After the civil war, the west, primarily Texas, had a vast herd of longhorn cattle running wild, waiting for men like Goodnight and Loving to round them up and head them north and east to connect with the railroad lines. They went to places like Caldwell, Kansas City, Dodge City, Topeka, as far east as Chicago, as far north and Canada, pushing the stock anywhere that they could sell them.
And the tough, single minded cow boys went along. Spanish vaqueros from Mexico and farther, black, newly freed men wanting to make their own able fortune, young boys from poor families looking for a living and perhaps a community of their own, young dukes from noble families, looking for adventure All carrying their own saddles, their own tools, usually a string of company horses.
These men work long days in the saddle, traveling up to 20 miles a day, standing watch at night, in all weather, days so hot the sweat dries before it springs from a man’s skin and then so cold that breath creates frozen crystals in the air. They ride through rainstorms and drought, some die in stampedes, some on the streets of dusty cow towns, while others just prosper and keep on riding, riding through the pages of history and the hearts of our spirits.
Irvin Pat Johnson is one of those special fellers, He is a long and wiry sort of man, with sun bleached eyes and hard strong fingers. He rides his horse, a sturdy paint, he and the animal joined together at a seam. Riding along a trail, or somewhere where he makes the trail, he carries on his horse his bare needs, a bedroll, Winchester, maybe a colt peacemaker, rope, , and when available, some jerky and hardtack in his saddlebag. Wearing a wide brimmed hat, leather chaps, boots, and a wool jacket. Everything else he needs is a make do affair, when he has the coin or is hooked up with an outfit that is moving horses or cow along a path. He has been along this way for oh about 10 years now, started when he was 15, after leaving the farm in Kansas. Being one of 6 kids, slopping pigs held no appeal to him, no more than the appeal held by a father more times drinking than sober and a mother whose features washed out more every day, He had been four in order and knew that his leaving would leave only the blessing of one less mouth to feed. He had nothing else of worth to offer that brood, just the leaving.
Just now, Irvin is perched along the top of a flat rock, looking down into a valley lined with hard scrabble and sparse, thorny bushes. Some birds were singing from some nest, and the hot breeze sent him occasional wafts of wild sage. The whole setup causes to Irvin shake his head. The day is hot and peaceful, yet the scene he looks at below is plain evil.
Spread out below, amidst the brush and rocks are the remains of a wagon, tipped over, its hoops splayed out at angles, canvas cover ripped and flapping from the back. Boxes are scattered, all broke open, household items tossed about; horses gone. Smoking remains of a campfire, kicked about. And below the canvas, an arm extended, sighted from the elbow down. No one else on the scene, Irvin has been watching from his vantage point for a time. Only thing alive were the crows, which have started hopping around the ruins.
Sighing, he lifts his body from the rock, and heads down the side of the valley.