WHEN YOU NEED HELP, CALL A GIANT

mammoth mule

 

Chapter 1

Moose Cholack was a big baby, so big the Christian name Benjamin was soon replaced with the more fitting one of Moose.

At three years old he needed his own bed, the type a healthy twelve year old growing boy needs. His teacher gave him the use of her own chair and desk until they too became too small. It was then that Moose began using the floor as his seat. A large carnival pencil was his writing instrument. Still, Moose was an adaptive and creative child who held no grudge against for those around him for making him the butt of many jokes.

 In fact Moose seemed to enjoy his size. It sure made life easier on the family farm in Missouri to have a massive reserve of energy to call on when needed. Once when the farms mule came down lame he dragged the plow around while his older brother Whitey guided it.

Whitey was born of normal girth three years before Moose and as older brothers are, was very protective of his large but good natured brother. The relationship was tight but not so much that when at the age of sixteen and Whitey became antsy pants about seeing the world, Moose encouraged him to do so.

It was no secret that farming held no appeal for Whitey, so when his Uncle, also named Whitey, asked if he wanted to try his hand at Cowboying on the same working ranch in Montana as he did, Whitey jumped at it. Satisfied where he was, Moose stayed behind, being content as a hard working Missouri farmer.

When the rush to the west occurred, change came quickly to his community. The wagon trains brought innocent folk wanting a better life but they also brought with them thieves and scoundrels of various types. After numerous close calls, Moose decided to visit the local gunsmith searching for a proper firearm. It was during this visit that he discovered his huge fingers would not fit into a single trigger guarded pistol.

Stepping up to the challenge, the gunsmith colluded with his friend the black smith to outfit Moose with a custom made piece. Since no cartridge made was big enough to fit the new gun, they resorted back to the age old black powder cap and ball design. In this case, the ball weighed a little over a pound!

The first time the three men gathered to test the huge pistol, they fired a ball into a black locust fence post the thickness of a man’s thigh, the post was blown cleanly in half. Only Moose had the strength to withstand the recoil.

So it was that more than a few no goods backed down when seeing what was being aimed at them. In fact, one terrified man offered to pay Moose in gold coin if he would be allowed to go his way unharmed.

Six years passed since Whitey parted ways for the western life when Moose received a post from him. It was an urgent plea for help. In the letter Whitey explained that he had purchased an abandoned ranch outside the town of Crab Tree with good water but was having problems with the bully neighbor.

The neighbor, an Englishman, held no regard in handshakes or promises. The steam known as Red Rock Creek, meandered between the two properties and acted as the dividing line between the two. As most springs tend to, over a few years it wandered more towards the Englishman’s property, leaving Whiteys behind. Rather than holding to the gentleman’s agreement of sharing the water, Whitey one day found barbed wire fencing his cattle out.

Water is more precious than gold to a cattleman. A cow doesn’t give two hoots how shiny a colored rock is but will run for miles when they smell a stream of cool water.

Whitey found his herd bellowing along the barbed wire fence crying for the water they could not get to. Time after time Whitey cut the wire but it was always repaired the next day.

It all came to a head when the Sheriff arrived one day and handed Whitey a summons to appear in court. The charge was trespassing, infringing on water rights and theft of water.

Whitey knew the charges wouldn’t hold up in a honest court but as courts went, this one was pretty far from being called honest. The neighbor, Percival James, had been busy spreading cash and favors around the political circles for some time. It seemed now he was calling in some of the owed favors.

Throwing the papers back in the face of the spineless Sheriff, Whitey once again took the fence’s demise to task.

Sheriff Ted Dickens grappled with his holster shouting, “Stop right there Whitey or I’ll arrest you here and now for destruction of private property.” In the clumsy attempt at pulling his pistol, it ended up being juggled from hand to hand before it fell onto the muddy riverbank.

“Now see what you made me do? Damn you Whitey, now I’ll have to take it all apart to clean it!”

Whitey picked up the thrown away summons from where it lay on the ground and shoved it towards the furious Sheriff of Crab Tree, “Here,” Whitey told him, “clean that piece of iron horse shit with this!”

“You’ll be sorry Whitey Cholack,” Sheriff Dickens warned, “you’ll be sorry. Just wait till Mister James and Judge Cooperman find out how you treated me, you’ll wish you never messed with that wire!”

Whitey continued to cut the wire away, post by post. Whitey’s bone dry cattle shoved and bullied their way through the openings and plunged into the creeks cool water en mass. As the cattle gratefully slacked their thirst, Whitey knew troubled waters were brewing. The James spread, ironically named the ‘Placid Acres Ranch’, had way more cowhands working on it than Whitey’s ranch had. Whitey knew his place was outgunned and out lawyer’d so the worry weighed heavy on him.

Making his way back towards the ranch house he regretted that his dream of settling in the beautiful valley was beginning to leave a foul taste in his mouth and all because of some greedy Englishman who bucked the Western way.

 

Chapter 2

Two days passed and Whitey rode to the fence line where he had had earlier cut and removed the wire. The wire had not been replaced and Whitey wondered if James had come to his senses and decided to give up trying to keep his cattle from the once common creek.

Dismounting, made his way to where the now soggy court summons lay on the creeks muddy bank. As he stooped to retrieve it the zinging sound similar to an angry hornet passed just over his head. The angry hornet thwacked itself into a nearby willow tree’s trunk and a heartbeat later he heard the sound of a distant rifle shot.

Throwing himself upon the riverbank for protection he was inches away from the second shot which plowed up the mud if front of him. Rolling further down the bank he was completely hidden now from the shooter. Drawing his pistol was useless at this range and he wished he had taken the rifle from its saddle scabbard when he dismounted. He felt naked, vulnerable and dismayed that someone would go as far as trying to kill him over a fence.

Belly crawling along the length of the creeks bank he tried staying hidden to the eyes that had fired the two shots. He wondered if the shooter may have thought him hit since his rolling down the bank may have looked that way from such a distance away.

The bay seemed unconcerned over Whiteys dilemma and continued to casually crop the lush grass growing along the creek.

After a half hour of belly creeping, he reached his horse. Slowly he made his way to the lee side of it and gathering the reigns, guided the bay further into the tall brush where he could safely mount it unseen.

Once safely back at the Ranch, Whitey gathered his hands warn them of the recent attempt on his life.

“I know you weren’t hired as shootist but if you’re out on the spread, keep an eye peeled for trouble. I’d rather you run off than get into a shooting war so if you see anything that raises your concern, head back here to the ranch.”

One of the cowhands looked up sheepishly and replied. Whitey, you been a good boss ‘an all but fifty dollars a month ain’t enough to keep me ‘an my pard Leroy here on. We didn’t sign up but for workin’ cattle. I’m sorry, I don’t want it held agin’ us none but we’s taking to the trail away from all this.”

Whitey nodded his resignation, “I understand and won’t hold it against any of you if you leave. As I said, I didn’t hire you as shootist.”

That evening it was decided that with only eight men left, two twelve hour shifts would be needed consisting of three range riders and one scout with a long gun keeping the three safe from sharp shooters.

It was then that Whitey decided to write his brother for help.

In his letter he explained the situation and laid out a plan that not only would get the law off his tail but put the fear of God into the Englishman and his riders.

He wrote that if the first plan was not able to be implemented that Moose would then have to just go ahead and bust him out of jail. The second plan would be no problem for the younger but huge brother, seeing as no iron bar made could stand up to his huge hands. Still, when Moose read the letter he truly hoped the first plan was going to be the one chosen.

By the time Moose had left his farm in Missouri pot shots taken at Whitey’s men was a near daily occurrence. At the rate of attacks it would only be a matter of time before one or more of Whitey’s men was hit.

Moose drove his mammoth mule with little rest onward towards Montana. Most folk view a mule as a stubborn creature that plods away at their own leisurely pace. Those mules born and bred in Missouri though were known for their power and fleetness of foot. Mules were known to outrace and able to run a good horse into the ground. Crossing the mountains the mule once again has the advantage, having bigger hooves for a surer grip on rocky terrain. Across sand those large hooves act as a camel’s would by keeping the beast from sinking into the sand. They can eat nearly anything growing and can go without water for long spells. In Moose’s case, the big advantage was that it was the only animal capable of carrying his weight.

Making his way over prairie, desert mountains and rock strewn soil, Moose and his mule gobbled up the miles between Missouri and Montana.

It was no surprise then that Moose showed up sooner than his brother anticipated.

 

  The coming of dawn brought the coming of Moose. Riding up to the ranch house, Moose was met by one of the men who’s duty it was to keep an eye out for trouble. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him until he ran and got Whitey to come see the stranger on a mule.

Whitey broke out in a big grin when he saw the huge man riding in on the over sized beast. Loping along faster than a horse could gallop, the two soon rode into the Ranches corral  where the Giant dismounted.

Seeing what had arrived, the men backed away in fear from the corral. Not only had they never even heard of a Mammoth Mule, but they weren’t even sure it’s rider was strictly human.

“Boy’s! I’d like you all to meet my baby brother, Moose. Moose, these here are what’s left of my hired hands.”

In a deep rumble that sounded as if it had its beginnings somewhere near the nation of China, Moose cleared his throat and holding out his hand in friendship, greeted them.

After each had shaken the mighty man’s hand they  wandered towards the house. Snodgrass, as the mule was called by, was led to a hay pile outside the barn first by Moose where he dove into eating to his heart’s content. “Don’t tie him up,” Moose warned,” it just pisses him off doing that. He won’t wander off nowhere, he likes me too much. Besides, I’m bigger than he is. Har, har, har.”

Resting on the homes large front porch, the cook came out with coffee and nearly dropped the pot in fright upon seeing Moose. That seemed to lighten the mood as the men had a hardy laugh.

“We need to go over the plan I have in mind,” Whitey told them. “what we need to do is get the law off of me so I can have the time to notify the Governor of what all is going on here. The last thing a politician wants is a range war over water rights. What I’m figuring is he’ll most likely send some troops over here Crab Tree to stalemate things until the courts can have a fair look at things. To have the freedom to do that though I need it to look like I was either run off or killed because if I stick my neck out in the open, I’ll be tried and sentenced before an honest court gets the chance to hear my case. Then there’s the folks here that are too scared of the James outfit to stand up and push back against the corruption going on. What we need to do is make them afraid of something even worse than Mister Englishman James. They’ll have to choice between the two to see who they obey and who they side against. I’m  thinking Moose here could just about frighten the dickens, no pun intended to our good Sheriff, out of most folk. If we can strike the fear of God into the town’s people, it will make it much harder for the Sheriff and the Judge to be buddy buddy in their ways.

Since both are elected officials, both will have the worry in the back of their minds of losing the next election if they can’t frighten the folk into voting for ‘em. So, gather round and I’ll tell what I’m thinking…”

 

Chapter 3

The creaky wooden batwing doors of the Cactus saloon of banged open as if a dust devil was behind the thrust. Darkness replaced light as a Giant form stood blocking the entrance. All heads turned and lifted drinks were put back down as the crowd squinted in the saloons dim light to see just what or who could have plugged up the entire doorway.

What the patrons saw first was a pair of huge boots, too large to be real yet they caused the floorboards to sag downward in a protesting squeal. As their vision drifted up ward, a single holster could be seen hanging low down from the Giant’s hips. From the holsters no strap leather top protruded a pistol grip handle the size of most wooden legs. A vest made from a single spotted cowhide covered a double stitched sail canvas collared shirt sporting buttons the size of silver dollars. No head was visible.

Slowly the massive form began bending at the knees giving room enough so the door jams lintel wouldn’t be fractured from the barrel sized head trying to enter the saloons interior.

Every patron to a man backed away from the form in the doorway leaving drinks, gambling money and winning poker hands to lie untouched. Suddenly the rumble started.

In harmony with the sound of the saloon floors failing wooden support beams was the sound like a steam locomotives boiler ready to blow itself apart. It was no hot iron pressure vessel but the voice of the statue sized man wasn’t wearing a Texas ten gallon hat, no such luck, it held at least thirty gallons if it held a quart.

As large as cue balls, the Giants eye’s scanned each patron as it spoke. “I’m lookin’ for a man that goes by the name Whitey” the rolling thunder questioned, “Is he in here?”

Silence.

“Well? Is he here!” The large mirror behind the bar shook precariously on its anchors. Glasses moved themselves away on tables and more than a few pants became wet from sheepish bladders.

An average sized looking frightened cowpoke rose slowly on unsteady legs from one of the furthest placed gambling tables. Holding his hat between both hands up against his belly, the aghast cattleman nodded in stark fear.

“I, uh, I’m called Whitey by some Sir. Is it me you’s looking for?

“Might be, your last name’s Cholack?”

“Y-yes Sir. Whitey Cholack Sir, that’s the name my Mama gave me… after her brother Whitey. I own the Ranch just north of town”

“Are you ready to leave this world mister ranch owner?” The bull Giant’s voice rumbled.

Slowly the massive right hand edged itself lower towards the holster carrying the custom made over sized pistol on his hip. The man called Whitey Cholack tried to back away from his certain demise but the rear wooden wall stopped his escape. The terrified looking cowpunchers arms extended forward as if he could fend off the blast that was sure to come with only his bare hands.

Removing what looked like an over sized model of a Colt 45 such as the type used as a hanging sign above a Gunsmith’s door, the Giant tilted the massive barrel and leveled it at the quaking man before him.

The big man spun the gleaming cylinder with his huge paw. Round and round the cylinder spun as the meager light from the doorway reflected off each of the loaded chambers like a strobe light. Mesmerized, the crowd stared as if the spinning silver cylinder were a roulette wheel with someone’s fortune or misfortune being held in the balance. It did not click, rather it clacked. As dissimilar as a click of a pen knife closing is to a rail cars wheel clacking on each rail joint, the cylinder spun testing the nerves of each watcher. When it finally came to a halt, all breathing stopped. One man’s nerve broke and he ran screaming for the door holding his head as if in pain. 

Later accounts by some told of a muzzle opening that was so big a normal man’s hand could have reached inside it to fondle the Giant lead ball within.

The jaw dropped patrons began to slowly edge themselves away from the line of fire, leaving a part down the center of the crowd like a church’s isle. No more than thirty feet away from each other, the huge gun and shaking cowpoke faced each other off.

The Giants sausage sized finger slid easily into the Mason jar sized trigger guard and began wrapping itself around the gleaming thick steel trigger. With a quick tug, the cannon sized gun came to life.

The explosion that ensued from that gaping muzzle reminded those who were gold miners of being trapped inside a mine during a blast. A ball of fire the size of a whiskey keg tore itself across the room catching men’s hats and clothing on fire as it passed by. Like thunder following the blinding flash of a lightning bolt, the concussion of the blast bowled even the soberest man off his feet. A Military cannon could not have produced the cloud of smoke as the fired pistol did. Not a soul within the place had the magical vision to see through the explosions cloud of acrid, eye burning white fog. Deafened, the crowd stood motionless as if fearing any movement would draw the ire of the Giant their way.

When finally the cloud began to lift, it was with the help of a fresh breeze blowing from where the rear wall once stood. Bright sunlight streamed through the barn door sized hole. For the first time in the saloons history, patrons could clearly see the filth and shoddy workmanship that for years had been hidden by the gloomy darkness. Looking back and forth as they hesitantly rose from their fallen position, the crowd stared in stunned silence as they searched for the body of the man called Whitey.

“M-my God! Whitey done got blowed to smithereens!” One man gasped. Still, no one inside dared to move except to slap out the fires of their burnt clothing.

Finished with the job he had come for, the Giant smiled then turned and with footsteps longer than a grown man could jump, the beast of a man thudded loudly out of the saloon. Once again, he stooped to pass under the doors frame.

Once outside, Moose, turned and quickly ran with unusual swiftness and dexterity to the rear of the saloon. Rounding the corner he came to a halt in front of the man he had just ‘Blown away’.

The blasted cowpoke also known as his brother Whitey, stood there slapping at his smoldering cloths with his hands laughing.

“My Gosh Moose. How much powder did you charge that monster with? I figured on having that cannon of yours make a lot of smoke, enough for me to walk out of there unseen but Good Lord,  I never thought I’d be able to step outside through the hole it made!”

“Better to error on the side of caution brother, to tell the truth it did give my hand a good slap!”

Moose removed the large western brimmed hat and peaked around the corner to make sure no one followed him. He looked back at Whitey and pointed to where he had tied up Whitey’s horse and his mule in the alleyway. “C’mon brother, daylights burnin’ away and we got to get you safely hid in the mountains.”

After sneaking out of town by riding behind the clustered buildings, they headed south toward Medicine Lodge Creek in Idaho along an old rarely used Indian trail.

Setting up camp along the mountain top ridge that divided Montana from Idaho, the two ate a meal of freshly killed mountain goat and biscuits they had carried inside of their pack.

After the meal, the two planned their next move.

“What we need to do now is build on the recent fright you gave those inside the saloon. We need to get the towns folks in the same mindset as those in the saloon. Once we get the whole town in jitters, Sheriff Dickens and Judge Cooperman will be too busy trying to calm their fears to worry about Mister James.” Moose nodded in agreement and Whitey continued.

“As it stands, having that fence line up gives James the right to take shots at our men if he can prove our hands were on his side of the land. Right now, he’s claiming both sides of the creek are on his land. If our men can keep tearing down his fence line during the night, our cattle can get watered. It ain’t a permanent solution but between you terrorizing the town and me missing and being hunted for, it should hold off any legal action from those two until my letter reaches the Governor and he sends help.”

“I guess I’d better head back to Crab Tree and stir the pot then. Are you staying up here or are you going to head down to Medicine Lodge Creek where it’s warmer.”

“I’ll head south some more to the creek. Tomorrow morning we’ll part ways.” Then stopping as if he just remembered something, Whitey told his brother, “When you go back, stop at the Ranch first and make sure all’s OK there. Tell the men what’s going on but don’t tell any of them what direction I headed off to just in case one of them gets caught and is forced to spill the beans. The less they know, the better they’ll be off.”

Peering at the Ranch house from the tree line, Percival James and one of his rougher men scouted the place out. “I don’t see no sign of Whitey nor that Giant, whoever he is, around the place Boss. Maybe Whitey did get blowed away for real.”

Sneering over at the big man, James shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous. No one gets killed so badly that he leaves no sign. There wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen from the spot he stood. No, somehow he escaped the deadly assault that was surely meant for him.”

“Then who was this Giant fella? I saw him with my own eyes Mister James. He had vengeance written all over his face as he pulled that trigger. He must’a had it in for Whitey for sure. He had to come from somewhere’s we don’t know about, maybe he and Whitey had a grudge going from years back before Whitey settled here.”

Lifting his eyes to the heavens James responded more to himself than the man who had just spoken, “Astute thinking for a lumbering ox. Though in truth, each of us has a past life now don’t we?”

“Yes we..”

“I wasn’t looking for an answer you great lummox! Now let’s get on back to my ranch. I’m starving half to death and missed tea hours ago!”

Not knowing if being termed a ‘great lumox’ was an insult or a compliment the hand decided to remain quiet and went on to retrieve their horses.

 

Chapter 4

What the two trespassers on Whitey’s land didn’t know was that the Giant in question sat perched listening to their conversation on the lowest and sturdiest limb in the tree they stood under.

Landing on his feet with a resounding thud, Moose ran back to where he had tied up his mule and continued on to the ranch house where he would meet up with the hands. Typical of a non wilderness wise person, James had given away his presence over a mile away by wearing a bright red hunting overcoat. It was this coat that James wore that let Moose follow James and his cohort as they tried their best to travel towards Whitey’s ranch house unseen. Moose had already determined where the best place to observe the house from and there he climbed the tree hoping neither would look skyward and discover him when they arrived.

“So Whitey is safe and hidden away till I send for him” Moose told the gathered men. “I also overheard Mister James say they have no idea who I am. They believe it was a grudge killing resulting from a past dispute. James is convinced Whitey escaped in the cloud of smoke but can’t prove it and neither man knew whatever became of me after the shooting.” Smiling wickedly, Moose told them, “Come tomorrow, I’m going to let the town know I haven’t left yet.”

Before the men parted to their rounds, Moose made sure each man still rode for the brand.

“We ain’t goin’ no place Mister Moose, as a matter of fact, I’m itchen’ to see what that there Englishman is made of. Bring him on I say!”

 

Chapter 5

Fred Johnstone was sleeping soundly in his room above his dry goods store, when awoke to a sudden crash outside. Lifting the window he peered out into the morning darkness to see what had made the infernal sound. The sound of splintering wood and a second crash made him lean out further in order to see. What he saw terrified him. There below and heading his way was the largest beast he had ever dreamed. Not even a nightmare could compete.

As Moose made his way down the street, he stopped time and time again to tear off the wooden roof overhanging each store’s walkway. Grabbing a post, he yanked mightily at it until it and the supported roof came tumbling down. Windows broke and storefront signs tumbled into the street adding to the noise.

Lanterns were lit and windows thrown open to the sound of screaming women and crying children. Plodding beside the man looking Giant, walked the biggest mule eyes had ever seen. Even non Catholics crossed themselves and called on Jesus, Mary and Joseph to save them.

No one had the sand to step out front to confront the Giant, instead most men skedaddled out the rear doors to the dry arroyo behind the buildings. Some relented and returned to save their wives and children before quickly returning to the wash.

By dawn the place had the looks of a tornado hit town. Few front windows remained intact and every walkway roof hung either at crooked angles or upon the ground in a heap.

Word reached The James ranch and having ownership of many of the buildings, Percival James came running. What he saw made his guts churn and bubble until he rushed to the nearest outhouse.

Meanwhile back at Whitey’s ranch, Moose was taking a bath trying to clean off the dirt and splinters the roofs had poured down on him. Using a cattle trough as a tub, he enjoyed replaying the recent event in his head and laughed from time to time to the amusement of the men.

The man Whitey had hired as Foreman, Tom Jeffers, approached Moose saying he and another hand should go into town to see what the towns folk were saying about the ruin of their town. Acting as innocent cowpokes, he told Moose they could not only hear what folks was saying but could spread the rumor that what had just occurred was nothing compared to what they had heard the Giant was about to do in the next few days to Crab Tree.

Sheriff Dickens stood upon the ruined jailhouse porch trying to calm the crowd. Lifting his hands into the air he pleaded for quiet. When the crowd eventually tired of it, a hush fell and Dickens finally gained control of the angry mob. “I’m telling you! I have no idea what or who this Giant is.” He shouted. “But, as you all know, I’m dedicating myself to finding out, even if it kills me!”

“It will!” someone shouted while others murmured in agreement.

“Enough of that! I’m sayin’ that I’m sending a post to the Governor declaring an emergency here. Only the Army can take this Giant on!”

Another anonymous voice shouted, “How long will that take? By the time troops get here there ain’t gonna be no town left. I heard that he’s comin’ back here soon to finish the job!”

“Well, given the time it takes to deliver the request and the Governor makes a decision and arrives with the troops, I’d say no more than a month or two!”

The crowd groaned and fist were now being raised.

The judge, seeing that Sheriff Dickens was in over his head sidled up next to him an the makeshift podium that until yesterday was a well made wooden walkway. Leaning into the Sheriffs ear he smiled broadly but his whispered words burnt like pouring acid onto skin.

“Dickens, you better get your ass on the trail of the scoundrel that did this!  You know damn well the Governor will never send troops all this way to capture a single man that you can’t even pin a capital crime on. We have an election in less than six months! You better believe it that if we lose then whoever takes our places will eventually find how we squandered the money folks paid in taxes. That silver saddle you ride so proudly on will be used  to sit your ass upon as they kick out your horse and dangle you from the rope!”

Poking Dickens in the chest with his pudgy finger, Judge Cooperman snarled, “Now you gather up some men like a posse and promise them high pay for riding with you, ten dollars a day now, you hear? I want that man or creature found by tonight!”

Whitey’s man. Tom Jeffers, kept an open eye and ear to all that was being said and done. He noted with interest that Mister James had earlier spent time with the judge. It was shortly afterward that the Judge confronted Dickens about capturing the Giant.

Moose sat upon the porch stoop having found out earlier that it was strong enough to hold him without collapsing. As Foreman Jeffers relayed the information to him, it confirmed that Whitey’s plan was working out as planned.

The Sheriff was now too caught up with the issue of the Giant to worry about enforcing the Court summons given to Whitey. The Judge also had too much on his mind to consider such a menial task as convicting and sending off to jail a man he knew to be innocent.

“This damn Giant has ruined everything!” He cried.

Three nights later it was the other side of the street that became the focus of the Giants wrath.  Along with some torn off porch overhangs, the Court house was broken into and trashed. It would take weeks to re file all the thrown about documents properly, save one, the original complaint to the court James had filed against Whitey Cholack. That was tucked away safely in Moose’s only pants pocket.

The Sheriff would never get the chance to send for help, not would it have helped anyway.

A gathering of the townsfolk that afternoon called for heads to roll. The Judge decided it was a good time to retire from office and was seen headed out of town in his black coach. Sheriff Dickens locked himself inside his own jail to prevent the mob from stringing him up like a ham in smoke house. During the night he fled on foot into the prairie and was never heard of agin. Mister James, the belligerent Englishman was another matter though.  He would require a special talking to in order to see things in a different light.

That night he had his own special meeting with the Giant.

As the evening meal was finishing, Percival James requested his smoking pipe and his nightcap, a glass of sherry. Boswell, the longtime James household man servant was deftly carrying both in on an ornately carved platter made from the very rare Chinese tree, the huanghuali when the house shook on its foundation. Thinking a bomb had exploded, Boswell forgot his place as the staid and unshakable servant and threw the platter ceiling ward.  The great rooms window where Percival had been reclining in his polished leather hobbed nail chair,  exploded into pieces as frame and all, burst inward with a loud splintering crash. There in the blank space which had moments before held the multi paned plate glass window, stood Moose.

Before Percival could respond, either to the crashing window or the expensive and age old Meerschaum smoking pipe that bounced off his head, a massive claw of a hand reached out and wrapped it’s sausage thick fingers around the neck of Percival James. 

The poor English cattleman’s eyes bulged in terror as he was lifted bodily by his neck and tossed like a child’s doll onto the floor, Boswell shat his pants.  A Giant leg, the size of a fallen log, then entered the room through the gaping hole. It was soon followed by the contorted body of the Giant as Moose tried his best to fit through the four foot wide by six foot tall opening. Once inside Moose stood to his full height and with his index finger pointed it at the terrified Percival James and then with the ‘come hither’ sign, demanded James to rise and step forward.

In the account later told by Boswell to the Captain in charge of the troops that arrived shortly after the James’s household invasion, Boswell detailed the following conversation between the Giant and Mister James.

“Who are you and why are you terrifying my house?”

“I am seeking justice for your sins!” The Giant bellowed.

“Sins? I have no sins Sir, none at all.”

Without saying a word, the Giant produced a sheet of paper and placed it on the lap of the shaking Percival. Looking downward at the placed paper, James realized it was the falsified complaint he had lodged against Whitey.

“Oh…That? I-I w-was going to ask for its dismissal in the morning. Yes Sir, I was going to do just that. I misjudged my dear neighbor terribly and when I saw that I had made an error in calculating our property lines I immediately decided that by tomorrow afternoon every fence and post would be removed.”

With a deep rumble in his depths, the Giant chuckled saying, “They are already down and gone. Now I will deal with you!” Moose’s right hand slowly crept downward until his massive fingers touched the carved pistol grip protruding from the holster.

James covered his head and screamed, “Please, Don’t shoot me! I heard what that cannon did to Whitey. Let me go and I promise to return to the small village back in England where I came from. I had only wanted to become rich!”

“Your greed has ruined you. I will return in three days. If you are still here I will stone by stone and board by board dismantle this house and then turn my wrath upon you! Do you understand Mister Englishman!”

‘Yes, yes, a perfectly fair and reasonable request.”

 

Chapter 6

Moose made his way swiftly back to the place where Whitey waited for word on what had come about. After explaining the events and outcome, Moose patted Whitey’s bay on the rump and said, “Better pack up brother, the problem is solved. We gotta’ get back.”

“What about the troops I sent for, how will I explain the trip they made was for naught?”

“Oh them? They’re not coming. The Army told the Governor  that they have their hands full with some Indian problem going on and can’t spare even a man. The Governor wrote you back and said he had decided to remove Judge Cooperman from the bench and that he is sending out his replacement. The new Judge should arrive shortly. He might even be here by now, I didn’t check.”

Upon their return to Crab Tree, the two brothers rode over to the James’s Ranch to see if James had held up his end of the bargain and returned to England. Upon arriving, they found the entire staff and cowhands had abandoned the place… all except one, Boswell.

When asked by Whitey why he had never left, Boswell explained why he had stayed behind.

“Well Sir, the truth being told, though I soiled myself in terror from the event, I discovered why the West is such an enigma to those not living here. I clearly saw what a thief and a man of low character Mister James was. What is acceptable behavior elsewhere is considered taboo here in the West. I could not in all good conscience, return to work for the scoundrel Percival anymore for fear of being painted with the same brush as him. Therefore, I had decided to wait until your return to ask if you might consider taking me on as your man. You will find me a handy person to have as I am quite capable of balancing the books and running a household. What do you say?”

“Well, I thought maybe my kid brother here could do most of that.”

Before Boswell could answer, The deep rumbling voice of Moose broke in.

“Sorry brother, as much as I enjoyed playing Jack and the Beanstalk with you, I really want to return home to my farm. Besides, harvest time is just around the corner and I need to be there for that.”

Whitey kicked the dirt with his toe and shrugged his shoulders. Looking up at Boswell he asked, “Can you ride a horse?”

“Not in the least but I am willing to learn Sir.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need to know that stuff anyway if you’re in the house all day. Alright, I’ll give you a shot Boswell. But do me a favor, Stop calling me Sir, my men will never let me here the end of it if you go around calling me that!”

“Yes Sir!”

 

The new judge determined after an extensive investigation into the James / Cholack affair, that Percival James had filed false complaints, had colluded with the Sheriff to illegally drive Whitey from his property and ruin his cattle business by denying his cattle water. He determined the damages done to Mister Cholack’s business and was rewarded the abandoned ranch that Mister James had once owned as compensation.

The town recovered and to this day no one knows who the big Giant was, where he came from or where he disappeared to.

The Giant, Moose returned to Missouri with his mule and harvested the crops that were in the ground at the time that his brother had called on him for help. He has fired his pistol three more times since leaving Montana then but those are for another story.

Boswell was a blessing to the ranch as Whitey saw his profits increase due to the brilliance of the man in charge of the books. Boswell learned to ride a horse but admittedly had a great fear of them. In horror, he shat his pants upon his first ride.

                                                                       The End

 

 

 

LUCKY FOOT

baby foot

Donny and his younger brother crept through the tall Texas scrub towards the rocky outcrop where minutes before they heard the apparent screams of a young girl. Turning his head Donny quietly cautioned his impatient brother, “I tell ya’ it’s a Comanche trick Darnell” he whispered, “ that ain’t no innocent white woman in distress you hear screaming off in the distance. Least ways she ain’t one no more. Them devils have a nasty habit of stealing young girls then as they grow up they’s used to draw those to ‘em that just want to help. They ain’t white no more but they ain’t Indian neither, what they is, is bait! ”

At twenty three, Darnell was still prone to rash impatience. He nervously stroked the sparse blond whisker stubble on his chin. “I don’t know Donny, I am not convinced. I say we hurry up and save her! Why it might just be a bunch a no good rustlers that is tryin’ to have their way with a helpless traveler.”

At the age of thirty Donny had seen and heard more of the West than his younger brother had so it gave him an edge on wisdom. Blond and blue eyed like his younger brother, the two looked like a pair of bookends except for an old scar that cut across Donny’s forehead.

“We’ll sneak up a bit closer till we get to the shorter brush, but whatever you do Darnell, do not lift your head to take a look. Them Comanche is scourin’ the tops of this brush waiting for some unsuspecting cow poke to go in for the rescue. They know whites and Mexicans have this thing about savin’ a screamin’ woman. Once you raise up your head, they’ll see ya’ and a minute later you all will be playin’ a card game with the devil with your throat cut.”

Taking over an hour to travel the hundred or so yards, they were finally in range to view the tied up screaming girl. Without raising up, the brothers could now partially see between the scrub. In the clearing ahead of them the girl sat on the ground with her hands behind her back tied to a small dead Mesquite tree.

Donny crept silently up next to his brother and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Oh, they’s good all right!” He whispered, “Before we do anything further, you tell me exactly what you see.”

“Damn Donny, this isn’t the time for a classroom lecture, that poor girl needs our help, and fast!”

In a sharp whisper, Donny repeated, “Describe to me what you see!”

 “God, if you must know, I see a young brown haired girl, maybe eighteen years old, wearing a dirty dress and bare feet tied up by Indians waiting to be rescued. That is what I see brother! What in all your great Western wisdom do you see that is any different?”

“Plenty. First off, look at her skin, what looks like dirt ain’t, she’s darker than a city bred white girl. How many women do you know other than a farmer’s wife allows herself to get that dark from the sun? None, women prefer to be pale skinned. Then take a look at her dress. What girl do you know would wear a dress that many sizes too big? Not only that, look between her legs, no personals being worn!   

You know of a girl who’d go around showin’ off her kahoochie like that? Now git your eyes off of that area an’ look at her feet. The bottoms are as calloused as a cowboy’s ass on a cattle drive. No white girl would be caught dead lookin’ like that. Indians ain’t up to fashion or knowin’ what a woman dresses like. That dress was probably taken off an older woman who was a lot heavier. Look how baggy it is. Our Maw Maw used to have a dress like that, remember? Ain’t no young girl gonna’ be seen dead in such a thing! Now, look closely at her hair. It’s tied up in the Comanche fashion an’ there sure ain’t no style to her cut.

No Sir Darnell, that there is what’s called bait! Let’s move on back a bit where we don’t have to whisper. Besides, They’s only gonna’ wait for so long before they figure out we didn’t get fooled”

A half hour later they had backed off a good fifty or so yards. It was a scorcher of a day and both were glad to be hidden in the cooler shade of large mesquite tree.

Laying motionless Darnell looked over to his brother. Darnell could now see the errors of his ways. He felt pride welling up inside him as he stared at his brother. Finally having to no longer whisper so quietly, Darnell yet took the precaution of speaking in a low tone.

“Damn but you’re good Donny!” He said. “If it had been me, I would have rushed on out there like a sheep going to slaughter. I apologize for the Western wisdom crack, you were right. What do we do now?”

“Well, for the last two days we’ve been bein’ tailed by a band of about ten or so. I didn’t want to get you all worked up so I kept it to myself. They’ve been pacing us a couple miles to the north as we travel west. The closer we get to Amarillo the safer we get. I figured they only had a day or two left to make their move if they planned to make one. I guess this here is where they planned to trick us”

Darnell shook his head saying, “Here I was thinking we had the trail to ourselves. I’ve actually been keeping a good eye out for trouble but was always looking behind us.”

Donny looked over at his brother, “Sometimes they will have a few tail from behind to get noticed. That way you think you spotted them. Your attention is drawn to that group and meanwhile the real trouble is riding right beside ya’. Ya’ get so intent on watchin’ your behind that they can ride right upside you before you know it.”

“I wished I had stayed in Texas learning all this Western like keeping alive stuff rather than being forced to attend school back East.”

“You’ll have plenty of time for learning the Western way brother, just as long as we can survive that long! Besides, one of us needed to learn our letters, how else were we gonna’ run our new bought ranch?”

The two lay hidden in the brush for what seemed like hours to Darnell before the girl gave up yelling. By then she was as hoarse sounding as an old saloon whore who smoked too much. Not long after she quit screaming the cautious head of an Indian popped up, looked quickly around and disappeared. Soon his head was followed by others wearing disgruntled and frustrated looks.

Donny lightly touched Darnell’s arm and again in a whisper told him, “Just be still brother. If we’re lucky they’ll head back to where their horses are tied up at and we can sneak back to ours and skedaddle out of here without bein’ seen.”  

Suddenly the brothers heard what sounded like punch and someone gasping for air. The beating continued with the brothers giving each other questioning looks.

Lightly pressing on his brother’s shoulder Donny raised up enough to see if he could tell what or who was getting the beating. After a couple of heartbeats Donny lowered himself slowly back down.

“Damn it, they’s takin’ it out on the girl Darnell. Comanche bastard! Blame everyone else for their own failures. They know we’re somewhere nearby and by us not fallin’ for their trick, they feel the girl failed at her job.”

A loud slap and thud where heard then someone urinating.

Darnell face was red with anger. “Are they pissing on her?”

“Yup, at least one of ‘em is. Probably the one who owns her. He’s tryin’ to save face.”

“Are we just going to lay here like nothing is happening and let them beat her to death?”

“They won’t kill her, if they did, who would do their cooking and do the camp chores? No, they’ll beat her till she loses consciousness then leave her behind. If she hasn’t made it to the agreed upon meeting spot by nightfall, they’ll figure she up and died. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll wake up quick like and head for their camp and make no complaints about the beating she just got.”

“What are you saying? I can’t believe my own brother would say something that cruel!”

“It ain’t me! It’s them you gotta’ be pissed at! That’s the way they is. She was most likely born to a captive or is a captive herself. She ain’t one of their tribe, no more than a camp dog is. It’s what they do to captives, use ‘em and throw ‘em away when they ain’t of any further use. She’ll never be part of the tribe, not like a warriors wife is.”

A few minutes later they could hear the Indians making their way quietly back to where their horses were being kept. The young girl still lay unmoving when the brothers heard the distinct sounds of horses galloping off to the east.

Darnell looked questioning at his brother and asked, “Can we go now and see if she is still alive? If she’s still breathing we need to help her.”

“Sure, they rode off away from Amarillo. They’ll get back to wherever their band’s camped out at without pay’n the girl no more mind. If they were interested in keepin’ her, they woulda’ just rode off a couple of miles and made camp waiting for her return. It’s their way of disciplining children and women. Since they rode off instead, I’m figgerin’ they left her to die.”

The two carefully made their way through the brush until they could plainly see the girl. Taking one last look around, they stepped into the clearing.

Looking down at the girl, they could see how badly she had been beaten. Her face was battered black and blue with both eyes swollen shut. She may have been pretty but thinking that now was ludicrous. There wasn’t much that wasn’t bleeding, swollen or deeply bruised and her damp hair smelled of urine.

Darnell turned aside and putting his knuckles into his mouth swore. “What the hell kind of animals are these people? I couldn’t even do that to my worst enemy.”

Meanwhile Donny removed his shirt then knelt down and lifting her head placed his shirt under it. “Darnell, go get the horses, bring ‘em here and then give me one of the canteens. She’s got a mouth full of blood. With all this blood, we can’t tell if a ribs been broke an’ punched a lung or if she just lost some teeth. Loosen up a blanket from behind my saddle too.”

Darnell went speeding off no longer fearing the Indians. He was too upset. When he returned, Donny had removed the girls torn dress so they could check her other injuries. “Take that canteen and clear out her mouth and nose real well while I tear my extra shirt into strips. She needs some cleaning up and I think her wrist might be broke, look how swollen it is.”  

Meanwhile Donny walked over to his horse and untied his blanket from behind the saddle. After cutting a hole in the center with his knife, he fashioned a crude Mexican style serape to replace her missing clothes. Darnell grabbed the discarded dress and soaking it with water from the canteen, washed her face, mouth and blood off of her chest.  

Satisfied she was as clean as she could be, Darnell knelt beside her and rotated her wrist checking for broken bones. “I think they just tore up her ligaments by beating her when her hands were tied, I don’t feel any grinding of bones.”

Knowing that an expert eye was needed to keep watch for trouble, Donny handed over the responsibility of caring for the girl to Darnell. “I need to keep us safe and keep our larder full of fresh game to eat. Caring for her is going to have to be up to you till we reach the ranch. I sound like you picked up some Doctoring skills back East at school. You know something about caring for wounds?”

“As a matter of fact I do. To help support myself back East during the summer school breaks, I took a job helping out an old Doctor to make his house calls. Much of it was just driving the buggy but there came times I had to assist him in surgery too.”

Donny then gladly deferred the girls care to Darnell.

 A couple of crude stitches to the gash on her scalp slowed the rest of the bleeding. She had not regained consciousness yet but Darnell thought that might be for the better. He pried open her cleaned out mouth to find a huge gash where her teeth had been driven almost through her cheek. It was this gash that had filled her mouth with blood. There was little he could do for that wound but he knew time would close it.

Donny decided to make camp right there rather than try to get her on a horse. She remained unconscious so they built a small fire without the fear of any further attack. By now the group of Comanche’s were far beyond camp fire sight. 

 Sometime during the night, the girl woke up and moaned. Darnell was immediately at her side trying his best to calm her and dribbled the cool canteen water over her lips.

She jerked up in fright but the need for water over rode her fear and she settled back down. She drank as a child does when learning to use a cup. Spilling more on herself than what made it down her throat. She winced in pain at each swallow. Darnell let her drink though she wasted most of it, there was plenty more water in the other canteens. She finally pushed the canteen away and lay back upon the rolled up shirt pillow where she once again passed out.

Donny woke up before dawn and duck walked over to where the girl lay. Darnell was up and squatting beside her. Pointing to her in the morning darkness, Donny asked, “Do you think she will be alright? I’m not much for human injuries, now if she were a cow, that’d be different.”

Darnell had spent the night beside the girl. “I suppose so.” He answered. “We’ll have to see come daylight when I can see better. They kicked her belly and ribs up pretty good. I hope she ain’t bleedin’ inside.”

 “Do you want me to sit up with her so’s you can get some shut eye?”

Darnell started blowing on the coals that his brother had banked when they retired for the night. “Naw, I’m fine, I’m used to bein’ awake most the night. It comes with studying for college exams. Besides, she isn’t going to wake up for a bit yet and I was going to make up another pot of coffee anyway.”

When morning broke open it was a fairly uneventful event. The sun hid itself behind a grey cloud bank that had moved in from the west during the late night hours. The chill in the morning air meant the summer had waned and fall was going to be soon upon them.  If they were going to get the ranch set up for winter they needed to be moving on.

Donny finished pouring himself another cup of coffee and started refilling Darnell’s when he asked about the girl. “Is she still alive? She looks kind of dead to me.”

“She’s alive but for how long I don’t know. I noticed fresh blood comin’ from between her legs. I guess her belly got it worse’n we thought. Poor kid. A woman’s kind of fragile down that way.”

Donny wandered over to where the girl lay. Looking down at her he felt a pang of sympathy run through him. Reaching down he pulled the cover over her that his brother had placed on her but had slipped during the night. He sighed heavily and sat down next to her with his coffee.

Darnell watched the expression of care cross his brothers face and thought to himself, “No woman should ever be treated like this, Indian or white”.

Darnell’s mind traveled back to the girls he knew back east and the stark difference between those he had courted and this young girl fighting for her life. He realized how shallow most of those girls were.

They had never been asked to shoulder any serious issues but instead were kept ignorant of any day to day struggles. Comparing the two, the eastern girls reminded him of play dolls in a playhouse. Then taking his thoughts further, he began to see how truly sheltered he himself had been.

Turning to look at his brother, Darnell realized he was a child in the wilderness compared to Donny. “Hey, Donny. I need to ask you something. Be straight up and honest with me now. Am I really needed in this ranching venture or is this just a way of keeping an eye on your younger brother to keep him from getting himself into a mess?”

Donny tossed the coffee grounds from his cup and set it down. He didn’t answer right away. It was important this be settled once and for all and settled correctly.

“Every year that I drove cattle I had one dream that kept me goin’. Brother, there was times I thought it would be easier to just lay down and die rather than go one more day. Drivin’ cattle wears a body down quick. I got more bones broke than I got hairs. I got froze feet, frozen fingers and once I took too long pee’n I about froze my lizard off! Dust, I ate more dust than a farmer needed to grow a crop in. I had horses die under me and Injuns steal ‘em from under my nose. But, I’d do it all over again if it was the only way to get the money together to buy us our own ranch. Before Paw Paw died he made me promise I’d do better than he did. He always dreamed of ownin’ his own place but never got the chance. Part of it was, he could have but he didn’t trust himself. With no schoolin’ he knew any ranch he built would probably fail because he knew nothing about the books.

It’s not just knowin’ how to raise cattle but how to handle the money you make that makes or breaks a ranch. Heck, if it weren’t for Maw Maw’s cookie jar Paw Paw would a come up short time and time again. That’s why he made me promise I’d see you get schooled.

Hell Darnell, there ain’t no way I could do better’n Paw Paw without you. Both of us have dreamed of doin’ this since we was kids. I know we both imagined as kids we’d be ridin’ the range together on horseback and sing’n songs around a campfire at night, but you and I both know them was just us kids dreamin’. Truth is, ridin’ the range is hard an’ then you get home an’ find out there’s bills to be paid. No, neither of us could do this on our own. It’s both as equal partners or none at all.”

Darnell knew truth when he heard it and looking up at Donny told him, “Well, since you put it like that, I guess I could see myself sitting in a warm house comfortably sitting my desk slaving over the ranch books while you play cowboy in the snow at thirty below zero!”

Donny was about to answer when the young girl moaned and woke up.

Darnell was the first to react to the girl’s plea for more water. Rushing beside her, he grabbed up the canteen and gently lifted her head. Her hands found his as he guided the canteen to her lips. After four or five full gulps, he backed the canteen off telling her, “Not too much. I don’t want you throwing up, you swallowed a lot of blood, that and too much water will get you to throwing up.”

The girl looked up at the handsome blond haired, blue eyed young man that was kind to her and thanked him. “Thank you. But, you are in danger for my sake, Coyote Legs will lead the band back here to kill you.”

Donny made his way over and squatted beside the two on his haunches. “No, I think we’re alright Miss. They rode off to the East. I’m afraid they left you for dead. They would have come back for you before this if it were so.”

The girl looked up at Donny and replied, “I hope so. If they return, kill me quickly or I will be tormented again. Coyote legs will not let me die quickly. I failed to trap you, therefore it is he who wears the shame because it is he who owns me.”

   Darnell was looking at her with a stern look on his face. “Miss, no one owns you, not no more anyways. But tell me, why in the world did this Coyote legs fella follow us for so long? It ain’t like we got anything but a few horses between us. He coulda’ just run us down a couple days back and been done with us.

   She shrugged her shoulders and replied. “Who knows. Coyote legs does not think straight. He becomes angry and driven to foolishness for no reason. I saw with my own eyes as he choked his own mother until she was dead. No one held him to blame because they are all afraid of him and the Spirits that speaks to him. He says Spirits speak in his head and give him the power to see inside of a man’s skull so everyone fears him. If you do not, it means your death. I did hear him say recently that he wanted to take the living heart from a white man to offer up to the Spirits. Maybe it was your heart that he wanted that he chases you so far.

Darnell continued to look questioningly at her then suddenly as if forgetting his manners apologized for not introducing himself. “This is my brother Donny, my names Darnell. We are on our way to a ranch we just bought just west of Amarillo.”

“My name is Wetu Wakinyela. It means Dove in the springtime in the Lakota tongue. I am white but lived with the Lakota Sioux since I was a child.  My mother and I had become captives after a Sioux raid on our home. In that raid my father was killed and in less than a moon, my mother in her grief took her own life. I was without family so was given to an old Indian woman to be cared for. Years later while at a rendezvous, I was bought by a French trapper named La Fell just before my first blood. La Fell was a good man and was going to take me to the soldiers fort to be among my own people when I was old enough to marry. As we traveled through the land, Coyote legs of the Comanche found us before we reached the fort. La Fell was killed and since that time Coyote legs has owned me. He named me but I will no more speak that name. It has now been five winters since my first blood and I am now a woman who is again called Wetu Wakinyela.”

   Donny spoke saying, “So that makes you about eighteen, nineteen at the most. Are you with child?”

   “No, why do you ask me that?”

   “You’re bleedin’ from between your legs Miss. We saw that Comanche kickin’ your belly. I was wonderin’ if he might’a been tryin’ to kill a child within’ ya’.”

   “No, I am having my woman’s blood, that is all. It was one of these reasons that Coyote legs became so angry with me. A warrior cannot go into a woman during her bleeding time. If a warrior enters a woman whose time it is to bleed, he will lose his power and die with shame in battle. When he tied me up and I started to scream so that you would believe I was a white woman in peril, he became feverish with lust. He wanted to take me right then and would have but his warriors convinced him to wait until they had captured you. When he realized the two of you were not fooled by my screams he became very strange eyed and was going to enter me in anger even with his men standing about. As he spread me, it was then that he saw my blood, my San We. He became crazy angry and that is when he started beating me.”

Darnell shook his head saying, “I’ll get you some cloth for your bleeding Spring Dove. It’ll be a few days before your healed enough to travel so we’ll stay put right here until you can ride. Once you’re good to travel though we need to hurry off. Winters coming and we have a lot of work to do before then.”

“Where am I to ride too? I will not return to Coyote legs, he will kill me!”

Darnell glanced over at Donny before turning back to the girl. Nervously cratching his unshaved whiskers he said, “Well, I was thinking you could ride along with us to our ranch.”

Quickly glancing back at Donny, he defensively told him, “Shoot Donny, we can’t just leave her here!”

“Settle down little brother, I had the same thoughts. I’m just not sure what we’ll do with her once we get there.”

“Well, we could use a hand around the place doing the washing and do the cooking…” Looking back at Spring Dove he asked, you can cook and do wash clothes can’t you?”

“Not as a white woman does but If you teach me I will cook and do the wash as you want. I have nowhere to go and I will die here in the brush if left I am left behind. I know now that I am dead to Coyote legs or he would have come back by now.”

 

Chapter 2

 Three days after finding the girl, they broke camp and headed towards Amarillo. Each brother had brought along a spare horse and a pack mule when they left the stage at Fort Worth. To Darnell’s amazement the pack mules fared much better than the horses on the Texas plain. He had always heard mules were difficult beast, not worth the effort to own one. Spring Dove rode on Darnell’s spare mount as Donny’s was a bit too feisty for the still bruised girl. They made their way north until they hit the town of Claude, then headed west again until they reached the cool waters of Prairie Dog River. There they camped again as their new ranch was only a few hours ride south of Amarillo.

They could have made it by nightfall but decided to wait and leave in the morning. Only Donny had seen the place and that was a good six months earlier. He was sure the place would need a might of tidying up to make it habitable.

It was the hours just before dawn that Darnell awoke with the pressure building to relieve himself. Being a bit shy and city bred, he removed himself a good fifty yards out to do his watering. Donny had opened his eyes to watch his brother leave camp and kept them open until he was seen returning. It was the slight movement of a shrub in the moonlight behind Darnell that caught Donny’s eye. He instantly became alert.

When Darnell entered the camp Donny quietly bade him to lie down as if asleep. “There’s something out there moving the brush. It might just be an animal but then it might not be.”

 Quickly, Donny crept on his belly over to where the packs had been tied and removed a storm canvas from one of the packs. Creeping silently back, he then placed and shaped the canvas into the crude form of a body and placed his hat on the one end. From a distance, it appeared to resemble a sleeping cowboy. Still crawling on his belly, he slipped silently out of camp.

Darnell lay with his gun ready hidden under his blanket. His newly purchased western style big brimmed Stetson hat was tilted just enough over his eyes to hide their movement. It was getting close to dawn when the girl woke. “Hush girl,” he told her, “ Don’t move none. There’s movement in the brush. Donny’s out there somewhere taking a look see.”

Frightened, the girl obeyed the order instantly.

Meanwhile in the brush, Donny had crept to within the general area where he noted the brush movement. It had not moved since but Donny was no fool. Indians were best at waiting. That was the biggest downfall of white men. They just get too impatient.

Donny scanned the tops of the brush looking not for a head to appear but something even harder to see. With the temperature just above freezing, he scanned the area for the one thing a warm blooded animal cannot hide, their breath.

As the eastern sky broke open with a slit of golden sunshine, the sun lit vapor from the breaths of two warm blooded stalkers could be seen rising slowly from above the brush. A tight smile broke across Donny’s face. He had them spotted.

Within fifteen minutes the one vapor trail had moved closer to the camp while the other stayed put. He needed to dispatch the one staying put as he was the back up and the most dangerous in an attack. The idea was that as the closest one to camp would reach the point where he could then rush into the camp surprising everyone. Meanwhile, it was the job of the one further back to do the actual killing. The one up front would grab the attention of the camp and draw all eyes towards him, leaving the second one free to take his time aiming his accurate and deadly fire into the group.

Donny crept unseen and unheard to within ten feet of the furthest attacker. He was surprised to see one of the Comanche’s that had ridden off with Coyote Legs. That would mean that the one in front must be Coyote Legs himself!

Silently gathering his Legs under him Donny formed into a human spring. With his knife pointed forward he sprung.

Hearing the slight sound of Donny’s launch behind him, the Indian turned his head in surprise. At the same time, the tip of Donny’s knife entered his throat just under the chin. immediately it silenced the murderous stalker.

Coyote Legs had no idea what had just happened to his back up so he confidently continued silently onward to the camp until he reached the point of no return.

Having made his way unnoticed as close as he could get, Coyote Legs then leaped up with a terrible scream.  Running madly into the camp with his rifle ready to blast the sleeping trio, he faltered.

Two things surprised and confused Coyote Legs causing him to falter in his attack. The first was that the trio seemed unconcerned that he was rushing the camp screaming as if sound alone would kill them. None jumped up in fright.  The second was that there were no well aimed rifle slugs plowing into the sleeping forms from behind him. A catch in the running Indians scream showed Darnell that Coyote Legs had come to the conclusion that something was very wrong. Dropping his voice to a questioning shout, Coyote Legs turned to look behind him to see why no gunshots from his fellow Indian had not been fired.

He began to doubt the effectiveness of his plan and slowed his attack, which gave Darnell plenty of time to stick the tip of his pistol barrel from under the blanket and fire away five times in rapid succession.

Hearing the familiar sound of Darnell’s pistol, he calmly rose and made his way in the morning sunlight back to the camp. There he found Coyote Legs sprawled head first in the embers of the previous night’s campfire. Pulling him from the hot embers, Donny rolled him over onto his back.

“Nice shooting brother, I knew my old gun would do you well.”

Donny sat still wrapped in his bedroll looking at the smoking revolver. “Oh my God, I shot him dead!”

Five times the lead slugs had punched the life out of the insane Indian called Coyote legs and five times Donny had shot his first man to death.

Donny went back to retrieve the body of the Indian he had ambushed back in the brush. He knew the Indian had been bound and determined to kill him but Donny reasoned that even an enemy deserves a proper send off to the happy hunting grounds.

After the burials, Donny turned to Darnell and asked, “How you doing Brother? I meant to ask earlier on but we’ve been too busy here for a chat.”

“I’ll do OK. I never imagined I’d have to kill somebody but then maybe in the back of my mind I knew it was inevitable, being so near Indians and all.”

“For the most part things have settled down but there’s a few renegades still trying to reclaim what had been theirs. You have to look at it from their viewpoint at times to make sense of things. But, Coyote Legs was a different creature all together, not like the rest of the tribe. He was as evil a man that you ever saw.”

Spring Dove had been listening to the brother’s talk and as a captive female slave for so long held back her thoughts from turning into words. She saw how these men did not hate for the sake of race or prejudice but instead had fought and killed, risking their own lives for her sake.

It moved her deeply to see that as it was something no one had ever done for her before. La Fell was kind but he would not have risked his life for her, even if he did die in the end.

She stole a lingering glance at the younger brother Darnell and admired the silent strength he had just displayed. Remembering the kindness and concern he had showed to her when she lay broken and bleeding made her come to the conclusion that he would make the most wonderful husband. Of course, she frowned; he would never look at her in that way.

 

Chapter 3

The brothers ranch lay alongside the Prairie Dog River. Behind and to the south not five miles off was the largest hidden Canyon in all of Texas. The prairie grass grew tall in these parts and at the site of the ranch, Darnell knew his brother had done right.

“How big is the place? I mean I know the acreage but how big by the eye?” Darnell asked.

“See that rise a few miles off? That’s the north end. The east and west end forget about seein’, it’s too far away. The south end is almost to the cliff of the canyon.”

“Holy…!” Darnell exclaimed.

“I see a bunch of buildings, is that part of the ranch or is that another ranch?”

“Nope, it’s all ours. The ranch house has not been occupied since the owners death but I sent word on ahead last month sayin’ we’d be showing up about now. Do you remember me talking about my old trail pard Bud? Yes? Well I went an’ hired him early on after the sale to oversee the place till we got there. He’s also the ranch foreman here. I told him to round up a mess of trusting hands to add to those that stayed on during the sale of the place watching over the herd. When the old owner passed away and the ranch was put up for sale, his family wanted nothing to do with cattle so we got them thrown in cheap. Bud knows near everybody as he’s been livin’ the cowboy life since he was a tot. He said he already had a full list of folks he wanted to get hold of to work here. We’ll be up an’ running in no time.”

An hour later brought the three up to the main corral gate just behind large barn. Inside the corral stood a wiry old grey headed fellow holding the reigns of a horse he’d been working. Throwing the reigns over the horn, he made his way nonchalantly over to the three as they stopped at the gate.

Looking at an imaginary pocket watch the trail bred old man scolded, “Well it’s about time ya’ got here, I was about to file for ownership of the place figurin’ you all was dead somewhere or came to your senses an’ gave up the idea of ranchin!”

Breaking into a wide smile Donny sarcastically replied in jest, “Hello to you too Bud, I see you’re as ugly and decrepit as ever you was! I’s half figurin’ you’d’ve fallen over with a heart attack before we got here.”

Pointing to the young man and girl that rode in with Donny, Bud asked, “Who’s them two that’s with ya’?”

Nodding his head first to his Darnell then to Spring Dove he replied in a more serious manner, “This here is my younger brother Darnell straight from Yale college back east and the young lady with us outfitted in my old blanket is Spring Dove. We found her along the way in dire straits and convinced her she’d be better off being our cook than becoming vulture feed on the prairie.”

Looking first at the young man he acknowledged him with a friendly nod then turned his eyes upon the girl. As fast as a man jumps back from the electrical shock he gets walking in wool socks on a carpet, the old man’s eyes blinked wide open then just as quickly closed, it was as if what he saw pained him. With a slight shake of the head, the old man reached for the girls hand and clasped it. “Ma’am it’s a real pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I hope you find the ranch here to be the end of your trails.”

The girl blushed in shyness. Her hand released, Spring Dove smiled back at the man but she saw something in his eyes that said there was something deeper to his greeting than just a welcome.

 

Chapter 4

The extra ranch hands that had been hired by Bud had arrived in two’s and three’s until the ranch boasted sixteen hands. Most all had worked at one time or another with each other which creating a festive mood when the men’s dinners were served. The ranch house continued its transformation from an abandoned house to one thriving with life and Spring Dove was not without transformation herself. Old Bud and Darnell had early on made a necessary trip into Amarillo for supplies. While there, the two went shopping for Spring Dove.  When she opened the wrapped parcels she refused to wear the garments as she had never worn clothes as fine as these. Confounded, the men insisted they were as plain as they had for sale at the dry goods mercantile. Not knowing much about female garments, they had purchased as simple of clothing as possible. When she finally consented, only one word could be applied to her, beautiful.

Spring Dove worked closely with Biscuit in the kitchen who was the middle aged ranch cook hired to once again serve up meals at the place. Spring Dove was a quick learner but was still confounded in trying to operate the giant wood cook stove sitting in the ranch houses kitchen. Until she became more proficient at controlling the iron beast, Biscuit stood nearby overseeing her culinary expertise. Flap jacks seemed to amaze her the most.

Making a roast or frying bacon had close similarities to Indian cooking but a frying pan that transformed a soupy liquid into a fluffy saucer shaped piece of bread never ceased to start her giggling.

Biscuit was amused as he watched a smile burst forth on the young girls face each time she dropped a ladle of batter into the pan. “What’s so darn funny about makin’ flap jacks Dove?” Along with most others on the ranch, Bud had also begun using the shortened name Dove for her.

“How does it turn from water to bread? We have no food that does this.”

“Huh? Oh, simple, it’s called rising. See that there bit of white powder you been putting in? Well that makes it bubble and them bubbles get trapped inside makin’ it hold its shape.”

“If you say so, but I still don’t understand. I have much to learn yet.”

“Trust me here, you’ll get the knack of it soon enough. I taught worse’n you how to handle a frying pan.”

Dove stopped stirring the next batch of batter and asked. “How did you learn to cook? Indian men don’t cook, it is beneath them unless they are away from the camp and have no choice but to cook or starve. Even then, many bring someone like myself to do the cooking. Here, the men admire you because you can cook, why?”

“You can thank Bud for that. He hired me on years back as a young man. The ranch cook he had was getting on in age so when we bumped into each other and he found out I had no job, he offered one to me as a cooks helper on the ranch. I took too it like a dog to a bone! Come Christmas time wait till you see what kind a meal I roll on out here.”

Dove once again started giggling and seeing the questioning look on Biscuits face she quickly explained why she found him funny. “I do not laugh at your cooking but the way you explain things. We never use words like ‘Dog to a bone’. It makes so much sense that I wonder why we don’t say things like that?”

Biscuit took the bowl from her hands and began drizzling a ladleful of batter into the skillet. “I’m not one to pry Dove, but just how did it come about that you ended up comin’ in with Donny and Darnel? I heard they rescued you from Ol’ Coyote Legs and his group.”

Not being used to chairs she still felt the need to sit down. Scooting her legs under the table to relieve the awkward position she ended up sitting in, she stared blankly at the painted ceramic cow shaped creamer sitting before her.

 A serious look then crossed her face as if the memories hurt to be recalled “I was a young child when the Lakota Sioux were still fighting the whites. My family was attacked by the Sioux one day and only I ended up surviving. The Lakota are good people, they cared for me. As time went by it became difficult for them to hide me from the white soldiers. They feared if the soldiers found me it would go badly for the tribe. I was told all this by the Frenchman La Fell who bought me from the Sioux in order to take me away from the prying eyes of the soldiers. I must have been five or six years of age then. La Fell was kind to me and made me learn the language of the whites as I grew older. He wanted me to marry and have a good life. Coyote Legs did not want that. I am glad he is dead. The brother Darnell shot him many times. I only wished it was from my own gun.”

“Did he have someone in mind when he took you to find a husband?”

“No, he just wanted me to be have the chance.”

“I see how you look at Darnell, you got an idea about that?”

“Darnell would never have me no matter how much I wish. He is a fine man who deserves much better than I.”

“Don’t kid yourself lass. Only a blind man wouldn’t see how he follows you around like puppy dog. My bet is that the two of you feel the same way about each other but are too convinced the other would never have ya’.”

Dove’s well tanned face became red. Then with a twinkle in her eye she said wishing, “Maybe you should tell him that.”

 

Chapter 5

That evening as the men sat smoking cigarettes on the porch, Bud told the story the girl had told him about her childhood.

Old Bud listened saying nothing until Biscuit had ended the tale. “You say she was from Kansas?”

“No, that’s where her and this La Fell person met up with Coyote Legs. She never said where she lived before the Sioux raided her place.”

“Well if it were the Lakota then she may have come from Nebraska or even Iowa. The Dakota had a fair sized range as they traveled with the buffalo.”

“Yep, I suppose so. What difference does it make?”

“Maybe none, maybe something.”

 Before any further conversation could go on, the screened door of the house opened and out came Dove holding a tray of glassware. “I have made the drink you call lemon… lemon….”

Bud spoke up to help out Dove’s lack of English words. “Lemonade dear. We call it lemonade but don’t ask why the ‘ade’ part is on there. Maybe it means drink, I don’t rightly know. How’d you know about lemonade?”

“We make a drink from roots and when I told biscuit this he told me of lemonade.” With a chuckle she continued saying, “I made it the way Biscuit said. If it taste bad then scold him, not me!”

Chuckling themselves the rest of the men were thankful for the cool citrus drink and thanked her mightily.

As Dove turned to return inside, Bud called out to her to hold up. “Say Dove, would you give an old man a minute to satisfy his curiosity? Sit down here on the stoop next to me, will ya?”

Dove made her way over to the stairs and sat next to the old grey haired man. Placing the drink tray upon her lap, she folded her hands upon it. “yes?”

Bud scratched the top of his head and took his time searching for the right words. Finally realizing there was no good way to ask the question that he wanted an answer to, he exclaimed.

“Dove, would you take off the shoes you have on?”

Dove instantly began unlacing the tall boots she had been given to wear. “With joy! How do women wear these? The next time we go to town I want to go with you so I can buy ones that fit me!”

Wiggling and stretching her bare feet brought a smile to her face. “That feels much better. Maybe I should go back to wearing moccasins!”

The men laughed with her but smiling, Bud remained serious. “Can I see the bottom of your feet dear?”

The strange request made Dove pause but she shrugged her shoulders and complied. Sticking the bare feet up toward old Bud she wiggled her toes. “See, I have all my toes, did you think I was missing them?”

As she sat there with her feet in the air a change came over Buds face. It softened. Buds eyes became moist and soon tears were seen tumbling down the old man’s cheeks.

Startled, Dove sat upright and searching the old man’s face asked, “What is wrong? Did I do something wrong? Why do you sit here making tears?”

Old Bud choked back a cry he couldn’t hold back.  “I knew it! I knew it the moment I first laid eyes on you and to top it off your story was the icing on the cake! It was like I was starin’ at my own daughter. You look just like your Mama!”

Confused, Dove shook her head. “What do you mean? Please tell me what you mean,” She begged.

The group of men sitting casually on the porch suddenly felt they should have been anyplace else but on the porch. Still none moved as their curiosity was killing them.

Bud looked through his tears and told her. “You was born in Iowa, on a nice farm just up the way from your grandma and me. My daughter Rebecca, your Mama, was my pride and joy. You are as beautiful as she was. I have a painting of her in my room upstairs. When you see it you will believe me.”

Shaking her head in confusion she asked, “But why did you make me remove my shoes? And why do you say what you say?”

“Because, I needed to be sure before makin’ a old fool of myself. An old man dreams dream’s and sometimes he thinks those dreams are real when they ain’t nothin’ but fools gold. I needed to see the only proof that can tell me for sure. You see, there is a small birthmark between your little toe and the next one. So you know I am not making this up, Here is a note I wrote yesterday when I knew I was going  to ask you to show me your feet.”

Pulling the small piece of paper from his shirt pocket, he handed it over to her.”

“I cannot read.” She said in apology. “Darnell, would you read what it says to me?”

Darnell took the note gently from her hands and looked at what was written. As he re read the note for the third time he too began to become misty eyed. Clearing his throat, he stared at the girl his heart was bursting in love for.

“It says, “My daughters daughter, whose name was Elizabeth Higgens was born with a birthmark on her right foot between her little toe and the one next to it. We all said it looked like a tiny star. We called it her lucky foot for it was sure to bring good fortune in her life.”

Slowly Dove lifted her foot and twisted it until she could see the mark on her upturned foot. She had never done this before. Her eyes grew in wonder as she saw the small star shaped mark between her toes. Still holding her foot up, tears flooded her eyes as she looked up in wonder and joy at the smiling old man. Her tear drenched lips quivered and dropping the tray she slowly reached out to touch him. If it were the last word she should ever utter, she would have died completely fulfilled.

 “Grandpa?”

Bekke’s Law by JW Edwards

Bekke's law

Chapter 1

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Noooooo!” came the cry from within.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s no need Mister Irons”

“Why’s that child?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has a boy never loved you then?”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, it is for sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 “Bekke? You kissed me?”

“Yes, I did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspecting the dressing and wound Bill glanced up at her.

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

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

 

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, who wants to know?”

“May I see your neck please?”

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“I love you my precious Bekke…”

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

“I love you too Dad.”

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

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

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

                                                                 The End

 

 

The Black Blizzard by JW Edwards

sand storm

 

July 10th, 1893 The storm hits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 12th, 1893 Three weeks earlier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 12th the storm ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 18th 1893 Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is she married?”

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

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

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

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

JW Edwards 02/21/2013

The Salt River Posse shoot out

Chapter 1  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why Ray and not the owner?

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’d she tell him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. She wasn’t even there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s the way I see it too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure are, In fact I see ‘em now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anybody on our side hit?” Tom asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look over here, you recognize that man?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And and feather bed with silk blankets?”

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

The Caltrop ranch

Chapter 1  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No Dad, Mom did!”

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

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

“I suppose that correct”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each noticed the deafening quiet now within the sitting room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Segundo? What’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry, I meant no insult.”

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

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

“Uh, miss, I mean Amy, uh, uh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My wife!”

Chapter 3 

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

“My God, it’s beautiful Raeford!”

“Look, rider’s coming.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So should we pull our scouts back then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m thinking there’s one in Laramie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will he be alright?” The woman asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Chapter 1  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That makes us almost related” Dusty laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

“Brooks! You hear me Brooks?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I knew there’d be a catch! Ha ha.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My leg,” He asked, “how bad is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Sure, besides I got your gun an’ you ain’t in no condition to arrest me . What kind of herbs you talkin’ about Ranger?”

“Mesquite tree. Carve of some bark until you hit the gum inside. Carve out a good handful of ngum then take a few of the smaller live twigs along with some fresh bark and bring it all here.”

Within a half hour Brooks returned with an armload of mesquite branches and bark. “I got the gum, it’s in my pocket. Here’s the branches. You doin’ OK pard?”

It was the first time that Bo acknowledged the Ranger as more than just a Lawman. Dusty took this in but was in too much pain to answer right off. When he did, it was to instruct Bo in preparing a poultice and tea.

When the gum had been squeezed hard enough a clear liquid came forth from it. “Save that juice, it’s what keeps infections down. You’ll mix it with some of the crushed leaves and pack it inside my wounds. Then make a tea using the small twigs, a bit of bark and some leaves. If I pass out again, just keep on doing what I told you,OK?”

“Sure, thing. By the way Ranger, what’s your first name? Seein’ as we got a truce goin’ on here, the least we can do is call each other by our Christian names.”

With a painful chuckle ranger Austin lowered himself to that of an ordinary citizen and replied, “Dusty, Dusty Austin. I know you go by Bo, is that short for Beau?”

“Yeah, my Momma named me after my grandfather, her father Union General Beau Brooks.”

“Well ain’t that somethin’? General Brooks Grandson is a bank robber, who’d a thunk? Your grand daddy must be rollin’ over in his grave about now.”

During this time Bo had made up the poultice and had filled the spilled coffee pot partway with water, placed it over the kicked apart but still hot coals  and added the leaves, twigs and bark. He then walked over to where Dusty lay.

“Lay still now Dusty, this poultice is gonna hurt when I put it inside the wound. Too bad we ain’t got no more whiskey, I used it up cleaning your wound, you could use some right now.”

“ I’ll do fine, just put a thick twig in my mouth to bite down on.”

Bo placed a thumb sized twig in Dusty’s mouth and undressed the wound.  Fresh blood continued to leak out of the wound but the river was now just a trickle.  Bo slowly parted the wound where the bears teeth had dug deepest. The wound immediately pooled with blood and Bo let it drip freely into the dirt. He then took the thick poultice and began stuffing it into the deepest part of the wound.

It took a second or two but then Dusty arched his back and screamed through the stick in his mouth. Suddenly the stick was bit completely through and then thankfully Dusty passed out.  With Dusty unconscious, Bo was able to complete the poultice without Dusty screaming. Satisfied the wound could hold no more, he then re wrapped the leg and made Dusty as comfortable as possible.

He brought Dusty a cup of the mesquite tea when he woke up. “Here, drink this up. It’s the tea you asked me to make up for ya’. You fainted when I started packin’ your wound and that made it easier to finish the job.”

“I owe you Bo, thank you for being so Christian about all this.” Bo lifted the cup to Dusty’s lips and let him drink.

“I have nothin’ agin ya’ Dusty, you was just doin’ your job. Heck the only reason why I asked for extra time before I turned myself in was ‘cause I wanted to see the night sky as a free man one more time before bein’ hung. I did what I needed to do knowin’ there was a price to be paid.”

Dusty turned his head to look at Bo who was again sitting on the ground next to him. “I can’t figure you out Bo. You seem to be a genuine fella. Everybody thinks you’re the best, but then you go and rob a bank and yet you turn in the rest of the gang. It makes no sense Bo, why’d you do it?”

“For my Ma. She needed the money. Last year my Grandpa, the General, died. He was the hero of the small town we all lived in so when he died the town held a big funeral dirge for him. Some state and Federal politicians showed up vowing a granite monument was in order to honor him. Well they went ahead and ordered the work started on a grand mausoleum with promises that the Government would pay for it. Well, three months later the mausoleum was finished and the folks was lookin’ to be paid for their work. We contacted the Politicians who ordered the work done but they disavowed they had promised anything. My Mom was in a dither.

The workers were threatening to go to court and force the sale of our farm so they could recover their wages. We didn’t blame them none, we blamed the rascal politicians who didn’t uphold their promise to pay. We sure didn’t have the money but I told Ma that I’d think of something.”

“So you figured robbing a bank would solve your problem?”

“Well, yes and no. My cousin found out the bank in Santa Lucia over in Pecos County was owned by the same politician that ordered the mausoleum to be built. So while I was planning on how to rob it, I ran into a group of no goods with the same idea. After talkin’ it over with ‘em, I joined up figurin’ I’d get my share then take off and pay for the mausoleum. What I found out though was they was plannin’ on killin’ me and taking my share. So I set it up that they’d get caught and I’d get away. It almost worked too. As soon as I fled, I stopped over in the next town and had a bank draft made in place of the stolen money. It was a small town and word hadn’t got to them yet about the bank in Santa Lucia bein’ robbed.”

“So where’s the money now?”

“Gone. I left that town and rode till I found a town that had regular post service. From there I sent the draft to my Ma and she cashed it an’ paid for the mausoleum. The workers and stone company got paid and all seemed like it went fine until a customer in the Santa Lucia bank came forward and said they knew who the lone escaped bank robber was. It turned out the retired school Marm I had years earlier recognized me. Seems she moved back to Santa Lucia with her brother after retiring from the school in my home town.”

“ That’s a pile of bad luck alright, I almost wished you’d gotten away with it. I don’t cotton to politicians but I’m still a Ranger and I took an oath to do my duty.”

“Like I said, you got a job to do, I don’t put no blame on you.”

“Well maybe if I say something in court about you saving me they’d be more lenient on you.”

“Fat chance at that Dusty, this is the grand pooba of politicians were talking about in that county. He got total control there. Word has it that I should only get jail except he had it upped to death by hanging. No, I’m a dead man my friend but at least  Grandpa Brooks is layin’ in peace now and my Ma gets to keep the farm. But I do appreciate the kind offer of your words in court.”

That night a low fever started and his wound began to throb heavily with each heart beat. By morning he was delirious with fever. Bo kept his vigil and kept supplying Dusty with water even though it meant none for himself now.  He remembered crossing a small creek about an hours ride back but was afraid to leave Dusty alone. Coyotes, buzzards or even the return of the bear would mean his death, so Bo stayed with him.

By the second night after he relapsed, Bo knew he had to leave the next morning and get more water. There was only a cupful remaining.

Bo looked to the night sky. The stars were so bright he could have read a novel by them. It was then that he felt overwhelmed by the tragedy of what had transpired against the beauty of the night sky. Raising his head to the heavens he asked, “Lord, how can it be that when I look upward, I see beauty and when I look downward I see misery. You know I ain’t nothing, but this here man dyin’ is somethin’ that this country needs. I promise you this Lord, if you let this good man live, I’ll be happy and I’ll even shake your hand after I’m hung.”

Morning found Bo sleeping with his arm tucked under his head like a pillow. He lay there snoring until a voice woke him.

“Hey, bank robber Bo! We got any bacon still stashed in my saddle bags?”

Bo jumped up grinning wildly. “Well tan my hide, he did it!”

“Did what, who did it? Dusty weakly asked.”

“While you was dyin’ I prayed. I ain’t no man of God but I guess he understood my tellin’ him you was needed in this country to keep folks safe an’ all. Good men are hard to come by an need to be kept around.” Bo looked down at Dusty and smiled, “Now that you’re awake I can travel back to that creek we passed an’ refill our canteens. I used it all to slack your thirst during the last couple of days when you was delirious with fever.”

“What about your canteen, surely you have some water left, don’t you?”

Naw, I gave it all to you, you needed it more’n me.”

“Well, I know of one good man that God needs saving and his last name is Brooks!”

Chapter 4

A week later, Dusty was able to sit in the saddle. His wounds were healing nicely and Bo continued to nurse him back to health. Dusty needed to resupply his food and return home to continue his convalescence. He told Bo that it was time they move on.

“Bo, we need to talk. There ain’t no way I can turn a man in to hang when it’s the wrong thing to do. I know I took an oath to uphold the Law but the Law don’t know what I know and the judge won’t give a damn either. Justice will be what that politician says it is. Right or wrong. I want you to do something. You ain’t wanted here in New Mexico. I got a good friend Ted Richards that moved to a town along the Rio Grande called Hillsboro, it’s up in Sierra County. You go on up there. Just tell him I sent you, he’ll take good care of you. When I’m better, I’ll ride over to your Moms place and explain where you’re at. If she wants to sell the place and join you there, I’ll help her do it. If not then at least she’ll know your safe and making an honest living for yourself here. It’s the best I can do, take it Bo, you’re a good man and good men are hard to come by!”

“What about you Dusty? What’ll you tell your captain? You’ll just get into trouble.”

“It’ll be some time before I’m back in the saddle for the Rangers. Maybe my leg will never be the same and I’ll have to call it quits anyway. Besides, I ain’t breaking any law letting you go. We aren’t in Texas and I really have no jurisdiction here anyway. When I do report back, I’ll explain what all happened here and it tell ‘em I decided that under the circumstances of being severely injured, I couldn’t bring you in. That ain’t no lie either. I’m so weak a five year old kid could kick my ass about now.”

The two saddled up and Bo moved his horse up against Dusty’s to say goodbye.

Pulling Dustys pistol from his pants, Bo handed it over to him.“Here, this belongs to you. If you ever get up to Hillsboro, be sure to stop and look me up. I can’t say I’m all broke up that I ain’t returning to Texas but I am wishin’ I didn’t have to say adios to you my friend. If there was ever a man I’d call my friend, it’s you.”

The two shook hands and no more words were spoken, none were needed. Bo turned his horse westward and rode to his new life.

Dusty knew they’d be crossing paths again, after all, Lisa was going into her sixth month now and he’d want to show off his baby to someone besides his Paw. “Heck,” He mused, “maybe they’ll be needing a Sheriff up that a way!”