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!”

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The Caltrop ranch

Chapter 1  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No Dad, Mom did!”

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

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

“I suppose that correct”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each noticed the deafening quiet now within the sitting room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Segundo? What’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry, I meant no insult.”

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

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

“Uh, miss, I mean Amy, uh, uh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My wife!”

Chapter 3 

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

“My God, it’s beautiful Raeford!”

“Look, rider’s coming.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So should we pull our scouts back then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m thinking there’s one in Laramie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will he be alright?” The woman asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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