Bekke’s Law – Deputized

bekkes-law deputized

 

Some years ago I recalled a story and told you of a precocious young girl named Bekke Hillstrand.

Well, the years passed and she did end up marrying the young boy she befriended. There’s more to her tale and if’n you got a few, I’d like to tell you what ever became of her and how I know all this.

 But first, if you all remember how my last story ended, you’d remember Bekke had finally patched things up between her long lost Dad. She eventually asked him to move to Globe where she and her future husband inherited from a dying friend a mercantile and freighting business.

Bekke had transformed the upper story of the carriage house into a fine well furnished home where her father was given one of the large rooms to live in. Bekke had an outside stairway built aside his room so he could come and go in private. His life had been transformed to that of a man who had finally found peace. Many an evening he sat comfortable in his over stuffed chair reading a worn King James Bible by lamplight and warmed bodily by a small nearby pot bellied stove and inside from his daughters love for him.

  As time passed, the business grew successful but Bekke’s father, up in years and a long spell in questionable health, had become bedridden. It was on chilly, overcast fall day that he breathed his last breath. His daughter along with his now son in law, each held one of his weathered hands as the Lord took him home. Two days later he was lowered forever into the grave during an October rain storm.

 Two brothers, both Sheriffs in different towns, will be joining up with Bekke and Jethro in Prescott where the couple are expanding their freight haulin’ business. But Prescott wasn’t going to be the problem free town they had imagined.  But they’ll work through it.

 From here on in, I’m going to do the telling of this story from the perspective of a written story with as much proper grammar as I’m capable of. So set back an’ enjoy the second story of a wonderfully precocious kid turned Lady.

 

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The carriage ride back home from the cemetery was one of sadness and introspection. Jethro guided the single horse drawn Studebaker carriage through the maze of Globe’s muddy streets uncaring that mud from the horses hooves were splashing upward onto his new wool suit. Bekke sat next to him on the comfortably stuffed leather covered single bench seat. Both were lost in their own thoughts.

As for Jethro, his thoughts wandered back to the days when he and Bekke experienced their first kiss. Riding away from the cemetery and the sad affair there, Jethro couldn’t help but smile. Back then when he had first met Bekke,  his body was starting to show signs of what he’d turn out to be as a grown man even though he still wore his hair in a youngsters  bowl cut.

Upon reaching their home, Jethro handed Bekke the reigns and jumped down into the mud and rain to open the large twin carriage houses doors. A couple years previous the large second floor loft’s interior had been transformed into a beautiful large home with an old stairway leading from the home upstairs to ground level where the carriage was stored. Before entering the dry interior of the upstairs and not wanting to leave mud on its clean wood planked floor, Jethro scraped the mud free from his shoes.

Before Bekke could remove herself from the carriage, Jethro was there with his hand out to help her down. Bekke was about to tell him that she was fully capable of performing the act herself but seeing his outstretched hand she decided to submit to his care for she knew it was his way of trying to comfort her.

Once upstairs in the house, both removed their rain soaked foul weather coates and hung them on the hall tree to dry. It was only when Bekke began stoking the cast iron cook stove to boil water for a pot of coffee that Jethro finally spoke.

“Why is it,” he asked no one in particular, “That every funeral I’ve ever been to has been in the rain? Billy’s funeral was the same way, it rained for weeks afterward.”

Billy was the original owner of the mercantile (See Bekke’s law). He took both Jethro and Bekke in as employees and later as near adopted family. Together under Billy’s tutelage they learned the freight and mercantile business. Jethro headed up the office while Bekke, being an expert muleteer from her youth, took charge of the freight hauling. On their second wedding anniversary Billy asked them to step into his office.

Waiting until the couple were comfortably seated he told the two that he desired to visit his daughter and grand kids back east in Virginia. He wanted to make the trip before he got so old that making the long trip back east would just be too difficult.

In laying out his plans for the trip, Billy then announced that since he had no idea of how long he would be away and that the couple was more than able to meet the challenge of running the business he told them, “I’m turning the legal ownership for Globe Mercantile and Freight over to the two of you. It’s no use arguing, the papers have been drawn up and submitted to the Court. As of yesterday, the business was yours. I trust you’ll handle everything just fine. Just send me a few dollars a month fer things like tobacco and a snort of bourbon now an’ then. You know, things my daughter would frown on if she had to buy ’em.”

Jethro and Bekke stood waving goodbye long after the carriage taking Billy to the train station had left. It began to rain.

Five months later Billy’s body was shipped back to Globe in a lead sealed coffin. Not wanting to upset them at the time, Billy had not told the two that weeks prior to his leaving his Doctor had diagnosed him with terminal cancer.

 

in the house Bekke left the hot stove with two man sized cups of steaming coffee. She handed Jethro one saying, “Here, this will warm you up.”

Blowing his breath across the cup to cool the coffee inside Jethro winked at her and said, “No one makes a pot of coffee better than you do Hon, it’s a Godsend on a day like today.”

Raising the deliciously filled steaming mug towards the window and foul weather outside he shouted, “In the power invested in this here cup of delicious coffee, I command you foul clouds to disperse and to stop your raining!”

Laughing, Bekke responded to Jethro’s crazy antics, “ I do believe only the Lord can command the weather my dear, unless of course he gave you some special power using a mug of coffee like it was Moses’s staff or something.”

“I’ll tell you,” he said, “If anything could command the weather it would be your coffee.”

“Husband, not to change the subject but I’ve received a notice that brothers John and Charles Arbuckle are shipping a forty sack wagon of their coffee beans for us to distribute to the local Phoenix roasters. The load is valued at over three thousand dollars.”

“So, will you be the one to take the load or should I have Geezer take it?”

“The two ton shipment should arrive at the warehouse in Tucson by the end of the month. Instead of Geezer hauling the load can an I assign Mac (who’s Apache name was Machk) to do the haul? He’s the youngest of our muleteer’s but he shows more promise than most twice his age. Besides,I’m not sure Geezer would be up to it,  I think he’s going to retire on us.”

“Well, we agreed Mac’s about ready for a Phoenix run so yes, let’s have him do the pick up and deliveries and see how he does. He rode shotgun a few times with us to the Peoria warehouse before this so he knows the route and we’ll give him directions to all the roasters he’ll need to deliver to. Good idea.”

Furrowing her brow Bekke asked, “Do you think he’ll need a shotgun rider?  I mean there is a lot of money tied up in those sacks of coffee. Two thousand pounds of coffee is hard to steal but it wouldn’t be the first high value load to fall into a group of road agents hands”

“Hmmm, you’re probably right, I’ll ask Mac if his older brother Snake will again sit shotgun for him. Snake may be a bit too lazy for real work but with his size and the looks of him he’s sure to give any road agents a second thought before attempting to steal a load. Besides, he hauls that huge ten gauge greener shotgun around like it’s attached to him.”

Snake stood six feet five inches tall and had a body most circus strong men longed for. His arms alone were as round as most Amen’s legs, and they were solid muscle, no fat. In fact weighing in at just over three hundred pounds folks assumed his father was a grizzly bear, not an Indian. Snake had immense strength and an unmatched endurance. He had been known to trot from Globe to the town of Young, some forty miles north, without stopping or getting out of breath.

Snakes only physical drawback was his looks. As a young man he was helping to unload a wagon at the Clayborone copper smelting plant in Globe when the ill fitting lid of a barrel of acid used in smelting allowed the acid to splash onto his face. Time healed the worst of it but deep scars still remained. As he grew older, he became less social due to his looks. Those on the reservation called him the quiet giant. Bekke saw great potential in the big man, much more than just riding shotgun to protect the muleteer and his load.

“Yes, I’ll ask Mac if his brother would act as the shotgun rider.”

Bekke added, “Since we’re talking business, have you given any more thought about expanding our business? The last time we talked you mentioned letting Andy run the Globe mercantile and freight business here in Globe while you and I open a second freight business elsewhere. It would double our business.”

Jethro agreed, “I have no doubt we need to expand, I’m just not sure where yet. Our present business clients in Phoenix are pretty lack luster with them being so much closer to Tucson and all. I’ve been told Prescott would make an excellent place to position a second mercantile and freight hauling business.”

 

Pulling out a map of the Arizona territory, Jethro unrolled it on the table and pointed out locations to Bekke. “It’s north of Phoenix, south west of Flagstaff, east of Fort Mohave in the Nevada Territory and west of the New Mexico Territory. Prescott sure could cover a lot of ground that we presently can’t really haul economically to. I’m not sure how much more the Globe area will expand. The copper mine’s been eating up more and more land every year looking for more copper ore and folks are hesitant on building too far away from town because they fear the mine will just shove them out and they’d have to move again. ”

Bekke Took the empty coffee mug from Jethro’s hands and refilled it. Handing it back to him she told him. “I’ve been to Prescott a few times making deliveries and I’ve been thinking along the same lines. Prescott seems to be growing where as Globe hasn’t changed much since I moved here. Now, If you’ll sit like a good boy and not jump to conclusions I’d like to tell you what I’ve been pondering.”

Jethro pulled out one of the spoke backed wooden kitchen chairs from the table and pushing the map aside he sat down. “Be my guest, I’ve been kinda hoping you’ve been thinking about this. To tell you the truth, I’m a bit terrified at the thought of doing this. You know me, I’m the type of guy that is comfortable working for others. If Billy had offered just me this place? No way would I have taken it. But, with you as my partner it made all the difference. I mean look at how much the business has grown and that’s because you led me sometimes kick’n and screaming into unfamiliar territory. You’re the reason why this place has succeeded, not me!”

“My dear sweet husband, you don’t give yourself enough credit. Why without you who would have hired the great workers we have? Who trained Andy to take the reigns when you’re gone? Think about it! Andy was a kid with no direction or desire to be anything more than a young man who was more interested in Saturday night dances than in growing up. Look at him now, and it’s all because of you!”

“Alright, I’ll take a small bit of the credit. So, what is it that you’ve been thinking?”

“I believe opening a second mercantile and freighting business would be too much at first. Let’s start by just concentrating on the freight end. I’m sure Prescott has plenty of general stores as it’s a much bigger town than Globe. Why should we start out by trying to compete for local towns folk’s business? Most who already have certain loyalties to their favorite stores. Freighting on the other hand is impersonal. We deal with companies not people.”

“Keep going, I’m with you so far.”

By now Bekke was getting excited. “Good, first we need to get the lay of the land and see what kind of competition is out there. How many freight hauling businesses does Prescott have? How far do they truck their loads? To what towns? How large and heavy of loads can their wagons haul?”

Nodding in agreement Jethro added, “We need to see about a building for the business, a house to live in, new wagons have to be built and mules purchased. We’ll have a lot to do if we decided on it.”

“Well, money is not a problem. A while back I started a new account separate from the other company ones that was dedicated for expanding our present business or for relocating and starting a new one. We have over fourteen thousand dollars in it. That’s more than enough to build new if we need to but I’m sure there are existing buildings for sale.”

“So, when do we go?”

“Not we dear, just me! You need to stay here to finish training Andy and any new hires you can find. I know just what we’ll need and to be honest, I’m a much better price haggler than you are.”

Jethro had to admit she was right. He never worried about her while she was delivering loads, even when she was gone for a week or two. Besides, he could not recall a story of a woman being physically accosted, it just wasn’t done. Even when road agents robbed, the women were always treated with kids gloves. If a no good was to harm a female, his cohorts in crime would think nothing of roping him to a cactus and leaving him in the desert all alone to die. Still, she always traveled well armed.

Three weeks later Mac and Snake arrived from delivering the huge load of Arbuckles coffee. As Snake had done many times before and not being much for goodbyes he took his pay and left without saying a word.

Mac was told of Bekke’s upcoming trip to Prescott and had mixed feelings about the move. It was out of pure selfishness as the Clemens had become special to him. It was they who hired him as an Indian with no education when no one else would. Without the intervention and support of both Jethro and Bekke, Mac knew he and Snake would have been forced to live without much of a future on the reservation.

“What will happen to Snake and myself if you move?” Mac asked

Since it was Bekke’s idea that was being proposed, Jethro remained silent on the matter.

Bekke spoke, “The two of you will remain employed here in Globe for the time being. The move, when it does takes place, will happen in the upcoming year. There is much to be done, least of all is the training of new employees. This is where you come in Mac. Since you proved you could handle the trips of a high value load combined with multiple drops in Phoenix, we are raising your position to that as freight supervisor. All the other present and future muleteers here in Globe will answer to you. Jethro will continue to train you in more detail and in return you will train the new muleteers, starting with local trips as they work their way to doing long hauls.

“So I am to stay here in Globe?”

“Yes, but only for the time being. It is up to you and Snake whether you decide to relocate with us or stay behind.”

“ If you decide to relocate to Prescott, I’ll file the application with the Territorial Governor allowing you to permanently leave the reservation. It is the same application I filed to allow you to live here in town. It most likely will just be a formality since he first application was approved without delay. Besides, they take into consideration our dependency on your employment with us. As a supervisor over other employees your value to our business increases dramatically.”

“And Snake? Will the value of being a shotgun rider be enough to allow him to relocate off of the reservation?”

Jethro now spoke up saying, “We wanted to talk to you before we offered him the job in Prescott. You are right. Being a shotgun rider would not be enough to qualify him to leave the reservation. When we filed your application, we proved to the Government official in charge of Indian affairs that after two months of advertising for a muleteer the position still went unfilled and our only recourse was to train an Apache to do the job. But, my only concern is with Snakes indifferent attitude. Would he be willing to take on additional duties other than being a shotgun rider? If so, we thought he could be in charge of security for all high value loads, take charge of the wagon and harness maintenance and be willing to apprentice as a possible back up black smith. With these added duties we could once again show his value to the authorities that our business would suffer without him.”

Looking down at his feet, Mac told Jethro, “My heart is sad, for you misjudge my brother Snake. He is not lazy as I’ve heard you wrongly speak of him. As a young man he had big dreams of being much more than an Indian stuck on the Reservation. Don’t mistake his size with any lack of intelligence. He is very smart but since his accident at the mine he has gone into himself. Believe me, if offered, he would jump at the chance to make something of himself.”

Bekke turned to Jethro and pointing a finger at him said,, “Ha! Did I not tell you that I saw something in him that others missed? I knew there was more to him that met the eye. I’m all for hiring him!”

Two months later Jethro received the applications back for Snake and Mac to leave the Reservation in order to relocate up in Prescott if the company expanded there.

Shortly after receiving approvals, the Clemens won the bid to supply twelve thousand pounds of copper roof sheeting for the new courthouse in Prescott. In submitting the bid, Jethro knew his bid was going to be substantially less than his competitors could offer. He was making only a little profit on the load but winning the bid gave Bekke the time and ability to research the feasibility of the move.

Besides Bekke, Jethro insisted that both Snake and Mac would travel along with her in a second wagon. Both heavily built wagons could carry up to eight tons of freight. The wide steel rimmed wheels would prevent the wagon from sinking too deep into any sandy areas along the trail. Bekke and Mac would drive the two wagons while Snake would help to unload them. All three cared for the sixteen mules.

Along with a weeks supply of provisions and personal items for both humans and mules, Snake once again took his deadly greener ten gauge to protect them.

Leaving Jethro, Andy and four other wagoneer’s in training behind, the three left at dawn hoping to make the twelve mile trip to a commonly used grassy park West of Globe on the first day.

It took longer than expected as the trail wasn’t as firmly packed just outside of Globe. It was nearly dark when they finally arrived at the grassy park.

The park had been a favorite stopping point for earlier Indian of various traveling west to parts unknown. It was a Godsend to those making camp there as it had a natural water tank in the form of a small pond fed by a year round running stream.

Surrounding the tank grew a field of lush grass which the mules greedily chomped on. Ancient cottonwood trees provided much of the park with shade. At one time a trading post operated by an unscrupulous Missouri road agent occupied the park. The large cottonwood log building he built sat unmolested on Indian land for five years but after cheating a group of Apache out of their trade blankets, the upset Apache’s burnt the trading post to the ground… along with the unscrupulous owner who was heard screaming inside.

Over the years folks camped out there had dismantled the trading post to use as firewood on chilly nights. Nothing remained now except a legend that somewhere buried in the park was the post operators ill gained profits of gold. With each telling the cache of gold increased in value until finally the Commander of nearby Fort Presume sent a detail of men to dig up the area. No gold was ever found.

The three set about making camp in the dark. Bekke acted as cook since neither Mac or Snake was very familiar with white folks cooking. Bekke could not stand the thought of a weeks meals consisting of questionable animal origins and fry bread.

Neither young man complained when Bekke’s cooking skills provided them with beef stew, a loaf of hot Dutch Oven bread and warm but delicious lemonade. The brothers lay down in the cool lush grass rubbing their bellies in appreciation but Bekke wasn’t through yet…out came the apple pie and coffee!

Placing their bedrolls under Mac’s wagon the brothers were soon snoring. It was a common beliefs that Indians don’t snore but the brothers did not hold much to that. Bekke didn’t like the idea of laying on the ground among the night critters that ventured to the water tank to slack the days thirst away so she made her bed upon the wagon’s large bench seat. As a precaution, she placed her rifle on the floor under the bench seat.

Morning arrived and Bekke repeated her cooking magic. Gorging themselves on hot Johnny cakes, maple syrup and thin cut slabs of bacon, the three then made ready to get back on the trail.

Today’s destination was the town of Surprise. Numerous times in her freight hauling travels Bekke stayed the night at the Golden Arms Hotel and Diner. The hotel, while small and without many of the frills of a large city hotel was amazingly clean and the food was excellent. Unusual for hotels back then, each day, fresh pillow cases and bed sheets replaced those of the night before. The inside of the small clothes closet, the hat rack and the sturdy wooden bed frame were all whitewashed in a mixture of lime based paint. This prevented any transference of bedbugs and lice to the guest clothing and hair.

After a hot bath costing her twenty five cents, Bekke jumped into the soft feather bed and was soon asleep.

Meanwhile the brothers preferred to sleep outdoors once again under one of the wagons. Snake slept with the greener keeping one eye open on the loads.

The next day they hoped to reach the age old Apache land just east of Phoenix. A new town called Goldfield had cropped up in the Superstition mountains there. Some folks got rich, many mysteriously died. Where ever there were mining towns there were hard drinking cowboys, destitute miners and card sharks willing to make a living off of others.

The three had decided to skirt Goldfield and camp out at what was called Apache squaw Junction, just a couple miles north of the town. So far the trip was without incident.

After a nights stay at the Junction, Bekke turned the team onto the road that led to Prescott. Calling it a road may have been calling a lump of coal a future diamond but at least it was headed in the right direction and was well traveled.

They traveled through Black Canyon without being ambushed and then had to climb the steep sides of Table Top Mountain. This is where having eight Missouri mules came into play.

The ‘roads’ increase in angle became harder and harder for the wagons to traverse. Not only was the road steep but it was strewn with millions of fist sized stones.

If one watched the mules they would have noticed the mules began to shorten the length of their strides. These tiny steps provided more power and stability to the entire team.

It took over three hours to reach to top. Table Top Mountain was actually a giant mesa having an extremely flat top grassy surface. Traveling along the top was so easy after the difficult climb that the mules actually regained their strength.

On the top of the mesa, Bekke once again changed the direction, heading now to the North West. The road split here into two. One road headed towards Flagstaff the other headed onto Prescott.

Before descending downhill on the road to Prescott, the three made camp for the night on the edge of the mesa. There was plenty of tall grass growing on the mile wide top but no water so Mac opened one of the water kegs to satisfy the mules and themselves. The mules were only hobbled as there was no trees to run a rope to hitch them to. There were no predators about and the mules would naturally stay within view of each other as mules like to do. They would spend the rest of the evening cropping the fresh grass.

“I think we’ll make it to Prescott the day after tomorrow if all goes well. From here on out we have only rolling hills ahead until we reach the outskirts of the town. The town is built on a series of hills so keep your wheel brake free of dust or mud if it rains.

After the evening meal was finished and all the cooking utensils were cleaned and stored away for the night, the two tents were unfolded and set up. Under each wagon was a ‘possum belly’ to carry any wood for cooking and the night fire. It was a heavy leather blanket shaped affair attached by multiple hooks that could hold hundreds of pounds of  small branches and split logs. Since the mesa grew nothing more than grass the possum belly was a vital addition to the wagon.

Morning found the sky with heavily laden with dark rain clouds.

Bekke once again warned the two to keep their wagon brake free of mud if it rained. As they started their downhill trip a light drizzle began but within minutes a hard down pour came.

Bekke turned around from her seat in the lead wagon and shouted at the two brothers behind her. “These mules aren’t used to thunder and if it starts, we may have to hold up until the thunder passes or until the mules get used to it.”

Fortunately, the rolling thunder kept to the east and passed them by without incident. They made it safely to the mountains foot hill where the road was wet from the drenching rain but was still in very good shape. A few slips and slides occurred but Bekke was pleased to see Mac had handled the eight mule team well.

 

Chapter 2

 Meanwhile back at the Globe Mercantile and freight, Jethro and Andy were busy training the four new employee’s on mule care. As expected, Geezer gave his notice  of retirement but would stay on to help train the new drivers… if needed.

Jethro figured it would take at least three to four weeks of intense training before any one of the new muleteers would be capable of driving even a two mule team let alone an eight mule set up like Bekke and Mac drove. But Jethro had to start somewhere and finding muleteers was hard in a small town still paying top wages at the copper mines.

Both Andy and Jethro had reason to be pleased with the four greenhorns. Three of them were older men who for physical reasons had been let go at the mines. Working copper mines was for the young and sometimes as joked, the simple minded.

Bull, Lester and Toby fell into this group while Festus was the youngster at twenty two years old. All four showed a willingness to learn the ropes of muleteering and the freight hauling industry. Jethro couldn’t have been more pleased.

Lester showed signs of excelling at paper work on top of handling a mule team. Bull was just that, a huge man who took less time to load a wagon than two good loaders could obtain. Friendly and gentle spirited he was a joy to teach the trade to.

Festus was the clown of the four. His instinctive humor kept everyone in high spirits even when things went wrong. Tall and skinny with a long neck that gave the appearance he had a wobbly head, he used his physical looks to amplify his funny stories. In his youth he was nick named ‘Scarecrow’.

Toby was a fella with few words.  He was a soft spoken individual who due to a mine accident was missing his toes on his right foot. It may have been enough of a problem for the mine boss but not for Jethro. Being of average height and weight, nothing made him stand out in a crowd. He was so apt to blend in with a crowd that even his fellow church goes would sometimes question him as to why he no longer attended Sunday services. He would just smile and begin to recall the Pastors sermon verbatim.

Jethro was extremely pleased that one of the men, Lester,  had the gift of paper pushing. After Jethro left for Prescott, Andy would have his hands full and Lester would be a great asset in keeping the records and billing straight.

As the days turned into weeks, the four men had been upgraded from a two mule team to that of four and six teams. As yet only Jethro and Bekke were capable of handling an eight team set up. Each new man caught on to the ability to choose which mule was placed where in line and all became adept at rigging the complicate harnesses. They learned which mules bonded with each other and which worked against each other. Which ones preferred being on the right or left side and which ones could be wheel mules in guiding the team in turning and backing. The four spent much time in the stable grooming and caring for the mules. In all, there were a total of 34 Missouri bred and trained mules and each had their own quirks and personalities to learn about.

On the sixth day after leaving Globe, Jethro figured without any mishaps, that Bekke Mac and Snake had reached Prescott.

Upon their safe arrival, Bekke had promised Jethro to send him a telegram and sure enough at three in the afternoon a delivery boy from the telegraph office showed up at the Globe Mercantile office.

After tipping the boy a dime Jethro unfolded the yellow telegraph paper to read.

 

JETHRO CLEMENS GLOBE MERCHANTILE GLOBE ARIZONA

ARRIVED WITH FREIGHT INTACT. (STOP) WILL DELIVER IT TOMORROW (STOP). ALL MY LOVE.

Jethro smiled with a sigh of relief. He had little doubt the three would be accosted but still, it was a relief to know they had safely made it there.

He knew once the wagons had been unloaded that the three would start researching the possibility of opening a second freight line there. Bekke had told him it may take a week or longer to fulfill the due diligence needed to make sure the start up in Prescott would be a successful venture.

What he did not know is their new venture would pit the Globe Mercantile and Freight Company up against one of the wealthiest and corrupt businessman in Prescott.

 

Chapter 3

After unloading the wagons at the courthouses nearby construction yard of the valuable copper roof sheeting, They headed off to a recommended livery stable that could handle the sixteen mules.

The old Negro in charge of the livery charged two dollars a day each for the stalls, grain and rubdowns the mules needed. He also would ask the blacksmith to inspect the mules flat horseshoes since he noted they were not fitted with the heavy heel calks and toe bars normally found in Northern Arizona for added traction.

Bekke commented on the two dollar a day charge for each mule telling the man that in Globe the same service would have been more in the seventy five cent to one dollar range.

The old negro shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Yes, but that’s in Globe an’ you ain’t in Globe no more.”

Bekke realized she’d have to re-think the cost of doing business and their freight charges. It looked like the Prescott economy might be double that of Southern Arizona’s economy.

The stable had no room left in the small indoor carriage area for the two big wagons so they were left outdoors and tarped over. Mac and Snake drew the heavy canvas tarps over each wagon to protect the wood. Though painted with a thick coat of dark green paint with yellow trim, Bekke knew how expensive each of the custom built wagons had cost them. Thus in carping them from the elements was only expected.

After grudgingly paying a weeks charge of two hundred dollars ( in paying up front, the stableman gave her a twenty four dollar discount) she told her two men that eating in restaurants may have to give way to cooking most of their meals back at camp.

Since eating in any restaurant was an undesirable thought for the two Apaches, both agreed they’d feel more comfortable eating their own (Bekke’s) cooking anyway. The stableman told them where a commonly used over night camp site was located.

“It’s even got a privy some gentleman built for his privacy a while back and there’s a clean flowing stream right nearby for dishes an’ stuff. I’d be a bit hesitant in bathing there though as you might find some of your valuables a missile from your pockets when you get dressed. Mostly it’s just kids but we got a few vagrant types that have been known to stoop low so they don’t have to hold a job.”

“We’ll take your advice, it’s appreciated.” Replied Bekke.

“You know somethin?” The negro stableman said, “I’m jes the stableman here. I don’t own the place but I seen you wince when I told you how much the fee would be. You all seem like nice folk, even your Indian men there, that if’n you need to stay a bit longer than the week you all jes’ go ahead with no extra charge.”

“Thank you! By the way, my names Bekke Hillstrand and my employees here go by the name Mac and Snake. We won’t abuse your offer Mister…”

“Folks around here call me Moon. It’s short for ‘Moon lips’. Moon lips Jones.

Bekke was taken back by his name as it sounded so derogatory. True, the man had a set of lips as big as a horses but somehow it seemed cruel to call him by such a name.

“I’m not sure I could call you that”, Bekke replied, “ I mean it seems kinda wrong somehow.”

“Oh, don’t you worry none about callin’ me by my name ‘cause sho’ enough that’s what my Daddy named me first time he laid eyes on me.”

“Your Dad named you that?”

“Yes’m. See, he was brung over from the coast of Africa an made a slave. He only spoke Igbo, that’s a type of language his tribe spoke over there. Some say it be like African Swahili talk. So when he presented me to be named he done saw how big my lips was an’ named me Mwezi Midomo or Moon lips. Nothin’ bad  about it, it’s a good name, a proud name.”

“I must admit Moon, I’m not familiar with the African culture and how names get to be. I meant no disrespect in my hesitation to call you moon.”

Laughing, Moon replied, “Hey, it’s a whole lot better than calling me some of the names folks around here called me.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the worst! It’s been a pleasure meeting you and we’ll stop by in a few days to see how the mules are treating you.”

Moon offered them the use of a horse drawn wagon to carry their camping gear up to the campground that over looked the town. After hauling their belongings to the camp site and cooking a quick meal, Bekke told the brothers to set up the tents and finish making their camp then return the wagon and horse to the livery.

“ Since we have plenty of daylight left, I’m going into town to get an idea of what kind of freighting competition we’re up against. I’ll be back before dark.”

Mac told her, “Just to be safe, take a gun with you.”

“You mean like one of these?” From her sack coat she pulled out a small twin shot 38 caliber pocket pistol.

Mac chuckled saying, “That’ll do!”

Bekke entered the town of Prescott from the south and headed down hill towards the down town business area. She was surprised at the permanency of the building that had been built. Most were brick or cut stone with only a few being of wood frame construction.

“Looks like they want this town to last” she thought. “At least the building aren’t going anywhere soon.”

The downtown was built around a square. In the center was the new court house she had brought the copper roofing material for. It was the first time she viewed the court house building since the business  she had unloaded goods at in her previous trips had been located away from the downtown area.

She was struck by how busy the town was. Shoppers were going in the stores and coming out carrying an armload of packages and boxes. She noticed a woman’s dress shop had a life size figure dressed in the latest Eastern look. She mentally placed its location in her mind vowing to someday visit the shop.

She was walking the outskirts of the square on the sparser west side when she came upon a freighters business. Looking up above the door she read , HIGH DESERT FREIGHT HAULING INC. After reading the faded lettering she decided to enter.

As she opened the heavy wooden front door to the business a bell inside and overhead attached to the door chimed.

An elderly white haired man looked up from the counter he had spread a bunch of papers on. In a friendly tone he asked, “May I help you Ma’am?”

“I’m not sure. My husband and I are thinking of opening a business here in town so I decided to see for myself what kind of prospects the town has for a new business.”

“Well,” he said chuckling, “I know my wife complains the two dress shops in town are in cahoots with each other to keep the prices high but then my wife thinks everyone is in business to bankrupt us.”

“I can see her point, I just paid the stable man double what it would cost me in Globe.”

“From Globe huh? My sister lived there before she passed on, maybe you knew her, her name was Martha Stern.”

“No, I guess she was before my time. But I knew a Roger Stern, any relation to your sister?”

“Yup, that’s her son. Worthless slug if there ever was one. Martha’s husband died when the boy was only two. She doted on him, spoiled him rotten.”

“Not trying to offend you but I have to agree. He sure was something.”

“Was?”

“Yes, he was killed in a saloon brawl last year. It seemed he was carrying on with a married woman and her husband found out.”

The old man shook his head and asked, “Did they charge the man who killed him?”

“No, they said Mr Stern brought it upon him self. The Sheriff claimed it was a justified killing and later a visiting judge circuit Judge agreed with the decision.”

“Well, I guess there is hope for the world after all. By the way, my name is Fred Hartford, I own this business. May I ask what kind of business are you thinking about opening? I can tell you the town needs a saddle maker, the one we got is going blind and if we could get a real barber in town, the men would be delighted. I guess the field is wide open to new businesses since we’re growing like corn on a spring day… that is unless you are going into the freighting business.”

Bekke visibly stepped back in shock as if hit. “Why would you say that?”

The old man stopped and looked around the place cautiously making sure no customer or employee could hear him.

“It’s a great town except for the likes of one man, Cecil Burkhalter. You see, Cecil Burkhalter used to be a lawyer in town, and not a good one. He was the main partner of Burkhalter, Mosley and Shlapp. His Father owned the Burkhalter freight company on Jackson Street, that’s on the east side of town.

One day Cecil was caught bribing a witness and was disbarred from practicing law in Arizona. It wasn’t the first time he’d been suspected of doing that but in this case the witness’s husband was a Federal Marshal. The woman just happened to be in town and saw a man murder another man. Cecil was hired to get the man off after he told the man he could guarantee his innocence and get him off. Well, the man hung of course and Cecil was found guilty of bribing a witness and lost his license and the business.

“So how does that play into the freighting business other than his father owned it.”

“It seemed Cecil had rung up quite a tab at the poker table one night. Without an income, he had to go to his father for a loan or be horse whipped.

His father not only gave him a loan of ten thousand dollars to cover the debt but put his son in as Vice President of Burkhalter Freight in an attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow.

It didn’t take long for is son to start robbing the till but when his father discovered the huge losses he got so upset he had a heart attack and died right then and there.

Cecil then took over the business and soon the other freighters in town started having problems.”

As if just interested in an exciting tale, Bekke innocently asked him,“May I ask what kind of problems they were having?”

“Sure, everyone in town knows what’s going on but are too meek to stand up to the bastard…Oh my, excuse me, it just came out.”

“Trust me, I’ve heard worse.”

“A Lady shouldn’t have to hear such language, again, I apologize.

With a dismissal shake of her head, Bekke said, “You were saying?”

“Yes, not only the other freighters but I have to include myself here. You see we’ve had a rash of sawed axles, mules made lame and having to be put down, Employees robbed while hauling freight, loads stolen and long time customers suddenly canceling orders only to sign up with Burkhalter Freight. There is so much more but I’m not going to go into it as I’ve already said too much .”

“So does the Sheriff know about all this?”

“Of course, the Sheriff is his father in law!”

“No wonder he gets away with it.”

“To be honest, this morning I had finally made up my mind. I am going to try and sell the business, if I can find a buyer.”

“Seeing what is going on, what do you think your chances are of finding a buyer to sell out to?”

“Honestly? Zero to none. I should have sold years ago but each time I entertained the idea I thought of my employees and their families. They all depended on me and it weighed heavily on my shoulders. I love my employees but I just can’t do this any longer. I’m afraid myself or my employees will end up getting hurt.

For more than a few moments, Bekke sat silently contemplating all that she had heard. She wondered to herself, “Was Prescott really the place to relocate after all? What would Jethro think after hearing all this?”

Finally, she lifted her head and asked point blank. “Mister Hartford, I’m going to be straight up honest with you. I came to Prescott hauling two heavy eight mule team wagons of copper sheeting for the new courthouses roof. My husband and I were thinking about opening a second freighting business so we could expand beyond the southern Arizona area. If you are truly thinking of giving up the business would you be willing to hold off closing down for another month? I want to return to Globe and discuss this situation with my husband. We might be able to work out a sale to both our benefits.”

“By God you may be the answer to my prayers. Yes, I’ll delay any further idea of closing until I hear back from you or in a month, but I can’t wait no longer that that since it’ll be winter soon and most of the freight business is already peaking. ”

Bekke stuck her hand out and Fred Hartford took it and told her. “My dear, you’ve either got more grit than any man I’ve ever met or you’re not right in the head … but I’ll shake on it!”

Dusk had not settled in before Bekke arrived back at the camp. She was pleased to see the brothers had set it up in its entirety. They even unfolded her cot and dressed it with her sheets and blankets.

Both mac and Snake looked up when she walked up. They had a nice cook fire going although no food was yet cooking… that was Bekke’s job.

“We waited until you got back. We know you like to cook white man style. Earlier Snake caught a rabbit but he ate it already. I had a few bites but since my brother requires so much food I let him eat most of it.”

Feigning a false lack of interest Bekke asked, “So, are you still hungry or shouldn’t I bother cooking a meal.”

Before she could finish Snake cried out, “Oh no, I’m really hungry. That rabbit was just a real small one and Mac ate a big piece of it so I didn’t get full.”

Laughing, Bekke said, “Not to worry Snake, I know you have a hollow leg!”

Snake looked quizzically at Mac and quietly whispered to him, “Do I have a hollow leg?”

 

The next morning found the three up before dawn planning the day. Bekke said she wanted to find out more about this Cecil Burkhalter fellow. If it were true that most folks didn’t cotton to him then it should be fairly easy to get folks to open up. She also needed to stop once again at the telegraph office. She would let Jethro know in the shortest terms possible, her conversation with Fred Hartford. She also felt inclined to send a message to her friend Federal MarshalDanny Vance. Danny had been the Sheriff of Globe for a decade or more. After Danny and his brother Davy (who had then been the town Sheriff of Show Low) saved twenty two Mormon children from a group of kidnappers they were approached by a representative of the Supreme Court in Washington to become special agents acting as Federal Marshals under the Supreme Court. (See “The children of box canyon”)

If anyone could find out for Bekke the inside story of Mr Burkhalter it would be the brothers.

Once again in town she entered the telegraph office and handed the key artist the note she wanted sent to Jethro.

JETHRO CLEMENS GLOBE FREIGHT GLOBE ARIZONA

GOOD NEWS (STOP) HIGH DESERT FREIGHT HERE WANTS TO SELL BUSINESS (STOP) NASTY COMPETITOR BURKHALTER FREIGHT COULD BE A PROBLEM. (STOP) LOVE YOU TONS BEKKE (STOP) BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA

The second note was sent to Danny Vance and read.

FEDERAL MARSHAL D VANCE GLOBE ARIZONA

DANNY IF POSSIBLE NEED INFO ON CECIL BURKHALTER OWNER OF BURKHALTER FREIGHT IN PRESCOTT. (STOP) LOOKING TO OPEN FREIGHT BUSINESS HERE (STOP) BURKHALTER KNOWN TO PLAY FOUL (STOP) MAY NEED YOUR HELP (STOP) BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA

Satisfied, she paid the clerk the two dollars and eighty cents including a dime tip and left.

On her way back to the camp she diverted down a dirt alley way behind the saloons. She wasn’t concerned about her safety as her hand was on the small 38 caliber pistol in her sack coat pocket and that it was just mid day.

Sometimes if you want to get a real perspective on a town the you need to walk the back alleys. It was there she ran across a second freight company.

Logan Freight was a small outfit. Seeing only four parked light weight wagons set up to be hauled by only two mules she figured it was a local delivery outfit.

She entered through the rear door by the loading dock

It was pretty dark inside but she could see through the center of the warehouse building where some slits of sunshine were entering through the wooden shutters mounted on the buildings front windows.

As Bekke silently made her way through the stacked crates and bundles of canvas wrapped goods looking for whoever ran the place she heard a mans voice pleading with someone.

“I swear, I ain’t holding out on Mister Burkhalter!”

Bekke could now see an elderly bald man holding out a ledger book toward another person telling him, “Here! See? I ain’t been doing good at all! My God, I can’t afford another ten percent on top of what he gets from me now. I need to stay in business an’ another ten percent will bankrupt me!”

Bekke stopped her movement and stood silently in the deep shadows listening to the man plead. The other man looked like the typical saloon tough guy in charge of keeping the peace. He had on a sleeveless button down shirt most likely worn to intimidate folks with his bulging arm muscles. His head was as big as a medicine ball with a protruding forehead . His whiskered face was decorated with dark deep set eyes hidden by a single dark bushy uni brow. If ever there was a need for a live description of a cave man, this was it.

“Don’t show me nothin’, you know I ain’t no how able to read! Mister Burkhalter pays me to collect his protection fees, not to hear your sob stories.”

He then stepped over and began to root through the owners desk. Tossing out much of the drawers contents onto the floor, the gorilla in man clothing did not find what he was apparently looking for.

In his anger he threw the entire drawer away at the window breaking it and then began busting up what small amount of office furniture existed. After making a wreck of the place, he turned once again to face the terrified proprietor.

The terrified owner began backing away as the crazed tough guy reached out his hands to grab the owner. Ducking, the owner was able to slip around the tough and head for the front door. To his dismay though he realized the tough guy had locked it after he entered. The smaller man suddenly felt a huge powerful hand wrap itself around his neck.

The owner loudly screamed, wetting himself in the process. The hard case then began to soundly beat the owner with his ham sized fist.

Bekke had seen and heard enough. Reaching into bulky her sack coat, she withdrew the pocket pistol and stepping into the offices meager light aimed the barrel directly on the tough’s face and shouted. “Stop or I’ll blow your filthy head off!”

The beater turned towards Bekke who’s face was still mostly hidden in the dark. Still, there was just enough light for him to see the silver gun barrel pointed in his face.  He knew by the sound of the voice the whoever it was meant business. Although not as raspy or frog like as in her youth, without seeing her face she could be mistaken for a young man.

Shoving the crying owner violently onto the floor, he told Bekke, “I don’t know who you are kid but you just made the biggest mistake of your life!”

In the darkness Bekke smiled and in her most feminine voice possible with a shrug of her shoulders answered, “What ever.”

Upon hearing the change in her voice, the thug became confused and asked, “Just who are you kid?”

 

Bekke had spent the majority of her childhood being abused by controlling men. As a child she once had literally been a slave to a sheep herder whom she freed herself by pushing the pervert off the edge of the Mogollon Rim near Payson.  He stood there over looking the two hundred foot cliff  while taking a leak and exposing himself to her.  Another as an abused teen, she ran over him with a freight wagon breaking 400 of his 206 bones. She then killed four more for similar atrocities. After being arrested she simply told the judge,  “Don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman by killin ’em. Men do this all the time out here where no law exist and they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just because I’m a girl?”  After hearing her tales of childhood abuses the Territorial Judge agreed saying each man had no excuse for their actions and each had earned their untimely trip to hell.  (See Bekke’s Law).

 

As Bekke left her childhood behind and settled into a fulfilling marriage with Jethro those memories rapidly faded… until now.

Like photographs spread out before her she once again saw each abuser and how they painfully abused her. Seeing the bully in front of her beating on an innocent elderly man broke the dam holding back the feelings she had conquered and controlled years before. And then her long buried primal rage for justice took over.

“Kneel”, she spoke.

After realizing the door was still locked and escape impossible, the tough guy mumbled but slowly began to kneel.

With her gun just a foot away from his face now, Bekke slowly reached down and grasped the leg of a chair that the tough guy had earlier broken off during his rampage. It was at that moment the thug, even though unable to clearly see her face, knew she was a woman.

“What now Sweet heart..”

Before he could finish the sentence, Bekke swung the chair leg with all her might slamming it across the mans face and loudly breaking the man’s jaw. Crying out, he fell onto his side trying to cover his mangled mouth. Bekke did not stop there. As the man rolled onto his back, Bekke stomped down onto the mans groin, not once but over and over. It seemed all of the pain of her past abuse was pouring out in the familiar form she had long ago gained control over.

Rolling onto his side in an attempt to protect his smashed groin, the whimpering gorilla began to vomit. Bekke stepped back as he emptied his stomach. Before leaving him  though, Bekke grabbed his head and began wiping the vomit up with the mans hair. “Don’t ever again call me Sweet heart!”

Delirious with pain, the beaten bully lay there moaning. He tried recalling what the woman looked like but between the darkness of the office and the severe pain clouding his mind her facial features eluded him. In such pain, darkness came over him and he lost consciousness.  It took another hour before he was capable of even sitting upright.

Between sobs, the weeping owner told Bekke, “Burkhalter’s going to kill me now! All I ever wanted was a little business to earn a modest living. Oh how I wish my Mary had never passed, she’d surely know what I should do.”

Bekke realized the man had little to no backbone. It must have been his wife who ruled the nest.

“Do you have any children” she asked him.

“Yes, two sons. One lives in Phoenix and the other lives in Atlanta Georgia. Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re right. You are a dead man if you stay here.”

“But what can I do? Where will I go? Burkhalter will be sure to find me!”

“ If you want to live then you’ll do exactly as I say. First. Go to your bank right now and close out your account, you’ll need the money. Second do not go home, do not attempt to gather any of your belongings instead go directly from the bank to the train depot and take the first train out to anywhere. Once you are clear of Prescott, you can re-route yourself to Atlanta. Now, get off the floor, wash your face and get to the bank and then catch the train. Forget about your business, it was finished anyway. If you own your home, in a few weeks contact an Attorney in a nearby town to sell it anonymously for you. If you do that you’ll most likely live.”

The man scrambled to his feet thanking her profusely for the directive. “I’m going now, thank you… what is your name?”

“Just call me Justice.”

Making her way behind the owner, she followed him out the same back door that she had entered through.

She watched as the man made his way down the alley and made the turn that brought him to the Square. She decided to see if he actually went to the bank or would his frightened nerves make him do something stupid. No, she smiled as he entered the Bank of Prescott.

Bekke then made her way back to the camp. “Wow”, she thought, “Do I have some explaining to do!”

The three sat around the evening cook fire going back over the recent events.

“The good thing is”, Bekke told them, “There will be two less Freight hauling companies to compete with. The bad is, I’m sure this Burkhalter fellow will stop at nothing to run us out of town or worse.”

Mac asked her,”Did the man who beat the elderly owner see your face? You said it was dark but can you be sure?”

“I’m pretty sure it was too dark to get a clear look at me. Besides, I was wearing my bulky sack coat and my hair was tucked under my big brimmed slouch hat. Even if it was in sunlight, he couldn’t say how big I was or what color my hair is. He even called me a kid. No, I feel confident I could pass him on the street and he’d never recognize me.”

Snake stood up saying, “Snake think we should leave here now. Maybe men watch for women who leave town.” Snake then pointed to the train depot located at the bottom of the hill they were camped at and said,  “Look, lone man at station trying to hide. Looks scared to Snake. Him the owner?”

“By golly you’re right, that’s the old man that just got beat up.” Bekke exclaimed, “I’m glad to see he’s getting out of town before Burkhalter’s men go looking for him.”

Bekke agreed with Snake about the need of getting out of town but not right then.

“Here’s what we’ll do. You two stay camped out here. No one would guess you’re connected in any way with me. I’m going to a hotel in town because I still need to discover our business prospects here.  I’ll bring my most feminine clothes to wear. If the gorilla gave any description it sure wouldn’t be one of a prettily dressed woman.”

Mac asked, How will we communicate with you if we can’t go into town?”

“I’ll take a daily walk past our camp here and if I need to contact you I’ll leave a message on paper in the crack of that storm damaged tree over there. We can’t risk rousing any suspicion by risking anyone seeing me talking to two Apache men. You two need to stay out of sight as much as possible. If you need anything leave a note in the tree and I’ll figure out a way to get it to you. Just sit and rest here till we’re ready to leave.”

Snake nodded, “Good, Snake need rest. No sleep good close to city.”

Mac snickered in much better English than Snake could speak, “I guess all that eating sure can tire a man out, who’da thunk!”

 Bekke spent the next three days doing the needed research to verify that the move to Prescott would be profitable. All signs showed a need for heavy hauling freight, something the Clemens were experts at. Not only had the Clemens back in Globe invested in an array of heavy wagons, some flat bedded others with tall sides and all with lowering tail gates but they ordered customized hoisting cranes to lift off freight so it could be placed straight onto waiting train cars. They even had an engineering firm design a rail mounted steam driven crane so heavy freight could be deposited in any place there was a rail road. This was something the Clemens knew could be used in delivering heavy machinery and iron castings for industry.

On the second day she passed by the cracked tree noting there was no note left but that changed on the third day.

On this day she retrieved a slip of yellow paper, the kind telegrams were printed on, it read.

BEKKE CLEMENS PRESCOTT ARIZONA CITY PUBLIC CAMPGROUND

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES APPROACH BURKHALTER (STOP) UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION (STOP) RETURN TO GLOBE IMMEDIATELY (STOP) NEED TO MEET

FEDERAL MARSHAL D VANCE GLOBE ARIZONA

After reading the telegram Bekke returned to the public campground and met with the brothers telling them. “We need to pull up stakes and get on back to Globe. Marshal Danny Vance’s orders. The Federal Marshals have Burkhalter under investigation so they must have an agent or two working the investigation here in Prescott. If Danny said that under no circumstances should we approach Burkhalter then he must feel we’re in imminent danger.”

Mac then told her,“We read the note after the delivery boy went around the place looking to deliver you your telegram. We had to show him your tent and your Bible before he left it with us. Snake then put it in the tree for you. Also, twice hard case men have been seen taking an interest in folks camping here. They asked if a woman was seen camping here but we shrugged pretending not to speak English.”

Bekke knew they had overstayed, “Snake, I want you to pack up the camp while Mac and I retrieve our wagons and mules. Pack up my belongings and tent first. If those or any other men stop by asking if there had been a woman camping here I want you to play dumb and pretend you don’t speak English again. listen instead to what they say if anything.”

“Snake understand. Play dumb, no speak English, listen to their talk.”

“Perfect. Mac and I will be right back.”

The two walked downhill past the train depot and to the to the livery. Even though they had a couple of days still paid up and would be offered the refund, Bekke decided to take their new friend stableman into her confidence and insisted he personally keep the refund, not giving it to the stables owner.

 

“All I’m asking,” she told Moon, “if anyone comes around asking if a woman has been by here to leave a horse or buggy to tell them no. There’s a possibility a man named Burkhalter will send men out after me.”

“What did you do to him?”

“Not him but one of his hard cases… I beat him up pretty good!”

“That was you? I heard all about someone givin’ one a his men a good thrashin’ but I never would have suspected such a tiny thing as you doing the beatin’, an you’s a woman to boot!”

“Well, I’m not proud of it but there was no helping it. He was beating on the owner of Logan Freight. The poor old soul was terrified.”

“Me an Logan done grow’d up together. We was here a’fore most anybody even called this a town. Oh, an to tell ya more, sho ‘nuff Burkhalter’s thugs done already come by askin’. I done told ‘em, nope ain’t no women been here. I told ‘em to see if McClarry’s stables might a done business wit you.”

“Oh, thank you!”

After hitching up the sixteen mules to the two wagons, Bekke paid an extra two dollars to fill one of the wagons with hay and another three dollars for two barrels of water. Two of the mules had to be shod for another eight dollars. In doing this there would be no need look for a camp each night with water on the way back or search for good grass.

Bekke thanked the stableman, shook his hand  and climbed up onto the tall drivers bench waving him good bye.

“You all take care now Ma’am.” The stableman shouted back, “Maybe someday we’ll cross paths again.”

Bekke shouted back to him, “I can tell you it’s a guarantee my friend.”

Back at the campground, the three quickly loaded their belongings and tents onto the empty wagon and headed back down to Globe on the same roads they arrived on.

 

Chapter 4

 Their return trip to Globe took less time than on the way up to Prescott. They continually checked their back trail looking for anyone who might be following them. When they spotted a dust cloud behind them in the distance, they would pull the wagons into the high scrub and hide until the traveler passed by them. None were from Burkhalter.

It had rained in Globe so the roads were greasy with deep wheel ruts. The extra wide wagon’s wheels prevented the wagons from getting bogged down or stuck. Having extremely wide hoofs, the Missouri mules where bred for this. As they turned onto their street, Bekke could see Jethro and another man hitching up four mules to another heavy wagon.

Hearing the mule train and wagons arriving Jethro looked up and seeing Bekke ran up the muddy street to greet her.

Bekke jumped down into his outstretched arms and kissed him deeply.

“Huzzah, I take it you missed me he said laughing.”

“You don’t know the half of it! Can you ask one of the men to stow the wagons with Mac and Snake? The mules need a good rub down and have them check their shoes too. We rode fast and furious back here from Prescott and I need to tell you all that happened and what we found out.”

Jethro told one of his new drivers to help Snake and Mac in caring for the sixteen mules and two wagons while Andy took over for Jethro.

Taking Bekke’s hand in his he led her up the stairs to their home above the carriage house. Once inside he made coffee and when they settled at the kitchen’s table, she told him everything that had occurred while up in Prescott.,

Jethro had quietly listened knowing Bekke would fill in the details as she told her story. When she had finished, he rose from his seat at the table, went to her and wrapped his arms around her saying, “I’m so sorry dear, are you alright?”

“Of course I am. I just lost my head for a minute when I saw that poor old man being beaten. Other than that, I learned a lot that I otherwise may never have known.”

Jethro slapped his head in exasperation“Oh darn, I forgot!  Marshall Vance wanted us to stop by the moment you arrived. He said it was really important that both of us be there.”

Bekke nodded her head but asked him, “Can we finish our coffee first. I need to rest up a minute.”

 

Federal Marshal Danny Vance invited the couple into his office. The brothers had no looks that were common to the two. Davy was of medium build, somewhat handsome with mouse brown hair while Danny was four inches taller and blond. What was not apparent yet was both brothers had a weeks unshaven whiskers going on. Later Bekke would ask about this. “You two want some coffee ? Danny asked. “It’s fresh ground and I made it only a moment before you stopped in.”

Both replied in the positive.

“So,” he began, “the Federal Marshal service had been actively investigating Mister Burkhalter for more than a year now. Unfortunately we’ve been unable to get anything on him to put him away. He’s got layer upon layer of means to commit a crime and get away with it. He has a group of professional shootist and strong arms preventing any witness from testifying by threatening them. Our problem is we as Federal Agents have to follow the law, where he does not. He has gotten off each time he’s been arrested.”

“How can that be? Jethro asked.

“Remember he was an attorney, not a good one mind you but he still knew the law better than most territorial judges. He could tie up a court case for so long the jury would get so fed up they’d just up and quit.”

“They can do that?”, Bekke asked.

“They’re not supposed to but what judge wants to keep a jury intact by hauling in a member of the jury in hand cuffs. And as far as judges go, most are political appointees installed as favors to donors or family members. As far as their being great legal minds, forget it. a good lawyer can run circles around most circuit judges.”

Bekke leaned forward looking straight into their friend Marshal Vance’s eyes and asked. “You asked us here, there must be some reason besides wanting to tell us that Burkhalter’s a bad guy, we already know that, so then why the rush we come see you ?”

The Marshal was blunt, “When word around town spread that you were looking at Prescott, we notified the the Supreme court offices in Washington. They have been looking for a person or persons to help the Marshals service nail this guy. You see, the Supreme Court in it’s infancy had been given the power to enlist certain men under their auspices and give them the authority to deal with major threats to our country, cities or towns by either men or organizations in any way they felt to see fit in disposing of them. That includes working outside of any Federal, State or Territorial laws.”

Wide eyed Jethro exclaimed, “Geez, are you saying an agent of the Supreme court can up and kill someone and not be charged?”

“In certain instances, yes. It was the Supreme court who formed and regulate Bounty Hunters. In the case of Special agents to the Supreme Court it goes much further than just being a Bounty Hunter. Bounty Hunters can only kill if the court initiates a dead or alive warrant on someone but it is left up to the Supreme Courts Special Agent’s discretion on how far he feel he needs to go to protect the government, even a local government. If the Agent, through the court, sees the person as a threat to the existence of the Government then he can act to protect the Government.

Jethro looked at Bekke then back to Marshal Vance and asked, “So what has all this to do with us?”

“As you two know, After rescuing the Mormon children from the white slavers, my brother Davy and I had been approached by the Federal Marshal service and offered the privilege of joining them. We accepted and for the last two years have been very successful in apprehending and winning convictions of some of the worst criminals in Arizona. Our success hadn’t gone unnoticed by those in high places. Last month we were upgraded to Federal Marshal Special Agents, we answer directly to the representatives of the Supreme Court.”

Bekke congratulated him on their advancement. “Both you and Davy deserve it” she said, “we’re so happy for you two!”

“Thank you, but there’s more.”

Bekke again replied, “Of course there is, why else would you have us here rather than tell us all this in the telegraph you sent when I was up in Prescott?”

“I mentioned a minute ago that we have been unable to get a solid conviction on Burkhalter. What we need is someone who can closely observe his acclivities and in turn become a prosecution witness. That’s where you all come in. If you do open a second freight business in Prescott we want you to to be our eyes and ears. You will be a paid the wages we pay an informant.

Jethro became uncomfortable. “If this Burkhalter is in the cross hairs of the Federal Government for high crimes, what kind of danger would we be in? I mean I’m not a detective or gunslinger, I just run a freight and mercantile business. How much use could we be to you?”

Bekke thought back to the moment she watched an innocent old man being beaten and reached over to grab Jethro’s hand. She sat there staring at him for a moment then spoke.

“Jethro, I know you. I also know you wish nothing more in life than to have a moderately successful business, have a wife, have some children someday and just enjoy the blessings God has given you. When I spoke to the owner of Logan Freight after his beating, he told me his dream too was to live that exact same life. He couldn’t understand why someone would take away from him all that he and his deceased wife had worked for. He cried at the unjustness of it all. He lost everything because no one had stopped Burkhalter earlier when it would have been possible. Now we’re being asked to step up and help combat the same evil that drove the old man away from his home and business. I saw that evil with my own eyes and it turns my stomach to see a man not only get away with it but to prosper doing it. I say yes, we should help.”

The Marshal sat in silence. Finally Jethro looked over at Bekke and told her, “When you put it like that…”

Bekke reached over and squeezed his hand saying, “This is why I love you.”

“Alright then, there is just one more thing I need to tell you about what I’m asking you to do.”

Jethro mumbled, “I knew it.”

“Actually it a good thing.

Again Jethro responded, “There is such a thing?”

“You bet there is.”

Pulling his desk drawer open he dug inside until he found what he was looking for. He laid the objects on the desk top in front of them but continued to hide them with his hand. Then he spread his fingers apart exposing two shiny badges.

“I need to swear you in as Federal Deputy Marshals.”

Both Jaws dropped open in shock.

Bekke beat Jethro to the punch in responding,“Are you serious? Federal Deputy Marshals? Really?”

“Yep, I said you’d be paid  LIKE informants, I have to get you all legal because these badges can throw a lot of weight.”

Intrigued, Jethro asked what he meant.

“I’ll be going over much more in detail of your responsibilities later on but by weight I meant authority. These badges supersede any local Sheriff, Marshal or Judge for that matter. They are backed by the United States Supreme Court. Unlike normal Federal Marshals who are backed by the Congress your position supersedes all of them. You will report only to my brother or myself, no one else. I will have the Representative of the Court draw up the needed papers to prove your authority.”

“Just out of curiosity, Bekke asked, “How can we continue to run our business if we’re running around Prescott as Deputies?”

“That’s just it, I don’t want anyone else to know your position unless absolutely necessary. To the public you’re to remain just business folks, nothing more. Those badges are a double edged sword. They can save your life or get you killed. Your best bet is to keep them hidden under your coats or in your vest pocket, shiny badges make great targets.”

“I understand, this way Jethro and I can acquire information without looking like we’re the law.”

“Precisely! Davey will be back by tomorrow, is it possible the two of you can come back here so we can go over everything you’ll need to know about your job. I also have a small note pad Davey made up when we took our jobs. In it he describes your duties, responsibilities and which laws you can forget about obeying and which ones are best to obey… if you need to.”

 

Chapter 5

 Back in their home, the couple sat drinking coffee and discussing the proposal which they had accepted.

Bekke opened the conversation because Jethro remained pretty much silent all the way home.

“So are you upset with me?”

Jethro gently placed his coffee cup down leaving his two hands wrapped around the hot mug.

“No, just overwhelmed that’s all. You know I’m a simple man, I don’t like conflict or problems in my life. I would be just as happy working for someone as I am owning my own business. I didn’t plan on or ask for Billy to leave us his company. Honestly, if it were just me, I’d a sold it the day I inherited it.”

“That sounds like you’re blaming me.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I’m a follower more than I am a leader and your just the opposite. When one looks at it like that it seems it’s a good set up for a good marriage.”

“Jethro, it is a good combination, I think the problem is in today’s world it’s expectant that the leader in a family be the man, the follower the woman. I can see why you’re conflicted. It shouldn’t make you feel like you’re a less of a man. You have gifts and strength in areas I don’t. You think before you act, I just barge ahead and hope for the best. As an enforcer of the law I know you would stay bound to the legal limits, I on the other hand would seek justice on my terms. I need you to reign me in when I go rushing blindly led by my emotions. You on the other hand need a shove now and then. I’d say we fit together pretty darn well if you ask me.”

“Hmmm, speaking of fitting together…”

“Mister Clemens! Are you suggesting we retire to the bedroom and work off the stress from all this?”

Taking her hand, Jethro led her to the bedroom where he displayed an amazing amount of leadership.

 

Wanting to update and congratulate his new team, Andy had gathered the four new muleteer’s together along with Mac and Snake by the companies loading dock.

“First off”, he told them, “For you new guys, let me say that I’m more than pleased with how all of you took to your new jobs. Each one of you performed much better than anyone expected. You’ve each made successful solo runs, made no mistakes with your mule teams nor the paperwork I know you dreaded. I’m very pleased to tell you that as of today you all will receive a bump up in your pay. And… As you advance to four, six and eight mule wagons, you’ll also be further compensated.”

“I congratulate each and every one of you four new men for all the excellent effort you’ve given. This new division up in Prescott will feed the company coffers allowing newer and better equipment to be purchased here as well as up there. As a plus, it also gives you a better outlook on job security. The owners have also been negotiating with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad for special pricing for their rail crane car. Since the crane would only travel with the heaviest loads such as castings and machinery, the owners feel the extra cost for these heavy loads should include at no cost the crane to unload them with. The Globe end of the business will not be participating in any crane capable loads as only Prescott has rail service east to the industrial Midwest.”

Hearing this pleased the men since adding rail service would have complicated their jobs.

“The next question is, who will eventually be going to Prescott? The owners are for sure. I will remain behind taking charge of the operations here. Also, Mac and Snake have been given permission by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to relocate to Prescott long as they are employed by the Clemens. No date has yet been determined for the move but it’s agreed that the decision to go or not to go will be within thirty days. After that it’s just a matter of time before the move.”

Once again men seemed pleased especially having been told of their raises in pay. As they broke up to return to work, Andy loudly called out to them.

“Hold up a minute. If you’ve brought any noonday meals with you, leave ‘em be. The owners wanted to show you their appreciation so they paid for all you can eat dinners in town at Sally’s cafe and bakery. I was told there will be steaks, fried chicken, fruits and plenty of bakery goods to stuff yourselves on at no cost to you all. Even the Clemens are showing up!”

The four newbies got their first chance to really meet who they were working for. They enjoyed the free meal and were delighted at how down home Jethro and Bekke were.

The next morning Jethro and Bekke walked the six blocks back to the Marshals office to meet with Federal Marshals and brothers, Davy and Danny Vance.

“It’s good to see you folks again”, Davy said as he greeted them. Danny will be back in a minute. He had to pick up the latest telegrams.”

No sooner had he finished saying that when the door handle on the front door turned. Danny stepped in holding a number of yellow telegrams in his left hand. He extended his right hand to shake hands with the Clemens. “Jethro, Bekke, it’s so good to see you made it.” With an obvious pretended look of worry he said, “ I was fearing you’d have come to your senses and called the whole thing off.”

Jethro chuckled, “If you only knew!”

“Yesterday I told you Davy and I will fill you in on what we expect out of you as far as the job goes and we’ll go over the file on Burkhalter and his operation with you. so let’s begin, shall we?”

After two hours the Clemens pretty much had been filled in on the extent of their authority and the procedures of operation they needed to know.

Next the file on Burkhalter was brought out.

“Normally”, Danny said, “If a person like Burkhalter was strong arming a town for his own gain, we’d leave the case in the hands of the local authorities. But, in this case it’s not  just about his operation in Prescott that concerns us.  Burkhalter is just a single part of a much larger operation. This is why we were placed as Supreme Court Special Agents under the Federal Marshals service”

Opening the file he showed the two a graph of what looked like a family tree. In fact it was sort of a family tree, a crime family tree.

“We’ve been investigating the crime syndicate which Burkhalter joined up with some years back, even while he was still an attorney. After inheriting his fathers freight business he incorporated into this crime syndicate the freight hauling business. We now see the freight hauling tendrils moving into cities and towns under the cover of legitimate businesses. In reality they are monopolistic in nature ridding any competition through violence and intimidation. Recently money laundering has been added to their operation. A large portion of the illegitimate profits are funding chosen political campaigns. Our goal is to sever the head from the body and destroy this organization before it becomes a nationwide pariah.”

Jethro and Bekke both sat without comment looking back and forth from brother to brother. Finally Bekke spoke up asking. “What roll will the two of you play if it is my husband and I that will be in the lions den?”

“My brother Davy and I will be leaving for Prescott in a week, we will be going under cover ourselves but need our beards to grow out a little more first. After all, who’d suspect we were Federal Agents looking like this?”

Jethro commented on this, “I wanted to ask about that. I was surprised when we met yesterday that you looked pretty grubby. Every Marshal I’ve ever seen looked like a city bred business man.”

“Davy and I are presenting ourselves as miners of a small gold mine in a valley just south of Prescott. We believe that cover story will prevent folks from digging too deeply into our identity as most folks know that those who ask miners too many questions usually end up dead.”

Danny then told the two, “We want you two to get your freighting business up and running because that will attract the attention of Burkhalter. He’s not one to stand competition so we think he’ll act to shut your business down. My brother and I will be closely watching his activities. You’ll probably know stuff before we do so if he goes to do something stupid like threatening you or causing harm to your business feel free to deal with it as you wish. What you do is completely up to you, just don’t kill him. We need him on the stand to testify against those running the Chicago end of the crime syndicate.”

Jethro was skeptical that Burkhalter would turn on the powerful Chicago syndicate and said so. “Why would a man like Burkhalter suddenly do that? Wouldn’t he worry about his being killed to keep him from testifying against them?”

Davy shrugged his shoulders showing he himself had his doubts. “True, we’re betting on a long shot but maybe you two can find more compelling evidence that can tie the Chicago syndicate’s operation directly to Burkhalter. a witness If we get that information, the need for Burkhalter is less. Still he can put the icing on the cake if he testifies.”

“We’ll try our best but honestly, I feel Bekke and my first priority is getting our freight business off the ground.”

“As it should be. Danny and I made you Deputies just in case you find yourself in an awkward situation and need to pull rank. All we want you two to do is observe the freight business in Prescott and keep us informed. We will be the ones doing the hands on stuff. If all goes well there shouldn’t be any reason for you two to stick your necks out in harms way. but you might want to keep your fingers crossed just as a precaution.”

Laughing, Bekke responded to his last statement, “Well, that sure makes me feel better.”

An hour later the newly deputized business couple left the Marshal’s office and walked towards home to indulge in a roast she had put in the wood cook stove under a banked fire hours before.

The roast was perfect! Afterward, unable to take even another bite of the delicious dinner, Bekke pushed her plate away. If alone, she would have been tempted to belch but that she’d never do in Jethro’s presence.

“We need to let Fred Hartford up at High Desert Hauling know that we’ll be relocating to Prescott and need work out a deal to take over his business.”

Fred Hartford owned a medium sized freight company called High Desert Freight that he wanted out of. It had a decent sized carriage and storage facility but the real diamond was the vacant five acre lot he would sell with the business. Those extra five acres would be a perfect place to build a large enough stable and indoor wagon barn for their needs. It would also be big enough to include a second storage facility and hay barn complimenting Fred’s existing ones.

“Do you feel like walking with me down to the telegraph office to let Fred know we’re coming up or did you want to clean up from lunch?”

“I’ll get my wrap!” She replied.

———————————————————————0——————————————————————

 

The trip to Prescott followed the reply telegram sent by Fred Hartford. He stated he was looking very much forward to their meeting and ended the note with a bit of humor saying, “Bring a bank draft, I want to add indoor plumbing to my home”.

This trip once again included Snake. Mac was left behind to help Andy out since Andy’s time would be divided by both the mercantile store and the freight business.

Andy knew Mac was capable in being left in charge of the freight business although Mac somewhat lacked the skills in doing paperwork. Each evening Andy and Mac poured over the days ledgers and orders to give him a last class in training. He invited Lester  to the instruction class figuring between the two the paperwork would pass mustard.

Lester joked, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for all this writing stuff Andy, That fountain pen is giving me a blister on my finger!”

 

Day four found the large Studebaker carriage heading downhill towards Prescott’s downtown square with Snake trailing behind on his horse. Turning onto Iron Springs road brought them eventually to the alleyway behind where Bekke’s friend Moon Lips managed the livery stable.

As they made their way down Iron Springs road, Bekke marveled at how beautiful the area was.  “I’d love to find a house along this road, it’s so peaceful and quiet an it ;looks like a painting!”

Upon pulling into the livery, ‘Moon’ heard their arrival and stepped out from the dimly lit stable to see who was making all the noise.

Seeing  Bekke, Moon shouted, “Well looky who it is! Mizz Clemens it shore is a pleasure see’n you again. Is that your man wit you? Shore is a fine strappin’ man for shore!” Holding out his hand for Bekke, Moon helped her from the carriage.

“Thank you Moon, this is my husband Jethro and our friend and employee Snake.”

The Apache extended his arm out as an Indian would shake a hand. Without blinking an eye Moon to extended his arm grabbing it near Snakes elbow.

Jethro grabbed Moon’s hand after Moob let snakes hand be and shook it. “Bekke told me all about you and what you did for her to keep her from being found by Burkhalter’s men.”

“Shucks, wasn’t nothin’ much. I jest told ‘em I ain’t seen hide nor hair of you. I didn’t lie, I ain’t never seen your hair cuz it was under that big ol’ hat yous was wearin’ an’ I shore ain’t in no position to have seen your hide!”

Bekke laughed at Moon’s ‘little white lie’ explanation and told him, “ Moon, I’m sure the good Lord won’t write that little fib under your name in the Book of Life. We both thank you for not letting on to Burkhalter’s men that I was here. I’m sure the thug I whooped on would just love to get even.”

“So’s what brings you back here? Moon asked Bekke.”

Since it was Bekke who knew Moon better than Jethro, she ended up telling him about purchasing High Desert Hauling and how it would compliment their freight business in Globe. She said nothing about being made Federal Deputy Marshals. The less folks knew about them the better.

 

During Bekke’s narrative Moon continued to nod his head with lots of uh huh’s thrown in. When she finished Moon asked her a question that she had not considered before.

 

“Mizz Clemens if yun’s find yourselves in need of a good stableman, I’d hope that you’d keep ol’ Moon here in mind. Ain’t no work I wont do an’ I’m not the best shoe’r around but I know’d mules as well as horses and can Doctor both of ‘em.”

“Your willing to leave your job here?”

“Shucks Mizz Clemens, in a heart beat. You see, The owner here he don’t like negro’s none. Only reason he keeps me on is that no white man would do this job for what he’s payin’ me. There’s lots of days I feel like jes quit’n but I can’t cuz I need the job.”

Jethro took the moment to say, “Moon, consider yourself hired. I know if I didn’t offer you the position to head up our stables I’d be on my wifes bad side for all eternity!”

Moon did a shuffling dance in the dust and yelled out, “Thank you Jesus!”

“Don’t quit just yet Moon”, Bekke told him, “It’ll be at least a good month before we can get the new livery built and have all our mules shipped in from Missouri. They breed the best mules. In the meantime, while you’re still working here we want your advice on the building of the livery barn and black smith shop. We’ll also want some workers to interview for jobs so we’re hoping you can spread the word we’re going to be needing a few muckers and experienced Muleteers if you know of any. You’ll be paid a weekly wage for your help and then once you’re full time your pay will increase again.”

“Goot Lord Mizz Clemens, You’s makin ol’ Moons head swim! Oh, an I sho can help you spread the word. I know lots of folks, been liven’ here most all my life. I know’d both good white folk and negro folk that will give you a good days work. A couple is family, most ain’t though but they’s all honest hard workin’ folk.”

“You bring them to us”, Bekke told him, “and we’ll interview them. Please, don’t make any promises to anyone though. I don’t want any hurt feelings if we don’t take them on.”

“Yes’m Mizz Clemens, don’t need nobody sayin’ I promised ‘em a job, thas up to you all.”

“We’ll stop by in the next couple of days and talk some more.” Jethro said, “We need to get on over to High Desert Freight and talk to the owner Fred Hartford.”

“Oh you go on ahead I’ll put the carriage up and tend to the horses. Tell Ol’ Fred for me it’s ‘bout time he retired! Fred an’ I grew up together. You can ask him ‘bout me too, he won’t fib!”

Bekke led the way for the three knowing how to get there. As they walked Bekke told him she had been thinking about what to call the new company. “Should we call it Globe freight? To me that doesn’t make sense since it’s in Prescott, not Globe.”

Jethro said, “I’ve been thinking about that too. I want to ask Mister Hartford if we might be able to just leave it as High Desert Freight. I mean it’s already well known and I kind of like the name.”

“I like the name too! Let’s hope he’s agreeable.”

“What do you think Snake?”She asked.

“I try not to. It only makes Snake confused.”

They entered Fred’s business through the large barn doors in the rear of the building. This way Jethro could see better all that they would be buying.

Fred Hartford saw them enter as they stepped into the dimly lit interior of the storage section of the building. Wooden boxes, steamer trunks and boxed crates were in abundance.The made their way through the maze over to where Fred was waving a them.

“Hello folks, he shouted at the two. “Bekke, it’s grand seeing you again” turning to Jethro he said, “and you must be her husband Jethro?”

“That’s me! It’s good to meet you too Fred. Did you want to show us around before we get down to business?”

“ Have you two eaten yet? If not why don’t we go over to the hotel and grab a meal. If you haven’t gotten a room yet, I highly recommend the Hassayampa Inn. It’s clean, has soft beds and it’s quiet. Oh, and they serve great food three times a day. We’ll have plenty of time to go over the property and talk business tomorrow when everyone is refreshed.”

The four (including a reluctant Snake) made their way to the Hassayampa Inn on the square.

Noticing Snakes lack of enthusiasm Bekke asked him if there was something wrong.

“Snake never stay in hotel. Maybe Snake not belong there.”

“Nonsense, you belong wherever we are.” Bekke told him. “And don’t worry, I’ll make sure we get a dining table away from everyone else. You need to know, it wasn’t that long ago that I had never stepped foot into a hotel either.”

Snake remembered what his brother Mac had told him about Bekke’s past and he nodded saying, “Hmmm, Snake can learn, you did.”

 

 Chapter 5

Inside the office of Burkhalter Freight and Cartage a loud discussion was in progress. Cecil Burkhalter stood at his desk shouting at the two goons he sent out to investigate the rumors that a new freight hauling business had moved into town.

“Are you telling me that over two weeks ago you two idiots saw a large building being constructed just outside of town and you didn’t feel it important enough to tell me?”

The goon that Bekke had loosened his jaw bone on stood shamefaced while his partner pleaded, “Gee Boss there’s new buildings going up all over the place, why would we be concerned about this one?”

“Because you dolts, I hired you to keep an ear to the ground! That meant anything new going on, whether it was folks moving here, buildings being built, businesses opening or closing… I want to know everything! I can’t watch our back if I’m in the dark and now you tell me a building bigger than any ever built here is almost halfway completed and you never thought to even ask about it? I bet I could go out in the street and ask any common citizen what that building is going to be home to and they’d tell me ten times more than you idiots have told me! Now, get your lazy butts out there and find out!”

The two morons retreated backwards towards the door, “Sure Boss, right away. We’ll get the information and be back here in an hour. We just thought it wasn’t that big of a deal to bother you with.”

Closing the door behind them they nearly ran from out from the building towards where the new building was being constructed.

“I told you we should have said something, now the Boss is really pissed at us.”

Holding his jaw to lesson the movement and therefor the pain, his partner in a barely audible mumble tried replying coherently but failed.

“Oh stop your mumbling! I can’t figure out a word you’re saying.”

As the two approached the lot where the building was being erected, the non mumbling thug stopped one of the workers and trying to sound friendly, asked him what they were building.

“A new business!” The man told them excitedly, “ You know High Desert Freight down there a couple blocks toward the square? They sold out to a new freight hauling business and the new company is going to be ten times the size of Hartford’s old business. I heard they’re going to hire a bunch of folks. I already told my three cousins, that’s them lined up waiting to be interviewed by the new owner.”

Shocked at what they heard, the two stepped away and stood watching the workers placing the large roof trusses with the use of a crane.

“You realize we’re going to be in deep shit now don’t you?”

His partner with the broken jaw remained silent but nodded his head sadly in agreement.

“When the Boss finds out he’ll take it out on us for not telling him sooner. Damn! I beat people up for a living, I’m not an investigator! How the hell am I supposed to know all that’s going on in town!

 

Bekke noticed the two thugs on the corner across the street doing a terrible job of pretending to be disinterested in the building they were staring at.

Bekke touched the shoulders of Jethro and Snake. Pointing the two thugs out told them, “Don’t be obvious but see those two men? The one rubbing his jaw is the one I confronted. He, and I assume the other guy too, work for Burkhalter. I think they may have just found out Burkhalter’s freighting business is going to have competition. The fella doing all the talking looks pretty despondent.”

“Come with me Snake. I think I’ll wander over there and introduce myself.”

The two casually made their way from the building site over to where the men stood watching. When Jethro and Snake were within hailing distance, the two thugs suddenly realized they were going to have company and quickly turned around and began walking away.

“Hmmm, seems like we spooked ‘em Snake.”

“Me follow them.”

Snake walked parallel down the street from the pair then turned off into a back street.. When the thugs saw Snake heading at an angle away from them they wrongly assumed Snake had no intention of following them. Meanwhile. Jethro had begun walking back to the building where others were waiting in line to be interviewed for jobs..

As soon as the thugs turned the corner heading back the the square, Snake, who had already figured out where they were headed, took a shortcut through a back alley and was soon placing himself in a doorway across the street from Burkhalter’s business.

Snake watched the two enter the front door to the business and with ten minutes the two exited, and not very happy looking.

“It’s a damn lucky thing for us he didn’t pull that trigger. The Boss had that Colt pointed right on your forehead! I thought fer sure I’d be next!”

“Wheww! Mfgg wewa b deb.!”

“Yea, I too figured we both be dead.”

Snake chuckled knowing now the two thugs were sent to gather information on his employer for Burkhalter. A large red splotch across the face of Mumble Man was evidence his boss had slapped him. Snake again chuckled thinking how painful that must have been for the big gorilla.

Unnoticed by the thugs, Snake made his way back to the building site and told the couple what he had seen and heard.

“So what do you want to do Jethro?” She asked him. Bekke was hoping he’d say to wait for them in a dark alley some night to send their boss a message.

“For now, nothing. Let’s just concentrate on getting this new building up. We have only five more days before all thirty mules arrive from Missouri. Moon’s been contacting hay and oats from the local farmers around here. He’s already secured a thousand bales of Timothy hay and a hundred bushels of oats, all to be delivered on an as need basis.”

“Great, that means we don’t have to store it here in our own buildings.”

The five days came and went without any sign of the mules but on the sixth day the neighborhood awoke to the noise of sixty mules being led to the outskirts of town where the new building had been erected. According to Moon, each mule was to have its own stall. This was to prevent any disagreements between the mules. The second floor was designed to hold the needed hay bales and the fifty pound feed sacks of extra oats. Wooden chutes from the second floor allowed hay to be dropped from above directly into each stall’s manger. Readily available sacks of oats were kept in the feed room on the first floor.

Jethro also over saw the Smithy being built. He was able to purchase the anvils and the two furnaces locally but had to ship in the rotary air bellows for them from out of town in Tucson. As was the common practice, each blacksmith brought their own tools. These were all made during their early apprenticeship days. A guild member would then inspect each tool to pass or reject them. By the time the apprentice had earned the right to become a recognized blacksmith by a guild board, he had made every tool he’d ever need.

It was nearing September when the newly built wagons began to arrive from Lancaster county in Pennsylvania. These were made of strong Eastern hardwoods such as oak, butternut and elm. Each had been fully made then dismantled in order to ship them. The wheels arrived assembled but yet needed to have their steel tire rim pounded onto them while heated red hot. When the steel tires cooled this greatly tightened the spokes into the hub and wheel rim.

The hired wheel wrights spent eight days doing this.

By October, the newly expanded operation was all set to be added to the existing business. Jethro had been procuring heavy freight contracts while Mac and Bekke had been interviewing potential muleteers and other employees and were adding them to the payrolls. Red Hartford stayed on as manager making sure the contracts written before the He had not decided on the roll if any he would play in the future of High Desert Freight.

Meanwhile, Burkhalter Freight was experiencing a serious decline in business.

Inside the office, Burkhalter was steaming. It wasn’t so much the loss of a few thousand dollars a month that disturbed him, it was that his company was losing it’s monopolistic grip on the freight business. The crime syndicate in Chicago was wondering if backing Burkhalter had been a mistake. If the planned freight monopoly in Arizona failed, the Governor of Arizona could begin investigating the numerous complaints brought by other freight companies of strong arm tactics and worse. An investigation could link Burkhalter to the Midwest Irish Chicago crime syndicate. This could bring down the syndicates fledgling freight companies back East. Already the arm of the syndicate that had wormed its way into the steamship docks in California and New York were putting pressure on those in Chicago to dispose of Cecil Burkhalter.

Burkhalter gathered all of his trusted thugs into his office asking, “Who is this Clemens guy that he thinks he can muscle his way into my territory? I want you idiots to start busting up High Desert Freight just as you did to the others. Break a few bones, burn down the barn, steal some freight… crap, if they have any, run over their kids or better yet, rape the guys wife. Just close that damn freight business down!”

What Burkhalter was unaware of was that one of his ‘trusted thugs’ being told to rape and kill was a mole for the Irish dominated Chicago syndicate.

Kevin Jellyroll, the mole, quickly made his way to the telegraph office shortly after the meeting with Burkhalter ended.

 

SEAN COLLINS COLLINS LTD CHICAGO ILLINOIS

SITUATION NOW OUT OF OUR CONTROL (STOP) NEEDS TO BE IMMEDIETLY DEALT WITH (STOP) SEND MC TO CLEAN UP TRASH ASAP

K O’RIELLY PRESCOTT ARIZONA

 

What both Burkhalter and O’Rielly were unaware of was that a six foot five Apache Indian had a glass pressed against the other side of Burkhalters office wall. Snake had made his way unseen into the vacant storefront next door where he could listen to the conversation by placing the glass against his ear..

Snake watched O’Rielly exit the building next door and closing his own door behind him tailed O’Rielly to the telegraph office. Once O’Rielly left, Snake entered the small telegraph hut.

The telegraph operator looked up and seeing the giant Indian standing there jumped up trying to appear nonchalant. “C-can I be of assistance Sir?” He asked.

“How much money to send telegram to my brother?”

“Well, it all depends where it’s being sent to and how many words are used.”

“Not know how many words.”

Snake was purposefully stalling for time because when he entered he saw the latest discarded customer notes still lying about on the small counter. As the key operator tried explaining how a telegram fee is determined, Snake put his large elbow over one of the discarded customer notes the key operator had used to send the message.

After three attempts to explain the fee, the flustered operator finally told him ,it will cost one dollar”. No matter the cost, the operator would cover the rest just to get rid of the Indian.

“Hmmm, no got dollar.”

The operator dropped his head loudly onto the counter saying, “Lord, though you slay me, yet will I trust in thee!”

When he looked up the Indian was gone! So was the note used by O’Rielly to send the telegram but he didn’t notice it.

After Snake finished telling his experience to Jethro and Bekke, Jethro called all the pertinent people together to inform them on all the goings on.

“I purposely didn’t tell you all everything because I was unsure of how far Burkhalter would go to hinder our move here. It seems he’s not satisfied with playing fair. In fact, he’s sending his thugs out to cause us as much grief as possible. He’s even told them to accost Bekke if they can. They’ll do anything to intimidate us into quitting even harming our employees.”

“We need to go to the Sheriff!” Someone said.

“He’ll be of no help, the Sheriff is owned by Burkhalter.” Bekke told them. “What you all don’t know is that there are two Federal Marshals in town keeping on eye out for us.”

Bekke had not told anyone that they themselves were Federal Deputies.

One of the men asked her, “So, do they know what you just told us?”

“I’m heading over there to see them right after our meeting here.”

Snake stood up telling her. I go with you. Make sure no harm comes.”

“No Snake, I’ll be fine. It’s the middle of the day and no one is stupid enough to try and do anything in public.”

“Stay on big road, no go in alley.”

“Trust me, I’ll be fine and yes, I’ll walk the main road.”

As Bekke left the assembled group to find the Vance brothers she touched the hidden pocket she had sewn into her dress and felt the cold steel of her pocket pistol.

Bekke had turned onto the northern sidewalk of Cortez st. She had been keeping an eye out for anything that looked threatening. By changing sides of the street she hoped to foil anyone who might be trailing her. As she neared East Gurley Street she once again switched sides. Doing this took her away from the courthouse and alongside a row of small two story brick buildings leased by attorneys and used as their offices.

As she passed an office with a deep entrance way, two men grabbed and pulled her into the dimly lit entrance. She immediately recognized the man who’s jaw she broke earlier on.

“Well what do we have here? Might you be the whore that bastard Clemens is pokin’?”

Bekke struggled, not to get free so much as to get her hand inside of her dresses hidden pocket.

“Now you jes hold still sweet heart, Me an’ my partner here got some manly needs that you can take care of for us. Afterward, if you can walk, we’ll let you go back to your bastard husband. Of course after we all have had our fun, you may jes’ want to stay with us. I mean look at us honey pot an’ tell me if I ain’t the handsome man you been dreamin’ about.”

Bekke smiled wickedly. You are a very handsome man but I think you were even more handsome than before.”

The goons smile faded and formed into a puzzled one. “ Before, before what?”

“Before I broke your jaw, that’s what!”

Suddenly, the man’s face, which wasn’t very handsome at all, changed. His eyes opened wide as it dawned on him who Bekke really was. Turning to his partner, he began to shout, “Dammit, this is the bitch that broke my j…”

He never got a chance to finish his sentence. Bekke’s pocket pistol came crashing  into the man’s barely healed jaw bone. As the whites of his eyes replaced his dark pupils, he fell side ways into a heap in the entryway.

His partner had just enough time to reach his hand out in an attempt to knock Bekke’s pocket pistol away. Unfortunately he never should have put his hand in front of the barrel.

She pulled the trigger…twice. Both hot pieces of lead cut through the mans palm like a hot knife in butter. Of course the twin hunks of lead continued past the hand and buried themselves deep into the thugs gut.

The stunned thug stumbled backward falling over his unconscious partner in the process and died before he could make amends with the Lord.

Bekke replaced the spent cartilages and placed the pistol back in the dresses secret pocket.

Sticking her head out from the entryway, she looked first right then left figuring someone surely heard the guns reports. To her relief, no one seemed to hear or maybe being where the attorneys all hung out, maybe they just didn’t care.

She still needed to warn the Vance brothers of the recent events so she stepped back out onto the sidewalk and continued her walk to the Vance Marshals at a leisurely pace.

After hearing the latest from Bekke, Federal special agent Marshal Danny Vance sat looking at his brother “Well Brother, it seems we really have our work cut out for us now. Not only do we need to protect the Clemens and their property but now we also have the unpleasant duty to keep Burkhalter from being taken out by his Chicago cohorts. If they educe in killing him, our case against the Chicago group dries up like a desert water hole.”

“My thoughts exactly Danny. We have no choice now but to split up. You watch Burkhalter and I’ll keep an eye out at the High Desert Freight company for any mischief that might go on. If Cecil Burkhalter was willing to order Bekke’s abduction and rape then we know he’ll stop at nothing…”

At that moment, a loud pounding on the offices front door startled the three. Jumping up with gun drawn, Davy rushed over and unlocked the door. Stepping aside just in case it was an armed thug intent on taking out the two unsuspecting Marshals.

It wasn’t, it was Snake who tumbled into the office.

Seeing it was Snake, Bekke jumped out of her chair and also headed for the door. She noticed the pained look on his face and that he had grabbed the door jamb to keep erect.

“Snake”, she screamed, “you’ve been shot!”

Shaking his head as if that fact was unimportant, he held up three fingers and told the trio, “men come, take Jethro. I kill one, other man shoot Snake.”

“Danny, get a Doctor, he’s bleeding bad.”

Danny rushed out having previously located the three Doctors offices in town. The closest was just around the corner on the second floor.

Davy caught Snake in his arms and gently lowered him to the floor. He tore open Snakes rough woven shirt to inspect the wound. Davy noticed two things that gave him hope that Snake could possible survive the shooting. There was no blood coming from his mouth so his lungs weren’t hit and it wasn’t a gut shot.

Snake lay there in pain but needed to tell the two what happened.

I hear fight, see Jethro on ground, him not awake. Men drag him off to wagon. I pull man from wagon and break neck, red haired man shoot Snake, they take Jethro and drive away.”

In an attempt to slow the bleeding, Bekke had torn a piece of her under skirt off and pressed it over the bullet hole in Snakes upper chest.

“You just lay still now. We’ll comb this town until we find Jethro and deal with his captors.”

Snaked lifted his head telling them, “wagon say in paint, Bu-Burkhalrt Freight.”

“Yeah, I suspect as much.”

Just then the door was flung open and Danny stepped in with the Doctor trailing behind him.

“We need to get him over to my office immediate. That bullet is still in him. Until we get it out I can’t tell how bad it is. Sometimes a bullet lodged inside keeps an artery from bleeding out but I can’t do the surgery here, it’s got to be in my office where I have better light and my surgical equipment.”

The brothers, being pretty darn big themselves, picked up Snake and carried him like a log up to the Doc’s office. Once inside they cautiously laid him on the surgery table. While they were doing this, the Doctor went around and lit a series of gas lamps located along the wall for better lighting. Snake had stopped his moaning on the way upstairs because he fell into unconsciousness.

“He’s out cold but I’m still going to use ether on him to keep him from waking up.”

Fifteen minutes later the sound of a slug being dropped into a steel dish was heard.

“Got it but it did hit a small artery. I tied it off so he’ll not bleed out any more.”

Just then the Doctors door banged open and in came three men carrying the man who’s jaw had just been re-broken, he was still out cold.

Seeing the injured man and having just been told only moments before on how Bekke defended herself, both Marshals pulled leather and yelled for the three upright men to lay broken jaw down and lie on the floor with their hands behind their backs.

Seeing the badges on the two, one man shouted out, “Hey hold on there! We just found this here fella layin in our doorway when we went come back from eating at the cafe. There’s a dead man layin there too but we done left him a layin.”

Seeing the men were good Samaritans and not part of the Burkhalter gang, the Marshals let them go.

After closing the wound and applying a clean bandage over it, the Doctor turned his attention to the broken jawed man on the floor.

“I wonder how that happened,” the Doctor wondered, “looks like his face was hit by a mule kick.”

“It was me Doc, and don’t call me a mule, my names Bekke. These idiots tried to kidnap and rape me just an hour ago. I previously busted that man’s jaw in another skirmish and had to shoot the guy dead he was with in order to escape.”

The Doctor stared wide eyed at Bekke saying,“You did this? Twice? Dang girl! If I was your husband I’d have second thoughts about ever crossing you!” Turning to the Marshals he told them, “ Now, if you two Marshals will help me lay your Indian friend onto the cot in the other room and put this here fella in his place, I’ll see what I can do for his jaw.”

As the three walked out of the Doctors office Bekke turned back and soundly smacked the unconscious thug hard on his head as she passed. In his state he still let out a quiet moan. “I warned him before don’t never call me sweet heart!”

The two Marshals grinned at each other as they began walking down the stairs while the Doctor just shook his head.

Once back at High Desert Freight, the three were over whelmed by the workers there. Each one tried telling the story of Jethro’s abduction louder than his fellow workers. When it was apparent they’d learn no more Marshall Danny shouted for quiet while Bekke reminded them that they still had a days work to finish and that by milling about jawing wouldn’t bring Jethro back any sooner.

Inside her office though, Bekke fell to her knees asking the Lord to protect and return her husband to her.

The brothers knew Bekke needed some time by herself. When she eventually exited her office, her reddened eyes let the brothers know they had made the right decision.

“Davy and I have thought it over and decided that securing Jethro’s safe release is our first priority. Burkhalter’s place. Where sure that’s where they’re holding Jethro. If we have to bust up the place along with some heads, then so be it. Burkhalter’s going to feel the weight of the Federal Marshal Service on his shoulders. It won’t be pretty but we’ll get him back, we promise.”

Promise all you want, but I’m going with you!”

“We kinda figured you say that, let’s go!”

Davy stopped them as they neared the Prescott Sheriffs office saying, “I think it’s about time we arrest our good sheriff and any Deputy showing loyalty to him.”

The Special agent Federal Marshals exposed their badges before stepping inside the jail house. Outside Bekke pinned her Deputy badge over her heart on her dress.

As the two brothers entered the lobby, a single young Deputy sat reading a recently published Dime Novel. Upon hearing the door open the young man finished reading the paragraph, placed a home made book mark inside it and casually looked up expecting to see more relatives intent on seeing the incarcerated. Instead he jumped up knocking his book to the floor when the Marshals entered with guns drawn.

The Deputy, who had not yet noticed the shiny Marshal badges on the men, thought it was a jail break and throwing his hands high into the air, closed his eyes and shouted, “Don’t shoot, I’m not armed!”

Davy stepped up to the quaking young man and told him, “relax son, we’re not after you unless you’re in cahoots with the Sheriff!”

Opening his eyes he saw the badges. “I just started working here yesterday, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin!”

“Is the Sheriff in his office son?”

“He was a minute ago unless he stepped out to the privy.”

Davy stood on one side of the Sheriffs office door while Danny knocked.

“Dammit Jason do you remember when I hired you that in no way was you to disturb me when I’m interrogating a witness?”

Danny gave the door a powerful kick which nearly tore it off its hinges. Exposed to the Marshals, the young Deputy and all those visitors waiting in the lobby to see their jailed loved ones was a butt naked Sheriff in the act of standing up and poking a crying Mexican woman lying spread out on his desk.

“Danny snorted in laughter, “Must be a new method of interrogation brother, better take notes on it.”

The shocked Sheriff turned and in a rush attempted to grab for his gun. Too bad his holster was hanging over his swivel chair under his pants, shirt and a pair of dirty socks.

Trying to cover his private parts he stuttered, “Wha-wha- what is the meaning of barging in here.”

Seeing the drawn guns and the two gleaming badges he slumped forward against his desk.

“Am I under arrest?”

Davy replied, “You bet.” Then he shouted, “Deputy Jason, would you please open a jail cell for this rutting pig?”

“Yes Sir Marshal!”

After the Sheriff was cuffed and the jail door locked, Danny told the Deputy, “Under no circumstances is he to be allowed visitors.

“Hey what about my clothes?” the jailed Sheriff shouted, “You can’t throw me in jail naked as a j-bird!”

“He’s right Danny.” Dave then walked over to his cell and tossed the Sheriff the pair of socks that had been hung over his chair. “Here, make yourself decent.”

Deputy, “How many empty cells do you have available?”

“The Sheriff took the last one Marshal.”

“You’re full up? How can that be?”

“All I know is the Sheriff and the other Deputies bring them in and after they pay their fine we let them out again.”

“What are their crimes?”

“Uh, jay walking, swearin’ in public an other minor transgressions.”

“What about the Mexican woman in his office? What crime did she commit.”

“I don’t know Sir, all I know is that earlier her husband was jailed for eating a tortilla in public. I thought she had left to find the money to pay his bail.”

“On my authority as a Special agent Federal Marshal I’m telling you to open all those cells and let them all out. We’re coming back shortly and will be filling your cells with real hard case criminals, not jay walkers.”

“Oh, and take a statement from the Mexican woman. I want your Sheriff to hang after he sings in court.”

One more thing Deputy, I want the names and addresses of every Deputy here, and don’t let them know or I’ll have you arrested for aiding and abetting the Sheriff.

“No Sir! My mouth is shut.!”

As the three left the jail they were followed by the onslaught of freed prisoners.

Smiling broadly Bekke commented,“They look mighty happy.”

“Yeah, too bad about the Mex woman. I felt ashamed seeing the Sheriffs official shirt thrown over on that chair. My God, how she must hate lawmen now. Maybe later we can do something for her. The Deputy will take her information down when he takes her statement so we can always look her up later on, see if she’s doing alright.

 

Chapter 6

Before entering Burkhalter business office they spent an hour using a field glass from areas well away from the place. They watched in anticipate as as many as six hard cases entered the place with none coming out.

Danny told them, “We can do this two ways. One is to arrest each man as he comes out of the building and take him to the jail or what I think would be best, is to go in and arrest them all at once.”

Davy like the second method while Bekke left it up to those trained in this.

“Alright then, it’s number two. We need to take ‘em by surprise and that means you and I brother need to enter with a gun in each hand. Bekke, I want you to run over to that general store down the block and buy a hundred feet of thin but strong rope. While Davy and I keep the group covered, I want you to bind their hands and hobble their feet with the rope you just bought.”

Bekke soon returned carrying a coil of rope about half the thickness of a Mexican horse hair riata lasso. Pulling out a brand new Colt 45 she told the brothers,”They had a sale I couldn’t pass up. You get a free holster and two boxes of ammo when you buy a new gun. I wasn’t sure my little pocket pistol would be very intimidating to a pack of hard cases.”

As she told them this, she strapped on the black holster and loaded the new gun and not leaving the sixth chamber empty for safety.

After it was apparent that no more hard cases would be arriving, the brothers decided on the best way to bust into the place.

“Bekke, stay outside and stand away from the door just in case some try to run for it. Yell for them to halt but if they don’t go ahead and aim for their legs. We want as many witnesses alive as possible. If they need killing, do it. We’ll yell out to you when it’s safe to bring in the rope to tie ‘em up. Don’t get yourself hurt, it’s bad enough Jethro is somewhere inside there and once freed I don’t want to have to explain why you got injured. Got it?”

“Got it Danny. Let’s do this.”

As the three moved across the street and headed for their target building they suddenly stopped when they saw a lone man drawing a pistol and entering the building.

Davy put his arm out across his brother to stop him.“Opps, looks like we might have some trouble here. Why would someone draw their handgun if they didn’t mean to use it?”

Danny mused, “I wonder if that guy might be the Chicago person sent to deal with Burkhalter? Let’s get inside before our witness is plugged.”

Davy saw the Chicago hit man enter the foyer and followed. Once past the foyer the two Marshals threw open a set of solid wooden doors that led into the large office’

Danny had the loudest voice so it was left up to him to shout.

“Federal Marshals! Drop your weapons and raise your hands or you’re dead!”

Everyone inside froze… for a couple of heartbeats. Then all hell broke loose.

With his aim partially blocked by the crowd Davy yelled to his brother,“Danny, the Chicago thug, bring him down. He’s going for Burkhalter!”

A number of thugs began pulling pistols out to confront the Marshals but they too had their aim blocked by the crowd. Still three quick shots were fired and Davy saw the Chicago hitman’s head explode into a pink mist. As gruesome as it was it was a help to the Marshals. The men who had been sprayed with the thugs brains and blood turned away in an attempt to prevent anymore gruel from hitting them.

Outside Bekke heard the gunfire and readied herself for action. She didn’t have to wait long.

The front door was thrown open and a thug with pistol drawn ran out.

“On the ground! Now!”

Hearing a female voice shouting orders, the thug was taken back. This gave Bekke the time to swing her heavy Colt like a hammer across the back of the man’s head. He fell into a heap.

Bekke quickly kicked the gun from the man’s hand and pulled out a section of pre cut rope to tie him up. Having years of experience hobbling ornery mules the unconscious man was no challenge. Afterwards she dragged him a short distance from the doorway.

Back inside the gunfire intensified. Some of the gunfire was done so quickly in the crowded office that a number of men shot their own people.

For their protection, both Marshals had stepped behind the heavy courtroom style furniture. Danny found a heavy oak desk as his spot while Davy used a tall hardwood file cabinet for his. The group of assembled thugs had no such protection.

It soon became apparent that the Marshals were winning. One after another hard case dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.

“There’s no way out!”Danny shouted, “We have the building surrounded!”

Hearing this, the rest of the men gave up.

“Davy! Did you see where Burkhalter went to?”

“Last I saw him, he was headed for the back office.”

Pointing to the floor, Danny said, “He’s hit and bleeding bad. He won’t get far.”

Out side Bekke was still fully alert for any action. It was then that she spotted the injured Burkhalter heading for the street after rounding the side of the building. Apparently he had escaped the building by going out one of the buildings rear doors.

Bekke raised her Colt and shouted, “Hold up there Burkhalter or you’re a dead man!”

Burkhalter turned and fired a quick but badly aimed shot at Bekke. Bekke returned fire remembering that Danny had asked her to only wound him.

Burkhalter screamed bloody murder as Bekke’s bullet easily punched through his upper thigh. Falling headfirst into the paved street also did little to help his looks.

Bekke rushed to him, picked up his fallen gun and dragged the screaming Burkhalter out of the street where she tied him up.

“Bekke!” Danny shouted out to her, “We need your rope in here!”

Holstering her gun she walked casually into the building. Once inside the office she immediately saw the gore from the Chicago hit-mans head. She shrugged her shoulders, having seen worse even as a child.

“I got Burkhalter tied up out front along with one of his thugs,” She told the Marshals

“He’ll need a Doctor, ‘cause I had to shoot him in the leg. He’s out there cryin’ his head off like a little baby. I might just go out there and kick him in the leg if he won’t shut up!”

“Probably won’t do much good but you got our and your husbands blessing to do whatever you think is best.”

“My husband? Did you find him Danny?”

“Yep, we found him tied up and gagged in the vacant office next door. He’s fine, just got ruffed up a bit an wearin’ couple black eyes. He said he’d come over here just as soon as he washes his face up some.

Just then the rear door opened and Jethro stepped in. Bekke rushed and threw her arms around him. “Owww, easy hon, I’m a might sore in the rib area but my lips are fine so kiss me!”

Davy had left moments after being told Burkhalter was shot and out front. He wanted to make sure he’d live long enough to hang.

All told five thugs were pushing up daises, four badly injured from gun shots and four had thrown their hands up in surrender for a total of thirteen, including Burkhalter.

After rounding up the walking and injured, Davy hired some good citizens to help transport the thugs to the jail. Only one citizen took the pay saying he was broke, the others were just thrilled to see Burkhalter’s reign of power in their town crushed.

 

Chapter 7

 

“During Snakes three week recovery from the gunshot wound to his chest, he gradually became accustomed to hotel life. By the end of his stay he was ordering room service for all of his meals, had the barber come and give him a haircut, had a tailor come in to measure him for new shirts, pants and even had the cobbler make him a pair boots.

Mac could hardly recognize his brother when they finally met up the day snake left the hotel. He looked darn right civilized!”

 “Jethro and Bekke bought a house a mile north of their freight business on Iron Springs road. It was on the outskirts of town with plenty of big trees along the creek and had a six acre field the seller had cleared for a garden and barn.

No longer would the couple have to hear the goings on in the stable below them like in Globe. With a higher altitude and no smoke from the copper smelters, the two were awestruck at the clear night sky in Prescott.

 “Andy continued to operate the Globe Mercantile and Freight business and eventually asked for and was made a partner in it. He’s married, has three children now and the business continued to prosper even after some of the copper mines began closing.

Jethro handed in his Deputy badge telling the Marshals he wasn’t cut out to be a law dog but Bekke kept hers and to this day still retains the title Federal Deputy Marshal of Arizona.”

 “Speaking of Bekke, I near forgot to mention this. She was introduced to a Surgeon who after looking at her throat determined he could remove the scar tissue that had caused her to sound like a frog when she spoke, especially when she was younger. She now has a fine woman’s voice but the surgery had no effect on her ‘don’t call me sweet heart’ personality. She remained tough as nails when the need came.”

 “High Desert Freight, besides hauling stuff, expanded into the rail crane business in partnership with Buckeye crane and Hoist in Ohio. Manufactured in Chicago where the crime syndicate collapsed like domino’s after numerous witnesses testified in court, including Burkhalter. The Buckeye Clemens Crane Company began producing heavy lift cranes designed to lift rail cars and locomotive steam engines. These rolling steam powered cranes could be seen working at many train derailments and accidents.”

 “The brothers Mac and Snake eventually married Whitewater Reservation Apache girls and brought them back to live in Prescott with them. Both Apache’s still ware working for the Clemens.”

 “Well, I guess I’m about done with their story here. I don’t get around as well as I used to, bad knee joints, but my wife must ‘ve got used to my penchant for an evening cold beer or two because she bought into the saloon I frequented. It’s just a short walk down the road from the house so each evening you can find me there.

Every now an’ then the Clemens still stop down here in Phoenix for a visit. Last time they brung their yappy dog and two little ones with ‘em.

I still remember as if it was yesterday the day when I saw that young girl carryin’ that big ol’ ten gauge shotgun strutted inside the cafe to kill her pappy. It’s somethin’ how life throw’s its changes at ya’. Never say never ‘cause each time you’ll always be proved wrong. Well, time for my second cold one, cheers to ya!”     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now on Amazon! Bekke’s Law

A two part story combined into one book… at a single book price!

I wrote Bekke’s Law to be a different kind of Western. You will find yourself cheering for her as she struggles to survive in a western world pitted against her, yet in the end, she wins. JW

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

Excerpt from Belle’s Law, page 1.

LUCKY FOOT

baby foot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A loud slap and thud where heard then someone urinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donny then gladly deferred the girls care to Darnell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “No, why do you ask me that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frightened, the girl obeyed the order instantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

“Holy…!” Darnell exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe none, maybe something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Grandpa?”

The Industrialist Rancher

cow_sniff_calf

Chapter 1

The morning sun worked its way across the room until it landed squarely on the body lying contorted on the bed. Two flies played tag in the sunlight then landing momentarily on the body’s nose.

Suddenly the body snorted and a hand swept the air in front of the unshaven face trying to chase away the buzzing irritants. One bleary eye cracked open and immediately squinted shut in pain. A few more snorts and a long sonorous clearing of his dry throat brought open the other eye. With both eyes staring unfocused into the hotel room, the hung over cowboy began his attempt to sit up.

“Oh God, if I ever drink again let me get plugged with lead before I wake. “ With great effort, the young man with a pounding headache finally made it into a sitting position on the edge of the soft horsetail mattress. Placing a hand on the bed he felt its rich softness with the likes that he’d never experienced in a bed before. Looking around, his gaze caught site of the silk window drapes and imported woven floor rug. “Dang, How’d I end up in a place like this?” Reaching out to the bedpost, he removed the pants hanging over the post and checked his money belt. Relieved, he found it still contained twenty two of the forty dollars out of his monthly pay. Satisfied at the remaining amount, he rose and stumbled towards the water bowl  atop the ornate French vanity.  As he Splashed water on his face he noticed someone had placed a straight razor set up next to the bowl, probably the hotel. Taking advantage of the situation, he shaved and washed his hair afterward in the bowl. Opening the window he shoved aside the ornate drapes and tossed out the bowl of fouled water onto the street below and commenced  dressing himself.  Thankfully,  he began to feel halfway human by the time he slid his pants back on.

A light knock on the rooms door startled him. A rush of panic momentarily gripped him as he suddenly realized someone had to pay for this room and it sure couldn’t be him, not on his earnings!

Swallowing hard, he regained his composure and boldly faced the door “Yeah? Who’s there?”

In an unusually deep voice he heard, “It’s the Sheriff! I’m haulin’ ya’ in fer abandonment mister!”

“Wha??? Abandonment?” Suddenly he realized the so called Sheriff’s voice while deep in tone was way too feminine to be a man and then he heard giggling from the other side of the door. Reaching for the door, he slid the latch aside and partway opened the door on its chain. Poking one eye through the crack, he spied on the visitor. At first he looked straight out and saw nothing but when he lowered his sights a bit more he took in the small feminine figure smiling broadly up at him.

“Uh… may I help you Ma’am?”

The deep voice was replaced with that of a young woman with a slight Eastern accent.“Ma’am? Is that what you’re going to end up calling me Jethro?” She chuckled.

Scratching his head in confusion he replied, “I, uh… shoot Ma’am, I’m at a disadvantage here see’n as you know my name an’ all and I don’t recall yours. Heck, in all honesty, I don’t believe we’ve ever even met.”

A dark and serious look crossed the pretty young blond girls face but then she quickly recovered her happy go lucky smile and replied. “Alright Jethro, I know you had quite a spell of drinking and funning last night so I won’t hold it against you for being a bit woozy this morning but pretending you don’t know me and that we were married last night is something altogether different. You know perfectly well what you did, after all you jumped at the chance! Now, finish getting dressed, we have to go back over to the courthouse to pick up our marriage certificate. ”

“Wha??? Marriage certificate? Ma’am I’m gonna’ be mite beyond woozy if I just heard you right that we was married last night!”

This time the serious look returned to her face but did not leave. “Jethro, please don’t tell me you’ve got regrets and want out. I asked you twice and your friends asked you even more than that if this is what you wanted to do before Judge Pendergrass married us.  You vowed up and down I’d stolen your heart at first glance and would have it no other way than for us to be married. For reasons I had explained yesterday, I needed to be married right away… for legal purposes. After we were married, your friends carted you back off to the Gold Eagle to celebrate. They said they’d drop you back off at my hotel room within an hour. Well, I waited for hours in our room here for your return. When you did, it was past two o’clock in the morning and I might add, with the help of your trail friends.  They carried you in dead drunk and plopped you in our bed and stumbled out guffawing. Seeing you were dead to the world, I undressed you and set up your morning toilet on the vanity. You were so sprawled out on the bed that there was no room for me to climb in next to you. I ended up sleeping on the divan until dawn.  I gave up trying to wake you so I went downstairs by myself. I was down getting breakfast when you must have woke up.

Suddenly Jethro became suspicious that a joke being played on him.

“Well, well, well. I bet the rest of the fellers are knee slappin’ watching me squirm. They all know I’m not the marryin’ kind a guy and are usin’ my drunk last night to play a trick on me. By the way, if we was really married, where’s the proof of it?

The slender well dressed girl slid her left hand forward from her shawl and wiggled her fingers at him. A thin gold band adorned her marriage finger. “Yes, married… and signed papers from Judge Pendergrass   attesting to it are waiting down at the courthouse for us to pick up. By the time we were actually married, it was too late in the day and the clerk went on home.”

With a heavy sigh, the girl sat gently on the soft bed and asked. “ You do remember getting married last night don’t you Jethro?”

It was time to put an end to the confusion. Hurt her he may but he still had inkling it was all a joke being played on him by his pards.

“To be honest, no.”

Tears welled in her eyes and a lone tear made its way down her smooth cheek. “I feared as much. Please, finish dressing and come with me to the court house. There I’m sure the judge will confirm everything I’ve said and more.”

“Good morning Miss Van de Bunt, Oh, excuse me, I mean Mrs.  Avery. I’ve got to get used to that from now on.” Judge Pendergrass said sticking his hand out to congratulate the young Jethro Avery.  “I take it you’ll be wanting your certificate this morning. The clerk brought it in just a few minutes ago. I signed it but it but the ink may be a bit wet yet.”

Gently retrieving the document he blew on his signature one final time.  He handed the paper to Jethro telling the couple, “There, she’s dry as a bone now.”

The girl reached out and carefully held it against her breast after reading it and said, “Thank you Judge. But there seems to be some confusion and I need your assistance on this matter. ”

“Why sure. What seems to be the problem?”

By now Jethro had given up all hope that in fact a joke was being played on him. He also realized that the paper his wife now held was solid and legal. Everyone in the State of Texas knew Judge Pendergrass had a minimal sense of humor and would definitely not use his official title to promote a prank. He’d had too many men hung for their ill deeds to have a sense of humor anymore.

“ I will cut right to the chase your Honor. My husband has no recollection of yesterday as he now claims he must have been drunk.”

“Drunk?” Looking now at Jethro through narrowed eyes, the judge exclaimed in disbelief, ”Drunk? Yesterday you both swore you had no drink in either of you when I married you. Why it’s not legal for me to marry a couple if they have been over imbibing in spirits. Knowing so and still joining the two of you together would have been a serious crime and I’m not in the habit of committing crimes. Please, explain why you think he was drunk Mrs. Avery.”

“Well, he came in last night very drunk, that much I know. He seemed alright when we married but as the time wore on he did act a mite strange. I just assumed it was nerves. Now he says he has no memory of even meeting me. Why the way he’s acting, I bet if I asked him now, he wouldn’t even know my name!”

“I don’t, sorry Ma’am.”

“It’s Alessandra Van de Bundt . My family and friends call me Alessa. Now I’m not so sure what you should call me!”

To prevent any further outburst, the judge waved the couple into a set of vacant chairs as he lowered himself into a large cushioned leather high back chair on rollers. “Son, you’ve a problem on your hands. A big problem. Did you lie to me about drinking yesterday when you asked me to marry the two of you?”

“No Sir, not willingly. I’m not in the habit of lying, especially to a Judge your Honor”

“Then why are you saying you were too drunk to remember getting married?”

“I never said nothing about getting drunk, she did. I don’t know what happened yesterday, I can’t remember a thing, cept getting my tooth pulled early on in the morning.”

“Well a tooth sure won’t wipe out a memory, what’s the last thing you do remember?”

Scrunching his brows together he ran a hand across his forehead. “I seem to recall walking to the diner up the road for a bite to eat after leavin’ the Barber where he pulled my tooth. I had been weeks on the trail and hadn’t had a chewy meal in ages ‘cause of my toothache. All I’d had for weeks was what Biscuit, our camp cook could pound or grind up soft enough for me to swallow whole like.”

Judge Pendergrass’s eyebrows  suddenly arched skyward. “Jenny?” He called out to a young woman outside of his office filing papers.  “Will you run over to Max  Leadlow’s barber shop and ask him to come over here right away please?”

The three sat quietly waiting. Jethro began to ask question but the Judge hushed him quiet.

“Just wait, I have a suspicion about something”

Within a few minutes, Max, the barber and Dentist knocked on the office doors frame. “You wanted to see me your Honor?”

“Yes, Thank you for coming so quickly Max, I hope this isn’t an inopportune time for you to leave your business but I need to ask you a few questions about yesterday morning.”

The Barber glanced at Jethro then at Alessa and back to the Judge. “No your honor, I’m not real busy, I only got Jim Stevens snoring in the chair as is usual when he comes in for a haircut ‘n shave, that’s all. Am I in some sort of trouble here your Honor?”

The judge harrumphed and placed both hands on his large belly. “No, not in the least Max. Did Jethro here come to you yesterday to get a tooth pulled?”

“Yes your Honor, and it was a time yankin’ it too. We in the profession call it an impacted tooth, ones that all pussy and swollen. It takes a skilled Dentist to pull ‘em too.”

“Was he in a lot of pain?”

“Yes Sir! Especially when I first began yankin’ on it.”

“Did you give him anything for the pain? Liquor and such?”

“No, not liquor your Honor but I did give him laudanum to ease the pain when he first come in and then a second healthy dose when he left.”

“That was all you gave him then, laudanum?”

“Well, when he first arrived he was so jittery I feared I wouldn’t be able to pull it so I gave him some tincture of heroin to calm his nerves before I give him the laudanum.”

Judge Pendergrass leaned back in his chair and nodded knowingly. “I understand, That will be all Max, you can get on back to your shop now. Thank you for your time.”

Max started for the door then turned asking, “You still on for this afternoon for your haircut Judge?”

“Yes, I’ll be by around two.”

With that the barber left leaving the couple to sit silently waiting for the Judge to speak.

“Well, as far as I’m concerned, the two of you are legally married. There’s nothing in the law about marrying under the influence of either laudanum or heroin as both are a legal medicine.”

“Is that why he can’t remember yesterday your Honor? Because of the two drugs?”

“That would be my guess. I had a similar situation years ago when I had my own tooth pulled. My wife, bless her departed soul, said she found me out back planting the garden when I got back home.”

“What’s so bad about that your Honor?” She asked.

“It was February.”

Chapter 2

Slowly the couple made their way from the Court house and headed for the diner for lunch. The earlier mention of food reminded Jethro that he was still ravenous. “So Alessa,” He calmly asked, “you mind fillin’ me in on all the details on how I ended up agreeing to marryin’ you? Back there  in the hotel room you said something about having to be legally married, what did you mean by that? ”

“ I guess if you didn’t  even remember my name then you most likely wouldn’t remember why you agreed to marry me either. Maybe I should just start at the same place I did yesterday when you approached me.”

“That would be a good place to start, at the beginning.”

“You won’t like it.”

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I must’a liked it yesterday since I agreed to marry you.”

“Yes, but you were drugged.”

“I see your point. But, go ahead, what’s done is done…for now anyway.”

They made their way inside the diner and sat down. Much to the chagrin of Jethro, his mouth was still too tender to chew the steak he ordered. Instead, he had to satisfy himself with the sides of peas and mashed potatoes. Still, he managed to down three helpings of apple pie for dessert.

Alessa continued her story during the meal.  “MY father is Jules Van de Bunt, he and the rest of my family live back east in New York City. He’s a very wealthy man.”

“Never heard of him, but then out here in Texas we don’t care much about things back east.”

“I can see why. Anyway, I have always been considered a bit too rough around the edges for the social scene back East. I even wore men’s pants once when we went on a family outing in the Adirondack Mountains one summer. I thought my cousin Clarice was going to faint! Afterward, she kept her distance.  I have always been enthralled by stories of the West and wanted to see places like Texas for myself. Twice I snuck off by train but each time the  Pinkerton men my father had hired found and returned me. My father was livid and would have disowned me if it weren’t for my grandfather.  You see, it was my grandfather who filled my head as a child with his tales of the West. When my grandfather arrived from Europe, he traveled to the west and discovered first silver then copper ore in what is now Arizona. He later married and moved to the East where he raised his two sons. My father and Uncle both attended colleges back East and with the money loaned to them by my grandfather, they started very successful businesses.”

“What sorta’ business?”

“My father built a shipyard in Connecticut.”

“Whewww! He must be rollin’ in dough but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you had to marry.”

“There was a situation at a charity ball given by my family. A young wealthy gentleman from a very politically connected family made it known that he desired to marry me. It was during the ball and he had been drinking heavily when he stood atop a table and announced to the world his desires. He then jumped down and tried to kiss me in front of the entire gathering. I was horrified and without thinking punched him square in the nose! It seems he and my father had planned our marriage all out.  You see Jethro, in a family like mine, a woman has little say in her marriage. She is to marry not for love but to keep money, property and power secured within a small circle of families. “

“That sounds like slavery!”

“In a way it is. My mother was one of those women. Father knew she loved another but kept a blind eye towards her indiscretions with the man. As long as it was discreet, no one seemed to care. It was my grandfather who bemoaned all this. He bore a heavy guilt for having raised his family in such a manner. I was his only salvation. It was he who gave me the money run off, it was he who wanted me to marry a western man, a rancher or even a cowboy rather than a socialite from back East. It was his dream that I would break the mold and be the matriarch of a Western family.”

“So far I understand all this, I mean as a Texan I understand. What part won’t I like?”

“My reason for having to marry I guess.”

“What reason is that? You said you wanted to marry for love…Oh, I think I see. There ain’t  no way you could have truly fallen in love with me enough to ask me to marry you in the few moments we knew each other yesterday, was there?”

“That’s the part I said you won’t like, and neither do I. You see, I ran away a third and final time. It was the day after my grandfather’s funeral. I took what money I had squirreled away and left during the night.  My grandfather had also secretly put some in an account for me that my parents were unaware of. This time I did not take a train directly to the West. I circumvented the route by heading to Chicago, then to Missouri. I figured the Pinkerton’s would first look for me along the route I took the first two times. I joined a minister and his family in Missouri and traveled by wagon to western Kansas then down into Texas. I thought I had lost them but recently I found out that a couple of Pinkerton men had been seen in Amarillo asking questions about me a couple of weeks ago.”

“Why Amarillo’s just a week’s ride from Sweet Water here! Why they could be just a couple days away by now!”

“ I know, that’s the reason I needed to marry. If I were married, there would be nothing my father could do to force me to return to New York. If it weren’t for Mr. Belleview at the bank I would never have known of the Pinkerton’s progress. He owns the bank up in Amarillo too and it was him who heard the men asking about me when he was there.  ”

“I hear them Pinkerton men is one hard outfit. More badger than man! No wonder you were scared of ‘em!”

‘That’s why I looked for a Texan, a real Texan. Brave, strong, willing to stand up for his woman or die doing it…well, I really wouldn’t want my husband  to die I guess. But you get the idea don’t you?”

“Sure, I guess. But if you were lookin’ for all that in a man what made you think I’d fit the bill?”

“ Because, the first moment I saw you confidently swaggering down the street I knew you were the one.”

“Uh, Miss Alessa, I wasn’t confidently swaggerin’ if you recall, I was cross eyed drugged!”

Alessa began to chuckle, “Oh, I know that now, but yesterday I thought you were the bravest man I’d ever met. Why I heard you tell your  friends that there wasn’t a man alive who could out draw you, out fight you or out rope you! “

“Well, That was mostly just Texas cowboy braggin’  but in truth I am a pretty darn good shot an’ not many can outdraw me. I guess if it came to it even though I quake at the thought of bein’ married, I’d stand up an’ take a bullet for my wife…that would be you I reckon.”

“See? I was right after all. You really are my Texas cowboy!”

Chapter 3

That night the two returned to their room.

“OK, so I understand why you needed to get married an’ all but why pick a man who has all but twenty dollars to his name? I mean there ain’t no way I had a savings of any sort. In fact, when you knocked on the door this morning I feared it was the hotel manager wanting his money. I was ready to plow out’a the window head first! Now I gotta’ conjure up some sorta’ steady income for us.”

“Let’s just deal with the Pinkerton men first, then we’ll figure out what to do after that.  I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I was just panic stricken when I heard they were so close to finding me. I knew it was only a matter of days before they’d end up here. I had no one to protect me. If you find you really can’t stand being married, I’m willing to let you go your own way once my father forgets about me.”

“I may not be the marrying type but since I am I ain’t gonna’ shirk my duties as a husband. No, I ain’t gonna’ b;lame it on drugs either. I musta’ been aware enough to decide it was the right thing to do…and I feel it was. I’m just glad you ain’t hard on the eyes! Haw haw!”

“She reached out and gently squeezed his arm saying, “Well if it’s any consolation, I think you’re the handsomest cowboy around, drugged or no.” Then, dropping her hand she placed both hands on her hips and asked, “ My last question for you tonight is where do you want me to sleep?”

“I been thinkin’ about that. I know we’re married and all and sleepin’ together is what married folks are privileged to do with each other but I feel kind’a awkward like about doin’ it. I mean we ain’t had time to spark or nothin’ if you get my meanin’.”

“Then let’s not rush it. I know eventually you’ll want a woman, all men do at one time or another. I’d rather you not look for it outside the home. So when you feel the burn, please tell me and I’ll make love to you as a good wife would.”

“Fair enough.” Pointing to the bed he said chuckling, “Until we get kicked out’a here or I’m plugged by the Pinkertons, you sleep in the bed, after all, you’re paying the bill here so you got special privileges! “

Jethro made his bed upon the divine and lay awake pondering his future. How strange it all seemed to look over at the sleeping girl and realize she was his wife. She was far more beautiful than any girl he’d ever been with but there was more to her than just her beauty. He found her laugh addicting. The same smile that she had plastered on her face when they first met at the door came frequently and with ease. Now that he had a moment to think about it, he remembered how it felt when she squeezed his arm. “Huh,” he thought, “Maybe I’m fallin’ for her after all.”

It was five days later in the dark of night when two strangers riding silently in a buggy made their way into town.  Wearing bowler hats and black suits, the two looked like a pair of twin bankers. If it were not for the .45 caliber colts hanging low on their hips, they would have looked like any other businessmen. Both wore large mustache’s which was the style and both had a Pinkerton badge pinned to their vest.

The only life still awake was at Gertrude’s Saloon at the far end of town.  It was known as a rough and tumble sort of place who’s soiled doves plied watered down whiskey down the throats of the low life patrons  before dragging them upstairs and relieving them of their last fifty cents.

It was here that the Pinkerton men stopped at.  Inside was foul. Upon entering, the smell of unwashed bodies, vomit, cigarette smoke and cheap liquor assailed the nose.  It was nearly three in the morning and the whores were still hustling their wares. Seeing the two well dressed gentlemen enter, they made a desperate beeline to them.

“Well hello my scrumptious darlings!” An elderly woman of some girth, much of it protruding from her stained top, was nearest and quickly approached the two men in hopes of a last stand before calling it a night.  “Can I interest either or both of you in spending an hour with me in heaven?”

The taller of the two stopped as they made their way to the bar. Turning to look at the poor excuse of even a used up soiled dove he sneered. “Lady, spending an hour between your layers of blubber would be hell, not heaven. Now get away from me before I catch what foulness is ailing you.”

She was about to make a snide reply when she saw the eyes of the man narrow and the look of pure hate transform his once pleasant looks into a snarl. Frightened, she turned and quickly made her way up to her room and called it a night.

The bar tender, an ornery red faced powerfully built Irishman stood staring hard at the two as they approached the bar. What’d ya’ scare me whore off for? Ye just cost me fifty cents I have you to know.”

“Sorry about that, Here’s a dollar for your troubles.”

“Well now, amends are made gentlemen, what can I be doin’ for ya’”

The shorter of the two now spoke up, “Were looking for a girl going by the name Alessandra. Some call her Alessa others Miss Van de Bunt, whatever name she goes by were from the Pinkerton’s and have been hired to find her. Have you seen or heard of her?”

“Sure, I never spoke to in me person but everyone knows Miss Van de Bunt. She’s the sweetest lookin’ lass that graced this town.”

“Can you tell me where she’s staying?”

Suspicious that the men might cause the young girl to come to harm, he asked them, “And whatever for would a couple Pinkerton men be doing searching for such an innocent lass as Miss Van de Bunt?”

The men glanced at each other. They had two choices, either physically attempt to draw what information they wanted from the man or lie. Seeing the girth and obvious muscles tensing in the bartenders arms convinced them they would have a bad time of it if they tried to get physical.

“We’re only trying to find her to deliver a message from her family” They lied. “Her father has passed away and she’s come into a large inheritance and she needs to return home as soon as possible to claim it.”

“Oh, well that’s different then!” Turning to the few patrons left awake he bellowed,  “Does anyone know where Miss van de Bunt is stayin’ at?  These gentlemen need her to come home right away to claim a large inheritance!”

A skinny man with a mouthful of missing teeth spoke up.“ She’s at the Chinaberry Hotel, second floor facing the street on the right.”

The taller of the two Pinkerton’s asked, “How do you know this?”

“’Cause I clean the chamber pots at the Chinaberry and at the Morrison hotel, that’s how!”

The tall Pinkerton flipped a silver coin toward the skinny chamber pot cleaner and walked out.

“That was easy!” he said.

By Four thirty the door had been silently jimmied and the two Pinkerton’s silently stepped inside the hotel room. Once inside they let their eyes become accustomed to the dark before moving any further. It was then that they saw a man sleeping on the divine and the girl curled up in the bed. No one had been awake downstairs to note their arrival or their passage upstairs. It was the touch of a cold, hard pistol barrel to each of their heads that awakened the couple.

“Don’t either of you make a move or make a sound.”

The taller of the Pinkerton’s turned his pistol around backwards and brought  the butt smashing down on Jethro’s head.

Alessa began to cry out but the shorter Pinkerton halted her before she could raise an alarm. “Uh, Uh Miss Van de Bunt.” He said quietly.”  No noise or I’ll do the same to you!”

“You can’t do this!” She snarled, “I’m a married woman now and that is my husband!”

“Tell it to the mountain lady. We’re paid to bring you back to your Daddy… just like the other times.

Before she could cry out in protest, the two had bound and gagged her. Silently carrying her downstairs they made their way outside to the buggy and quickly rode off.

Chapter 4

For the second time in less than a week Jethro awoke in the same hotel room with a splitting headache. This time though the bump on his head said his headache was from a blow and not a bottle of cheap whiskey.

Sliding off the divine onto the floor, he sat there until his aching head and nauseous stomach calmed down a bit more. Suddenly, as if remembering something important he quickly looked over at the empty bed. It was then that he remembered the last words before the blow was given.

Wobbling, he stood up and made his way to the door. It was left open.

“Oh my God, they got her!”

Needing to clear his head for thought, he made his way over to the water pitcher and poured the cool contents over his head.  Grabbing a towel, he dried himself off and took a quick inventory of his belongings. Nothing seemed to be missing and his gun still hung from the bedpost where he had placed it the night before. Kneeling down, he saw Alessa’s purse still tucked safely beneath the bed.  Opening it, he removed a large roll of money she had placed inside of it and returned it to its hiding spot.

Taking two steps at a time, he rushed down the steps to the hotel desk.

“Excuse me,” He asked the clerk,” Has there been any sign of Miss Van de Bunt er..my wife this morning?”

The answer came back, “No.”

He left but not before paying a month’s advance rent on the room. It cost more than two months of his wages but considering the roll of money his wife was carrying and the importance of finding her, it mattered little.

Stepping out into the harsh Texas sun Jethro squinted in pain. His head still ached but he had to put the pain aside and keep a clear head. His first thought was which direction had the pair gone after kidnapping Alessa. They would waste little time so he assumed it would be by rail car. The closest passenger depot was  the T&P line in Abilene,  nearly fifty miles east.  The kidnappers could make that in two days easy.

Taking his horse from the stable, he headed off towards Abilene at a gallop. It was a good thing he’d been able to rest up and get some weight back on his horse after the last drive. She was antsy and ready to charge ahead.  By that night he figured the Kidnappers were within sight somewhere so he decided to put his faith in his scouting skills. Making his way up onto a small mount he scanned the darkness for a campfire. He hoped to see only one but in fact he saw three.  Somehow he had to rule two of them out. Talking to himself he went through what he knew of the people traveling through the wild and the men that had Alessa. They were city men, not used to roughing it. Travelers and cowboys were used to the Texas wilderness sounds and night spooks like coyote and such.

 “I bet two to one that the last campfire to go out is the one I want. If I see the campfire brighten when the coyotes start singing, then I’ll know for sure”

True to form, around eleven O’clock, the coyotes started their yipping and howls. To the unfamiliar ear, they sounded like possessed demons rather than an earthly animal. Watching the three campfires only one brightened. “There they are, scared of the coyotes!”

Saddling his horse, he let the rising moon be the light he needed to travel by. He figured the group was five to six miles distant. Not much of a travel in the daytime but precarious at night. A missed gopher hole, a crack between rocks to slip into, anything could lame up his horse if he wasn’t careful. It was the longest five miles he’d ever traveled. He stopped his mount a half mile away for fear the men’s horses pulling the cart would whinny or make a noise that his own mount would respond to.  Unpacking his fully loaded Yellow Boy rifle he slowly made his way eastward towards the campfire through the brush and cactus plants. When he was within a hundred yards, he started to crawl on his belly for fear the campfire light would reflect off of him and give him away. Silently parting the brush with gloved hands, he peered not directly at the campfire but off to its sides. He didn’t want to risk becoming night blinded if for some reason the campfire would unexpectedly flare up. And just then it did.

Fortunately, his precaution prevented his eyes from losing their night vision. At the same time he was able to use his peripheral vision and observe the two men gathering up more firewood. He was now close enough to hear them speaking to one another.

“Stupid! Why didn’t we just put the man in the hotel out of his misery when we had the chance? We could have then taken our time getting out of town and wouldn’t be traipsing around in the desert with those damn things howling at us!”

“Ah keep quiet, it’s only coyotes!”

“Easy enough for you to say, how do you know they aren’t Indians? Answer me that big man!”

‘Geez, you get testy when you’re scared.” Pointing to their captive, he continued railing his partner. “Even she looks more at ease than you. How you ever become a Pinkerton is beyond me!”

“I became one same as you big brother! We joined together after killing the Chief of police in Cambridge for the Irish Four Corners gang, or did you forget?”

“No, I never forgot and neither will our boss. He does jobs for the gang. That’s why we were hired. When he found out that we had methodically tortured the man without so much as blinking an eye, he said he had a use for men like us. Of course if we had turned down his offer, we’d have been swinging from a rope for murder.”

“Still, I hate things that live in the dark, like them damn coyotes! They should all be killed and done away with if you ask me.”

The older and taller brother stepped up to the campfire.  “I wonder if she’s telling the truth, that the fella in her room really was her husband? Naw, couldn’t be, he’s just some dirt bag cowboy she most likely hired as a body guard.”

“Well, she is wearing a ring and a cheap one at that. You’d think if she bought a ring to give us a ruse, she’d have bought an expensive one. Naw, he ain’t her husband. She’s lying.”

Jethro had asked Alessa how she got the ring and when she told him it belonged to his trail pard Lester and that he won it in a game of Five Card Monty the day earlier. At the time he laughed but had no memory of it because of the drugs.  She was there though as were the rest of his friends. Jethro had come fresh from the barber and met up with his pards in the street outside the diner for lunch. It was then that they saw the young girl in tears sitting on the bench in front of the diner. After hearing her story, Jethro had jumped up claiming he loved her deeply and needed to buy her a ring. Lester produced the ring from his pocket and handed it to Jethro telling him he better not look a gifted horse in the mouth and that he had better waste no time getting a Judge or preacher to marry them. It should have dawned on everyone that Jethro was not himself but then they figured love was a strange thing and it’s better left unquestioned.

Of course Alessa was able to clearly hear the two Pinkerton’s conversation. She found herself getting angry and upset when they described Jethro is such derogatory terms.

“You two wait until my husband gets on your trail, you’ll be sorry!”

“Missy,” The younger brother said to her, “your husband is nothing compared to us trained Pinkerton men. Why we are trained by the best in every aspect of police work. Even if your so called husband showed up with a bunch of cowpokes for a posse, why he and his fellows wouldn’t last five minutes against us. “

“You are so wrong you make me laugh!”

“Oh, excuse me but just what was that lump of sleeping trash in your room, your body guard? Haw, Haw haw!”

“No, he’s not my body guard he’s more cunning and dangerous than that, he’s a born and bred Texan!”

The younger brother, the short one, walked rapidly towards Alessa. Wanting to do her harm to shut her up, he pulled back his foot to kick her as hard as he could as she lay helplessly tied up on the ground.

To his older brother’s dismay, his younger brother, rather than following through with his kick, stopped and stood stock still. All three had heard a sound similar to that of  a mourning dove taking flight. In mid kick, he turned his head slowly away from the girl and took a step sideways. Then another step but this time it turned into a stumble. He collapsed onto all fours in front of the girl. To his brother’s horror, a pulsating red stream was squirting from his brother’s neck. It was when he collapsed face forward in a dead heap that Jethro’s long knife was first clearly seen protruding from it.

“My God!” he screamed in shock. Turning to face his unknown enemy the brother reached for his gun. “I’ll kill you son of a bitch!” he yelled but still had no target at which to shoot. It was at that moment that a coyote bounded from its hiding spot in the brush. In the dark the Pinkerton man could not see what or who disturbed the brush so he began firing indiscriminately towards the sound. By this time Jethro had crawled to within twenty feet from the campfires ring of light and was nowhere near where the bullets were aimed. A night bird was slightly winged and flew off screeching in anger at being disturbed so rudely. Unloading his gun proved to be a mistake for the lone Pinkerton. Having an older pistol that had to have its cylinder removed to be re loaded, the Pinkerton realized now how vulnerable he was.

“Alright you out there, I give up ya’ hear?” Now let’s make a deal. I’ll let the girl go if you and her walk away from here and let me be.”

A sharp rifle report was the answer. The Pinkerton’s derby flew backward off his head displaying a fresh round vent hole in it.

“No!  Stop that, we can make a deal you and I. When I get back to New York, I’ll tell her father that she died or something so he won’t go looking for her anymore, alright?”

Another shot rang out in answer and one of his shoes suddenly lost its heel.

“Yeow! Please mister, let me go. Here, I’ll even untie the girl, how’s that?”

Pulling a knife from out of his pants pocket, he jumped back when a third rifle crack made it disappear.

Tucking his bleeding hand inside his vest he looked toward where the shot had come from.“What’s wrong with you, I said I gave up! Now let me be and I’ll leave the girl here for you.”

A strong voice answered from somewhere in the brush outside of the fire rings light. “And then what? You’ll only go back to New York, gather up more of your cohorts and come back to re hunt us down. No Sir, this ends here in Texas!”

“It won’t end I tell you!” The Pinkerton yelled back, ”He’s on his way to meet us in Abilene.”

“How’d he know to meet you there?”

“We sent a telegram from Amarillo to him saying that we had evidence she was holed up in Sweet Water and it would only be a matter of a few days and she’d be in our custody. He wired back to meet him in Abilene with the girl.”

With his rifle raised hip high, Jethro stepped into the light of the fire saying, “Untie my wife then lie on your belly with your hands behind your back.”

As the Pinkerton proceeded with his chore of freeing Alessa he talked. “That was my brother you killed. I knew someday our number would be pulled. I guess if he had to die anywhere this place is about as good as any. I tell you what cowboy. If you’re really setting me free, I’m calling it quits.

 Between my brother here and I we have quite a stash built up in the bank. I think I’d like to retire alongside a fishing lake in upstate New York. Yes Sir, that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m gonna get me a skiff and fish!”

Waiting for the Pinkerton to complete his task, Jethro made his way next to his wife.  Kneeling down next to her he asked, “Are you alright honey? Did they hurt you?”

Making her way up to a sitting position she looked up wide eyed at her hero . “No, no I’m alright.”

Finding his hands in the dim firelight she grabbed them tightly and pressed the up to her face. After a moment in which he felt wet tears on his hands, she again looked up smiling broadly saying, “I’m so proud of you Dear, you really are my cowboy!”

After burying the Pinkerton’s brother in the Texas desert, the three found the rail line’s tracks crossing the desert and made their way on horseback to Abilene, which didn’t take but a half a day.  Alessa rode behind Jethro in the saddle which thrilled her as she was able to lean her head against her husband hero’s back. Every now and then Jethro felt her arms tighten around him in a hug. Each time he felt it, his heart fluttered and skipped a beat.  Eventually he found a single hand and held it against him until they reached Abilene.

They had abandoned the buggy in favor of making the Pinkerton ride bareback.  The other horse followed the others being afraid to be left behind. Within a short time, the Pinkerton’s wool pants rubbing against the damp horsehide began to act as grit paper on his tender backside. Jethro smiled as he watched the man try and control his painful facial expressions in his pretense of normalcy.

Reaching the passenger depot in Abilene, the three dismounted. The Pinkerton’s raw backside forced him to ask for help in getting down. Once standing, the man waddled over to Alessa telling her. “Ma’am, I offer my sincere apologies to you. All these years I’ve done jobs for your father I never took into account the harm and hurt I’ve caused others, especially you. The ride here gave me time to reflect on things. If you’ll forgive me for all I’ve put you through then I’ll know a man really can have a second chance to make things right. I only wish I had learned that before my brother was killed.”

Alessa looked the man squarely in the eyes and replied, “I know you were following orders from my father, orders one does not defy without severe consequences. I’m living proof of that. If you truly intend to change, then I forgive you.”

Jethro put his arm around his wife adding, “I’m sorry too for your brother but he has to hold his own actions to blame. Why he ever thought kicking on a woman, especially here in Texas was something he would end up not paying for is beyond reason. We aren’t the East. Women are a bit scarce out this way and a woman, any woman, is to be treated with the same respect we give our Mama’s and our wives. Your brother unknowingly signed his own death warrant.”

The Pinkerton nodded in agreement then looking at the three horses said. “Do what you want with the horses, our original plan was to abandon along with the buggy here at the depot anyway. I’d shake your hand but I expect you wouldn’t take it, not that I blame you any. I’ll be going now. I truly hope things work out for the two of you.”

“Wait!” Jethro extended his hand and in surprise gripped the Pinkerton’s gunshot injured hand. “A man does a lot of things in life that he ain’t proud of. You asked for forgiveness. The other half a that is being forgiven.”

Turning once again to face Alessa the Pinkerton told her, “I was mistaken Ma’am, your husband is no dirt bag cowboy. In all my days I’ve yet to see a man as big as him.”

The two watched the Pinkerton man enter the depot to purchase a ticket and exit their lives. Jethro turned to Alessa and stated, “You know something? We never knew them two Pinkerton’s names.”

Alessa looked up lovingly up to her husband’s face and replied. “Oh, that’s not true. I know them, I have for years but I think it’s best they stay anonymous to you. I heard as a young girl if you kill a man and don’t know his name, his ghost can’t haunt you in your dreams.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“From, the man who just left us.”

Chapter 5

On the second day of waiting, the train carrying her father arrived at three in the afternoon. Jethro knew immediately by the entourage around him that this must be Alessa’s father.

Four Negro porters carried his and the others in his group’s belongings off the train and piled them onto the depot’s trunk cart. The man looked every bit a wealthy Easterner to Jethro. Tall but overweight, a white pointed beard, a fat cigar jutting from the side of his mouth, giving orders  while pointing with his silver tipped walking cane. Jethro had an instant dislike for the man.

The entourage started walking towards a waiting line of buggies that would transport them to the hotel. It was then that Alessa’s father glanced up and realized the girl standing nearby staring at him was his daughter. He quickly looked for the Pinkerton men that he had hired but instead only saw only a lone, trail dusted cowboy wearing worn chaps, tall heeled boots, a large sombrero type Stetson hat and sporting a low hung Colt .45 around his hips.

Alessa stepped up before her father could react. “Father? I want you to meet my husband Jethro Avery.  Jethro? This is my father  Auburn Van de Bunt.”

The two men stared at each other. Jethro in disgust, her father in disbelief.

“Husband? I heard nothing about you being married!”

Sticking out her wedding banded hand, Alessa smiled, “Just because those men were Pinkerton’s doesn’t mean they know everything. You wasted a trip out here if you think you can take me back to New York father.”

“Where are the investigators I hired?”

“You mean the two thugs you’ve had time and time again chase me down? Well, one is by now a dried up shell in a shallow grave west of here in the desert with a slit throat from my husband’s knife and his brother came to his senses and is out buying a fishing pole somewhere back East.”

The entourage, made up of yes men and parasites, gasped at the daughter’s crude description of the Pinkerton’s death. Her father’s eyes narrowed and a smugness began forming on his lips. “And besides a ring, which by the way looks as if it were purchased from a Roebucks catalog, what proof do you have that this filthy cowboy is actually your husband.”

“Be careful with your words father, the last man who called my husband a filthy cowboy paid dearly for those words.”

Pulling out a folded piece of paper, she held it tightly in front of her father to view.  The couple watched as her father’s eyes slowly scrolled down as he read the sheet of parchment paper. They both knew when his eyes reached the name of the Judge at the bottom.

“Damn!” Her father exclaimed loudly, “This is signed by a Judge named Pendergrass. Is this the same Judge Pendergrass that turned down the Supreme Court bench and left Washington  for Texas?”

“The very one.”

Two of the entourage were lawyers from her father’s shipbuilding firm. When they heard the Judges name, they both sighed, lowered  and shook their heads. Her father hoping to hear even a sliver of hope in nullifying the marriage looked to the Lawyers.

The boldest one, a large well fed man in his late fifties spoke up first. “I’m sorry sir, I’m a Maritime Attorney and not familiar with contract law outside of ship building. But, seeing that Judge Pendergrass performed the marriage and signed the marriage certificate, I would venture to say this wedding is iron clad in nature. I’ve never known the Judge to leave a loop hole open when he puts his signature on something. Maybe my esteemed fellow attorney here from a different Firm could give you a better insight. As I said, my specialty is in Maritime law. If it were up to me though, I would offer the cowboy a tidy sum of say… fifty thousand dollars to divorce your daughter. It’s a common practice in New York and should work here in this backwards State.  Money speaks Sir.”

Jethro’s head reeled. In his life he would never see fifty thousand dollars nor would he now. “Forget it Mr. lawyer. Tell him to keep his money, I’m keeping my wife!”

The look on the other Attorneys face offered no better hope.  He was younger and not so confident in his conviction. In a subdued voice he cleared his throat then addressed the situation.

 “Ahem, Yes Mr. Van de Bunt, I am quite familiar in domestic and contract law so I believe I am able to offer my services to all parties if I may speak freely.”

“What do you mean by all parties?” Then realizing he could be spending the next hour listening to the thin balding Attorney bloviate on a single definition of all Parties, he forged ahead, “Alright, speak already dammed it!

“As you are aware Sir, Your father left a tidy sum in his Last Will and Testament to his granddaughter Alessandra who is now standing here amongst us. There were two stipulations in his last Will and Testament for her to be eligible to receive this large sum. First was that she was to at least attain the age of twenty one and second that she be married. I believe your only hope in stalling this dispersion of funds lies in her age. I believe she is still only twenty years old. We can send a wire to the Firm that employees me and they could file an order of Stay and have the Last Will and Testament stalled indefinitely in court through appeals and what not.  During which time my employer could gather a legal team together and dissect this marriage certificate against all laws both New York State and Texas to see if a loop hole can be found to nullify the marriage. To your fortune, she was not married in a church where we would have to go up against a church hierarchy to obtain an annulment. A civil marriage is much easier to annul.”

“Well, well, well! It seems we have hope of keeping the family fortune within the family after all. Go ahead, immediately wire your office and file suite with the Clerk of Courts and begin the process.”

The lawyer left to send the emergency wire to the Judge after copying down all pertinent information on the wedding certificate.

Jethro knew he’d never voluntarily give up his wife for any amount of money or through News York legal wrangling.  He had discovered he truly did fall in love with her. She too had come to the same conclusion and was adamant in keeping Jethro as her husband.

In a shorter time than assumed it would take, the young Attorney returned from the telegrapher’s office.

“Uh, Sir? We have a problem.”

“Good grief! Now what?”

“The Clerk of Courts office is closed.”

“What? Impossible!” Her father cried pulling out his pocket watch, “It’s only 3:15 and it’s open until 5 o’clock!”

Alessa’s father was fuming now. “What do you mean by standing here like an insolent mule! Get back and send that telegram before it’s too late. We still have an hour and forty five minutes yet to file.”

The distressed Attorney spoke up again. “Sir, your watch is set for Texas time, I saw you reset it on the train when the Steward came and announced our arrival into this State. Back in New York it’s 5:15pm. The Clerk of Courts office closes promptly at 5pm. It closed fifteen minutes ago.”

Turning to Alessa the Attorney asked, “Ma’am, exactly what date is your date of birth?

Without thinking she replied, “July 15, 1886. Why do you ask?”

Her father suddenly looked as if he had received an electric shock. Quickly looking once more at his pocket time piece he blurted out, it’s July 13th, we have a full day after today before she’s twenty one! She’s not twenty none until the 15th of this month and it’s only the 13th now!”

The Attorney made no move to the telegrapher’s office; instead he stood staring down at his feet.

“Now what’s the problem?” Her father fumed

“Even if I send a telegram this instant to my office and they draw up the stay, your daughter will still be twenty one before we get the stay is filed with the Courts.”

“How is that possible? We have a full day tomorrow to file the paperwork with the Court. Tell me why they won’t accept the paperwork until after she’s twenty one which by the way, is two days away yet?

“Because Sir, today is Friday and the Clerk of Courts office will not reopen until Monday the 16th. There is no exceptions in the matter. Even the President of the United States must bow to the rules of the Court.”

Suddenly the big man visibly paled and looked weak in the knees. Seeing a bench nearby he heavily sat down on it and lowering his head between his knees groaned.

The Attorney then turned to Alessa offering his hand, “Congratulations on your inheritance and marriage Ma’am. If you should ever need an Attorney, I am always available.”

Alessa thought for a moment then asked him. “Sir, do you work exclusively for my father?”

“I am assuming that the firm I work for will be terminating my employment with them for failing to procure not only your inheritance for their client but when they find that I congratulated you, I’m sure they will ask that I clean out my office.”

“You mentioned my inheritance in terms that is was a tidy sum. Tell me, would I have enough of an inheritance for my husband and I to start a cattle operation here in Texas? “

“More than enough Ma’am, more than enough.”

“Great, then it’s settled. Would you be willing to come back with us to Sweet Water and help us to set this all up legal like? It may take a while, maybe years even.”

Smiling shyly, the Attorney  spoke, “I have always wanted a horse Ma’am, since I was a child. If you permit me one and have one of your cowboys teach me to ride it, I believe yes, I can return with you to Sweet Water if these requirements are met.”

Sticking out her hand, Alessa said, “Done!”

Alessa then stepped over to where her father gloomily sat. Sitting beside him, she took one of his large hands into her own.  “Father? I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to happen this way. I was foolish and it was a matter of fortune that the man I married to circumvent your scheme ended up being the true love of my life. He’s a good man father, one your own father would be proud to call family. Is money that important to you that you would force misery upon your own blood in order to hold onto something as fleeting as money? Could you even spend what you have in the lifetime you have left? No! When yo lie upon your death bed will it be your financial councilors holding your hand or will it be family. The choice is yours father. As for me, I am not returning to live in New York but am starting my own life here in Texas with a wonderful man who could care less about the monetary worth of a man. He judges a man by a different scale than one of financial wealth. That’s the type of man I have always wanted father, it’s the type of man I always wished you were. “

Slowly Alessa rose and putting her arm around Jethro’s waist she leaned into him asking him if they could go now.

Chapter 6

Within six months the ranch was in operation. With the amazing help of Andrew, the young Attorney and their hired hands, the couple carved out a ranch in the Texas wilderness. Keeping her promise, Alessa had hired a man to teach Andrew the Attorney to ride, and ride he did. No longer did he dress for the office. Wearing cut jeans boots and a western hat, he became the heart throb to many young girls in town.

It was in late April when in the distance an automobile was seen making its way up the long dusty road towards the ranch. With steaming radiator the large touring automobile braked to a screeching halt in front of the house.  Doors opened and a group of men were expelled from its interior. One of them, a large man dressed in cowboy boots, jeans and a fancy Spanish embroidered shirt stepped out and placing a new Stetson upon his head spun in a slow circle taking in the view of the ranch.

It was the cook who heard the commotion outside first and running to the window see what was making that awful hissing and chugging noise, she yelled for her Mistress to come quickly.

Taking one look at the group of men through the front porches screened door, she chuckled and clapped her hands and flew out onto the porch.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” She shouted laughingly. “I love the hat!”

“ When in Rome do as the Roman’s do! Hello daughter!”

Riding in from the herd Jethro dismounted near the front porch and tied his mount to the rail. Seeing Alessa already hugging her father beside the automobile, he walked over to them.  Seeing his son in law approaching, he stuck out his hand toward Jethro while his daughter still remained clinging to him.

“Howdy Dad, welcome to the Double A!  We got your letter; it sure is great seeing you here.”

“The pleasure is all mine son!”

“How was he trip? I can’t believe you all rode in this thing all the way from New York. Here, let me call a couple hands to help with your luggage.”

Jethro walked out towards the coral and whistled a shrill ear piercing whistle which drew the attention of several hands. “Hey! Get on over here an’ give a hand!” He shouted to them. One of the Hands turned out to be their Attorney Andrew.

Seeing who had arrived by automobile, Andrew held back until he and Jethro were alone.

“Uh, are you sure he should see me? I mean the last time we were together was at the depot and I fear it might upset him seeing me here. I mean after all, it was I who crushed him with the bad news and then I go off and get hired on by you folks. I know I did nothing wrong, it’s just that we didn’t part on the best of terms.”

Jethro placed his hand on Andrews shoulder telling him, “When we received his letter, he specifically asked that you be here. He mentioned something about tossing some business your way. What he meant by that, I have no idea. He never did say why he was coming just that he was.”

What Jethro held back was that in his father in laws long hand written letter was not only an apology to the young couple but all the thoughts that he had pondered on over the months after leaving Texas. In it, he explained how he was raised and where he had gone wrong in raising ho9s own family. After he returned to New York with the words of his daughter still ringing in his head, he began to see his friends in a different light, shallow and concerned only with their financial gain. He wrote that he decided to step back from his ship building industry, even to entertain the idea of selling it.

The two men lagged behind the other hands letting them gather the luggage and cart it into the house. The others that had made the drive with her father were invited inside for refreshments. Finally it was just her father, Jethro, Alessa and Andrew standing outside by the automobile.

Alessa commented again on her fathers attire. “Dad, you look wonderful in Western gear, it suits you well. It gives you an aura of ruggedness that a suit can never give.”

He chuckled, “You should have seen my friends in there when I stopped to buy these duds. They thought I had lost my mind!  By the way, I sold off all of my company stock, I no longer own it.”

“Dad, why did you do that? You loved building ships.”

“That’s the point dear, I loved building them. I haven’t seen the shipyard in two years, did you know that? I was too busy running the day to day operations. I missed the smell of the riveters forge, the sound of them being hammered into the plates. To be honest, I missed having fun!”

Alessa moved up to face her father, placing her hands on his chest she asked him, “What will you do now? Surely you’re not the type to sit in a rocking chair reminiscing on the past. I know you better than that.”

Jethro jokingly told his wife, “Well, we could always use him on the ranch, good hands are always hard to find!”

All four chuckled at the thought.

“Honestly though” Her father said, “That’s not for from why I came out here. You see after I sold off the company, they held a big going away celebration in my honor. At the dinner portion of the celebration the place served the most delicious steak I had ever eaten. Tender, juicy, perfectly marbled. I asked the Chef how come these steaks were so different from all the others. Do you know what he told me? He told me these steaks come from a special breed of cow called and Angus cow and that they are raised in the country of Argentina.  Well that got my brain churning. Knowing you raise cattle and all. I began to research this breed and have come up with an idea and a proposal for all of you. Yes, Andrew, you fit in the scheme of things too. “

“I do? How”

“I’ll explain. First off though, I want to do this for enjoyment, I’m not interested in making money off of it. Oh, I want the operation to be able to support itself but as far as wealth goes, Alessa said it best when she asked me how much wealth do I really need.  I want an operation raising these cattle, but not here in Texas but in Argentina where the grass is lush and different from here. The climate too suits these cattle better than the climate here. To what I understand though starting a ranch down there is difficult. The local ranchers guard the sale of breeding stock tightly in order to eliminate competition and keep prices high.  I went ahead and purchased twenty thousand acres of prime grazing land. I let it out that I intended to use it as an investment and sell off smaller portions to make money, kind of what a land speculator does. What I realy intend to do, with all your help, is to third party purchase some of the breeding stock and a couple of bulls and ship them here to your ranch. I want a solid thriving herd built up that I can ship by sea down to Argentina when the time is right. I’m not interested in how the cattle taste being raised here, I’m not selling any off. I know once the herd is moved back to Argentina their calves will be no different than if their parents had always been from there. “

Jethro smiled knowingly and said, “So what you’re asking us to do is raise a separate herd from our own, never mixing the breeds and when the herd is ready, ship the whole bunch on down to your land there. ”

“Exactly! I don’t want to give a heads up to anyone down in Argentina as I don’t want any monkey business preventing my operation from taking off. I’m hiring Spanish and Argentine cowboys and once my herd is in place on my land there’s not much anybody can say or do against it. I’ve already hired a ranch foreman to start the ball quietly rolling down there and he’s aware he’s to keep everything hush hush.”

Andrew asked, “Sir what would my role be in all this if you have a Foreman and all?”

I need a legal eagle watching over my enterprise down there, one that I respect and trust even if you did piss me off . Oh don’t get me wrong I was mighty sore at you back there in Abilene when you sided with my daughter, but in the end because you showed the grit to do what was right in the eyes of man and God, I respected you for it. I can see how you used your skills to get this ranch on its feet too. One thing I know is that my daughter has little patience with figures and legal issues. I figured she had you handling all these. Jethro, I’m not casting a disparaging word against you but knowing now what makes up a good cowboy, I’m sure you used Andrew to set up your accountant and will be instrumental in your sales when the time comes to drive them to market, am I right?”

Jethro laughed openly, “You hit the nail on the head Sir. I can rope any cow, shoot a rustler square in the behind at a thousand feet and drive cattle as straight as an arrow, but please don’t ask me to haggle prices with a buyer!, No Sir! That’s Andrew’s job!”

Jules Van de Bundt smiled at the young group in front of him. “I’ll only keep him down there long enough to get started, a month or two at best.” Looking at the three sets of approving faces he said, ” So it’s settled then, You’ll do this with me?”

Alessa answered for them all. “Dad, all four of us would be thrilled to be part of this exciting new venture, of course we will!”

With a wide smile of satisfaction plastering his face, Alessa’s father leaned against the automobile. Then suddenly he looked around in confusion. “Did you say the four of you? There’s only three as far as I can see. Who’s the fourth?”

Alessa placed both hands gently against her stomach. “Here’s number four grandpa!”

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.

 

When the Spirit Grandfathers spoke.

Chapter 1 

Prancing Doe raised her blood stained face to the sky and howled in anguish. Her husband, Coughing Bear, lay scalped and dead at her feet. Her infant female child bounced violently within the basket being carried away by a warrior of a renegade band. As the warrior rode off with the screaming infant, on his side hung the fresh scalp of the child’s father.

Sinking to her knees, Prancing Doe knelt next to her dead warrior husband. Paying no attention to the open gash on her head, she began hoarsely chanting his death song in order to find his way safely to the hunting grounds where the Grandfathers waited for his arrival. When finished, Prancing Doe pulled out one of the sharp flint tipped arrows still protruding from his back and dug the arrows tip deep along the length of her arms to slice open the arteries inside until she lost consciousness.

In the brightness of the hunting grounds, Prancing Doe knelt beside Coughing Bear as he stood tall and spoke. In wonderment, she saw that all of the tribes Grandfathers were present. Many she only knew by songs and legends, others she had loved and cared for in life.

After addressing the Grandfathers in greeting, Coughing Bear honored them by singing each their own song as was taught to him as a child. It may have taken days but no one cared since the sun never set in the hunting grounds of the afterlife. When finished, the pipe was passed. The Grandfathers approved and the Great Spirit breathed his pleasure over the gathering which caused a stirring of their unbraided hair. A Grandfather rose and Coughing Bear was given by him a fine strong ash bow and a quiver full of straight arrows. Another gave him a sharp knife. In appreciation, Coughing Bear held a tightly wrapped bundle of sweet grass out to each Grandfather. He then stood, left Prancing Doe behind and joined the Grandfathers to his rightful place in the hunting grounds.

As one, each Grandfather turned their respectful gaze to Prancing Doe. The grandfather that had presented her husband the bow and quiver, sang to her a song of honor. Prancing Doe was humbled. When she felt brave enough, she looked up and he spoke to her.

“Prancing Doe. You have swept the leaves from the trail so that Coughing Bear would not lose his way here to the hunting grounds. You sang until his feet stood upon the holy ground. He was not waylaid by the trickster on his journey because of you. You honored him afterward by sending your own spirit to him as a guide and helpmeet. We are pleased. We give you honor and gifts.

The aged Grandfather held out his hand and in it hung a necklace of strong medicine charms. Some were of carved beaver teeth others knapped flint or precious blue stone. Prancing Doe was afraid to touch such powerful medicine. “Take this, wear it.” He told her, “By touching each in their own order, the honor of what you have done for Coughing Bear will be transformed into the power the Great Spirit has blessed you with. The power to heal, the power of seeing in the dark, the power of smell and the power to look down upon your enemy as does the Eagle in flight.”

He placed the necklace over Prancing Does head. The power of it was so great Prancing Doe feared it would consume her and said so.

Seeing her eyes flash in fear the aged Grandfather reassured her, “It is because you are humble that you fear its power, that is good.”

“ Grandfather, I understand and am honored beyond my own might. Still, I am confused. Why would I need such power here? Is this not a place of peace where death visits us no more and where no sickness abides? “

“To those like your Coughing Bear and those true warriors that have come before him, yes, that is true. Every Grandfather from every tribe is here. There is room for all. The Great Spirit flies above us all and as one people we give him honor. In return he blesses us with no hunger or death. Those who were evil, liars and boastful in their own mind are not here with us. They are sitting on their hemorrhoids brushing away gnats and spiders and serving Iktomi the trickster in the land of the dead.”

When you arrived, we were of like mind that you should be called a new name. Prancing Doe is a child’s name, a name of innocence and naivety. It is a name with little power to go before the people of the plains, the mountains and the forest. No, to do what needs to be accomplished you must have a powerful name. You are now called Ina Hoka. Even a warrior of great courage turns from a mother badger. Nothing pursues as the badger and nothing has more determination to protect her young than a mother!”

Ina Hoka blinked. “ Gandfathers, Nothing has such power as the Ina Hoka, all fear her. Why do you bestow me with such power?”

“There is one who does us no honor. He is the one who hid during the attack upon you and your family. He hid from harm behind his horse until Coughing Bears back was to him. Only then did he step forward pretending to be brave. He killed from behind as Coughing Bear struggled face to face with another brave warrior. He shamed us all with his cowardice. By taking Coughing Bears scalp he shamed us even further. Many Grandfathers shouted displeasure and demanded his tribe be banished until Maka Cesli pays for his dishonor. You are to return to the living people and claim your female child. You are to return to save the tribe Maka Cesli was birthed from forever being dishonored. And lastly, you are to return to receive the precious gift we have asked the Great Spirit to bless you with.”

“Grandfathers, I will do as you ask. As for further gifts, I am blessed far too much already. But I must ask you this,  is his name truly Maka Cesli? Skunk Feces? If I am to find him, tell me the name he is known to his people by, for I do not want to mistake another for him.”

‘You are wise Ina Hoka. Though we have vowed never to utter that name again, we will this one time say it, then never again will it be uttered here in the hunting ground. Ohinni Lowacin, I am always full of hunger, is a name no people shall ever use again. His name will be forever Maka Cesli. Even the Trickster will despise him.

Now Ina Hoka, Listen to me with all your might!

When you return to the living land, your eyes will be opened and our talk here will remain strong within your memory. Return and find your child. Now go with our blessing.”

Ina Hoka lifted her eyes beyond the grandfathers to gaze once again at the endless grassy plains and purple mountains of the hunting grounds. She had never seen such beauty before. She would miss the affection of the Grandfathers but knew someday they would smile again upon her final return.

Stepping up to a bundle of smoldering sweet grass she wafted the aromatic smoke over her head then fanned it towards the assembled Grandfathers. Once blessed with the sweet smoke, she touched each Grandfathers hand lightly in reverence. She turned and glanced about in search of Coughing Bear. He stood proudly smiling at her with raised palm. She returned his farewell wave and suddenly screamed in pain.

Chapter 2

“Hold on Ma’am, please lay still or you’ll bust open the dressings I put on your arms. I know they must hurt a load but for your own good, please lie still.”

Ina Hoka woke up screaming from the pain in her lacerated arms. She lay on a makeshift outdoor bed of soft grass and covering her was a stiff cloth of some sort. Turning her head she saw she was still in the same killing field as before. Looking frantically about, she noticed fresh graves had been dug and her husband’s body was no longer lying next to her. True to what the Grandfather had told her, she recalled in perfect clarity her visit to the hunting grounds and all that had been spoken.

Speaking in her own tongue to the man squatting beside her, she asked where her husband’s body was.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, I don’t speak Indian very well, just some trading phrases and such. I found you lying here almost dead. You’ve lost a lot of blood but I got the best of the bleeding most ways stopped now. ”

When she had turned her head, something shifted slightly on her chest, slowly moving her hand to her throat she discovered the strange feeling was the necklace. As if she had spent a lifetime doing so she skillfully fondled the healing beads and chanted. Within a few breaths time, her eyes cleared and her contorted face relaxed as the agony of the pain began to subside. When the pain became manageable, she asked the young man who was attending to her wounds about her husband.

“My husband?” She asked in English, “Did you bury him?”

Jerking backwards her rescuer jumped back in surprise, “Wha?? I’m sorry, you gave me a start Ma’am that’s all. I did not think you spoke any English”

“Yes, I do. My husband, is he buried?”

“If the young warrior that got himself kilt near you was your husband then yes, I gave him a Christian burial along with them old folks too. I heard you Indians bury a person facing East so I did that for them. Ma’am, to tell you the truth, at first I thought you was dead too.”

“I was about to move you over to that there grave I dug when I noticed you were still breathing. After I patched you up, you woke up and started screaming bloody murder. I’m tellin’ you Ma’am, you sure got a powerful set of lungs!”

Ina Hoka understood most of what the man said except for the odd reference to her lungs. She understood her husband was buried with honor and this man had been used by the Grandfathers to also save her life. She made a mental note to ask the Great Spirit to repay his kindness by blessing him when she was up to it.

“I’m putting up a tent over you so don’t get frightened, alright Ma’am? You won’t be moving for a while yet and I wanted to make sure you’re out of the weather if it begins to rain. By the way Ma’am I go by the name  Thomas, Thomas Payne… like the famous Thomas Payne…only I’m not him. ”

“Why do you stop to help me?” She asked.

“Shucks Ma’am, what did you think I’d do? Leave you here all alone to die?”

“Are you a medicine man To-mas that you knew to care for my wounds?”

“No, I’m no Doctor Ma’am. When I was a boy, my Daddy showed me a trick to closin’ up cuts when I was a kid. See that big ant hill over yonder? What you do is rustle up them folks till the big fighters come pouring out of the hive. Then you grab onto one behind the head. If you take the two sides of the wound and squeeze ‘em together and you place the ant just so, the ant will use his pinchers to bite you. All ya’ do then let him pinch the two sides of the wound tightly together with his bite. Once he’s forced the two sides together you pinch off its body and the head stays there keepin’ the wound closed and you end up with a fine stitch. I poured some whiskey on your wounds and the gash on your head to keep you from getting’ a fever from infection. It took a couple hundred ants to sew up your arms but I think it’ll heal fine like. I’m sorry but I don’t have any willow bark to ease your pain.”

Ina Hoka smiled up at him saying, “I have my own means of making my pain leave me.” She placed her hand over her necklace and told him, ”My name is Ina Hoka, I must avenge my husband and find my daughter that was taken by Maka Cesli.”

“I’m not sure who this Maky Selsa fella is but it’ll be a bit a time a’fore you can go chasin’ after him. I’m thinkin’ that if you can tell me where your tribe is, it’d probably be best if I could get you over to them as soon as possible. I’m thinkin’ they might go on out after that Maky Selsee fellow for ya’.”

“The Grandfathers named him Maka Cesli not Makee Selsee, it means skunk dung! His people still call him Ohinni Lowacin.  He is from a tribe that we have struggled with for many winters now. We have fought them over the right to hunt buffalo on the land. At one time there were many buffalo and we all lived in peace.”

“When the buffalo became few, the young warriors of his tribe would not listen to the elders and made trouble. Since that time, war between us has become more and more. Maka Cesli leads a band of young warriors wanting to make big their name to shame their elders into making the big war with my tribe. They have attacked women and children left alone in their lodges while the men went off hunting. I am saddened for my husband’s parents. All they wanted was to see the buffalo one last time before death from old age claimed them. My husband showed them great love and honor in bringing them here to fulfill their desire. Now they are all dead. When I can stand on my own, I will go find Maka Cesli’s camp and take back my daughter. I am a mother badger. I will chase him until he has no strength left and his legs fail him. Before I kill him I will cut off his man stick and send him to the Trickster choking on it!”

Thomas sat fully down in the long grass and looked at the young Indian girl lying there with bandaged head and arms. “I just bet you will too!”

 

Chapter 3

   The summer days passed quietly on the plains. Ina Hoka grew in strength and Thomas tried his best to learn her tongue. He thought at the least, it would come in handy living in the western plains where tribes still wandered freely about. But if the truth be told he began to find Ina Hoka a fascinating woman and discovered she was pleased at his attempts to speak the tongue of the Sioux. Her smile was a reward he looked forward to. He had seen few women as beautiful. Thomas spent part of the day away from Ina Hoka gathering dried buffalo chips to feed the camp fire and spent time gathering wild plants and any meat he could find. As her wounds healed, Ina was able to take on more and more camp chores. The day eventually came though that she had to tell Thomas he was a terrible cook. She shoo’d him away from the gathered supplies and turned a once bland meal into a delicious stew. From that moment on, each began to take unto themselves the chores expected of a man and a woman.

One evening as they sat next to each other eating, Ina looked over at the man who had so unselfishly cared for her. She was troubled in her heart. She had the task asked by the Grandfathers to find Maka Cesli and her daughter but found she did not want to leave the company of Thomas.  “To-mas, I am near the time I must go and find my daughter and kill Maka Cesli.” She then told him of her near death and all that had occurred during that time she was in the hunting grounds.

“How in heavens name will you, a lone woman, be able to accomplish all this? Don’t get me wrong Ina, I know you got the sand to do it but we don’t even know where they’s at.”

Ina Hoka lifted her necklace to him, “The grandfathers gave me this gift. It has powerful charms.” It comes not from this land but from the hunting grounds. It gives me the power to heal, to see into the night, to smell beyond that of the bear and to see as the flying eagle sees in flight.”

“If it heals, why did you not use it to heal your own wounds?”

“The power to heal is not for me but for someone else. When I lay there in pain, I asked the Grandfathers to heal my wounds but they told me it was not meant for me but because I asked, they would at least grant my pain to subside. That much I know. Who it is meant to heal, I do not know. Maybe it is for another time, not now.”

“Have you tried the other charms?”

“Yes, each time you leave to hunt or gather I follow you as the Eagle because I worry on your safety. Before we sleep, I search the night prairie as the Owl.” Then with a giggle she said, “Once I used the smelling charm to smell the distant mountain flowers.”

“You say that giggling, why?”

“To-mas, forgive me but your cooking smelled so bad that if I had not had the smell of the wildflower to revive me, I would have fainted!”

Saying that, the two of them broke into a howling laughter. “Good Lord Ina, it did have kind of a skunky smell to it now that I think back! It musta’ been them weed lookin’ things I added to the meal”

The evening sky darkened as they sat enjoying each other’s company and soon the only light was cast from the glowing campfire. Seeing Thomas’s handsome face framed in the glowing light, Ina could no longer keep her thoughts from becoming words.

“To-mas,” She said quietly, “I do not want to part from you. My heart is torn, it lays on the ground. My husband enjoys the hunting grounds as an honored warrior now. He will have no need or desire for a wife anymore. I have asked the Grandfathers of this. They told me so. I am happy for him yet I am feel shame that I desire to feel as a woman feels for a man so soon after his parting. Though we come from different peoples, I have come to respect you. More than that even. I want you to share my blanket.”

Thomas scooted himself closer to her and placed his arms over her shoulder.  She leaned into him.

“Ina, all this time I’ve been trying my darndest to get you to notice me as more than just a ramblin’cowboy that wandered into your life. I was sure you would never look at me as a suitor. To tell you the truth, as much as I was happy being around you it made me sad at the same time. In your tribe, can a man like me marry you?”

“I have a secret to tell you To-mas. We have spent almost a full moon together alone on the prairie. Even though we have not slept under the same blanket, my people would assume we did. If we arrived not as husband and wife they would think of me as one who jumps from blanket to blanket. You call this woman a whore. To prevent this, I had planned to leave you here as I went in search of Maka Cesli and my daughter. When I returned to my tribe with her, no one would have known about you. But my heart cried out that it wanted you. I could not gather the courage to leave you.”

“So if we showed up at your village, they’d naturally assume you and I are married. But if we act like we wasn’t married, they’d look upon you as a whore and treat you as a outcast?”

Yes.”

Thomas stood up and knelt before Ina Hoka. Taking her hand in his he spoke to her. “Ina, I know we got some big differences between us. I’ve always figured a woman would come my way someday but not until I saw the world an’ made my fortune.”

“I ain’t no good at this Ina so I’ll just come clean with it. I have fallen head over heels in love with you and I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. I know you said folks would just assume we was married but I’m askin’ you if you’d make it real. Will you marry me? I know there ain’t no one around to say we are but isn’t there something in your tribal way that we don’t need a preacher or judge to be married?”

“By lying together, the Grandfather will know. In their eyes they will see our love and accept our union.”

That night, under a moonlit night under a blanket within the confines of the canvas tent, Ina Hoka became Thomas’s woman and wife. He became the husband to Mother Badger who still had a dangerous task before her. In her dream Ina Hoka spoke to the Grandfather concerning her marriage. “It was not good that you should be alone in life. When we sat face to face last moon, I had told you of one more gift we honored you with. It was the gift of being loved.  Thomas is our gift to you. He is a good man, brave and protective. He has a large heart that now beats for you. Go now, seek your child and destroy Maka Cesli.  Your husband Thomas will be at your side.”

Morning found their camp broken and far off in the distance a man could be seen walking next to a woman who was riding horseback. Together they headed westward where the spirit of a flying Eagle had spotted the band of Maka Cesli many days ahead of them.

Chapter 4

Two weeks later, under a dark evening sky that found the couple within a few miles of where Maka Cesli’s band was camped, Ina spoke to Thomas.  “Listen to me my husband. I have powers that you do not have. I am afraid for you. I will soar once again as an eagle in the night. With my Owl vision I will see all that I need to know. I will descend within the camp and kill Maka Cesli. Then after I have humiliated him, with my talons I will grab up my daughter and return here to you. I must warn you. If they have given honor to the Unkcegila, then the Unkcegila will try to stop me. They are evil spirits that roam the land and hate those that are good. As an Eagle I can fly safely above them but you will be as a mouse to a hawk. I must chant a song of protection over you. Be still and say nothing. Whatever you see, do not let it frighten you. I am singing a song of the giant warrior. He will ride across the sky mocking the Unkcegila and daring them to attack him. They will spit and scream at him as he passes above them. The Giant Warrior will keep the eyes of the Unkcegila upon him and away from you. When I return, the Giant Warrior will become as a mountain and crush the Unkcegila under his weight. He will sit upon them until we are safe and far away.”

Thomas tipped his hat in a sign of affirmation. “I ain’t even gonna’ question any of what you’re tellin’ me Ina. I sure ain’t never heard of such things but it sure ain’t my place to say it can’t be so. Go ahead, sing your song sweetheart, I’ll try not to foul my drawers at what I see goin’ on.”

Ina Hoka told Thomas to sit. Standing over him she began her chant. Thomas was afraid her raised voice would alert someone in Maka Cesli’s band yet after a few minutes he could see no unusual movement by the bands campfire light.

As he watched the firelight miles away, his vision began to play tricks on him. The far away campfire began to waiver. It seemed to move first to the right then to the left. Sometimes it seemed close and other times very far away. Voices could be heard but he could have sworn he did not hear them with his ears. His body took on the weight of stubborn mule causing his arms to dangle uselessly at his side. Across the sky swept a faint blue light as if dawn was about to break. From out of the light in the sky a mountain appeared. As the mountain traveled from east to west it took on the shape of a warrior upon a white horse. The warrior held his coup stick high and screamed insults at an unseen enemy. It was then that he realized he could no longer see Ina Hoka yet her singing was as loud as a nearby drum.

Thomas was about to speak when he remembered her instruction to remain quiet. He realized that if he made even the slightest noise, then whatever evil spirit that was creeping in the prairie grass would hear and attack him. He knew no bullet could protect him from the Unkcegila but that was the duty of the Giant Warrior.

Thomas could now see confusion in the camp. Warriors ran back and forth. With demonic howls the Unkcegila clawed the prairie sky trying to disembowel the Giant Warrior’s horse riding above them. The Giant Warrior laughed and threw insults and humiliation upon the spirits as he rode just out of reach above and past them. The evil land spirits howled and jumped trying to gain enough height to destroy the horse he rode on. Even the horse whinnied back in laughter.

“Aaiiieeeee!” A long horrible scream came from the encampment. It was shameful for a warrior to scream from pain but then Maka Cesli was no warrior. The Giant Warrior paused and pointed his coup stick toward the camp. He threw back his head and laughed. Thomas felt the laughter strike him as close thunder would during a prairie storm. His chest reverberated from it and his head ached from the pressure. Realizing the mountain sized warrior was positioned above the half driven mad Unkcegila demons , he watched as the Giant Warrior settled himself down on top and crushing them.

The pain in Thomas’s head became almost too intense not to shout out. A giant eagle carrying a child in its talons flapped it’s powerful  wings and settled behind him. Just when he felt he could stand it no more, he felt a pair of loving arms wrap themself around him from behind in a hug. Ina Hoka’s calming voice spoke softly into his ear.

“My husband, rise, we must be off. The light of dawn will soon be upon us and we must leave while the Giant Warrior holds down the spirits of the land while it is yet dark. All has been accomplished tonight.”

To Thomas, he felt as if he had suddenly awakened from a dream. No longer could he see the Giant Warrior or the gasping Unkcegila. Wailing sadness could be heard from the camp but no warriors mounted to seek revenge for the humiliating slaughter of their leader.

Holding the child out to Thomas his wife spoke to him, “Rise,  and see our daughter, is she not beautiful?”

Thomas rose and cradled the tiny girl in his arms. “She’s beautiful all right, she looks just like her Mama.”

   The subject of the child’s upbringing and what path she would follow had never been discussed between them. Realizing it must be settled before they entered her tribe’s encampment Ina Hoka asked Thomas who’s culture would they all belong to.

“Well,” Thomas thoughtfully replied, “It seems I’m a bit outnumbered two to one. Ina, I would want what makes you and our daughter happiest. I was always a bit of a drifter after I left home. I would like to plant my roots next to yours if that’s alright with you. Besides, if we lived in a city of white men and I began telling folks all I’ve seen here tonight, they’d lock me up as bein’ crazy. I think it best for all of us if we put our roots down inside a teepee lodge with your people rather than a square house made of wood and stone among strangers.”

“Yes, that makes me happy. I will yet have much explaining to my tribe of all that has happened since my leaving the village. While they will be of sad heart to hear of my husband and his parents deaths, they will sing songs of happiness for our marriage and the return of my child.”

As the three made their way eastward Thomas asked, “Ina, I need to ask you something. Is there some reason why our baby has no name?”

“In our band, a child’s name is given to her by her father. She is yours to name. If you look upon the child your heart will be open to her name. Sometimes if it is an important name the Grandfathers will give you hints other times your Totem will speak to you.”

“I’ve actually just been thinkin’ on that. I would like to give her the name your mother was called. I want to give your Ma some sort of honor seein’ as how she raised such a wonderful daughter herself. What was her name?”

Ina Hoka walked closely beside her husband Thomas as he continued to cradle the child in his arms. “How honored am I?” she thought. “All the gifts that the Grandfathers have given to me and now my husband honors not only me but my own mother. I am complete.”

“Her name is Kimo. It means to be brimming with hope.”

Thomas stopped and lifted the now giggling child to the predawn sky. “Daughter, today you are called Kimo!”

As he handed the baby girl now named brimming with hope back to Ina, a golden shaft of morning sunlight split the dawns clouds. The narrow shaft struck the three where they stood.

Ina Hoka looked up at her husband and smiled widely. She held Kimo closely to her breast and spoke to her husband.

“To-mas, the Grandfathers are pleased you remembered my mother and gave honor to her. Stand quiet as they bless our family with the morning sunlight.”

Thomas looked up into the dawns parting clouds and swore they took the form of an old Indian proudly smiling down upon them. As the clouds continued to be blown clear by the morning breeze, the prairie lit up in the splendor of the sun.

“I love you Ina Hoka, Mother Badger.”

Ina chuckled and wrapped her free arm around his waist, “I love you to To-mas, and like the Badger, you will never escape my love.”

“Why would I ever want to leave you? You’re the best cook I ever met!”

Laughing she squeezed his waist. “So it is true then what the old women of the lodges say of their men? That all a wife is good for is cooking and keeping the Tee Pee clean?”

Chuckling he squeezed her back and replied, “That and uh, you know…”

She quickly tiptoed and kissed him and said smiling back naughtily, “Oh yes, we shall never forget that, will we?”

“Not in my life time we won’t!”

As their laughter drifted over the dew wet prairie, the grandfathers in the sky above looked at each other and smiled. The Grandfather that had blessed them spoke aloud. “Huh, he reminds me of when I myself was young.”

In the distance an elderly female chuckled and was heard to exclaim, “In your dreams my husband, only in your dreams!”

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/