Bekke’s Law by JW Edwards

Bekke's law

Chapter 1

I stood there  listening spellbound to the young Lady. She had run from the Diner here to that freight wagon parked by the Mexican leather fella across the road. She soon returned carrying a rifle to where I stood watchin’ it all. As she stood there jackin’ shell’s into it, she began telling me her story. Why? I have no idea except maybe she had a premonition she was about to die. Maybe she wanted someone to know she had once lived and breathed on this here celestial ball. I was a nobody, a bystander  that’s all. Maybe it was because I was a nobody that she felt compelled to spill her tale, I don’t know. She sure was pretty though, except’n she spoke kind’a funny like.

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first one at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

 

One thousand souls, five thousand mix of mules, oxen and horses and almost two hundred wagons left Independence Missouri on a sultry morning in May of 1846. “Wagon’s HO!” was heard up front and the wagon train made up mostly large Conestoga style wagons turned out onto the Santa Fe Trail. It was the second to last train out of Independence that year. The last train was later known as the Donner Party but their fate lay north upon the Oregon trail.  

As the wagons forged ahead towards the Big Blue River west into Kansas, hopes were high and folks got along well with each other. Meeting and greeting was the norm at the end of each day. Light hearted Social dances and musicians that had brought along their instruments were the evening’s entertainment. Friendships were formed, help freely given and the spirit of community reigned. It all gave promise to a pleasant if not exciting adventure.

One family in particular had good reason to be hopeful, the Hillstrands. Johan and Uda Hilstrand had been farming outside the small Ohio town of Athens. As children, their families had emigrated from Sweden looking for the American promise of forging one’s own destiny. Sadly, continual disagreements with their neighbors brought misery to their home until Uda put her foot down. Either Johan move the family or she would leave on her own.  During this time, Uda’s brother in law had been trying to convince Johan that Texas was where the real future lay. A year later the two families found themselves crossing the Big Blue River in Kansas along with rest of the wagon train heading southwest to Texas.

Although the Hillstrands were a good church going family and pleasant to be acquainted with, Uda was prone to her moods. Even as a young bride in Ohio and in love, Uda began showing signs of dark moments. Johan hoped that in starting a family Uda would be lifted from these depressing moods. The birth of their first born, a son they named Sven, convinced Johan that the days of Uda’s moodiness had passed. She doted on the child and loved him as much as any mother could.

Two years later and the year they would leave for the west, a baby girl was born to the Hillstrand household. In memory of her grandmother, Uda named the child Bekke and she remained happy and free of her disturbing past moodiness.

The family of four rolled and bumped their way southwestward along with the other wagons through the tall prairie grasses bound for New Mexico and Texas.  The Hillstrand wagon followed behind that of their in-laws with Uda’s sister Hulda and her eldest son Jesper tending to the two families six cows being driven along with them. All in all, the families were the typical of the immigrant pioneers that settled the West.

One evening at supper, about a hundred or so miles northeast of Fort Smith in New Mexico, they received a visitor to their camp. Johan had seen the man hanging around different camps before  but paid little attention to him, other than an aknowledged ‘Hello’.

“Howdy good folks!” Making himself known, the visitor instead of introducing himself, made his way over to the cook fire and leaned over in order to smell the hanging cook pot of victuals.

“Ah, deer meat!” He exclaimed, Then with narrowed eyes asked, “When did you come across a deer?”

Johan was taken back at the familiarity the man displayed since he had not formally introduced himself but Johan still returned an answered in a kind way. “Friend, this is not fresh meat, we preserve our meat as we did back in the old country. You are welcome to take a plate of this stew if you wish”

“Like ‘an Injun does then Huh? I hear they pound berries into their meat before drying so’s they don’t get the scurvy. Uhuh, that might be alright for some but for my taste it has to be fresh kilt.”

 Still attempting to be neighborly, Uda came over and handed the man an empty but clean tin plate and cup saying, “There is also coffee that will be up in a minute if you wish for some.”

The man stood looking Uda over as a starved man would stare at a juicy flank of meat. “Uhuh, I’s told from other folks around here that you all hail from Sweden.  I also hear tell they grow some beautiful women there. That ain’t no lie as I’m see’in it with my own eyes.  Makes a man think he shoulda’ brought himself a blond whore to keep his own urges pleased. Haw haw“

Uda blushed and turned red and so did Johan, but not from any embarrassment but in anger. Putting his plate down Johan rose to face the thin, wiry built man. “I’m forgiving you only once for your language Mister. Seeing as we all come from different parts we all have our own ways. We Hillstrands have our ways also and those include being gracious guest and when we speak of our women it is with honor and dignity. I’d ask that you apologize to my wife for such base talk. Then afterward, if you wish, you’re still welcome to partake your supper with us.

Tossing the unfilled plate and coffee cup onto the ground beside him, the uninvited guest stood glaring at Johan with hands placed firmly on his hips. “Well la tee da!” He sneared, “A bunch of filthy do gooding firiners raisin’ their noses at a born American. Thanks, but no thanks!”

Turning to Uda the man then winked evilly telling her, “Honey, if ever you need a real man to warm your bed, you just look me up.” With that he turned on his heel and strode out chuckling to himself.

“What is wrong with that vile man?” Uda asked.

“I don’t know but don’t ever let yourself get alone with him.  I feel he’s more than just an uncouth braggart but is dangerous. The way he was looking at you upset me. I almost wish I had purchased that revolver the wagon master advised us to buy.  We will need to keep our eyes open to ones like him and maybe it would behoove us to give warning to some of the other young women you encounter.”

The next two weeks passed uneventfully. Nearing the turnoff to the Upper Road that led into Texas, Johan and Uda were relieved that no further sighting of the man had been noted.

Having traveled well past Fort Smith now, the train camped for the night along a small but clean flowing creek.  The next day the train would divide, some going on to Arizona along the Gila trail while others headed into Texas. This evening, watering the livestock was important since fresh water would be scarce for the next couple of days. The rule for watering any livestock on the trail was strictly enforced; one was to take their stock downstream to keep the water upstream clean for drinking and cooking. This ensured no water born diseases and parasites were transferred from stock to man. Water holes presented their own problems.

This evening was no different than any when camped near a stream. Johan, along with his nephew Jesper led their oxen and cows downstream for water. It was on the way back that the two heard a commotion further up the train. A woman was screaming. Immediately Johan told Jesper to keep the livestock moving back to the grassy area near the wagon and hobble the animals to prevent their wandering too far off.  As Johan ran toward the sound of the screaming woman a gunshot was heard. “Oh Lord,” He prayed, “What is going on up there?”

Out of breath, he made it to his wagon. Throwing open the rear tarp he saw it vacant inside. Thinking Uda may be assisting the screaming woman, he jumped off the rear of the wagon and ran to where a crowd was gathering. Breaking through the circle of onlookers Johan nearly fainted at what he saw lying on the ground. Uda. Her simple dress had been torn off from around her waist thus exposing her nakedness. Her face was quickly swelling with large black and blue areas. She had been beaten and raped.

Grabbing Uda around her shoulders he lifted her fetal form to his lap. Looking up to the gathering crowd he shouted. “Who did this? Who did this to my Uda!”

One man moved forward through the crowd saying excitedly, “I saw a skinny bearded man jump from the rear of your wagon and then heard a woman  screamin’ bloody murder. It was then your lady here appeared an’ fell straight out’a the wagon.  I knew right off by the looks of her that the man had been beatin’ her something fierce.  My pardon Mister, but I deemed that no woman would tear off her dress volunteer like, so I guessed right off what the man had done. Seein’ as me an’ my boy here was about to go hunt up some rabbit or prairie chicken, I had my gun along with me. I took a quick shot at the man as he run off and he jerked upright like he was hard hit but then he continued to run into them woods where the creek flows. I tried to give chase Mister, I really did but he took to his heels faster than I could. He’s hit bad though an’ won’t git far. I give him a mile or two before he bleeds out.”

It was at that moment in time that the Hillstrand family unit began to unravel.

 

Chapter 2

It was decided after the train divided, that a new wagon Master be elected for the train heading into Texas.  The new Wagon Master, a kind but firm man from Illinois named Johnston was elected. Since the train was only weeks away from their destination he ordered a rest of five days. This allowed the animals to recover, water and fatten up for the continued journey into the desert of western Texas. Johnston also worried about Uda Hillstrand and her mind. Meanwhile a party of men formed and went searching for the man who had perpetrated such vileness upon Uda. True to the shooters estimate, he was found not two miles distant, having bled out from a bullet that struck him in the neck. Already the critters of the plains had found him so it was unanimously decided that no burial would be given.

It was on the third day after the attack that Wagon Master Johnston stopped by the Hillstrand wagon to inquire of Uda’s well being.

 

“Well, to be truthful, I fear for her mind.” Johan told him, “She’s always been to prone toher  dark moods. She’s always recovered but this time she’s different, not saying a word, barely eats and has no interest in the babies. Her sister’s been caring for them when she can but she’s got her own brood to tend to. Once we get to Fort Stockton, if she’s no better, I’ll hunt up a Doctor to examine her.“

Wagon Master Johnston nodded regretfully saying, “ What happened  to her is sure a pity. A similar thing happened to my niece years back, she born a child from it then drowned it in the creek. She won’t come near no man no more cuz of it.”

“Well, whatever happens I am not leaving her. She was a good woman, a good mother to our children. If she bears a child from this then we’ll deal with it then. I just pray that it’s true that a woman who’s time it is for bleeding has a lesser chance of getting with child.”

“I ain’t no expert in woman’s particulars but let’s hope” Johnston tipped his hat and walked on.

It was outside Sonora, east of Fort Stockton that the second of two evils occurred.

Johan was half asleep on the driver’s seat. The plodding of the oxen was like a rhythmic lullaby. The babies were inside the wagon with Uda when a man came running up from the rear screaming and waving his arms violently. “Stop! Stop your wagon! Your baby fell out!”

Abruptly Johan jerked backward on the reigns. He had yanked so hard one of them snapped from the strain.   Leaping from the driver’s seat, Johan rounded the rear of the wagon fearing the worst. It was worse than he imagined. There, lying on the ground fifteen feet behind the wagon lay his infant daughter Bekke… with a long leather strap tied around her neck. She had been hung and dragged.  The man who had given shout was already using his knife to cut the infant free of its leather tourniquet.  In his rush to rid her neck of the strap, he deeply cut the child’s throat, but it was either that or the baby would continue to suffocate to death.

Wrapping a torn piece of his shirt around his child’s bleeding neck Johan glanced into the rear of the wagon. Without word he thrust Bekke into the hands of a stranger and leaped into the rear of the wagon.

“Noooooo!” came the cry from within.

By now others had assembled including his in-laws who had been driving their wagon in front of the Hillstrands and had been unaware of the commotion until now. Leaping through the driver’s seat, his brother in law discovered the reason for Johan’s scream. There lay the Hillstrands four year old son Sven. His mother had used a large knife to stab the child’s heart.

Uda sat unmoving still holding the large knife. When Johan began shaking and shouting at her, Uda’s only response was to rock back and forth as if in a rocking chair.

The infant boy Sven was buried near where the train had been halted. A crude cross was placed as his parents were Christian. Uda did not come from out of the wagon nor did she seem to understand the goings on about her. Her only response was to begin rocking when approached.

Thankfully, the neck wound of Bekke had stopped bleeding and was determined not to be a fatal  wound.  A deep raw abrasion ringed her neck from the leather strap but no other physical harm looked in evidence. The child’s hoarse crying continued through most of the night. As each hour passed Johan noticed the child’s voice growing raspier and raspier, by morning she cried as frog croaks. Whether a result from the hanging or the accidental throat wound no one could say.

Reaching Fort Stockton should have been a joyous affair, but it wasn’t.  Uda showed no signs of getting better and now Johan seemed steeped in regrets and misery for leaving his Ohio farm. He decided to let the rest of the train continue on to its final destination without he and his wife. Bekke was taken in by his sister and brother in laws. He would meet up with them later after Uda was either back to her old self or at least able to cope with the world around her once again.

“We decided to head south to Austin instead of San Antonio like we all planned.” Said his brother in law, “Well meet up down there. I’ll write to you here and give you more information once we settle in.” 

The plans were pretty basic for meeting up but no one really cared about firming up further details like exactly where in Austin they would settle. They all just figured that finding each other may be a matter of a few days search. Never in his life would he have thought that as the wagon rolled away towards Austin that it was the last he’d ever see of his in-laws.

 

Chapter 3

Uda wasted away even under a Doctor’s care. It turned she had not conceived a child, that at least was a small blessing. She refused to go out outside of the small rental house in town. She rarely spoke and when she did it was in a single word at best. A mixture of heroin and Laudanum kept her from further rash outburst.

Uda grew weary soon after rising and ended up spending the rest of her day once again sleeping or lying in bed looking at the ceiling. She was a shell, a ghost, there was no one home anymore within her. Her mind had snapped and the medicine just seemed to add to her inactivity.

When Uda finally passed it was a mixed blessing. It had been nearly six months to the day upon their arrival at Fort Stockton. The gloom that had settled over Johan was as thick as rain clouds over the Ohio Valley farm they once had. Johan would shake his head in remorse remembering when their only concern was a disagreeable neighbor. At Uda’s funeral he spoke not so much about Uda as he did about how she and he had perceived life. “Sometimes we have no idea how good we had it until the future unfolds to even a worse life. We should be grateful for what the Lord gives us and not go yearning for what others got. If Uda and I had followed this, she’d be here today as well as our children.”

He never received a letter from his in-laws nor sent one himself. He had little desire to look upon the face of his daughter for all it would do is remind him of how much he missed Uda and little Sven. Delay after delay occurred until months turned into years. By the time he did try to contact his in-laws, they were nowhere to be found in Austin, the string that connected them was snipped. He could only assume child Bekke was still with them.

Bekke was lovingly raised within her Aunt and Uncles household until she reached the age of six. The family had moved on to Abilene, some two hundred plus miles north. Word of their move was left with the Sheriff of Austin in case Johan looked for them. It was then that Uda’s sister Hulda came down with the influenza and passed. Her husband Jorn had been recently injured when a mule kicked him in the leg as he was putting on the mule team’s harness. The freighter he worked for had enough sympathy to find temporary shelter for all the children until he recovered. Jorn lay lame in bed for almost a year and even after that needed a crutch due to his crooked leg. He took his own children and returned to Ohio, leaving Bekke behind.

 Bekke had been given to a family that desired to move soon after they accepted her under their care. They promised to keep her Uncle Jorn informed as to their whereabouts but months later there still was no word where they had gone off to. Bekke’s Uncle shrugged his shoulders and figured the girl at least was under a roof and was eating so why worry when the child wasn’t his anyway.

What the Uncle never knew nor would he, was that the family that had taken Bekke in had been waylaid by robbers on their journey. A gunfight ensued and the father was killed. His surviving wife immediately sold the young girl to a man for twenty dollars who promised to take real good care of her. “I’ll treat her as my own flesh an’ blood Ma’am, even though the kid don’t talk right”.  He took her from Texas and moved into the Mogollon Rim area of Arizona where he worked as a sheep herder.

Unfortunately for the young Bekke, the man was more interested in her as a man would be to a woman than a father.  By the age of seven Bekke had had enough of his foul fondling ways and made up her mind to end his night time shenanigans.

The two had been living in a small sheep herders cabin part way up the slopes of the Rim where the pines trees grow tightly together and disguised the steep cliffs they cling to. It was then that Bekke saw her chance to settle the issue of her abuse.

As the man stepped up to an overhang which was part of the Rims bench, he looked down and whistled when he realized just how steep the cliff was he was perched on.“Wee-ooo, Ya’ll wait back there while I take a leak child…unless you all wanna’ watch ‘Ol Uncle Lester’s stove pipe in action! Haw haw!”

“Yes, let me watch and see” she responded eagerly in her hoarse voice.

Her positive response was the last thing “Ol Uncle Lester” expected and found it excited his loins. “Then come on over here and take a look see at what a prize I was blessed with.”

As she approached him from behind he began to relieve himself. The thin yellow stream disappeared into a spray of droplets part way down the steep cliff.

All it took was a small shove to dislodge him but it was no small shove she gave. Bent nearly backward from the force of her hands applied upon his backside he went over the edge in the shape of a back bent banana. All he could utter was a “Uh, Uh” as he disappeared silently over the edge.  

She waited and figured on hearing a thud or some other sound saying he had hit bottom but none came. Crawling up to the edge of the cliff on her belly she peeped over the edge and discovered the reason. For nearly two hundred feet the drop was straight down then slowly it began to curve outward nearing the bottom. She could see very faintly a small feature spread out on the slope far below. She mistook it for a small animal or even an ant until she realized the vastness of the cliff’s size and that of  the Rim.

Bekke sat there until the sun started lowering to the westward mountain tops. She knew she had just killed a man but needed to place it within her mind that there was no wrong in it. When she finally stood up to leave, she had left behind the seven year old child and walked away as a young girl very much in charge of herself.

She returned to the cabin, gathered up her belongings and what money she found hidden in the man’s belongings and left.

At age nine she was once again faced with a dilemma when the Sheriff of Payson saw her wandering through town and by her looks knew she was a vagrant and homeless child. The Sheriff handed the girl over to his sister to care for until he could locate the child’s parents. The Sheriff was taken back when he heard the hoarse voice coming from such a beautiful face when asked of her parents. “They was kilt dead” she hoarsely told him but he didn’t believe her saying, “Somewhere you got a Mama and a Pa who’s lookin’ for ya’. It’s gonna be my job to locate and return ya’ to ‘em.”

Weeks passed and every inquiring telegram returned with the same reply. Negative. Little did the Sheriff realize he was looking in the wrong State.

Her stay with the Sheriffs sister was prolonged but after a year the woman finally faced the Sheriff. “Look Howard, you either get me some funds to help raise the child proper or I’m gonna’ have to ask that you take her back. I ain’t wealthy and getting’ no younger either. She’s a little hellion of a child. Seems way too grown up for a child that young.” 

Leaning close and to a near whisper she confided, “A few days back I caught her and little Tommy Dolan playin’ Doctor…well Tommy was playin’ anyway. Little Tommy stood there with his drawers to his feet and she went an’ pointed at his peter an’ began laughing in that hoarse laugh she has!  Do you know what she then told him? She said, “You bess close up them drawers boy or than tiny noodle you gots gonna catch a cold ‘an sneeze itself right off, then how’s you gonna make love to your woman when you’s a man?!” Now I ask you Howard, what normal child talks like that?”

The Sheriffs eyebrows rose in surprise to what was just told him and replied, “Ok, OK. I’ll find a place for her somewhere. She does seem a bit too precocious even for a self learned child. Give me a few weeks an’ I promise she’ll be gone.”

A week later Bekke found herself at the front steps of the Yavapai Indian children’s home holding a small satchel of belongings. Though she was not Yavapai nor of any other Indian tribe, they accepted her right off. To not accept her might be getting themselves on the wrong side of the Sheriff.  Little known to the Sheriff however was that the children’s home was a clearing house for child field labor…and ‘other things’ as they grew older. By now Bekke spoke with a distinct rasp but somehow there was a musical chime somewhere hidden in the rasp. A number of male visitors to the home commented on how charming this made the girl.

Bekke stayed until the age of sixteen. It was at that age that the ‘other things’ forced onto the older children became evident. The cute light skinned, blond haired child with sky blue eyes was told by the overseer of the Home that her time to become a ‘lady’ was soon going to be upon her.. Bekke had actually relished the hard work she had been forced to do. She had been made a teamster hauling freight for the Homes side business. Being outdoors again was a blessing to her and the hard work gave her the self worth she had lacked earlier. She grew strong loading and unloading freight and became resilient in her ways and took no guff from any of the other children. 

When she was informed that soon she either become the nightly pleasure for ‘gentlemen callers’ or be sold off into ‘marriage’, she left… but not before she ‘accidentally’ drove a runaway freight wagon over the  overseer of the Children’s home.

Bekke traveled south towards Globe on foot. In Globe she befriended a boy named Jethro Clemens a few years her senior. He worked at the copper mine there and was making himself a good living doing so. Bekke was impressed, not with his money but with his work ethic. Truth be told, she fell head over heels for the young man. Wide of shoulders, strong chin, clear complexion and the most wonderful brown eyes she’d ever looked into. She was hooked.

 The man boy had strong feelings toward Bekke from the beginning. They had met when Bekke had entered a prosperous looking mercantile in town which had posted a ‘Help Wanted’ sign on its door. She entered and inquired about the job. She was told it was a freighters job that traveled daily between Globe and the town of Phoenix. “Well young lady,” the owner replied, “If you was a man I’d say yes right off but seein’ as you’re a little lady, you couldn’t possibly do the job.”

“Why not? Bekke asked. “I can drive a team of mules better’n any man can! I drove a wagon all over Yavapai county for the last three years! I’m more than capable.”

The owner laughingly guffawed at her claim. It was then that a handsome young man spoke up from near the shelves displaying boots. Looking at the blue eyed wonder, the young man winked at her and told the older man, “Hey Pops, why not see if she’s pullin’ your leg? Let her hitch the team if she can!”

Bekke knew what the boy was up to, it wasn’t to humiliate her by seeing her fail the test, it was to help show the man she was what she claimed to be.

“Ha ha! Sure son, we need a good chuckle, let’s go out back. I gotta get the team hitched presently see’n as I’ll most likely end up haulin’ this load to Phoenix myself.”

Bekke was led around back where the man and boy opened the doors to the carriage house revealing inside a large freight wagon and stalls housing four mules. The owner stood looking proudly at the powerful beast and turning to Bekke told her, “Let’s see you work your magic on these here four Missouri Mules sweetheart!”

Without saying a word, Bekke inspected each mule as careful as if she were to purchase them. Using her own skill, she determined which were lead and which were the wheelers, right side and left. Then she inspected the harnesses, yokes, rings, hames, collar and traces. When finished, she went over the wagons gear. Satisfied they were in good condition, she quickly had all four beast harnessed and ready to haul.

The owner and the boy stood there silently watching her. Finally the man stepped up to the mules and exclaimed, “Well I’ll be danged if you didn’t choose the right mule for the exact position they belong in. Let’s see how you can handle these four honey’s of mine.”

Bekke first backed the mules then turned the rig in a complete circle. She then lined up the wagon and backed the wagons tail gate flush to the building without bumping it.

“Sweetheart,” the man exclaimed, “if you was serious about wantin’ the job then they’s all yours to drive! C’mon back inside and let’s talk.”

“The young man walked up to Bekke and whispered to her, “I knew you could do it!” he then turned and once again winked at her as he strode away.

Bekke stepped back inside the mercantile and asked the owner, “That young man who was with us, is he your son?”

“I wish! Nope, he’s a loner now. Parents passed last year with the influenza. Best folks you’d ever meet. I kinda took a liking to him. He’s a good boy an’ see’n as he has no parents no more, I keep a close eye on him for ‘em.”

Bekke looked at the man with sympathy. I understand, My Aunt who helped raise me passed from the same.

 The owner sat Bekke down at a small table used for cutting strips of leather and asked, “It’s none of my business, maybe it is since I’m hiring you on, No matter but do you have a story I need to know about? Any crimes committed that might draw the law on you? That sort of thing.”

“None that I’m aware of. Truth be told, I ran away from the children’s home over in Yavapai County ‘cause they wanted me to start whorin’ for them.”

Stifling a gasp, he declared “Don’t tell! The Indian home up by the rim?”

“The very one. I guess they get away with it ‘cause for the most part it’s only Indian children and the Sheriff and other white folk don’t care what goes on there.”

“Dang me! Sweetheart, you got a place to stay? If’n you don’t, we can make up a bed here in the back room. It’s cool as anything possible here in the summer. Oh, by the way, my names Billy Irons, an this here is my business free an’ clear!”

“Much obliged, thank you Mister Billy Irons. My names Bekke, Bekke Hillstrand, that’s all I’ve been told of me. No one cares anything for me as I’m probably an orphan anyway. I was too young to know how I got the way I did with this scar around my neck an’ all but I was told my Daddy had a lot to do with it. I was told he was a no good and had no use for me so he sold me off. At least that’s what I was told by a sheep herder that bought me from some lady who’s husband was shot an kilt. ”

“Bought you? What do you mean bought you? Like a slave is bought?”

“I guess you could say that. He fed me but handled me too. He was an evil man an’ I was only a child.”

The owner sat staring wide eyed. “You mean by ‘handled’ he touched you?”

“Uhuh, an’ woulda been a lot more if I didn’t fight him off every time he come back to the cabin drunk.”

Irons face turned beet red. “Why if that no good ever shows his face around here, you come ‘an get me understand? He’ll rue the day he ever touched you. There’s bullets made in hell just for men like him”

“There’s no need Mister Irons”

“Why’s that child?”

“I killed him. I pushed him off’ a cliff at the Rim up north of here when he stopped to take a pi…” Sorry, I mean when he went to relieve himself.”

Billy Irons eyes widened even further, “What? You did what girl?”

“I kilt him. I ain’t sorry none about it neither.” She rasped, “ He deserved all he got. I hope every bone in his body broke as he hit bottom too!”

“Well dang my hide child! Keep that information under your hat an’ to yourself from now on. That could be a hangin’ offense… but between you an’ me, you done good alright!”

The weeks passed and Bekke learned each and every twist and turn through the mountain trail into Phoenix and back.  Folks began to know her up and down the trail. Sometimes she was asked to haul freight to some of the local general stores along the way. Billy Irons took advantage of having the only large freight wagon in the area. If a trip could be made more profitable by throwing on someone else’s freight to drop off, then all the better.

One late October day on her return trip to Globe, Bekke noticed she had been being followed for the last couple of hours. Making sure her rifle was within easy reach she continued as if unawares. The keenness of her eyesight and with the use of a small mirror she kept tabs on the lone rider behind her. Something seemed familiar about the rider, the way he sat in the saddle, straight and tall. It suddenly dawned on her who the rider was… her new friend, the young man named Jethro Clemens. 

Pulling her rig over to the side of the trail she searched and found a good hiding spot for it in a nearby small box canyon. Less than a half hour later she heard the clippity clop of Jethro’s horse. Suddenly he stopped. Looking over the top of the boulder she had hidden behind she watched as he looked down the road to where she should be. Jethro removed his hat and scratched his head. “Where the dickens’s did she go to?” She heard him say. ”She should be plain in view right now.”

Meanwhile Bekke had found a small stone the size of a birds egg. As Jethro turned away from her, she rose and threw it, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Ow! What in the heck!” At that moment Bekke showed herself and began laughing.

“Come over here Jethro, “she shouted, I got some jerky an’ water if you wish for some.”

Laughing, Jethro swung his horse off the trail and dismounting, led the horse to the small box canyon where the wagon was stashed. Bekke meanwhile had lowered the tail gate and reaching inside for her grub bag sat upon it.

“I guess I couldn’t fool you no way huh?” He asked her.  “I tried to be sneaky like an’ follow you unseen but I make a terrible Indian. When did you notice I was behind you?”

“A couple hours ago, back by the turn off leading to the Superstitions.”

As Jethro sat next to Bekke on the wagons tail gate he exclaimed, “That far back? Darn, you must be part Injun yourself!”

“Truthfully, I didn’t know it was you until just a bit ago. All I could make out was a lone rider was trying his best to stay hidden from me.“

“Yeah, I did real good huh? All I did was make a fool of myself in front of the girl I got the sweets for.”

Bekke looked sharply at him. “Did I just hear you right? You got the sweets for me?”

“Oh darn! I’m sorry, I shoulda just kept my mouth shut.  Forget I ever said that!”

“Why? I think that’s sweet of you to say that. No one ever told me they had feelings for me before. I got feelings too, I just don’t know what to do with ‘em.”

“Has a boy never loved you then?”

“None that I knowed of. Truth be told Jethro, I’m a hussy. I’ve been handled by evil men. I doubt I’ll ever be loved the way you is thinkin’ of. No man deserves a used woman like me when they can find a girl raised proper like.”

Jethro moved closer to Bekke. “Bekke, I had my share of times, both good n bad. I got to know what makes folks do things. I know you better than you think I do. You liked me right off, I could see it in your eyes when you looked my way the day we first met. Then I heard your story. Not meaning to, I overheard your tellin’ Old Bill your story.”

Saying that, Jethro gently took Bekke’s hands in his. “Bekke, see how clean your hands are? I know in the past they got dirtied up a mite an not on your own account. But you went an’ washed ‘em clean after they was dirtied. Life is like that too Bekke. We get dirty sometimes but we wash ourselves clean an’ go on. I hold nothin’ against you for what you done in the past. If you call yourself a hussy it’s only cuz you want to be one an’ I know that ain’t what you is or want to be known as. So no matter what happened in your past, you’re as clean as a newborn babe to me. Can you understand that?”

A tear rolled down Bekke’s cheek. “You make everything sound so right. Is it really?”

“Yes, it is for sure.”

With Jethro still holding her hands she leaned into his chest. “I’m glad I met you Jethro.”

He replied softly. “So am I Bekke, real glad.”

 There the two sat unspeaking for the longest time. Bekke knew the day was getting on and daylight was needed to traverse the twisting roads safely back to Globe. Looking up at Jethro she quickly kissed his cheek. Telling him, “I’ll be right back, that water I drank is beggin’ to see daylight!”

“Oh, you gotta p.., relieve yourself? OK, I’ll stay here with the wagon an’ you can head into the mesquite trees over there where I can’t see ya. Oh, take your rifle with ya, never know when a rattler will slither out.”

Grabbing the rifle, Bekke headed off to the thickest part of the mesquite cover.

It was while Bekke was busy that Jethro heard the sound of horses approaching.  A group of three hard looking men rode up to face him. “What’s this all about boy? You find an abandoned wagon here? Maybe someone left it for us to go through, Haw haw.”

Two men dismounted and threw back the canvas of the wagon. “Jackpot boys! Look at what we got here!”

Jethro regained his composure and shouted angrily, “Hey, get your hands off of that wagon Mister!”

 Without warning the mounted man pulled and raised his revolver from its holster. Just as Jethro realized what was about to happen he went for his own gun. The advantage was to the no good and he fired striking Jethro. Jethro fell to the ground and cried out loudly in pain.  Once again the man raised his revolver and began lowering its barrel towards Jethro.

 Before he could pull the trigger a second time, Bekke’s rifle bucked from its deadly duty. The top of the riders head exploded in a red mist. He slowly teetered back and forth as if unsure what to do, he then tumbled sideways off of his saddle which ended in a sickening thud in the dust. Faster than the two others could pull iron and return fire, Bekke had sent into each of the men a deadly heart piercing slug of lead. Round after round she sent forth into the expired trio of no goods until her re-cocking of the rifle produced no further live rounds.

As sudden as it started it was finished. The sound of her last shots still echoed through the distant canyons then all was silent.

“Bekke, Help me!” Jethro moaned painfully.  I’m shot in the chest somewhere’s.  Bekke ran to him and dropping the empty rifle, laid him on the ground to examine the wound.   

“Oh it hurts bad. I never been shot before Bekke, I’m sorry if I’m bein’ like a child.”

“No, hush now Jethro, let me get your shirt open. You’re bleedin’ all over the place”

With shaking hands Bekke undid Jethro’s shirt exposing a long deep bleeding gash across his chest. “No wonder it hurts so bad. It plowed a deep crease along the entire front of your chest. A straight in shot woulda’ been a lot less painful for sure!”

 

Bekke ran to the wagon and tore away a piece of cloth from one of the bolts she was to deliver. “Here, this will help with the bleeding but you’re gonna be in some mighty powerful pain. You better lay inside the wagon whiles I tie your horse to the back of it. We need you to get to a Doctor right quick Jethro.”

“Am I gonna make it? I mean am I dyin’?”

“Not yet anyway, I think we’ll be celebrating your next birthday without too much worry. You may pass out though on the ride back, it’s not a smooth one and you’ll get bumped around a lot.”

 “Bekke? You kissed me?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Thank you, that was real nice of you.”

Helping him into the wagon nearly cost him his consciousness but after a moment his eyes cleared again.

Bekke wrapped the tarp around him snuggly and for a moment rested her head on his arm. She then climbed up into the wagon and carefully placed his head between her palms. She then lowered herself to him and kissed him with a gentle but passion filled kiss. “If you pass out,” she told him, “I want the last thing you remember is this kiss.”

“Oh Bekke, I could never forget it even if I was to die.”

The way back seemed to take ages. Finally the mercantile in Globe came into view just as the sun set over the mountains. As she pulled up, Bekke screamed to Bill for help and he came out running like an old buffalo.

“What’s going on Bekke? What…Oh my God, it’s Jethro! Is he dead?”

 “Not yet, he’s been shot but I thought by the time we got here he might die of old age!”

Inspecting the dressing and wound Bill glanced up at her.

“Uhuh, says the girl with a sense of humor.  Glad you kept your cool. He seems a mite torn up but he’ll live as long as infection don’t set in.”

The two unloaded Jethro into the bed Bekke had made for herself inside the back room of the mercantile. She ran up front to the customer counter, grabbed Bills chair and retured with it. Placing it next to the bed she reached over and placed Jethro’s hand in hers. Bill Irons stared down at the sight of her holding Jethro’s hand and smiled knowingly to himself.

 

Chapter 4

Jethro’s recovery took a turn for the worse the next day when fever struck him. For three days he tossed and turned and talked out of his head. When Bekke had finally turned in to sleep, Irons took over watching him. Suddenly Jethro awoke with a start. Bill could tell the boy was still talking out of his head but the pleas for another of Bekke’s kisses was not from any fever dream, the boy was in love with Bekke. Bill Irons kept a cool cloth on the boys head and soon the young man drifted back to sleep.

On the third day of Jethro’s fever it broke. Jethro awoke shaky but hungry, a good sign. Bekke was excited and continually had to admonish Jethro for trying to leave his bed.

“C’mon Bekke, I’m fine! Why I feel better every hour.”

“Now listen Jethro, I need to get back to work drivin’ Bills freight. He’s startin to get short on supplies an’ they need to be gotten.  Plus there’s a few general stores along the way that I drop other supplies off to. I’m needed an’ I like the feeling. Besides, every time you try to crawl outa bed you start oozing blood again.”

Jethro rolled slowly onto his side and looked longingly at her, “I need you Bekke, be safe, OK?”

Bekke leaned over him and tenderly kissed him on the mouth. In her musically raspy voice she told him, “I’m glad you need me Jethro. This is hard for me to say all that’s spinnin’ in my mind but I want you to know this before I leave. I don’t know how it happened or even why but I’ve fallen in love with you.”

As she turned to leave Jethro called out to her.  “I love you too.”

The months passed and Bekke continued to drive the freight wagon for Bill Irons. Jethro recovered enough to return to work but the mine declined to take him back as work had slowed and layoffs were imminent so Irons took him on.

 “I was hoping you’d join up with me here at the mercantile long ago,” Bill told him, “but, I figured you’d think I was given’ you a hand out an’ I know you wouldn’t cotton up to that. But truth be told, I ain’t getting’ any younger and am really lookin’ forward to someday takin’ some time to go east an visit my daughter an’ grandkids back in Virginia. I’d consider it my good fortune if you’d step in my place for a spell an’ run the place while I’m gone. What d’ya say son?”

Without saying a word Jethro stuck out a man’s hand and grasped Bills in it. A quick shake and the deal was done.

 “I’ll draw up the paperwork given’ ya’ access to the bank and all rights to operate the place as you see fit. I’ll make sure it’s done all legal like so’s to avoid any trouble.”

 

In Phoenix, Bekke’s last stop was at a small leather workers shop owned by an elderly Mexican and his plump happy wife. There Bekke was to pick up some bridles, halters and leather britchens for mules and two beautiful hand tooled saddles. While waiting for the old Mexican craftsman to load the goods onto the wagon, Bekke ran across the road to a small café to grab a mid day meal. Inside, the cafe was dark and cool. No sooner had she entered than a girl named Lois who was busy waiting on tables looked up and waved to her. “Hiya’ Miss Hillstrand! I see you finally returned. What’s been keeping you away?”

Bekke found an empty table and pulling up a chair to it sat down. “Oh, too much to tell in one sitting Lois.” She raspingly laughed.

“Well Bekke, I’m all ears as soon as dinner is over, will you be around then?”

“Afraid not, I gotta get back to Globe before dark.”

While the two friends chatted gaily, an elderly looking man rose slowly from the table he had been sitting at and approached the girls on teetering legs. To any patron in the cafe, the old man appeared aged not so much from years but from the burdens of life that had taken their tolls. Where most men seem to grow old gracefully, this fella missed the stage by months.

Reaching them, the old man bowed his head in apology.  “Excuse me for interrupting the two of you.” He said.

 Looking at Bekke his moist blue eyes softened and he quietly asked, “Did I hear right that you are called Bekke Hillstrand?”

“Yes, who wants to know?”

“May I see your neck please?”

“Why?”

“Please, it’s important to me. May I see under your kerchief?”

“Suite yourself,” she chuckled, “but I’ll charge you for a second look.”

Bekke removed the red kerchief she had tied around her neck. Underneath the old scar from being hung and dragged by a leather strap was plainly in evidence.

The old man began to shake visibly. “And your voice, it changed when you received that scar?”

“Mister, I have no idea, I was only a few months old at best.”

The old man’s lips began to quiver, subtly at first but in trying to speak his lips took on a noticeable tremble. “B-Bekke?”

“Mister, I’m not sure what the problem is or what you want but please, I have only a short time to eat before I drive my freight wagon back to Globe. It get’s dark early this time of year and I don’t particularly desire to drive my team blind. What is it you want from me?”

“I want nothing, I just wanted to introduce myself, that is all.”

“Well why didn’t you say so, I’m Bekke Hillstrand and you are?”

The old man looked sheepishly down at the girl and quietly said, “Johan, Johan Hillstrand, I’m your father.”

Bekke stood as if made of stone. Suddenly she spun on her heel and made for the door. Behind her the old man cried out, “Bekke!”

Slamming the cafe diners screened door, she stomped outside where the customers could hear her raspy voice scream the word “NO!”

 Chapter 5

“So this is it Mister. End of story I guess. I promised myself if ever I ran across the dirty dog I’d kill him. It’s gonna be for a different reason than all the others I kilt dead. They all wanted somethin’ from me an’ for that they paid for it. I’ll go in an’ face him, let him know what he did to me, then I’ll punch a hole clean through his liver and watch him bleed out! It’ll for sure be cold blooded murder but justice needs to be served an’ if I’m hung for it fine, I’ve been hung once already.”

She turned to the café and I followed her inside hoping she wouldn’t do what she said she would. She seemed such a nice girl.

“OK old man, out with it. I promised myself I’d let you speak your piece before blasting you. I got too much of my life missin’ an’ out of plain ol’ curiosity I want to hear what you gotta say to me. Of course most all you tell me will be lies, but I’m keen enough to see through them. Still, I might get a few nuggets of truth and for that your still standin’ here breathin’.”

I noticed the man kind of wobble back n forth dizzy like as if he was unbelieving on what he was hearing.

“Daughter Bekke, what is wrong? This should be the happiest day of our lives, yours and mine. I don’t understand why such hate for me is within you. Please, first tell me what grieves you then I’ll answer any question you have with truth. I am old and ill of health, I have no reason to speak falsely.

“OK, first off. In truth, I know only what’s been told to me. I have no memories of you, my mother, nobody! I’ve been told bit’s an’ pieces over the years by different folks. How they knew anything about my past is beyond me but I had no choice but to add their stories together and decide for myself what occurred when I was a babe.”

I saw the girl step up face to face with the old man, then she laid into him with all her grievances.

“I’m beholding to what I come up with. I knowed we arrived safe and sound as a family off a wagon train from the East somewhere’s. I figure Missouri. Then for some unexplained reason you got it in your head that you could do better without a family draggin’ behind you all the time. So first off, I was told, you refused to seek a Doctor or any medicine when my brother fell ill with the grip. He died to your pleasure. Then later you decided I was too much a bother too an’ you ended up hangin’ me in a horse stable by my neck. You thought I was dead but I lived because I weighed so little my neck didn’t snap! When my mama found me hangin’ there gasping for life and faced you for what you did, you kilt her with arsenic pisin you got from your friend the druggist. Before it kilt her though it ad you drove her insane! Ya then left me abandoned on a strangers door stoop. From then on I been handed down from one vile no good to another with few moments of happiness in between. I was forced to be a play thing for men as a child. Now, let me hear your lie’s an’ if I can’t stand them no more I’ll drop you where you stand old man!”

I saw the old man’s tears tumbling down his horrified face as the girl laid into him. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how she could watch his pain an’ yet be so unfeelin’ but I guess when you been through what she’d been through you get a mighty hard heart. When the old man finally spoke all the ears in the café diner was wide open, not a clink of a plate was to be heard.

“M-My heart lies heavy in my chest Daughter,” He sobbed.”What you have been told are lies, all lies. Why someone would say what they did confounds me. Kill me if you wish when I am finished speaking, it will be a blessing to me. To hear what you have endured because of my naivety and dereliction will be added to my sins in hell.”

At this point the old man stopped to wipe his tears with an old kerchief he pulled from his vest pocket.

“Your mother, Uda was her name, was the love of my life. We were both emigrants to America from nearby villages in Sweden. We met one day at a church social in the small town of Athens back in Ohio. it was as they say, love at first sight. We became inseparable friends and soon lovers. Though we had more than two decades separating our ages, no one thought it improper, least of all your mother’s family. Their love for me was overwhelming. We married in the same church that we had first seen each other. Your beautiful brother Sven was soon born and he lit up our lives as the sun lights the day. In truth, your mother had suffered previously to a spell of dark moods. Upon your brothers birth though these moods fell by the wayside. We had been having problems with our neighbor so we decided with the encouragement of your Aunt and Uncle to start over and move to Texas. That is when you were born. How could we not have been the happiest family? Two beautiful children, a new future ahead of us and loving relatives to travel with.

 You were partially correct though, we left by wagon from Missouri but we were not from Missouri. Part way to our destination an evil and vile man brutally attacked and had his way with your mother while I was away tending the livestock. The man was shot and killed by a fellow traveler when he took flight. We found him a short distance away expired, we left the man unburied for the animals to feed on! What your mother went through no one can explain. I believe she lost her mind at that moment and wanted nothing more than to no longer exist. She was the one who killed your brother Sven. He was never  prone to illness but was a healthy strapping boy. Driven by her delusions, she ended his life unknowingly to me as I drove the wagon. Mercifully it was a quick death. He is buried alongside the trail where a cross marks his grave. It is still be standing, it was m-m-made of h-heavy wood and over the years I’ve revisited his little grave n-n-numerous times.”

Again tears flowed freely but this time I noticed moistness in the girl’s eyes. I also noticed the tip of the rifle barrel had drooped towards the floor a mite. Wiping his eyes clear once more, the old man cleared his throat and continued speaking.

“And you… my dream come true, my precious little Bekke. We can only assume what happened as no one saw the act. A man in the  wagon behind us saw you dumped from the rear of the wagon. A leather harness strap had been tightly twisted around your neck. You were dragged with your tiny limbs flaying about as you fought for your life. A stranger arrived in response to our yells and lifted your blue body from the earth. Using his large hunting knife he cut away the noose from around your neck. In his rush to free you though he cut deeply into your throat but not so much that your wound did not eventually heal. To all of us present, we praised God when you sucked in your breath and began crying. Such a strange cry you gave, it was as a frog croaking but it mattered little to me for you were alive. When we reached Fort Stockton your mother’s delusions worsened. A Doctor began to treat her but his experience was with the body, not the mind. In giving their support, your Aunt and Uncle promised to care for you until we all met up in Austin. I found out years later that sometime after they had left, your Aunt passed from the influenza and you were given to another family to be cared for. Your Uncle left with his children to return to Ohio but apparently never made it. No one knows whether they came to an early demise or stopped to settle elsewhere along the way. Our family in Ohio knew nothing of his return. At the time, I knew nothing of all of this and assumed y-you were s-s-still s-s-safe with family.

By now most of the folks in the café diner were in or near tears. I think at that point the pendulum swung from believin’ the girl to believin’ her Dad. I truly believed that if she had pulled the trigger then and there that the entire group of diners would’ve jumped atop her.

“When I realized you and my family were not to be found, I spent the next seventeen years traveling throughout Texas trying to find you and that is the honest to God’s truth. It is by pure coincidence that we meet here today for I had come across a story of a young girl found wandering the desert years ago by a Mormon missionary. I was on my way to Utah to find this missionary to see if it was you he had rescued when in my travels I stopped into this cafe for a meal. My joy would be complete and all of my years of prayers answered except that my precious daughter is pointing a gun at me and wishes my death. I am finished, I can add no more. If you still disbelieve me then I can only say that those who have harmed you are having the last laugh in your killing of the father who truly loves you. What can an old man say to prove he is telling the truth? Nothing. If you feel must kill me to rid yourself of the demons that have tormented you all these years, then you have my blessing to pull your trigger.”

 

It was then I saw the old man stand tall and erect as he waited for the inevitable punch of the bullet. Tears were streaming like a spring thunderstorm down his face but I knew the tears were not from any fear of his death but the from irony of finally findin’ his baby girl, only to lose her in the end. He slowly closed his eyes an’ then spoke to her one last time.

“I love you my precious Bekke…”

The girl stood misty eyed an’ unmoving for a solid minute. What was transpirin’ in her head only the Good Lord knowed. She slowly bowed her head. Closing her own eyes her tears dropped to the floor as did the rifle. Then stepping forward and putting her arms around the old man, sobbing, she hugged him.

“I love you too Dad.”

The place went bizerk in cheerin’! As she and the old man passed by me goin’ out the door to the thunder of congratulating applause, she reached out an’ gave my arm a good squeeze and whispered, “Thank you.”

I stood lookin’ out after ‘em as they headed across the road to the Mexican leather place hand in hand. If I heard correct like, I believe I heard her tellin’ the old man about a young man who had asked her to marry him. Then like two old friends they chattered their way till I could no longer make out what they was sayin’.

Well, I best be getting back home. The wife sent me out to pick up some staples an’ I’ve yet to get ‘em. It’ll be a dickens tryin’ to explain all the happenings here an’ why I was so late in getting’ on back home. I believe the easiest out is to just tell her I stopped in at the saloon and downed a few cold ones an’ lost track of time. Yup, I do believe she’d go for that. Besides, it won’t be no lie, for I sure could go for a cold one right about now!

                                                                 The End

 

 

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A humorus sneak peak into history

Grandad Edwards with Grandma in their late teens. She would bare 8 alive and 16 unfortunate stillborns.

Grandad Edwards with Grandma in their late teens. She would bare 8 alive and 16 unfortunate stillborns.

My Grandfather was a Mountain Man back in the early days of Idaho’s history. He arrived with his parents and siblings by covered wagon from Missouri and settled into a sod house in the pristine valley that today is called “The Carey Valley”.  Back then it was known as “The Empire of Alturas” and later, “The Little Wood River Valley” near present day Carey Idaho along the Arco highway or State Route 20. Some of his pioneering life’s adventures were recorded by his children. Some stories tell of his early childhood where at eleven years old he started his trapping business. Other writings recall his love for his young wife and while others tell of his twilight years as Idaho grew and towns became civilized with schools, churches and paved roads.

This is one story, and as you can see, it is unchanged by time. It was typed by one of his sons, my late Uncle Deloy  back in the day. It recalls the humor of a people thought to have spent all their time mournfully scraping a living from the land. Oh, they did that for sure but not without a laugh now and then.

Memories of my Father 1

Memories of my Father 2Memories of my Father 3

I hope you enjoyed this look into the past, I know I did. The original Edwards Homestead is still owned and being worked by family. The beautiful “Empire of Alturas”  with it’s pristine rivers, streams, valley and Sawtooth Mountain Range  all remain for us to enjoy to this day in the Carey area.

The Black Blizzard by JW Edwards

sand storm

 

July 10th, 1893 The storm hits.

Unable to wait patiently for his horse to come to a complete halt, Barnaul Caine hurriedly dismounted and made his way at a run out of the old corral towards the cabin. The hunted rider peeked through the single pane plate glass window that served to light the desert cabins interior. Seeing no sign of life within, he shouldered the handmade plank entrance door open and stepped inside. The coolness of the cabins interior surprised him as outside, the temperature had skyrocketed past one hundred and fifteen degrees. A quick look about told him the cabin had been abandoned to the elements some years ago. Not the cleanest of places he mused, yet it would still serve to give him the needed protection he’d been   hoping to find.

Stepping back outside, he glanced at the black horizon and knew he had maybe fifteen minutes at best before the monstrous mile high dust storm stuck. He wondered what would reach him first the storm or the group of men on his tail.

The discovery of a serviceable bucket at the cabins well told him folks found this a God send of a shelter from time to time. Hauling bucket after bucket of the cool well water inside he filled an old wash tub that had been hanging on the interiors back wall. Not that he had any intention of bathing mind you, instead he knew the dust storm could last for days and he’d need clean drinkable water for his horse as well as himself during that time.

Retrieving his horse he’d simply named Horse, he brought her to stand inside the cabin. The whites of her eyes told him all he needed to know. If his horse had such a fear of the coming storm, then he better prepare for the worst. Running outside again, he found an old outbuilding that had once served as a stall and blacksmith shop. “Must have been a farrier that lived here,” he absently thought.

Seeing no tools of the trade, he figured the Farrier must have left the place voluntarily for parts unknown. He knew that years back there had been a thriving silver mine in the nearby hills and when it closed, the lone farrier must have left too.

Stepping into the stall area, he was pleasantly surprised to find a partially filled sack of oats in a small alcove used for storing tack. At one time an old bed sheet curtain had hung from nails separating the alcove from the two stalls. He reached down and grabbing the old bed sheet, rolled it up and stuffed it inside the sack along with the oats. Time was of the essence so he abandoned the search for any more usable finds and ran back into safety of the cabin.

“Well Horse,” He said as he entered the cabin, “I found you some eats at least.” Laying the burlap sack down he scooped some into the empty water bucket and let her feed. After feeding, he brushed the horse down using an old moth eaten towel he’d found. Between the feeding and brushing the mare calmed down and began accepting her unusual situation.  Barnaul then began tearing the old bed sheet he’d found into hand width strips. These he would use to plug the gaps and holes of the cabin.

He knew when the dust storm hit, the choking dust would find it’s way into the building through even the smallest unattended crack.

Wiping the years of soil from the window pane, he glanced outside at the coming storm. He figured he was down to about five minutes now. Using his knife, he quickly began stuffing the torn bed sheet strips into as many cracks and crevices as he could find. All too soon the storm would strike and still the single window needed to be covered.

At one time, a wooden shutter had been secured with bent spikes pounded into the window’s frame to hold it in place. Over the years its leather hinges had dry rotted and the unsecured shutter had fallen to the ground. Retrieving the shutter he lifted it back into place and turned the bent spikes over the shutter to once again secure it.

Unlike a winter blow or a monsoon rain, the dust storm had its own way of announcing itself. Rising as high as the eye could see the mile high wall of howling blackness bore down on the cabin and its occupants. The desert sand outside began to blow across the ground, not away from the storm but towards it. This surprised him but he had no time to ponder this phenomenon as he secured the shutter in place. Moments later, the storm stuck.

Struck might be the wrong word, punched or kicked is closer but still even those words lacked in their description.

Heading back inside, Barnaul had just made it to the door when he was violently smashed against the cabins outside wall. With the breath knocked out of him, he gasped for air as he tried to open the door outward into the storm. He finally managed to open it enough to pry his boot into the opening. He could hear Horse clomping about and whinnying in renewed panic. He needed to get inside to calm the poor beast. Wedging his shoulder into the crack he managed to pry the door open enough to squeeze his body through the opening. The storm’s pressure on the door left bruises across his chest and back but it was far better being bruised than shredded like lettuce by the sand and small rocks being blown by the storm.

Once again he made his way around the cabin trying to minimize the incoming dust with the strips of bed sheet. Without warning, the old cast iron stove’s smoke pipe suddenly exploded from the stove. The fierce wind had tried to make its way down the pipe poking its way through the roof but was forced to stop when it reached the stoves firebox door. The resulting increase in pressure lifted the pipe clean from the stove. A six inch wide tunnel of dust blasted its way down into the cabin from the section of pipe left protruding from the ceiling. Blinded by the dust, Barnaul felt for the overhead pipe as he removed his vest. Finding the pipe he stuffed the vest into the hole and using his hands crimped the edge of the pipe closed. As the pipe filled with sand from above, it effectively sealed off the pipe.

The cabin was being rocked by the blasting storm.  Creaking and groaning, the cabin seemed to have been built with the fore knowledge that these storms come time and time again. It was the roof that worried Barnaul the most but after the first hour he began to relax a might more.

There wasn’t much he could do now but tend to his horse and wait the storm out. Those tracking him would have to do the same.

    Chewing on a piece of dried beef flank, Barnaul sat back against the wall for there were no chairs or tables. Time passed slowly as the moaning wind continued its assault on the land.

Alone and nearly exhausted, he thought of his recently deceased Coleen and what his own future now held without her. He’d purchased the ranch in full that the two had planned on operating so at least that much was settled. If he survived the next few days, he’d have a chance of still making a go of the place, although without a wife it had much less purpose. He was young and knew he’d end up remarrying someday. He just wasn’t going to look for it right away, that’s all. If it happened it happened. Things occurred in a man’s life that wasn’t always pleasant, death was all too common, especially in the west. The living grieved and then they continued on, if they didn’t they joined the dead.

Finishing his scant meal, he fed some of the discovered oats to his horse again and settled in as comfortable a position as could be expected. Someone before had made a rough bed using various grasses but Barnaul took one look at the critters seeking to escape his poking around the bed with his knife that he opted to sleep on the open dirt floor instead. Throughout the night the storm raged and found numerous new crevices to enter the cabin. By morning dust piles looking like small snow drifts had formed on every shelf, nook and cranny within the cabin. Barnaul himself looked like he had been dragged through the desert for all the dust in his hair and clothing.

Making his way to the old wash tub, he removed Horse’s saddle blanket that had been covering it throughout the night.  He scooped up enough water in the pail to wash his hair and face free of the dust. Taking a damp piece of the bed sheet he blew his nose into it… Mud. At least he could breathe easier now. Reaching behind his neck, he untied the bandana and retied it over his face covering his nose and mouth to prevent breathing any further dust.  Even so, each time his teeth came together it was like chewing on grit paper. He moved over to Horse and using the damp cloth cleaned the horse’s nostrils of as much dust as he could. Horse seemed to know and held still. Turning, he saw a small broken mirror hanging on the wall told him he still looked a sight. The one time handsome face cropped in soft brown hair and complimented by green eyes and a well grown mustache now resembled that of a wild miner that had been the loser in a saloon brawl. Blood shot eyes stared back and each blink felt as if he’d rubbed them with prickly pears. It had been only three weeks since he had been forced to take to the desert but being on the run and the dust storm seemed to have added ten years to his looks.

Dirty tears involuntarily slid down his dusty cheeks as he recalled the events of three weeks ago. While the storm continued its beating on mother earth, Barnaul beat himself with his own memories.

June 12th, 1893 Three weeks earlier

The two newlyweds, Barnaul and Coleen, had just returned to their Texas home from their week long honey moon when they announced they had purchased an existing working ranch in the Arizona Territory during their time away.

The owner of the ranch had died suddenly so his wife put the place up for sale and moved back east. In the sale agreement, the ranch’s foreman and staff were kept on and the cattle were purchased for only four cents on the dollar after they were driven to market.

The thought of losing his sister Coleen forever to the tall handsome cowboy was too much for the insane Tory McClandish. That night he set fire to their modest home in crazed anger hoping both would die. Only Coleen did. She was overcome by the smoke and as hard as he tried, Barnaul could not find her in all the dense smoke to save her.

After burying the feisty red haired beauty, he was coldly invited into the McClandish home. Once inside, he was confronted by the angry red faced Ian McClandish, his son Tory and a few of the ranch’s rougher hands.

Before any words of greeting were spoken, Barnaul was manhandled to the floor where Ian McClandish pounded him severely using his brass knobbed cane.

Through swollen eyes received from the beating, Barnaul Caine looked up at his father in law. He had tried in vain to explain it was not his fault Coleen did not survive but his father in law would hear no more of it.

“Stop your lies you coward! Not two weeks after you married her, my daughter lies burnt and buried in her grave and all because you did not have the guts to save her. Don’t tell me you tried! You stood there and watched her burn, I know.  My son Tory saw the whole thing and you have the gall to try and blame her death on him, her own brother! You sniveling coward!” Ian McClandish raised his cane to strike at Barnaul once again.

Barnaul’s mind raced even as his body was about to be broken. How could he convince his father in law that what he had discovered was the truth. That his wife Coleen had an insane brother who was in love with his own sister and if he could not have her, no one would, especially his new brother in law Barnaul.

Just as McClandish brought his cane down again, Barnaul twisted to the left causing the brass headed cane to violently strike the ornate wooden inlay floor of his father in laws sitting room. Three sets of arms instantly reached out for him but Barnaul skirted away on his hands and knees.

Having cleared the three sets of grabbing of hands, Barnaul lurched to his feet and made a dash for the door. Tory McClandish, the insane love struck brother, was right behind him. As he reached the door Barnaul spun around and kicked out with all his might. The tip of his boot buried itself deeply into Tory McClandish’s unprotected crotch stopping Tory in his tracks.

As Barnaul left the porch on the fly, he heard from behind him the shouts of the other two men mingling with the cursing groans of Tory. The old man continued to spew his hatred even as Barnaul made it to his horse and rode quickly off. With the old man’s promises of killing Barnaul for the death of his daughter still ringing in his ears he headed west to the Territory of Arizona and to his ranch. Everything he planned to take with him to Arizona was in Texas but if he returned to salvage anything from his home he’d surely be found and murdered.

July 11th, 1893 The second day of the storm.

Barnaul found no sleep that night. Between the memories of the last three weeks and the demonic howling of the dust storm sleep was the last thing accomplished.

The cabin continued to shake and groan and no matter how many rags were stuffed into the cracks, the dust was still choking him. He frequently wiped Horse’s nostrils clear and eventually removed his own shirt to tie around her head covering the end of her nose. The mare continued to show signs of distress so after washing out her eyes he tied the shirt arms in such a fashion as to cover her eyes. This seemed to finally calm the creature down enough that Barnaul no longer feared being stomped on.

July 12th the storm ends

The morning of the third day brought no relief. The past few days of arid heat pushed the thermometer past one hundred inside the cabin. The roof had begun to loosen in places causing some boards to rattle loudly. As each hour passed, more dust found its way inside. Having run out of rags Barnaul was forced to stuff his only blanket between the worst of two loose roof planks. His noonday meal dinner consisted of dried meat and dust.

He wondered about the McClandish’s and how far behind him they were when the storm struck. They were only a few miles behind him when he found the cabin and not fifteen minutes later all hell broke loose. He figured they must have hunkered down somewhere nearby to wait the storm out. He’d have to be prepared for their arrival the moment the dying storm permitted travel.

Actually, it wasn’t the cabin he found first but only the corral. The cabin was pretty well hid by overgrown brush and a large mesquite tree.

It wasn’t until he entered the corral that he spotted the small building a hundred feet off. Of all the bad episodes luck he’d had, finding the cabin wasn’t one of them.

Thinking about it, in a way he actually understood Ian McClandish’s reaction to his daughters death. The cards had been stacked against him from the moment he began courting the fiery red haired Coleen. Her father had been against the two becoming intimates as Barnaul Caine was from an English heritage. It made no difference that Barnaul’s great grandfather fought side by side Daniel Morgan as a sharpshooter in 1777 during the Revolutionary War against King George’s army.  To McClandish, once English, always English and the McClandish’s were Scotts and hated anything English.

Still, Coleen persisted in trying to convince her father who eventually agreed half heartedly to the pairs marriage.

The decision to begin ranching separate from the McClandish’s drove the wedge between Barnaul and Ian McClandish deeper. Tory McClandish had his father’s ear and he plied the old man with tales of Barnaul’s spousal abuse and marital indiscretions… none of which were true. Having lost his own wife in a strangely similar house fire only a year previous, Ian McClandish could not bear a repeat performance involving his only daughter. Tory began to spread the rumor that Barnaul had argued with Missus McClandish only hours before and had left the McClandish home that night in a fury. Tory had conveniently left out the fact that Barnaul was out on the range branding cattle some thirty miles east at the time.

Poor Coleen, Barnaul thought, she was so excited about starting their new ranch. The two had purchased the prosperous spread alongside the Cottonwood Creek in the high rolling plains area east of Holbrook. Coleen would never see it now. He doubted seriously now that he would either. With a family like the McClandish’s, there was no safe place to hide. They’d spend the rest of their days on his trail until the caught up with him. Though the McClandish group amounted to only five men, they were a most hell bent group when seeking revenge. Barnaul knew his death would not be a quick or painless one when they caught up to him.

Driven into a deep despair over his recent misfortunes, Barnaul cried out to the wife who could no longer possibly hear his voice. “Oh Coleen I’m missin’ you somethin’ fierce! I wish above all else that you was here with me right now to talk to. We never even got a chance to even say goodbye to each other honey an’ now I’m about to be kilt graveyard dead too. It ain’t fair! I know your crazy brother kilt you dead just like he kilt your Ma! Now your Pa’s blamin’ me for your death and even suspects I did the same to your Ma! I cain’t prove it, but I’m sure as hell believin’ that he did in your Ma in too! Why I wasn’t even in the same county when she died. Why would I kill her, I thought she was one of the finest women I knew. Besides, she was the only one in your family besides yourself who was truly happy over our bein’ married. In truth, she was the only one I was gonna’ miss after we moved on to Arizona. Dang it Coleen, you know I’da never kilt her! Now I’m a walkin’ dead man as ever was one!”

Self pity wouldn’t solve anything and Barnaul knew it. Raising himself from off the floor he decided to feed some of the oats to his horse. Brushing her down with the palm of his hand he spoke, “Listen up Horse, when this here storm cuts out you’re gonna’ be on your own. I’ll leave this here oat sack open on the floor for ya’ till you can find some graze somewhere. When I leave it’s gonna be on foot as I’m thinkin’ that I might make a smaller target that way.

If I can get to those hills yonder, I might even stand a chance of shakin’ them off my tail. I’ll be leavin this here door open so’s you can leave an’ not be trapped inside. I hate to tell you this girl, but I’m mighty convinced that once that door opens, it’ll be the last time we ever see each other agin.”

It was a change in sound that alerted him. The wind was dying down quick. Checking his revolver to make sure he had a full cylinder, he stepped near the door.

Taking one last glace about the small cabin, he realized he was about to abandon the only thing he owned besides his horse and the clothes on his back, his blanket. Chuckling quietly, he said, “It’s a sad day when the only thing a man owns is his blanket and he’s forced to abandon even that!”

As the wind abated further, an eerie stillness settled over the land. Easing the door wide open there was no other sound now than his own breathing. No birds, no rustling of small critters, nothing. He strained his ears in fear of hearing the McClandish’s. Nothing. Stepping cautiously into the open with gun drawn, he began stepping away from the cabin.

The land had the appearance of a tan winter landscape after a blizzard. Sand drifts were piled waist deep against anything that had not moved. Some of the corral post had completely disappeared under tons of dust. The smell of the alkali soil burnt his nose when he inhaled and the unfamiliar brightness of the sun hurt his eyes. Stepping towards the corral in his trek to reach the distant hills, he continued to be on alert for the McClandish’s dreaded arrival. Reaching the corral, he realized this section of the top rail was only two feet tall, the rest remained buried below in the drifted dust. Something moved away underfoot as he stepped over the rail. Unconcerned, he tried shoving it away with his foot. It moved but would not dislodge from where it lay. Glancing down, he did a double take and let out a yelp. “What in tarnation???”

It was a skull and it was attached to something much bigger… a body.

Whatever skin remained on the skull had the appearance of glued on flaps of dry rotted leather. In horror, Barnaul realized what he had just stepped on, Ian McClandish’s sand blasted head. Still leaning against the corral post half buried in the sand stood his brass knobbed cane.

Backing away from the grizzly sight, he noticed more forms in the drift, three in all. Holstering his revolver, and using his hands for a shovel, Barnaul cleared the remains of Tory and the ranch’s Segundo Javier.  Each body had been cleaned of skin where exposed to the wind. Tory’s head lay back, his gaping mouth and hollow eye sockets were filled with the storms dust. In a futile attempt to protect his face, the Segundo’s head still wore a tattered bandana around his neck . A large mound nearby turned out to be the wind buried carcasses of five very dead horses.

A sudden fear struck him as he realized two men were still not accounted for.  Redrawing his pistol, he knelt behind the corrals low top rail in an attempt to find cover. Nothing moved.

It was then that he realized there were two more forms half buried in the dust. One was less than thirty feet from the cabin and the other lay a good two hundred feet where the trail had been.  Making his way to each form, he verified the bodies were those of the ranch hands that had been riding for McClandish.

“Well I’ll be!” he mused, “They must never have realized how close to the cabin they was. I guess the dust storm prevented ‘em from seeing more’n a foot or two in front of ‘em.”

Barnaul decided not to bury the bodies as he had no shovel and in the after storms searing heat, the bodies had already begun to stink something awful. “They ain’t deservin’ no prayers from me, I’ll just let ‘em lie where they’s at. Besides, they’s half buried anyway”

Hearing a sound behind him, Barnaul spun around ready to pull the trigger. There in the doorway stood his horse as if waiting for his return. “OK,OK, I’m comin’ Horse, I guess you and I still got some trails to ride together after all. All these folks chasin’ us gave up their ghost an’ most of their skin too!” Barnaul began to laugh, whether from his attempt at the bad joke or out of pure relief from finding himself being counted in the living again he did not know, nor did he care. His life and future had been handed back to him. It was up to him to make whatever he wished of it.

Back inside the cabin again, he dusted off the saddle and the rest of his tack. Pulling the blanket from between the roof planks, he shook it out and rolled it up behind the saddle. Tying the feed sack, he stuffed it into one of the saddle bags. He was about to lead his horse out of the cabin when something caught his eye, something shiny on the floor.

Bending over, he gently picked up the object and cradled it in the palm of his hand. It was a locket, the very locket that Coleen wore every day since her mother’s death. Inside rested a small painting of her mother. Barnaul’s hand began to shake. The locket had been buried with Coleen! She was telling him she had been with him all along.

July 18th 1893 Home

He caught sight of his ranch while still some miles out. By the time he arrived at the gate a small party had assembled to greet him.

A tall glass of water of a man rode forward. He may have looked a bit on the thin and wimpy side but Barnaul saw the rippling wire tight muscles move under his long sleeved shirt and knew the man was no push over. Tipping his broad brimmed slouch hat, the thin cowboy rode forward to greet his new boss. “I’m Chet, the foreman here, I take it you’re Barnaul Caine? We saw you comin’ from some distance off. Excuse me for saying this Sir but you look a sight!”

Barnaul returned the gesture of friendship by extending his hand. Chuckling, he told him, “Trust me Chet, It’s worse than it looks.”

A quizzical look came over Chet’s face as he glanced past Barnaul and into the distance. “Uh, is the Misses lagging behind, ‘cause I don’t see her nor any wagons yet?”

Barnaul sat quiet for a moment then spoke up and explained the reason for Coleen’s absence and why he looked so tattered.  “It’s a long story that can be best told in full over a hot meal and a few gallons of coffee. Am I too late for dinner?”

Barely finished speaking, Barnaul heard the dinner bell being rung. “Well’” he said to himself smiling, “I guess I timed that one right.”

The group turned and rode on to the mess building where the dinner bell was being beaten like the place was on fire. As they got closer to where the mess, Barnaul gulped when he saw who was ringing the bell. A girl with fiery red hair wearing a calico dress and yelling at the top of her lungs stood calling the men to dinner.

Barnaul blinked at seeing the girl. His first thought was that it was his Coleen but as he got closer he saw there were plenty of subtle differences. Turning to Chet he asked, “Who is that?”

“You mean Sheila? She’s the ranch cook. She used to cook for the owners too, she’ll probably end up cooking yours meals also. She’s a wonder in the kitchen but let me warn you right now, she’s got as much spunk and spit in her as a She Badger with pups!” Laughing heartily, Chet continued on. “None of the hands cross her path for fear of losing their lives!”

“Is she married?”

Chet caught the look in Barnaul’s eyes and chuckled, “Ha! I’d give a hundred dollars to the man that’d attempt to tame that one! No Sir, She’s awful purty to look at but ya’ll soon learn discretion is the better part of valor!”

As they passed in front of the girl, Barnaul removed his hat and nodded smiling at the red haired girl. In return, Sheila angled her head and looked shyly up at her new boss. A faint smile worked its way past her defenses and a spark of wonder formed in her eyes.

Chet had not been made foreman because he was an unobservant fellow. He caught the message the two had just encrypted in their smiles to each other and chuckling to himself said, “Oh Lord, here we go, the She Badger just met her mate!”

Watching the group ride towards the mess, Sheila’s let go of the clapper rope silencing the bell. There she leaned against the porch roofs pillar and with pounding heart exhaled heavily. Breaking into a smile she thought to herself, “There rides my future man!”

JW Edwards 02/21/2013

A Quaker’s Colt

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Chapter 1

Thomas Jessop was wondering if he had just made a mistake.  Without moving his head he lifted his questioning eyes from the government surveyor’s map up to those of the Land Office clerk.

“Uh…” He stammered, “I just noticed that a lot of the creeks and rivers around where we bought our land have some mighty dismal names to ‘em. Should I be concerned?”

The clerk removed a pair of spectacles from his upper vest pocket and after blowing on the lenses and fitting them on, leaned over the long table to study the map.

After a minute or two the clerk straightened up and shrugging his shoulders told the young couple, “I’m not real familiar with the western territory but since there’s a town nearby, I am led to conclude that whoever named the water sources either had a sense of humor or quite possibly named them to keep folks from settling there.  It wasn’t unusual for surveyors to do that if they planned on returning and settling there themselves. Why just last month we recorded the sale of a five thousand acre section of land to a fellow from Missouri. The land had but one source of moving water on it and that was named Poison Cow Creek. Now if I was buying land for a ranch, I’d have stayed far away from anything with the name poison in it. The truth is, the land is all grassy rolling hills and the creek was named after an Indian guide the surveyors had befriended named Poison Cow. So you just can’t always go by a name.”

Thomas exhaled in relief and reminded his wife of the nearby small lake back in Ohio called Dead Water Lake.

Shrugging his own shoulders, Thomas ran his fingers through his brown hair and said, “I suppose if these names actually were true, word would have gotten out by now.”

The land the couple had just purchased was surrounded by creeks and streams claiming names such as Muddy Creek, Bad Water Creek, Sulfur Springs and Poison Spider lake. Even the mountainous area to the Southeast gave one pause, being called the Rattle Snake Hills.

The clerk restored the wire spectacles to his vest and agreed saying, “I’ve not heard of any poor land anywhere at the western end of the territory. I admit that being here in Rawlins we deal mainly in land sales closer to Laramie than the western wilderness, Even so, it can’t be much different from the area adjacent to yours and that area has names like Wind River, Miners Delight and the Sweet water Mountains.” Hooking his thumbs into the woolen vest pockets he gave a dismissing conclusion. “Like I said, I bet whoever the surveyor was that gave those unusual names probably wanted the area to be left unpopulated. Why I wouldn’t be surprised if he also named the town just east of your place called Lost Cabin too!”

With no further information to be garnered from the clerk, the couple headed back to the rooming house where they ate a dinner of roast venison and potato casserole and finished their feast by ordering an entire apple pie and coffee.

Stuffed to the brim, the youthful couple headed upstairs to plan their next day’s chores.

Having kicked off his boots, Thomas lay upon the bed fully clothed recollecting out loud what they needed to accomplish before leaving for the last leg of their trip. Having traveled from the rolling hills of central Ohio in search of land to start a ranch on, they were now but days away from their goal.

In the two months it had taken to travel to this point, they had all but built their homestead in their heads. On their way west they had joined a wagon train that would pass within sixty miles south of their destination.  The wagon train was headed all the way to Empire City on the Pacific coast in the Oregon territory but had a stopover in the town of Rawlins before entering Idaho.

The Young Jessop’s befriended a handsome blond haired, blue eyed couple along the way named Erik and Bekke Knudsen.  The Knudsen’s, being only five years older than the Jessop’s, had recently come to America from Norway , they told Thomas and Charity of a sparsely settled area in Wyoming just west of the Laramie Mountain range. The Knudsen’s told Thomas and Charity that it was in this area they had planned to start a farm. The Knudsen’s explained that they had purchased one hundred and sixty acres of good farmland off of Erik’s brother Sven who had earlier purchased and settled on a plot of eight thousand acres along both sides of the Wind River. It was a family venture of sorts with Erik’s cousin owning the land west of Sven’s  all the way to Idaho

The four got along famously and it was during this time that Thomas and Charity had decided to investigate the land near where the Knudsen’s were settling. Previous to this, they had only known that it was in western Wyoming that they wished to settle. Having known no one from Norway, the Jessop’s bombarded the Knudsen’s with many questions of their past and family.  After a time, the Knudsen’s traded places asking about the Jessop’s.

Thomas explained that he and his bride Charity had been soul mates since childhood. Back then the brown hair, green eyed pixie had shown no interest in the tall, brown eyed Thomas other than friendship. But, all that changed in a blink of an eye. They were of the same age of fourteen when the couple experienced their first kiss. It was far from planned he told the Knudsen’s and even further from being a mutual act. Chuckling, He told them it was also his first experience in trying to understand the inner thinking of a woman.

It occurred in the Jessop’s barn. Charity had stopped by and volunteered to help Thomas in his chore of throwing hay down the hay chute. This wooden chute led from the upper loft to the lower rooms below the main floor in order to feed the sheep below. It was during this time that near disaster struck.

Unable to see from carrying an armload of the loose hay to the chute, Charity wandered too close to the edge and nearly stepped off of the loft some twenty feet above the floor.

Seeing what was about to happen, Thomas reached out and yanked her roughly from the edge before she was even aware of her predicament. Having her direction so quickly reversed, it caused her to plunk painfully onto her bottom. The armload of hay shot skyward only to land on top of her. Covered with hay she scrambled to her feet red faced in anger and squarely faced Thomas. It was then she realized that if Thomas had not done what he did, she may have fallen to her death. A mixture of emotions shot through her. Whether it was from gratefulness or from her blossoming female hormones, she threw her arms around him and experienced her first kiss.

Charity then immediately stepped back, slapped Thomas and angrily demanded his reason for violating her lips in such a manner! Three years later they married with Thomas still none the wiser at how a woman thinks.

Both being of the Quaker faith meant a long mundane marriage service involving the church members and only their immediate family members. Still, that night both had believed they had died and gone to heaven.

What they did not bother to tell the Knudsen’s was that the next morning, Charity Woke Thomas with numerous tender kisses to his chest told him, “I understand now why our faith says that we are able to experience the joys of heaven while here on earth.”

Thomas rolled Charity gently onto her back and quietly whispered, “Then let’s forsake breakfast, and go back to heaven.”

The two finally made their way downstairs to the knowing looks of those family members gathered at the table enjoying their noonday meal.

 

 

Chapter 2

The next morning Charity woke up excited. Waking her sleeping husband with a kiss, she quickly dressed and urged Thomas to hurry.

The two soon headed downstairs to the large dining room where they ate a hearty breakfast of eggs, biscuits, gravy and bacon. Afterward, the two headed down to the stable where they had paid to store their covered wagon and two oxen. The wagon, purchased in Chicago, was only half the size of the large Conestoga built ones normally used to travel across the wilderness country. Since they would be traveling for the most part through the plains and towns were not too infrequent, there was no need to stock up so heavily on supplies.

If they had planned on traveling over the Rocky Mountains, then that would be another story but they weren’t.

Paying the stable owner, the two then made their way to the mercantile for food supplies and those they would need to build their homestead with.

Thomas already had packed in cases most of the tools needed but had left out many heavy items including a cast iron cook stove, anvil, grind stone set up and small furnace for metal working. From the blacksmiths shop he purchased ten bar stock of assorted thicknesses and widths along with a charcoal maker. At the dry goods store, Charity purchased various bolts of cloth and a treadle powered sewing machine along with a case of various colored thread.

The last stop was at the pharmacy where Thomas purchased a bottle of Lloyds undiluted Cocaine toothache drops for his persistent toothache. It was a temporary measure until he garnered the courage to let Charity pull it.

While there, Charity purchased two bottles each of opium and morphine to sooth coughs and reduce any pain… including those of the looked forward to childbirth and the future teething of the babies.

Being Quaker, they did not purchase the alcohol most folks used to dilute the medicines with. Instead, they opted to dilute using only boiled water.

Going over the written list of supplies Thomas had seen there was one item left that had been advised by many to purchase. A pistol. Thomas already owned a rifle. He had brought along a newly purchased one from back in Ohio. While Quakers were adamant pacifist they did hunt for food and carried arms for protection…against animals only.

A pistol on the other hand was meant for mainly protecting oneself against humans. Back in Ohio, the thought of walking around armed with a pistol was nearly unheard of even for non Quakers. From the time he left Ohio it seemed every person he met warned him that a pistol was as necessary out west as a bucket was to a well. The thought of even aiming a gun at another human being was revolting to him let alone actually firing it. No, he decided at first against it until so many folks told him stories of needing a pistol to shoot snakes and up close critters where a rifle was useless. “Think of it as a short rifle” he was told.

Fearing that being out in the wilderness without any other support nearby he began to see the necessity and wisdom of arming oneself against predators like bears and mountain lion. Both of which can sneak up on you silently. He’d heard stories of black bears attacking folks back in Ohio but had never met a person who personally had that happen to them. Still, the thought of being attacked unawares decided the issue. Quaker or not, he made on last stop… the gunsmiths.

Charity was not so convinced. She became upset when told of his decision to purchase a pistol. He tried the same excuses on her that had convinced him but to no avail.

She told him that she would not ride but would walk beside the wagon unless he packed his new pistol away in a case and kept it hidden in the leather shelf underneath the wagon designed to carry firewood called the possum belly.

Thomas eventually forgot about the pistol ordeal and together they rode eagerly towards their new home.

 

Chapter 3

Thomas stepped from the house onto the newly built porch. Wiping the morning dew from the seat of his home built rocking chair he settled himself comfortably into it as he cradled a cup of hot coffee.

The twin babies inside were being fed at Charity’s breast prompting a rare quiet to return to the household. Thomas smiled as he listened to the baby girls faint suckling sounds through the open door. He closed his eyes allowing himself to be bathed in the aroma of the steaming cup of coffee as it mingled with the scent of Wyoming’s rich morning landscape. It was Sunday, a mandatory day of rest and one which any Quaker could easily meditate on.

An outside sound began to squirm its way deftly into the morning bliss. It was so faint at first that he refused to let it disturb his thoughts.

As if waking to a sound in the middle of the night, Thomas suddenly opened his eyes wide and sat bolt upright straining to recollect the exact sounds he had just heard. It was a cry for help. At the same time he launched himself from the porch, his ears pinpointed the cry’s exact location. He could now make out the cry clearly enough to identify the voice as a man pleading for help.

Running towards the sound he heard Charity’s questioning yell to him from the house. She too had heard the cries and still clasping the blanket covered babies to her breast she stepped into the open doorway to see what the matter was.

Ahead of Thomas now, a man could be seen stumbling forward then falling face forward to the ground. When Thomas arrived at the man, he discovered a blond haired young man wearing only  a bloody  nightgown. The man was half weeping, half moaning as he lay face down in the damp prairie grass gulping for breath.

Grabbing the man by his shoulders and waist, he rolled the injured man onto his back and stumbled backwards in frightened recognition. It was his wagon trail friend Erik Knudsen!

“Erik?” Thomas cried, “What happened? Why are you here my friend?”

Confusion blocked any logical thought as Thomas tried to gain his friends attention. His poor friend was half done in had lost a lot of blood.

The fog of confusion dissipated enough for Thomas to react. He turned his head towards the house and shouted for Charity to place the babies inside and come with the wheelbarrow and some pillows and a blanket.

Placing his injured friend gently into the pillowed wheelbarrow, he covered him with the blanket and with Charity following close behind, headed for the house.

In tending to his friend, Thomas discovered two bullet holes in his chest. Though they were not deeply embedded, they could cause an infection if they were not immediately removed.

Glancing up at the pale face of his wife, he instructed her to bring him the bottle of morphine and pour a pail of hot water from the stove.  Leaving the now unconscious Erik laying across the cleared breakfast table, Thomas busied himself gathering the needed items to treat his friend.

After pouring a good helping of morphine down his unconscious friends throat, using a long pair of pliers, he dug to and fro within the wound in order to find the slug. Once found he removed it and tended to the wound.

“Charity, he’s got some of his nightgown cloth still in the wound, would you bring me two bullets from my rifle? I need to cauterize the wound and trust it burns off the nightgowns fibers inside him.”

Worse than a slug was the dirty nightgown fibers trapped inside. If the wound scabbed over leaving the soiled cloth inside, blood poisoning and a deadly fever would occur.

Removing the lead slug from the cartridge, Thomas poured the cartridges gun powder into the First bullet hole.  Taking a stove match, he lit it and lowered it to the wound. With a whoosh and cloud of white smoke, the gunpowder ignited. Even though unconscious and full of morphine Erik moaned.

In the next hour Thomas repeated the same procedure on the second bullet telling Charity, “It was a good thing these bullets weren’t very deep, just an inch or two in. I think they were either fired from quite a distance or the cartridges were filled with poor powder. Either way I don’t see any lung damage but he’s got some ribs broke for sure. I took out some pieces of rib bone. It’ll be a bit before he’s up and  around, I wonder what happened to him and where is Bekke?”

Charity meanwhile had washed off the rest of Erik’s body of blood and had covered him with a fresh blanket. “I fear we won’t know what happened or where Bekke is until he awakes Thomas, until then there is not much we can do except wait and pray.”

Thomas saw the wisdom in his young wife’s answer. “Yes, let us take a moment and pray for his recovery. I want to ride out and see where his trail led from. I know he had told us that they had a place adjacent to his brothers spread but exactly where I do not know. I just assumed it was much further west, closer to the Idaho border.”

Charity circled the table to stand next to her husband and said, “First Thomas, let us bow our heads and pray for the recovery of Erik and for Bekke’s safety”.

Following the trail of broken and tromped on prairie grass, Thomas found that it did indeed head to the west towards the Wind River mountain range and Idaho. Realizing Erik’s farm could be within the thousands of square miles of wilderness, he turned around and headed back to his own place.

Chapter 4

It was the next day during the noon meal that Charity heard Erik calling out. On her way to the room in which they had made up for him, she stopped at the rear door and rang the steel triangle to call Thomas in.

At Erik’s bedside lifted his head enough to allow him to drink the water they had waiting for him. In it was again a spoonful of morphine for his pain. Lying back, Erik exhaled heavily and asked how he had arrived at the Jessop’s place.

Wiping his brow with a cool damp cloth Charity asked. “You don’t remember? Thomas saw you making your way through our pasture heading to our home. We thought you had somehow discovered our whereabouts after we parted ways in Rawlins. We had no idea it was you until after you collapsed. It was after we undressed you that Thomas  had discovered you had been shot twice. “

It was at that moment Thomas entered the small converted storage room where Erik lie.  “How are you feeling my friend, it’s good to see you again but not under these circumstances. What happened to you and where is Bekke?”

“It’s a long story Thomas,” Erik in near tears croaked.  After we arrived at my brothers there was a house fire one night and he, his wife and children all perished in it. Bekke and I had set up our wagon and tent a mile east of my brother’s house. It was there that we were building our house when time permitted. We’d been living in the large tent since our arrival and that was fine with us. We no idea their place had even caught fire until morning when we saw the spiral of smoke coming from his place. What we found devastated us. All of them dead! At first we thought that maybe they had left a lamp burning and it started the fire but then Bekke found a recently emptied coal oil can and a couple piles of horse dung  near the rear of the house. It was then I noticed that there were places at the windows on the outside that had been on fire but inside across from that there it remained unburnt.  Whatever happened it happened on purpose.”

Thomas had been listening with eyes wide open. Erik’s story mirrored many of those told by earlier Quakers when they moved from Pennsylvania and resettled elsewhere. Resting his hand upon Erik’s shoulder he gave his sympathies but needed to ask more. “How is it you and Belle were not attacked and what then happened to you two?”

“As I said, we had camped about a mile away near a bend in the stream that runs through our land. There are many trees at that bend and it makes for a shady place for a home to be built. I suspect whoever did this had not known of our arrival or we would have been killed outright also. Bekke and I buried my brother and his family on the rise beyond their house. It was a pretty place to be buried but I’m afraid it was also an obvious sign that there was someone that they missed that night. They had returned back to my brothers place to make sure all were dead and that’s when they discovered my brother and his family had been buried. It did not take long for them to find us.”

At this point Erik broke down weeping.

Thomas waited until Erik regained some control and asked, “Then what? Where is Bekke now? Was she killed?”

“No, they rode her down as she tried to run away. I watched as one man, a big man wearing a black drover and silver tipped boots grabbed her up and then laid her across his horse on her stomach in front of him. She was screaming but stopped when the big man pulled his pistol out and hit her on the head with it. He then shouted orders at the men and rode off with Bekke. All I had handy was my single shot old rifle. That new pistol I had bought was still in the wagon. I did get one shot off and the man fell from the saddle but he was not killed. I saw him limp to his horse and remount. The other man rode in my direction firing his pistol at me. I remember being hit but the pain was so great I soon lost consciousness. They must have thought they had killed me because later that evening when I awoke, they were gone.”

“Did they head this way or did you just wonder about?”

“No, I heard the big man tell the others to meet him at Lost Cabin as he rode off. I knew of Lost Cabin from the map of the Territory I had studied before coming out here. In my delirium, I must have thought I could track him down and save Bekke.”

Charity hushed any further questions Thomas had with a scolding look. “Let him rest for now Thomas, we will speak more of this in the morrow.”

“Wait!” Erik cried, “My Bekke! Please search for her, she’s all I have!” At that he began sobbing uncontrollably.

“Give him a dose of cocaine to relax him Charity, he’ll tear open those wounds crying like he is.”

Charity nodded her head and looking up at her husband placed a hand on his arm asking, “Are you going to search for Bekke Thomas?”

Thomas looked into Charities anguished eyes and asked, “If the roles were reversed, would you want Erik to search for you?”

That evening, Thomas and Charity gathered the needed supplies Thomas would require. Just before the girls were born, Thomas traded a group of hungry Shoshone Indians thirty silver dollars and twenty pounds of dried beef for five horses. Two of them had brands upon them and if possible, Thomas would eventually find and return them to their owner. The other three were true Indian ponies.

During the time that Thomas was filling his packs, Charity quietly stepped into the carriage house alone. There she crawled under the wagon and retrieved what frightened her the most… The Colt pistol.

“Well dear, I believe I have everything I need for the journey. I’m not sure what to expect but I’m sure with your and my prayers, the Lord will see fit to keep me safe and let me return safely with Bekke.”

Charity then held out the small wooden crate that she had retrieved from within the wagon’s possum belly. “In the book of Judges, the Lord did not expect Sampson to defend himself bare handed. It tells us that Samson killed 10,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass that the Lord provided to him. While I abhor violence, I also listen and obey when our God speaks to my heart. My prayer is that you never have to use it but if you do, both the Lord and I will understand it was used so that good overcomes evil. Return safe my love and bring Bekke home with you.”

The next morning found Thomas riding east toward Lost Cabin trailing two extra horses. One would carry his supplies and he hoped the other would carry back Bekke. Strapped to his waist was the holster containing the Colt pistol. Ahead he saw the open plains surrounded by the Owl Creek and Rattlesnake mountains.  What Thomas could not see was the troop of angels marching alongside him.

Chapter 5

On the second day out Thomas discovered a pile of horse droppings. Looking eastward he could see a faint trail where the grass had recently been trampled down. It appeared to be of a single horse. He knew there were few settlers in this area but at the same time it could have been made by a trapper or Shoshone Indian. Dismounting, he knelt and brushed the grass gently with his hands to expose a single hoof print. Pressing his thumb into the earth, he discovered the ground resisted his attempt to make an impression. Studying the print he also saw the indentation of the shoe the horse wore. Standing, he once again looked eastward. This was not the print of an Indian pony and the depth of the print said the horse was carrying an unusual amount of weight. Thinking of Bekke, he judged her to be about a hundred pounds, give or take. In inspecting his own horse’s prints he found the one that matched closest to the single print in question was that of his heavily loaded pack horse. It had to be Bekke!

That evening found Thomas camped on the banks of the small southern tributary of Bad Water Creek. He kept his fire small and smokeless as he cooked his meal. Afterward, rather than dousing the fire with water from the creek, he instead shoveled loose dirt over it. This way no steam would be sent skyward for unwanted eyes to see.

It was a no moon night. Only the stars lit the black void of space. Thomas decided to make his way to a hill a half mile away in order to see if there may be a campfire on the plain. He figured the man he was following would not be concerned of being followed so therefore would not take the same precautions that he himself took.

Making his way forward he hoped there were no wild animals lurking in the tall grass and boulders. Reaching the foothills unscathed he began to make his way cautiously upward. From the top of the steep hill he could see the vast east west plain far below him.  He began his search by looking eastward and sure enough, in the far distance a fire could be seen.

Satisfied that he had correctly judged his opponent, Thomas was about to return to his own campsite when he stopped in shock. There to the southeast near the Rattlesnake Range was another campfire. The two fires were less than five miles from each other. Though close, they were still too far apart for each other to see the others fire.

Thomas had to think. If he waited for the two groups to meet up, that would mean double or triple the trouble. He figured the most eastern campfire was Bekke and her captures and the one to the southeast was that of the rest of the gang.

Kneeling on the crest of the hill he sought guidance from his creator. “Lord, you know what I face. My friend is sorely wounded and his wife taken. Only I stand in the way of the evil that is planned for them. Give me the insight to rescue Bekke and discover why all this evil has befallen them. They are good people Lord, not Quaker for sure but you are not a respecter of person’s nor the way in which we practice our faith in you. Bekke and Erik are your obedient children and I pray that you use me and keep me and Bekke safe in all this, Amen”

As Thomas made his way as quickly to his camp as was possible he not only felt a peace come over him but a plan began to unfold within him.

Using a length of rope, he gave the pack horse a long tether so it could feed on the grass further out from where it now stood. Satisfied that there was enough good grass within reach for an extended time, he saddled up the two other horses and galloped off to the southeast towards the campsite of the gang.

Using the gang’s campfire as a homing beacon, Thomas made his way to within a half mile of the camp. Quietly creeping forward to the camp, he finally spotted in the starlight what he had been searching for… their horses.

He knew if he crept on hands and knees, the horses might mistake him for a mountain lion or other predator. Since these horses were used to men then that is the way he would appear to them. Putting his faith to the test that the Lord was protecting him, he stood up in plain sight. Obviously in plain view now, Thomas eased himself quietly to the line of horses that were tied to a single long rope. Spotting what he figured was the lead horse, Thomas made his way over to it.

Raising his hand, he began to stroke the horses head and scratch its ears. The horse immediately settled and breathed easily. The other horses trusting their leader did the same. This surprised Thomas but he wasn’t about to question this small blessing.

Thomas went from lead rope to lead rope tying them firmly to the line meant to hold the group in place. When finished all the horses were tied together in one long line. Untying the rope’s ends from the shrubs that held it, he gently guided the line of horses silently away from the camp.

Without their horses the gang was impotent. There was no way the group could now meet up with their leader and Bekke.  When he had made it two miles from the gangs camp, he broke the remuda of horses into an easy gallop. The tall plains grass quieted the sound of the hoof beats so well that the gang never realized until daylight that their horses were missing.

Halfway between his and the gangs camp, he untied all the captured horses and was about to send them westward with smacks to their rump. Strangely, before he could do so, the lead horse suddenly bolted and raced westward as fast as its legs would take it. The rest of the horses fled after their leader as if commanded to follow. Thomas knew those horses would never be taken again.

“Well Lord, half is done and you took good care of me. I have more work to do so don’t up and leave me quite yet!”

Turning his mount eastward towards Lost Cabin and the campfire he had seen from the hill top Thomas trotted his mount throughout the night. He knew by the time he reached Bekke and her captor, daylight would be breaking. Knowing this he worked himself to within a mile and a half of the campfire and made a fireless camp. There he slept until dawn.

As the grey line of skylight made its way to the west, Thomas was surprised to see the day would have heavily overcast skies. Eating a cold breakfast, he huddled under his duster as it began to drizzle a cold dreary rain.

At first Thomas was filled with disappointment at the weather. Then it dawned on him that the drizzle was not only preventing him from seeing his enemy, his enemy on the other hand could not see him either!  “Thank you Lord, I was about to complain but I see you got things well in hand!”

Bekke sat tied to a small tree growing near a large cluster of horse size rocks. Her captor squatted by the cook fire making a breakfast of fresh killed prairie dog and old biscuits. Bekke had no appetite, especially for the greasy prairie dog. Instead she huddled shivering from the cold rain with her once beautiful blond hair lay plastered to her head like a wet mop. Her soaked mud caked  nightgown was her only protection from the elements.

Using the grey drizzle to disguise his movements, Thomas made his way around the boulders behind Bekke. He knew that once the big man had finished his meal, he would saddle up and head out again.

The big man turned as if hearing something. Thomas froze mid step. Squinting, the man lifted the brim of his dripping hat and stared at Bekke. “Don’t get the idea I’m going to share my meal with you and definitely don’t get the idea of escaping. I’ll shoot you down like this here prairie dog if I even think you’re going to try. I don’t need you, don’t really want you but for the fifty dollars you’ll bring at Lana’s whore house in Lost Cabin I’ll put up with your crap. But, for only so much mind you. If I tire of you or you piss me off, I’ll put a bullet through your head and let you rot here in the grass. You understand me?”

“Yes, I understand but why did you do this? My husband’s brother and his family meant nothing to you. You shot and killed my husband for what? To carry me off and sell me? All for fifty dollars?”

“Look Lady, the fifty in gold I’m getting from you is icing on the cake, that’s all. I was paid four times that to do what I did and I’ll get another two hundred when I get back to Lost Cabin. You ain’t crap, you’re an afterthought Lady, Don’t think you had anything in this. It was all about the land. Your brother in law purchased a spread of land a few years back that my boss found he needed for himself.  See? He wants to build himself Wyoming’s biggest spread but to do it he needed your brother in laws place. It was actually the water he needed more than the land. You see, between Big Piney mountain and Yellow Butt Peak your brother in laws place had the only year round fresh water stream big enough to supply five thousand head. My boss had the land but not the water.”

Bekke lifted her head and asked, “And just who is your Boss?”

The big man started to laugh, “That’s the best part of it ma’am! My boss is your brother in law’s cousin, Olaf Lars!”

Both Bekke and Thomas were stunned!

Bekke’s face turned purple in rage, “You are lying! We don’t even know a Olaf Lars!”

“That ain’t my problem lady, Old Olaf’s been here ages before any of you Knudsen’s come over from the old country. Why the Lars family was one of the first whites to trap this territory.  Olaf done broke up his legs one year when he fell from a cliff top and had to quit trapping. Knowing the area and the Indians, he negotiated a good section of land with them. After the US Government redrew the Idaho border, Olaf found his land cut off from water. The Government folks didn’t recognize Olaf’s agreement with the Shoshone but let him have the land west a few miles of the Wind River to the Idaho border just to keep him from making a nuisance of himself. Later, when he went to buy the land surrounding the Wind River, he found your damn brother in law Sven had already laid claim to it. With Sven out of the way, why then the only relative left to inherit the spread would be Olaf. It worked out fine until you and your husband decided to move here without us knowing about it. After I sell you as a whore, we’ll be back on track where we was and Olaf will pay me the rest of what he owes me.”

Bekke could not believe her ears, she knew of no Lars in her husband’s family tree. Why she thought, the closest thing Sven had to family was a family named Larson but no one knew whatever happened to them after they left the old country. Suddenly it struck her.

“Lars…Larson” Putting her hand to her mouth she realized her captor had been telling the truth. “Oh my God, The missing Larson family!” She looked sickly at her captor and realized her dreams of becoming an American farmers wife were going to truly be changed to becoming an American whore!

Leaning over sideways she vomited.

“Ha ha! It looks like I was right, wasn’t I?”

Stepping over to where Bekke sat, he angrily told her. Take off that filthy nightgown and clean that puke off a you! I ain’t having you ride in front of me smelling like a gutted sheep, besides, It’s time I get a taste of you before I sell you off.”

Moving to stand in front of Bekke, the man dropped his drawers to the ground and stepped out of them. Bekke quickly looked away in disgust and whimpered a quick prayer.

As her captor leaned forward to accost her, an earth shaking explosion above Bekke’s head resulted in the forming of a single black hole in her captor’s forehead. Bekke quickly moved sideways as her half headed captor collapsed beside her. Turning her head quicklyto where the explosion came from, she saw the shaking gun hand of her savior.

“Are you alright Bekke?” Thomas yelled from behind the rocks. She could not make out the words due to the intense ringing in her ears but by the tone of them, she knew she had just been rescued.

Chapter 6

Leaving her captor lay for the beast of the field to devour, Thomas picked up the dead man’s duster coat and placed it around Bekke. “Charity thought of packing you an outfit for the return trip home, it’s at my camp on the southern tributary of Bad Water Creek. I’m sorry I did not act before he made you undress. We will never speak of that again.” Facing her, he placed both hands on her shaking shoulders, Thomas stared into Bekke’s tearful eyes saying, “I was terrified to pull the trigger. It was only when he tried to… uh…well, you know, it pushed me over the edge and I finally fired.”

“You have given me back my life Thomas, I regret Erik will never know that I am with his child.” Speaking no further, she began to weep deeply.

“Bekke! No, Erik is fine! He did not die but made his way all the way to our house where he finally collapsed. Charity and I patched him up. Why I figure by the time we get back he’ll be sitting up eating us out of house and home!”

“Truthfully Thomas? He is alive then?” Her tears now were of joy rather than sorrow as she clung weeping on Thomas.

Chapter 7

The four sat around the Jessop’s table discussing all that had happened. The immediate danger to Erik and Bekke was over but the problem of Olaf remained.

Erik spoke of retribution but Thomas would not hear of it.
“We cannot take the law into our own hands. If we do then we set ourselves up as Judge and Jury. I agree something must be done as Olaf is guilty and must be punished but whatever is done to him, it must have the backing of the Territorial Governor.”

Charity agreed and eventually so did Erik. “We have no law out here yet Thomas, no court, no judge. The army is too busy fighting Indians to concern themselves with domestic affairs of settlers. Other than letting Olaf go free, I have no idea what we can do.”

Bekke spoke up. “I do. Looking at her husband she said, “We need to petition the governor to form a legal network of Lawmen or Sheriffs.  He could place these  men around the Territory to keep the peace until towns grow strong and big enough to have sheriffs and courts of their own.”

Thomas squinted at Bekke and asked, “And just who would be this Sheriff to keep the peace?”

Without blinking, Bekke spoke, “I would choose a man whose entire life has been committed to that of peace. Not someone who on the spur of the moment decides that having peace is a good thing.  I would choose a man who respects life and the responsibility freedom brings. I would choose someone who would use his weapon only as a last resort. I would choose you Thomas!”

“Me?” Why I shook like a child when I shot that man. I still have deep regrets in taking his life!”

Charity reached over and clasped Thomas’s hand tightly, “That’s exactly why you would be the best man for the job my husband. Only a true man of peace can keep the peace. Without becoming a tyrant”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do or you would have never done what you did.”

“I was saving a friend.”

“And if someone else had wandered to our house instead of Erik here, would you have turned your back on them?”

Thomas looked crest fallen. “No, I would have risked my life to help another in need.”

Looking at the three, Thomas shrugged in defeat. Telling them, ”If Erik will travel to the Governor’s office with me, I will present myself and our petition for a lawman. I guess since I am the only witness to all the events that took place here, as an official of the law, I then could arrest Olaf and present him to the Territorial Judge for trial. Would you three agree to that?”

Over the years found many changes coming to the Wyoming Territory. It became a State and Law and order was now the order of the day.

Sheriff, Thomas Jessop had been charged with the duty of keeping law and order in the western most counties of Wyoming.

Sheriff Jessop and his longtime friend and Deputy, Erik Knudsen, had yet been required to pull the trigger on another man in keeping the peace. Over in the the town of Lost Cabin, there rest a grave marked only by a simple upright stone. On it is carved;

Olaf Larson.

“The first scoundrel  in Wyoming to be legally hung for murder and greed…

Regrettably, he was not be the last.”

An Idaho Christmas

jsorenson_goin_home_for_christmas_16x20_oil2

Joshua Stoddard tightened his gloved hands around the saddle horn and leaned forward. He slowly dismounted and plowed the ranches entrance gate open through the Idaho snow drift. Closing it behind him, he decided to walk the mare the rest of the way to the ranch house. It was Christmas eve and he was finally home.

It had been over a year since he left. He vowed to return with enough money to save the family ranch.  His trail worn clothing announced to all he’d met that he, like most Cowboys, had let his monthly ‘forty and found’ wages slip through his fingers instead of saving some for a rainy day.

As evenings blue light descended upon the snow blanketed ranch, Joshua stepped onto the porch. The interiors lamps cast their yellow glow through the frosted windows. As he raised his hand to knock, the door was suddenly jerked open and staring out at him with shocked faces was his family.

“Josh!” His sister shouted as she flung her arms around him, “You’re back… And just in time for Christmas too!”

After everyone settled down, Joshua’s mother brought him hot coffee and a plate of pie. Seeing the ragged condition of her son, she hid her disappointment nor did she ask him how he had fared. Still, she had been so sure that her prayers were going to be answered that her letdown was heartbreaking.

Shifting uneasily, Josh began speaking, “Mom, it was a hard year, I did three cattle drives and…”

Stopping Joshua in mid sentence his father placed his hand on his sons shoulder. “No need to tell us anymore son, it’s just good to have you back home”.

“But Dad, there is.” He exclaimed.

Removing his worn coat he tore open the lining. Hundreds of dollars cascaded onto the floor.

“I saved every cent I made Pa!”

 

We all say that Christmas is a time for giving. But as the Stoddard family found, it’s also a time for answered prayers.  MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! Your pard, JW Edwards

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!”