Wild fire on the Brazos!

Chapter 1

Texas long horn trail boss Dusty Plains, sat rabbit still in the saddle sniffing the air. The herd was only sixty miles east of Austin where they had moved out of four days earlier. His brain continued to flip through long ago scent memories like a clerk searching for a certain file among the thousands stored in a cabinet. Suddenly the file was found and pulled.

“Wild fire!” He shouted, South west of here!”

Spurring the Mare, he galloped forward trying to catch up to the lumbering chuck wagon miles ahead of the herd. It was the job of the Grease belly or camp cook to forage ahead of the herd in order to have each meal hot and waiting for the riders. The cook also spotted the trail ahead for Indians, rustlers and any problem that the trail boss should be aware of.

Reigning up alongside the chuck wagon’s driver, Dusty pointed and shouted over to him.  “Biscuit!  Point them cattle eastward to the Brazos River! We gotta’ get’m on the other side of the river, there’s a wildfire about a day’s ride behind us!”

“Hell boss!” Biscuit shouted back. “It’s gonna be cuttin’ it close fer sure. I figure the Brazos is a good ten miles off yet and we got less than four hours of daylight left. It’ll be a late meal and a cold one at that!”

“Just get across and put up some coffee pots, we’ll survive!”

Dusty turned the mare away from the wagon and galloped back to the herd. Reaching the lead or point riders, Dusty explained the situation to them. Immediately, they began to wheel the herd eastward toward the Brazos and safety.

From there he stopped down the line of trail riders, telling each group to keep the herd in a tight line. Stopping at the flank riders, he informed them the herd was turning and told one of the riders to split off and tell the remuda riders what’s going on while he’d let the tail end or drag riders know. Dusty kept his drive functioning like a well oiled machine. Having smelled water ahead and the transient waves of smoke from behind, the cattle quickened their pace and arrived at the river ahead of schedule.

The herd was driven across the Brazos River without incident as the depth was still shallow this time of year. A month from now the river would be a killer. High water not only drowned cattle and riders but brought out the snakes, something every cowboy feared.

Standing on the bank looking westward toward a growing darkness that was not from the setting sun, Dusty thanked the Good Lord for having given him a good nose.

“We’d be a hog on a spit if you hadn’t got us turned just then boss.” The voice behind him was that of his best friend and lead point man, Bob Fisher. “If you look up north a bit, you can see some smoke now, that’s right where we woulda been spending the night. I’m puzzled boss as to how you knew where the fire was at, we couldn’t even see the smoke at that time.”

“I smelled juniper and persimmon in the smoke. Both grow mainly to the southern plains but it was the burning pecan trees that settled it for me.”

“It’s dang fortunate you got the nose if you ask me.”

Throughout the night the night riders sang songs and circled the herd to keep them calm. The continued smell of smoke made the herd jittery and trail boss Dusty Plains feared if the smoke drifting up from the southwest got any thicker the herd would bolt. If they did bolt, he hoped they’d head north in the direction the wanted to travel and not due east.

Dusty doubled up on the crooning night riders and the result was a herd staying put. The chuck wagon had left before dawn to set up ten miles further up the trail for the noon meal. With little sleep under their belts, the riders slowly got the cattle moving again.

By noon, the heard was within sight of the wagon again. Gallons of Hot coffee, Cowboy beans with bacon and sour dough biscuits rounded out the meal. The drag riders showed up last as was about normal and a bucket of water was put out for them to wash the dust from their eyes. Each drag rider looked as if a dust storm had spun itself around them. In many ways it had.

The point riders were the most experienced cowboys and therefore had the best job. It was the point rider that turned the herd to the desired direction and being in the front had little problem with dust.  The flank riders behind them got some dust as they were spaced further back along the herd but it was the poor drag rider that got the worst of it. Having to trail behind the herd pushing lagers and catching strays, they were exposed to every particle of dust kicked up by the thousands of hooves in front of them. With their bandana’s over their nose and mouths to keep out as much dust as was possible, they looked more like a band of bank robbers than honest forty dollar a month cowpokes.

Dusty once again scanned the skies and sat smelling the air. Some of the cowboys stopped and stared intently at Dusty. The riders sitting fireside waited in anticipation for the word from their trail boss. In silence, they drank their after meal coffee waiting.  Finally Dusty turned to them and spoke.

“head ‘em up boys, that fires crossed the river somewhere south of us. This breeze is gonna’ bring it right up our butts! “

Again the well oiled machine had the herd moving. By now the rest of the riders and for sure the herd could smell the increase in smoke.

“ Biscuit, take the chuck wagon with all our belongings and set the wagon in the middle of the river at a wide point up ahead. It’s only a couple feet deep from here to Waco. Soak and wrap a wet blanket over each mules head. That’ll stop some of the smoke smell and that way they can’t see the fire as it passes ‘em. Whatever you do, don’t  leave the river!”

Riding back to the herd, Dusty continued yelling over the rumble of the herd at the point riders, “Push ‘em harder! Let’s try and put some miles between us and the fire. We may have to zig zag across the river more than a few times to keep that blaze from roasting our hides so be ready to turn ‘em across the river if and when  I say so!”

“You got it boss!” The point rider from the opposite side of Bob Fisher yelled. “We’ll follow your lead! That there smokes getting thicker by the mile!”

It was true. As fast as they drove the herd it seemed the smoke was getting thicker and thicker. Now everyone, not just those riding drag, had their bandana’s on. The cattle started their belly aching bawls and began a panicky run north.

By trailing the east bank of the Brazos, fresh water and grass for the cattle was no problem. Dusty wanted to stay as close to the river for as long as he could. If by chance the wildfire roared north ward up the east bank, they could cross the cattle over to the west side and vice versa.

He wondered how the small ranches and homesteads they had passed were fairing. Were they going to be burned out?  His thoughts drifted to Fayetteville thirty miles outside Austin where his wife’s grave was. He wondered if his old ranch had escaped the blaze or whether it, like any ranch caught in a wild fire, no longer existed. “Well, at least it can’t do no harm to Doris’s resting place, that’s for sure.”

Looking southward, the riders could plainly see the red glow spreading across the horizon now. As Dusty headed over to where the horse remuda was, he signaled Tom Beavers, who was in charge of the remuda, to meet  him. As he passed an older experienced flank rider, the rider asked worriedly if Dusty thought the herd should be headed north east to the high rocky ground where the brush and trees were thinned out.

“I would if it weren’t so far away but that bare high ground is still a good fifteen miles off. Some of the faster herd might make it but the cows with calves wouldn’t, they’re too slow.  It’s all the drag riders can do right now to keep ‘em paced with the herd.  Let’s stick to the river for now and hope the fire turns or burns itself out.”

“What about the remuda then? They’s fast”

Dusty contemplated a second then acknowledged the man that the remuda in fact could make the trip in time and rode off.

Chapter 2

Reaching the horse remuda, Tom rode up to Dusty and pulled down his bandana and yelled. “What’s up Dusty?”

Shouting over the din of the moving bawling cattle Dusty told Tom, “I need you and Ned to get the remuda up to the high ground there to the north east where they’ll be safe. The horses can make it within a couple of hours, easily outrunning the fire. I’d hate to lose forty good horses for no good reason. Take them over that saddle on the rise and head ‘em over the other side of it. I’m thinking the fire will burn till it reaches the base of the rise then starve itself out for lack of fuel! The rest of us will try and dodge the fire as best as we can by keeping the river between it and us!”

Tom tipped his hat in acknowledgement and raced over to Ned. Within a minute they had the horse remuda  racing  across the grassy plain to the bare ground fifteen miles to the north east.

Dusty breathed a little easier seeing the remuda heading safely away. He wished dearly that the cattle could move as fast.

They kept the herd minus the remuda now, heading northward along the eastern bank of the Brazos River as fast as the scared cattle herd would go. Smelling fire and knowing water was nearby, the reaction of the cattle was to continually head for the safety of the water. Dusty knew that if the fire came racing up both banks at the same time without the riders to keep them in control, the cattle could panic, and leave the water. They would then try to outrun the fire on land. Cattle were simple creatures, all they wanted in life was to have good grass and water, they didn’t do a lot of hard thinking. It was up to the riders to do the thinking for them because without the riders, the herd was going to be the main course at the world’s largest Ox roast.

Within another hour flames could plainly be seen on both sides of the Brazos five miles to the south.

“Charlie! I’m gonna’ divide the herd.  Grab a couple of the drag riders and separate the lead cattle and fastest cattle then head ‘em as quick as you can behind the remuda. I’ll stay here with the slower beeves. If you all whip the crap outa them they’ll pace out almost as fast as the remuda. I think you can just make it before the fire crawls up your butts! Do it, NOW!”

Charlie quickly grabbed a couple of the drag riders and started separating the faster animals in the herd. Normally the slowest were further towards the end of the line, those they just left alone. The flank riders assisted in the separation and within a few minutes a third of the herd was hoofing it’s way double timed behind the remuda. With two thirds of the herd still left behind, Dusty gathered the other riders for a quick pow wow.

“I sent the fastest of the herd on ahead behind the remuda. They should be alright! It lookin’ like we ain’t gonna’ be able to zig zag ‘em alongside the river after all. The fires racin’ up both sides about equal now. I want the rest of you to gather the remaining head and get’m maybe six to ten wide in the middle of the river. Keep ‘em away from the banks!  I know it’s going to be hard and we’ll lose some, but not doing anything will cost us near two thousand head.  Use your guns and lariats to keep ‘em in the river. That fires going to sound like a locomotive engine when it passes. Do whatever you think is right to keep ‘em in the river, even if you gotta shoot a few leaders trying to make a run for it.”

A chorus of agreements by the riders followed. “Alright then, let’s get them cattle into the river. I want you all ridin’ up and down  alongside the banks forcing  the cattle back into the water if they go to leave it, now move it!”

Moving the cattle into the river was fairly easy as their instinct told them being in the water was safe. Only two things now could make them leave the water. Panic was one, the other was snakes.

Dusty yelled over to a young Mexican vaquero riding flank. “Carlos! If you see snakes in the water, use that machete you got tied to your saddle on ‘em. Cut ‘em down so’s they don’t get to the cattle.” Then to all the other riders he yelled, “Pull iron and blast any snake you see entering the water from the bank. If you got a scatter gun in your saddle holster, pull it and use it! “

No sooner had he given the order when a cow went bawling and started hopping like a bucking bronco in the shallow water. Coming at the terrified animal were three deadly water moccasins not ten feet away. Immediately guns started spitting lead. To the cows good fortune, none made it to the panicked beast alive.  “Calm that cow down!” A rider shouted and ropes were thrown onto the terrified cow from opposite sides. Once finding itself movement restricted, it surrendered itself to the power of the ropes.

Dusty rode up. “Good job boys! Keep a sharp eye along the banks, there’s sure to be more comin’ once the fire chases them out of their holes. Let’s get these cattle moved to the middle of the river, no more than ten wide.”

If the fire and snakes weren’t bad enough, a gust of wind blew Dusty’s Stetson from off his head. Carlos galloped down steam, leaned over and grabbed it. On his return, Carlos noticed Dusty standing in the stirrups looking to the south. Turning, Carlos followed Dusty’s gaze to the south.

“Dios mio!”  Forgetting his English he yelled out in Spanish and pointed at the horizon, “Senior Dusty, una tormenta de polvo, el infierno!”

“What? Carlos, speak so I understand you dammitt!”

“I am sorry Senior Dusty, look, it is a dust storm straight from hell!”

Behind the angry orange flames and now mixing itself with the grey fire smoke was truly a beast from hell.

Looking heaven ward, Dusty threw both arms skyward. “Really? Wasn’t snakes an fire enough Lord?”

Taking into account all the unearthly going on’s, Dusty yelled to the others as they rode up and down in the shallow water keeping the herd in mid river. Every now and then a few shots were fired, sometimes to scare a cow back into the herd and sometimes to kill another snake. “Got another”, someone yelled, but Dusty had no time to congratulate whoever had made the shot.

“They’ll point upriver once the storm hits. They’ll wanna’ put their butts into the wind. That’s good! The cows won’t see the flames now until they are alongside ‘em! If we’re lucky, when they see the flames  the fire should keep ‘em scared away from the banks.”

Within minutes the hurricane force dust storm slammed into the herd. Horses reared and some of their frightened riders went down. Terrified of more water borne snakes, the thrown riders remounted in the blink of an eye.

The river began to churn with white capped waves heading upstream completely washing over the bawling cattle. Standing in the belly deep water, fighting wind and water, the cows did not see the fire as it tore up the river banks being pushed by seventy mile an hour winds.

Dusty hoped the remuda and the thousand head of cattle he had sent out earlier had made it to the rise.

If Dusty were a bird he could have looked down upon the lee side of the rise and seen the cows and remuda grazing calmly while the riders rode in a half circle oblivious to the oncoming fire and dust storm on the other side. When it did hit, the riders looked skyward seeing only the darkness of the dust storm in the sky. Where they had ended up was in a valley protected on three sides by an eroded cliff. This large natural amphitheater allowed the storm to pass harmlessly overhead.  The riders sat pointing upward wondering what was happening but were unwilling to cross over the ridge to investigate. Shrugging their shoulders and hoping the best for the rest of the herd, they went back to riding their own herd.

Chapter 3

Meanwhile, back at the river miles away, Dusty and the others were doing all they could just to stay in their saddles. The riders had all donned their dusters and pulling the collars up high, the hurt caused by the fires intense heat and the scouring sand was kept to a minimum. The cattle and horses had no such protection. With their rears facing the onslaught, it was a good thing that horses and cattle have no need to sit down.The chuck wagon soon had its canvas covering torn loose from the wooden bows stretching it over the wagon. It landed in the river and was soon lost to sight. Now exposed, Biscuit tucked himself down into the foot well of the driver’s seat and hid.

It had been a half hour since the storm had hit them. The wind driven dust had not abated in the least but Dusty noticed the fire, having consumed all the dry grass and trees along the river bank was no longer a threat. Black smoking earth replaced the tall grasses behind the fire wall.

While most fires would have driven hundreds of snakes into the safety of the water, the wind pushing this fire was causing such tall waves that the snakes were thrown bodily back onto the shore. Dusty would have marveled at this stroke of fortune, and would afterward, but for right now he sat white knuckled trying his best to keep his death grip on the saddle horn as the wind and dust did their best to unseat him.

Miles ahead upriver, the fire continued to race along the Brazos banks leaving a mile wide swath on the eastern side. To the west, the fire was much wider but would soon reach a sharp bend in the Brazos stopping the raging fire in its tracks.

Without warning, the wind began to suddenly abate. The head winds that were traveling at hurricane speed had passed now being replaced by a wind half its speed to that of a common dust storm.

Dusty lifted his head and turning it sideways into the wind, tried glimpsing downstream. What he saw was a blackened landscape that diffused itself into the mile high dust cloud. Understanding now came to him. If it were not for the savage blowing of the earlier wind, the slow moving fire would have taken hours rather than minutes to pass them by. While cursing the millions of needle pricks the blowing sand brought about on exposed skin, that very wind in a very strange way was their savior.

Still too soon to fully face into the wind, Dusty tucked his chin back onto his chest and thanked God for protecting the men and the herd.

Without the fierce wind, the river began to settle back down. Any snakes attempting to find their way into the water though were met by the still smoldering earth and retreated back into their bank side holes.

When the worst had passed, Dusty yelled for the riders to clear the river of cattle. Even with dust still swirling about, the snakes would soon venture back into the water.

With yips and howls the cowboys drove the cattle back onto the burnt landscape. Once again the thin line of cattle were making their way north.

Dusty rode over to each rider asking if any were hurt and in need of  any medical attention. Most shrugged off their minor burns and were just happy to have survived.  Fisher commented that from here on in the trail should be a cake walk seeing as to how “We been through wind, water and fire all in one day!”

Looking northeastward, through the abating dust storm , Dusty could now see the ridge where the remuda and cattle were ordered to be taken to. Taking a small spyglass from his saddlebag, Dusty scanned the ridge for any sign of man or beast. None were seen.

“I don’t see anybody this side of the ridge, let’s heads the herd to the back side of it by circling around the south eastern point. They’re probably holed up on the lee side of the ridge”

Within four hours the slow moving herd rounded the southern tip of the ridge. Dusty was pleased that only a few cattle had been lost and a couple of those had been put down by the riders themselves trying to keep the other cows from following any leader ashore.

By now the dust storm was a gritty memory. No one questioned the single day long dust storm but Carlos gave the storm the name ‘Tormenta Dios miragro’ or loosely translated, ‘The torment of Gods miracle’.

The riders quietly had driven the tired cattle over the scorched earth up to the foothills of the ridge. Once rounding the southern point, green grass once again greeted the hungry cattle. Picking up their pace, the cattle soon joined their grazing relatives within the protection of the valley’s amphitheatre carved into the mountain side.

Dusty stopped and took in the sight. “Well I’ll be doggoned. They’s all safe an’ sound!”

Biscuit and the chuck wagon, being faster than the herd, had already set itself up and had  two, two gallon coffee pots heating over a fire.  One of the flank riders rode up dragging the wagons canvas tarp behind him. “Brought you a present Biscuit”. Then dismounting, he untied the canvas from his rope and headed over to the boiling coffee pots where everyone had gathered.

“what’s sayin’ boss?” Charlie called over to Dusty. “

Dusty untying his Stetson told him, “I tell you this much. this has been one heck of a day! Snakes, fire, dust storm… I don’t know about you boys but to my way of thinking, any one of those things coulda’ put an end to any one of us.”

To a man, a word of Amen was sounded.

Dusty continued talking, “Let’s take another day to get some grass into the herd and give our own bones a well deserved rest. I don’t know about you fella’s but my old bones is beat an’ my muscles is worn to a frazzle.”

Once again a round of ‘amens’ was heard.

Two days later found the herd heading out to the north towards Waco. Once in Waco the herd caught the Chisholm trail and headed onto Wichita Kansas. During the drive into Kansas, Dusty thought things deep and hard and made the decision that this was to be the last cattle drive he’d head up. When he talked over his decision with his friend Fisher, he was surprised that Fisher didn’t fight him on it.

“Heck boss, I was thinking along the same lines myself. The rail road’s gonna’ be the way to transport large herds of cattle pretty soon. Where’s that gonna’ leave us then? I’d rather go out while I can still make a choice to be a cowboy or not to be a cowboy. I ain’t no cow poke boss, I can’t see myself proddin’ cows onto rail cars with sticks from a loading platform. No Sir, I might just follow your lead and find somethin’ else to do for a livin’. You have any idea what you’ll be doin’ and where?”

“I’ve been thinking of a small town near Denver Colorado called Castle Rock. I saved up some for the day I decided to quit. My knees ain’t what they used to be, maybe I’ll buy myself a mercantile or dry goods store.”

“You? A dry goods store? Ha! That’ll be the day, more like a bordello if you ask me!”

“Naw, no whorehouse. I been seein’ things a bit different since that day on the Brazos.  I ain’t gonna’ turn into no Preacher or anything but I’m thinkin’ I should clean up my act a bit. The good book talks about becoming a new man. Who knows, maybe I’m gonna’ try an’ teach this ol’ dog some new tricks.”

“Well boss, whatever you decide, I’m behind you on it. I might even look you up someday…see how you’re farin’ an’ all.”

Dusty reached out and he and Fisher shook hands over their friendship. “You look me up Fisher!”

“I will boss. That’s a promise.”

It would be a promise kept.

To read another story featuring Dusty and Fisher, click on the story called “Homer’s magic bullet”.  JW

Homer’s magic bullet

 

Chapter 1

In the darkened room on the second floor of the Argosy Hotel, a nervous hand slowly parted the window curtains to get a clear view of the street below. The night shadows hid those seekers who might be a danger to him. The only movement he saw was a late night mule drawn cartage wagon that rumbled by.  Down the street, oil lamps lit the walkway and entrance to the Half Dollar Saloon. Inside a skinny old man wearing a well worn bowler derby plinked away at the piano trying his best to remember a tune nobody else recognized. It was a slow night, even a few of the whores had given up and went upstairs to their rooms alone for a chance to get some early shut eye. For all intensive purposes, the town had fallen asleep. Stepping closer, the tall gaunt man pressed his hawk like face sideways to the window pane so he could see further up and down the dark empty street. Seeing no movement he backed away and closed the curtain and for the first time in months he felt safe.

Homer Goldstein, the man in the second floor hotel room, was a scared and wanted man. For the last three months he’d been tailed, had his mail opened and had his home broken into numerous times. Homer really wasn’t the object of attention so much as what he had invented was.

It was the bullet that passed close to his head one night as he sat relaxing in the parlor that settled things for him. Finally conceding that his home, his town and his neighbors and his synagogue had to be left behind if he were to survive, he quickly packed a few belongings and fled his beloved Tennessee home.

Heading west by rail, he eventually ended up in the mountain town of Castle Rock about fifty miles south of Denver Colorado. The small town lay in the shadow of its namesake, a tall butte that claimed the skyline called Castle Rock. Juniper and Ponderosa pine climbed the mountain sides in the distance while a few shade giving oaks and Tulip trees sprinkled themselves around the town.

Homer took a room at the modestly priced Argosy hotel where he unpacked his belongings then headed over to the bank. For a small fee, many banks rented space within their vaults. It was his invention stored securely in its wooden case that was placed within the vault for safe keeping that morning.

For the last fourteen years Homer had worked as a gunsmith. It was the only job he had ever held. Actually, it was the only job he had ever wanted.

His father, a watchmaker in Memphis, encouraged the young Homer to follow his desires even though he secretly had hoped the boy would follow in his footsteps. Homer started out as an apprentice at the Tennessee Bean Rifle works where he quickly rose in rank within the company. Six years later, Homer stood holding the cherished Master Gunsmith Certificate he had worked so hard to get.

Homer had no wife to share his joy with, nor did he want one. He had no close friends either. He cared little for the world outside the shop window. Politics, the cost of pork bellies and the price of a bushel of corn held no interest for him. Only his guns mattered. To Homer it wasn’t machining, it was art.

Lying down on the Argosy’s soft feather bed in his room, Homer wished he’d never sent the letter to the war department asking them to consider his revolutionary designed rifle. His mistake was his naivety and blind trust in Government officials.

Upon receiving the letter, Wilfred Moneymaker, the head of the war department, passed it down the line until it fell on the desk of James Parker, an egotistical ladder climber whose father had gotten him the job.  Parker immediately saw how he could use the letter to his advantage.

In a private meeting with the company that the war department was presently purchasing their arms from, Parker told the owner of Eastern Valley Arms of Goldstein’s invention. It was not so much the rifle itself that interested them, it was the cartridge that went into the inventive gun.

“Without the chemical makeup of the propellent within the cartridge, all you are showing us Mr. Parker, is a multi caliber cartridge. I can list a boat load of arms makers working along those same lines even as we speak, us included. The easy part is the damn gun itself, but we’ve hit a wall on the cartridge. According to this spec sheet, this Goldstein fella’ seems to have figured it out.”

The speaker was Amos Silver, the owner and president of the Eastern Valley Arms company. Reaching into his vest pocket, Silver pulled out a pair of reading spectacles and once again looked over the letter.

“The ballistic performance out does anything thing on the market today. Our newest cartridge has a maximum chamber pressure rating of 23,000 psi. Goldman’s is 45,000 psi. That’s twice the power of our best cartridge. Hell, that much power would blow any of today’s rifles to sky high! Look at the velocity of the thing, 1,100 feet per second. Ours? 450 feet per second.  What he invented gentleman was a hand held cannon, not a rifle.”

“I knew this would interest you Sir,” Parker groveled, “I’m sure I can convince this Goldstein person to give us the chemical makeup of the cartridge’s propellent. After all, he’s just a small time rube gunsmith located in Tennessee and I have the power of the Department of War behind me.”

“I don’t want the War Department to get its hands on the makeup Parker, the idiots there would give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that makes ammo for them. No, we want it for ourselves Parker. Use whatever means you wish, but we get the formula!”

“If I get it to you, what’s in it for me?”

“Oh don’t you worry son, you’ll have a fat purse for your efforts, as long as this isn’t all some ruse you schemed up.”

“No Sir, no ruse, this is for real. I took the letter to our own gun works people and they confirmed it was possible. Even the steel specifications used in the chamber and barrel seemed accurate”

Lighting a large Cuban cigar, Amos Silver then pointed it at Parker, “Son, you get the makeup of that cartridge and you can quit that lousy low pay Government job, of course if you don’t…” Silver let then let the freshly lit cigar fall to the floor and twisted it under foot. “You get my drift son?”

To Parker’s frustration, the face to face meeting with Goldstein went badly. Homer refused to give away any more information on his invention and withdrew his offer. He had a bad feeling about the young man with greedy eyes and wanted nothing more to do with him.

It was shortly after that meeting that Goldman realized he was being spied upon.

 

Chapter 2

Rising early, Homer went downstairs for breakfast in the Argosy’s dining room. It was a comfortable and surprisingly elegant room. The windows had long velvet curtains from ceiling to floor at each window and the floor was carpeted complimenting the imported wall paper. White linen table cloths dressed each table and real silverware was at each place setting. For the price, Homer felt he had made a very wise decision on choosing the Argosy hotel.

Homer sat politely as a tall skinny waitress taking breakfast orders took his order. In watching her, he found a strange stirring within him. Perhaps, he mused, he should be so bold as to introduce himself to her. As he watched the waitress in a state of  enchantment take his order, a young man dressed in typical cowboy attire and wearing a colt 45 on his hip sat down at the table next to him. It was Homers first encounter with a real cowboy and he was fascinated. Turning to the cowboy, the waitress glanced back at Homer and gave him a perky smile. There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between the East and the West. Never before had a woman shown him any interest and on top of that, just the idea of wearing a six shooter openly thrilled him.

After the waitress finished taking their orders, Homer turned to the cowboy. “Excuse me Sir,” Homer excitingly asked, “I see you are wearing the new model P Colt 45 Peacemaker, have you had a chance to shoot it much?”

The cowboy turned and stared at Homer for a moment before answering, “A few times, snakes and such. Shoots nice”

“Please, excuse me if I seem forward, I’m newly arrived from Tennessee and have an interest in fine firearms.”

“Well friend, it ain’t for sale if that’s what you want to know, took me a year’s pay drivin’’ cattle to buy it.”

“Oh no, you misunderstand Sir, I’m not interested in buying it from you, you see I am a Master Gunsmith recently arrived. I design and build rifles but have done a few revolvers too. it’s just that I admire fine arms.”

“Oh, that’s it then.” Reaching down, the cowboy removed the Colt from its holster and after emptying the cylinder of its five bullets, he handed it to Homer. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I’d hate to be robbed with my own gun!”

Taking the gun handed to him, Homer began looking at the Colt with expert eyes. “I truly meant nothing more than to ask what you thought of the Colt. It was for my personal interest only. The machining is of an excellent quality. Did you have it custom engraved?”

“Yup,  they come plain but the man I bought it from is also an engraver so he did the designs on it.”

“It’s beautiful Mr..? Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself.”  Handing the revolver back to the cowboy grip first, Homer spoke, “My name is Homer Goldstein, and yours is?,”

“Jesse James…” Seeing the shocked look plastering itself on Homers face, the cowboy chuckled, ” Nah, just joshin’ ya’ friend! Robert Fisher my name, folks just call me Fisher though.” Looking closely at Homer the cowboy asked, ” You a Jew or something Goldstein?”

Looking downward in disappointment Homer replied “Why yes I am. How did you guess?”

“I dunno, maybe the name, maybe the nose and thick glasses gave it away.”

“Does my being a Jew bother you? I know it did back in Tennessee. Most folks shy’d away from us Jews unless they wanted something ”

“Nope, don’t matter to me in the least. You meet all kinds on the trail and ya’ learn to trust them to watch your back. I rode with Mexicans, Negro’s, Swede’s even a number of Irishman.  Never rode with a Jew before, not that I know of anyway.”

His smile returning, Homer replied, “I guess us Jews don’t make very good cowboys, at least I never heard of one. In fact, I never met a real cowboy either.”

“Well there ya’ go, now ya’ met one. So Homer, why’d you leave… what was it, Tennessee you said? What brings you all the way out here?”

“My life. I have some bad people wanting something from me. They tried to kill me back home so I fled out West and ended up here. If they don’t chase me out here I might open my own gun works, I don’t know much about running a business but I’m very skilled at the smithing of firearms.”

“ You picked a good town Homer, nobody but miners and such come out this way. I’m here visiting my old boss. He retired from the cattle drives and settled down here after getting stove up from a Comanche arrow through his knee. I told him after I finished my last drive I’d head out this way to see how he was getting’ on, an see if he needed any help.” He started chuckling, “ I needn’t a worried though. First saloon I stopped into here was wearin’ a new sign over the door declairin’ “Under new ownership, Proprietor Dusty Plains“, that’s my bosses name. He’s doin’ just fine. Maybe my old boss could help you in opening up your place if you decide, seems he knew more about runnin’ a business than I gave him credit for. ”

“I’m sure I’d be delighted to meet his acquaintance.”

“Hopefully your trouble didn’t follow you out here, Colorado’s a good place to start over at.”

Breakfast arrived just then and as was the custom in public dining, all speaking came to a halt.

Afterward, and not wanting to become a nuisance, Homer excused himself telling Fisher he enjoyed the conversation and started to head back towards his room.

“Hey, Goldstein, wait up a second!” The voice was Fishers.

“Just out of curiosity, mind tellin’ me what room you was in upstairs?”

A moment of paranoia made his heart skip a beat but not wanting to sound rude since the cowboy seemed friendly, Homer answered, “Well, I’m staying in room 204, but why do you ask?”

More to himself than to Homer, the young cowboy mumbled, “Huh, just as I figured.”

“Figured what and why?”

Nodding his head in the direction of the stairs Fisher told him, “I saw a man leanin’ his ear against that door. I figured he was tryin’ to listen in. He wasn’t dressed like no burglar I’ve ever seen , and at the time it wasn’t none of my business  so I walked on. It was when you said something about being followed that it got me to wondering what that fella’ was doin’. Maybe it is just coincidence but maybe it ain’t.” Stepping back he appraised the tall slender man up and down. “You ain’t armed are you?”

“No, as funny as it seems I never carry a gun, even though I make them for a living.”

“Listen Goldstein, you seem like a nice fella but a bit of a green horn to how we do things here out West. Tell you what, let me open that door of yours in case that no good got himself inside while we was eatin’”

Relief showed on Homers face, “Oh, if you would I’d be so grateful. I have no friends here and I do honestly feel quite vulnerable.”

Together they took the stairs to the second floor rooms. Stopping in front of Homers room, Fisher whispered for Homer to stay aside of the door and not to enter until Fisher told him it was safe.

Taking the key from Homer, Fisher silently turned the lock and pushed the door slowly open after drawing his gun. Making no noise, Fisher turned to Homer and put the guns barrel to his lips as a warning not to speak.

Quietly swinging the door open, Fisher spotted a figure inside the room facing away from the door. A well dressed man stood bent over Homers open suitcase going through it.

“You all best have real good reason for stickin’ your paws in my friend’s baggage friend!”

The sound of Fishers icy voice took the young well dressed man by surprise. Turning quickly, he attempted to pull a small revolver from his coat pocket.

Robert Fisher, who moments before had only fired his new Colt Peacemaker at snakes and critters, fired a single well aimed hip shot into the forehead of the burglar.

Homer heard the shot and fearing for Fishers safety, ran into the room only to turn right around and vomit by the door.

“Yeah, it’s a mess alright. Can’t blame ya’ for losin’ your breakfast… bein’ from the East an all.”

“Oh my God,” Homer gagged, “his head stuffing is blown all over my room!”

“Sorry about that, maybe I shoulda’ stopped an laid a blanket down before I shot him.”

“I’m sorry, you risked your life and here I am worrying about my laundry.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, none. I’ve never seen him before but his clothes are the same style as most men wear in the larger Eastern cities.”

The well dressed corpse lay face up and partially across the bed. Fisher took his time going through all the man’s pockets. When he was satisfied with his search, he placed all the found items atop the dresser bureau. Using his fingers, Fisher poked through the belongings.

An uncashed bank draft for $500 dollars from Eastern Valley Arms in Connecticut drew Fishers interest.

“Looks like a fella’ named Amos Silver signed this draft. Does either name make any sense to you?”

“Yes, I know of both. Eastern Valley Arms is a military arms maker owned by Amos Silver out of New Haven Connecticut. They are known to have multiple long term contracts with the War Department. Some think they rig the bids to favor Eastern Valley but nothings ever been proven.  I don’t understand why he would be involved with my situation, it was that Parker fellow  from the War Department in Washington that I had the problem with.”

“The way it looks to me Homer, is This Parker fella’ may be in cahoots with this Silver person in trying to get at whatever it was that was in your letter.”

Slumping his shoulders in defeat, Homer shook his head exclaiming, “Then I’m not safe after all. If what you said is true then they’re not going to give up until they get what they want.”

“Kinda’ looks that way friend. I think I’ll stick close to you for a bit yet if you don’t mind. There may be more than just this fella’, usually is. Since they didn’t know where your trail would end, I’d say they rode on the same train as you.  All they had to do was wait and watch. When you got off, so did they.”

A clamoring of hard sloe shoes running up the stairs, ended their conversation.

An angry front desk clerk appeared in the doorway. Looking towards Homer, he demanded, “What’s going on here Mr. Goldstein, I heard… Oh my God! Did you shoot that man?”

Before Homer could answer, Fisher spoke up, “Naw, I did. Earlier I spotted this man with his ear to the door. When Mr. Goldstein and I finished our breakfast we come up here an’ discovered him burglarizing Mr. Goldstein’s room.” Pointing to the small handgun lying on the floor Fisher continued.  “When I surprised him, he tried takin’ a shot at me but I got the draw on him.”

A young man dressed as a bell hop had followed behind and spoke from the doorway. “Mr. Peebles? Should I send for the Sheriff?”

Answering the young man without turning to look his way, Peebles directed him. “Yes, and gather some cleaning supplies and get Mr. Jones, he should be at his mortuary. I want this body gone and gore cleaned up as fast as possible.”

Looking disgusted at the mess of blood and brains, clerk Peebles sternly told Homer, “I’m afraid we’ll have to charge you for cleaning up this mess and replacing the ruined wall paper Mr. Goldstein.”

Turning to Fisher, the clerk looked with distain on the cowboy, “The Sheriff will want to hold a hearing on this shooting as soon as possible. I wouldn’t leave town, whoever you are!”

Catching the acid in his comment, Fisher replied, “I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Although I’m thinkin’ when the folks stayin’ at this hotel find out their rooms ain’t safe, they’ll be high tailin’ it outa here for the place across the street.  In fact, seeing how there’ll be a rush on rooms, tell the Sheriff he can find me over there in my new room.”

The clerk looked horror stricken at the thought of all his customers fleeing his hotel for the one across the street and quickly began to back track his mouth.  “ Please, we sincerely value all our guest. I deeply apologize if I spoke rudely just now. This terrible incident must have caused you much distress, I know it did me. Let me make it up to you by giving you both a week’s stay here at the Argosy’s  expense. I’ll have a new room for you right away Mr. Goldstein.  There is no need to speak of this to our other guest, is there now?”

Replying for both of them, Fisher shuffled his feet then spoke up. “Well, if that includes meals, livery care, bath and haircuts, we might find it in us to keep shut about it. What about the Sheriff though, he’ll have it all over town after he hears what we have to say at the hearing.”

With wheels spinning inside his head, the clerk gasped, “Oh my yes, you’re right! I must catch him before he gets up here. I’m on the hearing committee so I’ll just tell him it was a private argument and you had to shoot the man in self defense…yes, that’s what I’ll tell him. Good day to you both, I need to run.”

After the clerk took to the stairs two at a time, Fisher turned to Homer. “Well, we got free room and board for a week, that’s somethin’ good that come out of this wouldn’t you say?”

“Indeed! I do feel the need for a free trim, bath and shave Mr. Fisher, would you care to join me?”

Chapter 3

An hour later found the two men each soaking in high backed copper bathing tubs. Homer and Fisher found themselves alone after the Negro bath house house boy had filled the tubs with hot water.

“So Homer, if you don’t mind me askin’, what in tarnation is it that Eastern Valley Arms wants so badly from you that they’d chase you all the way out here?”

“I guess if anyone has the right to know, it’s you. On my account, you’ve gotten yourself neck deep in my troubles. I apologize and thank you at the same time. Tomorrow I want you to go over to the bank with me. I want to show you what the fuss is all about. In fact, if you’d stay with me until I can figure a way out of all this, I’d gladly hire you to act as my guardian.”

“Kind of like your private Segundo huh?”

“If I think that means what I think it does, yes”

As the two stepped into the bank the next day, they were greeted by the owner. “Ah, Mr. Goldstein, I’m so glad you have stopped in! Earlier today, there were three men who stopped in asking if anyone fitting your description had stopped in. I lied, I told them I was unaware of anyone like that. They seemed a bit on the rough side, is everything alright?”

“Yes, all is fine and thank you for being discreet regarding my presence here.” Turning to Fisher, Homer introduced him as his private security person.

“I wish to enter your vault if I may. I need to inspect my property within it.”

“Of course Mr. Goldstein, please follow me.”

Opening the large rented drawer within the vault, Homer removed the wooden case he had carried all the way from Tennessee. Fisher stepped closer in order to see what the inside held once Homer opened it. Unlatching the two locks, Homer lifted the lid.

Fisher let out a slow whistle.

“That is one beautiful rifle my friend, but what’s so different about it that makes them folks so determined to get their hands on it?”

“This.” Homer opened a smaller box and removed one of the multi sized cartridges and handed it to Fisher.

“What in tarnation is this thing? A bullet?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The rifle is designed to fire it. If you notice, the actual bullet is a small 25 caliber projectile mounted within a modified turned down sharps style .50-90 brass cartridge.”

“Whew! I bet she’s got some punch, but ain’t other folks workin’ on similar bullets? I heard they was.

“Yes they are. The difference is this. Every cartridge made today, no matter how many grains it holds, has inside it the same explosive, black powder. This is not black powder but a chemical formula involving powdered metals, extremely reactive oxidizers and other additives that I can’t disclose. It almost triples the power of a sharps and with the smaller projectile will travel over one mile with total calculable accuracy. In fact I have tested it to over one and a half miles and it maintained a killing force.”

Fisher took one long last look and handed the cartridge back to Homer. “God, no wonder them folks want this so bad. It’d put every other gun maker out of business!”

“Yes it would!”

The new voice behind them was so unexpected they both jumped.

Before they could react to the voice, three men with guns drawn stepped forward. “I’ll take that box you have there Mr. Goldstein. I’m sorry I have to do it this way Goldstein but you left me no choice. ” Homers heart sank. It was Parker.

The tough looking no good standing next to Parker spoke up and pointed to the ceiling with the barrel of his revolver. “Put your hands up Goldstein, you too cowboy.”

“Lonny,” said Parker,” get Goldstein out of here. I got a score to settle with this rube cowboy here. He’s the one who killed Troy in the Argosy. ”

“Sure thing Parker, I’ll be waiting for you and Chuck at Old woman Creek”.  Lonny then led Goldstein out the banks rear door where he had their horses waiting. Forcing Homer to saddle up, Lonny tied his hands to the saddle horn and mounted himself behind Homer.  As they galloped away, the two fleeing riders heard the gunshots. Homer knew his newly found friend had just been killed.

Chapter 4

Fisher, Parker and Chuck heard the pounding of hooves as Lonny and Goldstein galloped off. It was then that Fisher made his move. Even he was surprised at the speed at which his Colt Peacemaker left the holster. The two had let Lonny’s leaving distract them ever so slightly. Before they could return their barrels onto Fisher, his Colt was rapid firing its deadly lead.

Fisher aimed first at the hard case standing to Parkers left. His gun was aimed closer to Fisher than was Parkers. The Peacemaker lived up to all that it was known for. Two quick shots plowed into Chucks gut. Before Parker could pull back his hammer the Colt Peacemaker exploded once again. This bullet hit the side of Parkers own gun. Knocking the barrel aside, the lead bullet continued traveling. It entered Parker just above the wrist. Once inside his arm it drilled it way through the arm until it explosively exited from the elbow.

Parkers look of shock matched that of his hired gun Chuck. For safety, Fisher always left the chamber empty under the hammer empty. With only two rounds left in the six shooter, Fisher returned the Peacemaker back to Chuck.

Chuck, doubling over from the two gut shots, leaned forward and saw himself staring down the 45’s barrel. The last thing he saw was the flame. The next thing he saw was God.

Parker let out a terrible scream as the bullet left his arm. The pistol fell to the floor but not before Fishers last bullet had already left the barrel. Parker, always one to dress well and hair meticulously groomed, would have felt chagrined at finding out that his funeral had to be a closed casket affair.

Holstering the Peacemaker and grabbing the precious case, Fisher jumped over the body of the hard case known as Chuck and ran into the banks teller area. There he spotted the bank owner lying on the floor unconscious. A teller lay sprawled out near him. Whether dead or alive, Fisher had no time to find out.

Once out the rear door, he mounted up on Parkers horse… either stolen or rented. It was now Fishers.

The horse jolted forward as if electrified. Running at a full gallop, Fisher knew Lonny had a good lead on him. Knowing a hand gun was near useless in a chase on horseback, Fisher began unpacking the rifle from its case on the run.

Within ten minutes Fisher reached the plains just east of the South Platte River where he spotted Lonny and Homer racing away in the distance.

“Damn! I got to stop them before they get to that rise up ahead.”

Once the two crested the rise, Lonny could stop on the other side and set up an ambush. The chase was beginning to seem like an effort in futility.

It was do or die Fisher decided. He then did something that screamed insanity, he stopped and dismounted.

Finding a large stone about a foot high, Fisher laid down prone behind it. Taking a cartridge from the flat ammo case, Fisher loaded the chamber and shot the bolt home. Resting the rifle barrel atop the rock to steady it, Fisher looked down the sight trying to sight in on the riders ahead. Since Homer had mentioned that he had fired it at a distance of over a mile, Fisher was counting on that it was still sighted in at that distance.

Slowing his breathing he found his target. He considered the distance and lifted the barrel. It was all a guessing game. He felt a slight breeze coming from the Platte River so he moved the barrel to the left. Even after pulling the trigger, it would take the projectile over five seconds to reach his target. All these thoughts spun in Fishers head as he compensated his aim for the variables.

All this took time and with panic rising, he saw Lonny’s horse start the climb up the fifty foot high slope.

Just as he was pulling the trigger, the thought entered his thinking that since this bullet had three times the punch of a normal bullet, it just may travel completely through Lonny killing Homer. As he pulled the trigger, in response to this fear he pulled the barrel up. It wasn’t much, just a micro amount but Fishers heart sank knowing the shot would now travel over their heads.

It was at that moment that Lonny’s horse made it to the crest. Then Lonny did something unusual. He stopped on top of the crest and turned around facing Fishers direction. In horror, Fisher saw that now Homer sat in the direct path of the bullet. Five seconds turned into hours.  At last he saw Lonny lift his firearm skyward in a wave to ridicule the stopped Fisher. Lonny had assumed that Fisher had given up.

As Lonny raised his firearm he opened his mouth and yelled a curse at the dismounted rider over a mile away. Laughing he leaned forward causing Homer to bend forward. It was in the middle of his second set of curses that Homer heard the most unusual sound above and behind him. It was the bullet traveling faster than any bullet previously made . It tore open the air like an exploding lightning bolt.  The sound the near white hot projectile had been making suddenly ended in a burst of sound similar to an exploding pumpkin.

Lonny had nothing to say about it seeing as the projectile had entered his mouth mid curse and disintegrated the entire back of his head. Lonny didn’t slowly roll off his horse, instead it looked as if he was yanked violently backwards out of the saddle.

Turning to see what was happening, Homer watched as Lonny landed ten feet behind his horse. With his thick lenses, Homer could not see well enough to view Fisher clearly but he knew by the sound of the bullet that not only was it his invented cartridge that had been fired and killed Lonny but it could only have been fired by Fisher. Somehow, Fisher had made it out alive after all!

Feeling a world of trouble being lifted off his shoulders, Homer headed down the slope at an easy gait to meet up with the only friend he had ever made. Smiling widely as Fisher came into view, Homer watched Fisher jumping up and down and laughing as he waved his hat around his head.  Homers grin widened to the point that it hurt his face.

Riding back to town side by side, the two talked of Homers next move. ” Tanks to you, I am able to open my own place now that I’m sure its safe. How would you feel about me asking you to stay and help me set it up and run it?”

“I ain’t got much else goin’ on, the railroad and barb wire’s putting a real pinch on cattle drives.” Turning to Homer he reached over and gave him his hand. “Sure Homer, I’d be honored. By the way, does job that include any pay by chance?”

Gripping his friends hand he gave it a firm shake, “A man can’t work for free Fisher, let’s head over to the Argosy for dinner and we’ll hammer out the details.”

Slowly, a wispy smile crossed over Homers face as the memory of the tall skinny waitress smiling over at him at the Argosy entered his thoughts.

“Yes Sir Fisher, I do believe we have a future here, a real nice one too!”

An Arizona Cowboy named “El Negro”

 

Forward

Few records of black Cowboys have made it to the present day intact. In truth, most all records of trail driving cowboys are nonexistent. The reasons vary but simply put, the Eastern press was more interested in Dime novel hero’s than every day working cow punchers.

In a past blog, I wrote of Charles Goodnight from the great State of Texas and his contributions to the West. Goodnight not only preserved the cowpuncher life on paper in writings but he used photography (stills and movies) to document it all. While Goodnight preserved history on film, the artist Charles Russel, captured it on canvas. Without these two and others who saw fit to shy away from exploitation, we would have few truthful facts of our Western past.

What is known as fact, is that at one point over 5,000 cowboys out West were black. Many were slaves or sons of slaves that previously escaped the Southern plantations before the war and headed into Mexico. While in Mexico, they learned the art of horsemanship and cattle wrangling from the Mexican cattle ranchers on large haciendas.

While the Mexican Vaquero Cowboys were considered excellent wranglers in Mexico, in Texas and other western States they were looked upon as lazy and inept, too concerned about their wardrobe and not enough on actual labor. In truth, many Mexican wranglers did in fact quit the trail drives before reaching their destination. Why? Possibly the weather, possibly the trail drive life itself. Much more likely though it was a cultural thing. While many were the butt end of jokes for their fancy dudes or their lack of, Mexicans did not need to drive their cattle any great distance to market. In Mexico, a hundred mile drive was considered a long drive while in the Western States, a thousand mile drive was not out of the question. The vaquero was not used to camping out for months at a time.

After the Civil war, many slaves who had escaped slavery by heading into Mexico, headed back into the western states looking for work on the cattle drives. Their experience in wrangling and their willingness to work hard were much appreciated by both the trail boss and their fellow white wranglers. True, there was still discrimination of sorts but it was more a cultural segregation rather than a dislike for the blacks in general. Whites had their way of enjoying their off time as did the blacks.  On the trail, discrimination was not in evidence as much as in town. On the trail, the value of the cowboy was determined by his experience, abilities and willingness to put in a long day without complaint. All hands ate together, rode herd together, entertained each other in song and doctored each other without consideration of race. These values did not transfer to conditions in many towns though. In town, each race generally went their own way and a Black cowboy was pretty much expected to follow many protocols formed by southern values while in town . Blacks were expected to bed black whores, drink in saloons that served “greasers” (Mexicans), Blacks and the town’s less fortunate folk. The more “civilized” the town was, the greater the segregation. Mining camp towns were much more liberal. This might have been due to the fact that many miners were from Europe and China and were considered low lifers anyway.

Before one judges the Western States too harshly though, facts show that those Blacks living in the East experienced much fewer personal freedoms and dealt with more open hostility than those who worked on the Western Trails.

Many a firm bond of friendship was formed on the trail. There are documented examples of cowboys of different race becoming “pards” (best friends for life) and even business partners. Race played little part in their friendship. Each described the other as,”one to ride the river with”. (it was the highest of compliments given in the days of the Old West).

This is a story based on one of those friendships. While I tried my best to discover and tie together  as many facts as possible, I regret that much of it had to be interpreted through the eye of poetic license and my own imagination. Still, the photos and places are real as is the lone Cowboy buried under the sky of Arizona.

Chapter 1

The old Apache Trail corral as it looks today.

The first of the eighty five head of cattle topped the rise on the mountain trail and began their march downhill towards the rickety creosote drenched wooden cattle pen below.  Having scoured the hills and arroyo’s west of Fish Creek in the Arizona Territory for the last three weeks, the three wranglers drove the J_E branded cattle they found down the trail they called the New Wagon Trail (Now named the Apache Trail or State Rt 88 out of Apache Junction just east of Pheonix).

Fifty five of the fattest beeves rounded up would be sent off to the market at Mesa, the rest would be driven a short distance to graze on better grass to fatten up. The fifty five head sold would help pay some of the J Bar E’s ranching bills and put some jingle of coin in everyone’s pocket.

As trail drives went, it was a short one. Once the cattle were rounded up and corralled near the Superstition Mountains, only twenty miles remained. Rounding the beeves up and getting them gathered at the separating corral though was another story.  First, one had to find the beast hidden among the mountainous crags and peaks, then try and convince it to leave the protection of high brush, cacti, rock formations and mesquite trees for the open trail. Second, the Wranglers had to keep them from wondering off on their own as they were driven.

The three J Bar E hands, two brothers and the son of runaway slaves, yipped and howled at the cattle as they made their way downhill to the open gated pen below.  Once the cattle were penned up, the three could pitch a tent, eat a real meal and let down their guard a bit. They knew within a day or two the rest of the J Bar E hands would arrive from the ranch to help drive the cattle into town.

While most Yavapai and Apache Indians had been moved north into the territory near Fort McDowell, enough still remained hidden in the mountains to be cause for concern.

In most cases, the Indians still hidden in the Superstition Mountains kept to themselves. There were however the inevitable run in’s with ranchers and miners. Sometimes a gift of a cow or two given to the band would be sufficient to stave off any violence, other times a few gunshots directed their way would suffice.  And sometimes there was a killing needed.

The two brothers, Cody and Shane Clemans had been hands on the J Bar E ranch for nearly fifteen years. Neither could tell you their exact age but it was known Cody was the oldest by a year. It was thought they were in their early forties. Both brothers were of wiry build. No taller than six inches over five feet, they yet had the strength and endurance that surprised many. Neither were married and had no inclination to ever being so. Like many other area cow pokes, a trip now and then to the copper mining town of Globe or the flat dusty town of Mesa satisfied any carnal needs at the local whore house.

The brothers were simple men with simple needs. To the Clemans, right was right, wrong was wrong and there was no need for the color grey.  While Shane owned the only Bible, both believed it was the word of God and the way to salvation but neither had ever been inside a church. The two accepted their lonely roles in life from atop of a saddle and never complained of their station. They rarely socialized with other groups but had a common friend they called Elly.

Elly was black. As black as coal is to marble. Unlike many Negro’s, Elly had no brown whatsoever in him. His heritage was Mexican, his ancestry African.

Elly’s parents had fled slavery in 1850 from Virginia with their infant son Ebenezer. They made their way on foot to Mexico by skimming the coastal areas of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The trip took two and a half years to complete. In the swamps of Georgia, Ebenezer fell victim to swamp fever and passed away. He was buried alongside the banks of the Ogeechee River.  The parents continued on to Mexico abstaining from intimacy along the way to prevent further pregnancies while on the run.

Elly was born and grew up in Guasave, Mexico where his parents named him El Negro… “The Black One”.  He spoke excellent Spanish as well as English and an African tribal language taught to him by his parents.  He had no siblings and when his parents passed away he was left alone.  At the age of twenty two, the War between the States ended and Elly made up his mind to leave the Hacienda he was employed at and  head north into the United States.

Smartly dressed in the Vaquero fashion he reached the Arizona territory. There he found employment at the recently formed J Bar E ranch. Folks at the J Bar E took to him right off even if they had reservations about calling him, “El Negro”.  To ease their discomfort, Elly told them to just call him Elly. Everyone breathed easier after that. They admired his roping skills and determination to see a job well done. While many cowhands shied away from work off of the saddle, Elly had no such qualms. He appreciated the fact that hard work made him a valuable hand.

Within a year of starting his employment, the owner of the J Bar E ranch built comfortable wooden bunk houses for his hands. No one made a fuss when Elly threw his bedroll onto a top bunk in one of the bunk houses and then told everyone he chose that bed because he was afraid of being pancaked  if the whole thing collapsed. The only comment was from his bunk mate below who asked in good humor if Elly ever wet the bed. “I don’t need no watering, I ain’t no plant!” Elly was easy going and had a quick smile. He took a ribbing and gave it out in equal amounts.

The hands at the ranch were not immune from Elly’s practical jokes nor was Elly immune from theirs. A respect had been formed for the young black man among all the hands. In particular, the two Clemans brothers seemed to gravitate to Elly’s company.

In a short time, the three were inseparable in work and play.  The Ranches in the area got to know Elly too and had no qualms with “ El Negro” showing up at social functions and get together’s thrown by them.

 

Chapter 2

“Shane!” Elly shouted, “Drop back and scoot that brindle cow back onto the trail, she’s lookin’ to head into that high brush over yonder!”

Shane yanked the reigns left to head off the escaping brindle cow.”Yee cow, Yee ha, git on cow!” Shane yelled while twirling his lariat rope in circles to frighten the cow back onto the trail. Once the brindle was back with the heard, Shane pulled up again alongside the cows.  Whacking his lariat loudly against his chaps, he kept the attention of the heard focused in heading to the corral below. “I sure am glad to see that pen!” Cody commented, “I’ll go on ahead and raise the barrier pole to guide ‘em on in.”

Cody spurred on ahead in order to reach the corral and lift the long wooden pine tree pole in place. The pole extended the gates length giving it a funneling effect. “C’mon cow! Git on down there,” Elly and the Shane shouted as the herd picked up speed as they sensed an end to their travels.

Quickly, the herd made it to the trails bottom where a short rock strewn trail led to the corral. Cody held up the rail while Elly and Shane pushed the cattle towards the open gate and into the pen. A small stream not thirty feet from the backside of the corral gave birth to the corrals location alongside the Apache Trail. Once inside the corral, the cattle moved in a clockwise motion calming them down.

An empty wooden water trough and pail stood at the far end of the corral  where the stream was closest. The three waited until the cattle had settled a bit before filling the trough from a small nearby stream fire bucket brigade style. Once watered, the cattle seemed content to stare vacant eyed at the three as the made camp.

That night after a meal consisting of Cowboy beans*, bacon, biscuits and coffee, Elly brought out a small tinned can of buttermilk. The three friends sat across from each other as the campfire dwindled to glowing coals. Sitting cross legged, Elly raised the buttermilk tin as if to make a toast, “Ah…buttermilk,  the true gift of the cow gods! “

Elly removed his left boot and  using the rowel of his spur, he punched a hole in the tin can’s top and lifted the can to his lips. After taking a long swig, Elly put the half empty can down next to where he sat and placed a flat stone on it’s top and told his friends, “…Keeps the scorpions out’a my milk at night.”

Cody pointed to the can and asked, “Y’all gonna finish it off in the morning then? Won’t it be spoilt by then?”

“Shoot, it’s already spoilt Cody. Go ahead, Elly, let’m smell that stuff.”

“It ain’t already spoilt, just smells that way.” Elly responded.

“Then why drink it if it smells so bad,” asked Cody.

“If the two of you hadn’t been raised by a she badger, your Mama would have introduced you to the cow gods nectar when you was young. That’s the thing. You gotta start drinkin’ it young. At your ages, what are you two now, 97…104? Anyway, at your ages that ‘ol slab of leather you two call your tongues couldn’t  rightly tell the difference between a lemon and a cows butt hole!”

“Speaking of butt holes,” Shane said, I can still remember years ago when we met, the trick old John Morrow played on you the first night we all met.”

“What was that? Asked Cody.

“Shoot Code, you remember don’t you? About the North star?”

Elly sat grinning at the fire and chuckled, “Hell, if he don’t, I do! I can’t believe I fell for that one.”

“Be pals an’ remind me.”

Elly looked over at Shane and nodded saying, “You tell ‘em Shane, I ain’t one to add to my own foolishness.”

“Well”, started Shane, When we all set up that first night at the J Bar E, Old John Morrow was ranch boss back then.  You remember Ol’ John don’t you Cody?”

“Sure, he was one man I thought would never die…too tuff. He probably went on down ‘an beat ‘Ol Satans ass then took over hell for himself!”

“Yup,” Elly said, “that was old John all right, but he had a sense of humor too.”

“He sure did. Come time to hand out job duties, ‘Ol John asked Elly here if he knew how to tell the time of night by the stars. Now, Elly here is one smart Mexican transplant but he’d never knowed about readin’ the star clock back in Mexico. So ‘Ol John Morrow says to Elly, “I want you to take first watch.” He then points at the North Star and says to Elly, “When that there star sinks down below the horizon, it’ll be time to change watches. When it does, come and wake me ‘an I’ll take your place. Then you can sleep like a baby till sunrise”.  Well, that sounded just grand to Elly here. If you recall, that first day we all busted butt and was pretty much wiped out.

So, there sat Elly, hour after hour watchin’ an’ waiting for the North Star to sink itself below the horizon when up comes the sun! ‘Ol John come out his bed role yawning like a newborn calf ‘an walks on over to Elly and says, “Well?” Elly responds, “I don’t know what happened Mr. Morrow, I watched that there star all night like you wanted me to but she never moved!”  By now the others was up ‘an movin’about and had heard the conversation. They all fell over laughin and carryin’ on. Elly sat there lookin’ confused when ‘Ol John tells him. “Son, I was yankin’ yo’ leg! That ‘ol star is the North Star ‘an she ain’t never gonna move from that there spot! But thanks for standin my watch, I sure did enjoy getting’ myself a full nights sleep!”

The three sat laughing at the thought as the moon rose over the desert causing the coyotes to yip and yelp and the cattle moo’d contentedly in return.

Chapter 3

Morning broke and Elly was the first to open his eyes. What he saw froze him in his bed role. Indians.

As quietly as he could, Elly spoke through unmoving lips trying to wake and warn his two friends. “Shane, Cody, wake up, wake up but don’t move…Indians!”

Cody popped his eyes open and moving only his eyes looked up the trail where they had come from. There he saw what Elly had been warning them of. Four Indians on horseback sat on the rise looking down on them.

“They look like Apache” Cody whispered to Elly. “Either that or Yavapai. I hope they’re Yavapai, they’s  somewhat friendly to whites.”

“How do they feel about negro’s? “ Elly whispered back.

“Sorry, you know what I meant Elly.”

“Yea, just trying to calm my nerves by bein’ funny. You think we should wake up now?”

Without answering, Cody rose up and stood looking at the group on the rise. When no one reacted to his movement, Cody strode over to Shane and nudged him with his foot. “Shane, wake up bro. We may have some trouble comin’ on. Take a look up yonder at the rise in the trail.”

Shane rose and stood next to the now standing Elly.

“What do you think El?”

“Beats me, that one fella there that looks like he’s had a bad night’s sleep got a nice Henry long gun on his lap though. The others look less aggressive but don’t let that fool nobody.”

“Look, here they come an’ our rifles are still over there by the saddles from last night.”

“Cody”, said Elly, “You’re just full of good news this mornin’ ain’t you?”

The four Indians slowly made their way into the camp. Shane raised his hand in greeting. The four stopped fifteen feet from the trio.

As luck would have it, the one who Elly had said looked as if he had a bad night’s sleep moved forward.

Stopping less than the length of a man away, the foul looking leader pointed his Henry rifle at the cattle and said. “Want cattle.”

Elly stepped forward saying, “Well friend, if you’re interested in buying…”

The rifle moved from the cattle to face Elly. “Chookna want all cattle. Give.”

“They’s J Bar E brand Chookna, they ain’t mine to give or sell.”

The leaders dark face became red with anger. Shane swore later it turned purple.

“Chookna take, you go.”

“I ain’t goin’ no where’s without my cattle friend.” Elly replied,” Now if you had asked nice like I might’a looked the other way while you drove one or two off. But now you’re pissin’ in my boot an’ I don’t take to that.”

Losing face, Chookna quickly turned in the saddle to speak to those behind him. As he did so, his horse took that moment to shift from one front leg to another causing Chookna to partially lose his balance.

He grabbed the reigns and in the process of twisting back to face Elly, began losing the grip on his rifle. The Henry slipped further and as Chookna grabbed for it he hit the trigger.

One can think of a million reactions to seeing their best friend’s life snuffed out before your very eyes but until that day ever happens, whatever you thought you’d do isn’t what’s going happen.

The three Indians behind Chookna sat wide eyed and jaw dropped.

Cody stood staring in unbelief at his friend laying on the ground as Elly’s legs shook violently then stilled.

Chookna realizing his mistake opted to act as if it were all  Elly’s fault. “Teach dirty Nigger give cattle. No anger Chookna”.

Shane went insane.

Without even a pocket knife to attack with, Shane resorted to his hands to avenge his friend’s death. Having been using the corral fence to lean on, Shane now turned to it. Grabbing the old weathered top rail, Shane tore off a six foot splintered piece and ran headlong to where Chookna still sat smugly on his horse. Screaming and pointing the splinter as a spear he ran and yelled, “He ain’t no Nigger damn your heathen ass!” Before Chookna could react, the six foot long splinter entered his throat. As Chookna’s eyes widened in surprise, the pointed splinter continued its journey until over a foot protruded past the back of his head. With only a gurgle, Chookna slid off his horse and lay on the ground.  The smell of blood frightened the horse causing it to stomp onto Chookna’s head. The sound was like a melon being dropped.

Within seconds of Chookna’s death. Shane and Cody were at Elly’s side. Both knew Elly was gone. But that didn’t prevent Cody from lifting his friends head onto his lap. Rocking Elly back and forth as one would rock a baby, Cody grieved. So profound was Cody’s grieving moans, the three remaining Indians dismounted and with looks of shock and tears streaming, joined Cody in his grief. When he could, Shane took Cody by the hand and led him off to regain what composure he could, Shane then turned to the Indians still kneeling alongside Elly.

An old Indian lifted his tear stained face and spread his hands out towards the other two. “No want kill man. Want eat cattle. Hungry. Young hungry. No can buy.  Please. Forgive.”

Shane’s rage cooled as he realized the Indian before him had no intention of causing anyone harm nor had they intended to. It really was just a horrible accident. What he could not forgive was Chookna calling Elly a dirty Nigger. He knew the type of person Chookna was, he’d seen it in whites plenty of times… they were called cowards and bullies.

Having regained some composure, Cody stepped up to Shane and the grieving Indian and asked Shane. “What we gonna do now Shane? Oh God I can’t believe this happened. Oh my God, poor Elly.”

Ignoring the Indian standing next to him for the moment, Shane stepped over and bent down to straighten his friends clothing. Death being what it is does not mean you still can’t be cared for. After fixing Elly’s collar, he removed his own bandanna and placed it over the gaping chest wound. He brushed the dust from Elly’s short kinky hair and using his hand, closed Elly’s eyes.

“Should we bring Elly back to the ranch Shane?”

“No, it’s a two day ride back. Besides, the rest of the hands are headed our way here. No tellin’ who would be left at the ranch when we arrived.”

Cody nodded his head in agreement,” That and it’s well over a hundred out here.  Elly’d never make it back proper like. As far as I know, Elly had no kin. We was his only real friends.”

“True Cody, then let’s bury him right here where we had us a good time tellin’ tales last night. I think He’d like that.”

“Yeah, we did us a bunch of laughing for sure. I know he only knew about cattle, so bein’ near the cow pen’ll be good too.”

Before Shane could answer Cody in agreement, the Indian who had spoken earlier approached Shane.

He held out his two hands as if they had been tied together. “Jail. Fort MaDoowl. Kill man, kill Appapka.

“What are you sayin? You want me to take you to Fort McDowell so they could hang you? You didn’t do nothin’.”

The Indian looked flustered, “Appapka talk sad.” Pointing to his two friends the Indian repeated. “Talk sad. No kill man. Cattle for young.  I trade Appapka for cattle.

“What? You want to trade yourself for a few lousy cow?”

Shane reached over and turned Cody to face him. “Cody, what I think we got here is a group of Indians starving to death somewhere in the hills tryin’ their best to avoid bein’ sent to the Reservation. Appapka here is willing to trade himself to be hung for Chookna’s killin of Elly. He ask that we give him a cow in return. Not for him mind you but for those kids they got starvin’ up there in the hills somewhere. Right is right and wrong is wrong Cody. I can’t set the value of anyone’s life under that of a cow. We can’t do a dang thing for Elly, but we can pass on some good from all this by helpin’ this here group out. Savages or not,  I’m for given ‘em a few head and forgiven ‘Ol dead Chookna here so it don’t weigh upon my soul.”

“We ain’t done nothin’ in our life to be ashamed of, Let’s not start now Shane. I’m with ya’ in this. Let’s tell these folk to haul Chookna on out’a here, give ‘em a few head and let bygones be gone for good. We need to tend to Elly here and it’s gonna be a scorcher come an hour from now.”

Between sign and broken English Cody and Shane conveyed their intentions to the three Indians.  As they were heading off with three cows, one of the Indians that had stayed silent through the entire process stopped his horse, dismounted and ran back to where Cody and Shane stood watching them go.

“Allanipi  speak small your tongue. I have young one. Him Gunaratna, no cattle,Gunaratna die. Me, Allanipi die.” With that he reached out and grabbed Shane by the arm and squeezed it tightly then reached out and placed his hand over Shane’s heart, then placed the same hand over his own heart and smiled.

“You’re welcome Allanipi. Maybe someday we’ll bump on into each other along the trail. If we do introduce me to your son Gunaratna.”

Allanipi looked a tad confused by Shanes long words but smiled anyway, turned and caught up to the others.

Left alone, Shane and Cody suddenly felt the weight of Elly’s death upon them. Without speaking more than a few words, they went about digging a grave near the corral. The desert being what it is, they could dig no more than a couple feet down before hitting bedrock. They spent the afternoon in the intense heat looking for suitable stones to cover Elly’s grave with.

“Well, I think we gathered enough stone Shane, let’s say goodbye to him and cover him up.”

“Yeah, I just still can’t believe all this happened. If only Elly was standin’ a couple more feet right or left, he’d be alive right now.”

“That’s the way it is bro. Both you ‘an I someday will be laid down ‘an if we’s lucky, someone will be sayin’ the same thing over our graves too.”

They placed Elly into the shallow grave, covered him with his bedroll and patted where his head was before placing dirt then the stones on top of him. When it was all done Shane said. “I wish I had my Bible. I feel we should say some words over him or somethin’.”

“You go ahead Shane, you memorized more of the Lords word than I ever did. I got myself another idea though for sayin’ goodbye to him.”

So Shane spoke the Lords words of passin’ through the valley of death as best as he remembered while Cody nodded in agreement.

As Shane turned to walk away, Cody said, “ Not yet Shane, I got somethin’ here I want to give ‘Ol Elly.”

Cody walked over to where Elly had put his can of buttermilk with the rock on top and picked it up.

“Seems only fittin’ that he have somethin’ he liked a lot to be with him.” At that Cody poured the half full warm can of buttermilk into the pile of stones that covered Elly. “Here ya’ go old friend, drink up an’ may you never get thirsty again. May the Good Lord have plenty more of these up there in Heaven.”

The two stood there for a moment before Shane replied, “That was nice Cody, real nice. Elly’d be happy the way we sent him off that way.” After saying that, Cody secured the empty buttermilk can within the stone pile so animals couldn’t dislodge it.

That evening the rest of the J Bar E ranch hands showed up earlier than expected at the corral. Saddened by the news, each paid their respects over Elly. By mornings light the corral stood empty. A cloud of dust a few miles away told any onlooker that the J Bar E ranch had moved the herd out.  Only Elly was left behind to watch over the empty corral.

Before saddling up and heading out. Shane took the time to carve Elly’s name and birthplace in one of the corral’s planks near Elly’s grave for his grave marker. Meanwhile, Cody had thought to add his and Shane’s name on another plank to let folks know that they were El Negro’s forever pards.

Today, that old corral could still hold a herd…with a few minor repairs. Nearby, partially hidden under a small desert tree and scrub lies Elly’s remains along with an old buttermilk can still stuck within the stones. Through internet research, it was determined the construction of that style of can by it’s solder joints and bottom lid  dated between the years 1879 and 1887. Over the years others have found and carved their names into the corral. Those, like the grave of El Negro, Cody and  Shane are still perfectly legible as their knives would etch off the old creosote exposing the still fresh looking yellow Poderosa Pine underneath.

The latest date was carved into the old fence rail was from S. C. in 1938…Shane Clemans?

Elly’s grave as it looks today.

Elly’s buttermilk can. I moved it for the photo but replaced it afterward.

The desert’s dry heat has been good to Elly’s marker.

The only evidence that Shane and Cody Clemans ever wrangled near the Apache Trail.

* The recipe for real Cowboy Beans is now posted on my heritage and trail cooking blog at : http://cookingonthetrail.wordpress.com/

The lesser of all evils

In response to one reader’s thoughtful advice, the story originally titled, “The loathsome Sheriff of Arapahoe Junction” has been renamed, “The lesser of all evils”. Thank you my dear friend for your valued suggestion. This story is dedicated to you.

Prologue

For some reason the good Lord puts people on this celestial ball that by all rights and means shoulda’ never been placed here. Sheriff Maurice Du Bois was one of these.

Poking the evening cook fire with a stick and stirring the embers until flames gave new life to the campfire coals, John, the trail cook settled the blackened coffee pot back onto the rekindled flames. Sitting there tilting, it boiled up a fresh pot of coffee. He continued his tale to the group of cowhands and told them of the territory they were now passing through.

“A couple decades ago, These parts had folks livin’ around here. Hooking his thumb over his right shoulder he told them, “ Beyond that rise out there, was a small mining town called Arapahoe Junction. There’s nothin’ left there now but a few snake infested dilapidated buildings and the bones of mostly innocent folk.”  Stopping to pause, The cook’s eyes took on a tired sadness as the memories came flooding back to him.

“ I rode through there a few years back. I needed to see what remained. Other than some leaning building frames and sun bleached planks lying about, there’s nothing that would ever say it was my home or anybody else’s.  As towns went, it wasn’t a bustling one but it weren’t no tent town either. We had a dry goods store, livery, saloons, a couple of bordello’s book ending the town. It coulda’ grow’d into a real nice town ‘cepting for the Sheriff.  Yes Sir, that was one evil man. He needed killin’ something real  bad. I ain’t ashamed to say that my brother, me and a few others took to doing it. It’s kinda’ ironic actually. In trying to save the town, we ended up killing it!”

Chapter 1

Known to be a gambler, a womanizer and a low down skunk, Maurice Du Bois took pride in being all three. Born in France, he and his parents had relocated to New Orleans after being accused of counterfeiting French bank notes. The Gypsy telegraph (word of mouth between thieves) warned the family of an impending arrest and they made their escape by ship to America that night.

Stepping down from the freight hauler where he had hitched a free ride, Du Bois grabbed his carpet bag from the wagon’s bed and stood there taking in the sight before him.

Six months earlier, the New Orleans Bee had run a front page story about the gold strike at Pikes Peak out in Colorado. Knowing the easy gold was in a miners pouch and not in the earth, he immediately made plans to acquire as much gold from the hard working men as he could.

The freight wagon’s muleteer had lost badly at Du Bois crooked card game back in New Orleans.

Feigning sympathy for the unfortunate driver, Maurice Du Bois offered to trade the debt owed by the Muleteer in exchange for his free passage out west. Having been thoroughly schooled by his Gypsy parents in the art of sleight of hand, Maurice Du Bois packed his marked cards, loaded dice and said Au voir to his crooked parents. Curses and insults were thrown after him by the old couple as the freight wagon carrying their golden egg and hoped for source of retirement income, began its slow motion westward to the gold fields without them.

Having traveled for weeks, the freight wagon last stop was only thirty miles south east of Pikes Peak. There at the promising town of Arapahoe Junction, Du Bois ended his journey.

While many of the buildings were still large canvas tents whose wooden fronts imitated real structures, there were enough solidly built structures being built to convince Du Bois that plenty of real money was being dug out from the nearby hills in the form of gold.

Taking in the town as he walked toward what he was told was the least expensive hotel, Du Bois kept his eyes peeled for saloons that would cater to a gambler such as himself. Stopping first into the barber shop he paid for a shave and had his black coat brushed clean by the man’s wife. After his cut and shave and smelling of Bay Rum astringent, he straightened the ruffles on his French cuffed shirt and placed his black flat brimmed hat neatly onto his head with a tilt. Looking at his reflection in the barber shop mirror, He smiled showing his teeth. Satisfied he was the gambler extraordinaire he walked on out.

Reaching the end of the town he spotted a bordello whose twin mirrored itself at the other end of town. Next to this one sat the Nugget saloon.

Entering the Nugget, Du Bois spotted a game of Faro in progress. Instead of heading to the gaming table, Du Bois sidled up to the bar.

“What’ll it be friend?” Asked the middle aged, mustachioed  bartender

Placing two bits on the bar, Du Bois responded, “Whiskey, just a glass of it.”

The bar tender filled a glass partway and slid it over to Du Bois and pointed to the quarter dollar piece on the bar.  “It’s fifty cents.”

With a silent look of disgust, Du Bois reached into his money pouch and removed a silver fifty cent piece. Laying it down he reclaimed the quarter dollar. “For fifty cents this better not be snake juice.”

“It ain’t the best but I’ve sold worse. It’s a mining town friend, like it or lump it, that’s the way it is.”

Du Bois remembered thinking back in New Orleans that it was going to be easy to skin the miners of their cash by gambling. He decided if that’s all he did here, he’d never get rich. But right now he needed a nest egg to do what needed to be done and some pocket money.

Making his way over to the faro game, he waited until an overweight, balding  man dressed in a conservatively cut wool  suit stood up and tossed his cards down. “I’m done for Gents, Lady Luck isn’t looking my way today.” Then, leaning over to the man holding the deck of cards and pointing to the pile of cash, he quietly told him. “Wilkins, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get my rent, that’s it there laying in that pile in front of you.”

Wilkins nodded but before he could answer back, Du Bois grabbed the chair by the back, pulled it out and slid into it before the portly man had barely cleared the table. “Games still open Wilkins? Names Maurice, Maurice Du Bois, I’m fresh out of New Orleans.

The gentleman named Wilkins, spoke up as he reached for the cards. “Well?  What game is it Mr. Du Bois? Five Card Monte? Faro? You name the game we’ll play it.”

By five in the morning there was only one player left at the table besides Du Bois and he was fighting against the ropes. All the other players had thrown in and went home to upset wives or next door to the soiled doves. Fueled by a night of high stakes adrenalin and whiskey, Wilkins concentration began faltering with each new drink. The once swollen pile of cash in front of him now consisted of just a few coins.

Chapter 2

“You’ve got a hell of a lucky streak mister, I’d be fool to call you a cheat but danged if I can see how you did it. You’re good, real good. I know all the tricks, or thought I did until now. If I would’ve caught you even once, I’d have blown you outa’ your chair.” Pulling a sawed off shot gun with its stock cut like a pistol  from under the table, he laid it in front of him. “No need to fear Du Bois, like I say, it would’ve all ready happened. But to satisfy my curiosity, play me one more game, this time a hand of Poker, no raising, just a straight hand with a two card draw. I haven’t the cash left, but I do have a deed I’m willing to put up. I’m so convinced you somehow fixed these games that I’m willing to bet this deed that I was right.”

Normally, Du Bois would have feigned offense to the insinuation that he was a cheat but his own curiosity was now peeked.

With a chiding chuckle Du Bois asked, “What’s the deed to? Your ramshackle cabin on a spread of tumble weeds? A played out gold mine? Your Mama’s house?”

Sitting back in his chair, the gambler who had invited Du Bois to the table smugly remarked, “No Mister Du Bois, it’s the deed to over half this town.”

“The town? What the hell do you mean, the town?” “

“Just that Du Bois, you see, I own the majority of the land this town sits on. Sure, I’m in negotiations to sell it to the town committee who wants to legally annex it for the town, but until that time comes, it’s still mine to do as I please”

“I never heard of such a thing, what do I have to put up in exchange?”

With whisky induced confidence, Wilkins replied, “All the cash you cleaned out of those sucker’s pockets tonight. So what do you say Du Bois, are you game?”

Du Bois knew it was make or break time. Cheating was out of the question. The simpler the game was, the harder it was to find ways to cheat. “You deal and I’ll cut”

The game was quick, too quick for Wilkins. In his hand he held three deuces, on the table in front of Du Bois lay three kings. To Du Bois own amazement, he had won fair and square.

Wilkins sat stunned. His anger and bravado ebbed away as he realized what he had just done. Slowly he unfolded the deed to the town in front of him. “Worst luck I’ve ever had. What was I thinking.”

“Do you always carry that deed around with you Wikins?”

“No, I was to meet with the group earlier tonight that wanted to buy my property. Instead, I sat here all night and played card games.  Dang, I lost it like a green horn.”

Du Bois reached over and studied the deed and some legal papers attached to it. “These papers say that while you owned the land, the buildings here are individually owned and the owners of those buildings pay you rent for the land that they sit on.”

Flipping the pages back and forth, Du Bois realized on the first day of each month every person in town had to fork over their rent. As best as he could figure, it amounted to almost a thousand dollars a month. He let out a slow whistle.

With a laugh Du Bois told Wilkins, “I was going to head on to Pikes Peak to seek my fortune but I think I just struck gold right here and now!”  Kissing the deed, he looked across the table at the very ill looking Wilkins.

“We can get all the legal work done in a few hours when your attorney is open for business, yes?  Is he located in town here.”

‘You took his seat over when you came in Du Bois, he’ll be open in a few. Meanwhile I’m tired and need to think on some things. If you wish, I’ll be back here at ten this morning, we’ll go over to see him then.”

Chapter 3

At first nothing changed but the deeds owner. Then as the months went by, Du Bois began raising rents on business owners he didn’t like or he wanted gone. He continued to dangle the deed in front of the group that had wished to purchase the land. But now the price had doubled and the group found it on the edge of being unaffordable.

For the first time in his life Du Bois was in a position of real wealth and power. A good man would not have let this alter their life, but Du Bois was not a good man. He became even more boastful and began drinking heavily. Where once he respected women enough to be cautious and treat them with respect, he now cursed openly and became lewd around them. When the beating of the whores started, many of soiled doves left for greener pastures.

He found egotistical  pleasure at humiliating those who fell behind in their rent. Especially pretty women.  When the woman who owned the café could not make full rent, he demanded one half the business as collateral until she could pay the balence. Two days later the woman was found raped and strangled in her bed.

The town folks became scared. The smart ones began moving out, the others hesitantly stayed too scared in forfeiting  all they owned.

It was then that the remaining members of the Committee that had attempted to purchase the original deed from Wilkins met in secret.

None of the group was a shootist or even handy with a gun. A lawyer, the Doctor, a saloon owner, two merchants and blacksmith rounded out the group. There wasn’t even a Cowboy among them. None had ownership of a gun and only a few had ever shot one. They were for the most part, city bred folk.

A decision was made that night. They would hire a shootist to remove Du Bois. That would leave the towns land deed open for the courts to decide its fate. Most assumed the courts would grant the town committee the rights to the deed so the annexed land could then be filed with the State. The call went out. A one hundred dollar offer was made.

The weeks passed but no shootist arrived. Meanwhile, Du Bois had run off the towns volunteer sheriff and took over his job. It wasn’t the job he wanted but the prestige and power that went with it. He had plans. His black riverboat gambling attire now sported a bright silver Sheriffs badge on its lapel. He became Judge and Jury, jailing and charging fines to line his pockets. Behind his back, the town folk began calling Arapahoe Junction, “Hells Junction”.

Wilkins and his lawyer, Henry banks, called for a secret meeting of the committee members.  Wilkins introduced the brothers, John and James to the committee members. Most everyone knew James as he was the Nuggets bartender. John on the other hand was less known because he spent most his time driving cattle to market as a cowhand.

Wilkins then told them that John had found out that “Sheriff Du Bois” ( as he now called himself), had been stealing explosives by having his men rob the freight wagons headed to Pikes Peak. Du Bois would then resell the explosives to the Pikes Peak miners at an exurbanite rate. Because the mining companies could not operate without the explosives, they grudgingly bought it.

Both the mustachioed  bartender James, and his brother  John, had fought in the war of the States. John for the Confederate States, James for the Union. Before the war, both had been coal miners living in north western Virginia. Their mining jobs had dealt with explosives, so had both their military careers.

James explained that his brother had seen the cell next to his filled top to bottom with crates of explosives when Du Bois tossed him in jail for being drunk, a minor offense but carrying a hefty fine of ten dollars. “I was just clearin’ the trail dust from my throat, I hadn’t hardly started drinkin’ for real yet but I guess the Sheriff don’t take kindly to bein’ called Ma’am. Can I help it that he dresses in frilly shirts?”

He told them that inside the next cell, a large tarp had covered the crates but his curiosity got the better of him. When Du Bois left for the night, he reached through the bars between the cells and lifted the tarp. Reading the words “Explosives” painted across the crates face, he then lowered the tarp and returned to his bed to think.

“So, this is what I’m thinking” says Wilkins, “Who needs a shootist when we can just blow him all to high heaven in his office with his own explosives!”

With little discussion and no argument, the committee disbanded and awarded John and James the duty to figure out the details of ridding the town of Du Bois..

A week later word went out to the committee members to meet at the livery at midnight. It was then that the brothers John and James divulged to the others of their plan to rid the town of Du Bois. One by one the door slid open a crack and a committee member quietly eased into the darkened livery. A single oil lamps low burning wick gave just enough light for the members to make each other out. John spoke.

“I’ll need some financial backing here because I need to get myself tossed in jail again. I’ll cause a drunkin’ ruckus of some sort, Du Bois hates drunks and he don’t care for me none either after what I called him.”

“ In order for things to go as planned, I need to be bailed out of there by evening. I have no idea what Du Bois is gonna’ set my bail at, but since I was just in an caused him grief, it ain’t gonna’ be cheap. I would figure on getting at least Fifty dollars together for bail, maybe more.” The others nodded saying they could get that amount and more together. It was decided that Henry Banks, the lawyer, would handle the bail proceedings.

“I also need at least forty feet of explosive fuse and one pound of black powder in a canvas sack. I’ll wrap the fuse around my waist under my clothes and stick the sack down my pants. I’ll pour some water on my pants like I pissed ‘em from drinkin’. That’ll pretty much guarantee Du Bois wont go feeling around my drawers for a hidden gun or anything else.  Since there are only two jail cells, he has no choice but to put me back into the cell next to the explosives. One thing I know, come dinner time, Dubois ain’t gonna hang around the jail. He’ll head on up to the saloon for dinner and drinks like he did before. When he’s gone, I’ll reach through the bars, lift the tarp and plant the sack of powder within the crates then lower the tarp again after setting the fuse.  I’ll trail the fuse out the back window where it can be lit later on.”

A murmur of agreement met the brothers ears.

“ I need someone to hang around out back near the window so you can hear me yell. When you hear me, that’s the signal for Banks here to run up to the saloon and insist that Du Bois take the bail money and let me out. He’ll complain and refuse at first, but play up to him by buying him an expensive bottle of whisky for his troubles, but make sure he takes it with him to the jail when he leaves.

Even though he could afford to buy his own distillery now, he’s so cheap he’ll still jump at the chance for a free bottle!”  That brought a quiet laugh of acknowledgement from the group.

“After he lets me out, everyone get out of there. James and I will set the fuse when we’re sure Du Bois is settled in for a spell with his bottle at his desk.  He’s too cheap to share it and once he starts on that bottle, he’ll take the time to finish it off.” More murmurs of agreement.

“The explosion should take out most of the building and along with it, Du Bois. It’s been a while since my brother and I used explosives. I hear they’re making a nitroglycerin based explosive called dynamite. It packs a wallop!  There’s no way to tell if there’s any dynamite  in these cases or not since they’re just marked ‘Explosives’,  so just in case nobody hang around the place. The businesses on each side of the jail will be closed that time of day so we don’t have to worry about any innocents bein’ blowed up.”

The lawyer Banks then spoke up nodding in agreement,” If everything goes well and we are all in agreement here, the morning after Du Bois is gone, myself and some of the committee members will travel to the State Capital to file for annexation of the land. Is this to everyone’s approval?”

Again, a quiet murmur of agreement was heard. “Then it’s settled.”

James spoke up now, “Let’s plan on this Friday, the day after tomorrow. That way I have time to purchase the powder and fuse.” He turned and asked the Lawyer, “How long will it take to gather up the money Banks?”

“Not five minutes, I’ll gladly foot the bail. In fact, here’s five dollars. Take it and go ahead and purchase the fuse and powder with it.”

 

Chapter 4

Friday morning’s sun peaked over the mountains to the east. Sun streaked into the curtained window of Maurice Du Bois.  If he had consulted a soothsayer, a medium or a fellow gypsy with a crystal ball, Maurice would have never gotten out of bed. Knowing you’re about to die can change a man. It can bring repentance or like Ebenezer Scrooge amends might be made. But Maurice Du Bois had no idea he would be charged in front of his maker before the day was over, so there was no change in him.

Rising from the bed, he stumbled to the wash basin and plashed the stagnant smelling water onto his face. With his head pounding in pain, he selfishly blamed the sleeping whore for amplifying his hangover by supplying him the night before with rot gut whisky. Making his way back to the bed, Maurice glared at her large bare rump jutting from under the blanket, lashing out like a spoiled child, he kicked it.

Descending the whore house stairs in a huff, the whore house owner and visibly upset Madam stepped into his path. “What’s my girl upstairs screaming about Du Bois?”Shoving the big woman aside Du Bois told her, “She woke up on the wrong side of the bed! Now get out of my way bitch” If the weight of sins added go your torment in hell, Maurice Du Bois just tipped the scales.

His day started off badly and got worse as it went on. While in the café eating lunch, a local drunk started a fight and knocked Du Bois food to the floor. In a fit of anger, the Sheriff dragged the poor man down the wooden walkway, stopping to kick him from time to time. By the time they reached the jail down the street, the man was knocked half senseless.

Using his foot to propel the prisoner forward, the drunk was sent crashing into the back wall of the cell. Du Bois locked the cell, slammed the front door on his way out and retreated to the saloon for a drink.

John lifted his black and blue face towards the small barred window in his cell. “You out there yet James?”

A voice answered in the affirmative. “Yup, how you doing, I was almost ready to step in and stop it when he started kicking at you.”

Trying to put on a good face with laughter, John replied, “I’ll live, I sure earned my wages though , didn’t I? Tell you what brother, it’ll be about an hour before I get this set up in here to blow. Come back and check on me then, OK?”

Uncoiling the fuse from his waist then removing the sack of black powder from inside his pants, John went to work. It only took half the time as planned so John laid down on the cot to give his sore body a rest.

“Pssst, John, you ready yet?”

“Sure am, go tell Banks to bail me out’a  here!”

Fifteen minutes later, an angry Sheriff Du Bois carrying a unopened bottle of Tennessee whisky and the overweight lawyer clomped down the wooden walkway to the jail.

“Come on Du Bois” Banks pleaded, “There isn’t reason in the world to set bail at a hundred and twenty dollars! Why bail for a murder charge is less.”

“You want him out so bad Banks, you can pay what I set bail at.”

An hour later found Du Bois halfway through the bottle when the jail’s front door banged open.  In strode Du Bois three amigos in crime. “Boss, we just come from Pikes Peak, they’s chompin’ at the bit for them there explosives. We need to get’em  loaded an out’a here pronto! I told ‘em the price went up to twenty a crate, up from ten last time. They grumbled a lot but we got ‘em over a barrel. They’ll pay up.

While this was going on, one of the three had walked back to where the cases were stored. A strange look came over his face and he yelled to those up front. “Hey y’all, I smell something burnin’ back here, I think the place is on fire!”

Before Du Bois could get up out of his chair, three things happened in rapid order. The first was that the cases of explosive had in fact, turn out to be the more powerful dynamite, exploded.

The second was that the cell door in front of the yelling Amigo became a giant egg slicer and cut the shouting man into multiple pieces as it was blown through him.

The third, was what those folks standing outside on the street beheld. Ahead of the intense fireball exploding from the now shattered jail house was a wheeled armchair being blown across the street, with Du Bois, or at least part of him, still sitting in it. If the shock of the concussion had not knocked everyone down, they would have observed Du Bois and the chair were blown completely through the wooden front of the dry goods store across the street. Once inside, the chair and the torso that belonged to Du Bois rested it’s travel against a shelf of womens unmentionables.

Freed from the resistance of any walls, the explosion concussed into the street. The nearby buildings took on a permanent backwards lean as their fronts were violently sucker punched. Standing tent buildings stood no more. No window survived the blast and even the saloons occupied outhouse blew head over heels. The Devil stood in the middle of the chaos tallying up the evil souls he had claim to. Angles administered to those innocents who found that life continued on, in a much more beautiful place than Arapahoe Junction.

Chapter 5

Until it was legal and annexation granted, loans to rebuild the town were put on hold. The town stood as if frozen in time. True, some of the wooden planks and debris had been removed from the street, but the repairs needed to reclaim the town’s buildings, even those not owned by Du Bois, were not started.

One month later to the day, the annexation committee members that had traveled to the State capital returned.

The ringing church bell clanged in its damaged steeple, calling all those remaining to gather around.

Wilkins and Banks stood together facing the crowd.

Wilkins spoke first. “Folks, here’s the situation. We applied for annexation on the deceased Du Bois land most of this town sits on. The State Judge determined that if we had a signed purchase agreement, we could continue our application  to apply for the annexation. We don’t have one. We thought with Du Bois no longer in the way, we could apply for it as it would be vacated land that had no living owner. The problem rest this way. While we got ourselves rid of Du Bois, and I am not going to feel guilty about that, he left two living relatives to inherit his property. His parents!

A groan was heard.

“That’s right folks. We sent a cable off to the Sheriff over in New Orleans and he verified the two are still alive and causing trouble. I guess it’s true what Du Bois used to say about his parents. ‘If you think I’m a bad one, you should meet my Ma and Pa!’

Banks stepped in front of Wilkins now and spoke. “We have a choice. And none of them will please you. We can notify the parents of their son’s demise, but legally we also have to inform them of the inheritance he left them. Knowing those two, they’d light a shuck out here just as fast as they could. Once here, they’d also find out how there tyrannical son met his maker. Eventually they’d find out and take vengeance on all of us, maybe even call in the law on us.

The crowd didn’t sound pleased.

Someone else called out, “What’s the other option Banks?”

“Folks, we had us a good town started here. We tried the legal route but was derailed by Du Bois. The law won’t back us, no way.”

Tears started down the chubby cheeks of Banks the lawyer.” I already spoke to my wife. We are not willing to live under another Du Bois. We’re calling it quits here, we’re moving to Boulder. It’s far enough away that what happened here won’t follow us”

The stunned crowd stood there blinking in the bright sun.

Slowly without a word the crowd dissipated.

 Epillogue

John, the camp cook removed the coffee pot from the fire and poured himself a cup. Looking at the cowhands starring at him he spoke softly. “Some towns die when the gold or silver runs out. Some die when the railroad passes ‘em by. Arapahoe Junction died because we tried to save it!”

Finishing his coffee, he tossed the cups grounds  into the fire, He shook his head and said, “Who’d a thunk!”

The ghost of Dead Horse by JW Edwards

The ghost of Dead Horse

Chapter 1

On the day the town of Dead Horse’s founder and visionary bank owner died, it rained.

Rain wouldn’t have been unusual in Dead Horse if it was in July or August during the height of the rainy season, but it was unheard of in January. While rain is usually appreciated for its life giving moisture in the prairie, this was a dry, dusty, rock strewn desert town in Eastern Arizona. Rain in Dead Horse was more of a pain in the ass than it was a Godsend. In a desert town, dry washes become raging death traps, roads become knee deep mud pits that bog down man and beast alike and roofs leak through their dried and cracked tar paper coverings. Rain in January was an omen for the town of Dead Horse, a very bad omen.

Since the day Everett Burke gave up his ghost, the thriving spirit that he had injected into the town using his congenial generosity and ‘can do’ attitude began to diminish. With each heat searing sunrise the town’s future looked more and more unlikely to survive. No one had stepped up to fill Burke’s shoes. The town council seemed apathetic and divisive, caring more for their personal financial outlook than that of the towns.

The Sheriff became a drunk and hid inside his office, rarely out walking the streets to keep the peace and impression of a town securely protected. Instead, he preferred to wait until night fell to walk the creaky wooden walkways along the towns store fronts and only then to find his way to the Lost Dollar Saloon for drinks.

Dead Horse started out with many of the advantages few towns could boast of. Plunked down between Santa Fe and Flagstaff on the Old Beale wagon trail, it put its roots into the ground on the eastern edge of the Arizona territory desert.  This envious placement between the two larger towns permitted its merchants to cheaply resupply frontier bound wagon trains along with the hungry hoards of miners heading into gold country.

In 1881, the long awaited decision by the Santa Fe Railroad to lay rail alongside the wagon trail had been made. Unfortunately for Dead Horse, the Santa Fe’s finger of prosperous fate pointed its finger at the nearby town of Cholla. Just twenty five miles west of the border Cholla got the nod for the location of the Santa Fe’s new station, water tower and mile long siding. Besides political and sweetheart deals promised to secure the rail depot favoring Cholla, there was one legitimate reason for Dead Horse’s coming in second. Water.

Both towns were like many of those that sprung up from mining. Both had a few saloons, whorehouses, liveries, a dry goods store and a blacksmith.

What the Santa Fe railroad discovered during its survey was that Cholla had a single centralized deep well that supplied the town with plenty of water. On the other hand, Dead Horse’s populace drew its water from a spring that erupted out of the ground behind the town hall. Arizona springs were notorious for drying up or becoming seasonal. The Santa Fe survey determined that the Cholla deep well could supply a growing city with rail support forever.

It hadn’t taken long for mercantile and saloon owners alike to pack up and relocate to the boom town of Cholla and beyond. Day by day the mood of Dead Horse and its populace grew darker as they watched their town shrink business by business. The once busy main street could now be safely crossed by a blind man.

The town’s founder and principal deed holder stood helpless as his banks deposits dwindled. Holding worthless deeds it couldn’t sell, the bank’s books slid from black to red.

 

Chapter 2

When all the banks tellers had left for the day, Everett Burke  told the banks manager to pull all the blinds and lock the door behind him when he left. When the banks manager asked him about the blinds, Everett told him, “Sid, the banks done for. We haven’t even got enough cash in the vault to cover all the deposits. I got enough cash on hand set aside for employee wages for the last week and that’s about it. I’ve been using my own money to bolster the bank for over six months. I’m dead broke Sid, I can’t do it no more. When the folks here find out their hard earned savings are gone, I’ll be hanging from a tree out back for sure. It’s all my fault Sid, I should have done like the Mayor of Cholla did and kiss the butt of that surveyor fellow, but I truly thought we had it sewn up tight, I really did.”

Sid locked the door and was making his way down the street when he heard a single gunshot fired from inside the bank.

Within the confines of his smoke filled office, Everett Burke’s body sat sagging in his leather chair nearly headless. A short barreled greener shotgun normally kept in the office in case of robbery, lay on the floor next to him. The gory mess clinging to the back wall was all that remained of the once smiling face of the man who had made the town.

Hearing the blast within the bank, towns folk started gathering out front trying without success to see behind the pulled window shades. Deciding against rushing back into the bank, the frightened manager ran instead to the Sheriff’s office down the street.

Taking the bank key’s from Sid, Sheriff Hensley unlocked front door he stepped into the bank. All looked peaceful but the smell of burnt gunpowder said it wasn’t. Making his way behindthe teller stations, the Sheriff strode cauciously over to Everett’s private office.  With trepidation, he opened the door fully. A window with its shade pulled partially down let enough feeble light in for the Sheriffs eyes to absorb the scene before him. Stepping back outside the office, Sheriff Hensley doubled over and puked.

Having seen a few men shot dead was nothing like nothing this. Only Everett’s lower jaw and teeth still sat balanced upon his shoulders. A horrible mix of bone, brains and blood dripped its way down the wall to the floor.

Still gagging, he stumbled out of the bank and onto the street. “Somebody get the damn undertaker here.” He shouted. “And go fetch a sheet or something, he blowed his head clean off something horrible.”

It was while waiting for the undertaker to arrive that the strange January rain started. The townsfolk soon skedaddled off to dryer regions while the Sheriff, quite ill and green looking, guarded the bank door.

Just as soon as Everett’s body was wrapped and hauled off, Sheriff Hensley headed off to the relative dryness of his own jailhouse.

That evening as the pounding rain found each and every hole in the jailhouse roof, Sheriff Hensley, known for his abstinence, sat at his desk drenched from the leaky deluge and finished his first ever bottle of whisky.

Chapter 3

On a hot July day and seven months after Everett blew his head off, Jeddah Tate crossed over the single set of railroad tracks less than a mile from the outskirts of Dead Horse. Jed reined up the chestnut mare he’d cinched his saddle to for the last six years .

Rolling a smoke between his fingers, he stared at the dusty town down the road. Striking a Lucifer match with his thumb nail, he lit his smoke and inhaled deeply. The parcel of Virginia grown tobacco was almost gone now. Jed stretched out what was left by limiting himself to only one or two smokes a day. With white puffs of smoke looking like Apache smoke signals, he nudged the mare on towards town.

Dead Horse had all the makings of a town that had seen its zenith. While not looking completely abandoned, there were enough empty store fronts to say it was seeing hard times.  Jed knew of many towns in the west  that had suffered the same fate as Dead Horse. The railroad was a double edged sword. Where a station was placed, prosperity raised its head. When bypassed, a town bled out like a gut shot cattle rustler.

Passing a still working blacksmiths shop, he noticed it had a livery stable behind it. He dismounted and pounded on the heavy door of the livery. A giant man as black as coal itself pushed the big cross bucked door open with a powerful shove in response to Jed’s knock.

“I’d like to stable my horse for a day or two if there’s still an empty stall inside.”

“Got a bunch of ‘em open Suh.  Ain’t like it used to be, that is fo’ sure. Bring dat big chestnut on over here Suh, I treat her like my own.”

The black man reached out and clipped on a halter rope then led the animal into a stall. “Her cost is twenty five cents hay’s included. Along with a rub down and a good peek at his shoes, I’ll grain her for a dime.”

Unclipping the lead rope he continued as if talking to himself, “More folks forget about checkin’ dem shoes until they throw one, then they come back bellyaching that my shoes don’t last.” Grabbing a cut up blanket, the black started in on the rub down. “ I tells people all duh time Suh, but they don’t seem to take no notice.”

Finished with the rub down, he laid in some fresh hay and filled the trough with water. Running his hands down her shoulders and flanks he said, “She’s a bit on the thin side Suh, It’ll be OK to sack up some grain for her?”

“Yeah, that’d be fine. She’s been eating desert scrub for the last few days after she ate through all the grain I had for her. With all the other things packed in the saddle bags, I could only carry so much for her.”

While still in the stall with the mare, the big black man inspected the shoes one by one. “Hmmm, seems they be alright for a bit yet. But don’t let ‘em get too worn down. I’d put a new set on an’ give her hoofs a good trimmin’ if I was a travelin’ man but it’s yo’ horse Suh, not mine. “

“Well, maybe some other time,huh?

“If you change yo’ mind, it’s only two dollars Suh.”

Satisfied that he had left his horse in good hands he asked him where the nearest saloon was.

Leaving the livery, he made his way up the alley until he reached the covered wooden plank walkway of the store fronts.

The sound of his Mexican spurs on the wooden walkway made a pleasant jingling sound as he made his way to the saloon to escape the searing heat. Approaching the saloons set of bat winged doors, he dusted himself off with his hat and ran his hand through his hair.

Jed entered the lamp lit saloon expecting the usual cluster cowboys , whores and gamblers gathered for a time of revelry of socializing and drinking. What he saw instead could only be described as a funeral parlor.

No tables had card games going, no girls were to be seen, no piano player was plinking tunes and only one half sleeping drunk sat at the bar. The only sound was that of the bartender dusting off the bottles lined up in front of the mirror.

After taking three or four steps into the saloon, he stopped and with both hands raised slightly in question, Jed looked at the bored looking bar tender and asked, “ Where the heck is everybody?”

With a snort of disgust he replied, “You’re looking at ‘em mister.  You want a drink, I got that. You want company for the night or a game of cards, go on over to Cholla. Ain’t nothing here no more except what I got in stock.  An’ in truth, when that’s used up, I’m gone too!”

Stepping up to the bar and pointing at the lined up whisky bottles , he said, “Give me one of those, will ya?”

The bartender handed him a clean glass and a bottle of whisky. Jed paid for it and half filled his glass. “I take it Cholla’s a nearby town but what’s the reason this place ain’t doing so good?”

Placing an unopened bottle of whisky in front of Jed, the bar tender pointed his thumb behind him. “If you rode in from the north, you also rode right over the reason this town ain’t doin’ good’. The railroad is what happened. The Santa Fe went an’ built its station in Cholla bypassing us here. Twice a day now that damn train rubs it into our faces by blowin’ its damn whistle as she passes by.”

Jed rubbed his stubble covered chin and shook his head slowly from side to side in sympathy as he recalled taking a smoke break near the tracks outside of town.  “Yup, with the railroad comes prosperity… sometimes anyway. I met a man and his family on the trail. He that told me some ranchers joined together and set up a big canned meat packing operation and he was going to work for ‘em.  I take it then that the big draw in Cholla is jobs?”

“Sure is,” the bartender said, “It’s a fair sized operation they got goin’ there.  There’s  big cattle pens built next to the plant to hold a whole damn herd till they’s butchered.  ‘Course any cattle town makes for a foul stink but the way I hear it, them cows they got penned up there to be butchered are a sickly lot to begin with an’ they smell to high heaven. I also heard some politician who’s in charge of overseeing army food supplies to the western outpost,  got his fingers in the pie over there in Cholla. It seems friends of his is makin’ a killlin’ sending the plant diseased and half dead cattle to get canned then sold to the Calvary. The only blessing I can see from Dead Horse not getting the railroad is we ain’t got to smell them damn cattle!”

“I don’t cotton to butcherin’ no sick cattle. No good comes of it.

“I agree with you on that point mister, Still, I’m closin’ this place and headin’ over there too, stink or no stink. There’s good money to be made movin’ my business there. I already got a carpenter crew lined up, all I’m waitin’ on is the railroad to deliver my building materials.”

Finishing his drink, Jed poured himself another.  Noticing  that the half asleep drunk had lifted his head from atop his folded arms on the bar and was looking at him, Jed lifted his glass and asked, “Wann’a drink fella?  I ain’t gonna finish the whole thing an’ it’s already bought an’ paid for. Seems a shame to waist it.”

As the drunk made his way over, Jed saw the star on his chest. “You’re the Sheriff here, huh?”

Ignoring Jed, the Sheriff lifted the bottle to his yellow toothed pie hole and chugged the whiskey as if it were water. Jed looked wide eyed over at the bartender who just looked downward shaking his head. A heavy look of distain on his face.  When the Sheriff set the bottle back down if front of Jed, a thick gob of slobber ran down its neck.

Pushing the bottle back towards the Sheriff, Jed told him. “Keep the bottle Sheriff, I just lost my appetite for a drink.”

Turning back to the bartender Jed asked, “Since your soiled doves up and left here, would you have an empty room?  I’ll pay the goin’ hotel rate for one during my stay here if you do.

“Mister, for the price of that bottle you just bought, you can have any room you want, and it’s on the house.”

“Sounds good to me then.” Leaving the coin change from his whisky purchase on the bar top, Jed smiled and half kiddingly asked, “ Can I still find a meal, bath and shave here in town, or do I need to head off to Cholla for that too?”

“Naw, the towns not that dead yet. Bang on the barber shop door, Fred’ll be glad for the chance to earn a buck, no matter what the time. He also has hot baths in the back. If you want me to, I can put your personals up in a room here while you go off an’ take care of things. Upstairs it’ll be the first door on the left”

After a hot meal of beef stew, a scrubbed clean and freshly shaved Jed headed back to the saloon and his room.

Giving a thankful nod to the bartender, he traipsed up stairs and pushed open the first door on the left. Light from the hall lamps lit the room enough to show that the bartender was still keeping the place up as best as he could. A whores neatly made up bed with fancy sheets and pillows sat in the far corner under a lace curtained window. A small wooden night stand with a half filled oil lamp on it stood next to the bed. Against the wall to the right stood a white painted vanity with its porcelain water pitcher and bowl still in place. A decoratively painted wooden commode with its pot inside sat alongside the vanity.  Lighting the lamp, he let out a slow quiet whistle. “Dang,” he thought, “I should be so lucky as to end each day in a towns that’s goin’ belly up!  I guess one towns bad luck is another man’s good luck”

 

Chapter 4

The morning sun greeted the lace curtain and diffusely lit the room. Jed’s eyelids fluttered then opened fully.  Performing his morning toilet, he ended it by combing his freshly cut hair and plopping his hat back on his head. On his way downstairs he greeted the bartender again who this time was busy packing up straw filled wooden crates with glassware.

“Mornin”, Jed said tipping his hat, ”I see you’re serious about packing up and heading out, you gonna close down before the new place is built?”

“Nope, just preparing, that’s all. With so little business, I gotta do something with my hands, I’m ‘bout bored to death. You stayin’ the night again?”

“As long as you don’t lock me in and close down while I’m sleeping, I will. I’m gonna head over to the Smithy and see about him puttin’ some new shoes on my horse.

“I see you left your belongings upstairs, but don’t fret that the whores rooms ain’t got locks on ‘em, they’ll be safe.”

After meeting with and paying the Smithy, Jed headed over to the last operating Café in Dead Horse for a long awaited real breakfast, all to be washed down with plenty of strong hot coffee.  Removing his hat, Jed stepped inside and hung it on an empty hook by the door. Settling down to his meal after his order arrived, he and the other patrons were taken by surprise when the front door was thrown open to slam against the wall with a loud bang.

A small balding man wearing a black wool vest, clean white shirt closed at the neck with a black short tie stood excitedly inside the doorway and yelled. “Hey ya’ll, did ‘cha hear ‘bout Cholla?  They got the Cholera goin’ on somethin’ fierce there!”

Immediately the place was in an uproar with chairs tipping backwards and more than one coffee cup finding its way to the floor.

Almost as one, ball fifteen patrons voices started shouting questions at the small man. “Hold on, hold on folks, this here telegram’s all I know.”

Waving the yellow slip of paper, the little man who as it turned out to be, was the telegrapher for the stage depot. Taking a pair of spectacles from his top vest pocket, he held the paper up to read it. The crowd quieted down.

“Dead Horse”, it read. “Cholla quarantined STOP Cholera STOP Do not enter STOP Governor notified. STOP No rail service STOP Stay out STOP Folks got rice water. STOP Horrible deaths stay away.”

A chorus of “Holly molly’s and other exclamations followed the reading. Outside voices were also shouting the bad news.

Stepping out of the Café, Jed headed into the street and headed over to the Sheriff’s office.  Jed had seen the nightmare of Cholera before in an Indian village. Rarely passed from person to person it still had the effect of a plague. He knew that the culprit had to be the water supply as Cholera was normally transmitted by water. He figured Cholla’s single large well must have been somehow contaminated. What worried him as much Cholla’s well was the statement in the telegram of folks having rice water. It defined Cholera from many other misdiagnosed ailments. Cholera’s first symptoms were stomach cramps followed by explosive diarrhea. After a bit, ones insides held no more solids within them. The body continued to expel translucent white bodily fluids by the quarts. In hours, the expelled fluid took on the powerful odor of stinking fish. An unquenchable thirst resulted from the vast loss of fluids. It was a double death blow. The chance of surviving the original ingestion was low. Now with an unquenchable thirst, it drove the dehydrated populace to re ingest even more of the death as they consumed even more of the tainted water.

 Chapter 5

Reaching the Sheriff’s office, the doors  the brass bell jingled when he opened it. Stepping inside, Jed found the bleary red eyed Sheriff bent over and rummaging through the cabinets.

Pulling papers and other items from a lower cabinet onto the floor, the Sheriff mumbled angrily to himself.  “Where the hell did that bottle go, I know I had it the other day.”  Unaware of Jeds arrival or the jingling of the bell, the Sheriff finally gave up and in frustration plopped himself down in his chair. Only then did he notice Jed standing over him. “And what the hell do you want boy?” He directed his anger at Jed, “State your business or go on an’ get the hell out’a here!”

Getting red under the collar, Jed deliberately pronounced each word of his question slowly through clenched teeth. “You’re a hell of an excuse for a Sheriff. Are you aware of what’s goin’ on over Cholla way?”

“Sure I’m aware! They got themselves the plague. And what the hell’s it to you what I know or don’t know? I’m the Sheriff here ain’t I?  ”

Jed saw the hands shaking almost uncontrollably as the Sheriffs need for whisky became greater.

“First of all Sheriff it’s worse than you know, you better listen to me or I’ll drag you out’a that chair, tie you to a mule and kick your useless ass all the way to Flagstaff and make myself Sheriff!“

About to respond, the Sheriff realized he had just met his match and gave up. Even when he was a younger and sober man he was no match for an angry Jed. Dropping his head in shame and without looking up, he spoke. “I’m in over my head here mister, I’m an old man. Hell, I’ve seen cholera before, my wife an’ kids back in ‘67 saw it real good, too good.” Taking the star off his chest, he slid it in front of Jed. “You think you can handle a cholera outbreak? I know I can’t. You want my job mister? You got it.  I’m out’a here. If you had any brains you’d skedaddle too. This towns dyin’ a financial death for sure but what’s goin’ on over in Cholla just let loose the grim reaper, an’ he’s about to turn his eyeless skull this way!”

Shakily rising from his chair, the Sheriff grabbed his hat and headed for the door. The happy jingle of the doors overhead brass bell sounded out of place in the tense atmosphere as he opened it. Before stepping out into the heat he turned one last time and looked around. “Here”, he said tossing the keys back to Jed. Making his way up the street, Jed heard him say, “Hell of a way to retire, hell of a way!”

Jed stared at the badge lying on the desk top. He reached out and spun it with his finger. Thinking, he pondered the situation he found himself in. “Darn, this is not what I needed to happen. This town has some  major hurt comin’ down on it and these folks here are blind to it. That Sheriff knew what’s happening but ran on out anyway. Bastard! That plague ain’t gonna just sit still in Cholla that’s for sure. I figure the first person who makes his way from there to here’s gonna bring it with ‘em and from there out to all Arizona.”

Picking up the badge, Jed pinned it on his chest as he walked out the door. As horrible as the cholera was, sometimes you had to be just as horrible to stop it. He knew what had to be done.

Back out in the dusty street  most folks were seen preparing to head out of town. Jed walked up the street to see if he could find anyone who officially represented the town. The town hall was dark as well as the lawyer’s office next door. Dead Horse was truly a dead town.  The town was vacating, but thankfully, no longer towards Cholla.

Heading back to the saloon, he was surprised to find a number of people had gathered inside. The din of the crowd dimmed as onlookers saw the badge pinned to Jed’s chest. A young man with missing teeth and long stringy blond  hair stepped up to him “What for you got the Sheriffs badge on Mister?” Others began to question him also.

“Your Sheriff quit. Walked out on ya’. He tossed the job to me, anyone wanna’ contest that?” After a brief silence, Jed continued. “I didn’t think so.”

The ugly kid who spoke up before did again. “What you all gona’ do Sheriff?  Cholla’s less than a half days walk from here. Seems to me an’ others, what they got could make its way here soon enough. Maybe we all outa get on out’a here an’ head up to Flagstaff like everyone else is doin’. They say bein’ high up in the cold air that sickness don’t get there.”

“Well, that may hold some truth, I heard the same. The problem as I see it, is folks from Cholla getting’ past us an spreading what they got elsewhere. That quarantine there ain’t gonna’ hold for crap once folks see what happens to them that got the sickness. They’re gonna’ run for scared for their lives, ‘an in doin’ so, they’s gonna’ spread the illness everywhere they go. No, we gotta stop ‘em, an’that means killin’ ‘em before they can leave.”

The shock on the crowds face was proof that these town folk were pretty ignorant of the effects of Cholera.

“Now listen. Cholera spreads real easy in water. But it ain’t the water that started it, it was folks or animals shittin in the water that started it. I heard Cholla got one well, that’s it. That means everyone in Cholla’s dependent on that one well. Now if that well got tainted, as I believe it did, then there ain’t a soul that drank water within the last couple days that ain’t gonna’ come down with cholera. Sure a couple here or there may make it, but you wanna’ try an’ figure out which ones is they is? I didn’t think so. What we gotta do is unthinkable but needs to be done. We need to torch the town and all within it.”

The bar tender confronted Jed. “Holly crap mister! That’s outright murder! You cain’t just go an kill a whole town ‘cause they’s sick! We sent a telegram to the Governor, let him decide what to do. Besides, I have a business startin’ there. What about me?”

“By the time the Governor gets off his fat and decides what should or shouldn’t be done, Cholla’s gonna’ be a goner. What I’m telling you is, we need to stop anyone from leavin’ there and contain the sickness to just Cholla.

Chapter 6

An hour later, Jed, the bartender and 17 volunteer riders rode out to Cholla with a wagon containing three barrels of lamp oil.

“Don’t no one drink nothin’, touch nothing alive nor let anyone stop you from what you’re doin’. The winds from the west so we need to start at that end of town and work east. Soon as the riders spreading oil are halfway up town, the rest of you to start torchin’ the place. Leave nothing standing and shoot anyone able to walk. It won’t be many.”

Upon reaching Cholla the riders saw the horror of Cholera up close. Many town’s folks had stripped off their fouled clothes and now lay naked in growing pools of their watery stink. Their rears ends were still explosively ejecting the watery body fluid onto the dirt. Too dehydrated to even moan anymore, their mouths quivered in silent pain.

“Oil group, get going! The rest of you with the torches light ‘em up and wait for my signal.”

By morning, the town of Cholla was gone. So were the riders.

The railroad that brought such short lived prosperity also brought plague infected cattle. Within a year, the Santa Fe was rerouted, again bypassing Dead Horse. But by then it didn’t matter.  Dead Horse was just another forgotten ghost town bleaching away in the scorching Arizona sun. The collapsed roof of the old Sheriff’s office lay guarding an old wooden desk underneath it. A Sheriff’s badge forever resting on its top.

A garishly painted sign

A  garishly painted sign

 By J W Edwards

The garishly painted sign in the tall grass along the roadside read, “WELCOME TO POLITICO” and beneath that greeting in smaller but bold letters read “This is a no weapons town, all firearms must be relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits.”

WELCOME TO POLITICO

This is a no weapons town. All firearms must be

Relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits

 

Jasper Johnson, better known as ‘Jelly Roll Johnson’, hauled on the mares reigns stopping her a few feet from the sign. “What in blazes is this all about?” He thought to himself. This was West Texas.  The signs request amounted to about the same thing as asking all thirsty persons to drink only rain water that fell directly from the sky while in town. It was plain stupid.

“Well horse, I guess we’ll head on over to the Sheriff’s office to see just how serious they hold onto this notion of bein’ gunless.” Horse, his mare, snorted a quick agreement. With a slight flick on the reins, Horse continued on into town.  The town consisted of a dusty but hard packed  main street cross sectioned with maybe as many as six intersections. Most all the buildings showed little weathering from the harsh west Texas sun. In fact everything looked well taken care of and near picture book perfect.

Gazing about at the clean architecture and neat signage secured above each business in a precise and matching  height, Jelly Roll commented, “Dang Horse, look at this here place. Did we fall asleep while travelin’ and end up makin’ our way to Boston?” Jelly Roll spotted the Sheriff’s office ahead on the right.  A slight tug on the right rein along with a mild pressure from his right heel turned Horse  to the hitching rail out front.  With a creak that only a working cowboys old leather saddle can make,  Jelly Roll dismounted and loosened Horses cinch.

Removing his tattered slouch hat, he flapped it over his shirt and down his chaps causing dust to fly. Satisfied he would now be recognized as human and not a walking dirt clod, he stepped up onto the full block  wooden walkway.

A  brass bell attached to the door jingled above his head as he entered the Sheriff’s office.

Seeing an old man who was obviously asleep at a small desk, he loudly cleared his throat to awaken who he assumed to be the Sheriff.  A loud snort and a twitch of the mustache was all he earned from his attempt to wake the Lawman. “Hey, Sheriff?” he bawled. At that the old man popped one eye open which glanced at the man standing in front of him and then shut again followed by a long snore.

Jelly Roll stepped back to the door and with his hand slapped the brass entry bell multiple times until he finally saw the old man wake up.

“What the heck you makin’ all that racket for boy? I got ears if ya’ ain’t noticed.” Pulling himself upright in his chair and still grumbling, the old Lawman continued his half asleep tirade. “They should be a law against treatin’ an’ old man as if he was deaf. Sneakin’ up on a body should be against the law too. Now just who are you an’ what’s so dang important that you need to jangle that bell that a way.”

It was then that the Sheriff noted the Colt pistol tied low on the cowboy’s leg. Moving to stand up quickly but nearly falling backward trying to get out of his chair, the old Lawman tried vainly to loosen the flap on his holster. “Stand where ya’ are fella, an’ don’t touch your iron while I get my gun unloosed”.

If it weren’t so weird a scene, Jelly Roll would have laughed watching the old man’s antics at trying to pull iron on him. “Sheriff! Jelly rolled loudly yelled, “I  ain’t pullin’ no iron on ya’, I’m just passin’ through when I saw your sign alongside the road tellin’ me to surrender my piece.”

The old Sheriff finally gave up trying to clear leather and stood there with his hand shaking above the butt of the pistol. To Jelly Roll, he was now looking confused rather than frightened.

“What’s that you say? Sign? What sign? Speak up boy!”

“The one that says everyone has to turn his gun in when entering town, that one!”

Still standing there with the expression of a child caught peeing on his neighbors flower bed, The old man felt a bit foolish and replied, “Oh, yeah, that one.” Remembering the stranger still had his pistol he yelled, “ Hey! Get that gun belt off mister! Don’t you know this here’s a no gun totin’ town?”

Expelling a breath through clenched teeth, Jelly Roll slowly said, “That’s what I’m doing here Sheriff, relinquishing my gun like the sign out there says to do. I ain’t seekin’ no trouble, just a few drinks to clear the dust from my throat an’ a hot meal, that’s all. Just as soon as I can, I’ll head back out an’ hit the trail up Amarillo way. I hear a few spreads are lookin’ for wranglers an’ I plan to sign on if they’d have me.”

Extending a shaky hand, the old man calmed down a bit, “Well… you  gimme’ your gun then an’ come back and get it when you leave town. According to the law, I gotta’ put the thing under lock an’ key in this here safe with all the others.”

Jelly Roll unhitched his holster belt and wrapped it around the pistol then handed it over to the Sheriff. The Sheriff opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a ring of keys. Turning to the safe sitting along the back wall of his tiny office  he opened it.

Jelly Rolls eyes opened wide when he saw the vast assortment of guns packed like sardines all stacked up inside the safe.

“Dang,” Jelly Roll exclaimed, “Just how many guns you got in there Sheriff?”

“Never you mind, but when the law was passed, everyone in town had to turn in their irons.”

“Why’d they make a law like that?”

“Our Mayor come back from visiting Boston one year an’ said if we’s to be as progressive, then we all should follow suit.”

“Well don’t that kinda leave the towns folk at the mercy of no goods if they come in wearin’ a gun??”

“If they ride in wearin iron, then they’s breakin’ the law!  Besides, the Mayor insist that studies show if guns is outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns… ‘Course they had to pass a whole herd of other laws after that to cover up any flaws the first one had.  I guess you’ll find out what they are if ya’ stay here for any length a time.”

“Yeah, well I don’t plan on stayin’ but maybe a day or two to rest up, so I guess I ain’t gonna have the privilege of breakin’ too many of em’.”

“Huh, if you do, you’ll get to rest here in a cell rather than in any hotel bed. Judge Flavious Maximus don’t take kindly to lawbreakers in his town. He’s the Mayor an’ head of the town council too. I warn ya’ boy, if he don’t cotton to ya’ he’ll make up a law right then an’ there so’s ya’ come back an’ spend the night here with me behind bars. So be careful boy, I’m warnin’ ya’.”

 

Chapter 2

Leaving the Sheriff’s office feeling naked and vulnerable without his firearm, Jelly Roll shrugged it off, went and stabled his horse, then headed off to find the nearest saloon for a long overdue drink.

Halfway up the second block Jelly Roll found what he was looking for. A well kept saloon who’s bat wing doors never looked like they’d ever left their hinges from a fight. Stepping up he stuck his head in the saloon doorway and took the place in at a glance. A piano player was plinking away while a young girl standing next to him sang.  The tune sounded kind of familiar and he soon realized she was trying to sing an opera song he had heard once at a theater in San Antonio.

Each to his own,” he thought as he made his way to the bar.

“Bartender, give me a whisky, an leave the bottle will ya?”

Wiping his hands on a towel, the bartender strode over to him saying, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have whisky, just wine and what the Mayor calls ‘craft beers’.”

“No whisky you say? What kind of saloon doesn’t serve whisky? What next? You gonna tell me you only serve lamb instead of beef?”

“No, no we don’t serve lamb here, that’s for sure. But we don’t serve beef neither, just chicken.”

“What!!? You gatta’ be pullin’ my leg, haw haw, haw! That’s a good one!” Still chuckling he said, OK, I got the joke,  now gimme my whisky and a plate of beef stew an’ I’ll be mighty grateful to ya’.”

“Sir, I was not pulling your leg. The Mayor outlaw’d anything but chicken an’ even that may soon be made illegal. I do have a fine bottle of  ’68 wine from New York State I could offer you though.”

Unable to endure the ill tuned piano’s plinking with that of the off key Italian wailings of the singing girl, he stepped away from the bar shaking his head. “Forget it. I can’t take this no more. I’ll find somewhere else to go to do my eating and drinking.”

Making his way towards the other end of town, Jelly Roll spotted a small diner across the street. Making his way inside, he saw a vacant table and pulling up a chair sat down. Grabbing up a menu he began looking it over. A cute but somewhat thin young blond haired girl wearing it piled atop her head approached him with a pad and pencil for his order.

Pressing his lips tightly together he let the menu fall to the table in disbelief. Looking up at the girl standing over him waiting for his order, he said to her. “Ma’am, I can’t make heads or tails of this here menu. It’s in French. Can I just get an order of coffee , steak an’ apple pie?”

“We believe the French language is just as important as English. We don’t serve Arbuckles here sir, the owner is now a vegetarian and he won’t order any coffee beans because they are dipped in egg whites to keep them from spoiling. I can give you a heavenly no egg noodle soup made with pinto beans, celery and onions served with unsweetened Chinese tea. We don’t serve meat or sugar because both rot your insides out”

“Geez lady, what kind of fool town is this? I can’t get no whisky, no meat an’ I bet a sweet slice of apple pie is forbidden too!”

Suddenly the girl broke out in a smile and said, “Oh, we have better than a sugary old apple pie sir, we have mock apple pie. It’s a recipe the Mayor brought back from his trip to England.

“What in the name of God is a mock apple pie?”

Rearing back from the waist up as if insulted, she exclaimed, “There’s no need to swear at me sir! We have a no swearing law in this town and I strongly suggest you  abide by it. Blah, blah blah…” Jelly Roll’s eyes began to glaze over.

“I think I’m having a nightmare.”

“…and if your through taking the Lords name in vain, I’d tell you that mock apple pie is made from crackers and spices instead of old dried up apples, butter and sugar! It’s much better for your constitution and keeps your movements regular!”

“My movements?”

She pointed to her small behind, “Yes, you know…your moooovements.”

Jelly Roll put his face into his hands and leaned forward as if in deep prayer.  Mumbling into his hands he spoke, “Jesus, take me right now, let a bullet come somehow flyin’ through this window an give me peace. Let the roof cave in on me Lord. Anything Lord! All I wanted was a shot of whisky an’ a hot beef dinner. Was that askin’ too much Lord? “

Interrupting him, she said, “Sir, I don’t mean to disturb your giving thanks to the Lord for your delicious meal, but wouldn’t it make more sense to order one first before prayin’ on it?”

Jelly Roll slowly removed his hands from his face and lifted his beleaguered eyes to the thin girl still waiting for his order. “I just lost my appetite Ma’am, an by the way, just who is this Mayor Maximus Ma’am everyone keeps yappin’ about? It seems to me this entire town is run more like his private property than a public town.”

With hands on her hips she told him, “ Mayor Maximus is the best thing that this town has had happen to it. Why before he come along, there was loose girls working in the saloon making men wobbly legged! There was gun shooting and brawls and drunkedness and swearing on the public walkways! He also got a college degree from Yale and was a rower in the famous Harvard-Yale regatta rowing race in which Yale beat Harvard! Why his middle name says it all, Acadamious.  Yes sir, when we need something we just got to call on Mayor Flavious  Acadamious Maximus for help. We couldn’t get by now without him.

Turning around she pointed to a well trimmed bearded man with long grey hair tied into a neat pony tail two tables away.  Soft, manicured hands delicately held a cup of Chinese tea to a face painted with all the honesty of a horse trader from Kansas City. “Our Mayor is sitting right over there listening to every word you’ve been saying, haven’t you Mayor Maximus?”

“Oh yes I have my dear Susan, oh yes I have.” Getting up from his own table he bullied his way past the other table and over to Jelly Rolls.

Standing over Jelly Roll like his dung don’t stink he asked, “You have a gripe here cowboy? Maybe you find our town too refined and civilized for your buffalo grunt taste. You do realize that putting another person in an uncalled for stressful situation such as your waitress Susan is now experiencing here, is against the law?”

The jail door slammed loudly behind him.

 

Chapter 3

As jails went, it wasn’t too bad at all. He flipped the blanket on the bed aside and didn’t see the usual scurrying of fleeing bed bugs or rings of old  pee stains.

An old man was in the cell next to him that wasn’t in there an hour before when he first arrived.

“What they got you in for boy?” the old man spoke through a raggedy beard trying it’s best to hide a set of picket fence teeth. “Judge Marcus got me tossed in today ‘cause I accidently spit on the street. No public spitten allowed here ya know. A filthy habit he says. Damn bug done jumped right in my mouth, ‘course I had to spit it out. I ain’t into swollow’n no bugs.

“Old man, I don’t wanna know why you’re in here or anything about your bug eatin habits. Ya could tell me though what kind of meals they serve here, I’m starvin’.”

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?”

“If ya got any money to pay for it.

“Pay for what?”

“If  you’re like me an’ havin’ no money, it’s whenever the Lady from the ‘Society for the Ethical Treatment of Prisoners and Other Bums’, better known as SETPOB gets here. It used to be ‘Prisoners Eat Terribly Awful’ or PETA,  but then some animal group complained they stole their initials an’ was all set to sue ‘em so they changed it to SETPOB.”

“So you’re sayin’ I gotta buy my own meals?”

“You should anyway, SETPOB meals is horrible stuff. Ain’t fit for no human, that’s for shore. Why last week when I was in here for not crossin’ the street at the marked road intersection, they fed me nothin’ but a slab of beef drenched in gravy over white bread!”

Jelly Roll perked up, “Damn! For real?”

“Yup, they figure if you get locked up, then you don’t deserve as good a meal as a decent folk would eat. Don’t expect no hot tea either. Just coffee! Tea’s for good folk “

“Well… Guess I’m broke then’” Jelly smiled pleasantly.

After a ‘terrible’ but very filling meal of butter made biscuits, pork sausage and coffee, Jelly Roll lay down and fell into a deep sleep on the jails recently purchased firm foundation mattress.

The old timer in the next cell sat complaining that his civil rights were being violated by being fed such a horrible meal.

Chapter 4

 

At 30 minutes after midnight The jail house door silently opened. A cowboy wearing a dirty bandana over his mouth stepped inside. The Sheriff sat in his chair sleeping. The intruder slowly lifted his greener shotgun and aimed it at the sleeping Sheriff.

“Wake up old man!

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”

“Damn it, I said wake up!”

“ZZz..snort..ZZZZZ”

“He’s half deaf” yelled the old man from the cell next to Jelly Roll. “Jes’ tap him on the head with the greener, that’ll get him awake.”

Lifting the Sheriffs hat off his head with the greener, he brought the barrel down,  giving the slleping Sheriff’s  head a resounding bonk.

“What in blazes?” The Sheriff yelled as he fell backward grabbing his head and sprawling bodily onto the floor.

“Who did that?” He shouted as he fumbled through his vest pockets looking for his spectacles. “There’s  laws against whatever just happened!”

“Stand up Sheriff, an’ put your gun a top the desk then back away from it.”

From his cell, Jelly Roll watched the scene with interest. The old man in the next cell whispered to him, “That there is Blasphemous Bob Barkus, he used to be an actor in California. He helped Mayor  Maximus , whose real name by the way is Johnny Deep, set up this town years ago as an experiment in social living. Seems he left before the town was completed sayin’ he heard the call of the whale, or somethin’ like that. Anyway, he signs onto this here oriental whale studyin’ ship as a crew member and sails away. Only thing is, the only studyin’ that ship did was to study how better to harpoon the dang things. Seems bein’ three years at sea harpoonin’ whales did somethin’ to his thinkin’. Soon’s he landed, he come back here wanting a giant veal steak sautéed in a onion Rum sauce with pickled eggs on the side. The man had completely gone off the deep end… threw away everything he earlier stood for. I heard he died of a fat clot in his blood or somethin’ after he left to take a job at a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans.  I guess not though, cause here he is again, alive as ever without no clots!”

“What’re you two whisperin’ about there? Walking over to the cells Blasphemous Bob demanded. Pointing his gun at Jelly Roll he asked, “What’re you in here for cowboy? Murder? Rape? Bank robbery?

“I just wanted beef stew and a whisky.”

A look of shocked disbelief plastered Blasphemous Bob’s face, “What?!! Son, didn’t you know that’s illegal here?”

“I do now.”

“What in tarnation was you thinkin’ by comin’ here? Ain’t nothing normal nor desirable ‘bout this place. It took me 3 years to see what every Texan sees right off about what’s wrong with it. No real Texan like you could abide here, no way!  That’s why we settled it with college graduates, ex politicians, lawyers, bankers  and bums!  Didn’t you take the time to read the sign by the road?

“Sure I did.” Jelly Roll said, “It said to hand in your guns, that’s all. I saw nothing too unusual about that. I’ve known other places do that, like Boston.”

“You been to Boston? How’d you like their baked beans? I just love how they toss that big ‘ol hunk a fat back in there for flavor. That sure makes it Yummo in my book!”

“No, never been there myself, but if it’s anything like this here town then I don’t want to either. I like wearin’ my gun and eatin’ beef n pickled eggs an’ drinkin’ whiskey too much.”

Blasphemous  Bob shouted, “Beef n Pickled eggs? Here’s a man after my own heart!” Demanding the jail’s ring of keys from the Sheriff, he opened the cell door Jelly Roll was locked  behind.

“Get on outa’ there son, I commune your sentence to time served! Now you get on the nag you rode in here with an’ ride till you come to that fork in the road again. This time read the dang sign in it’s entirety.”

Walking over to the Sheriffs gun safe, Blasphemous Bob Barkus unlocked it and tossed Jelly Roll his gun. He then grabbed arm load after arm load of the towns peoples pistols and threw them out the door into the street.  “As for me? I gotta correct the errors of my ways. This here towns gotta go. No one should be forced to live like this…it just ain’t natural an’ shore ain’t Texan!”

Waking the livery boy, Jelly Roll saddled up and headed out of town.  Behind him, the dark sky began to brighten with a yellowish glow. Blasphemous Bob was correcting the errors of his ways by burning down the town that was not fit for any Texan.

Suddenly he remembered something and turned the mare around and headed back to town at a gallop. The town was fully ablaze. The townsfolk were all wandering about in the street watching their town burn down around them. Seeing their guns lying about they began to retrieve them and buckle them on once again, just in case. Heading up to the now flame engulfed diner, he scanned the crowd for the familiar face he’d met only hours before.

Finding what he searched for, he rode over to the cute although somewhat thin blond girl who’s hair was still hair tied atop her head even though she no longer had a waitress job.

She stood frozen as she watched her town quickly burn away around her. A hanky with prints of chickadee’s that matched those on her night gown, was busy wiping the tears that rolled down her pretty cheeks. She looked up as he approached her and he smiled down at her.

Patting the saddle in front of him he asked her, “Want a lift some where’s? I got plenty of room up here seeing as how thin you are and all. Why I bet you could ride all the way back to Amarillo with me an’ not even crowd me out once.”

“I was born somewhere near Amarillo.” She sadly replied, “When my parents graduated from college with degrees in Mime psychology and performing arts, they took up the Mayors offer to be settled here at no cost. They both passed on last year when they was poisoned by some paint they had purchased from a  Chinese paint company they wore in their Mime act.

I have nowhere to go now except back to Amarillo. Maybe I’ll find  my extended family, maybe I’ll just get married, settle down and have a whole passel of children as a result of keeping my man happy an’ wobbly legged. Sir, If you don’t mind a somewhat thin cute blond girl that wears her hair up riding there in front of you, I’ll take you up on your offer  because I have nothing to keep me here and besides, I have always wanted to eat a medium rare slab of beef with pickled eggs on the side.”

Jelly Roll reached down and hooked her up into the saddle in front of him with one swoop of his arm. “My, you sure are strong Sir.” She breathlessly told him.

He could smell the fragrance of patchouli in her hair and feel the heat of her body against his as Horse clopped down the road he had come in on. “You said you might look to get married an’ have a passel of children from the results of keepin’ your man happy and wobbly legged? What kind a fella you got in mind?”

As if deep in thought, she put her pointing finger to her lips and finally said,  “Well, he’s gotta be strong, like you are. He has to have his own horse of course, like you have. And if he’s going to live in Texas with me, he has to eat beef and drink whisky, like you do.”

Looking skyward, Jelly Roll said smiling. “Gee ma’am sounds like you an’ Blasphemous Bob should hook up!”

She turned in the saddle and kissed his ear, “I thought about it but he likes rum, not whisky…unlike you.”

As they passed the town welcome sign, he stopped and said to the somewhat thin cute blond girl who wore her hair up,” Blasphemous Bob asked if I’d read the sign before I entered town, I read it but didn’t see nothing written on it that would warn me of all the strange non Texan things about the town. Is there something on it I missed?”

She smiled and patted his cheek affectionately, “Look real close at the bottom my sweet Sir. It’s about covered by the tall growing grass but if you look close you can still read it.”

Jelly Roll dismounted and approached the sign with a lit match to light the way. Squinting his searching eyes, he brushed away the tall grass and was finally able to read what was hidden, suddenly he understood. There written in the same French Script MT as the name of the town was written in it said, ‘If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico’.

If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico

Jelly Roll shuddered. With a herculean hop skip and jump, he landed back in the saddle and spurring Horse into a gallop, Jelly Roll Johnson and the cute but somewhat thin blond girl with her hair worn atop her head fled into the night towards Amarillo. There they married, ate beef and pickled eggs three times a week and had a passel of kids as a result of her keeping him happy… and wobbly legged.

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

By J W Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dana answered the door and invited her Gentleman caller in.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dana! No, don’t, it’s me, Ben.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a promise he never broke.