They Were Salty

A story of old-time cowboys and the names, or no-names, they made for themselves. 

By Ross Santee, written August 1949

Salty 354bartlett1

Ol' Buck could see a maverick as far as any of the younger hands, but when it came to the printed word his eyesight was none too good. A waddie had left a paper with us that was all of two weeks old. Ol' Buck and I were alone in camp, and I was reading aloud to him a copy of the late Governor George W. P. Hunt's speech when he was making one of his 'many successful runs for Governor of Arizona. From the way Ol’ Buck snuffed and slung his head it was easy to see that he was not altogether in sympathy with the Governor's politics. But when the Governor, in the course of his remarks, stated that he had been afoot when he came to the territory over 40 years ago, Ol' Buck declared himself.

"Shucks," he said, "that's nothin' to brag about. I was afoot myself when I first landed here." Then Ol' Buck stated further that a sheriff's posse had killed his horse just before Buck crossed the Arizona line.

Not all of the old-timers, of course, fogged it across the line. Tom Waters was not afoot. Yet the manner of Tom's coming always interested me.

"It was the time when they was gatherin' the buffalo bones," said Tom. "I was workin' for a cow outfit in Texas. I'd been in camp for months, an' when I hit town I've got more'n a $40 thirst, for I finally wind up drunker 'n $700. Even to this day that trip is hazy to me. But one mornin' I wake up miles from nowhere. I've got a taste in my mouth as if I've just et breakfast with a coyote, an' I'm layin' alongside of the doggondest pile of bones I ever see. There's several ponies grazin' near, all saddled an' bridled. They all look familiar, too, an' it was some little time before I get it through my head that there's only one pony in the bunch, an' he belongs to me. An' this pile of bones–I've never seen such a pile of bones before, or since I'm layin' there wonderin' how I got where I am, an' what might have happened in the meantime when a feller comes ridin' up.

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" 'Want to sell them bones?' he says. I'm thinkin' as fast as I can under the circumstances.

" 'I ain't been to town in some time,' I says, 'an' I don't know what bones is sellin' for.'

" 'I'll give you $300 for the pile,' he says.

" 'Stranger,' I says, 'you've bought some bones.' He counted the money out to me in $20 gold pieces–an' I come to Arizona."

Personal questions were always taboo in an Arizona cow outfit. If a waddie wanted you to know a thing, chances are he'd tell you, given a little time. And if a puncher said his name was Smith, Smith was what you called him–even if you happened to know that all his kin answered to the name of Jones back in Texas. There was always a waddie or two in an outfit whose conscience was none too clear. Often, however, the percentage was even higher.

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