In 1877, I was freighting from Ft. Worth to western points with other young men. We were hauling hunter's supplies and government supplies, and hauling buffalo hides back to Ft. Worth. In the early part of November, I went from Ft. Griffin out to what was known as Rath's store, a supply store near Double Mountain. On the second trip I made out there, I was employed as a freighter with some others to go up in the Duck Creek country in the early part of November, 1877. We went to what is known as Tom Wilson's buffalo camp, which was on the Espuela Land & Cattle Co.
Tom Wilson was quite a successful hunter and had many men in his employ. One was a little dark complexioned black eyed Irishman who was a professional buffalo hunter. He came from Chicago, and was a professional skinner and butcher. He could skin a buffalo with great speed... We unloaded our supplies, some kegs of powder and pig lead...
I did not expect to see a woman there, but there was a little black-eyed woman. I had on a big overcoat, and for the minute it scared me, unexpectedly seeing this woman. I tipped my hat and acted like my mother taught me, and she seemed glad to see me. I told her that we were out of salt. She was delighted to furnish the salt and said, "I have a new barrel. Come back and get some more." She was very nice. I started back with my salt, and when I got up on the hill I saw the first blue quail I ever saw. I killed one with my pistol. I took it into camp and it was the first that any of them had ever seen...
I left the Wilson camp late in the month of November and went down by what is now known as Steele Hill on Duck Creek. The camp was made on buffalo hides and pelts put around similar to the way the Indians make teepees. the point would be up in the center and you would make a fire in the center. he had several of those teepees there and among other things he had numbers of vats swung with buffalo hides for the purpose of curing buffalo meat... It was quite an extensive camp. They would ship this meat to Ft. Worth and then it would be shipped out from there. however, the meat was incidental. The real enterprise was the hides.
Steele was a small man, dark, with black eyes; a man of considerable culture and a most pleasant gentleman. He had a house made of buffalo hides just in the shape we make an ordinary log cabin. Its sides were fixed up with buffalo hides, also the roof, and he had a door fixed on a frame made of buffalo hides. Toward the end was a chimney built of those red stones we find in that community. It had the appearance of a house. I want to mention that Duck Creek was a very narrow stream. Along the banks were large cottonwood trees and a tall grass we called tule grass. The open door of the house was toward the creek and the chimney back toward the hills - near the cottonwood trees.
I was 18 years old, just a young boy, I got my hand hurt. When I came to this camp, Mr. Steele observed that my hand was hurt and said to me, "Here boy, you come and go with me, I have a doctor up at the house."
He took me to the house. His wife was a small woman, well trained in every particular. She was a wonderful little lady, a lady of fine intelligence. They had two little boys and two little girls, ranging from five to ten. She dressed my hand and was a real surgeon. It was one of the finest jobs I ever had.
I remember distinctly on the next morning after I had my hand hurt the weather was bad and a tremendous drift of buffalo came. Steele got his gun and went out to try to secure a stand. There is a kind of gap in those hills going out of Duck Creek southwestward. in that gap he killed 15 or 20. They have to get them milling, and as the leader starts off they kill him. Then when another starts off they kill him. I saw Tom Wilson kill 120 buffalo once.
On that occasion I ran up to the end of the hill, thinking I could see more. when I got to the top of the hill I shall never forget what I saw - buffalo as far as I could see. They were running. This was the latter part of November 1877, or the first part of December. This was the most buffalo I ever saw. The weather was cold and they were going south. Probably they would go down as far as below San Angelo. They were drifting - lots of antelope and deer, too.
I had some magazines in my wagon which contained pictures. I brought them up to give to the children. She was delighted with them.
The next day we went to Ft. Griffin. I was in Ft. Griffin when the Fourth Calvary with General Mackenzie was returning from Nebraska. Each company was mounted on horses of the same color. I had the pleasure of meeting General Mackenzie and shaking his hand. He was the finest, most pleasant, thoughtful-looking man I have ever known. He was very polite. He was the best Indian fighter ever in Texas. General Grant thought a great deal of him.
I told some officer's wives of Mrs. Steele and her children and their need for reading material. I got a big stack of magazines and picture papers and various articles that I took back on the next trip to Mrs. Steele. I continued that as long as I went into that country.
From Ft. Griffin we made another trip up there. The weather was severely cold. We were going from Steele Hill down Duck Creek toward Double Mountain...I was wearing a big chinchilla coat with a gun belt and a .45 pistol that Mr. Conrad had given me...We had to stop and reload our buffalo hides. They had been slipping, and we had to unload. Our horses and mules got away. Taking the trail that went on toward the river, I tracked them. Off at a distance I saw the horses. They were all there except two mules. I left the horses standing by the hills and went to hunt the mules.
The sun was getting up, and I observed two men. The men wore blankets and buffalo skin caps. They had guns in their hands. The tracks of the miles had gone right by them. I had with me a .45 pistol, and I knew how to shoot. I concluded these men were Indians, and I kept right along slowly. These men were between me and the sun, and I could see the mules just a little beyond them. Finally I made the discovery that they were hunters, and I went up to them. They were hunting on that high slope and looking out for buffalo.
I got the mules and when I got back where the horses were I killed a large deer with big horns. As much as I have shot at deer, it is the only one that I ever killed. When I got back, we loaded the hides.
That is the way I spent Christmas Day, 1877.
("Papa" Dickson was born November 8, 1859, in Bentonville, Arkansas. In 1883 he was appointed deputy sheriff of Baylor County. In 1893 he passed the bar after completing a mail order course in law. He subsequently was elected county attorney, district attorney, and in 1901 was appointed district judge. He died in Seymour, Texas, September 20, 1940, one of the truly colorful characters of the old West.)
Reprinted with permission from The Texas Spur, Thursday, March 19, 1998.