The Old West…

 Its women

Its Cowboys

Its territories                                                                                                                                     

Its untold stories                                   

Its forgotten history

In these fictional short stories I wrote , you will discover the men and women of the 1800’s American frontier and how they shaped the most powerful nation in the world.

They tamed a wild, inhospitable land into submission by harnessing old world skills, values and being unafraid to draw a line in the sand.

In honor of all who came before, who threw a rope, who rode for the brand, this blog consisting of my short stories is dedicated to them.                      


“Each post listed on the right side column is the title to one of my written Western Short Stories… read ’em and enjoy ’em for free! These are not cut down versions of a longer tale.

For those of you interested in heritage recipes and trail cooking, visit my cooking blog by simply clicking on the old wood cook stove shown in the column to the right.  Ride easy and eat well my friend.”   JW

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Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

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Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

My spurs are my wedding band

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My city friend recently asked me “Why do you still wear your spurs, you haven’t even been on a horse for a couple years now, have you?”

 

Well, he was correct about that. For the last few years now my stove up legs have prevented me from easily swinging into the saddle. Why I’d need a ladder to assist me in that endeavor now and no true Western man would ever be caught dead doing that.

Looking down at my boots I saw not what he saw but I saw all the years of memories these spurs and I have shared together. They, like myself, have over the years have lost their shine and luster. Where once a coating of shiny silver was seen, bare metal now is predominant. True, they still jingle and jangle when I walk down the isle at church as I make my way down to my favorite pew but most folks would have removed them before hand. Not me and I’ll say why. As for the engraved silver toe guards? They’re worn so smooth it would take an electron microscope to see the original scroll work Jenny had them engrave upon them the with our wedding date.

I told my friend;

“When I was a young man I asked a fine specimen of a girl to marry me… she said yes. Now back then and for a decade afterward, we were what most western folk would call, ‘dirt poor’. I couldn’t afford a wedding ring for the two of us so I went without. A jeweler friend of ours Tim out of Ohio donated the stone as his wedding gift to us and for the next five years my wife and I obey’d the Biblical passage and went forth and multiplied.”

“Five years of marriage and four children later we celebrated our fifth anniversary by stopping in at the Boot Barn. My anniversary gift was a pair of new boots. Her gift remained at home to be opened later that day. A year previous I’d already begun placing cardboard inside those boots to protect my socks from the big holes in the leather soles. Two hours and Thirty five dollars poorer, we happily walked out of the Boot Barn with me proudly wearing a fine set of shark skin, tall heeled Western boots. My old ones were now gracing the Boot Barns trash can. During my anniversary buying spree, my wife Jenny told me to take my time as she wanted to window shop. Inside the place was just about anything a Western man could lust after.”

“As we made our way to the car I noticed she was carrying a Boot Barn paper sack. I asked about it and she told me to just hold my horses till we got inside the car where a friend of ours had been watching our four monsters… uh, children. Once inside and seated, the kids quieted down knowing we had not abandoned them and were headed to Mexico as I threatened them with a hundred times before.”

“It was inside the car that Jenny opened the sack to reveal her purchases. She handed me a pair of beautiful silver spurs along with a pair of silver toe guards. The spurs were exactly what I wanted. You see, I do not cotton to those spurs that have heel mounted Mexican rowels (those popular needle sharp wheels that jab the horse causing bleeding and scars on the poor animals flanks) She had bought me ‘soft’ spurs that only tickle the horse (see pic above). I was speechless but managed to ask. “How did you buy these?” After all, I knew how long it took just to save up the money for the boots let alone a set of spurs and toe guards. She told me, “I started squirreling away a couple dollars a month out of our grocery money for the last three years. I knew you’d always wanted a pair of spurs so it was either them or a wedding band!”

“I’ve now gone through five more pair of boots since then and upon each pair these spurs and toe guards have graced each new pair. Like a wedding band, I will never take them off my boots no matter the social event or situation. I want everyone to know how much my wife loves me and how much she struggled thirty six years ago to save up the money in order to say to me, “I love you”!

By the way men, I did purchase her an anniversary present. Now pay attention here. Never, ever upon the pain of death, buy your wife on your fifth or any other anniversary year, a frying pan no matter how much you think she needs one! You will find yourself running horse whipped fast back to K-Mart returning it! You will then spend double what you had intended too in order to make up for the evil soul killing look you’ll get from your dear beloved upon her seeing such an asinine gift you went and got her. Remember, NO kitchen utensils, small appliances, vacuum cleaners or anything for the home should ever be bought as a gift for your wife. Learn from me,  Been there, done that, and I paid the price!

 

 

 

 

Now on Amazon! Bekke’s Law

A two part story combined into one book… at a single book price!

I wrote Bekke’s Law to be a different kind of Western. You will find yourself cheering for her as she struggles to survive in a western world pitted against her, yet in the end, she wins. JW

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first man at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

Excerpt from Belle’s Law, page 1.

The cabin at Muldoon Creek

 

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Laf Yellowhair finished resetting the last trap along his twenty mile trap line deep in the Idaho Rockies. Out of sixty traps set along the trap line, eighteen produced fur, not too bad a day for it being mid winter he mused. A mix of nine marten, seven mink and two small red foxes rounded out this trip. Tossing his last catch, a mink now well frozen, into the canvas sack, he readied himself to head north to where he had built a small trappers cabin two years earlier. Rising to his full six feet in height, he stretched his tired muscles before reaching for the stiff ice covered rope that was attached to the sled behind him.

The late afternoon sun produced no heat but painted the mountains with a pallet in shades of yellows and purples. Laf had been trapping this area of the Rocky Mountains for eight years now. Before that he trapped beaver since childhood back in the Sioux Nation with his half breed father, Joseph Yellowhair.

Turning north put the late afternoon sun to his left side allowing him to see without being blinded. His main fear in traveling alone in the mountains was mountain lions. A mountain lion could lay waiting in the shadows unseen until it was too late to react. He knew of some trappers that took a dog with them to warn of impending danger but Laf had no such dog. Nearing the safety of the small cabin, Laf began to relax, this was familiar ground.

Forty miles east from where his small trapper’s cabin stood was the silver mining town of Muldoon. There sat the home he and his dad had built over a period of years alongside the Muldoon Creek. Joseph Yellowhair no longer traipsed the mountains with his son hunting the fur bearing animals. Too stove up to even walk a mile, he instead put his hand to the art of tanning the pelts his son brought in. Working this way gave the two plenty of summer days to enjoy each other’s company and money in their pockets.

Stepping up to the raised wooden platform that the trapping cabin was built on, Laf stopped before the secured door. Something bothered him, something was alarming him, and suddenly his nose twitched… smoke!

Stepping off the platform he cautiously back tracked into the forest sniffing the air. He decided the smell came from quite a distance away because of its fluctuating strength in the breeze. Another ten minutes and he pegged its direction. The smoke was coming from the direction where he had heard a small group of reclusive Mormons were attempting to raise sheep in a grassy valley deep in the mountains. Laf knew even a good sized cook fire would not be strong enough to be noticed this distant therefore it must be a much larger fire. If it were just the smell of burning wood, it would not have been so disconcerting but mingled in with the wood smoke he smelled something more ominous, that of flesh. Whether animal or human he could not tell at this great of distance.

Returning to his cabin, he decided rather than to leave for Muldoon as planned in the morning, he’d scout out the valley where he believed the Mormons to be. With night falling, there was little that could be done anyway and he needed a hot meal and a good rest before heading back out into the cold.

By noon the next day and over a five hour snow shoe walk from his cabin, he finally topped the ridge overlooking the Mormon’s valley. Raising a leather bound brass telescope to his eye he scoured the valley below him. As the telescopes circle of vision reached the far end of the valley he discovered where the strong smell of smoke originated from. Tendrils of smoke driven south by the breeze came from a number of structures that once was the Mormon settlement

On his way into the burnt out settlement Laf came across hundreds of sheep, many were dead, the rest soon to be from being openly exposed to the cold. Walking inside the settlement’s perimeter, he made his way around a number of burnt out structures. No bodies were seen in the rubble, yet no living person was seen either. It was when he entered a large mostly destroyed building, possibly a common meeting house of some sort, that he discovered why. There, lying frozen dead within the structure were a large number of men and a few women. Each had been killed, scalped then left to be burnt in the building’s fire.

Deciding there was no use of his staying there any further he decided to inspect some of the smaller outbuildings that had not been set to the torch.

“Geez”, he said aloud as he left the large burnt building smelling of death, “Indians must have rounded all those Mormon folk up inside to kill ‘em all in one place but what tribe would do that?”

Making his way to an untouched structure, he looked inside the small partially open sided building. He determined it must have been a combination smith and stable. No horses or other animals were inside and all the saddle racks were empty along with any tack.

“It sure does look like some renegade Indians hit ‘em. Maybe some Shoshone or pissed off Blackfeet. Both tribes would for sure take the horses and maybe a mule or two for winter food but why the saddles and tack? Indians aren’t particular to saddles no how. This makes little sense to me.”

Being on foot limited his ability to scout much further but he wanted to see in which direction the Indians had fled by following their tracks. This would give evidence as to which tribe did the raid. If they headed north then it would be the Blackfeet heading up into the western Canadian territory where the Canadian Blackfeet still openly lived, if south then it was the Shoshone.

Instead, what Laf found confused and worried him, they were heading due east, towards Muldoon and his home!

Chapter 2
As he started back in the direction of his small cabin he stopped in his tracks. With his ears peeled listening for the sound he had just heard behind him, he cautiously worked his way back to where he had just stood. Unsure of what produced the sound, Laf lowered himself to a crouching position in order to make himself a smaller target while he listened. Two minutes, then three and he heard it again. A whimper. It was definitely human.

Pulling his revolver out, he made his way stealthily towards the sound. At fifty yards he spotted a dark form lying partially buried in the snow, a girl. No, he realized then it was two girls huddled together.

Instead of rushing headlong into a possible trap, Laf circled the still forms looking for ambushers hiding in the woods that were using the girls as bait. Seeing none, he made his way to them.

As he approached the two girls they spotted him and as one, started screaming.

“No, no, be quiet, make no noise!” He demanded. “There may still be Indians about an’ with you screaming your heads off they’ll for sure hear you and return!”

The two, dressed in the clothes they had been wearing when attending to their chores lay in the snow shaking wide eyed in fear but obediently remained quiet. The older of the two turned out to be a long haired brunette in her mid to late teens while the other was a freckle faced red haired pre adolescent youth. While their hair may have been their signature differences, there was no mistaking the similarities in their facial features. Two sets of green, fear filled eyes stared back at the handsome young man with the long golden hair.

“Who are you?” Laf asked, “What happened here?”

Seeing he’d get little information from the two sets of chattering teeth, he decided the girls needed warmth or they’d soon freeze to death. After building a smokeless fire of dry wood the girls crowded close to the source of warmth.

“We’ll spend the night here.” He told them. “ I’ll go back into your settlement before it gets dark and see what I can salvage so you can travel. There’s no way you can stay here and survive.”

An hour later, he returned from the settlement with two pairs of sheepskin boots and two heavy wool blankets. He did not tell the girls the boots were taken off the dead.

“Alright you two, we need to talk.” Looking at the older of the two he asked, “What happened here?”

The girl who called herself Liberty Ann began to speak after a moment of hesitation. “We, that is my sister Susanne and I, were cleaning the stables when the Indians came.”
“The others were in the meeting house where our Bishop was giving his daily reading from the Book. Susanne and I saw the Indians first as they came out of the woods and circled the building the others were in but we were too afraid to shout out a warning. Instead we hid by pulling some hay down from the loft above us to cover ourselves.”

“Why was it that you two were not listening to your Bishop but cleaning stables at the time?”

Liberty Ann’s face suddenly took on an angry countenance. “A fortnight ago the Bishop told my sister and I that we were both to wed old man Johnson. He is a hard man to think of marrying. He is wealthy and has influence but he is also fat and mean and has already cast two of his wives away! He charged the women for neglecting the wifely duties but everyone knew it was because my sister and I had caught his eye. He is the Bishops brother so he does what he wants and gets away with it. We refused to marry him and used the excuse that we are not yet real Mormon’s and were under no such obligation to marry anyone yet. Plus, the thought of him lying with us was disgusting. As far as why we were not with the others it is simple. Neither Susanne nor I have been baptized into the Mormon faith yet so are still considered to be Gentiles. As Gentiles, we would have no say in our marriage and would be treated as he saw fit. Gentiles are not permitted to listen to the Bishops lectures on the Book until we are baptized and become Mormons, so until then we must still attend to our regular chores. Old man Johnson added cleaning the stables as further punishment for our refusing to marry him.”

“I thought you were born into the Mormon faith, why do you call yourselves Gentiles?”

We were not born to these people. They kindly took us in when our parents drowned attempting to cross a river back in Missouri. Trying to ford a crossing, my father misjudged its depth and the wagon tipped over. There were a group of traveling Mormons in wagons paralleling the river ahead of us and saw the accident. They were able to rescue Susanne and I but mother and father were trapped under the overturned wagon and perished. The Mormon’s said God’s hand was upon us children so they took us in and cared for us. They are a good people but we grew up Baptist and at times we argued with them over the Bible.”

Chuckling, Laf replied, “I bet you did. I don’t know too much about Mormons but I do know there is plenty of contention between them and Bible believing Christians.”

Wishing to change the subject he asked, “So how did you end up here half buried in the snow?”

“Three Indians found us hiding in the hay an hour into the attack. They forced Susanne and I with them into the woods. Once away from the settlement and the other Indians they attempted to have their way with us. Some of the other Indians heard our screams and forced them to stop. They argued over us but then was told by a mean looking older Indian with no teeth that it was time to leave and so instead they left us half dressed to perish in the snow.”

“Well, we need to get you two to a safe place. I have a cabin less than fifteen miles from here but we will need to find or make some snowshoes as there are areas of deep drifting in the passes.”

Glancing up, Liberty Ann said, “Fifteen miles isn’t too far, we won’t need snowshoes.”

“Well, Fifteen miles walking a flat trail or valley bottom may not be far but fifteen miles through the mountains is like fifty in a valley such as this. No, we need to make you two some snowshoes.

Young Susanne spoke up, “If we need snowshoes there are some stored hanging up in the Sheppard’s hut. All the men have a pair when they go off hunting. I’ll show you the shed they keep them in if they didn’t burn it down.” The shed stood unmolested.

The trip into the valley had taken Laf only four hours but returning along the same route now took nine. The girls had never worn snow shoes before so tripping over them in the deep drifts was a constant event which frustrated the girls. Laf kept his calm knowing the girls had been through an emotional catastrophe and was aware not to add stress to their fragile condition. At one point ten year old Susanne sat in the drift she had fallen into and broke down crying.

Seeing they were finally less than two miles from his trappers cabin, Laf called for a rest telling the girls. “You two must have been born wearing snow shoes!” He said encouragingly, “It took me a full month before I could walk as good as you two. Trust me, even the best fall over themselves, you did just fine.”
This brought a teary smile to Susanne’s face. “Really?”

Laf figured a little white lie might actually lift the girl’s spirits so he agreed. Still, something was nagging him about what he saw back at the settlement but couldn’t put a finger on it. At present his mind was too occupied with trying to rescue the girls so he put his questions on the back burner for a later time.

When they reached the cabin, the girls quickly removed their over sized cumbersome snowshoes and sat in front of the trapper’s woodstove warming themselves. Laf busied himself with preparing a dinner of previously cooked deer and dumplings he had wrapped in oil cloth and stored frozen on the cabins roof.

After the meal, the girls fell asleep on his bed. Laf laid a buffalo hide coat on the wood floor and exhausted, fell asleep himself.

The next morning brought a heavy snow so any thought of making his way back to home and to his father was put on hold. He did not fear the Indians would beat him to Muldoon. He knew how difficult it was for a large group to travel any distance with any speed, especially in a heavy snowstorm. The girls had told him they thought there was between thirty and forty Indians, but admitted they could easily have in their state of fright misjudged that amount.

After the morning meal consisting of bacon, canned peaches and jelly spread biscuits Laf decided it was a good time to see what else the girls could remember about the attack.

“Tell me,” he asked the girls after they were settled, “were you able to catch any words those Indians spoke? It might help in figuring out what tribe they were from if you could remember any words they spoke. I’m pretty good at speaking both Shoshone and Blackfeet.”

The girls looked a bit confused then Liberty Ann spoke, “Well of course we could understand them, after all, they spoke as we do, in English.”

Laf’s jaw dropped. “English? Are you sure?”

“Why yes I’m sure, what else would they speak in?”

Hearing this stunned Laf. True, there were a few Shoshone and Blackfeet that spoke English but it was not a tongue generally known this far west. The other fact that had been nagging him was the Indians use of guns and not arrows.

“Did any of the Indians carry bows and arrows?”

The girls returned blank stares.

Liberty Ann ventured, “They had feathers in their hair and their faces that were all painted up. Most had coats like yours, you know, buffalo ones.”

“Did they have moccasins on their feet or shoes?”

Susanne quickly answered, “No, not shoes but boots. Looking at Laf’s feet she continued, “But not like your boots, their boots were smooth without fur or fringe and had heels upon them.”

“Holy cow!” He thought, “White men dressing like Indians? But why?” The idea that he had stumbled upon something very big worried him.

Chapter 3
By that evening, the snow had let up enough to give promise that they could head out come daylight. He told the girls that he needed to warn those living in Muldoon of the oncoming ‘Indians’. He also told them that they would have to assist his clearing out those traps he’d previously set on the way to this cabin. The trip to the Mormon valley and the snowstorm put him back a day or two but there was nothing he could do about that now. It rankled him to leave a baited trap set then not return in a timely manner to check on it. He had seen where animals not instantly killed had chewed off a leg to obtain their freedom. This was not only cruel to the animal it was a waste of a pelt for most animals do not survive the ordeal.

In order to haul all of the pelts and traps back to Muldoon he fashioned a second sled using the small table from the cabin and bent ash saplings to form the runners. Each girl would pull one of the sleds while he emptied and removed the traps along the way.

The first ten miles of the forty were uneventful but that changed. As they reached the halfway point of the trap line Liberty Ann screamed when the group topped a small rise in the trail. They had accidently stumbled upon the Indians.

The party of Indians was just as surprised to see the three as they were to see the large contingent of Indians.

Knowing any violent action would certainly end in their deaths, Laf held the girls close in a protective gesture. A small group of Indians still on horseback made their way to where the three stood. As they approached, Laf observed that this group was real Indians and not the phony group that had killed the Mormon’s, he relaxed and told the girls this.

It was a friendly group that greeted the three. In Shoshone they greeted Laf and in return Laf praised their horses and nodded approval at their health. Being mid winter it was not unusual for those living off the land to be skeletal in appearance, these looked well fed.

One of the older Indians dismounted and approaching Laf grabbed his arm in the form of an Indian handshake. “You are a trapper and not a Mormon?”

Knowing the Mormons and Shoshone were enemies whose violent actions against women and children went back and forth he replied in the negative. Laf also decided not to tell him the girls were from the Mormon settlement.
“I call the valley of Muldoon east of here my home. I run a trap line out to my cabin in the Ketchum mountains. I am not a Mormon, you have no need to hate me.”

“I am Chief Pocatello. We no longer have hate for the Mormons. They have agreed to pay for all of the game they took from our land and to pay for the land we agreed to let them live on. Now there are Government soldiers here to keep the treaty called Box Elder from being broken.”

“When did you sign this treaty?”

“We are returning to our home now. I put my mark on the treaty paper on the night of the full moon.”

“That was less than a month ago.” thought Laf

“Chief I need to warn you. I believe there is a group who does not want this treaty to be honorably kept. I can only think they want the Government soldiers to believe that you have broken the treaty. These two young girls are the only survivors of a Mormon settlement in the Ketchum Mountains.”

“ The people of that settlement were wiped out by white men pretending to be Shoshone Indians. If these two girls had not survived then the Government soldiers would have no reason to believe it was not you who killed them. I believe these evil men will spread the word that your tribe has broken the treaty. They will discard their look as Shoshone Indians and return to look as white men in order to tell this lie to the whites.”

The group of Indians spent considerable time conferring amongst themselves. After reaching some sort of consensus they approached Laf. “On our way to the treaty signing before the snows fell, one of our scouts saw a large group of white men heading westward on horses. The scout reported this but we elders foolishly dismissed this as men just trying to make their way out of the mountains before the heaviest snows fell. We had our thoughts on talking peace with the soldiers and Mormons. It was our mistake that we did not stop them and discover their true intentions.”
“Chief, you could not have foreseen the evil in their hearts nor the lies on their tongue. No man can see through a stone.”

“You speak wisely but my heart now lies upon the ground in sorrow for I do not know how to stop the soldiers believing we are without guilt. I ask you, who will believe two children?”

“You also speak with wisdom. These snows make for this group to travel slowly. I believe the first white settlement they will go to is Hailey. If we can get there before they do we can confront them before they can light the fire of lies. I saw their trail, it heads east. I thought at first they may be headed to Muldoon to attack the whites as Indians to stir up trouble. I see now they will not kill anymore whites as there is no need to. They only have to spread the word that the Shoshone did the killing after the treaty was signed will be enough to force you from your land.”

Again the group conferred, then. “We will trust all that you say is true. If you are wrong then we are a doomed people because we intend to stop these men before they reach the white mining town of Hailey. If there is bloodshed and if we are mistaken that these are the men who slaughtered the Mormons then we have invited our own ending. We are sure the soldiers will serve swift justice upon us for killing a group of innocent white men.”

Laf had a thought. Turning to the girls he asked, “I know it was a scary time for you but do you think you could recognize any of these men even though they were dressed and painted as Indians?”

The two girls spoke in low tones with each other then Liberty Ann spoke up. “My sister and I believe we can recognize some of them. The old Indian that stopped our being accosted has no top front teeth and part of his left nostril is missing. One of the three Indians who tried to have their way with us had a crooked leg which made him limp. The other two Indians had light blue eyes and one of them continually coughed and breathed with a loud wheeze. I don’t think I will ever forget what these men looked like, dressed as Indians or not!”

Laf turned to Chief Pocatello and winked, “We may just have the proof we need here Chief to prevent any bloodshed but we need to head out to Hailey right away if we want to have the advantage of surprise on them.”

Since Laf was not going to head home after all, Chief Pocatello summoned two of his warriors to take the sleds loaded with pelts to the Yellowhair cabin in Muldoon. They were then to stay there until Laf and the girls showed up. Laf wrote a quick note to his father telling him he’d be delayed and to let the Indians set up a camp on the banks of Muldoon Creek. He did not mention the reason for the delay nor that he would be arriving with the two girls.

With the snow reaching six feet in places, the going was slow. Still, Chief Pocatello assured Laf that the Indian bred horses they rode on could traverse the deep snows much better than those of the white men.

Liberty Ann rode behind Laf on one of the horses supplied to them by chief Pocatello. This permitted easy conversation between the two. Laf discovered that he was only four years her senior and that both secretly wished they could play the piano. While both had seen them played, neither had ever been close enough to one to even strike a key. Liberty Ann on the other hand found Laf an open and uncomplicated man. He spoke his mind freely but always with the temper of not offending those he held a different view with.

“Laf! What kind of name is that?”

“It’s short for Lafferty. Lafferty was my grandfathers name on my mothers side.”

“And Yellowhair?”

Laf chuckled, “I blame my grandfather on my father’s side for that one! I honestly can’t remember his original name. He was a trapper as well. As a young man he was given a Lakota bride in return for setting a broken leg on the Chief’s son. He and his bride had a single son, my father. He was born with yellow hair like his father before him so they simply called him Yellowhair. When I was born my mother wanted her father remembered so they named me after him. How about you? Do you have a last or family name?”

“Yes, it’s Atterberry. I was born in England but came to this country as an infant. My father had read of the Great Plains and so we left for America. He was one who loved to explore so one day he packed us all into a covered wagon he purchased in Missouri and we headed west towards the great unknown. It was on this trip that my parents lost their lives. I think you know the rest.”

Laf nodded in agreement then smiled, “Liberty Ann Atterberry, very nice. It’s too bad women are made to give up their last name when marrying. I pity the girl having to be called Yellowhair, especially if she is a brunette like you! Ha ha”

A friendly poke in his ribs was followed by, “Laugh as you may, I think a girl would be happy to have your name, no matter what color her hair is.”

Laf felt his ears turning red and heart suddenly quickened.

It took five days to reach Hailey and each day found Liberty Ann once again riding behind her favorite yellow haired trapper. By the time Hailey was in view, Liberty Ann rode with her arms snuggly around Laf’s waist, and more than a few times Laf found his hands gently entwined in hers.
Chapter 4
On a mountainside campsite overlooking the town of Hailey, Chief Pocatello, his warriors and Laf held council. Below them, the town consisted of not more than fifteen or sixteen fixed structures with the rest being plain tents or tents with wooden facades in front. That night the few lighted structures were only the saloons, they were also where most all the noise came from. Tin stove pipes belched wood smoke from tents and saloons alike giving evidence of the struggle to keep those inside warm. The temperature had now dropped well below zero and the increasing wind forced deep snow drifts to form against the buildings.

By pure fortune, a group of soldiers that the Chief recognized as having been at the signing of the treaty of Box Elders rode into town. Chief Pocatello told Laf that the lieutenant that headed up the soldiers was there and would surely remember him.

As they watched the troop head their horses to the towns stable and protected corrals, the Shoshone warriors on the mountain were busy making small temporary shelters from ash saplings covered in pine boughs.

Each Shoshone shelter was filled with anxious Indians discussing tomorrows plan the council had created to confront the faux Indians with.

Laf sent the girls inside the small tarp made tent they had been using for the past five nights to sleep in. Pine boughs laid thickly on the ground inside it let them sleep in comfort. Laf and Chief Pocatello then headed into town to see the Lieutenant.

Outside the saloon Laf stopped the Chief telling him, “Chief, the folks in this here saloon might not cotton to having an Indian in their midst so let me go inside and draw the Lieutenant out where we can talk to him.”

“Go, I will wait in the shadows and out of the wind.”

Laf pushed against the wooden door and stepped into the saloon. A few howls telling him to close the door against the wind were all the attention being paid to him.

Scouring the poorly lit room for the Lieutenant he spotted him standing at a table crowded with some of his men. Approaching the table Laf removed his hat in respect for the man’s rank and introduced himself. Realizing Laf wanted to speak to him in private the lieutenant eased Laf away from the table and curious ears.

“Now, what assistance may I offer you Mister Yellowhair?”

“I come with news that is for your ears only Sir. It comes directly from our mutual friend Chief Pocatello.”

“Ah yes, the Chief. How is he faring?”

“Please, if you step outside you may ask him for yourself.”

“He’s here? Outside?”

“Yes Sir and it is urgent we both speak to you in private and immediately.”

“Can’t it wait until morning? Its freezing out there and we just arrived. Surely it can wait!”

“Sir, by tomorrow morning there may be a street full of both dead whites and Shoshone if you don’t come outside. It is that important Sir!.”

Tapping his fingers against his holster, the Lieutenant finally looked at Laf and returning to the table placed a five dollar gold piece on it. “Corporal, buy the men a round of drinks on me, I will be back shortly.”

Once again outside, Laf led the Lieutenant to where the Chief stood out of the wind.

Seeing the Chief, the soldier greeted him with courtesy. “Chief Pocatello, it is good to see you again. Mister Yellowhair has informed me you have an urgent message for me.”

“It is good to see you once again also Lieutenant. It is not good news that I bring but news that you and your soldiers must hear.”

“Tell me this news.”

At this point with the encouragement of the Chief, Laf stepped up to explain in English in order to prevent any misinterpretation.

“A group of white men dressed and posing as Shoshone have massacred a settlement of Mormons five days travel west of here. This was done after the signing of the Box Elder treaty. It is believed they intend to ride into town having dressed again as whites to say they came across the massacre in the mountains. For some reason they do not want peace between the Shoshone and the Mormons.”

“Can you back this up with any facts.”

“We have two living witnesses to the massacre, two girls who were left for dead. They would have perished except that I arrived in time to rescue them. They told me the story of what occurred there. They are here also staying up in the hills with Chief Pocatello’s warriors. They believe they can identify the leader and a few of his men.”

“Where are these killers, here in town?”

“Not yet, but we can bet they’ll show up sometime tomorrow to start spreading the lie. If they succeed in doing so it won’t be but a week before Washington hears and believes it. They’ll have you hunting down the Chief here and all his tribe in revenge.”

Looking downward and shaking his head in disgust the Lieutenant said, “I see why you insisted on telling me this in private. It is a pure fluke that we stopped here for the night, if it weren’t for Corporal Lewis’s constant pestering to seek shelter in town, we would have ridden on past. He and a civilian surveyor have been out scouting a promising location for a new fort the Territorial Idaho Governor wants built. I felt since these two hadn’t seen a warm or dry bed for the past month that they deserve at least one night of comfort, so I relented and ordered a halt.”

“Well it sure was fortunate for everyone it seems.”

The Lieutenant nodded then told what his plan of action would be.

“Let’s see when they ride into town if those two girls can identify any of the men involved. If they can positively identify even one then I’ll have my men put the entire bunch under arrest and sent to Fort Benton for trial. By the way, I’m keeping this all under my hat until morning roll call. No need to risk a loose tongue if you know what I mean.”

“You’re right, they may have sent a few men ahead that we are unaware of. We also had a similar plan but it involved using the Shoshone as the threat. We figured to surround the group with upset Indians then leave the end result up to the group of murderers. If they pled guilty then we’d let them live but we doubted they’d plead guilty.”

“Well, we might just have the Shoshone back my men up just as a precaution anyway. Have them hide themselves close about town in case they’re needed .”

“Lieutenant, with this storm I doubt many folks will be going much further than the outhouse that early. I’ll make sure no Shoshone thinks the outhouse is a good place to hide. I’d hate to be the one with my pants half down staring into the eyes of an angry Indian!”

As the first grey streaks of dawn crossed the eastern sky, nearly one hundred Shoshone warriors had hid themselves within the town. At sunrise roll call was bugled in. The thirty odd soldiers lined the street trying not to stomp their feet in the cold. The Lieutenant loudly spoke the orders of the day.

“Men, a fortnight ago an important treaty was signed between the Mormons and the Shoshone tribe. It has brought a well needed peace to this Idaho territory. Unfortunately, there are powers that do not want this treaty to succeed. I have been informed that a large group of men have murdered a small settlement of Mormons west of here while pretending to be Shoshone Indians. Their intent is to blame the massacre on the Shoshone so Washington will have no choice but to seek revenge. Hidden about town are one hundred real Shoshone warriors bent on making sure they don’t get away with this. Our job is to confront this group and arrest them for trial after they enter town. We have good information that they are headed this way and will arrive shortly. They have made the mistake of leaving two witnesses to this massacre alive. If our witnesses can identify even one, then you are to arrest them all, is that clear?”

In unison they responded, “Yes Lieutenant!”

“Good. For now I want you to stand at ease between these two saloons until they arrive. Be prepared for action.”

Less than a half hour later the first line of men was seen making their way into town. A hundred yards behind them rode in the rest of the group.

At this time the lieutenant stepped into the snowy street to block their progress and ordered his men into the open with pistols drawn. “Dismount and identify yourselves!” he shouted.

Seeing the thirty odd solders with guns drawn the group complied. “What’s this about soldier boy?” The voice was that of an elderly man missing his front upper teeth and most of one nostril.

The lieutenant shouted back.“Stand where you are Mister, draw a gun and you will be shot dead.” Turning to a private he then ordered, “Bring out the witnesses”.

The two girls were led along the line of armed soldiers but partway to the Lieutenant something happened. Susanne screamed and Liberty Ann pointing at Corporal Lewis shouted, “That’s the one with the blue eyes, he’s one of them!” Before the two girls gained their senses to run, the Corporal grabbed for Susanne. Pointing his gun to her head he demanded two horses.

Holding her close for his own protection he searched for his cohort in crime. Seeing the surveyor he shouted, “Yancy come get them two horses, they found us out!”

It seemed an impossible rescue but in a blur of motion Laf’s skinning knife was seen twirling through the air towards the gun wielding Corporal and at the same time the surveyor bolted towards the horses.

It was like a signal for the dismounted murderers to remount and follow the surveyors lead. Unfortunately for the surveyor and for that matter the entire group of murderers, the Shoshone were excellent marksmen. Combined with the deadly lead being thrown by the Shoshone rifles, the Calvary’s pistol’s ventilated any man still alive.

As for the Corporal, he had fallen backwards spread eagle into the snow with Laf’s knife handle protruding from his forehead. Susanne had fled into the arms of her sister who threw the girl to the ground and lay atop her. Neither girl was hurt.
Chapter 5
That evening, the Lieutenant, Laf and Liberty Ann sat enjoying a meal at the only decent café in town. Susanne was in the care of a kindly woman who owned the dry goods store.

“Washington owes you a debt of gratitude. It seems after interrogating a few survivors that our newly installed Territorial Governor was behind all this. He had received orders from the President to put to rest once and for all any Indian trouble in the Idaho territory. Knowing many treaties end up being broken, he figured the best way to achieve that is to simply have no Indians to cause any trouble. I’m sure you’ll receive not only an accommodation for your involvement in exposing the corrupt Governor and these men but it also seems there are a number of wanted no goods within that group. I’ll see to it that any rewards will be sent your way.”

“My thanks Lieutenant. By the way, Liberty Ann and I were talking and without any lawman or judge within the distance of a few hundred miles, that you would be the only representative of the law here.”

Grimacing a half smile the Lieutenant answered “I guess that would be true, why?”

“We want you to marry us, that’s why!”
Two weeks later the group of three had made their way to Muldoon where the Yellowhair home sat alongside the Muldoon Creek. Stepping up to the large well built log cabins door, Laf reached for its handle.

Behind him coming from the Creek a shout stopped him. “Son, you made it back. Who are the women folk with you?”

Turning to face his father he smiled and hugged the older man. “Dad, I want you to meet your new housekeeper, this is Susanne. Susanne, this is my Dad.”

The young girl reached out her hand in a dainty handshake.

“So who’s the other one here? If this yung’n here is our housekeeper then the other must be the house cook. Yes?” Leaning closer he eyed Liberty Ann and winked seeing the simple gold band on her finger whispered, “You can cook now can’t you dear?”

“Yes Dad, she can cook but she can do so much more. She can darn my socks, sew my britches, make me shirts and even rub my sore feet!”

“Son? All I’m hearin’ is a lot of my, my, my’s and no ours. What about me?”

“I’m sorry Dad but if you want your feet rubbed you’ll have to get someone else to do it, this is Liberty Ann Atterberry Yellowhair, she’s my wife and Susanne is her younger sister. I’ll explain everything after we finish eating, we’re starved!

Shaking his head his father groaned in mock distress. “And here I was thinking that those two Shoshone by the Creek were something else! Now you tell me we’re going to have two women underfoot around the place. Well… I guess having a woman’s touch around here won’t hurt none. I never was any good at decorating or washing clothes and you sure never had much talent for that either!”

Laf chuckled saying, “I love you too Dad.”

Joseph Yellowhair smiled broadly at the two newly weds, “I was only joshin’ you kids, I saw the two of you lovebirds  holding hands way back by the bend in the creek. I may be an old coot but I still got enough eyesight left to see when two folks are in love.”

Giving Liberty Ann a big hug he told her, “Welcome to your new home daughter!” Then placing his arm across Susanne’s young shoulders he told her, “Child, lets you and me investigate the pantry while the other two rustle up some grub in the kitchen, I do believe there is a big jar of pre dinner hard candy on one of the shelves.”

 

 

 
Across the creek the two Shoshone left without saying goodbye, as was their fashion and were heard speaking in their native tongue.

“So he married her? I thought he was wiser than that”

“It goes to show my friend, one cannot judge a fish by its scales.”

“What the hell does that mean?

“I don’t know, but I once heard a white man say that about books but I have no idea what a book is so I used fish instead.”

“Whatever floats your boat I guess.”

One moment turned into two and then in resignation came the others reply, “Uh, what’s a boat?”

RETURN TO THE BAR 44 RANCH

saved return bar 44

Chapter 1

It was nearing noon when the old cowboy everybody knew simply as Henry, returned to the Bar 44 Ranch from his trip into town. Henry’s old bones took a beating riding that distance but he was too proud to admit it in front of the younger hands so he kept his mouth shut and uttered no complaints.  The ranch hands close enough to observe Henry noted his slow dismount and how he vigorously rubbed his knees after taking a quick look around to see who had observed his arrival. After a few halting steps toward the ranch house’s hitching rail, his legs appeared to regain some of their former strength.

Dang legs ain’t nothin’ but a pair of rickety ‘ol hickory sticks anymore!”  Henry thought grimly to himself.

Twirling the reigns around the hitching rail, he’d let the horse cool down before letting it water and feed back in the lean-to stable. The Pinto had been a prize horse once owned by the original owner of the ranch.  He had given the Pinto to Henry only two days before being killed in a tragic fall from his own horse four years ago. That owner, James Comstock, had hired Henry on over forty years earlier as a wrangler and all around protector of the family Comstock. Back when Henry had been hired, Indians and displaced angry Mexican vaqueros still roamed freely enough in Texas to need a good man with a rifle and a pair of six guns to keep the peace. It was now said the most dangerous thing out on the range to a cowhand were rattle snakes and prairie dog holes. At least that’s what was commonly thought… until now.

Hearing Henry’s horse trot up to the house, the foreman who was given the privilege of living inside it by the new owner, a Mister Clarence Osborne from back east in Connecticut, stepped out from the screened door and onto the porch to great him.

“I see you made it just in time for dinner Henry, step inside and grab a bite with me, won’t ya’?”

Jake Ramsey, the Foreman and long time friend of Henry, threw his arm around the elderly Henry’s shoulder’s as they passed through the doorway.  Jake was younger than Henry by a good ten years but both had been hired on at the same time. Jake worked his way up the ladder until one day being offered the position of being the ranch’s foreman.

Stepping into the cool air of the polished wood vestibule, Henry handed Jake the telegram he had been sent to retrieve. Taking it, Jakes face became grim as he saw that the paper the telegram was written on was an unusually long one. All Jake had needed to see as an answer to his query was a one line response, so this could not be good news.

Stuffing the telegram into his top shirt pocket, he told Henry, “I’ll read this latter, I don’t want to spoil a good dinner.”

After the two had eaten and jawed for a time, Henry left to return to the caring of his horse, leaving Jake alone with the telegram.

Nervous fingers reached into the pocket and pulled out the yellow paper. Putting on his reading spectacles, Jake read the telegram. He read it through three times before gathering the muster to get out of the chair and let the others know their fate.

Slowly Jake opened the screened door and stepped out onto the raised wooden porch. Grabbing up the iron dinner bells clangor, he thrust it between the triangles thick metal bars and began violently bouncing the clangor off the inside of it. It was a large triangle, meant to be heard miles off for those workers out on the closer pastures.  It did its job well, bringing in the men from far off.

The only other time Jake had rang the triangle other than to gather the men for dinners, was when it was discovered that the ranches owner, James Comstock had been killed in a riding accident. Most of the same hands making their way to the ranch house this time had been there on that day too. The ringing triangle boded ill news when rung outside of dinner.

Looking up to their foreman who stood over them on the raised porch, Jerky Dobbins, with a tilting head asked Jake what was the cause for calling the hands in.

“I’ll tell ya’ in a minute Jerky, wait till the others make it.”

When the full group of seventeen was finally huddled together, in a loud voice Jake began to speak to them.  “Boy’s, this here telegram is from the owner back east. It’s in response to my asking how much funds we were going to be allowed for this winters chuck line. I have some comments to make after I read it to ya’ so don’t go wonderin’ off.”

Jake unraveled the wrinkled yellow paper and began to read the telegram .

 “J Ramsey, Foreman Bar 44 Ranch. STOP. This is in response to your inquiry of the so called Winters Chuck Line funds. STOP. My financial advisors recommend my doing away with this outdated and unneeded expense immediately. STOP.  In the winter the Bar 44 Ranch is not to be used as a haven for laggards or dead beat vagrants of any kind. STOP. I give permission to keep only two hands hired on for the winter months. STOP. They are to be fit enough to chop wood, repair fences and maintain the herd as needed. STOP. Therefore this excludes all hands too feeble to perform any work needing attending to. STOP.

My son, daughter and I will be making our way to the Bar 44 within the next fortnight by train. STOP. We will be expecting to see the Bar 44 to be in satisfactory operating condition at that time.  C. Osborne. END”

 

Jake lowered the paper to gaze at the gathered hands standing below him. No one spoke but their grey bloodless faces spoke volumes.

Shifting uneasily on his feet Jake told them, “We have two weeks before Mister Osborne and his children arrive here. In that time we need to buckle up the place for winter.”

Slim Pettit, a hand on the ranch for nearly fourteen years finally broke the men’s silence. “Boss, I don’t understand, what’d we do wrong? I mean, I ain’t never heard of being booted oft’n a place without due cause, ‘specially just before the winter snows come. Why even if we left for places unknown today, why we still might git caught bare headed in an early storm. Where’s we to go to at this late a date? No one figured on leavin’ so no one made any plans.”

Jake’s face turned bright red as what the man said sunk in. “I honestly can’t figure it boys.” Jake stammered, “I ain’t never dealt with nothin’ like this before. You all know me, I’m a cattle man born an’ bred. Allowin’ hands to winter over at their place of employment is universal… ‘specially here in Texas!”

Another hand spoke up, “It ain’t like we’s freeloadin’ Boss! It’s true we get our grub an’ a bed but we don’t draw no pay no way. We ain’t no dead beats either, we help around the place in winter near as much as if we was drawin’ pay. We work hard throughout the warm months an’ bank on the Winter Chuck Line to keep us alive and healthy for next spring’s start up. Why without that, why would we even return to a place come spring if’n they call us vagrants and laggards soon as winter comes.”

A general growl of approval went up along with a chorus of unmentionable expletives towards the ranch’s owner.

Another angrily man shouted before turning and walking off, “If he wants us gone by golly, then we’re gone! Adios, Vamoose Amigo! To hell with him! Anybody with half a measure of pride will do as I do an’ leave pronto!”

Jake saw the tide turn from disbelief to anger to disgust. “Men”, he shouted after them, “wait up now, I’m sure once he comes here for himself he’ll see it was a darn mean thing to do and change his mind!”

Jerky Dobbins turned and walked back to where Jake stood on the porch. “Boss, we hold you in the highest regards but how can you expect us to even think of returning come spring when we was treated this way? Do you realize when Mister Osborne declared he don’t want no unhealthy folk wintering here he meant Henry! Ain’t no one else he coulda’ been speakin’ about, no one is as old or stove up in the legs here like Henry! You know as well as I Henry done saved this ranch time an’ time again in the old days by usin’ his guns. An now to think this is the thanks he gets? No Sir, I won’t put one more minute in for Osborne. I’m packin’ up an’ expecting my pay to be ready when I’m done.”

Jake dropped his head in defeat and let drop the hated yellow telegraph paper as he watched the men he held in high esteem and even loved some like brothers, wander back to the bunk house to gather up their belongings and leave.

By three that afternoon, only Jake remained save his old stove up friend Henry. Before the men left, Henry gathered them up to say his piece. He now sat alone and grim faced cleaning his guns inside the vacant bunk house.

 

Chapter 2

It was nine that evening when the downhearted Jake noticed the lamp light lighting up the bunk house windows. Intrigued to see who had not left, Jake made his way towards the light. Stepping up to the doors stoop, Jake knocked and opened the door. Lit by the dim lamplight sat Henry holding his gun.

“Why didn’t you leave with the others Henry?”

Henry shrugged his shoulders saying, “I don’t know. I guess after forty years I know nothing else but the ranch.”

Jake noticed the polished gun still be held in Henry’s hands. The realization that Henry had no future and no reason for living came crashing into Jakes mind. Squatting in front of the seated old man, Jake took both Henry’s hands along with the gun into his own. “Henry, the two of us rode a million miles side by side for the last forty years. We always had each other’s back.” Looking down at the hand clasped gun he continued, “This ain’t how it’s going to end my friend, no way. I’ll leave this place to the coyotes before I see you fill your skull with your own lead.”

Henry looked up at Jake with moist eyes. “Yep, we done had us one hell of a life together you an’ I. Why we out lived most every bandit an’ renegade didn’t we? Tarnation, we even outlived both our wives!”

“Give me your gun Henry, there’s no need to do this as long as we still have each other’s company.”

Henry looked quizzically up at Jake. “Why Jake! Was you thinkin’ I was about to put this here colt to my own head? Hell man, I just cleaned it, why would I want to fire it off?

“W-what was you goin’ to do then? I mean it sure looks like you was sittin’ here contimplatin’ ending it all.”

“Naw, just been thinkin, that’s all. Say, let me ask you something Jake. After forty years of workin’ here, how much do you think you saved up?”

“Why?”

“Just thinkin. When Osborne gets here an’ there ain’t no one to run the place, how long do you think it would be before he sells the place off?”

Jake rubbed his chin thinking. “Well, the cattle will survive even if we get a couple good snow falls. The house would freeze up but that’s no big deal. The remuda wouldn’t live out the winter though, they’s not bred to be in the wild. They’d up an’ die waiting for feed in the corral before it dawned on them to leave an’ eat grass like the cows. All in all not much harm would come to the place though.”

“Do you think Osborne would know all that?”

Jake chuckled, “No, Osborne wouldn’t. Why?”

“I’m thinkin of becoming a ranch owner, that’s what I’m thinkin’! Now, how much did you save up all these years?”

A wide smile crossed Jakes face. “Well, I got money stuffed in a few banks since I don’t trust a single one by themselves. Then there’s my inheritance from Jesse that she inherited from her Dad. When she passed, I was too broke up at the time to look into all her finances so I hired a financial company in San Antone to handle her affairs. I guess if I was pressed, I’d say she left a tidy sum to me as her husband. I’d have to telegraph the folks in San Antone to get the exact amount.”

Henry sat back looking smug. “Well, I got near fourteen thousand dollars saved up!”

“How in blazes did you save up that much?”

“I took each pay and sent three quarters of it to the bank. Do you know I made over nineteen thousand dollars in my life here an’ saved fourteen of it by bein’ frugal?”

“But I know you spent money, why when we was younger, we’d light up the town together.”

“You bet, but I only went to town on the money I didn’t spend the month before!”

Jake laughed out loud saying, “No wonder you never borrowed money like the rest! You always had a cashe of funds! Har har har.”

Getting a serious look on his face Henry returned to the subject of buying a ranch. “I’m thinkin’ Osborne cut his own throat trying to save a dime by cutting off the Chuck Line.  Now he’s lost all his help an’ when folks find out what he did, ain’t no one gonna’ work for him no how. All we need to do is sit an’ wait for him to cave in.”

“What about us? We’d be without hands too. The boys all took off to parts unknown before the hard winter sets in. We’d be in as bad a shape as he is in right now.”

Henry smiled, “Nope, the boys are set up here for the next month. Well, not here but in town.”

“What?”

“When I went to town to pick up the telegram, I peeked at it before the key operator sealed it. I did a might prayin’ right then an’ there an’ guess what?”

“What?!”

“Fast as a lightning bolt, this whole plan unfolded before me before I even hit the door! I went on over to that big old house widow Mathews died in an’ found her son. I rented it as is for the next month from him for twenty dollars. I figure it’ll hold all the men an’ since it has a big kitchen they can fend for themselves food wise with Osborne none the wiser they is there ready to back to work if asked.”

“Well I’ll be Henry! You figured out a whole plan. How did you convince the men to go into town rather than leave?”

Raising his colt he spun the gleaming cylinder with his hand. “I give ‘em no choice! Plus I advanced each one twenty five dollars out of their first pay working for us.”

That night out of the burning ashes of despair rose the phoenix of hope for the Bar 44 Ranch.

 

Chapter 3

Jake stood alone watching the rented three seat Vector coach make its way up the lane to the ranch house. Sitting by himself in the front bench seat, a scruffily dressed negro guided the horses along more by shouts than by the reins. Setting the brake, the old but spry negro jumped down to assist the three dust covered passengers. Texas dust is no respecter of persons nor cares which season it is.

Jake approached the trio and stopped short of holding his hand out to be shaken. Instead, he first tipped his hat to the lady then touched the brim for the men.

He had never seen Osborne or his son but took an immediate dislike to both the spot. The girl sat quietly and smiled shyly in return of the hat tip. Both children appeared in their late teens or early twenties.

Trying to disguise a well needed stretch, Osborne pretended to tie a shoelace instead. Finally rising to his full height, short of six feet by six inches, he nodded back to Jake asking, “I suppose you’re my Foreman, Jake Ramsey.”

“Yes, Sir. I am.”

“I dislike starting off on the wrong foot, but can you explain without sniveling, why no one was at the station to meet me?”

“Sure.”

Osborne’s eyebrows raised in question, “Sure what?

“Sure, Sir.”

“Dammit! Stop playing games here Ramsey. I’m starting to regret keeping you on here after I bought this place. If I’d known you were such a snippety upstart, I’d have kept looking.”

“I believe Sir that you hired me for my ability to bring in the bacon, not because I knuckle under when someone insults me.”

“Insult you? When have I ever insulted you?”

“Osborne, I don’t make it a habit to snivel, nor have I ever led anyone to believe I ever would. Out here if you imply a man snivels or kowtows to another, it’s an insult worthy of drawing iron to prove the opposite!”

 “Oh, Yes, I forgot you Western men are a mite touchy about your manhood.”

“I may be touchy but it ain’t about my manhood, it’s about respect. Something that you may remember before someone with an itchy trigger finger calls you on it.”

Realizing he was only digging himself a deeper hole to stand in, Osborne wisely dropped his verbal fencing and drew the conversation back to why no one had been in town to greet his arrival.

“Well, I suppose I could have ridden out to meet you but then it would have left the ranch with no one to manage it. Besides, it’s less than ten miles and we haven’t had a highway robbery here in years. You were plenty safe an’ never in any danger”

“I didn’t mean that you personally should have met us, I was referring to the hired help here. By the way, I haven’t seen another soul yet, are they all out on the range?”

“Nope, but before we end up doin’ business here in the yard, why not you and your  young ones go inside an’ freshen up a bit. You’re so full a rode dust ,you’d think a dust rag was shook on ya’. I’ll drag in your luggage to your rooms. I made up some fresh lemonade with ice knowin’ you’d be parched.”

Having quenched their thirst on the cold lemonade, the four sat in the parlor on matching dark leather hob nailed chairs and a matching sofa.

“So when I telegraphed, you got upset and fired them all on the spot?”

“No Sir. As I mentioned before, it’s about respect. By you telling the men they were laggards and vagrants for expecting to hole up here over the winter, did you really think they had any choice but to leave? We have a tradition out here in the West. In the warm months we expect every wrangler to earn his salt and then some. These are trail hardened men, not city bred lazy bones. If a man gets six hours of uninterrupted sleep it’s because he over slept. They work hard, harder than any man back where you come from. When the winter winds begin, the ranch’s they are hired at give ‘em their last pay an’ let ‘em stay free of charge till spring calving time. We call that time, The Chuck Line. It’s not a hand out, these men earned this. If we let everyone go each fall to fend for themselves, no one would ever return in the spring. That’s what going to happen here now.”

Percy Osborne had been sitting quietly but with insolent rolling eyes. Now he spoke up. “Father, it’s my opinion that Mister Ramsey here is exaggerating to cover his mistake in letting all of the men go. Why not we ride in to town tomorrow and hire all new replacement workers…including a new Foreman?”

Jake rubbed his face with his hands as if trying to wash off the stupid statement the young man had tossed his father’s way. “Sonny,” Jake said without looking at the young man, “ It’s best you keep your thoughts to yourself. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I do declare Father! Am I to sit here and be insulted for offering my opinion?”

At that moment, the daughter raised her head and holding up her hand for quiet, she calmly spoke. “Father, I believe him. He ran this ranch making a good profit for years for Mister Comstock. In fact, so well did he run it that when you heard of it being up for sale, you jumped at it bragging on how you, “skinned” the estates executor alive in the deal. We arrived here and from the start you insulted Mister Ramsey, nor was any apology offered him. He has been a grander gentleman to us than we deserve. Please Father, Ask Percy to hold his thoughts to himself until Mister Ramsey finishes what he was trying to tell us.”

Jake looked approvingly at the girl saying, “You have a wise and far seeing daughter Osborne.”

“She takes after her mother, rest her soul.”

Clarence Osborne stood up and paced the floor for a good two minutes before asking. “So the way I see it, I made a cultural and financial blunder here. A mortal sin so to speak. If I tarnished the Bar 44 so badly through my actions then what you are implying is I’m done for here. With no hands I can’t even trail drive my cattle to market. All that I could hope to recover now is the money’s made from a local herd sell off, pennies on the dollar I might add, and the ranch itself. No one wants the expense of buying a ranch just as winter arrives nor would anyone put a new herd onto pasture winter land meant for the original herd. There wouldn’t be enough grass to last the winter for them all. No, I guess I acted the fool and I admit it. I sat in my comfortable office convinced that I could come here and teach you Texans a thing or two about how to operate a successful cattle ranch.”

Jake patted Osborne’s vacant chair beside his own implying Osborne to sit back down. “Yore a fast thinking man Mister Osborne he drawled, it’s no wonder your other ventures are successful. I got to admit, I thought your pride would be the anchor around your neck but you chucked it off. There is yet another way you can recover most if not all your investment if you’re willing to listen.”

Gently sitting back down, Osborne looked over at his Foreman. “ Do tell, how’s that?”

“Don’t break up the place but sell it in one piece, Ranch, cattle water rights… everything all for one price making no profit buit breaking even. If you break up or hold off selling for any amount of time, you’ll never recover much. Heck, the place my even be filed in court as an abandoned ranch and sold at auction. If that happens you get zip for a return.”

“Can you advise me on a buyer then?”

“It depends on what you’re asking for the place. If you plan on making a profit, then no.”

“Father!” Percy broke in. “Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s setting us up!”

Osborne’s ears turned red in anger at the boy. “Percy! Will you please be quiet? You think you know the real estate business better than your Father? Listen boy, it’s about time I shook your ego up. Do you think the position you hold in my company is because you are brilliant? I hate to tell you Percival but you’ve fouled up every job I’ve given you. It’s not that you are so damn indispensible that I don’t complain when you take off a few days to play croquette with your friends on the cape or go sailing off without a word to the family compound with your female entourage. No, it’s because as long as you’re not in your office, you can’t mess things up!”

Percy stood up grey faced, then turned and taking two at a time ran upstairs to his room. 

Osborne turned apologetically to Jake then shot a quick glance at his daughter. “I apologize to you both, he takes after his Father.”

Delilah rose then to leave but her father motioned for her to return to where she was seated on the sofa. “Please, Delilah, stay. I’m sorry but in my pride I ignored you all these years. I had been looking for Percy to show some promise but it turned out I was watching the wrong person.”

 Turning back to Jake he continued, “You asked what the bottom dollar I’d sell the place for. If you know anybody with forty thousand, I would just break even. I would shake hands on that deal.”

Jake pondered the savings amount he had along with Henry’s. Even at such a price, he was nearly ten thousand dollars short.  He knew the cattle alone would bring that or more if they could be driven to Kansas. Then add the value of the ten thousand leased acres added to the owned acreage and that amount topped thirty thousand by itself. Everything included, the place valued at over eighty thousand dollars!

 

Jake felt defeat slowly crawling up his spine. “Ten thousand short.” He thought.

“Mister Osborne, I need to tell you the whole story here. I ain’t been dishonest but like a gambler I’ve not shown my entire hand. I saw your mistake in stopping the Chuck Line. I knew what the result would be and another fella saw it too. Together we decided if nature took its course and you were forced to sell, then we could bundle our savings together and buy the place from you ourselves.”

“I call that business smart, not deceitful. How much were you and your partner going to offer me?”

“We are ten thousand short of what you need to sell for.”

“I see. Who is this partner of yours, do I know him?”

“You do, he’s the only man you’ve ever met from the ranch when you bought the place, Henry.”

Osborne’s head jerked back. “Henry? Old crippled Henry? The one I alluded to in my telegram? Oh Lord, talk about putting my foot in my mouth! When I bought the place, Henry was the executor of Comstock’s Last Will and Testament. During the signing of papers I made a rude comment on how he was dressed. Here I was in my one hundred dollar suite and there he sat with patched knees and sun damaged sombrero. When I started bragging on how successful my other businesses were, he up and ask me if I knew the any thing about cattle. Well, his question raised my hackles and yet scared me at the same time so I told him that’s what people with less brains are for.  Harrumph, it seems from the beginning, I was going down the wrong road.”

Suddenly Delilah turned to Jake and asked. “Mister Ramsey, would you consider another investor in your group in order make the forty thousand dollar sale price?”

Jake shrugged, “I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it Ma’am. I was hoping that Henry and I together would have enough money between us. Money is plenty tight this time of year an’ investors are going to be hard to come by. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d trust an outsider with part ownership of the place. They’d have no vested interest in the place other than their money.”

“What if you had someone come in who had a vested interest in making the place succeed, would you consider them?”

“If I knew a man who would be willing to put his blood, sweat and tears into the place, sure, I might consider it.”

“How about a woman?”

“A woman?”

“Yes, me.!”

Osborne shot out from his seat in dismay. “Delilah!” He shouted, “Surely you jest! Investing your money into a solid business is one thing, but the Bar 44? It’s already failing!”

Ignoring her father’s outburst she again asked, “What do you say Mister Ramsey?”

Osborne wasn’t through yet, “I insist you stop his nonsense right now young girl! Why it takes know how to run a place as complicated as this! Didn’t you see the mistake I made? Now you’re making the same one!”

“No Father, there is one big difference between you and I. If I had asked yesterday what color the ranch house is could you have told me? No? If I asked the difference between a Stallion and a gelding could you tell me? I doubt it. Six weeks ago you told Percival and I that we were coming out here to “bring the natives” up to the Eastern way of doing business. From that moment on, I’ve searched every book I could find on cattle, the operation of a ranch and in particular, Texas! I hunted down old cowboys that moved back east just to glean from their experiences and know how. You see father, I had planned all along to remain here when you and Percy returned back east. I did not know at the time the Bar 44 was in failure or I would have told you sooner. My plan was to eventually become an integral part of running the ranch, your ranch. Father, the difference between you and I, is that I tried to understand how these westerners ended up taming a land to draw a profit from it. You on the other hand failed in the first lesson of owning a business… know it, before you buy it! ”

Osborne sat heavily back in his chair. He then lifted his face skyward and began to laugh. He laughed so hard tears ran down his cheeks. “Oh my land!” He shouted,” She’s has a better head for business than me! You warned me sweetheart! When I wrote that letter to be telegraphed, you warned me it was a mean and unwise thing to do. I remember you telling me to come here and see for myself before changing anything! I should have listened!”

“Yes, you should have Father. Instead what did you do? You foolishly went to your financial advisors who had never seen a live cow in their life and then to make matters worse, you listened to Percy on how you should put the telegram into words. A fool cannot produce wisdom father and a fool is what Percy is and always will be!”

Osborne sat shaking his lowered head and from time to time chuckling to himself. Finally looking at her, he gave in.

“Alright, you win Delilah, I’ll have the papers drawn up for a three way partnership along with the sale papers and deed. We’ll set up a payment schedule payable over three years. That way you don’t exhaust all your funds in the purchase. I must ask though, how do you expect to hire men to replace those that left? If Mister Ramsey is correct, there are none to be had. The ranch is still without hands so nothing has really changed. What then?”

Jake leaned forward and chuckled, “It wasn’t me who was so far sighted as it was Henry. He got the whole group of hands housed up at a rental house in town waiting to see what the outcome is here. Trust me, if you had not gone along with the deal, they would have never come back to work for you, not after what you did to ‘em. Then all I said that would happen would have happened. We can ride into town tomorrow and see to those papers along with givin’ the news to the hands and Henry. I know there’ll be some celebrating going on after they hear.”

Meanwhile Percival had inched his way quietly onto the stair case to eaves drop on the proceedings below. After shaking hands with Jake, Osborne glanced at the upper stairwell to see his son skulking at the head of the stairs.

“Percy!” He yelled for him, “Come down here, I have some great plans for you boy!”

Percy jumped up and raced down the steps thinking his father did after all come to his senses and would put him back in charge of something important , anything to save face in front of his friends.

“Son, I had originally planned on keeping the ranch and coupling it with our own new stockyard I purchased over in Kansas. I didn’t tell the two of you this because I didn’t think there was any need at the time. Now son, I can’t handle everything on my plate as it is so I’m going to put you in a well deserved and important position in the new venture, How do you feel about moving to Kansas son and heading up a very important department for me?”

Thinking it over and envisioning himself bossing others about from a plush office, Percy readily agreed.

“Good, good. Now run back upstairs while the three of us here discuss the details of the sale.

Percival returned to his room and jumping onto the bed, he lay there staring broadly at the ceiling dreaming of being the important man others would have to look up to in Kansas.

He envisioned himself dressed in an expensive suit like his fathers and replying to invitations to social balls and of course being the recipient of private notes from desirous females.

Downstairs the three hashed out the details and when finished, all were smiling.

It was the sudden look of concern that crossed Delilah’s face that Osborne questioned. “Is there something in the deal that I forgot dear?” He asked.

“No, not really. I was just thinking on how you gave Percival another chance to cause you grief. I swear Father, if he’s in charge of your company’s new stock yard venture and he creates as much havoc there as he does everywhere, I’ll have no choice but to send our cattle to a competitor’s stock yard. My first priority is the Ranch making a profit, not Percival or the new stock yard.”

Osborne chuckled, “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about Percival too much. It is true that I am putting him in charge of a department but it’s not quite what you or he think.”

“Then what is it?” She asked.

“I’m putting him in charge of the Asepsis Ablution Department. There he’ll oversee a number of workers performing cattle hygienic prophylactics.”

Delilah looked perplexed. “Hygienic…proph… what?

“It’s a fancy use of the language to make a worker feel more important about their job by giving them a fancy title. Percy will be in charge of mucking my dear, mucking up cattle manure in the stock yard!”

 

The End

WHEN YOU NEED HELP, CALL A GIANT

mammoth mule

 

Chapter 1

Moose Cholack was a big baby, so big the Christian name Benjamin was soon replaced with the more fitting one of Moose.

At three years old he needed his own bed, the type a healthy twelve year old growing boy needs. His teacher gave him the use of her own chair and desk until they too became too small. It was then that Moose began using the floor as his seat. A large carnival pencil was his writing instrument. Still, Moose was an adaptive and creative child who held no grudge against for those around him for making him the butt of many jokes.

 In fact Moose seemed to enjoy his size. It sure made life easier on the family farm in Missouri to have a massive reserve of energy to call on when needed. Once when the farms mule came down lame he dragged the plow around while his older brother Whitey guided it.

Whitey was born of normal girth three years before Moose and as older brothers are, was very protective of his large but good natured brother. The relationship was tight but not so much that when at the age of sixteen and Whitey became antsy pants about seeing the world, Moose encouraged him to do so.

It was no secret that farming held no appeal for Whitey, so when his Uncle, also named Whitey, asked if he wanted to try his hand at Cowboying on the same working ranch in Montana as he did, Whitey jumped at it. Satisfied where he was, Moose stayed behind, being content as a hard working Missouri farmer.

When the rush to the west occurred, change came quickly to his community. The wagon trains brought innocent folk wanting a better life but they also brought with them thieves and scoundrels of various types. After numerous close calls, Moose decided to visit the local gunsmith searching for a proper firearm. It was during this visit that he discovered his huge fingers would not fit into a single trigger guarded pistol.

Stepping up to the challenge, the gunsmith colluded with his friend the black smith to outfit Moose with a custom made piece. Since no cartridge made was big enough to fit the new gun, they resorted back to the age old black powder cap and ball design. In this case, the ball weighed a little over a pound!

The first time the three men gathered to test the huge pistol, they fired a ball into a black locust fence post the thickness of a man’s thigh, the post was blown cleanly in half. Only Moose had the strength to withstand the recoil.

So it was that more than a few no goods backed down when seeing what was being aimed at them. In fact, one terrified man offered to pay Moose in gold coin if he would be allowed to go his way unharmed.

Six years passed since Whitey parted ways for the western life when Moose received a post from him. It was an urgent plea for help. In the letter Whitey explained that he had purchased an abandoned ranch outside the town of Crab Tree with good water but was having problems with the bully neighbor.

The neighbor, an Englishman, held no regard in handshakes or promises. The steam known as Red Rock Creek, meandered between the two properties and acted as the dividing line between the two. As most springs tend to, over a few years it wandered more towards the Englishman’s property, leaving Whiteys behind. Rather than holding to the gentleman’s agreement of sharing the water, Whitey one day found barbed wire fencing his cattle out.

Water is more precious than gold to a cattleman. A cow doesn’t give two hoots how shiny a colored rock is but will run for miles when they smell a stream of cool water.

Whitey found his herd bellowing along the barbed wire fence crying for the water they could not get to. Time after time Whitey cut the wire but it was always repaired the next day.

It all came to a head when the Sheriff arrived one day and handed Whitey a summons to appear in court. The charge was trespassing, infringing on water rights and theft of water.

Whitey knew the charges wouldn’t hold up in a honest court but as courts went, this one was pretty far from being called honest. The neighbor, Percival James, had been busy spreading cash and favors around the political circles for some time. It seemed now he was calling in some of the owed favors.

Throwing the papers back in the face of the spineless Sheriff, Whitey once again took the fence’s demise to task.

Sheriff Ted Dickens grappled with his holster shouting, “Stop right there Whitey or I’ll arrest you here and now for destruction of private property.” In the clumsy attempt at pulling his pistol, it ended up being juggled from hand to hand before it fell onto the muddy riverbank.

“Now see what you made me do? Damn you Whitey, now I’ll have to take it all apart to clean it!”

Whitey picked up the thrown away summons from where it lay on the ground and shoved it towards the furious Sheriff of Crab Tree, “Here,” Whitey told him, “clean that piece of iron horse shit with this!”

“You’ll be sorry Whitey Cholack,” Sheriff Dickens warned, “you’ll be sorry. Just wait till Mister James and Judge Cooperman find out how you treated me, you’ll wish you never messed with that wire!”

Whitey continued to cut the wire away, post by post. Whitey’s bone dry cattle shoved and bullied their way through the openings and plunged into the creeks cool water en mass. As the cattle gratefully slacked their thirst, Whitey knew troubled waters were brewing. The James spread, ironically named the ‘Placid Acres Ranch’, had way more cowhands working on it than Whitey’s ranch had. Whitey knew his place was outgunned and out lawyer’d so the worry weighed heavy on him.

Making his way back towards the ranch house he regretted that his dream of settling in the beautiful valley was beginning to leave a foul taste in his mouth and all because of some greedy Englishman who bucked the Western way.

 

Chapter 2

Two days passed and Whitey rode to the fence line where he had had earlier cut and removed the wire. The wire had not been replaced and Whitey wondered if James had come to his senses and decided to give up trying to keep his cattle from the once common creek.

Dismounting, made his way to where the now soggy court summons lay on the creeks muddy bank. As he stooped to retrieve it the zinging sound similar to an angry hornet passed just over his head. The angry hornet thwacked itself into a nearby willow tree’s trunk and a heartbeat later he heard the sound of a distant rifle shot.

Throwing himself upon the riverbank for protection he was inches away from the second shot which plowed up the mud if front of him. Rolling further down the bank he was completely hidden now from the shooter. Drawing his pistol was useless at this range and he wished he had taken the rifle from its saddle scabbard when he dismounted. He felt naked, vulnerable and dismayed that someone would go as far as trying to kill him over a fence.

Belly crawling along the length of the creeks bank he tried staying hidden to the eyes that had fired the two shots. He wondered if the shooter may have thought him hit since his rolling down the bank may have looked that way from such a distance away.

The bay seemed unconcerned over Whiteys dilemma and continued to casually crop the lush grass growing along the creek.

After a half hour of belly creeping, he reached his horse. Slowly he made his way to the lee side of it and gathering the reigns, guided the bay further into the tall brush where he could safely mount it unseen.

Once safely back at the Ranch, Whitey gathered his hands warn them of the recent attempt on his life.

“I know you weren’t hired as shootist but if you’re out on the spread, keep an eye peeled for trouble. I’d rather you run off than get into a shooting war so if you see anything that raises your concern, head back here to the ranch.”

One of the cowhands looked up sheepishly and replied. Whitey, you been a good boss ‘an all but fifty dollars a month ain’t enough to keep me ‘an my pard Leroy here on. We didn’t sign up but for workin’ cattle. I’m sorry, I don’t want it held agin’ us none but we’s taking to the trail away from all this.”

Whitey nodded his resignation, “I understand and won’t hold it against any of you if you leave. As I said, I didn’t hire you as shootist.”

That evening it was decided that with only eight men left, two twelve hour shifts would be needed consisting of three range riders and one scout with a long gun keeping the three safe from sharp shooters.

It was then that Whitey decided to write his brother for help.

In his letter he explained the situation and laid out a plan that not only would get the law off his tail but put the fear of God into the Englishman and his riders.

He wrote that if the first plan was not able to be implemented that Moose would then have to just go ahead and bust him out of jail. The second plan would be no problem for the younger but huge brother, seeing as no iron bar made could stand up to his huge hands. Still, when Moose read the letter he truly hoped the first plan was going to be the one chosen.

By the time Moose had left his farm in Missouri pot shots taken at Whitey’s men was a near daily occurrence. At the rate of attacks it would only be a matter of time before one or more of Whitey’s men was hit.

Moose drove his mammoth mule with little rest onward towards Montana. Most folk view a mule as a stubborn creature that plods away at their own leisurely pace. Those mules born and bred in Missouri though were known for their power and fleetness of foot. Mules were known to outrace and able to run a good horse into the ground. Crossing the mountains the mule once again has the advantage, having bigger hooves for a surer grip on rocky terrain. Across sand those large hooves act as a camel’s would by keeping the beast from sinking into the sand. They can eat nearly anything growing and can go without water for long spells. In Moose’s case, the big advantage was that it was the only animal capable of carrying his weight.

Making his way over prairie, desert mountains and rock strewn soil, Moose and his mule gobbled up the miles between Missouri and Montana.

It was no surprise then that Moose showed up sooner than his brother anticipated.

 

  The coming of dawn brought the coming of Moose. Riding up to the ranch house, Moose was met by one of the men who’s duty it was to keep an eye out for trouble. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him until he ran and got Whitey to come see the stranger on a mule.

Whitey broke out in a big grin when he saw the huge man riding in on the over sized beast. Loping along faster than a horse could gallop, the two soon rode into the Ranches corral  where the Giant dismounted.

Seeing what had arrived, the men backed away in fear from the corral. Not only had they never even heard of a Mammoth Mule, but they weren’t even sure it’s rider was strictly human.

“Boy’s! I’d like you all to meet my baby brother, Moose. Moose, these here are what’s left of my hired hands.”

In a deep rumble that sounded as if it had its beginnings somewhere near the nation of China, Moose cleared his throat and holding out his hand in friendship, greeted them.

After each had shaken the mighty man’s hand they  wandered towards the house. Snodgrass, as the mule was called by, was led to a hay pile outside the barn first by Moose where he dove into eating to his heart’s content. “Don’t tie him up,” Moose warned,” it just pisses him off doing that. He won’t wander off nowhere, he likes me too much. Besides, I’m bigger than he is. Har, har, har.”

Resting on the homes large front porch, the cook came out with coffee and nearly dropped the pot in fright upon seeing Moose. That seemed to lighten the mood as the men had a hardy laugh.

“We need to go over the plan I have in mind,” Whitey told them. “what we need to do is get the law off of me so I can have the time to notify the Governor of what all is going on here. The last thing a politician wants is a range war over water rights. What I’m figuring is he’ll most likely send some troops over here Crab Tree to stalemate things until the courts can have a fair look at things. To have the freedom to do that though I need it to look like I was either run off or killed because if I stick my neck out in the open, I’ll be tried and sentenced before an honest court gets the chance to hear my case. Then there’s the folks here that are too scared of the James outfit to stand up and push back against the corruption going on. What we need to do is make them afraid of something even worse than Mister Englishman James. They’ll have to choice between the two to see who they obey and who they side against. I’m  thinking Moose here could just about frighten the dickens, no pun intended to our good Sheriff, out of most folk. If we can strike the fear of God into the town’s people, it will make it much harder for the Sheriff and the Judge to be buddy buddy in their ways.

Since both are elected officials, both will have the worry in the back of their minds of losing the next election if they can’t frighten the folk into voting for ‘em. So, gather round and I’ll tell what I’m thinking…”

 

Chapter 3

The creaky wooden batwing doors of the Cactus saloon of banged open as if a dust devil was behind the thrust. Darkness replaced light as a Giant form stood blocking the entrance. All heads turned and lifted drinks were put back down as the crowd squinted in the saloons dim light to see just what or who could have plugged up the entire doorway.

What the patrons saw first was a pair of huge boots, too large to be real yet they caused the floorboards to sag downward in a protesting squeal. As their vision drifted up ward, a single holster could be seen hanging low down from the Giant’s hips. From the holsters no strap leather top protruded a pistol grip handle the size of most wooden legs. A vest made from a single spotted cowhide covered a double stitched sail canvas collared shirt sporting buttons the size of silver dollars. No head was visible.

Slowly the massive form began bending at the knees giving room enough so the door jams lintel wouldn’t be fractured from the barrel sized head trying to enter the saloons interior.

Every patron to a man backed away from the form in the doorway leaving drinks, gambling money and winning poker hands to lie untouched. Suddenly the rumble started.

In harmony with the sound of the saloon floors failing wooden support beams was the sound like a steam locomotives boiler ready to blow itself apart. It was no hot iron pressure vessel but the voice of the statue sized man wasn’t wearing a Texas ten gallon hat, no such luck, it held at least thirty gallons if it held a quart.

As large as cue balls, the Giants eye’s scanned each patron as it spoke. “I’m lookin’ for a man that goes by the name Whitey” the rolling thunder questioned, “Is he in here?”

Silence.

“Well? Is he here!” The large mirror behind the bar shook precariously on its anchors. Glasses moved themselves away on tables and more than a few pants became wet from sheepish bladders.

An average sized looking frightened cowpoke rose slowly on unsteady legs from one of the furthest placed gambling tables. Holding his hat between both hands up against his belly, the aghast cattleman nodded in stark fear.

“I, uh, I’m called Whitey by some Sir. Is it me you’s looking for?

“Might be, your last name’s Cholack?”

“Y-yes Sir. Whitey Cholack Sir, that’s the name my Mama gave me… after her brother Whitey. I own the Ranch just north of town”

“Are you ready to leave this world mister ranch owner?” The bull Giant’s voice rumbled.

Slowly the massive right hand edged itself lower towards the holster carrying the custom made over sized pistol on his hip. The man called Whitey Cholack tried to back away from his certain demise but the rear wooden wall stopped his escape. The terrified looking cowpunchers arms extended forward as if he could fend off the blast that was sure to come with only his bare hands.

Removing what looked like an over sized model of a Colt 45 such as the type used as a hanging sign above a Gunsmith’s door, the Giant tilted the massive barrel and leveled it at the quaking man before him.

The big man spun the gleaming cylinder with his huge paw. Round and round the cylinder spun as the meager light from the doorway reflected off each of the loaded chambers like a strobe light. Mesmerized, the crowd stared as if the spinning silver cylinder were a roulette wheel with someone’s fortune or misfortune being held in the balance. It did not click, rather it clacked. As dissimilar as a click of a pen knife closing is to a rail cars wheel clacking on each rail joint, the cylinder spun testing the nerves of each watcher. When it finally came to a halt, all breathing stopped. One man’s nerve broke and he ran screaming for the door holding his head as if in pain. 

Later accounts by some told of a muzzle opening that was so big a normal man’s hand could have reached inside it to fondle the Giant lead ball within.

The jaw dropped patrons began to slowly edge themselves away from the line of fire, leaving a part down the center of the crowd like a church’s isle. No more than thirty feet away from each other, the huge gun and shaking cowpoke faced each other off.

The Giants sausage sized finger slid easily into the Mason jar sized trigger guard and began wrapping itself around the gleaming thick steel trigger. With a quick tug, the cannon sized gun came to life.

The explosion that ensued from that gaping muzzle reminded those who were gold miners of being trapped inside a mine during a blast. A ball of fire the size of a whiskey keg tore itself across the room catching men’s hats and clothing on fire as it passed by. Like thunder following the blinding flash of a lightning bolt, the concussion of the blast bowled even the soberest man off his feet. A Military cannon could not have produced the cloud of smoke as the fired pistol did. Not a soul within the place had the magical vision to see through the explosions cloud of acrid, eye burning white fog. Deafened, the crowd stood motionless as if fearing any movement would draw the ire of the Giant their way.

When finally the cloud began to lift, it was with the help of a fresh breeze blowing from where the rear wall once stood. Bright sunlight streamed through the barn door sized hole. For the first time in the saloons history, patrons could clearly see the filth and shoddy workmanship that for years had been hidden by the gloomy darkness. Looking back and forth as they hesitantly rose from their fallen position, the crowd stared in stunned silence as they searched for the body of the man called Whitey.

“M-my God! Whitey done got blowed to smithereens!” One man gasped. Still, no one inside dared to move except to slap out the fires of their burnt clothing.

Finished with the job he had come for, the Giant smiled then turned and with footsteps longer than a grown man could jump, the beast of a man thudded loudly out of the saloon. Once again, he stooped to pass under the doors frame.

Once outside, Moose, turned and quickly ran with unusual swiftness and dexterity to the rear of the saloon. Rounding the corner he came to a halt in front of the man he had just ‘Blown away’.

The blasted cowpoke also known as his brother Whitey, stood there slapping at his smoldering cloths with his hands laughing.

“My Gosh Moose. How much powder did you charge that monster with? I figured on having that cannon of yours make a lot of smoke, enough for me to walk out of there unseen but Good Lord,  I never thought I’d be able to step outside through the hole it made!”

“Better to error on the side of caution brother, to tell the truth it did give my hand a good slap!”

Moose removed the large western brimmed hat and peaked around the corner to make sure no one followed him. He looked back at Whitey and pointed to where he had tied up Whitey’s horse and his mule in the alleyway. “C’mon brother, daylights burnin’ away and we got to get you safely hid in the mountains.”

After sneaking out of town by riding behind the clustered buildings, they headed south toward Medicine Lodge Creek in Idaho along an old rarely used Indian trail.

Setting up camp along the mountain top ridge that divided Montana from Idaho, the two ate a meal of freshly killed mountain goat and biscuits they had carried inside of their pack.

After the meal, the two planned their next move.

“What we need to do now is build on the recent fright you gave those inside the saloon. We need to get the towns folks in the same mindset as those in the saloon. Once we get the whole town in jitters, Sheriff Dickens and Judge Cooperman will be too busy trying to calm their fears to worry about Mister James.” Moose nodded in agreement and Whitey continued.

“As it stands, having that fence line up gives James the right to take shots at our men if he can prove our hands were on his side of the land. Right now, he’s claiming both sides of the creek are on his land. If our men can keep tearing down his fence line during the night, our cattle can get watered. It ain’t a permanent solution but between you terrorizing the town and me missing and being hunted for, it should hold off any legal action from those two until my letter reaches the Governor and he sends help.”

“I guess I’d better head back to Crab Tree and stir the pot then. Are you staying up here or are you going to head down to Medicine Lodge Creek where it’s warmer.”

“I’ll head south some more to the creek. Tomorrow morning we’ll part ways.” Then stopping as if he just remembered something, Whitey told his brother, “When you go back, stop at the Ranch first and make sure all’s OK there. Tell the men what’s going on but don’t tell any of them what direction I headed off to just in case one of them gets caught and is forced to spill the beans. The less they know, the better they’ll be off.”

Peering at the Ranch house from the tree line, Percival James and one of his rougher men scouted the place out. “I don’t see no sign of Whitey nor that Giant, whoever he is, around the place Boss. Maybe Whitey did get blowed away for real.”

Sneering over at the big man, James shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous. No one gets killed so badly that he leaves no sign. There wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen from the spot he stood. No, somehow he escaped the deadly assault that was surely meant for him.”

“Then who was this Giant fella? I saw him with my own eyes Mister James. He had vengeance written all over his face as he pulled that trigger. He must’a had it in for Whitey for sure. He had to come from somewhere’s we don’t know about, maybe he and Whitey had a grudge going from years back before Whitey settled here.”

Lifting his eyes to the heavens James responded more to himself than the man who had just spoken, “Astute thinking for a lumbering ox. Though in truth, each of us has a past life now don’t we?”

“Yes we..”

“I wasn’t looking for an answer you great lummox! Now let’s get on back to my ranch. I’m starving half to death and missed tea hours ago!”

Not knowing if being termed a ‘great lumox’ was an insult or a compliment the hand decided to remain quiet and went on to retrieve their horses.

 

Chapter 4

What the two trespassers on Whitey’s land didn’t know was that the Giant in question sat perched listening to their conversation on the lowest and sturdiest limb in the tree they stood under.

Landing on his feet with a resounding thud, Moose ran back to where he had tied up his mule and continued on to the ranch house where he would meet up with the hands. Typical of a non wilderness wise person, James had given away his presence over a mile away by wearing a bright red hunting overcoat. It was this coat that James wore that let Moose follow James and his cohort as they tried their best to travel towards Whitey’s ranch house unseen. Moose had already determined where the best place to observe the house from and there he climbed the tree hoping neither would look skyward and discover him when they arrived.

“So Whitey is safe and hidden away till I send for him” Moose told the gathered men. “I also overheard Mister James say they have no idea who I am. They believe it was a grudge killing resulting from a past dispute. James is convinced Whitey escaped in the cloud of smoke but can’t prove it and neither man knew whatever became of me after the shooting.” Smiling wickedly, Moose told them, “Come tomorrow, I’m going to let the town know I haven’t left yet.”

Before the men parted to their rounds, Moose made sure each man still rode for the brand.

“We ain’t goin’ no place Mister Moose, as a matter of fact, I’m itchen’ to see what that there Englishman is made of. Bring him on I say!”

 

Chapter 5

Fred Johnstone was sleeping soundly in his room above his dry goods store, when awoke to a sudden crash outside. Lifting the window he peered out into the morning darkness to see what had made the infernal sound. The sound of splintering wood and a second crash made him lean out further in order to see. What he saw terrified him. There below and heading his way was the largest beast he had ever dreamed. Not even a nightmare could compete.

As Moose made his way down the street, he stopped time and time again to tear off the wooden roof overhanging each store’s walkway. Grabbing a post, he yanked mightily at it until it and the supported roof came tumbling down. Windows broke and storefront signs tumbled into the street adding to the noise.

Lanterns were lit and windows thrown open to the sound of screaming women and crying children. Plodding beside the man looking Giant, walked the biggest mule eyes had ever seen. Even non Catholics crossed themselves and called on Jesus, Mary and Joseph to save them.

No one had the sand to step out front to confront the Giant, instead most men skedaddled out the rear doors to the dry arroyo behind the buildings. Some relented and returned to save their wives and children before quickly returning to the wash.

By dawn the place had the looks of a tornado hit town. Few front windows remained intact and every walkway roof hung either at crooked angles or upon the ground in a heap.

Word reached The James ranch and having ownership of many of the buildings, Percival James came running. What he saw made his guts churn and bubble until he rushed to the nearest outhouse.

Meanwhile back at Whitey’s ranch, Moose was taking a bath trying to clean off the dirt and splinters the roofs had poured down on him. Using a cattle trough as a tub, he enjoyed replaying the recent event in his head and laughed from time to time to the amusement of the men.

The man Whitey had hired as Foreman, Tom Jeffers, approached Moose saying he and another hand should go into town to see what the towns folk were saying about the ruin of their town. Acting as innocent cowpokes, he told Moose they could not only hear what folks was saying but could spread the rumor that what had just occurred was nothing compared to what they had heard the Giant was about to do in the next few days to Crab Tree.

Sheriff Dickens stood upon the ruined jailhouse porch trying to calm the crowd. Lifting his hands into the air he pleaded for quiet. When the crowd eventually tired of it, a hush fell and Dickens finally gained control of the angry mob. “I’m telling you! I have no idea what or who this Giant is.” He shouted. “But, as you all know, I’m dedicating myself to finding out, even if it kills me!”

“It will!” someone shouted while others murmured in agreement.

“Enough of that! I’m sayin’ that I’m sending a post to the Governor declaring an emergency here. Only the Army can take this Giant on!”

Another anonymous voice shouted, “How long will that take? By the time troops get here there ain’t gonna be no town left. I heard that he’s comin’ back here soon to finish the job!”

“Well, given the time it takes to deliver the request and the Governor makes a decision and arrives with the troops, I’d say no more than a month or two!”

The crowd groaned and fist were now being raised.

The judge, seeing that Sheriff Dickens was in over his head sidled up next to him an the makeshift podium that until yesterday was a well made wooden walkway. Leaning into the Sheriffs ear he smiled broadly but his whispered words burnt like pouring acid onto skin.

“Dickens, you better get your ass on the trail of the scoundrel that did this!  You know damn well the Governor will never send troops all this way to capture a single man that you can’t even pin a capital crime on. We have an election in less than six months! You better believe it that if we lose then whoever takes our places will eventually find how we squandered the money folks paid in taxes. That silver saddle you ride so proudly on will be used  to sit your ass upon as they kick out your horse and dangle you from the rope!”

Poking Dickens in the chest with his pudgy finger, Judge Cooperman snarled, “Now you gather up some men like a posse and promise them high pay for riding with you, ten dollars a day now, you hear? I want that man or creature found by tonight!”

Whitey’s man. Tom Jeffers, kept an open eye and ear to all that was being said and done. He noted with interest that Mister James had earlier spent time with the judge. It was shortly afterward that the Judge confronted Dickens about capturing the Giant.

Moose sat upon the porch stoop having found out earlier that it was strong enough to hold him without collapsing. As Foreman Jeffers relayed the information to him, it confirmed that Whitey’s plan was working out as planned.

The Sheriff was now too caught up with the issue of the Giant to worry about enforcing the Court summons given to Whitey. The Judge also had too much on his mind to consider such a menial task as convicting and sending off to jail a man he knew to be innocent.

“This damn Giant has ruined everything!” He cried.

Three nights later it was the other side of the street that became the focus of the Giants wrath.  Along with some torn off porch overhangs, the Court house was broken into and trashed. It would take weeks to re file all the thrown about documents properly, save one, the original complaint to the court James had filed against Whitey Cholack. That was tucked away safely in Moose’s only pants pocket.

The Sheriff would never get the chance to send for help, not would it have helped anyway.

A gathering of the townsfolk that afternoon called for heads to roll. The Judge decided it was a good time to retire from office and was seen headed out of town in his black coach. Sheriff Dickens locked himself inside his own jail to prevent the mob from stringing him up like a ham in smoke house. During the night he fled on foot into the prairie and was never heard of agin. Mister James, the belligerent Englishman was another matter though.  He would require a special talking to in order to see things in a different light.

That night he had his own special meeting with the Giant.

As the evening meal was finishing, Percival James requested his smoking pipe and his nightcap, a glass of sherry. Boswell, the longtime James household man servant was deftly carrying both in on an ornately carved platter made from the very rare Chinese tree, the huanghuali when the house shook on its foundation. Thinking a bomb had exploded, Boswell forgot his place as the staid and unshakable servant and threw the platter ceiling ward.  The great rooms window where Percival had been reclining in his polished leather hobbed nail chair,  exploded into pieces as frame and all, burst inward with a loud splintering crash. There in the blank space which had moments before held the multi paned plate glass window, stood Moose.

Before Percival could respond, either to the crashing window or the expensive and age old Meerschaum smoking pipe that bounced off his head, a massive claw of a hand reached out and wrapped it’s sausage thick fingers around the neck of Percival James. 

The poor English cattleman’s eyes bulged in terror as he was lifted bodily by his neck and tossed like a child’s doll onto the floor, Boswell shat his pants.  A Giant leg, the size of a fallen log, then entered the room through the gaping hole. It was soon followed by the contorted body of the Giant as Moose tried his best to fit through the four foot wide by six foot tall opening. Once inside Moose stood to his full height and with his index finger pointed it at the terrified Percival James and then with the ‘come hither’ sign, demanded James to rise and step forward.

In the account later told by Boswell to the Captain in charge of the troops that arrived shortly after the James’s household invasion, Boswell detailed the following conversation between the Giant and Mister James.

“Who are you and why are you terrifying my house?”

“I am seeking justice for your sins!” The Giant bellowed.

“Sins? I have no sins Sir, none at all.”

Without saying a word, the Giant produced a sheet of paper and placed it on the lap of the shaking Percival. Looking downward at the placed paper, James realized it was the falsified complaint he had lodged against Whitey.

“Oh…That? I-I w-was going to ask for its dismissal in the morning. Yes Sir, I was going to do just that. I misjudged my dear neighbor terribly and when I saw that I had made an error in calculating our property lines I immediately decided that by tomorrow afternoon every fence and post would be removed.”

With a deep rumble in his depths, the Giant chuckled saying, “They are already down and gone. Now I will deal with you!” Moose’s right hand slowly crept downward until his massive fingers touched the carved pistol grip protruding from the holster.

James covered his head and screamed, “Please, Don’t shoot me! I heard what that cannon did to Whitey. Let me go and I promise to return to the small village back in England where I came from. I had only wanted to become rich!”

“Your greed has ruined you. I will return in three days. If you are still here I will stone by stone and board by board dismantle this house and then turn my wrath upon you! Do you understand Mister Englishman!”

‘Yes, yes, a perfectly fair and reasonable request.”

 

Chapter 6

Moose made his way swiftly back to the place where Whitey waited for word on what had come about. After explaining the events and outcome, Moose patted Whitey’s bay on the rump and said, “Better pack up brother, the problem is solved. We gotta’ get back.”

“What about the troops I sent for, how will I explain the trip they made was for naught?”

“Oh them? They’re not coming. The Army told the Governor  that they have their hands full with some Indian problem going on and can’t spare even a man. The Governor wrote you back and said he had decided to remove Judge Cooperman from the bench and that he is sending out his replacement. The new Judge should arrive shortly. He might even be here by now, I didn’t check.”

Upon their return to Crab Tree, the two brothers rode over to the James’s Ranch to see if James had held up his end of the bargain and returned to England. Upon arriving, they found the entire staff and cowhands had abandoned the place… all except one, Boswell.

When asked by Whitey why he had never left, Boswell explained why he had stayed behind.

“Well Sir, the truth being told, though I soiled myself in terror from the event, I discovered why the West is such an enigma to those not living here. I clearly saw what a thief and a man of low character Mister James was. What is acceptable behavior elsewhere is considered taboo here in the West. I could not in all good conscience, return to work for the scoundrel Percival anymore for fear of being painted with the same brush as him. Therefore, I had decided to wait until your return to ask if you might consider taking me on as your man. You will find me a handy person to have as I am quite capable of balancing the books and running a household. What do you say?”

“Well, I thought maybe my kid brother here could do most of that.”

Before Boswell could answer, The deep rumbling voice of Moose broke in.

“Sorry brother, as much as I enjoyed playing Jack and the Beanstalk with you, I really want to return home to my farm. Besides, harvest time is just around the corner and I need to be there for that.”

Whitey kicked the dirt with his toe and shrugged his shoulders. Looking up at Boswell he asked, “Can you ride a horse?”

“Not in the least but I am willing to learn Sir.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need to know that stuff anyway if you’re in the house all day. Alright, I’ll give you a shot Boswell. But do me a favor, Stop calling me Sir, my men will never let me here the end of it if you go around calling me that!”

“Yes Sir!”

 

The new judge determined after an extensive investigation into the James / Cholack affair, that Percival James had filed false complaints, had colluded with the Sheriff to illegally drive Whitey from his property and ruin his cattle business by denying his cattle water. He determined the damages done to Mister Cholack’s business and was rewarded the abandoned ranch that Mister James had once owned as compensation.

The town recovered and to this day no one knows who the big Giant was, where he came from or where he disappeared to.

The Giant, Moose returned to Missouri with his mule and harvested the crops that were in the ground at the time that his brother had called on him for help. He has fired his pistol three more times since leaving Montana then but those are for another story.

Boswell was a blessing to the ranch as Whitey saw his profits increase due to the brilliance of the man in charge of the books. Boswell learned to ride a horse but admittedly had a great fear of them. In horror, he shat his pants upon his first ride.

                                                                       The End