Captain Igo — Horse Trader

Captain Garrett Igo
Horse Trader

Cane (or bamboo), willow and even cottonwood brakes was common on most rivers across the south and much of the north. Thick and tangled, almost impenetrable growth, it was known as a “brake” due to the slowing action it had upon the flood waters of the rivers to which they grew adjacent. The Missouri brakes were famous hiding places for outlaws.

Cane or bamboo was found extensively across wetlands of the south before the coming of whites. Because of the value of bottomlands the cane was eradicated by whites. The brakes were ideal breeding grounds for wildlife and escaped domestic animals. In the mid-1800s many an extensive brake still grew on western rivers.

In the spring of 1869 Garrett Igo is 21 years old and very ambitious. And, he his mind is focused upon on the brakes of the Sabine River.

Garrett is dead broke. Not only broke, but he has of late begun to seriously think of asking his seetheart Mary for her hand in marriage. Marriage and family take money. East Texas after the Civil War shared the fate of most of the South in that there are few opportunities for raising hard cash. The war has left the Confederacy devastated and Yankees are loath to help their former brethren.

But, as usual, Garrett has an idea. He’s talked his cousin Sidney Igo into a venture of horse wrangling and trading. “We can roundup horses in the Sabine brakes to drive to San Antonio and sell ’em to the Calvary. There’s enough mustangs in there to make us a grubstake,” he was telling Sid.

“But,” objected young Sid, “old man Kog claims most of them horses in the brakes.” Kogburn Jackson’s name had been foreshortened into “Kog” by everyone. Garrett usually simply called him “Old Cogger.”

“If losing two mares and a gelding back in there means he owns them, then he might. I don’t thinks he owns diddly,” said Garrett.

“Well, we can give it a shot…I’m game,” consented Sid. “How do we go about catching them in that mess of a thicket?”

“However we can manage to get ahold of them,” replied Garrett. “We’ll just go in & figger what it takes and do it!”

They consummated the proposed deal at half the proceeds for Garrett and half for Sid; an even split in work and proceeds. They proceed to their respective homes to gather their equipment and supplies, which were meager. Garrett’s parents smile on the venture enough to stake them to food for the trip.

His parents have considered Garrett an adult since the day he rode-off to join with Greer’s volunteers eight years ago. His father William now expects Garrett to make his own way in the world. For the most part Garrett is a hard worker and most neighbors have hired him at one time or another for odd jobs. That didn’t mean Garrett either likes hard work or aspires to stay with it in the future…he has big plans.

Garrett has worked cotton fields; plowing & weeding (choppin’ cotton) enough to know that he longes for another way to make a living. He plans to acquire a country store when he saves enough funds to do so. Capturing and selling horses appears the only currently viable way to get those funds.

Garrett cuts a fine figure at 21 years of age. He is of medium height and a strong muscular build and is handsome lad as were most Igo’s. He sports a scarlet plaid shirt and an old pair Confederate pants. His stock of clothes were acquired during his own Calvary days. He is an adroit scrounger. He wears a fine wide-brimmed Confederate Calvary hat on his head at a jaunty angle. He “picked-up” a pair of pistols and a fine single-shot rifle after the Madison Creek battle. He wore one pistol, a huge single-action six-shooter piece, hanging from his rawhide belt.

Garrett has been working on this plan for some time prior to seeking Sid’s help. He heard much talk of government buyers seeking remounts for the Army’s west Texas campaigns against the Indians.

The US Calvary had been sent to Texas after the war to corral the wild Commanche nation. Both the Union and Confederacy had signed separate peace treaties with the Commanche during the war which were promptly broken once the north-south hostilities were brought to a close.

The was multitudes of ex-soldiers back east could find no way to make a living for their families in their old homes. The only chance for many was to move west to new lands. With the influx of ex-soldiers and their families into Texas the frontier was being pushed rapidly westward. This impinged upon the Commancheria…the homeland of the Commanche.

The Medicine Lodge treaty of 1867 had guaranteed the Commanche nation some 3 million acres of land predominately in western Texas. Before the ink was dry on this agreement, white settlers are moving into the allotted lands.

The Commanche tried to force back the settlers from the Indian’s homeland, but this brings about cries for the Federal government (recently so unwelcome in Texas) to send in the Calvary. And, send the Calvary they did. Under the overall Western Command of General Sherman, various units fought the Commanche and even the Apache in extreme southwestern Texas.

With the Calvary troops comes the increasing demand for horses. Texas horse traders were constantly on the lookout for good horses to sell the Army Quartermaster remount program. This is where Garrett wants to peddle his horses.

The Army is currently even buying green-broke and totally unbroken horses. The demand is that great. It often seems that the Calvary must take two horses for each man on patrol because the Commanche are consumate horse thieves. The US Army must furnish mounts not only for it’s own men, but for the Commanche warriors as well.

Garrett and Sid pack their goods on ol’ Bud, the packmule, and they ride their best horses out onto the southbound road. It is only a fairly short day’s ride to the Sabine river from Veasey, the Igo homeplace.

They deeply desire to avoid “Ol’ Kog” so, upon arriving, they camp just outside the brakes at the far end away from the Jackson homeplace. First order of business is building a brush-covered shelter, they anticipate to be living here for about 2-3 weeks while they gathered enough horses to move on south to market.

Early the next morning the tow young men eagerly move into the brakes to explore and hope to encounter sign of the wild horses they knew lived within them. Horse tracks are everywhere. They soon notice sign of numeroud individual horses along with cattle, deer and a myriad of smaller varmits. In fact, Sid shoots a whitetail deer for the camp meal. They even noticed tracks of the elusive east Texas “panther”.

Although they quickly find several entrances to the brakes, but are forced to leave their horses due to the dense vegetation and low nature of the trail. The trails are mostly wide enough for a single animal and no higher that the back of a pony or, at most, a steer. The leaves of the cane are serrated and raspy sharp leading to numerous small cuts and abrasions.

Garrett quickly abandones his original plan of herding the horses into hidden corrals or other traps. A man on horseback cannot ride upright as he would be immediately raked from the horses’ back by the overhanging vegetation. He certainly could not ride at a gallop without being immediately thrown to the ground likely with his face slashed from the sharp leaves.

After spending the day in the brakes, the boys decided two things: 1. There were plenty of horses to be had and, 2. It would be a major job catching them.

“One at a time,” Sid remarked, after they had considered the problem of catching the mustangs quietly for some time.

“Yup,” Garrett conceeded, “it’ll take longer, but it’s the only way. Probably have to set snares for them like rabbits. Tie the rope to a tree, dangle a loop over the trail & run them right into it.”

“Sounds about right,” Sid commented. “But, if they are goin’ through at a dead run, wont they break their neck when they hit the end of the rope?”

“True enough,” again conceded Garrett. After some thought he added, “We could use a piece of log. It would give, but get tangled in the cane quick enough & slow ’em down. I just hope we can wrangle them out of there without a mustang bustin’ our own bones.”

The next morning they chop some 4 to 5 foot sections of Cottonwood logs. They are heavy enough to slow a horse, but can be thrown over the shoulder of one man and carried into the thicket. These and several lengths of rope they carry with them into the brakes.

Choosing a likely trail covered by horse tracks, they set their first three snares. After they set off towards the river to drive a horse or two towards the snares, they heard a commotion coming from behind them.

Running back, they find a wild cow entangled in one of the snares just set in place. She tries to double-back upon seeing the men & further entangles the rope & log.

Fighting his way around the struggling cow through the cane, Sid is able to use his knife to cut the rope from the cow’s neck as she trembled. He dodges the long sharp horns as she flees bucking and snorting her discomfort. The men quickly repair the damage.

“Well,” commented Garrett as they once again retreat back down the sandy path, “at least we know that they work.”

“Scares me thinking about tryin’ to pull a horse out of here, though,” replied Sid. Both men just shake their heads at the prospect.

“Say,” suddenly beamed Garrett, “why not bring ol’ Bud (the packmule) in and tie the horse to him?” Ol’ Bud is a retired plow mule; huge and slow, Bud’s temperament has always been mellow and now appears to be nearly asleep most of the time. The ancient mule never gets in a hurry, but is as solid as rock and could carry any load.

“Great,” said Sid, “he wont care if they fight, he’ll just pull ’em out of here like they were the dead log.”

The next morning they improvised a “horse-puller” from Bud’s collar and pack rack. It looked like nothing much, but the figured it would hold a rearing, snorting wild horse.

As they carefully negotiate the brushy path they begin to hear snorts & bursts of fight. Approaching the first snare where they find a yearling bull caught-up in the cane. Sid once again fights through the cane to cut the critter loose. “Gettin’ right good at that,” remarked Garrett with a careless grin. Sid only gave him a dark glance.

“Next one is yours,” he replied after thinking it over.

To their glee, the next snare holds fast a pretty little mare. She even seemed to have fought herself out during the night. She stood more or less docile as Garrett slipped a noose around her neck and fashioned a rude hackamore. They quickly snub the lead rope as close as possible to Bud’s collar.

But, as they free her from the log drag, she took a great draft of fresh air and fights the new rope violently. Garrett danced back into the cane as the horse pawed wildly. But, as they had hoped, Bud never glanced back, he just stolidly pulled the far smaller mare down the trail. Sid walked ahead and clucked him down the trail back to camp.

The mare fights hard for a few moments and then, to Garrett’s relief, quietly falls into a walk behind Bud.

Once in the open and before the mare knows what was afoot they quickly rope her front and hind feet and she is hobbled. She was then staked-out to graze.

Both Sid and Garrett have worked with animals their entire lives. They are familiar with working recalcitrant beasts to their will.

This was the basic procedure they adopt for the next several weeks. Days of wrangling thinly interspersed with a few days rest during heavy east Texas rain turned slowly turned into six hard-working weeks.

Garrett and Sid are glad to not have run-into Ol’ Kog or his family. Their camp is a good six miles from the Jackson farm. They were careful to discharge their weapons as little as possible. They didn’t fear the Jackson clan, but their good sense tells them to avoid the inevitable fight any contact would surely bring about. Kog Jackson’s family would indeed find great glee in having two Igos so far from home and their large family.

Garrett would have liked nothing better than to have shot the cattle making their lives a misery by either getting caught in the snares or tearing them lose as they passed down the innumerable sandy paths. He knows there are thousands of wild cattle spread across Texas and few would not be missed by anyone.

He has heard of the rought wild cattle being driven to New Orleans Louisiana to be sold at a fine profit. He thinks he might like to try that business one day. He and Sid spend pleasant hours around the campfire discussing such enterprises. Making a profit with little investment was a fine idea to both men.

Garrett had even heard the romantic and nearly impossible to believe tales of Charles Goodnight driving cattle through the far west Texas Commancheria thence into New Mexico and then far to the north to Denver, Colorado.

What an adventure! If he were not seriously considering marriage, he might just sign-on for a journey like that himself! It was even rumored some cattle might be driven as far north as Wyoming or even Montana. Garrett had little idea of where these exotic place were loacated, but what would he not give to see that far away country!

But he reflected that their present enterprise is taxing them to the fullest of their abilities. In six weeks they have collected 38 mixed sex horses ranging from yearlings to some nearing eight. Two have died for reasons unknown and one ancient crippled old mare is released after being excorted far down the thicket away from the snares.

The horses were all gentling nicely as they became accustomed to Sid and Garrett caring for them. Twice daily the horses are tied nose to tail and taken to an open spot on the river to water. They had watered the first few horses by carrying water, but this became impossible after a dozen or so are acquired. The watering ritual also helps break the horses to trail for the trip south.

“Forty,” says Sid with some conviction, “is enough. We can get 10-15 bucks apiece for them unbroken and that’s good money in my books.”

“Agreed. I’ve had enough and by the time we get back home I hope Mary ain’t forgot me,” said a sad, tired Garrett Igo.

“Aw, she ain’t,” Sid consols him. Garrett and Sid had become closer while sweating together in the brakes fighting wild cows and horses. They had been friends since they were small children, but the weeks of work cemented the friendship.

It takes two more days to collect the other two horses. Pickings are now thin at this spot in the brakes. To take more horses would entail moving closer to the Jackson place and the risk of calamity.

They decide to free the majority of the gentled horses of their hobbles and “long-hobble” the wilder ones. All would be tied nose-to-tail for the first couple of trail days allowing the “tamed” horses to help settle the still wild ones.

Trailing the horses worked out better than either of the men expect. The forth day they lose all the horses into a milling herd. They are able to drive them slowly onward with few if any strays to speak of.

Outside the little town of Temple they were offered $15 each for the horses by a local rancher. They reasoned that the price must be higher from the Army and declined the man’s kind offer.

The rancher grinned at the boys and said, “Wal, you’ll do right better in San ‘Tone. I hear that buyers are paying $15 for them like that eight-year-old over they and as much as 30 bucks for young broke mares.”

“We’ve no broke horses to sell. I might sell the one I’m on for $35 and walk home, ” grinned Garrett.

They trail slowly onward as the days began to cool with the coming of autumn. The country is becoming more populated as they wander further south. They finally arrived outside San Antonio some four weeks after leaving the banks of the Sabine. After the slow trip the horses are in better shape than when they left.

San Antonio is a bustling city. Santa Ana razed the Alamo some forty years previous. Ranchers and local farmers mingle with varied traders and soldiers. Without trouble the men find the Army Quartermaster and approach them about selling the horse herd.

“Fine beasts,” observed the Army Major in charge as he looked over the little herd. “Any more behind you?”

“Nope, this is all,” Replied Sid. “What is you offer?”, he cut to the business of the thing.

“Well, providing you have a proper bill of sale, I’ll offer $35 a head for the lot,” said the Quartermaster.

“We’ll take it,” blurted-out Garrett!

“We don’t have a bill of sale…we caught these horses wild in the brakes of the Sabine,” said Sid. “Took us all summer to catch ’em up and fetch them down here.”

“Can’t buy them without proper papers men,” said the Major. “Sorry, but you’ll have to find another buyer.”

With that the Major turns on his heel and leaves. Garrett and Sid look disconsolately at each other at this sudden turn of fate. Feeling the floor had been pulled from beneath them, they wonder sadly what to do now.

As they stood thus another man approaches them grandly. With a sweeping of his hat he introduced himself as, “Colonel Jim Thatcher; late the Great Army of the Confederacy.”

Garrett recovers immediately and promptly introduces himself as “Captain Garrett Igo; late of the Texas Volunteers.” He slyly winked at Sid who introduced himself simply as, “Sid Igo”.

“I see you have run-into the little “bill-of-sale” snag the good Major throws in front of many good horsemen,” said Thatcher. “I would like to be of service to a fellow officer and gentleman. Please let me take these fine horses off your hands for $20 a head and you can be on your way back to the home I judge you have been absent from for many long days or weeks.”

“Months,” glumly thought Sid as he watched the two men who resembled nothing so much as a pair of bantam roosters.

The Veasey men had been traders all their young lives and wouldn’t let this dandy take their hard won horses for nothing…even it it was higher than they had ever hoped when they left Veasey so many weeks ago. They dickered for some time with Thatcher finally buying them a bottle of good eastern whiskey to “grease the deal”.

They shake on an agreement of $27.50 a head for the horses “across the board”. “How can you sell them to the Army without a bill-of-sale,” now wondered Sid aloud?

“Simple,” replied Thatcher, “you give me a bill-of-sale and I show it to the Major. He takes that and pays me.”

“Damn,” is all Garrett could think.

Thatcher prsents a printed bill-of-sale which Sid and Garrett fill-in and sign. They then receiv $1100 in gold coin and Union currency. That made $550 each…a tidy sum for the summer’s work. In fact it was a small fortune to young men accustomed to a dollar a day for hard labor. Cowboys drew about $25-35 a month. This much money represented a bonanza to Sid and Garrett.

Taking their leave of Thatcher, the Veasey men head for town. In San Antonio they clean-up, shave and both undergo haircuts at a barbershop; a treat they have rarely enjoyed beforehand. New clothes are purchased at the mercantile. Garrett spends some time inspecting the store and it’s contents. He plans for a store of his own in the near future.

They spend four nights and five days in San Antonio. They inspect the Alamo of which they had heard so much. They eat fine Mexican food and meet many folk. They hear stories of Indian fights from soldiers. A Texas Ranger by the name of Warring regaled them with stories of bad men, horse thieves and bank robbers.

They even met two dusty cowboys who claim to have made the long ride with Charles Goodnight to Denver, Colorado blazing the Goodnight-Loving Trail. All these tales leaves the two country boys’ heads reeling with fantasies of adventure.

Eventually, they take their leave of the sights, sounds and bustle of San Antonio to head for home and family, They have worked the entire summer and the season is turned as they ride into Vessy again.

They talk long of future plans while plodding up the long trail. Several options have opened to them aside from the mundane jobs around Veasey: They could find trail-herding jobs which frankly appealed to them. They could hunt the wooly buffalo for the fast-growing hide trade. They could continue horse-trading and any one of several other jobs which entailed a little bit of adventure for young men.

In the end they decide to buy another herd and take them south to San Antonio again. This time they plan buy the extra mustangs and plugs from local farmers and ranchers in northeastern Texas instead of trying to drag them from the brakes. Using their substantial grubstake from their first venture to finance the enterprise money can be made so long as there is such a large disparity between the price of horseflesh at home and what the Army Quartermaster is paying.

Garrett summed-up the decision thusly: “We made more this summer than cow-hands or anybody else we met-up with in San Antonio. And, those buffalo crews were nasty-lookin’ people, even the shooters…”

Sid observed, “Buffalo hunting sure ain’t the thing for someone like a retired Confederate Captain anyhow…”

They both laughed when Garrett said, “I figgured that Captain was as far as my age would carry me, but I have a feeling I’ll make Colonel before I’m through.” And they passed the time throughout long days of riding.

The plans they lay on the way home are pretty much the formula they follow for the next several months. The partnership eventually dissolves after leaving both young men with enough money to follow their individual dreams. These were hard times, but enterprising men are able to survive and even thrive when they use their wit and intelligence.

In the winter, Garrett seeks an wins his Mary’s hand in marriage. They make the short journey to Clarksville and are ‘hitched’ in a small ceremony on January 22, 1870.

Garrett never traveled up the big cow trails or hunted buffalo. He had seen the big herds of woolly beasts in the Territories on the way back from the battle at Madison Creek. Vast herds numbering into the thousands covered the hills. In fact, he had led quite an adventurous life thus far. Change was coming upon him however.

Now, instead of further adventure, Garrett bought himself a combination store/house in Akworth, just north of Veasey. They moved in not long after their marriage. He and his Mary were to have many years of happiness, but this marriage would not last forever…but that’s another story….

Garrett Igo Storekeeper
The Family Years

2 thoughts on “Captain Igo — Horse Trader

  1. Abbi Allen Homer

    I’m a descendent of Garrett Jr.’s sister, Mollie (Mary Elizabeth). She is my 4th great grandmother. We still live in Red River County, in the Madras community, a few miles from Vessey & Acworth. I would love to chat with you sometime about the Igo family history!

    Reply
    1. oljohn Post author

      That would be fun!! I have a cousin at Idabel & I know she would love to talk (she’s very good at talking). Right now I am a bit under the weather – summer cold I believe. Sylvia & I are both grandchildren of Garrett’s daughter Ruby. I look forward to talking about the Igo’s.

      Reply

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