Outlaw Bo Brooks was feeling the heat of being chased down by Texas Ranger Dusty Austin and now to boot, he had trapped himself inside a box canyon.
The twenty five year old Texas Ranger tracking Brooks was known by both Lawmen and hombres as the best tracker and most dogged pursuer of no goods as could be found north of the Mexican border. Sometimes, like now, it was necessary to go beyond the State line in his pursuit.
Clean shaven with short cropped brown hair and startling blue eyes, Ranger Austin had been every girls heart throb. He could have been one to easily play the field but it was never the case. At fourteen he met the new neighbor’s daughter, twelve year old Lisa, and fell hard and forever in love.
He could never rightly say what attracted him to her. She was at twelve, a wondered eyed somewhat a bony girl with long blond unkempt curls whose knocked knees and clumsy adolescent walk wouldn’t draw boy’s second looks even if she were sixteen. But danged if Dusty Austin was going to let her get away from him. He found the stupidest reasons to traverse over to the Triple T Ranch abutting his father’s own in order to catch a glimpse of the girl hanging fresh laundry or playing in the creek. One time it was to warn of an angry mountain lion he swore he saw prowling nearby, another he said he thought his dog wondered over there.
Lisa seemed to take all his nonsense activity in stride by paying him no more mind than she would a warty toad. Still, Dusty would not give up trying to attract her attention. He daydreamed of saving her from Indians, taking a few arrows in the process then her comforting him afterward.
By sixteen Dusty’s efforts started to pay off. Maybe it was her entering woman hood or maybe he was just plain old wearing her down but whatever the case she began to notice the handsome boy who was goggled eyed over her. At eighteen, Dusty asked her father for her hand. Both families knew of the boys comical attempts at wooing Lisa’s love over the years and permission was freely given. A year later Dusty was taken off the most eligible bachelors list.
He and Lisa settled onto a small starter spread that their Dads had cut out from their own sprawling ranches. The spread included the small stream where years earlier Dusty had hid in the bushes watching her play in the clear water. The small two room cabin was enough until a family was started. Lisa by now had cast off only a minor amount of the clumsy adolescent child. She was still prone to trip over her own feet or stumbled down the front porch stairs in her haste to greet her true love as he returned home exhausted from a hard day’s work on his fathers ranch.
Then one day a visitor would change Dusty’s work habit. A newly formed, government backed group of Lawmen called Texas Rangers had been formed to control any Lawless folk wanted for riding the Owl hoot trail. Ranger Aubrey Smith was passing through but had been convinced by Dusty and Lisa to rest up a few days before heading out again. Since visitors were rare, Lisa and Dusty took this opportunity to pry as much information about the big cities, their people and his role as a Texas Ranger as they could from their visitor. Dusty became enchanted with the idea of traveling the country side hunting down wanted hombres.
On the second day over dinner, Dusty asked, “So what does a guy need to know to get a Rangers job?”
“Well, that depends. Are you any good at handling a gun or tracking or willing to stay away from home for weeks on end with pay being inconsistent? Those are just a few things that you need to ask yourself. If you can answer yes to those, then maybe I can be of help. We just got a new post in Loving County. That’s only twenty or so miles from Pecos here. That’s where I’m being assigned. I have to be there in three days.”
Lisa saw the sparkle come to Dusty’s eyes and reached across the table and gave Dusty hand a squeeze. “Heck,” Dusty replied, “I’m near the best tracker in All Texas, and the same Indian that taught me tracking taught me to shoot and live off the land too!”
“You was taught by an Indian? What’s his name? I might know of him if he ever tracked for the law.”
“Limping Bear. He near raised me when my mother passed when I was a kid. I don’t think he ever worked for the army or law. He was working for my Dad back then breakin’ horses. He took a liking to me an’ me to him. Shoot, I followed him everywhere he went. My Dad was too busy for the most part to raise me so he kind of handed me off to Limping Bear. All I learned was…”
“Limping Bear!” The Ranger shouted. “Limping Bear is my Fathers half brother!”
“That makes us almost related” Dusty laughed.
After a good chuckle, Ranger Aubrey asked, “So whatever became of Limping Bear, is he still around”?
“Naw, I wish he was. He got bit by a rattler while in my Dads corral. Why the horses didn’t see it and make a fuss we’ll never know. It got him high up in the thigh, the Doc said right in an artery. The poison traveled quick and him bein’ old and all, he didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I only met him a few times but he was an imposing character for sure. I grew up south of here outside of Strobel in Brewster County. He’d stop by to visit now and then.”
“Sure, I remember the times he left to visit family there. They was one of the few times he wouldn’t let me tag along. Small world really. Here you an’ I meet up years later knowing the same man but still bein’ worlds apart.”
“So, might the job of being a Ranger interest you at all Dusty?”
“Do I have to live on the post or can I still live and work out of here?”
“Most men are single but you only have to report to the post for orders and after you capture someone in order to fill out the paperwork. I can’t see a problem, you’re only twenty miles away. When I leave here you wanna ride up there with me?”
That answer was given four years ago when Dusty was sworn into the Texas Rangers. As was Aubrey, he was stationed out of the Loving County post in Mentone. Being from the general territory was a plus as knowing which County you were in was important to a Ranger. Some County Sheriffs were more friendly than others towards the Rangers. Some were downright in your face antagonistic.
In the short time he’d been a ranger, Dusty, Now called Ranger Austin, had racked up an impressive capture count. Where others found little to no trail or evidence, Ranger Austin saw a man’s passage as clear as he’d painted the ground with his feet.
An overturned pebble, a smudge in the dirt for no reason, a bent shoot of grass, the twig on the ground showing evidence of being stepped on, even the birds and lizards cried out the trail he should follow.
He got so well known that a few no goods actually turned themselves in once they found out he was on their tail.
It was the man he now tailed that held his interest. Bank robber, Bo Brooks.
Brooks was an enigma. He was known as one of the friendliest, give the shirt off his back young men folks had ever met. Why he robbed the Santa Lucia Bank over in Pecos County was anybody’s guess. To top it all off, he left word where the others who included themselves in the heist were camped out. He alone was the sole man left to capture and Ranger Austin was hot on his trail. Unfortunately, that trail now led across the New Mexico border. Still, he was the Law and the States overlooked infringements like this for the common good.
It was at the Rio Panasco River near the small town of Roswell and nearly eighty five miles northwest of his post in Loving that he finally cornered Brooks in a box canyon.
Brooks knew he had made a serious mistake. Reaching the end of the canyon proved his worries were well founded. High unclimbable cliffs on three sides of the canyon prevented his escape.
Seeing Brooks make it to the far end of the canyon, Ranger Austin pulled up short at the box canyons entrance. He’d make camp here, knowing Brooks only way out was past him. His confidence grew as he saw smoke from Brooks cook fire. Brooks was wise enough not to panic and foolishly try to scale the steep cliffs. If it meant a standoff, then being well fed was important.
Soon two cook fires were seen spiraling gently skyward from each end of the canyon.
Morning sunlight broke over the canyon’s eastern rim. The reddish brown rock of the western cliffs suddenly lit up like they were on fire. Ranger Austin was a patient man. He knew Brooks had only a little water left and none was visible inside the box canyon. Waiting for the sun to light up the entire canyon, he decided on a late breakfast of bacon and biscuits. Eating this way, only two meals would need to be cooked for the day.
Brooks had no such concerns. A tendril of fresh smoke drifted skyward from his rekindled cook fire. Seeing the smoke, Ranger Austin decided on trying to make contact with Brooks rather than just jump into a hell to all shoot out.
The box canyon was less than a quarter mile wide and not much longer than that. Instead of a nice flat bottom, it rose and fell with strewn boulders and house high dirt mounds. While it was a great place for youngsters playing hide and seek, it didn’t offer enough protection to allow Brooks to sneak past the Ranger. Some small scrub trees and brush made line of sight difficult but a man’s voice could still be heard if one yelled loud enough. So that’s the tact Ranger Austin decided on.
Climbing one of the dirt mounds close to his own camp, Ranger Austin cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled.
“Brooks! You hear me Brooks?”
“Yeah, I can hear ya!” Brooks shouted back.
“C’mon Brooks, there ain’t no ways outa this here box canyon. Do yourself and me a favor and toss down your weapons an’ give up!”
“I been thinkin’ along them lines Ranger, I just find it hard to voluntarily put a noose around my neck. Let me think some more on it a bit. Maybe we’ll see eye to eye, maybe we won’t. I ain’t decided yet.”
“I tell you what. By tomorrow morning you had better have decided or I’m comin’ after ya’!”
“Fair enough!” Brooks yelled back. This time tomorrow I’ll let ya’ know!”
The sun rose higher in the sky and Ranger Austin finally decided on some breakfast. Stirring the cook fire’s coals into life, he added some fuel and set his coffee pot and fry skillet with bacon on top of it.
Shortly, Brookes voice was once again heard. “Hey, Ranger! You cookin’ up bacon over there? Damn you man, that ain’t fair, all I got is some measly Jerky on my side!”
Austin started chuckling then yelled back, “See? That’s the difference between us! I got me a nice woman who makes sure her man is well taken care of when he’s on the trail! Plus I don’t rob no banks!”
“If you was in my shoes, you mighta’ done the same! Hell man, the smell a that bacon’s doin’ a better job killin’ me more’n any noose would. You don’t think you could spare a bite for a poor outlaw?”
“Give yourself up and I’ll fry up another pound with your name on it!”
“I knew there’d be a catch! Ha ha.”
While the bantering went back and forth, just outside the entrance to the box canyon another nose sniffed the air determining the direction of the mouth watering smell of the frying bacon.
It was the grunt behind him that caused Ranger Austin to look behind him. There, standing on it’s hind legs staring directly at Austin was a full grown, four hundred pound Black bear.
Realizing his rifle was still stuck inside it’s saddle holster, Ranger Austin reached for the colt pistol strapped to his hip.
The bear charged with a loud roar. Before Ranger Austin could fully aim the gun the bear was on top of him. Austin was knocked backwards over the fire losing his pistol. It crossed his mind that a face full of steaming coffee could halt the bear but it was only a thought because his eyes were watching the coffee pot go tumbling over and over spilling it’s hot liquid out as it somersaulted away.
Lying on his back he felt himself pulled violently backward towards the ruined fire. Pain shot through his leg as the bear bit deeply into it. A blood curling scream left the young Ranger’s lips as the bear began to toss it’s head back and forth trying to tear off the leg.
In the distance, a yell was heard back but by now Ranger Dusty Austin was losing consciousness as the bear continued to yank and twist at the leg. Suddenly, as if it had tired of the leg pulling game, the bear let go and wandered over to the bacon that had been spilled onto the ground. Sitting on its haunches, the bear began to gabble down the hot fried bacon. No sooner had it finished when the bear once again stood up looking. Running towards the bear was Brooks waving his hand gun and yelling.
As Bo neared the bear, he fired the small 38 caliber pistol into the bear. Instead of dying, it seemed the tiny bullets just pissed it off. Slapping the air as if bee’s were stinging it, the bear backed off. Two more times Bo fired the small gun. This time the bear’s rear end caught the lead and in a roar it high tailed it out the entrance of the canyon bellowing in pain.
Seeing the Rangers 45 caliber laying on the ground, Bo quickly picked it up and shoved it into his pants.
Making his way over to the unconscious Ranger, Bo bent down to look at the young man’s leg. What he saw made him cringe.
“Hey, Ranger, you with me?” Tapping the Ranger on the face, Bo tried to revive him back into consciousness.
“Well, you sure got yourself into a pickle here Ranger, that leg is really torn up. I’ll do what I can but I ain’t no Doctor.”
With that, Bo searched the man’s saddle bags and found a small bottle of whiskey and a tin of horse salve. Cleaning the deep wound as best as he could, he applied the horse salve to it and wrapped the leg in part of the Rangers torn off pant leg.
The day passed and no real improvement was seen in the Ranger’s condition so Bo went on back to his camp at the other end of the canyon to gather up his own horse and belongings. Upon his return he noted the Ranger had shifted his position a bit and it was then he heard him moan. Running up to the Ranger, he heard the young man asking for water.
Tilting the Rangers head back, Bo began pouring water into his mouth. After the Ranger had drunk nearly half a canteen of water, Bo pulled it aside. “I’m sure with all the blood you lost you’re as thirsty as a bear…er whatever, but you gotta’ take it a little at a time or you’ll just puke it all back up.”
Ranger Austin tilted his head sideways in order to look over at Brooks.
“My leg,” He asked, “how bad is it?”
“I ain’t no Doctor but I’d say it’s about as bad as can be without it fallen’ off. I cleaned it the best I could with your whiskey and plopped a bunch a your horse salve on it but you need to get to a Doc right away.”
“Hell, you know we ain’t nowhere near a town Brooks. If infection sets in I’m a gonner. How much did I bleed before you applied the salve?”
“Shoot Ranger, you bled out like a stuck pig. It took a bit of time before I got the bleeding slowed down. I had heard if you press real hard on a bad wound that sometimes that stops the bleedin’. I guess it worked but I’m afraid if you start movin’ around, it’ll start bleedin’ all over again.”
“You did good Brooks, The free bleeding may have cleaned out the wound good enough to prevent infection. The whisky and salve will help the surface wound but deep inside is what worries me.”
“Sounds like you know about these things, you a Doctor besides a Ranger?”
“No, just raised by an Indian that’s all. Tell you what Brooks, can we call a truce here? I need some herbs gathered and I gotta trust ya’”
“ Sure, besides I got your gun an’ you ain’t in no condition to arrest me . What kind of herbs you talkin’ about Ranger?”
“Mesquite tree. Carve of some bark until you hit the gum inside. Carve out a good handful of ngum then take a few of the smaller live twigs along with some fresh bark and bring it all here.”
Within a half hour Brooks returned with an armload of mesquite branches and bark. “I got the gum, it’s in my pocket. Here’s the branches. You doin’ OK pard?”
It was the first time that Bo acknowledged the Ranger as more than just a Lawman. Dusty took this in but was in too much pain to answer right off. When he did, it was to instruct Bo in preparing a poultice and tea.
When the gum had been squeezed hard enough a clear liquid came forth from it. “Save that juice, it’s what keeps infections down. You’ll mix it with some of the crushed leaves and pack it inside my wounds. Then make a tea using the small twigs, a bit of bark and some leaves. If I pass out again, just keep on doing what I told you,OK?”
“Sure, thing. By the way Ranger, what’s your first name? Seein’ as we got a truce goin’ on here, the least we can do is call each other by our Christian names.”
With a painful chuckle ranger Austin lowered himself to that of an ordinary citizen and replied, “Dusty, Dusty Austin. I know you go by Bo, is that short for Beau?”
“Yeah, my Momma named me after my grandfather, her father Union General Beau Brooks.”
“Well ain’t that somethin’? General Brooks Grandson is a bank robber, who’d a thunk? Your grand daddy must be rollin’ over in his grave about now.”
During this time Bo had made up the poultice and had filled the spilled coffee pot partway with water, placed it over the kicked apart but still hot coals and added the leaves, twigs and bark. He then walked over to where Dusty lay.
“Lay still now Dusty, this poultice is gonna hurt when I put it inside the wound. Too bad we ain’t got no more whiskey, I used it up cleaning your wound, you could use some right now.”
“ I’ll do fine, just put a thick twig in my mouth to bite down on.”
Bo placed a thumb sized twig in Dusty’s mouth and undressed the wound. Fresh blood continued to leak out of the wound but the river was now just a trickle. Bo slowly parted the wound where the bears teeth had dug deepest. The wound immediately pooled with blood and Bo let it drip freely into the dirt. He then took the thick poultice and began stuffing it into the deepest part of the wound.
It took a second or two but then Dusty arched his back and screamed through the stick in his mouth. Suddenly the stick was bit completely through and then thankfully Dusty passed out. With Dusty unconscious, Bo was able to complete the poultice without Dusty screaming. Satisfied the wound could hold no more, he then re wrapped the leg and made Dusty as comfortable as possible.
He brought Dusty a cup of the mesquite tea when he woke up. “Here, drink this up. It’s the tea you asked me to make up for ya’. You fainted when I started packin’ your wound and that made it easier to finish the job.”
“I owe you Bo, thank you for being so Christian about all this.” Bo lifted the cup to Dusty’s lips and let him drink.
“I have nothin’ agin ya’ Dusty, you was just doin’ your job. Heck the only reason why I asked for extra time before I turned myself in was ‘cause I wanted to see the night sky as a free man one more time before bein’ hung. I did what I needed to do knowin’ there was a price to be paid.”
Dusty turned his head to look at Bo who was again sitting on the ground next to him. “I can’t figure you out Bo. You seem to be a genuine fella. Everybody thinks you’re the best, but then you go and rob a bank and yet you turn in the rest of the gang. It makes no sense Bo, why’d you do it?”
“For my Ma. She needed the money. Last year my Grandpa, the General, died. He was the hero of the small town we all lived in so when he died the town held a big funeral dirge for him. Some state and Federal politicians showed up vowing a granite monument was in order to honor him. Well they went ahead and ordered the work started on a grand mausoleum with promises that the Government would pay for it. Well, three months later the mausoleum was finished and the folks was lookin’ to be paid for their work. We contacted the Politicians who ordered the work done but they disavowed they had promised anything. My Mom was in a dither.
The workers were threatening to go to court and force the sale of our farm so they could recover their wages. We didn’t blame them none, we blamed the rascal politicians who didn’t uphold their promise to pay. We sure didn’t have the money but I told Ma that I’d think of something.”
“So you figured robbing a bank would solve your problem?”
“Well, yes and no. My cousin found out the bank in Santa Lucia over in Pecos County was owned by the same politician that ordered the mausoleum to be built. So while I was planning on how to rob it, I ran into a group of no goods with the same idea. After talkin’ it over with ‘em, I joined up figurin’ I’d get my share then take off and pay for the mausoleum. What I found out though was they was plannin’ on killin’ me and taking my share. So I set it up that they’d get caught and I’d get away. It almost worked too. As soon as I fled, I stopped over in the next town and had a bank draft made in place of the stolen money. It was a small town and word hadn’t got to them yet about the bank in Santa Lucia bein’ robbed.”
“So where’s the money now?”
“Gone. I left that town and rode till I found a town that had regular post service. From there I sent the draft to my Ma and she cashed it an’ paid for the mausoleum. The workers and stone company got paid and all seemed like it went fine until a customer in the Santa Lucia bank came forward and said they knew who the lone escaped bank robber was. It turned out the retired school Marm I had years earlier recognized me. Seems she moved back to Santa Lucia with her brother after retiring from the school in my home town.”
“ That’s a pile of bad luck alright, I almost wished you’d gotten away with it. I don’t cotton to politicians but I’m still a Ranger and I took an oath to do my duty.”
“Like I said, you got a job to do, I don’t put no blame on you.”
“Well maybe if I say something in court about you saving me they’d be more lenient on you.”
“Fat chance at that Dusty, this is the grand pooba of politicians were talking about in that county. He got total control there. Word has it that I should only get jail except he had it upped to death by hanging. No, I’m a dead man my friend but at least Grandpa Brooks is layin’ in peace now and my Ma gets to keep the farm. But I do appreciate the kind offer of your words in court.”
That night a low fever started and his wound began to throb heavily with each heart beat. By morning he was delirious with fever. Bo kept his vigil and kept supplying Dusty with water even though it meant none for himself now. He remembered crossing a small creek about an hours ride back but was afraid to leave Dusty alone. Coyotes, buzzards or even the return of the bear would mean his death, so Bo stayed with him.
By the second night after he relapsed, Bo knew he had to leave the next morning and get more water. There was only a cupful remaining.
Bo looked to the night sky. The stars were so bright he could have read a novel by them. It was then that he felt overwhelmed by the tragedy of what had transpired against the beauty of the night sky. Raising his head to the heavens he asked, “Lord, how can it be that when I look upward, I see beauty and when I look downward I see misery. You know I ain’t nothing, but this here man dyin’ is somethin’ that this country needs. I promise you this Lord, if you let this good man live, I’ll be happy and I’ll even shake your hand after I’m hung.”
Morning found Bo sleeping with his arm tucked under his head like a pillow. He lay there snoring until a voice woke him.
“Hey, bank robber Bo! We got any bacon still stashed in my saddle bags?”
Bo jumped up grinning wildly. “Well tan my hide, he did it!”
“Did what, who did it? Dusty weakly asked.”
“While you was dyin’ I prayed. I ain’t no man of God but I guess he understood my tellin’ him you was needed in this country to keep folks safe an’ all. Good men are hard to come by an need to be kept around.” Bo looked down at Dusty and smiled, “Now that you’re awake I can travel back to that creek we passed an’ refill our canteens. I used it all to slack your thirst during the last couple of days when you was delirious with fever.”
“What about your canteen, surely you have some water left, don’t you?”
Naw, I gave it all to you, you needed it more’n me.”
“Well, I know of one good man that God needs saving and his last name is Brooks!”
A week later, Dusty was able to sit in the saddle. His wounds were healing nicely and Bo continued to nurse him back to health. Dusty needed to resupply his food and return home to continue his convalescence. He told Bo that it was time they move on.
“Bo, we need to talk. There ain’t no way I can turn a man in to hang when it’s the wrong thing to do. I know I took an oath to uphold the Law but the Law don’t know what I know and the judge won’t give a damn either. Justice will be what that politician says it is. Right or wrong. I want you to do something. You ain’t wanted here in New Mexico. I got a good friend Ted Richards that moved to a town along the Rio Grande called Hillsboro, it’s up in Sierra County. You go on up there. Just tell him I sent you, he’ll take good care of you. When I’m better, I’ll ride over to your Moms place and explain where you’re at. If she wants to sell the place and join you there, I’ll help her do it. If not then at least she’ll know your safe and making an honest living for yourself here. It’s the best I can do, take it Bo, you’re a good man and good men are hard to come by!”
“What about you Dusty? What’ll you tell your captain? You’ll just get into trouble.”
“It’ll be some time before I’m back in the saddle for the Rangers. Maybe my leg will never be the same and I’ll have to call it quits anyway. Besides, I ain’t breaking any law letting you go. We aren’t in Texas and I really have no jurisdiction here anyway. When I do report back, I’ll explain what all happened here and it tell ‘em I decided that under the circumstances of being severely injured, I couldn’t bring you in. That ain’t no lie either. I’m so weak a five year old kid could kick my ass about now.”
The two saddled up and Bo moved his horse up against Dusty’s to say goodbye.
Pulling Dustys pistol from his pants, Bo handed it over to him.“Here, this belongs to you. If you ever get up to Hillsboro, be sure to stop and look me up. I can’t say I’m all broke up that I ain’t returning to Texas but I am wishin’ I didn’t have to say adios to you my friend. If there was ever a man I’d call my friend, it’s you.”
The two shook hands and no more words were spoken, none were needed. Bo turned his horse westward and rode to his new life.
Dusty knew they’d be crossing paths again, after all, Lisa was going into her sixth month now and he’d want to show off his baby to someone besides his Paw. “Heck,” He mused, “maybe they’ll be needing a Sheriff up that a way!”