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.

 

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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!”     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Listen to the Magpies and you will hear…

Chapter 1  

It was the persistent chattering of the Magpies that warned Jute that he wasn’t alone. All his Montana bred life, Jute had dealt with the obnoxious birds. Considered a nuisance by rancher and sod buster alike, this was the first time he was thankful for their presence.

In Red Lodge Montana, just north over the Wyoming border, each winter had brought flocks of Magpies to invade the freshly harvested fields. When the fields were gleaned of any left behind seed, the hungry birds soon began to eyeball the chicken yards, pig pens or any other place food might be. In spring, before most of the yapping magpies departed to places unknown, they raided the eggs in any bird nest or coop. From centuries of following the buffalo herds, even newborn calves felt the piercing thrust of their beaks. Mostly it was for the tasty ticks but every so often it turned into a wild feeding frenzy that left the newborn’s blind or hides so badly riddled with holes that putting the poor beast down was the only humane thing to do.

While despised, a fella’ had to hand it to the birds for their high intelligence. They learned quickly and somehow spread the word as to who, what and where it was safe. Similar to the way a squirrel will chatter to sounding a warning, a flock of magpies will put whatever warning a squirrel came up with to shame. Standing nervously on fence post, tree tops, limbs and the roofs of barns and houses, an incredible warning network sometimes a mile in length was in play. When one bird took to panicked flight, the entire network sounded warning and took to flight.  While thirty or forty birds may not sound like a lot, when the sky suddenly filled with these fleeing avian noise makers it was wise to take notice… and Jute did just that.

Two days earlier, three trail weary mountain men on horseback arrived at the home of the Grundvig farm and cattle ranch. They reined up but it was only the elder of the three that dismounted. A tall wiry blond haired man having a great bow mustache answered the knock on his door. After making a brief introduction, the oldest of the three turned to the two on horseback and waved for them to join him.  The two wearily dismounted and stepped stiffly up the porch steps.

Having emigrated from Sweden nine years earlier, the Grundvigs were still accustomed to treating strangers as they would have in the old country so they invited the trail weary three indoors to partake in a cool drink and rest a spell in the large log cabin’s great room. The interior of the cabin showed evidence both of a woman’s touch and that of a skilled carpenter. Each log was scraped clean of bark and chinked tightly to keep out the weather.

The younger two were of darker skin and hair than the older grey haired mountain man and they respectfully removed their hats as they made their way into the home.

Once inside, the three stood wide eyed taking in the beautiful handmade furnishings. Jute noticed the three mens repetitive wide eyed glances at the three new Golden Boy rifles hanging above the big stone fireplace. The younger men fidgeted with their hats and not speaking while waiting for the owners wife to enter the room with the cool glasses of the reconstituted powdered lemonade.

The time of refreshments passed quietly and after downing the sour drinks in just a few thirsty gulps, the elder mountain man calling himself Trap, introduced himself and the two men with him to the Grundvig family in a friendly manner.

“Begging all your pardon, my two boys here, Carl and Deloy ain’t been inside a strangers home for some years now, they’s a bit unaccustomed to bein’ indoors and it kind of gets them antsy.  I guess spending half your life outdoors does that to a person. We trap for the Hudson Bay Company headquartered back East at York Factory…that’s in Hudson Bay Canada. I suppose that makes us Canadians bein’ from there.  The last twenty years there’s been such a demand for beaver pelts back East that the beaver is bein’ wiped out. We had to keep moving our traps further and further west in order to find enough beaver to make a livin’.  Some thirty odd years ago, I started up in eastern Ontario just north of Lake Huron and there was plenty back then. There’s naturally not much beaver west of here unless we head back up north into the Northwest Territories but I’m getting too old for those northern winters. The boy’s Mother was Ojibway Indian so they fare better in the cold than I do. That’s where they get their color from, their Mama.”

Trap stopped speaking and a sadness entered his aged eyes.

“Ten years back, I decided to take the boys with me that fall to teach ‘em all about trappin’. We left her behind in a snug and well supplied cabin we had built in Manitoba. In the late winter when we returned, she was gone missing. Like myself, she was getting’ on in age so I figured sometime during the early part of winter when the ice is still thin, she musta’ plunged through while fishin’ an’ didn’t have the strength to pull herself out. That spring when the lake thawed, the boys an’ I looked up an’ down the lake banks for sign until one day Carl here found her fur mitten washed ashore. After her death, I took the boys full time trappin’ with me. It’s been ages since they saw the inside of a cabin or had any real social contact.”

Sven sat quietly listening then asked, “What made you stop here? It does not sound like you are the type to need to be around talkative people a lot.”

“I don’t but I saw your spread here as we passed by and hoped we could buy a mule if you have one for sale.”

Sven replied “We have both donkeys and mules to sell. Cattle too but I see you have no need for them. My names Sven, the boy here is my son Jute and this is my wife Rika. You are more than welcome to clean yourselves up and sleep in the hayloft if you wish. It is clean and warm with fresh hay for your horses.”

Rika looked kindly at her husband and quietly cleared her throat causing Sven to look at her as she tugged slightly at her long blond hair.

“Rika wants you to know she has a pair of sharp scissors if you’d like a haircut and I own a good Swedish steel razor if you want to shave. I know myself how difficult it is when you are on the trail to tend to those things.”

“That’s mighty kind of you Sven. It’s been quite a spell since we bathed with soap and had a proper haircut. Trappin’ puts us in the water everyday but I ain’t never met no beaver yet that took the time out to put a mixing bowl over my head an’ cut my locks with scissors! Ha ha! We’ll take you up on your kind offer. First though, how much are you asking for a donkey? ”

“Well, I am not asking for much money for a donkey and to be honest, we have little use for them since Jute’s been training the mules to plow and the horses to ride and pull Rika’s carriage. How about you telling me what you are able and willing to pay, is that fair?”

“More than fair Sven, we won’t cheat you, fair is fair.”

That evening after dinner, the three went out to the barn yard near the well, soaped up and rinsed themselves off with buckets of cold well water. When dried off, they sat patiently each wrapped in a blanket on a milking stool while Mrs Grundvig transformed them into human beings with a razor and scissors. The two boys joked and made fun of each other’s clean looks and became even more slap happy as their father went under the speedy blur of Rika’s scissors. It took twenty years off of Traps appearance.

Rika finished and stood back looking at her work.“I see Mister Trap, that you are not such an old gubbe after all!”

“Gubbe?”

She reached out and gave his hair a friendly yank, “It means, Old wind bag in Swedish”.

The two boys fell over laughing.

At four in the morning the men entered the house to the smell of eggs, bacon and buckwheat flap jacks. They had slept soundly in the hay while under the protection of a roof over their head. By late dawn the three had packed their new donkey with fresh provisions also purchased from the Grundvigs. As it neared the time to take their leave, Trap turned around and faced Sven. “Uh, listen Sven, I can’t leave here without tellin’ ya’ the truth, it’s a warning I suppose. You and your family have been fine folks to us. If we left here not sayin’ anything an’ somethin’ was to happened to ya’, it’d weigh heavy on me.”

Sven looked confused. “What kind of warning are you speaking of? There are no Indians here other than the Blackfeet and we get along well with them ever since Rika saved the son of a Chief when we first arrived here. From that time on they have brought us meat and took the time to teach us the ways to survive. We have no fear of them.”

“It’s not Indians I’m talkin’ about Sven. We ain’t been able to eyeball exactly who it is yet but they’ve been doggin’ our trail since we entered Montana. I fear it’s a group of trappers like us but French. All I really know is that whoever they is they ain’t the friendly type. ”

Sven asked, “Have they harmed you then?”

“No, not directly. They been keepin’ their distance but one night they pulled all our traps and cut up into pieces the beavers caught in ‘em. We never found the traps and we’re hopin’ they might still be at the bottom of the pond. We’re on our way back there to look for ‘em now. Another time they cleaned us out of all our grub while we was away from camp and just a week ago they run off with Old Geezer our donkey in the middle of the day. That time we lost our extra tent and a case of trade knives and hatchets for the Indians. We’re trappers, not fighters so we been tryin’ to stay outa’ their way. ‘cause we were plenty outnumbered.”

“Being trappers we got to pack light. We only got one gun between us and that’s an old seventy two cap an’ ball rifle I bought years back in case of bears and the need for fresh meat. If them that’s doggin’ our trail knew that’s all we carried, I’m sure they’d a made a move on us before this.”

Jute spoke up, “Is that why you and your sons were studying our rifles over the mantle? At first I thought you might be thinking of taking them…but I apologize, that was before we got to know you.”

“That’s understandable, I take no offense. Them rifles look like they could piss off a Grizzly for sure but I’d never think of takin’ something that don’t belong to me. If I were you though, I’d keep ‘em loaded an’ close at hand until you’re sure there ain’t nobody around that would bother ya’.

“Thank you, we’ll take your advice. Are you all going to be safe going back to search for your traps with those men still out there?”

“That’s a matter to be seen. We ain’t got much choice, do we? Without our traps we might as well be on a picnic. That pond ain’t too far from here, you may know of it. It’s just a two days ride south between Red Lodge Creek and the Big Rosebud River, in that swampy area that’s been made by all them beaver dams. Once we get our traps and fur cache, we’ll be passing through here again. We’ll stop and let you know how things turned out.”

“Please do that, and yes, I am familiar with the swamp area. I take Jute into the Bear Tooth Mountains there to hunt game. He’s an excellent hunter, much better than myself. When we first came here and Rika saved the chiefs son, the Blackfeet took to Jute right off. They schooled him in ways I was not able to. He can track and hunt as well as any of them. Rika gets nervous when we go off to hunt but I tell Rika not to worry about us. The worst that will happen is upon our return she will have to let out my clothes  from Jute’s good cooking!”

Sven knew Western folk, especially mountain men, liked to keep their personal problems to themselves but curiosity got the better of him.

“Excuse my being forward, but seeing as you have only one rifle and you will be making your way through here on your return, please, would you honor me with a favor?”

“Sure, if I’m able to?”

“I’m sure you are able. We want you to take one of the Golden Boy rifles along with you and four boxes of cartridges. Upon your return, you may give it back. If you do not return, then I will know you at least were better armed and went down fighting. Ja?”

Trap stood there holding the new Golden Boy rifle that Jute had brought out from the house. Carl and Deloy were handed two boxes each.

”These are the cartridges, fifty to a box put some of them in your pockets” Jute instructed. “That way, no matter who grabs the rifle, there’s a ready supply of ammunition.”

“Sounds like your boy knows his stuff Sven, he’ll do all right,”

“ I told you, he learned from the best. Hopping Crow, the Chief’s son Rika saved, is his best friend. There kind of a friendly rivalry between them. Hopping Crow’s Uncle, Two Knives, was the one who took Jute under his wing as his teacher.”

“I sure want to thank you for the loan of the rifle Sven. We’ll each take some target shot on it after we’re out of hearing range. That way you won’t go thinkin’ we’s under attack.”

Trap looked tired as he mounted his horse and said to no one in particular, “I sure will be glad when I can quit this business. It sure ain’t what it used to be, that’s for sure.”

Sven walked over to where Trap sat mounted.

“Trap, from what you’ve told us, it sounds like being a trapper may not have the longest of futures. What will your two boys do if the beaver are all trapped out?”

Trap looked at his two strapping sons, both dark featured and handsome in their own right, especially after a shave and hair cut. He sat there for a moment in thought before answering.

“I want my boys here to settle down an’ marry someday. You’re right, the fur trade is dyin’ out quick. I’ve been following the beaver halfway across the country in order to make enough money for a future for my boys. I figured if I save up enough, then someday we can get a spread, something like you folks all have here an’ maybe be lucky enough down the road to get me a passel of  gran’kids to go fishun’ with.”

Sven smiled and shook Traps hand. “You are welcome back here anytime my friends. This is a good valley to settle in. We can teach you what you need to start your farm and ranch. Winters can be hard but if you prepare for it, it is not too bad. It would be a pleasure to have good people like you as neighbors”

“Someday you might just look up an’ see a familiar group of sod busters movin’ into the valley here. Until that day comes though, take care Sven, and keep a clear eye out for the next week or so around here.”

With those words sounding pleasantly in their ears, the three mountain men sporting freshly cut hair and shaved faces, took to the trail that led towards the valley that held numerous lakes and ponds… and presumably their traps.

 

Chapter 2

   That evening after dinner found Sven and Jute cleaning and oiling the two remaining Golden Boy’s.

“We’ll put one by the front door and one by the rear.” Jute told his parents. When we go outside, take one with you. Before taking care of the animals in the barn, stop and eye the woods and fields from the upper windows. Stay within the shadows to prevent being seen by anyone. Be sure to listen to the animals, they will warn you if they smell or hear anyone approaching. If you hear them give a warning, take a hammer and beat the anvil three times loudly with it. That way those of us in the house will know also but those approaching will only assume someone is pounding a horseshoe in the barn. After hitting the anvil three times, go and hide in the upper loft with the rifle and keep alert.”

Rika asked him, “What if they come from the prairie and not the woods. Whoever is in the barn will not know of there approach.”

“If they come from that direction, they will not be able to see the rear of the house, only the front or at best, including one side. Close the kitchen shutters and yell loudly as if calling the pig, ‘Here pig, pig, pig!’ This will alert anyone inside the barn or an outbuilding of impending trouble from the front of the house.”

“Jute,” Sven said with a smile, “When you see Two Knives, give him my thanks. He has trained you well son. I never would have been able to think of all that.”

“Don’t ever think I learned any less from you Dad. The Blackfeet never taught me anything about cattle, farming or all of the thousands of little things I could have only learned from you.”

Sven answered with a smile, “All the same, I am glad you paid attention then to both of us. What do we do right now?”

“We have a farm and ranch to run. I don’t think we will have a problem until they study us and our movements. Whenever possible stop and look around without being too obvious about it, but let’s keep on working like nothing has changed.”

A week passed and Jute wondered how the three trappers had fared. They might be back on their way if they found the traps, reset them and harvested their catch. As trained by Two Knives, Jute did not let his guard down while waiting, nor would he let his parents relax. If these men were capable to outwit seasoned mountain men then they would know most people become careless after a few days of peace. Of course they may have skirted around the ranch and picked up the trappers trail further west…but in his heart he doubted it.

He had been thinking long and hard on those dogging the trio. Why would they? Trap and his sons had no prior run ins with anyone. No killings, no fights, no upset husbands. It could only be about money. Trap had never mentioned a bank and yet year after year he sold his valuable pelts.

Trap had paid his father in British gold sovereigns. That had to be it. He said the fur trade was collapsing fast, who would be most affected by that? There was only one group as back woods savvy as the trio of trappers. Other trappers…specifically French fur trappers!

Chapter 3

Over breakfast the next morning Jute decided it was time to tell his parents.

“Mother, Dad? I think I’ve figured out who’s after our trapper friends. I thought it out and the only group it could be are French trappers looking to rob them. Ask yourself this. How would the French trappers know when and how many furs the trio sold? It’s because they all worked for the same Hudson Bay Company as Trap and his sons. Who else is capable of stealing a donkey from under their noses, or stealing their food? Only Indian trained men, that’s who. French fur trappers are known to live among the Indian camps, many marry their women as did Trap.”

Sven thought about it and agreed. Jute further explained to them that the out of work French trappers were opportunist preying on the secluded ranchers and farmers. Knowing a farm ranch such as the Grundvigs had would contain many valuables that could be sold to other settlers for top dollar, they could not pass it up without trying their best to get their hands on them.

“If there are even five or six in the group, we’re in trouble but able to still take them on. If there are more than that, we need a miracle. I think they are waiting to show up here just in case our friends warned us about them. They’ll figure that by now we’ve returned to our normal routine and have let down our guard. It’s been long enough, If I were them I’d try for tonight.”

The next couple of hours were spent quietly securing the house for an attack. Sven dragged a steel watering trough into the great room and many buckets later, had it filled with water. “In case of a fire” he said. Rika placed a box of fifty cartridges at every window and door. She removed the pistol kept on her side of the bed, made sure it was fully loaded and slipped it into her apron pocket.

Sven closed the upper shutters but left one on each side of the house unlatched and ready to peer out of. The largest window in the great room had no shutter so a trip to the barn was needed for wooden planks. While inside the barn he opened all the stall doors and unlatched and cracked open the barn doors. This way, in case the French Trappers set fire to the barn, the animals could freely escape. He then set out extra feed and filled the interior trough with water. The animals would now be able to survive in case of a few days siege occurred.

By noon, all was secure and ready for an attack. There was only one thing left for Jute to do. In order to be an effective fighter, he needed to be away from the house, and be outside.

It was the persistent chattering of the Magpies that warned Jute he wasn’t alone…

Chapter 4

Making his way around the far side of the corral, he watched as the furthest magpie took to the air. Armed with one of the Golden Boys rifles, he ran bent over into the woods.

From that position he saw one after another magpie take to squawking flight. He wondered if the French trappers knew of the magpies. Quite possibly not he mused, the magpie was considered a western bird. Watching the magpies circle and land elsewhere, he knew exactly where the group was located.

The group was slowly making their way to the eastern side of the house behind the barn. He thought of slipping into the barn and taking a stand there but again his training told him that was a foolish move.

Instead, he decided to stay put in order get a good count on their numbers as they passed quietly nearby. When they had passed and gathered behind the barn for nightfall to come, Jutes stomach churned. Jute had counted twenty two men!

“Our friends must be carrying a fortune” he thought to himself. “If their money was worth splitting it between twenty odd trappers, they must have thousands of dollars in gold on them. On the other hand, Trap did say they had saved enough to buy a farm or ranch outright.”

Jute could not remember any large satchel being carried so either it was in the horses saddle bags or hidden somewhere and the French were unaware of it. “I bet that’s why they stole the food and donkey.” He thought, “They first thought the food was the money satchel and later thought the donkey was carrying the money”.

Jute came to the conclusion that the money was definitely the reason the three trappers were being hunted.

The slanting yellow sun cast long shadows over the landscape. The shadows were Jutes friend. Moving to the west, he knew the trappers would have the sun directly in their eyes. It was time for Jute to start the dance so he tossed out his calling card.

Seeing a lone figure slipping away from behind the barn, he watched as the man stood urinating in the bushes. He pressed his rifle against his shoulder and slowly sighting it, he adjusted it upwards for the bullets drop at such a distance then pulled the trigger.

The figure stood for a moment. Then it tumbled face forward into the bushes.

There was nothing he could do about the sound but being in front of the sun, he was invisible to the trappers as they fled into the nearby dark woods. Their cover blown, their sneak attack turned into a free for all. Gunshots were heard and each time Jute saw a muzzle flash, he returned a bullet at the spot. Screams of the injured mixed with the sounds of gunfire. Because many of the trappers had fled into the ill lit woods they began shooting in each other’s direction in confusion.

Being one of many trying to hide or return fire in the long dark shadowed woods was not the safest of places to be. Bullets twanged off of tree trunks, men shot at any movement seen and new howls of pain could be heard over the curses and gunfire. While every now and then a bullet zipped its way into the darkening woods where Jute hid, they were still so ill aimed that Jute held little fear he would be hit.

Instead, Jute smiled and continued to unload his deadly lead into the tree line.

 

Chapter 5

Evening turned into night and the gunfire turned silent. Since Jute had specifically told his parents not to join the attack from inside the house unless the house was broken into, there were no shots were fired. The group was still unsure of its occupancy or firepower so they decided to wait until dawns light to attack.

On the other hand, Jute was now in his Blackfeet trained environment. The night’s darkness belonged to him.

Jean Bernard Leblanc, the leader of the French trappers, sat sullenly near the barn in the woods complaining that someone’s clumsiness must have given them away. No campfire was lit so that meant no hot food.  Leblanc and most all the other trappers were used to living off the land though. A cold meal or none at all, made little difference to them. They were in for the gold and whatever else they could steal along the way. Right now that meant robbing and killing the Grundvig family.

Jute left his woods and casually made his way to the barn. No moon meant no light, just the way Jute wanted it.

Making his way around the barn he smelled the man guarding his position before he saw him. Jute stopped and listened to the guard breathing heavily. Judging by the sound alone, Jute could tell the man was quite fat. The method of disposal would have to be quick. A large man can still put up a fight even when his throat is cut. To knife his heart would work better but in the dark on such a large man, missing the heart would be easy. Jute pondered the situation and decided to maim and not kill the man would serve his purpose even better. He had been taught there where two sure ways to destroy your enemy. One was by using force and the other was by using fear. So fear it was.

From the direction of the barn, the fat guard heard the sound of footsteps casually approaching his post. It was too early to be relieved of his duty yet but on the other hand it was most likely just one of his fellows with a bite of food or drink.

Turning to face the approaching footsteps, he was surprised when he felt a sharp stinging pain sweep over his scalp. Thinking one of his fellow trappers had yanked hard on his hair as a joke, he cursed and slapped his hand onto the top of his head. What he felt stunned him. Instead of a filthy growth of matted hair, his hand found a warm, wet and slippery skull. He had been scalped alive.

The peaceful night air was torn with a horrible blood curling scream.

Men came running with freshly lit lamps only to start screaming themselves when they saw the portly scalped man they called LePaunt or the Smelly one.

LePaunt  continued to roll on the ground screaming and grabbing at his bleeding skull. Finally, in an act of mercy a gunshot rang out and LePaunt lay quivering, not quite dead.    Someone yelled in French “Shoot him again! He is still shaking! I cannot stand to look at him shaking!” Another shot rang out and LePaunt eye was blown from its socket but LaPaunt continued to shake. Again the man cried, “Aieee! Poor lePaunt he still lives!” Three more shots in quick succession ended lePaunts shaking legs.

No sooner had order been somewhat restored when another scream rent the night. This time the man was found running in circles missing his nose and lips. The gaping hole in his face bled freely down his jacket as he ran in circles screaming. It was a nightmare to those watching by the light of the small lamp. The man did not even look human. Instead, with the help of the dark and shadows cast by the lamps, the man resembled a live screaming skull.

Knowing there was no help for the man, Jean Leblanc ordered him shot.

No one slept that night. Talk of the horrors and who could have perpetrated them consumed the conversation. One fellow, a skinny toothless man with bad breath told everyone that the Blackfeet in Montana were known shape shifters. That upon a whim they can change into any form of animal they desire.

Trying to make light of the situation, another piped up that his wife was a shape shifter because every time he wanted to poke her she turned into a bear! The others laughed nervously but soon the memory of the gruesome episodes returned to frighten the men.

Dawn came none too soon for the French trappers. Each gave a silent sigh of relief to see they had made it through the night alive. Well, most anyway. Three more men were found dead. One lay as if asleep between two men that had been fully awake the entire night. His throat had been cut so deeply his head lolled back and forth as if unattached. Another sat with a small bottle of whiskey still in his hands. No outward sign of death was noted but he had no eyes. The last was found naked hanging from a tree in the woods with missing eyes, ears, nose and tongue. A small hole over his heart gave evidence that at least he had died quickly.

What the French did not know was that while Jute was a very good tracker and could even scalp a man if needed, Jute was not a cruel person , quite unlike the Blackfeet, who had helped him throughout the night.

Moments before Jute acted on Lepaunt, a pinching touch on his arm told him his friend Hopping Crow had unexpectedly arrived. It was Hopping Crows idea to scalp the man and to add to their fun, the other hunters that had come with Hopping Crow joined in by dispatching a few more.

After the killings, Jute motioned for his Blackfeet friends to join him inside the house. Once safely inside, he explained the situation to them and his parents.

Hopping Crow in turn explained their timely arrival.

Hopping Crow said that they had actually been on the way over to the Grundvigs place to invite Jute on a hunt when the party noticed the same sudden explosion of the magpies as Jute did. Thinking a predator beast may be in the field, they crept cautiously forward until they saw what had made the commotion. The Blackfeet had a few skirmishes with other French trappers years ago and seeing this group sneaking up on the Grundvig home, they knew the trappers were up to no good. When night fell they observed Jute walking casually toward the barn so they followed silently behind him.

“I did not hear you behind me.”

“You are not Blackfeet” was Hopping Crows reply.

“When you touched me in the way a Blackfeet does, I knew then it was you.”

“A white man would have jumped, you trained well under Two knives.”

Jute then said, “We have three trapper friends who should be returning here soon. Take care that if they come that you do not attack them by accident. They are good men and want only to live in peace.”

“How will we know them?”

Jute thought for a moment then replied. “By their hair! My mother just cut their hair. Look!”

Jute ran into the kitchen and taking up the mixing bowl returned with it on top of his head. That drew giggles and laughter from the Blackfeet.

“This bowl was used to cut their hair. They have no hair from the bowls rim down and around to their neck.” Jute pointed to the bottom edge of the bowl surrounding his head. “The French trappers have long unruly hair tied in knots behind their heads or just hanging down like a mangy horse tail. Our friends have also recently bathed. They will smell different than the French which smell of rotting meat.”

Hopping Crow turned and explained all this to the five other Blackfeet hunters in the room. Nods of comprehension followed.

“We will not attack your friends if they come. Let us now talk of a way to rid the forest and fields of these Frenchmen.”

Chapter 6

Morning’s dawn broke not a moment too soon for the terrified French trappers. After a quick head count and discovering the mutilated naked hung trapper, they quietly gathered their wits about them to plan for their next onslaught on the Grundvig homestead.

Jean LeBlanc spoke. “We will divide into four groups of five. Two groups will attack the house from north, two from the south. The first of the two will attack on my word and the second will attack ten minutes later.

“I sent a man into the barn early this morning, it is empty except for some animals. How many people are in the house and who these people are, I have no idea. Last night they attacked us to put fear into each of you. That means they are outnumbered but have an Indian’s cruelty so be cautious. By attacking from two sides at once though, they will have to divide their forces. When our men tire and run low on ammunition, the next group will take over for them. Inside, the house will become so full of gun powder smoke that it will make their eyes sting and water. This will make it difficult to aim their guns and that means they will expose themselves for longer periods of time at their windows. They foolishly shuttered all of their windows so the smoke will not be removed by a breeze flowing through the house. When we kill them all, we will gather their belongings and divide them fairly between us. The horses will be added to our own remuda. And the mules killed for their meat.”

At eight O’Clock in the morning, LeBlanc gave the word to attack.

A few things then happened all at once. First, at hearing the opening shots, one after another, every shutter was thrown open on the house and then gunfire erupted. The plan to us the gun smoke to their advantages had failed.

Secondly, the two separate groups of five men each rounded the corners of the home only to run head first into the onslaught of fire coming from the Blackfeet hiding there.

Thirdly was the sound of three horses at a hell bent gallop heading their way from the west.

LeBlanc was taken by surprise. It was too much for him to absorb and make adjustments in his attack. He stood there open mouthed watching as his men turn one after another into wriggling painfully bullet ridden contortionist.

With a terrible lack of judgment, he ordered the second group to attack.

By now withering fire was coming from the homes windows, both sides of the yard from the Blackfeet and now from the three men on horseback from behind.

The French trappers turned robbers never had a chance. The Blackfeet took scalps from the screaming living as well as the dead. The shutters once again closed and the men on horseback arrived, dismounted and ran to where jute could be seen standing over a begging Frenchman in the yard.

“I knew it!” Trap shouted, “I felt in my bones they was going to attack you all! We was settin’ the last of the traps when all of a sudden somethin’ told me to get up on our horses an’ hightail it back here. Everything we owned was left a settin’ right where we dropped it!”

“It’s good that you came. And I’m sorry you left your belongings behind.” Sven said stepping out of the back door of the cabin.  “Your timely arrival was enough to cause this man here on his knees to make a terrible mistake in his confusion. His men paid dearly for it.”

Hopping Crow’s hunters had finished their grizzly task of making sure the attacking trappers entered the next world in a humiliating fashion then joined Sven, Jute and their funny haired friends.

Meanwhile, Jean Bernard LeBlanc knelt in the grass crying. Hopping Crow walked over and looking down at the man sniffed. “He shit pants!” and returned to the assembled group in disgust.

After introductions went around, and hands were shook, the bodies of the dead were gathered up for a proper burial. Being a fellow trapper, Trap asked this to be done rather than just dragging them into the woods for the animals to feed on.  He figured that at one time or another in their lives, they might have been good men that had just gone bad. LeBlanc still lay in the grassy yard begging for his life when a single Indian stepped up to him and shot him through the head then quickly scalped him. All turned at the sound of the single gunshot but said nothing until Hopping Crow spoke up. “He needed to die, his friends were lonely and besides, he smells bad.”

The Indians just shrugged making no judgment and later helped to drag the dead men into the common holes in the woods that had been dug for them. Four to a grave and an upright stick to mark the graves was all the evidence they received declaring they had ever walked on this celestial ball.

After the chore of burying the dead was finished, Hopping Crow walked over to Jute and said, “We will go and hunt now. I will tell my Uncle Two Knives of your bravery here. He will be proud!” After saying that, Hopping Crow and his fellow Blackfeet turned and silently walked back in the direction they had originally come from.

Trap rubbed his chin in wonder saying to Jute, “ You was right young fella, them Blackfeet friends you got sure is folks worth bein’ friends with.”

Meanwhile Sven had entered the home and returned with Rika in tow. She had glimpsed the carnage earlier from the lone kitchen window and had thought better of taking a second look, especially during the scalping. She did not approve but understood the cultural difference between the two groups. It was with some trepidation in Jutes earlier tutelage with the Blackfeet that she feared he may become too much of a Blackfeet. Seeing how he handled this situation gave her the confidence he knew where to draw the line.

Sven approached Trap and asked, “What are your plans Trap? Do you plan on going back for your traps and gear? If you do or do not, you and your sons may stay here with us this coming winter if you wish.”

“Last night the boys and I talked it out and decided to leave our gear where it lays. Trapping’s pretty much over with anyhow. The beaver population will take decades to recover before it would pay to start trappin’ again. No, were done for.”

“What will you do instead?” Jute asked.

“Well, I need to talk to your Daddy here about that.” Looking at Sven Trap asked, “You mentioned something about land still available. You think there’s enough land for the two of us to do farmin’ and some ranchin in the same valley?”

The smile on Sven’s face said it all. “There is more than enough my friend. I will even go to the land office with you to file your land claim. But Trap, I must tell you that no bank will loan you money for land out this far from a town. Unfortunately, you will have to save enough up to pay in full.”

“Shoot, that’s what I had intended anyhow! I ain’t never gonna’ be beholdin’ to no fancy pants banker. No siree!”

Sven smiled but a look of doubt clouded his eyes. “Trap, even way out here starting a ranch or farm is not cheap. I come from a well to do family back in Sweden and it still cost me all I had to come to America and put my roots down here. I know you had mentioned once that you have been saving your money but my friend, unless your horse is carrying gold bars on it, I do not see how you could possibly purchase such a large spread as you need. I do not mean to pry into your finances Trap, but just how much money do you have to buy land with?”

“Well… I never really counted it out. I’m not real good at numbers Sven. Suppose I bring it here and you count if for us and tell us how much we got?”

“I would do that for you Trap but where is your money at if you do not keep it in a bank? “

“We buried it!”

“You did what?”

“We buried it right after our donkey was stole by the Frenchies. They almost had it by Gum! That’s what Ol’ Geezer was for, to carry all our gold coins.”

“Deloy here had a dream that someone sneaked up and stole our money. So the next day we all felt it was a sign to hide our coin. Good thing to because that next day Old Geezer was took. Speaking of Old Geezer, we need to round up them Frenchies horses and Old Geezer now that they is all dead.”

Two days later, Geezer arrived along with the three trappers on their horses. Tied to Geezers pack saddle were two large wooden crates, one on each side. After dismounting and stretching the two boys Carl and Deloy, unpacked the crates and pried open the tops for all to see inside.

Trap spoke up in anticipation. “C’mon Sven, let’s see how much we got here. Will you and Rika count it out for us?”

Sven and Rika each took a case to count and when finally finished counting all the coins, they worked their figures on paper then sat back on the haunches and laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Trap asked.

“Trap,” Sven replied laughing, “We’ll make that trip to the land office just as soon as you wish. By our count, you and your sons have saved enough over the years to not only buy your land but if you wished, ours as well !”

Trap looked around confused, “Now why would I want to buy your land?”

Everyone laughed.

Chapter 7

For years the two brothers and their families successfully plowed the land and tended their cattle on the ranch their father had purchased for them. As often as they could, they would get together with their neighbors Jute and his wife and their children for picnics and social visits to the growing town of  Red Lodge Montana. At one time their parents were celebrated as early Montana pioneers but to each son they always remained just Mom or Dad until the day came that they too in their old age joined their parents in eternal rest. Their children grew, married and life continued moving forward until the two family’s histories were lost in the blur of time.

For over a century now, Trap Hamblin, Sven and Rika Grundvig, lay resting in obscurity but at peace in the rich Montana soil on the property they had worked so hard to tame. Their children and grandchildren sleep near to them knowing their seed continues on elsewhere.

Perched nervously on the highest tree limbs, steel fence post, aluminum sheeted barn roofs and on top of two forgotten families faded grave stones resting in a common graveyard sit the magpies. They are the descendents of those very same magpies that had warned Jute and the Blackfeet of impending danger.  Today they continue to play out their never ending role as nature’s opportune scavengers yet ever vigilant guards.  Like Jute, have you ever stopped to pay attention to what they might be telling you?

The storm of the century

The storm of the century

As told to writer JW Edwards

Our barn at the beginning of the storm

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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