buffalo grazed, cattle were rounded up, or mustangs tossed their
tails in flight, men talked of Bijah Catlow.
He was a brush-buster from the brazada country down along
the Nueces, and he could ride anything that wore hair. He made
his brag that he could outfight, outride, outtalk, and outlove
any man in the world, and he was prepared to accept challenges,
any time or place.
Around chuck-wagon fire or line camps from Brazos to the Musselshell,
men talked of Bijah Catlow. They talked of his riding, his shooting,
or the wild brawls in which, no matter how angry others became,
Bijah never lost his temper--or the fight.
Abijah was his name, shortened in the manner of the frontier
to Bijah. He was a broad-shouldered, deep-chested, hell-for-leather
Irishman who emerged from the War Between the States with three
decorations for bravery, three courts-martial, and a reputation
for being a man to have on your side in any kind of a shindig,
brannigan, or plain old alley fight.
A shock-headed man with a disposition as open as a Panhandle
prairie, he was as ready to fight as an Irishman at a Dutchman's
picnic; and where the wishes of Bijah Catlow were crossed he recognized
the laws of neither God nor man. But the law had occasion to recognize
Bijah Catlow; and the law knew him best in the person of Marshall
By the time Bijah and Ben were fifteen years old, each had
saved the other's life no less than three times; and Bijah had
whipped Ben four times and had himself been whipped four times.
Ben was tough, good-humored, and serious; Bijah was tough, good-humored,
and wild as any unbroken mustang.
At nineteen, Ben Cowan was a deputy sheriff, and at twenty-three
a Deputy United States Marshal. By the time Bijah had reached
the age of twenty-three he was a known cattle rustler, and an
outlaw with three killings behind him.
But it was no criminal instinct, inherited or acquired, that
turned Bijah from the paths of righteousness to the shadowy trails
of crime. It was a simple matter of frontier economics.
Bijah Catlow was a top-hand in any man's outfit, so when he
signed on with the Tumbling SS's it was no reflection on his riding.
He hired out at the going wage of thirty dollars per month and
found, but the sudden demand for beef at the Kansas railheads
turned Texas longhorns from the unwanted , unsought wild creatures
into a means to wealth and affluence.
From occasional drives to Missouri, Louisiana, or even Illinois,
or the casual slaughter of cattle for their hides, the demand
for beef in the eastern cities lifted the price per head to ten
or more times its former value.
Immediately the big ranchers offered a bonus of two dollars
per head for every maverick branded, and Bijah Catlow, who worked
with all the whole-hearted enthusiasm with which he played , plunged
into the business of branding cattle to get rich.
During the months that followed, Bijah was busier than a man
with a dollar watch and the seven-year itch (when he isn't winding,
he's scratching) and he averaged two hundred to two hundred fifty
dollars a month. In those days nobody made that kind of money
on the range, or much of anywhere else. And then the bottom dropped
The owners of the big brands got together and agreed that
the bonus was foolish and unnecessary, for it was the hand's job
to brand cattle anyhow. So the bonus came to an end.
From comparative affluence, Bijah Catlow once again became
a thirty-a-month cowhand, and he led the contingent that quit
His argument was a good one. Why brand cattle for the ranchers?
Why not for themselves? Why not make up their own herd and drive
through to Kansas?
After all, most of the mavericks running loose on the plains
of Texas came from Lord knew where, for cattle had been breeding
like jack rabbits on those plains ever since the days when the
first Spanish came there. Nobody could claim or had claimed ownership
of those cattle until suddenly they became valuable. Moreover,
throughout the War Between the States most of the riders had been
away at war and the cattle that might have been branded had gone
maverick, and many of their owners had never returned from the
The cattle were there for whoever claimed them--so Bijah Catlow
banded together a group of riders like himself and they went to
work inspired by Bijah's whole-hearted zeal and unflagging energy.
He threw himself into the work with the same enthusiasm with
which he did everything else, and it was his zest that fired the
ambition of the others. Morning, noon, and night they worked,
and at the end of two months they had a herd of nearly three thousand
head ready for the trail.
It was a week later, with four of their number a quarter of
a mile away riding herd on the cattle, that Bijah awakened to
find their camp surrounded.
The first man he saw was Sheriff Jack Mercer, formerly on
the payroll of Parkman of the OP Bar, and now, as sheriff, reputed
to be still on his payroll. Then he saw Parkman himself, Barney
Staples of the Tumbling SS, and Osgood of the Three Links. With
them were twenty-odd tough cowhands who rode for their brands.
Neither Sheriff Mercer or Parkman had ever liked Bijah Catlow.
A year before, when Mercer was still a cowhand, Catlow had whipped
him unmercifully in a brawl, and Parkman hated Catlow because
the cowhand could get a girl that Parkman could not.
Bijah, who was no fool, knew he was in trouble. Glancing around
as he sat up and tugged on his boots, he saw no friendly faces.
He had worked for Staples and always turned in a good job, but
Staples was a cattleman and would stand with the rest.
Mercer leaned his big hands on the pommel of his saddle. Deep
within him the fire of triumph burned with a hard, evil flame.
"Bijah," he said, "I've got a bronc I say you can't ride. Not
if you meet the conditions."
Bijah Catlow was not sure how much they wanted the others,
but he knew they wanted him. "What's the mater, boys?" he said.
"Why the visit?"
"You're a damned, no-good cow rustler," Parkman said. "We
"Turn the rest of these boys loose," Bijah said, "and I'll
ride your bronc--whatever the conditions."
"You ain't heard the conditions," Mercer said. "You ride him
with your hands tied behind your back and your neck in a noose
. . . under that cottonwood over there."
Bijah Catlow got easily to his feet and stamped into his boots.
He was wearing his gun . . . it was always the first thing he
put on after his hat . . . and he already put both hat and gun
on when he got up to stir the fire, half an hour before. Nobody
had told him to drop his belt. After all, three of them had guns
On his own side, Rio Bray was there, and Bob Keleher--and
Johnny Caxton, of course. They were good men.
"You let them go," Bijah said, "and I'll ride your damned
Mercer's smile was one of contempt. "You'll do what we tell
you . . . and all of you will get a chance at that same bronc."
Bijah thought for a moment that Staples was going to object,
but he did not. After all, it was Parkman who was top man here.
Bijah knew that when he went for his gun.
Nobody expected it, although they all should have, knowing
Rio Bray probably guessed it first, for as Bijah's gun came
up shooting, Rio dove for the shotgun that lay across his saddle.
Rio hit the ground, rolled over, and came up on his belly with
the shotgun in his hands, and the first thing he saw was Parkman
pulling leather on a plunging horse, blood on his shirt front,
and Jack Mercer falling.
Rio fired one barrel, then another, and two saddles emptied.
The shooting and the plunging of Parkman's horse destroyed
any chance they had at the small targets that faced them in the
Catlow camp. And about that time Old Man Merridew, who had been
out with the cattle, cut loose with a Sharps fifty.
The cattlemen's posse stampeded and left Jack Mercer dead
on the ground. Parkman managed to cling to his saddle and his
horse fled with the others.
When Parkman became conscious in the big four-poster in his
own ranch house he issued the order: "Get Bijah Catlow."
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