Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

ConantTrailCabin

Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

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A storm of bad luck

Chapter 1  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where can I buy a horse or mule?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what happened, why’d they move?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why you black son of a …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s blackmail!”

“I prefer to call it making a deal”

“I’ve no choice then, do I”

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

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

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

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

“Ok, you win, I agree.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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