October 16, 2016
In the last two excerpts from The River of Cattle I have introduced you to Will and Two Feathers. Launch day is coming soon, November 1st, so I decided to give you a taste of the first day on a cattle drive. This drive begins with plenty of dust, heat, and confusion.
First Day of the Cattle Drive
The hot sun beat down. The back of Will’s neck itched from the dust that worked its way down his collar. He wondered if they were ever going to stop. His backside hurt. His stomach growled continuously. Breakfast seemed like a long time ago. The water in his canteen tasted awful and was hot. He wiped sweat and dirt from his face with his bandana. A cool drink of water would sure be good. He licked his dry lips.
At lunch, the men changed weary horses for fresh ones. Will turned Buck over to Naldo. The buckskin lay down and rolled in the dry grass. His legs waved in the air as he squirmed to clean the sweat from his back. When he stood, he shook himself, throwing grass and dust off his coat.
Will walked over to a group of drovers standing around a horse apart from the others. When he got close, he saw a deep cut in the horse’s hip. Goodnight held the horse’s head, and Cookie spread thick salve on the cut.
“What happened?” Will asked Curtis.
“One of the swing riders didn’t get out of the way quick enough. An ol’ mossy-horned steer raked that bay.”
Will walked with Curtis to the cook fire. They filled their plates with beef stew and leaned against the wagon wheel to eat. They ate in silence for several minutes.
“You be careful out there, Will-boy.” Curtis mopped up the last of his stew with a biscuit. “These old steers that have been wild all their lives can turn quick and will gut you if they get a chance.”
Suddenly, Will wasn’t hungry. He didn’t want Buck to end up like that bay.
“Will,” Pa called. “Mount up. Let’s go.”
The long hot hours of the afternoon passed slowly. Will’s new respect for the sharp horns of these brush cattle kept his attention focused on his job. He decided if Buck was going to be safe he’d better learn how to be a good drover.
“Pa, don’t you think Buck’s rested enough? I don’t like this horse,” Will said after a few hours on the strange mount.
“I guess so. See the remuda off to the right?”
Will nodded and spurred the horse in his eagerness to find Buck.
The sun hung low in the western sky before Pa and Goodnight turned the herd toward the spot Smokey had picked for the night camp. A good-sized creek wound its way through scattered clusters of cottonwood trees. Buck bent his head to drink. Will’s throat was dry, but he didn’t like the look of the muddy water along the bank and decided to wait till he returned to camp.
He looked down the trail at the line of cattle stretched as far as he could see. Pa rode up and stopped to let his horse drink. Will and Pa sat in their saddles as the sky turned gold, then purple and pink. “Pa,” Will said pointing back the way they’d come. “It looks like a river of cattle.”
“A river of cattle?” Pa wiped sweat from his face. “A good name for what we’re pushing. A river that behaves as smooth as well water through a trough, but can scatter like a waterfall exploding down a rocky cliff.”