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Not long after Texas joined the Confederacy, a youngster named Tim Cude, from Live Oak County, enlisted. Although he was only sixteen years old, his way with oxen was a community wonder - especially the power of his voice over them. It was a voice young and lush, but strong, without the gosling quality. He did not charm the oxen by whispering - horse charmer style - in their ears.

Brindle and Whitney were his wheelers, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, the leaders. They were steers of the old-time Texas Longhorn breed, and they could pull a log out of its bark. When Tim commanded them they would go to their places to be hitched to wagon or plow. Tim was partial to Brindle,and when he put a hand over the ox's head, the ox would often show his pleasure by licking out his tongue. The four oxen were the last inhabitants of the little Cude ranch that Tim told good-bye when he left to fight the Yankees. He was an only child. He did not realize what emptiness he left behind him. He seldom wrote to relieve it.

Months after Appomattox, his mother and father learned that he had been alive at Lee's surrender. More months, then a year, then two years dragged by, and still Tim did not come home, and there was no word from him. At first his father and mother talked with high hopes of his coming, then, gradually, they came to say little, even to each other, about his return. They still nursed a hope, but the heavy conviction settled down on them that Tim must be among the many boys in gray who would never come back home. Their hope grew gray and secret, without confidence. The days went by slow as laboring oxen walk.

In the late spring of 1867, Mr. Cude put a few beeves in a herd going north. Six months later the owners of the herd returned and paid him the first money he had seen in years. The aging couple needed to buy necessities, but Mr. Cude had a hard time persuading "mama" to go with him down to Powderhorn on the coast for the purchases. "Tim might come while we are gone," was her only argument. Mr. Cude's argument that, if he came, he would stay until they got back, had slight weight with her. She wanted to be there. Mr. Cude would not argue, not even to himself, much less to her, that Tim would never come. But he often reasoned gently that it was better for them both to be resigned.

It was in December before Mrs. Cude finally consented to go. They took a load of dry cowhides with them, and as the oxen pulled them south at the rate of about two miles an hour, the went over their plans again and again for spending the money.

The plans cheered them. They would buy sacks of real coffee and a new coffee grinder that would do away with the labor of pounding the grains held by canvas with a hammer. They would buy sacks of flour and have real flour bread. "You remember how Tim always likes flour gravy," Mrs. Cude said, "and sugar - sugar for cakes and pies." She would have enough calico for three new dresses and a sunbonnet, besides a tablecloth; he would have new boots, new hat and breeches, and parcale for sewing into shirts. "I'll get some blue for Tim," Mrs. Cude said. There would be a new plow for the cornpatch and lumber for a galley to the frame house, so hot in the summer. They needed chains, axes, many ordinary things.

It took them a week to get down to Powderhorn, and then two days to buy everything and load the wagon. On the way back Mrs. Cude kept wishing they'd make better time, but the four old tortoise-stepping oxen never moved a foot faster. "Perhaps Tim came home today," Mrs. Cude would say at the evening camp. "I dreamed last night that he came just after dark," she'd say over the morning campfire, always burning long before daybreak. In all the dragging months, months adding themselves into years, no day had dawned, no night had fallen, that she had not made some little extra preparation for her boy's coming home. In all the period of waiting, this was the first time she had not been there to welcome him. As she approached the waiting homestead now, the hope of more than fourteen absent days and of more than fourteen absent nights were all accumulated into one hope. Perhaps Tim had come! Mr. Cude shared the hope, too, but it hurt him so to see "mama" disappointed, and he never encouraged daydreams.

At last they were only six miles from home. Christmas was only three days away. Then in a mudhole at the crossing on La Parra Creek the oxen stalled. For an hour Mr. Cude struggled and worried with them, trying to get them to make the supreme pull. Mrs. Cude threw all her strength on the spoke of one wheel. Finally Mr. Cude began the weary business of unloading some of the freight and carrying it on his back up the bank from the creek.

Then suddenly they were aware of a man, dismounted from the horse beside him, standing on the bank just ahead. Being down in the creek, they could not have seen his approach. His frame, though lank, was well filled out, his face all bearded, his clothes nondescript. In his posture was something of the soldier. Nearly all Southron men had, in those days, been soldiers. For a second he seemed to be holding something back; then he gave a hearty greeting that cordially responded to.

"Those look like mighty good oxen," the young man said, coming down, as any stranger in that country at that time would come to help anybody in a tight spot.

. "They are good oxen, but they won't pull this wagon out now," Mr. Cude answered. "I guess they're getting old like us and can't. We've been working them since before the war."

The stranger had moved around so that he was very near the wheel oxen, which he faced, instead of the driver and his wife. His hand was on Brindle's head, between the long rough horns, and the old ox, whose countenance was the same whether in a bog hole or a patch of spring tallow weed, licked out his tongue.

"I believe I can make these old boys haul the wagon out," the man said.

"They wouldn't do any better for a stranger than for their master," Mr. Cude answered.

"There's only one person who could get them to pull," added Mrs. Cude. "That's our boy who went to war."

"Oh, yes, and they knew him. They liked him."

Then for a little while there was silence.

As Mr. Cude began drawing up his rawhide whip, again the stranger asked for a chance to try his hand.

"Very well," Mr. Cude agreed slowly, "but every time you try to make 'em pull and they don't budge the wagon, they're that much harder to get against the yoke the next time."

The young man asked the names of the oxen and got them. Then he took the long whip, not to lash the animals - for that was not the whip's function - but to pop it. He swung it lightly and tested the popper three or four times, as if getting back the feel of something long familiar that had been laid aside. then he curved the fifteen feet of tapering plaited rawhide through the air - and the ringing crack made the sky brighter. At the same time he began calling to the oxen to come on and pull. He talked to Brindle and Whitney and Sam Houston and Davy Crockett harder than a crapshooter talking to his bones.

The oxen, without a jerk, lay slowly, steadily, mightily, into the yokes. The wheels began to turn. The whip popped again, like a crack of lightning in the sky, and the strong voice rose, pleading, encouraging, confident, dominating.

The oxen were halfway up the bank now. They pulled on out, but nobody was talking to them any longer. For with a shout that rang to the Texas heavens the Cudes recognized their son who could handle oxen as no one
else on earth. And no welcome of feast and fatted calf ever overwhelmed a prodigal son like that, initiated by four faithful old oxen, which Tim Cude received from his mother and father on the banks of an insignificant creek in a wilderness of mesquite and prairie.

Crossroads Gazette - Vol 1 - Articles