Family Cattle Drive
By Abbi G.
Dedicated to Lilly, Hanna, Claire, and Lainy!
“Grandma, please tell us another story. You’re stories are always the best.”
Andi smiled down at her five grandchildren. “I’m not sure if there are any I haven’t told y’all. Let’s see.” Andi closed her eyes and drifted off in thought as her grandchildren watched her, enraptured.
“Ah! Did I ever tell you about the time when your grandpa, Uncle Jared, Uncle James, Aunt Ann, Aunt Ellison, Aunt Belle, Aunt Lizzey and I went on a family cattle drive?”
“No, Grandma. Tell us, pretty please,” Little Thomas begged as he looked up at her.
“Well, it began like this…” Andi closed her eyes and was back on that first evening the excitement began.
They were all sitting around the table enjoying dinner one night.
“Pa! Can I please go with you on the cattle drive?” Jared begged, hopefully.
“Well, son. I think that’d be a good experience for you if it’s okay with your mama.”
“Mama, may I please?”
“Now, hold on just a second,” Ann began, frowning.
“I have begged to go on a cattle drive, Mama!”
“Me too!” Ellison looked hopeful. “Can we please go, Mama?”
“I wanna go too!” Belle was quick to voice her opinion.
“You are girls. That means you can’t go on cattle drives, but I can. If Jared gets to go, I get to go too.” James glanced at his sisters scornfully.
The room exploded in arguments.
“Enough!” Riley raised his voice enough to be heard above the clamor. “None of y’all are going unless your mama and I okay it. Well, Mama, what do you think?”
Andi smiled, thinking back on the time she was determined to go on a cattle drive of her own. Her mother had let her, and she had learned a great lesson. Why not do the same for her children?
“Well, Mr. Prescott, I believe we should make a family affair of it. What do you think?”
Her children stared as if she’d gone crazy.
“Well, I think that’s a great idea, darlin’. We’ll have to leave day after tomorrow. I advise y’all get a bag together. Not very much, just one or two changes of clothes. No snacks, boys. Cook is coming to fix our meals. That’s who you girls, and you, James, will be helping most of the time.”
The boys turned bright red, remembering the time they had tried to sneak some snacks on a trip. It had not gone as planned, but that’s a story for another time.
“Yes, sir.” Their voices rang out in unison, and all of the children rushed to prepare.
The day arrived more quickly than anybody realized, and the group took to their saddles, leaving their quiet life at home behind.
Andi rode Shasta, Riley rode Dakota, and Lizzey rode a paint stallion. Ann rode an Arabian, James and Jared both rode black stallions, and Ellison and Belle both rode a palomino.
Everyone was doing great for the first day. The excitement hadn’t faded, and they had all worked incredibly hard to prove they could keep up.
Andi rode along with Cook and helped him prepare the meals. At dinner, the children could barely hold their eyes open. The quiet word passed through the group that Jared should be the target of the prank played on all new to cattle drives.
Andi remembered being the target of the very same prank with a different story years ago.
One of the men began telling the old falsehood, and Andi noticed how exaggerated the story had become about the man who had gone missing while on a cattle drive. The story proceeded to tell the horrors he had faced, and how he was determined a person from every cattle drive that came through would join him.
The light from the campfire cast eerie shadows around the group, and even Andi felt herself getting caught up in the story.
“Rumor has it that he still walks these woods, right here in this area. And every now and then he’ll sneak up on a group of unsuspecting drivers and…” He paused.
All the children watched, wide-eyed with horror and fascination.
“When he sneaks up,” Wayne began again, “he settles his eye on one innocent person around the fire. He sneaks up closer and closer until—”
Bruce, one of the other men, had crept up behind Jared. The man let out a war whoop and lifted Jared from the log he was propped on.
The children screamed, but none screamed as loud as Jared. He struggled and kicked, not realizing who held him.
“Settle down, son!” Bruce cried, trying to avoid the flailing limbs.
Jared slowly stilled and began turning bright red as the realization of what has taken place dawned on him. He laughed a little but didn’t meet any of the other men’s eyes for the rest of the night.
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. The sun was already turning the earth warm at five-thirty in the morning, and it was barely visible.
“It’s going to be a hot day. Everyone make sure your canteens are full for the day, and don’t push yourself too hard.” Riley was concerned for his men, and for his family.
“James, I need water!” Cook shouted.
“Yes, sir!” James grabbed a bucket and took off into the trees. The day was miserably hot, and the group was sweating mercilessly. Also, the horses and cows were miserable. They stopped as often as they could, but that wasn’t nearly enough.
The back of Cook’s wagon felt like an oven, and every time Andi leaned over, sweat poured into her eyes. She had forgotten how miserable this was. Why, oh why, had she offered to go on another cattle drive?
All of the sudden, Riley came up shouting. “Whoa! Cook, stop the wagon!”
The chuckwagon lurched to a stop, throwing Andi into a shelf, and rattling the dried pork. Andi stuck her head out the wagon to see Riley riding towards her.
“Where’s James, Andi?”
Andi’s heart sank. “I don’t know!” she hollered in return.
Riley turned Dakota quickly and headed away at a gallop.
Andi braced herself and jumped from the wagon. She was going after her son. She mounted Shasta with one smooth motion and galloped toward the herd. Sure enough, upon her arrival, she saw James desperately trying to outrun an angry bull.
Riley was riding up beside him, his face determined. He leaned over to grab James, when Dakota sensed the bull’s anger. Dakota sidestepped and reared, and Riley lost his grip on the saddled, and he was thrown from the horse. He scooped James and tried to throw him out of the way.
“Run, James, run!” Andi watched, helpless, as the bull’s feet stomped inches from her husband’s head.
Riley made it to a kneeling position when the bull’s feet came down straight on his leg. His face twisted in pain, and he dragged himself away as the bull turned to rejoin the herd as though nothing had happened.
“Pa! Pa, are you okay? Mama, what happened to Pa?”
Andi urged Shasta toward her husband, calling for James to remain in the same place. She dismounted and ran to Riley’s side. “What happened, Riley? Are you okay?”
“Shh,” Riley soothed, reaching up to wipe her face, “Stop cryin’, darlin’. Everything will be okay.”
Andi hadn’t even realized she was crying. “What happened, Riley. Why can’t you stand?”
“My leg is broken, Andi. He came down on it hard. If you can help me up, I may have to hold onto you, but we can make it back to the wagons.”
Andi glanced up, and her heart stopped. All of their children were riding toward them. Ann screamed as they neared.
“What happened to Papa?” Lizzey cried.
Ellison was frozen in the saddle but was the first to dismount and run to her father’s side. The other children did the same, leaving their horses unattended. The herd was restless, and as the horses mingled with them, a couple began to stamp their feet.
“Be quiet,” Andi urged. “The herd is ready to stampede.”
The group helped Riley stand and he hobbled on one foot back toward the wagons.
Before anyone could speak, a scream came from behind. “Papa!”
It was Belle. “Is Papa okay?” She left her horse and ran towards them.
However, her voice sounded like a rifle shot in the quiet air. With the sudden noise, the herd began to stampede, and the horses with them. There was nothing to do but watch as the herd stampeded by, leaving a thick, impenetrable cloud of dust behind.
After their coughing subsided, Riley was the first to speak. “Well, at least they’re headed in the right direction, I’ll send all the men after them, and we’ll all have to ride in the wagons. None of us got a horse.”
“Oh! Shasta! Will he be okay Riley? They won’t run him to death, will they?”
“I doubt it. I figure they’ll tire and stop before that.”
The group began trudging toward the wagon, helping Riley hobble as best they could. Back at camp, with some sticks and bandaged, Cook made a makeshift splint, but Riley was wagon bound. The fussing began early.
“Papa, I’m hot.”
“Papa, I’m hungry.”
“Papa, I’m tired”
“Pa, can we please at least walk beside the wagon?”
Cook put a stop to the complaining. “Yes, yes, you can. All of y’all get out and run get me some water. I want every one of your buckets full. Then, you girls can go cleanup, and then the guys will.”
The children did as told, none of them willing to brave Cook’s wrath. They all stumbled back dripping with sweat and water and caked in dust.
The mosquitoes were out in full vigor, and Andi was regretting her decision with a passion.
Two days later, it was still hot when Andi’s worst nightmare came true.
“Mama,” Belle began, “I don’t feel too good.” Her face was pale despite the heat, and then she collapsed.
Andi’s mind began to race as she called to Riley. They finally got Belle situated in the back of the wagon.
Andi turned to Riley. “There are so many mosquitoes! Is it malaria? Riley, what if she dies? It’s all going to be my fault. We are stuck out here with two wagons, and nothing else. She could die.” Andi dissolved in tears.
“Andi, darlin’, the Bible says that all things work together for good to them that love God. Ellison is in God’s hands. She’s strong. She will make it. All of our girls take after their mother, and that is one thing that I am eternally grateful for. They have spunk, and they are full of life. She’ll be okay, Andi. We just have to put it in God’s hands.”
That night, they caught up to the men and the herd.
“Well, boss.” One of the men looked discouraged as he spoke, “We caught up to the herd when they stopped, but the horses are gone. We looked around, but they plum disappeared.”
So, Riley, Andi, Jared, James, Ellison, Lizzey, Ann, and Belle were all still horseless. They hadn’t brought any other horses, and Belle was in dire needs of a doctor. They soaked the girl’s face in cool cloths, but nothing would bring her fever down. She tossed and turned, and even seemed delirious at times.
The days trudged by, everything seemed to move in slow motion. Then, one day, several horses and riders were spotted heading towards them.
Well, this is a fine kettle of fish! Andi thought, Everyone else is out with the herd, I have a daughter that’s dyin’ and a husband with a broken leg! God, could this get any worse?
Andi immediately felt sorry for the anger she had directed at God. She remembered Riley’s words of wisdom and prayed. Lord, I’m sorry for not comin’ to you the second things went wrong, but I’m coming to you now to tell you I put my trust in you. I trust your word, and I believe that everything will work out for the good. Thank you, Lord!
Andi shaded her eyes to see the horses and riders coming closer at a fast trot. She sighed, then went to meet them. They had some extra horses with them, but none Andi recognized.
“Hello? Can I help you, men?” The men looked shocked to see a woman.
“Uh, yes, ma’am. We’re from Silverton. A town about a day’s travel from here. We had about six horses come lighten into our town about a week ago. We figured somethin’ musta happened for that fine horseflesh to be all alone. So, we decided to come see who lost ’em.”
“Well, praise the Lord!” Andi shouted. “It was indeed us. I have a husband with a broken leg and a daughter who seems near dying. You see, we were out when the herd went on a stampede, and then my husband near got trampled, but that was before the stamped, you see. Then--”
“Ma’am, no offense, but perhaps we could just talk to your husband?”
“Oh! Yes, splendid idea, sir. Please, follow me.”
The men and Riley conversed for a while, and it was decided that Riley and Belle would travel back with a couple of the men as fast as possible to get them both to a doctor. The other men would stay with the wagons and help guard them, as well as help out with the herd.
There was a place in town where the cattle could be kept, they were assured, and they would be staying in town until everyone was steady on their feet, and Riley could wire for some more men. Then Andi and the girls would head home by train while Riley and the boys saw the herd to its final destination.
One week later had the whole family gathered around Belle’s bedside in Silverton. She was doing a lot better, and the doctor had simply said it was a high fever brought on by exhaustion.
“Well,” Riley began from where he sat, his leg now properly splinted. “We’ve been through a lot as a family, but we persevered. We all stuck it out and look where we made it to. We are all safe, cool, clean, and dry. I think we ought to take turns thanking the Lord. How about oldest to youngest? I’ll start. Thank you, Lord, for seeing us through this trial. Thank you for your protection and seeing us through as a family. Thank you for bringing us closer together. Amen.”
“Lord,” Andi felt tears choking her, and they slid down her face, unchecked, “Thank you so much for seeing us through our troubles. Lord there are so many things that could have gone wrong, but they didn’t because you were in control. We thank you for your ever-loving care and unconditional love. Amen.”
Jared cleared his throat,
“God, thank you for protecting us and seeing us safely to town. Thank you that Belle is feeling better, and that Pa’s leg is doing better. You are very good to us, Lord. Thank you. Amen.”
“God,” Ellison was struggling for words, “I was so scared that we weren’t going to make it, but you showed me that you are in control, and that nothing will happen that you won’t take care of us. Thank you for your love. Amen.”
It was Lizzey’s turn, and she began boldly,
“Thank you, Jesus, that we are safe. Thank you that Jared was brave and took Papa’s place when Papa got hurt. Thank you that you healed Belle. You are really good, and thank you for always being there. Amen.”
“Jesus,” It was Belle, “You saved us from a lot of bad things. You saved us from dying or getting hurt real bad. Like worse than Papa or me was. Thank you that I feel better. You showed me that I can trust you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”
James audibly gulped, “God, you are real good to us. We are all okay, and we are all safe. Thank you that Mama and Pa were strong and helped us. Thank you for protecting us. Amen.”
“Lord, you were with us the whole time, God. You knew what was gonna happen, and you helped me to only be a little scared. Thank you for that verse Papa told Mama about all things workin’ out okay. It really helped me. I love you, God. Amen!” Ann ended her prayer with conviction.
“Amen!” Everyone chimed in.
“Ann, how did you know what I told Mama? Were you eavesdropping?” Riley looked at her, sternly.
“What can I say, Papa? You’re a wise man.” Ann giggled, and it was infectious. Everyone began laughing and Andi laughed and cried happy tears. She was so thankful to be here laughing with her family!
“All of that happened to you, Grandma?” Thomas’s eyes were wide.
“Yes, dear. God was so good to us.”
“I think I have a new favorite verse, Grandma.” Rose smiled. “All things work together for good to them that love God. Right, Grandma?” Andi smiled and wiped her eyes. Oh! God was so good to her family.
“That’s right, honey. That’s right.”