The Western Union Company had just purchased the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company here in Missouri so when I saw my old friend Gus Geezer arrive at my home holding the bright yellow envelope I had no idea what it was. A&P never bothered with an envelope, in fact sometimes the messages were hand written on whatever writing material the operator had on hand. I once got a message written on someones past due coal bill for $2 demanding immediate payment. It made me wonder if they ever paid up.
Gus Geezer, our towns only telegraph courier shouted from the porch, same as he always did. “Hey Hauser, come an’ get it, ya got a telegram!”
I shouted through the closed front door hoping he’d hear me and not start banging away on the doors fragile glass. “Hold on Geez” I yelled, “let my get galluses on!”
At my age I ain’t got much of a butt no more so my darn trousers fall right to the floor without ‘em.
I finally got my galluses pulled over my shoulders and yanked my sticky door open with a jerk.
Geezer stood there laughing, “You need to get that door planed down a might Hauser, some humid day she won’t open at all but knowing you you’ll just use the winder!”
I told him to step inside as I adjusted my galluses two straps crisscrossing my back.
He watched me for a second and asked, “How come ya still call ‘em things galluses? Men folk today are calling ‘em suspenders.”
“Yup, I heard ‘em called that. After sixty some years of calling them galluses, I ain’t about to change now.”
Geezer reached out his right hand with the bright yellow envelope in it. His left hand was missing just below his elbow, a souvenir from the war twenty years back. We both participated in that war. On rainy days my ass bone still ached from a Northerners ball I took in my behind. Some men showed off their wounds same as a medal of honor but for obvious reasons I declined.
When I looked at the telegram I knew it wasn’t good. I mean, when have you ever gotten an official letter or telegram when it was good?
“Why is it in a envelope?” I asked.
“It’s how Western Union insist we do it here in Louisburg. You do know they took over the old A&P telegraph last month don’t ya?”
“Yeah, I heard, just didn’t pay it no mind.”
“You know Charlie Taylor the telegraph key operator?”
Well during the pre sale audit on A&P, Western Union found out Charlies nephew Jimmy who was one of the couriers back then was reading every telegraph sent. That fool Jimmy took it upon his self to decide whether or not they was worth the time and effort to deliver ‘em ands because A&P was still paying him for each one to be delivered, Western Union fired him on the spot. that’s how I ended up being the only courier left when Western Union took over .”
“You don’t say? ”
To Geezers disappointment instead of reading it right then and there I laid the unopened telegram on small black lacquered day stand against the wall next to the front door. Geezer was a trove of local information (gossip) in our town and it was clear where he got his information from. I preferred to hold onto what little privacy I had.
He turned and stepped back though the door and onto the porch saying, “Well, I guess then I’ll be heading back to town. It’s Friday and my niece Polly May, is making pressed duck and cheese pie tonight, My favorite.”
I held him up a second and took out my coin purse from my bib pocket. I found a dime. “Here, and thanks.”
Geezer left the porch whistling while tossing the dime up and down, happy as a kid.
Geez was the same age as myself. We grew up together in what was then called Round Prairie back in the 40’s. When it was changed to Louisburg we got a post office too. While I finished six years of schooling Geez only completed three. Normally, that would have been sufficient for any Missouri farmer back then. My problem was, my Mama was the school Mar’m even though she was married. It was out of necessity since there wasn’t another single female qualified to teach back then in Round Prairie. As I was about to start my seventh year, my Mama came down with what the Doctor called ‘a female’ disease. Mama had to retire and since I was the lone child it was up to me to take over her household duties. From her bed Mama taught me like the teacher she was on how to cook, sew, moderate the oven, darn Pa’s and my socks and dust the furniture off.
Geezer Stopped attending school a few years before me to help out on his family’s farm and it showed. He’d come to me with a new dime novel wanting me to read it to him. I gladly accepted the task as I too loved those novels.
After Geezer left, I ate supper by myself since I’ve been living alone for going on eight years now.
Martha, my beloved wife of over thirty years failed to regain her vitality after a severe bout of grip. We were childless but still had her sisters family to partake the holidays with. Martha was never what you’d call strong constitutionally. Every year she went through her rounds of influenza and colds. But, she was the joy of my life and I’d not change a day we had together. I buried her where I buried my Ma and Pa, at the top of the hill overlooking the house I was born and raised in.
Each Sunday after services I wander up there and lay flowers on her and Pa’s grave. When It’s winter I can’t make my way up that slippery snow covered slope no longer but I know they’d understand.
I near forgot to mention that ever since I was a young’un I’ve had me a dog. Sometimes two even. I still got one today. She’s a pup yet, only a year old but dang if she ain’t the smartest of any dog I’ve had. I swear, if I swore at all, that she understands the English language. Her name is Sweety Pie.
I know, I know that you’re going to tell me that’s a name no real man should be calling his dog. As far as Sweety is concerned, she don’t mind at all.
One time my neighbor heard me calling for my recently acquired dog from the front porch. Here I was shouting at the top of my lungs, “C’mon Sweety Pie, get on back home right now.”
Well he just happened to be riding his mule passed my place when he heard me hollering for my Sweety Pie to come home. I later found out he thought I’d gotten myself to heavily drinking and was calling for my poor passed on Martha to come back home!
All my past dogs are buried up on the hill too. I made small grave markers for each one with their name on it. Each one passed for one reason or another and left a hollow spot inside of me when they went. This dog I got now is so loyal and affectionate to me that I’m worried what’ll become of her when its time for me to pass. Well, I’ll not worry about it since she nearly never ask for food any way. She’s the best critter hunter I’ve ever seen. She’ll do just fine by herself.
As evening turned to night I made ready for bed, I checked each window. I don’t want no thieves creeping up on me while I’m in by night gown after they’ve crawled through a window. Unlike our Sheriff, I’d never live it down.
A few years back our Sheriff got night robbed. It was a sultry night and he had left his bedroom window open for some cooler air to please his wife. Seems she was going through the change that women go through as they cash in their youth.
Well, young Danny Munds, a rambunctious boy, took his bamboo fishing pole and as the Sheriff and his wife were soundly sleeping, Danny lifted the Sheriffs overalls right off the bedpost and out through the open window!
The problem was Danny was never the brightest of boys. He leaned the fishing pole against the house in order to rifle through the Sheriff’s trouser pockets. Finding over three dollars in them he then run off in his excitement completely forgetting about his pole he’d left behind. The next day was not a good one for Danny. We was in school when the Sheriff and Danny’s Pa showed up and called him to be outside. All us boys and girls in class was giggling something fierce as Danny’s Pa tanned his hide outside with his own fishing pole!
My Mama tried to regain order to her class but the more she scolded us the louder Danny’s yells got. Danny ended up working that entire summer at the tanners shop trying to pay back the Sheriff’s three dollars.
Anyway, back to my tale. I finished my rounds in the house and was satisfied all the windows and doors were bolted shut. As I pulled on the sticking front door I saw the telegram still lying on the day stand. I picked it up and headed to the bedroom.
I lit the bedside lantern and raised the wick a might in order to read it without my spectacles.
The better light informed me that is was sent from my Niece way over In the Arizona Territory. She and her husband Jeffery had moved there years ago to open a mercantile in a frontier town called Prescott. They enjoyed Prescott as the weather was of a better nature by far that the rest of Arizona. He wrote one time saying as he traveled through Arizona his skin dried up so bad that he became a human prune!
His mercantile did a brisk business originally selling to gold miners and cattle folks alike. Today however the towns folk make up most of his customers. It didn’t hurt none when his wife Esther began making and selling baked goods in the store.
As time went on, the two had children and their children had children. They were the biggest, happiest brood of kids and grand kids you’d ever come across.
Things went well until their son Jack and his wife Maryann were murdered in an Apache ambush. This left leaving their two kids to be raised by their grand parents Jeffery and Esther.
Killings on both sides back then persisted until three forts were built. One in Flagstaff one in Prescott and one near Payson. They weren’t at first large but after a number of bloody raids the Army increased the amount of soldiers in them and began forcing the tribes onto reservations. This decreased the raids and killings but some hot spots still remained.
When I saw who sent the telegram I feared maybe someone had passed on, but it was worse than that. It read.
Dear Clint STOP
Our two youngest grand kids are missing STOP
They have been taken STOP
Please respond as we are desperate and need your expertise STOP
I sat on the bed and wished the day could be started over. Now them two little ones sure ain’t mine but they are family and that is all that’s needed to be known.
If I am correct, they’d be about ages six or seven and the nine or ten by now. The boy is the oldest.
Now it may seem strange that she’d be sending me that message rather than a nearby Sheriff, Marshal or even her husband but if you knew me better you’d see the wisdom in her actions.
Saying that, I should probably tell you a bit more about myself. I think afterwards you’ll agree she did the right thing.
As a young child my Pa insisted that every summer I go with him into the deep woods of Missouri and beyond. There he taught me every skill I needed not only to be self sufficient but self preserving. By that I mean when needed I could become a top of the food chain predator.
After six summers I had become so skilled from my Pa’s teachings that I decided I had no need for a firearm nor anyone to accompany me on my summer adventures .
I could out track the best mountain man. I began to be called the ‘White Ghost’ by all the seven tribes residing in my part of the country. The Chickasaw tribe. The Illini tribe, the Ioway tribe, the Missouria tribe, the Osage tribe, the Otoe tribe, the Quapaw tribe, they all said I was part spirit or a living ghost. I let them believe that for it sometimes came in handy. After I married Martha I no longer fulfilled the role of the White Ghost. Law came to our town as it grew and changed its name. The White Ghost vigilante wasn’t in such need anymore. After my absence was noted, the Tribes spread the word that the White Ghost had returned to the spirit world where he now sits enjoying the company of the Grandfathers. In reality I took the job of Sheriff with no one being the wiser of my former role as the White Ghost.
Besides all these life skills my Pa instilled in me the belief in right and wrong, to protect the weaker sex, the elderly, the child. As I said earlier we were also believers in the God of the Bible and I hoped that the Lord would see my works as being needed.
Still, I was fast with my gun and I took lives. Most folk would say they deserved it or that I was just protecting the innocent. To me though, each one I killed I couldn’t shake the thought that at one time this brutal person was a child, had a mama or brothers and sisters to play games with. They had birthdays, scraped knees, laughed and cried. Someone like me was needed but it never got any easier.
Before dawn I had my possibles packed on my pack horse and after closing and locking all the shutters I mounted my best horse and rode off with Sweety Pie following behind me to my neighbor Fred’s home, about a mile North of my place.
Fred came out when he heard my horses. I greeted him and explained that I needed to be gone for a while and would he look after my place.
“You can gather up my chickens and get their eggs or eat them for dinner. Whatever you want. If you need any money for the house er whatever I put twenty five dollars in one of the kitchen drawers under a towel. In fact, just keep the money for looking after my place. If I’m not back in a couple months use the two horses I left behind or sell them and use the money as you see fit. I left the horses papers with the money in the drawer.”
After I said goodbye to Fred and to Mary Jane his wife, I rode off heading west toward Kansas. I could have headed more directly to the Arizona Territory but that would mean traveling alone through Indian Territory alone.
I passed through Kansas and continued my journey bypassing the Indian Territory without incident. I spent a few days cutting across the south east corner of Colorado into the territory of New Mexico.
I had to be on higher alert here as there was no law yet in that territory. I crossed some barren land there. It was hot and smelled of desert dust.
I changed course to the south west hoping to find the small town called Albuquerque located on an old Indian trail.
The towns I mostly passed through (if you want to call them that) were nothing more than a few adobe huts with either Mexicans or Indians living in them. There were no stores to replenish my possibles but that was of no concern for me.
I think Sweety Pie enjoyed the change in diet as she found what folks called road runners plentiful and good eating. I tried one and decided it was a desert chicken to be eaten only as a very last resort. I shot and killed two mountain lions along the way. Now that was some tasty but somewhat chewy meat so I put together a smoker tee pee and cured about five pounds of jerky from each. I had plenty of grub.
After eight weeks of travel I finally made my way into the Arizona territory. There were a couple of times I had to hole up as Indians or road agents made their way passed me. I was glad I had all that jerky for sure.
I changed course to the west now. I passed some blighted area’s not fit for human living. Even the trees were made of stone!
I didn’t see but one other person on that road and he was dead and dried up like a raisin. His canteen was open and and dry, not a good way to die.
As I made my way west I noticed the nights were getting cooler then I saw the first trees I’d seen in weeks. At first they were no taller than my head but as I continued on they got some height to them. By the time I reached the town of Flagstaff the trees had changed to tall mighty pine trees. Flagstaff had a store I could resupply at and get directions to Prescott.
Flagstaff existed from the cutting down of those mighty pines. I saw a number of sawmills along the way.
Huge wagons, some being pulled by as many as twelve mules hauled great loads of these trees to the many sawmills. I was told if I wanted to get my way over to Prescott, just find a wagon load of cut lumber heading there and follow it. I did.
I passed a number of small towns on my way but nothing like Prescott. I’m told this will be the Capital once the territory becomes a State in the Union. It sure surprised me at how populated it was.
I could see why my niece and her husband decided to call this town home. Near the center was a giant granite tree trunk looking mountain surrounded by wonderful shade trees and pines. The town was built on a slight hill so from one end you could see the entire town.
I headed for the livery stable to see about keeping my horses overnight or until I can locate my in-laws. Sweety Pie stayed at the stable with the horses. She was used to being a guard dog protecting my possibles and such.
I asked the stable boy gathering hay and some oats for my horses if he knew where a mercantile run by Jeffery and Esther Parker.
He told me the store was halfway up the hill I had just come down by. I wondered how I missed it.
So I trudged uphill looking for their store and nearly passed it by again. It was the sign that fooled me. Instead of some old hand painted faded sign saying ‘Mercantile’ the name Groceries and Cafe’ made of large copper letters beautifully displayed across the building’s facade. I was impressed, it was no wonder I missed it.
Stepping into a hexagon shaped ceramic tiled foyer I opened the varnished heavy wood and glass door and stepped inside.
The air was refreshingly cool and smelled unlike any mercantile I’d ever been in. A multitude of smells were evident. A delicious aroma poured from the cafe into the mercantile portion of the store. The baked goods on display in a glass enclosed wood framed case added their aroma to the cafe’s. Even the mercantile’s dry goods emitted a clean crisp smell. Dang, I could have stood there all day just sniffing all the great smells. My in-laws sure had a great place going on.
“Clint? Is that you Clint?”
A woman’s voice in a nearby isle questioningly called out. I glanced up to find Esther rushing my way.
“Oh Clint! Thank God you’ve come. Please come with me to our office, Jeffery is just about to lose his mind with worry.”
I trailed behind her as she led me to a small office in the rear of the store. She continued talking but mentioned nothing of why I was there. She said the business was doing fine etc, etc just to make small talk in case folks got nosy. Apparently she didn’t want another soul to know what had happened to her grand children. I just kept my mouth shut.
Once inside she closed the door and lost control. Weeping deeply she fell to her knees and muffled her crying in the crook of her arm. I bent down and patted her shoulder.
“Esther, get up and tell me everything that’s happened before and since you sent the telegram.”
“Let me get Jeffery, he’s out back unloading supplies that came in from Tuscon. He’s about ready to give up hope.”
Esther opened the rear door of the office and called out for Jeffery to come to the office. Meanwhile as I waited I saw how badly her hands were shaking. Whatever was going on was serious.
The same rear door opened and Jeffery stepped through it. Seeing me he stopped in his tracks. It was nearly the exact same greeting as Esther had given me, “Clint! You came, thank God!”
“Hello Jeffery, I got here just as soon as I could. Unfortunately there are no trains or direct stage routes from Missouri to here.”
I begged the two to sit down next to where I had just plunked myself down and tell me what happened to the kids. Esther looked over at Jeffery and gave him a slight nod.
“First off Clint, we know who has the kids we just don’t know where they are being kept at.”
“What? You know who took them?”
“Yes, Miles James is his name. He runs a gun running organization supplying guns to the renegade Chiricahua Apache up in the New Mexico Territory. The Chiricahua don’t want their stomping grounds to become a State in the Union and are terrorizing homesteaders and ranchers in hopes Washington finds the Territory to violent to become a State. Now James could care less who he sells guns to or where he gets them. He’s interested only in money.”
I sat there rubbing my chin and asked “So how does his gun running fit in with you all?”
“About ten years ago we were given the license to act as the sole arms agent to the Calvary located in the western territorial forts. This meant the orders from the Forts come to us and we fill those orders by purchasing the arms using drafts from the Federal Treasury. When they are ready to ship from the national armory they are shipped to us in volume where we break them down and deliver to each Fort the requisitioned amount.”
“I think I’m getting the picture here. Are you being forced to give James the arms in return for your grand kids safety?”
“That’s pretty much the picture except James has never said when or if they would ever be released. We’re terrified when they are no longer needed that they will be killed.”
I hated to say what needed to be said but I had to. “Did you ever ask for proof of their still being alive?”
Jeffery looked a bit sheepish and quietly admitted, “No, we just did what he told us to do. He did threaten to harm them if we went to the law. I guess by him threatening to harm them we just assumed they were still alive.”
“You do realize that since you never asked for proof of them still being alive that he may have already disposed of them.”
Jeffery hung his head while Esther once again began to weep.
I felt bad for them but they needed to face the truth. “I need you to tell me all about this Miles James fella. If I’m to do a rescue attempt I need information, don’t hold back anything, even if it sounds stupid, alright?”
For the next hour they gave me the low down on what they knew of him, it was plenty as they had been dealing with him for years before he got into gun running.
When they had exhausted all they knew, the two of them just sat there not saying a word.
I figured once James got his guns the kids would either be released or killed. I didn’t know this James fella so I kept some hope alive for them.
I turned to Jeffery and asked, “Did you get the guns from them yet?”
“No, but they are on their way. The National Armory said the arms would arrive by the end of this month.”
Do you know how they want the to be delivered yet?”
“No, not yet. I was told once they can verify I got the arms they’d let me know how to deliver them.”
“I know this is hard on you, but I’m telling you for those kids sake, do not go through with it. Stall as long as you can. Any delay will be to my advantage.”
Jeffery’s face lit up, “I know the wagons are going to stop over in Lordsburg for maintenance and fresh mule teams. I can get a wire to them there. I’ll say the recent rains cut a bunch of new arroyo’s across the road here outside of Prescott so they should hold off a week or so until we repair the damage. I’ll tell them when the roads about to be opened up again. Will that work?”
I’d heard most all I needed to know for now so I slowly and with more pain than I like to admit stood up and told them, “Listen, I’m getting on in age here, I need to get a couple nights sleep to recover from my rushing here. I also need to get my horses rested and grained up again before I head out. I’ve been traveling near non stop and I’m worn out. My horses need new shoes and I gotta get loaded up on staples and other items before heading out.”
“Esther lifted her tear stained face and said, “We will supply from our store here anything you need in the way of money, food, guns or ammunition, anything. Just ask for it and we’ll supply it.”
“I need a replacement pack animal. A mule. I need some miners tools like picks and shovels to hang from the mule pack. I’ll also need rope, a few canisters of black powder, hammer and nails, anything a real prospector would carry in his packs. That way if I’m questioned my packs will back my story that I’m a prospector. Since I believe James has a hideout somewhere in the Bradshaw mountains. It would be unusual to see prospectors wandering around in gold country if he sees me.”
Jeffery said in earnest, “We have all the prospecting and mining supplies you’ll need.”
“When mining gold was in its heyday, we were the biggest and most complete suppliers within fifty miles.”
“One last thing, Is this his only order or did he mention any future orders coming.”
“To my knowledge it’s just this one. But you need to know, this order would fill all three forts with new repeater rifles. I purchased one hundred and fifty 56/56 Spencer rimfire repeating rifles.”
Three days later I was set to leave my sisters home. The night before I left I had everything accounted for and much of it packed into separate canvas covered packages. All I needed was an hour to actually load the mule and pack horse up in the morning. My pack horse was going to carry extra large saddle bags, three bedrolls (two for the kids), plenty of food, guns and ammunition. Normally I wouldn’t require all this but if and when I rescue the kids, I’ll need to feed them and make sure they can sleep without freezing at night.
At 4am I said my goodbye’s to my in-laws and headed south from their place with Sweety Pie trailing some distance behind. I’d trained her to keep an eye out on my near back trail just in case someone had been waiting for me to pass by before trailing me.
The Bradshaw’s foot hills began only about twenty miles out of town but I knew the gold mines were much further into the mountain range. I may be wandering around for weeks until I uncovered the gangs hide out. Years ago Miles James had told Jeffery, when they were friends of sorts, that he had a miners cabin in the Bradshaw gold fields so that’s what I was hunting for.
My disguise as a lone gold prospector would let me travel around the mountains without causing Miles James too much concern. I figured if I came close to his cabin, he’d just hide the kids away inside until I was gone, that is if they were still alive.
I had decided a few days back to allow my beard grow out. No self respecting gold prospector would bother shaving or even bathing so I decided to do the same.
Before you get to the foothills you overlook a huge beautiful grassy valley. The mountains beyond the valley have a dark look to them. This is because unlike most of the western mountains I’ve seen these were not typical bare earth and stone ones. These had trees covering them and that gave the mountains a dark look.
I headed down into the valley hoping whoever might be in the mountains would not notice me as I made my way across the valley into the foot hills.
I had made sure that every tool, pack and even blankets were used looking or worn. If everything had a clean new look my disguise could be blown. Still, I worried about how my animals looked. I didn’t have the heart to cut their feed in order to get some bones showing.
By the time I had reached the center of the valley I was convinced that this valley could be a farmer or ranchers paradise. The lush grassy bottom stretched out in every direction for miles.
I eventually came upon a narrow creek and dismounted to lead my animals to the clear cold water. Sweety Pie eventually caught up to us and began lapping her share of the creeks crystal water.
Back in town I was told folks just called the area I was at as the Prescott Valley. It made sense to me since there wasn’t another real town anywhere near it.
I decided when I got through with this adventure that I was going to take a look at the land records and see if any of this valley was still unclaimed and for sale. I began to day dream about having a small cabin in the treeline overlooking the valley floor. Unlike many very tall mountains with a tree line starting and ending due to the mountains altitude these less heightened mountains tree line started almost immediately from the valley floor and went clear to the mountain’s peaks. Every day I was aware my time here on this terrestrial ball was drawing shorter with each day and no longer did I relish living on an active farm or ranch. All I wanted was a peaceful place to waste the last of my years at and this valley looked to fit the bill.
I reached the tree line at dusk and decided I wanted a fire. This meant I needed to head a might uphill into the woods. I hoped to find a level spot to make camp at.
About a hundred or so yards in (it’s hard to figure since it was going slightly uphill) I found a ledge much bigger than I needed. A deep layer of pine needles covered the forest floor and as yet there were few stones poking through them.
I hobbled my horse and mule then gathered enough wood to keep a fire going through the night. I wasn’t worried about being seen anymore as any real prospector would not have that concern either.
I laid into my bedroll with Sweety laying at my feet facing outward. She’d let me know if anyone was approaching my camp by silently pawing at me. My horse was useless as the forest was pitch black. If we were out in the open and with a touch of starlight, I could tell by the direction her ears were pointing as to whether or not she had heard something. As black as it was in the woods I couldn’t see diddly.
Around 10pm Sweety silently approached my bedroll where I was sleeping and punched me in the back with her paw.
I was instantly brought to a full state of alertness. My campfire was still producing enough heat to keep away the night chill but at the same time its light acted as a beacon. I had been sleeping with my Colt laying next to me so I eased my hand over the pistols grip and cocked the hammer back.
From the hill above me rather than the expected below, a voice broke the silence of the night.“Hello the camp! Anybody awake? I’m friendly.”
“Are you alone? If so c’mon in but keep your hands in sight.” I called back.
“Sure am, I’m camped up near the top but I couldn’t help but smell your cooking. I woulda’ been down earlier when it was still light in order to say howdy but had to wait until a group of men passed me by. I feared they was going to settle down for the night right near me but after a couple hours they up and moved on.”
“Where they miners?” I asked.
“Didn’t strike me as such, they looked more like hard cases. All of ‘em was on horses, not a mule among ‘em.”
I noticed the old man had dragged his small donkey with him and its packs were still on it. He looked harmless so I invited him in and put the coffee pot back onto the fire.
Sweety moved herself between the two of us. Giving him the watchful eye.
“Nice dog, looks like she knows how to guard ya good!”
“You mentioned you smelled food, you hungry? I got left overs I can heat up if you are.”
“If ya don’t mind, I’m down to jerky an’ water.”
“If you got a cup the coffee will be hot in a minute, help yourself.”
The old man made his way to where the donkey patently stood waiting. He pulled out a blue speckled tin cup from one of his packs and scooted eagerly over to the coffee pot. “Names Barney if ya need to know.”
At first sip his eyes popped wide open exclaiming, “My gawd, that’s the best coffee ever to pass my lips!”
“Yeah, its called Arbuckles. Not to be nosy but how long have you been in the mountains here?”
“I been prospecting the Bradshaw’s near seven years now. From time to time I get to town to load up on supplies. I got a cabin not few miles from here but last year I found some good nuggets in this area so I ain’t been back there since. Like I said, I got a proper camp up on the top here. Last winter I cut into the mountain a couple yards in to keep the snow and rain from me.”
At that point I decided he truly was a prospector. “Say,” I asked, “You haven’t seen any kids around the mountains have you?”
“Young’uns? Naw, but that don’t mean much since I can only vouch for the area around here. Maybe west where there’s more mines being worked but none here that I know of. Why’s that?”
“My in-laws kids is missing. They think they was took. Since I’m prospecting I promised them I’d keep an eye open for them. They think the kidnapper had headed into the Bradshaw’s”
“Well I wish ya luck. Maybe they was took by them Indians that was causin’ trouble here a ways back.”
I didn’t want to go into any more detail to a stranger so I responded like he might be right. “Yup, sure coulda’ been took by ‘em for sure. Names Hauser, Clint Hauser from Missouri”
We both yawned and made ready to bed down when he suddenly said, “You know maybe them hard cases done took ‘em. They’s horses was loaded with supplies like they was campin’ out not mining. You might wanna check out my cabin, wouldn’t hurt none. I suppose they was headed in that general direction.”
“Thanks, I might do that. Is your cabin on the way west of here?”
“Kinda, I’ll give you the way to it come first light where I can draw a decent map for ya. Goodnight.”
Within a minute the old man lay snoring. Sweety covered her ears with her paws and fell asleep.
The two of us awoke before first light, made a hot meal and after a good breakfast parted ways. He wished me well after handing me a pretty detailed map to his cabin and in return I left him with a couple pounds of Arbuckles coffee and a slab of bacon. At the same time I took some items from the pack that could be useful if I ran into trouble. I unrolled a burlap sack and put in all the goodies I might be needing in rescuing the kids inside it.
Before heading to where he said his cabin was I moved the mule and my horse back down a hundred feet from the campsite and back down to the edge of the tree line. There was plenty of grass and a small creek near where we entered the tree line so I left them there. Sweety Pie came with me since she’d be the first to alert me of any unseen trouble. I hated leaving my animals behind but the noise their hoofs would make would defeat my ability to stay silent, besides, my horse was used to staying put when I needed her to.
I began by making my way deeper up into the mountains towards the direction the old man spoke of. He said his cabin was about three miles South west of where we were camped and about three quarters the way up the mountain.
I soon found a game trail and followed it until it veered back down heading into the valley. There was little brush blocking my way since the tall ponderosa pines prevented much direct light to hit the ground. Traveling through the woods was pretty easy until I started making my way uphill.
As I reached the halfway point up the mountain large rock formations and ledges forced me to zig zag around them. It took nearly an hour to gain the next few hundred feet upward. I headed directly west since I figured I was over halfway up the mountain. There I found a ledge, somewhat like rimrock and used it to walk westward. That ledge lasted nearly a half mile before it petered out. I knew I had better start looking for the cabin since I had no idea how accurate the old mans directions were and I didn’t want to walk up on it unexpectedly. My mind kept going back to the hard cases the old man said he saw.
I slowed my pace and stopped every one hundred or so steps to listen. I made my way what I thought might be another mile when I smelled smoke. I made the decision to stop right there. Wherever the smoke was coming from wasn’t too far away and that meant people were also close by.
I made a cold camp right there even though it wasn’t quite dusk yet. I needed good light to view the cabin and its surroundings to determine what I’d be walking into. Better to be safe than sorry.
A cold camp meant no fire which meant no hot meal and no coffee. Jerky and water would have to do.
Around midnight I began hearing noises coming directly from the west. They sounded so close that I feared I’d made my camp too close the cabin. Sweety Pie quietly huffed letting me know she’d also been hearing the sounds.
At first it was just random sounds, like the sound of a chair moving or the noise made by moving furniture about. As I continued to listen I realized it was the sound made when bringing wood inside from an outdoor wood pile and being stacked indoors.
Sweety Pie rose, looked at me and huffed once then slipped off deeper into the woods.
Suddenly I heard voices… and they were close.
I could have kicked myself for not paying better attention to my surroundings. While I was concentrating on the strange sounds at least two men now stood not six feet in front of me taking a piss but fortunately they were facing away from me. If it weren’t for the thick brush between us I probably still would have been seen. I stood stock still knowing any movement would catch their eye.
The two men continued their conversation, unaware that I was listening to them.
A skinny near toothless fella looked at his partner saying, “I think Miles done made a big mistake in taken them two kids, know what I mean?”
The other responded agreeably, “Fer sure he did but it’s too late to think about it now. He swore that the fella he took ‘em from would be too afraid to go to the law now I’m not too sure.”
“Yup. One thing I know is that you go killin’ a woman or stealin’ a kid it don’t stay quiet fer long. Folks get mighty upset about things like that, know what I mean?”
“What choice we got now? Miles would just as soon blow us all to hell if he even thought we might skedaddle on out’a here. I know if’n we is caught, it’s hangin’ time fer us.”
“I wish we’d newer crossed paths with’m, know what I mean?”
“Sure do, I just hope he was pullin’ our legs when he told Turk he was goin’ to kill them kids off after he shipped of all those rifles to the Indians.”
“He what? I didn’t hear him say that! That would be the difference between spendin’ some years in prison and for sure gettin’ hung, know what I mean?”
My hair stood on my head hearing that. I already figured that their chances of surviving this were fifty fifty but now it just dimmed to near zero.
The two finished up and spent some moments buttoning up their drawers. They wandered on back to the cabin no longer talking. A moment later Sweety returned.
I knew I had to do something and felt time was running out.
I backed off and returned to the cold camp. I was way too close to the cabin for a cook fire, no matter how small. Any smell of smoke would be like clanging two cook pots together.
I lay down and slept, but fitfully. By 4am I couldn’t lie there anymore. I got up, grabbed some more jerky and checked my guns. Sweety Pie knew today was the day and didn’t head out to hunt for breakfast. She knew a full stomach could slow her down.
We made our way back once again to the brush by the cabin. I still had no real plan yet but I had brought along the sack of assorted things that might come in handy in my rescue attempt.
It was the first time I could view the cabin in full daylight. I saw the cabin was surround by ancient forest Ponderosa pines that towered up to one hundred feet in height. Some of their trunks were three feet in diameter at ground level and the lower to middle limbs were as thick as my arm and extended outward a good fifteen feet from the trunk. I’d never seen pines this big.
I noticed that one of these trees leaned somewhat over the cabin, probably in search of sunlight or from the wind. This gave me an idea.
From where I hid facing the cabin the single door was on the left side. A lone window was on the right side, both openings were facing away from where I hid.
My rescue plan was simple, I’d wait until dark when everyone was asleep then I’d kick the door in and start shooting. My biggest concern was I doubted they’d leave a lit lamp burning for this to work. Thinking more about it I saw this plan as a good way to get myself shot or I’d end up shooting the kids in the dark. So I scrubbed it.
I waited in the heavy brush thinking of any way I could create a diversion for me to be able to get inside the cabin and rescue the kids without me or the kids getting injured. None came to mind.
Noon time came and went along with nearly half my jerky. The only activity I noticed was when the call of nature had to be dealt with. I was getting a might stiff crouched behind the brush I was hiding in.
As the sun slid westward I saw the cabins black metal chimney belch out a cloud of white smoke. I figured the stove was being lit inside the cabin to cook dinner.
Before long I could smell meat cooking, my stomach grumbled. In my state I swear I smelled a pot roast being cooked of antelope,wild onions, carrots potatoes and biscuits. Damn them!
I had counted seven hard cases besides Miles when they left the cabin during the day to relieve themselves. I’d wished they’d all head out at one time so I could run in and rescue the kids but that seemed to be a pipe dream. I could plug the chimney smoking the group out but then what would the kids do?
As I hid pondering all this the door suddenly opened and out stepped four of the men. In their hands they were carrying the dirty plates from dinner.
The group headed towards the stream a hundred yards east at a leisurely pace looking to wash up their plates and smoke some cigarettes. Another man appeared moments later carrying the big cast iron pot the dinner stew had been cooked in. He awkwardly carried it following the other four down to the river
From inside I heard what must have been Miles telling someone the horses should be moved to fresh grass and have their hobbles put back on after the move. A minute later two men stepped from the cabin with Miles trailing behind them, “You two move and check the other horses while I care for mine. Last time one of you idiots put my horse in an area with too little grass. I’ll take care of my own horse from now on, you two see to all the others.”
This meant the kids inside the cabin were now alone. Probably tied up.
Sweety silently followed behind the men and stopped after about fifty yards hiding in the brush. She’d wait there until she noticed the men returning, then let me know.
I knew It was now or never.
Miles was the last to disappear into the deepening gloom of the woods as he headed towards his horse by the stream.
Loosening the strap on my pistols hammer I headed quickly to the cabin. In my left hand was my knife. Miles had left the door ajar so there was no need to make noise by kicking the door in.
I flung the door open and rushed inside with my pistol ready to fire in case I had miscounted the number of men in the group, I hadn’t.
I quickly saw the two kids bound with thin rope lying together on the lone bed. I quickly stepped over a number of smelly bedrolls on the floor that belonged to the rest of the men. It seemed only Miles was using the bed and everyone else slept on the floor, including the kids.
Not knowing who I was the kids started bawling thinking this gun and knife wielding man meant to kill them.
“Hush kids, I’m here to rescue you. I ain’t gonna’ hurt you none. Your Grandparents sent me.”
The kids bawling turned to wet sniffles as I cut the ropes tying them up. I grabbed the youngest, the girl and rushed her outside with the boy following close behind.
I ran them towards the woods where I had been hiding nearby. My intention was to return to my camp in the lower tree line and then head back to Prescott.
We had just neared reached the woods when I saw Sweety running down the trail towards the cabin letting me know someone was coming. It was then I too heard some of the men making their way back to the cabin. “Damn!” I cursed. Looking around for a good spot to hide us all I realized we’d be sitting ducks in the brush in less than a minute when they discovered the kids were missing. I couldn’t risk firing on the returning men as I was sure the kids would be caught up in the gunfire killing them. “Damn, damn, damn it!” I saw no way of escape without gunfire.
It was then I saw what might be a way out. I grabbed the girl and headed towards the big pine tree closest to us. It was the one bending its way over the cabin.
“Here girl, climb as fast and high as you can, you too boy. I’ll be right behind you. When I tell you too, stop your climbing and hug the trunk staying dead still, understand? We’re going to hide up in the tree!”
The two nodded and began quickly climbing up the pine’s thick limbs. I silently thanked God that kids are natural born tree climbers. I followed up behind them as quick as my old bones would let me… which was a lot slower than the kids.
We had reached nearly fifty feet up the tree or about halfway up when I told the kids to stop. They instantly stopped climbing and hugged the trunk like I told them to.
Once I got even with the kids I motioned for them to sit down close to where the branches met the trunk and stay silent. These kids had already figured out what I wanted, they were pretty smart, must run in the family.
The group of five men had evidently finished cleaning up their plates and pot sooner than I thought they would and were heading back. Just as I reached the kids the first man rounded the cabin. Seeing the door wide open he dropped his tin plate and ran to the open door. He immediately yelled for the others to come quick. “Git over here,they’s gone!”
Shouting was heard after they entered the empty cabin and saw the kids had escaped. I heard one of them yell, “Go on back and find an’ git Miles, those damn kids done went an escaped!”
I stood one limb lower than the kids which put my eyes about level with their knees. I put my finger to my lips, reminding them to remain silent.
Meanwhile Miles was eventually found and arrived hot as a potato. Yelling at the men he sent them in pairs out into the woods. Each man kept his eyes peeled onto the ground looking for footprints. The problem for them was, once we made it to the trees our footprints disappeared on the pine needle covered ground.
I could hear the men making their way through the woods in different directions searching for the kids. After a two hour search they began returning to the cabin empty handed.
By now dusk was deeply settling in. I had hoped the three of us could leave the tree when it got dark enough but to my disappointment I heard Miles telling the men. “I want two of you to stand guard outside the cabin tonight. I believe the kids will get scared being out alone in the woods and return here. When they do grab ‘em. I want Billy and Jack to stand first watch, all you others can decide who stands next between ya”.
I was mighty disappointed but more than that I began fearing the kids might fall asleep and get killed falling out of the tree.
It was then that I realized that when in my rush to free the kids I had cut the ropes closest only to one hand, leaving a two foot length dangling from the other hand.
I silently signaled them to let me tie the two foot piece to the limb they were sitting on. It wasn’t the greatest safety line but if they did somehow fall I could use the tied rope to haul them back onto the limb.
Using the rope to tie them safely to the tree gave me an idea. I looked below and saw the cabins smoke stack was almost directly under my limb. The bend to the tree had allowed my limb to lean about six feet plumb of the stack. If I crawled out another six or seven feet out from the trunk on the limb I should be directly over the smoking stack. I untied my pack and withdrew the thin rope I had placed in it earlier. I then removed the canister of blasting powder and fuse I had originally hoped to use only as a diversion. I unwound a few feet of the rope and wrapped it securely around the can. I tied it off so the rope couldn’t slip loose from the canister.
I poked a hole in the canister’s top with my knife and inserted the two foot length of cannon fuse into the hole.
My idea was to see if I could lower the blasting powder down and inside the stoves flue pipe.
When I finished securing the fuse to the side of the can I began crawling out towards the thick limbs end. Even though the limb at a distance was still thick as my arm I feared the limb would break and I’d fall to my death but what other choice did I have?
I crawled as gently as was possible wrapping my legs around the limb to allow me to remain on the topside of the limb. If I slipped to the underside I’d surly fall to my death.
Amazingly, I made it out to where when looking down, I was directly above the stack.
I began lowering the canister of blasting powder downward towards the stack when
suddenly one of the men stepped out from around the corner of the cabin. I froze with the can still ten feet above the roof.
I was sure he’d glance upward and even in the dim light would see the canister dangling above the smoking stack on a rope. All would be lost if he did.
To my relief, he kept looking outward into the forest of pine trees. After he scanned that section of forest he turned and walked to the cabins rear wall. In doing so he could no longer see the canister above.
The can finally reached the stack and ever so lightly bumped into it. I had to be careful. Any noise could alert the group to my plot. The can was about four inches in diameter while the chimney was about eight inches in diameter. It would be an easy fit and should not plug the chimney like a rag would.
I began lowering the canister down into the stack. I wanted the canister to make it all the way down into the cast iron cook stove before the fire inside lit the fuse.
All was going well when suddenly the cabin door opened and Miles stepped out onto the small porch.
The man that just moments ago had made his way to the cabins rear wall must have heard him step out and made his way back around the corner and over to his boss.
Miles nodded, acknowledge the man’s presence and asked him, “ See anything yet?”
“Naw, I’m thinking those kids must have hunkered down for the night under a tree or something. They have no idea where any town is at so it’s likely we’ll find ‘em come morning.”
“I agree. Well, keep a vigilant eye out never the less.”
I began to think the heat from the stoves cook fire might just be hot enough even this far up the stack that it might just ignite the fuse too early. If it blew now about the only thing that would happen is the stack would be blown apart. I doubted anyone would be seriously hurt enough (other than maybe broken ear drums) to allow us to escape.
I had no choice. I had to risk the two men out front would hear my can make its way down the stack.
I continued to lower the home made bomb when it stopped dead. Either the flue had a damper in it to help regulate the stoves temperature or the can had made it to the inside of the stove.
Knowing the can could go no further, I began to quickly and as quiet as I could, make my way back to the trunk. I still had my legs wrapped tightly around the limb when I looked up at the kids and mouthed a warning to hold on tight.
With no warning the canister exploded deep inside the stove. The stack and parts of the roof directly above the stove exploded skyward missing me and the kids by a foot or two. As for the rest of the cabin all four log walls exploded outward in a million splinters followed by shards of broken cast iron.
The men inside had no warning. They died in mid sentence only to be finish their sentence in hell.
As for the man talking to Miles, the exploding door cut him in half and blew both sections of him out into the yard.
Miles fate was a longer lasting death.
I cut the kids free and told them to head down. I had to repeat it twice as both of their ears were ringing too loud to hear me. I ended up pointing down and they got the idea.
By being below them I made it down first.
I ran over to where Miles lay moaning with legs his visibly jerking and shaking.
Sweety Pie and I made our way over to him from opposite directions at the same time. While I looked down at the man who’d cause all the problems Sweety Pie lifted her leg like a boy dog does and emptied her bladder on the man. Good dog!
Miles was in no shape to talk. A large splinter from what looked like was part of the door frame and as thick as a big man’s arm had passed nearly all the way through his gut. With a look of utter fear he began moving his lips but nothing came out except a thick gush of blood. A few rapid breaths later he expired.
I let the cabin burn. There was really not much I could do. The only bodies big enough to bury were Miles and the other man he was with. The rest were blown so fine nothing but a red mist in places was seen. I didn’t bury Miles nor his buddy.
The three of us made our way back to Prescott on my horse and mule that were still hobbled in the tree line. Before leaving the gangs hide out I unsaddled the gangs mounts and set them free. I’m sure some miners will find and claim them in the coming weeks. All their saddle bags and personal belongings had been inside the cabin when it blew.
As for Miles horse I brought her with us and tide her behind the kids mule as she was a beauty. I preferred horses over mules so I’ll make a gift of the mule to Esther and Jeffery to do with the beast as they wish. I figured even a small farm like they had could use a mule now and then. Maybe they could use it to haul a wagon back and forth from the house to their mercantile in town.
After the kids were reunited at their home with their grandparents and all congratulations were over with, I led the animals down to the barn where I gave them all a good helping of grain and give ‘em all a good brushing down. I sure liked my new horse, she was a beauty.
Back at home, the two kids were immediately put in a tub of hot soapy water and were busy scrubbing the weeks of dirt and stench from their kidnapping off of them.
“We don’t know how to thank you Clint, we’ll forever be in your debt.”
“I’m not much for sappy goodbyes so I’ll ask a from you favor instead.”
“Sure, anything!” the both replied in unison.
“On my way south I came across that valley folks are calling Prescott’s valley. I sure would like to enjoy my twilight years in a nice cabin up in the treeline where it meets the valley floor. You think you could take me to the land office tomorrow morning? I’d like to see if any of that mountain is still available for purchase.”
Well, there was a nice plot available. It consisted of three hundred and sixty acres divided between valley floor, the tree line and up into the Bradshaw’s but not near any mines. I didn’t need the sound of blasting or miners being shot at keeping me from a restful rocking on my cabin’s porch. Living this close to Prescott sure would be a great way to get to know my in-laws and their grandkids better. (Plus I’m hoping I might just get a discount at the mercantile for being a relative and saving the kids and all).
You remember Barney? He’s the old prospector who’s cabin I blew up all to hell? Well, being as we’re both old folks just wanting to be left alone, we struck up a great friendship. I asked if he’d like to rebuild a cabin closer to mine so’s we could spin yarns without a day long trek to do so. He agreed and is now my neighbor. He cheats at checkers and farts a lot but his cabin is far enough away that I don’t hear his snoring. Although Sweety Pie with her better hearing than me might disagree.
As for my place in Missouri? I sold it to my neighbor Fred dirt cheap. I gave him everything inside and outside, including any animals I had left behind. His son Everett wants to farm the forty acres that I never had a hankering to do. I preferred holding a pistol in my hand and not a plow handle.
During our telegrams back and forth during the sale Fred wrote me that Geezer had been accosted by a group of three no good young folk. He never regained conciseness and passed away after a week of being bed ridden.
I grieved his passing but was a bit appeased when I heard later the three young no goods were killed by a man living alone out on the Kansas prairie in a small rundown sod house. In their zeal to rob him they did not recognize the man as William (Bill) Dalton, co-leader of the infamous Wild Bunch Gang and brother of the three member Dalton Gang.
None were able out draw the lone Dalton brother and were later displayed lying in their coffins in town.
As I’m writing this I can see Barney making his way down the path from his place to mine with his sack of checker pieces inside. I let him win enough times so he doesn’t give up and call it quits. As much as he gabs and farts, I enjoy his company. It amazes me how much more enjoyable my life is now than when I was busy. I only wish I’d found out this truth years ago but like they say, “Better late than never”.