December 07, 2010

They Called Him “Antelope Al”

His name was Martin Alford Green and he was a scout for the Cavalry out of Ft. Sill Oklahoma. Part of that task included bringing back meat for the pot to feed the soldiers. In this wind-swept and treeless plains of the Red River country that usually meant antelope. 

This is not a work of fiction. He was my great grandfather on my grandmother’s side of the family, and capturing many of the old stories from grandpa is what got me started writing. I found an old spool of wire in my grandmother’s storage building and it intrigued me because it had a lightning bolt on it. I knew it to be recording wire. I had an uncle who never threw anything away, mostly because he had an amazing ability to make anything work again. He had an old wire recorder and we made it work well enough to play the old recording, and that started my writing career.

The tape spoke with the voice of Ira T. Green, Grandpa’s third son. Enthralled, I worked countless hours transcribing the old words, capturing the priceless tales. This is the only record of them. I did know that they had tried to do a book of pioneers many years ago and had tried to prevail on Grandpa to contribute to it but he thought it was too much like bragging and wouldn’t do it. Until I started capturing these words with trembling hands I thought that piece of history was gone. The following is unedited, in Ira’s words:
Well, Pa worked for many years on the Waggoner ranch for many years in his later years … not as a cowboy, but as a general repairmen and carpenter. He built lots of houses and corrals and pens . . . dipping vats and everything like that. Us boys as we growed up would go out on the job with him, and he’d talk about things he wouldn’t talk about anywhere else. Tales I’m trying to tell now.

Well, eatin’ was kinda hard to come by, and while Dad was still home, him and another boy decided they’d set some traps over in the Indian country. There was a place of there the Indians never got around to, well, maybe once in a while but they wasn’t hostile, so the boys decided that was good trapping country. They was a good ways from home, but they got them a cave-like outfit in a washout. They made a good roof on it and a good front door and covered it with brush where it’d be hard to see. They had a fireplace with a smokestack that hid the smoke. They’d come in a different way so’s not to create any kind of path. They didn’t know what the Indians might do if they found them there.

But once Dad was there by himself and he’d seen him some Indians close by just before dark so he was mighty uneasy about it. During the night he heard a scuffling noise outside and he looked out the peephole in the door. It was bright moonlight outside but he couldn’t see nuthin’ but thought maybe a little movement up close to the door. He stuck his gun barrel out and something grabbed hold of it so he touched it off.
The gun made the awfulest racket in that closed up place and he figured the sound could be heard ten miles for sure. Even worse there was a sound of something struggling and kicking and breathing hard. He just knew he had shot him a raider and where there was one there was bound to be more. He didn’t get him no sleep that night for sure, but the next morning he peeked out and the biggest coon he had ever seen was laying outside the door. It musta grabbed hold of his gun as he poked it out. He shore was relieved.

One day Dad was at the swimming hole with a bunch of boys and one of them was the son of the carpetbagger Judge. He was overbearing, full of importance and mighty hard to get along with. So Dad, he got in a fight with him and it was an awful fight. Dad got the best of it and kinda messed the boy up. After the fight everybody advised Dad to pull out of there before that Judge made it hard on him so he got three horses that he owned and pulled out.

He had some kin down in Coleman County … they run a ranch down there, so Dad worked there for several years making several runs up the old Chisholm trail herdin’ cattle. But he wanted more adventure , like most young fellers do and he’d heard tales about the buffalo hunters making a lot of money so he took his horses and pulled out again.

The main outfitting place was in Jacksboro, so that’s where he went. He inquired around about a job, but he was just a kid even though he was big for his age and pretty wise to how things was done. But wouldn’t nobody hire him on until he run across a man named John Carter. Old John had some wagons and was figuring on going into the buffalo country, but didn’t have him enough drivers. He didn’t like to hire anybody that was just a kid but he axed Dad if he could drive an ox team and he showed him that he could, he handled them all right. Still, he probably wouldn’t have gotten the job if Dad hadn’t had them horses. The old man figured they might come in handy.

They went up on the plains, had pretty good luck, and got lots of hides. They was organized with shooters and skinners and peggers and wagon drivers. They’d follow the herd and shoot as many as they could. The skinners would come along behind them and peel the hide off, then the peggers would stretch them out and peg them with wooden pegs to dry. Then the wagons would come along after they was dry and pick them up.
Before long Dad graduated from a bullwhacker to a shooter. He was a good shot, and that was a whole lot less work. When they got a load of hides they’d take them back to Jacksboro. But on one trip they run shy on provisions and Dad and old man Carter went over to Adobe Walls where they had rigged up a sort of outfitting place. They had a saloon and a store where you could buy ammunition and eatables and such.

Well, they spent the night there figuring on pulling out early the next day. One of the fellows got up early the next morning and went out to check on things when he came to notice somethin’ in the distance. He made it out to be a big bunch of Indians. He run into the cabin a hollering. The cabin was a sod house with doors and windows. They got the door shut just in time, but there was two men sleeping under a wagon that didn’t make it. They was killed right off.

They had them a pretty good battle. The Indians would back their horses up to the door and try to kick it in but it held. They’d ride circles around them cabins hangin’ off the sides and shooting. Most had bows and arrows but a few had guns. Still, they didn’t make much impression on them sod houses, but they kept trying. One thing they didn’t count on was them Spencer rifles would go right through a horse and get the buck hanging off the other side. They finally give up.

There was another so-called Battle of Adobe Walls some time after that. They had made Adobe Walls a place to stack hides. They wouldn’t drive back when they got a load, they’d just stack them there, in a stack as high as they could pass them from a wagon. It musta been a mile long, nothing but hides with spaces in between.

They’d been having this fight with a bunch of Indians again when Dad come in. He hadn’t been there long when they saw this fellow riding in alone with a bunch of braves right on his tail. He had a good horse and was keeping his distance but they managed to get close enough to shoot his horse and down he went. Dad was the only one that had a horse saddles so he jumped on and rode down there to pick the guy up before the Indians could close in and get them.

After that the battle got serious. The Indians had come in too close to get away and their horses was pretty give out anyway so they got in around them piles of hides and got to sniping back and forth. Finally the Indians got back on their horses and got away, but they stopped over on the rise to try to work it up to try again. There was this feller by the name of Billy Dixon come out and he made this shot to knock this fellow with the most feathers off his horse. After that they figured their medicine was bad and they rode off. That was some shot.

Dad was kind of a hero for a while, saving that man’s life. The man later on got to be a big judge up in the Panhandle but I don’t recollect his name. Dad wrote a song called “The Buffalo Hunters” and another guy put it to music. It got kinda popular there for a while.

Ranches started to spread up that way and Dad took to working on one up in Hall County. He still wasn’t much more than a kid but he worked there for several years. One day they was out on the range and one of the boys hadn’t come in. Suddenly, over the hill, they heard the sound of a battle going on. They rode over there right quick and a bunch of Indians had the boy down in a hollow and were riding around him shooting at him. Some of them had guns, and he had his saddle rifle. They ran the m off and got to where he was. They rode in to where he was and started laughing when they got to looking. There was one empty shell and a whole lot of loaded ones all around him. In his excitement he’d fired one time and then kept levering them through without pulling the trigger. He’d even reloaded and continued to do it. The Indians was all shooting so they hadn’t noticed he wasn’t actually firing back. The boys all rawhided him over that one. 

One day Dad was 40 or 50 miles from the headquarters with dark coming on and drizzling rain. He knew where a cave was in that Caprock country and he headed for it so he could get a good night’s rest. He rode up to it, ran inside and started to fish out a match to find him a dry spot to settle in. Problem was there was a bear in there and he didn’t take to the idea of being hemmed up. He was just a half growed bear but he looked pretty big to Dad. He started out and Dad was in the way. He grabbed Dad by the left shoulder and hung on like a bulldog. Dad’s gun was on his saddle and he didn’t have nuthin but a belt knife, but he pulled it and took to sawing on that bear’s neck until he finally hit a vein and killed it. Even then it stayed haning on to him and he had a time getting loose. He bandaged it best as he could but figured he’d better ride back to the ranch that night so that’s what he done.

Before the country got sorted up, there was a detail of soldiers that got caught by a big snow story crossing the Caprock country. They had wagons with them and they just couldn’t make any progress. They were there a couple of weeks and they ran out of grub. Hunting was good and if they’d been a little outfit they could have made out with the game, but being a big bunch they had to kill their horses and mules and eat them. They broke up the wagons for fuel. When the weather broke they had to march out of there.

Years after that General Nelson Miles was making an inspection tour and wanted to see the place it happened. Somebody told him Dad knew that country and the General wanted Dad to lead him there. Dad had rode up on the wagon irons one day and knew how to get back to them. The General admired his ability to do it and asked him how he would like to be a scout for the soldiers over at Ft. Sill. He said it was a good job and he’d ride the river and look for Indians that had crossed over the river into Texas that weren’t supposed to be there. So Dad agreed to work for them but only if he furnished his own horses. He’d heard about scouts that were issued mules and he didn’t want to be caught out in the open on a government mule. Good thing, he got chased by Comanches and Kiowas a number of times, but he always had a good horse and always got away. 

Dad worked for 75 dollars a month which was durn good wages in them days. He had 38 river riders working for him and had an Indian tracker that he said could track an ant across a solid rock. He done that for about three years until he came back and went to work for the Waggoner Ranch, but I already told about that part.
Authors note: Grandpa was not above embellishing the truth a little if it would help the telling of the story and it was thought for many years that there was more fabrication than truth. For example, there is a list of those who were at the Battle of Adobe Walls and he is not on it. But then I talked to a historian who told me the list is those who were there on Day one and a lot of people in the area who heard of the battle came running and were there by Day 2 but not on the list.

Then the family told me about Billy Dixon, who made the famous shot, being the Grand Marshall of the Tri State Fair Parade in Amarillo, and he stopped the parade when he saw Grandpa to take him into his car with him. Then came the day at his funeral when two of the legendary chief Quannah Parker’s wives showed up as mourners. There may have been embellishment, but there was always a base of truth. 

“Antelope Al” Green led quite a life.


Elisabeth said...

Those stories are fascinating in any case, but for them to be a part of your own family history must be amazing! I think my love of history and my writing have been intertwined from way back - it's just recently that I've begun to realize how much loving history has had an impact on my writing. Thanks for sharing these stories!

max said...

Fabulous material Terry. Thanks for posting it.

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jtwebster books said...

So fascinating to read these stories. Thanks for sharing them.

Brenda said...

This sounds like a great read.
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