Did you know there are two rivers called "Red River" in the U.S? Yup, there’s a Red River of the North, which forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. This stream flows northward into Manitoba, Canada.
Crossing "Big Red" was a dangerous business. During dry periods, sand bars with treacherous patches of quicksand posed deadly traps. When heavy rains flooded the river, it became a raging torrent capable of sweeping away cattle, horses and men. Three different crossing points were used over the years. Doan’s crossing lay on the Western Trail, used during the later years of the trail drive era.
|Crossing The Red River|
"Red River, this boundary river on the northern border of Texas, was a terror to trail drivers. The majestic grandeur of the river was apparent on every hand, with its red bluff banks, the sediment of its red waters marking the timber along its course, while the driftwood, lodged in trees and high on the banks, indicated what might be expected when she became sportive or angry. The crossing had been in use only a year or two when we forded, yet five graves, one of which was less than ten days made, attested her disregard for human life. It can safely be asserted that at this and lower trail crossings on Red River, the lives of more trail men were lost by drowning than on all other rivers together."
Acting as our guide despite being legally blind, this kindly man directed us to the exact place where Texas herds crossed the Red. He told us why this bend in the river was so popular as a crossing point, describing how the river current carried cattle toward the north bank as it rounded the bend, and pointing out the low, accessible banks on both sides of the river. I used these facts for staging the cattle crossing in DASHING DRUID.
|Red River between Texas and Oklahoma|
Photo courtesy of TheChisolmTrail.com
Ahead, Lil spotted her father riding back from the river. He’d escorted the wagons to Pegleg Dave’s ferry. Noting his wet duds as he rode up, she surmised he’d also helped Luis and Jubal take the remuda across.
"Chic made it all right, the horses too," he shouted over the commotion.
"Pegleg’s fightin’ his way back now. Then he’ll haul the other wagon across. I’d feel better if you’d go with him."
"Pa, I’m not some frilly pink pretty in corsets and lace," she shouted back, slapping her rope against her saddle to keep the cattle moving. "I’ve never taken the raft across and I ain’t doing it now."
He glowered at her. "Sometimes you’ve got too much spunk for your own good, girl. The river’s come down a lot, but she’s still boiling."
"Yeah, and you’re gonna need every hand you’ve got to get these steers across. We both know that."
The creases around his mouth deepened. She thought he’d argue, but he didn’t. Tugging on his hat, he snapped, "Missy, you watch out for yourself, you hear?"
"I will. Quit worrying."
"Easy for you to say," he grumbled, kneeing his horse ahead.
Lil knew how he felt. She couldn’t stop worrying about Tye. Dang man! He was loony as a jay bird to take on the river all tore up like he was. She hoped he wouldn’t drown or be gored by a panicky longhorn.
He’d cornered her at the picket line a while ago and had apologized for the other night. One look at his pleading blue eyes, and she’d found it impossible to stay mad. Not that anything had really changed between them. She still needed him to leave her be. No matter how much she longed for him, she’d be loco to give herself to him. She had no future with him. He’d made that plain, hadn’t he?
Big Red’s ominous rumble drew her attention. A moment later the river came into view. It was lower all right, and the water was less choked with debris than the last time she’d seen it, but it was still moving plenty fast.
"I’ll take the lead," Pa called from the bank.
"We’ll be right behind ye," Neil replied for them both. He sent Lil a wry grin. "Time ta get wet, Lassie."
"Oh well, I need a bath," she joked, making a face.
He grinned but didn’t reply as they ran the lead steers down the cut toward the water. Her father rode his powerful sorrel into the flood and Jefe plunged in after him. The other leaders followed, prodded by the crowd behind them. Bellows of protest trumpeted over the water.
Neil urged his horse into the torrent. Having sent her boots, carbine and six-gun across in the hoodlum wagon, Lil tapped Major’s flanks with her stocking-footed heels. The chestnut splashed in, snorting, and Lil caught her breath as cold water engulfed her nearly to her armpits. Small geysers showered her throat and face.
"Good gravy, it’s cold enough to freeze your teeth!" she cried, clutching a handful of Major’s mane as he struck out from shore. He was a strong swimmer, or she might have needed to slide off and hang on to his girth strap to avoid weighing him down.
"Aye, and a few places farther down," Neil called from the opposite side of the herd.
Mildly shocked, Lil glanced over at him and laughed. Then she got down to business. Guiding Major against the strong current, she nudged a confused longhorn back into line.
Her father was almost halfway to the north bank, with the lead steers at his back. They were carried along by the current as the river rounded a bend and tumbled toward the far shore. That helpful bend in the current was the reason they crossed here year after year.
Shouts rang out behind Lil as the other hands drove more steers into the river. Alongside her, the swimming cattle formed a mass of heads and horns. Nothing else showed above water, but beneath the surface, their powerful legs churned. They could handle the rough water if they didn’t panic. It was up to her and the other drovers to make sure they didn’t.
|Available on Amazon|
At least half the herd was across now, and most of the men were in the water, Tye included. Minutes ago, Lil had seen him driving cattle into the river. He was supposed to bring up the rear with Kirby, but he must have traded places with Dewey, because the black cowboy wasn’t in sight. She knew why Tye had done it; he wanted to keep an eye on her. She was certain of it because she’d caught him watching her with a worried look on his face.
He was as bad as her father. She wanted to shake him. All cut up like he was, he was the one who had no business in a raging river, not her.
She spotted him near the south bank. From the way he moved as he swatted a wayward longhorn into line, you’d think there wasn’t a thing wrong with him. The dumb galoot! Chic would likely have to stitch him up all over again. She shook her head in exasperation and turned her attention to the cattle. A moment later, she was nudging a steer back in the right direction when all hell broke loose.
"Lil, look out! Tree comin’!" Tye shouted.
Jerking her head around, Lil saw an uprooted stump headed straight for her. She gasped and kicked Major hard. He plunged forward just in time to avoid being rammed by the snag.
Several longhorns weren’t so lucky. The tree stump barreled into them with a sickening crunch of horn and bone. A few sank and were carried away along with the stump; others bawled in terror as they collided with their neighbors. Panicked animals milled in all directions. More went under, and some didn’t resurface.
It was move fast or lose dozens of cattle. Unmindful of danger, Lil headed Major into the tangle of bovine bodies. Neil, Jack, and the others did likewise, yelling and lashing out with their ropes as they fought to stop the mêlée. Luckily, they were over the sandbar; that made things a little easier. After several moments, all the steers were finally headed north again.
Lil glanced around for Tye. He’d swum the big roan he rode out to help. Bobbing in the water about twenty yards away, he met her gaze, and a relieved look spread across his face. She was just as relieved to see him safe. He smiled and waved, and she returned the gesture. Then she noticed how sluggishly Major was moving.
"Sorry, boy, I should’ve cut you loose to rest," she said, patting his neck. "Let’s head for shore."
They’d just left the sandbar behind when a wild-eyed sabina steer swerved out of line toward them. Lil tried to guide Major out of the way again, but he couldn’t react fast enough. The longhorn hooked him in the shoulder with a sharp horn. Screaming in pain, the chestnut pitched over sideways.
Lil cried out and heard Tye shout her name; then her head went under. Water filled her nose and throat. She kicked frantically, managing to break free of the thrashing horse and propel herself upward. She broke the surface coughing, fighting for air.
Major managed to right himself, and Lil grabbed for him. She missed as the tricky current carried him away. He kicked feebly; she was terrified neither of them would make it.
"Lil, I’m coming!" Tye cried, her terror slamming into him, doubling his fear for her as he forced his horse between two thrashing steers that blocked his way.
Lil twisted in the water to look at him. Then a wave slapped her in the face, dragging her under again. Tye held his breath the instant she did, experiencing her fear and desperate will to live as she fought her way upward amid the thrashing longhorns. She surfaced and he gulped air along with her, then silently cheered when she grabbed onto the horn of a passing steer. Its owner bellowed and tried to shake her off, but she clamped an arm around his thick neck and clung to him.
"Hang on, Lily!" Tye shouted, heart beating like a drum.
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