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The Cow-Boss
by [?]

–the reckless cowboy on his watch-eyed bronco
still lopes across the grassy foot-hills–or holds
his milling herd in the high parks.

I

The post-office at Eagle River was so small that McCoy and his herders always spoke of the official within as “the Badger,” saying that he must surely back into his den for lack of room to turn round. His presentment at the arched loophole in his stockade was formidable. His head was large, his brow high and seamed, his beard long and tangled, and the look of his hazel-gray eyes remote with cold abstraction.

“He’s not a man to monkey with,” said McCoy when the boys complained that the old seed had put up a sign, “NO SPITTING IN THIS OFFICE.” “I’d advise you to act accordingly. I reckon he’s boss of that thing while he’s in there. He’s a Populist, but he’s regularly appointed by the President, and I don’t see that we’re in any position to presume to spit if he objects. No, there ain’t a thing to do but get up a petition and have him removed–and I won’t agree to sign it when you do.”

Eagle River was only a cattle-yard station, a shipping-point for the mighty spread of rolling hills which make up the Bear Valley range to the north and the Grampa to the south. Aside from the post-office, it possessed two saloons, a store, a boarding-house or two, and a low, brown station-house. That was all, except during the autumn, when there was nearly always an outfit of cowboys camped about the corrals, loading cattle or waiting for cars.

On the day when this story opens, McCoy had packed away his last steer, and, being about to take the train for Kansas City, called his foreman aside.

“See here, Roy, seems to me the boys are extra boozed already. It’s up to you to pull right out for the ranch.”

“That’s what I’m going to try to do,” answered Roy. “We’ll camp at the head of Jack Rabbit to-night.”

“Good idea. Get ’em out of town before dark–every mother’s son of ’em. I’ll be back on Saturday.”

Roy Pierce was a dependable young fellow, and honestly meant to carry out the orders of his boss; but there was so little by way of diversion in Eagle, the boys had to get drunk in order to punctuate a paragraph in their life. There was not a disengaged woman in the burg, and bad whisky was merely a sad substitute for romance. Therefore the settlers who chanced to meet this bunch of herders in the outskirts of Eagle River that night walked wide of them, for they gave out the sounds of battle.

They could all ride like Cossacks, notwithstanding their dizzy heads, and though they waved about in their saddles like men of rubber, their faithful feet clung to their stirrups like those of a bat to its perch. In camp they scuffled, argued, ran foot-races, and howled derisive epithets at the cook, who was getting supper with drunken gravity, using pepper and salt with lavish hand.

Into the midst of this hullabaloo Roy, the cow-boss, rode, white with rage and quite sober.

“I’ll kill that old son of a gun one of these days,” said he to Henry Ring.

“Kill who?”

“That postmaster. If he wasn’t a United States officer, I’d do it now.”

“What’s the matter? Wouldn’t he shuffle the mail fer you?”

“Never lifted a finger. ‘Nothing,’ he barked out at me. Didn’t even look up till I let loose on him.”

“What did he do then?”

“Poked an old Civil War pistol out of the window and told me to hike.”

“Which you did?”

“Which I did, after passing him a few compliments. ‘Lay down your badge,’ I says, ‘come out o’ your den, and I’ll pepper you so full of holes that your hide won’t hold blue-joint hay.’ And I’ll do it, too, the old hound!”