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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Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

ConantTrailCabin

Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

The cabin at Muldoon Creek

 

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Laf Yellowhair finished resetting the last trap along his twenty mile trap line deep in the Idaho Rockies. Out of sixty traps set along the trap line, eighteen produced fur, not too bad a day for it being mid winter he mused. A mix of nine marten, seven mink and two small red foxes rounded out this trip. Tossing his last catch, a mink now well frozen, into the canvas sack, he readied himself to head north to where he had built a small trappers cabin two years earlier. Rising to his full six feet in height, he stretched his tired muscles before reaching for the stiff ice covered rope that was attached to the sled behind him.

The late afternoon sun produced no heat but painted the mountains with a pallet in shades of yellows and purples. Laf had been trapping this area of the Rocky Mountains for eight years now. Before that he trapped beaver since childhood back in the Sioux Nation with his half breed father, Joseph Yellowhair.

Turning north put the late afternoon sun to his left side allowing him to see without being blinded. His main fear in traveling alone in the mountains was mountain lions. A mountain lion could lay waiting in the shadows unseen until it was too late to react. He knew of some trappers that took a dog with them to warn of impending danger but Laf had no such dog. Nearing the safety of the small cabin, Laf began to relax, this was familiar ground.

Forty miles east from where his small trapper’s cabin stood was the silver mining town of Muldoon. There sat the home he and his dad had built over a period of years alongside the Muldoon Creek. Joseph Yellowhair no longer traipsed the mountains with his son hunting the fur bearing animals. Too stove up to even walk a mile, he instead put his hand to the art of tanning the pelts his son brought in. Working this way gave the two plenty of summer days to enjoy each other’s company and money in their pockets.

Stepping up to the raised wooden platform that the trapping cabin was built on, Laf stopped before the secured door. Something bothered him, something was alarming him, and suddenly his nose twitched… smoke!

Stepping off the platform he cautiously back tracked into the forest sniffing the air. He decided the smell came from quite a distance away because of its fluctuating strength in the breeze. Another ten minutes and he pegged its direction. The smoke was coming from the direction where he had heard a small group of reclusive Mormons were attempting to raise sheep in a grassy valley deep in the mountains. Laf knew even a good sized cook fire would not be strong enough to be noticed this distant therefore it must be a much larger fire. If it were just the smell of burning wood, it would not have been so disconcerting but mingled in with the wood smoke he smelled something more ominous, that of flesh. Whether animal or human he could not tell at this great of distance.

Returning to his cabin, he decided rather than to leave for Muldoon as planned in the morning, he’d scout out the valley where he believed the Mormons to be. With night falling, there was little that could be done anyway and he needed a hot meal and a good rest before heading back out into the cold.

By noon the next day and over a five hour snow shoe walk from his cabin, he finally topped the ridge overlooking the Mormon’s valley. Raising a leather bound brass telescope to his eye he scoured the valley below him. As the telescopes circle of vision reached the far end of the valley he discovered where the strong smell of smoke originated from. Tendrils of smoke driven south by the breeze came from a number of structures that once was the Mormon settlement

On his way into the burnt out settlement Laf came across hundreds of sheep, many were dead, the rest soon to be from being openly exposed to the cold. Walking inside the settlement’s perimeter, he made his way around a number of burnt out structures. No bodies were seen in the rubble, yet no living person was seen either. It was when he entered a large mostly destroyed building, possibly a common meeting house of some sort, that he discovered why. There, lying frozen dead within the structure were a large number of men and a few women. Each had been killed, scalped then left to be burnt in the building’s fire.

Deciding there was no use of his staying there any further he decided to inspect some of the smaller outbuildings that had not been set to the torch.

“Geez”, he said aloud as he left the large burnt building smelling of death, “Indians must have rounded all those Mormon folk up inside to kill ‘em all in one place but what tribe would do that?”

Making his way to an untouched structure, he looked inside the small partially open sided building. He determined it must have been a combination smith and stable. No horses or other animals were inside and all the saddle racks were empty along with any tack.

“It sure does look like some renegade Indians hit ‘em. Maybe some Shoshone or pissed off Blackfeet. Both tribes would for sure take the horses and maybe a mule or two for winter food but why the saddles and tack? Indians aren’t particular to saddles no how. This makes little sense to me.”

Being on foot limited his ability to scout much further but he wanted to see in which direction the Indians had fled by following their tracks. This would give evidence as to which tribe did the raid. If they headed north then it would be the Blackfeet heading up into the western Canadian territory where the Canadian Blackfeet still openly lived, if south then it was the Shoshone.

Instead, what Laf found confused and worried him, they were heading due east, towards Muldoon and his home!

Chapter 2
As he started back in the direction of his small cabin he stopped in his tracks. With his ears peeled listening for the sound he had just heard behind him, he cautiously worked his way back to where he had just stood. Unsure of what produced the sound, Laf lowered himself to a crouching position in order to make himself a smaller target while he listened. Two minutes, then three and he heard it again. A whimper. It was definitely human.

Pulling his revolver out, he made his way stealthily towards the sound. At fifty yards he spotted a dark form lying partially buried in the snow, a girl. No, he realized then it was two girls huddled together.

Instead of rushing headlong into a possible trap, Laf circled the still forms looking for ambushers hiding in the woods that were using the girls as bait. Seeing none, he made his way to them.

As he approached the two girls they spotted him and as one, started screaming.

“No, no, be quiet, make no noise!” He demanded. “There may still be Indians about an’ with you screaming your heads off they’ll for sure hear you and return!”

The two, dressed in the clothes they had been wearing when attending to their chores lay in the snow shaking wide eyed in fear but obediently remained quiet. The older of the two turned out to be a long haired brunette in her mid to late teens while the other was a freckle faced red haired pre adolescent youth. While their hair may have been their signature differences, there was no mistaking the similarities in their facial features. Two sets of green, fear filled eyes stared back at the handsome young man with the long golden hair.

“Who are you?” Laf asked, “What happened here?”

Seeing he’d get little information from the two sets of chattering teeth, he decided the girls needed warmth or they’d soon freeze to death. After building a smokeless fire of dry wood the girls crowded close to the source of warmth.

“We’ll spend the night here.” He told them. “ I’ll go back into your settlement before it gets dark and see what I can salvage so you can travel. There’s no way you can stay here and survive.”

An hour later, he returned from the settlement with two pairs of sheepskin boots and two heavy wool blankets. He did not tell the girls the boots were taken off the dead.

“Alright you two, we need to talk.” Looking at the older of the two he asked, “What happened here?”

The girl who called herself Liberty Ann began to speak after a moment of hesitation. “We, that is my sister Susanne and I, were cleaning the stables when the Indians came.”
“The others were in the meeting house where our Bishop was giving his daily reading from the Book. Susanne and I saw the Indians first as they came out of the woods and circled the building the others were in but we were too afraid to shout out a warning. Instead we hid by pulling some hay down from the loft above us to cover ourselves.”

“Why was it that you two were not listening to your Bishop but cleaning stables at the time?”

Liberty Ann’s face suddenly took on an angry countenance. “A fortnight ago the Bishop told my sister and I that we were both to wed old man Johnson. He is a hard man to think of marrying. He is wealthy and has influence but he is also fat and mean and has already cast two of his wives away! He charged the women for neglecting the wifely duties but everyone knew it was because my sister and I had caught his eye. He is the Bishops brother so he does what he wants and gets away with it. We refused to marry him and used the excuse that we are not yet real Mormon’s and were under no such obligation to marry anyone yet. Plus, the thought of him lying with us was disgusting. As far as why we were not with the others it is simple. Neither Susanne nor I have been baptized into the Mormon faith yet so are still considered to be Gentiles. As Gentiles, we would have no say in our marriage and would be treated as he saw fit. Gentiles are not permitted to listen to the Bishops lectures on the Book until we are baptized and become Mormons, so until then we must still attend to our regular chores. Old man Johnson added cleaning the stables as further punishment for our refusing to marry him.”

“I thought you were born into the Mormon faith, why do you call yourselves Gentiles?”

We were not born to these people. They kindly took us in when our parents drowned attempting to cross a river back in Missouri. Trying to ford a crossing, my father misjudged its depth and the wagon tipped over. There were a group of traveling Mormons in wagons paralleling the river ahead of us and saw the accident. They were able to rescue Susanne and I but mother and father were trapped under the overturned wagon and perished. The Mormon’s said God’s hand was upon us children so they took us in and cared for us. They are a good people but we grew up Baptist and at times we argued with them over the Bible.”

Chuckling, Laf replied, “I bet you did. I don’t know too much about Mormons but I do know there is plenty of contention between them and Bible believing Christians.”

Wishing to change the subject he asked, “So how did you end up here half buried in the snow?”

“Three Indians found us hiding in the hay an hour into the attack. They forced Susanne and I with them into the woods. Once away from the settlement and the other Indians they attempted to have their way with us. Some of the other Indians heard our screams and forced them to stop. They argued over us but then was told by a mean looking older Indian with no teeth that it was time to leave and so instead they left us half dressed to perish in the snow.”

“Well, we need to get you two to a safe place. I have a cabin less than fifteen miles from here but we will need to find or make some snowshoes as there are areas of deep drifting in the passes.”

Glancing up, Liberty Ann said, “Fifteen miles isn’t too far, we won’t need snowshoes.”

“Well, Fifteen miles walking a flat trail or valley bottom may not be far but fifteen miles through the mountains is like fifty in a valley such as this. No, we need to make you two some snowshoes.

Young Susanne spoke up, “If we need snowshoes there are some stored hanging up in the Sheppard’s hut. All the men have a pair when they go off hunting. I’ll show you the shed they keep them in if they didn’t burn it down.” The shed stood unmolested.

The trip into the valley had taken Laf only four hours but returning along the same route now took nine. The girls had never worn snow shoes before so tripping over them in the deep drifts was a constant event which frustrated the girls. Laf kept his calm knowing the girls had been through an emotional catastrophe and was aware not to add stress to their fragile condition. At one point ten year old Susanne sat in the drift she had fallen into and broke down crying.

Seeing they were finally less than two miles from his trappers cabin, Laf called for a rest telling the girls. “You two must have been born wearing snow shoes!” He said encouragingly, “It took me a full month before I could walk as good as you two. Trust me, even the best fall over themselves, you did just fine.”
This brought a teary smile to Susanne’s face. “Really?”

Laf figured a little white lie might actually lift the girl’s spirits so he agreed. Still, something was nagging him about what he saw back at the settlement but couldn’t put a finger on it. At present his mind was too occupied with trying to rescue the girls so he put his questions on the back burner for a later time.

When they reached the cabin, the girls quickly removed their over sized cumbersome snowshoes and sat in front of the trapper’s woodstove warming themselves. Laf busied himself with preparing a dinner of previously cooked deer and dumplings he had wrapped in oil cloth and stored frozen on the cabins roof.

After the meal, the girls fell asleep on his bed. Laf laid a buffalo hide coat on the wood floor and exhausted, fell asleep himself.

The next morning brought a heavy snow so any thought of making his way back to home and to his father was put on hold. He did not fear the Indians would beat him to Muldoon. He knew how difficult it was for a large group to travel any distance with any speed, especially in a heavy snowstorm. The girls had told him they thought there was between thirty and forty Indians, but admitted they could easily have in their state of fright misjudged that amount.

After the morning meal consisting of bacon, canned peaches and jelly spread biscuits Laf decided it was a good time to see what else the girls could remember about the attack.

“Tell me,” he asked the girls after they were settled, “were you able to catch any words those Indians spoke? It might help in figuring out what tribe they were from if you could remember any words they spoke. I’m pretty good at speaking both Shoshone and Blackfeet.”

The girls looked a bit confused then Liberty Ann spoke, “Well of course we could understand them, after all, they spoke as we do, in English.”

Laf’s jaw dropped. “English? Are you sure?”

“Why yes I’m sure, what else would they speak in?”

Hearing this stunned Laf. True, there were a few Shoshone and Blackfeet that spoke English but it was not a tongue generally known this far west. The other fact that had been nagging him was the Indians use of guns and not arrows.

“Did any of the Indians carry bows and arrows?”

The girls returned blank stares.

Liberty Ann ventured, “They had feathers in their hair and their faces that were all painted up. Most had coats like yours, you know, buffalo ones.”

“Did they have moccasins on their feet or shoes?”

Susanne quickly answered, “No, not shoes but boots. Looking at Laf’s feet she continued, “But not like your boots, their boots were smooth without fur or fringe and had heels upon them.”

“Holy cow!” He thought, “White men dressing like Indians? But why?” The idea that he had stumbled upon something very big worried him.

Chapter 3
By that evening, the snow had let up enough to give promise that they could head out come daylight. He told the girls that he needed to warn those living in Muldoon of the oncoming ‘Indians’. He also told them that they would have to assist his clearing out those traps he’d previously set on the way to this cabin. The trip to the Mormon valley and the snowstorm put him back a day or two but there was nothing he could do about that now. It rankled him to leave a baited trap set then not return in a timely manner to check on it. He had seen where animals not instantly killed had chewed off a leg to obtain their freedom. This was not only cruel to the animal it was a waste of a pelt for most animals do not survive the ordeal.

In order to haul all of the pelts and traps back to Muldoon he fashioned a second sled using the small table from the cabin and bent ash saplings to form the runners. Each girl would pull one of the sleds while he emptied and removed the traps along the way.

The first ten miles of the forty were uneventful but that changed. As they reached the halfway point of the trap line Liberty Ann screamed when the group topped a small rise in the trail. They had accidently stumbled upon the Indians.

The party of Indians was just as surprised to see the three as they were to see the large contingent of Indians.

Knowing any violent action would certainly end in their deaths, Laf held the girls close in a protective gesture. A small group of Indians still on horseback made their way to where the three stood. As they approached, Laf observed that this group was real Indians and not the phony group that had killed the Mormon’s, he relaxed and told the girls this.

It was a friendly group that greeted the three. In Shoshone they greeted Laf and in return Laf praised their horses and nodded approval at their health. Being mid winter it was not unusual for those living off the land to be skeletal in appearance, these looked well fed.

One of the older Indians dismounted and approaching Laf grabbed his arm in the form of an Indian handshake. “You are a trapper and not a Mormon?”

Knowing the Mormons and Shoshone were enemies whose violent actions against women and children went back and forth he replied in the negative. Laf also decided not to tell him the girls were from the Mormon settlement.
“I call the valley of Muldoon east of here my home. I run a trap line out to my cabin in the Ketchum mountains. I am not a Mormon, you have no need to hate me.”

“I am Chief Pocatello. We no longer have hate for the Mormons. They have agreed to pay for all of the game they took from our land and to pay for the land we agreed to let them live on. Now there are Government soldiers here to keep the treaty called Box Elder from being broken.”

“When did you sign this treaty?”

“We are returning to our home now. I put my mark on the treaty paper on the night of the full moon.”

“That was less than a month ago.” thought Laf

“Chief I need to warn you. I believe there is a group who does not want this treaty to be honorably kept. I can only think they want the Government soldiers to believe that you have broken the treaty. These two young girls are the only survivors of a Mormon settlement in the Ketchum Mountains.”

“ The people of that settlement were wiped out by white men pretending to be Shoshone Indians. If these two girls had not survived then the Government soldiers would have no reason to believe it was not you who killed them. I believe these evil men will spread the word that your tribe has broken the treaty. They will discard their look as Shoshone Indians and return to look as white men in order to tell this lie to the whites.”

The group of Indians spent considerable time conferring amongst themselves. After reaching some sort of consensus they approached Laf. “On our way to the treaty signing before the snows fell, one of our scouts saw a large group of white men heading westward on horses. The scout reported this but we elders foolishly dismissed this as men just trying to make their way out of the mountains before the heaviest snows fell. We had our thoughts on talking peace with the soldiers and Mormons. It was our mistake that we did not stop them and discover their true intentions.”
“Chief, you could not have foreseen the evil in their hearts nor the lies on their tongue. No man can see through a stone.”

“You speak wisely but my heart now lies upon the ground in sorrow for I do not know how to stop the soldiers believing we are without guilt. I ask you, who will believe two children?”

“You also speak with wisdom. These snows make for this group to travel slowly. I believe the first white settlement they will go to is Hailey. If we can get there before they do we can confront them before they can light the fire of lies. I saw their trail, it heads east. I thought at first they may be headed to Muldoon to attack the whites as Indians to stir up trouble. I see now they will not kill anymore whites as there is no need to. They only have to spread the word that the Shoshone did the killing after the treaty was signed will be enough to force you from your land.”

Again the group conferred, then. “We will trust all that you say is true. If you are wrong then we are a doomed people because we intend to stop these men before they reach the white mining town of Hailey. If there is bloodshed and if we are mistaken that these are the men who slaughtered the Mormons then we have invited our own ending. We are sure the soldiers will serve swift justice upon us for killing a group of innocent white men.”

Laf had a thought. Turning to the girls he asked, “I know it was a scary time for you but do you think you could recognize any of these men even though they were dressed and painted as Indians?”

The two girls spoke in low tones with each other then Liberty Ann spoke up. “My sister and I believe we can recognize some of them. The old Indian that stopped our being accosted has no top front teeth and part of his left nostril is missing. One of the three Indians who tried to have their way with us had a crooked leg which made him limp. The other two Indians had light blue eyes and one of them continually coughed and breathed with a loud wheeze. I don’t think I will ever forget what these men looked like, dressed as Indians or not!”

Laf turned to Chief Pocatello and winked, “We may just have the proof we need here Chief to prevent any bloodshed but we need to head out to Hailey right away if we want to have the advantage of surprise on them.”

Since Laf was not going to head home after all, Chief Pocatello summoned two of his warriors to take the sleds loaded with pelts to the Yellowhair cabin in Muldoon. They were then to stay there until Laf and the girls showed up. Laf wrote a quick note to his father telling him he’d be delayed and to let the Indians set up a camp on the banks of Muldoon Creek. He did not mention the reason for the delay nor that he would be arriving with the two girls.

With the snow reaching six feet in places, the going was slow. Still, Chief Pocatello assured Laf that the Indian bred horses they rode on could traverse the deep snows much better than those of the white men.

Liberty Ann rode behind Laf on one of the horses supplied to them by chief Pocatello. This permitted easy conversation between the two. Laf discovered that he was only four years her senior and that both secretly wished they could play the piano. While both had seen them played, neither had ever been close enough to one to even strike a key. Liberty Ann on the other hand found Laf an open and uncomplicated man. He spoke his mind freely but always with the temper of not offending those he held a different view with.

“Laf! What kind of name is that?”

“It’s short for Lafferty. Lafferty was my grandfathers name on my mothers side.”

“And Yellowhair?”

Laf chuckled, “I blame my grandfather on my father’s side for that one! I honestly can’t remember his original name. He was a trapper as well. As a young man he was given a Lakota bride in return for setting a broken leg on the Chief’s son. He and his bride had a single son, my father. He was born with yellow hair like his father before him so they simply called him Yellowhair. When I was born my mother wanted her father remembered so they named me after him. How about you? Do you have a last or family name?”

“Yes, it’s Atterberry. I was born in England but came to this country as an infant. My father had read of the Great Plains and so we left for America. He was one who loved to explore so one day he packed us all into a covered wagon he purchased in Missouri and we headed west towards the great unknown. It was on this trip that my parents lost their lives. I think you know the rest.”

Laf nodded in agreement then smiled, “Liberty Ann Atterberry, very nice. It’s too bad women are made to give up their last name when marrying. I pity the girl having to be called Yellowhair, especially if she is a brunette like you! Ha ha”

A friendly poke in his ribs was followed by, “Laugh as you may, I think a girl would be happy to have your name, no matter what color her hair is.”

Laf felt his ears turning red and heart suddenly quickened.

It took five days to reach Hailey and each day found Liberty Ann once again riding behind her favorite yellow haired trapper. By the time Hailey was in view, Liberty Ann rode with her arms snuggly around Laf’s waist, and more than a few times Laf found his hands gently entwined in hers.
Chapter 4
On a mountainside campsite overlooking the town of Hailey, Chief Pocatello, his warriors and Laf held council. Below them, the town consisted of not more than fifteen or sixteen fixed structures with the rest being plain tents or tents with wooden facades in front. That night the few lighted structures were only the saloons, they were also where most all the noise came from. Tin stove pipes belched wood smoke from tents and saloons alike giving evidence of the struggle to keep those inside warm. The temperature had now dropped well below zero and the increasing wind forced deep snow drifts to form against the buildings.

By pure fortune, a group of soldiers that the Chief recognized as having been at the signing of the treaty of Box Elders rode into town. Chief Pocatello told Laf that the lieutenant that headed up the soldiers was there and would surely remember him.

As they watched the troop head their horses to the towns stable and protected corrals, the Shoshone warriors on the mountain were busy making small temporary shelters from ash saplings covered in pine boughs.

Each Shoshone shelter was filled with anxious Indians discussing tomorrows plan the council had created to confront the faux Indians with.

Laf sent the girls inside the small tarp made tent they had been using for the past five nights to sleep in. Pine boughs laid thickly on the ground inside it let them sleep in comfort. Laf and Chief Pocatello then headed into town to see the Lieutenant.

Outside the saloon Laf stopped the Chief telling him, “Chief, the folks in this here saloon might not cotton to having an Indian in their midst so let me go inside and draw the Lieutenant out where we can talk to him.”

“Go, I will wait in the shadows and out of the wind.”

Laf pushed against the wooden door and stepped into the saloon. A few howls telling him to close the door against the wind were all the attention being paid to him.

Scouring the poorly lit room for the Lieutenant he spotted him standing at a table crowded with some of his men. Approaching the table Laf removed his hat in respect for the man’s rank and introduced himself. Realizing Laf wanted to speak to him in private the lieutenant eased Laf away from the table and curious ears.

“Now, what assistance may I offer you Mister Yellowhair?”

“I come with news that is for your ears only Sir. It comes directly from our mutual friend Chief Pocatello.”

“Ah yes, the Chief. How is he faring?”

“Please, if you step outside you may ask him for yourself.”

“He’s here? Outside?”

“Yes Sir and it is urgent we both speak to you in private and immediately.”

“Can’t it wait until morning? Its freezing out there and we just arrived. Surely it can wait!”

“Sir, by tomorrow morning there may be a street full of both dead whites and Shoshone if you don’t come outside. It is that important Sir!.”

Tapping his fingers against his holster, the Lieutenant finally looked at Laf and returning to the table placed a five dollar gold piece on it. “Corporal, buy the men a round of drinks on me, I will be back shortly.”

Once again outside, Laf led the Lieutenant to where the Chief stood out of the wind.

Seeing the Chief, the soldier greeted him with courtesy. “Chief Pocatello, it is good to see you again. Mister Yellowhair has informed me you have an urgent message for me.”

“It is good to see you once again also Lieutenant. It is not good news that I bring but news that you and your soldiers must hear.”

“Tell me this news.”

At this point with the encouragement of the Chief, Laf stepped up to explain in English in order to prevent any misinterpretation.

“A group of white men dressed and posing as Shoshone have massacred a settlement of Mormons five days travel west of here. This was done after the signing of the Box Elder treaty. It is believed they intend to ride into town having dressed again as whites to say they came across the massacre in the mountains. For some reason they do not want peace between the Shoshone and the Mormons.”

“Can you back this up with any facts.”

“We have two living witnesses to the massacre, two girls who were left for dead. They would have perished except that I arrived in time to rescue them. They told me the story of what occurred there. They are here also staying up in the hills with Chief Pocatello’s warriors. They believe they can identify the leader and a few of his men.”

“Where are these killers, here in town?”

“Not yet, but we can bet they’ll show up sometime tomorrow to start spreading the lie. If they succeed in doing so it won’t be but a week before Washington hears and believes it. They’ll have you hunting down the Chief here and all his tribe in revenge.”

Looking downward and shaking his head in disgust the Lieutenant said, “I see why you insisted on telling me this in private. It is a pure fluke that we stopped here for the night, if it weren’t for Corporal Lewis’s constant pestering to seek shelter in town, we would have ridden on past. He and a civilian surveyor have been out scouting a promising location for a new fort the Territorial Idaho Governor wants built. I felt since these two hadn’t seen a warm or dry bed for the past month that they deserve at least one night of comfort, so I relented and ordered a halt.”

“Well it sure was fortunate for everyone it seems.”

The Lieutenant nodded then told what his plan of action would be.

“Let’s see when they ride into town if those two girls can identify any of the men involved. If they can positively identify even one then I’ll have my men put the entire bunch under arrest and sent to Fort Benton for trial. By the way, I’m keeping this all under my hat until morning roll call. No need to risk a loose tongue if you know what I mean.”

“You’re right, they may have sent a few men ahead that we are unaware of. We also had a similar plan but it involved using the Shoshone as the threat. We figured to surround the group with upset Indians then leave the end result up to the group of murderers. If they pled guilty then we’d let them live but we doubted they’d plead guilty.”

“Well, we might just have the Shoshone back my men up just as a precaution anyway. Have them hide themselves close about town in case they’re needed .”

“Lieutenant, with this storm I doubt many folks will be going much further than the outhouse that early. I’ll make sure no Shoshone thinks the outhouse is a good place to hide. I’d hate to be the one with my pants half down staring into the eyes of an angry Indian!”

As the first grey streaks of dawn crossed the eastern sky, nearly one hundred Shoshone warriors had hid themselves within the town. At sunrise roll call was bugled in. The thirty odd soldiers lined the street trying not to stomp their feet in the cold. The Lieutenant loudly spoke the orders of the day.

“Men, a fortnight ago an important treaty was signed between the Mormons and the Shoshone tribe. It has brought a well needed peace to this Idaho territory. Unfortunately, there are powers that do not want this treaty to succeed. I have been informed that a large group of men have murdered a small settlement of Mormons west of here while pretending to be Shoshone Indians. Their intent is to blame the massacre on the Shoshone so Washington will have no choice but to seek revenge. Hidden about town are one hundred real Shoshone warriors bent on making sure they don’t get away with this. Our job is to confront this group and arrest them for trial after they enter town. We have good information that they are headed this way and will arrive shortly. They have made the mistake of leaving two witnesses to this massacre alive. If our witnesses can identify even one, then you are to arrest them all, is that clear?”

In unison they responded, “Yes Lieutenant!”

“Good. For now I want you to stand at ease between these two saloons until they arrive. Be prepared for action.”

Less than a half hour later the first line of men was seen making their way into town. A hundred yards behind them rode in the rest of the group.

At this time the lieutenant stepped into the snowy street to block their progress and ordered his men into the open with pistols drawn. “Dismount and identify yourselves!” he shouted.

Seeing the thirty odd solders with guns drawn the group complied. “What’s this about soldier boy?” The voice was that of an elderly man missing his front upper teeth and most of one nostril.

The lieutenant shouted back.“Stand where you are Mister, draw a gun and you will be shot dead.” Turning to a private he then ordered, “Bring out the witnesses”.

The two girls were led along the line of armed soldiers but partway to the Lieutenant something happened. Susanne screamed and Liberty Ann pointing at Corporal Lewis shouted, “That’s the one with the blue eyes, he’s one of them!” Before the two girls gained their senses to run, the Corporal grabbed for Susanne. Pointing his gun to her head he demanded two horses.

Holding her close for his own protection he searched for his cohort in crime. Seeing the surveyor he shouted, “Yancy come get them two horses, they found us out!”

It seemed an impossible rescue but in a blur of motion Laf’s skinning knife was seen twirling through the air towards the gun wielding Corporal and at the same time the surveyor bolted towards the horses.

It was like a signal for the dismounted murderers to remount and follow the surveyors lead. Unfortunately for the surveyor and for that matter the entire group of murderers, the Shoshone were excellent marksmen. Combined with the deadly lead being thrown by the Shoshone rifles, the Calvary’s pistol’s ventilated any man still alive.

As for the Corporal, he had fallen backwards spread eagle into the snow with Laf’s knife handle protruding from his forehead. Susanne had fled into the arms of her sister who threw the girl to the ground and lay atop her. Neither girl was hurt.
Chapter 5
That evening, the Lieutenant, Laf and Liberty Ann sat enjoying a meal at the only decent café in town. Susanne was in the care of a kindly woman who owned the dry goods store.

“Washington owes you a debt of gratitude. It seems after interrogating a few survivors that our newly installed Territorial Governor was behind all this. He had received orders from the President to put to rest once and for all any Indian trouble in the Idaho territory. Knowing many treaties end up being broken, he figured the best way to achieve that is to simply have no Indians to cause any trouble. I’m sure you’ll receive not only an accommodation for your involvement in exposing the corrupt Governor and these men but it also seems there are a number of wanted no goods within that group. I’ll see to it that any rewards will be sent your way.”

“My thanks Lieutenant. By the way, Liberty Ann and I were talking and without any lawman or judge within the distance of a few hundred miles, that you would be the only representative of the law here.”

Grimacing a half smile the Lieutenant answered “I guess that would be true, why?”

“We want you to marry us, that’s why!”
Two weeks later the group of three had made their way to Muldoon where the Yellowhair home sat alongside the Muldoon Creek. Stepping up to the large well built log cabins door, Laf reached for its handle.

Behind him coming from the Creek a shout stopped him. “Son, you made it back. Who are the women folk with you?”

Turning to face his father he smiled and hugged the older man. “Dad, I want you to meet your new housekeeper, this is Susanne. Susanne, this is my Dad.”

The young girl reached out her hand in a dainty handshake.

“So who’s the other one here? If this yung’n here is our housekeeper then the other must be the house cook. Yes?” Leaning closer he eyed Liberty Ann and winked seeing the simple gold band on her finger whispered, “You can cook now can’t you dear?”

“Yes Dad, she can cook but she can do so much more. She can darn my socks, sew my britches, make me shirts and even rub my sore feet!”

“Son? All I’m hearin’ is a lot of my, my, my’s and no ours. What about me?”

“I’m sorry Dad but if you want your feet rubbed you’ll have to get someone else to do it, this is Liberty Ann Atterberry Yellowhair, she’s my wife and Susanne is her younger sister. I’ll explain everything after we finish eating, we’re starved!

Shaking his head his father groaned in mock distress. “And here I was thinking that those two Shoshone by the Creek were something else! Now you tell me we’re going to have two women underfoot around the place. Well… I guess having a woman’s touch around here won’t hurt none. I never was any good at decorating or washing clothes and you sure never had much talent for that either!”

Laf chuckled saying, “I love you too Dad.”

Joseph Yellowhair smiled broadly at the two newly weds, “I was only joshin’ you kids, I saw the two of you lovebirds  holding hands way back by the bend in the creek. I may be an old coot but I still got enough eyesight left to see when two folks are in love.”

Giving Liberty Ann a big hug he told her, “Welcome to your new home daughter!” Then placing his arm across Susanne’s young shoulders he told her, “Child, lets you and me investigate the pantry while the other two rustle up some grub in the kitchen, I do believe there is a big jar of pre dinner hard candy on one of the shelves.”

 

 

 
Across the creek the two Shoshone left without saying goodbye, as was their fashion and were heard speaking in their native tongue.

“So he married her? I thought he was wiser than that”

“It goes to show my friend, one cannot judge a fish by its scales.”

“What the hell does that mean?

“I don’t know, but I once heard a white man say that about books but I have no idea what a book is so I used fish instead.”

“Whatever floats your boat I guess.”

One moment turned into two and then in resignation came the others reply, “Uh, what’s a boat?”

WHEN YOU NEED HELP, CALL A GIANT

mammoth mule

 

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

“Might be, your last name’s Cholack?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the meal, the two planned their next move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes we..”

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

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

 

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd groaned and fist were now being raised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes Sir!”

 

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

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

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

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

                                                                       The End

 

 

 

LUCKY FOOT

baby foot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A loud slap and thud where heard then someone urinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donny then gladly deferred the girls care to Darnell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “No, why do you ask me that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frightened, the girl obeyed the order instantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

“Holy…!” Darnell exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe none, maybe something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Grandpa?”

In-Laws and Outlaws

HashknifePosse

Chapter 1

Laying aside the month old Arizona newspaper, Texas rancher Slim Jim Rutherford looked across the breakfast table at his wife and shaking his head told her, “Well, I see your three brothers have been at it again. The paper here lays blame on the recent violent rustling jobs up near Holbrook up in Arizona on a small off shoot gang from the Hashknife group. That’s the group your brothers rode for.

Lifting the newspaper up once again to a reading position he continued speaking,” It says here, Known for their rough and tumble ways, the Arizona based Aztec Cattle company, commonly called the Hashknife Cattle Company (due to their unique cattle brand shaped like a cooks hashknife), is being blamed once again for a series of recent cattle rustlings in Navajo County Arizona by local ranchers. Aztec owner, Edward Kinsley, denies the charge saying it was not their men and is laying the blame on a small group of men who had earlier instigated much lawlessness on the surrounding ranches in the area. Mr. Kinsley stated that the group, led by a trio of brothers, were forcefully driven off the Aztec land a year earlier. The brothers, being named Jedediah, Ezekiel and Crete Britchen  and their small gang of followers (all ex Hashknife employees) are believed to be holed up somewhere  in or around the Navajo and Yavapai Counties  and have reportedly been seen as far south as the Superstition Mountains.  The United States Marshal Service is forming a posse to hunt the rustlers down as well as to keep an eye on the Aztec Cattle operation. Numerous complaints from small ranchers contending that the Aztec group is involved in rustling and rebranding of their stolen cattle has forced the Marshal service to act.”

Sally Rutherford pensively looked up at her husband exhaled quietly replying. “Just so long as they stay out of Texas. The last thing we need is them showing up here!”

 

Twenty two years earlier the Britchen family loaded up their belongings in a Conestoga wagon and left Missouri in search of greener pastures out west. Their trail ended up in Southern Utah where the parents of the children met up with a group of Mormon settlers from Ohio and converted to Mormonism. It turned out the parents conversion was not so much from the heart but what could be gained by joining such a group. The parents took immediate advantage of their new friends and neighbors. The three brothers and their lone sister Sally were raised in the strict Mormon ways in public but inside the home was another matter. It was a home where everything was for show. 

Jed and Zeke, as the brothers were commonly called, were rambunctious kids who tested the boundaries of their Mormon upbringing but they paled in comparison to their youngest brother Crete. By age fourteen, Crete cursed while speaking, was fond of smoking and was suspected of breaking into his neighbor’s house and coveting his neighbors goods… and their daughter.

Most times, Crete could be the sweetest of boys to his siblings, yet his siblings were becoming increasingly afraid for their own safety, especially during his many ‘mood spells’.

Crete’s wild mood swings had no rhyme or reason to their occurrence.

In the middle of a laugh he could become dark and sulky or was once heard laughing hysterically during a funeral. His parents believed him ‘tetched in the head’ and prayed for the day he would be old enough to leave home.

 When Sally, the youngest of the four and only girl, came to the marrying age of fourteen, her father announced that she would be marrying their fifty eight year old Bishop, a severely overweight man prone to sweating and loud wet mucus spewing coughing spells. Sally would be his fourth wife, yet unfortunately not the youngest of them.

No amount of begging by the four children would change her father’s decision. In return for his daughter, the Bishop promised him a large parcel of tall grass pasture in central Utah he owned. Not surprisingly, this also would keep Sally out of touch with her family.  The two men were like two  peas in a pod. Both used each other to gain what they wanted, both abused their authority upon those under them and both were using their Faith to achieve a secret comfortable living not available to everyone else. 

Sally’s brothers were for lynching the Bishop in secret but realized his detestable son Abaddon, would then most likely claim their young sister for himself through inheritance. The four children decided enough was enough and having no other alternative slipped out of Utah under cover and headed south into the Arizona territory.

In the three years that followed, Jed and Zeke became hard working Hashknife Cowboys for the infamous Aztec Cattle Company out of Holbrook. Crete on the other hand hung around town and rarely worked yet always seemed to have plenty of cash on hand. When his two brothers discovered that he had been suspected by the law of robbing miners and other loners, they decided to hide him within the safety of the Hashknife group where no one there asked questions.  The corrupted ways of the Hashknife cowboys on the Aztec Ranch suited Crete well and even the two brothers began to fall into the easy life style that rustling offered.

Meanwhile, Sally had taken a job on the Aztec Ranch as a cook’s helper. Kept apart from the realities of how the Aztec Ranch worked, she was blissfully unaware of her sibling’s wrongdoings. Her monthly pay was minimal but the Ranch offered her secure housing arraignments, meals and even a few dollars a month for personal needs. It was there that she met ‘Slim Jim’ Rutherford.

 Most all the hands liked and got along well with Slim Jim.  The tall, wide shouldered, sun darkened cowboy of few words and soft voice was not to be underestimated though. More than one drunken galoot found himself waking up black eyed and rib sore after a fisticuffs altercation with him.  Chided only in fun for his carrying a Bible within his possible satchel, he lived by the golden rule but never demanded others to believe as he did.

 It was true though that if asked a question of a Biblical nature, he happily complied by giving simple answers and left the questioner to make their own minds up. This brought him great respect even amongst the hardest of men… all except for one, Crete Britchen.

 Slim Jim Rutherford worked as a­­­ horse breaking cowboy for the Aztec Ranch which kept him far from the Hashknife crowd.  Breaking horses for the Ranch’s remuda was his main job but roping and branding always took precedence before a drive. Like Jim, most hands working for the Aztec Ranch were honest and hard working men. It was only the Hashknife group within the ranch that participated in the shady but all too common acts of cattle rustling. This physical separation of the two groups should have been enough to keep Slim Jim unknown to Crete but it wasn’t.

Hearing rumors being spread concerning his sister and Slim Jim, her new beau, Crete rode up to the ranch house to see the man for himself. After dismounting his exhausted horse, he left it hitched in the hot Arizona sun to fend for itself. Slim Jim Rutherford was everything that Crete wasn’t, such as being Kind, thoughtful, slow to speak, handsome and willing to put in a hard day’s work. These were traits that drove Crete to distraction and Slim had them all. At first greeting, Slim Jim stuck out his hand in a friendly way only to have it left hanging in the air. Crete, seeing the outstretched hand, spat on the ground in front of Slim and turned away saying. “I’d rather see my sister dead than tied with the likes of you.”

Jed and Zeke tried unsuccessfully for months to convince Crete that Slim Jim was the right man for Sally and if he didn’t like him, then he should at least leave the two alone. He didn’t.

Crete went out of his way to convince his fellow Hashknife hands that the Devil, if he existed at all, had a special place prepared for him in Hell. Openly mocking God and his Word, Crete in short order began to evolve from being just underhanded and distrustful to being downright evil. Taking some well heeded advice from Jed and Zeke, Slim Jim Rutherford eloped with Sally one night and headed into Texas and away from Crete to safety. They settled just north of Amarillo outside the cow town of Wheeler alongside the banks of the Canadian River. Only the oldest brother Jed knew of the couple’s whereabouts.

Shortly after their sister and Jim took flight into Texas, the two remaining brothers found that controlling Crete’s actions was becoming a losing proposition. His anger seemed continuous and took no provoking. He began telling his brother’s that he despised them and harbored a deep hatred for everyone except for his own mother. For reasons unknown, he held the belief that she alone was without fault and it were only she alone that he trusted. He believed that she visited him in his night dreams to comfort and give him guidance and advice. In truth, when her children fled Utah, she dismissed Crete as no longer living and was glad to be rid of him.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

After reaching the safety of Texas, Jim and Sally Rutherford discovered a land flooded with abandoned cattle from the war. Not being bred Texan’s, they were permitted by the Federal Army overseeing the law in Texas, to gather a herd and drive them out of State. This was something denied true Texans as part of the Federal Government’s nine year post war Reconstruction Act. The hated Reconstruction act was in fact enacted as punishment for those Southern States including Texas for siding against the North during the war. However, to the general public it was presented as a humane act of repatriation. Northern politicians and their friends took little time in capitalizing on the manacles placed on the South and bled the Southern States dry for their own financial gain. Millions of fertile acres, plantations, homes and factories suddenly found themselves under new ownership under this act. These carpetbaggers, as they were called, had little interest in the freed slaves lives other than to gather them together under a new and even crueler form of slavery called sharecropping.  

With signed papers from the Army allowing the Rutherford’s to gather and drive what cattle they could find out of Texas to market, Slim Jim gathered a group of out of work Texas cowboys as his chosen employees. Hiring these Texans rankled the Army Commander but he was legally unable to stop it. In response though, certain restrictions were placed on the Texas cowboys. Unable to carry guns, permanently leave Texas and required to sign papers of loyalty to the Federal Government, the out of work cowboys went ahead and threw themselves fully into their job which made Slim Jim proud of each and every one. The cow hands took to liking Slim Jim and treated their first and only female trail cook, Sally, as they would their own kin. Within three years the Rutherford Ranch, called the Bar None Zero, was in the black and a little one was expecting to grace the Ranch’s presence before winter’s end.

 

After reading the news article to Sally, Jim set the newspaper aside and reached over to clasp his pregnant wife’s hands across the breakfast table. “Don’t worry none dear, your brother Jed’s been keeping us secretly informed of matters and I’m sure he’d let us know if they were to head our way. And look outside. We got over forty hands working for us, you think they’d sit still while your brothers wrecked havoc here? Why I pity the man who’d go up against this group of Texans!”

Smiling at the thought, Sally squeezed Slim Jim’s hand three times quickly. It was their way of saying, “I love you”. The answer came back to her in four quick squeezes, “I love you too!”

A bulky form suddenly filled the kitchen doorway. The two looked up seeing Biscuit, the camp cook that replaced Sally on cattle drives. “Folks?” With hat in hand he asked, “Are you needin’ anything else? If not, I’m gonna clean up here an head on into town.  I got some purchases to make an’ my hair an’ beard could use a trimmin’.”

Jim looked up at the grizzled character blocking the doorway as he stood rubbing his beard as if it were growing longer as he spoke.  Smiling slyly Jim asked, “Why Biscuit, I believe it was just last Saturday that you got trimmed up! I’ve never known you to get a haircut more’n twice a year. This doesn’t have anything to do with widow Johnston does it?”

Turning red faced, Biscuit harrumphed loudly then with false bravado replied, “Well… maybe it does an’ maybe it don’t! None a your business any hoo. Besides, the widow Johnston wouldn’t take kindly to hear the two of you flappin’ your jaws about her love life, hurrumph!”

Chuckling, Jim replied, “Give her our regards.

Suddenly Sally stood up at the table, “Oh, Biscuit, I’ve just been reminded, I have something for you. Here, let me get it.”

Looking in question at Jim, Biscuit shrugged asking. “Wonder what she got fer me?”

Sally quickly returned with a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. Handing the package to Biscuit she exclaimed, “I mistakenly ordered two of these from Humbolts Emporium. Jim has plenty and I couldn’t figure a finer time or a more deserving person to give it to.”

Unwrapping the string tied package, Biscuit unrolled it into the palm of his hand. “Why I’ll be! A bottle of hair tonic! Bay Rum no less! Why thankee deeply. It’s been years since I had some a this. Dang barber in town don’t use it, instead he splashes on that terrible smelling Hoyt’s trash. Smells like a French Mad’am if you git my point. Why back in the day, I can remember when lookin’ good meant a smidgeon of wagon wheel grease combed into your hair an’ some Mum tonic rubbed around your pits!  Why it put off takin’ a bath for a month or more! Still, I am quite particular to Bay Rum though, it shore will come in handy this afternoon!”

After Biscuit had cleaned up the breakfast mess and rode on into town, Jim pulled Sally aside as they walked outside onto the porch. “Hair tonic? Bay Rum? Sally, Bay Rum is an aftershave, sure it smells good but it’s really meant to keep any infection starting from shaving cuts. Biscuit has a beard, he never shaves!”

Sally stopped and chuckled saying, “If I went and bought him a man’s parfume so he’d smell good for widow Johnston, do you really believe he’d splash it on before visiting her? Not on your life. Much to womanly smelling, but a hair tonic is another thing all together. A man can smell like Bay Rum and still be a man. Who cares if he wears it on his head or in his beard? At least Biscuit won’t smell like baked beans and coffee grounds!”

“Good point dear, good point.”

 

 

The weeks passed uneventfully and a few spring crocus were starting to poke their heads above the melting snow.  In March, Sally gave birth to a chubby baby boy whom they named after Slim Jim’s father Joseph. Widow Johnston accepted Biscuits proposal of marriage and they asked Jim and Sally if the two of them could be taken on as the ranch cooks. Biscuit said he’d continue on as the trail or wagon cook and Belinda, his wife could replace Sally in her own kitchen. They reasoned doing so would free up Sally to tend to her child. It was agreed upon that shortly after their marriage, Biscuit and Belinda would take up permanent residence upstairs in the unoccupied portion of the house. A rear stairway leading from the upstairs hall down to the kitchen was installed so Belinda could start her four am day without disturbing the child. Nothing further had been heard from Jed regarding her sibling’s whereabouts so the fear of them showing up in Texas was put on the slow burner.

The Bar None Zero ranch became a beehive of activity just days after the baby Joseph was born. The activity wasn’t due so much from his birth but rather the time of the year. It was time to start getting a herd together for the drive to the Kansas City stockyards. Forty cowhands at first sight seems to be a large number of hands until they get broken into groups and sent in different directions gathering cattle. Some men headed south into the rocky desert while others headed east and west. The idea being that each group would gather as many unbranded cattle as could be found, brand them with the Bar None Zero brand and then drive them up to Amarillo to the tall grassy plains where the Bar None Zero sat. Once at the Bar None Zero, the herd would be divided into breeding stock and those that were going to market. Breeding stock included new born calves and their mama’s. Calves slowed down a drive and many never made it to market due to dehydration, lack of grass or predators. It just wasn’t worth the effort or expense loss so calves would have to wait until a later drive or used as breeding stock. Young bulls needed to be castrated before rejoining the herd. Even then it took some time for their natural sex drives to settle down so working with them was a chancy affair at best. Many a horse and rider were gored or trampled as a result of these amorous passions so cowboys had to be extra alert to his surroundings.

By the middle of April a decent sized herd had been gathered for the drive. The Bar None Zero now had a total stock of over five thousand head. It was decided that 2,400 of these were going to market. If the herd loss could be kept to below four hundred, it would put the Rutherford’s so well into the black that folks might even consider them pretty well off. 

The night before the drive was to start, Slim Jim kissed Sally goodbye and rode out to where the hands kept watch over the herd. Approaching one of the night riders, Slim hallowed him using a sing song voice to prevent the herd from catching a fright and starting a stampede. Newly gathered herds were the most skittish as no leader had yet come forward. It might be days on the trail before a natural leader showed itself and took charge of the herd and controlled their direction and moodiness.

 

The lone cowboy nodded his head towards Slim Jim and quietly replied, “Evenin’ Boss.”

Sidling up next to the man called Frank, Slim waited for the cowboy to continue.

“Been quiet for the most part.” Frank said, “ A few were buttin’ heads but that was during daylight. We’re keeping the herd moving in a slow circle until the moon comes up. Once they can see again and see there ain’t no predators about they’ll calm down even more. How’s the miss’s and baby doing?”

“Both are fine, thanks for asking’. By the way,  is Biscuit’s chuck wagon nearby, I could use some coffee.”

“He’s about a mile and a half east of here by Old Woman’s Creek boss. Because of the noise his pots an’ pans make gettin’ banged around while cooking, he decided to set up camp far enough away to keep the cattle from ’catchin’ a fright. You can’t miss the sight of his cook fire or for that matter, just lift your nose an’ you’ll smell his coffee.”

Chuckling lightly, Slim quietly said after taking a long inhaled breath through his nose, “By golly, you’re right, I do smell coffee!  It’s going to be a long night and even longer day tomorrow. Unless you got a couple toothpicks to prop open my eyes with, I’m gonna go and get me a mug of that eye opener. See you’ later Frank.”

Biscuit was busy cleaning up from the last shift of cowboys to eat their dinner. Two, 2 gallon coffee pots hung over the cook fire. Slim dismounted, secured his mare to the wagon’s wheel and strode over to the fire.

Pointing to the hanging pots he asked, “Which ones ready?”

“The one on the right has some left in it, the left ones almost done. If I were you, I’d give it a few and get a mug of the fresh stuff.”

“Thanks, I’ll wait then. It’s got egg shells in it?”

Biscuit stopped his washing of a large pot and stood facing Slim with hands on his hips. “How long have I been cookin’ fer ya’ an’ how many times you gonna ask me that?  ‘Course they got egg shell in’em! An’ until you start buyin’ me some a them Arbuckle beans, they always will.”

“Your wife said even with Arbuckles, the coffee’s better with shell in them. I’m not arguing, just repeating what Belinda told me.”

“Well, that’s ‘cause back at the house she feeds you that girly coffee.”

“Girly coffee? You mean because she adds a bit of sugar and cream to it, it’s now girly coffee?”

Hiding a twinkle in his eye, he replied. “Sure! Men don’t drink coffee with cream an’ sugar in it! Why next she’ll be servin’ ya’ll them Englishy crumpets and those sconey things!”

 Grabbing the coffee pot tilter hanging over the fire, Slim poured himself a large tin mug of the brew. “Well God forbid you ever eat anything more than beans and biscuits!” He laughed.

“What’s wrong with my biscuits? You sure are startin’ this drive off wearin’ the wrong pair a boots if you’re gonna now complain about my biscuits! And, you know I make the best beans in all a Texas.”

To himself Jim quietly mumbled while shaking his head, “It’s like talking to a fence post for all the good it does.”

“What’s that you say?”

“Nothing, just thinking out loud, that’s all.”

“Well, while you’re settin’ there with your mind all noisey like, let me tell you where tomorrow night’s rendezvous is. Since we’ve done this trail a bunch times before, you might remember that little box canyon about 10 miles east of here? Well, I figure with the cattle well fed and watered, it should be no problem getting’ the herd that far, besides, it’s pretty flat land from here to there. I’ll set up camp in front of the canyon that way you can keep the remuda corralled inside it.”

“Great, leave a full pot for the night riders when you turn in.”

“I always do, don’t I boss?”

It took Biscuit less than four hours to make the next day’s rendezvous location and set up camp for the evening meal. After unhitching the team, as required in order for the riders to know where they were, Biscuit lifted the wagon tongue to point at the North star. The camp cook had to keep ahead of the drive by using a leap frog motion. This meant it was he who determined the distance the herd traveled and its route each day. Of course it was the trail boss who really set the parameters but it was left up to the trail cook to determine the exact location of each evenings stopping point. Ahead of the cook rode the scout. It was his job to find water holes, fresh grass and any obstacles the herd might run into. The information he found was then passed onto the cook and the trail boss.  Behind the chuck wagon rode the trail boss, point rider or both. The point rider rode at the head of the herd and micro managed the drives direction that the trail boss decided upon. The steering of the herd was the job of the swing riders who were placed near the front of the herd on each side. Behind the swing riders were the Flank. They kept the herd bunched when needed or rode the length up and down to keep cattle from straying. The worst job and normally left up to green horns was the drag rider. Drag riders followed the herd from behind. They kept the herd pushed forward, they also ate the most dust. Graduating to the flak position a drag rider was then considered a working cowboy.

 

 The remuda or horse herd (of Spanish origin meaning change of horses), was kept away from the piercing horns of the cattle by being positioned off to one side. These cowboys in charge of the remuda were called Wranglers. Their job was to make sure the horses stayed healthy, well watered and fed. Any horse or mule doctoring needed being done was left up to the remuda boss.

It was on the third day that shortly after setting up for the evening camp, a rider hailed from a safe distance to warn the camp of his approach. As normal, Biscuit was alone at the time but knew the herd was not for off. This meant the trail boss, or point rider was probably with the range of gunfire. Biscuit hailed back and shouted, “Dismount and git yourself some coffee friend!”

The rider turned out to be Captain Oswald sent by Commander Wilcox, the Army commander and Federal overseer out of Fort Worth.

The lone Captain dismounted then turned south to whistle loudly. Within a minute, six other riders could be made out in the oncoming darkness. “Can my men get a mug also? We’re pretty worn out but worse, my man inadvertently left behind the sack of Arbuckles at the Fort”

“Why shore Cap’n, There’s a bunch a clean mugs in that hinged crate over there. Are ya’ passin’ through or need I ride out an’ get the trail boss?”

“If he’s nearby, it can wait. We’ll make camp here with you all tonight anyway. We’re about done in with today’s heat and all.”

Biscuit nodded, “Yep, it shore is a hot one for just bein’ spring, had to be in the high eighties. Why I remember once back in… oh maybe around late Seventy something, it got so hot my biscuit flour cooked itself in the sack and there was no need for a coffee fire neither! I just threw some grounds in the coffee pot an’ walked away. The men’s mugs never cooled off, we had hot coffee the whole night!”

Knowing a tale when he heard one, Captain Oswald just chuckled.

 

Chapter 3

One of the soldiers who had been relaxing in a lounging manner with his coffee, suddenly sat upright shouting.“I think I hear them comin Cap! Yep, here they come.”

Within an hour the herd had been circled and calmed, the remuda roped off and the hands that were not on duty were gathered around eating a hot meal of beans and beef.

Upon seeing the Captain, Slim Jim introduced himself. After a short time of small talk the Captain got to the point. “Seeing that you all hired Texans for this drive, I’ll be needing to see the men’s paperwork before you leave Texas.”

It rankled Slim to see his men treated this way, them being as American anybody else but he decided to let it ride and yelled for his men to get their permission papers out. Each man handed the Captain his paperwork of allegiance.

“The captain took them and carefully inspected each one. “Well,” He finally said, “Everything looks in good order. Your men can return to whatever they were doing, sorry for the inconvenience but I’m only doing following orders.”

“Sure, no hard feelings Captain.”

The experience left a sour taste in each mans throat though. The Captain, feeling the mood of the Texans and himself getting uncomfortable, ordered his men to set up that night’s camp on a small bluff away from the cowboys camp.

Later, he returned. “Mister Rutherford? May I speak to you in private?”

Slim Jim tossed the last of his coffee away and stood up saying, “Sure, take a walk with me. I enjoy the night sounds other than cattle bellowing in my ears.”

The two walked past the small bluff where Jim could see the soldiers tents had been set up. The white peaked tops stood reflecting the rising moonlight. A lone coyote began singing and soon others joined in his chorus. Night birds could be heard fluttering in and out of the cactus tops and brush. It truly was a magnificent night and Captain Oswald said so.

“It sure is a beautiful country, Texas. I’m from Louisiana myself. My folks were raised in the bayou swamps and that’s where they raised me. They were French Creole from back in the early days of the Country. They sent me away to boarding school and then to military school in Virginia. I’m a true Southerner Mister Rutherford and it pains me to see my neighbor Texans treated as they are. I sincerely apologize for forcing your men to prove their American loyalty. Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie must be turning in their graves over this mess”

“Yeah, I’m originally from the Arizona Territory myself,” Jim said, “I worked most my life on ranches up near the Rim just south of the canyon. It was a blessing I hailed from another State than Texas, it gave my wife and I a chance to seek our fortune here where Texans couldn’t. I felt bad seeing some of the best cow punchers I’ve ever seen having to take any job offered. Cattle is what most all of them know. They’re not used to even walking on foot some of them. They grew up sitting on a horse. That’s why when I saw a way around the law, I hired them straight off. I know it mightily peeved the Commander but he was bound by the law to let me have my Texans.”

“You mentioned you are married, you still that way?”

“Oh yes, and happy about it too. We eloped when the two of us was working for the Hash…er a cattle ranch up near Holbrook back then.”

“Holbrook you say? I heard some news from over that way. I was within earshot of my Commander and a U.S, Marshal when I overheard some talk about Holbrook They were talking about a group of no goods having left the Holbrook area and might be headed into Texas. It seems this group is led by three brothers and one of them is over the cliff crazy like. I heard that the crazy one murdered a few folks over nothing! It seems they were just minding their own business and for no reason the man guns them down in cold blood. The men weren’t even together, just walking the same boardwalk. Then as he left town he put fire to the new Methodist Church being built there and then shot the knees off its Pastor as he ran out to fight the blaze.”

During this time Slims stomach dropped to the ground. It could only be Crete and Sally’s brothers!

“Did they say anything more, like where they were headed to when they left Holbrook.”

“Not really, I heard they only returned to Holbrook to tie on a drinking binge. The Marshal said his men have tracked them all over the Territory and New Mexico and were only hours behind them when cleared out of Holbrook. One things for sure. They won’t find a safe place anywhere in the Arizona Territory or New Mexico for all the killing they’ve done in both places. I’m figuring that’s why the Marshal went and paid a visit to the Commander, he must figure they’re headed for the safety of Texas since they’re not wanted here yet.”

Now Jim’s stomach really churned. If the trio should make their way anywhere near Amarillo, then they’ll be sure to come upon the Bar None Zero Ranch and Sally.

“Now that I’ve spilled the beans about this group of rustlers, this is the real reason I was sent to check your men’s paperwork. We wouldn’t want them escaping the law under the cover of assumed names. I doubt you’ll run across them but if you hear anything of value along the way on your drive, would you send a message regarding such information to Commander Wilcox at Fort Worth?”

“Absolutely.”

“I am taking my men up to the border. When you get there we’ll meet up and I’ll escort you across and out of Texas. We won’t be there when you return of course so that means it’ll be up to you to sign the men in at Fort Worth upon your return.”

Slim absently replied, “Of course.”

The two casually walked back to the bluff where they parted ways. In the morning, the soldiers packed up and continued on their way without further conversation with the cowboys.

Slim Jim Rutherford was in a quandary. By law, he had to be with his Texans the entire trip, going there and back to insure their return. On the other hand, he needed to get back to the ranch as fast as possible and warn Sally and the others of the possible approach of the three brothers. If he were to leave and the Texan’s were stopped, then they would face jail time along with himself, for not being in their presence when they re-crossed the border upon their return.

Pulling a trail map from one of the many compartments within the Chuck Wagon, Jim unfolded the map and taking a ruler, tried to determine how many miles it was to the Oklahoma Territory border. The border lay between six and eight miles ahead, almost a full day away. Still, if he were to see the men over the border he could possibly sneak back into Texas unseen and speedily ride his way back to his ranch. After he returned, he could fortify his place, make plans or even get Sally away from there before Crete and his brothers showed up. Nodding to himself he knew that was the way it had to be but first he needed to take Biscuit and the point rider into his confidence.

 

Chapter 4

Biscuit sat there stunned.”Boss, you sure lead an interesting life, yes you do! How is it I figured the two of you to be just a pair of easy going married folk that never saw nothin’ more exciting than a dust devil or two? Why them brothers of hers is three of the biggest outlaws alive!”

The point rider Jason shrugged and said. Whatever you want us to do we’ll do Boss. I see no problem in getting to Kansas City or even back again without you. On the other hand, I know we’ll be required to stop in at Fort Worth and see the Commander to show we’re all accounted for. That’s the only problem that I can see. Maybe you can get on down to Fort Worth in time to meet up with us…if everything goes well back at the ranch. Besides, Texas is a big Territory, I bet your in-laws never even get close to you or up to Amarillo.”

“I wish that were true but the fact is the oldest brother Jed knows where we live. I’ve trusted him over the years and until now there’s been no reason to fear that he spilled the beans as to Sally and my whereabouts to his siblings. That changed I guess when the Marshal Service started hunting them down for murder. I’m figuring they’ll want to use my ranch to hole up at. Damn it!”

Biscuit rose up brushing his pant legs saying, “Come what may, I still got forty odd hands to feed tonight, I need to be goin or the men will go hungry. Jason, you too, let’s get movin’, there ain’t nothin’ more we can do sitting’ here blabbin’ about it!”

Jim also rose, “Biscuits right, start the drive. I’ll just have to do what I think I can get away with. I’ll decide something before we reach the Oklahoma border later today.”

Saying that, the men parted ways to start the days drive.

 

 

 “Borders just ahead Boss” Shouted Jason, “I can see the soldiers too.”

It took nearly three hours for the cattle and men to cross the border. There was no creek or sign to notify a soul they had just crossed the border. Instead, a soldier sat staring into a sextant as if he were onboard a ship. Earlier that day, the scout and chuck wagon had made the crossing. They were now a few miles ahead and pointed towards the east. From this point they would head east across the Western and Chisholm trails which headed north to the rail yards in Dodge City and Wichita. The last and final trail would be the Shawnee. At that point they would turn onto this trail and head north to the stock yards in Kansas City. The Bar None Zero would have to drive their cattle without the benefit of the rail road because of their sheer volume. Having over 3,400 head sent by rail meant many more deaths than the Rutherford’s could afford to lose. While rail was faster, it also meant losing control of your entire herd. It was up to others to feed, water and make sure no one rustled your stock. This skepticism was well founded. There was more than one herd that arrived at the yards having a different owner than the one that shipped them.

Once safely across and out of sight of the Captain and his men, Jim rode parallel to the border and re-crossed it five miles from where the Captain remained camped. If Jim was lucky, the troops would wait a day or two to rest up before heading back south to Fort Worth. This would give him ample time to skirt their line of sight and make his way back to Amarillo.

A Bar None Zero ranch hand out gathering strays saw Jim driving his horse hard as he headed towards the ranch gate. With foam flying from its mouth, the sweat drenched flanks glistened in the afternoon sun as if they were mirrored. Racing after his Boss, the man on a fresh mount still could not catch up to Jim. It wasn’t until Jim had stopped and dismounted at the ranch house before the hand caught up to him.

“Boss! What’s goin’ on? What’re you doin’ back here? Where’s the herd?”

“Too many questions right now, just hang here a bit until I come out. Take care of my mount, no water yet, she’s too hot, just walk her and give her a good rub down first, then water but only a small amount at first.”

“Sure Boss, I know what to do, she’s in good hands.”

With that, Jim took two steps at a time as he made his way up the porch. Just then Sally appeared holding the baby in the doorway. “Jim! What’s wrong?”

Over a cup of coffee and some pie Jim explained all he had heard from captain Oswald. Sally outwardly looked calm but Jim noted she had lost all the color in her face. She waited until Jim had finished then spoke.

“Jim, you have no choice, Crete will kill the two of us if you don’t kill him first.”

“But Sally, he’s your brother!”

Crete made his bed, now he must lie in it. You can’t call the law, they’d discover you have left the Texans and would arrest you and them. For their sake and ours, please, do what you know you need to do.”

“What about Jedediah and Ezekiel, am I to kill them too?” Jim asked, hoping she’d say no.

“That will have to wait to be seen, that’s all I can say. It mortifies me to ask you to do this but I’ve run this scenario through my mind many times over the last couple of years. We have a family now, many men depend on their wages from us. We have too many responsibilities to let my insane brother take all that away. If Jed and Zeke didn’t do anything to stop him by now, they won’t after they arrive here either. I believe all of my brothers have gone to the bad. If the law were to catch up to them, they’d all hang for their crimes. Is it a sin then to act in a like manner? I believe not.”

That evening Jim gathered the remaining hands and explained the situation. “We have no idea if there are others that ride with them. For all we know it could be just the three or it might be thirty, we have no idea. What we need to do is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. There are seven of us here not counting Sally and the baby. What edge we have is that they have no idea we know they are coming.

Looking at the gathered group Slim Jim told them. “Keep your side arms handy loaded and worn at all times. You men who have saddle rifles make sure they’re in their holsters if you have to ride off anywhere. I know this will test your morality a might but this is a life or death situation, shoot first and ask questions later. Just because these men are Sally’s brothers doesn’t mean a hoot. They’re wanted for murdering innocent folk and if they make it here to the ranch, your lives won’t be worth a plug nickel. No matter what, don’t let ‘em start talking to you, crazy men can make a heap of sense and they’re capable of talking the skin off a snake.”

The group nodded heads as one. They had lived on the range long enough to accept that sometimes there was no other way and killing must be done. This part of Texas had no Law, other than the Army out of Fort Worth and they held little concern for local problems unless directed by their superiors back in Washington.

“I want two men to go with me. I figure if they come to Texas it won’t be through the desert but along the Canadian. Two of us will scout along the Canadian, if we run into them, the third person high tails it back here for reinforcements.  Phil? Why don’t you take Erney here and saddle us up the horses? Make sure you hang a holster for a long gun on your saddle too. We’ll head out in a half hour.”

In a short time Phil and Erney sat on horseback ready to leave. Slim Jim exited the house in front of Sally who was carrying the baby. With his horse held between the other two riders, Slim mounted after kissing Sally. Without further word, they rode off west towards Tascosa and the Canadian.

 

Chapter 5         

Crete woke up with a stiff neck. Grumbling as he twisted his neck to and fro he wandered behind a large group of boulders to relieve himself. It had been a long ride through New Mexico but by noon the small group of hardened men should make it to the border of Texas.

 When he returned to the camp, the others were awake and getting a morning meal started. Six men were left following the three brothers making the group nine in all. Crete wanted to get rid of a few of them from the group. He told Jed and Zeke that their mother had visited him and told him that three of them would end up betraying them.

“Which three?” asked Zeke.

 Neither Jed nor Zeke believed their mother spoke in Crete’s dreams to him and that any vision was fabricated within his own mind. “Besides,” Jed told Zeke under his breath, “Ma ain’t dead yet and although we know Mormons believe in an afterlife, we also was taught there weren’t no such thing as ghost. Crete’s vision’s is from bein’ teched in the head, nothin’ more.”

With a cutting side glance, Crete stopped to look at his two siblings asking them, “Why do you want to know? You gonna warn ‘em or something? I’ll tell you which three!”

Walking away from the cook fire, he removed his pistol from its holster, spun the cylinder to make sure he was fully loaded and turned around. Facing the group of breakfast occupied men, he raised his pistol and calmly began pulling the trigger. Crete may have been insane but his craziness had no affect on his crack shot abilities. Within seconds three innocent men tumbled to the earth.

“What the hell are you doing?” Zeke shouted at him as he ran to disarm his brother. Out of the corner of his eye, Crete judged the closing distance of his brother, then turned and fired point blank into his head.

Watching Zeke’s body collapse and fall forward into the camps fire, the last of the three followers in stunned disbelief threw up their hands in surrender.

Jed stood speechless half expecting Crete’s gun to turn his way.

Holstering his weapon, Crete spoke to the remaining group members. “Naw, the rest of you’s is alright. Put your hands down, ya’ look stupid sittin’ there like bunch a school children! Unless Mama tells me different, them three I shot is the ones that was going to turn us over to the law.”

One hardened man slowly rose. “That is my cousin you just plugged! Weren’t no way he woulda’ turned on us. Your Mama ain’t said shit you idiot! You’re just plain crazy and I’m cuttin’ my ties with you all here and now.”

Calmly, Crete shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “Alright,” then lighting fast pulled his iron and fired the last remaining two bullets into the man’s chest.

With six pulls of the trigger, five men lay dead, one his brother and three loyal followers.

 

“If’n anybody else is upset enough to pull iron on me, remember, I also carry this.” Removing a small caliber pistol from a hidden holster from behind his back, he brandished the small but deadly weapon in front of the men. As he waved the gun about, his face took on the evil expression that Jed was so used to seeing. Crete began to breath hard and saliva began to leak from his mouth like a panting dog.

Turning to face Jed, a large glob of foamy slobber dripped out from Crete’s mouth onto his vest. Using his sleeve, Crete ineffectively wiped the foamy saliva from his face. “I told ya’ll that I hated each ‘an every one of you! Remember brother, Sally and you ain’t immune to my hate neither! After we get to Texas and find where her an’ that bastard Slim Jim is holed up at, I’m gonna deal with ‘em like Mama told me to!”

“And ruin our only means avoiding the law? We ain’t wanted in Texas for no crime. If you kill them, it won’t be but a short time before them Texas Rangers are on our tail. They’re like she badgers, they never give up once they got your scent.”

“I don’t give no hoot about any Texas Rangers, they ain’t no where’s near as smart as I am! Have we been caught up with yet? No! You know why? Because Mama watches over me, that’s why!”

“Is Mama dead that she speaks to you Crete? Last we heard she ‘an Paw were doin’ their Mormon thing and was alive an’ well.”

“Mama ain’t never gonna die Jed, she leaves her soul come night and lays down next to me. She tells me all the secrets you and others been hidin’ from me, she knows everything. She told me Zeke needed to die but never said when. It just happened that it was his time. Mama keeps some stuff to herself.”

Zeke was your brother, her son. Do you really believe she wanted him dead? Why would she want that?”

Crete snarled, “Because she only loved me, that’s why!”

At that instant, Jed knew his brother meant to kill him as he did Zeke, without remorse.

 

The four men made their way into Texas from New Mexico using the Canadian River as their guide just as Jim thought they would. Crete, now heading up the gang unopposed, decided to shy away from the larger town of Tascosa and instead opted to make camp just outside the tiny burg of Cheyenne alongside the Canadian River. Without him knowing it , this placed him only twenty miles from the Bar None Zero Ranch. That night under the cover of a sliver moon night, the two remaining gang members slid out unseen into the surrounding desert.

A grey streak on the Eastern skyline announced the coming dawn. It was then that the already high strung and paranoid Crete discovered the missing men.

“They’s gone!” He yelled to his still sleeping brother. “We gotta get outa’ here, I know they’ll tattle on our whereabouts fer sure! Listen… is that horses I hear? Yes? No?”

Jed, alert now, stood up to listen. “Naw, there ain’t no horses.”

“Are you sure?” A look that changed from near panic to suspicion came over Crete. “Maybe there is horses comin’! Maybe you told those two to high tail outa’ here. Maybe you an’ them are in cahoots with each other an’ I’m bein’ left holdin’ the bag while you all set me up for capture. While you all escape”

Suddenly Jed looked past where Crete stood and pointed. “Look, their horses are still tied to the highline between them two trees! That means they left on foot.”

Searching where the men’s bedrolls had been, they saw the two large canteens the group had were missing, along with the only rifle the group had.

The sudden change in the situation seemed to sober Crete up somewhat. “Well, for sure, the two couldn’t have gone far, most likely they either made their way into Cheyenne but more likely they are on their way to Tascosa. We should take the horses and circle around south of Tascosa then enter town from the east. They’ll most likely be keeping a lookout expecting us to come in from the west.”

Crete looked skyward at the rising sun and blew heavily through parsed lips. “Mind you Jed, this don’t mean we’s done with what was started between us brother. One of us is going to die, Mama told me that but she didn’t say which one of us. I’m makin’ sure I’m the one who walks away.”

 

Chapter 6

Slim, along with riders Phil and Erney sat in their saddle overlooking the Canadian river outside of the town of Tascosa. The town wasn’t much as large towns went. Unlike the crowded mountain towns or large cities, the buildings had plenty of empty space between them. Few good sized trees existed as most were cut down for building lumber. What trees existed were misshapen or stunted. In contrast to the bland town, the valley the town lay in was a cattleman’s dream having tall grass, good water and plenty of both. As desirable as the land was to others, it held little interest for Jim. He knew that if the brothers came by the Canadian River, they would most likely stop here. He regretted ever trusting Jed, the eldest of Sally’s brothers with the information of the Bar None Zero’s location. In all the time that the two had sent secret letters to each other there was never any indication of Jed having gone truly to the bad. On the other hand, Jim and Sally had gained precious information on Crete. By letter, they had watched him deteriorate into lunacy. It was through these letters that especially Sally, had determined that her brother was dangerously insane to the point it was either him or them that would die. She, unlike Crete’s belief, knew it was going to be he that died.

Three groups of men were converging onto the small town at the same time, each using a different route. Entering the town from the west on foot, the two fleeing members of Crete’s gang headed straight for the saloon located in the center of the town. Figuring if Crete was on their tail, he’d start at one end and work his way to the other. If they kept a good eye out, they’d spot him and have time to either ambush him or take cover until in frustration, he left to search elsewhere.

Crete and Jed entered town from the East and true to the ex gang members thinking, started searching from one end and heading to the other. What the two men hiding in the saloon didn’t realize was that while they were correct in pre guessing Crete’s method of search, they didn’t realize the brothers has come in from the opposite end. They realized their mistake when the salons bat wing doors opened and in stepped Crete.

Meanwhile, Crete wasn’t doing so well himself, not that he was aware of this of course. As Crete and Jed circled their approach into town the two made a fatal mistake, that of riding for a short distance along the peak of the Canadians embankment. The two brothers on horseback, along with the two empty saddled horses behind them, stuck out in the slanting late afternoon sun like cut out silhouettes against the backdrop of the flat grassy landscape.

“That’s them!” Whispered Slim. “No mistake, I’d recognize Crete anywhere. He rides all lazy like, and slumped down in the saddle. Let’s pull up just a bit more and ride behind ‘em. The last thing either is going to suspect is us tailing them. We’ll observe where they go and what they’re up to before we make our move. Phil, hold up a might on runnin’ for help. It appears that they’re alone. Those two bare nags behind them must have belonged to a couple of their gang. I bet ten to one the rest took to their heels when they realized their boss was a crazy man!”

It would have been comical if it weren’t so serious. As Crete and Jed stepped into the saloon, just behind them with hats lowered over their eyes, strode in the real man Crete wanted dead, Slim Jim Rutherford, the hated husband of his Sister Sally.

The sound of the batwing doors opening caused the two ex gang members to turn in unison. The one sitting furthest from the door, dropped his beer mug and went for his gun.

The first sight Slim saw on entering the salon behind Crete and Jed was a man standing at the bar raising his iron towards the door they had just come through. Slim yelled “Duck!” Hoping Phil and Erney wouldn’t take the time to size up the reason for his warning, Slim dove to the floor to protect himself and behind him he heard the twin thumps of his two as they too kissed the floor. The single shot that the man at the bar got off caught Jed in the upper leg. Screaming in agony from a shattered thigh bone, Jed fell like a rag doll. With his bleeding brother rolling around screaming, Crete dove to the right. This once again left Slim and his two hands exposed to deadly gun fire. Crete rolled once and in a single motion, stood up and pulled his pistol.  In three rapid shots, Crete expertly blew the shooter clean off his stool.

Unfortunately for Crete, the second ex gang member was now pouring deadly slugs in his direction. Crazed and stumbling forward as if demon possessed, his gun hotly spit lead and fire. Crete’s left ear disappeared from his head then his hat, along with a bloody portion of his scalp. Still, Crete’s aim remained deadly accurate during the smoky barrage and eventually the shooter, bleeding out from multiple holes, rolled backwards off his stool dead.  Making his way jerkily to where the two ex gang members lay, Crete stood tottering over the two like a drunk.  Other than the screaming of Jed, there was no other sound in the saloon.

Fatally shot more than once, Crete fell heavily to his knees. The empty pistol dropped to the floor as Crete’s arms and torso began jerking as if controlled by strings. A loud inhale was heard then his last words gurgled through his blood frothed lips. “Ma ma?”   The sound of Crete’s face smacking itself on the wooden floor ended his fate more solidly than any judges gavel.

In a state of disbelief, the crowd remained silent in the gun smoke filled room. 

 

Slowly, Slim turned to look behind him. Lifting his head cautiously, he asked his men, “You two hit?”

“Nope, not me!” came the reply from Phil as he ended flapping his hands over his body looking for wounds.

 “Me neither Boss, but I need to buy some new under drawers, I believe I’ve gone and filled mine up!”

Suddenly the salon came to life. This was the most excitement this dusty cow town had seen in ages. With whoops and hollers and mouthing gun shots, the patrons began loudly reenacting what they had just witnessed.  No one hurried to drag the bodies outside nor tend to the now unconscious Jed. The bar tender did walk around to the front of the bar to where the two dead gang members were sprawled out on the floor and began going through their pockets. Looking up at the cowboys gazing down at him in repulsed disbelief, he told them, “They owe me for their beers yet!”

Slim made his way over to where Jed silently lay bleeding out from his shattered leg. “Get a Doctor!” He yelled.

A gruff voice behind him made him turn, “Right here Mister, I’m the Doc.”

Looking down at Sally’s brother he asked, “Can you save him? His legs half blowed off!”

“Maybe, but there ain’t no savin’ that leg, it’s a goner fer sure.”

“Do what you can for him, he’s kin.”

Digging into his pocket Slim pulled out a small roll of money. Here’s forty dollars, I’ll come back for him in a few weeks. If that legs to come off, try and get a wooden one on him. There should be more than enough there for everything but if not, I’ll make good on any further debt when I come back.”

“What do you want I should do if he dies?”

“Bury him well and keep what’s left of the money for your services.”

 

Chapter 7

Making his way back to the Oklahoma and Texas border, Slim camped a few miles beyond the bare grassy plain on the Oklahoma side. There he waited for his drive cowboys to return from the trail drive. Luckily, no sign of Captain Oswald or his men were seen. If all went well, he would re-cross the border with his men and with them head to Fort Worth to verify to Commander Wilcox that all the Texans had returned.

Since he had sent Phil and Erney back to the Bar None Zero to tell Sally all that went down, he camped alone.

Back at the Ranch, Sally cried over the deaths of her brothers but knowing their demise was inevitable she didn’t cry for long.

 She asked Phil and Erney if they would return to Tascosa within the next two weeks with a wagon and retrieve her remaining crippled brother Jed, if in fact he had survived.

 If in fact he had survived, the Rutherford’s would be faced with another problem. Fellow ranchers and cattle buyers would then associate Jed with the Hashknife cattle company and the alleged rustling they were being blamed with. Any missing cattle in the area would be blamed on the Bar None Zero Ranch. Just the mere suspicion could destroy all that Slim and Sally had worked so hard for.

 

Three weeks had passed when Slim noticed dark forms moving slowly in his direction from the North east. Knowing this was the same direction that he expected his men to come from his mood lightened at the thought of seeing them and knowing the cattle had made it safely to market. Disappointment did not raise its head as he recognized Biscuit’s chuck wagon. Breaking camp he rode out excitedly to meet them.

Once again united with his men, Slim crossed back into Texas where they headed to Fort Worth. During their ride, the men heard all that had gone on and each night around the campfire that story was all the topic.

Heading south, the group crossed over the Canadian and Red River and when the reached the Brazos they headed Southeast towards Fort Worth. The money made in the large sale would give each man his wage plus a bonus equal to his wages for risking the venture out of Texas. Slim also told them that to prevent his men from being skinned by gamblers, saloon keepers and whores, he had Sally set up each mans bonus in an account at the bank in town. Every bonus a man relieved from now on would be placed within this account which could not be accessed for one full year from the date of its opening. Each man would receive a small ledger book from the bank showing each deposit. Since none of the men had ever had a savings, it was a novelty to them. Some bragged that on the day the money was made available, they’d head into town and experience the biggest blow out ever seen. Most of the men though said they’d like to save up even more for new Mexican made saddles and such.

Fort Worth lay between the Brazos and Trinity rivers just west of the town Dallas. It was an easy trip and uneventful in nature. The four hundred mile trip took twenty one days to complete as the group could only go as fast as Biscuits chuck wagon. The men were festive in nature and had little desire to immediately rush back to start gathering up the next herd. During this time, Slim Jim Rutherford grew to know his men and in return, they him. 

 

A disgruntled, red haired sentry with a scruffy beard stood obediently outside Commander Wilcox’s door. Looking through narrowed eyes at the dusty trail weary man in front of him the sentry crossed his arms on his chest and loudly asked, “Who might you be and state what business you might be having with the Commander!

Slim held his tongue and tried to remain polite. “My name is Jim Rutherford, I just drove a herd of cattle out of Texas to Kansas City using born Texans to do it with. Commander Wilcox ordered me and my Texans to report back just soon as we returned. I’m here to report our return.”

The guard lifted his nose skyward in obvious distain at the thought of Texans making an honest living. Pointing to a row of hard wooden benches placed against the wall the soldier in an obviously Eastern accent sneered, “The Commander is a busy man, he’s all booked up for the next few days. You and your men better get used to ridin’ those benches over there. I’ll add your name to the list of those wanting an audience with the Commander. If for any reason you leave, I’ll remove your name and you’ll be placed at the end of the line again.”

Slim looked around and seeing no one in wait asked, Where are all the others? I don’t see a line anywhere.”

The soldier leaned forward. “There ain’t gotta be one, I make up the line and I say you wait until I’m damn well ready to show you in to see the Commander! If you give me any lip, I’ll add another day’s wait every time you piss me off!”

Slim became red faced and stood with clenched fist going nose to nose with the guard. Just as he was about to speak through his clenched teeth, the door swung violently open and there it stood the Commander whose face was redder than Slims.

“Soldier!” He shouted at the man, “ Did I just hear you right?”

“Yes Sir! Er… no Sir, I mean this man is wasting your time Sir! I’m only trying to keep order here Sir!”

“Order my ass! I bet if I waited a bit longer, I would’ve heard you play this man for a bribe to see me! Am I right Corporal?”

“I can’t rightly say Sir, I’m sorry Sir!”

“Don’t apologize to me Mister, apologize to the man you tried to skunk!”

The sudden change in the man would have been almost humorous if Slim wasn’t so mad at him.

“My deepest apologies Sir, The Commander is not as busy as I thought, he’ll see you now.”

Pointing to the frosted glass door the Commander told the guard, “In the future, you may want to remember  that I can hear every sound made out in this hallway through this thin door soldier, including every word you speak and every bribe you try to make!”

Without accepting the man’s apology, Slim then entered the room behind the Commander.

The Commander showed Slim Jim to a seat and shaking his head said, “I swear, the men they assigned to my post out here are the dregs. At the end of the War, the commanding brass gave out all the good post to the ass kissers and those well connected. Those of us who took the job seriously, like me, ended up in no man’s land babysitting a bunch of misfit lazy men whose only skill is looking for the easiest way out of work.” Settling into his own chair, the Commander looked up pleasantly at Slim asking, “ Now, what can I do for you and your men Sir?”

“As I told your guard Commander, I legally took a group of born Texans across the border and as agreed to, I am here to sign them each back into the State as the Law requires me to.”

“Ah… you’re the one. Captain Oswald sent word that you’d be in to see me. Welcome back.”

“Thank you Sir, I have all the men’s paperwork here.”

Taking the forty some sheets of signed releases from Slim, the Commander laid them on his desk and asked. “Are all the men here? Did you lose any? I mean did any die on the trail?”

“No Sir, not a one. I’ve never seen a group of men as determined to do a job well done as these were.”

“Texans, they sure are a different breed alright. I’ll take your word all is in order. I’ll sign these and absolve the men of any further need to wait to get back home. They’re free to go whenever they want, as you are. Welcome back.”

Stepping back into the outer hall, the reprimanded guard looked away as Slim closed the door behind him. Not wanting to get himself or any of his men in trouble his mind raced as a way to even the score with the obnoxious guard. Knowing any spoken threat or physical action against the man could be considered reason for his arrest, Slim sauntered up and stood closely next to the man. Not knowing what Slims intentions were, the Guard stood silently waiting for Slim to make his move. Suddenly, a loud, wet sounding blast of foul smelling bean fueled pent up intestinal flatulence was expelled. After waiting a few seconds for the foul aroma to escape his britches, Slim calmly walked away. As he and the men walked down the hall towards the main doorway snickering, slim heard loud hearty laughter coming from the Commanders office.

 

Chapter 8

Hugging Slim tightly, Sally had met him as he and the rest of the cowboys rode into the yard. Before he could speak though, Sally pulled him away from the men. “Slim, when Phil and Erney came back with the story of my brothers, I asked them to fetch Jed if he still lived and return with him back here. It may have been a mistake but he’s the only family I have left. He’s not doing well.” She turned and faced the house.

“Jed spends all his time in that wheeled chair contraption staring out the window. He barely eats and refuses to exercise or be fitted for a wooden leg.  He asked me to send you to him when you returned, he’s in the parlor.”

Tired as he was from the long dusty ride, Slim denied himself the few private moments with Sally that he had hoped for. Instead, he slapped off the dust as best he could using his hat and stepped into the house. The coolness of the place surprised and pleased him. After being sun blazed for so long any shade was welcome. The smell of an upcoming noonday meal made its way from out of the kitchen. It was good to be home.

Stepping into the dimly lit parlor, Slim saw Jed in his wheeled chair in front of the window. A Navajo colored blanket covered his lower half. Slim assumed this was because Jed did not want folks to see his stump. Walking quietly up to Jed, Slim spoke.

“Morning Jed, mind if I sit down myself? It’s been a long ride and I’m near done in.” Settling himself heavily into one of the overstuffed chairs, Slim looked the man over sitting next to him. “I see you survived, minus a leg but you survived. I’m not going to pretend I’m pleased to see you here but Sally says you wanted to talk.”

Jed turned his unshaven face away from the window and turned his chair to face Slim. Jed’s demeanor had changed from that of an older wiser brother to that of a broken man. Sad, bloodshot eyes stared back at Slim.

“My coming here wasn’t my idea. Sally insisted and with a missing leg there wasn’t much I could do but be dragged back here by your men.”

Exhaling heavily that almost sounded like a sob, Jed lifted his head saying. “I know what my presence here will do to your operation. For harboring a member of the Hashknife group, even an ex one, you’ll be blamed for every missing cow within a hundred miles. When word gets out what happened up in Tascosa the folks around here will want to finish the job by dangling me from the nearest tree.”

“No one’s gonna’ hang nobody one my spread.”

“It’d be best if they did. No one’s gonna honor your business deals once they find out our relationship. You’re kin and in Texas that means you’re just as guilty as I am. No, I didn’t want to come here. I wanted Sally to be free from her brothers and the bad name we made for ourselves, by whatever means. You gotta send me away, fast, before folks find out just who I am and that I’m here. It’s the only way Slim, the only way.”

I can’t, like you said, like it or not, you’re kin.”

“Slim, I’ve already said my piece to Sally, I’m sorry for not bein’ the brother she needed. To you, I just ask for your forgiveness. I want nothin’ else.”

“If Sally forgave you then who am I to hold a grudge? We’ll think of something. ”

Slim started for the front hall then turned. “I’ll think of something Jed, I’m not sure how to clean up this mess yet but I’m sure there’s a way.”

From inside the parlor Slim heard a soft reply, “There is Slim, there is.”

Thinking Jed had come to grips with the situation and that he’d let Slim and Sally do the thinking, Slim walked out onto the porch where Sally awaited him.

“What did he say?”

“Well, not a lot really. He apologized and felt deeply about not being the kind of brother you deserved but to tell the truth, he seemed more worried about our future with him staying here than even I was. I know it’ll be a rough sell to folks but I can’t just hand him over to any old mob to get hung. He might not be a wanted man in Texas but that won’t stop folks from feeling as they do or even acting on those feelings.”

As they stepped off of the porch and made their way toward the men, Sally placed her arm around Slims waist and drew close to him. “I’m afraid I made a mistake Slim, maybe it would have been best to let nature take its course up in Tascosa and leave him be. No one would have then found out we were related.”

It was the familiar but gut wrenching sound of a single gunshot that caused the two to turn on their heels and face the house.

The men stood motionless, as if glued in place. Suddenly finding his legs, Slim tore into the house on a dead run. Sliding to a halt at the parlors entranceway, Slim saw the blood splattered window and the slumped form of Jed in his wheeled chair.

From behind him, he heard Sally stifle a cry. Turning to look at his wife, he saw her standing at the entranceway with her fist crammed into her mouth as if trying to hold back a scream.

 Wheeler Texas up near Amarillo is not known for its hills but a small rise was found less than a mile from the house to cradle the grave of Jedediah Britchen. It was a better send off than what his two brothers received, for sure.

Slim held Sally close as the rest of the men stood silent. Only a short prayer was offered but before Sally turned from the mound that held her brother she said to it, “In your own way you tried to be the big brother I deserved. You accomplished that. Thank you for your final act. It saved our ranch. You can rest in peace brother.

That day a new iron was added to the familiar Bar None Zero brand. The Resting J.

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!”