STRUCK A BIG GAME.
How the Cowboys Amused Themselves During a Cold Spell.
Remarkable Variety of News From the Snow.
Capitalists Find a Smart Lunch-Counter Man in a Frontier Town.
Winfield Courier, Thursday, February 25, 1886.
[Denver (Colorado) Special New York Sun.]
Some of the numerous ranch and cattle owners in this city had lively times when the great January storm was in progress, and such of them as were in telegraphic communication with their foremen and bosses kept the wires hot for a few days. It was feared that the losses by reason of the cold weather would be very great, but nobody was prepared for such reports as were received from a few ranches. One capitalist, Mr. Durell, who prides himself on his ability to ascertain by wire every morning and evening exactly how matters stand on the ranch, received a telegram on the day that the storm began, notifying him that the biggest blizzard ever experienced in the West was raging and that while his cattle were all right there were reports that those of several other owners near by were in a terrible condition. Putting the message in his pocket, the owner sallied forth to commiserate with his neighbors, and when he found them, he communicated the news only to be laughed at, and messages were shown to him saying that things were all right with everybody’s cattle except his own.
Thinking on these things the cattle man meandered back to his office and sent this message to his foreman at Las Animas: “Reports up here as to condition of range cattle very conflicting Hear from outside sources that our stock bad shape. Telegraph full particulars.”
He received no answer that day nor the next, and, as the wires were down, nobody had any information to convey. On the third day, the weather being terribly cold, but the storm having subsided, the following telegrams were placed on the desk of the capitalist.
“Snow ten feet deep all over the range. Wind blowing horns off of cattle. Coldest ever seen. Have two men frozen and six others out. Cattle all O. K.
“Been out all morning. Had horse frozen. Found things first class.
“Never saw cattle stand it better. In fine condition to begin with. Don’t worry about our stock. Understand that McHenry will have a loss of forty per cent.
“Getting colder. Froze liquor in boys’ jugs last night. Some of Henderson’s stock committing suicide on railroad track.”
The capitalist sent his congratulations, instructing the boss to spare neither pains nor expense to keep everything in as good shape as possible, and asked for frequent reports until the storm was over. Then, going over to McHenry’s office, Mr. Durell read this from the foreman of that gentleman’s ranch.
“Never seen anything like this since I was in the Big Horn range. Thermometer out of sight, and everything froze stiff. More’n two hundred of our cows blown off their feet last night, but helped them up myself. Not a head lost yet. Durell and Henderson losing big.”
A comparison of notes led to a conference of several of the gentlemen having property interests in the southeastern part of the Territory, and an agreement that McHenry should go down to Las Animas and report on the situation. He left quietly, and nothing was heard of him for two days. At length Durell received a telegram saying:
“Can’t find any sign of boys. None been here in a week or more. Afraid they are frozen to death.”
This information caused everybody to regret the suspicions that had been cherished, and all hands joined in a dispatch to McHenry, instructing him to reward the lads faithfully if found. That afternoon each received two or three telegrams from his foreman in about the same strain as those above quoted, and, going over to McHenry’s office, it was found that the telegrams were still coming to him also. A further consultation ended in the transmission of a telegram to McHenry informing him that the dispatches were still coming, and that he had better make a pretty close examination of the telegraph office and the town. In reply to this came these few words.
“Have struck the biggest poker game ever played.”
Just what this meant nobody knew. McHenry was known to enjoy a hand at poker once in a while, and as it was feared that he might have been led off, Durell concluded to go down to the front and find out what the situation was. The second day after his departure Henderson received a dispatch from him saying:
“True about poker game.”
That set Henderson to thinking, and the more he thought, the madder he grew. Then he telegraphed McHenry, Durell, and his boss in the savagest way he knew how, for particulars, fumed around for awhile, looked at his watch, saw that he had time to catch the train, and started himself for Las Animas.
On reaching Las Animas, McHenry at first could find no stockmen, and he feared that the boys had been and were having a terrible time out on the range. After he had telegraphed something home to that effect, he looked the town over, and, on receiving a hint, found his way into a hall, where about all the cattlemen in that region had gathered to speculate on the value of their cards. The audience and the players grew in numbers as the severity of weather increased, and so great was the interest that an enterprising restaurant man opened up a lunch counter in the room so that no adjournment was necessary. When one man stepped out, another took his place, and the side bets were lively all the time. McHenry found all of his men, as well as those of his friends, there, and came near getting mad at first, but was persuaded to try his luck.
When Durell appeared and announced that all the owners were coming down, it was decided that it was time to quit, and the game broke up after having run day and night for eleven days. By the time Henderson arrived, all hands had scattered.
“Well, where did these telegrams come from?” he asked in blank amazement.
“Why,” said McHenry and Durell, who were ahead of the game, “they were written by the man at the lunch counter with the idea of keeping us satisfied up in Denver, and in the hope that he could keep the game running a month or two.”
“He would, too,” observed Henderson slowly as he walked away, “if he hadn’t lied so enthusiastically.