Authors: Frank Roderus
Tags: #coming of age, #ranch, #western adventure, #western action, #frank roderus, #prairie rose publications, #painted pony books
A Western Novel By
A PAINTED PONY BOOK
Duster by Frank Roderus
Copyright © 1986 by Frank Roderus
Painted Pony Books
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For my parents, Frank and Alice Roderus,
who had faith even when I didn't
BY A COUPLE of years after the war was over,
most everybody had come straggling back home; and by that time, we
just had to figure Pa wasn't coming back. We hadn't had word of him
since Tim Jenkins came back from Vicksburg in '63 with a chunk tore
out of his back end by a Yankee minie ball—one of them that was
rigged to blow up after it hit. That Yankee ball had lit in Tim's
hind end and then cut loose. Tim always did sit a horse funny after
Anyway, Pa had sent us a howdy by way of Tim
and a wad of grayback scrip that he hadn't found any takers for out
east and that he figured we might be able to spend back home in
Texas. That was the last word we had.
Not that I'm complaining. We'd been used to
making do for a long while, and we always figured we would make out
the best we could with whatever tools the good Lord laid up at our
doorstep. That was the way Pa had always done—showing us more than
telling us but making it stick just the same.
It wasn't that we didn't love Pa or didn't
want him back. We did. But Ma said that wanting wasn't getting and
we had best plan on doing for ourselves instead of waiting around
and letting the home place run down.
I had been doing what I could all along
since early in '62 when Pa went off with his blanket and brush
knife and that big old Walker Colt that he favored.
At the time, I was just nine years old and
not even able to hold up that Walker with one hand. But since I was
the oldest and the biggest, Pa give me a pert little grulla gelding
for my own and give me a man's rope to work with. The grulla was
nice, but us kids could most always find a horse of some sort to
crawl up on. What really made me feel growed was that rope.
It was a grown man's rope, not just a piece
of cast-off leavings like I'd played with from the time I could
make a fist around a solid hunk of something. It was Pa's own rope,
braided up for him out of four-strand rawhide by Pico Menendez, all
of twenty-five feet long like the brush poppers preferred, and with
a metal ring honda.
I had worked that rope
until I was a pretty fair hand with it. By the time 1868 rolled in
on us I could throw a
most every time, and I was able to slip a
onto a calf maybe
one time in three. I'd been bringing calves in to home ever since
Pa left so we could gentle down those ornery brush cow mamas and
steal a little milk for the small fry.
I had grown considerable in that time, too.
Like Pa, I never will be what you'd call tall, but I had strung out
some and was showing his kind of stringy, slung-together muscle
that marks us Dorword men. I guess I looked a sight then in my
homespun shirt and britches and the big straw hat Ma had made
herself out of stuff we had on hand. The only store-bought things I
owned was a pocketknife and my bandanna, and even that was black
since the red and the blue ones was in more demand and could be got
rid of easier. Mr. James, the storekeeper in Dog Town, let me have
my black bandanna cheap since they weren't popular. Even my
galluses were made at home, and I'd carved the buttons for my
britches out of some wood scraps. I had a ragtag sort of coat made
out of an old blanket, too, though I never liked to wear it when
there were other folks about.
To top it all off, my hair stayed pretty
much down toward the bottom of my ears no matter how much Ma
prodded at me to let her cut on it, and my face still run some to
It was about that time, though, that I
figured I oughta quit strutting in front of the little kids in our
own family and set out to being the boss of our place for sure.
Actually there was more to it than just my
own feelings. We'd heard that old Governor Pease and his carpetbag
soldiers was about to come collecting taxes on us. Folks said that
anybody who couldn't pay up would be run off his own land to make
room for the movers coming in from back east. A lot of them movers
wanted to settle where there wasn't Comanche or Kiowa around, so I
guess we were right where they wanted to be. Indians would
sometimes be north of us or to the west, but they never did come
around our part of the country. I guess that made our area pretty
good-sounding to Pease and his carpetbaggers.
Anyhow, we'd always been able to find
aplenty to eat, what with our garden and the beeves that ranged
loose in the brush around home. But it was a long time since any of
us had seen much in the way of cash money. Other folks hadn't any
of it either, so nobody minded much. We got by.
The thing was, if we had to come up with tax
money now I just didn't know what might happen. I couldn't stand to
think about maybe losing the place Pa had made for us here, and it
would of been worse if Ma had been faced with such a thing.
I made up my mind one night late, but I
didn't say anything to Ma about it right off. First I rode over and
talked to Mister Sam Silas. He had a spread further up on the Frio,
and I knew he'd be putting a herd up come spring.
There wasn't much market for cows in Texas
those days, but there was even less cash money—so any market at all
Mister Sam gave me a good
feed of beef and corn bread
and even some
real coffee before we got down to business. He had figured why I'd
come, and he gave it to me straight.
"You're the head of your own spread," he
said, "and you have a right to come along as an owner, with your
own remuda and chuck. But I do need an extra hand. You're welcome
to throw your beeves in with mine and ride along as a paid hand.
Since you are only fifteen and not proved out yet, I'll pay thirty
cents a day and board, fifty cents if you have a string of horses
you want to throw in."
It was a fair deal he offered, and I told
him so. I didn't have enough horses of my own to ride and knew
there would be too many cattle being moved around the country come
spring for me to be able to borrow a string, so I took the thirty
cents a day.
I was busting to tell Ma when I got home,
but I set it off for a while instead. Finally at dinner one night
when the racket had settled I figured I'd best plunge into it.
"Ma," I said, "it's time I
got to putting us back in shape. I've hired out to Mister Sam Silas
as a rider. He'll pay me cash
let us throw our culls into his herd for a drive over to Rockport."
I guess I stopped for a minute there before I went on. "It's a
thing I've got to do."
"I don't want you to do it, Douglas," she
said with her face all firm and lined like it gets when she's going
to set her heels into something, "but there's a man's work needs to
be done and you are the eldest. I will ask only that you take care.
And mind you watch the company you keep."
I was so tickled I just had to give Ma a
hug, though I had a pretty good idea what her approval was letting
me in for.
Pa had had a good many cattle under the DD
brand—for Douglas Dorword after his name—mine too for that
matter—before he left. But for six years the only branding done for
us was by our neighbors when they came across some of our stuff
mixed in with theirs. We had no idea now how many of our cattle
might be shoving along through that brush out there.
It had been about all I could do so far just
to keep us in milk and try to keep the brush pushed back off our
To get some of our beeves in Mister Sam's
drive I knew I'd have to count on some DD animals being caught
during the roundup all our neighbors would be holding come May or
so. I was determined, though, that I wouldn't put anything but
culls into that herd. Not to Rockport, I wouldn't. I wanted that
scattered-out herd of ours to grow by what it could.
I just hoped two things: one, that I could
handle my own share of the work; and the other, that the
maverickers all over the country didn't cut too deep into our DD
animals. That second part was a pretty lonesome hope, though. Right
then, there was lots of loose cattle with no brands on them and no
way to figure out what brand they ought to have.
Some claimed that a maverick was theirs if
it was on the range they laid claim to, but that was just plain
silly. Come a hard winter, one of those long-legged, long-horned
critters might drift along with its backside to the wind for a
hundred miles or more. Even a well-branded herd might be scattered
over three counties by spring. In a country where most of the men
had been too busy fighting a war to take time for branding it was
just sort of natural that herds got scattered from one end of Texas
to the next, and after a couple years, there was just no way you
could look at all those slick hides and say what herd an animal's
mama came from once upon a time. It just couldn't be done.
At the same time the country was being
overrun by those maverick cattle there was a bunch of maverick men
wandering loose. Some of them got so in the habit of branding
slick-side cattle that they took the calves of even branded cows.
It had used to be that your cow's calf was as safe two counties
away as it would be at home.
Before the war, McMullen County saw a
stranger maybe once in a couple months. And they didn't stay
strangers for long, most of them. Now, with so many men back home
only to find their herds scattered and gone into the brush or
across the border, and with other men coming out of the
ripped-apart east looking to find a life for themselves in Texas,
things were different.
There wasn't too many maverickers around Dog
Town, but I'd heard things were pretty frisky over along the coast
and up on the plains. We figured it was only a matter of time
before the maverickers moved into McMullen County and started
busting cattle out of the brush and putting new brands on them.
We wasn't in too bad a shape really, since
Pa had recorded our brand and ear marks in our home county and to
the south and east of us, too; that was the way our stuff would
drift. Several times since he'd been gone, we had got payment for
the sale of some of our cattle caught down in Duval County and sold
off by ranchers there. They'd just throw in our strays with their
own stuff when they had a herd size to meet, and the money from
those animals of ours would be sent along with a McMullen County
man the next time one passed through. It was considered proper for
the man who'd caught and sold the animals to keep one dollar a head
for his trouble.
Twice, found money from cows we didn't even
know we owned pulled us out of some tight spots. We never would of
known about the sales if those ranchers hadn't up and sent the
money, because I sure wasn't traveling and checking county stock
books when I was little. Those men just went on and did what was
right, although they maybe could of used that money too, times
being what they was.
You can bet I never forgot those folks down
south of us, and I don't expect I will forget them either. You just
naturally have to figure you owe folks like that. Anyway, like I
was saying before I got sidetracked, I had a lot of work ahead of
me, but I was wound up tight as any drum and raring to go. It's not
every day a gangly kid like me gets his first real job
The first Sunday of May that year...I forget
what date it was...Ma got us all up early. She usually let us sleep
in until she had a fire going and some breakfast just about
This Sunday, though, we all got rousted out
right away. I remember it was still dark like it always was when
she woke. She came in and shook the three little tads out of the
big shuck bed first. Tom, the next biggest to me, and Johnny got up
okay, but little Bo set to crying first off. He wasn't used to
being up so early.
His racket waked me up too, and I got up off
the rope cot I had made for myself. I could see Molly—she was maybe
six then—standing on the other side of the hung blanket that turned
our corner into a bedroom. She was knuckling her eyes and had her
lower lip stuck out in a pout. She kept shut, though, so I knew she
had been hauled out of bed right along with Ma for they shared the
big bed Pa made when he homesteaded the place.