II

 

We boys, my brothers and I, saw so much of the kind of life I have been describing while we were yet too young to take part in it, that it is not strange that our young minds ran almost entirely to that sort of thing.

 

Instead of playing at games of various kinds as other boys do in these days, we played at riding wild horses, and lassoing wild cattle. True, our horses were stick horses. But each of us had our “caponero” or bank of them. The kind of work we did soon made one horse tired or too slow for the job - so we changed horses frequently. And every horse we rode bucked, or fell backwards, perhaps both.

Our horses’ behavior was most always governed by the behavior of the real horses we saw ridden. If we saw a vaquero mount a wild horse and he bucked under a tree and pulled the man off against a low limb, or ran bucking through a cactus patch, or over a pile of wood, or through a mud-hole, the next stick horse that we mounted invariably ran bucking under a tree and pulled the rider off, or bucked through a cactus patch, or over a woodpile, or through a mud hole, or whatever a real horse had done.

Our horses consisted of the straightest sticks we could cut along the creeks; from one-half to three-fourths of an inch thick, and from four and one-half to six feet long. We each had a large bundle of them. And there were a number of especially vicious animals in each fellow’s string. I remember as if it were yesterday, how we used to go out of a morning to where we kept our horses, and each one of us would select a mount for the morning’s work. How we would go through the motions of saddling – with many hitchings up of our pantaloons while doing it. Then the saddle must be slapped a couple of times after it had been well cinched. (Of course, the saddle part of it was strictly imaginary). Then the blind must be lifted from his eyes, and he must be led a few yards and turned shortly around to take the kinks out of him. Then, after much effort, we would get up close enough to him to pull the imaginary blind down over his eyes again. Then, coiling our ropes up carefully, and with another hitch at our pantaloons – (this part of it was very important) we would swing into the saddle. When we had everything properly adjusted, we would reach forward and raise the blind. Oh! What bucking, squealing, and running would take place, and some of them would throw themselves on their sides, which last habit was bad for breaking stirrups, as well as necessitating great skill on the part of the rider in getting out of the way quickly to avoid being hurt. But we nearly always got clear of these bad actors.

 

Among the men who rode bad horses, it was considered something of a disgrace to get hurt by a bad horse; for it was looked on as lack of skill to let a horse get the advantage of you and hurt you in any way. So we boys were very careful not to let them hurt us. But just the same, we frequently had some awfully close calls, when a horse, not yet bridle-wise, ran under a tree, or when a horse suddenly went to bucking when we had a big wild bull lassoed, and got one of us tangled in the riata.

The most treasured part of our equipment was our riata. Rope of any kind that would do for such purposes was awfully scarce, and hard to get. But Father used lots of tarred rope called “marlin” for tying the posts together when making the rail fence that I have described in the previous chapter. This marlin was about one-fourth inch in diameter and very strong. It was strictly against the rules for us boys to take any of this, but rules or no rules, something of the kind must be had, and was had. A piece of marlin about twenty feet long with a running noose was as fine a riata as any young vaquero could wish for – and Father could not always be on the watch. Mother had a long clothesline of hemp rope stretched from the corner of the house over to the corner of the chicken-house – some eighty feet perhaps. She also had a shorter line – some twenty-five feet, perhaps, of small cotton rope. We used to gaze with longing eyes on the little cotton rope and think what a riata it would make. But I would have no more thought of taking it than I would now of going down and stealing the boots off a policeman. So imagine my surprise one day, when one of the bunch – whose name I will withhold – appeared at a roundup we were having, with this very cotton rope. He had a running noose made in it, and it sure was about all that could be desired when a boy was talking about what he would like to have for a riata. The rest of us rode up around him and admired it with perfect wonder. “But Mother will make you bring that back,” we all said in concert. “Oh! no, she won’t,” said he, “she has five times more clothesline than she needs, and will never miss this short piece.

 

We all thought it a great honor to have such a fine riata at our roundup, but our honors were short lived. That very evening Mother demanded to know what had become of her cotton clothesline. And it had to be brought back and put up again, just as it had been before. And we were all told what would happen to all of us if it ever disappeared again. After that, what pleasure we got out of that rope was gotten admiring it where it hung doing duty as a miserable clothesline.

 

Our cattle were the various old dry pieces of driftwood, and the various old rotten stumps that could be dragged in from the surrounding hills and canyons. But the best of all were the old bleached heads of dead cattle that were lying about where they had died during the dry years of the past. These, with the long crooked horns still on them were simply ideal. To be able to tell the other fellows that there was a big steer of yours running up in a certain canyon, and asking them if they could spare time to go up and help bring him in, was enough to bring joy to the hearts of the whole gang. Then there would be the saddling of our best horses – no half-broken horses for this kind of a job. And we would all ride off and come up to him in a way to prevent his getting into the brush, before someone could get a riata on him. Then, the fellow that got the first rope on him started towards home at the top of his horse’s speed, with the big, wild, long-horned steer in mad pursuit. And it was the business of the other fellows to get their riatas onto him as quickly as possible, and string him out between us, so as to prevent him from horning any of the horses. In this way we brought him in, bellowing and fighting, and after throwing him down and taking the riatas off of him, he must be carefully herded with the other cattle that had been brought in on previous occasions. We had often seen the real vaqueros throwing wild cattle to take the riatas off them. This is done, when they desire to let a steer loose; that is, lassoed by the neck or horns, by another man lassoing his two hind feet, and with one horse pulling one way and the other pulling in the opposite direction he is soon down on his side. Then the one who has his hind feet will ride up rather close to him, and taking several turns around the horn of the saddle, will rein his horse back on his haunches, and hold the steer from getting up while the other man will slack his riata, ride up close, dismount, and quickly take the noose off his neck or horns. Then he will lose no time in getting back into the saddle, for the steer will be struggling to get up, and if he does, it is a very dangerous place to be caught on foot. As soon as the man who has dismounted to remove the riata from the steer’s head is back in the saddle, the man holding him by the feet will slack his riata, and the animal will immediately get on his feet – and he will surely be on the fight in dead earnest now, so everybody must keep out of his way. If he can be gotten back among a lot of other cattle he will soon quiet down, as a general thing.

 

Another thing that was often done when throwing an animal to take the riatas off him (especially if there were a lot of people around on horse-back) was to let the steer up the instant the dismounted man pulled the riata off his head. Of course, the steer would be on his feet and after the man on foot in an instant, and the poor fellow would have to make a dash for his horse and mount him on the run, amid the shouts and laugher of the crowd. I have seen this trick played many times, but always considered it too dangerous to be funny.

 

We small boys, though, used to get no end of fun letting our imaginary wild steers get up and chase the fellow who was off his horse. And there was many a flying mount made, after pulling the riatas off some old, bleached-out cow’s head.

We each had our ranch house. There were many big green bushes or clumps of shrubbery in the various canyons, and each fellow had one of these selected as his ranch house. Where many cattle run, they nearly always have all the clumps of bushes trimmed up underneath where they stand in hot weather and when flies are bad. We boys could therefore walk around under the thick foliage of these bushes and they made fine “ranch houses.”

 

We also had a number of imaginary neighbors who lived under certain other bushes. They were all named, and some of them were good neighbors, and some of them were very hard cases, who would corral our cattle and charge us heavy damages, without any reason whatever. There was “Old Jack,” who lived under a sumac bush up on what was known as the White Hill. He kept cattle, too, and was a fairly decent old fellow. Then there was “Old Dick.” He did not raise stock, but was a fairly good neighbor. He lived under a hollyberry tree up near the Buzzards’ Canyon. But “Old Stewart” who lived under a clump of mountain mahogany bushes away up on the north side was a bad lot, and gave us no end of trouble. We frequently found cattle and horses of ours that had been shot by “Old Stewart.” Many were the plans we laid to get even with him, and many a rock was fired into his house as we rode by. Then there was “Old Conafony.” He lived out in Mushroom Canyon and was a pretty good fellow for a while, but later on he got in the habit of bothering us in various ways, and finally got to associating with “Old Stewart.” After that we would have no more to do with him.

 

I often think now of how real these imaginary characters were to us. We talked of them just as if they had really lived under those bushes. We spoke of having met one or another of them while out riding. And sometimes one of us would tell the others of having seen such and such a horse or cow that had been shot by “Old Stewart.” They were all old. It seems queer that mere children, as we were, should discuss imaginary characters that were all old, but such was the case.

 

I think it was in 1872 (when I was five years old) that a school district was organized in our neighborhood. It was called Hope District. The south boundary of the district was what was then known as the San Elijo Creek which opens into the Pacific Ocean just south of what is now the town of Cardiff. The west boundary was the ocean. The north boundary was the Agua Hedionda Creek, which opens into the ocean just south of what is now Carlsbad. Just how far east the district ran I do not know. I do not think there were any other districts laid off at that time to the east of us, unless it was at Julian. And I am not sure there was one there that early, though there may have been. There was a school at San Luis Rey, twelve miles north of us.That was organized at about the same time as our district, I think. The neighbors got together and built a little rough wooden school house. I think it was fourteen feet square, with one door and two small windows, and no floor but the earth. There were only three families that sent children to school, but those three sent twenty-five. These families I will name: Mr. and Mrs. Feeler lived at what is now called Green Valley and sent nine children, although some of them were certainly no less than twenty-one years of age. Mr. and Mrs. Adams lived about one mile east of what is now known as the San Marcos (Bataquitos) lagoon or slough. They sent nine. Our family was represented by seven. So it is plain there was no race suicide among those old pioneer families.

 

That little school house was sure pretty crude with its dirt floor. I very well remember when I was a very small boy, we had a cranky old fellow for our teacher whom none of us liked very well. The fleas got pretty bad in the dust of the dirt floor, and seemed to annoy him more than they did the pupils. He used to throw water on the floor to drive fleas out, and we small boys (who were all barefooted) would pick up the wet clay with our toes, make mud balls and when we thought the teacher was not looking, throw them across the room at someone. I can also testify to the fact that sometimes when we thought the teacher was not looking we were mistaken. He sure had a way of “treatin’ ‘em rough.”

In 1877, an addition of some ten or twelve feet was built on to the back part, by digging into the hill to get room for it. The teacher (a very nice man named Mr. Kay) with the aid of the schoolboys did all the work of building the addition. If the little building looked crude before, it looked still worse after that addition was put on. The hill had to be dug away so that there was a bank several feet high at the back, and the dirt was thrown out in great heaps on the sides, which made the poor little thing look like a little house growing out of the hill. That was the only school I ever attended.

 

In 1872 Uncle Robert decided that he had far more horse stock on his range than he needed, and tried to sell off several hundred head. The best offer he could get for them was nine dollars per head. And that offer was from a man who had a U.S, Government contract to furnish meat to feed the Apache Indians in Arizona. Those Indians would just as soon, or a little rather, have horse meat than to be furnished with beef of any kind. Uncle Robert refused to take this man’s offer of nine dollars per head, and decided to drive a band of horses and mules out to Sale Lake City, in Utah, where he had been told there was a ready sale for them among the Mormons.

 

As Uncle had a large number of stock to look after and quite a number of men in his employ, it was impossible for him to go with this drive to Salt Lake. So he got my father to go in charge of the drive.

I think it was in April, 1872, that they started with four hundred head of mares, mules, and young stock. They planned to make the drive in three months, and to be back in four months at the most. But they had all sorts of trouble, with lack of feed, and the stock getting poor and run-down. They had to stop several times where they found good pasture and let the stock feed up for a while. When winter came on they were up in central Nevada, near the town of Austin. The winters are very cold up there and lots of snow. They built a log cabin and went into winter quarters at that place. In the spring the stock was so poor from going through the hard winter, and feed was so late coming, in the cold, bleak part of the country, that it was summer before they could start on. Of course they knew there would be no sale for poor stock, and they must get them to their destination in good condition if they hoped to sell them. The result was that Father did not get back until the fall of 1873, being gone eighteen months, instead of four, as was expected.

 

Mother was left at the ranch all that time with the children and no man to help with the ranch work. My oldest brother, Matt, was riding for Uncle Robert, and then about sixteen years old. Brother Charley was the oldest boy she had with her, and he was about ten years of age. Uncle saw to it, as he had agreed to before Father left, that the family had enough to eat, but I know it was a great hardship on Mother to be left in such an out-of-the-way place, with such a big family to look after.

Father came back as far as San Francisco by rail, then by steamer from there to San Diego. (There was no railroad in this part of the State at that time. There was a stage-line between San Diego and Los Angeles, and the road ran about a mile and a half west of our house. Father would come out from San Diego on that stage-line, and it passed by our place somewhere along about ten o’clock at night. Mail was very uncertain in this part of the world in those days, and Mother did not know just when Father would start back home. I remember just as well as if it were yesterday, of a neighbor, a Mr. Johnson, coming to our place one morning, and showing Mother a San Diego paper in which there was a list of names of passengers coming from San Francisco by steamer. And among those names was the name of Matthew Kelly. I remember how Mother cried with joy at the good news. And of how we planned to all walk down the mile and a half to the stage road, on the evening on which we thought he would get home. There we built a big fire of dry wood, and sat down around it to wait from about six in the evening until ten that night, when the stage came along. And Father leaped off that stage before the driver could bring it to a stop. It was a happy family that walked back up that valley that night, with Father carrying my little sister (who was born the year after we arrived in this country).