First off, I have no real feelings good or bad about my Pa. I don’t remember him but only know what my Aunt, my Pa’s Sister Greta has told me much later in life in a letter. What she said about him wasn’t very good. I could hate him but how do you truly hate someone you never even knew? Maybe I could hate what he did but the man himself? No, not really.
She told me our entire family left Bainbridge Ohio in 1858 to settle along with hundreds of other brethren in Salt Lake City a town founded by Mormons a decade earlier. I’m told a man named Brigham Young, a Mormon leader, who after his Church leader Joseph Smith was murdered while in jail, gathered a group of followers together in Ohio and moved west to Utah to form a separatist society.
The only reason I bring this up is because you need to understand my Pa and his reason for leaving Ohio. It wasn’t about farming raising sheep or even the weather. I was always told he was a follower type of man. He didn’t have an original thought in his balding skull. The only reason he joined up with those Mormon brethren as he called ‘em, was because they each had more than one wife. Pa figured he could get one to wait on him while the other took to work keeping the household in money… not to mention he’d have two women warming his bed, or so he believed.
My Aunt Greta and her husband Joshua had ridden in the wagon ahead of my fathers for the entire 1,300 mile trip. Ours was the last wagon in line.
My father feared that if savage Indians attacked the wagon train that being positioned in the rear, he could turn around and escape when others couldn’t. He always was looking out for number one and damn the rest to their own fate.
My Aunt correctly painted my father as a follower, not a leader. She described him even as child growing up as a spineless, self absorbed spoiled brat, always ready to point the finger of wrong doing on others whether true or not. He only looked after his own welfare and left any child raising to my mother. He was not a good husband or father. If it weren’t for Ma I’d probably have followed in his footsteps or died early trying to rob a bank.
My mother gave birth to me two years before my father announced we were joining others from the Temple in Northern Ohio and relocating to Utah.
At the age of two and a half, Mother and I were put in the back of the covered wagon and along with the others in the congregation and made our way to Independence Missouri. Once there we waited for the Wagon Master to assemble a number of other Mormon Brethren and their wagons for the trip to Salt Lake in Utah. Finally, according to my Aunt, on a sweltering summer day we all headed off.
I don’t remember my Mom, I was too young. Actually, I don’t remember anything of the trip at all.
I was told all this after being reunited with my Aunt Greta some years later before she passed from natural causes or old age, whichever you want her to die from. To make a long story short, my father admitted his cruel deed to her during a rare lucid spell in his illness. She figured out where the original ferry crossing was where he dumped me off near it and from there her hired detective figured out the rest.
After verifying my identity through some obscure birth records the Brethren felt obligated to keep at their Ohio temple, she wrote me.
I had no idea who she was and honestly didn’t care. Unlike some, I wasn’t at all bothered that I was abandoned or adopted. I couldn’t have loved my adopted parents more even if they were my birth parents.
To me, the entire affair just made for an interesting story. I returned a letter to her thanking her for the information, declined her wish that I move to Utah and even turned down the property my mother had purchased sight unseen even before leaving Ohio. Apparently she did not trust my father to care for her or myself and purchased a forty acre section without his knowledge. In her letter, Aunt Greta said she and Uncle Joshua had planted the acreage all those years hoping I would eventually be found. She said I was entitled to a portion of the profits they made from it. I relinquished all rights to it and gave her ownership of whatever was left to me.
Back to my Father.
Now it seems my birth father had experienced some sort of nervous breakdown episode along the way to Missouri and afterward took to staring only downward, even when speaking to others.
He kept telling my mother the western sky was too big and was afraid it would crush him.
When he started seeing grass fires that did not exist, my mother sought the help of a Brethren Doctor also heading to Utah. His therapy consisted of a mixture of cocaine and herbs which did nothing for his illness. In fact the combination of drugs and his mental disturbance had carried him over into a state of insanity.
Some time after leaving Missouri, it was discovered I happened to be missing from our wagon and was nowhere to be found.
My father had no recollection of my whereabouts and upon being questioned he admitted he may have either given, sold or just abandoned me somewhere on the prairie. He said he couldn’t recall. He blamed his new ‘medication’ for his memory’s absence. In fact, I’m told he hated me as I was just another mouth to feed. My Aunt swore he discarded me on purpose and that she suspected he knew darn well where I had been abandoned.
At the time of my disappearance my mother had been riding along Aunt Greta keeping her company. Aunt Greta had been feeling under the weather, being newly with child and experiencing her feminine morning bouts of stomach discomfort.
My mother pleaded without success to my father to turn the wagon around so she could search for me. He steadfastly refused saying if he turned the wagon around it would give any of the savage Indians hiding in wait the incentive to attack an kill him.
My mother, I was later told by my Aunt, had begged him without pause until one day he could bear no more and mortally beat her with the wagons stout wooden jack handle. Her remains were buried but left unmarked as were hundreds of other poor souls traveling in wagon trains that never made it to the promised land.
Aunt Greta never spoke to my father again. Her husband asked the Wagon Master if his wagon could be moved up the line in order to not have to see my father but was refused permission to move their wagon ahead.
She did acknowledge he made the entire trip to Utah but not a soul in the train would speak or even look upon him. He was a shunned man but so corrupt was his mind that he probably never even noticed.
Once having arrived in Utah he became so out of his mind that the Council of Bishops determined not to apply their law of murdering my mother since he was for sure insane. They did detain him under ‘arrest’ for his own safety until he passed a few months later.
The Bishops determined my Aunt should improve my mothers land and return to the church a ten percent tithe on all crops grown on it until I was found or declared dead.
Days later after being abandoned along the trail and scared out of my wits plus half starved, I had somehow found my way in my wanders to where my eventual adoptive parents owned the ferry that crossed the Kansas River just a few miles east of Junction City Kansas. Now where I had been abandoned and where the ferry crossing was was just about a mile distant from each other. That may not sound a great distance but to a three year old it was a million mile walk.
My adoptive parents(from now on I’m just saying parents, no more adoptive nonsense need be written) made a good living since so many wagons heading to the west had to ferry that river at this juncture. They were childless and considered my appearance a God send to their lonely lives. They quickly figured out I had been abandoned along the trail. Such things were not unheard of as children too young to be of help with household or farm chores was an unwanted burden in a prairie household. Still, this family, not being dependent on farming, took me in, loved me and doted on me without spoiling me.
My new father was kind, fair yet could be strict without being abusive. I was renamed or named as the case may be since I didn’t really have a name. My name was now Tennyson Baker or just Ten for short.
I was schooled in my letters and numbers by my new Ma and was also taught the piano and violin by her. Being just a tiny child I had no knowledge of the where-abouts or even the existence of my parents. All I knew was for once I ate regularly and earlier uncalled for spankings had ceased.
Still, I must have been effected to a certain degree due to the trauma of abandonment for I rarely spoke until my teen years.
I grew up though well muscled, tall and in great shape due to hauling our large ferry back and forth from shore to shore by it’s hemp rope cable. I was blond haired and blue eyed like my Ma. I had a strong resemblance to her and for that I was grateful as she was said to be quite a handsome woman.
My vocabulary increased and with my adoptive parents help, folks considered me well educated and could speak with clarity.
Seeing my work ethic and handsomeness Folks in town would comment to my parents that I would be a great catch to any young lady. By the age of sixteen I was more man than boy and looking back I really was the dream child of any proud parent. No brag, just fact.
My life took a drastic turn in October on my eighteenth birthday. The Junction Herald, our town newspaper announced a toll bridge crossing the river was being planned. The properties next to our ferry landings had been purchased by a group of investors out of St. Louis.
To add salt unto a wound my father that same night (and for the first time in his life) got himself drunk, fell off the ferry and drowned.
It was now up to me to take over the family business, and I did for a time until the toll bridge built next to our ferry landing opened. I sold the ferry to a young couple in search for wood to build a home. The ferry had been built to last many years consisting of stout beams and wrist thick planking. It took better than a month to dismantle the heavy craft and haul it off to their home site. In late fall the young man returned and purchased the dock itself as it had been built of similar materials as the ferry. The dock was much easier to dismantle and haul away than had been the ferry.
My Mom, now in her late sixties, had taken to sitting despondently in her room looking out the window at the river where our ferry had sat at its dock.
Her and my Dad’s dream of a comfortable retirement dashed.
That winter brought another tragedy to our home. A late February storm roared in leaving all roads impassible due to a heavy snow. Upon opening the front door to our modest home I found the snow had drifted to the entire height of the door jamb leaving a solid wall. By looking out of the second story attic window All I saw was snow. Only the roof top of our cow shed was visible.
It took nearly the entire day to make my way to the shed fearing the worst for our trapped milk cow. Earlier in the day I thought I had heard her mooing but as the day progressed I heard nothing more.
As Job of the Bible said, “What I have feared the most has come upon me!”
Our cow had not survived.
I was left to ponder my situation. We had a full winter larder and plenty of canning jars filling the shelves in our stone lined cold storage dug out under the living room floor. Food was no problem.
Each fall my father being a stickler for being prepared, would have my mother stock the larder and cold storage.
He also made sure the winter wood supply was filled to the top of the attached lean-to on the rear of the house. Inside the lean-to also sat forty gallons of coal oil in ten gallon steel drums. This would insure our lamps or the small kerosene stove used for canning foods would never lack fuel.
What concerned me was my Mom.
She ate only sparingly now, rarely leaving her room. When she needed the outhouse I would have to shovel a path through the deep snow drifts and then bodily carry her to and from the frozen one seater. It finally came that a chamber pot in her room was needed as she had little strength even to dress herself let alone make it to the out house.
March was even worse. Not a day passed above ten degrees below zero.
Our cow still lay as she died, a frozen block inside of a frozen shed. It wouldn’t be until spring before she could be hauled out and left in the fields for the coyotes to feed upon.
Then Mom died. There was no way to bury her in the frozen earth. I had no funeral for it was still impossible to travel beyond the out house. I could tell none of her friends in town that she had passed. Even worse, I couldn’t bury her either.
I ended up wrapping the dear woman in her favorite quilt and placed her alongside the cow in the shed. It wouldn’t be until late spring that the ground would thaw enough to bury her next to my Dad. I was now alone.
With no future income due to the new toll bridge, I decided to sell the house and land and move westward after I buried my Mom in the spring.
I had heard many stories from those we ferried over the river of the greatness of the West. Some spoke of gold, others of land heavily grassed as far as the eye could see just waiting to be homesteaded or bought outright. Eager Farmers and Ranchers alike ferried across, now it was my turn.
That spring, after burying my mom next to my Pa, I settled on $2,200 for the house and land. It was a fair price. We hadn’t farmed the land in years so it was becoming over run with weeds and small saplings. Still, once the land was cleared again the soil having rested for so long would produce healthy crops for the new owners.
I returned to Independence where I deposited two thousand dollars in my Dad and my joint account. The Guardian Trust bank building there was a strong brick two story building with a concrete room the iron safe had been built into. It was about the most secure bank west of the Mississippi and it had never been robbed.
I left with an envelope of blank bank drafts totaling two thousand dollars and a pouch full of gold and silver coins from our safety deposit box totaling over four hundred dollars. All in all I had enough to restart my life as either a farmer, rancher or even as a merchant. Then again I might just wander around the West.
I purchased some better clothing than my work clothes. I also traded in my Dads old muzzle loader for a brand new model 1880 Trap door Springfield rifle.
It cost me thirteen dollars with the trade in. It was a powerful long range rifle that could take down most any large animal. I was told by the gun shop owner only the Sharps long gun was better.
For another six dollars I bought a slightly used Smith & Wesson Model 3 single action revolver that used metallic cartridges. I had heard it was the favorite of many bandits so I figured it was then good enough for me. I wondered if a robber had been using it before my purchasing it.
I still needed a holster and in looking at what was available I spotted an engraved twin holster set. I ended up filling the other holster with a twin of the Model 3.
At first I wondered if I had made a blunder for the weight of two pistols, the extra leather and thirty bullets stuck in their rings nearly pulled my pants down!
I figured I’d just have to get used to it, I did with the help of a pair of braces.
Along the way, I practiced every day with both rifle and pistol. Unlike my adopted Dad who was raised a pacifist Quaker and therefor my being raised likewise, I had no compunction in defending myself. Being raised a pacifist and sticking to it were two different things. Unknown to my father I had accumulated a number of dime novels sold at the pharmacy in town. I knew all the tricks gun fighters and Indian scouts used to survive. Some turned out to be hot air but others worked out well for me.
I eventually became extremely proficient with both the rifle and revolvers. So much so that I knew in my heart there were few who could out draw or out shoot me. Just fact, no brag.
In my reading all those dime novels I remembered a trick a bad guy had used to defeat others during a ‘showdown’. He also had a twin set up. When faced off, he’d move his left hand outward and nearer the holster than his right hand in what looked like an amateurish and clumsy way to draw. This made him look like he was a left hand newbie shooter. His opponent would notice this and watch his left hand and figured he’d have plenty of time to draw but was fooled because the gun that would be drawn would instead be his very fast right hand gun.
I figured I’d never get a chance to use that method but then one never knew.
My lack of adhering to the Quaker faith did not mean I did not believe in God, quite the contrary. My Dad raised me in the Quaker way of the Bible. Having religion was personal to me. Unlike my birth Dad I did not follow the Mormon way nor use my religion to lay with more than one woman as he had fantasized about.
While I had no concern or care what the Mormon’s belief, was I didn’t cotton to them as a people . When ferrying their wagons across the river I was treated as a necessary evil, akin to a dull tool in the shed. Early in my youth when my father had put me in charge if he were not there, I had assumed the Mormons were like most poor folk, tightly holding on to what little coin they had. Their menfolk would argue the fee with me at each passing until I gave into their complaints of over charging them.
When I told my father this I knew he was angry but he did not take his anger out on me. Instead he said, “Son, this may sound cruel but from now on you are to charge what the posted sign states, no discounts, no free rides. If they want to argue and I’m not present lock the ferry’s heavy night chain to the dock and walk away. It is a business not a charity. Besides, those Eastern Mormons are not poor people, they can well afford the cost we’ve set.
I told him that on more than one occasion I had seen him reduce the price and even once saw him allow a free transfer.
He nodded and explained, “As you get older, your wisdom will be increased.
You will be able to discern true poverty verses those who pretend. Yes, there are times you must offer charity and forgive the amount of passage but… few are those cases. Most travelers are aware that ferry crossings are inevitable and are prepared to pay for their crossings.
I was not to negotiate or worse argue with a traveler. Besides, if I’d given any back talk to a customer my Pa and I would visit the woodshed. I treated them all, Mormon and Gentile alike, as that was the Quaker way. My actions though did not mean my day dreams didn’t involve giving some customers a good non Quaker thrashing!
The day arrived that I left Junction City and caught the stage to Salina Kansas and from there west to Goodland, just a few miles east the Colorado border.
Goodland consisted of a small dry goods store that also sold food staples, a run down saloon who’s bar was two planks set on old barrels, a blacksmith’s shop and a livery stable. Population was under thirty.
The only reason it survived as it did was that folks traveling to Colorado generally took the route that passed through Goodland.
I had never seen real mountains before and was stunned at how big they really were when I did see them. While in Goodland I purchased a fine strong mountain bred Bay gelding and a Missouri mule. I negotiated the prices and felt I paid a bit above the norm but then there wasn’t much stock to choose from.
The owner of the livery was willing to throw in a used sore excuse for a saddle but I opted to buy a new one. I’m glad I did for that saddle has done me well over the years.
I stopped at the dry goods store / General store and purchased what I’d be needing to live on the trail.
My Missouri mule was fairly well loaded down but appeared unfazed at the bulky weighted packs on it.
On my horse and tide behind my saddle were some things I’d need in case I had to be away from my pack mule.
After a time I named my companions. The Bay I ended up naming Shadow. Like your own shadow it moves without making a sound.
Shadow had the quietest trot I’d ever heard on a horse. Not only that, he perfectly blended into the trees with his brown coat and black markings.
Biscuit the mule was named because no sooner had I made up some biscuits why it would stand aside me and stare down my plate of them until I gave in and tossed a few his way.
So entering mountainous Colorado, Shadow, Biscuit and myself were off to an unknown adventure.
The first night found us five miles east of a small village called Grenada. We made camp beside a small clear stream. There was plenty of grass to be had so I hobbled Shadow and brushed him down. I attempted to brush down Biscuit but he backed away each time giving me the “Are you serious” look. It wasn’t that he didn’t like getting a brushing down but only when he was in the mood for wanting it would he then allow it.
I set up my lean-to tarp, threw in a buffalo hide to sleep on and got to making some dinner.
I made up some biscuits of course and boiled up some salted pork. Afterward I washed the cooking pots in the stream using the sand to scrub them clean. I took the time to undress and catch a bath while the water was available. It was cold as all get out. I had forgotten many of the mountain streams were from snow melt.
Back at the camp I readied myself for the night. I had pounded two, inch thick two foot long sticks into the ground and placed a boot over each one. I figured nothing from a spider to a mouse would find my upside down boots a desirable place to call home. I had given my clothes a quick washing too and hung them over my lariat which I had tied to two saplings.
I lay there that evening listening to the various animals as they made their way to the clear cold stream for their water. My four footed companions would warn me if a dangerous critter showed up alongside the dear, elk and the occasional thirsty coyote.
According to the stars it must have been around three in the morning when I heard Shadow whistle. I lay there with ears wide open waiting for any further announcements but none came.
At dawn I discovered what shadows whistle was about. There standing next to Shadow was a wild copper shaded sorrel mare. The two looked as if they were long time best friends.
When I packed up and moved out the Sorrel followed right along behind.
Around noon I once again made camp for I was in no hurry to get anywhere and the place was beautiful. Once again I made camp beside a small clear mountain fed stream whose banks were lush with spring grass. Huge cottonwood trees grew along the banks giving the lush grass competition for sun.
In the far distance the famous white tipped purple Rocky Mountains made up the skyline.
I shot a buck away from camp and dressed it where it lay. I went back to the camp, rounded up biscuit and made him carry the dressed carcass back to camp. I decided to keep the hide and tan it using the deer’s brains to tan the hide then make a smoke pole pyramid to smoke the hide for further softening.
That evening I had a visitor. A friendly one.
I had finished cooking the evening meal when Shadow gave another whistle. I feared he’d be joined by another wild horse but to my relief it was not a horse but but two mules, one being ridden by one of the oldest looking old timer mountain men I’d ever laid eyes on.
“Hello the camp! I smelled your cookin’ and am a friendly galoot who’d not be turnin’ down a cup a coffee or a bite if you’s friendly your own self!”
I chuckled when I saw the old coot. He was about as dangerous looking as a pet bunny. He couldn’t have been no more than five feet and weigh as much as one of my legs!
“Sure, C’mon in and lite from that mangy beast you got you butt sitten on”, I yelled.
“Oh, this one here I call Grits, the ugly one behind me is named after my first wife Hominy. I go by Chester, Chester Platt”
“Hominy? Really? Like the corn meal hominy?” I asked smiling.
“Yup, her ma named her Hominy and her brother Grits! We come from Kentuck back in 38. Drug her along with me ‘cause If I didn’t her Pa was gonna go ahead an’ shoot me. Neither of us really deezired to havin’ her around, bein’ as she was a terrible cook and ugly as… well, a mule!”
I sat there confused, “Well if she was that ugly, why were you with her in the first place?”
The old man looked chagrined, “I spose you need to live in Kentuck to understand why. It ain’t like there’s a lot’a women in them hills. They’s more in the flat lands but us mount’n bred folk is shunned from taken one-a their flat lander girls. That leaves us with just a few to marry. But… I’ll tell it straight the better a woman can please a man the better a man she can hitch her wagon to. And in truth she was the best! Whoooeee!”
At that I began to chuckle. “So, where is she now?”
“Well dang your hide fella, where do you think she is? If’n I’m near eighty five and we was about the same age, would it be a surprise to say she’s long dead an’ gone?”
“Oh, sorry, didn’t mean no harm.”
“No harm done. Anyhoo, By the time she turned fifty I had no deesire for her no more. She got purdy fat.Why one wet rainy day she done fell off the creeks bridge log she was walkin’ on an’ ended up plugin’ that creek from bank to bank like a beaver dam! She would’a drowned on me ‘cept she was facin’ downstream at the time. I tell ya’, that water kept buildin up behind her behind until that creek took on the likes of a lake! I yelled at her not to move an inch. While that water was all dammed up I began rollin’ stones in behind her, makin my own dam which left her high an’ dry. By the time I got my plow team hooked to her and yanked her free I had me a nice 20 acre lake to fish in. Wasn’t but a month or two an’ I was trappin turtles and craw daddy’s in it too!
I knew it was a tale but I enjoyed his humor anyway.
“Well, you know who we are, you got a name too or do I have to go to the Sheriff and parse through all his wanted dodgers looking for your face?”
“Sure thing I got a name, an honest one that’s not wanted nowhere. Names Ten, Ten Baker from Missouri but born in Ohio.”
“Ten is short for what, tenderfoot?”
Laughing I replied, “No, Tennyson.”
“Uh, I see why ya’ chose Ten! So tell me Mister Ten Baker, you headed anyplace special or just roamin’ Gods acreage?”
“No place special, My parents passed this year an I ain’t into farming. They ran the ferry over by Junction City until some Eastern investors had a toll bridge built.
I’m not sure where I’m going but I’m hoping I know it when I see it.”
“You lookin’ for land or a city?”
“No, not a city. I’d like to find a quiet place, someplace where honest folk live but not too close by. I like the forest and grassy valleys to hunt in, clear streams to fish and maybe even a few cattle to raise.”
“We’s similar, you an’ I. I left Kentuk with the same dream.”
“Did you ever find it?”
The old man settled down by the fire and began poking the burning embers under the coffee pot. When he was satisfied with his poking, he gave a deep sigh and spoke.
“Yup, I did. Most beautiful spot on earth. Tall pines surrounding a crystal clear cold lake with a mountain fed river runnin’ through it. Nearby was a grassy park maybe three or four hundred acres in all. Wild mountain blue bells,fireweed, paintbrush, columbine…you name it son, they grew there.”
“Where was it at? Do you still live there?”
“Ever hear of a town called Grandby? No? Well it’s up north west of here a couple weeks travel. I bought land near Grandby thinkin’ I’d dig for gold or some other ore but when I got there I didn’t have the heart to tear up the earth, it was too dang beautiful to mess up.”
“It sounds like a great place, so what did you do?”
“I turned to the mountains for my livin’. I hunted, trapped even traded with the Ute tribe during the summers. I did well just pannin’ the stream I had for gold. No need to tear up the earth to git rich.”
“I take it you still live there then?”
“Oh, I still own the place but haven’t been back there for three years, maybe four now.”
So what happened?”
One day late in the fall, maybe it was in November, can’t recall, I went out to set traps along my eastern trap line. That single line was nearly a hundred miles long. I cached a large amount of fur, best season ever had up in the next lake. I finally made it back to the cabin and Hominy in the spring. I shoulda’ been there but I was busy tryin’ to store up my funds… for what reason, I’ll never figure.”
“But you needed to make a living, no?”
“I already had everything I needed, didn’t need no more gold. Anything I needed I either traded for or made it myself. No, somewhere along the way I got to thinkin’ I needed more an’ more till I had enough. Boy, there ain’t never enough .You’ll always want more!”
“I’m lost, why are you saying you should have been there?”
Once again he began poking the embers and now looked as if a heavy weight had been placed upon his shoulders. His head drooped and when he spoke it was in a near whisper.
“My wife, Hominy, she had passed while I was out gathering more an’ more furs so I could get more an’ more money. She had cut herself chopin’ wood for the cook stove.I had been meanin’ to secure that axe head on a new handle but kept puttin’ it off. The handle snapped and that head musta flew backwards into her neck. She made it back into the cabin but bled out tryin’ to stop the bleed’n. It was all my fault. Poor woman. Was she ugly? Hell yes she was, did I love her? Oh you bet I did. Looks ain’t everything. She loved me like no woman ever did. She rubbed my sore feet each night before we went to bed, she remembered my birthday with a cake an when she washed and darned my socks she never said to me they’d last longer if I wore my shoes indoors. I miss her still.”
“You say you haven’t been back there?”
“Naw, just can’t stand the thought of livin’ alone there without her. She made the place a home. I’ a’feared if I went back I’d just be in the sad doldrums till I pass away.’’
“So now you wander around, kind of like myself?”
“ I said we was similar didn’t I?”
“ Yes, you did.”
“Do you ever plan on going back?”
“Fact is, I’m on my way there now.”
“What? I thought you wern’t never going back.”
“I didn’t say never.”
“But you are now going back?”
“Yup, ya’ see, I’m a dyin’ man, got the cancers Doc says. Ain’t got much time left but that’s fine with me. I’m old an’ know I’ll once again be gettin’ my feets rubbed… not sure about the cake since I heered there ain’t no birthdays in heaven.”
I thought about what he said, about beauty and how a woman can be a help meet as the Bible says. I’d never thought much on women. I mean I noticed ‘em but never spent enough time with ‘em to form an opinion or feed a desire. I’d need to think on these things a bit further before committing myself to bachelorhood.
The old geezer filled his coffee cup which he had retrieved earlier from his pack. He started to say something but then stopped. Then again he did the same so I figured I’d just prod him a mite. I always hated it when folks assumed I was a mind reader.
“Something on your mind that you’d like to talk about? Mind you, I’m not trying to pry but I see some consternation crossing you puss.
He tossed the last of his coffee into the fire before answering.
“I was a thinkin’, Since you ain’t got no destination carved in stone an’ sometimes it ain’t safe to travel alone in these parts, what’a say we become travelin’ pards. I’m headin’ to my place up Granby Lake way. Now I’m gettin’ on in age an’ don’t know about swingin’ a hammer or sawin’ a board like I did ages ago when I built the place. I shore could use the help and be honest, I been away from folks a mite to long, I could use the company too.”
The way he described Ganby Lake seemed a pleasant thought to me of seeing his place. I really did like the old man and having someone along who knew the ins and outs of the Colorado trail wilds appealed to me. I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
I started dishing out a meal in each tin plate for the two of us saying, “I’m believing you have some valid points about traveling safely, that alone would be a reason to pard with you. Sure, why not? When were you thinking we should head out then?”
“I’m a thinkin’ I’d like to soak my feet a couple a days in that creek before headin’ back out on the trail, if that’s alright with you?”
“I’m in no rush so yea, lets leave in the morning three days from today.”
The next morning while Chester spent the time dipping his sore feet in the cold mountain stream, I took my Springfield rifle and went hunting for deer.
By early evening I returned back at camp with a field dressed bucks hind quarters.
I noted Chester was absent but the fire had been rekindled and his two aged mules stood nearby cropping on tufts of buffalo grass.
I hung the carcass on a nearby ash’s limb and began cutting the hind quarters into strips for curing. This would give us enough jerked meat for a week when Chester made his way hurriedly into the camp.
“Bess put out that fire Son, I seen a few fella’s comin’ up the trail. They didn’t look none like the friendly type niether.”
“How far back,” I asked.
“They’s only a half mile out by now. Get your irons an’ hide back in the woods a mite. They’ll fer sure see my mules but mite not catch a look at yours since they’s hobbled down a ways in that nearby park. Take your belongings with ya, I’ll make it like it’s just me that’s here.”
I spent the next ten minutes clearing the camp of anything that would say there was more than just the old man camped out.
I stepped far back into the deep forest shadows wearing my loaded twin holster. The Springfield I laid in notch provided by a small brushy pine tree.
I had the camp well covered so if those fella’s got ornery the old man would have his back covered. Another ten minutes brought a call out.
Three horse with riders appeared, “Hello the camp. We’s friendly, just looking for a place to rest our nags and boil up some coffee, can we come in?”
They sounded friendly enough but right off I noticed the every one of their holsters had the leather thong securing their pistols were unhitched. Not friendly for sure.
Chester acted surprised at their sudden appearance yelling, “Dang! You boys sure caught me off guard! I was just about to finish stripping this here deer. If ya got a fry pan in your bundle you’s more’n welcome to cut some off for a meal.”
The three had not dismounted which was a warning they were up to something.
One man, a pock faced ugly Mexican looking fella rode up to the front an stared down at the old man. The other two were sliding their eyes back and forth noting everything in the camp.
The greasy looking leader chuckled and replied with an accent, “We ain’t got no pan. Why would we? Do we look like cooks to you old man?”
Well, that settled it, these three weren’t friendly. I kept my rifle’s sight dead center on the leaders chest. I knew that at this distance a shot from the powerful rifle would take out his backbone and then some.
Chester moved from the hanging deer and made his way towards the mounted leader.
“Now Son, that ain’t a very friendly haloo in my book. I was bein’ friendly like, even willin’ to share my meat with you greasers but you all done treated me like a damn Mexican whore.”
Surprised at Chester’s grit, the Mexican leaned back in the saddle with mouth open disbelief. At the same time one of the two no goods started moving forward but still behind his leader. This fella looked more Injun than Mex so I took him for a breed.
The last man held back but I could see he was a younger Mexican and very nervous. I was betting he wished he were elsewhere at the moment. I didn’t consider him a threat but I was mistaken.
The greasy leader regained some of his composure and laughing loudly began telling Chester he had some set of stones on him but those stones won’t stop a bullet.
Then without warning the youngest Mex started digging into his holster for his gun.
As fast as lightning, maybe even faster, Chester whipped out a pistol he had hidden somewhere in his buckskin top.
Before the young Mex could wrestle free his pistol from it’s black and decoratively silver studded holster, Chester’s roaring 45 caliber bullet entered his brain.
In a near panic I hurriedly gripped my rifle and instinctively pulled the Springfield’s trigger before taking the time to even re-aim.
Shockingly, it was a kill shot. The Mex jerked upright never even having time to touch his pistol but before I could see his eyes go blank the Breed behind him suddenly fell sideways from his saddle. In seconds, all three no goods were down and ready to go toes up into the ground.
“Would ya look at that!” shouted Chester, “Ya kilt two with one shot! Weeooo!”
I hadn’t planned it that way. The Springfield’s powerful bullet had passed completely through the Mexican’s gut out his back and into the forehead of the Breed. If I tried it a hundred times I couldn’t have done that if planned.
Afterward the quiet was deafening. Not a sound was heard from a bird, the breathing of a horse even the creek seemed to be muffled.
“I think I’m deaf Chester, I can’t hear good.”
“It ain’t no wonder, that dang gun a your’n got to be the loudest dang thing next to a cannon!”
As the moments passed I realized that in my rush to shoot I had not tucked the butt of the Springfield into my shoulder but had raised it eye level with the breach close to my right ear.
I thought, “Well we’re at least safe now.”
Moments later I had my doubts.
It wouldn’t have mattered even if I hadn’t near killed my ear, I still wouldn’t have heard the ten Kiowa braves appear in our camp from the forest.
My first thought was that darn Biblical saying of Job’s again, “What I have feared the most has come upon me.”
The painted leader, a bronzed god if ever there was one, stepped forward.
Saying nothing as he walked to each killed man, nudged each one with his foot he smiled at me.
“Have no fear, we have come not for you! But for these three.”
Having never seen a Kiowa or knowing their culture I was still taken back when he calmly went to each dead man and drawing his knife removed their scalps.
Chester said nothing, just watched.
When the bloody deed was done, the painted leader turned once more to where the two of us stood.
Looking my direction he said in pretty good English, “You, I do not know.”
Then turning to look at Chester he said, “It is good to see you my old friend, it has been many moons since we last spoke. I never asked, is your fat wife still warming your bed?”
Chester stood there. The look on his face said this was warrior was dear to him.
“It is good to see you too Satanta, my good friend. No, my fat wife is sitting down enjoying an entire baked ham with all the fixens at a table with her ancestors. No, only a campfire far away from my home warms my bed at night now.”
Satanta or White Bear, frowned. “You have many wrinkles and your skin is even more pale than the moon since we last saw each other. Are you well?”
“Naw, seems I suffer from the cancers, I’m a goin’ home to die and will lay next to my fat woman up on the hill and sleep the sleep of the dead. Hominy awaits my arrival, she’ll be rubbin’ my sore feet purty soon.”
Satanta or White Bear as I will now call him, turned and pointed at the three who had earlier meant us harm.
“These three we have been hunting for four moons now. They have escaped us each time we have been close.”
Chester nodded as if he knew the story to be told. “They did you wrong then?”
“They took the lives of four of our women while they were busy digging roots, one of them was hopping bird, my woman. I have vowed only to return to my tribe and to their men when I have their scalps hanging on my lance.”
Chester looked sad saying, “I’m sorry to hear of your woman. I did not know her.”
“No, We have only two years ago been sharing a blanket. Her first man, Silent deer, was killed by a Comanche when they raided our village. He was my nephew so after he was killed I took his wife to care for her”
Chester finally turned to me saying to White Bear, “This young man is named Ten. He is making sure I make it home safe without dying along the way.”
The warrior looked me up and down approvingly.
“He looks in much better health than you do my friend. You have many weeks travel ahead of you, it is good not to be alone but you have only one man, that is not enough.”
“He’s all I got White Bear, he’ll have to do.”
“No, I and those I choose will be traveling with you until you reach your home without harm.”
Chester looked flummoxed. “See hear White Bear, by traveling with me you’d be putting yourselves in danger. The whites still distrust and fear Indians, they might react badly seein’ a bunch of your warriors riding through their towns. Why they’s sure to cause problems for all of us!”
“No worry my friend. We will near but not seen.
After a good hour of trying to convince White Bear and his group that it would be too dangerous for them to act as guides and body guards, Chester gave up.
“Well then, have it your way but just know I ain’t claimin’ no favors fer you doin’ this White Bear.”
“You killed my enemies, it is enough. I can now bring their scalps to their men. Those women, including my own can now sleep peacefully knowing their deaths have been avenged.”
Knowing most of the important talking had finished I asked what we should do with the three killers bodies.
White Bear just shrugged, I felt he would have been just as happy to let the critters dine on them but Chester had a wiser opinion.
“We need to bury ‘em. Not ‘cause it’s the Christian thing to do but because they was scalped. I anyone comes upon ‘em why they’d just assume they was three innocent riders ambushed by Indians. No Indian would be safe from those wantin’ retribution for their killers.”
“Hmm, you speak with wisdom.” Then with a pretend smirk he continued, “That is something I often do not see in you!.”
We buried the three deep enough to keep the wolves from digging them up and exposing their scalped heads, then made the decision to head out in the morning.
Our plan was to stick to the forest as much as was possible. Sometimes mountains got in the way and we traveled with eyes wide open through their valley’s. Our Indian escorts were never seen but White Bear would leave signs as to what direction to travel next.
On our third day out from where we left the dead Mexicans we one more came upon the scene of a shoot out.
These were the bodies of unwashed and scroungy way layers. If this were in the east they would be called Hill folk.
Two had been mortally wounded from the quick while the third and fourth had eventually died some hours later. Again, we thought it prudent to bury them but the ground was so webbed in pine roots that digging the graves turned out to be an act of folly. Instead, we built a large fire in a nearby clearing and cremated them.
Later we were glad we did.
Chester and I made it to Caddoa Lake two days later. We found a side of Elk hanging from a tree proving our guardian angels were still watching out for us.
“I guess ‘Ol White Bear thinks I can’t shoot worth a damn!” Chester commented after cutting the Elk down.
I told Chester, “Don’t look a gifted horse in the mouth!” Meaning if its free, don’t complain. The giver might just take offense!
A days ride west we rounded the south western shore of the lake and decided to rest up a couple of days. Riding in the forest provided much water from the numerous creeks but the trees prevented the growth of good grass.
We stopped and made camp along the far western end of the lake where a clearing finally provided enough grass to put some weight back on our horses.
By now Chester and I had tightly bonded. I sure liked the old man and his stories kept me entertained.
He began to open up about himself and I’m sure I was riding with one of those folks people call pioneers. At age 9 he became a runner or messenger for the American Army in the war of 1812. Later in life he left his career of trapping to fight for the South in the war between the States. He didn’t cotton to slavery but he even liked less the financial burden the North had put upon the South. He believed America was meant to be a country of shared equal power between all the States not just between the wealthy industrial ones.
During one of our camp fire talks, as he called them, He spoke of the cancer he had gotten. He had few complaints in life except for this. As the days wore on his strength was ebbing and we stopped much more often than even two weeks before.
“Ten, I want you to promise me something, will ya?”
“Well tell me what it is first. If you’re going to ask that I give you a thousand dollars in gold then I’m sorry, but that ain’t a promise I can fulfill.
“Naw, it ain’t nothin’ like that. It’s just that I want to be restin’ next to my beloved Hominy when I go. Would ya’ promise me that? If I pass before I make it home would ya’ get me home to her?”
I suddenly found I must have gotten some dust in my eye but I didn’t want Chester to go thinking I was getting soft on him so I over exaggerated my effort to clear up any wetness the dust was causing.
After I cleared my vision I told him “For sure I’ll do that for you Chester, but I’m hoping you will still make it back alive. I mean how else you goona’ tell her you’re home?”
“I’ll try my best fer sure but just in case… you know.”
We broke camp after three days and found new sign from White Bear. Chester read the sign carved into a tree trunk saying it appeared White Bear wanted us to stay in the forest as much as was possible. It looked like the village of Pueblo was our next stop as far as civilization goes.
Within a mile the forest became steeper and who’s forest floor became much rockier. I questioned whether this was the route White Bear had chosen for us when Chester pointed to another tree up ahead/.
“Look up yonder at that there tree Ten, we’s on the right path fer sure. ‘Ol White Bear’s been sneakin’ through these mountains from childhood, he knows ways a gettin’ around that no white man could imagine.”
I was surprised when the next sign had us turning due north.
“There’s some springs up north of here then it turns purdy mountainous. I been through here years ago.”
“So,” I asked, “You been down some of these trails then?”
“Some, but not the ones we been on. Remember, my trails followed game and fur, not trails to be hid on. Indians traveled these trails to keep hid.”
With each day’s passing the night air became crisper, the air thinner. Some days we did nothing but climb.
Pueblo turned out to be a mixed cluster of canvas tents sporting a shabbily built wooden facade out front and adobe brick structures. I figured the towns carpenter had quit his training too early or he didn’t own a level.
Many of the quickly built buildings had windows that were cracked from the stress of not being built proper like, none had seen a drop of paint. The street was a deep rutted affair that proved when it rained it became more a sty for pigs than a method to travel on. A few business owners had laid logs along the front of their establishment but many of these had sunk deep into the mud leaving them just barely above the ground.
The smell of horse plop mixed with tossed out urine from a hundred commodes spoiled whatever Gods beautiful scenery had originally brought the white man to the area. No wonder Indians thought the white’s were uncivilized parasites! The Pueblo Indians (surprise) living there in their adobe homes were cleaner and much more trustworthy than the whites.
We left the horses and mules tied up at the rear of the General Store strangely called the Whiskey House and proceeded to enter by the front door. I figured the place was once a saloon but got took over by someone who had more sober ideas. I laughed when I saw the door had a locking knob on it, this on a canvas tent! It made me wonder if the town carpenter also sold miracle Indian snake oil medicine.
We ended up buying a good three weeks worth of basic food staples along with items like wool blankets and socks to keep out the cold at night. My long johns needed replacing but the only pair that came near to fitting my well built frame were too small. I was told Widow Marsh here in town could sew up a pair for me if I’d care to wait the two days it took to make them. I did.
We had decided to forgo staying at the ‘Hotel Pueblo’ as the cold ground was found to be much more bug free and comfortable than what the hotel had to offer.
We left at dawn when the Saloons were just beginning to close. They’d reopen in another hour after their empty whiskey kegs were replaced and sawdust was thrown over the dirt floors covered in vomit, tobacco spit and blood.
We left Pueblo as soon as Widow March handed me my new Long johns with no regrets.
Three days later we were lying in a real bed after taking long hot baths. The town of Springs was all it was named to be. They’d never run short of mountain water!
With each village or even cluster of houses we noticed White Bear had avoided them but instructed us to pass through them. He must have figured we’d pick up the supplies our forest travels had not provided.
We had a meal at a real cafe the last day in Springs. It was a kind of celebration after I accidentally let loose that the date was my birthday. After a big meal of steak, potatoes and corn, the waitress brought me a big piece of chocolate cake with ice cream on top.
Not being used to such a rich diet I had trouble sleeping that night. I never did react well to sugar it gets me all worked up and causes my pulse to race.
So unable to sleep I put my pants, shirt and boots back on and decided to take a tour of the town.
Springs sure was a nicer town than Pueblo. Heck, I wouldn’t feel safe walking the streets at noon in Pueblo let alone at night.
Springs was a wonderful town it even had wooden walkways the entire length of town on both sides of the street. It must have cost the town a hundred or more dollars to build them. I was surprised the towns politicians would release that much money until I found out in the morning that the sawmill was owned by the mayor.I did what women folk call winder shopping. At each mercantile I stood staring at what the place had placed in the window to attract customers. My walk relaxed me enough that I felt the days activity finally wearing me down. That night I slept well after all.
White Bear’s next sign told us to head directly north now. Chester knew now we were headed for the mountain town of Denver.
As we got close to Denver, once again White Bear had us change course, this time we headed west. We made camp planning on turning west in the morning. I unpacked the camp gear, started a fire and put some venison in the pan. We had stocked up a number of potatoes back in Pueblo so I tossed a couple close to the flames.
I asked how are supplies were holding out and if there was a place to resupply if we needed to.
Chester told me the only town going that direction was Idaho Springs. When we got there we had to restock our supplies.
“Ten, we only have a bit over a week before we get to Granby Lake and my home. I’m tellin’ ya’ Ten, I’m havin’ a time tryin’ to get my breath. Granby is only about forty or so miles away but its a rough road with plenty of climbing to be done. In my younger days I could make it home from here in two days, but right now I’m just hopin’ to make it there alive.”
“You just ride on your mule and I’ll do all the chores. That includes hauling cooking water, something you’ve never let me do.”
“Oh, I can haul water Ten, honest!”
“Look my old friend, I know why you insist on hauling the water. I’ve seen you dip your pan more than once in those creeks looking for color.”
“Well… to be up front with ya’ Ten, I was doin’ it fer you.”
“Me? Why in the name of King George would you be doing that for me?”
“So’s you’d have enough money to get married. Besides you’ll need money to get the place fixed up an all.”
“I can understand you needing the money for fixing the place up but why do you think I’d be even remotely interested in getting married? Why I don’t know anybody in Granby except maybe you and I’m sure not looking to marry you!”
“Dad blast it Ten! Your makin’ things all difficult like.”
I knew Chester had an ulterior motive for asking me to see him up to his place and now I wondered if his excuse of not being able to repair the place himself was part of it.”
“Come clean ya’ old coot, I know you’re up to something. What is it?”
“I guess you’ll find out sooner than later. Pour me a cup of that coffee then sit down.”
I poured each of us a cup of the steaming brew and sat down on a log I had dragged close to the fire. Chester was leaning against a boulder across from me.
“I set up most of this whole thing Ten. White Bear, his tribe and I go way back to when I first stepped out here. So when we killed them Mexicans and then White Bear showed up it was no accident. He’d earlier agreed to lead me back home even before I met ya’ an’ that’s what he was doin’ bein’ nearby an’ all. He didn’t knew about my cancer only my desire to get back to Hominy before I passed on. It was pure bad luck he was out huntin’ game when them Mex’s showed up other wise he woulda’ delt with ‘em an’ we’d a never even know’d they was there. ”
“So the story about the Mexicans killing his tribes women was not just a tall tale then?”
“Gosh no! Them Mexican’s wasn’t in our plan at all! It just so happened that whole epeesode was a lucky coiniceedence. See, that part was true!”
“So if you made a deal with White Bear, what did you need me for? I mean you didn’t know me from Adam!”
“It’s true, I didn’t know you but my brother did an’ for years he went on and on about you in the letters he wrote to me.”
“What? Who was your brother and how did he know me?”
“’Cause my brother was the man that adopted you!”
My head reeled. I knew my father had a brother somewhere, I did remember him saying they wrote back an forth now and again but Chester?
It suddenly dawned on me. “Oh my Gosh Chester, I do remember him saying he had a brother but he called him Trap, he never said the name Chester.”
“Trap was your Pa’s pet name for me. He’s the only one ever called me that.”
“But my Paw’s last name was Baker, not Platt like yours is.”
“My name ain’t really Platt. I only said it was to throw you off the tale I was telling, it’s Baker, just like you.”
“So this makes you kind of like my Uncle?”
“Not kind of like! I am your Uncle! You see when he and your Maw adopted you all legal like I legally became your Uncle.”
“Well I’ll be the son of a horse thief! Really, you ain’t yanking my leg as a good joke?”
“No. And when we get to the town of Granby were stopping at the lawyers to sign over my home and all the land on the eastern shore of the lake to my nephew!”
“Wait… What? Sign over what?”
I still couldn’t fully comprehend what had just been told me.
To discover this man was my adopted fathers brother was one thing for I knew somewhere he did have a brother.
But to leave me his home and land? That stumped me.
I looked questioningly at my Uncle who I knew now as Chester Baker. “Why didn’t you just introduce yourself and lay your cards on the table? Why all this pretending to just need some temporary help at your place?”
“Ten, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my time and this time I couldn’t afford to make another. I needed to see first hand what kind of fella you growed up to be. Why if I didn’t like what I saw I’d have never let the truth be known. You’d have just left my home when the place was repaired with only your wages to prove we had met and I’d a passed away leavin’ the ownership to anybody who claimed it. It didn’t take long to see my brother raised you proper though, even more than proper. Why I coulda’ busted with pride watchin’ you these past weeks.”
I didn’t say much, what could I have said? A thank you wasn’t enough and a hug might a been too much. After all, he did seem a might stand offish at times.
Still I felt a might lost or confused now. I figured I better get things cleared up before riding on to his place to avoid any more surprises.
“So tell me Uncle Chester, (first time I used that to his face and it felt strange) what do we do now or go from here?”
“We continue on, jest as before. Nothing’s changed. We’ll decide what tools and building materials we might be needing after we take a good gander at the place. When the day came that I left I called on an old friend across the lake, on the west side of it. Now Moses, that’s who I’m talkin’ about, is not a day younger than me an ain’t in the best of health niether. I made him promise that he’d check on the place now an then while I was gone searchin’ for ya.
Now even though he promised, it don’t mean he’d keep the place in repair. I just didn’t want no squatter takin’ up residence on my land. I’m hopin’ he ain’t in the mean time died an’ left the place to ruin.”
“Well Uncle, we’ll find out, won’t we?”
Four days latter as the sun was just setting we made camp over looking Granby Lake.
The lake sparkled in the golden glow of the sun. Tall pines mixed with other hardwood trees surrounded the lake on all sides giving it a mix of fall colors. Tall snow capped mountains called the Twin Peaks framed the upper eastern side where the Colorado river flowed into the lake. As far as the eye could see on that side was Chester’s land.
I stood spell bound, How could an old trapper, my Uncle, have found such a beautiful mountain paradise?
I turned to him asking, “Is this really your land? All of this?”
“Well, the part that you can see from here is. Now further south that belongs to a nice couple of folks who bought that section two years after I did. They raised a family an’ most of ‘em still live here abouts. All in all there are eight owners along the shore. Mine has the Colorado and Twin Peaks while other folks own the rest.”
“But if you… I mean how did you afford it all? It’s a big piece of land you own!”
“These mountains are chock full-a gold Ten. True, over the years we panned out most of the bigger nuggets in the creeks an’ stream here about but then the real gold still lays deep inside the mountains. All of us here had put claims on the land and made out pretty good. Good enough to buy out the sections from where we panned.”
I was excited, I couldn’t wait to see my Uncles home. All I knew was that he built a cabin for his his ugly but beloved Hominy. He never described it or the land in any detail before now.
That night White Bear showed up at camp to say his goodbye. He knew it would be the last time he’d see Chester alive but showed little emotion about it. Later I asked my Uncle why Indians don’t laugh or cry and he only said, “Cause they’s Indians”.
So with their goodbye’s being said to each other White Bear slipped silently into the dark forest. Years later I would meet him again along with his third wife and a son born to her but that’s for another time to tell.
We were up before the sky lightened in the east and by the time the sun peeked over the mountains we had the animals packed up and the cook fire drowned out with creek water.
We rode down the steep forested mountainside until noon where the land finally leveled out. I noticed not all was forest now but grassy parks were passed through as we made our way to the lakes shore.
“We’s almost home boy!” Uncle Chester shouted as he turned backwards on his mule to face me.
I had been wide eyed in my observations, missing nothing. I could see fish jumping in the afternoon sunlight. A couple Eagles flew skyward simultaneously from the waters each carrying a large fish in its beak.
We passed a point of land and continued traveling east along the shore until the shoreline suddenly turned and had us traveling northward along the eastern shore. Up another mile or so ahead we came upon the town of Granby.
Granby was a small hamlet sized town one main street with three cross streets. To the towns credit the building were all wood structures, single floor in height but with a two story facade front. Most all had been pained, some recently.
We tied up the animals in front and walked onto a wooden ground level porch. A nicely hand painted sign said J.A, McCloud Attorney at Law.
Chester twisted the doors knob and stepped inside with me following behind.
“Jasper, you old crook!” Chester shouted laughingly. “I need some papers signed all legal like!”
The skinny Attorney looked up at our entrance, smiled broadly and jumped up saying, “Well look what the wind blew in! Chester, how are you? Sit, sit right here.”
Jasper pulled an extra chair that had been against the wall and brushed off any dust with his hand. “So what kind of papers do you need drawn up?”
Pointing to me he replied, “This here’s my nephew Tennyson Baker, just call him Ten, he’s the one I left to search for. Well I found him and want you to help me sign over all I got to him.”
Jasper knitted his brows saying, “Are you sure about this? I mean that’s quite a sizable property you have, maybe it would be better if you want, to just break off a few acres so he can build his own place if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Jsaper, what I didn’t tell you was I ain’t got long for this world, I got a bad case of the cancers.”
Jasper leaned back in his own chair looking shocked at thew news.
“Oh, Chester I’m so sorry to hear this, did your Doctor give you a time?”
“Any time he says, so I need this paper drawn up pretty quick, you understand?”
“Yes, I’ll start immediately, I need you to sign a few papers and I’ll fill in all the details later. When it’s finished I’ll drop it off to you.”
Thanks Jasper, Me ‘an Ten here need to get to the house. I’m sure it needs some care.
Outside again, we mounted up and continued down the dirt road heading home.
“We only got an hour more traveling ‘till the cabin comes into view but you’s already on my land now.”
We were plodding along the eastern shoreline when suddenly he stopped and pointed ahead. There a cabin sat. It was a mite bigger than what I’d pictured in my head and I told him so.
“Hominy wouldn’t put up with no hill folk sized cabin. She wanted one big enough for a whole passel of chillin. It shore was a shame she was found to be barren, she so wanted kids.”
Uncle Chester suddenly sat upright with a look of concern on his face warning me “Look alive son, don’t know who’s inside but somebody jest lit up the cook stove, see the smoke?”
“I do, you think it might be Moses?”
“It better be but jest in case loosen your rifle from its scabbard and tie your horse just up yonder. I want ya’ to sneak around the back where there is a window to see into. I’m gonna come by the front porch. If you hear shoot’n bust inside through the back door, if not take a look see in the window, I don’t need you shoot’n ‘Ol Moses none.”
I continued on a hundred or so more yards and pulling my rifle free I dismounted and tied my horse to a low hanging branch. I noticed Chester had line tied the mules together in a nearby grassy park where they’d crop grass until forced out.
While I made my way silently around back I saw Uncle Chester making his way to the front porch like he owned the place. Well, he did so that was a dumb statement.
I got to the window without hearing gun shots so I raised up and peeked inside. Being daylight no lamps lit up the place so it was pretty useless of me trying to see inside.
I could hear Uncle Chester talking to someone and with no shots fired I relaxed and made my way to the cabins front porch.
There I saw Uncle Chester speaking to someone standing in the doorway. I could not tell who he was speaking to as he was blocking my view but he sounded friendly enough and his own rifle was in the crook of his arm pointing downward. I took that as my cue to step up aside him. There in the doorway I saw two women, one about forty something and a younger one maybe in her early twenties.
Upon hearing me sidle up next to him, Uncle Chester moved aside and made introductions.
“Ten,” He said, “I want you to meet Moses’s daughter and granddaughter.”
The older woman reached out her hand to me saying, “I’m Adele and this here is my daughter Naomi but she insist on being called by her mid name which is June.”
I held the woman called Adele’s hand not knowing if I should shake it or not. I wasn’t too familiar with proper western female introductions so I just nodded my head in a wobble like I had broke neck.
“Ten, Adele was just starting to tell me about why she and June are here and not Moses but had to stop when you arrived to greet you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, please don’t stop because of me. Please, continue.”
“Thank you young man, your manners are appreciated. It’s getting to be rare to see a young person show…”
Uncle Chester wanted things to move along from the polite greetings and such so before I could respond in kindness he turned to me interrupting Adele, “Adele here was telling me Moses is confined to one of those wheeled chair things, seems he had a stroke, wasn’t it?”
Adele’s frown showed that Chester needed a reminder of politeness himself and it wasn’t just the young that could be prone to rude interruptions.
Adele cleared her throat and after casting a scolding eye Chester’s way she turned to look at me with a smile and said, “Yes Ten, My father suffered a stroke last year and has been unable to care for himself or look after Chester’s home. While his speech is slurred, we have been able to understand him to within certain limits. His speech is clearer in the morning but as the day stretches on he becomes quite difficult to understand. Still it was understood he wanted us to check on the home in his place and we agreed to do so.”
I listened with interest to what Adele was telling us but couldn’t help but steal glances at Naomi June standing in the doorway.
Now don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t sparking my interest as you might think. No I thought she looked alright, as females go but it was her attitude that got my attention.
You see, I was raised by Quakers so women Quakers acted a certain way around their men. As an example, when her man entered the kitchen for say breakfast, the meal would have been already prepared for him. Now don’t get in a huff, this was all about practicality. You see the moment a man left his bed he had chores to do and only the daylight hours to accomplish them. It had nothing to do with who wore the pants, it was a team effort. He had a job to perform, she was his help meet, simple as that.
But this girl stood there, crossed arms across her chest and leaning in the doorway like she was in charge and the look she gave me was one that I wasn’t measuring up or had fallen short as a man.
Now Adele on the other hand was a handsome woman with a ready smile. If I was twenty years older I’d remove my hat and ask her to a church picnic. She was easy going and grateful that Chester had finally arrived, even if he had me in tow.
But Naomi June on the other hand, Harrumph!
Chester seemed oblivious and was just as happy as Adele at making it home.
“When Moses became incapacitated it became my obligation to not only care for him but to see that your place stayed in good order ‘till you returned. June had to take on many of my chores besides doing her own in order for me to be here.”
Chester looked a bit flummoxed at hearing this. “Why I never meant for Moses nor nobody else to do nothin’ more than just check on the place now ‘an then. Is there more than what you’re tellin’ me?”
“Some. See, we’ve been being harassed by the Doak brothers. They want your property and told me they tend to have it see’n as they say you abandoned it.”
“Dang their hides! Them brothers know full well I was a comin’ back! What kind of trouble have they caused?”
Now most folks are aware that in any territory if you abandon your property , either by walking away or by your death, then it is open season for anyone strong enough to claim it.
“I’ve taken a couple pot shots at ‘em to scare ‘em off but they were getting bolder the longer you were away. Much of the repairs needing immediate attention .is due to their harassment. Torn down gate and some fences, hay piles catching fire, broken windows an’ such, but the worst of it is at the creek.”
“What’s goin’ on there?”
“Where their land nudges against yours, they’re makin’ a dam to divert the creek onto their property. They dug a deep trench over a half mile in length to form a lake on their valley. Already your water is only about twenty percent what it was when you left.”
I watched as Chester’s face grew red. The problem with water is this. While there’s a whole darn giant lake butting up against most of the properties, there are still properties inland with no running water. That means no irrigation and no water for cattle. Basically those parcels are only good for mining and if there is no gold on your property then it’s no better than desert land.
“So the Doak brothers are trying to steal my water? Hell, let ‘em try, why they’ll rue the day they ever decided to do that!”
As Chester got worked up in his rant I noticed the color began to leave his face. Pretty soon he was needing to lean against one of the porches pillars to remain upright. Even then his rant didn’t diminish. I needed to calm him down before he fainted, or worse.
“Uncle Chester,” I said, Let’s go inside and set down a spell, we can figure out a plan to deal with the Doak brothers but not if you go and give up the ghost on us!”
I had to support Chester as we passed through the doorway into what must have been the living room of the cabin.
Looking around for a seat to set Chester in I couldn’t help but notice the quality of workmanship.
I set him down in a large horse hair stuffed corduroy covered chair. Chester plunked himself down sucking in deep breaths. He did not look good.
“Just give me a minute Ten.” he gasped. “I’ll be alright shortly. Just thinkin’ about them damn Doak boys got me all worked up.”
While Chester recovered, I took notice of the cabins interior and its belongings.
“Uncle Chester, I didn’t know you had a library of books! I exclaimed.
Between breaths he spoke. Most folks think I’m just a ignoramus trapper. Fact is I finished the eighth grade. Learned my words, numbers even. See that there book with the purple leather cover? That’s a book on calculus, a type of math and next to it is a book on trigonometry, more math. Those I learnt in the six grade, all of us kids back then did.”
I stepped over to the full wall sized shelving and saw books from classic litterateur to modern wood stove cooking.
”I would have never guessed” I said laughing, “considering you keep butchering the Kings English! ”, I told him.
“Never judge a book by it’s cover Ten! ”
I turned away from Chester and noticed Naomi June had made her way to the books. Fingering them with a light touch of her fingers she uttered quietly, “I’ve spent some time here helping out but never touched these. I wish I had learned to read.”
Her statement stunned me! I mean what twenty something person hasn’t learned her letter?
Maybe I was being nosey or even out of line but I walked up behind her and asked why.
“I was born and raised here. No school existed until the town became a real town, by then I was past school age. Even then their school was much too far away for a lone girl to travel back and forth. My Ma never leaned so she couldn’t help me and Grandpa Moses couldn’t read none either.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, reading books helped me deal with some unpleasantness in my own life. Books are where I ran to when things took difficult turns.”
She turned to me and smirked, “Oh, by the looks of you I’m sure you had a rough life!”
I couldn’t fathom where her vitriol had arisen from but still tried to keep a civil tongue. “You shouldn’t say that, you don’t know me.”
“Let’s keep it that way!” she replied
From the chair he sat in Uncle Chester had heard our exchange along with Adele.
“Neither of you youngn’s know each other”, he said, “so let’s hold off peelin’ the skin off one another until an honest reason is given.”
Adele, standing aside, placed her hand on Chester’s shoulder. Looking across the room to June she told her. “You hold your tongue June. Chester was just telling me just how it came to be that the boy is even standing here. He had no call to bring Chester back home, he did it out of kindness, he wasn’t even aware Chester here was his Uncle and he sure don’t deserve no bad words from you!”
Naomi June stood staring at her mother with clenched fist. Suddenly she turned and stomped out of the room slamming the door behind her.
“All I did was ask her why she never learned to read, I didn’t mean nothing bad by it! If I did it was by accident and I’m sorry.”
Adele walked over to where I was standing and said, “It ain’t you Ten, she’s had a burr under her saddle since Chester here went lookin’ for ya. She won’t talk about it so I can’t say why she’s got such unpleasantness towards you.”
With June outside, the three of us got to talking about our travels, the signing over of the property deed and Uncle Chester’s health issue.
When the topic of where best to start the properties repairs came up Chester had his say.
“First off, I told Moses I’d cover any bills that might occur in his keepin’ his eyes open on my place here. Now mind you he got pretty offended that I’d even mention something like that. With that bein’ said, he had no idea things would take a turn in his health and ask you an’ June to take over. Now between him an’ me, we done did each other a herd of favors for each other, never keepin’ a score on who did what or when. But,this is different. Now I know for a fact that ‘Ol Moses’s streak of gold luck had run out some time ago. There ain’t no way he could afford to go ahead an’ hire someone to take his place so he had you two do it even if it meant his own place would might suffer needed care.”
Adele bowed her hard a might so I knew that Uncle Chester’s words were not only true but hitting Adele hard.
“Adele, my thankin’ you an’ June ain’t gonna cover all you’ve done here. I look around the place an see dusted off trinkets, polished wood, clean floors and beaten rugs. Why I know if I stepped on in the bedrooms that each bed would be made up with washed and ironed sheets, am I correct?”
Adele lifted her head and proudly said, “It don’t take no money to be clean. Yes, it’s all true, we’s hurtin’ powerful bad specially since my father got his stroke. Doc Magyar has been given Pa his care and medicine on a tab. All our supplies at the mercantile are on a tab but danged if I’m goin’ ta let that be the reason we broke my fathers promise to care for your place. It’s a matter of upholdin’ my Pa’s word.”
“Adele, your Pa and I go way back. Together we built our homes and mined our gold. When one of us got hurt or sick the other was there but you’re wrong about one thing.”
“And what is that?”
“We never owed each other for what we each did… until now. Not only have you tried your best to keep my place up at your and your Pa’s expense but you’ve been dealing with those Doak ruffians too. You may say different but I owe you and I’m makin’ it up to you all.”
Adele stood proud but I noticed a slight sign of relief in her looks, still she replied. “There’s no need for that Chester, it’s what good neighbors do.”
“You are right about that! It is what good neighbors do so shush up and let me do my part in this neighbor doin’ good thing. Tomorrow we’re goin’ to town and payin up the bills this place has run up. That includes Doc Magyar’s bill, the mercantile’s and restocking your larder which I bet has suffered plenty. If it wern’t fer you I’d a had to pay wages to a body to do the same so sayin’ that I’m gonna pay you the wages I owe. Now tomorrow we’ll make a day of it so it’s best you all go back on over to your place an’ take care of Moses an’ I’ll stop by in the morning to pick you up. I’m leavin’ Ten here just in case the Doak brothers stop by again and June can stay behind to care for Moses until we return.”
Adele seemed to accept the inevitable and said, “Alright, We’ll head on back now. We’ve been gone long enough to cause Pa to start worrying. He has no idea you’re back an’ he might think we’s havin problems with the Doak boys again.”
“Yes, you should head off then. I’m gonna walk up the hill to where Hominy lay an’ say my hello to her. Ten, you stay here I need some time alone.”
I woke to the next morning to the sound of a wagon pulling into our yard. I jumped up and quickly dressed after splashing my face in the bowl of water setting on the nightstand.
Uncle Chester was slower than I so he was still trying to drag on his shirt as he walked behind me to the front door.
I pulled open the heavy hand made door and peered out into the yard. A layer of fog had closed in but we could still easily see who it was.
Uncle Chester pushed himself past scratching his head in disbelief yelling, “What are all you folks doin’ here? Why Moses! Shouldn’t you be home where it’s warm?”
“Fudge that ya old coot! When Adele here told me you was back with the boy I needed to see you an’ him fer myself. You know me, see’n is believin’!”
“Well the take a good gander you old excuse for a sack of wrinkles. It’s me for sure and this here’s my nephew Ten who I found on the trail!”
Between Adele, June and myself we got Moses off the wagon and into his wheeled chair. We lifted him, chair and all, onto the porch and wheeled him inside where last nights fire had still kept the house warm.
After Chester told all that needed telling, Naomi June rose and said she was making breakfast for us all.
I felt guilty just sitting there so I excused myself and went to help out in the kitchen.
Before I could lend a hand June took me by the hand and guided me to the table where she insisted I sit down.
“Ten, this is hard for me to do so jest shut up ‘an let me say my piece. I’m sorry I was up in your face yesterday, it was unfair of me.”
I started to interrupt her but she squeezed my shoulder until it began to hurt telling me, “I said shut your mouth, just listen or I’ll take this here fryin’ pan and crease your noggin with it!”
Not wanting the joy of having a lumpy head or creased head as she put it sustaining and possible brain injuries, I gave in.“I give up, say your piece.”
“I was saying it was unfair to judge you as I did, I’m sorry. While Ma and I rode back to our place Ma told me what she an’ your Uncle had talked about while we were paying no attention to’em. I thought you was just some city boy comin’ to take over here. I felt you hadn’t earned the place, that you was just gettin’ it all for free without not payin’ your dues. I was wrong. You had no idea what Chester had in mind when he asked you to see him home. Ma was right, you did it out of kindness not expecting anything in return. You had no idea what awaited you once you got here. You had no clue this place was to be yours.”
I was about to say it didn’t matter but then she was still standing aside me holding the cast iron fry pan so I rethought my actions.
June continued uninterrupted, “I guess I got jealous and acted out of anger. I just felt everything we’ve worked so hard for is failing us. Grandpa’s gold streak ran out long ago but he was too proud to admit it. He was about to try his hand at raising cattle when he had his stroke. I tell ya’ Ten my heart broke for him! We was so close to raisin’ back up again. Look at me! I’m all skin an’ bones! I’ve suffered and when you showed up it was like a slap to me, you bein’ all healthy and good lookin’ an’ all. I’m so sorry Ten, I was acting out like a spoiled child. Can you forgive me so I can start us over again?”
Turning backwards in my chair to face her I told her,“June, I’d like nothing better than to be your friend. I knew something was bothering you but couldn’t fathom what I did wrong. I understand now, and there is no need to forgive anything. Shoot if I was you I’d have felt the same way.”
Holding out my hand for her to shake I was taken back when instead she bent down and instead kissed me.
Now before you having us getting hitched and all, it was only a friendly kiss and only on the cheek!
On the other side tough, you have to understand it was the first time I’d ever been kissed by someone other than my own Ma so I filed the feeling of her soft lips away to dwell on it later, when I was alone.
We eventually got breakfast on the table. For a man who had a stroke Moses sure could chow down. His second helping of fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, sausage gravy poured over four biscuits disappeared just as fast as his first helping. I guess his belly weren’t bothered none by his stroke.
Adele cleaned up the table saying that since June and I made the morning meal, she should clean up after it. “Why I can’t remember havin’ so much to eat, I’m plum full!” She said.
We retired to the over stuffed furniture in the sitting room where Moses asked Adele to fill and fire up his pipe for him. His left arm was kind of useless as it just wobbled around like a leaf in the wind. I noticed his left leg did the same.
About that time Uncle Chester laid out the days new agenda since everything had changed when the three showed up at the house.
“Since you all made it here to my place I think it best that Moses, June and Ten stay behind while Adele go into town for supplies. Since you all arrived in your wagon there ain’t no need to drag along the pack mules fer the job of carrying everything. We should be back here around early evening so if you two young’uns could set a meal up fer us that would be a big help. We’ll unload the wagon in the morning as by then it will be dark. I’ll go ahead and unhitch the team an’ get ‘em watered and fed when we arrive.”
I took out a bail of hay from the back of the wagon and swept it clean. At the advice from Chester I put his long gun and another loaded Winchester under the seat. “Better alive than dead” was what he told me.
We rolled Moses up to the multiple pane glass window facing up the road at his request before the two headed off to town.
The three of us left behind watched the wagon roll up the inclined roadway until it was out of sight. Moses soon dropped off to sleep while June and I sat back down for another cup of coffee.
For some reason my stomach twisted when I realized she and I were alone.
With June sitting across from me I was finally able to see her face without having to stare.
“What are you looking at?” she asked after I might have been looking for quite spome time without speaking.
“Huh? Oh, just pondering on a few things.” I replied
“Like what? Maybe how beautiful I look?”
Both of us broke into a laugh, “Naw nothing like that, but honest, I wasn’t laughing at your looks. Why I was wondering why you never mentioned having a caller or someone you may be promised to.”
“That’s cuz there ain’t none. Oh, I’ve had some boys show interest in me but they was just not what I was interested in. Each one was a sissy, no back bone, no grit, no sand whatever you want to call being a man.”
“Is that what you thought of me when we met?” I asked.
She chuckled, “That an’ more! Oh, you is handsome enough for any gal to want to be hitched to your wagon but until Ma told me some about you, yes, I jest figured you to be just another good lookin’ fancy panted self centered weasel lookin for a free ride through life. That’s why I did not like you.”
“So now that you know me a mite better, do you still think the same way?”
Acting as if taken aback June cried out, “You know I don’t, I done told you that!”
I was getting some different facial expressions from June which was a pleasant thing. She wasn’t what folks would term beautiful or stunning by any means but dang if she wasn’t darn cute. Maybe it was her eyes or maybe her mouth, hell maybe it was just me seeing her differently. She had a great laugh, not too loud but not like my own Ma. Ma was a Quaker to heart, expressing feelings wasn’t something a woman did in front of a man. Nope, June had no such reservations.
She saw my cup was empty and rose to refill it from the pot. She stood behind me and poured over my shoulder. I felt her lean on me just ever so slightly against me and which caused my heart to skip a beat.
When she was done pouring she tussled my hair saying it needed a good combing. “You do own a comb don’t you?”
“I would have done that when I washed up this morning but instead rushed to see who was coming into the yard. I guess I forgot after that.”
“Well it don’t look too bad, kind of manly really, but after we are married you better be in the habit of combing it!”
The coffee I just just filled my mouth with went spraying across the table where she had been sitting!
“What??? Married!” I shouted knowing she was pranking me. I decided to add my ten cents then. “Well then, if were gonna be married I want my breakfast ready upon waking, Oh an at least once a week I’ll be needing my bath water heated good n hot but not so hot as to scald me, an’ I need my back scrubbed up good too.You can do that can’t you? If not, then I’m not marrying you!”
The two of us once again burst out laughing.
June put a blanket on the sleeping invalid Moses and then began doing some cleaning chores around the house. I cleaned and loaded my own guns and two others that June had found while cleaning. One was another Springfield and the other an older civil war Navy Colt who’s cylinder and frame had been converted to take 45 caliber brass shells. I left them all on a large towel placed on an old wooden dining room table in case any oil should drip out after the cleaning.
June stopped her cleaning and made us a lunch of bread, cheese and sliced ham. Once more she fired up the coffee pot.
Moses woke up just as lunch was being served. June cut his meal in two so he could hold the lunch in his one good hand. We all sat around enjoying the wood stoves heat and each others company.
I had gone out to throw some hay to the animals when I heard the rumble of horses.
I quickly ran back into the house yelling for June.
“We got a number of riders heading this way and it isn’t Chester and your Ma. They’re coming from the wrong direction for it to be them.”
In less than a minute six riders on horseback came around the bend behind the barn.
“Just as I figured”, June shouted out to me from the room facing that direction. It’s the Doak brothers and they’ve brought four others with ‘em. Damn their hides, they all got rifles pulled from their scabbards!”
I watched the group arrive and cautiously look the place over before slowly making their way to the cabin’s front porch. June was right they all had rifles laying across their laps. If that wasn’t bad enough laying beside their rifles was a burlap wrapped torch. I’m sure it was soaked in coal oil.
The group stopped in front of the porch and the oldest of the Doak brothers moved ahead of the others and shouted, “Hello the house! Git on out here, we got some talkin’ to do!”
“What should we do Ten? I bet they think it’s just me or Ma here. Every time they showed up before it was either Ma or me as Chester weren’t back here yet.”
“If they think it’s only women folk here then believe I got an idea. I’m going up in the attic with my Springfield and my colt pistol. When I first came here I saw windows at each end. I can cover the two ends of the house from those small windows. Give me a minute and then you go and answer their call but be careful, remain behind the porch pillar closest to the door. “
“Don’t worry Ten, they won’t shoot a woman. They’d be no safe place for ‘em west of the Mississippi.
Even their own outlaw members wouldn’t put up with ‘em. They’d be dead purty fast.”
I made my way up the attic’s ladder and into the central portion of the attic. Somehow I missed seeing the large ventilation cupola directly above the ladder
I searched and found an old steamer chest. That I turned on its end and used it to climb up into the roofs rafters. Once up in the rafters I duck walked along them until I was inside the roofs large ventilation cupola.
The gaps between each slat was almost two inches tall which would be more than enough to stick my Springfield through. From inside the cupola I could see the front, back and side yards with no obstructions.
A minute must have been up because I heard June shout down below.
“What chew want you measly excuses for cow plop? I got no time for you boys today, I got chores to do, now git!”
Donald, the eldest Doak brother turned to his brother butch and said, “Damn if she don’t do some’n to my lions bro! After we get this here land I’m a takin’ her fer myself.”
Butch smiled evilly and retorted, ”Only after I’ve used her up brother, only then.”
“We ain’t soon to be leavin’ deary, We heard in town that Chester was seen leavin’ that lawyers place yesterday. We’re given ya’ a fair warnin’ sweetheart. We’ll let you go an’ ride on back to your place without no harm comin’ to ya. But if you plan on stayin… well you might get hurt bad.”
“You heard wrong, Chester ain’t showed up here yet.”
One of the four outlaws named Greasy Eddie pointed to the lean to and shouted out, “She’s a lyin, them there two mules belong to him. They wasn’t here last time we was.”
I watched from the cupola and started worrying for June’s safety. It was my fault Chesters two mules were taken out to the lean-to to feed. They weren’t getting along with my horse and mule so I seperated them. Greasy Eddie caught that and now they knew June was lying.
June began backing away from the piller. She realized there was trouble up ahead. “You boys better git on down the road afor I get riled up an’ learn ya’ what a woman can do when she gits riled!”
The last three outlaws began moving their horses away from the Doak brothers in an attempt to surround the place. It appeared they would seperate and get in a position on three side of the cabin. All four sides were soon covered with the Doak brothers and Greasy Edie remaining out front.
“Girl, I’m gonna count to five an’ if you ain’t walked off that porch I’m gonna tell my boys to burn the place down! It’s gonna be your choice if you burn up along with it!”
On the count of one I, pulled the trigger.
None of the six knew where the shot came from especilly the man at the rear of the cabin who’s chest was suddenly ventilated.
Looking quickly around, the eldest brother Donald Doak shouted, “Who fired that?”
Not being able to see all of his men since they’d spread out around the place he thought one of them may have tried to scare the girl into leaving.
Donald looked at Greasy Eddie and shouted at him. “Ride around the place an’ see who fired their gun. I’m bettin’ it was one a the new guys tryin’ to scare her off.”
Greasy Eddie turned his horse and headed to the left. He soon saw the hard case manning the left side of the cabin was still there and shouted at him. “You know which one a you fired that shot?”
The hard case shrugged saying he heard the shot but didn’t knoew who fired it.
Greasy Eddie replied, “Well it could only be the man on the opposite side of the place, keep your ears peeled for the Bosses order to fire up the place while I check him out.”
As Eddie rounded the corner he saw the hard case’s hporse cropping grass and was riderless. Being mostly hidden by the man’s cropping horse, it took Eddie a few more yards before he saw the man’s bloody body laying dead in the grass.
Before he could spin his horse around to go back and warn the Doak’s of what he’d discovered, I pulled the trigger again.
“Two down, four to go”, I thought.
Meanwhile, hearing the second shot June fled back into the door. At the same time the two men guarding the cabins sides, their curiosity peaked, rounded the corners to get a look see at the Doak’s.
When Donald Doaks saw that two of his men had not shown themselves he immediately ordered the three others left to dismount and find cover.
The two brothers took refuge in the barn while last two spread out behind a wagon and the lean-to.
Inside the cabin Moses shouted to his grand daughter June to give him the pistol I had just finished loading and cleaning. “Give me that pistol girl , I still got my shootin’ arm to work with.”
June raced to the gun and back to her grsandfather with it. “Be careful Grandpa, you’re pretty much exposed in the window.”
Moses turned to her with a wide grin across his face, “June honey, if I’m to be perferated then I couldn’t think of a better way to go out than when shootin’ my way out! Yahooo!”
June hugged him knowing this might be the last time to do so but she wasn’t going to stop him. Ever since his stroke she knew he felt less of a man, just a useless invalid. She saw he had now moved into a position that offered the best for shooting but provided the least cover.
Moses first shot purposefully blew out the lower pane of glass. He now could fire without fearing a return bullet would shower him with shards of glass. His second and third shot missed the man in the lean-to but not his mule. That bullet creased the mules hind quarters cause it to jump and buck wildly.
The man tried in vain to get out of the lean to and away from the bucking mule but was instead thrown against one of the thick post supporting the lean-to’s roof. The man was down but for how long noone could tell.
Meanwhile on the road leading to the cabin rode Chester and Adele in their fully loaded supply wagon.
At the sound of my rifle’s first shot, Chestetr halted the team. “Did you hear that shot Adele?”
“I sure did and it came from the direction of the cabin!”
Not saying a word, Chester violently shook he reigns and started yelling at the beast. The wagon ubruptly bolted ahead.
By now hot lead was flying to and from the cabin. The man in the lean-to had still not moved but the mule had broken free and ran out into the nearby pasture braying its head off.
The odds were now even at three to three.
From the cupola, which was now taking plenty of lead, I dropped down onto the attic’s floor and over to the window. From that window I saw the man lying in the lean-to and not moving so I ran to the other window. Shots were still being fired up into the cupola where plenty of the structures ventilation slats were now missing.
The view from this window was better. I could clearly see the barn and the two brothers firing away at the cabin.
Suddenly I heard June scream and a number of rapidly fired shots sounded from where Moses had positioned himself. Fearing she had been hit, I flew down the attic ladder landing heavily in the room below.
My fear of finding June shot to pieces was unfounded but not so in regards to Moses. In his wheeled chair he sat in front of the shot out window leaning forward and not moving.
I ran over to June. She stood there out of the way of any gunfire with tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She turned her head and with a quivering voice asked me. “Oh Ten what will we ever do?”
I approched her and she fell crying into my arms.
I quietly told her, “June, I’m so sorry about your Grandfather”.
With flowing tears she looked into my eyes and told me, “Grandpa Moses knew he wasn’t going to leave here alive Ten. He told me this was the way he wanted to go out, fighting. I let him Ten, I let him go his own way but I didn’t think it would hurt this bad.”
Just then another slug came through the window neatly clipping my shoulder as I held June. I realized I better take Moses away from the window but to do so meant putting myself in harms way.
“June, I need to move him from the window.”
June slowly released me. I then laid on the floor aside Moses wheeled chair and being below the windows sill I was able to grab and shove his wheeled chair from in front of the opening with him in it.
Once safely out of the way I picked him up out of his chair and went to lay him out on the over stuffed sofa.
“Wait,” June called out, “Let me get a blanket laid down first so he don’t bleed out on the furniture.”
I was amazed at seeing June in the middle of a crisis still keeping her head and being practical. “What a women this girl is!” I thought.
June tidy’d him up and looking bacward at me said, “When I asked what we were going to do I meant about the Doaks, not about Grandpa. Grandpa went out fighting like he wished, he was actually excited. In his mind he went out being a whole man, not as an invalid. “
Two more slugs found there way in the wall behind me. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of us would be unlucky.
“Those shots came from behind that wagon in the barn’s yard. So we got that one and the brothers still shooting from the open barn door. I might be able to get the guy behind the wagon with my Springfield. That wagon has only thin side boards, I bet I can punch right through them.”
I stepped further back into the room and grabbed a lone straight back chair to steady my rifle on the top of its back. This way anyone outside would have a difficult time seeing inside the darker room and therefor not see me.
I propped up the gun, took carefull aim and pulled the trigger.
From under the wagon bed both June and I saw the outlaws body fall to the ground. He must have been peeking through the crack between the boards because most of his head was missing.
June grabbed onto me looking green at the gills. “Oh my gosh, that was horrid!” she moaned.
“Yea, death can be ugly but it’s either them or us.”
In response June again leaned into me and wrapped her arms around me, holding onto me tightly.
I let her stay that way until I saw the last of the outlaws, the two Doak brothers lighting up the torches they had rode in carrying.
I quickly moved June away from me and grabbed at my rifle telling her, “June, they’re going to try and fire up the cabin, get your rifle, we need to stop them!”
The two brothers started zig zagging across the large barn yard toward the house with the flaming torches. Their zig zagging run was going to make it nearly impossible to take them both out. Even one successful torch would burn us out and give the shooter some clear and deadly shots at us.
Before the two reached the halfway point to the cabin down the roads incline roared the wagon team hauling butt. Adele left the wagon on the run holding onto one of the Winchesters I had hidden under the seat.
No sooner had she hit the ground when she knelt and fired without bothering to aim. I saw one of the brothers, it turned out later to be Donald, grab his hip. He continued on towards the cabin with blood staining down the side of his leg. Chester reigned up cutting off the younger brother Butch mid yard. Doing so, this forced Butch to go around the stopped wagon in order to get to the cabin.
This gave me time to once again rest the rifle on top of the chair back and aim the Springfield.
As Butch Doak rounded the rear of the wagon I fired but just as I did Butch slipped a step and the bullet caught him in the arm instead of his chest. Still, it was his arm holding the torch.
Butch’s torch went flying out into the yard leaving him standing out in the open.
Seeing he had no choice he raised his good arm shouting, “Don’t shoot me, I give up!”
By this time Donald’s run to the cabin with his flaming torch had slowed to a faltering stumble. Not forty feet from the porch he stopped. Dropping the lit torch onto the grass he called out in his pain, “Me too, I’m done for if’n I don’t get to a Doc.”
Saying that he fell forward unconscious.
Adele and Chester came running up to the porch and into the house.
Seeing them June ran up to her Ma and hugged her tightly telling her. “Oh Ma, you should have seen Ten, he was wonderful!”
Adele looked taken aback exclaiming, “Well this sure is a change of heart June, what all went on here since we left?”
Chester walked in from the sitting room that Chester had holed himself up in. “Adele, I’m sorry, it’s your Pa.”
Adele rushed into the sitting room with June chasing after her.
Adele slowly went up to the sofa where Chester was laid out on. She knelt beside the sofa and grabbed Chester’s hand asking no one in particular, “Did he die fighting or was he kilt unable to defend himself?”
June stepped up beside her kneeling Mom. “Ma he died defending us! I tried to stop him early on but he explained to me that if today was the day to die he wanted to go out a full man, not as an invalid. You should have seen him Ma, he was marvellous. He died fighting for us and with sand fer sure!”
Adele patted Moses hand and replaced it upon his chest where the other one already lay. “That’s fine. That’s very fine!”
Chester started for the door saying, “I’ll go out and tend to the brothers as best I can and haul ‘em back to Granby to turn ‘em over to the Sheriff. With you all as witnesses They’ll hang fer sure. The others I’m dropping off at the undertakers place. I guess it’ll be up to me to pay fer their burials since we was the ones who killed ‘em but they ain’t gonna’ be buried in no coffin, no siree, much too expensive fer the likes of those coyotes.”
Adele rose and went to where June and I stood. June had made her way to stand next to me. When Adele approached us I felt June’s hand slip into mine. I didn’t stop her, nor did I want to.
She glanced down where June and my hand were tightly holding each other then looking back up at us she said. “We got to figure things out here June, Your grandpa never officially filed for his claim. All these years he’s been squatting on the land he claimed as his. No one challenged him back then as only a few folks had yet settled here and once the gold played out I figured we’d be safe until it got populated. I knew this but once he had his stroke it seemed senseless to pursue the matter. I knew he had only a short time left and if he passed why we’d have no claim on his property anyway.
I just figured you an I would sell off what we could and move on into town. I didn’t see any alternative.”
Looking back down at the two of us holding hands she continued, “But since then it seems things here may have changed. If I’m seeing things right, at least the two of you look to have a future here”
Chester had not quite made it to the door. Instead he had stopped to listen to what Adele was saying.
“Now look here Adele, There’s no call to rush into things. Your Pa and I made an agreement. If he was to pass on, why the two of you could just move on into this here place an’ stay as long as you wished. An’ if I was to go first then Ten was to take care of you’s using some of the gold I’ve collected over the years. That’s why I left to find Ten. You See, your Pa and I were pards fer life. If one of us needed help the other would be there for him. What say you Ten?”
If I held my peace and never spoke up, I figured all would be lost and the plans between Moses and Chester would have all been for naught. So, gathering up what June called grit or sand or being a man I opened my mouth and damn the consequences.
With Junes hand in mine I turned to her. I said, “June, I wish we’d have had more time to get to know one another but sometimes fate intervenes and things are forced to a conclusion quicker than we’d all like. So, saying that and with everyone understanding our situation I am asking your Ma if I could take your hand in Marriage.”
Adele looked at her daughter, then back to me. “Don’t you think you should have asked June first?”
I looked down at June smiling and replied to Adele,“Why we have already talked it over, haven’t we June? I’m to keep my hair combed and she’s to make my breakfast and draw a hot but not scalding bath for me once a week!”
“Yes, we did Ten but you left out that I’m also to scrub your back, which I will.”
Looking at them all I saw smiles and even a chuckle. “Then it’s settled. Now Chester needs to get to town while the three of us prepare Moses for a showing here in the parlor. Oh, and Uncle will you please stop by the newspaper and get Moses obituary written up for the paper?”
Chester stood looking amused. “ I ain’t even passed on yet an’ already the boys givin’ orders!
So June and I did get married. Moses had a wonderful wake, too bad he couldn’t enjoy the food, Adele and June put up a feast to beat the band.
Sadly Uncle Chester passed away the next year just after our first born came to be. He lasted longer than we’d ever hoped for. After moving from Moses’s place, Adele has lived in the house since the day of the shoot out, She runs the house while June cares for all the animals we have acquired. I tore down the dam the Doak brothers had been building and ended up buying the Doak’s property at the Sheriff sale last spring hoping to avoid such future shenanigans again.
To think a baby who was tossed away or left abandoned on a prairie trail would end up with all I have is unimaginable. It just goes to show you, The future is not ours to see and those who claim to know are just full of cow plop!
J W Edwards / http://www.Campfireshadows.com