lives in one or the other of the unique tent cities.
It is gregarious and noisy, and healthy and hearty, and full of
phonographs and a desire to live in bathing suits. Another, and smaller
contingent, turns to the Sierras.
We have here nothing to do with those who attend the resorts such as
Tahoe or Klamath; nor yet with that much smaller contingent of hardy and
adventurous spirits who, with pack-mule and saddle, lose themselves in
the wonderful labyrinth of granite and snow, of canon and peak, of
forest and stream that makes up the High Sierras. But rather let us
confine ourselves to the great middle class, the class that has not the
wealth nor the desire for resort hotels, nor the skill nor the equipment
to explore a wilderness. These people hitch up the farm team, or the
grocer's cart, or the family horse, pile in their bedding and their
simple cooking utensils, whistle to the dog, and climb up out of the
scorching inferno to the coolness of the pines.
They have few but definite needs. They must have company, water, and the
proximity of a store where they can buy things to eat. If there is
fishing, so much the better. At any rate there is plenty of material for
bonfires. And since other stores are practically unknown above the
six-thousand-foot winter limit of habitability, it follows that each
lumber-mill is a magnet that attracts its own community of these
visitors to the out of doors.
As early as the beginning of July the first outfit drifted in. Below the
mill a half-mile there happened to be a small, round lake with meadows
at the upper and lower ends. By the middle of the month two hundred
people were camped there. Each constructed his abiding place according
to his needs and ideas, and promptly erected a sign naming it. The
names were facetiously intended. The community was out for a good time,
and it had it. Phonographs, concertinas, and even a tiny transportable
organ appeared. The men dressed in loose rough clothes; the women wore
sun-bonnets; the girls inclined to bandana handkerchiefs, rough-rider
skirts and leggings, cowboy hats caught up at the sides, fringed
gauntlet gloves. They were a good-natured, kindly lot, and Bob liked
nothing better than to stroll down to the Lake in the twilight. There he
found the arrangements differing widely. The smaller ranchmen lived
roughly, sleeping under the stars, perhaps, cooking over an open fire,
eating from tinware. The larger ranchmen did things in better style.
They brought rocking chairs, big tents, chinaware, camp stoves and
Japanese servants to manipulate them. The women had flags and Chinese
lanterns with which to decorate, hammocks in which to lounge, books to
read, tables at which to sit, cots and mattresses on which to sleep. No
difference in social status was made, however. The young people
undertook their expeditions together: the older folks swapped yarns in
the peaceful enjoyment of the forest. Bob found interest in all, for as
yet the California ranchman has not lost in humdrum occupations the
initiative that brought him to a new country nor the influences of the
experience he has gained there. To his surprise several of the parties
were composed entirely of girls. One, of four members, was made up of
students from Berkeley, out for their summer vacation. Late in the
summer these four damsels constructed a pack of their belongings, lashed
it on a borrowed mule, and departed. They were gone for a week in the
back country, and returned full of adventures over the detailing of
which they laughed until they gasped.
To Bob's astonishment none of the men seemed particularly wrought up
over this escapade.
"They're used to the mountains," he was assured, "and they'll get along
all right with that old mule."
"Does anybody live over there?" asked Bob.
"No, it's just a wild country, but the trails is good."
"Suppose they get into trouble?"
"What trouble? And 'tain't likely they'd all get into trouble to once."
"I should think they'd be scared."
"Nothin' to be scared of," replied the man comfortably.
Bob thought of the great, uninhabited mountains, the dark forests, the
immense loneliness and isolation, the thousand subtle and psychic
influences which the wilderness exerts over the untried soul. There
might be nothing to be scared of, as the man said. Wild animals are
harmless, the trails are good. But he could not imagine any of the girls
with whom he had acquaintance pushing off thus joyous and unafraid into
a wilderness three days beyond the farthest outpost. He had yet to
understand the spirit, almost universal among the native-born
Californians, that has been brought up so intimately with the large
things of nature that the sublime is no longer the terrible. Perhaps
this states it a little too pompously. They have learned that the mere
absence of mankind is 'nothing to be scared of'; they have learned how
to be independent and to take care of themselves. Consequently, as a
matter of course, as one would ride in the park, they undertake
expeditions into the Big Country.
Many of these travellers, especially toward the close of the summer,
complained bitterly of the scarcity of horse-feed. In the back country
where the mountains were high and the wilderness unbroken, they depended
for forage on the grasses of the mountain meadows. This year they
reported that the cattle had eaten the forage down to the roots. Where
usually had been abundance and pleasant camping, now were hard, close
lawns, and cattle overrunning and defiling everything. Under the heavy
labour of mountain travel the horses fell off rapidly in flesh and
"We're the public just as much as them cattlemen," declaimed one
grizzled veteran waving his pipe. "I come to these mountains first in
sixty-six, and the sheep was bad enough then, but you always had some
horse meadows. Now they're just plumb overrunning the country. There's
thousands and thousands of folks that come in camping, and about a dozen
of these yere cattlemen. They got no right to hog the public land."
With so much approval did this view meet that a delegation went to
Plant's summer quarters to talk it over. The delegation returned
somewhat red about the ears. Plant had politely but robustly told it
that a supervisor was the best judge of how to run his own forest. This
led to declamatory denunciation, after the American fashion, but without
resulting in further activity. Resentment seemed to be about equally
divided between Plant and the cattlemen as a class.
This resentment as to the latter, however, soon changed to sympathy. In
September the Pollock boys stopped overnight at the Lake Meadow on their
way out. Their cattle, in charge of the dogs, they threw for the night
into a rude corral of logs, built many years before for just that
purpose. Their horses they fed with barley hay bought from Merker. Their
camp they spread away from the others, near the spring. It was dark
before they lit their fire. Visitors sauntering over found George and
Jim Pollock on either side the haphazard blaze stolidly warming through
flapjacks, and occasionally settling into a firmer position the huge
coffee pot. The dust and sweat of driving cattle still lay thick on
their faces. A boy of eighteen, plainly the son of one of the other two,
was hanging up the saddles. The whole group appeared low-spirited and
tired. The men responded to the visitors by a brief nod only. The latter
there-upon sat down just inside the circle of lamplight and smoked in
silence. Presently Jim arose stiffly, frying pan in hand.
"It's done," he announced.
They ate in silence, consuming great quantities of half-cooked
flapjacks, chunks of overdone beef, and tin-cupfuls of scalding coffee.
When they had finished they thrust aside the battered tin dishes with
the air of men too weary to bother further with them. They rolled brown
paper cigarettes and smoked listlessly. After a time George Pollock
"We ain't washed up."
The statement resulted in no immediate action. After a few moments more,
however, the boy arose slowly, gathered the dishes clattering into a
kettle, filled the latter with water, and set it in the fire. Jim and
his brother, too, bestirred themselves, disappearing in the direction of
the spring with a bar of mottled soap, an old towel, and a battered pan.
They returned after a few moments, their faces shining, their hair
wetted and sleeked down.
"Plumb too lazy to wash up." George addressed the silent visitors by way
"Drove far?" asked an old ranchman.
"How's the feed?" came the inevitable cowman's question.
"Pore, pore," replied the mountaineer. "Ain't never seen it so short. My
"Well, you're overstocked; that's what's the matter," spoke up some one
George Pollock turned his face toward this voice.
"Don't you suppose I know it?" he demanded. "There's a thousand head too
many on my range alone. I've been crowded and pushed all summer, and I
ain't got a beef steer fit to sell, right now. My cattle are so pore
I'll have to winter 'em on foothill winter feed. And in the spring
they'll be porer."
"Well, why don't you all get together and reduce your stock?" persisted
the questioner. "Then there'll be a show for somebody. I got three packs
and two saddlers that ain't fatted up from a two weeks' trip in August.
You got the country skinned; and that ain't no dream."
George Pollock turned so fiercely that his listeners shrank.
"Get together! Reduce our stock!" he snarled, shaken from the customary
impassivity of the mountaineer, "It ain't us! We got the same number of
cattle, all we mountain men, that our fathers had afore us! There ain't
never been no trouble before. Sometimes we crowded a little, but we all
know our people and we could fix things up, and so long as they let us
be, we got along all right. It don't _pay_ us to overstock. What for do
we keep cattle? To sell, don't we? And we can't sell 'em unless they're
fat. Summer feed's all we got to fat 'em on. Winter feed's no good. You
know that. We ain't going to crowd our range. You make me tired!"
"What's the trouble then?"
"Outsiders," snapped Pollock. "Folks that live on the plains and just
push in to summer their cattle anyhow, and then fat 'em for the market
on alfalfa hay. This ain't their country. Why don't they stick to their
"Can't you handle them? Who are they?"
"It ain't they," replied George Pollock sullenly. "It's him. It's the
richest man in California, with forty ranches and fifty thousand head of
cattle and a railroad or two and God knows what else. But he'll come up
here and take a pore man's living away from him for the sake of a few
hundred dollars saved."
"Old Simeon, hey?" remarked the ranchman thoughtfully.
"Simeon Wright," said Pollock. "The same damn old robber. Forest
Reserves!" he sneered bitterly. "For the use of the public! Hell! Who's
the public? me and you and the other fellow? The public is Simeon
Wright. What do you expect?"
"Didn't Plant say he was going to look into the matter for next year?"
Bob inquired from the other side the fire.
"Plant! He's bought," returned Pollock contemptuously. "He's never seen
the country, anyway; and he never will."
He rose and kicked the fire together.
"Good night!" he said shortly, and, retiring to the shadows, rolled
himself in a blanket and turned his back on the visitors.
The season passed without further incidents of general interest. It was
a busy season, as mountain seasons always are. Bob had opportunity to go
nowhere; but in good truth he had no desire to do so. The surroundings
immediate to the work were rich enough in interest. After the flurry
caused by the delay in opening communication, affairs fell into their
grooves. The days passed on wings. Almost before he knew it, the dogwood
leaves had turned rose, the aspens yellow, and the pines, thinning in
anticipation of the heavy snows, were dropping their russet needles
everywhere. A light snow in September reminded the workers of the
altitude. By the first of November the works were closed down. The
donkey engines had been roughly housed in; the machinery protected; all
things prepared against the heavy Sierra snows. Only the three
caretakers were left to inhabit a warm corner. Throughout the winter
these men would shovel away threatening weights of snow and see to the
damage done by storms. In order to keep busy they might make shakes, or
perhaps set themselves to trapping fur-bearing animals. They would use
_skis_ to get about.
For a month after coming down from the mountain, Bob stayed at Auntie
Belle's. There were a number of things to attend to on the lower levels,
such as anticipating repairs to flumes, roads and equipment,
systematizing the yard arrangements, and the like. Here Bob came to know
more of the countryside and its people.
He found this lower, but still mountainous, country threaded by roads;
rough roads, to be sure, but well enough graded. Along these roads were
the ranch houses and spacious corrals of the mountain people. Far and
wide through the wooded and brushy foothills roamed the cattle, seeking
the forage of the winter range that a summer's absence in the high
mountains had saved for them. Bob used often to "tie his horse to the
ground" and enter for a chat with these people. Harbouring some vague
notions of Southern "crackers," he was at first considerably surprised.
The houses were in general well built and clean, even though primitive,
and Bob had often occasion to notice excellent books and magazines.
There were always plenty of children of all sizes. The young women were
usually attractive and blooming. They insisted on hospitality; and Bob
had the greatest difficulty in persuading them that he stood in no
immediate need of nourishment. The men repaid cultivation. Their ideas
were often faulty because of insufficient basis of knowledge: but, when
untinged by prejudice, apt to be logical. Opinions were always positive,
and always existent. No phenomenon, social or physical, could come into
their ken without being mulled over and decided upon. In the field of
their observations were no dead facts. Not much given to reception of
contrary argument or idea they were always eager for new facts. Bob
found himself often held in good-humoured tolerance as a youngster when
he advanced his opinion; but listened to thirstily when he could detail
actual experience or knowledge. The head of the house held patriarchal
sway until the grown-up children were actually ready to leave the
paternal roof for homes of their own. One and all loved the mountains,
though incoherently, and perhaps without full consciousness of the fact.
They were extremely tenacious of personal rights.
Bob, being an engaging and open-hearted youth, soon gained favour. Among
others he came to know the two Pollock families well. Jim Pollock, with
his large brood, had arrived at a certain philosophical, though
watchful, acceptance of life; but George, younger, recently married,
and eagerly ambitious, chafed sorely. The Pollocks had been in the
country for three generations. They inhabited two places on opposite
sides of a canon. These houses possessed the distinction of having the
only two red-brick chimneys in the hills. They were low, comfortable,
"We always run cattle in these hills," said George fiercely to Bob, "and
got along all right. But these last three years it's been bad. Unless we
can fat our cattle on the summer ranges in the high mountains, we can't
do business. The grazing on these lower hills you just _got_ to save for
winter. You can't raise no hay here. Since they begun to crowd us with
old Wright's stock it's tur'ble. I ain't had a head of beef cattle
fittin' to sell, bar a few old cows. And if I ain't got cattle to sell,
where do I get money to live on? I always been out of debt; but this
year I done put a mortgage on the place to get money to go on with."
"We can always eat beef, George," said his wife with a little laugh,
"and miner's lettuce. We ain't the first folks that has had hard
times--and got over it."
"Mebbe not," agreed George, glancing with furrowed brow at a tiny
garment on which Mrs. George was sewing.
Jim Pollock, smoking comfortably in his shirt sleeves before his fire,
was not so worried. His youngest slept in his arms; two children played
and tumbled on the floor; buxom Mrs. Pollock bustled here and there on
household business; the older children sprawled over the table under the
lamp reading; the oldest boy, with wrinkled brow, toiled through the
instructions of a correspondence school course.
"George always takes it hard," said Jim. "I've got six kids, and he'll
have one--or at most two--mebbe. It's hard times all right, and a hard
year. I had to mortgage, too. Lord love you, a mortgage ain't so bad as
a porous plaster. It'll come off. One good year for beef will fix us. We
ain't lost nothing but this year's sales. Our cattle are too pore for
beef, but they're all in good enough shape. We ain't lost none. Next
year'll be better."
"What makes you think so?" asked Bob.
"Well, Smith, he's superintendent at White Oaks, you know, he's
favourable to us. I seed him myself. And even Plant, he's sent old
California John back to look over what shape the ranges are in. There
ain't no doubt as to which way he'll report. Old John is a cattleman,
and he's square."
One day Bob found himself belated after a fishing excursion to the upper
end of the valley. As a matter of course he stopped over night with the
first people whose ranch he came to. It was not much of a ranch and it's
two-room house was of logs and shakes, but the owners were hospitable.
Bob put his horse into a ramshackle shed, banked with earth against the
winter cold. He had a good time all the evening.
"I'm going to hike out before breakfast," said he before turning in, "so
if you'll just show me where the lantern is, I won't bother you in the
"Lantern!" snorted the mountaineer. "You turn on the switch. It's just
to the right of the door as you go in."
So Bob encountered another of the curious anomalies not infrequent to
the West. He entered a log stable in the remote backwoods and turned on
a sixteen-candle-power electric globe! As he extended his rides among
the low mountains of the First Rampart, he ran across many more places
where electric light and even electric power were used in the rudest
The explanation was very simple; these men had possessed small water
rights which Baker had needed. As part of their compensation they
received from Power House Number One what current they required for
their own use.
Thus reminded, Bob one Sunday visited Power House Number One. It proved
to be a corrugated iron structure through which poured a great stream
and from which went high-tension wires strung to mushroom-shaped
insulators. It was filled with the clean and shining machinery of
electricity. Bob rode up the flume to the reservoir, a great lake penned
in canon walls by a dam sixty feet high. The flume itself was of
concrete, large enough to carry a rushing stream. He made the
acquaintance of some of the men along the works. They tramped and rode
back and forth along the right of way, occupied with their insulations,
the height of their water, their watts and volts and amperes.
Surroundings were a matter of indifference to them. Activity was of the
same sort, whether in the city or in the wilderness. As influences--city
or wilderness--it was all the same to them. They made their own
influences--which in turn developed a special type of people--among the
delicate and powerful mysteries of their craft. Down through the land
they had laid the narrow, uniform strip of their peculiar activities;
and on that strip they dwelt satisfied with a world of their own. Bob
sat in a swinging chair talking in snatches to Hicks, between calls on
the telephone. He listened to quick, sharp orders as to men and
instruments, as to the management of water, the undertaking of repairs.
These were couched in technical phrases and slang, for the most part. By
means of the telephone Hicks seemed to keep in touch not only with the
plants in his own district, but also with the activities in Power Houses
Two, Three and Four, many miles away. Hicks had never once, in four
years, been to the top of the first range. He had had no interest in
doing so. Neither had he an interest in the foothill country to the
"I'd kind of like to get back and kill a buck or so," he confessed; "but
I haven't got the time."
"It's a different country up where we are," urged Bob. "You wouldn't
know it for the same state as this dry and brushy country. It has fine
timber and green grass."
"I suppose so," said Hicks indifferently. "But I haven't got the time."
Bob rode away a trifle inclined to that peculiar form of smug pity a
hotel visitor who has been in a place a week feels for yesterday's
arrival. He knew the coolness of the great mountain.
At this point an opening in the second growth of yellow pines permitted
him a vista. He looked back. He had never been in this part of the
country before. A little portion of Baldy, framed in a pine-clad cleft
through the First Range, towered chill, rugged and marvellous in its
granite and snow. For the first time Bob realized that even so
immediately behind the scene of his summer's work were other higher,
more wonderful countries. As he watched, the peak was lost in the
blackness of one of those sudden storms that gather out of nothing about
the great crests. The cloud spread like magic in all directions. The
faint roll of thunder came down a wind, damp and cool, sucked from the
Bob rounded a bend in the road to overtake old California John, jingling
placidly along on his beautiful sorrel. Though by no means friendly to
any member of this branch of government service, Bob reined his animal.
"Hullo," said he, overborne by an unexpected impulse.
"Good day," responded the old man, with a friendly deepening of the
kindly wrinkles about his blue eyes.
"John," asked Bob, "were you ever in those big mountains there?"
"Baldy?" said the Ranger. "Lord love you, yes. I have to cross Baldy
'most every time I go to the back country. There's two good passes
"Back country!" repeated Bob. "Are there any higher mountains than
Old California John chuckled.
"Listen, son," said he. "There's the First Range, and then Stone Creek,
and then Baldy. And on the other side of Baldy there's the canon of the
Joncal which is three thousand foot down. And then there's the Burro
Mountains, which is half again as high as Baldy, and all the Burro
country to Little Jackass. That's a plateau covered with lodge-pole pine
and meadows and creeks and little lakes. It's a big plateau, and when
you're a-ridin' it, you shore seem like bein' in a wide, flat country.
And then there's the Green Mountain country; and you drop off five or
six thousand foot into the box canon of the north fork; and then you
climb out again to Red Mountain; and after that is the Pinnacles. The
Pinnacles is the Fourth Rampart. After them is South Meadow, and the
Boneyard. Then you get to the Main Crest. And that's only if you go
plumb due east. North and south there's all sorts of big country. Why,
Baldy's only a sort of taster."
Bob's satisfaction with himself collapsed. This land so briefly shadowed
forth was penetrable only in summer: that he well knew. And all summer
Bob was held to the great tasks of the forest. He hadn't the time!
Wherein did he differ from Hicks? In nothing save that his right of way
happened to be a trifle wider.
"Have you been to all these places?" asked Bob.
"Many times," replied California John. "From Stanislaus to the San
Bernardino desert I've ridden."
"How big a country is that?"
"It's about four hundred mile long, and about eighty mile wide as the
crow flies--a lot bigger as a man must ride."
"All big mountains?"
"You must have been everywhere?"
"No," said California John, "I never been to Jack Main's Canon. It's too
fur up, and I never could get time off to go in there."
So this man, too, the ranger whose business it was to travel far and
wide in the wild country, sighed for that which lay beyond his right of
way! Suddenly Bob was filled with a desire to transcend all these
activities, to travel on and over the different rights of way to which
all the rest of the world was confined until he knew them all and what
lay beyond them. The impulse was but momentary, and Bob laughed at
himself as it passed.
"Something hid beyond the ranges," he quoted softly to himself.
Suddenly he looked up, and gathered his reins.
"John," he said, "we're going to catch that storm."
"Surely," replied the old man looking at him with surprise; "just found
"Well, we'd better hurry."
"What's the use? It'll catch us, anyhow. We're shore due to get wet."
"Well, let's hunt a good tree."
"No," said California John, "this is a thunder-storm, and trees is too
scurce. You just keep ridin' along the open road. I've noticed that
lightnin' don't hit twice in the same place mainly because the same
place don't seem to be thar any more after the first time."
The first big drops of the storm delayed fully five minutes. It did seem
foolish to be jogging peacefully along at a foxtrot while the tempest
gathered its power, but Bob realized the justice of his companion's
When it did begin, however, it made up for lost time. The rain fell as
though it had been turned out of a bucket. In an instant every runnel
was full. The water even flowed in a thin sheet from the hard surface of
the ground. The men were soaked.
Then came the thunder in a burst of fury and noise. The lightning
flashed almost continuously, not only down, but aslant, and even--Bob
thought--_up_. The thunder roared and reverberated and reechoed until
the world was filled with its crashes. Bob's nerves were steady with
youth and natural courage, but the implacable rapidity with which
assault followed assault ended by shaking him into a sort of confusion.
His horse snorted, pricking its ears backward and forward, dancing from
side to side. The lightning seemed fairly to spring into being all
about them, from the substance of the murk in which they rode.
"Isn't this likely to hit us?" he yelled at California John.
"Liable to," came back the old man's reply across the roar of the
Bob looked about him uneasily. The ranger bent his head to the wind.
Star, walking more rapidly, outpaced Bob's horse, until they were
proceeding single file some ten feet apart.
Suddenly the earth seemed to explode directly ahead. A blinding flare
swept the ground, a hissing crackle was drowned in an overwhelming roar
of thunder. Bob dodged, and his horse whirled. When he had mastered both
his animal and himself he spurred back. California John had reined in
his mount. Not twenty feet ahead of him the bolt had struck. California
John glanced quizzically over his shoulder at the sky.
"Old Man," he remarked, "you'll have to lower your sights a little, if
you want to git me."
At Christmas Bob took a brief trip East, returning to California about
the middle of January. The remainder of the winter was spent in outside
business, and in preparatory arrangements for the next season's work.
The last of April he returned to the lower mountains.
He found Sycamore Flats in a fever of excitement over the cattle
question. After lighting his post-prandial pipe he sauntered down to
chat with Martin, the lank and leisurely keeper of the livery,
proprietor of the general store, and clearing house of both information
"It looks like this," Martin answered Bob's question. "You remember
Plant sent back old California John to make a report on the grazing.
John reported her over-stocked, of course; nobody could have done
different. Plant kind of promised to fix things up; and the word got
around pretty definite that the outside stock would be reduced."
"Not so you'd notice. When the permits was published for this summer,
they read good for the same old number."
"Then Wright's cattle will be in again this year."
"That's the worst of it; they _are_ in. Shelby brought up a thousand
head a week ago, and was going to push them right in over the snow. The
feed's _just_ starting on the low meadows in back, and it hasn't woke up
a mite in the higher meadows. You throw cattle in on that mushy, soft
ground and new feed, and they tromp down and destroy more'n they eat. No
mountain cattleman goes in till the feed's well started, never."
"But what does Shelby do it for, then?"
Martin spat accurately at a knothole.
"Oh, he don't care. Those big men don't give a damn what kind of shape
cattle is in, as long as they stay alive. Same with humans; only they
ain't so particular about the staying alive part."
"Couldn't anything be done to stop them?"
"Plant could keep them out, but he won't. Jim and George Pollock, and
Tom Carroll and some of the other boys put up such a kick, though, that
they saw a great light. They ain't going in for a couple of weeks more."
"That's all right, then," said Bob heartily.
"Is it?" asked Martin.
"Isn't it?" inquired Bob.
"Well, some says not. Of course they couldn't be expected to drive all
those cattle back to the plains, so they're just naturally spraddled out
grazing over this lower country."
"Why, what becomes of the winter feed?" cried Bob aghast, well aware
that in these lower altitudes the season's growth was nearly finished
and the ripening about to begin.
"That's just it," said Martin; "where, oh, where?"
"Can't anything be done?" repeated Bob, with some show of indignation.
"What? This is all government land. The mountain boys ain't got any real
exclusive rights there. It's public property. The regulations are pretty
clear about preference being given to the small owner, and the local
man; but that's up to Plant."
"It'll come pretty hard on some of the boys, if they keep on eating off
their winter feed and their summer feed too," hazarded Bob.
"It'll drive 'em out of business," said Martin. "It'll do more; it'll
close out settlement in this country. There ain't nothing doing _but_
cattle, and if the small cattle business is closed up, the permanent
settlement closes up too. There's only lumber and power and such left;
and they don't mean settlement. That's what the Government is supposed
to look out for."
"Government!" said Bob with contempt.
"Well, now, there's a few good ones, even at that," stated Martin
argumentively. "There's old John, and Ross Fletcher, and one or two more
that are on the square. It may be these little grafters have got theirs
coming yet. Now and then an inspector comes along. He looks over the
books old Hen Plant or the next fellow has fixed up; asks a few
questions about trails and such; writes out a nice little recommend on
his pocket typewriter, and moves on. And if there's a roar from some of
these little fellows, why it gets lost. Some clerk nails it, and sends
it to Mr. Inspector with a blue question mark on it; and Mr. Inspector
passes it on to Mr. Supervisor for explanation; and Mr. Supervisor's
strong holt is explanations. There you are! But it only needs one
inspector _who inspects_ to knock over the whole apple-cart. Once get by
your clerk to your chief, and you got it."
Whether Martin made this prediction in a spirit of hope and a full
knowledge, or whether his shot in the air merely chanced to hit the
mark, it would be impossible to say. As a matter of fact within the
month appeared Ashley Thorne, an inspector who inspected.
By this time all the cattle, both of the plainsmen and the mountaineers,
had gone back. The mill had commenced its season's operations. After the
routine of work had been well established, Bob had descended to attend
to certain grading of the lumber for a special sale of uppers. Thus he
found himself on the scene.
Ashley Thorne was driven in. He arrived late in the afternoon. Plant
with his coat on, and a jovial expression illuminating his fat face,
held out both hands in greeting as the vehicle came to a stop by
Martin's barn. The Inspector leaped quickly to the ground. He was seen
to be a man between thirty and forty, compactly built, alert in
movement. He had a square face, aggressive gray eyes, and wore a small
moustache clipped at the line of the lips.
"Hullo! Hullo!" roared Plant in his biggest voice. "So here we are, hey!
Kind of dry, hot travel, but we've got the remedy for that."
"How are you?" said Thorne crisply; "are you Mr. Plant? Glad to meet
"Leave your truck," said Plant. "I'll send some one after it. Come right
along with me."
"Thanks," said Thorne, "but I think I'll take a wash and clean up a bit,
"That's all right," urged Plant. "We can fix you up."
"Where is the hotel?" asked Thorne.
"Hotel!" cried Plant, "ain't you going to stay with me?"
"It is kind of you, and I appreciate it," said Thorne briefly, "but I
never mix official business with social pleasure. This is an invariable
rule and has no personal application, of course. After my official work
is done and my report written, I shall be happy to avail myself of your
"Just as you say, of course," said Plant, quite good-humouredly. To him
this was an extraordinarily shrewd, grand-stand play; and he approved of
"I shall go to your office at nine to-morrow," Thorne advised him.
"Please have your records ready."
"Always ready," said Plant.
Thorne was assigned a room at Auntie Belle's, washed away the dust of
travel, and appeared promptly at table when the bell rang. He wore an
ordinary business suit, a flannel shirt with white collar, and hung on
the nail a wide felt hat. Nevertheless his general air was of an
out-of-door man, competent and skilled in the open. His manner was
self-contained and a trifle reserved, although he talked freely enough
with Bob on a variety of subjects.
After supper he retired to his room, the door of which, however, he left
open. Any one passing down the narrow hallway could have seen him bent
over a mass of papers on the table, his portable typewriter close at
The following morning, armed with a little hand satchel, he tramped down
to Henry Plant's house. The Supervisor met him on the verandah.
"Right on deck!" he roared jovially. "Come in! All ready for the
Thorne did not respond to this jocosity.
"Good morning," he said formally, and that was all.
Plant led the way into his office, thrust forward a chair, waved a
comprehensive hand toward the filing cases, over the bill files, at the
tabulated reports laid out on the desk.
"Go to it," said he cheerfully. "Have a cigar! Everything's all ready."
Thorne laid aside his broad hat, and at once with keen concentration
attacked the tabulations. Plant sat back watching him. Occasionally the
fat man yawned. When Thorne had digested the epitome of the financial
end, he reached for the bundles of documents.
"That's just receipts and requisitions," said Plant, "and such truck.
It'll take you an hour to wade through that stuff."
"Any objections to my doing so?" asked Thorne.
"None," replied Plant drily.
"Now rangers' reports," requested Thorne at the end of another busy
"What, that flapdoodle?" cried Plant. "Nobody bothers much with that
stuff! A man has to write the history of his life every time he gets a
pail of water."
"Do I understand your ranger reports are remiss?" insisted Thorne.
"Lord, there they are. Wish you joy of them. Most of the boys have
mighty vague ideas of spelling."
At noon Thorne knocked off, announcing his return at one o'clock. Most
inspectors would have finished an hour ago. At the gate he paused.
"This place belong to you or the Government?" he asked.
"To me," replied Plant. "Mighty good little joint for the mountains,
"Why have you a United States Forest Ranger working on the fences then?"
inquired Thorne crisply.
Plant stared after his compact, alert figure. The fat man's lower jaw
had dropped in astonishment. Nobody had ever dared question his right to
use his own rangers as he damn well pleased! A slow resentment surged up
within him. He would have been downright angry could he have been
certain of this inspector's attitude. Thorne was cold and businesslike,
but he had humorous wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Perhaps all
this monkey business was one elaborate josh. If so it wouldn't do to
fall into the trap by getting mad. That must be it. Plant chuckled a
cavernous chuckle. Nevertheless he ordered his ranger to knock off fence
mending for the present.
By two o'clock Thorne pushed back his chair and stretched his arms over
his head. Plant laughed.
"That pretty near finishes what we have here," said he. "There really
isn't much to it, after all. We've got things pretty well going.
To-morrow I'll get one of the boys to ride out with you near here. If
you want to take any trips back country, I'll scare up a pack."
This was the usual and never-accepted offer.
"I haven't time for that," said Thorne, "but I'll look at that bridge
"When must you go?"
"In a couple of days."
Plant's large countenance showed more than a trace of satisfaction.
On leaving the Supervisor's headquarters, Thorne set off vigorously up
the road. He felt cramped for exercise, and he was out for a tramp.
Higher and higher he mounted on the road to the mill, until at last he
stood on a point far above the valley. The creak and rattle of a wagon
aroused him from his contemplation of the scene spread wide before him.
He looked up to see a twelve-horse freight team ploughing toward him
through a cloud of dust that arose dense and choking. To escape this
dust Thorne deserted the road and struck directly up the side of the
mountain. A series of petty allurements led him on. Yonder he caught a
glimpse of tree fungus that interested him. He pushed and plunged
through the manzanita until he had gained its level. Once there he
concluded to examine a dying yellow pine farther up the hill. Then he
thought to find a drink of water in the next hollow. Finally the way
ahead seemed easier than the brush behind. He pushed on, and after a
moment of breathless climbing reached the top of the ridge.
Here Thorne had reached a lower spur of that range on which were located
both the sawmill and Plant's summer quarters. He drew a deep breath and
looked about him over the topography spread below. Then he examined with
an expert's eye the wooded growths. His glance fell naturally to the
"Well, I'll be----" began Thorne, and stopped.
Through the pine needles at his feet ran a shallow, narrow and
meandering trough. A rod or so away was a similar trough. Thorne set
about following their direction.
They led him down a gentle slope, through a young growth of pines and
cedars to a small meadow. The grass had been eaten short to the soil and
trampled by many little hoofs. Thorne walked to the upper end of the
meadow. Here he found old ashes. Satisfied with his discoveries, he
glanced at the westering sun, and plunged directly down the side of the
Near the edge of the village he came upon California John. The old man
had turned Star into the corral, and was at this moment seated on a
boulder, smoking his pipe, and polishing carefully the silver inlay of
his Spanish spade-bit. Thorne stopped and examined him closely, coming
finally to the worn brass ranger's badge pinned to the old man's
suspenders. California John did not cease his occupation.
"You're a ranger, I take it," said Thorne curtly.
California John looked up deliberately.
"You're an inspector, I take it," said he, after a moment.
Thorne grinned appreciation under his close-clipped moustache. This was
the first time he had relaxed his look of official concentration, and
the effect was most boyish and pleasing. The illumination was but
"There have been sheep camped at a little meadow on that ridge," he
"I know it," replied California John tranquilly.
"You seem to know several things," retorted Thorne crisply, "but your
information seems to stop short of the fact that you're supposed to keep
sheep out of the Reserve."
"Not when they have permission," said California John.
"Permission!" echoed Thorne. "Sheep are absolutely prohibited by
regulation. What do you mean?"
"What I say. They had a permit."
"Who gave it?"
"Supervisor Plant, of course."
California John polished his bit carefully for some moments in silence.
Then he laid it one side and deliberately faced about.
"For ten dollars," said he coolly, looking Thorne in the eye.
Thorne looked back at him steadily.
"You'll swear to that?" he asked.
"I sure will," said California John.
"How long has this sort of thing gone on?"
"Always," replied the ranger.
"How long have you known about it?"
"Always," said California John.
"Why have you never said anything before?"
"What for?" countered the old man. "I'd just get fired. There ain't no
good in saying anything. He's my superior officer. They used to teach me
in the army that I ain't got no call to criticize what my officer does.
It's my job to obey orders the best I can."
"Why do you tell me, then?"
"You're my superior officer, too--and his."
"So were all the other inspectors who have been here."
"Them--hell!" said California John.
Thorne returned to his hotel very thoughtful. It was falling dark, and
the preliminary bell had rung for supper. Nevertheless he lit his lamp
and clicked off a letter to a personal friend in the Land Office
requesting the latter to forward all Plant's vouchers for the past two
years. Then he hunted up Auntie Belle.
"I thought I should tell you that I won't be leaving my room Wednesday,
as I thought," said he. "My business will detain me longer."
Thorne curtly explained himself to Plant as detained on clerical
business. While awaiting the vouchers from Washington, he busily
gathered the gossip of the place. Naturally the cattle situation was one
of the first phases to come to his attention. After listening to what
was to be said, he despatched a messenger back into the mountains
requesting the cattlemen to send a representative. Ordinarily he would
have gone to the spot himself; but just now he preferred to remain
nearer the centre of Plant's activities.
Jim Pollock appeared in due course. He explained the state of affairs
carefully and dispassionately. Thorne heard him to the end without
"If the feed is too scarce for the number of cattle, that fact should be
officially ascertained," he said finally.
"Davidson--California John--was sent back last fall to look into it. I
didn't see his report, but John's a good cattleman himself, and there
couldn't be no two opinions on the matter."
Thorne had been shown no copy of such a report during his official
inspection. He made a note of this.
"Well," said he finally, "if on investigation I find the facts to be as
you state them--and that I can determine only on receiving all the
evidence on both sides--I can promise you relief for next season. The
Land Office is just, when it is acquainted with the facts. I will ask
you to make affidavits. I am obliged to you for your trouble in coming."
Jim Pollock made his three-day ride back more cheered by these few and
tentative words than by Superintendent Smith's effusive assurances, or
Plant's promises. He so reported to his neighbours in the back ranges.
Thorne established from California John the truth as to the suppressed
Some rumour of all this reached Henry Plant. Whatever his faults, the
Supervisor was no coward. He had always bulled things through by sheer
weight and courage. If he could outroar his opponent, he always
considered the victory as his. Certainly the results were generally that
On hearing of Thorne's activities, Plant drove down to see him. He puffed
along the passageway to Thorne's room. The Inspector was pecking away at
his portable typewriter and did not look up as the fat man entered.
Plant surveyed the bent back for a moment.
"Look here," he demanded, "I hear you're still investigating my
district--as well as doing 'clerical work.'"
"I am," snapped Thorne without turning his head.
"Am I to consider myself under investigation?" demanded Plant
truculently. To this direct question he, of course, expected a denial--a
denial which he would proceed to demolish with threats and abuse.
"You are," said Thorne, reaching for a fresh sheet of paper.
Plant stared at him a moment; then went out. Next day he drove away on
the stage, and was no more seen for several weeks.
This did not trouble Thorne. He began to reach in all directions for
evidence. At first there came to him only those like the Pollock boys
who were openly at outs with Plant, and so had nothing to lose by
antagonizing him further. Then, hesitating, appeared others. Many of
these grievances Thorne found to be imaginary; but in several cases he
was able to elicit definite affidavits as to graft and irregularity.
Evidence of bribery was more difficult to obtain. Plant's easy-going
ways had made him friends, and his facile suspension of gracing
regulations--for a consideration--appealed strongly to self-interest.
However, as always in such cases, enough had at some time felt
themselves discriminated against to entertain resentment. Thorne took
advantage of this both to get evidence, and to secure information that
enabled him to frighten evidence out of others.
The vouchers arrived from Washington. In them Plant's methods showed
clearly. Thorne early learned that it had been the Supervisor's habit to
obtain duplicate bills for everything--purchases, livery, hotels and the
like. He had explained to the creditors that a copy would be necessary
for filing, and of course the mountain people knew no better. Thus, by a
trifling manipulation of dates, Plant had been able to collect twice
over for his expenses.
"There is the plumb limit," said Martin, while running over the vouchers
he had given. He showed Thorne two bearing the same date. One read:
"_To team and driver to Big Baldy post office, $4._"
"That item's all right," said Martin; "I drove him there myself. But
here's the joke."
He handed the second bill to Thorne:
"_To saddle horse Big Baldy to McClintock claim, $2._"
"Why," said Martin, "when we got to Big Baldy he put his saddle on one
of the driving horses and rode it about a mile over to McClintock's. I
remember objecting on account of his being so heavy. Say," reflected the
livery-man after a moment, "he's right out for the little stuff, ain't
he? When his hand gets near a dollar, it cramps!"
In the sheaf of vouchers Thorne ran across one item repeated several
hundred times in the two years. It read:
"_To M. Aiken, team, $3._"
Inquiry disclosed the fact that "M. Aiken," was Minnie, Plant's niece.
By the simple expedient of conveying to her title in his team and
buckboard, the Supervisor was enabled to collect three dollars every
time he drove anywhere.
Thus the case grew, fortified by affidavits. Thorne found that Plant
had been grafting between three and four thousand dollars a year.
Of course the whole community soon came to know all about it. The taking
of testimony and the giving of affidavits were matters for daily
discussion. Thorne inspired faith, because he had faith himself.
"I don't wonder you people have been hostile to the Forest Reserves,"
said he. "You can't be blamed. But it is not the Office's fault. I've
been in the Land Office a great many years, and they won't stand for
this sort of thing a minute. I found very much the same sort of thing in
one of the reserves in Oregon, only there was a gang operating there. I
got eleven convictions, and a new deal all round. The Land Office is all
right, when you get to it. You'll see us in a different light, after
this is over."
The mountaineers liked him. He showed them a new kink by which the lash
rope of a pack could be jammed in the cinch-hook for convenience of the
lone packer; he proved to be an excellent shot with the revolver; in his
official work he had used and tested the methods of many wilderness
travellers, and could discuss and demonstrate. Furthermore, he got
Austin conducted a roadhouse on the way to the Power House Number One:
this in addition to his saloon in Sycamore Flats. The roadhouse was, as
a matter of fact, on government land, but Austin established the shadow
of a claim under mineral regulations, and, by obstructionist tactics,
had prevented all the red tape from being unwound. His mineral claim was
flimsy; he knew it, and everybody else knew it. But until the case
should be reported back, he remained where he was. It was up to Plant;
and Plant had been lenient. Probably Austin could have told why.
Thorne became cognizant of all this. He served Austin notice. Austin
offered no comment, but sat tight. He knew by previous experience that
the necessary reports, recommendations, endorsements and official orders
would take anywhere from one to three months. By that time this
inspector would have moved on--Austin knew the game. But three days
later Thorne showed up early in the morning followed by a half-dozen
interested rangers. In the most business-like fashion and despite the
variegated objections of Austin and his disreputable satellites, Thorne
and his men attached their ropes to the flimsy structure and literally
pulled it to pieces from the saddle.
"You have no right to use force!" cried Austin, who was well versed in
"I've saved my office a great deal of clerical work," Thorne snapped
back at him. "Report me if you feel like it!"
The debris remained where it had fallen. Austin did not venture
again--at least while this energetic youth was on the scene.
Nevertheless, after the first anger, even the saloon-keeper had in a way
his good word to say.
"If they's anythin' worse than a--of a--comes out in the next fifty
year, he'll be it!" stormed Austin. "But, damn it," he added, "the
little devil's worse'n a catamount for fight!"
Thorne was little communicative, but after he and Bob became better
acquainted the Inspector would tell something of his past inspections.
All up and down the Sierras he had unearthed enough petty fraud and
inefficiency to send a half-dozen men to jail and to break another
half-dozen from the ranks.
"And the Office has upheld me right along," said Thorne in answer to
Bob's scepticism regarding government sincerity. "The Office is all
right; don't make any mistake on that. It's just a question of getting
at it. I admit the system is all wrong, where the complaints can't get
direct to the chiefs; but that's what I'm here for. This Plant is one of
the easiest cases I've tackled yet. I've got direct evidence six times
over to put him over the road. He'll go behind the bars sure. As for the
cattle situation, it's a crying disgrace and a shame. There's no earthly
reason under the regulations why Simeon Wright should bring cattle in
at all; and I'll see that next year he doesn't."
At the end of two weeks Thorne had finished his work and departed. The
mountain people with whom he had come in contact liked and trusted him
in spite of his brusque and business-like manners. He could shoot, pack
a horse, ride and follow trail, swing an axe as well as any of them. He
knew what he was talking about. He was square. The mountain men
"happened around"--such of them as were not in back with the cattle--to
wish him farewell.
"Good-bye, boys," said he. "You'll see me again. I'm glad to have had a
chance to straighten things out a little. Don't lose faith in Uncle Sam.
He'll do well by you when you attract his attention."
Fully a week after his departure Plant returned and took his accustomed
place in the community. He surveyed his old constituents with a slightly
sardonic eye, but had little to say.
About this time Bob moved up on the mountain. He breathed in a distinct
pleasure over again finding himself among the pines, in the cool air,
with the clean, aromatic woods-work. The Meadow Lake was completely
surrounded by camps this year. Several canvas boats were on the lake.
Bob even welcomed the raucous and confused notes of several phonographs
going at full speed. After the heat and dust and brown of the lower
hills, this high country was inexpressibly grateful.
At headquarters he found Welton rolling about, jovial, good-natured,
efficient as ever. With him was Baker.
"Well," said Bob to the latter. "Where did you get by me? I didn't know
you were here."
"Oh, I blew in the other day. Didn't have time to stop below; and,
besides, I was saving my strength for your partner here." He looked at
Welton ruefully. "I thought I'd come up and get that water-rights matter
all fixed up in a few minutes, and get back to supper. Nothing doing!"
"This smooth-faced pirate," explained Welton, "offers to take our water
if we'll pay him for doing it, as near as I can make out--that is, if
we'll supply the machinery to do it with. In return he'll allow us the
privilege of buying back what we are going to need for household
purposes. I tell him this is too liberal. We cannot permit him to rob
himself. Since he has known our esteemed fellow-citizen, Mr. Plant, he's
falling into that gentleman's liberal views."
Baker grinned at his accusor appreciatively, but at the mention of
Plant's name Bob broke in.
"Plant's landed," said he briefly. "They've got him. Prison bars for
"What?" cried Welton and Baker in a breath.
Bob explained; telling them of Thorne, his record, methods, and the
definite evidence he had acquired. Long before he had finished both men
relaxed from their more eager attention.
"That all?" commented Baker. "From what you said I thought he was in the
"He will be shortly," said Bob. "They've got the evidence direct. It's
an open-and-shut case."
Baker merely grinned.
"But Thorne's jugged them all up the range," persisted Bob. "He's
convicted a whole lot of them--men who have been at it for years."
"H'm," said Baker.
"But how can they dodge it?" cried Bob. "They can't deny the evidence!
The Department has upheld Thorne warmly."
"Sure," said Baker.
"Well," concluded Bob. "Do you mean to say that they'll have the nerve
to pass over such direct evidence as that?"
"Don't know anything about it," replied Baker briefly. "I only know
results when I see them. These other little grafters that your man
Thorne has bumped off probably haven't any drag."
"Well, what does Plant amount to once he's exposed?" challenged Bob.
"I haven't figured it out on the Scribner scale," admitted Baker, "but I
know what happens when you try to bump him. Bet you a thousand dollars I
do," he shot at Welton. "It isn't the wraith-like Plant you run up
against; it's _interests_."
"Well, I don't believe yet a great government will keep in a miserable,
petty thief like Plant against the direct evidence of a man like
Thorne!" stated Bob with some heat.
"Listen," said Baker kindly. "That isn't the scrap. Thorne _vs._
Plant--looks like easy money on Thorne, eh? Well, now, Plant has a drag
with Chairman Gay; don't know what it is, but it's a good one, a
peacherino. We know because we've trained some heavy guns on it
ourselves, and it's stood the shock. All right. Now it's up to Chairman
Gay to support his cousin. Then there's old Simeon Wright. Where would
he get off at without Plant? He's going to do a little missionary work.
Simeon owns Senator Barrow, and Senator Barrow is on the Ways and Means
Committee, so lots of people love the Senator. And so on in all
directions--I'm from Missouri. You got to show me. If it came to a mere
choice of turning down Plant or Thorne, they'd turn down Plant, every
time. But when it comes to a choice between Thorne and Gay, Thorne and
Barrow, Thorne and Simeon Wright, Thorne and a dozen others that have
their own Angel Children to protect, and won't protect your Angel Child
unless you'll chuck a front for theirs--why Thorne is just lost in the
"I don't believe it," protested Bob. "It would be a scandal."
"No, just politics," said Baker.
The sawmill lay on the direct trail to the back country. Every man
headed for the big mountains by way of Sycamore Flats passed fairly
through the settlement itself. So every cattleman out after provisions
or stock salt, followed by his docile string of pack mules, paused to
swap news and gossip with whoever happened for the moment to have
leisure for such an exchange.
The variety poured through this funnel of the mountains comprised all
classes. Professional prospectors with their burros, ready alike for the
desert or the most inaccessible crags, were followed by a troupe of
college boys afoot leading one or two old mares as baggage
transportation. The business-like, semi-military outfits of geological
survey parties, the worn but substantial hunters' equipments, the
marvellous and oftentimes ridiculous luxury affected by the wealthy
camper, the makeshifts of the poorer ranchmen of the valley, out with
their entire families and the farm stock for a "real good fish," all
these were of never-failing interest to Bob. In fact, he soon discovered
that the one absorbing topic--outside of bears, of course--was the
discussion, the comparison and the appraising of the various items of
camping equipment. He also found each man amusingly partisan for his
own. There were schools advocating--heatedly--the merits respectively of
the single or double cinch, of the Dutch oven or the reflector, of
rawhide or canvas kyacks, of sleeping bags or blankets. Each man had
invented some little kink of his own without which he could not possibly
exist. Some of these kinks were very handy and deserved universal
adoption, such as a small rubber tube with a flattened brass nozzle
with which to encourage reluctant fires. Others expressed an individual
idiosyncrasy only; as in the case of the man who carried clothes hooks
to screw into the trees. A man's method of packing was also closely
watched. Each had his own favourite hitch. The strong preponderance
seemed to be in favour of the Diamond, both single and double, but many
proved strongly addicted to the Lone Packer, or the Basco, or the
Miners', or the Square, or even the generally despised Squaw, and would
stoutly defend their choices, and give reasons therefore. Bob sometimes
amused himself practising these hitches in miniature by means of a
string, a bent nail, and two folded handkerchiefs as packs. After many
trials, and many lapses of memory, he succeeded on all but the Double
Diamond. Although apparently he followed every move, the result was
never that beautiful all-over tightening at the last pull. He
reluctantly concluded that on this point he must have instruction.
Although rarely a day went by during the whole season that one or more
parties did not pass through, or camp over night at the Meadow Lake, it
was a fact that, after passing Baldy, these hundreds could scatter so
far through the labyrinth of the Sierras that in a whole summer's
journeying they were extremely unlikely to see each other--or indeed any
one else, save when they stumbled on one of the established cow camps.
The vastness of the California mountains cannot be conveyed to one who
has not travelled them. Men have all summer pastured illegally thousands
of head of sheep undiscovered, in spite of the fact that rangers and
soldiers were out looking for them. One may journey diligently
throughout the season, and cover but one corner of the three great maps
that depict about one-half of them. If one wills he can, to all intents
and purposes, become sole and undisputed master of kingdoms in extent.
He can occupy beautiful valleys miles long, guarded by cliffs rising
thousands of feet, threaded by fish-haunted streams, spangled with
fair, flower-grown lawns, cool with groves of trees, neck high in rich
feed. Unless by sheer chance, no one will disturb his solitude. Of
course he must work for his kingdom. He must press on past the easy
travel, past the wide cattle country of the middle elevations, into the
splintered, frowning granite and snow, over the shoulders of the mighty
peaks of the High Sierras. Nevertheless, the reward is sure for the
Most men, however, elect to spend their time in the easier middle
ground. There the elevations run up to nine or ten thousand feet; the
trails are fairly well defined and travelled; the streams are full of
fish; meadows are in every moist pocket; the great box canons and peaks
of the spur ranges offer the grandeur of real mountain scenery.
From these men, as they ended their journeys on the way out, came tales
and rumours. There was no doubt whatever that the country had too many
cattle in it. That was brought home to each and every man by the
scarcity of horse feed on meadows where usually an abundance for
everybody was to be expected. The cattle were thin and restless. It was
unsafe to leave a camp unprotected; the half-wild animals trampled
everything into the ground. The cattlemen, of whatever camp, appeared
sullen and suspicious of every comer.
"It's mighty close to a cattle war," said one old lean and leathery
individual to Bob; "I know, for I been thar. Used to run cows in
Montana. I hear everywhar talk about Wright's cattle dyin' in mighty
funny ways. I know that's so, for I seen a slather of dead cows myself.
Some of 'em fall off cliffs; some seem to have broke their legs. Some
bogged down. Some look like to have just laid down and died."
"Well, if they're weak from loss of feed, isn't that natural?" asked
"Wall," said the old cowman, "in the first place, they're pore, but they
ain't by no means weak. But the strange part is that these yere
accidents always happens to Wright's cattle."
He laughed and added:
"The carcasses is always so chawed up by b'ar and coyote--or at least
that's what they _say_ done it--that you can't sw'ar as to how they
_did_ come to die. But I heard one funny thing. It was over at the
Pollock boys' camp. Shelby, Wright's straw boss, come ridin' in pretty
mad, and made a talk about how it's mighty cur'ous only Wright's cattle
"'It shorely looks like the country is unhealthy for plains cattle,'
says George Pollock; 'ours is brought up in the hills.'
"'Well,' says Shelby, 'if I ever comes on one of these accidents
a-happenin', I'll shore make some one hard to catch!'
"'Some one's likely one of these times to make you almighty _easy_ to
catch!' says George.
"Now," concluded the old cattleman, "folks don't make them bluffs for
the sake of talkin' at a mark--not in this country."
Nevertheless, in spite of that prediction, the summer passed without any
personal clash. The cattle came out from the mountains rather earlier
than usual, gaunt, wiry, active. They were in fine shape, as far as
health was concerned; but absolutely unfit, as they then stood, for
beef. The Simeon Wright herds were first, thousands of them, in charge
of many cowboys and dogs. The punchers were a reckless, joyous crew,
skylarking in anticipation of the towns of the plains. They kissed their
hands and waved their hats at all women, old and young, in the mill
settlement; they played pranks on each other; they charged here and
there on their wiry ponies, whirling to right and left, 'turning on a
ten-cent piece,' throwing their animals from full speed to a stand,
indulging in the cowboys' spectacular 'flash riding' for the sheer joy
of it. The leading cattle, eager with that strange instinct that, even
early in the fall, calls all ruminants from good mountain feed to the
brown lower country, pressed forward, their necks outstretched, their
eyes fixed on some distant vision. Their calls blended into an organ
note. Occasionally they broke into a little trot. At such times the dogs
ran forward, yelping, to turn them back into their appointed way. At an
especially bad break to right or left one or more of the men would dash
to the aid of the dogs, riding with a splendid recklessness through the
timber, over fallen trees, ditches, rocks, boulders and precipitous
hills. The dust rose chokingly. At the rear of the long procession
plodded the old, the infirm, the cripples and the young calves. Three or
four men rode compactly behind this rear guard, urging it to keep up.
Their means of persuasion were varied. Quirts, ropes, rattles made of
tin cans and pebbles, strong language were all used in turn and
simultaneously. Long after the multitude had passed, the vast and
composite voice of it reechoed through the forest; the dust eddied and
swirled among the trees.
The mountain men's cattle, on the other hand, came out sullenly, in
herds of a few hundred head. There was more barking of dogs; more
scurrying to and fro of mounted men, for small bands are more difficult
to drive than large ones. There were no songs, no boisterous high
spirits, no flash riding. In contrast to the plains cowboys, even the
herders' appearance was poor. They wore blue jeans overalls, short jeans
jumpers, hats floppy and all but disintegrated by age and exposure to
the elements. Wright's men, being nothing but cowboys, without other
profession, ties or interests, gave more attention to details of
professional equipment. Their wide hats were straight of brim and
generally encircled by a leather or hair or snakeskin band; their shirts
were loose; they wore handkerchiefs around their necks, and oiled
leather "chaps" on their legs. Their distinguishing and especial mark,
however, was their boots. These were made of soft leather, were
elaborately stitched or embroidered in patterns, possessed exaggeratedly
wide and long straps like a spaniel's ears, and were mounted on thin
soles and very high heels. They were footwear such as no mountain man,
nor indeed any man who might ever be required to go a mile afoot, would
think of wearing. The little herds trudged down the mountains. While the
plainsmen anticipated easy duty, the pleasures of the town, fenced
cattle growing fat on alfalfa raised during the summer by irrigation,
these sober-faced mountaineers looked forward to a winter range much
depleted, a market closed against such wiry, active animals as they
herded, and an impossibility of rounding into shape for sale any but a
few old cows.
"If it wasn't for this new shake-up," said Jim Pollock, "I'd shore be
gettin' discouraged. But if they keep out Simeon Wright's cattle this
spring, we'll be all right. It's cost us money, though."
"A man with a wife and child can't afford to lose money," said George
"You and your new kid!" he mocked. "No, I suppose he can't. Neither can
a man with a wife and six children. But I reckon we'll be all right as
long as there's a place to crawl under when it rains."
The autumn passed, and winter closed down. Plant continued his
administration. For a month the countryside was on a tip-toe of
expectation. It counted on no immediate results, but the "suspension
pending investigation" was to take place within a few weeks. As far as
surface indications were concerned nothing happened. Expectation was
turned back on itself. Absolute confidence in Plant's removal and
criminal conviction gave place to scepticism and doubt, finally to utter
disbelief. And since Thorne had succeeded in arousing a real faith and
enthusiasm, the reaction was by so much the stronger. Tolerance gave way
to antagonism; distrust to bitterness; grievance to open hostility. The
Forest Reserves were cursed as a vicious institution created for the
benefit of the rich man, depriving the poor man of his rights and
privileges, imposing on him regulations that were at once galling and
The Forest Rangers suddenly found themselves openly unpopular.
Heretofore a ranger had been tolerated by the mountaineers as either a
good-for-nothing saloon loafer enjoying the fats of political
perquisite; or as a species of inunderstandable fanatic to be looked
down upon with good-humoured contempt. Now a ranger became a partisan of
the opposing forces, and as such an enemy. Men ceased speaking to him,
or greeted him with the curtest of nods. Plant's men were ostracized in
every way, once they showed themselves obstinate in holding to their
positions. Every man was urged to resign. Many did so. Others hung on
because the job was too soft to lose. Some, like Ross Fletcher,
California John, Tom Carroll, Charley Morton and a few others, moved on
their accustomed way.
Back to Full Books