A day or two after we passed Fort Laramie there began one of the unpleasant experiences of the journey. After we had camped one evening, a cattle train drove up and passed our camp. Just ahead of us they stopped for the night.
"It would have been decent of them to have stayed behind us," Father said. "We will have trouble passing them tomorrow."
"Tough-looking customers," Uncle Isaac said as we watched them pass. "They look like mountaineers." Tall, lanky, uncouth people, swearing, cracking their whips, yelling at their oxen as they ran beside them, they passed us, about fifty wagons.
"It is hard to keep children clean," Mother said, "but they don't need to look like that. Poor little things."
The next morning, before we were ready to start, they were up and away, hurrying apparently to get on the road before we started. As we drove behind them, our horses fretted and chafed at their slowness. When our wagons turned out into the sagebrush to try to pass them, they whipped up their oxen and kept us out of the road as long as possible.
"Aren't they mean!" Carrie exclaimed. "Who ever saw people act like that?" She was so angry. It was not easy to drive over the bumpy sagebrush and it seemed we would never get back into the road.
Since the hired men had left us, Win drove one wagon and Carrie drove the four-horse team. Very little she looked, a slim, tiny figure on the high seat, handling the great team. She did it well, too.
Sometimes Mother drove one of the teams or I drove Derby and Prince or Win's team. Carrie's outfit was too big for me, Father said. These changes allowed us to walk at times. One grew very tired driving all day.
That morning when we were at last ahead of the ox train, we hoped we were through with them. They had been so needlessly mean. That night, however, long after we had camped, they drove up with their clamor and noise, their shouts and oaths and barking dogs, and passed us as before. We were so angry; we'd have to pass them again in the morning.
Day after day they repeated that performance; again and again we were compelled to drive in the sagebrush, while yelling and beating their oxen, they raced along in the road to keep us from passing.
Why they were so mean has always been a mystery, but their reason for camping near us was plain. The Indians were growing more and more unfriendly, and the bushwhackers, as we called them, were far safer near a big, well-armed train than they were if they camped alone. There was no need, though, for them to muddy the water for our horses, or for them to interfere with us in the least. They could have camped just as comfortably on the road behind us each night and have been very welcome, as their presence added to the apparent strength of the train and the fellowship of the plains was extended to all.
Whenever our people objected to their actions they were met by threats. Mr. Daily's orders were that their conduct should be endured rather than openly resented.
"It won't do," he said when a group of men wanted to call for a settlement of the difficulties. "They are a bad lot. We'd have some dead men here and we have too many women and children with us to take that risk. We'll have to put up with them; there is too much at stake." So it went on, a continual exasperation that had to be endured. As if we had been a military train and Mr. Daily the commander, his orders to avoid trouble were obeyed.
One morning I was driving Winfield's wagon. Only one team from our train was behind me and that was driven by Henry Acker. We had nearly passed the cattle train, but the leading ox team would not let us into the road. For half an hour we bumped and pitched over the sage bushes, the horses fretting and distressed, but every time I came near to gaining the road the driver lashed his oxen into a run, and on the rough ground I could not get ahead of him.
I called back to Henry, "When I get into the road, I'll let you in." Suddenly I saw a chance and whipped my horses. I gained the road, but in doing so, I forced the leaders of the ox team out of the beaten track. I stopped to let Henry drive ahead of me and looked back. Tangled and twisted and wound in their chain, yokes upside down and crosswise, it looked as if the driver of that team could never get them straightened out again. To my horror the man was running toward me with the butt end of a blacksnake ready to strike.
"I'll mash your head for this!" he was shouting, and then he saw me, a tiny frightened girl perched on the high wagon seat, quailing before the expected blows.
The man's face was suddenly blank; with sagging jaw, he stared a moment, then dropped his head, turned and went back to his cattle. By that time Henry was in the road and we left him to his troubles.