A PRODIGAL SOLDIER'S RETURN

                                         From book entitled:  True Tales of the South at War
                                                                          Collected and Edited by Clarence Poe
  

No picture of the war could be complete unless it
included the father and mother of the son in uniform - often waiting, waiting for a too-long-delayed return.
Sometimes the soldier had never learned to write 
and so depended on some oral message, possibly
lost in transmission.  At any rate not a few soldier's 
far from home returned months after - and in some
cases a year or so after the war - with no advance
word to wife or parents.   With charm and authenticity Dr. J. Frank Dobie of the University of Texas here reveals what war meant to one such waiting couple
in pioneer Texas cattle country - a true story sent for special inclusion in this volume.
 

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.
 

Pages 199 - 203 - "TrueTales of  the South At War - 
                        Collected and edited by Clarence Poe 

Return to Main 

Return to Gazette Articles