Wild fire on the Brazos!

Chapter 1

Texas long horn trail boss Dusty Plains, sat rabbit still in the saddle sniffing the air. The herd was only sixty miles east of Austin where they had moved out of four days earlier. His brain continued to flip through long ago scent memories like a clerk searching for a certain file among the thousands stored in a cabinet. Suddenly the file was found and pulled.

“Wild fire!” He shouted, South west of here!”

Spurring the Mare, he galloped forward trying to catch up to the lumbering chuck wagon miles ahead of the herd. It was the job of the Grease belly or camp cook to forage ahead of the herd in order to have each meal hot and waiting for the riders. The cook also spotted the trail ahead for Indians, rustlers and any problem that the trail boss should be aware of.

Reigning up alongside the chuck wagon’s driver, Dusty pointed and shouted over to him.  “Biscuit!  Point them cattle eastward to the Brazos River! We gotta’ get’m on the other side of the river, there’s a wildfire about a day’s ride behind us!”

“Hell boss!” Biscuit shouted back. “It’s gonna be cuttin’ it close fer sure. I figure the Brazos is a good ten miles off yet and we got less than four hours of daylight left. It’ll be a late meal and a cold one at that!”

“Just get across and put up some coffee pots, we’ll survive!”

Dusty turned the mare away from the wagon and galloped back to the herd. Reaching the lead or point riders, Dusty explained the situation to them. Immediately, they began to wheel the herd eastward toward the Brazos and safety.

From there he stopped down the line of trail riders, telling each group to keep the herd in a tight line. Stopping at the flank riders, he informed them the herd was turning and told one of the riders to split off and tell the remuda riders what’s going on while he’d let the tail end or drag riders know. Dusty kept his drive functioning like a well oiled machine. Having smelled water ahead and the transient waves of smoke from behind, the cattle quickened their pace and arrived at the river ahead of schedule.

The herd was driven across the Brazos River without incident as the depth was still shallow this time of year. A month from now the river would be a killer. High water not only drowned cattle and riders but brought out the snakes, something every cowboy feared.

Standing on the bank looking westward toward a growing darkness that was not from the setting sun, Dusty thanked the Good Lord for having given him a good nose.

“We’d be a hog on a spit if you hadn’t got us turned just then boss.” The voice behind him was that of his best friend and lead point man, Bob Fisher. “If you look up north a bit, you can see some smoke now, that’s right where we woulda been spending the night. I’m puzzled boss as to how you knew where the fire was at, we couldn’t even see the smoke at that time.”

“I smelled juniper and persimmon in the smoke. Both grow mainly to the southern plains but it was the burning pecan trees that settled it for me.”

“It’s dang fortunate you got the nose if you ask me.”

Throughout the night the night riders sang songs and circled the herd to keep them calm. The continued smell of smoke made the herd jittery and trail boss Dusty Plains feared if the smoke drifting up from the southwest got any thicker the herd would bolt. If they did bolt, he hoped they’d head north in the direction the wanted to travel and not due east.

Dusty doubled up on the crooning night riders and the result was a herd staying put. The chuck wagon had left before dawn to set up ten miles further up the trail for the noon meal. With little sleep under their belts, the riders slowly got the cattle moving again.

By noon, the heard was within sight of the wagon again. Gallons of Hot coffee, Cowboy beans with bacon and sour dough biscuits rounded out the meal. The drag riders showed up last as was about normal and a bucket of water was put out for them to wash the dust from their eyes. Each drag rider looked as if a dust storm had spun itself around them. In many ways it had.

The point riders were the most experienced cowboys and therefore had the best job. It was the point rider that turned the herd to the desired direction and being in the front had little problem with dust.  The flank riders behind them got some dust as they were spaced further back along the herd but it was the poor drag rider that got the worst of it. Having to trail behind the herd pushing lagers and catching strays, they were exposed to every particle of dust kicked up by the thousands of hooves in front of them. With their bandana’s over their nose and mouths to keep out as much dust as was possible, they looked more like a band of bank robbers than honest forty dollar a month cowpokes.

Dusty once again scanned the skies and sat smelling the air. Some of the cowboys stopped and stared intently at Dusty. The riders sitting fireside waited in anticipation for the word from their trail boss. In silence, they drank their after meal coffee waiting.  Finally Dusty turned to them and spoke.

“head ‘em up boys, that fires crossed the river somewhere south of us. This breeze is gonna’ bring it right up our butts! “

Again the well oiled machine had the herd moving. By now the rest of the riders and for sure the herd could smell the increase in smoke.

“ Biscuit, take the chuck wagon with all our belongings and set the wagon in the middle of the river at a wide point up ahead. It’s only a couple feet deep from here to Waco. Soak and wrap a wet blanket over each mules head. That’ll stop some of the smoke smell and that way they can’t see the fire as it passes ‘em. Whatever you do, don’t  leave the river!”

Riding back to the herd, Dusty continued yelling over the rumble of the herd at the point riders, “Push ‘em harder! Let’s try and put some miles between us and the fire. We may have to zig zag across the river more than a few times to keep that blaze from roasting our hides so be ready to turn ‘em across the river if and when  I say so!”

“You got it boss!” The point rider from the opposite side of Bob Fisher yelled. “We’ll follow your lead! That there smokes getting thicker by the mile!”

It was true. As fast as they drove the herd it seemed the smoke was getting thicker and thicker. Now everyone, not just those riding drag, had their bandana’s on. The cattle started their belly aching bawls and began a panicky run north.

By trailing the east bank of the Brazos, fresh water and grass for the cattle was no problem. Dusty wanted to stay as close to the river for as long as he could. If by chance the wildfire roared north ward up the east bank, they could cross the cattle over to the west side and vice versa.

He wondered how the small ranches and homesteads they had passed were fairing. Were they going to be burned out?  His thoughts drifted to Fayetteville thirty miles outside Austin where his wife’s grave was. He wondered if his old ranch had escaped the blaze or whether it, like any ranch caught in a wild fire, no longer existed. “Well, at least it can’t do no harm to Doris’s resting place, that’s for sure.”

Looking southward, the riders could plainly see the red glow spreading across the horizon now. As Dusty headed over to where the horse remuda was, he signaled Tom Beavers, who was in charge of the remuda, to meet  him. As he passed an older experienced flank rider, the rider asked worriedly if Dusty thought the herd should be headed north east to the high rocky ground where the brush and trees were thinned out.

“I would if it weren’t so far away but that bare high ground is still a good fifteen miles off. Some of the faster herd might make it but the cows with calves wouldn’t, they’re too slow.  It’s all the drag riders can do right now to keep ‘em paced with the herd.  Let’s stick to the river for now and hope the fire turns or burns itself out.”

“What about the remuda then? They’s fast”

Dusty contemplated a second then acknowledged the man that the remuda in fact could make the trip in time and rode off.

Chapter 2

Reaching the horse remuda, Tom rode up to Dusty and pulled down his bandana and yelled. “What’s up Dusty?”

Shouting over the din of the moving bawling cattle Dusty told Tom, “I need you and Ned to get the remuda up to the high ground there to the north east where they’ll be safe. The horses can make it within a couple of hours, easily outrunning the fire. I’d hate to lose forty good horses for no good reason. Take them over that saddle on the rise and head ‘em over the other side of it. I’m thinking the fire will burn till it reaches the base of the rise then starve itself out for lack of fuel! The rest of us will try and dodge the fire as best as we can by keeping the river between it and us!”

Tom tipped his hat in acknowledgement and raced over to Ned. Within a minute they had the horse remuda  racing  across the grassy plain to the bare ground fifteen miles to the north east.

Dusty breathed a little easier seeing the remuda heading safely away. He wished dearly that the cattle could move as fast.

They kept the herd minus the remuda now, heading northward along the eastern bank of the Brazos River as fast as the scared cattle herd would go. Smelling fire and knowing water was nearby, the reaction of the cattle was to continually head for the safety of the water. Dusty knew that if the fire came racing up both banks at the same time without the riders to keep them in control, the cattle could panic, and leave the water. They would then try to outrun the fire on land. Cattle were simple creatures, all they wanted in life was to have good grass and water, they didn’t do a lot of hard thinking. It was up to the riders to do the thinking for them because without the riders, the herd was going to be the main course at the world’s largest Ox roast.

Within another hour flames could plainly be seen on both sides of the Brazos five miles to the south.

“Charlie! I’m gonna’ divide the herd.  Grab a couple of the drag riders and separate the lead cattle and fastest cattle then head ‘em as quick as you can behind the remuda. I’ll stay here with the slower beeves. If you all whip the crap outa them they’ll pace out almost as fast as the remuda. I think you can just make it before the fire crawls up your butts! Do it, NOW!”

Charlie quickly grabbed a couple of the drag riders and started separating the faster animals in the herd. Normally the slowest were further towards the end of the line, those they just left alone. The flank riders assisted in the separation and within a few minutes a third of the herd was hoofing it’s way double timed behind the remuda. With two thirds of the herd still left behind, Dusty gathered the other riders for a quick pow wow.

“I sent the fastest of the herd on ahead behind the remuda. They should be alright! It lookin’ like we ain’t gonna’ be able to zig zag ‘em alongside the river after all. The fires racin’ up both sides about equal now. I want the rest of you to gather the remaining head and get’m maybe six to ten wide in the middle of the river. Keep ‘em away from the banks!  I know it’s going to be hard and we’ll lose some, but not doing anything will cost us near two thousand head.  Use your guns and lariats to keep ‘em in the river. That fires going to sound like a locomotive engine when it passes. Do whatever you think is right to keep ‘em in the river, even if you gotta shoot a few leaders trying to make a run for it.”

A chorus of agreements by the riders followed. “Alright then, let’s get them cattle into the river. I want you all ridin’ up and down  alongside the banks forcing  the cattle back into the water if they go to leave it, now move it!”

Moving the cattle into the river was fairly easy as their instinct told them being in the water was safe. Only two things now could make them leave the water. Panic was one, the other was snakes.

Dusty yelled over to a young Mexican vaquero riding flank. “Carlos! If you see snakes in the water, use that machete you got tied to your saddle on ‘em. Cut ‘em down so’s they don’t get to the cattle.” Then to all the other riders he yelled, “Pull iron and blast any snake you see entering the water from the bank. If you got a scatter gun in your saddle holster, pull it and use it! “

No sooner had he given the order when a cow went bawling and started hopping like a bucking bronco in the shallow water. Coming at the terrified animal were three deadly water moccasins not ten feet away. Immediately guns started spitting lead. To the cows good fortune, none made it to the panicked beast alive.  “Calm that cow down!” A rider shouted and ropes were thrown onto the terrified cow from opposite sides. Once finding itself movement restricted, it surrendered itself to the power of the ropes.

Dusty rode up. “Good job boys! Keep a sharp eye along the banks, there’s sure to be more comin’ once the fire chases them out of their holes. Let’s get these cattle moved to the middle of the river, no more than ten wide.”

If the fire and snakes weren’t bad enough, a gust of wind blew Dusty’s Stetson from off his head. Carlos galloped down steam, leaned over and grabbed it. On his return, Carlos noticed Dusty standing in the stirrups looking to the south. Turning, Carlos followed Dusty’s gaze to the south.

“Dios mio!”  Forgetting his English he yelled out in Spanish and pointed at the horizon, “Senior Dusty, una tormenta de polvo, el infierno!”

“What? Carlos, speak so I understand you dammitt!”

“I am sorry Senior Dusty, look, it is a dust storm straight from hell!”

Behind the angry orange flames and now mixing itself with the grey fire smoke was truly a beast from hell.

Looking heaven ward, Dusty threw both arms skyward. “Really? Wasn’t snakes an fire enough Lord?”

Taking into account all the unearthly going on’s, Dusty yelled to the others as they rode up and down in the shallow water keeping the herd in mid river. Every now and then a few shots were fired, sometimes to scare a cow back into the herd and sometimes to kill another snake. “Got another”, someone yelled, but Dusty had no time to congratulate whoever had made the shot.

“They’ll point upriver once the storm hits. They’ll wanna’ put their butts into the wind. That’s good! The cows won’t see the flames now until they are alongside ‘em! If we’re lucky, when they see the flames  the fire should keep ‘em scared away from the banks.”

Within minutes the hurricane force dust storm slammed into the herd. Horses reared and some of their frightened riders went down. Terrified of more water borne snakes, the thrown riders remounted in the blink of an eye.

The river began to churn with white capped waves heading upstream completely washing over the bawling cattle. Standing in the belly deep water, fighting wind and water, the cows did not see the fire as it tore up the river banks being pushed by seventy mile an hour winds.

Dusty hoped the remuda and the thousand head of cattle he had sent out earlier had made it to the rise.

If Dusty were a bird he could have looked down upon the lee side of the rise and seen the cows and remuda grazing calmly while the riders rode in a half circle oblivious to the oncoming fire and dust storm on the other side. When it did hit, the riders looked skyward seeing only the darkness of the dust storm in the sky. Where they had ended up was in a valley protected on three sides by an eroded cliff. This large natural amphitheater allowed the storm to pass harmlessly overhead.  The riders sat pointing upward wondering what was happening but were unwilling to cross over the ridge to investigate. Shrugging their shoulders and hoping the best for the rest of the herd, they went back to riding their own herd.

Chapter 3

Meanwhile, back at the river miles away, Dusty and the others were doing all they could just to stay in their saddles. The riders had all donned their dusters and pulling the collars up high, the hurt caused by the fires intense heat and the scouring sand was kept to a minimum. The cattle and horses had no such protection. With their rears facing the onslaught, it was a good thing that horses and cattle have no need to sit down.The chuck wagon soon had its canvas covering torn loose from the wooden bows stretching it over the wagon. It landed in the river and was soon lost to sight. Now exposed, Biscuit tucked himself down into the foot well of the driver’s seat and hid.

It had been a half hour since the storm had hit them. The wind driven dust had not abated in the least but Dusty noticed the fire, having consumed all the dry grass and trees along the river bank was no longer a threat. Black smoking earth replaced the tall grasses behind the fire wall.

While most fires would have driven hundreds of snakes into the safety of the water, the wind pushing this fire was causing such tall waves that the snakes were thrown bodily back onto the shore. Dusty would have marveled at this stroke of fortune, and would afterward, but for right now he sat white knuckled trying his best to keep his death grip on the saddle horn as the wind and dust did their best to unseat him.

Miles ahead upriver, the fire continued to race along the Brazos banks leaving a mile wide swath on the eastern side. To the west, the fire was much wider but would soon reach a sharp bend in the Brazos stopping the raging fire in its tracks.

Without warning, the wind began to suddenly abate. The head winds that were traveling at hurricane speed had passed now being replaced by a wind half its speed to that of a common dust storm.

Dusty lifted his head and turning it sideways into the wind, tried glimpsing downstream. What he saw was a blackened landscape that diffused itself into the mile high dust cloud. Understanding now came to him. If it were not for the savage blowing of the earlier wind, the slow moving fire would have taken hours rather than minutes to pass them by. While cursing the millions of needle pricks the blowing sand brought about on exposed skin, that very wind in a very strange way was their savior.

Still too soon to fully face into the wind, Dusty tucked his chin back onto his chest and thanked God for protecting the men and the herd.

Without the fierce wind, the river began to settle back down. Any snakes attempting to find their way into the water though were met by the still smoldering earth and retreated back into their bank side holes.

When the worst had passed, Dusty yelled for the riders to clear the river of cattle. Even with dust still swirling about, the snakes would soon venture back into the water.

With yips and howls the cowboys drove the cattle back onto the burnt landscape. Once again the thin line of cattle were making their way north.

Dusty rode over to each rider asking if any were hurt and in need of  any medical attention. Most shrugged off their minor burns and were just happy to have survived.  Fisher commented that from here on in the trail should be a cake walk seeing as to how “We been through wind, water and fire all in one day!”

Looking northeastward, through the abating dust storm , Dusty could now see the ridge where the remuda and cattle were ordered to be taken to. Taking a small spyglass from his saddlebag, Dusty scanned the ridge for any sign of man or beast. None were seen.

“I don’t see anybody this side of the ridge, let’s heads the herd to the back side of it by circling around the south eastern point. They’re probably holed up on the lee side of the ridge”

Within four hours the slow moving herd rounded the southern tip of the ridge. Dusty was pleased that only a few cattle had been lost and a couple of those had been put down by the riders themselves trying to keep the other cows from following any leader ashore.

By now the dust storm was a gritty memory. No one questioned the single day long dust storm but Carlos gave the storm the name ‘Tormenta Dios miragro’ or loosely translated, ‘The torment of Gods miracle’.

The riders quietly had driven the tired cattle over the scorched earth up to the foothills of the ridge. Once rounding the southern point, green grass once again greeted the hungry cattle. Picking up their pace, the cattle soon joined their grazing relatives within the protection of the valley’s amphitheatre carved into the mountain side.

Dusty stopped and took in the sight. “Well I’ll be doggoned. They’s all safe an’ sound!”

Biscuit and the chuck wagon, being faster than the herd, had already set itself up and had  two, two gallon coffee pots heating over a fire.  One of the flank riders rode up dragging the wagons canvas tarp behind him. “Brought you a present Biscuit”. Then dismounting, he untied the canvas from his rope and headed over to the boiling coffee pots where everyone had gathered.

“what’s sayin’ boss?” Charlie called over to Dusty. “

Dusty untying his Stetson told him, “I tell you this much. this has been one heck of a day! Snakes, fire, dust storm… I don’t know about you boys but to my way of thinking, any one of those things coulda’ put an end to any one of us.”

To a man, a word of Amen was sounded.

Dusty continued talking, “Let’s take another day to get some grass into the herd and give our own bones a well deserved rest. I don’t know about you fella’s but my old bones is beat an’ my muscles is worn to a frazzle.”

Once again a round of ‘amens’ was heard.

Two days later found the herd heading out to the north towards Waco. Once in Waco the herd caught the Chisholm trail and headed onto Wichita Kansas. During the drive into Kansas, Dusty thought things deep and hard and made the decision that this was to be the last cattle drive he’d head up. When he talked over his decision with his friend Fisher, he was surprised that Fisher didn’t fight him on it.

“Heck boss, I was thinking along the same lines myself. The rail road’s gonna’ be the way to transport large herds of cattle pretty soon. Where’s that gonna’ leave us then? I’d rather go out while I can still make a choice to be a cowboy or not to be a cowboy. I ain’t no cow poke boss, I can’t see myself proddin’ cows onto rail cars with sticks from a loading platform. No Sir, I might just follow your lead and find somethin’ else to do for a livin’. You have any idea what you’ll be doin’ and where?”

“I’ve been thinking of a small town near Denver Colorado called Castle Rock. I saved up some for the day I decided to quit. My knees ain’t what they used to be, maybe I’ll buy myself a mercantile or dry goods store.”

“You? A dry goods store? Ha! That’ll be the day, more like a bordello if you ask me!”

“Naw, no whorehouse. I been seein’ things a bit different since that day on the Brazos.  I ain’t gonna’ turn into no Preacher or anything but I’m thinkin’ I should clean up my act a bit. The good book talks about becoming a new man. Who knows, maybe I’m gonna’ try an’ teach this ol’ dog some new tricks.”

“Well boss, whatever you decide, I’m behind you on it. I might even look you up someday…see how you’re farin’ an’ all.”

Dusty reached out and he and Fisher shook hands over their friendship. “You look me up Fisher!”

“I will boss. That’s a promise.”

It would be a promise kept.

To read another story featuring Dusty and Fisher, click on the story called “Homer’s magic bullet”.  JW

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Homer’s magic bullet

 

Chapter 1

In the darkened room on the second floor of the Argosy Hotel, a nervous hand slowly parted the window curtains to get a clear view of the street below. The night shadows hid those seekers who might be a danger to him. The only movement he saw was a late night mule drawn cartage wagon that rumbled by.  Down the street, oil lamps lit the walkway and entrance to the Half Dollar Saloon. Inside a skinny old man wearing a well worn bowler derby plinked away at the piano trying his best to remember a tune nobody else recognized. It was a slow night, even a few of the whores had given up and went upstairs to their rooms alone for a chance to get some early shut eye. For all intensive purposes, the town had fallen asleep. Stepping closer, the tall gaunt man pressed his hawk like face sideways to the window pane so he could see further up and down the dark empty street. Seeing no movement he backed away and closed the curtain and for the first time in months he felt safe.

Homer Goldstein, the man in the second floor hotel room, was a scared and wanted man. For the last three months he’d been tailed, had his mail opened and had his home broken into numerous times. Homer really wasn’t the object of attention so much as what he had invented was.

It was the bullet that passed close to his head one night as he sat relaxing in the parlor that settled things for him. Finally conceding that his home, his town and his neighbors and his synagogue had to be left behind if he were to survive, he quickly packed a few belongings and fled his beloved Tennessee home.

Heading west by rail, he eventually ended up in the mountain town of Castle Rock about fifty miles south of Denver Colorado. The small town lay in the shadow of its namesake, a tall butte that claimed the skyline called Castle Rock. Juniper and Ponderosa pine climbed the mountain sides in the distance while a few shade giving oaks and Tulip trees sprinkled themselves around the town.

Homer took a room at the modestly priced Argosy hotel where he unpacked his belongings then headed over to the bank. For a small fee, many banks rented space within their vaults. It was his invention stored securely in its wooden case that was placed within the vault for safe keeping that morning.

For the last fourteen years Homer had worked as a gunsmith. It was the only job he had ever held. Actually, it was the only job he had ever wanted.

His father, a watchmaker in Memphis, encouraged the young Homer to follow his desires even though he secretly had hoped the boy would follow in his footsteps. Homer started out as an apprentice at the Tennessee Bean Rifle works where he quickly rose in rank within the company. Six years later, Homer stood holding the cherished Master Gunsmith Certificate he had worked so hard to get.

Homer had no wife to share his joy with, nor did he want one. He had no close friends either. He cared little for the world outside the shop window. Politics, the cost of pork bellies and the price of a bushel of corn held no interest for him. Only his guns mattered. To Homer it wasn’t machining, it was art.

Lying down on the Argosy’s soft feather bed in his room, Homer wished he’d never sent the letter to the war department asking them to consider his revolutionary designed rifle. His mistake was his naivety and blind trust in Government officials.

Upon receiving the letter, Wilfred Moneymaker, the head of the war department, passed it down the line until it fell on the desk of James Parker, an egotistical ladder climber whose father had gotten him the job.  Parker immediately saw how he could use the letter to his advantage.

In a private meeting with the company that the war department was presently purchasing their arms from, Parker told the owner of Eastern Valley Arms of Goldstein’s invention. It was not so much the rifle itself that interested them, it was the cartridge that went into the inventive gun.

“Without the chemical makeup of the propellent within the cartridge, all you are showing us Mr. Parker, is a multi caliber cartridge. I can list a boat load of arms makers working along those same lines even as we speak, us included. The easy part is the damn gun itself, but we’ve hit a wall on the cartridge. According to this spec sheet, this Goldstein fella’ seems to have figured it out.”

The speaker was Amos Silver, the owner and president of the Eastern Valley Arms company. Reaching into his vest pocket, Silver pulled out a pair of reading spectacles and once again looked over the letter.

“The ballistic performance out does anything thing on the market today. Our newest cartridge has a maximum chamber pressure rating of 23,000 psi. Goldman’s is 45,000 psi. That’s twice the power of our best cartridge. Hell, that much power would blow any of today’s rifles to sky high! Look at the velocity of the thing, 1,100 feet per second. Ours? 450 feet per second.  What he invented gentleman was a hand held cannon, not a rifle.”

“I knew this would interest you Sir,” Parker groveled, “I’m sure I can convince this Goldstein person to give us the chemical makeup of the cartridge’s propellent. After all, he’s just a small time rube gunsmith located in Tennessee and I have the power of the Department of War behind me.”

“I don’t want the War Department to get its hands on the makeup Parker, the idiots there would give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that makes ammo for them. No, we want it for ourselves Parker. Use whatever means you wish, but we get the formula!”

“If I get it to you, what’s in it for me?”

“Oh don’t you worry son, you’ll have a fat purse for your efforts, as long as this isn’t all some ruse you schemed up.”

“No Sir, no ruse, this is for real. I took the letter to our own gun works people and they confirmed it was possible. Even the steel specifications used in the chamber and barrel seemed accurate”

Lighting a large Cuban cigar, Amos Silver then pointed it at Parker, “Son, you get the makeup of that cartridge and you can quit that lousy low pay Government job, of course if you don’t…” Silver let then let the freshly lit cigar fall to the floor and twisted it under foot. “You get my drift son?”

To Parker’s frustration, the face to face meeting with Goldstein went badly. Homer refused to give away any more information on his invention and withdrew his offer. He had a bad feeling about the young man with greedy eyes and wanted nothing more to do with him.

It was shortly after that meeting that Goldman realized he was being spied upon.

 

Chapter 2

Rising early, Homer went downstairs for breakfast in the Argosy’s dining room. It was a comfortable and surprisingly elegant room. The windows had long velvet curtains from ceiling to floor at each window and the floor was carpeted complimenting the imported wall paper. White linen table cloths dressed each table and real silverware was at each place setting. For the price, Homer felt he had made a very wise decision on choosing the Argosy hotel.

Homer sat politely as a tall skinny waitress taking breakfast orders took his order. In watching her, he found a strange stirring within him. Perhaps, he mused, he should be so bold as to introduce himself to her. As he watched the waitress in a state of  enchantment take his order, a young man dressed in typical cowboy attire and wearing a colt 45 on his hip sat down at the table next to him. It was Homers first encounter with a real cowboy and he was fascinated. Turning to the cowboy, the waitress glanced back at Homer and gave him a perky smile. There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between the East and the West. Never before had a woman shown him any interest and on top of that, just the idea of wearing a six shooter openly thrilled him.

After the waitress finished taking their orders, Homer turned to the cowboy. “Excuse me Sir,” Homer excitingly asked, “I see you are wearing the new model P Colt 45 Peacemaker, have you had a chance to shoot it much?”

The cowboy turned and stared at Homer for a moment before answering, “A few times, snakes and such. Shoots nice”

“Please, excuse me if I seem forward, I’m newly arrived from Tennessee and have an interest in fine firearms.”

“Well friend, it ain’t for sale if that’s what you want to know, took me a year’s pay drivin’’ cattle to buy it.”

“Oh no, you misunderstand Sir, I’m not interested in buying it from you, you see I am a Master Gunsmith recently arrived. I design and build rifles but have done a few revolvers too. it’s just that I admire fine arms.”

“Oh, that’s it then.” Reaching down, the cowboy removed the Colt from its holster and after emptying the cylinder of its five bullets, he handed it to Homer. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I’d hate to be robbed with my own gun!”

Taking the gun handed to him, Homer began looking at the Colt with expert eyes. “I truly meant nothing more than to ask what you thought of the Colt. It was for my personal interest only. The machining is of an excellent quality. Did you have it custom engraved?”

“Yup,  they come plain but the man I bought it from is also an engraver so he did the designs on it.”

“It’s beautiful Mr..? Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself.”  Handing the revolver back to the cowboy grip first, Homer spoke, “My name is Homer Goldstein, and yours is?,”

“Jesse James…” Seeing the shocked look plastering itself on Homers face, the cowboy chuckled, ” Nah, just joshin’ ya’ friend! Robert Fisher my name, folks just call me Fisher though.” Looking closely at Homer the cowboy asked, ” You a Jew or something Goldstein?”

Looking downward in disappointment Homer replied “Why yes I am. How did you guess?”

“I dunno, maybe the name, maybe the nose and thick glasses gave it away.”

“Does my being a Jew bother you? I know it did back in Tennessee. Most folks shy’d away from us Jews unless they wanted something ”

“Nope, don’t matter to me in the least. You meet all kinds on the trail and ya’ learn to trust them to watch your back. I rode with Mexicans, Negro’s, Swede’s even a number of Irishman.  Never rode with a Jew before, not that I know of anyway.”

His smile returning, Homer replied, “I guess us Jews don’t make very good cowboys, at least I never heard of one. In fact, I never met a real cowboy either.”

“Well there ya’ go, now ya’ met one. So Homer, why’d you leave… what was it, Tennessee you said? What brings you all the way out here?”

“My life. I have some bad people wanting something from me. They tried to kill me back home so I fled out West and ended up here. If they don’t chase me out here I might open my own gun works, I don’t know much about running a business but I’m very skilled at the smithing of firearms.”

“ You picked a good town Homer, nobody but miners and such come out this way. I’m here visiting my old boss. He retired from the cattle drives and settled down here after getting stove up from a Comanche arrow through his knee. I told him after I finished my last drive I’d head out this way to see how he was getting’ on, an see if he needed any help.” He started chuckling, “ I needn’t a worried though. First saloon I stopped into here was wearin’ a new sign over the door declairin’ “Under new ownership, Proprietor Dusty Plains“, that’s my bosses name. He’s doin’ just fine. Maybe my old boss could help you in opening up your place if you decide, seems he knew more about runnin’ a business than I gave him credit for. ”

“I’m sure I’d be delighted to meet his acquaintance.”

“Hopefully your trouble didn’t follow you out here, Colorado’s a good place to start over at.”

Breakfast arrived just then and as was the custom in public dining, all speaking came to a halt.

Afterward, and not wanting to become a nuisance, Homer excused himself telling Fisher he enjoyed the conversation and started to head back towards his room.

“Hey, Goldstein, wait up a second!” The voice was Fishers.

“Just out of curiosity, mind tellin’ me what room you was in upstairs?”

A moment of paranoia made his heart skip a beat but not wanting to sound rude since the cowboy seemed friendly, Homer answered, “Well, I’m staying in room 204, but why do you ask?”

More to himself than to Homer, the young cowboy mumbled, “Huh, just as I figured.”

“Figured what and why?”

Nodding his head in the direction of the stairs Fisher told him, “I saw a man leanin’ his ear against that door. I figured he was tryin’ to listen in. He wasn’t dressed like no burglar I’ve ever seen , and at the time it wasn’t none of my business  so I walked on. It was when you said something about being followed that it got me to wondering what that fella’ was doin’. Maybe it is just coincidence but maybe it ain’t.” Stepping back he appraised the tall slender man up and down. “You ain’t armed are you?”

“No, as funny as it seems I never carry a gun, even though I make them for a living.”

“Listen Goldstein, you seem like a nice fella but a bit of a green horn to how we do things here out West. Tell you what, let me open that door of yours in case that no good got himself inside while we was eatin’”

Relief showed on Homers face, “Oh, if you would I’d be so grateful. I have no friends here and I do honestly feel quite vulnerable.”

Together they took the stairs to the second floor rooms. Stopping in front of Homers room, Fisher whispered for Homer to stay aside of the door and not to enter until Fisher told him it was safe.

Taking the key from Homer, Fisher silently turned the lock and pushed the door slowly open after drawing his gun. Making no noise, Fisher turned to Homer and put the guns barrel to his lips as a warning not to speak.

Quietly swinging the door open, Fisher spotted a figure inside the room facing away from the door. A well dressed man stood bent over Homers open suitcase going through it.

“You all best have real good reason for stickin’ your paws in my friend’s baggage friend!”

The sound of Fishers icy voice took the young well dressed man by surprise. Turning quickly, he attempted to pull a small revolver from his coat pocket.

Robert Fisher, who moments before had only fired his new Colt Peacemaker at snakes and critters, fired a single well aimed hip shot into the forehead of the burglar.

Homer heard the shot and fearing for Fishers safety, ran into the room only to turn right around and vomit by the door.

“Yeah, it’s a mess alright. Can’t blame ya’ for losin’ your breakfast… bein’ from the East an all.”

“Oh my God,” Homer gagged, “his head stuffing is blown all over my room!”

“Sorry about that, maybe I shoulda’ stopped an laid a blanket down before I shot him.”

“I’m sorry, you risked your life and here I am worrying about my laundry.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, none. I’ve never seen him before but his clothes are the same style as most men wear in the larger Eastern cities.”

The well dressed corpse lay face up and partially across the bed. Fisher took his time going through all the man’s pockets. When he was satisfied with his search, he placed all the found items atop the dresser bureau. Using his fingers, Fisher poked through the belongings.

An uncashed bank draft for $500 dollars from Eastern Valley Arms in Connecticut drew Fishers interest.

“Looks like a fella’ named Amos Silver signed this draft. Does either name make any sense to you?”

“Yes, I know of both. Eastern Valley Arms is a military arms maker owned by Amos Silver out of New Haven Connecticut. They are known to have multiple long term contracts with the War Department. Some think they rig the bids to favor Eastern Valley but nothings ever been proven.  I don’t understand why he would be involved with my situation, it was that Parker fellow  from the War Department in Washington that I had the problem with.”

“The way it looks to me Homer, is This Parker fella’ may be in cahoots with this Silver person in trying to get at whatever it was that was in your letter.”

Slumping his shoulders in defeat, Homer shook his head exclaiming, “Then I’m not safe after all. If what you said is true then they’re not going to give up until they get what they want.”

“Kinda’ looks that way friend. I think I’ll stick close to you for a bit yet if you don’t mind. There may be more than just this fella’, usually is. Since they didn’t know where your trail would end, I’d say they rode on the same train as you.  All they had to do was wait and watch. When you got off, so did they.”

A clamoring of hard sloe shoes running up the stairs, ended their conversation.

An angry front desk clerk appeared in the doorway. Looking towards Homer, he demanded, “What’s going on here Mr. Goldstein, I heard… Oh my God! Did you shoot that man?”

Before Homer could answer, Fisher spoke up, “Naw, I did. Earlier I spotted this man with his ear to the door. When Mr. Goldstein and I finished our breakfast we come up here an’ discovered him burglarizing Mr. Goldstein’s room.” Pointing to the small handgun lying on the floor Fisher continued.  “When I surprised him, he tried takin’ a shot at me but I got the draw on him.”

A young man dressed as a bell hop had followed behind and spoke from the doorway. “Mr. Peebles? Should I send for the Sheriff?”

Answering the young man without turning to look his way, Peebles directed him. “Yes, and gather some cleaning supplies and get Mr. Jones, he should be at his mortuary. I want this body gone and gore cleaned up as fast as possible.”

Looking disgusted at the mess of blood and brains, clerk Peebles sternly told Homer, “I’m afraid we’ll have to charge you for cleaning up this mess and replacing the ruined wall paper Mr. Goldstein.”

Turning to Fisher, the clerk looked with distain on the cowboy, “The Sheriff will want to hold a hearing on this shooting as soon as possible. I wouldn’t leave town, whoever you are!”

Catching the acid in his comment, Fisher replied, “I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Although I’m thinkin’ when the folks stayin’ at this hotel find out their rooms ain’t safe, they’ll be high tailin’ it outa here for the place across the street.  In fact, seeing how there’ll be a rush on rooms, tell the Sheriff he can find me over there in my new room.”

The clerk looked horror stricken at the thought of all his customers fleeing his hotel for the one across the street and quickly began to back track his mouth.  “ Please, we sincerely value all our guest. I deeply apologize if I spoke rudely just now. This terrible incident must have caused you much distress, I know it did me. Let me make it up to you by giving you both a week’s stay here at the Argosy’s  expense. I’ll have a new room for you right away Mr. Goldstein.  There is no need to speak of this to our other guest, is there now?”

Replying for both of them, Fisher shuffled his feet then spoke up. “Well, if that includes meals, livery care, bath and haircuts, we might find it in us to keep shut about it. What about the Sheriff though, he’ll have it all over town after he hears what we have to say at the hearing.”

With wheels spinning inside his head, the clerk gasped, “Oh my yes, you’re right! I must catch him before he gets up here. I’m on the hearing committee so I’ll just tell him it was a private argument and you had to shoot the man in self defense…yes, that’s what I’ll tell him. Good day to you both, I need to run.”

After the clerk took to the stairs two at a time, Fisher turned to Homer. “Well, we got free room and board for a week, that’s somethin’ good that come out of this wouldn’t you say?”

“Indeed! I do feel the need for a free trim, bath and shave Mr. Fisher, would you care to join me?”

Chapter 3

An hour later found the two men each soaking in high backed copper bathing tubs. Homer and Fisher found themselves alone after the Negro bath house house boy had filled the tubs with hot water.

“So Homer, if you don’t mind me askin’, what in tarnation is it that Eastern Valley Arms wants so badly from you that they’d chase you all the way out here?”

“I guess if anyone has the right to know, it’s you. On my account, you’ve gotten yourself neck deep in my troubles. I apologize and thank you at the same time. Tomorrow I want you to go over to the bank with me. I want to show you what the fuss is all about. In fact, if you’d stay with me until I can figure a way out of all this, I’d gladly hire you to act as my guardian.”

“Kind of like your private Segundo huh?”

“If I think that means what I think it does, yes”

As the two stepped into the bank the next day, they were greeted by the owner. “Ah, Mr. Goldstein, I’m so glad you have stopped in! Earlier today, there were three men who stopped in asking if anyone fitting your description had stopped in. I lied, I told them I was unaware of anyone like that. They seemed a bit on the rough side, is everything alright?”

“Yes, all is fine and thank you for being discreet regarding my presence here.” Turning to Fisher, Homer introduced him as his private security person.

“I wish to enter your vault if I may. I need to inspect my property within it.”

“Of course Mr. Goldstein, please follow me.”

Opening the large rented drawer within the vault, Homer removed the wooden case he had carried all the way from Tennessee. Fisher stepped closer in order to see what the inside held once Homer opened it. Unlatching the two locks, Homer lifted the lid.

Fisher let out a slow whistle.

“That is one beautiful rifle my friend, but what’s so different about it that makes them folks so determined to get their hands on it?”

“This.” Homer opened a smaller box and removed one of the multi sized cartridges and handed it to Fisher.

“What in tarnation is this thing? A bullet?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The rifle is designed to fire it. If you notice, the actual bullet is a small 25 caliber projectile mounted within a modified turned down sharps style .50-90 brass cartridge.”

“Whew! I bet she’s got some punch, but ain’t other folks workin’ on similar bullets? I heard they was.

“Yes they are. The difference is this. Every cartridge made today, no matter how many grains it holds, has inside it the same explosive, black powder. This is not black powder but a chemical formula involving powdered metals, extremely reactive oxidizers and other additives that I can’t disclose. It almost triples the power of a sharps and with the smaller projectile will travel over one mile with total calculable accuracy. In fact I have tested it to over one and a half miles and it maintained a killing force.”

Fisher took one long last look and handed the cartridge back to Homer. “God, no wonder them folks want this so bad. It’d put every other gun maker out of business!”

“Yes it would!”

The new voice behind them was so unexpected they both jumped.

Before they could react to the voice, three men with guns drawn stepped forward. “I’ll take that box you have there Mr. Goldstein. I’m sorry I have to do it this way Goldstein but you left me no choice. ” Homers heart sank. It was Parker.

The tough looking no good standing next to Parker spoke up and pointed to the ceiling with the barrel of his revolver. “Put your hands up Goldstein, you too cowboy.”

“Lonny,” said Parker,” get Goldstein out of here. I got a score to settle with this rube cowboy here. He’s the one who killed Troy in the Argosy. ”

“Sure thing Parker, I’ll be waiting for you and Chuck at Old woman Creek”.  Lonny then led Goldstein out the banks rear door where he had their horses waiting. Forcing Homer to saddle up, Lonny tied his hands to the saddle horn and mounted himself behind Homer.  As they galloped away, the two fleeing riders heard the gunshots. Homer knew his newly found friend had just been killed.

Chapter 4

Fisher, Parker and Chuck heard the pounding of hooves as Lonny and Goldstein galloped off. It was then that Fisher made his move. Even he was surprised at the speed at which his Colt Peacemaker left the holster. The two had let Lonny’s leaving distract them ever so slightly. Before they could return their barrels onto Fisher, his Colt was rapid firing its deadly lead.

Fisher aimed first at the hard case standing to Parkers left. His gun was aimed closer to Fisher than was Parkers. The Peacemaker lived up to all that it was known for. Two quick shots plowed into Chucks gut. Before Parker could pull back his hammer the Colt Peacemaker exploded once again. This bullet hit the side of Parkers own gun. Knocking the barrel aside, the lead bullet continued traveling. It entered Parker just above the wrist. Once inside his arm it drilled it way through the arm until it explosively exited from the elbow.

Parkers look of shock matched that of his hired gun Chuck. For safety, Fisher always left the chamber empty under the hammer empty. With only two rounds left in the six shooter, Fisher returned the Peacemaker back to Chuck.

Chuck, doubling over from the two gut shots, leaned forward and saw himself staring down the 45’s barrel. The last thing he saw was the flame. The next thing he saw was God.

Parker let out a terrible scream as the bullet left his arm. The pistol fell to the floor but not before Fishers last bullet had already left the barrel. Parker, always one to dress well and hair meticulously groomed, would have felt chagrined at finding out that his funeral had to be a closed casket affair.

Holstering the Peacemaker and grabbing the precious case, Fisher jumped over the body of the hard case known as Chuck and ran into the banks teller area. There he spotted the bank owner lying on the floor unconscious. A teller lay sprawled out near him. Whether dead or alive, Fisher had no time to find out.

Once out the rear door, he mounted up on Parkers horse… either stolen or rented. It was now Fishers.

The horse jolted forward as if electrified. Running at a full gallop, Fisher knew Lonny had a good lead on him. Knowing a hand gun was near useless in a chase on horseback, Fisher began unpacking the rifle from its case on the run.

Within ten minutes Fisher reached the plains just east of the South Platte River where he spotted Lonny and Homer racing away in the distance.

“Damn! I got to stop them before they get to that rise up ahead.”

Once the two crested the rise, Lonny could stop on the other side and set up an ambush. The chase was beginning to seem like an effort in futility.

It was do or die Fisher decided. He then did something that screamed insanity, he stopped and dismounted.

Finding a large stone about a foot high, Fisher laid down prone behind it. Taking a cartridge from the flat ammo case, Fisher loaded the chamber and shot the bolt home. Resting the rifle barrel atop the rock to steady it, Fisher looked down the sight trying to sight in on the riders ahead. Since Homer had mentioned that he had fired it at a distance of over a mile, Fisher was counting on that it was still sighted in at that distance.

Slowing his breathing he found his target. He considered the distance and lifted the barrel. It was all a guessing game. He felt a slight breeze coming from the Platte River so he moved the barrel to the left. Even after pulling the trigger, it would take the projectile over five seconds to reach his target. All these thoughts spun in Fishers head as he compensated his aim for the variables.

All this took time and with panic rising, he saw Lonny’s horse start the climb up the fifty foot high slope.

Just as he was pulling the trigger, the thought entered his thinking that since this bullet had three times the punch of a normal bullet, it just may travel completely through Lonny killing Homer. As he pulled the trigger, in response to this fear he pulled the barrel up. It wasn’t much, just a micro amount but Fishers heart sank knowing the shot would now travel over their heads.

It was at that moment that Lonny’s horse made it to the crest. Then Lonny did something unusual. He stopped on top of the crest and turned around facing Fishers direction. In horror, Fisher saw that now Homer sat in the direct path of the bullet. Five seconds turned into hours.  At last he saw Lonny lift his firearm skyward in a wave to ridicule the stopped Fisher. Lonny had assumed that Fisher had given up.

As Lonny raised his firearm he opened his mouth and yelled a curse at the dismounted rider over a mile away. Laughing he leaned forward causing Homer to bend forward. It was in the middle of his second set of curses that Homer heard the most unusual sound above and behind him. It was the bullet traveling faster than any bullet previously made . It tore open the air like an exploding lightning bolt.  The sound the near white hot projectile had been making suddenly ended in a burst of sound similar to an exploding pumpkin.

Lonny had nothing to say about it seeing as the projectile had entered his mouth mid curse and disintegrated the entire back of his head. Lonny didn’t slowly roll off his horse, instead it looked as if he was yanked violently backwards out of the saddle.

Turning to see what was happening, Homer watched as Lonny landed ten feet behind his horse. With his thick lenses, Homer could not see well enough to view Fisher clearly but he knew by the sound of the bullet that not only was it his invented cartridge that had been fired and killed Lonny but it could only have been fired by Fisher. Somehow, Fisher had made it out alive after all!

Feeling a world of trouble being lifted off his shoulders, Homer headed down the slope at an easy gait to meet up with the only friend he had ever made. Smiling widely as Fisher came into view, Homer watched Fisher jumping up and down and laughing as he waved his hat around his head.  Homers grin widened to the point that it hurt his face.

Riding back to town side by side, the two talked of Homers next move. ” Tanks to you, I am able to open my own place now that I’m sure its safe. How would you feel about me asking you to stay and help me set it up and run it?”

“I ain’t got much else goin’ on, the railroad and barb wire’s putting a real pinch on cattle drives.” Turning to Homer he reached over and gave him his hand. “Sure Homer, I’d be honored. By the way, does job that include any pay by chance?”

Gripping his friends hand he gave it a firm shake, “A man can’t work for free Fisher, let’s head over to the Argosy for dinner and we’ll hammer out the details.”

Slowly, a wispy smile crossed over Homers face as the memory of the tall skinny waitress smiling over at him at the Argosy entered his thoughts.

“Yes Sir Fisher, I do believe we have a future here, a real nice one too!”

The children of box canyon

Chapter 1

The nine hard cases of the Jeffries gang  stood staring down upon the carnage they had wrought. Five men lay unmoving in the dust. Each one was horribly bullet ridden and very dead.

“This is something we didn’t need!” The speaker was Tom Jeffries, head of the band of evil no goods that had just committed the executions of the five Mormon men.

The five had been sent by their Church to investigate the intrusion of Jeffries band into their southern Utah territory. Numerous complaints of Jeffrie’s band causing harassment, rustling, rape, killings and worse of all, the recent kidnapping of twenty two young children of Mormon settlers had forced the Church leaders to send in the investigators. Wanting to settle the issue as peacefully and quietly as possible, the men were sent down unarmed. Not wanting to add to the nervous fear the latest  Mormon settlers were already experiencing, the Church leaders had hoped to strike a monetary deal with the group of no goods if they would leave their territory. Jeffries and his no goods, not knowing of the buyout deal and fearing a surprise shoot out, had instead reacted by gunning them all down at the meeting even before any parley began.

“Them Mormons will be sure to send others, if not to find their missing brethren but to avenge their killers when they do discover ‘em.  We need to hide these here bodies where they ain’t found. That way, even if they suspect us of foul play, they can’t prove it. Well take ‘em with us an’ bury ‘em a day’s ride from here along the bank of the Virgin River that cuts through upper Arizona. From there we head west to the Logan City area in Nevada until this all blows over.”

Nevada’s Logan City lay alongside the Muddy River just south of the foothills of the Mormon mountain range in the Nevada Territory. With multiple small mountain ranges surrounding the town, it was custom made for anybody on the run like this group was to hole up in.

“We gonna’ leave them Mormon kids back at the hideout in Arizona then?” The question was asked Toto, a dark, smelly and underfed looking Mexican greaser sporting a heavy bow mustache and large sombrero.

The hard case leader, calling himself Tom Jeffries replied, “It’s our best bet Toto, with the rest of my boys watchin’ them kids, they’ll be fine where they’s at. When this here killin’ calms back down, we’ll head back into the Rim area, get ‘em and head ‘em south into Mexico an’ sell ‘em off. No Mormon’s gonna’ find our hideout that far from Utah.”

“Suites me,” replied Toto, “but I’m still wondering how we’s gonna’ get them little shits into Mexico without bein’ seen along the way.”

“That’s the beauty of it all. We’ll take em into Squaw Creek near the Utah Arizona border and from there float em by barge down the Colorado, all the way into Mexico. They’ll be under a canvas tarp so folks will just think its cargo. Don’t worry none, I got it all figured out.”

Jeffries men dismounted and began loading the five shot up  bodies onto the horses they had rode up on. “Johnny, you stay behind a bit an’ clean up our trail. I don’t want no Mormon tracker following a dripping blood trail. We can’t do much about these horses leavin’ a trail but with so many prints, if they find ‘em, they’ll most likely disregard ‘em as a bunch of Nester’s lookin’ for land to squat on.”

 

Chapter 2

After 3 weeks, the Mormon Elders sent out a search party looking for the five men and any word of the missing children. While some suspected foul play fell upon the searchers, nothing could be proved since no bodies were ever found. The Mormon’s had gone as far as hiring an Apache tracker to no avail. Stumped, they returned to the Church Elders up in Salt Lake City with their findings. The wives and families of the missing men were cared for then assimilated back within the community through given marriages and adoptions. The missing children were all assumed to be gone forever, being either dead or sold off.  The incident would soon forgotten and for the present, the Church showed no more interest in continuing their original investigation as other immediate concerns had to be dealt with. Besides, the harassment seemed to have stopped.

Meanwhile, Logan City had about had it with the rowdy group that from time to time came in from the hills to restock their dwindling supplies. After each visit, the saloons and whore houses would end up making repairs to the buildings and beat on whores.  The Sheriff of Logan City, Jeffery Deloy, under the threat of the saloon owner packing up and leaving town, threw Toto and two of the other gang members in jail after shooting off their irons inside the saloon. A whore was grazed, legally allowing the arrest. Disturbing the peace with gunfire wasn’t on the towns list of offenses yet, but shooting folks was.

On the day their hearing was set, the Bakery and Dry Goods store suspiciously burnt to the ground. They were across the street from each other. Sheriff Deloy knew he was being threatened by Jeffries. Deloy was no dime novel hero and after meeting with the vigilante committee, they decided there was not enough evidence of intent to kill to hold the three anymore.  They were released with a warning.

Tom Jeffries, sitting at a table in the saloon with some of his hard cases looked up when he saw the three walk in. “I see you’re out.” He calmly said to the three, “Next time you go and put your faces in a public display of stupidity, I’ll hang the three of you over a fire and burn you as complete as that bakery was burnt. You get my drift boys? Toto? You understand what I’m sayin?”

“Sure boss,” Toto said nonchalantly, “ no more trouble. Can I get me a drink now?”

Jeffries slid the bottle toward Toto. “I’m serious boys, I’m pissed.  Next time I’ll kill you without thought or concern. Take that bottle, get your horses out of the livery and pay the stable boy real good and don’t make a fuss while you’re there. Be real nice like. Then ride back to the camp and tell the others we’ll be heading out to get those brats we got stored in Arizona. I got word from Durant that a river scow’s been bought and will be waiting for us at Squaw Creek. I figure in a month we’ll be loaded and headin’ south on the Colorado.”

After the three left, Jeffries turned to the man next to him who went by the name of Billy Wilde. Jeffries referred to Billy as his Segundo. Billy Wilde was a killer, but he only killed when he had the drop. When called out, Billy had no qualm in sneaking out of town. He never stood face to face, he killed readily but was too slow on the draw to be a real shootist.  But as far as back shooting and dry gulching went, he was the best.

“Billy, you take these two sittin’ here and head over to the mercantile. We got us a ways to go in the next month so get enough stores to last us a good month, then stop at the livery for me. Check up on Toto and the other two to make sure they ain’t caused anymore grief, then see if the livery will you sell a couple mules. If they will, buy ‘em and head on out back to the camp with the supplies.” Slipping Billy two hundred dollars in gold double eagles he continued speaking, “ The three of you do me a favor. Them two that were in jail with Toto, I want ‘em gone. They’s a loose cannon and they disobeyed my order about makin’ a public scene. After all, we was supposed to be in hiding, not lettin’ folks know of our presence in Nevada by bein arrested.

As far as Toto goes, leave him be, I’ll handle Toto when the times right, but for now I need him.  I want you three to immediately head out immediately after loading up.  I’ll follow in a couple of days, that should give you time to get rid of them two idiots.” Jeffries thoughts returned to the dark haired nineteen year old whore waiting for him upstairs. “Go on now an’ git!”

Two days later and to the relief of everyone in town, Jeffries rode out of Logan for the last time and headed back to the gangs hideout in the mountains overlooking the small town of Show Low Arizona .

 

Chapter 3

Sheriff Danny Vance of Globe had taken a leave and was up visiting his twin brother Davy, the Sheriff of Show Low. Those who rode the Owl hoot trail stayed away from the White Mountains that lay between the two towns. It was common talk that the twins had some sort of spooky psychic type connection. Each could finish the others sentence or mirror the others movements. Most folk got a kick out of it when the two brothers were together but others, especially ones on the Owl Hoot trail, feared it. Rustlers and hard cases couldn’t hide well enough for the two. No matter how clever or meticulous was their hiding, the brothers seemed to magically sniff them out.

Opening the door as quietly as he could to his brothers office, Dan peaked in to see his brother napping with his feet up on table he used as a desk.

“Step on inside Bro, you outa know by now you cain’t sneak up on me, never could, never will!”

Danny closed the door smiling, “There’s gotta be a first time.”

“So what brings you to my beautiful burg of Show Low anyway? I Know it ain’t rustlers ‘cause I chased ‘em all down south towards that dung heap you reign over.”

Chuckling, Danny replied “Dung heap? Talk about dung, why the folks in this here town of Show Low just discovered how to use the outhouse!”

“I love you too brother! How’s about some coffee to go with your insults, Paco just fresh brewed a pot.”

Foregoing any more insults, the two brothers sat relaxing at the table. Poco, the one eyed deputy had poured coffee and returned to delicing the jail cells with powdered quick lime.

Pointing his thumb over his shoulder in Poco’s direction Davy explained Poco’s actions to his brother. “Last week we had Roberto Villa and his bunch enjoying the hospitality of our jail after they was caught rustling the Double H’s cattle. They ain’t here no more but they left their lice behind to be remembered by.”

“Did you send them up to Holbrook for trial?”

“Nah, they was caught red handed, no need for a trial. They was hung the next morning out back. I shoulda’ just strung ‘em up when I got ‘em back here that afternoon and I would’ve if I’d known how much lice they had on ‘em. Oh well, it gives Poco something to do besides sweep an’ make coffee.”

“Well, he does make a fine coffee, that’s for sure.”

The two brothers returned to their relaxed coffee drinking, neither saying a word.  Finally, after a good ten minutes of quiet, Davy grunted, “Ee-yup.” Then went quiet again.

It was during moments like this that folks would swear the twins were talking to each other, only not with their mouths.

“So what you think, Danny, wanna’ ride out with me an check out a story old Vern the prospector told me?”

“Sure, why not?  What’s his tale this time? Chiloe Creeks loaded with lost Inca gold? Flying canoes again?”

“I only wish it sounded as kooky, then I could dismiss it as another ‘buy me a drink an’ I’ll tell you a tale’ story. No, this one caused him to come high tailin’ it in here all panicky like. He seemed pretty shook up.”

“Well as much as I know about the man, I can’t say I ever heard of anything that would surprise the old coot, I think he’s seen it all. He prospected in my jurisdiction years ago when I first Sheriff’d in Globe and he while he seemed a bit eccentric I’d say he never outright made any stories up. What’d he tell you?”

“C’mon, let’s saddle up an’ I’ll fill you in on the way.”

Grabbing some traveling grub and a noon meal at Davy’s girlfriends house,they headed west out of town towards the Rim at an easy trot.

“so what’s the story Davy, where we headin’ to an’ why?”

Davy sidled up closer to his brother and rode knee to knee down the trail and started talking.

“I didn’t want to tell you in town because they’s so many excitable folks there. I told Vern not to say a word about it as it might get back to whoever is holden’ them kids that we’s a comin’. Old Vern came hoofin’ it mighty quick into town yesterday on that mule of his. I was at Jane’s Diner, eatin’ but saw him out the window arrive an’ head straight to the jail. Poco come out a minute later an’ come runnin’ an’ got me. When I got to the jail, Vern was in a stitch. Finally I got Vern calmed down enough to talk by pouring him a whiskey. He told me he was out prospecting the Mogollon Rim near where Cherry and Tonto creek come together when he saw what looked like a small child trying to run away from two men wearin’ guns tied low. It seems they caught up with the tyke and dragged him off into hidden box canyon kicking and screaming. “

Danny looked skeptical and said, “We grew up knowing those canyons pretty well Davy, I don’t recall any hidden box canyon around there. Besides, it’s probably just a family issue of some sort.”

“That ain’t the all of it Danny. Vern said he followed ‘em and found the small opening to the box canyon.  It was just big enough for a man on a horse to get inside. When he snuck in, he saw not just the kid who was bein’ chased, but a whole passel of ‘em bein’ held by a group of no goods!”

“What? You tellin’ me they’s a bunch of children inside a box canyon bein’ held by gunmen? What the Sam Hill is that all about? ”

“That’s what we’re doin’ right now bro, findin’ out.”

“Dang, I knew there was somethin’ ticklin’ the back of my neck tellin’ me to git on up here. Couldn’t we been born just normal like? Next thing ya’ know, you’re gonna’ tell me what a great time I had at Mabel’s whore house!”

“I don’t need no psychic abilities for that brother, I just look at that dumb grin plastered on your face to tell me all I need to know!”

“Ha! An’ I suppose Mary Jane’s Pa ain’t noticin’ the one on your mug?”

Dave winked at his brother, “Come next payday, I’m buyin’ a ring, I figure The towns startin’ to wonder if I’m just getting the milk for free or if I’m gonna’ buy the cow? I figure I better buy the cow before she dries up or someone else buys her!”

Danny smirked, “Wait till I tell Mary Jane you compared her to a milk cow.”

“You do an I’ll go an tell your favorite whore you got the geebees down there, that’ll fix ya!”

“I ain’t got no gee… Hey, look! Up ahead, is that smoke?”

Ahead, maybe a good fifteen miles into the Rim a thin trail of smoke contrasted itself against the evening western sky. In the past four hours, they had traveled over halfway to where Vern had said he saw the box canyon and children.

“Kinda’ mark that spot if you will Danny. According to my figuring that might be about where Vern was talkin’ about. When we make camp tonight, let’s put a rise between our cook fire and them. Tomorrow we’ll have to travel on foot the last few miles to stay hid.”

“I can kinda’ see a formation of outcropping just before the smoke. I think we should use that as our marker. “

As night fell the Arizona sky lit up with a million stars.  The brothers relaxed after they had enjoyed a meal of bacon and beans with fresh biscuits and an apple pie Mary Jane had packed for the two.  Using their horses as sentries, they talked over coffee into the night.

Chapter 4

As dusk turned into dark, four riders consisting of Billy Wilde, Toto and the two gunslingers from the saloon reached area where the Rim held the secret canyons entrance. With just enough light to make out the outline of the opening, they single file slipped inside, leaving the fully loaded wagon outside to be unloaded by hand.

Toto was still upset over the gunning down of the two he had been in jail with. He felt there was no call to murder them just for letting loose in the saloon.  The three were only two days out of Logan City when the other three, led by Billy Wilde hollered the familiar greeting heard when entering another’s camp.

“Hellooo, the camp!” Billy shouted. “It’s just us Toto, Billy Wilde.”

An answering shout greeted them. “Light on down Billy, coffee’s on!”

As Billy and his two companions entered the camp site they saw the three other gang members relaxing in the firelight drinking coffee. None appeared alarmed at the presence of the three armed men. Toto rose to greet the three when all hell broke loose.

Billy and his two companions drew and fired onto the two men sitting by the fire. Saving a few cartridges in case Toto got into the act, the three pretty much emptied their revolvers into the two  men.

Toto stepped back stunned. “Wh- what the hell’d you go ‘an do that for?” He stammered.

“Boss said to. Them two pissed him off, you did too but he said to just clear them two outa the gang.  You know dang well the boss’ll shoot you just as well as shake your hand.  By the way, he still wants us to head on to the camp with these here supplies and git ready to ride on out with them kids.

The morning light unveiled the box canyon camp making ready to pack up and leave.

Hours earlier, Davy and Danny had traveled in the morning darkness reaching the outcropping they had seen the day before. They had left their horses loosely tied in the grease wood a mile back. Having let them feed on the grass around their camp during the night, they had let them drink their fill in a small creek near the hitched grease wood. The brothers had inched along the cliffs wall looking for any sign of the box canyons opening.

The two had nearly passed by the opening but Danny stopped his brother and silently pointed to the rocky ground under their feet. In the dawns early light, scrape marks from iron shod shoes were visible on a smooth portion of the trail.

Whispering quietly Danny leaned into Davy’s ear. “Up ahead, ten feet or so. I see a shadow that I bet is on opening. I’m gonna crawl hands an’ knees style an’ take a peak. Cover my butt just in case I disturb the hornets inside.”

Slowly Danny disappeared into the shadow. Five minutes later a small scraping sound alerted Davy of Danny’s return. Putting his finger to his lips, Danny tilted his head towards the direction they had come from.

Once out of earshot of the opening, Danny relayed what he saw.

“Damn, Vern got it straight. There’s maybe ten armed men and a passel of kids inside. To our luck though, no one posted a sentry. If we can keep ‘em inside the box canyon, we stand a chance of takin’ ‘em on. But, if any git on out, we’d be fight’n on two fronts.  With just the two of us, we’d be sittin’ ducks to them cross shootin’ rifles. I wish we had brought Poco, he could hold the opening here shut while we circled on around ‘em.”

“Then it’s a good thing I followed you Senior Davy!”

At the sound of the unexpected voice, even though it was in a whisper, the two brothers nearly jumped out of their skins.

“What the hell? Poco? What in God’s name????”

Holding his finger against his lips, Poco shushed them with a whisper. “Shhhh, Senior. After you left, Senior Vernon came looking for you. He was upset and afraid for you so he told me all about what he had told you. Senior Davy, I do not say you are not one to defeat those inside using just your brother, but my father always told me three make a better gang than two!”

After re swallowing their hearts, the two bothers and Poco nodded and  made their plans.

Poco positioned himself  high along the ridge top alongside the canyons narrow opening. From that vantage point he could unload his rifle freely without much fear of having accurate fire returned.

Davy took the ridge line and traveled east while Danny took to the west. From high atop the ridge line, the three could reign their deadly fire onto those below.

All of the children had been gathered and roped one to another around their necks. Billy Wilde was busy giving orders when Toto was sent out of the canyon to bring the wagon and mules back to the hidden entrance.

Danny signaled Poco of Toto’s movement and was rewarded by a tilt of his sombrero.

Waiting for Toto to exit the opening, Poco waited above him holding a heavy stone above his head. It was a chance Poco had to take but with Toto about to exit the canon he had to take the risk.

Suddenly a hat appeared twenty feet directly below him at the entrance opening. With a short prayer to the Virgin Mary, Poco heaved the stone downward.

Danny and Davy waited in both fear and trepidation for Poco’s silent attack to go amiss. Poco stood in place transfixed looking down to where he had thrown the heavy boulder.

Slowly Poco turned seeking ghe faces of the two brothers. A look of horror was glued  to his face. Davy, being a bit closer and the leader of the three raised his hands palm up in a question and mouthed, “So?”

Poco silently lifted his hands to his head then abruptly expanded his fingers as if they had exploded. Davy understood the implications and signaled back with a circled finger OK. Then pointed at his own rifle and back at Poco. Poco understood but turned and took a quick glance back down upon the gory mess below. Toto would be no more of a problem.

The crack of gun fire brought Poco back to the present and he again positioned himself to guard the entranced of the canyon.

The rifle s of Davy and Danny bucked hard against their shoulders as the 45 caliber cartridges exploded within their barrels sending their deadly lead projectiles into the bodies of the men below.  Taken by surprise the men below holding the children fought the three angled attack poorly. Their return shots were futile as shooting at an upward angle was useless. While some bullets ricocheted against the rocky ridge, none even came close to hitting the three lawmen.

Within a minute of starting, Ten men lay in bloody heaps below and one lay without a head at the canyons narrow opening.

The children sat in stunned silence, not moving for the ropes around their necks denied them much movement. Suddenly a young girl began to cry, then another and another until the children as a group howled like baby calves being separated from their mama’s.

Chapter 5

Trying their best not to tumble down the steep canyon walls, the three climbed down as fast as they could to the crying children below.  Poco was the first to reach them and immediately began cutting away the ropes that half strangled them. Danny helped at the finish after making sure none of the men were moving and Davy arrived shortly thereafter, bruised and bleeding from a tumble he took near the bottom.

The two brothers went back to the bodies for final count and conformation of their deaths. None had moved but one began moaning.

Stepping over a bullet riddled body, Davy Knelt beside a dying man in his early twenties. “ Mister, could you get me a Doctor? I hurt somethin’ fierce in my gut.”

Looking at the boys belly, he saw a large blood stain covering his gut and privates. “Son, ain’t no Doctor gonna make it in time to help you none. Besides, you only got a few minutes left so you may want to make peace with the Lord for all your ills.”

“You got me wrong Mister, I’m not a bad ‘un. My Mama brought me up believing in the lord an’ his Book. I was just settin’ these here children ‘cause they paid me well. It was just a job. Please, go an’ find me a Doctor Mister, when I get better I’ll  help you in any way I can, I promise.”

Knowing the boy would never see the next hour, Davy agreed to the boys request. “If I get the Doctor, will you tell me if this is all there is to the group of kidnapping bastards. Who was their leader? Is he lyin’ here dead now?”

The boy let out  a long painful moan and closed his eyes. Davy thought he had passed but after a bit the boy opened his eyes again and replied. “They’s one more missin’, Jeffries.  Tom Jeffries, he’s the leader here. He’s supposed to show up in a couple of days.” The boy went painfully on hoping Davy would see the truth in his words and get a Doctor to ease his pain. He explained the scow the children would be shipped down to Mexico in waiting at Squaw Creek by a man he called Durant.

Davy repeated the information the boy gave to Danny and Poco.  When Poco heard the deal Davy made with the boy he asked, “Senior Davy, how will a Doctor be found in time to save this boy, He’s about to die?”

Looking down at the boy, who now looked more a child than a boy, Davy said, “No, he’s not about to die Poco, he died already.”

“What do we do now Senior Davy? I count twenty two children.”

“First things first, let’s break out some grub and get somethin’ inside the bellies of these kids before we make ‘em go anywhere.”

Breaking out the provisions the wagon had been holding, the children were fed, the dead men buried and a plan had been made.

By night fall, Poco had taken the children a good fifteen miles.  Much of the provisions had been removed from the wagon and the children would take turns riding in the wagon back to Show Low.  From there the children would try to be reunited with their families in Utah. Poco would speak to the Priest at the mission there about housing them. A telegram would be sent to the Church Elders in Salt Lake City informing them of the children’s where abouts.

Meanwhile the two brothers laid in wait for Tom Jeffries to show up.

On the third day a speck was seen on the trail leading to the Mogollon Rim from the west. It was also the same day twenty two exhausted children walked into the sleepy town of  Show low.

Davy figured if there were no one to greet Tom Jeffries, he’d get suspicious and skedaddle on out and get away.  To give the impression of an active hideout, Danny made a large fire, tossed a few pounds of  bacon on it and made a giant pot of aromatic coffee. From the outside, it might be enough for Jeffries to think breakfast was going on. Meanwhile, Davy placed himself at the spot Poco had taken and dressed himself in Billy wilds hat and jacket… after cleaning up the mess Toto’s exploding head had made at the entrance.

By the time all was in place, it smelled so good that it made the brothers stomach rumble. Jeffries was a half mile out now.

“Git ready Danny, I’d like to take him a live if possible but don’t take no chances.

Minutes later Jeffries yelled the familiar “Helloooo Camp” Greeting. Davy stood waving his rifle but kept his eyes hidden under the large brim of Billy Wilde’s Stetson.

“Billy!” Jeffries shouted, “We all set to haul outa here?”

Pretending to cough and try and speak to disguise his voice as much as he could, Davy shouted back, “Sure thing Boss, Grub’s just put up. C’mon and get a plate load!”

With Davy turning the conversation to food, any skepticism Jefferies had disappeared and he hungrily walked through the narrow opening.   It was when he exited the opening and stepped into the box canyon that Jeffrie’s met Danny’s 45 caliber Golden Boy rifle aimed between his eyes.

“Put your hands up Jeffrie’s, we been waitin’ on ya’!”

It was a hanging that everyone who could make it enjoyed watching. The tale of Jeffries ghastly deed of kidnapping children to sell into Mexico spread like wild fire, far and wide.  Even the twenty two children were given candy and popcorn balls as treats and little flags to wave when the trap door was sprung. The band played and a magician did magic tricks on the hangman’s platform before the hanging. Once hung, Jeffrie’s dangled for a while and soiled himself.  When his neck could no longer bare the weight of his body, his head came off with a popping sound. Volunteers cleaned up the mess and the gala continued unabated.  After Jeffrie’s body and head were carted off by the undertaker, fried chicken dinners were sold by the Baptist Women’s building fund for twenty five cents. So many dinners were sold that two new Outhouses were included in the churches building plans. The event drew such applause at its finale of fireworks and the town council was so moved by the crowds appreciation, that they made the decision to hold  “The annual Show Low hangman’s Day” each year on the same date .

In later years, the State court ordered Show Low to cease and desist the celebrating of their little holiday. Not for reasons of any hanging sensibility mind you but it was suspected criminals were being sentenced unjustly just so the town had someone to hang on that day.