Shoot out at Ganby Lake

First off, I have no real feelings good or bad about my Pa. I don’t remember him but only know what my Aunt, my Pa’s Sister Greta has told me much later in life in a letter. What she said about him wasn’t very good. I could hate him but how do you truly hate someone you never even knew? Maybe I could hate what he did but the man himself? No, not really.

She told me our entire family left Bainbridge Ohio in 1858 to settle along with hundreds of other brethren in Salt Lake City a town founded by Mormons a decade earlier. I’m told a man named Brigham Young, a Mormon leader, who after his Church leader Joseph Smith was murdered while in jail, gathered a group of followers together in Ohio and moved west to Utah to form a separatist society.

The only reason I bring this up is because you need to understand my Pa and his reason for leaving Ohio. It wasn’t about farming raising sheep or even the weather. I was always told he was a follower type of man. He didn’t have an original thought in his balding skull. The only reason he joined up with those Mormon brethren as he called ‘em, was because they each had more than one wife. Pa figured he could get one to wait on him while the other took to work keeping the household in money… not to mention he’d have two women warming his bed, or so he believed.

My Aunt Greta and her husband Joshua had ridden in the wagon ahead of my fathers for the entire 1,300 mile trip. Ours was the last wagon in line.

My father feared that if savage Indians attacked the wagon train that being positioned in the rear, he could turn around and escape when others couldn’t. He always was looking out for number one and damn the rest to their own fate.

My Aunt correctly painted my father as a follower, not a leader. She described him even as child growing up as a spineless, self absorbed spoiled brat, always ready to point the finger of wrong doing on others whether true or not. He only looked after his own welfare and left any child raising to my mother. He was not a good husband or father. If it weren’t for Ma I’d probably have followed in his footsteps or died early trying to rob a bank.  

My mother gave birth to me two years before my father announced we were joining others from the Temple in Northern Ohio and relocating to Utah.

At the age of two and a half, Mother and I were put in the back of the covered wagon and along with the others in the congregation and made our way to Independence Missouri. Once there we waited for the Wagon Master to assemble a number of other Mormon Brethren and their wagons for the trip to Salt Lake in Utah. Finally, according to my Aunt, on a sweltering summer day we all headed off.

I don’t remember my Mom, I was too young. Actually, I don’t remember anything of the trip at all.

I was told all this after being reunited with my Aunt Greta some years later before she passed from natural causes or old age, whichever you want her to die from. To make a long story short, my father admitted his cruel deed to her during a rare lucid spell in his illness. She figured out where the original ferry crossing was where he dumped me off near it and from there her hired detective figured out the rest.

After verifying my identity through some obscure birth records the Brethren felt obligated to keep at their Ohio temple, she wrote me.

I had no idea who she was and honestly didn’t care. Unlike some, I wasn’t at all bothered that I was abandoned or adopted. I couldn’t have loved my adopted parents more even if they were my birth parents.

To me, the entire affair just made for an interesting story. I returned a letter to her thanking her for the information, declined her wish that I move to Utah and even turned down the property my mother had purchased sight unseen even before leaving Ohio. Apparently she did not trust my father to care for her or myself and purchased a forty acre section without his knowledge. In her letter, Aunt Greta said she and Uncle Joshua had planted the acreage all those years hoping I would eventually be found. She said I was entitled to a portion of the profits they made from it. I relinquished all rights to it and gave her ownership of whatever was left to me.

Back to my Father.

Now it seems my birth father had experienced some sort of nervous breakdown  episode along the way to Missouri and afterward took to staring only downward, even when speaking to others.

He kept telling my mother the western sky was too big and was afraid it would crush him.  

When he started seeing grass fires that did not exist, my mother sought the help of a Brethren Doctor also heading to Utah. His therapy consisted of a mixture of cocaine and herbs which did nothing for his illness. In fact the combination of drugs and his mental disturbance had carried him over into a state of insanity.

Some time after leaving Missouri, it was discovered I happened to be missing from our wagon and was nowhere to be found.

My father had no recollection of my whereabouts and upon being questioned he admitted he may have either given, sold or just abandoned me somewhere on the prairie. He said he couldn’t recall. He blamed his new ‘medication’ for his memory’s absence. In fact, I’m told he hated me as I was just another mouth to feed. My Aunt swore he discarded me on purpose and that she suspected he knew darn well where I had been abandoned.

At the time of my disappearance my mother had been riding along Aunt Greta keeping her company. Aunt Greta had been feeling under the weather, being newly with child and experiencing her feminine morning bouts of stomach discomfort.

My mother pleaded without success to my father to turn the wagon around so she could search for me. He steadfastly refused saying if he turned the wagon around it would give any of the savage Indians hiding in wait the incentive to attack an kill him.

My mother, I was later told by my Aunt, had begged him without pause until one day he could bear no more and mortally beat her with the wagons stout wooden jack handle. Her remains were buried but left unmarked as were hundreds of other poor souls traveling in wagon trains that never made it to the promised land.

Aunt Greta never spoke to my father again. Her husband asked the Wagon Master if his wagon could be moved up the line in order to not have to see my father but was refused permission to move their wagon ahead.

She did acknowledge he made the entire trip to Utah but not a soul in the train would speak or even look upon him. He was a shunned man but so corrupt was his mind that he probably never even noticed.

Once having arrived in Utah he became so out of his mind that the Council of Bishops determined not to apply their law of murdering my mother since he was for sure insane. They did detain him under ‘arrest’ for his own safety until he passed a few months later.

The Bishops determined my Aunt should improve my mothers land and return to the church a ten percent tithe on all crops grown on it until I was found or declared dead.

————————————————–0——————————————–

Days later after being abandoned along the trail and scared out of my wits plus half starved, I had somehow found my way in my wanders to where my eventual adoptive parents owned the ferry that crossed the Kansas River just a few miles east of Junction City Kansas. Now where I had been abandoned and where the ferry crossing was was just about a mile distant from each other. That may not sound a great distance but to a three year old it was a million mile walk.

My adoptive parents(from now on I’m just saying parents, no more adoptive nonsense need be written) made a good living since so many wagons heading to the west had to ferry that river at this juncture. They were childless and considered my appearance a God send to their lonely lives. They quickly figured out I had been abandoned along the trail. Such things were not unheard of as children too young to be of help with household or farm chores was an unwanted burden in a prairie household. Still, this family, not being dependent on farming, took me in, loved me and doted on me without spoiling me.

My new father was kind, fair yet could be strict without being abusive. I was renamed or named as the case may be since I didn’t really have a name. My name was now Tennyson Baker or just Ten for short.

 I was schooled in my letters and numbers by my new Ma and was also taught the piano and violin by her. Being just a tiny child I had no knowledge of the where-abouts or even the existence of my parents. All I knew was for once I ate regularly and earlier uncalled for spankings had ceased.

Still, I must have been effected to a certain degree due to the trauma of abandonment for I rarely spoke until my teen years.  

I grew up though well muscled, tall and in great shape due to hauling our large ferry back and forth from shore to shore by it’s hemp rope cable. I was blond haired and blue eyed like my Ma. I had a strong resemblance to her and for that I was grateful as she was said to be quite a handsome woman.

My vocabulary increased and with my adoptive parents help, folks considered me well educated and could speak with clarity.

Seeing my work ethic and handsomeness Folks in town would comment to my parents that I would be a great catch to any young lady. By the age of sixteen I was more man than boy and looking back I really was the dream child of any proud parent. No brag, just fact.

My life took a drastic turn in October on my eighteenth birthday. The Junction Herald, our town newspaper announced a toll bridge crossing the river was being planned. The properties next to our ferry landings had been purchased by a group of investors out of St. Louis.

To add salt unto a wound my father that same night (and for the first time in his life) got himself drunk, fell off the ferry and drowned.  

It was now up to me to take over the family business, and I did for a time until the toll bridge built next to our ferry landing opened. I sold the ferry to a young couple in search for wood to build a home. The ferry had been built to last many years consisting of stout beams and wrist thick planking. It took better than a month to dismantle the heavy craft and haul it off to their home site. In late fall the young man returned and purchased the dock itself as it had been built of similar materials as the ferry. The dock was much easier to dismantle and haul away than had been the ferry.

My Mom, now in her late sixties, had taken to sitting despondently in her room looking out the window at the river where our ferry had sat at its dock.

Her and my Dad’s dream of a comfortable retirement dashed.

That winter brought another tragedy to our home. A late February storm roared in leaving all roads impassible due to a heavy snow. Upon opening the front door to our modest home I found the snow had drifted to the entire height of the door jamb leaving a solid wall. By looking out of the second story attic window All I saw was snow. Only the roof top of our cow shed was visible.

 It took nearly the entire day to make my way to the shed fearing the worst for our trapped milk cow. Earlier in the day I thought I had heard her mooing but as the day progressed I heard nothing more.

As Job of the Bible said, “What I have feared the most has come upon me!”

Our cow had not survived.

I was left to ponder my situation. We had a full winter larder and plenty of canning jars filling the shelves in our stone lined cold storage dug out under the living room floor. Food was no problem.

Each fall my father being a stickler for being prepared, would have my mother stock the larder and cold storage.

He also made sure the winter wood supply was filled to the top of the attached lean-to on the rear of the house. Inside the lean-to also sat forty gallons of coal oil in ten gallon steel drums. This would insure our lamps or the small kerosene stove used for canning foods would never lack fuel.

What concerned me was my Mom.

She ate only sparingly now, rarely leaving her room. When she needed the outhouse I would have to shovel a path through the deep snow drifts and then bodily carry her to and from the frozen one seater. It finally came that a chamber pot in her room was needed as she had little strength even to dress herself let alone make it to the out house.

March was even worse. Not a day passed above ten degrees below zero.

Our cow still lay as she died, a frozen block inside of a frozen shed. It wouldn’t be until spring before she could be hauled out and left in the fields for the coyotes to feed upon.

Then Mom died. There was no way to bury her in the frozen earth. I had no funeral for it was still impossible to travel beyond the out house. I could tell none of her friends in town that she had passed. Even worse, I couldn’t bury her either.

I ended up wrapping the dear woman in her favorite quilt and placed her alongside the cow in the shed. It wouldn’t be until late spring that the ground would thaw enough to bury her next to my Dad. I was now alone.

With no future income due to the new toll bridge, I decided to sell the house and land and move westward after I buried my Mom in the spring.  

I had heard many stories from those we ferried over the river of the greatness of the West. Some spoke of gold, others of land heavily grassed as far as the eye could see just waiting to be homesteaded or bought outright. Eager Farmers and Ranchers alike ferried across, now it was my turn.

That spring, after burying my mom next to my Pa, I settled on $2,200 for the house and land. It was a fair price. We hadn’t farmed the land in years so it was becoming over run with weeds and small saplings. Still, once the land was cleared again the soil having rested for so long would produce healthy crops for the new owners.

I returned to Independence where I deposited two thousand dollars in my Dad and my joint account. The Guardian Trust bank building there was a strong brick two story building with a concrete room the iron safe had been built into. It was about the most secure bank west of the Mississippi and it had never been robbed.

I left with an envelope of blank bank drafts totaling two thousand dollars and a pouch full of gold and silver coins from our safety deposit box totaling over four hundred dollars. All in all I had enough to restart my life as either a farmer, rancher or even as a merchant. Then again I might just wander around the West.

CHAPTER 2 

I purchased some better clothing than my work clothes. I also traded in my Dads old muzzle loader for a brand new model 1880 Trap door Springfield rifle.

 It cost me thirteen dollars with the trade in. It was a powerful long range rifle that could take down most any large animal. I was told by the gun shop owner only the Sharps long gun was better.

For another six dollars I bought a slightly used Smith & Wesson Model 3 single action revolver that used metallic cartridges. I had heard it was the favorite of many bandits so I figured it was then good enough for me. I wondered if a robber had been using it before my purchasing it.

I still needed a holster and in looking at what was available I spotted an engraved  twin holster set. I ended up filling the other holster with a twin of the Model 3.

At first I wondered if I had made a blunder for the weight of two pistols, the extra leather and thirty bullets stuck in their rings nearly pulled my pants down!

I figured I’d just have to get used to it, I did with the help of a pair of braces.

Along the way, I practiced every day with both rifle and pistol. Unlike my adopted Dad who was raised a pacifist Quaker and therefor my being raised likewise, I had no compunction in defending myself. Being raised a pacifist and sticking to it were two different things. Unknown to my father I had accumulated a number of dime novels sold at the pharmacy in town. I knew all the tricks gun fighters and Indian scouts used to survive. Some turned out to be hot air but others worked out well for me.

I eventually became extremely proficient with both the rifle and revolvers. So much so that I knew in my heart there were few who could out draw or out shoot me. Just fact, no brag.

In my reading all those dime novels I remembered a trick a bad guy had used to defeat others during a ‘showdown’. He also had a twin set up. When faced off, he’d move his left hand outward and nearer the holster than his right hand in what looked like an amateurish and clumsy way to draw. This made him look like he was a left hand newbie shooter. His opponent would notice this and watch his left hand and figured he’d have plenty of time to draw but was fooled because the gun that would be drawn would instead be his very fast right hand gun.

I figured I’d never get a chance to use that method but then one never knew.

My lack of adhering to the Quaker faith did not mean I did not believe in God, quite the contrary. My Dad raised me in the Quaker way of the Bible. Having religion was personal to me. Unlike my birth Dad I did not follow the Mormon way nor use my religion to lay with more than one woman as he had fantasized about.

While I had no concern or care what the Mormon’s belief, was I didn’t cotton to them as a people . When ferrying their wagons across the river I was treated as a necessary evil, akin to a dull tool in the shed. Early in my youth when my father had put me in charge if he were not there, I had assumed the Mormons were like most poor folk, tightly holding on to what little coin they had. Their menfolk would argue the fee with me at each passing until I gave into their complaints of over charging them.

 When I told my father this I knew he was angry but he did not take his anger out on me. Instead he said, “Son, this may sound cruel but from now on you are to charge what the posted sign states, no discounts, no free rides. If they want to argue and I’m not present lock the ferry’s heavy night chain to the dock and walk away. It is a business not a charity. Besides, those Eastern Mormons are not poor people, they can well afford the cost we’ve set.

I told him that on more than one occasion I had seen him reduce the price and even once saw him allow a free transfer.

He nodded and explained, “As you get older, your wisdom will be increased.  

You will be able to discern true poverty verses those who pretend. Yes, there are times you must offer charity and forgive the amount of passage but… few are those cases. Most travelers are aware that ferry crossings are inevitable and are prepared to pay for their crossings.

I was not to negotiate or worse argue with a traveler. Besides, if I’d given any back talk to a customer my Pa and I would visit the woodshed. I treated them all, Mormon and Gentile alike, as that was the Quaker way. My actions though did not mean my day dreams didn’t involve giving some customers a good non Quaker thrashing!

The day arrived that I left Junction City and caught the stage to Salina Kansas and from there west to Goodland, just a few miles east the Colorado border.

Goodland consisted of a small dry goods store that also sold food staples, a run down saloon who’s bar was two planks set on old barrels, a blacksmith’s shop and a livery stable. Population was under thirty.

The only reason it survived as it did was that folks traveling to Colorado generally took the route that passed through Goodland.

I had never seen real mountains before and was stunned at how big they really were when I did see them. While in Goodland I purchased a fine strong mountain bred Bay gelding and a Missouri mule. I negotiated the prices and felt I paid a bit above the norm but then there wasn’t much stock to choose from.

The owner of the livery was willing to throw in a used sore excuse for a saddle but I opted to buy a new one. I’m glad I did for that saddle has done me well over the years.

I stopped at the dry goods store / General store and purchased what I’d be needing to live on the trail.

My Missouri mule was fairly well loaded down but appeared unfazed at the bulky weighted packs on it.

On my horse and tide behind my saddle were some things I’d need in case I had to be away from my pack mule.

After a time I named my companions. The Bay I ended up naming Shadow. Like your own shadow it moves without making a sound.

Shadow had the quietest trot I’d ever heard on a horse. Not only that, he perfectly blended into the trees with his brown coat and black markings.

Biscuit the mule was named because no sooner had I made up some biscuits why it would stand aside me and stare down my plate of them until I gave in and tossed a few his way.

So entering mountainous Colorado, Shadow, Biscuit and myself were off to an unknown adventure.

 Chapter 3

The first night found us five miles east of a small village called Grenada. We made camp beside a small clear stream. There was plenty of grass to be had so I hobbled Shadow and brushed him down. I attempted to brush down Biscuit but he backed away each time giving me the “Are you serious” look. It wasn’t that he didn’t like getting a brushing down but only when he was in the mood for wanting it would he then allow it.

I set up my lean-to tarp, threw in a buffalo hide to sleep on and got to making some dinner.

I made up some biscuits of course and boiled up some salted pork. Afterward I washed the cooking pots in the stream using the sand to scrub them clean. I took the time to undress and catch a bath while the water was available. It was cold as all get out. I had forgotten many of the mountain streams were from snow melt.

Back at the camp I readied myself for the night. I had pounded two, inch thick two foot long sticks into the ground and placed a boot over each one. I figured nothing from a spider to a mouse would find my upside down boots a desirable place to call home. I had given my clothes a quick washing too and hung them over my lariat which I had tied to two saplings.

I lay there that evening listening to the various animals as they made their way to the clear cold stream for their water. My four footed companions would warn me if a dangerous critter showed up alongside the dear, elk and the occasional thirsty coyote.

According to the stars it must have been around three in the morning when I heard Shadow whistle. I lay there with ears wide open waiting for any further announcements but none came.

At dawn I discovered what shadows whistle was about. There standing next to Shadow was a wild copper shaded sorrel mare. The two looked as if they were long time best friends.

When I packed up and moved out the Sorrel followed right along behind.

Around noon I once again made camp for I was in no hurry to get anywhere and the place was beautiful. Once again I made camp beside a small clear mountain fed stream whose banks were lush with spring grass. Huge cottonwood trees grew along the banks giving the lush grass competition for sun.

In the far distance the famous white tipped purple Rocky Mountains made up the skyline.

I shot a buck away from camp and dressed it where it lay. I went back to the camp, rounded up biscuit and made him carry the dressed carcass back to camp. I decided to keep the hide and tan it using the deer’s brains to tan the hide then make a smoke pole pyramid to smoke the hide for further softening.

That evening I had a visitor. A friendly one.

I had finished cooking the evening meal when Shadow gave another whistle. I feared he’d be joined by another wild horse but to my relief it was not a horse but but two mules, one being ridden by one of the oldest looking old timer mountain men I’d ever laid eyes on.    

“Hello the camp! I smelled your cookin’ and am a friendly galoot who’d not be turnin’ down a cup a coffee or a bite if you’s friendly your own self!”

I chuckled when I saw the old coot. He was about as dangerous looking as a pet bunny. He couldn’t have been no more than five feet and weigh as much as one of my legs!

“Sure, C’mon in and lite from that mangy beast you got you butt sitten on”, I yelled.

“Oh, this one here I call Grits, the ugly one behind me is named after my first wife Hominy. I go by Chester, Chester Platt”

“Hominy? Really? Like the corn meal hominy?” I asked smiling.

“Yup, her ma named her Hominy and her brother Grits! We come from Kentuck back in 38. Drug her along with me ‘cause If I didn’t her Pa was gonna go ahead an’ shoot me. Neither of us really deezired to havin’ her around, bein’ as she was a terrible cook and ugly as… well, a mule!”

I sat there confused, “Well if she was that ugly, why were you with her in the first place?”

The old man looked chagrined, “I spose you need to live in Kentuck to understand why. It ain’t like there’s a lot’a women in them hills. They’s more in the flat lands but us mount’n bred folk is shunned from taken one-a their flat lander girls. That leaves us with just a few to marry. But… I’ll tell it straight the better a woman can please a man the better a man she can hitch her wagon to. And in truth she was the best! Whoooeee!”

At that I began to chuckle. “So, where is she now?”

“Well dang your hide fella, where do you think she is? If’n I’m near eighty five and we was about the same age, would it be a surprise to say she’s long dead an’ gone?”

“Oh, sorry, didn’t mean no harm.”

“No harm done. Anyhoo, By the time she turned fifty I had no deesire for her no more. She got purdy fat.Why one wet rainy day she done fell off the creeks bridge log she was walkin’ on an’ ended up plugin’ that creek from bank to bank like a beaver dam! She would’a drowned on me ‘cept she was facin’ downstream at the time. I tell ya’, that water kept buildin up behind her behind until that creek took on the likes of a lake! I yelled at her not to move an inch. While that water was all dammed up I began rollin’ stones in behind her, makin my own dam which left her high an’ dry. By the time I got my plow team hooked to her and yanked her free I had me a nice 20 acre lake to fish in. Wasn’t but a month or two an’ I was trappin turtles and craw daddy’s in it too!

I knew it was a tale but I enjoyed his humor anyway.

“Well, you know who we are, you got a name too or do I have to go to the Sheriff and parse through all his wanted dodgers looking for your face?”

“Sure thing I got a name, an honest one that’s not wanted nowhere. Names Ten, Ten Baker from Missouri but born in Ohio.”

“Ten is short for what, tenderfoot?”

Laughing I replied, “No, Tennyson.”

“Uh, I see why ya’ chose Ten! So tell me Mister Ten Baker, you headed anyplace special or just roamin’ Gods acreage?”

“No place special, My parents passed this year an I ain’t into farming. They ran the ferry over by Junction City until some Eastern investors had a toll bridge built.

I’m not sure where I’m going but I’m hoping I know it when I see it.”

“You lookin’ for land or a city?”

“No, not a city. I’d like to find a quiet place, someplace where honest folk live but not too close by. I like the forest and grassy valleys to hunt in, clear streams to fish and maybe even a few cattle to raise.”

“We’s similar, you an’ I. I left Kentuk with the same dream.”

“Did you ever find it?”

The old man settled down by the fire and began poking the burning embers under the coffee pot. When he was satisfied with his poking, he gave a deep sigh and spoke.

“Yup, I did. Most beautiful spot on earth. Tall pines surrounding a crystal clear cold lake with a mountain fed river runnin’ through it. Nearby was a grassy park maybe three or four hundred acres in all. Wild mountain blue bells,fireweed, paintbrush, columbine…you name it son, they grew there.”

“Where was it at? Do you still live there?”

“Ever hear of a town called Grandby? No? Well it’s up north west of here a couple weeks travel. I bought land near Grandby thinkin’ I’d dig for gold or some other ore but when I got there I didn’t have the heart to tear up the earth, it was too dang beautiful to mess up.”

“It sounds like a great place, so what did you do?”

“I turned to the mountains for my livin’. I hunted, trapped even traded with the Ute tribe during the summers. I did well just pannin’ the stream I had for gold. No need to tear up the earth to git rich.”

“I take it you still live there then?”

“Oh, I still own the place but haven’t been back there for three years, maybe four now.”

So what happened?”

One day late in the fall, maybe it was in November, can’t recall, I went out to set traps along my eastern trap line. That single line was nearly a hundred miles long. I cached a large amount of fur, best season ever had up in the next lake. I finally made it back to the cabin and Hominy in the spring. I shoulda’ been there but I was busy tryin’ to store up my funds… for what reason, I’ll never figure.”

“But you needed to make a living, no?”

“I already had everything I needed, didn’t need no more gold. Anything I needed I either traded for or made it myself. No, somewhere along the way I got to thinkin’ I needed more an’ more till I had enough. Boy, there ain’t never enough .You’ll always want more!”

“I’m lost, why are you saying you should have been there?”

Once again he began poking the embers and now looked as if a heavy weight had been placed upon his shoulders. His head drooped and when he spoke it was in a near whisper.

“My wife, Hominy, she had passed while I was out gathering more an’ more furs so I could get more an’ more money. She had cut herself chopin’ wood for the cook stove.I had been meanin’ to secure that axe head on a new handle but kept puttin’ it off. The handle snapped and that head musta flew backwards into her neck. She made it back into the cabin but bled out tryin’ to stop the bleed’n. It was all my fault. Poor woman. Was she ugly? Hell yes she was, did I love her? Oh you bet I did. Looks ain’t everything. She loved me like no woman ever did. She rubbed my sore feet each night before we went to bed, she remembered my birthday with a cake an when she washed and darned my socks she never said to me they’d last longer if I wore my shoes indoors. I miss her still.”

“You say you haven’t been back there?”

“Naw, just can’t stand the thought of livin’ alone there without her. She made the place a home. I’ a’feared if I went back I’d just be in the sad doldrums till I pass away.’’

“So now you wander around, kind of like myself?”

“ I said we was similar didn’t I?”

“ Yes, you did.”

“Do you ever plan on going back?”

“Fact is, I’m on my way there now.”

“What? I thought you wern’t never going back.”

“I didn’t say never.”

“But you are now going back?”

“Yup, ya’ see, I’m a dyin’ man, got the cancers Doc says. Ain’t got much time left but that’s fine with me. I’m old an’ know I’ll once again be gettin’ my feets rubbed… not sure about the cake since I heered there ain’t no birthdays in heaven.”

I thought about what he said, about beauty and how a woman can be a help meet as the Bible says. I’d never thought much on women. I mean I noticed ‘em but never spent enough time with ‘em to form an opinion or feed a desire. I’d need to think on these things a bit further before committing myself to bachelorhood.

The old geezer filled his coffee cup which he had retrieved earlier from his pack. He started to say something but then stopped. Then again he did the same so I figured I’d just prod him a mite. I always hated it when folks assumed I was a mind reader.

“Something on your mind that you’d like to talk about? Mind you, I’m not trying to pry but I see some consternation crossing you puss.

He tossed the last of his coffee into the fire before answering.

“I was a thinkin’, Since you ain’t got no destination carved in stone an’ sometimes it ain’t safe to travel alone in these parts, what’a say we become travelin’ pards. I’m headin’ to my place up Granby Lake way. Now I’m gettin’ on in age an’ don’t know about swingin’ a hammer or sawin’ a board like I did ages ago when I built the place. I shore could use the help and be honest, I been away from folks a mite to long, I could use the company too.”

The way he described Ganby Lake seemed a pleasant thought to me of seeing his place. I really did like the old man and having someone along who knew the ins and outs of the Colorado trail wilds appealed to me. I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I started dishing out a meal in each tin plate for the two of us saying, “I’m believing you have some valid points about traveling safely, that alone would be a reason to pard with you. Sure, why not? When were you thinking we should head out then?”

“I’m a thinkin’ I’d like to soak my feet a couple a days in that creek before headin’ back out on the trail, if that’s alright with you?”

“I’m in no rush so yea, lets leave in the morning three days from today.”

The next morning while Chester spent the time dipping his sore feet in the cold mountain stream, I took my Springfield rifle and went hunting for deer.

By early evening I returned back at camp with a field dressed bucks hind quarters.

I noted Chester was absent but the fire had been rekindled and his two aged mules stood nearby cropping on tufts of buffalo grass.

I hung the carcass on a nearby ash’s limb and began cutting the hind quarters into strips for curing. This would give us enough jerked meat for a week when Chester made his way hurriedly into the camp.

“Bess put out that fire Son, I seen a few fella’s comin’ up the trail. They didn’t look none like the friendly type niether.”

“How far back,” I asked.

“They’s only a half mile out by now. Get your irons an’ hide back in the woods a mite. They’ll fer sure see my mules but mite not catch a look at yours since they’s hobbled down a ways in that nearby park. Take your belongings with ya, I’ll make it like it’s just me that’s here.”

I spent the next ten minutes clearing the camp of anything that would say there was more than just the old man camped out.

I stepped far back into the deep forest shadows wearing my loaded twin holster. The Springfield I laid in notch provided by a small brushy pine tree.

I had the camp well covered so if those fella’s got ornery the old man would have his back covered. Another ten minutes brought a call out.

Three horse with riders appeared, “Hello the camp. We’s friendly, just looking for a place to rest our nags and boil up some coffee, can we come in?”

They sounded friendly enough but right off I noticed the every one of their holsters had the leather thong securing their pistols were unhitched. Not friendly for sure.

Chester acted surprised at their sudden appearance yelling, “Dang! You boys sure caught me off guard! I was just about to finish stripping this here deer. If ya got a fry pan in your bundle you’s more’n welcome to cut some off for a meal.”

The three had not dismounted which was a warning they were up to something.

One man, a pock faced ugly Mexican looking fella rode up to the front an stared down at the old man. The other two were sliding their eyes back and forth noting everything in the camp.

The greasy looking leader chuckled and replied with an accent, “We ain’t got no pan. Why would we? Do we look like cooks to you old man?”

Well, that settled it, these three weren’t friendly. I kept my rifle’s sight dead center on the leaders chest. I knew that at this distance a shot from the powerful rifle would take out his backbone and then some.

Chester moved from the hanging deer and made his way towards the mounted leader.

“Now Son, that ain’t a very friendly haloo in my book. I was bein’ friendly like, even willin’ to share my meat with you greasers but you all done treated me like a damn Mexican whore.”

Surprised at Chester’s grit, the Mexican leaned back in the saddle with mouth open  disbelief. At the same time one of the two no goods started moving forward but still behind his leader. This fella looked more Injun than Mex so I took him for a breed.

The last man held back but I could see he was a younger Mexican and very nervous. I was betting he wished he were elsewhere at the moment. I didn’t consider him a threat but I was mistaken.

The greasy leader regained some of his composure and laughing loudly began telling Chester he had some set of stones on him but those stones won’t stop a bullet.

Then without warning the youngest Mex started digging into his holster for his gun.

As fast as lightning, maybe even faster, Chester whipped out a pistol he had hidden somewhere in his buckskin top.

Before the young Mex could wrestle free his pistol from it’s black and decoratively silver studded holster, Chester’s roaring 45 caliber bullet entered his brain.

In a near panic I hurriedly gripped my rifle and instinctively pulled the Springfield’s trigger before taking the time to even re-aim.

Shockingly, it was a kill shot. The Mex jerked upright never even having time to touch his pistol but before I could see his eyes go blank the Breed behind him suddenly fell sideways from his saddle. In seconds, all three no goods were down and ready to go toes up into the ground.

“Would ya look at that!” shouted Chester, “Ya kilt two with one shot! Weeooo!”

I hadn’t planned it that way. The Springfield’s powerful bullet had passed completely through the Mexican’s gut out his back and into the forehead of the Breed. If I tried it a hundred times I couldn’t have done that if planned.

Afterward the quiet was deafening. Not a sound was heard from a bird, the breathing of a horse even the creek seemed to be muffled.

“I think I’m deaf Chester, I can’t hear good.”

“It ain’t no wonder, that dang gun a your’n got to be the loudest dang thing next to a cannon!”

As the moments passed I realized that in my rush to shoot I had not tucked the butt of the Springfield into my shoulder but had raised it eye level with the breach close to my right ear.

I thought, “Well we’re at least safe now.”

Moments later I had my doubts.

It wouldn’t have mattered even if I hadn’t near killed my ear, I still wouldn’t have heard the ten Kiowa braves appear in our camp from the forest.

My first thought was that darn Biblical saying of Job’s again, “What I have feared the most has come upon me.”

The painted leader, a bronzed god if ever there was one, stepped forward.

Saying nothing as he walked to each killed man, nudged each one with his foot he smiled at me.

“Have no fear, we have come not for you! But for these three.”

Having never seen a Kiowa or knowing their culture I was still taken back when he calmly went to each dead man and drawing his knife removed their scalps.

Chester said nothing, just watched.

When the bloody deed was done, the painted leader turned once more to where the two of us stood.

Looking my direction he said in pretty good English, “You, I do not know.”

Then turning to look at Chester he said, “It is good to see you my old friend, it has been many moons since we last spoke. I never asked, is your fat wife still warming your bed?”

Chester stood there. The look on his face said this was warrior was dear to him.

“It is good to see you too Satanta, my good friend. No, my fat wife is sitting down enjoying an entire baked ham with all the fixens at a table with her ancestors. No, only a campfire far away from my home warms my bed at night now.”

Satanta or White Bear, frowned. “You have many wrinkles and your skin is even more pale than the moon since we last saw each other. Are you well?”

“Naw, seems I suffer from the cancers, I’m a goin’ home to die and will lay next to my fat woman up on the hill and sleep the sleep of the dead. Hominy awaits my arrival, she’ll be rubbin’ my sore feet purty soon.”

Satanta or White Bear as I will now call him, turned and pointed at the three who had earlier meant us harm.

“These three we have been hunting for four moons now. They have escaped us each time we have been close.”

Chester nodded as if he knew the story to be told. “They did you wrong then?”

“They took the lives of four of our women while they were busy digging roots, one of them was hopping bird, my woman. I have vowed only to return to my tribe and to their men when I have their scalps hanging on my lance.”

Chester looked sad saying, “I’m sorry to hear of your woman. I did not know her.”    

“No, We have only two years ago been sharing a blanket. Her first man, Silent deer, was killed by a Comanche when they raided our village. He was my nephew so after he was killed I took his wife to care for her”

Chester finally turned to me saying to White Bear, “This young man is named Ten. He is making sure I make it home safe without dying along the way.”

The warrior looked me up and down approvingly.

“He looks in much better health than you do my friend. You have many weeks travel ahead of you, it is good not to be alone but you have only one man, that is not enough.”

“He’s all I got White Bear, he’ll have to do.”

“No, I and those I choose will be traveling with you until you reach your home without harm.”

Chester looked flummoxed. “See hear White Bear, by traveling with me you’d be putting yourselves in danger. The whites still distrust and fear Indians, they might react badly seein’ a bunch of your warriors riding through their towns. Why they’s sure to cause problems for all of us!”

“No worry my friend. We will near but not seen.

After a good hour of trying to convince White Bear and his group that it would be too dangerous for them to act as guides and body guards, Chester gave up.

“Well then, have it your way but just know I ain’t claimin’ no favors fer you doin’ this White Bear.”

“You killed my enemies, it is enough. I can now bring their scalps to their men. Those women, including my own can now sleep peacefully knowing their deaths have been avenged.”

Knowing most of the important talking had finished I asked what we should do with the three killers bodies.

White Bear just shrugged, I felt he would have been just as happy to let the critters dine on them but Chester had a wiser opinion.

“We need to bury ‘em. Not ‘cause it’s the Christian thing to do but because they was scalped. I anyone comes upon ‘em why they’d just assume they was three innocent riders ambushed by Indians. No Indian would be safe from those wantin’ retribution for their killers.”

“Hmm, you speak with wisdom.” Then with a pretend smirk he continued, “That is something I often do not see in you!.”

We buried the three deep enough to keep the wolves from digging them up and exposing their scalped heads, then made the decision to head out in the morning.

Chapter 4

Our plan was to stick to the forest as much as was possible. Sometimes mountains got in the way and we traveled with eyes wide open through their valley’s. Our Indian escorts were never seen but White Bear would leave signs as to what direction to travel next.

On our third day out from where we left the dead Mexicans we one more came upon the scene of a shoot out.

These were the bodies of unwashed and scroungy way layers. If this were in the east they would be called Hill folk.

Two had been mortally wounded from the quick while the third and fourth had eventually died some hours later. Again, we thought it prudent to bury them but the ground was so webbed in pine roots that digging the graves turned out to be an act of folly. Instead, we built a large fire in a nearby clearing and cremated them.

Later we were glad we did.

Chester and I made it to Caddoa Lake two days later. We found a side of Elk hanging from a tree proving our guardian angels were still watching out for us.

“I guess ‘Ol White Bear thinks I can’t shoot worth a damn!” Chester commented after cutting the Elk down.

I told Chester, “Don’t look a gifted horse in the mouth!” Meaning if its free, don’t complain. The giver might just take offense!

A days ride west we rounded the south western shore of the lake and decided to rest up a couple of days. Riding in the forest provided much water from the numerous creeks but the trees prevented the growth of good grass.

We stopped and made camp along the far western end of the lake where a clearing finally provided enough grass to put some weight back on our horses.

By now Chester and I had tightly bonded. I sure liked the old man and his stories kept me entertained.

He began to open up about himself and I’m sure I was riding with one of those folks people call pioneers. At age 9 he became a runner or messenger for the American Army in the war of 1812. Later in life he left his career of trapping to fight for the South in the war between the States. He didn’t cotton to slavery but he even liked less the financial burden the North had put upon the South. He believed America was meant to be a country of shared equal power between all the States not just between the wealthy industrial ones.

During one of our camp fire talks, as he called them, He spoke of the cancer he had gotten. He had few complaints in life except for this. As the days wore on his strength was ebbing and we stopped much more often than even two weeks before.

“Ten, I want you to promise me something, will ya?”

“Well tell me what it is first. If you’re going to ask that I give you a thousand dollars in gold then I’m sorry, but that ain’t a promise I can fulfill.

“Naw, it ain’t nothin’ like that. It’s just that I want to be restin’ next to my beloved Hominy when I go. Would ya’ promise me that? If I pass before I make it home would ya’ get me home to her?”

I suddenly found I must have gotten some dust in my eye but I didn’t want Chester to go thinking I was getting soft on him so I over exaggerated my effort to clear up any wetness the dust was causing.

After I cleared my vision I told him “For sure I’ll do that for you Chester, but I’m hoping you will still make it back alive. I mean how else you goona’ tell her you’re home?”

“I’ll try my best fer sure but just in case… you know.”

We broke camp after three days and found new sign from White Bear. Chester read the sign carved into a tree trunk saying it appeared White Bear wanted us to stay in the forest as much as was possible. It looked like the village of Pueblo was our next stop as far as civilization goes.

Within a mile the forest became steeper and who’s forest floor became much rockier. I questioned whether this was the route White Bear had chosen for us when Chester pointed to another tree up ahead/.

“Look up yonder at that there tree Ten, we’s on the right path fer sure. ‘Ol White Bear’s been sneakin’ through these mountains from childhood, he knows ways a gettin’ around that no white man could imagine.”

I was surprised when the next sign had us turning due north.

“There’s some springs up north of here then it turns purdy mountainous. I been through here years ago.”

“So,” I asked, “You been down some of these trails then?”

“Some, but not the ones we been on. Remember, my trails followed game and fur, not trails to be hid on. Indians traveled these trails to keep hid.”

With each day’s passing the night air became crisper, the air thinner. Some days we did nothing but climb.

Pueblo turned out to be a mixed cluster of canvas tents sporting a shabbily built wooden facade out front and adobe brick structures. I figured the towns carpenter had quit his training too early or he didn’t own a level.

Many of the quickly built buildings had windows that were cracked from the stress of not being built proper like, none had seen a drop of paint. The street was a deep rutted affair that proved when it rained it became more a sty for pigs than a method to travel on. A few business owners had laid logs along the front of their establishment but many of these had sunk deep into the mud leaving them just barely above the ground.

The smell of horse plop mixed with tossed out urine from a hundred commodes spoiled whatever Gods beautiful scenery had originally brought the white man to the area. No wonder Indians thought the white’s were uncivilized parasites! The Pueblo Indians (surprise) living there in their adobe homes were cleaner and much more trustworthy than the whites.

We left the horses and mules tied up at the rear of the General Store strangely called the Whiskey House and proceeded to enter by the front door. I figured the place was once a saloon but got took over by someone who had more sober ideas. I laughed when I saw the door had a locking knob on it, this on a canvas tent! It made me wonder if the town carpenter also sold miracle Indian snake oil medicine.

We ended up buying a good three weeks worth of basic food staples along with items like wool blankets and socks to keep out the cold at night. My long johns needed replacing but the only pair that came near to fitting my well built frame were too small. I was told Widow Marsh here in town could sew up a pair for me if I’d care to wait the two days it took to make them. I did.

We had decided to forgo staying at the ‘Hotel Pueblo’ as the cold ground was found to be much more bug free and comfortable than what the hotel had to offer.

We left at dawn when the Saloons were just beginning to close. They’d reopen in another hour after their empty whiskey kegs were replaced and sawdust was thrown over the dirt floors covered in vomit, tobacco spit and blood.

We left Pueblo as soon as Widow March handed me my new Long johns with no regrets.

Three days later we were lying in a real bed after taking long hot baths. The town of Springs was all it was named to be. They’d never run short of mountain water!

With each village or even cluster of houses we noticed White Bear had avoided them but instructed us to pass through them. He must have figured we’d pick up the supplies our forest travels had not provided.

We had a meal at a real cafe the last day in Springs. It was a kind of celebration after I accidentally let loose that the date was my birthday. After a big meal of steak, potatoes and corn, the waitress brought me a big piece of chocolate cake with ice cream on top.

Not being used to such a rich diet I had trouble sleeping that night. I never did react well to sugar it gets me all worked up and causes my pulse to race.

So unable to sleep I put my pants, shirt and boots back on and decided to take a tour of the town.

Springs sure was a nicer town than Pueblo. Heck, I wouldn’t feel safe walking the streets at noon in Pueblo let alone at night.

Springs was a wonderful town it even had wooden walkways the entire length of town on both sides of the street. It must have cost the town a hundred or more dollars to build them. I was surprised the towns politicians would release that much money until I found out in the morning that the sawmill was owned by the mayor.I did what women folk call winder shopping. At each mercantile I stood staring at what the place had placed in the window to attract customers. My walk relaxed me enough that I felt the days activity finally wearing me down. That night I slept well after all.

White Bear’s next sign told us to head directly north now. Chester knew now we were headed for the mountain town of Denver.

As we got close to Denver, once again White Bear had us change course, this time we headed west. We made camp planning on turning west in the morning. I unpacked the camp gear, started a fire and put some venison in the pan. We had stocked up a number of potatoes back in Pueblo so I tossed a couple close to the flames.

I asked how are supplies were holding out and if there was a place to resupply if we needed to.

Chester told me the only town going that direction was Idaho Springs. When we got there we had to restock our supplies.

“Ten, we only have a bit over a week before we get to Granby Lake and my home. I’m tellin’ ya’ Ten, I’m havin’ a time tryin’ to get my breath. Granby is only about forty or so miles away but its a rough road with plenty of climbing to be done. In my younger days I could make it home from here in two days, but right now I’m just hopin’ to make it there alive.”

“You just ride on your mule and I’ll do all the chores. That includes hauling cooking water, something you’ve never let me do.”

“Oh, I can haul water Ten, honest!”

“Look my old friend, I know why you insist on hauling the water. I’ve seen you dip your pan more than once in those creeks looking for color.”

“Well… to be up front with ya’ Ten, I was doin’ it fer you.”

“Me? Why in the name of King George would you be doing that for me?”

“So’s you’d have enough money to get married. Besides you’ll need money to get the place fixed up an all.”

“I can understand you needing the money for fixing the place up but why do you think I’d be even remotely interested in getting married? Why I don’t know anybody in Granby except maybe you and I’m sure not looking to marry you!”

“Dad blast it Ten! Your makin’ things all difficult like.”

I knew Chester had an ulterior motive for asking me to see him up to his place and now I wondered if his excuse of not being able to repair the place himself was part of it.”

“Come clean ya’ old coot, I know you’re up to something. What is it?”

“I guess you’ll find out sooner than later. Pour me a cup of that coffee then sit down.”

I poured each of us a cup of the steaming brew and sat down on a log I had dragged close to the fire. Chester was leaning against a boulder across from me.

“I set up most of this whole thing Ten. White Bear, his tribe and I go way back to when I first stepped out here. So when we killed them Mexicans and then White Bear showed up it was no accident. He’d earlier agreed to lead me back home even before I met ya’ an’ that’s what he was doin’ bein’ nearby an’ all. He didn’t knew about my cancer only my desire to get back to Hominy before I passed on. It was pure bad luck he was out huntin’ game when them Mex’s showed up other wise he woulda’ delt with ‘em an’ we’d a never even know’d they was there. ”

“So the story about the Mexicans killing his tribes women was not just a tall tale then?”

“Gosh no! Them Mexican’s wasn’t in our plan at all! It just so happened that whole epeesode was a lucky coiniceedence. See, that part was true!”

“So if you made a deal with White Bear, what did you need me for? I mean you didn’t know me from Adam!”

“It’s true, I didn’t know you but my brother did an’ for years he went on and on about you in the letters he wrote to me.”

“What? Who was your brother and how did he know me?”

“’Cause my brother was the man that adopted you!”

My head reeled. I knew my father had a brother somewhere, I did remember him saying they wrote back an forth now and again but Chester?

It suddenly dawned on me. “Oh my Gosh Chester, I do remember him saying he had a brother but he called him Trap, he never said the name Chester.”

“Trap was your Pa’s pet name for me. He’s the only one ever called me that.”

“But my Paw’s last name was Baker, not Platt like yours is.”

“My name ain’t really Platt. I only said it was to throw you off the tale I was telling, it’s Baker, just like you.”

“So this makes you kind of like my Uncle?”

“Not kind of like! I am your Uncle! You see when he and your Maw adopted you all legal like I legally became your Uncle.”

“Well I’ll be the son of a horse thief! Really, you ain’t yanking my leg as a good joke?”

“No. And when we get to the town of Granby were stopping at the lawyers to sign over my home and all the land on the eastern shore of the lake to my nephew!”

“Wait… What? Sign over what?”

I still couldn’t fully comprehend what had just been told me.

To discover this man was my adopted fathers brother was one thing for I knew somewhere he did have a brother.

But to leave me his home and land? That stumped me.

I looked questioningly at my Uncle who I knew now as Chester Baker. “Why didn’t you just introduce yourself and lay your cards on the table? Why all this pretending to just need some temporary help at your place?”

“Ten, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my time and this time I couldn’t afford to make another. I needed to see first hand what kind of fella you growed up to be. Why if I didn’t like what I saw I’d have never let the truth be known. You’d have just left my home when the place was repaired with only your wages to prove we had met and I’d a passed away leavin’ the ownership to anybody who claimed it. It didn’t take long to see my brother raised you proper though, even more than proper. Why I coulda’ busted with pride watchin’ you these past weeks.”

I didn’t say much, what could I have said? A thank you wasn’t enough and a hug might a been too much. After all, he did seem a might stand offish at times.

Still I felt a might lost or confused now. I figured I better get things cleared up before riding on to his place to avoid any more surprises.

“So tell me Uncle Chester, (first time I used that to his face and it felt strange) what do we do now or go from here?”

“We continue on, jest as before. Nothing’s changed. We’ll decide what tools and building materials we might be needing after we take a good gander at the place. When the day came that I left I called on an old friend across the lake, on the west side of it. Now Moses, that’s who I’m talkin’ about, is not a day younger than me an ain’t in the best of health niether. I made him promise that he’d check on the place now an then while I was gone searchin’ for ya.

Now even though he promised, it don’t mean he’d keep the place in repair. I just didn’t want no squatter takin’ up residence on my land. I’m hopin’ he ain’t in the mean time died an’ left the place to ruin.”

“Well Uncle, we’ll find out, won’t we?”

Four days latter as the sun was just setting we made camp over looking Granby Lake.

The lake sparkled in the golden glow of the sun. Tall pines mixed with other hardwood trees surrounded the lake on all sides giving it a mix of fall colors. Tall snow capped mountains called the Twin Peaks framed the upper eastern side where the Colorado river flowed into the lake. As far as the eye could see on that side was Chester’s land.

I stood spell bound, How could an old trapper, my Uncle, have found such a beautiful mountain paradise?

I turned to him asking, “Is this really your land? All of this?”

“Well, the part that you can see from here is. Now further south that belongs to a nice couple of folks who bought that section two years after I did. They raised a family an’ most of ‘em still live here abouts. All in all there are eight owners along the shore. Mine has the Colorado and Twin Peaks while other folks own the rest.”

“But if you… I mean how did you afford it all? It’s a big piece of land you own!”

“These mountains are chock full-a gold Ten. True, over the years we panned out most of the bigger nuggets in the creeks an’ stream here about but then the real gold still lays deep inside the mountains. All of us here had put claims on the land and made out pretty good. Good enough to buy out the sections from where we panned.”

I was excited, I couldn’t wait to see my Uncles home. All I knew was that he built a cabin for his his ugly but beloved Hominy. He never described it or the land in any detail before now.

That night White Bear showed up at camp to say his goodbye. He knew it would be the last time he’d see Chester alive but showed little emotion about it. Later I asked my Uncle why Indians don’t laugh or cry and he only said, “Cause they’s Indians”.

So with their goodbye’s being said to each other White Bear slipped silently into the dark forest. Years later I would meet him again along with his third wife and a son born to her but that’s for another time to tell.

We were up before the sky lightened in the east and by the time the sun peeked over the mountains we had the animals packed up and the cook fire drowned out with creek water.

We rode down the steep forested mountainside until noon where the land finally leveled out. I noticed not all was forest now but grassy parks were passed through as we made our way to the lakes shore.

“We’s almost home boy!” Uncle Chester shouted as he turned backwards on his mule to face me.

I had been wide eyed in my observations, missing nothing. I could see fish jumping in the afternoon sunlight. A couple Eagles flew skyward simultaneously from the waters each carrying a large fish in its beak.

We passed a point of land and continued traveling east along the shore until the shoreline suddenly turned and had us traveling northward along the eastern shore. Up another mile or so ahead we came upon the town of Granby.

Granby was a small hamlet sized town one main street with three cross streets. To the towns credit the building were all wood structures, single floor in height but with a two story facade front. Most all had been pained, some recently.

We tied up the animals in front and walked onto a wooden ground level porch. A nicely hand painted sign said J.A, McCloud Attorney at Law.

Chester twisted the doors knob and stepped inside with me following behind.

“Jasper, you old crook!” Chester shouted laughingly. “I need some papers signed all legal like!”

The skinny Attorney looked up at our entrance, smiled broadly and jumped up saying, “Well look what the wind blew in! Chester, how are you? Sit, sit right here.”

Jasper pulled an extra chair that had been against the wall and brushed off any dust with his hand. “So what kind of papers do you need drawn up?”

Pointing to me he replied, “This here’s my nephew Tennyson Baker, just call him Ten, he’s the one I left to search for. Well I found him and want you to help me sign over all I got to him.”

Jasper knitted his brows saying, “Are you sure about this? I mean that’s quite a sizable property you have, maybe it would be better if you want, to just break off a few acres so he can build his own place if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Jsaper, what I didn’t tell you was I ain’t got long for this world, I got a bad case of the cancers.”

Jasper leaned back in his own chair looking shocked at thew news.

“Oh, Chester I’m so sorry to hear this, did your Doctor give you a time?”

“Any time he says, so I need this paper drawn up pretty quick, you understand?”

“Yes, I’ll start immediately, I need you to sign a few papers and I’ll fill in all the details later. When it’s finished I’ll drop it off to you.”

Thanks Jasper, Me ‘an Ten here need to get to the house. I’m sure it needs some care.

Outside again, we mounted up and continued down the dirt road heading home.

“We only got an hour more traveling ‘till the cabin comes into view but you’s already on my land now.”

We were plodding along the eastern shoreline when suddenly he stopped and pointed ahead. There a cabin sat. It was a mite bigger than what I’d pictured in my head and I told him so.

“Hominy wouldn’t put up with no hill folk sized cabin. She wanted one big enough for a whole passel of chillin. It shore was a shame she was found to be barren, she so wanted kids.”

Uncle Chester suddenly sat upright with a look of concern on his face warning me “Look alive son, don’t know who’s inside but somebody jest lit up the cook stove, see the smoke?”

“I do, you think it might be Moses?”

“It better be but jest in case loosen your rifle from its scabbard and tie your horse just up yonder. I want ya’ to sneak around the back where there is a window to see into. I’m gonna come by the front porch. If you hear shoot’n bust inside through the back door, if not take a look see in the window, I don’t need you shoot’n ‘Ol Moses none.”

I continued on a hundred or so more yards and pulling my rifle free I dismounted and tied my horse to a low hanging branch. I noticed Chester had line tied the mules together in a nearby grassy park where they’d crop grass until forced out.

While I made my way silently around back I saw Uncle Chester making his way to the front porch like he owned the place. Well, he did so that was a dumb statement.

I got to the window without hearing gun shots so I raised up and peeked inside. Being daylight no lamps lit up the place so it was pretty useless of me trying to see inside.

I could hear Uncle Chester talking to someone and with no shots fired I relaxed and made my way to the cabins front porch.

There I saw Uncle Chester speaking to someone standing in the doorway. I could not tell who he was speaking to as he was blocking my view but he sounded friendly enough and his own rifle was in the crook of his arm pointing downward. I took that as my cue to step up aside him. There in the doorway I saw two women, one about forty something and a younger one maybe in her early twenties.

Upon hearing me sidle up next to him, Uncle Chester moved aside and made introductions.

“Ten,” He said, “I want you to meet Moses’s daughter and granddaughter.”

The older woman reached out her hand to me saying, “I’m Adele and this here is my daughter Naomi but she insist on being called by her mid name which is June.”

I held the woman called Adele’s hand not knowing if I should shake it or not. I wasn’t too familiar with proper western female introductions so I just nodded my head in a wobble like I had broke neck.

“Ten, Adele was just starting to tell me about why she and June are here and not Moses but had to stop when you arrived to greet you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, please don’t stop because of me. Please, continue.”

“Thank you young man, your manners are appreciated. It’s getting to be rare to see a young person show…”

Uncle Chester wanted things to move along from the polite greetings and such so before I could respond in kindness he turned to me interrupting Adele, “Adele here was telling me Moses is confined to one of those wheeled chair things, seems he had a stroke, wasn’t it?”

Adele’s frown showed that Chester needed a reminder of politeness himself and it wasn’t just the young that could be prone to rude interruptions.

Adele cleared her throat and after casting a scolding eye Chester’s way she turned to look at me with a smile and said, “Yes Ten, My father suffered a stroke last year and has been unable to care for himself or look after Chester’s home. While his speech is slurred, we have been able to understand him to within certain limits. His speech is clearer in the morning but as the day stretches on he becomes quite difficult to understand. Still it was understood he wanted us to check on the home in his place and we agreed to do so.”

I listened with interest to what Adele was telling us but couldn’t help but steal glances at Naomi June standing in the doorway.

Now don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t sparking my interest as you might think. No I thought she looked alright, as females go but it was her attitude that got my attention.

You see, I was raised by Quakers so women Quakers acted a certain way around their men. As an example, when her man entered the kitchen for say breakfast, the meal would have been already prepared for him. Now don’t get in a huff, this was all about practicality. You see the moment a man left his bed he had chores to do and only the daylight hours to accomplish them. It had nothing to do with who wore the pants, it was a team effort. He had a job to perform, she was his help meet, simple as that.

But this girl stood there, crossed arms across her chest and leaning in the doorway like she was in charge and the look she gave me was one that I wasn’t measuring up or had fallen short as a man.

Now Adele on the other hand was a handsome woman with a ready smile. If I was twenty years older I’d remove my hat and ask her to a church picnic. She was easy going and grateful that Chester had finally arrived, even if he had me in tow.

But Naomi June on the other hand, Harrumph!

Chester seemed oblivious and was just as happy as Adele at making it home.

“When Moses became incapacitated it became my obligation to not only care for him but to see that your place stayed in good order ‘till you returned. June had to take on many of my chores besides doing her own in order for me to be here.”

Chester looked a bit flummoxed at hearing this. “Why I never meant for Moses nor nobody else to do nothin’ more than just check on the place now ‘an then. Is there more than what you’re tellin’ me?”

“Some. See, we’ve been being harassed by the Doak brothers. They want your property and told me they tend to have it see’n as they say you abandoned it.”

“Dang their hides! Them brothers know full well I was a comin’ back! What kind of trouble have they caused?”

Now most folks are aware that in any territory if you abandon your property , either by walking away or by your death, then it is open season for anyone strong enough to claim it.

“I’ve taken a couple pot shots at ‘em to scare ‘em off but they were getting bolder the longer you were away. Much of the repairs needing immediate attention .is due to their harassment. Torn down gate and some fences, hay piles catching fire, broken windows an’ such, but the worst of it is at the creek.”

“What’s goin’ on there?”

“Where their land nudges against yours, they’re makin’ a dam to divert the creek onto their property. They dug a deep trench over a half mile in length to form a lake on their valley. Already your water is only about twenty percent what it was when you left.”

I watched as Chester’s face grew red. The problem with water is this. While there’s a whole darn giant lake butting up against most of the properties, there are still properties inland with no running water. That means no irrigation and no water for cattle. Basically those parcels are only good for mining and if there is no gold on your property then it’s no better than desert land.

“So the Doak brothers are trying to steal my water? Hell, let ‘em try, why they’ll rue the day they ever decided to do that!”

As Chester got worked up in his rant I noticed the color began to leave his face. Pretty soon he was needing to lean against one of the porches pillars to remain upright. Even then his rant didn’t diminish. I needed to calm him down before he fainted, or worse.

“Uncle Chester,” I said, Let’s go inside and set down a spell, we can figure out a plan to deal with the Doak brothers but not if you go and give up the ghost on us!”

I had to support Chester as we passed through the doorway into what must have been the living room of the cabin.

Looking around for a seat to set Chester in I couldn’t help but notice the quality of workmanship.

I set him down in a large horse hair stuffed corduroy covered chair. Chester plunked himself down sucking in deep breaths. He did not look good.

“Just give me a minute Ten.” he gasped. “I’ll be alright shortly. Just thinkin’ about them damn Doak boys got me all worked up.”

While Chester recovered, I took notice of the cabins interior and its belongings.

“Uncle Chester, I didn’t know you had a library of books! I exclaimed.

Between breaths he spoke. Most folks think I’m just a ignoramus trapper. Fact is I finished the eighth grade. Learned my words, numbers even. See that there book with the purple leather cover? That’s a book on calculus, a type of math and next to it is a book on trigonometry, more math. Those I learnt in the six grade, all of us kids back then did.”

I stepped over to the full wall sized shelving and saw books from classic litterateur to modern wood stove cooking.

”I would have never guessed” I said laughing, “considering you keep butchering the Kings English! ”, I told him.

“Never judge a book by it’s cover Ten! ”

I turned away from Chester and noticed Naomi June had made her way to the books. Fingering them with a light touch of her fingers she uttered quietly, “I’ve spent some time here helping out but never touched these. I wish I had learned to read.”

Her statement stunned me! I mean what twenty something person hasn’t learned her letter?

Maybe I was being nosey or even out of line but I walked up behind her and asked why.

“I was born and raised here. No school existed until the town became a real town, by then I was past school age. Even then their school was much too far away for a lone girl to travel back and forth. My Ma never leaned so she couldn’t help me and Grandpa Moses couldn’t read none either.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, reading books helped me deal with some unpleasantness in my own life. Books are where I ran to when things took difficult turns.”

She turned to me and smirked, “Oh, by the looks of you I’m sure you had a rough life!”

I couldn’t fathom where her vitriol had arisen from but still tried to keep a civil tongue. “You shouldn’t say that, you don’t know me.”

“Let’s keep it that way!” she replied

From the chair he sat in Uncle Chester had heard our exchange along with Adele.

“Neither of you youngn’s know each other”, he said, “so let’s hold off peelin’ the skin off one another until an honest reason is given.”

Adele, standing aside, placed her hand on Chester’s shoulder. Looking across the room to June she told her. “You hold your tongue June. Chester was just telling me just how it came to be that the boy is even standing here. He had no call to bring Chester back home, he did it out of kindness, he wasn’t even aware Chester here was his Uncle and he sure don’t deserve no bad words from you!”

Naomi June stood staring at her mother with clenched fist. Suddenly she turned and stomped out of the room slamming the door behind her.

“All I did was ask her why she never learned to read, I didn’t mean nothing bad by it! If I did it was by accident and I’m sorry.”

Adele walked over to where I was standing and said, “It ain’t you Ten, she’s had a burr under her saddle since Chester here went lookin’ for ya. She won’t talk about it so I can’t say why she’s got such unpleasantness towards you.”

With June outside, the three of us got to talking about our travels, the signing over of the property deed and Uncle Chester’s health issue.

When the topic of where best to start the properties repairs came up Chester had his say.

“First off, I told Moses I’d cover any bills that might occur in his keepin’ his eyes open on my place here. Now mind you he got pretty offended that I’d even mention something like that. With that bein’ said, he had no idea things would take a turn in his health and ask you an’ June to take over. Now between him an’ me, we done did each other a herd of favors for each other, never keepin’ a score on who did what or when. But,this is different. Now I know for a fact that ‘Ol Moses’s streak of gold luck had run out some time ago. There ain’t no way he could afford to go ahead an’ hire someone to take his place so he had you two do it even if it meant his own place would might suffer needed care.”

Adele bowed her hard a might so I knew that Uncle Chester’s words were not only true but hitting Adele hard.

“Adele, my thankin’ you an’ June ain’t gonna cover all you’ve done here. I look around the place an see dusted off trinkets, polished wood, clean floors and beaten rugs. Why I know if I stepped on in the bedrooms that each bed would be made up with washed and ironed sheets, am I correct?”

Adele lifted her head and proudly said, “It don’t take no money to be clean. Yes, it’s all true, we’s hurtin’ powerful bad specially since my father got his stroke. Doc Magyar has been given Pa his care and medicine on a tab. All our supplies at the mercantile are on a tab but danged if I’m goin’ ta let that be the reason we broke my fathers promise to care for your place. It’s a matter of upholdin’ my Pa’s word.”

“Adele, your Pa and I go way back. Together we built our homes and mined our gold. When one of us got hurt or sick the other was there but you’re wrong about one thing.”

“And what is that?”

“We never owed each other for what we each did… until now. Not only have you tried your best to keep my place up at your and your Pa’s expense but you’ve been dealing with those Doak ruffians too. You may say different but I owe you and I’m makin’ it up to you all.”

Adele stood proud but I noticed a slight sign of relief in her looks, still she replied. “There’s no need for that Chester, it’s what good neighbors do.”

“You are right about that! It is what good neighbors do so shush up and let me do my part in this neighbor doin’ good thing. Tomorrow we’re goin’ to town and payin up the bills this place has run up. That includes Doc Magyar’s bill, the mercantile’s and restocking your larder which I bet has suffered plenty. If it wern’t fer you I’d a had to pay wages to a body to do the same so sayin’ that I’m gonna pay you the wages I owe. Now tomorrow we’ll make a day of it so it’s best you all go back on over to your place an’ take care of Moses an’ I’ll stop by in the morning to pick you up. I’m leavin’ Ten here just in case the Doak brothers stop by again and June can stay behind to care for Moses until we return.”

Adele seemed to accept the inevitable and said, “Alright, We’ll head on back now. We’ve been gone long enough to cause Pa to start worrying. He has no idea you’re back an’ he might think we’s havin problems with the Doak boys again.”

“Yes, you should head off then. I’m gonna walk up the hill to where Hominy lay an’ say my hello to her. Ten, you stay here I need some time alone.”

Chapter 5 

I woke to the next morning to the sound of a wagon pulling into our yard. I jumped up and quickly dressed after splashing my face in the bowl of water setting on the nightstand.

Uncle Chester was slower than I so he was still trying to drag on his shirt as he walked behind me to the front door.

I pulled open the heavy hand made door and peered out into the yard. A layer of fog had closed in but we could still easily see who it was.

Uncle Chester pushed himself past scratching his head in disbelief yelling, “What are all you folks doin’ here? Why Moses! Shouldn’t you be home where it’s warm?”

“Fudge that ya old coot! When Adele here told me you was back with the boy I needed to see you an’ him fer myself. You know me, see’n is believin’!”

“Well the take a good gander you old excuse for a sack of wrinkles. It’s me for sure and this here’s my nephew Ten who I found on the trail!”

Between Adele, June and myself we got Moses off the wagon and into his wheeled chair. We lifted him, chair and all, onto the porch and wheeled him inside where last nights fire had still kept the house warm.

After Chester told all that needed telling, Naomi June rose and said she was making breakfast for us all.

I felt guilty just sitting there so I excused myself and went to help out in the kitchen.

Before I could lend a hand June took me by the hand and guided me to the table where she insisted I sit down.

“Ten, this is hard for me to do so jest shut up ‘an let me say my piece. I’m sorry I was up in your face yesterday, it was unfair of me.”

I started to interrupt her but she squeezed my shoulder until it began to hurt telling me, “I said shut your mouth, just listen or I’ll take this here fryin’ pan and crease your noggin with it!”

Not wanting the joy of having a lumpy head or creased head as she put it sustaining and possible brain injuries, I gave in.“I give up, say your piece.”

“I was saying it was unfair to judge you as I did, I’m sorry. While Ma and I rode back to our place Ma told me what she an’ your Uncle had talked about while we were paying no attention to’em. I thought you was just some city boy comin’ to take over here. I felt you hadn’t earned the place, that you was just gettin’ it all for free without not payin’ your dues. I was wrong. You had no idea what Chester had in mind when he asked you to see him home. Ma was right, you did it out of kindness not expecting anything in return. You had no idea what awaited you once you got here. You had no clue this place was to be yours.”

I was about to say it didn’t matter but then she was still standing aside me holding the cast iron fry pan so I rethought my actions.

June continued uninterrupted, “I guess I got jealous and acted out of anger. I just felt everything we’ve worked so hard for is failing us. Grandpa’s gold streak ran out long ago but he was too proud to admit it. He was about to try his hand at raising cattle when he had his stroke. I tell ya’ Ten my heart broke for him! We was so close to raisin’ back up again. Look at me! I’m all skin an’ bones! I’ve suffered and when you showed up it was like a slap to me, you bein’ all healthy and good lookin’ an’ all. I’m so sorry Ten, I was acting out like a spoiled child. Can you forgive me so I can start us over again?”

Turning backwards in my chair to face her I told her,“June, I’d like nothing better than to be your friend. I knew something was bothering you but couldn’t fathom what I did wrong. I understand now, and there is no need to forgive anything. Shoot if I was you I’d have felt the same way.”

Holding out my hand for her to shake I was taken back when instead she bent down and instead kissed me.

Now before you having us getting hitched and all, it was only a friendly kiss and only on the cheek!

On the other side tough, you have to understand it was the first time I’d ever been kissed by someone other than my own Ma so I filed the feeling of her soft lips away to dwell on it later, when I was alone.

We eventually got breakfast on the table. For a man who had a stroke Moses sure could chow down. His second helping of fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, sausage gravy poured over four biscuits disappeared just as fast as his first helping. I guess his belly weren’t bothered none by his stroke.

Adele cleaned up the table saying that since June and I made the morning meal, she should clean up after it. “Why I can’t remember havin’ so much to eat, I’m plum full!” She said.

We retired to the over stuffed furniture in the sitting room where Moses asked Adele to fill and fire up his pipe for him. His left arm was kind of useless as it just wobbled around like a leaf in the wind. I noticed his left leg did the same.

About that time Uncle Chester laid out the days new agenda since everything had changed when the three showed up at the house.

“Since you all made it here to my place I think it best that Moses, June and Ten stay behind while Adele go into town for supplies. Since you all arrived in your wagon there ain’t no need to drag along the pack mules fer the job of carrying everything. We should be back here around early evening so if you two young’uns could set a meal up fer us that would be a big help. We’ll unload the wagon in the morning as by then it will be dark. I’ll go ahead and unhitch the team an’ get ‘em watered and fed when we arrive.”

I took out a bail of hay from the back of the wagon and swept it clean. At the advice from Chester I put his long gun and another loaded Winchester under the seat. “Better alive than dead” was what he told me.

We rolled Moses up to the multiple pane glass window facing up the road at his request before the two headed off to town.

The three of us left behind watched the wagon roll up the inclined roadway until it was out of sight. Moses soon dropped off to sleep while June and I sat back down for another cup of coffee.

For some reason my stomach twisted when I realized she and I were alone.

With June sitting across from me I was finally able to see her face without having to stare.

“What are you looking at?” she asked after I might have been looking for quite spome time without speaking.

“Huh? Oh, just pondering on a few things.” I replied

“Like what? Maybe how beautiful I look?”

Both of us broke into a laugh, “Naw nothing like that, but honest, I wasn’t laughing at your looks. Why I was wondering why you never mentioned having a caller or someone you may be promised to.”

“That’s cuz there ain’t none. Oh, I’ve had some boys show interest in me but they was just not what I was interested in. Each one was a sissy, no back bone, no grit, no sand whatever you want to call being a man.”

“Is that what you thought of me when we met?” I asked.

 She chuckled, “That an’ more! Oh, you is handsome enough for any gal to want to be hitched to your wagon but until Ma told me some about you, yes, I jest figured you to be just another good lookin’ fancy panted self centered weasel lookin for a free ride through life. That’s why I did not like you.”

“So now that you know me a mite better, do you still think the same way?”

Acting as if taken aback June cried out, “You know I don’t, I done told you that!”

I was getting some different facial expressions from June which was a pleasant thing. She wasn’t what folks would term beautiful or stunning by any means but dang if she wasn’t darn cute. Maybe it was her eyes or maybe her mouth, hell maybe it was just me seeing her differently. She had a great laugh, not too loud but not like my own Ma. Ma was a Quaker to heart, expressing feelings wasn’t something a woman did in front of a man. Nope, June had no such reservations.

She saw my cup was empty and rose to refill it from the pot. She stood behind me and poured over my shoulder. I felt her lean on me just ever so slightly against me and which caused my heart to skip a beat.

When she was done pouring she tussled my hair saying it needed a good combing. “You do own a comb don’t you?”

“I would have done that when I washed up this morning but instead rushed to see who was coming into the yard. I guess I forgot after that.”

“Well it don’t look too bad, kind of manly really, but after we are married you better be in the habit of combing it!”

The coffee I just just filled my mouth with went spraying across the table where she had been sitting!

“What??? Married!” I shouted knowing she was pranking me. I decided to add my ten cents then. “Well then, if were gonna be married I want my breakfast ready upon waking, Oh an at least once a week I’ll be needing my bath water heated good n hot but not so hot as to scald me, an’ I need my back scrubbed up good too.You can do that can’t you? If not, then I’m not marrying you!”

The two of us once again burst out laughing.

June put a blanket on the sleeping invalid Moses and then began doing some cleaning chores around the house. I cleaned and loaded my own guns and two others that June had found while cleaning. One was another Springfield and the other an older civil war Navy Colt who’s cylinder and frame had been converted to take 45 caliber brass shells. I left them all on a large towel placed on an old wooden dining room table in case any oil should drip out after the cleaning.

June stopped her cleaning and made us a lunch of bread, cheese and sliced ham. Once more she fired up the coffee pot.

Moses woke up just as lunch was being served. June cut his meal in two so he could hold the lunch in his one good hand. We all sat around enjoying the wood stoves heat and each others company.

I had gone out to throw some hay to the animals when I heard the rumble of horses.

I quickly ran back into the house yelling for June.

“We got a number of riders heading this way and it isn’t Chester and your Ma. They’re coming from the wrong direction for it to be them.”

In less than a minute six riders on horseback came around the bend behind the barn.

“Just as I figured”, June shouted out to me from the room facing that direction. It’s the Doak brothers and they’ve brought four others with ‘em. Damn their hides, they all got rifles pulled from their scabbards!”

I watched the group arrive and cautiously look the place over before slowly making their way to the cabin’s front porch. June was right they all had rifles laying across their laps. If that wasn’t bad enough laying beside their rifles was a burlap wrapped torch. I’m sure it was soaked in coal oil.

The group stopped in front of the porch and the oldest of the Doak brothers moved ahead of the others and shouted, “Hello the house! Git on out here, we got some talkin’ to do!”

“What should we do Ten? I bet they think it’s just me or Ma here. Every time they showed up before it was either Ma or me as Chester weren’t back here yet.”

“If they think it’s only women folk here then believe I got an idea. I’m going up in the attic with my Springfield and my colt pistol. When I first came here I saw windows at each end. I can cover the two ends of the house from those small windows. Give me a minute and then you go and answer their call but be careful, remain behind the porch pillar closest to the door. “

“Don’t worry Ten, they won’t shoot a woman. They’d be no safe place for ‘em west of the Mississippi.  

Even their own outlaw members wouldn’t put up with ‘em. They’d be dead purty fast.”

I made my way up the attic’s ladder and into the central portion of the attic. Somehow I missed seeing the large ventilation cupola directly above the ladder

I searched and found an old steamer chest. That I turned on its end and used it to climb up into the roofs rafters. Once up in the rafters I duck walked along them until I was inside the roofs large ventilation cupola.

The gaps between each slat was almost two inches tall which would be more than enough to stick my Springfield through. From inside the cupola I could see the front, back and side yards with no obstructions.

A minute must have been up because I heard June shout down below.

“What chew want you measly excuses for cow plop? I got no time for you boys today, I got chores to do, now git!”

Donald, the eldest Doak brother turned to his brother butch and said, “Damn if she don’t do some’n to my lions bro! After we get this here land I’m a takin’ her fer myself.”

Butch smiled evilly and retorted, ”Only after I’ve used her up brother, only then.”

“We ain’t soon to be leavin’ deary, We heard in town that Chester was seen leavin’ that lawyers place yesterday. We’re given ya’ a fair warnin’ sweetheart. We’ll let you go an’ ride on back to your place without no harm comin’ to ya. But if you plan on stayin… well you might get hurt bad.”

“You heard wrong, Chester ain’t showed up here yet.”

One of the four outlaws named Greasy Eddie pointed to the lean to and shouted out, “She’s a lyin, them there two mules belong to him. They wasn’t here last time we was.”

I watched from the cupola and started worrying for June’s safety. It was my fault Chesters two mules were taken out to the lean-to to feed. They weren’t getting along with my horse and mule so I seperated them. Greasy Eddie caught that and now they knew June was lying.

June began backing away from the piller. She realized there was trouble up ahead.  “You boys better git on down the road afor I get riled up an’ learn ya’ what a woman can do when she gits riled!”

The last three outlaws began moving their horses away from the Doak brothers in an attempt to surround the place. It appeared they would seperate and get in a position on three side of the cabin. All four sides were soon covered with the Doak brothers and Greasy Edie remaining out front.

“Girl, I’m gonna count to five an’ if you ain’t walked off that porch I’m gonna tell my boys to burn the place down! It’s gonna be your choice if you burn up along with it!”

On the count of one I, pulled the trigger.

None of the six knew where the shot came from especilly the man at the rear of the cabin who’s chest was suddenly ventilated.

Looking quickly around, the eldest brother Donald Doak shouted, “Who fired that?”

Not being able to see all of his men since they’d spread out around the place he thought one of them may have tried to scare the girl into leaving.

Donald looked at Greasy Eddie and shouted at him. “Ride around the place an’ see who fired their gun. I’m bettin’ it was one a the new guys tryin’ to scare her off.”

Greasy Eddie turned his horse and headed to the left. He soon saw the hard case manning the left side of the cabin was still there and shouted at him. “You know which one a you fired that shot?”

The hard case shrugged saying he heard the shot but didn’t knoew who fired it.

Greasy Eddie replied, “Well it could only be the man on the opposite side of the place, keep your ears peeled for the Bosses order to fire up the place while I check him out.”

As Eddie rounded the corner he saw the hard case’s hporse cropping grass and was riderless. Being mostly hidden by the man’s cropping horse, it took Eddie a few more yards before he saw the man’s bloody body laying dead in the grass.

Before he could spin his horse around to go back and warn the Doak’s of what he’d discovered, I pulled the trigger again.

“Two down, four to go”, I thought.

Meanwhile, hearing the second shot June fled back into the door. At the same time the two men guarding the cabins sides, their curiosity peaked, rounded the corners to get a look see at the Doak’s.

When Donald Doaks saw that two of his men had not shown themselves he immediately ordered the three others left to dismount and find cover.

The two brothers took refuge in the barn while last two spread out behind a wagon and the lean-to.

Inside the cabin Moses shouted to his grand daughter June to give him the pistol I had just finished loading and cleaning. “Give me that pistol girl , I still got my shootin’ arm to work with.”

June raced to the gun and back to her grsandfather with it. “Be careful Grandpa, you’re pretty much exposed in the window.”

Moses turned to her with a wide grin across his face, “June honey, if I’m to be perferated then I couldn’t think of a better way to go out than when shootin’ my way out! Yahooo!”

June hugged him knowing this might be the last time to do so but she wasn’t going to stop him. Ever since his stroke she knew he felt less of a man, just a useless invalid. She saw he had now moved into a position that offered the best for shooting but provided the least cover.

Moses first shot purposefully blew out the lower pane of glass. He now could fire without fearing a return bullet would shower him with shards of glass. His second and third shot missed the man in the lean-to but not his mule. That bullet creased the mules hind quarters cause it to jump and buck wildly.

The man tried in vain to get out of the lean to and away from the bucking mule but was instead thrown against one of the thick post supporting the lean-to’s roof. The man was down but for how long noone could tell.

————————————————————0——————————————

Meanwhile on the road leading to the cabin rode Chester and Adele in their fully loaded supply wagon.

At the sound of my rifle’s first shot, Chestetr halted the team. “Did you hear that shot Adele?”

“I sure did and it came from the direction of the cabin!”

Not saying a word, Chester violently shook he reigns and started yelling at the beast. The wagon ubruptly bolted ahead.

By now hot lead was flying to and from the cabin. The man in the lean-to had still not moved but the mule had broken free and ran out into the nearby pasture braying its head off.

The odds were now even at three to three.

From the cupola, which was now taking plenty of lead, I dropped down onto the attic’s floor and over to the window. From that window I saw the man lying in the lean-to and not moving so I ran to the other window. Shots were still being fired up into the cupola where plenty of the structures ventilation slats were now missing.

The view from this window was better. I could clearly see the barn and the two brothers firing away at the cabin.

Suddenly I heard June scream and a number of rapidly fired shots sounded from where Moses had positioned himself. Fearing she had been hit, I flew down the attic ladder landing heavily in the room below.

My fear of finding June shot to pieces was unfounded but not so in regards to Moses. In his wheeled chair he sat in front of the shot out window leaning forward and not moving.

I ran over to June. She stood there out of the way of any gunfire with tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She turned her head and with a quivering voice asked me. “Oh Ten what will we ever do?”

I approched her and she fell crying into my arms.

I quietly told her, “June, I’m so sorry about your Grandfather”.

With flowing tears she looked into my eyes and told me, “Grandpa Moses knew he wasn’t going to leave here alive Ten. He told me this was the way he wanted to go out, fighting. I let him Ten, I let him go his own way but I didn’t think it would hurt this bad.”

Just then another slug came through the window neatly clipping my shoulder as I held June. I realized I better take Moses away from the window but to do so meant putting myself in harms way.

“June, I need to move him from the window.”

June slowly released me. I then laid on the floor aside Moses wheeled chair and being below the windows sill I was able to grab and shove his wheeled chair from in front of the opening with him in it.

Once safely out of the way I picked him up out of his chair and went to lay him out on the over stuffed sofa.

“Wait,” June called out, “Let me get a blanket laid down first so he don’t bleed out on the furniture.”

I was amazed at seeing June in the middle of a crisis still keeping her head and being practical. “What a women this girl is!” I thought.

June tidy’d him up and looking bacward at me said, “When I asked what we were going to do I meant about the Doaks, not about Grandpa. Grandpa went out fighting like he wished, he was actually excited. In his mind he went out being a whole man, not as an invalid. “

Two more slugs found there way in the wall behind me. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of us would be unlucky.

“Those shots came from behind that wagon in the barn’s yard. So we got that one and the brothers still shooting from the open barn door. I might be able to get the guy behind the wagon with my Springfield. That wagon has only thin side boards, I bet I can punch right through them.”

I stepped further back into the room and grabbed a lone straight back chair to steady my rifle on the top of its back. This way anyone outside would have a difficult time seeing inside the darker room and therefor not see me.

I propped up the gun, took carefull aim and pulled the trigger.

From under the wagon bed both June and I saw the outlaws body fall to the ground. He must have been peeking through the crack between the boards because most of his head was missing.

June grabbed onto me looking green at the gills. “Oh my gosh, that was horrid!” she moaned.

“Yea, death can be ugly but it’s either them or us.”

In response June again leaned into me and wrapped her arms around me, holding onto me tightly.

I let her stay that way until I saw the last of the outlaws, the two Doak brothers lighting up the torches they had rode in carrying.

I quickly moved June away from me and grabbed at my rifle telling her, “June, they’re going to try and fire up the cabin, get your rifle, we need to stop them!”

The two brothers started zig zagging across the large barn yard toward the house with the flaming torches. Their zig zagging run was going to make it nearly impossible to take them both out. Even one successful torch would burn us out and give the shooter some clear and deadly shots at us.

Before the two reached the halfway point to the cabin down the roads incline roared the wagon team hauling butt. Adele left the wagon on the run holding onto one of the Winchesters I had hidden under the seat.

No sooner had she hit the ground when she knelt and fired without bothering to aim. I saw one of the brothers, it turned out later to be Donald, grab his hip. He continued on towards the cabin with blood staining down the side of his leg. Chester reigned up cutting off the younger brother Butch mid yard. Doing so, this forced Butch to go around the stopped wagon in order to get to the cabin.

This gave me time to once again rest the rifle on top of the chair back and aim the Springfield.

As Butch Doak rounded the rear of the wagon I fired but just as I did Butch slipped a step and the bullet caught him in the arm instead of his chest. Still, it was his arm holding the torch.

Butch’s torch went flying out into the yard leaving him standing out in the open.

Seeing he had no choice he raised his good arm shouting, “Don’t shoot me, I give up!”

By this time Donald’s run to the cabin with his flaming torch had slowed to a faltering stumble. Not forty feet from the porch he stopped. Dropping the lit torch onto the grass he called out in his pain, “Me too, I’m done for if’n I don’t get to a Doc.”

Saying that he fell forward unconscious.

Adele and Chester came running up to the porch and into the house.

Seeing them June ran up to her Ma and hugged her tightly telling her. “Oh Ma, you should have seen Ten, he was wonderful!”

Adele looked taken aback exclaiming, “Well this sure is a change of heart June, what all went on here since we left?”

Chester walked in from the sitting room that Chester had holed himself up in. “Adele, I’m sorry, it’s your Pa.”

Adele rushed into the sitting room with June chasing after her.

Adele slowly went up to the sofa where Chester was laid out on. She knelt beside the sofa and grabbed Chester’s hand asking no one in particular, “Did he die fighting or was he kilt unable to defend himself?”

June stepped up beside her kneeling Mom. “Ma he died defending us! I tried to stop him early on but he explained to me that if today was the day to die he wanted to go out a full man, not as an invalid. You should have seen him Ma, he was marvellous. He died fighting for us and with sand fer sure!”

Adele patted Moses hand and replaced it upon his chest where the other one already lay. “That’s fine. That’s very fine!”

Chester started for the door saying, “I’ll go out and tend to the brothers as best I can and haul ‘em back to Granby to turn ‘em over to the Sheriff. With you all as witnesses They’ll hang fer sure. The others I’m dropping off at the undertakers place. I guess it’ll be up to me to pay fer their burials since we was the ones who killed ‘em but they ain’t gonna’ be buried in no coffin, no siree, much too expensive fer the likes of those coyotes.”

Adele rose and went to where June and I stood. June had made her way to stand next to me. When Adele approached us I felt June’s hand slip into mine. I didn’t stop her, nor did I want to.

She glanced down where June and my hand were tightly holding each other then looking back up at us she said. “We got to figure things out here June, Your grandpa never officially filed for his claim. All these years he’s been squatting on the land he claimed as his. No one challenged him back then as only a few folks had yet settled here and once the gold played out I figured we’d be safe until it got populated. I knew this but once he had his stroke it seemed senseless to pursue the matter. I knew he had only a short time left and if he passed why we’d have no claim on his property anyway.

I just figured you an I would sell off what we could and move on into town. I didn’t see any alternative.”

Looking back down at the two of us holding hands she continued, “But since then it seems things here may have changed. If I’m seeing things right, at least the two of you look to have a future here”

Chester had not quite made it to the door. Instead he had stopped to listen to what Adele was saying.

“Now look here Adele, There’s no call to rush into things. Your Pa and I made an agreement. If he was to pass on, why the two of you could just move on into this here place an’ stay as long as you wished. An’ if I was to go first then Ten was to take care of you’s using some of the gold I’ve collected over the years. That’s why I left to find Ten. You See, your Pa and I were pards fer life. If one of us needed help the other would be there for him. What say you Ten?”

If I held my peace and never spoke up, I figured all would be lost and the plans between Moses and Chester would have all been for naught. So, gathering up what June called grit or sand or being a man I opened my mouth and damn the consequences.

With Junes hand in mine I turned to her. I said, “June, I wish we’d have had more time to get to know one another but sometimes fate intervenes and things are forced to a conclusion quicker than we’d all like. So, saying that and with everyone understanding our situation I am asking your Ma if I could take your hand in Marriage.”

Adele looked at her daughter, then back to me. “Don’t you think you should have asked June first?”

I looked down at June smiling and replied to Adele,“Why we have already talked it over, haven’t we June? I’m to keep my hair combed and she’s to make my breakfast and draw a hot but not scalding bath for me once a week!”

“Yes, we did Ten but you left out that I’m also to scrub your back, which I will.”

Looking at them all I saw smiles and even a chuckle. “Then it’s settled. Now Chester needs to get to town while the three of us prepare Moses for a showing here in the parlor. Oh, and Uncle will you please stop by the newspaper and get Moses obituary written up for the paper?”

Chester stood looking amused. “ I ain’t even passed on yet an’ already the boys givin’ orders!

—————————————————0————————————————–

Epilogue

So June and I did get married. Moses had a wonderful wake, too bad he couldn’t enjoy the food, Adele and June put up a feast to beat the band.

Sadly Uncle Chester passed away the next year just after our first born came to be. He lasted longer than we’d ever hoped for. After moving from Moses’s place, Adele has lived in the house since the day of the shoot out, She runs the house while June cares for all the animals we have acquired. I tore down the dam the Doak brothers had been building and ended up buying the Doak’s property at the Sheriff sale last spring hoping to avoid such future shenanigans again.

To think a baby who was tossed away or left abandoned on a prairie trail would end up with all I have is unimaginable. It just goes to show you, The future is not ours to see and those who claim to know are just full of cow plop!

J W Edwards / http://www.Campfireshadows.com

A Kidnapping in Prescott

prescott

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?”

“Yup.”

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.

MY STORY

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.

Chapter 2

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.

 

Chapter 3

“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?”

“It should.”

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.”

Chapter 4

Three days later I was set to leave my wife’s 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.

 

Chapter 5

 

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.

Chapter 6

 

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.

 

Chapter 7

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.

——————————————————-0———————————————–

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”.

prescott

A Colorado Wild Cat

cf8f8223b90aa99de778c741505c9059

 

My name is Cal Clifford I’m twenty seven years old. I’m a Deputy United States Marshal… of sorts. Maybe a trainee is more accurate but the Marshal Service still bestows the full title on you so if need be you could legally arrest someone.

A full pledged Deputy Marshal has a lot more responsibly than a trainee like myself and along with that comes a lot more serious duties. Deputies are taught to think for themselves all the while keeping their actions more or less within the law. They answer only to the Marshal. As for me, I’m on the bottom of the totem pole so I just obey orders.

This mornings orders were of a typical nature. I was to transport a prisoner here from Fort Worth Texas back to the Colorado Court system in Boulder. It seemed to me they must have figured it was a non perilous duty since they decided a green horn like myself could handle the job. Boy were they wrong!

I walked the three blocks to the court house on Main street where prisoners of the Court were housed. This was a different building than the county jail.

I climbed the twelve stairs up to the big brass main entrance doors. The doors stood open. I entered the large foyer with its twenty foot tall ceiling and polished marble floors. The sound of my heeled boots loudly echoed off the walls causing some of those inside to turn and stare reprovingly at me. I made my way to the basement stairwell where the prisoners were held in small six foot by eight foot cells.

I approached the guard, handing him my orders he looked them over and shaking his head said, “Hallway three, cell four. Hand your orders over to the guard stationed there.” I thanked him.

Following the signs painted on the walls I made it to my destination. The guard stuck his hand out taking my orders. “Follow me.” Under his breath just loud enough for me to hear him he muttered, “Good luck with this one, you’ll need it”.

Not a real great way to start a Monday morning.

We made our way down the hall to cell number four. Once there he opened a small eye high rectangular door in the solid steel door to view his prisoner. He then unlocked a small lower door used to pass meals through into the cell and shouted, “Prisoner turn facing the back wall and stick your two hands behind you and out of the meal door.”

A pair of small hands slowly protruded out of the meal door where they were hand cuffed. “Take two steps forward away from the door and keep your mouth shut!”, he shouted. Once satisfied his prisoner had followed all his orders he unlocked the solid steel door.

“Back up towards the open door, continue to face the back wall!”

What I saw surprised me. The small hands belonged to a girl looking no older than in her early teens. I looked questioningly at the guard and whispered, “This kid is the prisoner?” My ‘prisoner’ looked to be no older than fifteen years old or so. She had long light blond hair, green eyes and the most quirky cute smile you could imagine. The ends of her mouth turned upwards giving the impression she had just heard a funny joke or was smiling from a private thought. She was beyond cute.

“Wanted for breaking and entering, murder and theft up in Colorado. Don’t turn your back on this one, she’ll cut your throat if given the chance. I’m glad she’s outa’ here!”

I had not bothered to look at the prisoners name on the orders so I asked the guard, “What’s her name?”

He looked at the orders for a couple seconds, found her name and replied, “It says here Holly Steward but we call her ‘Badger’.”

“Why Badger?”

“You ever hear of a Mama badger? This is one in the flesh. Most ornery, foul spitting, screaming bitch you’ll ever run across. This one has the Devil inside of her, that’s fer sure! You be careful, keep her bound and don’t let her smiles fool ya’. She’d just as soon see you dead and eat your bones for desert.”

I looked at the small girl thinking, “She can’t weigh ninety pounds if that even. Ain’t no taller than mid my chest. Still I thought, I better not let my guard down around her,it sure would be embarrassing trying to explain how a fifteen year old got the better of a man nearly twice her age. .”

I thanked the guard and walked my prisoner down the corridors and out of the building.

I told her as we walked, “We are heading over the the Marshal Service building. They have a stable there where we’ll pick up our horses. For some reason they denied transporting you by train, said travel by horse was preferred in this case.”

She didn’t answer. She knew it was because she was so disruptive that the rail company denied her passage unless it was in a freight car but of course she didn’t tell me that.

Once at the stables they brought out the three requisitioned horses for our travels. Two were saddled and the third was already outfitted with full packs.

The hostler handed me a receipt to sign. “The packs contains one full week of grub at three meals a day. Extra ammunition, cookware, a leather case with bank drafts valued up to one hundred dollars apiece etc, etc etc.”

“Coffee?” I asked.

“Three pounds of mill ground Folgers.”

When ready, and after she mounted, I removed the cuff on her left hand and snapped it around the saddles pommel. Looking closely at her small feminine hands I wondered how someone who was gifted with such innocent good looks and bright eyes could go so wrong at such an early age. Well, it was none of my business.

We left at noon and headed west out of Fort Worth towards the territory of New Mexico. We’d skip around El Paso to resupply in Demming.

Our first day of travels up to dinner time went well. She had not spoken a word and seemed resigned to her fate. She would surely be hung on the order of the court in Colorado.

“We’ll stop here for our meal then move five or so miles away so if anyone smelled our cook fire it won’t lead anyone to us.”

She spoke for the first time asking, “Who would be looking for us?”

“Could be Indians, Owl hots or even someone wanting to rescue you.”

“Well, she said, “you ain’t gotta’ worry about the last one. Ain’t nobody’d give a crap enough to rescue me. I’d be more worried someone would track us down an’ shoot me in my sleep.”

“Ma’am, in transporting you it also falls on me to protect you.”

“A real do good-er, huh?”

“Yup, that’s me, a Do-gooder through and through.”

I left her sitting while I unsaddled my horse laying it on the ground and hobbled my mount then I hobbled hers.  There was no need to hobble the pack horse at it suffered from separation anxiety. In other words, it was afraid to be left alone.I took my hat and watered both horse after feeding a quart of oats each. After that I broke out the food pack to cook us up a meal. Lastly I unlocked the cuff from her saddles pommel.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

As the cuff fell her pommel and onto her saddle she swung it forcefully around her head. She crashed it into my temple, nearly knocking me out. Seeing a bright flash and a universe of stars I fell to the ground. As quick as a bob cat she was upon me. I tried to regain my senses but she was pounding my already half knocked out head with her tiny fist. I should be grateful it wasn’t a man beating on me for I would have been lifeless in just moments. I brought up my arms to protect my face but she bit them each time I tried that. Between punches there were scratches and gouging going on. She was relentless, she never let up.

She now sat upon my chest doing her best to beat my head to a pulp. Instinctively, I wrapped my two arms around her pinning her arms to her side. I rolled over causing her to be partially underneath me. She could no longer use her arms to subdue me so she put her knees into use. I felt her small knee jerk its way up trying to smash my crotch. Fearing the worst for all my unborn children, I wrapped my legs around hers completely immobilizing her.

I had her legs and arms pinned thinking I was out of trouble when she began to bang her head into mine. Good Lord, I suddenly realized why they called her the Badger!

She wouldn’t stop. I forced my face onto the side of her head to push her head down into my arm squashing itself into the dirt.

Finally, I got a break. I had every movable part of her pinned.

We lay there breathing heavily as if we’d both just sprinted a mile. I had no idea what to do next. Maybe a full Marshal would know but I was just a trainee. I’d never been instructed in the art of self defense.

Every now and then she’d struggle, making vile threats and such. As time passed though, her struggles became less and less and finally her breathing slowed and she began to relax.

I wasn’t fooled. I figured just as soon as I let up she’d be Mama Badger again. Little did I know her thoughts of escape were now miles away.

She lay there completely immobilized by my arms and legs. It was then that she had what some might call an epiphany. She lay there feeling a sensation she’d never felt before. Sure, men and boys had tried unsuccessfully in the past to pin her down in order to satisfy their deviant lust but this was different.

As she lay there immobilized yet quietly breathing she smelled the faint pleasant odor of the shaving soap I had used that morning in shaving. Rather than a face full of rough whiskers poking her tender face from some grizzled pervert she felt smooth freshly shaved skin upon her own. Then too she noted the arm underneath her head also had a faint yet pleasant smell, as if I had recently bathed and afterward splashed on a tonic… I had. She felt the warmth of both my face and arm and found it strangely pleasant. She felt the soft hairs of my arms under her cheek and she began to dream.

She wondered if this is what it was like to have a husband, one who actually loved her. She fantasized she was laying in bed with her lover husband, feeling him hold her tightly. She fantasized her bed was in a small house, it was a summer morning. Outside the window the limbs and leaves of an apple tree loaded with fruit swayed under a cool morning breeze. Her husband held her safely in his arms. She had never been more completely comforted or felt safer. It was but a snippet of time to me but to her it lasted a lifetime.

Chapter 2    

 I lay there wondering just how long we’d have to lay there. My mind too began to wander.

I could feel the rise and fall of her small chest within my wrapped arms. I felt the baby smooth skin of her youthful face on mine.  I felt her thin child like limbs held securely by my own. A tinge of guilt began to creep into my thoughts. After all, she was my prisoner and I should have never felt the feelings I was feeling. I mean , she was just a kid, cute as a button but still a kid.

Now I have to admit. The only time I’d ever been with another woman was on my eighteenth birthday. My friends dragged me into town saying I was now a man and should acknowledge my manhood at one of the saloons in town. I figured they meant to get me drunk on whiskey. I was wrong.

When we arrived at the Golden Slipper Saloon my friends immediately drug me up stairs telling me they had previously arranged a get together for me with Big Dolly Red, a whore.

Well I was so nervous that when Big Dolly entered the room and saw how antsy I was she promptly let out a laugh that sounded more like a ships fog horn than any lady I ever knew of. In a way the laugh fit her because she was as big as a Mississippi river barge.

She wandered over to the bed where I nervously sat upon saying, “Your friends bought the two dollar job, that’s where I bend over the bed, lift up my dress and you get your poke from behind. If’n you want me topless and front wise it’ll cost you another four bits and seeing how cute you are I betting you’d want the topless deal.”

I had no idea what in the world a ‘poke’ was or what being topples for an extra dollar was all about so I stuttered saying in order not to argue or offend her, “Uh, topless is alright I guess.”

To my astonishment and horror she dropped the dress she was wearing to the floor. There she stood with no under garments on and  standing there fully stark naked!.

Seeing me wobble on my feet as I neared unconsciousness from fear, she laughed that terrible fog horn laugh again and now hanging onto the iron beds foot board she bent over exposing what looked like two pink baby pigs glued together where her hind end shoulda’ been. It was her butt cheeks but it took a bit to recognize them as that. As I stumbled away from the bed, I turned and that’s when her two giant stretch marked breast came into view. I swear those huge tear drop shaped cow utters hung so low in the position she was in that they rested a good foot below her chest resting on the bed spread.

Well, I quickly flew outa’ there with that sexually debilitating visual scorched into my mind forever. No child and possibly no adult should have seen what I did. I made it back home in record time as I ran flat out the entire way. I thought seriously for a long time afterwards about leaving the Baptist church and becoming a Catholic Priest!

But that memory faded into oblivion as I stared looking at the young sweet face I held securely in my arms.

I’d decided after an hour or so that she had fallen asleep and was no longer interested in kicking my future children’s waiting room to pieces so I slowly began to untangle myself from her when suddenly I felt her reaching out. With eyes still closed she groped around until she found my hand. Gently she inter twined her fingers in mine and quietly murmured, “Please hold me, don’t let me go.”

Not knowing what else I could do I held her tightly throughout the night.

Chapter 3

It was about 4am when she again spoke. “That was the nicest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I have never been with a man before but I’m offering myself to you. Do you want me?”

I wasn’t an eighteen year old any more so I knew what she was saying. I answered her hoping the right words would come out.

“Why would you ask me that?”

“Because I’m about to die and I’ve never made love or have been in love. I don’t want to die not knowing that someone loved me.”

“I do have feelings for you. I have no idea how they came to be or why I even entertained them but yes, I want you… but not like this. The truth be told I’m in my late twenties and you are what fifteen years old at best? Besides, you’re a murderess to be hung.

She quietly said, “Many of my friends were married by the age of fifteen. But, you have no need to worry about that, I’m a lot older than I look, I’m twenty two!”

“What? No way, just look at you! I see girls still in school that look older than you.”

“I tell you what, if you let me up, since we missed last nights meal, I’ll cook us a big breakfast and tell you the story of my life. You’ll see why I’m no murderess even though I might hang for being charged as one.”

“I can’t let you go, I’m afraid you’ll slit my throat.”

“Let me tell you something about myself then. If I make a promise, I keep it. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it, no matter what. If I tell you that you can believe me you can. I’d rather die by drowning that tell a lie.”

“Then I can trust you to behave if I let you up?”

“Yes, with your life.”

“I was afraid you’d say that. Alright, seeing as there’s now way we can lay here for eternity I’m going to trust you.”

She chuckled, “I kind of like the idea of laying here for eternity being held like this but my belly button is beginning to touch my spine wondering if it’ll ever see food again!”

I began to let her up, hoping she wasn’t going to kick my teeth out. That’s  when I noticed her top had been seriously torn open during our struggle the day before. Turning my head away in embarrassment I told her “Uh, Holly, Ma’am, your top is torn, your breast are exposed.”

Jerking back she quickly tried to cover herself but her top was too torn to adequately do the job. She chuckled, “I shouldn’t be embarrassed, I just got done offering myself to you.

Thinking quick like I said, “Here, take my shirt, I have another I keep rolled up in my blanket behind my saddle.”

I stood up removed my shirt and handed it to her. I found my spare still rolled up in the blanket next to my saddle laying on the ground. We were lucky I hobbled both horses before all this happened as we might have had a very long walk back.

She tried on my shirt and ended up tying the front shirt tails together at her waist. Tied like it was, it exposed her flat tummy and gave definition to her small but rounded breast. Dang she looked cute! Then just as suddenly a vision came to me of her dropping through the hangman’s platform snapping her thin neck and my stomach lurched.

I tried to remind myself this girl had broke into a house, murdered the owner then fled with a satchel full of cash. I needed to remember that.

For sure she did not disappoint me on the breakfast though. Together we ate a pound of sizzling hot bacon, an over flowing plate full of hot cakes with maple syrup, biscuits and more bacon and lots of delicious coffee.

After eating I lay back and told her, “Oh my God, I can’t move I’m so full!

“That’s good, it means you have to sit there while I tell you why I’m gonna’ be hung.”

She sat there cross legged, her eyes focused on mine and began her story. “As a kid I was always small, smaller than all the other girls, I mean really small. Not just short small but in all of my features. I was all in a proper proportion not like dwarf or midget but all the other kids still toward over me. I was told things like, she’s a runt or she’s delicate but it hurt when women would say I was too small to bare children. I love children and wanted a houseful of them. That’s why it hurt.

In my teens no boy ever looked my way for fear of being made fun of by their friends. Everyone would tell me I was cute as a kitten but that made it even worse.

At home my Dad was useless as a father, he was always drunk. He’d beat on my Mom nearly every night, I don’t know how she put up with it, I guess in the end her beatings were too much for her though. One day when I was fifteen I came home from work and found she had left a note saying she took off for parts unknown. My Dad said the note blamed me but I had read it before he found it. In it she repeated a few times how much she loved me and hated my Dad.”

I had to pause her to get more wood on the fire. She couldn’t help because even though I hated to do it I had replaced the cuffs on her before she began her story. I began to wish I had really found another line of work. She continued talking when I sat back down.

“Even with all the kids making fun of my size I was a good attentive student until my Dad showed up at school one day. He was drunk and demanded I come home at once. My teacher, Miss English, tried to stand between my Dad and me, trying to protect me. He slapped her so hard she fell unconscious onto the floor. I remember all the kids ran out of the school house screaming. Miss English lay there bleeding from her mouth. My Dad put the blame on me and dragged me by my hair all the way home. The Sheriff gave him ten days.”

“Nice father you had, is he the one you you killed?”

“No it was my employer, the bankers son Brad Sinclaire. My Dad made me leave school that day and get a job to support his drinking. When the Sheriff released him he found work for me through the news paper at Mister Sinclaire’s home. He needed someone to replace the maid on her days off. At first I liked it and as time went on and I began to squirrel part of my earnings away without my Dad knowing about it. I could not hide it in our house as my Dad would surely find it so Mister Sinclaire offered to keep it at his home in a roll top desk in his library. I kept my money locked up in a small strong box that  only had one key, and I kept it. I worked steady for six years until I was twenty one, putting away some with each pay. By then though things began to change in the Sinclaire household. He and his wife began to argue a lot. Then I noticed when I’d arrive at his place in the morning that sometimes the furniture was upset or things were laying on the floor broken. I’d find empty whiskey bottles in his bedroom. Also during this time I began to show signs of filling out up on top. Mister Sinclaire began to make me uncomfortable when he began hugging me and nuzzling my neck telling me it was all in fun. One day he stopped by our house and told my Dad I would need to spend the next week working over night at his place as the maid had left to visit her sister in Demming. My Dad put up a stink until Sinclaire handed him a twenty dollar gold piece.”

“I can imagine what happened next.”

“Yeah, I woke up with Sinclaire trying to screw me.”

“What did you do?”

“I tore into him about as bad as I did you yesterday except all the ruckus woke up his wife. She threw open my bedroom door with me scratching, punching and biting her naked husband.”

“Did she divorce him?”

“Hell no, Misses Sinclaire had no money on her own, she knew who put the butter on her bread and pretended nothing ever happened. By now the two showed no love for each other but had to keep up the image to their social circle that they were the ideal couple.

So did he continue to make advances? Is that why you killed him?”

“Yes and no. Yes, he tried often but more than not he walked away full of bruises. No, I killed him because he had a gun pointed at his own Dad’s head and was going to kill him, and blame it on me!”

“Why would he do that?” I asked.

“He was deeply in debt from gambling. His father, Sinclaire senior, was the one actually paying me. Junior had no cash left.”

“What about the money you saved up by hiding it, did he take that?”

“No, it was still in his roll top desk but in a steel lock box with only one key he’d early on given me. He told me when he gave the strong box to me that it would prevent his wife from finding and spending it. That was the money I ran out with, it belonged to me!”

“Just out of curiosity, how much do you think you had saved up?”

“Exactly one thousand four hundred and forty dollars!”

“Wow! That’s huge!”

“I saved half of everything I made. I told my Dad Sinclaire was cheap and he believed me. Besides, it kept him drunk so he didn’t care what I made so long as he believed I gave it all over to him.”

“So if he killed his Dad, blaming it one you, he would inherit his fathers fortune and you’d be hung.”

“That’s it in a nut shell.”

“So didn’t you have a lawyer at the trial?”

“Sure Mister Bernard Coots the public defender. He was no match for the prosecuting attorney Stoddard Sievers. Sievers and Coots hated each other. Sievers not only wanted to win but destroy Coots in the process. It went back a ways. It seemed Coots once beat Sievers in a trial and Sievers never forgave him.”

“So you are going to be hung because the Prosecutor and Junior were both crooked?”

In a way yes. Between the two I never stood a chance of getting a fair trial. My court appointed lawyer was terrible but you know what?”

“What?”

I could care less if I ever find justice. Sinclaire senior never stood up and told the truth so I had no defense. I believe in the Bible. I’ll find justice just not here on earth and in the end, they’ll pay in hell. So, that’s my story even if you believe it or not.”

“I’m intended to believe you. Truthfully, your story causes my heart to ache. I’m so sorry I ever met you. I don’t believe you deserve what has been done to you. I know it makes no difference but I just want you to know how sorry I am.”

She reached over with her handcuffed hands and squeezed my hand. “I know you are and I really wish things were different, especially since I met you but I also have to be honest with you.”

“About?”

“About my trip here. In no way can I let my feelings for you hinder me from what I need to do.”

“What do you need to do?”

“Escape!”

Chapter 4

“I take it you mean escape from me?”

“By any means necessarily”.

I sat there looking at her. She was honest all right. What kind of person warns another that they will attempt at any time to break free? I thought about it and decided if it were me, I’d do the same.

I kept my senses tuned to high to prevent a log being crashed over my head or some other means of over powering me. Still the days rolled on without incident as we skirted around El Paso and headed west to Demming. We found ourselves in near constant conversation during the trip. We ended being like minded on many, many subjects.

The night before we were to resupply in Demming Holly made her move. Still handcuffed, she took the frying pan down to the stream to wash it out where we had camped and watered the horses. Tall green grass grew by the banks so I hobbled the horses there knowing they’d not wander off.

Suddenly, in flash I heard one of the horses rear up and whinny. I jumped up knowing she had just mounted her horse bareback and skedaddled. It took less that a half a minute for me to jump on my own horse and take off after her. Light as she was, she was gaining distance on me. We rode flat out for two miles or more when suddenly she came to the very same stream we camped next to, just down river where it turned to the east. Her horse shied, stopping at the bank so fast that without a saddle she was thrown headlong into the stream.

I dove off my mount and in mid air plowed into her as she found her footing and began to run across the water.

If my previous battle with her taught me anything it was she would fight until she got free. She fought me more like a wildcat his time. Rolling in the waist deep water I was mauled, bit and scratched near to death! I finally had no choice but to unlatch my pistol from its holster and bang it into the side of her head.

I saw her go limp and under the surface. Slamming my pistol back in its holster I reached into the water and felt her hair. I pulled her free from a certain drowning and laid her unconscious on the bank. She coughed up some water and moments later opened her eyes.

I tenderly held her head and asked if she were alright.

She responded with that quirky beautiful smile, “Didn’t I tell you I would try to escape?”

Without warning she raised her head. At first I thought she was going to batter me with it again but suddenly I felt the softest pair of lips touch mine.

When we broke apart she whispered, “I’m in love with you Cal, you need to know that.”

My only answer to such a dilemma was, “I know Holy, I know.”

The next morning we made our way into town. We stopped at the general supply store where we wandered around inside choosing different items to take along with us. I purchased a steel kerosene lantern and a pint can of oil for it. I also bought an ax, a buck saw and five boxes of shells to fit the new Spencer rifle I just bought. Holly gave me a queer look when she saw what I’d bought but kept quiet.

I saw the look and gave her the explanation that we had a long way to travel and we could not depend on a General store each time we ran out of supplies. I told the clerk to pack everything up for traveling so he began to fill and wrap each package in tide together oil cloth. I asked him where we might purchase a mule from and he told me the livery has some for sale as the miners have need of them. We left our supplies in his care and headed to the livery.

The hostler at the livery looked down at Holly’s cuffs and shook his head. He’d also seen the star on my chest. He noted the bruises both of us where plastered with after Holly’s latest escape attempt then signaled us to follow him, mumbling things that no child should ever hear. We ended up with a sturdy four year old Missouri bred mule, the best in the country. Holly still had not questioned me further about my recent purchaes. I paid using an official draft reserved for Deputy Marshals while traveling.

When all was loaded we had two riding horses, a pack horse and a pack mule. We were set now to cross through the New Mexico territory without fear of starving.

We decided to skirt east of the Indian territory just north of us and head instead north east towards Albuquerque. I knew not to go into Albuquerque as a bustling city would give Holly every chance to escape. Instead we made our way east of Albuquerque  through Tigeras, a small Mexican community.

Each night on the way to Boulder Colorado we stopped by a stream or lake, unloaded the animals, hobbled and fed them some grain and cooked our biggest meal of the day. Our midday meal consisted mainly of jerky, biscuits and canned fruit washed down with canteen water.

As usual, Holly outdid herself when it came to cooking. I love breakfast and she made the best.

We rode into Tigeras, I guess that means tiger in English. They must have had a mountain lion problem at one time or maybe the town was named after a woman as feisty as Holly could be, I don’t know.

We broke the mold and stopped at a small eatery for our midday meal. It’s not like you had a menu to choose from, they only made one thing each day to eat and that was it. When our food arrived there were two giant tortillas filled with refried beans, meat, a white cheese and salsa. It was really good so we ordered another two servings to go.

I stopped at the town well and filled our canteens. I was surprised to see how clear and cold the water was. Our horses and mule sure gobbled down a belly full of the water to boot!

We left with full bellies and plenty of cold water and headed due north towards Raton.

We camped just five miles north of Tigeras alongside a small running creek. I noticed that the closer we got to Colorado we encountered more water  was to be had. I also noted that the perpetual smile on Holly’s face became less evident with each mile. I knew she was full of worry about being hung.

After our evening meal we sat next to each other. It had become the norm to set on each side of the campfire but not tonight. Tonight Holly sat next to me. Her hands had been freed to cook and eat with them. I had a feeling she wanted to talk but was unsure how to start the conversation I knew she wanted to speak to me about.

I was not known for my tact to I would just blurt out what was on my mind.

I started to speak but she put her hand over my mouth to stop me. When she was sure I wasn’t about to open my mouth again she took my hands in hers and looking intently at me asked. “Cal, will you marry me?”

My head spun, what could I say? The look on her face was pure desperation. “Holly, if you had any sort of future I’d marry you tonight. I know you know how I feel about you. Only once did you mention love when we talked, how can I believe you really do love me and don’t have some sort of twisted scheme in your head to get out of being hung? Please, tell me I want to believe you!”

“You’re right, I’ll tell you. I have never lied to you have I? No! So believe me now. I once told you I wanted to feel real love before I died, did I not?”

“Yes, you did.”

And did I not tell you I wanted children?”

“Yes, you did.”

Did I lie about those things?”

“No, I believe you.”

“Then believe this Cal, I’ve been in love with you from the moment you wrapped your arms around me to hold me off from fighting you. When I kissed you, my heart was sealed that no matter how life would turn out, you were the only man I ever loved or will ever love, no matter how long or short I have on this earth. If you want me to I will go with you voluntarily to Boulder to hang, just marry me first and give me one night with my true love!”

I sat there watching the campfire burn down to just glowing embers. Holly sat patently waiting, not saying a word.

I finally looked up at her and said. “Pack the animals, were heading out.”

Now it was her turn to look bewildered. “It’s almost dark where would we be going in the middle of the night.

“Back to Tigeras, I saw a mission there and where there’s a mission there’s a Padre and where there’s a Padre, there a way to be married!”

Speechless except for the small whimper to compliment the tears running down her face, Holly flung her arms around me and cried.

Together at near dark, we knocked on the large solid wood door that we were told was where the Padre lived. We left the mission as Mister and Misses Cal Clifford.

Chapter 5

That night sure was different from the time my friends thought I should exercise my new found manhood, that was for sure. I was still what you’d call, ‘a prude’ but somehow I musta’ got the job done to her satisfaction. It took three times that night to make sure I had it down correctly but I’m not complaining!

Our morning breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs ( thanks to the Padre who gave us a basket of eggs to take with us.) We cut a loaf of bread into slices and made toast with cherry jam on it, bacon of course and plenty of hot coffee. Oh, and less I forget, we also indulged in plenty of kisses which led to touchy feely which led to… well, you get the idea as to where this is going.

As we ate I told her my thoughts on what we had to look forward to. I told her, “Do you remember when we were in the General store where I bought my rifle and all that other stuff? You never said a word to me about it but I’ll tell you in case you’ve been wondering. I was thinking, What would happen if I got to Colorado and didn’t want to return? What if I wanted to start a new life on my own?

Could I survive without the necessary tools to build a cabin or hunt for food? So I bought these things kind of as a down payment on a new life. At that time you weren’t really a part of it but maybe in the back of my mind I was hoping you would be. So I bought all that stuff in case I was to disappear into the woods never to return to Fort Worth or any city for that matter. Maybe deep inside I knew all along I’d try and get you to be my wife and we’d make a home where no law could catch us to hang you or throw me in jail for aiding an escaped prisoner. I think that is our only option, what say you?”

“I think it’s wonderful! Now please undress and tell me you love me.”

That morning we changed our direction and headed to a place I’d only read about in a adventure travel book , a small town trapped between the most beautiful forested mountains a man could imagine, Columbia Colorado.

Before we left for the western mountains of Colorado I had to remove all traces of me being a U S Deputy Marshal. I dug a deep hole and buried my badge and anything in our packs that could be associated with the Marshal service. That also meant my pistol had to go as it was issued and the serial number recorded. Our saddles were another thing as they were labeled USMS under the fender we had to bury them also. The hardest to deal with was our Marshal Service branded horses. We would have to buy two new horses and at some remote area, free our two USMS mounts to live forever free in the plains and mountains of Colorado. I’m sure the Marshal Service would eventually determine that the two of us were victims of either angry Indians or no goods looking to rob and kill us.  If they did an in depth investigation, they’d see that we got as for a Raton then from there it was anybodies guess at what happened to us.  In any case, they’ll write us off as deceased. Both of us had discussed even changing our names. We tossed around a few but were yet undecided on a new name. We did agree on Holly’s name, she would now be called Katherine or just Kat… short for wildcat.. She wanted me to change my name to stud but I nixed that one in a fit of laughter. I guess by the time we reach Columbia Colorado we’ll be husband and wife under new names.

We traveled the mountain passes and met a number of interesting people along the way. We were told we could buy horses in a town just ahead called Ophir. We did and later let our US Marshal issued mounts loose in a beautiful valley protected by a range of mountains to the west. They never looked back as we let them go.

It was two weeks later that we entered the valley of Columbia. By now we had changed our names. Holly was now known as Katherine Elizabeth Badger and I took the name Vernon William Badger. We thought the name Badger was a good play on words to what the jailers in Fort Worth called Kat. It took a few days getting used to our new names but eventually they rolled off our tongues without thinking.

The Columbia valley was more than beautiful, it took our breath away. There were Pine and Aspen covered mountains and lush valley’s containing a number of  trout laden mountain streams. We saw herds of sheep being tended to by a people called Basques. They were an extremely giving and helpful people. We stayed living with the Basques through the winter and when in the spring it was time to cut down the pines to build our cabin, they showed up bearing their axes and draw knives. In less than two weeks we had a three room cabin. We originally planned on a two room design but as Kat’s belly swelled, we added the extra room.

We opted out of the typical large open drafty fireplace deciding instead on a cast iron cook stove and two pot bellied stoves to heat with.

Since neither of us were farmers or cattle folks we ended up raising sheep along with our friends the Basques. Kat’s blond hair amazed the Basques women since the only hair color in that entire culture was pitch black.

We settled into our new cabin with Kat turning it into a home. We borrowed a wagon from our friends the Basques and rode to Sawpit to pick up the iron cook stove and pot bellied stoves plus tons of other things needed to ensure our survival. All in all it took three runs to the supply store to outfit the house. I closed my bank account in Fort Worth, having them send the cash via stage to Sawpit. It took five weeks but the stage finally rolled in with a lock box to be handed over to VW Badger. When it arrived we paid our bill off to the supply store and put half of the balance into the Sawpit Bank. The rest we keep at the house, well hidden of course.

When we returned from our last trip to Sawpit, our Basque friends and our nearby neighbors had a gift waiting for us at the cabin. They had erected a log lean-to out back that held eighteen cords of split wood! That was more than enough wood for an entire year! Kat broke down in tears while I held onto her in humbled disbelief.

All that has occurred to us recently has humbled us. Where once it was only Kat who expressed faith in God, I now have been spending time each day reading the Bible. I have decided to send away for a mail order course in becoming a Preacher through the Dallas Theological Seminary back in Texas. We have no church here in Columbia so all weddings, funerals and Sunday services must be attended in Sawpit or wait for a traveling Preacher to pass through the area, not a frequent occurrence for sure. I think I’d make a good Preacher of the word here in Columbia, folks here agree and I believe the Lord does too.

Kat has fallen in love with the wildlife here. Each morning the deer graze on our pasture right along with the sheep. She goes out and even has petted some of them. They seem to have no fear of humans. I make sure to hunt far away from our home because of this.

Columbia is so remote and difficult to get to that I’m betting it will take two hundred years for it to reach a population of even one hundred. But that’s fine, our great,great grand kids wont have to ever worry about over crowding in the tiny town even when they rename it twenty years hence to Telluride Colorado.

The End

The windmill

                                 windmill 

It had been a long day and I was worn out to the bone. Images of my bedroll rolled themselves across my mind as I headed back to where I had set up my camp in the prairie grass about a mile away. That morning I had vowed to finally finish erecting a windmill on some land I bought years ago to support my growing cattle herd but never quite got around to it. I‘d purchased the repossessed Aermotor windmill at Duggan’s Mercantile and Cattle Supply in town. It had only been up and spinning less than a year so it was still pretty darn new. It seemed the rancher had bought it on credit then suddenly up and died, so back it went to the mercantile to be resold.

Here in Texas, a bit east of the town of Uvalde, there’s not so many water sources as in the town itself so windmills are pretty common. The land here is mostly flat with some hills to the north so a breeze is fairly constant. Sure, we got nice grass and such but without a constant supply of good water your cattle ain’t gonna live but a week or so at most. So this day I decided to attach the air foil wheel to the windmill’s gear box.

After looking at the original assembly prints I thought it looked fairly easy to put back together so I jumped right in to the task. Ha! You ever try to walk around holding a six foot long sheet of tin the shape of a giant slice of pie and doing it in a ten mile an hour wind? I’d rather try and paint a mural of the last supper on a kite while it’s flying! Maybe I should have had the help with a couple of my hands but this was my pet project, not theirs.

So what I thought might take a couple hours at best turned into an all day and exhausting affair. But, I got her all assembled and she’s now attached to the long rod going to the well pump below. In a day or so my new windmill will end up filling the water tank setting beside her and I can bring up the cattle to the new range.

The sun was setting in the west over Uvalde as I shook out my bedroll of ants and a couple of daddy long legged spiders. Call me spoiled or call me by my given name of Joseph One eye looks crooked Smith but I do like my pillow when I’m sleeping under the stars. My Mama (she was of the Black Foot Tribe up in the Empire of the Alturas [Idaho] made it for me when I was a toddler and every few years I got to stuff some fresh feathers inside it so’s it keeps it shape. I took some ribbing from the hands the first time they saw me with it but as time went by I noticed a few others started rolling up a small pillow along with their bedroll behind the saddle.

I was just too tired to bother with making a real dinner so instead I downed an apple and opened a jar of canned peaches instead. For my dessert I took a big gulp of Uvalde honey, the best honey in the whole world!

After I finished eating and watering my horse ( I call Mo, short for Morgan ‘cause that’s her breed) I gave her a good rubdown using handfuls of grass. She never tires from the attention a good rubdown gives her so I make sure she’s pleased as pie before stopping. I never had to hobble her because she’s prone to separation anxiety and rarely leaves my side during the night. Once in a corral or stabled with other horses she’s just fine.

She’s an ex Northern States Calvary horse that was used in the war.

I believe she got her anxiety problems from her service in the war. She saw lots of action yet made it through like a champ so I had no qualms about buying her when she went up for auction. Like most Morgan breeds, she’s extremely sure footed even on the worst mountain trails. I believe she can see even in the pitch dark of night and can smell trouble long before my dog can. She’s not real tall in stature yet she’s  got a fine muscular build and stands about fourteen and a half hands tall. When I first got Mo she was all skin and bones but after a bunch load of TLC she filled out just fine.

She’s one of the most loyal horses I ever owned. I believe if I were to be attacked by a mountain lion, she’d try to fend it off unto her death for me! She’s not gun shy and has learned a few important tricks that I taught her, like stay, lie down, be quiet and don’t bite me no more!

As the light faded into complete darkness I happily crawled into my bedroll for the night… or so I thought.

Now we hadn’t had a real problem of cattle rustling for a number of years now. I believe the act was curtailed due to the hanging of four cattle rustlers a few years back. Three of them were only in their teens with the adult being their father. No mercy was shown to the four as they not only rustled the mans cattle they all had their way with the mans youngest simple minded daughter.

But this night all that was to change.

I awoke around two o’clock to the sound of my herd moving to the north and towards me. Since there was yet no water in this part of my range I couldn’t imagine why they’d decided to move out after bedding down a few miles south of where I lay where water was good and the grass was plentiful.

Cows are a funny creature. They sometimes just up and move for some unknown reason but what made me jump out of my comfortable bedroll was the pace at what they were moving at. Cattle move about at a speed that allows them to graze, unless they are being driven or there’s a predator nearby scoping them out. These weren’t running from a predator or a thunder storm but were still moving too quick to be able to graze .

I belted on my holster after making sure the Colt’s cylinder had five live cartilages in it (it holds six but unless you want to accidentally blow a toe off you don’t fill the chamber under the hammer). I thanked the stars for not bothering with a cook fire that night, I was pretty much invisible under the sliver moon night.

What I saw as my cattle drew near was a few riders pushing my herd forward by waving their hats. While they themselves attempted to be as quiet as possible no one told the cattle to keep their yaps shut. A few calves in the herd began bawling as their Mama’s began to out pace them.

This herd was the smaller portion of the much bigger herd I kept on my southern range near Batesville. I had moved these two hundred plus head north of the main herd onto fresh graze as this was the herd I would keep near my new windmill until I sold ’em off.

I could have legally shot the rustlers out of their saddles but being a tender hearted guy I instead placed myself in front of the herd and fired off five quick shots.

The herd’s reaction was predictable.

They immediately turned and began running full steam back to where they had come from. Unfortunately for the rustlers, they had not planned on such an event and were caught unprepared to deal with two hundred plus scared shitless long horned cattle charging straight at them. I saw a couple riders go down when their horses reared up in fright and also heard a horse or two let out screams of pain from being gored.

After the herd had run their course back to the south I was left standing alone holding an empty six shooter in the dim moonlit night. The smell of burnt gun powder faded as the cloud of smoke was carried off in the nights breeze.

I reloaded the empty cylinder and headed off to the dark shapes to the south that made up the injured or dead rustlers.

The first fella was far from alive. I could tell this because his head was not sitting right on his shoulders. He looked about middle age, unkempt and wore canvas sail cloth made pants. He must have been pretty poor when he was alive as most men wore denim now.

I came upon the second man a hundred or so feet away, he too was dead. Him, I felt for a pulse and when I did that I seen the right side of his head had been crushed in. He looked older than the first fella.

I only saw one horse standing upright so I made my way over to where two large shapes lay a few yards from each other. The closest horse was in pain with a ripped open belly. I put that one out of his misery and headed off to the other one. She was lying there blowing heavily and I could see she too had been gored. Even in the dark I could see she hadn’t been cared for very well by her owner. The whites of her eyes were like silver dollars in the moonlight, she was in immense pain so I did her the favor of sending her to whatever heaven horses go to.

I never saw hide or hair of the third fella. He’d lost his horse somehow in the stampede but it’d have to wait till daylight to find him.

I returned to missing man’s horse as she calmly stood there cropping the fresh grass. I quickly checked her over and seeing no visible wounds, led her back to my campsite. When we got there Mo sniffed at her, looked over at me and took a piss. I figured that was a good sign. She seemed content to side up next to Mo so all I did was loosen her cinch, wrap the reigns around the saddle horn and gave her a quick rub her down.

When the Eastern sky began to lighten I made a small cook fire, fried up some bacon to go along with a few biscuits I carried in my saddle bags and ate. After that I went through the first rustler’s saddle bags and found a small bag of ground coffee. I used the cleaned out frying pan to boil my coffee in.

All the time I kept an eye out for that third fella but I still couldn’t see him.

After packing up my gear behind Mo’s saddle, I cinched up both horse’s saddles and trailing the abandoned horse I headed out to where the dead lay.

I went through the deceased pockets and retrieved the other dead horse’s saddle bags. In one bag I found a letter from one of the men’s sister. In it she had begged him to give up his ways and return home to her and his Ma. The problem was, I had no idea which dead man the letter belonged to.

From the three saddle bags I recovered some old clothing, some food items (which I wouldn’t touch) and items for shaving (didn’t look much used) there wasn’t much else. One man had a fifty cent piece in a pocket and nothing else. I assumed these men were down on their luck, unsuccessful owl hoots. How they thought just the three of them would be able to trail a herd even as close as Fort Stockton bewildered me.

Having no shovel, just some wrenches to assemble the windmill with and too few stones around to cover the bodies with, I left them lying in the rising sun.

I headed back south to my ranch house where I’d gather up the two hundred head and bringing them back up to the killing grounds at the windmill. Like good cattle Long horns seem to know their way home with out maps.

By noon my ranch hands had rounded the herd up and drove them once again north. I’d  seen the windmill pumping water into the big round water tank before I left so I wasn’t worried about the cattle not having water.

I was trying to convert the herd from longhorns to the short horned breed. Short horns proved just as hearty as the long horns but provided more meat poundage and were a gentler breed. The biggest reason though was the long horn carried the tick that produced the dreaded tick fever, the short horned didn’t carry them but they could catch the actual fever. After the loss of total herds many Midwest meat processors had begun refusing to touch the longhorn because of that.

In response, many ranches like myself began replacing their longhorn with the short horned breeds but it would still take a few years to complete the transition.

When we neared the killing grounds I rode on ahead in search of the third rustler. I finally found his body in a shallow swale. There wasn’t much left to bury but I’d brought along a shovel and did what any man would do. I buried him and said words over his grave. He appeared to be younger but honestly it was hard to tell. Unlike the other two who had brown hair this fella was blond.

I then did the same for the other two. In the letter that I had found inside the one saddle bag, the man’s sister had written that “try as we could, without father here the farm has fallen onto rough times and if you do not return to help run it, Mom will have no choice but to sell it.” She added that if that’s how things end up to be the case, she and her mother were going to live with her mothers cousin in San Antonio. She provided the address of the cousin in her letter.

I had already decided to write just to inform the family of her brothers death. I wasn’t going to tell them he was killed while attempting to rustle my herd. Instead I would just tell them he was killed in a stamped while attending the herd. At least that way they might assume he had turned his life around and died an honorable death.

Upon arriving, the cattle immediately headed for the water tank. It was big enough that at least twenty long horn at a time could drink. Without the six foot horns taking up room, the short horned cattle number drinking should be around thirty.

I climbed back up the windmill and gave it a good greasing before I headed back to the ranch with the hands. I noticed that while I was up there a number of small animals and birds were already getting their fill on the carcasses of the dead horses.

Chapter 2

Satisfied that whoever got the letter, they would know of the man’s death. I also included two paper twenty dollar bills saying that they were found on his possession. It wasn’t much but it might be enough to get them to the cousins home by stage.

Something in the way the sisters letter was written told me they were good people even if her brother had gone bad. The way I saw it, half my hands at one time or another might have been considered bad when they were younger. Youth seems to push the boundaries of what’s good and what’s bad but age seems to finally settle a person down to the good.

I trusted my foreman to post my letter to the family for me when they left for Uvalde on Friday night to let off steam in one of the local saloons there. Uvalde had no actual post office but the mercantile in agreement with the stage line, was where you went to get or send your mail.

I had no idea who the other two men were so I rode up on Saturday to Uvalde and contacted the county Sheriff. He told me since there was no identification on them and since they were buried already not to worry about it. He said if someone comes looking for a missing person he would get a physical description of the person they were looking for and see if it in any way matches the ones I gave him of the rustlers.

Rising from behind his desk he stuck out his hand for me to shake and told me, “Don’t fret none Mister Smith, there’s lots of unmarked graves across Uvalde County and even more missing persons. Go on back home, I got all the information I need along with your statement of what happened here.”

I shook his hand, thanked him and headed back home with a clear conscience.

A month went by and I hadn’t heard anything back from my letter so I put it out of my mind and got down to doing the business of selling off more of my longhorns. At the same time I brought in one hundred and fifty short horn cows and a couple bulls, one bull for each section of the range. The short horns settled in right away and the bulls happily went right to work.

By the end of September I’d noted that my bulls had been busy doing what they do best (besides eating and pooping). I knew I’d made a good decision and planned on transitioning the entire herd over to short horns just as soon as I saw how many calves were born. I’d divided the cows up equally at seventy five per range.

I continued to watch the beef market and was excited when the short horns began bringing in way more money per pound than the longhorns. I congratulated myself and the hands by having a big ‘ol Texas style BBQ. The ‘guest of honor’ was a longhorn.

It was mid November when I started wearing my heavy fleece lined deerskin winter coat. It made me look more like the half breed Indian that I was than my heavy flannel one. I also switched back to wearing winter moccasins as they were less slippery on the ice and were also much warmer than my tall heeled boots.

On December first of that year, I was required to pay my County land taxes. I headed out for the Uvalde County tax assessor’s office, now located in the new County building across the street from the Kincaid Hotel off North street.

After paying my tax bill I decided to stop by the Sheriffs office to see if anyone had inquired about any missing persons or in my case, the missing rustlers.

I was asked to wait outside his office as the sheriff was busy at the time so I plunked down on a solidly built oak hard backed chair commonly seen in banks and government offices. The new overly warm building was steam heated and soon I was fighting the idea of taking a good nap.

I was thrust into wakefulness by the Sheriffs booming voice proclaiming, “Well speaking of the devil, here he is!”

I popped open my eyes and saw the Sheriff escorting two women out of his office.

“I just finished telling these folks how to get to your spread!”

I stood up and removed my hat to grace the two women but still unsure as to why they desired to know the where about’s of my ranch.

I stood confused waiting for any further information and when none came forth I exclaimed, “I’m sorry Ma’am’s but I’m at a loss as to who you all are.”

The younger woman stepped forward and offered her hand to me. I wasn’t sure if you shake a woman’s hand or kiss it so I just held onto it. But seeing such a young beautiful woman I would have preferred kissing it.

“I’m sorry, my name is Keva Lyndi, this is my mother widow Fayre Lyndi.”

I was paying way too much attention to the girls beautiful green eyes and just kind of stupidly mumbled, “You both have such beautiful names are you from Uvalde?”

The girl chuckled in response. “ No, we were originally from England but have lived here in America for over twenty years but we just arrived by stage an hour ago from San Antonio. We started out last month after selling the farm in Nebraska. To be honest, we nearly gave up and turned around. The west is so much larger than can be imagined and my mother is getting too old for such a rigorous travel.”

Suddenly it all became clear to me. “Oh my gosh!” I nearly shouted,  “Then you must be the mother and daughter I wrote to last summer.” And just as suddenly, I realized I’d have to tell this woman and her mother that it was I who was responsible for her brothers death. My throat closed up.

“Yes, we received your letter but were involved in selling our farm and couldn’t leave right off. We wish to see where he’s buried so we can pay our respects”

At this point the Sheriff realized he was a fifth wheel on a four wheeled wagon and begged his forgiveness as he headed back into the safety of his office.

“Have you secured a room at the hotel yet? If not you are more than welcome to stay at the ranch. In fact I insist you do. For your mother’s sake there is no need to make the long arduous trip back and forth. If we leave now we can make it there by dark.”

It was then that the mother spoke up. “That would be fine Mister Smith, but would you truly have the room for two guest? I couldn’t help but notice on our way here that many of the homes are just small clay brick adobe ones. We don’t want to put you out.

“Ma’am, the house is a stick and brick one and has four bedrooms. Two that I never use are very large and have walk in wardrobes. I’m sure you’ll find them more than ample for your needs.”

I rented a Studebaker Brothers buggy from the Uvalda livery along with a horse to pull it with. Keva said she was quite familiar with driving a wagon so I had Mo saddled up by the stable boy and off we went after putting a dollar in the boy’s hand..

We arrived at my ranch just after six in the evening. Charley, my foreman, saw us coming through the ranch gate and ran out to meet us. He recognized me and Mo but not our guest.

I made the necessary introductions and saw the color leave Charley’s face when I told him who they were and why they had arrived.

“Uh…I’ll be taking the horses into the stable for ya’ boss.”

It seemed no one wanted to be around when I told them the truth of the matter.

I took what luggage they had upstairs and with Muriel my cooks help, got the two women settled into their rooms. Dinner that night was duck, mashed potatoes and a big old apple pie for desert!

On the way back from Uvalde we had discussed waiting until after breakfast to show them where I buried the bodies. Keva described her brother and I knew then which body was his, the blond, just like her.

I expected the two women to be in mourning but to my surprise they both seemed to have long before accepted the boys death. I was told he was only nineteen and had left home three years prior. He and his father saw life differently so when the boy started rebelling against his fathers wishes his father increased the demands on the boy.

It came to a head when the two butted heads and it became physical. The boy won, packed what belongings he could and left home.

Shortly after the boy left the father was told he had cancer. Within a year he was bedridden and could barely breath. He passed in his sleep after being bedridden for a couple months. The crops had been already harvested so there was breathing time before the two women had to step up and do the tilling and planting. Neither had never plowed using their lone mule. They finally figured out how to set up the mules harness to the plow but had no concept on how to control the mule to plow a straight line. Their furrows looked like a drunken Irishman had done the plowing. It was a sorry sight. It was the last crop they would ever attempt to grow.

They admitted without the boy’s help the farm would fail. If the boy refused to come home then the only recourse they had was to sell the place.

The two women rode in the buggy I had rented to the grave site while I rode on Mo.

Standing there looking over the prairie landscape the mother asked,“So this is where my son Erik lost his life?”

“Yes, the cattle he was driving turned on the three men, they never stood a chance. Your son’s grave is that one over there on the right.”

Keva asked, “Do you know who the other men were? If not, I believe I do.”

“I have no idea who the two others were, they had nothing on them with their names.”

“Well,” she said, “ one was a conniving old man named Bruley. He was the leader of the three. He was just plain bad to the bone. Why Erik ever fell in with him is beyond me. The other one must have been Bruley’s cousin Adolph. Adolph was a follower, couldn’t think on his own.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked her.

“When Erik left we heard he had company with him. Later on we found out Bruley and his cousin Adolph were the company. We knew then that no good would come to Erik hooking up with those two.”

I had hoped seeing the grave would be enough so I turned and began walking off.

Keva yelled after me. “Mister Smith? Can you hold up a moment, I need to ask you something.”

“Sure, just let me set your Ma in the buggy then I’ll come back to you.”

When I had placed her Mom securely in the buggy seat I walked back to where Keva stood over her brothers grave.

“I want the truth Mister Smith.”

“Please, call me Joe.”  I told her, “My Pa was Mister Smith, not me.”

“Alright Joe.”

“Now what is it you want to know?”

“When you wrote you said my brother and two other hands were killed during a stampede. Correct?”

“Yes, that’s what I wrote.”

“Was it the truth?”

“Ma’am… Keva I…”

“Don’t answer, I don’t want you to lie to protect my feelings. Let me tell you what I think happened here.”

I took off my hat and held it in  both hands in front of me. “You have the floor, go ahead.”

“First off, my brother had no fear of hard work but those other two? They never worked an honest day in their life. Driving cattle as paid hands… really Joe?  That would be news to everyone back in Holyoak Nebraska.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Second point Joe, since I know I’m right about them not working for you then the only answer is they were rustling your herd and it went bad on them… Am I right?”

“You have a good head Keva. I was just trying to be nice. I didn’t want to see you hurt anymore than you already were.”

Keva gently placed her hand on my chest and stared into my eyes. It was hard looking at her, she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen and I think I may have forgotten to breath because my head started getting light.

“Joe, I’ve always been able to see people for who they really are. Do you want to know what I see Joe?”

“I’m not sure. You’d probably be right and that scares me.”

“I know I’m right. I listened real hard when you were talking over dinner last night. And afterward when we all sat on the porch and you told us how you grew up and all. You got hurt bad once Joe, it shows. But, you never let it stop you from doing what needed to be done nor did it steal away the kindness away you have for others. I’m not sure why you’re alone and not married but you’re a prize Joe, any girl would be proud to stand beside you. Why didn’t you ever let one in?”

“I did, once. I loved her so deep I couldn’t imagine what it would be like living without her.”

“So what happened?”

“We were going to get married but her Ma not wanting to see me made a fool of told me the truth about her. It… she was… my best friend Robby… and her… well, she got pregnant from him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You deserved better Joe.”

“All I knew is I lost my future wife and my life long best friend all in one day. Yes, it hurt but rather than turn bitter and fertilize any hate, I vowed to instead help others when I see them hurting. I call it medicine for my soul. It’s an Indian thing.”

I unbuttoned my right sleeve and rolled my shirt up my arm a few inches saying, “See this small tattoo of a heart on the underside of my wrist? I had it put there to remind myself to always remember that everyone’s got feelings and if I can, I try and lift ‘em up out of their troubles and not hurt ’em because they’s already been hurt enough.”

“So like the old adage goes, you wear your heart on your sleeve, is that it?”

The memories of my tragic first love came unexpectedly back in a rush, and the only response I could muster up was, “Yes, Ma’am, I do.

At this point I was so ashamed of the wetness that had started to form in my eyes that I had to turn away from her lest they began turning into real tears. Once again I turned and started walking away from her. I had not cried openly since that day and I knew if I had stayed there staring at her I would again and she’d think I was just a foolish crybaby and despise me.

“Joe, stay here. Don’t walk away from me, please Joe?”

It wasn’t the voice of anger, but rather one that was pleading.

Against all reason I turned back to her and suddenly found her on her tip toes pressing her lips against mine, hard.

I threw all caution to the wind dropped my hat to the ground and wrapped my arms around her and kissed her back… hard. Oh my God, what wonderful feelings rushed from my insides, I felt redeemed!

Chapter 3

Well, I could stretch this story out forever but I wont. But I will end it this way.

We decided to marry. Now it wouldn’t be proper for us to be lovers and living under the same roof so I moved in with the hands for the next three months. Sure, they made fun of me saying she threw me out of my own house and what not but really they couldn’t have been happier for me.

When we married, we had one heck of a hoopla party. I was so full of love for this girl I coulda’ burst! I dragged her all over Uvalde showing her off to all my friends and anybody who’d listen. She loved the attention too.

Her Mama stayed in the guest room making it her own from then on, that was fine with me. She was actually quite a pleasant woman to have around and couldn’t wait for the day when she could spoil her grandbaby.

On our first anniversary, Keva and I decided to have a picnic up by the windmill where it all began. It didn’t bother her that her brother lay less than a half mile away under the prairie grass.

Sitting there under the windmill, I looked up at the large spinning galvanized blades and wondered what my life would have been like if I’d never vowed to finish building it that day.

As we ate our picnic lunch to the sound of the light clanging of the well pump, we both realized this whole event could never have been just  coincidental  but had been guided by the loving hand of God. It truly was, can I have an Amen to that?

 

JW Edwards / www.campfireshadows.com

01/13/2019

Best Friends Make The Worst Enemies

worst enemies best

Brodie Trail (known better as Dusty Trail to family and friends) and Craig O’Reilly grew up from near infants to young adults as inseparable best friends. It was a rare day when one would not find them tied at the hip fishing and exchanging day dreams of living out a Western dime novel. Although they lived within hailing distance of each other the two came from two different worlds. Born of Scottish parents, Brodie Trail as an adult stood a bit over six feet tall, a bit on the thin side with light brown hair and hazel eyes. Craig O’Reilly was born of Irish parents, stood a wee bit past five feet in height, a bit chunky from birth with flaming red hair and brown eyes.

Their physical appearance wasn’t the only differences between the best friends.

The State dividing line between West Virginia and Virginia ran down the center of the road between the two homes.

Before the war, both homes lay in Virginia but after a midnight meeting of the Secessionist Convention in 1861, West Virginia was born. Forced to straddle the new State line was the small hamlet of Peterstown, population one hundred and sixty two.

On the North side sat West Virginia, also the farm and modest log home belonging to the Trail family. To the south and not a hundred paces away from the Trail home, stood the much larger brick home of the O’Reilly family. While the Trails were farmers, the O’Reilly’s were merchants, owning the only Mercantile within half a days buggy ride. Both families had left their ancient homelands and settled in Virginia in the year 1847 during the great over seas potato famine. The two boys were born the same month in the year of 1848, exactly one year after arriving in America.

Although being politically and logistically separated the two families retained their close friendships.

The boys were inseparable. There was only a single school in Peterstown so whether living North or South, all attended the same single room school. It was during this time in school that Brodie acquired the nickname Dusty. Since the school was located at the towns only crossroads a half mile distant and having only dirt roads to get there by, many of the eight or so kids attending the school arrived powdered in road dust. Why the kids began just calling Brodie Dusty confused him since he wasn’t the only kid who’s clothes bore more dirt on them than the roads themselves. Be that as it may be, Dusty accepted the name since before then the kids called him ‘Brode the toad’.

As for the war, most town folks had no care what side their neighbors lived on, surviving the harsh Appalachian winters was their main concern and not some disagreement over slavery. After all, no one had ever met a single slave nor knew anybody that had even seen one. Slavery was the least thing on their minds.

Still, the two were dragged into the war on their respective sides and schooled in their respective militaries as to the need or evils of slavery. By the time the war ended, neither boy had increased their care or concern over an issue that seemed to be more oriented to the big cities of Richmond and Washington. After the war came to a close life quickly returned back to normal for all those living on the north or south side of the main road in Peterstown.

It was two years after the war ended on a beautiful spring day that found the two friends once again fishing along the banks of Rich Creek at the edge of town. Rich Creek was also the dividing line between the two Virginia’s.

The two competed for fish caught on their respective North and South sides.

“It’s near four o’clock Dusty, let’s call it a day.”

“I hear ya’. We caught enough to feed both our families and then some. Oh, I counted our fish, sixteen in all and I caught nine of ‘em, I won!”

“Only ‘cause you cheated! I saw your bobber drift over to the south side of the bank, everyone knows fish prefer livin’ in the South ya’ know.”

Laughing, Dusty reminded him, “Well, either way I won.”

As they made their way back to their respective homes by cutting through an outlying farm, Dusty thought on how the two were so mismatched yet got along so well.

In growing up, things like how much your family made over another had no standing on friendship. True, the O’Reilly house was grand compared to the Trail’s little log home. It had an outdoor stone stairway that led up to the veranda and front door. Thick white pillars supported an over hanging section of the attic and roof. Mister  O’Reilly had it built after seeing a few grand homes on his journey across the State upon his arrival to America. Everything about the two seemed to be in contrast with each other yet none of it mattered to either of them.

After the war’s end,  many Southerners found themself out of home and property due to the Northern led reconstruction program, the Southerners of Peterstown were left alone. It wasn’t kindness that saved them, it was their life long friends and neighbors living on the north side of the road that prevented their demise. Because of this, life went on uninterrupted.

Dusty knew he’d someday be asked to take over his fathers farm as he was the only child his mother gave live birth to. Four times she had miscarriaged after Dusty’s birth before a Doctor she sought out while visiting her sister in Blue Field told her to stop trying. He told her it was a miracle she carried Dusty to full term and that her female organs would fail altogether if she continued trying. She took it as most mountain women did. She shrugged her shoulders and said “A womans duty is to make children. If I die then it is the will of the Lord, not much I can or want to do about it”.

Her next pregnancy fulfilled the good Doctor’s warning.
With deep sadness, Dusty dug her grave while his father prepared her body for her burial. The Pastor from the Apostolic Church of the Redeemed came late to the funeral but still in time to say words over her as she was lowered into the grave. He was not the Trails first choice as they were Baptist but their own Pastor was bedridden with the croup. The most Reverend Jebediah P Clampet apologized for his lateness telling Dusty’s father that one of his Deacon’s had been bitten by a Deamon possesed rattlesnake during an earlier that morning snake handling service.

The Pastor then reminded all those within listening distance of the grave that the Deacons faith had waned recently thus allowing Satan in the form of a snake to bite him. He was left in the care of a group of women who would cast out the Demon of poison and pray him back to health.

The Reverend’s burial prayer droned on and on until Mister Trail ended it by forcefully grabbing the Pastors hand and shook it thanking him for the grave service. The Pastor kept his hand extended until it was realized he was waiting for his fifty cent funeral payment.

In November of the same year his wife died, Mister Trail gave up the ghost after a short bout of consumption. The wasting disease the local mountain folk called ‘the white death’ had been running rampant in the lower hollows and flat lands during this time.

After his fathers funeral, Mister O’Reilly asked Dusty if he would be up to speaking with him regarding the young mans future.

“To be honest Mister O’Reilly, I’d appreciate that talk. You see, I’m kinda’ lost. My father always made the farms decisions and I’m afraid he never took me into his confidence regarding anything beyond caring for the animals or being taught how to keep the mules plowing a straight furrow.”

“Why not come over for dinner tomorrow? We can talk then and besides I have something of your fathers that I wish to give you.”

“My father gave you something for me?”

“In a way yes. As you know, he didn’t believe in banks.”

“That I’m aware of, yes.”

“Well, your father knew I had a steel built Mosler safe installed into one of the the houses interior brick walls and after a time I had convinced him his monies would be much safer being held in my steel safe than in the canning jar he had hidden under your porch. He finally agreed and over the last few years brought over two more canning jars for me to safeguard for him.

“I did not know that Sir. Are these the items you are speaking of?”

“Those and more. ”

“That explains why he once told me that if anything were to ever happen to him to come and see you, that you would be of help to me.”

“Your father and I should never have been friends, he a Scott and me a Irishman, He a Northern and me a Southerner. But just like you and Craig, we had a great friendship. I told him that if ever the day came that you needed help, that I would treat you as my own son.”

Dusty was moved. He wasn’t sure if he should say ‘Thank You’ or not so he just instinctively held out his hand.

Taking Dusty’s hand in his he told him, “Come over at four, we’ll sit down for dinner at five.”

 

Chapter 2

Dusty climbed the stone stairs leading up to the wide veranda. At once he saw Mr. O’Reilly waiting for him holding out a large glass of lemonade. Dusty saw the glass had been filled with ice which pleased him. Iced drinks were a rare thing in the Trail home. Dusty thought of their own milk house that had been built over a natural 

artesian cold spring in order to preserve their milk and other perishables

Dusty was guided to a four seated wrought iron based table. “Please, sit here in the sunny portion of the porch, it’s much more comfortable on a chilly day like today.”

Seeing his neighbor dressed in a heavy over coat Dusty exclaimed,“We can go inside where it’s warmer if you wish.”

“No, I prefer the cool air, it helps me to breath. You see as a young man I had breathed a lot of coal dust working the mines in the old country.”

When seated, Dusty noticed two packages on the table next to where he sat. Pointing to the packages, Mister O’Reilly told him, “These are what your father asked me to harbor within my safe. I have no idea what is in them, only that your father told me to give them to you if he could not.”

Dusty lifted the first package and found it was a large canning jar wrapped in a burlap sack. Sliding the burlap down he saw the jar was filled with gold and silver coins. Dusty’s jaw dropped and sat wide eyed staring at the jar in front of him.

“Wha.. how… but my father was poor!”

His neighbor sat laughing,“Your father was never poor, he was the typical Scott. If you squeezed him hard enough he would bleed coins.”

“Oh my!”

“Go ahead, let’s see what’s in the second package.”

The next package was also covered in burlap but this was a tube over a foot in length and as round as his arm. Removing the burlap cover he saw a leather tube capped on each end with a pewter end piece.

Dusty slowly opened one end which exposed a portion of a parchment sheet.

Withdrawing the parchment from the leather tube he unrolled it.

After seeing what it was he looked up at his neighbor with a questioning look saying,“It’s a deed of sorts, but to what, I have no idea. Can you read it to me?”

Taking the sheet, his neighbor studied it for a few minutes then laid it down.

“Well son, your father purchased some land out west in what’s known as the Arizona Territory. The description here is from the surveyor. The deed describes the land and it’s location in the White Mountain range, about sixty miles north east of Fort Apache. The land consist of two hundred tillable and two thousand two hundred heavily forested acres for a total of two thousand, four hundred acres. The survey says there are three year round springs, a number of small ponds and a single large lake. The land is located between two small unnamed towns nearby. One is twenty miles north and the other ten miles to the south.”

“Arizona?”

“I have to be honest here son, This I knew about because your father had purchased this land from me. When it looked like the States would separate I wanted a place to high tail it to in case things went bad here in Virginia. After West Virginia broke off from Virginia, I figured the problem had solved itself. I had no use for the land. He begged that if I ever sold it to give him first rights in buying it. I told him if he really wanted it I’d sell it to him right then. We agreed on the price of fifteen cents an acre and the deed was drawn up. He told me then that he had always dreamed of moving out further west, that here he felt confined by modern cities such as Peterstown.”

“Then it’s true what my Ma had once told me, that he hankered to move to the wilderness. I thought it was just a daydream.”

“Your father, being the Scottsman that he was kept his business close to his chest. I’m not surprized he never told you, even your mother may not have known. He asked me to not reveal his purchase.

Dusty, I know you’re not cut out for farming, your father knew it too. He’d hoped to take you and your mother out west to the wilderness. It’s one reason he never built more than a small cabin, he never wanted to permanently settle here. So here’s what I’m going to propose to you. I will buy your farm here at a fair price. In return I want you to do two things. One, add the sale money of your farm to that of what your father left you and deposit it a large bank up in Charleston. Keep some out for traveling expenses. Then head out west to Arizona to your land there. Once there, move your money from the bank in Charleston closer to you over in Prescott Arizona for safe keeping. Make sure each bank will allow you to draw money by drafts. Second, Take Craig with you!”

“Take Craig with me, why?”

“Because since he’s come back from the war he hasn’t been the same. You have always been the wiser or the calm thinker between the two of you. Without you, he’ll end up going wild.”

“But weren’t you counting on Craig to take over the mercantile when you retire?”

“No, Craig has never wanted to be part of the business. His two half brothers will take over when it’s time.”

“Half brothers? He has half brothers?”

“I never told Craig this but I had been previously married. We had two children, twin boys. When I came to America they stayed behind to be raised by their aunt. There own mother did not survive their birth so her sister then legally raised them as her own. I remarried and later left Ireland for America. As they grew older their aunt asked if the twins could come to America as she was herself not in good health. I agreed wholeheartedly but on the condition that she remain as their legal mother.”

“So are they here in Virginia?”

“Every time you go into the mercantile you see them.”

“Not Sean and Brice! They are your sons?”

“Yes, even Craig does not know and I’m committing you to never tell him. You see, if Craig were to find out I’m afraid he would challenge any inheritance.

In place of an inheritance upon my death I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse, and then tell him of his half brothers. When he leaves with you he will leave with a trust of ten thousand dollars. With that he can buy a nice house to live in or a start a business or even become a cattle man with a ranch if he so wishes. Once he has been determined to be a responsible adult, the trust will open up fully to him. “

“Who’s to judge if he is responsible?”

“You, will be the judge of that.”

“Me?”

“Yes, I will know his progress as a responsible adult by your letters to me.”

Dusty sat pondering silently all that he’d been told. He knew Mister O’Reilly was a kind and thoughtful person but he never knew until now just how much he was.

“Sir, you’ve not only given me direction but the means to follow it. You could have stayed silent and kept my fathers deed and money and no one would have been the wiser. Thank you! I will watch over Craig and keep in touch with you as to our goings on.”

At this point dinner was announced so the two went inside.

During the dinner Craig was informed of his fathers decision. Dusty feared Craig would object but to his surprise Craig was all for it. As they ate a meal of pork roast with all the fixings, Craig expounded on all that he planned to see and do as the pair journeyed across the country to the wilds of the Arizona Territory.

Mister O’Reilly was also obiously releaved.

Chapter 3

“So why did you agree so readily to your fathers plan for you. It surprised me that you would give up your inheritance for a trust.”

The two had taken the stage from Peterstown to Princeton and from there to Charleston West Virginia. Once they had arrived in Charleston, Dusty was to deposit his fathers money along with the money he earned from the sale of his farm. In the meantime, Charleston was still over a half a day away so the two talked and napped when possible.

“When I came home after the war’, Craig explained, “I discovered I wanted more than sitting there looking at the same Virginia countryside. I had no desire to move to a big city but still wanted adventure and excitement. When he told us at dinner what he wanted from me all I saw was the chance to get out from under his thumb and start living my own life.”

“Surely it wasn’t that bad living with him, was it?”

“Naw, I just wanted to do something without someone looking over my shoulder all the time. Do you know that he never went to bed until he was sure I had returned home or that I had to be home by ten o’clock? I mean the Wailing Lady Saloon in town didn’t even open its doors until ten. I’d have to sneak out around midnight to go visit the soiled doves at the Wailing Lady or sit in at the faro table.”

Dusty remained outwardly calm but inside was shocked to hear his best friend was leading a double life.

“I wasn’t aware you did those things. When did all this come about.?”

“Dusty, when I killed my first Northern soldier I left behind my childhood. No offense about me shooting Northern folk but it was my job and I was pretty good at it. I received a letter of commendation for my sniping skills.”

“I’ll be, I never knew. How did your father take it that you were a sniper?”
”Ha! If he knew he’d have pulled strings and I would’ve ended up being a aide to some fancy pants officer. Nope, I told him I was stationed at the rear guarding supplies.”

“I guess you’re lucky to be alive. I heard snipers had a short life span.”

“Yup, a few friends never made it. But, I did and that’s all I was concerned about. I’d take my shot and run like hell! Ha ha ha.”

Dusty began to seriously doubt whether Craig was the same person he grew up with. He honestly realized he didn’t know his best friend anymore. His father was right, the war had somehow changed him.

The Craig he once knew would have never visited the Ladies of the night or sat with whiskey numbed gamblers till near dawn. And lying to his father was unheard of!

Dusty wondered whether or not it might just be a phase his friend was going through. Maybe this was some sort of way Craig was dealing with the atrocities of war that he had experienced. He decided it would be wise to keep a closer eye on his friend.

They left the stage, grabbed their belongings and headed to the bank to deposit Dusty’s small Fortune. Once inside they stepped up to one of the tellers barred windows.

The teller explained that Dusty needed to open an account and called for the bank manager to help Dusty with the needed paperwork.

The banks managers ushered the two into his office and after seating them asked just how much was to be deposited.

“Well, I figure most of it I guess. I’m going to need some traveling and supply money until we reach the Arizona Territory.”

The managers eyebrows raised, “Arizona you say?”

“Yes, I have a couple thousand acres there and plan to do something with it.”

“Hmmm, I see.” The manager thought one of his tellers might be making him the butt of a joke but decided to play along.

“Does that canvas pouch contain your deposit?”

“Uh, yes it does but I never had the chance to count it all.”

“Well then, why don’t we just pour it out on the desk here and we’ll count it out.”

Dusty tipped the canvas sack forward spilling forth the large amount of gold and silver coins held inside.

The bug eyed bank manager gulped and immediacy shouted to an unseen teller, “Johnson! Get in here on the double, these gentlemen need your assistance!”

A thin wiry looking bald but well dressed man with round spectacles appeared quickly in the doorway. His eyes fell onto the coins spread out on the managers desk. “Oh my, I see!”

“Oh, and there’s this too.” Dusty pulled out a thick roll of Northern paper money tied tightly with a blue ribbon around it. “I’m pretty sure this here is still good, isn’t it?”

The assistant nodded as if his neck were made of rubber, “I should say it’s good, very good indeed.”

An hour later the two left the bank with the paperwork and a leather case containing draft notes. From Charleston they took the train all the way to Kansas City Missouri.

Dusty had thought the train ride to Kansas City would be on a single train. Instead the two had to transfer to three different trains in three different cities.

Exhausted from their three day train ride, the two at last spent the night in a local hotel near the station in a real bed. Before they left for the hotel, they asked the station clerk what trains they should take to get to Arizona. The train station clerk laid out the best route but even with his help they could not reach Arizona by train. The closest they could get to was Dallas Texas. From there it had to be by stage coach to El Paso then back on a train to the town of Tucson in the Arizona Territory.

Again the trip would require multiple train changes to Dallas again using different rail lines to get there. The clerk wrote down each change and what rail line to take and to what city.

During this time it appeared that Craig was becoming his old pleasant self again.

In the morning they decided a big breakfast was in order. Stopping at a small cafe they ordered breakfast and drank a number of cups of coffee in order to fully wake up.

Dusty concluded that traveling had been good for his friend.

The night before they would roll into Dallas though Dusty once again had doubts. The train stopped in a town called Norman Oklahoma. The conductor told the travelers that there would be a delay until morning as one of the cars wheel trucks had burnt a sleeve bearing and the mechanic needed to replace it before heading out again.

Dusty told Craig he was going to secure a hotel room before eating and told his friend to go ahead and he’d catch up to him at the diner.

Dusty secured a room and walked down the street to the diner for a late meal. Entering the diner he looked around for Craig. His friend was nowhere to be seen and the diner had only a handful of folks eating as it was soon closing for the night. When the waitress arrived Dusty asked if his friend had been there.

“No, not that I saw and I’m the only waitress here.”

“Can I still order a meal?”

“Only if it’s the stew. It’s the only thing still hot”

Dusty shrugged and ordered the stew.

With a stomach full of beef stew Dusty wondered where Craig could have gotten off to. Looking up and down the short main street told him that only one establishment was now open at that time of night, the saloon.

It had been two hours since they parted ways at the station and Dusty began to fear the worst. Stepping up to the bar Dusty asked if the bar tender had seen a young man wearing a Southern gray Slouch hat and blue denim pants.

The bar tender pointed upward, “Upstairs with Dolly. Want a beer, it’s halfway cold.”

“Sure.”

Dusty took his ‘halfway cold’ beer and sat at a table waiting for Craig. After a sip of beer he decided the people in Oklahoma might have a different idea of what the word ‘cold’ meant. He slowly drank the room temperature beer and waited for Craig to come down. It was 2am when someone kicked his boot waking him. “Ready to head off?”

On the walk back to the hotel Dusty was given the sordid details of Craig and Dolly’s robust coupling. “Craig”, he told him as they neared the hotel, “some things are better left unsaid.”

“Like what?”

“Like what you do behind closed doors. What has come over you my friend? I mean you’re acting like Moose Cholak. You remember Moose?”

“Yeah, I remember the fat ass, nothin’ but a big paper tiger bully in school. Did you know someone beat him near to death a few months ago?”

“I heard that, what do you know about it?”

Instead of answering Craig just grinned.

“So it was you, wasn’t it?”

“Oh c’mon Dusty he deserved everything he got, probably more so. It weren’t like I ambushed him or anything, he called me a cheat at the table, what was I to do?”

“So you waited for him outside and then jumped him! That’s as close to an ambush as anything.”

“It weren’t exactly like that but yea, I waited for him. What was I to do? He’s a good foot taller than me an’ he must weigh in at over three hundred pounds! You think he’d fight me fair? Hell no! I gave him a chance, I called him out for him callin’ me a cheat.”

“His skull was crushed in, he’ll never be right again. Did you hit him with a brick?”

“Naw, I had roll of silver dollars, stuck em in a sock so they wouldn’t jingle when I snuck out’a the house that night. When He turned around I hit ‘em with the sock full of coins. How’s I to know it’d do what it did.”

“Well as of late you ain’t acting no different than Moose. I seen you change, you seem to enjoy intimidating folks, innocent folks too. I’d say you took over being the roll of town bully.”

“Dusty, this may come as a surprise to you but don’t think I haven’t wondered about all this myself. The only answer I can truly give you is the war and all the horrible things I saw and was even forced to do stripped away what innocence I had left in me. I saw what mankind is really like.

I saw a kid younger than me strutten’ around like a rooster after disemboweling some soul no older than himself while his fellow soldiers clapped him on the back? Do you think that kid started out that way? Did I?”

“No, I know you didn’t.”

“I’ve thought hard about what my father is having me do, and believe it or not, I know he’s right! Why do you think I take your rebukes? It’s because deep inside me I know you’re right, just like my father, all you two want is the best for me. Still, it’s like I’m overcome by some force that even scares me. I do things I’m not supposed to do and don’t do the things I am to do. I try to be like I used to be but I seem to fail at it.”

“I believe in the Bible the Apostle Paul wrote the same words about his own life.”

“You always were one to bring up the Bible.”

Dusty held open the hotels large door for his friend and together they entered the well lit foyer, it was nearing 3am now. Craig had insisted the two take separate rooms so at the end of the hallway they parted to go their separate ways. It was when Craig raised his arm to give a good night wave that the gun Craig had under his coat was exposed. Seeing the new Colt 45 sent a chill down Dusty’s spine.

Both sat bleary eyed at the cafe the next morning as they ate the cafe’s breakfast.

“We gotta’ get on to the train station Craig, the train’s conductor said it will leave at 8am sharp and it’s 7:30 now.”

“Alright, I’m done here, let’s go.”

The train changed again at Dallas and from there it took them to El Paso. This far south in Texas had no snow but it was still numbing cold outside. The passengers aboard the train were comforted by a small coal burning pot belly stove at each end of the car. Each time the conductor passed by he shake the stoves grates and toss in a couple fist sized coal lumps. Talk between the two was light, comments seemed mostly restricted to the weather or the scenery outside the cars window. In El Paso they were told the only route to Tucson was once again by stage. They paid four dollars apiece and stepped aboard the Butterfield Overland stagecoach going to Tucson.

The trip was uneventful except for the road itself. Two ruts cutting through the brush laden desert was as good as the road got. Besides each rut lay thousands of skull sized stones. Dusty figured this was Butterfield’s way of clearing the roadway. If the stage inadvertently left the rut, then those inside the stage were tossed violently to and fro as the wheels bounced over the stones. The driver and his shotgun partner fared the worst but they kept the horses at the same pace. Each passenger had been given a thick buffalo robe to fend off the cold with and it also helped to cushion the blows the coach recieved from the trail.

In the middle nowhere they overnighted at a Butterfield station halfway to Tucson and paid a dollar each for a hot meal prepared by the station mans wife.

It was rabbit stew with wild onions and seasoned with sage. In Tucson the two once again rented separate rooms and called it a night.

After the bumpy ride, Dusty barely found his way to the bed. After removing his boots he collapsed on the bed fully clothed.

It was sometime past midnight when he awoke to the sound of thumping on the wall. He knew that wall was the one separating his and Craig’s rooms. Unused to hearing the rhythmic thumping of a headboard banging a wall, Dusty had no idea what could be making the noise until he heard grunting and a woman moaning.

Shaking his head, he returned to bed covering his head and ears with his pillow.

At 8am the hotel manager knocked on Dusty’s door and called out, “Mister Trail, you asked to be woken at eight, it’s that time Sir.”

Still fully dressed, Dusty slipped on his boots, grabbed his belongings and banged on the door to Craigs room shouting, “Get outa’ bed Craig, we need to see about the best way to Fort Apache.”

It wasn’t Craig who answered but a female. “Go to hell and leave us be!”

Having lost sleep from their night long rutting, Dusty had reached the end of his rope. Grabbing the door knob he found the door unlocked and pushed it wide open.

Inside, the female once again began cursing for being disturbed. Craig had not woke up yet and lay there loudly snoring. Dusty was about to step back outside of the room when he saw an empty whiskey bottle on the nightstand beside bed.

Red faced with anger, Dusty pushed the door fully open and in no kind words woke up Craig by yelling at him.

“Get your dead ass outa’ bed this instant Craig or I call off our partnership and head out to Fort Apache alone. You want, you can spend the rest of your days drinking, gambling and waking up with a whore as old as your mother.  I don’t care no more if you tag with me or not!”

Slamming the door behind him, Dusty gathered up his belongings and made his way back to the Butterfield stage depot. There he asked the depot clerk the best way to get to Fort Apache.

“The only way there is by horse. If ya’ don’t got one I’d say Juke’s Livery might sell ya’ what ya’ want.”

Making his way to Juke’s Livery he turned when he heard Craig calling out his name.

Refusing to turn around Dusty kept walking.

“Aw c’mon Dust you aren’t that pissed at me are you? I was just about to get up when you stopped by.”

Remaining quite, Dusty continued to walk to the Livery.

“OK, OK, I admit, I drank too much and had a poke, so shoot me! By golly a man’s got needs you know, well, maybe you don’t know seein’ as I have yet to see you with a woman.”

At that Dusty turned and asked. “Craig, you and I have been best friends our entire life, why are you purposefully trying to destroy that?”

Chapter 4

The two put a patch on their friendship and rode out on two newly purchased horses and a pack mule for each. After buying saddles and tack for the horses and pack saddles for the mules they headed north out of Tucson into Tonto Apache Indian territory. The Tonto tribe wasn’t friendly but at the same time they had pretty much given up attacking white folk traveling through their land.

The total cost spent at the livery and the later stop for supplies at the mercantile ran the two over a hundred ninety dollars apiece. Just a few months ago Dusty would have never dreamed of spending that much for anything.

Since they were three three days out of Fort Apache and nearly three weeks after that before reaching the White Mountains near where Dusty’s land lay, they decided to make camp after a twenty miles into the desert. after twenty miles of desert. They had made camp after stopping at a small adobe trading post run by an old white man and his Popago Indian wife. They were now in what was called the Bro basin or Gold basin. Here a few gold mining camps were haphazardly scattered over the small Mica Mountain range. At the trading post they were told to avoid these camps if they did not want to lose their lives. They took the old man’s advice and skirted around them to the west.

They broke camp the next morning hoping to get halfway to Fort Apache. The day started out cold but soon warmed after the sun began to climb into the sky. At around noon, they stopped for a cold meal of Jerky and a few dried biscuits washed down by canteen water. It was then that they noticed the dust cloud behind them.

“Better keep that gun of yours handy” Dusty told Crag, “It looks like we might get some company.”

“How’d you know about my gun… never mind.”

Dusty had purchased a used Sharps rifle while at the Sutlers store back in Tucson where there were a number of post Civil War items for sale. He took it out of it’s long leather scabbard and slid a live 50-100 cartridge into the chamber. He then placed a number of the same cartridges in his coat pocket.

The group continued towards them but hadn’t pulled a single rifle or pistol yet so Dusty began to relax. When the two groups were within hailing distance the apparent leader raised his hand and yelled out. “Ho there, we’re friendly, just heading up north to Fort Verde!”

Dusty’s lowered his Sharps rifle and in return replied, “We’re headed up to Fort Apache ourselves. Where is Fort Verde located?”

“Allow me to light from my horse to talk?”

”Light but leave your Spencer behind.”

“Will do. Names Jasper Brown.”

The two shook hands. “Dusty Trail, This is my friend and lifelong pard, Craig O’Reilly.”

Very quickly and without really matching the men’s names to the person Jasper just rattled off their names with a wave of his hand.

“Leon, Jimbo, Turk and the two greasers are Jorge and Pablo.”

Dusty touched the brim of his Stetson to acknowledge the five yet wondering why someone would call Mexicans greasers or why the four whites would be traveling with such a scruffy looking duo like Jorge and Pablo.

Dusty noted the group had three fully loaded pack horses besides what was tied behind their saddles. On each horse hung two canteens but looking at the two Mexicans he saw little in the way of saddle bags or canteens on their mounts but each wore a double Colt set up and a cross bandolier fully filled with cartridges.

Jasper spit out a well chewed wad of chewing tobacco and asked, “So you’re headed up to Fort Apache, huh? Would it bother you if we rode alongside with you to the Fort? We’ve heard there are some greaser bands robbing and killing folks on the trail in the area. The more guns the better, no?”

“We heard the same, I have no complaints if you ride along but no way am I so trusting yet as to let you sleep in our camp at night.”

“No problem there friend, that’s right good thinking, for both of us.”

“Then you’re more than welcome to ride with us.”

That night everything went smoothly. The two groups ate separately then made separate camps a hundred yards from each other. Still, Dusty and Craig formed a night watch, changing every two hours.

On first watch Dusty could hear the group talking but they were far enough away that he couldn’t catch the words. By the time he switched watches with Craig the talking had stopped and he could hear snoring. He slept comfortably for the next two hours. Back and Forth they switched watches without incident. Dawn broke and since it was Craig’s watch he started their breakfast.

Back in the saddle they made good time, finishing the second day at the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Sometime tomorrow they should reach the Fort.

That night, Dusty felt the watch was no longer needed since the other group showed no signs of ill will to them so the two set their bedrolls in the sand and fell asleep.

Sometime after midnight loud laughter woke Dusty from his sleep. He could hear the boisterous Mexicans clearly. It sounded like they had been drinking heavily.

Dusty rolled over to see if Craig was as bothered by all the noise as he was. It was then he noticed that Crag’s bedroll was empty. It was then that he heard Craig’s voice and laughter from the other camp.

Damn idiot!” He thought. “Once we get to the Fort I’m going to send his father a letter giving him the update he wanted on Craig. He’s not going to be pleased. Since we hooked up with Jasper and especially the Mexicans Craig seems to be going the opposite direction his Pa had hoped for.”

Around three in the morning Craig made his way back to camp and tried as silently as possible to pull off his boots and climb into his bedroll. He failed miserably as he loudly grunted and began to curse trying to kick off his boots. After failing that, Dusty noted that Craig gave up trying and slid his booted feet under the blanket. It reminded Dusty of the drunks in Peterstown. Too many times in his early morning trips to town he’d see fully clothed drunks sleeping in doorways or on the boardwalk in front of the saloon. He wondered how a man could lower himself to such a level. Now his friend was acting the same way.

As the eastern sky began to lighten Dusty noted while fixing up a breakfast that the other camp was already up and getting their day started, even the Mexicans. He looked over where Craig lay and he had yet to budge in his bedroll.

Dusty felt disgust for his friend and entertained the notion of just leaving him. But, too many years of good friendship halted that thought.

Craig must have finally smelled the now cold cooked bacon because he slowly rose from his bed. Looking around their camp he was surprised to see the campfire had been put out with water and a lone plate with the cold bacon and biscuits were sitting alongside a lone cold cup of coffee.

Seeing the pack mules and horses already packed up for travel he shouted questioningly at Dusty.

“What the hell’s this all about? You couldn’t wake me for breakfast?”

Fed up, Dusty walked up to his bleary eyed friend and shouted back at him. “I’ll tell you what’s up Craig! You spent the night drinking with your new greaser friends and barely made it back to camp standing up. You noticed one of your boots is still halfway off? You couldn’t even undress yourself! As for breakfast, I tried to wake you to no avail so don’t come yelling at me about your damn cold breakfast. I had half the thought of just packing up and heading out without you!”

“Well maybe you should have, you ain’t my father you know. I got my own life and I’m getting damn tired of living under everyone Ease’s rules. Piss on this, you want to leave then go!”

Dusty knew if he left Craig behind he’d turn around an hour later and see his friend sheepishly trailing behind him in the distance trying to apologize.

So instead of joining in the pissing match Dusty just told him, “Eat your breakfast, I’ll wait for ya’ to finish it and get saddled up.”

In response Craig stuffed his mouth full of cold bacon and one of the biscuits, the rest he tossed into the dead campfire, packed away the plate and cup and mounted his already saddled horse.

Chapter 5

 The two parties traveled north without incident and by evening Fort Apache could be seen in the distance.

It was decided that the two groups would wait until morning to enter the Fort.

Upon entering the Fort the next morning at daybreak, they were met by an obvious Irish Sargent who asked them their business at the Fort.

Dusty explained to the Sargent that they had traveled from Virginia and are heading to his property in the White Mountains. He asked if he or anyone else at the Fort could give them more precise directions on how to get there.

In a heavy Irish accent he answered,“The White Mountains you say? Could you be a wee bit more detailed as to the whereabouts this property is located? The white Mountains are take up a mighty big area.”

“I do have the deed, will that help?”

“It may. Tis your lucky day now lad, we happen to have a Government surveyor recuperating here after a recent tussle with a few Apache near Flowing Springs.”

“That would be of great help, thank you!”

“Follow me then laddy.” The Sargent directed the rest to where they could unpack and store their supplies. He ordered two soldiers to take the animals to the Fort’s livery when unsaddled.

The Sargent led Dusty to the camp infirmary where he introduced him to a man who lay in a bed. After the Sargent explained the predicament to the surveyor he turned and left without saying a word.

“Let’s see this property deed you have”, the bedridden surveyor told them. After much moaning the man made it to a sitting position. Dusty handed him the rolled up deed.

“Hmmm, Uh huh, Oh… Hammy. Ah, there it is.”

“You found the property?”

“As close as I can figure it anyway. The deed mentions three year round springs, a big lake and two towns, one twenty and the other ten miles away from the property. Add that information to the mention of it being sixty miles north of here and I believe I know where it is.”

As he spoke, Craig had entered the infirmery and stood beside Dusty after unloading their supplies into a store room.

“Would one of you please hand me my leather carrying case lying under this bed? I need to compare my official survey maps to the information on the deed.

Craig volunteered and lowered himself to his knees and fished out from under the bed the brown leather carry all case belonging to the surveyor.

After rummaging through the different land maps inside the case he finally pulled one out. Unfolding it across his outstretched legs on the bed, he ran his finger up and down the sheet until he stopped and looked up at the two and proudly said, “I found it!”

The two leaned over the surveyor in his bed to see where he was pointing at.

Dusty looked at the surveyor and exclaimed, “The word Alpine is written there, is that a type of tree, town or what?”

“Alpine is not a town, not yet anyway. We surveyors name places just to make it easier for future references. I actually did the survey to that area a number of years ago. I remember a beautiful lake in the valley that’s surrounded by tall pines up the mountain side. It’s God’s country for sure.”

“What do we need to do to get there from here?”

“There’s plenty of deer and elk so meat won’t be a problem and down in the valley you’ll have no problem growing future crops but there are some Indians still living in the mountain forest. Some are friendly, others not so. It’ll be up to you to find out which.”

“Since you’ve been there, what would be the best route to take?”

“From here I’d heads north for a week then northwest until you come to the White River. Follow the river east. Best not to use the river itself, you’ll be vulnerable to Indian attacks. Travel just a mile south of the river but keep it in sight. You’ll notice that cottonwood trees grow alongside the river so keep an eye on them. You can’t miss the White Mountains, they’ll cover the horizon. If I remember right there’s a big saddle formation where the pass is that will lead you into the valley.

I’m sure you’ll come across some Indians on the way and if they’re of the friendly sort they can help guide you. Just be sure to carry some cheap trade items as gifts or you might quickly find yourself missing stuff of higher value.”

After writing down the best trails and landmarks from the surveyors map Dusty left Craig to his own device and headed over to the supply building to buy some note letter wroiting paper.

Seeing a small room with a desk he asked a passing soldier if he would be allowed to use the desk to sit and write.

“That’s what the rooms for. Many guys prefer to read or write their letters in private. No one wants to shed tears in public.

Dusty sat at the desk and contemplated what he would write to Mister O’Reilly about his son Craig.

After ten minutes he opened the ink bottle and grabbing the quill pen he began to write.

Dear Mister O’Reilly,

 I trust this letter to you finds you and yours prosperous and in good health.You had asked that I keep you informed of your son Craig’s spiritual and growth as a man.

We have made it safely to Fort Apache here in Arizona. It has been a long and arduous trip and am excited to say we are nearing the end of it.

In regards to my writing you I will be as honest as possible.

 I wish I had news that bore positively in both areas but I am distraught to tell you that in my view is not the case.

 In my opinion, Craig has shown no growth in character or wisdom. In fact, the opposite could be said to be true.

 In my judgement, in leaving Peterstown and your oversight, that Craig found a sense of freedom. A freedom lacking in empathy for others compounded by a false sense of superiority. His demeanor is that of a rude, spoiled child who feels he is owed without labor the same material blessings others have worked hard for.

 Without my knowledge, he had purchased a firearm and had hidden bottles of whisky in his pack. He has taken to drink when away from my presence.

 We had joined another group of men traveling out of Tucson, some who ‘s morals are surely lacking. Craig seems to have been drawn to these two men in particular, Mexicans who’s nightly drinking seems to be their normal routine.

 During our travels, Craig has spent a number of evenings visiting the saloons and women there of ill repute.

 I am unsure if this is all a temporary falling away from his upbringing or if I am for the first time seeing the real post war Craig.

 I will continue to try to throttle down his activities as much as is possible but my fear is he will find my company too restricting and set off on his own.

 I remain respectful of you and yours, Brodie

 

Dusty put the letter in a thin leather mailing pouch and gave it to the soldier in charge of the Forts mail.

When the soldier saw that the letter was being sent to Virginia he replied, “It may take a month or more to arrive since it will be sent to Fort Ward near Alexandria first as there is no direct mail service to the the town you are sending this to. Military mail travels a different route than civilian mail but rest assured, it will eventually get there.”

When later Craig discovered drinking was banned by all except officers within the Fort he saught out the Mexicans. Together they devised a way to drink without breaking the Fort’s rules. Along with the two Mexicans and Jimbo Craig told the others that they were going out hunting for some fresh meat. The four soon rode out on horses borrowed from the Forts livery.

Craig doubted the story but let it ride. If somehow they returned with a deer that could restore some faith in his friend and if not, it wouldn’t surprise him.

Since he had the time on his hands he decided to bring he and Crag’s horses to the foundry and have new shoes put on them. The mules wore no shoes.

By nightfall none of the hunters had returned to the Fort and Dusty believed they’d show up in the morning with hang overs.

Dusty was correct about the four returning in the morning but none were sporting hang overs, the reason was they were still very drunk.

Not only that but Craig brought along a heavy set Apache girl with him.

At the gate the Sargent let the four in with the borrowed horses but barred the Indian girl from entering.

“She’s no permitted inside the Fort laddy, leave her outside where she belongs.”

Instead of complying Craig pulled out his pistol and drunkenly it pointed it in the Sargent’s direction, telling him, “And to do what? Poke her in front of you all? No way, I’m bedding her inside in private.”

In a move swifter than a large Irishman should ever be capable of, the Sargent grabbed the pistol from Crag’s hand and brought it crashing down on his head.

Turning to Dusty he told him, “He’ll be spender the rest of the day and tonight in the brig. Come first light I’ll release him to your care. I’m not gonna’ report him though seein’ as he’s Irish ‘an I know what whiskey does to an Irishman, even myself. If everytime an Irisman drank an’ ended up in front of a judge, why there’d be no Irishman walkin’ free in the streets.”

At 5am sharp the bugler played reveille and the Fort’s day started. Even Craig jumped out of the brigs cot, confused as to why once again he had slept in his clothes.

Slowly the memories of the day before began to filter through his alcohol numbed brain cells. Remembering the Sargent and how he thought he was mistreated by him brought a slew of swear words Forth.

Fortunately for Craig it was at that very moment the Sargent returned and threw the open door to the brig. “C’mon, out ya’ go laddy!”

Rubbing the sore spot on his head and still confused as to why he had slept in a jail cell Craig sheepishly exited knowing he must have fouled up somewhere.

During breakfast inside the mess hall Jasper approached Dusty and sitting down across from him at the table asked, “If it’s alright with you, It looks like our best way to travel is to ride along with you two until we get to the White River. From there we’ll part ways and be heading west to Payson town and from there drift north to Fort Verde.”

Wondering why the group was headed to a place called Fort Verde but afraid to pry into someones personal business Dusty instead asked Jasper, “That’s a strange name for a Fort what’s going on up there that they need a Fort?”

“It’s general Crooks Fort. He’s charged with keepin’ the peace there between the Yavapai and Apache tribes. He’s to round ‘em up and take ‘em out of the area.”

Jasper then volunteered the information Dusty was hesitant in asking him. “We all are seeking to get hired to ride out with the Calvary to assist in the round up. We were told the Army is paying five dollars a day. That’s big money”

“So there is Indian trouble up there?”

“There is one Some character named Geronimo that needs arresting. He’s been causing problems up there. He’s a Bedonkohe Apache leading a few other Apache tribes killin’ and murderin’ folks all the way from Mexico to the Arizona Territory. That’s the reason Jorge and Pablo are ridin’ with us, they lost family to Geronimo an’ they want revenge.

Just then Craig entered the mess hall and headed over to where Dusty and Jasper sat eating.

Seeing the condition Craig was in Jasper frowned and asked, “You look like hell this morning, you doin’ alright?”

“I feel like hell, someone better let me how I ended up behind bars. I can’t recall a damn thing.”

“Dusty curtly told him, “You got drunk, nuff said.”

“That much I figured. How I got a busted head and landed in jail I don’t.”

As they finished breakfast and were ready to get started out, the Sargent walked into the mess and headed their way.

“Mister Trail, Mister Brown, the Fort commander wishes to speak to the two of you as soon as possible.”

Dusty replied, “We’re about done here Sargent, we’ll be there shortly.”

“I’m coming too!” Craig added.

Jasper raised his eyebrows saying, “The commander huh? Must be important.”

Besides the two groups, other travelers had come and gone from the Fort on their way elsewhere. One such group that entered just as the three men headed to the commanders post was an elderly white haired yet strong and viral looking man. With the man came two women trailing behind him. One looked to be the same age as he so Dusty assumed it was the man’s wife. The other, still hidden in a heavy over coat and fur cap gave Dusty the impression of someone much younger. “Probably the couples daughter,” he thought.

As he passed the trio of newcomers Dusty glanced at the younger girl. For Dusty if time had ever stopped it was at this moment.

With little exposed except her face looking out from the big fur cap the girls eyes locked onto Dusty’s. His heart leaped, he had never seen such beautiful eyes. They seemed to call out to him, begging him to pay attention to her. A smile sprung from her face as if in recognition of him but Dusty knew he had never seen her before and then the moment passed and then she was past him.

Within two steps Dusty found himself turning to look behind him at the girl. At the same time she did the same to Dusty. Being caught in such a brazen act of staring, the girls face reddened but the smile remained.

The act of passing each other had seemed to take an infinite amount of time and when the two had finished passing by both knew their lives would be forever changed.

Craig watched the interaction of the two and pushed Dusty ahead jealously saying, “Now that’s what I want, you watch, I’m gonna mae her my girl.”

Dusty made no comment but knew the wedge between the two friends had just been driven deeper.

Jasper knocked on the Commanders door and the trio immediately heard, “Come in.”

After introducing themselves the trio were told to relax and have a seat.

“Cigar?” The Commander offered the three.

Jasper and Craig both reached out and thanked him. Dusty had never seen Craig smoke anything in his life but then this trip exposed many things about Craig that Dusty had never seen his friend do.

“The reason I wanted to speak to you all is that I was made aware that your two parties, although heading in different directions are planning on leaving here very soon.”

Jasper spoke up telling him, “That’s correct Sir. We planned on traveling to together as a single group until we came to the White River. From there we are going our separate ways.”

The Commander nodded and replied, “Uh huh, Have either or anyone in your two parties ever traveled further north in the Territory before?”

Both replied in the negative.

“I didn’t think so or you would have known that traveling north of here this time of year makes it’s doubtful you’ll ever get to where you’re headed.”

“Why is that Sir,” Dusty asked.

“Weather! I can tell you all have a Southern accent and this is most likely the furthest north you’ve ever traveled. Am I correct?”

Again, Dusty answered, “That is correct for us, I never asked Jasper about his earlier where-a-bouts. Like you I assumed though that he was a southern man.”

Jasper replied, “Beaumont Texas born and bred, Sir”

“As I figured. Folks think of the Arizona Territory here as one big hot desert, nothing could be further from the truth. Mister Zales, our recovering surveyor informed me of your separate destinations and I felt compelled to ask you to wait out the winter here instead of leaving. nIt’s for your own safety.”

Looking at the two friends he said, “As for making it to Alpine in the coming months? Forget it. You’ll be crossing some of the coldest barest desert you’ve ever imagined. The winds get so strong that horses have been seen standing frozen to death come morning. Then you still need to make your way through the White Mountains with their heavy snows. Again, you’ll never make it through alive. Snow can get so deep in places it passes the height of a horse.”

Jasper ran his hand across his forehead and asked, “Is that about the same making our way to Fort Verde?”

“I’d say it was a foolish act but no, if you left now, you stand a better chance of making it. Mind you though, it will still be mighty cold along the way and the Black Mountains surrounding Fort Verde do get a good dumping of snow that can trap you in some of the passes there. If I were a gambling man I’d give you a 60% chance you’ll miss the snows… if you left this week that is.”

“I’ll need to talk to my men but my desire is to get to join up with General Crook as soon as possible.” Replied Jasper.

“Well, you do that. If you all decide to winter it out here at the Fort all we ask is that you participate in the hunting of meat and collecting firewood. I may also ask you to help in some of the Forts repairs from time to time. Let me know of you’re decision.”

The two groups decided to discuss the situation around one of the mess hall tables. Once seated, Jasper told his men what the meeting with the Commander was all about.

“I may be heading our travels up but it’s being left up to you all whether we risk the journey up to Fort Verde or not. My feelings are we should but don’t let that influence you none.”

After a show of hands Jasper and his men decided to risk it.

“As for myself,” Dusty told them, “It’s my land we we’re heading up to and I can’t put Crag’s life in danger by making the trip to something he doesn’t own. So, I’ll be staying here.

Craig looked over at Jasper saying, “I never got a chance to tell Dusty about my decision to travel with you.”

Looking at Dusty Craig told him, “I asked Jasper earlier in on our way here if I could join up with them. I may or may not decide to join up with Genera Crook but Dusty, I want to strike out on my own, I just never made the time to tell you.

Dusty sat back looking at his friend. “You never found the time or were you too afraid I’d buck the idea?”

“Kind of both I guess. Look Dusty, we been friends since childhood but I’m tired of being told what I can and shouldn’t do. I’m a grown man. Maybe I found I like the new me. I like getting riled up drinking, I like coupling with women, even fat ugly and old ones, it makes me feel I’m in control. I have needs that go beyond just pleasure, that’s why I never let a woman lay a’top me, I need to be on top, I need to be in control not her!”

Jasper turned to Dusty saying, “I told him he could follow along with us as long as he could pay his own way like each of us do. If he don’t, I told him we’ll cut him loose.”

“So I guess it’s just me weathering out the winter here at the Fort. When do you think you’ll be heading out then Jasper?”

“I figure we need to grain up our animals for a couple more days, put some weight on ‘em before we ride out. I’d say in three days.”

Chapter 6

That evening as Dusty made his way past the Forts commissary the girl who’d caught his eye rounded the corner of the commissary and ran headlong into Dusty.

Both plied excuses and begged forgiveness until the both broke out I laughter.

The girl, still wearing the heavy over coat but without the big fur cap stuck out her hand telling him, “My name is Holly, Holly Carr. What’s your name?’’

Becoming red faced and feeling like he just chocked on a dried up biscuit, Dusty replied. “Uh… Dusty. Dusty Carr… no, I’m sorry not Carr, that’s your name, my names Brod.. er Dusty Trail.”

Brodie was smitten tongue tide. With the large fur cap removed he saw just how beautiful she was. Her long hair was so blond and fine it looked nearly white. What had caught his attention from the first was her eyes. They were so unusually green and if eyes could actually smile, hers did.

“The girl covered her mouth to hide a giggle, “Dusty Trail? Really or are you making fun of me.?”

“No, honest, my name is Dusty Trail. Brodie is my real name but folks all call me Dusty.”

“Well I’m sure there is a story there somewhere but I think I’ll call you Brodie I like it better than Dusty.”

“Sure, go ahead if you wish to.”

“Besides a grown man needs a name befitting him, Dusty sounds like a child’s nick name.”

“If you only knew!”

Mustering what face he had left he asked her, “Uh, Miss Carr, may I walk with you for a moment?”

Holly did not answer right away but she did slide her arm into his.

“Where were you going?” He asked.

“Just walking, I like to walk.”

“Where are you from?”

“I was born in Holland so I can never run for President of the United States. I was just an eight months old when the ship landed. My grandparents were waiting at the dock in Boston when I arrived.”

“You mean when you and your family arrived, don’t you?”

“No, they all died on the way over, only I survived.”

“What? What happened?”

“I was told our ship had a previous voyage carrying negro slaves from West Africa to Arabia. I guess they had some disease because I’m told it was just days after leaving Holland that the illness on board broke out. Since I was just an infant, I was kept way down below where the ship doesn’t rock so much. I never became sick but my family did and they all died.”

Dusty did not know what to say. What words could ever comfort someone who lost their entire family? Not wanting to pry but still very curious he asked her. “So the elderly couple you arrived with are your Grand parents then?”

“Yes, we are on our way to Utah.”

“Utah? That’s Mormon territory isn’t it?”

Holly’s face fell, “I guess, you see Grandpa has converted to Mormonism and said his Bishop has found a good match to be my husband there.”

“Is that what you wanted? A husband you never met?”

“I have no choice. My Grandfather has already agreed to the Bishops choice.”

“But that makes no sense, a girl should marry out of love, not by being forced.”

“I had always dreamed of being in love. My parents were said to be in love.”

The couple reached the end of the row of buildings and turned to walk back. Dusty could not imagine being forced to marry someone. He knew that in some smaller towns the pickings weren’t very plentiful but that seemed so different than being forced.

“Are you staying the winter?” She asked, “We are. We were told we would not make it to Utah unless we waited for winter to end.”

“Yes, only myself out of our two groups are staying. The others are leaving in a few days for a place called Fort Verde.”

“I never heard of Fort Verde but I’m glad we are staying here for the winter. My Grandma has a bad heart. Grandpa did not want her to come but she insisted saying a young girl should only travel if another older woman is her consort.”

“Well, that much I can agree with. ”

“What about you? Do you want to marry?”

He responded smiling broadly “Sure I do, and I want children too! I am going up to a place called Alpine to settle there. I am told it it a beautiful place, lots of forest, clear streams, and over two hundred acres of tillable land! It’s where I can raise a wonderful family with a loving wife at my side.”

Holly seemed to stare off into the sky’s blue expanse, “You make it sound so wonderful. Do you have someone special you are meeting there?”

“Oh no, I have no one. I hope that changes after I build a home and get the land tilled.”

By now they had once again reached the commissary where they had began their walk. Disengaging her arm from his she quietly told him how much she enjoyed their walk and hoped to walk with him again soon.

“I would like that. He told her”

That night he could not sleep. He re-ran their conversation over and over until well past midnight when he at last fell asleep.

The next morning saw the two friends in the mess hall eating breakfast.

“So I saw you sweet talking that new girl yesterday. You do know she’s to marry a Mormon don’t you?”

“Yes, she told me.”

“To think a girl like that would marry some Mormon over three times her own age, it’s “disgusting. I was also told the man already has a wife!”

“What?”

“Yep, and the man she’s to marry is the bishop himself!”

“Where did you hear all of this? She told me she didn’t even knew who she was to marry.”

“Lot you know about her then!”

Craig took delight in telling him the rest.

“Her Gran-daddy told me all about it. See, I tried to spark her but he told me to stay away from her. He said that she’s promised to some Mormon Bishop, and because they’ll be related after the marriage the Bishop is sending him up to some big city up in Utah to serve in their temple. She’s going to live along with his first wife south of there in a town called Provo”

“You’re right, it sounds disgusting.”

Craig smirked, “A young girl like that should have her honey pot broken into by someone nearer to her own age. At least then she’d have something to think on while that old buffalo is humpin’ on her. Now if I was to break her she’d have a memory for a lifetime. Yes Sir, the things I would do to her would make her toes spin.”

“Just behave yourself Craig, remember, this is a Military Fort. Besides, you’re starting to sound scary.”

As Dusty left the mess hall he spotted Holly standing in the deep morning shadows slightly under an exterior stairway that led up to the unmarried officers sleeping quarters.

Catching his eye, she hastely waved him to come over.

“I’m so glad I caught you before Grandpa comes out. It takes him a while to dress and feed Grandma so I have some time. I wanted to tell you yesterday later in the day but didn’t see you and Grandpa has become suspicious of my actions ever since he caught your friend showing his unwanted interest in me. I don’t care for your friend, I’m sorry but I think he’s lewd.”

“I understand, yesterday I spoke to him and told him to behave himself. He seemed overly pleased in telling me what your Grandfather told him… about you getting married and all.”

Holly dropped her head and her smile left her face. Dusty noted then that she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked up miserably into Dusty’s eyes and blurted. “Oh Brodie!” She preferred calling him that over Dusty. “I’m doomed!

“About your marriage?”

“Yes about my marriage! After our wonderful walk yesterday my Grandfather told me all about it. I’m to be a second wife to some old man who bribed my Grandfather into giving me to him! This is not what I had dreamed of as a wife! I wanted someone who loved me and I loved, who was my trusted friend, someone my heart yearned after… someone like you Brodie.”

At that Holly’s heart burst and she began to cry.

In a natural response, Dusty took her into his arms and held her tight. She hugged him back, burying her face into his neck and let her tears flow.

After a minute or two she calmed but remained clinging to him. With tears she continued to repeat her outburst that she was doomed.

Knowing nothing of Mormonism or even if it were legal to have two wives, Dusty was at a loss for words so he just held her.

“Holly, I’m so sorry.” He told her quietly into her ear. “If I had the power and right I would take you away from here. I’d give you the dream you wish for. The home, the love, the family… everything.”

Holly slowly pulled her tear stained face from his neck, looked into his eyes and softy spoke. “And I would willingly go with you Brodie. I know it seems impossible but my heart has fallen in love with you though we’ve only had one walk together.”

Dusty exhaled deeply telling her, “I did not know what loving a girl was all about, until now. I ran through our conversation a hundred times last night. I’ve never been in love before but as much as I can be, I believe I am. Thinking of you marrying another makes my heart ache so I must be in love.  ”

Eventually the sad couple had to part as Holly feared her Grandfather might catch them in their embrace. If that happened Holly knew she would never be trusted to be alone again and it would be torture to see her love each day throughout the winter and never be able to speak to him.

After parting, Holly told him. “I was told my duty today at the Fort is to perform the store room’s inventory along with my Grandfather. I had better get inside and start. My Grandfather should be along shortly and I need to fix my face and dry my eyes before he comes.

“You go then, but I will be thinking of you. I promised Jasper that I’d give Craig’s horse and pack mule a good going over before they leave. I don’t think Jasper trust Craig to do it.”

“Brodie, I know I was being forward in what I just told you but I would never take those words back.”

“Nor I Holly. Now go.”

Unbeknownst to the pair, Craig had been watching the two but was unable to hear their intimate conversation. His eyes narrowed but smiled when he saw Holly enter the store room alone and close the door behind her to keep out the cold.

As Holly busied herself opening crates and counting the contents she heard the door open and felt the rush of cold air. Believing it was her Grandfather, she did not turn around until she heard, “So we’re finally alone!”

A deep chill ran down her spine and panic rose within her.

“M-My Grandfather will be here soon! Should he catch me alone with you he will surely severely punish me.”

“Who cares, I promised myself that before I left here I’d feel what it was like to bed you!”

Saying that, Craig quickly stepped forward to the frightened girl and in a single move

ripped open her winter flannel top, exposing her virgin breast. Seeing their perfection, he violently forced her to the floor where he began his molestation.

Suddenly she began to scream. She screamed so loud it hurt her throat.

But, rather than stopping him it seemed to excite him even more.

Craig was never one to think his actions through to completion. All that consumed him was the thought of over powering and raping the young girl. Hearing her scream raised his desire to molest her even more, not out of love but that of control.  Because of his lack of forethought he was unaware that her screams could be heard throughout the Fort.

In his blundering attempt to remove the screaming girls clothing, he found that it was a much more difficult task than tearing off the cheaply made attire saloon whores wore. In his frustration, he also discovered his own pants refused to open.

So intent was he that he did not hear the door being kicked open behind him. He only turned when it opened and loudly slammed itself against the wall.

Turning his head away from the girl in order to see who had entered he then saw the girls Grandfather standing there. Red faced with anger the old but still muscular man charged forward into the room. Craig quickly rolled off the girl grabbing at his holstered pistol.

The screaming girls Grandfather rushed towards the Craig ready to do Battle with his clenched giant fist. But, an enormous ear shattering explosion from Craigs gun stopped him in mid step.

Craig had just enough time before her Grandfather reached them to pull off one shot. Fortunately for Craig and unfortunately for the Grandfather, the 45 caliber slug tore through the old man’s neck, nearly severing his head from his body.

Rolling himself to a kneeling position, Craig once again cocked the single action Colt 45 knowing someone may come through the open door at any moment. He had only a split second to point it forward when the figure of the Sargent filled the doorway.

Unaware of the Sargent’s training, Craig fired wildly at the opening but the Sargent had upon entering immediately threw himself to the left of the opening and fired his own pistol.

Craig’s bullet shot harmlessly through the empty doorway just missing Dusty’s scalp who was only a step behind the Sargent.

The Sargent, having a double action pistol quickly followed his first shot with two more.

Within the smoke filled store room two bodies lay dead.

Within seconds a multitude of soldiers began filling the doorway. The ever diligent Sargent ordered the crowd of soldiers to disperse and return to their duty. Slowly they left leaving Dusty and the Sargent alone with the terrified girl.

Upon seeing Dusty, she rose while attempting cover herself but more intent on throwing herself into Dusty’s waiting arms.

 

Chapter 7

 

Holly had little desire to see her Grandfathers mutilated corpse. It wasn’t out of disrespect but the grossness of the headless corpse scared her. Realizing there was nothing the two could do to help, they left the store room after Dusty spoke to the Sargent. He kept her hand within his as he escorted her to the unmarried women’s quarters to fix her face and change out of her damaged blouse.

As they made there way, Holly suddenly stopped him saying,“Oh my gosh Brodie, I need to tell my Grandma what just happened. She still thinks Grandpa and I are busy taking the store’s inventory.”

“Holly,” Dusty gently told her, “I just spoke to the Sargent about that. He told me he’d take care of that duty and for another thing, you really need to change your torn shirt before you go anywhere.”

Realizing she had forgotten her winter coat and had done a perfectly innadiquit job of covering herself, she reddened and said, I’m sorry you saw my nakedness Brodie, a girl’s biggest fear is that after seeing her unclothed, her husband might find her lacking.”

“My dear Holly, put away any fears you have concerning that subject, in my eyes you’re perfect.”

Holly squeezed his hand and told him to wait outside her quarters for her to return. Dusty, now even he preferring to be called Brodie saw the Sargent making his way up to the building that the Carr Grandparents had been given to stay in.

In short order Holly changed and made her way back to Brodie’s side saying she wished to be there when the Sargent informed her Grandmother of her husband’s murder.

As they neared the quarters, they heard the Sargent shouting an order for someone to get the Fort’s Doctor.

The couple look at each other and without saying a word began running all the while still holding hands as they rushed towards the Grandparents quarters.

Upon entering the room they quickly saw the bed which the Grandmother was lying in had had its sheet pulled up to the headboard.

“Holly stood wordlessly then mouthed, Grandma?”

The Sargent removed his issued cap and held it in his two hands. “I’m sorry lass. When I told her what happened, she moaned once and gave up the ghost.”

Brodie saw pools of wet tears brimming in her eyes. To no one in particular she said, “She loved him dearly even though he had never said a kind word to her.”

Early the next morning at daybreak Brodie and Holly watched Jasper and his men moving out to beat the coming winter. Having never met the grandparents and intent on their leaving, they did not stay for the Carr’s double burial.

Having shook Brodie’s hand goodbye from the saddle, Jasper winked at he and Holly and said, It’s a mixed blessing on all accounts. I only told Craig he could ride with us because I knew he’d never join up with Crook’s men. I’m sorry, but he had no sand to be a man.”

The two watched as Jasper and his men turned north and rode in the direction of the distant Black Mountains.

Standing there as they watched, Holly turned to Brodie and said, “Yes, it is a mixed blessing. Through these terrible deaths you are now free of your obligation to his father and I am now free to marry for love. It’s ironic in ways. I am now free but I have no where to go to be free. Sure, I have the money my grandfather had in his money belt but other than that, I don’t know how to start over.”

“Holly, I spent a sleepless night thinking of you and your future. I know you feel something towards me and I know I have deep feelings for you so…”

“Brodie, I have much deeper feelings toward you than ‘just ‘something’. I am in love with you. I too spent the night pondering my future. I’m not sure if you are ready or even willing to be married in this stage of your life but if you were to ask me, I would not deny you.”

“Then you would not turn me down if I asked you to be my wife? Even though we’ve only known each other for a week?”

“Yes, if you go ahead and ask me.”

“Then I will. Holly would you do me the greatest honor in my life and become my wife? I promise to love and protect you all the days of my life.”

“Yes, I will marry you. But, we need to attend to my Grandparents and Craig’s burial first.”

“I wonder what your Grandfather would think knowing you will never marry the Bishop or follow the Mormon faith.”

“I’m sure he would be very displeased. He was a strong minded and self centered man. If one were to cross him in any way, he’d hold it against you until he had his way. I never loved the man, instead I feared him. He was a zealot in his faith and nothing less than that mattered to him. Sure, he provided but only because he had an end plan that would raise his esteem within the Church. My Grandmother I loved and I will miss her but my Grandfather? No, I will not weep over him.”

“Is there any other family?”

“No, my Grandparents were the only family I had in this country.”

“What about you Brodie, you never mentioned your family.”

“Well, I’m kind of alone also. My Mama died giving child birth and a year later my Dad fell ill with consumption and passed. He left me a good savings and the land in Alpine that I am heading up to. As for Craig, I grew up with Craig. He was my lifelong best friend and next door neighbor but the war changed him and he went bad.”

“I can attest to that!”

I’m so sorry, he made comments about you but In all my days I never imagined he would try and molest the girl I was sweet on.”

“So you were sweet on me? When did you know?”

“The moment our eyes locked on each other.”

“How sweet!” She said lifting her face she kissed his cheek.

—————————————————–0————————————————-

The first burial held was Holly’s Grandparents. The soldiers had dug two graves, one large enough for two and a lone single grave much further away.

The ground was only frozen for a few inches from the surface so it wasn’t too difficult to dig to the proper depth.

The Fort’s Chaplin prayed over them not knowing the grandfather was a devout Mormon. To Holly it made no difference. When he prayed for her Grandmother Bodie noticed her tears were once again flowing.

Within minutes following her Grandmother being lowered beside her husband Holly and Bodie made their way over to where Craig was to be buried.

The Chaplin made his way over and once again prayed over the body before it was laid to rest.

At that moments, Brodie told the others that he wanted to say a few words over the grave.

“Craig,” He spoke looking into the hole and down at his friend, “You and I grew up being best friends. We were inseparable. We fished together, explored the country side and spent many a night camping under the stars together, I loved you. But, the war changed you. If you had not died, we would most likely have ended up worst enemies rather than best friends. I am marrying the girl you viciously attacked. It will take some time to forgive you for that. I would never have wished you being killed but I believe the Lord knew you would not have stopped but continued so he took you away for others sake.” As he threw a handful of cold earth on top of the canvas wrapped body he quietly said, “Goodbye Craig, I pray the Lord has mercy on you.”

The couple stayed behind watching the others return to the Fort but asked the Chaplin to hold up a minute.

“Chaplin,” Brodie asked him, “Would it be possible that you marry Holly and I?”

He quizzically looked at the two, shrugged and replied, Yes, I can marry you two and give you the necessary legal marriage papers. When were you thinking of?”

Holly spoke up. “Would today be possible? I don’t want to be alone tonight. Last night I could not even close my eyes. ”

The Chaplin smiled and reassured her it was fine. “I understand. You’ve been through a lot the last two days.”

Brodie then asked Holly if he could invite the Sargent and Commander as witnesses.

Holly thought inviting them was a wonderful idea and said so.

As spring approached, the Trails became excited about leaving the Fort and heading up to Alpine to settle the land inherited by Brodie.

There were other families that had arrived to take shelter in the Fort after Holly and Brodie were married.

During the winter months the Forts wintering over families got to know each other and a few strong friendships were formed.

The Trails were delighted to find that two other families had purchased land in or near Alpine.

The Huff family consisted of four teenage children, mother and father.

The Andersen were recently married and she was with early child.

Nearing his mid forties, John Huff had been in Alpine two years previous and was the owner of the Huff Lumber and Sawmill company that he had started near Alpine. Besides the lumber mill, he had commissioned the building of a frame house for he and his family to live in. Huff’s wife and children had stayed behind in Alabama during his previous visit and were excited to once again be a united family.

The young Andersen family were nearly the same ages as the Trails. This really excited Holly who as a young girl was never permitted to have any real friendships. Her Grandfather had even denied her the ability to be bucolically schooled, favoring private Mormon tutors.

Most of the other families waiting for good weather were heading up to the more north westerly town of Prescott. They had been told it may become the State capitol someday so many saw dollar signs in starting new businesses there.

Both families, the Andersen and the Huffs, had arrived hauling large converted ore wagons to carry all their supplies, budding materials and house hold goods. The Anchorperson’s converted Studebaker wagon could easily carry over ten tons fully loaded and required a minimum of eight mules to haul it.

The Huffs arrived in a converted Newton wagon, one of the largest wagon’s ever built. This immense wagon had enough room in it to carry a steam driven plank planer and tractor sander besides the family’ household goods. Thirteen to eighteen mules were required to haul the Huff’s Newton heavy freight wagon with it’s four large six foot diameter and ten inch wide wheels. When Huff arrived he had fourteen mules and was interested in buying four more from the Fort’s livery.

After seeing these monster wagons Brodie felt that maybe he should also invest in some sort of wagon. When it was just he and Craig, sleeping under the stars was no problem, but now he was a married man and could not ask Holly to travel that way.

During the winter he purchased a smaller Blaine made wagon. It had been used to haul goods from Tucson to the Fort and back. A broken rear axle saw it never returning to Tucson. For the last two years it had been stored outside the Forts rear gate under a canvas tarp.

The Commander sold the wagon to Brodie for ten dollars and threw in the Fort’s Black Smith to fabricate a new iron axle to replace the broken wooden one for a dollar. It was a lighter wagon, having only four foot diameter and four inch wide wheels but Brodie was going to dual much less than the others.

Little by little Brodie accumulated the needed supplies to make the trip to Alpine.

His fortune continued when John Huff told Brodie he was more than welcome to the large canvas tent the Huffs had been using on their trip after the Huffs arrived and moved into their newly built home. When Brodie asked the price John told him he wasn’t interested in selling it but instead was giving it to him. This answered the problem of what he and Holly would live in during the time it took to build their own home.

The tent was nearly as big as his old home in West Virginia. Three inch thick wooden poles supported thick canvas and it housed a steel wood burning cook stove for cooking and keeping the tent warm. Brodie decided it was perfect .

On an overcast spring day the three wagons formed a line and rolled out from the Fort’s front gate. Having said their thank you’s and goodbye’s the three families pointed their wagon train north east to eventually parallel the White River then turn onto the trail going to Alpine. Following the map drawn by the surveyor, they were ab;able to avoid areas forbidding the wagons.

It took three weeks to journey from the Fort to Alpine and both Brodie and wife Holly could not arrive soon enough. Although the trip was uneventful regarding Indians and the feared Mexican bandits, it wasn’t without their share of mishaps and tribulations.

One of the Huff’s boys had a foot rolled over upon by the huge Newton wagon, soundly breaking it. In another incident one of the Andersen’s mules stepped into a hole and broke its leg. The mule had to be put down but knowing Indians loved mule meat it was decided to butcher it and give it to the first Indians they came upon.

Now with only seven mules to haul their wagon Brodie loaded onto his own wagon the four thirty gallon barrels containing the Andersen’s water, coal oil, flour and dried apples.

Neither Brodie nor Holly had spent more than a few hours riding in a wagon so were unaccustomed to what effects the swaying and bouncing had on the behinds. After each days trip, the two would slow and painfully step down from the bare wood wagon’s seat.

Making their way to where the campfire would be they both sat down gently.

John Huff saw the situation and after a few days finally pulled Brodie aside and told him, “Put a blanket over the plank seat Brodie, it’ll save you and yours from loosing some flesh!”

It helped but was a bit late in preventing the already smarting blisters each now sported.

Previously while still at the Fort, the surveyor went over the land deed to identify the properties survey markers where about’s that had been put there when his father had purchased the land. The first and starting marker was located along the small lake’s southern shore at a small inlet creek. From that point Brodie could discover the other boundary markers and view the layout of his two thousand plus acre property.

He told Brodie, “There’s a notation from your father that’s written on the back of the deed saying the survey markers were to be steel rods painted yellow and protruding no less that two feet from the ground.”

On Sunday the fifth of May, the Trails parted ways with the other two families and took a trail that should take them to his property’s small lake. As it turned out, the Andersen property was less than a mile from the lake but to the east at the end of the Alpine valley. The Dale Andersen had grown up on a farm and planned to continue being a farmer. The acreage he had purchased was one of the few places within the valley besides Brodie’s land that had enough tillable acreage to support a good sized farm.

John Huff’s home and lumber company was closer to the most northern town near Alpine at a distance of seven miles from Brodie’s land.

By late Sunday afternoon the Trails rolled up and halted their wagon on the south shore of their lake.

Holly lowered herself down from the blanketed wagon seat. She walked towards the shoreline. Her right hand was raised to cover her mouth as if she were afraid to speak, that the spell might be broken.

Her eyes traveled the length of the placid lake and returned to gaze upon it and the deep forest behind it.

She heard Brodie jump down from the wagon and approach her from behind. Before he reached his awe struck wife she turned to face him, her mouth still covered but now tears flowed freely down her face.

“Oh my Land”, she finally uttered quietly, it’s the most beautiful land I have ever seen!

Brodie reached out and from behind her wrapped his arms around her not speaking.

“Please, tell me this really yours?” Her eyes closed still pleaded with him to say yes.

Brodie leaned slightly forward and placed a light kiss upon the nape of her neck.

Hugging gently he whisperd in her ear. :No…”

He felt her stiffen in his arms but relax when he finished by telling her

“It’s not mine, it’s OURS!”

EPILOG

The couple spent that summer living in the large tent given to them by the Huff family while Brodie cut down the amount of Ponderosa pines needed to build their home. These were hauled up to the Huff Lumber and mill to be cut into useable lumber. The wood would still need to be stacked and dried for a complete year before they could be used to build the home with. In the meantime, John Huff delivered enough lumber at no cost for the couple to build a small two room cabin to live in during their home’s construction. That cabin later would eventually house the ranch foreman.

Before they left the Fort, Brodie had taken the time to write Mister O’Reilly regarding the death of his son Craig. That summer he received a reply. In the return letter Mister O’Reilly while saddened to lose his son, agreed his death was no ones fault except his own and he wished the newly weds well.

That Christmas Holly gave Brodie the most special of gifts by telling him she was expecting. She was sure it was a boy but out popped a beautiful blond haired girl. Brodie beamed with pride showing her off to the Andersens and Huffs. Holly would surprise him three more times.

At thirty, by popular demand from all the Alpine residence, now numbering almost one hundred,  the recently approved  State of Arizona asked Brodie to head the newly created  Arizona Rangers service.

There are lots of stories to be told of Brodie’s adventures as a lawman but like all tales this story here must now come to a close.

JW Edwards

Bekke’s Law – Deputized

bekkes-law deputized

 

Some years ago I recalled a story and told you of a precocious young girl named Bekke Hillstrand.

Well, the years passed and she did end up marrying the young boy she befriended. There’s more to her tale and if’n you got a few, I’d like to tell you what ever became of her and how I know all this.

 But first, if you all remember how my last story ended, you’d remember Bekke had finally patched things up between her long lost Dad. She eventually asked him to move to Globe where she and her future husband inherited from a dying friend a mercantile and freighting business.

Bekke had transformed the upper story of the carriage house into a fine well furnished home where her father was given one of the large rooms to live in. Bekke had an outside stairway built aside his room so he could come and go in private. His life had been transformed to that of a man who had finally found peace. Many an evening he sat comfortable in his over stuffed chair reading a worn King James Bible by lamplight and warmed bodily by a small nearby pot bellied stove and inside from his daughters love for him.

  As time passed, the business grew successful but Bekke’s father, up in years and a long spell in questionable health, had become bedridden. It was on chilly, overcast fall day that he breathed his last breath. His daughter along with his now son in law, each held one of his weathered hands as the Lord took him home. Two days later he was lowered forever into the grave during an October rain storm.

 Two brothers, both Sheriffs in different towns, will be joining up with Bekke and Jethro in Prescott where the couple are expanding their freight haulin’ business. But Prescott wasn’t going to be the problem free town they had imagined.  But they’ll work through it.

 From here on in, I’m going to do the telling of this story from the perspective of a written story with as much proper grammar as I’m capable of. So set back an’ enjoy the second story of a wonderfully precocious kid turned Lady.

 

——————————————————————0—————————————————————–

 

The carriage ride back home from the cemetery was one of sadness and introspection. Jethro guided the single horse drawn Studebaker carriage through the maze of Globe’s muddy streets uncaring that mud from the horses hooves were splashing upward onto his new wool suit. Bekke sat next to him on the comfortably stuffed leather covered single bench seat. Both were lost in their own thoughts.

As for Jethro, his thoughts wandered back to the days when he and Bekke experienced their first kiss. Riding away from the cemetery and the sad affair there, Jethro couldn’t help but smile. Back then when he had first met Bekke,  his body was starting to show signs of what he’d turn out to be as a grown man even though he still wore his hair in a youngsters  bowl cut.

Upon reaching their home, Jethro handed Bekke the reigns and jumped down into the mud and rain to open the large twin carriage houses doors. A couple years previous the large second floor loft’s interior had been transformed into a beautiful large home with an old stairway leading from the home upstairs to ground level where the carriage was stored. Before entering the dry interior of the upstairs and not wanting to leave mud on its clean wood planked floor, Jethro scraped the mud free from his shoes.

Before Bekke could remove herself from the carriage, Jethro was there with his hand out to help her down. Bekke was about to tell him that she was fully capable of performing the act herself but seeing his outstretched hand she decided to submit to his care for she knew it was his way of trying to comfort her.

Once upstairs in the house, both removed their rain soaked foul weather coates and hung them on the hall tree to dry. It was only when Bekke began stoking the cast iron cook stove to boil water for a pot of coffee that Jethro finally spoke.

“Why is it,” he asked no one in particular, “That every funeral I’ve ever been to has been in the rain? Billy’s funeral was the same way, it rained for weeks afterward.”

Billy was the original owner of the mercantile (See Bekke’s law). He took both Jethro and Bekke in as employees and later as near adopted family. Together under Billy’s tutelage they learned the freight and mercantile business. Jethro headed up the office while Bekke, being an expert muleteer from her youth, took charge of the freight hauling. On their second wedding anniversary Billy asked them to step into his office.

Waiting until the couple were comfortably seated he told the two that he desired to visit his daughter and grand kids back east in Virginia. He wanted to make the trip before he got so old that making the long trip back east would just be too difficult.

In laying out his plans for the trip, Billy then announced that since he had no idea of how long he would be away and that the couple was more than able to meet the challenge of running the business he told them, “I’m turning the legal ownership for Globe Mercantile and Freight over to the two of you. It’s no use arguing, the papers have been drawn up and submitted to the Court. As of yesterday, the business was yours. I trust you’ll handle everything just fine. Just send me a few dollars a month fer things like tobacco and a snort of bourbon now an’ then. You know, things my daughter would frown on if she had to buy ’em.”

Jethro and Bekke stood waving goodbye long after the carriage taking Billy to the train station had left. It began to rain.

Five months later Billy’s body was shipped back to Globe in a lead sealed coffin. Not wanting to upset them at the time, Billy had not told the two that weeks prior to his leaving his Doctor had diagnosed him with terminal cancer.

 

in the house Bekke left the hot stove with two man sized cups of steaming coffee. She handed Jethro one saying, “Here, this will warm you up.”

Blowing his breath across the cup to cool the coffee inside Jethro winked at her and said, “No one makes a pot of coffee better than you do Hon, it’s a Godsend on a day like today.”

Raising the deliciously filled steaming mug towards the window and foul weather outside he shouted, “In the power invested in this here cup of delicious coffee, I command you foul clouds to disperse and to stop your raining!”

Laughing, Bekke responded to Jethro’s crazy antics, “ I do believe only the Lord can command the weather my dear, unless of course he gave you some special power using a mug of coffee like it was Moses’s staff or something.”

“I’ll tell you,” he said, “If anything could command the weather it would be your coffee.”

“Husband, not to change the subject but I’ve received a notice that brothers John and Charles Arbuckle are shipping a forty sack wagon of their coffee beans for us to distribute to the local Phoenix roasters. The load is valued at over three thousand dollars.”

“So, will you be the one to take the load or should I have Geezer take it?”

“The two ton shipment should arrive at the warehouse in Tucson by the end of the month. Instead of Geezer hauling the load can an I assign Mac (who’s Apache name was Machk) to do the haul? He’s the youngest of our muleteer’s but he shows more promise than most twice his age. Besides,I’m not sure Geezer would be up to it,  I think he’s going to retire on us.”

“Well, we agreed Mac’s about ready for a Phoenix run so yes, let’s have him do the pick up and deliveries and see how he does. He rode shotgun a few times with us to the Peoria warehouse before this so he knows the route and we’ll give him directions to all the roasters he’ll need to deliver to. Good idea.”

Furrowing her brow Bekke asked, “Do you think he’ll need a shotgun rider?  I mean there is a lot of money tied up in those sacks of coffee. Two thousand pounds of coffee is hard to steal but it wouldn’t be the first high value load to fall into a group of road agents hands”

“Hmmm, you’re probably right, I’ll ask Mac if his older brother Snake will again sit shotgun for him. Snake may be a bit too lazy for real work but with his size and the looks of him he’s sure to give any road agents a second thought before attempting to steal a load. Besides, he hauls that huge ten gauge greener shotgun around like it’s attached to him.”

Snake stood six feet five inches tall and had a body most circus strong men longed for. His arms alone were as round as most Amen’s legs, and they were solid muscle, no fat. In fact weighing in at just over three hundred pounds folks assumed his father was a grizzly bear, not an Indian. Snake had immense strength and an unmatched endurance. He had been known to trot from Globe to the town of Young, some forty miles north, without stopping or getting out of breath.

Snakes only physical drawback was his looks. As a young man he was helping to unload a wagon at the Clayborone copper smelting plant in Globe when the ill fitting lid of a barrel of acid used in smelting allowed the acid to splash onto his face. Time healed the worst of it but deep scars still remained. As he grew older, he became less social due to his looks. Those on the reservation called him the quiet giant. Bekke saw great potential in the big man, much more than just riding shotgun to protect the muleteer and his load.

“Yes, I’ll ask Mac if his brother would act as the shotgun rider.”

Bekke added, “Since we’re talking business, have you given any more thought about expanding our business? The last time we talked you mentioned letting Andy run the Globe mercantile and freight business here in Globe while you and I open a second freight business elsewhere. It would double our business.”

Jethro agreed, “I have no doubt we need to expand, I’m just not sure where yet. Our present business clients in Phoenix are pretty lack luster with them being so much closer to Tucson and all. I’ve been told Prescott would make an excellent place to position a second mercantile and freight hauling business.”

 

Pulling out a map of the Arizona territory, Jethro unrolled it on the table and pointed out locations to Bekke. “It’s north of Phoenix, south west of Flagstaff, east of Fort Mohave in the Nevada Territory and west of the New Mexico Territory. Prescott sure could cover a lot of ground that we presently can’t really haul economically to. I’m not sure how much more the Globe area will expand. The copper mine’s been eating up more and more land every year looking for more copper ore and folks are hesitant on building too far away from town because they fear the mine will just shove them out and they’d have to move again. ”

Bekke Took the empty coffee mug from Jethro’s hands and refilled it. Handing it back to him she told him. “I’ve been to Prescott a few times making deliveries and I’ve been thinking along the same lines. Prescott seems to be growing where as Globe hasn’t changed much since I moved here. Now, If you’ll sit like a good boy and not jump to conclusions I’d like to tell you what I’ve been pondering.”

Jethro pulled out one of the spoke backed wooden kitchen chairs from the table and pushing the map aside he sat down. “Be my guest, I’ve been kinda hoping you’ve been thinking about this. To tell you the truth, I’m a bit terrified at the thought of doing this. You know me, I’m the type of guy that is comfortable working for others. If Billy had offered just me this place? No way would I have taken it. But, with you as my partner it made all the difference. I mean look at how much the business has grown and that’s because you led me sometimes kick’n and screaming into unfamiliar territory. You’re the reason why this place has succeeded, not me!”

“My dear sweet husband, you don’t give yourself enough credit. Why without you who would have hired the great workers we have? Who trained Andy to take the reigns when you’re gone? Think about it! Andy was a kid with no direction or desire to be anything more than a young man who was more interested in Saturday night dances than in growing up. Look at him now, and it’s all because of you!”

“Alright, I’ll take a small bit of the credit. So, what is it that you’ve been thinking?”

“I believe opening a second mercantile and freighting business would be too much at first. Let’s start by just concentrating on the freight end. I’m sure Prescott has plenty of general stores as it’s a much bigger town than Globe. Why should we start out by trying to compete for local towns folk’s business? Most who already have certain loyalties to their favorite stores. Freighting on the other hand is impersonal. We deal with companies not people.”

“Keep going, I’m with you so far.”

By now Bekke was getting excited. “Good, first we need to get the lay of the land and see what kind of competition is out there. How many freight hauling businesses does Prescott have? How far do they truck their loads? To what towns? How large and heavy of loads can their wagons haul?”

Nodding in agreement Jethro added, “We need to see about a building for the business, a house to live in, new wagons have to be built and mules purchased. We’ll have a lot to do if we decided on it.”

“Well, money is not a problem. A while back I started a new account separate from the other company ones that was dedicated for expanding our present business or for relocating and starting a new one. We have over fourteen thousand dollars in it. That’s more than enough to build new if we need to but I’m sure there are existing buildings for sale.”

“So, when do we go?”

“Not we dear, just me! You need to stay here to finish training Andy and any new hires you can find. I know just what we’ll need and to be honest, I’m a much better price haggler than you are.”

Jethro had to admit she was right. He never worried about her while she was delivering loads, even when she was gone for a week or two. Besides, he could not recall a story of a woman being physically accosted, it just wasn’t done. Even when road agents robbed, the women were always treated with kids gloves. If a no good was to harm a female, his cohorts in crime would think nothing of roping him to a cactus and leaving him in the desert all alone to die. Still, she always traveled well armed.

Three weeks later Mac and Snake arrived from delivering the huge load of Arbuckles coffee. As Snake had done many times before and not being much for goodbyes he took his pay and left without saying a word.

Mac was told of Bekke’s upcoming trip to Prescott and had mixed feelings about the move. It was out of pure selfishness as the Clemens had become special to him. It was they who hired him as an Indian with no education when no one else would. Without the intervention and support of both Jethro and Bekke, Mac knew he and Snake would have been forced to live without much of a future on the reservation.

“What will happen to Snake and myself if you move?” Mac asked

Since it was Bekke’s idea that was being proposed, Jethro remained silent on the matter.

Bekke spoke, “The two of you will remain employed here in Globe for the time being. The move, when it does takes place, will happen in the upcoming year. There is much to be done, least of all is the training of new employees. This is where you come in Mac. Since you proved you could handle the trips of a high value load combined with multiple drops in Phoenix, we are raising your position to that as freight supervisor. All the other present and future muleteers here in Globe will answer to you. Jethro will continue to train you in more detail and in return you will train the new muleteers, starting with local trips as they work their way to doing long hauls.

“So I am to stay here in Globe?”

“Yes, but only for the time being. It is up to you and Snake whether you decide to relocate with us or stay behind.”

“ If you decide to relocate to Prescott, I’ll file the application with the Territorial Governor allowing you to permanently leave the reservation. It is the same application I filed to allow you to live here in town. It most likely will just be a formality since he first application was approved without delay. Besides, they take into consideration our dependency on your employment with us. As a supervisor over other employees your value to our business increases dramatically.”

“And Snake? Will the value of being a shotgun rider be enough to allow him to relocate off of the reservation?”

Jethro now spoke up saying, “We wanted to talk to you before we offered him the job in Prescott. You are right. Being a shotgun rider would not be enough to qualify him to leave the reservation. When we filed your application, we proved to the Government official in charge of Indian affairs that after two months of advertising for a muleteer the position still went unfilled and our only recourse was to train an Apache to do the job. But, my only concern is with Snakes indifferent attitude. Would he be willing to take on additional duties other than being a shotgun rider? If so, we thought he could be in charge of security for all high value loads, take charge of the wagon and harness maintenance and be willing to apprentice as a possible back up black smith. With these added duties we could once again show his value to the authorities that our business would suffer without him.”

Looking down at his feet, Mac told Jethro, “My heart is sad, for you misjudge my brother Snake. He is not lazy as I’ve heard you wrongly speak of him. As a young man he had big dreams of being much more than an Indian stuck on the Reservation. Don’t mistake his size with any lack of intelligence. He is very smart but since his accident at the mine he has gone into himself. Believe me, if offered, he would jump at the chance to make something of himself.”

Bekke turned to Jethro and pointing a finger at him said,, “Ha! Did I not tell you that I saw something in him that others missed? I knew there was more to him that met the eye. I’m all for hiring him!”

Two months later Jethro received the applications back for Snake and Mac to leave the Reservation in order to relocate up in Prescott if the company expanded there.

Shortly after receiving approvals, the Clemens won the bid to supply twelve thousand pounds of copper roof sheeting for the new courthouse in Prescott. In submitting the bid, Jethro knew his bid was going to be substantially less than his competitors could offer. He was making only a little profit on the load but winning the bid gave Bekke the time and ability to research the feasibility of the move.

Besides Bekke, Jethro insisted that both Snake and Mac would travel along with her in a second wagon. Both heavily built wagons could carry up to eight tons of freight. The wide steel rimmed wheels would prevent the wagon from sinking too deep into any sandy areas along the trail. Bekke and Mac would drive the two wagons while Snake would help to unload them. All three cared for the sixteen mules.

Along with a weeks supply of provisions and personal items for both humans and mules, Snake once again took his deadly greener ten gauge to protect them.

Leaving Jethro, Andy and four other wagoneer’s in training behind, the three left at dawn hoping to make the twelve mile trip to a commonly used grassy park West of Globe on the first day.

It took longer than expected as the trail wasn’t as firmly packed just outside of Globe. It was nearly dark when they finally arrived at the grassy park.

The park had been a favorite stopping point for earlier Indian of various traveling west to parts unknown. It was a Godsend to those making camp there as it had a natural water tank in the form of a small pond fed by a year round running stream.

Surrounding the tank grew a field of lush grass which the mules greedily chomped on. Ancient cottonwood trees provided much of the park with shade. At one time a trading post operated by an unscrupulous Missouri road agent occupied the park. The large cottonwood log building he built sat unmolested on Indian land for five years but after cheating a group of Apache out of their trade blankets, the upset Apache’s burnt the trading post to the ground… along with the unscrupulous owner who was heard screaming inside.

Over the years folks camped out there had dismantled the trading post to use as firewood on chilly nights. Nothing remained now except a legend that somewhere buried in the park was the post operators ill gained profits of gold. With each telling the cache of gold increased in value until finally the Commander of nearby Fort Presume sent a detail of men to dig up the area. No gold was ever found.

The three set about making camp in the dark. Bekke acted as cook since neither Mac or Snake was very familiar with white folks cooking. Bekke could not stand the thought of a weeks meals consisting of questionable animal origins and fry bread.

Neither young man complained when Bekke’s cooking skills provided them with beef stew, a loaf of hot Dutch Oven bread and warm but delicious lemonade. The brothers lay down in the cool lush grass rubbing their bellies in appreciation but Bekke wasn’t through yet…out came the apple pie and coffee!

Placing their bedrolls under Mac’s wagon the brothers were soon snoring. It was a common beliefs that Indians don’t snore but the brothers did not hold much to that. Bekke didn’t like the idea of laying on the ground among the night critters that ventured to the water tank to slack the days thirst away so she made her bed upon the wagon’s large bench seat. As a precaution, she placed her rifle on the floor under the bench seat.

Morning arrived and Bekke repeated her cooking magic. Gorging themselves on hot Johnny cakes, maple syrup and thin cut slabs of bacon, the three then made ready to get back on the trail.

Today’s destination was the town of Surprise. Numerous times in her freight hauling travels Bekke stayed the night at the Golden Arms Hotel and Diner. The hotel, while small and without many of the frills of a large city hotel was amazingly clean and the food was excellent. Unusual for hotels back then, each day, fresh pillow cases and bed sheets replaced those of the night before. The inside of the small clothes closet, the hat rack and the sturdy wooden bed frame were all whitewashed in a mixture of lime based paint. This prevented any transference of bedbugs and lice to the guest clothing and hair.

After a hot bath costing her twenty five cents, Bekke jumped into the soft feather bed and was soon asleep.

Meanwhile the brothers preferred to sleep outdoors once again under one of the wagons. Snake slept with the greener keeping one eye open on the loads.

The next day they hoped to reach the age old Apache land just east of Phoenix. A new town called Goldfield had cropped up in the Superstition mountains there. Some folks got rich, many mysteriously died. Where ever there were mining towns there were hard drinking cowboys, destitute miners and card sharks willing to make a living off of others.

The three had decided to skirt Goldfield and camp out at what was called Apache squaw Junction, just a couple miles north of the town. So far the trip was without incident.

After a nights stay at the Junction, Bekke turned the team onto the road that led to Prescott. Calling it a road may have been calling a lump of coal a future diamond but at least it was headed in the right direction and was well traveled.

They traveled through Black Canyon without being ambushed and then had to climb the steep sides of Table Top Mountain. This is where having eight Missouri mules came into play.

The ‘roads’ increase in angle became harder and harder for the wagons to traverse. Not only was the road steep but it was strewn with millions of fist sized stones.

If one watched the mules they would have noticed the mules began to shorten the length of their strides. These tiny steps provided more power and stability to the entire team.

It took over three hours to reach to top. Table Top Mountain was actually a giant mesa having an extremely flat top grassy surface. Traveling along the top was so easy after the difficult climb that the mules actually regained their strength.

On the top of the mesa, Bekke once again changed the direction, heading now to the North West. The road split here into two. One road headed towards Flagstaff the other headed onto Prescott.

Before descending downhill on the road to Prescott, the three made camp for the night on the edge of the mesa. There was plenty of tall grass growing on the mile wide top but no water so Mac opened one of the water kegs to satisfy the mules and themselves. The mules were only hobbled as there was no trees to run a rope to hitch them to. There were no predators about and the mules would naturally stay within view of each other as mules like to do. They would spend the rest of the evening cropping the fresh grass.

“I think we’ll make it to Prescott the day after tomorrow if all goes well. From here on out we have only rolling hills ahead until we reach the outskirts of the town. The town is built on a series of hills so keep your wheel brake free of dust or mud if it rains.

After the evening meal was finished and all the cooking utensils were cleaned and stored away for the night, the two tents were unfolded and set up. Under each wagon was a ‘possum belly’ to carry any wood for cooking and the night fire. It was a heavy leather blanket shaped affair attached by multiple hooks that could hold hundreds of pounds of  small branches and split logs. Since the mesa grew nothing more than grass the possum belly was a vital addition to the wagon.

Morning found the sky with heavily laden with dark rain clouds.

Bekke once again warned the two to keep their wagon brake free of mud if it rained. As they started their downhill trip a light drizzle began but within minutes a hard down pour came.

Bekke turned around from her seat in the lead wagon and shouted at the two brothers behind her. “These mules aren’t used to thunder and if it starts, we may have to hold up until the thunder passes or until the mules get used to it.”

Fortunately, the rolling thunder kept to the east and passed them by without incident. They made it safely to the mountains foot hill where the road was wet from the drenching rain but was still in very good shape. A few slips and slides occurred but Bekke was pleased to see Mac had handled the eight mule team well.

 

Chapter 2

 Meanwhile back at the Globe Mercantile and freight, Jethro and Andy were busy training the four new employee’s on mule care. As expected, Geezer gave his notice  of retirement but would stay on to help train the new drivers… if needed.

Jethro figured it would take at least three to four weeks of intense training before any one of the new muleteers would be capable of driving even a two mule team let alone an eight mule set up like Bekke and Mac drove. But Jethro had to start somewhere and finding muleteers was hard in a small town still paying top wages at the copper mines.

Both Andy and Jethro had reason to be pleased with the four greenhorns. Three of them were older men who for physical reasons had been let go at the mines. Working copper mines was for the young and sometimes as joked, the simple minded.

Bull, Lester and Toby fell into this group while Festus was the youngster at twenty two years old. All four showed a willingness to learn the ropes of muleteering and the freight hauling industry. Jethro couldn’t have been more pleased.

Lester showed signs of excelling at paper work on top of handling a mule team. Bull was just that, a huge man who took less time to load a wagon than two good loaders could obtain. Friendly and gentle spirited he was a joy to teach the trade to.

Festus was the clown of the four. His instinctive humor kept everyone in high spirits even when things went wrong. Tall and skinny with a long neck that gave the appearance he had a wobbly head, he used his physical looks to amplify his funny stories. In his youth he was nick named ‘Scarecrow’.

Toby was a fella with few words.  He was a soft spoken individual who due to a mine accident was missing his toes on his right foot. It may have been enough of a problem for the mine boss but not for Jethro. Being of average height and weight, nothing made him stand out in a crowd. He was so apt to blend in with a crowd that even his fellow church goes would sometimes question him as to why he no longer attended Sunday services. He would just smile and begin to recall the Pastors sermon verbatim.

Jethro was extremely pleased that one of the men, Lester,  had the gift of paper pushing. After Jethro left for Prescott, Andy would have his hands full and Lester would be a great asset in keeping the records and billing straight.

As the days turned into weeks, the four men had been upgraded from a two mule team to that of four and six teams. As yet only Jethro and Bekke were capable of handling an eight team set up. Each new man caught on to the ability to choose which mule was placed where in line and all became adept at rigging the complicate harnesses. They learned which mules bonded with each other and which worked against each other. Which ones preferred being on the right or left side and which ones could be wheel mules in guiding the team in turning and backing. The four spent much time in the stable grooming and caring for the mules. In all, there were a total of 34 Missouri bred and trained mules and each had their own quirks and personalities to learn about.

On the sixth day after leaving Globe, Jethro figured without any mishaps, that Bekke Mac and Snake had reached Prescott.

Upon their safe arrival, Bekke had promised Jethro to send him a telegram and sure enough at three in the afternoon a delivery boy from the telegraph office showed up at the Globe Mercantile office.

After tipping the boy a dime Jethro unfolded the yellow telegraph paper to read.

 

JETHRO CLEMENS GLOBE MERCHANTILE GLOBE ARIZONA

ARRIVED WITH FREIGHT INTACT. (STOP) WILL DELIVER IT TOMORROW (STOP). ALL MY LOVE.

Jethro smiled with a sigh of relief. He had little doubt the three would be accosted but still, it was a relief to know they had safely made it there.

He knew once the wagons had been unloaded that the three would start researching the possibility of opening a second freight line there. Bekke had told him it may take a week or longer to fulfill the due diligence needed to make sure the start up in Prescott would be a successful venture.

What he did not know is their new venture would pit the Globe Mercantile and Freight Company up against one of the wealthiest and corrupt businessman in Prescott.

 

Chapter 3

After unloading the wagons at the courthouses nearby construction yard of the valuable copper roof sheeting, They headed off to a recommended livery stable that could handle the sixteen mules.

The old Negro in charge of the livery charged two dollars a day each for the stalls, grain and rubdowns the mules needed. He also would ask the blacksmith to inspect the mules flat horseshoes since he noted they were not fitted with the heavy heel calks and toe bars normally found in Northern Arizona for added traction.

Bekke commented on the two dollar a day charge for each mule telling the man that in Globe the same service would have been more in the seventy five cent to one dollar range.

The old negro shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Yes, but that’s in Globe an’ you ain’t in Globe no more.”

Bekke realized she’d have to re-think the cost of doing business and their freight charges. It looked like the Prescott economy might be double that of Southern Arizona’s economy.

The stable had no room left in the small indoor carriage area for the two big wagons so they were left outdoors and tarped over. Mac and Snake drew the heavy canvas tarps over each wagon to protect the wood. Though painted with a thick coat of dark green paint with yellow trim, Bekke knew how expensive each of the custom built wagons had cost them. Thus in carping them from the elements was only expected.

After grudgingly paying a weeks charge of two hundred dollars ( in paying up front, the stableman gave her a twenty four dollar discount) she told her two men that eating in restaurants may have to give way to cooking most of their meals back at camp.

Since eating in any restaurant was an undesirable thought for the two Apaches, both agreed they’d feel more comfortable eating their own (Bekke’s) cooking anyway. The stableman told them where a commonly used over night camp site was located.

“It’s even got a privy some gentleman built for his privacy a while back and there’s a clean flowing stream right nearby for dishes an’ stuff. I’d be a bit hesitant in bathing there though as you might find some of your valuables a missile from your pockets when you get dressed. Mostly it’s just kids but we got a few vagrant types that have been known to stoop low so they don’t have to hold a job.”

“We’ll take your advice, it’s appreciated.” Replied Bekke.

“You know somethin?” The negro stableman said, “I’m jes the stableman here. I don’t own the place but I seen you wince when I told you how much the fee would be. You all seem like nice folk, even your Indian men there, that if’n you need to stay a bit longer than the week you all jes’ go ahead with no extra charge.”

“Thank you! By the way, my names Bekke Hillstrand and my employees here go by the name Mac and Snake. We won’t abuse your offer Mister…”

“Folks around here call me Moon. It’s short for ‘Moon lips’. Moon lips Jones.

Bekke was taken back by his name as it sounded so derogatory. True, the man had a set of lips as big as a horses but somehow it seemed cruel to call him by such a name.

“I’m not sure I could call you that”, Bekke replied, “ I mean it seems kinda wrong somehow.”

“Oh, don’t you worry none about callin’ me by my name ‘cause sho’ enough that’s what my Daddy named me first time he laid eyes on me.”

“Your Dad named you that?”

“Yes’m. See, he was brung over from the coast of Africa an made a slave. He only spoke Igbo, that’s a type of language his tribe spoke over there. Some say it be like African Swahili talk. So when he presented me to be named he done saw how big my lips was an’ named me Mwezi Midomo or Moon lips. Nothin’ bad  about it, it’s a good name, a proud name.”

“I must admit Moon, I’m not familiar with the African culture and how names get to be. I meant no disrespect in my hesitation to call you moon.”

Laughing, Moon replied, “Hey, it’s a whole lot better than calling me some of the names folks around here called me.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the worst! It’s been a pleasure meeting you and we’ll stop by in a few days to see how the mules are treating you.”

Moon offered them the use of a horse drawn wagon to carry their camping gear up to the campground that over looked the town. After hauling their belongings to the camp site and cooking a quick meal, Bekke told the brothers to set up the tents and finish making their camp then return the wagon and horse to the livery.

“ Since we have plenty of daylight left, I’m going into town to get an idea of what kind of freighting competition we’re up against. I’ll be back before dark.”

Mac told her, “Just to be safe, take a gun with you.”

“You mean like one of these?” From her sack coat she pulled out a small twin shot 38 caliber pocket pistol.

Mac chuckled saying, “That’ll do!”

Bekke entered the town of Prescott from the south and headed down hill towards the down town business area. She was surprised at the permanency of the building that had been built. Most were brick or cut stone with only a few being of wood frame construction.

“Looks like they want this town to last” she thought. “At least the building aren’t going anywhere soon.”

The downtown was built around a square. In the center was the new court house she had brought the copper roofing material for. It was the first time she viewed the court house building since the business  she had unloaded goods at in her previous trips had been located away from the downtown area.

She was struck by how busy the town was. Shoppers were going in the stores and coming out carrying an armload of packages and boxes. She noticed a woman’s dress shop had a life size figure dressed in the latest Eastern look. She mentally placed its location in her mind vowing to someday visit the shop.

She was walking the outskirts of the square on the sparser west side when she came upon a freighters business. Looking up above the door she read , HIGH DESERT FREIGHT HAULING INC. After reading the faded lettering she decided to enter.

As she opened the heavy wooden front door to the business a bell inside and overhead attached to the door chimed.

An elderly white haired man looked up from the counter he had spread a bunch of papers on. In a friendly tone he asked, “May I help you Ma’am?”

“I’m not sure. My husband and I are thinking of opening a business here in town so I decided to see for myself what kind of prospects the town has for a new business.”

“Well,” he said chuckling, “I know my wife complains the two dress shops in town are in cahoots with each other to keep the prices high but then my wife thinks everyone is in business to bankrupt us.”

“I can see her point, I just paid the stable man double what it would cost me in Globe.”

“From Globe huh? My sister lived there before she passed on, maybe you knew her, her name was Martha Stern.”

“No, I guess she was before my time. But I knew a Roger Stern, any relation to your sister?”

“Yup, that’s her son. Worthless slug if there ever was one. Martha’s husband died when the boy was only two. She doted on him, spoiled him rotten.”

“Not trying to offend you but I have to agree. He sure was something.”

“Was?”

“Yes, he was killed in a saloon brawl last year. It seemed he was carrying on with a married woman and her husband found out.”

The old man shook his head and asked, “Did they charge the man who killed him?”

“No, they said Mr Stern brought it upon him self. The Sheriff claimed it was a justified killing and later a visiting judge circuit Judge agreed with the decision.”

“Well, I guess there is hope for the world after all. By the way, my name is Fred Hartford, I own this business. May I ask what kind of business are you thinking about opening? I can tell you the town needs a saddle maker, the one we got is going blind and if we could get a real barber in town, the men would be delighted. I guess the field is wide open to new businesses since we’re growing like corn on a spring day… that is unless you are going into the freighting business.”

Bekke visibly stepped back in shock as if hit. “Why would you say that?”

The old man stopped and looked around the place cautiously making sure no customer or employee could hear him.

“It’s a great town except for the likes of one man, Cecil Burkhalter. You see, Cecil Burkhalter used to be a lawyer in town, and not a good one. He was the main partner of Burkhalter, Mosley and Shlapp. His Father owned the Burkhalter freight company on Jackson Street, that’s on the east side of town.

One day Cecil was caught bribing a witness and was disbarred from practicing law in Arizona. It wasn’t the first time he’d been suspected of doing that but in this case the witness’s husband was a Federal Marshal. The woman just happened to be in town and saw a man murder another man. Cecil was hired to get the man off after he told the man he could guarantee his innocence and get him off. Well, the man hung of course and Cecil was found guilty of bribing a witness and lost his license and the business.

“So how does that play into the freighting business other than his father owned it.”

“It seemed Cecil had rung up quite a tab at the poker table one night. Without an income, he had to go to his father for a loan or be horse whipped.

His father not only gave him a loan of ten thousand dollars to cover the debt but put his son in as Vice President of Burkhalter Freight in an attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow.

It didn’t take long for is son to start robbing the till but when his father discovered the huge losses he got so upset he had a heart attack and died right then and there.

Cecil then took over the business and soon the other freighters in town started having problems.”

As if just interested in an exciting tale, Bekke innocently asked him,“May I ask what kind of problems they were having?”

“Sure, everyone in town knows what’s going on but are too meek to stand up to the bastard…Oh my, excuse me, it just came out.”

“Trust me, I’ve heard worse.”

“A Lady shouldn’t have to hear such language, again, I apologize.

With a dismissal shake of her head, Bekke said, “You were saying?”

“Yes, not only the other freighters but I have to include myself here. You see we’ve had a rash of sawed axles, mules made lame and having to be put down, Employees robbed while hauling freight, loads stolen and long time customers suddenly canceling orders only to sign up with Burkhalter Freight. There is so much more but I’m not going to go into it as I’ve already said too much .”

“So does the Sheriff know about all this?”

“Of course, the Sheriff is his father in law!”

“No wonder he gets away with it.”

“To be honest, this morning I had finally made up my mind. I am going to try and sell the business, if I can find a buyer.”

“Seeing what is going on, what do you think your chances are of finding a buyer to sell out to?”

“Honestly? Zero to none. I should have sold years ago but each time I entertained the idea I thought of my employees and their families. They all depended on me and it weighed heavily on my shoulders. I love my employees but I just can’t do this any longer. I’m afraid myself or my employees will end up getting hurt.

For more than a few moments, Bekke sat silently contemplating all that she had heard. She wondered to herself, “Was Prescott really the place to relocate after all? What would Jethro think after hearing all this?”

Finally, she lifted her head and asked point blank. “Mister Hartford, I’m going to be straight up honest with you. I came to Prescott hauling two heavy eight mule team wagons of copper sheeting for the new courthouses roof. My husband and I were thinking about opening a second freighting business so we could expand beyond the southern Arizona area. If you are truly thinking of giving up the business would you be willing to hold off closing down for another month? I want to return to Globe and discuss this situation with my husband. We might be able to work out a sale to both our benefits.”

“By God you may be the answer to my prayers. Yes, I’ll delay any further idea of closing until I hear back from you or in a month, but I can’t wait no longer that that since it’ll be winter soon and most of the freight business is already peaking. ”

Bekke stuck her hand out and Fred Hartford took it and told her. “My dear, you’ve either got more grit than any man I’ve ever met or you’re not right in the head … but I’ll shake on it!”

Dusk had not settled in before Bekke arrived back at the camp. She was pleased to see the brothers had set it up in its entirety. They even unfolded her cot and dressed it with her sheets and blankets.

Both mac and Snake looked up when she walked up. They had a nice cook fire going although no food was yet cooking… that was Bekke’s job.

“We waited until you got back. We know you like to cook white man style. Earlier Snake caught a rabbit but he ate it already. I had a few bites but since my brother requires so much food I let him eat most of it.”

Feigning a false lack of interest Bekke asked, “So, are you still hungry or shouldn’t I bother cooking a meal.”

Before she could finish Snake cried out, “Oh no, I’m really hungry. That rabbit was just a real small one and Mac ate a big piece of it so I didn’t get full.”

Laughing, Bekke said, “Not to worry Snake, I know you have a hollow leg!”

Snake looked quizzically at Mac and quietly whispered to him, “Do I have a hollow leg?”

 

The next morning found the three up before dawn planning the day. Bekke said she wanted to find out more about this Cecil Burkhalter fellow. If it were true that most folks didn’t cotton to him then it should be fairly easy to get folks to open up. She also needed to stop once again at the telegraph office. She would let Jethro know in the shortest terms possible, her conversation with Fred Hartford. She also felt inclined to send a message to her friend Federal MarshalDanny Vance. Danny had been the Sheriff of Globe for a decade or more. After Danny and his brother Davy (who had then been the town Sheriff of Show Low) saved twenty two Mormon children from a group of kidnappers they were approached by a representative of the Supreme Court in Washington to become special agents acting as Federal Marshals under the Supreme Court. (See “The children of box canyon”)

If anyone could find out for Bekke the inside story of Mr Burkhalter it would be the brothers.

Once again in town she entered the telegraph office and handed the key artist the note she wanted sent to Jethro.

JETHRO CLEMENS GLOBE FREIGHT GLOBE ARIZONA

GOOD NEWS (STOP) HIGH DESERT FREIGHT HERE WANTS TO SELL BUSINESS (STOP) NASTY COMPETITOR BURKHALTER FREIGHT COULD BE A PROBLEM. (STOP) LOVE YOU TONS BEKKE (STOP) BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA

The second note was sent to Danny Vance and read.

FEDERAL MARSHAL D VANCE GLOBE ARIZONA

DANNY IF POSSIBLE NEED INFO ON CECIL BURKHALTER OWNER OF BURKHALTER FREIGHT IN PRESCOTT. (STOP) LOOKING TO OPEN FREIGHT BUSINESS HERE (STOP) BURKHALTER KNOWN TO PLAY FOUL (STOP) MAY NEED YOUR HELP (STOP) BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA

Satisfied, she paid the clerk the two dollars and eighty cents including a dime tip and left.

On her way back to the camp she diverted down a dirt alley way behind the saloons. She wasn’t concerned about her safety as her hand was on the small 38 caliber pistol in her sack coat pocket and that it was just mid day.

Sometimes if you want to get a real perspective on a town the you need to walk the back alleys. It was there she ran across a second freight company.

Logan Freight was a small outfit. Seeing only four parked light weight wagons set up to be hauled by only two mules she figured it was a local delivery outfit.

She entered through the rear door by the loading dock

It was pretty dark inside but she could see through the center of the warehouse building where some slits of sunshine were entering through the wooden shutters mounted on the buildings front windows.

As Bekke silently made her way through the stacked crates and bundles of canvas wrapped goods looking for whoever ran the place she heard a mans voice pleading with someone.

“I swear, I ain’t holding out on Mister Burkhalter!”

Bekke could now see an elderly bald man holding out a ledger book toward another person telling him, “Here! See? I ain’t been doing good at all! My God, I can’t afford another ten percent on top of what he gets from me now. I need to stay in business an’ another ten percent will bankrupt me!”

Bekke stopped her movement and stood silently in the deep shadows listening to the man plead. The other man looked like the typical saloon tough guy in charge of keeping the peace. He had on a sleeveless button down shirt most likely worn to intimidate folks with his bulging arm muscles. His head was as big as a medicine ball with a protruding forehead . His whiskered face was decorated with dark deep set eyes hidden by a single dark bushy uni brow. If ever there was a need for a live description of a cave man, this was it.

“Don’t show me nothin’, you know I ain’t no how able to read! Mister Burkhalter pays me to collect his protection fees, not to hear your sob stories.”

He then stepped over and began to root through the owners desk. Tossing out much of the drawers contents onto the floor, the gorilla in man clothing did not find what he was apparently looking for.

In his anger he threw the entire drawer away at the window breaking it and then began busting up what small amount of office furniture existed. After making a wreck of the place, he turned once again to face the terrified proprietor.

The terrified owner began backing away as the crazed tough guy reached out his hands to grab the owner. Ducking, the owner was able to slip around the tough and head for the front door. To his dismay though he realized the tough guy had locked it after he entered. The smaller man suddenly felt a huge powerful hand wrap itself around his neck.

The owner loudly screamed, wetting himself in the process. The hard case then began to soundly beat the owner with his ham sized fist.

Bekke had seen and heard enough. Reaching into bulky her sack coat, she withdrew the pocket pistol and stepping into the offices meager light aimed the barrel directly on the tough’s face and shouted. “Stop or I’ll blow your filthy head off!”

The beater turned towards Bekke who’s face was still mostly hidden in the dark. Still, there was just enough light for him to see the silver gun barrel pointed in his face.  He knew by the sound of the voice the whoever it was meant business. Although not as raspy or frog like as in her youth, without seeing her face she could be mistaken for a young man.

Shoving the crying owner violently onto the floor, he told Bekke, “I don’t know who you are kid but you just made the biggest mistake of your life!”

In the darkness Bekke smiled and in her most feminine voice possible with a shrug of her shoulders answered, “What ever.”

Upon hearing the change in her voice, the thug became confused and asked, “Just who are you kid?”

 

Bekke had spent the majority of her childhood being abused by controlling men. As a child she once had literally been a slave to a sheep herder whom she freed herself by pushing the pervert off the edge of the Mogollon Rim near Payson.  He stood there over looking the two hundred foot cliff  while taking a leak and exposing himself to her.  Another as an abused teen, she ran over him with a freight wagon breaking 400 of his 206 bones. She then killed four more for similar atrocities. After being arrested she simply told the judge,  “Don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman by killin ’em. Men do this all the time out here where no law exist and they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just because I’m a girl?”  After hearing her tales of childhood abuses the Territorial Judge agreed saying each man had no excuse for their actions and each had earned their untimely trip to hell.  (See Bekke’s Law).

 

As Bekke left her childhood behind and settled into a fulfilling marriage with Jethro those memories rapidly faded… until now.

Like photographs spread out before her she once again saw each abuser and how they painfully abused her. Seeing the bully in front of her beating on an innocent elderly man broke the dam holding back the feelings she had conquered and controlled years before. And then her long buried primal rage for justice took over.

“Kneel”, she spoke.

After realizing the door was still locked and escape impossible, the tough guy mumbled but slowly began to kneel.

With her gun just a foot away from his face now, Bekke slowly reached down and grasped the leg of a chair that the tough guy had earlier broken off during his rampage. It was at that moment the thug, even though unable to clearly see her face, knew she was a woman.

“What now Sweet heart..”

Before he could finish the sentence, Bekke swung the chair leg with all her might slamming it across the mans face and loudly breaking the man’s jaw. Crying out, he fell onto his side trying to cover his mangled mouth. Bekke did not stop there. As the man rolled onto his back, Bekke stomped down onto the mans groin, not once but over and over. It seemed all of the pain of her past abuse was pouring out in the familiar form she had long ago gained control over.

Rolling onto his side in an attempt to protect his smashed groin, the whimpering gorilla began to vomit. Bekke stepped back as he emptied his stomach. Before leaving him  though, Bekke grabbed his head and began wiping the vomit up with the mans hair. “Don’t ever again call me Sweet heart!”

Delirious with pain, the beaten bully lay there moaning. He tried recalling what the woman looked like but between the darkness of the office and the severe pain clouding his mind her facial features eluded him. In such pain, darkness came over him and he lost consciousness.  It took another hour before he was capable of even sitting upright.

Between sobs, the weeping owner told Bekke, “Burkhalter’s going to kill me now! All I ever wanted was a little business to earn a modest living. Oh how I wish my Mary had never passed, she’d surely know what I should do.”

Bekke realized the man had little to no backbone. It must have been his wife who ruled the nest.

“Do you have any children” she asked him.

“Yes, two sons. One lives in Phoenix and the other lives in Atlanta Georgia. Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re right. You are a dead man if you stay here.”

“But what can I do? Where will I go? Burkhalter will be sure to find me!”

“ If you want to live then you’ll do exactly as I say. First. Go to your bank right now and close out your account, you’ll need the money. Second do not go home, do not attempt to gather any of your belongings instead go directly from the bank to the train depot and take the first train out to anywhere. Once you are clear of Prescott, you can re-route yourself to Atlanta. Now, get off the floor, wash your face and get to the bank and then catch the train. Forget about your business, it was finished anyway. If you own your home, in a few weeks contact an Attorney in a nearby town to sell it anonymously for you. If you do that you’ll most likely live.”

The man scrambled to his feet thanking her profusely for the directive. “I’m going now, thank you… what is your name?”

“Just call me Justice.”

Making her way behind the owner, she followed him out the same back door that she had entered through.

She watched as the man made his way down the alley and made the turn that brought him to the Square. She decided to see if he actually went to the bank or would his frightened nerves make him do something stupid. No, she smiled as he entered the Bank of Prescott.

Bekke then made her way back to the camp. “Wow”, she thought, “Do I have some explaining to do!”

The three sat around the evening cook fire going back over the recent events.

“The good thing is”, Bekke told them, “There will be two less Freight hauling companies to compete with. The bad is, I’m sure this Burkhalter fellow will stop at nothing to run us out of town or worse.”

Mac asked her,”Did the man who beat the elderly owner see your face? You said it was dark but can you be sure?”

“I’m pretty sure it was too dark to get a clear look at me. Besides, I was wearing my bulky sack coat and my hair was tucked under my big brimmed slouch hat. Even if it was in sunlight, he couldn’t say how big I was or what color my hair is. He even called me a kid. No, I feel confident I could pass him on the street and he’d never recognize me.”

Snake stood up saying, “Snake think we should leave here now. Maybe men watch for women who leave town.” Snake then pointed to the train depot located at the bottom of the hill they were camped at and said,  “Look, lone man at station trying to hide. Looks scared to Snake. Him the owner?”

“By golly you’re right, that’s the old man that just got beat up.” Bekke exclaimed, “I’m glad to see he’s getting out of town before Burkhalter’s men go looking for him.”

Bekke agreed with Snake about the need of getting out of town but not right then.

“Here’s what we’ll do. You two stay camped out here. No one would guess you’re connected in any way with me. I’m going to a hotel in town because I still need to discover our business prospects here.  I’ll bring my most feminine clothes to wear. If the gorilla gave any description it sure wouldn’t be one of a prettily dressed woman.”

Mac asked, How will we communicate with you if we can’t go into town?”

“I’ll take a daily walk past our camp here and if I need to contact you I’ll leave a message on paper in the crack of that storm damaged tree over there. We can’t risk rousing any suspicion by risking anyone seeing me talking to two Apache men. You two need to stay out of sight as much as possible. If you need anything leave a note in the tree and I’ll figure out a way to get it to you. Just sit and rest here till we’re ready to leave.”

Snake nodded, “Good, Snake need rest. No sleep good close to city.”

Mac snickered in much better English than Snake could speak, “I guess all that eating sure can tire a man out, who’da thunk!”

 Bekke spent the next three days doing the needed research to verify that the move to Prescott would be profitable. All signs showed a need for heavy hauling freight, something the Clemens were experts at. Not only had the Clemens back in Globe invested in an array of heavy wagons, some flat bedded others with tall sides and all with lowering tail gates but they ordered customized hoisting cranes to lift off freight so it could be placed straight onto waiting train cars. They even had an engineering firm design a rail mounted steam driven crane so heavy freight could be deposited in any place there was a rail road. This was something the Clemens knew could be used in delivering heavy machinery and iron castings for industry.

On the second day she passed by the cracked tree noting there was no note left but that changed on the third day.

On this day she retrieved a slip of yellow paper, the kind telegrams were printed on, it read.

BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA CITY PUBLIC CAMPGROUND

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES APPROACH BURKHALTER (STOP) UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION (STOP) RETURN TO GLOBE IMMEDIATELY (STOP) NEED TO MEET

FEDERAL MARSHAL D VANCE GLOBE ARIZONA

After reading the telegram Bekke returned to the public campground and met with the brothers telling them. “We need to pull up stakes and get on back to Globe. Marshal Danny Vance’s orders. The Federal Marshals have Burkhalter under investigation so they must have an agent or two working the investigation here in Prescott. If Danny said that under no circumstances should we approach Burkhalter then he must feel we’re in imminent danger.”

Mac then told her,“We read the note after the delivery boy went around the place looking to deliver you your telegram. We had to show him your tent and your Bible before he left it with us. Snake then put it in the tree for you. Also, twice hard case men have been seen taking an interest in folks camping here. They asked if a woman was seen camping here but we shrugged pretending not to speak English.”

Bekke knew they had overstayed, “Snake, I want you to pack up the camp while Mac and I retrieve our wagons and mules. Pack up my belongings and tent first. If those or any other men stop by asking if there had been a woman camping here I want you to play dumb and pretend you don’t speak English again. listen instead to what they say if anything.”

“Snake understand. Play dumb, no speak English, listen to their talk.”

“Perfect. Mac and I will be right back.”

The two walked downhill past the train depot and to the to the livery. Even though they had a couple of days still paid up and would be offered the refund, Bekke decided to take their new friend stableman into her confidence and insisted he personally keep the refund, not giving it to the stables owner.

 

“All I’m asking,” she told Moon, “if anyone comes around asking if a woman has been by here to leave a horse or buggy to tell them no. There’s a possibility a man named Burkhalter will send men out after me.”

“What did you do to him?”

“Not him but one of his hard cases… I beat him up pretty good!”

“That was you? I heard all about someone givin’ one a his men a good thrashin’ but I never would have suspected such a tiny thing as you doing the beatin’, an you’s a woman to boot!”

“Well, I’m not proud of it but there was no helping it. He was beating on the owner of Logan Freight. The poor old soul was terrified.”

“Me an Logan done grow’d up together. We was here a’fore most anybody even called this a town. Oh, an to tell ya more, sho ‘nuff Burkhalter’s thugs done already come by askin’. I done told ‘em, nope ain’t no women been here. I told ‘em to see if McClarry’s stables might a done business wit you.”

“Oh, thank you!”

After hitching up the sixteen mules to the two wagons, Bekke paid an extra two dollars to fill one of the wagons with hay and another three dollars for two barrels of water. Two of the mules had to be shod for another eight dollars. In doing this there would be no need look for a camp each night with water on the way back or search for good grass.

Bekke thanked the stableman, shook his hand  and climbed up onto the tall drivers bench waving him good bye.

“You all take care now Ma’am.” The stableman shouted back, “Maybe someday we’ll cross paths again.”

Bekke shouted back to him, “I can tell you it’s a guarantee my friend.”

Back at the campground, the three quickly loaded their belongings and tents onto the empty wagon and headed back down to Globe on the same roads they arrived on.

 

Chapter 4

 Their return trip to Globe took less time than on the way up to Prescott. They continually checked their back trail looking for anyone who might be following them. When they spotted a dust cloud behind them in the distance, they would pull the wagons into the high scrub and hide until the traveler passed by them. None were from Burkhalter.

It had rained in Globe so the roads were greasy with deep wheel ruts. The extra wide wagon’s wheels prevented the wagons from getting bogged down or stuck. Having extremely wide hoofs, the Missouri mules where bred for this. As they turned onto their street, Bekke could see Jethro and another man hitching up four mules to another heavy wagon.

Hearing the mule train and wagons arriving Jethro looked up and seeing Bekke ran up the muddy street to greet her.

Bekke jumped down into his outstretched arms and kissed him deeply.

“Huzzah, I take it you missed me he said laughing.”

“You don’t know the half of it! Can you ask one of the men to stow the wagons with Mac and Snake? The mules need a good rub down and have them check their shoes too. We rode fast and furious back here from Prescott and I need to tell you all that happened and what we found out.”

Jethro told one of his new drivers to help Snake and Mac in caring for the sixteen mules and two wagons while Andy took over for Jethro.

Taking Bekke’s hand in his he led her up the stairs to their home above the carriage house. Once inside he made coffee and when they settled at the kitchen’s table, she told him everything that had occurred while up in Prescott.,

Jethro had quietly listened knowing Bekke would fill in the details as she told her story. When she had finished, he rose from his seat at the table, went to her and wrapped his arms around her saying, “I’m so sorry dear, are you alright?”

“Of course I am. I just lost my head for a minute when I saw that poor old man being beaten. Other than that, I learned a lot that I otherwise may never have known.”

Jethro slapped his head in exasperation“Oh darn, I forgot!  Marshall Vance wanted us to stop by the moment you arrived. He said it was really important that both of us be there.”

Bekke nodded her head but asked him, “Can we finish our coffee first. I need to rest up a minute.”

 

Federal Marshal Danny Vance invited the couple into his office. The brothers had no looks that were common to the two. Davy was of medium build, somewhat handsome with mouse brown hair while Danny was four inches taller and blond. What was not apparent yet was both brothers had a weeks unshaven whiskers going on. Later Bekke would ask about this. “You two want some coffee ? Danny asked. “It’s fresh ground and I made it only a moment before you stopped in.”

Both replied in the positive.

“So,” he began, “the Federal Marshal service had been actively investigating Mister Burkhalter for more than a year now. Unfortunately we’ve been unable to get anything on him to put him away. He’s got layer upon layer of means to commit a crime and get away with it. He has a group of professional shootist and strong arms preventing any witness from testifying by threatening them. Our problem is we as Federal Agents have to follow the law, where he does not. He has gotten off each time he’s been arrested.”

“How can that be? Jethro asked.

“Remember he was an attorney, not a good one mind you but he still knew the law better than most territorial judges. He could tie up a court case for so long the jury would get so fed up they’d just up and quit.”

“They can do that?”, Bekke asked.

“They’re not supposed to but what judge wants to keep a jury intact by hauling in a member of the jury in hand cuffs. And as far as judges go, most are political appointees installed as favors to donors or family members. As far as their being great legal minds, forget it. a good lawyer can run circles around most circuit judges.”

Bekke leaned forward looking straight into their friend Marshal Vance’s eyes and asked. “You asked us here, there must be some reason besides wanting to tell us that Burkhalter’s a bad guy, we already know that, so then why the rush we come see you ?”

The Marshal was blunt, “When word around town spread that you were looking at Prescott, we notified the the Supreme court offices in Washington. They have been looking for a person or persons to help the Marshals service nail this guy. You see, the Supreme Court in it’s infancy had been given the power to enlist certain men under their auspices and give them the authority to deal with major threats to our country, cities or towns by either men or organizations in any way they felt to see fit in disposing of them. That includes working outside of any Federal, State or Territorial laws.”

Wide eyed Jethro exclaimed, “Geez, are you saying an agent of the Supreme court can up and kill someone and not be charged?”

“In certain instances, yes. It was the Supreme court who formed and regulate Bounty Hunters. In the case of Special agents to the Supreme Court it goes much further than just being a Bounty Hunter. Bounty Hunters can only kill if the court initiates a dead or alive warrant on someone but it is left up to the Supreme Courts Special Agent’s discretion on how far he feel he needs to go to protect the government, even a local government. If the Agent, through the court, sees the person as a threat to the existence of the Government then he can act to protect the Government.

Jethro looked at Bekke then back to Marshal Vance and asked, “So what has all this to do with us?”

“As you two know, After rescuing the Mormon children from the white slavers, my brother Davy and I had been approached by the Federal Marshal service and offered the privilege of joining them. We accepted and for the last two years have been very successful in apprehending and winning convictions of some of the worst criminals in Arizona. Our success hadn’t gone unnoticed by those in high places. Last month we were upgraded to Federal Marshal Special Agents, we answer directly to the representatives of the Supreme Court.”

Bekke congratulated him on their advancement. “Both you and Davy deserve it” she said, “we’re so happy for you two!”

“Thank you, but there’s more.”

Bekke again replied, “Of course there is, why else would you have us here rather than tell us all this in the telegraph you sent when I was up in Prescott?”

“I mentioned a minute ago that we have been unable to get a solid conviction on Burkhalter. What we need is someone who can closely observe his acclivities and in turn become a prosecution witness. That’s where you all come in. If you do open a second freight business in Prescott we want you to to be our eyes and ears. You will be a paid the wages we pay an informant.

Jethro became uncomfortable. “If this Burkhalter is in the cross hairs of the Federal Government for high crimes, what kind of danger would we be in? I mean I’m not a detective or gunslinger, I just run a freight and mercantile business. How much use could we be to you?”

Bekke thought back to the moment she watched an innocent old man being beaten and reached over to grab Jethro’s hand. She sat there staring at him for a moment then spoke.

“Jethro, I know you. I also know you wish nothing more in life than to have a moderately successful business, have a wife, have some children someday and just enjoy the blessings God has given you. When I spoke to the owner of Logan Freight after his beating, he told me his dream too was to live that exact same life. He couldn’t understand why someone would take away from him all that he and his deceased wife had worked for. He cried at the unjustness of it all. He lost everything because no one had stopped Burkhalter earlier when it would have been possible. Now we’re being asked to step up and help combat the same evil that drove the old man away from his home and business. I saw that evil with my own eyes and it turns my stomach to see a man not only get away with it but to prosper doing it. I say yes, we should help.”

The Marshal sat in silence. Finally Jethro looked over at Bekke and told her, “When you put it like that…”

Bekke reached over and squeezed his hand saying, “This is why I love you.”

“Alright then, there is just one more thing I need to tell you about what I’m asking you to do.”

Jethro mumbled, “I knew it.”

“Actually it a good thing.

Again Jethro responded, “There is such a thing?”

“You bet there is.”

Pulling his desk drawer open he dug inside until he found what he was looking for. He laid the objects on the desk top in front of them but continued to hide them with his hand. Then he spread his fingers apart exposing two shiny badges.

“I need to swear you in as Federal Deputy Marshals.”

Both Jaws dropped open in shock.

Bekke beat Jethro to the punch in responding,“Are you serious? Federal Deputy Marshals? Really?”

“Yep, I said you’d be paid  LIKE informants, I have to get you all legal because these badges can throw a lot of weight.”

Intrigued, Jethro asked what he meant.

“I’ll be going over much more in detail of your responsibilities later on but by weight I meant authority. These badges supersede any local Sheriff, Marshal or Judge for that matter. They are backed by the United States Supreme Court. Unlike normal Federal Marshals who are backed by the Congress your position supersedes all of them. You will report only to my brother or myself, no one else. I will have the Representative of the Court draw up the needed papers to prove your authority.”

“Just out of curiosity, Bekke asked, “How can we continue to run our business if we’re running around Prescott as Deputies?”

“That’s just it, I don’t want anyone else to know your position unless absolutely necessary. To the public you’re to remain just business folks, nothing more. Those badges are a double edged sword. They can save your life or get you killed. Your best bet is to keep them hidden under your coats or in your vest pocket, shiny badges make great targets.”

“I understand, this way Jethro and I can acquire information without looking like we’re the law.”

“Precisely! Davey will be back by tomorrow, is it possible the two of you can come back here so we can go over everything you’ll need to know about your job. I also have a small note pad Davey made up when we took our jobs. In it he describes your duties, responsibilities and which laws you can forget about obeying and which ones are best to obey… if you need to.”

 

Chapter 5

 Back in their home, the couple sat drinking coffee and discussing the proposal which they had accepted.

Bekke opened the conversation because Jethro remained pretty much silent all the way home.

“So are you upset with me?”

Jethro gently placed his coffee cup down leaving his two hands wrapped around the hot mug.

“No, just overwhelmed that’s all. You know I’m a simple man, I don’t like conflict or problems in my life. I would be just as happy working for someone as I am owning my own business. I didn’t plan on or ask for Billy to leave us his company. Honestly, if it were just me, I’d a sold it the day I inherited it.”

“That sounds like you’re blaming me.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I’m a follower more than I am a leader and your just the opposite. When one looks at it like that it seems it’s a good set up for a good marriage.”

“Jethro, it is a good combination, I think the problem is in today’s world it’s expectant that the leader in a family be the man, the follower the woman. I can see why you’re conflicted. It shouldn’t make you feel like you’re a less of a man. You have gifts and strength in areas I don’t. You think before you act, I just barge ahead and hope for the best. As an enforcer of the law I know you would stay bound to the legal limits, I on the other hand would seek justice on my terms. I need you to reign me in when I go rushing blindly led by my emotions. You on the other hand need a shove now and then. I’d say we fit together pretty darn well if you ask me.”

“Hmmm, speaking of fitting together…”

“Mister Clemens! Are you suggesting we retire to the bedroom and work off the stress from all this?”

Taking her hand, Jethro led her to the bedroom where he displayed an amazing amount of leadership.

 

Wanting to update and congratulate his new team, Andy had gathered the four new muleteer’s together along with Mac and Snake by the companies loading dock.

“First off”, he told them, “For you new guys, let me say that I’m more than pleased with how all of you took to your new jobs. Each one of you performed much better than anyone expected. You’ve each made successful solo runs, made no mistakes with your mule teams nor the paperwork I know you dreaded. I’m very pleased to tell you that as of today you all will receive a bump up in your pay. And… As you advance to four, six and eight mule wagons, you’ll also be further compensated.”

“I congratulate each and every one of you four new men for all the excellent effort you’ve given. This new division up in Prescott will feed the company coffers allowing newer and better equipment to be purchased here as well as up there. As a plus, it also gives you a better outlook on job security. The owners have also been negotiating with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad for special pricing for their rail crane car. Since the crane would only travel with the heaviest loads such as castings and machinery, the owners feel the extra cost for these heavy loads should include at no cost the crane to unload them with. The Globe end of the business will not be participating in any crane capable loads as only Prescott has rail service east to the industrial Midwest.”

Hearing this pleased the men since adding rail service would have complicated their jobs.

“The next question is, who will eventually be going to Prescott? The owners are for sure. I will remain behind taking charge of the operations here. Also, Mac and Snake have been given permission by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to relocate to Prescott long as they are employed by the Clemens. No date has yet been determined for the move but it’s agreed that the decision to go or not to go will be within thirty days. After that it’s just a matter of time before the move.”

Once again men seemed pleased especially having been told of their raises in pay. As they broke up to return to work, Andy loudly called out to them.

“Hold up a minute. If you’ve brought any noonday meals with you, leave ‘em be. The owners wanted to show you their appreciation so they paid for all you can eat dinners in town at Sally’s cafe and bakery. I was told there will be steaks, fried chicken, fruits and plenty of bakery goods to stuff yourselves on at no cost to you all. Even the Clemens are showing up!”

The four newbies got their first chance to really meet who they were working for. They enjoyed the free meal and were delighted at how down home Jethro and Bekke were.

The next morning Jethro and Bekke walked the six blocks back to the Marshals office to meet with Federal Marshals and brothers, Davy and Danny Vance.

“It’s good to see you folks again”, Davy said as he greeted them. Danny will be back in a minute. He had to pick up the latest telegrams.”

No sooner had he finished saying that when the door handle on the front door turned. Danny stepped in holding a number of yellow telegrams in his left hand. He extended his right hand to shake hands with the Clemens. “Jethro, Bekke, it’s so good to see you made it.” With an obvious pretended look of worry he said, “ I was fearing you’d have come to your senses and called the whole thing off.”

Jethro chuckled, “If you only knew!”

“Yesterday I told you Davy and I will fill you in on what we expect out of you as far as the job goes and we’ll go over the file on Burkhalter and his operation with you. so let’s begin, shall we?”

After two hours the Clemens pretty much had been filled in on the extent of their authority and the procedures of operation they needed to know.

Next the file on Burkhalter was brought out.

“Normally”, Danny said, “If a person like Burkhalter was strong arming a town for his own gain, we’d leave the case in the hands of the local authorities. But, in this case it’s not  just about his operation in Prescott that concerns us.  Burkhalter is just a single part of a much larger operation. This is why we were placed as Supreme Court Special Agents under the Federal Marshals service”

Opening the file he showed the two a graph of what looked like a family tree. In fact it was sort of a family tree, a crime family tree.

“We’ve been investigating the crime syndicate which Burkhalter joined up with some years back, even while he was still an attorney. After inheriting his fathers freight business he incorporated into this crime syndicate the freight hauling business. We now see the freight hauling tendrils moving into cities and towns under the cover of legitimate businesses. In reality they are monopolistic in nature ridding any competition through violence and intimidation. Recently money laundering has been added to their operation. A large portion of the illegitimate profits are funding chosen political campaigns. Our goal is to sever the head from the body and destroy this organization before it becomes a nationwide pariah.”

Jethro and Bekke both sat without comment looking back and forth from brother to brother. Finally Bekke spoke up asking. “What roll will the two of you play if it is my husband and I that will be in the lions den?”

“My brother Davy and I will be leaving for Prescott in a week, we will be going under cover ourselves but need our beards to grow out a little more first. After all, who’d suspect we were Federal Agents looking like this?”

Jethro commented on this, “I wanted to ask about that. I was surprised when we met yesterday that you looked pretty grubby. Every Marshal I’ve ever seen looked like a city bred business man.”

“Davy and I are presenting ourselves as miners of a small gold mine in a valley just south of Prescott. We believe that cover story will prevent folks from digging too deeply into our identity as most folks know that those who ask miners too many questions usually end up dead.”

Danny then told the two, “We want you two to get your freighting business up and running because that will attract the attention of Burkhalter. He’s not one to stand competition so we think he’ll act to shut your business down. My brother and I will be closely watching his activities. You’ll probably know stuff before we do so if he goes to do something stupid like threatening you or causing harm to your business feel free to deal with it as you wish. What you do is completely up to you, just don’t kill him. We need him on the stand to testify against those running the Chicago end of the crime syndicate.”

Jethro was skeptical that Burkhalter would turn on the powerful Chicago syndicate and said so. “Why would a man like Burkhalter suddenly do that? Wouldn’t he worry about his being killed to keep him from testifying against them?”

Davy shrugged his shoulders showing he himself had his doubts. “True, we’re betting on a long shot but maybe you two can find more compelling evidence that can tie the Chicago syndicate’s operation directly to Burkhalter. a witness If we get that information, the need for Burkhalter is less. Still he can put the icing on the cake if he testifies.”

“We’ll try our best but honestly, I feel Bekke and my first priority is getting our freight business off the ground.”

“As it should be. Danny and I made you Deputies just in case you find yourself in an awkward situation and need to pull rank. All we want you two to do is observe the freight business in Prescott and keep us informed. We will be the ones doing the hands on stuff. If all goes well there shouldn’t be any reason for you two to stick your necks out in harms way. but you might want to keep your fingers crossed just as a precaution.”

Laughing, Bekke responded to his last statement, “Well, that sure makes me feel better.”

An hour later the newly deputized business couple left the Marshal’s office and walked towards home to indulge in a roast she had put in the wood cook stove under a banked fire hours before.

The roast was perfect! Afterward, unable to take even another bite of the delicious dinner, Bekke pushed her plate away. If alone, she would have been tempted to belch but that she’d never do in Jethro’s presence.

“We need to let Fred Hartford up at High Desert Hauling know that we’ll be relocating to Prescott and need work out a deal to take over his business.”

Fred Hartford owned a medium sized freight company called High Desert Freight that he wanted out of. It had a decent sized carriage and storage facility but the real diamond was the vacant five acre lot he would sell with the business. Those extra five acres would be a perfect place to build a large enough stable and indoor wagon barn for their needs. It would also be big enough to include a second storage facility and hay barn complimenting Fred’s existing ones.

“Do you feel like walking with me down to the telegraph office to let Fred know we’re coming up or did you want to clean up from lunch?”

“I’ll get my wrap!” She replied.

———————————————————————0——————————————————————

 

The trip to Prescott followed the reply telegram sent by Fred Hartford. He stated he was looking very much forward to their meeting and ended the note with a bit of humor saying, “Bring a bank draft, I want to add indoor plumbing to my home”.

This trip once again included Snake. Mac was left behind to help Andy out since Andy’s time would be divided by both the mercantile store and the freight business.

Andy knew Mac was capable in being left in charge of the freight business although Mac somewhat lacked the skills in doing paperwork. Each evening Andy and Mac poured over the days ledgers and orders to give him a last class in training. He invited Lester  to the instruction class figuring between the two the paperwork would pass mustard.

Lester joked, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for all this writing stuff Andy, That fountain pen is giving me a blister on my finger!”

 

Day four found the large Studebaker carriage heading downhill towards Prescott’s downtown square with Snake trailing behind on his horse. Turning onto Iron Springs road brought them eventually to the alleyway behind where Bekke’s friend Moon Lips managed the livery stable.

As they made their way down Iron Springs road, Bekke marveled at how beautiful the area was.  “I’d love to find a house along this road, it’s so peaceful and quiet an it ;looks like a painting!”

Upon pulling into the livery, ‘Moon’ heard their arrival and stepped out from the dimly lit stable to see who was making all the noise.

Seeing  Bekke, Moon shouted, “Well looky who it is! Mizz Clemens it shore is a pleasure see’n you again. Is that your man wit you? Shore is a fine strappin’ man for shore!” Holding out his hand for Bekke, Moon helped her from the carriage.

“Thank you Moon, this is my husband Jethro and our friend and employee Snake.”

The Apache extended his arm out as an Indian would shake a hand. Without blinking an eye Moon to extended his arm grabbing it near Snakes elbow.

Jethro grabbed Moon’s hand after Moob let snakes hand be and shook it. “Bekke told me all about you and what you did for her to keep her from being found by Burkhalter’s men.”

“Shucks, wasn’t nothin’ much. I jest told ‘em I ain’t seen hide nor hair of you. I didn’t lie, I ain’t never seen your hair cuz it was under that big ol’ hat yous was wearin’ an’ I shore ain’t in no position to have seen your hide!”

Bekke laughed at Moon’s ‘little white lie’ explanation and told him, “ Moon, I’m sure the good Lord won’t write that little fib under your name in the Book of Life. We both thank you for not letting on to Burkhalter’s men that I was here. I’m sure the thug I whooped on would just love to get even.”

“So’s what brings you back here? Moon asked Bekke.”

Since it was Bekke who knew Moon better than Jethro, she ended up telling him about purchasing High Desert Hauling and how it would compliment their freight business in Globe. She said nothing about being made Federal Deputy Marshals. The less folks knew about them the better.

 

During Bekke’s narrative Moon continued to nod his head with lots of uh huh’s thrown in. When she finished Moon asked her a question that she had not considered before.

 

“Mizz Clemens if yun’s find yourselves in need of a good stableman, I’d hope that you’d keep ol’ Moon here in mind. Ain’t no work I wont do an’ I’m not the best shoe’r around but I know’d mules as well as horses and can Doctor both of ‘em.”

“Your willing to leave your job here?”

“Shucks Mizz Clemens, in a heart beat. You see, The owner here he don’t like negro’s none. Only reason he keeps me on is that no white man would do this job for what he’s payin’ me. There’s lots of days I feel like jes quit’n but I can’t cuz I need the job.”

Jethro took the moment to say, “Moon, consider yourself hired. I know if I didn’t offer you the position to head up our stables I’d be on my wifes bad side for all eternity!”

Moon did a shuffling dance in the dust and yelled out, “Thank you Jesus!”

“Don’t quit just yet Moon”, Bekke told him, “It’ll be at least a good month before we can get the new livery built and have all our mules shipped in from Missouri. They breed the best mules. In the meantime, while you’re still working here we want your advice on the building of the livery barn and black smith shop. We’ll also want some workers to interview for jobs so we’re hoping you can spread the word we’re going to be needing a few muckers and experienced Muleteers if you know of any. You’ll be paid a weekly wage for your help and then once you’re full time your pay will increase again.”

“Goot Lord Mizz Clemens, You’s makin ol’ Moons head swim! Oh, an I sho can help you spread the word. I know lots of folks, been liven’ here most all my life. I know’d both good white folk and negro folk that will give you a good days work. A couple is family, most ain’t though but they’s all honest hard workin’ folk.”

“You bring them to us”, Bekke told him, “and we’ll interview them. Please, don’t make any promises to anyone though. I don’t want any hurt feelings if we don’t take them on.”

“Yes’m Mizz Clemens, don’t need nobody sayin’ I promised ‘em a job, thas up to you all.”

“We’ll stop by in the next couple of days and talk some more.” Jethro said, “We need to get on over to High Desert Freight and talk to the owner Fred Hartford.”

“Oh you go on ahead I’ll put the carriage up and tend to the horses. Tell Ol’ Fred for me it’s ‘bout time he retired! Fred an’ I grew up together. You can ask him ‘bout me too, he won’t fib!”

Bekke led the way for the three knowing how to get there. As they walked Bekke told him she had been thinking about what to call the new company. “Should we call it Globe freight? To me that doesn’t make sense since it’s in Prescott, not Globe.”

Jethro said, “I’ve been thinking about that too. I want to ask Mister Hartford if we might be able to just leave it as High Desert Freight. I mean it’s already well known and I kind of like the name.”

“I like the name too! Let’s hope he’s agreeable.”

“What do you think Snake?”She asked.

“I try not to. It only makes Snake confused.”

They entered Fred’s business through the large barn doors in the rear of the building. This way Jethro could see better all that they would be buying.

Fred Hartford saw them enter as they stepped into the dimly lit interior of the storage section of the building. Wooden boxes, steamer trunks and boxed crates were in abundance.The made their way through the maze over to where Fred was waving a them.

“Hello folks, he shouted at the two. “Bekke, it’s grand seeing you again” turning to Jethro he said, “and you must be her husband Jethro?”

“That’s me! It’s good to meet you too Fred. Did you want to show us around before we get down to business?”

“ Have you two eaten yet? If not why don’t we go over to the hotel and grab a meal. If you haven’t gotten a room yet, I highly recommend the Hassayampa Inn. It’s clean, has soft beds and it’s quiet. Oh, and they serve great food three times a day. We’ll have plenty of time to go over the property and talk business tomorrow when everyone is refreshed.”

The four (including a reluctant Snake) made their way to the Hassayampa Inn on the square.

Noticing Snakes lack of enthusiasm Bekke asked him if there was something wrong.

“Snake never stay in hotel. Maybe Snake not belong there.”

“Nonsense, you belong wherever we are.” Bekke told him. “And don’t worry, I’ll make sure we get a dining table away from everyone else. You need to know, it wasn’t that long ago that I had never stepped foot into a hotel either.”

Snake remembered what his brother Mac had told him about Bekke’s past and he nodded saying, “Hmmm, Snake can learn, you did.”

 

 Chapter 5

Inside the office of Burkhalter Freight and Cartage a loud discussion was in progress. Cecil Burkhalter stood at his desk shouting at the two goons he sent out to investigate the rumors that a new freight hauling business had moved into town.

“Are you telling me that over two weeks ago you two idiots saw a large building being constructed just outside of town and you didn’t feel it important enough to tell me?”

The goon that Bekke had loosened his jaw bone on stood shamefaced while his partner pleaded, “Gee Boss there’s new buildings going up all over the place, why would we be concerned about this one?”

“Because you dolts, I hired you to keep an ear to the ground! That meant anything new going on, whether it was folks moving here, buildings being built, businesses opening or closing… I want to know everything! I can’t watch our back if I’m in the dark and now you tell me a building bigger than any ever built here is almost halfway completed and you never thought to even ask about it? I bet I could go out in the street and ask any common citizen what that building is going to be home to and they’d tell me ten times more than you idiots have told me! Now, get your lazy butts out there and find out!”

The two morons retreated backwards towards the door, “Sure Boss, right away. We’ll get the information and be back here in an hour. We just thought it wasn’t that big of a deal to bother you with.”

Closing the door behind them they nearly ran from out from the building towards where the new building was being constructed.

“I told you we should have said something, now the Boss is really pissed at us.”

Holding his jaw to lesson the movement and therefor the pain, his partner in a barely audible mumble tried replying coherently but failed.

“Oh stop your mumbling! I can’t figure out a word you’re saying.”

As the two approached the lot where the building was being erected, the non mumbling thug stopped one of the workers and trying to sound friendly, asked him what they were building.

“A new business!” The man told them excitedly, “ You know High Desert Freight down there a couple blocks toward the square? They sold out to a new freight hauling business and the new company is going to be ten times the size of Hartford’s old business. I heard they’re going to hire a bunch of folks. I already told my three cousins, that’s them lined up waiting to be interviewed by the new owner.”

Shocked at what they heard, the two stepped away and stood watching the workers placing the large roof trusses with the use of a crane.

“You realize we’re going to be in deep shit now don’t you?”

His partner with the broken jaw remained silent but nodded his head sadly in agreement.

“When the Boss finds out he’ll take it out on us for not telling him sooner. Damn! I beat people up for a living, I’m not an investigator! How the hell am I supposed to know all that’s going on in town!

 

Bekke noticed the two thugs on the corner across the street doing a terrible job of pretending to be disinterested in the building they were staring at.

Bekke touched the shoulders of Jethro and Snake. Pointing the two thugs out told them, “Don’t be obvious but see those two men? The one rubbing his jaw is the one I confronted. He, and I assume the other guy too, work for Burkhalter. I think they may have just found out Burkhalter’s freighting business is going to have competition. The fella doing all the talking looks pretty despondent.”

“Come with me Snake. I think I’ll wander over there and introduce myself.”

The two casually made their way from the building site over to where the men stood watching. When Jethro and Snake were within hailing distance, the two thugs suddenly realized they were going to have company and quickly turned around and began walking away.

“Hmmm, seems like we spooked ‘em Snake.”

“Me follow them.”

Snake walked parallel down the street from the pair then turned off into a back street.. When the thugs saw Snake heading at an angle away from them they wrongly assumed Snake had no intention of following them. Meanwhile. Jethro had begun walking back to the building where others were waiting in line to be interviewed for jobs..

As soon as the thugs turned the corner heading back the the square, Snake, who had already figured out where they were headed, took a shortcut through a back alley and was soon placing himself in a doorway across the street from Burkhalter’s business.

Snake watched the two enter the front door to the business and with ten minutes the two exited, and not very happy looking.

“It’s a damn lucky thing for us he didn’t pull that trigger. The Boss had that Colt pointed right on your forehead! I thought fer sure I’d be next!”

“Wheww! Mfgg wewa b deb.!”

“Yea, I too figured we both be dead.”

Snake chuckled knowing now the two thugs were sent to gather information on his employer for Burkhalter. A large red splotch across the face of Mumble Man was evidence his boss had slapped him. Snake again chuckled thinking how painful that must have been for the big gorilla.

Unnoticed by the thugs, Snake made his way back to the building site and told the couple what he had seen and heard.

“So what do you want to do Jethro?” She asked him. Bekke was hoping he’d say to wait for them in a dark alley some night to send their boss a message.

“For now, nothing. Let’s just concentrate on getting this new building up. We have only five more days before all thirty mules arrive from Missouri. Moon’s been contacting hay and oats from the local farmers around here. He’s already secured a thousand bales of Timothy hay and a hundred bushels of oats, all to be delivered on an as need basis.”

“Great, that means we don’t have to store it here in our own buildings.”

The five days came and went without any sign of the mules but on the sixth day the neighborhood awoke to the noise of sixty mules being led to the outskirts of town where the new building had been erected. According to Moon, each mule was to have its own stall. This was to prevent any disagreements between the mules. The second floor was designed to hold the needed hay bales and the fifty pound feed sacks of extra oats. Wooden chutes from the second floor allowed hay to be dropped from above directly into each stall’s manger. Readily available sacks of oats were kept in the feed room on the first floor.

Jethro also over saw the Smithy being built. He was able to purchase the anvils and the two furnaces locally but had to ship in the rotary air bellows for them from out of town in Tucson. As was the common practice, each blacksmith brought their own tools. These were all made during their early apprenticeship days. A guild member would then inspect each tool to pass or reject them. By the time the apprentice had earned the right to become a recognized blacksmith by a guild board, he had made every tool he’d ever need.

It was nearing September when the newly built wagons began to arrive from Lancaster county in Pennsylvania. These were made of strong Eastern hardwoods such as oak, butternut and elm. Each had been fully made then dismantled in order to ship them. The wheels arrived assembled but yet needed to have their steel tire rim pounded onto them while heated red hot. When the steel tires cooled this greatly tightened the spokes into the hub and wheel rim.

The hired wheel wrights spent eight days doing this.

By October, the newly expanded operation was all set to be added to the existing business. Jethro had been procuring heavy freight contracts while Mac and Bekke had been interviewing potential muleteers and other employees and were adding them to the payrolls. Red Hartford stayed on as manager making sure the contracts written before the He had not decided on the roll if any he would play in the future of High Desert Freight.

Meanwhile, Burkhalter Freight was experiencing a serious decline in business.

Inside the office, Burkhalter was steaming. It wasn’t so much the loss of a few thousand dollars a month that disturbed him, it was that his company was losing it’s monopolistic grip on the freight business. The crime syndicate in Chicago was wondering if backing Burkhalter had been a mistake. If the planned freight monopoly in Arizona failed, the Governor of Arizona could begin investigating the numerous complaints brought by other freight companies of strong arm tactics and worse. An investigation could link Burkhalter to the Midwest Irish Chicago crime syndicate. This could bring down the syndicates fledgling freight companies back East. Already the arm of the syndicate that had wormed its way into the steamship docks in California and New York were putting pressure on those in Chicago to dispose of Cecil Burkhalter.

Burkhalter gathered all of his trusted thugs into his office asking, “Who is this Clemens guy that he thinks he can muscle his way into my territory? I want you idiots to start busting up High Desert Freight just as you did to the others. Break a few bones, burn down the barn, steal some freight… crap, if they have any, run over their kids or better yet, rape the guys wife. Just close that damn freight business down!”

What Burkhalter was unaware of was that one of his ‘trusted thugs’ being told to rape and kill was a mole for the Irish dominated Chicago syndicate.

Kevin Jellyroll, the mole, quickly made his way to the telegraph office shortly after the meeting with Burkhalter ended.

 

SEAN COLLINS COLLINS LTD CHICAGO ILLINOIS

SITUATION NOW OUT OF OUR CONTROL (STOP) NEEDS TO BE IMMEDIETLY DEALT WITH (STOP) SEND MC TO CLEAN UP TRASH ASAP

K O’RIELLY PRESCOTT ARIZONA

 

What both Burkhalter and O’Rielly were unaware of was that a six foot five Apache Indian had a glass pressed against the other side of Burkhalters office wall. Snake had made his way unseen into the vacant storefront next door where he could listen to the conversation by placing the glass against his ear..

Snake watched O’Rielly exit the building next door and closing his own door behind him tailed O’Rielly to the telegraph office. Once O’Rielly left, Snake entered the small telegraph hut.

The telegraph operator looked up and seeing the giant Indian standing there jumped up trying to appear nonchalant. “C-can I be of assistance Sir?” He asked.

“How much money to send telegram to my brother?”

“Well, it all depends where it’s being sent to and how many words are used.”

“Not know how many words.”

Snake was purposefully stalling for time because when he entered he saw the latest discarded customer notes still lying about on the small counter. As the key operator tried explaining how a telegram fee is determined, Snake put his large elbow over one of the discarded customer notes the key operator had used to send the message.

After three attempts to explain the fee, the flustered operator finally told him ,it will cost one dollar”. No matter the cost, the operator would cover the rest just to get rid of the Indian.

“Hmmm, no got dollar.”

The operator dropped his head loudly onto the counter saying, “Lord, though you slay me, yet will I trust in thee!”

When he looked up the Indian was gone! So was the note used by O’Rielly to send the telegram but he didn’t notice it.

After Snake finished telling his experience to Jethro and Bekke, Jethro called all the pertinent people together to inform them on all the goings on.

“I purposely didn’t tell you all everything because I was unsure of how far Burkhalter would go to hinder our move here. It seems he’s not satisfied with playing fair. In fact, he’s sending his thugs out to cause us as much grief as possible. He’s even told them to accost Bekke if they can. They’ll do anything to intimidate us into quitting even harming our employees.”

“We need to go to the Sheriff!” Someone said.

“He’ll be of no help, the Sheriff is owned by Burkhalter.” Bekke told them. “What you all don’t know is that there are two Federal Marshals in town keeping on eye out for us.”

Bekke had not told anyone that they themselves were Federal Deputies.

One of the men asked her, “So, do they know what you just told us?”

“I’m heading over there to see them right after our meeting here.”

Snake stood up telling her. I go with you. Make sure no harm comes.”

“No Snake, I’ll be fine. It’s the middle of the day and no one is stupid enough to try and do anything in public.”

“Stay on big road, no go in alley.”

“Trust me, I’ll be fine and yes, I’ll walk the main road.”

As Bekke left the assembled group to find the Vance brothers she touched the hidden pocket she had sewn into her dress and felt the cold steel of her pocket pistol.

Bekke had turned onto the northern sidewalk of Cortez st. She had been keeping an eye out for anything that looked threatening. By changing sides of the street she hoped to foil anyone who might be trailing her. As she neared East Gurley Street she once again switched sides. Doing this took her away from the courthouse and alongside a row of small two story brick buildings leased by attorneys and used as their offices.

As she passed an office with a deep entrance way, two men grabbed and pulled her into the dimly lit entrance. She immediately recognized the man who’s jaw she broke earlier on.

“Well what do we have here? Might you be the whore that bastard Clemens is pokin’?”

Bekke struggled, not to get free so much as to get her hand inside of her dresses hidden pocket.

“Now you jes hold still sweet heart, Me an’ my partner here got some manly needs that you can take care of for us. Afterward, if you can walk, we’ll let you go back to your bastard husband. Of course after we all have had our fun, you may jes’ want to stay with us. I mean look at us honey pot an’ tell me if I ain’t the handsome man you been dreamin’ about.”

Bekke smiled wickedly. You are a very handsome man but I think you were even more handsome than before.”

The goons smile faded and formed into a puzzled one. “ Before, before what?”

“Before I broke your jaw, that’s what!”

Suddenly, the man’s face, which wasn’t very handsome at all, changed. His eyes opened wide as it dawned on him who Bekke really was. Turning to his partner, he began to shout, “Dammit, this is the bitch that broke my j…”

He never got a chance to finish his sentence. Bekke’s pocket pistol came crashing  into the man’s barely healed jaw bone. As the whites of his eyes replaced his dark pupils, he fell side ways into a heap in the entryway.

His partner had just enough time to reach his hand out in an attempt to knock Bekke’s pocket pistol away. Unfortunately he never should have put his hand in front of the barrel.

She pulled the trigger…twice. Both hot pieces of lead cut through the mans palm like a hot knife in butter. Of course the twin hunks of lead continued past the hand and buried themselves deep into the thugs gut.

The stunned thug stumbled backward falling over his unconscious partner in the process and died before he could make amends with the Lord.

Bekke replaced the spent cartilages and placed the pistol back in the dresses secret pocket.

Sticking her head out from the entryway, she looked first right then left figuring someone surely heard the guns reports. To her relief, no one seemed to hear or maybe being where the attorneys all hung out, maybe they just didn’t care.

She still needed to warn the Vance brothers of the recent events so she stepped back out onto the sidewalk and continued her walk to the Vance Marshals at a leisurely pace.

After hearing the latest from Bekke, Federal special agent Marshal Danny Vance sat looking at his brother “Well Brother, it seems we really have our work cut out for us now. Not only do we need to protect the Clemens and their property but now we also have the unpleasant duty to keep Burkhalter from being taken out by his Chicago cohorts. If they educe in killing him, our case against the Chicago group dries up like a desert water hole.”

“My thoughts exactly Danny. We have no choice now but to split up. You watch Burkhalter and I’ll keep an eye out at the High Desert Freight company for any mischief that might go on. If Cecil Burkhalter was willing to order Bekke’s abduction and rape then we know he’ll stop at nothing…”

At that moment, a loud pounding on the offices front door startled the three. Jumping up with gun drawn, Davy rushed over and unlocked the door. Stepping aside just in case it was an armed thug intent on taking out the two unsuspecting Marshals.

It wasn’t, it was Snake who tumbled into the office.

Seeing it was Snake, Bekke jumped out of her chair and also headed for the door. She noticed the pained look on his face and that he had grabbed the door jamb to keep erect.

“Snake”, she screamed, “you’ve been shot!”

Shaking his head as if that fact was unimportant, he held up three fingers and told the trio, “men come, take Jethro. I kill one, other man shoot Snake.”

“Danny, get a Doctor, he’s bleeding bad.”

Danny rushed out having previously located the three Doctors offices in town. The closest was just around the corner on the second floor.

Davy caught Snake in his arms and gently lowered him to the floor. He tore open Snakes rough woven shirt to inspect the wound. Davy noticed two things that gave him hope that Snake could possible survive the shooting. There was no blood coming from his mouth so his lungs weren’t hit and it wasn’t a gut shot.

Snake lay there in pain but needed to tell the two what happened.

I hear fight, see Jethro on ground, him not awake. Men drag him off to wagon. I pull man from wagon and break neck, red haired man shoot Snake, they take Jethro and drive away.”

In an attempt to slow the bleeding, Bekke had torn a piece of her under skirt off and pressed it over the bullet hole in Snakes upper chest.

“You just lay still now. We’ll comb this town until we find Jethro and deal with his captors.”

Snaked lifted his head telling them, “wagon say in paint, Bu-Burkhalrt Freight.”

“Yeah, I suspect as much.”

Just then the door was flung open and Danny stepped in with the Doctor trailing behind him.

“We need to get him over to my office immediate. That bullet is still in him. Until we get it out I can’t tell how bad it is. Sometimes a bullet lodged inside keeps an artery from bleeding out but I can’t do the surgery here, it’s got to be in my office where I have better light and my surgical equipment.”

The brothers, being pretty darn big themselves, picked up Snake and carried him like a log up to the Doc’s office. Once inside they cautiously laid him on the surgery table. While they were doing this, the Doctor went around and lit a series of gas lamps located along the wall for better lighting. Snake had stopped his moaning on the way upstairs because he fell into unconsciousness.

“He’s out cold but I’m still going to use ether on him to keep him from waking up.”

Fifteen minutes later the sound of a slug being dropped into a steel dish was heard.

“Got it but it did hit a small artery. I tied it off so he’ll not bleed out any more.”

Just then the Doctors door banged open and in came three men carrying the man who’s jaw had just been re-broken, he was still out cold.

Seeing the injured man and having just been told only moments before on how Bekke defended herself, both Marshals pulled leather and yelled for the three upright men to lay broken jaw down and lie on the floor with their hands behind their backs.

Seeing the badges on the two, one man shouted out, “Hey hold on there! We just found this here fella layin in our doorway when we went come back from eating at the cafe. There’s a dead man layin there too but we done left him a layin.”

Seeing the men were good Samaritans and not part of the Burkhalter gang, the Marshals let them go.

After closing the wound and applying a clean bandage over it, the Doctor turned his attention to the broken jawed man on the floor.

“I wonder how that happened,” the Doctor wondered, “looks like his face was hit by a mule kick.”

“It was me Doc, and don’t call me a mule, my names Bekke. These idiots tried to kidnap and rape me just an hour ago. I previously busted that man’s jaw in another skirmish and had to shoot the guy dead he was with in order to escape.”

The Doctor stared wide eyed at Bekke saying,“You did this? Twice? Dang girl! If I was your husband I’d have second thoughts about ever crossing you!” Turning to the Marshals he told them, “ Now, if you two Marshals will help me lay your Indian friend onto the cot in the other room and put this here fella in his place, I’ll see what I can do for his jaw.”

As the three walked out of the Doctors office Bekke turned back and soundly smacked the unconscious thug hard on his head as she passed. In his state he still let out a quiet moan. “I warned him before don’t never call me sweet heart!”

The two Marshals grinned at each other as they began walking down the stairs while the Doctor just shook his head.

Once back at High Desert Freight, the three were over whelmed by the workers there. Each one tried telling the story of Jethro’s abduction louder than his fellow workers. When it was apparent they’d learn no more Marshall Danny shouted for quiet while Bekke reminded them that they still had a days work to finish and that by milling about jawing wouldn’t bring Jethro back any sooner.

Inside her office though, Bekke fell to her knees asking the Lord to protect and return her husband to her.

The brothers knew Bekke needed some time by herself. When she eventually exited her office, her reddened eyes let the brothers know they had made the right decision.

“Davy and I have thought it over and decided that securing Jethro’s safe release is our first priority. Burkhalter’s place. Where sure that’s where they’re holding Jethro. If we have to bust up the place along with some heads, then so be it. Burkhalter’s going to feel the weight of the Federal Marshal Service on his shoulders. It won’t be pretty but we’ll get him back, we promise.”

Promise all you want, but I’m going with you!”

“We kinda figured you say that, let’s go!”

Davy stopped them as they neared the Prescott Sheriffs office saying, “I think it’s about time we arrest our good sheriff and any Deputy showing loyalty to him.”

The Special agent Federal Marshals exposed their badges before stepping inside the jail house. Outside Bekke pinned her Deputy badge over her heart on her dress.

As the two brothers entered the lobby, a single young Deputy sat reading a recently published Dime Novel. Upon hearing the door open the young man finished reading the paragraph, placed a home made book mark inside it and casually looked up expecting to see more relatives intent on seeing the incarcerated. Instead he jumped up knocking his book to the floor when the Marshals entered with guns drawn.

The Deputy, who had not yet noticed the shiny Marshal badges on the men, thought it was a jail break and throwing his hands high into the air, closed his eyes and shouted, “Don’t shoot, I’m not armed!”

Davy stepped up to the quaking young man and told him, “relax son, we’re not after you unless you’re in cahoots with the Sheriff!”

Opening his eyes he saw the badges. “I just started working here yesterday, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin!”

“Is the Sheriff in his office son?”

“He was a minute ago unless he stepped out to the privy.”

Davy stood on one side of the Sheriffs office door while Danny knocked.

“Dammit Jason do you remember when I hired you that in no way was you to disturb me when I’m interrogating a witness?”

Danny gave the door a powerful kick which nearly tore it off its hinges. Exposed to the Marshals, the young Deputy and all those visitors waiting in the lobby to see their jailed loved ones was a butt naked Sheriff in the act of standing up and poking a crying Mexican woman lying spread out on his desk.

“Danny snorted in laughter, “Must be a new method of interrogation brother, better take notes on it.”

The shocked Sheriff turned and in a rush attempted to grab for his gun. Too bad his holster was hanging over his swivel chair under his pants, shirt and a pair of dirty socks.

Trying to cover his private parts he stuttered, “Wha-wha- what is the meaning of barging in here.”

Seeing the drawn guns and the two gleaming badges he slumped forward against his desk.

“Am I under arrest?”

Davy replied, “You bet.” Then he shouted, “Deputy Jason, would you please open a jail cell for this rutting pig?”

“Yes Sir Marshal!”

After the Sheriff was cuffed and the jail door locked, Danny told the Deputy, “Under no circumstances is he to be allowed visitors.

“Hey what about my clothes?” the jailed Sheriff shouted, “You can’t throw me in jail naked as a j-bird!”

“He’s right Danny.” Dave then walked over to his cell and tossed the Sheriff the pair of socks that had been hung over his chair. “Here, make yourself decent.”

Deputy, “How many empty cells do you have available?”

“The Sheriff took the last one Marshal.”

“You’re full up? How can that be?”

“All I know is the Sheriff and the other Deputies bring them in and after they pay their fine we let them out again.”

“What are their crimes?”

“Uh, jay walking, swearin’ in public an other minor transgressions.”

“What about the Mexican woman in his office? What crime did she commit.”

“I don’t know Sir, all I know is that earlier her husband was jailed for eating a tortilla in public. I thought she had left to find the money to pay his bail.”

“On my authority as a Special agent Federal Marshal I’m telling you to open all those cells and let them all out. We’re coming back shortly and will be filling your cells with real hard case criminals, not jay walkers.”

“Oh, and take a statement from the Mexican woman. I want your Sheriff to hang after he sings in court.”

One more thing Deputy, I want the names and addresses of every Deputy here, and don’t let them know or I’ll have you arrested for aiding and abetting the Sheriff.

“No Sir! My mouth is shut.!”

As the three left the jail they were followed by the onslaught of freed prisoners.

Smiling broadly Bekke commented,“They look mighty happy.”

“Yeah, too bad about the Mex woman. I felt ashamed seeing the Sheriffs official shirt thrown over on that chair. My God, how she must hate lawmen now. Maybe later we can do something for her. The Deputy will take her information down when he takes her statement so we can always look her up later on, see if she’s doing alright.

 

Chapter 6

Before entering Burkhalter business office they spent an hour using a field glass from areas well away from the place. They watched in anticipate as as many as six hard cases entered the place with none coming out.

Danny told them, “We can do this two ways. One is to arrest each man as he comes out of the building and take him to the jail or what I think would be best, is to go in and arrest them all at once.”

Davy like the second method while Bekke left it up to those trained in this.

“Alright then, it’s number two. We need to take ‘em by surprise and that means you and I brother need to enter with a gun in each hand. Bekke, I want you to run over to that general store down the block and buy a hundred feet of thin but strong rope. While Davy and I keep the group covered, I want you to bind their hands and hobble their feet with the rope you just bought.”

Bekke soon returned carrying a coil of rope about half the thickness of a Mexican horse hair riata lasso. Pulling out a brand new Colt 45 she told the brothers,”They had a sale I couldn’t pass up. You get a free holster and two boxes of ammo when you buy a new gun. I wasn’t sure my little pocket pistol would be very intimidating to a pack of hard cases.”

As she told them this, she strapped on the black holster and loaded the new gun and not leaving the sixth chamber empty for safety.

After it was apparent that no more hard cases would be arriving, the brothers decided on the best way to bust into the place.

“Bekke, stay outside and stand away from the door just in case some try to run for it. Yell for them to halt but if they don’t go ahead and aim for their legs. We want as many witnesses alive as possible. If they need killing, do it. We’ll yell out to you when it’s safe to bring in the rope to tie ‘em up. Don’t get yourself hurt, it’s bad enough Jethro is somewhere inside there and once freed I don’t want to have to explain why you got injured. Got it?”

“Got it Danny. Let’s do this.”

As the three moved across the street and headed for their target building they suddenly stopped when they saw a lone man drawing a pistol and entering the building.

Davy put his arm out across his brother to stop him.“Opps, looks like we might have some trouble here. Why would someone draw their handgun if they didn’t mean to use it?”

Danny mused, “I wonder if that guy might be the Chicago person sent to deal with Burkhalter? Let’s get inside before our witness is plugged.”

Davy saw the Chicago hit man enter the foyer and followed. Once past the foyer the two Marshals threw open a set of solid wooden doors that led into the large office’

Danny had the loudest voice so it was left up to him to shout.

“Federal Marshals! Drop your weapons and raise your hands or you’re dead!”

Everyone inside froze… for a couple of heartbeats. Then all hell broke loose.

With his aim partially blocked by the crowd Davy yelled to his brother,“Danny, the Chicago thug, bring him down. He’s going for Burkhalter!”

A number of thugs began pulling pistols out to confront the Marshals but they too had their aim blocked by the crowd. Still three quick shots were fired and Davy saw the Chicago hitman’s head explode into a pink mist. As gruesome as it was it was a help to the Marshals. The men who had been sprayed with the thugs brains and blood turned away in an attempt to prevent anymore gruel from hitting them.

Outside Bekke heard the gunfire and readied herself for action. She didn’t have to wait long.

The front door was thrown open and a thug with pistol drawn ran out.

“On the ground! Now!”

Hearing a female voice shouting orders, the thug was taken back. This gave Bekke the time to swing her heavy Colt like a hammer across the back of the man’s head. He fell into a heap.

Bekke quickly kicked the gun from the man’s hand and pulled out a section of pre cut rope to tie him up. Having years of experience hobbling ornery mules the unconscious man was no challenge. Afterwards she dragged him a short distance from the doorway.

Back inside the gunfire intensified. Some of the gunfire was done so quickly in the crowded office that a number of men shot their own people.

For their protection, both Marshals had stepped behind the heavy courtroom style furniture. Danny found a heavy oak desk as his spot while Davy used a tall hardwood file cabinet for his. The group of assembled thugs had no such protection.

It soon became apparent that the Marshals were winning. One after another hard case dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.

“There’s no way out!”Danny shouted, “We have the building surrounded!”

Hearing this, the rest of the men gave up.

“Davy! Did you see where Burkhalter went to?”

“Last I saw him, he was headed for the back office.”

Pointing to the floor, Danny said, “He’s hit and bleeding bad. He won’t get far.”

Out side Bekke was still fully alert for any action. It was then that she spotted the injured Burkhalter heading for the street after rounding the side of the building. Apparently he had escaped the building by going out one of the buildings rear doors.

Bekke raised her Colt and shouted, “Hold up there Burkhalter or you’re a dead man!”

Burkhalter turned and fired a quick but badly aimed shot at Bekke. Bekke returned fire remembering that Danny had asked her to only wound him.

Burkhalter screamed bloody murder as Bekke’s bullet easily punched through his upper thigh. Falling headfirst into the paved street also did little to help his looks.

Bekke rushed to him, picked up his fallen gun and dragged the screaming Burkhalter out of the street where she tied him up.

“Bekke!” Danny shouted out to her, “We need your rope in here!”

Holstering her gun she walked casually into the building. Once inside the office she immediately saw the gore from the Chicago hit-mans head. She shrugged her shoulders, having seen worse even as a child.

“I got Burkhalter tied up out front along with one of his thugs,” She told the Marshals

“He’ll need a Doctor, ‘cause I had to shoot him in the leg. He’s out there cryin’ his head off like a little baby. I might just go out there and kick him in the leg if he won’t shut up!”

“Probably won’t do much good but you got our and your husbands blessing to do whatever you think is best.”

“My husband? Did you find him Danny?”

“Yep, we found him tied up and gagged in the vacant office next door. He’s fine, just got ruffed up a bit an wearin’ couple black eyes. He said he’d come over here just as soon as he washes his face up some.

Just then the rear door opened and Jethro stepped in. Bekke rushed and threw her arms around him. “Owww, easy hon, I’m a might sore in the rib area but my lips are fine so kiss me!”

Davy had left moments after being told Burkhalter was shot and out front. He wanted to make sure he’d live long enough to hang.

All told five thugs were pushing up daises, four badly injured from gun shots and four had thrown their hands up in surrender for a total of thirteen, including Burkhalter.

After rounding up the walking and injured, Davy hired some good citizens to help transport the thugs to the jail. Only one citizen took the pay saying he was broke, the others were just thrilled to see Burkhalter’s reign of power in their town crushed.

 

Chapter 7

 

“During Snakes three week recovery from the gunshot wound to his chest, he gradually became accustomed to hotel life. By the end of his stay he was ordering room service for all of his meals, had the barber come and give him a haircut, had a tailor come in to measure him for new shirts, pants and even had the cobbler make him a pair boots.

Mac could hardly recognize his brother when they finally met up the day snake left the hotel. He looked darn right civilized!”

 “Jethro and Bekke bought a house a mile north of their freight business on Iron Springs road. It was on the outskirts of town with plenty of big trees along the creek and had a six acre field the seller had cleared for a garden and barn.

No longer would the couple have to hear the goings on in the stable below them like in Globe. With a higher altitude and no smoke from the copper smelters, the two were awestruck at the clear night sky in Prescott.

 “Andy continued to operate the Globe Mercantile and Freight business and eventually asked for and was made a partner in it. He’s married, has three children now and the business continued to prosper even after some of the copper mines began closing.

Jethro handed in his Deputy badge telling the Marshals he wasn’t cut out to be a law dog but Bekke kept hers and to this day still retains the title Federal Deputy Marshal of Arizona.”

 “Speaking of Bekke, I near forgot to mention this. She was introduced to a Surgeon who after looking at her throat determined he could remove the scar tissue that had caused her to sound like a frog when she spoke, especially when she was younger. She now has a fine woman’s voice but the surgery had no effect on her ‘don’t call me sweet heart’ personality. She remained tough as nails when the need came.”

 “High Desert Freight, besides hauling stuff, expanded into the rail crane business in partnership with Buckeye crane and Hoist in Ohio. Manufactured in Chicago where the crime syndicate collapsed like domino’s after numerous witnesses testified in court, including Burkhalter. The Buckeye Clemens Crane Company began producing heavy lift cranes designed to lift rail cars and locomotive steam engines. These rolling steam powered cranes could be seen working at many train derailments and accidents.”

 “The brothers Mac and Snake eventually married Whitewater Reservation Apache girls and brought them back to live in Prescott with them. Both Apache’s still ware working for the Clemens.”

 “Well, I guess I’m about done with their story here. I don’t get around as well as I used to, bad knee joints, but my wife must ‘ve got used to my penchant for an evening cold beer or two because she bought into the saloon I frequented. It’s just a short walk down the road from the house so each evening you can find me there.

Every now an’ then the Clemens still stop down here in Phoenix for a visit. Last time they brung their yappy dog and two little ones with ‘em.

I still remember as if it was yesterday the day when I saw that young girl carryin’ that big ol’ ten gauge shotgun strutted inside the cafe to kill her pappy. It’s somethin’ how life throw’s its changes at ya’. Never say never ‘cause each time you’ll always be proved wrong. Well, time for my second cold one, cheers to ya!”     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

ConantTrailCabin

Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

My spurs are my wedding band

IMG_20171214_0815497792

 

My city friend recently asked me “Why do you still wear your spurs, you haven’t even been on a horse for a couple years now, have you?”

 

Well, he was correct about that. For the last few years now my stove up legs have prevented me from easily swinging into the saddle. Why I’d need a ladder to assist me in that endeavor now and no true Western man would ever be caught dead doing that.

Looking down at my boots I saw not what he saw but I saw all the years of memories these spurs and I have shared together. They, like myself, have over the years have lost their shine and luster. Where once a coating of shiny silver was seen, bare metal now is predominant. True, they still jingle and jangle when I walk down the isle at church as I make my way down to my favorite pew but most folks would have removed them before hand. Not me and I’ll say why. As for the engraved silver toe guards? They’re worn so smooth it would take an electron microscope to see the original scroll work Jenny had them engrave upon them the with our wedding date.

I told my friend;

“When I was a young man I asked a fine specimen of a girl to marry me… she said yes. Now back then and for a decade afterward, we were what most western folk would call, ‘dirt poor’. I couldn’t afford a wedding ring for the two of us so I went without. A jeweler friend of ours Tim out of Ohio donated the stone as his wedding gift to us and for the next five years my wife and I obey’d the Biblical passage and went forth and multiplied.”

“Five years of marriage and four children later we celebrated our fifth anniversary by stopping in at the Boot Barn. My anniversary gift was a pair of new boots. Her gift remained at home to be opened later that day. A year previous I’d already begun placing cardboard inside those boots to protect my socks from the big holes in the leather soles. Two hours and Thirty five dollars poorer, we happily walked out of the Boot Barn with me proudly wearing a fine set of shark skin, tall heeled Western boots. My old ones were now gracing the Boot Barns trash can. During my anniversary buying spree, my wife Jenny told me to take my time as she wanted to window shop. Inside the place was just about anything a Western man could lust after.”

“As we made our way to the car I noticed she was carrying a Boot Barn paper sack. I asked about it and she told me to just hold my horses till we got inside the car where a friend of ours had been watching our four monsters… uh, children. Once inside and seated, the kids quieted down knowing we had not abandoned them and were headed to Mexico as I threatened them with a hundred times before.”

“It was inside the car that Jenny opened the sack to reveal her purchases. She handed me a pair of beautiful silver spurs along with a pair of silver toe guards. The spurs were exactly what I wanted. You see, I do not cotton to those spurs that have heel mounted Mexican rowels (those popular needle sharp wheels that jab the horse causing bleeding and scars on the poor animals flanks) She had bought me ‘soft’ spurs that only tickle the horse (see pic above). I was speechless but managed to ask. “How did you buy these?” After all, I knew how long it took just to save up the money for the boots let alone a set of spurs and toe guards. She told me, “I started squirreling away a couple dollars a month out of our grocery money for the last three years. I knew you’d always wanted a pair of spurs so it was either them or a wedding band!”

“I’ve now gone through five more pair of boots since then and upon each pair these spurs and toe guards have graced each new pair. Like a wedding band, I will never take them off my boots no matter the social event or situation. I want everyone to know how much my wife loves me and how much she struggled thirty six years ago to save up the money in order to say to me, “I love you”!

By the way men, I did purchase her an anniversary present. Now pay attention here. Never, ever upon the pain of death, buy your wife on your fifth or any other anniversary year, a frying pan no matter how much you think she needs one! You will find yourself running horse whipped fast back to K-Mart returning it! You will then spend double what you had intended too in order to make up for the evil soul killing look you’ll get from your dear beloved upon her seeing such an asinine gift you went and got her. Remember, NO kitchen utensils, small appliances, vacuum cleaners or anything for the home should ever be bought as a gift for your wife. Learn from me,  Been there, done that, and I paid the price!

 

 

 

 

Now on Amazon! Bekke’s Law

A two part story combined into one book… at a single book price!

I wrote Bekke’s Law to be a different kind of Western. You will find yourself cheering for her as she struggles to survive in a western world pitted against her, yet in the end, she wins. JW

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first man at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

Excerpt from Belle’s Law, page 1.

The cabin at Muldoon Creek

 

il_570xN.287859163

 

Laf Yellowhair finished resetting the last trap along his twenty mile trap line deep in the Idaho Rockies. Out of sixty traps set along the trap line, eighteen produced fur, not too bad a day for it being mid winter he mused. A mix of nine marten, seven mink and two small red foxes rounded out this trip. Tossing his last catch, a mink now well frozen, into the canvas sack, he readied himself to head north to where he had built a small trappers cabin two years earlier. Rising to his full six feet in height, he stretched his tired muscles before reaching for the stiff ice covered rope that was attached to the sled behind him.

The late afternoon sun produced no heat but painted the mountains with a pallet in shades of yellows and purples. Laf had been trapping this area of the Rocky Mountains for eight years now. Before that he trapped beaver since childhood back in the Sioux Nation with his half breed father, Joseph Yellowhair.

Turning north put the late afternoon sun to his left side allowing him to see without being blinded. His main fear in traveling alone in the mountains was mountain lions. A mountain lion could lay waiting in the shadows unseen until it was too late to react. He knew of some trappers that took a dog with them to warn of impending danger but Laf had no such dog. Nearing the safety of the small cabin, Laf began to relax, this was familiar ground.

Forty miles east from where his small trapper’s cabin stood was the silver mining town of Muldoon. There sat the home he and his dad had built over a period of years alongside the Muldoon Creek. Joseph Yellowhair no longer traipsed the mountains with his son hunting the fur bearing animals. Too stove up to even walk a mile, he instead put his hand to the art of tanning the pelts his son brought in. Working this way gave the two plenty of summer days to enjoy each other’s company and money in their pockets.

Stepping up to the raised wooden platform that the trapping cabin was built on, Laf stopped before the secured door. Something bothered him, something was alarming him, and suddenly his nose twitched… smoke!

Stepping off the platform he cautiously back tracked into the forest sniffing the air. He decided the smell came from quite a distance away because of its fluctuating strength in the breeze. Another ten minutes and he pegged its direction. The smoke was coming from the direction where he had heard a small group of reclusive Mormons were attempting to raise sheep in a grassy valley deep in the mountains. Laf knew even a good sized cook fire would not be strong enough to be noticed this distant therefore it must be a much larger fire. If it were just the smell of burning wood, it would not have been so disconcerting but mingled in with the wood smoke he smelled something more ominous, that of flesh. Whether animal or human he could not tell at this great of distance.

Returning to his cabin, he decided rather than to leave for Muldoon as planned in the morning, he’d scout out the valley where he believed the Mormons to be. With night falling, there was little that could be done anyway and he needed a hot meal and a good rest before heading back out into the cold.

By noon the next day and over a five hour snow shoe walk from his cabin, he finally topped the ridge overlooking the Mormon’s valley. Raising a leather bound brass telescope to his eye he scoured the valley below him. As the telescopes circle of vision reached the far end of the valley he discovered where the strong smell of smoke originated from. Tendrils of smoke driven south by the breeze came from a number of structures that once was the Mormon settlement

On his way into the burnt out settlement Laf came across hundreds of sheep, many were dead, the rest soon to be from being openly exposed to the cold. Walking inside the settlement’s perimeter, he made his way around a number of burnt out structures. No bodies were seen in the rubble, yet no living person was seen either. It was when he entered a large mostly destroyed building, possibly a common meeting house of some sort, that he discovered why. There, lying frozen dead within the structure were a large number of men and a few women. Each had been killed, scalped then left to be burnt in the building’s fire.

Deciding there was no use of his staying there any further he decided to inspect some of the smaller outbuildings that had not been set to the torch.

“Geez”, he said aloud as he left the large burnt building smelling of death, “Indians must have rounded all those Mormon folk up inside to kill ‘em all in one place but what tribe would do that?”

Making his way to an untouched structure, he looked inside the small partially open sided building. He determined it must have been a combination smith and stable. No horses or other animals were inside and all the saddle racks were empty along with any tack.

“It sure does look like some renegade Indians hit ‘em. Maybe some Shoshone or pissed off Blackfeet. Both tribes would for sure take the horses and maybe a mule or two for winter food but why the saddles and tack? Indians aren’t particular to saddles no how. This makes little sense to me.”

Being on foot limited his ability to scout much further but he wanted to see in which direction the Indians had fled by following their tracks. This would give evidence as to which tribe did the raid. If they headed north then it would be the Blackfeet heading up into the western Canadian territory where the Canadian Blackfeet still openly lived, if south then it was the Shoshone.

Instead, what Laf found confused and worried him, they were heading due east, towards Muldoon and his home!

Chapter 2
As he started back in the direction of his small cabin he stopped in his tracks. With his ears peeled listening for the sound he had just heard behind him, he cautiously worked his way back to where he had just stood. Unsure of what produced the sound, Laf lowered himself to a crouching position in order to make himself a smaller target while he listened. Two minutes, then three and he heard it again. A whimper. It was definitely human.

Pulling his revolver out, he made his way stealthily towards the sound. At fifty yards he spotted a dark form lying partially buried in the snow, a girl. No, he realized then it was two girls huddled together.

Instead of rushing headlong into a possible trap, Laf circled the still forms looking for ambushers hiding in the woods that were using the girls as bait. Seeing none, he made his way to them.

As he approached the two girls they spotted him and as one, started screaming.

“No, no, be quiet, make no noise!” He demanded. “There may still be Indians about an’ with you screaming your heads off they’ll for sure hear you and return!”

The two, dressed in the clothes they had been wearing when attending to their chores lay in the snow shaking wide eyed in fear but obediently remained quiet. The older of the two turned out to be a long haired brunette in her mid to late teens while the other was a freckle faced red haired pre adolescent youth. While their hair may have been their signature differences, there was no mistaking the similarities in their facial features. Two sets of green, fear filled eyes stared back at the handsome young man with the long golden hair.

“Who are you?” Laf asked, “What happened here?”

Seeing he’d get little information from the two sets of chattering teeth, he decided the girls needed warmth or they’d soon freeze to death. After building a smokeless fire of dry wood the girls crowded close to the source of warmth.

“We’ll spend the night here.” He told them. “ I’ll go back into your settlement before it gets dark and see what I can salvage so you can travel. There’s no way you can stay here and survive.”

An hour later, he returned from the settlement with two pairs of sheepskin boots and two heavy wool blankets. He did not tell the girls the boots were taken off the dead.

“Alright you two, we need to talk.” Looking at the older of the two he asked, “What happened here?”

The girl who called herself Liberty Ann began to speak after a moment of hesitation. “We, that is my sister Susanne and I, were cleaning the stables when the Indians came.”
“The others were in the meeting house where our Bishop was giving his daily reading from the Book. Susanne and I saw the Indians first as they came out of the woods and circled the building the others were in but we were too afraid to shout out a warning. Instead we hid by pulling some hay down from the loft above us to cover ourselves.”

“Why was it that you two were not listening to your Bishop but cleaning stables at the time?”

Liberty Ann’s face suddenly took on an angry countenance. “A fortnight ago the Bishop told my sister and I that we were both to wed old man Johnson. He is a hard man to think of marrying. He is wealthy and has influence but he is also fat and mean and has already cast two of his wives away! He charged the women for neglecting the wifely duties but everyone knew it was because my sister and I had caught his eye. He is the Bishops brother so he does what he wants and gets away with it. We refused to marry him and used the excuse that we are not yet real Mormon’s and were under no such obligation to marry anyone yet. Plus, the thought of him lying with us was disgusting. As far as why we were not with the others it is simple. Neither Susanne nor I have been baptized into the Mormon faith yet so are still considered to be Gentiles. As Gentiles, we would have no say in our marriage and would be treated as he saw fit. Gentiles are not permitted to listen to the Bishops lectures on the Book until we are baptized and become Mormons, so until then we must still attend to our regular chores. Old man Johnson added cleaning the stables as further punishment for our refusing to marry him.”

“I thought you were born into the Mormon faith, why do you call yourselves Gentiles?”

We were not born to these people. They kindly took us in when our parents drowned attempting to cross a river back in Missouri. Trying to ford a crossing, my father misjudged its depth and the wagon tipped over. There were a group of traveling Mormons in wagons paralleling the river ahead of us and saw the accident. They were able to rescue Susanne and I but mother and father were trapped under the overturned wagon and perished. The Mormon’s said God’s hand was upon us children so they took us in and cared for us. They are a good people but we grew up Baptist and at times we argued with them over the Bible.”

Chuckling, Laf replied, “I bet you did. I don’t know too much about Mormons but I do know there is plenty of contention between them and Bible believing Christians.”

Wishing to change the subject he asked, “So how did you end up here half buried in the snow?”

“Three Indians found us hiding in the hay an hour into the attack. They forced Susanne and I with them into the woods. Once away from the settlement and the other Indians they attempted to have their way with us. Some of the other Indians heard our screams and forced them to stop. They argued over us but then was told by a mean looking older Indian with no teeth that it was time to leave and so instead they left us half dressed to perish in the snow.”

“Well, we need to get you two to a safe place. I have a cabin less than fifteen miles from here but we will need to find or make some snowshoes as there are areas of deep drifting in the passes.”

Glancing up, Liberty Ann said, “Fifteen miles isn’t too far, we won’t need snowshoes.”

“Well, Fifteen miles walking a flat trail or valley bottom may not be far but fifteen miles through the mountains is like fifty in a valley such as this. No, we need to make you two some snowshoes.

Young Susanne spoke up, “If we need snowshoes there are some stored hanging up in the Sheppard’s hut. All the men have a pair when they go off hunting. I’ll show you the shed they keep them in if they didn’t burn it down.” The shed stood unmolested.

The trip into the valley had taken Laf only four hours but returning along the same route now took nine. The girls had never worn snow shoes before so tripping over them in the deep drifts was a constant event which frustrated the girls. Laf kept his calm knowing the girls had been through an emotional catastrophe and was aware not to add stress to their fragile condition. At one point ten year old Susanne sat in the drift she had fallen into and broke down crying.

Seeing they were finally less than two miles from his trappers cabin, Laf called for a rest telling the girls. “You two must have been born wearing snow shoes!” He said encouragingly, “It took me a full month before I could walk as good as you two. Trust me, even the best fall over themselves, you did just fine.”
This brought a teary smile to Susanne’s face. “Really?”

Laf figured a little white lie might actually lift the girl’s spirits so he agreed. Still, something was nagging him about what he saw back at the settlement but couldn’t put a finger on it. At present his mind was too occupied with trying to rescue the girls so he put his questions on the back burner for a later time.

When they reached the cabin, the girls quickly removed their over sized cumbersome snowshoes and sat in front of the trapper’s woodstove warming themselves. Laf busied himself with preparing a dinner of previously cooked deer and dumplings he had wrapped in oil cloth and stored frozen on the cabins roof.

After the meal, the girls fell asleep on his bed. Laf laid a buffalo hide coat on the wood floor and exhausted, fell asleep himself.

The next morning brought a heavy snow so any thought of making his way back to home and to his father was put on hold. He did not fear the Indians would beat him to Muldoon. He knew how difficult it was for a large group to travel any distance with any speed, especially in a heavy snowstorm. The girls had told him they thought there was between thirty and forty Indians, but admitted they could easily have in their state of fright misjudged that amount.

After the morning meal consisting of bacon, canned peaches and jelly spread biscuits Laf decided it was a good time to see what else the girls could remember about the attack.

“Tell me,” he asked the girls after they were settled, “were you able to catch any words those Indians spoke? It might help in figuring out what tribe they were from if you could remember any words they spoke. I’m pretty good at speaking both Shoshone and Blackfeet.”

The girls looked a bit confused then Liberty Ann spoke, “Well of course we could understand them, after all, they spoke as we do, in English.”

Laf’s jaw dropped. “English? Are you sure?”

“Why yes I’m sure, what else would they speak in?”

Hearing this stunned Laf. True, there were a few Shoshone and Blackfeet that spoke English but it was not a tongue generally known this far west. The other fact that had been nagging him was the Indians use of guns and not arrows.

“Did any of the Indians carry bows and arrows?”

The girls returned blank stares.

Liberty Ann ventured, “They had feathers in their hair and their faces that were all painted up. Most had coats like yours, you know, buffalo ones.”

“Did they have moccasins on their feet or shoes?”

Susanne quickly answered, “No, not shoes but boots. Looking at Laf’s feet she continued, “But not like your boots, their boots were smooth without fur or fringe and had heels upon them.”

“Holy cow!” He thought, “White men dressing like Indians? But why?” The idea that he had stumbled upon something very big worried him.

Chapter 3
By that evening, the snow had let up enough to give promise that they could head out come daylight. He told the girls that he needed to warn those living in Muldoon of the oncoming ‘Indians’. He also told them that they would have to assist his clearing out those traps he’d previously set on the way to this cabin. The trip to the Mormon valley and the snowstorm put him back a day or two but there was nothing he could do about that now. It rankled him to leave a baited trap set then not return in a timely manner to check on it. He had seen where animals not instantly killed had chewed off a leg to obtain their freedom. This was not only cruel to the animal it was a waste of a pelt for most animals do not survive the ordeal.

In order to haul all of the pelts and traps back to Muldoon he fashioned a second sled using the small table from the cabin and bent ash saplings to form the runners. Each girl would pull one of the sleds while he emptied and removed the traps along the way.

The first ten miles of the forty were uneventful but that changed. As they reached the halfway point of the trap line Liberty Ann screamed when the group topped a small rise in the trail. They had accidently stumbled upon the Indians.

The party of Indians was just as surprised to see the three as they were to see the large contingent of Indians.

Knowing any violent action would certainly end in their deaths, Laf held the girls close in a protective gesture. A small group of Indians still on horseback made their way to where the three stood. As they approached, Laf observed that this group was real Indians and not the phony group that had killed the Mormon’s, he relaxed and told the girls this.

It was a friendly group that greeted the three. In Shoshone they greeted Laf and in return Laf praised their horses and nodded approval at their health. Being mid winter it was not unusual for those living off the land to be skeletal in appearance, these looked well fed.

One of the older Indians dismounted and approaching Laf grabbed his arm in the form of an Indian handshake. “You are a trapper and not a Mormon?”

Knowing the Mormons and Shoshone were enemies whose violent actions against women and children went back and forth he replied in the negative. Laf also decided not to tell him the girls were from the Mormon settlement.
“I call the valley of Muldoon east of here my home. I run a trap line out to my cabin in the Ketchum mountains. I am not a Mormon, you have no need to hate me.”

“I am Chief Pocatello. We no longer have hate for the Mormons. They have agreed to pay for all of the game they took from our land and to pay for the land we agreed to let them live on. Now there are Government soldiers here to keep the treaty called Box Elder from being broken.”

“When did you sign this treaty?”

“We are returning to our home now. I put my mark on the treaty paper on the night of the full moon.”

“That was less than a month ago.” thought Laf

“Chief I need to warn you. I believe there is a group who does not want this treaty to be honorably kept. I can only think they want the Government soldiers to believe that you have broken the treaty. These two young girls are the only survivors of a Mormon settlement in the Ketchum Mountains.”

“ The people of that settlement were wiped out by white men pretending to be Shoshone Indians. If these two girls had not survived then the Government soldiers would have no reason to believe it was not you who killed them. I believe these evil men will spread the word that your tribe has broken the treaty. They will discard their look as Shoshone Indians and return to look as white men in order to tell this lie to the whites.”

The group of Indians spent considerable time conferring amongst themselves. After reaching some sort of consensus they approached Laf. “On our way to the treaty signing before the snows fell, one of our scouts saw a large group of white men heading westward on horses. The scout reported this but we elders foolishly dismissed this as men just trying to make their way out of the mountains before the heaviest snows fell. We had our thoughts on talking peace with the soldiers and Mormons. It was our mistake that we did not stop them and discover their true intentions.”
“Chief, you could not have foreseen the evil in their hearts nor the lies on their tongue. No man can see through a stone.”

“You speak wisely but my heart now lies upon the ground in sorrow for I do not know how to stop the soldiers believing we are without guilt. I ask you, who will believe two children?”

“You also speak with wisdom. These snows make for this group to travel slowly. I believe the first white settlement they will go to is Hailey. If we can get there before they do we can confront them before they can light the fire of lies. I saw their trail, it heads east. I thought at first they may be headed to Muldoon to attack the whites as Indians to stir up trouble. I see now they will not kill anymore whites as there is no need to. They only have to spread the word that the Shoshone did the killing after the treaty was signed will be enough to force you from your land.”

Again the group conferred, then. “We will trust all that you say is true. If you are wrong then we are a doomed people because we intend to stop these men before they reach the white mining town of Hailey. If there is bloodshed and if we are mistaken that these are the men who slaughtered the Mormons then we have invited our own ending. We are sure the soldiers will serve swift justice upon us for killing a group of innocent white men.”

Laf had a thought. Turning to the girls he asked, “I know it was a scary time for you but do you think you could recognize any of these men even though they were dressed and painted as Indians?”

The two girls spoke in low tones with each other then Liberty Ann spoke up. “My sister and I believe we can recognize some of them. The old Indian that stopped our being accosted has no top front teeth and part of his left nostril is missing. One of the three Indians who tried to have their way with us had a crooked leg which made him limp. The other two Indians had light blue eyes and one of them continually coughed and breathed with a loud wheeze. I don’t think I will ever forget what these men looked like, dressed as Indians or not!”

Laf turned to Chief Pocatello and winked, “We may just have the proof we need here Chief to prevent any bloodshed but we need to head out to Hailey right away if we want to have the advantage of surprise on them.”

Since Laf was not going to head home after all, Chief Pocatello summoned two of his warriors to take the sleds loaded with pelts to the Yellowhair cabin in Muldoon. They were then to stay there until Laf and the girls showed up. Laf wrote a quick note to his father telling him he’d be delayed and to let the Indians set up a camp on the banks of Muldoon Creek. He did not mention the reason for the delay nor that he would be arriving with the two girls.

With the snow reaching six feet in places, the going was slow. Still, Chief Pocatello assured Laf that the Indian bred horses they rode on could traverse the deep snows much better than those of the white men.

Liberty Ann rode behind Laf on one of the horses supplied to them by chief Pocatello. This permitted easy conversation between the two. Laf discovered that he was only four years her senior and that both secretly wished they could play the piano. While both had seen them played, neither had ever been close enough to one to even strike a key. Liberty Ann on the other hand found Laf an open and uncomplicated man. He spoke his mind freely but always with the temper of not offending those he held a different view with.

“Laf! What kind of name is that?”

“It’s short for Lafferty. Lafferty was my grandfathers name on my mothers side.”

“And Yellowhair?”

Laf chuckled, “I blame my grandfather on my father’s side for that one! I honestly can’t remember his original name. He was a trapper as well. As a young man he was given a Lakota bride in return for setting a broken leg on the Chief’s son. He and his bride had a single son, my father. He was born with yellow hair like his father before him so they simply called him Yellowhair. When I was born my mother wanted her father remembered so they named me after him. How about you? Do you have a last or family name?”

“Yes, it’s Atterberry. I was born in England but came to this country as an infant. My father had read of the Great Plains and so we left for America. He was one who loved to explore so one day he packed us all into a covered wagon he purchased in Missouri and we headed west towards the great unknown. It was on this trip that my parents lost their lives. I think you know the rest.”

Laf nodded in agreement then smiled, “Liberty Ann Atterberry, very nice. It’s too bad women are made to give up their last name when marrying. I pity the girl having to be called Yellowhair, especially if she is a brunette like you! Ha ha”

A friendly poke in his ribs was followed by, “Laugh as you may, I think a girl would be happy to have your name, no matter what color her hair is.”

Laf felt his ears turning red and heart suddenly quickened.

It took five days to reach Hailey and each day found Liberty Ann once again riding behind her favorite yellow haired trapper. By the time Hailey was in view, Liberty Ann rode with her arms snuggly around Laf’s waist, and more than a few times Laf found his hands gently entwined in hers.
Chapter 4
On a mountainside campsite overlooking the town of Hailey, Chief Pocatello, his warriors and Laf held council. Below them, the town consisted of not more than fifteen or sixteen fixed structures with the rest being plain tents or tents with wooden facades in front. That night the few lighted structures were only the saloons, they were also where most all the noise came from. Tin stove pipes belched wood smoke from tents and saloons alike giving evidence of the struggle to keep those inside warm. The temperature had now dropped well below zero and the increasing wind forced deep snow drifts to form against the buildings.

By pure fortune, a group of soldiers that the Chief recognized as having been at the signing of the treaty of Box Elders rode into town. Chief Pocatello told Laf that the lieutenant that headed up the soldiers was there and would surely remember him.

As they watched the troop head their horses to the towns stable and protected corrals, the Shoshone warriors on the mountain were busy making small temporary shelters from ash saplings covered in pine boughs.

Each Shoshone shelter was filled with anxious Indians discussing tomorrows plan the council had created to confront the faux Indians with.

Laf sent the girls inside the small tarp made tent they had been using for the past five nights to sleep in. Pine boughs laid thickly on the ground inside it let them sleep in comfort. Laf and Chief Pocatello then headed into town to see the Lieutenant.

Outside the saloon Laf stopped the Chief telling him, “Chief, the folks in this here saloon might not cotton to having an Indian in their midst so let me go inside and draw the Lieutenant out where we can talk to him.”

“Go, I will wait in the shadows and out of the wind.”

Laf pushed against the wooden door and stepped into the saloon. A few howls telling him to close the door against the wind were all the attention being paid to him.

Scouring the poorly lit room for the Lieutenant he spotted him standing at a table crowded with some of his men. Approaching the table Laf removed his hat in respect for the man’s rank and introduced himself. Realizing Laf wanted to speak to him in private the lieutenant eased Laf away from the table and curious ears.

“Now, what assistance may I offer you Mister Yellowhair?”

“I come with news that is for your ears only Sir. It comes directly from our mutual friend Chief Pocatello.”

“Ah yes, the Chief. How is he faring?”

“Please, if you step outside you may ask him for yourself.”

“He’s here? Outside?”

“Yes Sir and it is urgent we both speak to you in private and immediately.”

“Can’t it wait until morning? Its freezing out there and we just arrived. Surely it can wait!”

“Sir, by tomorrow morning there may be a street full of both dead whites and Shoshone if you don’t come outside. It is that important Sir!.”

Tapping his fingers against his holster, the Lieutenant finally looked at Laf and returning to the table placed a five dollar gold piece on it. “Corporal, buy the men a round of drinks on me, I will be back shortly.”

Once again outside, Laf led the Lieutenant to where the Chief stood out of the wind.

Seeing the Chief, the soldier greeted him with courtesy. “Chief Pocatello, it is good to see you again. Mister Yellowhair has informed me you have an urgent message for me.”

“It is good to see you once again also Lieutenant. It is not good news that I bring but news that you and your soldiers must hear.”

“Tell me this news.”

At this point with the encouragement of the Chief, Laf stepped up to explain in English in order to prevent any misinterpretation.

“A group of white men dressed and posing as Shoshone have massacred a settlement of Mormons five days travel west of here. This was done after the signing of the Box Elder treaty. It is believed they intend to ride into town having dressed again as whites to say they came across the massacre in the mountains. For some reason they do not want peace between the Shoshone and the Mormons.”

“Can you back this up with any facts.”

“We have two living witnesses to the massacre, two girls who were left for dead. They would have perished except that I arrived in time to rescue them. They told me the story of what occurred there. They are here also staying up in the hills with Chief Pocatello’s warriors. They believe they can identify the leader and a few of his men.”

“Where are these killers, here in town?”

“Not yet, but we can bet they’ll show up sometime tomorrow to start spreading the lie. If they succeed in doing so it won’t be but a week before Washington hears and believes it. They’ll have you hunting down the Chief here and all his tribe in revenge.”

Looking downward and shaking his head in disgust the Lieutenant said, “I see why you insisted on telling me this in private. It is a pure fluke that we stopped here for the night, if it weren’t for Corporal Lewis’s constant pestering to seek shelter in town, we would have ridden on past. He and a civilian surveyor have been out scouting a promising location for a new fort the Territorial Idaho Governor wants built. I felt since these two hadn’t seen a warm or dry bed for the past month that they deserve at least one night of comfort, so I relented and ordered a halt.”

“Well it sure was fortunate for everyone it seems.”

The Lieutenant nodded then told what his plan of action would be.

“Let’s see when they ride into town if those two girls can identify any of the men involved. If they can positively identify even one then I’ll have my men put the entire bunch under arrest and sent to Fort Benton for trial. By the way, I’m keeping this all under my hat until morning roll call. No need to risk a loose tongue if you know what I mean.”

“You’re right, they may have sent a few men ahead that we are unaware of. We also had a similar plan but it involved using the Shoshone as the threat. We figured to surround the group with upset Indians then leave the end result up to the group of murderers. If they pled guilty then we’d let them live but we doubted they’d plead guilty.”

“Well, we might just have the Shoshone back my men up just as a precaution anyway. Have them hide themselves close about town in case they’re needed .”

“Lieutenant, with this storm I doubt many folks will be going much further than the outhouse that early. I’ll make sure no Shoshone thinks the outhouse is a good place to hide. I’d hate to be the one with my pants half down staring into the eyes of an angry Indian!”

As the first grey streaks of dawn crossed the eastern sky, nearly one hundred Shoshone warriors had hid themselves within the town. At sunrise roll call was bugled in. The thirty odd soldiers lined the street trying not to stomp their feet in the cold. The Lieutenant loudly spoke the orders of the day.

“Men, a fortnight ago an important treaty was signed between the Mormons and the Shoshone tribe. It has brought a well needed peace to this Idaho territory. Unfortunately, there are powers that do not want this treaty to succeed. I have been informed that a large group of men have murdered a small settlement of Mormons west of here while pretending to be Shoshone Indians. Their intent is to blame the massacre on the Shoshone so Washington will have no choice but to seek revenge. Hidden about town are one hundred real Shoshone warriors bent on making sure they don’t get away with this. Our job is to confront this group and arrest them for trial after they enter town. We have good information that they are headed this way and will arrive shortly. They have made the mistake of leaving two witnesses to this massacre alive. If our witnesses can identify even one, then you are to arrest them all, is that clear?”

In unison they responded, “Yes Lieutenant!”

“Good. For now I want you to stand at ease between these two saloons until they arrive. Be prepared for action.”

Less than a half hour later the first line of men was seen making their way into town. A hundred yards behind them rode in the rest of the group.

At this time the lieutenant stepped into the snowy street to block their progress and ordered his men into the open with pistols drawn. “Dismount and identify yourselves!” he shouted.

Seeing the thirty odd solders with guns drawn the group complied. “What’s this about soldier boy?” The voice was that of an elderly man missing his front upper teeth and most of one nostril.

The lieutenant shouted back.“Stand where you are Mister, draw a gun and you will be shot dead.” Turning to a private he then ordered, “Bring out the witnesses”.

The two girls were led along the line of armed soldiers but partway to the Lieutenant something happened. Susanne screamed and Liberty Ann pointing at Corporal Lewis shouted, “That’s the one with the blue eyes, he’s one of them!” Before the two girls gained their senses to run, the Corporal grabbed for Susanne. Pointing his gun to her head he demanded two horses.

Holding her close for his own protection he searched for his cohort in crime. Seeing the surveyor he shouted, “Yancy come get them two horses, they found us out!”

It seemed an impossible rescue but in a blur of motion Laf’s skinning knife was seen twirling through the air towards the gun wielding Corporal and at the same time the surveyor bolted towards the horses.

It was like a signal for the dismounted murderers to remount and follow the surveyors lead. Unfortunately for the surveyor and for that matter the entire group of murderers, the Shoshone were excellent marksmen. Combined with the deadly lead being thrown by the Shoshone rifles, the Calvary’s pistol’s ventilated any man still alive.

As for the Corporal, he had fallen backwards spread eagle into the snow with Laf’s knife handle protruding from his forehead. Susanne had fled into the arms of her sister who threw the girl to the ground and lay atop her. Neither girl was hurt.
Chapter 5
That evening, the Lieutenant, Laf and Liberty Ann sat enjoying a meal at the only decent café in town. Susanne was in the care of a kindly woman who owned the dry goods store.

“Washington owes you a debt of gratitude. It seems after interrogating a few survivors that our newly installed Territorial Governor was behind all this. He had received orders from the President to put to rest once and for all any Indian trouble in the Idaho territory. Knowing many treaties end up being broken, he figured the best way to achieve that is to simply have no Indians to cause any trouble. I’m sure you’ll receive not only an accommodation for your involvement in exposing the corrupt Governor and these men but it also seems there are a number of wanted no goods within that group. I’ll see to it that any rewards will be sent your way.”

“My thanks Lieutenant. By the way, Liberty Ann and I were talking and without any lawman or judge within the distance of a few hundred miles, that you would be the only representative of the law here.”

Grimacing a half smile the Lieutenant answered “I guess that would be true, why?”

“We want you to marry us, that’s why!”
Two weeks later the group of three had made their way to Muldoon where the Yellowhair home sat alongside the Muldoon Creek. Stepping up to the large well built log cabins door, Laf reached for its handle.

Behind him coming from the Creek a shout stopped him. “Son, you made it back. Who are the women folk with you?”

Turning to face his father he smiled and hugged the older man. “Dad, I want you to meet your new housekeeper, this is Susanne. Susanne, this is my Dad.”

The young girl reached out her hand in a dainty handshake.

“So who’s the other one here? If this yung’n here is our housekeeper then the other must be the house cook. Yes?” Leaning closer he eyed Liberty Ann and winked seeing the simple gold band on her finger whispered, “You can cook now can’t you dear?”

“Yes Dad, she can cook but she can do so much more. She can darn my socks, sew my britches, make me shirts and even rub my sore feet!”

“Son? All I’m hearin’ is a lot of my, my, my’s and no ours. What about me?”

“I’m sorry Dad but if you want your feet rubbed you’ll have to get someone else to do it, this is Liberty Ann Atterberry Yellowhair, she’s my wife and Susanne is her younger sister. I’ll explain everything after we finish eating, we’re starved!

Shaking his head his father groaned in mock distress. “And here I was thinking that those two Shoshone by the Creek were something else! Now you tell me we’re going to have two women underfoot around the place. Well… I guess having a woman’s touch around here won’t hurt none. I never was any good at decorating or washing clothes and you sure never had much talent for that either!”

Laf chuckled saying, “I love you too Dad.”

Joseph Yellowhair smiled broadly at the two newly weds, “I was only joshin’ you kids, I saw the two of you lovebirds  holding hands way back by the bend in the creek. I may be an old coot but I still got enough eyesight left to see when two folks are in love.”

Giving Liberty Ann a big hug he told her, “Welcome to your new home daughter!” Then placing his arm across Susanne’s young shoulders he told her, “Child, lets you and me investigate the pantry while the other two rustle up some grub in the kitchen, I do believe there is a big jar of pre dinner hard candy on one of the shelves.”

 

 

 
Across the creek the two Shoshone left without saying goodbye, as was their fashion and were heard speaking in their native tongue.

“So he married her? I thought he was wiser than that”

“It goes to show my friend, one cannot judge a fish by its scales.”

“What the hell does that mean?

“I don’t know, but I once heard a white man say that about books but I have no idea what a book is so I used fish instead.”

“Whatever floats your boat I guess.”

One moment turned into two and then in resignation came the others reply, “Uh, what’s a boat?”

RETURN TO THE BAR 44 RANCH

saved return bar 44

Chapter 1

It was nearing noon when the old cowboy everybody knew simply as Henry, returned to the Bar 44 Ranch from his trip into town. Henry’s old bones took a beating riding that distance but he was too proud to admit it in front of the younger hands so he kept his mouth shut and uttered no complaints.  The ranch hands close enough to observe Henry noted his slow dismount and how he vigorously rubbed his knees after taking a quick look around to see who had observed his arrival. After a few halting steps toward the ranch house’s hitching rail, his legs appeared to regain some of their former strength.

Dang legs ain’t nothin’ but a pair of rickety ‘ol hickory sticks anymore!”  Henry thought grimly to himself.

Twirling the reigns around the hitching rail, he’d let the horse cool down before letting it water and feed back in the lean-to stable. The Pinto had been a prize horse once owned by the original owner of the ranch.  He had given the Pinto to Henry only two days before being killed in a tragic fall from his own horse four years ago. That owner, James Comstock, had hired Henry on over forty years earlier as a wrangler and all around protector of the family Comstock. Back when Henry had been hired, Indians and displaced angry Mexican vaqueros still roamed freely enough in Texas to need a good man with a rifle and a pair of six guns to keep the peace. It was now said the most dangerous thing out on the range to a cowhand were rattle snakes and prairie dog holes. At least that’s what was commonly thought… until now.

Hearing Henry’s horse trot up to the house, the foreman who was given the privilege of living inside it by the new owner, a Mister Clarence Osborne from back east in Connecticut, stepped out from the screened door and onto the porch to great him.

“I see you made it just in time for dinner Henry, step inside and grab a bite with me, won’t ya’?”

Jake Ramsey, the Foreman and long time friend of Henry, threw his arm around the elderly Henry’s shoulder’s as they passed through the doorway.  Jake was younger than Henry by a good ten years but both had been hired on at the same time. Jake worked his way up the ladder until one day being offered the position of being the ranch’s foreman.

Stepping into the cool air of the polished wood vestibule, Henry handed Jake the telegram he had been sent to retrieve. Taking it, Jakes face became grim as he saw that the paper the telegram was written on was an unusually long one. All Jake had needed to see as an answer to his query was a one line response, so this could not be good news.

Stuffing the telegram into his top shirt pocket, he told Henry, “I’ll read this latter, I don’t want to spoil a good dinner.”

After the two had eaten and jawed for a time, Henry left to return to the caring of his horse, leaving Jake alone with the telegram.

Nervous fingers reached into the pocket and pulled out the yellow paper. Putting on his reading spectacles, Jake read the telegram. He read it through three times before gathering the muster to get out of the chair and let the others know their fate.

Slowly Jake opened the screened door and stepped out onto the raised wooden porch. Grabbing up the iron dinner bells clangor, he thrust it between the triangles thick metal bars and began violently bouncing the clangor off the inside of it. It was a large triangle, meant to be heard miles off for those workers out on the closer pastures.  It did its job well, bringing in the men from far off.

The only other time Jake had rang the triangle other than to gather the men for dinners, was when it was discovered that the ranches owner, James Comstock had been killed in a riding accident. Most of the same hands making their way to the ranch house this time had been there on that day too. The ringing triangle boded ill news when rung outside of dinner.

Looking up to their foreman who stood over them on the raised porch, Jerky Dobbins, with a tilting head asked Jake what was the cause for calling the hands in.

“I’ll tell ya’ in a minute Jerky, wait till the others make it.”

When the full group of seventeen was finally huddled together, in a loud voice Jake began to speak to them.  “Boy’s, this here telegram is from the owner back east. It’s in response to my asking how much funds we were going to be allowed for this winters chuck line. I have some comments to make after I read it to ya’ so don’t go wonderin’ off.”

Jake unraveled the wrinkled yellow paper and began to read the telegram .

 “J Ramsey, Foreman Bar 44 Ranch. STOP. This is in response to your inquiry of the so called Winters Chuck Line funds. STOP. My financial advisors recommend my doing away with this outdated and unneeded expense immediately. STOP.  In the winter the Bar 44 Ranch is not to be used as a haven for laggards or dead beat vagrants of any kind. STOP. I give permission to keep only two hands hired on for the winter months. STOP. They are to be fit enough to chop wood, repair fences and maintain the herd as needed. STOP. Therefore this excludes all hands too feeble to perform any work needing attending to. STOP.

My son, daughter and I will be making our way to the Bar 44 within the next fortnight by train. STOP. We will be expecting to see the Bar 44 to be in satisfactory operating condition at that time.  C. Osborne. END”

 

Jake lowered the paper to gaze at the gathered hands standing below him. No one spoke but their grey bloodless faces spoke volumes.

Shifting uneasily on his feet Jake told them, “We have two weeks before Mister Osborne and his children arrive here. In that time we need to buckle up the place for winter.”

Slim Pettit, a hand on the ranch for nearly fourteen years finally broke the men’s silence. “Boss, I don’t understand, what’d we do wrong? I mean, I ain’t never heard of being booted oft’n a place without due cause, ‘specially just before the winter snows come. Why even if we left for places unknown today, why we still might git caught bare headed in an early storm. Where’s we to go to at this late a date? No one figured on leavin’ so no one made any plans.”

Jake’s face turned bright red as what the man said sunk in. “I honestly can’t figure it boys.” Jake stammered, “I ain’t never dealt with nothin’ like this before. You all know me, I’m a cattle man born an’ bred. Allowin’ hands to winter over at their place of employment is universal… ‘specially here in Texas!”

Another hand spoke up, “It ain’t like we’s freeloadin’ Boss! It’s true we get our grub an’ a bed but we don’t draw no pay no way. We ain’t no dead beats either, we help around the place in winter near as much as if we was drawin’ pay. We work hard throughout the warm months an’ bank on the Winter Chuck Line to keep us alive and healthy for next spring’s start up. Why without that, why would we even return to a place come spring if’n they call us vagrants and laggards soon as winter comes.”

A general growl of approval went up along with a chorus of unmentionable expletives towards the ranch’s owner.

Another angrily man shouted before turning and walking off, “If he wants us gone by golly, then we’re gone! Adios, Vamoose Amigo! To hell with him! Anybody with half a measure of pride will do as I do an’ leave pronto!”

Jake saw the tide turn from disbelief to anger to disgust. “Men”, he shouted after them, “wait up now, I’m sure once he comes here for himself he’ll see it was a darn mean thing to do and change his mind!”

Jerky Dobbins turned and walked back to where Jake stood on the porch. “Boss, we hold you in the highest regards but how can you expect us to even think of returning come spring when we was treated this way? Do you realize when Mister Osborne declared he don’t want no unhealthy folk wintering here he meant Henry! Ain’t no one else he coulda’ been speakin’ about, no one is as old or stove up in the legs here like Henry! You know as well as I Henry done saved this ranch time an’ time again in the old days by usin’ his guns. An now to think this is the thanks he gets? No Sir, I won’t put one more minute in for Osborne. I’m packin’ up an’ expecting my pay to be ready when I’m done.”

Jake dropped his head in defeat and let drop the hated yellow telegraph paper as he watched the men he held in high esteem and even loved some like brothers, wander back to the bunk house to gather up their belongings and leave.

By three that afternoon, only Jake remained save his old stove up friend Henry. Before the men left, Henry gathered them up to say his piece. He now sat alone and grim faced cleaning his guns inside the vacant bunk house.

 

Chapter 2

It was nine that evening when the downhearted Jake noticed the lamp light lighting up the bunk house windows. Intrigued to see who had not left, Jake made his way towards the light. Stepping up to the doors stoop, Jake knocked and opened the door. Lit by the dim lamplight sat Henry holding his gun.

“Why didn’t you leave with the others Henry?”

Henry shrugged his shoulders saying, “I don’t know. I guess after forty years I know nothing else but the ranch.”

Jake noticed the polished gun still be held in Henry’s hands. The realization that Henry had no future and no reason for living came crashing into Jakes mind. Squatting in front of the seated old man, Jake took both Henry’s hands along with the gun into his own. “Henry, the two of us rode a million miles side by side for the last forty years. We always had each other’s back.” Looking down at the hand clasped gun he continued, “This ain’t how it’s going to end my friend, no way. I’ll leave this place to the coyotes before I see you fill your skull with your own lead.”

Henry looked up at Jake with moist eyes. “Yep, we done had us one hell of a life together you an’ I. Why we out lived most every bandit an’ renegade didn’t we? Tarnation, we even outlived both our wives!”

“Give me your gun Henry, there’s no need to do this as long as we still have each other’s company.”

Henry looked quizzically up at Jake. “Why Jake! Was you thinkin’ I was about to put this here colt to my own head? Hell man, I just cleaned it, why would I want to fire it off?

“W-what was you goin’ to do then? I mean it sure looks like you was sittin’ here contimplatin’ ending it all.”

“Naw, just been thinkin, that’s all. Say, let me ask you something Jake. After forty years of workin’ here, how much do you think you saved up?”

“Why?”

“Just thinkin. When Osborne gets here an’ there ain’t no one to run the place, how long do you think it would be before he sells the place off?”

Jake rubbed his chin thinking. “Well, the cattle will survive even if we get a couple good snow falls. The house would freeze up but that’s no big deal. The remuda wouldn’t live out the winter though, they’s not bred to be in the wild. They’d up an’ die waiting for feed in the corral before it dawned on them to leave an’ eat grass like the cows. All in all not much harm would come to the place though.”

“Do you think Osborne would know all that?”

Jake chuckled, “No, Osborne wouldn’t. Why?”

“I’m thinkin of becoming a ranch owner, that’s what I’m thinkin’! Now, how much did you save up all these years?”

A wide smile crossed Jakes face. “Well, I got money stuffed in a few banks since I don’t trust a single one by themselves. Then there’s my inheritance from Jesse that she inherited from her Dad. When she passed, I was too broke up at the time to look into all her finances so I hired a financial company in San Antone to handle her affairs. I guess if I was pressed, I’d say she left a tidy sum to me as her husband. I’d have to telegraph the folks in San Antone to get the exact amount.”

Henry sat back looking smug. “Well, I got near fourteen thousand dollars saved up!”

“How in blazes did you save up that much?”

“I took each pay and sent three quarters of it to the bank. Do you know I made over nineteen thousand dollars in my life here an’ saved fourteen of it by bein’ frugal?”

“But I know you spent money, why when we was younger, we’d light up the town together.”

“You bet, but I only went to town on the money I didn’t spend the month before!”

Jake laughed out loud saying, “No wonder you never borrowed money like the rest! You always had a cashe of funds! Har har har.”

Getting a serious look on his face Henry returned to the subject of buying a ranch. “I’m thinkin’ Osborne cut his own throat trying to save a dime by cutting off the Chuck Line.  Now he’s lost all his help an’ when folks find out what he did, ain’t no one gonna’ work for him no how. All we need to do is sit an’ wait for him to cave in.”

“What about us? We’d be without hands too. The boys all took off to parts unknown before the hard winter sets in. We’d be in as bad a shape as he is in right now.”

Henry smiled, “Nope, the boys are set up here for the next month. Well, not here but in town.”

“What?”

“When I went to town to pick up the telegram, I peeked at it before the key operator sealed it. I did a might prayin’ right then an’ there an’ guess what?”

“What?!”

“Fast as a lightning bolt, this whole plan unfolded before me before I even hit the door! I went on over to that big old house widow Mathews died in an’ found her son. I rented it as is for the next month from him for twenty dollars. I figure it’ll hold all the men an’ since it has a big kitchen they can fend for themselves food wise with Osborne none the wiser they is there ready to back to work if asked.”

“Well I’ll be Henry! You figured out a whole plan. How did you convince the men to go into town rather than leave?”

Raising his colt he spun the gleaming cylinder with his hand. “I give ‘em no choice! Plus I advanced each one twenty five dollars out of their first pay working for us.”

That night out of the burning ashes of despair rose the phoenix of hope for the Bar 44 Ranch.

 

Chapter 3

Jake stood alone watching the rented three seat Vector coach make its way up the lane to the ranch house. Sitting by himself in the front bench seat, a scruffily dressed negro guided the horses along more by shouts than by the reins. Setting the brake, the old but spry negro jumped down to assist the three dust covered passengers. Texas dust is no respecter of persons nor cares which season it is.

Jake approached the trio and stopped short of holding his hand out to be shaken. Instead, he first tipped his hat to the lady then touched the brim for the men.

He had never seen Osborne or his son but took an immediate dislike to both the spot. The girl sat quietly and smiled shyly in return of the hat tip. Both children appeared in their late teens or early twenties.

Trying to disguise a well needed stretch, Osborne pretended to tie a shoelace instead. Finally rising to his full height, short of six feet by six inches, he nodded back to Jake asking, “I suppose you’re my Foreman, Jake Ramsey.”

“Yes, Sir. I am.”

“I dislike starting off on the wrong foot, but can you explain without sniveling, why no one was at the station to meet me?”

“Sure.”

Osborne’s eyebrows raised in question, “Sure what?

“Sure, Sir.”

“Dammit! Stop playing games here Ramsey. I’m starting to regret keeping you on here after I bought this place. If I’d known you were such a snippety upstart, I’d have kept looking.”

“I believe Sir that you hired me for my ability to bring in the bacon, not because I knuckle under when someone insults me.”

“Insult you? When have I ever insulted you?”

“Osborne, I don’t make it a habit to snivel, nor have I ever led anyone to believe I ever would. Out here if you imply a man snivels or kowtows to another, it’s an insult worthy of drawing iron to prove the opposite!”

 “Oh, Yes, I forgot you Western men are a mite touchy about your manhood.”

“I may be touchy but it ain’t about my manhood, it’s about respect. Something that you may remember before someone with an itchy trigger finger calls you on it.”

Realizing he was only digging himself a deeper hole to stand in, Osborne wisely dropped his verbal fencing and drew the conversation back to why no one had been in town to greet his arrival.

“Well, I suppose I could have ridden out to meet you but then it would have left the ranch with no one to manage it. Besides, it’s less than ten miles and we haven’t had a highway robbery here in years. You were plenty safe an’ never in any danger”

“I didn’t mean that you personally should have met us, I was referring to the hired help here. By the way, I haven’t seen another soul yet, are they all out on the range?”

“Nope, but before we end up doin’ business here in the yard, why not you and your  young ones go inside an’ freshen up a bit. You’re so full a rode dust ,you’d think a dust rag was shook on ya’. I’ll drag in your luggage to your rooms. I made up some fresh lemonade with ice knowin’ you’d be parched.”

Having quenched their thirst on the cold lemonade, the four sat in the parlor on matching dark leather hob nailed chairs and a matching sofa.

“So when I telegraphed, you got upset and fired them all on the spot?”

“No Sir. As I mentioned before, it’s about respect. By you telling the men they were laggards and vagrants for expecting to hole up here over the winter, did you really think they had any choice but to leave? We have a tradition out here in the West. In the warm months we expect every wrangler to earn his salt and then some. These are trail hardened men, not city bred lazy bones. If a man gets six hours of uninterrupted sleep it’s because he over slept. They work hard, harder than any man back where you come from. When the winter winds begin, the ranch’s they are hired at give ‘em their last pay an’ let ‘em stay free of charge till spring calving time. We call that time, The Chuck Line. It’s not a hand out, these men earned this. If we let everyone go each fall to fend for themselves, no one would ever return in the spring. That’s what going to happen here now.”

Percy Osborne had been sitting quietly but with insolent rolling eyes. Now he spoke up. “Father, it’s my opinion that Mister Ramsey here is exaggerating to cover his mistake in letting all of the men go. Why not we ride in to town tomorrow and hire all new replacement workers…including a new Foreman?”

Jake rubbed his face with his hands as if trying to wash off the stupid statement the young man had tossed his father’s way. “Sonny,” Jake said without looking at the young man, “ It’s best you keep your thoughts to yourself. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I do declare Father! Am I to sit here and be insulted for offering my opinion?”

At that moment, the daughter raised her head and holding up her hand for quiet, she calmly spoke. “Father, I believe him. He ran this ranch making a good profit for years for Mister Comstock. In fact, so well did he run it that when you heard of it being up for sale, you jumped at it bragging on how you, “skinned” the estates executor alive in the deal. We arrived here and from the start you insulted Mister Ramsey, nor was any apology offered him. He has been a grander gentleman to us than we deserve. Please Father, Ask Percy to hold his thoughts to himself until Mister Ramsey finishes what he was trying to tell us.”

Jake looked approvingly at the girl saying, “You have a wise and far seeing daughter Osborne.”

“She takes after her mother, rest her soul.”

Clarence Osborne stood up and paced the floor for a good two minutes before asking. “So the way I see it, I made a cultural and financial blunder here. A mortal sin so to speak. If I tarnished the Bar 44 so badly through my actions then what you are implying is I’m done for here. With no hands I can’t even trail drive my cattle to market. All that I could hope to recover now is the money’s made from a local herd sell off, pennies on the dollar I might add, and the ranch itself. No one wants the expense of buying a ranch just as winter arrives nor would anyone put a new herd onto pasture winter land meant for the original herd. There wouldn’t be enough grass to last the winter for them all. No, I guess I acted the fool and I admit it. I sat in my comfortable office convinced that I could come here and teach you Texans a thing or two about how to operate a successful cattle ranch.”

Jake patted Osborne’s vacant chair beside his own implying Osborne to sit back down. “Yore a fast thinking man Mister Osborne he drawled, it’s no wonder your other ventures are successful. I got to admit, I thought your pride would be the anchor around your neck but you chucked it off. There is yet another way you can recover most if not all your investment if you’re willing to listen.”

Gently sitting back down, Osborne looked over at his Foreman. “ Do tell, how’s that?”

“Don’t break up the place but sell it in one piece, Ranch, cattle water rights… everything all for one price making no profit buit breaking even. If you break up or hold off selling for any amount of time, you’ll never recover much. Heck, the place my even be filed in court as an abandoned ranch and sold at auction. If that happens you get zip for a return.”

“Can you advise me on a buyer then?”

“It depends on what you’re asking for the place. If you plan on making a profit, then no.”

“Father!” Percy broke in. “Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s setting us up!”

Osborne’s ears turned red in anger at the boy. “Percy! Will you please be quiet? You think you know the real estate business better than your Father? Listen boy, it’s about time I shook your ego up. Do you think the position you hold in my company is because you are brilliant? I hate to tell you Percival but you’ve fouled up every job I’ve given you. It’s not that you are so damn indispensible that I don’t complain when you take off a few days to play croquette with your friends on the cape or go sailing off without a word to the family compound with your female entourage. No, it’s because as long as you’re not in your office, you can’t mess things up!”

Percy stood up grey faced, then turned and taking two at a time ran upstairs to his room. 

Osborne turned apologetically to Jake then shot a quick glance at his daughter. “I apologize to you both, he takes after his Father.”

Delilah rose then to leave but her father motioned for her to return to where she was seated on the sofa. “Please, Delilah, stay. I’m sorry but in my pride I ignored you all these years. I had been looking for Percy to show some promise but it turned out I was watching the wrong person.”

 Turning back to Jake he continued, “You asked what the bottom dollar I’d sell the place for. If you know anybody with forty thousand, I would just break even. I would shake hands on that deal.”

Jake pondered the savings amount he had along with Henry’s. Even at such a price, he was nearly ten thousand dollars short.  He knew the cattle alone would bring that or more if they could be driven to Kansas. Then add the value of the ten thousand leased acres added to the owned acreage and that amount topped thirty thousand by itself. Everything included, the place valued at over eighty thousand dollars!

 

Jake felt defeat slowly crawling up his spine. “Ten thousand short.” He thought.

“Mister Osborne, I need to tell you the whole story here. I ain’t been dishonest but like a gambler I’ve not shown my entire hand. I saw your mistake in stopping the Chuck Line. I knew what the result would be and another fella saw it too. Together we decided if nature took its course and you were forced to sell, then we could bundle our savings together and buy the place from you ourselves.”

“I call that business smart, not deceitful. How much were you and your partner going to offer me?”

“We are ten thousand short of what you need to sell for.”

“I see. Who is this partner of yours, do I know him?”

“You do, he’s the only man you’ve ever met from the ranch when you bought the place, Henry.”

Osborne’s head jerked back. “Henry? Old crippled Henry? The one I alluded to in my telegram? Oh Lord, talk about putting my foot in my mouth! When I bought the place, Henry was the executor of Comstock’s Last Will and Testament. During the signing of papers I made a rude comment on how he was dressed. Here I was in my one hundred dollar suite and there he sat with patched knees and sun damaged sombrero. When I started bragging on how successful my other businesses were, he up and ask me if I knew the any thing about cattle. Well, his question raised my hackles and yet scared me at the same time so I told him that’s what people with less brains are for.  Harrumph, it seems from the beginning, I was going down the wrong road.”

Suddenly Delilah turned to Jake and asked. “Mister Ramsey, would you consider another investor in your group in order make the forty thousand dollar sale price?”

Jake shrugged, “I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it Ma’am. I was hoping that Henry and I together would have enough money between us. Money is plenty tight this time of year an’ investors are going to be hard to come by. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d trust an outsider with part ownership of the place. They’d have no vested interest in the place other than their money.”

“What if you had someone come in who had a vested interest in making the place succeed, would you consider them?”

“If I knew a man who would be willing to put his blood, sweat and tears into the place, sure, I might consider it.”

“How about a woman?”

“A woman?”

“Yes, me.!”

Osborne shot out from his seat in dismay. “Delilah!” He shouted, “Surely you jest! Investing your money into a solid business is one thing, but the Bar 44? It’s already failing!”

Ignoring her father’s outburst she again asked, “What do you say Mister Ramsey?”

Osborne wasn’t through yet, “I insist you stop his nonsense right now young girl! Why it takes know how to run a place as complicated as this! Didn’t you see the mistake I made? Now you’re making the same one!”

“No Father, there is one big difference between you and I. If I had asked yesterday what color the ranch house is could you have told me? No? If I asked the difference between a Stallion and a gelding could you tell me? I doubt it. Six weeks ago you told Percival and I that we were coming out here to “bring the natives” up to the Eastern way of doing business. From that moment on, I’ve searched every book I could find on cattle, the operation of a ranch and in particular, Texas! I hunted down old cowboys that moved back east just to glean from their experiences and know how. You see father, I had planned all along to remain here when you and Percy returned back east. I did not know at the time the Bar 44 was in failure or I would have told you sooner. My plan was to eventually become an integral part of running the ranch, your ranch. Father, the difference between you and I, is that I tried to understand how these westerners ended up taming a land to draw a profit from it. You on the other hand failed in the first lesson of owning a business… know it, before you buy it! ”

Osborne sat heavily back in his chair. He then lifted his face skyward and began to laugh. He laughed so hard tears ran down his cheeks. “Oh my land!” He shouted,” She’s has a better head for business than me! You warned me sweetheart! When I wrote that letter to be telegraphed, you warned me it was a mean and unwise thing to do. I remember you telling me to come here and see for myself before changing anything! I should have listened!”

“Yes, you should have Father. Instead what did you do? You foolishly went to your financial advisors who had never seen a live cow in their life and then to make matters worse, you listened to Percy on how you should put the telegram into words. A fool cannot produce wisdom father and a fool is what Percy is and always will be!”

Osborne sat shaking his lowered head and from time to time chuckling to himself. Finally looking at her, he gave in.

“Alright, you win Delilah, I’ll have the papers drawn up for a three way partnership along with the sale papers and deed. We’ll set up a payment schedule payable over three years. That way you don’t exhaust all your funds in the purchase. I must ask though, how do you expect to hire men to replace those that left? If Mister Ramsey is correct, there are none to be had. The ranch is still without hands so nothing has really changed. What then?”

Jake leaned forward and chuckled, “It wasn’t me who was so far sighted as it was Henry. He got the whole group of hands housed up at a rental house in town waiting to see what the outcome is here. Trust me, if you had not gone along with the deal, they would have never come back to work for you, not after what you did to ‘em. Then all I said that would happen would have happened. We can ride into town tomorrow and see to those papers along with givin’ the news to the hands and Henry. I know there’ll be some celebrating going on after they hear.”

Meanwhile Percival had inched his way quietly onto the stair case to eaves drop on the proceedings below. After shaking hands with Jake, Osborne glanced at the upper stairwell to see his son skulking at the head of the stairs.

“Percy!” He yelled for him, “Come down here, I have some great plans for you boy!”

Percy jumped up and raced down the steps thinking his father did after all come to his senses and would put him back in charge of something important , anything to save face in front of his friends.

“Son, I had originally planned on keeping the ranch and coupling it with our own new stockyard I purchased over in Kansas. I didn’t tell the two of you this because I didn’t think there was any need at the time. Now son, I can’t handle everything on my plate as it is so I’m going to put you in a well deserved and important position in the new venture, How do you feel about moving to Kansas son and heading up a very important department for me?”

Thinking it over and envisioning himself bossing others about from a plush office, Percy readily agreed.

“Good, good. Now run back upstairs while the three of us here discuss the details of the sale.

Percival returned to his room and jumping onto the bed, he lay there staring broadly at the ceiling dreaming of being the important man others would have to look up to in Kansas.

He envisioned himself dressed in an expensive suit like his fathers and replying to invitations to social balls and of course being the recipient of private notes from desirous females.

Downstairs the three hashed out the details and when finished, all were smiling.

It was the sudden look of concern that crossed Delilah’s face that Osborne questioned. “Is there something in the deal that I forgot dear?” He asked.

“No, not really. I was just thinking on how you gave Percival another chance to cause you grief. I swear Father, if he’s in charge of your company’s new stock yard venture and he creates as much havoc there as he does everywhere, I’ll have no choice but to send our cattle to a competitor’s stock yard. My first priority is the Ranch making a profit, not Percival or the new stock yard.”

Osborne chuckled, “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about Percival too much. It is true that I am putting him in charge of a department but it’s not quite what you or he think.”

“Then what is it?” She asked.

“I’m putting him in charge of the Asepsis Ablution Department. There he’ll oversee a number of workers performing cattle hygienic prophylactics.”

Delilah looked perplexed. “Hygienic…proph… what?

“It’s a fancy use of the language to make a worker feel more important about their job by giving them a fancy title. Percy will be in charge of mucking my dear, mucking up cattle manure in the stock yard!”

 

The End

WHEN YOU NEED HELP, CALL A GIANT

mammoth mule

 

Chapter 1

Moose Cholack was a big baby, so big the Christian name Benjamin was soon replaced with the more fitting one of Moose.

At three years old he needed his own bed, the type a healthy twelve year old growing boy needs. His teacher gave him the use of her own chair and desk until they too became too small. It was then that Moose began using the floor as his seat. A large carnival pencil was his writing instrument. Still, Moose was an adaptive and creative child who held no grudge against for those around him for making him the butt of many jokes.

 In fact Moose seemed to enjoy his size. It sure made life easier on the family farm in Missouri to have a massive reserve of energy to call on when needed. Once when the farms mule came down lame he dragged the plow around while his older brother Whitey guided it.

Whitey was born of normal girth three years before Moose and as older brothers are, was very protective of his large but good natured brother. The relationship was tight but not so much that when at the age of sixteen and Whitey became antsy pants about seeing the world, Moose encouraged him to do so.

It was no secret that farming held no appeal for Whitey, so when his Uncle, also named Whitey, asked if he wanted to try his hand at Cowboying on the same working ranch in Montana as he did, Whitey jumped at it. Satisfied where he was, Moose stayed behind, being content as a hard working Missouri farmer.

When the rush to the west occurred, change came quickly to his community. The wagon trains brought innocent folk wanting a better life but they also brought with them thieves and scoundrels of various types. After numerous close calls, Moose decided to visit the local gunsmith searching for a proper firearm. It was during this visit that he discovered his huge fingers would not fit into a single trigger guarded pistol.

Stepping up to the challenge, the gunsmith colluded with his friend the black smith to outfit Moose with a custom made piece. Since no cartridge made was big enough to fit the new gun, they resorted back to the age old black powder cap and ball design. In this case, the ball weighed a little over a pound!

The first time the three men gathered to test the huge pistol, they fired a ball into a black locust fence post the thickness of a man’s thigh, the post was blown cleanly in half. Only Moose had the strength to withstand the recoil.

So it was that more than a few no goods backed down when seeing what was being aimed at them. In fact, one terrified man offered to pay Moose in gold coin if he would be allowed to go his way unharmed.

Six years passed since Whitey parted ways for the western life when Moose received a post from him. It was an urgent plea for help. In the letter Whitey explained that he had purchased an abandoned ranch outside the town of Crab Tree with good water but was having problems with the bully neighbor.

The neighbor, an Englishman, held no regard in handshakes or promises. The steam known as Red Rock Creek, meandered between the two properties and acted as the dividing line between the two. As most springs tend to, over a few years it wandered more towards the Englishman’s property, leaving Whiteys behind. Rather than holding to the gentleman’s agreement of sharing the water, Whitey one day found barbed wire fencing his cattle out.

Water is more precious than gold to a cattleman. A cow doesn’t give two hoots how shiny a colored rock is but will run for miles when they smell a stream of cool water.

Whitey found his herd bellowing along the barbed wire fence crying for the water they could not get to. Time after time Whitey cut the wire but it was always repaired the next day.

It all came to a head when the Sheriff arrived one day and handed Whitey a summons to appear in court. The charge was trespassing, infringing on water rights and theft of water.

Whitey knew the charges wouldn’t hold up in a honest court but as courts went, this one was pretty far from being called honest. The neighbor, Percival James, had been busy spreading cash and favors around the political circles for some time. It seemed now he was calling in some of the owed favors.

Throwing the papers back in the face of the spineless Sheriff, Whitey once again took the fence’s demise to task.

Sheriff Ted Dickens grappled with his holster shouting, “Stop right there Whitey or I’ll arrest you here and now for destruction of private property.” In the clumsy attempt at pulling his pistol, it ended up being juggled from hand to hand before it fell onto the muddy riverbank.

“Now see what you made me do? Damn you Whitey, now I’ll have to take it all apart to clean it!”

Whitey picked up the thrown away summons from where it lay on the ground and shoved it towards the furious Sheriff of Crab Tree, “Here,” Whitey told him, “clean that piece of iron horse shit with this!”

“You’ll be sorry Whitey Cholack,” Sheriff Dickens warned, “you’ll be sorry. Just wait till Mister James and Judge Cooperman find out how you treated me, you’ll wish you never messed with that wire!”

Whitey continued to cut the wire away, post by post. Whitey’s bone dry cattle shoved and bullied their way through the openings and plunged into the creeks cool water en mass. As the cattle gratefully slacked their thirst, Whitey knew troubled waters were brewing. The James spread, ironically named the ‘Placid Acres Ranch’, had way more cowhands working on it than Whitey’s ranch had. Whitey knew his place was outgunned and out lawyer’d so the worry weighed heavy on him.

Making his way back towards the ranch house he regretted that his dream of settling in the beautiful valley was beginning to leave a foul taste in his mouth and all because of some greedy Englishman who bucked the Western way.

 

Chapter 2

Two days passed and Whitey rode to the fence line where he had had earlier cut and removed the wire. The wire had not been replaced and Whitey wondered if James had come to his senses and decided to give up trying to keep his cattle from the once common creek.

Dismounting, made his way to where the now soggy court summons lay on the creeks muddy bank. As he stooped to retrieve it the zinging sound similar to an angry hornet passed just over his head. The angry hornet thwacked itself into a nearby willow tree’s trunk and a heartbeat later he heard the sound of a distant rifle shot.

Throwing himself upon the riverbank for protection he was inches away from the second shot which plowed up the mud if front of him. Rolling further down the bank he was completely hidden now from the shooter. Drawing his pistol was useless at this range and he wished he had taken the rifle from its saddle scabbard when he dismounted. He felt naked, vulnerable and dismayed that someone would go as far as trying to kill him over a fence.

Belly crawling along the length of the creeks bank he tried staying hidden to the eyes that had fired the two shots. He wondered if the shooter may have thought him hit since his rolling down the bank may have looked that way from such a distance away.

The bay seemed unconcerned over Whiteys dilemma and continued to casually crop the lush grass growing along the creek.

After a half hour of belly creeping, he reached his horse. Slowly he made his way to the lee side of it and gathering the reigns, guided the bay further into the tall brush where he could safely mount it unseen.

Once safely back at the Ranch, Whitey gathered his hands warn them of the recent attempt on his life.

“I know you weren’t hired as shootist but if you’re out on the spread, keep an eye peeled for trouble. I’d rather you run off than get into a shooting war so if you see anything that raises your concern, head back here to the ranch.”

One of the cowhands looked up sheepishly and replied. Whitey, you been a good boss ‘an all but fifty dollars a month ain’t enough to keep me ‘an my pard Leroy here on. We didn’t sign up but for workin’ cattle. I’m sorry, I don’t want it held agin’ us none but we’s taking to the trail away from all this.”

Whitey nodded his resignation, “I understand and won’t hold it against any of you if you leave. As I said, I didn’t hire you as shootist.”

That evening it was decided that with only eight men left, two twelve hour shifts would be needed consisting of three range riders and one scout with a long gun keeping the three safe from sharp shooters.

It was then that Whitey decided to write his brother for help.

In his letter he explained the situation and laid out a plan that not only would get the law off his tail but put the fear of God into the Englishman and his riders.

He wrote that if the first plan was not able to be implemented that Moose would then have to just go ahead and bust him out of jail. The second plan would be no problem for the younger but huge brother, seeing as no iron bar made could stand up to his huge hands. Still, when Moose read the letter he truly hoped the first plan was going to be the one chosen.

By the time Moose had left his farm in Missouri pot shots taken at Whitey’s men was a near daily occurrence. At the rate of attacks it would only be a matter of time before one or more of Whitey’s men was hit.

Moose drove his mammoth mule with little rest onward towards Montana. Most folk view a mule as a stubborn creature that plods away at their own leisurely pace. Those mules born and bred in Missouri though were known for their power and fleetness of foot. Mules were known to outrace and able to run a good horse into the ground. Crossing the mountains the mule once again has the advantage, having bigger hooves for a surer grip on rocky terrain. Across sand those large hooves act as a camel’s would by keeping the beast from sinking into the sand. They can eat nearly anything growing and can go without water for long spells. In Moose’s case, the big advantage was that it was the only animal capable of carrying his weight.

Making his way over prairie, desert mountains and rock strewn soil, Moose and his mule gobbled up the miles between Missouri and Montana.

It was no surprise then that Moose showed up sooner than his brother anticipated.

 

  The coming of dawn brought the coming of Moose. Riding up to the ranch house, Moose was met by one of the men who’s duty it was to keep an eye out for trouble. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him until he ran and got Whitey to come see the stranger on a mule.

Whitey broke out in a big grin when he saw the huge man riding in on the over sized beast. Loping along faster than a horse could gallop, the two soon rode into the Ranches corral  where the Giant dismounted.

Seeing what had arrived, the men backed away in fear from the corral. Not only had they never even heard of a Mammoth Mule, but they weren’t even sure it’s rider was strictly human.

“Boy’s! I’d like you all to meet my baby brother, Moose. Moose, these here are what’s left of my hired hands.”

In a deep rumble that sounded as if it had its beginnings somewhere near the nation of China, Moose cleared his throat and holding out his hand in friendship, greeted them.

After each had shaken the mighty man’s hand they  wandered towards the house. Snodgrass, as the mule was called by, was led to a hay pile outside the barn first by Moose where he dove into eating to his heart’s content. “Don’t tie him up,” Moose warned,” it just pisses him off doing that. He won’t wander off nowhere, he likes me too much. Besides, I’m bigger than he is. Har, har, har.”

Resting on the homes large front porch, the cook came out with coffee and nearly dropped the pot in fright upon seeing Moose. That seemed to lighten the mood as the men had a hardy laugh.

“We need to go over the plan I have in mind,” Whitey told them. “what we need to do is get the law off of me so I can have the time to notify the Governor of what all is going on here. The last thing a politician wants is a range war over water rights. What I’m figuring is he’ll most likely send some troops over here Crab Tree to stalemate things until the courts can have a fair look at things. To have the freedom to do that though I need it to look like I was either run off or killed because if I stick my neck out in the open, I’ll be tried and sentenced before an honest court gets the chance to hear my case. Then there’s the folks here that are too scared of the James outfit to stand up and push back against the corruption going on. What we need to do is make them afraid of something even worse than Mister Englishman James. They’ll have to choice between the two to see who they obey and who they side against. I’m  thinking Moose here could just about frighten the dickens, no pun intended to our good Sheriff, out of most folk. If we can strike the fear of God into the town’s people, it will make it much harder for the Sheriff and the Judge to be buddy buddy in their ways.

Since both are elected officials, both will have the worry in the back of their minds of losing the next election if they can’t frighten the folk into voting for ‘em. So, gather round and I’ll tell what I’m thinking…”

 

Chapter 3

The creaky wooden batwing doors of the Cactus saloon of banged open as if a dust devil was behind the thrust. Darkness replaced light as a Giant form stood blocking the entrance. All heads turned and lifted drinks were put back down as the crowd squinted in the saloons dim light to see just what or who could have plugged up the entire doorway.

What the patrons saw first was a pair of huge boots, too large to be real yet they caused the floorboards to sag downward in a protesting squeal. As their vision drifted up ward, a single holster could be seen hanging low down from the Giant’s hips. From the holsters no strap leather top protruded a pistol grip handle the size of most wooden legs. A vest made from a single spotted cowhide covered a double stitched sail canvas collared shirt sporting buttons the size of silver dollars. No head was visible.

Slowly the massive form began bending at the knees giving room enough so the door jams lintel wouldn’t be fractured from the barrel sized head trying to enter the saloons interior.

Every patron to a man backed away from the form in the doorway leaving drinks, gambling money and winning poker hands to lie untouched. Suddenly the rumble started.

In harmony with the sound of the saloon floors failing wooden support beams was the sound like a steam locomotives boiler ready to blow itself apart. It was no hot iron pressure vessel but the voice of the statue sized man wasn’t wearing a Texas ten gallon hat, no such luck, it held at least thirty gallons if it held a quart.

As large as cue balls, the Giants eye’s scanned each patron as it spoke. “I’m lookin’ for a man that goes by the name Whitey” the rolling thunder questioned, “Is he in here?”

Silence.

“Well? Is he here!” The large mirror behind the bar shook precariously on its anchors. Glasses moved themselves away on tables and more than a few pants became wet from sheepish bladders.

An average sized looking frightened cowpoke rose slowly on unsteady legs from one of the furthest placed gambling tables. Holding his hat between both hands up against his belly, the aghast cattleman nodded in stark fear.

“I, uh, I’m called Whitey by some Sir. Is it me you’s looking for?

“Might be, your last name’s Cholack?”

“Y-yes Sir. Whitey Cholack Sir, that’s the name my Mama gave me… after her brother Whitey. I own the Ranch just north of town”

“Are you ready to leave this world mister ranch owner?” The bull Giant’s voice rumbled.

Slowly the massive right hand edged itself lower towards the holster carrying the custom made over sized pistol on his hip. The man called Whitey Cholack tried to back away from his certain demise but the rear wooden wall stopped his escape. The terrified looking cowpunchers arms extended forward as if he could fend off the blast that was sure to come with only his bare hands.

Removing what looked like an over sized model of a Colt 45 such as the type used as a hanging sign above a Gunsmith’s door, the Giant tilted the massive barrel and leveled it at the quaking man before him.

The big man spun the gleaming cylinder with his huge paw. Round and round the cylinder spun as the meager light from the doorway reflected off each of the loaded chambers like a strobe light. Mesmerized, the crowd stared as if the spinning silver cylinder were a roulette wheel with someone’s fortune or misfortune being held in the balance. It did not click, rather it clacked. As dissimilar as a click of a pen knife closing is to a rail cars wheel clacking on each rail joint, the cylinder spun testing the nerves of each watcher. When it finally came to a halt, all breathing stopped. One man’s nerve broke and he ran screaming for the door holding his head as if in pain. 

Later accounts by some told of a muzzle opening that was so big a normal man’s hand could have reached inside it to fondle the Giant lead ball within.

The jaw dropped patrons began to slowly edge themselves away from the line of fire, leaving a part down the center of the crowd like a church’s isle. No more than thirty feet away from each other, the huge gun and shaking cowpoke faced each other off.

The Giants sausage sized finger slid easily into the Mason jar sized trigger guard and began wrapping itself around the gleaming thick steel trigger. With a quick tug, the cannon sized gun came to life.

The explosion that ensued from that gaping muzzle reminded those who were gold miners of being trapped inside a mine during a blast. A ball of fire the size of a whiskey keg tore itself across the room catching men’s hats and clothing on fire as it passed by. Like thunder following the blinding flash of a lightning bolt, the concussion of the blast bowled even the soberest man off his feet. A Military cannon could not have produced the cloud of smoke as the fired pistol did. Not a soul within the place had the magical vision to see through the explosions cloud of acrid, eye burning white fog. Deafened, the crowd stood motionless as if fearing any movement would draw the ire of the Giant their way.

When finally the cloud began to lift, it was with the help of a fresh breeze blowing from where the rear wall once stood. Bright sunlight streamed through the barn door sized hole. For the first time in the saloons history, patrons could clearly see the filth and shoddy workmanship that for years had been hidden by the gloomy darkness. Looking back and forth as they hesitantly rose from their fallen position, the crowd stared in stunned silence as they searched for the body of the man called Whitey.

“M-my God! Whitey done got blowed to smithereens!” One man gasped. Still, no one inside dared to move except to slap out the fires of their burnt clothing.

Finished with the job he had come for, the Giant smiled then turned and with footsteps longer than a grown man could jump, the beast of a man thudded loudly out of the saloon. Once again, he stooped to pass under the doors frame.

Once outside, Moose, turned and quickly ran with unusual swiftness and dexterity to the rear of the saloon. Rounding the corner he came to a halt in front of the man he had just ‘Blown away’.

The blasted cowpoke also known as his brother Whitey, stood there slapping at his smoldering cloths with his hands laughing.

“My Gosh Moose. How much powder did you charge that monster with? I figured on having that cannon of yours make a lot of smoke, enough for me to walk out of there unseen but Good Lord,  I never thought I’d be able to step outside through the hole it made!”

“Better to error on the side of caution brother, to tell the truth it did give my hand a good slap!”

Moose removed the large western brimmed hat and peaked around the corner to make sure no one followed him. He looked back at Whitey and pointed to where he had tied up Whitey’s horse and his mule in the alleyway. “C’mon brother, daylights burnin’ away and we got to get you safely hid in the mountains.”

After sneaking out of town by riding behind the clustered buildings, they headed south toward Medicine Lodge Creek in Idaho along an old rarely used Indian trail.

Setting up camp along the mountain top ridge that divided Montana from Idaho, the two ate a meal of freshly killed mountain goat and biscuits they had carried inside of their pack.

After the meal, the two planned their next move.

“What we need to do now is build on the recent fright you gave those inside the saloon. We need to get the towns folks in the same mindset as those in the saloon. Once we get the whole town in jitters, Sheriff Dickens and Judge Cooperman will be too busy trying to calm their fears to worry about Mister James.” Moose nodded in agreement and Whitey continued.

“As it stands, having that fence line up gives James the right to take shots at our men if he can prove our hands were on his side of the land. Right now, he’s claiming both sides of the creek are on his land. If our men can keep tearing down his fence line during the night, our cattle can get watered. It ain’t a permanent solution but between you terrorizing the town and me missing and being hunted for, it should hold off any legal action from those two until my letter reaches the Governor and he sends help.”

“I guess I’d better head back to Crab Tree and stir the pot then. Are you staying up here or are you going to head down to Medicine Lodge Creek where it’s warmer.”

“I’ll head south some more to the creek. Tomorrow morning we’ll part ways.” Then stopping as if he just remembered something, Whitey told his brother, “When you go back, stop at the Ranch first and make sure all’s OK there. Tell the men what’s going on but don’t tell any of them what direction I headed off to just in case one of them gets caught and is forced to spill the beans. The less they know, the better they’ll be off.”

Peering at the Ranch house from the tree line, Percival James and one of his rougher men scouted the place out. “I don’t see no sign of Whitey nor that Giant, whoever he is, around the place Boss. Maybe Whitey did get blowed away for real.”

Sneering over at the big man, James shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous. No one gets killed so badly that he leaves no sign. There wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen from the spot he stood. No, somehow he escaped the deadly assault that was surely meant for him.”

“Then who was this Giant fella? I saw him with my own eyes Mister James. He had vengeance written all over his face as he pulled that trigger. He must’a had it in for Whitey for sure. He had to come from somewhere’s we don’t know about, maybe he and Whitey had a grudge going from years back before Whitey settled here.”

Lifting his eyes to the heavens James responded more to himself than the man who had just spoken, “Astute thinking for a lumbering ox. Though in truth, each of us has a past life now don’t we?”

“Yes we..”

“I wasn’t looking for an answer you great lummox! Now let’s get on back to my ranch. I’m starving half to death and missed tea hours ago!”

Not knowing if being termed a ‘great lumox’ was an insult or a compliment the hand decided to remain quiet and went on to retrieve their horses.

 

Chapter 4

What the two trespassers on Whitey’s land didn’t know was that the Giant in question sat perched listening to their conversation on the lowest and sturdiest limb in the tree they stood under.

Landing on his feet with a resounding thud, Moose ran back to where he had tied up his mule and continued on to the ranch house where he would meet up with the hands. Typical of a non wilderness wise person, James had given away his presence over a mile away by wearing a bright red hunting overcoat. It was this coat that James wore that let Moose follow James and his cohort as they tried their best to travel towards Whitey’s ranch house unseen. Moose had already determined where the best place to observe the house from and there he climbed the tree hoping neither would look skyward and discover him when they arrived.

“So Whitey is safe and hidden away till I send for him” Moose told the gathered men. “I also overheard Mister James say they have no idea who I am. They believe it was a grudge killing resulting from a past dispute. James is convinced Whitey escaped in the cloud of smoke but can’t prove it and neither man knew whatever became of me after the shooting.” Smiling wickedly, Moose told them, “Come tomorrow, I’m going to let the town know I haven’t left yet.”

Before the men parted to their rounds, Moose made sure each man still rode for the brand.

“We ain’t goin’ no place Mister Moose, as a matter of fact, I’m itchen’ to see what that there Englishman is made of. Bring him on I say!”

 

Chapter 5

Fred Johnstone was sleeping soundly in his room above his dry goods store, when awoke to a sudden crash outside. Lifting the window he peered out into the morning darkness to see what had made the infernal sound. The sound of splintering wood and a second crash made him lean out further in order to see. What he saw terrified him. There below and heading his way was the largest beast he had ever dreamed. Not even a nightmare could compete.

As Moose made his way down the street, he stopped time and time again to tear off the wooden roof overhanging each store’s walkway. Grabbing a post, he yanked mightily at it until it and the supported roof came tumbling down. Windows broke and storefront signs tumbled into the street adding to the noise.

Lanterns were lit and windows thrown open to the sound of screaming women and crying children. Plodding beside the man looking Giant, walked the biggest mule eyes had ever seen. Even non Catholics crossed themselves and called on Jesus, Mary and Joseph to save them.

No one had the sand to step out front to confront the Giant, instead most men skedaddled out the rear doors to the dry arroyo behind the buildings. Some relented and returned to save their wives and children before quickly returning to the wash.

By dawn the place had the looks of a tornado hit town. Few front windows remained intact and every walkway roof hung either at crooked angles or upon the ground in a heap.

Word reached The James ranch and having ownership of many of the buildings, Percival James came running. What he saw made his guts churn and bubble until he rushed to the nearest outhouse.

Meanwhile back at Whitey’s ranch, Moose was taking a bath trying to clean off the dirt and splinters the roofs had poured down on him. Using a cattle trough as a tub, he enjoyed replaying the recent event in his head and laughed from time to time to the amusement of the men.

The man Whitey had hired as Foreman, Tom Jeffers, approached Moose saying he and another hand should go into town to see what the towns folk were saying about the ruin of their town. Acting as innocent cowpokes, he told Moose they could not only hear what folks was saying but could spread the rumor that what had just occurred was nothing compared to what they had heard the Giant was about to do in the next few days to Crab Tree.

Sheriff Dickens stood upon the ruined jailhouse porch trying to calm the crowd. Lifting his hands into the air he pleaded for quiet. When the crowd eventually tired of it, a hush fell and Dickens finally gained control of the angry mob. “I’m telling you! I have no idea what or who this Giant is.” He shouted. “But, as you all know, I’m dedicating myself to finding out, even if it kills me!”

“It will!” someone shouted while others murmured in agreement.

“Enough of that! I’m sayin’ that I’m sending a post to the Governor declaring an emergency here. Only the Army can take this Giant on!”

Another anonymous voice shouted, “How long will that take? By the time troops get here there ain’t gonna be no town left. I heard that he’s comin’ back here soon to finish the job!”

“Well, given the time it takes to deliver the request and the Governor makes a decision and arrives with the troops, I’d say no more than a month or two!”

The crowd groaned and fist were now being raised.

The judge, seeing that Sheriff Dickens was in over his head sidled up next to him an the makeshift podium that until yesterday was a well made wooden walkway. Leaning into the Sheriffs ear he smiled broadly but his whispered words burnt like pouring acid onto skin.

“Dickens, you better get your ass on the trail of the scoundrel that did this!  You know damn well the Governor will never send troops all this way to capture a single man that you can’t even pin a capital crime on. We have an election in less than six months! You better believe it that if we lose then whoever takes our places will eventually find how we squandered the money folks paid in taxes. That silver saddle you ride so proudly on will be used  to sit your ass upon as they kick out your horse and dangle you from the rope!”

Poking Dickens in the chest with his pudgy finger, Judge Cooperman snarled, “Now you gather up some men like a posse and promise them high pay for riding with you, ten dollars a day now, you hear? I want that man or creature found by tonight!”

Whitey’s man. Tom Jeffers, kept an open eye and ear to all that was being said and done. He noted with interest that Mister James had earlier spent time with the judge. It was shortly afterward that the Judge confronted Dickens about capturing the Giant.

Moose sat upon the porch stoop having found out earlier that it was strong enough to hold him without collapsing. As Foreman Jeffers relayed the information to him, it confirmed that Whitey’s plan was working out as planned.

The Sheriff was now too caught up with the issue of the Giant to worry about enforcing the Court summons given to Whitey. The Judge also had too much on his mind to consider such a menial task as convicting and sending off to jail a man he knew to be innocent.

“This damn Giant has ruined everything!” He cried.

Three nights later it was the other side of the street that became the focus of the Giants wrath.  Along with some torn off porch overhangs, the Court house was broken into and trashed. It would take weeks to re file all the thrown about documents properly, save one, the original complaint to the court James had filed against Whitey Cholack. That was tucked away safely in Moose’s only pants pocket.

The Sheriff would never get the chance to send for help, not would it have helped anyway.

A gathering of the townsfolk that afternoon called for heads to roll. The Judge decided it was a good time to retire from office and was seen headed out of town in his black coach. Sheriff Dickens locked himself inside his own jail to prevent the mob from stringing him up like a ham in smoke house. During the night he fled on foot into the prairie and was never heard of agin. Mister James, the belligerent Englishman was another matter though.  He would require a special talking to in order to see things in a different light.

That night he had his own special meeting with the Giant.

As the evening meal was finishing, Percival James requested his smoking pipe and his nightcap, a glass of sherry. Boswell, the longtime James household man servant was deftly carrying both in on an ornately carved platter made from the very rare Chinese tree, the huanghuali when the house shook on its foundation. Thinking a bomb had exploded, Boswell forgot his place as the staid and unshakable servant and threw the platter ceiling ward.  The great rooms window where Percival had been reclining in his polished leather hobbed nail chair,  exploded into pieces as frame and all, burst inward with a loud splintering crash. There in the blank space which had moments before held the multi paned plate glass window, stood Moose.

Before Percival could respond, either to the crashing window or the expensive and age old Meerschaum smoking pipe that bounced off his head, a massive claw of a hand reached out and wrapped it’s sausage thick fingers around the neck of Percival James. 

The poor English cattleman’s eyes bulged in terror as he was lifted bodily by his neck and tossed like a child’s doll onto the floor, Boswell shat his pants.  A Giant leg, the size of a fallen log, then entered the room through the gaping hole. It was soon followed by the contorted body of the Giant as Moose tried his best to fit through the four foot wide by six foot tall opening. Once inside Moose stood to his full height and with his index finger pointed it at the terrified Percival James and then with the ‘come hither’ sign, demanded James to rise and step forward.

In the account later told by Boswell to the Captain in charge of the troops that arrived shortly after the James’s household invasion, Boswell detailed the following conversation between the Giant and Mister James.

“Who are you and why are you terrifying my house?”

“I am seeking justice for your sins!” The Giant bellowed.

“Sins? I have no sins Sir, none at all.”

Without saying a word, the Giant produced a sheet of paper and placed it on the lap of the shaking Percival. Looking downward at the placed paper, James realized it was the falsified complaint he had lodged against Whitey.

“Oh…That? I-I w-was going to ask for its dismissal in the morning. Yes Sir, I was going to do just that. I misjudged my dear neighbor terribly and when I saw that I had made an error in calculating our property lines I immediately decided that by tomorrow afternoon every fence and post would be removed.”

With a deep rumble in his depths, the Giant chuckled saying, “They are already down and gone. Now I will deal with you!” Moose’s right hand slowly crept downward until his massive fingers touched the carved pistol grip protruding from the holster.

James covered his head and screamed, “Please, Don’t shoot me! I heard what that cannon did to Whitey. Let me go and I promise to return to the small village back in England where I came from. I had only wanted to become rich!”

“Your greed has ruined you. I will return in three days. If you are still here I will stone by stone and board by board dismantle this house and then turn my wrath upon you! Do you understand Mister Englishman!”

‘Yes, yes, a perfectly fair and reasonable request.”

 

Chapter 6

Moose made his way swiftly back to the place where Whitey waited for word on what had come about. After explaining the events and outcome, Moose patted Whitey’s bay on the rump and said, “Better pack up brother, the problem is solved. We gotta’ get back.”

“What about the troops I sent for, how will I explain the trip they made was for naught?”

“Oh them? They’re not coming. The Army told the Governor  that they have their hands full with some Indian problem going on and can’t spare even a man. The Governor wrote you back and said he had decided to remove Judge Cooperman from the bench and that he is sending out his replacement. The new Judge should arrive shortly. He might even be here by now, I didn’t check.”

Upon their return to Crab Tree, the two brothers rode over to the James’s Ranch to see if James had held up his end of the bargain and returned to England. Upon arriving, they found the entire staff and cowhands had abandoned the place… all except one, Boswell.

When asked by Whitey why he had never left, Boswell explained why he had stayed behind.

“Well Sir, the truth being told, though I soiled myself in terror from the event, I discovered why the West is such an enigma to those not living here. I clearly saw what a thief and a man of low character Mister James was. What is acceptable behavior elsewhere is considered taboo here in the West. I could not in all good conscience, return to work for the scoundrel Percival anymore for fear of being painted with the same brush as him. Therefore, I had decided to wait until your return to ask if you might consider taking me on as your man. You will find me a handy person to have as I am quite capable of balancing the books and running a household. What do you say?”

“Well, I thought maybe my kid brother here could do most of that.”

Before Boswell could answer, The deep rumbling voice of Moose broke in.

“Sorry brother, as much as I enjoyed playing Jack and the Beanstalk with you, I really want to return home to my farm. Besides, harvest time is just around the corner and I need to be there for that.”

Whitey kicked the dirt with his toe and shrugged his shoulders. Looking up at Boswell he asked, “Can you ride a horse?”

“Not in the least but I am willing to learn Sir.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need to know that stuff anyway if you’re in the house all day. Alright, I’ll give you a shot Boswell. But do me a favor, Stop calling me Sir, my men will never let me here the end of it if you go around calling me that!”

“Yes Sir!”

 

The new judge determined after an extensive investigation into the James / Cholack affair, that Percival James had filed false complaints, had colluded with the Sheriff to illegally drive Whitey from his property and ruin his cattle business by denying his cattle water. He determined the damages done to Mister Cholack’s business and was rewarded the abandoned ranch that Mister James had once owned as compensation.

The town recovered and to this day no one knows who the big Giant was, where he came from or where he disappeared to.

The Giant, Moose returned to Missouri with his mule and harvested the crops that were in the ground at the time that his brother had called on him for help. He has fired his pistol three more times since leaving Montana then but those are for another story.

Boswell was a blessing to the ranch as Whitey saw his profits increase due to the brilliance of the man in charge of the books. Boswell learned to ride a horse but admittedly had a great fear of them. In horror, he shat his pants upon his first ride.

                                                                       The End

 

 

 

LUCKY FOOT

baby foot

Donny and his younger brother crept through the tall Texas scrub towards the rocky outcrop where minutes before they heard the apparent screams of a young girl. Turning his head Donny quietly cautioned his impatient brother, “I tell ya’ it’s a Comanche trick Darnell” he whispered, “ that ain’t no innocent white woman in distress you hear screaming off in the distance. Least ways she ain’t one no more. Them devils have a nasty habit of stealing young girls then as they grow up they’s used to draw those to ‘em that just want to help. They ain’t white no more but they ain’t Indian neither, what they is, is bait! ”

At twenty three, Darnell was still prone to rash impatience. He nervously stroked the sparse blond whisker stubble on his chin. “I don’t know Donny, I am not convinced. I say we hurry up and save her! Why it might just be a bunch a no good rustlers that is tryin’ to have their way with a helpless traveler.”

At the age of thirty Donny had seen and heard more of the West than his younger brother had so it gave him an edge on wisdom. Blond and blue eyed like his younger brother, the two looked like a pair of bookends except for an old scar that cut across Donny’s forehead.

“We’ll sneak up a bit closer till we get to the shorter brush, but whatever you do Darnell, do not lift your head to take a look. Them Comanche is scourin’ the tops of this brush waiting for some unsuspecting cow poke to go in for the rescue. They know whites and Mexicans have this thing about savin’ a screamin’ woman. Once you raise up your head, they’ll see ya’ and a minute later you all will be playin’ a card game with the devil with your throat cut.”

Taking over an hour to travel the hundred or so yards, they were finally in range to view the tied up screaming girl. Without raising up, the brothers could now partially see between the scrub. In the clearing ahead of them the girl sat on the ground with her hands behind her back tied to a small dead Mesquite tree.

Donny crept silently up next to his brother and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Oh, they’s good all right!” He whispered, “Before we do anything further, you tell me exactly what you see.”

“Damn Donny, this isn’t the time for a classroom lecture, that poor girl needs our help, and fast!”

In a sharp whisper, Donny repeated, “Describe to me what you see!”

 “God, if you must know, I see a young brown haired girl, maybe eighteen years old, wearing a dirty dress and bare feet tied up by Indians waiting to be rescued. That is what I see brother! What in all your great Western wisdom do you see that is any different?”

“Plenty. First off, look at her skin, what looks like dirt ain’t, she’s darker than a city bred white girl. How many women do you know other than a farmer’s wife allows herself to get that dark from the sun? None, women prefer to be pale skinned. Then take a look at her dress. What girl do you know would wear a dress that many sizes too big? Not only that, look between her legs, no personals being worn!   

You know of a girl who’d go around showin’ off her kahoochie like that? Now git your eyes off of that area an’ look at her feet. The bottoms are as calloused as a cowboy’s ass on a cattle drive. No white girl would be caught dead lookin’ like that. Indians ain’t up to fashion or knowin’ what a woman dresses like. That dress was probably taken off an older woman who was a lot heavier. Look how baggy it is. Our Maw Maw used to have a dress like that, remember? Ain’t no young girl gonna’ be seen dead in such a thing! Now, look closely at her hair. It’s tied up in the Comanche fashion an’ there sure ain’t no style to her cut.

No Sir Darnell, that there is what’s called bait! Let’s move on back a bit where we don’t have to whisper. Besides, They’s only gonna’ wait for so long before they figure out we didn’t get fooled”

A half hour later they had backed off a good fifty or so yards. It was a scorcher of a day and both were glad to be hidden in the cooler shade of large mesquite tree.

Laying motionless Darnell looked over to his brother. Darnell could now see the errors of his ways. He felt pride welling up inside him as he stared at his brother. Finally having to no longer whisper so quietly, Darnell yet took the precaution of speaking in a low tone.

“Damn but you’re good Donny!” He said. “If it had been me, I would have rushed on out there like a sheep going to slaughter. I apologize for the Western wisdom crack, you were right. What do we do now?”

“Well, for the last two days we’ve been bein’ tailed by a band of about ten or so. I didn’t want to get you all worked up so I kept it to myself. They’ve been pacing us a couple miles to the north as we travel west. The closer we get to Amarillo the safer we get. I figured they only had a day or two left to make their move if they planned to make one. I guess this here is where they planned to trick us”

Darnell shook his head saying, “Here I was thinking we had the trail to ourselves. I’ve actually been keeping a good eye out for trouble but was always looking behind us.”

Donny looked over at his brother, “Sometimes they will have a few tail from behind to get noticed. That way you think you spotted them. Your attention is drawn to that group and meanwhile the real trouble is riding right beside ya’. Ya’ get so intent on watchin’ your behind that they can ride right upside you before you know it.”

“I wished I had stayed in Texas learning all this Western like keeping alive stuff rather than being forced to attend school back East.”

“You’ll have plenty of time for learning the Western way brother, just as long as we can survive that long! Besides, one of us needed to learn our letters, how else were we gonna’ run our new bought ranch?”

The two lay hidden in the brush for what seemed like hours to Darnell before the girl gave up yelling. By then she was as hoarse sounding as an old saloon whore who smoked too much. Not long after she quit screaming the cautious head of an Indian popped up, looked quickly around and disappeared. Soon his head was followed by others wearing disgruntled and frustrated looks.

Donny lightly touched Darnell’s arm and again in a whisper told him, “Just be still brother. If we’re lucky they’ll head back to where their horses are tied up at and we can sneak back to ours and skedaddle out of here without bein’ seen.”  

Suddenly the brothers heard what sounded like punch and someone gasping for air. The beating continued with the brothers giving each other questioning looks.

Lightly pressing on his brother’s shoulder Donny raised up enough to see if he could tell what or who was getting the beating. After a couple of heartbeats Donny lowered himself slowly back down.

“Damn it, they’s takin’ it out on the girl Darnell. Comanche bastard! Blame everyone else for their own failures. They know we’re somewhere nearby and by us not fallin’ for their trick, they feel the girl failed at her job.”

A loud slap and thud where heard then someone urinating.

Darnell face was red with anger. “Are they pissing on her?”

“Yup, at least one of ‘em is. Probably the one who owns her. He’s tryin’ to save face.”

“Are we just going to lay here like nothing is happening and let them beat her to death?”

“They won’t kill her, if they did, who would do their cooking and do the camp chores? No, they’ll beat her till she loses consciousness then leave her behind. If she hasn’t made it to the agreed upon meeting spot by nightfall, they’ll figure she up and died. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll wake up quick like and head for their camp and make no complaints about the beating she just got.”

“What are you saying? I can’t believe my own brother would say something that cruel!”

“It ain’t me! It’s them you gotta’ be pissed at! That’s the way they is. She was most likely born to a captive or is a captive herself. She ain’t one of their tribe, no more than a camp dog is. It’s what they do to captives, use ‘em and throw ‘em away when they ain’t of any further use. She’ll never be part of the tribe, not like a warriors wife is.”

A few minutes later they could hear the Indians making their way quietly back to where their horses were being kept. The young girl still lay unmoving when the brothers heard the distinct sounds of horses galloping off to the east.

Darnell looked questioning at his brother and asked, “Can we go now and see if she is still alive? If she’s still breathing we need to help her.”

“Sure, they rode off away from Amarillo. They’ll get back to wherever their band’s camped out at without pay’n the girl no more mind. If they were interested in keepin’ her, they woulda’ just rode off a couple of miles and made camp waiting for her return. It’s their way of disciplining children and women. Since they rode off instead, I’m figgerin’ they left her to die.”

The two carefully made their way through the brush until they could plainly see the girl. Taking one last look around, they stepped into the clearing.

Looking down at the girl, they could see how badly she had been beaten. Her face was battered black and blue with both eyes swollen shut. She may have been pretty but thinking that now was ludicrous. There wasn’t much that wasn’t bleeding, swollen or deeply bruised and her damp hair smelled of urine.

Darnell turned aside and putting his knuckles into his mouth swore. “What the hell kind of animals are these people? I couldn’t even do that to my worst enemy.”

Meanwhile Donny removed his shirt then knelt down and lifting her head placed his shirt under it. “Darnell, go get the horses, bring ‘em here and then give me one of the canteens. She’s got a mouth full of blood. With all this blood, we can’t tell if a ribs been broke an’ punched a lung or if she just lost some teeth. Loosen up a blanket from behind my saddle too.”

Darnell went speeding off no longer fearing the Indians. He was too upset. When he returned, Donny had removed the girls torn dress so they could check her other injuries. “Take that canteen and clear out her mouth and nose real well while I tear my extra shirt into strips. She needs some cleaning up and I think her wrist might be broke, look how swollen it is.”  

Meanwhile Donny walked over to his horse and untied his blanket from behind the saddle. After cutting a hole in the center with his knife, he fashioned a crude Mexican style serape to replace her missing clothes. Darnell grabbed the discarded dress and soaking it with water from the canteen, washed her face, mouth and blood off of her chest.  

Satisfied she was as clean as she could be, Darnell knelt beside her and rotated her wrist checking for broken bones. “I think they just tore up her ligaments by beating her when her hands were tied, I don’t feel any grinding of bones.”

Knowing that an expert eye was needed to keep watch for trouble, Donny handed over the responsibility of caring for the girl to Darnell. “I need to keep us safe and keep our larder full of fresh game to eat. Caring for her is going to have to be up to you till we reach the ranch. I sound like you picked up some Doctoring skills back East at school. You know something about caring for wounds?”

“As a matter of fact I do. To help support myself back East during the summer school breaks, I took a job helping out an old Doctor to make his house calls. Much of it was just driving the buggy but there came times I had to assist him in surgery too.”

Donny then gladly deferred the girls care to Darnell.

 A couple of crude stitches to the gash on her scalp slowed the rest of the bleeding. She had not regained consciousness yet but Darnell thought that might be for the better. He pried open her cleaned out mouth to find a huge gash where her teeth had been driven almost through her cheek. It was this gash that had filled her mouth with blood. There was little he could do for that wound but he knew time would close it.

Donny decided to make camp right there rather than try to get her on a horse. She remained unconscious so they built a small fire without the fear of any further attack. By now the group of Comanche’s were far beyond camp fire sight. 

 Sometime during the night, the girl woke up and moaned. Darnell was immediately at her side trying his best to calm her and dribbled the cool canteen water over her lips.

She jerked up in fright but the need for water over rode her fear and she settled back down. She drank as a child does when learning to use a cup. Spilling more on herself than what made it down her throat. She winced in pain at each swallow. Darnell let her drink though she wasted most of it, there was plenty more water in the other canteens. She finally pushed the canteen away and lay back upon the rolled up shirt pillow where she once again passed out.

Donny woke up before dawn and duck walked over to where the girl lay. Darnell was up and squatting beside her. Pointing to her in the morning darkness, Donny asked, “Do you think she will be alright? I’m not much for human injuries, now if she were a cow, that’d be different.”

Darnell had spent the night beside the girl. “I suppose so.” He answered. “We’ll have to see come daylight when I can see better. They kicked her belly and ribs up pretty good. I hope she ain’t bleedin’ inside.”

 “Do you want me to sit up with her so’s you can get some shut eye?”

Darnell started blowing on the coals that his brother had banked when they retired for the night. “Naw, I’m fine, I’m used to bein’ awake most the night. It comes with studying for college exams. Besides, she isn’t going to wake up for a bit yet and I was going to make up another pot of coffee anyway.”

When morning broke open it was a fairly uneventful event. The sun hid itself behind a grey cloud bank that had moved in from the west during the late night hours. The chill in the morning air meant the summer had waned and fall was going to be soon upon them.  If they were going to get the ranch set up for winter they needed to be moving on.

Donny finished pouring himself another cup of coffee and started refilling Darnell’s when he asked about the girl. “Is she still alive? She looks kind of dead to me.”

“She’s alive but for how long I don’t know. I noticed fresh blood comin’ from between her legs. I guess her belly got it worse’n we thought. Poor kid. A woman’s kind of fragile down that way.”

Donny wandered over to where the girl lay. Looking down at her he felt a pang of sympathy run through him. Reaching down he pulled the cover over her that his brother had placed on her but had slipped during the night. He sighed heavily and sat down next to her with his coffee.

Darnell watched the expression of care cross his brothers face and thought to himself, “No woman should ever be treated like this, Indian or white”.

Darnell’s mind traveled back to the girls he knew back east and the stark difference between those he had courted and this young girl fighting for her life. He realized how shallow most of those girls were.

They had never been asked to shoulder any serious issues but instead were kept ignorant of any day to day struggles. Comparing the two, the eastern girls reminded him of play dolls in a playhouse. Then taking his thoughts further, he began to see how truly sheltered he himself had been.

Turning to look at his brother, Darnell realized he was a child in the wilderness compared to Donny. “Hey, Donny. I need to ask you something. Be straight up and honest with me now. Am I really needed in this ranching venture or is this just a way of keeping an eye on your younger brother to keep him from getting himself into a mess?”

Donny tossed the coffee grounds from his cup and set it down. He didn’t answer right away. It was important this be settled once and for all and settled correctly.

“Every year that I drove cattle I had one dream that kept me goin’. Brother, there was times I thought it would be easier to just lay down and die rather than go one more day. Drivin’ cattle wears a body down quick. I got more bones broke than I got hairs. I got froze feet, frozen fingers and once I took too long pee’n I about froze my lizard off! Dust, I ate more dust than a farmer needed to grow a crop in. I had horses die under me and Injuns steal ‘em from under my nose. But, I’d do it all over again if it was the only way to get the money together to buy us our own ranch. Before Paw Paw died he made me promise I’d do better than he did. He always dreamed of ownin’ his own place but never got the chance. Part of it was, he could have but he didn’t trust himself. With no schoolin’ he knew any ranch he built would probably fail because he knew nothing about the books.

It’s not just knowin’ how to raise cattle but how to handle the money you make that makes or breaks a ranch. Heck, if it weren’t for Maw Maw’s cookie jar Paw Paw would a come up short time and time again. That’s why he made me promise I’d see you get schooled.

Hell Darnell, there ain’t no way I could do better’n Paw Paw without you. Both of us have dreamed of doin’ this since we was kids. I know we both imagined as kids we’d be ridin’ the range together on horseback and sing’n songs around a campfire at night, but you and I both know them was just us kids dreamin’. Truth is, ridin’ the range is hard an’ then you get home an’ find out there’s bills to be paid. No, neither of us could do this on our own. It’s both as equal partners or none at all.”

Darnell knew truth when he heard it and looking up at Donny told him, “Well, since you put it like that, I guess I could see myself sitting in a warm house comfortably sitting my desk slaving over the ranch books while you play cowboy in the snow at thirty below zero!”

Donny was about to answer when the young girl moaned and woke up.

Darnell was the first to react to the girl’s plea for more water. Rushing beside her, he grabbed up the canteen and gently lifted her head. Her hands found his as he guided the canteen to her lips. After four or five full gulps, he backed the canteen off telling her, “Not too much. I don’t want you throwing up, you swallowed a lot of blood, that and too much water will get you to throwing up.”

The girl looked up at the handsome blond haired, blue eyed young man that was kind to her and thanked him. “Thank you. But, you are in danger for my sake, Coyote Legs will lead the band back here to kill you.”

Donny made his way over and squatted beside the two on his haunches. “No, I think we’re alright Miss. They rode off to the East. I’m afraid they left you for dead. They would have come back for you before this if it were so.”

The girl looked up at Donny and replied, “I hope so. If they return, kill me quickly or I will be tormented again. Coyote legs will not let me die quickly. I failed to trap you, therefore it is he who wears the shame because it is he who owns me.”

   Darnell was looking at her with a stern look on his face. “Miss, no one owns you, not no more anyways. But tell me, why in the world did this Coyote legs fella follow us for so long? It ain’t like we got anything but a few horses between us. He coulda’ just run us down a couple days back and been done with us.

   She shrugged her shoulders and replied. “Who knows. Coyote legs does not think straight. He becomes angry and driven to foolishness for no reason. I saw with my own eyes as he choked his own mother until she was dead. No one held him to blame because they are all afraid of him and the Spirits that speaks to him. He says Spirits speak in his head and give him the power to see inside of a man’s skull so everyone fears him. If you do not, it means your death. I did hear him say recently that he wanted to take the living heart from a white man to offer up to the Spirits. Maybe it was your heart that he wanted that he chases you so far.

Darnell continued to look questioningly at her then suddenly as if forgetting his manners apologized for not introducing himself. “This is my brother Donny, my names Darnell. We are on our way to a ranch we just bought just west of Amarillo.”

“My name is Wetu Wakinyela. It means Dove in the springtime in the Lakota tongue. I am white but lived with the Lakota Sioux since I was a child.  My mother and I had become captives after a Sioux raid on our home. In that raid my father was killed and in less than a moon, my mother in her grief took her own life. I was without family so was given to an old Indian woman to be cared for. Years later while at a rendezvous, I was bought by a French trapper named La Fell just before my first blood. La Fell was a good man and was going to take me to the soldiers fort to be among my own people when I was old enough to marry. As we traveled through the land, Coyote legs of the Comanche found us before we reached the fort. La Fell was killed and since that time Coyote legs has owned me. He named me but I will no more speak that name. It has now been five winters since my first blood and I am now a woman who is again called Wetu Wakinyela.”

   Donny spoke saying, “So that makes you about eighteen, nineteen at the most. Are you with child?”

   “No, why do you ask me that?”

   “You’re bleedin’ from between your legs Miss. We saw that Comanche kickin’ your belly. I was wonderin’ if he might’a been tryin’ to kill a child within’ ya’.”

   “No, I am having my woman’s blood, that is all. It was one of these reasons that Coyote legs became so angry with me. A warrior cannot go into a woman during her bleeding time. If a warrior enters a woman whose time it is to bleed, he will lose his power and die with shame in battle. When he tied me up and I started to scream so that you would believe I was a white woman in peril, he became feverish with lust. He wanted to take me right then and would have but his warriors convinced him to wait until they had captured you. When he realized the two of you were not fooled by my screams he became very strange eyed and was going to enter me in anger even with his men standing about. As he spread me, it was then that he saw my blood, my San We. He became crazy angry and that is when he started beating me.”

Darnell shook his head saying, “I’ll get you some cloth for your bleeding Spring Dove. It’ll be a few days before your healed enough to travel so we’ll stay put right here until you can ride. Once you’re good to travel though we need to hurry off. Winters coming and we have a lot of work to do before then.”

“Where am I to ride too? I will not return to Coyote legs, he will kill me!”

Darnell glanced over at Donny before turning back to the girl. Nervously cratching his unshaved whiskers he said, “Well, I was thinking you could ride along with us to our ranch.”

Quickly glancing back at Donny, he defensively told him, “Shoot Donny, we can’t just leave her here!”

“Settle down little brother, I had the same thoughts. I’m just not sure what we’ll do with her once we get there.”

“Well, we could use a hand around the place doing the washing and do the cooking…” Looking back at Spring Dove he asked, you can cook and do wash clothes can’t you?”

“Not as a white woman does but If you teach me I will cook and do the wash as you want. I have nowhere to go and I will die here in the brush if left I am left behind. I know now that I am dead to Coyote legs or he would have come back by now.”

 

Chapter 2

 Three days after finding the girl, they broke camp and headed towards Amarillo. Each brother had brought along a spare horse and a pack mule when they left the stage at Fort Worth. To Darnell’s amazement the pack mules fared much better than the horses on the Texas plain. He had always heard mules were difficult beast, not worth the effort to own one. Spring Dove rode on Darnell’s spare mount as Donny’s was a bit too feisty for the still bruised girl. They made their way north until they hit the town of Claude, then headed west again until they reached the cool waters of Prairie Dog River. There they camped again as their new ranch was only a few hours ride south of Amarillo.

They could have made it by nightfall but decided to wait and leave in the morning. Only Donny had seen the place and that was a good six months earlier. He was sure the place would need a might of tidying up to make it habitable.

It was the hours just before dawn that Darnell awoke with the pressure building to relieve himself. Being a bit shy and city bred, he removed himself a good fifty yards out to do his watering. Donny had opened his eyes to watch his brother leave camp and kept them open until he was seen returning. It was the slight movement of a shrub in the moonlight behind Darnell that caught Donny’s eye. He instantly became alert.

When Darnell entered the camp Donny quietly bade him to lie down as if asleep. “There’s something out there moving the brush. It might just be an animal but then it might not be.”

 Quickly, Donny crept on his belly over to where the packs had been tied and removed a storm canvas from one of the packs. Creeping silently back, he then placed and shaped the canvas into the crude form of a body and placed his hat on the one end. From a distance, it appeared to resemble a sleeping cowboy. Still crawling on his belly, he slipped silently out of camp.

Darnell lay with his gun ready hidden under his blanket. His newly purchased western style big brimmed Stetson hat was tilted just enough over his eyes to hide their movement. It was getting close to dawn when the girl woke. “Hush girl,” he told her, “ Don’t move none. There’s movement in the brush. Donny’s out there somewhere taking a look see.”

Frightened, the girl obeyed the order instantly.

Meanwhile in the brush, Donny had crept to within the general area where he noted the brush movement. It had not moved since but Donny was no fool. Indians were best at waiting. That was the biggest downfall of white men. They just get too impatient.

Donny scanned the tops of the brush looking not for a head to appear but something even harder to see. With the temperature just above freezing, he scanned the area for the one thing a warm blooded animal cannot hide, their breath.

As the eastern sky broke open with a slit of golden sunshine, the sun lit vapor from the breaths of two warm blooded stalkers could be seen rising slowly from above the brush. A tight smile broke across Donny’s face. He had them spotted.

Within fifteen minutes the one vapor trail had moved closer to the camp while the other stayed put. He needed to dispatch the one staying put as he was the back up and the most dangerous in an attack. The idea was that as the closest one to camp would reach the point where he could then rush into the camp surprising everyone. Meanwhile, it was the job of the one further back to do the actual killing. The one up front would grab the attention of the camp and draw all eyes towards him, leaving the second one free to take his time aiming his accurate and deadly fire into the group.

Donny crept unseen and unheard to within ten feet of the furthest attacker. He was surprised to see one of the Comanche’s that had ridden off with Coyote Legs. That would mean that the one in front must be Coyote Legs himself!

Silently gathering his Legs under him Donny formed into a human spring. With his knife pointed forward he sprung.

Hearing the slight sound of Donny’s launch behind him, the Indian turned his head in surprise. At the same time, the tip of Donny’s knife entered his throat just under the chin. immediately it silenced the murderous stalker.

Coyote Legs had no idea what had just happened to his back up so he confidently continued silently onward to the camp until he reached the point of no return.

Having made his way unnoticed as close as he could get, Coyote Legs then leaped up with a terrible scream.  Running madly into the camp with his rifle ready to blast the sleeping trio, he faltered.

Two things surprised and confused Coyote Legs causing him to falter in his attack. The first was that the trio seemed unconcerned that he was rushing the camp screaming as if sound alone would kill them. None jumped up in fright.  The second was that there were no well aimed rifle slugs plowing into the sleeping forms from behind him. A catch in the running Indians scream showed Darnell that Coyote Legs had come to the conclusion that something was very wrong. Dropping his voice to a questioning shout, Coyote Legs turned to look behind him to see why no gunshots from his fellow Indian had not been fired.

He began to doubt the effectiveness of his plan and slowed his attack, which gave Darnell plenty of time to stick the tip of his pistol barrel from under the blanket and fire away five times in rapid succession.

Hearing the familiar sound of Darnell’s pistol, he calmly rose and made his way in the morning sunlight back to the camp. There he found Coyote Legs sprawled head first in the embers of the previous night’s campfire. Pulling him from the hot embers, Donny rolled him over onto his back.

“Nice shooting brother, I knew my old gun would do you well.”

Donny sat still wrapped in his bedroll looking at the smoking revolver. “Oh my God, I shot him dead!”

Five times the lead slugs had punched the life out of the insane Indian called Coyote legs and five times Donny had shot his first man to death.

Donny went back to retrieve the body of the Indian he had ambushed back in the brush. He knew the Indian had been bound and determined to kill him but Donny reasoned that even an enemy deserves a proper send off to the happy hunting grounds.

After the burials, Donny turned to Darnell and asked, “How you doing Brother? I meant to ask earlier on but we’ve been too busy here for a chat.”

“I’ll do OK. I never imagined I’d have to kill somebody but then maybe in the back of my mind I knew it was inevitable, being so near Indians and all.”

“For the most part things have settled down but there’s a few renegades still trying to reclaim what had been theirs. You have to look at it from their viewpoint at times to make sense of things. But, Coyote Legs was a different creature all together, not like the rest of the tribe. He was as evil a man that you ever saw.”

Spring Dove had been listening to the brother’s talk and as a captive female slave for so long held back her thoughts from turning into words. She saw how these men did not hate for the sake of race or prejudice but instead had fought and killed, risking their own lives for her sake.

It moved her deeply to see that as it was something no one had ever done for her before. La Fell was kind but he would not have risked his life for her, even if he did die in the end.

She stole a lingering glance at the younger brother Darnell and admired the silent strength he had just displayed. Remembering the kindness and concern he had showed to her when she lay broken and bleeding made her come to the conclusion that he would make the most wonderful husband. Of course, she frowned; he would never look at her in that way.

 

Chapter 3

The brothers ranch lay alongside the Prairie Dog River. Behind and to the south not five miles off was the largest hidden Canyon in all of Texas. The prairie grass grew tall in these parts and at the site of the ranch, Darnell knew his brother had done right.

“How big is the place? I mean I know the acreage but how big by the eye?” Darnell asked.

“See that rise a few miles off? That’s the north end. The east and west end forget about seein’, it’s too far away. The south end is almost to the cliff of the canyon.”

“Holy…!” Darnell exclaimed.

“I see a bunch of buildings, is that part of the ranch or is that another ranch?”

“Nope, it’s all ours. The ranch house has not been occupied since the owners death but I sent word on ahead last month sayin’ we’d be showing up about now. Do you remember me talking about my old trail pard Bud? Yes? Well I went an’ hired him early on after the sale to oversee the place till we got there. He’s also the ranch foreman here. I told him to round up a mess of trusting hands to add to those that stayed on during the sale of the place watching over the herd. When the old owner passed away and the ranch was put up for sale, his family wanted nothing to do with cattle so we got them thrown in cheap. Bud knows near everybody as he’s been livin’ the cowboy life since he was a tot. He said he already had a full list of folks he wanted to get hold of to work here. We’ll be up an’ running in no time.”

An hour later brought the three up to the main corral gate just behind large barn. Inside the corral stood a wiry old grey headed fellow holding the reigns of a horse he’d been working. Throwing the reigns over the horn, he made his way nonchalantly over to the three as they stopped at the gate.

Looking at an imaginary pocket watch the trail bred old man scolded, “Well it’s about time ya’ got here, I was about to file for ownership of the place figurin’ you all was dead somewhere or came to your senses an’ gave up the idea of ranchin!”

Breaking into a wide smile Donny sarcastically replied in jest, “Hello to you too Bud, I see you’re as ugly and decrepit as ever you was! I’s half figurin’ you’d’ve fallen over with a heart attack before we got here.”

Pointing to the young man and girl that rode in with Donny, Bud asked, “Who’s them two that’s with ya’?”

Nodding his head first to his Darnell then to Spring Dove he replied in a more serious manner, “This here is my younger brother Darnell straight from Yale college back east and the young lady with us outfitted in my old blanket is Spring Dove. We found her along the way in dire straits and convinced her she’d be better off being our cook than becoming vulture feed on the prairie.”

Looking first at the young man he acknowledged him with a friendly nod then turned his eyes upon the girl. As fast as a man jumps back from the electrical shock he gets walking in wool socks on a carpet, the old man’s eyes blinked wide open then just as quickly closed, it was as if what he saw pained him. With a slight shake of the head, the old man reached for the girls hand and clasped it. “Ma’am it’s a real pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I hope you find the ranch here to be the end of your trails.”

The girl blushed in shyness. Her hand released, Spring Dove smiled back at the man but she saw something in his eyes that said there was something deeper to his greeting than just a welcome.

 

Chapter 4

The extra ranch hands that had been hired by Bud had arrived in two’s and three’s until the ranch boasted sixteen hands. Most all had worked at one time or another with each other which creating a festive mood when the men’s dinners were served. The ranch house continued its transformation from an abandoned house to one thriving with life and Spring Dove was not without transformation herself. Old Bud and Darnell had early on made a necessary trip into Amarillo for supplies. While there, the two went shopping for Spring Dove.  When she opened the wrapped parcels she refused to wear the garments as she had never worn clothes as fine as these. Confounded, the men insisted they were as plain as they had for sale at the dry goods mercantile. Not knowing much about female garments, they had purchased as simple of clothing as possible. When she finally consented, only one word could be applied to her, beautiful.

Spring Dove worked closely with Biscuit in the kitchen who was the middle aged ranch cook hired to once again serve up meals at the place. Spring Dove was a quick learner but was still confounded in trying to operate the giant wood cook stove sitting in the ranch houses kitchen. Until she became more proficient at controlling the iron beast, Biscuit stood nearby overseeing her culinary expertise. Flap jacks seemed to amaze her the most.

Making a roast or frying bacon had close similarities to Indian cooking but a frying pan that transformed a soupy liquid into a fluffy saucer shaped piece of bread never ceased to start her giggling.

Biscuit was amused as he watched a smile burst forth on the young girls face each time she dropped a ladle of batter into the pan. “What’s so darn funny about makin’ flap jacks Dove?” Along with most others on the ranch, Bud had also begun using the shortened name Dove for her.

“How does it turn from water to bread? We have no food that does this.”

“Huh? Oh, simple, it’s called rising. See that there bit of white powder you been putting in? Well that makes it bubble and them bubbles get trapped inside makin’ it hold its shape.”

“If you say so, but I still don’t understand. I have much to learn yet.”

“Trust me here, you’ll get the knack of it soon enough. I taught worse’n you how to handle a frying pan.”

Dove stopped stirring the next batch of batter and asked. “How did you learn to cook? Indian men don’t cook, it is beneath them unless they are away from the camp and have no choice but to cook or starve. Even then, many bring someone like myself to do the cooking. Here, the men admire you because you can cook, why?”

“You can thank Bud for that. He hired me on years back as a young man. The ranch cook he had was getting on in age so when we bumped into each other and he found out I had no job, he offered one to me as a cooks helper on the ranch. I took too it like a dog to a bone! Come Christmas time wait till you see what kind a meal I roll on out here.”

Dove once again started giggling and seeing the questioning look on Biscuits face she quickly explained why she found him funny. “I do not laugh at your cooking but the way you explain things. We never use words like ‘Dog to a bone’. It makes so much sense that I wonder why we don’t say things like that?”

Biscuit took the bowl from her hands and began drizzling a ladleful of batter into the skillet. “I’m not one to pry Dove, but just how did it come about that you ended up comin’ in with Donny and Darnel? I heard they rescued you from Ol’ Coyote Legs and his group.”

Not being used to chairs she still felt the need to sit down. Scooting her legs under the table to relieve the awkward position she ended up sitting in, she stared blankly at the painted ceramic cow shaped creamer sitting before her.

 A serious look then crossed her face as if the memories hurt to be recalled “I was a young child when the Lakota Sioux were still fighting the whites. My family was attacked by the Sioux one day and only I ended up surviving. The Lakota are good people, they cared for me. As time went by it became difficult for them to hide me from the white soldiers. They feared if the soldiers found me it would go badly for the tribe. I was told all this by the Frenchman La Fell who bought me from the Sioux in order to take me away from the prying eyes of the soldiers. I must have been five or six years of age then. La Fell was kind to me and made me learn the language of the whites as I grew older. He wanted me to marry and have a good life. Coyote Legs did not want that. I am glad he is dead. The brother Darnell shot him many times. I only wished it was from my own gun.”

“Did he have someone in mind when he took you to find a husband?”

“No, he just wanted me to be have the chance.”

“I see how you look at Darnell, you got an idea about that?”

“Darnell would never have me no matter how much I wish. He is a fine man who deserves much better than I.”

“Don’t kid yourself lass. Only a blind man wouldn’t see how he follows you around like puppy dog. My bet is that the two of you feel the same way about each other but are too convinced the other would never have ya’.”

Dove’s well tanned face became red. Then with a twinkle in her eye she said wishing, “Maybe you should tell him that.”

 

Chapter 5

That evening as the men sat smoking cigarettes on the porch, Bud told the story the girl had told him about her childhood.

Old Bud listened saying nothing until Biscuit had ended the tale. “You say she was from Kansas?”

“No, that’s where her and this La Fell person met up with Coyote Legs. She never said where she lived before the Sioux raided her place.”

“Well if it were the Lakota then she may have come from Nebraska or even Iowa. The Dakota had a fair sized range as they traveled with the buffalo.”

“Yep, I suppose so. What difference does it make?”

“Maybe none, maybe something.”

 Before any further conversation could go on, the screened door of the house opened and out came Dove holding a tray of glassware. “I have made the drink you call lemon… lemon….”

Bud spoke up to help out Dove’s lack of English words. “Lemonade dear. We call it lemonade but don’t ask why the ‘ade’ part is on there. Maybe it means drink, I don’t rightly know. How’d you know about lemonade?”

“We make a drink from roots and when I told biscuit this he told me of lemonade.” With a chuckle she continued saying, “I made it the way Biscuit said. If it taste bad then scold him, not me!”

Chuckling themselves the rest of the men were thankful for the cool citrus drink and thanked her mightily.

As Dove turned to return inside, Bud called out to her to hold up. “Say Dove, would you give an old man a minute to satisfy his curiosity? Sit down here on the stoop next to me, will ya?”

Dove made her way over to the stairs and sat next to the old grey haired man. Placing the drink tray upon her lap, she folded her hands upon it. “yes?”

Bud scratched the top of his head and took his time searching for the right words. Finally realizing there was no good way to ask the question that he wanted an answer to, he exclaimed.

“Dove, would you take off the shoes you have on?”

Dove instantly began unlacing the tall boots she had been given to wear. “With joy! How do women wear these? The next time we go to town I want to go with you so I can buy ones that fit me!”

Wiggling and stretching her bare feet brought a smile to her face. “That feels much better. Maybe I should go back to wearing moccasins!”

The men laughed with her but smiling, Bud remained serious. “Can I see the bottom of your feet dear?”

The strange request made Dove pause but she shrugged her shoulders and complied. Sticking the bare feet up toward old Bud she wiggled her toes. “See, I have all my toes, did you think I was missing them?”

As she sat there with her feet in the air a change came over Buds face. It softened. Buds eyes became moist and soon tears were seen tumbling down the old man’s cheeks.

Startled, Dove sat upright and searching the old man’s face asked, “What is wrong? Did I do something wrong? Why do you sit here making tears?”

Old Bud choked back a cry he couldn’t hold back.  “I knew it! I knew it the moment I first laid eyes on you and to top it off your story was the icing on the cake! It was like I was starin’ at my own daughter. You look just like your Mama!”

Confused, Dove shook her head. “What do you mean? Please tell me what you mean,” She begged.

The group of men sitting casually on the porch suddenly felt they should have been anyplace else but on the porch. Still none moved as their curiosity was killing them.

Bud looked through his tears and told her. “You was born in Iowa, on a nice farm just up the way from your grandma and me. My daughter Rebecca, your Mama, was my pride and joy. You are as beautiful as she was. I have a painting of her in my room upstairs. When you see it you will believe me.”

Shaking her head in confusion she asked, “But why did you make me remove my shoes? And why do you say what you say?”

“Because, I needed to be sure before makin’ a old fool of myself. An old man dreams dream’s and sometimes he thinks those dreams are real when they ain’t nothin’ but fools gold. I needed to see the only proof that can tell me for sure. You see, there is a small birthmark between your little toe and the next one. So you know I am not making this up, Here is a note I wrote yesterday when I knew I was going  to ask you to show me your feet.”

Pulling the small piece of paper from his shirt pocket, he handed it over to her.”

“I cannot read.” She said in apology. “Darnell, would you read what it says to me?”

Darnell took the note gently from her hands and looked at what was written. As he re read the note for the third time he too began to become misty eyed. Clearing his throat, he stared at the girl his heart was bursting in love for.

“It says, “My daughters daughter, whose name was Elizabeth Higgens was born with a birthmark on her right foot between her little toe and the one next to it. We all said it looked like a tiny star. We called it her lucky foot for it was sure to bring good fortune in her life.”

Slowly Dove lifted her foot and twisted it until she could see the mark on her upturned foot. She had never done this before. Her eyes grew in wonder as she saw the small star shaped mark between her toes. Still holding her foot up, tears flooded her eyes as she looked up in wonder and joy at the smiling old man. Her tear drenched lips quivered and dropping the tray she slowly reached out to touch him. If it were the last word she should ever utter, she would have died completely fulfilled.

 “Grandpa?”

In-Laws and Outlaws

HashknifePosse

Chapter 1

Laying aside the month old Arizona newspaper, Texas rancher Slim Jim Rutherford looked across the breakfast table at his wife and shaking his head told her, “Well, I see your three brothers have been at it again. The paper here lays blame on the recent violent rustling jobs up near Holbrook up in Arizona on a small off shoot gang from the Hashknife group. That’s the group your brothers rode for.

Lifting the newspaper up once again to a reading position he continued speaking,” It says here, Known for their rough and tumble ways, the Arizona based Aztec Cattle company, commonly called the Hashknife Cattle Company (due to their unique cattle brand shaped like a cooks hashknife), is being blamed once again for a series of recent cattle rustlings in Navajo County Arizona by local ranchers. Aztec owner, Edward Kinsley, denies the charge saying it was not their men and is laying the blame on a small group of men who had earlier instigated much lawlessness on the surrounding ranches in the area. Mr. Kinsley stated that the group, led by a trio of brothers, were forcefully driven off the Aztec land a year earlier. The brothers, being named Jedediah, Ezekiel and Crete Britchen  and their small gang of followers (all ex Hashknife employees) are believed to be holed up somewhere  in or around the Navajo and Yavapai Counties  and have reportedly been seen as far south as the Superstition Mountains.  The United States Marshal Service is forming a posse to hunt the rustlers down as well as to keep an eye on the Aztec Cattle operation. Numerous complaints from small ranchers contending that the Aztec group is involved in rustling and rebranding of their stolen cattle has forced the Marshal service to act.”

Sally Rutherford pensively looked up at her husband exhaled quietly replying. “Just so long as they stay out of Texas. The last thing we need is them showing up here!”

 

Twenty two years earlier the Britchen family loaded up their belongings in a Conestoga wagon and left Missouri in search of greener pastures out west. Their trail ended up in Southern Utah where the parents of the children met up with a group of Mormon settlers from Ohio and converted to Mormonism. It turned out the parents conversion was not so much from the heart but what could be gained by joining such a group. The parents took immediate advantage of their new friends and neighbors. The three brothers and their lone sister Sally were raised in the strict Mormon ways in public but inside the home was another matter. It was a home where everything was for show. 

Jed and Zeke, as the brothers were commonly called, were rambunctious kids who tested the boundaries of their Mormon upbringing but they paled in comparison to their youngest brother Crete. By age fourteen, Crete cursed while speaking, was fond of smoking and was suspected of breaking into his neighbor’s house and coveting his neighbors goods… and their daughter.

Most times, Crete could be the sweetest of boys to his siblings, yet his siblings were becoming increasingly afraid for their own safety, especially during his many ‘mood spells’.

Crete’s wild mood swings had no rhyme or reason to their occurrence.

In the middle of a laugh he could become dark and sulky or was once heard laughing hysterically during a funeral. His parents believed him ‘tetched in the head’ and prayed for the day he would be old enough to leave home.

 When Sally, the youngest of the four and only girl, came to the marrying age of fourteen, her father announced that she would be marrying their fifty eight year old Bishop, a severely overweight man prone to sweating and loud wet mucus spewing coughing spells. Sally would be his fourth wife, yet unfortunately not the youngest of them.

No amount of begging by the four children would change her father’s decision. In return for his daughter, the Bishop promised him a large parcel of tall grass pasture in central Utah he owned. Not surprisingly, this also would keep Sally out of touch with her family.  The two men were like two  peas in a pod. Both used each other to gain what they wanted, both abused their authority upon those under them and both were using their Faith to achieve a secret comfortable living not available to everyone else. 

Sally’s brothers were for lynching the Bishop in secret but realized his detestable son Abaddon, would then most likely claim their young sister for himself through inheritance. The four children decided enough was enough and having no other alternative slipped out of Utah under cover and headed south into the Arizona territory.

In the three years that followed, Jed and Zeke became hard working Hashknife Cowboys for the infamous Aztec Cattle Company out of Holbrook. Crete on the other hand hung around town and rarely worked yet always seemed to have plenty of cash on hand. When his two brothers discovered that he had been suspected by the law of robbing miners and other loners, they decided to hide him within the safety of the Hashknife group where no one there asked questions.  The corrupted ways of the Hashknife cowboys on the Aztec Ranch suited Crete well and even the two brothers began to fall into the easy life style that rustling offered.

Meanwhile, Sally had taken a job on the Aztec Ranch as a cook’s helper. Kept apart from the realities of how the Aztec Ranch worked, she was blissfully unaware of her sibling’s wrongdoings. Her monthly pay was minimal but the Ranch offered her secure housing arraignments, meals and even a few dollars a month for personal needs. It was there that she met ‘Slim Jim’ Rutherford.

 Most all the hands liked and got along well with Slim Jim.  The tall, wide shouldered, sun darkened cowboy of few words and soft voice was not to be underestimated though. More than one drunken galoot found himself waking up black eyed and rib sore after a fisticuffs altercation with him.  Chided only in fun for his carrying a Bible within his possible satchel, he lived by the golden rule but never demanded others to believe as he did.

 It was true though that if asked a question of a Biblical nature, he happily complied by giving simple answers and left the questioner to make their own minds up. This brought him great respect even amongst the hardest of men… all except for one, Crete Britchen.

 Slim Jim Rutherford worked as a­­­ horse breaking cowboy for the Aztec Ranch which kept him far from the Hashknife crowd.  Breaking horses for the Ranch’s remuda was his main job but roping and branding always took precedence before a drive. Like Jim, most hands working for the Aztec Ranch were honest and hard working men. It was only the Hashknife group within the ranch that participated in the shady but all too common acts of cattle rustling. This physical separation of the two groups should have been enough to keep Slim Jim unknown to Crete but it wasn’t.

Hearing rumors being spread concerning his sister and Slim Jim, her new beau, Crete rode up to the ranch house to see the man for himself. After dismounting his exhausted horse, he left it hitched in the hot Arizona sun to fend for itself. Slim Jim Rutherford was everything that Crete wasn’t, such as being Kind, thoughtful, slow to speak, handsome and willing to put in a hard day’s work. These were traits that drove Crete to distraction and Slim had them all. At first greeting, Slim Jim stuck out his hand in a friendly way only to have it left hanging in the air. Crete, seeing the outstretched hand, spat on the ground in front of Slim and turned away saying. “I’d rather see my sister dead than tied with the likes of you.”

Jed and Zeke tried unsuccessfully for months to convince Crete that Slim Jim was the right man for Sally and if he didn’t like him, then he should at least leave the two alone. He didn’t.

Crete went out of his way to convince his fellow Hashknife hands that the Devil, if he existed at all, had a special place prepared for him in Hell. Openly mocking God and his Word, Crete in short order began to evolve from being just underhanded and distrustful to being downright evil. Taking some well heeded advice from Jed and Zeke, Slim Jim Rutherford eloped with Sally one night and headed into Texas and away from Crete to safety. They settled just north of Amarillo outside the cow town of Wheeler alongside the banks of the Canadian River. Only the oldest brother Jed knew of the couple’s whereabouts.

Shortly after their sister and Jim took flight into Texas, the two remaining brothers found that controlling Crete’s actions was becoming a losing proposition. His anger seemed continuous and took no provoking. He began telling his brother’s that he despised them and harbored a deep hatred for everyone except for his own mother. For reasons unknown, he held the belief that she alone was without fault and it were only she alone that he trusted. He believed that she visited him in his night dreams to comfort and give him guidance and advice. In truth, when her children fled Utah, she dismissed Crete as no longer living and was glad to be rid of him.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

After reaching the safety of Texas, Jim and Sally Rutherford discovered a land flooded with abandoned cattle from the war. Not being bred Texan’s, they were permitted by the Federal Army overseeing the law in Texas, to gather a herd and drive them out of State. This was something denied true Texans as part of the Federal Government’s nine year post war Reconstruction Act. The hated Reconstruction act was in fact enacted as punishment for those Southern States including Texas for siding against the North during the war. However, to the general public it was presented as a humane act of repatriation. Northern politicians and their friends took little time in capitalizing on the manacles placed on the South and bled the Southern States dry for their own financial gain. Millions of fertile acres, plantations, homes and factories suddenly found themselves under new ownership under this act. These carpetbaggers, as they were called, had little interest in the freed slaves lives other than to gather them together under a new and even crueler form of slavery called sharecropping.  

With signed papers from the Army allowing the Rutherford’s to gather and drive what cattle they could find out of Texas to market, Slim Jim gathered a group of out of work Texas cowboys as his chosen employees. Hiring these Texans rankled the Army Commander but he was legally unable to stop it. In response though, certain restrictions were placed on the Texas cowboys. Unable to carry guns, permanently leave Texas and required to sign papers of loyalty to the Federal Government, the out of work cowboys went ahead and threw themselves fully into their job which made Slim Jim proud of each and every one. The cow hands took to liking Slim Jim and treated their first and only female trail cook, Sally, as they would their own kin. Within three years the Rutherford Ranch, called the Bar None Zero, was in the black and a little one was expecting to grace the Ranch’s presence before winter’s end.

 

After reading the news article to Sally, Jim set the newspaper aside and reached over to clasp his pregnant wife’s hands across the breakfast table. “Don’t worry none dear, your brother Jed’s been keeping us secretly informed of matters and I’m sure he’d let us know if they were to head our way. And look outside. We got over forty hands working for us, you think they’d sit still while your brothers wrecked havoc here? Why I pity the man who’d go up against this group of Texans!”

Smiling at the thought, Sally squeezed Slim Jim’s hand three times quickly. It was their way of saying, “I love you”. The answer came back to her in four quick squeezes, “I love you too!”

A bulky form suddenly filled the kitchen doorway. The two looked up seeing Biscuit, the camp cook that replaced Sally on cattle drives. “Folks?” With hat in hand he asked, “Are you needin’ anything else? If not, I’m gonna clean up here an head on into town.  I got some purchases to make an’ my hair an’ beard could use a trimmin’.”

Jim looked up at the grizzled character blocking the doorway as he stood rubbing his beard as if it were growing longer as he spoke.  Smiling slyly Jim asked, “Why Biscuit, I believe it was just last Saturday that you got trimmed up! I’ve never known you to get a haircut more’n twice a year. This doesn’t have anything to do with widow Johnston does it?”

Turning red faced, Biscuit harrumphed loudly then with false bravado replied, “Well… maybe it does an’ maybe it don’t! None a your business any hoo. Besides, the widow Johnston wouldn’t take kindly to hear the two of you flappin’ your jaws about her love life, hurrumph!”

Chuckling, Jim replied, “Give her our regards.

Suddenly Sally stood up at the table, “Oh, Biscuit, I’ve just been reminded, I have something for you. Here, let me get it.”

Looking in question at Jim, Biscuit shrugged asking. “Wonder what she got fer me?”

Sally quickly returned with a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. Handing the package to Biscuit she exclaimed, “I mistakenly ordered two of these from Humbolts Emporium. Jim has plenty and I couldn’t figure a finer time or a more deserving person to give it to.”

Unwrapping the string tied package, Biscuit unrolled it into the palm of his hand. “Why I’ll be! A bottle of hair tonic! Bay Rum no less! Why thankee deeply. It’s been years since I had some a this. Dang barber in town don’t use it, instead he splashes on that terrible smelling Hoyt’s trash. Smells like a French Mad’am if you git my point. Why back in the day, I can remember when lookin’ good meant a smidgeon of wagon wheel grease combed into your hair an’ some Mum tonic rubbed around your pits!  Why it put off takin’ a bath for a month or more! Still, I am quite particular to Bay Rum though, it shore will come in handy this afternoon!”

After Biscuit had cleaned up the breakfast mess and rode on into town, Jim pulled Sally aside as they walked outside onto the porch. “Hair tonic? Bay Rum? Sally, Bay Rum is an aftershave, sure it smells good but it’s really meant to keep any infection starting from shaving cuts. Biscuit has a beard, he never shaves!”

Sally stopped and chuckled saying, “If I went and bought him a man’s parfume so he’d smell good for widow Johnston, do you really believe he’d splash it on before visiting her? Not on your life. Much to womanly smelling, but a hair tonic is another thing all together. A man can smell like Bay Rum and still be a man. Who cares if he wears it on his head or in his beard? At least Biscuit won’t smell like baked beans and coffee grounds!”

“Good point dear, good point.”

 

 

The weeks passed uneventfully and a few spring crocus were starting to poke their heads above the melting snow.  In March, Sally gave birth to a chubby baby boy whom they named after Slim Jim’s father Joseph. Widow Johnston accepted Biscuits proposal of marriage and they asked Jim and Sally if the two of them could be taken on as the ranch cooks. Biscuit said he’d continue on as the trail or wagon cook and Belinda, his wife could replace Sally in her own kitchen. They reasoned doing so would free up Sally to tend to her child. It was agreed upon that shortly after their marriage, Biscuit and Belinda would take up permanent residence upstairs in the unoccupied portion of the house. A rear stairway leading from the upstairs hall down to the kitchen was installed so Belinda could start her four am day without disturbing the child. Nothing further had been heard from Jed regarding her sibling’s whereabouts so the fear of them showing up in Texas was put on the slow burner.

The Bar None Zero ranch became a beehive of activity just days after the baby Joseph was born. The activity wasn’t due so much from his birth but rather the time of the year. It was time to start getting a herd together for the drive to the Kansas City stockyards. Forty cowhands at first sight seems to be a large number of hands until they get broken into groups and sent in different directions gathering cattle. Some men headed south into the rocky desert while others headed east and west. The idea being that each group would gather as many unbranded cattle as could be found, brand them with the Bar None Zero brand and then drive them up to Amarillo to the tall grassy plains where the Bar None Zero sat. Once at the Bar None Zero, the herd would be divided into breeding stock and those that were going to market. Breeding stock included new born calves and their mama’s. Calves slowed down a drive and many never made it to market due to dehydration, lack of grass or predators. It just wasn’t worth the effort or expense loss so calves would have to wait until a later drive or used as breeding stock. Young bulls needed to be castrated before rejoining the herd. Even then it took some time for their natural sex drives to settle down so working with them was a chancy affair at best. Many a horse and rider were gored or trampled as a result of these amorous passions so cowboys had to be extra alert to his surroundings.

By the middle of April a decent sized herd had been gathered for the drive. The Bar None Zero now had a total stock of over five thousand head. It was decided that 2,400 of these were going to market. If the herd loss could be kept to below four hundred, it would put the Rutherford’s so well into the black that folks might even consider them pretty well off. 

The night before the drive was to start, Slim Jim kissed Sally goodbye and rode out to where the hands kept watch over the herd. Approaching one of the night riders, Slim hallowed him using a sing song voice to prevent the herd from catching a fright and starting a stampede. Newly gathered herds were the most skittish as no leader had yet come forward. It might be days on the trail before a natural leader showed itself and took charge of the herd and controlled their direction and moodiness.

 

The lone cowboy nodded his head towards Slim Jim and quietly replied, “Evenin’ Boss.”

Sidling up next to the man called Frank, Slim waited for the cowboy to continue.

“Been quiet for the most part.” Frank said, “ A few were buttin’ heads but that was during daylight. We’re keeping the herd moving in a slow circle until the moon comes up. Once they can see again and see there ain’t no predators about they’ll calm down even more. How’s the miss’s and baby doing?”

“Both are fine, thanks for asking’. By the way,  is Biscuit’s chuck wagon nearby, I could use some coffee.”

“He’s about a mile and a half east of here by Old Woman’s Creek boss. Because of the noise his pots an’ pans make gettin’ banged around while cooking, he decided to set up camp far enough away to keep the cattle from ’catchin’ a fright. You can’t miss the sight of his cook fire or for that matter, just lift your nose an’ you’ll smell his coffee.”

Chuckling lightly, Slim quietly said after taking a long inhaled breath through his nose, “By golly, you’re right, I do smell coffee!  It’s going to be a long night and even longer day tomorrow. Unless you got a couple toothpicks to prop open my eyes with, I’m gonna go and get me a mug of that eye opener. See you’ later Frank.”

Biscuit was busy cleaning up from the last shift of cowboys to eat their dinner. Two, 2 gallon coffee pots hung over the cook fire. Slim dismounted, secured his mare to the wagon’s wheel and strode over to the fire.

Pointing to the hanging pots he asked, “Which ones ready?”

“The one on the right has some left in it, the left ones almost done. If I were you, I’d give it a few and get a mug of the fresh stuff.”

“Thanks, I’ll wait then. It’s got egg shells in it?”

Biscuit stopped his washing of a large pot and stood facing Slim with hands on his hips. “How long have I been cookin’ fer ya’ an’ how many times you gonna ask me that?  ‘Course they got egg shell in’em! An’ until you start buyin’ me some a them Arbuckle beans, they always will.”

“Your wife said even with Arbuckles, the coffee’s better with shell in them. I’m not arguing, just repeating what Belinda told me.”

“Well, that’s ‘cause back at the house she feeds you that girly coffee.”

“Girly coffee? You mean because she adds a bit of sugar and cream to it, it’s now girly coffee?”

Hiding a twinkle in his eye, he replied. “Sure! Men don’t drink coffee with cream an’ sugar in it! Why next she’ll be servin’ ya’ll them Englishy crumpets and those sconey things!”

 Grabbing the coffee pot tilter hanging over the fire, Slim poured himself a large tin mug of the brew. “Well God forbid you ever eat anything more than beans and biscuits!” He laughed.

“What’s wrong with my biscuits? You sure are startin’ this drive off wearin’ the wrong pair a boots if you’re gonna now complain about my biscuits! And, you know I make the best beans in all a Texas.”

To himself Jim quietly mumbled while shaking his head, “It’s like talking to a fence post for all the good it does.”

“What’s that you say?”

“Nothing, just thinking out loud, that’s all.”

“Well, while you’re settin’ there with your mind all noisey like, let me tell you where tomorrow night’s rendezvous is. Since we’ve done this trail a bunch times before, you might remember that little box canyon about 10 miles east of here? Well, I figure with the cattle well fed and watered, it should be no problem getting’ the herd that far, besides, it’s pretty flat land from here to there. I’ll set up camp in front of the canyon that way you can keep the remuda corralled inside it.”

“Great, leave a full pot for the night riders when you turn in.”

“I always do, don’t I boss?”

It took Biscuit less than four hours to make the next day’s rendezvous location and set up camp for the evening meal. After unhitching the team, as required in order for the riders to know where they were, Biscuit lifted the wagon tongue to point at the North star. The camp cook had to keep ahead of the drive by using a leap frog motion. This meant it was he who determined the distance the herd traveled and its route each day. Of course it was the trail boss who really set the parameters but it was left up to the trail cook to determine the exact location of each evenings stopping point. Ahead of the cook rode the scout. It was his job to find water holes, fresh grass and any obstacles the herd might run into. The information he found was then passed onto the cook and the trail boss.  Behind the chuck wagon rode the trail boss, point rider or both. The point rider rode at the head of the herd and micro managed the drives direction that the trail boss decided upon. The steering of the herd was the job of the swing riders who were placed near the front of the herd on each side. Behind the swing riders were the Flank. They kept the herd bunched when needed or rode the length up and down to keep cattle from straying. The worst job and normally left up to green horns was the drag rider. Drag riders followed the herd from behind. They kept the herd pushed forward, they also ate the most dust. Graduating to the flak position a drag rider was then considered a working cowboy.

 

 The remuda or horse herd (of Spanish origin meaning change of horses), was kept away from the piercing horns of the cattle by being positioned off to one side. These cowboys in charge of the remuda were called Wranglers. Their job was to make sure the horses stayed healthy, well watered and fed. Any horse or mule doctoring needed being done was left up to the remuda boss.

It was on the third day that shortly after setting up for the evening camp, a rider hailed from a safe distance to warn the camp of his approach. As normal, Biscuit was alone at the time but knew the herd was not for off. This meant the trail boss, or point rider was probably with the range of gunfire. Biscuit hailed back and shouted, “Dismount and git yourself some coffee friend!”

The rider turned out to be Captain Oswald sent by Commander Wilcox, the Army commander and Federal overseer out of Fort Worth.

The lone Captain dismounted then turned south to whistle loudly. Within a minute, six other riders could be made out in the oncoming darkness. “Can my men get a mug also? We’re pretty worn out but worse, my man inadvertently left behind the sack of Arbuckles at the Fort”

“Why shore Cap’n, There’s a bunch a clean mugs in that hinged crate over there. Are ya’ passin’ through or need I ride out an’ get the trail boss?”

“If he’s nearby, it can wait. We’ll make camp here with you all tonight anyway. We’re about done in with today’s heat and all.”

Biscuit nodded, “Yep, it shore is a hot one for just bein’ spring, had to be in the high eighties. Why I remember once back in… oh maybe around late Seventy something, it got so hot my biscuit flour cooked itself in the sack and there was no need for a coffee fire neither! I just threw some grounds in the coffee pot an’ walked away. The men’s mugs never cooled off, we had hot coffee the whole night!”

Knowing a tale when he heard one, Captain Oswald just chuckled.

 

Chapter 3

One of the soldiers who had been relaxing in a lounging manner with his coffee, suddenly sat upright shouting.“I think I hear them comin Cap! Yep, here they come.”

Within an hour the herd had been circled and calmed, the remuda roped off and the hands that were not on duty were gathered around eating a hot meal of beans and beef.

Upon seeing the Captain, Slim Jim introduced himself. After a short time of small talk the Captain got to the point. “Seeing that you all hired Texans for this drive, I’ll be needing to see the men’s paperwork before you leave Texas.”

It rankled Slim to see his men treated this way, them being as American anybody else but he decided to let it ride and yelled for his men to get their permission papers out. Each man handed the Captain his paperwork of allegiance.

“The captain took them and carefully inspected each one. “Well,” He finally said, “Everything looks in good order. Your men can return to whatever they were doing, sorry for the inconvenience but I’m only doing following orders.”

“Sure, no hard feelings Captain.”

The experience left a sour taste in each mans throat though. The Captain, feeling the mood of the Texans and himself getting uncomfortable, ordered his men to set up that night’s camp on a small bluff away from the cowboys camp.

Later, he returned. “Mister Rutherford? May I speak to you in private?”

Slim Jim tossed the last of his coffee away and stood up saying, “Sure, take a walk with me. I enjoy the night sounds other than cattle bellowing in my ears.”

The two walked past the small bluff where Jim could see the soldiers tents had been set up. The white peaked tops stood reflecting the rising moonlight. A lone coyote began singing and soon others joined in his chorus. Night birds could be heard fluttering in and out of the cactus tops and brush. It truly was a magnificent night and Captain Oswald said so.

“It sure is a beautiful country, Texas. I’m from Louisiana myself. My folks were raised in the bayou swamps and that’s where they raised me. They were French Creole from back in the early days of the Country. They sent me away to boarding school and then to military school in Virginia. I’m a true Southerner Mister Rutherford and it pains me to see my neighbor Texans treated as they are. I sincerely apologize for forcing your men to prove their American loyalty. Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie must be turning in their graves over this mess”

“Yeah, I’m originally from the Arizona Territory myself,” Jim said, “I worked most my life on ranches up near the Rim just south of the canyon. It was a blessing I hailed from another State than Texas, it gave my wife and I a chance to seek our fortune here where Texans couldn’t. I felt bad seeing some of the best cow punchers I’ve ever seen having to take any job offered. Cattle is what most all of them know. They’re not used to even walking on foot some of them. They grew up sitting on a horse. That’s why when I saw a way around the law, I hired them straight off. I know it mightily peeved the Commander but he was bound by the law to let me have my Texans.”

“You mentioned you are married, you still that way?”

“Oh yes, and happy about it too. We eloped when the two of us was working for the Hash…er a cattle ranch up near Holbrook back then.”

“Holbrook you say? I heard some news from over that way. I was within earshot of my Commander and a U.S, Marshal when I overheard some talk about Holbrook They were talking about a group of no goods having left the Holbrook area and might be headed into Texas. It seems this group is led by three brothers and one of them is over the cliff crazy like. I heard that the crazy one murdered a few folks over nothing! It seems they were just minding their own business and for no reason the man guns them down in cold blood. The men weren’t even together, just walking the same boardwalk. Then as he left town he put fire to the new Methodist Church being built there and then shot the knees off its Pastor as he ran out to fight the blaze.”

During this time Slims stomach dropped to the ground. It could only be Crete and Sally’s brothers!

“Did they say anything more, like where they were headed to when they left Holbrook.”

“Not really, I heard they only returned to Holbrook to tie on a drinking binge. The Marshal said his men have tracked them all over the Territory and New Mexico and were only hours behind them when cleared out of Holbrook. One things for sure. They won’t find a safe place anywhere in the Arizona Territory or New Mexico for all the killing they’ve done in both places. I’m figuring that’s why the Marshal went and paid a visit to the Commander, he must figure they’re headed for the safety of Texas since they’re not wanted here yet.”

Now Jim’s stomach really churned. If the trio should make their way anywhere near Amarillo, then they’ll be sure to come upon the Bar None Zero Ranch and Sally.

“Now that I’ve spilled the beans about this group of rustlers, this is the real reason I was sent to check your men’s paperwork. We wouldn’t want them escaping the law under the cover of assumed names. I doubt you’ll run across them but if you hear anything of value along the way on your drive, would you send a message regarding such information to Commander Wilcox at Fort Worth?”

“Absolutely.”

“I am taking my men up to the border. When you get there we’ll meet up and I’ll escort you across and out of Texas. We won’t be there when you return of course so that means it’ll be up to you to sign the men in at Fort Worth upon your return.”

Slim absently replied, “Of course.”

The two casually walked back to the bluff where they parted ways. In the morning, the soldiers packed up and continued on their way without further conversation with the cowboys.

Slim Jim Rutherford was in a quandary. By law, he had to be with his Texans the entire trip, going there and back to insure their return. On the other hand, he needed to get back to the ranch as fast as possible and warn Sally and the others of the possible approach of the three brothers. If he were to leave and the Texan’s were stopped, then they would face jail time along with himself, for not being in their presence when they re-crossed the border upon their return.

Pulling a trail map from one of the many compartments within the Chuck Wagon, Jim unfolded the map and taking a ruler, tried to determine how many miles it was to the Oklahoma Territory border. The border lay between six and eight miles ahead, almost a full day away. Still, if he were to see the men over the border he could possibly sneak back into Texas unseen and speedily ride his way back to his ranch. After he returned, he could fortify his place, make plans or even get Sally away from there before Crete and his brothers showed up. Nodding to himself he knew that was the way it had to be but first he needed to take Biscuit and the point rider into his confidence.

 

Chapter 4

Biscuit sat there stunned.”Boss, you sure lead an interesting life, yes you do! How is it I figured the two of you to be just a pair of easy going married folk that never saw nothin’ more exciting than a dust devil or two? Why them brothers of hers is three of the biggest outlaws alive!”

The point rider Jason shrugged and said. Whatever you want us to do we’ll do Boss. I see no problem in getting to Kansas City or even back again without you. On the other hand, I know we’ll be required to stop in at Fort Worth and see the Commander to show we’re all accounted for. That’s the only problem that I can see. Maybe you can get on down to Fort Worth in time to meet up with us…if everything goes well back at the ranch. Besides, Texas is a big Territory, I bet your in-laws never even get close to you or up to Amarillo.”

“I wish that were true but the fact is the oldest brother Jed knows where we live. I’ve trusted him over the years and until now there’s been no reason to fear that he spilled the beans as to Sally and my whereabouts to his siblings. That changed I guess when the Marshal Service started hunting them down for murder. I’m figuring they’ll want to use my ranch to hole up at. Damn it!”

Biscuit rose up brushing his pant legs saying, “Come what may, I still got forty odd hands to feed tonight, I need to be goin or the men will go hungry. Jason, you too, let’s get movin’, there ain’t nothin’ more we can do sitting’ here blabbin’ about it!”

Jim also rose, “Biscuits right, start the drive. I’ll just have to do what I think I can get away with. I’ll decide something before we reach the Oklahoma border later today.”

Saying that, the men parted ways to start the days drive.

 

 

 “Borders just ahead Boss” Shouted Jason, “I can see the soldiers too.”

It took nearly three hours for the cattle and men to cross the border. There was no creek or sign to notify a soul they had just crossed the border. Instead, a soldier sat staring into a sextant as if he were onboard a ship. Earlier that day, the scout and chuck wagon had made the crossing. They were now a few miles ahead and pointed towards the east. From this point they would head east across the Western and Chisholm trails which headed north to the rail yards in Dodge City and Wichita. The last and final trail would be the Shawnee. At that point they would turn onto this trail and head north to the stock yards in Kansas City. The Bar None Zero would have to drive their cattle without the benefit of the rail road because of their sheer volume. Having over 3,400 head sent by rail meant many more deaths than the Rutherford’s could afford to lose. While rail was faster, it also meant losing control of your entire herd. It was up to others to feed, water and make sure no one rustled your stock. This skepticism was well founded. There was more than one herd that arrived at the yards having a different owner than the one that shipped them.

Once safely across and out of sight of the Captain and his men, Jim rode parallel to the border and re-crossed it five miles from where the Captain remained camped. If Jim was lucky, the troops would wait a day or two to rest up before heading back south to Fort Worth. This would give him ample time to skirt their line of sight and make his way back to Amarillo.

A Bar None Zero ranch hand out gathering strays saw Jim driving his horse hard as he headed towards the ranch gate. With foam flying from its mouth, the sweat drenched flanks glistened in the afternoon sun as if they were mirrored. Racing after his Boss, the man on a fresh mount still could not catch up to Jim. It wasn’t until Jim had stopped and dismounted at the ranch house before the hand caught up to him.

“Boss! What’s goin’ on? What’re you doin’ back here? Where’s the herd?”

“Too many questions right now, just hang here a bit until I come out. Take care of my mount, no water yet, she’s too hot, just walk her and give her a good rub down first, then water but only a small amount at first.”

“Sure Boss, I know what to do, she’s in good hands.”

With that, Jim took two steps at a time as he made his way up the porch. Just then Sally appeared holding the baby in the doorway. “Jim! What’s wrong?”

Over a cup of coffee and some pie Jim explained all he had heard from captain Oswald. Sally outwardly looked calm but Jim noted she had lost all the color in her face. She waited until Jim had finished then spoke.

“Jim, you have no choice, Crete will kill the two of us if you don’t kill him first.”

“But Sally, he’s your brother!”

Crete made his bed, now he must lie in it. You can’t call the law, they’d discover you have left the Texans and would arrest you and them. For their sake and ours, please, do what you know you need to do.”

“What about Jedediah and Ezekiel, am I to kill them too?” Jim asked, hoping she’d say no.

“That will have to wait to be seen, that’s all I can say. It mortifies me to ask you to do this but I’ve run this scenario through my mind many times over the last couple of years. We have a family now, many men depend on their wages from us. We have too many responsibilities to let my insane brother take all that away. If Jed and Zeke didn’t do anything to stop him by now, they won’t after they arrive here either. I believe all of my brothers have gone to the bad. If the law were to catch up to them, they’d all hang for their crimes. Is it a sin then to act in a like manner? I believe not.”

That evening Jim gathered the remaining hands and explained the situation. “We have no idea if there are others that ride with them. For all we know it could be just the three or it might be thirty, we have no idea. What we need to do is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. There are seven of us here not counting Sally and the baby. What edge we have is that they have no idea we know they are coming.

Looking at the gathered group Slim Jim told them. “Keep your side arms handy loaded and worn at all times. You men who have saddle rifles make sure they’re in their holsters if you have to ride off anywhere. I know this will test your morality a might but this is a life or death situation, shoot first and ask questions later. Just because these men are Sally’s brothers doesn’t mean a hoot. They’re wanted for murdering innocent folk and if they make it here to the ranch, your lives won’t be worth a plug nickel. No matter what, don’t let ‘em start talking to you, crazy men can make a heap of sense and they’re capable of talking the skin off a snake.”

The group nodded heads as one. They had lived on the range long enough to accept that sometimes there was no other way and killing must be done. This part of Texas had no Law, other than the Army out of Fort Worth and they held little concern for local problems unless directed by their superiors back in Washington.

“I want two men to go with me. I figure if they come to Texas it won’t be through the desert but along the Canadian. Two of us will scout along the Canadian, if we run into them, the third person high tails it back here for reinforcements.  Phil? Why don’t you take Erney here and saddle us up the horses? Make sure you hang a holster for a long gun on your saddle too. We’ll head out in a half hour.”

In a short time Phil and Erney sat on horseback ready to leave. Slim Jim exited the house in front of Sally who was carrying the baby. With his horse held between the other two riders, Slim mounted after kissing Sally. Without further word, they rode off west towards Tascosa and the Canadian.

 

Chapter 5         

Crete woke up with a stiff neck. Grumbling as he twisted his neck to and fro he wandered behind a large group of boulders to relieve himself. It had been a long ride through New Mexico but by noon the small group of hardened men should make it to the border of Texas.

 When he returned to the camp, the others were awake and getting a morning meal started. Six men were left following the three brothers making the group nine in all. Crete wanted to get rid of a few of them from the group. He told Jed and Zeke that their mother had visited him and told him that three of them would end up betraying them.

“Which three?” asked Zeke.

 Neither Jed nor Zeke believed their mother spoke in Crete’s dreams to him and that any vision was fabricated within his own mind. “Besides,” Jed told Zeke under his breath, “Ma ain’t dead yet and although we know Mormons believe in an afterlife, we also was taught there weren’t no such thing as ghost. Crete’s vision’s is from bein’ teched in the head, nothin’ more.”

With a cutting side glance, Crete stopped to look at his two siblings asking them, “Why do you want to know? You gonna warn ‘em or something? I’ll tell you which three!”

Walking away from the cook fire, he removed his pistol from its holster, spun the cylinder to make sure he was fully loaded and turned around. Facing the group of breakfast occupied men, he raised his pistol and calmly began pulling the trigger. Crete may have been insane but his craziness had no affect on his crack shot abilities. Within seconds three innocent men tumbled to the earth.

“What the hell are you doing?” Zeke shouted at him as he ran to disarm his brother. Out of the corner of his eye, Crete judged the closing distance of his brother, then turned and fired point blank into his head.

Watching Zeke’s body collapse and fall forward into the camps fire, the last of the three followers in stunned disbelief threw up their hands in surrender.

Jed stood speechless half expecting Crete’s gun to turn his way.

Holstering his weapon, Crete spoke to the remaining group members. “Naw, the rest of you’s is alright. Put your hands down, ya’ look stupid sittin’ there like bunch a school children! Unless Mama tells me different, them three I shot is the ones that was going to turn us over to the law.”

One hardened man slowly rose. “That is my cousin you just plugged! Weren’t no way he woulda’ turned on us. Your Mama ain’t said shit you idiot! You’re just plain crazy and I’m cuttin’ my ties with you all here and now.”

Calmly, Crete shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “Alright,” then lighting fast pulled his iron and fired the last remaining two bullets into the man’s chest.

With six pulls of the trigger, five men lay dead, one his brother and three loyal followers.

 

“If’n anybody else is upset enough to pull iron on me, remember, I also carry this.” Removing a small caliber pistol from a hidden holster from behind his back, he brandished the small but deadly weapon in front of the men. As he waved the gun about, his face took on the evil expression that Jed was so used to seeing. Crete began to breath hard and saliva began to leak from his mouth like a panting dog.

Turning to face Jed, a large glob of foamy slobber dripped out from Crete’s mouth onto his vest. Using his sleeve, Crete ineffectively wiped the foamy saliva from his face. “I told ya’ll that I hated each ‘an every one of you! Remember brother, Sally and you ain’t immune to my hate neither! After we get to Texas and find where her an’ that bastard Slim Jim is holed up at, I’m gonna deal with ‘em like Mama told me to!”

“And ruin our only means avoiding the law? We ain’t wanted in Texas for no crime. If you kill them, it won’t be but a short time before them Texas Rangers are on our tail. They’re like she badgers, they never give up once they got your scent.”

“I don’t give no hoot about any Texas Rangers, they ain’t no where’s near as smart as I am! Have we been caught up with yet? No! You know why? Because Mama watches over me, that’s why!”

“Is Mama dead that she speaks to you Crete? Last we heard she ‘an Paw were doin’ their Mormon thing and was alive an’ well.”

“Mama ain’t never gonna die Jed, she leaves her soul come night and lays down next to me. She tells me all the secrets you and others been hidin’ from me, she knows everything. She told me Zeke needed to die but never said when. It just happened that it was his time. Mama keeps some stuff to herself.”

Zeke was your brother, her son. Do you really believe she wanted him dead? Why would she want that?”

Crete snarled, “Because she only loved me, that’s why!”

At that instant, Jed knew his brother meant to kill him as he did Zeke, without remorse.

 

The four men made their way into Texas from New Mexico using the Canadian River as their guide just as Jim thought they would. Crete, now heading up the gang unopposed, decided to shy away from the larger town of Tascosa and instead opted to make camp just outside the tiny burg of Cheyenne alongside the Canadian River. Without him knowing it , this placed him only twenty miles from the Bar None Zero Ranch. That night under the cover of a sliver moon night, the two remaining gang members slid out unseen into the surrounding desert.

A grey streak on the Eastern skyline announced the coming dawn. It was then that the already high strung and paranoid Crete discovered the missing men.

“They’s gone!” He yelled to his still sleeping brother. “We gotta get outa’ here, I know they’ll tattle on our whereabouts fer sure! Listen… is that horses I hear? Yes? No?”

Jed, alert now, stood up to listen. “Naw, there ain’t no horses.”

“Are you sure?” A look that changed from near panic to suspicion came over Crete. “Maybe there is horses comin’! Maybe you told those two to high tail outa’ here. Maybe you an’ them are in cahoots with each other an’ I’m bein’ left holdin’ the bag while you all set me up for capture. While you all escape”

Suddenly Jed looked past where Crete stood and pointed. “Look, their horses are still tied to the highline between them two trees! That means they left on foot.”

Searching where the men’s bedrolls had been, they saw the two large canteens the group had were missing, along with the only rifle the group had.

The sudden change in the situation seemed to sober Crete up somewhat. “Well, for sure, the two couldn’t have gone far, most likely they either made their way into Cheyenne but more likely they are on their way to Tascosa. We should take the horses and circle around south of Tascosa then enter town from the east. They’ll most likely be keeping a lookout expecting us to come in from the west.”

Crete looked skyward at the rising sun and blew heavily through parsed lips. “Mind you Jed, this don’t mean we’s done with what was started between us brother. One of us is going to die, Mama told me that but she didn’t say which one of us. I’m makin’ sure I’m the one who walks away.”

 

Chapter 6

Slim, along with riders Phil and Erney sat in their saddle overlooking the Canadian river outside of the town of Tascosa. The town wasn’t much as large towns went. Unlike the crowded mountain towns or large cities, the buildings had plenty of empty space between them. Few good sized trees existed as most were cut down for building lumber. What trees existed were misshapen or stunted. In contrast to the bland town, the valley the town lay in was a cattleman’s dream having tall grass, good water and plenty of both. As desirable as the land was to others, it held little interest for Jim. He knew that if the brothers came by the Canadian River, they would most likely stop here. He regretted ever trusting Jed, the eldest of Sally’s brothers with the information of the Bar None Zero’s location. In all the time that the two had sent secret letters to each other there was never any indication of Jed having gone truly to the bad. On the other hand, Jim and Sally had gained precious information on Crete. By letter, they had watched him deteriorate into lunacy. It was through these letters that especially Sally, had determined that her brother was dangerously insane to the point it was either him or them that would die. She, unlike Crete’s belief, knew it was going to be he that died.

Three groups of men were converging onto the small town at the same time, each using a different route. Entering the town from the west on foot, the two fleeing members of Crete’s gang headed straight for the saloon located in the center of the town. Figuring if Crete was on their tail, he’d start at one end and work his way to the other. If they kept a good eye out, they’d spot him and have time to either ambush him or take cover until in frustration, he left to search elsewhere.

Crete and Jed entered town from the East and true to the ex gang members thinking, started searching from one end and heading to the other. What the two men hiding in the saloon didn’t realize was that while they were correct in pre guessing Crete’s method of search, they didn’t realize the brothers has come in from the opposite end. They realized their mistake when the salons bat wing doors opened and in stepped Crete.

Meanwhile, Crete wasn’t doing so well himself, not that he was aware of this of course. As Crete and Jed circled their approach into town the two made a fatal mistake, that of riding for a short distance along the peak of the Canadians embankment. The two brothers on horseback, along with the two empty saddled horses behind them, stuck out in the slanting late afternoon sun like cut out silhouettes against the backdrop of the flat grassy landscape.

“That’s them!” Whispered Slim. “No mistake, I’d recognize Crete anywhere. He rides all lazy like, and slumped down in the saddle. Let’s pull up just a bit more and ride behind ‘em. The last thing either is going to suspect is us tailing them. We’ll observe where they go and what they’re up to before we make our move. Phil, hold up a might on runnin’ for help. It appears that they’re alone. Those two bare nags behind them must have belonged to a couple of their gang. I bet ten to one the rest took to their heels when they realized their boss was a crazy man!”

It would have been comical if it weren’t so serious. As Crete and Jed stepped into the saloon, just behind them with hats lowered over their eyes, strode in the real man Crete wanted dead, Slim Jim Rutherford, the hated husband of his Sister Sally.

The sound of the batwing doors opening caused the two ex gang members to turn in unison. The one sitting furthest from the door, dropped his beer mug and went for his gun.

The first sight Slim saw on entering the salon behind Crete and Jed was a man standing at the bar raising his iron towards the door they had just come through. Slim yelled “Duck!” Hoping Phil and Erney wouldn’t take the time to size up the reason for his warning, Slim dove to the floor to protect himself and behind him he heard the twin thumps of his two as they too kissed the floor. The single shot that the man at the bar got off caught Jed in the upper leg. Screaming in agony from a shattered thigh bone, Jed fell like a rag doll. With his bleeding brother rolling around screaming, Crete dove to the right. This once again left Slim and his two hands exposed to deadly gun fire. Crete rolled once and in a single motion, stood up and pulled his pistol.  In three rapid shots, Crete expertly blew the shooter clean off his stool.

Unfortunately for Crete, the second ex gang member was now pouring deadly slugs in his direction. Crazed and stumbling forward as if demon possessed, his gun hotly spit lead and fire. Crete’s left ear disappeared from his head then his hat, along with a bloody portion of his scalp. Still, Crete’s aim remained deadly accurate during the smoky barrage and eventually the shooter, bleeding out from multiple holes, rolled backwards off his stool dead.  Making his way jerkily to where the two ex gang members lay, Crete stood tottering over the two like a drunk.  Other than the screaming of Jed, there was no other sound in the saloon.

Fatally shot more than once, Crete fell heavily to his knees. The empty pistol dropped to the floor as Crete’s arms and torso began jerking as if controlled by strings. A loud inhale was heard then his last words gurgled through his blood frothed lips. “Ma ma?”   The sound of Crete’s face smacking itself on the wooden floor ended his fate more solidly than any judges gavel.

In a state of disbelief, the crowd remained silent in the gun smoke filled room. 

 

Slowly, Slim turned to look behind him. Lifting his head cautiously, he asked his men, “You two hit?”

“Nope, not me!” came the reply from Phil as he ended flapping his hands over his body looking for wounds.

 “Me neither Boss, but I need to buy some new under drawers, I believe I’ve gone and filled mine up!”

Suddenly the salon came to life. This was the most excitement this dusty cow town had seen in ages. With whoops and hollers and mouthing gun shots, the patrons began loudly reenacting what they had just witnessed.  No one hurried to drag the bodies outside nor tend to the now unconscious Jed. The bar tender did walk around to the front of the bar to where the two dead gang members were sprawled out on the floor and began going through their pockets. Looking up at the cowboys gazing down at him in repulsed disbelief, he told them, “They owe me for their beers yet!”

Slim made his way over to where Jed silently lay bleeding out from his shattered leg. “Get a Doctor!” He yelled.

A gruff voice behind him made him turn, “Right here Mister, I’m the Doc.”

Looking down at Sally’s brother he asked, “Can you save him? His legs half blowed off!”

“Maybe, but there ain’t no savin’ that leg, it’s a goner fer sure.”

“Do what you can for him, he’s kin.”

Digging into his pocket Slim pulled out a small roll of money. Here’s forty dollars, I’ll come back for him in a few weeks. If that legs to come off, try and get a wooden one on him. There should be more than enough there for everything but if not, I’ll make good on any further debt when I come back.”

“What do you want I should do if he dies?”

“Bury him well and keep what’s left of the money for your services.”

 

Chapter 7

Making his way back to the Oklahoma and Texas border, Slim camped a few miles beyond the bare grassy plain on the Oklahoma side. There he waited for his drive cowboys to return from the trail drive. Luckily, no sign of Captain Oswald or his men were seen. If all went well, he would re-cross the border with his men and with them head to Fort Worth to verify to Commander Wilcox that all the Texans had returned.

Since he had sent Phil and Erney back to the Bar None Zero to tell Sally all that went down, he camped alone.

Back at the Ranch, Sally cried over the deaths of her brothers but knowing their demise was inevitable she didn’t cry for long.

 She asked Phil and Erney if they would return to Tascosa within the next two weeks with a wagon and retrieve her remaining crippled brother Jed, if in fact he had survived.

 If in fact he had survived, the Rutherford’s would be faced with another problem. Fellow ranchers and cattle buyers would then associate Jed with the Hashknife cattle company and the alleged rustling they were being blamed with. Any missing cattle in the area would be blamed on the Bar None Zero Ranch. Just the mere suspicion could destroy all that Slim and Sally had worked so hard for.

 

Three weeks had passed when Slim noticed dark forms moving slowly in his direction from the North east. Knowing this was the same direction that he expected his men to come from his mood lightened at the thought of seeing them and knowing the cattle had made it safely to market. Disappointment did not raise its head as he recognized Biscuit’s chuck wagon. Breaking camp he rode out excitedly to meet them.

Once again united with his men, Slim crossed back into Texas where they headed to Fort Worth. During their ride, the men heard all that had gone on and each night around the campfire that story was all the topic.

Heading south, the group crossed over the Canadian and Red River and when the reached the Brazos they headed Southeast towards Fort Worth. The money made in the large sale would give each man his wage plus a bonus equal to his wages for risking the venture out of Texas. Slim also told them that to prevent his men from being skinned by gamblers, saloon keepers and whores, he had Sally set up each mans bonus in an account at the bank in town. Every bonus a man relieved from now on would be placed within this account which could not be accessed for one full year from the date of its opening. Each man would receive a small ledger book from the bank showing each deposit. Since none of the men had ever had a savings, it was a novelty to them. Some bragged that on the day the money was made available, they’d head into town and experience the biggest blow out ever seen. Most of the men though said they’d like to save up even more for new Mexican made saddles and such.

Fort Worth lay between the Brazos and Trinity rivers just west of the town Dallas. It was an easy trip and uneventful in nature. The four hundred mile trip took twenty one days to complete as the group could only go as fast as Biscuits chuck wagon. The men were festive in nature and had little desire to immediately rush back to start gathering up the next herd. During this time, Slim Jim Rutherford grew to know his men and in return, they him. 

 

A disgruntled, red haired sentry with a scruffy beard stood obediently outside Commander Wilcox’s door. Looking through narrowed eyes at the dusty trail weary man in front of him the sentry crossed his arms on his chest and loudly asked, “Who might you be and state what business you might be having with the Commander!

Slim held his tongue and tried to remain polite. “My name is Jim Rutherford, I just drove a herd of cattle out of Texas to Kansas City using born Texans to do it with. Commander Wilcox ordered me and my Texans to report back just soon as we returned. I’m here to report our return.”

The guard lifted his nose skyward in obvious distain at the thought of Texans making an honest living. Pointing to a row of hard wooden benches placed against the wall the soldier in an obviously Eastern accent sneered, “The Commander is a busy man, he’s all booked up for the next few days. You and your men better get used to ridin’ those benches over there. I’ll add your name to the list of those wanting an audience with the Commander. If for any reason you leave, I’ll remove your name and you’ll be placed at the end of the line again.”

Slim looked around and seeing no one in wait asked, Where are all the others? I don’t see a line anywhere.”

The soldier leaned forward. “There ain’t gotta be one, I make up the line and I say you wait until I’m damn well ready to show you in to see the Commander! If you give me any lip, I’ll add another day’s wait every time you piss me off!”

Slim became red faced and stood with clenched fist going nose to nose with the guard. Just as he was about to speak through his clenched teeth, the door swung violently open and there it stood the Commander whose face was redder than Slims.

“Soldier!” He shouted at the man, “ Did I just hear you right?”

“Yes Sir! Er… no Sir, I mean this man is wasting your time Sir! I’m only trying to keep order here Sir!”

“Order my ass! I bet if I waited a bit longer, I would’ve heard you play this man for a bribe to see me! Am I right Corporal?”

“I can’t rightly say Sir, I’m sorry Sir!”

“Don’t apologize to me Mister, apologize to the man you tried to skunk!”

The sudden change in the man would have been almost humorous if Slim wasn’t so mad at him.

“My deepest apologies Sir, The Commander is not as busy as I thought, he’ll see you now.”

Pointing to the frosted glass door the Commander told the guard, “In the future, you may want to remember  that I can hear every sound made out in this hallway through this thin door soldier, including every word you speak and every bribe you try to make!”

Without accepting the man’s apology, Slim then entered the room behind the Commander.

The Commander showed Slim Jim to a seat and shaking his head said, “I swear, the men they assigned to my post out here are the dregs. At the end of the War, the commanding brass gave out all the good post to the ass kissers and those well connected. Those of us who took the job seriously, like me, ended up in no man’s land babysitting a bunch of misfit lazy men whose only skill is looking for the easiest way out of work.” Settling into his own chair, the Commander looked up pleasantly at Slim asking, “ Now, what can I do for you and your men Sir?”

“As I told your guard Commander, I legally took a group of born Texans across the border and as agreed to, I am here to sign them each back into the State as the Law requires me to.”

“Ah… you’re the one. Captain Oswald sent word that you’d be in to see me. Welcome back.”

“Thank you Sir, I have all the men’s paperwork here.”

Taking the forty some sheets of signed releases from Slim, the Commander laid them on his desk and asked. “Are all the men here? Did you lose any? I mean did any die on the trail?”

“No Sir, not a one. I’ve never seen a group of men as determined to do a job well done as these were.”

“Texans, they sure are a different breed alright. I’ll take your word all is in order. I’ll sign these and absolve the men of any further need to wait to get back home. They’re free to go whenever they want, as you are. Welcome back.”

Stepping back into the outer hall, the reprimanded guard looked away as Slim closed the door behind him. Not wanting to get himself or any of his men in trouble his mind raced as a way to even the score with the obnoxious guard. Knowing any spoken threat or physical action against the man could be considered reason for his arrest, Slim sauntered up and stood closely next to the man. Not knowing what Slims intentions were, the Guard stood silently waiting for Slim to make his move. Suddenly, a loud, wet sounding blast of foul smelling bean fueled pent up intestinal flatulence was expelled. After waiting a few seconds for the foul aroma to escape his britches, Slim calmly walked away. As he and the men walked down the hall towards the main doorway snickering, slim heard loud hearty laughter coming from the Commanders office.

 

Chapter 8

Hugging Slim tightly, Sally had met him as he and the rest of the cowboys rode into the yard. Before he could speak though, Sally pulled him away from the men. “Slim, when Phil and Erney came back with the story of my brothers, I asked them to fetch Jed if he still lived and return with him back here. It may have been a mistake but he’s the only family I have left. He’s not doing well.” She turned and faced the house.

“Jed spends all his time in that wheeled chair contraption staring out the window. He barely eats and refuses to exercise or be fitted for a wooden leg.  He asked me to send you to him when you returned, he’s in the parlor.”

Tired as he was from the long dusty ride, Slim denied himself the few private moments with Sally that he had hoped for. Instead, he slapped off the dust as best he could using his hat and stepped into the house. The coolness of the place surprised and pleased him. After being sun blazed for so long any shade was welcome. The smell of an upcoming noonday meal made its way from out of the kitchen. It was good to be home.

Stepping into the dimly lit parlor, Slim saw Jed in his wheeled chair in front of the window. A Navajo colored blanket covered his lower half. Slim assumed this was because Jed did not want folks to see his stump. Walking quietly up to Jed, Slim spoke.

“Morning Jed, mind if I sit down myself? It’s been a long ride and I’m near done in.” Settling himself heavily into one of the overstuffed chairs, Slim looked the man over sitting next to him. “I see you survived, minus a leg but you survived. I’m not going to pretend I’m pleased to see you here but Sally says you wanted to talk.”

Jed turned his unshaven face away from the window and turned his chair to face Slim. Jed’s demeanor had changed from that of an older wiser brother to that of a broken man. Sad, bloodshot eyes stared back at Slim.

“My coming here wasn’t my idea. Sally insisted and with a missing leg there wasn’t much I could do but be dragged back here by your men.”

Exhaling heavily that almost sounded like a sob, Jed lifted his head saying. “I know what my presence here will do to your operation. For harboring a member of the Hashknife group, even an ex one, you’ll be blamed for every missing cow within a hundred miles. When word gets out what happened up in Tascosa the folks around here will want to finish the job by dangling me from the nearest tree.”

“No one’s gonna’ hang nobody one my spread.”

“It’d be best if they did. No one’s gonna honor your business deals once they find out our relationship. You’re kin and in Texas that means you’re just as guilty as I am. No, I didn’t want to come here. I wanted Sally to be free from her brothers and the bad name we made for ourselves, by whatever means. You gotta send me away, fast, before folks find out just who I am and that I’m here. It’s the only way Slim, the only way.”

I can’t, like you said, like it or not, you’re kin.”

“Slim, I’ve already said my piece to Sally, I’m sorry for not bein’ the brother she needed. To you, I just ask for your forgiveness. I want nothin’ else.”

“If Sally forgave you then who am I to hold a grudge? We’ll think of something. ”

Slim started for the front hall then turned. “I’ll think of something Jed, I’m not sure how to clean up this mess yet but I’m sure there’s a way.”

From inside the parlor Slim heard a soft reply, “There is Slim, there is.”

Thinking Jed had come to grips with the situation and that he’d let Slim and Sally do the thinking, Slim walked out onto the porch where Sally awaited him.

“What did he say?”

“Well, not a lot really. He apologized and felt deeply about not being the kind of brother you deserved but to tell the truth, he seemed more worried about our future with him staying here than even I was. I know it’ll be a rough sell to folks but I can’t just hand him over to any old mob to get hung. He might not be a wanted man in Texas but that won’t stop folks from feeling as they do or even acting on those feelings.”

As they stepped off of the porch and made their way toward the men, Sally placed her arm around Slims waist and drew close to him. “I’m afraid I made a mistake Slim, maybe it would have been best to let nature take its course up in Tascosa and leave him be. No one would have then found out we were related.”

It was the familiar but gut wrenching sound of a single gunshot that caused the two to turn on their heels and face the house.

The men stood motionless, as if glued in place. Suddenly finding his legs, Slim tore into the house on a dead run. Sliding to a halt at the parlors entranceway, Slim saw the blood splattered window and the slumped form of Jed in his wheeled chair.

From behind him, he heard Sally stifle a cry. Turning to look at his wife, he saw her standing at the entranceway with her fist crammed into her mouth as if trying to hold back a scream.

 Wheeler Texas up near Amarillo is not known for its hills but a small rise was found less than a mile from the house to cradle the grave of Jedediah Britchen. It was a better send off than what his two brothers received, for sure.

Slim held Sally close as the rest of the men stood silent. Only a short prayer was offered but before Sally turned from the mound that held her brother she said to it, “In your own way you tried to be the big brother I deserved. You accomplished that. Thank you for your final act. It saved our ranch. You can rest in peace brother.

That day a new iron was added to the familiar Bar None Zero brand. The Resting J.

The Industrialist Rancher

cow_sniff_calf

Chapter 1

The morning sun worked its way across the room until it landed squarely on the body lying contorted on the bed. Two flies played tag in the sunlight then landing momentarily on the body’s nose.

Suddenly the body snorted and a hand swept the air in front of the unshaven face trying to chase away the buzzing irritants. One bleary eye cracked open and immediately squinted shut in pain. A few more snorts and a long sonorous clearing of his dry throat brought open the other eye. With both eyes staring unfocused into the hotel room, the hung over cowboy began his attempt to sit up.

“Oh God, if I ever drink again let me get plugged with lead before I wake. “ With great effort, the young man with a pounding headache finally made it into a sitting position on the edge of the soft horsetail mattress. Placing a hand on the bed he felt its rich softness with the likes that he’d never experienced in a bed before. Looking around, his gaze caught site of the silk window drapes and imported woven floor rug. “Dang, How’d I end up in a place like this?” Reaching out to the bedpost, he removed the pants hanging over the post and checked his money belt. Relieved, he found it still contained twenty two of the forty dollars out of his monthly pay. Satisfied at the remaining amount, he rose and stumbled towards the water bowl  atop the ornate French vanity.  As he Splashed water on his face he noticed someone had placed a straight razor set up next to the bowl, probably the hotel. Taking advantage of the situation, he shaved and washed his hair afterward in the bowl. Opening the window he shoved aside the ornate drapes and tossed out the bowl of fouled water onto the street below and commenced  dressing himself.  Thankfully,  he began to feel halfway human by the time he slid his pants back on.

A light knock on the rooms door startled him. A rush of panic momentarily gripped him as he suddenly realized someone had to pay for this room and it sure couldn’t be him, not on his earnings!

Swallowing hard, he regained his composure and boldly faced the door “Yeah? Who’s there?”

In an unusually deep voice he heard, “It’s the Sheriff! I’m haulin’ ya’ in fer abandonment mister!”

“Wha??? Abandonment?” Suddenly he realized the so called Sheriff’s voice while deep in tone was way too feminine to be a man and then he heard giggling from the other side of the door. Reaching for the door, he slid the latch aside and partway opened the door on its chain. Poking one eye through the crack, he spied on the visitor. At first he looked straight out and saw nothing but when he lowered his sights a bit more he took in the small feminine figure smiling broadly up at him.

“Uh… may I help you Ma’am?”

The deep voice was replaced with that of a young woman with a slight Eastern accent.“Ma’am? Is that what you’re going to end up calling me Jethro?” She chuckled.

Scratching his head in confusion he replied, “I, uh… shoot Ma’am, I’m at a disadvantage here see’n as you know my name an’ all and I don’t recall yours. Heck, in all honesty, I don’t believe we’ve ever even met.”

A dark and serious look crossed the pretty young blond girls face but then she quickly recovered her happy go lucky smile and replied. “Alright Jethro, I know you had quite a spell of drinking and funning last night so I won’t hold it against you for being a bit woozy this morning but pretending you don’t know me and that we were married last night is something altogether different. You know perfectly well what you did, after all you jumped at the chance! Now, finish getting dressed, we have to go back over to the courthouse to pick up our marriage certificate. ”

“Wha??? Marriage certificate? Ma’am I’m gonna’ be mite beyond woozy if I just heard you right that we was married last night!”

This time the serious look returned to her face but did not leave. “Jethro, please don’t tell me you’ve got regrets and want out. I asked you twice and your friends asked you even more than that if this is what you wanted to do before Judge Pendergrass married us.  You vowed up and down I’d stolen your heart at first glance and would have it no other way than for us to be married. For reasons I had explained yesterday, I needed to be married right away… for legal purposes. After we were married, your friends carted you back off to the Gold Eagle to celebrate. They said they’d drop you back off at my hotel room within an hour. Well, I waited for hours in our room here for your return. When you did, it was past two o’clock in the morning and I might add, with the help of your trail friends.  They carried you in dead drunk and plopped you in our bed and stumbled out guffawing. Seeing you were dead to the world, I undressed you and set up your morning toilet on the vanity. You were so sprawled out on the bed that there was no room for me to climb in next to you. I ended up sleeping on the divan until dawn.  I gave up trying to wake you so I went downstairs by myself. I was down getting breakfast when you must have woke up.

Suddenly Jethro became suspicious that a joke being played on him.

“Well, well, well. I bet the rest of the fellers are knee slappin’ watching me squirm. They all know I’m not the marryin’ kind a guy and are usin’ my drunk last night to play a trick on me. By the way, if we was really married, where’s the proof of it?

The slender well dressed girl slid her left hand forward from her shawl and wiggled her fingers at him. A thin gold band adorned her marriage finger. “Yes, married… and signed papers from Judge Pendergrass   attesting to it are waiting down at the courthouse for us to pick up. By the time we were actually married, it was too late in the day and the clerk went on home.”

With a heavy sigh, the girl sat gently on the soft bed and asked. “ You do remember getting married last night don’t you Jethro?”

It was time to put an end to the confusion. Hurt her he may but he still had inkling it was all a joke being played on him by his pards.

“To be honest, no.”

Tears welled in her eyes and a lone tear made its way down her smooth cheek. “I feared as much. Please, finish dressing and come with me to the court house. There I’m sure the judge will confirm everything I’ve said and more.”

“Good morning Miss Van de Bunt, Oh, excuse me, I mean Mrs.  Avery. I’ve got to get used to that from now on.” Judge Pendergrass said sticking his hand out to congratulate the young Jethro Avery.  “I take it you’ll be wanting your certificate this morning. The clerk brought it in just a few minutes ago. I signed it but it but the ink may be a bit wet yet.”

Gently retrieving the document he blew on his signature one final time.  He handed the paper to Jethro telling the couple, “There, she’s dry as a bone now.”

The girl reached out and carefully held it against her breast after reading it and said, “Thank you Judge. But there seems to be some confusion and I need your assistance on this matter. ”

“Why sure. What seems to be the problem?”

By now Jethro had given up all hope that in fact a joke was being played on him. He also realized that the paper his wife now held was solid and legal. Everyone in the State of Texas knew Judge Pendergrass had a minimal sense of humor and would definitely not use his official title to promote a prank. He’d had too many men hung for their ill deeds to have a sense of humor anymore.

“ I will cut right to the chase your Honor. My husband has no recollection of yesterday as he now claims he must have been drunk.”

“Drunk?” Looking now at Jethro through narrowed eyes, the judge exclaimed in disbelief, ”Drunk? Yesterday you both swore you had no drink in either of you when I married you. Why it’s not legal for me to marry a couple if they have been over imbibing in spirits. Knowing so and still joining the two of you together would have been a serious crime and I’m not in the habit of committing crimes. Please, explain why you think he was drunk Mrs. Avery.”

“Well, he came in last night very drunk, that much I know. He seemed alright when we married but as the time wore on he did act a mite strange. I just assumed it was nerves. Now he says he has no memory of even meeting me. Why the way he’s acting, I bet if I asked him now, he wouldn’t even know my name!”

“I don’t, sorry Ma’am.”

“It’s Alessandra Van de Bundt . My family and friends call me Alessa. Now I’m not so sure what you should call me!”

To prevent any further outburst, the judge waved the couple into a set of vacant chairs as he lowered himself into a large cushioned leather high back chair on rollers. “Son, you’ve a problem on your hands. A big problem. Did you lie to me about drinking yesterday when you asked me to marry the two of you?”

“No Sir, not willingly. I’m not in the habit of lying, especially to a Judge your Honor”

“Then why are you saying you were too drunk to remember getting married?”

“I never said nothing about getting drunk, she did. I don’t know what happened yesterday, I can’t remember a thing, cept getting my tooth pulled early on in the morning.”

“Well a tooth sure won’t wipe out a memory, what’s the last thing you do remember?”

Scrunching his brows together he ran a hand across his forehead. “I seem to recall walking to the diner up the road for a bite to eat after leavin’ the Barber where he pulled my tooth. I had been weeks on the trail and hadn’t had a chewy meal in ages ‘cause of my toothache. All I’d had for weeks was what Biscuit, our camp cook could pound or grind up soft enough for me to swallow whole like.”

Judge Pendergrass’s eyebrows  suddenly arched skyward. “Jenny?” He called out to a young woman outside of his office filing papers.  “Will you run over to Max  Leadlow’s barber shop and ask him to come over here right away please?”

The three sat quietly waiting. Jethro began to ask question but the Judge hushed him quiet.

“Just wait, I have a suspicion about something”

Within a few minutes, Max, the barber and Dentist knocked on the office doors frame. “You wanted to see me your Honor?”

“Yes, Thank you for coming so quickly Max, I hope this isn’t an inopportune time for you to leave your business but I need to ask you a few questions about yesterday morning.”

The Barber glanced at Jethro then at Alessa and back to the Judge. “No your honor, I’m not real busy, I only got Jim Stevens snoring in the chair as is usual when he comes in for a haircut ‘n shave, that’s all. Am I in some sort of trouble here your Honor?”

The judge harrumphed and placed both hands on his large belly. “No, not in the least Max. Did Jethro here come to you yesterday to get a tooth pulled?”

“Yes your Honor, and it was a time yankin’ it too. We in the profession call it an impacted tooth, ones that all pussy and swollen. It takes a skilled Dentist to pull ‘em too.”

“Was he in a lot of pain?”

“Yes Sir! Especially when I first began yankin’ on it.”

“Did you give him anything for the pain? Liquor and such?”

“No, not liquor your Honor but I did give him laudanum to ease the pain when he first come in and then a second healthy dose when he left.”

“That was all you gave him then, laudanum?”

“Well, when he first arrived he was so jittery I feared I wouldn’t be able to pull it so I gave him some tincture of heroin to calm his nerves before I give him the laudanum.”

Judge Pendergrass leaned back in his chair and nodded knowingly. “I understand, That will be all Max, you can get on back to your shop now. Thank you for your time.”

Max started for the door then turned asking, “You still on for this afternoon for your haircut Judge?”

“Yes, I’ll be by around two.”

With that the barber left leaving the couple to sit silently waiting for the Judge to speak.

“Well, as far as I’m concerned, the two of you are legally married. There’s nothing in the law about marrying under the influence of either laudanum or heroin as both are a legal medicine.”

“Is that why he can’t remember yesterday your Honor? Because of the two drugs?”

“That would be my guess. I had a similar situation years ago when I had my own tooth pulled. My wife, bless her departed soul, said she found me out back planting the garden when I got back home.”

“What’s so bad about that your Honor?” She asked.

“It was February.”

Chapter 2

Slowly the couple made their way from the Court house and headed for the diner for lunch. The earlier mention of food reminded Jethro that he was still ravenous. “So Alessa,” He calmly asked, “you mind fillin’ me in on all the details on how I ended up agreeing to marryin’ you? Back there  in the hotel room you said something about having to be legally married, what did you mean by that? ”

“ I guess if you didn’t  even remember my name then you most likely wouldn’t remember why you agreed to marry me either. Maybe I should just start at the same place I did yesterday when you approached me.”

“That would be a good place to start, at the beginning.”

“You won’t like it.”

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I must’a liked it yesterday since I agreed to marry you.”

“Yes, but you were drugged.”

“I see your point. But, go ahead, what’s done is done…for now anyway.”

They made their way inside the diner and sat down. Much to the chagrin of Jethro, his mouth was still too tender to chew the steak he ordered. Instead, he had to satisfy himself with the sides of peas and mashed potatoes. Still, he managed to down three helpings of apple pie for dessert.

Alessa continued her story during the meal.  “MY father is Jules Van de Bunt, he and the rest of my family live back east in New York City. He’s a very wealthy man.”

“Never heard of him, but then out here in Texas we don’t care much about things back east.”

“I can see why. Anyway, I have always been considered a bit too rough around the edges for the social scene back East. I even wore men’s pants once when we went on a family outing in the Adirondack Mountains one summer. I thought my cousin Clarice was going to faint! Afterward, she kept her distance.  I have always been enthralled by stories of the West and wanted to see places like Texas for myself. Twice I snuck off by train but each time the  Pinkerton men my father had hired found and returned me. My father was livid and would have disowned me if it weren’t for my grandfather.  You see, it was my grandfather who filled my head as a child with his tales of the West. When my grandfather arrived from Europe, he traveled to the west and discovered first silver then copper ore in what is now Arizona. He later married and moved to the East where he raised his two sons. My father and Uncle both attended colleges back East and with the money loaned to them by my grandfather, they started very successful businesses.”

“What sorta’ business?”

“My father built a shipyard in Connecticut.”

“Whewww! He must be rollin’ in dough but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you had to marry.”

“There was a situation at a charity ball given by my family. A young wealthy gentleman from a very politically connected family made it known that he desired to marry me. It was during the ball and he had been drinking heavily when he stood atop a table and announced to the world his desires. He then jumped down and tried to kiss me in front of the entire gathering. I was horrified and without thinking punched him square in the nose! It seems he and my father had planned our marriage all out.  You see Jethro, in a family like mine, a woman has little say in her marriage. She is to marry not for love but to keep money, property and power secured within a small circle of families. “

“That sounds like slavery!”

“In a way it is. My mother was one of those women. Father knew she loved another but kept a blind eye towards her indiscretions with the man. As long as it was discreet, no one seemed to care. It was my grandfather who bemoaned all this. He bore a heavy guilt for having raised his family in such a manner. I was his only salvation. It was he who gave me the money run off, it was he who wanted me to marry a western man, a rancher or even a cowboy rather than a socialite from back East. It was his dream that I would break the mold and be the matriarch of a Western family.”

“So far I understand all this, I mean as a Texan I understand. What part won’t I like?”

“My reason for having to marry I guess.”

“What reason is that? You said you wanted to marry for love…Oh, I think I see. There ain’t  no way you could have truly fallen in love with me enough to ask me to marry you in the few moments we knew each other yesterday, was there?”

“That’s the part I said you won’t like, and neither do I. You see, I ran away a third and final time. It was the day after my grandfather’s funeral. I took what money I had squirreled away and left during the night.  My grandfather had also secretly put some in an account for me that my parents were unaware of. This time I did not take a train directly to the West. I circumvented the route by heading to Chicago, then to Missouri. I figured the Pinkerton’s would first look for me along the route I took the first two times. I joined a minister and his family in Missouri and traveled by wagon to western Kansas then down into Texas. I thought I had lost them but recently I found out that a couple of Pinkerton men had been seen in Amarillo asking questions about me a couple of weeks ago.”

“Why Amarillo’s just a week’s ride from Sweet Water here! Why they could be just a couple days away by now!”

“ I know, that’s the reason I needed to marry. If I were married, there would be nothing my father could do to force me to return to New York. If it weren’t for Mr. Belleview at the bank I would never have known of the Pinkerton’s progress. He owns the bank up in Amarillo too and it was him who heard the men asking about me when he was there.  ”

“I hear them Pinkerton men is one hard outfit. More badger than man! No wonder you were scared of ‘em!”

‘That’s why I looked for a Texan, a real Texan. Brave, strong, willing to stand up for his woman or die doing it…well, I really wouldn’t want my husband  to die I guess. But you get the idea don’t you?”

“Sure, I guess. But if you were lookin’ for all that in a man what made you think I’d fit the bill?”

“ Because, the first moment I saw you confidently swaggering down the street I knew you were the one.”

“Uh, Miss Alessa, I wasn’t confidently swaggerin’ if you recall, I was cross eyed drugged!”

Alessa began to chuckle, “Oh, I know that now, but yesterday I thought you were the bravest man I’d ever met. Why I heard you tell your  friends that there wasn’t a man alive who could out draw you, out fight you or out rope you! “

“Well, That was mostly just Texas cowboy braggin’  but in truth I am a pretty darn good shot an’ not many can outdraw me. I guess if it came to it even though I quake at the thought of bein’ married, I’d stand up an’ take a bullet for my wife…that would be you I reckon.”

“See? I was right after all. You really are my Texas cowboy!”

Chapter 3

That night the two returned to their room.

“OK, so I understand why you needed to get married an’ all but why pick a man who has all but twenty dollars to his name? I mean there ain’t no way I had a savings of any sort. In fact, when you knocked on the door this morning I feared it was the hotel manager wanting his money. I was ready to plow out’a the window head first! Now I gotta’ conjure up some sorta’ steady income for us.”

“Let’s just deal with the Pinkerton men first, then we’ll figure out what to do after that.  I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I was just panic stricken when I heard they were so close to finding me. I knew it was only a matter of days before they’d end up here. I had no one to protect me. If you find you really can’t stand being married, I’m willing to let you go your own way once my father forgets about me.”

“I may not be the marrying type but since I am I ain’t gonna’ shirk my duties as a husband. No, I ain’t gonna’ b;lame it on drugs either. I musta’ been aware enough to decide it was the right thing to do…and I feel it was. I’m just glad you ain’t hard on the eyes! Haw haw!”

“She reached out and gently squeezed his arm saying, “Well if it’s any consolation, I think you’re the handsomest cowboy around, drugged or no.” Then, dropping her hand she placed both hands on her hips and asked, “ My last question for you tonight is where do you want me to sleep?”

“I been thinkin’ about that. I know we’re married and all and sleepin’ together is what married folks are privileged to do with each other but I feel kind’a awkward like about doin’ it. I mean we ain’t had time to spark or nothin’ if you get my meanin’.”

“Then let’s not rush it. I know eventually you’ll want a woman, all men do at one time or another. I’d rather you not look for it outside the home. So when you feel the burn, please tell me and I’ll make love to you as a good wife would.”

“Fair enough.” Pointing to the bed he said chuckling, “Until we get kicked out’a here or I’m plugged by the Pinkertons, you sleep in the bed, after all, you’re paying the bill here so you got special privileges! “

Jethro made his bed upon the divine and lay awake pondering his future. How strange it all seemed to look over at the sleeping girl and realize she was his wife. She was far more beautiful than any girl he’d ever been with but there was more to her than just her beauty. He found her laugh addicting. The same smile that she had plastered on her face when they first met at the door came frequently and with ease. Now that he had a moment to think about it, he remembered how it felt when she squeezed his arm. “Huh,” he thought, “Maybe I’m fallin’ for her after all.”

It was five days later in the dark of night when two strangers riding silently in a buggy made their way into town.  Wearing bowler hats and black suits, the two looked like a pair of twin bankers. If it were not for the .45 caliber colts hanging low on their hips, they would have looked like any other businessmen. Both wore large mustache’s which was the style and both had a Pinkerton badge pinned to their vest.

The only life still awake was at Gertrude’s Saloon at the far end of town.  It was known as a rough and tumble sort of place who’s soiled doves plied watered down whiskey down the throats of the low life patrons  before dragging them upstairs and relieving them of their last fifty cents.

It was here that the Pinkerton men stopped at.  Inside was foul. Upon entering, the smell of unwashed bodies, vomit, cigarette smoke and cheap liquor assailed the nose.  It was nearly three in the morning and the whores were still hustling their wares. Seeing the two well dressed gentlemen enter, they made a desperate beeline to them.

“Well hello my scrumptious darlings!” An elderly woman of some girth, much of it protruding from her stained top, was nearest and quickly approached the two men in hopes of a last stand before calling it a night.  “Can I interest either or both of you in spending an hour with me in heaven?”

The taller of the two stopped as they made their way to the bar. Turning to look at the poor excuse of even a used up soiled dove he sneered. “Lady, spending an hour between your layers of blubber would be hell, not heaven. Now get away from me before I catch what foulness is ailing you.”

She was about to make a snide reply when she saw the eyes of the man narrow and the look of pure hate transform his once pleasant looks into a snarl. Frightened, she turned and quickly made her way up to her room and called it a night.

The bar tender, an ornery red faced powerfully built Irishman stood staring hard at the two as they approached the bar. What’d ya’ scare me whore off for? Ye just cost me fifty cents I have you to know.”

“Sorry about that, Here’s a dollar for your troubles.”

“Well now, amends are made gentlemen, what can I be doin’ for ya’”

The shorter of the two now spoke up, “Were looking for a girl going by the name Alessandra. Some call her Alessa others Miss Van de Bunt, whatever name she goes by were from the Pinkerton’s and have been hired to find her. Have you seen or heard of her?”

“Sure, I never spoke to in me person but everyone knows Miss Van de Bunt. She’s the sweetest lookin’ lass that graced this town.”

“Can you tell me where she’s staying?”

Suspicious that the men might cause the young girl to come to harm, he asked them, “And whatever for would a couple Pinkerton men be doing searching for such an innocent lass as Miss Van de Bunt?”

The men glanced at each other. They had two choices, either physically attempt to draw what information they wanted from the man or lie. Seeing the girth and obvious muscles tensing in the bartenders arms convinced them they would have a bad time of it if they tried to get physical.

“We’re only trying to find her to deliver a message from her family” They lied. “Her father has passed away and she’s come into a large inheritance and she needs to return home as soon as possible to claim it.”

“Oh, well that’s different then!” Turning to the few patrons left awake he bellowed,  “Does anyone know where Miss van de Bunt is stayin’ at?  These gentlemen need her to come home right away to claim a large inheritance!”

A skinny man with a mouthful of missing teeth spoke up.“ She’s at the Chinaberry Hotel, second floor facing the street on the right.”

The taller of the two Pinkerton’s asked, “How do you know this?”

“’Cause I clean the chamber pots at the Chinaberry and at the Morrison hotel, that’s how!”

The tall Pinkerton flipped a silver coin toward the skinny chamber pot cleaner and walked out.

“That was easy!” he said.

By Four thirty the door had been silently jimmied and the two Pinkerton’s silently stepped inside the hotel room. Once inside they let their eyes become accustomed to the dark before moving any further. It was then that they saw a man sleeping on the divine and the girl curled up in the bed. No one had been awake downstairs to note their arrival or their passage upstairs. It was the touch of a cold, hard pistol barrel to each of their heads that awakened the couple.

“Don’t either of you make a move or make a sound.”

The taller of the Pinkerton’s turned his pistol around backwards and brought  the butt smashing down on Jethro’s head.

Alessa began to cry out but the shorter Pinkerton halted her before she could raise an alarm. “Uh, Uh Miss Van de Bunt.” He said quietly.”  No noise or I’ll do the same to you!”

“You can’t do this!” She snarled, “I’m a married woman now and that is my husband!”

“Tell it to the mountain lady. We’re paid to bring you back to your Daddy… just like the other times.

Before she could cry out in protest, the two had bound and gagged her. Silently carrying her downstairs they made their way outside to the buggy and quickly rode off.

Chapter 4

For the second time in less than a week Jethro awoke in the same hotel room with a splitting headache. This time though the bump on his head said his headache was from a blow and not a bottle of cheap whiskey.

Sliding off the divine onto the floor, he sat there until his aching head and nauseous stomach calmed down a bit more. Suddenly, as if remembering something important he quickly looked over at the empty bed. It was then that he remembered the last words before the blow was given.

Wobbling, he stood up and made his way to the door. It was left open.

“Oh my God, they got her!”

Needing to clear his head for thought, he made his way over to the water pitcher and poured the cool contents over his head.  Grabbing a towel, he dried himself off and took a quick inventory of his belongings. Nothing seemed to be missing and his gun still hung from the bedpost where he had placed it the night before. Kneeling down, he saw Alessa’s purse still tucked safely beneath the bed.  Opening it, he removed a large roll of money she had placed inside of it and returned it to its hiding spot.

Taking two steps at a time, he rushed down the steps to the hotel desk.

“Excuse me,” He asked the clerk,” Has there been any sign of Miss Van de Bunt er..my wife this morning?”

The answer came back, “No.”

He left but not before paying a month’s advance rent on the room. It cost more than two months of his wages but considering the roll of money his wife was carrying and the importance of finding her, it mattered little.

Stepping out into the harsh Texas sun Jethro squinted in pain. His head still ached but he had to put the pain aside and keep a clear head. His first thought was which direction had the pair gone after kidnapping Alessa. They would waste little time so he assumed it would be by rail car. The closest passenger depot was  the T&P line in Abilene,  nearly fifty miles east.  The kidnappers could make that in two days easy.

Taking his horse from the stable, he headed off towards Abilene at a gallop. It was a good thing he’d been able to rest up and get some weight back on his horse after the last drive. She was antsy and ready to charge ahead.  By that night he figured the Kidnappers were within sight somewhere so he decided to put his faith in his scouting skills. Making his way up onto a small mount he scanned the darkness for a campfire. He hoped to see only one but in fact he saw three.  Somehow he had to rule two of them out. Talking to himself he went through what he knew of the people traveling through the wild and the men that had Alessa. They were city men, not used to roughing it. Travelers and cowboys were used to the Texas wilderness sounds and night spooks like coyote and such.

 “I bet two to one that the last campfire to go out is the one I want. If I see the campfire brighten when the coyotes start singing, then I’ll know for sure”

True to form, around eleven O’clock, the coyotes started their yipping and howls. To the unfamiliar ear, they sounded like possessed demons rather than an earthly animal. Watching the three campfires only one brightened. “There they are, scared of the coyotes!”

Saddling his horse, he let the rising moon be the light he needed to travel by. He figured the group was five to six miles distant. Not much of a travel in the daytime but precarious at night. A missed gopher hole, a crack between rocks to slip into, anything could lame up his horse if he wasn’t careful. It was the longest five miles he’d ever traveled. He stopped his mount a half mile away for fear the men’s horses pulling the cart would whinny or make a noise that his own mount would respond to.  Unpacking his fully loaded Yellow Boy rifle he slowly made his way eastward towards the campfire through the brush and cactus plants. When he was within a hundred yards, he started to crawl on his belly for fear the campfire light would reflect off of him and give him away. Silently parting the brush with gloved hands, he peered not directly at the campfire but off to its sides. He didn’t want to risk becoming night blinded if for some reason the campfire would unexpectedly flare up. And just then it did.

Fortunately, his precaution prevented his eyes from losing their night vision. At the same time he was able to use his peripheral vision and observe the two men gathering up more firewood. He was now close enough to hear them speaking to one another.

“Stupid! Why didn’t we just put the man in the hotel out of his misery when we had the chance? We could have then taken our time getting out of town and wouldn’t be traipsing around in the desert with those damn things howling at us!”

“Ah keep quiet, it’s only coyotes!”

“Easy enough for you to say, how do you know they aren’t Indians? Answer me that big man!”

‘Geez, you get testy when you’re scared.” Pointing to their captive, he continued railing his partner. “Even she looks more at ease than you. How you ever become a Pinkerton is beyond me!”

“I became one same as you big brother! We joined together after killing the Chief of police in Cambridge for the Irish Four Corners gang, or did you forget?”

“No, I never forgot and neither will our boss. He does jobs for the gang. That’s why we were hired. When he found out that we had methodically tortured the man without so much as blinking an eye, he said he had a use for men like us. Of course if we had turned down his offer, we’d have been swinging from a rope for murder.”

“Still, I hate things that live in the dark, like them damn coyotes! They should all be killed and done away with if you ask me.”

The older and taller brother stepped up to the campfire.  “I wonder if she’s telling the truth, that the fella in her room really was her husband? Naw, couldn’t be, he’s just some dirt bag cowboy she most likely hired as a body guard.”

“Well, she is wearing a ring and a cheap one at that. You’d think if she bought a ring to give us a ruse, she’d have bought an expensive one. Naw, he ain’t her husband. She’s lying.”

Jethro had asked Alessa how she got the ring and when she told him it belonged to his trail pard Lester and that he won it in a game of Five Card Monty the day earlier. At the time he laughed but had no memory of it because of the drugs.  She was there though as were the rest of his friends. Jethro had come fresh from the barber and met up with his pards in the street outside the diner for lunch. It was then that they saw the young girl in tears sitting on the bench in front of the diner. After hearing her story, Jethro had jumped up claiming he loved her deeply and needed to buy her a ring. Lester produced the ring from his pocket and handed it to Jethro telling him he better not look a gifted horse in the mouth and that he had better waste no time getting a Judge or preacher to marry them. It should have dawned on everyone that Jethro was not himself but then they figured love was a strange thing and it’s better left unquestioned.

Of course Alessa was able to clearly hear the two Pinkerton’s conversation. She found herself getting angry and upset when they described Jethro is such derogatory terms.

“You two wait until my husband gets on your trail, you’ll be sorry!”

“Missy,” The younger brother said to her, “your husband is nothing compared to us trained Pinkerton men. Why we are trained by the best in every aspect of police work. Even if your so called husband showed up with a bunch of cowpokes for a posse, why he and his fellows wouldn’t last five minutes against us. “

“You are so wrong you make me laugh!”

“Oh, excuse me but just what was that lump of sleeping trash in your room, your body guard? Haw, Haw haw!”

“No, he’s not my body guard he’s more cunning and dangerous than that, he’s a born and bred Texan!”

The younger brother, the short one, walked rapidly towards Alessa. Wanting to do her harm to shut her up, he pulled back his foot to kick her as hard as he could as she lay helplessly tied up on the ground.

To his older brother’s dismay, his younger brother, rather than following through with his kick, stopped and stood stock still. All three had heard a sound similar to that of  a mourning dove taking flight. In mid kick, he turned his head slowly away from the girl and took a step sideways. Then another step but this time it turned into a stumble. He collapsed onto all fours in front of the girl. To his brother’s horror, a pulsating red stream was squirting from his brother’s neck. It was when he collapsed face forward in a dead heap that Jethro’s long knife was first clearly seen protruding from it.

“My God!” he screamed in shock. Turning to face his unknown enemy the brother reached for his gun. “I’ll kill you son of a bitch!” he yelled but still had no target at which to shoot. It was at that moment that a coyote bounded from its hiding spot in the brush. In the dark the Pinkerton man could not see what or who disturbed the brush so he began firing indiscriminately towards the sound. By this time Jethro had crawled to within twenty feet from the campfires ring of light and was nowhere near where the bullets were aimed. A night bird was slightly winged and flew off screeching in anger at being disturbed so rudely. Unloading his gun proved to be a mistake for the lone Pinkerton. Having an older pistol that had to have its cylinder removed to be re loaded, the Pinkerton realized now how vulnerable he was.

“Alright you out there, I give up ya’ hear?” Now let’s make a deal. I’ll let the girl go if you and her walk away from here and let me be.”

A sharp rifle report was the answer. The Pinkerton’s derby flew backward off his head displaying a fresh round vent hole in it.

“No!  Stop that, we can make a deal you and I. When I get back to New York, I’ll tell her father that she died or something so he won’t go looking for her anymore, alright?”

Another shot rang out in answer and one of his shoes suddenly lost its heel.

“Yeow! Please mister, let me go. Here, I’ll even untie the girl, how’s that?”

Pulling a knife from out of his pants pocket, he jumped back when a third rifle crack made it disappear.

Tucking his bleeding hand inside his vest he looked toward where the shot had come from.“What’s wrong with you, I said I gave up! Now let me be and I’ll leave the girl here for you.”

A strong voice answered from somewhere in the brush outside of the fire rings light. “And then what? You’ll only go back to New York, gather up more of your cohorts and come back to re hunt us down. No Sir, this ends here in Texas!”

“It won’t end I tell you!” The Pinkerton yelled back, ”He’s on his way to meet us in Abilene.”

“How’d he know to meet you there?”

“We sent a telegram from Amarillo to him saying that we had evidence she was holed up in Sweet Water and it would only be a matter of a few days and she’d be in our custody. He wired back to meet him in Abilene with the girl.”

With his rifle raised hip high, Jethro stepped into the light of the fire saying, “Untie my wife then lie on your belly with your hands behind your back.”

As the Pinkerton proceeded with his chore of freeing Alessa he talked. “That was my brother you killed. I knew someday our number would be pulled. I guess if he had to die anywhere this place is about as good as any. I tell you what cowboy. If you’re really setting me free, I’m calling it quits.

 Between my brother here and I we have quite a stash built up in the bank. I think I’d like to retire alongside a fishing lake in upstate New York. Yes Sir, that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m gonna get me a skiff and fish!”

Waiting for the Pinkerton to complete his task, Jethro made his way next to his wife.  Kneeling down next to her he asked, “Are you alright honey? Did they hurt you?”

Making her way up to a sitting position she looked up wide eyed at her hero . “No, no I’m alright.”

Finding his hands in the dim firelight she grabbed them tightly and pressed the up to her face. After a moment in which he felt wet tears on his hands, she again looked up smiling broadly saying, “I’m so proud of you Dear, you really are my cowboy!”

After burying the Pinkerton’s brother in the Texas desert, the three found the rail line’s tracks crossing the desert and made their way on horseback to Abilene, which didn’t take but a half a day.  Alessa rode behind Jethro in the saddle which thrilled her as she was able to lean her head against her husband hero’s back. Every now and then Jethro felt her arms tighten around him in a hug. Each time he felt it, his heart fluttered and skipped a beat.  Eventually he found a single hand and held it against him until they reached Abilene.

They had abandoned the buggy in favor of making the Pinkerton ride bareback.  The other horse followed the others being afraid to be left behind. Within a short time, the Pinkerton’s wool pants rubbing against the damp horsehide began to act as grit paper on his tender backside. Jethro smiled as he watched the man try and control his painful facial expressions in his pretense of normalcy.

Reaching the passenger depot in Abilene, the three dismounted. The Pinkerton’s raw backside forced him to ask for help in getting down. Once standing, the man waddled over to Alessa telling her. “Ma’am, I offer my sincere apologies to you. All these years I’ve done jobs for your father I never took into account the harm and hurt I’ve caused others, especially you. The ride here gave me time to reflect on things. If you’ll forgive me for all I’ve put you through then I’ll know a man really can have a second chance to make things right. I only wish I had learned that before my brother was killed.”

Alessa looked the man squarely in the eyes and replied, “I know you were following orders from my father, orders one does not defy without severe consequences. I’m living proof of that. If you truly intend to change, then I forgive you.”

Jethro put his arm around his wife adding, “I’m sorry too for your brother but he has to hold his own actions to blame. Why he ever thought kicking on a woman, especially here in Texas was something he would end up not paying for is beyond reason. We aren’t the East. Women are a bit scarce out this way and a woman, any woman, is to be treated with the same respect we give our Mama’s and our wives. Your brother unknowingly signed his own death warrant.”

The Pinkerton nodded in agreement then looking at the three horses said. “Do what you want with the horses, our original plan was to abandon along with the buggy here at the depot anyway. I’d shake your hand but I expect you wouldn’t take it, not that I blame you any. I’ll be going now. I truly hope things work out for the two of you.”

“Wait!” Jethro extended his hand and in surprise gripped the Pinkerton’s gunshot injured hand. “A man does a lot of things in life that he ain’t proud of. You asked for forgiveness. The other half a that is being forgiven.”

Turning once again to face Alessa the Pinkerton told her, “I was mistaken Ma’am, your husband is no dirt bag cowboy. In all my days I’ve yet to see a man as big as him.”

The two watched the Pinkerton man enter the depot to purchase a ticket and exit their lives. Jethro turned to Alessa and stated, “You know something? We never knew them two Pinkerton’s names.”

Alessa looked up lovingly up to her husband’s face and replied. “Oh, that’s not true. I know them, I have for years but I think it’s best they stay anonymous to you. I heard as a young girl if you kill a man and don’t know his name, his ghost can’t haunt you in your dreams.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“From, the man who just left us.”

Chapter 5

On the second day of waiting, the train carrying her father arrived at three in the afternoon. Jethro knew immediately by the entourage around him that this must be Alessa’s father.

Four Negro porters carried his and the others in his group’s belongings off the train and piled them onto the depot’s trunk cart. The man looked every bit a wealthy Easterner to Jethro. Tall but overweight, a white pointed beard, a fat cigar jutting from the side of his mouth, giving orders  while pointing with his silver tipped walking cane. Jethro had an instant dislike for the man.

The entourage started walking towards a waiting line of buggies that would transport them to the hotel. It was then that Alessa’s father glanced up and realized the girl standing nearby staring at him was his daughter. He quickly looked for the Pinkerton men that he had hired but instead only saw only a lone, trail dusted cowboy wearing worn chaps, tall heeled boots, a large sombrero type Stetson hat and sporting a low hung Colt .45 around his hips.

Alessa stepped up before her father could react. “Father? I want you to meet my husband Jethro Avery.  Jethro? This is my father  Auburn Van de Bunt.”

The two men stared at each other. Jethro in disgust, her father in disbelief.

“Husband? I heard nothing about you being married!”

Sticking out her wedding banded hand, Alessa smiled, “Just because those men were Pinkerton’s doesn’t mean they know everything. You wasted a trip out here if you think you can take me back to New York father.”

“Where are the investigators I hired?”

“You mean the two thugs you’ve had time and time again chase me down? Well, one is by now a dried up shell in a shallow grave west of here in the desert with a slit throat from my husband’s knife and his brother came to his senses and is out buying a fishing pole somewhere back East.”

The entourage, made up of yes men and parasites, gasped at the daughter’s crude description of the Pinkerton’s death. Her father’s eyes narrowed and a smugness began forming on his lips. “And besides a ring, which by the way looks as if it were purchased from a Roebucks catalog, what proof do you have that this filthy cowboy is actually your husband.”

“Be careful with your words father, the last man who called my husband a filthy cowboy paid dearly for those words.”

Pulling out a folded piece of paper, she held it tightly in front of her father to view.  The couple watched as her father’s eyes slowly scrolled down as he read the sheet of parchment paper. They both knew when his eyes reached the name of the Judge at the bottom.

“Damn!” Her father exclaimed loudly, “This is signed by a Judge named Pendergrass. Is this the same Judge Pendergrass that turned down the Supreme Court bench and left Washington  for Texas?”

“The very one.”

Two of the entourage were lawyers from her father’s shipbuilding firm. When they heard the Judges name, they both sighed, lowered  and shook their heads. Her father hoping to hear even a sliver of hope in nullifying the marriage looked to the Lawyers.

The boldest one, a large well fed man in his late fifties spoke up first. “I’m sorry sir, I’m a Maritime Attorney and not familiar with contract law outside of ship building. But, seeing that Judge Pendergrass performed the marriage and signed the marriage certificate, I would venture to say this wedding is iron clad in nature. I’ve never known the Judge to leave a loop hole open when he puts his signature on something. Maybe my esteemed fellow attorney here from a different Firm could give you a better insight. As I said, my specialty is in Maritime law. If it were up to me though, I would offer the cowboy a tidy sum of say… fifty thousand dollars to divorce your daughter. It’s a common practice in New York and should work here in this backwards State.  Money speaks Sir.”

Jethro’s head reeled. In his life he would never see fifty thousand dollars nor would he now. “Forget it Mr. lawyer. Tell him to keep his money, I’m keeping my wife!”

The look on the other Attorneys face offered no better hope.  He was younger and not so confident in his conviction. In a subdued voice he cleared his throat then addressed the situation.

 “Ahem, Yes Mr. Van de Bunt, I am quite familiar in domestic and contract law so I believe I am able to offer my services to all parties if I may speak freely.”

“What do you mean by all parties?” Then realizing he could be spending the next hour listening to the thin balding Attorney bloviate on a single definition of all Parties, he forged ahead, “Alright, speak already dammed it!

“As you are aware Sir, Your father left a tidy sum in his Last Will and Testament to his granddaughter Alessandra who is now standing here amongst us. There were two stipulations in his last Will and Testament for her to be eligible to receive this large sum. First was that she was to at least attain the age of twenty one and second that she be married. I believe your only hope in stalling this dispersion of funds lies in her age. I believe she is still only twenty years old. We can send a wire to the Firm that employees me and they could file an order of Stay and have the Last Will and Testament stalled indefinitely in court through appeals and what not.  During which time my employer could gather a legal team together and dissect this marriage certificate against all laws both New York State and Texas to see if a loop hole can be found to nullify the marriage. To your fortune, she was not married in a church where we would have to go up against a church hierarchy to obtain an annulment. A civil marriage is much easier to annul.”

“Well, well, well! It seems we have hope of keeping the family fortune within the family after all. Go ahead, immediately wire your office and file suite with the Clerk of Courts and begin the process.”

The lawyer left to send the emergency wire to the Judge after copying down all pertinent information on the wedding certificate.

Jethro knew he’d never voluntarily give up his wife for any amount of money or through News York legal wrangling.  He had discovered he truly did fall in love with her. She too had come to the same conclusion and was adamant in keeping Jethro as her husband.

In a shorter time than assumed it would take, the young Attorney returned from the telegrapher’s office.

“Uh, Sir? We have a problem.”

“Good grief! Now what?”

“The Clerk of Courts office is closed.”

“What? Impossible!” Her father cried pulling out his pocket watch, “It’s only 3:15 and it’s open until 5 o’clock!”

Alessa’s father was fuming now. “What do you mean by standing here like an insolent mule! Get back and send that telegram before it’s too late. We still have an hour and forty five minutes yet to file.”

The distressed Attorney spoke up again. “Sir, your watch is set for Texas time, I saw you reset it on the train when the Steward came and announced our arrival into this State. Back in New York it’s 5:15pm. The Clerk of Courts office closes promptly at 5pm. It closed fifteen minutes ago.”

Turning to Alessa the Attorney asked, “Ma’am, exactly what date is your date of birth?

Without thinking she replied, “July 15, 1886. Why do you ask?”

Her father suddenly looked as if he had received an electric shock. Quickly looking once more at his pocket time piece he blurted out, it’s July 13th, we have a full day after today before she’s twenty one! She’s not twenty none until the 15th of this month and it’s only the 13th now!”

The Attorney made no move to the telegrapher’s office; instead he stood staring down at his feet.

“Now what’s the problem?” Her father fumed

“Even if I send a telegram this instant to my office and they draw up the stay, your daughter will still be twenty one before we get the stay is filed with the Courts.”

“How is that possible? We have a full day tomorrow to file the paperwork with the Court. Tell me why they won’t accept the paperwork until after she’s twenty one which by the way, is two days away yet?

“Because Sir, today is Friday and the Clerk of Courts office will not reopen until Monday the 16th. There is no exceptions in the matter. Even the President of the United States must bow to the rules of the Court.”

Suddenly the big man visibly paled and looked weak in the knees. Seeing a bench nearby he heavily sat down on it and lowering his head between his knees groaned.

The Attorney then turned to Alessa offering his hand, “Congratulations on your inheritance and marriage Ma’am. If you should ever need an Attorney, I am always available.”

Alessa thought for a moment then asked him. “Sir, do you work exclusively for my father?”

“I am assuming that the firm I work for will be terminating my employment with them for failing to procure not only your inheritance for their client but when they find that I congratulated you, I’m sure they will ask that I clean out my office.”

“You mentioned my inheritance in terms that is was a tidy sum. Tell me, would I have enough of an inheritance for my husband and I to start a cattle operation here in Texas? “

“More than enough Ma’am, more than enough.”

“Great, then it’s settled. Would you be willing to come back with us to Sweet Water and help us to set this all up legal like? It may take a while, maybe years even.”

Smiling shyly, the Attorney  spoke, “I have always wanted a horse Ma’am, since I was a child. If you permit me one and have one of your cowboys teach me to ride it, I believe yes, I can return with you to Sweet Water if these requirements are met.”

Sticking out her hand, Alessa said, “Done!”

Alessa then stepped over to where her father gloomily sat. Sitting beside him, she took one of his large hands into her own.  “Father? I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to happen this way. I was foolish and it was a matter of fortune that the man I married to circumvent your scheme ended up being the true love of my life. He’s a good man father, one your own father would be proud to call family. Is money that important to you that you would force misery upon your own blood in order to hold onto something as fleeting as money? Could you even spend what you have in the lifetime you have left? No! When yo lie upon your death bed will it be your financial councilors holding your hand or will it be family. The choice is yours father. As for me, I am not returning to live in New York but am starting my own life here in Texas with a wonderful man who could care less about the monetary worth of a man. He judges a man by a different scale than one of financial wealth. That’s the type of man I have always wanted father, it’s the type of man I always wished you were. “

Slowly Alessa rose and putting her arm around Jethro’s waist she leaned into him asking him if they could go now.

Chapter 6

Within six months the ranch was in operation. With the amazing help of Andrew, the young Attorney and their hired hands, the couple carved out a ranch in the Texas wilderness. Keeping her promise, Alessa had hired a man to teach Andrew the Attorney to ride, and ride he did. No longer did he dress for the office. Wearing cut jeans boots and a western hat, he became the heart throb to many young girls in town.

It was in late April when in the distance an automobile was seen making its way up the long dusty road towards the ranch. With steaming radiator the large touring automobile braked to a screeching halt in front of the house.  Doors opened and a group of men were expelled from its interior. One of them, a large man dressed in cowboy boots, jeans and a fancy Spanish embroidered shirt stepped out and placing a new Stetson upon his head spun in a slow circle taking in the view of the ranch.

It was the cook who heard the commotion outside first and running to the window see what was making that awful hissing and chugging noise, she yelled for her Mistress to come quickly.

Taking one look at the group of men through the front porches screened door, she chuckled and clapped her hands and flew out onto the porch.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” She shouted laughingly. “I love the hat!”

“ When in Rome do as the Roman’s do! Hello daughter!”

Riding in from the herd Jethro dismounted near the front porch and tied his mount to the rail. Seeing Alessa already hugging her father beside the automobile, he walked over to them.  Seeing his son in law approaching, he stuck out his hand toward Jethro while his daughter still remained clinging to him.

“Howdy Dad, welcome to the Double A!  We got your letter; it sure is great seeing you here.”

“The pleasure is all mine son!”

“How was he trip? I can’t believe you all rode in this thing all the way from New York. Here, let me call a couple hands to help with your luggage.”

Jethro walked out towards the coral and whistled a shrill ear piercing whistle which drew the attention of several hands. “Hey! Get on over here an’ give a hand!” He shouted to them. One of the Hands turned out to be their Attorney Andrew.

Seeing who had arrived by automobile, Andrew held back until he and Jethro were alone.

“Uh, are you sure he should see me? I mean the last time we were together was at the depot and I fear it might upset him seeing me here. I mean after all, it was I who crushed him with the bad news and then I go off and get hired on by you folks. I know I did nothing wrong, it’s just that we didn’t part on the best of terms.”

Jethro placed his hand on Andrews shoulder telling him, “When we received his letter, he specifically asked that you be here. He mentioned something about tossing some business your way. What he meant by that, I have no idea. He never did say why he was coming just that he was.”

What Jethro held back was that in his father in laws long hand written letter was not only an apology to the young couple but all the thoughts that he had pondered on over the months after leaving Texas. In it, he explained how he was raised and where he had gone wrong in raising ho9s own family. After he returned to New York with the words of his daughter still ringing in his head, he began to see his friends in a different light, shallow and concerned only with their financial gain. He wrote that he decided to step back from his ship building industry, even to entertain the idea of selling it.

The two men lagged behind the other hands letting them gather the luggage and cart it into the house. The others that had made the drive with her father were invited inside for refreshments. Finally it was just her father, Jethro, Alessa and Andrew standing outside by the automobile.

Alessa commented again on her fathers attire. “Dad, you look wonderful in Western gear, it suits you well. It gives you an aura of ruggedness that a suit can never give.”

He chuckled, “You should have seen my friends in there when I stopped to buy these duds. They thought I had lost my mind!  By the way, I sold off all of my company stock, I no longer own it.”

“Dad, why did you do that? You loved building ships.”

“That’s the point dear, I loved building them. I haven’t seen the shipyard in two years, did you know that? I was too busy running the day to day operations. I missed the smell of the riveters forge, the sound of them being hammered into the plates. To be honest, I missed having fun!”

Alessa moved up to face her father, placing her hands on his chest she asked him, “What will you do now? Surely you’re not the type to sit in a rocking chair reminiscing on the past. I know you better than that.”

Jethro jokingly told his wife, “Well, we could always use him on the ranch, good hands are always hard to find!”

All four chuckled at the thought.

“Honestly though” Her father said, “That’s not for from why I came out here. You see after I sold off the company, they held a big going away celebration in my honor. At the dinner portion of the celebration the place served the most delicious steak I had ever eaten. Tender, juicy, perfectly marbled. I asked the Chef how come these steaks were so different from all the others. Do you know what he told me? He told me these steaks come from a special breed of cow called and Angus cow and that they are raised in the country of Argentina.  Well that got my brain churning. Knowing you raise cattle and all. I began to research this breed and have come up with an idea and a proposal for all of you. Yes, Andrew, you fit in the scheme of things too. “

“I do? How”

“I’ll explain. First off though, I want to do this for enjoyment, I’m not interested in making money off of it. Oh, I want the operation to be able to support itself but as far as wealth goes, Alessa said it best when she asked me how much wealth do I really need.  I want an operation raising these cattle, but not here in Texas but in Argentina where the grass is lush and different from here. The climate too suits these cattle better than the climate here. To what I understand though starting a ranch down there is difficult. The local ranchers guard the sale of breeding stock tightly in order to eliminate competition and keep prices high.  I went ahead and purchased twenty thousand acres of prime grazing land. I let it out that I intended to use it as an investment and sell off smaller portions to make money, kind of what a land speculator does. What I realy intend to do, with all your help, is to third party purchase some of the breeding stock and a couple of bulls and ship them here to your ranch. I want a solid thriving herd built up that I can ship by sea down to Argentina when the time is right. I’m not interested in how the cattle taste being raised here, I’m not selling any off. I know once the herd is moved back to Argentina their calves will be no different than if their parents had always been from there. “

Jethro smiled knowingly and said, “So what you’re asking us to do is raise a separate herd from our own, never mixing the breeds and when the herd is ready, ship the whole bunch on down to your land there. ”

“Exactly! I don’t want to give a heads up to anyone down in Argentina as I don’t want any monkey business preventing my operation from taking off. I’m hiring Spanish and Argentine cowboys and once my herd is in place on my land there’s not much anybody can say or do against it. I’ve already hired a ranch foreman to start the ball quietly rolling down there and he’s aware he’s to keep everything hush hush.”

Andrew asked, “Sir what would my role be in all this if you have a Foreman and all?”

I need a legal eagle watching over my enterprise down there, one that I respect and trust even if you did piss me off . Oh don’t get me wrong I was mighty sore at you back there in Abilene when you sided with my daughter, but in the end because you showed the grit to do what was right in the eyes of man and God, I respected you for it. I can see how you used your skills to get this ranch on its feet too. One thing I know is that my daughter has little patience with figures and legal issues. I figured she had you handling all these. Jethro, I’m not casting a disparaging word against you but knowing now what makes up a good cowboy, I’m sure you used Andrew to set up your accountant and will be instrumental in your sales when the time comes to drive them to market, am I right?”

Jethro laughed openly, “You hit the nail on the head Sir. I can rope any cow, shoot a rustler square in the behind at a thousand feet and drive cattle as straight as an arrow, but please don’t ask me to haggle prices with a buyer!, No Sir! That’s Andrew’s job!”

Jules Van de Bundt smiled at the young group in front of him. “I’ll only keep him down there long enough to get started, a month or two at best.” Looking at the three sets of approving faces he said, ” So it’s settled then, You’ll do this with me?”

Alessa answered for them all. “Dad, all four of us would be thrilled to be part of this exciting new venture, of course we will!”

With a wide smile of satisfaction plastering his face, Alessa’s father leaned against the automobile. Then suddenly he looked around in confusion. “Did you say the four of you? There’s only three as far as I can see. Who’s the fourth?”

Alessa placed both hands gently against her stomach. “Here’s number four grandpa!”

Bekke’s Law by JW Edwards

Bekke's law

Chapter 1

I stood there  listening spellbound to the young Lady. She had run from the Diner here to that freight wagon parked by the Mexican leather fella across the road. She soon returned carrying a rifle to where I stood watchin’ it all. As she stood there jackin’ shell’s into it, she began telling me her story. Why? I have no idea except maybe she had a premonition she was about to die. Maybe she wanted someone to know she had once lived and breathed on this here celestial ball. I was a nobody, a bystander  that’s all. Maybe it was because I was a nobody that she felt compelled to spill her tale, I don’t know. She sure was pretty though, except’n she spoke kind’a funny like.

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first one at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

 

One thousand souls, five thousand mix of mules, oxen and horses and almost two hundred wagons left Independence Missouri on a sultry morning in May of 1846. “Wagon’s HO!” was heard up front and the wagon train made up mostly large Conestoga style wagons turned out onto the Santa Fe Trail. It was the second to last train out of Independence that year. The last train was later known as the Donner Party but their fate lay north upon the Oregon trail.  

As the wagons forged ahead towards the Big Blue River west into Kansas, hopes were high and folks got along well with each other. Meeting and greeting was the norm at the end of each day. Light hearted Social dances and musicians that had brought along their instruments were the evening’s entertainment. Friendships were formed, help freely given and the spirit of community reigned. It all gave promise to a pleasant if not exciting adventure.

One family in particular had good reason to be hopeful, the Hillstrands. Johan and Uda Hilstrand had been farming outside the small Ohio town of Athens. As children, their families had emigrated from Sweden looking for the American promise of forging one’s own destiny. Sadly, continual disagreements with their neighbors brought misery to their home until Uda put her foot down. Either Johan move the family or she would leave on her own.  During this time, Uda’s brother in law had been trying to convince Johan that Texas was where the real future lay. A year later the two families found themselves crossing the Big Blue River in Kansas along with rest of the wagon train heading southwest to Texas.

Although the Hillstrands were a good church going family and pleasant to be acquainted with, Uda was prone to her moods. Even as a young bride in Ohio and in love, Uda began showing signs of dark moments. Johan hoped that in starting a family Uda would be lifted from these depressing moods. The birth of their first born, a son they named Sven, convinced Johan that the days of Uda’s moodiness had passed. She doted on the child and loved him as much as any mother could.

Two years later and the year they would leave for the west, a baby girl was born to the Hillstrand household. In memory of her grandmother, Uda named the child Bekke and she remained happy and free of her disturbing past moodiness.

The family of four rolled and bumped their way southwestward along with the other wagons through the tall prairie grasses bound for New Mexico and Texas.  The Hillstrand wagon followed behind that of their in-laws with Uda’s sister Hulda and her eldest son Jesper tending to the two families six cows being driven along with them. All in all, the families were the typical of the immigrant pioneers that settled the West.

One evening at supper, about a hundred or so miles northeast of Fort Smith in New Mexico, they received a visitor to their camp. Johan had seen the man hanging around different camps before  but paid little attention to him, other than an aknowledged ‘Hello’.

“Howdy good folks!” Making himself known, the visitor instead of introducing himself, made his way over to the cook fire and leaned over in order to smell the hanging cook pot of victuals.

“Ah, deer meat!” He exclaimed, Then with narrowed eyes asked, “When did you come across a deer?”

Johan was taken back at the familiarity the man displayed since he had not formally introduced himself but Johan still returned an answered in a kind way. “Friend, this is not fresh meat, we preserve our meat as we did back in the old country. You are welcome to take a plate of this stew if you wish”

“Like ‘an Injun does then Huh? I hear they pound berries into their meat before drying so’s they don’t get the scurvy. Uhuh, that might be alright for some but for my taste it has to be fresh kilt.”

 Still attempting to be neighborly, Uda came over and handed the man an empty but clean tin plate and cup saying, “There is also coffee that will be up in a minute if you wish for some.”

The man stood looking Uda over as a starved man would stare at a juicy flank of meat. “Uhuh, I’s told from other folks around here that you all hail from Sweden.  I also hear tell they grow some beautiful women there. That ain’t no lie as I’m see’in it with my own eyes.  Makes a man think he shoulda’ brought himself a blond whore to keep his own urges pleased. Haw haw“

Uda blushed and turned red and so did Johan, but not from any embarrassment but in anger. Putting his plate down Johan rose to face the thin, wiry built man. “I’m forgiving you only once for your language Mister. Seeing as we all come from different parts we all have our own ways. We Hillstrands have our ways also and those include being gracious guest and when we speak of our women it is with honor and dignity. I’d ask that you apologize to my wife for such base talk. Then afterward, if you wish, you’re still welcome to partake your supper with us.

Tossing the unfilled plate and coffee cup onto the ground beside him, the uninvited guest stood glaring at Johan with hands placed firmly on his hips. “Well la tee da!” He sneared, “A bunch of filthy do gooding firiners raisin’ their noses at a born American. Thanks, but no thanks!”

Turning to Uda the man then winked evilly telling her, “Honey, if ever you need a real man to warm your bed, you just look me up.” With that he turned on his heel and strode out chuckling to himself.

“What is wrong with that vile man?” Uda asked.

“I don’t know but don’t ever let yourself get alone with him.  I feel he’s more than just an uncouth braggart but is dangerous. The way he was looking at you upset me. I almost wish I had purchased that revolver the wagon master advised us to buy.  We will need to keep our eyes open to ones like him and maybe it would behoove us to give warning to some of the other young women you encounter.”

The next two weeks passed uneventfully. Nearing the turnoff to the Upper Road that led into Texas, Johan and Uda were relieved that no further sighting of the man had been noted.

Having traveled well past Fort Smith now, the train camped for the night along a small but clean flowing creek.  The next day the train would divide, some going on to Arizona along the Gila trail while others headed into Texas. This evening, watering the livestock was important since fresh water would be scarce for the next couple of days. The rule for watering any livestock on the trail was strictly enforced; one was to take their stock downstream to keep the water upstream clean for drinking and cooking. This ensured no water born diseases and parasites were transferred from stock to man. Water holes presented their own problems.

This evening was no different than any when camped near a stream. Johan, along with his nephew Jesper led their oxen and cows downstream for water. It was on the way back that the two heard a commotion further up the train. A woman was screaming. Immediately Johan told Jesper to keep the livestock moving back to the grassy area near the wagon and hobble the animals to prevent their wandering too far off.  As Johan ran toward the sound of the screaming woman a gunshot was heard. “Oh Lord,” He prayed, “What is going on up there?”

Out of breath, he made it to his wagon. Throwing open the rear tarp he saw it vacant inside. Thinking Uda may be assisting the screaming woman, he jumped off the rear of the wagon and ran to where a crowd was gathering. Breaking through the circle of onlookers Johan nearly fainted at what he saw lying on the ground. Uda. Her simple dress had been torn off from around her waist thus exposing her nakedness. Her face was quickly swelling with large black and blue areas. She had been beaten and raped.

Grabbing Uda around her shoulders he lifted her fetal form to his lap. Looking up to the gathering crowd he shouted. “Who did this? Who did this to my Uda!”

One man moved forward through the crowd saying excitedly, “I saw a skinny bearded man jump from the rear of your wagon and then heard a woman  screamin’ bloody murder. It was then your lady here appeared an’ fell straight out’a the wagon.  I knew right off by the looks of her that the man had been beatin’ her something fierce.  My pardon Mister, but I deemed that no woman would tear off her dress volunteer like, so I guessed right off what the man had done. Seein’ as me an’ my boy here was about to go hunt up some rabbit or prairie chicken, I had my gun along with me. I took a quick shot at the man as he run off and he jerked upright like he was hard hit but then he continued to run into them woods where the creek flows. I tried to give chase Mister, I really did but he took to his heels faster than I could. He’s hit bad though an’ won’t git far. I give him a mile or two before he bleeds out.”

It was at that moment in time that the Hillstrand family unit began to unravel.

 

Chapter 2

It was decided after the train divided, that a new wagon Master be elected for the train heading into Texas.  The new Wagon Master, a kind but firm man from Illinois named Johnston was elected. Since the train was only weeks away from their destination he ordered a rest of five days. This allowed the animals to recover, water and fatten up for the continued journey into the desert of western Texas. Johnston also worried about Uda Hillstrand and her mind. Meanwhile a party of men formed and went searching for the man who had perpetrated such vileness upon Uda. True to the shooters estimate, he was found not two miles distant, having bled out from a bullet that struck him in the neck. Already the critters of the plains had found him so it was unanimously decided that no burial would be given.

It was on the third day after the attack that Wagon Master Johnston stopped by the Hillstrand wagon to inquire of Uda’s well being.

 

“Well, to be truthful, I fear for her mind.” Johan told him, “She’s always been to prone toher  dark moods. She’s always recovered but this time she’s different, not saying a word, barely eats and has no interest in the babies. Her sister’s been caring for them when she can but she’s got her own brood to tend to. Once we get to Fort Stockton, if she’s no better, I’ll hunt up a Doctor to examine her.“

Wagon Master Johnston nodded regretfully saying, “ What happened  to her is sure a pity. A similar thing happened to my niece years back, she born a child from it then drowned it in the creek. She won’t come near no man no more cuz of it.”

“Well, whatever happens I am not leaving her. She was a good woman, a good mother to our children. If she bears a child from this then we’ll deal with it then. I just pray that it’s true that a woman who’s time it is for bleeding has a lesser chance of getting with child.”

“I ain’t no expert in woman’s particulars but let’s hope” Johnston tipped his hat and walked on.

It was outside Sonora, east of Fort Stockton that the second of two evils occurred.

Johan was half asleep on the driver’s seat. The plodding of the oxen was like a rhythmic lullaby. The babies were inside the wagon with Uda when a man came running up from the rear screaming and waving his arms violently. “Stop! Stop your wagon! Your baby fell out!”

Abruptly Johan jerked backward on the reigns. He had yanked so hard one of them snapped from the strain.   Leaping from the driver’s seat, Johan rounded the rear of the wagon fearing the worst. It was worse than he imagined. There, lying on the ground fifteen feet behind the wagon lay his infant daughter Bekke… with a long leather strap tied around her neck. She had been hung and dragged.  The man who had given shout was already using his knife to cut the infant free of its leather tourniquet.  In his rush to rid her neck of the strap, he deeply cut the child’s throat, but it was either that or the baby would continue to suffocate to death.

Wrapping a torn piece of his shirt around his child’s bleeding neck Johan glanced into the rear of the wagon. Without word he thrust Bekke into the hands of a stranger and leaped into the rear of the wagon.

“Noooooo!” came the cry from within.

By now others had assembled including his in-laws who had been driving their wagon in front of the Hillstrands and had been unaware of the commotion until now. Leaping through the driver’s seat, his brother in law discovered the reason for Johan’s scream. There lay the Hillstrands four year old son Sven. His mother had used a large knife to stab the child’s heart.

Uda sat unmoving still holding the large knife. When Johan began shaking and shouting at her, Uda’s only response was to rock back and forth as if in a rocking chair.

The infant boy Sven was buried near where the train had been halted. A crude cross was placed as his parents were Christian. Uda did not come from out of the wagon nor did she seem to understand the goings on about her. Her only response was to begin rocking when approached.

Thankfully, the neck wound of Bekke had stopped bleeding and was determined not to be a fatal  wound.  A deep raw abrasion ringed her neck from the leather strap but no other physical harm looked in evidence. The child’s hoarse crying continued through most of the night. As each hour passed Johan noticed the child’s voice growing raspier and raspier, by morning she cried as frog croaks. Whether a result from the hanging or the accidental throat wound no one could say.

Reaching Fort Stockton should have been a joyous affair, but it wasn’t.  Uda showed no signs of getting better and now Johan seemed steeped in regrets and misery for leaving his Ohio farm. He decided to let the rest of the train continue on to its final destination without he and his wife. Bekke was taken in by his sister and brother in laws. He would meet up with them later after Uda was either back to her old self or at least able to cope with the world around her once again.

“We decided to head south to Austin instead of San Antonio like we all planned.” Said his brother in law, “Well meet up down there. I’ll write to you here and give you more information once we settle in.” 

The plans were pretty basic for meeting up but no one really cared about firming up further details like exactly where in Austin they would settle. They all just figured that finding each other may be a matter of a few days search. Never in his life would he have thought that as the wagon rolled away towards Austin that it was the last he’d ever see of his in-laws.

 

Chapter 3

Uda wasted away even under a Doctor’s care. It turned she had not conceived a child, that at least was a small blessing. She refused to go out outside of the small rental house in town. She rarely spoke and when she did it was in a single word at best. A mixture of heroin and Laudanum kept her from further rash outburst.

Uda grew weary soon after rising and ended up spending the rest of her day once again sleeping or lying in bed looking at the ceiling. She was a shell, a ghost, there was no one home anymore within her. Her mind had snapped and the medicine just seemed to add to her inactivity.

When Uda finally passed it was a mixed blessing. It had been nearly six months to the day upon their arrival at Fort Stockton. The gloom that had settled over Johan was as thick as rain clouds over the Ohio Valley farm they once had. Johan would shake his head in remorse remembering when their only concern was a disagreeable neighbor. At Uda’s funeral he spoke not so much about Uda as he did about how she and he had perceived life. “Sometimes we have no idea how good we had it until the future unfolds to even a worse life. We should be grateful for what the Lord gives us and not go yearning for what others got. If Uda and I had followed this, she’d be here today as well as our children.”

He never received a letter from his in-laws nor sent one himself. He had little desire to look upon the face of his daughter for all it would do is remind him of how much he missed Uda and little Sven. Delay after delay occurred until months turned into years. By the time he did try to contact his in-laws, they were nowhere to be found in Austin, the string that connected them was snipped. He could only assume child Bekke was still with them.

Bekke was lovingly raised within her Aunt and Uncles household until she reached the age of six. The family had moved on to Abilene, some two hundred plus miles north. Word of their move was left with the Sheriff of Austin in case Johan looked for them. It was then that Uda’s sister Hulda came down with the influenza and passed. Her husband Jorn had been recently injured when a mule kicked him in the leg as he was putting on the mule team’s harness. The freighter he worked for had enough sympathy to find temporary shelter for all the children until he recovered. Jorn lay lame in bed for almost a year and even after that needed a crutch due to his crooked leg. He took his own children and returned to Ohio, leaving Bekke behind.

 Bekke had been given to a family that desired to move soon after they accepted her under their care. They promised to keep her Uncle Jorn informed as to their whereabouts but months later there still was no word where they had gone off to. Bekke’s Uncle shrugged his shoulders and figured the girl at least was under a roof and was eating so why worry when the child wasn’t his anyway.

What the Uncle never knew nor would he, was that the family that had taken Bekke in had been waylaid by robbers on their journey. A gunfight ensued and the father was killed. His surviving wife immediately sold the young girl to a man for twenty dollars who promised to take real good care of her. “I’ll treat her as my own flesh an’ blood Ma’am, even though the kid don’t talk right”.  He took her from Texas and moved into the Mogollon Rim area of Arizona where he worked as a sheep herder.

Unfortunately for the young Bekke, the man was more interested in her as a man would be to a woman than a father.  By the age of seven Bekke had had enough of his foul fondling ways and made up her mind to end his night time shenanigans.

The two had been living in a small sheep herders cabin part way up the slopes of the Rim where the pines trees grow tightly together and disguised the steep cliffs they cling to. It was then that Bekke saw her chance to settle the issue of her abuse.

As the man stepped up to an overhang which was part of the Rims bench, he looked down and whistled when he realized just how steep the cliff was he was perched on.“Wee-ooo, Ya’ll wait back there while I take a leak child…unless you all wanna’ watch ‘Ol Uncle Lester’s stove pipe in action! Haw haw!”

“Yes, let me watch and see” she responded eagerly in her hoarse voice.

Her positive response was the last thing “Ol Uncle Lester” expected and found it excited his loins. “Then come on over here and take a look see at what a prize I was blessed with.”

As she approached him from behind he began to relieve himself. The thin yellow stream disappeared into a spray of droplets part way down the steep cliff.

All it took was a small shove to dislodge him but it was no small shove she gave. Bent nearly backward from the force of her hands applied upon his backside he went over the edge in the shape of a back bent banana. All he could utter was a “Uh, Uh” as he disappeared silently over the edge.  

She waited and figured on hearing a thud or some other sound saying he had hit bottom but none came. Crawling up to the edge of the cliff on her belly she peeped over the edge and discovered the reason. For nearly two hundred feet the drop was straight down then slowly it began to curve outward nearing the bottom. She could see very faintly a small feature spread out on the slope far below. She mistook it for a small animal or even an ant until she realized the vastness of the cliff’s size and that of  the Rim.

Bekke sat there until the sun started lowering to the westward mountain tops. She knew she had just killed a man but needed to place it within her mind that there was no wrong in it. When she finally stood up to leave, she had left behind the seven year old child and walked away as a young girl very much in charge of herself.

She returned to the cabin, gathered up her belongings and what money she found hidden in the man’s belongings and left.

At age nine she was once again faced with a dilemma when the Sheriff of Payson saw her wandering through town and by her looks knew she was a vagrant and homeless child. The Sheriff handed the girl over to his sister to care for until he could locate the child’s parents. The Sheriff was taken back when he heard the hoarse voice coming from such a beautiful face when asked of her parents. “They was kilt dead” she hoarsely told him but he didn’t believe her saying, “Somewhere you got a Mama and a Pa who’s lookin’ for ya’. It’s gonna be my job to locate and return ya’ to ‘em.”

Weeks passed and every inquiring telegram returned with the same reply. Negative. Little did the Sheriff realize he was looking in the wrong State.

Her stay with the Sheriffs sister was prolonged but after a year the woman finally faced the Sheriff. “Look Howard, you either get me some funds to help raise the child proper or I’m gonna’ have to ask that you take her back. I ain’t wealthy and getting’ no younger either. She’s a little hellion of a child. Seems way too grown up for a child that young.” 

Leaning close and to a near whisper she confided, “A few days back I caught her and little Tommy Dolan playin’ Doctor…well Tommy was playin’ anyway. Little Tommy stood there with his drawers to his feet and she went an’ pointed at his peter an’ began laughing in that hoarse laugh she has!  Do you know what she then told him? She said, “You bess close up them drawers boy or than tiny noodle you gots gonna catch a cold ‘an sneeze itself right off, then how’s you gonna make love to your woman when you’s a man?!” Now I ask you Howard, what normal child talks like that?”

The Sheriffs eyebrows rose in surprise to what was just told him and replied, “Ok, OK. I’ll find a place for her somewhere. She does seem a bit too precocious even for a self learned child. Give me a few weeks an’ I promise she’ll be gone.”

A week later Bekke found herself at the front steps of the Yavapai Indian children’s home holding a small satchel of belongings. Though she was not Yavapai nor of any other Indian tribe, they accepted her right off. To not accept her might be getting themselves on the wrong side of the Sheriff.  Little known to the Sheriff however was that the children’s home was a clearing house for child field labor…and ‘other things’ as they grew older. By now Bekke spoke with a distinct rasp but somehow there was a musical chime somewhere hidden in the rasp. A number of male visitors to the home commented on how charming this made the girl.

Bekke stayed until the age of sixteen. It was at that age that the ‘other things’ forced onto the older children became evident. The cute light skinned, blond haired child with sky blue eyes was told by the overseer of the Home that her time to become a ‘lady’ was soon going to be upon her.. Bekke had actually relished the hard work she had been forced to do. She had been made a teamster hauling freight for the Homes side business. Being outdoors again was a blessing to her and the hard work gave her the self worth she had lacked earlier. She grew strong loading and unloading freight and became resilient in her ways and took no guff from any of the other children. 

When she was informed that soon she either become the nightly pleasure for ‘gentlemen callers’ or be sold off into ‘marriage’, she left… but not before she ‘accidentally’ drove a runaway freight wagon over the  overseer of the Children’s home.

Bekke traveled south towards Globe on foot. In Globe she befriended a boy named Jethro Clemens a few years her senior. He worked at the copper mine there and was making himself a good living doing so. Bekke was impressed, not with his money but with his work ethic. Truth be told, she fell head over heels for the young man. Wide of shoulders, strong chin, clear complexion and the most wonderful brown eyes she’d ever looked into. She was hooked.

 The man boy had strong feelings toward Bekke from the beginning. They had met when Bekke had entered a prosperous looking mercantile in town which had posted a ‘Help Wanted’ sign on its door. She entered and inquired about the job. She was told it was a freighters job that traveled daily between Globe and the town of Phoenix. “Well young lady,” the owner replied, “If you was a man I’d say yes right off but seein’ as you’re a little lady, you couldn’t possibly do the job.”

“Why not? Bekke asked. “I can drive a team of mules better’n any man can! I drove a wagon all over Yavapai county for the last three years! I’m more than capable.”

The owner laughingly guffawed at her claim. It was then that a handsome young man spoke up from near the shelves displaying boots. Looking at the blue eyed wonder, the young man winked at her and told the older man, “Hey Pops, why not see if she’s pullin’ your leg? Let her hitch the team if she can!”

Bekke knew what the boy was up to, it wasn’t to humiliate her by seeing her fail the test, it was to help show the man she was what she claimed to be.

“Ha ha! Sure son, we need a good chuckle, let’s go out back. I gotta get the team hitched presently see’n as I’ll most likely end up haulin’ this load to Phoenix myself.”

Bekke was led around back where the man and boy opened the doors to the carriage house revealing inside a large freight wagon and stalls housing four mules. The owner stood looking proudly at the powerful beast and turning to Bekke told her, “Let’s see you work your magic on these here four Missouri Mules sweetheart!”

Without saying a word, Bekke inspected each mule as careful as if she were to purchase them. Using her own skill, she determined which were lead and which were the wheelers, right side and left. Then she inspected the harnesses, yokes, rings, hames, collar and traces. When finished, she went over the wagons gear. Satisfied they were in good condition, she quickly had all four beast harnessed and ready to haul.

The owner and the boy stood there silently watching her. Finally the man stepped up to the mules and exclaimed, “Well I’ll be danged if you didn’t choose the right mule for the exact position they belong in. Let’s see how you can handle these four honey’s of mine.”

Bekke first backed the mules then turned the rig in a complete circle. She then lined up the wagon and backed the wagons tail gate flush to the building without bumping it.

“Sweetheart,” the man exclaimed, “if you was serious about wantin’ the job then they’s all yours to drive! C’mon back inside and let’s talk.”

“The young man walked up to Bekke and whispered to her, “I knew you could do it!” he then turned and once again winked at her as he strode away.

Bekke stepped back inside the mercantile and asked the owner, “That young man who was with us, is he your son?”

“I wish! Nope, he’s a loner now. Parents passed last year with the influenza. Best folks you’d ever meet. I kinda took a liking to him. He’s a good boy an’ see’n as he has no parents no more, I keep a close eye on him for ‘em.”

Bekke looked at the man with sympathy. I understand, My Aunt who helped raise me passed from the same.

 The owner sat Bekke down at a small table used for cutting strips of leather and asked, “It’s none of my business, maybe it is since I’m hiring you on, No matter but do you have a story I need to know about? Any crimes committed that might draw the law on you? That sort of thing.”

“None that I’m aware of. Truth be told, I ran away from the children’s home over in Yavapai County ‘cause they wanted me to start whorin’ for them.”

Stifling a gasp, he declared “Don’t tell! The Indian home up by the rim?”

“The very one. I guess they get away with it ‘cause for the most part it’s only Indian children and the Sheriff and other white folk don’t care what goes on there.”

“Dang me! Sweetheart, you got a place to stay? If’n you don’t, we can make up a bed here in the back room. It’s cool as anything possible here in the summer. Oh, by the way, my names Billy Irons, an this here is my business free an’ clear!”

“Much obliged, thank you Mister Billy Irons. My names Bekke, Bekke Hillstrand, that’s all I’ve been told of me. No one cares anything for me as I’m probably an orphan anyway. I was too young to know how I got the way I did with this scar around my neck an’ all but I was told my Daddy had a lot to do with it. I was told he was a no good and had no use for me so he sold me off. At least that’s what I was told by a sheep herder that bought me from some lady who’s husband was shot an kilt. ”

“Bought you? What do you mean bought you? Like a slave is bought?”

“I guess you could say that. He fed me but handled me too. He was an evil man an’ I was only a child.”

The owner sat staring wide eyed. “You mean by ‘handled’ he touched you?”

“Uhuh, an’ woulda been a lot more if I didn’t fight him off every time he come back to the cabin drunk.”

Irons face turned beet red. “Why if that no good ever shows his face around here, you come ‘an get me understand? He’ll rue the day he ever touched you. There’s bullets made in hell just for men like him”

“There’s no need Mister Irons”

“Why’s that child?”

“I killed him. I pushed him off’ a cliff at the Rim up north of here when he stopped to take a pi…” Sorry, I mean when he went to relieve himself.”

Billy Irons eyes widened even further, “What? You did what girl?”

“I kilt him. I ain’t sorry none about it neither.” She rasped, “ He deserved all he got. I hope every bone in his body broke as he hit bottom too!”

“Well dang my hide child! Keep that information under your hat an’ to yourself from now on. That could be a hangin’ offense… but between you an’ me, you done good alright!”

The weeks passed and Bekke learned each and every twist and turn through the mountain trail into Phoenix and back.  Folks began to know her up and down the trail. Sometimes she was asked to haul freight to some of the local general stores along the way. Billy Irons took advantage of having the only large freight wagon in the area. If a trip could be made more profitable by throwing on someone else’s freight to drop off, then all the better.

One late October day on her return trip to Globe, Bekke noticed she had been being followed for the last couple of hours. Making sure her rifle was within easy reach she continued as if unawares. The keenness of her eyesight and with the use of a small mirror she kept tabs on the lone rider behind her. Something seemed familiar about the rider, the way he sat in the saddle, straight and tall. It suddenly dawned on her who the rider was… her new friend, the young man named Jethro Clemens. 

Pulling her rig over to the side of the trail she searched and found a good hiding spot for it in a nearby small box canyon. Less than a half hour later she heard the clippity clop of Jethro’s horse. Suddenly he stopped. Looking over the top of the boulder she had hidden behind she watched as he looked down the road to where she should be. Jethro removed his hat and scratched his head. “Where the dickens’s did she go to?” She heard him say. ”She should be plain in view right now.”

Meanwhile Bekke had found a small stone the size of a birds egg. As Jethro turned away from her, she rose and threw it, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Ow! What in the heck!” At that moment Bekke showed herself and began laughing.

“Come over here Jethro, “she shouted, I got some jerky an’ water if you wish for some.”

Laughing, Jethro swung his horse off the trail and dismounting, led the horse to the small box canyon where the wagon was stashed. Bekke meanwhile had lowered the tail gate and reaching inside for her grub bag sat upon it.

“I guess I couldn’t fool you no way huh?” He asked her.  “I tried to be sneaky like an’ follow you unseen but I make a terrible Indian. When did you notice I was behind you?”

“A couple hours ago, back by the turn off leading to the Superstitions.”

As Jethro sat next to Bekke on the wagons tail gate he exclaimed, “That far back? Darn, you must be part Injun yourself!”

“Truthfully, I didn’t know it was you until just a bit ago. All I could make out was a lone rider was trying his best to stay hidden from me.“

“Yeah, I did real good huh? All I did was make a fool of myself in front of the girl I got the sweets for.”

Bekke looked sharply at him. “Did I just hear you right? You got the sweets for me?”

“Oh darn! I’m sorry, I shoulda just kept my mouth shut.  Forget I ever said that!”

“Why? I think that’s sweet of you to say that. No one ever told me they had feelings for me before. I got feelings too, I just don’t know what to do with ‘em.”

“Has a boy never loved you then?”

“None that I knowed of. Truth be told Jethro, I’m a hussy. I’ve been handled by evil men. I doubt I’ll ever be loved the way you is thinkin’ of. No man deserves a used woman like me when they can find a girl raised proper like.”

Jethro moved closer to Bekke. “Bekke, I had my share of times, both good n bad. I got to know what makes folks do things. I know you better than you think I do. You liked me right off, I could see it in your eyes when you looked my way the day we first met. Then I heard your story. Not meaning to, I overheard your tellin’ Old Bill your story.”

Saying that, Jethro gently took Bekke’s hands in his. “Bekke, see how clean your hands are? I know in the past they got dirtied up a mite an not on your own account. But you went an’ washed ‘em clean after they was dirtied. Life is like that too Bekke. We get dirty sometimes but we wash ourselves clean an’ go on. I hold nothin’ against you for what you done in the past. If you call yourself a hussy it’s only cuz you want to be one an’ I know that ain’t what you is or want to be known as. So no matter what happened in your past, you’re as clean as a newborn babe to me. Can you understand that?”

A tear rolled down Bekke’s cheek. “You make everything sound so right. Is it really?”

“Yes, it is for sure.”

With Jethro still holding her hands she leaned into his chest. “I’m glad I met you Jethro.”

He replied softly. “So am I Bekke, real glad.”

 There the two sat unspeaking for the longest time. Bekke knew the day was getting on and daylight was needed to traverse the twisting roads safely back to Globe. Looking up at Jethro she quickly kissed his cheek. Telling him, “I’ll be right back, that water I drank is beggin’ to see daylight!”

“Oh, you gotta p.., relieve yourself? OK, I’ll stay here with the wagon an’ you can head into the mesquite trees over there where I can’t see ya. Oh, take your rifle with ya, never know when a rattler will slither out.”

Grabbing the rifle, Bekke headed off to the thickest part of the mesquite cover.

It was while Bekke was busy that Jethro heard the sound of horses approaching.  A group of three hard looking men rode up to face him. “What’s this all about boy? You find an abandoned wagon here? Maybe someone left it for us to go through, Haw haw.”

Two men dismounted and threw back the canvas of the wagon. “Jackpot boys! Look at what we got here!”

Jethro regained his composure and shouted angrily, “Hey, get your hands off of that wagon Mister!”

 Without warning the mounted man pulled and raised his revolver from its holster. Just as Jethro realized what was about to happen he went for his own gun. The advantage was to the no good and he fired striking Jethro. Jethro fell to the ground and cried out loudly in pain.  Once again the man raised his revolver and began lowering its barrel towards Jethro.

 Before he could pull the trigger a second time, Bekke’s rifle bucked from its deadly duty. The top of the riders head exploded in a red mist. He slowly teetered back and forth as if unsure what to do, he then tumbled sideways off of his saddle which ended in a sickening thud in the dust. Faster than the two others could pull iron and return fire, Bekke had sent into each of the men a deadly heart piercing slug of lead. Round after round she sent forth into the expired trio of no goods until her re-cocking of the rifle produced no further live rounds.

As sudden as it started it was finished. The sound of her last shots still echoed through the distant canyons then all was silent.

“Bekke, Help me!” Jethro moaned painfully.  I’m shot in the chest somewhere’s.  Bekke ran to him and dropping the empty rifle, laid him on the ground to examine the wound.   

“Oh it hurts bad. I never been shot before Bekke, I’m sorry if I’m bein’ like a child.”

“No, hush now Jethro, let me get your shirt open. You’re bleedin’ all over the place”

With shaking hands Bekke undid Jethro’s shirt exposing a long deep bleeding gash across his chest. “No wonder it hurts so bad. It plowed a deep crease along the entire front of your chest. A straight in shot woulda’ been a lot less painful for sure!”

 

Bekke ran to the wagon and tore away a piece of cloth from one of the bolts she was to deliver. “Here, this will help with the bleeding but you’re gonna be in some mighty powerful pain. You better lay inside the wagon whiles I tie your horse to the back of it. We need you to get to a Doctor right quick Jethro.”

“Am I gonna make it? I mean am I dyin’?”

“Not yet anyway, I think we’ll be celebrating your next birthday without too much worry. You may pass out though on the ride back, it’s not a smooth one and you’ll get bumped around a lot.”

 “Bekke? You kissed me?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Thank you, that was real nice of you.”

Helping him into the wagon nearly cost him his consciousness but after a moment his eyes cleared again.

Bekke wrapped the tarp around him snuggly and for a moment rested her head on his arm. She then climbed up into the wagon and carefully placed his head between her palms. She then lowered herself to him and kissed him with a gentle but passion filled kiss. “If you pass out,” she told him, “I want the last thing you remember is this kiss.”

“Oh Bekke, I could never forget it even if I was to die.”

The way back seemed to take ages. Finally the mercantile in Globe came into view just as the sun set over the mountains. As she pulled up, Bekke screamed to Bill for help and he came out running like an old buffalo.

“What’s going on Bekke? What…Oh my God, it’s Jethro! Is he dead?”

 “Not yet, he’s been shot but I thought by the time we got here he might die of old age!”

Inspecting the dressing and wound Bill glanced up at her.

“Uhuh, says the girl with a sense of humor.  Glad you kept your cool. He seems a mite torn up but he’ll live as long as infection don’t set in.”

The two unloaded Jethro into the bed Bekke had made for herself inside the back room of the mercantile. She ran up front to the customer counter, grabbed Bills chair and retured with it. Placing it next to the bed she reached over and placed Jethro’s hand in hers. Bill Irons stared down at the sight of her holding Jethro’s hand and smiled knowingly to himself.

 

Chapter 4

Jethro’s recovery took a turn for the worse the next day when fever struck him. For three days he tossed and turned and talked out of his head. When Bekke had finally turned in to sleep, Irons took over watching him. Suddenly Jethro awoke with a start. Bill could tell the boy was still talking out of his head but the pleas for another of Bekke’s kisses was not from any fever dream, the boy was in love with Bekke. Bill Irons kept a cool cloth on the boys head and soon the young man drifted back to sleep.

On the third day of Jethro’s fever it broke. Jethro awoke shaky but hungry, a good sign. Bekke was excited and continually had to admonish Jethro for trying to leave his bed.

“C’mon Bekke, I’m fine! Why I feel better every hour.”

“Now listen Jethro, I need to get back to work drivin’ Bills freight. He’s startin to get short on supplies an’ they need to be gotten.  Plus there’s a few general stores along the way that I drop other supplies off to. I’m needed an’ I like the feeling. Besides, every time you try to crawl outa bed you start oozing blood again.”

Jethro rolled slowly onto his side and looked longingly at her, “I need you Bekke, be safe, OK?”

Bekke leaned over him and tenderly kissed him on the mouth. In her musically raspy voice she told him, “I’m glad you need me Jethro. This is hard for me to say all that’s spinnin’ in my mind but I want you to know this before I leave. I don’t know how it happened or even why but I’ve fallen in love with you.”

As she turned to leave Jethro called out to her.  “I love you too.”

The months passed and Bekke continued to drive the freight wagon for Bill Irons. Jethro recovered enough to return to work but the mine declined to take him back as work had slowed and layoffs were imminent so Irons took him on.

 “I was hoping you’d join up with me here at the mercantile long ago,” Bill told him, “but, I figured you’d think I was given’ you a hand out an’ I know you wouldn’t cotton up to th