A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

By J W Edwards

Originally posted on this blog on 01/29/2012

Winter-Creek-Crossing

Dana McClure was pretty. Not only pretty but really darn pretty.

The year was 1876 and Christmas was just a few days away. While most of Mosquito Gulch Colorado was preparing for the festivities soon to come, Dana McClure, the prettiest prostitute in town was running for her life on a horse with a thrown shoe.

Things hadn’t worked out quite the way she planned. Her plan was simple. Get out of town with a load of cash before the Madam knew she had fled and start her life over somewhere else as a respectable lady. Free from the chains of being a kept saloon girl she was young enough to believe she still had a future and was hell bent on finding it.

Three years earlier at the age of 17, Dana had started her ‘employment’ at the Greenhorn Saloon in Mosquito Gulch after the stage she was on was robbed outside of Denver.  Some might have considered her lucky, others not. While the other passengers gave up their belongings and their ghost, Dana was spared the quick death freely given to her fellow passengers. Instead, young Dana became the pleasurable object of the four galoots that held up the stage. When they had decided she had been played out, they left her to the elements.

Jasper Shroud found her. He had left the Bank of Denver the day before after depositing the previous week’s cash that the Greenhorn Saloon had bled from its customers. Whiskey, gambling and a whore house on the 2nd floor made Jasper a rich man. A very arrogant and spoiled rich man. Tossing her into his surrey as one would load a potato sack onto a wagon bed, Jasper grunted his pleasure and continued on his way back to town.

When Dana awoke, it was in a feather bed in a gaudy room consisting of silk wall coverings and velvet curtains.  There she was being tenderly cared for by the Madame of the Greenhorn and a couple of its whores in the ‘Madams’ own room.

Jasper was not caring for her out of the kindness of his heart. In his mind, he had found her, could save her life and get a nice financial return on his ‘investment’ by whoring her out when she recovered. It was not an unusual situation. Many a woman who lost her man on the frontier soon found out neighbors and friends had only so much generosity and resources to help out. The lucky ones with male children remarried within a couple of weeks, the old and infirm soon passed on.  Many younger ones became whores.

For the present, Dana accepted her fate as a whore with the same apparent resignation as many fine Lady’s of the day accepted their ‘duty’ to make sure her man was fed, clothes repaired and his manly desires well taken care of. Looks and love played little part in this arraignment.  It was all about daily survival.

Religion played no part in a whore’s life. God had no role in their daily affairs as he paid attention only to the church going, for they belonged to him, not the whore. There was no hell after death. Hell was now; death was a release from hell. Hell wasn’t for Dana though, she had plans that didn’t include her death.

Each man that shared her bed paid the Madam his dollar before he went upstairs for his hour of lust. If the whore was gooder than good she might find a dime on the table after he had departed. If that dime was not turned over to the Madam, a good old fashioned beating by a burly staff member named Tommy, reminded her that under no circumstances was a whore deserving of more than the Madam provided her.  Each night the girls rotated rooms. This prevented the squirreling away of a hidden cache in loose floorboards, bed frames and such. No whore ever took another whore into her confidence. A whore could never trust another whore to keep her mouth shut. This kept the power of the Madam absolute

On December 20th of ‘76, Dana made her move.

Chapter 2

She was told the night before by Madam that Henry Jason Willard, the eastern rail road mogul of high wealth and high living was passing through Mosquito Gulch on his way to Denver and had requested Dana’s companionship for the entire night. Dana made her preparations. The room was cleaned and sage grass had been burnt in the pot belly stove to cover the smell of the many men that had passed through.

But it wasn’t those preparations that concerned Dana. During her stay at the Greenhorn Saloon she had befriended a young black named Rufus who while not being owned by the Madam and the Saloon, was in fact owned by the Madam and the Saloon. No one suspected the unusual friendship between Dana and Rufus. Not that they were improper with each other mind you, but a whore and a black in 1876 did not strike a friendship. Still they had stolen moments to talk and even more important, dream. Dana spoke of the day she would leave Mosquito Gulch and Rufus had vowed to help her.

A few of Rufus’s duties at the Greenhorn were to remake each bed after use, search for hidden coins left by grateful patrons and report to Madam any whores overheard plans of leaving or skimming cash. Running errands for the whores in town was also one of those duties. Rufus was in a perfect position to give Dana the help she needed that night.

Entering the Saloons bat wing doors wearing a black bowler derby and blue pin stripped suit Henry Jason Willard, announced his arrival. “Drinks are on me until I say!”  Cow punchers, gamblers and whores alike all cheered. Upstairs, Dana made ready her plans.

A light knock grabbed her attention and a young blacks voice quietly whispered, “Good luck Ma’am.” Dana smiled to herself as she headed for the door.

Dana opened the door to find on the floor, a very expensive bottle of Tennessee whiskey, two clean crystal glasses and a bowl of fresh mountain ice resting on a silver server. Beside it lay a small leather pouch that Dana knew contained over 14 dollars in coin. Inside jingled her squirreled savings that had been being secretly held by Rufus. A folded paper note with the single simple word “Chestnut” on it. All was set and in order.

By 10pm, the esteemed Mr. Willard made his way upstairs after a single stimulating game of poker. He lost over Seventy dollars in that short time but showing how unimportant that amount was, he smiled and added another ten to the pot for good measure.

Dana answered the door and invited her Gentleman caller in.

“Oh my sweet dear, you are more than I ever hoped for. My man said you were very young and pleasing to the eye, but I never imagined this grunt town would ever produce a fine a whore as you.” Whether it was meant as a compliment or an unsavory remark Dana did not know, nor did she care.

In her best imitation of an awe struck fickle Lady, Dana responded, “I am pleased you find me desirable sir, I am yours for the taking but first let me pour you a glass of fine a whiskey as can be found west of the Tennessee Mountains.” Holding up the glass she offered, “Ice?”

It was the ice. Laced with a horse sedative Mr. Willard was soon drugged. She had managed to get him partway onto the bed before his lights went out. Appearing as a child saying his nightly prayers, He knelt bedside snoring. Dana could not contain her hatred.  She pulled down his drawers exposing his bare behind. With a sharp knife, she engraved her name, date and the name of the Saloon into his hide. He represented every man that had come into her room, except for one. That one, who told her his name was Ben Toker she believed was different.  Against her better judgment, Dana had secretly loved him as much as he had openly loved her. Because he did so openly, Madam soon found out, Dana feared for her lovers life and to save him she ran him off.  Shaking her head as if to clear her mind, she reminded herself she could not think of him now. Instead, she had to prepare for her departure from Mosquito Gulch and the Greenhorn Saloon.

With no moon out to help light her way, Dana climbed out of her window using the 15 foot fire escape rope. No luggage was taken as whores had no luggage. Tucked beside her breast lay the pouch containing now over 200 dollars, most in gold double eagles. These being a ‘gift’ from Mr. Willard that he would not be aware of until tomorrow…along with a carved ass that was going to be very difficult to explain to his very rich and jealous wife back east.

Chapter 3

Making her way through the darkened alleyways she finally made it to the livery stable. It was now past 3 am but a slight knock on the big sliding carriage door brought a very wide awake Black liveryman to her

“Night Ma’am, be quiet now. My nephew Rufus done tol’ me you was comin’ an I need be ready when yo got here.”

“Unfolding the paper handed it to him and said to him, “Rufus gave me this, I am assuming it’s about a horse for me?”

“Yes’m, It means you done bought an’ got papers fo’ “Chestnut”, a fine strong horse Ma’am.  Realizing Rufus had somehow paid for the horse and tack out of his own meager savings, Dana opened her top and being careful to not expose her breast, pulled forth the money pouch. Taking a hundred dollars out in double eagles, she handed the gold coins to the Rufus’s uncle. “Please, give these to Rufus, I owe him my life.”

“I will do dat Ma’am, he a good boy, shore is a good boy. Shore is a lot of money here Ma’am, you shore ‘bout dis?” Satisfied she had not made a mistake, he walked over to the tack room, there he removed a saddle, blanket and saddle bags. “In dem bags be some men’s drawers and stuff he got fo’ you. Yo’ need to change into dem to fool anybody dat might see’s you leave here. I’ll burn yo dress and ladies stuff in da lit stove Ma’am so’s dey ain’t found.”

“Thank you, both you and Rufus are a Godsend.”

The old black turned to her and stopped short.  Wrinkling his forehead as if thinking, he approached Dana. “ Rufus done pray fo’ you, you know dat? He tell me he do dat each an’ ery night. He do pray fo’ you Ma’am. He say God love you an’ da Lord tol’ him to do dis stuff he doin’ fo’ you. God say he protect yo’. He say you be Gods special child. Da Lord done tol’ him all a dat.”

Dana did not know what to say in return because she wasn’t sure she even believed in God anymore. Still, she held the old black mans words in her heart. She knew now why Rufus would risk his life for her.

Dressed and mounted as a man, she nodded and tipped her brimmed hat at the liveryman as she left quietly into the night. Once out of town she broke the chestnut mare into a gallop.

Chapter 4

Figuring Dana had a good five hour head start, Rufus  informed both Madam and Jasper Shroud that after multiple tries, that morning no one was answering his knocks at her door. Their repeated knocks brought no answer either. Trying the knob, Jasper found the lock was jammed. “Give me room, I’m gonna bust down the door” he told Madam and a few of the whores that had gathered. Shouldering the door pretty hard brought no result and afraid of harming himself he told the whore at the top of the stairs to get Tommy to break down the door.

It took Tommy only one kick and the door broke inward off its hinges. The small group stood staring wide eyed into the room at the scene before them. There, still kneeling at the bedside was the powerful Henry Jason Willard with his head still resting on the mattress before him. With his drawers pulled down, everyone starred at the dried bloody carvings etched into his backside.

Reacting to the scene as if gut punched, Jasper stumbled backwards out into the hall holding his head. “Oh my God, What did she do?  What did that idiot whore do to him?”

Jasper knew the trouble he and the Greenhorn Saloon were in. There was no way Mr. Willard would let this pass without retribution on a major scale. “He’ll not only take it out on us but the entire town’s gonna’ pay for this. Let him lay a minute, I need to think this out before trying to rouse him”.

After a few seconds, the fog of shock drifted off and Jasper began giving orders.”Tommy, you and Madam  saddle up some horses for us, we’re going to find the Whore Dana. Go hire that Indian tracker if she left town.” Walking into the room, he spied the empty whiskey glass. The bowl of ice had melted, leaving a white ring around the bowls edge.” Drugged, She had help, find out who besides the Negro Rufus had access to her room and to this whiskey tray.” Spotting the discarded wallet on the floor, Jasper opened it and found it empty. Stating the obvious Jasper spoke almost to himself, “She robbed him too. Dang, this is bad, real bad. Mr. Willard ain’t gonna’ blame her as much as me for havin’ a low down robbin’ whore on my payroll. It’s gonna be me that pays.”

After a thorough search of the room produced nothing more than what the eye could see, Jasper headed downstairs. “Press the Negro, beat the crap out of him till he admits all he knows. He had to know something, somebody does, find out!”

Meanwhile Dana was beginning to have her troubles mount. The chestnut mare had thrown a shoe on the trail and her gait was being affected. Having nothing on her to remove the opposite side shoe to equalize the horses gait, she had no choice but to continue on until the animal became lame. Reaching into her past, she revived the knowledge of western survival she had been brought up with. Coming to a fork in the trail, she decided to head up towards Mount Tweto, hoping once past the tree line the snow there would blanket the trail.  Dana figured the snowy trail would cushion the shoeless hoof and prolong her ability to ride. Feeling confident again, she knew she could reach the town of Buckskin Joe in a few days if all went well. From there she could take the stage to a railway depot and from there to San Francisco.  Just as she settled in for the ride, the snow started.

Lightly at first but as she gained altitude past the tree line, the wind became more aggressive. Blowing snow limited her sight but she knew also that it would cover her trail. Her only worry was that there had been no snow falling at the fork below the tree line.

“She went East up towards the tree line” the Indian grunted to Jasper. “With a missing shoe in this dirt, she knew her trail would be easy to follow if she stayed on that trail. Once she hit’s the tree line there’s a trail up there where she can go either to Leadville or up to Mount Tweto and over to the mining town of Buckskin Joe.”

Jasper thought about it and finally spoke to the small group of men tracking Dana. “Mr. Willard gave me just three days to find her and bring her back. If after three days I don’t return with her, he’ll send out his men to stretch all our necks.

That dang negro boy wouldn’t admit to nothing, too bad for him. ‘Course, I ain’t  cryin’ no tears for a newly stove up negro boy, that’s for sure. Even so, just to temporarily save my own hide, I had to sign over ownership of the Greenhorn to Willard. That whores not gonna’ see Willard alive I tell you that!  An’ I’m gonna’ do some god awful things to her before I bring her dead carcass back to the Greenhorn, that’s for sure.

“So this is what I’m thinking. She ain’t no trail savvy cowboy so she’ll most likely head over to Leadville because the trail is easier. There ain’t no call or reason for her to head up to Mount Tweto. Most folk knows there ain’t no shelter on the trail up there. If you look to the north east, a winter storm is brewin’ big time up Tweto way. Even a stupid whore wouldn’t head into the teeth of a winter blow. No, she’s headed to Leadville, Let’s trail up to the divide atop the tree line and then head that a way.”

With that decision, Dana’s luck had turned again for the better.  By the time Jasper and his posse reached Leadville and realizing she had instead gone on up to Mount Tweto, the three days allotted for returning Dana would have run out.

Chapter 5

By the second day, the mare’s breathing was becoming more labored as they climbed higher into the Colorado mountains. Dana wrongly figured Mount Tweto should be just a few more miles ahead. She had heard patron’s talk of the passage over Mount Tweto to the town of Buckskin Joe but only in the summer months, never in the winter. Dana thought on this but decided she had no choice anyway. With the mare’s thrown shoe and Jasper most likely figuring on her to head to Leadville, she dismissed the thought that she had made a mistake.

By the third day, Dana began to realize just how big Colorado was. The staples she had and the grain for her horse in her saddle bags were pretty much gone. Having to huddle each night in a hole dug into a snow drift, she covered herself as best she could using her and her horses stiff wool saddle blanket.

That night Dana had fitful dreams of the young man she loved but had recently driven away. In her dreams she called to him as she watched him ride away, always into the storm.

By the morning of the fourth day, Dana was aware she may not make it to freedom after all. In fact, so weak was she that upon standing she nearly toppled over the cliff alongside the trail. That’s when she realized her mare was no longer there. Whether the mare left to return home from hunger or it too had miss stepped and had gone over the cliff’s edge, Dana did not know. She did know one thing though, without a horse, Dana the runaway whore was done for.

Finding a handful of grain in the bottom of her saddlebag, she chewed the hard beads and swallowed them. When she could find no more, she began to cry. Sitting pow wow fashion with her empty saddle bags on her lap, she wailed away. The storm with all its fury laughed back at her.

By nightfall, Dana was convinced she was not coming off the mountain top. She lay down in her dug out snowdrift and once again covered herself.  “I wonder what all went on after I left”, she mused.  “I shouldn’t have let Rufus do so much, he’ll be found out for sure. Poor Rufus, Oh why did I think they wouldn’t find out? Why was I so selfish to that poor boy?” Dana once again dozed off.

Dana awoke to a sound, or lack of it. During her fitful hours of sleep the storm had blown itself out. Dana reckoned it was near dawn. A sliver of moon and the stars of heaven lit the far away mountain peaks like giant diamonds glittering in a sea of black. Where the wind still raged in the furthest mountains, snow blew over the peaks like wind spray over ocean waves.

The breaking daylight removed the black sea and replaced it with green tree lines broken by purple and crystal white shadows. The sky was as light blue as blue can get. Amazed, Dana sat up in her dug out and gazed at the beautiful scene before her. If she were to die she thought, this is what she wanted to look upon during her last moments.

She wondered how the earth in all its beauty could sustain the evil of mankind, herself included she admitted . If she were God she thought, “I’d of never made man, I woulda’ just made what my eyes now see, beautiful things like mountains so’s I could enjoy looking at them.” Suddenly she felt very lonely. She then wistfully said, “All this beauty and no one to share it with, what a shame.”

It was then that she remembered what day it was. Christmas. She began to laugh. “I’m to die on Christmas day!”

Her laughter turned to tears as she remembered Christmas as a child. Her loving folks, the sound of hymns being sung at church, the story of baby Jesus being told and the reason for his birth. It all came tumbling back in an avalanche of childhood memories. She realized it was she who had driven God from her life, not the other way around. With the full knowledge that in all likely hood, today would be her last day on this earth, she prayed.  So fervent were her prayers that she did not hear the plodding hoof beats approach her from the direction she had come days before.

A shocked voice was suddenly heard, “My God, Dana, “Oh Lord my prayers have been answered!”

Like a spring being unwound, Dana violently shot standing up in a last ditch effort to defend herself from the fear that the rider was none other than Jasper Shroud. Looking about wildly for other riders that usually accompany him, she began edging towards the cliff. She would rather throw herself into the abyss below than face Jasper’s torment.

But something about the voice halted her at the edge. Trying to see the face hidden in the morning shadow his hat cast, she stood there prepared to leap.

“Dana! No, don’t, it’s me, Ben.”

Removing his hat his sandy colored hair was whipped backward in a gust of breeze, showing his face.

“When you told me to leave”, he said, “ I was sorely hurt an in my selfishness I went back to my ranch an’ pouted like a schoolboy. I tried to forget you, I really did but I could no sooner stop lovin’ you than I could stop my own heart beating by wishin’ it.”

Dana stood transfixed, her hands slowly cupping her mouth and nose. “ Ben? Is it you? How did you find…”

Jumping down off his horse he grabbed Dana by the shoulders, his eyes searching her face.

“ I went back for you. I had to one last time see you, to offer you everything I had if you’d just leave the Greenhorn and come back with me. But when I got to Mosquito Gulch, you was all the news. Folks there said you robbed the rail baron Henry Willard and carved up his behind as a message to his wife that he’s a cheatin’ skunk! Word was, Willard had given Jasper just three days to find you, then he’d send his men after him.”

“Ben, How did you find me?  What made you decide on which trail I took?”

“Well, When I got to the fork an found Jasper, the Madam an’ the rest of his friends all neck tide on a tree, I figured they wasted them three days lookin’ for you in Leadville, so why should I?”

Dana, weak as she was, wrapped her arms around Ben and looking up into his eyes asked, “Now that you found me, do you really think a whore like me could ever be a fit wife for a man as good as you? Really Ben? “

Ben, leaned down and kissed her, “Dana, we all have our good an’ bad points about us. I ain’t no better fer callin’ on you than you was fer lettin’ me into your bed.  I guess like the good book tells us, We all fall short but for the grace of God we’d all be lost. It’s Gods Christmas present to us Dana.  If you’ll be my wife, I promise you this, I’ll try to be the best present you could ever wish for”

Dana said to him smiling, “ Dear Ben, I have no gift but myself to offer you in return.  If you want me, I’m yours… but I want three, no,  four more promises from you .”

Thinking of all the savory and unsavory possibilities of what those promises might be, Ben nervously asked,” What are these four promises you ask for Dana.”

Dana stepped back and weak as she was, a glint of mischief still hinted in her beautiful blue eyes.

“First, we are to be married by a preacher just as soon as we can because a lady does not bed a man until  they are married. I do  hope you own a nice Sunday go to meeting oufit , ‘cause each Sunday we’ll be sittin’ front and center in them church pews, OK?”

Ben gulped, “Yes’m, married. Preacher…pews…OK”

“Second , get on over to that nag you rode up on and rustle us up some grub from your saddle bags. If you haven’t noticed I’ve been starving up here.”

“ Grub, Gotcha, What’s the third promise?” Ben asked.

“Get me the heck off this here mountain and set me in front of the biggest fire the stove at your ranch can make,  I about froze to death waitin’ on you to come rescue me!”

By now  Ben was chuckling as he finally realized Dana was only toying with him so he asked, “An the fourth Promise?”

Lifting her hand, she gave him the “come hither” wiggle with her finger… and said, “ Come here and promise to kiss me again.”

It was a promise he never broke.

The Salt River Posse shoot out

Chapter 1  

Tom Hicks watched the grazing cattle from the small rise that overlooked the Tri H  ranch.  From where he sat on top of the blue roan’s saddle, everything looked tranquil but Tom knew looks were deceiving.

Two thousand plus head of cattle freely meandered along the Salt River’s north side in search of fresh graze. The dust kicked up by their plodding could be seen for miles from the surrounding mountain ranges.

The Tri H ranch had been carved out of the eastern end Salt River Valley.  To the west, the sleepy town of Phoenix lay basking in the Sonora desert’s heat. Competition for good graze was stiff among the valley’s ranches and that sometimes led to harsh words blackened and eyes. But, never was a gun drawn between ranches.  All that could abruptly change when sixteen hundred cattle mysteriously disappeared from the valley’s ranches in one swipe.

In the distance a lone rider made his way to where Tom’s lookout camp lay snuggled in the valley’s eastern Superstition Mountain range.

Tom had spotted the rider early on and after confirming by spyglass that the rider was his brother Larry, he relaxed. This was a new twist to ranching. Never before had a need for posted guards been necessary.  While it was true that ranch hands on horseback had always kept watch over the herd, it was unusual to keep a loaded rifle across your saddle. Some hands had never worn a gun while most had only shot at mountain lions or other calf attacking predators. The thought of having to kill a man put the hands at ill ease. After all, shooting at a man also meant the man might be shooting back.

Tom watched as his brother Larry made his way through the desert brush towards him. When Larry made it to hailing distance, Top eased his horse forward to meet him.

Larry tipped his hat in greeting and asked, “What’s the word bro?”

“Haven’t seen a thing outside a lone coyote. What’s the word from the others?”

“I put Chet up in the Estrella’s to the southwest and Billy’s stashed himself north in the White Tanks. We got the valley pretty much in view except to the northwest but the Rocking J’s got that and the passes further west covered.  I spoke with the Mormon widow who owns the land on the other side of the Salt but she denies seeing anybody either.  She’s sure a weird bird. I barely had time to say goodbye before she slammed the door in my face.“

Tom looked questioningly at his brother. The three brothers had busted butt getting the Tri H  up and running. To have it all taken away by some unknown rustler gang put heat under both their collars. Tom was the eldest of the three boys their West Virginian parents had raised. None were given birth by the only mother they knew. It was when Chet, who was the youngest and still an infant, that a house fire took the boys birth parents and an older sister.

At the time of the fire, the small town of Concord Church was being invaded by construction workers building the rural branch of State Normal University out of Beckley. The house fire had suspicious origins but a quick investigation by the Mercer County Sheriff exonerated a man previously suspected of having made lewd advances on the daughter. The newspapers focused their suspicions on the integrity of the hired workers until the man later was found dead. The Sheriff was visibly shaken when told of his pervert cousin’s death by bludgeoning. The funeral ceremony was held with a closed coffin that few people attended.

The three young brothers were taken in by a local Minister and his wife.  The boys grew to be fine young men but none wanted to follow in their elderly adopted father’s footsteps. Instead they spent most of their days hunting and trapping in the steep Blue Ridge Mountains. Although five years spread the three brothers apart from each other, they all had such similar features that many folks believed they were triplets. Blond hair, hazel green eyes and a strong wiry build was the typical look of the southern mountain folks of West Virginia.

One by one, as they reached the age, each left the confines of the small town recently renamed Athens and found themselves being drawn by the call to move west. Shortly after their mothers death by natural causes, Tom was the first of the brothers to buy land alongside the Salt River in the Arizona territory and move out.

Within the year, the two younger brothers followed following the death of their aged father from the fever. By purchasing and combining their separated holdings the Tri H  ranch in the Arizona Territory was born. As the Tri H grew the need for a good on Ranch Foreman was obvious but no one had ever filled the bill. They came and they went but for the most part running the ranch from the saddle was always left up to Larry and Tom.

Looking at his brother in the bright Arizona sun Tom spoke, “Lar, I just can’t figure how a stranger who doesn’t know a dang thing about the area could waltz in here, round up and drive out sixteen hundred head from the different ranches and get away with it.”

Larry lifted a canteen to his dry lips and took a long pull. “That’s for sure. My guess is that whoever done it has been livin’ here for quite a spell. They knew when the rainy season would begin and end. My thinking is that the rustling was timed so each ranch was hit at a different day under the cover of rain. That’s also why no prints were ever found. Hell, you can’t drive five cattle let alone over a thousand without leavin’ tracks unless they’s washed out by the rains.”

“Yeah, I’m in agreement with that. Tell me this Lar, where could the cattle eventually end up at? Texas? Mexico? Somewhere still in Arizona?”

“I suppose they could have ended up anywhere except California or Utah. One has a deadly desert that no cattle could cross and the other has a gigantic canyon in front of it. My bet is they was headed south into Mexico. No one gives a crap about brands down that way and they already caught and hung two Mexicans for rustling this year outside of Tucson.”

Tom thought about it for a bit then as said, “If they headed straight to Mexico, they’d have had to pass by Rustlers Roost Mountain. I’m not sure even the Haney gang there would put up with a bunch of Mexicans passing through with stolen cattle. We all know the Haney’s use that mountain to hide out at after grabbin’ up a few cows at a time to sell to the eateries in Phoenix, but they’s small time. They’re not much different from the mountain folk back in West Virginia. They know how much they can get away with before folks get too pissed of at ‘em and do something about it. No, I’m thinkin’ if they were Mexicans, they’d head toward Texas then head south into Mexico through the passes following the San Pedro River. My guess is, they’d skirt the stockyards in Bisbee by catching the Sonora River west of Mescal then drive the herd to Agua Zarka in Mexico. I hear there are some mighty big ranches down that way. Some of them are in the millions of acres.”

“Then what’re you sayin’ Tom? That we are wasting our time posting guards throughout the valley?”

“I hate to say this Lar but I think our cattle are on their way to a Mexican dinner table and the rustlers ain’t nowhere near here anymore.”

Larry sat there nodding his head.  “You know what Tom? Ya’ have to admit, nobody knows the weather here better than the Mexicans. They’ve been here for hundreds of years an’ the weather down there ain’t much different than it is here. Mexicans would know how to time it just right so no tracks would be left.”

“Do me a favor Larry, take my place up here for a spell, will you? I’m gonna’ head over to the Rocking J and chew this new thinkin’ over with their Segundo, Ray Plaques.”

“Why Ray and not the owner?

“Mr Miles might be a nice guy but he’s from England. He runs a good operation but you’d never see him wear a gun, that’s why he hired Plaques as his Segundo. Plaques word is the law around the Rocking J territory and he sure ain’t no naive foreigner like Miles is. Rays a good man in a rotten job.”

Chapter 2

   Ray Plaques stood on the small porch of his private cabin the Rocking J owner provided him. He watched as Toms blue roan made its way past the cow pens to head his way.

Tom reigned up to the cabin, dismounted and loosened the roan’s saddle cinch. Taking off his wide brimmed Stetson hat, he beat the dust off of himself with it.

“Afternoon Tom!” Ray grunted, “ C’mon inside, let’s get out’a the sun.”

“Sounds good to me Ray, got anything besides water to drink?”

“Hell, you know I don’t drink Tom. I got some fresh squeezed lemonade inside though.”

Putting his hand on Toms back, Ray guided Tom indoors and out of the sun.

Putting his empty lemonade cup down Tom continued speaking, “So that’s it in a nutshell Ray, I think we ought to get us a legal posse and head down Mexico way. Those cattle have a long way to travel and a mess load of difficult passes to get through before they reach the safety of Mexico.  I think we can meet up with the herd before they get to the border.”

On the table’s top in the small kitchen, Ray spun his own empty cup in circles using his finger.

“Damn,” He said, ” Here I had the wild hope they was driving the cows to Colorado or even Wyoming territory. If they were, we could leave it up to the authorities there to round ‘em up. Now that you laid it all out though, I think you’re right. I guess I was just hoping to stay out of it but even in those territories it would have been hard to rebrand those cows without looking suspicious because of all the different brands the ranches use. I guess I better strap on a gun again.”

“So do you think the Rocking J and the rest that lost cattle will back a posse?”

“I know I will but you gotta ask the others but I’m pretty sure the double C and the Z Bar none most likely would. Each of ‘em lost over three hundred head apiece. It’s a good thing that Mormon widow south of here sold off her herd or I’m sure they’d be gone too.

“What’s the story with the Mormon Widow. All I know is her husband and kid died in some sort of mining accident on their land a few months back.”

Ray removed his hat and ran his fingers through his sweat dampened hair saying, “Darned if I know what’s goin’ on over there. I had heard from the Mormon fella that used to be in their pay that the family had some major confrontations with the Church’s Leaders up in Utah. He was under the impression that the family was told to leave the fold so they ended up down here. Other than that, the fella said everything was goin’ well until the mine accident. The widow told him she was sellin’ off the herd and couldn’t afford him no more so he came here lookin’ for work. I couldn’t use him at the time so he went his way. Don’t ask me how she makes her bills now without no men folk around.”

“Maybe they had some saved up when she sold off her herd. I mean it couldn’t be much, she only had a hundred o0r so head. My brother Larry told me he stopped by her place the other day and asked if she saw any rustlers.”

“What’d she tell him?”

“She told him no. No excuses or explanations were given. Then she closed the door on him.”

“I don’t doubt it, they was a strange group. I once ran into the Mister once at the General store here in Buckeye. You’d a thought I was a going to rob him the way he acted. Just as soon as he was finished loading his wagon he beat the hell outa’ there like the Devil was after him.”

“Well, she’s the least of our worries right now. With your permission I’m gonna’ speak to the other ranch owners and tell ‘em you’re on board with forming a posse with us.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll get a few of our hands that are good with a gun to tag along, just in case things get ugly.”

“My brother Larry and I will be going and while we ain’t no fast draws, there ain’t much that we can’t hit when the trigger’s pulled.”

“I heard you West Virginia mountain boys was as quiet as Indians and twice as deadly.”

“Well, it’s true that us mountain bred folk don’t take kindly to trespassers or thieves. You ever try and hunt a turkey? Shoot, you even exhale loudly and they disappear like smoke in the wind. As far as strangers go, Folks that go traipsing over other peoples land without a holler to the owner first will be spendin’ that afternoon pluckin’ buckshot from outa’ his behind.”

Chapter 3

That night found Tom tired and hungry as he rode up to the Tri H Ranch house. Stopping to unsaddle and wipe his horse down before taking care of his own needs, Tom finally found himself at the table gulping down hot coffee and a bowl of beef stew.

“So far everyone I talked to is willing to add their own riders to the posse,” Tom told his brothers.  Looking over the top of his cup, he continued speaking. “Larry, I think Chet should stay behind since Chet is the best at figures and office duties. Me an’ you are replaceable if something bad was to happen to us but if Chet here got shot up, the ranch wouldn’t last a year without his book keeping.” Then with a sly smile at his brother, he added, “ Besides, we’re better shots.”

Chet nodded in agreement, not because by any means he was afraid to go but he understood better than anyone that a ranch without a good book keeper doesn’t last long. It’s the book keeper that does the wheeling and dealing and has to balance the cost of the operation versus the price the time of sale.

“What about the law?” Chet asked, “Are you going to get the U.S Marshal involved?”

Tom answered, “I already did that. We’re all legal like. On my way back from Goodyear I stopped down in Phoenix and got an order from the Marshal. That’s what took me so long getting back here. Oh, by the way, Territorial Judge McCarthy was in town and signed it too so we’re double covered. That way nobody can say we’re a vigilante posse taking the law into our own hands. I got deputized by the Marshal an’ he even gave me a badge.” Pulling  the shiny star shaped badge from his pocket, he laid it on the table.

Getting up, he placed the empty plate and cup in a wash bucket. When their cook came back in the morning, he’d clean up the mess. As he headed upstairs he stopped at the bottom step.

“Before I forget to tell ya’, on the way back here from the judge, I had a chance to stop over at the Mormon widows place.”

“She slam the door in your face? Larry said she did that to him.”

“No. She wasn’t even there.”

“You sure she just wasn’t hiding from ya?”

“I’m sure. After I gave the door a good banging, I checked the door and found it was unlocked.”

“So, I take it you entered? What’d ya’ find?”

“Not much. The stove was cold. Maybe she went to town.”

“Near dark? That don’t make sense.” Chet followed Tom upstairs and turned into his own room. “Well, I’m headin’ off to bed, I got better things to think about than some old crazy Mormon widow. Besides, I need my beauty sleep if you and Larry are leaving me here all alone to do the real work.”

“Well, one thing is for sure Chet, you definitely need to catch up on your beauty sleep!”

   From the six ranches that were hit by the rustlers, seventeen men were rounded up for the posse. Three pack horses joined the group and two extra riding horses. Knowing the rustlers had a good week’s head start, possibly even two, on the posse rode as hard as the desert terrain permitted. The best they could muster that day was twenty miles. The Arizona desert is no place to see how fast a horse can go.

Larry who had left earlier had been riding far ahead as the posse’s scout. On day two he returned to the others at a gallop.

It was at the crossing of the Rio San Pedro River south of Phoenix that he had caught sight of the cattle trail. While the rain had washed the cattle’s tracks clear on the desert floor, nothing could hide the damage all those hooves did to the steep river bank.

“You was right Tom, they’re on their way to Mexico! They must’ve turned east once they passed near  Tempe then crossed the Rio San Pedro at Florence. Their trail runs east along the southern side of the River.”

Tom agreed, “Figured as much, now all we gotta’ do is get ahead of ‘em somehow.”

One of the Z Bar None’s hands they called Donut spoke up. “I know a way to get ahead of ‘em. I was raised in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. I know every pass and old Indian trail there is from there to Mexico. Even if the herd can make ten miles a day, they still gotta stay by water. That means they’ll be huggin’ the San Pedro till they get to Fairbank. There’s a split in the river there that heads west, just a small creek but still it’s enough water for the herd. There’s no need for ‘em to go anywhere near Water Tank 17 or Bisbee. They can cut through the pass by McLaughlin Peak with no one the wiser. They’ll have to drive the cattle through the pass an’ be without water for a day, maybe even two till they get to the Santa Cruz River at Calabasas. From there it’s a straight shot south to Agua Zarka in Mexico.”

Tom thought about it then told the group. “I’m gonna put Donut here in lead. My brother Larry got us this far but at this point, I believe Donut’s our best chance of getting’ ahead of ‘em.”

Tom turned to Larry and asked, “You ain’t holdin’ any hard feelings given up lead scout are you?”

“Shoot no! I’m plumb happy Donut spoke up. I’m not real familiar with the territory this far south no how.” Taking the spyglass’s leather case he had attached to his saddle horn, Larry handed it over to Donut, telling him, “Here, you might need this.”

Tom nodded and told Donut, “Use that glass. If you spot the herd or run into trouble you high tail it right back to us. Don’t be a dead hero on account of some cows. Now where do we go from here?”

Donut pointed to the south west. “Our best bet is to head that a way till we reach Picacho lake then turn south and make our way through the pass at Red Rock. From there we can catch the Santa Cruz. We’ll be cutting more than a week off our travels if we take that way. There ain’t no water from Lake Picacho to the Santa Cruz so we’ll need to water up good at the lake.”

Tom nodded in a way that told Donut to head on out.

 

Chapter 4

   The seventeen riders rode wearily through the heat of Arizona’s Undulating Plain. Temperatures exceeded one hundred and five degrees. The riders unpacked their bedrolls and laid them over the rumps of the horses to protect them as best as they could from the desert sun. As they made their way to Picacho Lake, concern was expressed at how fast they were going through the reserve canteens of water.

Donut returned with the news that Picacho Lake lay only seven miles ahead. Still, it took three more hours to reach its shores. Two miles from the lake, the horses lifted their noses into the air smelling the fresh water. Though half done in, they found renewed strength and immediately picked up their pace.

The sight of the small lake brought the men to delirious shouts of joy.  Reaching the shore, they drove their horses directly into the shallow water. The men clumsily dismounted and fell bodily into the lake thanking their maker for the cool water of the desert oasis.

“We’ll make camp here for the night.” Tom told them. “Donut, take a couple extra canteens and once your horse is cooled and rested, head on out again. Find a spot to make camp for the night up ahead.  At first light, break camp and continue on, we’ll follow your trail.The rest of you water and rest up while Biscuit here cooks us up some grub.”

Biscuit began to unpack the trail supplies while a friendly hand from the Rocking J helped out by getting a fire going. After everyone had eaten, a bucket of lake water was brought up for washing the dishes and pots. A two gallon pot of fresh coffee was hung over the fire to keep it heated. Two riders were chosen to stand watch. Each would take a half night. No one had any real fear of being attacked but when you’re after rustlers, it was better to think ahead than walk back on foot.

The morning sun burst across the lake as if it had been lit on fire. Each cowboy rubbed the sleep from his eyes and made his way stumbling to the coffee pot.

Damn, I slept like I was sleepin’ on rocks!” One man exclaimed. Another turned, looked at the cowboy and told him, “You were ya’ idjut! Look where ya’ laid your bedroll. Ain’t nothing but gravel!”

Looking over at where he had spent the night, the cowboy grinned, “Huh, don’t that beat all! No wonder I ain’t slept none. Kind of gives a new meaning to the word ‘bedrock’.”

Travel was easier but just as hot and waterless as the previous day. By evening though they had made it to the small cluster of shacks called Rillito. They camped outside the town but stopped in town to water their horses and refill the canteens. Hey purchased a load of hay and a sack of oats and carried them back to the camp for the horses. Once again, two sentries were chosen to split the night watch.

The next night found them just west of the town of Tucson. Before making camp they crossed over the Santa Cruz River. They and the river  were now headed due south toward Calabasas and Mexico.

It was hoped that they were far enough ahead of the herd that they could set up an ambush just east of Calabasas. It was there they expected the herd would be trailed though the Santa Rita Pass. As long as everything went well, the posse should arrive in time. The rustled herd of cattle needed water and graze so they had to be trailed along the much longer route that wound its way eastward almost to the rowdy town of Tombstone. From there they had to head south then west to Calabasas through the long narrow Santa Rita pass. It was at the western end of this ten mile long pass that Donut had told them was the surest place to set up an ambush.

It was when the posse passed Mt. Baldy on the Santa Rita Mountains that things began to look bad. They were only five miles north of Calabasas when Donut came charging back on his panting horse.

“Tom!” Donut yelled as he reigned up hard. “We got trouble ahead. The herd will be comin’ through the Santa Rita Pass tomorrow by noon but them rustlers set up a system of guards along both sides of the western end of the pass. The best place for us to lay in wait for ‘em is now occupied by men up in the cliffs with rifles. I think they figured like we did that it was the best place to ambush ‘em at.”

Tom looked grimly up at Donut. “Could ya’ count how many men? Did ya see the herd to verify it’s even them?”

‘‘Maybe five in all but in them hills it might as well be a hunert. They’s dug in good. I could see the dust bein’ kicked up by a large herd. It can only be them. Who else would be drivin’ a herd of cattle to no where?”

In frustration Tom threw down his hat and kicked it into the air, “Dang! If we can’t get ‘em in the pass, then we might as well just play a squeeze box and waltz ‘em on into Mexico!”

Donut spat the dust out of his mouth from the ride, “Yup, once they’s in the open, we can’t both round up the herd and deal with the rustlers at the same time. They’ll just pick us off like they’s at a turkey shoot. We gotta figure how to keep ‘em all in the pass. One man shooting a pistol at the far eastern end of the pass will keep the cows from escaping back the way they come and all the commotion we’ll be making on the western end, ain’t no way the cattle will head into the open plains of Calabasas on their own”

Larry stepped up to Tom telling him. “There’s only one way we can do this. You and I are the only ones here that is mountain savvy. We have only till dawn to take ‘em out. We’ll take Donut with us since he saw where they was hiding there about. Once we spot ‘em all with his help, Donut can come on back here and bring two more with him. By morning there will still be five men up in the cliffs with rifles but it’s gonna’ be us, not them.”

“It’s the way I see it too.”

Tom turned to the group and laid out the plan for them. When everyone knew his job, Donut and the two brothers disappeared into the pass by the light of the setting sun.

Taking the spyglass with them, they reached the spot Donut had viewed the hidden men from. Two had hidden themselves in the rocky outcroppings along the southern side while the other three had snuggled themselves along the north side. Each man had spaced themselves a good fifty feet from each other for better shooting coverage. That decision was a blessing for Tom and his group. If they were spaced too close together, taking them out would be difficult without their friends hearing the rucus.

Each of the three took turns using the spyglass. When it was determined by each that in fact there were only five men, Donut was sent back to gather up the other two and return with them.

Tom stealthily climbed the cliff face on the south side while Larry did the same on the north. By midnight each brother was only yards from their first man.

Tom had climbed above and to the west of his man. He could see a rifle propped up against the cliff wall while the shooter sat sitting hidden on a jagged ledge. The only access to the shooter was from directly overhead. Tom would have to jump from above and kill him the moment he landed on top of him. With his partner only fifty feet away, he’d have to be Indian silent. He was. Tom removed the long bladed knife from the small of the man’s neck just under the back of his skull. Tom had hoped that just his original intention of surrounding the men would give them pause and seeing the futility of it all would instead give themselves up. But not this group, they were hardened men.

Larry had an easier time dispatching his first man. The man had fallen asleep.

Tom had only one more man to deal with while Larry still had two. It was then that it began to rain. While it made the going slick, the flashes of far away lighting gave enough light to easily see how to get close to their next man.

Tom again climbed above his man but found it too far above the man lying in wait to safely jump down upon him as he did the first. He decided to back track and attack him from below. By  2 am the rain was being driven sideways and the thunder was echoing deafeningly off the walls within the pass.

Larry decided to let nature cover his attack. He was now only ten feet from the second man hidden in the cliff. Still, he knew that a pistol fired at seventy odd feet had a real risk of either missing or just maiming the man so he returned to his first kill and returned with the man’s rifle.  A rifle at seventy feet was child’s play. He’d leave the man ten feet from him alone while he took aim at the more distant one. Once he took the shot, he’d then drop his barrel to the closer man.

A lightning bolt suddenly seared it’s way into the pass causing the cliff walls to shudder. At that moment across the pass, Tom heard the unmistakable sound of the rifle blasting the man into eternity. Without waiting, he also took advantage of the thunder and rose up in front of the man trying to stare across the pass where he had heard the gunshot come from. The man’s eyes widened as if seeing a ghost as the open bore of Toms barrel appeared inches from his face. It didn’t matter that there was any thunder to cover the shot. The only one who could have heard it was on the other side of the pass and dying quickly from Larry’s second shot.

By 4am the storm had passed and the two brothers had safely returned to the mouth of the pass at the western end. There they found Donut and the two chosen shooters anxiously waiting for them.

When the brothers crept into view, the men showed their relief. “Wooeee!” Donut exclaimed loudly, “Boy am I glad it’s you two that showed up an’ not them other fella’s!”

Larry patted Donut on the back and said, “Naw, they ain’t gonna show up nowhere but in hell! We lucked out an had us a storm hit just when we needed it. Heck, it even washed the cliffs off of blood.”

Tom pointed to the passes south side, “Donut, you and another man from the posse will take the place of those two on this side. You other two men go with Larry, he’ll show you where to hunker down at. When the herd arrives, they’ll be expecting a signal of some sort so gather up them dead folks coat an’ hat and put ‘em on. When you see Larry come out an’ wave his rifle, you all do the same. Just don’t make yourself too visible to ‘em. Keep in the shadows. I’m sure they got pards that would recognize you ain’t them if they get a good eyeball on ya’. We ain’t got much time for talkin’ here so here’s the plan quick like. Wait until the flank riders is equal to ya’ then knock ‘em from their saddles. When the lead riders turn around and come back, hit em hard. Donut? Was the rest of the posse comin’ up behind you?”

“Sure are, In fact I see ‘em now.”

“Good, I’ll tell them what they need to do. Larry, you and your boys get up in the cliffs now and get in position. Donut, see that rustlers body  hanging over that ledge up the cliff? Hide it and set yourself in his place. From there you can see the other dead fella. Have whoever I send up to you to hide that one too and make sure he knows what I told you all.”

After the others had left, Tom walked westward to the mouth of the pass where he met up with the rest of the posse.

“The pass is clear of shooters. Our men are taking their place. Who’s a good shot with a rifle here?” One man raised his hand.

“OK, you get up on the south side of the cliff. Donut will meet up with ya’ and fill you in on what you need to know. The rest of you hide yourselves about a hundred yards from each other along the length of the pass behind the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. Two of you are to stay here and hide the horses. If the cattle bust on through, use your pistols to make enough noise to drive ‘em back into the pass. We don’t want any cattle to get past you or we’ll never get ‘em back once they is free to run. I’m heading up the pass as far as I can to get behind the riders and herd. Someone’s got to make sure the herd doesn’t turn around and head back east when the shooting starts. I need one man with me that’s good with a pistol.”

Tom turned to a young rider that wore his pistol low in the way an experienced shootist would. Pointing at the kid, he yanked his head toward the eastern end of the pass. “Kid, come with me.”

The sun was straight up when the first rider showed. As he trotted forward he continuously turned his head from side to side looking up the cliff walls.

When the scout made it to where Larry was hiding in the upper cliffs shadows, Larry moved forward enough to show himself but not enough to be well lit up by the sun. He raised his rifle in salute then stepped back into the shadows. As the rider looked from his right to his left, the other posse members imitated Larry’s actions. The scout sat unmoving for a moment, then satisfied that the pass was secure, clicked his horse forward.

A minute later the lead riders and first cows appeared behind him. The riders were Mexicans.

Tom and the young gun he had chosen to go with him had earlier during the night made their way east up the pass. They had traveled on foot about a quarter of a mile before finding decent cover in the fallen rocks. They eyed the lead riders and cattle as they bpassed beyond them. Tom could see the tail of the herd approaching with three drag riders following behind them.

The herd stretched nearly the entire quarter mile that the spread out posse given them. As the lead cow neared the exit of the pass, at the other end the last cows and drag riders passed the rocks hiding Tom and the young gun. It was now or never.

From the western end of the pass a quarter mile away, Tom heard the sound of a single gunshot ricocheting off the passes walls. The drag riders immediately pulled iron and two quickly dismounted while the third galloped ahead to where the shot had come from. Looking for cover, the unfortunate drag riders chose the best place within the fallen rocks to hold off an attack. The two ran headlong into the raised Colt pistols of Tom and the young gun.

Staying within the shadows and safety of the rocks, Tom shouted his demand at the two as they ran towards him. “Drop those pistols!”

Instead of dropping the guns, the two split up from each other and began firing into the shadows. The shorter of the two drag riders nearly made it to safety after emptying the pistol’s cylinder on the run. The young low holstered kid stepped out in front of his hiding spot and put three quick shots into the drag riders chest. The drag rider was blown airborne and backwards from the three 45 caliber slugs that punched through flesh and bone.

“Damn you all!” Came the curse of the second drag rider. Stopping in his tracks, he ran back towards where his fallen pard lay bleeding out. Seeing the young gun still exposed, he raised his own pistol and fired repeatedly at the kid. Whether or not any of his slugs found their mark he never knew. When the man raised his gun towards the young man, Tom emptied his six shooter into him. Each of the dying mans shots were deadly but the rocks that the slugs plowed into, didn’t seem to care.

From the other end of the pass, a rapid mix of pistol and rifle gunshots could be heard. Wanting to throw himself into the fray, Tom cautioned himself to stay put in case the cattle turned and stampeded back towards the direction they had came from. Tom looked over at the kid who like himself, stood reloading his empty gun. The kid saw the questioning look in Toms eyes and shouted over the din of the cattle and echoing gunfire. “I’m alright!” He yelled. Tom nodded back quickly in acknowledgement.

Meanwhile, the rest of the posse were in the heat of a free for all gunfight. Riding alongside of the cattle, the flank riders had been able to dismount and find quick cover in the boulders. None had been hit upon dismounting but one never made it to the rocks. It was nine against thirteen but soon became seven then four against thirteen. The posse had the advantage because they had taken plenty of time to dig themselves safely into the shadows and rocks.

The rifles placed up high in the rocks had taken a devastating toll on the rustlers. Those posse members below kept the rustlers from returning much fire by laying down a layer of withering gunfire into the rocks. The sound of ricocheting slugs off the rocks sounded like a swarm of bees taking flight.

Finally, with only two men returning gun fire they rustlers called it quits and threw out their guns. Stepping out from the rocks with their hands held high they stood quietly as they their hands were bound behind them.

With the end of the gunshots, the cattle began to settle down so Tom began walking westward down the pass to where the main gunfight was held. Heading his way was Donut, who had climbed down from his post in the cliff and Ray Plaques, the Segundo from the Rocking J Ranch. Ray had just finished instructing a fellow cowboy from the Rocking J to seek out any cattle that had been hit and was suffering beyond help. He was telling them to put the cows out of their misery when he saw Donut approaching him.

“Dang” Cried Donut as the two turned and began making their way to Tom, “All this shootin’ got’s me all riled up! Lookit my hands is a shakin’ like an old Granpaw!”

Ray shook his head in wonder, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen this much lead flying. I’m amazed none of us is planting daisy’s.”

“That’s ‘cause most all the lead was comin’ from our side!” Pointing to Tom and the Kid, Donut continued talking, “I see them two held their own too.”

“Anybody on our side hit?” Tom asked.

Ray shook his head, “Nope, not even a scratch as far as I know. I see you two had your own hands full. We got two left alive to hang back there. They’re tied up but when we questioned them they refused to do any talking.”

Tom told the two posse members, “Let’s gather up their dead and get these cattle headed back east in the pass. We’re gonna’ have to retrace the trail they was led here on. Once we get back to the Salt River, we’ll divide ‘em up by brand and get ‘em back to the ranch’s they belong to.”

A shout from the young gun got the attention of the three as they stood talking.

“Tom, get on over here and take a look see!” The young man shouted.

When the three approached the kid, he said, “Remember on the way down here we was all wondering how the rustlers could up and steal sixteen hundred head with no one seeing anything? Well, if you look down on that dead one layin’ there I think you’ll see our answer.”

Tom and the others walked over to the shorter of the dead rustlers. Looking down at the chest shot figure he exclaimed loudly.

“Well I’ll be damned! It’s the Mormon Widow!”

“Look over here, you recognize that man?”

Tom and the others stepped over to where the body of the other rustler lay. It was the man who tried to return to his fallen pard and was shot to death by Tom.

Ray spoke up. “Well I’ll be! It’s her husband. I bet their kid’s back there layin’ dead or is one that’s tied up. They faked their death to throw off any suspicion of their rustling. I bet that was the reason their church leaders disowned ‘em! They found out what they really was. Just a plain ‘ol pack a thieves!”

Tom told the others, “There was three riding drag. One of ‘em took to heels and headed up thev pass when the shooting started. I’d recognize him so lets get up that way and see if we can find him. Donut, will you and the Kid here keep the cows from wandering? We’ll be herding them up and heading ‘em out in a little bit. Donut, you take lead again but I don’t see a need for you to be more than a mile ahead. Just keep the herd pointed along their own trail.”

As Tom and Ray headed back down the pass, Tom suddenly stopped and stuck his hand out to Ray. “I owe you my thanks Ray. I know you was hired on as a hired gun Segundo by Mr. Miles. If ever you want to unbuckle your guns holster and take on the thankless life of a Ranch Foreman, I’d take it as an honor if you’d stop by the Tri H first. You’d find yourself welcome with us any time.”

Ray stood quietly searching for any doubt of insincerity in Toms face. Finding none he replied. “Every man who lives by the gun, pulls the trigger one last time. I’m thinking this was mine.” Still grasping Toms hand in a firm handshake he added, “If being your Foreman means I get a private cabin, I’ll be stopping by.”

Tom started chuckling and replied, ” Ray, you’re pushin’ it… but I think we  can find it in the budget to get you one built!”

“And and feather bed with silk blankets?”

“You? A feather bed? Not on your life my friend, not on your life!”

The Caltrop ranch

Chapter 1  

Raeford Cobbler was going into the cattle business, just as soon as he finished dinner.

Born into a family of (what else) cobblers, Raeford tried his best to follow in the family tradition but by the age of twenty he couldn’t take it anymore. One evening around the dinner table it all came to a head when his aging father declared his intent to turn the business over to his son.

“Why that’s wonderful,” Raeford’s mother beamed, “he’s such a smart boy.” Looking across the table at her other son, her smile turned into a sour pout,” Who would be better than Raeford to carry on? Bradford?”

Bradford was Raeford’s twin brother. The two brothers couldn’t have been more different. Raeford was of thin build, had blond hair and his blue eyes needed spectacles to see any distance. Everyone in town knew of his high intelligence for book learning. There were few subjects that Raeford was not an expert at. Most all of it learned after work hours in his room as he read book after book by lamp light.

On the other hand, Bradford stood a whole head taller, had brown hair and perfect brown eyes. Bradford was built as big and strong as a brick made Kansas outhouse. His large hands dwarfed his father’s tiny leather tools making him appear almost clumsy. He really should have had his own tools custom made years ago but everyone figured Raeford would be the one to inherit the business so why bother spending the money on Bradford. Besides, it wasn’t like either brother really needed cobblers tools anyway. The cobbler shop had grown into a successful upscale woman’s bootery and had six European immigrant cobblers on staff. Under these immigrant cobblers, the brothers had fulfilled their apprenticeship but never took it seriously. Neither spent much time within the confines of the working portion of the shop. Instead, Raeford spent most of his time within the office helping the accountant while Bradford spent his taking extended camping trips in the wilderness hunting wild game.

“What’s wrong with Bradford taking over?” Raeford asked. “He’s as good at running the ‘Village Cobbler’ as I am and he can hire more staff to do the books instead of me doing them.”

Missus Cobbler looked appalled and throwing her nose into the air snipped, “Why there is no way Bradford could fill your father’s shoes!”

Being cobblers and hearing the term “fill your fathers shoes’’ started both brothers giggling. Though they were different as night was to day, they were still twin brothers and had a special bond. That wasn’t to say they agreed on everything, in fact about the only thing that they wholeheartedly agreed on was neither wanted anything to do with their fathers business.

Mister Cobbler had sat quietly watching the goings on at the table after announcing his decision.

“Henry, tell your two sons your decision is final and that I won’t hear any more of it!”

Mrs Cobbler rose abruptly from her chair and stomped off into the sitting room where she sat dabbing her eyes with a kerchief she carried at all times in her laced sleeve cuff.

From behind the French doors that divided the two rooms, the three men could hear Mrs Cobbler bemoaning her lot in life.   As usual, no matter what went on, it always ended up being all about Mrs Cobbler and her lot in life.

Coming from a wealthy Boston family, Mrs Cobbler was raised expecting the world to cow tow to her every whim. When she was of marrying age, her father was delighted to rid his home of her rants and pouts by immediately giving Henry permission to marry her… on one condition.

“And what condition is that Sir?” Henry had asked him.

“That you take her as far away from here as possible!”

Her father transplanted the two west to Kansas City. Before their arrival in Kansas, he had purchased a large hilltop brick home as a wedding present for the two using his own staff to make all the purchase and relocating arraignments. As an added incentive, he also purchased a well known Cobbler shop located in the better part of town and gave Henry the deed. In private, he told Henry that they were permitted to visit Boston only once every two years and to limit their stay to no longer than a month.

In short order Henry understood her father’s reasoning but unlike her father, Henry seemed to have little spine when it came to their marriage.

Mister Cobbler finally felt the awkwardness of his not speaking up and cleared his throat saying, “Now boys, you know you shouldn’t upset your mother. Her life raising you boys has not been an easy one. She has bent over backwards making sure you don’t end up in the gutter.”

Bradford spoke up, “Dad, I meant no disrespect to Mom but ‘her keeping us out of the gutter’? Really? How did she do that? By hiring the Nannies we had? By hiring private tutors?”

Leaning forward in his chair Bradford continued by unloading years of pent up frustration. “You built the business Dad! All our life we’ve watched you perform every and any job that was needed to be done. There were times I found you asleep at the treadle machine because of the long hours you worked. You’re fortunate you didn’t sew your hands shut! “

“It was no bother, your mother stood by me the entire time.”

“Stood by you? Maybe in your mind, but she sure spent enough hours entertaining her friends with garden parties and such while you burnt the midnight oil in the shop.”

“You Bradford are one to talk!” Henry raised his voice. ”All I see is you calling on your friends to go off gallivanting into the wilds. Did I teach you to neglect your work like that?”

“No Dad, Mom did!”

A shout from Raeford stilled the room, “Enough! Will the two of you just settle down? Nothing will be settled by yelling at each other.”

Turning to his father Raeford lowered his voice and quietly spoke. “Father, the issue is who is to run the shop so you can retire, correct?”

“I suppose that correct”.

“The problem is that neither Bradford nor myself want to take over. Admit it Dad, each time we have gone back east to visit gramps, has the business ever suffered from our being gone? No, it kept going just fine.”

“But son, we had been gone for only a month at a time, retirement is much different. Retirement is long term. Who would run the place if not you.”

“Our accountant Mr. Snelling, that’s who.”

“Snelling? Why he is an… an accountant! Besides, when his wife gave birth he was forced to miss work for two days. How could I put my trust into someone who would dismiss his duties so casually?”

“Maybe you’re right Dad.” Raeford continued speaking with false indignation. “ After all, someone who would so casually dismiss his job duties over the birth of his son might even want a vacation if he was to end up running the place. Heaven forbid!”

Mr. Cobbler sat staring at Raeford and sheepishly spoke, “I just meant…”

Realizing how foolish his argument sounded, Henry looked apologetically at his two sons. “I never asked you what you two may have wanted to do with yourselves, did I? I just assumed like myself, you would follow in your father’s footsteps.”

Each noticed the deafening quiet now within the sitting room.

“If I were to place Snelling in that position, what would the two of you do? I could not bear to see my children working here under someone else.”

As one, both brothers spoke, “We want to go out west!”

From within the sitting room a sudden howl erupted. “No, no, no…”

Henry looked irritably at the French doors then turned back to his sons, “What would you do and where out west are you speaking of.”

Raeford spoke, “What’s one of the biggest money makers here in Kansas City Dad?”

Henry thought for a moment then answered. “The slaughter houses. Are you thinking of opening a slaughter house?”

“No, the west has little use for slaughter houses at this time but we are thinking cattle Dad. We want to be suppliers.”

“By suppliers, you do mean purchasing agents aren’t you? Surely you are not thinking of becoming cattle ranchers?”

Bradford now spoke up. “Raeford’s been pounding the books on this Dad. He’s convinced the Herford breed is the way to go. The Herford meat is tenderer and pound for head, more profitable than the Longhorn breed we are eating today. Yes Dad, we’ve thought it out the last couple of years and want to be cattle ranchers.”

Again from the sitting came an anguished cry, “What will all of my friends say? Cattle ranchers of all things…Nooooo!”

Henry stood up and walked to the other side of the table where his sons sat. Putting a hand on each of the boys shoulder soberly told them. “I have been selfish. All these years I’ve been thinking I would use the two of you to gain my freedom from the business. I became blind to the talent I had already working for me.  You are right, Snelling would be perfect.”

The howl from the other room had settled into a long tearful bawling.

“Don’t worry about your mother. I actually know to deal with her better than most think I do. Getting your way is not always found in being head strong but in understanding what makes another person tick. Watch and see.”

Smiling, Henry raised his voice knowing his wife could easily hear him. “Well sons, I suppose if I put Snelling in charge I’ll have little to do here anymore in the way of work. I could spend my golden years reading the classics”

Placing his finger upon his chin as if thinking, he continued saying loudly. “Although… I suppose with all the free time I’ll have on my hands, maybe it’s about time your mother and I take an extended tour of Europe…England, France and maybe even Italy.”

All three noticed the immediate halt to the bawling in the next room. Without warning, the French doors were thrown open and out stepped a beaming Missus Cobbler. With her kerchief she wiped away the last alligator tear from her eyes and asked hopefully. “Europe? Really? Oh Henry! I must make arraignments. Oh my, what to pack? I need new dresses, these will never do in Europe… and shoes. I must have the shop make me plenty of new shoes!”

Without further comment, the brothers watched in amusement as their mother hiked up her dress and scurried up the stairs to her room. From the top landing, she called down, “Henry, call the trunk maker, we need more travel trunks!”

Looking like the cat that just ate the mouse, Henry chuckled, “As I said boys, I’ll handle your mother, you just worry about how to get your ranch up and running. I figure you wouldn’t mind if I could include myself in this proposition? Not that I have any desire to even see a live cow but seeing as how the two of you make up a pretty formidable pair, I would like to invest in your operation, that is if you would allow me to… say one third?”

Chapter 2

The large lettered black and white sign attached to the side of the rail depot said it all, Cheyenne.

It had taken many months of preparation to get to this point. Once the decision had been made, the hard work began. Where to settle, how much land to buy, gathering the needed hands to not only build the ranch itself but also finding the tradesmen willing to travel into the frontier to build the structures. It was a costly venture but with the cash from their father’s investment and that of their Boston Grandfather’s inheritance left to them, they had enough to make it a go.

The brothers stepped off the train onto the stations new low wooden platform. It was an addition to the station that announced Cheyenne was growing. Back in Kansas the entire station would have been used only as a freight station or thankfully torn down.

Bradford took in a deep breath. It was something he had hesitated in doing while still riding inside the passenger car. No one had forewarned the two that the engines coal smoke would permeate every inch of car, clothing and any baggage they brought along. “Well brother, welcome to the west!”

Raeford stood looking about him. “It’s a bit more dismal than I thought it would be. Somehow I thought the west was all rolling grassy plains filled with buffalo. I guess the dime novels shouldn’t be too heavily relied upon for descriptive accuracy.”

“Ah, it’s going to be just fine brother. Let’s get on into town, get a room, a hot bath and a rare steak!”

Once their toilet and culinary needs had been met, the two wandered over to the attorney’s office that had been handling their real estate dealings. Crossing the deeply rutted dirt main street, they stepped up onto the boardwalk in front of a row of unpainted wooden business structures. Since there was only one registered attorneys in Cheyenne, finding it should be easy. Raeford pointed to an attorneys sign hanging above a nine paned glass door that read, Bald, Combover, Bunn and Weave- Attorneys at law.

The brothers stopped, stared at the sign for a second with raised eyebrows, shrugged in confusion and walked on in.

“Good morning gentlemen, how may I be of assistance?” The voice was that of a young girl of sixteen or so sitting behind a polished mahogany reception desk.

Bradford spoke up,“Uh, yea, I hope so. Is this the office of Maxwell Brewer the Attorney?”

The young girl sat smiling up at them. “Yes.”

“Oh the sign says something else. I was confused.”

Getting up from behind the desk the young girl headed towards the door. “Why would you be confused?” As she reached the door she poked her head out saying, “It very simple, it says….OH NO!”

Turning from the door she ran to the stairway that led upstairs to more offices. “James Rochester Brewer! You get your fanny down here right now or I’m telling daddy on you!”

Turning back to the brothers she apologized saying, “Excuse me Sirs but my young brother thinks it’s funny to redo folks signs around town. It’s not the first time he’s been scolded for it. Last week he changed out the Dentist giant tooth sign with that of a pair of bloody pliers and before that painted a shock of hair under the armpits of the baker holding up a loaf of bread.”

“ It’s a good thing my Dad is the only attorney around or we’d get sued for sure!”

Bradford chuckled , “Boys will be boys Miss. No harm done. I can reach the sign if he’ll give me the real one. Is your dad around?”

Exasperated she replied, “He’ll be right back, he just stepped out to send a telegram.”

The young Brewer boy came downstairs with the real sign tucked under his arm. He handed it over to Bradford who stepped outside and exchanged it with the joke one. Timidly he said, “Sorry Sir.” And went back upstairs.

The door suddenly opened and a middle aged properly dressed man stepped inside. With a touch of grey hair at the temples and salt and pepper mustache he looked the part of a successful businessman.

“Ah, I see you have arrived.” Sticking his hand out he shook the brothers hands and told them. “Please, step into my office won’t you?”

After closing the office door behind them, Attorney Brewer went to a file cabinet and removed a folder. “Here is the land deed. The brown folder there contains all the receipts from the construction of two houses, the animal barn, hay barn, horse and cattle corrals, shoots, bunk house etc. etc. The white folder is from the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association for four hundred head of good breeding stock, two bulls, thirty horses and from town here I already bought and delivered one donkey, a jenny.

Looking a bit confused, Bradford asked, “What’s the Donkey for?”

“They keep the Bobcats and Coyotes away. Having a dog will warn you of either but if no one is around to see what all the commotion is about, predator animals will have a field day with your chickens and young pigs while the dog barks at ‘em. A Donkey is very territorial and will kick a coyote or bobcat to death. No need to be there, they know what to do.”

Raeford unfolded a map he had been sent back in Kansas. Now how do we get to our land. I don’t see any rail road near it for fifty miles! I take it there’s a reason for that?”

“You need room for cattle. Any ranch within twenty miles of a rail road would cost too much and the land is usually broken up into farm sized acreages. There’s no problem, you just need to drive the cattle to the nearest rail platform for loading. Right now that’s in Cheyenne where your cattle will be dropped off at but they’re almost done with the one closer to you at the railhead in Hanna. They’ll be loading coal there too so make sure you make arraignments before showing up with a herd to ship. That way too they’ll have the amount of cattle cars needed to take the entire shipment at one time. It should be in operation in a couple months”

“You telegraphed something about ornery neighbors. What is that all about?”

The attorney cleared his throat and told them what he had heard through the lovcal grapevine. “It seems you purchased a property that unknown to any of us at the time, had been being used as free range land by your neighbor. Normally, it’s their tough luck and they make no big deal out of it because everyone knows the law. This case is a bit different. It’s not the neighbor directly that is the one causing trouble but the ranches foreman..or Segundo in this case.”

“Segundo? What’s that?”

“A Segundo is the ranches body guard. He’s the hired gun of the group. This Segundo is called One eye Willy, he’s a Cheyenne half breed who’s band was from the land your ranch is now placed on. One eye Willy has been demanding payment from the Double T ranch to free graze on what he calls his ancestral land. When Bill Wiley, the owner of the Double T refused, One eye Willy had him killed. Wiley’s wife and daughter now run the Double T and they’re afraid for their lives. I’m sorry I did not know this before we purchased the land for you or I would never have let you buy it.”

Bradford spoke up. “Well, what’s done is done. Has he caused any trouble yet? I mean for our trades people and ranch hands?”

“Not that I know of, but then most folks out this way don’t bring their problems to a court, they prefer to settle things for themselves with their fist or a gun.”

“That sounds reasonable, no disrespect to your profession but I’ve seen the law take years what one good thrashing can solve in minutes.”

“I’ll set up a meeting between you two and the surveyor. He’s willing to travel out with you again to show you the ranches boundary lines. As you can see it stretches from Muddy Creek to Camp creek, or about 8 miles north to south. From east to west it starts at the 40 mile Ranch and ends at the west end of Muddy Creek. All in all you bought about sixteen hundred square miles of ranch.”

Three days later found the brothers saddled up on newly purchased horses heading to their ranch. Between Bradford and Raeford rode Tom Higgins, the surveyor. Behind the three rode Higgins assistant and a black smith brought in from Laramie. One of the hands presently working the ranch was acting as the farrier for the place. The permanent black smith would take his place once he arrived. They left Cheyenne and headed west alongside the Union Pacific rails to Laramie.

It took two days before they rode into the town of Laramie. The town was mass confusion under construction. Some buildings had brick facades while most were still wooden or even canvas tents with false wooden fronts on them. Fortunately, the two story Keystone hotel was rather well built structure with its own dining room and saloon. It was here they’d rest up at.

It would take four more days traveling by horseback to reach the ranch so it was decided in the morning they’d restock up on their depleted supplies.

Bradford stepped into the mercantile under dawns early light. The store’s owner had already loaded a wagon  that was headed north alongside the Laramie Mountains to Casper. Seeing Bradford, he wiped his hands on his apron and greeted him. Bradford shook his hand and handed the owner his list.

“My names Dwight, Dwight Taylor. If it’s alright with you mister, I have most all of this on the shelves so I’ll let my Amy gather it up for you. I have another order calling for an anvil that I need to tend to.”

Bradford chuckled, “Sure go ahead mister Taylor, I wouldn’t expect your wife to go loading up an anvil while you gather up my baking soda and flour. I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate that.”

“Not my wife son, my daughter. My Betty passed a year ago last spring from the Grippe.”

“I’m sorry, I meant no insult.”

“None taken friend. Ah, there you are my dear.” Handing his daughter Bradford’s supply list, he excused himself.

Bradford stood gawking at the girl. She was no drop dead beauty by any means but to call her cute missed the point. She was mesmerizingly adorable. Wherever she went in the store, Bradford’s eyes followed. He was no prude by any means but he found himself tongue tied in trying to start a conversation with her. Each time she glanced his direction his eyes flew to something else hoping she wouldn’t realize he was openly staring at her.

“Uh, miss, I mean Amy, uh, uh.”

The girl Amy stood staring at him with a twinkle in her eyes. “Is there something you’d like to ask me mister…?”

“Oh, Bradford, my names Bradford Cobbler, I’m new here. Well not here but yes here too, I mean I’m new to Wyoming.”

Alright then Mister Bradford Cobbler, is there something you wanted to ask me?”

Bradford knew enough to know she was toying with him and was thoroughly enjoying watching him squirm. Mustering all the courage he could and throwing all caution to the wind, Bradford finally uttered what was on his mind.

“Ma’am, I’m starting a ranch up by the Laramie Plains along with my brother. From time to time I would be coming here to Laramie on business and to purchase things unavailable from the smaller mercantile stores nearer to our ranch. I’d like to ask if I could call on you when I come into town. Maybe we could have pie or a pastry of some sort at the café across the way and just talk.”

“I suppose if I was asked proper like, I might consider such an outing, but I would have to ask permission from my father. He’s very protective of me since Mama passed on. He’s not very impressed with the men folk here and I’m all he’s got now.”

“Miss Amy, I am not a vagrant or a man who collects women in every town he enters. I never even had a girl back home. My brother and I are starting a cattle ranch and we aim to be successful ranchers soon. I will be leaving for the ranch in a few minutes, just as soon as we pack up these supplies here. It would make me happy if I knew the next time I am in town that you would take the time to dine with me or even sit on the bench and talk. Either way it’d brighten my day considerably.”

The voice from behind startled Bradford, “If my daughter has the want to sit for a spell with you, then I have no qualms about it. My advice though is this. Don’t eat pastry from the café when you’re trying to impress a girl son. It makes a man look foolish when his face is painted up with powdered sugar.”

“Your point is well taken Sir, I’ll stick to the pie.”

After saying his goodbye’s and leaving with a promise to return just as soon as he was able. Bradford hefted the supply sack over his shoulder and headed to the stable whistling.

“My my, what are you all smiles for brother? Did you find everything you needed at the supply store?”

“I sure did but I gotta go back a few more times before I can bring home what I really wanted from there.”

“What in tarnation are you talking about? Bring what home?”

“My wife!”

Chapter 3 

The group reigned up and gazed at the scene distantly ahead of them. There by a bubbling brook surrounded by pines sat two beautifully made houses. Further away stood a new barn with corrals and other outbuildings. A small black smith shop sat further up the brook. Just far enough away to keep the banging hammers from becoming a nuisance. Ranch hands could be seen working the horses. Others sat out front on the bunk house porch relaxing in the late afternoon air.

“My God, it’s beautiful Raeford!”

“Look, rider’s coming.”

In the distance four riders could be seen making their way casually from the ranch. The group reigned up about a hundred or so feet from the Cobbler group.

“You folks are the Cobblers?” The lead rider shouted.

Bradford stood up in the stirrups and yelled back, “That’s us, my brother Raeford, our surveyor and myself along with a few extra’s.”

The group of riders visibly relaxed in their saddles and made their way forward.“Then you must be Bradford. I’m Chet, your ranch foreman and these three with me are Davey, Reggie and Tom. They’re a few of your flank riders and wranglers.”

Raeford spoke up, “You all look well armed, any trouble we need to know about? I heard we have an angry Segundo over at the Double T that wants us gone. How much truth is in that?”

“Plenty. We’ve been getting’ hit nearly every night for the last week. Just hit an’ run stuff but each time they get a bit braver. I’m glad you all showed up because something has to be done and it ain’t my position to grab this bull by the horns. Let’s get you and your horses freshened up a bit an I’ll tell ya’ all that’s goin’ on.”

That night over a home cooked meal, a full table of twelve sat discussing the problem over at the Double T. To the group, it was evident the owners of the Double T ranch, Angel Wiley and her daughter Becky were being held against their will. One eye Willy had worked it so any one opposing his plans was either sent off or had an ‘accident’ which left them dead.

Raeford finally summed up the problem and after conferring quietly with Bradford came to a conclusion. “It seems that we have two issues here. One is the rescuing of two innocent women and the other is making our own ranch as safe and secure as possible. Both issues have a common denominator, One eyed Willy. He needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. If you play this scene out it has two outcomes. First one is One eyed Willy is taken care of and we all live in peace. The second is One eyed Willy tries to destroy our ranch and once that’s accomplished, he kills the women and the rest of the Double T hands being held there. We need a plan to make sure the first scenario is the outcome and not the second. I want to go over the ranches books and all as soon as possible and I know Bradford wants to meet with the hands before we have the breeding cattle shipped here. Before that time comes, we need to deal with the more urgent problems of One eye Willy and the Double T. You’ll have to forgive me if our cattle enterprise comes in second right now. Please, don’t get the idea we are not concerned about the cattle enterprise. It’s just that if One eye Willy has his way, there will be no ranch.”

The others around the table nodded their heads in understanding and agreement. The ranch’s foreman, Chet, spoke up. “We never had a doubt about your commitment to the operation here. You’ve been generous with the bank drafts and payroll. A man’s money speaks volumes here. For instance, most ranches get by with a cowboy who got himself stove up to be either the farrier or cook. Little experience needed and even less quality is expected. You boys sent out a real ranch cook and brought along an honest to God black smith. To us that’s a man spending his money to keep others happy an’ not just lookin after his own comfort. Whatever you decide with One eye Willy, we’ll back you with our loyalty and our guns.”

Bradford looked at Chet with approval. “Chet, you and the others built this place while my brother and I did the behind the scenes stuff while still back east in Kansas. We owe you a debt that needs rewarding. Just as soon as this problem is resolved, We’ll take a percentage of the new births and divide them up between you all. They’ll carry two brands on them, ours and the one each of you come up with. When they go to market or give birth, it belongs to you and so does the profit.”

“That’s a mighty fine thing you’re doing. I know the hands will be thankful.One thing I need to know though is which brother do I bring my concerns to?”

Raeford answered. “If it concerns any of the livestock or their physical concerns look to Bradford. When it’s a matter of finances or legal issues talk to me.”

“What if it comes to protecting this place or the herd with a gun?”

“Then you’ll come to whoever is closest at the time. On that issue, my brother Raeford and I speak with one voice. Do what you can at the moment and we’ll worry about the legal stuff afterward.”

That night brought gunshots from a group of riders galloping their way through the ranch. A few windows were hit and a pot setting on the cookstove got plugged. While some shots were fired at the bunkhouse, no bullet was able to penetrate the thick Ponderosa pine they were made from. A few return shots were heard but by the time everyone was up and about the attackers were long gone.

Running up to Raeford with a lit lamp, Bradford found his brother. “Dang it Raeford! We need to be better prepared. They caught us in the outhouse with our pants pulled down!”

“Well, one things for sure, I’m awake for the day so let me be while I think on this. I’ve read nearly every army tactical book of famous battles. I’m sure one or more of them has some ideas we can use to deal with the night riders. In the meantime we need to send out a scouting party to watch the Double T.    When One eye Willy comes out again, one of the scouts can be sent ahead of them to warn us back here of their approach.”

“Alright, I’ll get together with Chet, he knows the hands and who’s best qualified for what’s needed to be done.”

As the two walked the cleared area that split the ranch operations from the two houses in the dark, Raeford noted something. At the start of the cleared area, the horses left tracks that were close together, as the approached the ranch, the tracks got further apart. “Looks like they started out walking beside their horses then mounted and went to a gallop about here, just before the first building. Let’s go back and check the ground where they came in at.”

The brothers scoured the ground for any evidence left behind. “Look Bradford, they had their horses laying down near the brook over there among the pinion trees. I bet they crossed over the brook to this side in the last light and waited until dark to attack. That means they may have been on the other side during daylight and we never even saw them.”

Bradford agreed. “And here I sent a scouting party to watch a ranch that no one was going to leave from. They must’ve known we’d set up a watch on the Double T. Meanwhile, they were already here.”

“Bradford, One eye Willy was raised by Cheyenne, even though we may be at peace with them now, when One eye was young we were still fighting them. He’s using old Cheyenne Indian tactics. I read about some of them. They were brilliant tacticians. What we need to do is at first light, lets see the direction they left to. I bet they head straight to the Double T then slowly disappear. At that point that they turn and circle back to the brook where they’ll cross again tonight. They think our scouts watching the Double T will believe no one is out and about so no warning will come from them.”

“So should we pull our scouts back then?”

“No, that’ll warn them we’re wise to their plan. What we will do though is replace them with hands that can’t fight or shoot well. Since no night riders will be coming their way, they’ll be safe enough. Meanwhile we need to set up an ambush of sorts.”

As dawned cracked the horizon, the two brothers were seen riding out to follow the trail of prints left by the night riders.

“You lead Bradford, your wilderness skills are much keener than mine.”

Four miles out, the prints began to disappear, just as Raeford had predicted they would. Within a half mile no prints could be seen at all.

Bradford dismounted and bending over, searched the ground close up. “I wonder how they got the horses to leave no prints. There were no side trails and I got a good set of eyes for the trail.”

“I read they would stop one horse at a time and cover the hoofs with thick sackcloth or burlap. This would both make them quiet and leave no prints.”

“Which way do you suppose they headed off to once all the hooves were covered?”

Raeford scanned the area with a set of field glasses. No obvious trail was seen. “They keep a man riding behind them picking up the horse dung along the way. Look for Urine trails.”

The made a circle a quarter mile in diameter and found what they were looking for.

“Dang Raeford, you hit the nail on the head, look!” Bradford pointed to a damp area where no dampness should have been.

Looking forward, they could imagine the trail slowly circling back towards the ranch. This meant the night riders were possibly at or near the ranch hiding until night came.

Raeford headed back to his mare telling Bradford, “let’s head back quick, we need to make plans for tonight and I have an idea that might spoil their plan!”

The two reigned up at the bunk house and dismounted. A hand came out and Raeford asked him to take the horses back to the corral for hay and water. “Loosen the cinch but leave the saddles on, we’ll be needing to ride them in a bit.”

Trailing behind his smaller brother, Bradford asked “What’s the plan brother? You seem pretty confident.”

“Do you remember when we were kids and had that fort we built in the woods? Remember what we used to keep the other kids from getting to the fort when we played Calvary and Indians?”

“Hmmm, yeah, we laid honey locust spikes all over the place. Man did Dad pound our fanny over that one! Not a kid attacking us left without a thorn or two deep in his foot.” Looking around at the Pinion and box elder growing about he said, “Wyoming doesn’t grow honey locust trees and I don’t see anything that would give us those bunches of long thorns. What did you have in mind?”

“Caltrops brother, medieval caltrops made of fence wire!”

The two called for everyone to meet on the porch of the bunk house except for those already acting as lookout scouts hidden near the Double T.

“Alright everyone, gather around real close as my brother here has a plan so give him your ears!”

Once everyone one was huddled around close, Raeford quietly spoke to them.

“First off, here’s the situation. The night riders have been hiding out all the time over on the other side of the brook beyond the black smith shop. They make their raid then make a large circle and head on back to where the once again spend the next day hiding out. We have no reason to check that area since its opposite of the Double T and we’ve no cattle to graze there yet. Come last light, they make their way across the brook and lay low until the moon comes up. It’s then they attack.”

One of the hands interrupted asking, “So why don’t we cross over the brook and attack ‘em during the day while they sleep?”

“We could,” Bradford said, “But they’re sure to have lookouts to warn them of our approach. Right now you can be sure a few sets of eyes are watching us talk and it’s probably killing them that they can’t hear us because we’re talking so low. No, we’ll let them attack us but this time they’ll be faced with a weapon not seen around here before.”

Raeford stepped forward and in his hands he had two lengths of stiff wire a bit wider than the palm of his hand. “This…” Raeford twisted the wires together until they looked like a four legged spider with each leg pointing to a different axis plane. “… is a caltrop. They were used during ancient warfare against foot soldiers and Calvary. Each leg or spike is sharpened to a needle like point. No matter how it lands…” Raeford threw the caltrop onto the poch floor, “…it lands with a spike pointing upward.”

The group piled around the caltrop amazed at such a simple but wicked device. It was picked up and inspected, turned over and its points tested on fingers.

When the group was finished examining the caltrop Raeford said to them, “We have until dusk to make as many of these as we can. We’ll lay them out in the grass where they crossed the brook. Since they rode horseback to do their shooting, we’ll set caltrops across the roadway in front of the buildings. Just in case they feel the urge to dismount and create havoc on foot, we’ll also lay some about ten feet in front of each window and door of the houses and bunkhouse. Keep any animals in the corral until we gather up the caltrops in the morning light. Put the donkey in the barn with the fowl and small animals. If by chance they ever put fire to the barn or any of the other buildings, someone get over there and open the door so any people and animals inside can freely escape.”

The blacksmith came over with a wooden case filled with sharpened lengths of wire. “I cut it into five inch lengths with a point on each end. I figure there’s about four hundred or so in this box and I can cut and sharpen another thousand pretty quick.”

In front of everyone gathered on the porch, Raeford grabbed two wires with gloved hands and twisted them together. He made sure each point was pointing where he wanted it to. It took less than ten seconds to make.

“Here, everyone grab some wire and try your hand at it. Make sure each one is near identical to the one I just made. A good test is to drop it on the ground. If a point isn’t sticking straight up, it isn’t right. When you made a bunch fill up each burlap sack here with them”

Within a minute or two everyone was producing quality caltrops and the sacks began to fill up.

Chapter 4

As dusk began to settle across the Wyoming prairie, groups of men with burlap sacks filled with caltrops headed out to each of their destinations.

One by one they returned to the bunkhouse with their empty sacks.

By dark, everyone had returned. The barn was filled with small animals and a lamp was lit and hung from the rafters to see by. On the north side of the barn, the horses had been corralled and the gates chained shut.

The ranch hands that could fight either belted on their pistols or carried loaded rifles. Each was given a specific place to wait in ambush. All eyes continually scanned the dark sky for the rising moon. Finally it began to show. The men knew the attackers were now probably crossing the brook and silently gathering on this side of the bank. When all the night riders were across and mounted, they’d attack.

Even though the brothers knew almost to the minute when the attack would commence, the night rider’s yells and gunshots still startled them.

It didn’t take long for the night rider’s first horse to step painfully on a caltrop. Rearing in pain, the rider was thrown backward onto the ground. Unfortunately for him, he landed on two caltrops lying hidden in the tall grass.  One after another, horses were prancing painfully about and riders being thrown. Some landed safely but in the process of running began stepping on one or more of the painful contraptions.

From the house, Bradford ran out into the moonlight searching for One eye Willy with Raeford trailing close behind. Guns in hand, the brothers were determined to settle this war in one night.  Some of the riders had now made it past the caltrop laden start of the trail and began firing their guns into the windows and doors alongside the ranch road. The brothers began firing back at the riders. A few fell while the rest dismounted and ran towards the buildings seeking cover.

By the light of the moon, the two brothers realized they had seriously underestimated the amount of night riders when a group of at least thirty renegade Cheyenne suddenly rounded the corner. Appearing from between the barn and one of the outbuildings they charged headlong at the two brothers. The Cheyenne made it as far as the end of the barn before their unshod horses found the caltrops hidden in the uncut grass. Screaming horses and their surprised riders halted in their tracks. Some finding more caltrops as the dismounted while a few made it back to the safety of the barren barn yard.

Three of the ranch hands laying in wait within the hay barn now threw open the door and with rifles and pistols began firing into the group of Cheyenne in the barnyard. One Brave was seen trying to run into the open with caltrops stuck to the bottom his feet. He fell forward and when he lifted his head a caltrop was stuck to his forehead. A well placed bullet from one of the cowboys ended his agony.

Caltrops of this size were not normally deadly but the night riders found they were debilitating. It felt no different than stepping full weight onto a sharp nail. Except in this case it wasn’t just the feet that suffered.

Some of the Indians and Double T night riders lay unmoving in the grass. The fear of stepping onto more of the wicked things froze them in place. Most began to throw their guns away and gave up.

Bradford suddenly felt a searing pain cross his shoulder blade. Turning he saw One eye Willy cocking the lever of his rifle to take another shot at him. As One eye Willy raised the rifle, his only eye suddenly became a black hole. Bradford looked to his right and saw Raeford aiming his pistol at One eye Willy and was pulling the trigger over and over. With rapid burst of flame pouring from Raeford’s barrel, One eye Willy’s head began to lose its round shape.

By the time Raeford had unloaded his gun into his target, One eye Willy was sitting headless on the horse. Slowly One eye Willy slid sideways onto the ground. To add salt to his wounds when he hit the ground, three more caltrops found and punctured his body.

A lone Indian had found his way into the barn and safety through an unlocked man door. Once inside he ran the length of the interior intent on escaping through the rear door. Beatrice the donkey took umbrage at the stranger’s intrusion into her domain.

Outside the barn, Raeford was reloading his pistol when he heard a loud braying from the donkey within the barn.  Afraid that someone had gotten inside in an attempt to burn it down, he quickly ran inside through the open door. He needn’t have hurried.

One look at the gory scene in the dim lamp light was enough for Raeford. Kicked beyond recognition, the Indian was still being trampled on by the upset donkey.

With nothing more he could do, Raeford exited the barn and closed the door behind him.

By now the gunfire had died down as the ranch had clearly won the fight. Bradford had gathered a group of hands and were busy rounding up the attackers. The majority of the night riders needed help in yanking off the bloody caltrops. Only six Cheyenne had survived the ambush. Out of the forty eight attackers only seventeen of them had survived.

The brothers met again in front of the barn. It had been a short but bloody battle but an awfully long day and everyone was exhausted.

“You’re bleeding Brad, you’ll be needing a doctor to look at the back wound. I wonder where the nearest town that has a Doc is at?”

“I’m thinking there’s one in Laramie”

“Laramie? That a few days ride on a good horse. Why would you travel all that way when there’s gotta be one closer?”

“Besides getting patched up, I got personal things to take care of.”

“Huh? As your brother and partner, don’t I deserve to know what in Sam Hill is so all fired important in Laramie that you’d risk infection or worse traveling there?”

“OK brother. Her name is Amy and you better get used to hearing her name because I plan on asking her to marry me.”

“Holy Cow! Is that what you were talking about when you came from the mercantile?”

“It is. Her father owns the place. He even gave me a bit of advice to impress her. I’m thinking he liked me and I know she did!”

Raeford toed the dirt under his boot, smiled and said. “I hope it works out for you. You’re a good brother but I think you’d make an even finer husband. Besides, I think you need a girl to keep you from wandering off all the time.”

The next morning Bradford and three hands had bound the surviving night riders to their saddles and were headed off to Laramie. The U.S.Marshal there would have to deal with the pack of no goods.

After some of the other hands gathered up the rider less horses, they divided them from personal owned  to branded Double T owned. The personally owned ones were used to take the survivors to Laramie. They would return with the three hands while Bradford stayed behind to tend to personal things.

Raeford called the rest of the hands together and gave them their orders. “I want these other horses and three riders to come with me to the Double T. They got the Double T brand on them and my bet is the Widow Wiley and her daughter could use them. In the meantime, everyone else gather up all the caltrops that still lay around. We made eleven hundred so don’t stop looking until you got all of them accounted for. After that get the place ready for a train load of beeves to arrive. I picked up a telegram back in Laramie saying the delivery date to Cheyenne is set for the 4th, that’s two weeks from tomorrow. All hands will be needed to drive the herd from there to here. Foreman Chet has already figured each of your positions for the drive. The ranch cook is going along with you. I’m staying back to watch things here and my brother won’t be riding back with you unless he feels fit enough.”

“Mister Raeford Sir?” It was the blacksmith who spoke up. “Seeing as we’ll be needing a bunch of irons made up for the branding, I was wondering if you had settled on a brand yet?”

“Well, to be truthful my brother and I went round and round on this one but after last night I think even he’d approve of this one.” Raeford took a stick and in the dirt drew a caltrop.

“Yes Sir! I think your brother would agree to that! I’ll get started right away”

Chapter 5

   The Double T ranch was breath taking in beauty. Set against the backdrop of the Medicine Bow Mountains Raeford could see why the original Cheyenne called this area home.

He had the hands drive the horses into one of the Double T’s large corrals. He continued on horseback to the house. As he dismounted, the door opened and a handsome women in her early fifties stepped forward. She glanced at the corral then back at Raeford.

“Those horses have my brand. My foreman rode off a week ago on them along with the group of no goods he hired. Please tell me he’s dead.”

“Him and most of those that rode with him. They have been night riding my ranch. We ambushed them last night. Those that lived are being hauled off to the U. S. Marshal in Laramie.”

The screened door opened once again and the young blond haired daughter stepped out. Though she looked drained from the recent events, her beauty still shined through. The older woman dropped her head and Raeford watched as her shoulders began to shake. The younger woman put her arms around her mother and the weeping woman drew her daughter to her.

Raeford felt awkward just standing there as the two wept. Finally he spoke to both the women. “Ma’am, Miss? My brother Bradford and I are the owners of the new ranch on your north side. He was shot last night and went to Laramie to get patched up.”

“Will he be alright?” The woman asked.

“ I’m sure he’ll be fine, thank you for asking.” Thinking of the girl Amy waiting for his brother, Raeford knew he would be.

“We heard of the trouble you were having with One eye Willy and his group from our Attorney back in Cheyenne on the way out here. He told us One eye Willy killed your husband and drove off or worse, most all your hands. I know you and your daughter are suffering badly and it’ll take a good spell of time to find replacement hands to run the place.”

Angel Wiley nodded her head, “If we can’t get a handle back on the place, we’ll have to sell it. I got only two men left now. One is our cook and the other is so stove up I keep him on just because he and my husband grew up together. My husband ran the place with a tight fist. Why I only found the books two days ago. I’m not a business person Sir, I was a wife and we raised our daughter Becky here as a girl, not a cow hand.”

Raeford turned around and let his eyes drift over the Double T’s holdings. It would be a crime to have built this from scratch only to lose it because of the personal ideology of one man. He could still obtain what he set out to do even from the grave…unless someone stepped up.

“Ma’am. We fought and beat One eye Willy but before he died he set into motion your demise even if he were to die. Since One eye Willy made sure to cripple your operation and you don’t have the manpower or time to get this place up and running again before winter sets in, I have a proposition for you and your daughter.”

“What kind of proposition? Are you going to tell me you’ll buy us out ‘real fair like’ Mister…?”

“Cobbler Ma’am, our last name is Cobbler. I’m Raeford Cobbler and no Ma’am I have no desire to buy you out and see you lose your ranch. There’s plenty of hungry beef eating souls in this country and sometimes by joining forces at times it can enhance both our operations. I propose that just as soon as our cattle arrive and the branding is finished, I send a group of our hands over this way to get your place up and running again. You won’t last half a winter without moving your cattle to winter pasture and when  birthing is over then the castrating begins. As you know, you’ll need a lot of hand to survive. During that time I’ll have a notice sent out in the newspapers saying you’re in need of ranch hands. As for your books, I’m willing to teach your daughter Becky everything she’ll need to know about accounting.”

“What’s in it for you Mister Cobbler? You make it sound so promising.”

“By securing your friendship and trust, I don’t have to worry about rustlers coming from this side of my land, do I? That means less time spent riding my property borders and yours. You have the Medicine Bow Mountains at your back. If there was to be any future rustling, it’d be from those mountain passes that they’d come. We’ll set up a signal system in case of trouble. By working together we can split some of the liabilities and double the assets. What do you say to the idea Mrs Wiley.”

“My God. You truly are an angel in denim Mister Cobbler. I’d be a fool to turn down such an offer. But tell me. Why wouldn’t you have just waited until I folded my cards and left here. You could have had all this for pennies on the dollar.”

“My father is one third owner of our ranch. We were brought up knowing right from wrong. If he were to find out I acted in such a manner, no matter how old I may be, I’d find myself bent over his knee receiving the thrashing of my life.” Then with a guilty smile he added. “That and I’d like to stay in your good graces Ma’am.”

“And why are my good graces so important to you?”

“Well,’ Raeford stood shuffling his feet. “because if you and she permit, I’d like to see your daughter without the excuse of teaching her the books.”

The widow put her hand over her mouth and began laughing. “Good Lord, you remind me of my husband!”

“Then I’ll take that as a compliment!”

With that he tipped his hat to her. Turning back to his horse Raeford stopped mid step turned back and winked at Becky. She returned it with a brilliant smile that set his heart racing.

 

When the Spirit Grandfathers spoke.

Chapter 1 

Prancing Doe raised her blood stained face to the sky and howled in anguish. Her husband, Coughing Bear, lay scalped and dead at her feet. Her infant female child bounced violently within the basket being carried away by a warrior of a renegade band. As the warrior rode off with the screaming infant, on his side hung the fresh scalp of the child’s father.

Sinking to her knees, Prancing Doe knelt next to her dead warrior husband. Paying no attention to the open gash on her head, she began hoarsely chanting his death song in order to find his way safely to the hunting grounds where the Grandfathers waited for his arrival. When finished, Prancing Doe pulled out one of the sharp flint tipped arrows still protruding from his back and dug the arrows tip deep along the length of her arms to slice open the arteries inside until she lost consciousness.

In the brightness of the hunting grounds, Prancing Doe knelt beside Coughing Bear as he stood tall and spoke. In wonderment, she saw that all of the tribes Grandfathers were present. Many she only knew by songs and legends, others she had loved and cared for in life.

After addressing the Grandfathers in greeting, Coughing Bear honored them by singing each their own song as was taught to him as a child. It may have taken days but no one cared since the sun never set in the hunting grounds of the afterlife. When finished, the pipe was passed. The Grandfathers approved and the Great Spirit breathed his pleasure over the gathering which caused a stirring of their unbraided hair. A Grandfather rose and Coughing Bear was given by him a fine strong ash bow and a quiver full of straight arrows. Another gave him a sharp knife. In appreciation, Coughing Bear held a tightly wrapped bundle of sweet grass out to each Grandfather. He then stood, left Prancing Doe behind and joined the Grandfathers to his rightful place in the hunting grounds.

As one, each Grandfather turned their respectful gaze to Prancing Doe. The grandfather that had presented her husband the bow and quiver, sang to her a song of honor. Prancing Doe was humbled. When she felt brave enough, she looked up and he spoke to her.

“Prancing Doe. You have swept the leaves from the trail so that Coughing Bear would not lose his way here to the hunting grounds. You sang until his feet stood upon the holy ground. He was not waylaid by the trickster on his journey because of you. You honored him afterward by sending your own spirit to him as a guide and helpmeet. We are pleased. We give you honor and gifts.

The aged Grandfather held out his hand and in it hung a necklace of strong medicine charms. Some were of carved beaver teeth others knapped flint or precious blue stone. Prancing Doe was afraid to touch such powerful medicine. “Take this, wear it.” He told her, “By touching each in their own order, the honor of what you have done for Coughing Bear will be transformed into the power the Great Spirit has blessed you with. The power to heal, the power of seeing in the dark, the power of smell and the power to look down upon your enemy as does the Eagle in flight.”

He placed the necklace over Prancing Does head. The power of it was so great Prancing Doe feared it would consume her and said so.

Seeing her eyes flash in fear the aged Grandfather reassured her, “It is because you are humble that you fear its power, that is good.”

“ Grandfather, I understand and am honored beyond my own might. Still, I am confused. Why would I need such power here? Is this not a place of peace where death visits us no more and where no sickness abides? “

“To those like your Coughing Bear and those true warriors that have come before him, yes, that is true. Every Grandfather from every tribe is here. There is room for all. The Great Spirit flies above us all and as one people we give him honor. In return he blesses us with no hunger or death. Those who were evil, liars and boastful in their own mind are not here with us. They are sitting on their hemorrhoids brushing away gnats and spiders and serving Iktomi the trickster in the land of the dead.”

When you arrived, we were of like mind that you should be called a new name. Prancing Doe is a child’s name, a name of innocence and naivety. It is a name with little power to go before the people of the plains, the mountains and the forest. No, to do what needs to be accomplished you must have a powerful name. You are now called Ina Hoka. Even a warrior of great courage turns from a mother badger. Nothing pursues as the badger and nothing has more determination to protect her young than a mother!”

Ina Hoka blinked. “ Gandfathers, Nothing has such power as the Ina Hoka, all fear her. Why do you bestow me with such power?”

“There is one who does us no honor. He is the one who hid during the attack upon you and your family. He hid from harm behind his horse until Coughing Bears back was to him. Only then did he step forward pretending to be brave. He killed from behind as Coughing Bear struggled face to face with another brave warrior. He shamed us all with his cowardice. By taking Coughing Bears scalp he shamed us even further. Many Grandfathers shouted displeasure and demanded his tribe be banished until Maka Cesli pays for his dishonor. You are to return to the living people and claim your female child. You are to return to save the tribe Maka Cesli was birthed from forever being dishonored. And lastly, you are to return to receive the precious gift we have asked the Great Spirit to bless you with.”

“Grandfathers, I will do as you ask. As for further gifts, I am blessed far too much already. But I must ask you this,  is his name truly Maka Cesli? Skunk Feces? If I am to find him, tell me the name he is known to his people by, for I do not want to mistake another for him.”

‘You are wise Ina Hoka. Though we have vowed never to utter that name again, we will this one time say it, then never again will it be uttered here in the hunting ground. Ohinni Lowacin, I am always full of hunger, is a name no people shall ever use again. His name will be forever Maka Cesli. Even the Trickster will despise him.

Now Ina Hoka, Listen to me with all your might!

When you return to the living land, your eyes will be opened and our talk here will remain strong within your memory. Return and find your child. Now go with our blessing.”

Ina Hoka lifted her eyes beyond the grandfathers to gaze once again at the endless grassy plains and purple mountains of the hunting grounds. She had never seen such beauty before. She would miss the affection of the Grandfathers but knew someday they would smile again upon her final return.

Stepping up to a bundle of smoldering sweet grass she wafted the aromatic smoke over her head then fanned it towards the assembled Grandfathers. Once blessed with the sweet smoke, she touched each Grandfathers hand lightly in reverence. She turned and glanced about in search of Coughing Bear. He stood proudly smiling at her with raised palm. She returned his farewell wave and suddenly screamed in pain.

Chapter 2

“Hold on Ma’am, please lay still or you’ll bust open the dressings I put on your arms. I know they must hurt a load but for your own good, please lie still.”

Ina Hoka woke up screaming from the pain in her lacerated arms. She lay on a makeshift outdoor bed of soft grass and covering her was a stiff cloth of some sort. Turning her head she saw she was still in the same killing field as before. Looking frantically about, she noticed fresh graves had been dug and her husband’s body was no longer lying next to her. True to what the Grandfather had told her, she recalled in perfect clarity her visit to the hunting grounds and all that had been spoken.

Speaking in her own tongue to the man squatting beside her, she asked where her husband’s body was.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, I don’t speak Indian very well, just some trading phrases and such. I found you lying here almost dead. You’ve lost a lot of blood but I got the best of the bleeding most ways stopped now. ”

When she had turned her head, something shifted slightly on her chest, slowly moving her hand to her throat she discovered the strange feeling was the necklace. As if she had spent a lifetime doing so she skillfully fondled the healing beads and chanted. Within a few breaths time, her eyes cleared and her contorted face relaxed as the agony of the pain began to subside. When the pain became manageable, she asked the young man who was attending to her wounds about her husband.

“My husband?” She asked in English, “Did you bury him?”

Jerking backwards her rescuer jumped back in surprise, “Wha?? I’m sorry, you gave me a start Ma’am that’s all. I did not think you spoke any English”

“Yes, I do. My husband, is he buried?”

“If the young warrior that got himself kilt near you was your husband then yes, I gave him a Christian burial along with them old folks too. I heard you Indians bury a person facing East so I did that for them. Ma’am, to tell you the truth, at first I thought you was dead too.”

“I was about to move you over to that there grave I dug when I noticed you were still breathing. After I patched you up, you woke up and started screaming bloody murder. I’m tellin’ you Ma’am, you sure got a powerful set of lungs!”

Ina Hoka understood most of what the man said except for the odd reference to her lungs. She understood her husband was buried with honor and this man had been used by the Grandfathers to also save her life. She made a mental note to ask the Great Spirit to repay his kindness by blessing him when she was up to it.

“I’m putting up a tent over you so don’t get frightened, alright Ma’am? You won’t be moving for a while yet and I wanted to make sure you’re out of the weather if it begins to rain. By the way Ma’am I go by the name  Thomas, Thomas Payne… like the famous Thomas Payne…only I’m not him. ”

“Why do you stop to help me?” She asked.

“Shucks Ma’am, what did you think I’d do? Leave you here all alone to die?”

“Are you a medicine man To-mas that you knew to care for my wounds?”

“No, I’m no Doctor Ma’am. When I was a boy, my Daddy showed me a trick to closin’ up cuts when I was a kid. See that big ant hill over yonder? What you do is rustle up them folks till the big fighters come pouring out of the hive. Then you grab onto one behind the head. If you take the two sides of the wound and squeeze ‘em together and you place the ant just so, the ant will use his pinchers to bite you. All ya’ do then let him pinch the two sides of the wound tightly together with his bite. Once he’s forced the two sides together you pinch off its body and the head stays there keepin’ the wound closed and you end up with a fine stitch. I poured some whiskey on your wounds and the gash on your head to keep you from getting’ a fever from infection. It took a couple hundred ants to sew up your arms but I think it’ll heal fine like. I’m sorry but I don’t have any willow bark to ease your pain.”

Ina Hoka smiled up at him saying, “I have my own means of making my pain leave me.” She placed her hand over her necklace and told him, ”My name is Ina Hoka, I must avenge my husband and find my daughter that was taken by Maka Cesli.”

“I’m not sure who this Maky Selsa fella is but it’ll be a bit a time a’fore you can go chasin’ after him. I’m thinkin’ that if you can tell me where your tribe is, it’d probably be best if I could get you over to them as soon as possible. I’m thinkin’ they might go on out after that Maky Selsee fellow for ya’.”

“The Grandfathers named him Maka Cesli not Makee Selsee, it means skunk dung! His people still call him Ohinni Lowacin.  He is from a tribe that we have struggled with for many winters now. We have fought them over the right to hunt buffalo on the land. At one time there were many buffalo and we all lived in peace.”

“When the buffalo became few, the young warriors of his tribe would not listen to the elders and made trouble. Since that time, war between us has become more and more. Maka Cesli leads a band of young warriors wanting to make big their name to shame their elders into making the big war with my tribe. They have attacked women and children left alone in their lodges while the men went off hunting. I am saddened for my husband’s parents. All they wanted was to see the buffalo one last time before death from old age claimed them. My husband showed them great love and honor in bringing them here to fulfill their desire. Now they are all dead. When I can stand on my own, I will go find Maka Cesli’s camp and take back my daughter. I am a mother badger. I will chase him until he has no strength left and his legs fail him. Before I kill him I will cut off his man stick and send him to the Trickster choking on it!”

Thomas sat fully down in the long grass and looked at the young Indian girl lying there with bandaged head and arms. “I just bet you will too!”

 

Chapter 3

   The summer days passed quietly on the plains. Ina Hoka grew in strength and Thomas tried his best to learn her tongue. He thought at the least, it would come in handy living in the western plains where tribes still wandered freely about. But if the truth be told he began to find Ina Hoka a fascinating woman and discovered she was pleased at his attempts to speak the tongue of the Sioux. Her smile was a reward he looked forward to. He had seen few women as beautiful. Thomas spent part of the day away from Ina Hoka gathering dried buffalo chips to feed the camp fire and spent time gathering wild plants and any meat he could find. As her wounds healed, Ina was able to take on more and more camp chores. The day eventually came though that she had to tell Thomas he was a terrible cook. She shoo’d him away from the gathered supplies and turned a once bland meal into a delicious stew. From that moment on, each began to take unto themselves the chores expected of a man and a woman.

One evening as they sat next to each other eating, Ina looked over at the man who had so unselfishly cared for her. She was troubled in her heart. She had the task asked by the Grandfathers to find Maka Cesli and her daughter but found she did not want to leave the company of Thomas.  “To-mas, I am near the time I must go and find my daughter and kill Maka Cesli.” She then told him of her near death and all that had occurred during that time she was in the hunting grounds.

“How in heavens name will you, a lone woman, be able to accomplish all this? Don’t get me wrong Ina, I know you got the sand to do it but we don’t even know where they’s at.”

Ina Hoka lifted her necklace to him, “The grandfathers gave me this gift. It has powerful charms.” It comes not from this land but from the hunting grounds. It gives me the power to heal, to see into the night, to smell beyond that of the bear and to see as the flying eagle sees in flight.”

“If it heals, why did you not use it to heal your own wounds?”

“The power to heal is not for me but for someone else. When I lay there in pain, I asked the Grandfathers to heal my wounds but they told me it was not meant for me but because I asked, they would at least grant my pain to subside. That much I know. Who it is meant to heal, I do not know. Maybe it is for another time, not now.”

“Have you tried the other charms?”

“Yes, each time you leave to hunt or gather I follow you as the Eagle because I worry on your safety. Before we sleep, I search the night prairie as the Owl.” Then with a giggle she said, “Once I used the smelling charm to smell the distant mountain flowers.”

“You say that giggling, why?”

“To-mas, forgive me but your cooking smelled so bad that if I had not had the smell of the wildflower to revive me, I would have fainted!”

Saying that, the two of them broke into a howling laughter. “Good Lord Ina, it did have kind of a skunky smell to it now that I think back! It musta’ been them weed lookin’ things I added to the meal”

The evening sky darkened as they sat enjoying each other’s company and soon the only light was cast from the glowing campfire. Seeing Thomas’s handsome face framed in the glowing light, Ina could no longer keep her thoughts from becoming words.

“To-mas,” She said quietly, “I do not want to part from you. My heart is torn, it lays on the ground. My husband enjoys the hunting grounds as an honored warrior now. He will have no need or desire for a wife anymore. I have asked the Grandfathers of this. They told me so. I am happy for him yet I am feel shame that I desire to feel as a woman feels for a man so soon after his parting. Though we come from different peoples, I have come to respect you. More than that even. I want you to share my blanket.”

Thomas scooted himself closer to her and placed his arms over her shoulder.  She leaned into him.

“Ina, all this time I’ve been trying my darndest to get you to notice me as more than just a ramblin’cowboy that wandered into your life. I was sure you would never look at me as a suitor. To tell you the truth, as much as I was happy being around you it made me sad at the same time. In your tribe, can a man like me marry you?”

“I have a secret to tell you To-mas. We have spent almost a full moon together alone on the prairie. Even though we have not slept under the same blanket, my people would assume we did. If we arrived not as husband and wife they would think of me as one who jumps from blanket to blanket. You call this woman a whore. To prevent this, I had planned to leave you here as I went in search of Maka Cesli and my daughter. When I returned to my tribe with her, no one would have known about you. But my heart cried out that it wanted you. I could not gather the courage to leave you.”

“So if we showed up at your village, they’d naturally assume you and I are married. But if we act like we wasn’t married, they’d look upon you as a whore and treat you as a outcast?”

Yes.”

Thomas stood up and knelt before Ina Hoka. Taking her hand in his he spoke to her. “Ina, I know we got some big differences between us. I’ve always figured a woman would come my way someday but not until I saw the world an’ made my fortune.”

“I ain’t no good at this Ina so I’ll just come clean with it. I have fallen head over heels in love with you and I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. I know you said folks would just assume we was married but I’m askin’ you if you’d make it real. Will you marry me? I know there ain’t no one around to say we are but isn’t there something in your tribal way that we don’t need a preacher or judge to be married?”

“By lying together, the Grandfather will know. In their eyes they will see our love and accept our union.”

That night, under a moonlit night under a blanket within the confines of the canvas tent, Ina Hoka became Thomas’s woman and wife. He became the husband to Mother Badger who still had a dangerous task before her. In her dream Ina Hoka spoke to the Grandfather concerning her marriage. “It was not good that you should be alone in life. When we sat face to face last moon, I had told you of one more gift we honored you with. It was the gift of being loved.  Thomas is our gift to you. He is a good man, brave and protective. He has a large heart that now beats for you. Go now, seek your child and destroy Maka Cesli.  Your husband Thomas will be at your side.”

Morning found their camp broken and far off in the distance a man could be seen walking next to a woman who was riding horseback. Together they headed westward where the spirit of a flying Eagle had spotted the band of Maka Cesli many days ahead of them.

Chapter 4

Two weeks later, under a dark evening sky that found the couple within a few miles of where Maka Cesli’s band was camped, Ina spoke to Thomas.  “Listen to me my husband. I have powers that you do not have. I am afraid for you. I will soar once again as an eagle in the night. With my Owl vision I will see all that I need to know. I will descend within the camp and kill Maka Cesli. Then after I have humiliated him, with my talons I will grab up my daughter and return here to you. I must warn you. If they have given honor to the Unkcegila, then the Unkcegila will try to stop me. They are evil spirits that roam the land and hate those that are good. As an Eagle I can fly safely above them but you will be as a mouse to a hawk. I must chant a song of protection over you. Be still and say nothing. Whatever you see, do not let it frighten you. I am singing a song of the giant warrior. He will ride across the sky mocking the Unkcegila and daring them to attack him. They will spit and scream at him as he passes above them. The Giant Warrior will keep the eyes of the Unkcegila upon him and away from you. When I return, the Giant Warrior will become as a mountain and crush the Unkcegila under his weight. He will sit upon them until we are safe and far away.”

Thomas tipped his hat in a sign of affirmation. “I ain’t even gonna’ question any of what you’re tellin’ me Ina. I sure ain’t never heard of such things but it sure ain’t my place to say it can’t be so. Go ahead, sing your song sweetheart, I’ll try not to foul my drawers at what I see goin’ on.”

Ina Hoka told Thomas to sit. Standing over him she began her chant. Thomas was afraid her raised voice would alert someone in Maka Cesli’s band yet after a few minutes he could see no unusual movement by the bands campfire light.

As he watched the firelight miles away, his vision began to play tricks on him. The far away campfire began to waiver. It seemed to move first to the right then to the left. Sometimes it seemed close and other times very far away. Voices could be heard but he could have sworn he did not hear them with his ears. His body took on the weight of stubborn mule causing his arms to dangle uselessly at his side. Across the sky swept a faint blue light as if dawn was about to break. From out of the light in the sky a mountain appeared. As the mountain traveled from east to west it took on the shape of a warrior upon a white horse. The warrior held his coup stick high and screamed insults at an unseen enemy. It was then that he realized he could no longer see Ina Hoka yet her singing was as loud as a nearby drum.

Thomas was about to speak when he remembered her instruction to remain quiet. He realized that if he made even the slightest noise, then whatever evil spirit that was creeping in the prairie grass would hear and attack him. He knew no bullet could protect him from the Unkcegila but that was the duty of the Giant Warrior.

Thomas could now see confusion in the camp. Warriors ran back and forth. With demonic howls the Unkcegila clawed the prairie sky trying to disembowel the Giant Warrior’s horse riding above them. The Giant Warrior laughed and threw insults and humiliation upon the spirits as he rode just out of reach above and past them. The evil land spirits howled and jumped trying to gain enough height to destroy the horse he rode on. Even the horse whinnied back in laughter.

“Aaiiieeeee!” A long horrible scream came from the encampment. It was shameful for a warrior to scream from pain but then Maka Cesli was no warrior. The Giant Warrior paused and pointed his coup stick toward the camp. He threw back his head and laughed. Thomas felt the laughter strike him as close thunder would during a prairie storm. His chest reverberated from it and his head ached from the pressure. Realizing the mountain sized warrior was positioned above the half driven mad Unkcegila demons , he watched as the Giant Warrior settled himself down on top and crushing them.

The pain in Thomas’s head became almost too intense not to shout out. A giant eagle carrying a child in its talons flapped it’s powerful  wings and settled behind him. Just when he felt he could stand it no more, he felt a pair of loving arms wrap themself around him from behind in a hug. Ina Hoka’s calming voice spoke softly into his ear.

“My husband, rise, we must be off. The light of dawn will soon be upon us and we must leave while the Giant Warrior holds down the spirits of the land while it is yet dark. All has been accomplished tonight.”

To Thomas, he felt as if he had suddenly awakened from a dream. No longer could he see the Giant Warrior or the gasping Unkcegila. Wailing sadness could be heard from the camp but no warriors mounted to seek revenge for the humiliating slaughter of their leader.

Holding the child out to Thomas his wife spoke to him, “Rise,  and see our daughter, is she not beautiful?”

Thomas rose and cradled the tiny girl in his arms. “She’s beautiful all right, she looks just like her Mama.”

   The subject of the child’s upbringing and what path she would follow had never been discussed between them. Realizing it must be settled before they entered her tribe’s encampment Ina Hoka asked Thomas who’s culture would they all belong to.

“Well,” Thomas thoughtfully replied, “It seems I’m a bit outnumbered two to one. Ina, I would want what makes you and our daughter happiest. I was always a bit of a drifter after I left home. I would like to plant my roots next to yours if that’s alright with you. Besides, if we lived in a city of white men and I began telling folks all I’ve seen here tonight, they’d lock me up as bein’ crazy. I think it best for all of us if we put our roots down inside a teepee lodge with your people rather than a square house made of wood and stone among strangers.”

“Yes, that makes me happy. I will yet have much explaining to my tribe of all that has happened since my leaving the village. While they will be of sad heart to hear of my husband and his parents deaths, they will sing songs of happiness for our marriage and the return of my child.”

As the three made their way eastward Thomas asked, “Ina, I need to ask you something. Is there some reason why our baby has no name?”

“In our band, a child’s name is given to her by her father. She is yours to name. If you look upon the child your heart will be open to her name. Sometimes if it is an important name the Grandfathers will give you hints other times your Totem will speak to you.”

“I’ve actually just been thinkin’ on that. I would like to give her the name your mother was called. I want to give your Ma some sort of honor seein’ as how she raised such a wonderful daughter herself. What was her name?”

Ina Hoka walked closely beside her husband Thomas as he continued to cradle the child in his arms. “How honored am I?” she thought. “All the gifts that the Grandfathers have given to me and now my husband honors not only me but my own mother. I am complete.”

“Her name is Kimo. It means to be brimming with hope.”

Thomas stopped and lifted the now giggling child to the predawn sky. “Daughter, today you are called Kimo!”

As he handed the baby girl now named brimming with hope back to Ina, a golden shaft of morning sunlight split the dawns clouds. The narrow shaft struck the three where they stood.

Ina Hoka looked up at her husband and smiled widely. She held Kimo closely to her breast and spoke to her husband.

“To-mas, the Grandfathers are pleased you remembered my mother and gave honor to her. Stand quiet as they bless our family with the morning sunlight.”

Thomas looked up into the dawns parting clouds and swore they took the form of an old Indian proudly smiling down upon them. As the clouds continued to be blown clear by the morning breeze, the prairie lit up in the splendor of the sun.

“I love you Ina Hoka, Mother Badger.”

Ina chuckled and wrapped her free arm around his waist, “I love you to To-mas, and like the Badger, you will never escape my love.”

“Why would I ever want to leave you? You’re the best cook I ever met!”

Laughing she squeezed his waist. “So it is true then what the old women of the lodges say of their men? That all a wife is good for is cooking and keeping the Tee Pee clean?”

Chuckling he squeezed her back and replied, “That and uh, you know…”

She quickly tiptoed and kissed him and said smiling back naughtily, “Oh yes, we shall never forget that, will we?”

“Not in my life time we won’t!”

As their laughter drifted over the dew wet prairie, the grandfathers in the sky above looked at each other and smiled. The Grandfather that had blessed them spoke aloud. “Huh, he reminds me of when I myself was young.”

In the distance an elderly female chuckled and was heard to exclaim, “In your dreams my husband, only in your dreams!”

Taking a chance on hope

2011 photo by JW Edwards ‘Cabin near Tazewell VA.’

Chapter 1

Chance Hooper slowly limped his way through the neglected pasture toward the old log cabin he had grown up in.

The limp, a souvenir gift he received at Gettysburg when a Northerner’s ball plowed into his leg, was all he had to show for the two and a half years of fighting for the South… that and a head full of memories, some good, most bad. The war ended but his leg could have cared less. It healed no faster when it was announced the war was over. Still, it was better than being dead like his twin brother Micah.

The twins had joined the Confederate army together believing at the time that the war would be a few rowdy skirmishes at best. Afterward it was assumed, the politicians would resolve the issue with both the North and the South having to give and take on the issues until a deal was made. Sadly it took many thousands of lives to resolve the differences that the politicians could not settle peaceably over a table.

Up ahead on a small rise at the end of the field sat the log home Chance, Micah and his father had built years before the war. Chance and Micah were just boys then but in the 1850’s, a man was judged by other criteria than just his age. Each log was cut, shaved and carefully notched by hand. A small wood fired steam sawmill in one of the open sided sheds had cut the logs into planks to be made into floorboards, window frames and doors. The single stone fireplace at one time supplied the only source of fire for cooking and keeping the winters cold out. Years Later, a steel chimney pipe poked its way through the side of the house and upward past the roof. Inside, the pipe attached itself to a new cast iron cook stove in the large kitchen.

Continuing his walk forward, the peak of the cabins roof slowly exposed itself. The closer he got, the more the cabin exposed itself. Finally fully presented, Chance saw for the first time the full extent of the damage done to his home resulting from his abstinence during the war years.

Stepping up onto the front door stoop, Chance pushed against the weathered door. It swung in on noisy hinges revealing a surprisingly empty house. Making his way slowly throughout, he realized the house had been methodically stripped of all its furnishings. Not a knick knack, pot or curtain remained. Where once the cook stove had stood in the large kitchen now only a gaping stove pipe hole in the wall remained.  Anger was not the first emotion he felt, hopelessness was. Anger came afterward. Stomping from the house he headed directly to where he was sure he’d find the answer to his question of who stole his parent’s and his property. Double checking the Navy Colt pistol he wore on his hip, he made his way painfully to the road that wound its way through the countryside connecting each farm to its neighbor, he limped to the home of his closest neighbor, that of Bo Spivey.

Pounding on the front door, Chance yelled out, “Spivey! Come on out here, I wanna’ talk to you, you piece a thieving crap!”

The upper window jerked open under protest and a bearded pocked face looked out. “You stop your bangin’ Chance Hooper, I got my sisters babies nappin’ inside. Besides, I ain’t got nothin’ a your’s so get your sorry ass offa’ my property!”

Chance refused to lower his voice and hearing Spivey mention his missing property fed his anger even more.

“I been gone all these years and the first thing you tell me is you ain’t got nothing that belongs to me?  That’s a might tellin’ ain’t it Bo? Get down here or I’ll burst down your door and drag your toothless ass outside and kick it raw into the next county! I ain’t playing Bo, get down here or I’m coming in!”

“OK, hold on a minute, an you just stay right there!”

Less than a minute later the door cracked open a few inches and Spivey’s pock marked face peeked through the crack and shouted. “What’s this all about Hooper, I ain’t done nothing wrong. Besides I heard you all got shot an’ died with your brother Micah!”

“Well you heard wrong. We got shot but I sure ain’t dead! Where’s all my stuff now Spivey? There ain’t nobody around here that would have entered my house while I was gone except for your rotted ass!”

“I ain’t took nothin’, now go away!”

Stepping over to the side of the house, Chance looked up at the metal stove pipe haphazardly exiting the side of the house. Pointing to it he yelled, “That there pipe is the pipe from my stove! You got my cook stove inside Spivey? You got your fat assed shit coated undergarments inside my Mama’s missing chest a drawers too?”

“I ain’t took noth..”

Before Bo Spivey could finish his sentence, Chance angrily ran up onto the porch and kicked the door open with his good leg. Spivey was unprepared and the door slammed into the side of his head nearly taking off his right ear.

Grabbing his head, Spivey screamed, “Aiieee! Ma’ ear!”

Spivey fell backwards into the house on the floor while trying to mash his dangling ear back onto his head using his palm of his hand. “Oh my God!”. Spivey cried, “ Damn your soul Hooper, look what you did to my ear!”

Chance paid no attention to the crying man but stepped inside and walked past Spivey as he continued to thrash about on the floor screaming.

Glancing about, he saw many of his parent’s belongings placed about on shelves and even his grandmothers China tea set lay carelessly in an open crate on the floor.

Walking into the kitchen his eyes rested on the wood burning cook stove he and his father had given to his mother on her fortieth birthday.

Seeing his mothers once spotless stove now covered with rancid grease and old food splatters, Chance’s stomach churned. He stomped past Spivey and looking backwards at him shouted.

“I’m getting the Sheriff Spivey, you robbed my place while I went off to war. That’s a hanging offense in this county!”

Chance limped out of the house slamming the door loudly behind him. Partway down the porch walkway, the front door was thrown open and Bo Spivey appeared from in the doorway with an old flintlock rifle that had been hanging over the fireplace mantle.

Turning to face the noise, Chance recognized the Kentucky long rifle as the one his grandfather had given to him years ago before he had passed. Seeing Spivey lift the rifle to his shoulder, he watched in horror as Spivey’s finger began to pull on the trigger.

What Spivey did not know was that the rifle’s barrel had been severely damaged decades before. Chance had been sternly warned that it was never to be charged and fired for the barrel would never hold. It didn’t.

The warning had just begun to leave Chances mouth when Spivey pulled the trigger. A loud boom and a massive white cloud tinged at its edges with a wet red mist exploded where Spivey’s head was just moments before.

Spivey’s headless body stood teetering slightly from side to side, then fell backwards into the room. Chance had seen many men die in battle but it was a scene he never accustomed himself to. Spivey’s death was no different. His bare feet lay at the entrance to the door quivering as if trying to re awaken the headless body. Soon though, the feet gave up trying and came to a stop.

Chance could not believe what he had just witnessed. Not realizing the gun was a relic and never having meant to be used again, Spivey had foolishly loaded it and hung it over his mantle for emergencies.

There was no helping Spivey at this point, he was dead through and through. Chance stood staring at Spivey’s feet when his eyes caught a flicker of light from within the doorway. Shaking himself out of shock, he focused on the flicker of light, it suddenly dawned on Chance that something within the house had been started on fire by the exploding gun.

Running inside the home past Spivey’s body, Chance headed upstairs taking two steps at a time, His leg throbbed terribly but Spivey had said there were babies sleeping and they needed saving.

Throwing open first one door then the other produced no sleeping babies.

“You lying son a bitch! You never had any babies up here.”

It was then Chance realized his only route of escape by using the stairs was now in flames.  Opening a window he let himself out onto the porch roof where he jumped painfully onto the ground. Turning to face the doorway again, he saw the flames beginning to consume Spivey’s clothes.

Backing away, he watched in silence as the home quickly became engulfed in the hungry flames. Sadly he realized that all his and his stolen parent’s belongings inside were being destroyed. The intense flames removed all hope in salvaging anything. All he had now were the clothes on his back, his gun and whatever monies he had saved up in his money belt.

Feeling utterly exhausted from the recent events, Chance found a nearby tree stump to sit down on. He watched somberly as within minutes, the flames consumed the Spivey home in its entirety. In one final pyrotechnic display, the burning frame leaned forward and collapsed in a massive explosion of sparks.

His mind wandered back to the day the two wide eyed brothers went marching so naively off to war. Friends and neighbors waved and cheered as the towns young stepped in time through town smartly adorned in their freshly pressed uniforms. Gettysburg ended any soldier’s hoorah bravado.  Twenty eight thousand Southern souls left their bodies in that battle. Chance knew the North lost almost as much. When you came from a town of three hundred, twenty eight thousand was incomprehensible.

Taken to a makeshift hospital outside Gettysburg for his leg wound, Chance was told his brother had been killed trying to pull his wounded superior to safety. Both the wounded Captain and his brother had been found afterward with multiple killing wounds. In recognition for his brother’s bravery, Chance was permitted to have Micah’s body interned back home in the family cemetery rather than in one of the mass graves many soldiers would call their last place of rest. A walking wounded soldier from the same town as the brothers hailed from, volunteered to travel back with Micah’s body to make sure he was given a Christian burial.

Chance thought, “At least Ma and Pa didn’t have to deal with Micah’s death.”

The parents had already passed ahead of Micah. Shortly after the brothers marched off to war, they were informed by their Commanding officer that their parents had passed away from a local cholera outbreak. His grieving brother was granted leave time to see them laid to rest properly. Chance grieved but thanked God that being busy learning to be a soldier kept his mind from dwelling too much on it.

Resting on the stump, Chance sat watching the house morph into a large pile of glowing coals. He knew there would be no evidence of Spivey’s remains. With his parent’s belongings gone along with Spivey’s in the fire, Chance felt no great rush to inform the Sheriff of what had happened. For all anyone would know, Spivey simply died in a house fire. In fact, no one was even aware yet the Chance had returned home. Spivey’s death was no fault of his and to tell the story as it happened seemed unnecessary. He decided to just let the Sheriff know that he had discovered the Spivey home burnt down with no sign of Bo Spivey being seen.

  Chapter 2

A females voice behind him made him jump.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to startle you. My names Mary Jane Ashley, I live up yonder up the hill from this place.”

Chance quickly stood up and brushed off the seat of his pants. “I was just sitting here. My name is Chance Hooper. I was raised up the road a bit ways. I guess I should explain what happened here.”

“No, There ain’t no need. I saw and heard most everything. You passed nearby me on your way over here. I was over in the elderberry bushes with my pail pickin’ berries when you came by. I didn’t know you so I stayed hid. My Mama told me never to go near here alone but I wanted them berries growin’ alongside the road for a pie. My Mama had an earlier run in with Bo Spivey some time back. I think that’s what did her in.”

“Did her in?”

“ About two months after we moved here from Tazewell, Mama come home one day shakin and I seen she’d been crying. She had some bruising on her face an’ her prime apron was missin’ but she wouldn’t tell me what had happened. We’d just rented the old Haney place up yonder atop that hill over there. She told me she was headin’ to our nearby neighbors to properly introduce herself to ‘em and try an’ sell some of our eggs. Mama would not tell me but I figured it all out. When I said I was going down here to kill him, she begged me to leave things be.”

“What about your Pa? Didn’t he do anything?”

“Pa went off to fight in the war an’ we ain’t never heard back from him. I don’t think he died, just ran off, that’s all. It didn’t grieve Mama much seein’ as all they ever did was fight anyway. Pa wanted a baby boy an’ when I was born he blamed my Ma. They never had no more kids but me.”

“How did you Mama pass?”

“She just died, that’s all. After her meet up with Spivey, she just sat around a lot. She lost all interest in things. Most times, I’d have to scold her even into eatin’. Then one day she just never woke up.”

“So now it’s just you? How do you live being all alone?”

The thin but pretty blond haired girl with sky blue eyes looked shyly downward at her bare feet. “I get along. I hunt and we had us a good garden goin’ from earlier on. I got a coop with some chickens an’ when I gather a basket full of eggs, I go to town an’ sell them. What about you? I saw what happened here, served Bo Spivey right! I’m glad he’s dead.”

“Do you mind if I sit back down? I know it’s impolite to sit in the presence of a woman but my leg is aching something fierce from jumping off the porch roof.”

“For sure! Sit down, I’ll set next to you.”

Before he could answer, she sat down cross legged in front and facing the stump. She motioned for him to sit down.

Chance lowered himself back onto the stump and looking down at her he could not help to notice the blond girls bare knees and legs. A sudden jolt, not unlike a shock one gets off a wool rug while in stockings struck his lions. Embarrassed, he quickly averted his eyes.

Mary Jane Ashley sat staring up at him smiling unaware of what had just occurred. “How did you hurt your leg?”

Chance explained his army service, the death of his twin brother and how he was wounded. He told her the Surgeon wanted to take off the leg but there were so many limbs he had to cut off from other wounded that when Chance begged him not to, the Surgeon just patched it and told him to leave.

“I bled halfway from Gettysburg to here. It’s healing but it’ll be some time yet before I’m back to being whole.”

They spent the entire afternoon talking. Both felt completely at ease sharing the most intimate secrets with each other. It was as if they had known each other for ages.

At one point, Chance drew back his long brown hair from out of his green eyes and smiled down at the girl staring up at him.  “I know this sounds a mite forward Mary Jane, but seein’ your face smiling so pretty and all, I realize there’s more than just sadness in the world. It gives me hope”

Mary Jane beamed wide eyed up at him. “That’s the sweetest thing I ever been told!”

“I think you’re beautiful!”

Shocked at his own forwardness, Chance quickly changed the subject saying, “I suppose it’ll be getting dark before too long. I should be heading home to see if there’s a place to lay my head tonight without the raccoons and snakes investigating me while I sleep. It’s been a heap of time since I spoke to a female, especially one so kind as you. I’ve enjoyed your company immensely and I want to ask if I could stop by your place tomorrow and visit you. I will try to find some fresh meat first though, that is, if you say it’s fine for me to visit you.”

Mary Jane’s face lit up. “I would like that very much Chance but I must ask you, have you eaten anything yet today? We been sittin’ here talkin’ for hours. If you’re hungry I can pick us some vegetables from the garden and make us some soup. Your leg will not heal well unless you eat. Come, let me cook you a meal.”

Saying that, she reached out her hand for him to grab onto after she stood up. “You can lean on me if you are still too sore.” At the touch of her hand he again felt the electric shock he had experienced earlier. Walking side by side back to her place, he put his arm over her shoulder for support as they slowly made their way uphill.

After an hour they neared her house, Mary Jane regretted that their walk would soon end and so would the warm feeling of his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him closer and slipped her arm around his waist. “Chance? Why did your Mama and Dad name you that?”

He looked down at the girl tucked so comfortably under his arm and answered. “My brother’s name was Micah. My Mom said it meant to be “Like God” or Godly like… something along those lines. When she named me I wasn’t doing so well. I wouldn’t suckle at first and I acted like I didn’t want to even taste it.  So she spoke and said, ‘C’mon my little fellow, just try it once, if you never take a chance, you’ll never know how good it is for you’.”

“You must have eventually taken to it, you look mighty healthy to me…other than that leg of yours.”

Chuckling, he answered, “Yeah, I guess you could say I took the chance!”

 Chapter 3 

When the two reached her place, neither felt like letting the other go. Mary Jane dropped her head and quietly said, “I guess I better let you walk up the step by yourself now.”

Reluctantly they parted and Chance followed her into the small log home where they sat down at a rickety wooden table with peeling paint. It was far smaller than his own place but it had the wonderful smell of herbs and drying flowers. He commented on it.

“I like flowers a lot.” She said, “They are so pretty. I think of my Mom when I smell them. She would gather up bunches every day while out walking and place them on the table in a jar. She did that even when I was a child. She’d say that even when you ain’t got nothing, you can always have flowers. It was one thing my Daddy and her never argued about. I think secretly, he enjoyed them too.”

The look on Mary Jane’s face gave Chance the impression that she was a million miles away and in a different time of her life. He let her stay that way until she blinked then looked at him with searching eyes.

“Chance, I’ll make us up some soup right quick, but may I ask what your plans are? I mean are you going to try and salvage your parents place and stay there or are you thinking of moving on?”

“To tell the truth, after Spivey’s house burnt down, I figured there was no reason for me to stay around any longer. The farm is over grown and all the equipment we owned looks like it was took and sold off. I’m sure Spivey and his friends were the culprits. They even managed somehow to remove the steam engine that powered our sawmill. How they did that I’ll never figure out since it was so heavy.  No, there’s nothing left for me here.”

Looking into Mary Jane’s eyes he continued talking. “Until you stepped out of those elderberry bushes, I was figuring on having left here by now. I had the intention of heading west. A friend of mine in the infantry unit I was in told me if ever I was to get out to Wyoming territory that I’d be more than welcome there. We talked of setting up cattle ranches near each other. I know it was just a dream to keep our minds off the war, but somehow that dream kept me sane. I think I’d like to try that though.”

Mary Jane reached over and put her hand in his. A tear rolled down her cheek and with quivering lips she asked, “It sounds wonderful. If you go, would you take me with you? Please?”

Without saying anything, Chance gathered her onto his lap and held her close to him. Tears ran freely down her face and dripped onto Chances shirt. He could feel the hot drops splashing on his chest and knew for certain that he had fallen in love. Slipping is fingers under her chin, he lifted her head to his face and kissed the tears running down her cheek.

“Mary Jane, before today, I hade no hope I’d never know the type of love my parents held for each other. I was too young when I left for the war to seriously court a girl. Before I had a chance to really grow up I saw things in battle that made my world look dark and terrible. I was alive but I had no hope. You’ve changed that. I want nothing more than for you to come with me. But I need to ask you this, “Could you ever love me? The way a wife loves her husband?”

“Chance, that’s the only reason I want to come with you. On our way back to the house, when we were holding onto each other, I didn’t want you to ever leave… not after I just found you. I have nothing here. My Mom’s grave on a rented property? Do you know I buried her myself up on the hill? I marked it with a stone and dug here grave so deep so no plow will ever disturb her rest. No one knew us, we never even met the owner of this place. My Mom set it up with the help of a friend of a friend. They weren’t even sure the person even really owned it! My Mom figured if the day came and someone told us to get out, then we would without any complaint. We only paid two dollars to rent the place an’ they never came back an’ asked for rent ever again. I could leave here this minute without regrets. But if you leave here and decide I ain’t goin’ with you then my heart will close itself off and break in silence ‘cause I’m in love with you.

“Would Wyoming be a place you could be happy at? I know nothing of it but what was told to me. He said it’s got fields so big you could ride horse back for days without coming to the other side. It’s got forest and cold clean rivers and a sky so big that it makes you feel small.”

“It sounds like heaven to me and who would not be happy in heaven. Will you do like your Mama asked when you wouldn’t suckle? Will you take me and give us two a chance?”

“My Mama sure named me right. Yes, let’s take that chance. Will you marry me Mary Jane Ashley?”

Upon making their way into town, Chance told the Sheriff of his finding the Spivey house recently burnt down.  The Sheriff didn’t seem too concerned and he never asked about the whereabouts of Bo Spivey. Instead the Sheriffs only comment was, “Good riddance!” Chance figured Spivey had made no friends and wouldn’t be missed.

Afterward, Chance and Mary Jane stopped at the judges office to take their vows.

Mary Jane Ashley became Mary Jane Hooper and Chance became the husband to the thin but wonderful smiling barefoot girl he met during her berry picking.

They stayed in her small cabin throughout that fall and that winter. When the spring crocuses poked their heads up through the melting Virginia snow, Mary Jane became satisfied that Chances leg was well enough healed to finally travel. A roundness to her tummy foretold that there would be three, not two new emigrants entering Wyoming territory. If it were a boy, he would be named Micah, if a girl… then Hope.

A storm of bad luck

Chapter 1  

Greenhorn rancher Joe Tarboosh was born with bad luck. Even his last name on his birth certificate was misspelled. His parents, both born in Wales, immigrated to America in 1853. She was pregnant when they left the old country and gave birth to Joseph minutes after the boat bumped the dock in New York harbor. The parents considered this a sign of good luck. It wasn’t.

The first sign of impending foul fortune was shortly after the very inebriated doctor filled out Joe’s live birth certificate. Not only had the Italian Doctor misspelled his parents name Tarbush as Tarboosh (he couldn’t figure out the spelling of Tarbush and after three tries, crossed out the attempts and spelled it as he thought it should sound…with an Italian accent). He also dated Joe’s birth a hundred years too early. Date of birth, October 29th in the year of our Lord 1753. At least he had the month and day correct.

So poor Joe at the young age of one, was given the honor of being a living centurion in the New York news papers in the Society section, until of course they finally got around to doing a bit more research and discovered Joe’s parents and even grandparents, were younger than he was!

Living in the bustling city of New York, age meant everything. He was told at a hundred and five that he was too old to attend school with the other children and was told at 116 not to bother applying for the Naval Service as again, he was deemed too old. In fact, he was asked if he had grown up with the likes of George Washington and Paul Revere.

He could have lived a fairly decent life if age were the only factor in his having bad luck but it wasn’t. Joe’s life mirrored the statement, “A dollar short and a minute too late.”

Meanwhile, his parents prospered and like many immigrants, worked hard and accumulated a pretty good amount of wealth. To keep things simple, Joe would give his money he had earned from working odd jobs to his father each week and in return he and his father would both go to the bank together and deposit Joe’s pay into his Fathers account. After all, the family figured that being the only son, if anything would happen to them Joe would inherit it all anyway.

At the age of twenty (or 120 depending on how you want to look at it), Joe discovered that banking under his father’s account may not have been the wisest of choices.

It was in early January. The day started out with blustery freezing weather that by noon had added a major ice storm to its retinue. Sleet, slush and now the wind was blowing ice crystals around like a blind knife thrower in a cheap circus. Joe, his mother and father for some unknown reason, bundled themselves up and ventured outdoors.

Keeping their heads down and only looking up when necessary, the three blazed a path through the deepening slush and snow on the unshoveled walkways. When it finally became too deep to step without effort, they took to the street. Staring at his feet as he trudged through the miserable weather, it was then that Joe realized that he no longer heard his parents grunting and complaining behind him as they made their way forward in the storm. Turning around he soon realized why.

Both parents lay flat as pancakes in the streets center lane where the trolley car tracks ran. Thankfully for the mourners, it was a closed coffin affair.

Upon their demise, Joe discovered too that his parents had never filed a Will. When the case finally wound its way through the Probate Court system, the Court determined that Joe was not a relative as he not only had a different last name but was in fact far too old to be their son.

He was arrested for inheritance fraud and spent thirty five days in jail. Thirty for the attempted fraud and five for misconduct while in a Courtroom. The misconduct occurred when Joe stood up, screamed and rent his clothing from head to toe in frustrated anguish. It may have been understood or even forgiven except that in rending his clothes, he had forgotten he had worn no undergarments that day. Women fainted at the sight and men shouted in an angry uproar.

The judge on the other hand had a look on his face that mimicked that of a dog staring at a meaty bone.

I will go no further in this narration except to say Joe served his time quietly and when released, immediately stopped at the bank with a forged note ‘written’ by his father. Smiling and asking how her day was going, he handed the forged note to a familiar teller. The note stated due to ill health he, the father,  could not make it in person. It also said he had given his son full authority to close the account in order to pay the steep medical expenses he had recently incurred. The teller, used to seeing Joe and his Father come every Friday, gave him her condolences regarding his father’s health and handed him the money.  Joe then jumped aboard a train and headed to the Western Territories. Like a bat out of Hell he disappeared from New York before the Court discovered what he had done.

Chapter 2

It had taken three weeks to get to Laramie, two by train, one now by stage. At last the teeth jarring stage coach crossed into the Wyoming territory from it’s start at the rail head in Kimball Nebraska. The stage driver yelled down to those poor souls inside. “Laramie stations comin’ up ahead folks. For those of you continuing on to Rawlins, be ready to get back aboard in an hour. There’s a café up the street for those wantin’ a hot meal.”

Joe Tarboosh painfully stepped down onto the hard packed earthen street soon after the stage door opened. He waited for the driver to toss down his carpet bag, after grabbing it and his over coat, he stiffly walked up the street where he was told the land office was.

Walking along the wooden plank walkway that connected each building to its neighbor, Joe soon arrived in front of the land office. He was about turn the doors handle to enter when the door was flung violently open. A man resembling three boulders piled on top of each other stormed through the opening and stood red faced staring at Joe.

Turning his head back towards the open door the angry red faced man yelled back inside through foaming lips. “Ach, a bunch a thieves you all are! You knew for years I had been plannin’ on buyin’ that land! An here ya’ go an’ sell it from under me feet! Well damn your heathin’ souls the lot of you! When I find out who the miscreant is that bribed your sorry assess into sellin’ it to him, I promise you now, he’s goin’ to be pleading for his miserable existence as I bare handed strangle him to death!”

Turning away from the door he once again faced the shocked Joe and yelled, “Get your sorry ass out of my way!” Pushing Joe hard against the porch wall of the land sale office, he stomped on.

A thin nervous man wearing a green head visor guardedly poked his head out of the open door. Seeing Joe pressed against the wall he asked him. “Is he gone yet?”

“Yeah, he’s gone, who was that idiot?”

“Well, seein’ as I don’t recognize you, I hesitate to say, you might work for him.”

Joe responded, “I don’t, my names Joe Tarboosh and I need to see the land agent, is that you?”

“let me answer your first question first Mr. Tarboosh, that angry Irishman is Brian O’Donahue owner of the Lazy O Ranch. He’s the man who wants to make you regret you didn’t die in childbirth. See? You’re the miscreant that bought that land he’s been hankerin’ after for all these years. Can’t really blame him, but I warned him for three years that someday, somebody’s gonna up and buy it from under him. He’s just so bull headed and outright mean that he believed there’s no man with big enough cojones to do that. He’d been grazing his cattle on it for free ever since the Toker family moved.”

“Well why in God’s name didn’t you tell me that when I telegraphed the Land Office about available Ranches for sale? Now I’m gonna be fearing everyday that I’ll run into him someday when we’re alone and get pounded to a pulp!”

“Pounded? Naw, he’ll just kill you quick like, that’s his way!”

“Oh that makes me feel so much better! Now what do I do?”

“Hell, if I was you, I’d get over to Nebraska Territory and hop aboard a train as fast I could and go back East! I can resell your property to him. I know he won’t pay what you bought it for. No where nears that much even, but it’s better’n pushin’ up daisy’s.”

“Forget it, I bought it fair and square. I’ve learned when I turned tail and ran it never helped. Where is the Toker ranch I bought? How do I get there?”

“Well, you ain’t gonna walk that far an’ if you ain’t got one, you might think about getting’yourself a mule to ride.  I’d think about a wagon too to carry supplies in. Ain’t nothin’ there but an old empty fixer up ranch house and some weather beaten’ corrals. Ain’t no wagons I know of since Toker done sold off as much as he could. Maybe the drinkin’ well’s still good, I don’t know. I only handle the deed work for the Government.”

“Where can I buy a horse or mule?”

The stable’s next to the Smithy. Just at the end of town. You can’t miss it, follow your ears. There’s hammerin’ goin’ on night an’ day. ‘Ol Mackey got himself an order from the Union Pacific Railroad for an order of ten thousand rail spikes. They’s gonna be a rail road here by next year!”

Joe followed his ears and sure enough the air was filled with the sound of hammering. Walking up the livery, he looked for the owner and not seeing anyone around, stepped next door to the black smith’s shop.

A gigantic black man stood pounding a glowing red piece of bar stock iron over an anvil. When one end of the bar had been hammered into the shape of a two sided point, he chilled the point and dropped it point down into a hole in the anvil and pounded it until the other end took the shape of a rail spikes head. Joe stood staring at the transformation in awe. In less than ten seconds the man had turned a piece of useless iron bar stock into a very well made rail spike.  Joe waited patiently for the Smithy to set down his tools before greeting him.

“Hello, my name is Joe. I was wondering if you knew the whereabouts of the stable owner, I’m in need of a horse or mule to buy”

The powerfully built Smith named Black Mackey didn’t answer right off but instead walked over to a large water bucket and splashed his face in it. He then dipped his head into it and drank his fill of the stale water. Water streamed down his big lips onto his muscular bare chest.

“I am the owner!” The Smiths deep thundering voice reminded Joe of what an avalanche of rock must sound like. “ The stable boy who works for me is off on an errand, otherwise you’d be talking to him and not me.  But, since he isn’t here, Horses are forty dollars, mules twenty five. I can sell you a saddle for either for ten. What’ll it be?”

“I guess a mule? I never rode one, just horses but it can’t be too different can it? I got to keep an eye on how much money I spend, I aim to start a ranch over at the Toker’s place.

“Ha! So you’re the one that bought the ‘Ol Toker place? O’Donahue sure was on the war path when he found out someone had bought it. He just left here in a fit. I finished shoeing his horse not ten minutes ago. He came in here fuming and bellyaching about someone stealing his land!”

Mackey laid aside the hammer he still held and ushered Joe toward the livery stable.

“Seeing as how much I got a charge out of seeing O’Donahue stomp around like a temper tantrum baby, I’ll cut you a deal. You don’t want a mule, they’re too hard to control. A horse would do you much better. I’ll sell you one, a decent one for twenty five and I’ll throw in the saddle for five. Does that sound good to you?”

“Thirty total? Where can I buy a gun? I might need one if O’Donahue shows up at my place”

“If you want, I have a nice Golden Boy to sell for say… ten dollars. Some cow puncher left it to be fixed and later that night he got himself shot dead at the card table.  I was the only one who knew he left it with me. It’s fixed, just had to have the firing pin filed down, kept sticking. I have no use for it, it’s not like I’ll ever have the time to go hunting.’

Two hours later, Joe reigned up in front of a weather worn house that he had bought sight unseen. The glass windows seemed to be intact with only one pane cracked. The corral left a lot to be desired though. Most of the rails lay on the ground and the gate sat sagging on one hinge. But the land… the land was beautiful! The house sat partway up a slight incline so from its wide porch he could view the open valley that lay before him.  The valley floor lay carpeted by prairie wild flowers while patches of black eyed Susan’s and purple spring crocuses grew around the houses foundation.

Joe nodded approvingly at the condition of the outside. He stepped onto the wide porch to see what the inside held.

Opening the unlocked door, he stepped inside to a musty smelling but rather clean house. Whoever the Toker family was, they had made sure the buyer bought a clean place. A woman’s touch was in evidence. Flowered curtains, nicely painted wooden walls, the living room was even wall papered in flower prints. The kitchen cabinets and shelves had held up well. An old cast iron cook stove sat backed against a stone chimney. It would have been a perfect day except for O’Donahue. “Just my luck”, Joe mused, ”I finally get something really nice that’s all mine and someone wants to kill me over it.”

   Two weeks and over one hundred dollars later, the place looked like a home. Joe was proud of his accomplishments. He found he was better at handling tools than he first believed. Not a floor board now stood loose nor was a corral rail missing. Next on his list…buy some cattle!   

 

Chapter 3

Two days later Joe returned to town and once again stopped at the livery. One reason was to thank the Smith Macky for the fine horse he sold him, the second was to ask if he knew of an honest cattle dealer in town and the third was out of pure curiosity… why did the negro blacksmith speak like a white person .

Mackey saw Joe plodding down the street proudly riding his new mount. The grey mare looked pretty handsome with its shiny black leather saddle on her, even if it was used.

As Joe hitched his horse, Mackey stepped out into the sunlight to greet Joe. “Well, well. I see you and Grey Lady seem to be getting’ along pretty nicely. What brings you into town this time, more supplies?”

“The truth is Mr. Mackey, I wanted to thank you for selling me, Grey Lady. I also have to apologize, I fibbed. I said I rode horses before. The truth being, the closest I’ve ever been to a horse was when I rode in a buggy back east. Grey Lady almost seems to know where I want to go, I rarely have to even steer her”

Mackey began chuckling at Joe’s definition of handling his horse “I kind of figured as much, that’s why I sold her to you. She’s the gentlest and smartest creature I ever put a set of shoes on. She knew the way to the Toker’s place because that’s her home. She belonged to Mrs. Toker.”

“Ha! And here I thought I was such a brilliant horse rider too!” Joe continued to laugh thinking of how well he had ‘trained’ his new horse. “The jokes on me I guess.”

“You’re a different kind of man Joe, I don’t believe I’ve ever met a green horn such as you. You didn’t try to talk me down in price and you even come back to thank me for the sale! How’d you know I didn’t rob you blind? I could have you know!”

“You looked like an honest man, Mr. Mackey. I wasn’t going to insult your good intentions for giving me a good deal.” At this point, Joe decided not to ask Mackey about his accent, it could wait.

“That’s another thing Joe, you’re the first person ever to call me Mister! Everybody here just calls me Mackey ‘cause I think they feel uncomfortable calling me Black.”

“Why would they call you that, because you’re a negro?”

“Heck, I’m surely a negro but Black is my Christian name! When I was born my Father said to my Mama, That baby sure is a black one, isn’t he? So my Mama went and named me Black, just as yours named you Joe.”

Joe started chuckling but then became red with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I was just thinking of two friends I grew up with. One’s name was Red and the other was Whitey. I wonder if they were named under similar circumstances, that’s all.”

“No need to apologize , there wasn’t any offense taken. By the way, do you do have a last name don’t you or do you like being called just Joe?”

“Oh sure, it’s Tarboosh, it was supposed to be spelled t-a-r-b-u-s-h not T-a-r-b-o-o-s-h but the Doctor was Italian and spelled it the way it sounded to him. It caused a load of problems, especially after my parents passed on. I wasn’t allowed to inherit the house or anything. They even threw me in jail for implying I was trying to steal their home by fraud. But that’s all in the past, I’m starting my herd and I was wondering if you knew of an honest seller of cattle around here?”

Listening to Joe’s story and now his desire for cattle, Black Mackey looked at his feet and shook his head in wonder. “Good God Joe Tarboosh, you’ve sure got a whole heap of bad luck! Maybe before you go buying any cattle, you need to know a bit of history of the ranch you bought and the town here.”

Joe felt bad luck forming like a black storm cloud over his head once again. Any minute he mused, the cloudburst would come and more bad luck would rain upon his head.

“If you can spare a minute, I’d like to hear it. I know nothing of the Toker family or why they left. I’m used to facing things Mister Mackey and for sure I can’t turn around and go back. So, please tell me if you would.”

Macky sat on a stool and waved Joe to sit likewise on another. “The Tokers moved here almost ten years ago. He and the Misses had three children when they first came and added two more to that. They built everything you see out there, house, corrals, barn and two bunk houses for the men. At one point in time, a few years back, their herd numbered over two thousand and they had twelve hired hands. They were a good family, they even went to church service when a preacher passed through.”

“So what happened, why’d they move?”

“Things were going well for them, the land was good, their cattle healthy and the steam that ran through their land was flowing with good cool water from up in the mountains. All that began to change though when O’Donahue bought the land adjacent to theirs on the east side of the Medicine Bow Mountains. First thing O’Donahue did after starting up his ranch was redirect that stream with dynamite that flowed from the mountains through the Toker’s land. It passed through his land before entering the Tokers. If you haven’t already seen it, I suggest you look at the dried up stream bed. Without that stream, the Toker’s couldn’t support their large herd.”

“What about the Law? I mean there’s laws on water rights isn’t there?”

“O’Donahue offered the water but the price he asked for was beyond anyone’s ability to pay. It did end up in Court. But as you can figure for yourself, when it went before the honorable Judge O’Malley, the outcome was a given. Judge O’Malley is O’Donahue’s brother in law. Nothing was left to do but sell the place an’ move on so they did. They took what they could, sold the rest and headed to the Snake River Valley in Idaho.”

“So is there any way I can get water from another source, I got two drinking wells by the house but I know that won’t water a herd.”

“Water isn’t your only problem Joe, buying the cattle is another. You see, O’Donahue ran out the only other seller of cattle within a hundred miles of here. If you want cattle, you’ve gotta’ go to him. I’m tellin’ you here an’ now, he isn’t about to sell you any and it’s too far drive from Cheyenne to here without at least ten experienced  hired hands to drive them.”

Joe sat there looking down despondently at his new boots. For an instant he began to feel sorry for himself, but having dealt all his life with bad luck, he knew it was dangerous to dwell in self pity. Raising his head, he smiled at Mackey and reached over and squeezed the giant man on shoulder. “Thank you Black, you’re the first person that’s been straight up with me. I see where my problem lies. It’s with O’Donahue.  If I’m ever going to get on my feet out here, I’ve got to meet him head on.”

“Mister Joe? I think you’re a good man and you think like I do. If I wasn’t of a different color, I think we could even be friends. You call on me if you run into things over your head now, you hear me?”

“I will for sure, but why do you say we can’t be friends, is there some law here I don’t know about regarding Negro’s and Whites from being friends?”

“No, none that’s written down in the books anyway. Maybe it isn’t looked down upon in the big city where you came from but here I’m sure it would raise eyebrows.”

“Well that isn’t right! If I want to have a Negro or an Indian or even a Chinese man as my friend, then that’s the way it’s going to be and to hell with those who think differently. It’s true Black, I had people of all different races as friends back East, but what about you? Have folks in this town treated you so bad? I know they have to respect your skills as a Smithy. That’s got to account for something!”

“Huh, never thought about it that way. To be honest, I really never tried being friends with anyone in here in town. I just kept to myself and my family. My Father being from England, warned me all the time about how the Americans might pretend to be friendly but when your back was turned, they’d be looking down their noses at you because of our color. The only thing he ever knew of the American West was from reading books and unfortunately some of those were dime novels. He would confuse tales of the West with those of the South. He had me so mixed up I didn’t know what to believe when we all moved to America. Before we came to America, he was a successful Medical Doctor in North Hampton. He attended Imperial College School of Medicine in London where he graduated with high honors. While his clients were some of the richest and paid well, my father insisted we live in a modest house just outside of town.    Then one day he was made an offer to become the private physician to a rich and powerful family here in America. We arrived here fearing we’d be treated as badly as the Southern slaves were.”

“Did they? I mean was that the way it was or was that the way you saw it because of your father?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I kept to myself, still do. No one’s ever shook my hand in friendship. Maybe I should have tried sticking mine out first just to see what happened.”

“No need for you to do that Black, here.”

Saying that, Joe reached out his hand and presented it to Black Mackey in the act of friendship.

The two gripped hands, one powerful and black as coal and the other soft and as pale as a custard pie. The two looked at each other and smiled.

Black abruptly gave in to a deep sigh. “ Joe, I worry about you. O’Donahue will run you out like he did the Toker family, only I think this time he won’t let you walk away. If you still plan on trying to deal with him, then I’m coming with you!”

When Joe answered it was with false bravado in his voice and both he and Black knew it. “You don’t have to do that Black, I can take care of myself.”

“No disrespect intended but have you noticed he’s a might bigger than you and has a small army of armed men around him most everywhere he goes?”

“I wasn’t aware he had armed men about his place, maybe you coming with me isn’t such a bad idea after all.”

 

Chapter 4

The idea of meeting O’Donahue had Joe’s stomach tied  into knots. Even with his new friend riding beside him, Joe was reminded of the Biblical psalm of walking through the valley of death. Hopefully, not his own.

A week had gone by since their last meet up. Joe had to wait until Black finished the Union Pacific order for ten thousand rail spikes. It had taken Black two days short of a month to fill the order.

Fifty wooden crates had to freighted out by mule drawn wagons.  To their credit, the Union Pacific sent the wagons along with the full payment. Black Mackey was able to take a well deserved day off and planned on using it on the day Joe went to see O’Donahue.

The day arrived and the two rode casually from town and headed west on a well worn trail towards the Lazy O Ranch.

“Over that rise sits O’Donahue’s Lazy O Ranch Joe. The back end of his spread is what butts up against your property. That’s also where you’re your water problem is.”

“What do you think my chances really are Black? Am I being stupid for trying to solve these issues with O’Donahue? Everybody thinks I should pack up and leave, letting O’Donahue take over my spread.”

“Before you shook my hand and called me friend, I would’ve said the same. Thing is Joe, I don’t have but one friend and if he sells out and leaves, then I’m back to having no friends at all. That’s the real reason I’m riding with you. No one tells me, my family or my only friend to get the hell out… Not without feeling the wrath a God coming down on him in the form of one angry as hell giant blacksmith!”

Reining up to the front of the large woodframe ranch house, the two spotted what looked like idle hands casually standing about paying the newcomers little mind. Mackey noted how the low slung holsters had their thongs untied, they were ready for action.

The front door opened and the stocky but powerfully built O’Donahue stepped out onto the porch.

“Ha! You must be the city sniveling cheat that stole my land! If your reason for showin’ up here isn’t to apologize and return the deed to me own land, then it must be you’re wantin’ me to introduce you to Saint Peter!”

The hands began to chuckle thinking they were about to see their bosses fist go into action against the slightly built city boy. The negro was of no concern. No negro in his right mind would challenge a white man as financially powerful as O’Donahue and besides, the negro was unarmed.

“I came here to buy cattle, I need six hundred mixed cows and heifer’s along with a good bull. I also want my stream restored.”

O’Donahue looked incredulously at Joe and responded bitterly. “Ach! An’ I want it to rain gold bars but it don’t ever. You got yourself some balls, I give you that city boy. Are you stupid or just plain dumb showin up askin’ me for cows? I’d rather rot in hell kissin’ Satan’s ass day’n night than sell you a damn cow! I intended that land you’re squatin’ on to be mine and I’m gonnba’ make sure it is!”

With that said, the hands drew their pistols pointed them at Joe and Black then stepped forward.

Makey abruptly spoke up. “Before we go any further Mister O’Donahue maybe you better hear me out. When you drove off the Toker family I held my peace. I knew someday though that push would come to shove so I went and secured me an insurance policy in case it was me that you’d drive out. I know your feelings against negro’s. Sooner or later I knew you’d look my direction.”

“An just what possible form of insurance could you be havin’ to protect yourself from my plans. Tis’ true, I think you need be gone from here. I’ve already looked into me bringin’ in me a white Smithy… to buy you out.”

“Buy me out my ass!, You mean run me out. I know that’s how you get your way. You make sure you’re the only game in town then raise your price till those you don’t like have got to leave. or they just disappear”

Mackey then strode up to the porch steps directly in front of O’Donahue.

“I’ll tell you what I did to protect my interest here Mister O’Donahue but first, let me ask you this? What do you know about me? Have you ever wondered why I came out to no man’s land to open my shop? Did you ever wonder where I came from, what I did, who my family is or why I don’t speak with a Southern or negro accent?” When no response but a blank stare was returned, Mackey answered for him. “No? I didn’t think you did!”

O’Donahue, looking a might uncomfortable at being spoken to by a negro like this was still hesitant to confront the giant man that stood at the bottom of his steps. Even then it appeared to O’Donahue that Mackey still towered above him..

“O’Donahue, A wise man once said, ‘Know your enemy’. In your arrogance and conceit you didn’t do that when you thought to become King of the hill around here. You already been booted from the top of the hill and you’re too arrogant to even see it!

“Why you black son of a …”

“Don’t say it O’Donahue, I know who my Mama is and I know you can’t say the same.  You see, when my Daddy came to America, it was to be the private physician to the family of the man who now runs the Union Pacific Railroad. When my Daddy passed on, that family took to seeing I had every chance of being as well educated as a man could be. I didn’t attend Boston College after graduating from a private school and to their consternation I told them I wanted to follow my real interest, blacksmithing. They eventually relented and sent me through an apprenticeship program. I worked for ten years at different shops before starting my own place out here. Having intimate contact with the head of the Union Pacific gave me certain advantages. One of them was to know where the Union Pacific planned to expand its rail service and the other was to be in the position to ask a favor of that man”

“What kind of favor? I’m not seein’ a railroad track around here and the only rail line is going through Cheyenne through to Rawlins. What’s your point?”

“The point is when you threatened my friend here, I went and cashed in my chips with the Family. I we3nt and sat down with them to negotiate my providing spikes for them, I also asked to be allowed to choose the best route for a rail offshoot from Laramie to Soda Lake where Sodium Carbonate is being mined. I decided your property would make a perfect route for the new railway.”

O’Donahue’s face reddened darkly in anger, “I’d never sell my property to the Union Pacific or anybody else. I didn’t come all the way from Belfast just to see my hard work be taken away by a railroad bandit!”

“You’ll have no choice. The United States Government has given eminent domain powers to the Union Pacific. They’ll take your land and all of your cattle will be confiscated to feed the rail crews. They’ll pay you what I say your spread is worth, nothing more.”

By now O’Donahue had dropped his bluster and began to look like a defeated man. Even a fool knew better than to challenge the Railroad. You never won but you could lose even more by resisting.   “Why wasn’t I told of this?”

“You’re being told right now. Of course, it’s still in my powers to advise an alternate rail route. I might do so if you were willing to sell my friend here a herd at a fair price and reroute the stream you altered back into his spread. But, It’s up to you.”

“That’s blackmail!”

“I prefer to call it making a deal”

“I’ve no choice then, do I”

“Nope, none. The rail offshoot is a done deal, where it goes is up to me. I’m offering you a good deal here O’Donahue. You call down your hired guns and change them out for real Cowboys, give Joe here his water and cattle, forget about running me out of town and the railway will go north of here.”

“What’s to prevent me from changin’ me mind once the rails is laid away from here. All your cards would be played an’ I’d be holdin the Ace.”

Your holding the Joker, not the Ace. The rail road is permitted by law to add ten miles on each side of the tracks to its right of way at any time it wishes, even years from now. One telegram and your Ranch is gone.”

O’Donahue looked at his men still pointing their guns at Joe and Mackey. Admitting defeat was a bitter pill to swallow but in the end he gulped and down went the pill. Waving his hand at his men to holster their weapons O’Donahue spoke in a defeated tone.

“Ok, you win, I agree.”

Turning to his Ranch manager, he told him to separate out the cattle and bull that Joe chose.

“The rest of you put away your guns. Some of you need to be leavin here. I’ll be lettin’ you know who you are and I’ll be given’ you a months extra pay if you leave peaceful like. You have three days to clear out.”

After the cattle were separated and corralled, a bull was chosen, The herd would be delivered after the water stream had been restored and O’Donahue’s cattle moved back onto his own spread.  Back on the trail leading to town, Joe looked over at the man riding along side of him who worked a miracle.

“It Lucky for me that you’re tight with the U.P. President and his family or my infamous black cloud of bad luck would for sure have rained on me again. Thank you my friend, you saved my ranch. I didn’t know you had asked for and was given the job to choose the rail route to Soda Lake. It must have cost you some pride to ask to do it. I know how being indebted to anyone goes against your grain.”

“Oh, it didn’t cost me anything Joe. You see, I never asked them. I already knew the railroad was going north of the Lazy O.  Anyone who picked up a copy of the Cheyenne Leader could have told him that. I just happen to have read it when I negotiated my spike contract with the U.P. while in Cheyenne. ”

Joe halted his mare and looked over at his fried, “You mean to tell me it was all a fib? You being helped raised by the family an all?”

“Oh no, that’s all true. Oliver Ames helped raise me after my Father died. He also sent me to smithing school, that much is true. In truth, if I would have approached him for permission to move the route because it was such a small offshoot track, I’m sure he would have granted that to me. But like you said, I don’t like being beholding to no one, so I didn’t ask.”

Joe shook his head in wonder. “I can’t believe you got away with it!”

“Joe, the first thing I learned when I came out West was to hold your cards close to your chest and learn the art of bluffing. Otherwise, learn the art of playing poker. I don’t really cards but the game is a good way to practice both. You might learn the game Joe, there’s a lot that can be applied to everyday life…as you just saw!”

From that day on, Joe Tarboosh and Black Mackey would sit and play a few friendly games each time Joe stopped in town. Joe began to understand that it’s how you play your cards in life that determines how much luck you have. In the end, there is no such thing as a black cloud of bad luck, just one’s willingness to step up and take a gamble on your dreams…whether you’re holding a royal flush or you’re  just bluffing.

  

Doin’ what’s right even when it’s wrong

Chapter 1  

Outlaw Bo Brooks was feeling the heat of being chased down by Texas Ranger Dusty Austin and now to boot, he had trapped himself inside a box canyon.

The twenty five year old Texas Ranger tracking Brooks was known by both Lawmen and hombres as the best tracker and most dogged pursuer of no goods as could be found north of the Mexican border. Sometimes, like now, it was necessary to go beyond the State line in his pursuit.

Clean shaven with short cropped brown hair and startling blue eyes, Ranger Austin had been every girls heart throb. He could have been one to easily play the field but it was never the case. At fourteen he met the new neighbor’s daughter, twelve year old Lisa, and fell hard and forever in love.

He could never rightly say what attracted him to her. She was at twelve, a wondered eyed somewhat a bony girl with long blond unkempt curls whose knocked knees and clumsy adolescent walk wouldn’t draw boy’s second looks even if she were sixteen. But danged if Dusty Austin was going to let her get away from him. He found the stupidest reasons to traverse over to the Triple T Ranch abutting his father’s own in order to catch a glimpse of the girl hanging fresh laundry or playing in the creek. One time it was to warn of an angry mountain lion he swore he saw prowling nearby, another he said he thought his dog wondered over there.

Lisa seemed to take all his nonsense activity in stride by paying him no more mind than she would a warty toad. Still, Dusty would not give up trying to attract her attention. He daydreamed of saving her from Indians, taking a few arrows in the process then her comforting him afterward.

By sixteen Dusty’s efforts started to pay off. Maybe it was her entering woman hood or maybe he was just plain old wearing her down but whatever the case she began to notice the handsome boy who was goggled eyed over her. At eighteen, Dusty asked her father for her hand. Both families knew of the boys comical attempts at wooing Lisa’s love over the years and permission was freely given. A year later Dusty was taken off the most eligible bachelors list.

He and Lisa settled onto a small starter spread that their Dads had cut out from their own sprawling ranches. The spread included the small stream where years earlier Dusty had hid in the bushes watching her play in the clear water. The small two room cabin was enough until a family was started. Lisa by now had cast off only a minor amount of the clumsy adolescent child. She was still prone to trip over her own feet or stumbled down the front porch stairs in her haste to greet her true love as he returned home exhausted from a hard day’s work on his fathers ranch.

Then one day a visitor would change Dusty’s work habit. A newly formed, government backed group of Lawmen called Texas Rangers had been formed to control any Lawless folk wanted for riding the Owl hoot trail. Ranger Aubrey Smith was passing through but had been convinced by Dusty and Lisa to rest up a few days before heading out again. Since visitors were rare, Lisa and Dusty took this opportunity to pry as much information about the big cities, their people and his role as a Texas Ranger as they could from their visitor. Dusty became enchanted with the idea of traveling the country side hunting down wanted hombres.

On the second day over dinner, Dusty asked, “So what does a guy need to know to get a Rangers job?”

“Well, that depends. Are you any good at handling a gun or tracking or willing to stay away from home for weeks on end with pay being inconsistent? Those are just a few things that you need to ask yourself. If you can answer yes to those, then maybe I can be of help. We just got a new post in Loving County. That’s only twenty or so miles from Pecos here. That’s where I’m being assigned. I have to be there in three days.”

Lisa saw the sparkle come to Dusty’s eyes and reached across the table and gave Dusty hand a squeeze. “Heck,” Dusty replied, “I’m near the best tracker in All Texas, and the same Indian that taught me tracking taught me to shoot and live off the land too!”

“You was taught by an Indian? What’s his name? I might know of him if he ever tracked for the law.”

“Limping Bear. He near raised me when my mother passed when I was a kid. I don’t think he ever worked for the army or law. He was working for my Dad back then breakin’ horses. He took a liking to me an’ me to him. Shoot, I followed him everywhere he went. My Dad was too busy for the most part to raise me so he kind of handed me off to Limping Bear. All I learned was…”

“Limping Bear!” The Ranger shouted. “Limping Bear is my Fathers half brother!”

“That makes us almost related” Dusty laughed.

After a good chuckle, Ranger Aubrey asked, “So whatever became of Limping Bear, is he still around”?

“Naw, I wish he was. He got bit by a rattler while in my Dads corral. Why the horses didn’t see it and make a fuss we’ll never know. It got him high up in the thigh, the Doc said right in an artery. The poison traveled quick and him bein’ old and all, he didn’t make it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I only met him a few times but he was an imposing character for sure. I grew up south of here outside of Strobel in Brewster County. He’d stop by to visit now and then.”

“Sure, I remember the times he left to visit family there. They was one of the few times he wouldn’t let me tag along. Small world really. Here you an’ I meet up years later knowing the same man but still bein’ worlds apart.”

“So, might the job of being a Ranger interest you at all Dusty?”

“Do I have to live on the post or can I still live and work out of here?”

“Most men are single but you only have to report to the post for orders and after you capture someone in order to fill out the paperwork. I can’t see a problem, you’re only twenty miles away.  When I leave here you wanna ride up there with me?”

 

Chapter 2

That answer was given four years ago when Dusty was sworn into the Texas Rangers. As was Aubrey, he was stationed out of the Loving County post in Mentone. Being from the general territory was a plus as knowing which County you were in was important to a Ranger. Some County Sheriffs were more friendly than others towards the Rangers. Some were downright in your face antagonistic.

In the short time he’d been a ranger, Dusty, Now called Ranger Austin, had racked up an impressive capture count. Where others found little to no trail or evidence, Ranger Austin saw a man’s passage as clear as he’d painted the ground with his feet.

An overturned pebble, a smudge in the dirt for no reason, a bent shoot of grass, the twig on the ground showing evidence of being stepped on, even the birds and lizards cried out the trail he should follow.

He got so well known that a few no goods actually turned themselves in once they found out he was on their tail.

It was the man he now tailed that held his interest. Bank robber, Bo Brooks.

Brooks was an enigma. He was known as one of the friendliest, give the shirt off his back young men folks had ever met. Why he robbed the Santa Lucia Bank over in Pecos County was anybody’s guess. To top it all off, he left word where the others who included themselves in the heist were camped out. He alone was the sole man left to capture and Ranger Austin was hot on his trail. Unfortunately, that trail now led across the New Mexico border. Still, he was the Law and the States overlooked infringements like this for the common good.

It was at the Rio Panasco River near the small town of Roswell and nearly eighty five miles northwest of his post in Loving that he finally cornered Brooks in a box canyon.

Brooks knew he had made a serious mistake. Reaching the end of the canyon proved his worries were well founded. High unclimbable cliffs on three sides of the canyon prevented his escape.

Seeing Brooks make it to the far end of the canyon, Ranger Austin pulled up short at the box canyons entrance. He’d make camp here, knowing Brooks only way out was past him. His confidence grew as he saw smoke from Brooks cook fire. Brooks was wise enough not to panic and foolishly try to scale the steep cliffs. If it meant a standoff, then being well fed was important.

Soon two cook fires were seen spiraling gently skyward from each end of the canyon.

 

Chapter 3

Morning sunlight broke over the canyon’s eastern rim. The reddish brown rock of the western cliffs suddenly lit up like they were on fire. Ranger Austin was a patient man. He knew Brooks had only a little water left and none was visible inside the box canyon. Waiting for the sun to light up the entire canyon, he decided on a late breakfast of bacon and biscuits. Eating this way, only two meals would need to be cooked for the day.

Brooks had no such concerns. A tendril of fresh smoke drifted skyward from his rekindled cook fire. Seeing the smoke, Ranger Austin decided on trying to make contact with Brooks rather than just jump into a hell to all shoot out.

The box canyon was less than a quarter mile wide and not much longer than that. Instead of a nice flat bottom, it rose and fell with strewn boulders and house high dirt mounds. While it was a great place for youngsters playing hide and seek, it didn’t offer enough protection to allow Brooks to sneak past the Ranger. Some small scrub trees and brush made line of sight difficult but a man’s voice could still be heard if one yelled loud enough. So that’s the tact Ranger Austin decided on.

Climbing one of the dirt mounds close to his own camp, Ranger Austin cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled.

“Brooks! You hear me Brooks?”

“Yeah, I can hear ya!” Brooks shouted back.

“C’mon Brooks, there ain’t no ways outa this here box canyon. Do yourself and me a favor and toss down your weapons an’ give up!”

“I been thinkin’ along them lines Ranger, I just find it hard to voluntarily put a noose around my neck. Let me think some more on it a bit. Maybe we’ll see eye to eye, maybe we won’t. I ain’t decided yet.”

“I tell you what. By tomorrow morning you had better have decided or I’m comin’ after ya’!”

“Fair enough!” Brooks yelled back. This time tomorrow I’ll let ya’ know!”

The sun rose higher in the sky and Ranger Austin finally decided on some breakfast. Stirring the cook fire’s coals into life, he added some fuel and set his coffee pot and fry skillet with bacon on top of it.

Shortly, Brookes voice was once again heard. “Hey, Ranger! You cookin’ up bacon over there? Damn you man, that ain’t fair, all I got is some measly Jerky on my side!”

Austin started chuckling then yelled back, “See? That’s the difference between us! I got me a nice woman who makes sure her man is well taken care of when he’s on the trail! Plus I don’t rob no banks!”

“If you was in my shoes, you mighta’ done the same! Hell man, the smell a that bacon’s doin’ a better job killin’ me more’n  any noose would. You don’t think you could spare a bite for a poor outlaw?”

“Give yourself up and I’ll fry up another pound with your name on it!”

“I knew there’d be a catch! Ha ha.”

While the bantering went back and forth, just outside the entrance to the box canyon another nose sniffed the air determining the direction of the mouth watering smell of the frying bacon.

It was the grunt behind him that caused Ranger Austin to look behind him. There, standing on it’s hind legs staring directly at Austin was a full grown, four hundred pound Black bear.

Realizing his rifle was still stuck inside it’s saddle holster, Ranger Austin reached for the colt pistol strapped to his hip.

The bear charged with a loud roar. Before Ranger Austin could fully aim the gun the bear was on top of him.  Austin was knocked backwards over the fire losing his pistol. It crossed his mind that a face full of steaming coffee could halt the bear but it was only a thought because his eyes were watching the coffee pot go tumbling over and over spilling it’s hot liquid out as it somersaulted away.

Lying on his back he felt himself pulled violently backward towards the ruined fire. Pain shot through his leg as the bear bit deeply into it. A blood curling scream left the young Ranger’s lips as the bear began to toss it’s head back and forth trying to tear off the leg.

In the distance, a yell was heard back but by now Ranger Dusty Austin was losing consciousness as the bear continued to yank and twist at the leg. Suddenly, as if it had tired of the leg pulling game, the bear let go and wandered over to the bacon that had been spilled onto the ground.  Sitting on its haunches, the bear began to gabble down the hot fried bacon. No sooner had it finished when the bear once again stood up looking. Running towards the bear was Brooks waving his hand gun and yelling.

As Bo neared the bear, he fired the small 38 caliber pistol into the bear. Instead of dying, it seemed the tiny bullets just pissed it off. Slapping the air as if bee’s were stinging it, the bear backed off. Two more times Bo fired the small gun. This time the bear’s rear end caught the lead and in a roar it high tailed it out the entrance of the canyon bellowing in pain.

Seeing the Rangers 45 caliber laying on the ground, Bo quickly picked it up and shoved it into his pants.

Making his way over to the unconscious Ranger, Bo bent down to look at the young man’s leg. What he saw made him cringe.

“Hey, Ranger, you with me?” Tapping the Ranger on the face, Bo tried to revive him back into  consciousness.

“Well, you sure got yourself into a pickle here Ranger, that leg is really torn up. I’ll do what I can but I ain’t no Doctor.”

With that, Bo searched the man’s saddle bags and found a small bottle of whiskey and a tin of horse salve. Cleaning the deep wound as best as he could, he applied the horse salve to it and wrapped the leg in part of the Rangers torn off pant leg.

The day passed and no real improvement was seen in the Ranger’s condition so Bo went on back to his camp at the other end of the canyon to gather up his own horse and belongings. Upon his return he noted the Ranger had shifted his position a bit and it was then he heard him moan. Running up to the Ranger, he heard the young man asking for water.

Tilting the Rangers head back, Bo began pouring water into his mouth. After the Ranger had drunk nearly half a canteen of water, Bo pulled it aside. “I’m sure with all the blood you lost you’re as thirsty as a bear…er whatever, but you gotta’ take it a little at a time or you’ll just puke it all back up.”

Ranger Austin tilted his head sideways in order to look over at Brooks.

“My leg,” He asked, “how bad is it?”

“I ain’t no Doctor but I’d say it’s about as bad as can be without it fallen’ off. I cleaned it the best I could with your whiskey and plopped a bunch a your horse salve on it but you need to get to a Doc right away.”

“Hell, you know we ain’t nowhere near a town Brooks. If infection sets in I’m a gonner. How much did I bleed before you applied the salve?”

“Shoot Ranger, you bled out like a stuck pig. It took a bit of time before I got the bleeding slowed down. I had heard if you press real hard on a bad wound that sometimes that stops the bleedin’. I guess it worked but I’m afraid if you start movin’ around, it’ll start bleedin’ all over again.”

“You did good Brooks, The free bleeding may have cleaned out the wound good enough to prevent infection. The whisky and salve will help the surface wound but deep inside is what worries me.”

“Sounds like you know about these things, you a Doctor besides a Ranger?”

“No, just raised by an Indian that’s all. Tell you what Brooks, can we call a truce here? I need some herbs gathered and I gotta trust ya’”

“ Sure, besides I got your gun an’ you ain’t in no condition to arrest me . What kind of herbs you talkin’ about Ranger?”

“Mesquite tree. Carve of some bark until you hit the gum inside. Carve out a good handful of ngum then take a few of the smaller live twigs along with some fresh bark and bring it all here.”

Within a half hour Brooks returned with an armload of mesquite branches and bark. “I got the gum, it’s in my pocket. Here’s the branches. You doin’ OK pard?”

It was the first time that Bo acknowledged the Ranger as more than just a Lawman. Dusty took this in but was in too much pain to answer right off. When he did, it was to instruct Bo in preparing a poultice and tea.

When the gum had been squeezed hard enough a clear liquid came forth from it. “Save that juice, it’s what keeps infections down. You’ll mix it with some of the crushed leaves and pack it inside my wounds. Then make a tea using the small twigs, a bit of bark and some leaves. If I pass out again, just keep on doing what I told you,OK?”

“Sure, thing. By the way Ranger, what’s your first name? Seein’ as we got a truce goin’ on here, the least we can do is call each other by our Christian names.”

With a painful chuckle ranger Austin lowered himself to that of an ordinary citizen and replied, “Dusty, Dusty Austin. I know you go by Bo, is that short for Beau?”

“Yeah, my Momma named me after my grandfather, her father Union General Beau Brooks.”

“Well ain’t that somethin’? General Brooks Grandson is a bank robber, who’d a thunk? Your grand daddy must be rollin’ over in his grave about now.”

During this time Bo had made up the poultice and had filled the spilled coffee pot partway with water, placed it over the kicked apart but still hot coals  and added the leaves, twigs and bark. He then walked over to where Dusty lay.

“Lay still now Dusty, this poultice is gonna hurt when I put it inside the wound. Too bad we ain’t got no more whiskey, I used it up cleaning your wound, you could use some right now.”

“ I’ll do fine, just put a thick twig in my mouth to bite down on.”

Bo placed a thumb sized twig in Dusty’s mouth and undressed the wound.  Fresh blood continued to leak out of the wound but the river was now just a trickle.  Bo slowly parted the wound where the bears teeth had dug deepest. The wound immediately pooled with blood and Bo let it drip freely into the dirt. He then took the thick poultice and began stuffing it into the deepest part of the wound.

It took a second or two but then Dusty arched his back and screamed through the stick in his mouth. Suddenly the stick was bit completely through and then thankfully Dusty passed out.  With Dusty unconscious, Bo was able to complete the poultice without Dusty screaming. Satisfied the wound could hold no more, he then re wrapped the leg and made Dusty as comfortable as possible.

He brought Dusty a cup of the mesquite tea when he woke up. “Here, drink this up. It’s the tea you asked me to make up for ya’. You fainted when I started packin’ your wound and that made it easier to finish the job.”

“I owe you Bo, thank you for being so Christian about all this.” Bo lifted the cup to Dusty’s lips and let him drink.

“I have nothin’ agin ya’ Dusty, you was just doin’ your job. Heck the only reason why I asked for extra time before I turned myself in was ‘cause I wanted to see the night sky as a free man one more time before bein’ hung. I did what I needed to do knowin’ there was a price to be paid.”

Dusty turned his head to look at Bo who was again sitting on the ground next to him. “I can’t figure you out Bo. You seem to be a genuine fella. Everybody thinks you’re the best, but then you go and rob a bank and yet you turn in the rest of the gang. It makes no sense Bo, why’d you do it?”

“For my Ma. She needed the money. Last year my Grandpa, the General, died. He was the hero of the small town we all lived in so when he died the town held a big funeral dirge for him. Some state and Federal politicians showed up vowing a granite monument was in order to honor him. Well they went ahead and ordered the work started on a grand mausoleum with promises that the Government would pay for it. Well, three months later the mausoleum was finished and the folks was lookin’ to be paid for their work. We contacted the Politicians who ordered the work done but they disavowed they had promised anything. My Mom was in a dither.

The workers were threatening to go to court and force the sale of our farm so they could recover their wages. We didn’t blame them none, we blamed the rascal politicians who didn’t uphold their promise to pay. We sure didn’t have the money but I told Ma that I’d think of something.”

“So you figured robbing a bank would solve your problem?”

“Well, yes and no. My cousin found out the bank in Santa Lucia over in Pecos County was owned by the same politician that ordered the mausoleum to be built. So while I was planning on how to rob it, I ran into a group of no goods with the same idea. After talkin’ it over with ‘em, I joined up figurin’ I’d get my share then take off and pay for the mausoleum. What I found out though was they was plannin’ on killin’ me and taking my share. So I set it up that they’d get caught and I’d get away. It almost worked too. As soon as I fled, I stopped over in the next town and had a bank draft made in place of the stolen money. It was a small town and word hadn’t got to them yet about the bank in Santa Lucia bein’ robbed.”

“So where’s the money now?”

“Gone. I left that town and rode till I found a town that had regular post service. From there I sent the draft to my Ma and she cashed it an’ paid for the mausoleum. The workers and stone company got paid and all seemed like it went fine until a customer in the Santa Lucia bank came forward and said they knew who the lone escaped bank robber was. It turned out the retired school Marm I had years earlier recognized me. Seems she moved back to Santa Lucia with her brother after retiring from the school in my home town.”

“ That’s a pile of bad luck alright, I almost wished you’d gotten away with it. I don’t cotton to politicians but I’m still a Ranger and I took an oath to do my duty.”

“Like I said, you got a job to do, I don’t put no blame on you.”

“Well maybe if I say something in court about you saving me they’d be more lenient on you.”

“Fat chance at that Dusty, this is the grand pooba of politicians were talking about in that county. He got total control there. Word has it that I should only get jail except he had it upped to death by hanging. No, I’m a dead man my friend but at least  Grandpa Brooks is layin’ in peace now and my Ma gets to keep the farm. But I do appreciate the kind offer of your words in court.”

That night a low fever started and his wound began to throb heavily with each heart beat. By morning he was delirious with fever. Bo kept his vigil and kept supplying Dusty with water even though it meant none for himself now.  He remembered crossing a small creek about an hours ride back but was afraid to leave Dusty alone. Coyotes, buzzards or even the return of the bear would mean his death, so Bo stayed with him.

By the second night after he relapsed, Bo knew he had to leave the next morning and get more water. There was only a cupful remaining.

Bo looked to the night sky. The stars were so bright he could have read a novel by them. It was then that he felt overwhelmed by the tragedy of what had transpired against the beauty of the night sky. Raising his head to the heavens he asked, “Lord, how can it be that when I look upward, I see beauty and when I look downward I see misery. You know I ain’t nothing, but this here man dyin’ is somethin’ that this country needs. I promise you this Lord, if you let this good man live, I’ll be happy and I’ll even shake your hand after I’m hung.”

Morning found Bo sleeping with his arm tucked under his head like a pillow. He lay there snoring until a voice woke him.

“Hey, bank robber Bo! We got any bacon still stashed in my saddle bags?”

Bo jumped up grinning wildly. “Well tan my hide, he did it!”

“Did what, who did it? Dusty weakly asked.”

“While you was dyin’ I prayed. I ain’t no man of God but I guess he understood my tellin’ him you was needed in this country to keep folks safe an’ all. Good men are hard to come by an need to be kept around.” Bo looked down at Dusty and smiled, “Now that you’re awake I can travel back to that creek we passed an’ refill our canteens. I used it all to slack your thirst during the last couple of days when you was delirious with fever.”

“What about your canteen, surely you have some water left, don’t you?”

Naw, I gave it all to you, you needed it more’n me.”

“Well, I know of one good man that God needs saving and his last name is Brooks!”

Chapter 4

A week later, Dusty was able to sit in the saddle. His wounds were healing nicely and Bo continued to nurse him back to health. Dusty needed to resupply his food and return home to continue his convalescence. He told Bo that it was time they move on.

“Bo, we need to talk. There ain’t no way I can turn a man in to hang when it’s the wrong thing to do. I know I took an oath to uphold the Law but the Law don’t know what I know and the judge won’t give a damn either. Justice will be what that politician says it is. Right or wrong. I want you to do something. You ain’t wanted here in New Mexico. I got a good friend Ted Richards that moved to a town along the Rio Grande called Hillsboro, it’s up in Sierra County. You go on up there. Just tell him I sent you, he’ll take good care of you. When I’m better, I’ll ride over to your Moms place and explain where you’re at. If she wants to sell the place and join you there, I’ll help her do it. If not then at least she’ll know your safe and making an honest living for yourself here. It’s the best I can do, take it Bo, you’re a good man and good men are hard to come by!”

“What about you Dusty? What’ll you tell your captain? You’ll just get into trouble.”

“It’ll be some time before I’m back in the saddle for the Rangers. Maybe my leg will never be the same and I’ll have to call it quits anyway. Besides, I ain’t breaking any law letting you go. We aren’t in Texas and I really have no jurisdiction here anyway. When I do report back, I’ll explain what all happened here and it tell ‘em I decided that under the circumstances of being severely injured, I couldn’t bring you in. That ain’t no lie either. I’m so weak a five year old kid could kick my ass about now.”

The two saddled up and Bo moved his horse up against Dusty’s to say goodbye.

Pulling Dustys pistol from his pants, Bo handed it over to him.“Here, this belongs to you. If you ever get up to Hillsboro, be sure to stop and look me up. I can’t say I’m all broke up that I ain’t returning to Texas but I am wishin’ I didn’t have to say adios to you my friend. If there was ever a man I’d call my friend, it’s you.”

The two shook hands and no more words were spoken, none were needed. Bo turned his horse westward and rode to his new life.

Dusty knew they’d be crossing paths again, after all, Lisa was going into her sixth month now and he’d want to show off his baby to someone besides his Paw. “Heck,” He mused, “maybe they’ll be needing a Sheriff up that a way!”

Wild fire on the Brazos!

Chapter 1

Texas long horn trail boss Dusty Plains, sat rabbit still in the saddle sniffing the air. The herd was only sixty miles east of Austin where they had moved out of four days earlier. His brain continued to flip through long ago scent memories like a clerk searching for a certain file among the thousands stored in a cabinet. Suddenly the file was found and pulled.

“Wild fire!” He shouted, South west of here!”

Spurring the Mare, he galloped forward trying to catch up to the lumbering chuck wagon miles ahead of the herd. It was the job of the Grease belly or camp cook to forage ahead of the herd in order to have each meal hot and waiting for the riders. The cook also spotted the trail ahead for Indians, rustlers and any problem that the trail boss should be aware of.

Reigning up alongside the chuck wagon’s driver, Dusty pointed and shouted over to him.  “Biscuit!  Point them cattle eastward to the Brazos River! We gotta’ get’m on the other side of the river, there’s a wildfire about a day’s ride behind us!”

“Hell boss!” Biscuit shouted back. “It’s gonna be cuttin’ it close fer sure. I figure the Brazos is a good ten miles off yet and we got less than four hours of daylight left. It’ll be a late meal and a cold one at that!”

“Just get across and put up some coffee pots, we’ll survive!”

Dusty turned the mare away from the wagon and galloped back to the herd. Reaching the lead or point riders, Dusty explained the situation to them. Immediately, they began to wheel the herd eastward toward the Brazos and safety.

From there he stopped down the line of trail riders, telling each group to keep the herd in a tight line. Stopping at the flank riders, he informed them the herd was turning and told one of the riders to split off and tell the remuda riders what’s going on while he’d let the tail end or drag riders know. Dusty kept his drive functioning like a well oiled machine. Having smelled water ahead and the transient waves of smoke from behind, the cattle quickened their pace and arrived at the river ahead of schedule.

The herd was driven across the Brazos River without incident as the depth was still shallow this time of year. A month from now the river would be a killer. High water not only drowned cattle and riders but brought out the snakes, something every cowboy feared.

Standing on the bank looking westward toward a growing darkness that was not from the setting sun, Dusty thanked the Good Lord for having given him a good nose.

“We’d be a hog on a spit if you hadn’t got us turned just then boss.” The voice behind him was that of his best friend and lead point man, Bob Fisher. “If you look up north a bit, you can see some smoke now, that’s right where we woulda been spending the night. I’m puzzled boss as to how you knew where the fire was at, we couldn’t even see the smoke at that time.”

“I smelled juniper and persimmon in the smoke. Both grow mainly to the southern plains but it was the burning pecan trees that settled it for me.”

“It’s dang fortunate you got the nose if you ask me.”

Throughout the night the night riders sang songs and circled the herd to keep them calm. The continued smell of smoke made the herd jittery and trail boss Dusty Plains feared if the smoke drifting up from the southwest got any thicker the herd would bolt. If they did bolt, he hoped they’d head north in the direction the wanted to travel and not due east.

Dusty doubled up on the crooning night riders and the result was a herd staying put. The chuck wagon had left before dawn to set up ten miles further up the trail for the noon meal. With little sleep under their belts, the riders slowly got the cattle moving again.

By noon, the heard was within sight of the wagon again. Gallons of Hot coffee, Cowboy beans with bacon and sour dough biscuits rounded out the meal. The drag riders showed up last as was about normal and a bucket of water was put out for them to wash the dust from their eyes. Each drag rider looked as if a dust storm had spun itself around them. In many ways it had.

The point riders were the most experienced cowboys and therefore had the best job. It was the point rider that turned the herd to the desired direction and being in the front had little problem with dust.  The flank riders behind them got some dust as they were spaced further back along the herd but it was the poor drag rider that got the worst of it. Having to trail behind the herd pushing lagers and catching strays, they were exposed to every particle of dust kicked up by the thousands of hooves in front of them. With their bandana’s over their nose and mouths to keep out as much dust as was possible, they looked more like a band of bank robbers than honest forty dollar a month cowpokes.

Dusty once again scanned the skies and sat smelling the air. Some of the cowboys stopped and stared intently at Dusty. The riders sitting fireside waited in anticipation for the word from their trail boss. In silence, they drank their after meal coffee waiting.  Finally Dusty turned to them and spoke.

“head ‘em up boys, that fires crossed the river somewhere south of us. This breeze is gonna’ bring it right up our butts! “

Again the well oiled machine had the herd moving. By now the rest of the riders and for sure the herd could smell the increase in smoke.

“ Biscuit, take the chuck wagon with all our belongings and set the wagon in the middle of the river at a wide point up ahead. It’s only a couple feet deep from here to Waco. Soak and wrap a wet blanket over each mules head. That’ll stop some of the smoke smell and that way they can’t see the fire as it passes ‘em. Whatever you do, don’t  leave the river!”

Riding back to the herd, Dusty continued yelling over the rumble of the herd at the point riders, “Push ‘em harder! Let’s try and put some miles between us and the fire. We may have to zig zag across the river more than a few times to keep that blaze from roasting our hides so be ready to turn ‘em across the river if and when  I say so!”

“You got it boss!” The point rider from the opposite side of Bob Fisher yelled. “We’ll follow your lead! That there smokes getting thicker by the mile!”

It was true. As fast as they drove the herd it seemed the smoke was getting thicker and thicker. Now everyone, not just those riding drag, had their bandana’s on. The cattle started their belly aching bawls and began a panicky run north.

By trailing the east bank of the Brazos, fresh water and grass for the cattle was no problem. Dusty wanted to stay as close to the river for as long as he could. If by chance the wildfire roared north ward up the east bank, they could cross the cattle over to the west side and vice versa.

He wondered how the small ranches and homesteads they had passed were fairing. Were they going to be burned out?  His thoughts drifted to Fayetteville thirty miles outside Austin where his wife’s grave was. He wondered if his old ranch had escaped the blaze or whether it, like any ranch caught in a wild fire, no longer existed. “Well, at least it can’t do no harm to Doris’s resting place, that’s for sure.”

Looking southward, the riders could plainly see the red glow spreading across the horizon now. As Dusty headed over to where the horse remuda was, he signaled Tom Beavers, who was in charge of the remuda, to meet  him. As he passed an older experienced flank rider, the rider asked worriedly if Dusty thought the herd should be headed north east to the high rocky ground where the brush and trees were thinned out.

“I would if it weren’t so far away but that bare high ground is still a good fifteen miles off. Some of the faster herd might make it but the cows with calves wouldn’t, they’re too slow.  It’s all the drag riders can do right now to keep ‘em paced with the herd.  Let’s stick to the river for now and hope the fire turns or burns itself out.”

“What about the remuda then? They’s fast”

Dusty contemplated a second then acknowledged the man that the remuda in fact could make the trip in time and rode off.

Chapter 2

Reaching the horse remuda, Tom rode up to Dusty and pulled down his bandana and yelled. “What’s up Dusty?”

Shouting over the din of the moving bawling cattle Dusty told Tom, “I need you and Ned to get the remuda up to the high ground there to the north east where they’ll be safe. The horses can make it within a couple of hours, easily outrunning the fire. I’d hate to lose forty good horses for no good reason. Take them over that saddle on the rise and head ‘em over the other side of it. I’m thinking the fire will burn till it reaches the base of the rise then starve itself out for lack of fuel! The rest of us will try and dodge the fire as best as we can by keeping the river between it and us!”

Tom tipped his hat in acknowledgement and raced over to Ned. Within a minute they had the horse remuda  racing  across the grassy plain to the bare ground fifteen miles to the north east.

Dusty breathed a little easier seeing the remuda heading safely away. He wished dearly that the cattle could move as fast.

They kept the herd minus the remuda now, heading northward along the eastern bank of the Brazos River as fast as the scared cattle herd would go. Smelling fire and knowing water was nearby, the reaction of the cattle was to continually head for the safety of the water. Dusty knew that if the fire came racing up both banks at the same time without the riders to keep them in control, the cattle could panic, and leave the water. They would then try to outrun the fire on land. Cattle were simple creatures, all they wanted in life was to have good grass and water, they didn’t do a lot of hard thinking. It was up to the riders to do the thinking for them because without the riders, the herd was going to be the main course at the world’s largest Ox roast.

Within another hour flames could plainly be seen on both sides of the Brazos five miles to the south.

“Charlie! I’m gonna’ divide the herd.  Grab a couple of the drag riders and separate the lead cattle and fastest cattle then head ‘em as quick as you can behind the remuda. I’ll stay here with the slower beeves. If you all whip the crap outa them they’ll pace out almost as fast as the remuda. I think you can just make it before the fire crawls up your butts! Do it, NOW!”

Charlie quickly grabbed a couple of the drag riders and started separating the faster animals in the herd. Normally the slowest were further towards the end of the line, those they just left alone. The flank riders assisted in the separation and within a few minutes a third of the herd was hoofing it’s way double timed behind the remuda. With two thirds of the herd still left behind, Dusty gathered the other riders for a quick pow wow.

“I sent the fastest of the herd on ahead behind the remuda. They should be alright! It lookin’ like we ain’t gonna’ be able to zig zag ‘em alongside the river after all. The fires racin’ up both sides about equal now. I want the rest of you to gather the remaining head and get’m maybe six to ten wide in the middle of the river. Keep ‘em away from the banks!  I know it’s going to be hard and we’ll lose some, but not doing anything will cost us near two thousand head.  Use your guns and lariats to keep ‘em in the river. That fires going to sound like a locomotive engine when it passes. Do whatever you think is right to keep ‘em in the river, even if you gotta shoot a few leaders trying to make a run for it.”

A chorus of agreements by the riders followed. “Alright then, let’s get them cattle into the river. I want you all ridin’ up and down  alongside the banks forcing  the cattle back into the water if they go to leave it, now move it!”

Moving the cattle into the river was fairly easy as their instinct told them being in the water was safe. Only two things now could make them leave the water. Panic was one, the other was snakes.

Dusty yelled over to a young Mexican vaquero riding flank. “Carlos! If you see snakes in the water, use that machete you got tied to your saddle on ‘em. Cut ‘em down so’s they don’t get to the cattle.” Then to all the other riders he yelled, “Pull iron and blast any snake you see entering the water from the bank. If you got a scatter gun in your saddle holster, pull it and use it! “

No sooner had he given the order when a cow went bawling and started hopping like a bucking bronco in the shallow water. Coming at the terrified animal were three deadly water moccasins not ten feet away. Immediately guns started spitting lead. To the cows good fortune, none made it to the panicked beast alive.  “Calm that cow down!” A rider shouted and ropes were thrown onto the terrified cow from opposite sides. Once finding itself movement restricted, it surrendered itself to the power of the ropes.

Dusty rode up. “Good job boys! Keep a sharp eye along the banks, there’s sure to be more comin’ once the fire chases them out of their holes. Let’s get these cattle moved to the middle of the river, no more than ten wide.”

If the fire and snakes weren’t bad enough, a gust of wind blew Dusty’s Stetson from off his head. Carlos galloped down steam, leaned over and grabbed it. On his return, Carlos noticed Dusty standing in the stirrups looking to the south. Turning, Carlos followed Dusty’s gaze to the south.

“Dios mio!”  Forgetting his English he yelled out in Spanish and pointed at the horizon, “Senior Dusty, una tormenta de polvo, el infierno!”

“What? Carlos, speak so I understand you dammitt!”

“I am sorry Senior Dusty, look, it is a dust storm straight from hell!”

Behind the angry orange flames and now mixing itself with the grey fire smoke was truly a beast from hell.

Looking heaven ward, Dusty threw both arms skyward. “Really? Wasn’t snakes an fire enough Lord?”

Taking into account all the unearthly going on’s, Dusty yelled to the others as they rode up and down in the shallow water keeping the herd in mid river. Every now and then a few shots were fired, sometimes to scare a cow back into the herd and sometimes to kill another snake. “Got another”, someone yelled, but Dusty had no time to congratulate whoever had made the shot.

“They’ll point upriver once the storm hits. They’ll wanna’ put their butts into the wind. That’s good! The cows won’t see the flames now until they are alongside ‘em! If we’re lucky, when they see the flames  the fire should keep ‘em scared away from the banks.”

Within minutes the hurricane force dust storm slammed into the herd. Horses reared and some of their frightened riders went down. Terrified of more water borne snakes, the thrown riders remounted in the blink of an eye.

The river began to churn with white capped waves heading upstream completely washing over the bawling cattle. Standing in the belly deep water, fighting wind and water, the cows did not see the fire as it tore up the river banks being pushed by seventy mile an hour winds.

Dusty hoped the remuda and the thousand head of cattle he had sent out earlier had made it to the rise.

If Dusty were a bird he could have looked down upon the lee side of the rise and seen the cows and remuda grazing calmly while the riders rode in a half circle oblivious to the oncoming fire and dust storm on the other side. When it did hit, the riders looked skyward seeing only the darkness of the dust storm in the sky. Where they had ended up was in a valley protected on three sides by an eroded cliff. This large natural amphitheater allowed the storm to pass harmlessly overhead.  The riders sat pointing upward wondering what was happening but were unwilling to cross over the ridge to investigate. Shrugging their shoulders and hoping the best for the rest of the herd, they went back to riding their own herd.

Chapter 3

Meanwhile, back at the river miles away, Dusty and the others were doing all they could just to stay in their saddles. The riders had all donned their dusters and pulling the collars up high, the hurt caused by the fires intense heat and the scouring sand was kept to a minimum. The cattle and horses had no such protection. With their rears facing the onslaught, it was a good thing that horses and cattle have no need to sit down.The chuck wagon soon had its canvas covering torn loose from the wooden bows stretching it over the wagon. It landed in the river and was soon lost to sight. Now exposed, Biscuit tucked himself down into the foot well of the driver’s seat and hid.

It had been a half hour since the storm had hit them. The wind driven dust had not abated in the least but Dusty noticed the fire, having consumed all the dry grass and trees along the river bank was no longer a threat. Black smoking earth replaced the tall grasses behind the fire wall.

While most fires would have driven hundreds of snakes into the safety of the water, the wind pushing this fire was causing such tall waves that the snakes were thrown bodily back onto the shore. Dusty would have marveled at this stroke of fortune, and would afterward, but for right now he sat white knuckled trying his best to keep his death grip on the saddle horn as the wind and dust did their best to unseat him.

Miles ahead upriver, the fire continued to race along the Brazos banks leaving a mile wide swath on the eastern side. To the west, the fire was much wider but would soon reach a sharp bend in the Brazos stopping the raging fire in its tracks.

Without warning, the wind began to suddenly abate. The head winds that were traveling at hurricane speed had passed now being replaced by a wind half its speed to that of a common dust storm.

Dusty lifted his head and turning it sideways into the wind, tried glimpsing downstream. What he saw was a blackened landscape that diffused itself into the mile high dust cloud. Understanding now came to him. If it were not for the savage blowing of the earlier wind, the slow moving fire would have taken hours rather than minutes to pass them by. While cursing the millions of needle pricks the blowing sand brought about on exposed skin, that very wind in a very strange way was their savior.

Still too soon to fully face into the wind, Dusty tucked his chin back onto his chest and thanked God for protecting the men and the herd.

Without the fierce wind, the river began to settle back down. Any snakes attempting to find their way into the water though were met by the still smoldering earth and retreated back into their bank side holes.

When the worst had passed, Dusty yelled for the riders to clear the river of cattle. Even with dust still swirling about, the snakes would soon venture back into the water.

With yips and howls the cowboys drove the cattle back onto the burnt landscape. Once again the thin line of cattle were making their way north.

Dusty rode over to each rider asking if any were hurt and in need of  any medical attention. Most shrugged off their minor burns and were just happy to have survived.  Fisher commented that from here on in the trail should be a cake walk seeing as to how “We been through wind, water and fire all in one day!”

Looking northeastward, through the abating dust storm , Dusty could now see the ridge where the remuda and cattle were ordered to be taken to. Taking a small spyglass from his saddlebag, Dusty scanned the ridge for any sign of man or beast. None were seen.

“I don’t see anybody this side of the ridge, let’s heads the herd to the back side of it by circling around the south eastern point. They’re probably holed up on the lee side of the ridge”

Within four hours the slow moving herd rounded the southern tip of the ridge. Dusty was pleased that only a few cattle had been lost and a couple of those had been put down by the riders themselves trying to keep the other cows from following any leader ashore.

By now the dust storm was a gritty memory. No one questioned the single day long dust storm but Carlos gave the storm the name ‘Tormenta Dios miragro’ or loosely translated, ‘The torment of Gods miracle’.

The riders quietly had driven the tired cattle over the scorched earth up to the foothills of the ridge. Once rounding the southern point, green grass once again greeted the hungry cattle. Picking up their pace, the cattle soon joined their grazing relatives within the protection of the valley’s amphitheatre carved into the mountain side.

Dusty stopped and took in the sight. “Well I’ll be doggoned. They’s all safe an’ sound!”

Biscuit and the chuck wagon, being faster than the herd, had already set itself up and had  two, two gallon coffee pots heating over a fire.  One of the flank riders rode up dragging the wagons canvas tarp behind him. “Brought you a present Biscuit”. Then dismounting, he untied the canvas from his rope and headed over to the boiling coffee pots where everyone had gathered.

“what’s sayin’ boss?” Charlie called over to Dusty. “

Dusty untying his Stetson told him, “I tell you this much. this has been one heck of a day! Snakes, fire, dust storm… I don’t know about you boys but to my way of thinking, any one of those things coulda’ put an end to any one of us.”

To a man, a word of Amen was sounded.

Dusty continued talking, “Let’s take another day to get some grass into the herd and give our own bones a well deserved rest. I don’t know about you fella’s but my old bones is beat an’ my muscles is worn to a frazzle.”

Once again a round of ‘amens’ was heard.

Two days later found the herd heading out to the north towards Waco. Once in Waco the herd caught the Chisholm trail and headed onto Wichita Kansas. During the drive into Kansas, Dusty thought things deep and hard and made the decision that this was to be the last cattle drive he’d head up. When he talked over his decision with his friend Fisher, he was surprised that Fisher didn’t fight him on it.

“Heck boss, I was thinking along the same lines myself. The rail road’s gonna’ be the way to transport large herds of cattle pretty soon. Where’s that gonna’ leave us then? I’d rather go out while I can still make a choice to be a cowboy or not to be a cowboy. I ain’t no cow poke boss, I can’t see myself proddin’ cows onto rail cars with sticks from a loading platform. No Sir, I might just follow your lead and find somethin’ else to do for a livin’. You have any idea what you’ll be doin’ and where?”

“I’ve been thinking of a small town near Denver Colorado called Castle Rock. I saved up some for the day I decided to quit. My knees ain’t what they used to be, maybe I’ll buy myself a mercantile or dry goods store.”

“You? A dry goods store? Ha! That’ll be the day, more like a bordello if you ask me!”

“Naw, no whorehouse. I been seein’ things a bit different since that day on the Brazos.  I ain’t gonna’ turn into no Preacher or anything but I’m thinkin’ I should clean up my act a bit. The good book talks about becoming a new man. Who knows, maybe I’m gonna’ try an’ teach this ol’ dog some new tricks.”

“Well boss, whatever you decide, I’m behind you on it. I might even look you up someday…see how you’re farin’ an’ all.”

Dusty reached out and he and Fisher shook hands over their friendship. “You look me up Fisher!”

“I will boss. That’s a promise.”

It would be a promise kept.

To read another story featuring Dusty and Fisher, click on the story called “Homer’s magic bullet”.  JW

Homer’s magic bullet

 

Chapter 1

In the darkened room on the second floor of the Argosy Hotel, a nervous hand slowly parted the window curtains to get a clear view of the street below. The night shadows hid those seekers who might be a danger to him. The only movement he saw was a late night mule drawn cartage wagon that rumbled by.  Down the street, oil lamps lit the walkway and entrance to the Half Dollar Saloon. Inside a skinny old man wearing a well worn bowler derby plinked away at the piano trying his best to remember a tune nobody else recognized. It was a slow night, even a few of the whores had given up and went upstairs to their rooms alone for a chance to get some early shut eye. For all intensive purposes, the town had fallen asleep. Stepping closer, the tall gaunt man pressed his hawk like face sideways to the window pane so he could see further up and down the dark empty street. Seeing no movement he backed away and closed the curtain and for the first time in months he felt safe.

Homer Goldstein, the man in the second floor hotel room, was a scared and wanted man. For the last three months he’d been tailed, had his mail opened and had his home broken into numerous times. Homer really wasn’t the object of attention so much as what he had invented was.

It was the bullet that passed close to his head one night as he sat relaxing in the parlor that settled things for him. Finally conceding that his home, his town and his neighbors and his synagogue had to be left behind if he were to survive, he quickly packed a few belongings and fled his beloved Tennessee home.

Heading west by rail, he eventually ended up in the mountain town of Castle Rock about fifty miles south of Denver Colorado. The small town lay in the shadow of its namesake, a tall butte that claimed the skyline called Castle Rock. Juniper and Ponderosa pine climbed the mountain sides in the distance while a few shade giving oaks and Tulip trees sprinkled themselves around the town.

Homer took a room at the modestly priced Argosy hotel where he unpacked his belongings then headed over to the bank. For a small fee, many banks rented space within their vaults. It was his invention stored securely in its wooden case that was placed within the vault for safe keeping that morning.

For the last fourteen years Homer had worked as a gunsmith. It was the only job he had ever held. Actually, it was the only job he had ever wanted.

His father, a watchmaker in Memphis, encouraged the young Homer to follow his desires even though he secretly had hoped the boy would follow in his footsteps. Homer started out as an apprentice at the Tennessee Bean Rifle works where he quickly rose in rank within the company. Six years later, Homer stood holding the cherished Master Gunsmith Certificate he had worked so hard to get.

Homer had no wife to share his joy with, nor did he want one. He had no close friends either. He cared little for the world outside the shop window. Politics, the cost of pork bellies and the price of a bushel of corn held no interest for him. Only his guns mattered. To Homer it wasn’t machining, it was art.

Lying down on the Argosy’s soft feather bed in his room, Homer wished he’d never sent the letter to the war department asking them to consider his revolutionary designed rifle. His mistake was his naivety and blind trust in Government officials.

Upon receiving the letter, Wilfred Moneymaker, the head of the war department, passed it down the line until it fell on the desk of James Parker, an egotistical ladder climber whose father had gotten him the job.  Parker immediately saw how he could use the letter to his advantage.

In a private meeting with the company that the war department was presently purchasing their arms from, Parker told the owner of Eastern Valley Arms of Goldstein’s invention. It was not so much the rifle itself that interested them, it was the cartridge that went into the inventive gun.

“Without the chemical makeup of the propellent within the cartridge, all you are showing us Mr. Parker, is a multi caliber cartridge. I can list a boat load of arms makers working along those same lines even as we speak, us included. The easy part is the damn gun itself, but we’ve hit a wall on the cartridge. According to this spec sheet, this Goldstein fella’ seems to have figured it out.”

The speaker was Amos Silver, the owner and president of the Eastern Valley Arms company. Reaching into his vest pocket, Silver pulled out a pair of reading spectacles and once again looked over the letter.

“The ballistic performance out does anything thing on the market today. Our newest cartridge has a maximum chamber pressure rating of 23,000 psi. Goldman’s is 45,000 psi. That’s twice the power of our best cartridge. Hell, that much power would blow any of today’s rifles to sky high! Look at the velocity of the thing, 1,100 feet per second. Ours? 450 feet per second.  What he invented gentleman was a hand held cannon, not a rifle.”

“I knew this would interest you Sir,” Parker groveled, “I’m sure I can convince this Goldstein person to give us the chemical makeup of the cartridge’s propellent. After all, he’s just a small time rube gunsmith located in Tennessee and I have the power of the Department of War behind me.”

“I don’t want the War Department to get its hands on the makeup Parker, the idiots there would give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that makes ammo for them. No, we want it for ourselves Parker. Use whatever means you wish, but we get the formula!”

“If I get it to you, what’s in it for me?”

“Oh don’t you worry son, you’ll have a fat purse for your efforts, as long as this isn’t all some ruse you schemed up.”

“No Sir, no ruse, this is for real. I took the letter to our own gun works people and they confirmed it was possible. Even the steel specifications used in the chamber and barrel seemed accurate”

Lighting a large Cuban cigar, Amos Silver then pointed it at Parker, “Son, you get the makeup of that cartridge and you can quit that lousy low pay Government job, of course if you don’t…” Silver let then let the freshly lit cigar fall to the floor and twisted it under foot. “You get my drift son?”

To Parker’s frustration, the face to face meeting with Goldstein went badly. Homer refused to give away any more information on his invention and withdrew his offer. He had a bad feeling about the young man with greedy eyes and wanted nothing more to do with him.

It was shortly after that meeting that Goldman realized he was being spied upon.

 

Chapter 2

Rising early, Homer went downstairs for breakfast in the Argosy’s dining room. It was a comfortable and surprisingly elegant room. The windows had long velvet curtains from ceiling to floor at each window and the floor was carpeted complimenting the imported wall paper. White linen table cloths dressed each table and real silverware was at each place setting. For the price, Homer felt he had made a very wise decision on choosing the Argosy hotel.

Homer sat politely as a tall skinny waitress taking breakfast orders took his order. In watching her, he found a strange stirring within him. Perhaps, he mused, he should be so bold as to introduce himself to her. As he watched the waitress in a state of  enchantment take his order, a young man dressed in typical cowboy attire and wearing a colt 45 on his hip sat down at the table next to him. It was Homers first encounter with a real cowboy and he was fascinated. Turning to the cowboy, the waitress glanced back at Homer and gave him a perky smile. There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between the East and the West. Never before had a woman shown him any interest and on top of that, just the idea of wearing a six shooter openly thrilled him.

After the waitress finished taking their orders, Homer turned to the cowboy. “Excuse me Sir,” Homer excitingly asked, “I see you are wearing the new model P Colt 45 Peacemaker, have you had a chance to shoot it much?”

The cowboy turned and stared at Homer for a moment before answering, “A few times, snakes and such. Shoots nice”

“Please, excuse me if I seem forward, I’m newly arrived from Tennessee and have an interest in fine firearms.”

“Well friend, it ain’t for sale if that’s what you want to know, took me a year’s pay drivin’’ cattle to buy it.”

“Oh no, you misunderstand Sir, I’m not interested in buying it from you, you see I am a Master Gunsmith recently arrived. I design and build rifles but have done a few revolvers too. it’s just that I admire fine arms.”

“Oh, that’s it then.” Reaching down, the cowboy removed the Colt from its holster and after emptying the cylinder of its five bullets, he handed it to Homer. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I’d hate to be robbed with my own gun!”

Taking the gun handed to him, Homer began looking at the Colt with expert eyes. “I truly meant nothing more than to ask what you thought of the Colt. It was for my personal interest only. The machining is of an excellent quality. Did you have it custom engraved?”

“Yup,  they come plain but the man I bought it from is also an engraver so he did the designs on it.”

“It’s beautiful Mr..? Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself.”  Handing the revolver back to the cowboy grip first, Homer spoke, “My name is Homer Goldstein, and yours is?,”

“Jesse James…” Seeing the shocked look plastering itself on Homers face, the cowboy chuckled, ” Nah, just joshin’ ya’ friend! Robert Fisher my name, folks just call me Fisher though.” Looking closely at Homer the cowboy asked, ” You a Jew or something Goldstein?”

Looking downward in disappointment Homer replied “Why yes I am. How did you guess?”

“I dunno, maybe the name, maybe the nose and thick glasses gave it away.”

“Does my being a Jew bother you? I know it did back in Tennessee. Most folks shy’d away from us Jews unless they wanted something ”

“Nope, don’t matter to me in the least. You meet all kinds on the trail and ya’ learn to trust them to watch your back. I rode with Mexicans, Negro’s, Swede’s even a number of Irishman.  Never rode with a Jew before, not that I know of anyway.”

His smile returning, Homer replied, “I guess us Jews don’t make very good cowboys, at least I never heard of one. In fact, I never met a real cowboy either.”

“Well there ya’ go, now ya’ met one. So Homer, why’d you leave… what was it, Tennessee you said? What brings you all the way out here?”

“My life. I have some bad people wanting something from me. They tried to kill me back home so I fled out West and ended up here. If they don’t chase me out here I might open my own gun works, I don’t know much about running a business but I’m very skilled at the smithing of firearms.”

“ You picked a good town Homer, nobody but miners and such come out this way. I’m here visiting my old boss. He retired from the cattle drives and settled down here after getting stove up from a Comanche arrow through his knee. I told him after I finished my last drive I’d head out this way to see how he was getting’ on, an see if he needed any help.” He started chuckling, “ I needn’t a worried though. First saloon I stopped into here was wearin’ a new sign over the door declairin’ “Under new ownership, Proprietor Dusty Plains“, that’s my bosses name. He’s doin’ just fine. Maybe my old boss could help you in opening up your place if you decide, seems he knew more about runnin’ a business than I gave him credit for. ”

“I’m sure I’d be delighted to meet his acquaintance.”

“Hopefully your trouble didn’t follow you out here, Colorado’s a good place to start over at.”

Breakfast arrived just then and as was the custom in public dining, all speaking came to a halt.

Afterward, and not wanting to become a nuisance, Homer excused himself telling Fisher he enjoyed the conversation and started to head back towards his room.

“Hey, Goldstein, wait up a second!” The voice was Fishers.

“Just out of curiosity, mind tellin’ me what room you was in upstairs?”

A moment of paranoia made his heart skip a beat but not wanting to sound rude since the cowboy seemed friendly, Homer answered, “Well, I’m staying in room 204, but why do you ask?”

More to himself than to Homer, the young cowboy mumbled, “Huh, just as I figured.”

“Figured what and why?”

Nodding his head in the direction of the stairs Fisher told him, “I saw a man leanin’ his ear against that door. I figured he was tryin’ to listen in. He wasn’t dressed like no burglar I’ve ever seen , and at the time it wasn’t none of my business  so I walked on. It was when you said something about being followed that it got me to wondering what that fella’ was doin’. Maybe it is just coincidence but maybe it ain’t.” Stepping back he appraised the tall slender man up and down. “You ain’t armed are you?”

“No, as funny as it seems I never carry a gun, even though I make them for a living.”

“Listen Goldstein, you seem like a nice fella but a bit of a green horn to how we do things here out West. Tell you what, let me open that door of yours in case that no good got himself inside while we was eatin’”

Relief showed on Homers face, “Oh, if you would I’d be so grateful. I have no friends here and I do honestly feel quite vulnerable.”

Together they took the stairs to the second floor rooms. Stopping in front of Homers room, Fisher whispered for Homer to stay aside of the door and not to enter until Fisher told him it was safe.

Taking the key from Homer, Fisher silently turned the lock and pushed the door slowly open after drawing his gun. Making no noise, Fisher turned to Homer and put the guns barrel to his lips as a warning not to speak.

Quietly swinging the door open, Fisher spotted a figure inside the room facing away from the door. A well dressed man stood bent over Homers open suitcase going through it.

“You all best have real good reason for stickin’ your paws in my friend’s baggage friend!”

The sound of Fishers icy voice took the young well dressed man by surprise. Turning quickly, he attempted to pull a small revolver from his coat pocket.

Robert Fisher, who moments before had only fired his new Colt Peacemaker at snakes and critters, fired a single well aimed hip shot into the forehead of the burglar.

Homer heard the shot and fearing for Fishers safety, ran into the room only to turn right around and vomit by the door.

“Yeah, it’s a mess alright. Can’t blame ya’ for losin’ your breakfast… bein’ from the East an all.”

“Oh my God,” Homer gagged, “his head stuffing is blown all over my room!”

“Sorry about that, maybe I shoulda’ stopped an laid a blanket down before I shot him.”

“I’m sorry, you risked your life and here I am worrying about my laundry.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, none. I’ve never seen him before but his clothes are the same style as most men wear in the larger Eastern cities.”

The well dressed corpse lay face up and partially across the bed. Fisher took his time going through all the man’s pockets. When he was satisfied with his search, he placed all the found items atop the dresser bureau. Using his fingers, Fisher poked through the belongings.

An uncashed bank draft for $500 dollars from Eastern Valley Arms in Connecticut drew Fishers interest.

“Looks like a fella’ named Amos Silver signed this draft. Does either name make any sense to you?”

“Yes, I know of both. Eastern Valley Arms is a military arms maker owned by Amos Silver out of New Haven Connecticut. They are known to have multiple long term contracts with the War Department. Some think they rig the bids to favor Eastern Valley but nothings ever been proven.  I don’t understand why he would be involved with my situation, it was that Parker fellow  from the War Department in Washington that I had the problem with.”

“The way it looks to me Homer, is This Parker fella’ may be in cahoots with this Silver person in trying to get at whatever it was that was in your letter.”

Slumping his shoulders in defeat, Homer shook his head exclaiming, “Then I’m not safe after all. If what you said is true then they’re not going to give up until they get what they want.”

“Kinda’ looks that way friend. I think I’ll stick close to you for a bit yet if you don’t mind. There may be more than just this fella’, usually is. Since they didn’t know where your trail would end, I’d say they rode on the same train as you.  All they had to do was wait and watch. When you got off, so did they.”

A clamoring of hard sloe shoes running up the stairs, ended their conversation.

An angry front desk clerk appeared in the doorway. Looking towards Homer, he demanded, “What’s going on here Mr. Goldstein, I heard… Oh my God! Did you shoot that man?”

Before Homer could answer, Fisher spoke up, “Naw, I did. Earlier I spotted this man with his ear to the door. When Mr. Goldstein and I finished our breakfast we come up here an’ discovered him burglarizing Mr. Goldstein’s room.” Pointing to the small handgun lying on the floor Fisher continued.  “When I surprised him, he tried takin’ a shot at me but I got the draw on him.”

A young man dressed as a bell hop had followed behind and spoke from the doorway. “Mr. Peebles? Should I send for the Sheriff?”

Answering the young man without turning to look his way, Peebles directed him. “Yes, and gather some cleaning supplies and get Mr. Jones, he should be at his mortuary. I want this body gone and gore cleaned up as fast as possible.”

Looking disgusted at the mess of blood and brains, clerk Peebles sternly told Homer, “I’m afraid we’ll have to charge you for cleaning up this mess and replacing the ruined wall paper Mr. Goldstein.”

Turning to Fisher, the clerk looked with distain on the cowboy, “The Sheriff will want to hold a hearing on this shooting as soon as possible. I wouldn’t leave town, whoever you are!”

Catching the acid in his comment, Fisher replied, “I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Although I’m thinkin’ when the folks stayin’ at this hotel find out their rooms ain’t safe, they’ll be high tailin’ it outa here for the place across the street.  In fact, seeing how there’ll be a rush on rooms, tell the Sheriff he can find me over there in my new room.”

The clerk looked horror stricken at the thought of all his customers fleeing his hotel for the one across the street and quickly began to back track his mouth.  “ Please, we sincerely value all our guest. I deeply apologize if I spoke rudely just now. This terrible incident must have caused you much distress, I know it did me. Let me make it up to you by giving you both a week’s stay here at the Argosy’s  expense. I’ll have a new room for you right away Mr. Goldstein.  There is no need to speak of this to our other guest, is there now?”

Replying for both of them, Fisher shuffled his feet then spoke up. “Well, if that includes meals, livery care, bath and haircuts, we might find it in us to keep shut about it. What about the Sheriff though, he’ll have it all over town after he hears what we have to say at the hearing.”

With wheels spinning inside his head, the clerk gasped, “Oh my yes, you’re right! I must catch him before he gets up here. I’m on the hearing committee so I’ll just tell him it was a private argument and you had to shoot the man in self defense…yes, that’s what I’ll tell him. Good day to you both, I need to run.”

After the clerk took to the stairs two at a time, Fisher turned to Homer. “Well, we got free room and board for a week, that’s somethin’ good that come out of this wouldn’t you say?”

“Indeed! I do feel the need for a free trim, bath and shave Mr. Fisher, would you care to join me?”

Chapter 3

An hour later found the two men each soaking in high backed copper bathing tubs. Homer and Fisher found themselves alone after the Negro bath house house boy had filled the tubs with hot water.

“So Homer, if you don’t mind me askin’, what in tarnation is it that Eastern Valley Arms wants so badly from you that they’d chase you all the way out here?”

“I guess if anyone has the right to know, it’s you. On my account, you’ve gotten yourself neck deep in my troubles. I apologize and thank you at the same time. Tomorrow I want you to go over to the bank with me. I want to show you what the fuss is all about. In fact, if you’d stay with me until I can figure a way out of all this, I’d gladly hire you to act as my guardian.”

“Kind of like your private Segundo huh?”

“If I think that means what I think it does, yes”

As the two stepped into the bank the next day, they were greeted by the owner. “Ah, Mr. Goldstein, I’m so glad you have stopped in! Earlier today, there were three men who stopped in asking if anyone fitting your description had stopped in. I lied, I told them I was unaware of anyone like that. They seemed a bit on the rough side, is everything alright?”

“Yes, all is fine and thank you for being discreet regarding my presence here.” Turning to Fisher, Homer introduced him as his private security person.

“I wish to enter your vault if I may. I need to inspect my property within it.”

“Of course Mr. Goldstein, please follow me.”

Opening the large rented drawer within the vault, Homer removed the wooden case he had carried all the way from Tennessee. Fisher stepped closer in order to see what the inside held once Homer opened it. Unlatching the two locks, Homer lifted the lid.

Fisher let out a slow whistle.

“That is one beautiful rifle my friend, but what’s so different about it that makes them folks so determined to get their hands on it?”

“This.” Homer opened a smaller box and removed one of the multi sized cartridges and handed it to Fisher.

“What in tarnation is this thing? A bullet?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The rifle is designed to fire it. If you notice, the actual bullet is a small 25 caliber projectile mounted within a modified turned down sharps style .50-90 brass cartridge.”

“Whew! I bet she’s got some punch, but ain’t other folks workin’ on similar bullets? I heard they was.

“Yes they are. The difference is this. Every cartridge made today, no matter how many grains it holds, has inside it the same explosive, black powder. This is not black powder but a chemical formula involving powdered metals, extremely reactive oxidizers and other additives that I can’t disclose. It almost triples the power of a sharps and with the smaller projectile will travel over one mile with total calculable accuracy. In fact I have tested it to over one and a half miles and it maintained a killing force.”

Fisher took one long last look and handed the cartridge back to Homer. “God, no wonder them folks want this so bad. It’d put every other gun maker out of business!”

“Yes it would!”

The new voice behind them was so unexpected they both jumped.

Before they could react to the voice, three men with guns drawn stepped forward. “I’ll take that box you have there Mr. Goldstein. I’m sorry I have to do it this way Goldstein but you left me no choice. ” Homers heart sank. It was Parker.

The tough looking no good standing next to Parker spoke up and pointed to the ceiling with the barrel of his revolver. “Put your hands up Goldstein, you too cowboy.”

“Lonny,” said Parker,” get Goldstein out of here. I got a score to settle with this rube cowboy here. He’s the one who killed Troy in the Argosy. ”

“Sure thing Parker, I’ll be waiting for you and Chuck at Old woman Creek”.  Lonny then led Goldstein out the banks rear door where he had their horses waiting. Forcing Homer to saddle up, Lonny tied his hands to the saddle horn and mounted himself behind Homer.  As they galloped away, the two fleeing riders heard the gunshots. Homer knew his newly found friend had just been killed.

Chapter 4

Fisher, Parker and Chuck heard the pounding of hooves as Lonny and Goldstein galloped off. It was then that Fisher made his move. Even he was surprised at the speed at which his Colt Peacemaker left the holster. The two had let Lonny’s leaving distract them ever so slightly. Before they could return their barrels onto Fisher, his Colt was rapid firing its deadly lead.

Fisher aimed first at the hard case standing to Parkers left. His gun was aimed closer to Fisher than was Parkers. The Peacemaker lived up to all that it was known for. Two quick shots plowed into Chucks gut. Before Parker could pull back his hammer the Colt Peacemaker exploded once again. This bullet hit the side of Parkers own gun. Knocking the barrel aside, the lead bullet continued traveling. It entered Parker just above the wrist. Once inside his arm it drilled it way through the arm until it explosively exited from the elbow.

Parkers look of shock matched that of his hired gun Chuck. For safety, Fisher always left the chamber empty under the hammer empty. With only two rounds left in the six shooter, Fisher returned the Peacemaker back to Chuck.

Chuck, doubling over from the two gut shots, leaned forward and saw himself staring down the 45’s barrel. The last thing he saw was the flame. The next thing he saw was God.

Parker let out a terrible scream as the bullet left his arm. The pistol fell to the floor but not before Fishers last bullet had already left the barrel. Parker, always one to dress well and hair meticulously groomed, would have felt chagrined at finding out that his funeral had to be a closed casket affair.

Holstering the Peacemaker and grabbing the precious case, Fisher jumped over the body of the hard case known as Chuck and ran into the banks teller area. There he spotted the bank owner lying on the floor unconscious. A teller lay sprawled out near him. Whether dead or alive, Fisher had no time to find out.

Once out the rear door, he mounted up on Parkers horse… either stolen or rented. It was now Fishers.

The horse jolted forward as if electrified. Running at a full gallop, Fisher knew Lonny had a good lead on him. Knowing a hand gun was near useless in a chase on horseback, Fisher began unpacking the rifle from its case on the run.

Within ten minutes Fisher reached the plains just east of the South Platte River where he spotted Lonny and Homer racing away in the distance.

“Damn! I got to stop them before they get to that rise up ahead.”

Once the two crested the rise, Lonny could stop on the other side and set up an ambush. The chase was beginning to seem like an effort in futility.

It was do or die Fisher decided. He then did something that screamed insanity, he stopped and dismounted.

Finding a large stone about a foot high, Fisher laid down prone behind it. Taking a cartridge from the flat ammo case, Fisher loaded the chamber and shot the bolt home. Resting the rifle barrel atop the rock to steady it, Fisher looked down the sight trying to sight in on the riders ahead. Since Homer had mentioned that he had fired it at a distance of over a mile, Fisher was counting on that it was still sighted in at that distance.

Slowing his breathing he found his target. He considered the distance and lifted the barrel. It was all a guessing game. He felt a slight breeze coming from the Platte River so he moved the barrel to the left. Even after pulling the trigger, it would take the projectile over five seconds to reach his target. All these thoughts spun in Fishers head as he compensated his aim for the variables.

All this took time and with panic rising, he saw Lonny’s horse start the climb up the fifty foot high slope.

Just as he was pulling the trigger, the thought entered his thinking that since this bullet had three times the punch of a normal bullet, it just may travel completely through Lonny killing Homer. As he pulled the trigger, in response to this fear he pulled the barrel up. It wasn’t much, just a micro amount but Fishers heart sank knowing the shot would now travel over their heads.

It was at that moment that Lonny’s horse made it to the crest. Then Lonny did something unusual. He stopped on top of the crest and turned around facing Fishers direction. In horror, Fisher saw that now Homer sat in the direct path of the bullet. Five seconds turned into hours.  At last he saw Lonny lift his firearm skyward in a wave to ridicule the stopped Fisher. Lonny had assumed that Fisher had given up.

As Lonny raised his firearm he opened his mouth and yelled a curse at the dismounted rider over a mile away. Laughing he leaned forward causing Homer to bend forward. It was in the middle of his second set of curses that Homer heard the most unusual sound above and behind him. It was the bullet traveling faster than any bullet previously made . It tore open the air like an exploding lightning bolt.  The sound the near white hot projectile had been making suddenly ended in a burst of sound similar to an exploding pumpkin.

Lonny had nothing to say about it seeing as the projectile had entered his mouth mid curse and disintegrated the entire back of his head. Lonny didn’t slowly roll off his horse, instead it looked as if he was yanked violently backwards out of the saddle.

Turning to see what was happening, Homer watched as Lonny landed ten feet behind his horse. With his thick lenses, Homer could not see well enough to view Fisher clearly but he knew by the sound of the bullet that not only was it his invented cartridge that had been fired and killed Lonny but it could only have been fired by Fisher. Somehow, Fisher had made it out alive after all!

Feeling a world of trouble being lifted off his shoulders, Homer headed down the slope at an easy gait to meet up with the only friend he had ever made. Smiling widely as Fisher came into view, Homer watched Fisher jumping up and down and laughing as he waved his hat around his head.  Homers grin widened to the point that it hurt his face.

Riding back to town side by side, the two talked of Homers next move. ” Tanks to you, I am able to open my own place now that I’m sure its safe. How would you feel about me asking you to stay and help me set it up and run it?”

“I ain’t got much else goin’ on, the railroad and barb wire’s putting a real pinch on cattle drives.” Turning to Homer he reached over and gave him his hand. “Sure Homer, I’d be honored. By the way, does job that include any pay by chance?”

Gripping his friends hand he gave it a firm shake, “A man can’t work for free Fisher, let’s head over to the Argosy for dinner and we’ll hammer out the details.”

Slowly, a wispy smile crossed over Homers face as the memory of the tall skinny waitress smiling over at him at the Argosy entered his thoughts.

“Yes Sir Fisher, I do believe we have a future here, a real nice one too!”

The children of box canyon

Chapter 1

The nine hard cases of the Jeffries gang  stood staring down upon the carnage they had wrought. Five men lay unmoving in the dust. Each one was horribly bullet ridden and very dead.

“This is something we didn’t need!” The speaker was Tom Jeffries, head of the band of evil no goods that had just committed the executions of the five Mormon men.

The five had been sent by their Church to investigate the intrusion of Jeffries band into their southern Utah territory. Numerous complaints of Jeffrie’s band causing harassment, rustling, rape, killings and worse of all, the recent kidnapping of twenty two young children of Mormon settlers had forced the Church leaders to send in the investigators. Wanting to settle the issue as peacefully and quietly as possible, the men were sent down unarmed. Not wanting to add to the nervous fear the latest  Mormon settlers were already experiencing, the Church leaders had hoped to strike a monetary deal with the group of no goods if they would leave their territory. Jeffries and his no goods, not knowing of the buyout deal and fearing a surprise shoot out, had instead reacted by gunning them all down at the meeting even before any parley began.

“Them Mormons will be sure to send others, if not to find their missing brethren but to avenge their killers when they do discover ‘em.  We need to hide these here bodies where they ain’t found. That way, even if they suspect us of foul play, they can’t prove it. Well take ‘em with us an’ bury ‘em a day’s ride from here along the bank of the Virgin River that cuts through upper Arizona. From there we head west to the Logan City area in Nevada until this all blows over.”

Nevada’s Logan City lay alongside the Muddy River just south of the foothills of the Mormon mountain range in the Nevada Territory. With multiple small mountain ranges surrounding the town, it was custom made for anybody on the run like this group was to hole up in.

“We gonna’ leave them Mormon kids back at the hideout in Arizona then?” The question was asked Toto, a dark, smelly and underfed looking Mexican greaser sporting a heavy bow mustache and large sombrero.

The hard case leader, calling himself Tom Jeffries replied, “It’s our best bet Toto, with the rest of my boys watchin’ them kids, they’ll be fine where they’s at. When this here killin’ calms back down, we’ll head back into the Rim area, get ‘em and head ‘em south into Mexico an’ sell ‘em off. No Mormon’s gonna’ find our hideout that far from Utah.”

“Suites me,” replied Toto, “but I’m still wondering how we’s gonna’ get them little shits into Mexico without bein’ seen along the way.”

“That’s the beauty of it all. We’ll take em into Squaw Creek near the Utah Arizona border and from there float em by barge down the Colorado, all the way into Mexico. They’ll be under a canvas tarp so folks will just think its cargo. Don’t worry none, I got it all figured out.”

Jeffries men dismounted and began loading the five shot up  bodies onto the horses they had rode up on. “Johnny, you stay behind a bit an’ clean up our trail. I don’t want no Mormon tracker following a dripping blood trail. We can’t do much about these horses leavin’ a trail but with so many prints, if they find ‘em, they’ll most likely disregard ‘em as a bunch of Nester’s lookin’ for land to squat on.”

 

Chapter 2

After 3 weeks, the Mormon Elders sent out a search party looking for the five men and any word of the missing children. While some suspected foul play fell upon the searchers, nothing could be proved since no bodies were ever found. The Mormon’s had gone as far as hiring an Apache tracker to no avail. Stumped, they returned to the Church Elders up in Salt Lake City with their findings. The wives and families of the missing men were cared for then assimilated back within the community through given marriages and adoptions. The missing children were all assumed to be gone forever, being either dead or sold off.  The incident would soon forgotten and for the present, the Church showed no more interest in continuing their original investigation as other immediate concerns had to be dealt with. Besides, the harassment seemed to have stopped.

Meanwhile, Logan City had about had it with the rowdy group that from time to time came in from the hills to restock their dwindling supplies. After each visit, the saloons and whore houses would end up making repairs to the buildings and beat on whores.  The Sheriff of Logan City, Jeffery Deloy, under the threat of the saloon owner packing up and leaving town, threw Toto and two of the other gang members in jail after shooting off their irons inside the saloon. A whore was grazed, legally allowing the arrest. Disturbing the peace with gunfire wasn’t on the towns list of offenses yet, but shooting folks was.

On the day their hearing was set, the Bakery and Dry Goods store suspiciously burnt to the ground. They were across the street from each other. Sheriff Deloy knew he was being threatened by Jeffries. Deloy was no dime novel hero and after meeting with the vigilante committee, they decided there was not enough evidence of intent to kill to hold the three anymore.  They were released with a warning.

Tom Jeffries, sitting at a table in the saloon with some of his hard cases looked up when he saw the three walk in. “I see you’re out.” He calmly said to the three, “Next time you go and put your faces in a public display of stupidity, I’ll hang the three of you over a fire and burn you as complete as that bakery was burnt. You get my drift boys? Toto? You understand what I’m sayin?”

“Sure boss,” Toto said nonchalantly, “ no more trouble. Can I get me a drink now?”

Jeffries slid the bottle toward Toto. “I’m serious boys, I’m pissed.  Next time I’ll kill you without thought or concern. Take that bottle, get your horses out of the livery and pay the stable boy real good and don’t make a fuss while you’re there. Be real nice like. Then ride back to the camp and tell the others we’ll be heading out to get those brats we got stored in Arizona. I got word from Durant that a river scow’s been bought and will be waiting for us at Squaw Creek. I figure in a month we’ll be loaded and headin’ south on the Colorado.”

After the three left, Jeffries turned to the man next to him who went by the name of Billy Wilde. Jeffries referred to Billy as his Segundo. Billy Wilde was a killer, but he only killed when he had the drop. When called out, Billy had no qualm in sneaking out of town. He never stood face to face, he killed readily but was too slow on the draw to be a real shootist.  But as far as back shooting and dry gulching went, he was the best.

“Billy, you take these two sittin’ here and head over to the mercantile. We got us a ways to go in the next month so get enough stores to last us a good month, then stop at the livery for me. Check up on Toto and the other two to make sure they ain’t caused anymore grief, then see if the livery will you sell a couple mules. If they will, buy ‘em and head on out back to the camp with the supplies.” Slipping Billy two hundred dollars in gold double eagles he continued speaking, “ The three of you do me a favor. Them two that were in jail with Toto, I want ‘em gone. They’s a loose cannon and they disobeyed my order about makin’ a public scene. After all, we was supposed to be in hiding, not lettin’ folks know of our presence in Nevada by bein arrested.

As far as Toto goes, leave him be, I’ll handle Toto when the times right, but for now I need him.  I want you three to immediately head out immediately after loading up.  I’ll follow in a couple of days, that should give you time to get rid of them two idiots.” Jeffries thoughts returned to the dark haired nineteen year old whore waiting for him upstairs. “Go on now an’ git!”

Two days later and to the relief of everyone in town, Jeffries rode out of Logan for the last time and headed back to the gangs hideout in the mountains overlooking the small town of Show Low Arizona .

 

Chapter 3

Sheriff Danny Vance of Globe had taken a leave and was up visiting his twin brother Davy, the Sheriff of Show Low. Those who rode the Owl hoot trail stayed away from the White Mountains that lay between the two towns. It was common talk that the twins had some sort of spooky psychic type connection. Each could finish the others sentence or mirror the others movements. Most folk got a kick out of it when the two brothers were together but others, especially ones on the Owl Hoot trail, feared it. Rustlers and hard cases couldn’t hide well enough for the two. No matter how clever or meticulous was their hiding, the brothers seemed to magically sniff them out.

Opening the door as quietly as he could to his brothers office, Dan peaked in to see his brother napping with his feet up on table he used as a desk.

“Step on inside Bro, you outa know by now you cain’t sneak up on me, never could, never will!”

Danny closed the door smiling, “There’s gotta be a first time.”

“So what brings you to my beautiful burg of Show Low anyway? I Know it ain’t rustlers ‘cause I chased ‘em all down south towards that dung heap you reign over.”

Chuckling, Danny replied “Dung heap? Talk about dung, why the folks in this here town of Show Low just discovered how to use the outhouse!”

“I love you too brother! How’s about some coffee to go with your insults, Paco just fresh brewed a pot.”

Foregoing any more insults, the two brothers sat relaxing at the table. Poco, the one eyed deputy had poured coffee and returned to delicing the jail cells with powdered quick lime.

Pointing his thumb over his shoulder in Poco’s direction Davy explained Poco’s actions to his brother. “Last week we had Roberto Villa and his bunch enjoying the hospitality of our jail after they was caught rustling the Double H’s cattle. They ain’t here no more but they left their lice behind to be remembered by.”

“Did you send them up to Holbrook for trial?”

“Nah, they was caught red handed, no need for a trial. They was hung the next morning out back. I shoulda’ just strung ‘em up when I got ‘em back here that afternoon and I would’ve if I’d known how much lice they had on ‘em. Oh well, it gives Poco something to do besides sweep an’ make coffee.”

“Well, he does make a fine coffee, that’s for sure.”

The two brothers returned to their relaxed coffee drinking, neither saying a word.  Finally, after a good ten minutes of quiet, Davy grunted, “Ee-yup.” Then went quiet again.

It was during moments like this that folks would swear the twins were talking to each other, only not with their mouths.

“So what you think, Danny, wanna’ ride out with me an check out a story old Vern the prospector told me?”

“Sure, why not?  What’s his tale this time? Chiloe Creeks loaded with lost Inca gold? Flying canoes again?”

“I only wish it sounded as kooky, then I could dismiss it as another ‘buy me a drink an’ I’ll tell you a tale’ story. No, this one caused him to come high tailin’ it in here all panicky like. He seemed pretty shook up.”

“Well as much as I know about the man, I can’t say I ever heard of anything that would surprise the old coot, I think he’s seen it all. He prospected in my jurisdiction years ago when I first Sheriff’d in Globe and he while he seemed a bit eccentric I’d say he never outright made any stories up. What’d he tell you?”

“C’mon, let’s saddle up an’ I’ll fill you in on the way.”

Grabbing some traveling grub and a noon meal at Davy’s girlfriends house,they headed west out of town towards the Rim at an easy trot.

“so what’s the story Davy, where we headin’ to an’ why?”

Davy sidled up closer to his brother and rode knee to knee down the trail and started talking.

“I didn’t want to tell you in town because they’s so many excitable folks there. I told Vern not to say a word about it as it might get back to whoever is holden’ them kids that we’s a comin’. Old Vern came hoofin’ it mighty quick into town yesterday on that mule of his. I was at Jane’s Diner, eatin’ but saw him out the window arrive an’ head straight to the jail. Poco come out a minute later an’ come runnin’ an’ got me. When I got to the jail, Vern was in a stitch. Finally I got Vern calmed down enough to talk by pouring him a whiskey. He told me he was out prospecting the Mogollon Rim near where Cherry and Tonto creek come together when he saw what looked like a small child trying to run away from two men wearin’ guns tied low. It seems they caught up with the tyke and dragged him off into hidden box canyon kicking and screaming. “

Danny looked skeptical and said, “We grew up knowing those canyons pretty well Davy, I don’t recall any hidden box canyon around there. Besides, it’s probably just a family issue of some sort.”

“That ain’t the all of it Danny. Vern said he followed ‘em and found the small opening to the box canyon.  It was just big enough for a man on a horse to get inside. When he snuck in, he saw not just the kid who was bein’ chased, but a whole passel of ‘em bein’ held by a group of no goods!”

“What? You tellin’ me they’s a bunch of children inside a box canyon bein’ held by gunmen? What the Sam Hill is that all about? ”

“That’s what we’re doin’ right now bro, findin’ out.”

“Dang, I knew there was somethin’ ticklin’ the back of my neck tellin’ me to git on up here. Couldn’t we been born just normal like? Next thing ya’ know, you’re gonna’ tell me what a great time I had at Mabel’s whore house!”

“I don’t need no psychic abilities for that brother, I just look at that dumb grin plastered on your face to tell me all I need to know!”

“Ha! An’ I suppose Mary Jane’s Pa ain’t noticin’ the one on your mug?”

Dave winked at his brother, “Come next payday, I’m buyin’ a ring, I figure The towns startin’ to wonder if I’m just getting the milk for free or if I’m gonna’ buy the cow? I figure I better buy the cow before she dries up or someone else buys her!”

Danny smirked, “Wait till I tell Mary Jane you compared her to a milk cow.”

“You do an I’ll go an tell your favorite whore you got the geebees down there, that’ll fix ya!”

“I ain’t got no gee… Hey, look! Up ahead, is that smoke?”

Ahead, maybe a good fifteen miles into the Rim a thin trail of smoke contrasted itself against the evening western sky. In the past four hours, they had traveled over halfway to where Vern had said he saw the box canyon and children.

“Kinda’ mark that spot if you will Danny. According to my figuring that might be about where Vern was talkin’ about. When we make camp tonight, let’s put a rise between our cook fire and them. Tomorrow we’ll have to travel on foot the last few miles to stay hid.”

“I can kinda’ see a formation of outcropping just before the smoke. I think we should use that as our marker. “

As night fell the Arizona sky lit up with a million stars.  The brothers relaxed after they had enjoyed a meal of bacon and beans with fresh biscuits and an apple pie Mary Jane had packed for the two.  Using their horses as sentries, they talked over coffee into the night.

Chapter 4

As dusk turned into dark, four riders consisting of Billy Wilde, Toto and the two gunslingers from the saloon reached area where the Rim held the secret canyons entrance. With just enough light to make out the outline of the opening, they single file slipped inside, leaving the fully loaded wagon outside to be unloaded by hand.

Toto was still upset over the gunning down of the two he had been in jail with. He felt there was no call to murder them just for letting loose in the saloon.  The three were only two days out of Logan City when the other three, led by Billy Wilde hollered the familiar greeting heard when entering another’s camp.

“Hellooo, the camp!” Billy shouted. “It’s just us Toto, Billy Wilde.”

An answering shout greeted them. “Light on down Billy, coffee’s on!”

As Billy and his two companions entered the camp site they saw the three other gang members relaxing in the firelight drinking coffee. None appeared alarmed at the presence of the three armed men. Toto rose to greet the three when all hell broke loose.

Billy and his two companions drew and fired onto the two men sitting by the fire. Saving a few cartridges in case Toto got into the act, the three pretty much emptied their revolvers into the two  men.

Toto stepped back stunned. “Wh- what the hell’d you go ‘an do that for?” He stammered.

“Boss said to. Them two pissed him off, you did too but he said to just clear them two outa the gang.  You know dang well the boss’ll shoot you just as well as shake your hand.  By the way, he still wants us to head on to the camp with these here supplies and git ready to ride on out with them kids.

The morning light unveiled the box canyon camp making ready to pack up and leave.

Hours earlier, Davy and Danny had traveled in the morning darkness reaching the outcropping they had seen the day before. They had left their horses loosely tied in the grease wood a mile back. Having let them feed on the grass around their camp during the night, they had let them drink their fill in a small creek near the hitched grease wood. The brothers had inched along the cliffs wall looking for any sign of the box canyons opening.

The two had nearly passed by the opening but Danny stopped his brother and silently pointed to the rocky ground under their feet. In the dawns early light, scrape marks from iron shod shoes were visible on a smooth portion of the trail.

Whispering quietly Danny leaned into Davy’s ear. “Up ahead, ten feet or so. I see a shadow that I bet is on opening. I’m gonna crawl hands an’ knees style an’ take a peak. Cover my butt just in case I disturb the hornets inside.”

Slowly Danny disappeared into the shadow. Five minutes later a small scraping sound alerted Davy of Danny’s return. Putting his finger to his lips, Danny tilted his head towards the direction they had come from.

Once out of earshot of the opening, Danny relayed what he saw.

“Damn, Vern got it straight. There’s maybe ten armed men and a passel of kids inside. To our luck though, no one posted a sentry. If we can keep ‘em inside the box canyon, we stand a chance of takin’ ‘em on. But, if any git on out, we’d be fight’n on two fronts.  With just the two of us, we’d be sittin’ ducks to them cross shootin’ rifles. I wish we had brought Poco, he could hold the opening here shut while we circled on around ‘em.”

“Then it’s a good thing I followed you Senior Davy!”

At the sound of the unexpected voice, even though it was in a whisper, the two brothers nearly jumped out of their skins.

“What the hell? Poco? What in God’s name????”

Holding his finger against his lips, Poco shushed them with a whisper. “Shhhh, Senior. After you left, Senior Vernon came looking for you. He was upset and afraid for you so he told me all about what he had told you. Senior Davy, I do not say you are not one to defeat those inside using just your brother, but my father always told me three make a better gang than two!”

After re swallowing their hearts, the two bothers and Poco nodded and  made their plans.

Poco positioned himself  high along the ridge top alongside the canyons narrow opening. From that vantage point he could unload his rifle freely without much fear of having accurate fire returned.

Davy took the ridge line and traveled east while Danny took to the west. From high atop the ridge line, the three could reign their deadly fire onto those below.

All of the children had been gathered and roped one to another around their necks. Billy Wilde was busy giving orders when Toto was sent out of the canyon to bring the wagon and mules back to the hidden entrance.

Danny signaled Poco of Toto’s movement and was rewarded by a tilt of his sombrero.

Waiting for Toto to exit the opening, Poco waited above him holding a heavy stone above his head. It was a chance Poco had to take but with Toto about to exit the canon he had to take the risk.

Suddenly a hat appeared twenty feet directly below him at the entrance opening. With a short prayer to the Virgin Mary, Poco heaved the stone downward.

Danny and Davy waited in both fear and trepidation for Poco’s silent attack to go amiss. Poco stood in place transfixed looking down to where he had thrown the heavy boulder.

Slowly Poco turned seeking ghe faces of the two brothers. A look of horror was glued  to his face. Davy, being a bit closer and the leader of the three raised his hands palm up in a question and mouthed, “So?”

Poco silently lifted his hands to his head then abruptly expanded his fingers as if they had exploded. Davy understood the implications and signaled back with a circled finger OK. Then pointed at his own rifle and back at Poco. Poco understood but turned and took a quick glance back down upon the gory mess below. Toto would be no more of a problem.

The crack of gun fire brought Poco back to the present and he again positioned himself to guard the entranced of the canyon.

The rifle s of Davy and Danny bucked hard against their shoulders as the 45 caliber cartridges exploded within their barrels sending their deadly lead projectiles into the bodies of the men below.  Taken by surprise the men below holding the children fought the three angled attack poorly. Their return shots were futile as shooting at an upward angle was useless. While some bullets ricocheted against the rocky ridge, none even came close to hitting the three lawmen.

Within a minute of starting, Ten men lay in bloody heaps below and one lay without a head at the canyons narrow opening.

The children sat in stunned silence, not moving for the ropes around their necks denied them much movement. Suddenly a young girl began to cry, then another and another until the children as a group howled like baby calves being separated from their mama’s.

Chapter 5

Trying their best not to tumble down the steep canyon walls, the three climbed down as fast as they could to the crying children below.  Poco was the first to reach them and immediately began cutting away the ropes that half strangled them. Danny helped at the finish after making sure none of the men were moving and Davy arrived shortly thereafter, bruised and bleeding from a tumble he took near the bottom.

The two brothers went back to the bodies for final count and conformation of their deaths. None had moved but one began moaning.

Stepping over a bullet riddled body, Davy Knelt beside a dying man in his early twenties. “ Mister, could you get me a Doctor? I hurt somethin’ fierce in my gut.”

Looking at the boys belly, he saw a large blood stain covering his gut and privates. “Son, ain’t no Doctor gonna make it in time to help you none. Besides, you only got a few minutes left so you may want to make peace with the Lord for all your ills.”

“You got me wrong Mister, I’m not a bad ‘un. My Mama brought me up believing in the lord an’ his Book. I was just settin’ these here children ‘cause they paid me well. It was just a job. Please, go an’ find me a Doctor Mister, when I get better I’ll  help you in any way I can, I promise.”

Knowing the boy would never see the next hour, Davy agreed to the boys request. “If I get the Doctor, will you tell me if this is all there is to the group of kidnapping bastards. Who was their leader? Is he lyin’ here dead now?”

The boy let out  a long painful moan and closed his eyes. Davy thought he had passed but after a bit the boy opened his eyes again and replied. “They’s one more missin’, Jeffries.  Tom Jeffries, he’s the leader here. He’s supposed to show up in a couple of days.” The boy went painfully on hoping Davy would see the truth in his words and get a Doctor to ease his pain. He explained the scow the children would be shipped down to Mexico in waiting at Squaw Creek by a man he called Durant.

Davy repeated the information the boy gave to Danny and Poco.  When Poco heard the deal Davy made with the boy he asked, “Senior Davy, how will a Doctor be found in time to save this boy, He’s about to die?”

Looking down at the boy, who now looked more a child than a boy, Davy said, “No, he’s not about to die Poco, he died already.”

“What do we do now Senior Davy? I count twenty two children.”

“First things first, let’s break out some grub and get somethin’ inside the bellies of these kids before we make ‘em go anywhere.”

Breaking out the provisions the wagon had been holding, the children were fed, the dead men buried and a plan had been made.

By night fall, Poco had taken the children a good fifteen miles.  Much of the provisions had been removed from the wagon and the children would take turns riding in the wagon back to Show Low.  From there the children would try to be reunited with their families in Utah. Poco would speak to the Priest at the mission there about housing them. A telegram would be sent to the Church Elders in Salt Lake City informing them of the children’s where abouts.

Meanwhile the two brothers laid in wait for Tom Jeffries to show up.

On the third day a speck was seen on the trail leading to the Mogollon Rim from the west. It was also the same day twenty two exhausted children walked into the sleepy town of  Show low.

Davy figured if there were no one to greet Tom Jeffries, he’d get suspicious and skedaddle on out and get away.  To give the impression of an active hideout, Danny made a large fire, tossed a few pounds of  bacon on it and made a giant pot of aromatic coffee. From the outside, it might be enough for Jeffries to think breakfast was going on. Meanwhile, Davy placed himself at the spot Poco had taken and dressed himself in Billy wilds hat and jacket… after cleaning up the mess Toto’s exploding head had made at the entrance.

By the time all was in place, it smelled so good that it made the brothers stomach rumble. Jeffries was a half mile out now.

“Git ready Danny, I’d like to take him a live if possible but don’t take no chances.

Minutes later Jeffries yelled the familiar “Helloooo Camp” Greeting. Davy stood waving his rifle but kept his eyes hidden under the large brim of Billy Wilde’s Stetson.

“Billy!” Jeffries shouted, “We all set to haul outa here?”

Pretending to cough and try and speak to disguise his voice as much as he could, Davy shouted back, “Sure thing Boss, Grub’s just put up. C’mon and get a plate load!”

With Davy turning the conversation to food, any skepticism Jefferies had disappeared and he hungrily walked through the narrow opening.   It was when he exited the opening and stepped into the box canyon that Jeffrie’s met Danny’s 45 caliber Golden Boy rifle aimed between his eyes.

“Put your hands up Jeffrie’s, we been waitin’ on ya’!”

It was a hanging that everyone who could make it enjoyed watching. The tale of Jeffries ghastly deed of kidnapping children to sell into Mexico spread like wild fire, far and wide.  Even the twenty two children were given candy and popcorn balls as treats and little flags to wave when the trap door was sprung. The band played and a magician did magic tricks on the hangman’s platform before the hanging. Once hung, Jeffrie’s dangled for a while and soiled himself.  When his neck could no longer bare the weight of his body, his head came off with a popping sound. Volunteers cleaned up the mess and the gala continued unabated.  After Jeffrie’s body and head were carted off by the undertaker, fried chicken dinners were sold by the Baptist Women’s building fund for twenty five cents. So many dinners were sold that two new Outhouses were included in the churches building plans. The event drew such applause at its finale of fireworks and the town council was so moved by the crowds appreciation, that they made the decision to hold  “The annual Show Low hangman’s Day” each year on the same date .

In later years, the State court ordered Show Low to cease and desist the celebrating of their little holiday. Not for reasons of any hanging sensibility mind you but it was suspected criminals were being sentenced unjustly just so the town had someone to hang on that day.

An Arizona Cowboy named “El Negro”

 

Forward

Few records of black Cowboys have made it to the present day intact. In truth, most all records of trail driving cowboys are nonexistent. The reasons vary but simply put, the Eastern press was more interested in Dime novel hero’s than every day working cow punchers.

In a past blog, I wrote of Charles Goodnight from the great State of Texas and his contributions to the West. Goodnight not only preserved the cowpuncher life on paper in writings but he used photography (stills and movies) to document it all. While Goodnight preserved history on film, the artist Charles Russel, captured it on canvas. Without these two and others who saw fit to shy away from exploitation, we would have few truthful facts of our Western past.

What is known as fact, is that at one point over 5,000 cowboys out West were black. Many were slaves or sons of slaves that previously escaped the Southern plantations before the war and headed into Mexico. While in Mexico, they learned the art of horsemanship and cattle wrangling from the Mexican cattle ranchers on large haciendas.

While the Mexican Vaquero Cowboys were considered excellent wranglers in Mexico, in Texas and other western States they were looked upon as lazy and inept, too concerned about their wardrobe and not enough on actual labor. In truth, many Mexican wranglers did in fact quit the trail drives before reaching their destination. Why? Possibly the weather, possibly the trail drive life itself. Much more likely though it was a cultural thing. While many were the butt end of jokes for their fancy dudes or their lack of, Mexicans did not need to drive their cattle any great distance to market. In Mexico, a hundred mile drive was considered a long drive while in the Western States, a thousand mile drive was not out of the question. The vaquero was not used to camping out for months at a time.

After the Civil war, many slaves who had escaped slavery by heading into Mexico, headed back into the western states looking for work on the cattle drives. Their experience in wrangling and their willingness to work hard were much appreciated by both the trail boss and their fellow white wranglers. True, there was still discrimination of sorts but it was more a cultural segregation rather than a dislike for the blacks in general. Whites had their way of enjoying their off time as did the blacks.  On the trail, discrimination was not in evidence as much as in town. On the trail, the value of the cowboy was determined by his experience, abilities and willingness to put in a long day without complaint. All hands ate together, rode herd together, entertained each other in song and doctored each other without consideration of race. These values did not transfer to conditions in many towns though. In town, each race generally went their own way and a Black cowboy was pretty much expected to follow many protocols formed by southern values while in town . Blacks were expected to bed black whores, drink in saloons that served “greasers” (Mexicans), Blacks and the town’s less fortunate folk. The more “civilized” the town was, the greater the segregation. Mining camp towns were much more liberal. This might have been due to the fact that many miners were from Europe and China and were considered low lifers anyway.

Before one judges the Western States too harshly though, facts show that those Blacks living in the East experienced much fewer personal freedoms and dealt with more open hostility than those who worked on the Western Trails.

Many a firm bond of friendship was formed on the trail. There are documented examples of cowboys of different race becoming “pards” (best friends for life) and even business partners. Race played little part in their friendship. Each described the other as,”one to ride the river with”. (it was the highest of compliments given in the days of the Old West).

This is a story based on one of those friendships. While I tried my best to discover and tie together  as many facts as possible, I regret that much of it had to be interpreted through the eye of poetic license and my own imagination. Still, the photos and places are real as is the lone Cowboy buried under the sky of Arizona.

Chapter 1

The old Apache Trail corral as it looks today.

The first of the eighty five head of cattle topped the rise on the mountain trail and began their march downhill towards the rickety creosote drenched wooden cattle pen below.  Having scoured the hills and arroyo’s west of Fish Creek in the Arizona Territory for the last three weeks, the three wranglers drove the J_E branded cattle they found down the trail they called the New Wagon Trail (Now named the Apache Trail or State Rt 88 out of Apache Junction just east of Pheonix).

Fifty five of the fattest beeves rounded up would be sent off to the market at Mesa, the rest would be driven a short distance to graze on better grass to fatten up. The fifty five head sold would help pay some of the J Bar E’s ranching bills and put some jingle of coin in everyone’s pocket.

As trail drives went, it was a short one. Once the cattle were rounded up and corralled near the Superstition Mountains, only twenty miles remained. Rounding the beeves up and getting them gathered at the separating corral though was another story.  First, one had to find the beast hidden among the mountainous crags and peaks, then try and convince it to leave the protection of high brush, cacti, rock formations and mesquite trees for the open trail. Second, the Wranglers had to keep them from wondering off on their own as they were driven.

The three J Bar E hands, two brothers and the son of runaway slaves, yipped and howled at the cattle as they made their way downhill to the open gated pen below.  Once the cattle were penned up, the three could pitch a tent, eat a real meal and let down their guard a bit. They knew within a day or two the rest of the J Bar E hands would arrive from the ranch to help drive the cattle into town.

While most Yavapai and Apache Indians had been moved north into the territory near Fort McDowell, enough still remained hidden in the mountains to be cause for concern.

In most cases, the Indians still hidden in the Superstition Mountains kept to themselves. There were however the inevitable run in’s with ranchers and miners. Sometimes a gift of a cow or two given to the band would be sufficient to stave off any violence, other times a few gunshots directed their way would suffice.  And sometimes there was a killing needed.

The two brothers, Cody and Shane Clemans had been hands on the J Bar E ranch for nearly fifteen years. Neither could tell you their exact age but it was known Cody was the oldest by a year. It was thought they were in their early forties. Both brothers were of wiry build. No taller than six inches over five feet, they yet had the strength and endurance that surprised many. Neither were married and had no inclination to ever being so. Like many other area cow pokes, a trip now and then to the copper mining town of Globe or the flat dusty town of Mesa satisfied any carnal needs at the local whore house.

The brothers were simple men with simple needs. To the Clemans, right was right, wrong was wrong and there was no need for the color grey.  While Shane owned the only Bible, both believed it was the word of God and the way to salvation but neither had ever been inside a church. The two accepted their lonely roles in life from atop of a saddle and never complained of their station. They rarely socialized with other groups but had a common friend they called Elly.

Elly was black. As black as coal is to marble. Unlike many Negro’s, Elly had no brown whatsoever in him. His heritage was Mexican, his ancestry African.

Elly’s parents had fled slavery in 1850 from Virginia with their infant son Ebenezer. They made their way on foot to Mexico by skimming the coastal areas of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The trip took two and a half years to complete. In the swamps of Georgia, Ebenezer fell victim to swamp fever and passed away. He was buried alongside the banks of the Ogeechee River.  The parents continued on to Mexico abstaining from intimacy along the way to prevent further pregnancies while on the run.

Elly was born and grew up in Guasave, Mexico where his parents named him El Negro… “The Black One”.  He spoke excellent Spanish as well as English and an African tribal language taught to him by his parents.  He had no siblings and when his parents passed away he was left alone.  At the age of twenty two, the War between the States ended and Elly made up his mind to leave the Hacienda he was employed at and  head north into the United States.

Smartly dressed in the Vaquero fashion he reached the Arizona territory. There he found employment at the recently formed J Bar E ranch. Folks at the J Bar E took to him right off even if they had reservations about calling him, “El Negro”.  To ease their discomfort, Elly told them to just call him Elly. Everyone breathed easier after that. They admired his roping skills and determination to see a job well done. While many cowhands shied away from work off of the saddle, Elly had no such qualms. He appreciated the fact that hard work made him a valuable hand.

Within a year of starting his employment, the owner of the J Bar E ranch built comfortable wooden bunk houses for his hands. No one made a fuss when Elly threw his bedroll onto a top bunk in one of the bunk houses and then told everyone he chose that bed because he was afraid of being pancaked  if the whole thing collapsed. The only comment was from his bunk mate below who asked in good humor if Elly ever wet the bed. “I don’t need no watering, I ain’t no plant!” Elly was easy going and had a quick smile. He took a ribbing and gave it out in equal amounts.

The hands at the ranch were not immune from Elly’s practical jokes nor was Elly immune from theirs. A respect had been formed for the young black man among all the hands. In particular, the two Clemans brothers seemed to gravitate to Elly’s company.

In a short time, the three were inseparable in work and play.  The Ranches in the area got to know Elly too and had no qualms with “ El Negro” showing up at social functions and get together’s thrown by them.

 

Chapter 2

“Shane!” Elly shouted, “Drop back and scoot that brindle cow back onto the trail, she’s lookin’ to head into that high brush over yonder!”

Shane yanked the reigns left to head off the escaping brindle cow.”Yee cow, Yee ha, git on cow!” Shane yelled while twirling his lariat rope in circles to frighten the cow back onto the trail. Once the brindle was back with the heard, Shane pulled up again alongside the cows.  Whacking his lariat loudly against his chaps, he kept the attention of the heard focused in heading to the corral below. “I sure am glad to see that pen!” Cody commented, “I’ll go on ahead and raise the barrier pole to guide ‘em on in.”

Cody spurred on ahead in order to reach the corral and lift the long wooden pine tree pole in place. The pole extended the gates length giving it a funneling effect. “C’mon cow! Git on down there,” Elly and the Shane shouted as the herd picked up speed as they sensed an end to their travels.

Quickly, the herd made it to the trails bottom where a short rock strewn trail led to the corral. Cody held up the rail while Elly and Shane pushed the cattle towards the open gate and into the pen. A small stream not thirty feet from the backside of the corral gave birth to the corrals location alongside the Apache Trail. Once inside the corral, the cattle moved in a clockwise motion calming them down.

An empty wooden water trough and pail stood at the far end of the corral  where the stream was closest. The three waited until the cattle had settled a bit before filling the trough from a small nearby stream fire bucket brigade style. Once watered, the cattle seemed content to stare vacant eyed at the three as the made camp.

That night after a meal consisting of Cowboy beans*, bacon, biscuits and coffee, Elly brought out a small tinned can of buttermilk. The three friends sat across from each other as the campfire dwindled to glowing coals. Sitting cross legged, Elly raised the buttermilk tin as if to make a toast, “Ah…buttermilk,  the true gift of the cow gods! “

Elly removed his left boot and  using the rowel of his spur, he punched a hole in the tin can’s top and lifted the can to his lips. After taking a long swig, Elly put the half empty can down next to where he sat and placed a flat stone on it’s top and told his friends, “…Keeps the scorpions out’a my milk at night.”

Cody pointed to the can and asked, “Y’all gonna finish it off in the morning then? Won’t it be spoilt by then?”

“Shoot, it’s already spoilt Cody. Go ahead, Elly, let’m smell that stuff.”

“It ain’t already spoilt, just smells that way.” Elly responded.

“Then why drink it if it smells so bad,” asked Cody.

“If the two of you hadn’t been raised by a she badger, your Mama would have introduced you to the cow gods nectar when you was young. That’s the thing. You gotta start drinkin’ it young. At your ages, what are you two now, 97…104? Anyway, at your ages that ‘ol slab of leather you two call your tongues couldn’t  rightly tell the difference between a lemon and a cows butt hole!”

“Speaking of butt holes,” Shane said, I can still remember years ago when we met, the trick old John Morrow played on you the first night we all met.”

“What was that? Asked Cody.

“Shoot Code, you remember don’t you? About the North star?”

Elly sat grinning at the fire and chuckled, “Hell, if he don’t, I do! I can’t believe I fell for that one.”

“Be pals an’ remind me.”

Elly looked over at Shane and nodded saying, “You tell ‘em Shane, I ain’t one to add to my own foolishness.”

“Well”, started Shane, When we all set up that first night at the J Bar E, Old John Morrow was ranch boss back then.  You remember Ol’ John don’t you Cody?”

“Sure, he was one man I thought would never die…too tuff. He probably went on down ‘an beat ‘Ol Satans ass then took over hell for himself!”

“Yup,” Elly said, “that was old John all right, but he had a sense of humor too.”

“He sure did. Come time to hand out job duties, ‘Ol John asked Elly here if he knew how to tell the time of night by the stars. Now, Elly here is one smart Mexican transplant but he’d never knowed about readin’ the star clock back in Mexico. So ‘Ol John Morrow says to Elly, “I want you to take first watch.” He then points at the North Star and says to Elly, “When that there star sinks down below the horizon, it’ll be time to change watches. When it does, come and wake me ‘an I’ll take your place. Then you can sleep like a baby till sunrise”.  Well, that sounded just grand to Elly here. If you recall, that first day we all busted butt and was pretty much wiped out.

So, there sat Elly, hour after hour watchin’ an’ waiting for the North Star to sink itself below the horizon when up comes the sun! ‘Ol John come out his bed role yawning like a newborn calf ‘an walks on over to Elly and says, “Well?” Elly responds, “I don’t know what happened Mr. Morrow, I watched that there star all night like you wanted me to but she never moved!”  By now the others was up ‘an movin’about and had heard the conversation. They all fell over laughin and carryin’ on. Elly sat there lookin’ confused when ‘Ol John tells him. “Son, I was yankin’ yo’ leg! That ‘ol star is the North Star ‘an she ain’t never gonna move from that there spot! But thanks for standin my watch, I sure did enjoy getting’ myself a full nights sleep!”

The three sat laughing at the thought as the moon rose over the desert causing the coyotes to yip and yelp and the cattle moo’d contentedly in return.

Chapter 3

Morning broke and Elly was the first to open his eyes. What he saw froze him in his bed role. Indians.

As quietly as he could, Elly spoke through unmoving lips trying to wake and warn his two friends. “Shane, Cody, wake up, wake up but don’t move…Indians!”

Cody popped his eyes open and moving only his eyes looked up the trail where they had come from. There he saw what Elly had been warning them of. Four Indians on horseback sat on the rise looking down on them.

“They look like Apache” Cody whispered to Elly. “Either that or Yavapai. I hope they’re Yavapai, they’s  somewhat friendly to whites.”

“How do they feel about negro’s? “ Elly whispered back.

“Sorry, you know what I meant Elly.”

“Yea, just trying to calm my nerves by bein’ funny. You think we should wake up now?”

Without answering, Cody rose up and stood looking at the group on the rise. When no one reacted to his movement, Cody strode over to Shane and nudged him with his foot. “Shane, wake up bro. We may have some trouble comin’ on. Take a look up yonder at the rise in the trail.”

Shane rose and stood next to the now standing Elly.

“What do you think El?”

“Beats me, that one fella there that looks like he’s had a bad night’s sleep got a nice Henry long gun on his lap though. The others look less aggressive but don’t let that fool nobody.”

“Look, here they come an’ our rifles are still over there by the saddles from last night.”

“Cody”, said Elly, “You’re just full of good news this mornin’ ain’t you?”

The four Indians slowly made their way into the camp. Shane raised his hand in greeting. The four stopped fifteen feet from the trio.

As luck would have it, the one who Elly had said looked as if he had a bad night’s sleep moved forward.

Stopping less than the length of a man away, the foul looking leader pointed his Henry rifle at the cattle and said. “Want cattle.”

Elly stepped forward saying, “Well friend, if you’re interested in buying…”

The rifle moved from the cattle to face Elly. “Chookna want all cattle. Give.”

“They’s J Bar E brand Chookna, they ain’t mine to give or sell.”

The leaders dark face became red with anger. Shane swore later it turned purple.

“Chookna take, you go.”

“I ain’t goin’ no where’s without my cattle friend.” Elly replied,” Now if you had asked nice like I might’a looked the other way while you drove one or two off. But now you’re pissin’ in my boot an’ I don’t take to that.”

Losing face, Chookna quickly turned in the saddle to speak to those behind him. As he did so, his horse took that moment to shift from one front leg to another causing Chookna to partially lose his balance.

He grabbed the reigns and in the process of twisting back to face Elly, began losing the grip on his rifle. The Henry slipped further and as Chookna grabbed for it he hit the trigger.

One can think of a million reactions to seeing their best friend’s life snuffed out before your very eyes but until that day ever happens, whatever you thought you’d do isn’t what’s going happen.

The three Indians behind Chookna sat wide eyed and jaw dropped.

Cody stood staring in unbelief at his friend laying on the ground as Elly’s legs shook violently then stilled.

Chookna realizing his mistake opted to act as if it were all  Elly’s fault. “Teach dirty Nigger give cattle. No anger Chookna”.

Shane went insane.

Without even a pocket knife to attack with, Shane resorted to his hands to avenge his friend’s death. Having been using the corral fence to lean on, Shane now turned to it. Grabbing the old weathered top rail, Shane tore off a six foot splintered piece and ran headlong to where Chookna still sat smugly on his horse. Screaming and pointing the splinter as a spear he ran and yelled, “He ain’t no Nigger damn your heathen ass!” Before Chookna could react, the six foot long splinter entered his throat. As Chookna’s eyes widened in surprise, the pointed splinter continued its journey until over a foot protruded past the back of his head. With only a gurgle, Chookna slid off his horse and lay on the ground.  The smell of blood frightened the horse causing it to stomp onto Chookna’s head. The sound was like a melon being dropped.

Within seconds of Chookna’s death. Shane and Cody were at Elly’s side. Both knew Elly was gone. But that didn’t prevent Cody from lifting his friends head onto his lap. Rocking Elly back and forth as one would rock a baby, Cody grieved. So profound was Cody’s grieving moans, the three remaining Indians dismounted and with looks of shock and tears streaming, joined Cody in his grief. When he could, Shane took Cody by the hand and led him off to regain what composure he could, Shane then turned to the Indians still kneeling alongside Elly.

An old Indian lifted his tear stained face and spread his hands out towards the other two. “No want kill man. Want eat cattle. Hungry. Young hungry. No can buy.  Please. Forgive.”

Shane’s rage cooled as he realized the Indian before him had no intention of causing anyone harm nor had they intended to. It really was just a horrible accident. What he could not forgive was Chookna calling Elly a dirty Nigger. He knew the type of person Chookna was, he’d seen it in whites plenty of times… they were called cowards and bullies.

Having regained some composure, Cody stepped up to Shane and the grieving Indian and asked Shane. “What we gonna do now Shane? Oh God I can’t believe this happened. Oh my God, poor Elly.”

Ignoring the Indian standing next to him for the moment, Shane stepped over and bent down to straighten his friends clothing. Death being what it is does not mean you still can’t be cared for. After fixing Elly’s collar, he removed his own bandanna and placed it over the gaping chest wound. He brushed the dust from Elly’s short kinky hair and using his hand, closed Elly’s eyes.

“Should we bring Elly back to the ranch Shane?”

“No, it’s a two day ride back. Besides, the rest of the hands are headed our way here. No tellin’ who would be left at the ranch when we arrived.”

Cody nodded his head in agreement,” That and it’s well over a hundred out here.  Elly’d never make it back proper like. As far as I know, Elly had no kin. We was his only real friends.”

“True Cody, then let’s bury him right here where we had us a good time tellin’ tales last night. I think He’d like that.”

“Yeah, we did us a bunch of laughing for sure. I know he only knew about cattle, so bein’ near the cow pen’ll be good too.”

Before Shane could answer Cody in agreement, the Indian who had spoken earlier approached Shane.

He held out his two hands as if they had been tied together. “Jail. Fort MaDoowl. Kill man, kill Appapka.

“What are you sayin? You want me to take you to Fort McDowell so they could hang you? You didn’t do nothin’.”

The Indian looked flustered, “Appapka talk sad.” Pointing to his two friends the Indian repeated. “Talk sad. No kill man. Cattle for young.  I trade Appapka for cattle.

“What? You want to trade yourself for a few lousy cow?”

Shane reached over and turned Cody to face him. “Cody, what I think we got here is a group of Indians starving to death somewhere in the hills tryin’ their best to avoid bein’ sent to the Reservation. Appapka here is willing to trade himself to be hung for Chookna’s killin of Elly. He ask that we give him a cow in return. Not for him mind you but for those kids they got starvin’ up there in the hills somewhere. Right is right and wrong is wrong Cody. I can’t set the value of anyone’s life under that of a cow. We can’t do a dang thing for Elly, but we can pass on some good from all this by helpin’ this here group out. Savages or not,  I’m for given ‘em a few head and forgiven ‘Ol dead Chookna here so it don’t weigh upon my soul.”

“We ain’t done nothin’ in our life to be ashamed of, Let’s not start now Shane. I’m with ya’ in this. Let’s tell these folk to haul Chookna on out’a here, give ‘em a few head and let bygones be gone for good. We need to tend to Elly here and it’s gonna be a scorcher come an hour from now.”

Between sign and broken English Cody and Shane conveyed their intentions to the three Indians.  As they were heading off with three cows, one of the Indians that had stayed silent through the entire process stopped his horse, dismounted and ran back to where Cody and Shane stood watching them go.

“Allanipi  speak small your tongue. I have young one. Him Gunaratna, no cattle,Gunaratna die. Me, Allanipi die.” With that he reached out and grabbed Shane by the arm and squeezed it tightly then reached out and placed his hand over Shane’s heart, then placed the same hand over his own heart and smiled.

“You’re welcome Allanipi. Maybe someday we’ll bump on into each other along the trail. If we do introduce me to your son Gunaratna.”

Allanipi looked a tad confused by Shanes long words but smiled anyway, turned and caught up to the others.

Left alone, Shane and Cody suddenly felt the weight of Elly’s death upon them. Without speaking more than a few words, they went about digging a grave near the corral. The desert being what it is, they could dig no more than a couple feet down before hitting bedrock. They spent the afternoon in the intense heat looking for suitable stones to cover Elly’s grave with.

“Well, I think we gathered enough stone Shane, let’s say goodbye to him and cover him up.”

“Yeah, I just still can’t believe all this happened. If only Elly was standin’ a couple more feet right or left, he’d be alive right now.”

“That’s the way it is bro. Both you ‘an I someday will be laid down ‘an if we’s lucky, someone will be sayin’ the same thing over our graves too.”

They placed Elly into the shallow grave, covered him with his bedroll and patted where his head was before placing dirt then the stones on top of him. When it was all done Shane said. “I wish I had my Bible. I feel we should say some words over him or somethin’.”

“You go ahead Shane, you memorized more of the Lords word than I ever did. I got myself another idea though for sayin’ goodbye to him.”

So Shane spoke the Lords words of passin’ through the valley of death as best as he remembered while Cody nodded in agreement.

As Shane turned to walk away, Cody said, “ Not yet Shane, I got somethin’ here I want to give ‘Ol Elly.”

Cody walked over to where Elly had put his can of buttermilk with the rock on top and picked it up.

“Seems only fittin’ that he have somethin’ he liked a lot to be with him.” At that Cody poured the half full warm can of buttermilk into the pile of stones that covered Elly. “Here ya’ go old friend, drink up an’ may you never get thirsty again. May the Good Lord have plenty more of these up there in Heaven.”

The two stood there for a moment before Shane replied, “That was nice Cody, real nice. Elly’d be happy the way we sent him off that way.” After saying that, Cody secured the empty buttermilk can within the stone pile so animals couldn’t dislodge it.

That evening the rest of the J Bar E ranch hands showed up earlier than expected at the corral. Saddened by the news, each paid their respects over Elly. By mornings light the corral stood empty. A cloud of dust a few miles away told any onlooker that the J Bar E ranch had moved the herd out.  Only Elly was left behind to watch over the empty corral.

Before saddling up and heading out. Shane took the time to carve Elly’s name and birthplace in one of the corral’s planks near Elly’s grave for his grave marker. Meanwhile, Cody had thought to add his and Shane’s name on another plank to let folks know that they were El Negro’s forever pards.

Today, that old corral could still hold a herd…with a few minor repairs. Nearby, partially hidden under a small desert tree and scrub lies Elly’s remains along with an old buttermilk can still stuck within the stones. Through internet research, it was determined the construction of that style of can by it’s solder joints and bottom lid  dated between the years 1879 and 1887. Over the years others have found and carved their names into the corral. Those, like the grave of El Negro, Cody and  Shane are still perfectly legible as their knives would etch off the old creosote exposing the still fresh looking yellow Poderosa Pine underneath.

The latest date was carved into the old fence rail was from S. C. in 1938…Shane Clemans?

Elly’s grave as it looks today.

Elly’s buttermilk can. I moved it for the photo but replaced it afterward.

The desert’s dry heat has been good to Elly’s marker.

The only evidence that Shane and Cody Clemans ever wrangled near the Apache Trail.

* The recipe for real Cowboy Beans is now posted on my heritage and trail cooking blog at : http://cookingonthetrail.wordpress.com/

It’s finer than Texas

Chapter 1

John  Henry knew something was about to happen. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up like signal flags in warning.  Cautiously, he eased his right hand over to the Henry rifle in its leather scabbard and drew up reign to listen. He was partial to that particular gun for a couple reasons. First, it was a gift from his dear Anna and second, ever since he had found out its inventor, Benjamin Tyler Henry, was a distant relative, he took extra pride in it. He was often heard to say, “Nothing like supporting a family member in his budding business”.

He had been riding with heightened caution for he had been warned the Ponderosa pine forest of the Colorado Plateau east of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona held perfect cover for robbers and other no goods. Murdering the unwary for their belongings was a common occurrence and John Henry wasn’t about to be caught with his pants down and boots off if he could help it.

His travels had taken him from Texas through the New Mexican territory and into Arizona where he hoped to re settle and start anew in the high altitude of Flag Staff. He rode alone now but for the last eighteen years his wife Anna had been his beloved partner. Less than three months before, she had given up the ghost after a short but painful bout of brain fever. He buried her alongside the creek she loved to play in as a child. Her parents, a twin sister and an older brother rested nearby to keep her company.

When John Henry married Anna, both her parents were alive and the small cattle ranch they owned was prospering. Folks in the early days of the West had rough lives and when both parents came down with Typhus, Anna traveled to her old homestead to care for them. Unfortunately, she too contracted the disease and succumbed shortly after her parents had passed.

In his grief, John Henry sold off the parent’s ranch along with his own small spread and left to escape the painful memories Texas held for him. With one last longing look, his eyes took in the placid scene of the graves dug in safely alongside the creek and knew he was right in leaving. It was a place for the dead to sleep at and wasn’t a place for the living to mourn in wakefulness. Saddling up his favorite mare, he mounted and rode out leaving the dead to rest.

Having survived unscathed to date, the further north he got the more he began to relax. The hand drawn map he carried said it was only a few more days to his destination in Flag Staff

The trip took longer and more out of him than he had hoped. Reaching the tall pine forest a week previous, he decided he and his horse needed a good rest.

It was during that rest that he met and immediately disliked Sean O’Leary.

John heard O’Leary making his way through the forest long before he caught sight of him. Reaching for his Henry rifle he waited until the object of all the racket appeared.

Something about the set of the man, how he packed his mule and the noise he made traveling drew red flags of warning. John waited for the man to ease up and declare his intentions. When the familier yell, “Yo the camp!” never came, John jacked a cartridge into the Henry’s chamber and stood up to better show himself.

Seeing the rider was aware of John and the camp but still no shout of greeting to the camp came, John yelled at the forest rider, “Stay where ya’ are an’ state your business mister.”

Stopping a hundred feet from the camp, the rider threw his arms up in feigned surprise and yelled back in a heavy Irish accent, “ Ach, tis just me, Sean O’Leary. A traveler I am and a weary one at that… and hungry to boot! I could no more deny the scent of your cook fire than I could tell the sun is not shining. Ach, The smell is like that of me own dear mothers cookin’, God rest her saintly soul, an’ here’s  me with my belly shouting  a plea sayin’ it’s been a wee bit a time since I paid it any mind. “

John Henry heard the false friendly tone in the man’s voice.“Mister, that don’t tell me your purpose, just that you ain’t ate and you want my grub! Only a fool enters another man’s camp without permission! Ain’t you ever heard of a shout or do you really think you’re immune to getting yourself blowed out of the saddle for your ignorance?”

Paying no mind to the question John asked, the Irishman dismounted without permission.  O’Leary led his mule by the reigns toward Johns cook fire, dropped them and stood alongside the mules pack. “If you could spare a few beans or a potato, you would surely have my eternal gratitude.” Seeing the Henry rifle lift up and center on his belly, O’Leary stopped his advancement and added. “I bet you are now saying to yourself, now how could a man travel such a distance without even a single potato in his sack? Now before you answer, let me be tellin’ you. I was happened upon by a gun slinging galoot named Marcus along the trail the day before. When that hoodlum rode away, he had relieved me of any food I might be havin in my sack. And here I am just a lone Irishman, a babe in the woods if you will. I’d be behooved if I could at least sit a spell and share in your coffee. ”

John Henry lifted the barrel higher up into the face of the lying Irishman. “I didn’t invite you to eat or to stay. I don’t like your looks mister and I don’t believe a word of your story either. Now just you get back on that mule and ride on out’a here. “

John Henry was no fool. He had ridden the Texas trails half of his life and could sniff out a bandit like a horse does a water hole. He had already looked at and decided the man and his mule were a set up for murder or at least a robbery. The story of a robber known as Marcus was bullcrap. John was always aware of his back trail and who was on it. In the past week, no one was within ten miles behind him. Therefore the Irishman had not come from behind him but had swung around the camp from the front to make it look so. John suspected with the limited supplies that were more for show than for survival, and the man being a lone rider in a bandits paradise, it could only mean one thing… the man had accomplices waiting somewhere nearby.

With the tip of his Henry, John then pointed to the mule pack behind the old saddle. “I bet if I threatened to shoot your mule, you’d find food aplenty in that pack. It sure looks like that bacon slab you got in there is staining it” Besides the large dripping pork fat stain, John had noticed an older but well oiled Springfield rifle untied alongside the mule pack and within easy grabbing distance.

Realizing John Henry was a bit more adept at figuring the truth out than he originally took him for, the Irishman decided to make a face saving retreat before any lead flew. “And to think I had it in mind to offer you good coin for some of those beans and coffee!” Reaching down, he grabbed up the mules reignsl. “Never you mind then, I’ll just be on my way.”

As the Irishman was speaking, John Henry could not miss the narrow eyed glances the mule rider was giving his Henry rifle. It wasn’t a look of fear but of covetousness and it made him uneasy.

As the Irishman turned his mule back to the trail, John noticed the Irishman glanced into the forest and gave his head a quick, “No” shake to someone in hiding.

That evening, John Henry bedded down after dowsing the fire. He normally would have left the glowing coals to burn out by themselves but tonight he felt safer having no fire to light up his campsite. He wondered whether the Irishman would return with his gang to kill him for his belongings. To be sure, John knew the man was lying.

He slept that night with one eye open waiting for the Irishman and his cohorts to show up.

The next morning found John still alive and in ownership yet of his rifle and belongings. John lay awake in the early dawn listening to the forest sounds. For the last half hour while he listened, no man sounds could were heard. He felt safe enough then to stand up and show himself. After a quick meal of coffee, biscuits and bacon, he set out heading to the small town of Strawberry.  The town sat just north of the East Verde river near Sunset Canyon. From Strawberry it was less than a two day ride into Flag Staff. As much as he looked forward to a hot meal, a soft bed and a glass of whisky, John decided to pass on through the town without stopping. Being this close to the end of his journey, his desires for comfort could wait another day or two.

He traveled unmolested along the forest trail. John began to believe the Irishman and his band of no goods had decided he wasn’t worth the fight and found himself beginning to relax.

The smell of wood smoke lifted his nostrils to the wind. Pulling out the hand drawn map again, he decided the smoke was coming from the town of Strawberry up ahead and not from any bandits.

By noon, he came upon a sharp overlooking bluff on the trail. From there he could see over the tree tops down to the town of Strawberry not two miles ahead.  It lay not in the forest but outside it where the desert stretched as far as the eye could see.

The strange beauty of the desert held Johns gaze. Here on top of the bluff within the shade of the dense forest a cool breeze blew and the trees kept the harsh sun from reaching the ground. In less than a mile ahead though there was no shade, no breeze and no trees, unless one called a Joshua tree a tree.

He sat there on horseback overlooking the panorama before him when the hairs suddenly stood up on the back of his neck like red signal flags of warning.

Chapter 2

Sounding akin to a bee in flight, the bullet tore into the top of John Henry’s well worn Stetson.

John flung himself from the saddle but in his haste, he landed awkwardly and fell flat faced to the ground. Rearing in panic by Johns sudden movement, his mare then sped off down the trail towards the town of Strawberry.

Realizing his trusty Henry rifle was still snug in its saddle scabbard, John felt his hip to make sure that at least his Navy Colt was still secure in its holster. It was.

Seeing a single clean hole driven into his hat, he grabbed it and plopped it back onto his head.

Cautiously scooting off of the trail into the brush, John Henry lay hidden. Without his horse, he was easy pickings and the moment he stood up he’d be a target of whoever had shot at him.

John had no doubt it had something to do with the Irishman. He figured there were at least a couple more siding with him. “Damn bushwackers, I shoulda’ shot that damn Irishman the moment he stepped into my camp.”

John Henry lay there within the dark shadows of the forest and brush until he felt whoever had shot at him wasn’t going to check on their shot. He crawled parallel alongside the trail until the brush became so dense he could not continue. Reentering the trail, he stood for a few minutes listening to the forest sounds. Nothing seemed out of place.  Flitting birds, ground squirrels and other critters continued to make their usual noises. No alarm warnings are sounded. Figuring whoever shot at him was more interested in what was on his horse than him personally, john started down the trail to Strawberry.

After a mile or so, the trail joined up with what John took to be a wagon road into town. Deep ruts and fresh horse apples said the road was fairly well used. By the time he entered the outskirts of Strawberry, there were long shadows being painted along the dusty street.

Something didn’t seem right to John Henry. While the town was far from any ghost town he’d seen before, he was surprised the street was empty of animals and people.

Making his way into town by walking dead center down the street, John Henry glanced right then left as he walked.

Glancing about he noticed the wooden frame buildings looked in good shape, no broken windows or collapsed awnings. Nothing to say it was a deserted ghost town. The street, while dusty was without trash. There were some dried and even a few fresh looking horse apples laying about.  The horses water troughs seemed to have fresh water in them and the hitching post seemed strong and useable.

No store was open no people were seen. A dress shop window had a recently arrived dress from New Orleans advertized in the window. A tobacco shop had meerschaum pipes and silver cigar cutters in the window, expensive items all left untouched.  .

John Henry could not make out the other end of town clearly but he figured with the desert alkali dust and heat waves radiating off the dirt street that it should be expected. Not pondering on that, he made his way to the center of town.  Once there, he stopped and scratched his head. “What the dickens is going on” he thought, “have I lost my mind or are these folk all out somewhere?”

One way to find out was to see the Sherriff,” if I can find him,” he mused.

As he made his way to the Sheriffs  office, he slowly walked  past the towns  bank. Looking into the windows as he passed, he didn’t see anyone moving about inside. Reaching for the banks front door, he turned the handle and was taken by surprise to find not only the bank unoccupied but all its doors were left unlocked.  “Oh hell, this ain’t right!” He loudly exclaimed.

Turning from the bank, he made swift headway to the Sheriffs office.

Approaching the jail, began to wonder if there could be a celebration or maybe a town function of some sort going on. He could recall as a kid the entire town he lived in at the time turning out for a horse race in a field outside of town. Then another time the entire town showed up to see the reformed town drunk get baptized in the creek nearby. There were reasons for people to go somewhere, maybe this was one of those times. “I bet that’s it, they’s just all gone off somewhere, they’ll be back soon.”

Arriving at the Jailhouse John Henry turned the door knob. The door swung inward on a set of squeaky but well maintained hinges.  Hesitantly, he stuck his head inside the Sherriff’s office and shouted.

“Hey, anybody home?” He yelled, “Sheriff, you all in here?” Silence was the response.

John Henry could figure nothing further so he stepped inside to wait for the Sherriff to show up. Feeling a strange tiredness, his drooping eyes took in the jail cells. They were also empty.

Yawning, he opened the cell door and stepped inside the confined area. A single cot was all the jail cell had within it. Making his way over to the cot, he sat down to rest. His head began to ache and the strange desire to sleep started overwhelming him, he lay down on the cot, and fell into a strange fever  like sleep.

John Henry heard familiar sounds as he lay deep in sleep. Like phantom wraiths they ghosted in and out of his dreams. The sound of horses clopping past, the front door of the jail house opening and closing, men talking within the jail and outside on the wooden walkway. There was the sound of a wagons squeaky, grease starved wheel hub as it made its way down the street. Boots thumping on the wooden walk outside said people were out and about. All the normal sounds for a normal town.

Morning broke through the jails single iron barred window in the cell. Streaking downward and in motion, it finally crawled onto John Henry’s face and eyes.

Abruptly, he awoke and sat up.

Wiping his hand across his eyes in order to sharpen his focus, he stood up and looked into the jails office. Remembering the sounds he heard during the night within the jail, he was surprised no one had wakened him to question why he had put himself in jail. The cell door was still unlocked so he pushed it open and walked into the office.   No one greeted him. The place was as empty as the night before. Spying a coffee pot he lifted it up to see if it contained any brew. While empty, it seemed too warm to be room temperature. Tipping the lid back he saw there was a scant amount yet in the bottom. He swirled it and saw grounds moving within the swirling wave. Someone had made coffee while he slept!

He quietly opened the front door, peered outside then stepped onto the wooden walkway.

Back out in the street, silence and emptyness once again greeted him. “Aw c’mon now” he complained, “What in Sam Hill is going on here?”  Starting up the street he stepped into a pile of horse dung, fresh horse dung. “How in the hell did that end up here if they ain’t got no horses here about? This is plain retarded!”   Swinging around in a full circle and near panic, he again saw a completely deserted town. No horses, only dung, no wagons, just tracks, no people, just unlocked doors.

“This is not right, not right at all” He loudly told himself. John Henry then decided to find a saloon. If anyone was in town, that’s where they’d be.

Seeing a building with a tall false front and a set of batwing doors he walked toward it. The sign over head claimed it was the Dusty Bone Saloon. It advertized food, drinks and the most beautiful woman to be had west of the Mississippi. Thinking of how many months some Cowboys was on the trail without seeing a woman, he figured whoever had named the place had hit the nail on the head.

Stepping up to the saloon’s wood plank walkway, he clomped up to the batwings door. He cocked his head before entering it to listen for any sounds coming from inside.  He heard nothing.

Slowly he swung open the doors and looked into the gloomy interior. Entering the dimly lit room, he took in the place as he walked up to the gaming tables. Cards lay about, even coins! Drinks had been half drunk and left sitting.

“Hey! Anyone in here?”  He glanced at the stairway leading upstairs to the whores rooms and took to the stairs two at a time. Reaching the hallway, he pushed open the first door he came to. Empty. Each room was the same. He turned and ran.

Time seemed to play tricks on him. As he ran from the saloon, he noticed the deepening shadows crawling up the dusty street. Wasn’t it just morning?

Feeling the strange sleepiness coming on once again he headed back to the saloon again and to the whores rooms to nap. Hunger had not seemed to be a concern nor even thirst. He didn’t quite understand, it was as if he was experiencing a brain fog. Reaching the step to the wooden walkway, he took the time to look down the street to the end of town. Once again he could not quite make out the details of the buildings or even the road. The end of town just seemed to blur into a smudge. He shrugged and entered the Saloon again. As he made his way to the stairs, he noticed new glasses had replaced the old ones at the table and bar. A few whisky bottles sat like unmoving pillars among the glasses.

Rubbing his aching head, he climbed the stairs to the whore’s rooms. One room stood with its door open so he stepped in and lay down to rest. Again sleep came upon him as if he had been drugged.  The last thing he thought of before he blinked out was that tomorrow he’d get on out of this strange place. Something just wasn’t right here.

Chapter 3

Again the night sounds came. This time he heard voices clear and distinct. Sometimes it was the huffing, puffing and grunting of cowhands and whores, other times it was sounds in the street. He dismissed the whores even in his sleep for somehow he remembered where he lay and assumed somehow it was being acted out in his dream. The street sounds interested him though. One in particular was the sound of many horses arriving along with cheers and congratulations. John Henry tried to discern what was being said above the din. Something about finding some no goods, a vigilante posse and hanging were some of the words he clearly understood. Then it all faded back into his sleep as a crowd began cheering. He slept until sunrise.

Dawn came abruptly. Jumping up from the bed, John Henry grabbed his hat and tore down the steps into the bar. Again he saw no patrons or bar tender. This time he was not surprised that the glasses and bottles had changed again. Stepping outside into the morning sun he started down the street to the end of town  where he swore in his dream he heard a crowd cheering. By now he was no longer concerning himself as to why there was no one about. He had put that out of his head because just as soon as he could, he’d head out of this crazy town, horse or no horse. Once gone, he figured things would return to normal.

Heading to the end of town he had heard the cheering he abruptly stopped and stood staring slack jawed at what he saw.

There, hanging from one of the few trees in town twisting in the breeze were three men. One of who was the Irishman. Removing his hat as if it would help him see better, John Henry cautiously approached the hanging figures. Black tongues stuck out of their gaping mouths. The two he did not recognize had pissed their drawers and the Irishman had included crap his. It was not a pleasant scene to stare at.

It was then that he realized he was at the end of the town he had not been able to see before. Due to sand being blown or heat wave he did not know, but being as close as he was he figured the end of town would be clearly visible now. It still wasn’t.

A  blur of fog was still preventing him from clearly seeing the end of the street, now only a hundred feet away. So intrigued was he that he turned from the three rope dangling figures and walked towards the end of the street.

As he approached, it seemed the end of the town ended in a blur of light. As he slowly walked towards it, he saw the light becoming more intense.  By the time he stood within feet of the last building the light was brighter than the morning sun. It wasn’t the brightness though that held him in a trance like state but the figure he saw within the brightness. It was his love, Anna.

Slowly, he approached the vision of the love of his life, his mind reeled in disbelief. “Anna?”  His voice cracked, “How? What is going on? That cain’t be really you! I buried my Anna back in Texas!”

In the brightest of light, Anna Smiled at him and spoke. ”My dear Jonathan Dickson Henry, who else would I be?”

Hearing his name spoken forced John Henry to his knees. There was only one person in the world besides his dead parents who knew his middle name, and that was his Anna.

Anna reached out her hand to him, “Come to me John Henry, it’s time now to leave this place. I have been waiting for you .”

“What do you mean, waiting? How did you know I was in this town anyway?”  Looking up in confusion John Henry quietly asked her. “What’s goin’ on sweetheart? Why am I being punished like this. I know you’re not really here.  Tell me, why am I here an’ you there? Have I gone mad?”

“No, you have not gone mad” Anna answered, “Do you remember the Irishman you met and took a dislike to on the trail?

“Yes, I remember seeing him. I didn’t cotton to him right off but I never saw his pards I just guessed he’d have some hidden away somewheres. I take it that’s ‘em hanging over there next to him? For what was they all hung for?”

Anna answered, “It is them, and they were hung because of what they were and what they did to you.”

Did to me? You’re tellin’ me it was them that shot at me an’ put a hole in my favorite hat? While I ain’t partial to havin’ my hat shot off my head, that ain’t no call to hang ‘em. Why they hang ‘em for that?”

“My dear John Henry, He didn’t just shoot the hat off your head, he shot the hat off through your head!”

“What???”

“That’s right, he killed you. Your body was found laying on the trail shortly after some of the town’s folks investigated after hearing the shot.  Your horse has been stabled in town since then. They caught up with those three last night in the forest, brought them back and hung them from that tree.

“Well if I’m dead then how come I’m standin’ here talkin’ to you.  Wouldn’t I know it if I was dead? Besides that, I’d be layin’ in a grave somewhere an’ I think I’d know if I was layin’ dead in a grave somewhere. Wouldn’t I?”

“It’s true John Henry, you are lying in a grave, right over there on the hill. You can walk over and take a look at your grave but I think you’ll believe me without having to take a look.”

John Henry looked over towards the hill, where sure enough, a new grave had been dug and filled. “How come I cain’t see no one except only  them that shot me?”

“Because they are dead. You can no longer see the living. Each time you fell asleep your spirit edged closer here to the light. I was sent to guide you.

The sounds you heard where those of the living. I know you noticed the changes each day. I saw you looking at the glasses and bottles yesterday. You saw they had changed. “

“How come I don’t see nothin’ move?”

“Because you only see a tiny slice of time, less than a blink of the eye, not unlike a painting captures a moment in time.”

John Henry’s mind began to make sense of it all. Rubbing his chin, John Henry looked to his beloved Anna. “So it’s for real then? I’m dead? Huh, maybe that explains why my horse took to the trail without me. She musta knowed I was a goner ‘cause she never woulda’ left me otherwise.”

“She did. I was delighted when she ran towards town for I did not want the Irishman to claim your Henry rifle. I know how much that rifle means to you.”

“It weren’t the rifle itself that meant so much to me Anna. It was ‘cause I knowed how long and hard it was for you to save up that much money to buy it for me without me knowin about it. Yup, I guess I’ll have no need for it now that I’m dead. Say Anna,  this may sound a bit queer but was you watchin’ me the entire time after I was kilt?”

“I’ve been able to see everything, yes.”

“I slept in the whorehouse, you knew that?”

Anna started chuckling, “Yes sweetheart, I watched as you slept and the whores came and went and plied their trade in your bed. It did look a bit crowded at times John Henry, I wish you could’ve seen it!”

It started out as a chuckle but grew into a full belly laugh for the two of them. John Henry slapped his thigh and shouted “Oh my word!” He cried, “that sounds like perfectly horrible sight.”

After a minute, the two stopped their laughing and chuckling. John Henry looked soberly at the town around him. True, the only thing that moved was the slow twisting of the dead men as they hung. He pondered the events and it all fit together too perfectly to be anything but the truth. He then turned his eyes back to his beloved Anna and told her.” I always wondered how I would go. Funny thing is, I never even knew it when I did go. I guess that explains why I ain’t touched no food or ever got thirsty either, huh?”

Instead of answering immediately, Anna reached her hand out to him. “Come home now with me John Henry, it’s finer here than even in Texas.”

Jonathon Dickson Henry closed his hand over hers and told her, “I loved you so darn much that sometimes I wondered if I could live without you after you passed. I guess I couldn’t huh?”

Anna smiled at him.

Together, hand in hand, they turned and walked away from the town and into the sun bright fog.

Anna and John Henry slowly began to dissapear from sight.

“Finer than Texas you say?”

“Yes John Henry, as hard as it is to believe, it’s finer than Texas!”

The End

Meet up in Lambey

Chapter 1

Sheriff Jeffery Osborn of Lambey Arizona , known as Ozzy by the townsfolk, sat sleeping open mouthed at his desk with his head thrown back. Every few moments from under his large bow shaped mustache came the discharge of a turbulent snort followed by a long sonorous snore. Ozzy was truly enjoying his afternoon nap. There was nothing wrong in doing that, in fact most townsfolk wouldn’t have it any other way. For the last nine years he had been their protector in a frontier that didn’t give a hoot to most law and order.

Sheriff Ozzy had spent much of that time wearing out the old oak chair with his behind. Now fifty two years old, Ozzy stood six feet four inches tall and had a hard time finding a horse that would gladly carry his two hundred and eighty pounds any distance. Ozzy wasn’t fat, not really anyway. He was just big. He was one of those guys that looked more like he was made of boulders rather than flesh and blood. Next to his wife Jessica, who was a perky little brown eyed woman and the love of his life, he was a towering giant. Jessica believed he had a heart the size of his presence.

He carried the long barrel Colt Peacemaker. While the short barrel pistol was quicker to the draw, the longer barrel was more accurate. Although well armed, Ozzy found the best way to come out on top in a gun fight was to talk the other guy out of it before the lead flew. With the huge shadow Ozzy cast, he had little trouble convincing drunks and other no goods that a physical altercation would not be in their health’s best interest. A gun was the great equalizer or so it was thought. When push come to shove though, most trigger happy drunks came to the conclusion that a night in jail sure beat pushing daisy’s up from the grave the next morning. And so being the Sheriff of Lambey was pretty uneventful for the mustached Sheriff.

Most times being a Sheriff of a small town meant months of drudgery followed by a few minutes of crap and pee your pants action. If Ozzy knew what lay down the road for the next couple of days, he would’ve stayed snoring at his desk or at least brought himself an extra change of pants.

Over in Wickenburg, just a day’s ride west of Lambey, Sheriff TJ Lewis finished unchaining the three Bartell brothers from the jail tree. Now Wickenburg was a growing town but even with it’s all its rowdiness it still hadn’t got around to building a real jail yet. An old mesquite tree and chain served as the jail and as it turned out, was one of the few places of decent shade in the entire town.
Once freed, the brothers cast ‘I’ll kill you next time we meet’ looks at Sheriff Lewis.

Throwing the chain over his shoulder he warned the three brothers.“Now you boys just ride on out of here peaceful like. Head anywhere you want but around my jurisdiction. You give anyone any lip or hard time on your way out and you’ll be chained right back up here. We don’t cotton to mistreatin’ women around here. Soiled dove or house wife, it don’t matter. You end up back here an’ I’ll let you rot in the sun until the Federal Marshal makes his way back here to pick your dead asses up. You understand what I’m telling you?”

A grumble from one brother, a nod from the others. “Good, now I already took the money from your belongings to pay the Mexican boy over at the livery for the feed and care of your three nags.”
Then remembering something that made him chuckle he continued, “Oh, I left him a nice tip ‘cause I figured you’d be too cheap to give him one.” Pointing down the road he warned them “ You got ten minutes to disappear from my site, now git!”

The three brothers, Carl, Roy and Jerome Bartell rode as free men out of the town. It wasn’t the fight that folks knew about that proclaimed their evilness, but the paid for murder they performed that no one was aware of yet. They had been paid a hundred dollars each for the killing and they thought the job was performed perfectly. It wasn’t. It would be sometime later that the body of mine owner Clarence Dickson and his near dead wife would be found. By then though, the Bartell brothers would be long gone from town.

Roy spoke up as the left the outskirts of town on horseback, “That was too dang close for comfort! Jerome, what the hell made you think you could manhandle that whore like that back there in the saloon without half them poke starved miners jumpin’ your ass and pounding it silly?”

Spiting some old bloody snot onto the ground, Jerome looked at his two accusers, “You two coulda’ at least shot a few of ‘em to get ‘em off a me! My damn face looks like a mule danced atop it for a while. Lost me a few more teeth too. It’s getting’ mighty hard to chew.” Jerome opened his mouth at the brothers and grinned, showing fresh gaps in the uneven set of rotted teeth.

Roy snorted, “Yup, that right there is why you don’t do the thinkin’ here little brother. You really think we coulda’ shot our way to freedom? Crap, we’d be pig feed right now if we woulda’ pulled iron on that crowd. Miners is like hornets when they’s got the scent of a woman near ‘em. If you pull somethin’ stupid like that again, I’ll blow your brains all to hell an’ be thanked for it. I ain’t never gonna’ let you risk my life ever again over your cravin’ to poke your damn carrot into anything wearin’ a skirt. Carl and I shoulda’ just let ‘em all just tear into you. Good thing for all of us that the Sheriff showed up when he did. He did us a huge favor by placin’ us under arrest for the night. Sometimes it’s safer bein’ in jail than bein’ free. Ain’t nothing worse than a vigilante crowd. On the other hand though, what woulda become of us if they’d found the Dicksons while we was in that saloon or chained up? I’m just glad we’s outa’ there!”

Chapter 2

Once on the trail heading south east towards the Aqua Fria River, Roy mulled the situation over, then he spoke up. “Let’s keep headin’ south east for about sixty or so more miles, we can lay low for a spell in the hills outside of Cave Creek town. There’s some god awful rough territory there about and I can’t see any posse trailing us that far. Wickenburg ain’t got no real posse, just a bunch of drunk miners that are lookin’ for some excitement. They’ll get bored after they sober up an’ turn back.”

It was just after deciding they could hole up at Cave Creek when Jerome’s horse lost a shoe on the rocky trail. “Hold up fella’s, I think she threw a shoe back there.” Dismounting, he checked and found out she had.

Pointing up ahead, Jerome continued speaking, “Lambey’s on up ahead just a few more miles. I passed through there some years back before we all took to the owl hoot trail. It weren’t a big town then but I know they had a livery, saloon and a whore house. I’m purty sure they had a smithy there too.”

Shaking his head, Roy looked over at his brother and told him, “Figures you’d know all about that saloon and whore house now wouldn’t ya? I swear, that ol’ bean pole in your pants is gonna be the death of ya’ yet!” Let’s just hope they don’t find them dead folks back there and form a posse before we get your nag shod.”

Thinking about it a minute, Roy decided. “ We should have a few days at least. It weren’t like there was paid workers to show up for work at that mine the Dickson’s worked behind their place. By the time the shoeing is done, it’ll be getting’ dark. Still, we should be alright if we spend the night since no one was even aware we was headed this direction.”

The three rode into Lambey not knowing they’d never see the hills of Cave creek.
Pointing, Jerome told them. “There’s the Black Smith over there, let’s drop my horse off and head on over to that there saloon down the street.” Trying to muster up a spit, he continued, ” I got that dang Arizona alkali dust dryin up my throat somethin’ fierce. God how I hate Arizona”
Back in Sheriff Osborn’s jail house, Bassa, the Sheriffs dog of dubious origin woke up, stretched out full length and loudly farted.

Suddenly both Bassa and Ozzy’s eyes flew wide open. In one quick motion Ozzy ran to the door, opened it and loudly exhaled his held breath. Turning back to the dog, which didn’t seem to mind the change in the jails aroma, Ozzy yelled insults and futile threats to the mutt which the Sheriff vowed was now smiling at him. “I swear, why I ever took you in is beyond me, I should’ve never kilt your owner. Seems I did him a favor…” His tirade drifted off to vague remarks of the dogs origin as he noticed the three men wearing their holsters low slung and untied making their way on foot down the street to the saloon.

Backing slowly into stinking doorway, Ozzy found cover to observe the men. Looking behind him, Ozzy voiced his concerns to Bassa. “I don’t like those fella’s looks Bassa, why don’t you get on out there and see what how they handle you sniffin’ at ‘em.”

As if Bassa completely understood, He rose up, stretched again and wandered out the door. Crossing the street, the dog, whose appearance was best described as a wolf that someone had carelessly thrown a worn out bear skin rug over, meandered on an angle until he came up on the men.

As if on cue, Bassa lowered his head and sniffed loudly at Carl’s boot. Carl’s reaction was a swift kick that missed by an inch, “Get the hell outa’ here ya’ ugly assed mutt! Dang thing looks like it got skin diseases!”

Watching from the doorway, the good Sheriff figured if anybody was mean enough to kick an innocent animal, even one as shaggy and unkempt as Bassa, then he sure don’t want ‘em hanging around his town. Dogs, especially Bassa he had discovered, were a pretty darn good judge of men.
Stepping into the street, Ozzy made his way unnoticed behind the men while Bassa returned to the jail’s porch for a well earned nap

Chapter 3

Waiting until the men had settled down to their drinking, Ozzy slid in quietly through the saloons batwing doors and immediately stepped to the right. This allowed him to observe the men as he stood in the shadows. It wasn’t long before the trio’s whiskey brought out their true colors. It started by arguing quietly amongst themselves but soon escalated to raised voices.
From what he overheard, the Sheriff figured something bad had gone down over in Wickenburg . The word ‘posse’ was spoken just once but it was enough for Ozzy to take some action. Casting his gaze over the crowded saloon, he soon saw his friend and part time deputy playing a game of poker. Catching the Deputy’s eye, he tilted his head towards the rear door and walked out.

Once meeting outside, the Deputy asked what was going on.

“Tom, did you notice those three men that walked in? They sure ain’t ranch hands or preachers the way they was wearin’ them irons low like. I got a feeling they did something bad up Wickenburg way. There ain’t a reason in the world for the likes of them to be here unless they’s up to no good. ”

The deputy agreed,” Yup, I think we got some bad ‘uns here Ozzy. What you thinkin’ on doin’ about ‘em?”

Ozzy leaned his powerful frame against the wall, “ I need something done real quick. Consider yourself drawin’ Deputy pay as of right now. I want you to high tail it over to Wickenburg and talk to Sheriff Lewis there and see if they caused a ruckus of any sort that they might have the law lookin’ for ‘em. I overheard them talking about Wickenburg and something about a posse. Ride hard ‘cause I need answers mighty quick.”

“Shoot, I’ll be there by midnight and back by morning.” With that, Fred was off to the corral behind the jail. A few minutes later Ozzy heard the pounding of hoof beats leaving town.

Not knowing whether the trio was spending any time or just passing through, Sheriff Osborn kept his eye open for any trouble within the saloon. It was soon obvious that the one named Roy was the leader and the other two Carl and Jerome or maybe all three were brothers. Ozzy had noticed there’s a difference between family and non family when folks drank and argued. Non family arguments usually brought out irons spewing lead to settle a disagreement. Family just fought with their fist or knives. Jerome and Roy soon proceeded to prove the Sheriff right. The fist started flying between the two.
Jerome woke with even more missing teeth and Roy’s left eye swelled shut. Carl had a couple of knots on his head from an upset patron who lost his drink when Carl fell into him. The patron lost the rest of his whisky when his bottle broke across Carl’s forehead. Jerome spent the night in the whore house. Carl and Roy had slept with their horses in the stable.
The predawn light found Ozzy kissing his wife Jessica goodbye at their doorway and told her not to worry. He had told her of the three who rode into town the day before.  He tried to lighten her mood by joking, “I got Bassa backing me up.” Then he added softly, “I love you Jessica, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”

Jessica leaned against his powerful frame and wrapped her arms around him.

Ozzy had been her savior and true love from day he rode into a saloon in Santa Fe nine year earlier. While enjoying his drink, Ozzy noticed the young dark haired, big brown eyed soiled dove watching him from the other end of the bar. Being a man, and being intrigued at why such a good looking girl would be in the employ of the saloon as a whore, he approached her. It only took a minute of small talk and the two left for the privacy of her room. That night was the first of five nights straight. He was her only customer and it had run him near broke.
In those five days of privacy, Ozzy had found out much about the girl. She had been a mail order bride who’s man was found shot to death in Santa Fe two days before she arrived from Sandy Run South Carolina. With no money, no job and no future, she was left with no option but to do as many women of the day were forced to do. Sell the only thing they had worth selling to survive. Themselves.

Ozzy checked his funds the last morning and saw that they had been depleted to the point that he could no longer even spend one more night with her. It wrenched his heart for he had fallen hard in love.

Ozzy wanted to tell her of his love for her but figured such a pretty girl had most likely heard that same thing from every other cowboy visiting her room. The morning broke and Ozzy spoke of leaving.

“I am supposed to be in Arizona in another week. I took a job of Sheriff at a small mining town. It ain’t much but it’s an honest job. I don’t want to leave here, I’ve grown to…”

Without warning, Jessica threw herself at him and begged, “Please, take me with you! Don’t leave me here, this isn’t what I ever planned for in my life and I swear I would rather kill myself than feel another man atop me again!” By now Jessica’s streaming tears had found their way to the floor as they dripped from her little chin. “I will do anything for you, I’ll clean, cook, wash you and your clothes three times a day…anything! You don’t have to marry me even! Just don’t leave me here, please take me with you!” Jessica had collapsed against him and let herself bawl like a calf.

When Ozzy rode out that afternoon, he was a bit cramped on the saddle even though his Jessica was such a tiny thing.

She still was. As he left her that morning and walked down the street to the jail with Bassa following behind, she couldn’t help but feel her stomach knot up. She was expecting in a few months and began to worry about Ozzy’s safety. In the past nine years, trouble came and went and she had her worries but not like this. Something else was in play and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Shrugging off the unpleasant feeling she felt, Jessica went back inside to finish her morning chores before heading to the China Laundry. Since she announced her pregnancy, Ozzy wouldn’t let her wash clothes anymore. Secretly, she hoped it would continue that way after she delivered.
True to his word, Deputy Tom showed up at first light at the jail house with the news. “It seemed that the three are suspected of a killing for hire. The owner of the Smiling Lady gold mine, a Mr. Dickson, had been murdered and his wife near beat to death. She recovered enough to tell the Sheriff that three men had entered their house and kilt her husband to death over the gold mine. She overheard them while she lay there playing dead that they was paid to do the killin. It seems whoever hired ‘em had plans for the mine when the claim ended with their deaths.” Taking a break to spit on the ground, Tom then said, “They’s wanted over there all right Ozzy, what we gonna do?”

Ozzy’s plate was filling up mighty quick with problems. First was how to safely round the men up. Second was how to legally settle the issue of their freedom since they hadn’t committed a crime in Lambey yet. Thankfully, figuring out who ordered the killings was up to Sheriff Lewis.

“Well, first things first, let’s head over to the livery and see if they stabled their horses there. I figure I can legally hold them in our jail since you said that Sheriff Lewis told you he had issued a warrant for their arrest. We got to keep it legal like if this ends up having a Federal marshal involved. It seems every time a Federal Marshal shows up, a posse of lawyers is on his tail waiting to foil him at every turn.”
Ozzy pulled out his long barreled pistol and spun the cylinder. “when I go to arrest them, make sure you’re ready to draw quick like Tom, that group looks like they know how to use them tied down Colts.”

It took only a minute for Ozzy to find out the two brothers Carl and Roy, had spent the night in the hay in the livery and had recently left. “well, I think when we find the third man we’ll end up finding all three at once. I want you to head over to Mary’s Diner and see if they’s stuffin’ their chops with grub, they gotta eat sometime. I’ll be watching ‘em from next door inside the mercantile through the curtained window.”

Chapter 4
After leaving the stable, Roy pounded on the upstairs door the saloon owner said Jerome had spent the night in.

In reality, most rooms were rented by the minute, not the night. Women deprived cowboys spoke loudly of their ability to make a soiled dove swoon but if you were to ask her, she’d tell you she got about as excited as finding a new hole in her lace stocking. Many cowboys after being on the trail for months, discovered that their manliness had either got up and left ‘em or took to an embarrassing early exit. This ended up making room available only minutes later for the next customer. Jerome was not one of these. The soiled doves he frequented back in Santa Fe had complained they lost money when he showed up so they began to charge him extra. That was alright with Jerome since any money he had was either stolen or ill earned anyway. It wasn’t like he actually worked for it.

Roy’s pounding finally ended with the door opening and Jerome’s sorry black and blue face peered out. “Git your clothes on Jerome. Let’s head on over for some grub and cut on outa’ here. I’m getting antsy.”

The three Bartel brothers ordered their breakfast and sat impatiently waiting for their food. Jerome’s face still hurt from the pounding Roy had given it the night before in the saloon. Rubbing his jaw he looked over at Roy. “Dang it Roy, why’d ya go an’ punch me in my mouth, you know’d I just had it punched up the night before by them miners! I got so many teeth missin’ now that a whole biscuit’ll fit right between ‘em.”
“Then behave yourself ya idiot!” replied Roy. Seeing the food was about to arrive, he ended saying, “Soon as we finish eatin, lets head over to the livery and get back on the trail.”

Not knowing Tom was a Deputy, the three paid no attention to the slender looking cowboy as he entered the diner behind them, grabbed a menu and sat down at a vacant table nearby.

Rushing through his breakfast, Roy leaned back, whipped his mouth with his shirt sleeve and loosened his belt a notch for comfort. “well, anytime yer ready, I am.”
Carl set his empty coffee mug onto the table. “I got a bad feelin’ myself now Roy. I wish now I hadn’t left my long gun with the horses.”
As they stepped outside, Jerome stopped dead in his tracks and pointed.

“Well damn my hide, look over yonder there! I know’d that girl anywhere. She was a whore over in Santa Fe some years back.” Strutting like a peacock, he boasted, “ I had her a bunch a times myself!”

Then before the others could stop him, Jerome swiftly scooted himself across the street to intercept the dark haired girl carrying a load of laundry. Timing himself to catch her between buildings, he caught up and shoved her violently into the shadowed alley. Before she could react, Jerome was on top of her trying to stifle her screams of help. Insane anger welled up in Jerome as memories of her laughed at him.

“Hey bitch! Remember me? I know who you are, you uppity whore! You refused me over an’ over no matter how much money I threw at you back in Santa Fe. And you a stinkin’ whore thinkin’ you was better’n me!”

Jessica fought hard against his attack but Jerome had already pulled his pants down to his knees and climbed on top the knocked down girl, trying to force her legs apart.

Tom heard the screams from inside the diner and ran to the door. Stopping behind the stunned brothers, he realized the screams were of a girl being accosted in the alley across the street. Forgetting his duty to watch the brothers for Ozzy, he ran flat out across the street pulling his gun from its holster.

Being experienced shootist, both Carl and Roy reacted to Deputy Tom reaching for his gun by pulling theirs in a blur.

Not aware yet that the would be rapist was one of the brothers, Tom didn’t look behind him as he ran. Suddenly Tom felt a tug on the back of his flapping wool vest and afterward heard the gunshot. Caught between trying to stop the attack and save himself, Tom dove headfirst into the dirt and fired backwards at the two brothers.

Another bullet plowed its way past Toms head, kicking up dust and blinding his right eye. Recognizing the form trying to rape the girl as Jerome, Tom took as careful aim as he could and using his left eye, fired high on the form on top of the girl.

Two things happened at once. Jerome jerked up, having had a bullet drive its way from Toms gun into his bare ass and up to and out of his shoulder an inch under the skin. It wasn’t a deadly shot, but it sure drove the pain scale to a ten.

The next thing that happened was Ozzy had entered the fight.

Watching the brothers leave the diner from the mercantile and having heard Toms original shot, Ozzy bolted out the door into the street with his gun drawn.

Hearing the scream, he realized it was Jessica’s.

Seeing Jerome lift up off of his wife and begin to jerk and twist from the intense pain of Toms shot, Ozzy remained calm, pushing the rising panic behind him, he aimed carefully and pulled the trigger of the long barrel Colt 45 at the flopping figure. Jerome’s head exploded in a red mist of brains and bone, leaving Jessica to run free.

The two brothers separated making it harder to take them out. Tom had made his way behind a water trough but Ozzy still stood exposed in the street behind the brothers. Lifting his head over and into the horse’s water trough to clear his right eye of dust, Tom barely finished when two bullets punched holes into the wooden planks protecting him. Seeing the water pouring from the holes in front of his face, Tom let the stream flow over his eye, finally clearing it of dust.

Roy swung around and fired from the hip at Ozzy as Ozzy’s barrel spewed a deadly stream of lead and fire into the left arm socket of Carl. Carl’s arm flew backward blown out of the long sleeve shirt and fell to the ground.

Roy’s shot caught Ozzy’s holster belt alongside his hip and harmlessly exploded some of the cartridges from it. Tom had by now regained his sight and composure and began throwing lead once again. Not wanting to hit the buildings or people within them behind Roy and Carl, he aimed low at their feet.

Carl was screaming and holding his pistol against his shoulder trying to halt the fountain of spurting blood from his empty arm socket. Suddenly the heel of his right boot disappeared, then his ankle took on a new angle as a bullet plowed into it.

Roy was still firing at Ozzy. Ozzy felt a jerk at his sleeve as a bullet passed through it plowing a groove up his arm. A second bullet punched clean through his thigh. Knowing it was only a matter of seconds before a deadly load would find it’s mortal mark, Ozzy steadied himself and fired the last of his cartridges into Roy’s chest.

Jerome lay blown to pieces, Carl was out of action, missing an arm and a foot. That left only Roy standing there looking with deadly hate at Ozzy. Slowly blood began dripping from between Roys lips and down his chin. Then as if he had just thought of something funny. He chuckled, coughed up more blood and said, “I told him his bean pole would be the death of him.”

Roy suddenly felt tired, very tired. It seemed his legs could barely hold himself up he was so tired. Then slowly his vision started angling sideways and then stopped as his head lay against the hard dust. His eyes closed and being tired beyond help, they never opened again.

A bit shot up but not to the point of dying, Ozzy limped over to his wife who was now running across the road to meet him.”Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” He shouted.

She flung herself at him crying but not for what had been done to her but for the pain Ozzy was going through. “No, I’m alright,” she cried, ‘ just bruised up a bit and in need of a new dress…” Suddenly her face crumpled and tears flowed.

“I’m so sorry Ozzy, it was my past coming back to haunt us. He recognized me from Santa Fe. It’s going to happen over and over, I just know it, Oh my God, I am so sorry Ozzy, and now you’re all shot up too! You came within inches of being killed because of me” She buried her head in his good shoulder and bawled like a baby.

Ozzy reached his good arm around her and pulled her to him. He could feel her swollen tummy against his. “I love you Jessica, I told you before, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”

Glancing around at the dead, Ozzy softly told her, “When I saddled you in front of me and we rode out of Santa Fe, I knew days like this might come up. Then and there I decided you was worth it. I ain’t regretted it yet an’ never will.”

Ozzy looked at the blood soaking his shirt sleeve and pant leg. “C’mon sweety, let’s get me bandaged up.”

Heading towards Doc Simmons place, Ozzy felt a nudge at his feet. Looking down he saw Bassa looking sullenly back up at him. “Big help you were ya’ old flea bag!”

Bassa would have taken offense but he noticed the smile that Ozzy couldn’t suppress as he said it.

As the three made their way down the street, Back where the bodies lay Tom was heard to say. “Well, I better ride on back to Wickenburg and tell Sheriff Lewis he ain’t gotta worry about haulin’ these here no goods in anymore. Hmm, I never asked if they was a reward out on em… wouldn’t that be nice?”

This is the actual ‘Jail Tree’ in Wickenburg, AZ

The lesser of all evils

In response to one reader’s thoughtful advice, the story originally titled, “The loathsome Sheriff of Arapahoe Junction” has been renamed, “The lesser of all evils”. Thank you my dear friend for your valued suggestion. This story is dedicated to you.

Prologue

For some reason the good Lord puts people on this celestial ball that by all rights and means shoulda’ never been placed here. Sheriff Maurice Du Bois was one of these.

Poking the evening cook fire with a stick and stirring the embers until flames gave new life to the campfire coals, John, the trail cook settled the blackened coffee pot back onto the rekindled flames. Sitting there tilting, it boiled up a fresh pot of coffee. He continued his tale to the group of cowhands and told them of the territory they were now passing through.

“A couple decades ago, These parts had folks livin’ around here. Hooking his thumb over his right shoulder he told them, “ Beyond that rise out there, was a small mining town called Arapahoe Junction. There’s nothin’ left there now but a few snake infested dilapidated buildings and the bones of mostly innocent folk.”  Stopping to pause, The cook’s eyes took on a tired sadness as the memories came flooding back to him.

“ I rode through there a few years back. I needed to see what remained. Other than some leaning building frames and sun bleached planks lying about, there’s nothing that would ever say it was my home or anybody else’s.  As towns went, it wasn’t a bustling one but it weren’t no tent town either. We had a dry goods store, livery, saloons, a couple of bordello’s book ending the town. It coulda’ grow’d into a real nice town ‘cepting for the Sheriff.  Yes Sir, that was one evil man. He needed killin’ something real  bad. I ain’t ashamed to say that my brother, me and a few others took to doing it. It’s kinda’ ironic actually. In trying to save the town, we ended up killing it!”

Chapter 1

Known to be a gambler, a womanizer and a low down skunk, Maurice Du Bois took pride in being all three. Born in France, he and his parents had relocated to New Orleans after being accused of counterfeiting French bank notes. The Gypsy telegraph (word of mouth between thieves) warned the family of an impending arrest and they made their escape by ship to America that night.

Stepping down from the freight hauler where he had hitched a free ride, Du Bois grabbed his carpet bag from the wagon’s bed and stood there taking in the sight before him.

Six months earlier, the New Orleans Bee had run a front page story about the gold strike at Pikes Peak out in Colorado. Knowing the easy gold was in a miners pouch and not in the earth, he immediately made plans to acquire as much gold from the hard working men as he could.

The freight wagon’s muleteer had lost badly at Du Bois crooked card game back in New Orleans.

Feigning sympathy for the unfortunate driver, Maurice Du Bois offered to trade the debt owed by the Muleteer in exchange for his free passage out west. Having been thoroughly schooled by his Gypsy parents in the art of sleight of hand, Maurice Du Bois packed his marked cards, loaded dice and said Au voir to his crooked parents. Curses and insults were thrown after him by the old couple as the freight wagon carrying their golden egg and hoped for source of retirement income, began its slow motion westward to the gold fields without them.

Having traveled for weeks, the freight wagon last stop was only thirty miles south east of Pikes Peak. There at the promising town of Arapahoe Junction, Du Bois ended his journey.

While many of the buildings were still large canvas tents whose wooden fronts imitated real structures, there were enough solidly built structures being built to convince Du Bois that plenty of real money was being dug out from the nearby hills in the form of gold.

Taking in the town as he walked toward what he was told was the least expensive hotel, Du Bois kept his eyes peeled for saloons that would cater to a gambler such as himself. Stopping first into the barber shop he paid for a shave and had his black coat brushed clean by the man’s wife. After his cut and shave and smelling of Bay Rum astringent, he straightened the ruffles on his French cuffed shirt and placed his black flat brimmed hat neatly onto his head with a tilt. Looking at his reflection in the barber shop mirror, He smiled showing his teeth. Satisfied he was the gambler extraordinaire he walked on out.

Reaching the end of the town he spotted a bordello whose twin mirrored itself at the other end of town. Next to this one sat the Nugget saloon.

Entering the Nugget, Du Bois spotted a game of Faro in progress. Instead of heading to the gaming table, Du Bois sidled up to the bar.

“What’ll it be friend?” Asked the middle aged, mustachioed  bartender

Placing two bits on the bar, Du Bois responded, “Whiskey, just a glass of it.”

The bar tender filled a glass partway and slid it over to Du Bois and pointed to the quarter dollar piece on the bar.  “It’s fifty cents.”

With a silent look of disgust, Du Bois reached into his money pouch and removed a silver fifty cent piece. Laying it down he reclaimed the quarter dollar. “For fifty cents this better not be snake juice.”

“It ain’t the best but I’ve sold worse. It’s a mining town friend, like it or lump it, that’s the way it is.”

Du Bois remembered thinking back in New Orleans that it was going to be easy to skin the miners of their cash by gambling. He decided if that’s all he did here, he’d never get rich. But right now he needed a nest egg to do what needed to be done and some pocket money.

Making his way over to the faro game, he waited until an overweight, balding  man dressed in a conservatively cut wool  suit stood up and tossed his cards down. “I’m done for Gents, Lady Luck isn’t looking my way today.” Then, leaning over to the man holding the deck of cards and pointing to the pile of cash, he quietly told him. “Wilkins, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get my rent, that’s it there laying in that pile in front of you.”

Wilkins nodded but before he could answer back, Du Bois grabbed the chair by the back, pulled it out and slid into it before the portly man had barely cleared the table. “Games still open Wilkins? Names Maurice, Maurice Du Bois, I’m fresh out of New Orleans.

The gentleman named Wilkins, spoke up as he reached for the cards. “Well?  What game is it Mr. Du Bois? Five Card Monte? Faro? You name the game we’ll play it.”

By five in the morning there was only one player left at the table besides Du Bois and he was fighting against the ropes. All the other players had thrown in and went home to upset wives or next door to the soiled doves. Fueled by a night of high stakes adrenalin and whiskey, Wilkins concentration began faltering with each new drink. The once swollen pile of cash in front of him now consisted of just a few coins.

Chapter 2

“You’ve got a hell of a lucky streak mister, I’d be fool to call you a cheat but danged if I can see how you did it. You’re good, real good. I know all the tricks, or thought I did until now. If I would’ve caught you even once, I’d have blown you outa’ your chair.” Pulling a sawed off shot gun with its stock cut like a pistol  from under the table, he laid it in front of him. “No need to fear Du Bois, like I say, it would’ve all ready happened. But to satisfy my curiosity, play me one more game, this time a hand of Poker, no raising, just a straight hand with a two card draw. I haven’t the cash left, but I do have a deed I’m willing to put up. I’m so convinced you somehow fixed these games that I’m willing to bet this deed that I was right.”

Normally, Du Bois would have feigned offense to the insinuation that he was a cheat but his own curiosity was now peeked.

With a chiding chuckle Du Bois asked, “What’s the deed to? Your ramshackle cabin on a spread of tumble weeds? A played out gold mine? Your Mama’s house?”

Sitting back in his chair, the gambler who had invited Du Bois to the table smugly remarked, “No Mister Du Bois, it’s the deed to over half this town.”

“The town? What the hell do you mean, the town?” “

“Just that Du Bois, you see, I own the majority of the land this town sits on. Sure, I’m in negotiations to sell it to the town committee who wants to legally annex it for the town, but until that time comes, it’s still mine to do as I please”

“I never heard of such a thing, what do I have to put up in exchange?”

With whisky induced confidence, Wilkins replied, “All the cash you cleaned out of those sucker’s pockets tonight. So what do you say Du Bois, are you game?”

Du Bois knew it was make or break time. Cheating was out of the question. The simpler the game was, the harder it was to find ways to cheat. “You deal and I’ll cut”

The game was quick, too quick for Wilkins. In his hand he held three deuces, on the table in front of Du Bois lay three kings. To Du Bois own amazement, he had won fair and square.

Wilkins sat stunned. His anger and bravado ebbed away as he realized what he had just done. Slowly he unfolded the deed to the town in front of him. “Worst luck I’ve ever had. What was I thinking.”

“Do you always carry that deed around with you Wikins?”

“No, I was to meet with the group earlier tonight that wanted to buy my property. Instead, I sat here all night and played card games.  Dang, I lost it like a green horn.”

Du Bois reached over and studied the deed and some legal papers attached to it. “These papers say that while you owned the land, the buildings here are individually owned and the owners of those buildings pay you rent for the land that they sit on.”

Flipping the pages back and forth, Du Bois realized on the first day of each month every person in town had to fork over their rent. As best as he could figure, it amounted to almost a thousand dollars a month. He let out a slow whistle.

With a laugh Du Bois told Wilkins, “I was going to head on to Pikes Peak to seek my fortune but I think I just struck gold right here and now!”  Kissing the deed, he looked across the table at the very ill looking Wilkins.

“We can get all the legal work done in a few hours when your attorney is open for business, yes?  Is he located in town here.”

‘You took his seat over when you came in Du Bois, he’ll be open in a few. Meanwhile I’m tired and need to think on some things. If you wish, I’ll be back here at ten this morning, we’ll go over to see him then.”

Chapter 3

At first nothing changed but the deeds owner. Then as the months went by, Du Bois began raising rents on business owners he didn’t like or he wanted gone. He continued to dangle the deed in front of the group that had wished to purchase the land. But now the price had doubled and the group found it on the edge of being unaffordable.

For the first time in his life Du Bois was in a position of real wealth and power. A good man would not have let this alter their life, but Du Bois was not a good man. He became even more boastful and began drinking heavily. Where once he respected women enough to be cautious and treat them with respect, he now cursed openly and became lewd around them. When the beating of the whores started, many of soiled doves left for greener pastures.

He found egotistical  pleasure at humiliating those who fell behind in their rent. Especially pretty women.  When the woman who owned the café could not make full rent, he demanded one half the business as collateral until she could pay the balence. Two days later the woman was found raped and strangled in her bed.

The town folks became scared. The smart ones began moving out, the others hesitantly stayed too scared in forfeiting  all they owned.

It was then that the remaining members of the Committee that had attempted to purchase the original deed from Wilkins met in secret.

None of the group was a shootist or even handy with a gun. A lawyer, the Doctor, a saloon owner, two merchants and blacksmith rounded out the group. There wasn’t even a Cowboy among them. None had ownership of a gun and only a few had ever shot one. They were for the most part, city bred folk.

A decision was made that night. They would hire a shootist to remove Du Bois. That would leave the towns land deed open for the courts to decide its fate. Most assumed the courts would grant the town committee the rights to the deed so the annexed land could then be filed with the State. The call went out. A one hundred dollar offer was made.

The weeks passed but no shootist arrived. Meanwhile, Du Bois had run off the towns volunteer sheriff and took over his job. It wasn’t the job he wanted but the prestige and power that went with it. He had plans. His black riverboat gambling attire now sported a bright silver Sheriffs badge on its lapel. He became Judge and Jury, jailing and charging fines to line his pockets. Behind his back, the town folk began calling Arapahoe Junction, “Hells Junction”.

Wilkins and his lawyer, Henry banks, called for a secret meeting of the committee members.  Wilkins introduced the brothers, John and James to the committee members. Most everyone knew James as he was the Nuggets bartender. John on the other hand was less known because he spent most his time driving cattle to market as a cowhand.

Wilkins then told them that John had found out that “Sheriff Du Bois” ( as he now called himself), had been stealing explosives by having his men rob the freight wagons headed to Pikes Peak. Du Bois would then resell the explosives to the Pikes Peak miners at an exurbanite rate. Because the mining companies could not operate without the explosives, they grudgingly bought it.

Both the mustachioed  bartender James, and his brother  John, had fought in the war of the States. John for the Confederate States, James for the Union. Before the war, both had been coal miners living in north western Virginia. Their mining jobs had dealt with explosives, so had both their military careers.

James explained that his brother had seen the cell next to his filled top to bottom with crates of explosives when Du Bois tossed him in jail for being drunk, a minor offense but carrying a hefty fine of ten dollars. “I was just clearin’ the trail dust from my throat, I hadn’t hardly started drinkin’ for real yet but I guess the Sheriff don’t take kindly to bein’ called Ma’am. Can I help it that he dresses in frilly shirts?”

He told them that inside the next cell, a large tarp had covered the crates but his curiosity got the better of him. When Du Bois left for the night, he reached through the bars between the cells and lifted the tarp. Reading the words “Explosives” painted across the crates face, he then lowered the tarp and returned to his bed to think.

“So, this is what I’m thinking” says Wilkins, “Who needs a shootist when we can just blow him all to high heaven in his office with his own explosives!”

With little discussion and no argument, the committee disbanded and awarded John and James the duty to figure out the details of ridding the town of Du Bois..

A week later word went out to the committee members to meet at the livery at midnight. It was then that the brothers John and James divulged to the others of their plan to rid the town of Du Bois. One by one the door slid open a crack and a committee member quietly eased into the darkened livery. A single oil lamps low burning wick gave just enough light for the members to make each other out. John spoke.

“I’ll need some financial backing here because I need to get myself tossed in jail again. I’ll cause a drunkin’ ruckus of some sort, Du Bois hates drunks and he don’t care for me none either after what I called him.”

“ In order for things to go as planned, I need to be bailed out of there by evening. I have no idea what Du Bois is gonna’ set my bail at, but since I was just in an caused him grief, it ain’t gonna’ be cheap. I would figure on getting at least Fifty dollars together for bail, maybe more.” The others nodded saying they could get that amount and more together. It was decided that Henry Banks, the lawyer, would handle the bail proceedings.

“I also need at least forty feet of explosive fuse and one pound of black powder in a canvas sack. I’ll wrap the fuse around my waist under my clothes and stick the sack down my pants. I’ll pour some water on my pants like I pissed ‘em from drinkin’. That’ll pretty much guarantee Du Bois wont go feeling around my drawers for a hidden gun or anything else.  Since there are only two jail cells, he has no choice but to put me back into the cell next to the explosives. One thing I know, come dinner time, Dubois ain’t gonna hang around the jail. He’ll head on up to the saloon for dinner and drinks like he did before. When he’s gone, I’ll reach through the bars, lift the tarp and plant the sack of powder within the crates then lower the tarp again after setting the fuse.  I’ll trail the fuse out the back window where it can be lit later on.”

A murmur of agreement met the brothers ears.

“ I need someone to hang around out back near the window so you can hear me yell. When you hear me, that’s the signal for Banks here to run up to the saloon and insist that Du Bois take the bail money and let me out. He’ll complain and refuse at first, but play up to him by buying him an expensive bottle of whisky for his troubles, but make sure he takes it with him to the jail when he leaves.

Even though he could afford to buy his own distillery now, he’s so cheap he’ll still jump at the chance for a free bottle!”  That brought a quiet laugh of acknowledgement from the group.

“After he lets me out, everyone get out of there. James and I will set the fuse when we’re sure Du Bois is settled in for a spell with his bottle at his desk.  He’s too cheap to share it and once he starts on that bottle, he’ll take the time to finish it off.” More murmurs of agreement.

“The explosion should take out most of the building and along with it, Du Bois. It’s been a while since my brother and I used explosives. I hear they’re making a nitroglycerin based explosive called dynamite. It packs a wallop!  There’s no way to tell if there’s any dynamite  in these cases or not since they’re just marked ‘Explosives’,  so just in case nobody hang around the place. The businesses on each side of the jail will be closed that time of day so we don’t have to worry about any innocents bein’ blowed up.”

The lawyer Banks then spoke up nodding in agreement,” If everything goes well and we are all in agreement here, the morning after Du Bois is gone, myself and some of the committee members will travel to the State Capital to file for annexation of the land. Is this to everyone’s approval?”

Again, a quiet murmur of agreement was heard. “Then it’s settled.”

James spoke up now, “Let’s plan on this Friday, the day after tomorrow. That way I have time to purchase the powder and fuse.” He turned and asked the Lawyer, “How long will it take to gather up the money Banks?”

“Not five minutes, I’ll gladly foot the bail. In fact, here’s five dollars. Take it and go ahead and purchase the fuse and powder with it.”

 

Chapter 4

Friday morning’s sun peaked over the mountains to the east. Sun streaked into the curtained window of Maurice Du Bois.  If he had consulted a soothsayer, a medium or a fellow gypsy with a crystal ball, Maurice would have never gotten out of bed. Knowing you’re about to die can change a man. It can bring repentance or like Ebenezer Scrooge amends might be made. But Maurice Du Bois had no idea he would be charged in front of his maker before the day was over, so there was no change in him.

Rising from the bed, he stumbled to the wash basin and plashed the stagnant smelling water onto his face. With his head pounding in pain, he selfishly blamed the sleeping whore for amplifying his hangover by supplying him the night before with rot gut whisky. Making his way back to the bed, Maurice glared at her large bare rump jutting from under the blanket, lashing out like a spoiled child, he kicked it.

Descending the whore house stairs in a huff, the whore house owner and visibly upset Madam stepped into his path. “What’s my girl upstairs screaming about Du Bois?”Shoving the big woman aside Du Bois told her, “She woke up on the wrong side of the bed! Now get out of my way bitch” If the weight of sins added go your torment in hell, Maurice Du Bois just tipped the scales.

His day started off badly and got worse as it went on. While in the café eating lunch, a local drunk started a fight and knocked Du Bois food to the floor. In a fit of anger, the Sheriff dragged the poor man down the wooden walkway, stopping to kick him from time to time. By the time they reached the jail down the street, the man was knocked half senseless.

Using his foot to propel the prisoner forward, the drunk was sent crashing into the back wall of the cell. Du Bois locked the cell, slammed the front door on his way out and retreated to the saloon for a drink.

John lifted his black and blue face towards the small barred window in his cell. “You out there yet James?”

A voice answered in the affirmative. “Yup, how you doing, I was almost ready to step in and stop it when he started kicking at you.”

Trying to put on a good face with laughter, John replied, “I’ll live, I sure earned my wages though , didn’t I? Tell you what brother, it’ll be about an hour before I get this set up in here to blow. Come back and check on me then, OK?”

Uncoiling the fuse from his waist then removing the sack of black powder from inside his pants, John went to work. It only took half the time as planned so John laid down on the cot to give his sore body a rest.

“Pssst, John, you ready yet?”

“Sure am, go tell Banks to bail me out’a  here!”

Fifteen minutes later, an angry Sheriff Du Bois carrying a unopened bottle of Tennessee whisky and the overweight lawyer clomped down the wooden walkway to the jail.

“Come on Du Bois” Banks pleaded, “There isn’t reason in the world to set bail at a hundred and twenty dollars! Why bail for a murder charge is less.”

“You want him out so bad Banks, you can pay what I set bail at.”

An hour later found Du Bois halfway through the bottle when the jail’s front door banged open.  In strode Du Bois three amigos in crime. “Boss, we just come from Pikes Peak, they’s chompin’ at the bit for them there explosives. We need to get’em  loaded an out’a here pronto! I told ‘em the price went up to twenty a crate, up from ten last time. They grumbled a lot but we got ‘em over a barrel. They’ll pay up.

While this was going on, one of the three had walked back to where the cases were stored. A strange look came over his face and he yelled to those up front. “Hey y’all, I smell something burnin’ back here, I think the place is on fire!”

Before Du Bois could get up out of his chair, three things happened in rapid order. The first was that the cases of explosive had in fact, turn out to be the more powerful dynamite, exploded.

The second was that the cell door in front of the yelling Amigo became a giant egg slicer and cut the shouting man into multiple pieces as it was blown through him.

The third, was what those folks standing outside on the street beheld. Ahead of the intense fireball exploding from the now shattered jail house was a wheeled armchair being blown across the street, with Du Bois, or at least part of him, still sitting in it. If the shock of the concussion had not knocked everyone down, they would have observed Du Bois and the chair were blown completely through the wooden front of the dry goods store across the street. Once inside, the chair and the torso that belonged to Du Bois rested it’s travel against a shelf of womens unmentionables.

Freed from the resistance of any walls, the explosion concussed into the street. The nearby buildings took on a permanent backwards lean as their fronts were violently sucker punched. Standing tent buildings stood no more. No window survived the blast and even the saloons occupied outhouse blew head over heels. The Devil stood in the middle of the chaos tallying up the evil souls he had claim to. Angles administered to those innocents who found that life continued on, in a much more beautiful place than Arapahoe Junction.

Chapter 5

Until it was legal and annexation granted, loans to rebuild the town were put on hold. The town stood as if frozen in time. True, some of the wooden planks and debris had been removed from the street, but the repairs needed to reclaim the town’s buildings, even those not owned by Du Bois, were not started.

One month later to the day, the annexation committee members that had traveled to the State capital returned.

The ringing church bell clanged in its damaged steeple, calling all those remaining to gather around.

Wilkins and Banks stood together facing the crowd.

Wilkins spoke first. “Folks, here’s the situation. We applied for annexation on the deceased Du Bois land most of this town sits on. The State Judge determined that if we had a signed purchase agreement, we could continue our application  to apply for the annexation. We don’t have one. We thought with Du Bois no longer in the way, we could apply for it as it would be vacated land that had no living owner. The problem rest this way. While we got ourselves rid of Du Bois, and I am not going to feel guilty about that, he left two living relatives to inherit his property. His parents!

A groan was heard.

“That’s right folks. We sent a cable off to the Sheriff over in New Orleans and he verified the two are still alive and causing trouble. I guess it’s true what Du Bois used to say about his parents. ‘If you think I’m a bad one, you should meet my Ma and Pa!’

Banks stepped in front of Wilkins now and spoke. “We have a choice. And none of them will please you. We can notify the parents of their son’s demise, but legally we also have to inform them of the inheritance he left them. Knowing those two, they’d light a shuck out here just as fast as they could. Once here, they’d also find out how there tyrannical son met his maker. Eventually they’d find out and take vengeance on all of us, maybe even call in the law on us.

The crowd didn’t sound pleased.

Someone else called out, “What’s the other option Banks?”

“Folks, we had us a good town started here. We tried the legal route but was derailed by Du Bois. The law won’t back us, no way.”

Tears started down the chubby cheeks of Banks the lawyer.” I already spoke to my wife. We are not willing to live under another Du Bois. We’re calling it quits here, we’re moving to Boulder. It’s far enough away that what happened here won’t follow us”

The stunned crowd stood there blinking in the bright sun.

Slowly without a word the crowd dissipated.

 Epillogue

John, the camp cook removed the coffee pot from the fire and poured himself a cup. Looking at the cowhands starring at him he spoke softly. “Some towns die when the gold or silver runs out. Some die when the railroad passes ‘em by. Arapahoe Junction died because we tried to save it!”

Finishing his coffee, he tossed the cups grounds  into the fire, He shook his head and said, “Who’d a thunk!”

One Cowboys honor by JW Edwards

One Cowboys honor

Chapter 1

Clancy sidled his horse up next to his friend Potato. At first, neither spoke as the two riders looked over the gathered cattle at Morgan’s Creek. The large Morgan ranch was home for almost five years now for the two who were employed as permanent ranch hands.

Morgan’s Ranch lay nestled between Fort Laramie and Cheyenne thirty miles east of the Powder River.  When it came time to drive the cattle to market, Clancy and Potato would be left behind to continue handling the chores a large working ranch presents at each sunrise.

At the ages of twenty, best friends and trail pards, Clancy and Potato had left Texas soon after the War between the states had ended. Texas had been placed under a cruel form of retribution by the Union known as Southern Reconstruction for their siding with the Confederate States.   The financial outlook for the State of Texas and its populace seemed so bleak that many devoted Texan’s were forced to look elsewhere for their survival. The two, having followed the Goodnight trail north into Cheyenne where they found work and signed onto Jethro Morgan’s trail drive.

As cattle drives went, it wasn’t a difficult or prolonged one. Instead of driving the herd to the railway at Cheyenne, they continued the drive southeast using the Western trail to Dodge City. This saved the cost of sending their stock over four different railroads to their destination at Kansas City where the buyers waited. Having been raised on ranches and used to working for forty and found, the two were ecstatic to be chosen after the drive to stay on as full time paid hands on the ranch itself. This was a cowboys dream come true. Positions like these were usually filled by wranglers too old or busted up to ride the trail anymore. A cowboys years of experience on the trail was not to be wasted. A wise ranch owner found work for these older cowhands breaking horses and gathering another herd together for market. Still, there is always the need for young strong backs to handle an ornery herd and to do the grunt work in branding young calves on the ranch.

Potato, named for the lumps left on his head after being trampled as a child by his father’s spooked herd asked his best friend, “So you ever gonna tell me what’s on your mind Clance?”

Clancy let out a deep breath and looking down and shook his head in the negative. “I wish I could pard, but this is something I got to deal with all by myself. I don’t mean to shut you out but it’s no one’s business but mine. You gotta understand just this one time, let it alone, OK?”

Knowing Clancy had approached Mr. Morgan a couple days back to ask for his daughters hand in marriage,  Potato assumed this was what was causing Clancy’s concern.“Well,” put in Potato, “asking for Sally’s hand in marriage sure complicated things a might. Not that I blame you! The two of you have had eyes for each other for five years now. Everyone on the ranch figured the day’d come when the two of you would confront Mr. Morgan about it. Heck, she’s a beautiful girl and her Daddy’s rich to boot! If I thought a woman could get past my looks, I’d a made eyes at her myself.”

“Aw come on Pot, don’t get goin’ on about your looks. You’re a better man than any I ever met. There ain’t a female that wouldn’t  be happy to have you at her side.”

With eyes smiling, Potato replied, “Maybe, but all the same, I’m happy just being single. Livin’ on the ranch with you as my roomy is about as much cultivation as I can stand. I was secretly hoping you all would get married so I don’t have to put up with your dang snorin’ anymore!”

Clancy chuckled at the thought, “It ain’t me that keeps the windows shakin’ at night  my friend. You all got the snores down so well tuned, you’d think I had a set of bagpipes as my pard…and that’s the truth!”

During the ribbing, Potato had sat higher up in his saddle watching the herd. “Look at them two,” pointing at two shorthorns snorting and butting heads. “I better go an break them two up before one looses an eye or worse.”  Having rode down range to the herd below, Potato began wacking his lariat on the aggressive beeves rears, driving the two apart.

Clancy settled deep in his saddle. He sat atop the rise watching his friend manage the beast below and pondered the decision he alone had to make. What Clancy thought would be either a simple acceptance or rejection of his asking Mr. Morgan for his daughter Sally’s hand, had instead been answered in the form of a question… and a challenge to his upbringing.

Chapter 2

Two weeks earlier, Clancy had finally built up the courage to speak his mind to Sally. It truly had been love at first sight for the both of them. Sally, whose fine reddish blond hair and powder blue eyes took second place only to her quirky wonderful smile, looked anxiously at the stammering young man sitting next to her on her father’s ranch house porch.

Holding her delicate hands in his, Clancy knew the two loved each other but the divide between them could not have been more evident.

She was a product of culture, having been sent East to Boston in her formative years for schooling. He, while attending school at his father’s demands, had only a one room schoolhouse’s education.

She was slender and finely boned. He was built thin at the waist but had a chest and arms wrapped in hard muscle.

She was to inherit a fortune someday. He would probably never own his own spread.

Still, with all the differences between them, they continued to fall in love.

“Sally, I know we are mountains apart in how we was raised. I haven’t a spread to offer and hardly have a savings to claim. Still, I just can’t shake the notion that somehow things would work out for the two of us if we was married.”

“Are you asking or telling me?”

“Oh, Gee, I guess I’m  not real good at this Sally, let me start afresh here.”

Sally smiled and said, “Continue then Clancy, I’m listening.”

Clearing his throat, and twisting her fingers within his own he started again, Sally….”

“Owww,” She suddenly exclaimed looking at her fingers, “Clancy dear, there’s nothing gained in breaking my fingers off, is there?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry Sally, I’m making a fool of myself. Did I hurt you much?”

Looking somewhat solemnly at him she replied “No dear, now… you were going to ask me something?”

Starting one more time Clancy made sure not to crush his loves hands anymore. “Sally, I am going to ask your father for permission to marry you.”

Sitting there hand in hand, staring at each other for a good ten heartbeats Clancy finally said, “Surely you knew someday I’d ask you. Don’t you have anything to say to me?”

She continued to look at him darkly but the small turn of her lips and slight glint of a smile in her eyes spoke differently . “Shouldn’t you ask me first?

Looking down ande shaking his head he replied.“ I’m so stupid, of course! Sally Morgan, I want you as my forever wife…I mean my wife forever…shoot Sally, you know what I mean. I ain’t the best romantic speaking man but I will be there for you, loving you and trying my best to make each one of your days as happy as they can possibly be.  Sally, will you marry me?”

“My dear Clancy, I could not ask for a more romantic proposal, and Yes, I will marry you, providing Daddy gives you his blessing.”

Noting the sweat beads that had formed on his forehead, she took her hand and gently wiped his brow with her fingers. Trying her best to calm the flustered lover, she told him. “He really likes you Clancy, I think he’ll give his blessing but one can never be sure. We do have as you say, ‘a mountain of difference between us’. It’s something to seriously consider. My family goes way back, across the ocean and back many, many generations in a country where honor and wealth were earned only by the strongest of men . Even so, my father is a fair and just man. Go, ask him and we will see what he says.”

The next night found Clancy dressed in his Sunday best knocking gently at the Morgan’s ornately carved wooden and frosted glass door. Marie, the Mexican house keeper let him in and said she would let Mr. Morgan know he was there to see him.

Standing in the large dark wood paneled  foyer, spinning his hat in his hands, Clancy nervously shifted from foot to foot.  Hearing heavy footsteps approaching, Clancy straightened his appearance as best as he could by licking his hand and plastering down his hair with it.

“Clancy! Come inside boy. Let’s sit down in the parlor, there’s a couple comfortable leather  chairs in there.  Let me light a lamp first.” Pointing to French provincial chairs against the wall he continued, ”I’m not too taken with those  skinny French made chairs. I told Hanna when she brought ‘em back from Paris that they were too fragile for someone of my girth!”

Hanna was Morgan’s wife and as many women in those days let the man of the house entertain his own guest. Like many wealthy families,  women traveling to Paris or London with her family was not the exception, but the rule. Hanna Elizabeth Morgan loved Wyoming as did her daughter now, but couldn’t quite accept the heavily built furniture that was so common in the West.  Thirty years earlier in Boston, after taking the advice from an influential friend of the two families Jethro and Hanna were married. It was a marriage of convenience. Combining the two family fortunes, the Morgan’s moved west and purchased a number of smaller connecting spreads and their livestock.  This made the Morgan ranch the largest in all of eastern Wyoming.

“What’s on your mind boy? Sally tells me you wanted to speak to me in private.”

“Mr. Morgan Sir, I’ve been working for the Morgan Ranch for over five years now. I’ve been blessed with the position here at the ranch and my gratitude for all you’ve done for me has not been unappreciated. What I’m about to ask of you and the answer you give me, may be the end of all this for me, so I need to tell you it hasn’t been easy on me coming here. “

Morgan resituated himself in his chair as if he was suddenly uncomfortable. “Son, then let’s get it out and say what’s on your mind.”

“Well Sir, as you know Sally and I have become close friends over the last few years. I’ve practically become family with all the outings and meals she’s invited me to. Why, I couldn’t imagine my sitting at church on Sunday without her being next to me in the pew.  I’ve grown to have deep feelings for her. So deep Sir that I am asking for your blessing that we would marry. I know being just a hired hand may be an insult to your idea of who your daughter should marry, but I could not live if I had not risked everything I have in order to gain what I desire the most.”

Morgan sat with his fingers church steepled under his chin not speaking.  Slowly closing his eyes as if resting, Clancy thought for a second that Mr. Morgan may have fallen asleep.

“You’re not the first to come here asking me for her hand. Did she ever tell you that? No? Well, she may not have even known because I never told her. A fellow Sally had met back east a few years back had his eyes on her. A rich boy, spoiled as sin but he had potential. He came all the way out here just two weeks ago to get my blessing. I sent him away.”

“I did not know that Sir.”

“Son, I’ll make you a deal. I’m in some dire straits financially. I’ve made some errors in judgment and all that I have I may losing if I can’t come up with the cash to repay a loan I secretly brokered with a pretty rough group back east.  As you’re aware, the next herd to be driven to Dodge is being assembled and should be ready to hit the trail next week. Now I’ll make some cash from the sale but not enough to cover my loan repayment. What I need though is $60,000 in cash more than the sale will bring in. I have a way to get it, but it means riding hard for the brand.”

“I ride for the brand now Mr. Morgan, what more can you ask of me?”

Leaning forward in the great leather chair, Morgan told him. “I want you to hook up with the Flying T’s herd while on the trail, and run your beeves along with theirs. When you leave here with the herd, I’ll make sure the timing is right so that you’ll meet up with the flying T near the ford on the North Platte. When you get to Dodge, I want all the Flying T’s cattle under your riders control. My lawyer drew up a phony bill of sale. You hand that bill of sale to the Flying T’s trail boss when you first meet up at the ford, he’ll have no choice but to hand over the herd.”

“The flying T would normally load their herd at the railway in Cheyenne. But in this case I want you to drive the entire mix of herd on to Dodge. By the time you have reached Cheyenne, I’ll make sure Phil Tollard of the Flying T is dead and gone. He has no known relatives and with the phony bill of sale, there’ll be no questions asked about the money I gave him for the herd. The authorities will just assume it all burnt up in the house fire that killed Tollard. In fact I may start a rumor that he was despondent and had spoken of ending it all when he sold me the cattle.”

Morgan strode over to a small box atop a delicate French vanity. Opening the box he removed a cigar. He took his time nipping the end and lighting it. Satisfied it was well lit, he blew a cloud of rich aroma scented smoke at Clancy. “You ride for the brand and Sally’s yours, you don’t ride, then I suggest you pack up and get on out. So what’ll it be son? Ride for or ride against. The choice is yours. You have one week to give me your answer.

Chapter 3

Clancy left the Morgan house feeling ill. He could not believe what Mr. Morgan had proposed. He needed to think.

After a sleepless night,  he asked Potato if it would be alright if he didn’t  join him rounding up strays for a few days. Clancy told him he needed to ponder on some things and wanted to be alone to think ‘em out. Potato agreed readily thinking it had to do with Sally. It did, but it wasn’t what  Potato thought.

Riding north till he hit the Powder River, he found a place to set a spell and rest. He pondered, prayed and ran every possible scenario through his head.

The whole act of stealing a herd and taking part in the death of Tollard just couldn’t be defensible. Even with Sally’s love at stake, he couldn’t bring himself to take another man’s life for money, no matter how badly it’s needed. Anyway he turned it, it was still murder.

Thinking back to his childhood and the times his Pa sat talking to him, Clancy dug through the attic of memories and what his Pa had told him about being a man, a husband and a father. Could he bring his own sons up as being trustworthy men knowing he had been able to marry Sally only because he cheated a man out of his stock and his life? Could he be that hypocritical? And what of sally? Could he really walk away from her? Was he that self righteous that he could deny her the opportunity to finally marry the one she loved? Could he ever forgive himself for walking away leaving her alone?

What about his Church upbringing? Truth be told, he had only started going again to be next to Sally. Yet even while he may have attended for the wrong reasons, what was spoken from the pulpit had still sunk in and slowly confirmed the truths he had learned from his mother when she read the Bible to him as a child. If he did what Morgan wanted him to do, he might as well become a man of evil through and through.  Once a man started down that path, he knew there would be little reason to stop.

Inside he had juggled enough in his head to know what he must do but he could not at this point in time admit it to himself. Somehow he imagined, things would work out and all would be claimed as a big misunderstanding. He just could not fathom the kind, generous and fair boss he so much looked up to, asking him doing this.

But the subject was approached, it was real and he knew he had to decide one way or the other.

Returning to the ranch, Clancy dove into his work to escape the torment of choosing between his dear Sally or his honor. He ate little and to those around him, said even less.

Potato gave him the space to think on things, figuring Sally’s father had turned down the blessing. Sometimes a man just needs to be alone he figured.

Chapter 4

The week crawled by. Any slower and time itself would have stopped. But the day did come and Clancy was called to the ranch house by Sally for a dinner invitation.

Once again arriving dressed in his Sunday best he walked up the steps as a man does going to the gallows.  In fact, he felt that may have been an easier choice.

Not bothering to slick down his hair this time, he approached the door and knocked. Sally opened it herself.

Staring wide eyed at Clancy’s appearance she blurted,“Why Clancy, you look absolutely morbid!” She commented,  ”has father been working to too hard?

“No, I’m alright Sally, I just have a lot on my mind. “

Before any further conversation between the two could continue, a booming voice behind Sally bellowed, “Clancy, come in boy, get out of the chill. Sally, take the young man into the parlor, he and I have something to discuss before we sit down to dinner. We’ll be joining you shortly.

Stepping in the parlor behind Clancy, Jethro Morgan closed the two glass pained French doors behind him.

“Sit down Clancy, I hope you’ve come to the right decision. “

“Sir, Mr Morgan,I believe I have, but if you don’t mind, I feel the need to stand up. ”

With a wave of his hand as if dismissing the offered chair, Morgan sat down in his own and returned a hard stare at Clancy asking, “Well? Spit it out boy!”

Clancy cleared his throat and wished he were anywhere but where he was. “Sir, before I give you my answer I have to tell you that I have given this some deep and agonizing thought. Never before have I been given a choice like this. I could have everything I want by cashing in my honor and all that my parents and church taught me or I can ride away with the memory of Sally’s love eating me like a cancer in my bones until death finally calls on me. It was a hard deal you offered. “

Stepping closer to Morgan now, Clancy continued. Mr. Morgan Sir, I am walking away from your deal. There is no one I will ever love and cherish more than your Sally, but what kind of man would I be to her? How could I raise our children to be honest and proud of their heritage if they knew the truth of what their heritage really was? How could I ever be trusted by Sally, you or anyone else? In the end when I stand before my maker, how could I tell him I did it out of love? I was raised by a Quaker, did you know that? Truth and honor meant something to my Dad and he passed that down to me. I could no more steal a mans goods and murder him as I could raise my hand in anger against Sally. No Sir! I refuse to commit to your deal. I find it reprehensible to my being.”

Jethro Morgan sat for a minute, then yelled in a loud voice for Sally and her mother to come into the parlor. The look he was giving Clancy caused his stomach to churn. Clancy knew he was about to be shamed in front of those he had grown to love. Leaving Sally was unbearable but now he knew he would leave broken too.

Morgan continued to stare at Clancy as they waited for the women to arrive. When they did, Morgan spoke directly to Sally..

“I told your young man I was in a financial strait, that we needed cash and explained he would have to steal the Flying T’s herd. In return I would give him my blessing to your wedding. He refused me!” Turning to his wife, he continued in a loud voice.” He would rather have his so called pride and honor instead of our beautiful daughter here! “

Turning to face only Clancy now, he walked slowly, coming up to him almost nose to nose. “Son, I told you another man asked for Sally’s hand and I refused him! Why did I do that? He was rich, he had connections in Washington, he had potential! Why I ask again, did I refuse him, can you answer me that Clancy?”

“Because he wouldn’t do it either?”

“No Clancy, because he said he would!”

Clancy blinked, “What?”

“Son, the man who marries my only daughter will inherit all that my ancestors up to myself have worked hard for. He will rule over the only child my wife bore. His children will have enough money to be used for good or evil, depending on how they are raised.”

Still facing Clancy, Morgan placed his hands on the young man’s shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. “It was a test Son. We had to know if you were good enough to rise from the saddle to the throne by honest means. You’d be running this place in a few years.  If you would have cheated a man out of his life and his cattle, could I trust you not to do the same to me? No Son, trust comes by hard, it’s earned not given. You have earned our family’s trust and love Clancy, Welcome to your family Son, you have all of our blessing.”

“You mean it was all made up? Mr Tollard won’t die and I don’t have to steal nothing after all? Tarnation! I’ve been worrying myself sick this past week and all along it wasn’t real”

“You’re wrong on that account Clancy, it was real alright. If you had decided to go ahead and make that deal with me, you’d be saddling your horse right now and Sally would have been cut out of your life forever. But you passed. We all prayed you would. Sally here wouldn’t give up on you. She said you’d never take the deal. It seems she knows her man pretty darn well.”

Putting his arms around the young man’s shoulder, Morgan guided the family out of the parlor into the dining room. “Now, since we have all agreed that you and Sally can marry, from now on son, you eat your meals with us. After Clancy pulled the chair out for the waiting Sally, he began to seat himself next to her.

“No Clancy, a man’s place is at the head of the table, Pulling out the head chair for him, Morgan smiled and said, “Sit here Son, you might as well get used to it!”

The water hole

 

The water hole

Prelude

It was the summer of 1863. The fire bright orange ball of sun was just beginning to touch the top of the Diablo Mountain range to the west.  The newest American State of Arizona cradled this small mountain range approximately sixty miles southwest of Tucson.

A lone horse carrying two riders made its way slowly east out of the Diaz pass in the attempt to escape the setting sun and the bushwackers somewhere behind them.  It wasn’t the sun that dogged the two as much as it was the bullets still lodged in them.  The rear rider hunched over his wounded wife trying his best to shade her from the sun and hold her upright in the saddle. The wife, a middle aged Mexican beauty whose flawlessly tanned face was cropped by her long black hair that now hid her pain clenched eyes, lifted her head slightly. She had regained enough consciousness to pat the arms of her loving husband as he held her firmly in place. Almost immediately after her show of affection, she again  passed out.

Chapter 1

The two were on their way back to Tucson after visiting her family still living in Sonoyta, a small sleepy Mexican border village known only for its Jesuit mission.

Their breakfast that morning consisted of hot coffee, corn cakes and jerky, a meager but filling trail meal. Pleasantly stuffed, they mounted and rode east facing the rising sun. By horseback they had a three day ride ahead and already had three days behind them.  It was midday when they again made the decision to stop and water their mounts with extra canteens carried for that purpose. More pieces of Jerky wrapped in corn cakes would be their midday meal.  It was then the riders, Del and his wife Maria, heard the approaching horses.

From the north came four riders. An unpleasant feeling settled in Del’s stomach as he watched the four slow their approached into their camp. Del made his way to over to his horses and removed the Henry rifle from his saddle holster.

The lead rider lifted both hands into the air and exclaimed, “Hey now Mister, no need to pull that long gun on us, we mean no harm to you and your lady. We’re just honest cowpunchers making our way south to the border. It seems people keep mistaking us for a group of bushwackers out of the Wickenburg area. So for our own protection, we needed to clear out of the territory. We been holed up for a week at a water hole about six miles in the direction we just rode in from. It’s got lots of fresh water but no game at all to speak of. We’re hungry”

Pointing to the corn cakes, the man named Theo told them,” We sure could use us some of your grub mister. We ain’t eat nothing but biscuits and dried beef an’ that ran out yesterday.” With a forced laugh and cold, unsmiling eyes, he said, “Shoot ,it ain’t our fault we look just like them desperados.” Then turning to look at the placement of his men he added,” right Jethro?”

Eyeing the Corn cakes Maria had been making, Theo, dismounted and moved nonchalantly towards the fire. Jethro and the two riders Bill and Jess , remained in their saddles but nudged their horses into a side step that widened their separation from each other.

Del was no fool, these men meant them harm. They were most likely the bushwackers they had just kidded about. Marie stood unmoving while Del evaluated each rider then shifted his eyes to her. Marrying Del had afforded her a protected life away from violence. Still, in her gut she knew these desperados meant them harm and she returned the nod ever so slightly that Del had made to her.

Without warning, Del raised the long gun and fired a slug clean through Jethro’s knee which dug into the side of his horse. Jethro’s hand never touched the gun in his holster. Screeching in pain, he fell off his grazed mount and onto the ground. The surprised Theo turned and cleared leather but fired too soon. Missing Del, the wild bullet drilled straight into Maria’s gut. Hearing Maria grunt, Del Cocked his lever action rifle and again fired, this time cleanly blasting off the gun hand of Maria’s shooter. With the force of a mule kick, searing pain punched Del in the back, knocking him face forward into the desert sand.

When Del regained consciousness, the riders had fled, as well as Maria’s mount. Each move drove the breath out of Del as he crawled over to where his lovely Maria lay. She was still breathing but the shallow irregular breaths told the story. Looking around, Del realized they had been robbed. Gone were the four large canteens of water they had carried with them.

With only one horse between them, and shot up as they were, Del knew that reaching Tucson was now out of the question.  They needed water quickly. The loss of blood drove his thirst, and he could only imagine what Maria was going through. Being shot in the back and Maria unable to help, there was no way to clean his wound. As for Maria’s wound, it was beyond cleaning.

With a herculean struggle, Del mounted his dear Maria in front of him on the saddle and wrapping his arms tightly around her, they headed north towards the water hole the bushwackers had told them of.

Chapter 2

As water holes went, it was rather amazing. An underground spring fed the crystal clear pool of cool water. In any other circumstances it would have been a delightful place to camp out at. A ring of Mexican fan palms surrounded the small water hole.

No bigger than two freight wagons pulled side by side, the pools edges were of hard rock. Desert willows and western dayflowers grew between them adding to the pools beauty.  Beyond the palms, Mesquite and Joshua trees completed the landscape.

In the distance, Del saw the tops of the green palms. He angled towards them fearing Maria wouldn’t make it that far.  As the rays of the setting sun reflected off of the idyllic water hole, Del kissed the back of his wife’s head telling her, “It’ll be alright sweet heart, we made it to the water hole. I just need you to help me get you down in one piece. Can you stay up while I dismount?”  Maria, didn’t speak but she nodded her head slightly. Del dismounted then lovingly lowered his wife to the ground.

Once on the ground, Del made his wife as comfortable as he could. He uncinched his saddle, letting it fall to the ground. His horse immediately lowered her head into the inviting pool and began drinking its life giving water.

Del removed his hat and dipped it into the pool. Bringing the dripping hat over to Maria, he pulled his kerchief from around his neck and sunk it into his hat. He then and squeezed the water soaked kerchief between her dry cracked lips.

“I’m so sorry Maria, we never should have traveled alone. Your family gave us warning, but I was too bull headed to listen. “

Maria opened her eyes and tried to smile. The words she spoke came only as a whisper. “Delbert my love, how many times have we traveled over this trail to visit my family? Have we ever been in danger? No my love, you could not foresee these brutal men this time.”  Maria coughed which nearly drove her back into unconsciousness. After a bit, she again spoke but notably quieter now. “I know am dying my love. Hold me until I leave.” Finding his hand she held onto it tightly and continued speaking, ”When I go, place me in the ground within sight of this beautiful pool.” Without turning her head, she slid her eyes over to the water hole. “ Never have I seen such beauty with all its flowers and trees.” Then looking back into Del’s eyes, she whispered, ” I will watch over you my love, look for me after I am gone.” With those last words on her lips, Maria stopped breathing.

Darkness settled over the desert landscape. If there were light, it would have illuminated a mortally back shot man weeping over the beautiful woman he held in his arms.

 

Chapter 3   

Daylight found Del feverish. He knew the bullet was lodged next to his left shoulder blade. It had missed his lung but now he felt a growing infection starting. Time was of the essence if he were to survive. He had to make it to a doctor.

Lifting Maria’s head from his lap, he gently placed her fully on the ground. His tears had left trails of wet desert dust down his cheeks. Making his way to the clear pool, he drank for the first time since arriving. It was then he noticed his horse was missing. During the night it had run off.

Wildly looking about, he painfully rose to his feet. Hoping the horse had just wandered off looking for nearby  graze, he made his way to a small rise in order to scan the landscape around him. Reaching the mounds top, he rotated his body searching the desert for any sign of his horse. There was no sign. Disappointed, he made his way back to the pool where Maria lay. He decided to bury her in the spot where she had drawn her last breath.

Grabbing a flat stone, Del dug the grave throughout the day until he was satisfied she would rest undisturbed.  Afterward, he placed the same stone on top of the mound and with his knife, carved her full name on its surface. Then he wept.

The turning of the earth once more brought about the evening sun to silhouette the small Diablo Mountain tops.

With little in the way of food and with a rising fever, Del drank of the cool waters again. For the hundredth time, he pondered Maria’s last words. “Why did she say to look for her,” he wondered. “What a strange thing to say as her last words!  What did she mean by them?”

Deciding she may have been delirious, he finally gave up and tried concentrating on his own survival. Besides, he thought to himself, he was becoming so feverish that he might soon be in the same delirious state himself.

Gathering small sticks and branches as best he could, he soon  had a small fire going. Inside his saddle bag, he found a few pieces of jerky and an uneaten corn cake Maria had rolled up in a sheet of parchment paper. Hunger avoided him but he knew he had to eat to survive. As darkness settled over the desert, he let the fire dwindle into a pile of glowing embers.

It was then Del heard his name quietly spoken. He hadn’t hear it in his feverish head but instead it came from across the pond from where he sat. Searching into the night he gasped. On the other side of the pond stood his beautiful Maria.  With feverish eyes Del gazed at the apparition before him. “Maria?” His voice cracked. “My beautiful Maria? Oh how I wish it were really you. My fever’s deceiving me.”

Without moving, his beautiful  Maria spoke. “You are not deceived my love, I told you I would watch over you. Did I not tell you that you should look for me?”

“This is a cruel dream!” He shouted angrily. Attempting to stand, he fell onto his knees. “You’ve been taken from me! You’re gone. No one comes back! “

“Yes, I was. But I am waiting here until you join me. As I lay dying, the beautiful Gabriel took pity on me. In my sorrow I begged him to let me stay behind until you too would cross over the pool to join me.
I was granted that act of kindness. He is waiting on the trail up ahead. When you join me, he will take us home.”

It was too much for Del’s feverish mind to accept. He resorted again to anger to remove the apparition from before his feverish eyes. “You are not real! As much as I would hope it were true, it ain’t!”

His angry outburst nearly made him faint. In pain and now on all fours, he lifted his head and looked across the pool to see his wife still standing on the other side. She continued to smile patiently at him.

“When I stir the pools water, drink from it and your fever will lower enough to know I am really here. Please Del, you are dying as I was but it will be a little bit longer before we are together again. I do not want you to suffer during that time.” Pointing to the water hole she spoke, “ Drink sweetheart, now.”

Del Crawled to the pools edge. Suddenely ripples formed as she dipped her hand into the pool, Del lowered himself into the water and drank.

The next morning found Del ‘s fever significantly diminished. Having eaten the last of his food the day before, he knew he was going to be in for a rough time. The funny thing was, Del thought, “I’m not feeling hungry in the least.”

Then remembering the previous night, he looked to the pools opposite side as if still expecting Maria to be standing there. “Sure seemed real at the time though,” He said quietly to himself. “Maybe she was a dream, maybe not. Whatever she was, she’s right though, my fever did go down.”

Attempting to stand, his legs found themselves too weak to comply. “Oh Jesus, I’m worse off than I thought! I’m a goner for sure.”

By noon the sun was at its blast furnace best. Del’s skin had begun to blister where it was exposed and his lips were cracked open in numerous places. With only the water to drink and trying to save what little strength he had left, Del decided to lay within inches of the pools edge. Still, his fever and the gnawing hunger that should be plaguing him were not evident. He rested, then again fell asleep.

Chapter 4

He awoke to Maria’s voice. “My love, wake up, let us talk again. I know you will soon be joining me but I want to talk of our love.”

Del opened his eyes. Unable to stand or even sit up now, Del noticed a faint light on the pools opposite side. There stood Maria, as beautiful and alive looking as the day he met her.

“Why? You know I love you. Is there something wrong?

“No, I just miss you terribly. Time is not the same for me anymore. Sometimes I feel years pass waiting for you to awake from your sleep. You will understand soon. It is unimportant, I am just anxious to touch you again. How do you feel today?”

In the back of his mind, Del continued to think that this all may be a fever dream or maybe this is what happens as one is dying. “I actually don’t know if I have a fever anymore or not.” He said, “I feel all weak and shaky but my head feels OK. Do you really have the ability to take my fever away with the pond water?”

“I’m glad you feel better, but no, it was not me who removed the effects of your fever. I do not have that power, it was given for me to use, that was all.. Touch your head, is it not still burning?”

Del brought his hand up and the laid palm of his hand over his forehead. The fever was still burning. “Yeah, I feel the fever on my hand but not inside my head. I don’t feel hungry either, of course that just might be from bein’ sick, No?”

“No, not really. I asked that you not suffer while I wait for you. Do you remember Padre Feliciano at the mission in Sonoyta? When I was young he taught us about how God loves us and will answer our prayers. Remember your and my long talks together about Heaven and being granted miracles in your time of need?”

“Yes, of course. I still believe all that. I just figured it was for really saintly folk, not a guy like me.  I’m not used to asking for help… as you know what a stubborn fool I can be. So you pray and he really answers?”

“It is more than just what we used to call prayer. I can sit with him and talk with him as a child. It is wonderful here, I can’t wait for you to be with me. It will not be much longer. You are very sick. I was told that if you wish, you may cross over the pond at any time you decide.”

Del wiped the sweat pouring into his eyes. The day was not yet hot enough to cause him to sweat this bad so he figured his fever must be raging. Moving on his stomach, he again lowered his mouth to the pools surface and gulped at the cool water. Lifting his head, he told her,“Maria, I’d do anything to be with you right now, you know that. You know me though, I don’t give up till the end. I still want to somehow try and make it to Tucson, get healed up, return here and take you back there for a proper burial.”

“I understand my love, but there is no need to think of doing all that. I am at peace where you buried me. I asked that you bury me here besides this beautiful pool among the green plants. I am happy that you did, it made your heart happier knowing I rest in this beautiful place. Where in Tucson is it as beautiful as here?”

“You have me there!” Del answered. “I wouldn’t mind finding myself being buried here next to you.” Suddenly Del began to chuckle, “Thing is my dear, there’s no one around to do the honors!”

“Trust me my love, it will be.” And with that, Maria once again faded into the darkness.

“Maria? Maria! Don’t leave me, I’m scared to die by myself. I need you to be with me when I go!”

Del fell into a fever wrought sleep. By noon he was unable to crawl the few inches to the pond to quench his thirst. He could tell by the smell that the infection in his back was septic.

Still, he felt little pain and no fever. By now his body was being horribly wracked by the sun as well as the fever. If he could see himself, he would not recognize the face that was once a handsome man. Being born and raised in west Texas had given Del a ruggedness one could only describe as manly. He now appeared to be a shell of what he used to be. He was now so dehydrated that even the skin on his hands became as thin as parchment paper.

lying on his stomach and unable to move about , Del looked over where Maria had been appearing and in a voice that sounded more dead than alive he tried shouting for her,” Maria!” His face collapsed onto the flat rocks edging the pool.

“ Yes my love? “

Barely lifting his head he asked, “Where did you go? You left me! I’m scared sweetheart, I never died before! Will it hurt?”

“No Del, it will not hurt. You only have to walk across the water to hold me once again. Please, trust me Del, have in all our years together given you any reason or cause to doubt me?”

“No, you have been my trusted soul mate since we met. I’m a goner here sweetheart, my heart is racing and I can’t breath well no more. How do I find the strength to get up and walk over to you”

Maria smiled broadly at her loving husband and told him. “ Stand up my sweet, it is time for you to hold me once again.”

Del shakily started to rise, then suddenly found a strength that was not within him before. Rising to his full height, he stretched and looked about startled at what he saw. The pond water shimmered with the luminescence like that of a sea shells inner pearl essence.  The blue and purple flowers now radiated in hundreds if not thousands of colors he had never seen before. Amazed at what he saw, his eyes finally sought out and found those of Maria’s. “Oh my gosh.” He exclaimed, “You’re so beautiful!”

“As you are my love!”

Del looked down and saw his hands were strong and youthful, his voice once again strong his legs felt powerful. He walked over the ponds surface and threw his arms around his dear wife. “I love you so much! Am I really dead now?”

‘Turn around and see for yourself.”

Del, still holding Maria turned enough to view across the pond. There his body lay sprawled on the ground. “I guess I am dead, this ain’t so scary after all. It was nothing crossing over the pond,” He said to her smiling. “Do we leave the pond now to go home?” He asked her.

“We will leave after this is played out,” She told him, “there is something that must be finished first.

When she was through speaking, Del heard the sounds of horses arriving at the pond. At first he thought it was ironic that just as he dies help arrives. Then he saw who the riders were. The four bushwackers.

 

Chapter 5

The four rode in still bandaged and bleeding. Their leader Theo, had his stump wrapped in an old shirt and Jethro sagged in his saddle feverish from the knee wound. The two unhurt riders dismounted easily and strode over to Dels corpse. A kick to the ribs lifted him a few inches clear of the ground and nearly dumped him into the pool. Del and Maria stood on the opposite bank watching not 20 feet away but invisible to those alive. “Dangest bad luck I’ve ever seen!” Said Theo, “help me down Fred. My stump is killin’ me.”

Once on the ground Fred helped Jethro dismount. Jethro lay moaning where he was placed. The four horses made their way to the pond and drank deeply. The other unhurt bushwacker Bill, asked Theo what to do with Dels body. “We cain’t be leavin’ it layin’ about.” He told Theo, “ It’ll draw critters and coyotes from miles around. Then they’ll  sense your blood an’ you bess believe while you sleep, they be on you in a minute! Besides, he’s startin’ to stink”

Even in his pain Theo knew Bill was speaking the truth. “Yeah, you and Jess bury him over there by that other grave. It must be his woman. The diggin’ will be easier over there anyway seeing  as it’s been already dug up once before.”

That night the four drank what whisky they had left and enjoyed a meal from the last of  Marie’s stores.

Del Turned to Maria saying angrily. “Did you see what they did? That bushwacker kicked me even though I was dead! He said I stink too! I’ll teach them to go kicken on me!”

Pulling his pistol from it’s holster, Del fired all six well aimed shots at the men. There was no explosion, just clicks. “What’s going on? I know I reloaded, they should be shot to heck!”

“Guns do not work here my love.’

Throwing his gun down, Del ran around the pond and up to the four bushwackers. There he swung his fist to and fro, up and down…all with no more effect that punching a puff of smoke. ‘”I can’t even punch them Maria! This just ain’t fair! They need to be punished, they shot you, they shot me they stole your horse!”

“Come back to me my love and I’ll explain.”

Del rounded the pond to stand next to his wife again.” I guess I acted the fool, didn’t I?”

“You were upset and you wanted vengeance. Remember, here there is only one who says, ‘vengeance is mine’. It is not ours to seek vengeance, not here.  Do you remember the night your horse ran away from the pond? Yes? OK, I must tell you it did not just wander off as you thought. I frightened it off!”

‘”Why did you do that? And how come these bushwackers don’t see me but you said you were able to scare off my horse?”

“Men cannot see a spirit, for that’s what we are now my love, but an animal can.”

“Why did you do it, scare off my horse I mean?”

“I did it because you were dying and I didn’t want you dying somewhere out in the desert where your body would become a meal for scavengers. I was selfish, I wanted you to lie in your grave next to me.”

Del looked sheepish. “Oh, then I guess that’s OK then. So what about these no goods here? Do we just have to let them ride out of here free to do what they please?”

“No, watch this.”

Maria stepped in front of the horses and screamed at the top of her lungs while waving her arms frantically. As one, the horses bolted in panic, never to return.

“What the hell did that?” Theo shouted. “what spooked ‘em to hell like that? In the condition we’re in, there ain’t no way we can track ‘em down. Look way out yonder to the east, they’ll be twenty miles off by morning the way they’s runnin’! Were goners without them horses.” Looking around he yelled, “Dammit, they had our packs on ‘em too!”

Del sat on the ground laughing as he realized what Maria had just done. “You stranded them here the same way I was!”

“I told you it would all work out didn’t I”

“Oh my gosh, did you think that up yourself?”

“No,” She said looking up the trail, “I had some advice.”

Chapter 6

On the morning of  the fifth day, Jethro had passed on. By noon Theo had followed. Without food, Bill and Jess were so weak, neither could stand. The seventh day found them both expired in the furnace known as the Sonora desert.

The four sat looking forlorn and lost at the edge of the pond next to their corpses. Not having crossed over to the opposite shore yet, they were unable to see Del or Maria yet.

After a time, within a shimmer of golden light, the beautiful Gabriel came to the pond. He strode over to Del and Maria and greeted them warmly. Del would have cried at the beauty of Gabriel but there were no tears to shed on this side. Squeezing both their hands he let go and walking to the ponds edge Gabriel called the four men in a voice that was as powerful as dynamite yet as loving as a child with a kitten. “Come here. Cross over the water and follow me!”

As if suddenly awake, the four gathered themselves up and one by one crossed over the pond to stand in front of Gabriel. It was then they noticed Del and Maria.

Ignoring the beautiful Gabriel, Theo yelled out, “Why you two scoundrels got us kilt out here!” The four drew their pistols and began firing away at Del and Maria… all with no effect. After realizing their guns only made clicking sounds, Theo threw his gun at Del’s head…which went clean through with no harm to Del. “What?” Exclaimed Theo, It was then he realized his hand had been returned to him. Turning in amazement he shouted, “Look fella’s, my hand! It’s back on me!”

Theo stood there smiling while the other three gathered around him wide eyed.

At that moment, Gabriel once again commanded and pointed to the south, “Go, follow that trail, there you will forever reside at its end!”

As the four headed down the trail heading south, they began laughing and telling crude jokes and  wondering if there were any loose women to be had. Del stood up, took Maria’s hand in his and together they began to follow the four down the Southern trail.

“Delbert, Maria, stop!” Gabriel’s hand reached out to them and halted their steps.  “That trail is not for you two, it is for them. It heads South where the dark reigns forever.

Stepping between them, Gabriel gently spread his arms over their shoulders as a bird protecting her young.  After turning them in the opposite direction, the three began walking. Smiling broadly, Gabriel then told them. “Delbert? Maria? Come, your trail is with me, to the north, into the light.”

The Old West…

 Its women

Its Cowboys

Its territories                                                                                                                                     

Its untold stories                                   

Its forgotten history

In these fictional short stories I wrote , you will discover the men and women of the 1800’s American frontier and how they shaped the most powerful nation in the world.

They tamed a wild, inhospitable land into submission by harnessing old world skills, values and being unafraid to draw a line in the sand.

In honor of all who came before, who threw a rope, who rode for the brand, this blog consisting of my short stories is dedicated to them.                      


“Each post listed on the right side column is the title to one of my written Western Short Stories… read ’em and enjoy ’em for free! These are not cut down versions of a longer tale.

For those of you interested in heritage recipes and trail cooking, visit my cooking blog by simply clicking on the old wood cook stove shown in the column to the right.  Ride easy and eat well my friend.”   JW

The ghost of Dead Horse by JW Edwards

The ghost of Dead Horse

Chapter 1

On the day the town of Dead Horse’s founder and visionary bank owner died, it rained.

Rain wouldn’t have been unusual in Dead Horse if it was in July or August during the height of the rainy season, but it was unheard of in January. While rain is usually appreciated for its life giving moisture in the prairie, this was a dry, dusty, rock strewn desert town in Eastern Arizona. Rain in Dead Horse was more of a pain in the ass than it was a Godsend. In a desert town, dry washes become raging death traps, roads become knee deep mud pits that bog down man and beast alike and roofs leak through their dried and cracked tar paper coverings. Rain in January was an omen for the town of Dead Horse, a very bad omen.

Since the day Everett Burke gave up his ghost, the thriving spirit that he had injected into the town using his congenial generosity and ‘can do’ attitude began to diminish. With each heat searing sunrise the town’s future looked more and more unlikely to survive. No one had stepped up to fill Burke’s shoes. The town council seemed apathetic and divisive, caring more for their personal financial outlook than that of the towns.

The Sheriff became a drunk and hid inside his office, rarely out walking the streets to keep the peace and impression of a town securely protected. Instead, he preferred to wait until night fell to walk the creaky wooden walkways along the towns store fronts and only then to find his way to the Lost Dollar Saloon for drinks.

Dead Horse started out with many of the advantages few towns could boast of. Plunked down between Santa Fe and Flagstaff on the Old Beale wagon trail, it put its roots into the ground on the eastern edge of the Arizona territory desert.  This envious placement between the two larger towns permitted its merchants to cheaply resupply frontier bound wagon trains along with the hungry hoards of miners heading into gold country.

In 1881, the long awaited decision by the Santa Fe Railroad to lay rail alongside the wagon trail had been made. Unfortunately for Dead Horse, the Santa Fe’s finger of prosperous fate pointed its finger at the nearby town of Cholla. Just twenty five miles west of the border Cholla got the nod for the location of the Santa Fe’s new station, water tower and mile long siding. Besides political and sweetheart deals promised to secure the rail depot favoring Cholla, there was one legitimate reason for Dead Horse’s coming in second. Water.

Both towns were like many of those that sprung up from mining. Both had a few saloons, whorehouses, liveries, a dry goods store and a blacksmith.

What the Santa Fe railroad discovered during its survey was that Cholla had a single centralized deep well that supplied the town with plenty of water. On the other hand, Dead Horse’s populace drew its water from a spring that erupted out of the ground behind the town hall. Arizona springs were notorious for drying up or becoming seasonal. The Santa Fe survey determined that the Cholla deep well could supply a growing city with rail support forever.

It hadn’t taken long for mercantile and saloon owners alike to pack up and relocate to the boom town of Cholla and beyond. Day by day the mood of Dead Horse and its populace grew darker as they watched their town shrink business by business. The once busy main street could now be safely crossed by a blind man.

The town’s founder and principal deed holder stood helpless as his banks deposits dwindled. Holding worthless deeds it couldn’t sell, the bank’s books slid from black to red.

 

Chapter 2

When all the banks tellers had left for the day, Everett Burke  told the banks manager to pull all the blinds and lock the door behind him when he left. When the banks manager asked him about the blinds, Everett told him, “Sid, the banks done for. We haven’t even got enough cash in the vault to cover all the deposits. I got enough cash on hand set aside for employee wages for the last week and that’s about it. I’ve been using my own money to bolster the bank for over six months. I’m dead broke Sid, I can’t do it no more. When the folks here find out their hard earned savings are gone, I’ll be hanging from a tree out back for sure. It’s all my fault Sid, I should have done like the Mayor of Cholla did and kiss the butt of that surveyor fellow, but I truly thought we had it sewn up tight, I really did.”

Sid locked the door and was making his way down the street when he heard a single gunshot fired from inside the bank.

Within the confines of his smoke filled office, Everett Burke’s body sat sagging in his leather chair nearly headless. A short barreled greener shotgun normally kept in the office in case of robbery, lay on the floor next to him. The gory mess clinging to the back wall was all that remained of the once smiling face of the man who had made the town.

Hearing the blast within the bank, towns folk started gathering out front trying without success to see behind the pulled window shades. Deciding against rushing back into the bank, the frightened manager ran instead to the Sheriff’s office down the street.

Taking the bank key’s from Sid, Sheriff Hensley unlocked front door he stepped into the bank. All looked peaceful but the smell of burnt gunpowder said it wasn’t. Making his way behindthe teller stations, the Sheriff strode cauciously over to Everett’s private office.  With trepidation, he opened the door fully. A window with its shade pulled partially down let enough feeble light in for the Sheriffs eyes to absorb the scene before him. Stepping back outside the office, Sheriff Hensley doubled over and puked.

Having seen a few men shot dead was nothing like nothing this. Only Everett’s lower jaw and teeth still sat balanced upon his shoulders. A horrible mix of bone, brains and blood dripped its way down the wall to the floor.

Still gagging, he stumbled out of the bank and onto the street. “Somebody get the damn undertaker here.” He shouted. “And go fetch a sheet or something, he blowed his head clean off something horrible.”

It was while waiting for the undertaker to arrive that the strange January rain started. The townsfolk soon skedaddled off to dryer regions while the Sheriff, quite ill and green looking, guarded the bank door.

Just as soon as Everett’s body was wrapped and hauled off, Sheriff Hensley headed off to the relative dryness of his own jailhouse.

That evening as the pounding rain found each and every hole in the jailhouse roof, Sheriff Hensley, known for his abstinence, sat at his desk drenched from the leaky deluge and finished his first ever bottle of whisky.

Chapter 3

On a hot July day and seven months after Everett blew his head off, Jeddah Tate crossed over the single set of railroad tracks less than a mile from the outskirts of Dead Horse. Jed reined up the chestnut mare he’d cinched his saddle to for the last six years .

Rolling a smoke between his fingers, he stared at the dusty town down the road. Striking a Lucifer match with his thumb nail, he lit his smoke and inhaled deeply. The parcel of Virginia grown tobacco was almost gone now. Jed stretched out what was left by limiting himself to only one or two smokes a day. With white puffs of smoke looking like Apache smoke signals, he nudged the mare on towards town.

Dead Horse had all the makings of a town that had seen its zenith. While not looking completely abandoned, there were enough empty store fronts to say it was seeing hard times.  Jed knew of many towns in the west  that had suffered the same fate as Dead Horse. The railroad was a double edged sword. Where a station was placed, prosperity raised its head. When bypassed, a town bled out like a gut shot cattle rustler.

Passing a still working blacksmiths shop, he noticed it had a livery stable behind it. He dismounted and pounded on the heavy door of the livery. A giant man as black as coal itself pushed the big cross bucked door open with a powerful shove in response to Jed’s knock.

“I’d like to stable my horse for a day or two if there’s still an empty stall inside.”

“Got a bunch of ‘em open Suh.  Ain’t like it used to be, that is fo’ sure. Bring dat big chestnut on over here Suh, I treat her like my own.”

The black man reached out and clipped on a halter rope then led the animal into a stall. “Her cost is twenty five cents hay’s included. Along with a rub down and a good peek at his shoes, I’ll grain her for a dime.”

Unclipping the lead rope he continued as if talking to himself, “More folks forget about checkin’ dem shoes until they throw one, then they come back bellyaching that my shoes don’t last.” Grabbing a cut up blanket, the black started in on the rub down. “ I tells people all duh time Suh, but they don’t seem to take no notice.”

Finished with the rub down, he laid in some fresh hay and filled the trough with water. Running his hands down her shoulders and flanks he said, “She’s a bit on the thin side Suh, It’ll be OK to sack up some grain for her?”

“Yeah, that’d be fine. She’s been eating desert scrub for the last few days after she ate through all the grain I had for her. With all the other things packed in the saddle bags, I could only carry so much for her.”

While still in the stall with the mare, the big black man inspected the shoes one by one. “Hmmm, seems they be alright for a bit yet. But don’t let ‘em get too worn down. I’d put a new set on an’ give her hoofs a good trimmin’ if I was a travelin’ man but it’s yo’ horse Suh, not mine. “

“Well, maybe some other time,huh?

“If you change yo’ mind, it’s only two dollars Suh.”

Satisfied that he had left his horse in good hands he asked him where the nearest saloon was.

Leaving the livery, he made his way up the alley until he reached the covered wooden plank walkway of the store fronts.

The sound of his Mexican spurs on the wooden walkway made a pleasant jingling sound as he made his way to the saloon to escape the searing heat. Approaching the saloons set of bat winged doors, he dusted himself off with his hat and ran his hand through his hair.

Jed entered the lamp lit saloon expecting the usual cluster cowboys , whores and gamblers gathered for a time of revelry of socializing and drinking. What he saw instead could only be described as a funeral parlor.

No tables had card games going, no girls were to be seen, no piano player was plinking tunes and only one half sleeping drunk sat at the bar. The only sound was that of the bartender dusting off the bottles lined up in front of the mirror.

After taking three or four steps into the saloon, he stopped and with both hands raised slightly in question, Jed looked at the bored looking bar tender and asked, “ Where the heck is everybody?”

With a snort of disgust he replied, “You’re looking at ‘em mister.  You want a drink, I got that. You want company for the night or a game of cards, go on over to Cholla. Ain’t nothing here no more except what I got in stock.  An’ in truth, when that’s used up, I’m gone too!”

Stepping up to the bar and pointing at the lined up whisky bottles , he said, “Give me one of those, will ya?”

The bartender handed him a clean glass and a bottle of whisky. Jed paid for it and half filled his glass. “I take it Cholla’s a nearby town but what’s the reason this place ain’t doing so good?”

Placing an unopened bottle of whisky in front of Jed, the bar tender pointed his thumb behind him. “If you rode in from the north, you also rode right over the reason this town ain’t doin’ good’. The railroad is what happened. The Santa Fe went an’ built its station in Cholla bypassing us here. Twice a day now that damn train rubs it into our faces by blowin’ its damn whistle as she passes by.”

Jed rubbed his stubble covered chin and shook his head slowly from side to side in sympathy as he recalled taking a smoke break near the tracks outside of town.  “Yup, with the railroad comes prosperity… sometimes anyway. I met a man and his family on the trail. He that told me some ranchers joined together and set up a big canned meat packing operation and he was going to work for ‘em.  I take it then that the big draw in Cholla is jobs?”

“Sure is,” the bartender said, “It’s a fair sized operation they got goin’ there.  There’s  big cattle pens built next to the plant to hold a whole damn herd till they’s butchered.  ‘Course any cattle town makes for a foul stink but the way I hear it, them cows they got penned up there to be butchered are a sickly lot to begin with an’ they smell to high heaven. I also heard some politician who’s in charge of overseeing army food supplies to the western outpost,  got his fingers in the pie over there in Cholla. It seems friends of his is makin’ a killlin’ sending the plant diseased and half dead cattle to get canned then sold to the Calvary. The only blessing I can see from Dead Horse not getting the railroad is we ain’t got to smell them damn cattle!”

“I don’t cotton to butcherin’ no sick cattle. No good comes of it.

“I agree with you on that point mister, Still, I’m closin’ this place and headin’ over there too, stink or no stink. There’s good money to be made movin’ my business there. I already got a carpenter crew lined up, all I’m waitin’ on is the railroad to deliver my building materials.”

Finishing his drink, Jed poured himself another.  Noticing  that the half asleep drunk had lifted his head from atop his folded arms on the bar and was looking at him, Jed lifted his glass and asked, “Wann’a drink fella?  I ain’t gonna finish the whole thing an’ it’s already bought an’ paid for. Seems a shame to waist it.”

As the drunk made his way over, Jed saw the star on his chest. “You’re the Sheriff here, huh?”

Ignoring Jed, the Sheriff lifted the bottle to his yellow toothed pie hole and chugged the whiskey as if it were water. Jed looked wide eyed over at the bartender who just looked downward shaking his head. A heavy look of distain on his face.  When the Sheriff set the bottle back down if front of Jed, a thick gob of slobber ran down its neck.

Pushing the bottle back towards the Sheriff, Jed told him. “Keep the bottle Sheriff, I just lost my appetite for a drink.”

Turning back to the bartender Jed asked, “Since your soiled doves up and left here, would you have an empty room?  I’ll pay the goin’ hotel rate for one during my stay here if you do.

“Mister, for the price of that bottle you just bought, you can have any room you want, and it’s on the house.”

“Sounds good to me then.” Leaving the coin change from his whisky purchase on the bar top, Jed smiled and half kiddingly asked, “ Can I still find a meal, bath and shave here in town, or do I need to head off to Cholla for that too?”

“Naw, the towns not that dead yet. Bang on the barber shop door, Fred’ll be glad for the chance to earn a buck, no matter what the time. He also has hot baths in the back. If you want me to, I can put your personals up in a room here while you go off an’ take care of things. Upstairs it’ll be the first door on the left”

After a hot meal of beef stew, a scrubbed clean and freshly shaved Jed headed back to the saloon and his room.

Giving a thankful nod to the bartender, he traipsed up stairs and pushed open the first door on the left. Light from the hall lamps lit the room enough to show that the bartender was still keeping the place up as best as he could. A whores neatly made up bed with fancy sheets and pillows sat in the far corner under a lace curtained window. A small wooden night stand with a half filled oil lamp on it stood next to the bed. Against the wall to the right stood a white painted vanity with its porcelain water pitcher and bowl still in place. A decoratively painted wooden commode with its pot inside sat alongside the vanity.  Lighting the lamp, he let out a slow quiet whistle. “Dang,” he thought, “I should be so lucky as to end each day in a towns that’s goin’ belly up!  I guess one towns bad luck is another man’s good luck”

 

Chapter 4

The morning sun greeted the lace curtain and diffusely lit the room. Jed’s eyelids fluttered then opened fully.  Performing his morning toilet, he ended it by combing his freshly cut hair and plopping his hat back on his head. On his way downstairs he greeted the bartender again who this time was busy packing up straw filled wooden crates with glassware.

“Mornin”, Jed said tipping his hat, ”I see you’re serious about packing up and heading out, you gonna close down before the new place is built?”

“Nope, just preparing, that’s all. With so little business, I gotta do something with my hands, I’m ‘bout bored to death. You stayin’ the night again?”

“As long as you don’t lock me in and close down while I’m sleeping, I will. I’m gonna head over to the Smithy and see about him puttin’ some new shoes on my horse.

“I see you left your belongings upstairs, but don’t fret that the whores rooms ain’t got locks on ‘em, they’ll be safe.”

After meeting with and paying the Smithy, Jed headed over to the last operating Café in Dead Horse for a long awaited real breakfast, all to be washed down with plenty of strong hot coffee.  Removing his hat, Jed stepped inside and hung it on an empty hook by the door. Settling down to his meal after his order arrived, he and the other patrons were taken by surprise when the front door was thrown open to slam against the wall with a loud bang.

A small balding man wearing a black wool vest, clean white shirt closed at the neck with a black short tie stood excitedly inside the doorway and yelled. “Hey ya’ll, did ‘cha hear ‘bout Cholla?  They got the Cholera goin’ on somethin’ fierce there!”

Immediately the place was in an uproar with chairs tipping backwards and more than one coffee cup finding its way to the floor.

Almost as one, ball fifteen patrons voices started shouting questions at the small man. “Hold on, hold on folks, this here telegram’s all I know.”

Waving the yellow slip of paper, the little man who as it turned out to be, was the telegrapher for the stage depot. Taking a pair of spectacles from his top vest pocket, he held the paper up to read it. The crowd quieted down.

“Dead Horse”, it read. “Cholla quarantined STOP Cholera STOP Do not enter STOP Governor notified. STOP No rail service STOP Stay out STOP Folks got rice water. STOP Horrible deaths stay away.”

A chorus of “Holly molly’s and other exclamations followed the reading. Outside voices were also shouting the bad news.

Stepping out of the Café, Jed headed into the street and headed over to the Sheriff’s office.  Jed had seen the nightmare of Cholera before in an Indian village. Rarely passed from person to person it still had the effect of a plague. He knew that the culprit had to be the water supply as Cholera was normally transmitted by water. He figured Cholla’s single large well must have been somehow contaminated. What worried him as much Cholla’s well was the statement in the telegram of folks having rice water. It defined Cholera from many other misdiagnosed ailments. Cholera’s first symptoms were stomach cramps followed by explosive diarrhea. After a bit, ones insides held no more solids within them. The body continued to expel translucent white bodily fluids by the quarts. In hours, the expelled fluid took on the powerful odor of stinking fish. An unquenchable thirst resulted from the vast loss of fluids. It was a double death blow. The chance of surviving the original ingestion was low. Now with an unquenchable thirst, it drove the dehydrated populace to re ingest even more of the death as they consumed even more of the tainted water.

 Chapter 5

Reaching the Sheriff’s office, the doors  the brass bell jingled when he opened it. Stepping inside, Jed found the bleary red eyed Sheriff bent over and rummaging through the cabinets.

Pulling papers and other items from a lower cabinet onto the floor, the Sheriff mumbled angrily to himself.  “Where the hell did that bottle go, I know I had it the other day.”  Unaware of Jeds arrival or the jingling of the bell, the Sheriff finally gave up and in frustration plopped himself down in his chair. Only then did he notice Jed standing over him. “And what the hell do you want boy?” He directed his anger at Jed, “State your business or go on an’ get the hell out’a here!”

Getting red under the collar, Jed deliberately pronounced each word of his question slowly through clenched teeth. “You’re a hell of an excuse for a Sheriff. Are you aware of what’s goin’ on over Cholla way?”

“Sure I’m aware! They got themselves the plague. And what the hell’s it to you what I know or don’t know? I’m the Sheriff here ain’t I?  ”

Jed saw the hands shaking almost uncontrollably as the Sheriffs need for whisky became greater.

“First of all Sheriff it’s worse than you know, you better listen to me or I’ll drag you out’a that chair, tie you to a mule and kick your useless ass all the way to Flagstaff and make myself Sheriff!“

About to respond, the Sheriff realized he had just met his match and gave up. Even when he was a younger and sober man he was no match for an angry Jed. Dropping his head in shame and without looking up, he spoke. “I’m in over my head here mister, I’m an old man. Hell, I’ve seen cholera before, my wife an’ kids back in ‘67 saw it real good, too good.” Taking the star off his chest, he slid it in front of Jed. “You think you can handle a cholera outbreak? I know I can’t. You want my job mister? You got it.  I’m out’a here. If you had any brains you’d skedaddle too. This towns dyin’ a financial death for sure but what’s goin’ on over in Cholla just let loose the grim reaper, an’ he’s about to turn his eyeless skull this way!”

Shakily rising from his chair, the Sheriff grabbed his hat and headed for the door. The happy jingle of the doors overhead brass bell sounded out of place in the tense atmosphere as he opened it. Before stepping out into the heat he turned one last time and looked around. “Here”, he said tossing the keys back to Jed. Making his way up the street, Jed heard him say, “Hell of a way to retire, hell of a way!”

Jed stared at the badge lying on the desk top. He reached out and spun it with his finger. Thinking, he pondered the situation he found himself in. “Darn, this is not what I needed to happen. This town has some  major hurt comin’ down on it and these folks here are blind to it. That Sheriff knew what’s happening but ran on out anyway. Bastard! That plague ain’t gonna just sit still in Cholla that’s for sure. I figure the first person who makes his way from there to here’s gonna bring it with ‘em and from there out to all Arizona.”

Picking up the badge, Jed pinned it on his chest as he walked out the door. As horrible as the cholera was, sometimes you had to be just as horrible to stop it. He knew what had to be done.

Back out in the dusty street  most folks were seen preparing to head out of town. Jed walked up the street to see if he could find anyone who officially represented the town. The town hall was dark as well as the lawyer’s office next door. Dead Horse was truly a dead town.  The town was vacating, but thankfully, no longer towards Cholla.

Heading back to the saloon, he was surprised to find a number of people had gathered inside. The din of the crowd dimmed as onlookers saw the badge pinned to Jed’s chest. A young man with missing teeth and long stringy blond  hair stepped up to him “What for you got the Sheriffs badge on Mister?” Others began to question him also.

“Your Sheriff quit. Walked out on ya’. He tossed the job to me, anyone wanna’ contest that?” After a brief silence, Jed continued. “I didn’t think so.”

The ugly kid who spoke up before did again. “What you all gona’ do Sheriff?  Cholla’s less than a half days walk from here. Seems to me an’ others, what they got could make its way here soon enough. Maybe we all outa get on out’a here an’ head up to Flagstaff like everyone else is doin’. They say bein’ high up in the cold air that sickness don’t get there.”

“Well, that may hold some truth, I heard the same. The problem as I see it, is folks from Cholla getting’ past us an spreading what they got elsewhere. That quarantine there ain’t gonna’ hold for crap once folks see what happens to them that got the sickness. They’re gonna’ run for scared for their lives, ‘an in doin’ so, they’s gonna’ spread the illness everywhere they go. No, we gotta stop ‘em, an’that means killin’ ‘em before they can leave.”

The shock on the crowds face was proof that these town folk were pretty ignorant of the effects of Cholera.

“Now listen. Cholera spreads real easy in water. But it ain’t the water that started it, it was folks or animals shittin in the water that started it. I heard Cholla got one well, that’s it. That means everyone in Cholla’s dependent on that one well. Now if that well got tainted, as I believe it did, then there ain’t a soul that drank water within the last couple days that ain’t gonna’ come down with cholera. Sure a couple here or there may make it, but you wanna’ try an’ figure out which ones is they is? I didn’t think so. What we gotta do is unthinkable but needs to be done. We need to torch the town and all within it.”

The bar tender confronted Jed. “Holly crap mister! That’s outright murder! You cain’t just go an kill a whole town ‘cause they’s sick! We sent a telegram to the Governor, let him decide what to do. Besides, I have a business startin’ there. What about me?”

“By the time the Governor gets off his fat and decides what should or shouldn’t be done, Cholla’s gonna’ be a goner. What I’m telling you is, we need to stop anyone from leavin’ there and contain the sickness to just Cholla.

Chapter 6

An hour later, Jed, the bartender and 17 volunteer riders rode out to Cholla with a wagon containing three barrels of lamp oil.

“Don’t no one drink nothin’, touch nothing alive nor let anyone stop you from what you’re doin’. The winds from the west so we need to start at that end of town and work east. Soon as the riders spreading oil are halfway up town, the rest of you to start torchin’ the place. Leave nothing standing and shoot anyone able to walk. It won’t be many.”

Upon reaching Cholla the riders saw the horror of Cholera up close. Many town’s folks had stripped off their fouled clothes and now lay naked in growing pools of their watery stink. Their rears ends were still explosively ejecting the watery body fluid onto the dirt. Too dehydrated to even moan anymore, their mouths quivered in silent pain.

“Oil group, get going! The rest of you with the torches light ‘em up and wait for my signal.”

By morning, the town of Cholla was gone. So were the riders.

The railroad that brought such short lived prosperity also brought plague infected cattle. Within a year, the Santa Fe was rerouted, again bypassing Dead Horse. But by then it didn’t matter.  Dead Horse was just another forgotten ghost town bleaching away in the scorching Arizona sun. The collapsed roof of the old Sheriff’s office lay guarding an old wooden desk underneath it. A Sheriff’s badge forever resting on its top.

A garishly painted sign

A  garishly painted sign

 By J W Edwards

The garishly painted sign in the tall grass along the roadside read, “WELCOME TO POLITICO” and beneath that greeting in smaller but bold letters read “This is a no weapons town, all firearms must be relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits.”

WELCOME TO POLITICO

This is a no weapons town. All firearms must be

Relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits

 

Jasper Johnson, better known as ‘Jelly Roll Johnson’, hauled on the mares reigns stopping her a few feet from the sign. “What in blazes is this all about?” He thought to himself. This was West Texas.  The signs request amounted to about the same thing as asking all thirsty persons to drink only rain water that fell directly from the sky while in town. It was plain stupid.

“Well horse, I guess we’ll head on over to the Sheriff’s office to see just how serious they hold onto this notion of bein’ gunless.” Horse, his mare, snorted a quick agreement. With a slight flick on the reins, Horse continued on into town.  The town consisted of a dusty but hard packed  main street cross sectioned with maybe as many as six intersections. Most all the buildings showed little weathering from the harsh west Texas sun. In fact everything looked well taken care of and near picture book perfect.

Gazing about at the clean architecture and neat signage secured above each business in a precise and matching  height, Jelly Roll commented, “Dang Horse, look at this here place. Did we fall asleep while travelin’ and end up makin’ our way to Boston?” Jelly Roll spotted the Sheriff’s office ahead on the right.  A slight tug on the right rein along with a mild pressure from his right heel turned Horse  to the hitching rail out front.  With a creak that only a working cowboys old leather saddle can make,  Jelly Roll dismounted and loosened Horses cinch.

Removing his tattered slouch hat, he flapped it over his shirt and down his chaps causing dust to fly. Satisfied he would now be recognized as human and not a walking dirt clod, he stepped up onto the full block  wooden walkway.

A  brass bell attached to the door jingled above his head as he entered the Sheriff’s office.

Seeing an old man who was obviously asleep at a small desk, he loudly cleared his throat to awaken who he assumed to be the Sheriff.  A loud snort and a twitch of the mustache was all he earned from his attempt to wake the Lawman. “Hey, Sheriff?” he bawled. At that the old man popped one eye open which glanced at the man standing in front of him and then shut again followed by a long snore.

Jelly Roll stepped back to the door and with his hand slapped the brass entry bell multiple times until he finally saw the old man wake up.

“What the heck you makin’ all that racket for boy? I got ears if ya’ ain’t noticed.” Pulling himself upright in his chair and still grumbling, the old Lawman continued his half asleep tirade. “They should be a law against treatin’ an’ old man as if he was deaf. Sneakin’ up on a body should be against the law too. Now just who are you an’ what’s so dang important that you need to jangle that bell that a way.”

It was then that the Sheriff noted the Colt pistol tied low on the cowboy’s leg. Moving to stand up quickly but nearly falling backward trying to get out of his chair, the old Lawman tried vainly to loosen the flap on his holster. “Stand where ya’ are fella, an’ don’t touch your iron while I get my gun unloosed”.

If it weren’t so weird a scene, Jelly Roll would have laughed watching the old man’s antics at trying to pull iron on him. “Sheriff! Jelly rolled loudly yelled, “I  ain’t pullin’ no iron on ya’, I’m just passin’ through when I saw your sign alongside the road tellin’ me to surrender my piece.”

The old Sheriff finally gave up trying to clear leather and stood there with his hand shaking above the butt of the pistol. To Jelly Roll, he was now looking confused rather than frightened.

“What’s that you say? Sign? What sign? Speak up boy!”

“The one that says everyone has to turn his gun in when entering town, that one!”

Still standing there with the expression of a child caught peeing on his neighbors flower bed, The old man felt a bit foolish and replied, “Oh, yeah, that one.” Remembering the stranger still had his pistol he yelled, “ Hey! Get that gun belt off mister! Don’t you know this here’s a no gun totin’ town?”

Expelling a breath through clenched teeth, Jelly Roll slowly said, “That’s what I’m doing here Sheriff, relinquishing my gun like the sign out there says to do. I ain’t seekin’ no trouble, just a few drinks to clear the dust from my throat an’ a hot meal, that’s all. Just as soon as I can, I’ll head back out an’ hit the trail up Amarillo way. I hear a few spreads are lookin’ for wranglers an’ I plan to sign on if they’d have me.”

Extending a shaky hand, the old man calmed down a bit, “Well… you  gimme’ your gun then an’ come back and get it when you leave town. According to the law, I gotta’ put the thing under lock an’ key in this here safe with all the others.”

Jelly Roll unhitched his holster belt and wrapped it around the pistol then handed it over to the Sheriff. The Sheriff opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a ring of keys. Turning to the safe sitting along the back wall of his tiny office  he opened it.

Jelly Rolls eyes opened wide when he saw the vast assortment of guns packed like sardines all stacked up inside the safe.

“Dang,” Jelly Roll exclaimed, “Just how many guns you got in there Sheriff?”

“Never you mind, but when the law was passed, everyone in town had to turn in their irons.”

“Why’d they make a law like that?”

“Our Mayor come back from visiting Boston one year an’ said if we’s to be as progressive, then we all should follow suit.”

“Well don’t that kinda leave the towns folk at the mercy of no goods if they come in wearin’ a gun??”

“If they ride in wearin iron, then they’s breakin’ the law!  Besides, the Mayor insist that studies show if guns is outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns… ‘Course they had to pass a whole herd of other laws after that to cover up any flaws the first one had.  I guess you’ll find out what they are if ya’ stay here for any length a time.”

“Yeah, well I don’t plan on stayin’ but maybe a day or two to rest up, so I guess I ain’t gonna have the privilege of breakin’ too many of em’.”

“Huh, if you do, you’ll get to rest here in a cell rather than in any hotel bed. Judge Flavious Maximus don’t take kindly to lawbreakers in his town. He’s the Mayor an’ head of the town council too. I warn ya’ boy, if he don’t cotton to ya’ he’ll make up a law right then an’ there so’s ya’ come back an’ spend the night here with me behind bars. So be careful boy, I’m warnin’ ya’.”

 

Chapter 2

Leaving the Sheriff’s office feeling naked and vulnerable without his firearm, Jelly Roll shrugged it off, went and stabled his horse, then headed off to find the nearest saloon for a long overdue drink.

Halfway up the second block Jelly Roll found what he was looking for. A well kept saloon who’s bat wing doors never looked like they’d ever left their hinges from a fight. Stepping up he stuck his head in the saloon doorway and took the place in at a glance. A piano player was plinking away while a young girl standing next to him sang.  The tune sounded kind of familiar and he soon realized she was trying to sing an opera song he had heard once at a theater in San Antonio.

Each to his own,” he thought as he made his way to the bar.

“Bartender, give me a whisky, an leave the bottle will ya?”

Wiping his hands on a towel, the bartender strode over to him saying, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have whisky, just wine and what the Mayor calls ‘craft beers’.”

“No whisky you say? What kind of saloon doesn’t serve whisky? What next? You gonna tell me you only serve lamb instead of beef?”

“No, no we don’t serve lamb here, that’s for sure. But we don’t serve beef neither, just chicken.”

“What!!? You gatta’ be pullin’ my leg, haw haw, haw! That’s a good one!” Still chuckling he said, OK, I got the joke,  now gimme my whisky and a plate of beef stew an’ I’ll be mighty grateful to ya’.”

“Sir, I was not pulling your leg. The Mayor outlaw’d anything but chicken an’ even that may soon be made illegal. I do have a fine bottle of  ’68 wine from New York State I could offer you though.”

Unable to endure the ill tuned piano’s plinking with that of the off key Italian wailings of the singing girl, he stepped away from the bar shaking his head. “Forget it. I can’t take this no more. I’ll find somewhere else to go to do my eating and drinking.”

Making his way towards the other end of town, Jelly Roll spotted a small diner across the street. Making his way inside, he saw a vacant table and pulling up a chair sat down. Grabbing up a menu he began looking it over. A cute but somewhat thin young blond haired girl wearing it piled atop her head approached him with a pad and pencil for his order.

Pressing his lips tightly together he let the menu fall to the table in disbelief. Looking up at the girl standing over him waiting for his order, he said to her. “Ma’am, I can’t make heads or tails of this here menu. It’s in French. Can I just get an order of coffee , steak an’ apple pie?”

“We believe the French language is just as important as English. We don’t serve Arbuckles here sir, the owner is now a vegetarian and he won’t order any coffee beans because they are dipped in egg whites to keep them from spoiling. I can give you a heavenly no egg noodle soup made with pinto beans, celery and onions served with unsweetened Chinese tea. We don’t serve meat or sugar because both rot your insides out”

“Geez lady, what kind of fool town is this? I can’t get no whisky, no meat an’ I bet a sweet slice of apple pie is forbidden too!”

Suddenly the girl broke out in a smile and said, “Oh, we have better than a sugary old apple pie sir, we have mock apple pie. It’s a recipe the Mayor brought back from his trip to England.

“What in the name of God is a mock apple pie?”

Rearing back from the waist up as if insulted, she exclaimed, “There’s no need to swear at me sir! We have a no swearing law in this town and I strongly suggest you  abide by it. Blah, blah blah…” Jelly Roll’s eyes began to glaze over.

“I think I’m having a nightmare.”

“…and if your through taking the Lords name in vain, I’d tell you that mock apple pie is made from crackers and spices instead of old dried up apples, butter and sugar! It’s much better for your constitution and keeps your movements regular!”

“My movements?”

She pointed to her small behind, “Yes, you know…your moooovements.”

Jelly Roll put his face into his hands and leaned forward as if in deep prayer.  Mumbling into his hands he spoke, “Jesus, take me right now, let a bullet come somehow flyin’ through this window an give me peace. Let the roof cave in on me Lord. Anything Lord! All I wanted was a shot of whisky an’ a hot beef dinner. Was that askin’ too much Lord? “

Interrupting him, she said, “Sir, I don’t mean to disturb your giving thanks to the Lord for your delicious meal, but wouldn’t it make more sense to order one first before prayin’ on it?”

Jelly Roll slowly removed his hands from his face and lifted his beleaguered eyes to the thin girl still waiting for his order. “I just lost my appetite Ma’am, an by the way, just who is this Mayor Maximus Ma’am everyone keeps yappin’ about? It seems to me this entire town is run more like his private property than a public town.”

With hands on her hips she told him, “ Mayor Maximus is the best thing that this town has had happen to it. Why before he come along, there was loose girls working in the saloon making men wobbly legged! There was gun shooting and brawls and drunkedness and swearing on the public walkways! He also got a college degree from Yale and was a rower in the famous Harvard-Yale regatta rowing race in which Yale beat Harvard! Why his middle name says it all, Acadamious.  Yes sir, when we need something we just got to call on Mayor Flavious  Acadamious Maximus for help. We couldn’t get by now without him.

Turning around she pointed to a well trimmed bearded man with long grey hair tied into a neat pony tail two tables away.  Soft, manicured hands delicately held a cup of Chinese tea to a face painted with all the honesty of a horse trader from Kansas City. “Our Mayor is sitting right over there listening to every word you’ve been saying, haven’t you Mayor Maximus?”

“Oh yes I have my dear Susan, oh yes I have.” Getting up from his own table he bullied his way past the other table and over to Jelly Rolls.

Standing over Jelly Roll like his dung don’t stink he asked, “You have a gripe here cowboy? Maybe you find our town too refined and civilized for your buffalo grunt taste. You do realize that putting another person in an uncalled for stressful situation such as your waitress Susan is now experiencing here, is against the law?”

The jail door slammed loudly behind him.

 

Chapter 3

As jails went, it wasn’t too bad at all. He flipped the blanket on the bed aside and didn’t see the usual scurrying of fleeing bed bugs or rings of old  pee stains.

An old man was in the cell next to him that wasn’t in there an hour before when he first arrived.

“What they got you in for boy?” the old man spoke through a raggedy beard trying it’s best to hide a set of picket fence teeth. “Judge Marcus got me tossed in today ‘cause I accidently spit on the street. No public spitten allowed here ya know. A filthy habit he says. Damn bug done jumped right in my mouth, ‘course I had to spit it out. I ain’t into swollow’n no bugs.

“Old man, I don’t wanna know why you’re in here or anything about your bug eatin habits. Ya could tell me though what kind of meals they serve here, I’m starvin’.”

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?”

“If ya got any money to pay for it.

“Pay for what?”

“If  you’re like me an’ havin’ no money, it’s whenever the Lady from the ‘Society for the Ethical Treatment of Prisoners and Other Bums’, better known as SETPOB gets here. It used to be ‘Prisoners Eat Terribly Awful’ or PETA,  but then some animal group complained they stole their initials an’ was all set to sue ‘em so they changed it to SETPOB.”

“So you’re sayin’ I gotta buy my own meals?”

“You should anyway, SETPOB meals is horrible stuff. Ain’t fit for no human, that’s for shore. Why last week when I was in here for not crossin’ the street at the marked road intersection, they fed me nothin’ but a slab of beef drenched in gravy over white bread!”

Jelly Roll perked up, “Damn! For real?”

“Yup, they figure if you get locked up, then you don’t deserve as good a meal as a decent folk would eat. Don’t expect no hot tea either. Just coffee! Tea’s for good folk “

“Well… Guess I’m broke then’” Jelly smiled pleasantly.

After a ‘terrible’ but very filling meal of butter made biscuits, pork sausage and coffee, Jelly Roll lay down and fell into a deep sleep on the jails recently purchased firm foundation mattress.

The old timer in the next cell sat complaining that his civil rights were being violated by being fed such a horrible meal.

Chapter 4

 

At 30 minutes after midnight The jail house door silently opened. A cowboy wearing a dirty bandana over his mouth stepped inside. The Sheriff sat in his chair sleeping. The intruder slowly lifted his greener shotgun and aimed it at the sleeping Sheriff.

“Wake up old man!

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”

“Damn it, I said wake up!”

“ZZz..snort..ZZZZZ”

“He’s half deaf” yelled the old man from the cell next to Jelly Roll. “Jes’ tap him on the head with the greener, that’ll get him awake.”

Lifting the Sheriffs hat off his head with the greener, he brought the barrel down,  giving the slleping Sheriff’s  head a resounding bonk.

“What in blazes?” The Sheriff yelled as he fell backward grabbing his head and sprawling bodily onto the floor.

“Who did that?” He shouted as he fumbled through his vest pockets looking for his spectacles. “There’s  laws against whatever just happened!”

“Stand up Sheriff, an’ put your gun a top the desk then back away from it.”

From his cell, Jelly Roll watched the scene with interest. The old man in the next cell whispered to him, “That there is Blasphemous Bob Barkus, he used to be an actor in California. He helped Mayor  Maximus , whose real name by the way is Johnny Deep, set up this town years ago as an experiment in social living. Seems he left before the town was completed sayin’ he heard the call of the whale, or somethin’ like that. Anyway, he signs onto this here oriental whale studyin’ ship as a crew member and sails away. Only thing is, the only studyin’ that ship did was to study how better to harpoon the dang things. Seems bein’ three years at sea harpoonin’ whales did somethin’ to his thinkin’. Soon’s he landed, he come back here wanting a giant veal steak sautéed in a onion Rum sauce with pickled eggs on the side. The man had completely gone off the deep end… threw away everything he earlier stood for. I heard he died of a fat clot in his blood or somethin’ after he left to take a job at a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans.  I guess not though, cause here he is again, alive as ever without no clots!”

“What’re you two whisperin’ about there? Walking over to the cells Blasphemous Bob demanded. Pointing his gun at Jelly Roll he asked, “What’re you in here for cowboy? Murder? Rape? Bank robbery?

“I just wanted beef stew and a whisky.”

A look of shocked disbelief plastered Blasphemous Bob’s face, “What?!! Son, didn’t you know that’s illegal here?”

“I do now.”

“What in tarnation was you thinkin’ by comin’ here? Ain’t nothing normal nor desirable ‘bout this place. It took me 3 years to see what every Texan sees right off about what’s wrong with it. No real Texan like you could abide here, no way!  That’s why we settled it with college graduates, ex politicians, lawyers, bankers  and bums!  Didn’t you take the time to read the sign by the road?

“Sure I did.” Jelly Roll said, “It said to hand in your guns, that’s all. I saw nothing too unusual about that. I’ve known other places do that, like Boston.”

“You been to Boston? How’d you like their baked beans? I just love how they toss that big ‘ol hunk a fat back in there for flavor. That sure makes it Yummo in my book!”

“No, never been there myself, but if it’s anything like this here town then I don’t want to either. I like wearin’ my gun and eatin’ beef n pickled eggs an’ drinkin’ whiskey too much.”

Blasphemous  Bob shouted, “Beef n Pickled eggs? Here’s a man after my own heart!” Demanding the jail’s ring of keys from the Sheriff, he opened the cell door Jelly Roll was locked  behind.

“Get on outa’ there son, I commune your sentence to time served! Now you get on the nag you rode in here with an’ ride till you come to that fork in the road again. This time read the dang sign in it’s entirety.”

Walking over to the Sheriffs gun safe, Blasphemous Bob Barkus unlocked it and tossed Jelly Roll his gun. He then grabbed arm load after arm load of the towns peoples pistols and threw them out the door into the street.  “As for me? I gotta correct the errors of my ways. This here towns gotta go. No one should be forced to live like this…it just ain’t natural an’ shore ain’t Texan!”

Waking the livery boy, Jelly Roll saddled up and headed out of town.  Behind him, the dark sky began to brighten with a yellowish glow. Blasphemous Bob was correcting the errors of his ways by burning down the town that was not fit for any Texan.

Suddenly he remembered something and turned the mare around and headed back to town at a gallop. The town was fully ablaze. The townsfolk were all wandering about in the street watching their town burn down around them. Seeing their guns lying about they began to retrieve them and buckle them on once again, just in case. Heading up to the now flame engulfed diner, he scanned the crowd for the familiar face he’d met only hours before.

Finding what he searched for, he rode over to the cute although somewhat thin blond girl who’s hair was still hair tied atop her head even though she no longer had a waitress job.

She stood frozen as she watched her town quickly burn away around her. A hanky with prints of chickadee’s that matched those on her night gown, was busy wiping the tears that rolled down her pretty cheeks. She looked up as he approached her and he smiled down at her.

Patting the saddle in front of him he asked her, “Want a lift some where’s? I got plenty of room up here seeing as how thin you are and all. Why I bet you could ride all the way back to Amarillo with me an’ not even crowd me out once.”

“I was born somewhere near Amarillo.” She sadly replied, “When my parents graduated from college with degrees in Mime psychology and performing arts, they took up the Mayors offer to be settled here at no cost. They both passed on last year when they was poisoned by some paint they had purchased from a  Chinese paint company they wore in their Mime act.

I have nowhere to go now except back to Amarillo. Maybe I’ll find  my extended family, maybe I’ll just get married, settle down and have a whole passel of children as a result of keeping my man happy an’ wobbly legged. Sir, If you don’t mind a somewhat thin cute blond girl that wears her hair up riding there in front of you, I’ll take you up on your offer  because I have nothing to keep me here and besides, I have always wanted to eat a medium rare slab of beef with pickled eggs on the side.”

Jelly Roll reached down and hooked her up into the saddle in front of him with one swoop of his arm. “My, you sure are strong Sir.” She breathlessly told him.

He could smell the fragrance of patchouli in her hair and feel the heat of her body against his as Horse clopped down the road he had come in on. “You said you might look to get married an’ have a passel of children from the results of keepin’ your man happy and wobbly legged? What kind a fella you got in mind?”

As if deep in thought, she put her pointing finger to her lips and finally said,  “Well, he’s gotta be strong, like you are. He has to have his own horse of course, like you have. And if he’s going to live in Texas with me, he has to eat beef and drink whisky, like you do.”

Looking skyward, Jelly Roll said smiling. “Gee ma’am sounds like you an’ Blasphemous Bob should hook up!”

She turned in the saddle and kissed his ear, “I thought about it but he likes rum, not whisky…unlike you.”

As they passed the town welcome sign, he stopped and said to the somewhat thin cute blond girl who wore her hair up,” Blasphemous Bob asked if I’d read the sign before I entered town, I read it but didn’t see nothing written on it that would warn me of all the strange non Texan things about the town. Is there something on it I missed?”

She smiled and patted his cheek affectionately, “Look real close at the bottom my sweet Sir. It’s about covered by the tall growing grass but if you look close you can still read it.”

Jelly Roll dismounted and approached the sign with a lit match to light the way. Squinting his searching eyes, he brushed away the tall grass and was finally able to read what was hidden, suddenly he understood. There written in the same French Script MT as the name of the town was written in it said, ‘If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico’.

If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico

Jelly Roll shuddered. With a herculean hop skip and jump, he landed back in the saddle and spurring Horse into a gallop, Jelly Roll Johnson and the cute but somewhat thin blond girl with her hair worn atop her head fled into the night towards Amarillo. There they married, ate beef and pickled eggs three times a week and had a passel of kids as a result of her keeping him happy… and wobbly legged.

Texan by any name

TEXAN BY ANY NAME
By JW Edwards

A thin tendril of smoke drifting skyward off in the Sonora’s desert horizon was the only sign another human being occupied the cholla infested landscape. The lack of raised dust meant whoever it was had been there for a spell and hadn’t found any need to move on yet.
The scene disturbed the lone rider as he watched the smoke snake skyward. He thought it was a stupid move, having a fire like that. Without conscious thought, he worried the hairs on the mare’s mane between his fingers. Under his breath he mentioned this to no one in particular. “With that smoky a fire, that idiot might just as well be flashing a mirror about for all the savvy he showin’.”
Anyone who’s spent time in Indian country knew a small, short lived smokeless fire made of dry twigs was trail wise. This beacon in the wilderness was either a tenderfoots disastrous attempt at crossing the desert or like dung to a fly, it was used to purposely attract the eyes of greenhorn miners or Easterner do gooders making their way west.

He continued speaking but now it was aimed at his horse, “Dang it Snort, No man could a traveled this far bein that stupid an stayin’ alive this long out there. There’s a passel of mean ‘ol Apaches about an I ain’t even mentioned nothin’ ‘bout the group of white stage robbin’ hombres heard here about too.”
Snort only snorted like she understood and agreed.

He knew he was going to investigate. “ I know this ain’t what I should do Snort, but dang it all, what if it is just a idiot numbskull out there? Why with that smoky blaze he just let it be known to every no good within ten miles that they’s a ripe peach for pluckin’… unless of course this be a set up for robbin’ a greenhorn good Samaritan. My gut says that’s what’s goin’ on out there Snort. We might as well get on out there an’ see for ourselves”.

It was an old Indian trick. Convincing a passing traveler that someone’s in need then robbing or killing them when they arrived to help.
Out here in the dry desert, it wasn’t unheard of to find captive white women being used to draw in the unsuspected traveler by loudly pleading for help. Knowing he was smarter trail and desert wise than even most Apaches, he edged Snort on towards the smoky tendril.
Slowly the rider made his way around in a large circle so he could observe the smoky camp from the west where he would be partially obscured by the brightness of the setting sun. He’d stay hidden in the desert brush until the ancient volcanic peaks cast their long shadows across the desert floor painting a confused collage of shadows, brush and cactus.

Securing his horse to a small greasewood branch behind a slight rise, he crawled through the brush as silent as an Indian imitating a snake. Reaching a small arroyo he slid down into it and after waiting a minute to make sure he was still unobserved he removed his hat and lifted his eyes above the rim.

What he saw appalled him. Scattered about was a mixture of clothes, personal items and bodies. The smoke was the result of a torture. Stretched tight over the fire, an old man was held firmly in place by having his hands and feet tied to brush at opposite ends of each other. His body had been cooked in half over the fire.

Noting the scuffed up desert floor around his feet showed he was alive when the fire was lit under him. An old woman lay naked and dead nearby. No longer having a nose and lips with her eyes gouged out she had died horribly. By the looks of it, she must have been the old man’s wife. Two younger men, maybe in their teens lay dead. One died swiftly having his throat cut, he was the lucky one. His body was away from the others as if he was on sentry duty for the camp. The other boy of maybe fifteen or so lay naked, thoroughly tortured and gelded. The buzzards had been just begun to settle down to a warm meal of innocents.
As much as he wanted to scare off the gorging buzzards, the rider knew to make no sound or expose himself. The fire was still too fresh and the deaths too recent and on top of that, there was no trail dust noted earlier to speak of their leaving. Whoever they were that did this were most likely still hunkered down nearby just waiting for the curious to arrive so they could attack and continue their fun with a fresh number of volunteers.

Chapter 2
The rider knew to be extremely cautious. Snort was tied off far enough away to stay hidden so that was good. It was his laying in the arroyo that worried him. He could be discovered if someone else entered the same wash from either end. Quick to reverse this situation, he silently backed up feet first until he reached the opposite side of the arroyo’s slope. Within a few minutes he again was hidden by the cholla and brush above the wash.

Keeping his ears alert for any sound that might announce their where abouts, he began scanning the desert floor with the eyes of an eagle for signs of disturbance. A broken scrub twig knee high and a fresh over turned stone the size of a gold double eagle gave the direction of their exit away. Looking beyond these signs he noted no further disturbances. This meant that whoever it was, they were laying wait in the scrub not more than fifty feet away from the grizzly scene. He counted his blessings when he realized how close he had been to being seen.

He lay still as a rabbit watching the desert return itself to normal. A lizard ate a desert spider, a bird flitted about under a mesquite tree pecking like a chicken at the beans lying underneath. If they were Apaches, they could silently out wait most whites ten to one. The rider in this case was the one, so it was going to be a long night. Guessing at their heritage, he settled down by tucking his arms under his head and getting some shut eye. He would need the rest.
Snort knew not to make any noise where he stood. The rider had trained him well. If his nose was rubbed before the rider moved out, it meant make no sound especially if another horse or human shows up. If the rider rubbed the spot above the eyes, it meant be quiet but silently alert me to any presence by scraping one hoof across the ground. A whinny meant “Forget the other two and get the hell out of Dodge, we’s bein’ set upon by no goods!”

Not hearing any warning from Snort yet meant the Apaches were not moving about but were still hunkered down in the brush waiting for the rider to make his move. He was sure they spotted him earlier when he headed across the flats of the desert after he noticed the smoke. It was such an obvious set up. The rider figured the Apaches had either thought he was a greenhorn traveler unable to read sign very well or that they were in fact a group of careless young braves bent on making hell on earth. Considering the carelessness of the scuffed earth and the broken twig, he rightly made out they were the later. Still, they were deadly and they weren’t going away by wishing it.

Chapter 3
Around two in the morning, the rider awoke refreshed, took a swig of water, stretched his legs and arms silently and began implementing the plan he had decided on. After an hour of scanning the very tops of the brush, he finally saw what he was looking for. The freezing nighttime desert temperature announced their position by exposing their barely visible wisp of frosty breaths. Since no horses or their vaporous breaths were visible, the rider knew they were then hidden out of sight beyond the rise. It was even a possibility they were held near where Snort was tied. He was fortunate the Apache’s horses hadn’t reacted to Snorts presence. It would have been over for him before he even started. As it was, he now knew the near whereabouts of their horses and the exact location of the waiting Apaches.
With the first grey light in the eastern sky, the desert breeze began its daily west to east travel. Already positioned west of the hidden Apaches, he reached under his woolen vest and removed his silver whiskey flask. With continued snake like caution, he made his way through the densest sections of brush while pouring a continuous line of whisky in the desert sand beneath the brush. When the flask was finally emptied, he had made a quarter of a circle around the Indians. He then lit a Lucifer ‘strike anywhere match’ and put the burning head to the trail of whisky still dampening the sand.

Meanwhile, six young Apache’s lay hidden in the desert brush. Keeping in contact with each other by eye contact only, they practiced the age old Apache tactic of silent waiting.

Suddenly not a hundred feet in front of them, the earth ignited in a stretched out fiery blaze and with the morning breeze the inferno started racing their way. Their night vision ruined, they tried their best to make it unseen back to their waiting horses but with little success. Within a minute, the whisky fueled desert brush was so ablaze it exposed the fleeing Apaches as if lit by Boston theater lights. Rising onto his knees, the rider aimed his Navy Colt and began firing at the fleeing no goods. Aiming carefully, he pulled the trigger six times. One after another went down until none was seen standing.

Not trusting each shot fired to be a killing one, the rider reloaded and made his way stealthily from one body to another. Only one remained breathing, the rest had in fact had been given death by lead.
Rolling the ailing brave onto his back the rider saw where his bullet had gone. It had not been an immediate death shot by any means. Staring down at the lone Apache survivor, the rider saw the young brave was barely in his teens. “Dang it boy, what’re you doin’ with this passel a no goods? Ain’t you a bit young to prove your manhood? I mean it ain’t like you’s a growed man yet.”

In response, the young brave only moaned. The bullets path had entered his upper left side, had traveled along the front of the rib cage and exited near his right nipple. “Yeah, I bet it do hurt a might, but without infection, you’ll live. “ The rider stood and stretched, then bent over him and removed the knife the brave had on him. Looking closely at the blade he said, “I got some stuff in my saddle bag that I can clean and bind you up with, long as you don’t be no fool an’ try an’ get at me, just lie still.”
“Go,” the young brave said gasping, “I no can get up to kill you anyway.”
“Well ain’t that mannerly of ya.” Turning as he walked back to retrieve Snort and his saddle bags the rider called back in disgust. “I shoulda’ just put a bullet through your skull an’ been done with ya’. Why I’m ‘bout to patch you up beats the hell outa me!”
By noon the young brave lay patched and medicated with a salve normally used on horse wounds. A slight fever had begun but the rider figured this was more from the pain of the wound and broken ribs that from infection. A day or two more would tell more about that. The boy slept.

Having found and retrieved the Apaches horses, he was pleasantly surprised to find no brand on them. Unbranded Indian broke horses brought a good price on the market, something his near empty pockets desperately needed. It made no sense to tether them together, they had nowhere to go anyway so he let them graze where they could.

Sun up the next day brought good news to the young brave. No fever and hungry as a starving bear. The rider had made his way back to the grizzly campsite and buried the bodies. Searching around for any items that he could himself use he found a pound of Arbaughs coffee beans, some canned food items, a box of mixed coins amounting to twenty seven dollars and a bottle of whisky. The Apaches were too young to have appreciated the taste for whisky yet so it went over looked or unwanted. Putting his newly found goods in his saddle bags, he then said a prayer to the Lord above for those now lying cold in the ground that they would now be at peace. Something their last minutes on this earth surly were short of.

Arriving back at his own camp, the rider saw that the young brave was sitting up. Dismounting, the rider strode on over to the sitting brave and spoke. “I just buried that family you all kilt. I ain’t gonna ask your reasons for doin’ what you did ‘cause I know the Apache way, but it pisses me off terrible that you chose a family as weak to the territory as they were. Did you believe killin’ a weak fightin’ family made you a big warrior, give you big medicine like your grandfathers had? You ain’t no more a man than you was last week. No difference than killin’ a rabbit then tellin’ everybody you fought a wild desert beast tooth an’ nail an’ kilt it with your knife.” Your grandfathers earned the word warrior by goin’ against something that by all rights shoulda’ kilt them right off. Ain’t no glory in what you did, just shame.”

“Why you help me? I should sleep with my brothers. You shame me by defeating me then not honoring me with death so songs could be sung about me. “

“Honor you? I’d rather honor a whole sack a horse apples than honor you. No siree, I’d not give you that!”
Rekindling the earlier night’s camp fire to boil some water for his found coffee beans, he turned again to the boy. “What name does your father call you, is it yet the name your mother gave you at birth? That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Killin’ all them honest unarmed folk just so’s you can get warriors names for yourselves? Well I got a name for ya’ and it starts with ass an’ ends with hole!”

“I have no name now, your swear name is more than what I have. When I tell my father I was ready to make a name, he only laughed. He tell me I was young fool. If I disobeyed and shamed him by sneaking out with the others, he would no longer say I was his son he would remove even my birth name. I want to show him I was warrior, not a boy. Now I am shamed and have no name. “
“Well, soon as you can ride we’ll head over to where your people camp. I’ll ride along until we get near your camp, then I’ll veer off an’ let you ride on in alone so’s you can straighten things out with your pa.”

“No, I no can go back, I would be laughed at by the women then beaten to death for shaming my father. No, you say you know Apache. You know I can no longer return to them.”

The rider was between a rock and a hard place. He knew the Apache youth hadn’t even seriously considered the reality of becoming a real warrior. To him it was the same as those kids back east reading a dime novel and thinking they would six shoot their way to fame by killing every cattle thief out west. He also figured the boy had no part in the thing since his knife was still clean when he removed it from him. If it had been dirty with blood, he would have shot him dead where he lay.

In burying the dead Apaches, the rider saw them to be in their late teens early twenties, plenty old enough to decide right from wrong…and accept the consequences there of. How could he blame the starry eyed youth? Wasn’t he about the same age when in search of adventure, he ran away from home? Of course that lasted until his Pa found him teary eyed, lost and hungry. With a good belt to the behind he put his foolish notions away and grew to be a man the way most men do…by getting older.

“So what now then no name? I suppose you can head Mexico way. You could make it there in a week or so if I give you back your horse. I heard Mex’s an’ Apaches get along somewhat. Maybe that’s the best place to go.”
“ You tell me to go, I go. You tell me to feed horse, then I feed horse for you. I have no family, no tribe, you own my life.”
Pouring a cup of hot coffee for himself he stopped and told the boy, “Now hold on there no name, I ain’t your owner and sure ain’t your Pa. You all just get better an’ leave me be an’ we’ll call it even up.”
The boy looked crest fallen. The rider knew he had just made things worse for the boy. He had rejected him even as a slave. At least being captured into forced slavery a boy could still grow up within his new adopted tribe and become a warrior. Now there truly was no saving face for the young brave.

“Aw crap! I didn’t mean it that way I said it boy. Even if I did, we got two different cultures here. Why hell, if you was a white boy, you’d still be sitting in front of a school Mar’m reading your ABC’s.”
The Apache youth looked baffled. He rider added, “Forget it boy, you wouldn’t understand.”
The day came when the Apache youth was able to ride. His wound just an angry red slash across his chest. Well, I figure it’s ‘bout time I head on back Texas way no name. I used to be a Texas Ranger before the big war between us whites happened. I got told a ways back they might be getting things together again with the new Governor they got. Maybe I can rejoin and earn a living. You can tag along if you wish. If not, I’d head on to Mexico way. Just stay out of trouble.

While the Apache boy did not understand all that was being said, he had heard of Texas before. “I ride to Texas, maybe lone rider like you need me. Not safe for white man here. Many snakes and creatures that sting along the way. Me teach.”
“Suit yourself, but when we get there ain’t gonna be no way you can tag along. Bein’ a Ranger is a job done mostly alone.” Or so he thought.

Chapter 4

Two months later and having sold the spare horses along the way they arrived at Fort Stockton near the Pecos River along the old Comanche war trail. True to his word the Apache kept a vigil eye out for snakes, scorpions and such. They had formed a partnership that could only be achieved in Texas. After being relieved of his Navy Colt and leaving the Apache boy at the gate, the ex Ranger headed over to the Ranger command center whose jurisdiction was all of south west Texas. There he presented himself to the Commander of the Rangers.
Recognizing his old friend, the Captain Commander smiled broadly and exclaimed in a gravel grinding voice “Well I’ll be damned, I thought for sure you was dead by now!“ You looking for work Mr. Lone? I sure could use you if you are. I got a hot spot over El Paso way that needs a few strong hands.”

“I came from the Arizona gold territory, I guess mining ain’t my callin’. I heard rumors while there that the Texas Rangers are gonna’ be reborn an’ financed by the Governor himself. I sure could use a steady income that’s a fact. So is what they say true?”
“In so many words they are, but paydays are still far and few but they always seem to eventually tally up. Rewards still can be collected if there’s a bounty offered, that helps, plus you get a stipend for your horse of four dollars a month. Food, odd sized ammunition and duds is up to you. Just like before the war except now we have the backing of the governor. Sometimes it now gives us an edge of authority over local sheriffs and such than it did in the earlier days. Still interested?”
“Yeah, I guess, but I got a favor to ask. I ain’t one to lean on an’ old friendship but I kind of got a responsibility as such now. I got me a trail pard.”
“Well hell, why didn’t you say so! Havin’ a partner to back you up is a good thing, right?”

“I got to tell you straight Cap, you’ll be findin’ out soon enough anyway. My pards an Apache. A young Apache. Don’t ask how or why it come about but it did. You know I never had a pard, I always rode alone. Maybe I got old or tired or soft, but this kid’s the only one I’d ever trust to cover my back. Take it or leave it Cap. You want me fine but you gotta let me have my pard trail with me.”
Looking downward as if studying the paperwork scattered on the desk in front of him, the Captain said, You do know taking an Apache out of Arizona territory is against the law don’t you. How could I cover something like that?”

“You don’t have to, he has no people, been disowned by ‘em. Only you know his bein’ an Arizona Apache, why He might be a Texas Mescalero Apache or maybe a Lipan Apache or even Jumano. Who the hell would know he’s from Arizona and not Texas?”
“Is he here? I mean at the fort?”
“He’s outside the fort waiting for me.”
“Bring him here. Give this letter to the guard at the main gate, he’ll get an escort here to my office. With the unrest we have with Indians, no Indian can just walk in unannounced. If you’ll agree to my terms, I’ll sign his paperwork. No pay for your partner, no stipend for his horse, he’s your responsibility, there’s no way I could get a Ranger pay draft for an Indian. If there’s a bounty reward offered on a posted no good, you can share it with him or not, it’s your decision. I signed him in as a Wichita. That tribe is hundreds of miles north east of here and unlikely anyone will question it. Now bring him in here, I’d like to see what you saw so grand in an Indian that you’d want him to ride with you.”

An hour later a knock at the Captains door announced the arrival the escort. “Come in”, the Captain called back.
The door opened and in stepped the rider with his young Apache. The Captain’s jaw hung open.
“You can’t be serious,” he balked loudly, “he’s but a boy! He can’t ride as a Ranger. ”
“A deal’s a deal Cap. Besides, I didn’t ask that he be a Ranger, just my pard” Grabbing the Apache now a Wichita’s paperwork off the Captains desk along with their orders, and before he could renege on the deal, he pushed the Apache youth out the door.
“Wait!” cried the Captain as he reopened the door, “what the hell’s his name, I gotta have a name for paperwork.”
Mounting their horses, the rehired Ranger yelled back, “When I figure one out I’ll let ya’ know!”

At the post main gate, an obvious born and bred Yankee scout (even though being dressed in western buckskins) was given the duty to clear the two. “ Your names and orders?” He asked while extending his hand outward to the paperwork being offered him. He went about signing them out, allowing the Ranger to retrieve his weapon.

Dismissing the Apache boy, the scout looked to the Rider, “What is the Indians name Ranger?
The rider fumbled about trying to think of something proper to call the boy for the scouts sake but before he could make one up, the young Apache stepped forward and announced boldly while pointing to the Ranger, “Me call him Kemo Sabe, you say, Lone Ranger. My name Tonto, good scout.”

Giving the two a bewildered look the scout just shook his head. After glancing over the Rangers orders , he replied, “Alright Ranger Lone, I’ll have Private McCleary here get your weapon for you. I see you’re headed out to the revived Ranger post out El Paso way. Seems you’ll be having some company along on the trail.” The guard turned to speak to Private McCleary, “Private, retrieve the Rangers Navy Colt from the guard shack an’ return it to him.” he then added, “On second thought, you might as well grab that silver Colt that New Ranger Hop-a-long something or other turned in, he’s the one wearing the black ten gallon hat that’s limping his way back over here. Seems these three are being stationed together in El Paso.”

As the three moved out of Fort Stockton on horseback, They could hear the Sergeant loudly comment to the private, “Ranger lone, Tonto and Hop-a-long…Thank God at the end of this month my duty in this man’s Calvary will be over. I’ll be heading east to Abilene where being normal is the norm. I swear upon my Pop’s grave Private, I’ll never understand why these Texans take on such fool sounding names, it’s like they always have to out do everybody else. They can’t just be average and fit in like everyone else. I’m glad my Mama had the sense to name me plain old James Butler Hickok that’s for sure!”

The End