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"Cowpuncher's Paradise" from Complete Western Book

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Complete Western Book
Cowpuncher's Paradise
by Ellis Parker Butler

This cowboy's name was Eddie Bruce and he was the real thing. He could rope and tie a steer as pretty as any man you ever saw. It had been so long since he had been able to find an outlaw horse that could buck his foot out of a stirrup that he had long since quit thinking a horse was anything but a sort of vehicle, and dozens of times I have seen him run a bull and slip from his saddle with his hands on the bull's horns and throw it as easy as a kid can sling a rabbit. He was a real cowboy. And handsome. Everybody called him "Vally" because he was as handsome as the late Rudolph Valentine, only more so.

That was when he was punching the doggies on Joe Renner's Circle-J ranch. He rode in there one day after Bill McCarty had turned the Lazy-M into a dude ranch -- all city folks and flappers and fat old dames who had to be held on their ponies so they didn't spill off on one side or the other -- and the reason he drifted in was that Joe Renner's was the last ranch left between the Arctic Circle and the Mexico line that was raising beef to be beef. I blew in there for the same reason; it was the last hold for us genuine cowlads. All the rest of the West had gone parlor, as we called it, meaning it had gone movie or something; it was all show stuff, kept up in a sort of picture way to get the money of those Easterners who go crazy over that sort of thing and like to think they are getting some of the real wild and woolly at so much per week, but if there ain't stuffed olives for breakfast they up and howl.

'Cowpuncher's Paradise' by Ellis Parker Butler

So that was all right. Old Joe Renner was a rough old coot with tobacco juice on his chin and he had about as much society manners as a coyote. We felt safe on the Circle-J because Joe hated these dudes like poison, but he up and got something the matter with his inside and went and died, and his nephew Orestes Renner got the ranch and the first thing he did was sell all the cows except enough to look like atmosphere, and put an ad in the papers saying all this about healthy air and getting a taste of the real West where men were men, and when he told the cook to scrub the kitchen floor we knew it was all up -- the Circle-J was being duded.

Eddie Bruce and me talked it over as man to man and I told him I had been expecting this for some time and was going to get me a needle and some black thread and a pair of tweezers and be an umbrella mender, but he asked me to hold off a couple of days.

"I got an idea, Henry," he told me. "Us dang fools of cowboys ain't laid away back on the shelf by no means. You wait; I just sent a telegraph to somewhere and if I get a right answer you and me will be all right yet."

So I held off from buying the thread and needle and the tweezers, and a couple of days later Eddie Bruce come to me with a telegraph he had got and we was all fixed.

"You got any money, Henry?" he says to me.

"Well, Eddie," I says, "when Joe pays me off and I pay what I owe the fellers and Joe deducts what he advanced to me I'll have six dollars and thirty cents, unless I figgered it wrong."

"It ain't enough," said Eddie. "I thought maybe you'd be in partnership with me in this Bar-None ranch I'm going to start up, but seems like the best I can do is to take you on as foreman, Henry."

"Well, that suits me," I said. "I ain't ever been foreman yet, but I ought to be good at it. Where's this Bar-None ranch going to be at, and how long before you make it dude?"

"It ain't ever going to go dude," said Eddie, "and you can bet your sweet life on that, Henry. I got the greatest proposition ever was."

"Well, you ought to get a lot of cows cheap," I said, "with all the ranches going dude this way."

"There won't be any cows," Eddie said. "I'm through with cows."

"I thought you said it was going to be a ranch," I said.

"You bet your life it is," Eddie said. "Out in the wild and open, where men can be men and don't have to be Harold Lloyds. We're going to have ten thousand square miles of range where there ain't hardly a human being to the hundred thousand miles and there won't be a fat old dame in riding-breeches in twenty days' ride in any direction."

"And no flappers, Eddie," I said. "I won't go if there are any flappers."

"Not one," Eddie said. "There won't be even a female anywheres around. Unless," he said, "maybe an Eskimo."

"Eskimo?" I said. "Where's this ranch -- at the North Pole?"

"No," Eddie said, "not at the North Pole. You've got your geography all mixed, Henry. There ain't any Eskimos at the North Pole. There ain't anything at the North Pole but explorers. You couldn't have a ranch at the North Pole, there ain't any grass there; the explorers have to live on pemmican and Eskimo dogs."

"What's pemmican?" I asked him.

"It's a kind of bird, I guess," he said. "It has a satchel under its jaw to carry fish in; I've seen pictures of them. They probably dry them like jerked beef and maybe salt down the fish that's in their satchels and it gives them a sort of varied diet. But this ranch ain't going to be at the North Pole. Did you ever hear of the tundra?"

"No," I said. "What is it, a game?"

"I never heard of it either until I read about it in a book," said Henry. "It's sort of fields of grass, up by the Arctic Circle, and that's where this Bar-None ranch is going to be. It's up north of Canada and this fellow says it's good grazing. He says that what with the cows being crowded off from the United States that's where our meat food is coming from, from now on. We'll have a bunch of caribou --"

"Of which?" I said.

"Caribou," said Eddie. "That's the sort of cattle we'll range up there."

"I never heard of that breed," I told him. "It ain't any kind of short-horn I ever hearded, Eddie."

"They ain't short-horns," Eddie said. "They're long horns. They got horns like an elk, sort of. They're a kind of deer; they're these reindeer that Santa Claus drives to his sleigh."

"It'll be some herding," I told him. "We'll need some sprinty ponies to herd that kind of cattle. I don't know as I care for it Eddie; I'm getting a mite aged. I can still ride down a leggy steer if you give me a good enough pony, but I don't know about running races with a deer."

"These deer ain't that kind of deer," Eddie said. "These deer stay together in bunches like cattle, and anyway you won't have to ride range; you're foreman. And then we'll have musk oxen, too."

"Sure; I know them," I said. "I saw one in a zoo, maybe a couple of them. Long-horns with hair fringe around, and humpy like a buffalo."

"And easy to herd," said Eddie. "They stay in bunches in one place until they've used up the feed, and then they only move over a couple of yards and start in again."

"How's the market for these caribou-deer and musk-oxes?" I asked him.

"Fine!" he said. "And will get finer, Henry, as the beef-meat gets scarce. Musk-ox meat is good beef, and caribou is as good as mutton, only better."

"Mutton?" I said. "Hold on now, Eddie! You can't fool me. Mutton is sheep and I'll be danged if I'll be any sheep-herder. I never was a low-down sheepman, and I ain't going to be. You're trying to fool me, Eddie; these caribou are sheep."

"Don't be a fool, Henry," Eddie said. "A deer ain't a sheep and it never was, and it can't be."

"You said it was mutton," I said, "and mutton is sheep; I know that much."

"No, you don't," Eddie said. "You don't know nothing. A deer is a sort of cow-animal until it is killed; then it's a sort of mutton. You don't have to herd these deer after they are dead, do you? So what do you care?"

"Well, that sounds reasonable," I said. "Say, Eddie -- what's venison?"

"Why -- you're right, Henry," Eddie said. "That's so, ain't it? Beef caribou mutton is venison, ain't it? So that's all right."

Then he showed me a sketch he had drawed for the branding irons. It was like an 0 with a bar across it and that's where he got the name for the ranch -- the bar for Bar and the 0 for None -- and he showed me how appropriate the brand was, this tundra range the Canadian Government had granted him by telegraph being half on one side of the Arctic Circle and half on the other, the bar being to mean the Arctic Circle cutting across the ranch.

This range of Eddie's was north of the Great Slave Lake and east of the Great Bear Lake and it ran up to the water that divided it from what they call Victoria Land. We went in from Winnipeg, with two Canadian guides and twenty cowboys I got signed up and forty as nice cow-ponies as you ever set eyes on, and as soon as we got beyond the spruce we began seeing herds of caribou, and we rounded them up and branded them with the Bar-None Mark. Up beyond the rise of land we began running into musk oxen and we put our brand on them, too.

It was sure nice country, good grass and plenty of water, and we set in and built the ranch house right spang on the Arctic Circle where the Hood River begins. It was nice rolling country, low rounded hills and flowers aplenty and all the mosquitoes anybody could want. And hot? You wouldn't believe you could sweat through your shirt, would you? But it is a fact. In the summer, that is.

In the winter it is different. You bet your boots it is! It gets fair to middling cold, like on the uplands of Montana, maybe, below zero and so on, but not much snow; always good enough grazing. And the beauty of it was that you didn't have to fret about your stock freezing to death. Down there in the States the range cattle, as Stefansson, the explorer, pointed out, come from stock that were original in hot countries. That's a crazy notion, ain't it, trying to winter outdoors stock as tropical as a lot of parrots? But we didn't have that kind on the Bar-None. Our stock could sit down with their backs against the North Pole on the coldest New Year you ever heard about and say, "My, ain't this nice?" The only way you can freeze a musk ox is to kill him first, and everybody knows that the reindeer comes from Lapland where the icicles grow. And men can stand the cold. The only trouble was with our cow-ponies. The horse is no good up there; they don't stand the climate. Ours didn't.

Up there they use dogs to pull things but you can't use an Eskimo dog to ride range on. Maybe you could, at that, but you'd have to lay in a supply of Tom Thumb sized cow-kids, and they're hard to get -- they're all in the side-shows. We had to do the best we could. The musk-ox, being built heavy, is about as lively a stepper as a hippopotamus is -- only stub-bonier -- so we went to work and broke a bunch of caribou bucks to the saddle. And not so bad, brother! Of course, the gait wasn't all so fine, being like riding on a skinny camel, but the horns came handy to hang lariats on. As a matter of fact, friend, a real good caribou when you got him saddle-broke, was handy; the number of frying-pans, extra boots, raincoats and changes of fur underwear a man can hang on the horns of an eight-pronged barren-ground Caribou you would hardly believe.

The only real trouble was they were a mite weak in the back and liable to snap in two if they jumped a gully with a man like me in the saddle. That's why we always put the saddles up front on the shoulders or back rear on the haunches. Mostly, we rode back on the haunches so the frying-pans and stuff that hung on the antlers wouldn't slap us in the face, and that lengthened the reins considerable and, maybe, looked kind of funny but we were not running any dude ranch, so what did we care?

I'll say we were not running a dude ranch! When you have nine months of winter or so, and caribou hide is what you have for clothes, and water is something yellowish you melt from snow in a tin cup, a man gets to looking not so little like a bearded baboon. You take for instance, a ranch house that is sodded up to the roof to keep the cold out, and then use musk-ox fat for fuel and live in fatty sooty smoke eight or nine months, and let your beard and hair grow, and I give you my word, you don't look like any bathing beauty. You look like a he-hyena, only worse. You take one of them things and stick him on the back end of a caribou with his socks and bedding hanging from the reindeer's horns and even a prairie wolf only wants one look at him. Then it lays right over on its back and dies.

The second summer Eddie and I and a couple of others of us took a bath, some of us flapping the mosquitoes away while one of us did it, but we never did get to the bottom of the soot grease that was on us, and when the second winter come we just settled down to be nice and comfortable and filthy, like a man can be up in a country where men are men, and women don't show up.

Everything was doing nice. According to my count we had eight thousand musk oxen branded and just a mite under eighteen thousand caribou. The oxen had calved well and the caribou had fawned well, and Eddie figured he would have upward of a hundred thousand head of stock before many years when one day in September -- which is when midwinter begins up there -- I looked out of the ranch house door and saw a man standing looking up at the name over the door. Eddie had painted it himself, blue letters on a bright red ground, and he done a good job, too. He painted it on the bottom of a butter-tub with our brand mark in the middle and "Bar-None" around the edge in a circle, and he only made one mistake -- he got that little dash dingus between the wrong letters, so it sort of read "Barn-One," and it was quite a joke amongst us, only we said it ought to be "Stable-One" or "Hogpen-One," for we sure did live like men in that ranch house.

Well, this feller stood looking at the sign over the door, and he grinned from ear to ear, and pointed at it. I went up to him and took a look at him and saw he was one of these Eskimos you hear so much about, all dressed in fur and all.

"Hello, Bill," I says to him. "Where you come from? Up north, huh? Northy Poley, huh? You heap big Eskimo, huh?"

All he said was something like "Ugug-hugug-glygug-hug." No sense to it as far as I could see, but he kept on grinning at our sign-board.

"Yes," I said, "that's right, Bill. Give you a laugh, don't it, like it does us. Well, it ain't so far off, at that. When this place gets a little filthier we'll build another one and use this as a barn and then it will be 'Barn-one' sure enough, won't it?"

"Ugug-hugug-glugug-hug," he said again and pointed to the sign and then to his chest. I couldn't make anything of it. The nearest I could come was that the sign gave him a pain, but I didn't have time to quarrel over no sign.

"Wanty jobby?" I asked him. "Come have look-see, Bill."

I led him out to the corral where twenty or thirty of our saddle-caribou were penned and got him a currycomb and showed him how to curry a caribou. He grinned more than ever and set right to work, grinning and laughing and currying caribou, and I left him there and went about my business. When Eddie Bruce came in I told him I had taken on an Eskimo and he said it was all right, because hiring hands was my job. So by and by he strolled out to look at my Eskimo, and he came back laughing all over the place.

"That's one on you, Henry," he said when he could get his breath. "That ain't no hand; that's a lady. Say, boys, Henry set an Eskimo lady to currying down the caribou. What do you know about that?"

"How do you know so much?" I asked Eddie. "How do you know she's a lady?"

"Shucks!" said Eddie. "You ought to study the pictures in the explorer books. It's the way her skirt is shaped. The men wear kollege-kut styles at the North Pole but the ladies has their caribou skins cut bias and the pessimentary sewed on with the cupola, sort of filet-de-sole."

"It may be all you say," I admitted. "This is the first Eskimo I ever saw. But if she's a lady why did she stand for making her curry down the caribou?"

"Well, I'll tell you, Henry," Eddie said, giving the boys a wink. "She thinks this is a dude ranch and she's getting the Wild North atmosphere. You wait, Henry; she'll want to ride a caribou and learn to throw a lariat next."

But nothing of the sort. We gave the lady a bed in the lean-to where we kept the rock-salt and the next morning she was gone and so was that lovely sign that had been above the ranch door.

"Souvenir hunter," said Eddie. "No matter; I can paint another even worse than that one was."

It sort of slipped his memory though, with one thing and another, and that was the end of that until a week later when Joe, the cook, came running to me.

"Henry," he says, "I don't know what, but maybe some bandits or something are makin' a raid on us. Come, look!"

I went to the door and looked out. There they were, too, more Eskimos than I knew there was. At the head of them was this Mrs. Ugug or whatever her name was, with Eddie's Bar-None sign hung around her neck as big as life, and with her was this tall white man I never saw before. On beyond them were mostly all the Eskimos in the world, single file, over one hill and over the next hill -- dog teams, sledges, men, ladies and kids -- and over the next hill and still more coming.

"Joe," I said to the cook, "you jump on that Jerry-caribou and hustle out and find Eddie, and send him here quick, and rustle up all the boys you can find and hurry them in. I don't know what this is, but it looks like an army to me. Scoot! I'll hold them off as long as I can. I'll die game, Joe."

So off Joe loped and I got me two six-shooters and stood with my back to the door. When they saw me there all the fore end of the parade raised their hands in the air -- sign of peace -- and the sign passed back along the line, hands up, until the last Eskimo I could see, three hills away, had his hands up, too.

"And keep 'em up!" I said to this white man that was with Mrs. Ugug. "What does all this mean, anyway?"

"My name is Smathers," the man said. "I'm an explorer. I'm up here studying the ethnological debris and undiscarded crania of the Eskimos, with sidelights on the various and sundry dialects and tongues of these interesting peoples. Avoiding tautological circumlocution --"

"Friend," I said, "use another long one like that and I shoot. What is this, a Sunday school picnic out for a walk or what?"

"I was telling you," he said. "This lady -- but perhaps you have not been introduced?"

"Only by myself," I said.

"She is Mrs. Angoloklok," said Smathers. "That is Wakker Bay dialect for Greasy-neck, which was her husband's name before he died by being bit in two by a walrus, but her own name is Gomoknoho-aklakak, which is Higgins Sound dialect for She-walks-pigeon-toed-but-her-knees-interfere. She is a great friend of mine, one of the most progressive Eskimos I ever knew. She invented gaglokliklok."

"She looks as if she might have done something like that," I said. "What is it?"

"It's a new drink," Smathers said. "Mostly the Wakker Bay Eskimos drink gagloklilbop, which is kerosene oil with gin in it, but now they all drink this new drink, this gaglokliklok. It is kerosene oil and gin with soap-flakes shook up in it."

By that time the line was beginning to pile up in front of me around this Smathers and Mrs. Greasyneck and I began to get worried. The bucks all had spears or bows and arrows and there was no way of telling what might happen. I tried to stall until Eddie or some of the boys could get there, and I said it was nice weather and Smathers said it was and that it looked as if we would have a mild winter and not many days more than seventy below zero.

"You're not the boss of this ranch?" he asked me.

"No," I said. "I'm only the foreman; Eddie Bruce is the boss and I've sent for him."

So here came Eddie, loping along on his caribou, and he rode up to the door and threw the reins over the head of his mount and leaped from the saddle.

"What's all this, Henry?" he asked.

"You tell him," I said to Smathers.

"That's what I'm here for," said Smathers. "This lady was here last week and she was charmed with this place. She had never seen anything like it -- caribou riding, lasso throwing, life in the open air, real ranch life. So she's brought the folks. No, wait!" he cried as Eddie reached for his six-shooter on his hip. "Wait! They expect to pay a fair rate of board."

"Is that so!" Eddie said.

"You can understand the feeling," the poor Smathers went on. "You can visualize these poor Eskimos cooped up in their stone hut villages in summer and herded together in their snow igloo villages in winter, too civilized to get full enjoyment out of life."

"Is that so!" said Eddie.

"You can imagine them," this poor deluded Smathers continued, "tied down for most of their lives to the quiet uneventful affairs of business -- spearing seals, killing sea-lions with clubs, going out in kayaks to harpoon whales, and all those uneventful things. You can guess what this will mean to them -- a few months in the wild South where men are men and a lady can get astride of a caribou and dash over the tundra."

"Is that so!" Eddie said again.

"Ranch life in the free open spaces," Smathers said, not knowing what was coming to him. "What are your terms?"

"Henry," said Eddie, "shall I shoot him, or will you?"

"Let me shoot him, Eddie," I said. "I saw him first."

"But it's my ranch he's trying to make a dude ranch of," Eddie said. "That ought to give me the right to shoot him, Henry."

"I'll tell you what well do," I said. "We'll play fair, Eddie. "We'll give him five minutes start and then go after him, and the one that catches him shoots him."

But Smathers did not wait. He started right away and he went as fast as he could yelling Eskimo talk as he went, and as they heard him that whole bunch turned and trekked away from the Bar-None about three times as fast as they had come. Eddie and I gave the poor fellow a fair and full five minutes and started after him, but we never did see him again.

"When we got back to the ranch house most all the boys were there and they were bunched together out by the corral, and when we horned in to see what was happening we saw an Eskimo sitting on the Jerry-caribou. Sammy Whiskers was leading the caribou slowly and the rest of the boys were shouting words of encouragement like "Squeeze him with your knees, Miss," and "Keep his head up with the reins, Lady," and "That's how; you're doing fine!"

Eddie jumped off his caribou and pushed in and that Eskimo girl gave him one look out of her brown shoe-button eyes and a smile with the whole of her face.

"'Lo boss!" she said. "Iss is nice 'orse. 'Ot dog, I tell um world!"

I've seen some good men fall hard in my day when a pretty girl gave them the friendly eye, but I never expected to see Eddie Bruce drop for a sweet face like he did for that girl.

"Say," he yelled, "what do you bums mean by letting a lady ride on a flea-bit skate like that? Miss, you try this mount of mine once. This is just the sweetest mount that ever wore antlers."

"Sur' Mike, much 'blige, thanks you," said this girl, and she let Eddie lift her down from that Jerry-caribou and up onto his own. He put the reins into her hands as if she was the queen of Madrid or somewhere, and chirped to the caribou and off they went, about as fast as a funeral procession, with Eddie walking alongside and looking up at her with love and affection in his face, holding one hand against her waist to steady her.

"And what's your name, little girl?" he asked her.

"Goklakkagluglak," she said to him, sounding like water going back down a pump.

"Well, well!" he said as if she had handed him a million dollars. "And what does it mean in my kind of talk, if I may ask you?"

"It mean 'Old-boot-under-wolf-skull'," says this Eskimo flapper.

"Ain't that pretty," said Eddie, and I didn't wait to hear any more. I went in the ranch house and wrote my resignation. I knew that the worst had happened. The Bar-None had gone dude.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:18:23am USA Central
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