A Colorado Wild Cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a real great way to start a Monday morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why Badger?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coffee?” I asked.

“Three pounds of mill ground Folgers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A real do good-er, huh?”

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

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

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

“Why would you ask me that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, with your life.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can imagine what happened next.”

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

“What did you do?”

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

“Did she divorce him?”

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

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

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

“Why would he do that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

“Exactly one thousand four hundred and forty dollars!”

“Wow! That’s huge!”

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

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

“That’s it in a nut shell.”

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

“About?”

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

“What do you need to do?”

“Escape!”

Chapter 4

“I take it you mean escape from me?”

“By any means necessarily”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, you did.”

And did I not tell you I wanted children?”

“Yes, you did.”

Did I lie about those things?”

“No, I believe you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End

The windmill

                                 windmill 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this night all that was to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The herd’s reaction was predictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want the truth Mister Smith.”

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

“Alright Joe.”

“Now what is it you want to know?”

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

“Yes, that’s what I wrote.”

“Was it the truth?”

“Ma’am… Keva I…”

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

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

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

“Yeah, well…”

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

“You have a good head Keva. I was just trying to be nice. I didn’t want to see you hurt anymore than you already were.”

Keva gently placed her hand on my chest and stared into my eyes. It was hard looking at her, she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen and I think I may have forgotten to breath because my head started getting light.

“Joe, I’ve always been able to see people for who they really are. Do you want to know what I see Joe?”

“I’m not sure. You’d probably be right and that scares me.”

“I know I’m right. I listened real hard when you were talking over dinner last night. And afterward when we all sat on the porch and you told us how you grew up and all. You got hurt bad once Joe, it shows. But, you never let it stop you from doing what needed to be done nor did it steal away the kindness away you have for others. I’m not sure why you’re alone and not married but you’re a prize Joe, any girl would be proud to stand beside you. Why didn’t you ever let one in?”

“I did, once. I loved her so deep I couldn’t imagine what it would be like living without her.”

“So what happened?”

“We were going to get married but her Ma not wanting to see me made a fool of told me the truth about her. It… she was… my best friend Robby… and her… well, she got pregnant from him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You deserved better Joe.”

“All I knew is I lost my future wife and my life long best friend all in one day. Yes, it hurt but rather than turn bitter and fertilize any hate, I vowed to instead help others when I see them hurting. I call it medicine for my soul. It’s an Indian thing.”

I unbuttoned my right sleeve and rolled my shirt up my arm a few inches saying, “See this small tattoo of a heart on the underside of my wrist? I had it put there to remind myself to always remember that everyone’s got feelings and if I can, I try and lift ‘em up out of their troubles and not hurt ’em because they’s already been hurt enough.”

“So like the old adage goes, you wear your heart on your sleeve, is that it?”

The memories of my tragic first love came unexpectedly back in a rush, and the only response I could muster up was, “Yes, Ma’am, I do.

At this point I was so ashamed of the wetness that had started to form in my eyes that I had to turn away from her lest they began turning into real tears. Once again I turned and started walking away from her. I had not cried openly since that day and I knew if I had stayed there staring at her I would again and she’d think I was just a foolish crybaby and despise me.

“Joe, stay here. Don’t walk away from me, please Joe?”

It wasn’t the voice of anger, but rather one that was pleading.

Against all reason I turned back to her and suddenly found her on her tip toes pressing her lips against mine, hard.

I threw all caution to the wind dropped my hat to the ground and wrapped my arms around her and kissed her back… hard. Oh my God, what wonderful feelings rushed from my insides, I felt redeemed!

Chapter 3

Well, I could stretch this story out forever but I wont. But I will end it this way.

We decided to marry. Now it wouldn’t be proper for us to be lovers and living under the same roof so I moved in with the hands for the next three months. Sure, they made fun of me saying she threw me out of my own house and what not but really they couldn’t have been happier for me.

When we married, we had one heck of a hoopla party. I was so full of love for this girl I coulda’ burst! I dragged her all over Uvalde showing her off to all my friends and anybody who’d listen. She loved the attention too.

Her Mama stayed in the guest room making it her own from then on, that was fine with me. She was actually quite a pleasant woman to have around and couldn’t wait for the day when she could spoil her grandbaby.

On our first anniversary, Keva and I decided to have a picnic up by the windmill where it all began. It didn’t bother her that her brother lay less than a half mile away under the prairie grass.

Sitting there under the windmill, I looked up at the large spinning galvanized blades and wondered what my life would have been like if I’d never vowed to finish building it that day.

As we ate our picnic lunch to the sound of the light clanging of the well pump, we both realized this whole event could never have been just  coincidental  but had been guided by the loving hand of God. It truly was, can I have an Amen to that?

 

JW Edwards / www.campfireshadows.com

01/13/2019

Best Friends Make The Worst Enemies

worst enemies best

Brodie Trail (known better as Dusty Trail to family and friends) and Craig O’Reilly grew up from near infants to young adults as inseparable best friends. It was a rare day when one would not find them tied at the hip fishing and exchanging day dreams of living out a Western dime novel. Although they lived within hailing distance of each other the two came from two different worlds. Born of Scottish parents, Brodie Trail as an adult stood a bit over six feet tall, a bit on the thin side with light brown hair and hazel eyes. Craig O’Reilly was born of Irish parents, stood a wee bit past five feet in height, a bit chunky from birth with flaming red hair and brown eyes.

Their physical appearance wasn’t the only differences between the best friends.

The State dividing line between West Virginia and Virginia ran down the center of the road between the two homes.

Before the war, both homes lay in Virginia but after a midnight meeting of the Secessionist Convention in 1861, West Virginia was born. Forced to straddle the new State line was the small hamlet of Peterstown, population one hundred and sixty two.

On the North side sat West Virginia, also the farm and modest log home belonging to the Trail family. To the south and not a hundred paces away from the Trail home, stood the much larger brick home of the O’Reilly family. While the Trails were farmers, the O’Reilly’s were merchants, owning the only Mercantile within half a days buggy ride. Both families had left their ancient homelands and settled in Virginia in the year 1847 during the great over seas potato famine. The two boys were born the same month in the year of 1848, exactly one year after arriving in America.

Although being politically and logistically separated the two families retained their close friendships.

The boys were inseparable. There was only a single school in Peterstown so whether living North or South, all attended the same single room school. It was during this time in school that Brodie acquired the nickname Dusty. Since the school was located at the towns only crossroads a half mile distant and having only dirt roads to get there by, many of the eight or so kids attending the school arrived powdered in road dust. Why the kids began just calling Brodie Dusty confused him since he wasn’t the only kid who’s clothes bore more dirt on them than the roads themselves. Be that as it may be, Dusty accepted the name since before then the kids called him ‘Brode the toad’.

As for the war, most town folks had no care what side their neighbors lived on, surviving the harsh Appalachian winters was their main concern and not some disagreement over slavery. After all, no one had ever met a single slave nor knew anybody that had even seen one. Slavery was the least thing on their minds.

Still, the two were dragged into the war on their respective sides and schooled in their respective militaries as to the need or evils of slavery. By the time the war ended, neither boy had increased their care or concern over an issue that seemed to be more oriented to the big cities of Richmond and Washington. After the war came to a close life quickly returned back to normal for all those living on the north or south side of the main road in Peterstown.

It was two years after the war ended on a beautiful spring day that found the two friends once again fishing along the banks of Rich Creek at the edge of town. Rich Creek was also the dividing line between the two Virginia’s.

The two competed for fish caught on their respective North and South sides.

“It’s near four o’clock Dusty, let’s call it a day.”

“I hear ya’. We caught enough to feed both our families and then some. Oh, I counted our fish, sixteen in all and I caught nine of ‘em, I won!”

“Only ‘cause you cheated! I saw your bobber drift over to the south side of the bank, everyone knows fish prefer livin’ in the South ya’ know.”

Laughing, Dusty reminded him, “Well, either way I won.”

As they made their way back to their respective homes by cutting through an outlying farm, Dusty thought on how the two were so mismatched yet got along so well.

In growing up, things like how much your family made over another had no standing on friendship. True, the O’Reilly house was grand compared to the Trail’s little log home. It had an outdoor stone stairway that led up to the veranda and front door. Thick white pillars supported an over hanging section of the attic and roof. Mister  O’Reilly had it built after seeing a few grand homes on his journey across the State upon his arrival to America. Everything about the two seemed to be in contrast with each other yet none of it mattered to either of them.

After the war’s end,  many Southerners found themself out of home and property due to the Northern led reconstruction program, the Southerners of Peterstown were left alone. It wasn’t kindness that saved them, it was their life long friends and neighbors living on the north side of the road that prevented their demise. Because of this, life went on uninterrupted.

Dusty knew he’d someday be asked to take over his fathers farm as he was the only child his mother gave live birth to. Four times she had miscarriaged after Dusty’s birth before a Doctor she sought out while visiting her sister in Blue Field told her to stop trying. He told her it was a miracle she carried Dusty to full term and that her female organs would fail altogether if she continued trying. She took it as most mountain women did. She shrugged her shoulders and said “A womans duty is to make children. If I die then it is the will of the Lord, not much I can or want to do about it”.

Her next pregnancy fulfilled the good Doctor’s warning.
With deep sadness, Dusty dug her grave while his father prepared her body for her burial. The Pastor from the Apostolic Church of the Redeemed came late to the funeral but still in time to say words over her as she was lowered into the grave. He was not the Trails first choice as they were Baptist but their own Pastor was bedridden with the croup. The most Reverend Jebediah P Clampet apologized for his lateness telling Dusty’s father that one of his Deacon’s had been bitten by a Deamon possesed rattlesnake during an earlier that morning snake handling service.

The Pastor then reminded all those within listening distance of the grave that the Deacons faith had waned recently thus allowing Satan in the form of a snake to bite him. He was left in the care of a group of women who would cast out the Demon of poison and pray him back to health.

The Reverend’s burial prayer droned on and on until Mister Trail ended it by forcefully grabbing the Pastors hand and shook it thanking him for the grave service. The Pastor kept his hand extended until it was realized he was waiting for his fifty cent funeral payment.

In November of the same year his wife died, Mister Trail gave up the ghost after a short bout of consumption. The wasting disease the local mountain folk called ‘the white death’ had been running rampant in the lower hollows and flat lands during this time.

After his fathers funeral, Mister O’Reilly asked Dusty if he would be up to speaking with him regarding the young mans future.

“To be honest Mister O’Reilly, I’d appreciate that talk. You see, I’m kinda’ lost. My father always made the farms decisions and I’m afraid he never took me into his confidence regarding anything beyond caring for the animals or being taught how to keep the mules plowing a straight furrow.”

“Why not come over for dinner tomorrow? We can talk then and besides I have something of your fathers that I wish to give you.”

“My father gave you something for me?”

“In a way yes. As you know, he didn’t believe in banks.”

“That I’m aware of, yes.”

“Well, your father knew I had a steel built Mosler safe installed into one of the the houses interior brick walls and after a time I had convinced him his monies would be much safer being held in my steel safe than in the canning jar he had hidden under your porch. He finally agreed and over the last few years brought over two more canning jars for me to safeguard for him.

“I did not know that Sir. Are these the items you are speaking of?”

“Those and more. ”

“That explains why he once told me that if anything were to ever happen to him to come and see you, that you would be of help to me.”

“Your father and I should never have been friends, he a Scott and me a Irishman, He a Northern and me a Southerner. But just like you and Craig, we had a great friendship. I told him that if ever the day came that you needed help, that I would treat you as my own son.”

Dusty was moved. He wasn’t sure if he should say ‘Thank You’ or not so he just instinctively held out his hand.

Taking Dusty’s hand in his he told him, “Come over at four, we’ll sit down for dinner at five.”

 

Chapter 2

Dusty climbed the stone stairs leading up to the wide veranda. At once he saw Mr. O’Reilly waiting for him holding out a large glass of lemonade. Dusty saw the glass had been filled with ice which pleased him. Iced drinks were a rare thing in the Trail home. Dusty thought of their own milk house that had been built over a natural 

artesian cold spring in order to preserve their milk and other perishables

Dusty was guided to a four seated wrought iron based table. “Please, sit here in the sunny portion of the porch, it’s much more comfortable on a chilly day like today.”

Seeing his neighbor dressed in a heavy over coat Dusty exclaimed,“We can go inside where it’s warmer if you wish.”

“No, I prefer the cool air, it helps me to breath. You see as a young man I had breathed a lot of coal dust working the mines in the old country.”

When seated, Dusty noticed two packages on the table next to where he sat. Pointing to the packages, Mister O’Reilly told him, “These are what your father asked me to harbor within my safe. I have no idea what is in them, only that your father told me to give them to you if he could not.”

Dusty lifted the first package and found it was a large canning jar wrapped in a burlap sack. Sliding the burlap down he saw the jar was filled with gold and silver coins. Dusty’s jaw dropped and sat wide eyed staring at the jar in front of him.

“Wha.. how… but my father was poor!”

His neighbor sat laughing,“Your father was never poor, he was the typical Scott. If you squeezed him hard enough he would bleed coins.”

“Oh my!”

“Go ahead, let’s see what’s in the second package.”

The next package was also covered in burlap but this was a tube over a foot in length and as round as his arm. Removing the burlap cover he saw a leather tube capped on each end with a pewter end piece.

Dusty slowly opened one end which exposed a portion of a parchment sheet.

Withdrawing the parchment from the leather tube he unrolled it.

After seeing what it was he looked up at his neighbor with a questioning look saying,“It’s a deed of sorts, but to what, I have no idea. Can you read it to me?”

Taking the sheet, his neighbor studied it for a few minutes then laid it down.

“Well son, your father purchased some land out west in what’s known as the Arizona Territory. The description here is from the surveyor. The deed describes the land and it’s location in the White Mountain range, about sixty miles north east of Fort Apache. The land consist of two hundred tillable and two thousand two hundred heavily forested acres for a total of two thousand, four hundred acres. The survey says there are three year round springs, a number of small ponds and a single large lake. The land is located between two small unnamed towns nearby. One is twenty miles north and the other ten miles to the south.”

“Arizona?”

“I have to be honest here son, This I knew about because your father had purchased this land from me. When it looked like the States would separate I wanted a place to high tail it to in case things went bad here in Virginia. After West Virginia broke off from Virginia, I figured the problem had solved itself. I had no use for the land. He begged that if I ever sold it to give him first rights in buying it. I told him if he really wanted it I’d sell it to him right then. We agreed on the price of fifteen cents an acre and the deed was drawn up. He told me then that he had always dreamed of moving out further west, that here he felt confined by modern cities such as Peterstown.”

“Then it’s true what my Ma had once told me, that he hankered to move to the wilderness. I thought it was just a daydream.”

“Your father, being the Scottsman that he was kept his business close to his chest. I’m not surprized he never told you, even your mother may not have known. He asked me to not reveal his purchase.

Dusty, I know you’re not cut out for farming, your father knew it too. He’d hoped to take you and your mother out west to the wilderness. It’s one reason he never built more than a small cabin, he never wanted to permanently settle here. So here’s what I’m going to propose to you. I will buy your farm here at a fair price. In return I want you to do two things. One, add the sale money of your farm to that of what your father left you and deposit it a large bank up in Charleston. Keep some out for traveling expenses. Then head out west to Arizona to your land there. Once there, move your money from the bank in Charleston closer to you over in Prescott Arizona for safe keeping. Make sure each bank will allow you to draw money by drafts. Second, Take Craig with you!”

“Take Craig with me, why?”

“Because since he’s come back from the war he hasn’t been the same. You have always been the wiser or the calm thinker between the two of you. Without you, he’ll end up going wild.”

“But weren’t you counting on Craig to take over the mercantile when you retire?”

“No, Craig has never wanted to be part of the business. His two half brothers will take over when it’s time.”

“Half brothers? He has half brothers?”

“I never told Craig this but I had been previously married. We had two children, twin boys. When I came to America they stayed behind to be raised by their aunt. There own mother did not survive their birth so her sister then legally raised them as her own. I remarried and later left Ireland for America. As they grew older their aunt asked if the twins could come to America as she was herself not in good health. I agreed wholeheartedly but on the condition that she remain as their legal mother.”

“So are they here in Virginia?”

“Every time you go into the mercantile you see them.”

“Not Sean and Brice! They are your sons?”

“Yes, even Craig does not know and I’m committing you to never tell him. You see, if Craig were to find out I’m afraid he would challenge any inheritance.

In place of an inheritance upon my death I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse, and then tell him of his half brothers. When he leaves with you he will leave with a trust of ten thousand dollars. With that he can buy a nice house to live in or a start a business or even become a cattle man with a ranch if he so wishes. Once he has been determined to be a responsible adult, the trust will open up fully to him. “

“Who’s to judge if he is responsible?”

“You, will be the judge of that.”

“Me?”

“Yes, I will know his progress as a responsible adult by your letters to me.”

Dusty sat pondering silently all that he’d been told. He knew Mister O’Reilly was a kind and thoughtful person but he never knew until now just how much he was.

“Sir, you’ve not only given me direction but the means to follow it. You could have stayed silent and kept my fathers deed and money and no one would have been the wiser. Thank you! I will watch over Craig and keep in touch with you as to our goings on.”

At this point dinner was announced so the two went inside.

During the dinner Craig was informed of his fathers decision. Dusty feared Craig would object but to his surprise Craig was all for it. As they ate a meal of pork roast with all the fixings, Craig expounded on all that he planned to see and do as the pair journeyed across the country to the wilds of the Arizona Territory.

Mister O’Reilly was also obiously releaved.

Chapter 3

“So why did you agree so readily to your fathers plan for you. It surprised me that you would give up your inheritance for a trust.”

The two had taken the stage from Peterstown to Princeton and from there to Charleston West Virginia. Once they had arrived in Charleston, Dusty was to deposit his fathers money along with the money he earned from the sale of his farm. In the meantime, Charleston was still over a half a day away so the two talked and napped when possible.

“When I came home after the war’, Craig explained, “I discovered I wanted more than sitting there looking at the same Virginia countryside. I had no desire to move to a big city but still wanted adventure and excitement. When he told us at dinner what he wanted from me all I saw was the chance to get out from under his thumb and start living my own life.”

“Surely it wasn’t that bad living with him, was it?”

“Naw, I just wanted to do something without someone looking over my shoulder all the time. Do you know that he never went to bed until he was sure I had returned home or that I had to be home by ten o’clock? I mean the Wailing Lady Saloon in town didn’t even open its doors until ten. I’d have to sneak out around midnight to go visit the soiled doves at the Wailing Lady or sit in at the faro table.”

Dusty remained outwardly calm but inside was shocked to hear his best friend was leading a double life.

“I wasn’t aware you did those things. When did all this come about.?”

“Dusty, when I killed my first Northern soldier I left behind my childhood. No offense about me shooting Northern folk but it was my job and I was pretty good at it. I received a letter of commendation for my sniping skills.”

“I’ll be, I never knew. How did your father take it that you were a sniper?”
”Ha! If he knew he’d have pulled strings and I would’ve ended up being a aide to some fancy pants officer. Nope, I told him I was stationed at the rear guarding supplies.”

“I guess you’re lucky to be alive. I heard snipers had a short life span.”

“Yup, a few friends never made it. But, I did and that’s all I was concerned about. I’d take my shot and run like hell! Ha ha ha.”

Dusty began to seriously doubt whether Craig was the same person he grew up with. He honestly realized he didn’t know his best friend anymore. His father was right, the war had somehow changed him.

The Craig he once knew would have never visited the Ladies of the night or sat with whiskey numbed gamblers till near dawn. And lying to his father was unheard of!

Dusty wondered whether or not it might just be a phase his friend was going through. Maybe this was some sort of way Craig was dealing with the atrocities of war that he had experienced. He decided it would be wise to keep a closer eye on his friend.

They left the stage, grabbed their belongings and headed to the bank to deposit Dusty’s small Fortune. Once inside they stepped up to one of the tellers barred windows.

The teller explained that Dusty needed to open an account and called for the bank manager to help Dusty with the needed paperwork.

The banks managers ushered the two into his office and after seating them asked just how much was to be deposited.

“Well, I figure most of it I guess. I’m going to need some traveling and supply money until we reach the Arizona Territory.”

The managers eyebrows raised, “Arizona you say?”

“Yes, I have a couple thousand acres there and plan to do something with it.”

“Hmmm, I see.” The manager thought one of his tellers might be making him the butt of a joke but decided to play along.

“Does that canvas pouch contain your deposit?”

“Uh, yes it does but I never had the chance to count it all.”

“Well then, why don’t we just pour it out on the desk here and we’ll count it out.”

Dusty tipped the canvas sack forward spilling forth the large amount of gold and silver coins held inside.

The bug eyed bank manager gulped and immediacy shouted to an unseen teller, “Johnson! Get in here on the double, these gentlemen need your assistance!”

A thin wiry looking bald but well dressed man with round spectacles appeared quickly in the doorway. His eyes fell onto the coins spread out on the managers desk. “Oh my, I see!”

“Oh, and there’s this too.” Dusty pulled out a thick roll of Northern paper money tied tightly with a blue ribbon around it. “I’m pretty sure this here is still good, isn’t it?”

The assistant nodded as if his neck were made of rubber, “I should say it’s good, very good indeed.”

An hour later the two left the bank with the paperwork and a leather case containing draft notes. From Charleston they took the train all the way to Kansas City Missouri.

Dusty had thought the train ride to Kansas City would be on a single train. Instead the two had to transfer to three different trains in three different cities.

Exhausted from their three day train ride, the two at last spent the night in a local hotel near the station in a real bed. Before they left for the hotel, they asked the station clerk what trains they should take to get to Arizona. The train station clerk laid out the best route but even with his help they could not reach Arizona by train. The closest they could get to was Dallas Texas. From there it had to be by stage coach to El Paso then back on a train to the town of Tucson in the Arizona Territory.

Again the trip would require multiple train changes to Dallas again using different rail lines to get there. The clerk wrote down each change and what rail line to take and to what city.

During this time it appeared that Craig was becoming his old pleasant self again.

In the morning they decided a big breakfast was in order. Stopping at a small cafe they ordered breakfast and drank a number of cups of coffee in order to fully wake up.

Dusty concluded that traveling had been good for his friend.

The night before they would roll into Dallas though Dusty once again had doubts. The train stopped in a town called Norman Oklahoma. The conductor told the travelers that there would be a delay until morning as one of the cars wheel trucks had burnt a sleeve bearing and the mechanic needed to replace it before heading out again.

Dusty told Craig he was going to secure a hotel room before eating and told his friend to go ahead and he’d catch up to him at the diner.

Dusty secured a room and walked down the street to the diner for a late meal. Entering the diner he looked around for Craig. His friend was nowhere to be seen and the diner had only a handful of folks eating as it was soon closing for the night. When the waitress arrived Dusty asked if his friend had been there.

“No, not that I saw and I’m the only waitress here.”

“Can I still order a meal?”

“Only if it’s the stew. It’s the only thing still hot”

Dusty shrugged and ordered the stew.

With a stomach full of beef stew Dusty wondered where Craig could have gotten off to. Looking up and down the short main street told him that only one establishment was now open at that time of night, the saloon.

It had been two hours since they parted ways at the station and Dusty began to fear the worst. Stepping up to the bar Dusty asked if the bar tender had seen a young man wearing a Southern gray Slouch hat and blue denim pants.

The bar tender pointed upward, “Upstairs with Dolly. Want a beer, it’s halfway cold.”

“Sure.”

Dusty took his ‘halfway cold’ beer and sat at a table waiting for Craig. After a sip of beer he decided the people in Oklahoma might have a different idea of what the word ‘cold’ meant. He slowly drank the room temperature beer and waited for Craig to come down. It was 2am when someone kicked his boot waking him. “Ready to head off?”

On the walk back to the hotel Dusty was given the sordid details of Craig and Dolly’s robust coupling. “Craig”, he told him as they neared the hotel, “some things are better left unsaid.”

“Like what?”

“Like what you do behind closed doors. What has come over you my friend? I mean you’re acting like Moose Cholak. You remember Moose?”

“Yeah, I remember the fat ass, nothin’ but a big paper tiger bully in school. Did you know someone beat him near to death a few months ago?”

“I heard that, what do you know about it?”

Instead of answering Craig just grinned.

“So it was you, wasn’t it?”

“Oh c’mon Dusty he deserved everything he got, probably more so. It weren’t like I ambushed him or anything, he called me a cheat at the table, what was I to do?”

“So you waited for him outside and then jumped him! That’s as close to an ambush as anything.”

“It weren’t exactly like that but yea, I waited for him. What was I to do? He’s a good foot taller than me an’ he must weigh in at over three hundred pounds! You think he’d fight me fair? Hell no! I gave him a chance, I called him out for him callin’ me a cheat.”

“His skull was crushed in, he’ll never be right again. Did you hit him with a brick?”

“Naw, I had roll of silver dollars, stuck em in a sock so they wouldn’t jingle when I snuck out’a the house that night. When He turned around I hit ‘em with the sock full of coins. How’s I to know it’d do what it did.”

“Well as of late you ain’t acting no different than Moose. I seen you change, you seem to enjoy intimidating folks, innocent folks too. I’d say you took over being the roll of town bully.”

“Dusty, this may come as a surprise to you but don’t think I haven’t wondered about all this myself. The only answer I can truly give you is the war and all the horrible things I saw and was even forced to do stripped away what innocence I had left in me. I saw what mankind is really like.

I saw a kid younger than me strutten’ around like a rooster after disemboweling some soul no older than himself while his fellow soldiers clapped him on the back? Do you think that kid started out that way? Did I?”

“No, I know you didn’t.”

“I’ve thought hard about what my father is having me do, and believe it or not, I know he’s right! Why do you think I take your rebukes? It’s because deep inside me I know you’re right, just like my father, all you two want is the best for me. Still, it’s like I’m overcome by some force that even scares me. I do things I’m not supposed to do and don’t do the things I am to do. I try to be like I used to be but I seem to fail at it.”

“I believe in the Bible the Apostle Paul wrote the same words about his own life.”

“You always were one to bring up the Bible.”

Dusty held open the hotels large door for his friend and together they entered the well lit foyer, it was nearing 3am now. Craig had insisted the two take separate rooms so at the end of the hallway they parted to go their separate ways. It was when Craig raised his arm to give a good night wave that the gun Craig had under his coat was exposed. Seeing the new Colt 45 sent a chill down Dusty’s spine.

Both sat bleary eyed at the cafe the next morning as they ate the cafe’s breakfast.

“We gotta’ get on to the train station Craig, the train’s conductor said it will leave at 8am sharp and it’s 7:30 now.”

“Alright, I’m done here, let’s go.”

The train changed again at Dallas and from there it took them to El Paso. This far south in Texas had no snow but it was still numbing cold outside. The passengers aboard the train were comforted by a small coal burning pot belly stove at each end of the car. Each time the conductor passed by he shake the stoves grates and toss in a couple fist sized coal lumps. Talk between the two was light, comments seemed mostly restricted to the weather or the scenery outside the cars window. In El Paso they were told the only route to Tucson was once again by stage. They paid four dollars apiece and stepped aboard the Butterfield Overland stagecoach going to Tucson.

The trip was uneventful except for the road itself. Two ruts cutting through the brush laden desert was as good as the road got. Besides each rut lay thousands of skull sized stones. Dusty figured this was Butterfield’s way of clearing the roadway. If the stage inadvertently left the rut, then those inside the stage were tossed violently to and fro as the wheels bounced over the stones. The driver and his shotgun partner fared the worst but they kept the horses at the same pace. Each passenger had been given a thick buffalo robe to fend off the cold with and it also helped to cushion the blows the coach recieved from the trail.

In the middle nowhere they overnighted at a Butterfield station halfway to Tucson and paid a dollar each for a hot meal prepared by the station mans wife.

It was rabbit stew with wild onions and seasoned with sage. In Tucson the two once again rented separate rooms and called it a night.

After the bumpy ride, Dusty barely found his way to the bed. After removing his boots he collapsed on the bed fully clothed.

It was sometime past midnight when he awoke to the sound of thumping on the wall. He knew that wall was the one separating his and Craig’s rooms. Unused to hearing the rhythmic thumping of a headboard banging a wall, Dusty had no idea what could be making the noise until he heard grunting and a woman moaning.

Shaking his head, he returned to bed covering his head and ears with his pillow.

At 8am the hotel manager knocked on Dusty’s door and called out, “Mister Trail, you asked to be woken at eight, it’s that time Sir.”

Still fully dressed, Dusty slipped on his boots, grabbed his belongings and banged on the door to Craigs room shouting, “Get outa’ bed Craig, we need to see about the best way to Fort Apache.”

It wasn’t Craig who answered but a female. “Go to hell and leave us be!”

Having lost sleep from their night long rutting, Dusty had reached the end of his rope. Grabbing the door knob he found the door unlocked and pushed it wide open.

Inside, the female once again began cursing for being disturbed. Craig had not woke up yet and lay there loudly snoring. Dusty was about to step back outside of the room when he saw an empty whiskey bottle on the nightstand beside bed.

Red faced with anger, Dusty pushed the door fully open and in no kind words woke up Craig by yelling at him.

“Get your dead ass outa’ bed this instant Craig or I call off our partnership and head out to Fort Apache alone. You want, you can spend the rest of your days drinking, gambling and waking up with a whore as old as your mother.  I don’t care no more if you tag with me or not!”

Slamming the door behind him, Dusty gathered up his belongings and made his way back to the Butterfield stage depot. There he asked the depot clerk the best way to get to Fort Apache.

“The only way there is by horse. If ya’ don’t got one I’d say Juke’s Livery might sell ya’ what ya’ want.”

Making his way to Juke’s Livery he turned when he heard Craig calling out his name.

Refusing to turn around Dusty kept walking.

“Aw c’mon Dust you aren’t that pissed at me are you? I was just about to get up when you stopped by.”

Remaining quite, Dusty continued to walk to the Livery.

“OK, OK, I admit, I drank too much and had a poke, so shoot me! By golly a man’s got needs you know, well, maybe you don’t know seein’ as I have yet to see you with a woman.”

At that Dusty turned and asked. “Craig, you and I have been best friends our entire life, why are you purposefully trying to destroy that?”

Chapter 4

The two put a patch on their friendship and rode out on two newly purchased horses and a pack mule for each. After buying saddles and tack for the horses and pack saddles for the mules they headed north out of Tucson into Tonto Apache Indian territory. The Tonto tribe wasn’t friendly but at the same time they had pretty much given up attacking white folk traveling through their land.

The total cost spent at the livery and the later stop for supplies at the mercantile ran the two over a hundred ninety dollars apiece. Just a few months ago Dusty would have never dreamed of spending that much for anything.

Since they were three three days out of Fort Apache and nearly three weeks after that before reaching the White Mountains near where Dusty’s land lay, they decided to make camp after a twenty miles into the desert. after twenty miles of desert. They had made camp after stopping at a small adobe trading post run by an old white man and his Popago Indian wife. They were now in what was called the Bro basin or Gold basin. Here a few gold mining camps were haphazardly scattered over the small Mica Mountain range. At the trading post they were told to avoid these camps if they did not want to lose their lives. They took the old man’s advice and skirted around them to the west.

They broke camp the next morning hoping to get halfway to Fort Apache. The day started out cold but soon warmed after the sun began to climb into the sky. At around noon, they stopped for a cold meal of Jerky and a few dried biscuits washed down by canteen water. It was then that they noticed the dust cloud behind them.

“Better keep that gun of yours handy” Dusty told Crag, “It looks like we might get some company.”

“How’d you know about my gun… never mind.”

Dusty had purchased a used Sharps rifle while at the Sutlers store back in Tucson where there were a number of post Civil War items for sale. He took it out of it’s long leather scabbard and slid a live 50-100 cartridge into the chamber. He then placed a number of the same cartridges in his coat pocket.

The group continued towards them but hadn’t pulled a single rifle or pistol yet so Dusty began to relax. When the two groups were within hailing distance the apparent leader raised his hand and yelled out. “Ho there, we’re friendly, just heading up north to Fort Verde!”

Dusty’s lowered his Sharps rifle and in return replied, “We’re headed up to Fort Apache ourselves. Where is Fort Verde located?”

“Allow me to light from my horse to talk?”

”Light but leave your Spencer behind.”

“Will do. Names Jasper Brown.”

The two shook hands. “Dusty Trail, This is my friend and lifelong pard, Craig O’Reilly.”

Very quickly and without really matching the men’s names to the person Jasper just rattled off their names with a wave of his hand.

“Leon, Jimbo, Turk and the two greasers are Jorge and Pablo.”

Dusty touched the brim of his Stetson to acknowledge the five yet wondering why someone would call Mexicans greasers or why the four whites would be traveling with such a scruffy looking duo like Jorge and Pablo.

Dusty noted the group had three fully loaded pack horses besides what was tied behind their saddles. On each horse hung two canteens but looking at the two Mexicans he saw little in the way of saddle bags or canteens on their mounts but each wore a double Colt set up and a cross bandolier fully filled with cartridges.

Jasper spit out a well chewed wad of chewing tobacco and asked, “So you’re headed up to Fort Apache, huh? Would it bother you if we rode alongside with you to the Fort? We’ve heard there are some greaser bands robbing and killing folks on the trail in the area. The more guns the better, no?”

“We heard the same, I have no complaints if you ride along but no way am I so trusting yet as to let you sleep in our camp at night.”

“No problem there friend, that’s right good thinking, for both of us.”

“Then you’re more than welcome to ride with us.”

That night everything went smoothly. The two groups ate separately then made separate camps a hundred yards from each other. Still, Dusty and Craig formed a night watch, changing every two hours.

On first watch Dusty could hear the group talking but they were far enough away that he couldn’t catch the words. By the time he switched watches with Craig the talking had stopped and he could hear snoring. He slept comfortably for the next two hours. Back and Forth they switched watches without incident. Dawn broke and since it was Craig’s watch he started their breakfast.

Back in the saddle they made good time, finishing the second day at the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Sometime tomorrow they should reach the Fort.

That night, Dusty felt the watch was no longer needed since the other group showed no signs of ill will to them so the two set their bedrolls in the sand and fell asleep.

Sometime after midnight loud laughter woke Dusty from his sleep. He could hear the boisterous Mexicans clearly. It sounded like they had been drinking heavily.

Dusty rolled over to see if Craig was as bothered by all the noise as he was. It was then he noticed that Crag’s bedroll was empty. It was then that he heard Craig’s voice and laughter from the other camp.

Damn idiot!” He thought. “Once we get to the Fort I’m going to send his father a letter giving him the update he wanted on Craig. He’s not going to be pleased. Since we hooked up with Jasper and especially the Mexicans Craig seems to be going the opposite direction his Pa had hoped for.”

Around three in the morning Craig made his way back to camp and tried as silently as possible to pull off his boots and climb into his bedroll. He failed miserably as he loudly grunted and began to curse trying to kick off his boots. After failing that, Dusty noted that Craig gave up trying and slid his booted feet under the blanket. It reminded Dusty of the drunks in Peterstown. Too many times in his early morning trips to town he’d see fully clothed drunks sleeping in doorways or on the boardwalk in front of the saloon. He wondered how a man could lower himself to such a level. Now his friend was acting the same way.

As the eastern sky began to lighten Dusty noted while fixing up a breakfast that the other camp was already up and getting their day started, even the Mexicans. He looked over where Craig lay and he had yet to budge in his bedroll.

Dusty felt disgust for his friend and entertained the notion of just leaving him. But, too many years of good friendship halted that thought.

Craig must have finally smelled the now cold cooked bacon because he slowly rose from his bed. Looking around their camp he was surprised to see the campfire had been put out with water and a lone plate with the cold bacon and biscuits were sitting alongside a lone cold cup of coffee.

Seeing the pack mules and horses already packed up for travel he shouted questioningly at Dusty.

“What the hell’s this all about? You couldn’t wake me for breakfast?”

Fed up, Dusty walked up to his bleary eyed friend and shouted back at him. “I’ll tell you what’s up Craig! You spent the night drinking with your new greaser friends and barely made it back to camp standing up. You noticed one of your boots is still halfway off? You couldn’t even undress yourself! As for breakfast, I tried to wake you to no avail so don’t come yelling at me about your damn cold breakfast. I had half the thought of just packing up and heading out without you!”

“Well maybe you should have, you ain’t my father you know. I got my own life and I’m getting damn tired of living under everyone Ease’s rules. Piss on this, you want to leave then go!”

Dusty knew if he left Craig behind he’d turn around an hour later and see his friend sheepishly trailing behind him in the distance trying to apologize.

So instead of joining in the pissing match Dusty just told him, “Eat your breakfast, I’ll wait for ya’ to finish it and get saddled up.”

In response Craig stuffed his mouth full of cold bacon and one of the biscuits, the rest he tossed into the dead campfire, packed away the plate and cup and mounted his already saddled horse.

Chapter 5

 The two parties traveled north without incident and by evening Fort Apache could be seen in the distance.

It was decided that the two groups would wait until morning to enter the Fort.

Upon entering the Fort the next morning at daybreak, they were met by an obvious Irish Sargent who asked them their business at the Fort.

Dusty explained to the Sargent that they had traveled from Virginia and are heading to his property in the White Mountains. He asked if he or anyone else at the Fort could give them more precise directions on how to get there.

In a heavy Irish accent he answered,“The White Mountains you say? Could you be a wee bit more detailed as to the whereabouts this property is located? The white Mountains are take up a mighty big area.”

“I do have the deed, will that help?”

“It may. Tis your lucky day now lad, we happen to have a Government surveyor recuperating here after a recent tussle with a few Apache near Flowing Springs.”

“That would be of great help, thank you!”

“Follow me then laddy.” The Sargent directed the rest to where they could unpack and store their supplies. He ordered two soldiers to take the animals to the Fort’s livery when unsaddled.

The Sargent led Dusty to the camp infirmary where he introduced him to a man who lay in a bed. After the Sargent explained the predicament to the surveyor he turned and left without saying a word.

“Let’s see this property deed you have”, the bedridden surveyor told them. After much moaning the man made it to a sitting position. Dusty handed him the rolled up deed.

“Hmmm, Uh huh, Oh… Hammy. Ah, there it is.”

“You found the property?”

“As close as I can figure it anyway. The deed mentions three year round springs, a big lake and two towns, one twenty and the other ten miles away from the property. Add that information to the mention of it being sixty miles north of here and I believe I know where it is.”

As he spoke, Craig had entered the infirmery and stood beside Dusty after unloading their supplies into a store room.

“Would one of you please hand me my leather carrying case lying under this bed? I need to compare my official survey maps to the information on the deed.

Craig volunteered and lowered himself to his knees and fished out from under the bed the brown leather carry all case belonging to the surveyor.

After rummaging through the different land maps inside the case he finally pulled one out. Unfolding it across his outstretched legs on the bed, he ran his finger up and down the sheet until he stopped and looked up at the two and proudly said, “I found it!”

The two leaned over the surveyor in his bed to see where he was pointing at.

Dusty looked at the surveyor and exclaimed, “The word Alpine is written there, is that a type of tree, town or what?”

“Alpine is not a town, not yet anyway. We surveyors name places just to make it easier for future references. I actually did the survey to that area a number of years ago. I remember a beautiful lake in the valley that’s surrounded by tall pines up the mountain side. It’s God’s country for sure.”

“What do we need to do to get there from here?”

“There’s plenty of deer and elk so meat won’t be a problem and down in the valley you’ll have no problem growing future crops but there are some Indians still living in the mountain forest. Some are friendly, others not so. It’ll be up to you to find out which.”

“Since you’ve been there, what would be the best route to take?”

“From here I’d heads north for a week then northwest until you come to the White River. Follow the river east. Best not to use the river itself, you’ll be vulnerable to Indian attacks. Travel just a mile south of the river but keep it in sight. You’ll notice that cottonwood trees grow alongside the river so keep an eye on them. You can’t miss the White Mountains, they’ll cover the horizon. If I remember right there’s a big saddle formation where the pass is that will lead you into the valley.

I’m sure you’ll come across some Indians on the way and if they’re of the friendly sort they can help guide you. Just be sure to carry some cheap trade items as gifts or you might quickly find yourself missing stuff of higher value.”

After writing down the best trails and landmarks from the surveyors map Dusty left Craig to his own device and headed over to the supply building to buy some note letter wroiting paper.

Seeing a small room with a desk he asked a passing soldier if he would be allowed to use the desk to sit and write.

“That’s what the rooms for. Many guys prefer to read or write their letters in private. No one wants to shed tears in public.

Dusty sat at the desk and contemplated what he would write to Mister O’Reilly about his son Craig.

After ten minutes he opened the ink bottle and grabbing the quill pen he began to write.

Dear Mister O’Reilly,

 I trust this letter to you finds you and yours prosperous and in good health.You had asked that I keep you informed of your son Craig’s spiritual and growth as a man.

We have made it safely to Fort Apache here in Arizona. It has been a long and arduous trip and am excited to say we are nearing the end of it.

In regards to my writing you I will be as honest as possible.

 I wish I had news that bore positively in both areas but I am distraught to tell you that in my view is not the case.

 In my opinion, Craig has shown no growth in character or wisdom. In fact, the opposite could be said to be true.

 In my judgement, in leaving Peterstown and your oversight, that Craig found a sense of freedom. A freedom lacking in empathy for others compounded by a false sense of superiority. His demeanor is that of a rude, spoiled child who feels he is owed without labor the same material blessings others have worked hard for.

 Without my knowledge, he had purchased a firearm and had hidden bottles of whisky in his pack. He has taken to drink when away from my presence.

 We had joined another group of men traveling out of Tucson, some who ‘s morals are surely lacking. Craig seems to have been drawn to these two men in particular, Mexicans who’s nightly drinking seems to be their normal routine.

 During our travels, Craig has spent a number of evenings visiting the saloons and women there of ill repute.

 I am unsure if this is all a temporary falling away from his upbringing or if I am for the first time seeing the real post war Craig.

 I will continue to try to throttle down his activities as much as is possible but my fear is he will find my company too restricting and set off on his own.

 I remain respectful of you and yours, Brodie

 

Dusty put the letter in a thin leather mailing pouch and gave it to the soldier in charge of the Forts mail.

When the soldier saw that the letter was being sent to Virginia he replied, “It may take a month or more to arrive since it will be sent to Fort Ward near Alexandria first as there is no direct mail service to the the town you are sending this to. Military mail travels a different route than civilian mail but rest assured, it will eventually get there.”

When later Craig discovered drinking was banned by all except officers within the Fort he saught out the Mexicans. Together they devised a way to drink without breaking the Fort’s rules. Along with the two Mexicans and Jimbo Craig told the others that they were going out hunting for some fresh meat. The four soon rode out on horses borrowed from the Forts livery.

Craig doubted the story but let it ride. If somehow they returned with a deer that could restore some faith in his friend and if not, it wouldn’t surprise him.

Since he had the time on his hands he decided to bring he and Crag’s horses to the foundry and have new shoes put on them. The mules wore no shoes.

By nightfall none of the hunters had returned to the Fort and Dusty believed they’d show up in the morning with hang overs.

Dusty was correct about the four returning in the morning but none were sporting hang overs, the reason was they were still very drunk.

Not only that but Craig brought along a heavy set Apache girl with him.

At the gate the Sargent let the four in with the borrowed horses but barred the Indian girl from entering.

“She’s no permitted inside the Fort laddy, leave her outside where she belongs.”

Instead of complying Craig pulled out his pistol and drunkenly it pointed it in the Sargent’s direction, telling him, “And to do what? Poke her in front of you all? No way, I’m bedding her inside in private.”

In a move swifter than a large Irishman should ever be capable of, the Sargent grabbed the pistol from Crag’s hand and brought it crashing down on his head.

Turning to Dusty he told him, “He’ll be spender the rest of the day and tonight in the brig. Come first light I’ll release him to your care. I’m not gonna’ report him though seein’ as he’s Irish ‘an I know what whiskey does to an Irishman, even myself. If everytime an Irisman drank an’ ended up in front of a judge, why there’d be no Irishman walkin’ free in the streets.”

At 5am sharp the bugler played reveille and the Fort’s day started. Even Craig jumped out of the brigs cot, confused as to why once again he had slept in his clothes.

Slowly the memories of the day before began to filter through his alcohol numbed brain cells. Remembering the Sargent and how he thought he was mistreated by him brought a slew of swear words Forth.

Fortunately for Craig it was at that very moment the Sargent returned and threw the open door to the brig. “C’mon, out ya’ go laddy!”

Rubbing the sore spot on his head and still confused as to why he had slept in a jail cell Craig sheepishly exited knowing he must have fouled up somewhere.

During breakfast inside the mess hall Jasper approached Dusty and sitting down across from him at the table asked, “If it’s alright with you, It looks like our best way to travel is to ride along with you two until we get to the White River. From there we’ll part ways and be heading west to Payson town and from there drift north to Fort Verde.”

Wondering why the group was headed to a place called Fort Verde but afraid to pry into someones personal business Dusty instead asked Jasper, “That’s a strange name for a Fort what’s going on up there that they need a Fort?”

“It’s general Crooks Fort. He’s charged with keepin’ the peace there between the Yavapai and Apache tribes. He’s to round ‘em up and take ‘em out of the area.”

Jasper then volunteered the information Dusty was hesitant in asking him. “We all are seeking to get hired to ride out with the Calvary to assist in the round up. We were told the Army is paying five dollars a day. That’s big money”

“So there is Indian trouble up there?”

“There is one Some character named Geronimo that needs arresting. He’s been causing problems up there. He’s a Bedonkohe Apache leading a few other Apache tribes killin’ and murderin’ folks all the way from Mexico to the Arizona Territory. That’s the reason Jorge and Pablo are ridin’ with us, they lost family to Geronimo an’ they want revenge.

Just then Craig entered the mess hall and headed over to where Dusty and Jasper sat eating.

Seeing the condition Craig was in Jasper frowned and asked, “You look like hell this morning, you doin’ alright?”

“I feel like hell, someone better let me how I ended up behind bars. I can’t recall a damn thing.”

“Dusty curtly told him, “You got drunk, nuff said.”

“That much I figured. How I got a busted head and landed in jail I don’t.”

As they finished breakfast and were ready to get started out, the Sargent walked into the mess and headed their way.

“Mister Trail, Mister Brown, the Fort commander wishes to speak to the two of you as soon as possible.”

Dusty replied, “We’re about done here Sargent, we’ll be there shortly.”

“I’m coming too!” Craig added.

Jasper raised his eyebrows saying, “The commander huh? Must be important.”

Besides the two groups, other travelers had come and gone from the Fort on their way elsewhere. One such group that entered just as the three men headed to the commanders post was an elderly white haired yet strong and viral looking man. With the man came two women trailing behind him. One looked to be the same age as he so Dusty assumed it was the man’s wife. The other, still hidden in a heavy over coat and fur cap gave Dusty the impression of someone much younger. “Probably the couples daughter,” he thought.

As he passed the trio of newcomers Dusty glanced at the younger girl. For Dusty if time had ever stopped it was at this moment.

With little exposed except her face looking out from the big fur cap the girls eyes locked onto Dusty’s. His heart leaped, he had never seen such beautiful eyes. They seemed to call out to him, begging him to pay attention to her. A smile sprung from her face as if in recognition of him but Dusty knew he had never seen her before and then the moment passed and then she was past him.

Within two steps Dusty found himself turning to look behind him at the girl. At the same time she did the same to Dusty. Being caught in such a brazen act of staring, the girls face reddened but the smile remained.

The act of passing each other had seemed to take an infinite amount of time and when the two had finished passing by both knew their lives would be forever changed.

Craig watched the interaction of the two and pushed Dusty ahead jealously saying, “Now that’s what I want, you watch, I’m gonna mae her my girl.”

Dusty made no comment but knew the wedge between the two friends had just been driven deeper.

Jasper knocked on the Commanders door and the trio immediately heard, “Come in.”

After introducing themselves the trio were told to relax and have a seat.

“Cigar?” The Commander offered the three.

Jasper and Craig both reached out and thanked him. Dusty had never seen Craig smoke anything in his life but then this trip exposed many things about Craig that Dusty had never seen his friend do.

“The reason I wanted to speak to you all is that I was made aware that your two parties, although heading in different directions are planning on leaving here very soon.”

Jasper spoke up telling him, “That’s correct Sir. We planned on traveling to together as a single group until we came to the White River. From there we are going our separate ways.”

The Commander nodded and replied, “Uh huh, Have either or anyone in your two parties ever traveled further north in the Territory before?”

Both replied in the negative.

“I didn’t think so or you would have known that traveling north of here this time of year makes it’s doubtful you’ll ever get to where you’re headed.”

“Why is that Sir,” Dusty asked.

“Weather! I can tell you all have a Southern accent and this is most likely the furthest north you’ve ever traveled. Am I correct?”

Again, Dusty answered, “That is correct for us, I never asked Jasper about his earlier where-a-bouts. Like you I assumed though that he was a southern man.”

Jasper replied, “Beaumont Texas born and bred, Sir”

“As I figured. Folks think of the Arizona Territory here as one big hot desert, nothing could be further from the truth. Mister Zales, our recovering surveyor informed me of your separate destinations and I felt compelled to ask you to wait out the winter here instead of leaving. nIt’s for your own safety.”

Looking at the two friends he said, “As for making it to Alpine in the coming months? Forget it. You’ll be crossing some of the coldest barest desert you’ve ever imagined. The winds get so strong that horses have been seen standing frozen to death come morning. Then you still need to make your way through the White Mountains with their heavy snows. Again, you’ll never make it through alive. Snow can get so deep in places it passes the height of a horse.”

Jasper ran his hand across his forehead and asked, “Is that about the same making our way to Fort Verde?”

“I’d say it was a foolish act but no, if you left now, you stand a better chance of making it. Mind you though, it will still be mighty cold along the way and the Black Mountains surrounding Fort Verde do get a good dumping of snow that can trap you in some of the passes there. If I were a gambling man I’d give you a 60% chance you’ll miss the snows… if you left this week that is.”

“I’ll need to talk to my men but my desire is to get to join up with General Crook as soon as possible.” Replied Jasper.

“Well, you do that. If you all decide to winter it out here at the Fort all we ask is that you participate in the hunting of meat and collecting firewood. I may also ask you to help in some of the Forts repairs from time to time. Let me know of you’re decision.”

The two groups decided to discuss the situation around one of the mess hall tables. Once seated, Jasper told his men what the meeting with the Commander was all about.

“I may be heading our travels up but it’s being left up to you all whether we risk the journey up to Fort Verde or not. My feelings are we should but don’t let that influence you none.”

After a show of hands Jasper and his men decided to risk it.

“As for myself,” Dusty told them, “It’s my land we we’re heading up to and I can’t put Crag’s life in danger by making the trip to something he doesn’t own. So, I’ll be staying here.

Craig looked over at Jasper saying, “I never got a chance to tell Dusty about my decision to travel with you.”

Looking at Dusty Craig told him, “I asked Jasper earlier in on our way here if I could join up with them. I may or may not decide to join up with Genera Crook but Dusty, I want to strike out on my own, I just never made the time to tell you.

Dusty sat back looking at his friend. “You never found the time or were you too afraid I’d buck the idea?”

“Kind of both I guess. Look Dusty, we been friends since childhood but I’m tired of being told what I can and shouldn’t do. I’m a grown man. Maybe I found I like the new me. I like getting riled up drinking, I like coupling with women, even fat ugly and old ones, it makes me feel I’m in control. I have needs that go beyond just pleasure, that’s why I never let a woman lay a’top me, I need to be on top, I need to be in control not her!”

Jasper turned to Dusty saying, “I told him he could follow along with us as long as he could pay his own way like each of us do. If he don’t, I told him we’ll cut him loose.”

“So I guess it’s just me weathering out the winter here at the Fort. When do you think you’ll be heading out then Jasper?”

“I figure we need to grain up our animals for a couple more days, put some weight on ‘em before we ride out. I’d say in three days.”

Chapter 6

That evening as Dusty made his way past the Forts commissary the girl who’d caught his eye rounded the corner of the commissary and ran headlong into Dusty.

Both plied excuses and begged forgiveness until the both broke out I laughter.

The girl, still wearing the heavy over coat but without the big fur cap stuck out her hand telling him, “My name is Holly, Holly Carr. What’s your name?’’

Becoming red faced and feeling like he just chocked on a dried up biscuit, Dusty replied. “Uh… Dusty. Dusty Carr… no, I’m sorry not Carr, that’s your name, my names Brod.. er Dusty Trail.”

Brodie was smitten tongue tide. With the large fur cap removed he saw just how beautiful she was. Her long hair was so blond and fine it looked nearly white. What had caught his attention from the first was her eyes. They were so unusually green and if eyes could actually smile, hers did.

“The girl covered her mouth to hide a giggle, “Dusty Trail? Really or are you making fun of me.?”

“No, honest, my name is Dusty Trail. Brodie is my real name but folks all call me Dusty.”

“Well I’m sure there is a story there somewhere but I think I’ll call you Brodie I like it better than Dusty.”

“Sure, go ahead if you wish to.”

“Besides a grown man needs a name befitting him, Dusty sounds like a child’s nick name.”

“If you only knew!”

Mustering what face he had left he asked her, “Uh, Miss Carr, may I walk with you for a moment?”

Holly did not answer right away but she did slide her arm into his.

“Where were you going?” He asked.

“Just walking, I like to walk.”

“Where are you from?”

“I was born in Holland so I can never run for President of the United States. I was just an eight months old when the ship landed. My grandparents were waiting at the dock in Boston when I arrived.”

“You mean when you and your family arrived, don’t you?”

“No, they all died on the way over, only I survived.”

“What? What happened?”

“I was told our ship had a previous voyage carrying negro slaves from West Africa to Arabia. I guess they had some disease because I’m told it was just days after leaving Holland that the illness on board broke out. Since I was just an infant, I was kept way down below where the ship doesn’t rock so much. I never became sick but my family did and they all died.”

Dusty did not know what to say. What words could ever comfort someone who lost their entire family? Not wanting to pry but still very curious he asked her. “So the elderly couple you arrived with are your Grand parents then?”

“Yes, we are on our way to Utah.”

“Utah? That’s Mormon territory isn’t it?”

Holly’s face fell, “I guess, you see Grandpa has converted to Mormonism and said his Bishop has found a good match to be my husband there.”

“Is that what you wanted? A husband you never met?”

“I have no choice. My Grandfather has already agreed to the Bishops choice.”

“But that makes no sense, a girl should marry out of love, not by being forced.”

“I had always dreamed of being in love. My parents were said to be in love.”

The couple reached the end of the row of buildings and turned to walk back. Dusty could not imagine being forced to marry someone. He knew that in some smaller towns the pickings weren’t very plentiful but that seemed so different than being forced.

“Are you staying the winter?” She asked, “We are. We were told we would not make it to Utah unless we waited for winter to end.”

“Yes, only myself out of our two groups are staying. The others are leaving in a few days for a place called Fort Verde.”

“I never heard of Fort Verde but I’m glad we are staying here for the winter. My Grandma has a bad heart. Grandpa did not want her to come but she insisted saying a young girl should only travel if another older woman is her consort.”

“Well, that much I can agree with. ”

“What about you? Do you want to marry?”

He responded smiling broadly “Sure I do, and I want children too! I am going up to a place called Alpine to settle there. I am told it it a beautiful place, lots of forest, clear streams, and over two hundred acres of tillable land! It’s where I can raise a wonderful family with a loving wife at my side.”

Holly seemed to stare off into the sky’s blue expanse, “You make it sound so wonderful. Do you have someone special you are meeting there?”

“Oh no, I have no one. I hope that changes after I build a home and get the land tilled.”

By now they had once again reached the commissary where they had began their walk. Disengaging her arm from his she quietly told him how much she enjoyed their walk and hoped to walk with him again soon.

“I would like that. He told her”

That night he could not sleep. He re-ran their conversation over and over until well past midnight when he at last fell asleep.

The next morning saw the two friends in the mess hall eating breakfast.

“So I saw you sweet talking that new girl yesterday. You do know she’s to marry a Mormon don’t you?”

“Yes, she told me.”

“To think a girl like that would marry some Mormon over three times her own age, it’s “disgusting. I was also told the man already has a wife!”

“What?”

“Yep, and the man she’s to marry is the bishop himself!”

“Where did you hear all of this? She told me she didn’t even knew who she was to marry.”

“Lot you know about her then!”

Craig took delight in telling him the rest.

“Her Gran-daddy told me all about it. See, I tried to spark her but he told me to stay away from her. He said that she’s promised to some Mormon Bishop, and because they’ll be related after the marriage the Bishop is sending him up to some big city up in Utah to serve in their temple. She’s going to live along with his first wife south of there in a town called Provo”

“You’re right, it sounds disgusting.”

Craig smirked, “A young girl like that should have her honey pot broken into by someone nearer to her own age. At least then she’d have something to think on while that old buffalo is humpin’ on her. Now if I was to break her she’d have a memory for a lifetime. Yes Sir, the things I would do to her would make her toes spin.”

“Just behave yourself Craig, remember, this is a Military Fort. Besides, you’re starting to sound scary.”

As Dusty left the mess hall he spotted Holly standing in the deep morning shadows slightly under an exterior stairway that led up to the unmarried officers sleeping quarters.

Catching his eye, she hastely waved him to come over.

“I’m so glad I caught you before Grandpa comes out. It takes him a while to dress and feed Grandma so I have some time. I wanted to tell you yesterday later in the day but didn’t see you and Grandpa has become suspicious of my actions ever since he caught your friend showing his unwanted interest in me. I don’t care for your friend, I’m sorry but I think he’s lewd.”

“I understand, yesterday I spoke to him and told him to behave himself. He seemed overly pleased in telling me what your Grandfather told him… about you getting married and all.”

Holly dropped her head and her smile left her face. Dusty noted then that she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked up miserably into Dusty’s eyes and blurted. “Oh Brodie!” She preferred calling him that over Dusty. “I’m doomed!

“About your marriage?”

“Yes about my marriage! After our wonderful walk yesterday my Grandfather told me all about it. I’m to be a second wife to some old man who bribed my Grandfather into giving me to him! This is not what I had dreamed of as a wife! I wanted someone who loved me and I loved, who was my trusted friend, someone my heart yearned after… someone like you Brodie.”

At that Holly’s heart burst and she began to cry.

In a natural response, Dusty took her into his arms and held her tight. She hugged him back, burying her face into his neck and let her tears flow.

After a minute or two she calmed but remained clinging to him. With tears she continued to repeat her outburst that she was doomed.

Knowing nothing of Mormonism or even if it were legal to have two wives, Dusty was at a loss for words so he just held her.

“Holly, I’m so sorry.” He told her quietly into her ear. “If I had the power and right I would take you away from here. I’d give you the dream you wish for. The home, the love, the family… everything.”

Holly slowly pulled her tear stained face from his neck, looked into his eyes and softy spoke. “And I would willingly go with you Brodie. I know it seems impossible but my heart has fallen in love with you though we’ve only had one walk together.”

Dusty exhaled deeply telling her, “I did not know what loving a girl was all about, until now. I ran through our conversation a hundred times last night. I’ve never been in love before but as much as I can be, I believe I am. Thinking of you marrying another makes my heart ache so I must be in love.  ”

Eventually the sad couple had to part as Holly feared her Grandfather might catch them in their embrace. If that happened Holly knew she would never be trusted to be alone again and it would be torture to see her love each day throughout the winter and never be able to speak to him.

After parting, Holly told him. “I was told my duty today at the Fort is to perform the store room’s inventory along with my Grandfather. I had better get inside and start. My Grandfather should be along shortly and I need to fix my face and dry my eyes before he comes.

“You go then, but I will be thinking of you. I promised Jasper that I’d give Craig’s horse and pack mule a good going over before they leave. I don’t think Jasper trust Craig to do it.”

“Brodie, I know I was being forward in what I just told you but I would never take those words back.”

“Nor I Holly. Now go.”

Unbeknownst to the pair, Craig had been watching the two but was unable to hear their intimate conversation. His eyes narrowed but smiled when he saw Holly enter the store room alone and close the door behind her to keep out the cold.

As Holly busied herself opening crates and counting the contents she heard the door open and felt the rush of cold air. Believing it was her Grandfather, she did not turn around until she heard, “So we’re finally alone!”

A deep chill ran down her spine and panic rose within her.

“M-My Grandfather will be here soon! Should he catch me alone with you he will surely severely punish me.”

“Who cares, I promised myself that before I left here I’d feel what it was like to bed you!”

Saying that, Craig quickly stepped forward to the frightened girl and in a single move

ripped open her winter flannel top, exposing her virgin breast. Seeing their perfection, he violently forced her to the floor where he began his molestation.

Suddenly she began to scream. She screamed so loud it hurt her throat.

But, rather than stopping him it seemed to excite him even more.

Craig was never one to think his actions through to completion. All that consumed him was the thought of over powering and raping the young girl. Hearing her scream raised his desire to molest her even more, not out of love but that of control.  Because of his lack of forethought he was unaware that her screams could be heard throughout the Fort.

In his blundering attempt to remove the screaming girls clothing, he found that it was a much more difficult task than tearing off the cheaply made attire saloon whores wore. In his frustration, he also discovered his own pants refused to open.

So intent was he that he did not hear the door being kicked open behind him. He only turned when it opened and loudly slammed itself against the wall.

Turning his head away from the girl in order to see who had entered he then saw the girls Grandfather standing there. Red faced with anger the old but still muscular man charged forward into the room. Craig quickly rolled off the girl grabbing at his holstered pistol.

The screaming girls Grandfather rushed towards the Craig ready to do Battle with his clenched giant fist. But, an enormous ear shattering explosion from Craigs gun stopped him in mid step.

Craig had just enough time before her Grandfather reached them to pull off one shot. Fortunately for Craig and unfortunately for the Grandfather, the 45 caliber slug tore through the old man’s neck, nearly severing his head from his body.

Rolling himself to a kneeling position, Craig once again cocked the single action Colt 45 knowing someone may come through the open door at any moment. He had only a split second to point it forward when the figure of the Sargent filled the doorway.

Unaware of the Sargent’s training, Craig fired wildly at the opening but the Sargent had upon entering immediately threw himself to the left of the opening and fired his own pistol.

Craig’s bullet shot harmlessly through the empty doorway just missing Dusty’s scalp who was only a step behind the Sargent.

The Sargent, having a double action pistol quickly followed his first shot with two more.

Within the smoke filled store room two bodies lay dead.

Within seconds a multitude of soldiers began filling the doorway. The ever diligent Sargent ordered the crowd of soldiers to disperse and return to their duty. Slowly they left leaving Dusty and the Sargent alone with the terrified girl.

Upon seeing Dusty, she rose while attempting cover herself but more intent on throwing herself into Dusty’s waiting arms.

 

Chapter 7

 

Holly had little desire to see her Grandfathers mutilated corpse. It wasn’t out of disrespect but the grossness of the headless corpse scared her. Realizing there was nothing the two could do to help, they left the store room after Dusty spoke to the Sargent. He kept her hand within his as he escorted her to the unmarried women’s quarters to fix her face and change out of her damaged blouse.

As they made there way, Holly suddenly stopped him saying,“Oh my gosh Brodie, I need to tell my Grandma what just happened. She still thinks Grandpa and I are busy taking the store’s inventory.”

“Holly,” Dusty gently told her, “I just spoke to the Sargent about that. He told me he’d take care of that duty and for another thing, you really need to change your torn shirt before you go anywhere.”

Realizing she had forgotten her winter coat and had done a perfectly innadiquit job of covering herself, she reddened and said, I’m sorry you saw my nakedness Brodie, a girl’s biggest fear is that after seeing her unclothed, her husband might find her lacking.”

“My dear Holly, put away any fears you have concerning that subject, in my eyes you’re perfect.”

Holly squeezed his hand and told him to wait outside her quarters for her to return. Dusty, now even he preferring to be called Brodie saw the Sargent making his way up to the building that the Carr Grandparents had been given to stay in.

In short order Holly changed and made her way back to Brodie’s side saying she wished to be there when the Sargent informed her Grandmother of her husband’s murder.

As they neared the quarters, they heard the Sargent shouting an order for someone to get the Fort’s Doctor.

The couple look at each other and without saying a word began running all the while still holding hands as they rushed towards the Grandparents quarters.

Upon entering the room they quickly saw the bed which the Grandmother was lying in had had its sheet pulled up to the headboard.

“Holly stood wordlessly then mouthed, Grandma?”

The Sargent removed his issued cap and held it in his two hands. “I’m sorry lass. When I told her what happened, she moaned once and gave up the ghost.”

Brodie saw pools of wet tears brimming in her eyes. To no one in particular she said, “She loved him dearly even though he had never said a kind word to her.”

Early the next morning at daybreak Brodie and Holly watched Jasper and his men moving out to beat the coming winter. Having never met the grandparents and intent on their leaving, they did not stay for the Carr’s double burial.

Having shook Brodie’s hand goodbye from the saddle, Jasper winked at he and Holly and said, It’s a mixed blessing on all accounts. I only told Craig he could ride with us because I knew he’d never join up with Crook’s men. I’m sorry, but he had no sand to be a man.”

The two watched as Jasper and his men turned north and rode in the direction of the distant Black Mountains.

Standing there as they watched, Holly turned to Brodie and said, “Yes, it is a mixed blessing. Through these terrible deaths you are now free of your obligation to his father and I am now free to marry for love. It’s ironic in ways. I am now free but I have no where to go to be free. Sure, I have the money my grandfather had in his money belt but other than that, I don’t know how to start over.”

“Holly, I spent a sleepless night thinking of you and your future. I know you feel something towards me and I know I have deep feelings for you so…”

“Brodie, I have much deeper feelings toward you than ‘just ‘something’. I am in love with you. I too spent the night pondering my future. I’m not sure if you are ready or even willing to be married in this stage of your life but if you were to ask me, I would not deny you.”

“Then you would not turn me down if I asked you to be my wife? Even though we’ve only known each other for a week?”

“Yes, if you go ahead and ask me.”

“Then I will. Holly would you do me the greatest honor in my life and become my wife? I promise to love and protect you all the days of my life.”

“Yes, I will marry you. But, we need to attend to my Grandparents and Craig’s burial first.”

“I wonder what your Grandfather would think knowing you will never marry the Bishop or follow the Mormon faith.”

“I’m sure he would be very displeased. He was a strong minded and self centered man. If one were to cross him in any way, he’d hold it against you until he had his way. I never loved the man, instead I feared him. He was a zealot in his faith and nothing less than that mattered to him. Sure, he provided but only because he had an end plan that would raise his esteem within the Church. My Grandmother I loved and I will miss her but my Grandfather? No, I will not weep over him.”

“Is there any other family?”

“No, my Grandparents were the only family I had in this country.”

“What about you Brodie, you never mentioned your family.”

“Well, I’m kind of alone also. My Mama died giving child birth and a year later my Dad fell ill with consumption and passed. He left me a good savings and the land in Alpine that I am heading up to. As for Craig, I grew up with Craig. He was my lifelong best friend and next door neighbor but the war changed him and he went bad.”

“I can attest to that!”

I’m so sorry, he made comments about you but In all my days I never imagined he would try and molest the girl I was sweet on.”

“So you were sweet on me? When did you know?”

“The moment our eyes locked on each other.”

“How sweet!” She said lifting her face she kissed his cheek.

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The first burial held was Holly’s Grandparents. The soldiers had dug two graves, one large enough for two and a lone single grave much further away.

The ground was only frozen for a few inches from the surface so it wasn’t too difficult to dig to the proper depth.

The Fort’s Chaplin prayed over them not knowing the grandfather was a devout Mormon. To Holly it made no difference. When he prayed for her Grandmother Bodie noticed her tears were once again flowing.

Within minutes following her Grandmother being lowered beside her husband Holly and Bodie made their way over to where Craig was to be buried.

The Chaplin made his way over and once again prayed over the body before it was laid to rest.

At that moments, Brodie told the others that he wanted to say a few words over the grave.

“Craig,” He spoke looking into the hole and down at his friend, “You and I grew up being best friends. We were inseparable. We fished together, explored the country side and spent many a night camping under the stars together, I loved you. But, the war changed you. If you had not died, we would most likely have ended up worst enemies rather than best friends. I am marrying the girl you viciously attacked. It will take some time to forgive you for that. I would never have wished you being killed but I believe the Lord knew you would not have stopped but continued so he took you away for others sake.” As he threw a handful of cold earth on top of the canvas wrapped body he quietly said, “Goodbye Craig, I pray the Lord has mercy on you.”

The couple stayed behind watching the others return to the Fort but asked the Chaplin to hold up a minute.

“Chaplin,” Brodie asked him, “Would it be possible that you marry Holly and I?”

He quizzically looked at the two, shrugged and replied, Yes, I can marry you two and give you the necessary legal marriage papers. When were you thinking of?”

Holly spoke up. “Would today be possible? I don’t want to be alone tonight. Last night I could not even close my eyes. ”

The Chaplin smiled and reassured her it was fine. “I understand. You’ve been through a lot the last two days.”

Brodie then asked Holly if he could invite the Sargent and Commander as witnesses.

Holly thought inviting them was a wonderful idea and said so.

As spring approached, the Trails became excited about leaving the Fort and heading up to Alpine to settle the land inherited by Brodie.

There were other families that had arrived to take shelter in the Fort after Holly and Brodie were married.

During the winter months the Forts wintering over families got to know each other and a few strong friendships were formed.

The Trails were delighted to find that two other families had purchased land in or near Alpine.

The Huff family consisted of four teenage children, mother and father.

The Andersen were recently married and she was with early child.

Nearing his mid forties, John Huff had been in Alpine two years previous and was the owner of the Huff Lumber and Sawmill company that he had started near Alpine. Besides the lumber mill, he had commissioned the building of a frame house for he and his family to live in. Huff’s wife and children had stayed behind in Alabama during his previous visit and were excited to once again be a united family.

The young Andersen family were nearly the same ages as the Trails. This really excited Holly who as a young girl was never permitted to have any real friendships. Her Grandfather had even denied her the ability to be bucolically schooled, favoring private Mormon tutors.

Most of the other families waiting for good weather were heading up to the more north westerly town of Prescott. They had been told it may become the State capitol someday so many saw dollar signs in starting new businesses there.

Both families, the Andersen and the Huffs, had arrived hauling large converted ore wagons to carry all their supplies, budding materials and house hold goods. The Anchorperson’s converted Studebaker wagon could easily carry over ten tons fully loaded and required a minimum of eight mules to haul it.

The Huffs arrived in a converted Newton wagon, one of the largest wagon’s ever built. This immense wagon had enough room in it to carry a steam driven plank planer and tractor sander besides the family’ household goods. Thirteen to eighteen mules were required to haul the Huff’s Newton heavy freight wagon with it’s four large six foot diameter and ten inch wide wheels. When Huff arrived he had fourteen mules and was interested in buying four more from the Fort’s livery.

After seeing these monster wagons Brodie felt that maybe he should also invest in some sort of wagon. When it was just he and Craig, sleeping under the stars was no problem, but now he was a married man and could not ask Holly to travel that way.

During the winter he purchased a smaller Blaine made wagon. It had been used to haul goods from Tucson to the Fort and back. A broken rear axle saw it never returning to Tucson. For the last two years it had been stored outside the Forts rear gate under a canvas tarp.

The Commander sold the wagon to Brodie for ten dollars and threw in the Fort’s Black Smith to fabricate a new iron axle to replace the broken wooden one for a dollar. It was a lighter wagon, having only four foot diameter and four inch wide wheels but Brodie was going to dual much less than the others.

Little by little Brodie accumulated the needed supplies to make the trip to Alpine.

His fortune continued when John Huff told Brodie he was more than welcome to the large canvas tent the Huffs had been using on their trip after the Huffs arrived and moved into their newly built home. When Brodie asked the price John told him he wasn’t interested in selling it but instead was giving it to him. This answered the problem of what he and Holly would live in during the time it took to build their own home.

The tent was nearly as big as his old home in West Virginia. Three inch thick wooden poles supported thick canvas and it housed a steel wood burning cook stove for cooking and keeping the tent warm. Brodie decided it was perfect .

On an overcast spring day the three wagons formed a line and rolled out from the Fort’s front gate. Having said their thank you’s and goodbye’s the three families pointed their wagon train north east to eventually parallel the White River then turn onto the trail going to Alpine. Following the map drawn by the surveyor, they were ab;able to avoid areas forbidding the wagons.

It took three weeks to journey from the Fort to Alpine and both Brodie and wife Holly could not arrive soon enough. Although the trip was uneventful regarding Indians and the feared Mexican bandits, it wasn’t without their share of mishaps and tribulations.

One of the Huff’s boys had a foot rolled over upon by the huge Newton wagon, soundly breaking it. In another incident one of the Andersen’s mules stepped into a hole and broke its leg. The mule had to be put down but knowing Indians loved mule meat it was decided to butcher it and give it to the first Indians they came upon.

Now with only seven mules to haul their wagon Brodie loaded onto his own wagon the four thirty gallon barrels containing the Andersen’s water, coal oil, flour and dried apples.

Neither Brodie nor Holly had spent more than a few hours riding in a wagon so were unaccustomed to what effects the swaying and bouncing had on the behinds. After each days trip, the two would slow and painfully step down from the bare wood wagon’s seat.

Making their way to where the campfire would be they both sat down gently.

John Huff saw the situation and after a few days finally pulled Brodie aside and told him, “Put a blanket over the plank seat Brodie, it’ll save you and yours from loosing some flesh!”

It helped but was a bit late in preventing the already smarting blisters each now sported.

Previously while still at the Fort, the surveyor went over the land deed to identify the properties survey markers where about’s that had been put there when his father had purchased the land. The first and starting marker was located along the small lake’s southern shore at a small inlet creek. From that point Brodie could discover the other boundary markers and view the layout of his two thousand plus acre property.

He told Brodie, “There’s a notation from your father that’s written on the back of the deed saying the survey markers were to be steel rods painted yellow and protruding no less that two feet from the ground.”

On Sunday the fifth of May, the Trails parted ways with the other two families and took a trail that should take them to his property’s small lake. As it turned out, the Andersen property was less than a mile from the lake but to the east at the end of the Alpine valley. The Dale Andersen had grown up on a farm and planned to continue being a farmer. The acreage he had purchased was one of the few places within the valley besides Brodie’s land that had enough tillable acreage to support a good sized farm.

John Huff’s home and lumber company was closer to the most northern town near Alpine at a distance of seven miles from Brodie’s land.

By late Sunday afternoon the Trails rolled up and halted their wagon on the south shore of their lake.

Holly lowered herself down from the blanketed wagon seat. She walked towards the shoreline. Her right hand was raised to cover her mouth as if she were afraid to speak, that the spell might be broken.

Her eyes traveled the length of the placid lake and returned to gaze upon it and the deep forest behind it.

She heard Brodie jump down from the wagon and approach her from behind. Before he reached his awe struck wife she turned to face him, her mouth still covered but now tears flowed freely down her face.

“Oh my Land”, she finally uttered quietly, it’s the most beautiful land I have ever seen!

Brodie reached out and from behind her wrapped his arms around her not speaking.

“Please, tell me this really yours?” Her eyes closed still pleaded with him to say yes.

Brodie leaned slightly forward and placed a light kiss upon the nape of her neck.

Hugging gently he whisperd in her ear. :No…”

He felt her stiffen in his arms but relax when he finished by telling her

“It’s not mine, it’s OURS!”

EPILOG

The couple spent that summer living in the large tent given to them by the Huff family while Brodie cut down the amount of Ponderosa pines needed to build their home. These were hauled up to the Huff Lumber and mill to be cut into useable lumber. The wood would still need to be stacked and dried for a complete year before they could be used to build the home with. In the meantime, John Huff delivered enough lumber at no cost for the couple to build a small two room cabin to live in during their home’s construction. That cabin later would eventually house the ranch foreman.

Before they left the Fort, Brodie had taken the time to write Mister O’Reilly regarding the death of his son Craig. That summer he received a reply. In the return letter Mister O’Reilly while saddened to lose his son, agreed his death was no ones fault except his own and he wished the newly weds well.

That Christmas Holly gave Brodie the most special of gifts by telling him she was expecting. She was sure it was a boy but out popped a beautiful blond haired girl. Brodie beamed with pride showing her off to the Andersens and Huffs. Holly would surprise him three more times.

At thirty, by popular demand from all the Alpine residence, now numbering almost one hundred,  the recently approved  State of Arizona asked Brodie to head the newly created  Arizona Rangers service.

There are lots of stories to be told of Brodie’s adventures as a lawman but like all tales this story here must now come to a close.

JW Edwards

Bekke’s Law – Deputized

bekkes-law deputized

 

Some years ago I recalled a story and told you of a precocious young girl named Bekke Hillstrand.

Well, the years passed and she did end up marrying the young boy she befriended. There’s more to her tale and if’n you got a few, I’d like to tell you what ever became of her and how I know all this.

 But first, if you all remember how my last story ended, you’d remember Bekke had finally patched things up between her long lost Dad. She eventually asked him to move to Globe where she and her future husband inherited from a dying friend a mercantile and freighting business.

Bekke had transformed the upper story of the carriage house into a fine well furnished home where her father was given one of the large rooms to live in. Bekke had an outside stairway built aside his room so he could come and go in private. His life had been transformed to that of a man who had finally found peace. Many an evening he sat comfortable in his over stuffed chair reading a worn King James Bible by lamplight and warmed bodily by a small nearby pot bellied stove and inside from his daughters love for him.

  As time passed, the business grew successful but Bekke’s father, up in years and a long spell in questionable health, had become bedridden. It was on chilly, overcast fall day that he breathed his last breath. His daughter along with his now son in law, each held one of his weathered hands as the Lord took him home. Two days later he was lowered forever into the grave during an October rain storm.

 Two brothers, both Sheriffs in different towns, will be joining up with Bekke and Jethro in Prescott where the couple are expanding their freight haulin’ business. But Prescott wasn’t going to be the problem free town they had imagined.  But they’ll work through it.

 From here on in, I’m going to do the telling of this story from the perspective of a written story with as much proper grammar as I’m capable of. So set back an’ enjoy the second story of a wonderfully precocious kid turned Lady.

 

——————————————————————0—————————————————————–

 

The carriage ride back home from the cemetery was one of sadness and introspection. Jethro guided the single horse drawn Studebaker carriage through the maze of Globe’s muddy streets uncaring that mud from the horses hooves were splashing upward onto his new wool suit. Bekke sat next to him on the comfortably stuffed leather covered single bench seat. Both were lost in their own thoughts.

As for Jethro, his thoughts wandered back to the days when he and Bekke experienced their first kiss. Riding away from the cemetery and the sad affair there, Jethro couldn’t help but smile. Back then when he had first met Bekke,  his body was starting to show signs of what he’d turn out to be as a grown man even though he still wore his hair in a youngsters  bowl cut.

Upon reaching their home, Jethro handed Bekke the reigns and jumped down into the mud and rain to open the large twin carriage houses doors. A couple years previous the large second floor loft’s interior had been transformed into a beautiful large home with an old stairway leading from the home upstairs to ground level where the carriage was stored. Before entering the dry interior of the upstairs and not wanting to leave mud on its clean wood planked floor, Jethro scraped the mud free from his shoes.

Before Bekke could remove herself from the carriage, Jethro was there with his hand out to help her down. Bekke was about to tell him that she was fully capable of performing the act herself but seeing his outstretched hand she decided to submit to his care for she knew it was his way of trying to comfort her.

Once upstairs in the house, both removed their rain soaked foul weather coates and hung them on the hall tree to dry. It was only when Bekke began stoking the cast iron cook stove to boil water for a pot of coffee that Jethro finally spoke.

“Why is it,” he asked no one in particular, “That every funeral I’ve ever been to has been in the rain? Billy’s funeral was the same way, it rained for weeks afterward.”

Billy was the original owner of the mercantile (See Bekke’s law). He took both Jethro and Bekke in as employees and later as near adopted family. Together under Billy’s tutelage they learned the freight and mercantile business. Jethro headed up the office while Bekke, being an expert muleteer from her youth, took charge of the freight hauling. On their second wedding anniversary Billy asked them to step into his office.

Waiting until the couple were comfortably seated he told the two that he desired to visit his daughter and grand kids back east in Virginia. He wanted to make the trip before he got so old that making the long trip back east would just be too difficult.

In laying out his plans for the trip, Billy then announced that since he had no idea of how long he would be away and that the couple was more than able to meet the challenge of running the business he told them, “I’m turning the legal ownership for Globe Mercantile and Freight over to the two of you. It’s no use arguing, the papers have been drawn up and submitted to the Court. As of yesterday, the business was yours. I trust you’ll handle everything just fine. Just send me a few dollars a month fer things like tobacco and a snort of bourbon now an’ then. You know, things my daughter would frown on if she had to buy ’em.”

Jethro and Bekke stood waving goodbye long after the carriage taking Billy to the train station had left. It began to rain.

Five months later Billy’s body was shipped back to Globe in a lead sealed coffin. Not wanting to upset them at the time, Billy had not told the two that weeks prior to his leaving his Doctor had diagnosed him with terminal cancer.

 

in the house Bekke left the hot stove with two man sized cups of steaming coffee. She handed Jethro one saying, “Here, this will warm you up.”

Blowing his breath across the cup to cool the coffee inside Jethro winked at her and said, “No one makes a pot of coffee better than you do Hon, it’s a Godsend on a day like today.”

Raising the deliciously filled steaming mug towards the window and foul weather outside he shouted, “In the power invested in this here cup of delicious coffee, I command you foul clouds to disperse and to stop your raining!”

Laughing, Bekke responded to Jethro’s crazy antics, “ I do believe only the Lord can command the weather my dear, unless of course he gave you some special power using a mug of coffee like it was Moses’s staff or something.”

“I’ll tell you,” he said, “If anything could command the weather it would be your coffee.”

“Husband, not to change the subject but I’ve received a notice that brothers John and Charles Arbuckle are shipping a forty sack wagon of their coffee beans for us to distribute to the local Phoenix roasters. The load is valued at over three thousand dollars.”

“So, will you be the one to take the load or should I have Geezer take it?”

“The two ton shipment should arrive at the warehouse in Tucson by the end of the month. Instead of Geezer hauling the load can an I assign Mac (who’s Apache name was Machk) to do the haul? He’s the youngest of our muleteer’s but he shows more promise than most twice his age. Besides,I’m not sure Geezer would be up to it,  I think he’s going to retire on us.”

“Well, we agreed Mac’s about ready for a Phoenix run so yes, let’s have him do the pick up and deliveries and see how he does. He rode shotgun a few times with us to the Peoria warehouse before this so he knows the route and we’ll give him directions to all the roasters he’ll need to deliver to. Good idea.”

Furrowing her brow Bekke asked, “Do you think he’ll need a shotgun rider?  I mean there is a lot of money tied up in those sacks of coffee. Two thousand pounds of coffee is hard to steal but it wouldn’t be the first high value load to fall into a group of road agents hands”

“Hmmm, you’re probably right, I’ll ask Mac if his older brother Snake will again sit shotgun for him. Snake may be a bit too lazy for real work but with his size and the looks of him he’s sure to give any road agents a second thought before attempting to steal a load. Besides, he hauls that huge ten gauge greener shotgun around like it’s attached to him.”

Snake stood six feet five inches tall and had a body most circus strong men longed for. His arms alone were as round as most Amen’s legs, and they were solid muscle, no fat. In fact weighing in at just over three hundred pounds folks assumed his father was a grizzly bear, not an Indian. Snake had immense strength and an unmatched endurance. He had been known to trot from Globe to the town of Young, some forty miles north, without stopping or getting out of breath.

Snakes only physical drawback was his looks. As a young man he was helping to unload a wagon at the Clayborone copper smelting plant in Globe when the ill fitting lid of a barrel of acid used in smelting allowed the acid to splash onto his face. Time healed the worst of it but deep scars still remained. As he grew older, he became less social due to his looks. Those on the reservation called him the quiet giant. Bekke saw great potential in the big man, much more than just riding shotgun to protect the muleteer and his load.

“Yes, I’ll ask Mac if his brother would act as the shotgun rider.”

Bekke added, “Since we’re talking business, have you given any more thought about expanding our business? The last time we talked you mentioned letting Andy run the Globe mercantile and freight business here in Globe while you and I open a second freight business elsewhere. It would double our business.”

Jethro agreed, “I have no doubt we need to expand, I’m just not sure where yet. Our present business clients in Phoenix are pretty lack luster with them being so much closer to Tucson and all. I’ve been told Prescott would make an excellent place to position a second mercantile and freight hauling business.”

 

Pulling out a map of the Arizona territory, Jethro unrolled it on the table and pointed out locations to Bekke. “It’s north of Phoenix, south west of Flagstaff, east of Fort Mohave in the Nevada Territory and west of the New Mexico Territory. Prescott sure could cover a lot of ground that we presently can’t really haul economically to. I’m not sure how much more the Globe area will expand. The copper mine’s been eating up more and more land every year looking for more copper ore and folks are hesitant on building too far away from town because they fear the mine will just shove them out and they’d have to move again. ”

Bekke Took the empty coffee mug from Jethro’s hands and refilled it. Handing it back to him she told him. “I’ve been to Prescott a few times making deliveries and I’ve been thinking along the same lines. Prescott seems to be growing where as Globe hasn’t changed much since I moved here. Now, If you’ll sit like a good boy and not jump to conclusions I’d like to tell you what I’ve been pondering.”

Jethro pulled out one of the spoke backed wooden kitchen chairs from the table and pushing the map aside he sat down. “Be my guest, I’ve been kinda hoping you’ve been thinking about this. To tell you the truth, I’m a bit terrified at the thought of doing this. You know me, I’m the type of guy that is comfortable working for others. If Billy had offered just me this place? No way would I have taken it. But, with you as my partner it made all the difference. I mean look at how much the business has grown and that’s because you led me sometimes kick’n and screaming into unfamiliar territory. You’re the reason why this place has succeeded, not me!”

“My dear sweet husband, you don’t give yourself enough credit. Why without you who would have hired the great workers we have? Who trained Andy to take the reigns when you’re gone? Think about it! Andy was a kid with no direction or desire to be anything more than a young man who was more interested in Saturday night dances than in growing up. Look at him now, and it’s all because of you!”

“Alright, I’ll take a small bit of the credit. So, what is it that you’ve been thinking?”

“I believe opening a second mercantile and freighting business would be too much at first. Let’s start by just concentrating on the freight end. I’m sure Prescott has plenty of general stores as it’s a much bigger town than Globe. Why should we start out by trying to compete for local towns folk’s business? Most who already have certain loyalties to their favorite stores. Freighting on the other hand is impersonal. We deal with companies not people.”

“Keep going, I’m with you so far.”

By now Bekke was getting excited. “Good, first we need to get the lay of the land and see what kind of competition is out there. How many freight hauling businesses does Prescott have? How far do they truck their loads? To what towns? How large and heavy of loads can their wagons haul?”

Nodding in agreement Jethro added, “We need to see about a building for the business, a house to live in, new wagons have to be built and mules purchased. We’ll have a lot to do if we decided on it.”

“Well, money is not a problem. A while back I started a new account separate from the other company ones that was dedicated for expanding our present business or for relocating and starting a new one. We have over fourteen thousand dollars in it. That’s more than enough to build new if we need to but I’m sure there are existing buildings for sale.”

“So, when do we go?”

“Not we dear, just me! You need to stay here to finish training Andy and any new hires you can find. I know just what we’ll need and to be honest, I’m a much better price haggler than you are.”

Jethro had to admit she was right. He never worried about her while she was delivering loads, even when she was gone for a week or two. Besides, he could not recall a story of a woman being physically accosted, it just wasn’t done. Even when road agents robbed, the women were always treated with kids gloves. If a no good was to harm a female, his cohorts in crime would think nothing of roping him to a cactus and leaving him in the desert all alone to die. Still, she always traveled well armed.

Three weeks later Mac and Snake arrived from delivering the huge load of Arbuckles coffee. As Snake had done many times before and not being much for goodbyes he took his pay and left without saying a word.

Mac was told of Bekke’s upcoming trip to Prescott and had mixed feelings about the move. It was out of pure selfishness as the Clemens had become special to him. It was they who hired him as an Indian with no education when no one else would. Without the intervention and support of both Jethro and Bekke, Mac knew he and Snake would have been forced to live without much of a future on the reservation.

“What will happen to Snake and myself if you move?” Mac asked

Since it was Bekke’s idea that was being proposed, Jethro remained silent on the matter.

Bekke spoke, “The two of you will remain employed here in Globe for the time being. The move, when it does takes place, will happen in the upcoming year. There is much to be done, least of all is the training of new employees. This is where you come in Mac. Since you proved you could handle the trips of a high value load combined with multiple drops in Phoenix, we are raising your position to that as freight supervisor. All the other present and future muleteers here in Globe will answer to you. Jethro will continue to train you in more detail and in return you will train the new muleteers, starting with local trips as they work their way to doing long hauls.

“So I am to stay here in Globe?”

“Yes, but only for the time being. It is up to you and Snake whether you decide to relocate with us or stay behind.”

“ If you decide to relocate to Prescott, I’ll file the application with the Territorial Governor allowing you to permanently leave the reservation. It is the same application I filed to allow you to live here in town. It most likely will just be a formality since he first application was approved without delay. Besides, they take into consideration our dependency on your employment with us. As a supervisor over other employees your value to our business increases dramatically.”

“And Snake? Will the value of being a shotgun rider be enough to allow him to relocate off of the reservation?”

Jethro now spoke up saying, “We wanted to talk to you before we offered him the job in Prescott. You are right. Being a shotgun rider would not be enough to qualify him to leave the reservation. When we filed your application, we proved to the Government official in charge of Indian affairs that after two months of advertising for a muleteer the position still went unfilled and our only recourse was to train an Apache to do the job. But, my only concern is with Snakes indifferent attitude. Would he be willing to take on additional duties other than being a shotgun rider? If so, we thought he could be in charge of security for all high value loads, take charge of the wagon and harness maintenance and be willing to apprentice as a possible back up black smith. With these added duties we could once again show his value to the authorities that our business would suffer without him.”

Looking down at his feet, Mac told Jethro, “My heart is sad, for you misjudge my brother Snake. He is not lazy as I’ve heard you wrongly speak of him. As a young man he had big dreams of being much more than an Indian stuck on the Reservation. Don’t mistake his size with any lack of intelligence. He is very smart but since his accident at the mine he has gone into himself. Believe me, if offered, he would jump at the chance to make something of himself.”

Bekke turned to Jethro and pointing a finger at him said,, “Ha! Did I not tell you that I saw something in him that others missed? I knew there was more to him that met the eye. I’m all for hiring him!”

Two months later Jethro received the applications back for Snake and Mac to leave the Reservation in order to relocate up in Prescott if the company expanded there.

Shortly after receiving approvals, the Clemens won the bid to supply twelve thousand pounds of copper roof sheeting for the new courthouse in Prescott. In submitting the bid, Jethro knew his bid was going to be substantially less than his competitors could offer. He was making only a little profit on the load but winning the bid gave Bekke the time and ability to research the feasibility of the move.

Besides Bekke, Jethro insisted that both Snake and Mac would travel along with her in a second wagon. Both heavily built wagons could carry up to eight tons of freight. The wide steel rimmed wheels would prevent the wagon from sinking too deep into any sandy areas along the trail. Bekke and Mac would drive the two wagons while Snake would help to unload them. All three cared for the sixteen mules.

Along with a weeks supply of provisions and personal items for both humans and mules, Snake once again took his deadly greener ten gauge to protect them.

Leaving Jethro, Andy and four other wagoneer’s in training behind, the three left at dawn hoping to make the twelve mile trip to a commonly used grassy park West of Globe on the first day.

It took longer than expected as the trail wasn’t as firmly packed just outside of Globe. It was nearly dark when they finally arrived at the grassy park.

The park had been a favorite stopping point for earlier Indian of various traveling west to parts unknown. It was a Godsend to those making camp there as it had a natural water tank in the form of a small pond fed by a year round running stream.

Surrounding the tank grew a field of lush grass which the mules greedily chomped on. Ancient cottonwood trees provided much of the park with shade. At one time a trading post operated by an unscrupulous Missouri road agent occupied the park. The large cottonwood log building he built sat unmolested on Indian land for five years but after cheating a group of Apache out of their trade blankets, the upset Apache’s burnt the trading post to the ground… along with the unscrupulous owner who was heard screaming inside.

Over the years folks camped out there had dismantled the trading post to use as firewood on chilly nights. Nothing remained now except a legend that somewhere buried in the park was the post operators ill gained profits of gold. With each telling the cache of gold increased in value until finally the Commander of nearby Fort Presume sent a detail of men to dig up the area. No gold was ever found.

The three set about making camp in the dark. Bekke acted as cook since neither Mac or Snake was very familiar with white folks cooking. Bekke could not stand the thought of a weeks meals consisting of questionable animal origins and fry bread.

Neither young man complained when Bekke’s cooking skills provided them with beef stew, a loaf of hot Dutch Oven bread and warm but delicious lemonade. The brothers lay down in the cool lush grass rubbing their bellies in appreciation but Bekke wasn’t through yet…out came the apple pie and coffee!

Placing their bedrolls under Mac’s wagon the brothers were soon snoring. It was a common beliefs that Indians don’t snore but the brothers did not hold much to that. Bekke didn’t like the idea of laying on the ground among the night critters that ventured to the water tank to slack the days thirst away so she made her bed upon the wagon’s large bench seat. As a precaution, she placed her rifle on the floor under the bench seat.

Morning arrived and Bekke repeated her cooking magic. Gorging themselves on hot Johnny cakes, maple syrup and thin cut slabs of bacon, the three then made ready to get back on the trail.

Today’s destination was the town of Surprise. Numerous times in her freight hauling travels Bekke stayed the night at the Golden Arms Hotel and Diner. The hotel, while small and without many of the frills of a large city hotel was amazingly clean and the food was excellent. Unusual for hotels back then, each day, fresh pillow cases and bed sheets replaced those of the night before. The inside of the small clothes closet, the hat rack and the sturdy wooden bed frame were all whitewashed in a mixture of lime based paint. This prevented any transference of bedbugs and lice to the guest clothing and hair.

After a hot bath costing her twenty five cents, Bekke jumped into the soft feather bed and was soon asleep.

Meanwhile the brothers preferred to sleep outdoors once again under one of the wagons. Snake slept with the greener keeping one eye open on the loads.

The next day they hoped to reach the age old Apache land just east of Phoenix. A new town called Goldfield had cropped up in the Superstition mountains there. Some folks got rich, many mysteriously died. Where ever there were mining towns there were hard drinking cowboys, destitute miners and card sharks willing to make a living off of others.

The three had decided to skirt Goldfield and camp out at what was called Apache squaw Junction, just a couple miles north of the town. So far the trip was without incident.

After a nights stay at the Junction, Bekke turned the team onto the road that led to Prescott. Calling it a road may have been calling a lump of coal a future diamond but at least it was headed in the right direction and was well traveled.

They traveled through Black Canyon without being ambushed and then had to climb the steep sides of Table Top Mountain. This is where having eight Missouri mules came into play.

The ‘roads’ increase in angle became harder and harder for the wagons to traverse. Not only was the road steep but it was strewn with millions of fist sized stones.

If one watched the mules they would have noticed the mules began to shorten the length of their strides. These tiny steps provided more power and stability to the entire team.

It took over three hours to reach to top. Table Top Mountain was actually a giant mesa having an extremely flat top grassy surface. Traveling along the top was so easy after the difficult climb that the mules actually regained their strength.

On the top of the mesa, Bekke once again changed the direction, heading now to the North West. The road split here into two. One road headed towards Flagstaff the other headed onto Prescott.

Before descending downhill on the road to Prescott, the three made camp for the night on the edge of the mesa. There was plenty of tall grass growing on the mile wide top but no water so Mac opened one of the water kegs to satisfy the mules and themselves. The mules were only hobbled as there was no trees to run a rope to hitch them to. There were no predators about and the mules would naturally stay within view of each other as mules like to do. They would spend the rest of the evening cropping the fresh grass.

“I think we’ll make it to Prescott the day after tomorrow if all goes well. From here on out we have only rolling hills ahead until we reach the outskirts of the town. The town is built on a series of hills so keep your wheel brake free of dust or mud if it rains.

After the evening meal was finished and all the cooking utensils were cleaned and stored away for the night, the two tents were unfolded and set up. Under each wagon was a ‘possum belly’ to carry any wood for cooking and the night fire. It was a heavy leather blanket shaped affair attached by multiple hooks that could hold hundreds of pounds of  small branches and split logs. Since the mesa grew nothing more than grass the possum belly was a vital addition to the wagon.

Morning found the sky with heavily laden with dark rain clouds.

Bekke once again warned the two to keep their wagon brake free of mud if it rained. As they started their downhill trip a light drizzle began but within minutes a hard down pour came.

Bekke turned around from her seat in the lead wagon and shouted at the two brothers behind her. “These mules aren’t used to thunder and if it starts, we may have to hold up until the thunder passes or until the mules get used to it.”

Fortunately, the rolling thunder kept to the east and passed them by without incident. They made it safely to the mountains foot hill where the road was wet from the drenching rain but was still in very good shape. A few slips and slides occurred but Bekke was pleased to see Mac had handled the eight mule team well.

 

Chapter 2

 Meanwhile back at the Globe Mercantile and freight, Jethro and Andy were busy training the four new employee’s on mule care. As expected, Geezer gave his notice  of retirement but would stay on to help train the new drivers… if needed.

Jethro figured it would take at least three to four weeks of intense training before any one of the new muleteers would be capable of driving even a two mule team let alone an eight mule set up like Bekke and Mac drove. But Jethro had to start somewhere and finding muleteers was hard in a small town still paying top wages at the copper mines.

Both Andy and Jethro had reason to be pleased with the four greenhorns. Three of them were older men who for physical reasons had been let go at the mines. Working copper mines was for the young and sometimes as joked, the simple minded.

Bull, Lester and Toby fell into this group while Festus was the youngster at twenty two years old. All four showed a willingness to learn the ropes of muleteering and the freight hauling industry. Jethro couldn’t have been more pleased.

Lester showed signs of excelling at paper work on top of handling a mule team. Bull was just that, a huge man who took less time to load a wagon than two good loaders could obtain. Friendly and gentle spirited he was a joy to teach the trade to.

Festus was the clown of the four. His instinctive humor kept everyone in high spirits even when things went wrong. Tall and skinny with a long neck that gave the appearance he had a wobbly head, he used his physical looks to amplify his funny stories. In his youth he was nick named ‘Scarecrow’.

Toby was a fella with few words.  He was a soft spoken individual who due to a mine accident was missing his toes on his right foot. It may have been enough of a problem for the mine boss but not for Jethro. Being of average height and weight, nothing made him stand out in a crowd. He was so apt to blend in with a crowd that even his fellow church goes would sometimes question him as to why he no longer attended Sunday services. He would just smile and begin to recall the Pastors sermon verbatim.

Jethro was extremely pleased that one of the men, Lester,  had the gift of paper pushing. After Jethro left for Prescott, Andy would have his hands full and Lester would be a great asset in keeping the records and billing straight.

As the days turned into weeks, the four men had been upgraded from a two mule team to that of four and six teams. As yet only Jethro and Bekke were capable of handling an eight team set up. Each new man caught on to the ability to choose which mule was placed where in line and all became adept at rigging the complicate harnesses. They learned which mules bonded with each other and which worked against each other. Which ones preferred being on the right or left side and which ones could be wheel mules in guiding the team in turning and backing. The four spent much time in the stable grooming and caring for the mules. In all, there were a total of 34 Missouri bred and trained mules and each had their own quirks and personalities to learn about.

On the sixth day after leaving Globe, Jethro figured without any mishaps, that Bekke Mac and Snake had reached Prescott.

Upon their safe arrival, Bekke had promised Jethro to send him a telegram and sure enough at three in the afternoon a delivery boy from the telegraph office showed up at the Globe Mercantile office.

After tipping the boy a dime Jethro unfolded the yellow telegraph paper to read.

 

JETHRO CLEMENS GLOBE MERCHANTILE GLOBE ARIZONA

ARRIVED WITH FREIGHT INTACT. (STOP) WILL DELIVER IT TOMORROW (STOP). ALL MY LOVE.

Jethro smiled with a sigh of relief. He had little doubt the three would be accosted but still, it was a relief to know they had safely made it there.

He knew once the wagons had been unloaded that the three would start researching the possibility of opening a second freight line there. Bekke had told him it may take a week or longer to fulfill the due diligence needed to make sure the start up in Prescott would be a successful venture.

What he did not know is their new venture would pit the Globe Mercantile and Freight Company up against one of the wealthiest and corrupt businessman in Prescott.

 

Chapter 3

After unloading the wagons at the courthouses nearby construction yard of the valuable copper roof sheeting, They headed off to a recommended livery stable that could handle the sixteen mules.

The old Negro in charge of the livery charged two dollars a day each for the stalls, grain and rubdowns the mules needed. He also would ask the blacksmith to inspect the mules flat horseshoes since he noted they were not fitted with the heavy heel calks and toe bars normally found in Northern Arizona for added traction.

Bekke commented on the two dollar a day charge for each mule telling the man that in Globe the same service would have been more in the seventy five cent to one dollar range.

The old negro shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Yes, but that’s in Globe an’ you ain’t in Globe no more.”

Bekke realized she’d have to re-think the cost of doing business and their freight charges. It looked like the Prescott economy might be double that of Southern Arizona’s economy.

The stable had no room left in the small indoor carriage area for the two big wagons so they were left outdoors and tarped over. Mac and Snake drew the heavy canvas tarps over each wagon to protect the wood. Though painted with a thick coat of dark green paint with yellow trim, Bekke knew how expensive each of the custom built wagons had cost them. Thus in carping them from the elements was only expected.

After grudgingly paying a weeks charge of two hundred dollars ( in paying up front, the stableman gave her a twenty four dollar discount) she told her two men that eating in restaurants may have to give way to cooking most of their meals back at camp.

Since eating in any restaurant was an undesirable thought for the two Apaches, both agreed they’d feel more comfortable eating their own (Bekke’s) cooking anyway. The stableman told them where a commonly used over night camp site was located.

“It’s even got a privy some gentleman built for his privacy a while back and there’s a clean flowing stream right nearby for dishes an’ stuff. I’d be a bit hesitant in bathing there though as you might find some of your valuables a missile from your pockets when you get dressed. Mostly it’s just kids but we got a few vagrant types that have been known to stoop low so they don’t have to hold a job.”

“We’ll take your advice, it’s appreciated.” Replied Bekke.

“You know somethin?” The negro stableman said, “I’m jes the stableman here. I don’t own the place but I seen you wince when I told you how much the fee would be. You all seem like nice folk, even your Indian men there, that if’n you need to stay a bit longer than the week you all jes’ go ahead with no extra charge.”

“Thank you! By the way, my names Bekke Hillstrand and my employees here go by the name Mac and Snake. We won’t abuse your offer Mister…”

“Folks around here call me Moon. It’s short for ‘Moon lips’. Moon lips Jones.

Bekke was taken back by his name as it sounded so derogatory. True, the man had a set of lips as big as a horses but somehow it seemed cruel to call him by such a name.

“I’m not sure I could call you that”, Bekke replied, “ I mean it seems kinda wrong somehow.”

“Oh, don’t you worry none about callin’ me by my name ‘cause sho’ enough that’s what my Daddy named me first time he laid eyes on me.”

“Your Dad named you that?”

“Yes’m. See, he was brung over from the coast of Africa an made a slave. He only spoke Igbo, that’s a type of language his tribe spoke over there. Some say it be like African Swahili talk. So when he presented me to be named he done saw how big my lips was an’ named me Mwezi Midomo or Moon lips. Nothin’ bad  about it, it’s a good name, a proud name.”

“I must admit Moon, I’m not familiar with the African culture and how names get to be. I meant no disrespect in my hesitation to call you moon.”

Laughing, Moon replied, “Hey, it’s a whole lot better than calling me some of the names folks around here called me.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the worst! It’s been a pleasure meeting you and we’ll stop by in a few days to see how the mules are treating you.”

Moon offered them the use of a horse drawn wagon to carry their camping gear up to the campground that over looked the town. After hauling their belongings to the camp site and cooking a quick meal, Bekke told the brothers to set up the tents and finish making their camp then return the wagon and horse to the livery.

“ Since we have plenty of daylight left, I’m going into town to get an idea of what kind of freighting competition we’re up against. I’ll be back before dark.”

Mac told her, “Just to be safe, take a gun with you.”

“You mean like one of these?” From her sack coat she pulled out a small twin shot 38 caliber pocket pistol.

Mac chuckled saying, “That’ll do!”

Bekke entered the town of Prescott from the south and headed down hill towards the down town business area. She was surprised at the permanency of the building that had been built. Most were brick or cut stone with only a few being of wood frame construction.

“Looks like they want this town to last” she thought. “At least the building aren’t going anywhere soon.”

The downtown was built around a square. In the center was the new court house she had brought the copper roofing material for. It was the first time she viewed the court house building since the business  she had unloaded goods at in her previous trips had been located away from the downtown area.

She was struck by how busy the town was. Shoppers were going in the stores and coming out carrying an armload of packages and boxes. She noticed a woman’s dress shop had a life size figure dressed in the latest Eastern look. She mentally placed its location in her mind vowing to someday visit the shop.

She was walking the outskirts of the square on the sparser west side when she came upon a freighters business. Looking up above the door she read , HIGH DESERT FREIGHT HAULING INC. After reading the faded lettering she decided to enter.

As she opened the heavy wooden front door to the business a bell inside and overhead attached to the door chimed.

An elderly white haired man looked up from the counter he had spread a bunch of papers on. In a friendly tone he asked, “May I help you Ma’am?”

“I’m not sure. My husband and I are thinking of opening a business here in town so I decided to see for myself what kind of prospects the town has for a new business.”

“Well,” he said chuckling, “I know my wife complains the two dress shops in town are in cahoots with each other to keep the prices high but then my wife thinks everyone is in business to bankrupt us.”

“I can see her point, I just paid the stable man double what it would cost me in Globe.”

“From Globe huh? My sister lived there before she passed on, maybe you knew her, her name was Martha Stern.”

“No, I guess she was before my time. But I knew a Roger Stern, any relation to your sister?”

“Yup, that’s her son. Worthless slug if there ever was one. Martha’s husband died when the boy was only two. She doted on him, spoiled him rotten.”

“Not trying to offend you but I have to agree. He sure was something.”

“Was?”

“Yes, he was killed in a saloon brawl last year. It seemed he was carrying on with a married woman and her husband found out.”

The old man shook his head and asked, “Did they charge the man who killed him?”

“No, they said Mr Stern brought it upon him self. The Sheriff claimed it was a justified killing and later a visiting judge circuit Judge agreed with the decision.”

“Well, I guess there is hope for the world after all. By the way, my name is Fred Hartford, I own this business. May I ask what kind of business are you thinking about opening? I can tell you the town needs a saddle maker, the one we got is going blind and if we could get a real barber in town, the men would be delighted. I guess the field is wide open to new businesses since we’re growing like corn on a spring day… that is unless you are going into the freighting business.”

Bekke visibly stepped back in shock as if hit. “Why would you say that?”

The old man stopped and looked around the place cautiously making sure no customer or employee could hear him.

“It’s a great town except for the likes of one man, Cecil Burkhalter. You see, Cecil Burkhalter used to be a lawyer in town, and not a good one. He was the main partner of Burkhalter, Mosley and Shlapp. His Father owned the Burkhalter freight company on Jackson Street, that’s on the east side of town.

One day Cecil was caught bribing a witness and was disbarred from practicing law in Arizona. It wasn’t the first time he’d been suspected of doing that but in this case the witness’s husband was a Federal Marshal. The woman just happened to be in town and saw a man murder another man. Cecil was hired to get the man off after he told the man he could guarantee his innocence and get him off. Well, the man hung of course and Cecil was found guilty of bribing a witness and lost his license and the business.

“So how does that play into the freighting business other than his father owned it.”

“It seemed Cecil had rung up quite a tab at the poker table one night. Without an income, he had to go to his father for a loan or be horse whipped.

His father not only gave him a loan of ten thousand dollars to cover the debt but put his son in as Vice President of Burkhalter Freight in an attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow.

It didn’t take long for is son to start robbing the till but when his father discovered the huge losses he got so upset he had a heart attack and died right then and there.

Cecil then took over the business and soon the other freighters in town started having problems.”

As if just interested in an exciting tale, Bekke innocently asked him,“May I ask what kind of problems they were having?”

“Sure, everyone in town knows what’s going on but are too meek to stand up to the bastard…Oh my, excuse me, it just came out.”

“Trust me, I’ve heard worse.”

“A Lady shouldn’t have to hear such language, again, I apologize.

With a dismissal shake of her head, Bekke said, “You were saying?”

“Yes, not only the other freighters but I have to include myself here. You see we’ve had a rash of sawed axles, mules made lame and having to be put down, Employees robbed while hauling freight, loads stolen and long time customers suddenly canceling orders only to sign up with Burkhalter Freight. There is so much more but I’m not going to go into it as I’ve already said too much .”

“So does the Sheriff know about all this?”

“Of course, the Sheriff is his father in law!”

“No wonder he gets away with it.”

“To be honest, this morning I had finally made up my mind. I am going to try and sell the business, if I can find a buyer.”

“Seeing what is going on, what do you think your chances are of finding a buyer to sell out to?”

“Honestly? Zero to none. I should have sold years ago but each time I entertained the idea I thought of my employees and their families. They all depended on me and it weighed heavily on my shoulders. I love my employees but I just can’t do this any longer. I’m afraid myself or my employees will end up getting hurt.

For more than a few moments, Bekke sat silently contemplating all that she had heard. She wondered to herself, “Was Prescott really the place to relocate after all? What would Jethro think after hearing all this?”

Finally, she lifted her head and asked point blank. “Mister Hartford, I’m going to be straight up honest with you. I came to Prescott hauling two heavy eight mule team wagons of copper sheeting for the new courthouses roof. My husband and I were thinking about opening a second freighting business so we could expand beyond the southern Arizona area. If you are truly thinking of giving up the business would you be willing to hold off closing down for another month? I want to return to Globe and discuss this situation with my husband. We might be able to work out a sale to both our benefits.”

“By God you may be the answer to my prayers. Yes, I’ll delay any further idea of closing until I hear back from you or in a month, but I can’t wait no longer that that since it’ll be winter soon and most of the freight business is already peaking. ”

Bekke stuck her hand out and Fred Hartford took it and told her. “My dear, you’ve either got more grit than any man I’ve ever met or you’re not right in the head … but I’ll shake on it!”

Dusk had not settled in before Bekke arrived back at the camp. She was pleased to see the brothers had set it up in its entirety. They even unfolded her cot and dressed it with her sheets and blankets.

Both mac and Snake looked up when she walked up. They had a nice cook fire going although no food was yet cooking… that was Bekke’s job.

“We waited until you got back. We know you like to cook white man style. Earlier Snake caught a rabbit but he ate it already. I had a few bites but since my brother requires so much food I let him eat most of it.”

Feigning a false lack of interest Bekke asked, “So, are you still hungry or shouldn’t I bother cooking a meal.”

Before she could finish Snake cried out, “Oh no, I’m really hungry. That rabbit was just a real small one and Mac ate a big piece of it so I didn’t get full.”

Laughing, Bekke said, “Not to worry Snake, I know you have a hollow leg!”

Snake looked quizzically at Mac and quietly whispered to him, “Do I have a hollow leg?”

 

The next morning found the three up before dawn planning the day. Bekke said she wanted to find out more about this Cecil Burkhalter fellow. If it were true that most folks didn’t cotton to him then it should be fairly easy to get folks to open up. She also needed to stop once again at the telegraph office. She would let Jethro know in the shortest terms possible, her conversation with Fred Hartford. She also felt inclined to send a message to her friend Federal MarshalDanny Vance. Danny had been the Sheriff of Globe for a decade or more. After Danny and his brother Davy (who had then been the town Sheriff of Show Low) saved twenty two Mormon children from a group of kidnappers they were approached by a representative of the Supreme Court in Washington to become special agents acting as Federal Marshals under the Supreme Court. (See “The children of box canyon”)

If anyone could find out for Bekke the inside story of Mr Burkhalter it would be the brothers.

Once again in town she entered the telegraph office and handed the key artist the note she wanted sent to Jethro.

JETHRO CLEMENS GLOBE FREIGHT GLOBE ARIZONA

GOOD NEWS (STOP) HIGH DESERT FREIGHT HERE WANTS TO SELL BUSINESS (STOP) NASTY COMPETITOR BURKHALTER FREIGHT COULD BE A PROBLEM. (STOP) LOVE YOU TONS BEKKE (STOP) BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA

The second note was sent to Danny Vance and read.

FEDERAL MARSHAL D VANCE GLOBE ARIZONA

DANNY IF POSSIBLE NEED INFO ON CECIL BURKHALTER OWNER OF BURKHALTER FREIGHT IN PRESCOTT. (STOP) LOOKING TO OPEN FREIGHT BUSINESS HERE (STOP) BURKHALTER KNOWN TO PLAY FOUL (STOP) MAY NEED YOUR HELP (STOP) BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA

Satisfied, she paid the clerk the two dollars and eighty cents including a dime tip and left.

On her way back to the camp she diverted down a dirt alley way behind the saloons. She wasn’t concerned about her safety as her hand was on the small 38 caliber pistol in her sack coat pocket and that it was just mid day.

Sometimes if you want to get a real perspective on a town the you need to walk the back alleys. It was there she ran across a second freight company.

Logan Freight was a small outfit. Seeing only four parked light weight wagons set up to be hauled by only two mules she figured it was a local delivery outfit.

She entered through the rear door by the loading dock

It was pretty dark inside but she could see through the center of the warehouse building where some slits of sunshine were entering through the wooden shutters mounted on the buildings front windows.

As Bekke silently made her way through the stacked crates and bundles of canvas wrapped goods looking for whoever ran the place she heard a mans voice pleading with someone.

“I swear, I ain’t holding out on Mister Burkhalter!”

Bekke could now see an elderly bald man holding out a ledger book toward another person telling him, “Here! See? I ain’t been doing good at all! My God, I can’t afford another ten percent on top of what he gets from me now. I need to stay in business an’ another ten percent will bankrupt me!”

Bekke stopped her movement and stood silently in the deep shadows listening to the man plead. The other man looked like the typical saloon tough guy in charge of keeping the peace. He had on a sleeveless button down shirt most likely worn to intimidate folks with his bulging arm muscles. His head was as big as a medicine ball with a protruding forehead . His whiskered face was decorated with dark deep set eyes hidden by a single dark bushy uni brow. If ever there was a need for a live description of a cave man, this was it.

“Don’t show me nothin’, you know I ain’t no how able to read! Mister Burkhalter pays me to collect his protection fees, not to hear your sob stories.”

He then stepped over and began to root through the owners desk. Tossing out much of the drawers contents onto the floor, the gorilla in man clothing did not find what he was apparently looking for.

In his anger he threw the entire drawer away at the window breaking it and then began busting up what small amount of office furniture existed. After making a wreck of the place, he turned once again to face the terrified proprietor.

The terrified owner began backing away as the crazed tough guy reached out his hands to grab the owner. Ducking, the owner was able to slip around the tough and head for the front door. To his dismay though he realized the tough guy had locked it after he entered. The smaller man suddenly felt a huge powerful hand wrap itself around his neck.

The owner loudly screamed, wetting himself in the process. The hard case then began to soundly beat the owner with his ham sized fist.

Bekke had seen and heard enough. Reaching into bulky her sack coat, she withdrew the pocket pistol and stepping into the offices meager light aimed the barrel directly on the tough’s face and shouted. “Stop or I’ll blow your filthy head off!”

The beater turned towards Bekke who’s face was still mostly hidden in the dark. Still, there was just enough light for him to see the silver gun barrel pointed in his face.  He knew by the sound of the voice the whoever it was meant business. Although not as raspy or frog like as in her youth, without seeing her face she could be mistaken for a young man.

Shoving the crying owner violently onto the floor, he told Bekke, “I don’t know who you are kid but you just made the biggest mistake of your life!”

In the darkness Bekke smiled and in her most feminine voice possible with a shrug of her shoulders answered, “What ever.”

Upon hearing the change in her voice, the thug became confused and asked, “Just who are you kid?”

 

Bekke had spent the majority of her childhood being abused by controlling men. As a child she once had literally been a slave to a sheep herder whom she freed herself by pushing the pervert off the edge of the Mogollon Rim near Payson.  He stood there over looking the two hundred foot cliff  while taking a leak and exposing himself to her.  Another as an abused teen, she ran over him with a freight wagon breaking 400 of his 206 bones. She then killed four more for similar atrocities. After being arrested she simply told the judge,  “Don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman by killin ’em. Men do this all the time out here where no law exist and they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just because I’m a girl?”  After hearing her tales of childhood abuses the Territorial Judge agreed saying each man had no excuse for their actions and each had earned their untimely trip to hell.  (See Bekke’s Law).

 

As Bekke left her childhood behind and settled into a fulfilling marriage with Jethro those memories rapidly faded… until now.

Like photographs spread out before her she once again saw each abuser and how they painfully abused her. Seeing the bully in front of her beating on an innocent elderly man broke the dam holding back the feelings she had conquered and controlled years before. And then her long buried primal rage for justice took over.

“Kneel”, she spoke.

After realizing the door was still locked and escape impossible, the tough guy mumbled but slowly began to kneel.

With her gun just a foot away from his face now, Bekke slowly reached down and grasped the leg of a chair that the tough guy had earlier broken off during his rampage. It was at that moment the thug, even though unable to clearly see her face, knew she was a woman.

“What now Sweet heart..”

Before he could finish the sentence, Bekke swung the chair leg with all her might slamming it across the mans face and loudly breaking the man’s jaw. Crying out, he fell onto his side trying to cover his mangled mouth. Bekke did not stop there. As the man rolled onto his back, Bekke stomped down onto the mans groin, not once but over and over. It seemed all of the pain of her past abuse was pouring out in the familiar form she had long ago gained control over.

Rolling onto his side in an attempt to protect his smashed groin, the whimpering gorilla began to vomit. Bekke stepped back as he emptied his stomach. Before leaving him  though, Bekke grabbed his head and began wiping the vomit up with the mans hair. “Don’t ever again call me Sweet heart!”

Delirious with pain, the beaten bully lay there moaning. He tried recalling what the woman looked like but between the darkness of the office and the severe pain clouding his mind her facial features eluded him. In such pain, darkness came over him and he lost consciousness.  It took another hour before he was capable of even sitting upright.

Between sobs, the weeping owner told Bekke, “Burkhalter’s going to kill me now! All I ever wanted was a little business to earn a modest living. Oh how I wish my Mary had never passed, she’d surely know what I should do.”

Bekke realized the man had little to no backbone. It must have been his wife who ruled the nest.

“Do you have any children” she asked him.

“Yes, two sons. One lives in Phoenix and the other lives in Atlanta Georgia. Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re right. You are a dead man if you stay here.”

“But what can I do? Where will I go? Burkhalter will be sure to find me!”

“ If you want to live then you’ll do exactly as I say. First. Go to your bank right now and close out your account, you’ll need the money. Second do not go home, do not attempt to gather any of your belongings instead go directly from the bank to the train depot and take the first train out to anywhere. Once you are clear of Prescott, you can re-route yourself to Atlanta. Now, get off the floor, wash your face and get to the bank and then catch the train. Forget about your business, it was finished anyway. If you own your home, in a few weeks contact an Attorney in a nearby town to sell it anonymously for you. If you do that you’ll most likely live.”

The man scrambled to his feet thanking her profusely for the directive. “I’m going now, thank you… what is your name?”

“Just call me Justice.”

Making her way behind the owner, she followed him out the same back door that she had entered through.

She watched as the man made his way down the alley and made the turn that brought him to the Square. She decided to see if he actually went to the bank or would his frightened nerves make him do something stupid. No, she smiled as he entered the Bank of Prescott.

Bekke then made her way back to the camp. “Wow”, she thought, “Do I have some explaining to do!”

The three sat around the evening cook fire going back over the recent events.

“The good thing is”, Bekke told them, “There will be two less Freight hauling companies to compete with. The bad is, I’m sure this Burkhalter fellow will stop at nothing to run us out of town or worse.”

Mac asked her,”Did the man who beat the elderly owner see your face? You said it was dark but can you be sure?”

“I’m pretty sure it was too dark to get a clear look at me. Besides, I was wearing my bulky sack coat and my hair was tucked under my big brimmed slouch hat. Even if it was in sunlight, he couldn’t say how big I was or what color my hair is. He even called me a kid. No, I feel confident I could pass him on the street and he’d never recognize me.”

Snake stood up saying, “Snake think we should leave here now. Maybe men watch for women who leave town.” Snake then pointed to the train depot located at the bottom of the hill they were camped at and said,  “Look, lone man at station trying to hide. Looks scared to Snake. Him the owner?”

“By golly you’re right, that’s the old man that just got beat up.” Bekke exclaimed, “I’m glad to see he’s getting out of town before Burkhalter’s men go looking for him.”

Bekke agreed with Snake about the need of getting out of town but not right then.

“Here’s what we’ll do. You two stay camped out here. No one would guess you’re connected in any way with me. I’m going to a hotel in town because I still need to discover our business prospects here.  I’ll bring my most feminine clothes to wear. If the gorilla gave any description it sure wouldn’t be one of a prettily dressed woman.”

Mac asked, How will we communicate with you if we can’t go into town?”

“I’ll take a daily walk past our camp here and if I need to contact you I’ll leave a message on paper in the crack of that storm damaged tree over there. We can’t risk rousing any suspicion by risking anyone seeing me talking to two Apache men. You two need to stay out of sight as much as possible. If you need anything leave a note in the tree and I’ll figure out a way to get it to you. Just sit and rest here till we’re ready to leave.”

Snake nodded, “Good, Snake need rest. No sleep good close to city.”

Mac snickered in much better English than Snake could speak, “I guess all that eating sure can tire a man out, who’da thunk!”

 Bekke spent the next three days doing the needed research to verify that the move to Prescott would be profitable. All signs showed a need for heavy hauling freight, something the Clemens were experts at. Not only had the Clemens back in Globe invested in an array of heavy wagons, some flat bedded others with tall sides and all with lowering tail gates but they ordered customized hoisting cranes to lift off freight so it could be placed straight onto waiting train cars. They even had an engineering firm design a rail mounted steam driven crane so heavy freight could be deposited in any place there was a rail road. This was something the Clemens knew could be used in delivering heavy machinery and iron castings for industry.

On the second day she passed by the cracked tree noting there was no note left but that changed on the third day.

On this day she retrieved a slip of yellow paper, the kind telegrams were printed on, it read.

BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA CITY PUBLIC CAMPGROUND

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES APPROACH BURKHALTER (STOP) UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION (STOP) RETURN TO GLOBE IMMEDIATELY (STOP) NEED TO MEET

FEDERAL MARSHAL D VANCE GLOBE ARIZONA

After reading the telegram Bekke returned to the public campground and met with the brothers telling them. “We need to pull up stakes and get on back to Globe. Marshal Danny Vance’s orders. The Federal Marshals have Burkhalter under investigation so they must have an agent or two working the investigation here in Prescott. If Danny said that under no circumstances should we approach Burkhalter then he must feel we’re in imminent danger.”

Mac then told her,“We read the note after the delivery boy went around the place looking to deliver you your telegram. We had to show him your tent and your Bible before he left it with us. Snake then put it in the tree for you. Also, twice hard case men have been seen taking an interest in folks camping here. They asked if a woman was seen camping here but we shrugged pretending not to speak English.”

Bekke knew they had overstayed, “Snake, I want you to pack up the camp while Mac and I retrieve our wagons and mules. Pack up my belongings and tent first. If those or any other men stop by asking if there had been a woman camping here I want you to play dumb and pretend you don’t speak English again. listen instead to what they say if anything.”

“Snake understand. Play dumb, no speak English, listen to their talk.”

“Perfect. Mac and I will be right back.”

The two walked downhill past the train depot and to the to the livery. Even though they had a couple of days still paid up and would be offered the refund, Bekke decided to take their new friend stableman into her confidence and insisted he personally keep the refund, not giving it to the stables owner.

 

“All I’m asking,” she told Moon, “if anyone comes around asking if a woman has been by here to leave a horse or buggy to tell them no. There’s a possibility a man named Burkhalter will send men out after me.”

“What did you do to him?”

“Not him but one of his hard cases… I beat him up pretty good!”

“That was you? I heard all about someone givin’ one a his men a good thrashin’ but I never would have suspected such a tiny thing as you doing the beatin’, an you’s a woman to boot!”

“Well, I’m not proud of it but there was no helping it. He was beating on the owner of Logan Freight. The poor old soul was terrified.”

“Me an Logan done grow’d up together. We was here a’fore most anybody even called this a town. Oh, an to tell ya more, sho ‘nuff Burkhalter’s thugs done already come by askin’. I done told ‘em, nope ain’t no women been here. I told ‘em to see if McClarry’s stables might a done business wit you.”

“Oh, thank you!”

After hitching up the sixteen mules to the two wagons, Bekke paid an extra two dollars to fill one of the wagons with hay and another three dollars for two barrels of water. Two of the mules had to be shod for another eight dollars. In doing this there would be no need look for a camp each night with water on the way back or search for good grass.

Bekke thanked the stableman, shook his hand  and climbed up onto the tall drivers bench waving him good bye.

“You all take care now Ma’am.” The stableman shouted back, “Maybe someday we’ll cross paths again.”

Bekke shouted back to him, “I can tell you it’s a guarantee my friend.”

Back at the campground, the three quickly loaded their belongings and tents onto the empty wagon and headed back down to Globe on the same roads they arrived on.

 

Chapter 4

 Their return trip to Globe took less time than on the way up to Prescott. They continually checked their back trail looking for anyone who might be following them. When they spotted a dust cloud behind them in the distance, they would pull the wagons into the high scrub and hide until the traveler passed by them. None were from Burkhalter.

It had rained in Globe so the roads were greasy with deep wheel ruts. The extra wide wagon’s wheels prevented the wagons from getting bogged down or stuck. Having extremely wide hoofs, the Missouri mules where bred for this. As they turned onto their street, Bekke could see Jethro and another man hitching up four mules to another heavy wagon.

Hearing the mule train and wagons arriving Jethro looked up and seeing Bekke ran up the muddy street to greet her.

Bekke jumped down into his outstretched arms and kissed him deeply.

“Huzzah, I take it you missed me he said laughing.”

“You don’t know the half of it! Can you ask one of the men to stow the wagons with Mac and Snake? The mules need a good rub down and have them check their shoes too. We rode fast and furious back here from Prescott and I need to tell you all that happened and what we found out.”

Jethro told one of his new drivers to help Snake and Mac in caring for the sixteen mules and two wagons while Andy took over for Jethro.

Taking Bekke’s hand in his he led her up the stairs to their home above the carriage house. Once inside he made coffee and when they settled at the kitchen’s table, she told him everything that had occurred while up in Prescott.,

Jethro had quietly listened knowing Bekke would fill in the details as she told her story. When she had finished, he rose from his seat at the table, went to her and wrapped his arms around her saying, “I’m so sorry dear, are you alright?”

“Of course I am. I just lost my head for a minute when I saw that poor old man being beaten. Other than that, I learned a lot that I otherwise may never have known.”

Jethro slapped his head in exasperation“Oh darn, I forgot!  Marshall Vance wanted us to stop by the moment you arrived. He said it was really important that both of us be there.”

Bekke nodded her head but asked him, “Can we finish our coffee first. I need to rest up a minute.”

 

Federal Marshal Danny Vance invited the couple into his office. The brothers had no looks that were common to the two. Davy was of medium build, somewhat handsome with mouse brown hair while Danny was four inches taller and blond. What was not apparent yet was both brothers had a weeks unshaven whiskers going on. Later Bekke would ask about this. “You two want some coffee ? Danny asked. “It’s fresh ground and I made it only a moment before you stopped in.”

Both replied in the positive.

“So,” he began, “the Federal Marshal service had been actively investigating Mister Burkhalter for more than a year now. Unfortunately we’ve been unable to get anything on him to put him away. He’s got layer upon layer of means to commit a crime and get away with it. He has a group of professional shootist and strong arms preventing any witness from testifying by threatening them. Our problem is we as Federal Agents have to follow the law, where he does not. He has gotten off each time he’s been arrested.”

“How can that be? Jethro asked.

“Remember he was an attorney, not a good one mind you but he still knew the law better than most territorial judges. He could tie up a court case for so long the jury would get so fed up they’d just up and quit.”

“They can do that?”, Bekke asked.

“They’re not supposed to but what judge wants to keep a jury intact by hauling in a member of the jury in hand cuffs. And as far as judges go, most are political appointees installed as favors to donors or family members. As far as their being great legal minds, forget it. a good lawyer can run circles around most circuit judges.”

Bekke leaned forward looking straight into their friend Marshal Vance’s eyes and asked. “You asked us here, there must be some reason besides wanting to tell us that Burkhalter’s a bad guy, we already know that, so then why the rush we come see you ?”

The Marshal was blunt, “When word around town spread that you were looking at Prescott, we notified the the Supreme court offices in Washington. They have been looking for a person or persons to help the Marshals service nail this guy. You see, the Supreme Court in it’s infancy had been given the power to enlist certain men under their auspices and give them the authority to deal with major threats to our country, cities or towns by either men or organizations in any way they felt to see fit in disposing of them. That includes working outside of any Federal, State or Territorial laws.”

Wide eyed Jethro exclaimed, “Geez, are you saying an agent of the Supreme court can up and kill someone and not be charged?”

“In certain instances, yes. It was the Supreme court who formed and regulate Bounty Hunters. In the case of Special agents to the Supreme Court it goes much further than just being a Bounty Hunter. Bounty Hunters can only kill if the court initiates a dead or alive warrant on someone but it is left up to the Supreme Courts Special Agent’s discretion on how far he feel he needs to go to protect the government, even a local government. If the Agent, through the court, sees the person as a threat to the existence of the Government then he can act to protect the Government.

Jethro looked at Bekke then back to Marshal Vance and asked, “So what has all this to do with us?”

“As you two know, After rescuing the Mormon children from the white slavers, my brother Davy and I had been approached by the Federal Marshal service and offered the privilege of joining them. We accepted and for the last two years have been very successful in apprehending and winning convictions of some of the worst criminals in Arizona. Our success hadn’t gone unnoticed by those in high places. Last month we were upgraded to Federal Marshal Special Agents, we answer directly to the representatives of the Supreme Court.”

Bekke congratulated him on their advancement. “Both you and Davy deserve it” she said, “we’re so happy for you two!”

“Thank you, but there’s more.”

Bekke again replied, “Of course there is, why else would you have us here rather than tell us all this in the telegraph you sent when I was up in Prescott?”

“I mentioned a minute ago that we have been unable to get a solid conviction on Burkhalter. What we need is someone who can closely observe his acclivities and in turn become a prosecution witness. That’s where you all come in. If you do open a second freight business in Prescott we want you to to be our eyes and ears. You will be a paid the wages we pay an informant.

Jethro became uncomfortable. “If this Burkhalter is in the cross hairs of the Federal Government for high crimes, what kind of danger would we be in? I mean I’m not a detective or gunslinger, I just run a freight and mercantile business. How much use could we be to you?”

Bekke thought back to the moment she watched an innocent old man being beaten and reached over to grab Jethro’s hand. She sat there staring at him for a moment then spoke.

“Jethro, I know you. I also know you wish nothing more in life than to have a moderately successful business, have a wife, have some children someday and just enjoy the blessings God has given you. When I spoke to the owner of Logan Freight after his beating, he told me his dream too was to live that exact same life. He couldn’t understand why someone would take away from him all that he and his deceased wife had worked for. He cried at the unjustness of it all. He lost everything because no one had stopped Burkhalter earlier when it would have been possible. Now we’re being asked to step up and help combat the same evil that drove the old man away from his home and business. I saw that evil with my own eyes and it turns my stomach to see a man not only get away with it but to prosper doing it. I say yes, we should help.”

The Marshal sat in silence. Finally Jethro looked over at Bekke and told her, “When you put it like that…”

Bekke reached over and squeezed his hand saying, “This is why I love you.”

“Alright then, there is just one more thing I need to tell you about what I’m asking you to do.”

Jethro mumbled, “I knew it.”

“Actually it a good thing.

Again Jethro responded, “There is such a thing?”

“You bet there is.”

Pulling his desk drawer open he dug inside until he found what he was looking for. He laid the objects on the desk top in front of them but continued to hide them with his hand. Then he spread his fingers apart exposing two shiny badges.

“I need to swear you in as Federal Deputy Marshals.”

Both Jaws dropped open in shock.

Bekke beat Jethro to the punch in responding,“Are you serious? Federal Deputy Marshals? Really?”

“Yep, I said you’d be paid  LIKE informants, I have to get you all legal because these badges can throw a lot of weight.”

Intrigued, Jethro asked what he meant.

“I’ll be going over much more in detail of your responsibilities later on but by weight I meant authority. These badges supersede any local Sheriff, Marshal or Judge for that matter. They are backed by the United States Supreme Court. Unlike normal Federal Marshals who are backed by the Congress your position supersedes all of them. You will report only to my brother or myself, no one else. I will have the Representative of the Court draw up the needed papers to prove your authority.”

“Just out of curiosity, Bekke asked, “How can we continue to run our business if we’re running around Prescott as Deputies?”

“That’s just it, I don’t want anyone else to know your position unless absolutely necessary. To the public you’re to remain just business folks, nothing more. Those badges are a double edged sword. They can save your life or get you killed. Your best bet is to keep them hidden under your coats or in your vest pocket, shiny badges make great targets.”

“I understand, this way Jethro and I can acquire information without looking like we’re the law.”

“Precisely! Davey will be back by tomorrow, is it possible the two of you can come back here so we can go over everything you’ll need to know about your job. I also have a small note pad Davey made up when we took our jobs. In it he describes your duties, responsibilities and which laws you can forget about obeying and which ones are best to obey… if you need to.”

 

Chapter 5

 Back in their home, the couple sat drinking coffee and discussing the proposal which they had accepted.

Bekke opened the conversation because Jethro remained pretty much silent all the way home.

“So are you upset with me?”

Jethro gently placed his coffee cup down leaving his two hands wrapped around the hot mug.

“No, just overwhelmed that’s all. You know I’m a simple man, I don’t like conflict or problems in my life. I would be just as happy working for someone as I am owning my own business. I didn’t plan on or ask for Billy to leave us his company. Honestly, if it were just me, I’d a sold it the day I inherited it.”

“That sounds like you’re blaming me.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I’m a follower more than I am a leader and your just the opposite. When one looks at it like that it seems it’s a good set up for a good marriage.”

“Jethro, it is a good combination, I think the problem is in today’s world it’s expectant that the leader in a family be the man, the follower the woman. I can see why you’re conflicted. It shouldn’t make you feel like you’re a less of a man. You have gifts and strength in areas I don’t. You think before you act, I just barge ahead and hope for the best. As an enforcer of the law I know you would stay bound to the legal limits, I on the other hand would seek justice on my terms. I need you to reign me in when I go rushing blindly led by my emotions. You on the other hand need a shove now and then. I’d say we fit together pretty darn well if you ask me.”

“Hmmm, speaking of fitting together…”

“Mister Clemens! Are you suggesting we retire to the bedroom and work off the stress from all this?”

Taking her hand, Jethro led her to the bedroom where he displayed an amazing amount of leadership.

 

Wanting to update and congratulate his new team, Andy had gathered the four new muleteer’s together along with Mac and Snake by the companies loading dock.

“First off”, he told them, “For you new guys, let me say that I’m more than pleased with how all of you took to your new jobs. Each one of you performed much better than anyone expected. You’ve each made successful solo runs, made no mistakes with your mule teams nor the paperwork I know you dreaded. I’m very pleased to tell you that as of today you all will receive a bump up in your pay. And… As you advance to four, six and eight mule wagons, you’ll also be further compensated.”

“I congratulate each and every one of you four new men for all the excellent effort you’ve given. This new division up in Prescott will feed the company coffers allowing newer and better equipment to be purchased here as well as up there. As a plus, it also gives you a better outlook on job security. The owners have also been negotiating with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad for special pricing for their rail crane car. Since the crane would only travel with the heaviest loads such as castings and machinery, the owners feel the extra cost for these heavy loads should include at no cost the crane to unload them with. The Globe end of the business will not be participating in any crane capable loads as only Prescott has rail service east to the industrial Midwest.”

Hearing this pleased the men since adding rail service would have complicated their jobs.

“The next question is, who will eventually be going to Prescott? The owners are for sure. I will remain behind taking charge of the operations here. Also, Mac and Snake have been given permission by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to relocate to Prescott long as they are employed by the Clemens. No date has yet been determined for the move but it’s agreed that the decision to go or not to go will be within thirty days. After that it’s just a matter of time before the move.”

Once again men seemed pleased especially having been told of their raises in pay. As they broke up to return to work, Andy loudly called out to them.

“Hold up a minute. If you’ve brought any noonday meals with you, leave ‘em be. The owners wanted to show you their appreciation so they paid for all you can eat dinners in town at Sally’s cafe and bakery. I was told there will be steaks, fried chicken, fruits and plenty of bakery goods to stuff yourselves on at no cost to you all. Even the Clemens are showing up!”

The four newbies got their first chance to really meet who they were working for. They enjoyed the free meal and were delighted at how down home Jethro and Bekke were.

The next morning Jethro and Bekke walked the six blocks back to the Marshals office to meet with Federal Marshals and brothers, Davy and Danny Vance.

“It’s good to see you folks again”, Davy said as he greeted them. Danny will be back in a minute. He had to pick up the latest telegrams.”

No sooner had he finished saying that when the door handle on the front door turned. Danny stepped in holding a number of yellow telegrams in his left hand. He extended his right hand to shake hands with the Clemens. “Jethro, Bekke, it’s so good to see you made it.” With an obvious pretended look of worry he said, “ I was fearing you’d have come to your senses and called the whole thing off.”

Jethro chuckled, “If you only knew!”

“Yesterday I told you Davy and I will fill you in on what we expect out of you as far as the job goes and we’ll go over the file on Burkhalter and his operation with you. so let’s begin, shall we?”

After two hours the Clemens pretty much had been filled in on the extent of their authority and the procedures of operation they needed to know.

Next the file on Burkhalter was brought out.

“Normally”, Danny said, “If a person like Burkhalter was strong arming a town for his own gain, we’d leave the case in the hands of the local authorities. But, in this case it’s not  just about his operation in Prescott that concerns us.  Burkhalter is just a single part of a much larger operation. This is why we were placed as Supreme Court Special Agents under the Federal Marshals service”

Opening the file he showed the two a graph of what looked like a family tree. In fact it was sort of a family tree, a crime family tree.

“We’ve been investigating the crime syndicate which Burkhalter joined up with some years back, even while he was still an attorney. After inheriting his fathers freight business he incorporated into this crime syndicate the freight hauling business. We now see the freight hauling tendrils moving into cities and towns under the cover of legitimate businesses. In reality they are monopolistic in nature ridding any competition through violence and intimidation. Recently money laundering has been added to their operation. A large portion of the illegitimate profits are funding chosen political campaigns. Our goal is to sever the head from the body and destroy this organization before it becomes a nationwide pariah.”

Jethro and Bekke both sat without comment looking back and forth from brother to brother. Finally Bekke spoke up asking. “What roll will the two of you play if it is my husband and I that will be in the lions den?”

“My brother Davy and I will be leaving for Prescott in a week, we will be going under cover ourselves but need our beards to grow out a little more first. After all, who’d suspect we were Federal Agents looking like this?”

Jethro commented on this, “I wanted to ask about that. I was surprised when we met yesterday that you looked pretty grubby. Every Marshal I’ve ever seen looked like a city bred business man.”

“Davy and I are presenting ourselves as miners of a small gold mine in a valley just south of Prescott. We believe that cover story will prevent folks from digging too deeply into our identity as most folks know that those who ask miners too many questions usually end up dead.”

Danny then told the two, “We want you two to get your freighting business up and running because that will attract the attention of Burkhalter. He’s not one to stand competition so we think he’ll act to shut your business down. My brother and I will be closely watching his activities. You’ll probably know stuff before we do so if he goes to do something stupid like threatening you or causing harm to your business feel free to deal with it as you wish. What you do is completely up to you, just don’t kill him. We need him on the stand to testify against those running the Chicago end of the crime syndicate.”

Jethro was skeptical that Burkhalter would turn on the powerful Chicago syndicate and said so. “Why would a man like Burkhalter suddenly do that? Wouldn’t he worry about his being killed to keep him from testifying against them?”

Davy shrugged his shoulders showing he himself had his doubts. “True, we’re betting on a long shot but maybe you two can find more compelling evidence that can tie the Chicago syndicate’s operation directly to Burkhalter. a witness If we get that information, the need for Burkhalter is less. Still he can put the icing on the cake if he testifies.”

“We’ll try our best but honestly, I feel Bekke and my first priority is getting our freight business off the ground.”

“As it should be. Danny and I made you Deputies just in case you find yourself in an awkward situation and need to pull rank. All we want you two to do is observe the freight business in Prescott and keep us informed. We will be the ones doing the hands on stuff. If all goes well there shouldn’t be any reason for you two to stick your necks out in harms way. but you might want to keep your fingers crossed just as a precaution.”

Laughing, Bekke responded to his last statement, “Well, that sure makes me feel better.”

An hour later the newly deputized business couple left the Marshal’s office and walked towards home to indulge in a roast she had put in the wood cook stove under a banked fire hours before.

The roast was perfect! Afterward, unable to take even another bite of the delicious dinner, Bekke pushed her plate away. If alone, she would have been tempted to belch but that she’d never do in Jethro’s presence.

“We need to let Fred Hartford up at High Desert Hauling know that we’ll be relocating to Prescott and need work out a deal to take over his business.”

Fred Hartford owned a medium sized freight company called High Desert Freight that he wanted out of. It had a decent sized carriage and storage facility but the real diamond was the vacant five acre lot he would sell with the business. Those extra five acres would be a perfect place to build a large enough stable and indoor wagon barn for their needs. It would also be big enough to include a second storage facility and hay barn complimenting Fred’s existing ones.

“Do you feel like walking with me down to the telegraph office to let Fred know we’re coming up or did you want to clean up from lunch?”

“I’ll get my wrap!” She replied.

———————————————————————0——————————————————————

 

The trip to Prescott followed the reply telegram sent by Fred Hartford. He stated he was looking very much forward to their meeting and ended the note with a bit of humor saying, “Bring a bank draft, I want to add indoor plumbing to my home”.

This trip once again included Snake. Mac was left behind to help Andy out since Andy’s time would be divided by both the mercantile store and the freight business.

Andy knew Mac was capable in being left in charge of the freight business although Mac somewhat lacked the skills in doing paperwork. Each evening Andy and Mac poured over the days ledgers and orders to give him a last class in training. He invited Lester  to the instruction class figuring between the two the paperwork would pass mustard.

Lester joked, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for all this writing stuff Andy, That fountain pen is giving me a blister on my finger!”

 

Day four found the large Studebaker carriage heading downhill towards Prescott’s downtown square with Snake trailing behind on his horse. Turning onto Iron Springs road brought them eventually to the alleyway behind where Bekke’s friend Moon Lips managed the livery stable.

As they made their way down Iron Springs road, Bekke marveled at how beautiful the area was.  “I’d love to find a house along this road, it’s so peaceful and quiet an it ;looks like a painting!”

Upon pulling into the livery, ‘Moon’ heard their arrival and stepped out from the dimly lit stable to see who was making all the noise.

Seeing  Bekke, Moon shouted, “Well looky who it is! Mizz Clemens it shore is a pleasure see’n you again. Is that your man wit you? Shore is a fine strappin’ man for shore!” Holding out his hand for Bekke, Moon helped her from the carriage.

“Thank you Moon, this is my husband Jethro and our friend and employee Snake.”

The Apache extended his arm out as an Indian would shake a hand. Without blinking an eye Moon to extended his arm grabbing it near Snakes elbow.

Jethro grabbed Moon’s hand after Moob let snakes hand be and shook it. “Bekke told me all about you and what you did for her to keep her from being found by Burkhalter’s men.”

“Shucks, wasn’t nothin’ much. I jest told ‘em I ain’t seen hide nor hair of you. I didn’t lie, I ain’t never seen your hair cuz it was under that big ol’ hat yous was wearin’ an’ I shore ain’t in no position to have seen your hide!”

Bekke laughed at Moon’s ‘little white lie’ explanation and told him, “ Moon, I’m sure the good Lord won’t write that little fib under your name in the Book of Life. We both thank you for not letting on to Burkhalter’s men that I was here. I’m sure the thug I whooped on would just love to get even.”

“So’s what brings you back here? Moon asked Bekke.”

Since it was Bekke who knew Moon better than Jethro, she ended up telling him about purchasing High Desert Hauling and how it would compliment their freight business in Globe. She said nothing about being made Federal Deputy Marshals. The less folks knew about them the better.

 

During Bekke’s narrative Moon continued to nod his head with lots of uh huh’s thrown in. When she finished Moon asked her a question that she had not considered before.

 

“Mizz Clemens if yun’s find yourselves in need of a good stableman, I’d hope that you’d keep ol’ Moon here in mind. Ain’t no work I wont do an’ I’m not the best shoe’r around but I know’d mules as well as horses and can Doctor both of ‘em.”

“Your willing to leave your job here?”

“Shucks Mizz Clemens, in a heart beat. You see, The owner here he don’t like negro’s none. Only reason he keeps me on is that no white man would do this job for what he’s payin’ me. There’s lots of days I feel like jes quit’n but I can’t cuz I need the job.”

Jethro took the moment to say, “Moon, consider yourself hired. I know if I didn’t offer you the position to head up our stables I’d be on my wifes bad side for all eternity!”

Moon did a shuffling dance in the dust and yelled out, “Thank you Jesus!”

“Don’t quit just yet Moon”, Bekke told him, “It’ll be at least a good month before we can get the new livery built and have all our mules shipped in from Missouri. They breed the best mules. In the meantime, while you’re still working here we want your advice on the building of the livery barn and black smith shop. We’ll also want some workers to interview for jobs so we’re hoping you can spread the word we’re going to be needing a few muckers and experienced Muleteers if you know of any. You’ll be paid a weekly wage for your help and then once you’re full time your pay will increase again.”

“Goot Lord Mizz Clemens, You’s makin ol’ Moons head swim! Oh, an I sho can help you spread the word. I know lots of folks, been liven’ here most all my life. I know’d both good white folk and negro folk that will give you a good days work. A couple is family, most ain’t though but they’s all honest hard workin’ folk.”

“You bring them to us”, Bekke told him, “and we’ll interview them. Please, don’t make any promises to anyone though. I don’t want any hurt feelings if we don’t take them on.”

“Yes’m Mizz Clemens, don’t need nobody sayin’ I promised ‘em a job, thas up to you all.”

“We’ll stop by in the next couple of days and talk some more.” Jethro said, “We need to get on over to High Desert Freight and talk to the owner Fred Hartford.”

“Oh you go on ahead I’ll put the carriage up and tend to the horses. Tell Ol’ Fred for me it’s ‘bout time he retired! Fred an’ I grew up together. You can ask him ‘bout me too, he won’t fib!”

Bekke led the way for the three knowing how to get there. As they walked Bekke told him she had been thinking about what to call the new company. “Should we call it Globe freight? To me that doesn’t make sense since it’s in Prescott, not Globe.”

Jethro said, “I’ve been thinking about that too. I want to ask Mister Hartford if we might be able to just leave it as High Desert Freight. I mean it’s already well known and I kind of like the name.”

“I like the name too! Let’s hope he’s agreeable.”

“What do you think Snake?”She asked.

“I try not to. It only makes Snake confused.”

They entered Fred’s business through the large barn doors in the rear of the building. This way Jethro could see better all that they would be buying.

Fred Hartford saw them enter as they stepped into the dimly lit interior of the storage section of the building. Wooden boxes, steamer trunks and boxed crates were in abundance.The made their way through the maze over to where Fred was waving a them.

“Hello folks, he shouted at the two. “Bekke, it’s grand seeing you again” turning to Jethro he said, “and you must be her husband Jethro?”

“That’s me! It’s good to meet you too Fred. Did you want to show us around before we get down to business?”

“ Have you two eaten yet? If not why don’t we go over to the hotel and grab a meal. If you haven’t gotten a room yet, I highly recommend the Hassayampa Inn. It’s clean, has soft beds and it’s quiet. Oh, and they serve great food three times a day. We’ll have plenty of time to go over the property and talk business tomorrow when everyone is refreshed.”

The four (including a reluctant Snake) made their way to the Hassayampa Inn on the square.

Noticing Snakes lack of enthusiasm Bekke asked him if there was something wrong.

“Snake never stay in hotel. Maybe Snake not belong there.”

“Nonsense, you belong wherever we are.” Bekke told him. “And don’t worry, I’ll make sure we get a dining table away from everyone else. You need to know, it wasn’t that long ago that I had never stepped foot into a hotel either.”

Snake remembered what his brother Mac had told him about Bekke’s past and he nodded saying, “Hmmm, Snake can learn, you did.”

 

 Chapter 5

Inside the office of Burkhalter Freight and Cartage a loud discussion was in progress. Cecil Burkhalter stood at his desk shouting at the two goons he sent out to investigate the rumors that a new freight hauling business had moved into town.

“Are you telling me that over two weeks ago you two idiots saw a large building being constructed just outside of town and you didn’t feel it important enough to tell me?”

The goon that Bekke had loosened his jaw bone on stood shamefaced while his partner pleaded, “Gee Boss there’s new buildings going up all over the place, why would we be concerned about this one?”

“Because you dolts, I hired you to keep an ear to the ground! That meant anything new going on, whether it was folks moving here, buildings being built, businesses opening or closing… I want to know everything! I can’t watch our back if I’m in the dark and now you tell me a building bigger than any ever built here is almost halfway completed and you never thought to even ask about it? I bet I could go out in the street and ask any common citizen what that building is going to be home to and they’d tell me ten times more than you idiots have told me! Now, get your lazy butts out there and find out!”

The two morons retreated backwards towards the door, “Sure Boss, right away. We’ll get the information and be back here in an hour. We just thought it wasn’t that big of a deal to bother you with.”

Closing the door behind them they nearly ran from out from the building towards where the new building was being constructed.

“I told you we should have said something, now the Boss is really pissed at us.”

Holding his jaw to lesson the movement and therefor the pain, his partner in a barely audible mumble tried replying coherently but failed.

“Oh stop your mumbling! I can’t figure out a word you’re saying.”

As the two approached the lot where the building was being erected, the non mumbling thug stopped one of the workers and trying to sound friendly, asked him what they were building.

“A new business!” The man told them excitedly, “ You know High Desert Freight down there a couple blocks toward the square? They sold out to a new freight hauling business and the new company is going to be ten times the size of Hartford’s old business. I heard they’re going to hire a bunch of folks. I already told my three cousins, that’s them lined up waiting to be interviewed by the new owner.”

Shocked at what they heard, the two stepped away and stood watching the workers placing the large roof trusses with the use of a crane.

“You realize we’re going to be in deep shit now don’t you?”

His partner with the broken jaw remained silent but nodded his head sadly in agreement.

“When the Boss finds out he’ll take it out on us for not telling him sooner. Damn! I beat people up for a living, I’m not an investigator! How the hell am I supposed to know all that’s going on in town!

 

Bekke noticed the two thugs on the corner across the street doing a terrible job of pretending to be disinterested in the building they were staring at.

Bekke touched the shoulders of Jethro and Snake. Pointing the two thugs out told them, “Don’t be obvious but see those two men? The one rubbing his jaw is the one I confronted. He, and I assume the other guy too, work for Burkhalter. I think they may have just found out Burkhalter’s freighting business is going to have competition. The fella doing all the talking looks pretty despondent.”

“Come with me Snake. I think I’ll wander over there and introduce myself.”

The two casually made their way from the building site over to where the men stood watching. When Jethro and Snake were within hailing distance, the two thugs suddenly realized they were going to have company and quickly turned around and began walking away.

“Hmmm, seems like we spooked ‘em Snake.”

“Me follow them.”

Snake walked parallel down the street from the pair then turned off into a back street.. When the thugs saw Snake heading at an angle away from them they wrongly assumed Snake had no intention of following them. Meanwhile. Jethro had begun walking back to the building where others were waiting in line to be interviewed for jobs..

As soon as the thugs turned the corner heading back the the square, Snake, who had already figured out where they were headed, took a shortcut through a back alley and was soon placing himself in a doorway across the street from Burkhalter’s business.

Snake watched the two enter the front door to the business and with ten minutes the two exited, and not very happy looking.

“It’s a damn lucky thing for us he didn’t pull that trigger. The Boss had that Colt pointed right on your forehead! I thought fer sure I’d be next!”

“Wheww! Mfgg wewa b deb.!”

“Yea, I too figured we both be dead.”

Snake chuckled knowing now the two thugs were sent to gather information on his employer for Burkhalter. A large red splotch across the face of Mumble Man was evidence his boss had slapped him. Snake again chuckled thinking how painful that must have been for the big gorilla.

Unnoticed by the thugs, Snake made his way back to the building site and told the couple what he had seen and heard.

“So what do you want to do Jethro?” She asked him. Bekke was hoping he’d say to wait for them in a dark alley some night to send their boss a message.

“For now, nothing. Let’s just concentrate on getting this new building up. We have only five more days before all thirty mules arrive from Missouri. Moon’s been contacting hay and oats from the local farmers around here. He’s already secured a thousand bales of Timothy hay and a hundred bushels of oats, all to be delivered on an as need basis.”

“Great, that means we don’t have to store it here in our own buildings.”

The five days came and went without any sign of the mules but on the sixth day the neighborhood awoke to the noise of sixty mules being led to the outskirts of town where the new building had been erected. According to Moon, each mule was to have its own stall. This was to prevent any disagreements between the mules. The second floor was designed to hold the needed hay bales and the fifty pound feed sacks of extra oats. Wooden chutes from the second floor allowed hay to be dropped from above directly into each stall’s manger. Readily available sacks of oats were kept in the feed room on the first floor.

Jethro also over saw the Smithy being built. He was able to purchase the anvils and the two furnaces locally but had to ship in the rotary air bellows for them from out of town in Tucson. As was the common practice, each blacksmith brought their own tools. These were all made during their early apprenticeship days. A guild member would then inspect each tool to pass or reject them. By the time the apprentice had earned the right to become a recognized blacksmith by a guild board, he had made every tool he’d ever need.

It was nearing September when the newly built wagons began to arrive from Lancaster county in Pennsylvania. These were made of strong Eastern hardwoods such as oak, butternut and elm. Each had been fully made then dismantled in order to ship them. The wheels arrived assembled but yet needed to have their steel tire rim pounded onto them while heated red hot. When the steel tires cooled this greatly tightened the spokes into the hub and wheel rim.

The hired wheel wrights spent eight days doing this.

By October, the newly expanded operation was all set to be added to the existing business. Jethro had been procuring heavy freight contracts while Mac and Bekke had been interviewing potential muleteers and other employees and were adding them to the payrolls. Red Hartford stayed on as manager making sure the contracts written before the He had not decided on the roll if any he would play in the future of High Desert Freight.

Meanwhile, Burkhalter Freight was experiencing a serious decline in business.

Inside the office, Burkhalter was steaming. It wasn’t so much the loss of a few thousand dollars a month that disturbed him, it was that his company was losing it’s monopolistic grip on the freight business. The crime syndicate in Chicago was wondering if backing Burkhalter had been a mistake. If the planned freight monopoly in Arizona failed, the Governor of Arizona could begin investigating the numerous complaints brought by other freight companies of strong arm tactics and worse. An investigation could link Burkhalter to the Midwest Irish Chicago crime syndicate. This could bring down the syndicates fledgling freight companies back East. Already the arm of the syndicate that had wormed its way into the steamship docks in California and New York were putting pressure on those in Chicago to dispose of Cecil Burkhalter.

Burkhalter gathered all of his trusted thugs into his office asking, “Who is this Clemens guy that he thinks he can muscle his way into my territory? I want you idiots to start busting up High Desert Freight just as you did to the others. Break a few bones, burn down the barn, steal some freight… crap, if they have any, run over their kids or better yet, rape the guys wife. Just close that damn freight business down!”

What Burkhalter was unaware of was that one of his ‘trusted thugs’ being told to rape and kill was a mole for the Irish dominated Chicago syndicate.

Kevin Jellyroll, the mole, quickly made his way to the telegraph office shortly after the meeting with Burkhalter ended.

 

SEAN COLLINS COLLINS LTD CHICAGO ILLINOIS

SITUATION NOW OUT OF OUR CONTROL (STOP) NEEDS TO BE IMMEDIETLY DEALT WITH (STOP) SEND MC TO CLEAN UP TRASH ASAP

K O’RIELLY PRESCOTT ARIZONA

 

What both Burkhalter and O’Rielly were unaware of was that a six foot five Apache Indian had a glass pressed against the other side of Burkhalters office wall. Snake had made his way unseen into the vacant storefront next door where he could listen to the conversation by placing the glass against his ear..

Snake watched O’Rielly exit the building next door and closing his own door behind him tailed O’Rielly to the telegraph office. Once O’Rielly left, Snake entered the small telegraph hut.

The telegraph operator looked up and seeing the giant Indian standing there jumped up trying to appear nonchalant. “C-can I be of assistance Sir?” He asked.

“How much money to send telegram to my brother?”

“Well, it all depends where it’s being sent to and how many words are used.”

“Not know how many words.”

Snake was purposefully stalling for time because when he entered he saw the latest discarded customer notes still lying about on the small counter. As the key operator tried explaining how a telegram fee is determined, Snake put his large elbow over one of the discarded customer notes the key operator had used to send the message.

After three attempts to explain the fee, the flustered operator finally told him ,it will cost one dollar”. No matter the cost, the operator would cover the rest just to get rid of the Indian.

“Hmmm, no got dollar.”

The operator dropped his head loudly onto the counter saying, “Lord, though you slay me, yet will I trust in thee!”

When he looked up the Indian was gone! So was the note used by O’Rielly to send the telegram but he didn’t notice it.

After Snake finished telling his experience to Jethro and Bekke, Jethro called all the pertinent people together to inform them on all the goings on.

“I purposely didn’t tell you all everything because I was unsure of how far Burkhalter would go to hinder our move here. It seems he’s not satisfied with playing fair. In fact, he’s sending his thugs out to cause us as much grief as possible. He’s even told them to accost Bekke if they can. They’ll do anything to intimidate us into quitting even harming our employees.”

“We need to go to the Sheriff!” Someone said.

“He’ll be of no help, the Sheriff is owned by Burkhalter.” Bekke told them. “What you all don’t know is that there are two Federal Marshals in town keeping on eye out for us.”

Bekke had not told anyone that they themselves were Federal Deputies.

One of the men asked her, “So, do they know what you just told us?”

“I’m heading over there to see them right after our meeting here.”

Snake stood up telling her. I go with you. Make sure no harm comes.”

“No Snake, I’ll be fine. It’s the middle of the day and no one is stupid enough to try and do anything in public.”

“Stay on big road, no go in alley.”

“Trust me, I’ll be fine and yes, I’ll walk the main road.”

As Bekke left the assembled group to find the Vance brothers she touched the hidden pocket she had sewn into her dress and felt the cold steel of her pocket pistol.

Bekke had turned onto the northern sidewalk of Cortez st. She had been keeping an eye out for anything that looked threatening. By changing sides of the street she hoped to foil anyone who might be trailing her. As she neared East Gurley Street she once again switched sides. Doing this took her away from the courthouse and alongside a row of small two story brick buildings leased by attorneys and used as their offices.

As she passed an office with a deep entrance way, two men grabbed and pulled her into the dimly lit entrance. She immediately recognized the man who’s jaw she broke earlier on.

“Well what do we have here? Might you be the whore that bastard Clemens is pokin’?”

Bekke struggled, not to get free so much as to get her hand inside of her dresses hidden pocket.

“Now you jes hold still sweet heart, Me an’ my partner here got some manly needs that you can take care of for us. Afterward, if you can walk, we’ll let you go back to your bastard husband. Of course after we all have had our fun, you may jes’ want to stay with us. I mean look at us honey pot an’ tell me if I ain’t the handsome man you been dreamin’ about.”

Bekke smiled wickedly. You are a very handsome man but I think you were even more handsome than before.”

The goons smile faded and formed into a puzzled one. “ Before, before what?”

“Before I broke your jaw, that’s what!”

Suddenly, the man’s face, which wasn’t very handsome at all, changed. His eyes opened wide as it dawned on him who Bekke really was. Turning to his partner, he began to shout, “Dammit, this is the bitch that broke my j…”

He never got a chance to finish his sentence. Bekke’s pocket pistol came crashing  into the man’s barely healed jaw bone. As the whites of his eyes replaced his dark pupils, he fell side ways into a heap in the entryway.

His partner had just enough time to reach his hand out in an attempt to knock Bekke’s pocket pistol away. Unfortunately he never should have put his hand in front of the barrel.

She pulled the trigger…twice. Both hot pieces of lead cut through the mans palm like a hot knife in butter. Of course the twin hunks of lead continued past the hand and buried themselves deep into the thugs gut.

The stunned thug stumbled backward falling over his unconscious partner in the process and died before he could make amends with the Lord.

Bekke replaced the spent cartilages and placed the pistol back in the dresses secret pocket.

Sticking her head out from the entryway, she looked first right then left figuring someone surely heard the guns reports. To her relief, no one seemed to hear or maybe being where the attorneys all hung out, maybe they just didn’t care.

She still needed to warn the Vance brothers of the recent events so she stepped back out onto the sidewalk and continued her walk to the Vance Marshals at a leisurely pace.

After hearing the latest from Bekke, Federal special agent Marshal Danny Vance sat looking at his brother “Well Brother, it seems we really have our work cut out for us now. Not only do we need to protect the Clemens and their property but now we also have the unpleasant duty to keep Burkhalter from being taken out by his Chicago cohorts. If they educe in killing him, our case against the Chicago group dries up like a desert water hole.”

“My thoughts exactly Danny. We have no choice now but to split up. You watch Burkhalter and I’ll keep an eye out at the High Desert Freight company for any mischief that might go on. If Cecil Burkhalter was willing to order Bekke’s abduction and rape then we know he’ll stop at nothing…”

At that moment, a loud pounding on the offices front door startled the three. Jumping up with gun drawn, Davy rushed over and unlocked the door. Stepping aside just in case it was an armed thug intent on taking out the two unsuspecting Marshals.

It wasn’t, it was Snake who tumbled into the office.

Seeing it was Snake, Bekke jumped out of her chair and also headed for the door. She noticed the pained look on his face and that he had grabbed the door jamb to keep erect.

“Snake”, she screamed, “you’ve been shot!”

Shaking his head as if that fact was unimportant, he held up three fingers and told the trio, “men come, take Jethro. I kill one, other man shoot Snake.”

“Danny, get a Doctor, he’s bleeding bad.”

Danny rushed out having previously located the three Doctors offices in town. The closest was just around the corner on the second floor.

Davy caught Snake in his arms and gently lowered him to the floor. He tore open Snakes rough woven shirt to inspect the wound. Davy noticed two things that gave him hope that Snake could possible survive the shooting. There was no blood coming from his mouth so his lungs weren’t hit and it wasn’t a gut shot.

Snake lay there in pain but needed to tell the two what happened.

I hear fight, see Jethro on ground, him not awake. Men drag him off to wagon. I pull man from wagon and break neck, red haired man shoot Snake, they take Jethro and drive away.”

In an attempt to slow the bleeding, Bekke had torn a piece of her under skirt off and pressed it over the bullet hole in Snakes upper chest.

“You just lay still now. We’ll comb this town until we find Jethro and deal with his captors.”

Snaked lifted his head telling them, “wagon say in paint, Bu-Burkhalrt Freight.”

“Yeah, I suspect as much.”

Just then the door was flung open and Danny stepped in with the Doctor trailing behind him.

“We need to get him over to my office immediate. That bullet is still in him. Until we get it out I can’t tell how bad it is. Sometimes a bullet lodged inside keeps an artery from bleeding out but I can’t do the surgery here, it’s got to be in my office where I have better light and my surgical equipment.”

The brothers, being pretty darn big themselves, picked up Snake and carried him like a log up to the Doc’s office. Once inside they cautiously laid him on the surgery table. While they were doing this, the Doctor went around and lit a series of gas lamps located along the wall for better lighting. Snake had stopped his moaning on the way upstairs because he fell into unconsciousness.

“He’s out cold but I’m still going to use ether on him to keep him from waking up.”

Fifteen minutes later the sound of a slug being dropped into a steel dish was heard.

“Got it but it did hit a small artery. I tied it off so he’ll not bleed out any more.”

Just then the Doctors door banged open and in came three men carrying the man who’s jaw had just been re-broken, he was still out cold.

Seeing the injured man and having just been told only moments before on how Bekke defended herself, both Marshals pulled leather and yelled for the three upright men to lay broken jaw down and lie on the floor with their hands behind their backs.

Seeing the badges on the two, one man shouted out, “Hey hold on there! We just found this here fella layin in our doorway when we went come back from eating at the cafe. There’s a dead man layin there too but we done left him a layin.”

Seeing the men were good Samaritans and not part of the Burkhalter gang, the Marshals let them go.

After closing the wound and applying a clean bandage over it, the Doctor turned his attention to the broken jawed man on the floor.

“I wonder how that happened,” the Doctor wondered, “looks like his face was hit by a mule kick.”

“It was me Doc, and don’t call me a mule, my names Bekke. These idiots tried to kidnap and rape me just an hour ago. I previously busted that man’s jaw in another skirmish and had to shoot the guy dead he was with in order to escape.”

The Doctor stared wide eyed at Bekke saying,“You did this? Twice? Dang girl! If I was your husband I’d have second thoughts about ever crossing you!” Turning to the Marshals he told them, “ Now, if you two Marshals will help me lay your Indian friend onto the cot in the other room and put this here fella in his place, I’ll see what I can do for his jaw.”

As the three walked out of the Doctors office Bekke turned back and soundly smacked the unconscious thug hard on his head as she passed. In his state he still let out a quiet moan. “I warned him before don’t never call me sweet heart!”

The two Marshals grinned at each other as they began walking down the stairs while the Doctor just shook his head.

Once back at High Desert Freight, the three were over whelmed by the workers there. Each one tried telling the story of Jethro’s abduction louder than his fellow workers. When it was apparent they’d learn no more Marshall Danny shouted for quiet while Bekke reminded them that they still had a days work to finish and that by milling about jawing wouldn’t bring Jethro back any sooner.

Inside her office though, Bekke fell to her knees asking the Lord to protect and return her husband to her.

The brothers knew Bekke needed some time by herself. When she eventually exited her office, her reddened eyes let the brothers know they had made the right decision.

“Davy and I have thought it over and decided that securing Jethro’s safe release is our first priority. Burkhalter’s place. Where sure that’s where they’re holding Jethro. If we have to bust up the place along with some heads, then so be it. Burkhalter’s going to feel the weight of the Federal Marshal Service on his shoulders. It won’t be pretty but we’ll get him back, we promise.”

Promise all you want, but I’m going with you!”

“We kinda figured you say that, let’s go!”

Davy stopped them as they neared the Prescott Sheriffs office saying, “I think it’s about time we arrest our good sheriff and any Deputy showing loyalty to him.”

The Special agent Federal Marshals exposed their badges before stepping inside the jail house. Outside Bekke pinned her Deputy badge over her heart on her dress.

As the two brothers entered the lobby, a single young Deputy sat reading a recently published Dime Novel. Upon hearing the door open the young man finished reading the paragraph, placed a home made book mark inside it and casually looked up expecting to see more relatives intent on seeing the incarcerated. Instead he jumped up knocking his book to the floor when the Marshals entered with guns drawn.

The Deputy, who had not yet noticed the shiny Marshal badges on the men, thought it was a jail break and throwing his hands high into the air, closed his eyes and shouted, “Don’t shoot, I’m not armed!”

Davy stepped up to the quaking young man and told him, “relax son, we’re not after you unless you’re in cahoots with the Sheriff!”

Opening his eyes he saw the badges. “I just started working here yesterday, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin!”

“Is the Sheriff in his office son?”

“He was a minute ago unless he stepped out to the privy.”

Davy stood on one side of the Sheriffs office door while Danny knocked.

“Dammit Jason do you remember when I hired you that in no way was you to disturb me when I’m interrogating a witness?”

Danny gave the door a powerful kick which nearly tore it off its hinges. Exposed to the Marshals, the young Deputy and all those visitors waiting in the lobby to see their jailed loved ones was a butt naked Sheriff in the act of standing up and poking a crying Mexican woman lying spread out on his desk.

“Danny snorted in laughter, “Must be a new method of interrogation brother, better take notes on it.”

The shocked Sheriff turned and in a rush attempted to grab for his gun. Too bad his holster was hanging over his swivel chair under his pants, shirt and a pair of dirty socks.

Trying to cover his private parts he stuttered, “Wha-wha- what is the meaning of barging in here.”

Seeing the drawn guns and the two gleaming badges he slumped forward against his desk.

“Am I under arrest?”

Davy replied, “You bet.” Then he shouted, “Deputy Jason, would you please open a jail cell for this rutting pig?”

“Yes Sir Marshal!”

After the Sheriff was cuffed and the jail door locked, Danny told the Deputy, “Under no circumstances is he to be allowed visitors.

“Hey what about my clothes?” the jailed Sheriff shouted, “You can’t throw me in jail naked as a j-bird!”

“He’s right Danny.” Dave then walked over to his cell and tossed the Sheriff the pair of socks that had been hung over his chair. “Here, make yourself decent.”

Deputy, “How many empty cells do you have available?”

“The Sheriff took the last one Marshal.”

“You’re full up? How can that be?”

“All I know is the Sheriff and the other Deputies bring them in and after they pay their fine we let them out again.”

“What are their crimes?”

“Uh, jay walking, swearin’ in public an other minor transgressions.”

“What about the Mexican woman in his office? What crime did she commit.”

“I don’t know Sir, all I know is that earlier her husband was jailed for eating a tortilla in public. I thought she had left to find the money to pay his bail.”

“On my authority as a Special agent Federal Marshal I’m telling you to open all those cells and let them all out. We’re coming back shortly and will be filling your cells with real hard case criminals, not jay walkers.”

“Oh, and take a statement from the Mexican woman. I want your Sheriff to hang after he sings in court.”

One more thing Deputy, I want the names and addresses of every Deputy here, and don’t let them know or I’ll have you arrested for aiding and abetting the Sheriff.

“No Sir! My mouth is shut.!”

As the three left the jail they were followed by the onslaught of freed prisoners.

Smiling broadly Bekke commented,“They look mighty happy.”

“Yeah, too bad about the Mex woman. I felt ashamed seeing the Sheriffs official shirt thrown over on that chair. My God, how she must hate lawmen now. Maybe later we can do something for her. The Deputy will take her information down when he takes her statement so we can always look her up later on, see if she’s doing alright.

 

Chapter 6

Before entering Burkhalter business office they spent an hour using a field glass from areas well away from the place. They watched in anticipate as as many as six hard cases entered the place with none coming out.

Danny told them, “We can do this two ways. One is to arrest each man as he comes out of the building and take him to the jail or what I think would be best, is to go in and arrest them all at once.”

Davy like the second method while Bekke left it up to those trained in this.

“Alright then, it’s number two. We need to take ‘em by surprise and that means you and I brother need to enter with a gun in each hand. Bekke, I want you to run over to that general store down the block and buy a hundred feet of thin but strong rope. While Davy and I keep the group covered, I want you to bind their hands and hobble their feet with the rope you just bought.”

Bekke soon returned carrying a coil of rope about half the thickness of a Mexican horse hair riata lasso. Pulling out a brand new Colt 45 she told the brothers,”They had a sale I couldn’t pass up. You get a free holster and two boxes of ammo when you buy a new gun. I wasn’t sure my little pocket pistol would be very intimidating to a pack of hard cases.”

As she told them this, she strapped on the black holster and loaded the new gun and not leaving the sixth chamber empty for safety.

After it was apparent that no more hard cases would be arriving, the brothers decided on the best way to bust into the place.

“Bekke, stay outside and stand away from the door just in case some try to run for it. Yell for them to halt but if they don’t go ahead and aim for their legs. We want as many witnesses alive as possible. If they need killing, do it. We’ll yell out to you when it’s safe to bring in the rope to tie ‘em up. Don’t get yourself hurt, it’s bad enough Jethro is somewhere inside there and once freed I don’t want to have to explain why you got injured. Got it?”

“Got it Danny. Let’s do this.”

As the three moved across the street and headed for their target building they suddenly stopped when they saw a lone man drawing a pistol and entering the building.

Davy put his arm out across his brother to stop him.“Opps, looks like we might have some trouble here. Why would someone draw their handgun if they didn’t mean to use it?”

Danny mused, “I wonder if that guy might be the Chicago person sent to deal with Burkhalter? Let’s get inside before our witness is plugged.”

Davy saw the Chicago hit man enter the foyer and followed. Once past the foyer the two Marshals threw open a set of solid wooden doors that led into the large office’

Danny had the loudest voice so it was left up to him to shout.

“Federal Marshals! Drop your weapons and raise your hands or you’re dead!”

Everyone inside froze… for a couple of heartbeats. Then all hell broke loose.

With his aim partially blocked by the crowd Davy yelled to his brother,“Danny, the Chicago thug, bring him down. He’s going for Burkhalter!”

A number of thugs began pulling pistols out to confront the Marshals but they too had their aim blocked by the crowd. Still three quick shots were fired and Davy saw the Chicago hitman’s head explode into a pink mist. As gruesome as it was it was a help to the Marshals. The men who had been sprayed with the thugs brains and blood turned away in an attempt to prevent anymore gruel from hitting them.

Outside Bekke heard the gunfire and readied herself for action. She didn’t have to wait long.

The front door was thrown open and a thug with pistol drawn ran out.

“On the ground! Now!”

Hearing a female voice shouting orders, the thug was taken back. This gave Bekke the time to swing her heavy Colt like a hammer across the back of the man’s head. He fell into a heap.

Bekke quickly kicked the gun from the man’s hand and pulled out a section of pre cut rope to tie him up. Having years of experience hobbling ornery mules the unconscious man was no challenge. Afterwards she dragged him a short distance from the doorway.

Back inside the gunfire intensified. Some of the gunfire was done so quickly in the crowded office that a number of men shot their own people.

For their protection, both Marshals had stepped behind the heavy courtroom style furniture. Danny found a heavy oak desk as his spot while Davy used a tall hardwood file cabinet for his. The group of assembled thugs had no such protection.

It soon became apparent that the Marshals were winning. One after another hard case dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.

“There’s no way out!”Danny shouted, “We have the building surrounded!”

Hearing this, the rest of the men gave up.

“Davy! Did you see where Burkhalter went to?”

“Last I saw him, he was headed for the back office.”

Pointing to the floor, Danny said, “He’s hit and bleeding bad. He won’t get far.”

Out side Bekke was still fully alert for any action. It was then that she spotted the injured Burkhalter heading for the street after rounding the side of the building. Apparently he had escaped the building by going out one of the buildings rear doors.

Bekke raised her Colt and shouted, “Hold up there Burkhalter or you’re a dead man!”

Burkhalter turned and fired a quick but badly aimed shot at Bekke. Bekke returned fire remembering that Danny had asked her to only wound him.

Burkhalter screamed bloody murder as Bekke’s bullet easily punched through his upper thigh. Falling headfirst into the paved street also did little to help his looks.

Bekke rushed to him, picked up his fallen gun and dragged the screaming Burkhalter out of the street where she tied him up.

“Bekke!” Danny shouted out to her, “We need your rope in here!”

Holstering her gun she walked casually into the building. Once inside the office she immediately saw the gore from the Chicago hit-mans head. She shrugged her shoulders, having seen worse even as a child.

“I got Burkhalter tied up out front along with one of his thugs,” She told the Marshals

“He’ll need a Doctor, ‘cause I had to shoot him in the leg. He’s out there cryin’ his head off like a little baby. I might just go out there and kick him in the leg if he won’t shut up!”

“Probably won’t do much good but you got our and your husbands blessing to do whatever you think is best.”

“My husband? Did you find him Danny?”

“Yep, we found him tied up and gagged in the vacant office next door. He’s fine, just got ruffed up a bit an wearin’ couple black eyes. He said he’d come over here just as soon as he washes his face up some.

Just then the rear door opened and Jethro stepped in. Bekke rushed and threw her arms around him. “Owww, easy hon, I’m a might sore in the rib area but my lips are fine so kiss me!”

Davy had left moments after being told Burkhalter was shot and out front. He wanted to make sure he’d live long enough to hang.

All told five thugs were pushing up daises, four badly injured from gun shots and four had thrown their hands up in surrender for a total of thirteen, including Burkhalter.

After rounding up the walking and injured, Davy hired some good citizens to help transport the thugs to the jail. Only one citizen took the pay saying he was broke, the others were just thrilled to see Burkhalter’s reign of power in their town crushed.

 

Chapter 7

 

“During Snakes three week recovery from the gunshot wound to his chest, he gradually became accustomed to hotel life. By the end of his stay he was ordering room service for all of his meals, had the barber come and give him a haircut, had a tailor come in to measure him for new shirts, pants and even had the cobbler make him a pair boots.

Mac could hardly recognize his brother when they finally met up the day snake left the hotel. He looked darn right civilized!”

 “Jethro and Bekke bought a house a mile north of their freight business on Iron Springs road. It was on the outskirts of town with plenty of big trees along the creek and had a six acre field the seller had cleared for a garden and barn.

No longer would the couple have to hear the goings on in the stable below them like in Globe. With a higher altitude and no smoke from the copper smelters, the two were awestruck at the clear night sky in Prescott.

 “Andy continued to operate the Globe Mercantile and Freight business and eventually asked for and was made a partner in it. He’s married, has three children now and the business continued to prosper even after some of the copper mines began closing.

Jethro handed in his Deputy badge telling the Marshals he wasn’t cut out to be a law dog but Bekke kept hers and to this day still retains the title Federal Deputy Marshal of Arizona.”

 “Speaking of Bekke, I near forgot to mention this. She was introduced to a Surgeon who after looking at her throat determined he could remove the scar tissue that had caused her to sound like a frog when she spoke, especially when she was younger. She now has a fine woman’s voice but the surgery had no effect on her ‘don’t call me sweet heart’ personality. She remained tough as nails when the need came.”

 “High Desert Freight, besides hauling stuff, expanded into the rail crane business in partnership with Buckeye crane and Hoist in Ohio. Manufactured in Chicago where the crime syndicate collapsed like domino’s after numerous witnesses testified in court, including Burkhalter. The Buckeye Clemens Crane Company began producing heavy lift cranes designed to lift rail cars and locomotive steam engines. These rolling steam powered cranes could be seen working at many train derailments and accidents.”

 “The brothers Mac and Snake eventually married Whitewater Reservation Apache girls and brought them back to live in Prescott with them. Both Apache’s still ware working for the Clemens.”

 “Well, I guess I’m about done with their story here. I don’t get around as well as I used to, bad knee joints, but my wife must ‘ve got used to my penchant for an evening cold beer or two because she bought into the saloon I frequented. It’s just a short walk down the road from the house so each evening you can find me there.

Every now an’ then the Clemens still stop down here in Phoenix for a visit. Last time they brung their yappy dog and two little ones with ‘em.

I still remember as if it was yesterday the day when I saw that young girl carryin’ that big ol’ ten gauge shotgun strutted inside the cafe to kill her pappy. It’s somethin’ how life throw’s its changes at ya’. Never say never ‘cause each time you’ll always be proved wrong. Well, time for my second cold one, cheers to ya!”     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

ConantTrailCabin

Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

My spurs are my wedding band

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My city friend recently asked me “Why do you still wear your spurs, you haven’t even been on a horse for a couple years now, have you?”

 

Well, he was correct about that. For the last few years now my stove up legs have prevented me from easily swinging into the saddle. Why I’d need a ladder to assist me in that endeavor now and no true Western man would ever be caught dead doing that.

Looking down at my boots I saw not what he saw but I saw all the years of memories these spurs and I have shared together. They, like myself, have over the years have lost their shine and luster. Where once a coating of shiny silver was seen, bare metal now is predominant. True, they still jingle and jangle when I walk down the isle at church as I make my way down to my favorite pew but most folks would have removed them before hand. Not me and I’ll say why. As for the engraved silver toe guards? They’re worn so smooth it would take an electron microscope to see the original scroll work Jenny had them engrave upon them the with our wedding date.

I told my friend;

“When I was a young man I asked a fine specimen of a girl to marry me… she said yes. Now back then and for a decade afterward, we were what most western folk would call, ‘dirt poor’. I couldn’t afford a wedding ring for the two of us so I went without. A jeweler friend of ours Tim out of Ohio donated the stone as his wedding gift to us and for the next five years my wife and I obey’d the Biblical passage and went forth and multiplied.”

“Five years of marriage and four children later we celebrated our fifth anniversary by stopping in at the Boot Barn. My anniversary gift was a pair of new boots. Her gift remained at home to be opened later that day. A year previous I’d already begun placing cardboard inside those boots to protect my socks from the big holes in the leather soles. Two hours and Thirty five dollars poorer, we happily walked out of the Boot Barn with me proudly wearing a fine set of shark skin, tall heeled Western boots. My old ones were now gracing the Boot Barns trash can. During my anniversary buying spree, my wife Jenny told me to take my time as she wanted to window shop. Inside the place was just about anything a Western man could lust after.”

“As we made our way to the car I noticed she was carrying a Boot Barn paper sack. I asked about it and she told me to just hold my horses till we got inside the car where a friend of ours had been watching our four monsters… uh, children. Once inside and seated, the kids quieted down knowing we had not abandoned them and were headed to Mexico as I threatened them with a hundred times before.”

“It was inside the car that Jenny opened the sack to reveal her purchases. She handed me a pair of beautiful silver spurs along with a pair of silver toe guards. The spurs were exactly what I wanted. You see, I do not cotton to those spurs that have heel mounted Mexican rowels (those popular needle sharp wheels that jab the horse causing bleeding and scars on the poor animals flanks) She had bought me ‘soft’ spurs that only tickle the horse (see pic above). I was speechless but managed to ask. “How did you buy these?” After all, I knew how long it took just to save up the money for the boots let alone a set of spurs and toe guards. She told me, “I started squirreling away a couple dollars a month out of our grocery money for the last three years. I knew you’d always wanted a pair of spurs so it was either them or a wedding band!”

“I’ve now gone through five more pair of boots since then and upon each pair these spurs and toe guards have graced each new pair. Like a wedding band, I will never take them off my boots no matter the social event or situation. I want everyone to know how much my wife loves me and how much she struggled thirty six years ago to save up the money in order to say to me, “I love you”!

By the way men, I did purchase her an anniversary present. Now pay attention here. Never, ever upon the pain of death, buy your wife on your fifth or any other anniversary year, a frying pan no matter how much you think she needs one! You will find yourself running horse whipped fast back to K-Mart returning it! You will then spend double what you had intended too in order to make up for the evil soul killing look you’ll get from your dear beloved upon her seeing such an asinine gift you went and got her. Remember, NO kitchen utensils, small appliances, vacuum cleaners or anything for the home should ever be bought as a gift for your wife. Learn from me,  Been there, done that, and I paid the price!

 

 

 

 

Now on Amazon! Bekke’s Law

A two part story combined into one book… at a single book price!

I wrote Bekke’s Law to be a different kind of Western. You will find yourself cheering for her as she struggles to survive in a western world pitted against her, yet in the end, she wins. JW

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first man at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

Excerpt from Belle’s Law, page 1.