"Camel Huntin'" by Will C. Barnes

"Did any of yez ever go camel huntin'?" asked the cook, who had been listening to some tales of bear and lion hunting that had been going the rounds of the men about the chuck wagon.

"Camel hunting?" cried the horse-wrangler, a look of astonishment on his face. "What on earth do you mean by camel hunting? We ain't none of us ever been to Afriky."

"Camel huntin' is jest what I said," replied the knight of the dish-rag, flourishing that useful article in the air as he mopped off the lid of the chuck box.

"Do you mean sure enough camels, camels with humps on 'em like what we seen at the circus in Albuquerque las' fall?" queried another doubting one.

"Faith an' I do that," answered the cook; "an' what's more, I didn't have to go to no Afriky to hunt 'em neither."

"Whar did ye find any camels hereabouts, 'ceptin in a circus?" asked "Tex," an old-time puncher who had followed the chuck wagon for thirty years.

"Right here in Arizony, me lads," said the cook, with an affirmative nod of his red head.

"Gee!" and the wagon boss looked incredulous. "Camels in Arizony! Who ever heard tell of any of them critters down this-a-way?"

Pat by this time had finished his after-dinner work, and while the team horses were eating their grain, he sat down to peel a panful of potatoes in readiness for the evening meal.

"Tell us about them there camels, Pat," begged one of the boys.

"Sure," with a grin, "I don't mind givin' yez a little bit of enlightenment on the subject of camels, seein' as none of yez ever heern tell of thim before now. When I first came to Arizony, ye know I was a sojer in the regular army, in the Sixth Cavalry, the gallopin' Sixth, they called it in them days."

"Aw, give us a rest, Pat, about your army days, an' tell us about them camels," for the Galloping Sixth and its adventures was an old story to the boys.

"Well," he resumed, "we was scoutin' down the Santy Cruz valley, west of Too-sawn, a lookin' for old Geronimo and his murderin' gang. One night we was camped in a little openin' in the mesquites, wid guards out on all sides ag'in a surprise, when somethin' stampeded every hoss in the herd an' left us plumb afoot, exceptin' them the guards was a-ridin'. Next morning when the captain asked the sargint of the guard what made 'em stampede, he sort of grinned an' looked sheepish like.

"'Captain,' ses he, 'ye'll not be after thinkin' me a dirty liar, but, sor, by the blissid Saint Patrick I'd be willin' to swear that the animiles that set them there crazy hosses off like a bunch of skeered sheep were nothin' less nor camels—camels, sor, with two humps an' long necks on 'em; the same as I be seein' in the maynageries whin I were a lad.'

"'Camels, sargint?' sez the captain, lookin' sort o' puzzled like. 'Do ye surely mean what ye be a-sayin'?'

"'That I do, sor,' sez the sargint, 'an' the men on guard with me will bear me out—at least them that glimpsed them.'

"Then the captain he sort of grins an' sez, 'That's all right, sargint; I'd plumb forgot there used to be a lot of camels herabouts on these deserts, an' 'twas probably some of thim.'

"Then the captain, he bein' a fine old sojer man, with no frills or grand airs with the men when out on a scout, tells the sargint that before the war Jeff Davis (that same Jeff, by the way, what was Prisident of the Confideracy, he bein' then Secretary of War) gits a fancy that camels was the very trick for usin' out West, for packin' stuff for the troops. So old Jeff he gets Uncle Sam to send 'way off to Afriky an' import a lot of thim an' sint them out to Texas an' Arizony on the deserts.

"But the packers couldn't get used to them, an' besides, they stampeded ev'ry horse an' mule in the entire southwest with their queer ways an' ungainly looks. So one day the quartermaster at Yuma he turns out a lot of thim with a 'Good-bye to yez, an' God bless yez, an' here's hopin' we niver meet ag'in,' slappin' the nearest one with a halter shank to sort of hasten him on his way. They took to the deserts like a duck to water, an' the captain said 'twas doubtless one of thim that the sargint seed."

"How about huntin' of 'em, Pat?" asked an interested listener. "You sure didn't stop to hunt camels then, did you?"

"Hunt camels thin!" snorted the cook with disgust. "By the powers 'twas precious little opportunity we had for camel huntin' thim days, with old Geronimo onto his job ev'ry day from sun-up to dark. No, my son, 'twas ten years or more later whin I went camel huntin'. I was workin' for the M. C. outfit, up to Williams, an' they had a contract to deliver some beef steers to the Injun agent at the Moharvey reservation down below the Needles on the Big Colorado. We'd had an elegant summer for rain, an' the desert was covered with grass an' water. So the old man decides to trail them across the country, an' we takes the herd an' struck off down the mountain towards the head of the big Chino Valley an' then on west till we struck the Bill William's fork of the Big Colorado down which we was to drift till we reached the main river.

"We started with a young moon, an' by the time we hit the Bill William's fork the job of night herding was a plumb picnic, so far as the steers went. We had them all as do-cile as a bunch of trained pigs; an' what with the grand feed to handle them on we'd never yet lost a single one of them nor had a stampoodle of any kind.

"We bedded them oxen down one night in a great open valley after an easy day's drive. There was only five of us, four with the steers, an' me, cook an' horse-wrangler, we havin' everything on four pack mules, which I drove with the remuda.

"That night Billy St. Joe asked me if I wouldn't take his guard for him, he bein' about sick all day with nuralgy. So when I was called along about midnight to spoon them for two hours I jumps an' was soon joggin' around the bunch, which was all a-lyin' down as decent as one could wish fer. 'Twere hard to keep awake, an' I reckon I must 'a' been a-noddin' in the saddle, for, the first thing I knowed there was a snort an' a cracklin' of horns an' hocks, an' away went me steers like the very old divil himself was behind them.

"I pulled meself together, slapped old Shoestring down the hind leg with me quirt, an' put spurs after them, hopin' to turn them. Old Shoestring snorted an' kept them sharp ears of his workin' an' looking' back over his shoulder like, as if he was a-feered too. I hadn't been sidin' them fer more than a hundred yards when, hearin' a snortin' an' a gruntin' behind me, I takes a look meself over me shoulder, an' such a sight as me eyes did get.

"'Twas sure no wonder them steers was a-runnin away, fer right behind us was three great figures with long necks an' humps on their backs like two water kegs a-settin' up there. They wasn't gallopin', nayther was they trottin', but jist a-shufflin' along over the ground like ghosties, an' every once in a little while one of them gives a grunt an' a gurgle which sent them oxen wild with terror. Hangin' to these creatures was long strings of somethin' more like a lot of ragged clothes than anything else, an' what with the flutterin' an' wavin' they resembled a lot of animated scarecrows.

"When we first set out on our race with thim ugly divils a-follerin' of us, the three night horses tied up in camp, takin' wan look an' sniff of them teeterin' figgers a-puffin' an' a-gruntin' in our rear, jist quit the flats wid the rest of the live stock, an' as we tore along we picked up every mother's son of the other horses, them all bein' foot-loose, an' a-hangin' round with the pack mules.

"By the blissed saints, but me an' that Shoestring horse was havin' a lovely ole time of it all by ourselves, for, with the night horses gone, thim lads back in camp had nothin' to do but set there an' lave it to me to hang an' rattle with them. Thim shufflin' monsters behind didn't seem to want to git past us, but jist kep' at the heels of the drags, an' it's mesilf's a-tellin' ye that every toime I'd take wan hasty glimpse of thim 'twould be the cold chills I'd be after havin', an' me a-cursin' the night I ever took Billy St. Joe's guard fer him.

"What wid the fear in his heart, an' good work wid me 'pet makers', I makes out to git old Shoestring up clost to the leaders. I'd also managed to get me slicker untied from the back of me saddle an' was wavin' it in their faces, hopin' by thim means to git the bunch turned an' millin', an' maybe thim lost sowls that was a-follerin' us wud leave us in peace an' quiet.

"Thim three saddle horses a-runnin' an' rompin' an' snortin' in the midst of the steers wasn't helpin' matters, ayther. Iv'ry toime wan of the stake ropes what was a-draggin' after thim struck the hocks of a steer he'd give a wild beller of fright, and thin the entire bunch wud put on a few extra bursts of speed, an' thim preambulatin' scarecrows behind wud do a little more gruntin' an' gurglin' an' make matters all the worse.

"'Bout this time old Shoestring, bein' occupied principally wid lookin' over his shoulder an' takin' stock of those wanderin' hoboes behind, failed to notice a big ole badger hole like an open coal hole in a city sidewalk, an' steps wan of his front legs square into it an' turns a hand-spring, landin' in a bunch of cholla cactus, wid me under him. Whin I come to my sinsis, which was some minutes after, I finds meself afoot on the desert an' it just a-gittin' gray in the east.

"Barrin' a big gash across me cheek, where I digs me face into the ground as me old Shoestring lit, I was none the worse for the fall, 'ceptin' of coorse a large an' illigant assortment of cholla barbs in me anatemy. Comes daylight I limps back to camp, for I were in no fix for ridin' till I'd lain fer two mortal hours flat on me stummick on a saddle blanket—an' me as naked as a Yuma Indian kid in July—whilst Billy St. Joe done a grand job of pullin' them divilish cactus barbs from various an' prominent portions of me system. Thim infernal things stuck out of me carcas till, as one of the byes remarked, 'I was more porcupine than human.'

"'What skeered your cows, Pat?' says Jim, the boss, as I come cripplin' into camp. 'Sure an' if I knowed I'd tell ye,' sez I. They was all a-lyin' that ca'm an' peaceful as wan could well wish fer. Thin up they hops an' immigrates. Me an' old Shoestring we busted out after 'em, an' as we tore along I glimpsed a bunch of hairy, wobbly-legged monsters a-follerin' us, a-groanin' an' a-gurglin' like a lot of hobgoblins from hell,' sez I.

"'Git out' sez Jim; ''twas aslape ye were, ye an' old Shoestring both, an' he had a bad dream an' bucked ye off into a cholla'.

"'Not on yer life,' sez I, mad enough to fight a grizzly between the grin on his face an' the stingin' of the cactus barbs in me back.

"The boys managed to get the horses rounded up, an' all the steers together by noon, but too late to move camp that day. That afternoon Jim sez, 'Git yer gun, Pat, an' come wid me.' So I saddles up me pony, slips me Winchester into me scabbard, an' him an' me rides off from camp.

"'What's up?' sez I.

"'Nothin', sez he, 'only over here a ways I struck the curiousest tracks I ever seen in all me life; an' me a-knowin' the sign of every critter that ever walks on legs in this here country.' We soon struck the trail Jim had seen an' it sure were a new one on both of us. So we follows it up, feelin' it was our juty, as law-abidin' citizens, to run down an' kill all such disorderly, outlandish creatures that was a-runnin' at large. 'Twan't long before we comes to a ridge a-lookin' out over a little valley, an' leadin' our horses we footed it fer the top of the ridge, an' peekin' over we seed down in the middle of the flat three hungry lookin' yaller divils. ''Tis me wanderin' rag-bags what skeered the herd last night,' sez I, triumphant like—after Jim accusin' me of goin' to sleep on guard an' dreamin' things.

"'I reckon you're right,' sez Jim, with a grin on his mug.

"They was a dirty yaller color, an' what wid the bare spots all over thim, like sheep wid the scab, Jim sez theylooked more like a lot of mangy coyotes than anythin' he iver seen in all his life. ''Twas sure no fault wid thim steers that they all gits up an' stampoodles whin such a bad-smellin', evil-lookin' lot of monsters come a-driftin' down on top of them,' sez he.

"'Twere not so hard to git closer to thim, an' whin we finally gits as near as we thought we could, an' not skeer thim, we each picks out wan an' let him have it where we believed it would do the most good. Mine never ran ten feet; Jim's fell down within a quarter; the third wan struck off down the valley at a great rate, an' Jim, bein' hell-bent fer ropin' things, hollered, 'Le's rope it, le's rope it!' an' jabbed his spurs into his pony an' tore off, takin' down his rope an' makin a loop as he wint.

"'Rope him if ye will,' sez I, lammin' me old digger wid me quirt, 'but it's meself that ropes no outlandish heathin thing lookin' more like it come out of old Noah's ark than a daycent, respectable range critter'. But I follered along as fast as I could git me pony to move, him bein' none too anxious to git close to the slobberin' cross between a step-ladder an' a hayrack, that was lumberin' along ahead of us.

"Jim's pony was a darlin' to run, an' as he was a-gittin' closer for a throw I sez to meself, 'If iver that crazy lad ahead puts his line on to that there travelin' maynagerie he's a-follerin' he's a-goin' to need help to turn it loose, sure.' So I waits fer the outcome, feelin' certain I'd be needed before long.

"Bimeby Jim he gits a good chanst fer a throw an' drops his line over the long, ungainly head in front of him; but the rope, instid of grippin' the critter's throat, slipped back an' drew up ag'in its breast, an' whin Jim tried to check him up the pony couldn't hold him. Whin the hard jerk come Jim's flank cinch busted, the pony begins to pitch, an' between the pitchin' an' the saddle drawin' up on the pony's neck, poor Jim lost out an' went up into the air like a shootin' star, landin' on his head in a pile of rocks. The saddle stripped over the pony's head, an' away went the whole outfit, through brush, over rocks, across washes, like hell a-beatin' tanbark. The rope bein' tied hard an' fast to the horn, Jim's new $50 saddle wint danglin' along behind, like a tin can tied to a dog's tail. When Jim come to, a few minutes later on, he wiped his hand across his face, looked at the blood on it, an' sez to me, sort of foolish like, 'What struck me, Pat?'

"'I reckon 'twas wan of Jeff Davis's camels,' sez I."