The Versatile Blogger Award

 

 

Today I received an award called the versatile Blogger award from my fellow blogger, Sotardalen Nokota Horses. Thank you my friend, I am honored.  I enjoy your blog immensely! I see how these awards can be pretty time consumming in responding to but they really are a great way to network your blogs with other fellow bloggers.

In accepting this award, we are to write down seven completely random pieces of information about myself. I usually do not involve myself in my blogs as they are either short stories or recipes. But in this case I am requested to expose myself (OK, no visuals here as children may be present) to my fellow bloggers. I apologize for the length of this blog. Personally, I would have cut it down to maybe three Pieces of information and three nominations, but then I didn’t create the award, so here I go.

One. I write stories of the old west because I think I was born a hundred years too late. Or maybe I am just a dreamer who wishes for a life different than I now live. Maybe it’s both. One thing for sure, I love history and try my best to add some interesting history to each my stories. I also try to be as accurate as I can be without being obnoxious about it. You will never see my characters  living in the last half of the 19th century using a nine millimeter semi automatic in place of their pearl handled Colts. Believe it or not, I have read stories where such mistakes are made.

 

Two. I was raised on a farm near Jerome Idaho until my Dad passed away.  My Mom moved us kids to Boise where I saw people en mass for the first time. I had a hard time handling the change.  I was so overwhelmed the doctor put me on tranquilizers. (real good Doc!) I saw my first Black person there. I pointed him out to my Mom and was scolded for doing so. I had no idea people came in different colors! True, Where I had previously lived, I saw many Blackfeet Indians (I’m part Blackfeet) but these folks were much different. Talk about out of the mouth of babes…

 

Three.  My Moms family  was from Switzerland and were Catholic. Strangely enough, all the rest of her family are Quakers and had settled in Sandusky Ohio.  So I ended up in a Catholic school in Ohio. I did terrible.  I began reading adventure stories to escape.  By the time I entered High School, I could tell you about Alligators in Florida, Snakes in the Amazon, Buffalo on the Plains, Mt. Kilimanjaro and the sea life found in Puget Sound. Books were my world of travel. It was also during this time I found I loved cooking. In later years I would open and later sell a successful restaurant in the Florida Keys. Once again, all learned from books. I am putting my favorite recipes in my blog under the category Recipes from the Ranch House.

 

Four.  At 24 years of age, I came home to a note on the table from my first wife. She had left with my best friend. Six months later a young girl asked if I had a cigarette. Two days later she and I were engaged, three weeks later married, We still are and have four wonderfull kids, all in their thirties now. After we married, I took a position on a cattle ranch as foreman. I kinda bull crapped my way into the job. Much of what I knew, which was actually a lot, came from the books I had read since childhood. No one questioned my abilities since I seemed to know how to run a large cattle ranch including doing the books. The ranch prospered.  My wife took on the job as the ranch’s cook and fed up to thirty hands three times a day. It was the happiest time in my life. I loved ranching and living the Cowboy life.

 

Five. I have a secret dream. Not only do I want to have a ranch but I want to share it in the form of a Camp for kids.  I believe that all of my life, everything I have learned has been to prepare me for this dream.  I had mentioned my difficulty in adapting to the City. The one thing I thank my Mom for was the insight to send me to Camp each summer. There I met City kids from rich and poor neighborhoods who all seemed to have a similar problem as I had. Adjusting to life. As we exited the Camp bus with our stuffed duffle bags, we would look for a familiar face or at least a friendly one to make a new friend with. By the end of each summer, tears flowed and hard hugs were given during our goodbye’s. Black, white, Jew, Catholic and any other mix you can come up with, left as best friends. We grew up, we became tolerant of each other’s differences.  We pulled pranks, cared for our horses, laughed, cried and learned to love life again. My secret prayer is that the Lord would grant me the means to give to those kids the same life changing experience as I had by providing all that’s needed to create a kids camp for them in the country.

 

Six. I’m a Quaker. No, I don’t go about saying Thee and Thou but some of our women folk at church still wear their uncut hair in a bun covered with a bonnet . Some of my Eastern friends are Amish and Mennonite and dress similar. We belong to an Evangelical Friends church (Quaker)  here in Florida and wear clean jeans and a nice shirt to church. I love my faith and will never be ashamed to be called a Christian.

 

Seven. I live in Florida, near the horse country of Okeechobee. This part of Florida is called the Prairie. Our cattle graze amongst the sable palms and saw palmetto’s.  They came from Spain in the 1600’s. The Cowboys here are called Crackers. Elsewhere, most cattle can be rounded up with yips and yells, but our cattle hide deep in the vegetation and come out only from their fear of the cracking whip. Thus the term Cracker.  So here I sit with my laptop pounding out old west stories and dreaming of the day that can once again call the west my home.

 

My seven nominations for this award are; (If you have been previously nominated, just apply a  2X in front of your award widget title.)

http://lesleycarter.wordpress.com/

http://drush76.wordpress.com/

http://jobryantnz.wordpress.com/

http://mothstoaflame.wordpress.com/

http://14daysinparadise.wordpress.com/

http://bentehaarstad.wordpress.com/

http://arcadianexperience.com/

 

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ABC Award

                     

The Campfireshaddows blog  was nominated for the ABC award By www.tbnranch.com. Thank you Amy for your support!

There are the rules in order to accept this award, and they are…

1. Use the alphabet to describe yourself.
2. Pass the award on to however many nominees you want.

3. Thank the person who nominated you

A – Absent minded.   B- Bloviates.   C- Confused a lot.   D- Dang! (a word I like to say).   E- Edwards, my last name.   F- Funny.  G- Grumpy (not!).   H- History buff.   I- Imbecile.  J- Joe, my first name.   K- Kahoona ( my nickname in high school).   L- Laughs a lot.   M- Micro manager.   N- Nut job!   O- Over eater.   P- Procrastinator.   Q- Questions everything.   R- Reasonable.   S- Social.  T- trusting.   U- underachiever.   V- Very broke!   W- Writer (amateur at best ).   X- Xanax… I need some after writing all this!   Y- Young at heart!    Z- Zzzz, How I snore.

 

Congratulations! To the following blogs I’ve chosen to receive the ABC Blog Award!

http://endeshabille.wordpress.com

http://malouprestado.wordpress.com

One Cowboys honor by JW Edwards

One Cowboys honor

Chapter 1

Clancy sidled his horse up next to his friend Potato. At first, neither spoke as the two riders looked over the gathered cattle at Morgan’s Creek. The large Morgan ranch was home for almost five years now for the two who were employed as permanent ranch hands.

Morgan’s Ranch lay nestled between Fort Laramie and Cheyenne thirty miles east of the Powder River.  When it came time to drive the cattle to market, Clancy and Potato would be left behind to continue handling the chores a large working ranch presents at each sunrise.

At the ages of twenty, best friends and trail pards, Clancy and Potato had left Texas soon after the War between the states had ended. Texas had been placed under a cruel form of retribution by the Union known as Southern Reconstruction for their siding with the Confederate States.   The financial outlook for the State of Texas and its populace seemed so bleak that many devoted Texan’s were forced to look elsewhere for their survival. The two, having followed the Goodnight trail north into Cheyenne where they found work and signed onto Jethro Morgan’s trail drive.

As cattle drives went, it wasn’t a difficult or prolonged one. Instead of driving the herd to the railway at Cheyenne, they continued the drive southeast using the Western trail to Dodge City. This saved the cost of sending their stock over four different railroads to their destination at Kansas City where the buyers waited. Having been raised on ranches and used to working for forty and found, the two were ecstatic to be chosen after the drive to stay on as full time paid hands on the ranch itself. This was a cowboys dream come true. Positions like these were usually filled by wranglers too old or busted up to ride the trail anymore. A cowboys years of experience on the trail was not to be wasted. A wise ranch owner found work for these older cowhands breaking horses and gathering another herd together for market. Still, there is always the need for young strong backs to handle an ornery herd and to do the grunt work in branding young calves on the ranch.

Potato, named for the lumps left on his head after being trampled as a child by his father’s spooked herd asked his best friend, “So you ever gonna tell me what’s on your mind Clance?”

Clancy let out a deep breath and looking down and shook his head in the negative. “I wish I could pard, but this is something I got to deal with all by myself. I don’t mean to shut you out but it’s no one’s business but mine. You gotta understand just this one time, let it alone, OK?”

Knowing Clancy had approached Mr. Morgan a couple days back to ask for his daughters hand in marriage,  Potato assumed this was what was causing Clancy’s concern.“Well,” put in Potato, “asking for Sally’s hand in marriage sure complicated things a might. Not that I blame you! The two of you have had eyes for each other for five years now. Everyone on the ranch figured the day’d come when the two of you would confront Mr. Morgan about it. Heck, she’s a beautiful girl and her Daddy’s rich to boot! If I thought a woman could get past my looks, I’d a made eyes at her myself.”

“Aw come on Pot, don’t get goin’ on about your looks. You’re a better man than any I ever met. There ain’t a female that wouldn’t  be happy to have you at her side.”

With eyes smiling, Potato replied, “Maybe, but all the same, I’m happy just being single. Livin’ on the ranch with you as my roomy is about as much cultivation as I can stand. I was secretly hoping you all would get married so I don’t have to put up with your dang snorin’ anymore!”

Clancy chuckled at the thought, “It ain’t me that keeps the windows shakin’ at night  my friend. You all got the snores down so well tuned, you’d think I had a set of bagpipes as my pard…and that’s the truth!”

During the ribbing, Potato had sat higher up in his saddle watching the herd. “Look at them two,” pointing at two shorthorns snorting and butting heads. “I better go an break them two up before one looses an eye or worse.”  Having rode down range to the herd below, Potato began wacking his lariat on the aggressive beeves rears, driving the two apart.

Clancy settled deep in his saddle. He sat atop the rise watching his friend manage the beast below and pondered the decision he alone had to make. What Clancy thought would be either a simple acceptance or rejection of his asking Mr. Morgan for his daughter Sally’s hand, had instead been answered in the form of a question… and a challenge to his upbringing.

Chapter 2

Two weeks earlier, Clancy had finally built up the courage to speak his mind to Sally. It truly had been love at first sight for the both of them. Sally, whose fine reddish blond hair and powder blue eyes took second place only to her quirky wonderful smile, looked anxiously at the stammering young man sitting next to her on her father’s ranch house porch.

Holding her delicate hands in his, Clancy knew the two loved each other but the divide between them could not have been more evident.

She was a product of culture, having been sent East to Boston in her formative years for schooling. He, while attending school at his father’s demands, had only a one room schoolhouse’s education.

She was slender and finely boned. He was built thin at the waist but had a chest and arms wrapped in hard muscle.

She was to inherit a fortune someday. He would probably never own his own spread.

Still, with all the differences between them, they continued to fall in love.

“Sally, I know we are mountains apart in how we was raised. I haven’t a spread to offer and hardly have a savings to claim. Still, I just can’t shake the notion that somehow things would work out for the two of us if we was married.”

“Are you asking or telling me?”

“Oh, Gee, I guess I’m  not real good at this Sally, let me start afresh here.”

Sally smiled and said, “Continue then Clancy, I’m listening.”

Clearing his throat, and twisting her fingers within his own he started again, Sally….”

“Owww,” She suddenly exclaimed looking at her fingers, “Clancy dear, there’s nothing gained in breaking my fingers off, is there?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry Sally, I’m making a fool of myself. Did I hurt you much?”

Looking somewhat solemnly at him she replied “No dear, now… you were going to ask me something?”

Starting one more time Clancy made sure not to crush his loves hands anymore. “Sally, I am going to ask your father for permission to marry you.”

Sitting there hand in hand, staring at each other for a good ten heartbeats Clancy finally said, “Surely you knew someday I’d ask you. Don’t you have anything to say to me?”

She continued to look at him darkly but the small turn of her lips and slight glint of a smile in her eyes spoke differently . “Shouldn’t you ask me first?

Looking down ande shaking his head he replied.“ I’m so stupid, of course! Sally Morgan, I want you as my forever wife…I mean my wife forever…shoot Sally, you know what I mean. I ain’t the best romantic speaking man but I will be there for you, loving you and trying my best to make each one of your days as happy as they can possibly be.  Sally, will you marry me?”

“My dear Clancy, I could not ask for a more romantic proposal, and Yes, I will marry you, providing Daddy gives you his blessing.”

Noting the sweat beads that had formed on his forehead, she took her hand and gently wiped his brow with her fingers. Trying her best to calm the flustered lover, she told him. “He really likes you Clancy, I think he’ll give his blessing but one can never be sure. We do have as you say, ‘a mountain of difference between us’. It’s something to seriously consider. My family goes way back, across the ocean and back many, many generations in a country where honor and wealth were earned only by the strongest of men . Even so, my father is a fair and just man. Go, ask him and we will see what he says.”

The next night found Clancy dressed in his Sunday best knocking gently at the Morgan’s ornately carved wooden and frosted glass door. Marie, the Mexican house keeper let him in and said she would let Mr. Morgan know he was there to see him.

Standing in the large dark wood paneled  foyer, spinning his hat in his hands, Clancy nervously shifted from foot to foot.  Hearing heavy footsteps approaching, Clancy straightened his appearance as best as he could by licking his hand and plastering down his hair with it.

“Clancy! Come inside boy. Let’s sit down in the parlor, there’s a couple comfortable leather  chairs in there.  Let me light a lamp first.” Pointing to French provincial chairs against the wall he continued, ”I’m not too taken with those  skinny French made chairs. I told Hanna when she brought ‘em back from Paris that they were too fragile for someone of my girth!”

Hanna was Morgan’s wife and as many women in those days let the man of the house entertain his own guest. Like many wealthy families,  women traveling to Paris or London with her family was not the exception, but the rule. Hanna Elizabeth Morgan loved Wyoming as did her daughter now, but couldn’t quite accept the heavily built furniture that was so common in the West.  Thirty years earlier in Boston, after taking the advice from an influential friend of the two families Jethro and Hanna were married. It was a marriage of convenience. Combining the two family fortunes, the Morgan’s moved west and purchased a number of smaller connecting spreads and their livestock.  This made the Morgan ranch the largest in all of eastern Wyoming.

“What’s on your mind boy? Sally tells me you wanted to speak to me in private.”

“Mr. Morgan Sir, I’ve been working for the Morgan Ranch for over five years now. I’ve been blessed with the position here at the ranch and my gratitude for all you’ve done for me has not been unappreciated. What I’m about to ask of you and the answer you give me, may be the end of all this for me, so I need to tell you it hasn’t been easy on me coming here. “

Morgan resituated himself in his chair as if he was suddenly uncomfortable. “Son, then let’s get it out and say what’s on your mind.”

“Well Sir, as you know Sally and I have become close friends over the last few years. I’ve practically become family with all the outings and meals she’s invited me to. Why, I couldn’t imagine my sitting at church on Sunday without her being next to me in the pew.  I’ve grown to have deep feelings for her. So deep Sir that I am asking for your blessing that we would marry. I know being just a hired hand may be an insult to your idea of who your daughter should marry, but I could not live if I had not risked everything I have in order to gain what I desire the most.”

Morgan sat with his fingers church steepled under his chin not speaking.  Slowly closing his eyes as if resting, Clancy thought for a second that Mr. Morgan may have fallen asleep.

“You’re not the first to come here asking me for her hand. Did she ever tell you that? No? Well, she may not have even known because I never told her. A fellow Sally had met back east a few years back had his eyes on her. A rich boy, spoiled as sin but he had potential. He came all the way out here just two weeks ago to get my blessing. I sent him away.”

“I did not know that Sir.”

“Son, I’ll make you a deal. I’m in some dire straits financially. I’ve made some errors in judgment and all that I have I may losing if I can’t come up with the cash to repay a loan I secretly brokered with a pretty rough group back east.  As you’re aware, the next herd to be driven to Dodge is being assembled and should be ready to hit the trail next week. Now I’ll make some cash from the sale but not enough to cover my loan repayment. What I need though is $60,000 in cash more than the sale will bring in. I have a way to get it, but it means riding hard for the brand.”

“I ride for the brand now Mr. Morgan, what more can you ask of me?”

Leaning forward in the great leather chair, Morgan told him. “I want you to hook up with the Flying T’s herd while on the trail, and run your beeves along with theirs. When you leave here with the herd, I’ll make sure the timing is right so that you’ll meet up with the flying T near the ford on the North Platte. When you get to Dodge, I want all the Flying T’s cattle under your riders control. My lawyer drew up a phony bill of sale. You hand that bill of sale to the Flying T’s trail boss when you first meet up at the ford, he’ll have no choice but to hand over the herd.”

“The flying T would normally load their herd at the railway in Cheyenne. But in this case I want you to drive the entire mix of herd on to Dodge. By the time you have reached Cheyenne, I’ll make sure Phil Tollard of the Flying T is dead and gone. He has no known relatives and with the phony bill of sale, there’ll be no questions asked about the money I gave him for the herd. The authorities will just assume it all burnt up in the house fire that killed Tollard. In fact I may start a rumor that he was despondent and had spoken of ending it all when he sold me the cattle.”

Morgan strode over to a small box atop a delicate French vanity. Opening the box he removed a cigar. He took his time nipping the end and lighting it. Satisfied it was well lit, he blew a cloud of rich aroma scented smoke at Clancy. “You ride for the brand and Sally’s yours, you don’t ride, then I suggest you pack up and get on out. So what’ll it be son? Ride for or ride against. The choice is yours. You have one week to give me your answer.

Chapter 3

Clancy left the Morgan house feeling ill. He could not believe what Mr. Morgan had proposed. He needed to think.

After a sleepless night,  he asked Potato if it would be alright if he didn’t  join him rounding up strays for a few days. Clancy told him he needed to ponder on some things and wanted to be alone to think ‘em out. Potato agreed readily thinking it had to do with Sally. It did, but it wasn’t what  Potato thought.

Riding north till he hit the Powder River, he found a place to set a spell and rest. He pondered, prayed and ran every possible scenario through his head.

The whole act of stealing a herd and taking part in the death of Tollard just couldn’t be defensible. Even with Sally’s love at stake, he couldn’t bring himself to take another man’s life for money, no matter how badly it’s needed. Anyway he turned it, it was still murder.

Thinking back to his childhood and the times his Pa sat talking to him, Clancy dug through the attic of memories and what his Pa had told him about being a man, a husband and a father. Could he bring his own sons up as being trustworthy men knowing he had been able to marry Sally only because he cheated a man out of his stock and his life? Could he be that hypocritical? And what of sally? Could he really walk away from her? Was he that self righteous that he could deny her the opportunity to finally marry the one she loved? Could he ever forgive himself for walking away leaving her alone?

What about his Church upbringing? Truth be told, he had only started going again to be next to Sally. Yet even while he may have attended for the wrong reasons, what was spoken from the pulpit had still sunk in and slowly confirmed the truths he had learned from his mother when she read the Bible to him as a child. If he did what Morgan wanted him to do, he might as well become a man of evil through and through.  Once a man started down that path, he knew there would be little reason to stop.

Inside he had juggled enough in his head to know what he must do but he could not at this point in time admit it to himself. Somehow he imagined, things would work out and all would be claimed as a big misunderstanding. He just could not fathom the kind, generous and fair boss he so much looked up to, asking him doing this.

But the subject was approached, it was real and he knew he had to decide one way or the other.

Returning to the ranch, Clancy dove into his work to escape the torment of choosing between his dear Sally or his honor. He ate little and to those around him, said even less.

Potato gave him the space to think on things, figuring Sally’s father had turned down the blessing. Sometimes a man just needs to be alone he figured.

Chapter 4

The week crawled by. Any slower and time itself would have stopped. But the day did come and Clancy was called to the ranch house by Sally for a dinner invitation.

Once again arriving dressed in his Sunday best he walked up the steps as a man does going to the gallows.  In fact, he felt that may have been an easier choice.

Not bothering to slick down his hair this time, he approached the door and knocked. Sally opened it herself.

Staring wide eyed at Clancy’s appearance she blurted,“Why Clancy, you look absolutely morbid!” She commented,  ”has father been working to too hard?

“No, I’m alright Sally, I just have a lot on my mind. “

Before any further conversation between the two could continue, a booming voice behind Sally bellowed, “Clancy, come in boy, get out of the chill. Sally, take the young man into the parlor, he and I have something to discuss before we sit down to dinner. We’ll be joining you shortly.

Stepping in the parlor behind Clancy, Jethro Morgan closed the two glass pained French doors behind him.

“Sit down Clancy, I hope you’ve come to the right decision. “

“Sir, Mr Morgan,I believe I have, but if you don’t mind, I feel the need to stand up. ”

With a wave of his hand as if dismissing the offered chair, Morgan sat down in his own and returned a hard stare at Clancy asking, “Well? Spit it out boy!”

Clancy cleared his throat and wished he were anywhere but where he was. “Sir, before I give you my answer I have to tell you that I have given this some deep and agonizing thought. Never before have I been given a choice like this. I could have everything I want by cashing in my honor and all that my parents and church taught me or I can ride away with the memory of Sally’s love eating me like a cancer in my bones until death finally calls on me. It was a hard deal you offered. “

Stepping closer to Morgan now, Clancy continued. Mr. Morgan Sir, I am walking away from your deal. There is no one I will ever love and cherish more than your Sally, but what kind of man would I be to her? How could I raise our children to be honest and proud of their heritage if they knew the truth of what their heritage really was? How could I ever be trusted by Sally, you or anyone else? In the end when I stand before my maker, how could I tell him I did it out of love? I was raised by a Quaker, did you know that? Truth and honor meant something to my Dad and he passed that down to me. I could no more steal a mans goods and murder him as I could raise my hand in anger against Sally. No Sir! I refuse to commit to your deal. I find it reprehensible to my being.”

Jethro Morgan sat for a minute, then yelled in a loud voice for Sally and her mother to come into the parlor. The look he was giving Clancy caused his stomach to churn. Clancy knew he was about to be shamed in front of those he had grown to love. Leaving Sally was unbearable but now he knew he would leave broken too.

Morgan continued to stare at Clancy as they waited for the women to arrive. When they did, Morgan spoke directly to Sally..

“I told your young man I was in a financial strait, that we needed cash and explained he would have to steal the Flying T’s herd. In return I would give him my blessing to your wedding. He refused me!” Turning to his wife, he continued in a loud voice.” He would rather have his so called pride and honor instead of our beautiful daughter here! “

Turning to face only Clancy now, he walked slowly, coming up to him almost nose to nose. “Son, I told you another man asked for Sally’s hand and I refused him! Why did I do that? He was rich, he had connections in Washington, he had potential! Why I ask again, did I refuse him, can you answer me that Clancy?”

“Because he wouldn’t do it either?”

“No Clancy, because he said he would!”

Clancy blinked, “What?”

“Son, the man who marries my only daughter will inherit all that my ancestors up to myself have worked hard for. He will rule over the only child my wife bore. His children will have enough money to be used for good or evil, depending on how they are raised.”

Still facing Clancy, Morgan placed his hands on the young man’s shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. “It was a test Son. We had to know if you were good enough to rise from the saddle to the throne by honest means. You’d be running this place in a few years.  If you would have cheated a man out of his life and his cattle, could I trust you not to do the same to me? No Son, trust comes by hard, it’s earned not given. You have earned our family’s trust and love Clancy, Welcome to your family Son, you have all of our blessing.”

“You mean it was all made up? Mr Tollard won’t die and I don’t have to steal nothing after all? Tarnation! I’ve been worrying myself sick this past week and all along it wasn’t real”

“You’re wrong on that account Clancy, it was real alright. If you had decided to go ahead and make that deal with me, you’d be saddling your horse right now and Sally would have been cut out of your life forever. But you passed. We all prayed you would. Sally here wouldn’t give up on you. She said you’d never take the deal. It seems she knows her man pretty darn well.”

Putting his arms around the young man’s shoulder, Morgan guided the family out of the parlor into the dining room. “Now, since we have all agreed that you and Sally can marry, from now on son, you eat your meals with us. After Clancy pulled the chair out for the waiting Sally, he began to seat himself next to her.

“No Clancy, a man’s place is at the head of the table, Pulling out the head chair for him, Morgan smiled and said, “Sit here Son, you might as well get used to it!”

The water hole

 

The water hole

Prelude

It was the summer of 1863. The fire bright orange ball of sun was just beginning to touch the top of the Diablo Mountain range to the west.  The newest American State of Arizona cradled this small mountain range approximately sixty miles southwest of Tucson.

A lone horse carrying two riders made its way slowly east out of the Diaz pass in the attempt to escape the setting sun and the bushwackers somewhere behind them.  It wasn’t the sun that dogged the two as much as it was the bullets still lodged in them.  The rear rider hunched over his wounded wife trying his best to shade her from the sun and hold her upright in the saddle. The wife, a middle aged Mexican beauty whose flawlessly tanned face was cropped by her long black hair that now hid her pain clenched eyes, lifted her head slightly. She had regained enough consciousness to pat the arms of her loving husband as he held her firmly in place. Almost immediately after her show of affection, she again  passed out.

Chapter 1

The two were on their way back to Tucson after visiting her family still living in Sonoyta, a small sleepy Mexican border village known only for its Jesuit mission.

Their breakfast that morning consisted of hot coffee, corn cakes and jerky, a meager but filling trail meal. Pleasantly stuffed, they mounted and rode east facing the rising sun. By horseback they had a three day ride ahead and already had three days behind them.  It was midday when they again made the decision to stop and water their mounts with extra canteens carried for that purpose. More pieces of Jerky wrapped in corn cakes would be their midday meal.  It was then the riders, Del and his wife Maria, heard the approaching horses.

From the north came four riders. An unpleasant feeling settled in Del’s stomach as he watched the four slow their approached into their camp. Del made his way to over to his horses and removed the Henry rifle from his saddle holster.

The lead rider lifted both hands into the air and exclaimed, “Hey now Mister, no need to pull that long gun on us, we mean no harm to you and your lady. We’re just honest cowpunchers making our way south to the border. It seems people keep mistaking us for a group of bushwackers out of the Wickenburg area. So for our own protection, we needed to clear out of the territory. We been holed up for a week at a water hole about six miles in the direction we just rode in from. It’s got lots of fresh water but no game at all to speak of. We’re hungry”

Pointing to the corn cakes, the man named Theo told them,” We sure could use us some of your grub mister. We ain’t eat nothing but biscuits and dried beef an’ that ran out yesterday.” With a forced laugh and cold, unsmiling eyes, he said, “Shoot ,it ain’t our fault we look just like them desperados.” Then turning to look at the placement of his men he added,” right Jethro?”

Eyeing the Corn cakes Maria had been making, Theo, dismounted and moved nonchalantly towards the fire. Jethro and the two riders Bill and Jess , remained in their saddles but nudged their horses into a side step that widened their separation from each other.

Del was no fool, these men meant them harm. They were most likely the bushwackers they had just kidded about. Marie stood unmoving while Del evaluated each rider then shifted his eyes to her. Marrying Del had afforded her a protected life away from violence. Still, in her gut she knew these desperados meant them harm and she returned the nod ever so slightly that Del had made to her.

Without warning, Del raised the long gun and fired a slug clean through Jethro’s knee which dug into the side of his horse. Jethro’s hand never touched the gun in his holster. Screeching in pain, he fell off his grazed mount and onto the ground. The surprised Theo turned and cleared leather but fired too soon. Missing Del, the wild bullet drilled straight into Maria’s gut. Hearing Maria grunt, Del Cocked his lever action rifle and again fired, this time cleanly blasting off the gun hand of Maria’s shooter. With the force of a mule kick, searing pain punched Del in the back, knocking him face forward into the desert sand.

When Del regained consciousness, the riders had fled, as well as Maria’s mount. Each move drove the breath out of Del as he crawled over to where his lovely Maria lay. She was still breathing but the shallow irregular breaths told the story. Looking around, Del realized they had been robbed. Gone were the four large canteens of water they had carried with them.

With only one horse between them, and shot up as they were, Del knew that reaching Tucson was now out of the question.  They needed water quickly. The loss of blood drove his thirst, and he could only imagine what Maria was going through. Being shot in the back and Maria unable to help, there was no way to clean his wound. As for Maria’s wound, it was beyond cleaning.

With a herculean struggle, Del mounted his dear Maria in front of him on the saddle and wrapping his arms tightly around her, they headed north towards the water hole the bushwackers had told them of.

Chapter 2

As water holes went, it was rather amazing. An underground spring fed the crystal clear pool of cool water. In any other circumstances it would have been a delightful place to camp out at. A ring of Mexican fan palms surrounded the small water hole.

No bigger than two freight wagons pulled side by side, the pools edges were of hard rock. Desert willows and western dayflowers grew between them adding to the pools beauty.  Beyond the palms, Mesquite and Joshua trees completed the landscape.

In the distance, Del saw the tops of the green palms. He angled towards them fearing Maria wouldn’t make it that far.  As the rays of the setting sun reflected off of the idyllic water hole, Del kissed the back of his wife’s head telling her, “It’ll be alright sweet heart, we made it to the water hole. I just need you to help me get you down in one piece. Can you stay up while I dismount?”  Maria, didn’t speak but she nodded her head slightly. Del dismounted then lovingly lowered his wife to the ground.

Once on the ground, Del made his wife as comfortable as he could. He uncinched his saddle, letting it fall to the ground. His horse immediately lowered her head into the inviting pool and began drinking its life giving water.

Del removed his hat and dipped it into the pool. Bringing the dripping hat over to Maria, he pulled his kerchief from around his neck and sunk it into his hat. He then and squeezed the water soaked kerchief between her dry cracked lips.

“I’m so sorry Maria, we never should have traveled alone. Your family gave us warning, but I was too bull headed to listen. “

Maria opened her eyes and tried to smile. The words she spoke came only as a whisper. “Delbert my love, how many times have we traveled over this trail to visit my family? Have we ever been in danger? No my love, you could not foresee these brutal men this time.”  Maria coughed which nearly drove her back into unconsciousness. After a bit, she again spoke but notably quieter now. “I know am dying my love. Hold me until I leave.” Finding his hand she held onto it tightly and continued speaking, ”When I go, place me in the ground within sight of this beautiful pool.” Without turning her head, she slid her eyes over to the water hole. “ Never have I seen such beauty with all its flowers and trees.” Then looking back into Del’s eyes, she whispered, ” I will watch over you my love, look for me after I am gone.” With those last words on her lips, Maria stopped breathing.

Darkness settled over the desert landscape. If there were light, it would have illuminated a mortally back shot man weeping over the beautiful woman he held in his arms.

 

Chapter 3   

Daylight found Del feverish. He knew the bullet was lodged next to his left shoulder blade. It had missed his lung but now he felt a growing infection starting. Time was of the essence if he were to survive. He had to make it to a doctor.

Lifting Maria’s head from his lap, he gently placed her fully on the ground. His tears had left trails of wet desert dust down his cheeks. Making his way to the clear pool, he drank for the first time since arriving. It was then he noticed his horse was missing. During the night it had run off.

Wildly looking about, he painfully rose to his feet. Hoping the horse had just wandered off looking for nearby  graze, he made his way to a small rise in order to scan the landscape around him. Reaching the mounds top, he rotated his body searching the desert for any sign of his horse. There was no sign. Disappointed, he made his way back to the pool where Maria lay. He decided to bury her in the spot where she had drawn her last breath.

Grabbing a flat stone, Del dug the grave throughout the day until he was satisfied she would rest undisturbed.  Afterward, he placed the same stone on top of the mound and with his knife, carved her full name on its surface. Then he wept.

The turning of the earth once more brought about the evening sun to silhouette the small Diablo Mountain tops.

With little in the way of food and with a rising fever, Del drank of the cool waters again. For the hundredth time, he pondered Maria’s last words. “Why did she say to look for her,” he wondered. “What a strange thing to say as her last words!  What did she mean by them?”

Deciding she may have been delirious, he finally gave up and tried concentrating on his own survival. Besides, he thought to himself, he was becoming so feverish that he might soon be in the same delirious state himself.

Gathering small sticks and branches as best he could, he soon  had a small fire going. Inside his saddle bag, he found a few pieces of jerky and an uneaten corn cake Maria had rolled up in a sheet of parchment paper. Hunger avoided him but he knew he had to eat to survive. As darkness settled over the desert, he let the fire dwindle into a pile of glowing embers.

It was then Del heard his name quietly spoken. He hadn’t hear it in his feverish head but instead it came from across the pond from where he sat. Searching into the night he gasped. On the other side of the pond stood his beautiful Maria.  With feverish eyes Del gazed at the apparition before him. “Maria?” His voice cracked. “My beautiful Maria? Oh how I wish it were really you. My fever’s deceiving me.”

Without moving, his beautiful  Maria spoke. “You are not deceived my love, I told you I would watch over you. Did I not tell you that you should look for me?”

“This is a cruel dream!” He shouted angrily. Attempting to stand, he fell onto his knees. “You’ve been taken from me! You’re gone. No one comes back! “

“Yes, I was. But I am waiting here until you join me. As I lay dying, the beautiful Gabriel took pity on me. In my sorrow I begged him to let me stay behind until you too would cross over the pool to join me.
I was granted that act of kindness. He is waiting on the trail up ahead. When you join me, he will take us home.”

It was too much for Del’s feverish mind to accept. He resorted again to anger to remove the apparition from before his feverish eyes. “You are not real! As much as I would hope it were true, it ain’t!”

His angry outburst nearly made him faint. In pain and now on all fours, he lifted his head and looked across the pool to see his wife still standing on the other side. She continued to smile patiently at him.

“When I stir the pools water, drink from it and your fever will lower enough to know I am really here. Please Del, you are dying as I was but it will be a little bit longer before we are together again. I do not want you to suffer during that time.” Pointing to the water hole she spoke, “ Drink sweetheart, now.”

Del Crawled to the pools edge. Suddenely ripples formed as she dipped her hand into the pool, Del lowered himself into the water and drank.

The next morning found Del ‘s fever significantly diminished. Having eaten the last of his food the day before, he knew he was going to be in for a rough time. The funny thing was, Del thought, “I’m not feeling hungry in the least.”

Then remembering the previous night, he looked to the pools opposite side as if still expecting Maria to be standing there. “Sure seemed real at the time though,” He said quietly to himself. “Maybe she was a dream, maybe not. Whatever she was, she’s right though, my fever did go down.”

Attempting to stand, his legs found themselves too weak to comply. “Oh Jesus, I’m worse off than I thought! I’m a goner for sure.”

By noon the sun was at its blast furnace best. Del’s skin had begun to blister where it was exposed and his lips were cracked open in numerous places. With only the water to drink and trying to save what little strength he had left, Del decided to lay within inches of the pools edge. Still, his fever and the gnawing hunger that should be plaguing him were not evident. He rested, then again fell asleep.

Chapter 4

He awoke to Maria’s voice. “My love, wake up, let us talk again. I know you will soon be joining me but I want to talk of our love.”

Del opened his eyes. Unable to stand or even sit up now, Del noticed a faint light on the pools opposite side. There stood Maria, as beautiful and alive looking as the day he met her.

“Why? You know I love you. Is there something wrong?

“No, I just miss you terribly. Time is not the same for me anymore. Sometimes I feel years pass waiting for you to awake from your sleep. You will understand soon. It is unimportant, I am just anxious to touch you again. How do you feel today?”

In the back of his mind, Del continued to think that this all may be a fever dream or maybe this is what happens as one is dying. “I actually don’t know if I have a fever anymore or not.” He said, “I feel all weak and shaky but my head feels OK. Do you really have the ability to take my fever away with the pond water?”

“I’m glad you feel better, but no, it was not me who removed the effects of your fever. I do not have that power, it was given for me to use, that was all.. Touch your head, is it not still burning?”

Del brought his hand up and the laid palm of his hand over his forehead. The fever was still burning. “Yeah, I feel the fever on my hand but not inside my head. I don’t feel hungry either, of course that just might be from bein’ sick, No?”

“No, not really. I asked that you not suffer while I wait for you. Do you remember Padre Feliciano at the mission in Sonoyta? When I was young he taught us about how God loves us and will answer our prayers. Remember your and my long talks together about Heaven and being granted miracles in your time of need?”

“Yes, of course. I still believe all that. I just figured it was for really saintly folk, not a guy like me.  I’m not used to asking for help… as you know what a stubborn fool I can be. So you pray and he really answers?”

“It is more than just what we used to call prayer. I can sit with him and talk with him as a child. It is wonderful here, I can’t wait for you to be with me. It will not be much longer. You are very sick. I was told that if you wish, you may cross over the pond at any time you decide.”

Del wiped the sweat pouring into his eyes. The day was not yet hot enough to cause him to sweat this bad so he figured his fever must be raging. Moving on his stomach, he again lowered his mouth to the pools surface and gulped at the cool water. Lifting his head, he told her,“Maria, I’d do anything to be with you right now, you know that. You know me though, I don’t give up till the end. I still want to somehow try and make it to Tucson, get healed up, return here and take you back there for a proper burial.”

“I understand my love, but there is no need to think of doing all that. I am at peace where you buried me. I asked that you bury me here besides this beautiful pool among the green plants. I am happy that you did, it made your heart happier knowing I rest in this beautiful place. Where in Tucson is it as beautiful as here?”

“You have me there!” Del answered. “I wouldn’t mind finding myself being buried here next to you.” Suddenly Del began to chuckle, “Thing is my dear, there’s no one around to do the honors!”

“Trust me my love, it will be.” And with that, Maria once again faded into the darkness.

“Maria? Maria! Don’t leave me, I’m scared to die by myself. I need you to be with me when I go!”

Del fell into a fever wrought sleep. By noon he was unable to crawl the few inches to the pond to quench his thirst. He could tell by the smell that the infection in his back was septic.

Still, he felt little pain and no fever. By now his body was being horribly wracked by the sun as well as the fever. If he could see himself, he would not recognize the face that was once a handsome man. Being born and raised in west Texas had given Del a ruggedness one could only describe as manly. He now appeared to be a shell of what he used to be. He was now so dehydrated that even the skin on his hands became as thin as parchment paper.

lying on his stomach and unable to move about , Del looked over where Maria had been appearing and in a voice that sounded more dead than alive he tried shouting for her,” Maria!” His face collapsed onto the flat rocks edging the pool.

“ Yes my love? “

Barely lifting his head he asked, “Where did you go? You left me! I’m scared sweetheart, I never died before! Will it hurt?”

“No Del, it will not hurt. You only have to walk across the water to hold me once again. Please, trust me Del, have in all our years together given you any reason or cause to doubt me?”

“No, you have been my trusted soul mate since we met. I’m a goner here sweetheart, my heart is racing and I can’t breath well no more. How do I find the strength to get up and walk over to you”

Maria smiled broadly at her loving husband and told him. “ Stand up my sweet, it is time for you to hold me once again.”

Del shakily started to rise, then suddenly found a strength that was not within him before. Rising to his full height, he stretched and looked about startled at what he saw. The pond water shimmered with the luminescence like that of a sea shells inner pearl essence.  The blue and purple flowers now radiated in hundreds if not thousands of colors he had never seen before. Amazed at what he saw, his eyes finally sought out and found those of Maria’s. “Oh my gosh.” He exclaimed, “You’re so beautiful!”

“As you are my love!”

Del looked down and saw his hands were strong and youthful, his voice once again strong his legs felt powerful. He walked over the ponds surface and threw his arms around his dear wife. “I love you so much! Am I really dead now?”

‘Turn around and see for yourself.”

Del, still holding Maria turned enough to view across the pond. There his body lay sprawled on the ground. “I guess I am dead, this ain’t so scary after all. It was nothing crossing over the pond,” He said to her smiling. “Do we leave the pond now to go home?” He asked her.

“We will leave after this is played out,” She told him, “there is something that must be finished first.

When she was through speaking, Del heard the sounds of horses arriving at the pond. At first he thought it was ironic that just as he dies help arrives. Then he saw who the riders were. The four bushwackers.

 

Chapter 5

The four rode in still bandaged and bleeding. Their leader Theo, had his stump wrapped in an old shirt and Jethro sagged in his saddle feverish from the knee wound. The two unhurt riders dismounted easily and strode over to Dels corpse. A kick to the ribs lifted him a few inches clear of the ground and nearly dumped him into the pool. Del and Maria stood on the opposite bank watching not 20 feet away but invisible to those alive. “Dangest bad luck I’ve ever seen!” Said Theo, “help me down Fred. My stump is killin’ me.”

Once on the ground Fred helped Jethro dismount. Jethro lay moaning where he was placed. The four horses made their way to the pond and drank deeply. The other unhurt bushwacker Bill, asked Theo what to do with Dels body. “We cain’t be leavin’ it layin’ about.” He told Theo, “ It’ll draw critters and coyotes from miles around. Then they’ll  sense your blood an’ you bess believe while you sleep, they be on you in a minute! Besides, he’s startin’ to stink”

Even in his pain Theo knew Bill was speaking the truth. “Yeah, you and Jess bury him over there by that other grave. It must be his woman. The diggin’ will be easier over there anyway seeing  as it’s been already dug up once before.”

That night the four drank what whisky they had left and enjoyed a meal from the last of  Marie’s stores.

Del Turned to Maria saying angrily. “Did you see what they did? That bushwacker kicked me even though I was dead! He said I stink too! I’ll teach them to go kicken on me!”

Pulling his pistol from it’s holster, Del fired all six well aimed shots at the men. There was no explosion, just clicks. “What’s going on? I know I reloaded, they should be shot to heck!”

“Guns do not work here my love.’

Throwing his gun down, Del ran around the pond and up to the four bushwackers. There he swung his fist to and fro, up and down…all with no more effect that punching a puff of smoke. ‘”I can’t even punch them Maria! This just ain’t fair! They need to be punished, they shot you, they shot me they stole your horse!”

“Come back to me my love and I’ll explain.”

Del rounded the pond to stand next to his wife again.” I guess I acted the fool, didn’t I?”

“You were upset and you wanted vengeance. Remember, here there is only one who says, ‘vengeance is mine’. It is not ours to seek vengeance, not here.  Do you remember the night your horse ran away from the pond? Yes? OK, I must tell you it did not just wander off as you thought. I frightened it off!”

‘”Why did you do that? And how come these bushwackers don’t see me but you said you were able to scare off my horse?”

“Men cannot see a spirit, for that’s what we are now my love, but an animal can.”

“Why did you do it, scare off my horse I mean?”

“I did it because you were dying and I didn’t want you dying somewhere out in the desert where your body would become a meal for scavengers. I was selfish, I wanted you to lie in your grave next to me.”

Del looked sheepish. “Oh, then I guess that’s OK then. So what about these no goods here? Do we just have to let them ride out of here free to do what they please?”

“No, watch this.”

Maria stepped in front of the horses and screamed at the top of her lungs while waving her arms frantically. As one, the horses bolted in panic, never to return.

“What the hell did that?” Theo shouted. “what spooked ‘em to hell like that? In the condition we’re in, there ain’t no way we can track ‘em down. Look way out yonder to the east, they’ll be twenty miles off by morning the way they’s runnin’! Were goners without them horses.” Looking around he yelled, “Dammit, they had our packs on ‘em too!”

Del sat on the ground laughing as he realized what Maria had just done. “You stranded them here the same way I was!”

“I told you it would all work out didn’t I”

“Oh my gosh, did you think that up yourself?”

“No,” She said looking up the trail, “I had some advice.”

Chapter 6

On the morning of  the fifth day, Jethro had passed on. By noon Theo had followed. Without food, Bill and Jess were so weak, neither could stand. The seventh day found them both expired in the furnace known as the Sonora desert.

The four sat looking forlorn and lost at the edge of the pond next to their corpses. Not having crossed over to the opposite shore yet, they were unable to see Del or Maria yet.

After a time, within a shimmer of golden light, the beautiful Gabriel came to the pond. He strode over to Del and Maria and greeted them warmly. Del would have cried at the beauty of Gabriel but there were no tears to shed on this side. Squeezing both their hands he let go and walking to the ponds edge Gabriel called the four men in a voice that was as powerful as dynamite yet as loving as a child with a kitten. “Come here. Cross over the water and follow me!”

As if suddenly awake, the four gathered themselves up and one by one crossed over the pond to stand in front of Gabriel. It was then they noticed Del and Maria.

Ignoring the beautiful Gabriel, Theo yelled out, “Why you two scoundrels got us kilt out here!” The four drew their pistols and began firing away at Del and Maria… all with no effect. After realizing their guns only made clicking sounds, Theo threw his gun at Del’s head…which went clean through with no harm to Del. “What?” Exclaimed Theo, It was then he realized his hand had been returned to him. Turning in amazement he shouted, “Look fella’s, my hand! It’s back on me!”

Theo stood there smiling while the other three gathered around him wide eyed.

At that moment, Gabriel once again commanded and pointed to the south, “Go, follow that trail, there you will forever reside at its end!”

As the four headed down the trail heading south, they began laughing and telling crude jokes and  wondering if there were any loose women to be had. Del stood up, took Maria’s hand in his and together they began to follow the four down the Southern trail.

“Delbert, Maria, stop!” Gabriel’s hand reached out to them and halted their steps.  “That trail is not for you two, it is for them. It heads South where the dark reigns forever.

Stepping between them, Gabriel gently spread his arms over their shoulders as a bird protecting her young.  After turning them in the opposite direction, the three began walking. Smiling broadly, Gabriel then told them. “Delbert? Maria? Come, your trail is with me, to the north, into the light.”

The Old West…

 Its women

Its Cowboys

Its territories                                                                                                                                     

Its untold stories                                   

Its forgotten history

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

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

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


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

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

The storm of the century

The storm of the century

As told to writer JW Edwards

Our barn at the beginning of the storm

 

In the pages of my recipe book ( Maw Maw’s recollections, observations and recipes ) where I talked about Baptist fried chicken, I had made mention of the Great Appalachian flood of 1950. I remember it as well yet as you younger folks remember Hurricane Katrina. In fact, it was our Katrina. On Saturday, the 25th of November a freak early winter storm hit our area like a brick going through a window.

On Thanksgiving morning of the 23rd, it was cold, too cold for West Virginia for that time of year. Over the radio, we was warned a severe cold wave was approaching.  Henry and I made sure all the cracks in our wood frame house had been stuffed up with rags. It was a heck of a way to spend Thanksgiving day! Rags had to be stuffed into the uneven spaces between house and the top of the block walls in the basement. A year previous, Uncle David and Henry had dug out under the house and laid in a clay block basement. Not being bricklayers, the rows of bricks ended up looking like sea waves or a roller coaster, but I wasn’t going to complain. We then purchased a deep freezer and an extra refrigerator along with rows and rows of shelves for all my canned goods.

No longer did we need to cut and haul ice from the pond anymore. Henry turned the room under the barn floor into a room for him and his Paps hobby. Cheese making. When he did, however, he hired on a couple tile layers from Hinton to do the job. Henry installed a dumb waiter for hauling up and down milk and cheese products and replaced the steps with wider ones made of steel.

The old walls had a new white ceramic tile laid on them along with a smooth concrete floor.  Stainless steel tanks and tables would be put in along with other cheese making stuff.

It was a paying hobby that in just a few more years would have to move from the barn to a real building. Their hobby would become a true business. The cheese making facility would be housed in a building they’d have built for it up in Princeton. Henry’s Pap retired from the logging business due to bad hips that year . When Henry approached him about moving the cheese making facility up to Princeton and having his Paps run it, his Paps readily agreed.  For the last couple years, they had been producing some fine cheeses in that barn room but without a bigger facility they couldn’t grow any more. The move would give the company the room it needed. Within six months of moving they would have seven employees and their own delivery truck.

But in November of ’50 that building wasn’t even an idea yet and I had Henry home with me tearing up and stuffing rags into our home to keep the pipes from freezing.

We had no television yet. It wasn’t until the 60’s that the Television signal was made powerful enough to be caught by a set of rabbit ear antenna in our neck of the woods.

Until that day came, AM radio was our window to the world.

The radio warned of the freeze coming that night but by noontime on the 23rd, the sky looked angry and dark. In the summertime I would have made for our new basement with a good book to wait out the storm. But this was November and storms of any consequence were rare if not unheard of in our area. Most we ever got was a long cold drizzling rain spell. That night we all enjoyed a hearty Thanksgiving dinner and many of the recipes I used in that meal will be told to you..

The next morning on the 24th, frost was on the ground but we stayed warm and cozy inside the house. The weather report on the radio said there was a low pressure area developing down in South Caroline and was headed up to Virginia.  Other than the cold, it didn’t look too bad. By dinner time it had begun to snow.

The kids sure enjoyed the sight of an early snow and asked if they could go outside to play in it for a bit.  I felt ill at ease there for some reason. I felt there was something ominous about the weather and I spoke to Henry of my concerns.

He’d had his ear glued to the radio waiting for any word about the storm.  Paying attention to his own gut feelings, Henry said we should secure the barn and put out extra feed so’s the animals could get a boost of energy to stay warm. We let the boys outside to play just until we got back from barn chores. On our way to the barn, bolts of lightning started to light up the falling snow. That added to an already uncanny feeling that we were in the first stages of something terrible. We both quickened our steps.

Inside the barn, the animals seemed agitated and skitterish. We laid out two more days supply of hay and extra feed in the troughs. Henry carried water in and filled the big round cattle buckets. We put out extra feed in the chicken coop and made sure each animal was given few moments of attention to help in calming them down before we left.

When we got back to the house, the boys had made a mess of the new fallen snow out front in their fun, but was more than obliging when we told them to get inside. They were soaked with melted snow and froze to the bone. I had the kitchen wood stove fired up from making dinner yet but added even more wood to cut the chill that begun settling in. Henry went down and stoked the wood burning “boomer” gravity feed furnace we had installed in the basement. The house got so warm, we all took our shoes off and enjoyed Henry’s reading a story book to us in our socks by lamp light.

When it came time for the boys to get on up to bed, Henry turned the radio back on. The man on the radio was giving warnings of severe cold for the next day but didn’t mention much else. Now we had heat only on the downstairs floor at that time. Large open cast iron heat grates had been put in each upstairs room’s floor. This way, the  rising heated air would make it’s way from the first floor into the second floor above.

Many houses built in our area used he same method of heating the second floor. It wasn’t until we converted to an electric fan driven coal furnace that heat pipes were installed in every room.

I decided the boys would be warmer if they got their bedding and camped out on the living room

floor. They made a fun time of it and I knew it would be a late night with them staying up from all the excitement.

Their happy faces changed to worried ones when the wind began blowing in gust so hard it ripped the screen door clean off it’s hinges. Henry made a sharp comment regarding not latching the hook when Earl, our youngest, reminded him that he was the last one inside.  Shortly after that episode, something (most likely a branch) slammed into the side of the house with such a bang we all jumped. By now Henry was saying that this weren’ t no regular storm and wanted to check on the animals once again in the barn. He was afraid a latched door or hay loft window may have blown open.

So I told him I’d put the kids down and he could go out and check the barn while I got them settled.

We had electric out in the barn but it wasn’t working when Henry tried to put the lights on. Clicking on his flashlight, He followed the wires outside until he found one hanging loose from the pole. It had been blowed down in the wind.  Fortunately, his tools was kept in the barn. He got the wires reconnected in the freezing wind and snow and thankfully, the lights came back on inside.

By now he was half froze through and his flashlight was on dim. He made a quick check of the latches to see if any had come loose and was satisfied that they was all tightly hooked. He made his way back to the house in the deepening drifts that were now forming. Once he got back inside the house, the boys had fallen asleep being curled up in a pile of warm blankets.

I hugged him ’cause he looked so cold and raw. I loved that man beyond what words could declare. I took his hand and led him upstairs into our bed. 4:30 am came all too soon.

The morning wind had not slowed down one bit, in fact it was worse. I left the boys to lie where they was while I stoked the stove fire back up and started first breakfast. By the time I set the bread on the stove top to make toast, Henry come down stairs. He had left the water running a smidgeon in each tap the night before so’s they wouldn’t freeze up. Good thing too because it was now  just above zero outside. It was November 25th.

The wind was now howling at a constant 60 miles an hour. Some of our tar roof shingles were being blown off. Henry had to go outside in the weather to close the window shutters that had only been closed once before on that house. He found himself in snow up to his knees. It may have been a blessing having the screen door torn off by the wind the night before. No way could Henry have opened it outward with the snow drifted up on the door as high as his waist.  With first light, Henry made his way to each window. What would have been a five minute job was turning into a job that made each trip outside last for a half hour at a time. He’d return each time to warm up before heading back out to continue closing the shutters. By seven am, Henry’d made his last trip and returned to the safety that was inside. All the shutters, high and low were now closed and we felt now more at ease.

Second breakfast had been waiting on Henry to come back in and the boys devoured it right quick when we finally sat down to eat.

Henry went on over to the radio to listen for any updates.  The farm news was on but it was interrupted time and time again with storm updates.

On the radio were stories of far away towns in New York State, Ohio and Pennsylvania reporting constant winds of over 100 miles an hour and very heavy snow fall. Snow fall in southern Ohio was so dense they said visibility was no more than arms length. They was callin’ it the storm of the century.

We worried over how the house would take the high winds. We had never had a sustained blow like this one was giving us. Every now an then we heard a brick or two let loose from the chimney and tumble down the roof. I feared for my own Mam and Paps place not a mile away, but it might have as well been on the other side of the earth. Thank goodness we layed up extra feed for the animals out in the barn. If a latch had gone and let loose, there was no fixen it now. We hunkered down keeping warm while the storms fury pounded the earth outside our little Ark.

For the noontime meal, I put  in a big chicken pot pie to bake. The smell was wonderful and gave us all a sense of peace within the confines of our home. Outside, it seemed the Devil himself was rippen’ tree limbs off and venting his fury on mankind. Some of the windows had jarred loose and snow was blowin’ past the shutters and through the window.

Once when I had gone upstairs to make up the beds, I had to brush a dusting of snow off my own bed! Again went the rags to the cracks.

Having the shutters closed gave the looks that we was in the night time. Just as I made the comment to Henry that I was thankful to the Lord for having the electric to see by, everything went dark. I found that later, over one million souls had lost electricity in West Virginia during that storm.

As the house went black, Henry’d asked if there was anything else I would like to mention seein’ as the Devil had forgot to put us all in the dark…that is, untill he heard me thankin’ God out loud.

By 8pm (close to our bedtime now) we was fearing the worst now. We could see earlier out the window on the door that snow had reached waist high in most places and had drifted more than 30 feet high in places. No longer could we see the barn doors at all.

Our beloved ’39 Chevrolet Deluxe had been left outside next to the house on purpose. Henry had moved it out of the barn just in case we needed it in an emergency. Well that ‘ol vehicle wasn’t being seen now! The snow had drifted well over the top of it.

It would be another week before we freed it up enough to move it.

That night as Henry and I laid on a make shift bed next to the boys in the living room, we all took turns thanking the Lord out loud for his protection then asking for our continued safety. I prayed special hard for our Mams and Paps and siblings. We didn’t have no phone back then either.

I fell into an uncomfortable and restless sleep as the storm continued to rage throughout the night.

The next morning brought more the same. Worry was eaten us like a cancer.

Fearing all our frozen goods was going to melt without electricity, Henry, the kids and I started the chore of moving the still frozen meat and such to bushel baskets and placing them outside the door. I wasn’t fearing an animal would eat the stuff as no animal could get around in that deep snow.

We emptied the deep freezer and put the refrigerated items in other bushel baskets in the attic. It was cold up there but not to the point of being frozen.

We had started a game of “Easy Money” and I was winning over the others when a tree limb the thickness of a mans leg came crashing through the side of the house into our Pantry. It was off our Black Walnut tree out back. With the limb poking through the wall, and snow blowing into the house, the smell of broken canned goods filled the house. Assessing the damage, Henry said the first thing was to cut out the stuck limb. Unfortunately, the saw, as were all the other tools , were in the barn. Henry had no choice but to brave the storm outside and try to make it to the barn. He told me that when he got into the barn, that he’d also care for the animals and I shouldn’t worry if he was gone for a spell. I got out Henry’s Bibbs, another set of Long Johns, more socks and a heavy coat. I kissed him inside the kitchen, opened the door for him and let him out into the still raging blizzard. I watched as he trudged like his feet were made of lead up towards the barn. I lost sight of him partway’s to the barn in the blowing snow.

I was thankful Henry’d mentioned taking time to care for the animals as it kept my worry down to a minimum when after an hour he still hadn’t returned. I was in the middle of pray’n that he was ok

when I heard his boots thump onto the stoop. He was so frozen his hand holding the saw wouldn’t release.  In his other hand he held onto a canvas satchel filled with other hand tools and nails. It took another hour to cut out the limb from the wall. Meanwhile the house was chilling fast. In order to patch the hole up, Henry removed some shelves in the basement holding more canned goods and nailed them up over the hole. We again had a sense of relief come upon us and the chill began to recede.

It wasn’t until Tuesday on the 28th of November, that the storm finally blew itself out. When it did, we woke up that early morning to a quiet that we had not heard in days.

Just because the storm had ended though did not mean we could get on with our daily routines as usual. True, my routine stayed somewhat the same. Cooking, cleaning, and keeping the boys from killing each other. For Henry, it was the start of many days of repairs that were being  made more difficult from the heavy snow fall.

That morning Henry and I both trudged out to the barn. The boys were left to themselves and were

given in clear terms what would fall their upon their backsides if they didn’t behave. They were given the chore of housekeeping. Amazingly, when we returned to the house, we found it to be spotless!

We made it to the man door on the east side of the barn where the drifting was at a minimum. While still outside we looked over the place for obvious damage. None could be seen but we noticed the power lines leading to the barn were nowhere to be seen. Fact was, the pole itself was gone too! Looking further down our entrance road, we noticed every one of those poles the co op had put in was left standing with a lean to them now. We was in for a long winter!

Once inside the barn again, Henry removed his gloves and headed to the feed room. There he took out feed for the chickens, poured some into a pail and handed it silently to me. I went and opened the chicken coop up and fed the chickens and gathered what few eggs was inside. Although the chicken coop was built outside the barn, Henry had made it so’s the one wall was also the wall of the barn. In that wall he had put a doorway so you could enter from inside or outside.

After I filled the feed and water trough I closed the door, thankful no chickens had froze to death.

Henry had finished filling the feed troughs inside and had pulled a few more bales of hay from the hayloft above. We began our inside inspection of our Civil War era built barn. Other than some tin missing from the roof, we could find no further damage. With wind no longer howling through the cracks, the animals seemed calm and back to normal. We cleaned up the manure, spread down more straw and headed back to the house. Later we would notice a great reduction in mice population after that storm. Whether or not the decrease was from being froze or eaten by the barn cats, it didn’t matter, we was still grateful.

Making our way back to the house, the sun come and through the clouds. Lit brightly for the first time in days, we could see what the storms fury had wrought upon us. Nowhere to be seen was the pasture fences, the drifts covered ’em all. The western side of the house had a drift going all the way up to the roof. It looked more like a white mountain had decided to place itself in our yard. Some of the tree’s had only the highest branches exposed. A small animal corral for the goats in the back yard was completely drifted over. I was thankful Henry had moved ’em into the barn when the storm started.

It would take weeks before we had electric strung up again. Even after we did, the main power lines heading to our property weren’t  restrung  until late December.

Repairs were slow going but one by one they were done. Henry had to make his way up to the finishing shed by the saw mill. That shed contained a big planer machine that made smooth a boards surface and made it into a desired thickness. We called it a shed but the fact was, it was bigger than our house.  There was other wood working machines in there too but I really couldn’t tell you what they did.

Anyway, Henry come back with some planks the same as the houses siding that was being stored in there. All day he worked on the hole in the side of the house  made by the falling tree limb. As the days wore on that first week after the storm, the weather improved greatly.

At first we considered it a blessing to see the snow melting away. When patches of grass and fence lines began to appear again, the radio began sending out dire flood warnings for the area. Seems the Bluestone dam in Hinton was causing more problems than was solving them. About twenty miles north east of our place was the town of Hinton. The Government decide it was a good place for a dam since the New River valley was sparsely populated and would provide some needed flood  controls. Work began in ’41 but wasn’t in full operation until ’52. Our storm hit in ’50. This meant the damn wasn’t ready yet for a flood like we got. Luckily, it could have been worse because they had lowered the river in anticipation of the spring thaws.

With the dam not able to handle the rising water level, creeks and such draining into the New River began to swell. Soon the New River overflowed it’s banks causing all the tributaries leading into it to over flow also. The Bluestone Dam never was much of a well built Dam. Constant problems plagued it over the years. Even today, the Government engineers decided that the Dam has the ability to literally move downstream in one piece if the water level rises beyond it’s present “Low water” level. Dang!

At first we only noticed the streams and creeks rising near our place. We see this each spring and it   was no cause for concern. But one morning Henry and the boys went to do morning barn chores and found a lake had surrounded our house!  It was only ankle deep but we had never seen the likes of it before.  Athens town was south.of us and on higher ground but the radio was saying even Athens was experiencing flooding. Now the bottom of the house started about two feet off the ground as it was laid on a foundation that was raised above ground level. It wasn’t the depth of the water so much as the power of the current that scared us. I feared the whole house (like some others we heard of ) would up and drift away in the flood.

Water was near to the top of the stoop by then. With only a few more inches to go before water poured into the house we began to remove everything we could from the basement and bring it upstairs. We kept the gravity furnace going on low heat fearing if the basement flooded, the cast iron insides would crack from the cold water when it became submerged.  Seems all we did from the beginning of the storm was work to survive.  Thankfully, we had no windows put in when Henry built the basement under the house. The original stone block foundation was built water tight.

Since the roads was too flooded for an vehicle to drive on, Henry fired up our gas tractor with a hay wagon behind it and drove on into Athens on it for supplies. Along route 20 there was a small amount of merchants springing up. These were pretty much a loss now. Henry’s tractor made it’s way along flooded low spots that sometimes forced him to lift up his feet. He later told me the water was so high in one spot that most the cooling fan up front was under water and sending out spray like a fire hose!

In town, he found the people there was pretty dry but the lower roads was flooded causing people to evacuate their places and head on into town for relief. The School had been turned into a shelter of sorts for those flooded out. We had nothing like that near us to fall back on accept our own churches…those that weren’t under water anyway.

Our own Baptist church was up on a hill so it never got affected by the flood. Those people displaced from the flood was staying in the recreation room out back. Until the bodies started arriving.

The  funeral home up in Princeton couldn’t handle but six bodies at any one time and besides that, most the roads leading to it on Greasy Ridge was still impassible.

The call went out for emergency space to hold bodies until they could be transferred to Princeton for embalming. No one was being buried ’cause the flooding. Our Pastor approached what elders he could locate and got permission to let any bodies not able to make their way up to Princeton to be stored in the recreation room with the doors open and heat off until the roads was passable  again.

Eighteen of the twenty six that lost their lives in our area ended up in our church’s recreation room. Those that had sought shelter there were now sleeping on the churches pews.  Grieving family members came and identified the dead but a few never found their loved ones at all. They was just listed as “missing” from then on. It was hearing of the dead children that drove me to my knees in tears. How I prayed for those who’s babies was gone forever.

Pastor held prayer services and passed the collection plate each night for the dead and suffering. Henry attended along with Uncle David each night. Henry and his siblings also donated all the fine cut maple boards from their mill so coffins could be made from them. Cabinet makers, Pete Haynes and his son donated all their labor in making the coffins at no cost. Few if any of the dead had insurance.

Uncle Davids ranch suffered only minor damage. No flood damage at all, just from the wind during the storm. My Mam and Paps place needed a new roof and one out building collapsed but none of the  animals lost their lives.

Henry’s Pap injured himself trying to re hang the barn door that got knocked off it’s track, but within a few days he was up and around again and doing fine. Our family was lucky in many ways. We sustained some damages, but nothing that compared to those who had lost everything.

Losing all your possessions and even loved ones was bad. But I truly think there was something lost that was worse yet. It was hope. Some folks had lost so much they couldn’t find the strength to start over again.

There was no FEMA or Government hand outs back then. If you couldn’t pull yourself up with your own bootstraps, even with help of neighbors, family and friends, you might as well just lay down and die. Some did just that. Suicides were a common occurrence for months afterward.  What the storm didn’t destroy, a gun or a razor did.

Today I can drive my vehicle and point out homes still standing and what damage they had had done to them back then. I knew the family’s living there and many I called friends.

They’s all but gone now. Most passed on, some in nursing homes. I’m not sure why the good Lord saw fit to let me live as long as this. I’m still quick in my thoughts and sometimes my mind forgets my bodies old and I find myself doing something an old lady like me shouldn’t do. Like driving maybe.

Still, I could be sad about all the friendships now gone and a loving husband no longer here to warm my bed and rub my aching feet at night. But still I rise up each morning like I did today and think, “what chores do I have to do today?” You got to stay young in your mind to stay alive. Back in the day,  we was the first to have indoor plumbing installed in our area. Today, I’m going Wal-Mart to buy a Kindle!

The ghost of Dead Horse by JW Edwards

The ghost of Dead Horse

Chapter 1

On the day the town of Dead Horse’s founder and visionary bank owner died, it rained.

Rain wouldn’t have been unusual in Dead Horse if it was in July or August during the height of the rainy season, but it was unheard of in January. While rain is usually appreciated for its life giving moisture in the prairie, this was a dry, dusty, rock strewn desert town in Eastern Arizona. Rain in Dead Horse was more of a pain in the ass than it was a Godsend. In a desert town, dry washes become raging death traps, roads become knee deep mud pits that bog down man and beast alike and roofs leak through their dried and cracked tar paper coverings. Rain in January was an omen for the town of Dead Horse, a very bad omen.

Since the day Everett Burke gave up his ghost, the thriving spirit that he had injected into the town using his congenial generosity and ‘can do’ attitude began to diminish. With each heat searing sunrise the town’s future looked more and more unlikely to survive. No one had stepped up to fill Burke’s shoes. The town council seemed apathetic and divisive, caring more for their personal financial outlook than that of the towns.

The Sheriff became a drunk and hid inside his office, rarely out walking the streets to keep the peace and impression of a town securely protected. Instead, he preferred to wait until night fell to walk the creaky wooden walkways along the towns store fronts and only then to find his way to the Lost Dollar Saloon for drinks.

Dead Horse started out with many of the advantages few towns could boast of. Plunked down between Santa Fe and Flagstaff on the Old Beale wagon trail, it put its roots into the ground on the eastern edge of the Arizona territory desert.  This envious placement between the two larger towns permitted its merchants to cheaply resupply frontier bound wagon trains along with the hungry hoards of miners heading into gold country.

In 1881, the long awaited decision by the Santa Fe Railroad to lay rail alongside the wagon trail had been made. Unfortunately for Dead Horse, the Santa Fe’s finger of prosperous fate pointed its finger at the nearby town of Cholla. Just twenty five miles west of the border Cholla got the nod for the location of the Santa Fe’s new station, water tower and mile long siding. Besides political and sweetheart deals promised to secure the rail depot favoring Cholla, there was one legitimate reason for Dead Horse’s coming in second. Water.

Both towns were like many of those that sprung up from mining. Both had a few saloons, whorehouses, liveries, a dry goods store and a blacksmith.

What the Santa Fe railroad discovered during its survey was that Cholla had a single centralized deep well that supplied the town with plenty of water. On the other hand, Dead Horse’s populace drew its water from a spring that erupted out of the ground behind the town hall. Arizona springs were notorious for drying up or becoming seasonal. The Santa Fe survey determined that the Cholla deep well could supply a growing city with rail support forever.

It hadn’t taken long for mercantile and saloon owners alike to pack up and relocate to the boom town of Cholla and beyond. Day by day the mood of Dead Horse and its populace grew darker as they watched their town shrink business by business. The once busy main street could now be safely crossed by a blind man.

The town’s founder and principal deed holder stood helpless as his banks deposits dwindled. Holding worthless deeds it couldn’t sell, the bank’s books slid from black to red.

 

Chapter 2

When all the banks tellers had left for the day, Everett Burke  told the banks manager to pull all the blinds and lock the door behind him when he left. When the banks manager asked him about the blinds, Everett told him, “Sid, the banks done for. We haven’t even got enough cash in the vault to cover all the deposits. I got enough cash on hand set aside for employee wages for the last week and that’s about it. I’ve been using my own money to bolster the bank for over six months. I’m dead broke Sid, I can’t do it no more. When the folks here find out their hard earned savings are gone, I’ll be hanging from a tree out back for sure. It’s all my fault Sid, I should have done like the Mayor of Cholla did and kiss the butt of that surveyor fellow, but I truly thought we had it sewn up tight, I really did.”

Sid locked the door and was making his way down the street when he heard a single gunshot fired from inside the bank.

Within the confines of his smoke filled office, Everett Burke’s body sat sagging in his leather chair nearly headless. A short barreled greener shotgun normally kept in the office in case of robbery, lay on the floor next to him. The gory mess clinging to the back wall was all that remained of the once smiling face of the man who had made the town.

Hearing the blast within the bank, towns folk started gathering out front trying without success to see behind the pulled window shades. Deciding against rushing back into the bank, the frightened manager ran instead to the Sheriff’s office down the street.

Taking the bank key’s from Sid, Sheriff Hensley unlocked front door he stepped into the bank. All looked peaceful but the smell of burnt gunpowder said it wasn’t. Making his way behindthe teller stations, the Sheriff strode cauciously over to Everett’s private office.  With trepidation, he opened the door fully. A window with its shade pulled partially down let enough feeble light in for the Sheriffs eyes to absorb the scene before him. Stepping back outside the office, Sheriff Hensley doubled over and puked.

Having seen a few men shot dead was nothing like nothing this. Only Everett’s lower jaw and teeth still sat balanced upon his shoulders. A horrible mix of bone, brains and blood dripped its way down the wall to the floor.

Still gagging, he stumbled out of the bank and onto the street. “Somebody get the damn undertaker here.” He shouted. “And go fetch a sheet or something, he blowed his head clean off something horrible.”

It was while waiting for the undertaker to arrive that the strange January rain started. The townsfolk soon skedaddled off to dryer regions while the Sheriff, quite ill and green looking, guarded the bank door.

Just as soon as Everett’s body was wrapped and hauled off, Sheriff Hensley headed off to the relative dryness of his own jailhouse.

That evening as the pounding rain found each and every hole in the jailhouse roof, Sheriff Hensley, known for his abstinence, sat at his desk drenched from the leaky deluge and finished his first ever bottle of whisky.

Chapter 3

On a hot July day and seven months after Everett blew his head off, Jeddah Tate crossed over the single set of railroad tracks less than a mile from the outskirts of Dead Horse. Jed reined up the chestnut mare he’d cinched his saddle to for the last six years .

Rolling a smoke between his fingers, he stared at the dusty town down the road. Striking a Lucifer match with his thumb nail, he lit his smoke and inhaled deeply. The parcel of Virginia grown tobacco was almost gone now. Jed stretched out what was left by limiting himself to only one or two smokes a day. With white puffs of smoke looking like Apache smoke signals, he nudged the mare on towards town.

Dead Horse had all the makings of a town that had seen its zenith. While not looking completely abandoned, there were enough empty store fronts to say it was seeing hard times.  Jed knew of many towns in the west  that had suffered the same fate as Dead Horse. The railroad was a double edged sword. Where a station was placed, prosperity raised its head. When bypassed, a town bled out like a gut shot cattle rustler.

Passing a still working blacksmiths shop, he noticed it had a livery stable behind it. He dismounted and pounded on the heavy door of the livery. A giant man as black as coal itself pushed the big cross bucked door open with a powerful shove in response to Jed’s knock.

“I’d like to stable my horse for a day or two if there’s still an empty stall inside.”

“Got a bunch of ‘em open Suh.  Ain’t like it used to be, that is fo’ sure. Bring dat big chestnut on over here Suh, I treat her like my own.”

The black man reached out and clipped on a halter rope then led the animal into a stall. “Her cost is twenty five cents hay’s included. Along with a rub down and a good peek at his shoes, I’ll grain her for a dime.”

Unclipping the lead rope he continued as if talking to himself, “More folks forget about checkin’ dem shoes until they throw one, then they come back bellyaching that my shoes don’t last.” Grabbing a cut up blanket, the black started in on the rub down. “ I tells people all duh time Suh, but they don’t seem to take no notice.”

Finished with the rub down, he laid in some fresh hay and filled the trough with water. Running his hands down her shoulders and flanks he said, “She’s a bit on the thin side Suh, It’ll be OK to sack up some grain for her?”

“Yeah, that’d be fine. She’s been eating desert scrub for the last few days after she ate through all the grain I had for her. With all the other things packed in the saddle bags, I could only carry so much for her.”

While still in the stall with the mare, the big black man inspected the shoes one by one. “Hmmm, seems they be alright for a bit yet. But don’t let ‘em get too worn down. I’d put a new set on an’ give her hoofs a good trimmin’ if I was a travelin’ man but it’s yo’ horse Suh, not mine. “

“Well, maybe some other time,huh?

“If you change yo’ mind, it’s only two dollars Suh.”

Satisfied that he had left his horse in good hands he asked him where the nearest saloon was.

Leaving the livery, he made his way up the alley until he reached the covered wooden plank walkway of the store fronts.

The sound of his Mexican spurs on the wooden walkway made a pleasant jingling sound as he made his way to the saloon to escape the searing heat. Approaching the saloons set of bat winged doors, he dusted himself off with his hat and ran his hand through his hair.

Jed entered the lamp lit saloon expecting the usual cluster cowboys , whores and gamblers gathered for a time of revelry of socializing and drinking. What he saw instead could only be described as a funeral parlor.

No tables had card games going, no girls were to be seen, no piano player was plinking tunes and only one half sleeping drunk sat at the bar. The only sound was that of the bartender dusting off the bottles lined up in front of the mirror.

After taking three or four steps into the saloon, he stopped and with both hands raised slightly in question, Jed looked at the bored looking bar tender and asked, “ Where the heck is everybody?”

With a snort of disgust he replied, “You’re looking at ‘em mister.  You want a drink, I got that. You want company for the night or a game of cards, go on over to Cholla. Ain’t nothing here no more except what I got in stock.  An’ in truth, when that’s used up, I’m gone too!”

Stepping up to the bar and pointing at the lined up whisky bottles , he said, “Give me one of those, will ya?”

The bartender handed him a clean glass and a bottle of whisky. Jed paid for it and half filled his glass. “I take it Cholla’s a nearby town but what’s the reason this place ain’t doing so good?”

Placing an unopened bottle of whisky in front of Jed, the bar tender pointed his thumb behind him. “If you rode in from the north, you also rode right over the reason this town ain’t doin’ good’. The railroad is what happened. The Santa Fe went an’ built its station in Cholla bypassing us here. Twice a day now that damn train rubs it into our faces by blowin’ its damn whistle as she passes by.”

Jed rubbed his stubble covered chin and shook his head slowly from side to side in sympathy as he recalled taking a smoke break near the tracks outside of town.  “Yup, with the railroad comes prosperity… sometimes anyway. I met a man and his family on the trail. He that told me some ranchers joined together and set up a big canned meat packing operation and he was going to work for ‘em.  I take it then that the big draw in Cholla is jobs?”

“Sure is,” the bartender said, “It’s a fair sized operation they got goin’ there.  There’s  big cattle pens built next to the plant to hold a whole damn herd till they’s butchered.  ‘Course any cattle town makes for a foul stink but the way I hear it, them cows they got penned up there to be butchered are a sickly lot to begin with an’ they smell to high heaven. I also heard some politician who’s in charge of overseeing army food supplies to the western outpost,  got his fingers in the pie over there in Cholla. It seems friends of his is makin’ a killlin’ sending the plant diseased and half dead cattle to get canned then sold to the Calvary. The only blessing I can see from Dead Horse not getting the railroad is we ain’t got to smell them damn cattle!”

“I don’t cotton to butcherin’ no sick cattle. No good comes of it.

“I agree with you on that point mister, Still, I’m closin’ this place and headin’ over there too, stink or no stink. There’s good money to be made movin’ my business there. I already got a carpenter crew lined up, all I’m waitin’ on is the railroad to deliver my building materials.”

Finishing his drink, Jed poured himself another.  Noticing  that the half asleep drunk had lifted his head from atop his folded arms on the bar and was looking at him, Jed lifted his glass and asked, “Wann’a drink fella?  I ain’t gonna finish the whole thing an’ it’s already bought an’ paid for. Seems a shame to waist it.”

As the drunk made his way over, Jed saw the star on his chest. “You’re the Sheriff here, huh?”

Ignoring Jed, the Sheriff lifted the bottle to his yellow toothed pie hole and chugged the whiskey as if it were water. Jed looked wide eyed over at the bartender who just looked downward shaking his head. A heavy look of distain on his face.  When the Sheriff set the bottle back down if front of Jed, a thick gob of slobber ran down its neck.

Pushing the bottle back towards the Sheriff, Jed told him. “Keep the bottle Sheriff, I just lost my appetite for a drink.”

Turning back to the bartender Jed asked, “Since your soiled doves up and left here, would you have an empty room?  I’ll pay the goin’ hotel rate for one during my stay here if you do.

“Mister, for the price of that bottle you just bought, you can have any room you want, and it’s on the house.”

“Sounds good to me then.” Leaving the coin change from his whisky purchase on the bar top, Jed smiled and half kiddingly asked, “ Can I still find a meal, bath and shave here in town, or do I need to head off to Cholla for that too?”

“Naw, the towns not that dead yet. Bang on the barber shop door, Fred’ll be glad for the chance to earn a buck, no matter what the time. He also has hot baths in the back. If you want me to, I can put your personals up in a room here while you go off an’ take care of things. Upstairs it’ll be the first door on the left”

After a hot meal of beef stew, a scrubbed clean and freshly shaved Jed headed back to the saloon and his room.

Giving a thankful nod to the bartender, he traipsed up stairs and pushed open the first door on the left. Light from the hall lamps lit the room enough to show that the bartender was still keeping the place up as best as he could. A whores neatly made up bed with fancy sheets and pillows sat in the far corner under a lace curtained window. A small wooden night stand with a half filled oil lamp on it stood next to the bed. Against the wall to the right stood a white painted vanity with its porcelain water pitcher and bowl still in place. A decoratively painted wooden commode with its pot inside sat alongside the vanity.  Lighting the lamp, he let out a slow quiet whistle. “Dang,” he thought, “I should be so lucky as to end each day in a towns that’s goin’ belly up!  I guess one towns bad luck is another man’s good luck”

 

Chapter 4

The morning sun greeted the lace curtain and diffusely lit the room. Jed’s eyelids fluttered then opened fully.  Performing his morning toilet, he ended it by combing his freshly cut hair and plopping his hat back on his head. On his way downstairs he greeted the bartender again who this time was busy packing up straw filled wooden crates with glassware.

“Mornin”, Jed said tipping his hat, ”I see you’re serious about packing up and heading out, you gonna close down before the new place is built?”

“Nope, just preparing, that’s all. With so little business, I gotta do something with my hands, I’m ‘bout bored to death. You stayin’ the night again?”

“As long as you don’t lock me in and close down while I’m sleeping, I will. I’m gonna head over to the Smithy and see about him puttin’ some new shoes on my horse.

“I see you left your belongings upstairs, but don’t fret that the whores rooms ain’t got locks on ‘em, they’ll be safe.”

After meeting with and paying the Smithy, Jed headed over to the last operating Café in Dead Horse for a long awaited real breakfast, all to be washed down with plenty of strong hot coffee.  Removing his hat, Jed stepped inside and hung it on an empty hook by the door. Settling down to his meal after his order arrived, he and the other patrons were taken by surprise when the front door was thrown open to slam against the wall with a loud bang.

A small balding man wearing a black wool vest, clean white shirt closed at the neck with a black short tie stood excitedly inside the doorway and yelled. “Hey ya’ll, did ‘cha hear ‘bout Cholla?  They got the Cholera goin’ on somethin’ fierce there!”

Immediately the place was in an uproar with chairs tipping backwards and more than one coffee cup finding its way to the floor.

Almost as one, ball fifteen patrons voices started shouting questions at the small man. “Hold on, hold on folks, this here telegram’s all I know.”

Waving the yellow slip of paper, the little man who as it turned out to be, was the telegrapher for the stage depot. Taking a pair of spectacles from his top vest pocket, he held the paper up to read it. The crowd quieted down.

“Dead Horse”, it read. “Cholla quarantined STOP Cholera STOP Do not enter STOP Governor notified. STOP No rail service STOP Stay out STOP Folks got rice water. STOP Horrible deaths stay away.”

A chorus of “Holly molly’s and other exclamations followed the reading. Outside voices were also shouting the bad news.

Stepping out of the Café, Jed headed into the street and headed over to the Sheriff’s office.  Jed had seen the nightmare of Cholera before in an Indian village. Rarely passed from person to person it still had the effect of a plague. He knew that the culprit had to be the water supply as Cholera was normally transmitted by water. He figured Cholla’s single large well must have been somehow contaminated. What worried him as much Cholla’s well was the statement in the telegram of folks having rice water. It defined Cholera from many other misdiagnosed ailments. Cholera’s first symptoms were stomach cramps followed by explosive diarrhea. After a bit, ones insides held no more solids within them. The body continued to expel translucent white bodily fluids by the quarts. In hours, the expelled fluid took on the powerful odor of stinking fish. An unquenchable thirst resulted from the vast loss of fluids. It was a double death blow. The chance of surviving the original ingestion was low. Now with an unquenchable thirst, it drove the dehydrated populace to re ingest even more of the death as they consumed even more of the tainted water.

 Chapter 5

Reaching the Sheriff’s office, the doors  the brass bell jingled when he opened it. Stepping inside, Jed found the bleary red eyed Sheriff bent over and rummaging through the cabinets.

Pulling papers and other items from a lower cabinet onto the floor, the Sheriff mumbled angrily to himself.  “Where the hell did that bottle go, I know I had it the other day.”  Unaware of Jeds arrival or the jingling of the bell, the Sheriff finally gave up and in frustration plopped himself down in his chair. Only then did he notice Jed standing over him. “And what the hell do you want boy?” He directed his anger at Jed, “State your business or go on an’ get the hell out’a here!”

Getting red under the collar, Jed deliberately pronounced each word of his question slowly through clenched teeth. “You’re a hell of an excuse for a Sheriff. Are you aware of what’s goin’ on over Cholla way?”

“Sure I’m aware! They got themselves the plague. And what the hell’s it to you what I know or don’t know? I’m the Sheriff here ain’t I?  ”

Jed saw the hands shaking almost uncontrollably as the Sheriffs need for whisky became greater.

“First of all Sheriff it’s worse than you know, you better listen to me or I’ll drag you out’a that chair, tie you to a mule and kick your useless ass all the way to Flagstaff and make myself Sheriff!“

About to respond, the Sheriff realized he had just met his match and gave up. Even when he was a younger and sober man he was no match for an angry Jed. Dropping his head in shame and without looking up, he spoke. “I’m in over my head here mister, I’m an old man. Hell, I’ve seen cholera before, my wife an’ kids back in ‘67 saw it real good, too good.” Taking the star off his chest, he slid it in front of Jed. “You think you can handle a cholera outbreak? I know I can’t. You want my job mister? You got it.  I’m out’a here. If you had any brains you’d skedaddle too. This towns dyin’ a financial death for sure but what’s goin’ on over in Cholla just let loose the grim reaper, an’ he’s about to turn his eyeless skull this way!”

Shakily rising from his chair, the Sheriff grabbed his hat and headed for the door. The happy jingle of the doors overhead brass bell sounded out of place in the tense atmosphere as he opened it. Before stepping out into the heat he turned one last time and looked around. “Here”, he said tossing the keys back to Jed. Making his way up the street, Jed heard him say, “Hell of a way to retire, hell of a way!”

Jed stared at the badge lying on the desk top. He reached out and spun it with his finger. Thinking, he pondered the situation he found himself in. “Darn, this is not what I needed to happen. This town has some  major hurt comin’ down on it and these folks here are blind to it. That Sheriff knew what’s happening but ran on out anyway. Bastard! That plague ain’t gonna just sit still in Cholla that’s for sure. I figure the first person who makes his way from there to here’s gonna bring it with ‘em and from there out to all Arizona.”

Picking up the badge, Jed pinned it on his chest as he walked out the door. As horrible as the cholera was, sometimes you had to be just as horrible to stop it. He knew what had to be done.

Back out in the dusty street  most folks were seen preparing to head out of town. Jed walked up the street to see if he could find anyone who officially represented the town. The town hall was dark as well as the lawyer’s office next door. Dead Horse was truly a dead town.  The town was vacating, but thankfully, no longer towards Cholla.

Heading back to the saloon, he was surprised to find a number of people had gathered inside. The din of the crowd dimmed as onlookers saw the badge pinned to Jed’s chest. A young man with missing teeth and long stringy blond  hair stepped up to him “What for you got the Sheriffs badge on Mister?” Others began to question him also.

“Your Sheriff quit. Walked out on ya’. He tossed the job to me, anyone wanna’ contest that?” After a brief silence, Jed continued. “I didn’t think so.”

The ugly kid who spoke up before did again. “What you all gona’ do Sheriff?  Cholla’s less than a half days walk from here. Seems to me an’ others, what they got could make its way here soon enough. Maybe we all outa get on out’a here an’ head up to Flagstaff like everyone else is doin’. They say bein’ high up in the cold air that sickness don’t get there.”

“Well, that may hold some truth, I heard the same. The problem as I see it, is folks from Cholla getting’ past us an spreading what they got elsewhere. That quarantine there ain’t gonna’ hold for crap once folks see what happens to them that got the sickness. They’re gonna’ run for scared for their lives, ‘an in doin’ so, they’s gonna’ spread the illness everywhere they go. No, we gotta stop ‘em, an’that means killin’ ‘em before they can leave.”

The shock on the crowds face was proof that these town folk were pretty ignorant of the effects of Cholera.

“Now listen. Cholera spreads real easy in water. But it ain’t the water that started it, it was folks or animals shittin in the water that started it. I heard Cholla got one well, that’s it. That means everyone in Cholla’s dependent on that one well. Now if that well got tainted, as I believe it did, then there ain’t a soul that drank water within the last couple days that ain’t gonna’ come down with cholera. Sure a couple here or there may make it, but you wanna’ try an’ figure out which ones is they is? I didn’t think so. What we gotta do is unthinkable but needs to be done. We need to torch the town and all within it.”

The bar tender confronted Jed. “Holly crap mister! That’s outright murder! You cain’t just go an kill a whole town ‘cause they’s sick! We sent a telegram to the Governor, let him decide what to do. Besides, I have a business startin’ there. What about me?”

“By the time the Governor gets off his fat and decides what should or shouldn’t be done, Cholla’s gonna’ be a goner. What I’m telling you is, we need to stop anyone from leavin’ there and contain the sickness to just Cholla.

Chapter 6

An hour later, Jed, the bartender and 17 volunteer riders rode out to Cholla with a wagon containing three barrels of lamp oil.

“Don’t no one drink nothin’, touch nothing alive nor let anyone stop you from what you’re doin’. The winds from the west so we need to start at that end of town and work east. Soon as the riders spreading oil are halfway up town, the rest of you to start torchin’ the place. Leave nothing standing and shoot anyone able to walk. It won’t be many.”

Upon reaching Cholla the riders saw the horror of Cholera up close. Many town’s folks had stripped off their fouled clothes and now lay naked in growing pools of their watery stink. Their rears ends were still explosively ejecting the watery body fluid onto the dirt. Too dehydrated to even moan anymore, their mouths quivered in silent pain.

“Oil group, get going! The rest of you with the torches light ‘em up and wait for my signal.”

By morning, the town of Cholla was gone. So were the riders.

The railroad that brought such short lived prosperity also brought plague infected cattle. Within a year, the Santa Fe was rerouted, again bypassing Dead Horse. But by then it didn’t matter.  Dead Horse was just another forgotten ghost town bleaching away in the scorching Arizona sun. The collapsed roof of the old Sheriff’s office lay guarding an old wooden desk underneath it. A Sheriff’s badge forever resting on its top.