"Pidge," Texas Ranger
By Chuck Parsons
Texas A&M University Press Copyright © 2013 Chuck Parsons
All rights reserved.
The Austin Letters
The letters T. C. Robinson wrote in Austin, prior to joining up with the Texas Rangers, reveal his sense of humor, dry wit, and self-effacement as well as his extensive knowledge of language and literature. There are more poems among the pieces written for the Daily Democratic Statesman while in Austin, some original and some paraphrased, than in his later work. No doubt the Austin atmosphere was more conducive to this type of writing than were the dangerous settings he later encountered in DeWitt County, with its feuding Taylor and Sutton forces, or on the risky Rio Grande frontier. Each item is presented as it appeared in the Statesman with the date of publication as well as date of composition, where provided.
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Daily Democratic Statesman, April 26, 1874
DRIVING TEXAS CATTLE
The following is an extract from a letter by a young man formerly employed in the STATESMAN office to a friend in Virginia:
By nightfall we arrived at the ranch of Mr. D—, near which was the camp, and far out on the verge of the prairie I saw my first herd of cattle, and nearer by, around the fire, were grouped the herders; not a man in the party knew, or wished to know, the name of "any other man," but each one had a nom de fantasie which answered every purpose; besides every State in the Union, there was "Lying John," "Shanks," "Cigarette Jim," and others. "Supper's ready," said "Fort Concho," as he placed a tin basin as large as a wash tub full of blistered biscuits on the grass, together with a hay-stack of fried bacon and two huge pots of black and bitter coffee. "Can I eat now," I asked meekly. "You can or not; just as you dern please. Fork me a biscuit, you d—d kioty (to Concho). "Will you take sugar and cream in your coffee?" "If you please," I replied. "I'd admire to see you take either," was the reply. "We're jest ut, but we've sent up to the sto for some, and if their sugar's as sweet as their whiskey's mean, nine ounces will last you to Cheyenne. Shanks throw that stopper out there where that dog can smell it; there's too many stray dogs around here for luck." "We've fixed four with it," he added to me, "they jest take one whiff and double over without a kick." By this time the herd was passing to the corral. None of the mooleys and Devons, but wild-eyed, devilish looking brutes, with curved horns as long as lightning rods and fronting skywards. Occasionally one would break from the herd and strike on an excursion to the country. A vaquero, with jingling spurs and red leather calzoueros [sic] would gallop after him, and taking his tail in his grasp, give it a dexterous twist around the horn of his saddle, apply his spurs, and the next moment Mr. Boss would be "busted." Should he persist in going on, then this exciting tail was "continued in our next" until he joined the herd, a sadder and wiser beast. The next one came down upon me like the wolf on the fold, and I only saved myself by tumbling into a gulch which was fortunately convenient. I was not afraid of him, but I considered that ravine a good opening for a nice young man. This fellow was lassoed; the curling rope was swung out and embraced both horns in its noose, and the next instant the points of that steer's compass were mixed up, and he was steering on another tack.
The next morning I was awakened by a rough shake. The sun was up and the herd was en route for the prairie. "Young man, do you calculate that you can sleep this way on the trail?" I replied that I had no doubt of it, if I was not disturbed. "Well, you'll be right apt to be disturbed, if you go with me," rejoined the "boss." In vain I assured him that I could not sleep on as fast a schedule as the rest, and would be compelled to have more time. He was inexorable, and ordered me to rise and help brand a lot brought in that morning. The long, narrow gangway, called a shoot, was crowded full; in a large fire near by were five or six strange looking, long-handled irons, which I, who had never seen a brand, imagined were instruments of torture belonging to the Spanish Inquisition. One of these desperate beasts objected to being crowded. I placed myself before his eyes to turn him, but he turned me; with a tremendous leap he went over me, and his sharp hoofs striking on my head, led me to suppose that he was the identical bovine into which Jupiter transformed himself when he wooed Europa, and that his thunderbolts were confined in his hind legs; in that brief period I regretted ever having left the peanut business. The first words I heard when I recovered consciousness were from the "boss": "You ought to have gotten out of his way," said he. I had never agreed with this gentleman in anything before, but now my opinion was very similar to his own. As soon as I was able I took a seat on the high fence; I did not wish to be in the way of the men who were driving in the cattle; after they were wedged in, the iron was applied to each in succession, the one who floored me was last, when I beheld his sufferings, I could not refrain from shedding tears—I was so sorry I did not have hold of the iron so that I could lift it from his poor back and apply a hotter one; there was a small calf in the shoot which was branded all over, literally covered up with brands—in fact, to use a westernism, more than branded, for the burnt hide had peeled off and was hanging round him like a fringe and rattled as he walked; after a long examination a keen-eyed chap who must have been with Livingstone, discovered a small space behind his left ear was clear, a large "K B" was applied—which I suppose meant "keep branding." I was now told to mount one of the ponies and help to drive these to the herd. I had not, as you well know, ridden a horse for a long time. I mounted, somewhat fearful that this pony would go a-ripping and a-tearing around and do himself some bodily injury perhaps in his vain efforts to get me off. But no; he walked off like a lamb for a short distance—a very short distance. Then I felt his back commence arching upwards like a rainbow. "Good, gentle horse," said I, "he is preparing to stretch himself." I soon found out that it was the rider he was preparing to stretch, and I then dismounted—I did not alight exactly on my feet, but that was on account of his illtimed officiousness in assisting me. If these ponies were better trained, they might help one to get off in the popular mode, but as it is, they are decided failures. They do not make the necessary allowances for time and distance to the ground. I led this horse down to the camp, and told the boss that circumstances over which I had no control, compelled my immediate return to the city; the wagon was going in on that day. I made me a couch of my blankets and valise and waited for a little breath to fill my lungs before I bid adieu to the sweet spot where I had passed such a brief, but lovely time; the wretched cause of my trouble stood at my head quietly nibbling grass. I called "California" to my side; I knew nothing on earth could ever break him from swearing, and I murmured to him feebly the glowing words of England's laureate:
Prophet cuss me the pitching "rip"
And cuss me the Texas devil I rode;
I know not whether he goes on the Wyoming trip,
But I'm certain he never, no never, will carry his load.
Cuss him now; he is standing here at my head
Not beautiful now, not even kind,
You may take him now, for one never knows his mind,
And that is the reason his rider is nearly dead.
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Daily Democratic Statesman, May 17, 1874
[For the Democratic Statesman]
Dedicated to My Sister
Tender and true, so darkly tried,
I joy me, when the night doth fall,
Which gives me visions sweet, of all
Our happier hours, by day denied.
I gladden when the dark descends;
Then fancy bears me home again,
Ceases the heavy toil and pain
The heartsick, weary exile ends.
I see thee at thy household cares
I hear thee cheer our aged sire:
O sister! nobler, purer, higher,
Thy fate-defying love appears
Than if my madness had not been;
Self exiled I, far from thy sight,
I know thy love hath reached a height
Which earthly eye hath seldom seen.
I picture that sweet time to come;
I take thy hand, I kiss thy cheek,
I hear thy gentle voice speak
Sweet words of "welcome brother home!"
Our mother from the happier shore
Smiles sweetly on us; from the skies
She seems to say "their miseries
Hath only made them love the more."
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Daily Democratic Statesman, June 7, 1874
[For the Democratic Statesman]
THE DULL SEASON
Austin, June 4, 1874
My Dear W.—"Go West, young man," until you get to Austin, but be sure not to arrive there during the dull season; if you do, and meet with the unprecedented success which has attended my efforts, you will be apt to walk home, unless you can beat nine conductors and the clerk of a steamer out of a ride. Do not come here in the summer, for I have often been told that it is the dull season; I have no doubt of the truth, for I have been told so many times. Austin is, by far, the prettiest and healthiest town in the State, and it is actually a pleasure to breathe the pure and invigorating air of this loveliest of lands; the only drawback is "the dull season." I have listened to that phrase until it is indelibly impressed upon my memory; I have heard those words until they seem to be written on my brain in characters of living fire; that tiresome expression has been dinned in my ears till it seems like "passing away" to be "written on the sky." Never in all my life have I heard the same words used so often by such a number of people; when I converse with a citizen of Austin now, I await the utterance of these words with trembling anxiety; I am in a speechless agony until they are spoken, for I am certain that not a single individual in the town has ever held them in and lived; after they are uttered a calm serenity takes possession of my mind again, for only a few have ever inflicted them on me twice, and even these assured me that it was through inadvertance [sic] and forgetfulness. When I came back here from the country trip in the blistering Texas sun, I followed the reddest nose up and down Congress Avenue that had ever been seen there, I suppose. This and "the dull season" kept me out of a situation for a long time. I went to every house on one of the principal business streets of the city. "Nobody wanted; the dull sea—." When they got thus far I would make a rush for the door, for I wished to have my spasm in the open air. On several occasions I was pursued, the proprietor thinking me a grab thief, but I would finally succeed in convincing him that I was only trying to escape from "the dull season." Finally I went to a sample room which I had patronized extensively in more prosperous days: the bar-tender appeared to be overjoyed to see me; I asked him to employ me as an assistant: that I had discovered a peculiar method of making the meanest kind of benzine [sic] till it could not be told from the nectar of the gods; "young man," said he, "are you aware that the dull season has commenced?" I told him I had only heard so about forty-five thousand times and did not know whether to believe it or not. "Yes, it has commenced, and if you had not returned I would be left desolate indeed. I sincerely hope you may get a good situation conveniently near, but for me to take you would be the most absurd thing I could possibly do. If I keep you outside I may, perhaps, worry through the dull season." I tried to get employment from the sexton of the cemetery, "couldn't afford it as the dull season has set in and nobody was dying." I strolled into a barber's shop; while being scraped, I heard an assistant ask the gentleman in the next chair if he would have his hair trimmed. "No," he replied, "the dull season has—" "Gag him with your strap; daub suds in his mouth; cut his throat with the razor; don't let him say it till I get out of here," I shouted wildly to the barber. When he finished getting off what little skin the sun had left, I handed him a quarter. To my great surprise he gave me back a dime. "How is this," I inquired; "you have reduced your rates." "Yes, sir: it is on account of the dull—" I caught up his largest razor. "Say it, if you dare," I shrieked in agony, "and, by Heaven, I'll be the death of you. I know it has commenced: it began with that implement of torture which you have just used, and has spread like the whiskey crusade. Tell me of a place where the lively season has commenced, and I will spare your worthless life." He whispered in my ear the word "frontier." I went immediately to the captain of a frontier company who happened to be in town. I fell upon his neck. "Let me," I implored, "join your command and lend my feeble assistance towards keeping back the copper-colored fiends from the sacred soil of this, my adopted State"; (forty dollars a month), "Let me add my mite to help save our frontier citizens from the horrors of the scalping-knife"; (and rations). "Allow me to devote my services towards saving our women and children from a fate worse than death"; (arms and equipment furnished). "Let me strike a stroke under the Lone Star flag, for I am literally full and running over with martial ardor"; (pay to be drawn quarterly). His company was full he told me and left me in despair. I looked after him and yearned a yearn, for I envied this "rangier" with an envy surpassing that of women; happy soul! thrice blessed scalp-hunter! he at least was going where there was no dull season.
At last I got a situation in a printing office; here will I make my fortune thought I; after years of toil, I may get to be local editor and if I puff as well as some will have lots of money, cigars and things showered upon me without money and without price, get invitations to balls, free tickets to theaters, dead-head the railroads and enjoy life to the fullest extent. The first step towards this shining goal was cleaning up a huge cylinder press, with more machinery about it than is contained in the hull of the Great Eastern. After a man reclines on his back, reaches upwards and scours a printing machine for four hours with a rag saturated with kerosene oil, he does not sport quite as delightful an odor about his person as if he had bathed in nightblooming cereus. I had to be soaked in the tank for four hours before the compositors would allow me to come up stairs.
Then I was given some cards to print; I did them quickly, and stood proudly before the job compositor to hear the words of commendation fall from his lips, but I did not hear them, nor have I heard them yet. "Did you do this job?" "Yes, sir," I promptly responded. "Well, take them down and put them in the furnace and bring up the form; there may be one or two of the type not mashed out of all shape." I finished this, my first lesson, by washing the form with soap and a rag, and the job compositor was in despair. A few days afterwards I overheard him tell his assistant that I reminded him strongly of the King of Terrors, for sooner or later, I got my gripper on every form; he assured me that as a "job presser" I would never attain any very great pre-eminence, but thought from the happy faculty I had for mashing things, that I would succeed as a cotton presser beyond my most sanguine anticipation.
One day I found a local, the end of a sleeping car had been smashed in a collision. Here was a chance for me to immortalize myself, so I headed it as sensational as possible:
Dreadful Accident on the Central Railroad—The Sleeping Car Collides with the Train—A Brakesman is Thrown over four Coaches and falls, head-foremost Into the Smoke Stack— The Locomotive turns bottom upwards, and ploughs its way across the Prairie, leaving a path of ruin and desolation Behind it ten Miles in extent—The Engineer Still at his post—"Farewell Vain World"—Report of the concussion heard forty miles—Incident of the Accident—Awful doings, etc., etc. (Continues...)
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