Home News Vision Historical Anecdotes: John Chisum’s youngest cowboy, part 1

Historical Anecdotes: John Chisum’s youngest cowboy, part 1

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Following is a story by Clarence Adams and Tom Brown Sr. about Ike Fridge, John Chisum’s youngest cowboy.

Clarence Adams, a friend of my husband’s grandfather, Alex Dunnahoo, shared this story with him because his grandfather, Rufus Henry Dunnahoo, was friends with John Chisum and played the fiddle for dances at his house.

It is an intriguing story about how John Chisum first came to this country and about the daily life of cowboy Ike Fridge, in the days of the Old West and the settling of the Pecos Valley.

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Due to the length of the story, this will be the first of two parts.

Vision Editor: These documents containing the story are reprinted exactly as they were typed and given to the Dunnahoo family.

 

“John Chisum’s Youngest Cowboy

“‘Head em up! Move em out!’ These shouts were passed along the trail in 1863 as the biggest herd of cattle in history moved southwest across Texas toward the Colorado River.

“That year John Chisum was moving his entire Jinglebob outfit from Bolivar, Texas, to the cow camp he had set up, out where the Concho and Colorado Rivers ran together — near the San Angelo region.

“Some years earlier, Chisum had started his cattle business on Clear Creek in Denton County, Texas, near the settlement of Bolivar. He had moved a few scrub cattle out from his home in Paris and had built up his White House ranch until it was the most prominent outfit in that part of Texas. But the land had settled too quickly, and the sodbusters were tearing up the soil. There was no more room for the Jinglebob empire to expand as Chisum had wanted. So he had made his boast to keep moving — all the way to New Mexico Territory if he must — to find a place to run his herds.

“As the cattle plodded along, a young man — a wrangler — named Ike Fridge, was among the cowboys who rode to the wagon, drank coffee, ate beans and skillet bread, and rode out again. No doubt the youth was excited as he thought of the days ahead when he might be assigned to be the drover.

“But for the time, Fridge had another job, one he didn’t like. He was the wrangler, a horse drover, and he had to help the cook with camp chores. He was pretty disgruntled about the whole thing because he had wanted to work cattle.

“Fridge had seen some experience on the cattle trail, not much, but he had been on a drive or two to Shreveport for Chisum. He often boasted to the other herders that one day he’d be one of Chisum’s top cow hands.

“One of Ike’s favorite pastimes was telling the herders about the time when he had first met John S. Chisum.

“It had happened back when the War Between the States had been raging — often heartbreaking — for Texans. Almost every frontier family had been affected in some way by the chaos and disorder over the South. Many men had been forced to leave families and homes, and there had been times when even the members of families had taken sides against each other.

“Although Ike Fridge had been orphaned at an early age, and was only fourteen years old when the war started, he had gone south to fight for the confederacy, and somehow succeeded in joining — in spite of his age.

“Even before the war had started, John Chisum had not hedged about wanting to do his part for the confederacy — and Texas. By this time he had numerous cattle, and he suspected that confederate forces would need beef. So when the cowman saw that the war was eminent, (imminent) he began to look for people who could help him to get contracts for cattle deliveries to the troops. So it was no coincidence that Chisum and his drovers were on the trail in December of 1861, making one of the first beef deliveries to Vicksburg, Mississippi. But it might have been pure chance that brought Ike Fridge and John Chisum together.

“The cattle had been restless on the trail, Ike recalled. Troops moving up and down the busy road had kept Chisum’s drovers busy. Often near stampedes occurred which kept the drovers alert day and night.

“On one of these occasions a shot during the night brought Chisum and his relief men out of camp in a hurry. Every drover dreaded to hear a shot near the herd. It could start the cattle to running immediately — a stampede.

“However, the trouble was soon over, and the culprits who had caused it were brought in, a group of ragged, cold and hungry confederate soldiers. One of them was a young boy named Ike Fridge who had a battered and bloody arm held close to his chest in a dirty sling.

“After Chisum had taken the soldiers to task for almost stampeding the cattle, he saw how desperate they really were. Feeling sorry for them, he told them to rope a calf and take it away from the herd and kill it for beef.

“Then the cow man saw the wounded youngster. Taking note of his extreme youth Chisum took the boy to camp, insisting that he needed medical attention. After several weeks under Chisum’s care, the lad was finally as good as new.

“Ike often told his sidekicks how his boss had talked him into going all the way back to Texas — after convincing him that it was a man’s war and Ike Fridge wasn’t a man yet.

“Ike had already suspected that, but he wouldn’t admit it. Many times the soldiers had been separated from their regiments — often cold and hungry. War had been literally hell, and terribly lonely. He was only too glad to accept Chisum’s offer.

“The trip back to the Chisum White House ranch on Clear Creek was the beginning of a new life for Ike Fridge. Most of Chisum’s cowboys had gone to war; so for a time, there were few settlers over north Texas, there were very few people over the entire region.

“A blistering drought had occurred in the north Texas region during the time Chisum and his drovers had been gone to Vicksburg. Even worse than that, when they returned they found that the Indians had burned off the remaining grass and had run off most of the Jinglebob horses.

“Chisum was not to be defeated by those setbacks, however. With the help of his brother James, his cowboys, and young Ike Fridge, they began the heartbreaking task of gathering the half dead cattle, pulling many out of the mud holes where they had tried to find water.

“At first the work was slow — and very discouraging, but soon it began to pay off, and a few small herds were finally pushed slowly to the Jinglebob headquarters. Here they were fed and watered, and literally brought back from the dead.

“It was these problems, and many others, that finally prompted Chisum to move his cattle to new grazing ranges in the Southwest.

“It had been a good time of the year to move the herd. The spring weather — not too hot, not too cold — was ideal for moving cattle. The grass, having finally received rain, was tinted green in the spring sun, and Ike Fridge, glad to be a member of Chisum’s crew, was not quite satisfied to be helping with the remuda (a remuda is a herd of horses that the cowboys select their mounts from) and camp chores. He wanted to be a drover and kept hounding Chisum, Felix McKittrick, the general manager, and Jim McDaniel, the top foreman, until they relented. They put him on the drag.

“Riding at the tail of the herd was a dreaded job on the trail, but it pleased Ike. At least this was a start. From here he could work his way up as a cow hand. John Chisum would surely put him in a more prestigious place, in time.

“During the years on the Concho, young Fridge did become a herder, a real top hand, and finally took his place among the other men of prestige at the Jinglebob outfit.

“Chisum had chosen a good location along the Colorado River — one which was ideal for cattle. There was good grass, plenty of water, and enough hills and scrub timber to provide protection for cattle during severe weather.

“However, the problem with Indians still existed along the Colorado River of Texas, much as it had been up on Red River. Jinglebob cowboys had hoped that with Fort Hatch, (later known as Fort Concho — added by Adams) being built in the region, the military might provide protection for settlers who were moving into the country, especially since it was apparent that the War Between the States was about to end.

“Other problems plagued the cowman too. After the war was over, settlers began moving west so fast that John Chisum could see that he would be crowded out again, just like he was in Denton County. Again he was prompted to find a more open range for his massive herds of cattle.

“There was only one direction to turn. Chisum looked to the West. He talked it over with Ike Fridge and the other top herders. Felix McKittrick and Jim McDaniel had been to New Mexico Territory and had seen some of the Pecos Valley which lay from north to south across the eastern section of the Territory.

“Convinced that he must move soon, Chisum finally sent a scout, his own brother, Pitser, to look over the country. In the spring Pitser was back with a good report for his brother, satisfying John that New Mexico was indeed the place for the Jinglebob outfit.

“With the ending of the war, Chisum’s beef market began to collapse. Although he was selling a few cattle to the army at Fort Concho, he still had more cattle than he could get rid of. He’d have to find more outlets. He complained to his men that if he couldn’t sell more beef the Jinglebob would go bankrupt.

“For more than a year Chisum’s herders worked night and day getting cattle together for the drive to New Mexico. The men, traveling light, usually with a pack horse or two, worked in small groups. Each man carried a tin cup for coffee and a bread pan from which to eat. He had no skillet or cooking utensils, nothing except a coffee pot. Meat and bread were cooked on green sticks over a bed of hot coals. Bread was made from flour, cold water, salt and soda. Chisum made sure that supply wagons reached the line camps every week or so if possible.

“Cow work had become Ike Fridge’s life. He liked the wildness of the hill country and the prairies. On one occasion his small party had been far out in the wilds of the Colorado River working cattle for three weeks. They had gathered over 1,000 head of cattle, getting them ready to move to the upper Concho for the long drive across the Llano to New Mexico territory.

“As the men were eating breakfast one morning a man from another cow outfit walked into the camp and began talking about the Apaches being on the warpath along the river. He said they had attacked his party taking their horses — leaving them afoot.

“John Chisum had come in to Ike’s camp the night before; he made a suggestion. Since it had rained during the night, he reasoned — and the trail should be easy to follow — why not make a chase and try to get the horses back.

“Chisum assigned Ike and four other men to stay with the herd and ordered the rest of the cowboys to go after the Apaches.

“Now Ike Fridge had been with the Jinglebob outfit for several years and had already lived through a few scares. He wasn’t about to be left behind. He argued with Chisum until John let him go, ‘to get his hind end shot full of arrows.'”

To be continued.

Historian Janice Dunnahoo can be reached at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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