The warm sun, with plenty of water in the ponds, had brought the ducks, and soon there would be more geese and an occasional swan. One day Mr. A and I killed eighteen ducks, not small ones either. I sent some to the other camp1, some to our neighbors, and prepared a few for our table; a most agreeable change from our bacon.2
Such a balmy air made it difficult for one to realize that only a few days ago the country was torn up by the worst storm of the entire season. But so it was, being only a sample of the suddenness of our changes and severity of our winds. It was the middle of March, and the air was like that of May. The green grass was beginning to show in the hollows and light patches of timber, and the cattle were restless and searching for it.
Our large three- and four-year-old steers didn't look as if they had been through a winter at all. Charles R and I had a few of that kind which we bought in the fall to hold for a year and then turn off at a nice profit. They came through in such good shape we were sorry we did not borrow money, even at Western rate of interest, and buy a great many more. But we were learning all the while. It was now time for the cattle meeting for which I drafted the call. Mr. A and I determined to attend, have our range represented, and see what it would be like. We might meet a few of our neighbors, learn of arrangements for round-ups, and hear news from the range generally. I left a goodly amount of cooked provisions for the boys, we hooked up our team to the lumber-wagon, made no change in our camp garb, and were off to town. We got a rather late start, there being no particular hurry, the meeting not being called till the next afternoon.
We reached Caldwell to late for supper, and got inveigled into a game of whist.3 We played until the gray of the morning, partaking moderately of some liquid refreshments. After the game broke up, it seemed as if a short walk would do me some good, so I went out beyond the town for two or three miles. On my return, it being yet early, it occured to me to take a nap. A corn field was handy by, and, arranging a shock for comfort, I was soo lost in the land of dreams, not awakening until nine o;clock, and then with a start, not remembering the locality. Presently it all came back that the stock meeting was the place for me soon.
Without breakfast I slipped into the meeting, taking a back seat against the wall and becoming interested at once. There seemed to be a few of my acquaintances in the crowd, and instead of there being thirty or forty in attencance, as I expected, there were between two and three hundred present. There were very few cowboys in the throng, but a large number of fine-looking, well-dressed gentlemen, all of whom were stranges to me personally, and the majority of whom I had never heard of.
The meeting seemed to be well organized, and the speakers were on their feet continually. I listened quietly and patiently, not fully realizing the portent of what was being said. The majority of them were smooth talkers and had evidently been on the floor before; but the longer I listened, the more apparent it became to me that they were either talking against time or because they enjoyed it themselves. Somehow the bulk of the convention seemed to me to be getting wearied with the oratorical efforts, and were evidently waiting for someone to get down to business, or get up and talk about the matters they were there to decide upon. So interested did I become, that my costume of blue shirt, nègligè tie, trousers in boots, supported by cartridge-belt, and hair uncombed, did not occur to me as out of place, so I leisurely rose during a lull in the convention. In a modest tone of voice, attracting the attention of the presiding officer, I said: "Mr. Chairman, I have listened with interest to the easy flow of language from the gentlemen of that great commonwealth, Texas, and enjoyed it, as have many others here. I have heard with pleasure the silver tongue from Colorado, as well as other gentlemen from different localities. They have told us, or me at least, many new things; but, Mr Chairman, I appeal to you, sir, that we are here to round up the living and skin the dead." Then I imediately sat down.
Such roars, yells and cheers made me think of a political convention cheering to echo some man who had perpetrated a lucky hit. As soon as the chair secured any sort of order, I was on my feet again, saying: "Mr. Chairman, I move you, sir, that a committee of five be appointed to formulate a plan of action, and under no circumstances appoint me, when so many older and wiser ones are present." The motion was carried with a whoop, the chair appointing five well-known men on the committee, none of whom refused to work.
There was another calm, and rising again, I said: "Mr. Chairman, we don't need any committee on credentials and resolutions: we are all cow-punchers together, and I do move you that this convention take a recess until two P. M., to give the committee a chance to work: and I further move that the balance of us become acquainted and refresh the inner man." This motion was carried with a will, and we had a general introduction all around and a very jolly time until the afternoon session.
Promptly at two o'clock the chair called the convention to order, but the committee was not ready to report, and short speeches were called for, but they did not seem to be much of a success, so it was agreed to adjourn until the next morning at nine, when the report would undoubtedly be ready. If ever men were interested in their business, it was that crowd of cattlemen. I never heard so much cow-talk before in my life. We started to play cards, but the decks remained unshuffled. We talked all day and we talked all night, and it was actually a difficult matter to get any one to stop long enough to get a quorum for the convention. It could not have been accomplished at all, only all were assured that the committee was ready to report.
The scope of that committee was great indeed! They reported all that was asked of them, and more too. They arranged about the skinning of the dead cattle - how the hides should be divide; of course giving the brand preference. They arranged to start two bodies of round-up men, one from the extreme Southwest, or as far as the bulk of the cattle were known to have strayed; then they appointed a few trusty men to go on still further and gather every brand known to belong to the strip.They did the same for the Southeast, and appointed a captain for each round-up party. The report contained much good advice, and many other things no man could remember; all of which, however, were of such grave importance that they were put in cold type, as, no doubt, the files of that great religious Caldell Weekly could show, if produced.
To say that the report was received and the committee discharged would read all right, but how tame!The report went through without a dissenting voice, and with men on their feet in every direction, the cowboys, in their exuberance, standing on their seets and tossing those huge three- or four-pound hats to the top of the hall; fortunately for the hats, the ceilings were low. Mingled with the cheering could be heard the cowboy yell, which surely added zest to the occasion. Lack of breath called a halt - the chairman was powerless; no wonder, for he cheered and yelled till his throat closed on him.
After quiet was once more restored, some resolutions were offered and passed without debate and without denure. No one disputed anything or anybody. There was no doubt that a hurried resolution offered to the end that a wayr with England would prove a failure would have passed just the same. For a moment I thought of introducing a resolution immortalizing cattlemen and saying that the only great, legitimate, honorable and noblest calling, dating back beyond anything and everything, is the handling, tending, and herding cattle. I came within an ace of moving just such a resolution; but my backbone gave way and it failed to materialize. Like the balance, it would have been adopted.
Finally there were no more excuses for motions or resolutions, every one seemed to have had his say and a number of says besides. The chairman inquired very earnestly, two or three times, if any one had anything to offer, or motion to make, but no response. He looked sad, being so interested in the proceedings that it seemed to him as if the meeting ought to continue for all time, of course with an occasional recess for refreshments. His eye sought those of the heretofore fluent speakers, but there was no response. His eye grew dull, there was a calm almost saddening; the chairman was in a quandary. He would have talked himself, being a good single-handed talker, but before so many his thought seemed to have oozed out, or at least to have left him. What to do he did not know, and just when it was really becoming embarrassing, a man arose and moved that we proceed to ballot for officers for the ensuing year. How the president's eye brightened again; how quick he put that motion! It was quickly carried.
The chair said that the first man to be elected was the president, and he would appoint four tellers to prepare the ballots - that was as far as he got. Some man jumped to his feet and said; "What is the use of going through all that rigmarole? Let us elect our officers by word of mouth. We all know who we want for President, and I move that Ben Miller be elected to fill the position for one year." Old uncle Steve Birchfield, for he was the chairman laughed with glee and said; "That's right; that motion is entirely in order and here goes." I guess it was carried, by the noise - absence was in my line, and fresh air. My embarrassment fairly overcame me; a place where no one could see me was hunted and found.
All the customary officers were elected the same way, and the convention adjourned subject to call of the president just elected. My presence was carefully concealed the balance of the day, and I tried to get word to Mr. A that we ought to hook up and start for camp, but he was not to be found.
There was to be a ball given in honor of the stockmen, and it was my intention to skip it, but the fates were against me and I was dragged in bodily. Camp clothes seemed to be at a premium, - or, possibly, the wearers of them. It made no difference about one's costume, their presencse was demanded. I danced a few times and slipped away, but was cought and taken back, and actually compelled to mount the musicians' platform in behalf of the cattlement assembled, to thank the citizens of Caldwell for their kind hospitality and generous treatment. No stenographer was present, so those remarks will never go along down with the annals of time. Humanity has and will escape. Let us all be truly thankful. No criticism ever appeared. My English friend4 said, in his droll way, "You didn't do so bad, Ben." How incongruous it sounds; dancing stopped and a speech listened to. But fortunately for the speaker, no one objected, every second seemed happy, and the dancing went on.
Years after, a plain sort of man called my thoughts back to our first cow convention, and he said, "Do you know what made you president of the Cattle Association?" I replied that nothing in particular occured to me as the cause of it. "Why," said he, "when you praised the flowery fellows, and then quickly turned the subject by saying, But we are here to round up the living and skin the dead, that single remark cought them all, so that you were slated right there. Your apparent innocence of not having said anything in particular, when, in fact and in truth, you had struck the key-note, did the business."
Perhaps this sounds egotistical, and maybe the truth should not always be spoken. This is one of those times when it has been, whether it should be or not.