Chuckwagon: Sourdough Biscuits

          Sourdough biscuits were a delicacy whether on the trail or at the ranch.  Once a cook got a good sourdough starter he cherished it like a baby.  On the trail he would store it in a dark, cool place in his chuck wagon.  Here is one cooks recipe for a sourdough starter.

                                                2 cups of lukewarm potato water.
                                                2 cups flour.
                                                1 tablespoon sugar.

           Make potato water by cutting up 2 medium-sized potatoes into cubes, and boil in cups of water until tender.  Remove the potatoes and measure out two cups of the remaining liquid. (The potatoes can be used for the evening meal.)  Mix the potato water, flour and sugar into a smooth paste.  Set the mixture in a warm place until it doubles its original size.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

George Custer’s Favorite Scout

William Averill Comstock was a military scout who could, “easily read all the signs Indians left for the information of other Indians, could interpret their smoke columns used in telegraphing, and after a party had passed, could tell with remarkable accuracy from its trail how many were in the party.”
 
Comstock was the prototypical military scout. He earned the name “Medicine Bill,” because he bit off the finger of a young Sioux woman who had received a rattlesnake bite.
 
But William Comstock had a secret past. Not that he was some bad criminal on the run, but the opposite. He was the grandnephew of James Fenimore Cooper. You see, Cooper wrote about the “noble savage”, and the whites on the western frontier hated Cooper’s romantic tales about the savage Indian.
In August of 1868 a band of Indians attacked a village near Hays, Kansas.
  
Comstock and another scout named Abner Grover were sent to the camp of Cheyenne chief Turkey Leg to see if the rampaging braves could be brought under control. While in negotiations, Turkey Leg received word that the military had killed several Indians in retaliation. The negotiations were over, and on August 16, 1868, while traveling home Comstock was killed.
 
Now, the interesting thing is that William Comstock was George Armstrong Custer’s favorite scout. One of the few people Custer would listen to. The question is, would the Little Big Horn have taken place if Comstock had been riding alongside of Custer instead of dying eight years earlier?

Indians and the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887

Stephen AustinBy the late 1880’s most Indians were living on reservations. The reservations were under tribal ownership, with a communal style of control and use. Since it was the custom of white people to desire individual ownership of land and since many people felt that land ownership promoted industriousness, it was decided that the tribal ownership concept should be changed.
 
So, on February 8, 1887, the Dawes Severalty Act was passed. It gave the government the power to divide Indian reservations into privately owned plots. Men with families would receive 160 acres, single adult men got 60 acres, and boys received 40 acres. Women received nothing.
 
Except for women receiving nothing, it sounds like a pretty good deal, right? There were two problems. First, Indian culture was such that land, like air and sunlight wasn’t something that individuals owned. But the even greater problem was that it was a thinly veiled attempt by the government to take reservation land out of the hands of the Indians. For once the allotments were divided among the eligible Indians there were 86 million acres of land, or 62 percent of their holdings, left over. This land was available to be sold to anyone.
 
Even though friends of the Indians supported the act, it never produced the desired effect of assimilating Indians into white culture. In addition to the loss of lands, the Indians lost tribal bargaining power, and resentment developed that the government was trying to destroy traditional cultures.
 
Few people felt the Severalty Act was accomplishing its purpose, but it continued as law for forty years. Finally, in 1934, the Wheeler-Howard Act was passed that ended further transfer of lands from Indian hands, and made possible communal ownership to any tribe desiring it.

Old West TV: Texas John Slaughter

Texas John Slaughter was cheated out of his win by Barney Gallagher. To retrieve his money, Slaughter went all the way to New Mexico, where he found him on Chisum’s ranch and shot him down. Dakota Livesay gives us an explanation of this and also how Tombstone was won!

Old West Book Review: Riding For The Brand

Riding For The BrandRiding for the Brand, 150 Years of Cowden Ranching, Michael Pettit, University of Oklahoma Press, (1-800-627-7377), $19.95, Paperback. 320 pages, Notes, Bibliography, Photographs, Index. Best Southwest History Book, New Mexico Book Award.

Author, rancher, researcher and historian, Michael Pettit is a Cowden family descendant who chronicles his sentimental journey about trailing his family history in this book.  His ancestors began migrating toward Texas in the 1850s, seeking land and opportunities in a country where few white settlers had gone before them.  From place to place, the Cowdens found fertile valleys and water thinking this was their final stop.  However, drought and vagaries of Comanche wars plus uncertain boundary lines caused them to move yet again.  Over the years they migrating all the way across Texas and eventually into New Mexico where some family members remain today on their 50,000 acre ranch near Santa Rosa, in the western part of the state.

Pettit follows his family trail using personal letters, oral accounts, plus newspaper stories and legal documents found in libraries and courthouses.  He visited lonely graveyards, always seeking the names of relatives who passed this way. They were born, lived, fought the elements, while standing up to every conceivable difficulty that made ranching pioneers tough.  Cowdens lost family members from old age, childhood plagues and ranch accidents, but still they persevered.

Life for the Cowden women going back to the old days was never easy. Early graves are scattered across Texas, showing how many of these women died young.  We can only imagine the hard work and drudgery on these ranches combined with moving to new locations and setting up households yet again inside hardscrabble shacks and raising large families many miles from friends and neighbors, town and supplies, or doctors and medical attention.  These ranch women put in long, hard days and learned self-sufficiency.

While discovering facts about his family, Pettit finds a wealth of information about the land, weather conditions, Indian culture, economic woes, the oil business, cattle raising and cowboy life.  He delves into old time cattle drives, and the stories of cowboys who worked for the ranchers.  The book explains how early ranchers eventually organized Cattle Raisers Associations to protect themselves from rustlers and other woes.  Brand inspectors were hired, while new brands and symbols were registered.  Ranchers shared information regarding disease, vaccinations, predators, and opportunities in the cattle market.

Meanwhile, Pettit spends time on his relative’s ranch in New Mexico, telling the history of the outfit while helping with modern day ranch work.  The horses, the branding, the care of livestock and life inside the bunkhouse telling tall tales for entertainment makes reading a combination of Old West history entwined with present-day life on a large working cattle ranch.

Pettit’s storytelling is straightforward, honest, and always with an eye for accuracy.  He keeps a diary which in itself is filled with important data as he makes the rounds each day.  He knows his family, understands the people and tries to explain how life on these ranches is never easy.  As the book evolves, it becomes apparent that modern-day Cowdens have continued their ancestral way of life.  Perhaps they now have telephones, pickup trucks and other modern conveniences, but this rugged existence is never easy and certainly not for the frivolous or faint of heart.  However, the Cowdens wouldn’t have it any other way.

Riding for the Brand is warmly written and gives readers a wonderful insight into modern day ranching as well as an appreciation for the old Texas cattle ranching days.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including Silk and Sagebrush, Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 www.silklabelbooks.com

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

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