Ben Drake began his cattle driving career in 1871 at the age of sixteen and went up the trail each year until 1879. This is how he told his story:
On the 3rd day of January, 1855, I first saw the light of day, on Wilbarger Creek, twenty miles below Austin, in Travis county, Texas.
Lived there until I was twelve years old, then mother sold the place and moved to Bastrop, where she and my stepfather taught school.
When I was sixteen years old one of the Murchison boys asked me to go up the trail with him. Of course I was willing but my mother objected, and it took a great deal of persuading on the part of Pete Murchison and myself to get her to consent for me to go.
She gave in to our entreaties, however, and I accompanied Pete to a shoe shop where he ordered a pair of boots made for me. Those boots cost $14.00. He also gave me a pair of bell spurs, a Colt’s cap and ball six-shooter, and a rim-fire Winchester, as well as a pair of leather leggins which cost $12.00.
This was the first time in my life that I had been rigged out, and you bet I was proud.
He sold me two horses and agreed to pay me a good salary. We started with the herd about the middle of March, 1871, with 2,500 head of stock cattle.
Among the boys in our bunch were Glabe Young, Pinkey Stull, Peter Sneed, Johnnie White and several others whose names I cannot recall.
We crossed the Colorado about a mile below Austin, and drove out below Manor and camped on Cottonwood Creek that night. As I was only two miles from where my grandmother lived, Pete and I went there to stay all night.
Leaving there early the next morning we went back to the herd and were soon on the trail again. When we reached Brushy Creek it was up and we camped on this side crossing over the next day.
This was the first stream I ever helped to swim a herd across. The next creek we crossed was called Boggy, and it lived up to its name, for it would bog a snake.
Before we reached Alligator Creek we had a heavy rain and hail storm. When we got to the Gabriel it was bank full but we swam it, and on the other side we counted our cattle and found thirty short.
The first lot of Indians I saw was when we reached the Territory, and then I wished I was home with my mother.
We reached our destination, Kansas City all right, where Pete sold out, and we came back home together, coming back by Austin where we were paid off.
When I reached home I gave all of my wages to my mother, stayed there three days and went back to the ranch to work for Murchison.
In 1872 I again went up the trail but before going I bought my second pair of boots from the same man who made my first pair.
On this drive we followed the same route we had taken the year before. It rained and stormed almost all of the way, and we had to swim all of the streams we crossed.
This was a sad trip for us. While we were in the territory, near where Oklahoma City now stands, our herd stampeded and mixed with another herd there and we had a hard time getting them separated.
Several of the men in the other outfit had some trouble and a regular battle took place, in which nine men were killed. None of our hands were mixed up in it.
I understand the row started between two boys over a stake pin. We buried the dead men as best we could right there on the prairie.
Pete sold out in Dodge City, Kansas, horses and all, but I kept my horses and came back with a man who was bringing a bunch of horses.
In 1874 I went with one of Snyder’s herds, and also in 1875 and 1876 Snyder sent herds to Wyoming. While there I was in a party that went to join Custer, but when we reached Fort Reno he was gone.
But we had several fights with Indians anyhow. Then I went to Kansas City, sold my horse and came back to good old Texas.
In 1877 I again hit the trail, this time with a herd of the Blocker cattle which we drove through to Wyoming. Went again in 1878.
I started in 1879, but got done up just about the time we reached the Territory. I was carried to an Indian camp and there I had to remain three months.
While there I ate dry land terrapin and dog meat cooked together and was glad to get it. Finally the old chief went to Texarkana and got some one to come after me.
A United States marshal brought me to Austin in a buggy.