A Quaker’s Colt

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Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point Erik broke down weeping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Bekke and Thomas were stunned!

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

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

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

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

Leaning over sideways she vomited.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know.”

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

“I was saving a friend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olaf Larson.

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

Regrettably, he was not be the last.”

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The Caltrop ranch

Chapter 1  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No Dad, Mom did!”

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

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

“I suppose that correct”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each noticed the deafening quiet now within the sitting room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Segundo? What’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry, I meant no insult.”

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

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

“Uh, miss, I mean Amy, uh, uh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My wife!”

Chapter 3 

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

“My God, it’s beautiful Raeford!”

“Look, rider’s coming.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So should we pull our scouts back then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m thinking there’s one in Laramie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will he be alright?” The woman asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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