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The Rawhide
by [?]

CHAPTER ONE

THE PASSING OF THE COLT’S FORTY-FIVE

The man of whom I am now to tell you came to Arizona in the early days of Chief Cochise. He settled in the Soda Springs Valley, and there persisted in spite of the devastating forays of that Apache. After a time he owned all the wells and springs in the valley, and so, naturally, controlled the grazing on that extensive free range. Once a day the cattle, in twos and threes, in bands, in strings, could be seen winding leisurely down the deep-trodden and converging trails to the water troughs at the home ranch, there leisurely to drink, and then leisurely to drift away into the saffron and violet and amethyst distances of the desert. At ten other outlying ranches this daily scene was repeated. All these cattle belonged to the man, great by reason of his priority in the country, the balance of his even character, and the grim determination of his spirit.

When he had first entered Soda Springs Valley his companions had called him Buck Johnson. Since then his form had squared, his eyes had steadied to the serenity of a great authority, his mouth, shadowed by the moustache and the beard, had closed straight in the line of power and taciturnity. There was about him more than a trace of the Spanish. So now he was known as Senor Johnson, although in reality he was straight American enough.

Senor Johnson lived at the home ranch with a Chinese cook, and Parker, his foreman. The home ranch was of adobe, built with loopholes like a fort. In the obsolescence of this necessity, other buildings had sprung up unfortified. An adobe bunkhouse for the cow-punchers, an adobe blacksmith shop, a long, low stable, a shed, a windmill and pond-like reservoir, a whole system of corrals of different sizes, a walled-in vegetable garden–these gathered to themselves cottonwoods from the moisture of their being, and so added each a little to the green spot in the desert. In the smallest corral, between the stable and the shed, stood a buckboard and a heavy wagon, the only wheeled vehicles about the place. Under the shed were rows of saddles, riatas, spurs mounted with silver, bits ornamented with the same metal, curved short irons for the range branding, long, heavy “stamps” for the corral branding. Behind the stable lay the “pasture,” a thousand acres of desert fenced in with wire. There the hardy cow-ponies sought out the sparse, but nutritious, bunch grass, sixty of them, beautiful as antelope, for they were the pick of Senor Johnson’s herds.

And all about lay the desert, shimmering, changing, many-tinted, wonderful, hemmed in by the mountains that seemed tenuous and thin, like beautiful mists, and by the sky that seemed hard and polished like a turquoise.

Each morning at six o’clock the ten cow-punchers of the home ranch drove the horses to the corral, neatly roped the dozen to be “kept up” for that day, and rewarded the rest with a feed of grain. Then they rode away at a little fox trot, two by two. All day long they travelled thus, conducting the business of the range, and at night, having completed the circle, they jingled again into the corral.

At the ten other ranches this programme had been duplicated. The half-hundred men of Senor Johnson’s outfit had covered the area of a European principality. And all of it, every acre, every spear of grass, every cactus prickle, every creature on it, practically belonged to Senor Johnson, because Senor Johnson owned the water, and without water one cannot exist on the desert.

This result had not been gained without struggle. The fact could be read in the settled lines of Senor Johnson’s face, and the great calm of his grey eye. Indian days drove him often to the shelter of the loopholed adobe ranch house, there to await the soldiers from the Fort, in plain sight thirty miles away on the slope that led to the foot of the Chiricahuas. He lost cattle and some men, but the profits were great, and in time Cochise, Geronimo, and the lesser lights had flickered out in the winds of destiny. The sheep terror merely threatened, for it was soon discovered that with the feed of Soda Springs Valley grew a burr that annoyed the flocks beyond reason, so the bleating scourge swept by forty miles away. Cattle rustling so near the Mexican line was an easy matter. For a time Senor Johnson commanded an armed band. He was lord of the high, the low, and the middle justice. He violated international ethics, and for the laws of nations he substituted his own. One by one he annihilated the thieves of cattle, sometimes in open fight, but oftener by surprise and deliberate massacre. The country was delivered. And then, with indefatigable energy, Senor Johnson became a skilled detective. Alone, or with Parker, his foreman, he rode the country through, gathering evidence. When the evidence was unassailable he brought offenders to book. The rebranding through a wet blanket he knew and could prove; the ear-marking of an unbranded calf until it could be weaned he understood; the paring of hoofs to prevent travelling he could tell as far as he could see; the crafty alteration of similar brands–as when a Mexican changed Johnson’s Lazy Y to a Dumb-bell Bar–he saw through at a glance. In short, the hundred and one petty tricks of the sneak-thief he ferreted out, in danger of his life. Then he sent to Phoenix for a Ranger–and that was the last of the Dumb-bell Bar brand, or the Three Link Bar brand, or the Hour Glass Brand, or a half dozen others. The Soda Springs Valley acquired a reputation for good order.