A garishly painted sign

A  garishly painted sign

 By J W Edwards

The garishly painted sign in the tall grass along the roadside read, “WELCOME TO POLITICO” and beneath that greeting in smaller but bold letters read “This is a no weapons town, all firearms must be relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits.”

WELCOME TO POLITICO

This is a no weapons town. All firearms must be

Relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits

 

Jasper Johnson, better known as ‘Jelly Roll Johnson’, hauled on the mares reigns stopping her a few feet from the sign. “What in blazes is this all about?” He thought to himself. This was West Texas.  The signs request amounted to about the same thing as asking all thirsty persons to drink only rain water that fell directly from the sky while in town. It was plain stupid.

“Well horse, I guess we’ll head on over to the Sheriff’s office to see just how serious they hold onto this notion of bein’ gunless.” Horse, his mare, snorted a quick agreement. With a slight flick on the reins, Horse continued on into town.  The town consisted of a dusty but hard packed  main street cross sectioned with maybe as many as six intersections. Most all the buildings showed little weathering from the harsh west Texas sun. In fact everything looked well taken care of and near picture book perfect.

Gazing about at the clean architecture and neat signage secured above each business in a precise and matching  height, Jelly Roll commented, “Dang Horse, look at this here place. Did we fall asleep while travelin’ and end up makin’ our way to Boston?” Jelly Roll spotted the Sheriff’s office ahead on the right.  A slight tug on the right rein along with a mild pressure from his right heel turned Horse  to the hitching rail out front.  With a creak that only a working cowboys old leather saddle can make,  Jelly Roll dismounted and loosened Horses cinch.

Removing his tattered slouch hat, he flapped it over his shirt and down his chaps causing dust to fly. Satisfied he would now be recognized as human and not a walking dirt clod, he stepped up onto the full block  wooden walkway.

A  brass bell attached to the door jingled above his head as he entered the Sheriff’s office.

Seeing an old man who was obviously asleep at a small desk, he loudly cleared his throat to awaken who he assumed to be the Sheriff.  A loud snort and a twitch of the mustache was all he earned from his attempt to wake the Lawman. “Hey, Sheriff?” he bawled. At that the old man popped one eye open which glanced at the man standing in front of him and then shut again followed by a long snore.

Jelly Roll stepped back to the door and with his hand slapped the brass entry bell multiple times until he finally saw the old man wake up.

“What the heck you makin’ all that racket for boy? I got ears if ya’ ain’t noticed.” Pulling himself upright in his chair and still grumbling, the old Lawman continued his half asleep tirade. “They should be a law against treatin’ an’ old man as if he was deaf. Sneakin’ up on a body should be against the law too. Now just who are you an’ what’s so dang important that you need to jangle that bell that a way.”

It was then that the Sheriff noted the Colt pistol tied low on the cowboy’s leg. Moving to stand up quickly but nearly falling backward trying to get out of his chair, the old Lawman tried vainly to loosen the flap on his holster. “Stand where ya’ are fella, an’ don’t touch your iron while I get my gun unloosed”.

If it weren’t so weird a scene, Jelly Roll would have laughed watching the old man’s antics at trying to pull iron on him. “Sheriff! Jelly rolled loudly yelled, “I  ain’t pullin’ no iron on ya’, I’m just passin’ through when I saw your sign alongside the road tellin’ me to surrender my piece.”

The old Sheriff finally gave up trying to clear leather and stood there with his hand shaking above the butt of the pistol. To Jelly Roll, he was now looking confused rather than frightened.

“What’s that you say? Sign? What sign? Speak up boy!”

“The one that says everyone has to turn his gun in when entering town, that one!”

Still standing there with the expression of a child caught peeing on his neighbors flower bed, The old man felt a bit foolish and replied, “Oh, yeah, that one.” Remembering the stranger still had his pistol he yelled, “ Hey! Get that gun belt off mister! Don’t you know this here’s a no gun totin’ town?”

Expelling a breath through clenched teeth, Jelly Roll slowly said, “That’s what I’m doing here Sheriff, relinquishing my gun like the sign out there says to do. I ain’t seekin’ no trouble, just a few drinks to clear the dust from my throat an’ a hot meal, that’s all. Just as soon as I can, I’ll head back out an’ hit the trail up Amarillo way. I hear a few spreads are lookin’ for wranglers an’ I plan to sign on if they’d have me.”

Extending a shaky hand, the old man calmed down a bit, “Well… you  gimme’ your gun then an’ come back and get it when you leave town. According to the law, I gotta’ put the thing under lock an’ key in this here safe with all the others.”

Jelly Roll unhitched his holster belt and wrapped it around the pistol then handed it over to the Sheriff. The Sheriff opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a ring of keys. Turning to the safe sitting along the back wall of his tiny office  he opened it.

Jelly Rolls eyes opened wide when he saw the vast assortment of guns packed like sardines all stacked up inside the safe.

“Dang,” Jelly Roll exclaimed, “Just how many guns you got in there Sheriff?”

“Never you mind, but when the law was passed, everyone in town had to turn in their irons.”

“Why’d they make a law like that?”

“Our Mayor come back from visiting Boston one year an’ said if we’s to be as progressive, then we all should follow suit.”

“Well don’t that kinda leave the towns folk at the mercy of no goods if they come in wearin’ a gun??”

“If they ride in wearin iron, then they’s breakin’ the law!  Besides, the Mayor insist that studies show if guns is outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns… ‘Course they had to pass a whole herd of other laws after that to cover up any flaws the first one had.  I guess you’ll find out what they are if ya’ stay here for any length a time.”

“Yeah, well I don’t plan on stayin’ but maybe a day or two to rest up, so I guess I ain’t gonna have the privilege of breakin’ too many of em’.”

“Huh, if you do, you’ll get to rest here in a cell rather than in any hotel bed. Judge Flavious Maximus don’t take kindly to lawbreakers in his town. He’s the Mayor an’ head of the town council too. I warn ya’ boy, if he don’t cotton to ya’ he’ll make up a law right then an’ there so’s ya’ come back an’ spend the night here with me behind bars. So be careful boy, I’m warnin’ ya’.”

 

Chapter 2

Leaving the Sheriff’s office feeling naked and vulnerable without his firearm, Jelly Roll shrugged it off, went and stabled his horse, then headed off to find the nearest saloon for a long overdue drink.

Halfway up the second block Jelly Roll found what he was looking for. A well kept saloon who’s bat wing doors never looked like they’d ever left their hinges from a fight. Stepping up he stuck his head in the saloon doorway and took the place in at a glance. A piano player was plinking away while a young girl standing next to him sang.  The tune sounded kind of familiar and he soon realized she was trying to sing an opera song he had heard once at a theater in San Antonio.

Each to his own,” he thought as he made his way to the bar.

“Bartender, give me a whisky, an leave the bottle will ya?”

Wiping his hands on a towel, the bartender strode over to him saying, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have whisky, just wine and what the Mayor calls ‘craft beers’.”

“No whisky you say? What kind of saloon doesn’t serve whisky? What next? You gonna tell me you only serve lamb instead of beef?”

“No, no we don’t serve lamb here, that’s for sure. But we don’t serve beef neither, just chicken.”

“What!!? You gatta’ be pullin’ my leg, haw haw, haw! That’s a good one!” Still chuckling he said, OK, I got the joke,  now gimme my whisky and a plate of beef stew an’ I’ll be mighty grateful to ya’.”

“Sir, I was not pulling your leg. The Mayor outlaw’d anything but chicken an’ even that may soon be made illegal. I do have a fine bottle of  ’68 wine from New York State I could offer you though.”

Unable to endure the ill tuned piano’s plinking with that of the off key Italian wailings of the singing girl, he stepped away from the bar shaking his head. “Forget it. I can’t take this no more. I’ll find somewhere else to go to do my eating and drinking.”

Making his way towards the other end of town, Jelly Roll spotted a small diner across the street. Making his way inside, he saw a vacant table and pulling up a chair sat down. Grabbing up a menu he began looking it over. A cute but somewhat thin young blond haired girl wearing it piled atop her head approached him with a pad and pencil for his order.

Pressing his lips tightly together he let the menu fall to the table in disbelief. Looking up at the girl standing over him waiting for his order, he said to her. “Ma’am, I can’t make heads or tails of this here menu. It’s in French. Can I just get an order of coffee , steak an’ apple pie?”

“We believe the French language is just as important as English. We don’t serve Arbuckles here sir, the owner is now a vegetarian and he won’t order any coffee beans because they are dipped in egg whites to keep them from spoiling. I can give you a heavenly no egg noodle soup made with pinto beans, celery and onions served with unsweetened Chinese tea. We don’t serve meat or sugar because both rot your insides out”

“Geez lady, what kind of fool town is this? I can’t get no whisky, no meat an’ I bet a sweet slice of apple pie is forbidden too!”

Suddenly the girl broke out in a smile and said, “Oh, we have better than a sugary old apple pie sir, we have mock apple pie. It’s a recipe the Mayor brought back from his trip to England.

“What in the name of God is a mock apple pie?”

Rearing back from the waist up as if insulted, she exclaimed, “There’s no need to swear at me sir! We have a no swearing law in this town and I strongly suggest you  abide by it. Blah, blah blah…” Jelly Roll’s eyes began to glaze over.

“I think I’m having a nightmare.”

“…and if your through taking the Lords name in vain, I’d tell you that mock apple pie is made from crackers and spices instead of old dried up apples, butter and sugar! It’s much better for your constitution and keeps your movements regular!”

“My movements?”

She pointed to her small behind, “Yes, you know…your moooovements.”

Jelly Roll put his face into his hands and leaned forward as if in deep prayer.  Mumbling into his hands he spoke, “Jesus, take me right now, let a bullet come somehow flyin’ through this window an give me peace. Let the roof cave in on me Lord. Anything Lord! All I wanted was a shot of whisky an’ a hot beef dinner. Was that askin’ too much Lord? “

Interrupting him, she said, “Sir, I don’t mean to disturb your giving thanks to the Lord for your delicious meal, but wouldn’t it make more sense to order one first before prayin’ on it?”

Jelly Roll slowly removed his hands from his face and lifted his beleaguered eyes to the thin girl still waiting for his order. “I just lost my appetite Ma’am, an by the way, just who is this Mayor Maximus Ma’am everyone keeps yappin’ about? It seems to me this entire town is run more like his private property than a public town.”

With hands on her hips she told him, “ Mayor Maximus is the best thing that this town has had happen to it. Why before he come along, there was loose girls working in the saloon making men wobbly legged! There was gun shooting and brawls and drunkedness and swearing on the public walkways! He also got a college degree from Yale and was a rower in the famous Harvard-Yale regatta rowing race in which Yale beat Harvard! Why his middle name says it all, Acadamious.  Yes sir, when we need something we just got to call on Mayor Flavious  Acadamious Maximus for help. We couldn’t get by now without him.

Turning around she pointed to a well trimmed bearded man with long grey hair tied into a neat pony tail two tables away.  Soft, manicured hands delicately held a cup of Chinese tea to a face painted with all the honesty of a horse trader from Kansas City. “Our Mayor is sitting right over there listening to every word you’ve been saying, haven’t you Mayor Maximus?”

“Oh yes I have my dear Susan, oh yes I have.” Getting up from his own table he bullied his way past the other table and over to Jelly Rolls.

Standing over Jelly Roll like his dung don’t stink he asked, “You have a gripe here cowboy? Maybe you find our town too refined and civilized for your buffalo grunt taste. You do realize that putting another person in an uncalled for stressful situation such as your waitress Susan is now experiencing here, is against the law?”

The jail door slammed loudly behind him.

 

Chapter 3

As jails went, it wasn’t too bad at all. He flipped the blanket on the bed aside and didn’t see the usual scurrying of fleeing bed bugs or rings of old  pee stains.

An old man was in the cell next to him that wasn’t in there an hour before when he first arrived.

“What they got you in for boy?” the old man spoke through a raggedy beard trying it’s best to hide a set of picket fence teeth. “Judge Marcus got me tossed in today ‘cause I accidently spit on the street. No public spitten allowed here ya know. A filthy habit he says. Damn bug done jumped right in my mouth, ‘course I had to spit it out. I ain’t into swollow’n no bugs.

“Old man, I don’t wanna know why you’re in here or anything about your bug eatin habits. Ya could tell me though what kind of meals they serve here, I’m starvin’.”

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?”

“If ya got any money to pay for it.

“Pay for what?”

“If  you’re like me an’ havin’ no money, it’s whenever the Lady from the ‘Society for the Ethical Treatment of Prisoners and Other Bums’, better known as SETPOB gets here. It used to be ‘Prisoners Eat Terribly Awful’ or PETA,  but then some animal group complained they stole their initials an’ was all set to sue ‘em so they changed it to SETPOB.”

“So you’re sayin’ I gotta buy my own meals?”

“You should anyway, SETPOB meals is horrible stuff. Ain’t fit for no human, that’s for shore. Why last week when I was in here for not crossin’ the street at the marked road intersection, they fed me nothin’ but a slab of beef drenched in gravy over white bread!”

Jelly Roll perked up, “Damn! For real?”

“Yup, they figure if you get locked up, then you don’t deserve as good a meal as a decent folk would eat. Don’t expect no hot tea either. Just coffee! Tea’s for good folk “

“Well… Guess I’m broke then’” Jelly smiled pleasantly.

After a ‘terrible’ but very filling meal of butter made biscuits, pork sausage and coffee, Jelly Roll lay down and fell into a deep sleep on the jails recently purchased firm foundation mattress.

The old timer in the next cell sat complaining that his civil rights were being violated by being fed such a horrible meal.

Chapter 4

 

At 30 minutes after midnight The jail house door silently opened. A cowboy wearing a dirty bandana over his mouth stepped inside. The Sheriff sat in his chair sleeping. The intruder slowly lifted his greener shotgun and aimed it at the sleeping Sheriff.

“Wake up old man!

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”

“Damn it, I said wake up!”

“ZZz..snort..ZZZZZ”

“He’s half deaf” yelled the old man from the cell next to Jelly Roll. “Jes’ tap him on the head with the greener, that’ll get him awake.”

Lifting the Sheriffs hat off his head with the greener, he brought the barrel down,  giving the slleping Sheriff’s  head a resounding bonk.

“What in blazes?” The Sheriff yelled as he fell backward grabbing his head and sprawling bodily onto the floor.

“Who did that?” He shouted as he fumbled through his vest pockets looking for his spectacles. “There’s  laws against whatever just happened!”

“Stand up Sheriff, an’ put your gun a top the desk then back away from it.”

From his cell, Jelly Roll watched the scene with interest. The old man in the next cell whispered to him, “That there is Blasphemous Bob Barkus, he used to be an actor in California. He helped Mayor  Maximus , whose real name by the way is Johnny Deep, set up this town years ago as an experiment in social living. Seems he left before the town was completed sayin’ he heard the call of the whale, or somethin’ like that. Anyway, he signs onto this here oriental whale studyin’ ship as a crew member and sails away. Only thing is, the only studyin’ that ship did was to study how better to harpoon the dang things. Seems bein’ three years at sea harpoonin’ whales did somethin’ to his thinkin’. Soon’s he landed, he come back here wanting a giant veal steak sautéed in a onion Rum sauce with pickled eggs on the side. The man had completely gone off the deep end… threw away everything he earlier stood for. I heard he died of a fat clot in his blood or somethin’ after he left to take a job at a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans.  I guess not though, cause here he is again, alive as ever without no clots!”

“What’re you two whisperin’ about there? Walking over to the cells Blasphemous Bob demanded. Pointing his gun at Jelly Roll he asked, “What’re you in here for cowboy? Murder? Rape? Bank robbery?

“I just wanted beef stew and a whisky.”

A look of shocked disbelief plastered Blasphemous Bob’s face, “What?!! Son, didn’t you know that’s illegal here?”

“I do now.”

“What in tarnation was you thinkin’ by comin’ here? Ain’t nothing normal nor desirable ‘bout this place. It took me 3 years to see what every Texan sees right off about what’s wrong with it. No real Texan like you could abide here, no way!  That’s why we settled it with college graduates, ex politicians, lawyers, bankers  and bums!  Didn’t you take the time to read the sign by the road?

“Sure I did.” Jelly Roll said, “It said to hand in your guns, that’s all. I saw nothing too unusual about that. I’ve known other places do that, like Boston.”

“You been to Boston? How’d you like their baked beans? I just love how they toss that big ‘ol hunk a fat back in there for flavor. That sure makes it Yummo in my book!”

“No, never been there myself, but if it’s anything like this here town then I don’t want to either. I like wearin’ my gun and eatin’ beef n pickled eggs an’ drinkin’ whiskey too much.”

Blasphemous  Bob shouted, “Beef n Pickled eggs? Here’s a man after my own heart!” Demanding the jail’s ring of keys from the Sheriff, he opened the cell door Jelly Roll was locked  behind.

“Get on outa’ there son, I commune your sentence to time served! Now you get on the nag you rode in here with an’ ride till you come to that fork in the road again. This time read the dang sign in it’s entirety.”

Walking over to the Sheriffs gun safe, Blasphemous Bob Barkus unlocked it and tossed Jelly Roll his gun. He then grabbed arm load after arm load of the towns peoples pistols and threw them out the door into the street.  “As for me? I gotta correct the errors of my ways. This here towns gotta go. No one should be forced to live like this…it just ain’t natural an’ shore ain’t Texan!”

Waking the livery boy, Jelly Roll saddled up and headed out of town.  Behind him, the dark sky began to brighten with a yellowish glow. Blasphemous Bob was correcting the errors of his ways by burning down the town that was not fit for any Texan.

Suddenly he remembered something and turned the mare around and headed back to town at a gallop. The town was fully ablaze. The townsfolk were all wandering about in the street watching their town burn down around them. Seeing their guns lying about they began to retrieve them and buckle them on once again, just in case. Heading up to the now flame engulfed diner, he scanned the crowd for the familiar face he’d met only hours before.

Finding what he searched for, he rode over to the cute although somewhat thin blond girl who’s hair was still hair tied atop her head even though she no longer had a waitress job.

She stood frozen as she watched her town quickly burn away around her. A hanky with prints of chickadee’s that matched those on her night gown, was busy wiping the tears that rolled down her pretty cheeks. She looked up as he approached her and he smiled down at her.

Patting the saddle in front of him he asked her, “Want a lift some where’s? I got plenty of room up here seeing as how thin you are and all. Why I bet you could ride all the way back to Amarillo with me an’ not even crowd me out once.”

“I was born somewhere near Amarillo.” She sadly replied, “When my parents graduated from college with degrees in Mime psychology and performing arts, they took up the Mayors offer to be settled here at no cost. They both passed on last year when they was poisoned by some paint they had purchased from a  Chinese paint company they wore in their Mime act.

I have nowhere to go now except back to Amarillo. Maybe I’ll find  my extended family, maybe I’ll just get married, settle down and have a whole passel of children as a result of keeping my man happy an’ wobbly legged. Sir, If you don’t mind a somewhat thin cute blond girl that wears her hair up riding there in front of you, I’ll take you up on your offer  because I have nothing to keep me here and besides, I have always wanted to eat a medium rare slab of beef with pickled eggs on the side.”

Jelly Roll reached down and hooked her up into the saddle in front of him with one swoop of his arm. “My, you sure are strong Sir.” She breathlessly told him.

He could smell the fragrance of patchouli in her hair and feel the heat of her body against his as Horse clopped down the road he had come in on. “You said you might look to get married an’ have a passel of children from the results of keepin’ your man happy and wobbly legged? What kind a fella you got in mind?”

As if deep in thought, she put her pointing finger to her lips and finally said,  “Well, he’s gotta be strong, like you are. He has to have his own horse of course, like you have. And if he’s going to live in Texas with me, he has to eat beef and drink whisky, like you do.”

Looking skyward, Jelly Roll said smiling. “Gee ma’am sounds like you an’ Blasphemous Bob should hook up!”

She turned in the saddle and kissed his ear, “I thought about it but he likes rum, not whisky…unlike you.”

As they passed the town welcome sign, he stopped and said to the somewhat thin cute blond girl who wore her hair up,” Blasphemous Bob asked if I’d read the sign before I entered town, I read it but didn’t see nothing written on it that would warn me of all the strange non Texan things about the town. Is there something on it I missed?”

She smiled and patted his cheek affectionately, “Look real close at the bottom my sweet Sir. It’s about covered by the tall growing grass but if you look close you can still read it.”

Jelly Roll dismounted and approached the sign with a lit match to light the way. Squinting his searching eyes, he brushed away the tall grass and was finally able to read what was hidden, suddenly he understood. There written in the same French Script MT as the name of the town was written in it said, ‘If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico’.

If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico

Jelly Roll shuddered. With a herculean hop skip and jump, he landed back in the saddle and spurring Horse into a gallop, Jelly Roll Johnson and the cute but somewhat thin blond girl with her hair worn atop her head fled into the night towards Amarillo. There they married, ate beef and pickled eggs three times a week and had a passel of kids as a result of her keeping him happy… and wobbly legged.

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Texan by any name

TEXAN BY ANY NAME
By JW Edwards

A thin tendril of smoke drifting skyward off in the Sonora’s desert horizon was the only sign another human being occupied the cholla infested landscape. The lack of raised dust meant whoever it was had been there for a spell and hadn’t found any need to move on yet.
The scene disturbed the lone rider as he watched the smoke snake skyward. He thought it was a stupid move, having a fire like that. Without conscious thought, he worried the hairs on the mare’s mane between his fingers. Under his breath he mentioned this to no one in particular. “With that smoky a fire, that idiot might just as well be flashing a mirror about for all the savvy he showin’.”
Anyone who’s spent time in Indian country knew a small, short lived smokeless fire made of dry twigs was trail wise. This beacon in the wilderness was either a tenderfoots disastrous attempt at crossing the desert or like dung to a fly, it was used to purposely attract the eyes of greenhorn miners or Easterner do gooders making their way west.

He continued speaking but now it was aimed at his horse, “Dang it Snort, No man could a traveled this far bein that stupid an stayin’ alive this long out there. There’s a passel of mean ‘ol Apaches about an I ain’t even mentioned nothin’ ‘bout the group of white stage robbin’ hombres heard here about too.”
Snort only snorted like she understood and agreed.

He knew he was going to investigate. “ I know this ain’t what I should do Snort, but dang it all, what if it is just a idiot numbskull out there? Why with that smoky blaze he just let it be known to every no good within ten miles that they’s a ripe peach for pluckin’… unless of course this be a set up for robbin’ a greenhorn good Samaritan. My gut says that’s what’s goin’ on out there Snort. We might as well get on out there an’ see for ourselves”.

It was an old Indian trick. Convincing a passing traveler that someone’s in need then robbing or killing them when they arrived to help.
Out here in the dry desert, it wasn’t unheard of to find captive white women being used to draw in the unsuspected traveler by loudly pleading for help. Knowing he was smarter trail and desert wise than even most Apaches, he edged Snort on towards the smoky tendril.
Slowly the rider made his way around in a large circle so he could observe the smoky camp from the west where he would be partially obscured by the brightness of the setting sun. He’d stay hidden in the desert brush until the ancient volcanic peaks cast their long shadows across the desert floor painting a confused collage of shadows, brush and cactus.

Securing his horse to a small greasewood branch behind a slight rise, he crawled through the brush as silent as an Indian imitating a snake. Reaching a small arroyo he slid down into it and after waiting a minute to make sure he was still unobserved he removed his hat and lifted his eyes above the rim.

What he saw appalled him. Scattered about was a mixture of clothes, personal items and bodies. The smoke was the result of a torture. Stretched tight over the fire, an old man was held firmly in place by having his hands and feet tied to brush at opposite ends of each other. His body had been cooked in half over the fire.

Noting the scuffed up desert floor around his feet showed he was alive when the fire was lit under him. An old woman lay naked and dead nearby. No longer having a nose and lips with her eyes gouged out she had died horribly. By the looks of it, she must have been the old man’s wife. Two younger men, maybe in their teens lay dead. One died swiftly having his throat cut, he was the lucky one. His body was away from the others as if he was on sentry duty for the camp. The other boy of maybe fifteen or so lay naked, thoroughly tortured and gelded. The buzzards had been just begun to settle down to a warm meal of innocents.
As much as he wanted to scare off the gorging buzzards, the rider knew to make no sound or expose himself. The fire was still too fresh and the deaths too recent and on top of that, there was no trail dust noted earlier to speak of their leaving. Whoever they were that did this were most likely still hunkered down nearby just waiting for the curious to arrive so they could attack and continue their fun with a fresh number of volunteers.

Chapter 2
The rider knew to be extremely cautious. Snort was tied off far enough away to stay hidden so that was good. It was his laying in the arroyo that worried him. He could be discovered if someone else entered the same wash from either end. Quick to reverse this situation, he silently backed up feet first until he reached the opposite side of the arroyo’s slope. Within a few minutes he again was hidden by the cholla and brush above the wash.

Keeping his ears alert for any sound that might announce their where abouts, he began scanning the desert floor with the eyes of an eagle for signs of disturbance. A broken scrub twig knee high and a fresh over turned stone the size of a gold double eagle gave the direction of their exit away. Looking beyond these signs he noted no further disturbances. This meant that whoever it was, they were laying wait in the scrub not more than fifty feet away from the grizzly scene. He counted his blessings when he realized how close he had been to being seen.

He lay still as a rabbit watching the desert return itself to normal. A lizard ate a desert spider, a bird flitted about under a mesquite tree pecking like a chicken at the beans lying underneath. If they were Apaches, they could silently out wait most whites ten to one. The rider in this case was the one, so it was going to be a long night. Guessing at their heritage, he settled down by tucking his arms under his head and getting some shut eye. He would need the rest.
Snort knew not to make any noise where he stood. The rider had trained him well. If his nose was rubbed before the rider moved out, it meant make no sound especially if another horse or human shows up. If the rider rubbed the spot above the eyes, it meant be quiet but silently alert me to any presence by scraping one hoof across the ground. A whinny meant “Forget the other two and get the hell out of Dodge, we’s bein’ set upon by no goods!”

Not hearing any warning from Snort yet meant the Apaches were not moving about but were still hunkered down in the brush waiting for the rider to make his move. He was sure they spotted him earlier when he headed across the flats of the desert after he noticed the smoke. It was such an obvious set up. The rider figured the Apaches had either thought he was a greenhorn traveler unable to read sign very well or that they were in fact a group of careless young braves bent on making hell on earth. Considering the carelessness of the scuffed earth and the broken twig, he rightly made out they were the later. Still, they were deadly and they weren’t going away by wishing it.

Chapter 3
Around two in the morning, the rider awoke refreshed, took a swig of water, stretched his legs and arms silently and began implementing the plan he had decided on. After an hour of scanning the very tops of the brush, he finally saw what he was looking for. The freezing nighttime desert temperature announced their position by exposing their barely visible wisp of frosty breaths. Since no horses or their vaporous breaths were visible, the rider knew they were then hidden out of sight beyond the rise. It was even a possibility they were held near where Snort was tied. He was fortunate the Apache’s horses hadn’t reacted to Snorts presence. It would have been over for him before he even started. As it was, he now knew the near whereabouts of their horses and the exact location of the waiting Apaches.
With the first grey light in the eastern sky, the desert breeze began its daily west to east travel. Already positioned west of the hidden Apaches, he reached under his woolen vest and removed his silver whiskey flask. With continued snake like caution, he made his way through the densest sections of brush while pouring a continuous line of whisky in the desert sand beneath the brush. When the flask was finally emptied, he had made a quarter of a circle around the Indians. He then lit a Lucifer ‘strike anywhere match’ and put the burning head to the trail of whisky still dampening the sand.

Meanwhile, six young Apache’s lay hidden in the desert brush. Keeping in contact with each other by eye contact only, they practiced the age old Apache tactic of silent waiting.

Suddenly not a hundred feet in front of them, the earth ignited in a stretched out fiery blaze and with the morning breeze the inferno started racing their way. Their night vision ruined, they tried their best to make it unseen back to their waiting horses but with little success. Within a minute, the whisky fueled desert brush was so ablaze it exposed the fleeing Apaches as if lit by Boston theater lights. Rising onto his knees, the rider aimed his Navy Colt and began firing at the fleeing no goods. Aiming carefully, he pulled the trigger six times. One after another went down until none was seen standing.

Not trusting each shot fired to be a killing one, the rider reloaded and made his way stealthily from one body to another. Only one remained breathing, the rest had in fact had been given death by lead.
Rolling the ailing brave onto his back the rider saw where his bullet had gone. It had not been an immediate death shot by any means. Staring down at the lone Apache survivor, the rider saw the young brave was barely in his teens. “Dang it boy, what’re you doin’ with this passel a no goods? Ain’t you a bit young to prove your manhood? I mean it ain’t like you’s a growed man yet.”

In response, the young brave only moaned. The bullets path had entered his upper left side, had traveled along the front of the rib cage and exited near his right nipple. “Yeah, I bet it do hurt a might, but without infection, you’ll live. “ The rider stood and stretched, then bent over him and removed the knife the brave had on him. Looking closely at the blade he said, “I got some stuff in my saddle bag that I can clean and bind you up with, long as you don’t be no fool an’ try an’ get at me, just lie still.”
“Go,” the young brave said gasping, “I no can get up to kill you anyway.”
“Well ain’t that mannerly of ya.” Turning as he walked back to retrieve Snort and his saddle bags the rider called back in disgust. “I shoulda’ just put a bullet through your skull an’ been done with ya’. Why I’m ‘bout to patch you up beats the hell outa me!”
By noon the young brave lay patched and medicated with a salve normally used on horse wounds. A slight fever had begun but the rider figured this was more from the pain of the wound and broken ribs that from infection. A day or two more would tell more about that. The boy slept.

Having found and retrieved the Apaches horses, he was pleasantly surprised to find no brand on them. Unbranded Indian broke horses brought a good price on the market, something his near empty pockets desperately needed. It made no sense to tether them together, they had nowhere to go anyway so he let them graze where they could.

Sun up the next day brought good news to the young brave. No fever and hungry as a starving bear. The rider had made his way back to the grizzly campsite and buried the bodies. Searching around for any items that he could himself use he found a pound of Arbaughs coffee beans, some canned food items, a box of mixed coins amounting to twenty seven dollars and a bottle of whisky. The Apaches were too young to have appreciated the taste for whisky yet so it went over looked or unwanted. Putting his newly found goods in his saddle bags, he then said a prayer to the Lord above for those now lying cold in the ground that they would now be at peace. Something their last minutes on this earth surly were short of.

Arriving back at his own camp, the rider saw that the young brave was sitting up. Dismounting, the rider strode on over to the sitting brave and spoke. “I just buried that family you all kilt. I ain’t gonna ask your reasons for doin’ what you did ‘cause I know the Apache way, but it pisses me off terrible that you chose a family as weak to the territory as they were. Did you believe killin’ a weak fightin’ family made you a big warrior, give you big medicine like your grandfathers had? You ain’t no more a man than you was last week. No difference than killin’ a rabbit then tellin’ everybody you fought a wild desert beast tooth an’ nail an’ kilt it with your knife.” Your grandfathers earned the word warrior by goin’ against something that by all rights shoulda’ kilt them right off. Ain’t no glory in what you did, just shame.”

“Why you help me? I should sleep with my brothers. You shame me by defeating me then not honoring me with death so songs could be sung about me. “

“Honor you? I’d rather honor a whole sack a horse apples than honor you. No siree, I’d not give you that!”
Rekindling the earlier night’s camp fire to boil some water for his found coffee beans, he turned again to the boy. “What name does your father call you, is it yet the name your mother gave you at birth? That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Killin’ all them honest unarmed folk just so’s you can get warriors names for yourselves? Well I got a name for ya’ and it starts with ass an’ ends with hole!”

“I have no name now, your swear name is more than what I have. When I tell my father I was ready to make a name, he only laughed. He tell me I was young fool. If I disobeyed and shamed him by sneaking out with the others, he would no longer say I was his son he would remove even my birth name. I want to show him I was warrior, not a boy. Now I am shamed and have no name. “
“Well, soon as you can ride we’ll head over to where your people camp. I’ll ride along until we get near your camp, then I’ll veer off an’ let you ride on in alone so’s you can straighten things out with your pa.”

“No, I no can go back, I would be laughed at by the women then beaten to death for shaming my father. No, you say you know Apache. You know I can no longer return to them.”

The rider was between a rock and a hard place. He knew the Apache youth hadn’t even seriously considered the reality of becoming a real warrior. To him it was the same as those kids back east reading a dime novel and thinking they would six shoot their way to fame by killing every cattle thief out west. He also figured the boy had no part in the thing since his knife was still clean when he removed it from him. If it had been dirty with blood, he would have shot him dead where he lay.

In burying the dead Apaches, the rider saw them to be in their late teens early twenties, plenty old enough to decide right from wrong…and accept the consequences there of. How could he blame the starry eyed youth? Wasn’t he about the same age when in search of adventure, he ran away from home? Of course that lasted until his Pa found him teary eyed, lost and hungry. With a good belt to the behind he put his foolish notions away and grew to be a man the way most men do…by getting older.

“So what now then no name? I suppose you can head Mexico way. You could make it there in a week or so if I give you back your horse. I heard Mex’s an’ Apaches get along somewhat. Maybe that’s the best place to go.”
“ You tell me to go, I go. You tell me to feed horse, then I feed horse for you. I have no family, no tribe, you own my life.”
Pouring a cup of hot coffee for himself he stopped and told the boy, “Now hold on there no name, I ain’t your owner and sure ain’t your Pa. You all just get better an’ leave me be an’ we’ll call it even up.”
The boy looked crest fallen. The rider knew he had just made things worse for the boy. He had rejected him even as a slave. At least being captured into forced slavery a boy could still grow up within his new adopted tribe and become a warrior. Now there truly was no saving face for the young brave.

“Aw crap! I didn’t mean it that way I said it boy. Even if I did, we got two different cultures here. Why hell, if you was a white boy, you’d still be sitting in front of a school Mar’m reading your ABC’s.”
The Apache youth looked baffled. He rider added, “Forget it boy, you wouldn’t understand.”
The day came when the Apache youth was able to ride. His wound just an angry red slash across his chest. Well, I figure it’s ‘bout time I head on back Texas way no name. I used to be a Texas Ranger before the big war between us whites happened. I got told a ways back they might be getting things together again with the new Governor they got. Maybe I can rejoin and earn a living. You can tag along if you wish. If not, I’d head on to Mexico way. Just stay out of trouble.

While the Apache boy did not understand all that was being said, he had heard of Texas before. “I ride to Texas, maybe lone rider like you need me. Not safe for white man here. Many snakes and creatures that sting along the way. Me teach.”
“Suit yourself, but when we get there ain’t gonna be no way you can tag along. Bein’ a Ranger is a job done mostly alone.” Or so he thought.

Chapter 4

Two months later and having sold the spare horses along the way they arrived at Fort Stockton near the Pecos River along the old Comanche war trail. True to his word the Apache kept a vigil eye out for snakes, scorpions and such. They had formed a partnership that could only be achieved in Texas. After being relieved of his Navy Colt and leaving the Apache boy at the gate, the ex Ranger headed over to the Ranger command center whose jurisdiction was all of south west Texas. There he presented himself to the Commander of the Rangers.
Recognizing his old friend, the Captain Commander smiled broadly and exclaimed in a gravel grinding voice “Well I’ll be damned, I thought for sure you was dead by now!“ You looking for work Mr. Lone? I sure could use you if you are. I got a hot spot over El Paso way that needs a few strong hands.”

“I came from the Arizona gold territory, I guess mining ain’t my callin’. I heard rumors while there that the Texas Rangers are gonna’ be reborn an’ financed by the Governor himself. I sure could use a steady income that’s a fact. So is what they say true?”
“In so many words they are, but paydays are still far and few but they always seem to eventually tally up. Rewards still can be collected if there’s a bounty offered, that helps, plus you get a stipend for your horse of four dollars a month. Food, odd sized ammunition and duds is up to you. Just like before the war except now we have the backing of the governor. Sometimes it now gives us an edge of authority over local sheriffs and such than it did in the earlier days. Still interested?”
“Yeah, I guess, but I got a favor to ask. I ain’t one to lean on an’ old friendship but I kind of got a responsibility as such now. I got me a trail pard.”
“Well hell, why didn’t you say so! Havin’ a partner to back you up is a good thing, right?”

“I got to tell you straight Cap, you’ll be findin’ out soon enough anyway. My pards an Apache. A young Apache. Don’t ask how or why it come about but it did. You know I never had a pard, I always rode alone. Maybe I got old or tired or soft, but this kid’s the only one I’d ever trust to cover my back. Take it or leave it Cap. You want me fine but you gotta let me have my pard trail with me.”
Looking downward as if studying the paperwork scattered on the desk in front of him, the Captain said, You do know taking an Apache out of Arizona territory is against the law don’t you. How could I cover something like that?”

“You don’t have to, he has no people, been disowned by ‘em. Only you know his bein’ an Arizona Apache, why He might be a Texas Mescalero Apache or maybe a Lipan Apache or even Jumano. Who the hell would know he’s from Arizona and not Texas?”
“Is he here? I mean at the fort?”
“He’s outside the fort waiting for me.”
“Bring him here. Give this letter to the guard at the main gate, he’ll get an escort here to my office. With the unrest we have with Indians, no Indian can just walk in unannounced. If you’ll agree to my terms, I’ll sign his paperwork. No pay for your partner, no stipend for his horse, he’s your responsibility, there’s no way I could get a Ranger pay draft for an Indian. If there’s a bounty reward offered on a posted no good, you can share it with him or not, it’s your decision. I signed him in as a Wichita. That tribe is hundreds of miles north east of here and unlikely anyone will question it. Now bring him in here, I’d like to see what you saw so grand in an Indian that you’d want him to ride with you.”

An hour later a knock at the Captains door announced the arrival the escort. “Come in”, the Captain called back.
The door opened and in stepped the rider with his young Apache. The Captain’s jaw hung open.
“You can’t be serious,” he balked loudly, “he’s but a boy! He can’t ride as a Ranger. ”
“A deal’s a deal Cap. Besides, I didn’t ask that he be a Ranger, just my pard” Grabbing the Apache now a Wichita’s paperwork off the Captains desk along with their orders, and before he could renege on the deal, he pushed the Apache youth out the door.
“Wait!” cried the Captain as he reopened the door, “what the hell’s his name, I gotta have a name for paperwork.”
Mounting their horses, the rehired Ranger yelled back, “When I figure one out I’ll let ya’ know!”

At the post main gate, an obvious born and bred Yankee scout (even though being dressed in western buckskins) was given the duty to clear the two. “ Your names and orders?” He asked while extending his hand outward to the paperwork being offered him. He went about signing them out, allowing the Ranger to retrieve his weapon.

Dismissing the Apache boy, the scout looked to the Rider, “What is the Indians name Ranger?
The rider fumbled about trying to think of something proper to call the boy for the scouts sake but before he could make one up, the young Apache stepped forward and announced boldly while pointing to the Ranger, “Me call him Kemo Sabe, you say, Lone Ranger. My name Tonto, good scout.”

Giving the two a bewildered look the scout just shook his head. After glancing over the Rangers orders , he replied, “Alright Ranger Lone, I’ll have Private McCleary here get your weapon for you. I see you’re headed out to the revived Ranger post out El Paso way. Seems you’ll be having some company along on the trail.” The guard turned to speak to Private McCleary, “Private, retrieve the Rangers Navy Colt from the guard shack an’ return it to him.” he then added, “On second thought, you might as well grab that silver Colt that New Ranger Hop-a-long something or other turned in, he’s the one wearing the black ten gallon hat that’s limping his way back over here. Seems these three are being stationed together in El Paso.”

As the three moved out of Fort Stockton on horseback, They could hear the Sergeant loudly comment to the private, “Ranger lone, Tonto and Hop-a-long…Thank God at the end of this month my duty in this man’s Calvary will be over. I’ll be heading east to Abilene where being normal is the norm. I swear upon my Pop’s grave Private, I’ll never understand why these Texans take on such fool sounding names, it’s like they always have to out do everybody else. They can’t just be average and fit in like everyone else. I’m glad my Mama had the sense to name me plain old James Butler Hickok that’s for sure!”

The End

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

By J W Edwards

Dana McClure was pretty. Not only pretty but really darn pretty.

The year was 1876 and Christmas was just a few days away. While most of Mosquito Gulch Colorado was preparing for the festivities soon to come, Dana McClure, the prettiest prostitute in town was running for her life on a horse with a thrown shoe.

Things hadn’t worked out quite the way she planned. Her plan was simple. Get out of town with a load of cash before the Madam knew she had fled and start her life over somewhere else as a respectable lady. Free from the chains of being a kept saloon girl she was young enough to believe she still had a future and was hell bent on finding it.

Three years earlier at the age of 17, Dana had started her ‘employment’ at the Greenhorn Saloon in Mosquito Gulch after the stage she was on was robbed outside of Denver.  Some might have considered her lucky, others not. While the other passengers gave up their belongings and their ghost, Dana was spared the quick death freely given to her fellow passengers. Instead, young Dana became the pleasurable object of the four galoots that held up the stage. When they had decided she had been played out, they left her to the elements.

Jasper Shroud found her. He had left the Bank of Denver the day before after depositing the previous week’s cash that the Greenhorn Saloon had bled from its customers. Whiskey, gambling and a whore house on the 2nd floor made Jasper a rich man. A very arrogant and spoiled rich man. Tossing her into his surrey as one would load a potato sack onto a wagon bed, Jasper grunted his pleasure and continued on his way back to town.

When Dana awoke, it was in a feather bed in a gaudy room consisting of silk wall coverings and velvet curtains.  There she was being tenderly cared for by the Madame of the Greenhorn and a couple of its whores in the ‘Madams’ own room.

Jasper was not caring for her out of the kindness of his heart. In his mind, he had found her, could save her life and get a nice financial return on his ‘investment’ by whoring her out when she recovered. It was not an unusual situation. Many a woman who lost her man on the frontier soon found out neighbors and friends had only so much generosity and resources to help out. The lucky ones with male children remarried within a couple of weeks, the old and infirm soon passed on.  Many younger ones became whores.

For the present, Dana accepted her fate as a whore with the same apparent resignation as many fine Lady’s of the day accepted their ‘duty’ to make sure her man was fed, clothes repaired and his manly desires well taken care of. Looks and love played little part in this arraignment.  It was all about daily survival.

Religion played no part in a whore’s life. God had no role in their daily affairs as he paid attention only to the church going, for they belonged to him, not the whore. There was no hell after death. Hell was now; death was a release from hell. Hell wasn’t for Dana though, she had plans that didn’t include her death.

Each man that shared her bed paid the Madam his dollar before he went upstairs for his hour of lust. If the whore was gooder than good she might find a dime on the table after he had departed. If that dime was not turned over to the Madam, a good old fashioned beating by a burly staff member named Tommy, reminded her that under no circumstances was a whore deserving of more than the Madam provided her.  Each night the girls rotated rooms. This prevented the squirreling away of a hidden cache in loose floorboards, bed frames and such. No whore ever took another whore into her confidence. A whore could never trust another whore to keep her mouth shut. This kept the power of the Madam absolute

On December 20th of ‘76, Dana made her move.

Chapter 2

She was told the night before by Madam that Henry Jason Willard, the eastern rail road mogul of high wealth and high living was passing through Mosquito Gulch on his way to Denver and had requested Dana’s companionship for the entire night. Dana made her preparations. The room was cleaned and sage grass had been burnt in the pot belly stove to cover the smell of the many men that had passed through.

But it wasn’t those preparations that concerned Dana. During her stay at the Greenhorn Saloon she had befriended a young black named Rufus who while not being owned by the Madam and the Saloon, was in fact owned by the Madam and the Saloon. No one suspected the unusual friendship between Dana and Rufus. Not that they were improper with each other mind you, but a whore and a black in 1876 did not strike a friendship. Still they had stolen moments to talk and even more important, dream. Dana spoke of the day she would leave Mosquito Gulch and Rufus had vowed to help her.

A few of Rufus’s duties at the Greenhorn were to remake each bed after use, search for hidden coins left by grateful patrons and report to Madam any whores overheard plans of leaving or skimming cash. Running errands for the whores in town was also one of those duties. Rufus was in a perfect position to give Dana the help she needed that night.

Entering the Saloons bat wing doors wearing a black bowler derby and blue pin stripped suit Henry Jason Willard, announced his arrival. “Drinks are on me until I say!”  Cow punchers, gamblers and whores alike all cheered. Upstairs, Dana made ready her plans.

A light knock grabbed her attention and a young blacks voice quietly whispered, “Good luck Ma’am.” Dana smiled to herself as she headed for the door.

Dana opened the door to find on the floor, a very expensive bottle of Tennessee whiskey, two clean crystal glasses and a bowl of fresh mountain ice resting on a silver server. Beside it lay a small leather pouch that Dana knew contained over 14 dollars in coin. Inside jingled her squirreled savings that had been being secretly held by Rufus. A folded paper note with the single simple word “Chestnut” on it. All was set and in order.

By 10pm, the esteemed Mr. Willard made his way upstairs after a single stimulating game of poker. He lost over Seventy dollars in that short time but showing how unimportant that amount was, he smiled and added another ten to the pot for good measure.

Dana answered the door and invited her Gentleman caller in.

“Oh my sweet dear, you are more than I ever hoped for. My man said you were very young and pleasing to the eye, but I never imagined this grunt town would ever produce a fine a whore as you.” Whether it was meant as a compliment or an unsavory remark Dana did not know, nor did she care.

In her best imitation of an awe struck fickle Lady, Dana responded, “I am pleased you find me desirable sir, I am yours for the taking but first let me pour you a glass of fine a whisky as can be found west of the Tennessee Mountains.” Holding up the glass she offered, “Ice?”

It was the ice. Laced with a horse sedative Mr. Willard was soon drugged. She had managed to get him partway onto the bed before his lights went out. Appearing as a child saying his nightly prayers, He knelt bedside snoring. Dana could not contain her hatred.  She pulled down his drawers exposing his bare behind. With a sharp knife, she engraved her name, date and the name of the Saloon into his hide. He represented every man that had come into her room, except for one. That one, who told her his name was Ben Toker she believed was different.  Against her better judgment, Dana had secretly loved him as much as he had openly loved her. Because he did so openly, Madam soon found out, Dana feared for her lovers life and to save him she ran him off.  Shaking her head as if to clear her mind, she reminded herself she could not think of him now. Instead, she had to prepare for her departure from Mosquito Gulch and the Greenhorn Saloon.

With no moon out to help light her way, Dana climbed out of her window using the 15 foot fire escape rope. No luggage was taken as whores had no luggage. Tucked beside her breast lay the pouch containing now over 200 dollars, most in gold double eagles. These being a ‘gift’ from Mr. Willard that he would not be aware of until tomorrow…along with a carved ass that was going to be very difficult to explain to his very rich and jealous wife back east.

Chapter 3

Making her way through the darkened alleyways she finally made it to the livery stable. It was now past 3 am but a slight knock on the big sliding carriage door brought a very wide awake Black liveryman to her

“Night Ma’am, be quiet now. My nephew Rufus done tol’ me you was comin’ an I need be ready when yo got here.”

“Unfolding the paper handed it to him and said to him, “Rufus gave me this, I am assuming it’s about a horse for me?”

“Yes’m, It means you done bought an’ got papers fo’ “Chestnut”, a fine strong horse Ma’am.  Realizing Rufus had somehow paid for the horse and tack out of his own meager savings, Dana opened her top and being careful to not expose her breast, pulled forth the money pouch. Taking a hundred dollars out in double eagles, she handed the gold coins to the Rufus’s uncle. “Please, give these to Rufus, I owe him my life.”

“I will do dat Ma’am, he a good boy, shore is a good boy. Shore is a lot of money here Ma’am, you shore ‘bout dis?” Satisfied she had not made a mistake, he walked over to the tack room, there he removed a saddle, blanket and saddle bags. “In dem bags be some mens drawers and stuff he got fo’ you. Yo’ need to change into dem to fool anybody dat might see’s you leave here. I’ll burn yo dress and ladies stuff in da lit stove Ma’am so’s dey ain’t found.”

“Thank you, both you and Rufus are a Godsend.”

The old black turned to her and stopped short.  Wrinkling his forehead as if thinking, he approached Dana. “ Rufus done pray fo’ you, you know dat? He tell me he do dat each an’ ery night. He do pray fo’ you Ma’am. He say God love you an’ da Lord tol’ him to do dis stuff he doin’ fo’ you. God say he protect yo’. He say you be Gods special child. Da Lord done tol’ him all a dat.”

Dana did not know what to say in return because she wasn’t sure she even believed in God anymore. Still, she held the old black mans words in her heart. She knew now why Rufus would risk his life for her.

Dressed and mounted as a man, she nodded and tipped her brimmed hat at the liveryman as she left quietly into the night. Once out of town she broke the chestnut mare into a gallop.

Chapter 4

Figuring Dana had a good five hour head start, Rufus  informed both Madam and Jasper Shroud that after multiple tries, that morning no one was answering his knocks at her door. Their repeated knocks brought no answer either. Trying the knob, Jasper found the lock was jammed. “Give me room, I’m gonna bust down the door” he told Madam and a few of the whores that had gathered. Shouldering the door pretty hard brought no result and afraid of harming himself he told the whore at the top of the stairs to get Tommy to break down the door.

It took Tommy only one kick and the door broke inward off its hinges. The small group stood staring wide eyed into the room at the scene before them. There, still kneeling at the bedside was the powerful Henry Jason Willard with his head still resting on the mattress before him. With his drawers pulled down, everyone starred at the dried bloody carvings etched into his backside.

Reacting to the scene as if gut punched, Jasper stumbled backwards out into the hall holding his head. “Oh my God, What did she do?  What did that idiot whore do to him?”

Jasper knew the trouble he and the Greenhorn Saloon were in. There was no way Mr. Willard would let this pass without retribution on a major scale. “He’ll not only take it out on us but the entire town’s gonna’ pay for this. Let him lay a minute, I need to think this out before trying to rouse him”.

After a few seconds, the fog of shock drifted off and Jasper began giving orders.”Tommy, you and Madam  saddle up some horses for us, we’re going to find the Whore Dana. Go hire that Indian tracker if she left town.” Walking into the room, he spied the empty whiskey glass. The bowl of ice had melted, leaving a white ring around the bowls edge.” Drugged, She had help, find out who besides the Negro Rufus had access to her room and to this whiskey tray.” Spotting the discarded wallet on the floor, Jasper opened it and found it empty. Stating the obvious Jasper spoke almost to himself, “She robbed him too. Dang, this is bad, real bad. Mr. Willard ain’t gonna’ blame her as much as me for havin’ a low down robbin’ whore on my payroll. It’s gonna be me that pays.”

After a thorough search of the room produced nothing more than what the eye could see, Jasper headed downstairs. “Press the Negro, beat the crap out of him till he admits all he knows. He had to know something, somebody does, find out!”

Meanwhile Dana was beginning to have her troubles mount. The chestnut mare had thrown a shoe on the trail and her gait was being affected. Having nothing on her to remove the opposite side shoe to equalize the horses gait, she had no choice but to continue on until the animal became lame. Reaching into her past, she revived the knowledge of western survival she had been brought up with. Coming to a fork in the trail, she decided to head up towards Mount Tweto, hoping once past the tree line the snow there would blanket the trail.  Dana figured the snowy trail would cushion the shoeless hoof and prolong her ability to ride. Feeling confident again, she knew she could reach the town of Buckskin Joe in a few days if all went well. From there she could take the stage to a railway depot and from there to San Francisco.  Just as she settled in for the ride, the snow started.

Lightly at first but as she gained altitude past the tree line, the wind became more aggressive. Blowing snow limited her sight but she knew also that it would cover her trail. Her only worry was that there had been no snow falling at the fork below the tree line.

“She went East up towards the tree line” the Indian grunted to Jasper. “With a missing shoe in this dirt, she knew her trail would be easy to follow if she stayed on that trail. Once she hit’s the tree line there’s a trail up there where she can go either to Leadville or up to Mount Tweto and over to the mining town of Buckskin Joe.”

Jasper thought about it and finally spoke to the small group of men tracking Dana. “Mr. Willard gave me just three days to find her and bring her back. If after three days I don’t return with her, he’ll send out his men to stretch all our necks.

That dang negro boy wouldn’t admit to nothing, too bad for him. ‘Course, I ain’t  cryin’ no tears for a newly stove up negro boy, that’s for sure. Even so, just to temporarily save my own hide, I had to sign over ownership of the Greenhorn to Willard. That whores not gonna’ see Willard alive I tell you that!  An’ I’m gonna’ do some god awful things to her before I bring her dead carcass back to the Greenhorn, that’s for sure.

“So this is what I’m thinking. She ain’t no trail savvy cowboy so she’ll most likely head over to Leadville because the trail is easier. There ain’t no call or reason for her to head up to Mount Tweto. Most folk knows there ain’t no shelter on the trail up there. If you look to the north east, a winter storm is brewin’ big time up Tweto way. Even a stupid whore wouldn’t head into the teeth of a winter blow. No, she’s headed to Leadville, Let’s trail up to the divide atop the tree line and then head that a way.”

With that decision, Dana’s luck had turned again for the better.  By the time Jasper and his posse reached Leadville and realizing she had instead gone on up to Mount tweto, the three days allotted for returning Dana would have run out.

Chapter 5

By the second day, the mare’s breathing was becoming more labored as they climbed higher into the Colorado mountains. Dana wrongly figured Mount Tweto should be just a few more miles ahead. She had heard patron’s talk of the passage over Mount Tweto to the town of Buckskin Joe but only in the summer months, never in the winter. Dana thought on this but decided she had no choice anyway. With the mare’s thrown shoe and Jasper most likely figuring on her to head to Leadville, she dismissed the thought that she had made a mistake.

By the third day, Dana began to realize just how big Colorado was. The staples she had and the grain for her horse in her saddle bags were pretty much gone. Having to huddle each night in a hole dug into a snow drift, she covered herself as best she could using her and her horses stiff wool saddle blanket.

That night Dana had fitful dreams of the young man she loved but had recently driven away. In her dreams she called to him as she watched him ride away, always into the storm.

By the morning of the fourth day, Dana was aware she may not make it to freedom after all. In fact, so weak was she that upon standing she nearly toppled over the cliff alongside the trail. That’s when she realized her mare was no longer there. Whether the mare left to return home from hunger or it too had miss stepped and had gone over the cliff’s edge, Dana did not know. She did know one thing though, without a horse, Dana the runaway whore was done for.

Finding a handful of grain in the bottom of her saddlebag, she chewed the hard beads and swallowed them. When she could find no more, she began to cry. Sitting pow wow fashion with her empty saddle bags on her lap, she wailed away. The storm with all its fury laughed back at her.

By nightfall, Dana was convinced she was not coming off the mountain top. She lay down in her dug out snowdrift and once again covered herself.  “I wonder what all went on after I left”, she mused.  “I shouldn’t have let Rufus do so much, he’ll be found out for sure. Poor Rufus, Oh why did I think they wouldn’t find out? Why was I so selfish to that poor boy?” Dana once again dozed off.

Dana awoke to a sound, or lack of it. During her fitful hours of sleep the storm had blown itself out. Dana reckoned it was near dawn. A sliver of moon and the stars of heaven lit the far away mountain peaks like giant diamonds glittering in a sea of black. Where the wind still raged in the furthest mountains, snow blew over the peaks like wind spray over ocean waves.

The breaking daylight removed the black sea and replaced it with green tree lines broken by purple and crystal white shadows. The sky was as light blue as blue can get. Amazed, Dana sat up in her dug out and gazed at the beautiful scene before her. If she were to die she thought, this is what she wanted to look upon during her last moments.

She wondered how the earth in all its beauty could sustain the evil of mankind, herself included she admitted . If she were God she thought, “I’d of never made man, I woulda’ just made what my eyes now see, beautiful things like mountains so’s I could enjoy looking at them.” Suddenly she felt very lonely. She then wistfully said, “All this beauty and no one to share it with, what a shame.”

It was then that she remembered what day it was. Christmas. She began to laugh. “I’m to die on Christmas day!”

Her laughter turned to tears as she remembered Christmas as a child. Her loving folks, the sound of hymns being sung at church, the story of baby Jesus being told and the reason for his birth. It all came tumbling back in an avalanche of childhood memories. She realized it was she who had driven God from her life, not the other way around. With the full knowledge that in all likely hood, today would be her last day on this earth, she prayed.  So fervent were her prayers that she did not hear the plodding hoof beats approach her from the direction she had come days before.

A shocked voice was suddenly heard, “My God, Dana, “Oh Lord my prayers have been answered!”

Like a spring being unwound, Dana violently shot standing up in a last ditch effort to defend herself from the fear that the rider was none other than Jasper Shroud. Looking about wildly for other riders that usually accompany him, she began edging towards the cliff. She would rather throw herself into the abyss below than face Jaspers torment.

But something about the voice halted her at the edge. Trying to see the face hidden in the morning shadow his hat cast, she stood there prepared to leap.

“Dana! No, don’t, it’s me, Ben.”

Removing his hat his sandy colored hair was whipped backward in a gust of breeze, showing his face.

“When you told me to leave”, he said, “ I was sorely hurt an in my selfishness I went back to my ranch an’ pouted like a schoolboy. I tried to forget you, I really did but I could no sooner stop lovin’ you than I could stop my own heart beating by wishin’ it.”

Dana stood transfixed, her hands slowly cupping her mouth and nose. “ Ben? Is it you? How did you find…”

Jumping down off his horse he grabbed Dana by the shoulders, his eyes searching her face.

“ I went back for you. I had to one last time see you, to offer you everything I had if you’d just leave the Greenhorn and come back with me. But when I got to Mosquito Gulch, you was all the news. Folks there said you robbed the rail baron Henry Willard and carved up his behind as a message to his wife that he’s a cheatin’ skunk! Word was, Willard had given Jasper just three days to find you, then he’d send his men after him.”

“Ben, How did you find me?  What made you decide on which trail I took?”

“Well, When I got to the fork an found Jasper, the Madam an’ the rest of his friends all neck tide on a tree, I figured they wasted them three days lookin’ for you in Leadville, so why should I?”

Dana, weak as she was, wrapped her arms around Ben and looking up into his eyes asked, “Now that you found me, do you really think a whore like me could ever be a fit wife for a man as good as you? Really Ben? “

Ben, leaned down and kissed her, “Dana, we all have our good an’ bad points about us. I ain’t no better fer callin’ on you than you was fer lettin’ me into your bed.  I guess like the good book tells us, We all fall short but for the grace of God we’d all be lost. It’s Gods Christmas present to us Dana.  If you’ll be my wife, I promise you this, I’ll try to be the best present you could ever wish for”

Dana said to him smiling, “ Dear Ben, I have no gift but myself to offer you in return.  If you want me, I’m yours… but I want three, no,  four more promises from you .”

Thinking of all the savory and unsavory possibilities of what those promises might be, Ben nervously asked,” What are these four promises you ask for Dana.”

Dana stepped back and weak as she was, a glint of mischief still hinted in her beautiful blue eyes.

“First, we are to be married by a preacher just as soon as we can because a lady does not bed a man until  they are married. I do  hope you own a nice Sunday go to meeting oufit , ‘cause each Sunday we’ll be sittin’ front and center in them church pews, OK?”

Ben gulped, “Yes’m, married. Preacher…pews…OK”

“Second , get on over to that nag you rode up on and rustle us up some grub from your saddle bags. If you haven’t noticed I’ve been starving up here.”

“ Grub, Gotcha, What’s the third promise?” Ben asked.

“Get me the heck off this here mountain and set me in front of the biggest fire the stove at your ranch can make,  I about froze to death waitin’ on you to come rescue me!”

By now  Ben was chuckling as he finally realized Dana was only toying with him so he asked, “An the fourth Promise?”

Lifting her hand, she gave him the “come hither” wiggle with her finger… and said, “ Come here and promise to kiss me again.’

It was a promise he never broke.

My name is John Wesley Cullpepper

My name is John Wesley Cullpepper

By J. W Edwards

 The shot

Lurching forward and backward to the rhythm of the mule’s steps, the lone hatless rider should have expired and fallen from the saddle miles back. To prevent his falling and imminent death, the rider, while still conscious, had lashed his own gnarled and misshaped hands to the saddle horn using a rawhide lariat. Being tied like that would keep him sitting upright even after death. A dark stain of coppery blood and a few Jumping Cholla cacti clung to his sheepskin chaps. His life sustaining liquid was leaching out from a gut wound. Having worked its way under his wooly chaps and down into his worn boots, it found a hole in his right sole. Once again exposing itself to the open air, it continued down the backside of his boot heel landing in the frying pan sand below.

It was already over one hundred degrees and not even high noon yet. The mortally wounded rider was well beyond thirst. His only awareness was that only he must not die yet, but ride on.

Yesterday at dawn, stopping at a small arroyo he had made his camp. The old timer began roasting a handful of coffee beans for his coffee. The smell of the roasting beans waft past his grizzled beard making his nose scrunch up in pleasure. Only after having watered, rubbed down and fed his mule, did he concentrate on making the small fire under the mesquite tree. The sparse but gnarled branches above helped to diffuse any smoke while the beans roasted. It was at that moment the bullet found and made a home in his belly. He never heard the shot, just the feeling of being kicked violently backwards. Anger overcame him as he lay there on his back gasping from pain in the small arroyo. He had figured he was being tailed so he took extra precautions by checking his back trail often, traveling only at night and riding trails that left few prints. Still, a mule is not a horse. The one thing that could have saved him from his pursuers was denied, the ability to out run them. He wasn’t a man without hope though. Years of prospecting in Arizona’s Sonora desert, gave him the advantage of being able to hide where only a scorpion could make a home. Making his trail sign as difficult to read as possible, he knew he could not shake those following, but could slow them down a bit to his advantage.

Somewhere deep inside of him, a misshaped hunk of lead lay at the end of its devastating path. It had been an impossible shot, pure luck…for those on his trail. They only knew he was somewhere ahead of them on the trail but had little idea as to how far. The shot taken was not from any skill. It was the desire to lash out from pure frustration. The shooter had raised his rifle high and towards the small clump of mesquite growing aside the wash almost a quarter mile away. It was dumb thing to do but it made him feel better. The shooter wasn’t even aware the lone rider was hit let alone was actually camped that close and inside the brush until the next day. That was when they came upon the spot where he bled into the sand.

Reading the signs, they determined the rider had been about to make his dinner before getting a few daylight hours sleep using the tiny mesquite tree as shade. A black frying pan of burnt coffee beans still sat in a bed of cold ashes. Except for the saddlebags and saddle, the rider’s gear lay untouched in a neat pile. Prints told the story. After being hit, the rider had somehow been able to saddle his mule and continue on but in doing so required leaving most of his gear behind. To the pursuers, this meant the rider had received a life threatening wound. No one would leave a canteen of water, bacon and coffee pot behind in the desert, not if he figured on living a bit longer.

Riding with eyes to the ground, the pursuers came upon a lone biscuit laying aside the trail. The rider must have had the sense to put one or more in his pocket when he saddled up. The stale biscuit also meant the rider was not able lower himself down to retrieve it, no matter how hungry he was. The small group of no goods followed the signs and feeling much more encouraged now.

Barely aware of his pain, the rider yet gasped involuntarily as if suffocating. Breathing was getting more difficult and he lacked any feeling in his gut and legs. His driving force in staying alive was to reach the ranch that lay in a well watered valley some 10 miles ahead alongside the Verde River.

Once there he knew he would die for he was sore hit. Death rode beside him but he was determined not give up his ghost until he could pass on the secret to those who waited patiently for him up ahead.

Old timers say once bitten by gold fever you never recover. In the old man’s case, his pick axe days of mining had ended when a cave in left his hands crushed and useless. Even then, the fever never left him. If he couldn’t mine his own claim, he’d hunt the long lost and hidden gold caches said to be still left hidden in the desert. He sold his claim and threw in with a man he had befriended years earlier and together they built the ranch and raised mules. They figured the real gold was in selling mules to the miners and not in the mining itself. Owning less than one sixth of the ranch, His share of the ranch’s profits still allowed him to prospect most of the year at his own convenience. True, Apache’s, bandits and the elements all took their toll but even then, the ranch continued to prosper.

The trip back to the desert outside of Vulture City was going to be the climax of all his years of searching. Having narrowed it down, he knew now exactly where the cache lay hidden.

Chapter 2

High grading

A decade before, gold had been secretly taken out of the Vulture mine ounce by ounce and cached in the desert by two of the mine’s supervisors. This act was called high grading and the thieves were called high graders and high graders were quickly hung. Their plan was to steal enough gold little by little so the two could head to San Francisco and live high on the hog. As their luck would have it though, on the way to their cache about six miles into the desert, they were found out. It was meant to be their last trip…it was.

Most High graders caught were returned and hung back on the mine property to discourage others from high grading. As those who had tried and gone before them, the two supervisors dangled their last dance from the hanging tree not fifty feet from the whore house they were so familiar with. Between the two, they had less than four ounces of the precious metal on them.

Four ounces was a might small amount for a hanging but most everyone suspected the two of high grading for quite some time before they were caught. Not being very well liked and being supervisors and all, no one had a qualm in hanging them right off.

Besides, entertainment (other than the mines saloons and whore house) was hard to come by in the middle of nowhere, so a good hanging was always looked forward to. The gold the two hid was never recovered. Up to now.

 Chapter 3

The mistake

When the old man finally reached where the high graders had hidden the gold, he discovered the cache to weigh over one hundred and sixty pounds. After loading the pack mule, he should have left straight away for the ranch, avoiding any settlements but didn’t. It was a long journey back and he was excited. Leading his mule, The now wealthy prospector headed to town. When he reached Wickenburg he headed first to the stable. There he paid the young Mexican stable boy a generous sum to lock up his belongings in an empty feed room and care for his mule. Figuring his belongings were in good hands and being dressed like he was, no one would figure he was worth robbing. Passing through the doors to the Miss Lilly Saloon in Wickenburg, he did what he had always dreamed of being able to do. He stood at the bar and ordered a bottle of the most expensive whiskey the saloon carried.

Chapter 4

The Ranch

Nestled in the mix of Ash and Cottonwood trees growing along the River banks, was the small adobe ranch house the old man was heading to. There, a man in his forties and his young teenage son headed back indoors and out of the sun from the small corral. They had spent the morning separating fourteen of their best mules from the thirty eight they owned. The plan was to sell the mules in a few days to a buyer who would resell them to the miners working their claims at Stanton City.

It had been thirty hours now since he had been shot. Drifting in and out of consciousness, the man rode just ahead of his pursuers. Stopping without awareness, the mule cropped what it could find to eat along the way. It knew its way home. The old man was unaware of finally passing the sun bleached boards of the corral nor of his being laid gently onto a bunk now stripped of its single blanket. No awareness came to him of his laying naked to expose the festering and mortal just above his belt line. He never woke, never told his secret, never got to enjoy another cup of hot coffee. Sadly, he never even woke to warn the others he was being tailed by killers.

Even though his carcass was lifeless, luck had not completely abandoned him. In stripping his clothes off to view the wound, the crumpled up hand drawn map of the hidden cache was discovered sewn hastily in a seam of the shirt. The boy found it.

As the father of the boy palmed the old mans eyes closed for the last time. The boy glanced at the paper he had found. Trying to make sense of the crude drawing, it made little sense so he put it in his own pocket until later. Angry and upset from the death of their friend, the boy and his Pap none the less continued to ready the old man for his burial. Knowing only that he had been shot some time earlier they assumed wrongly that he had made good his escape from a bush wacker. Getting him into the ground without delay was a priority. In the Arizona heat a body quickly gets ripe. They proceeded to clean up the old man the best they could.

Focused on their morbid chore, they were unaware of the three approaching riders so close to the ranch. Suddenly, both man and boy looked up as they heard horses being pulled up hard out front.

Reaching quickly for his rifle, the man told his son to stay put and out of the way. Seconds before the older man could prime the pan and cock the hammer on the old muzzle loader, the leather hinged door of the cabin burst open.

The three men piled inside with pistols drawn. Squinting to see in the darkened room, the first man through the door without a word raised his pistol and fired directly into the chest of the man holding the ancient rifle. The heart shot man fell forward on top of his dead friend, causing the bed to collapse.

Screaming in blind anger, the boy charged into the gunman. Seeing the boy was unarmed, the gunman powerfully backhanded the boy with his pistol. Falling into a crumpled heap on the floor, the boy’s bladder involuntarily emptied, wetting his pants.

Pointing to the two men on the collapsed bed, it was the last of the three men through the door who spoke through a crazed giggle. Short and fat with a pimply baby face, the third man pointed his finger and giggled as he exclaimed, “Dang, Hee hee! If that ain’t the funniest thing I ever saw, looks like them two’s a married to each other!”

Turning away from the unconscious boy, the man who did the shooting angrily shoved the laughing man against the wall yelling at him, “PJ, you make me sick! Damn you’re rotted brain!”

“Hey, what’s wrong with you Donny? “ It was the second man through the door who in a whiney voice spoke. ” PJ’s just sayin’ what he sees as funny, he meant no harm. We all know PJ’s a bit teched in the head an’ he got that stupid look about him but he don’t mean no harm. He jes’ see’s things different from us right headed people, thas’ all. Don’t take no bother of what he says.”

Still holding his fired pistol, the gunman Donny stood a good six feet and was tipping the scales at two hundred and eighty pounds. Clean shaven, clear eyes and a well trimmed horseshoe mustache rounded out his facial features. His face was pleasant enough to fool most that he was in fact a good man and not a cold blooded gunslinger. Reluctantly slipping the pistol back into it’s holster he turned to his companion. “I cain’t stand PJ’s stupid laughin’ no more. It grinds on my nerves Lester an’ besides killin’s a serious thing. Whatever Law there is out here ain’t gonna concern it’s self with an old man bein’ robbed. ‘Happens all the time. But murder is a hangin’ offense, an no Law, no matter how far away is gonna turn it’s back on that!”

Pointing to the old prospector lying underneath his friend he continued, “He shore was a slippery snake that one. Took most the sand outa ’me trackin’ him this last month. We ain’t had no good night sleep, an’ that desert was a roastin’ me alive. Plus I ain’t had a real meal since we overheard heard him at the Saloon in Wickenburg. Fortunate for us we was sitting where we could over hear him braggin’ to that lady friend. I cain’t believe he’d be so stupid as to tell her he went and found the where abouts of some high graded gold from the Vulture.”

The second man, a dirty and foul looking greasy haired wire thin man in his late forties named Lester replied, “ Yep, that old timer shoulda’ kept his trap shut. Got to drinkin’ an ’tryin’ to impress the lady. Now look what it got him. Dead is what it got ‘em”

Spitting onto the two dead men laying atop each other, he holstered a well oiled colt revolver, he impatiently continued,” Donny, we come for what’s in the old man’s saddle bags, so let’s shoot the boy too and git on outa here.”

Donny went over to where the prospector’s saddle bags were hung on a thick wooden peg. Picking them up, he immediately knew no gold, high graded or not, was within them. Dumping the contents onto the floor his voice rose an octave, “Dang, cain’t be no gold in here!” It don’t weigh but a few pounds.”

The three men had wrongfully assumed the high graded gold was still in the old prospector’s saddle bags. It was, at the start of his journey, but the old prospector had rightfully figured out he was being trailed. Sobered up and acting out of instinct, along the trail back one night, he hid the high graded gold among a outcropping of boulders above a wash.

After burying the gold, he drew a small, crude map showing its location at the outcropping. Knowing the lay of the land and trails leading to it, he didn’t need to draw up the actual location of the outcropping of boulders, just where he hid the gold among them.

All three men now realized when they killed the old man and his partner, they also may have forever lost the secret of where the gold lay buried.

Still trying to muffle his annoying giggle, PJ said,” Maybe he said sumpin’ to the boy before he died?”

All three looked to the boy lying on his backside. His bladder now fully released, soaked his pants…and the map that was quickly stuffed into his front pocket.

No older than 14, the blond haired boy looked like any other boy his age. Though on closer look, he did sport a larger than normal set of hands and his chest and shoulders seemed mighty fit, but then he was desert raised.

Standing over the boy, Donny told Lester, “Wake that dung heap up. See if the boy or that other dead man removed the gold from the saddle bags. An if not, maybe the old man had time to tell of it’s where abouts an’ the boy knows it.”

Poking the boy in his ribs with his boot, Lester yelled at him, “ Boy! You there! Wake up ya little bed wetter!”

Slowly the boy felt awareness coming back. Someone was yelling at him and now a boot shoved his head sideways.

“Hey pee pants! Wake up!”

Suddenly the boy was wide awake and trying to sit up. Desperately he tried to gather his thoughts up. He remembered his Paps telling him to stay put as he went for his rifle. Then he remembered the shot and his Pap falling like a rag doll. Looking at the collapsed bed holding the two men atop it, the boy figured the best thing to do was keep his mouth shut, gather what information he could glean and grieve later. He loved his Pap but revenge would be better left for later. Right now, living was a more important priority.

Keeping the wet pants away from him as best he could, Lester reached down pulling the boy to his feet by his shirt front. “Listen boy and listen with all yo’ might. We been followin’ that ol’ man there for weeks. We know he got gold but hid it somewhere’s.” Squinting through blood shot eyes, he brought the boys face uncomfortably close to his own. Lester’s stinking breath poured forth from his yellow and black teeth as he spoke. “We figur’ he told you where he hid it! Now you tell us what he said or maybe you want to make it a threesome layin’ there?”

PJ started to giggle uncontrollably again. “Look at the boys pants! He sure done wet ‘em good! I think he needs his diaper changed! C’mere Boy, You got a diaper on? Let’s see if yo’s even wearin’ a diaper!”

Donny had reached his limit of patience with PJ’s sick line of thought. Over the months of riding with him, Donny realized PJ was a very disturbed young man. Those kind can be a sack of trouble and a danger to his partners. Out stretching his left arm to block PJ’s advance, He turned to Lester and spoke through his teeth. At the same time slowly pulling his pistol back out of it’s holster and thumbing the hammer back. “Lester, get your idiot brother in law away from that boy right now! If I hear one more of his crazy laughs or sick minded intentions, I’ll fill his and your gut with so full of lead you’ll both need extra men to carry your coffins!”

Staring at the cocked pistol pointed at him, Lester knew PJ’s and his own life stood at a balance point. Giving in to the inevitable, rather than defend PJ any more, Lester guided him outside.

Out of earshot from Donny, Lester spoke. ”PJ, Seein’ as a child you was brain wacked an’ all, your sister made me promise on her death bed that I’d watch over you after she was gone. But as time goes on, I find it harder an’ harder to do so. As much as I promised, her I cain’t do this no more. She was a fine woman and I grieved proper at her funeral, but I’m sorry for this PJ, I really am. But you been a rope around my neck for too long.” Without showing any further feelings, Lester pulled his revolver from it’s holster and shot PJ between the eyes.

Staring down at PJ’s near headless corpse, he began reloading the empty chamber. Behind him, Lester heard the door of the cabin open.

Donny had drug the boy out with him and tossed him down beside PJ’s near crumpled form. “I was wondering how long it’d be before you finally did that. Leavin’ it up to me, I’d a shut him up permanent like long ago”.

Lester turned and walked away Saying nothing.

Chapter 5

My name is John Wesley Culpepper

The boy had not spent the last few minutes in fear. True, his pants were soaked and that shamed him as much as anything could, but he dismissed the act as something he had no control of. Never before had he backed down from a challenge and once while captured for a time by Apache’s, they had even named him Strong Oak. Now as he sat there in the sun and dust, he wondered if he might be in the last minutes of his life.

“You got a name boy?”

“I got more than one, which do you want?”

Donny turned away shaking his head. “Boy, you realize just how close to death you are? See that dead man layin’ there makin’ farting sounds? You think for a minute you’s better protected than him ? You think I give a damn for those two laying atop each other inside? Boy, you’re a dead body walkin’, you gotta understand I ain’t to be played with.”

I wasn’t bein’ smart mouthed. I got two names, one white, one Apache. One from my Paps who you just kilt and one from a Apache I kilt”.

“You kilt him? How? You drown him with your piss?”

“No sir, I slit his throat with his own blade. He and his raiding party attacked our place and took me four winters back . After a while he raised me as his own son, he named me Strong Oak. I don’t bend and I sure don’t break. No wind in this life will uproot me an’ no man will knock me down and no axe will ever be sharp enough to topple me. I waited for the third winter to end and I called him out. It was then I kilt him fair like.

“How does a boy kill a grown Indian ‘fair like’?”

“ I said I called him out. I challenged him to a gunless fight to the death. At first he refused saying he don’t beat on children but when I asked him about all the tiny scalps hanging on his coup stick, he had no choice but to agree. He pulled his knife and nodding his head came at me.”

“Bein much smaller than him, I slipped underneath him right quick and stabbed upward into his belly. Dropping his blade, he fell to his knees. That’s when I used his own knife to slit his throat. The tribe approved, saying I had strong medicine while his had become weak.”

“Dang boy, you sure got some sand, that’s for sure. It might be the death o’ you but I admire it . You kilt your own Indian Paw in cold blood!”

“Yes sir, I had to. But it weren’t really in cold blood. He kilt my maw in that raid an’ for that he was to die. I learned much from him as his son an’ I sure admired him and his ways, but he always knew I’d be the one to claim his life because I reminded him so at each anniversary of my Maws death.”

“He was alright with that?”

“It’s the Apache way. Everyone dies sometime and his death was honorable. He died as a warrior at the hands of a warrior in a fair fight.”

“A warrior? A ten or eleven years old callin’ his self a warrior?

“Not me sir, I called myself ,Strong Oak, my given name . It’s the Tribe that called me a warrior, that’s why they let me go. I still have a home with them if I want. They are also my people.

“ So what name did your Pap here give ya?”

Standing as tall as possible and yet fully aware his pants were soaked, the boy squared his shoulders and spoke. My Paps and Ma named me John Wesley Culpepper. My Paps name was John Theodore Culpepper. My Mam’s name was Elizabeth Anne an’ she’s at rest by the creek. If you so much as degrade her even to the thickness of a cactus needle, I’ll knock you down and tear out your heart with my bare hands while you yet breath. You kilt my Paps, for that I’m gonn’a kill you.”

“Well, John Wesley Culpepper, you sure could make good on your promise. I don’t doubt a word you say but you ain’t gonn’a be able to do that, bein’ dead an all. Now before I commence to send you to your Pap, you’re gonn’a tell me everything that fool ‘ol man said before he passed.”

“ The old man you just called a fool was Chester an’ He was a good honest man, one to ride the river with. He said nothing when he got here. He was dead on arrival! My Paps went seein’ to patch him up but he’d already bled out. I know what you is after. Chester found it and if it ain’t in his saddle bags he reburied it along the way so it’s now lost again. Serves you right it does. You ain’t got no choice now but to scour the desert lookin’ forever since you done kilt him dead. Now who is the real fool here Mister Donny?”

Chapter 6

Dealing a new hand

The boy knew earlier that the slip of paper he had recovered from Chester’s shirt seam had a drawing on it and figured it to be a map of some sort. It sat there crumpled up, soaked with pee in his pants pocket. No way was he going to mention it though to Donny and Lester. By fate, wetting his pants had just about guaranteed they’d not go searching through his pockets.

Lester returned a short time later saying, ” I checked the stable an cabin again an’ found nothin’. No gold anywhere. I also moved PJ’s body inside. Seems the old man for sure hid the gold along the way. That cache of gold got to be some where’s hidden between where we plugged him at that arroyo an the trail headin’ north to Las Vegas outside Wickenburg town.”

Frustrated, Donny yelled, “That would mean up to another 4 weeks of ridin! I don’t think so! This boy has got to know more than he’s tellin’ us!”

Donny turned to the boy pointing the drawn pistol at his forehead. ”Now boy, if you want to live, tell me what you know. If you know nothing? Then I’m wastin’ my time with you” To emphasize his point, he drew back the hammer and aimed the huge barrel of the 45 lower between the boys eyes.

The boy called John Wesley Culpepper, knew his life was at forfeit. He’d played the hand dealt him. Time to call.

“Mister Donny?” The boy said, “You got this hand won. I’ll be interested in dealing you another hand. I’ll tell you what I know, lead you to the place it’s probably buried at and then you’re going to let me go so’s I can later hunt you down and kill you both.”

Lester looked in shock, “What the hell kind a talk is that? Kill us?” Lester had not heard the conversation the boy had with Donny earlier. He was unaware of the boys sand and grit.

Donny lowered the pistol and grinning said, “So you do know more than you’s said? I thought so. Tell you what I’ll do J W Culpepper. You show me that place an’ I’ll give you a five minute head start…no I’ll even give you a 30 minute runnin’ head start, how’s that?”

John Wesley Culpepper stuck out his hand saying solemnly, “It’s a deal Mister Donny. Mind you, don’t think a breakin it ‘cause the consequences is this. You go back on our deal, you die slow an’ painful. If you stay straight with me, you die quick like an’ as painless as possible. ”

Donny stood there looking at the boy knowing he’d do just that. He grunted saying, “Let’s ride then. Boy, you take PJ’s horse, it’s still saddled, he won’t be needin’ it or his gear anymore. Not where he’s at anyhow”

“Mister Donny, I’ll take the horse, gear and saddle, but we ain’t leavin here till I release those mules stabled and those held in the corral. No man should take his misfortune out on any animal. When I’m done doin’ that, I’m burying my Paps and Chester proper like.”

The game had played out to a draw. Donny walked away too tired to argue any further. Stopping briefly he looked back at Lester.

“Get a shovel then boy, an Lester, give the boy a hand. I’ll go an’ release the mules. We’re burnin’ daylight here! ”

Chapter 7

10 years later 

The young but well weathered sombrero wearing cowboy asked, “So what happened after you all rode off from the ranch? Did you find the gold an’ kill ‘em like you said you’d do?”

The twenty four year old cowboy known as Culp, glanced up from telling his tale to the recently fed circle of cowboys sitting around the dying camp fire. The herd of mixed cattle, short and long horn, numbering about four thousand five hundred now, grazed quietly in the evening’s cool air west of Soda Springs. Flank and drag riders keeping guard on the herd sang songs with the setting sun to keep the cattle calm. Culpepper knew that having finally made their way into Idaho territory meant they stood a real good chance of making it to Oregon before winter closed any mountain passes.

Traditionally, this valley was a stopping point for any cattle drives heading west. It was a good spot to give the riders a well deserved rest and let the herd fatten up after the rough drive through Wyoming. Wagon trains heading west stopped here too. Many cattle drives headed from Texas and Oklahoma east towards Kansas and Illinois. Those trails were pretty established with known water and grasslands. Not so the trails heading further west. Like the one they were on.

The Calvary, along with the Hudson Bay Company provided some protection for homesteaders by building forts in strategic locations. Many of the Calvary forts were make shift affairs that violated treaties with the Indians. Many thought that was the main reason for their existence. For instance, to Texans, the Calvary was there to punish them in retribution for their role in the War Between the States. Treating the Texan’s like criminals, the Northern forces put a financial strangle hold on that and any State that sympathized with the Southern Confederacy. Northern politicians took their pound of flesh and lined their pockets at the same time. On the other side of the coin, the Hudson Bay Company built their forts for profit. Being more mercantile oriented than the Calvary’s forts, they prospered without any government help . Even Indians understood the concept of making a profit.

Rail ways were making their inroads from the Midwest connecting dusty cattle trails to their iron rails. This helped to establish settlements other than mining towns. Along with the iron rails came growth and with growth came stability. With stability came women and children, theaters and schools.

Those that drove their cattle west on the Oregon trail, sold them for good money but sometimes paid a higher price in herd loss. Idaho had good passes and friendlier Indians than Wyoming did but winters could come earlier. The result was could mean a stranded herd and a fortune lost.

It right now it was mid August. Thick waist high grass covered the Portneuf Valley near the small Mormon community of Chesterfield where the herd had stopped to rest. Crops now patched the more remote parts of the valley. Mormon families had been encouraged by their Church leaders to leave Bountiful Utah and settle this valley. For the most part, Cattle driving cowboys and Mormons kept apart from each other. Sometimes they did business, sometimes they pulled iron on each other.

Chapter 8

The bluff

John Wesley Culpepper strode over to the woodpile that had been gathered during the daylight. Picking up a few choice pieces, he laid them carefully in the glowing coals. When he was satisfied they’d catch, he found his setting spot again and hunkered down to continue his tale. Seeing the chance to brew up a fresh pot of coffee, Biscuit, the trail cook, hung the large coffee pot back over the blossoming fire. With the smell of fresh coffee brewing for those riding night hawk, Culpepper watched as the last of the sunlight twinkled out over the western Rockies. This was the land and life he loved.

“Well,” continued Culpepper, “We rode for a few days north and met up with the trail heading into Los Vegas town. I had no Idea where the map said the outcropping was. All the dang thing showed was the formation of the boulders and a small “X” and a short note saying “Move the slab.” I wasn’t even sure what part of the desert Chester had rode from. Paps and I only knew he had headed up to Vulture City. That don’t help much, as you all know, it’s a big desert out there.”

Biscuit came through filling everyone’s porcelain tin cup with hot coffee. Culpepper held his out for a refill. Sipping the hot brew he continued, “I needed myself a plan and I knew these varmints would kill me just as soon as I told them all I knew. Now I had read once in a dime novel where a wife had killed her no good husband with a few whiskers from a panther. Chopping them up real small, she added them to his stew one night. Supposedly, it caused him to get stomach tumors and cyst so bad he couldn’t keep nothing down an’ he starved himself to death. She even called the Doc in to tend him. With the Docs diagnosis saying’ he was dying from worms, the widow was never thought unkindly of. That dime Novel got me to thinking. Not having any real whiskers an’ not knowing if it was really a true story, I figured I’d play poker again and bluff ‘em.”

“All along the way, they made me do all the camp chores including the cooking. So one night after dinner maybe a day’s ride or two before they’d realize I was a telling a tale about knowing where the gold was, I spoke up. I had chopped some real fine cactus needles I knew to be somewhat irritable to the skin almost to a powder an’ dumped them into the stew I was making. I wasn’t worried about me eatin’ any since they never let me eat nothin’ but left over’s anyway. I made sure the stew was a tasty one to boot. True to my hoping, they gobbled up the entire pot leaving me nothing.”

“I was making their coffee when I told them they may want to hold off in drinking anything for a while. Well I tell you, that got their attention right quick!”

“What you mean not drink anything?” Lester asked. “Why say that?”

“So I told ‘em I overheard them talking and knew they was going to up an’ kill me just as soon as I told where the gold was and that they’d hide my carcass in the desert. I then reminded them of my promise of making them die slow like if they went back on their word.

Lester jumped up pretending to be all mad, “That’s a damn lie boy! We wasn’t gonna kill you! Why we was even thinkin’ of makin’ you a pard, wasn’t we Donny?”

Putting his plate down, Donny made a terrible evil face that dismissed Lester.

“ What did you do boy? You poison the food?”

“No sir, I didn’t poison it, most poisons ain’t got antidotes for ‘em and this one does. I explained about the panther whiskers an’ said it was an old Apache form of torture. I painted a most agonizing and horrible picture of what happens to a man dying by Panther whiskers. Both of ‘em began licking their swelling lips and tongues, knowing I wasn’t fibbing. Both men were now sweating like they was in the sun. The small hairs of the cactus needles were making their lips and mouth plenty numb, and they believed it was the panther whiskers they ate.”

“Pulling out his gun and aiming it at me, Donny speaking through puffed up lips, demanded I give them the antidote or he’d blow my brains out. My answer to him was, Go ahead Mister Donny, blow my brains out an you’ll both be dead in a week. You’ll be wiggling on the ground holding your belly throwing up blood like you was gut shot.”

“Licking his ever swelling lips again, Donny lowered his gun and said to me, ” Where we at now kid. We playin’ poker again? You might be bluffin’ but I ain’t got hold of a good hand. Not one I’d chance my life on anyway” Slipping the gun back in it’s holster Donny said, “I fold my cards boy, you give us the antidote an you can go free as we agreed to before.”

“ We all knew an Apache settlement was near the border of Wyoming, so I said to him, I ain’t got the antidote on me Mister Donny, but I can get some from the Apache’s a couple days ride east of here. You all have to stay put an’ not drink anything. An’ I mean nothing! If you so much as even drink a teaspoon of water without taken the antidote first, the whiskers will swell inside your gut and it’ll be too late for the antidote work then. “

“Lester looks scared, “Ya mean we cain’t drink no water at all? But we’ll die a thirst out here in the desert.”

“I’ll be gone four, five days at the most. Until I get back, you’ll have to lay still and not move around till I get back. You move, you get thirsty and then you’ll want water.”

“Old Mister Donny sure was breaking out in a sweat! He was caught between a rock and a hard place once again. If he called my bluff an’ I wasn’t fibbing, they’d die a most terrible death from the sip of water. If I was fibbing, I’d escape an’ they’d be without the gold”.

“Finally realizing they had no choice, He agreed to let me go for the antidote but begged I ride hard. They figured I’d be gone for four days if everything went ok. I saddled up but before I took off I told them I needed a good gun to protect myself. After all I said, ”If I get killed by a rattler or Puma, you’re going to die too.”

“So wearing Lester’s fine colt revolver tucked in his Mexican hand tooled holster, I rode off leaving them there in the desert to die.”

“When I rode out, I circled around and returned to the ranch. Someone or some bodies had ransacked the place after we’d left. My mules were gone and the place was in a shambles. The stable was burnt to the ground. With nothing to tie me down, I remounted and left the place for good.”

“Three weeks later I returned to where I left Donny and Lester and see what had taken place during my absence. Their horses were gone. They most likely tore away the brush they was tied to and headed for water. All their gear and saddles still lay on the ground where they had been when I last saw ‘em. I spotted a canteen laying on the ground and lifted it to see if thirst had finally overcome them enough to call my bluff. Nope, it was still full. Scuffle like foot prints lay around where the canteen was found so they must have fought at first trying to stop each other from drinking out of the canteen like fools.”

“ I found Donny. He had stuffed himself into a small crack within a rocky outcropping. His pistol was still in his hands. Two chambers stood empty. It looked like he was hiding from Lester. He was all dried up looking but still weighed some when I pulled him out. Buzzards had somehow missed seeing him so I went through his pockets looking for any money I could use to survive on. Up till then, all I had been able to live on was the food stuff I took with me from the camp and whatever I could harvest from the desert”

“Looking around the camp site, at last I found Lester. At first glance I thought it was just his drover coat laying there. The buzzards hadn’t missed finding him. Not much was left of him now so I let him be. Having found a twenty and a five dollar gold piece on Donny, I knew I could survive for a bit . It looked that neither man was brave enough to call my bluff and take a drink of water. They waited for the antidote that would never come. they eventually died of thirst.”

Telling the attentive cowboys who were making ready their bedrolls, John Wesley Culpepper said, “ Donny and Lester’s salvation lay in the canteen just feet from them untouched. Too afraid to die a horrible death by panther whiskers, instead they died a horrible death from thirst. Well, I done told ‘em if they went back on our deal I’d make sure they had al slow an’ painful death. They did, but it wasn’t by my hand, but by their own!”

The End?