Duster Dorword's adventure of being part of a cattle drive is almost the death of him. Will he survive the harsh trail life, Mexican bandits, and a kidnapping? Rescue comes from the most unlikely place--but will it come in time?
Set in Texas after the Civil War, this is an unpretentious, leisurely western about a callow young rancher's first cattle drive. Though discursive and overlong, Duster creeps up on the reader's affections, and the story ends in a violent, gripping climax. Especially effective are Duster's encounters with bandits, traders and farmers, and his droll accounts of his many foolish predicaments. The author's sympathies for Mexicans and "gringos," as well as for both experience and youth, are gracefully balanced; but it's his knowledge of the country and ranching life that distinguish the book.
BY A COUPLE of years after the war was over, most everybody had come straggling back home; and by that time, we just had to figure Pa wasn't coming back. We hadn't had word of him since Tim Jenkins came back from Vicksburg in '63 with a chunk tore out of his back end by a Yankee minie ball—one of them that was rigged to blow up after it hit. That Yankee ball had lit in Tim's hind end and then cut loose. Tim always did sit a horse funny after that.
Anyway, Pa had sent us a howdy by way of Tim and a wad of grayback scrip that he hadn't found any takers for out east and that he figured we might be able to spend back home in Texas. That was the last word we had.
Not that I'm complaining. We'd been used to making do for a long while, and we always figured we would make out the best we could with whatever tools the good Lord laid up at our doorstep. That was the way Pa had always done—showing us more than telling us but making it stick just the same.
It wasn't that we didn't love Pa or didn't want him back. We did. But Ma said that wanting wasn't getting and we had best plan on doing for ourselves instead of waiting around and letting the home place run down.
I had been doing what I could all along since early in '62 when Pa went off with his blanket and brush knife and that big old Walker Colt that he favored.
At the time, I was just nine years old and not even able to hold up that Walker with one hand. But since I was the oldest and the biggest, Pa give me a pert little grulla gelding for my own and give me a man's rope to work with. The grulla was nice, but us kids could most always find a horse of some sort to crawl up on. What really made me feel growed was that rope.
It was a grown man's rope, not just a piece of cast-off leavings like I'd played with from the time I could make a fist around a solid hunk of something. It was Pa's own rope, braided up for him out of four-strand rawhide by Pico Menendez, all of twenty-five feet long like the brush poppers preferred, and with a metal ring honda.
I had worked that rope until I was a pretty fair hand with it. By the time 1868 rolled in on us I could throw a mangana most every time, and I was able to slip a peal onto a calf maybe one time in three. I'd been bringing calves in to home ever since Pa left so we could gentle down those ornery brush cow mamas and steal a little milk for the small fry.
I had grown considerable in that time, too. Like Pa, I never will be what you'd call tall, but I had strung out some and was showing his kind of stringy, slung-together muscle that marks us Dorword men. I guess I looked a sight then in my homespun shirt and britches and the big straw hat Ma had made herself out of stuff we had on hand. The only store-bought things I owned was a pocketknife and my bandanna, and even that was black since the red and the blue ones was in more demand and could be got rid of easier. Mr. James, the storekeeper in Dog Town, let me have my black bandanna cheap since they weren't popular. Even my galluses were made at home, and I'd carved the buttons for my britches out of some wood scraps. I had a ragtag sort of coat made out of an old blanket, too, though I never liked to wear it when there were other folks about.
To top it all off, my hair stayed pretty much down toward the bottom of my ears no matter how much Ma prodded at me to let her cut on it, and my face still run some to freckles.It was about that time, though, that I figured I oughta quit strutting in front of the little kids in our own family and set out to being the boss of our place for sure.
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