« PreviousContinue »
tion, as well as a man of the most tireless action. As in the case of all new countries, there was a very lax moral code in the Bad Lands at the time Mr. Roosevelt established himself there as a ranchman. It had been the habit of some cowboys to drive into the herds they were keeping any stray cattle they encountered in riding about the range; and it was equally the habit of some ranchmen, even with knowledge of this irregular possession, to accept the “findings” and have the animals branded as their own. One of the first rules enunciated by Mr. Roosevelt was that his cowboys would not be permitted to “rustle.” That is, they should not permit cattle not his own to come into his herds. He was very positive about this, and his riders acted accordingly. But there was another rule, equally positive. He would permit no man to take cattle belonging to him. The habit had become too well established for instant breaking, and his stock continued to be stolen. He established one case very clearly, and with one of his men rode two weeks straight after the two culprits who had robbed him, captured them, brought them back to Medora, and sent both to the penitentiary at Mandan.
That was the end of the “rustling” in the Bad Lands. He established a better grade of morals than had existed before; and he quickened the sense of respect for law and order throughout the whole cattle country.
As to the details of ranch work, he has himself left a sufficient record. In one of his volumes he gives a most graphic description of the now almost forgotten “round-up.” “A ranchman is kept busy most of the time, but his hardest work comes with the spring and fall roundups, when the calves are branded, or the beeves gathered for market. Our round-up district includes the Beaver and Little Beaver creeks. All the ranches along the line of these two creeks, and the river spaces between, join in sending from one to four men to the round-up, each man taking eight ponies; and for every six or seven men there will be a four-horse wagon to carry the blankets and mess kit. The whole, including perhaps forty or fifty cowboys, is under the head of one first-class foreman, styled the captain of the round-up.
“Beginning at one end of the line, the cowboys, divided into small parties, scour the neighboring country, and in the evening come to the appointed place with all the cattle they have seen. This big herd, together with the pony herd, is guarded and watched all night, and driven during the day. At each home ranch, where there is always a large corral fitted for the purpose, all the cattle of that brand are cut out from the rest of the herd, which is to continue its journey, and the cows and calves are driven into the corral, where the latter are roped, thrown and branded. “Cutting out cattle, next to managing a stampeded herd at night, is that part of the cowboy's work needing the boldest and most skilful horsemanship. A young heifer or steer is very loath to leave the herd, always tries to break back into it, can run like a deer, and can dodge like a rabbit. But a thorough cattle-pony enjoys the work as much as its rider, and follows the beast like a four-footed fate through every double and turn. When the work is over for the day, the men gather around the fire for an hour or two to sing songs, talk, Smoke and tell stories. And he who has a good voice, or better still, can play the fiddle or banjo, is sure to receive his meed of most sincere homage.” The ranchman and the cowboy, as these were known twenty to thirty years ago, have passed away. The great ranges have been cut into smaller holdings, and railways run through most of the regions where formerly herds of thousands found their food in summer, and their shelter in winter. No great fortunes will ever again be invested in that enterprise, as was the case from 1875 to 1885. In a smaller way, and with more modest requirements as to invested capital, it will continue indefinitely. But the old régime has passed away in Montana as effectively as in Kansas or Nebraska. The round-up has become a thing of the past—in any large and impressive sense. But there will be no better description of it written than this by a man who learned the business from beginning to end, who mastered it, who drew from it all the pleasures and benefits it could afford, and who saw and appreciated every graphic and interesting detail in its category. For one thing, Mr. Roosevelt's life as a ranchman in the Bad Lands afforded him some practical ideas on the much-mooted Indian question. It has been a part of his good fortune, apparently, to find in the phases of a varied