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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

John Chisum’s youngest cowboy, part 2

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Following is the second part of a story written by Clarence Adams and Tom Brown Sr. about Ike Fridge, John Chisum’s youngest cowboy. Clarence Adams shared this story with my husband’s grandfather, as his grandfather R.H. Dunnahoo played the fiddle for dances at the Chisum ranch.

Did you know John Chisum had, at one time, cattle grazing from Ft. Sumner, along the Pecos River and all the way to the Texas border?

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This story shares in some detail the true life of a cowboy, how Chisum came to live here, and true stories of what happened right here in this valley and surrounding areas in the days before Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War.

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

”The party set out, soon striking the Indian’s trail, and following it for about six miles down the Colorado River. Finally they came to a place where a small stream — Bluff Creek — made its junction with the Colorado River. Here they found that the Indians were waiting in ambush in a thick grove of pecan trees.

“The herders attacked. For a few moments arrows and bullets flew thick. Finally the Lipans (Lipan Apaches) began to crawl out, trying to cross the River. When the shooting died down, the Chisum forces counted ten dead Indians, and later found two others that had drowned as they had tried to swim the Colorado.

“One of the Chisum party — a good friend of Ike’s — Jeff Singleton — had caught an arrow in the back during the battle and he was in great pain. Chisum took a pair of pincers and pulled the arrow out. Then Ike and two others took Jeff back to the headquarters at Trickham where the man soon recovered.

“By the summer of 1867 Chisum and his men were ready to start to New Mexico. Ike Fridge was a foreman now as well as a trail boss. He answered only to Felix McKittrick or Jim McDaniel — or Chisum.

“The drive was a long one, and many unforeseen ordeals lay ahead. But the most tortuous one was driving cattle for long stretches without water. Crossing the Llano Estacado was the worst part. Never before had Jinglebob cowboys kept so many cattle and horses on the trail for so long without water.

“Finally, Chisum ordered the men to drive only at night — bed the cattle in the day. Even then it was almost impossible to hold cattle that were so crazed with thirst. When the herd was within some fifteen or twenty miles of the Pecos, the cattle detected a faint dampness from the river — and they stampeded.

“Nothing could be done but to keep up with the cattle until they reached the Pecos. Then the drovers pushed them fast across the treacherous water at a place already known as Horsehead Crossing. Although a few of the head were lost in the quicksand, and others at the poison sink-holes along the river’s edge, the herd crossed and moved on up the Pecos until it finally reached a place called Bosque Grande.

“At the new cow-camp Chisum’s herders found a wintering place — a big area of Cottonwoods and acequias (irrigation channel) along (the) Pecos —with good stock protection. They made camp some five miles below a herd, which was held by another Texan who had broken the trail before them — Charlie Goodnight.

“It was after reaching Bosque Grande that Ike Fridge and the Jinglebob herders learned of the misfortunes of an old time Texan, Oliver Loving — Goodnight’s partner — who had just died, up in the Mexican village near Fort Sumner, from complications caused by an Comanche’s bullet many miles down the Pecos near the Aqua Negra.

“As winter came on, frigid weather with deep snows was the order of the day. Ike Fridge spent most of his time trying to keep the buffalo off the range.

“Although Chisum had a trying time finding markets for cattle in New Mexico territory, he continued to bring his herds across the Llano. It was the same old story, however. Again he had more cattle than he could get rid of. Jinglebob cows now crowded the range along the Pecos from Fort Sumner on the north to the Texas line on the south.

Numerous cow hands and good saddle horses were a must in working so many cattle and it seemed that there were never enough horses. In 1871 Chisum and Fridge, with a half dozen other drovers, went back to Texas to get a new remuda and bring up another herd of cattle.

They first went back to the old cow camp on the Concho where they divided up. Ike took a small crew and went on to San Antonio to buy horses. All went well until they were coming back. As they approached the cow camp, Ike and his men were attacked by a band of Lipan Apaches.

The Indians hit in great force, and in minutes Ike’s wranglers were whipped and their new remuda was gone — all but five horses. When Chisum heard about the attack he showed his displeasure by ranting and raving for a few minutes. But as usual — after his first ‘spell’ was over — he laughed a great belly shaking ‘ha! ha!’ and ordered Fridge to go back to San Antonio for more horses. The drovers took extra precautions with their saddle stock this time, and finally another Jinglebob herd was well on the trail to New Mexico.

“In the spring of 1872, Ike Fridge and a man named Fitzgerald were assigned to go back to Texas for two big herds with each herd containing about four thousand head.

“There were only routine problems on the trail until the cattle reached the Pecos Valley. Ike’s herd was two days behind Fitzgerald’s, and he had just made the crossing at Horsehead and had bedded for the night when the Mescalero Apaches came out of the Guadalupe and attacked. When morning came Ike found that the Indians had made off with all the remuda except four horses which the night guards had been using.

“The cattle, having been on the go for several weeks were trail broke — and perhaps tired. The leaders probably sensed they would soon be home. With water plentiful and with an open trail, the herders moved the cattle up the valley on foot, the point and flank riders using the four available horses.

“But Ike and his men who were huffing it were not used to walking. They ate dust. They groaned at night about their sore feet and stiff joints, but they kept the herd moving and the stragglers in line. It was a pleased group of cowboys who finally caught sight of the Bosque Grande headquarters — after some fifteen days of driving cattle without mounts.

“Besides Indian troubles on the Pecos during the 1870s, rustler’s — cattle thieves — presented the newest and most serious problem for Chisum and his Jinglebob outfit. Ike Fridge was assigned to keep watch for other cow outfits going through and checking them over for Jinglebob strays. If he should find any, Chisum told Ike, he and his men were to cut them out and move them back to the Jinglebob herds.

“Fridge had no trouble until one day when he rode into a herd that belong (belonged) to Pete Maxwell of Fort Sumner — far away from Maxwell’s regular range; and in the herd were a number of Jinglebob cattle — with brands altered and ears cut off! (To hide an earmark — a method to identify cattle — rustlers would cut off the cattle’s ears.)

“Ike and a saddle pard (partner) — a young man by the name of Tabb had been working cattle together for several weeks and had become close friends. They rode into the herd to cut out the Jinglebob stock, thinking it would only be routine.

“But altering brands and earmarks was serious business. The Maxwell herders stubbornly refused to let Chisum’s men go through their herd. An argument started and a Maxwell man drew his gun and shot Tabb in the back. This started a small war. When it was over Tabb and a Maxwell herd boss were dead.

“This episode marked the beginning of real trouble for young Ike Fridge, and it dogged his trail from then on. But he was a loyal Chisum herder and he kept doing the job that had been assigned him.

“A few days later Ike and a half dozen other herders were on the north side of the Jinglebob ranch working cattle when a contingent of soldiers from Las Vegas rode into their camp with a warrant for the arrest of several Jinglebob riders especially — Ike Fridge.

“Although angered at the charges, Ike and his compadres could do nothing except to go with the troopers to Las Vegas where they were thrown behind bars.

“John Chisum was in St. Louis at the time, but a message was sent to him about his herders predicament, and in a few days a St. Louis lawyer arrived in Las Vegas and wasted no time in getting the Jinglebob cowboys out of jail. A few days later all of them but two were acquitted by the Justice of the Peace. These two — much to Ike’s displeasure — were jailed again.

“Ike and his sidekicks went back to Bosque Grande disgruntled about the whole affair. Ike sent word to high foreman, Jim McDaniel, who was bringing a herd from downriver. As soon as the foreman showed up, he and Ike got together a posse of cowboys and they were soon headed for Las Vegas. When they reached town, they promptly broke down the jail door and freed the remaining Jinglebob cowboys — along with four others.

“After the death of Tabb, Ike began riding with another cowboy — a man by the name of Charlie Rankin. Once in a while Fridge and Rankin went to one of the Mexican villages to pick up a few needed supplies which were not kept in Chisum’s commissary.

“During the 1870s Puerta de Luna, northwest of Fort Sumner, was one of the toughest towns along the Pecos. Ike didn’t like the place and had a feeling that he might get into trouble up there one day, since some of his old enemies were usually there, but it was the best place to find ‘hard to get’ items.

“Before they left the Bosque Grande, Ike and Rankin talked it over and decided that by riding most of the night they could be in town by dawn the next day. They would then get their supplies loaded on their horses and get out of town before any of their adversaries were aware of their presence.

“Ike’s plans did not always work out the way he had figured, however. He and Rankin made it into town all right and got their supplies loaded on their horses. But just as they had finished, three Mexican officers abruptly confronted them and accused them of being Chisum herders.

“Ike and Rankin, knowing they were in deep trouble, drew their guns, quickly and quietly, disarming the law men. Then they left town on the run — toward Bosque Grande.

“They had not gone too far when, as they feared, a posse showed up on their tail — gaining fast. This time the two cowboys were greatly outnumbered.

“The horses were heavily loaded with sacks of supplies tied behind their saddles. Even so, Fridge and Rankin had no choice but to make a run. But they had been riding hard during the night and their horses were tired. Soon the so-called posse was bearing down on them.

“Ike, not quite so heavily loaded as Rankin, managed to gain a lead, but Rankin was not faring too well. Fridge looked back to see his partner’s horse lagging more and more. Then he heard shots — and saw Rankin slump in his saddle.

“Finally he saw Rankin slide out of his saddle and hit the ground, and Ike Fridge knew that his partner was dead. There was nothing he could do now but to try to save himself. If he could get to the breaks of the river and back to Jinglebob territory … .

“Turning his horse into a rugged canyon and hiding until the posse went by, Fridge was finally able to lose them. After hiding out most of the day and riding at night, Ike finally reached the Jinglebob headquarters, a very tired cowboy and deeply saddened at losing another saddle pard.

“Cattle rustling was rampant up and down the Pecos during 1872. The Jinglebob outfit was constantly plagued by rustlers. Calves disappeared before they could be branded. Finally the Chisum high bosses were notified that a trail had been discovered where cattle were being moved out — by the hundreds.

“Immediately Jim McDaniel and Chisum cowboys were called in and given orders to go after the stolen cattle. As usual, Ike Fridge — always anxious to be along if excitement was imminent — was among the group.

“The men rode all afternoon and into the night. The moon was bright. The trail was easy to follow since some six hundred head of cattle had been moved down it. Finally the moon went down and McDaniel ordered a halt for rest until daybreak. The men hobbled their horses and rolled out their soogans (blanket).

“During the night the Chisum men heard cattle bawling in the distance. McDaniel suggested that it must be a dry herd that needed water — and could very well be the stolen cattle. At his orders, the men cut short their naps and crawled back in their saddles, finally locating the cattle just before dawn.

“After talking it over with the other men, McDaniel and Fridge decided to slip in and turn the wrestlers horses loose, which would perhaps hurt them more than starting a gun fight — and would be much safer for Jinglebob forces. So the men divided up, going in different directions around the herd until they had surrounded the cattle and were in control of the rustlers’ remuda.

“The plan worked. There was some gunfire, but no one was hurt, and the Jinglebobbers were soon well on their way toward the Pecos with John Chisum’s cattle — along with a new remuda.

“Ike spent most of his life gathering, branding and driving cattle with John Chisum. It was a rough life, but Ike was a born cowhand — and a ‘dyed in the wool’ Chisum man. Perhaps sensing that real trouble and much blood shed was about to break out in Lincoln County, he finally decided to ride back to Texas where he could settle down and live to a ripe old age.”

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

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