By Paisley Kirkpatrick, taken from the November, 1961 issue of the Real West
Cattle king of Texas, Colonel C. C. Slaughter awakened his ten year old son Bobby in the cold darkness of a Dallas hotel room on a night in 1881. He told his son to hurry and dress in his lightest outfit and leave off the jacket. Bobby jumped out of bed and did as his father asked. The Colonel took his son to a nearby livery stable and roused the proprietor. He made a quick deal for a thoroughbred mare and a light English riding saddle. After lifting the small boy upon the horse, he placed a canvas sack in the saddle bag and handed the lad a slim envelope.
Patting the boy’s knee, he said, “Bobby, I’ve got a job, a mighty important one that only you can do because of your size. You’ve got to ride to the Long S ranch without stopping except to change horses. You must beat the Englishmen who left here three days ago. When you arrive, give this envelope to my foreman. He will know what to do. There’s $500 in gold in your saddle bag to buy fresh mounts. You can do it son, you’ve got to — or we lose the Long S and half a million dollars. Your mother and I will start tomorrow and we’ll meet you at home in a few days.”
“Sure I can do it,” Bobby answered. “I can ride like a real hand now and I can even help break horses.” Flicking his spurs against the sides of the mare, Bobby was off in a flurry of hoof beats that rang out shrilly in the silent darkness of the winter night. The chill air hit his thinly clad body like a spray of ice water but the small boy galloped on.
Five days before the fateful night, the colonel had sold his ranch, the Long S near Big Spring, to a group of men, one who claimed to be of the nobility representing an English syndicate and had taken a British bank draft for a half a million dollars in full payment for the land and all holdings thereon. After giving the Englishmen a written order to his foreman to transfer the Long S, slaughter had rented a carriage and dispatched the new owners toward the ranch at his own expense.
When Colonel Slaughter presented the draft to the Texas Land & Mortgage company, a Dallas branch office of an English loan corporation, the firm refused to hand over the cash without an investigation. A cablegram was sent to England and the loan company manager, suspicious of the English “lord” and his party, remained open that night awaiting the answer. His doubts proved correct. The answering cablegram revealed the men were imposters and the draft quite worthless. Slaughter, who had started on a shoe string and built the Long S into a mighty cattle empire, felt a stab of naked hopelessness. He had been taken to the tune of half a million dollars.
He came up with a hair-brained idea, but if it worked he wouldn’t lose everything. He’d send his son…the only chance he had.
Bobby galloped through the cold dark night. It wasn’t yet dawn when he reached Fort Worth where he watered the mare at a public drinking trough. The thoroughbred kept up a steady running gait into Weatherford, her slick coat was lustrous with foam and sweat. Bobby hastily bought a fresh mount.
On and on bobby rode over the austere Palo Pinto Mountains, heading ever westward to Clear Fork near Phantom Hill. He stopped only for water over the weary miles through the unmarked, rough country.
His horse started to limp. He headed toward the next ranch and when the horse near collapsed he ran by foot to the ranch. The only horse they had available was a mustang that had been ridden only once. Bobby told them he had to go on and asked them to head the horse in the right direction and put him on the horse’s back. The hands roped the rearing horse, blinded him, headed him west and threw the saddle upon his back. Bobby leaped in the saddle. The mustang reared and bucked, but Bobby stayed on. Then the animal bolted, running westward with the speed of the wind. Gradually the animal became accustomed to his light burden. He began to move with such exactness and precision that he lapped up the miles and sent the endless prairie whirling behind him. By dark Bobby found himself in the foothills of Taylor County.
Darkness dropped and with it came the cold. He hunched low over the mustang’s neck to absorb what warmth he could. At dawn he headed toward Rock Springs which he knew was near a river bed. He and the mustang desperately needed water. Bobby’s heart sank when he found the Englishmen camped at the river. He hastily skirted the camp and pushed his weary animal on toward the Long S. Now it was with the greatest effort that he held his eyes open. At noon he realized he was within the boundaries of his father’s ranch. He was so tired that the countryside began to blur. He wrapped his arms about the neck of the mustang and urged him on.
At two o’clock that afternoon a Long S line rider saw a thin veil of dust on the far horizon. As it moved slowly nearer, he saw that it was preceded by a moving dot which gradually emerged into the shape of a slowly moving horse with a prone figure on its back. He summoned the ranch foreman and together they rode out to meet the mount and its burden. They found Bobby unconscious with his hands clasped tightly around the mustang’s neck, so sound asleep they couldn’t rouse him. But, the foreman found the envelope with Colonel Slaughter’s orders in the lad’s shirt pocket.
Leaving the lone rider to bring in the tired horse, the foreman gathered Bobby in his arms and galloped post haste to the ranch where he sent out a call for the entire Long S crew to assemble at the ranch house.
In the late afternoon the Englishmen drove up with a flourish. Haughtily the bogus “lord” demanded the Long S. Suddenly the coach was surrounded by the grim faces of the ranch crew. The foreman spoke only a few words, but the Englishmen realized their lives were in danger and immediately left the ranch.
A few days later colonel Slaughter and his wife arrived by carriage. They found their ten year old son fully recovered from the long ride and the Long S sill Slaughter domain.
Written for the Real West publication by Louise Cheney