The Daulton Brand Book One: Black Gold©

Ed Scott P. O. Box 26586 Prescott Valley, Arizona 86312 (928) 632-0465 edscott@cybertrails.com

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Forward

Although this book is a work of fiction, the author with his great love for history has tried to keep the historical facts accurate for the period. Having grown up and lived all of his life in the Prescott area, it was with great pleasure that he embarked on this project. The Daulton family does exist and is very large and widespread. Although they did not live in Arizona in 1873, many of them do today and their sense of “family” loyalty and support is the premise for this book. The story is fiction and has no basis in reality. It was written purely for reading pleasure and to bring back to mind the colorful days of Prescott when it was a new town and the Arizona Territory had just begun. Ed Daulton, the author’s grandfather and the man for whom the hero of the book was named, passed away on April 16, 2004. Although the book was not yet published at that time, the author had the pleasure of sharing the unfinished manuscript with him before he died. His last day on this earth he heard the promise that one day his name would be known for his undying love and loyalty to his huge family.

Grandpa, this book is for you. You’ve been an inspiration to me throughout my life with your western manners and strong sense of duty to family. Your Grandson, Ed Scott

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Chapter One

Ed awoke to the sound of shots ringing in the distance. Scratching his head, he tried to think. Where was he? Quickly kicking off his blankets, he grabbed his boots and shook them, hoping that no scorpions had found shelter for the night inside. Pulling them on, he stood, and, in one smooth, efficient motion, buckled on his gun belt and unclasped the thongs holding two Pearl Butted Colt .44 pistols in their holsters. Walking a short distance from the glowing coals of the campfire, he listened for more shots. The wind was blowing softly through the trees and Ed had to strain to hear over the moving Cottonwood leaves. He heard another shot, followed closely by a distant scream. The shots seemed to be coming from the plateau on the eastern slope. Dawn was breaking and Ed calculated that he would have to ride around the slope instead of directly toward it or the sun would be in his eyes when he reached the other side. Throwing his personal items into his saddlebags, Ed kicked dirt on the coals of the fire and hurriedly saddled and mounted his horse. Turning the big gray he kicked the horse into a groundeating gallop. Keeping a wary eye out for trouble, he checked the cartridges in his .44 Winchester and slid it back down into its scabbard. The sun was just touching the top of the mountains, changing the purple mist to a light orange, and then a brighter yellow. A cactus wren trilled and then hopped about looking for an early breakfast of insects. Ed observed an eagle, circling overhead as it overlooked its vast domain. The early morning breeze pushed strands of clouds across the sky like tendrils of an angel’s hair.

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Suddenly he heard the screams again and spurred the gray into an even faster run. As he rounded a bend in the trail he stopped, hard. There, in front of him, were three rough looking men, which Ed could tell with one hard glare, they were not rough-housing as some drunks he’d been around had been known to do, but they were actually trying to hold the young lady down. Two of them struggled with the woman while the third snickered and tore her blouse from her. Pulling his rifle from the scabbard, Ed aimed at the man nearest to him and coolly pulled the trigger. The sound echoed off the mountain and brought the activities to a quick halt. The man he’d hit staggered a couple of feet, looked at him in wonderment, and collapsed face down in the dirt. The woman’s blue and white blouse had been thrown to the ground. She reached down and snatched up what was left of the garment, clutching it to herself for cover as she ran from the other two men. One of the remaining men yelled and grabbed for his gun, just as the other realized what was happening. As the gun was turned toward the running woman Ed shot the man between the eyes, killing him instantly. “Don’t even think about it,” he calmly told the third. “Real slow like, take that gun out and throw it on the ground before you join the others.” The man dropped his gun and took a step back, slowly raising his hands in the air. “I ain’t armed,” he said, backing away from the pistol. He turned around as if ready to run. “He shot my pa,” the woman shrieked, running to pick up the gun from the dust. Holding it in her free hand, as though it was a type of gun familiar to her, she turned toward the man, lining it up on his face. “Just hold on, Ma’am,” said Ed. “He’s not going anywhere… Are you, mister?”

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“No sir. I’m stayin’ right here... Just git that gun away from her,” the outlaw whined nervously. Ed smoothly dismounted from his horse and walked over to take the gun from the woman’s still outstretched hand. “Name’s Ed, Ma’am. Why don’t you tell me what’s goin’ on here?” “He shot my pa in the back! They came up on us this morning pretending to be hungry cowhands so Pa invited them in for breakfast. When they got inside they grabbed Pa and told me to find the deed to the property or they’d kill him.” “I told them I didn’t know what they were talkin’ about. Then the one that you shot first whipped his gun out and knocked Pa down,” she sobbed. “One of them held me while the other two tore apart our house looking for the deed to the ranch. Pa was cautious, so he kept all his important papers in the bank for safekeeping. I tried to tell them this, but they wouldn’t listen!” Her narrative was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a war-whoop coming from the field behind them. Whirling around to his left, Ed as if by a swift movement, but really more of a complete accident, avoided a arrow that sliced the air inches from his chest banging off the small knoll behind him, ricocheted, whistled up through the air like a gentle lovers breath creasing his chest hair, then faded from view in the hazy dusty air of the fall day. “Grab on,” he yelled, as he caught the strange woman by the waist, and swept her up into the saddle ahead of the horn, and mounted behind her. He held on to both the woman and the saddle horn as the big horse gathered himself and jumped beneath him, racing off with Indians in hot pursuit. The woman twisted in the saddle in front of him and pointing toward her house, yelled, “That way!” They were less than a few hundred feet from the ranch house with its thick adobe walls and plenty of rifles and ammunition inside. As the wild yelling sounds behind them, blended

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with the heavy breathing of the horse and his own gasping for breath, Ed knew this was a death run. It only remained to be seen whose death it would be. Approaching the house, Ed could see the door stood open as it had been left when the woman had run from it earlier. With hooves pounding, the big horse safely carried the two to the front door and skidded to a halt at the porch. Leaping off and diving through the doorway, they slammed the door just as a tomahawk thudded against it, splintering a sliver from the the solid pine, which free from the wood panel, sliced through the air and broke the glass of the front, North facing kitchen window. Collapsing into each other’s arms, they leaned against the closed door fearful of the very real danger they were faced with. Embarrassed, when he realized he was holding a lovely half-dressed young woman in his arms, Ed released her and looked around the room. There was no sign of the girl’s father but he didn’t have time to concern himself searching for him. He spotted several rifles lying near the kitchen cabinet and grabbed two, along with cartridges from a shelf, and handed one to the woman. As she loaded the rifle she looked at him and said, “My name is Amy. Amy Baggin. There’s another rifle in Pa’s room with a strongbox full of cartridges under his bed if we need it.” Ed just nodded hoping a dopey look was not showing on his face as he thought to his-self, “How the heck did I get into this mess? Got up without a care in the world, and now I’ve got a bunch of Indians wantin’ my scalp and two men dead on the trail!” Amy disappeared through another door and returned wearing a fresh blouse, this one of blue calico. Ed’s heart skipped a beat as his thoughts started turning to the young lady in front of him. “Wow, she has the bluest eyes…” however they were rudely interrupted as the blood-curdling scream of a man in pain came from outside.

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Ed peered out the window through the wooden slats. He did a quick survey of the yard in front of the house. There appeared to be eight to ten braves, war-painted with the Mescalero Apache symbols, hard sitting on their ponies without the comfort of blankets much less a leather seated saddle. Both the Indians and their mounts wore the death charms and feathers that meant they were not a hunting party. Rather, these Apaches were looking for trouble! He saw the man he’d left alive being dragged into the clearing in front of the house. With his hands tied behind his back, the man sank to his knees. There was blood streaming from a deep cut across the left side of his face. A lithe, dark skinned warrior stepped up and grabbed the man by his hair. Pulling back viciously, the Indian slid a long thin knife that a quick glance, looked to be of Spanish origin because of the Sun-god round face, with beams of light shinning outward, from the beaded scabbard fastened to his side by a strip of rawhide. He placed the edge of the knife against the man’s throat and looking toward the house, slowly slid it across. Screaming out in fright and pain, the law-breaking man tried to get to his feet but was slammed roughly in the dust, causing him to gasp for breath as dirt was forced into his open mouth. Blood from his cut leaked into the dirt and mingled with secreations from every facial orfice, creating clods of mud that further threatened to choke him. Struggling to turn his head toward the house, he pleaded with a guttural croak, “For God’s sake, shoot me! Don’t let them kill me like this!” Amy turned to Ed, her face white and lips pale and trembling. “What do we do?” she whispered. “We can’t let them treat him like that. No man deserves to die that way!” With a shake of his head, Ed shrugged and said, “The best thing we can do is wait and see what they want. They could be bluffing to get our reaction. If we give in, it will be taken as a sign of weakness and we’ll die, too. If they kill him, they were going to, anyway. Either way, we’re still in a heap of trouble.”

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Amy turned back to the window and looked at the man on the ground and then back again to Ed. “So, do we just sit by and let them kill him? Even a stray dog deserves better than that!” “The only other thing we could do is kill him ourselves,” Ed said. “It might be the best way to end it. If they see we don’t care what they do, they may leave us alone.” Ed lined up his rifle on the head of the captive and looked at Amy. She nodded with grim determination and turned her face away from the window. With a slight squeeze of the trigger, the rifle jumped and the man jerked soundlessly and was still. Screaming in rage at the loss of their prisoner, the Indians showered the building with a flurry of arrows. One Indian brave ran to the door and attacked it with fury, trying to break it down with his tomahawk. As the door shuddered beneath his savage onslaught, there was a sudden sound of hoof beats. From the trailhead in front of the house a group of horsemen started firing at the Indians, their bullets solidly plunking into the heavy wood door. Retreating to their ponies, the braves rode away with the rescuers in pursuit. One of the men rode up to the porch and called out, “Hello, the house,” as he holstered his pistol. Amy ran to the door and flung it open. “Thank God you showed up when you did,” she exclaimed. The rider turned in his saddle and looked at the body of the man lying in the dust. Ed, who had followed Amy onto the porch, followed his gaze and remarked, “They were torturing him. We thought it best to help him out. It was only a matter of time before they killed him. We just took the fun out of it for them.” The man looked back at Ed, nodding. “I know Amy here, but don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you,” he said. “My name’s Tom Leary and I’m what some people consider the law around these parts.”

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Ed approached Tom and held out his hand. “Ed Daulton. I was just riding through and heard the lady screaming. Swung by and ran into the little Missy here. She was fighting off three roughshod cowboys. Just when I was gettin’ things under control those Injun’s hit us.” Tom slowly measured Ed from head to toe. The first thing he noticed was the way Ed carried his guns, high on his hips, not down low like the show-offs or some city slicker. They had cream polished but hand sanded, handles, and were tied-down around mid-thigh. Most gunfighters did not even bother with that, but this man had. Here was one who had lived with danger all his life not looking for the fight, but not able to run from it, and somehow managed to stay alive. He carried the look of a man that knew there was always someone better and if you lived by the gun, you died by the gun. While watching Ed’s dark brown deep pools of his pupil’s for that honest look which all men either possess or lack, Tom noticed, his eyes beheld nothing to suggest he was running from something, or someone. Looking up at Ed’s top brim hat, Tom smiled inwardly at the old dark Stetson with a rattlesnake skin surrounding the crown, but used for holding papers, rather than just the tenderfoot looks. His boots ran high on the tops, and had run down heels which worn slightly in, showing he walked with a inside instep on his outer stance, on feet that had seen better days. Tom wondered if he had been a soldier, because the walk was the same walk as those fighting men, which ran out of shoes or repair parts and learned to live with the hand life dealt them. The toes appeared scuffed and the left boot had obviously been repaired a few times. Hard to tell really, Tom thought. Giving careful consideration to Ed’s clothing Tom wondered almost aloud if he just had not bought something mannering a new outfit, but either didn’t have the money or the place to get one, or was it a choice for safety reasons riding the plains. Too flashy always attracted the unwanted element around you, which out here in the West, could get you strung-up, just because of the company you keep.

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Perhaps he had eaten one too few meals on the trail, for a few extra pounds would help his muscualar but rather sinuous, lanky frame. His eyes had the look of a cowhand who had often ridden through the night babysitting longhorns, and then had a hard time sleeping in the saddle during the day. ‘ What that man needs is a woman,’ Tom pondered. He probably spent too much time in linecamps or working on another man’s ranch to care for him-self, and he needed to settle down on a place of his own. Too much driving the range would wear any normal man out. And, there was something else. Something about this man told Tom he was on his last trail ride. Maybe it was the look of pain for being the cause of death of another person, from someone trying but unable to avoid it. It could be the look of longing or was that loneliness’, which Tom was picking up on, when the Stranger glanced at the pretty lady he had saved. His horse, a big steel gray standing munching grass on one side of the house, appeared to be able to handle any canyon or arroyo, no matter the height or depth. The high-backed, Mexican saddle looked beaten up and old, but care had been given to it. The leather was dark with sweat and well oiled and the seams were re-stitched, by someone who knew what they were doing. His ropes, used, weather beaten, and frayed, were over-all in good repair for the amount of work he appeared to have done. Tom climbed down from his horse and threw a couple of hitches around the tie post next to the porch. Pushing his hat back on his head, he peered out at the yard. “Let’s take a walk.” he said, motioning Ed with his eyes. While scouting the dusty yard where the Indians had been, Ed and Tom noticed, among the unshod tracks of the Indian ponies, a set of boot prints up on an overlook which gave rise to a small patch of ground from which the wood, adobe home could be viewed without being seen in

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return. “It looks like a heavy man with pert small feet, ‘cause the impressions in the ground are deep,” Tom said. The two men backtracked to the area where Ed had rescued Amy. They searched until they found the hobble marks of the horses, showing where the white men had tied up and waited until just before daybreak to approach the ranch house. “Getting a lot more questions in my mind than answers,” Ed said aloud. “Kinda wonderin’ what all they came for,” said Ed. “It just don’t make sense they were lookin’ for the deed to the house this early in the morn, and out here in the West, I doubt they came here just to rape the girl. It has to be something else.” Tom turned to Ed with a small measure of hope in his eyes. Maybe, he could locate the person the rogue cowboys were working for, if this man got a chance to read the brand! Tom asked, “Did you catch the brand on the horses they were riding?” “I never saw ‘em at all. Horse’s were held somewhere else. Might ask the lady,” replied Ed. Ed and Tom walked back toward the house. As they neared it, one of the riders who had shown up with Tom, pulled him aside. “Amy’s taking it pretty hard. Me and the boys are gonna take him out and bury him, if you would like to do the honors and say a few words over his grave.” Ed looked at Tom. He wondered how he had happened to be so far from town this early in the morning. As if reading his thoughts, Tom peered at Ed and said, “Had a bank robbery this morning,” he said. “This group is part of a posse we threw together. We followed their tracks to a little valley about one mile west of here. We heard the shots and figured the rest of the posse, which was headed north had cornered them. Not that you asked -- but it looked like you was fixin’ to.”

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Ed chuckled. He had been relieved to see the men ride into the yard and now this man seemed able to read his mind, and his gut told him this was a man to be trusted. Ed usually listened to his gut since it had gotten him out of trouble most times when he stopped long enough pay attention. Ed entered the house and saw through the bedroom door that Amy was washing her father’s face with a wet cloth and crying. Watching the tears run down her cheeks, Ed felt a hand squeeze his heart and he swore he would find out what happened. Now that the danger had passed, Ed took stock of the lady breaking down in front of him. He felt embarrassed and wondered if he should get up and slip out the door without saying a word. His un-comfort stemmed from his lack of knowing what to do or say to this woman. She needed to grieve and with Ed sitting there, she would not be able to morn her father the same way as by herself. Sensing that she needed the time, Ed stood up quietly and tip-toed to the door reaching his right hand out to bring it inward, he stopped when he heard her. “Best not to run off like that sir,” Ed turned slightly ashamed and stood looking at the floor with his hat in his left hand, gripping the brim, curling and uncurling it. Staring at Amy, Ed noticed she had a uniquiness about her that should set every alarm bell ringing. She had the sculptured look of the Roman Goddess, Mars, and the face fine honed to match the wondrous body hidden beneath the long calico skirt. Her long supple shape belayed the steady match of her resolve and her iron-will, which was deeply set in her high cheek bones. Ed continued to study her and watch as her brows furrowed with thought as Tom spoke with her about the morning events. High brow line, with slim, slightly narrowed eyebrows made her the type of lady that any man would love to dine and romance. Watching her full lips shaped

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so much like a rose petal newly fallen from the morning dew, Ed could not help but wonder why she was alone. A woman like this one should have been picked up and swooned long ago, Ed thought. Now the question without an answer, as of yet, any-way, why hasn’t she? Pondering that thought for the next ten minutes, Ed let his mind wander back to a girl he had romanced during his rough and rowdy days as a hired hand for Charles Gooding. Amy reminded him of that fine woman. A supple body which showed the tinges of hard life in the west, but also allowed her female side to shine clearly through, hands that had the roughness of working with them on a consistent bases, yet could be tender and loving the next minute, and with her sleeveless arms exposed from the assault, Ed watched as the fine honed muscles ripped under the skin with a magical effect. Amy stood and looked over at Ed then with a shake of her long blonde hair, she tossed it into one hand while taking a piece of string with the other and tying it back, all the while, never taking her eyes off his. Those blue eyes became the center of his focus and any doubts that she was bovine lass, dissipated with her steady gaze. Rather than feeling blasé about her he felt accelerated, happy, nervous and unsteady while gazing back at her, neither of them the first one to want to break the hypnotic grip which encircled round about them. Finding this lady with her dignity awash in the filth of raw male emotion, he could not help but wonder how she was feeling inside. Finally, she broke her gaze and as Ed watched her eyes, they turned from the dark deep brown of poise, to despondency. The void her fathers death created, the convexity, opened, seemed unbearable to her.

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With a steel resolve however, she looked at Ed and asked if she might have his help with one more task. Ed helped Amy to wrap her father in a blanket, tucking it securely about him. Several of the posse members carried the body out to the grave they had dug on a knoll near the south pasture. As they gathered around, Tom used the family Bible to read a few words. As Amy stood at the graveside, she looked as if she might faint so Ed stepped to her side and putting one arm about her shoulders, supported her. Tom and the posse respectfully said their goodbyes to the two, and rode away in search of the bank robbers leaving Ed and Amy alone.

***

Amy raised her head, and when she saw Ed watching her quickly wiped her eyes and said, “I’m sorry, I just don’t understand why this happened. What did we do?” “Ma’am, I don’t think you did anything that brought this on. You said earlier that they were asking about the deed to your land. Might you have any idea what they wanted it for?” “No,” she said shaking her head. As they walked back to the ranch house Ed realized she had a fine quality about her; one that held both a fire and hardness of steel that belied the soft femininity. She had long blonde hair with cornflower blue eyes that were enhanced by the blue shirtwaist and green torn scarf around her reddening neck from where the men had held her. Her high cheekbones hinted at Indian blood running through her veins. Her skin was tanned from the Arizona sun, but amazingly, still looked soft and supple. While his eyes measured her, she surprised him with her next sardonic words, “Would you like to look at my

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teeth, now that you’ve examined me? Maybe you’ll find flaws if you keep looking me over like that.” Turning red, Ed swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I was just trying to understand what you’re doing out here with an old man and nobody else to help run your spread. Where are all the hands needed to keep the ranch going?” “I’m sorry,” Amy quickly rejoined, immediately sorry for her sharpness. Here he’d saved her life and appeared to be the only friend she had at the moment and she’d snapped at him. What had made her bite his head off like that? “I’m not myself right now, please, forgive me.” Ed was touched by her concern for his feelings when her own world was turned upside down. “It might help if you tell me about your problems, but only if you feel like talking.” Amy paused as if gathering her thoughts. Her steps slowed and she started with, “The only things we had left after Leo ran our help off were a couple of horses and small stock of steers.” Seeing the questions in his eyes, she continued, “Leo Grant owns the land all around us and for years has tried to run us off. He offered to pay us at first, but what he was offering wasn’t enough to relocate with, even if we wanted to… which we don’t… didn’t!” she said awkwardly changing to the past tense. “After awhile, he just stopped trying to buy the land and started making threats.” “One night, we got back from town after sundown and found our home ransacked and the fence out back torn down. All of our horses were gone, except for Pa’s old mare. My bay found his way back a couple of days later.” Back in the house, Amy sank into a chair by the stove and ran her hands through her hair. She took a wisp of blue ribbon that had been around her neck to tie it up and away from her face. Watching her, Ed felt the stirrings of desire and felt ashamed of himself for the thought. Riding

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the range, a man could get awful lonesome. Chances of companionship were limited to an occasional local dance. Sometimes, a lucky cowhand would wind up with the hand of a rancher’s daughter, but that was more often dream than reality, and it had never come close to happening to him. He always seemed to be on the outside when the girls were on the inside. Being in close proximity with this beautiful girl took his breath away. Amy, in turn, tried not to stare at this handsome stranger. He was a big man; tall, slim but muscular and broad in the shoulders but she could tell even beneath the faded denim shirt that there was not an ounce of fat on him. Despite the lean hardness of his body, and the firm set of his jaw, that look in his eyes that said he had seen enough trouble to last a normal man a lifetime --- there was a kindness deep in his soft brown eyes that he could not disguise. She was startled by the feelings she had in the midst of all that had just happened. Her father was dead, her heart broken, but somewhere deep inside a flicker of hope ignited and burned. For the first time in her life Amy thought this might be the sort of man she could share her life with, if only things weren’t so complicated. He was someone she hardly knew; yet something intrigued her. Without knowing why, she felt drawn to him. Long ago, she had decided what kind a man she wanted. He had no definite features, nothing she could ever put her finger on, not even something she could name, but somehow she knew that when she found him, she’d know it… and suddenly, here he was. Amy mentally shook herself. “I’m being silly, I’m just emotional right now and it’s probably just a reaction to the trauma I’ve been through this morning.”

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Chapter Two

A small, earthenware Dam in the center of the dessert of what is present day Phoenix, was built to keep the drought-plagued land of Arizona, from over use of it’s scarce water, and a reason to get more Easterners out in the West. High temperatures and years of very little water also brought the Federal Government with its financial backing, to the barren land in the western Arizona district. This dam was not the answer to all the prayers of the settlers moving into the desert country, but it would provide hope and a temporary expedient measure for periods of severe drought, which occurred before and after the Monsoon season. Since the Monsoon’s started around July 7th, and ended the later part of August, the people in the Arizona Territory readily accepted the extra water the dam would provide them on hot steaming days, which seemed to be most of the time. With fresh water supplies dwindling and torrents of uncontrolled water pouring into valleys and wiping out all in its path during the monsoons, building the dam and channels would lessening the impact of damage to people down-river, along with creating a barrier which allowed use of water when the sky shut out the moisture, which was most of the time. Since the Civil War had ended not long before, many people were reaching for the vastness of the west, the clean fresh air and the space it allowed them to spread out and move around freely without argument, and without the up-turned nose’s of those from “Old Money”. New friendships were formed. Others were repaired, such as those broken by the war, pitting brother against brother, father against son, and nephew against uncle... when choosing sides split families, causing considerable strife.

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On a rocky outcropping about 100 miles southeast of Prescott, the county seat, lay a narrow stream of water that was turned into a major canal in 1868, by a local prospector named John Swilling. Swilling took water from the Salt River and using technology taken from the Hohokam Indians over a thousand years earlier, began irrigating the dry earth in the Arizona Territory. In the process of digging the channels he uncovered gold in the mountains. Then in the midst of gold fever, copper was discovered in such abundant supply that Arizona soon became known as the Copper State. After years of trying to get money from financial companies back east without success, Swilling received backing from the government to build a dam. The easterners did not think it wise to invest money in a project so far from the nearest town, and saw nothing in the building of the dam that would provide a means of revenue for them. The Verde River Watershed covered more than 13,000 square miles and using this water for his dam, Swilling created Arizona’s first permanent source of water.

***

Leo Grant brought out his pipe and filled it with tobacco while looking out over his land. He ran cattle on the land and would have a major source of water within a few years when the dam was finished. The trick was keeping the water he had now for himself until then. One of his riders had brought him bad news that morning while he’d sat in front of the stove nursing a cup of coffee. Old man Baggins was dead but so were the three men he had hired to

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find the deed to the Baggins ranch. That they had died mattered little to him, but the manner in which they’d died troubled him. The talk in Prescott was of a stranger who had helped Amy Baggin during the failed attack. The local sheriff had taken kindly to the man and would be helping him track down the reasons behind the assault. They knew the men were looking for the deed to the ranch, but for now they had no idea who else was involved. He cursed his luck. Neither Baggin was supposed to be alive, but the men had let lust take over and they had become careless. Now all hell would break loose if they traced the men back to him. He thought about his meeting with the man who’d hired the three rogues for him and relaxed a bit. He had ridden to Tucson and met him in the Golden Palace Bar. So many came and went there that he doubted he would be remembered. After agreeing on a price, he’d paid the man half upfront in gold with the promise of the rest when the task was completed. There was nothing on paper promising payment that could lead back to him. But the problem remained what should be done now? Leo walked outside and stepped down from the porch, feeling the dry grass crunching underfoot. “We need some rain,” he thought as he walked to the corral that held his black, Arabian stallion. He was a fine showy animal and Leo had bought him from a farm back east. Approaching the horse, he whistled softly. The horse walked over and reached into his hand for the cube of sugar he always brought. He thought, “Feeding animals – horses and humans were not so different. Give something – or somebody – what they want for the moment, and they pretty much do what you want them to.

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It was the folks who held off on an immediate reward and took a long, hard look at the overall picture that were a worry.” As Leo walked back toward the house, rolling over in his mind what he had to worry about, he heard the pounding of hooves in the distance. Leo’s big, grey dog, Prince, rose with a growl from his favorite spot under the porch. Another eastern import, Leo had bought the dog because he was large and showy and a purebred, not because he had any particular usefulness. In fact, he was downright stupid and usually barked at tumbleweeds even though he’d seen a million of them. He settled down in his chair to wait, causing it to groan under his weight. Dust flew as he blew the arms clean. “That’s the only problem with living in this hot dry country,” he said out loud. “Always dusty, no matter how many times it is cleaned.” His saw a man ride into the yard on a horse lathered in sweat. Leo recognized the man as Joe, one of his hands from the North Forty. “What’s he doing here?” he wondered. The rider dismounted and hurried over. “Sorry to bother you, sir, but we got a problem over yonder.” “Spit it out, boy,” Leo, already impatient, responded tersely. “We found a few dozen head gone this morning and tracked them to a mud hole in the bottom of the valley. Most were stuck fast, and the rest seemed to be overcome by something down there.” “What area of the valley you talking about?” asked Leo, his thoughts quickly running ahead. Joe took off his hat and ran his fingers through his matted hair. “It’s at the bottom of the mesa, where the dry creek bed runs through the steep cliffs. Don’t know how they got down

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there, but they’re all covered with weird lookin’ mud and stink to high heaven. Slim told me to come get you right quick.” Leo knew Slim was a man to be reckoned with. He was a hard worker and knew his place, but he also had wisdom that came only from years of experience. That’s why he was foreman for the North Forty. Under his breath, Leo silently cursed his luck. They had found it! Slowly getting to his feet, Leo half-heartedly told the cowhand he would be along shortly and waved him away, telling him to hustle back to the cabin. “I’ll meet you all there first thing tomorrow morning,” he said, knowing he had no plans whatsoever of going there. As he pushed the front door open, it squeaked under his touch. “Dang nab it all,” he thought. He would lose two or more good hands from this accidental discovery. Leo drew a chair up to the table and began writing a letter to Sam Cooney. As he wrote, he thought heard a noise outside and paused to listen for a moment. Hearing nothing else he continued to write. A moment later he heard the noise again. He sat back and stared out the window. Was something out there, or was he just getting jumpy? He walked to the window and listened. The only sounds he heard were the wind blowing through the pine trees and horses chomping at the short grass. He turned back to his writing, dismissing it as nerves. Leo called for his Polish servant and he instructed him to deliver the letter and to wait for an answer. After saddling a Sorrel, the servant Henry Cherkowski, rode out to find Sam. Henry had become indebted to Leo as an indentured servant, for Leo paying off his steam ship passage from Europe when Henry arrived broke and hungry.

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Henry knew Sam would be hanging around the saloons in Prescott and he wanted to get to him before he had the chance to get rip-roaring drunk, which he was known to do ‘most every night. Prescott was a good few hours away and Henry had some hard country to ride through. By the time he got there, the afternoon sun was setting over the Bradshaw Mountains. A purple haze was clothing the valley in a slow, gathering gloom. Shadows lined the face of the eastern slopes and the wind, which had been blowing hard all day, died down. Stillness fell upon the city as the sounds of families preparing for dinner drifted out into the streets. A pump could be heard rhythmically moving up and down as water gushed into a tin pail. A dog barked at a shadow, and mothers were calling in their youngsters. Henry turned his horse onto Gurley Street and tied up in front of Michael’s Bar and Diner next to the St. Michael’s Hotel. Entering the dark room, he paused, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. After growing accustomed to the interior, he searched for Sam and spotted him in the corner. He swiftly stepped over and threw the letter down on the worn table scarred by cigarette burns. Sam looked up through eyes blurred from whiskey and recognized Henry. He grinned. “What you doin’ here, ol buddy?” he drawled. His eyes were bloodshot and his speech difficult to understand, indicating he had been drinking heavily for a while. “We need to talk, and you need to read this letter right away, Sam. It’s from Leo and he’s waiting for your reply. You know better than to keep him waiting.” At the mention of Leo’s name, Sam seemed to sober instantly. He reached for the letter and held it close to his eyes. Unable to see anything, he rose unsteadily and staggered out to the lit area of the bar. Still squinting, he tried to read the letter.

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“I can’t see it, Henry!” “Smoke gettin’ in your eyes?” Henry asked sarcastically. “Yup” “Give it here!” Henry impatiently grabbed the letter from Sam’s shaking hand. He really did not want to know what was in this letter. He knew his boss well enough by now to know that he wanted no part in what he was doing. The problem was he was in America on a slave amnesty. Henry had just one more year to work off his passage, and then he’d leave this outfit and get a real job. In the meantime, he was stuck. Henry read the letter aloud,

Sam, Slim and Joe Small found oil. Need you back immediately to handle this. Sheriff’s been sniffing around with a new man and I don’t like the feeling I’m getting. Come as soon as you can. Leo

Quietly reading through the letter again, Henry felt a shiver run along his spine. “I don’t like this,” he thought. “I’m the messenger that’s going to get some good boys killed.” Sam snapped out of his drunken stupor after hearing the contents of the letter. “Dang it, Henry. Did Leo say how they found it?” “I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about,” Henry replied coolly. “My job is to bring you back or at least get a reply from you… and Leo wants it before morning. I have a long ride ahead and I’ll thank you kindly to let me get going.”

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“Give me a minute to throw water on my face and I’ll write you a note to take back. Okay?” “Fine.” Henry sat down and brought out a piece of paper. While he waited, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little letter writing of his own. “You never know what might happen,” he thought grimly. Ten minutes later, he finished his letter and got up. Checking on Sam, he saw he was still composing his reply. “Be back in a little bit,” he said. Sam grunted and continued writing. Henry took a glance at the nearest Pony Express box, near the hitching rail, and dropped the letter through the slot with a two-bit piece stuck to the outside and instructions on delivery. Upon returning to the saloon, Henry found Sam waiting outside for him. As he stepped up on the boardwalk, Sam handed him the letter. “Trust you’ll get this to him right quick. I’ll be along as soon as I take care of a couple of things and get some boys rounded up. Tell Leo I have a few men in mind that were made for the kind of job he wants.” With a nod, Henry mounted his horse and set out. He was getting hungry. He hadn’t eaten all day and had a long ride ahead of him. The sky was dark and silver specks of stars appeared as he rode the sorrel toward the ranch. The moon sliced a sliver of light across the dark desert landscape. Nighttime always brought a chill to desert country. He was surprised when he had first found out how cold it got during a summer night in the desert. Because the days were so hot, many a traveler nearly froze in the desert by being unaware of how chilly an Arizona night could get, even during the hottest months of the summer. Henry pulled his buckskin jacket out of his pack roll and slid it on. It protected him enough to keep him comfortable.

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Warily, he watched for coyotes. They were out and about at this time of night, running in packs. He had seen many a longhorn that had been torn apart by a pack. Those steers were something nobody in their right mind would mess with, but when it came down to a steer versus a pack of coyotes, his money was always on the coyotes. In the distance, he heard a coyote howl, and the answer from its mate somewhere out yonder. Henry loosened his rifle in the scabbard just to keep it handy.

***

Leo paced the floor waiting for news. He’d told Joe he would be out in the morning to meet with them. He did not relish a face-to-face meeting. His job was to run things, not get his hands dirty. If he were lucky, he wouldn’t need to worry about it too long. Dang it! Where was Henry? Walking to his rifle cabinet, he pulled out his colt-revolving shotgun and loaded it with buckshot. Checking the status of his ammunition, he made a mental note to stop at Sutter’s General Store and stock up. It would be a long haul, he thought bitterly. The oil he’d found had turned his life upside down. All men have some wickedness in them. Most keep it under control. He had managed to do so, too, until he discovered black gold… then all common sense had left him. With the amount of money that the oil brought him, he could retire as one of the wealthiest men in the country. He could have it all! Nobody would dare look down on him anymore. Women would respect him. He had a hankering for that Amy gal. Since the first day he had laid eyes on her, he had been smitten. Thinking back to that day brought a cruel smile to his lips. He remembered riding up to the Baggin ranch in search of a few lost head of cattle. Amy had

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walked out on the porch of the ranch house and he’d felt his heart beat faster. He knew he could never have a woman like that. He wasn’t the type of man a woman looked at. Short and rather heavyset, he had a thick jowl that flapped when he talked. His swagger irritated people and he had a smug look that people distrusted. Leo knew he was no prize, but would it be different if he were rich? No woman would dare refuse him! In fact, he almost would rather a woman hated him. That way he always knew where they both stood. Problem was if a man loved a woman, she could hurt him like nobody else. He had seen big, rough, grown men break down and bawl like a baby from what a woman had done to them. He wanted no part of that. This Amy girl, however, she was a showy filly and he wanted to own her. With his money, he’d dress her up in finery and other men would envy him. Now with her father gone, he’d break her and force her to see that she had no other choice but to accept his offer. He needed to take care of this stranger that was reported to be helping Amy. It wouldn’t do to have her make friends. Leo needed her to feel alone and helpless. He wiped his hand across his face as if to clear his thoughts and came back to the present. He needed to get a good night’s sleep. Lots of changes were coming in the morning and he would need all his wits about him.

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Chapter Three

Doug Rawlinss rode up to the house on his black stallion a little before the evening sunset. Amy and Ed, hearing the approaching rider, came out to meet him. “Looking’ for the Bar 7 outfit,” called Doug. “This here’s the Double Diamond,” Amy replied. “The Bar 7’s down the road apiece. If you look for the tall Cottonwood tree off the trail just ‘fore you get to the waterhole, you’ll see a road that’ll take you there”. “Much obliged, Ma’am.” As he turned to go, Ed stopped him. “Why are you looking for the Bar 7?” he inquired. “I’ve heard that’s a rough outfit, and you look like you could use a good job.” “I’ve been hired on as a cowhand by Slim, the foreman. Name’s Doug Rawlinss. I’d just come up from Tucson when I heard there was an opening for a ranch hand. Figured I’d give it a go for awhile and see how it works out.” Amy looked at Ed and back at Doug. “If it doesn’t work out, I could always use a good hand around here,” she said. “’Preciate that Ma’am. But once I sign up for a job, I ride for the brand.” Doug nodded, turned his horse and rode off in the direction Amy had pointed. Amy turned to Ed with fear in her eyes. “Whatever does Leo need more hands for? He’s got some of the best herders around as it is!”

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Ed answered, “Did you see the way he wore his guns? That’s no cowhand; he’s a gunslinger.” Back inside the house, he grabbed a rag and lifted the hot coffeepot from the back of the stove. Pouring himself a cup, he looked over to see Amy’s tense face. “Looks like you’ll be needing’ some help around here. I could stay on for a while.” Amy covered her face with her hands, whirled around and ran out of the room. “Now what’d I say?” sighed Ed. Women were so hard to figure out. Just when he thought everything was going well, off she’d gone crying. “For what?” he asked out loud. Maybe the real reason Galileo and Nostradomus were shut away from the public for a few years of their life, was because they had figured out the process a woman goes through when she speaks, and the thoughts she may be thinking. Chuckling softly to himself, Ed turned to the stove, stirred the ashes to life, and added more wood to the fire. He thought about his offer. Amy was alone now and he had ridden in to help. By taking the hero’s way, he was committing to a battle that wasn’t his… one he did not have any stake to drive home. If he was going to stay and help out, he ought to have a reason to do so, he thought. A few minutes later, Amy came back into the room, her eyes red, and her blonde hair disheveled. “I’m sorry, Ed. You deserve to know what’s going on. I’m just overwhelmed with all that’s happened today and I’ve treated you badly.” She smiled. “Forgive me?” Ed couldn’t help but grin back. He suddenly realized he had a reason right in front of him. Was it true? Could he have already fallen for her even though he didn’t even know her? “Sure, I understand. Might you feel like talking about it? I’ve gotten myself into your mess today and I’m

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a person who likes to stay and see the outcome. If you don’t mind, I’d like to hire myself on until this mess is cleared up. That okay with you?” “Let me tell you the whole story before you make up your mind,” she said, sitting down at the table. “Then if you still have a mind to stay we’ll work out a partnership, since I can’t pay you.” Ed pulled out a chair and sat at the table. The chair, like the table, was old and made of pine. He could see where it had been sanded down with care. Amy noticed him looking at the chair and remarked, “Pa built those with his own hands. He loved wood and could make most anything.” As Amy started to tear up again, Ed reached over and gently covered her free hand with one of his own. Amy noticed how warm and strong his hand was. She could feel the calluses, which proved he was a working man, yet there was something so gentle in his manner. With a sigh, she rose from the table and busied herself at the stove preparing supper, as she began her story. “We came to Arizona Territory about twenty years ago. Pa loaded us all up after Ma died of a fever and brought us here from back east. We had a nice piece of land in the Ohio River Valley, but Pa couldn’t make a decent living. After too many years of not having enough to go around, he got fed up with that life. “I remember Pa waking me up many a morning to go hunting’ so we’d have something for dinner that night. There were more times than not that we went to bed hungry.” “After Ma came down with scarlet fever, Pa mortgaged everything he had for doctors, but she didn’t last long. She died after about three months and poor Pa lost all will to live. “I was only eight years old and had to care for my younger sisters, Becky and April. Pa was in no shape to care for ‘em, so I took over, being the oldest and all.

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“Finally, Pa couldn’t handle the memories and sold everything we owned, loaded us up, and brought us out here. He won this place in a poker game when we first arrived in Prescott. He won the pot, which included the deed to this house. Of course the owner wasn’t too happy, but the law of the West prevailed. “Pa always treated people a sight better than most others, so he offered to buy the land for a bargain price. Although legally it was already Pa’s, the previous owner jumped at the offer and happily sold it for five hundred dollars cash. Pa had over a thousand from the sale of our land back home, so we got a good deal and the man went away happy. “After setting up stock here a few years, we got into farming and running some longhorns with the help of five cowhands. That’s when we started our Double Diamond brand. The ranch did well for several years… until Leo moved in. “Oh, he started out as a right friendly neighbor, but over time he started demanding that we sell him the deed to the land. Pa told him where to go and he’s made life hell for us ever since.” She stopped, contemplating her life before today. Ed seeing the sadness coming over her again sat quietly, letting her have her moment. He knew it would be a while before she could talk about her Pa in the past tense and that it would hurt her every time she spoke of him. Amy covered her sudden tears with a quick smile as she served up the freshly baked biscuits and steaming bowls of beans. After pouring herself a cup of coffee and refilling Ed’s cup she sat down to eat. Her story continued, “Pa met a widow and soon got married again. The widow lady had moved into Prescott because without a man in her life she wanted the closeness of town for protection. Pa heard about her and one evening went over to her house.

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“She told us how Pa “wooed” her.” Amy giggled at the memory. “He showed up one night and said since he was single with three girls and she was single with two boys, they should just get together and create a family. He said he would provide for her, protect her, and raise the boys to be men, ‘cause every boy needed a man in his life. “Also, it wouldn’t hurt his daughters to have a woman in their lives since he didn’t know anything about raising girls. She laughed at him and said that was the strangest proposal she ever had, but promptly packed her bags and came out here the next day.” “We all loved her like our own ma. She was kind to us and taught us the things our mother never had a chance to with being sick. Her two boys, Stephen and Nathaniel, were older than we were. They treated us right and looked out for us. “They took over the hunting and herding, so we girls could have a normal life like women are supposed to. We all became inseparable and had a good life for many years. “My younger sister April got married first and moved away, followed not long after by Becky. They both moved to Kansas where their husbands run a few head of cattle and raise horses for the Army. A couple years later, Stephen married and moved to Kansas and became a Deputy working for Sheriff Richards. Nathan joined the Army, but he eventually found a nice gal to marry too. He is stationed at Ft. Defiance, on the Navajo Reservation. Because he learned to speak fluent Navajo, he’s the quartermaster in charge of Indian rations for the Army. Ma, my stepmother I mean, died last year and it’s been just Pa and me ever since… And now here I am, without Pa either.” Her voice trailed off with the realization. Ed shook his head. “Man,” he thought, “this girl’s been through a lifetime within a few short years!” He figured if she was eight years old when they moved out here, and they’d been here

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for twenty years, that made her twenty-eight years old. There’s more than one way to get a lady’s age without asking her, he thought, trying not to smile as he openly admired her beauty. “How did it come to what happened today?” he asked, prodding her for more information. “Leo approached Pa ‘bout six-months ago and told him he wanted to buy him out. He’d give him four thousand dollars for the land and the house. Pa asked him why he wanted to purchase our 500 acres and an old house. Leo said he was just trying to expand his ranch and needed the land. “Now, Pa wasn’t stupid. We own the Big Bug River rights, which run right through our property and end at the watering hole. There are a couple of other watering holes around here, like the one over near Lynx Creek, but during the drought it dried up and we found Leo’s cattle watering at our hole. “Pa was never one to turn away an animal from God given water, so he didn’t say anything at first. But after we saw the water was being consumed quicker than it was replaced by rain, Pa talked with Leo. He came back that night all beat up… could hardly get out of bed for a week. He wouldn’t tell me what happened, but I had an idea. “I wrote to April’s husband, to Nathan, Stephen, and Becky’s in-laws, but never did hear back. Don’t know if the letters ever made it. You see, Leo pretty much has all the people ‘round these parts scared and they won’t do anything ‘less he gives the okay. I’m afraid the letters never got past the rider. “Until now, it was just Pa and me, trying to make a living and stay alive in the meantime. Tom, the Sheriff, has been good to us, but I don’t think he realizes all Leo’s done. Pa said Tom was a good man and that “he’d do to ride the river with.”

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“I didn’t say anything about my suspicions to him today ‘cause I still don’t know where he stands. I’m a little spooked about everyone. I just don’t know who to trust.” She broke down and started crying. “Now that Pa’s dead, I’ve got nobody and I don’t know what to do.” She struggled to regain her composure. There was more to this story than what she had told him so far, but how much could she trust him? Looking into his deep, brown eyes, she saw such kindness and something else that made her heart skip a beat. She had a strong feeling she could trust him, so after a momentary internal struggle she made a decision. Ed watched her slender figure as she stood up and walked over to the old desk. She pulled open a drawer and withdrew a map. Aware of Ed’s eyes watching her, she turned around to face him. “What I’m going to show you, nobody else knows about but our immediate family. I have to trust somebody right now. My instincts tell me you’re that person, so don’t make a liar out of me.” Ed sat back in his chair, rather surprised at her comments. She had a right to be wary. She didn’t know him, but was looking for a friend to confide in and God knew she had few enough of those around. Swearing in his heart he would someday marry this girl, he felt giddy for the first time in his life. As he watched her unfold the paper, he realized it was a map and also noticed her hands were shaking. Looking at map, then back at him, she asked, “Have you ever heard the story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine?” Ed nodded but remained silent. “Well, there’s some truth to it,” she said. “Pa and the boys went down that way when they heard the story, after we first came here.”

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“Pa met a man related to the Peralta clan. The Peralta’s were the Mexican family who discovered the mine in the Superstition Mountains southeast of Prescott, about 120 miles from here, give or take a few miles. They were in the mining business, though at that time it was considered part of Mexico, not yet the Arizona Territory. “After the Mexican War ended in 1846, the border moved farther south, so the Peralta’s decided to dig out as much ore as they could before the U.S. Government took over the area. While they were making their last trip, loaded down with gold ore, the Apaches attacked, killing most of them. But the Apaches accidentally left one person alive. “The survivor hid until he recovered enough to hide the rest of the gold ore in the numerous caves around that area, then slipped out, and made it back to Mexico. But it wasn’t until years later that he revealed the secret to a friend, Jacob Waltz. “Of course, Waltz, being a Dutchman, searched for the ore many years and brought in outside help to locate it. And that’s how it got its name. They never found the cache. Another miner located over eighteen thousand dollars worth of gold ore in the exact place where the massacre took place several years before. “That started a gold rush into the area. For years, people have searched for the Mother Lode. Pa and the boys spent a couple of weeks there after we first arrived and came back with this map and several hundred dollars worth of raw ore. “They never did admit to locating the stash, but they obviously found something that made the trip worthwhile and plans were made to return. With all that happened over the next few years, it was forgotten and the map lay in Pa’s desk, collecting dust.

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“Pa and I thought at first that Leo was after the gold, but Pa dismissed that idea after realizing only our family knew about it and we hadn’t talked. Pa said the quickest way to meet God was to open your mouth about gold.” Amy paused, realizing she had been talking for over an hour without hearing much in return. She understood it was from stress and the relief of having a friendly ear to listen to her. “I’m bringing this out now because we could try to locate some of this gold and hire hands to help out around here. Seeing that rider come in today made me think we should be protecting ourselves. How do we know what Leo’s got in mind? I’d rather be over prepared than under.” Ed nodded his head in agreement. He enjoyed listening to her talk. She was smart, pretty, and more expressive than any woman he had ever met. She trusted him enough to tell him about her life and he would honor that. “First thing we need to do is get hold of Tom and tell him all you’ve told me. Then, we need to send a letter to your brothers and get them here right quick. There is going to be trouble and we need to be prepared. Thing that’s bothering me is the question, ‘what is it about this land that makes Leo want it so bad he’d bring in hired guns? Have you been over this place and noticed anything unusual or different?’ Amy shook her head and said, “It must be the water rights, though I can’t see why. That dam’s coming in and will supply enough water for everyone in a couple of years. It doesn’t make any sense.” “I’ll sleep out in the bunkhouse tonight and tomorrow we’ll ride into town, talk to the sheriff, and see about hiring some help.” “I haven’t got any money to pay for help,” protested Amy. “How am I going to hire anyone?”

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“Leave that to me. I have some ideas.” Suddenly, he stopped, as a thought struck him. Years before, he heard a rumor that his aunt had married a widower from the Arizona Territory. She’d had two sons and was widowed after Uncle Roger had gone to fight in the Civil War. “These step-brothers of yours. What was their mom’s maiden name?” “Daulton, I believe. Why?” Ed could only shake his head as he began to laugh. It was a small world. “I believe those stepbrothers of yours are my cousins,” he replied. “My father was a Daulton and he had a lot of brothers and sisters, some of whom I’ve yet to meet. Leo has stepped in a pile of cow dung and he doesn’t know it yet. But he will. O Lord, will he ever.” He grinned like a small child as he looked at Amy. “Our family is huge. We all take care of each other. Why, my other cousins will come a running’ once they get word. Rest easy tonight, Darlin’, your troubles will soon be over.” As Amy prepared for bed, she glanced out the window toward the bunkhouse. It was comforting to see a light there and know she wasn’t totally alone. She found her mind wandering back to Ed’s muscular form and imagined him without his shirt, washing up at the basin. Taking his red cotton shirt off in her mind, she could picture the rough washboard abds he must have and the thickness of his chest muscles when he reached for something, or her, to carry in front of him. As he washed the dust of the trail off, his skin, a dark tan with a hint of shadows of leathery sun exposure from extended time on the trail, would suddenly appear vibrant, healthly, glowing, with the desire to be touched. Amy blushed as her thoughts of their skin adjoining wound in her consciousness. She would brush his skin with feathery fingertips, and pray she would not be left cold and alone that night.

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Laughing at herself, she realized her face felt hot and flushed, as though running, and started laughing even more. If felt good! With the thoughts of the day forgotten, Amy felt the familiar tingling starting in the center of her breast and moving downward to her belly. A deep ache, longing, loneliness settled itself inside her loins as she dropped the dress suddenly and darted toward the comfort and warmth of the bed. She climbed into bed, suddenly realizing how exhausted she was. It had been such a long day. Her face again flushed when she recalled the events of that morning and she fell asleep with the memory of Ed’s strong arms around her.

***

Early the next morning Ed hitched up the wagon and Amy drove it into town while he followed on the gray. There was a new shyness about both of them this morning as each recalled their private thoughts from the night before. Ed tried to keep from staring at Amy. She was even more beautiful this morning, despite the dark circles that stress had left under her lovely blue eyes. She had on a dress of blue green calico and her long hair was tied back into a ponytail with a matching ribbon. The noise of the wagon wheels on the rutted road into town made it difficult to talk, so Amy contented herself with just watching Ed from the corner of her eyes. He made a striking figure on his big gray. He did not slouch lazily as some riders are prone to and Amy thought perhaps he’d seen service in the War. While he seemed to ride at attention, he also rode gracefully, as one with his horse.

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They tied up in front of the Sheriff’s Office and, hearing them ride up, Tom came out to greet them. Amy quickly asked if he had a few minutes to talk. Looking at Ed standing soberly nearby, Tom turned and held the door open. The wind followed them into the office and made the “WANTED” posters hanging on the wall near the sheriff’s desk flutter like nervous geese. Pieces of paper lying on the desk rose as if picked up by an unseen hand and floated across the surface, resettling in other areas. Tom shut the door quickly. “Wind might be blowing in some rain finally,” he said as he dusted the seat of a chair for Amy. When Amy was seated he walked over and sat down behind the desk. Tom slouched comfortably in the chair and waited for Amy to speak. Before she began, Ed remarked he would be back in a bit. There were some people he needed to talk to. Amy smiled at him as he walked out the door. Turning back to Tom, she began to tell the same story she had told Ed the previous day. Ed walked down Whiskey Row, his boots kicking up little puffs of dust on the boardwalk. Not being a drinking man himself he marveled that a town could support a whole city block of bars and saloons. The morning was bright. “Perhaps, as Tom had said, the fair wind would blow in a storm,” he thought. “Now’d be the ideal time to drive a herd of cattle in before winter set in.” Holding onto this thought, he did not notice the stranger’s eyes watching him under the old black hat as he passed him on the boardwalk. As Ed stepped into Montezuma’s Saloon, the man disappeared around the corner. Hurrying to Ma Scott’s Hotel, the man ran to room number ten and pounded on the door. “Open up, it’s me”, he whispered loudly. The door opened slowly, and he found himself staring into the barrel of a .36 caliber Walch Navy pistol. The eyes behind it were as cold as the gunmetal itself. They belonged to Paul Boto,

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a man wanted in several territories. Black as agate, deep as hell, the eyes could turn a steer away with their gaze. He glared at Ruiz and waited for the man to speak. “Señor, the man that rode in this morning. I think I know him.” “Well?” growled Paul. He was in no mood this morning for bad news. He had drunk a lot last night and his head hurt like a bull had kicked him. All he wanted was to lie down and nurse a drink or two to relieve his headache. “It’s the Daulton clan. That Hombre is a cousin to Jim, the sheriff down in Tucson. His other cousins are workin’ in one way or another as rangers. I just seen the oldest, Ed, walking into Montezuma’s.” Paul, willing his head to calm down, went slowly back to the bed and sat down. He wasn’t happy with this news. Leo had brought him into this land grab with a promise of easy pickings, some cattle to start him out, and a little land for a ranch -- the one the Baggins were living on now. Grimacing, he stuck the Navy pistol back in the holster. He told Ruiz he’d need to get to the telegraph office and send a message to Fort Laramie in Wyoming as well as to the drop box for mail in Salt Lake City, Utah, in care of Earl Miller. Taking a piece of month-old newspaper, he wrote a quick message and sent Ruiz on his way. Paul lay back on the bed and, holding a wet bandanna against his head, thought back to the day he had met Leo Grant. During the Civil War, he’d been riding out Texas way looking for a few head of Longhorns to rustle, throw his brand on, and use to start his own herd. After fighting for the South a while, he discovered there was no sense of why they were fighting. Most men were joining up just because their cousins or family had gone. Not one of them he spoke with could recall why the fight was even going on in the first place. After hanging around for a couple of months he got fed up with

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the lack of discipline and order. Saddling his mouse colored dun, he rode away one night without a thought to getting caught. When he arrived in Kansas City, he overheard a list of names being read that caught his attention. His name was one of them. Turning to the man next to him at the bar, he asked what the list was for. “Why, them’s yellow-bellied cowards, that’s what”, the man almost spat his reply. “They run off from the army and they’s bein’ hunted down now. Good thing. They’ll hang them for sure as an example to the others for desertion.” Paul, fearing the specter of the gallows looming over him, turned and rode out of town that night. He’d had a hard ride south and had been thinking of heading to Mexico. After entering Arizona Territory several days later, he happened to meet Leo Grant and a man named Sam outside Tucson. Being broke, he jumped at the chance to make some money. Leo and Sam proposed that he, along with two other drifters, get rid of some homesteaders from his land near Prescott and recover a forged deed. After receiving some gold doubloons, he thought about the task ahead. Not liking the unknown, he hired a stranger to take his place by paying him cash money and the two had ridden to Prescott, several days ride north. Of course, it was only a fraction of the amount he’d received from Leo. The other two men hired for the job didn’t care who rode with them as long as they got the rest of the money after they’d cleared the land of the homesteaders. After hearing no word from them for several days, he’d gone into hiding in Prescott until he figured out what to do. Then the word had come yesterday about the three men being killed by a stranger and a band of Apaches. Now Ruiz told him Ed Daulton was here, in this place. Coincidence? He doubted it.

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Chapter Four

Ed had purchased provisions for the ranch at Goldwater’s Mercantile. In addition to the standard fare, including two sacks of flour, a sack of sugar, a few pounds of bacon, ten pounds of coffee, and oats for the horses he had impulsively purchased a length of cloth goods for Amy. He knew that the shirtwaist ruined by the rogue cowboys would be dearly missed as most western women had only one or two changes of clothing. Ed hoped that Amy’s pride would allow her to accept it as a gift instead of looking at it as charity, and looked forward to seeing her dress in the soft pink gingham. Ed’s last stop was back at the sheriff’s office. Tom was seated behind the desk and looked up when Ed came through the door. “What can I do you for, Ed?” Ed looked around the office, “Where’s Amy?” “Oh, she said to tell you she stepped down to Millie’s Shop to check on a hat but I expect she went to catch up on the talk with the women folk there,” Tom replied. “Ok, well, I need to hire a couple a boys this afternoon. Heard you had a man here that was picked up last night for bein’ a little rambunctious. Wondering if I could talk to him.” With a grin, Tom got up. “Oh, you can talk to him, but I doubt he’ll listen. ‘Course I could open the door and let y’all talk face to face.” “That bad, huh?” “Well, me and two of my deputies had to knock him over the head to settle him down a mite. He’s one tough hombre. He walks around with his serape over him all the time. Don’t know how

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he takes the heat during the day, but he swears it cools him down. He’s a tough nut to crack. You’re welcome to him if he’ll go.” Tom used a large metal key to open the door to the cell and stood back, motioning Ed inside. “Wake him up,” he said, with an even larger grin. He stepped away from the cell and hung the key back up. Ed stepped through the door and let it swing shut. “This’ll be fun to watch,” Tom thought. Ed walked over to the form lying on the bed. He had a blue and red serape draped over him. Nudging the man, and stepping back quickly, he watched as the form grunted and turned to face the other way. “Hey, kid,” Ed said loudly. Sitting up, the serape fell away, revealing a lanky cowboy with a large Roman nose and sunken eye sockets, including one that had been blacked in a fight. “What’d ya want?” he asked. “If you’re looking’, I ain’t working'.” Muttering, he started to stand up, then realized where he was. “Dang nab it all, Tom. Why’d you have to go hit me on the head like that?” “This here gent wants to talk to you, Levitt.” Turning to Ed, Tom explained, “Levitt Chubb’s here use’ta work for Marshal Trimball down Texas way, but he’s been doing’ a mite lot of carousing’ lately.” Levitt looked Ed up and down. “Why, I ought to skin you alive, man. You woke me up and me with a blistering’ headache, and all just to ask me about work?” He suddenly swung off the bed and started for Ed despite the fact that Ed had a good four inches height advantage. Expecting something like this, Ed stepped back and stuck out his foot, grabbing Levitt’s arm and swinging him even harder as he tripped over his out-stretched boot.

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Crashing heavily to the floor with a thud Levitt came up a little more warily, circling, his hands clinched like a prizefighter. “Done a little boxing have you?” Ed asked as he faked with a left. Bringing his body around to absorb the hit from the left side, Levitt was rocked in his boots by a right he never saw coming. He shook his head, crouched low, and came in. Getting a couple of feeble punches to his stomach, Ed grinned. He was just beginning to warm up. Life was good. Faking with his right, Ed hit him with a double blow to the gut, putting some power into his fists. With a grunt, but not slowing, Levitt swung a left, followed by a fake right, then another quick left. Having no time to duck and dodge the rain of blows, Ed felt the first knock upside his head. It reeled him back and set his head spinning. Both were being more careful as they stood head to head, using the other as a punching bag. Ed’s body was used to tough living. He took and absorbed the blows with little effect. The problem was Levitt seemed to grow stronger with each blow. The harder he was hit, the quicker he struck. “I’ve tangled with a passel of rattlesnakes,” thought Ed. Backing off to catch their breath, both fighters circled, watching the eyes of their opponent for the first hint of attack. Ed tried to trip Levitt again, but he jumped over Ed’s leg, knocking him down with a blow that seemed to come from nowhere. Backing up, Levitt watched Ed shake his head and climb to his feet before moving in with an upper cut that slammed Ed’s teeth into his mouth and caused the world to go around for a second. Tom pulled up a chair outside the cell and rubbed his hands together in glee. He called to the deputies outside. “This here’s a fight,” he yelled. The deputies came running at his holler and started cheering the fighters on with Tom.

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Ed faked a punch to the gut and when Levitt moved to block it, Ed swung a short stab to the jaw that sent him slamming into the far wall. Moving cautiously, Levitt wiped the sweat from his eyes and failed to see the left, which knocked him into the wall again. Ed moved in, held him against the wall and battered him with both fists. Getting his head into Ed’s chest, Levitt bulled him away with great strength, pushing him into the middle of the cell. Ed threw a wild punch. Levitt stepped back deliberately, and Ed, knocked off balance, fell forward to the floor. He pushed himself up on his hands and knees; his eye was starting to swell shut from the blow he’d taken to the face. A veteran of many fights, Ed realized this man had no cowardice and held a vast reserve of strength, very likely beyond what he was showing. Levitt also had the advantage of youth on his side… being nearly a decade younger than his opponent. His muscles were just now loosening up and he knew this was it. Ed got up on his feet and soon the rhythm of punching became second nature as he rained blow upon blow to the center mass of Levitt’s body. A right landed solidly, causing Levitt to shake his head and blink. The taste of blood was in both their mouths, and the roar of pounding in their ears covered all outside sounds. Ed saw Levitt’s left hand start to come in and attempted to avoid it by ducking, but he was met with the right as he went down. He never saw it coming. Rocked in his boots, he shook the hair from his eyes and tried to figure out a way to end this. He hit Levitt with a feeble right that lacked any staying power. Levitt grinned, sure that he had won the fight. As he stepped in to finish him off, Ed’s fist caught him on the point of the chin like a hammer striking a nail. He fell forward onto the floor. Unsteady on his feet, Ed turned to the men watching. Seeing the smiles on their faces, he waved a hand at them and collapsed on the floor next to the unconscious Levitt.

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***

After Amy finished telling the sheriff all that she had shared with Ed the day before, she told him to let Ed know she’d be back. She hadn’t been to town in a few weeks and wanted to stop in at Millie’s Hat Shop. Millie Watson was a pleasant woman. Although she’d never had children of her own, she had a motherly nature about her. Like Amy, all of the women in the Prescott area flocked to her store for tea and conversation and her sage advice. Millie had learned the hat making trade from her mother who had worked in one of the finest millinery shops in Paris. Whether it was a simple sunbonnet or a fancy hat for a wedding, Millie always had just the thing. As Amy pushed open the door to the shop, the bell tinkled and she could hear the conversation suddenly cease. There was an awkward moment as the women realized it was Amy, as they had just been talking about the goings on at the Baggins ranch the day before. News traveled fast in the small community and such shocking news was big talk. Millie put down the hat she was working on and came immediately from behind the counter. “Oh, Amy dear! I’m so very sorry about your Pa,” she said as she embraced the girl. At the kind words, the dam burst and the tears flowed freely from Amy’s eyes. It was easy to be tough and strong around the men. But it was the sympathy of another woman that was hard to take! Just a few kind words from her friend were all it took to bring the pain and sorrow to the surface. The other women seated around the tea table clucked and crooned with sympathy. There was not a woman present who had not at one time or another lost a husband, child or parent to this wild land.

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“There, there, let it out dear,” Millie soothed as she rubbed Amy’s back and patted her. Sobs racked the girl’s body as she gave in to the grief she had been holding back. After a few moments, Amy drew herself up and regained her composure. Millie handed her a hankie and the women at the tea table set a place for her. Looking around, Amy took comfort in the familiar surroundings. Since her stepmother had died, this was the one place where she felt totally feminine. The smells of the perfumes, the racks of ribbons and lace, the dried flowers hanging from the rafters and always, the tea table set with lace and china. Like stepping into another world, it was a place apart. For an hour or so, the women who came here could forget about the harsh unforgiving arid land beyond the door and be completely immersed in the genteel atmosphere of a Paris parlor. Here was where they first learned of impending romances, expectant mothers and the heartaches of one another’s losses. Here too they learned of the latest fashions and hairstyles outside the Territory, the news from back east and the goings on in California. To Amy, this was an extended family and now more than ever she needed this support system. Being of a private nature, she didn’t say much about Ed although the women were all abuzz about the handsome stranger that had come to her rescue. She related the events but kept her feelings to herself. She wasn’t even sure herself how she felt and attributed much of her attraction toward him to the heightened emotion of her traumatic experience and loss. She was careful to just relay the facts of the events and not give the women anything to speculate or gossip about. All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend the morning and Amy was visibly relaxed when the sheriff stuck his head in the door an hour later. “Amy, can you come to the hotel? There’s something you need to see.”

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***

Ed awoke in a darkened room at the hotel. His head felt like it was going to explode. He remembered having only one other headache this bad. It had been while he was working with dynamite as a digger for the railroad. The smell of uric acid in the air had knocked him down for days. A rancher’s daughter had taken him in and nursed him back to health after some of the boys had dropped him off at a nearby ranch. Now he felt that same sharp stabbing pain that seemed to cause all the sounds in the room to echo in his ears. Lying there in the dark, he wondered what had happened to Levitt. If he’d had any doubts as to hiring him, they were gone now. He and Amy needed a man with Levitt’s grit. With a groan of pain, Ed rolled over and got unsteadily to his feet. He lifted the shade from the window and peering out, realized that it was early morning. He must have been here all night. And what about Amy, where was she? As he limped to the door, pain shot through his body with every footstep, making him realize what a beating he’d taken. Out in the hallway he saw, through his one good eye, Amy hurrying toward him. “What are you doing out of bed?” she asked with concern, trying to lead him back into the room. “Where’s Levitt?” “He’s down the hall being tended to by the doctor. You gave him a pretty hard knock; one he’ll not forget for a few days, but he’ll be okay soon as he’s rested a bit.” “What room’s he in?” Seeing his mind was made up not to go back to bed, Amy sighed, “Come on.” She led him down the hall to Levitt’s room. Softly tapping on the door, she pushed it open a few inches.

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“You all can come in,” a voice called. “I heard you out there talking’. Is my boss with you?” With a worried frown, Ed opened the door and walked in. Levitt was lying on the bed with his swollen face bandaged, one eye closed, and his left hand bound in cloth. “Figured maybe you’d like that job now?” “Mister, you hired yourself a hand yesterday. I’ve never been beat, but good God Almighty, you done just that.” Grinning, he sat up and extended his right hand. Ed reached down and shook it with pleasure. “I only got lucky. If you hadn’t walked into that last punch, I’d a been plum wore out. I was gettin’ worried you might decide to end it before I could. Whenever you’re ready, come on down to the Double Diamond ranch and we’ll have a place for you.” “I’m ready now,” said Levitt. Swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, he glanced at Amy. “Much obliged if you’d give me a minute. Some rascal took my pants and I’ll be shot fore I’d get up without ‘em.” Amy blushed at the thought and glanced at Ed. “Meet you downstairs,” she whispered as she made a hasty retreat.

***

Ed and Levitt ordered two thousand .44 caliber rifle cartridges and several hundred boxes of Colt ammunition at the General Store. They left the goods in the owner’s care to load into the wagon while they grabbed a bite to eat. After meeting up with Amy, they all strolled to the cantina for breakfast. Ed noticed for the first time that Amy no longer wore the “town dress” she’d had on the day before. She had

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changed into a light yellow shirtwaist with a faded blue riding skirt and comfortable, durable boots. “You look nice this morning’,” he commented. Amy blushed and stared at her coffee cup. “Thank you,” she said sweetly. “I’ve stayed with the Widow Doris before and always keep a change of clothes at her house in case I need them.” Amy said in way of explanation. Levitt grinned and hid his smile behind his coffee cup as he watched the exchange between the two. They all ate with relish, enjoying the eggs and bacon they had ordered, refilling their coffee cups many times during the meal. Levitt burped as he pushed back from the table, turned bright red, and apologized. Amy’s sweet, high laugh thrilled Ed to his boots and he joined in with a deep chuckle. He had a sense of well being this morning. Not wanting to destroy the feeling, he felt a pang of regret when he brought up the subject of the homestead and the men who had broken into the house. + When he finished filling Levitt in on what was happening, Levitt remarked, “You’ll be needing’ more’n just me. Since you’re gonna to be running’ cattle, I know a couple of good vaqueros in a little hacienda ‘bout a mile out of town that are honest and hardworking. They’re good folks and ride for the brand. Why I have never seen, anyone handle a horse or a cow as well as these boys. They’ve been living’ alone for a while and are probably bored stiff. They’re good with a gun and not afraid to stand up to a bear.” Ed agreed to meet with the men and was aware that Amy was waiting for something to do as well. He asked her to take the wagon on ahead, stop by the Howell ranch, and wait there for them. The sheriff had given him an idea the day before and he wanted to follow up on it.

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Ed took a last swig of coffee, paid the bill and escorted Amy outside. As he helped her into the wagon, she squeezed his hand tightly. “Be careful, please!” she said with genuine concern in her voice. Ed did not let go of her hand immediately, liking the way her small hand felt in his large rough one. She, too, seemed reluctant to let go as her fingers caressed his hand just a moment longer. Amy took up the reins, lightly slapped the horse on the rump, and started slowly down the street, as if she wasn’t eager to part from him. As they rode out of town the two men noticed the many graves belonging to the first pioneers to the area. They had arrived when the Indians had ruled the countryside. Many a good pioneer died fighting for the right to live in this God forsaken country. Here they lay in unmarked graves, soon to be forgotten except by time. Only their families would wonder what became of them. For some, only God would know who they were and judgment day would determine what they contributed to the greater cause of the West. As the morning coolness dissipated, the promised hint of rain the day before was nowhere in sight just lazy puffs of smoke like clouds blowing across the hazy sky. Walking their horses into the yard of the hacienda, they heard a young man call from the shadows of the porch. “ Hold up there folks.” Levitt pushed his hat back so his face could be seen clearly and not shadowed. “Hey Carlos, where’s your brother?” Nodding towards the house, Carlos pulled out a bag of tobacco and expertly rolled a cigarette. Taking his time, he struck a match against the bottom of his shoe and inhaled a long deep puff before asking, “Whadda ya need, Levitt?” “I just was kinda wonderin’ if you and Felix might like a job. This here gent needs some cattle and plans on running a herd for Miss Baggins.”

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Hearing the sound of a hammer being cocked, they stayed still and waited. “Levitt, we don’t like strangers coming’ here. Why’d ya bring him? Talk round town is of a stranger moving’ in with the idea of ridding the good folk here of their worldly possessions. Who’s the chap riding with yaw?” Levitt slowly dismounted his horse. “Be back in a sec,” he told Ed. He slowly approached and stopped a short distance in front of Carlos. “Tell Felix I come to make a good offer. He knows me, and right now I’m getting’ a little pissed off that he has a gun on me. You might talk some sense into your brother ‘fore I go find someone else not so inclined to turn down a good job with a good man.” Levitt had to be careful. He had not seen the brothers in awhile and they obviously knew of the happenings in town and at the Baggin place. A man knew it might not be the Indian that got you, or the steer that broke your leg. It might be someone you considered a friend until they suspected you of committing a crime they wouldn’t tolerate. Then all bets were off. Carlos nodded at an unseen shadow and Felix rounded the corner with his Winchester still held level. “Needing’ you boys to help us out, Felix,” remarked Levitt. “This here’s Ed. He’s foreman for the Baggin place. We’re on our way to Mr. Howell’s to pick up some cattle and start a herd to breed and run over to Fort Worth.” Ed shifted in the saddle uneasily as he watched the muzzle of the Winchester point his way. Felix’s eyes were hard and cold. “I’ll pay 30 dollars a month and a percentage of the entire herd sold when we get to Fort Worth. Levitt says you’ll do to ride with. That’s good enough for me. If you boys are interested, you know where the ranch is.”

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Ed motioned to Levitt and rode away. Before mounting, Levitt said, “This man took me on in a fair fight. He’s a good man. We sure could use y’all if you’ve a mind.” Slapping his spurs against the horse’s flank, he trotted off with his back stiff in anger. Catching up to Ed, he remained quiet, fuming inside. He thought he’d looked like a fool in bringing him here. But Ed commented, “They’ll be along. I like their carefulness. Preciate you bringing’ me over. I’d rather have someone too careful than too trusting.” Levitt relaxed and enjoyed the ride. A jackrabbit darted from under the brush and bounded away. Heat waves formed, making the arid land dance before their eyes; mountains grew hazy in the distance. A buzzard flew over, but seeing they would make poor pickings, flew away in search of an easy meal. Stopping to drink from the canteens hanging from their saddles, they dismounted to stretch their legs. Juniper, pine and sagebrush brought a ting to the nostril. A bull snake slid from under the brush, causing the ears of the horses to twitch as they snorted in dismay. Ed stroked the mane of his horse and thought about a saying he had heard many times from the Mexican hands. “El charro se hace con baba, no con barda… A cowboy is made when he is a slobbering babe, not after he’s grown a beard.” The life of a cowhand was tough, but it was worth it. No one knew better how beautiful the western sunrises were or the peaceful feeling when a man rode these wide-open plains. This was God’s country. Many easterners, used to the hustle and bustle of a city, could not understand what drew a man west. They didn’t know the feeling of worth after a hard day’s work; or the restful sleep beside a flickering campfire, scaring away the chill of the night. Lying under a million glowing glittering stars made you felt small, yet alive. Ed remembered looking up at the night sky and wondering how this harsh land appealed to so many who had dared try to make a life here. Take

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Amy, for instance. Even now that she had no family left and was virtually alone, she hadn’t given a thought to going back east. He could tell she was a part of this rugged, beautiful country and that made her even more attractive to him. A man would be proud to have such a woman by his side.

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Chapter Five

In 1852, throughout the northern plains, the Blackfoot created havoc for white settlers moving into the area. The Blackfoot originally lived in the Saskatchewan province of Canada. When the Chippewa ran them out, forcing them to move south they did so from the Yellowstone lands, made their way to the Rockies, then into Arizona Territory, conquering all in their way. They believed the white men were moving into the northwest to steal beaver pelts, so the Blackfoot made it their goal to kill as many as they could, while also seeing an opportunity to enlarge their pony herds. The Blackfoot name for the horse was ponokahmeta and it was their bargaining tool. Many times, they choose to steal rather than purchase this commodity. To survive the onslaught of white men moving into the west, the Blackfoot also traded fur pelts for Charlesville muskets with the French Canadian fur trappers or voyageurs. Real problems with the white adventurers began on July 26, 1806. Merewether Lewis and William Clark fought the Piegan clan, an offshoot of the Blackfoot, at Two Medicine Lodge Creek, near the United States and Canadian border. Staving off the attack that originally was meant to steal horses, they fought until ammunition ran low. Although Lewis and Clark survived, many men on both sides of the skirmish lost their lives that day. Knowing they had been lucky, Lewis and Clark were glad to leave Blackfoot territory with their scalps intact. In February of 1835, Kit Carson made a stand against the Blackfoot when they stole many horses from his Ramada. They met again three months later near Three Forks on the Missouri River. Mountain Man Jim Bridger and Carson fought the Blackfoot for an entire day, killing many, but failing to drive them off. Only after the Indians set a prairie fire, did they realize this battle was

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not to be won. Several more small battles took place as the Blackfoot fought to keep the last vestiges of the Indian way. In their quest for horses and survival, they migrated south and westward, dividing their own people into many other tribes. Some made it into Arizona Territory where they took squaws and produced children. These children grew to become fierce warriors who attacked the settlers of the southwest. Known for their bloodlust, it was not only the white man who feared the Blackfoot. The Sioux, Crow, Apache, and Navajo, came to know them as the most vicious tribe in the west.

***

Ed and Levitt rode into the Howell ranch about noon. Dismounting, they led their horses to the trough and watched them quench their thirst. Then the men removed their hats and plunged their faces into the water. With water dripping from their hair, they took off their kerchiefs and wiped the water from their faces and necks. Shaking out the excess and wrapping the kerchiefs back around their necks, they felt much cooler. A body needed coolness on the head during the heat and cover during the chill to stay comfortable. Amy was waiting for them on the veranda with old man Howell. Her pulse quickened when she saw Ed with his dark hair shiny and wet, coming across the yard. Realizing that she was staring, she blushed and turned quickly away so he wouldn’t see. Mr. Howell invited the men into the house and they all sat down to the lunch prepared by Mrs. Howell. “Mighty decent of you folks to set this spread out for us,” Ed remarked. Howell shrugged his shoulders.

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After a tasty lunch of fried chicken and cornbread, Amy rose to help Mrs. Howell clear the table while the men talked. “I’ll tell you the way I see it, boys,” Howell said. “I’ve known Amy here since she was kneehigh to a grasshopper. Now you boys I don’t know, but Amy here’s spoken up for you. You treat her right or I’ll come huntin’ you myself.” Ed and Levitt had no doubt this old bow-legged rancher would do exactly as he said he would. “We’ve been talking with Amy. Even though the deputies buried her pa out at the ranch, we’re still gonna have a service tomorrow at Pine Bluff cemetery for him. Deacon Jones will officiate. Afterward, we’ll have a get-together here at the house.” Howell’s eyes held genuine affection for Amy. He had the dark stubble of a beard he had not shaved this morning and eyes that looked tired. “He cares a great deal for her,” thought Ed. Amy’s eyes started to tear up and she hurried from the room. Ed hated himself for not finding those responsible for the killing yet. He just didn’t have enough information to go on. Tom was doing some asking around. Levitt was here to help work the ranch, and he was sure the Mexican brothers would be along. He was doing everything he could, but the thought still nagged him. Why did all this happen in the first place? As soon as the letters he’d sent to his cousins were delivered, he would have the brainpower of a lawman, a Federal agent, and many a cowhand that knew all the ins and outs of ranching, to help him work it out. Until then, he was on his own. “Wonderin’ if you’d be able to tell me where I could pick up a herd round these parts, sir,” Ed asked Howell. “I’ve got some of the hands lined up for a drive. Now I just need something’ to keep ‘em occupied.”

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Howell stroked his stubble as he thought about the answer. “This time last year, I could have sold you some cattle but the drought’s been rough and I ain’t got much left. What little I have is just enough to keep food on my table. “You could try up Wyoming way. Talk is that they got more than enough cattle for people moving in. Word come down the line that they are looking’ for a buyer ‘fore winter sets in hard and wipes out some of the stock. There’s an outfit there, the Circle R Ranch, that’ll sell for cash. But they’ll make it clear; once you leave their lands, you’re on your own. “Lots of accidents could happen between there and here. You’ll need at least ten men and some saddle stock, along with a fine cook. Know a man livin’ down the flats a bit that’ll take care of that last problem. He worked at a fancy hotel back east before he come here. Worked at the diner in town for a bit too, before he got fed up with the lack of compliments ‘bout his cooking. Proud man, he is. But worth it.” Amy and Mrs. Howell came back into the dining room with fresh coffee and pie. Ed looked tenderly at Amy and asked the Howells, “You think it’d be all right to have her sit a spell with you while we head up that way? Just too much goin’ on and I’d feel better off she wasn’t out at the ranch by herself.” Howell answered without hesitation, “Amy’s as welcome here as one of our own. Me and the Missus would be glad to have her stay.” Amy stared at the men. “Do I have a say-so or are you two telling me what to do?” “Ma’am,” Levitt said, “Ed’s just trying to help out. After what he’s told me, it may be best for you to stay away from home for a while. We don’t know what hand we’re dealing’ with, and I’d hate to show my cards without a better understanding’ of the pot.”

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“I’ll call on the widow, Doris June to see if she’d come stay with me, for I won’t mind the company, but I’m going’ home. I’m afraid if I stay away too long, I won’t have a home to go back to. The animals need to be taken care of, the house is dirty, and I’ve got things to do. I’m not afraid.” Amy retorted. “Not saying you are, Amy, but I’d rest easier if you was to stay here,” Ed said. Shaking her head, Amy turned with a swish and marched from the room. Ed secretly admired her pride and bravery. “What a woman,” he thought. He turned toward Howell. “You’ll look in on her from time to time?” he asked.

*** Along the road into Prescott, Lays a long stretch of dirt trail, which was used by men and wild animals alike. A thin man named Lou, sat upon a sorrel with his hat pulled down over his eyes to shield him from the sun. Lazily he closed his eyes and let himself be drawn into a sense of calm and sleepiness. A snap sounded off the dessert land around him and brought him out of his reverie. Lou, seeing from first glance, what appeared to be a Blackfoot Indian from their feathering, leapt from behind a large boulder with a bow, and let loose an arrow toward him. Lou squeezed his horse with his knees and lay down across its neck. He was headed for the shelter of an outcropping of rocks that lay just ahead. If he could make it to Willow Creek Basin, he might have a fighting chance. The trail verged sharply left and then broke off, fading out at the face of a large rock. Seeing his only chance, Lou leapt from his horse as it neared the boulder. He landed hard and the air crushed from his chest as he hit the rock with a solid impact. His riderless horse disappeared around the bend of the rocks. Quickly climbing the rough surface, he reached for his

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pistol and crouched behind a large sagebrush bush near a patch of prickly pear cactus. Hearing only his own hoarse breathing, Lou struggled to regain control of his breath. Peering over the top of the bush, he waited. He heard the braves as they discovered his horse below and he knew he only had a few moments before they tracked him to where he had dismounted. Running from his hiding place, climbing over more rocky areas, and skirting large clumps of cactus, he halted as he saw the shimmer of light reflecting from water hidden among the boulders. He realized he might not get another chance drink and he was thirsty from the chase. After drinking his fill, he moistened his bandanna and tied it again around his neck. He considered his next move while he scouted the landscape. He thought he saw a quick flash of movement off to the right but looked again only from the corner of his eye instead of directly on, knowing he would better be able see movement if there were any. He spotted a large black ant carrying a leaf a hundred times its own body weight. Never hesitating, the ant kept its destination firm in its mind. A gnat flew in front of his face, sending its angry whine to his ears. Wanting to swipe at it, but fearing the sudden movement would bring attention, he tried to ignore it. The wind slightly moved a branch; a leaf fell with what seemed a loud thud in the stillness. He had to move. As he lifted his boot to place it carefully in front of him, he heard the voices. They were coming into view, not seeming to care that he had made it this far. This was a game; they were the hunters and he was the prey. Talking softly, the large one with the headdress and breechcloth stopped, looked around, and then disappeared from view behind the rocks again. The glimpse of eagle feathers tipped in black and the red sash on his breechcloth identified them as Blackfoot. Only the good Lord could get him out of this fine mess. The Blackfoot held

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the distinction of being able to kill a man slowly, over a period of hours or even days, all the while keeping him conscious for their enjoyment. As he drew his foot carefully back, an arrow careened against the rock on his right, followed by another, then another. He dove into a thicket of brush, scrambling to maintain his balance down the slope through cactus needles and ant piles. Feeling a searing pain in his left leg, he suddenly lost control of his body and fell, striking the ground hard. Struggling to get up, he turned to see a Blackfoot warrior running toward him, screaming a victory whoop. Bringing his gun up, he fired striking the Indian directly in the chest, sending him reeling head over heels down the slope. The second brave showed himself near a small juniper. Lou chanced a shot and missed, taking another shot as he tried to stand. His legs collapsed and he crawled behind the nearest rock, trying to make as small a target as he could, waiting for his fate. He saw the quivering end of the arrow embedded in his left leg. Grabbing the shaft, he tried to pull it out, but felt the gall rise as he barely maintain consciousness. Needing to move, but knowing the shaft would catch on rocks and trees, he grabbed a hold of the end, gritted his teeth, and pushed down while holding the part nearest to his leg steady. Again, he felt the blackness overtaking him and a groan escaped his lips. The shaft snapped leaving one end inside his leg and he tossed the other end away. Drawing deep breaths, he sat still until the nausea passed. Then taking out his gun he wiped the dust off, checked the cylinder and found three fired rounds. He had only fired once, hadn’t he? Reloading, he heard the rustle of movement. He chanced a peek over the rock, only to have an arrow chip splinters of granite into his face as it glanced off the boulders. The noise of movement grew louder. Hearing the warrior coming, he prepared for the worst, but instead heard the roar of a rifle and saw the brave clutch his chest, spin around, and collapse

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in a shower of dirt and twigs. Spinning his head to see the source of the shot, he heard whooping coming from the other side of the hill. He wanted to stand, but sank back with resignation. He felt movement, then a friendly voice whispering. “Can you make it outta here?” someone asked. Relief washed over him as he attempted to turn. “Don’t turn toward me. Just slide your butt along the ground toward the sound of my voice. There’s plenty more comin’ this way. We need to get you out of here quickly if we want our scalps to sleep on tonight.” Lou nodded and slid along in the dirt, feeling cactus needles poking him with angry stings. Moving by pushing up, scooting back, and sitting down again, it felt as if he’d sat in a bed of hot coals and one was embedded in his leg. He felt the grasp of strong arms lift him under the shoulders and drag him to a horse nearby. Hoisting him into the saddle with effort and a quiet grunt, the rescuer slid a rifle in his hands. “I expect you can use that Winchester,” the man quietly said and got a nod in return. His rescuer made a face at Lou’s next words. “Those are the Blackfoot, I seen their headdress and breeches.” “We best get movin’ before they find us,” his rescuer said, as he began leading the horse down the slope. “I’ll mount behind you when we get on flat land, then we’re going to run all out. I rested my gelding this morning so he’s itching’ to go. Your bay may be up the road a bit if they haven’t got him yet.” “Who are you?” gasped Lou. “Doug Rawlinss,” the rescuer replied, turning to look at Lou, who had passed out. “Best for what’s ahead anyway,” Doug thought. He led the horse around rocks that looked like the visages left over from a large whirling flood, cutting many shapes and edges into the surrounding face. Feeling he was out of danger for the moment, he mounted the gelding and let it take its breath,

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jump, adjust to the weight of two, and then settle down for the run. “Going to need you, ol’ boy,” Doug said, as he stroked its black mane. Flicking both ears, the gelding leapt from a standstill and ran with all his power. Hearing the yells of the Indians behind him, Doug realized how close he had cut this. Across the plains they ran. He knew the warriors on foot had launched arrows his direction, but he was already out of range. Three mounted warriors set off in pursuit, riding ponies that were already tired before they stopped to search for this man. His gelding, being fresh, left the ponies well behind. Knowing he had escaped, Doug realized he’d been holding his breath the whole time. Taking a deep breath, he let the horse have his head and settle down to the rhythm of a smooth canter. ***

Amy was in the house putting away the supplies Ed had purchased in town when had come in with a package wrapped in brown paper tied with a string. For a man who usually seemed so sure of himself he was suddenly shy and awkward. “Umm, Amy…” he started. Amy felt a jolt at hearing him say her name. “I’m being ridiculous,” she thought and brushed off the feeling. “Yes, Ed?” “I picked something up for you in town, I hope you’ll not be offended or take it the wrong way… it’s just, I thought you could use this to replace what those men ruined…” he broke off, embarrassed. Curious, Amy took the package and untied the string. Pulling back the wrapping paper, she gasped at the sight of several yards of soft pink gingham. Tears came to her eyes and ran unchecked down her face. “Thank you,” she said softly as she sat abruptly at the table.

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Ed shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He was uncertain of how to deal with Amy’s reaction, not having much experience with the emotions of women. His heart ached for her and he hoped he hadn’t caused her more pain. After a moment, Amy rose, wiped her eyes with her sleeve and came toward him. Ed looked questioningly into her eyes and was surprised when she impulsively gave him a hug. Now it was his turn for a jolt to shoot through his body. He started to say something but was interrupted by a shout from Levitt in the yard. Amy and Ed both ran to the door and opened it in time to see a rider gallop into the yard with a man draped across the saddle in front of him. They recognized the rider as Doug Rawlinss but did not know the injured man. “Found this man in the Dells in a heap of trouble. He got himself cornered by a band of Indians and he’s in rough shape. Can you help him out Miss Baggin?” “Oh, surely, I will.” Amy was quick to offer. “Ed, Levitt, get him into the house. You can put him in Pa’s bed. Mr. Rawlinss, will you come in for a bite of supper?” she added. “No thank you Miss Baggin, I really should be getting over to the Grant place. Leo will be wondering why I haven’t showed up yet. I ‘preciate your taking this guy in.” With a tip of his hat, he rode off. Amy rushed into the house to tend to the injured mans wounds. When it was clear to all that the man was not mortally wounded, Ed told Amy he would send Levitt into Prescott for the doctor in the morning. He could see, however, that her skill as a nurse far surpassed that of many a frontier doctor. She had cleaned the wound, stitched it skillfully, and bandaged the other injuries. Now the injured man was sleeping restfully and the only thing needed was time for him to heal.

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***

Doug Rawlinss rode into the Bar 7 Ranch two days later just as morning broke over the horizon. Shadows from the Bradshaw Mountains threw a gloom over the ranch, leaving a chill in the early morning light. Smoke rose from the house, and he could hear yelling from the bunkhouse. A large grey dog stood in the ranch yard barking at the bunkhouse and completely ignoring Doug as he rode up to the house. Having had only tough jerky for a meal yesterday, his stomach rumbled at the aroma of bacon frying. The front door opened and a rotund man wearing a set of strapped down six-shooters stepped out on the porch. “I expect you’re Leo,” drawled Doug. “Slim hired me down Tucson way to do a job herding’ for y’all.” “Step on down, grab some grub,” Leo replied. “SHUT UP, PRINCE!” he yelled at the dog. Looking at the man’s tied down guns Leo was satisfied that Slim had done as he asked. He’d told him he wanted a good hand who could herd cattle and carry a gun and know how to use it if need be. “You ever rode the line shacks?” Leo asked. “Most of my jobs have been out there,” Doug replied. “I’d rather be working’ out on the line than hanging’ round the ranch anyway.” Dismounting, he adjusted his chaps and straightened his shirt. There was still blood on it from picking up the rider two days before. Never having learned the name of the rider, he had dropped him off the Baggin place and lit shuck. Slim had told him to avoid town. He had been starving, but he didn’t want to impose on Amy any further. After all, she had her hands full enough nursing the wounded man. The cantina in Prescott was the last place he wanted to be seen. Everyone talked about the customers, trying to figure out where they

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came from by their dress and manner. So, he’d gone ahead with only more jerky and a swig from his canteen. Leo waved him into the house. He pulled up a chair and motioned to Doug to do the same. Henry had brought word from Sam that he was rounding up a crew and would be here in another day or so. With Doug’s arrival his crew was assembling. The time for the land grab was upon him. Leo was in such a hurry to find out if this man was the one he could trust that he rushed into all questions, without waiting for the answers in between. “Tell me about yourself, Doug. Where’ would Slim grab you from? What did he tell you? How long you been cowpokin’?” Before Doug could answer, Henry brought over a cup of coffee, four eggs and a slab of bacon. Setting them in front of Leo, he turned with a question in his eyes. “Feed the man,” snapped Leo. Henry brought another plate as full as Leo’s and Doug ate with relish. The food was excellent. Henry was as good a cook as any... and Doug had tasted some of the best cooking across the land. After polishing off the food and several cups of coffee he sat back and rolled a smoke. He glanced around the room, taking his time responding to Leo’s questions. It was a nice log cabin with an extended roof and many mounts on the walls -- heads of large elk, mule deer, white tail, and a mountain lion. Several rifles were inside a gun cabinet, with boxes of ammunition below. Old pony express papers sat on a table made from the stump of a great oak whose surface had been polished to reflect the room. Doug wondered which of Leo’s questions to answer first and how much truth he should tell. In this part of the country, a man didn’t ask too many questions about one another. Men made their way by the deeds they did and the honor they showed.

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He told Leo about working as a hand for the Lazy 6 in Tucson, where he’d quit after some trouble over a woman with a couple of cowhands. Doug was run out of Tombstone by the local sheriff and his friends. Leo was happy to hear about these brushes with the law. He would be able to do what he needed without worrying whether this new rider would be supportive. Leo told Doug where the line shack was and what he required for the outfit. He supplied him with an extra sack of grub and ammunition. “Just in case I come calling’, you’ all a need it for just to keep me happy,” he explained with a grin. “I’m going to need a hand that’s loyal.” Leo said. “Yaw ride for the brand out here, so can I count on you to be loyal?” Doug looked at him with black steely eyes, “I work and ride for the folks that pay me. I’m not looking’ for trouble, just a place to hole up, work both my horse and me, and make some cash money to spend in town on a weekend once in a while. Yeah, I ride for the brand.” Leo led the way as they stepped out onto the porch. Prince came from under it and barked at Leo. Then seeing the stranger with him, wagged his hind end and the short stub of a tail attached to it. “Soon as you get up the line, send Slim back here for a talk. I’ll have Joe stay with you until I hire another hand. Shouldn’t be more than a couple of weeks. They’re already on the way.” A thought struck Leo, “By the way, there’s things up there best left alone. Had some trouble with some boys taking’ it into their fool heads to asking too many questions. So many is unhealthy these days.” Gesturing towards Doug’s guns, he continued, “Best know how to use ‘em. Keep what you see up there to yourself. I want no talk about it. Slim hired you for your brawn and cow sense,

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not your brain. Let’s make sure we keep it that way.” He went into the house and shut the door, leaving Doug to chew things over in his mind. Doug tied the sack of grub to the saddle horn and headed in the direction Leo had shown him. Picking up the trail easily enough, he let the horse have its head and as he chewed his lip, thinking about the unusual conversation he’d just had.

Chapter Six

A cold wind blew through the pines the morning they left for Laramie, Wyoming. Ed had come in from the bunkhouse to say goodbye to Amy. Concern made Amy’s blue eyes look grey. Ed peered into their depths and thought he saw longing there that matched his own. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me, you taking on my troubles like this.” Amy said softly with a prodigious grin There was so much Ed wanted to elucidate, but now was not the time, so he simply replied, “You’ll be alright ‘til we return? The Widow Doris will be here soon, so time should go quickly for you until we get back with the herd.” “Yes, I’ll be fine. It’s you I’m worried about. This isn’t exactly the safest time of year to be headed north… and what about Indians… and wild animals… and outlaws… and… and…” Ed chuckled at her childlike outburst. She was probally somatic also about getting sick, but did not know him well enough to say. “We’ll be OK. I’ve got some good men riding with me.

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We might be an anomaly, just the few of us riding out with winter coming in but we’ll be back before you know it.” Now that was said with resonance, he thought. Giving her hand a quick squeeze, slightly longer than was neccissary, then he was gone. As the men rode north through Big Chino country, the leaves nestled against the Cottonwood trees, clinging for an extra day before dropping. Autumn had turned the landscape brown, but an abundance of color sprang forth in the high country. The Aspens on Bill Williams Mountain shed yellow leaves, muffling the sound of the horses’ hooves and red swatches of color showed as the great oaks prepared for the coming winter. A dusting of snow capped the peaks while a feathering of clouds intertwined with the tops, creating shadows below. Tall pines shed their cones and dry crackling needles fell to the ground. There would be an abundance of fire starting materials if they needed it. The men reconnoitered at the northeast facing cliff where they had just left behind the juniper pines, cedars, and redbud trees as they crossed the plains heading north toward the large mountain range ahead. Needing meat for the trip, plans had been made to hole up near the crest of the mountain and hunt for elk that roamed the area. A large elk would feed the crew a week or more, providing a change from the standard fare of the substance they called food, on the trail. Felix and Carlos Moncada were in front driving the extra saddle stock purchased the week before in Prescott from the O’Neill ranch. The brothers had ridden in a couple of days before glad Ed hadn’t pressured them to come. Levitt and three other hands brought up the rear, pulling the pack mules loaded for the rough winter ahead. It was a bad time to set out riding eighteen hundred miles for a herd. However, being unable to find enough local stock, they had no choice. The only good thing to be said about it was that water should be plentiful with the snowfall.

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As they crossed onto a lava bed, Ed halted the caravan. The rocks were sharp and a body could be badly hurt if he fell on these rocks, as the lacerations could be deeper than the cut from a Bowie knife. Ice caves were formed in areas where the outer surface of the lava had cooled more quickly than the inside, leaving behind lacunae isolated patches of ground and continuing with tunnels of rock as it cooled down. Lava acted as an insulator, trapping cool air and moisture to form an ice cavern in the middle of the desert. Food would remain chilly year round inside them and Ed wanted to find one for future needs. Some of the tunnels Ed had found in the past were anywhere from a hundred feet to several miles long. Ed motioned to Levitt and Felix to join him. “Seems like a good time to rest the horses a bit. Y’all want to ride with me and scout this flow out, an see where she goes?” Levitt searched the barren landscape with his eyes before replying. “Why don’t we send Carlos on ahead with Tim and Rob so’s they can scout out a spot for the night? We’ll catch up to them later.” Nodding, Ed raised his eyebrows at Felix. Felix blinked, an acquiesce grin beneath his large mustache, “Si, Señor.” Ed and Felix readjusted the cinches on their saddles while waiting on Levitt to give the crew the news about their plans. When Levitt returned, they mounted and started picking their way across the flow. Where the lava had slowed while flowing around obstructions such as high land or large stones it had tried to obliterate all the grass in its path. Leaving behind hardened patches of clear ground, which held temperatures cold in its clement soil, here and there bits of dry brown grass starkly showed against the dark rock. These fertile areas drew many elk and deer that fed on the clumps of grass in the clearings. Following their tracks, the men carefully let the horses pick their way across the flow. Getting to the other side and stopping, Ed grew perplexed.

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There had to be caves here. Too many signs pointed to it. In this high country, they had enough moisture to create the caves. But, where were they? Felix dropped off his horse and walked to a clump sticking out of the ground. He grabbed the end and worked it free from the topsoil. The roots were coated pale white with moisture. He followed a faint trail that abruptly ended against a wall of rock ten to twenty feet high. Around its base, a tall outcropping of rock pointed to the sky, providing the first clue. The tracks going toward the rock ended suddenly in front of what appeared to be a solid wall. On his hands and knees, Felix began running his hands over the surface. His hand disappeared in a groove in the rock and he found an opening that never would have been seen from another vantage point. There was a hole in the side of the mountain hidden behind the face, giving the impression of a smooth surface. The opening was only four feet tall and no more than eighteen inches wide. Felix felt the cool air coming from the mouth of the cave. “Over here,” he yelled, his voice echoing inside the opening. Ed and Levitt hurried over. “Followed the tracks to here,” Felix said. Ed lit a match only to have the air from the cave, blow it out. “We’ll need a torch,” he said. Levitt turned and went to the clump of grass Felix had pulled out. Wrapping it with a piece of rawhide he had in his shirt pocket, he handed the end to Ed. CRawlinsg inside the cave, Ed paused to let his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, which seemed to stretch on forever. The little light the torch threw off created a false impression of safety. He shivered in the cool air as he moved along the cave floor. Following the dim path for twenty feet, he came to a cavern tall enough to stand up in. Shadows danced off the far wall, only ten feet away. No exit other than the one he’d crawled through was visible. This will do, thought

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Ed. “Find some good landmarks,” he said as he crawled out of the cave mouth. “Come summer, we can use this place to store meat and such.” Mounting their horses they tracked the rest of the cowhands to the spot chosen for the night. As they rode in, smoke was drifting lazily in the gentle breeze and the smell of beans and bacon was in the air. “Best rest early,” Ed remarked. “Come first light we’ll go hunting’ for some meat. I’ll take first watch, Levitt, if you do second, and Carlos’ll finish it off. We’ll rotate everyone, three a night, until we feel we need more.” Nodding, the men finished their chow and began settling down for the night. Ed watched the last light fade out and the stars faintly start their trip across the night sky. The moon had rings around it. Gonna be some wet weather coming soon, he thought. As he pushed the coffeepot deeper into the red glowing coals, Ed avoided staring directly into the fire. He needed his night vision. His mind turned again to Amy. He just could not keep her out of his thoughts these days. He wondered what she was doing, what she was thinking, how she was feeling. It had been hard for him to read her given all the emotion and turmoil the loss of her father had caused her. He did not want to take advantage of her needing a friend, yet he felt there was something stronger than friendship there. He felt it… did she? There would be time enough to tell once they found the reason behind her Pa’s death. Once he got the herd back to the Double Diamond Ed was not going anywhere for a while. Prescott was as good a place as any to put plant a tree with or without a woman by his side. “Who am I kidding?” he thought. “I’m done smitten for sure!” He grinned at the though amazed he could fall for someone he still did not know, yet had a stake in her ranch, life and being from this moment on.

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***

Ed was startled awake by a kick on his stocking feet, causing every sense to come alert. He didn’t remember grabbing the gun that was now in his hand. “Hey, hey,” said Levitt. “Sorry, didn’t know you’d be so jumpy. I figured you’d want to head out before too long.” Ed grunted, replaced his pistol, and rubbed sleep from his eyes. He barely remembered turning in the night before. “You were awful tired,” said Levitt as he stoked the fire to life. “’Spect you needed that rest more than you thought.” Ed pulled his boots on, stood up, and stamped his feet against the morning chill. Walking to the fire, he poured a cup of coffee that was more like tar since it had warmed all night in the bed of coals. Hearing noise behind him, he turned to see Carlos leading his horse. “Been out this morning listening to the bugle of the elk. Theres a bull down over the ridge to the north that’s been grunting his fool head off. Figure we can take one horse to pack it out and leave the others here.” Ed pulled out his rifle and checked the loads. Noticing that he was ready to go, the others pulled their hats on tight and headed out. Walking into the darkness, they felt the stillness of the coming day settling upon them. A full moon had set hours before and now there was nothing but the stillness and utter blackness just before dawn. The guttural cough of an old bull elk sounded, breaking the silence. Following the sounds, the hunters carefully stepped over the hard ground, avoiding dry branches and leaves. Above the timberline, a high-pitched challenge was issued. The rut season was in full force. Many a mature

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bull would be out today, working to keep his harem for himself, while the young bulls tried to lure away a few cows for their own harem. As the men made their way closer to the sound of the nearest bugle, the smell of elk drifted in. They were down wind, working their way steadily toward the grunt which broke the morning silence often enough to get a fix on it. The large bull was just out of sight. They knew from the smell he had to be close. A thick, repugnant odor filled the air; followed by the sound of a cow the bull was stalking. They listened for the bull’s response. Hearing it behind a knoll, they pinpointed the exact position and crept toward it. Topping a crest in the field, they peered into the tree line, watching for movement. The bull was so deep in rut, he had only one thing on his mind and wasn’t the normally cautious animal that had kept him alive this long. It was the cows they had to watch out for. If they spooked, alarming the bulls, there would be no catching any of them. Thrashing through the small pines, the bull grunted and burst out of the timberline only fifty yards away. His eyes were mean and glaring red, as he swung his horns around the clearing, searching for an adversary. He was a magnificent animal with a set of antlers that reached back to his rump and a thick black mane that hung below his neck. The tips of his horns showed shavings of bark from the trees he had fought. Ed, knowing that this tough old bull was not what they wanted, motioned to the others to hold their fire. He watched for a young bull instead. During this time of year, the meat would be tender and all muscle because the bulls were so active. It wasn’t long before they spotted one prancing and posturing at the edge of the clearing. Lining up the young elk in his sights, Ed slowly squeezed the trigger. The roar of the rifle bellowed, shattering the silence. The bull bucked, ran a few feet, and dropped. Knowing a frightened elk could run one to two miles before

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slowing down, the men waited in silence, watching the bull for signs of life. After seeing he was down and not moving, they made the way over to it. Another bugle filled the air to their left, and then all was quiet. Stopping and waiting for a response, they heard only the sounds of each other’s breathing. Carlos motioned to Ed that he and Levitt were going to work around the ridge until they got close enough to the sound to try a shot. Nodding, Ed sat next to the animal. This was a nice bull, big enough to provide them with meat but not so big that it would be a chore packing it back to camp. He would wait for the others to finish hunting before dressing it out. The smell would spook all the animals in the area and they needed at least one more elk for the trip ahead. The men disappeared around the mountain. All was quiet for several minutes. Suddenly the sharp whistle of a young spike bull broke the stillness, followed by a challenge. Waiting, Ed held his breath. It wasn’t long before the crack of a shot rang out sending its echoes bouncing around the mountains as if to welcome the light of a full day.

***

A few days before leaving, Ed had sent word into Prescott about the wounded man and included a letter Amy had written asking the Widow Doris to come stay with her. The doctor, Doc Stetson, had been busy up at the Babbitt place delivering twins but said he’d come in a few days. He knew of Amy’s skill as a nurse and was not concerned when he learned that the injured man was in her care. Over the years she’d helped him out more than once when parties of travelers had been brought to him ravaged by Indian attacks. He’d taught her a few things but mostly she just seemed to have a natural born talent for the healing arts. He and the Widow

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Doris, all her bags in tow, arrived at the Double Diamond later the same morning Ed and his men left for Wyoming. Doc checked on the wounded man, said his goodbyes, and returned to town. Upon entering the main room of the house Amy spied the bloodstain on the floor where her father had been killed once again, and she broke down. Consoling her, Doris took her by the hand and sat her down. “You just stay put and I’ll tidy up and make us some tea.” Doris started a fire in the stove, put the teakettle on, and then grabbed a broom to sweep the dust that had come in with the many boots that had gone through the house. Pulling the rag rug from the bedroom, she tried to cover the bloodstain that had soaked into the wood of the pine floor. “That’ll have to do until it can be scrubbed and sanded,” she thought. The teakettle was boiling by now so she went to the cupboard and took out a stoneware teapot. Doris took some red clover tea from her satchel, placed it in the teapot and poured hot water over it, setting it aside to steep. She then took two English bone china cups from the cupboard. These cups were one of the few items Amy had to remember her mother by. There had been a whole set when they lived in the Ohio Valley but some had been broken and Becky and April had taken a few as well. One of her remaining two had a chip in its rim but it made it all the more dear to her. Doris brought the tea to the table and sat down. Amy raised her head from her arms. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said. “It would’ve been too hard for me to do this alone. It’s going take some time to get used to Pa not being here. He liked his supper of pinto beans and corn bread soaked in goats milk more than anything else. I used to make them for him a couple times a week.”

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Seeing she needed encouragement, Doris clasped Amy’s hand in hers, “I know dear, and it’s gonna be hard. I remember how it was when I lost my dear Richard. But it does get easier… just give it time.” she soothed. Changing the subject she said, “Now tell me about Ed. What’s he like?” Amy blushed and remained silent. Doris coaxed her gently. “You do like him, don’t you?” “Of course, it’s just…I don’t know. I’ve only known him for a few days now. I don’t have any idea what his past is like, yet it’s this feeling I have about him and when I’m near him. It’s more than the fact that he’s a good-looking man… I just…” Stopping to reflect on what she was feeling, her eyes glowed and then she suddenly burst forth. “Oh, I didn’t tell you yet!” “Tell me what,” Doris exclaimed. “He’s related somehow to my step-brothers. I’ve always known my step-mama’s family was large, but how large surprised even me. I thought I’d met everybody one time during a gettogether, but I found out from Ed it was only a fraction of the whole family. “Mama had a bunch of brothers and sisters and they had lots of kids. All these family members together probably number over eight hundred people.” Doris gasped. “Eight hundred people? That’s impossible!” “Seems like it,” Amy remarked. “But after seeing the size of the family, I have no doubt about it. “So, when Ed asked my step-ma’s last name, you coulda knocked him over with a feather when I said Daulton. Why, he smiled that big handsome grin of his and told me his pa was a Daulton. I told him my step-brother’s names and it turns out he’s related to them.” Clasping her hands together, Doris happily said, “And now he’s here to help you. How exciting that is!”

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“I guess so. He said he wasn’t going anywhere until this killing and the attack on me was taken care of. I worry about him ‘cause I don’t want him to get hurt, but he can’t take on Leo and those men on his own.” Amy frowned. “Leo is an evil man. Pa never did like him much and he didn’t like Pa. “What Ed and I can’t understand is why he had Pa killed… and I’m positive it was Leo who sent those men. We’ve got nothing’ but this ranch. Leo ran off all we had, though we could never prove it to a judge. What more do we have that he wants?” “Have you ever thought that maybe what he wants is you?” Doris asked gently. Amy shuddered at the very thought of the idea.

***

In the second week of September, the Rocky Mountains came into the view of the riders. In full view with unclouded skies, the snowy summits showed traces of winter setting in. In the deep valley of the San Juan Range, the river cut through the mountains, snaking its way down the slopes, bringing with it ice cold water. Trout jumped in the streams as they pulled flies out of the air, and herds of Bighorn sheep shied away from the approaching party. As they crossed the shallowest point in the river, a strong wind blew, promising the coming of a storm. Bending blades of blue gamma and wheat grass, it scattered dry leaves across their path as it whistled off the mountains. Tonight would be a cold one. A shot rang off the hills, followed by laughter. Then two more quick shots so close together they sounded as one. “Wonder what that’s about,” Ed thought.

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Ed watched the terrain for hostile Indians. He knew of the trouble with the Navajo in the area, even this far north, especially after Kit Carson had sent so many of them to Bosque Redondo on The Long Walk. Although they were supposed to stay on the Reservation, there were still small bands of renegade raiders that the Army was having a difficult time controlling. These rebels were a force to be reckoned with. It would do to keep a wary eye open. Ed was bundled up in a long winter coat with thick gloves and a scarf wrapped around his neck. The rest of the men had on what winter clothes they carried with them and there was little complaining. Regrouping his thoughts, Ed sat on his horse thinking of Amy. In spite of the risk, he had set out to bring in a herd before the harsh winter defeated him. Howell had assured him he would look in on her, and Tom had made him a promise that he or his deputies would drop by at least once a week as well. The widow lady had brushed aside their apologies of needing her help and took over the preparation of getting Amy settled back in after her father’s funeral. The day of the funeral was always the hardest, he thought. That’s when the finality of the passing begins to set in and you realize someone you love is gone forever. Ed wished he could have taken her pain upon himself. She had stayed so strong and kept her composure, but later at the Howell place he’d found her alone in the bedroom weeping. Not wanting to take advantage of the moment, he’d simply held her gently in his arms for a moment, stroking her back and then let her return to the guests as she dried her eyes. Over his protests, Amy had pushed him to head out right away. Using the ranch as collateral, she persuaded the banker in town to loan her enough money to finance the drive. Gathering over $6,000 between the two of them, there was enough to purchase the supplies, horses, and drovers for the long journey, with enough left to buy 500 or 600 head of cattle, if the price was right

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The hoof beats of a rider returned his mind to the present. He turned in the saddle to see one of the cowhands, Rob, riding up to him. “Found a nice place to rest the horses and fix some grub,” he said. Following him, Ed noticed he carried an old colt .36 caliber Navy pistol in his holster and a ball revolver in his waistband. Following his gaze, Rob said, “I’ve carried this ball gun since the days of the war. She’s a sure shot and dead on. Kind of partial to her. She’ll knock over a charging buffalo with one well placed shot.” Taking it out of his waistband, he handed it to Ed. “Kicks like a mule and takes awhile to reload, but I wouldn’t trade her for a good woman.” “Must have been a lonely life,” Ed thought wryly to himself, as he held the weapon, feeling its weight. Pointing it in front of him, he knew this was not the gun most people in the west would want. It was bulky and heavy to hold, with a long barrel. Handing it back, Ed pulled out his rifle, letting Rob see it. Rob stared at Ed’s gun. “Is that the one they talk about out here? People back east call it the gun that tamed the west!” he said. “It’s my spare,” Ed snorted. “My Henry needed a good cleaning and Felix offered to take care of that. This here’s a Winchester Model 1866 that fires .44 rimfire cartridges. You’re thinkin’ of the Model 1873 .44 40 which uses center fire rounds.” Rob turned red, embarrassed at his mistake. “Only reason I can tell them apart is ‘cause I’ve used this for awhile,” commented Ed. “They’re easy to mistake, unless you have one.” Cookie was preparing a meal of roasted pheasant, with wheat bread and wild rice. He saw they were pleasantly surprised at the choice of food.

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“Tim brought these in. We were riding through the mouth of this valley a bit ago when these flew out of the brush right in front of us. Tim drew down on ‘em and fired the first shot so quick I never seen it. Knocked that bird right out of the air, then turned, waited till a couple more took to flight and brought two of them down so close together, you’d thought he was usin’ a scatter gun.” After eating a pleasant meal, the crew relaxed and enjoyed the day. The campfire was large enough that all the men could gather around it. The heat from the fire helped to spook away the day’s chill. Walking out from camp to gather more fuel, Levitt heard the first signs of trouble. Hearing the neigh of one of the horses, he looked toward them. Their ears were up and flicking toward a sound from the trail they had just come up. Dropping the wood, he sprinted back to the fire. “We got company!” All hands bounded to the wagon to create a wall for protection. Rifles were swung out, pistols checked, and boxes of ammunition passed around. They watched the trail, hearing nothing but the wind, yet the horses continued to worry about something still out of sight. Ed directed them to hold fire until they were sure it was an enemy, although he needn’t have said that. “I’m a little nervous,” he admitted to himself. He thought bitterly to himself, “I felt something was wrong this morning, and I blew it off instead of checking it out. Couldn’t put by finger on it but I had the feeling we were being watched.” As they waited, the sun moved slowly across the sky and clouds formed into thunderheads, whipping the air around them into frenzy. As the wind increased, its roar became louder. Speaking loud enough to be heard by all, Ed said, “If it’s Indians and they knew this storm was blowin’ in, they’ve been waiting on it to cover their approach so we wouldn’t hear them.”

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“Stand by boys, they’re comin,” a voice rang out. Suddenly, the war whoop of a brave split the air. A warrior broke from the cover of forest foliage riding his pony hard, coming straight towards them. “Hold your fire,” Ed shouted. “Let’s see what he’ll do. He may want to test our defenses!” When he got close to the camp, the warrior threw a lance decorated in feathers against the side of the chuck wagon. Wheeling his horse around, he showed his bravery by prancing and screaming at them, not making a move to ride away. “He was chosen to show off,” commented Levitt. “Wonder what he was promised, to be the one allowed to ride in here alone.” “Most likely our scalps,” Rob said. The others nodded in agreement. “Wonder how many there are,” Tim said, more to himself than anyone else. The others were thinking the same thing, but had not voiced it. From the trees, the sounds of galloping hooves rang out. Getting ready, the men watched a line of horsemen break from cover and head their way. Arrows whistled in the air, landing all around them. They began firing at the approaching line of Indians; one, then two were knocked back over the tails of their horses as if they’d run into an unseen obstacle. A warrior rode his pony into camp, screaming his war whoop with fury in his eyes. Just as he swung the tomahawk to wipe out Cookie, a shot sent his head snapping back and he fell headfirst into the flames of the fire that still burned. Shots sounded all around as every man fought desperately. The smell of burning flesh and hair filled the air. Breaking off the first wave of the attack the Indians reared their horses around and rode back to the trees. A brave chanced a parting shot with an arrow that flew through the air and landed in

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Felix’s shoulder. Spinning around, he fell to the ground, shoving the point in further and breaking the drag tip off. Carlos dragged him back to the side of the wagon and checked him over. The arrow was embedded in his upper muscle, but luckily it was more painful than deadly. His face white with pain, Felix reached over and pushed the arrow through his flesh. He grunted that he wanted Carlos to break off the barb so he could pull it out. Carlos took a deep breath, snapped the point off, and pushed the arrow completely through the flesh of the shoulder. Sweat poured off Felix’s face, but he gamely pushed himself to his feet and grimaced at Ed. Seeing he would make it with only minor injuries, Ed turned back to the men. “This time, let’s use our rifles for effect,” he said. “If they try to run the camp again, we should be able to drop several of them before they get close enough to use their bows and spears.” After waiting for what seemed like forever, it was almost a relief when the Indians returned. As they came running out of the tree line, the Indians split up, with one group going around the camp and the other coming straight on. “They’re gonna try to take our rear!” shouted Levitt. “Tim, Rob, Cookie -- take up the rear guard.” Not needing to tell the experienced hands any more, they lined up the charging warriors in their gun sights. Firing slowly and deliberately they brought down three more braves taking the heart out of the attack. So far so good, thought Ed. With six of their braves down and only one of our own hurt, it may cause them to realize that the Great Spirit wasn’t with them today. Hopefully, they’ll leave, taking their losses.

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Behind them, they heard rifles barking and the sound of yelling. Wanting to turn around, but too busy to spare a glance, Ed could only hope the men were holding the rear. A lone warrior rode his horse toward them, straddling the mount while hanging off the side, creating no target other than his horse. Waiting for him to get closer, Ed saw Levitt take aim and fire. The warrior’s hand, which was the only thing showing, jerked loose of the horse’s mane, and the brave fell off the horse ten feet from them. Hitting his head hard on the ground, he rolled to a stop, motionless. Backing off, the warriors in front let out yells of frustration and kicked their horses away from the carnage. Ed finally had an opportunity to see the scene unfolding behind him. He saw two dead braves lying on the ground, their rider-less ponies milling around. The boys fired a couple more times, throwing shots in the general direction of the retreating party. Knowing how lucky they’d been the men were glad to be alive. They had survived an attack when vastly outnumbered by the warriors – and had managed to win. There would be no more attacks today. Many a squaw would be wailing tonight in her teepee. Ceremonies would be held honoring the fallen braves, while the medicine man would be chastised for not providing protection from the white man’s guns. The worst thing was that young children would start life without a father to teach them the ways of the warrior. Ed’s shoulders slumped. He had not wanted this. He knew this was Indian land and they were only fighting for their way of life. If he could have his way he would befriend every Indian for he respected them and their lifestyle. He understood their fear of losing the only way of life they’d known. The white men, grangers and ranchers were pushing them out of their homeland. He began reloading cartridges from his belt into his pistol and while feeding rounds from boxes into his rifle he heard a groan, followed by the rustle of movement. Whipping around with

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his pistol pointed in the general direction of the sound, he saw the young brave Levitt had shot trying to get to his knees and sneak away. Walking over to him, he noticed the young man was merely a boy. He wore the markings of a leader and had the bearing of the son of an important man. Looking up at Ed with contempt, he showed no fear. His hand was bloody from the shot that made him lose his grip on the horse. Unsteadily making his way to his feet, blood dripped down his injured hand to the ground. He took his finger and tasted his own blood, while continuing to stare at Ed. Ed touched his fingers to his lips in the gesture of friendship, using the Cheyenne sign. Making no movement, as if he understood the gesture, the brave just stood there. Knowing the way to every man’s heart was through his stomach, Ed pointed to the knife sheathed in the brave’s belt and pointed to the roast pheasant still warming near the fire. The warrior that had fallen dead into the fire had been pulled away and Cookie discovered only the coffeepot had been knocked over. The food was still cooking as if nothing had happened. Using his forefingers, while crossing his wrist with his fingers pointing in opposite directions Ed seesawed his wrists back and forth making the sign for a trade. The brave, understanding the gesture, broke into a smile and grabbed the knife from his belt, but instead of handing it to Ed, as he had indicated, he walked over to the pheasant and sliced off a large piece. Eating it with gusto, grease dripped down his chin. Ed could only grin.

***

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Amy sat down at the desk to write some letters. She ran her hands lovingly over the carving on the front. Pa’s hands had crafted this desk. He had been so skilled with wood and his love was there in every curl and cut. Oh, how long would it be before every thought of him wouldn’t bring this pain, this sorrow? It hurt so much! She expected each time the door opened for it to be Pa coming into the room. There was his hat and coat hanging on the peg by the door. If she held them to her she could smell the scent of him… that mixture of outdoors and sweat and the chicory gum he like to chew. Doris had caught her several times just sitting by the fire with Pa’s coat in her arms. The evenings were the hardest. That was when they used to sit by the fire and talk. Hours would fly by quickly as they discussed the events in the territory newspaper or the characters in one of the books Amy cherished so much. She’d learned her love of reading from Pa too. No matter how tired he was from a long day’s work, he always sat and read some each day. He said with all the illiterate people out in the world, it was a gift of God to be able to read and not to be taken lightly. Losing Ma at an early age… she didn’t remember it hurting like this. Even when her stepmother had died, she’d had Becky and April and the boys. Now she was so alone and she had shared so much with Pa. He’d taught her so much about life and living and right and wrong. As the tears ran down her face, she pulled a few sheets of paper from the cubby and began to write to her sisters and stepbrothers. It was not uncommon for one to lose family members and because of miles of separation and unreliable mail delivery not to know about it until months or even years after the event. She wrote the four letters in as few words as possible, giving the necessary details and facts in each. She also wrote briefly to the boys of their cousin Ed and how he was helping to get the ranch running again.

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When she’d finished she wrote one more letter. This one was to her dear friend Lydia Strunk down in Tucson. The girls had met when the Baggins had first moved west and had been fast friends for twenty years. Although they didn’t see much of each other, they had kept touch over the years through letters and shared in this way each other’s trials and joys of life.

Dear Lydia,

You cannot imagine what has happened here in the past few weeks. I think it has been the hardest thing in life I’ve ever had to deal with.

Our ranch was attacked by three terrible men and they shot and killed Pa. They also would have raped me had it not been for a cowboy riding through who heard me screaming. I shudder to think how much worse it would have been had Ed not come along when he did. That’s his name, Ed Daulton. He’s been such a blessing to me, helping to find out who is behind all of this and working to hire new hands. Right now he’s away up north trying to buy new stock and I worry that he won’t make it back. Winter, as you know, is a tough time to be headed into the mountains.

I’m so lonely without Pa. The Widow Doris, (you remember her from when you came up that time and we had the birthday sleepover at her house?) … well, she’s come to stay with me until the men get back, at Ed’s insistence. I wish you could meet him, Lyd… he’s not like any other man I’ve met.

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If you can come up this way, I’d love to see you. I just can’t leave the ranch right now with Leo still trying to steal it away from me. If you think of me, say a prayer for me… I sure could use it about now.

Your friend, Amy

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Chapter Seven

The leaders in Arizona wanted to establish the capitol of the Territory near the junction of the Salt and Verde Rivers. They wanted to call it Azatlan. This proposal proved to be an unpopular idea to the inhabitants of Prescott and they fought over the rights to have the territorial capital in their own town. They won and in 1864, Prescott became the territorial capital and was to remain so for the next twenty-five years, being moved twice in the time the town held the distinction of being the center of activity. Once the Capital was moved to Tucson, and another to Phoenix, where a few years later it eventually settled and became the central point of the territory, from the North and South, more east centered than west.

***

The Federal Marshal on loan for the Prescott district from the Tucson district because of the assault and killings, along with the Indian attacks had moved into the town of Prescott ‘just for a couple of months’ he was told. That was five months ago, but something happened in the last 3 days which livened him up and he felt he may be able to make a different. He had received a letter from a concerned citizen regarding oil found on land near Prescott. This was cause for concern among the officers. Land-grabs were common for water rights, but an oil grab was something they had never dealt with. Knowing they were in over their heads, they sought the guidance of the Texas Rangers. With all the oil that had been found in that country, these lawmen would have plenty of experience to guide them in the right direction.

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***

Sam Cooney walked into the telegraph office the next morning. He was waiting for the arrival of Brett and his two brothers. After they arrived they’d all head out. He was sure Leo would be impatient for their arrival by now. The operator, wearing a visor, glanced up as Sam came through the door and froze upon recognition. He knew him by reputation only but it was enough. He had no desire to confront this man or upset him in any way. Sam swaggered up to the counter and reached into his pocket for a two-bit piece. Throwing it on the counter, he remarked, “Need to send a message, and I don’t want it talked about.” “Yes, sir,” the clerk replied. Grabbing a pencil and a piece of paper, he looked at him. “What would you like to say?” “Send this to Roland.” Have a job in Prescott. STOP. Wrap up your activities. STOP. Meet usual place. STOP.” The clerk scratched the pencil furiously on the paper. “That all?” “Sign it SC,” Sam said, “and send it down the line to the Tucson station with a check point at Tombstone.” Turning, he started to open the door. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw the clerk was looking at him fearfully. “You best keep this ‘tween us, or I’ll tack your hide to the wall. ¿Comprende?” Nodding his head hard enough to knock his visor askew, the clerk blanched. “Of, course, of course. Wouldn’t think ‘bout saying anything, sir.” Satisfied, Sam walked out, making his way up the street to find a couple of gun hands he’d hired the night Henry had brought the message to him in the saloon. He’d used them on many

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other projects and this one was going to need hands that knew how to handle a gun but didn’t have many scruples about using it. Ahead on Whiskey Row, Sam saw a door swing open and from one of the saloons, a drunken man staggered into the dusty street. Turning from side to side, the drunk glared at everyone and yelled, “You’re all just a bunch of lily-livered, mired down cows. You’re too scared to face a squaw. I spit on you all.” With that, he cleared his throat and spit toward the door of the bar. Half of it went a couple of feet away, the other half rolled down his chin. He loudly protested his inability to spit. Seeing Sam walking his way, he shouted, “Hey Cooney, you dirty low down snake. Get out of our town ‘fore we take a noose to your kind. We don’t wantcha here’s.” Sam started to ignore him, but the people on the boardwalk were snickering. It didn’t matter if they were laughing at him or the drunk, they were laughing after the comment and he felt his ears turn red with anger. Stopping, he slid the slip-tie off his gun. “Are you talking to me, mister? The street became quiet. Sobering up a bit, the drunk started, realizing he had said something he shouldn’t have. “I’m drunk and didn’t mean anything,” he declared. “I’m sorry Mister Cooney. You know how it is when you’ve had one too many,” he whined. “No. No, I don’t. You insulted me,” Sam interrupted. Drinking had helped the man work up false courage. He made the next remark without thinking. “You deserve it, you slime. You’re the reason we got so’s many outlaws runnin’ around these parts scarin’ away the right good peoples.” Hand flashing to his side, Sam’s gun shattered the silence and sent reverberations echoing through the streets. Men came running out of stores and offices. The drunk had a strange look on his face. Staring down at his shirt, he watched the spread of a crimson flow move across the front

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of his shirt. He clutched his chest and the blood slowly seeped through his fingers. Trying to walk a couple of steps, he slipped to the ground and lay still. Gasps of horror were heard and a woman screamed. “He never had a decent chance,” a voice rang out from the crowd. Another called, “He was so drunk, he couldn’t see straight,” followed by the murmur of a crowd that had witnessed, in their opinion, a murder. “Hang him up,” a man dared to say. Sam was shocked at the hostility of the crowd. “He insulted me,” he protested. “Didn’t give you the right to shoot him when he was too drunk to know what he’s saying,” called a deep voice. “You’ve got a bad reputation with that firearm, anyway.” Trying to find the source of the voice, all Sam could see was a sea of angry faces. If he stayed here, he would be hung for sure. Running down the street with his gun still in his hand, he sprang onto his dun and kicked it to a hard run. Dust billows flew under the horse’s feet as it raced down the street with a crowd of onlookers watching. After riding hard for a couple of miles, Sam slowed the dun to give him room to breathe. He wondered if the sheriff would dare tangle with him. The way it looked, he had sure messed with the wrong town. He knew he should have left the old drunk alone, but he’d lost his temper. Well, he mused, the man shouldn’t have insulted him; still he was worried. Not about the shooting, but the number of witnesses that had seen him. He’d pulled the trigger many a time, but never had left anyone alive to tell a different story than what he told. This time it was pure and simple murder. And there were too many people who had seen it! He slumped in the saddle. He knew he could never go back to Prescott. Chewing on his thoughts as he rode, he wondered of he had told anybody where he was going. If he wanted to

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stay working for Leo, he would have to make sure no one knew he was still in the area. Thinking back, he glumly thought about his fate. Handle whatever comes when it comes, or if it comes, he thought.

***

Doug Rawlinss rode up to the line shack on his gelding. Grabbing the saddle’s pommel, he swung down and stamped his feet to get the circulation back. The door to the shack opened. A tall man with curly black hair and a large frame that looked every inch muscle and huge hands, stepped out. “You must be Doug,” he said. “I’m Joe Small. Slim said you’d be along ‘fore too long. Come on in.” Holding the door open, he waited. Doug strolled over. “Right pleased ta meet ya, Joe. Woulda been here last night but, I stopped by Bar 7 ranch day fore yesterday and ended up stayin’ there all day, yakking with Leo and Henry.” He grabbed the outstretched hand and shook it. “Firm grip,” he thought. “That’s the sign of a good man.” Growing up, his pa had told him to watch out for those folks that had a snake wrist grip. They weren’t to be trusted if they didn’t have the decency to shake your hand like a man. It had proven true many a time in his life. The ones that shook hard and firm were stand up guys. The ones that shook limp-wristed were men to avoid. He walked into the line-shack. Slim was sitting at the table nursing a cup of coffee. He was larger than the last time Doug had seen him. He showed a coolness, in his manner, which betrayed a staying power.

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The only reason Doug had signed on to this outfit was because Slim seemed loyal to the brand and his crew, and he seemed to have a sense of right and wrong. His bearing showed a quiet dignity, which held the manners of a gentleman. Out here in the west a man may have problems, but he was judged by the deeds he performed. If he did good, his past was forgotten. If he did bad, he became the most talked about man in the west. Slim weighed over three hundred pounds and was more than six feet tall. His clothing looked like it had to be made out of a tee-pee or two, bought from the Indians that came through. Doug smiled to himself at the thought. Slim, seeing the smile, laughed outright. “Trying to figure out this whole time since I met you in Tucson why they call me Slim, huh?” Joe laughed a good clean laugh. “I gotta shoot a cow every now and then just to keep him from eatin’ me during the winter nights up here,” he commented. “Why, last year I killed two line horses when supplies ran low, cause I couldn’t locate a cow in the deep snow we got. One of them was his own horse. For years, he’d been sitting his rump on that horse that he likes so much; then he ends up eatin’ that horse.” Slim and Joe chuckled at each other. “This is a good crew,” Doug thought. “It’ll be a shame to break them up.” Leo had given him instructions to send Joe back down to the ranch after they’d shown him around. Problem was Doug knew why. Leo had told him Joe and Slim accidentally found something they shouldn’t have, and though they didn’t know what it was Leo wasn’t about to take any chances. Doug had the feeling if he sent Joe back he’d disappear like so many others before him had. The men sat down and started filling Doug in on the doings of the line. Running over a thousand head of cattle up here they had their hands full, but it was a job two good hands could handle with a few extra saddle-stock that knew their way around the cows. They usually spent

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time during the long winter rebraiding the riatas, the ropes they used. They also fixed up the saddles and harnesses while holed up during snowstorms so everything remained in good repair. “Been a large black bear around here stealing some stock,” Slim drawled. “We found us a half-eaten steer down the trail a mite. I’m fixing’ to get me a bear for the coat and that tasty meat.” “Yesterday morning we spotted the tracks right outside the shack.” Joe snorted. “He was right outside here?” Doug asked incredulously. “Yep, me an' Slim was gonna go out and track him down in the mornin’. Wanna come along?” “Darn tootin,” said Doug. I’ve been a itchin’ to go bear huntin’ since I moved Tucson way, years ago. Life’s just been too hectic.” “We’ll mount up first light then.” Slim sipped his coffee. “Better we go now than later anyhow. With winter settin’ in, that fat and meat will be awful tasty right now.” “There’s small patch of blackberry bushes down the trail where we seen tracks goin’,” Joe cut in. Hating to bring bad news into the conversation, but knowing that he must, Doug looked to Slim and then to Joe. They’d be upset by the news, but he had to tell them. “Slim, Leo said he wants Joe back down at the ranch in a couple of weeks. He said he’s got work down there that he needs him for.” Looking down at his cup, Joe was noticeably saddened to hear the news. He’d known this day was coming. When he rode down to the ranch to tell Leo about the problems they had up here, he had seen a look cross his face that made him uneasy.

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Leo didn’t think Joe was smart enough to know the land, but he was. He had been playing dumb when he told Leo the cows were stuck in a black, gooey, stinky slime and that he didn’t know what it was. But he knew. It was oil. He hadn’t been born yesterday. A good hand knew everything there was to know about the land he was riding on. He had read books and papers enough to know that oil was considered “black gold” by all men. Slim knew it, too. He’d talked about it many a night while laid up in the shack. Slim was afraid to say too much, cause he thought he was protecting Joe. He loved him like his own brother and it’d be hard to see him leave. Standing up, he said, “We best be headin’ out, so’s you can see the lay of the land, Doug.” Finishing off their coffee, they tugged on heavy winter coats and walked to their mounts. The sky was growing dark with clouds. “Be a storm on us by this time in the morn,” commented Slim. “Best time to locate this here bear is ‘fore he up and hits his cave for the winter.” As the three men rode, they explained to Doug how the outfit worked and where the cattle were kept. One of the things that had just been invented was a wire with barbs on it. Leo had ordered a bunch and soon as it came, they’d be stringing it along the lines. “That’ll take a lot of work to put up, but what it’ll do is keep the fool cows in, and it’ll be worth it,” Joe said.

Although barbed wire was not introduced until 1895, the author has taken the liberty to reference it for the sake of the storyline.

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Slim nodded his head. “Sure will make some property boundaries easier to hold. They said every ten to fifteen feet we’ve got to put a pole in the ground to string the wire on. The person that thought up this idea should of thunk up a way to dig the holes in this hard, rocky ground.” “What’s this barbed wire you’re talking about? How’s it work?” asked Doug. “Well, from what I understood from Leo, it’s regular wires that’s been wrapped around three or four single strands. Every six inches or so, there’s two sharp points that stick out. These points rightly discourage the cattle from trying’ to worry their way through the wire. The wire stretches around the property line, lettin’ the nester and such know where the ranch land starts and ends. This way nobody can play the fool saying’ he didn’t know he was on someone else’s property.” Shaking his head in amazement, Doug shot back, “What’ll they think off next?” Joe spoke up, “They got trains that’re runnin’ on water converted to steam somehow and, machines that use oil in place of men, and every other fool thing that’ll take away an honest man’s pay.” He suddenly realized he had said too much. He wasn’t supposed to have any idea what oil even was. Shutting his mouth, he rode in silence. Up ahead, the trail spilt in two directions. “The one heading west, takes you into Skull Valley,” Slim said. “That’s a place you want to avoid. They got rustlers and stage robbers hangin’ round those parts. Good waterin’ hole, so they only need to rustle a head or two to keep them eating’. Long ride down that way. Takes a mighty good horse to make it through the rocks ‘fore you drop down in the valley; but it sure is a right pretty sight.” Taking the left-hand trail, they came out into a large valley at the base of the mountain. “Up ahead is where we found the bear eating’ the blackberries. Some folks call it Granite Mountain, but I don’t know that’s the real name. We liked it, so’s we’s been callin’ it that,” Slim said.

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Doug felt small looking up at the steep mountain in front of him. It looked like a camel’s hump. Many small washes ran down from the base, some with water flowing strong and clear. “Ever check for gold here?” asked Doug. “Not had time so far, but it’s something’ we’s wantin’ to do one of these days,” replied Joe. “My father went to Sutter’s Mill during the gold fever and found a nice right claim. Had enough gold to live a good life until he died a couple year on back. I got’s a little sister and she said we own it, but I ain’t had enough money to ride all the way to California State and look yet. Told ol’ Slim here, we’s gonna set ourselves up and live the high life when I get there.” Slim smiled, looking at Doug. “He’s got to have a dream. I’m not about to buck him from his saddle.” Doug looked thoughtful. “We got a minute?” Pulling up, Slim stared at him. “You ain’t getting gold fever on me now, are ya?” “Well,” Doug grinned, “I got a feeling and it’s kept me alive a time or two. This stream runs down this here mountain. It’s got the hard rock of granite that holds and traps the gold. Figure it’ll bring some of that gold down this far. “I done some prospecting before I became…” he stopped. “ I know a thing or two ‘bout finding shiny metal,” he said gruffly. He dismounted, and followed by Slim and Joe, he pulled out a shallow dish around six inches wide and three inches deep. It had grooves cut into one side, while the other was smooth. “Makes a fine bowl on the trail,” he said. Stepping over to the stream, he studied it for a bit. Walking to an area where the water was moving faster than in other parts, he walked to the bank and sat down. Pulling off his boots and socks, he stood in his bare feet. Rolling up his trousers, he stepped into the icy cold water. Feeling his way on the moss covered rocks, he crept toward

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the faster moving runoff of the stream. Reaching down with his hand, he scooped large handfuls of mud, rocks, and dirt off the bottom. The clear water turned muddy and he felt a crawdad slide across his feet. He resisted the impulse to shake his feet and grinned. If he lifted a foot in this water he’d find himself sitting on his haunches so fast it’d make his head spin. Not only would he be cold and wet, but the boys on the bank would laugh their fool heads off. Throwing the handful of dirt into the pan, he placed the dish in the water and swished it around, rinsing off the top layer. He repeated this same maneuver several times until he had a fine layer of dirt and silt in the bottom of the pan. Gently placing the pan into the running water until it was barely submerged; he let the water flow run over it while moving it around causing the dirt to rise to the top and float away. In the bottom of the pan, he saw the glitter of small flakes of gold mixed with silt. Yelling, he called the boys over. “Told you there’d be gold here. Look at that.” “It’d take you all of a year to make a month’s salary at that pace, with those small flecks,” said Joe. “What you don’t understand, Joe, is where there’s flecks there’s a rock that they come off of. Why, I bet there’s a nugget or two right under our feet.” “I got a bowl in my saddlebag,” Joe said excitedly. “You show me how to do this?” “The thing is, this here pan’s got the sides cut into it. It traps the gold in the grooves. Since gold’s so heavy, all the gold slides into these here grooves and gets caught. The water washes over the dirt and such, leaving behind pure gold. Your bowl is smooth. You might find you something, but you’d wash a whole lot more gold away than you’d keep.” Joe seemed to become downtrodden as quickly as he’d been excited.

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“You know, it might just work for a nugget or two,” Doug replied, seeing Joe’s face. “Go fetch it.” Wading to the bank, Joe returned with a bowl used for everything from eating stew to holding water for his horse. With Slim watching, Doug showed Joe how to pan for gold but nothing was found the first couple of tries. After stretching his aching back out, Doug looked over. “Might try upstream. Look for areas where the water’s been running’ hard. That’s where the gold traveling down finds its niches and drops to the bottom. The rushing water running over top keeps too much silt from building up on top and you’ll not have to dig as deep in the bottom. Doug handed his pan to Slim and let him work the stream for a while. He waded upstream with Joe, watching his technique. He heard an excited gasp from Slim. “Oh my goodness,” he exclaimed. “I think I got something’ worth keeping’.” Turning back around, Doug gazed into the pan. Lying on the bottom was a gold nugget the size of his thumbnail. Yelling for Joe who was intently working further upstream, they examined it, pounding the other on the back. Joe came running over. Just before he got to them, he slipped, hollered, and fell with a splash that sent him seat first into the water. Getting up he yelled and cussed himself. “Man, that’s cold! Dab nab it all! What’re y’all laughin’ at?” he said as he dripped water. Laughing so hard the men could barely stay on their feet; tears ran down their faces as they choked for a breath. Trying to stay mad, Joe fought a grin and mumbled under his breath, causing the other two to laugh even harder. Feeling his foot slipping, Slim grabbed Doug to hold on. Unable to keep his balance, he fell, pulling Doug with him. Doug tried to reach out to grab the nugget before it flew off.

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Feeling the nugget firmly in his grip, the ice-cold water shocked his senses. Spitting water and shaking his head, he felt as if the breath had left him, it was so cold. When he looked at Joe, he’d begun laughing so hard that he was sitting down in the stream, unable to stand anymore. “It feels good to laugh like this,” thought Doug as the three broke the morning silence with laughter that echoed off the rocks and boulders lining Granite Creek.

***

Each morning Amy awoke with thoughts of Ed in her mind. As she opened her eyes to the new day, she lay quietly for a few moments, remembering the dreams of the night before. Would those dreams ever become a reality? Dreams of love, companionship, marriage and children. Living in the west a woman pretty much had her choice of men and Amy had had her fair share of suitors. At twenty-eight, most girls had a passel of children and had been married a good long time. Amy had never seen a man that intrigued her enough to make her want to give up tending house for her father. Even with Pa gone, it wouldn’t have made a difference with any of the former suitors. But now there was Ed. He was different. It was more than just his rugged good looks; some of the other boys who had come courting had been fair to look at… it was something in his nature that was different. A kindness, intelligence, and something else that when he looked into her eyes, sent a thrill right through her. Amy sighed as she rolled over and got out of bed. The Widow Doris stirred in the bed and her soft snoring ceased. “Honey, I know that sigh. I’m not so old as to have forgotten what it’s like to be a woman in love.”

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Amy blushed at being found out. “Oh!” a small sound escaped her lips. “It’s ok, honey, he’s gonna come back to you, you’ll see. I’ve seen him look at you and you can be sure, he’s thinking of you too.” Thinking that this might be true made Amy’s heart beat double time. She poured fresh water into the basin and splashed the cool water on her face. “Could it be he’s thinking of me?” Her thoughts turned again to the length of pink gingham he’d purchased for her. His thoughtfulness had made her cry at the time but now in thinking of him, it took on a deeper meaning. Not knowing how long he’d be gone, she wanted to be sure to have it made into a new shirtwaist before he returned. Once she and the Widow Doris had tended to the daily chores and taken care of the injured man, she’d get out her mother’s old patterns and start on it today.

***

Upon wakening, the man felt a burning pain in his left leg. Groggily trying to move it to relieve the pain, he panicked. He couldn’t budge anything. When he struggled to move the covers, he could see a large bandage wrapped completely around the leg, going all the way up to his hip and stretching down to his toes. Remembering the injury, he sank back in the bed. “How did I get here?” he was thinking as the door opened. A young woman with a willowy figure quietly walked in with a pitcher of water and an old chipped, white basin. An older woman who looked dignified yet kind followed her. Seeing that he was awake, the younger woman gasped. Placing the basin and pitcher on the nightstand, she quickly walked over to him.

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“You’re back,” she said. “Doc didn’t know for sure you’d make it. He said you lost more blood than a body’s got a right to and still live.” She introduced herself and the other lady with a smile. “My name’s Amy Baggin and this here’s Doris June. Doug brought you by four days ago.” “Where am I?” he struggled to rise. “You’ll tear the stitches and cause more bleeding if you don’t stay still,” Amy said, as she pushed him gently back onto the pillows. The older lady stood in front of him with her hands on her hips. He snuck a peak at her and saw a stern, “don’t mess with us after all we done,” glare but he also saw her concern as he tried to wiggle his left foot. “How bad is the leg?” he asked. “I can still use it, can’t I?” Using her most motherly manner, Doris sat down on the edge of the bed. “What’s your name?” she asked gently. “My dad called me dunderhead, but my mom called me Lou,” he grinned. Forgetting about his leg, he started to move it to reach over and shake her hand. The pain flashed like a knife and stars bounced in front of his eyes. Collapsing from the sharp stab, his face turned white and beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. Amy lifted his leg back to the middle of the bed. Warning him not to move, she told Doris she’d be back with something for him to eat and something for the pain. He tried to shake his head “no,” but it was too late; she was gone. Looking over at Doris, Lou said though clenched teeth, “I’m a lucky feller to wake up to two purty ladies. That’s a nice feeling to have when you wake up in a stranger’s home. Thank you for all you’ve done.” “Amy’s the one you want to thank,” Doris replied demurely, reaching up to pat a few stray hairs back into place. “I’m just an old widow trying to help out where I can.”

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“No matter, I owe you both a debt of thanks,” he said. Suddenly, a look of bewilderment crossed his face. “The other woman said a man named Doug brought me in. Is he the one who found me?” “I assume so. He didn’t say. All he said was you been attacked by a band of Blackfoot and were hit.” “How did he know it was Blackfoot if it wasn’t him that saved me?” Lou was thinking as Amy came back in the room. She was holding a medicine bottle and spoon. She stopped in front of him and poured a spoonful, looked at him and said, “Open wide.” Tasting sweet bitterness, he swallowed, gasped, and choked. “What was that?” “Opium. Wonderful stuff. The Chinese brought it over. It’ll knock the pain from you right quick. I’ll get you something to eat and you can float in a pain free world.” Not sure if he should be upset or thankful, Lou tried to smile but only succeeded in grimacing. A thought struck him. “Where’s my saddlebags I had ‘fore I got attacked? Did that feller bring them and my horse with me?” Amy wiped her hands and her apron. “Doug said he found saddlebags he figured to be yours. Said you had the presence of mind to remove them from the saddle and he found them in a clump of mesquite. We’ve put them in the bunkhouse. I’m sorry, but the Blackfoot took the horse.” Trying to get out of bed, Lou grabbed his pants from a side chair and looked at the ladies. His face was twisted in pain, but not as bad as before. “You might feel good right now, but that’s only the relief of this medicine,” Amy warned him. “It covers the damage you’re doing by trying to walk on it.”

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Lou looked forlorn as told her he needed his bags. He knew if anybody found what he carried inside he would lose everything he had ever worked for. In the saddlebags he carried several thousand dollars in gold, which he had mined out of the mills in California. So far, he’d been lucky this Doug chap had just dropped him off and left. Sinking back into the soft pillows, his vision became fuzzy. Feeling pleasant rather than alarmed, he let the feeling wash over him as he drifted away to the land of better living though medicine.

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Chapter Eight

Ed watched the young Cheyenne as they sat around the campfire that evening. The young man’s hand was bandaged where the bullet had grazed it. It had taken a lot of work to convince him, but he had finally let Cookie, their acting doctor, take a look at it. He’d made a poultice from some plant leaves that the Indian lad pointed out before wrapping it securely with a clean bandanna. “I need to remember what plant that was,” thought Ed. “The Indians could teach us white folks a thing or two about the land.” Most medicine came from one plant or another and the Indians seemed to know all the treatments using many types of plants. The Indian, seeing that Ed was watching him, spoke in his native tongue. Unable to understand the Cheyenne language, Ed motioned to his ears and holding his hands up, shook his head. What happen next surprised him. The Indian said. “You treat Walks Tall good. We be friends.” Ed could barely choke out a reply. “You speak English?!” “Learn from preacher man come to village,” the young man answered. “He bring Bibles and teach white man English about God. White man God not so diff…diff....” he struggled with the word. “Different?” asked Ed. “Different…from Great Spirit,” he finished. “My father great leader in tribe. He mourn me now.” “I’m not keeping you prisoner,” Ed said. “You’re free to leave when you like.”

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“I stay for a while. See what white man like. You seem good man. I hungry, you feed me. I hurt, you fix me. Good man.” “Thank you,” Ed replied. “I’m honored to be Walks Tall’s friend. My name is Ed Daulton.” “Ed Dol-ton” the brave repeated as if feeling the new sound with his tongue. Then he offered, “My name Walks Tall. Name after great chief. My father Stands Alone is great warrior. You have no more trouble. I tell my people, Ed Dol-ton good man.” With a sigh of relief, Ed realized the son of a great warrior was promising him safe passage from attack by the Cheyenne tribes. That had been a large concern for this trip. Now he would be able to make it to Wyoming and back without being molested by any more Indians, at least of this man’s tribe. “I’m going to bring cattle back to Prescott, in Arizona Territory,” he said. “Air...iz...o...na,” Walks Tall repeated. “Air...iz...o...na Not know Air...iz...o...na.” “Near Mexico, Texas. It’s got a big canyon in the ground with a long river,” Ed said helpfully. “Aleh-Shonak?” Walks Tall said excitedly. “Aleh-Shonak... Place of the Small Springs. AlehShonak mean little spring in Indian word. You call it Air…….” stopping he looked expectedly at Ed. “Arizona. Air...i...zon...a.” he said slowly “Arizona. Arizona.” Walks Tall was happy. “I know this Arizona. It big desert. Not much water. Large hole. Many Naabeeho.” “That’s right,” Ed remarked, glad they had moved on. “I have plenty of water near Prescott.” They spent the next few minutes saying the word and other English terms. In turn, Walks Tall taught Ed the names of things around the camp in the Cheyenne language.

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After talking for another hour, Ed rubbed his eyes and looked at Walks Tall. “Sleep there,” he said, pointing to a bedroll that was laid out. Sticking out his hand, he took the Indian’s and grasped it firmly. “We will be friends.” Just moments after lying down on a spare bedroll one of the men had lent him, Walks Tall was snoring. Ed walked to his bedroll and took off his boots. Lying down he stared at the night sky. It felt good to be alive. Today’s close brush had taken its toll. “I thank God for every day,” he thought. As he gazed up at the heavens, he saw a shooting star fall across the sky, leaving a glaring trail in its path. “So far away,” he thought,” yet so near that it seemed he could reach out and brush away the trail with his hand.” Stars sparkled and twinkled, some appearing large, while others he could barely see. Looking for the Big Bear, he spotted it outlined against the darkness. The end was pointing north. “I wonder if “she” is looking up at this sky tonight?” he thought as he fell asleep. Ed was startled awake by a yell. Grabbing his gun from the holster, he bounded out of his bedroll. “What is it?” he asked loudly in the darkness. Looking up at the moon, it had moved only halfway across the sky. It was not even close to morning. The yelling got louder and he saw someone scrambling in the darkness. Wanting to shoot, but not sure who it was, his first thought was they had been bushwhacked by the Indian. Then, in the darkness, a voice said, “Rob’s got a rattlesnake in his bedroll. It’s rattling right now. If he moves he’ll get bit.” It was Tim doing the talking “Where’s he at?” asked Ed.

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“Over here,” replied a quiet voice. “Rotten thing slimed me getting in my blanket. I woke up thinking it might be a rabid skunk sticking his nose where it…” the quiet voice suddenly broke off. As the others crept up, they saw the head of the coiled snake rise from under the edge of Rob’s blanket. “Don’t speak any more,” said Levitt. Looking around for a long stick to knock the snake away, then stopped when he heard Walks Tall speak. “You make mad. He bite.” Stepping softly, he took a couple of steps toward Rob. “You stay. No move,” he said, speaking to him. Withdrawing a knife, he slid it in his palm and turned the point end toward himself. Lining up, he threw the knife with a flash. It flew through the air catching the gleam of the fire as it slipped by. With a swish, the snake’s head flew off, writhing on the ground a foot away from Rob’s head. Its mouth opened and shut, the fangs leaking a dark fluid. The body writhed around under the blanket, spitting blood as it searched for its head. Finally, as if understanding it had no life left, it dropped, wiggled, then shook itself one last time and lay as if a thick scale covered rope, still dripping blood from the severed neck. Rob threw his blanket back, leaping out. Running a dozen yards he stopped, frantically brushing his body to rid itself of the feel of the snake. Bending over to catch his breath, he rested, then stood up and walked back to the group of men. Sticking his hand out to Walks Tall, he said, “Man, I never been so scared in all my life. Thanks for that good throw.” Walks Tall made many friends that night. They were like a large extended family. One hurts, they all hurt; one is threatened, they’re all threatened. One is rescued, they’re all grateful. Walks Tall had earned a place by the campfire along with a seat at each of these men’s tables.

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As the excitement died down, they slowly drifted back toward bed. The moon was just a sliver behind building clouds of darkness. Its shimmer of golden light spread as far as it could in the gathering storm. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rumbled. “Gonna get wet here ‘fore long,” thought Ed. The others were thinking the same thing. They quickly set up an old army tent big enough for twenty men. The extra hands went around and gathered the camp items, bringing them into the tent. The horses were pig-tied and slickers placed over them, with blinders on their eyes to keep them from bolting. They had plenty of practice building shelters and throwing tents, having lived and worked on the prairie. Completing it in record time, the men ran toward it just as a torrent of rain swept toward them. Rob looked around inside the tent. “Where’s the Injun?” Everyone looked at the other, and then shrugged. Stepping out in the cool air, a gust of strong wind pushed at him. Rob noticed Walks Tall under the wagon. “Hey,” he called. No answer. Running over, he got his attention. “Come on,” he said waving his hands and gesturing toward the tent. Walks Tall grinned, then grabbed his blankets and ran back to the shelter of the tent with Rob. Once inside, he looked around with wonderment. “Big Lodge,” he said. “Plenty big lodge. Hold many brave warriors.” Walking around it, he saw the men had left a place for him in one of the corners. “Smell heavy rain. Come hard. Stay long.” “You can tell how heavy the rain is?” ask Tim. Nodding, Walks Tall pointed to his nose. “Heavy smell for heavy rain. Small smell for small rain. Walks Tall smell much heavy smell. Many flood come. We stay many day.”

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By this time, all the men had gathered around him, fascinated by his knowledge. As suddenly as the rain had started, it stopped and was replaced with an eerie silence which seemed too loud after the clomping of horse’s hooves that, they had been hearing for days and nights now. Outside, the howling wind picked up and whipped the opening of the tent aside. Looking out, they could see the gray light of dawn approaching. It was hard to believe it had been three or four hours ago that the snake incident had happened. Time had flown while they made ready for the storm. A false gray dawn tried to work its way on the horizon. Looming black clouds crept slowly across the plains. Lighting flashed, showing the stark landscape in a glimmer of light, before returning it to an even blacker picture. The horses spooked, working at their fetters. Suddenly, a flash of light struck not far away from the tent and a loud clap of thunder followed almost immediately. Another flash and then the roll of thunder that went on and on, roaring in their ears, stretching the human level of tolerance. As it finally faded away, they heard the first of many heavy drops begin to fall against the canvas top and run down the sides of the tent. Sheets of rain followed, drowning out all talk. Inside, a place was cleared in the middle of the tent for a campfire. After digging a pit, one of the men lifted another onto his shoulders and they opened a small flap in roof of the tent to allow smoke to escape. Building up a flame was difficult work, since the matches had been forgotten in the wagon. Cookie slipped two rounds from his cartridge belt. Using his knife, he pried off the top of the lead bullet. Pouring the powder out of the casing onto kindling they had brought in, he struck the end of a flint against the powdery wood.

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A spark flew and when it didn’t catch, he tried again. This time a spark hit the powder and with a sizzle consumed it. Adding more pieces of dry wood, Cookie fed the fire to life, stroking and blowing it, bringing it to a pleasant warm glow. He then set about preparing breakfast for the men. The rain continued unabated for the rest of the day. Torrents whipped across the top and sides of the tent, threatening to tear it from the stakes that held it fast. Sitting inside, the men taught Walks Tall how to play Poker and Straight Up. He learned quickly. The men took to him like a little brother. Ed, looking at their faces, knew they would give their lives for this man they had known for less than a day. Walks Tall rapidly stripped the men of many personal items by winning hand after hand. Rarely ever losing a pot they said he had the luck of a medicine man. As Ed turned and looked at the Indian he thought he saw a wink, but it was gone so quickly he couldn’t be sure. Outside, the horses were neighing. “We need to feed them, boys,” Ed said. “I’ll go…. need a couple of hands to help.” Jumping to their feet, Levitt and Felix stood up. Ed nodded in thanks, as he grabbed the feedbags and oats. The men put on their slickers and pulled their hats down hard before stepping into the melee. The wind whipped at the brims, trying to pull their hats off. Leaning into the wind, they fought their way to the horses, quickly fed them, and walked, ran, or were pushed by the wind back to the tent. As they stood inside the entrance dripping water in large puddles, Ed remarked “God bless the sailors on the stormy seas tonight,” Echoes of “Amen” rang out in the tent. After spending a day and night inside the tent, the men awoke to another dismal day of rain. By now, the heat of the warm bodies and the fire had chased away all chill from the tent. It got

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almost stifling inside. Opening the flap to draw in cool air, they stared at the rain and the land. It had turned into a flood plain. The river they had crossed not two days before had been a small river, which was easily crossed with the wagon and horses. Now it would not be wise even to get close to it. Spanning more than three hundred feet across it raged on, a brown and red tide with foaming white caps. Bringing all in its path along for the ride, the torrent moved boulders the size of wagons downstream. The tent was still good distance away from the river so they were safe for the time being. Shaking his head, Ed turned around to see Walks Tall watching him. “Much more rain comes. Mountains cry hard after bad rain. Bring life down to plain.” On the fourth day, sudden stillness in the late afternoon drew their attention to the lack of the sound of rain. As quickly as it started, it had stopped. Looking at each other in amazement, the men filed out of the tent. The sun shone brightly behind pink and red billows of clouds. A double rainbow showed in the northern sky, bringing the promise of no more rain to the drenched land. In the distance, black flocks of birds swooped up and down, catching the insects that filled the air with a drone. The men’s boots sunk to their tops in squishy mud that stuck to their feet as they tried to walk. “Gonna be a messy camp tonight,” commented Levitt. They fought their way over to the horses. They fed them again and rubbed them down. It would be rough pulling a wagon and walking the horses in this mud, thought Ed. He hadn’t fought his way through mud quite this deep before, but he knew they would be lucky to make more than a couple miles a day. “We’ll mount up first thing in the morning,” Ed told the men.

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***

Amy peered up at the gathering thunderheads to the north. It was late in the year for it to be monsoon rains, yet they could always use the moisture. Her thoughts turned, as they so often did these days, to Ed. She wondered where he and the hands were. Were they safe and dry someplace out of the storm or wet and cold? Concern furrowed her brow at the thought. “Oh, why did I let him leave so late in the year? If anything happens to him, I’ll never forgive myself!” She hurried to gather the last of the eggs and closed the door to the chicken coop behind her. The Widow Doris had promised their patient that she’d make some baked goods since he was well on his way to recovery. The man, Lou, was sitting up in bed for a short time each day and the Widow Doris had taken to bossing him. He seemed to enjoy the attention, Amy noticed, and even enjoyed the bossing. Doris seemed intent on fattening him up as quickly as possible and was always plying him with bowls of chicken soup and beef stew. Amy found it hard to eat. Even with the delicious smell of the food to tempt her, she just couldn’t seem to swallow past the lump that was ever present in her throat. Of course, the Widow Doris tried to coax her at every meal but she also wisely knew that the girl would get her appetite back in time. Now was her mourning time and the older lady didn’t push too hard although it pained her to see Amy growing so thin. She hadn’t been a stout girl to begin with and now she wasn’t much more than a rail. The dark hollows under her eyes were made even more apparent by the hollow of her cheeks.

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Doris was glad to see Amy take an interest in something, however, and noticed the girl’s joy at sewing the pink gingham into a new shirtwaist. Millie had taught the girl some fancy embroidery stitches and Amy had been busy making a beautiful pattern on the yoke of the blouse. The door slammed as Amy came in with the basket of fresh eggs. “I think we’re in for a cloudburst. There’s thunderhead’s gathering over Mingus Mountain. I’ve put the horses in the barn and closed up the chicken coop… Oh, and here are the eggs.” “Thanks, hon., now why don’t you read some more of that nice story to me and Mr. Lou there while I bake up some cookies. I think there’s just enough sugar and some soured cream from the pail.” Amy positioned a chair in the doorway of Pa’s room so that Doris could hear from the front room and Lou from his place in the bed. The book was a new one and a very rare treat. Millie had gotten it from a friend in the east that often sent such luxury items along with the latest news from New York and Boston. Knowing of Amy’s love for reading, and thinking she could use a diversion, Millie had brought the book to the funeral ceremony and pressed it upon her. The three of them were just getting into the story of Lorna Doone and as Amy began to read, they were again swept away to Exmoor.

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Chapter Nine

In plodding their way through the muddy land, the caravan mired down in wet ground so that by the end of each day the men and horses were worn to a frazzle. Tempers flared and angry words were spat in the gloomy twilight. Ed knew the danger of temper overcoming common sense, so he took Walks Tall out with him for fresh meat. Riding the plains, they spotted a herd of buffalo on the floor of a deep valley. Lining up the sights of his Henry .44 rifle, Ed took aim and brought down a large male with a huge shaggy head. He could have taken more, but he did not want the meat to go to waste. One large buffalo was all they needed to feed the entire crew. Walks Tall jumped from his saddle. Stripping out his knife, he skinned and gutted the animal quicker than Ed had ever seen. Bringing him the tongue, Walks Tall said, “Good to eat. Bring strong wisdom to brave.” Grabbing the tongue, Ed held it, feeling his stomach clench. How was he going to get out of this? It was meant to be a gesture of honor, but he was repulsed by the idea. The tongue was coated with a slimy sheet of faded green cud while white specks dotted the edges. “How do you eat this?” he asked. Taking the tongue, Walks Tall knelt down, picking up the pieces of grass and wood lying nearby. He removed dry shavings from a pouch around his neck and added these to the pile. Sparking a flame with the hilt of his knife against a flint stone he carried, he started a small fire. Bringing it to life by adding more shavings, he soon had the small fire roaring.

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Ed could only shake his head in amazement. In the middle of a prairie that was soaking wet, this young man had successfully started a fire from shavings and wet wood. Walks Tall took the tongue and shoved a stick in the middle. Holding it over the flame, he looked at Ed and rubbed his stomach, grinning. Ed felt sick but relieved that it would at least be cooked. Not having a choice, he dismounted and sat down near the fire, feeling the soft ground settle under him. As he watched the meat cook, he thought about Amy and hoped she was all right. It had been three weeks since he’d left the Prescott area. A lot can happen in that time, he thought. Remembering her smile, he felt himself missing her more than he had ever missed a woman, or anyone else for that matter. Seeing her in his dreams only hurt more because of the time they would be apart. He tried to remember every detail about her. Her long blonde hair, the piercing blue eyes and lovely face; she reminded him of an angel, or what he imagined an angel would look like. Her shape was made for love, her lips meant to be tenderly kissed, and her hands to be felt on him and her arms around him. In those cornflower eyes were a sweetness that would make any man weak in the knees. Waking each day the sun seemed brighter, the day seemed better, and he had more interest in the little things in life… food even tasted better. He could not remember ever being in love before… if he was in love, it was a great feeling. He thought about the day that he would see her again. “I want to make sure I bathe before I head out to the ranch, if I’m able to,” he was thinking when Walks Tall interrupted his thoughts. “Eat,” he handed him the stick. The smell wasn’t as bad as he figured. Tentatively tasting a small bite from the side, he was surprised when it crossed his palate with a pleasant taste. Liking it, he took a larger bite and

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chewed it slowly. Handing it back to Walks Tall, he watched as a huge portion was bitten off and enjoyed with gusto. Taking one more bite, he handed it back to Ed. “You eat. Make for you. My friend.” The men put out the fire and mounting up, rode into camp with their offerings. Taking the meat from the back of Ed’s saddle, Cookie remarked, “It’s getting’ kinda tense around here, partner. I was thinking’ it might be best to let the boys hole up for a day near Silverton. I’ve heard of a few right nice places they can kick up their heels and have a little fun.” “Sounds like a good idea.” Ed agreed. We should ride near there in the next day or two.” Walking to Levitt, Ed said, “Gather the hands ‘round. I wanna talk to ‘em.” After the group settled down, Ed stood up, straightened out his dirty shirt and looked around at the faces of the tired dirty men. “We’re heading’ into Silverton for a while. I want to give you boys some time to work off some energy, clean the mud of the trail off your clothes and bodies and the dust from your throats.” “I know it’s been a rough going last few days and you boys have pulled together and worked as a team. Each one of you has contributed more than your share without any stragglers. I sure do rightly appreciate that.” Clearing his throat, he went on. “I don’t want to have to bail any of you out of the local slammer, so enjoy yourselves, but stay out of trouble. We don’t know what the local law is like in these parts, but from what I’ve heard, you don’t want to visit the sheriff’s hotel. “Any of you boys that need an advance, come see me afterward.” With that, he turned and walked back to his horse. He was waiting by the saddlebags when Carlos and Felix approached him.

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“Ya know how you said we could get a little money?” Felix asked, embarrassed. “Well, me an Carlos here, we’re plum broke. Haven’t had much to go round lately.” Ed gently replied, “I told you to ask if you need it. Nothin’ to be ashamed of. This here money ain’t mine, anyhow. I borrowed it from the bank ‘cause I’m broke too. How much do you need?” “We’s hoping to git some more winter gear, mainly,” said Carlos. “Figure twenty a piece’d be all right.” Ed smiled. These boys were good boys. They could have asked for forty each and he’d have given it to them. Reaching into his bags, he withdrew two twenty-dollar gold pieces. Flipping one to each, he said, “You boys need more, come see me.” As they thanked him profusely, Ed turned red. “You earned it,” he said gruffly. Walks Tall came over. “I ride to my people before snow comes. It come soon,” he said, pointing to the sky. Ed looked up. The day was as clear as any he’d seen. “When’s it coming?” “Plenty snow few moons. Heavy, wet, bad trail. Tribe snow in.” He stuck out his hand as Ed had shown him. “I come see you; you come back,” he said waving his arm around the plains. “I watch for you.” Ed grasped the Indian’s hand firmly in his with a feeling of sadness. He liked this young man. He knew this would be a friendship that would never falter. “Wait a minute.” He ran to his saddlebag and withdrew a large pouch of tobacco. Unlacing his other bag, he pulled out his extra Peacemaker colt with two boxes of ammunition. He had gotten this gun while serving with the Northern Army during the Civil War. It was only a single shot six-shooter, but it was a gun to be reckoned with.

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He turned back to Walks Tall and handed them over to him. “My friend helped me. I want to help you. It will bring plenty of buffalo to your table this winter. I’ll bring back more bullets on the way through, heading home.” Walks Tall could only stare at the gun as he took it in his hand. Lifting it slowly, he looked at Ed with genuine affection. “We always friends. You wear this.” Taking his necklace made of braided buffalo hair and a single eagle feather he placed it around Ed’s neck and tied it on. “Strong medicine. Protect you from harm. My tribe see you, they no touch. You friend of Cheyenne.” As he turned away, Ed remembered the pouch of tobacco in his hand. “Wait, give this to your father. Tell him it’s from a friend.” Walks Tall solemnly took the pouch. “Thank you,” he said.

***

Two days later they rode into the town of Silverton, Colorado. The town had been built on the side of a mountain in the upper regions of the elevation. It was ice cold during the day and below freezing at night. The streets were packed with wagons loaded down with ore from the silver mines. More saloons than hotels dotted the landscape. People of every ethnic origin strolled the muddy streets and dirty boardwalks. The smell of sulfur hung in the air, mixing with the smells of unwashed bodies. “Must be too cold to bathe up here,” Levitt grinned at Ed.

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“Sure do smell, but I smell a thick steak in the middle of it,” replied Ed. The thought of a good sit down meal spurred them on. They pulled their horses up in front of Dolly’s place, a saloon and hotel. Getting down, they loop-tied the horses and turned to the men gathered behind them. “No shooting up the town today. Have fun.” With that, Ed and Levitt walked to the swinging doors and pushed their way inside. The room was full of a smoky haze that made their eyes sting. The noise of a lone instrument banging out some sort of rhythm filled the air. Men were everywhere. The only women present were those who worked the crowd. Looking for the one man that would buy them a drink, they scouted out newcomers for an opportunity to perform their trade, or pick their wallets. Ed felt his shirt to make sure that his wallet was safely against his chest. He led the way over to a table in the corner and sat down with his back against the wall, facing the door. Levitt pulled a chair around to the side and seated himself where he could watch Ed’s blind side. Making her way over to them was a heavyset woman with blue made-up eyes, glaring red lipstick, and a tent like garment to cover her massive frame. “Name’s Betty,” she said in a deep smoky voice. “What can I get you boys?” “Couple of your biggest steaks with a heaping of mashed taters for me,” said Levitt. Ed thought a minute. “Think I’ll have the same. Bring us a gallon of coffee, too, would ya?” Nodding, the woman plodded away. “Bet ya she’s the owner,” said Levitt, with a twinkle in his eyes. “Matter o’ fact, loser buys dinner.” “That’s a bet I’m not willing to take,” Ed shrugged. “My money’s on her, too.”

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Looking around the full bar, they noticed many people of all races crowded together, sharing drinks, women, and stories. Ed knew other countries had lost many of their citizens to America for the chance of a better life. In the bar were Irish, Spanish, Japanese, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Blacks and Jews. Leaving all they knew behind, they came searching for the same dream every American had. Find gold or silver, buy some land, and settle down to raise a family. It wasn’t an outrageous dream. Many men had found a fortune in the ground and turned it into a nice stake. However, there was always the bad element that followed the good. An honest man had to worry about dry-gulchers, henchmen, robbers, way-layers, and men of most every other vice. Some of the men who’d found their dreams ended up dead the following morning with neither hide nor hair of their fortune ever to be found. Guns were needed to keep the peace in these trying times. If nothing else, they gave the person possessing them the hope of not being a victim. The Indians understood this and traded most anything they could for a rifle. Ed was startled back to the present when Levitt nudged him. Large plates were being set in front of them with a steak covering most of the space. It was a good inch thick, dripping red juice from the edges. Mashed potatoes covered the balance of the plate and a bowl of thick gravy was set in the center of the table. “Anything else I can get you boys?” the heavy-set woman purred. “I own this here place, so’s you just call on me if I can help you.” She smiled and swished away. They didn’t waste any time digging into the meal; they ate with the desperation of starving men. Not speaking until the last scrap had been consumed, they polished the plates clean in

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silence. Pushing his chair back from the table, Levitt burped. He burped again and rubbed his belly. “That’s enough good eatin’ to make a man marry that woman,” he said.

***

Under the excellent care of the two women Lou had recovered sufficiently to move out to the bunkhouse. He was reluctant to leave the tasty meals cooked by the Widow Doris and had made himself useful around the ranch tending to the horses and doing handyman jobs. Even without cattle on the ranch there was plenty of upkeep, and winter was coming on. Leaks in the roof made evident by the monsoons were patched and he helped to dig up the fall crops of potatoes and carrots to be stored in the root cellar. Every evening the three would sit in front of the fire as Amy continued to read from Lorna Doone. They had fallen into a comfortable routine and Doris could see that it was helping Amy to get past the sorrow of losing her Pa. She had begun to eat again and didn’t quite look so gaunt. As Amy read the romance book she was having romantic fantasies of her own. She had begun to imagine what it would be like when Ed returned. She ran over in her mind different scenarios of his return, each culminating with an embrace and a kiss. She felt her lips touch Ed’s and then sweet taste of homemade root-beer candy. Without realizing it she started to touch her breast and feeling the hardness developing under her finger tips, she gasp, caught herself and felt her face flush. ‘Oh my good Lord. What am I doing?’ She thought and then said aloud without ‘What if Doris had walked in or someone else. We she be so embarrassed she would never show her face again. But it did feel good. Amy shivered and clasped her arms around her waist. If only Ed were hear maybe we could get to know the other and find out if this love or lust, whatever it is, all one

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sided. Her deep longing made it clear to her that she may have only met Ed a few days before. But all your life, Amy thought, You have waited for the one right man to come along and you would know him when you see him. She had felt that shock of realization when the danger was over and she caught Ed looking deep with her eyes. She felt exposed but not upset. It was then Amy feel in love for the first time in her life. If only Ed were hear standing before her, holding her, at least could she go as far as imagining him kissing her?. She imagined what she would say and how he would respond. And of course, she would be wearing the pink shirtwaist, now complete with a lovely cross-stitch pattern on the bodice. And although she had been raised properly, she still felt a naughty thought at the underclothing she would wear. Her France-De Ponce, or China silk? Every time she thought of Ed, she remembered that first day when he’d held her, trembling inside the cabin door. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel the steel cords of his muscular arms about her, and the salty, masculine smell of his sweaty skin. Then there was the time at the graveside when he’d put his arm about her… it was kindness she knew; but even so, she remembered how good it felt to have one so tall and strong stand beside her, supporting her. That time at the Howells he’d come upon her crying and hadn’t spoiled it by trying to talk or make useless conversation. He’d seemed to know instinctively that what she needed right then was just a tender hug from a strong man. He’d held her until the sobs that rocked her body had ceased and she’d been slightly disappointed when they had returned to the parlor where the guests were. “Oh,” Amy thought, “Am I just a silly romantic girl to have these thoughts?” Perhaps he was just being kind. Maybe it didn’t mean as much to him… But then he’d bought her the gingham… and, then too, there was that look of longing in his eyes. It seemed like more than just the lust and desire she’d seen when other men had looked at her. And what about what the Widow Doris

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had told her? “I saw the way he looked at you, that man will be coming back to you.” Amy was counting on it.

***

Two days after arriving in Silverton, in the early morning, they pushed out of town. The drovers riding with Ed and Levitt slumped in the saddle, hating the way the horses jolted them with every step. Nursing hangovers, the men were a dreary lot to behold. Faces hidden under hat-brims pulled down low and coat collars up high, they plodded through the gray day wishing for a chance to undo the previous night’s drinking. Overhead, the sky was full of gathering clouds, growing layer upon layer. Vera in the west covered the horizon. Walks Tall was right, Ed thought grimly. It was going to snow in mutinous volleys. He had said it would be enough to keep his tribe snowed in, and that was on a day when it was so clear a sailor would have argued with him about the weather. Ed wondered with amazement what it was the Indian had seen or felt that told him about the coming storm. Maybe it’s just a feeling of the land that a white man may never possess. No matter how long they lived here or how many people arrived, the white men would never have the love or respect for the land that the Indian had. The Indians loved this country. It provided all they needed to survive; yet they never wasted any of its resources. They killed the buffalo for meat and coats for the warriors and their families. The bones were used for spear points, arrowheads, flavoring, and fertilizer. Even the smallest bone was used for a needle to make their clothing. Not one part of the animal was wasted. If only the white man

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respected the creation of God like the Indians. All white man did was shoot it for its hide, leaving the meat to rot. They were headed into Wyoming where the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody lived. He had created a “wild west” show that traveled the world. The buffalo was his centerpiece. Unfortunately, he had killed more buffalo than many of the Plains Indians had in their lifetimes. “What a waste,” thought Ed. Riding ahead of the crew, he climbed a knoll and sat on his horse looking out over the barren landscape. He missed having Walks Tall with them. Then his thoughts turned to Amy again and it made him miss her even more. He was impatient to finish this journey and get back to her. He worried about what Leo might try to do in his absence… and he longed to hold her and smell her loveliness again. He then closed his eyes and could actually smell her fresh soap with French Toilet Water touched with Lilac. He almost could feel the Purple bush flowers in his thoughts as his mind wandered to Amy’s figure. Tall, lean and without an ounce of fat, she was one of the few last women Ed had known that were not married yet. With a beautiful face lined with high cheekbones and a high forehead, hair pulled back into a brownish Blonde pony-tail and the willow shaped figure that snapped back at you if you bent it with your looks, she was indeed a formidable woman who had stayed single, obviously by her own choice. A song started working it’s way into Ed’s head and he fought it because of the sudden sadness it brought him, while trying to place the words in a better light. “Red River Valley”, changed to; “From your valley they say you are looking, You are looking for a place to call your own, For you’ve placed then sunshine in my life, And I welcome into my home”.

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A sorrow came over Ed as he realized it would be months before he would see her again and suddenly he wanted to turn around and head back. Fighting the bitterness that rose in him from the thought that Amy could very well be seeing someone else by the time he got back, he pushed the thoughts from his mind with a strong mental force. There had never been anything promised between them or for that matter, talked about. What did he have or expect. He had been to shy and felt awkward saying something to someone he just met on top of losing her dad so recently. If he could turn back time and say what was in his heart to her, she might feel the same way. Then, he would not be wondering all these troublesome thoughts which came to his mind and caused jealousy to spring up like a new drilled well of ice cold water. That was the way he felt, icy, cold and pissed off about thinking of her with another. Common sense took over and he reasoning took control. If she was still single after all the years she could have had any man she wanted, then maybe she would not stray. Little did he know that while he was thinking of her, Amy’s thoughts has turned to Ed and she felt the rage that comes with being unable to do anything about the distance which separated them. Dispelling the fear and worry that rose she placed aside the thoughts and became pratical about the situation. They may be apart now but what man would drop what he was doing in life and take on someone’s problems, although he had no promised of anything in return. What man would offer to help work the ranch and hire the hands from his own pocket if he was not planning on staying around for a while. Her heart jumped at the thought and how much since it made. Things would be ok, they would work out. Her women’s intuition kicked in full gear and she felt peace descend on her like the soft feather of a dove.

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Ed felt a deep satisfying peace descend on him unexpectedly. His jealousy turned to longing even more, and his heart felt weak. How he wanted to hold her, bring her into his arms and kiss her all over. Smell the scent of a woman and feel the soft skin and supple nature, which distinguished the sexes. Behind him, he heard a cough and his horse neighed. Levitt rode up resting his arms across the pommel. “We’re coming into Plains land,” he said. “The boys aren’t in much shape for a fight, if the need arises. Figure we come around ten miles so far. I’ve been through here before and seen a place up the trail bout five more miles where we can hole up for a rest.” Ed nodded. “Feels good to not be in the shape them boys is in. I’m thinkin’ they’ll not want to see another town for a bit.” Grinning, Levitt agreed. “Only thing I’m missin’ right now is that purty red-head.” Seeing Ed’s look, he quickly remarked, “She can cook a meal that’ll knock you over.” Ed pursed his lips, nodding his head. “Sure, sure, that’s what it is. She can cook.” The sounds of his laughter rang in Levitt’s ears as he rode away. Ed, seeing the rise in the ground ahead of them, knew this must be the place Levitt had meant. The clouds were just starting to release their burden. Drops of rain mixed with snow fell against his upturned face as he studied the clouds. Feeling the air chill even more, he bundled his jacket tighter and stroked his horse. “Gonna be a bad one, boy,” he whispered. The horse’s ears pricked up at his words and he picked up the pace as if understanding shelter lay just ahead. As the riders neared the concave rocks, the clouds gave way, turning the air white. The men could not see each other four feet away. Letting the horses follow one another they rode in to the overhang. “We’re gonna be stuck here a few days,” said Ed. “Let’s get set up for the long haul.”

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“How do you know it’ll be more than a day or so?”, asked Tim. “Walks Tall said this here storm was comin’ a few days fore it hit. Gotta learn to trust these Indians,” Ed replied. It took the men only an hour to set up the camp in the freezing cold weather. Hob-tying the horses in what shelter they could find behind the tent and using it as a block for the wind and snow, they stepped inside. They would only come out to feed the horses and answer the call of nature for the next few days.

***

Sam thought that bringing in the McCloud brothers was the best idea he’d had in a long time. Brett McCloud had been thrown in jail and was looking at doing a few years time for doing a blotched robbery on the Overland Stage. He had the unfortunate experience to rob the coach when a U. S. Marshal happened to be a passenger. Staring at the business end of a Pepperbox gun the officer had pulled out of his sleeve, he gave up quickly. The Pepperbox was a little gun that looked like a peppershaker. It was made from one cylinder bored out with six holes, which held a mean bullet. The only drawback of the gun was that it sometimes fired all six rounds at the same time. When that happened, the only safe place to be was behind the gun, holding it. Brian and Jack, Brett’s brothers, were a notoriously quarrelsome set of twins. They were good with their guns and could hold their own in a stand up fight. Jack was the meaner of the two. He had started out honest as a wagon boss for the Overland Stage. After working for them many years he could not resist the temptation any longer. One day

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he up and helped himself to the Army’s payroll while transporting it to the base of Fort Verde. Knowing he had turned from honest citizen to wanted outlaw, he began to rob the travelers moving out west. Bringing in his brother Brian, they developed a reputation for being absolutely ruthless. Brian was too quick to kill and wasn’t honest in anything he’d ever done. Meeting up with a rustler named Roland, they soon had a $500.00 bounty on each of their heads for their misdeeds. A sheriff who’d stood up to their antics in the little town of Sedona was too slow to back up his words. After shooting him dead in the street, all three men lit out with the law on their trail. Making their way down to Tucson territory, they terrorized the locals there. Sam was awaiting word from them now. He had orders from Leo to hustle to the Double Diamond and get this situation under control before the coming winter. Now all he could do was sit out the days until they showed up at the meeting point. On the outskirts of Palo Verde Valley, the McCloud brothers swung into the tiny remnant of a town called Green Valley to wreak havoc. Riding into the street, they were met by the local mayor-councilman-sheriff-telegraph operator. He was a one-man operation. Fact of the matter was, he had no problem being voted to all these positions. The town held a total of twenty people, all of them related to each other by some means. It had been an easy vote, choosing the leader like they did. He was the only man over 50 years old. The Army had set up a telegraph station in this tiny community in anticipation of a Fort being built to hold troops for the fight with the Apaches. A telegram sung its way along the line, reaching Tucson and its surrounding offices. The clerks read it, made copies, and sent it out to the hotels and brothels, as was the norm. Green Valley lines danced with the return news as the operator wrote down the message.

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Chapter Ten

Sam had ridden out of Prescott with the townsfolk hot on his trail. He wasn’t planning on going back anyway. As soon as Leo’s job was done he’d head for Texas. The country was still wide open there, and not so many people were moving in. He’d be closer to the border where he could run some cattle across when he needed to. He was sure the McCloud brothers would follow him. As far as Roland was concerned, Sam didn’t care. All he needed from him right now was to take care of that woman personally. It was Roland’s fault she was still alive. The three men he’d hired had messed up. They were just supposed to kill the woman and her father; but since they hadn’t had a woman in awhile they tried rape first. That was their first mistake, and their second was assuming they were alone. They paid for their carelessness with their lives. By leaving the woman alive they’d opened up an investigation into the killings. Nobody would have thought twice if they had done it the way they were supposed to. The plan was to make it look as if Indians attacked the family. Sam got angrier and angrier as he thought about it. He had assured Leo he had the right men to handle this job and they’d left a mess to clean up. The worst part was he wasn’t getting paid for the clean up. It was a freebie he owned Leo due to Roland’s incompetence. Sam took out his anger on his horse, whipping it mercilessly. Running it until its breaths came in great gasps, he felt the animal falter and start to stumble. Realizing he was killing the creature, he let him slow down to a walk.

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Suddenly feeling badly about his behavior, he pulled up and climbed down from the saddle. Raising his hand to reach for his canteen, the horse shield away and pulled at the reins. “I’m sorry, ol boy,” Sam said, as he pulled the stopper out of the canteen. Filling his hat with water, he held it for the horse to drink. Willow Creek Basin was only a few miles away. He was sure Roland and the McCloud brothers wouldn’t be at the meeting place for another day or so. He had plenty of time to make the meeting. His boots sank into the thick sand of the desert as he walked along in front of his horse. The sun was high overhead creating heat waves that danced off the ground. He used his canteen to soak his kerchief and placed it around his neck, glad to have the coolness soak into his skin. He heard his horse wheezing behind him. He had beaten it hard and now it was suffering. Stopping, he removed his hat and repeated the process of filling it with the last of his water. By the time he reached Willow Creek Basin, he was drenched in sweat. His shirt, vest, and gun belt had long since been removed. He kept his gun for protection inside the waistband of his trousers. His eyeballs seemed to be burning holes in his skull from the heat. Falling to his knees, he flopped face down in the water and drank deeply. His horse already had his muzzle deep in the water. Sam dangled his feet in the water and allowed himself to cool down. Wetting down his shirt, he pulled it back on. For the first time that day, he was comfortable. Regaining his strength, he found an old campsite nearby that had a fire pit ringed with rocks. After eating a bit, he settled down for the night.

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Slowly awakening the next morning he lay still, listening to the morning sounds, including his horse munching on grass. He rolled out and poured the remnants of last night’s tepid coffee into his cup. Sam needed to meet the boys near Granite Basin either that day or the next. Kicking dirt onto the now black coals, he mounted up and headed out. He arrived at Lynx Spring late in the morning and noticed bear tracks in the mud. Dismounting, he realized his horse was spooked. Holding the reins firmly, he knelt down and felt the leading edges of the tracks. The fresh dirt disturbed by his touch fell off the sides. “Couldn’t have been long before I arrived,” he muttered. Sam felt the hair standing up on his neck. He backed up and pulled his rifle out of the scabbard and walked his horse until he was a safe distance from the water. Shortly after building a fire and starting a pot of coffee he heard a group of riders coming into the basin. Walking to a rise in the ground, he watched as Roland and the others trotted his way. “Right nice to see you, boys,” he said, turning back to the fire. “How was your trip?” Roland stepped down from the saddle and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Had some trouble down that way. Nothin’ we couldn’t handle, but we thought it best to get outta that two-bit town.” Brian and Jack McCloud looked haggard. “We’ve been ridin’ straight through. The law tried to bushwhack us ‘fore we come through Prescott. They knew we was comin’.” “Any idea how?” Sam spat in the fire. “Maybe that fool operator told the sheriff about the telegram I sent ya. I’ll kill’m next time I see him.”

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Brian laughed. “Hope you ain’t plannin’ on goin’ into Prescott any time soon. Those people don’t take kindly to you. If ‘n I was you, I’d just as soon forget about him and leave that there town alone.” Sam angrily spun around, his hand going to his gun. “Ya callin’ me a yellow belly?” Backing up, his hands held wide, Brian looked at Roland and Jack. “No, Sam. I ain’t sayin’ anything like that. Just sayin’ those people is a bunch of dern fools. You’re a good guy. Just didn’t want to see ya ridin’ into a pack o’ wolves, that’s all.” Sam apologized. “Sorry, Brian, I’m jumpy today. We got a huge problem and I ain’t even met with Leo yet.” “What’s the problem, Sam?” Roland asked quietly. Sam told them about the failure of the three men, the attempted rape, the Indian attack, and the investigation being conducted. Roland remained motionless, his face clenched and eyes filled with anger. He kept his mouth shut until Sam finished. “You and I are in this together now,” Sam ended. “I don’t want any part in killin’ this woman, Sam! That’s a hanging offence, without a trial.” “You were hired to do a job and messed it up. If I’d a known you’d have reservations about this, I’d never have hired you in the first place.” Sam was upset. “You shoulda handled this yourself, not sent someone else to do your dirty work.” “When I took the money for the job, it had nothing to do with killing that woman until after I spent it. You lied to me in the first place.” Roland’s face was red and flushed. “You know I never would have taken it – that’s why you waited until I drank it up, you skunk.”

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He reached for the side arm at his waist but he was too slow. Sam’s gun was out in a flash before Roland’s even cleared leather. The shot spun Roland around and his gun flew from his fingers. Falling heavily to the ground, he stared up at Sam. As if in slow motion, he looked down at his chest. He saw the stain spreading across his shirt. “You shot me!” He sounded incredulous. Sam looked at Brian and Jack with the gun still in his hand. “He played his hand and lost,” Jack said. “He was too slow.” “I got no beef with you.” Brian kept his hands in the air, away from his gun. “It was a stand up fight.” Sam felt sick. He had needed Roland’s help. He’d thought that only he was ruthless enough to have carried out the task ahead. Maybe he’d been wrong. Turning to the boys, he glared at them. “Let’s mount up and ride…” Not speaking, each kept his thoughts to himself as they rode toward Leo’s ranch. It wasn’t a pleasant task they had ahead of them.

***

It had been well over a month since Ed had left for the North Country. Amy was glad to see the sheriff ride into the ranch yard this morning. Things had been very quiet since the attack… too quiet in fact. “Amy, me and my deputies thought you might like a ride into town. We’ll hitch up the wagon if you and the Widow Doris would like to go. Ed made me promise I’d look out for you,

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and until this business is taken care of I don’t think it’s safe for two women to be gadding about the countryside alone.” “Thank you Tom, we’d love to go.” she replied as Lou came from the bunkhouse. Tom looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Amy saw the look and introduced Lou. “This is Lou. He’s been staying with us while he recovered from an Indian attack in the Dells. He’s been a big help and it’s been a comfort knowing there is a man on the place at night.” Tom dipped his head at Lou, “Obliged, I’m sure.” “Lou, Tom and his men are going to escort us into town. Did you want to come along?” “Shore nuff, Missy. I need to get me to a livery and replace my horse and gear that them redskins stole from me. I’m grateful to you and the Wider for your kindness but I don’t want to wear out my welcome.” “Oh, Lou, it’s been our pleasure having you here with us. You are welcome here any time… isn’t that so Doris?” she said to the older woman who had come to stand on the porch beside her. “Why yes!” Doris said, almost too quickly. She seemed flustered and went back into the house for her bonnet. Once Lou harnessed up the horses to the wagon the little cavalcade was on its way into Prescott. Amy was anxious to check at the post office to see if she’d gotten replies to any of her letters, although she knew it might be too soon. As they rode down the broad street of Prescott Amy was, as always, struck with the beauty of the courthouse square. The town fathers had done such a nice job of laying out the streets; the young trees planted around the magnificent building were taking hold and would some day provide lovely shade. It would be a perfect place for gatherings and family picnics.

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Lou parted ways with the women and Tom went back to his office with the admonishment that they let him know when they were ready to return to the ranch. The first stop was the post office and although there wasn’t word from any of her siblings, Amy did have a letter from Lydia in Tucson. She resisted the impulse to rip open the letter and read it immediately. She wanted to prolong the pleasure of getting a letter so she tucked it into a pocket to be read later at home. Both women were anxious to go to Millie’s for tea. There was always something interesting to be learned there. Amy had brought the book, Lorna Doone with her as they had finished reading it. As much as she would have loved to have the beautiful volume in her own collection, she new that such books were a priceless commodity to be shared with all the frontiers people. Millie had quite a collection of her own, thanks to her friend back east, and she was very much the town’s public lending library.

***

When Sam and the boys arrived at the ranch, an angry Leo greeted them. “What took you so long? I told you I needed you here four days ago. And where’s Roland? Wasn’t it him you brought in to handle this in the first place?” “He’s dead, back yonder.” Sam’s eyes were cold. “There was a little misunderstanding and he drew down on me. Wasn’t fast enough.” Leo stared at him, unbelieving. “You shot him? Here? That’s the last thing I need right now… another dead body for the sheriff to investigate. You fool!” Stomping back into the house, he slammed the door.

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Jack turned to Brain. “Maybe we’d better take off. I don’t like the feel of this.” Sam yelled. “You’re in this now, whether you like it or not. You’ll do as you’re told or you’ll find yourself joining Roland. Now shut up!” Kicking his horse forward to the hitching post in front of the house, he muttered, “Get outta my sight a while. Go to the bunkhouse and get some chow. I’ll talk to Leo.” Leo was sitting in an overstuffed chair, reading some papers. Without looking up, Leo said, “Shut the door and sit down.” Sam closed the door behind him and took a seat near the table. “You ask the boys. I didn’t have a choice. He drew on me first and I’d been dead if I was slower.” Grunting, Leo continued to read. “Dag nab it, Leo! We can do this job without him. Why, Jack alone makes two of Roland. He’ll have no qualms about killin’ that woman.” “It’s not that easy any more,” Leo answered softly. “We got a passel of trouble with Tom and his boys snooping around. Can’t just ride up and kill her now.” “So we’ll make it look like an accident.” Sam’s mind was running ahead. “A fire shouldn’t raise any suspicions.” Leo nodded thoughtfully. “That just might work. She’s got that widow lady there right now. Get her into town first though. “Do what you need to do to take care of this problem. I got enough troubles without having to worry about this. I need that land! A railroad contract man is coming out this way to scout out a road. He’s lookin for materials and sent me a letter telling when he was coming. If that land’s mine by the time he arrives, I’ll make a nice chunk.”

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“I thought you wanted to marry that girl. Why’d you change your mind?” Sam asked cautiously. “She’d be too much trouble. I’d never be able to keep her under control.” Leo shrugged. “It don’t matter anymore. I think she’s got a hankerin’ for that fellow who saved her. They’ve gone into the cattle business together.” “What are we gonna do ‘bout him?” asked Sam. “If he and that woman are workin’ together you can bet he won’t take this lightly!” “I’ve heard about the Plains Indians in the country he’s ridin’ through. Way I figure it he’ll never make it back with those cows. If he does, he’s got more lives than a cat.” “So, what if he does?” Sam “That’s what you’re here for, Sam. If I didn’t think you could do the job I’d never have hired you in the first place. We’ll know if he makes it as far as the Rim country. If he does, that’ll be the furthest he gets.” Sam stared at him with a hard face. He knew he couldn’t afford to mess up. Leo would tack his hide to a fence post and never look back. Leo got up from his chair and turned his back on Sam. “Why are you still here? You got work to do!” Sam took the hint. He left the house and headed for the bunkhouse. Entering, he glanced at Brian and Jack. “Mount up.” Both started to protest that they were ready to eat; Sam silenced them with a glare. Shutting up, they mounted and rode away. Riding toward the Baggin ranch, Sam laid out his plan for the two men. Fuel was plentiful, the weather had been cooperative the last few weeks, and conditions were ripe for a wildfire.

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He didn’t have time to remove the old lady from the house as Leo suggested. How was he supposed to do it without giving himself away? The old man was getting a bit of a conscience and wasn’t thinking things all the way through. It was Leo’s idea to take over the land. Sam’s only job was to clear the obstacles in the way.

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Chapter Eleven

As the three men approached the ranch the next day around, they dismounted and studied the layout from a distance through glasses. There were enough fuel types to maintain the fire once it started. Dry grass and shrubs such as palmetto and gall berry dotted the land. These were a highly flammable fuel source they could use to start the blaze. Sagebrush and chaparral, along with dead logs, chunks, branches, and under story trees, which were the rotting wood part and deadfall from the life over it’s life span, and would provide the fuel needed to keep it going. The men lit the lighter fuels with burning brambles. They knew these would die out quickly, but they would cause enough heat to light the heavier fuel. Lighting an area over forty feet long they raced to their horses and galloped away. The surface fuels burned through the immediate grasses and moved their way across the plain and down into the ground fuels. The peat layers heated, consuming all in their path and spread out under the surface trying to catch up to the rapidly moving surface fire. As it neared the trees, aerial fuels in the upper canopies flared brightly and settled in for a burn. Gusty winds blowing up from the lower valley caused fire whirls to form, dancing over the land, dropping fire as they went. Trees tore apart and updrafts picked up even more burning embers, spewing them over areas untouched by the flames. A firestorm developed and moved across the plains faster than the animals in front of it could run. Elk, deer, antelope, and rabbits were soon overtaken by the flames and were suffocated from the oxygen being depleted all around them.

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In Prescott, the column of smoke was spotted by one of the deputies as he walked down the street after finishing his lunch. He ran into the sheriff’s office yelling at Tom. “Something’s burning awful bad out near the Howell and Baggin land.” When he looked outside, Tom saw the sky blackened by the firestorm. The smell of burning brush reached his nostrils. “Oh good Lord! It’s a bad one. That’s not far from Amy’s.” They split up, going down the street and hollering, pounded on people's doors. Coming out of their homes and businesses, people stared in astonishment at the scene before them. The distant sky was lit up with flames and billowing clouds of dark smoke rose, spreading ash across the land. As the wind picked up, the fire was being blown towards Lynx creek in one direction and slowly spreading toward the town in the other. “Round up the fire wagon. Meet me out near the ranch,” Tom yelled as he ran down the street. Mounting his horse, he kicked his spurs roughly into its sides. Leaping into a run, the horse took off toward the fire. “Please, God, let me be in time,” thought Tom. He didn’t let up his pace until he rode into the Baggin front yard, even though his horse was working up a lather. Amy and Doris had been baking bread all morning when Amy smelled the smoke first. “Doris, did you put more wood in the stove?” “No, hon, I figured we were all done…” she broke of as she smelled the smoke too. Going to the door she looked out. “Goodness! We’ve gotta get out of here, there’s a range fire!” When Tom rode up the two women were loading items from the house into the wagon moving as quickly as they could; running back and forth with their arms full of treasured memories. Tom dove off his horse. Grabbing Amy by the arm as she ran by, he swung her around.

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“You’ve gotta get out of here. It’s turned into a firestorm.” “No, no!” Tossing her head to clear the hair from her face, she looked at Tom. “This is all I got! Either help us or get out of the way.” She dashed off, dropped her items in the wagon, and ran back into the house for another load. Tom bounded to the corral where he looped his lariat around the neck of Amy’s horse and brought it out. The horse fought the rope as his nostrils flared and his big eyes rolled. Jerking his head back, he rose on his rear legs and kicked out with his forelegs. “Shhhh, shhhhhh, here, boy.” Tom pulled at the rope just until he felt the horse coming down and then let up the tension. Once the horse was standing on all fours again, Tom quickly removed his shirt and tied it around the horse’s head, effectively blindfolding him. The horse continued to snort at the smell of the smoke but was calm enough for Tom to harness him to the wagon. The old mare that had been Pa Baggin’s was smarter. She stood at the gate waiting to get out. Her eyes were wide with fear, but she knew Tom was there to help. She nickered at him when he returned and she seemed thankful for the ties placed on her. Tom held the horses until the gelding settled down, then helped load the final goods. They finished just as the firestorm topped the ridge and ran toward them. “Let’s go!” Tom slapped the horses hard once the women were on board. The horses bolted, shied, turned, and came back the other way. Tom jumped on his horse, kicked it around, and stopped. The fire was already scorching the fence posts at the end of the yard. Looking around, the only way they could go was toward the open prairie. Thankfully, the bulk of the fire was heading toward Lynx Creek, but unless a miracle happened, they were trapped.

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Tom leapt off his horse and ran to the wagon cutting the harness holding the horses to the wagon. Grabbing the horses, he led them back to the women who were aghast. “Our best bet is to ride out of here,” Tom said quickly. “But what about…?” Stopping, Amy resigned herself to the fact everything she owned was going to be lost. “Better than your life,” Tom commented, seeing her face. Doris turned to her, “Hon, things are just things; you can always replace things, but not if you’re dead.” “I’ve saved up many things in my life and the good Lord never saw fit to give me a daughter. You’ll have everything you’re losing today waiting at my house. Now we need to get going!” Seeing the girl’s struggle and realizing that she was losing much more than just possessions, Doris moved toward the porch and bowed her head. “Let’s pray about it. The good Lord may show us mercy after what you’ve been through!” Much to Tom’s frustration and amazement, Amy jumped down from the wagon seat and followed. Tom cleared his throat. “Ladies, we need to leave now!” Doris kept her head bowed as she ignored him and Amy knelt beside her. Tom removed his hat and stood impatient, but silent. They had less than a minute or two before they would lose the only chance they had of escape. A soft wind blew toward his hat, whipping the brim up and trying to tear it out of his grasp. This wind would make it impossible to outrun the fire. Suddenly, jamming his hat on his head, he realized the wind was blowing into the face of the fire and stopping it from spreading. He yelled a loud whoopee and hollered at the ladies. The wind picked up, pushing him forward. He

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ran a couple of steps then stopped, fighting against it. Turning back onto itself, the fire hungrily sucked at the empty plain, searching for food. But the winds became stronger still, pushing the flames back onto land already consumed. Unable to find fuel, the fire began to die from starvation. The far side of the fire had reached the banks of Lynx Creek. Finding only barren land, it sucked at the grass near the muddy banks and then the flames died as rapidly as they began. With a loud yell Tom turned to the ladies. They were hugging each other with tears running down their cheeks. “How……how’d that happen?” Tom asked, his face registering complete amazement. Doris’s reply was simple and to the point. “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” As he shook his head, Tom heard the pounding of horses and wagons scrambling into the yard behind him. He watched as his deputies, flanked by men carrying shovels and rakes, hurried to put down the stubborn areas of the fire. “I sent men over to the Howell ranch. He should be all right now, anyhow.” Deputy Matt’s head was shaking. “Never seen anything like this before in my life. We got to be the luckiest town this side of the Pecos.” “Wasn’t luck, Matt. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll go to my grave telling the world it wasn’t luck.” Tom walked away, holding his hat in his hand. “Whadda ya mean?” Matt called after him. Tom simply pointed his finger to the sky and kept on walking.

***

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In the Granite Basin, Doug, Slim and Joe found the remains of a steer on the trail. The body had been savaged, with little left but the head and hooves. Sign covered the ground around the body. Long black hair was mixed with the hide. Tracks led from the berry bushes across the road, then back. Spooked, the horses shied away from the scene. Fighting to keep his mount under control, Joe glanced at Slim. “We need to hunt this thing right now instead of tomorrow. It’s a fresh enough kill that the bear shouldn’t be far away.” Slim studied the ground around the cow’s body. “Feel up to a bear hunt, Doug? The bear will be full and feeling kinda sleepy now. He shouldn’t have been out this late in the morning anyway. Be the best time to find him, fore he gets too far.” Waiting for Doug’s answer, he pulled out his rifle and studied it. “If you boys think we should track it down, then let’s do it,” Doug replied. “I’ll follow your lead since I’ve never hunted one before.” “I heard there was Black Bears in the Catalina Mountains outside Tucson,” Joe said. “You never got out that way?” “Never had the time, but you’re right. There’s been many a black bear taken from that mountain. I just was never able to take time to go out with the boys,” Doug replied. “Exactly what did you do down there?” asked Slim. “I understood you ran a crew on the ol’ Circle R ranch. Least that’s what you told me before. I thought you guys would join up and take a trip or two outside the job duties.” “Never had the time,” Doug shot back again as he turned the horse to face the tracks. “We ready to find this bear?”

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Joe and Slim exchanged looks. A man usually kept his past to himself, but when he was working with others, things had a way of slipping out. Doug on the other hand, seemed determined to keep his past hidden. “Don’t make a lot of sense,” thought Slim. “What’s he hiding?” Joe’s face told him he was thinking the same thing. He followed Doug, catching up and riding past him without a word. Doug shook his head. He knew he’d made them uneasy. If they knew his background, he might lose their trust, and he’d been working on that since he arrived. Kicking his horse, he caught up. As they followed the tracks, the men had to fight their horses. “They smell the bear,” commented Joe, pulling out his rifle in readiness. The others followed suit. Slim grunted in agreement. It had to be awful close for the horses to be this jumpy. Slim pulled up and studied the wind direction. A black bear had a good sense of smell. If he smelled the men, no matter how tired or full he was, they wouldn’t see him today. Hopefully, he’d be in a good mood with a full belly. The only thing on his mind would be finding a place to nap. Slim noticed the way Doug kept his hands near his rifle, with the thong loop pulled off his pistol. He smiled. “That bear’s more ‘fraid of us than we are of him. Lookin’ at these here tracks, I’m bettin’ he’s 450 to 500 pounds – about right for a black bear boar. He gets a whiff of us he’ll run like a scared rabbit. He’d rather run than stay and fight. “Pulling up and getting off his horse, Slim said, “We’ll tie up and go in on foot.” As they pulled into a small clearing they spied a stout tree just ahead. Dismounting, they tightly wrapped the reins around the thick branches. Knowing the animals would spook and jerk free if they had a chance, they made sure their rides would be waiting when they returned.

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Loading extra cartridges into his pockets, Slim asked, “Ready?” Each looked at the other and nodded. Cautiously, they made their way through the thick canopy of trees and brush. After stopping to check that they were still down wind, they crept up a hill and stopped again to listen. Ahead of them they could hear grunting and movement in a thick patch of blackberry bushes. His face flushing with the excitement, Doug felt good. He saw Joe and Slim getting into the thrill of the hunt. Their faces lit up with anticipation. “It don’t get any better than this,” he softly whispered. They closed the distance between themselves and the bear, but were unable to see him. Suddenly, a black shape burst out of the bushes and stopped in a clearing. They watched him turn over a large log, root for grubs a moment, then head to a piñon tree for nuts. They were down wind of him and carefully positioned themselves for a shot. Slim turned to Joe. “Whadda ya say we give Doug the chance to bag this one?” he whispered. Nodding, Joe grinned at Doug. “Here’s your chance to brag down in Tucson that you finally got a bear.” Doug raised his rifle and pointed toward the bear. He began shaking wildly, waving the barrel around. “At this distance, I couldn’t hit the side of a barn,” he thought angrily. Lowering the rifle, he turned red and glared at the smiling faces looking at him. “Don’t worry ‘bout it.” Slim hissed “It’s not my first time huntin’, but I feel like a little kid right now,” said Doug. “Take your time. We’ve all been there.” was the whispered reply. Doug turned back to the bear, only to find it hidden behind the tree trunk. He had missed his chance. As he watched, it strolled away beyond the ridgeline and disappeared.

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He threw his hat on the ground and spat. “Should’a shot when I had the chance. You boys wanta take him?” “No way,” said Slim. “You’re takin’ this bear. Let’s trail him. He’s gonna stop again.” “When we see him, line up on him from a tree branch,” suggested Joe. “That way you can shake all you want and still might accidentally hit him.” They all laughed and moved out. “Bears have got poor eyesight but they make up for poor vision with their nose,” said Slim “He’ll smell us ‘fore we get close enough for a bullet to take him if this wind changes.” A scramble through a berry patch left their clothing and skin ripped by thorns. They tried to move as many bristles out of the way as they could by using their rifle butts. Finally arriving on the far side and resting, they looked at one another and chuckled quietly. “You boys look like you already tangled with that bear,” Doug said. He glanced down. He was covered with scratches that were bleeding heavily. He removed his shirt and wiped most of the blood off. Last thing he needed was to have the rifle slip in his grasp while aiming. “I’m takin’ this bear,” he growled. “This time it’s personal.” Joe laughed outright. Slim shushed him with a backward glare. “We’re gonna spook him if we don’t shut up!” he said. Joe looked around the clearing, then back the way they had come. “We’re getting pretty far from the horses. Whatcha think about me going back and bringing them up? You two go on and I’ll stay behind, walkin’ the horses in.” “Sounds good. Keep your eyes open in case he backtracks. He might be circling the wind to smell us. Be careful.” Joe headed back the way they had come, this time skirting the hedge of thorns. Slim and Doug moved on in the direction the bear had gone.

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As Joe made his way with his rifle in his hand, he thought he heard a noise in the trees ahead. Stopping, he scouted the forest. He shivered. It’d be a bad thing to run into that bear, he thought, as his grip on the rifle tightened. He climbed the ridge they had just come down and topped out on the other side. The horses should be just around the bend. He was surprised to see a pair of black bear cubs in the tree across the clearing. “Oh, no!” he thought. At that same instant a black form rushed him. He sensed, rather than felt, the air move around him as his body automatically twisted away from the shape in the air. Crashing to the ground with a thud, he heard the first snarl and felt hot breath on his face. Fangs snapped as he struggled to keep the mother bear from grabbing hold of his throat. The stench of the bear’s breath gagged him. Bile rose up, threatening to choke him before the bear could. Reflexively squeezing the trigger of his rifle, the sound of the shot echoed off the mountains, bringing Slim and Doug to a stop. They knew the shot was behind them. Both ran as fast as they could through the trees. Arriving at the blackberry patch, they sprang into it without second thought, yelling Joe’s name once they burst through. Joe screamed at the bear, nearly fainting as her fangs punctured his left hand. The rear claws cut deeply into his legs. Yelling at the top of his voice, he felt the slash of sharp claws rake across his chest, cutting deep into the muscles. The bear tore a long gash down the length of Joe’s right cheek from earlobe to chin. His teeth showed starkly against the bloody flesh. He found his right hand free and shoved his right arm sideways into the she-bear’s mouth, trying to keep her from crushing his face. He felt his arm being gnawed, but she was unable to bite down all the way with his arm jammed between its teeth.

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The bear pulled back and shook her head, using her front claws with long nails to rake the clothing and flesh from Joe’s left shoulder. Screaming in pain, Joe knew the end was near. He felt the jaws clench on his face and mercifully lost consciousness. The screams echoing off the mountainside made Slim and Doug redouble their efforts. Doug, being faster than Slim soon left the large man behind. He could hear the roaring and as he came around a tree, he saw Joe’s limp body with his head in the bear’s mouth. Not even thinking, Doug snapped a shot from the hip with his rifle, hitting the bear in the shoulder. Dropping the rifle, he found his pistol in his hand. Seeing the cubs on the far side of the clearing, he didn’t want to orphan them but he knew he may have no choice. The angry mother bear would not be easily frightened. Shot after shot was fired as he ran toward the bear. She let go of her prey, stood on her hind legs and let out a mighty roar before rushing toward Doug. With a quick look back at his rifle lying on the ground, Doug leapt into the air to land beside it. Grabbing with both hands, he was starting to turn when he felt the weight of the animal hit him, knocking the air out of his lungs. A shot rang out, followed by another…and another. Slim stood in the clearing, shooting round after round toward the bear but being careful not to hit Doug. Pointing his rifle up from the ground, Doug jacked in a bullet and pulled the trigger, firing over and over until he heard a click. The bear staggered back, keeping on her feet, swinging her head from side to side, and roaring in rage. Biting the areas where the bullets had entered her body, she pulled tufts of fur out and again turned to attack the men. “Stay put, Doug,” yelled Slim. Slowly moving in, he fired again and again.

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Doug lay on the ground, astonished. The bear was still alive. It must have six or 7 bullets in it already, and still she was fighting. Blood from Joe’s body dripped down its jaws. Its front claws held pieces of flesh torn from his chest and shoulder. “Oh, God, please let Joe be alive!” thought Doug. A deep gasp for breath, then a gush of blood shot from the bear’s mouth. She took one last deep strangling roar before falling hard enough to shake the ground. Clambering to his feet, Doug beat Slim to Joe’s side. It looked bad. One cheek was laid open with teeth showing; his shoulder was a mass of quivering bloody pulp; and his hands where torn to shreds. Kneeling down, Doug’s knee dipped into a wet pool of moisture, or so he thought, until he looked down and saw it was a pool of blood seeping from Joe’s body. While Slim ran back for the horses, Doug removed his own shirt, tore it to strips and bound up Joe’s wounds as best he could to stop the bleeding. The horses fought the bits with desperation, smelling the scent of blood and death. Trying his best to calm them, Slim arrived back at the bloody scene. Reaching down and handing the reins to Doug, he then bent down to pick Joe up as tenderly as if he were a child. He cradled him against his massive frame, “Joe, stay with me buddy.” He sobbed. “Hurry! He’s alive, but not by much,” said Doug, his voice barely above a whisper. They laid him gently across the saddle and tying him on, the men kicked the horses into a run, racing against time.

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Chapter Twelve

Leo and Henry pulled up in front of Doc Steson’s office. Seeing the stunned faces of Slim and Doug, they paused. “Is he alive?” Slim nodding his head replied, “Just barely. Doc’s workin’ on him now. He’s got help from another doc in there, but they both said it don’t look good.” Leo smiled inside. This could take care of one problem and he wouldn’t have to worry about it any more. He opened the door and walked in. Quiet voices could be heard in the back room, where Joe lay on a table. “Hold this, while I work it back in.” Walking into the room, Leo felt sick. The two doctors were working feverishly to keep Joe alive. His body was unrecognizable. On the table lay a quivering mass of flesh that hung in chunks from the form. The doctors were frantically working, sweat dripping from their foreheads and arms bloody all the way up to the elbows. One was holding the pieces together with his hands while the other stitched this macabre quilt back together. As Leo walk in, Doc Steson snapped, “Get over here and give me a hand.” Leo blanched, “I’ll call Slim. I don’t do this kind of thing.” After giving Leo a disgusted look, Doc said, “This is one of your own boys. Get over your squeamish feeling for one minute!!”

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Ashamed, Leo fought the bile that was rising faster the closer he got to the table. Indicating where he wanted Leo to place his hands, he took a few more quick stitches. Looking at the edges, Doc Steson nodded. “That’s it. Ready?” With both doctors working to force the dislocated jaw back into place, the mandible popped back into its socket with a loud sucking sound. Turning and running from the room, Leo lost his breakfast over the veranda edge. Leo wiped his mouth and turned to Slim and Doug. “One of you boys head back to the shack, load your stuff up and come on back to the ranch. I got a new crew to take over for you until Joe gets back on his feet.” Just as he was ready to protest, Slim stopped when he realized Leo had more to say. “Slim, way I figure, you’re gonna want to stay close to Joe. You can come in and check on him from time to time. Doug ain’t had time to learn how to run the place yet, so I got Sam and his boys to hole up there for awhile.” It made sense in what Leo said, so Slim nodded. “You’re right, boss. Doug, you mind going there? I wanta stick close in case he wakes up.” Doug stood and clasped his shoulder. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Want me to drop your stuff off at the ranch and meet you back here?” “If that’s okay with Leo,” Slim answered. Leo smiled. This was working out better than he could have planned. Turning to Henry, he said, “Go with Doug and give him a hand.” Then he turned back with second thoughts. “Forget that. Sam and the boys will be up there. They can help out. You stay here with Slim.”

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Leo felt bad as he walked away, yet glad in a strange way. Joe had dug his own grave when he found the oil. He didn’t care much for him, anyway. But Slim…he liked Slim. If he could just keep him from snooping, maybe something would happen that’d take the blood off his hands. He rode back to the ranch alone, but was still livid with Sam and his crew. This was twice they’d tried to clean out that Baggin woman. “She’s got the durned’est luck,” he thought. After failing at the fire, Sam assured him he would take care of Miss Baggin himself. It was a fluke of nature, Leo was told. Their story was backed up by the rumors he had been hearing around town. Everybody talked about the strong wind that had come up just as the fire reached the home. That wind ended up saving them. Sam had disobeyed him. Not removing the old lady would have brought the law down hard as the Widow Doris had many friends and was well liked. On the other hand, who would expect a single lady trying to run a ranch on her own to survive the hard realities of nature? The best thing he could do was send them boys out to the line and get them away from town, at least until he had another plan. Time was running out. The railroad buyer was coming in two weeks. If he didn’t have that land by then, he would lose it all. “It’s time to bring in the big guns” he thought, as he kicked his horse in the flanks again.

***

Amy and Doris had decided to scrub and clean the ranch house since they already had most of the belongings removed. Now that the monsoon season had passed, they figured it was a good time to air out the bedding as well. With Lou gone, the Widow Doris could move into Pa’s bed

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and Amy, although she’d never have said anything, was glad for the reprieve from the Widow’s snoring. She had been used to Pa’s resonate snore from the other room but that had been a familiar, comforting sound. The Widow’s higher pitched whistle had given Amy more than one restless night. It took the two women only one full day of hard work to get the place spotless and smelling of the strong boiled linseed oil soap. When they’d finished, even as tired as they were, they dragged the hip tub from the lean-to and filled it with hot water. Amy insisted that the older woman go first. “Doris, you take your time. I’ll keep the water hot for you.” “Oh, honey, you are so sweet. Just let me get my bag, I want to put some chamomile in the water. I’ve found it does this tired body as much good on the outside as it does on the inside.” Amy could see, in spite of the widow’s incredible stamina, that she was about done in. After making sure that Doris had everything she needed she set about putting the clean linens back on the bed. As she was making up Pa’s bed, like she had done hundreds of times before, she again was overwhelmed by the sadness of her loss. The tears came less frequently these days but there still was such a hole left by his absence. She resisted the urge to cry again and went to check on the temperature of Doris’ bath. The widow had laid her head back against the edge of the tub and the now familiar whistle of her snore filled the room. Amy set about warming up the water and Doris roused herself in the tub. “Amy, honey, I’m about shriveled up… oh, I know it’s hard to tell with an old lady like me. Can you pass me one of those towels?” “Here you go.” Amy quickly responded. “I’ve got your bed all made up and you’ll most likely sleep like a stone.”

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Doris climbed from the tub and briskly rubbed down with the flour sacking towel. As the coarse cloth abraded her skin she made a mental note… “I’m gonna see that Amy gets some nice, soft linen towels in her hope chest. That’d be just the thing for a new bride.” Within moments of the door closing on Pa’s room, Amy heard the widow’s whistling snore start up again and she smiled to herself. As Amy began to undress she came across the long forgotten letter in her pocket. With delight she pulled it out and set it on the table for reading after her bath. She continued removing her shirtwaist and she was reminded that the first time Ed had seen her she’d been in this state of undress. It brought a flush to her cheeks as she played over again in her mind the moments of that first meeting. Despite the fear and horror of the vile men and then the Indians, she could remember with perfect clarity every look and touch from Ed that day. As Amy lowered herself into the hot water, she closed her eyes and let her mind wander. “Ed, where are you now?” she wondered. “And when will you come back to me

***

“The streets of Tucson are crowded this morning,” thought Jim, as he made his way to his office. There were lots of people coming from Mexico to search for the Mother Lode in California. Tucson was the last big town for supplies before they hit the long trail heading west to the Sutter’s Mill area. His head shook as he opened the door of the Sheriff’s Office. Jerry Daulton, his brother and deputy, was sitting in a chair reading a two-week old local paper. His feet were propped on Jim’s desk.

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Jim knocked them off and Jerry jumped to his feet. “Why’d you have to do that? You got no coffee in you yet?” Jerry complained as he sat back down scowling. Jim sat down, grunting to himself, and threw his hat towards the rack in corner. It flew in the air, landed, and spun around before settling down. He grinned. It had taken many years of practice to do that little trick. “What’s up today?” asked Jerry. “We gotta take care of the claim Mr. Hanson filed,” replied Jim. “He’s been yelling at us to get out there and remove the claim-jumpers. I promised him we’d do it this week.” “Did his deed check out?” Jerry’s face screwed up. “Yep, shows a deed of ownership filed last year by one Gene Hanson. He’s got the legal ownership. I want you to take Stephen and Johnny along. Clear them boys out with a warning.” “If they don’t go peaceful like?” Jerry asked with his head tilted to the side. “Remove them however you need to, Jerry. I don’t need to tell you how to do your job.” Jerry kicked his feet into his boots and stood. “Get some coffee in you before you come in next time,” he said as he walked out. Jim sighed. It was going to be a long day. “I’ll get it in a minute.” He reached for yesterday’s mail and read through the flyers detailing the wanted men in his territory. Not seeing anything new at first, he was about to throw them back on the desk when an envelope fell out. He recognized his cousin’s handwriting. Tearing it open, he pulled out the paper and read.

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Suddenly he stood and opening the front door, searched for Jerry. He spotted him walking up the street, stopping to talk to store owners along the way. He whistled, a shrill sound that brought Jerry to a halt. Turning around, Jerry saw him waving him back urgently. Jerry ran back to the office and saw the concern on Jim’s face. “What’s up? You look like you seen a ghost!” Taking the letter, Jerry read it quickly. “When did you get this?” “Just this morning.” Jim ran his hands through his hair. “Let’s go find Stephen and the boys.” “Want me to send a few of the boys over to Hanson’s place?” asked Jerry. Nodding his head, Jim headed out the door. “Meet me at my place a soon as you line the boys up.” A rapid walk caused small puffs of dust to kick up under his boots. Reaching the house at the edge of town, he knocked. Stephen’s wife opened the door. “He home?” The door opened wider as she motioned him inside. “You’re not gonna let him get hurt with your plans today, are ya?” she asked accusingly. “It’s a family matter today, Anna.” She noticed the look on his face and called out. “Steve, Jim’s here.” Stephen stepped out of the kitchen. Seeing the look on his brother’s face, he frowned. “What’s the matter?” “Amy’s in trouble. Seems Ed ran into her and saved her bacon. They got ta talkin’ and found it’s a small world. He found out you’re her stepbrother and sent us a letter. She needs help.” “What happened?” Stephen asked as he pulled up a chair. “Pa Baggin was killed by three men and they tried to kill her too. Ed don’t know why yet, but it looks bad. They tried to rape her and roughed her up pretty good. He needs us to help.”

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Stephen, the master of thinking things all the way through, studied the tabletop before commenting, “You gotta stay here, Jim. This is your job. Leave this problem to us.” “It’s what I was thinkin’,” Jim agreed. “Figure you, Jerry, and Tony can go up that way. I’ll keep Tommy, David, Joseph, and John here to help me run the place and take care of your families while you’re gone.” Anna walked over to Stephen. “We’ll be fine. Go help your sister, honeybunch. Jim will be around to help. You get packed up and head out today.” Her hands were clasped in front of her as Stephen squeezed them tightly. Looking at Jim, she said, “You make sure Jerry keeps on eye on the boys. I want him back in one piece.” “You know Jerry, Anna.” “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she snapped. “He don’t know fear. Tell him straight up not to do anything stupid. I’ll kill ‘im myself if he places these boys in danger without a good solid reason.” With a grin on his face, Stephen looked at her. “You thinkin’ I can’t read signs of trouble?” “I know how you boys get when family calls,” she said. “All you think about is protecting the family name and punishing the wrong doers. That’s not the way to handle things anymore. You make sure you get with the local law and have them help you boys. You hear me Steve?” As Anna swished out of the room, Stephen shot a glance at Jim. “Sorry! She’s just worried after what happened last year.” He was talking about a gang of outlaws that rode into Abilene shooting up the town. Stephen tried to stop them, but they dragged him down the street by a rope, beat him to a bloody pulp, and left him for dead. Three of his cousins heard about the beating and rode into town two weeks later when Stephen was still laid up from the beating. They tracked down the men responsible

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and hung them from the nearest tree, leaving their bodies swaying in the wind as a reminder not to mess with the Daulton Clan Stephen had almost lost his job over the lynching, even though he hadn’t been there. But the Daultons were blood relatives and he had refused to arrest them. Without another choice he quit his job as Marshal and headed west. He still had problems with his legs after the terrible beating that almost killed him. Anna was not happy he’d gotten back into law enforcement when Jim offered him a job in Tucson. “Be ready in an hour or so,” Stephen said. Jim said his thanks and headed down to the general store. A clanging bell sounded his arrival as he opened the glass door of the store. His wife, Debra, was straightening up canned goods and dusting items on the shelf. “Hey.” She kept cleaning. “Hey, yourself. What are you doing here?” He took a candy from the glass jar near the register and plopped it in his mouth, enjoying the tangy sweet taste. “I’m sending the boys up to Prescott.” “Why?” Debra turned around. “What’s going on now?” Taking a hairpin from her thick hair, she held it between her lips and pulled several loose strands up. Pinning it back in place, she waited. “Amy’s got herself a peck of trouble; her Pa’s dead and it seems someone is tryin’ to run her of her place.” Jim went over the events and told her about the letter he received that morning. “I’m sendin’ a couple of the boys and gonna keep the rest here with me until we figure out what’s happenin’.”

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Debra sighed. “How’d her dad die?” “Ed didn’t say. All he said was there was going to be a range war and he couldn’t figure out why. ‘Course he’d only been there a day or two, so he hadn’t much time to look into it.” “I do declare,” Debra brushed by him. “I never seen a family need so many people just to keep the rest of them alive!” “That’s not fair, Deb. You know we’ve always had things happen to us for some reason. The problem is people don’t think about how big a family it is when they mess with one of ours.” “You think anybody’s that stupid? If word ever gets around ‘bout the size, you boys would have free run of the territory. I think the only other family as big as yours is Geronimo’s. And that’s including his entire tribe of Apaches.” He was waiting for the smile to show on her face. Seeing it, Jim relaxed. She was telling it like it was, although hearing things said out in the open sounded much worse than what they were. He did have a huge family. At last count it numbered over 800 people. And that didn’t even include third cousins! “Gotta go.” He grabbed another piece of candy on the way out. “Jim, please tell the boys to be careful. You’ve all lived a charmed life so far, but with the chances you guys take it’s gonna catch up to you sometime!” “We’ve got it covered,” he replied as he walked out the door. Marshal Bill Trimball was walking his way as Jim cut him off at the corner. “Got a minute?” he asked, pulling him by the elbow toward the Sheriff’s Office. “What are you doing, Jim?” Trimball asked as he pulled free and walked along side him.

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“I need to talk to you out of sight from prying eyes. You’ll understand more when we’re inside.” As they walked into the office, Jim glanced around. Seeing the cells were empty, he pulled out chairs for Trimball and himself. Sitting down heavily, he asked, “Did you have any dispatches from the county seat area near Prescott in the last few weeks?” Trimball’s eyes narrowed as Jim watched. I knew it, he thought grimly. “What have you gotten from there, Bill?” Bill averted his eyes. “Don’t know what you’re talking about, Jim. What makes you think I’ve had anything?” “Don’t play games with me, Bill! I got troubles up that way and have a recollection of something you said the other night about getting a letter from a concerned neighbor about some matter up there. You remember?” Trimball knew something was up when he saw Jim's face. “Tell me what’s bothering you. Maybe I can help.” Pouring a cup of coffee, he looked back at Jim. Motioning with the pot in Jim’s direction, he got a “no” shake of the head. Helping himself to a spoonful of sugar, he stirred while he thought. How much should he tell him, or, for that matter, how much did he know? “If you’re working on something, tell me where you’re going with this. Then maybe I can help you out.” “Answer my question first,” Jim shot back. “I need to know. What did you get from Prescott?” “I received a letter from a confidential informant about a land grab from one of the heavy hitters up there. All it said was we should come up and look at the property in question.”

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Jim rubbed his temples with his fingertips, frowning. “Why?” “Didn’t say. Just asked us to take a long, hard look at the scene before rushing to any conclusions about who was right or wrong. Now, it’s your turn. What brought this up now?” “I got me a letter from my cousin today. He’s in the middle of a range war, fighting something he can’t figure out. Seems Stephen’s stepfather, man by the name of Baggin, and his daughter were attacked by three white men. They killed her father and tried to violate her. “According to Ed, the men ransacked the home looking for the deed to the ranch. When they were unable to locate it, the old man was killed and the gal was roughed up. She broke lose and ran, but didn’t get far.” “That’s when Ed showed up and shot two of ‘em. Injuns got the third.” Shaking his head, Jim sat back and studied Trimball’s reaction. “And you want to know what?” Trimball finally said. “Have you sent anyone up there to investigate this yet, and if so, who?” “I’m still working on the issue,” was the only reply. Trimball placed his cup on the counter and walked out. Stopping at the door, he turned. “I think it a wise decision to keep this quiet for the time being.” The door closed with a bang behind him.

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Chapter Thirteen

The Plains Indians were numerous throughout the land as Ed and his crew made their way north. Posting guards every night around the camp, they still occasionally found saddle stock missing in the morning. It was the talk of the camp. How did the Indians get that close without spooking the horses or making any noise? Showing a thin lipped smile, Ed thought how Walks Tall could do most anything he wanted without letting everyone else know about it. It must be a skill a white man will never have. Ed felt relief as he looked around the barren land. They would be able to see an attack before it hit them. The land flowed shapelessly as far as the eye could see. No mountains stood in their path, nor any large obstacles since they’d left the Rockies far behind. Although the land looked empty, Ed was not fooled. He knew this county held more tribes of warriors than any other place in the west. The Plains Indian tribes that roamed these lands consisted of Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone, and Ute. Of these tribes, the only ones really to fear were the Blackfoot, Sioux, and Cheyenne. Most other tribes were peaceful enough. They had pockets of young bucks who kept things stirred up, but, all in all, Ed knew they weren’t near as dangerous as the three warring tribes. Ed fingered the necklace around his neck; he only hoped it would keep them safe enough to get to Laramie and back. It probably would work for the Cheyenne, but Ed knew it could bring certain death from their enemies.

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By the end of the third week, they arrived on the outskirts of Fort Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. They were all tired and cold. Laramie was a gold haven for prospectors and trail weary immigrants traveling though the west, heading to Oregon on the Oregon Trail. It was the last major town before the country stretched away to the Pacific Ocean. The army, needing a fort in the territory, built one that could be an outpost for the Pony Express and a stage stop for the Overland Stage, as well as the last major supply post in the west. Fort Kearny was the largest fort in the area until 1866 when a troop of 81 soldiers left the fort one morning only to be ambushed by Chief Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. Riding out to find the lost troops, the soldiers found only stripped, mutilated bodies, along with dead horses and missing guns. There were no survivors. After moving into a stronger fort, the army doubled its troops and started a settlement that offered protection to the weary travelers. Fort Laramie became a vital military encampment from which to fight the Plains Tribes. The day Ed and his crew arrived, Laramie was busting with activity. Blue-coated soldiers roamed the streets while emigrants flooded the local hotels and diners. Finding a place on the edge of town, they set up camp and rode in to get a good hot meal and a bath. The wind blew cold, rustling curls of air through the snow covered, but muddy streets, Dry leaves scattered across the plains, dancing off the snowdrifts. The wind whipped ladies’ skirts and men’s hats around ruddy faces and unwashed bodies. Many buildings dotted the land. They were gloomy and stark and held an ominous air. Curtained windows threw out streaming glows of light on the street in the gray, bleak morning.

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Before entering the mass of people, Ed stopped and turned to Levitt. “All we need to do is to buy a herd, let the boys relax for a couple of days, then head out. I want to get back soon as we can.” “Tell the crew I want them back at camp, ready to ride, within three days. From now until then, they’re on their own. Ask Felix and Carlos to kinda keep an eye on things for us.” Levitt nodded and turned his horse around and walked back to Carlos. The other men were chomping at the bit to ride into town and kick up their heels. Relating what Ed had told him, he looked sternly at the crew. “We need everyone of you going back. Stay alive. Whatever you do, don’t mess with the soldiers. They run this town and if you have a problem with one, you’re gonna have the whole town comin’ down on you.” He looked each one in the eye and made sure they seen the seriousness of his words. Letting the impact sink in, he nodded and rode back to Ed. It shouldn’t be hard to find a seller. The weather was coming in and the harsh winter would kill off a lot of cattle. If the cattle brokers wanted to make money Ed knew they would jump at the chance to sell now, instead of when cold and starvation depleted the herds. Ed knew the best place to find a willing seller was to start at the local Sheriff’s office. Tying up at the hitching rail in front of a building with a star on the front, Ed and Levitt went in. A large man was asleep behind the battered desk. In the cell sat a dark skinned man with a glum look on his face. He looked up as they entered, then stared at his feet. The sheriff didn’t move as they stood there watching him. “Nice security round here,” commented Levitt. Reaching his hand back, he found the door. Getting a good swing, he slammed it so hard the glass panes in the front of the building rattled in their frames.

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Startled awake, heavyset man leapt from his chair and reached for his side arm before realizing he had guests. Sheepishly, he wiped the sleep from his eyes, shot a glance back at the cell, and then looked at them. “Sorry, this maverick gave me a hard time last night.” He glared at the man who appeared to be a half-Indian and half-Mexican. The prisoner stared right back. He showed no fear. His skin color was more black than white or brown. His eye sockets hid dark brown eyes, and his face had cheeks that were lean and cadaverous. On his head was pitch-black hair with shades of gray streaking through it. “What can I do you boys for?” he said; walking to the basin, he poured some fresh water from the pitcher. Throwing water on his face, he toweled off with a dirty rag hanging on a hook beside him. “Name’s Ed Daulton. This here’s Levitt Wilson. We rode up from Arizona lookin’ for a herd with the right price. Figure you know what the doings are in your town and you’d have an idea where we could start.” A look passed across the sheriff’s face. “You ain’t related to Jim down in Tucson, is ya?” “We’re related,” Ed said, suddenly glad he’d found common ground with this man. “My other cousin’s a Marshal in Kansas City. Name’s Stephen.” “Well, knock me down with a feather,” the sheriff said grinning, “I’m Ted White. Me and Stephen worked together in Kansas ‘fore I got the urge to roam the prairie. Last I heard he quit and moved down south to work for Jim an’ them folks.” “You know more than I do then,” Ed said. “I ain’t been in touch with the family for awhile.” Rapidly walking around the desk, Ted stuck out his hand and shook both men’s hands, pumping them furiously in his massive palms. He rubbed his head, ran his fingers through his

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gray hair, and took stock of the men. The clothing was trail-worn, dusty, and smelly. Both men had dark stubbles from several days’ growth of a beard and the tired look of men needing rest. “Bad weather comin’ in here?” he asked. Levitt responded before Ed. “We’ve been holed up for the last three days from that white-out that hit. Our crew’s gone ahead and taken stock of the town.” Ted motioned them to a chair as he went through in his mind the ranchers who might be willing to sell some stock. Behind him the man in the cell got up and shook the bars. “I believe it’s time to let me out” he grimly remarked. Ted could see the confused looks on their faces as he remarked, “Around here, we have a twenty-four hour lockup for public intoxication. Alibazer here got himself brought to our iron hotel yesterday morning for bein’ a wee bit rowdy on a Sunday mornin’. It’s time to let him out.” He removed a large key hanging from a nail, out of reach of even the most long armed prisoner, and opened the cell door. He nodded to a bundle lying in the corner of the jail. “There’s all your stuff, Ali. Don’t want you back here for a few days.” The dark man walked to the wall near the sheriff’s desk and removed a long Rapier from the top of a cabinet. He tucked it into his scabbard and strapped it onto his side with a quick movement. Bending down, he pulled out two straps hidden inside the bundle, flipped them up and around his shoulders, allowing it to settle firmly against his back. Turning, he dipped his hatless head with his long black hair swinging in front of his face and revealed a smile with gleaming white teeth. “My thanks and salutations to you for your fine service,” he said as he bowed deeply. Walking to the door, he was gone. Ted shook his head as he stared after him. “He’s a good man, just can’t hold his liquor.” Knowing they would ask about the sword, he went on. “Alibazer comes from a line of Gypsies.

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He’s hung around town for the last year, making his living sharpening all forms of things. He’s one of the best sharpeners I’ve ever seen, and he can use that sword. Doesn’t even own a gun, but when you’re as good as he is, you really don’t need one.”

***

As Amy sat down to the table for a cup of tea with Doris, she pulled the letter from her pocket to read again. She read aloud to share with Doris her friend’s missive.

Dear Amy, Oh, horrors! To think what you’ve been through and to have lost your Pa too. My heart is with you. It brings back to me how I felt when we lost Ma and the boys to the Apache raids. You’re a strong woman, Amy, and I know you’ll survive this and become stronger for it. I’d love to be able to come up and stay with you for a while but things have been so busy at the livery and smithy that I can’t leave Dad alone right now to run things by himself. If we could find help, even someone young to learn blacksmithing, it would take some of the pressure off of Dad. He’s not getting any younger you know. I’m dying to meet this Ed Daulton you spoke of. There are quite a few Daultons down this way, in fact the sheriff is a Jim Daulton… any relation? If so, he must be a fine man… and quite good looking too! Take care, my friend. I think of you and pray for you often. Lydia

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Doris looked up from her teacup. “You have a good friend there it seems. What happened to her family?” Amy re-warmed the cups with hot tea and said, “The Strunk family moved into the territory about the same time we did. I met Lydia at St. Joseph when our families were restocking supplies. We only spent a few months together on the trail from there to here, but we became fast friends. We’ve kept in touch ever since through letter writing. “Lydia’s father is an Irish man, about as wide as he is tall… very stocky and muscular. He used to be a prizefighter before he married and came west. Now he’s the local blacksmith in Tucson.” “But what about the mother and brothers she spoke of?” Doris reminded her. “The Strunks had set up a homestead out on the east side of Tucson and for several years they did all right. Then the Apache raids started up. Dave, that’s Lydia’s dad, was in town buying seed when a band of renegade Apache struck the homestead. Lydia had gone down to the river on her horse and when she came back she was the one that found the house and barn aflame. She found her mother and two younger brothers dead in the yard, their heads beaten in with clubs.” Doris gasped. “Oh, how awful for her!” “Her dad came back that evening and found Lydia sitting in the yard holding her mother and crying. She was only thirteen at the time. “They moved into town after that and set up home at the livery. Lydia has always been an excellent horsewoman so she handles that side of it while Dave Strunk is the town blacksmith.” “That must have been very hard for her, losing her mother and brothers.” Doris said almost to herself.

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“Yes, but Lydia is a remarkable woman. You wouldn’t think she’d be much of a lady working around horses every day and living the life she’s had… yet she puts me to shame when it comes to her domestic skills. And my, but she cleans up good too! I mean, when she does dress up and fixes her hair she looks like something from the parlors of Boston! I saw her when she came up for April’s wedding and I couldn’t believe it! From her letters, she’s always very down to earth and talks about the horses a lot, so I guess I just didn’t expect it.” “Well, honey, it just goes to show,” began Doris “God gave you young women the skills and the strength to stand whatever comes your way. Sometimes you don’t even know it yourself until you are tested; then you find you’ve got the mettle to deal with it.” Amy nodded in understanding. “I’ve been watching you, Amy girl, and you’ve surprised me too. I think you’re gonna make some man a fine wife… and I think I might even know who that man will be!” Amy’s thoughts went immediately to Ed and then she blushed. “Oh.” She said in an “I’ve been caught” manner. Then, getting up from the table and going to the desk, she said, “I think I’ll write back to Lydia right away. That way the next time we get into town, I can post it. “I wonder if any of my other letters made it to my brothers and sisters. My sisters I expect they did because they usually stay put. My brothers are another story… especially that Stephen. Last I heard he was in Texas but he never stays in one place for long it seems.” Doris smiled. It was good to see Amy cheerful. Her whole face lit up when she talked about her family. Yes, this was a strong girl and although she’d miss her Pa for a long time to come, she wasn’t one to sit and whimper about her lot in life.

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Chapter Fourteen

As the men watched Alibazer walk down the street they were startled to hear the sound of horses’ hooves running outside. Peering through the window and doorway, they watched as a mounted Calvary officer rode his horse through the throng of walkers, scattering them around, in complete disregard for their safety. He rode up on the older gypsy man, yelling something they could not hear from their position. The gypsy turned around, staying in his place, causing the blue-coated soldier to pull up and turn his horse at the last moment. As he did so, a lady who had stepped out of the horse’s path seconds earlier, was struck by the horse’s shoulder and tossed in the air like a rag doll. Landing hard a few feet away, a gasp of horror sprang from the lips of the townsfolk. Rearing his horse around, the rider glared at the people. “It was that durn black man’s fault,” he said loudly. “He wouldn’t get outta the way.” Several men helped the lady to her feet and brushed off the mud and snow the best they could. The lady was holding her shoulder, looking at the rider with such disgust that he turned beet red. A nicely dressed gentleman in the crowd glared at him. “If you hadn’t been pushing fine folks and rode somewheres else, this young woman wouldn’t have had to be so concerned with you running her over. For that matter, neither would anyone else here.” Fire flared behind the soldier’s eyes. He walked his mount over to the gentleman. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he asked with a scornful look. A soft voice spoke from behind him. “Leave him be, this is between us.”

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The soldier’s eyes went wide and he turned to look at the source of the voice. “You! Why, I’ll bend that there stick of yours behind your ears and make you listen to the sounds of metal ringing in them for the rest of your ugly life.” He slid off his horse and approached the gypsy, pulling a saber out of his side scabbard. “I understand you don’t fight with guns, so let’s have us a metal clash, shall we?” Ted turned to the men inside. “That soldier is the captain of the fort. His name is Kit Longfellow. Ever since he come here he’s been nothing but trouble.” Opening the door, he motioned the men to follow him and went on talking as they walked. “His father is some big shot military man on the east coast. Having failed at every command his father has bought for him, he finally sent him out here where he couldn’t be an embarrassment to him anymore.” With a shake of his head, Tom said, “He’s been a constant thorn in our sides. The commander of the fort won’t allow him to be touched because of his father, so the spoiled kid gets his run of the town. I gotta stop this before they take Ali and hang him up from the nearest tree.” “It looks like Ali was rightly provoked!” Ed shot back. “May be well and true, but around these parts unless you wear the blue coat, you’re wrong,” Ted spoke over his shoulder. As they watched, Ali drew his rapier and stood firmly in the street, waiting. “I am a gypsy, not a black man, sir!” He spoke with dignity. “I would thank you to get my heritage correct. I have been called a maverick and every manner of ethnic person. However, I am proud of my ancestry, and would appreciate you know my lineage before you die.” Grinning, Kit turned to the crowd. “You hear that? He is sure it is me that will die!” “Kit!” A voice rang out from the crowd.

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Kit scanned the sea of faces that surrounded him and finally caught the eye of the speaker. “Why, it’s Judge Freemanson.” Bowing, he sarcastically said, “My dear honor, what brings you out here on such a fine day?” “Kit,” the judge replied, “You have called this man out. Will it be a fair fight, or will you punish him whether he wins or losses?” “Your honor, you and the assembled people here have my word. Whatever the outcome, no further pain will be needed. He will need a doctor or the undertaker. That is my word!” He spotted several other soldiers in the crowd. “You, sirs! You have heard my words. Do them justice, whichever fate prevails. Is that understood, corporal?” he asked, looking at a young man with one stripe on his arm coat. “Sir, yes, sir,” The corporal grimly replied. Kit turned back to the gypsy; he raised his saber and swiped it through the air with a whistle. Alibazer, his rapier in his hand, moved in warily, studying his adversary’s moves and watching him show off before the large crowd that had gathered to watch the unusual method of fighting. Back east, duels with swords were still common among gentlemen of means; out here, it was almost unheard of. The men circled, touching blades, each testing the other’s ability and strength. Kit whipped his blade this way and that, showing he was familiar with its feel. Alibazer stood, simply waiting, trusting his years of training with the weapon. He had grown up using nothing more than the rapier and a staff. Hundreds of scars had made him a cautious man, yet one who knew how to control a blade. Parrying a thrust, he swung the blade away from his throat and followed through with a counterthrust. Kit easily blocked it.

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“Is that all you got? It’s nice to see you have some experience fencing. For when I have had my fill of practice, I shall run you through.” Kit handled himself with skill. Alibazer kept quiet. He would keep his opponent showing off, while he studied each move. His old master had taught him that the longer they talked about how good they were, the more confident they became of their knowledge…but such knowledge breeds confidence, and too much confidence causes overconfidence. ‘That is when he will strike,’ Alibazer thought. Back and forth, they crossed blades, testing the other’s responses. Kit prepared for a lunge. Alibazer knew it was coming and blocked the thrust. Kit’s recovery was slow. Alibazer’s was not. His riposte lashed out, trying to cut the cheek, but the point was low, slicing a shallow cut across Kit’s throat. A slow welt of blood rose. Kit wiped it way, circling warily, watching for his chance. He had underestimated this man. By now, all other men he had fought had been bleeding heavily, asking for quarter and Kit giving none. Kit felt a cold sweat pour down his face, blinding his eyes and causing them to sting. This man was good, very good. Yet, was he good enough? Alibazer thrust the point toward Kit’s chest, but Kit parried it and countered. His blade crossed Alibazer’s stomach and the shirt spilt revealing a shallow cut across the width of his belly. Moving with the speed and ease of a dancer, Alibazer retreated from an onslaught of blows raining against his sword. Kit was strong and knew his blade. Alibazer came in low and swung the blade at Kit’s legs. Kit leaped over the blade, countered, and drove the point of his sword into Alibazer’s forearm. Withdrawing it quickly, he readied for the final blow, but was surprised when Alibazer switched fighting hands and now, using his left hand, attacked him with fury, driving him back

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with each blow. Fighting for his life now, Kit was sweating heavily. His shirt was stuck to his skin and the cold air of the Wyoming plains failed to cool him. Now he knew how others had felt as they prepared to die at his own hands. “This was not the way the fight was supposed to go,” he thought, as he began to panic. Gathering his wits, he attacked with a style Alibazer had not seen in a long time. The attack was a dazzle of thrusts and cuts, amazing in their speed and velocity. Alibazer needed all his skill to parry them and escape the sharp end of his sword. The needle sharp point connected with his thigh, sending a new shower of blood flying from the area. Both men knew they had met their match in the other. Each one was bleeding from many nicks and slashes from head to toe. It was time to end this. His eyes full of anger, Kit attacked furiously, raining blow upon blow. Alibazer backed up, letting him come. “This man sure is shrewd with a blade and means to kill me unless I stop this fight,” he thought. The crowd gave way and parted to let the men through. Bets were changing hands, as the winner of this battle seemed uncertain. Men were yelling out their favorites, while women had a look of shock that betrayed amusement and excitement. A quick slash to his arm took Kit by surprise. The sharp point of the rapier struck his forearm, numbing it and causing him to drop his sword. Stepping back, Alibazer motioned to the sword lying near his feet. “Pick it up.” Angry eyes glared at him. He would have given no quarter and expected none. Reaching down without taking his eyes off Alibazer, Kit found his sword with his right hand and at the same time grasped a handful of dirt with his left.

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As Alibazer approached, Kit threw the dirt in his eyes, blinding him. Moving in, Kit slashed with a fury. Although his eyes were stinging from the dirt, Alibazer’s instincts took over and blocking by feel and years of training only, he kept Kit from closing in for a final coup de coup. He retreated as he wiped the dirt from his eyes. Tears ran freely, helping to clear his vision as mud caked down his cheeks. Alibazer caught Kit’s blade on the next attack with his own and twisting his wrist slightly moved it out of line, and then thrust forward. His blade went home into Kit’s chest, sinking deeply. Withdrawing it and striking again so quickly it could barely be seen, he lunged for Kit’s throat. This time the needle sharp blade pierced his throat completely and shoved out the other side. Kit fell to his knees gasping. Gurgling sounds rose from his mouth as he tried to breathe. Fountains of blood came from his open mouth and he fell back on the ground, twitching and jerking reflexively for a moment and then he was still. Alibazer placed a foot on his chest and pulled the sword free. After wiping it clean on the ground, he replaced it in its sheath. All around, the crowd was silent. Walking to the bundle he had dropped, he grasped, placed it on his shoulders, and looked around. Seeing the other soldiers he asked, “You taking me in?” The young corporal stared at the still figure on the ground and shook his head. “That was as fair a fight as I ever seen. You heard him. He said this was his choice.” He turned to the group of soldiers with him. “Pack him out. We’ll tell the commander the truth. This time Kit bit off more than he could chew.” He yelled, “Anybody got problems with this?” and he scanned the crowd for a response.

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Nobody spoke up. People looked at one another, waiting to see if the losers of the bets would speak out. Murmurs of, “He asked for it,” and “The half-breed gave him a fair chance,” filled the air. Upon hearing himself called such, Alibazer shot a look at the man who had spoken. “I am not a half-breed. My lineage is of the pure blood of the gypsy. I am proud to be known as one, and I thank you for the same respect.” He turned and walked away. Ed stared at the distant figure. He and Levitt turned to Ted. “He gonna be all right here? He did kill a soldier!” Ted shook his head. “Don’t rightly know. That corporal’s a good ol’ boy, but Kit had a lot of friends back at the fort. There’s no way they’re gonna believe he was killed in a fair fight. Alibazer’s smart -- he’ll get outta here pretty quick. Otherwise, he’s gonna find himself the guest of honor at a necktie party.” Ed and Levitt looked at one another, each thinking the same thing. They could use another man for the drive back. Fact is, they could use several more men, but particularly one like this man. Ed started rapidly down the street but stopped before he got too far. Turning back to Ted, he said, “Please see what you can do about some cattle. I need them quick. I’m wanting to head back as soon as I can… ‘fore the winter gets too harsh.” Ted nodded and went back to the office. He sat down to jot out a letter to Rancher Jared Short telling him about Ed and his desire for cattle. He called to one of his deputies who had been standing outside, watching the crowd. Giving him the letter, he told him to make it quick. “Them boys is wantin’ to light out in the next day or so, so I need an answer right away.”

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***

Tom arrived at the Baggin ranch early in the morning with two of his deputies. True to his promise to Ed he was keeping a close watch on the place and its occupants. On this day, he’d offered to take the women into Prescott again but the Widow Doris declined. She had just started making bread and wanted to stay and tend the stove. Tom asked one of the deputies to stay so the widow would not be alone. Doris, seeing the look on the man’s face quickly interjected with, “I know it ain’t fun to babysit an old lady, but how does some fresh bear sign sound to you?” The man’s countenance quickly changed and the other two men looked as if they were about to drool. Doris laughed. “There will be plenty left for you when you bring my Amy girl back to me in one piece.” “Don’t be wearing yourself out making bread and donuts, Doris.” Amy cautioned. “Now, young lady, I’m not as old as all that!” she retorted. Amy saddled her bay and was soon on her way. She looked forward to seeing Millie again and of course there was always the possibility of new letters at the post office. As they rode down Gurley Street, Amy recognized Lou and waved to him. He stepped down off the boardwalk and hurried over to her. Tipping his hat he said, “Howdy, miss. How are things out at the ranch?” “We’re doing well, Lou, although I must say we miss having you at supper every night.”

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“You do?... I mean, I do too. Errr… well…” Lou looked down and scuffed his boot in the dust of the street. “How’s the Widow Doris doing?” Amy smiled at his discomfiture. “Doris is fine but I sense that she misses having you around to boss. I’ll tell her you inquired. Why don’t you come out for supper some time? You’re welcome anytime you please.” “Oh, thank you Miss, I mean, Amy. I’ll do that!” he tipped his hat again and walked away with a peculiar bounce to his step. Amy stopped at the post office before heading to Millie’s place. She posted her letter to Lydia and found one from her sister Becky waiting. Taking the letter with her to Millie’s she was kind of relieved to find no one in the shop but Millie. Millie of course had tea and sandwiches ready in moments and they sat down together. Amy opened her letter and read aloud:

Dear Amy,

I’m so very sorry to hear what happened to Pa. It just doesn’t seem possible that he’s gone. I’d love to come and be with you for a time but I’m in the family way and Louis doesn’t want me to travel right now. Being it’s our first, he really worries…he’s like a mother hen and you’d think I was helpless. Anyway, the baby is due to come in the early spring so I’ll try to come by stage then. I’d like it to be a boy so we can name him Dan, after Pa.

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Oh, Amy, you’ve been more than a sister, you’ve been a mother to me too. It doesn’t seem fair that you have to bear this all alone. I trust that April or one of the boys can come be with you. Take care and God bless With love, your sister,

Becky

When Amy had finished reading the letter, she folded it and placed it in her pocket. She had mixed feelings. Sadness that her sister was so far away yet joy that Becky would be having a child. “Congratulations on becoming an auntie,” said Millie. She could see the mixed emotions on the girl’s face and wanted to encourage her. “How sweet, that her husband is so concerned about her. There are a lot of good men in this world, but some are just extra kind. Like that Ed… you know?” A smile played across her lips as she saw Amy’s immediate blush. “This girl’s got it bad,” she thought. “Why does everyone keep saying it like that?” Amy said, pretending to be offended. “Oh, some of us critters have been around long enough to be able to see the forest and not just the trees.” Millie answered. “I’m glad,” said Amy softly. “I was beginning to think that maybe it was just my being lonely and my imagination was running away with me. “Thank you, Millie,” she said as she rose to go. Giving her friend a hug, she repeated, “Thank you… for everything.”

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***

Ed strolled across the street and followed the gypsy into the hotel. Seeing him at the front desk, he quickly covered the distance. Turning at the sound of footsteps on the bare wood floor, Alibazer spoke casually. “You friends with the soldier?” Ed shook his head and gestured toward Levitt. “We watched the fight. You did well for yourself. My name’s Ed and this here’s Levitt.” Levitt smiled widely, nodding his head in acknowledgement, “You beat his best efforts, Ali.” Alibazer raised his eyebrows, glancing at Ed, then back at Levitt. Seeing his expression, Ed remarked, “We heard Ted call you that back in the cell.” Not embarrassed in the least, Alibazer turned to the clerk who had approached the counter. “Got any rooms for the night?” The clerk gave him a strange look, then slowly nodded and pushed the register toward him. He handed him a pen while keeping his face straight. Ed spoke up quickly before Ali could write his name in the book. “Got a proposition for you.” Alibazer positioned his pen, but did not write. Seeing that he was waiting, Ed continued. “I’d like you to come work with me. I’m here buyin’ a herd and need help drivin’ it back to Arizona. If you like, I have work down there that’ll keep you busy for awhile. You interested?” “Might be,” Ali replied. “What you offering? If it’s just to ride herd and run something like nesters or grangers off, I ain’t lookin.”

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Levitt quickly said, “No, No. It’s nothin’ like that. Ed here's got a spread he needs help runnin’ for a pretty little lass down in the Arizona Territory. We need someone who’ll ride for the brand and stick it out. After watchin’ you handle that soldier we both liked your style. We knew you had to be aware of the danger you were in, yet you stopped that man from ridin’ rough-shod over the folks.” “He tried to run me over,” Alibazer said stiffly. Ed spoke, “We know that, but he also tried to bully everyone else in his way. The way he hit the lady and you spoke up for her shows me you’re different. I like that. It proves you’re a gentleman.” “My people have always been vagabonds. I remain one, also,” Alibazer said. “I will go with you to see the country, but after the drive I may not stay.” The three men shook hands on it and walked from the hotel to the saloon to celebrate.

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Chapter Fifteen

The Spanish first brought cattle to the missions they had set up in the southwest region of the Americas in the 1500’s The idea behind the missions was to tame the Indians or the “Tejas.” Horses were brought over with the Spaniards, as well, and these were allowed to roam free on the open prairie. The Plains Indians developed a liking to these animals and soon rode them everywhere. When Mexico received its independence from Spain in 1821, many missions became abandoned in what is now Texas. Around these missions, the longhorns multiplied many times over. Great herds of cattle and horses grew unchecked. The Indians used this new food source to supplement the buffalo. In the late 1700s and early 1800’s the Spanish colonists found the land in the southwestern area of the United States to be unsuitable for growing crops because of lack of rainfall. Needing a source of food and income the Spanish used the long-horned cattle to feed hungry populations. The name vaquero became synonymous with herding cattle. During the 1800’s the United States government either fought for or bought the lands in the west and opened up new frontiers for settlers. Immigrants flooded the territory from countries as far away as Asia and Europe, finding wide-open plains free for the taking. These new settlers discovered untamed herds of longhorns roaming the free range, with no owner or brand. Needing a way to tell one cow from the other, the settlers turned into ranchers and began branding cattle. This kept track of each rancher’s herd and allowed hands to tell the cattle apart and settle disputes when they arose.

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Every society has some form of thievery and the west was no different. Cattle rustling soon became popular and many a ranch lost hundreds of cattle to these thieves over the years. The law of the west was such, that any man found rustling cows was usually hung from the nearest tree. Some were fortunate enough to land in a county jail long enough to plead their case. Not many rustlers escaped the noose, however. The Civil War started in 1861 and the ranches lost many men who went to fight for either the north or south. This loss depleted the ranches of hands needed to herd the cattle. Because of this shortage of hands, many ranches folded and went under. The herds again became wild and began to roam the land. From these wild herds came the cattle which bred and produced well adapted off-spring which the early settlers were able to round up, brand and breed until they had a large size herd with their local brands, marked into their flanks. From this source of food supply, made a rancher became wealthy.

***

The air was thick with dust as the men rode around the cattle, keeping them from bolting. Heat from the bodies of the cows warmed the air around the drovers so the chill of the winter day was chased away as long as they rode close to the herd. The stifling heat on the leeward side of the herd brought the drovers to that side in the early morning and drove them away during the heat of the day. After purchasing the cattle for ten dollars a head Ed found himself the proud owner of 460 cows. He had enough left over to pay the trail hands and set up the ranch with range wire, when

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he got back. The rancher had been more than happy to sell due to overcrowding of stock and not enough feed on the range to last the winter. He had 7 men to handle the herd. It wasn’t a problem for these experienced handlers, as long as one of the cows didn’t take it in his fool head to run. Having fattened up on the little grass left on the prairie, the cattle were ready to move out to other feeding grounds. The horses and men were just as willing. The cold Wyoming wind chilled them beyond what their winter coats could protect against. Shrill whistles and the vocalizations of the cowboys yelling at the cattle sounded out as the herd slowly shuffled south. Ed and Levitt rode in front for the first shift. Keeping a wary eye out for the roving bands of Plains Indians, they rode with one hand on their rifles. By pushing hard through the day, the men made fifteen miles by the time the sun was sinking low in the west. Carlos and Felix rode around the herd, bunching the cattle for the night. They seemed content to stop and get their fill of the little amount of grass that escaped the winter snow. As the full moon rose high in the sky, it shone upon the ground, revealing shapes and shadows eerily moving in the calm wind. In the distance, the howling of a coyote broke the stillness of the night. The cattle nervously walked around, sniffing the air and keeping an eye on the falling night. A campfire chased away the shadows as men’s voices rang out from around it. The smell of cooking meat and flat-cakes filled the air. Hearing the sounds of the men so close, the cattle settled down to munching their cud.

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Carlos rode around the outer edge of the herd, singing to them to let them know they were not alone and that the movement was not a wild animal. The cattle rose, stretched their legs, and resettled in others areas, finding the ground more comfortable than before. Tim and Ron rode out after midnight to relieve Carlos and Felix on the night round. Falling into their blankets, the two brothers were asleep within seconds. Ed was awakened early that morning by a gentle shake on the shoulder. Levitt was standing over him holding a cup of coffee. Ed sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “How’d they do last night?” he asked, as he took the cup gratefully. “Tim and Rob said they stayed quiet all night,” Levitt replied. He sat on his haunches and nursed his own cup of coffee. “Can’t wait to get back home where it’s warm. I don’t know how anyone could live in this cold all the time.” He sipped his coffee and watched the steam trail off, disappearing in the cold morning breeze. Ed walked to the fire and pulled the blackened coffeepot out of the red-hot coals. Pouring himself a second cup, he looked around the camp. Cookie was the only one up, stirring the fixings for a quick breakfast before heading out. Ed pulled up a seat on an old saddle Cookie had been repairing the previous night and waited for Levitt to follow him. Staring up at the fading night, he saw shades of pink blossoming in the far horizon. Directly above him, twinkling stars fought for the last vestiges of life and a bright flare from a falling star streaked across the morning sky. He thought back to his childhood, remembering the last time he had seen several thousand stars shooting into the sky. He had been a young lad riding with his father through Zion Canyon in Utah when they’d stopped for the night.

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Levitt poured himself a cup of coffee and looked at him. “You’ve got a far away look in your eyes, Ed. Where’d you go?” Staring at his cup, he glanced up at Levitt. “Ever been to Zion in Utah?” Not waiting for a reply, he continued. “My father took me through there one time when I was around six or 7 years old. We camped right near a well the Mormons had built in the middle of the most beautiful country on earth. “I remember that night like it was yesterday. Around midnight, I had to answer the call of nature and was walkin’ past this well. As I passed it, I heard a roaring sound coming from it. I stopped and watched as suddenly thousands of stars, came shooting out of the mouth of the well, flying into the sky. I swear to you I was not asleep or dreaming, Levitt. “For two or three minutes, bright stars, no more than six inches across came flying out. As I watched, the sky became covered with stars. Then suddenly, as quickly as it started, it stopped. “I ran to my father, screaming, “That’s where stars come from.” ‘Course he looked at me like I had been tipping into his supply of spirits. I’ll never forget that night. I tried to explain to my dad that I wasn’t having a child’s fantasy, but looking back at it now, it must have been. Never could figure out what I seen that night.” As he arose to refill his coffee, he heard Levitt clear his throat. “There are things happening everyday that we can’t find answers for, Ed. I believe you seen what you said. This world’s a whole lot bigger than us and there’s stuff we can’t come close to figuring out. “I always wondered what kept the birds flying south for the winter, or what told the animals there was a storm coming in. How do we answer the questions mankind has everyday… about the way the world turns, the seasons and the light at night to guide the way?

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“I think the Indians have more understanding of nature and the forces of nature than any one of us will ever have. They might worship the Great Spirit or the gods of their forefathers, but it’s because they know there’s something out there, greater than all of us. The way they treat the land and the provisions they harvest from, it should make us stop and take notice. Nothing goes to waste. They use all things they kill and give thanks to the being that gave it to them.” Ed nodded his head in agreement with Levitt as he listened. He’d always thought the same thing, but it was nice to hear someone else voice their feelings. Levitt stared into the fire. Streaks of yellow, red, and blue tips branched up and reached out. He fed it more wood and stood up. “We’ll carry this conversation further, later on,” he said. The sun broke the horizon, bathing the land in its warm glow as the camp awoke and prepared for the coming day. Ed rode out of camp with a weight on his mind. He knew they would be hard pressed to make it home in the next two months. No telling what was happening back at the Baggin Ranch. Hoping for the best, he was relived when Levitt rode up beside him. “How’d you know all the details for buying this here herd?” asked Levitt. “Seemed to me, you’ve done this a time or two.” “I rode with Colonel Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving when they made the first few cattle drives through Texas,” Ed replied. “Those were the days when we had no competition and asked whatever price we wanted for the herd. Got it, too.” Levitt looked aghast. “You were with those two? Why they’re known all over the country as being the pioneers of range herds. Ain’t one cowpoke that ain’t heard of ‘em. How’d you get tangled up with them?”

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Ed straightened his back in the saddle and found a more comfortable position. Glancing sideways at Levitt, he grinned. “It’s a long story.” Levitt shrugged as he wiped his brow with his bandanna. “It’s a long ride.” Ed chuckled in agreement and starting at the beginning, told Levitt his story.

***

In 1850 Oliver Loving was given a land grant of 640 acres in Texas. He took advantage of the numerous cattle that freely roamed the range and took many herds across country to New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana along the Texas coast. There the cattle were used as tallow, which was placed on ships for transport to the far reaches of the world. By 1858, the first herd had arrived back east in Illinois. Loving made enough money to venture out and try other markets. From his success, the Shawnee and Western Trails were created. Denver City became the overnight hotspot for fortune seekers as silver and gold were found in the mountains of Colorado. However, the number of people far exceeded the food supply available. Loving, seeing the prospect of making big money, sent a herd up the Santa Fe Trail. Selling the herd for a nice profit, Loving paved the way for other ranchers to bring in their cattle. During the Civil War, he had sold beef to the Confederate Army. After the war, he was left holding over $150,000 dollars in worthless Confederate currency. While starting over, he’d met a man named Charles Goodnight.

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By the time the war ended in 1865, the country was hungry for beef. Civil unrest and shortage of supplies brought about a great demand from the east coast for fresh meat. Goodnight had started a drive in 1865 only to have the Plains Indians steal his herd and run off his hands. When he met Loving, the two men had hit it off and started what proved to be a long partnership. A twenty-four year age difference did little to discourage them. The ranchers hired horse wranglers, a cook, and a trail boss to get the cattle to market. Remudas were needed on the drive to provide fresh mounts for the cowboys. Taken from the Spanish remuda de caballos, or “change of horses,” it consisted of several horses for each rider. The cowboys came from all walks of life. Freed black slaves, white men, Mexicans, soldiers, and even Indians were hired as drovers to bring the herd across the trail. Life on the cattle drive was hard. The cowboys worked from sixteen to twenty hours from the back of a horse, changing horses three or four times during a shift. Meals were the most looked forward to part of the ride and it didn’t take long before the owners and trail bosses figured out a cook was one of the most important members of the crew. Goodnight used this knowledge to find and purchase a war wagon that was built to withstand rough conditions. He stocked it with a trail kitchen and a cook that knew his way around food. This idea became the basis for the wagon known today as the Chuck Wagon, named after its founder, Charles Goodnight. Goodnight was experienced at fighting Indians, while Loving had the brains to buy and sell the cattle. By 1866, the men left Texas with over 2,000 head of cattle and almost twenty armed men. Thus the trail they blazed was named after them, the Goodnight-Loving Trail.

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They knew the most difficult part would be near Llamo Estacado. This was a barren land with no water for eighty miles. Before attempting this crossing, the men pulled up near the Concho River to let the cattle drink their fill. After traveling for three days across the waterless plains, the cattle could not be contained anymore. Smelling the water from the Pecos River that was still miles away, they stampeded into the water. The drovers tried but were unsuccessful in heading them off and many cows died from drowning. In Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the men sold over $12,000 dollars worth of cattle to the fort. The rest were driven on to Denver, where they were heartily welcomed. Bolstered by their success, the men set out to drive more herds across the trail to Denver. The Llamo crossing, however, remained a deathtrap. Indians camped near the edges of this desolate land, waiting for the herds to come through. All they needed to do was stampede the herd and they would have all the beef they needed. On one of these trips, a party of Plains Indians attacked the camp. Fighting back, Goodnight got the herd moving again. One of his men had been hit behind the ear with an arrow. Using a pair of pliers, Goodnight pulled the arrow out and packed the wound with mud and sent him back. The man lived to tell his tale to others along the trail. Goodnight sent Loving on ahead to the fort to prevent losing the army contract, which was up for renewal in a month. The herd would slow them down and they needed to get the contract before the army gave it to another company. Loving went ahead taking with him a one armed man named Wilson. Near the Pecos River, they were again attacked by a band of Comanche. Loving and Wilson rode hard for several miles, until they came to the banks of the river.

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Hundreds of Comanche surrounded them, but they remained hidden by an overhang. Since there was only one way to get at the men the Comanche lost man after man trying to reach them. Loving had a new rifle with him, a Henry repeating with waterproof ammunition. This rifle kept them alive by its method of firing and reloading immediately. The Indians could not fight this type of weapon with their single shot rifles. During the siege, Loving was shot in the wrist. The bullet traveled through the wrist, striking his belly. Loving was near death, so Wilson persuaded him to let him sneak out at night and get help. Stripping himself of boots and clothing, Wilson escaped, finding Goodnight and the others down the trail. Riding hard all night, the rescuers rode into the battle scene. Loving was gone. Searching for him for hours, they finally concluded that he had been killed and his body thrown in the river where it had floated away. Loving, however, was alive. He hid in the overhang shelter on the riverbank for two more days, fighting the Indians the entire time. Large boulders were thrown at his location, but none hit him. Time and again, the Comanche sent in a brave, only to have him shot down. Loving was finally able to slip out on the third night by going into the water and floating downstream. Fighting infection, he tried to eat his gloves and drink water dipped in the river with his handkerchief. Some Mexicans riding through found him and gave him treatment. Eventually, he recovered under a doctor’s care.

***

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“And that’s where I learned how hard it can be to drive a herd of cattle,” Ed said. “Goodnight and Loving made a name for themselves in the west. Everything that could happen on a drive, they had happen to them. “My cousin, Stephen, was on one of the drives with us. He got to Kansas and was not looking forward to the prospect of riding back, so he stayed. He was hired as the Marshal in Abilene, so he started a new career as a lawman. “I learned how to drive a herd, fight the Indians, and brand a calf, all while working for them in Texas. We traveled that route many a time over several years. Loving always had trouble with his wrist after that injury, but he took a liking to me and showed me how to do things he could no longer do.” Levitt shook his head and a look of new appreciation came over his face. “I always heard of Goodnight and Loving, but I never knew anyone who rode with them. The way I understand it, they shaped the west as we know it.” Ed nodded but remained silent. He had talked more in one hour than he ever had before. With the problems ahead of him he almost wished he had one of those great men to turn to. His thoughts turned to Amy, as they did more and more these days. For her sake, he had to succeed. Without these cattle how could she survive? More than that, he wanted to be able to give her the life she deserved and if that meant driving cattle in the middle of winter, through savage Indian country, he’d do it. God knew how he loved that girl. He couldn’t explain why or how; he just knew that he did and the first thing he was going to do when he got back was ask her to marry him. It scared him to think that she might not feel the same way about him. After all, he was just a poor cowboy with nothing but his good name to offer her… that and the companionship and love of a man for the rest of her life.

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Chapter Sixteen

Stephen, Jerry, and Tony rode through the Bradshaw Mountains on horses streaked with sweat and dust. As they rode closer to Baggin land the smell of burnt grass and sage reached them. Seeing the black ground black in front of them they looked at each other. Tony spoke first. “Think it’s strange that the land just happened to catch fire? With all that’s going on up here, I find that too much of a coincidence.” “Wasn’t too long ago this happened,” Jerry volunteered. Skirting the path of the fire and riding on the outer fringes, they felt the urgency to get to the ranch. As they jumped a small ditch in the ground Tony felt his animal falter under him. Pulling up, he dismounted. Lifting the horse’s rear foot, he looked at it and angrily let the hoof drop. “He threw a shoe,” he said looking at his brothers. “You go on and get to Amy’s and I’ll re-shoe him right quick and be along.” Stephen shook his head. “I don’t like it, Tony. You’re in the middle of Indian country. Last thing we need to do is have your scalp hanging from some warrior’s pony. Jim would have my head!” Jerry listened to them talk while he scouted the horizon. At the base of the Bradshaws the Apache had many winter camps. Last thing they needed right now was a run in with Geronimo or his roving band of braves. “Let’s walk the horses over to that grove of trees so we have some cover,” he suggested. Tony glanced at him with concern on his face. “Whatcha feelin’, Jer?”

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“Don’t know,” Jerry replied. “I’ve got one of those bad shivers that come over you when you’re walking into danger but can’t see or find it!” After living for many years with the sixth sense each of the brothers had, they’d learned to trust it in each other. They quickly made their way to the grove of trees and gathered around the unshod horse. Taking out a hoof-pick, which was the only way to reach deep into the recesses of the shod horse’s, Tony reached down, picked up the rear leg of his horse, and tucked it between his knees. Using the hook, he cleaned the horse’s hoof and worked the old nails out from the tough outer edges. Replacing the shoe, he lined it up and, holding new nails in his teeth, hammered the shoe into place. As he tested to make sure it was firmly on, Stephen asked, “Did you hear that?” Turning his head to track the sound, he looked at Jerry and Tony. “Over there! I hear a cow bawling!” “I hear it now!” Jerry said. “You ready to ride, Tony?” Nodding, Tony leapt on his horse. Kicking the flanks, he started off. Stephen and Jerry followed at a rapid pace. Creosote bushes filled the air with their pungent aroma. That smell was mixed with the charred smell of the wildfire. The Creosote was a plant that survived the toughest conditions nature could throw its way. It kept other plants and animals from stealing what little water there was by releasing a poison from the roots. No other plant could live close to it. Creosote bushes would send out branches under the ground, drinking water from areas where there was hardly any left. It could survive on one or two inches of rain per year. When the drought was heavy, like it had been the last few years, it shed its leaves and used less water. The men guided their horses around the Creosote bushes as they followed the mournful sound of the cow. Topping a ridge they stared down into the valley before them. The pitiful wail rose

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from a hidden hole somewhere down there, echoing off the sides of the ridge. Circling the rim, they found a well-used trail, which lead them to the bottom. As they rode down, they became aware of an odor that made their eyes water. The horses shied away and fought them the closer they got to the sound of the cow. Coming around a corner, they pulled up sharply. On the side of a pool of black murky goo, a calf was stuck in the mud. Bawling its head off and thrashing around, it had embedded itself further in the stuff. Black, stinky slime coated its hide as it fought, getting weaker all the time. Tony unfolded his lariat and snaked out a large loop. Twirling it over his head, he threw it squarely over the calf’s small horns. Tying the end he held in his hand around the pommel, he slowly backed his horse up, taking up the slack. As the pressure on its neck tightened, the calf bawled louder and struggled with his legs, trying to gain a grip. Tony’s horse backed up harder, straining the rope. Slowly, the calf broke free with a sucking sound. Dragging it across the bank and out of danger, Tony jumped down and walked over to the calf, lying on its side. It was exhausted from its efforts and made no move to get up. Taking off the rope, and glancing at the sticky stuff on its hide, Tony looked up at Jerry and Stephen. “Where does Amy’s land start?” Jerry shook his head, “It’s been so long since I been up here, I don’t remember, do you?” he asked, looking at Stephen. “If memory serves me right, we crossed over into Baggin land about a mile or two back,” he replied. “Pa had three hundred acres and Lynx Creek separated the boundaries on the one side.

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We come in on the south side and I seen the creek in the distance. I’m pretty sure we’re on Pa’s land.” Stephen fell silent. “It wasn’t Pa’s land any more,” he thought wearily. “Sorry, Amy’s land,” he completed the sentence. “I think I know why yore Pa was killed,” remarked Tony. “If I didn’t have a clue before, it makes sense now. This here’s oil. I thought is smelled kinda badly when we were ridin’ up. This is why someone wants this land!” The brothers shook their heads as they looked at the black stuff. “Best thing to do is get a sample of that to the county assessor’s office and let them test it,” said Jerry. “In the meantime, we need to light shuck and get over to Amy’s. If she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, then she’s in more trouble than she knows!” Stephen tore a piece of wrapper from his jerky and handed it to Tony. “Put some of that in there. We’ll drop it off at the sheriff’s office and the surveyors.” Tony used a stick to place a glob of oil on the paper. He folded it securely and put it in his pocket. Feeling his way to the edge of the black ooze, he stuck the stick in the oil, as far out as he could. Pushing it down until it was no more than a couple of inches above the surface; he pulled it back out and stepped back. “Grab me that long stick,” he said, pointing to a dead branch that was on the ground under a mesquite tree. Getting the branch, which was over ten feet long, Stephen handed it over and watched as Tony buried it all the way to the top. “It ain’t touchin’ bottom. This is a deep well,” Tony remarked, pulling the branch back out. “Let’s go! We need to get to Amy’s now!” said Jerry.

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As Jerry waited for Tony and Stephen to mount up, he watched as the calf slowly got to its feet. Recovering from its near death encounter, the calf stumbled a few of steps and then ran back up the trail they’d ridden down. The three men rode fast and they pulled up in the front yard a short while later. The door to the ranch flew open and Amy ran out to meet them. “Stephen! I thought that was you from the way you sit on your horse! Did you get my letter?” she asked. Stephen dismounted and she threw herself around his neck with a hug. “Whoa! Yer gonna strangle me, sis!” “What letter?” Stephen asked. “What’s been happening here? Jim got word from his brother that there was trouble up here, but I never got a letter from you.” Amy nodded wearily as she turned her brother loose. “Some men were gonna rape me. One of them killed Pa and I think they were gonna kill me after they’d had their fun.” “Any idea where they rode in from?” asked Jerry. “Tom…he’s the local sheriff…has tried to find out, but he hasn’t got much to go on.” Amy’s eyes filled with tears. The Widow Doris, who had been standing on the porch watching the reunion, stepped down and came over. “You boys get on down and come inside. We’ll get some grub for you.” Doris took Amy by the elbow and led her back inside. As she walked, Amy turned to the men. “You guys ain’t gonna do anything to get yourselves killed on my account. I already lost Pa and I can’t lose you too.” “We’re here to find out why you was attacked, Hon,” said Tony. “Ridin’ in, I think we found one of the reasons.” Amy stopped and pulled away from Doris’ grip. “What did you find?”

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“Let’s get in the house and you can talk all you want,” said Doris. Grabbing Amy’s arm again, Doris fairly pushed her inside the house. Amy turned to her, exasperated. “What are you doing? I was talking to my brother!” “You were outside in broad daylight. After all that’s happened around here the past few days, I don’t think you should be hanging out in the front yard!” Amy’s face paled. “Oh, good Lord. You’re right, Doris. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” “That’s why I’m here,” Doris said softly. “Until we know who’s responsible for these attacks on you, we need to be careful” Stephen came through the door and caught the tail end of the conversation. “Is it that bad?” Amy stood near the table and Doris went over to the stove that was already stoked and chasing away the chill of the winter morning. “Sit yourselves down at the table. I’ll have some grub for you in a moment,” she said. Taking out a pan, she cracked the brown shells of the eggs she had gathered that morning against the edge. The eggs slid into the pan and slowly begin to bubble. Amy joined Doris at the stove and fried up slabs of bacon. As the room filled with the smell of breakfast cooking the three men suddenly realized how hungry they were. Sopping up the last yellow yolk with a piece of fresh bread, Stephen turned to Tony and Jerry. “I never understood why she stayed single this long. No woman that can cook like that should be without a house full of brats and a fat husband to partake of her delights.” Amy retorted. “Well, Mr. Smarty Pants, I think I just might have found me a man.” “That’d be Ed?” asked Stephen with a grin. Amy blushed at her outburst. “What makes you think it’d be Ed?”

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Seeing the smiles on all three men’s faces, she pressed them. “C’mon, give. What is it you’re not telling me?” Tony cleaned his plate and sat back with a contented grunt. Rubbing his protruding belly, he looked at Jerry, then back at Stephen. He told her how they had gotten the letter from Ed, Amy was overwhelmed. “You mean you guys dropped everything for me? Left your families behind and rode all this way?” “You’re our family too, Amy,” Jerry’s voice was low. “Any time family is in trouble, we’ve never deserted them. Not about to start now, either.” “But I don’t even know most of you,” Amy protested. “Don’t matter.” Stephen spoke up. “In this family, you mess with one, you mess with us all.” Jerry turned to Amy. Taking her hand in his big callous ones, he touched the edge of her chin and brought her face up to meet his. “I was born into this family, Hon, and after forty years, I still ain’t met half the relatives. We’re spread out all over God’s creation and half of us don’t have a clue who’s in the clan.” Seeing Tony and Stephen nod their heads in agreement made Amy shudder. “So Ed is related to me in a long round about way but not by blood, that what you’re sayin’?” “I think it’s pretty clear by now that you can marry him if you want,” Tony grinned. “And the way the Ed’s letter sounded, according to Jim, that’s a very distinct possibility!” Amy was suddenly horrified to be the object of their laughter and ran blushing from the room. Stephen followed to her bedroom door. “Ah, c’mon sis, we didn’t mean to upset you. Really, we think it’s great that you and Ed are so taken up with each other.” The door opened slowly and Amy stood there brushing tears from her eyes.

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“It’s not that Stephen. It’s just finding out that there’s a chance that Ed feels the same for me as I’ve been feeling for him! I’m crying because I’m happy!” Stephen shook his head. ‘Women!’ He’d never understood why they cried when they were happy. How was a fella to know which crying it was? As Amy returned to the table, she saw a serious look pass between the men. “What’s the matter?” Stephen rubbed his face with his hands. Looking wearily at his stepsister, he explained about the oil they had found. After he’d finished his tale, Amy sat back, shocked. “Oil? On our land? But…but Pa would have found it. He’s had this place for close to twenty years!” “Only reason we discovered it was because of the cow bawling,” Jerry said. “If that fool animal hadn’t been trapped, I doubt we would have had any reason to go down in the valley.” “Where exactly was this pool?” asked Amy. Stephen, because he had grown up on the ranch and was familiar with the lay of the land, was the one to answer. He did his best to describe the area. “What I can’t understand is why me and Nathan never found the pool. Only thing I can think of is it was close to Leo’s land and Pa never did want us going too near him and give him an excuse to whup us.” “It is near Leo’s land,” Amy said, matter-of-factly. “Our property runs just south of Lynx Creek. From what you’re telling me, that pool is right on the border of both our lands, but more on ours than his.” “We got work to do,” Tony said, standing up. “First thing I’m doing is heading down to the surveyor’s office and paying him to come out and properly survey this here land. That way, if it comes to a shoot-out we have the law on our side.”

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“But we’ve already got the law on our side!” Amy protested. “Can you prove it was Leo that tried to run you off and killed your pa?” asked Jerry. Sending him a look that could kill, Amy made a sound of disgust. “I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t Leo,” Jerry said quickly. “I’m tellin’ you the way the law will look at things. We have to make a good faith effort to find the reasons you were attacked. Then we have to offer proof Leo was behind the attacks. Knowing it and not being able to prove it has lost many a righteous cause in court.” “He’s right, Amy,” Stephen spoke up. “You gotta remember we’re law enforcement officers. We do know a little bit of what needs to be done.” Doris had been sitting quietly since the conversation started. Now she cleared her throat. “I know this is none of my business, but are any of you boys known around these parts… other than Stephen?” Amy turned to her. “This is your business now, Doris. You placed your life in danger for me and have been like a mother to me. I consider you part of this family. Remember when the fire was comin’ in and you said you never had a daughter but had saved things for her? Well, I haven’t had a mother in many years and I’ve found one now.” Doris’s eyes teared up and she leaned over and hugged Amy. “I’ll be honored to have you for a daughter,” she said softly. “Now, what was it you were gonna say?” Amy prodded. “Well, if one of the boys ain’t been around these parts before, he won’t be recognized. He could hire himself out to Leo and work from the inside.”

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Stephen slapped the table with his hands and jumped to his feet. “That’s it!” he shouted. “Brilliant! Jerry’s been around Prescott but Tony’s never been up here.” Looking over at Tony, he waited. Tony slowly got to his feet. “If you think it will work, I’d better get clear of this place ‘fore anyone comes by and sees me here. We need to have a place where we can meet and exchange information and such.” Amy thought about that for a minute. “How about somewhere that we played as kids?” she asked Stephen. There’s one area down near Willow Creek where the stream comes into the lake. We used to swim there during the summer. Remember?” “It’s on the way to Leo’s ranch, isn’t it?” asked Stephen. Turning to Tony, he explained the land and the area. “Every Friday, when it’s pay day for the crew, Leo lets them split up and sends half the guys into Prescott for a wild time. “I’ll ride out, or one of us will, every Friday. If you’re not there, we’ll come back the next week and so on until we meet. Build a pile of stones by the trail if you got something you need to tell us and we miss seeing you. We’ll check it as often as we can.” “Sounds like a plan,” said Tony. Placing his hat on his head, he started toward the door. “Tony,” Jerry said. Turning back, Tony waited. “Be careful. We already know Leo’s a killer. We just need some proof, that’s all. Don’t be a hero.” “Me?” grinned Tony. “You know me better‘n that.” “That’s what I’m afraid of,” Jerry smiled grimly. “Be careful.” “Oh, I will be,” Tony remarked. “You think I want to be the one responsible for releasing the wrath of the Daulton family on this little town?” Nodding, he went out and closed the door behind him.

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“Dear Lord, keep him safe from harm,” Doris said. All present bowed their heads and said, “Amen.”

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Chapter Seventeen

After Tony headed out for Leo’s place, Jerry and Stephen spent much of the day riding around the Baggin holdings to see if they could locate anything else unusual or remarkable. They saw very few Double Diamond cattle but noticed quite a few of Leo’s Bar 7 cattle grazing on Baggin land. As they rode, Stephen regaled Jerry with stories of his adventures with Nathan when they were growing up here. Quite often Stephen spoke of Pa Baggin and Jerry realized that this was his way of dealing with the loss and a way for Stephen to say goodbye. So often in this rugged land one lost family members without ever having had a chance to say goodbye, and it was especially rough when you hadn’t seen the person for years. There was always that nagging thought of “I should have come up more often to see Pa.” Back at the ranch house that evening Stephen filled Amy in on what he’d been up to and the places he’d been over the past several years. “Your poor Anna. How ever do you expect her to settle and raise a family if you keep dragging her from pillar to post every few years?” Amy chided. Stephen shrugged sheepishly. “I guess driftin’s in my blood. I like seeing new places and new faces. I like the new challenges of every situation I encounter… besides, Anna don’t seem to mind…much.” “Ha!” replied Amy “She’s just good at hiding it. Every woman wants to settle in one spot to raise her young ’ins.

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“Oh, I that reminds me… I got a letter from Becky. She’s expecting their first child in the spring. Isn’t that exciting! I’m going to be an auntie.” “Great! And what about April?” Stephen asked. “I don’t know. Becky was the only one I got a reply from. You never even got your letter, but that’s understandable because you never stay put long enough for the mail to catch up with you. Do you know how Nathan is doing?” Stephen scratched his head as if to search his memory and then said, “Well, he’s been really busy at the Fort ever since General Sherman brought the Navajo Indians back from Bosque Redondo. He says it’s a real shame how the officers take advantage of the government rations set aside for the Indians and use them for themselves. He’s walking a tightrope up there, trying not to tangle with the greedy officers and still be fair to the Navajo. “He might not have gotten your letter because there was an attack on the Butterfield Stage up that way. Tomorrow I’ll go into Prescott and send Nathan a telegram. At least he should know that Pa’s dead.” Doris had gone to bed leaving the siblings to talk alone. Jerry was in the bunkhouse on the pretext that he wanted to mend some rope, but he too knew that brother and sister would want some time to talk. “Sis, are you gonna be all right here by yourself, running the ranch?” “Well, I’m not really alone with Doris here, although I know she can’t stay forever. She has a house in town. I guess I won’t know until this attack is sorted out and I feel safe again. I’ll feel better, too, when Ed comes back.” Blushing at her own words Amy quickly added, “…with the cattle to restock the place!”

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Stephen smiled knowingly, and patted his sister on the shoulder. “You’re gonna be just fine, Sis. I have a feeling this will all work out quicker than you realize.” With that cryptic response, he rose to leave. “Jerry and I are going to get an early start in the morning, so don’t expect us for breakfast.” He hugged Amy again and said, “It’s good to be home.” Amy teared up as she clung to her brother for a moment longer. “Thanks for coming Stephen. I really needed this right now.”

***

In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, giving the United States all the territory north of the Gila River in Arizona. Five years later, the Gadsden Purchase allowed the government to take control of the entire boundary of the Apache nation. The Apache were happy with this arrangement at first. They had grown weary of fighting the Spanish and thought the U. S. Army would run out the Mexicans and Apache life would improve. It wasn’t long before the Apache found out that they, like their brother the Navajo, meant nothing to the Army. Many small bands of roving Apache refused to be told where they could and could not live. These bands raided the white settlers coming into the territory. The government set up an army base near Prescott named Fort Whipple and staffed it with troops to fight the raiding bands. These roving bands consisted of Apache and others mixed with the blood of the Yavapai Indians. The term Apache became an everyday name for any and all Indians around the Prescott area, although they were truly Yavapai-Apache.

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***

Limping Foot was one of these Yavapai-Apache. He had just come through the Bradshaw Mountains when he stopped his horse to study the terrain. He’d left camp early that morning, well before the sun had come up, trying to get to his destination that day. He looked at the tracks of a shod horse on the ground and frowned. They were heading toward the town of Prescott carrying a burden. Deep impressions made the tracks stand out against the glaring morning sun. He heard nothing except for his own breathing and the shrill call of a whippoorwill somewhere in the rocks ahead as he paused to listen. Dismounting, he walked his horse along the tracks until he found a place where one of the men had set down his boot print. Studying it, he felt the edges. Dirt rolled off the sides and fell on the bottom of the print. Someone had passed this way not long ago, he thought. Taking his single shot rifle out of its deerskin scabbard, he drew back the trigger and set the gun safety on. Overhead, a falcon flew low as it chased its prey across the desert floor. The shadow of the passing bird fell across his face and he felt a shudder of fear cross his shoulders. Legend had it that when death was coming for you it sent its shadow out to find you first. When that shadow fell upon you, your time on earth was done and you would meet your loved ones in the Great Hunting Ground beyond the horizon. His ancestors had placed great belief in such things, and it troubled him. He was a wise man; one who respected the wisdom of his elders. Although he would never find fault with their teachings, he had seen many things come and go over his years that proved they were wrong more often than they were right. His father’s father had predicted the Indians would never fall

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under the hand of the brown men from Mexico. His father had said the tribes would survive the onslaught of the white men pushing them out of their country. Both had been wrong. For every Indian brave, there were a hundred white men or soldiers. For each white man that died in battle, a thousand took their place. It was a losing battle for the Indian way of life. “This was the life of an Apache warrior,” Limping Foot thought. Like so many other nomadic Plains Tribes, the Apache had not turned to farming until the arrival of the white man. They had lived on a diet consisting mainly of buffalo until the settlers had wiped out the herds. Digging into the pouch of deerskin he had on his belt, he took a handful of seeds and popped them into his mouth. Chewing slowly, he thought how nice a thick piece of meat would taste. With so many people moving into his country, he had to forage for whatever food he could find. The night before last, he spotted a nice elk but, just as he was ready to shoot, he heard the voices come up over the rise. The elk was spooked and he was left watching three white men riding right through his hunting grounds. Unable to track the elk for fear of the shot attracting the men back to him, he went hungry until he found the seeds. Like most Apache, his mainstay was wild vegetation. The seeds, fruits, berries, nuts and roots made up a third of his diet. Always on the lookout for acorns, pinion nuts, agave, and mescal heads, he loaded his sack with as many as he could find. Limping Foot got up and walked his horse over the ridge and dropped down into the creek bed just above the Chino Valley area. He knew from past experience that he would find a variety of staples in the bottom of the valley.

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Long ago, his people had planted many kinds of wild onions, potatoes, wild mountain celery, sumac berries, cattail roots, and prickly pear cactus, to supplement their food sources during hard winter times. Some cacti were the most nourishing food available because they contained enough water in their pulp to satisfy his thirst. And right now, he was very thirsty. Finding his way through the patches of cactus and tumbleweed, he found several plants that had survived the autumn frost. Breaking off the leaves, he searched, looking until he could find the specific type of plant that he’d been longing for the last several days. Riding through this arid desert made his mouth dry. When he was a young boy, his father had shown him a plant that when chewed, stopped the thirst. It had been planted years before by the first tribes in the area. The Colorado rubber plant and the root of the orange sneezeweed made a gummy type of substance that would give out flavor all day and keep his mouth from drying out. Searching for several minutes, he failed to locate any. Finally giving up, he heard the noise of birds fighting in the center of the field. Riding his horse nearer, he pulled up sharply as the birds rose into the air, screeching at him for disturbing their meal. They waited, circling above him, every now and then flying in close and darting away. Ignoring the birds, his attention was focused on the body they had been eating. It was a man dressed in an old white soiled shirt with faded blue jeans. The man’s hat was lying beside him with an old ragged bullet hole through the crown, which appeared to have been made many years ago. The man’s hand still held his pistol and his pockets had been turned inside out. The birds had taken most of the man’s face away, so that even if he had been known, he would be unrecognizable by this time.

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Walking slowly around the body, Limping Foot could see by the tracks what had happened. An Indian learned from an early age to read a story by looking at the ground around him. It was easy for him to see that three men had ridden up to meet a fourth. Limping Foot concluded they must have known each other, but something happened and they had a falling out. Seeing the sharp turns in the ground where a boot had spun around, Limping Foot figured that one of the men had drawn his gun on the other. Only one outcome of this gunfight was certain. The loser lay here, while his three companions had mounted up and taken off. Lifting the brim of the hat, Limping Foot noticed the letter “R” written inside. There were no other papers on the body to tell who this man was. Someone had taken the time to clear out all information on this man. Either they were just rummaging through his pockets to steal from him or they were making sure nobody could place them and this man together. Limping Foot looked up at the sky. It was well past “Large Leaves,” the late fall in Apache terms, and coming on to “Ghost Face,” the wintertime. This body would be gone within two weeks at the most. It could not have been more than four or five days since this man was killed. The ants were busy picking at the flesh while the maggots had already turned into flies. This meant he had been killed several days ago, before the men he had heard this morning had come through. The wind blew hard against his face as he looked southward. It brought the smell of rain to his nostrils. Glancing at the ground near the creek bed, he noticed several stalks of mescal plants growing. He knew he needed to take the time to stock up on supplies before this downpour started. Looking at the sky, he saw the ring around the sun that gave a hint of the coming storm.

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He had a few days before the weather turned sour. Walking over to the stalks of mescal he knifed through many plants, gathering enough to cook down for several weeks if he needed them. Taking the heads, or crowns, from the center of the plant with his knife, he placed them on the ground under the branches of a large cottonwood tree. Building a shelter in the overhanging branches using sticks and weeds from the field, he made a crude but dry shelter for the coming storm. After drinking the pulp of a cactus, he dug a large pit under the branches and started a fire that soon grew in size as he fed it more and more wood. Lugging several large rocks from the creek bed, he added these to the fire and placed more wood on top of the rocks. He watched the wood burn down and turn the rocks red hot; then he waited until every rock was glowing. He then placed the mescal heads on top of the rocks covering them with brush and dirt to keep the steam and heat in. He wasn’t worried about trying to keep the mescal fresh. This method of cooking it would preserve it for the rest of the winter. All during the following nights and days, the wind roared through the open plains, creating ghostly sounds and shrieking as it blew by. Drops of rain worked their way through the branches of the trees during the night, waking him up when they hissed on the hot rocks. By day, the warmth of the fire kept him comfortable and allowed him to keep his clothing dry and at night his buffalo robe covered him completely, protecting him from the cold. Only leaving his shelter to feed his horse, he was glad when the storm finally blew over on the fifth day and the sun peeked from behind a large bank of clouds.

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Limping Foot filled his bags with cooked mescal and covered all trace of his camp. Mounting his horse, he rode away without looking back. The ground was wet underneath his horse’s hooves and the large clods of mud slowed the horse down, fatiguing him quickly. While riding through the Granite Basin he came upon a trail that had been well used in the last few months. Tracks of shod horses covered the ground, going into the mountains and coming out. Limping Foot pulled up when he heard voices up ahead. He hid with his horse behind a tree where he could see into the clearing where the line shack stood. Holding his hand over the horse’s nose he allowed just enough air in to let it breathe, but not whinny. A voice rang out. “Brian, you and Jack go on in and help Doug here get the rest of Slim and Joe’s stuff and carry it down to the wagon.” “I ain’t done eatin’ yet, Sam,” said one of the hidden voices. “Jack, I don’t care if you starve to death. Get those boys’ stuff loaded and help Doug get out of here,” Sam replied. Jack gave Doug an evil look as he pushed himself back from the table. He motioned to Brian. Loading up the bedrolls and extra rifles belonging to the men, they swept the cabin with a glance and then turned back to Doug. “Just a minute,” said Doug, “Joe had some ol’ saddlebags and Slim wants the bearskin from the one he killed last year.” Stepping swiftly across the cabin, he swept up the bearskin in his left arm and quickly pulled the saddlebags from a peg on the wall. He put these items in the wagon and made ready before the men had time to ask questions. Slim had told him about the gold Joe had stashed away from his fathers claim. He’d been saving up for “someday settling down.” If he lived, Doug wanted to be sure he still had that chance. “You got everything them boys had here. So leave us be.”

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Jack was grinning a wicked grin. Behind him, Brian rested his hands on his holster casually, ready for anything. Looking at them, Doug felt the slow burn of anger. Joe was near dead and these scumbags could care less. “Thought you boys liked being near town.” Doug said slowly. “How’d you get stuck way out here in the blue yonder? You piss someone off?” Brian slapped his hand toward his pistol but his gun had not even cleared leather when he found himself looking into the business end of Doug’s Old Navy Pistol. A feeling of despair came over him as he realized that as fast as he’d been it was not fast enough. This man had not even moved; yet he had the draw on him. He felt sick to his stomach and he lifted his hands away from his gun “Just foolin’ with ya,” he said meekly. “I was just seein’ if you would back up your friendship with that Joe feller.” “You ever get near that gun again be prepared to use it,” Doug said, as he backed toward the door. “And you,” pointing to Jack, “If I ever see one thing that makes me jumpy and you’re around, I’ll put the first slug in your gut.” He saw Sam watching him as he stepped to the door. Sam was holding a rifle held lightly in his hands. “Those boys tried to draw down on me.” “I heard,” Sam shrugged. “Seems to me they bit off a bigger chunk than they could chew. I got no problem with you.” Lowering the rifle, he watched the door. “Better light out before them boys take a potshot or ambush you on the way back to Leo’s. They don’t take lightly to havin’ a gun pulled on ‘em and they’re the type that’ll not soon forget.” “Appreciate that, Sam.” Doug mounted the wagon and clicked to the horses. As they started up, he pulled back on the reins and stopped them. “I thought them boys was with you. You don’t seem to care much for them, though.”

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Sam scratched his face and shook his head. He had many days’ growth of beard and needed a shave. “I just met ‘em when they come up from down south somewhere a few weeks ago,” he lied. “They seem like they’ll not make it long in this world with the attitude they got. I couldn’t care less if someone had beaten them and taken care of some of that arrogance. For that matter, I wouldn’t care if they’d been killed, either.” He walked back into the cabin, leaving Doug to wonder who these men really were. Leo had sent them up to the cabin after Joe had been attacked and mauled so badly by the bear. By the time Doug had gotten up to the place, they were already moving all their stuff in and all the other boys’ stuff out. It was almost like they couldn’t wait to get him and Slim out of there, mused Doug. Now, why would that be? Deep in thought, he failed to see the Indian sitting on his horse by the side of the road, deep in the shadows. Only the neighing of his horse and its ears pricking up and pointing toward the woods caused him to look up. His hands grabbed for his rifle, but he knew in his heart, he was too slow. A sickening feeling came over him as his thoughts poured out faster than he could sort them. Doug looked at the Indian in surprise and halted his mad rush for the rifle. The Indian was sitting on his pony with his hands in plain view. He was unpainted and alone. His rifle was nestled in its buckskin sheath on the pony and a bow was slung on his back. Limping Foot, seeing the surprise on Doug’s face, grunted, “White man always wants to shoot Injun first, ask questions later.” Doug couldn’t help himself. He laughed outright and sat back. “I, on the other hand, am surprised to see an Indian not holding a knife in one hand and a scalp in the other,” he teased back.

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“Only desperate Indians still take scalps,” said Limping Foot. “Since the army stopped paying twenty dollars per scalp, the grease we got on our hands from the renegade warriors took too long to wash off, so we quit scalping and instead just shot ‘em.” Doug turned in the seat looking back the way he had come. “Come ride with me for a bit. I don’t want to stay around here too long. There’s some men back there that will shoot you on sight and, for that matter, me too.” Limping Foot trotted along beside the wagon as Doug placed some distance between them and the cabin. After riding for more than an hour without talking, the men slowed down and pulled in under a large oak tree that had shed its leaves of red all over the ground. “How you doing?” Doug asked, as he climbed down from the wagon seat. Stretching out his legs and rubbing his seat, he grimaced. “Hate riding on those hard wood seats. Give me the comfort of a saddle any day.” The Indian smiled softly. “You make enemies pretty quick!” Doug soon had a small campfire going and put on a pot of coffee. The Indian pulled out a leaf of cooked mescal and offered it to Doug. After eating in silence they kicked dirt on the fire and mounted up. “Where are you headed off to?” asked Doug. Limping Foot turned his head around to the Bradshaw Mountains and pointed to the blue horizon. “This is all my home. I’m headed everywhere and nowhere. I’m where I need to be and not where I want to go. “This land holds many secrets which the white man has yet to discover. When they find them, all life as we know it will be gone. I search for the meaning of it all.”

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“What have you be able to find so far?” Doug asked. “Because, if you’ve a mind to, I could use some help. I’ve gotten myself into something that’s turning out to be more than I bargained for.” “You be talking about the white man I found dead down the valley many miles from here?” asked Limping Foot. “What man?” Doug asked quickly. Limping Foot explained how he had found the man shot in the head and left to rot. He also mentioned the three men he had been tracking and heard talking before he found the body. “I didn’t see them, but the tracks were the same as the ones on the trail I met you on,” he finished. “Were they the ones I had trouble at the cabin with?” Doug said. “I only followed their tracks, but the way the horses were riding, one of them was rather large and the other two had little weight.” Doug knew then that Limping Foot had been following the tracks of Sam and Brian and Jack McCloud. But why had they killed someone? And who was it? It nagged at him. Sam was a large man and had a large horse to hold his weight, while Brian and Jack each barely weighted 140 pounds soaking wet. Doug removed a rolled up buckskin from his saddlebag and handed it to Limping Foot. “Please take this for your travels. It will be hard enough finding food with the winter coming in.” Opening the roll, Limping Foot found an entire smoked fish lying inside leaves of the oak tree. The smell of burning oak rose to his nose as he inhaled deeply. “Smells good, but I cannot take your gift, my friend,” he said, handing it back. “But, why not?” asked Doug. “Have I offended you?”

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“We Apache have never eaten anything which lives around water or in water… fish, snakes, or frogs. They bring bad spirits on you during battle.” Pointing at his horse, he remarked, “If I get too hungry, I will eat my horse. It is much better than the cows or deer that run wild.” Doug took the fish and packed it back into his bags. “Where are you going from here?” he inquired. “I will stay close. I think those men mean you harm and I can help you.” Limping Foot walked back to his horse. “One day soon I will come. You will see the things the men are fighting over, near here,” he said sweeping his arm over the landscape. “I look forward to meeting with you again,” Doug replied. “If you come by this place, leave me a sign in that tree and I’ll meet with you here after three days.” The Apache rode a short distance, then lifted his hand and waved. Doug pondered the unusual conversation as he rode the wagon toward Leo’s ranch. What was around here that had caused the Apache to pick up on his troubles so quickly? He wasn’t stupid. He knew about the oil. Slim and Joe had mentioned it when he was at the cabin, but it didn’t make sense that strangers were dying over oil. If anyone were doing the killing, he wouldn’t put it past Leo to have a hand in it. However, what did he have to gain by killing his own people? “Too many questions and not enough answers,” he thought as he rode into the yard.

***

Amy hummed happily as she went about her daily cleaning and chores in the house and barn. Doris asked her, “What’s got you singing all of a sudden?”

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“Didn’t you hear what Stephen and the boys said? Ed might want to marry me! I never thought… I never dared hope that he felt the same as I do. Oh, I wish he would hurry up and get back here so I’ll know for sure.” “Now dear, don’t be wishing away your life. Don’t you know that it’s the anticipation of looking forward to something that’s just about as much fun as getting it? Things will never be exactly as you imagine them, but imagining has a joy all its own. Enjoy that in the meantime.” “You know?” said Amy, “I never thought about it that way. You’re right.” As Amy went back to her chores she continued humming but also had a new smile on her face as she began in her mind to hope and plan for the future. Never before had she let herself wander down that road of “what ifs”. Now it was a fresh adventure. “The next time I get in to Millie’s,” she told herself, “I want to look at lace and white hats!”

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Chapter Eighteen

The hardest, dirtiest job a cowboy could do on a cattle drive was to ride drag. Being in the rear of the herd always made the days seem longer. The cattle threw off heat waves that danced off their backs. The dust in the air clogged every orifice of the cowboy and his horse. Many times during the day Ed had to pull out and wash the trail dirt out of his mouth and nose, and then pour water on his kerchief and clean the horse’s face. If he didn’t stop every hour and wash off, they both would have suffocated from the dirt. It was his turn to ride drag. Although he was boss of the outfit, he wasn’t about to shirk his duties. Each of the men rotated on drag for one day. Nobody asked for it, but nobody refused it. Because water was starting to become scarce, the dust wasn’t cleared as often as it should be. The cattle could go a few days without it, but the men and horses needed it because of the hard pushing they were doing. The plants and grass, which had been in abundant supply were but now scarce, were just enough for the cattle to get by on. Under normal conditions, the horses could have survived on the same grazing, but the men were riding them hard and pushing them even harder, to keep the cattle from bolting. Driving the herd this hard before winter set in was a recipe for disaster. The longhorns had a wild, mean look in their eyes, which kept the hands constantly circling and wearing out their horses rapidly as they attempted to soothe the cattle with their calming presence. Tim took a glancing blow from a horn on the left leg when a steer bolted from the herd and headed right at him. It caused a large gash, which Cookie cleaned with whiskey and sewed

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up with catgut. Tim was riding well, but his face showed the pain whenever his horse jumped after a runaway. The other cowboys tried to take up some of the slack by riding close to him and helping herd the steers when they got out of hand. Camaraderie and friendship flourished on the trail as each hand looked out for the other. Suddenly, Ed heard a shout. Up ahead, he saw the first ripples of cattle starting to stampede. The front brindle steer was running all out with the bell dangling from his horn clanging wildly creating havoc among the rest of the cattle. Behind him, the herd was beginning to pick up the pace. Ed knew this was going to be a run for water. Somewhere up ahead the cattle smelled fresh water and were making a beeline straight for it. Calling Levitt over from the other side of the drag, he told him to let the hands know it was all right to just allow the cattle to run. The water hole couldn’t be more than three or four miles ahead and it would do no good to try to control them now. Once they got their fill of water they’d bed down full and tired tonight. That wasn’t a bad thing to have happen. Levitt rode off to give the other cowboys the news and Ed slowed his horse to a walk. Listening to the fading sounds of the bells of the lead steers, he thought of something his father had told him when he was a youngster. He remembered asking why the cows wore the bells. His father looked at him seriously and, with a stern face, told him that although the cattle have horns, they don’t work, so man had to create a makeshift bell. Ed’s father was so serious that Ed had gone out the next day and searched the horns of one of the longhorns trying to find a way to make the horn work. His father

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had come out and watched him for about a half-hour before asking him if he had figured out a way to get some sound out of them. The ranch foreman had laughed so hard he fell down and rolled on the ground with tears coming from his eyes. Ed was so embarrassed by the revelation that he had been fooled that he hid in the barn for the rest of the day. Emerging that night, he looked at his father’s face and then started laughing. He tried to pull this same joke on many other boys growing up, but somehow it never worked as well as it did on him. He smiled at the thought and followed the dust cloud of the chuck wagon and stragglers. By the time they reached the water hole, the horses were worn out. The dust cloud that hung over the trail turned the evening into a brownish purple haze with streaks of red and orange glaring through. The cattle had rushed to the water hole and thirstily gulped gallons of water. The once clean water turned a black brown color from the churning of hooves. Overhead, buzzards floated in the cool empty sky as they expressed their displeasure at the group below for disturbing their meal of a dead carcass left by a coyote. By the glowing light of the campfire that night, the men repaired some gear and cleaned the dust off the guns, checking the actions of each to insure they were ready if needed. In the distance they saw the wavy shadows of the Rocky Mountains capped with white from the last snowfall. For several days, as they neared the great divide in the mountains, golden meadows of hay unfolded in front of the herd. They were amazed and delighted to see these fertile valleys, untouched as yet by the winter weather. The cool wind blew the tops, feathering seeds across the prairie in great hazes of gold colored clouds. The air was thin and damp with a hint of rain on the desert tundra and snow in the higher elevations.

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The next morning Carlos rode ahead to scout out the lay of the land. They were trying to keep as close to their original trail as they could, but the rain and snow had washed away many of the paths they were counting on for their return. Dry washes and deep canyons crisscrossed the land, with sheer drops of hundreds of feet. They had to lead the cattle around these canyons and having to skirt these always added to the length of a return trip. Carlos was constantly riding ahead in hopes of locating an easier way to cross the plains without needing to twist and weave so much. Ed and the men had been on the return trail for over a month and were ready to wake up in the comfort of the house or bunkhouse. Once you had a roof over your head and a wall between you and the wind, life just seemed to be better. “Can’t wait till we get back home,” Levitt commented, his teeth chattering in the cold air. “I’m ridin’ straight to Prescott and hittin’ Whiskey Row and every bath house on the line.” Ed grinned and pulled his hat on tighter. “It’s definitely getting colder here.” Looking around at the snow capped peaks in the distance he wondered where Walks Tall was. This was the same area he had met him on the way to Wyoming. So far, he had either been lucky or Walks Tall had kept his word. They hadn’t seen any Indians. “Maybe the cold weather has them bedded down,” he thought. “If so, they’re smarter than we are.” Although they had lost a few cattle since they’d left Laramie, not one head of cattle had been stolen or ended up missing since they’d hit Cheyenne Country. Pushing the herd through the hay-covered meadows, the drovers made over sixteen miles by that evening.

***

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The stage pulled into Prescott at one end of Gurley Street. Stepping down from the metal step, a well-dressed gentleman looked around, searching for his contact. He wore a black suit with penguin tails, high topped black boots that shimmered in the sun, and a felt hat with a band of silver around the brim. His guns were carried high on his hips and held down by rawhide ties wrapped around his thighs. The well-dressed man from the railroad company smiled. He knew the days of the cattle drive would not last much longer. Small western towns like Prescott would have railway stations and soon the import of supplies and export of cattle would be a matter of days instead of the months it now took. He could load up to five hundred head of cattle on one trip and reach the destination within a week or two, while the cowboy would have to spend two or three months on the trail to do the same. Just this spring the Transcontinental Railroad had been completed in Promontory Point, Utah, linking the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads. It had been a magnificent feat, running steel rails all the way from East Coast to West. The only drawback of the train was its need for water and oil. This was where the land it past through was going to be important. Even as he stood here on this cold November morning, water towers were being built by his men along the tracks in towns near El Paso, Laredo, and Tucson. Water was in short supply from the drought, but he had the promise of all the water he could use from a local rancher. The bonus he was interested in was the fact this same rancher had discovered oil on his land and was interested in an outright buy from the railroad. The Southern Pacific Line pulled a board meeting together once they’d gotten word from this rancher and quickly approved the purchase of all the land. The only thing to be done now was to work out a fair price without giving the rancher any idea how badly they wanted this land.

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As he looked around the railroad yard, he noticed a short heavyset man approaching him. “You Bob Patterson?” the man asked. Bob nodded slowly and felt a small disappointment at the appearance of the man before him. He had a look he didn’t quite trust, but pushed away the thought, knowing he was always wary, never really trusting anyone. “You must be Leo. Please to meet you,” he said, sticking out his hand. Shaking Leo’s hand, he again felt the tug of doubt nestle in the back of his mind. Living long enough around greedy men in his own profession, he felt the sickness of greed pour off this man. “Like to show you the land as soon as yer ready so we can sit down and hash out a deal,” Leo commented. “Winter’s coming on and I don’t want to sit here for another one. I had my fill of ‘em and am ready to move on.” Bob retrieved his saddlebags and rifle from the top of the coach. Shouldering his personal effects he walked with Leo to a buckboard wagon being held on the street by a tall, lanky man. “This here’s Henry,” said Leo. “He’s my valet and all around butler.” With a flourish, Henry removed his hat and bowed deeply. “At your service, sir.” Bob noticed a large grey dog sitting on the buckboard seat and thought it peculiar that the dog was there instead of in the back. Leo saw that he noticed the dog and said proudly, “That’s Prince!” Henry took Bob’s bags and placed them carefully in the rear of the buckboard, then helped Leo up onto the seat. Turning to Bob, he was waved off. “I can make it myself, but thanks anyhow.”

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Stepping onto the buckboard Bob perched on the end of the seat. The dog made no move to shift over and Leo either didn’t seem to notice or didn’t care that the dog took up a large portion of the seat. Henry sat on the tailgate in the back of the wagon. Clicking his tongue, Leo set the horses in motion, walking them down the streets of Prescott. Passing the courthouse being built in a large square, Bob nodded in appreciation. He had heard this county seat was going to have a nice sized building for the courts and related business. Taking up an entire city block, the stately lawns around it rivaled those of a southern mansion. The homes in the residential district were not of the usual southwestern adobe, but rather the Victorian homes one would expect to find in the Midwest. Maybe this town would be the one to move to when he retired, he thought. He had started with the Union Pacific Railroad back in 1864 when they branched out across the United States. At that time land was being given to the railroad companies by the government as a way to entice them to build out west. Being granted title to hundreds of thousands of acres, the railroad soon became the biggest corporation in the country second only to the steel industry. Some of the land it had been granted had not been used within the timeframe demanded by the government. The railroad was now in court battling for its very existence. Before the public realized the value of oil the land it was found on was quickly and quietly being used for the original purposes of building rail tracks. At the same time the deeds to the land would include the rights to any oil and minerals in that area. Ranchers like Leo kept informed of the market. With completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the land in the west became accessible to people of all origins. The railroad was just coming into play as a means of travel and many

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families back east were loading up their belongings and heading west. Soon a main line would be built through Prescott, making it a link that connected Tucson with Utah. Now here he was riding with a man of opportunity, thought Bob. From the first time he’d laid eyes on Leo, he did not like him. Something was wrong. This man seemed to be a little too eager to sell out and move. Why? Staring at Leo’s head from the back of the buggy, Bob had the uneasy feeling deep in his gut that he was in over his head. The rancher had contacted him over six months earlier regarding water rights on his land for the steam engines. A bonus find of oil on this land prompted him to write back and set up a meeting to see the property. As they rode through the territory Leo pointed out the areas where several battles had taken place between the army and Indians. His words poured forth in a mad rush as he promoted the land and the materials it would provide for the railroad. Bob noticed Henry stayed quiet, and glanced back periodically to see his reaction. Noticing a frown on Henry’s face when Leo made comments about owning the land for many years, Bob made a mental note to himself to get Henry alone. They crossed Lynx Creek, which flowed muddy and strong from the recent downpour. Signs of a flood littered the banks. Heavy logs were dispersed on both sides. Islands of ground were evident in the watery landscape and were isolated by flowing water. Tree limbs hanging near the creek held the remains of sticks, weeds, and nests, reflecting the height of the last flood. The horses struggled through the mud as the wagon tracks dug deep in the wet soil. By the time the men reached the ranch house they were chilled from the wind sweeping through with the promise of a cold winter. Climbing down stiffly from the wagon, Bob noticed four men standing at the front of the bunkhouse. They watched him in silence.

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One of the men adjusted his pistol, spat, and turned back into the bunkhouse. The others continued staring without saying a word. Bob wondered why they were here in the yard when there must be more than enough work to keep them busy. It was nigh past noon, yet they seemed in no hurry to be going anywhere. Bob caught Henry’s eye and noticed he was watching him closely. It was almost like he was willing him to pick up on something. Before he could look around and get a better idea what it might be, he felt Leo’s hand on his elbow, leading him into the main house. Henry took the horses to the barn and removed the harness. He wondered if Bob had seen the low-slung guns of the men. No ranch hand carried his guns that low. They’d slap against his legs the entire time he was riding. A real cowboy carried his guns up higher. They were also quicker to get at than those worn low; only show-off gunslingers wore them that way. A hired gun wouldn’t be hard to spot for someone who knew cowhands. Trying to figure a way to tell Bob his thoughts, Henry failed to hear the men come in behind him. He saw a shadow on the far wall, opposite the open door leading into the barn. Turning sharply, he heard a laugh. “Well now, looks like we got us a Polak,” a voice softly said. “He’s just a white slave,” one of the other men sneered. Henry turned to face the man nearest him. He was scared. Not for himself, but for what they might know. “Leo’s expecting me in the house right quick to prepare lunch for his guest, boys. I believe he wouldn’t be too happy if I didn’t show up and entertain them.” Frowning, one of the men backed up. “You gonna let him lie like that to you, Stu?” asked the man nearest the door. Looking at the man who had spoken, Stu stroked his chin. “He just might be tellin’ the truth. Last thing we need is this here railroad feller being scared off.”

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“You ain’t planning on meeting with this here guy without our knowledge, are ya?” Stu asked Henry. Henry broke into a cold sweat. He shook his head. “I’m just doing what I was told. I gotta live here, too. I got nowhere else to go. You think I want to be kicked out without a place to live?” Stu glanced at the others and nodded. “Let ‘em go, for now. “But you…” he said to Henry, “I’m watchin’ you. I seen the look you gave us ridin’ in and I don’t like it. One false step on your part and it’ll be the last you make. Understand what I’m sayin’?” Henry brushed by the men and stumbled getting out of the barn. He was suddenly glad for the railroad man being here. As he half-walked, half-ran across the yard, he felt the eyes of the men boring into his back. “I have no doubt that they’ll do exactly as they said,” he thought. When he got to the house he closed the door behind him and leaned against it, breathing deeply. He wasn’t a coward, but he had been afraid – more afraid, in fact, than he’d ever been before in his life. It was time to check and see if his letter had been received. “Keep an eye on that man, Stu,” Paul Boto said. “Something I don’t like about him!”

***

At the Baggin ranch that evening, Stephen remarked to Amy, “I saw Leo in town today.” “Oh?” questioned Amy, suddenly very interested.

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“Yeah, I was coming out of the telegraph office and just happened to see him coming down the platform. I ducked back, so I don’t think he saw me. He was meeting some fancy city feller. Took him in the wagon… I imagine to his ranch.” “Now, I wonder what all that is about?” interjected Jerry. “You can be sure Leo is up to no good.” “Let’s keep our ears to the ground, Jer, and see if we can learn anything around town. And don’t forget, Tony is out at the Bar 7 so maybe he can clue us in on what the city feller is here for.” “Sis, I sent the telegram to Nathan telling him about Pa. I also told him to keep an eye open for your man Ed.” “Oh, Stephen, he’s not my man… yet!” she finished with an impish grin. Still she could not disguise her pleasure at the thought of it. Doris brought fresh coffee to the table where the men were seated and a plate of “bear sign.” “You boys eat up these donuts. Can’t have ‘em going stale on us.” “Whew! We’re gonna need to cut back or we’ll go home twice the men we where when we left!” Jerry said while reaching for a donut. “Mmmmffh!” agreed Stephen around a mouthful. Amy just giggled at the two. They were like big overgrown boys, stuffing their faces.

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Chapter Nineteen

Oil has been used since the dawn of time. Noah used the substance known as “pitch” to build the ark. The ancient Egyptians used pitch to cover the bodies of the mummies. King Nebuchadnezzar used it in building the walls of Babylon. In America, the Native Indians used forms of oil for medicine and fuel long before the white man knew its potential. During the 1600s, Spanish missionaries found the Indians in Pennsylvania using oil they’d scooped out of surface pools. Remains of oil wells have been found in the United States proving the Indians had figured out a method of obtaining oil from underground deposits. By 1750, the American colonists discovered many oil seepages back east. Some of these wells were dug for salt. However, when they leaked oil, the colonists considered it a waste of time. By 1840, Abraham Gesner discovered kerosene, a fuel by-product of coal and oil. Kerosene became widely used as a method of lighting lamps and soon the value of oil skyrocketed. In 1857, Samuel M. Kier, a pharmacist from Pittsburgh, began selling oil as a cure for all kinds of diseases. The term “snake oil” came from this effort. Kit Carson sold the lubricant to pioneers for axle grease to coat wagon wheels. Carpets made from the by-product of petroleum were being brought into the mansions back east and steam powered engines needed the lubricant as well. Oil became known “Black Gold.” Because of petroleum’s ease of use, storage, and transport, it rapidly took the place of such bulky fuels as coal and wood. John Wilkes Booth and his older

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brother bought stocks in an oil mind and believed in it so much they book out the owner and became one of the first Easters to own a oil company in the East states that where not coportation but private party owners. Wilkes dreamt of stardom, and fame but would not find it until after his death in 1865. When he shot Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, the bothers had operated at a loss for years, so his dreams of fame, money and stardom came to and end and could have been the reason the Catholic Church used him and the presidential assassin. Nearly 6 weeks after that fatal shop heard around the United and Confederate starts, the Booth brothers oils struck a large supply of oil and the living brother was able to sell the well for a tidy profit. While most of the oil in America came from Texas, Louisiana, California, Oklahoma and Alaska, there remained small pockets of oil shale in other states. Colorado, Wyoming and Utah produced plentiful pockets of shale, which brought drillers and roughnecks out west. The railroad had more to do with oil than people knew. A retired railroad conductor named Edwin Drake drilled a well in Pennsylvania. This well could only pump 5000 gallons per day but after bring in steam engines, the pressure rose however the deeper wells accomplished a phenomena of over 100,000 per day, then rose to make 7 million barrels a day at the geyser pumps. The term “ Geyser” came from a roughneck in Texas who when out and watch the first oil drill tower 18 feet off the ground, noticed some black sludge on the surface of the water. Telling the foreman about it, he was told to clean it off and keep drilling. This roughneck yelled at the man for his stupidity and and yelled at everyone to get back. Minutes later oil shoot 100 feet in the air and the roughneck exclaimed, “That thing is a Geyser” It took 9 days to cape the well all the while losing precious “Black Gold” to the ground.

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Wagon and river barges transported the oil at first,. quantities soon forced the oil companies to look for other methods. Railroads established branch lines to the oil fields and started hauling oil to the refineries. Oil prospectors soon found other large deposits of oil and the rush was on.

***

Bob knew he must find the right means for bringing in a well if the land had the seepage Leo was bragging about. He had already worked out details of a mineral lease with him, but he was concerned about the amount of hostility he was seeing from the crew around the bunkhouse. He wanted to see this site quickly. There had been many wildcat wells drilled around the Untied States and his backers were not to be appeased until he sent word that this well could produce. Normally someone of his position would not have been involved with acquiring oil, but he had showed a genius for the industry. Therefore the executives paid him to use his knowledge of oil and the railroad to their advantage. Early the next morning he heard Henry moving about in the kitchen preparing breakfast. The smell of coffee reached him as it flowed through the cabin. His room had been chilled all night and now the heat of the stove Henry was working over radiated in through the open doorway. When he glanced out the window he saw only blackness. Pulling his timepiece out of his coat pocket, he noticed it was only 4:30. Walking into the front room, he nodded to Henry and took the cup of coffee he was offered. The steam rose from it, dissipating in the cool air. Taking a sip, he sat back and grinned, saying, “Awful good stuff this morning.”

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Henry turned around and smiled back. “It’s a blend of hickory brew with bees’ honey; one of my mother’s recipes.” Bob watched Henry work stoking the fire and getting the fixings for breakfast, and was struck by his ease in knowing his way around the kitchen. Seeing his interest, Henry commented he had been a chef in his homeland before arriving in America. They tried to keep their voices low as they spoke about the country and Henry’s plans for when he was done with his service. Henry took a look down the hall and seeing that they were still alone, brought the coffee pot to refill both their cups. Sitting down, he stared at Bob. “It might be wise to look around before you pay anyone for something that might not be his or hers,” he said softly. Bob looked at him sharply and waited for him to continue. He did. “Have you noticed the push to get this deal done? Sometimes, all it takes is riding the range and asking the locals about the doings out here.” “What do you mean?” “Everything is not as it seems. We had some good men around here, but one of them got himself torn up by a bear and his friend is with him in town. Leo’s been hirin’ people that don’t rightly belong on a ranch. Why, I’ll bet they don’t even know how to brand a cow or drive a herd.” “Why are you telling me this?” Bob asked. “Is there something wrong with the ownership of the oil?” Henry sat back. “All I can tell you is to take a visit over at the Baggin place before you sign over that check. It might do you some good to talk to that Doug Rawlins feller. He’s only been here a few days, but he seems to be different.”

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“How is that?” asked Bob. “He’s…well he seems like he’s just too nice to be a hired gun. I’ve known Joe, the feller that got tore up by the bear, and Slim for a few years. They both are decent folks. They and Doug hit it off right quick. Slim was the one that hired Doug down Tucson when he and Leo had run down there for something.” “What’d they do in Tucson?” Bob questioned, trying to mask the anxiety in his voice and on his face. “All Slim said was he was sent out by Leo to hire a good hand with a rope and a horse. There’d been some Injun attacks and he figured Leo was just protecting his property. Leo took off and met some other folks, Slim hired Doug, and they headed home.” “Where’s this Slim at now?” Bob asked. “He’s over at the Doc’s with Joe. He stayed there all week. They still don’t know if Joe’s gonna pull through and Leo gave him permission to stay with him. ‘Course that opens up other possibilities.” “Such as?” “Sam, the new foreman, and two brothers were moved into the line shack soon as this happened. None of them are trust-worthy and I think Leo’s settin’ somethin’ up. I was threatened by the new hands in the yard yesterday morning when we rode in.” Bob sat silently, absorbing the information. He was right. Something about this whole set-up didn’t feel right. Waiting for Henry to tell him more, he was surprised when he sat back and said nothing. “What’d the men say to you?” “That’s my business. I only brought it up so you’d take a long look around before you settled with Leo.”

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“Anyone else know about the problems up here?” “Might be…” said Henry. He broke off as the door in the hall opened. Walking out, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Leo looked at both of them. A frown crossed his face. “Henry here’s been telling me about the fine property you got up here,” Bob said. “He should be a salesman for you. After hearing how nice it is, I’m looking forward to seeing what you have.” “We’ll take a ride soon as the sun comes up,” Leo replied. “Glad to hear you been taken care of.” Smiling at both of them, he relaxed and sat down at the table. “Let’s eat.” As they ate the breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, and coffee, a knock at the door interrupted them. Opening the door at Leo’s summons, Stu stepped in, glanced around, and motioned Leo over to the side. “Got a rider comin’ in. Seems awful early for some stranger.” Looking pointedly toward Bob, he asked quietly, “Should I let him come in or stop him ‘fore he gets to the house?” “Let him come on in,” Leo remarked. “Lets see who he is and what he wants.” “Think its wise with him here?” Stu asked, nodding toward the table and Bob. “Alright, catch him outside the yard and see what he wants.” Shutting the door after Stu left, Leo returned to the table. “You be ready to ride out in a bit?” he asked Bob. “Soon as you’re ready.” When Leo wasn’t looking, Bob gave Henry a quick, surreptitious nod. They’d talk later. Out in the yard, they heard Stu walk to the door and ask for Leo. Stepping into the cool morning, Leo noticed a slim, short man with blonde hair and a serious look about him.

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Explaining in a soft voice that the man was looking for work and had just had a run in with the law, Leo stared at the stranger. “What’s your name?” “Tony.” “Is that your name in the states or your real name?” Leo questioned. “Does it matter?” asked Tony. “I need a place to work for a while. Heard rumors you were lookin’ for some men. I need a roof over my head and I work for the brand.” Stroking his chin, Leo looked at Stu, then back at Tony. The rider had low slung guns with a looped belt full of cartridges around his slim waist. He had the look of someone who had been riding hard for a while. “Pays forty dollars a month, unless I need something extra. That a problem?” Tony studied his face. He could see Leo was waiting to find out if he would ask what these extra things were. He didn’t need to ask and an outlaw didn’t need to be told. “Sounds good,” Tony replied. “What you need done first?” “Stu here will take care of you. I got to head out today, but I’ll be back later and get back to you.”

***

Now that the autumn monsoons had passed Amy was busy putting the garden to bed for the winter. Although there wouldn’t be a hard frost for a while there had already been a few mornings of hoarfrost. At Stephen’s suggestion, when the men were away from the ranch, the Widow Doris would sit with a watchful eye on the side porch, a rifle laid across her lap while Amy worked the garden. Even if Leo was too smart to send more hired hands to cause trouble

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with all the attention the case was getting, it didn’t hurt to be overcautious. There was always a threat of Indian attacks, even this far north. After all, that was how Lou had been injured in the first place. Amy dug the potatoes and turnips for storage in the root cellar under the barn floor. As for the corn, she’d pick the last of it and they’d roast it Hopi style. That way it could be dried and stored for later in the winter. Pa and the boys had dug a special, rock lined roasting pit after they’d learned the technique from some local Hopi men. Maybe she could get Stephen to take a few days to help her roast while he was around since she didn’t have Pa to help her now. Oh, she was growing so weary of that thought. All the things she had been depending on Pa for. It wasn’t even the big things; it was the little details that she forgot about until a situation arose to remind her. Doris brought her a cup of water from the bucket hanging under the eaves of the porch where it stayed cool. “Here, hon, you’ll work yourself to death. Stop and take a rest.” “Thank you,” Amy said with a small sigh, “I’m fine, really.” She removed her straw hat and used the bandana around her neck to wipe her forehead, successfully smearing dirt across her brow. Doris laughed. “And I’m gonna have to dunk you in the stock tank before I let you come in the house again. You’re wearing more dirt than those ‘taters.” Amy gazed off at the distant blue of the San Francisco Peaks. It was a clear day and they loomed larger in the distance than most days. She could see they were already capped with white.

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“Do you suppose there is snow where Ed is now? Do you think the men are warm enough? I wonder if they’ll be back soon.” “Hon, that’s a whole lot of questions and wondering,” Doris responded. “I’m afraid I haven’t got a clue. Just trust the good Lord to watch out for them boys and they’ll be back soon enough. “Now you holler when you’re done digging those roots and I’ll help you carry the baskets to the barn… but you let those boys take them down to the cellar when they get back. May as well earn their supper.” Doris went back to her vigil on the porch and Amy turned back to digging. Amy’s mind was still fixed on the distant mountain and the snow she saw there. “When he comes back to me, I’m never letting him out of my sight again!” she vowed. “Well, at least not for this long… and that depending on how he felt when he came back. What if it’s all in my head? What if Stephen and Jerry misunderstood what Jim had read? Oh, I think I shall go crazy with waiting and not knowing!”

***

The morning sun was just breaking the treetops when Leo and Bob headed out to look at the land. A large hawk with brown colored feathers showing silver on the tips glided in front of their horses as they rode deep into the Bradshaw Mountains. Near the edge of a steep drop-off, the men pulled up and studied the terrain below. A strong odor rose to assail their nostrils. It was a rank, greasy smell that permeated the air around them. The men cautiously guided the horses down the steep path that led to the bottom. The soil was still loose from the recent rain. Through the trees Bob saw the first glimmer of a shiny surface

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reflecting the morning sun. As they rode nearer, he saw the ground around the east end of the pool had been disturbed recently. Tracks of several horses and men stood in sharp relief and a long stick lay near the surface of the pool coated in oil. The tracks of a cow led from the edge of the pool and then disappeared into the distance. Bob was struck by the anger on Leo’s face. Riding over and dismounting, Leo studied the tracks closely, and then followed them to where they ended under a tree. He walked back, obviously upset. “Something wrong?” inquired Bob. “Someone’s been nosing around on my land!” Leo scornfully replied. “It can’t be any of my boys since they’re all at the ranch. Had some trouble around here before and that’s the last thing I need again.” Leo grabbed the stick and walked to the edge of the pool. Pushing the stick deeply into the pool, he turned and grinned at Bob. “Told you this here hole’s deep. Me and the boys was up here and tried to measure it. We tied a bunch of sticks together with rawhide to make a long pole but gave up when we didn’t reach the bottom with forty feet!” “I figure this pool’s about fifty feet across, so that could go a whole lot deeper in the middle. The way it stays full constantly makes me believe this here is a deep well.” Leo babbled with excitement. “‘Course you know lots more about that than me.” Bob stepped down from the saddle and pulled something from a canvas bag he had tied to the pommel. Leo could see what looked like a heavy piece of nylon rope braided around several weights. He watched as Bob walked to the edge of the pool and tossed the end of it into the middle. As he waited for it to sink, he was counting little marks that appeared every foot or so on the rope. “What’re those for?” Leo asked Bob.

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“Geologists made this measuring device to estimate an oil well’s potential. For every foot that lays out on the surface, then sinks, I subtract six inches. Using a mathematical formula, I can figure pretty close to just how deep this pool is by the time that it takes to sink, multiplied by the number of feet thrown out.” Bob continued, “Let me show you.” He reeled the rope back in, hand over hand. Just before he got to the oily substance, he stopped and donned a pair of thick leather gloves and continued bringing in the line. Counting over a hundred feet of rope that had taken over three minutes to sink, he sat down and pulled a piece of scrap paper from his shirt pocket, made some quick adjustments, and calculated the figures. He sat silently, looking at his answers. “Well, what do you think?” Leo impatiently asked. Bob looked up at him from his kneeling position, shielding the sun with his hand. “Way I figure it, this wells got to go at least ninety feet or more deep, and that’s just for starters. Understand that this isn’t the actual scientific method, but a rough estimate.” He finished by saying, “Won’t surprise me if it is double of that figure.” “How much is that worth?” Leo asked as calmly as he could. Bob, thinking out loud said, “Reckon forty-two gallons to the barrel, times the surface area, multiplied by the depth, you’re looking at two or three hundred thousand dollars.” He kept a straight face while looking at Leo’s. Leo’s breath came in gasps. “How much?” “Two or three hundred thousand. Now that’s just rough, mind you. Can’t hold me to it until we get the engineers here.”

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Leo sat down on the muddy ground, his legs weak. He had known this would be worth a lot of money, but that amount shocked even him. Flashes of wealth crossed his mind. No more groveling to the banks for money, no more bringing in substandard goods on the ranch. In fact, he would move away from here, find a nice place to hole up, and live out his life in luxury. “When will you notify the engineers and them about this well?” he weakly asked Bob. “I want to look around some more, take some geological samples, then probably head into town later today. I’d like one of your hands to assist me in gathering soil samples if that’d be all right.” “I’ll send Stu out soon as I get back,” Leo replied. “I would rather have Henry. He seems like the kind of man who’s used to obeying orders and does the job at hand. If he’s your servant, he won’t question me and will do as he’s told. I’d prefer to have someone like that around.” Leo studied Bob, watching him for signs of distrust. Realizing the sense in what he said, and not noticing any other reason for asking for Henry, Leo nodded. “I’ll send him out today.” “Have him bring a couple of bedrolls, if you don’t mind. After I get back from Prescott, I’d like to do some more tests. We could be out here for a couple of days.” Leo nodded, understandingly. He trusted Henry enough to leave him alone with this man. “I’ll just have him drive a pack mule for supplies for both of you. In the meantime, if there’s anything else I can do, just ask.” He felt giddy as he shook Bob’s hand. He was going to be rich. With this man away from the ranch house and out of the picture for a couple of days, he could have the other problems taken care of and nobody would be the wiser.

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Leo climbed the steep trail out of the canyon and rode toward the ranch wondering how to pull off his final plan within the next couple of days.

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Chapter Twenty

Amy sat at the table with a map that outlined the ranch boundaries. Jerry and Stephen studied the layout to refresh their memories. Doris sat on the front veranda with her eyes closed, rocking gently in an old rocker the Baggins had brought with them from the east twenty years before. The smell of burnt grass still came through the air occasionally as the wind swept across the scorched landscape. As Doris rocked and listened to the gentle breeze blow, she heard the sound of riders on the road in front of the house. Opening her eyes and sitting up straight in the rocker, she saw three men astride horses decorated with silver conchos on their saddles and bridles. Her hands tightened their grip on the ever present rifle as she noticed the riders wore their guns tied low. Without turning her head, she called quietly to Amy and the men through the open doorway. As the riders pulled up in the front yard Jerry and Stephen stepped out on the porch with the slip ties pulled off the hammers of their guns. Amy was made to stay inside until the riders were recognized and Doris rose and quickly stepped inside as well. As the cousins faced the men in the yard they patiently waited for them to state their business. The tallest of the riders looked at them sternly. “Who are you boys?” he asked harshly. “Depends who’s askin’,” Jerry replied. “What do you want?” The other two riders circled the man speaking, placing themselves about ten feet apart from each other. Stephen and Jerry did not miss the implication in this. “I don’t like this, Jer,” Stephen said under his breath. “These guys ain’t comin’ to pay us a social call.”

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Without replying, Jerry asked again. “What do you want here, boys?” Stu, the man who had spoken first, turned his horse sideways so they could clearly see his hand was resting near his gun, but he was careful not to touch it. “We’d like to speak to the owner of the ranch,” Stu said as he studied the house. He didn’t know if these men were alone or if there were others inside or somewhere else on the property. “You’re talkin’ to him,” Jerry kept his hands near his pistols. “We’ve owned this place over twenty years.” Looking at the men on either side of him, Stu was surprised. “I believe this here land is owned by Miss Baggin.” “That’s right. We’re her family, so it’s rightly ours, too.” Stephen was starting to get upset. These men looked like the kind of skunks who had tried to kill Amy before and, if they were, he was not going to let them ride away. Paul Boto sat on the horse to Stu’s left, fingering his reins as he watched Stephen speak. Both men looked like they could handle themselves. He wondered which one to shoot first if it came to that. Stu glanced over at Paul and the other rider. It was time to end this talk. They’d been paid to do a job and he intended to do it. Turning his horse around as if to leave he moved his hand to his gun now masked from view. He pulled the pistol and brought it up toward Jerry. Seeing the sudden movement, Stephen threw himself off the porch, yelling at the ladies inside to take cover. The first shot echoed off the windows of the cabin. Paul dug his spurs into his horse and jumped forward, pulling his gun out as he did. He heard an angry whine as a bullet passed directly over his head.

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Stephen’s gun barked twice in quick succession, knocking the third rider straight back off his saddle as if pushed by an unseen hand. His gun roared into the empty sky and he hit the ground with a crash. Jerry’s gun was turning toward Paul and, as if in slow motion, he aimed, and fired. Seeing Jerry spin around and fall, Stu turned toward Stephen only to have his horse destroy his aim. Missing, he reined in and tried to hold the horse steady. Stephen’s aim was for his head, but the horse took the full shot right between the eyes. Stu rolled clear as the weight of the horse sank with a thud. He struggled to rise from the ground, hate and fury in his eyes. He brought his gun up, trying to aim. A second bullet from Stephen’s gun slammed into his chest, boring its way deep inside. The shock took away his breath. Struggling to breathe, he felt his hands begin to tremble. Willing his hands to work, he fought the panic that rose up within him. He felt no pain, so he wasn’t hit, he thought. Why was he having a hard time holding the gun? He looked up from where he was kneeling and watched Stephen walk closer. He dropped his gun to feel for the weight that was pressing so hard on his chest. Turning stupidly to ask Paul a question, he couldn’t find him. The air seemed to be filled with smoke. Hazy shapes appeared in front of his vision. Then a train sounded, bringing him into a long deep tunnel. He was on a train? But that couldn’t be. As the tunnel rushed toward him, he looked up at the far end. Raising his arm, Stu felt a burst of pain run through his belly. Then the sound of thunder drowned out all other sounds. Feeling himself falling forward, he reached out with his hands to grab something. He screamed deep inside his head, trying to take back all the wrong things he had done. Mercifully, darkness swept over him and he was still.

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Paul watched in dismay as Stu died. He snapped a shot at Stephen who was walking toward the dead man when he felt a bullet sting his leg as it grazed his thigh. He turned to see Amy standing on the porch holding a long barreled Flintlock rifle .40-.45. She aimed at him again and pulled the trigger. It fell with a click on an empty casing. Paul threw caution to the wind, leapt on his horse and, firing behind him, dug his spurs in so hard that he felt the horse falter beneath him. The horse bucked and jumped. A shot whizzed over his head as he brought the horse under control and took off running. Keeping his head low, he fired behind him while running. He didn’t expect to hit anything. He just wanted to get out of there. Stephen watched the horse gallop away in the distance, then turned to look at the two men lying in the yard. Suddenly remembering Jerry, he hurried back to the porch. Amy was kneeling over him, keeping pressure on the wound in his side. The blood seeped out between her hands, dripping onto the wood, gathering in an ever-growing pool. She looked up at Stephen and he was surprised how calm she remained. “We need to get him inside quickly,” she said. “Then you need to ride into town and get Doc!” Gathering Jerry in his arms, Stephen carried him into the house where Doris was waiting. Taking charge Amy cut Jerry’s clothing off and stripped his gun belts so they could work unimpeded. Moving efficiently, she tore off the hem of her petticoat and held it too the wound. “Doris, can you get me the sewing kit, please?” Doris turned from the stove where she’d started water boiling and brought Amy a needle already threaded, but as Amy prodded the wound she noticed a tell-tale bulge under her probing fingers. Jerry clenched his teeth to keep from crying out.

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“He’s got a bullet still in him and I don’t have anything but a knife to dig it out. I’m afraid if I do that, he’ll lose too much blood. He’s lost so much already!” “I’ll get Doc,” Stephen spoke quickly. “Jerry, I’ll be right back. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.” Jerry gave him a weak grin and attempted a shrug. His face had turned white and he gasped. “I’m in good hands. Watch out for the one that got away. We’ll be watching over our shoulder until he’s dead, too.” Stephen ran from the house, flung the saddle on his horse, mounted, and spurred him towards town.

***

Aspey walked into the saloon with his hat pulled low over his brown hair. He searched the bar for his contact without seeing him. Ordering a shot of whiskey, he took the small glass, went to a corner table, and sat so that he could see the door. He sighed as he looked at his timepiece. The man was to have met with him over an hour ago. Where was he? Nursing the drink, he sipped it slowly as he glanced around the room taking in the few people present. He tried to match them up by studying their clothing and figuring out the type of work they did. He was usually pretty good at it. It was a talent he’d had since he was a kid. It was one of the reasons he had gotten into practicing law. He looked down at his own outfit and grimaced. Nobody could tell he was a lawyer the way he was dressed, he thought. He had on a faded denim shirt with an old pair of dungarees and black scuffed boots with the heels worn down.

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His body was a lanky six feet three inches tall and he usually weighed in at about 210 pounds in his stocking feet. He was able to look directly and deeply at people, a strength he’d used on more than one jury to convince them he was telling the truth. His mom had always said he had eyes that were trustworthy. He took after his dad when it came to being a winner. Nobody liked to lose, but he had a personal stake in winning. Growing up, he had been the one kid always picked on in the schoolyard. He’d come home more times than not with one eye black or swollen and his clothing messed up. After his father finished with him, he felt even worse. He swore that one day he would never lose again in anything he did. Since he’d become a lawyer, he hadn’t. Starting his practice back in Louisville, Kentucky in 1859, he’d become a formidable opponent to be wary of in a courtroom battle. Winning his first large case against a cattle baron trying to cheat a family out of their land, he established a name for himself as a hard hitter. He knew what his problem was; he just couldn’t take “no” for an answer. In his book, “no” did not exist. After many years of fighting large corporations in the east he wanted to spend the remainder of his life someplace quiet. Coming out west, he’d found the peace and harmony he had been seeking; at least until a favor had been called in. Jim Daulton had come by his home the night before last. He’d dropped enough hints that he needed some help for a family member that Aspey felt obligated to show up today and at least hear him out. Ruefully looking at his half empty glass, he signaled for the bartender to bring him another shot.

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While he waited he thought about how he had met Jim. It had been during a court battle involving a prominent businessman. He had been threatened by one of his opponent’s cohorts after a particularly strong day for his client’s case in court. Surprising him on a darkened street, the man had stuck a gun in his face, warning him about bringing in witnesses to testify against the businessman. Sure that he was about to be beaten or even worse, shot, Aspey had felt his knees buckle and his legs crumble. He’d grabbed the wall to steady himself and prepare for death. He was not a coward, but with death so close beside him, only a fool would not be afraid. Just when he had thought his life was over, a voice had called out softly from the shadows nearby. Jim had put the business end of his gun under the nose of Aspey’s attacker and explained to him that he was Aspey’s bodyguard. Aspey had never had any other problems after that, with that case or any other. It wasn’t until a few months later that Aspey had found out why. The Daulton clan was a large family that nobody in their right mind wanted to tackle. The attacker had recognized Aspey’s savior that night and had ridden out of town the next day never to be seen again. Rumor had it that his body had been found hanging from an oak tree three days later, but that was only rumor. Aspey had never been able to confirm it. Aspey had thanked Jim profusely and thus began a long friendship. The Daultons had worked for him on several cases, bringing in witnesses and evidence that had helped to win court battles that appeared to be lost causes. In turn, he had defended them a time or two, when prisoners they had picked up accused them of heavy-handed tactics.

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After they’d packed up and moved out west, he followed, bringing with him his practice and books. He did not advertise his profession nor did he want to. Retirement was fine with him. Working on a case every now and then, he kept his skills up, but he mainly relaxed and enjoyed life for the first time ever. Now Jim needed his help. Aspey knew he would never have asked him if he was not in real trouble. He couldn’t say no to his friends. He owed them his life. A shadow fell across his table, causing him to jump as he realized someone was standing there. Startled, he looked up. “Scare ya?” Jim asked, as he pulled out a chair and sat down. “No…No… I was just…… Dang it, Jim. ‘Course you startled me. I don’t know how come you always sneak up on me like that. You move as quietly as a snake. One day, I’m gonna accidentally shoot you!” Aspey was spitting out his words. Jim’s smile got larger. “I told you the reason I stay alive is ‘cause nobody hears me when I come for them. It’s all part of survival, pal.” Nodding at Aspey’s drink, he asked, “What’cha drinking?” Motioning for the barkeep, Aspey ordered a shot for Jim and a shot and a third for himself. He was feeling a bit numb by now. “Better not drink any more or the missus will have my hide,” he thought, as the drinks were set before them. “Cheers.” Both men raised their glasses and downed the drinks. Shaking his head and blowing out a long, sharp breath, Jim shuddered. “That’ll put hair on your chest,” he gasped. Jim saw Aspey watching him, and suddenly became serious. He explained the letter he’d received from Ed in Prescott. A telegram had arrived the day before from Stephen outlining the situation. As he talked, Aspey’s eyes grew narrow. He had heard the name Leo Grant before, but where?

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Jim told him there had already been one murder and now Jerry had been shot. He felt a growing sense of apprehension. This wasn’t just a family matter anymore. This was a range war about oil, land, murder, and money. Lots of money, if what he was hearing was correct. He sat back and observed Jim as he spoke. The concern over the well being of his family was apparent on his face. Being the oldest of all the children it had fallen to him to be the peacemaker and the revenge taker. It was a job not many people wanted and even fewer could do. Aspey pushed his chair back, rose from the table, and leaned down. Bringing his face close to Jim’s, he grabbed his shoulder and squeezed it with a firm grip. “I’ll ride out and take a look at things up there, ok?” “In the meantime, you sit tight. Don’t send any more family up there. The last thing we need right now is a bunch of shooting and such. Let me assess the situation first, talk quietly to the local law, then I’ll telegraph you and we’ll decide a course of action. My concern now is what the boys you’ve sent have done. You should have come to me with this sooner.” “I know I should have, but with all that’s happened, I felt time was of the essence,” Jim said. “I mainly wanted to get some family up that way for Amy’s sake. There’s no need for her to feel alone when she’s related to this huge family.” “Keep everyone else here, Jim. You’ll be hearing from me.” Aspey flipped a silver coin on the table to pay for the drinks and left the saloon. He walked quickly to his office and opened the door with a key hanging from his vest pocket. Walking to a wall near the rear of the old building, he pulled down a book titled “Rules of Court for the State of Arizona” Leafing through the pages until he found Yavapai County, he sat down and began to read. Deep in thought, he was surprised to look up and see daylight was waning and night was approaching rapidly.

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He took out his watch and swore when he glanced at it. There would be hell to pay back home. He had promised his wife he would be back in time to help her weed the garden. Now the day was shot and he hadn’t lifted a hand to help her and worse yet, he had the smell of a drink on him. She would never believe he had gotten lost in a book this long. However, he wasn’t too concerned because it had happened so many other times. Ruefully, he closed the book, and, taking it along with a satchel stuffed with papers, he locked up and hurried home expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.

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Chapter Twenty-one

Alibazer rode up front with Ed as they made their way through the snowy peaks of the Rockies. As they rode into the draw the wind bit at their clothing, chilling them to the bone. The men were weary of the trail and tried of the cold that penetrated even the warmest coats. Hoods pulled over their faces protected the men from being bitten by the sharp gusts blowing by. The horses had grown weary and lean, with ribs poking out from the flanks. Here and there a cow would stop, its head hanging low. Needing to keep the cattle moving, the riders’ tired horses slogged over to the stubborn cows and literally pushed them with their bodies. The cows would walk a few feet and then stop again. It became a challenge of wills – the cows against the cowboys with neither side claiming a win. They were just too tired to fight one another. “Got to be close to the draw where we can pull up for the night,” Ed’s said through teeth chattering in the cold. Ali turned to look at him and smiled in spite of his own discomfort. “You look like death warmed over, ‘cept ya don’t look warm enough for even that.” As he was about to ask a question, Levitt rode up with Tim. “We need to rest purdy quick. The horses and men are worn down to nothin’, Ed. Tim here was wonderin’ if he could take Cookie and the chuck wagon on ahead and set up camp in the draw. That way, we’ll have a hot meal waitin’ for us when we ride in a couple hours from now.” Ed pondered the request. It made sense and they had hadn’t seen any Indians for the last few days. Most likely, they were holed up from this weather and wouldn’t be out looking for scalps.

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“Have Tim take Carlos with him. These cattle are so tired I doubt they will give us many hassles. We can spare two men and that way Cookie will have extra help setting up camp.” Tim nodded his thanks and swung his horse around to find Carlos. Levitt stayed behind, riding along side Ed and Alibazer. He listened to Alibazer tell Ed about Rome and the ancient cities he had visited in his boyhood. A shout went up from the crew as they watched Tim, Carlos, and the wagon with Cookie driving it, swing out and rapidly disappear over the horizon. The next couple of hours flew by as the men were renewed with thoughts of a warm fire and hot meal waiting for them just down the trail. Smiles came quickly and the day seemed to warm up. Even the cattle seemed to pick up their pace as if knowing rest and food lay just around the corner. Suddenly, shots broke the calm mood as the sound slung its way across the mountains, bouncing from one ridge to the other. Pulling up sharply, the men looked forward in the direction the shots had come from. It was the direction the chuck wagon had gone earlier. More shots followed, then the unmistakable sound of a Henry .44 repeater firing multiple times. “That’s my gun!” shouted Ed. “I left it with Cookie to get cleaned and oiled. He ain’t using it for hunting.” Turning to Levitt he said, “Stay with the herd. I’ll take Ali and Rob and see what’s happening. If you hear three shots, followed by two more in quick succession, something’s wrong. Leave the herd and come in loaded for bear. We can round them up later.” Ed pulled his pistol, checked the loads, and then did the same with his rifle. Rob and Ali had the breeches open on their rifles, filling the chambers with cartridges. Stuffing extra rounds in his

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pockets, Ali slid his hand down his leg to feel the comforting sword, which banged against his side as he rode. Levitt nodded his understanding and simply said, “Via con Dios, my friend” The three men spurred their horses into a run beyond the brush line and were gone. Cresting the hill, they heard the sound of war whoops and saw Indian ponies with braves mounted, charging at the wagons again and again. A horse was down near the wagon with a body lying nearby. From inside the wagon’s canvas top came the sound of the Henry booming. A brave clutched his chest and flew backwards from the saddle. A second brave stooped to pick him up from the ground, only to be shot in the face as he reached the fallen warrior. He landed with a thud that could be heard to where Ed was, and then lay still. Snapping a shot at a third charging warrior Ed saw his bullet hit and knock the Indian sideways from his pony. The other warriors, hearing the sound of rifles coming from the ridge, turned and fired their way. Beside him, Ed heard Rob and Alibazer firing at the approaching groups of braves and two more went down. Alibazer gasped and slid from his horse, landing hard on the ground. Ed turned to look, but the yell of a warrior made him turn back just as a tomahawk flew threw the air and buried itself in the ground directly in front of his horse. Ed saw that Rob was now firing at the group with his pistol, his rifle long emptied with no time to reload it. He leapt to the ground by Alibazer’s side and saw him sit up and try to stand. “Don’t move,” he hissed. “Stay put. They’ll try to hit you again.” His warning came too late. A hail of bullets picked up Alibazer’s body and slammed him backward. He fell to the ground without a sound. Looking at his face, Ed knew he was gone.

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Ed turned back to the war party and unloaded every round in his rifle. Pulling his pistol, he emptied the chambers. Rob’s gun clicked beside him and they frantically tried to reload while throwing themselves on the ground and rolling away. The Henry rang out from behind the braves and another warrior fell, this time flying forward over his pony’s mane, falling beneath its pounding hooves. As if realizing they were exposed from the front and back, the braves split off their frontal attack and headed sideways across the plains until hidden from view by a knoll in the mountain. The horses had spooked when the shooting started and now they stood about a half-mile away, cropping the grass. Knowing that the Indians would be back, Ed ran to Rob and grabbed his arm. He planned to run with him to the horses before they got further away, but stopped when he got no assistance from Rob. He felt him slip from his grasp and fall against him when he tried to walk. Startled, he looked down and saw blood welling up from Rob’s shirt, soaking his belly and dripping onto his gun belt, drenching the cartridges. “I been gut shot!” Rob said through clenched teeth.” Leave me here and get those horses or none of us will make it outta here!” “No can do, Rob. If they come back and find you alive, you’ll wish you were dead,” Ed replied, as he lifted Rob’s shirt. He felt sick. A deep puncture wound showed starkly against his white belly skin, as a pool of dark red blood welled up and over-flowed the wound. Trying to stop the flow of blood, Ed took off his kerchief and placed it over the wound, plugging it up the best he could. Rob groaned in pain as sweat poured from his face. Struggling to sit up, he grabbed Ed’s coat sleeve.

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“Get out of here. Tim and them’s down there and may need some help. I’m done for. You know it and I know it. Leave me my guns; help me load them, and git outta here. I’ll try to keep them from coming for as long as I can. You can bet I’ll take a few with me.” Ed struggled with his conscience. He knew Rob was right. There was nothing he could do for him now. He needed to get the horses and check on his other men. Reaching over, he took Alibazer’s guns from him and handed them to Rob after loading each one. “You got your two and Ali’s two. That’ll give you 24 shots. Save one for yourself. I’ll get back as soon as I can and we’ll get you some help.” He knew he was lying. Rob would be dead before another ten minutes was up. Rob knew it too, but played along gamely. Ed heard sounds nearby and knew the Indians had come back and circled around them. They would be coming soon. “It’s been my pleasure to work with you, Rob. Have you any family I could look in on when we get home?” Rob looked up at Ed from his position. “I ain’t never had nobody but my horse. Don’t even have a decent place to be buried. A plot to call my own.” “When this is over, you’ll have that piece of ground, wherever you want it, Rob,” Ed said gently. “You can have the best piece of land on the ranch and we’ll go into town and record it in your name for your heirs. This I promise you, under the hand of God looking down on us now.” Rob smiled weakly and squeezed Ed’s hand. “’Preciate that. Better get along now. They’ll be here right quick. Take care of Tim and keep that boy outta trouble, will ya?” Ed felt tears well in his eyes. He patted Rob’s hand and stood. Looking around, he said, “God bless you, Rob.”

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Ed crouched low as he ran through the sagebrush, keeping his head down. He held both pistols in his hands, having lost his rifle in the fight. Working his way toward the horses he heard the sounds of screaming warriors behind him and gun shots. He counted four shots, then nothing. At least Rob had gotten four of them, he hoped, and he had bought him some time. He whistled softly as he approached the horses. They threw up their heads and stood still as he walked close to them, talking in a low voice. Throwing his arms around the neck of his horse, he mounted it. Grabbing the reins of Rob’s horse, he made his way warily toward the wagon. Alibazer’s horse was nowhere in sight and he wasn’t about to go looking for it. As he came near the wagon, he clearly saw for the first time the figure lying near the dead horse. It was Carlos. He had an arrow sticking from his chest and many scattered cartridges lying around his body. “He fought a good fight,” Ed thought, as he spoke aloud. “Anybody in there? It’s me, Ed.” “Who else is with you?” came the whispered reply. “I’m alone. Ali was killed back on the ridge and Rob just took a couple more with him. They gut shot him, but he made them pay.” From inside the wagon came a groan. “Rob’s dead?” “Sorry, Tim,” Ed softly spoke. “He went down like a man, fighting to the end. He made me promise to keep on eye on you and give you his land.” “What land? He don’t own any!” Tim’s reply was sharp. “He never owned nothing in his life.” “He does now,” Ed was just as curt. “He earned himself a nice plot down at the ranch. I believe I can speak for Amy on this matter.”

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“Wished we was home now,” Tim’s voice was wistful. “I never had anything to call my own and would like that. Fact is, I’d like that very much.” “You can pick out the area you want when we get back,” promised Ed. “In the meantime, let’s just stay alive.” Cookie’s head appeared around the edge of the canvas top. He searched the horizon. “Think they’ll be back?” Ed shook his head. He suddenly remembered he had the men bringing in the herd. They would be ready for action, but they’d be expecting it around the wagon, not the herd. If the Indians came back, it might be for the cattle this time. They’d already lost too many men in the failed attack. The only way to save face now was to steal some cattle. For all he knew, the number of gunshots had been the signal to Levitt to drop the herd and ride in, guns blazing. He couldn’t remember how many they had fired. “I need to get back and warn the boys somehow,” Ed commented. He watched as Tim climbed down from the wagon, warily keeping an eye out for the return of the war party. “What happened up here?” Ed asked. “We was settin’ up camp and tryin’ to keep an eye out for dry wood when Carlos walked up with a small load of kindling. He started to shout something, but next thing we knew he was tugging at an arrow in his chest. We didn’t have a notion at all where it come from,” Cookie relayed. Ed could see he was shaken up from the close brush with death. “I thought I seen somethin’ and fired that way. Then they hit us from the other side. I had time to jump in the wagon and the first gun I found I used. Your rifle there sure scared them for a minute.”

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“Lucky you used it; otherwise I might not have known exactly what was happenin’. I figured if you was usin’ that instead of your own gun, somethin’ was wrong.” “You boys keep an eye out. I’m headed back toward the herd. Meet you back here in a bit.” Ed swung his horse around and started back up the trail the wagon had come down. As he topped the ridge, he felt, rather than saw, someone watching him. Turning his head, he studied the terrain, closely scrutinizing the brush and boulders that stood alongside the trail. Seeing nothing, he turned to go when a familiar voice called out. “White man always overlook obvious. They see with eyes, not their hearts.” His heart jumping in his chest at the closeness of the voice, Ed turned back to the area he had just searched. Walks Tall leapt down from the top of the boulder. He was dressed in tan buckskin breeches with a long tan overcoat. From the sides of the rocks, several warriors came out carrying their bows in one hand and dressed for a hunt. “Walks Tall! That wasn’t you that attacked my crew, was it?” Ed asked anxiously. “Those Blackfoot, not Cheyenne. Cheyenne heard shouting and shooting. Come see why. Our land. No good they here.” “Where are they?” Ed asked, as he looked around him. It occurred to him suddenly that if these Indians had been the ones that had attacked them, he would be dead already. Walks Tall had been lying horizontal along the top of the boulder he had just looked at. His tan buckskin had blended in perfectly with the boulder’s colors. Ed had over-looked the other Indians, too, because they matched the landscape so well. Feeling stupid and angry with himself for his lack of attention he turned back to listen as Walks Tall gave a rapid order to his men in his native language. Two of the men disappeared as silently as they had come.

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Walks Tall smiled up at him and motioned him down from his horse. “No feel bad. White man not Indian,” he said as if reading Ed’s thoughts. “Indian learn to use land to hide in plain sight. You not know. I teach you one day.” “Come,” he said as he walked back beyond the boulder. His horse stood still with five others, being held by a sixth Indian. “We come for food. Find no meat.” Rubbing his belly he asked, “You bring friend food?” Ed wondered if he was referring to the herd that could not be too far away by now. He must know about it. Just then, Walks Tall said, “My braves go get your men and cows. They bring them here for you.” Walks Tall pointed in the direction the two men had gone. “Blackfoot gone, not come back. We eat, you bring food.” Ed knew he had been toyed with all along. Of course he knew about the herd. “I’ll have food and plenty of meat for you and your men in a little bit.” he said. “We must go down to my wagon for food while we wait. You saved me a lot of trouble. I’ll throw on a whole cow for you and your people.” Ed led the group of Indians back down the ridge to the wagon. As he approached, he called out, letting them know he had friends with him. As Cookie and Tim stepped out from the shelter of the wagon, they smiled at Walks Tall. Tim ran over and shook his hand while slapping him on the shoulder. Cookie let out a whoop and brought out the fixin’s for the meal they had started before they were attacked. As the fire grew, the heat chased away the chill of the evening. Rumbles were heard in the draw and the cattle came streaming by with the drovers and the two braves helping to herd them into a clearing.

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Levitt rode up to Ed. He looked around, squinting his eyes. “Where are Rob and Ali?” Ed stopped, dumbstruck. He had forgotten about them in the midst of the things happening. How could he have forgotten? He wanted to kick himself. Here he was, enjoying the fire with his new guest, and he had three dead men who needed a proper burial. He looked guiltily at Levitt; he noticed Carlos’ body had been removed from beside the wagon. The boys had been cleaning up when he was having a talk with Walks Tall. Lord, how badly he felt. “Rob and Ali are up yonder. They were killed in the battle. Carlos was shot in the chest near the wagon. He didn’t make it. Felix gasped in horror. “Where’s he now?” Turning to Cookie with a look of dismay Ed was relieved when he and Tim motioned Felix over to the side of a small hill covered with baby pines. A blanket covered the still form of Felix’s brother. Felix removed his hat and stood silently with his eyes closed and his head bowed. He said something unintelligible in Spanish. Turning back to Ed, his eyes were rimmed red and his face showed the strain he was under. “Let’s go get the other boys and give ‘em a proper burial.” Nodding, Ed turned to ask for volunteers. He didn’t need to ask. Every hand was ready to help. The wind that had blown so hard across the barren landscape all day started dying out as they stood around the open graves the men had dug in the hard soil. The bodies lay wrapped in blankets and had been placed in the bottom of the graves. Walks Tall and his braves stood silently by, respecting the ways of the white men’s burial. Their custom was to burn the bodies, but the white men had never understood the reasons for

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doing it. According to tradition, the spirit was released when the body turned back to the ashes from whence it came. Saying a few words over the graves was the hardest thing Ed had ever done. These men had died for him. They had given the ultimate sacrifice, as President Abraham Lincoln had so eloquently put it to the lady who’d lost her five sons on the field of battle during the Civil War. Ed repeated the words to Abe’s favorite poem, which he had memorized so many years before, entitled, “Morality”

Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud? Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud, A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave, He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade, Be scattered around, and together be laid; And the young and the old, the low and the high, Shall molder to dust, and together shall lie.

The infant a mother attended and loved; The mother that infant's affection who proved; The husband, that mother and infant who blessed; Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

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The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye, Shone beauty and pleasure - her triumphs are by; And the memory of those who loved her and praised, Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne, The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn, The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave, Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap, The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep, The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread, Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint, who enjoyed the communion of Heaven, The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven, The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just, Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes - like the flower or the weed That withers away to let others succeed; So the multitude comes - even those we behold,

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To repeat every tale that has often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been; We see the same sights that our fathers have seen; We drink the same stream; we feel the same sun, And run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think; From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink; To the life we are clinging, they also would cling But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.

They loved - but the story we cannot unfold; They scorned - but the heart of the haughty is cold; They grieved - but no wail from their slumber will come; They joyed - but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.

They died - aye, they died - we things that are now, That walk on the turf that lies over their brow, And make in their dwellings a transient abode, Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea, hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,

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Are mingled together in sunshine and rain; And the smile and the tear, the song and the dirge, Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

'Tis the wink of an eye - 'tis the draught of a breath From the blossom of health to the paleness of death, From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

(Author William Knox 1789-1825)

Ed paused, looking around the clearing. The night had fallen rapidly and the glow of the fire hid the men’s faces. Several cleared their throats and more than one hand moved to wipe away unseen tears. Felix looked up at Ed and said, “My brother would have been proud. That was beautiful.” Tim walked over and, unable to speak, took Ed’s hand and shook it, then walked away with his face wet with tears. Back at the campfire, the smell of meat cooking made the living realize they were hungry. Grabbing a hunk of meat from the spit, Ed cut several large pieces and placing them on the platter Cookie provided walked to each man and offered the plate. After seeing his men get their share, Ed then offered the plate to Walks Tall who took it and handed it around to his men. “To our friends! May they never be forgotten nor should they have died in vain.” “Amen,” sounded and the men dug into their late meal.

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Chapter Twenty-two

Aspey arrived in Prescott aboard the Butterfield Stage and immediately set about finding a room to refresh himself from the trip. He approached the old Town Palace hotel and entered, kicking the dust off his boots against the stoop. As he stepped up to the front desk, a sour clerk looked up from his yellowed newspaper. “What can I do you for?” he asked curtly. “Need a room for a week or two,” Aspey replied. “Also looking for information.” He knew sometimes the best source of information came from the seemingly insignificant people. Other folks tended to talk more in front of someone they considered a “nobody.” These “nobodies” usually made an extra buck or two by selling what they heard to the right buyer. “What kinda info ya lookin’ for?” the clerk was wary. “Heard tell there’s been some doings up here that got good folk a mite upset,” Aspey tentatively replied. He did not want to tip his hand and show his cards until he knew exactly what was happening. “Might be somethin’.” The clerk waited, giving him a hard stare. Aspey shrugged and flipped a 20-dollar gold piece on the counter. It disappeared as if it never existed. “Been somethin’ going on over at the Baggin ranch,” the clerk said softly. “Rancher named Leo Grant’s been runnin’ things around here for so long he forgot there’s good people who live here. Only so much he can do ‘fore the people’s had enough. Seems he’s wantin’ to push a lady off her land and brought in some outside help.” The clerk continued, “Can’t prove it, but there’s talk he set a fire that durn near burnt her place down. Her pa got hisself shot and some stranger’s been helpin’ her. Don’t rightly know if

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that guy’s any good, though. He up and took some of the locals and headed out about three or four months ago. Ain’t seen hide nor hair of ‘m since and nobody has a clue what he’s up to.” “Did you get the name of that gent?” Aspey waited, holding his breath. “Yep, they said he’s named Ed Daulton. From what I hear, he’s one of that Daulton clan that ran out the Hanshaw outfit back east. They come from that a way and live somewhere around the state.” Aspey let out his breath. He was talking to the right person. “Like to buy you a drink when you get the chance,” he said as he took his room key. “Be another coin in it for you if you keep your mouth shut about our little meeting.” The clerk smiled widely. “For that kind of money I’d sell you my mother, partner.” Aspey went to his room, hauling his saddlebags and satchel. He laid them out on the bed and went over to the window. Opening up the curtains, he shed light on the small space. It held a single bed and a washstand with a small bowl and pitcher of water with a clean flour sack towel lying beside it. The window overlooked the main street running in front of the courthouse still under construction. Down the street from the courthouse sat a small brown building with a golden star etched on the front window. Must be Tom’s office, he thought. Jim had told him, from what Ed had written, that Tom could be trusted. He needed to see him first thing in the morning. Next to the Sheriff’s Office was a two-story brick building decorated with two vertical columns near the front entrance. Above the doors was written in Latin, “Justice for All.” Pondering the saying, he turned back to his room. He had a lot to do tomorrow. Right now, all he wanted to do was rest, eat a hot meal, and pick that clerk’s brains some more.

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The following morning, Aspey walked next door to the sheriff’s building, which also held the courthouse until the new one was complete. He entered the large foyer, and his footsteps echoed loudly as he walked to the small wooden desk. A mature lady sat behind the desk, scratching on a piece of paper with the court numbers for the coming cases. Identifying himself, he asked for the paperwork to fill out the forms for a Rule 9 of the Yavapai Superior Court. Rule 9 was the paperwork necessary to allow him to be the Attorney of Record for Amy Baggin. The clerk handed him the proper forms and pointed him to a chair where he could sit to fill out the form. After completing the paperwork, he handed it to her and she looked up at him inquisitively. “I’m going to be filing a motion to show cause for the removal of one Leo Grant from all harassment and allow an order of protection to be filed on behalf of my client. I would like this taken to the judge as soon as possible so he can give me a case number to take to the sheriff. “I’ll give you a Rule 4 number right now,” the lady spoke for the first time. Your case number is…” She consulted a log in front of her, “70-01999. Judge Malone is in his office right now. I’ll see if he’s available.” Stepping briskly across the oak flooring with her footsteps resounding off the walls she made her way to a large solid wood door and knocked gently before opening it. As she closed the door behind her, Aspey looked around the interior of the courthouse. It was quiet inside, even with all the construction going on for the new courthouse down the street. Large paintings of the justices hung from beautiful frames around the walls. A large red tapestry was displayed, hanging from the top of the ceiling to the bottom of the wall.

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The ceiling was covered in an arched buttress, which had been taken from the Roman styled buildings. Steps led up a magnificent banister to the upper floor, which held row upon row of law books and other research material for judges and attorneys. “It’s no wonder the people in Prescott are proud of their judicial system.” Aspey thought. This was better than any courthouse he had seen in the west. It would be an honor to try a case within these walls, if it came to that. Glancing down at the doors that led to rooms on either side of the banister, he noticed these were the actual courtrooms. On the doors to each room read signs that said, “Superior Court Division 1,” and “Superior Court Division 2.” The far door opened and the secretary came out. “Sir, the judge requested that you come back this afternoon. Being today is Monday it’s “Law and Motion Day.” You’ll have the opportunity to present your case before him then.” Aspey nodded. He was fairly pleased. He had timed it this way. At the very least, he would be heard and get the word out that Amy had a lawyer. Maybe, if nothing else, it would make this Leo dude slow down long enough to take a long, hard look at what he was doing. Nobody in his right mind wanted to go to court. Because it often was the only attraction around most towns and broke the days of boredom, the courtrooms were usually filled with spectators watching the proceedings. It was not a good way to make or keep friends if you were doing something wrong. Talk spread rapidly and the most popular man in town could be just as unpopular at the end of a day after trial. Aspey walked out of the courthouse into the bright sunlight, shielding his eyes against the glaring sun. The day was warm for wintertime. Here and there, a bird flew across the cloudless sky, chasing the virtually invisible insects. A yellow Mammunitionth butterfly flew close to his

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face, sniffing at the sweet smell of his breath. He spit a chug of tobacco at the dirt in front of his feet. It landed and splattered in a large circle, knocking balls of dust up from the ground.

***

Doc Hatler hurried out to the ranch when Stephen refused to go back without him. He and Doc Steson were still keeping a close eye on Joe, who was slowly recovering from the attack by the black bear. Slim had refused to leave his side for weeks now. They had even set up a cot in the back room for him. The hotel bill was just too expensive for him every night and they had admired his persistence. He stayed at the office every other night, only leaving for the hotel when he needed a break from the clinic. Come hell or high water, this friend was a friend to ride the river with. Stephen’s urgency prompted Slim to help persuade the Doc Hatler to go, even though the older Doc Steson was out making rounds in the buggy. Slim was certain Joe would be all right and the man shot was a relative of Amy Baggin. Slim had always admired her from afar and had respect for her surviving the attempt on her life. When he heard Stephen was her brother, he readily agreed to any help he could give. As Stephen and Doc Hatler headed out, Slim sat down on the bench just outside the door to the office. He was troubled. Leo was demanding his friendship or his job. Doug had come by a few times when he had been able to slip away and the talk he was bringing from the ranch made Slim wish he had paid more attention to the goings on around the place. He knew he was a little slow, but he wasn’t stupid. He had been given the gold nugget Doug, Joe and he had found, and had already he’d

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turned it into a nice stake. He’d invested the three hundred dollars he’d gotten for it into the local dining house for himself and Joe. Doug insisted he didn’t want any of this money. When Joe was feeling up to it, they’d all go back to Lynx Creek and do more panning. In the meantime, he was to use the extra money to live off of. Leo wasn’t paying him while he was helping with Joe’s care, so the money came in handy. Hearing Joe move around in the other room, he got up and went inside. Joe was sitting up in bed. His face held stitches from his left eyebrow down to his jawbone. Both his legs and arms were bandaged in bulky white dressing. Although he hurt constantly, he was recovering each day. “Where the Doc run off to?” he asked weakly. “Sure seemed to be in a hurry.” The little bit of talking left him exhausted and his face was contorted with pain when he moved his lips. “Ain’t no reason to worry your fool head, boy,” Slim replied. “You shut up or those stitches will come apart. Doc’ll have my hide.” Trying to smile, Joe grimaced. “What’cha doing hangin’ around here still? You got things to do back at the ranch.” Seeing Slim’s look, he asked, “You ain’t been fired, have ya?” Slim shook his head and looked at the floor then up at Joe. “Somethin’s not right here, Joe. Doug told me our stuff was moved out the same day we came here. He almost had a gunfight with one of the boys, but they thought twice about it. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m a thinkin’ it just might be Leo who’s runnin’ roughshod over that there Baggin ranch and Amy.” “Doc went to take care of one of Amy’s relatives that had a shootout with three men who had ridden up on the ranch. Her other stepbrother, Stephen, came and got Doc. He said they got two of ‘em but the third got away. I’m just wonderin’ if that was Sam and his boys or someone else.”

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Joe sighed. He needed to get out of here after being holed up for so long. He was tired of lying down or sitting still all day long. He wanted to feel the horse beneath his legs and hear the wind blowing through the pines. The constant odor of antiseptic was enough to knock out his sense of smell. How he longed for the smell of pine trees and creosote. Slim looked like he could use a day or two under the bright sun. “I’m doin’ okay now, Slim,” he said. “Why don’t you get on outta here and see if Amy and the boys need help? While you’re at it, check in on Doug.” Sinking back, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. Slim thought about his words. It might do him some good to check in on Doug. He needed a break from this place, and this was the first day in a long time Joe had talked that much. He was doing better. Maybe it would be all right if he snuck out for a couple of hours. He’d be right back. The other doctor would be back shortly and would be here in case something happened. He opened the door and lightly closed it behind him.

***

On the way out of town, Stephen had stopped by the sheriff’s department and told Tom what had happened. He was surprised to see Tom taking it so well. It seemed like he had been expecting something like this to happen. Maybe the sheriff knew more than he was telling. No matter, at least Stephen knew he was a man to be trusted. Jim had vouched for that. As the men rode into the yard of the Baggin ranch, Doris greeted them at the front door and ushered them inside quickly. “He ain’t doing well,” she said. “He’s been running a fever and bleeding a lot, even through all the dressings Amy’s been placing on the wound.”

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Doc Hatler rapidly strode over to his patient and, looking at the bloody bandages, ordered them to be cut off. Turning to Stephen, he asked him to get a pan of steaming hot water. Of Amy and Doris, he requested clean cloths and a candlestick with matches. As the water boiled in the pan he washed his hands. Taking the candle, he lit it and held a long, sharp knife above the open flame. The shiny metal turned black with the heat, then glowed a bright red. Taking the knife, he motioned to Stephen and the ladies. “Hold him tight. This is going to hurt.” The wound glared up at them – open, gaping, and ugly. It oozed blood from the newly formed clots that the removal of the bandages had reopened. Placing the glowing tip of the red-hot knife against the side wound, it hissed sharply in the stillness. Jerry’s breath came in a great gasp and he half rose from the bed, fighting the restraining hands struggling to hold him down. “Hold him tighter!” Doc’s voice was stern. Sliding the knife even deeper into the wound, he used a retractor to keep the edges of the wound open. The pain was too much and without a sound Jerry passed out. His limp body relaxed. “At least we can work better now,” Doc said, wiping his brow. “Hand me that candle,” Doc said, pointing at the still lit candlestick. Stephen placed it near him. “Now, hold it close to the opening.” Using the light from the candle, Doc shoved the blade in deeper, feeling his way around the wound. He placed his face close to the wound, peering into the gap. Probing, he stopped when he felt the knife blade strike something solid. Pushing the retractor in further, Doc held it in place, and reached into his bag with his free hand. He pulled out a probe with a spring clip attached and handed it to Stephen. “Heat this up,” he said gently. After heating it, Stephen handed it back. Doc took it and sliding it along the path made by the knife and the retractor, found the bullet and pulled it out. The spring clip clutched the bullet fast in its grip.

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Dropping the bullet into an empty dish nearby, Doc poured hot water into the hole made by the removal of the bullet. Blood ran free as pieces of metal shavings and other debris came running out. “Keep the dressing changed every four hours. Wash it out twice a day.” Doc wiped his hands on the cloth Doris handed to him. “He’ll need something for the pain when he comes ‘round.” Taking a small bottle from his bag, he handed it to Amy. “Give him this once when he needs it for pain. It’s opium. He won’t need more than that, believe me.” “Oh,” said Amy, “we already have some from when Doc Steson took care of Lou.” They thanked him for all his help and Doc headed back into town to take care of his other patient. Stephen sat by Jerry’s bed waiting for him to wake up. He knew Jerry was a fighter and it would just take time to heal him.

***

Lou had left the Baggin ranch after several weeks of being cared for. He was still amazed to be alive. His thought now was to find the man who had rescued him so he could thank him properly. Amy said he worked down at Leo’s ranch, the Bar 7. That’s where he was headed now. As he rode into the yard, Doug spotted him. Recognizing him immediately, Doug walked up to his horse and stuck out his hand. “Glad to see you made it. Figured them gals would take good care of you.” “They were awful kind,” Lou replied. “I was laid up for two weeks ‘fore I could get around on my own. Leg still bothers me every now and then, but I’m alive to feel the pain, thanks to you.”

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Doug shrugged nonchalantly, “Glad to see you made it. Get on down and come into the bunkhouse.” Lou dismounted and followed Doug inside. They were the only ones around. Doug poured them each a cup of coffee and set it before them on the table. Pulling up a chair, he looked sharply at Lou. He wondered how much this man could be trusted. He needed to tell someone what was happening, just in case something happened to him. He’d kept a diary well hidden, but how would anyone find it if he got himself shot? Feeling his way cautiously around the subject, Doug listened as Lou explained what he had been doing near Willow Basin when he was attacked by the Indians. Lou was a placer miner. He mined gold for a living from the creek beds. Coming over from Sutter’s Mill area after the lode ran out he heard talk in San Francisco about gold coming from the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott. Figuring he might strike a vein, he’d headed over here. He’d never had any problems either, until he ran into the war party inadvertently. He had just topped the Chino Ridge when he startled a group of braves riding the opposite direction. Running hell bent for leather he barely made it to the outcropping of rocks. That’s when he’d been hit and Doug found him. Doug felt his pulse jump as he had a thought. The gold Slim, Joe, and he had found in Lynx Creek might just be something this man could work for them. Trusting his instincts, he told Lou about the gold they’d found. He explained that the nugget Slim sold had brought in over three hundred dollars from a local business. “Why are you telling me this?” Lou wanted to know. “You don’t know me from Adam. For all you know, I could just run up there and find the rest myself!”

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“I’ve always been a good judge of character and now I’m judging you. We need someone who knows a lot about gold. I learned a little from my father, but not enough to talk about. We need someone to work for us for an equal share. You interested?” Lou didn’t need any more persuasion. “Of course I am.” The men shook hands on the verbal agreement and stood to part ways. “Just a minute, Lou,” Doug’s face had turned stern. “I need a favor from someone I can trust.” He told Lou about some of the suspicious thoughts he had about Leo. “Thing I can’t figure is why Leo is dropping his own men in favor of hired guns. Slim seems a decent sort, one that’ll ride for the brand, and Joe works wherever Slim tells him to.” Doug rubbed his face with his hands. As he was talking, a young man of short stature came into the bunkhouse. He had on a black felt hat with a snakeskin band, low slung guns, and faded clothing with rugged, worn leather boots. His hair was blonde and curly, over a naturally handsome face and a body that belied its strength. To Doug he seemed somehow familiar, but he couldn’t place him. No matter, it would come to him eventually. “Can I help you?” Doug asked. “Name’s Tony. Just came in yesterday mornin’ and was hired by Leo. He said I was to wait around for him, so I thought I’d come over and see of there was any coffee on. Waited all day yesterday and he never called me in so we” -- he pointed to his horse -- “went out an’ slept in the woods for the night. Didn’t know what else to do.” He pointed at the coffee pot. “You mind?” “No…not at all,” Doug pointed to the chair. “Sit on down a spell. Where you from?”

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Tony poured a cup of coffee and sat down heavily. “Here, there, and everywhere. Couple of boys here when I rode in last morning. They ain’t here now. You know who they was?” Doug sized up Tony. A man that changed the subject so quickly usually had something to hide. What was this man hiding? “Don’t know which hands you might be talking about,” he finally said. At that instant, a rider came charging into the yard, yelling for Leo. The men ran out of the bunkhouse to see him slide his horse up to the front porch and dive off, landing unsteadily on his feet, then stagger to the front door. Pounding on the door, he waited. The door flew open and Leo stood there looking aghast. “What are you…” Breaking off when he saw the three men looking at them from the bunkhouse he said roughly, “Get in here!” Grabbing the man, he shoved him inside and closed the door. Doug looked at the others. The same surprised look was on their faces. “That’s strange,” he said as he stepped back into the shadow of the bunkroom. Inside the house, they could hear shouting and then Henry came running out carrying a pail for water. He ran to the pump handle and they heard the rhythmic pumping and squealing of the handle as it water gushed into the pail. After filling it he ran back into the house. Walking over to the horse the rider had come in on Doug noticed bloodstains on the flanks and saddle. Touching it with his finger, he drew back. “This is fresh. Either he’s been shot or he shot someone close by.” Lou looked at his timepiece. “It’s getting’ late. I think I better be going.” “Wait, I’ll go with you,” Doug said. “I really don’t have a lot to do ‘round here today and this’ll put Leo being in a mood I don’t want to be around, anyway.” Heading to his mount, he stopped. “What do you want to do?” he asked Tony.

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Shrugging his shoulders, Tony had no answer. “Tell you what. Ride into town and ask for Slim down at Doc Steson’s office. He’s the foreman of the north forty and he’ll have an idea what to do for you. Tell him I sent you.” With that, Doug walked away. He didn’t know enough about Tony to invite him to go along with himself and Lou, and he wasn’t about to give away the secret they had to a stranger. He rode out with Lou in tow and led him to the basin where Lynx Creek flowed down from Thumb Butte area. The morning was cool and calm. The wind blew slightly from the east, carrying with it the smell of winter in the air. As they rode, Lou filled him in on his life; from the time he’d fought Indians as a young lad to fighting in the Civil War until he’d arrived in California. After arriving in California, Lou met up with a group of prospectors who urged him to follow along while they made their mark on the land. Lou watched and listened. He’d learned the secrets of sluicing, dredging, panning, and placing gold. His first time out on his own he found an eight-ounce nugget. The men accepted him as one of their own after that. They admitted finding a nugget that size was nothing short of miraculous or lucky. Either way, it didn’t matter. He was part of the group. Locating several more gold loaded ore rocks, the miners started following his lead. He developed a natural tendency for locating hidden treasure and soon he was in demand as a locator of placer-gold. Hiring himself out, he gained a reputation that kept him busy throughout the harsh winters while most men stayed under the canvas tents. Finally, having enough of a stake to bank a healthy sum, he set off to find his own destiny. Apparently, it was the right timing. After leaving the gold fields, he heard rumors from some of his own crew that the ore was drying up.

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After staying in town for a few months, he’d loaded up his saddlebags one day and set out toward Prescott after hearing about gold being found in the Bradshaw Mountain range. Doug was the first person he had run into since arriving in the Arizona Territory. “I’ve got enough set aside to live comfortably the rest of my life,” Lou finished up. He was testing Doug by telling him this information. He wasn’t stupid enough to tell where it was, but he needed to tell someone his luck. It was no fun to keep great secrets to your self, he thought. As the men walked their horses to the edge of the flowing water, they stopped to take in the sight. Lynx Creek was flowing strongly. The snowmelt filled the once docile creek and made it a torrent of running water. Pointing to the area where Doug had found the gold, he traced his finger up the creek to where it flowed down from the mountain range near Thumb Butte in the far west. Thumb Butte showed faintly against the clear sky from their position. It clearly looked like a giant thumb pointing to the sky, so one could easily see where the name came from. “Too muddy to try anything today,” Lou commented. “We’ll come back in a few weeks when the creek’s cleared up. I’m going to head back into Prescott. I’ve got a room at the boarding house if you need me.” Doug shook Lou’s hand. “Thanks, pard. I’m glad I came across you.” “Not half as glad as I am!” Lou said as he mounted up and turned his horse toward town.

***

Lou decided to stop by the Baggin ranch “to check on the ladies.” He was troubled when he rode into the yard and saw signs of a recent fracas.

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“Hello the house,” he hollered out as was customary. He was relieved to see the door open and the Widow Doris framed in the doorway. “Well, Lou, fancy seeing you again. What brings you out this way?” “I was in this neck of the woods and jus’ thought I’ll see how you ladies are doing. Looks like you’ve had some more trouble, is everyone ok?” “Well, Amy and I are fine but Jerry, that’s Stephen’s cousin, he took a bullet in the side… but don’t sit out there making a target of yourself. Get down and come in.” Lou hitched his horse at the post and slapped some of the dust from his clothing before striding up on the porch an in through the open door. Amy was just coming from the bedroom with a pan of bloody dressings. “Oh, hello Lou. It seems we’ve got ourselves another victim to nurse.” Lou looked crestfallen that he’d been replaced as Doris’ object of bossing. Amy giggled. She knew from the way Lou had acted in town that he was sweet on the Widow Doris. She stepped close to him and whispered, “Not to worry, Jerry is young and has a wife and kids. You’re still her favorite patient.” Lou blushed beneath his scrub of a beard and Doris turned from the stove she was stoking to warm the coffee. “Now, what are you two conspiring about?” “Oh, us? Nothing at all,” said Amy. “Now I’m going to take these bandages out and wash them in cold water to get some of the blood out. You two sit and have a cup of coffee… and yes; I’ve got the rifle right here with me.” With that Amy made a hasty exit. Seeing Doris act like a schoolgirl around Lou reminded her that one is never too old to find love. She thought it was so sweet. She knew the widow must be

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lonely living in that big house in Prescott all by herself. It was no wonder she was in no hurry to go back to it, but that day would come and wouldn’t it be nice if she had a husband to share it with? “ Indeed, wouldn’t it be nice if she herself had a husband to share this ranch with?” mused Amy. So much time had passed, it seemed, since that day when Ed had ridden out that Amy wasn’t sure anymore how much was memory and how much fantasy. Her fear was that she’d built it all up in her mind so much that the reality wouldn’t live up to the fantasy when Ed returned. “Maybe, it’s just wishful thinking because I’m lonely. But then there is what Jim told Stephen… and there was that look -- that special way that Ed looked at me.” Amy let out a big sigh as she turned back to the wash bucket and the bandages. What was it Doris had said? Something about enjoying the journey and not wishing life away. Well, that’s just what she’d have to hang on to for now. Sure, she might be disappointed in the end. Life was full of disappointments… but there was always the hope of possibilities.

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Chapter Twenty-three

Bob and Henry went to work on the oil pool. They needed to take several samples to compare soil compositions the engineers would need for the pumping site. As they worked, the day grew warm. Clouds that had been covering the sky burned off as the temperatures heated the afternoon. Measuring, charting, and plotting the ground soon wore the men down. The routine grew tiresome and boring for Henry who was used to doing work inside a home, not outdoors. He watched in amazement as Bob set up a surveyor’s rod with marked nicks going down the entire length. Moving to the other side of the pool, Bob set up a tripod with compasses, rods, and locating equipment. A screed sat nearby for use later on. Making notes of the measurements they took in his field book, the pages were soon filled with information only an engineer could read and make sense of. Henry shook his head in bewilderment. All this work just to figure out the land setting, yet he couldn’t even read or understand one thing that was marked. As Bob pulled a map from his saddlebags, he noticed the area was marked for Prescott and surrounding locales. After working the area for two days, Bob loaded the wagon and the two men set off for town. Happy to be away from the smell of the oil, the men drew in deep breaths of clear air filled with the smell of Ponderosa Pines. Pulling up in front of a building marked “Surveyors,” Bob entered the small office. In front of him was a young man about 6’ 2”, 210 lbs, with sandy blonde hair and a face weather beaten from riding the range. He was pouring over a map laid out on the counter. An older gentleman stood behind the desk, looking over his shoulder.

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“When can you come out and look at the land?” the young man was asking. “How ‘bout tomorrow? That work?” The older man was circling an area on the map. “I’ll meet you there mid morn, since it’ll take me a bit to get my instruments.” Bob blanched. Wait a minute, he thought, as he watched the circle being drawn. That’s the area where the pool is. Clearing his throat, he spoke up. “I’m sorry but I couldn’t help noticing the area you’re marking on that map. My name’s Bob and I’ve been hired to look over that exact same area for the mineral rights, which I’m in the process of purchasing.” The young man turned around and looked at him with steely eyes. “I don’t know who you are, but I believe this is my land. I’m hiring this gent to survey it properly ‘cause there’s some questions about it right now.” “Who are you?” Bob asked, shocked. “Stephen. My sister, Amy, owns all of this land that’s circled, plus some. We’ve been having some problems with a local rancher trying to take something that’s not his, unless I miss my guess.” “This rancher, he wouldn’t by any chance be named Grant, would he?” Bob held his breath. “How’d you know?” Stephen’s faced showed confusion. “He’s tried to take our land by force, at least that’s what we think. Some outlaws killed my father and we have a pretty good idea who’s behind hirin’ ‘em. Yesterday morning, my cousin and I were attacked by several men that came to run Amy off. Two weeks ago, someone set a prairie fire that almost killed her and another lady.” Bob was shook up. He had sensed that something was wrong. He had waited for Henry to bring up the matter again, but over the last two days he had kept his mouth shut. Not wanting to broach the subject himself, Bob had stayed quiet. Now he wished he hadn’t.

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Grimly looking at Stephen and the man behind the desk, Bob said, “We need to sit down and talk. I’m employed by the railroad as a mineral rights investigator and water rights obtainer. I was sent a letter by Leo Grant close to six months ago asking me to come out and look at some oil he had found on his ranch. He added the fact that there was water aplenty for the steam engines, although they are on their way out, shortly.” Bob continued, “Sir, I would be happy to sit a spell and talk with you. Right now there’s trouble out that way and I’ll be hanged if I know exactly why!” “But I think you just cleared up the matter for us,” Stephen said. Walking over to a small chair, he sat down. “All this killing and running my family out is over oil and water.” “Son,” Bob said softly, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I do know something about this situation didn’t add up the first time I met Leo. His servant, Henry, asked me to take a long look at things before I bought the property rights. Now I understand what he was talking about.” Bob went to the door, opened it, and motioned to Henry. “I’d like you to meet someone who seems to have a decent head on his shoulders, Stephen.” Turning as Henry came in the door, he introduced them. “Henry, this is Stephen…what did you say your last name was?” “I didn’t, but it’s Daulton. My mother was a Daulton and with the family we had, I figured I would like to keep my mother’s name. My stepfather’s name was Baggin. Amy Baggin owns the ranch now since Pa was killed a few months back.” Stephen stood and walked over, shaking Henry’s hand firmly. Henry appraised him as he took the offered hand. So this was one of the Daultons. He had heard much talk about the Daulton clan, most of it good. They were not people to mess with but were fair and honest. Now he was happy that he had made the decision many weeks ago to send out his letter while waiting for Sam at the bar in Prescott.

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“Heard your family were lawmen,” he said. “I sent out a letter to Marshal Trimble down in Tucson awhile back. Did he send you up here?” A confused look crossed Stephen’s face. “We came up after getting a letter from Ed. Ed’s older brother, Jim, never said anything about a second letter.” “Don’t matter much. You’re here.” Henry slowly stroked his chin. “I’d hoped the Marshal would have sent someone up. This here is turning into a bloodbath. The other day we had one of Leo’s hired hands come to the house shot up. You know anything about that?” Stephen’s faced betrayed his shock at the confirmation. He had been hoping all along that it was someone besides Leo involved in this. Looking back now he realized he had always been afraid of Leo as a kid and didn’t want to tackle anything associated with him. Now his fears were being confirmed. As a young man, Stephen felt Leo had a presence that beheld a quiet strength, yet a deep anger that had no limits. Always cautious around him, Stephen had avoided running into Leo any chance he got. Many a morn, when he had to ride into town, he’d skirted Leo’s land so he wouldn’t take the chance of seeing Leo or his men. Everyone has an adult that they were deathly afraid of as a child and Stephen’s demon was Leo. As he grew older, he would not make the trip into town on Saturdays because he knew Leo would be there. He always made an excuse to stay home or run off fishing, or whatever he could think of, to get out of being dragged to the dances. “So, that man worked for Leo?” Stephen said still shocked. “Yup. He and two other of Leo’s men went out a couple of mornings ago. Only one came back. He said they were ambushed by the Baggin girl’s family.”

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“That’s a lie!” Stephen’s face became hard. “They rode up to the ranch demanding to see Amy. They were surprised we were there. I came up with two other family members and we took ‘em after they drew down on us. My older brother Jerry got himself shot in the fracas. We sent that one back with a new respect for ladies.” Stephen was upset. He’d had an idea these men were involved and now it was confirmed. Just as he was ready to ask Henry another question, Henry spoke up. “You said you come in with three of you?” Nodding, Stephen waited, and then realized what he had done. He had told too much information out of anger. Tony’s association with Amy was supposed to be unknown. “Thought so. This feller, he wouldn’t be a short little guy with blonde hair, now would he?” Henry asked. Stephen’s face fell. He had probably just gotten Tony killed with his big mouth. He didn’t answer but Henry’s next words calmed him. “Your secret’s safe with me, Steve. I’m not a hired gun for Leo. I’m working off a debt I owe him, but I think I’ll just figure out a way to pay him instead. I never liked working there and I’ve seen enough in the last few months to bury him. If you need my help, you got it.” Henry looked to Bob, who had been standing quietly the entire time and asked, “What’s your position? Now you have an idea of what I was trying to tell you without having to come right out and say it. This way I’m not known as a snitch.” Bob breathed out heavily. “First thing we need to do is establish the proper boundaries of the land. If you,” he said, looking at Stephen, “have a question as to ownership, we might have a problem. I need to know who owns that land, and then we’ll talk.” Turning to the surveyor who had been standing behind the counter taking in the conversation without comment, Bob said, “I’ll pick up your fee for your work. If it’s found to be on Leo’s

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land, I’m backing out. We don’t deal with murderers and such. However,” turning back to Stephen, “if it is on your land, we’ll talk. “It’s a lot of oil and I’m interested in buying it for a fair price. Now the second question is…” taking a breath, he continued. “Who owns the water rights? That’s also an area I’m interested in. I think you should have all the land surveyed so there are no problems in the future.” With that, Bob and Henry walked to the door. “I’ll be in touch. I suggest you get the law involved and have them speak to Henry after we find out about the area. That way, we’ve got more information to take to the Sheriff.” The door opened and they were gone. Stephen shook his head; so much had happened in such a short time, he was having a hard time working it all out in his head. He looked at the clerk. “See you in the morning,” he said faintly.

***

The crew pushed through the thick red sand all day without seeing any watering holes. It had been over three days since they last had water and the men and cattle were dying of thirst. Walks Tall took his warriors out ahead to scout the land. This was Navajo country, which meant they were in enemy territory. Carefully watching the horizon ahead, they spotted only large clumps of red stone formations rising against the bright blue sky. Treeless mountains rolled along the plains creating obstacles that kept the wind from blowing away the land. If a dust storm appeared, the men knew they would be at risk for dying. All landmarks would be lost and every hand would be hard pressed to take care of himself and his fellow cowboys.

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Behind Walks Tall and his men, Ed rode with the cattle they had left. Over fifty head had died of thirst and other obstacles along the trail. The men were squeezing the last of the water from the canteens. Unable to make coffee because of the lack of water, the crew was irritable, snapping at one another. The loss of the three men only two weeks ago had taken its toll on morale. Without Walks Tall and his braves they would never have gotten this far with only five men to herd several hundred cows. Levitt pulled up along side Ed and spoke, his mouth full of dust and his throat scratchy from lack of water. “Felix is having a rough time, Ed. I don’t think he knows what to do without Carlos. They were left to take care of themselves and their mother when they were five years old. After their mother died they only had each other.” Ed tried to speak, but was unable to. He cleared his throat and tried to spit some of the dust out of his mouth. No moisture came. Looking up at the sun, he figured they had at least ten or fifteen miles to go before the nearest watering hole. He was praying it wasn’t dry. Last time he had ridden this way, many years ago, the water hole had been pointed out to him by a Navajo Indian named Harry Begay. Begay said it sometimes filled up with enough water that a man could live beside it all year round. However, after the drought they’d had the last several years, Ed wasn’t sure there would be anything left. Not having a choice, he pushed on toward that location. Canyon de Chelly lay just ahead of them. They couldn’t see it, but Ed knew from the landmarks that they were close. The lake should at the head of the canyon. Pushing the herd, he suddenly felt the pace of the cattle change. The head bull stopped and sniffed the air. Other cows followed his lead and for a minute the clanging bells ceased. The only sound came from a few

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head still milling around. A soft wind blew the noise of the land across the barren desert to them. In the sudden quiet, the sound seemed deafening. Then, without warning, the bull started running. He had smelled water. The stampede was coming. The horses were pulling at the bits, fighting the restraining hands trying to hold them. “Get out of the way!” Ed yelled, as the herd rushed by him. It did no good. The noise made by the pounding hooves deadened all other sound. Hoping both his and Walks Tall’s men were out of danger he ran his horse to the side of the herd and waited there. The cattle dripped foam from their mouths as they ran. Here and there a cow stumbled and was instantly crushed beneath the sharp hooves of others. Ed and Levitt caught up to the herd several miles later and tried to control their horses. With all the hard riding they had been doing the horses would need to be watched carefully as they drank. Ed signaled to the rest of his crew as he held his own reins tightly. They pulled up and waited for him. “I know I don’t need to tell you boys, but only give your horse a hat-full or two at a time, otherwise they’ll bend up. Everybody keep an eye out for the natives. They probably ain’t gonna like us using their watering hole, so keep your heads up.” Turning to Cookie, he instructed him to set camp near the hole and get a pot of coffee going. The men grinned through dust caked faces, their lips splitting with the effort. Seeing movement to the east, Ed watched as the approaching shapes began to take form. It was Walks Tall and his men. The Indians rode in and pulled up beside Ed. Motioning him to one side Walks Tall expressed his concern about some tracks he had found. “Many ponies come this way. No shoe.” His voice

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was raspy. “Go that way.” Pointing toward Monument Valley, he shook his head. “I no like. Too many ponies for small party. They watch us now, I think.” “Who are they?” Ed asked. “They Navajo. This Navajo land. They fight for water ahead. No good. We watch for them. They come quickly. No take prisoner.” “Have you fought with them before?” Ed wanted to know. “Not me. My father fought them many moons ago. Good fighters. Brave men. We no fight them. We run. It no shame to want to live and fight other day.” Walks Tall and his men were very nervous. He kept scrutinizing the plains. “We not camp here. Water cows, move on. Bad feeling.” Ed was irritable from the long ride already. “We need to camp. My men and the horses are plum wore out. I can’t push them any more. The men need the rest and with the cattle near water, they’ll not be running off anywhere tonight.” The Indian shook his head. “You good man, but make bad plan. They come before sun go down or tomorrow, first sun. Navajo not fight at night. They believe ghost of dead warriors roam night. No want to see them.” “We’ll be ready then. I’ll leave three men on guard at all times.” Ed rode away upset. He had more problems than he cared to admit. He was tired of being on the trail, smelling the stench of the cattle and eating the dust created by the herd. All he wanted was to get some water and coffee, then turn in for the night. He rode up to the hastily pitched camp that Cookie had set up. He climbed down wearily from his horse and led him to the water. Watching as the horse drank greedily it was all he could do to

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pull it away. After waiting a few more minutes, he allowed the horse to drink again. The other men were doing the same with their horses. The smell of coffee filled the air as the men settled down for the night. Shadows grew long in the canyon as the sun dipped below the horizon and the night crept down on them. Explaining to the men the warning Walks Tall’s had given, Ed took the first watch with one of his men and one of the Indians. The others settled in for the night. As soon as the horses had been stripped and rubbed down, the saddles were placed on the ground for pillows. Every man was instantly asleep. Ed sat away from the fire, fighting to keep his eyes open in the darkness. He was aware of the Navajo methods of battle. Walks Tall was right about them not fighting at night. His friend Begay had told him the same thing. However, he wasn’t about to take any chances. A renegade brave needing to build a reputation might defy tradition. He might need to prove himself a man by stealing horses or, worse, scalps. Now, Ed’s job was to stay awake and keep his men safe from any roaming Indians. On the other side of the camp sat one of Walks Tall’s warriors, and near the wagon was Felix. Trying to fight the suddenness of sleep, Ed’s thoughts drifted to Amy. Was she all right? He had no way of knowing if his letter had reached Jim but if it had, he knew without doubt that some of the family would be in Prescott to help Amy. That was the code of the Daulton clan. He hoped that at the very least Tom had been able to protect her from any more attacks. “I should have stayed! I could have sent Levitt for the cattle and stayed to protect Amy myself.” But, even as he thought it, he discarded the idea. They were already down by several

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men and Levitt was young and not as experienced in cattle drives as he was. Still, if there had just been some way he could have stayed…. Somehow, he knew if he got the chance he’d stay by her always. She was a good woman and had a strong spirit. He’d seen that by the way she’d handled herself through all that had happened. Question was, would she accept him? He knew he was more than ten years her senior and had seen some rough range, but age didn’t seem to matter much. Especially not where matters of the heart were involved and he knew his heart was involved all right. It was like the cattle and the thirst they’d suffered. Once they’d smelled water, there was no changing their minds or turning them back. Now that he’d fallen in love with Amy he could sooner turn back the stampede of water crazed cattle than stop his heart from loving her! They had to get back… and soon! Now that they’d entered Arizona again, it was just a matter of a few weeks before they drove the cattle southward. “Just a few weeks, Amy darlin’ and I’ll never leave you alone again!”

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Chapter Twenty-four

Jerry moaned loudly and turned in the bed, pulling the covers tighter around his chin. The movement caused the pain to be even worse than before. He was freezing. Having lain through the night in agony, the pain medicine did little to comfort him. All night he dreamt of being in a cold snow bank from which he could not escape. Pulling the blankets tighter around him did little to warm his chilled body. Every time he moved he thought he would turn to ice. Amy and Doris piled blanket on blanket on top of him but still he failed to get warm. His teeth chattered and body shook, shooting stabs of pain throughout. Amy was concerned. She felt Jerry’s forehead and he felt like he was on fire. The opium had helped with the pain before the fever had set in, but now it seemed useless as he was thrashing about so much. Doris soaked cloths in cool spring water and brought them to Amy to place on Jerry’s head. She tried to put them under his armpits as the doctor had instructed for a fever, but Jerry was too cold to take them and fought her efforts. The doctor had told them if all else failed to break the fever to try increasing the heat so that the body would try to cool itself down. They built up the fire in the stove until the house was as warm as the oven and their clothing stuck to their perspiring bodies. They also tried feeding him hot broth made from the Aloe plants outside seasoned heavily with ground peppers. It should be just a matter of time before his body healed and fought this fever and infection that had set in.

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Jerry had always been a strong man so they believed he would pull through, but when? If this fever kept up they would need to go get the doctor again. Outside, they heard a horse approaching the front of the house. Footsteps sounded, followed by a knock on the door. “Why would Stephen knock?” Doris said, as she went to answer it. Assuming it was Stephen, she opened the door to tell him he didn’t have to knock when she was surprised to see an older gentleman standing there. “May I help you?” she stammered, taken off guard. “Yes, Ma’am. My name is Aspey and I’m a friend of the Daultons down in Tucson. Jim Daulton sent me up here to speak with Amy Baggin.” Doris pointed to Amy sitting on the bed next Jerry in the front room. They’d moved the bed for the warmth next to the fire. “That’s Amy. I’m Doris.” Aspey removed his hat as he entered the room and noticed a pretty, young lady looking at him oddly. Her face was tired, and she seemed worn down. “I’m a lawyer from Tucson here to help you find out what’s causing the problems around here. Your family sent me after Ed Daulton wrote to say you might need some help.” Amy stood up, motioned toward the table, and pulled out a chair. “Tell me what’s happening. I don’t have a clue as to why anyone’s trying to kill us.” She continued on to explain how her father had been killed and how Stephen and Jerry had come to help. Seeing Aspey nodding at her words, she stopped and let him speak. Aspey pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Amy. “I’ve been in Prescott. I got this yesterday from the judge on your behalf. I took the liberty of filing a motion to represent you as

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your attorney and also filed an order of protection for you against Leo Grant and any of his crew. The judge signed it and is having the Sheriff serve it on Leo as we speak. Either this will stop all harassment or it will bring this thing to a head. One way or the other, it’ll get done.” “What happens if Leo disregards the order?” Amy asked, still confused. “He’ll go to jail, plain and simple.” Aspey replied. “But won’t that make things worse without proof of what he’s done? All we have is a good idea he’s the one behind this, but nobody to verify it. None of his crew is around any more and the ones he has are strangers. Stephen said they were probably hired guns!” “Is there any of his original crew left around these parts?” Aspey asked, pulling out a pen and paper. Telling him about the man who had been attacked by a bear, she said his friend might still be around. As Aspey wrote notes, he asked many other questions about the people and the land. “Can you produce a deed for the land? We’ll need it for court.” “It’s in the bank. Pa never did trust things much so he put all our papers there. I went and checked it after he was shot and it’s there, along with the original survey of the ranch,” Amy told him. Over the next several hours, Aspey gathered the information he would need in case this land dispute went to court. He was sure from what he had heard so far that they could win any court battle that came up, but there could always be something that was missed. Going over his notes, he could see nothing else he needed to know. “I’m going to be poking around town for awhile. If you think of anything else, write it down and I’ll check back with you in a couple of days.” As he was walking to the door, he suddenly stopped and turned to her.

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“I forgot. I never asked you if you were willing to have me represent you. I’m sorry. I took it for granted that you wanted me to, but, in my haste, I forgot to ask.” Amy looked dismayed. “Of course I need you, but I also forgot my manners. You’ve been here for hours and I never offered you coffee or lunch. May I please make it up to you now?” With that, she set about preparing lunch. Doris had been sitting quietly the entire time, bathing Jerry’s face in cold cloths. She gasped and turned red. “Why, that was my fault Amy. You were so interested in getting stuff off your chest you had a reason for forgetting. I didn’t.” Aspey turned around and walked back to the table. Now that he thought about it, he was hungry. Pulling out a chair, he sat back down and was shortly served a filling meal.

***

Stephen pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office and went inside. Tom was sitting behind a wooden desk that had seen better days, with his feet propped up on the top. His hat was pulled down low as he read a letter he held in his hands. “Hey. What can I do you for?” he asked, getting up “Name is Stephen Daulton. My brother, Jim, and I, along with a few of my family members, are lawmen down Tucson way. We wanted to pay you a professional courtesy call when we rode in a day or so ago, but so much has happened, we’ve been unable to until now.” Tom had a look of bewilderment on his face. Then, as if the thought suddenly struck him, he exclaimed, “Oh, you’re related to Amy Baggin and her family. Stephen. That’s right. I remember Amy telling me after the fire that she had a brother who was a lawman.”

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Stephen grinned and sat down. He began by filling Tom in on the happenings over the last couple of days such as finding the oil and the shooting; he then turned the subject to his witness. Tom sat quietly listening without interrupting until Stephen was done. Then, shaking his head, he spoke. “I knew it was Leo and his boys all along. I just didn’t have any proof to go on. Will this Henry testify in court if it comes to that?” Stephen nodded his head. “Yep. Better yet, he’s quitting Leo today and coming to work for us at the ranch. We sent my little brother, Tony, to work at Leo’s place under cover. Now we can get him out without any danger.” Tom looked at the piece of paper he had been reading when Stephen came in. “Funny you brought this up now. You got someone on your side here. I just received this notice to cease harassment from the judge that I need to serve on Leo.” “What notice?” Stephen was suddenly wary. “We didn’t do anything yet and Amy said she wasn’t going to do anything until we told her to.” “This wasn’t Amy that filed this. Some guy named Aspey, an attorney from Tucson, filed it yesterday and it was delivered this morning. Seems he’s counsel of record for one Miss Amy Baggin.” Stephen’s face lit up. “Why, that old skunk. He’s an old family friend from back east that we worked with a long time ago. He followed us out here when we all moved and has his own little business down there in Tucson. Jim must have told him about the problems up here for him to be doin’ that this quick.” Grinning even wider, he looked at Tom and said, “I wouldn’t want to be Leo Grant right now. If Aspey’s on his tail, he ain’t safe anywhere.”

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Tom walked to the door and hollered for Donald and Matt, his two deputies, to mount up. As he waited, he turned back to Stephen with a worried look. “You know, there could be a passel of trouble once Leo gets this. I’m ridin’ out with both my boys just in case he gets jumpy with that sidearm. If he thinks he’s already lost what he’s after, he might go all out finishing up what he started. You all need to be extra cautious after today.” “Want me to come with you?” Stephen volunteered. “Be the wrong thing to do, I think. Could push him over the edge seein’ you,” Tom replied. He saw the grin on Stephen’s face, he said, “Oh, I see. Well, you can’t push him. If he violates the order, he’ll find himself visiting the iron bar hotel, but the same goes for you all. Don’t push him. He’s a dangerous man and he’s proven he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants.” Stephen’s smile faded and was replaced by a grim look. “I don’t mind,” he said hopefully. Tom just shook his head and walked out. Finding the deputies waiting for him, they mounted up and headed for the Bar 7 ranch. Stephen stayed behind and wrote out a telegram to Jim back in Tucson. Explaining the events that had taken place, he wrote that he felt a show of force might keep Leo and his crew in their place. After all, they still didn’t know how many people he had working for him. Somebody was helping him, and they needed to find out who. He strolled down to the telegraph office and watched as the clerk carefully sent the letter out by wire.

***

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After the Navajo were freed from Bosque Redondo, they returned to their homeland a destitute and impoverished people. The U.S. Government “gave” them a small portion of their former habitat in the form of a reservation. They had to start all over again to struggle to make a living. Their homes and livestock were gone. The government was slow in providing the seed, tools, and livestock promised. Some of the Navajo leaders took matters into their own hands; in a battle for survival, some returned to the old ways of raiding. Only now they didn’t need to raid into New Mexico. More and more settlers where coming into “their territory” and headmen such as Black Horse and Tayoonih (Squeezer) saw this as a way to quickly feed their people.

***

Word traveled through the Navajo nation about a great herd of cattle coming through with only a few men to guard them. Deer, elk, and bear had been scarce and many babies cried from hunger. Black Horse and Squeezer called together their bands of raiders. As quartermaster in charge of rations at Ft. Defiance Nathaniel Daulton had been more than fair and had tried to treat them right, but he simply didn’t receive enough from the government to feed the people. He was not surprised whenever the Navajo went on a raid. Hearing of the raid from Harry Begay when he came to the fort, he set out to warn Ed. He’d gotten the telegram from his brother telling him of the cattle drive and now he figured it could only be him pushing a herd through the reservation this late in the year. Riding hard throughout the night he spotted the flickering glow of the fire against the dark horizon about an hour before sunup.

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He slowed his horse and walked it the last couple of miles, letting the horse rest and catch his breath after the hard ride. Upon nearing the camp, he tried to make some noise to keep from spooking the herders, but the sounds of the cattle milling around covered his approach. Just when he began to think no one was in camp, he felt a presence nearby. Stopping his horse so suddenly that it shied, he felt the hair on the back of his neck raise. “Just stay right where you are, mister,” a voice softly called out from the dark recesses of the camp. “You got him?” Another voice called out from the far side, and then a third answered from directly behind him. “Yep. He moves, he’s dead.” Nathaniel slowly raised his hands. He was mentally kicking himself. Instead of riding up on a camp and surprising them, he had been surprised and surrounded without hearing a sound. This was no greenhorn camp and he should have known Ed would be wary. Hearing the click of a hammer, Nathaniel quickly spoke up. “My name’s Nathaniel Daulton. I am the agent in charge of procurement for the Navajo Nation. I’ve got it on good information your herd’s about to be attacked by a roving band of renegades from the tribe.” “Nathaniel? Not the Nat that lived down Prescott way with the Baggin family, is it?” The voice was faintly familiar. Nodding his head yes, then realizing he could not be seen, Nathaniel spoke up. “It’s me in the flesh. Ed? Would that be you?” A shadow stepped out from behind the rocks. It was a tall lanky figure, which the rapidly growing dawn outlined against the sky. “Yep, it’s me. We met many years ago.”

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Nathaniel laughed outright and visibly relaxed. He was with family he hadn’t seen in years in the middle of the desert with an Indian attack about to happen, and he felt downright giddy. “Could do with some of that there coffee I’m smelling, Ed,” Nathaniel growled to cover his chagrin. “Come on in and have a seat. Tell me about this attack.” Ed walked back to the camp, leading the little party. Nathaniel looked around him and saw two other white men loaded with some serious firepower and two Indian warriors dressed in breechcloth pants with buckskin shirts, carrying older rifles. The glow of the fire was comforting, but Nathaniel also felt exposed. He knew the warriors would attack quickly, but right now he needed some of the coffee to quench his thirst and get his brain kick started. Inhaling a full cup, burning his lips and throat, he shook his head and turned to Ed, who waited patiently nearby. “They’re coming soon, Ed. I don’t know if you remember Henry Begay, but he warned me the boys led by Black Horse and Squeezer were planning on taking this here herd.” “When?” Ed’s reply was curt and short. Glancing at the tinges of daylight peeking out from the far landscape, Nathaniel nodded and said, “Now.” Ed turned to Walks Tall and the crew gathered around. The group numbered five white men and five Indians. It made a poor defense for the coming attack. “Leave the cattle if you have too,” Ed ordered. “We’ll round them up afterward. We need to protect ourselves, first and foremost.”

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The Indians disappeared as if they were ghosts and Tim, Cookie, and Felix went together to the far side of the wagon. Pushing it over, they crouched behind it, throwing up a barrier of logs from the fire on the exposed side for some added protection. Ed, Levitt, and Nathaniel made their way to a small outcropping of rocks near the springs and checked their ammunition. Slipping cartridges from his belt loops, Ed laid them on the ground in front of him for quick access. Beside him, Levitt pulled out the Henry Repeater with several boxes of ammunition. Laying them beside him, he looked over at Ed and grinned. “Hope you don’t mind me grabbin’ your gun. Always wanted to shoot it, and since you left it behind, I figured you wouldn’t mind. You seem to have taken a liking for that there rifle,” pointing at the one Ed held in his hands. Nathaniel pulled his Colt revolving shotgun from beside him and loaded each chamber with fresh rounds. Riding as he had all night, he didn’t want to risk any sand blocking the primers of the old shells, so he replaced them with fresh ones from his coat pockets. “Kinda weird way to see you again, Ed,” he smiled grimly. Hope we make it through this to talk a bit. How’s the family doing, or have you seen them?” Ed looked shocked. “You never got the letter Amy set you?” It was Nathaniel’s turn to have a confused look on his face. “What letter? I been around the post and ain’t got nothin’. Speaking of, how do you know Amy, anyway?” Ed shook his head as he looked at Levitt, then back at Nathaniel. “Nate, there’s been a lot going on the last few months. I’ve been gone for three months, but before that there was a problem back down at the ranch.”

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“Yeah, Stephen is there now. He sent a telegram from Prescott. That’s how I knew it was you coming through with this herd. But he didn’t say how it all started or how you came into the picture,” he said with an obvious question in his voice. Just when Ed started to tell the story, they heard a yell. “Here they come!” They saw shapes riding toward the cattle; the ground swelled with numerous forms – some riding, others running. The first shot rang out through the dawn and a brave clutched his leg and rolled to the ground. All around them guns were blazing as the men fought off the first wave. A shot sent splinters flying from the face of the rock near Levitt’s head and struck him on the chin. Bleeding heavily from the deep gash, Levitt wiped the blood away and sighted on the brave that had fired the shot. The Henry responded with a roar and the brave flipped up and over, falling heavily. Beside him, two Indians threw their bodies behind his still form and opened fire on the three men. On the other side of the camp, sporadic gunfire indicated the position of Walks Tall and his men. They took the brunt of the force because they were straight in the path of the charging warriors. Nathaniel saw several braves rushing their position in the rocks. He aimed the shotgun and pulled the trigger. The blast caught all three, throwing their bodies in the air and sending them spinning back down the slope they had just come up. Seeing three of their own blown away with one shot the Indians stepped back and abandoned their attempts to get to the men. Behind the chuck wagon, Tim was rapidly firing at the figures creeping across the ground, plowing up dirt in their eyes as his shots crept ever closer. Cookie was shooting his Hawkin Rifle, accurate at over 200 yards. The warriors paid dearly for their attempts to get at the men near the wagon. Falling back, the attack stopped as quickly as it had begun.

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The men took stock of the ammunition remaining and checked each other for wounds. Seeing that all was okay, with the exception of Levitt’s chin wound, the men took a long pull from their canteens and waited. Walks Tall strolled among his braves and patted each one on the shoulder. “Great Spirit looks down on us today,” he said. Not one of his braves had been hit, even though they had suffered the worst of the attack. Hearing Ed yell, Walks Tall crept up the small knoll he was on and waved his rifle. “Nathaniel said this was just the small group sent out to test our defenses. The larger party is still waiting for us.” Back at the wagon, the men’s faces fell. How could they weather another attack and get as lucky as they had with the first one? Around the plains the gathering sunlight showed the bodies of the Navajo warriors who had not been so lucky. “Reload, regroup,” came the order from Ed’s position. “If that was just a small party, boys, we’ll be lucky to get out of here alive, so take as many as you can. The Navajo are superstitious and may pull out if they lose too many more.” Nathaniel looked at Ed and shook his head. “Not this group, Ed. They’re hungry for beef and revenge. They need those cattle for the coming winter and they want to make a statement against the settlers.” “We’ll be lucky to get out alive. I think if comes down to it you should leave them the cattle. They may let us walk out of here with the hair on our heads.” “I can’t, Nat,” Ed replied with a worried look. “Everything we have is invested in this herd. If I don’t make it back, the ranch folds.” “We? Since when have you got a stake in the ranch, Ed?” Nathaniel was looking from him to Levitt with a questioning look. Levitt just grinned and turned his face away.

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“Well, you might say I’ve got an interest.” Nathaniel shook his head, confused – then it hit him. Seeing the grin on Levitt’s face grow even larger, he asked, “Why Ed. Are you and Amy…ah…you know, figuring on gettin’ hitched?” “I didn’t say it was that kind of interest, but if you must know…” Ed growled staring at Levitt with a look that could kill. “What are you smilin’ about?” “Nothin’, nothin’ at all. Just thinkin’ of what those kids of yours are gonna look like.” Levitt suddenly burst out laughing and Nathaniel joined in. Ed blustered to cover his own uncertainty. He just wasn’t sure if Amy returned his feelings. Then he got to thinking about what Levitt had said about kids and it struck him as funny too. He began to chuckle and then laughed outright. It felt good to be able to laugh despite the danger they were facing. For all they knew, this would be the last time they were able to in a long time, or ever. Soon peals of laughter rang out from the out-cropping of rocks they were in. The other two groups of men looked at one another, wondering what was so funny on such a serious morning. The laugher caught hold and the hills echoed the sounds of men laughing in the face of death, as their bodies released the pent up tension.

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Chapter Twenty-five

Paul Boto lay in the bed at Leo’s ranch, fighting the pain in his left leg. He had lied to Leo about the shooting and had placed the blame entirely on the Baggin outfit. Leo was spitting mad. He had waited all day for Henry to come back from helping Bob and it was growing dark, yet he still had not shown up. Doug was called to the main house before sundown and given orders. Find a doctor and bring him out and round up Henry. He rode out just as the sun setting over the Bradshaws began creating long winter shadows along his path. Doug arrived in Prescott a little before midnight and pounded on the door of Doc Hatler’s office until he heard movement inside. The latch rattled and the door slowly swung open, showing Doc’s tired face on the other side. “Sorry to wake you, Doc. Leo needs you down at the ranch. He’s got a hand that’s been shot and infection setting in.” “You people. Don’t you ever do anything but shoot each other?” Doc grumbled. “I came out here to get some rest and relaxation from this type of fighting, but it seems I just should have opened up a hospital for you jarheads.” Gathering his black bag and checking on Joe before he left, he said, “I need to go get Slim down at the hotel to come over and sit a spell while I’m gone. Doc Steson is out at the Goad place helping deliver their new baby. I don’t want to leave Joe here alone. He should be up and around within the next day or so, but I would feel better with someone else here.” “I’ll run over and get Slim,” Doug volunteered. “I need to see him anyway”

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Leaving Doc to do his thing, Doug strolled over toward the hotel to find Slim. The night was cool, with a slight breeze blowing up from the south. His footsteps echoed loudly on the empty boardwalk. In the distance, a dog barked at some unseen object. The barking was answered by the howl of a coyote out on the plains. Dry leaves blew in front of Doug as he walked, and he was reminded of a Halloween poem he had heard about: “When the dry leaves blow across the sky, it is the night of the witches to take off and fly.” He shivered and pulled his coat tighter around him. The stillness of the night seemed to press on him and he walked more quickly. He was not known as a superstitious man, but he also knew the Indians placed a lot of belief in ghosts and legends of the dead. On a night like this, he could see why. Readjusting the pistol on his side, he realized what he was doing. He laughed quietly, feeling stupid. He was spooked. What good would a gun do against a ghost? He arrived at the lobby of the hotel and went inside. The lone clerk was reading a week old newspaper, The Arizona Miner, and was trying to stifle a yawn. Seeing him approach this late at night raised his alarm level and he slowly felt for the sawed off shotgun beneath the counter. Feeling its comforting presence, the clerk watched as Doug waved and continued up the steps. He looked like he knew where he was going and what he was doing so the clerk relaxed, sat back, and resumed reading his paper. Mounting the steps two at a time, Doug came to Slim’s room and knocked softly. “Yeah?” a sleepy voice called out. “Slim, it’s me, Doug. Open up. Doc’s gotta run down to Leo’s and he needs you down at the office.”

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The door opened and Slim stood there with a bedraggled shirt and pair of suspenders straining to hold up his trousers. Motioning Doug inside, he stepped back from the door. Throwing water on his face, he mopped it off with a towel hanging nearby and quickly pulled on a fresh shirt while listening to Doug’s explanation. Swinging a gun belt around his thick waist, he buckled it and nodded, “Lets go.” As the men walked back toward the doctor’s office, Doug explained to Slim about the miner he had hired to work the area around Lynx Creek for gold. “His name is Lou. I think we just might find ourselves rich men when he’s done,” Doug finished up. “Hope you don’t mind I did it. You weren’t around and this man wasn’t doin’ much else.” “How do you know you can trust him?” Slim wanted to know. “Call it a feeling. I shook hands on the bargain so that seals it. Just so’s you know, you, Joe, and I are the owners of the company the man’s settin’ up for us. Figured Joe wouldn’t be in much shape to help do much and Leo ain’t about to pay him to sit around, so he needs some cash money. I think this man will get it for us.” “I want to meet him as soon as we can.” Slim replied. “I trust you, but this here could be a lot of gold we’re talkin’ about.” They reached the door of the medical office and strolled in to find Doc Hatler gearing up for his ride. “Glad you came,” he said looking at Slim. “Chances are, he’ll be up and around in the next few days, but I don’t want him moving a whole lot until all those stitches heal.”

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With that, he nodded and went out the door. Walking over to Joe, who was now awake, the men pulled up a chair and told him about their new mining business. Joe took it all in slowly, and then turned to Doug. “I still can’t figure you out,” he said through clenched teeth. His jaw was stiff from the scars. Who are you, really?” Slim looked at Doug, waiting expectantly. He had been wondering the same thing since that day when Joe had gotten attacked by the bear. Doug had shrugged off their questions. “One day I’ll tell you, boys. Until then, you just have to trust me. I’m not some outlaw running from the law or anything like that. I just can’t talk about myself yet. Soon, I promise.” Doug shifted back in his seat and looked at them with a look that said, “Please, no more questions right now.” Taking the hint, the men dropped the subject and spoke of the mining claim and the money they could make. Doug’s heart was pounding heavily in his chest. “That was close, too close,” he thought. Getting up, Doug shook Slim’s hand, then Joe’s. “I got to get back ‘fore Leo gets a burr under his saddle. Doc said you’d be outta here in the next couple of days. I’ll see you back at the ranch.” As he walked to the door, Slim called out, “Hold up a second.” Doug turned, waiting expectantly with his eyebrows raised. Slim walked over and, taking Doug by the shoulder, he led him back to Joe’s side. “Listen, I know everyone has a secret or two to hide. We don’t even know if Doug’s your real name, but…” Rubbing his fingers in his hair, he looked embarrassed. “What I’m trying to say is if yore

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hidin’ here for somethin’ or from someone, we’re your friends. You’ve been good to us and shown us you’re a good guy. We don’t care what you did before.” “Joe and I have talked about it and figure you must have done somethin’ bad to be hidin’ yourself like you are, but you’re our friend. We want to help, no matter what it is you’ve done. You always got us to count on and be there for you if you need it. That’s all I’m tryin’ to say.” He sat down, red in the face. “Why, Slim, I think you’re embarrassed to show you like someone,” Doug kidded. “Seriously, it’s nothing like that, but soon I’ll be free to talk to you. Rest your mind – I ain’t wanted nowhere and I ain’t runnin’ from nothing. You’ll understand more in a short time, I hope.” “Thank you.” Doug shook their hands and walked out, his heart skipping. He had found two friends. If he could just be honest with them he would seal the friendship. Heck, he might even move up this way once he was done with…he stopped his thoughts, mounted his horse and rode away into the night.

***

The next attack came within the hour. The early morning sun had shone its way through the peaks of the canyons, glaring in the drovers’ eyes. The Indians had planned this perfectly. With the sunlight directly facing the men and the sun behind the Indians the cowboys would be blinded by the glare and unable to see much of the approaching attack. Trying to shade his eyes against the glare gave Ed a headache. He pulled his hat down low and squinted, trying to make out shapes. All he saw was dancing; dark dots flitting in front of his vision.

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“We can’t see them like this,” he said. “We gotta move somewhere else.” The men grabbed the rifles and extra ammunition and tried to find a less direct approach; one that moved them away from the streaming sunlight. Making their way around a group of small boulders, they found a slight rock overhang to shield them from the direct glare. As they waited they listened to the sounds of desert life beginning to stir, bringing in a new day. Wrens flew close by, and then darted away. Large red ants climbed out of their hills and skidded down the steep sides. A Gila Monster baked himself in the sun, heating his cooled body. A fly flew in front of Levitt’s face, bothering the air around him. Angrily, he swatted it away, and the movement caught the attention of something out there. An arrow flew, striking just above his head. Throwing himself on the ground, he gasped, “Where did that come from? I don’t see anything.” Nathaniel snapped a shot at a shadow, hitting nothing, but letting the Indians know they were watching. Suddenly, a barrage of shots hit near the chuck wagon and the men scrambled for extra cover behind the logs they had pulled nearer. With a rush, the Navajo braves came over the ridge, riding hard and firing from horseback. There were over a hundred braves whooping and hollering at the top of their lungs. Walks Tall and his men brought down several with a volley that caused the attack to break off from their position and head straight toward the three men under the overhang. Beside him Ed heard the Henry booming and felt the concussion shots of Nathaniel’s scattergun. Several braves were knocked off their horses, and then Ed heard Nathaniel grunt. Whipping around, he saw the end of an arrow sticking out of Nathaniel’s right leg. Seeing the look of determination on Nathaniel’s face he turned back to the charging warriors and let lose with his Winchester. One shot took out two braves.

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Levitt’s shots were well aimed and took their toll. The attack broke off and the Indians headed toward the cattle. Snapping off shots, Cookie knocked several more off the backs of their horses. Then, they were riding among the cattle. Trying to pick them off in the midst of the herd, Cookie deliberately took his time shooting. The range of the gun wore down the threat level, but little could be done to stop the herd from being taken. As the men fired desperately, the herd and band of Indians slowly disappeared over a knoll of earth and were gone. Ed checked for injuries besides that of Nathaniel. Against all odds, they had escaped with minor cuts caused by flying debris. Walking around the scattered camp items, Ed counted over twenty Navajo lying on the ground. They had inflicted heavy damage on the Indians; yet they themselves had suffered hardly a scratch. As the other men slowly drifted in Ed sat down and tried to think. Everything he had was gone. He owed the men money he could not pay, and had no cattle for the ranch. It had all been taken away in one short morning. Three men lay buried along the trail; and for what? Nothing now. How was he going to handle all the problems he faced now? He had nothing! How could he face Amy? She had counted on him and he’d let her down. Without the cattle she’d lose the ranch to the bank where it was heavily mortgaged. He felt utter despair and frustration. Cookie saw to Nathaniel’s wound, cleaning the edges with whiskey. The arrow had gone straight through the fleshy part of his thigh and exited out the other side so it was not hard to remove. The men strolled toward Ed as he sat on the ground bandaging a flesh wound.

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As the men gathered around the camp Walks Tall approached him and sat down beside him. He said nothing, knowing right then was not the time. Cookie went around picking up supplies scattered by the attack. Tim and Felix reloaded all rifles, pistols, and cartridge pouches the men carried. Nathaniel and Levitt stood looking over the mess. The milling cattle had run off two of their horses. The sun was high in the sky by the time Ed made his decision. “We need to load up what we can and head home, boys. I’ll figure out a way to pay you for the ride if you give me a little time when we get back.” Levitt looked around him at the other men, and then spoke, “I ain’t needin’ any money, Ed. We’ll figure somethin’ out down at the ranch. I took a gamble when I signed up to bring this here herd home and it didn’t work out. I lost. I ain’t takin’ any money from you anyhow.” Cookie looked up and grinned. “I never had much store for money. This is the best trail crew I’ve ever ridden with and they liked my cookin’. That’s all that counts. I’d like to stay on with the outfit and cook for your ranch, Ed. As long as I have my pots and pans, along with some grub, I’m a happy man.” The others joined in the chorus of agreement. Felix walked over to Ed and grabbed his hand. “You treated me and Carlos right. We never were much to people, but with you, we felt like we had a family. Think I’m gonna desert you now?” “I got a nice spread back in Prescott, but without Carlos to help run it, it don’t do me any good. I’d like to sell it and reinvest the money. We can go get us another herd of cattle and bring them back.”

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Tim shook his head. “You think I’m giving up that property Rob gave me? Not a chance. This here’s the first time I ever had anything to call my own and I want to work it with you. I’m in for the long haul.” Walks Tall smiled widely. “Good friends. Good man deserve good friends.” Taking a small bag from the buckskin pouch he carried around his waist, he opened it and took Ed’s hand, opening it up. Pouring out the contents of the bag, Ed gasped in surprise as his hand was filled with gold flakes and nuggets the size of rabbit droppings. “Plenty more for Walks Tall. You take, feed men at ranch. Come see me more. I show you shiny metal. Plenty in river. Use for health.” “You drink this?” Ed asked incredulously. “Good for body. Build strong bones.” Walks Tall flexed his arms. “Big muscle. Medicine man say good for people. Much more where that comes from.” “Where?” Ed stammered. “My home,” Walks Tall pointed to the distant Rocky Mountains that were a purple haze against the bright blue sky. “I go to my people. You come soon. See my father. Wear always.” Pointing at the necklace around Ed’s neck, “Keep you safe.” Getting up, he gathered his five braves and prepared to leave. Ed walked to the chuck wagon, which had been righted. Rummaging through it, he pulled out extra boxes of ammunition he had bought in Wyoming for the pistol he had given to Walks Tall many weeks before. He also found an extra gun, a little powder box that he grabbed with the small cartridges, and handed them over. “Got these for you up north. Figured you could use them this winter when the snow gets high.”

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Walks Tall gripped Ed’s hand firmly as Ed had showed him months earlier. “You come back. We look for shiny metal.” He then mounted his horse and rode away without looking back. Ed felt loneliness and despair well up inside. He was going to miss his new friends. Without them, they all would surely have been killed. Heading south toward Window Rock, the Navajo agents base, the men moved out slowly, walking the horses to keep from hurting Nathaniel’s leg too much. As they rode through the hot desert sun, Ed tried to figure out what to do next. It was bittersweet. He knew he’d soon be seeing Amy again but he’d have to face her with his failure. How would she take it? Would she be disappointed in him? Or would she prove to be the kind of woman he sensed she was? That remained to be seen and it was just a matter of a week’s ride and he’d know.

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Chapter Twenty-six

Aspey went to the Bar 7 ranch, trailing behind Tom and two of his deputies. He wanted to see Leo’s reaction when he received the order of protection he had filed. As they rode into the yard, they were met by Henry who was loading a saddlebag and canvas bag on an old mare. “He ain’t in a good mood right now,” Henry offered. “I just quit him.” “How’d you buy your way out?” asked Deputy Donald. “Stephen and Bob came up with the money to pay him off. I only had one more year to go, so it wasn’t too much. I’m workin’ for the Baggin outfit and told him outright what I was doin’. I thought he’d kill me right there on the spot, but Paul’s lying in there shot up and I figure he didn’t want any witnesses.” Tom spoke for the first time. “Getting’ out of here before he changes his mind, huh?” As he dismounted and started toward the front door, he turned back to Henry. “You did get a paper releasing you from your commitment, didn’t you?” Henry nodded as he pulled out an old piece of faded paper with yellowed edges. “This is my diary which I kept over the last few years to keep track of the time so I didn’t get ripped off. He signed it on the bottom. I don’t think he’s a bad man, just a greedy man. He was fine until the boys found that oil a while ago. Since then, he hasn’t been the same. You might want to keep an eye out for the boys in the bunkhouse. There are three of them that’ve been sitting there for days now as if they’re waiting for something. They’re not cowpokes; that’s for sure. Good luck.”

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Climbing aboard his old mare, he rode away without looking back. He was disgusted with himself. He had been working for Leo for five years and all he had to show was two bags of personal items, a little bit of cash money, and the clothes on his back. He didn’t even know half the men who’d come and gone in the last year. The only two he had gotten along with, Slim and Joe, had been moved away from the main house after the oil find. They were the only friends he’d had. As he hit the tree line he pulled up and swung his horse around. Staying in the midmorning shadows, he watched the men approach the house and knock. Leo came to the door and said something Henry couldn’t hear as he opened it. He watched Tom hand Leo a paper. Leo’s face got angry and he yelled at Tom. Tom then turned and pointed to Aspey who stepped forward, bowed deeply, and offered his hand. Leo glared at him, reread the paper, and slammed the door shut in their faces. Shrugging his shoulders, Tom and the men walked back to their horses, keeping a backward view on the house. Shaking his head, Aspey rode next to Tom as they left the yard. Surprised to see Henry sitting in the tree line, they were even more surprised to see his Winchester in his hands. “Figured I’d just watch your backs,” Henry said, still holding the rifle facing the ranch. “There is going to be heck to pay now!” Tom nodded his thanks and led his posse back to town, wondering what Leo’s next move would be.

***

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Slim sat up and stretched his arms above his head. He’d had a bad night sitting there waiting for Doc Hatler to come back. Joe had slept like a baby. He was still asleep, wrapped up against the morning chill. Moving about the office, Slim prepared a pot of coffee and stoked the fire to life, adding kindling as he waited for the coffee to brew. He watched as the flames hungrily ate away at the fresh fuel and then heard Joe moving around. Turning, he saw Joe rise and start to stretch out, only to drop back on the bed, his face twisted in pain. “Ready to go back to the ranch yet?” Slim asked. “More than. I need to get outside and get some sun,” Joe replied, looking at his pale, milkywhite skin. “I look like a greenhorn that works inside all day.” Stopping, he grinned painfully, “What did you do with the bear? Did you kill it?” “It’s hangin’ on one of the fence posts outside Robert’s store, dryin’. I skinned it out and am lettin’ it dry and stretch. Figured you would want the souvenir after your ordeal. You should see the thing. It took half a dozen shots between Doug and me to bring it down. Tom said it was the biggest she-bear he’s ever seen around these parts.” “Well let’s go see it then,” Joe remarked. “I want to see the thing that ‘bout killed me.” Slim helped Joe to his feet and steadied him while he fought the vertigo that overwhelmed him. He started to help Joe with his pants but Joe, embarrassed, waved him away. “I ain’t an old lady, Slim.” “Sorry, Joe. You just looked a mite peeked yet.” Walking slowly out the door, the men strolled up the street, not without difficulty on Joe’s part. Feeling the blood reaching long unused muscles, Joe loosened as he walked. By the time they arrived in front of Robert’s taxidermy office he was feeling stronger.

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The two men saw a large black shape hanging from the rafters in the rear of the yard and shook their heads in amazement. “Can’t believe I survived that thing.” Joe’s face was white. The bearskin was over seven feet long from tip to tip. Tufts of fur were missing from the areas the bear had torn them out trying to bite at the bullets that had taken her life. The head was a massive, furious looking thing, which showed fangs three inches in length, with the ends tipped in yellow. Walking around the skin, the men were joined by Robert, who came outside when he heard their voices. “Hear this here bear is a record for these parts,” he commented. I’d like to buy the man a drink that survived that attack,” he said, smiling. “Take you up on it one day,” Joe replied. “’Cept, of course, it’ll have to be sarsaparilla. I don’t touch the hard stuff. Seen too many people messed up from it.” Robert nodded and walked back into the store as the men strolled away. After walking to the hotel where he had been staying the last few weeks, Slim loaded up his baggage. He paid the bill and walked to the livery stable to get the horses. As Slim helped Joe saddle his horse he heard the sound of horses coming into town from the south, the direction of Leo’s place. He stepped from the stable, thinking it might be Doc Hatler. Seeing the sheriff with his deputies and a stranger, he waited as they rode up. Tom looked from him to Joe. “You headed back to the Bar 7?” Slim nodded. Tom obviously had something to tell him. “I don’t know if today would be a good day to go back. We just served some legal papers on Leo and he ain’t a happy man. This here,” he said pointing back to Aspey, “is Amy Baggin’s lawyer, Aspey Diesel. He’s come up from Tucson to offer his help.”

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Tom, seeing the question on Slim and Joe’s faces, explained the court document and Leo’s reaction. “The way it looks, I don’t know if you boys even have a job. Doug’s the only one we know around there anymore.” Distressed, Slim said, “Doug’s a good man, Tom. You need to tell him what’s happenin’. I’ve been with Leo over ten years. He’ll bring in hired guns to fight this battle. Fact is he’s got some friends near Robbers’ Roost he’ll bring in. I’ve met then before and they fight just to fight.” Aspey chuckled in the background. “He’s bit off more than he could chew then. He doesn’t know the Daulton boys. They’ll come running at the drop of a hat and there is a heck of a lot of them too.” “I suggest you get them here then Mr. Diesel,” Slim said. “You’re gonna need every one of them. Doug’s new and won’t take to Leo’s way, but other than the two of us,” pointing to Joe, “all of Leo’s other hands will kill for Leo to help him keep what he’s got. “What do you know about the oil he found on Amy’s land?” Aspey asked. “Seems that’s what started this whole thing in the first place.” “Me an’ Slim found it when we went and hooked some cattle out of the pool,” said Joe, speaking up for the first time. “I went and told Leo about it, playin’ dumb, but I knew what it was. Leo didn’t act surprised at all. It’s almost like he was mad we’d discovered it. Right after that is when Doug was sent up to the cabin to tell me to leave the back forty.” “Said he had been sent to replace me and work with Slim. I think he’s one of Leo’s hired guns, but he’s different.” “Different? How?” Tom asked.

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“Don’t know. But he ain’t the type to work for someone like Leo, that’s the thing that’s been buggin’ me. The way he wears his guns shows his line of work but……….. I can’t figure it out. Been real evasive with answers to us.” Tom turned to Aspey. “Maybe you should start with him, asking some of your questions.” “I think I will,” Aspey’s face was hard. “This has gotta stop now. I can’t in good faith do a whole lot more without some proof other than the speculating about what everyone seems to be doing.”

***

Doug hurried to the main house when he heard Leo yelling his name. Running in, he saw Leo throwing a towel to Paul Boto who was now sitting up in bed with his leg wrapped in bandages. Leo handed Doug a piece of paper with instructions written on one side. He instructed Doug to ride straight to Robbers Roost and hand-deliver it to Earl Miller at once and then to bring the men back with him. Noticing Doug’s hesitation, Leo barked at him and roughly shoved him out the door. As he was slowly walking to his horse, he heard Leo say something he didn’t catch. He stopped and waited for him to repeat it. “I had Slim hire you for your guns, not to disobey. Don’t ask too many questions and you’ll have a nice bonus this paycheck.” Doug grinned weakly. “That’s more like it. I work for you, but I don’t like to be pushed around without knowing what’s going on.” Leo’s face grew hard with a thin-lipped smile. “I ain’t giving up on something I want. Never have, never will. I’m bringing in Earl’s gang. We’ll need them now. As soon as this mess is over,

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I’ll be a rich man. And I’ll make it worth your while… believe me. I’m increasing your pay right now to $60 dollars per month instead of $30. Tell Earl he’ll be able to retire if he gets here within the next three or four days,” he ended with a wicked smile and turned back to the door. “Oh, on the way out, stop by town and see if you can find Bob, that surveyor guy. Tell him to grab a room at Saint Michael’s Hotel and charge it to my account. Just explain to him I’d feel better for his safety if he stayed in town for the next week or so. Tell him I got some problems at the ranch with a local gang and I don’t want him caught in any crossfire, should it come to that.” Doug saddled his horse and rode away toward Prescott to find Bob. He was glad to have a reason to go into town anyway. He had been trying to figure out how to get there before he left to find this Earl fellow. Now, Leo had made it easier for him. Prescott was bustling, the streets crowded with people, when he rode in late in the afternoon. Several people stopped and stared when they saw him riding down the dirt road. Whispers were passed from one to the other and soon most of the people on the crowded boardwalk were looking at him. Doug was puzzled. What had he done? For that matter, why were they looking at him like this? Feeling the hairs on his neck rise, he hunkered down and pulled his hat down low. Pulling up in front of the tiny wooden office marked Surveyor, he opened the door, hearing the clanging bell as he entered. Behind the counter, the clerk looked at him with wide eyes and stepped back involuntarily. Stammering, he tried to speak, but his voice caught. “What’s the matter with you people?” Doug asked, irritated. “Since I’ve come in, everyone’s looking at me like I’ve got leprosy or something!” “You…you work f-f-for Leo, d-d-don’t you?” the clerk asked nervously.

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“Of course I do. I’ve been here long enough – everyone knows that!” Doug replied, now more curious than angry. “So?” “You just come into town from the Bar 7?” the clerk asked, this time in a more normal voice. “Why?” Doug waited. Something had happened he didn’t know about. That’s why Leo was bringing in Earl Miller and his gang. “Well, you must know about the sheriff serving papers on Leo this morning.” Now it was Doug’s turn to be confused. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” he said. “I just rode in to find the railroad guy who’s been lookin’ over Leo’s land and tell him to board up here for a while. “I’ve been out this morning mending a fence up north of the ranch… Why… what’s happening?” The clerk had been holding his breath. He now let it out with a deep sigh. “Tom had to give Leo some papers that keep him from harassing the Double Diamond outfit. Some lawyer came up from Tucson and is taking Leo to court.” The look of surprise must have shown on Doug’s face because the clerk suddenly became friendlier. “You work for Leo. Everyone he has working for him, ‘cept Slim and Joe, are hired guns. People take it for granted that you’re one of them. You mean you didn’t know about any of this?” Doug shook his head. It all made sense now. He was bringing in Earl’s gang for a showdown, but with whom? He asked the clerk to pass along the message to Bob about staying put for a bit, then Doug hurried from the office and tried to keep from breaking into a run as he went to the telegraph office.

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He slammed the door open and startled the operator who had been busy sending another message. Grabbing pencil and paper he wrote a quick message and handed it to the clerk. “I’ll wait for a response. I need this sent now!” The clerk, a timid mouse of a man, was quaking with fear before this impatient man. He halted his duties and read the message. He then looked up at Doug. “Why? This don’t make any sense.” “Just send it.” The clerk nodded, and his fingers flew rapidly over the keys of the machine in front of him. Nodding again, he said, “It may take some time to get an answer.” “Send another one that says, ‘Waiting for response.’” His head bent again over the keys, and tapping quickly the clerk sent the message over the wire. Within two minutes, the wire started clicking back. Writing furiously, the clerk’s face showed even more confusion as he reread the returning telegram. “Message received. Stay with plan. Bringing supplies at once.” “What’s that mean?” he asked, then, becoming embarrassed, back peddled, “Sorry, none of my never mind. Just in the habit of asking. “That’s alright. We needed some special supplies for the Bar 7. That surveyor told Leo he needed to bring in some stuff for the proper survey and that’s all this is.” “Son,” the operator said, “you seem like a decent boy. You know there’s some talk around town that Leo and his outfit had something to do with the Baggin girl’s dad getting killed, don’t you?”

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“From what I just heard, most people think something like that,” Doug said. “I wouldn’t worry about it, though. And I’d appreciate it if you kept this telegram between us; all the things going on ‘round these parts aren’t too good right now.” “Are you working for Leo as a gunslinger?” the operator asked outright, shocked at his own brashness, but not being able to help himself. Doug shook his head and tried to think of a way out of this without answering. “Please. I ain’t gonna shoot anyone if it comes to that, but I work for the brand. As long as Leo’s paying me, I owe him that much.” “Maybe you should find a new employer.” Doug felt the chill in the air as he walked from the telegraph office and it wasn’t due to the temperature outside. As he walked down the street he stopped and stared along with the rest of the people. Instead of looking at him like they had when he rode in they were watching a beautiful lady step down from the Butterfield Stage. The woman was tall with an hourglass figure that would make any man blush. The green dress she wore accented her figure perfectly without seeming blatant. Her hair was long and dark and she wore it piled up on her head with curls spilling off the back and a matching green hat perched like a crown atop it. A burly, older man was removing her luggage from the top rail. By his build one could tell he was made for the blacksmithing profession. With a flash of petticoat under her long traveling skirt the woman walked up the steps to St. Michael’s Hotel, paused on the top step to beat the road dust from her skirt and disappeared inside. The older man followed, carrying the obviously heavy valise with ease.

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Doug walked rapidly over to the pair and stopped in front of the man. “May I be of assistance to you, sir?” he asked politely. The man looked at him from beneath bushy eyebrows and his mouth curved in a wide smile. “You know, I wonder if my daughter was less pretty if I would have as many people offering to help me all the time!” His cheeks puffed out as he laughed. “Of course. Take them both,” he answered, pointing to the second bag still sitting next to the wheels of the coach. “Why sir, I’m offended that you would think I’m helping you because of your daughter,” Doug smiled back. “What’s her name, anyway?” “At least you don’t fool around and pretend to lie about it,” the man replied. “Her name is Lydia and I’m Dave Strunk.” He offered his hand and shook Doug’s firmly. “Stopping by to visit my friends. You might know them -- Baggin.” “Amy Baggin?” Doug asked. Dave nodded and continued, “She wrote to Lydia to say her pa was killed a few months ago. The girls, Lydia and Amy, have been friends for years. We’ve been trying to get up here for a while now, but things have been so busy at the smithy in Tucson we couldn’t get away. But things have a way of happening in their own time, so here we are now.” “Does Amy know you all are coming in?” Doug asked. “Not that I know of,” Dave replied. “Lydia wants to surprise her.” “Oh, she’ll be surprised all right.” Doug set the bags down in the hotel lobby. He turned to look at Lydia and found her studying him intensely. “She’s even prettier up close,” Doug thought. She had a smooth brow, large brown eyes fringed by long lashes and a pert little button nose.

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As she flashed a beautiful smile in thanks, Doug suddenly felt embarrassed. He hadn’t bathed in four or five days and not being able to smell himself any more, had temporarily forgotten that others could. He also had a week’s growth on his cheeks and his dusty pants smelled of horse sweat and saddle leather. What a picture she was seeing, he thought, as he turned red. He excused himself, tipping his hat in acknowledgement to Dave and Lydia and beat a hasty retreat out of the hotel. As Lydia watched him walk away her curiosity was piqued. There was something about him… no matter; she’d be here for a while. No sense bothering her head about it now. She turned to the clerk at the desk. “Have you a room and a bath? Actually, two rooms.”

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Chapter Twenty-seven

A little while later Doug was riding hard toward Utah. He knew Robbers Roost was located somewhere in the triangle formed by three rivers in the eastern part of the state. As large as the area was he would have to run into the men by accident. Men in that locale did not take kindly to strangers asking questions. Hopefully, their accidental meeting would be soon, for once he found them they would have to ride non-stop in order to get back in the four days allotted by Leo. Doug fought his conscience as he pushed his horse to go faster. Leo had given him a hundred dollars cash money to trade horses along the way for himself and for whomever Earl Miller decided to bring with him. He knew it was wrong to take the money and be getting these men, but what choice did he have? As he rode, he wondered why he was in this line of work, anyway. He could do something else. Fact was, maybe he’d just find another job after this mess was over and done with. Bringing the men into the Arizona territory would accomplish a couple of things and that was the only reason he wasn’t quitting the whole outfit right then and there. Just maybe…he dismissed the thought and pushed his horse harder. By the end of the first day he was so tired he could barely stay in the saddle. Keeping a wary eye out for Indians had also taken its toll. He’d stopped at Window Rock in the far north corner of the Arizona territory. There he’d gotten a quick bite to eat and a fresh horse. He rode hard through the night and the following day, arrived in Utah. By the morning of the third day, he had the good fortune of finding the man he’d ridden all this way to locate. He’d

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stopped at a local watering hole not far from the mouth of Dirty Devil River. Stopping to change horses at the station had brought him face to face with his prey. He had changed only a bit from the wanted posters Doug had seen. The artist was good. Only thing different was the hair. It was longer than in the posters hanging around some of the towns and places where Doug had seen it. Doug introduced himself and got right to the point of his long, exhausting ride. Earl stroked his mustache awhile, thinking over the proposition. “You say Leo promised I’d retire on this?” he asked, still doubtful. “The way things look down there I’d say it’s a good bet.” Doug was tired and not in the mood to play games. “You coming or not?” Earl peered at him with wicked black eyes. “Don’t push me, boy! When and if I decide to come, I’ll be there!” Doug realized he was so tired he was being foolhardy, but right then, he didn’t much care. “Leo promised both of us a cash bonus if we made it back within four days of when I left the ranch. That means we’ve got to head out soon because it took me two days of hard riding to get here.” “You stupid or somethin’, son?” Earl was now looking at him “He ain’t about to pay that. Why, nobody could make it that quick without killing the horse and purdy near hisself.” “Don’t I know it?” Doug replied. He was thinking he should have left Prescott sooner than when he did. Earl would want to know why it took him more than two days. He’d ask questions that Doug wasn’t going to be able to answer. He could always say he had a hard time finding Bob, but that wouldn’t work. Too many people had seen him ride in and head straight to the surveyors office, then the telegraph office. He’d have to think of something real quick.

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“I took longer to get here because I wasn’t rightly sure where to find you. We can do it if we don’t stop. I really need that money.” Doug stifled a yawn. Sucking down a full cup of coffee, he watched as Earl studied him. “Guess we better head out then. You rest here for a bit and I’ll round up my crew and meet you back here in a few hours.” He stood and walked out without any more words. Doug barely made it to the cot in the back room of the bar before he was sound asleep, snoring loudly.

***

By the third day, Jerry was up and moving around with minor stiffness in his side. Tough living on the range, along with good meat and hard work had given him an edge over most men. His side was still sore, but he shrugged off the pain and sat at the table with Stephen, Henry, and Tony. Amy and Doris were cooking a breakfast of eggs and ham. The smell of frying ham, coffee, and eggs filled the room as they listened to the sizzling in the pans on the cook stove. Henry was happier than he had ever been. He was finally free of the oppression he had been under since arriving in America. He looked around the kitchen and felt the comfortable feeling of belonging somewhere. Watching the Daulton men, he envied them in a good way. All his life he had wanted a close family, but, being orphaned at the age of five, he had never had the chance to know the kind of relationship he was witnessing here. “We sent Jim a telegram asking him to show up in force should it be necessary when Aspey takes Leo to court in the next two weeks,” Stephen was saying. “Tony, did you see anything in the short time you were at the ranch that’d help Aspey out?”

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Tony shook his head. “Only one person I met seemed to be a regular cowhand. There were a couple of people around, but they didn’t stay long enough for me to find out anything about them.” He sipped his coffee. “I think we should prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” “Why?” Jerry wanted to know. “You said yourself that there was no one else around to help Leo out. Can’t we just get this thing into court and be done with it?” Stephen shook his head slowly. “You know it’s not that simple, Jer. Like Aspey said, all we have is speculation. And that doesn’t hold up in court. We need proof!” Looking at Henry, he cleared his throat. “You understand the court ain’t takin’ a whole lotta what you say as gospel with you being an indentured servant and all. We need somethin’ beside just your word ‘cause they’ll look at you like an angry employee looking for revenge.” Henry nodded and said, “Leo has more resources than you think. He’s been saving every penny for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he brings in some of his outlaw friends to help him out. After all, look who he’s brought in already.” “You worked for him for five years – what do you think he’ll do?” Amy asked, looking at Henry. “If you have the manpower, get them up here. When Leo moves, he moves fast. You won’t have time to plan anything before he has people in place. Thing about Leo is, he ain’t stupid. Wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear he’s already got someone comin’ in as we speak.” “How?” Jerry asked. “From what I heard, he hasn’t been to town. He’s got nobody left to do his runnin’ for him.” “He’s still got Doug, Slim, and Joe,” Henry said quietly.

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The men sat in silence. They had forgotten about Slim and Joe. After working for someone as long as they had for Leo, no matter how good a person they were, they might still be loyal to him regardless of his deeds; for loyalty was a trait inbred in a true cowboy. “Here’s what I think,” Stephen said. “Let’s split up and start knocking on doors in the area and around town. Someone knows somethin’. All we have to do is find them. He rose from the table and started for the door. “I’ll be lookin’ around the land. I want to see if I can find this Doug fellow and talk to him.” Tony and Jerry followed him out the door and Henry, out of habit, began clearing away the dishes. Amy sat at the table with her head in her hands. She sighed aloud. Doris patted her on the shoulder. Amy spoke, “I’m just worried more of Ma’s family is gonna get hurt. I can’t take that responsibility. I wish Ed were here. I miss him so much!” “He should be home any time, Hon,” Doris replied. “When he gets here, you’ll have the beginnings of a ranch. He’ll have the cattle you can breed, sell, and herd. God knows what He’s doing. He looks out for his children.” “We haven’t heard from Ed in so long, though. How do I know he’s ok? After this amount of time, he could be lying dead somewhere.” “Do you think the Lord would allow something like that to happen after all he’s done to save you thus far?” Doris’s reply was stern. “I don’t know.” Amy said woefully. “Sometimes it’s hard to see all the good that’s happened when you’re sitting in the middle of the bad.”

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“Oh, honey, God loves us and never gives us more than we can bear. Look back at all you’ve come through. Those are all blessings in one way or another.” The older woman put her arms around Amy in a motherly hug. “I pray to God you’re right.” Amy said, regaining some of her hope as she rose to help Henry with the dishes. Her thoughts drifted back to Ed and his face. She remembered his soft, deep brown eyes, which held both a kindness and sincerity. She thought of his strong arms when he’d held her as they escaped from the Indians on the first day they had met. His body was so strong, his arms so gentle, that when she’d felt them around her, she’d felt secure and knew she never wanted him to leave her side. “Lord, please bring him back safely,” she prayed silently, as she brushed a tear from her cheeks. Overwhelmed with loneliness, she thought, “I just can’t bear to lose another person I love.” And she did love him, she realized. In spite of the fact she’d spent so little time with him, knew so little of him, she knew she loved him and only hoped, dearly hoped, he returned those feelings. Amy lifted her head as she heard the sound of horses coming. “Someone’s coming.” She went to the door in time to see Tony talking to a man on horseback. Beside him a familiar figure sat astride another horse. “LYDIA!” Amy squealed with delight and flew off the porch, startling the horses. “Whoa, there!” Lydia said, as she brought her mount back under control. With a quick movement she dismounted, tossed the reins to Tony and hugged her friend. Tony scratched his head. “You know our blacksmith and his daughter Amy? Gee, this world is getting smaller all the time!”

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Dave and Tony took the horses to the corral as Amy and Lydia walked arm in arm to the house. After introductions were made, Doris excused herself. She knew the girls had a lot of catching up to do.

***

The streets were nearly deserted when the ragged crew rode into Ft. Defiance on the Navajo Reservation. Tired horses hung their heads at the hitching posts along the dusty street. Weather torn buildings dotted the landscape with windows missing in many of the empty rooms. Nathaniel took them straight to the army’s procurement office, where he had to shove against the stubborn door to get it open. The sagging wood sides looked in need of repair, along with the rest of the building. One section of the roof was half sunken in and the window facing the street was broken in the top left corner. “The army doesn’t care much for these places,” Nathaniel said, red faced. “Out of sight, out if mind. It actually works better for me that way, anyway. As long as I don’t request too many things I pretty much get what I need for the Indians eventually.” Ed nodded. “You happy up here?” Nathaniel looked at him oddly. “Why?” “I just wondered. You know, we might need some help down at the ranch right now. If Felix sells his land and we find another herd before too long, we will need to bring in some hands to help drive them.”

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Nathaniel shook his head and replied, “You know I’ll ride with you right now to help out over this land thing, but soon as it’s over, I’m comin’ back here. These people need me more than ever now. With Black Horse and Squeezer on the warpath, the Navajo need someone who’ll speak for them to the army. Just because we have a few warriors fighting to feed the nation doesn’t mean the whole tribe is bad. I just feel there’s something more that could be done to help them, but I don’t know what it is yet.” Levitt looked at Ed, and then glanced at the sun. “Sorry to bring this up, Ed, but we need to head out. It’s getting’ late. Being gone for the last few months we don’t know what’s been happening down at the ranch and I think we should head back quickly.” “You’re right,” Ed replied. Looking at Nathaniel, he asked, “You comin’ with us now?” “I’ll be down in a couple of days. I need to send out some dispatches to the army, and then go see some people about this attack. As soon as I’m finished, I’ll be there.” Ed shook hands with Nathaniel and walked out with his remaining crew. As he looked up the street, he saw something that made him stop and take a second look. A man was riding up on a lather-bathed horse that was huffing and blowing hard. He leaped from the horse, ran inside, and walked out a minute later with the owner of the livery in tow. Exchanging horses, the man galloped past Ed and disappeared into the distance. Troubled, Ed stared after him. He had seen the man somewhere. Running over the faces of the men he knew in his mind, he was worried. He knew him, but from where? A rider that rode in like that had a mission in mind. The men mounted up and set out for the long ride home. It wasn’t the happy homecoming he had been looking forward to but a tedious ride with bad news to tell at the end of it.

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As he rode, he thought again about the man riding the lathered horse. It bugged him. He knew he had seen him in the last couple of months. Working it over in his head, he rode in silence, welcoming the break from the responsibilities that weighed heavily on his mind. Levitt and the others, seeing his brow furrowed with concern, rode in silence. Something was bothering him more than just losing the herd. Knowing their boss as they did after the amount of time they had spent with him the last few months, they left him to his own thoughts. The sunny day turned cloudy as they rode toward the seven peaks showing from the sacred mountain. Four of them had snow coverings. The Navajo believed these hills held the power of the Great Spirits. Snow was coming. As the gray skies began to release their moisture, the flakes froze in the atmosphere, falling gently on the upturned faces of the men. Grimacing at the thought of a cold, wet night ahead, Ed looked about for place where they could lay up until this storm passed by. Levitt, seeming to read his mind, spoke up, “I’m kinda anxious to get on back. The rim country drops in elevation a day or two’s ride from here and we’ll be out of the snow then. If we stay, we could be snowed in for a while.” Behind him, Felix, Cookie, and Tim grunted agreement. The decision had been made then. Glad that they had stocked up on supplies needed to fight the cold weather while in Ft. Defiance, they bundled up and pushed on. Snowflakes grew larger and heavier as they rode south, coating the ground in eerie silence. The plod of the horses hooves vanished under the deep, building snow. Temperatures dropped and steam blew from the breaths of the men and their animals. Soon it became apparent to all that they and the horses were too tired for a forced ride.

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The party stopped under a thick grove of pines and gathered any wood they could find to build a roaring fire. The thick branches of pine needles above helped protect them from the falling snow. Stringing their tent came easy to them because they had so many months of practice. Outside, the snow fell steadily building banks and drifts across the land all night. Within a few hours three feet of snow covered the ground and it showed no sign of letting up. The men tethered the horses under the tent cover for fear of losing them in the storm. The storm continued for three days, finally abating on the fourth. Piled high around the outside of the tent the snow acted as an insulator to keep the men and horses warm inside while creating an impassable barrier in front of them. Staying put for a week, the men had plenty of time to ponder their lives. Each one was wrapped up in his own thoughts as the snow crusted over, thawed, and froze again during that week. Ed had plenty to think about, but his thoughts drifted to a lady he barely remembered after so long. He could still see her in his dreams as a lovely, sweet, soft goddess, someone to share eternity with, but the image was fading because of his doubts that he could ever be something special to her after all that had happened. Now and then, when he needed to refresh his mind, he pulled from his satchel the letter she had written giving him permission to purchase the herd with her share of the money. He traced over the curly script of her handwriting and could hear her voice in his head. The sweet smell of her lilac toilet water still lingered on the paper, although it was growing faint after all the times he had pulled it out. There remained enough to allow him to close his eyes and visualize her. Sweet Amy.

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He fell asleep that night dreaming of a safe, comfortable home with a roaring fire. In his lap sat a child reading a book with him, while the rocker slowly moved back and forth. The sounds of dinner being prepared came from nearby. A bang of the pots and the clatter of China dishes against the oak table top, gather in his dreams. The smell of food overcame his senses and he stirred in his sleep leaning toward the smell of a home cooked meal. How much one takes for granted, such as warm meals and a woman at home waiting on you when you arrived. Little things a man missed but more-so when he went without. Amy moved efficiently around the kitchen, and feeling eyes on her, she looked over and saw him watching her. Hiding the smile which took her breath away as she realized how much she loved this man, she moved to his side and taking the child out and letting him crawl on the floor, replaced herself in his place. Leaning back, she snuggled her face into his shirt smelling the manly smell which threatened to over take her. Feeling the flush between her legs, she got up and left Ed with a picture of a man completely aroused and feeling more in love than he ever thought possible. Returning to the kitchen area, she set about placing dinner on the table and turned to take Ed’s hand, to lead him to his seat at the front of the table. Her swishing garment made Ed look up and he saw Amy’s face as she walked towards him, smiling; arms outstretched. He smiled back in his dream and reached for her.

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Chapter Twenty-eight

Within three hours Doug felt someone kick him hard against the shins. He woke with a start and found his gun pointing at Earl Miller. Stepping back slowly, Earl spoke. “I got twenty-one men to ride with me on this short notice. Let’s move out.” Doug rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to wake up. Then it hit him. He jumped up and rushed outside, astonished at the numbers. When Leo had sent him up here, he expected to bring back five, maybe six men. But twenty-one? He wasn’t ready for this. What had he done? I’m quitting first chance I get, he thought. I made a big mistake; one I’ll regret the rest of my life. Oh, good Lord, forgive me for killing the people down south. If I had only known! Earl took over control of the group of wild, rowdy men. Yelling at them, he brought them into a basic formation. Turning to Doug, he nodded. “Let’s go, son. We ain’t got all day!” Doug led the way beside Earl at a fast walk. His horse, sensing his urgency, picked up the pace on his own and soon the plains were filled with the dust of twenty-three men riding hard towards a history-making event.

***

Jim received the telegram from the Tucson station late in the afternoon. Signed by Stephen, the urgency of the request was reflected in his words. Rapidly finding four of the Daulton brother

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and Marshal Trimball, Jim filled them in on the details of the letter. A frown crossed Trimball’s face. “Anything else about strangers joining up?” “Why?” Jim looked at him strangely. “Bill, you’ve been hidin’ somethin’ from me this entire time. If you got something to say, I believe now’s the time to say it. All hell’s gonna break loose up there and we don’t need surprises!” The others looked at Trimball, waiting expectantly. Shaking his head, the Marshal muttered, “Not now, Jim. I’ll talk to you later.” Jim turned back to the assembled men. “Get the family together. I want everyone that can ride and carry a gun.” Turning to Tommy, he said, “Tom, I need you to bring in the Wilson brothers and deputize them. I’m going up to Prescott with you and we’ll need someone to keep things peaceful here.” Turning back to Marshal Trimball, he asked, “That okay with you?” “I’ll be here to back them up if needed, Jim. They’re good boys.” “What about bringing in the Ignace boys to help them?” David suggested. “They got three brothers and are close to the Wilson’s.” Joseph spoke up with an answer in agreement with David. “Good idea, Jim. They ain’t known to be ones you can push around, and with winter comin’ on here we’re gonna have some hands getting’ bored. Might be a good idea to have extra help; even if we don’t need ‘em, then at least we’re safer knowing they’re there.” After giving instructions to the others, Jim set about readying the crew for the long ride north. He went to the store he owned with his wife and stocked up on several cases of ammunition and extra rifles. Debra watched him in silence. She was used to odd things being done. Learning early on not to ask too many questions she set about preparing packs for the men. Filling them with jerky,

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hardtack, and other foods that would not easily spoil, she soon had several neatly wrapped packages ready on the counter. The sound of horses hooves could be heard as the riders gathered outside. Stepping to the door, she watched as the group of men fought the horses, getting them prepared for a long ride. Running them a little way, and then pulling up, they checked the legs and shoes for lameness or looseness. The men were excited; voices rang across the street as the men good-naturedly kidded one another. The noise was contagious. Soon Deb was smiling along with the men. Down the street, she saw Anna and the other wives making their way to her store. Anxiety hung in the air around them like a lead weight. Anna was fighting tears. Deb put her arms around her and hugged the girl tightly. “They’ll come back. They always do.” Anna sobbed, “Stephen’s been gone a week and already Jerry’s got himself shot. Stephen’s survived a gun battle and these boys have to go up against a whole gang of outlaws. They’re gonna be outnumbered.” Debra stepped back. “Where did you hear about that?” she demanded. “I never heard that.” “Amy sent me a letter,” Anna cried. “She said they were up against Leo Grant and his crew. I know who Leo Grant is. He’s evil and will do everything in his power to ride roughshod over these boys. Nothing scares him, Deb. Nothing. He’s crazy.” “Jim,” Debra called out. “I need to speak with you in private, please,” she said through clenched lips. Jim turned, smiling at the antics of his family out in the street. Johnny was backing his horse up in a Kentucky Trotter method while keeping perfect control of the animal. The other men

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were cheering and whistling at his control. Jim looked back at Deb. He saw the frown on her face and wiped the smile off his own. Oh Lord, he thought. What now? “In the back!” Deb said tersely. She turned and, with a swish of her garments, was gone. Jim meekly followed her. The noise on the street died down. Looking at the others, the women all had somber looks on their faces. Usually they didn’t ask questions, but they took their lead from Debra, who was married to the oldest brother. When she was unhappy something was wrong. Hearing loud voices being raised in the back room, the mood grew serious. Anna, needing something to do to fight back the tears, started handing out the packages on the counter to the men outside. Loading them into the saddlebags, they waited in silence. Jim walked out of the room and approached the wives. “Got something to tell y’all. Normally we don’t talk about what we’re doin’ for a couple reasons. The first is, it’s better that you don’t know everything. The second is it keeps you from having more worries than you need.” “But Debra here seems to think I should tell you what’s happenin’ on this ride.” He proceeded to fill them in on the troubles going on in Prescott. Speaking for several minutes, he paused, cleared his throat, and asked, “Any questions?” The ladies were all silent, absorbing the information. David’s wife, Joanna, asked the first question. “How long you expect to be gone?” “No more than two weeks,” Jim answered. Anna spoke up. “Are you gonna use the local sheriff to help you up there, or are y’all gonna do this without the blessing of the local law?” Jim looked at her a minute before answering.

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“Annie, we have Aspey up there filing the proper legal paperwork as we speak. He did everything according to territorial law and the Yavapai Superior Court. Tom, the sheriff of Prescott, is already involved. He’s already served the first set of paperwork on Leo Grant.” “Stephen and the boys have done nothin’ illegal and we ain’t going to either. This is being done correctly. If Leo abides by the law and Aspey’s able to bring him into court, all we’re there for is a show of force. If he disobeys the court order, then Tom doesn’t have enough people to do anything about it. That’s going to be the extent of our duties.” The answer apparently satisfied the other ladies, for no one else asked any more questions. Marshal Trimball had come by to watch the action. He got Jim’s attention and pulled him by the elbow over to the side. After speaking with him for several minutes, the astonishment on Jim’s face was apparent. The answers to his questions must not have been satisfactory because his face grew red and his speech increased in volume. Leading him further away from the group, Trimball calmed him down, then turned and walked to the boardwalk lining the street. Jim looked around at his crew, his face hard. Not saying a word, he climbed into the saddle and motioned the men to do likewise. Mounting up, the men exchanged soft words with their wives, hugs to the children that had run over, and waved good-bye to Marshal Trimball, who watched from the sidewalk.

***

Aspey was puzzled. He had asked around town to see if Doug was coming in for the weekend, since he wasn’t about to ride out to Leo’s ranch alone. The townsfolk told him Doug had been in town over a week earlier, but no one had seen him since.

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A young lad, playing with a mangy dog covered in dust, told him he had seen a tall man go to the telegraph office about the same time Doug was in town. Arriving in front of the office, Aspey paused and looked back over the street. It would be hard to be seen coming and going from here, he thought. The office sat back off the main road about two blocks down from the courthouse. It had been built years before and the center of town had moved up the street. No plans were made to relocate it. No other houses were even close by for someone to see who went into the office. “A good place to send a message from,” he thought. Opening the door, he spoke to the clerk inside. As he walked out of the building ten minutes later he was more confused than when he went in. After leaving a ten-dollar gold piece on the counter and seeing it slyly removed, the clerk told him about the strange wire he had sent out on Doug’s behalf. What was even stranger was the fact that he’d gotten a reply back almost instantly. Someone was waiting on the other end of a telegraph line for information. Who? Something was being planned right underneath their noses and they had no idea what. The reply, “Will bring supplies,” puzzled him but Aspey knew it was a code. He had been an attorney long enough to have taken a few cases involving land disputes. The first thing he always did was to obtain a proper survey. To do that, you didn’t need much more equipment than Henry’s description of what he and Bob had used. Aspey had sat down with Henry after he found out about his defection from Leo and it had proved useful, but he wanted more information. The only way to stop a man like Leo was to make him pay – and pay hard. Only a strong court conviction would stop a man like that. A jury needed to hear more than a disgruntled servant’s testimony in court. They needed someone who had no axe to grind or other proprietary interest in seeing Leo locked up.

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Now he was faced with a riddle. Doug said Bob needed more supplies, but Henry said they never went back to the ranch before they met up with Stephen at the surveyor’s office. When he had gone back to get his stuff and pay off his debt Doug was already gone. Henry had walked out to say good-by to him for he had been the only one friendly to him, but the cook said Doug had ridden out that morning in a hurry. As Aspey walked to a bench and sat down thinking, his thoughts were interrupted by a voice speaking to him. “You work at the Baggin ranch, yes?” He looked up and saw a lone Indian who was about fifty years old with long gray hair, wearing a pair of buckskin pants, a store bought shirt, and a faded gray cowboy hat. “That’s right.” Aspey slowly replied. He felt with his arm for the pistol resting out of sight on his right hip. “I have information for you that you may like,” the Indian replied. “Can an old man sit down?” Aspey gestured toward the bench as he moved over to make room for the old Indian. “Doug is my friend,” the Indian started. “He is in trouble now. He has no idea I am here or that I have been here the whole time.” “Where is he? Do we need to help him?” Aspey asked, rising from the bench. “No. He is in trouble because he is caught in something he wants no part of.” “How do you know that?” “I watch him every day. He doesn’t know I am out there, but he has friends in many places. I was brought in secretly to help him.” Now it was Aspey’s turn to look perplexed. “Maybe you better start at the beginning. What did you say your name was?”

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***

Tightly grouped together Ed and his men made their way through the snowdrifts. The footing was treacherous. One wrong step and the men and horses could easily fall into the many vast caverns hidden beneath the snow. They rode to the top of the ridge looking over one of the most beautiful areas in the territory of Arizona. Tall, sheer walls lay before them, covered in blankets of white. The red rocks glistened and bounced back the morning light where the sun had melted the snow. Before them was a long, narrow canyon which stretched out for miles ahead. Walls, climbing a thousand feet, towered on either side of the valley. In the bottom was a small creek, which shimmered in the sunlight as the rays caught the sun and reflected it back. On the east side of the canyon, the sun melted snow into small rivers of water that joined other drops, making their way down to the floor of the canyon. The west walls were covered in long shadows, which little sun would touch, even during the highest rotation of the day. Making their way down the steep canyon, the footing grew ever more slippery. One by one, the men followed Ed as he led the way, carefully picking his way down. Skirting a clump of bushes near the edge, his horse slipped and started fighting for control. Ed’s sucked in his breath in an involuntary gasp. He kicked the stirrups loose and slid off on the wall side of the animal. Fighting to keep its footing, the horse neighed and started to panic. “Hold on, Ed,” Levitt cried. He swung his lariat over his head, timed his throw, and watched as the noose slid smoothly over the plunging horse’s neck. Tightening the rope, he backed up as far as he could without causing the others behind him to lose their balance.

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Using the extra advantage, the horse found firm footing under the snow. Leaping in the air, he landed on the worn trail, and stood shaking all over. Ed sat down. “That was too close for comfort.” He found he was shaking as badly as the horse. Trying to control his hands he couldn’t stop their trembling. Levitt got off his horse and walked to the edge. Peering over, he grabbed the pommel of his horse and stepped back, shaking his head. “That’s a long way down. Maybe we should walk the horses down from here.” Stepping out cautiously, the men led their horses over the steep trail, working their way down in a criss-cross pattern as they approached the bottom of the ravine. Reaching the bottom, an audible sign of relief went up as the men mounted again and started down the valley. The men kept an eye out above them for avalanches. They could happen at any time and were known to plague this valley. The thick snow on top of some of the peaks had drifted into ten-foot high drifts, creating heavy pressure on the load-bearing rocks beneath them. The rain had loosened rocks from the edges and they saw many boulders as big as houses lying in the bottom of the creek. Ahead, they heard the rustle of snow falling. An elk jumped up at their approach and bounded away. Overhead, a snow falcon flew in low, landing not far from the trail. As they rode up, the bird did not seem afraid of them. He continued picking on something black against the snow. As the men got closer, they recognized the body of a horse crumbled in a heap. Pulling up, they stared around them. The horse had shoes and the remnants of saddlebags that had been torn through.

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A stirrup was on the ground about three feet away. The wooden part was broken in half with the leather shredded by what appeared to be knife cuts. The freshly fallen snow around the horse was undisturbed except for small animal tracks leading to and from the carcass. Dismounting, the men slowly walked around the horse. Tim was the one who found the body. Walking toward the creek, he peered over the slippery bank and spotted a form lying in the riverbed near the edge with a sheet of ice surrounding it. Calling the others over, the men climbed down the bank and turned the body over. “I know him,” Felix was shocked. “Who is he?” Levitt demanded. “He ain’t been shot from the look of him. I’d say he fell not too long ago.” “His name was Rusty.” Felix answered. “He rides with the Earl Miller gang up north. I wonder what he was doing down here.” “He wasn’t alone, that’s for sure,” Ed said. “Whoever was here went through his bags and took anything of value.” Looking at Levitt, he asked, “How long you think he’s been here?” Levitt nodded toward the untouched snow and shook his head. “Hard to say. The animals haven’t touched him yet, so we know it had to be in the last couple of days before the storm, since the snow is fresh around here.” There ain’t any tracks comin’ in or out so I’m guessing no more than the first day or two of this storm. Looks like he slipped comin’ down the mountain. Thing I can’t figure is why anyone would be comin’ down here in this weather unless they were in an awful hurry to get somewhere.” Startled, Ed looked up. “Felix, you said this man was riding with the Miller gang?”

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“Yeah,” Felix was puzzled. “He rides for anyone that pays the right money, but last I heard he was with Earl and them up Utah way.” Ed felt the hand of fear grip his heart. “Amy!” Ed leapt to his horse. “Come on, boys! We’re almost home and we should be there now!” Levitt yelled out to Ed. “Why? What’s on your mind, Ed?” “I believe them boys are coming down to help ride rough shod over Amy. If this Leo feller is anything like what Amy said, he’ll send for this kind of men. If they were riding this hard during a blizzard, they had something on their minds that time was of the utmost importance for.” It made sense. Amy had warned them of Leo’s ability to bring in outside help. He had the money and the resources to do it. As the men rode hard, they suddenly heard the roar of an avalanche. The loud talking and fast movements had loosened the snow above on the eastern walls. Melting on top caused the weight to shift the load from the rocks to the packed snow, pressing down on the layers beneath. As they turned in the saddle to look behind them, the men spurred the horses to a dead run, praying they could keep their footing in the snow. Little by little, the snow inched its way to the edge, the snow underneath dropping away, causing the roar they had heard. Suddenly, it all gave way. A large area of snow, over a hundred feet wide, came crashing down the mountain slope. Picking up speed as it flew over the face of the cliffs, it thundered to the ground far below. Trees and huge rocks came tumbling down, hitting the water with a splash heard all the way across the canyon.

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The effects of the noise caused more slides to start. Pushing the horses until their breaths came in great gasps, the men desperately tried to outrun the death trap. Snow swirled all around them, blocking their view ahead. It was a no win situation. If they slowed, the avalanche would overtake them; if they kept going, they could run off the edge of a cliff. Not having any other choice but to keep running, Ed tried to remember the terrain from when he had been through here last. He recalled a large open area ahead where they would be safe if they could just make it there before the avalanche overtook them. The only thing they needed to watch for was the creek crossing the path in front of them. Finally, the men reached the wide plain large enough to pull up in. Behind them, the snow roared by like a freight train and hit the other side of the wall, climbing up fifty feet, before setting back down in an angry rumble. Snow fell from the trees as boulders continued to rush down the riverbed until they hit something larger and came to a stop. The men weakly got off their horses and sat down, putting their heads in their hands. The horses were whistling; trying to catch their breath after the run. Rivulets of sweat ran down the manes and dripped onto the ground, instantly freezing. Ed was watching them with concern when he realized he counted only five horses, including one pack animal. “We started this morning with how many horses?” he asked Tim. “Six. Why?” “How come we’ve only got five horses now?” Ed walked over to the pack animal. “We lost all our food and the sixth pack horse, boys,” he grimly announced. “Musta gotten caught in the slide,” Levitt said. Ed turned on him quickly, “Ya think?” he barked. After taking a deep breath he continued, “Sorry, Levitt. I’m just a little on edge right now.” Turning to the men, he said, “Anything you

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have in your saddlebags is all we got. We’re riding straight through without any more stops along the way. If you need water, fill up over there at the creek.” The sun was high overhead and soon would be sinking toward the blue hazed mountains directly in their path home. Once they topped the ridge, they would be able to see into the northern tip of Prescott’s valley. The men rode hard all through the night, resting only in the saddle. They reached Lynx Creek by mid-afternoon the following day. The water was running clear, but something Felix spotted stopped them cold. On the other side of the bank, coming from the northwest and heading southeast, were numerous muddy tracks made by shod horses. The mud around the bank was torn up by a group of men who had fought their way up the steep bank and headed straight toward both the town of Prescott or the Baggin ranch. Felix rode his horse around the tracks and looked up at Ed with concern in his eyes. “There are twenty or more men here, Ed. None of the tracks show a heavy weight so I doubt they brought pack animals with them.” “Looks like a bunch of men in an awful hurry, that’s for sure!” Ed grimly nodded. “Let’s ride boys.” Pounding in his head was one thought: I’m coming Amy, I’m coming for you darling. Oh, God, don’t let me be too late!

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Chapter Twenty-nine

As the Miller Gang rode south, Jim and the rest of the Daulton men were coming north. A showdown was brewing, with neither party being aware of the other riding toward a common destination. Jim’s party had eleven men in all. The ride was arduous as the men pushed hard and rode fast. Open plains lay ahead as the dust created clots in their noses. The wind blew constantly across the dry desert north of Tucson. The Catalina Mountains lay far behind them by the afternoon of the first day. Ahead lay the Superstitions, which held the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine. As day turned into night the men pushed their tired mounts to a breaking point. Arriving at the army post of Ft. McDowell, they exchanged horses with the supply master, ate a quick bite, and headed out under a full moon. Tall Saguaro cacti threw weird moonlit shadows across the plains, their long arms appearing to reach for the sky, hoping for rain. By the second day they crossed the Bradshaw Mountains and dropped down into the Verde Valley. Following the creek, they rode upstream for many miles then broke away as the river lazily drifted back northeast. Riding through clumps of cacti, namely teddy bear and prickly pear, the men were careful not to get too close. The needles would leap off at the slightest touch and embed themselves deeply in a leg. The men came to the confluence of Big Bug Creek and an offshoot of Lynx creek on the southern most tip of the valley by the end of the second day. On the other side of the large valley the Miller Gang was just arriving at Leo’s ranch.

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***

Stephen shook his head, puzzled. “Are you sure about that?” he asked the surveyor. “There’s got to be some mistake. Pa surveyed the land when we bought it and I’m almost positive this is ours.” The surveyor shook his head ruefully. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t expect to find this, either.” It was after noon by the time the surveyor had finished checking and rechecking the land. The figures just didn’t add up. Resetting his instruments, the man started over. When he was done, he glanced over at Stephen, who looked dumbfounded. “Son, you might want to check the original deed to this here land. There’s no mistake. This oil well belongs to Leo. Your land ends fifty feet east of this. There should be a stake from the original survey out there in the field somewhere.” His head spinning, Stephen weakly nodded. “If you had to guess, where would you say it is?” “Give me a minute,” the man replied. He turned the scope around, took some quick measurements, and wrote some figures in his book. Chewing on the pencil he’d placed between his lips, he worried over the figures as he did the math in his head. Writing down the final answer, he stood and walked backwards for more than fifty feet, then stopped. Holding the map he had circled the day before, he made more corrections and walked ten paces north, then fourteen paces east. Stopping, he pointed to the ground. “You should have a stake buried here, if it was marked properly.”

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Bringing a shovel, Stephen dug in the soil where he was pointing. After the first two inches, the tip of the shovel hit something buried underneath the dirt. Digging around the object with his hands, he uncovered an old stake, which had been driven deep in the ground over twenty years earlier. Black chips of rotten wood fell away as Stephen dug deeper around the old mark. The surveyor tried not to smile smugly but was unable to help it. “At least I ain’t lost my touch,” he said. “Sorry, son, but this here’s the start of your land. From here west is all Leo Grant’s.”

***

Walking to the hotel dining room, Aspey was whistling. He had enough information to form the basis of a good case against Leo Grant. Once the land survey was completed, they’d have shown the court Leo was trespassing and, in the course of that as an accessory, had committed the murder of a citizen. How to tie in the three men who had attacked Amy and her father was still up in the air. What was it that he was missing? Sometimes, looking so hard for something caused you to overlook it, and that was his fear. Since time was of the essence, he had pushed harder than usual. The way things were shaping up, he was concerned he would find more dead cowboys before he could get this into court and stop Leo with the law. After finishing his meal he pushed the plates back and lit a cigar, inhaling the sweet smoke deeply into his lungs. The restaurant was crowded, with most of the talk drifting around Leo Grant and the Bar 7 outfit.

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Aspey was worried. Seeing so many people crowding the diner he was afraid it would taint a jury pool once the case came before the judge. As he listened to the talk, the front door of the restaurant opened and Slim walked in, followed by Joe. Scanning the room, they spotted Aspey in the corner and headed over. “Mind if we set?” Slim asked, pointing at the empty chairs around the table. Aspey motioned to him with his cigar, and waited. He had heard about two men who worked for Leo, one gigantic and the other a beanpole. This had to be those two. Not many other people could fit that description. Joe painfully looked around the room, which had quieted down on their arrival. The people averted their eyes when they saw him watching them. His face became hard. “Why are we coming in here to talk to him?” he asked Slim, motioning to Aspey. “Ain’t there a better place to do this?” “Sir,” Slim began, “Me and Joe here is quittin’ Leo right now. He ain’t been the best boss, but he’s treated us fair up to this point. But we’re tired of what he’s doin’ and after seein’ how quick he done kicked us out of the cabin back in the North Forty, we got to thinkin’.” He looked at Aspey, waiting for comment. “Go on,” Aspey said, drawing deeply and watching the smoke drift lazily away. “Well, Joe here’s got somethin’ to tell you.” Nudging Joe, he nodded. “Tell ‘im”. “I went to tell Leo about the oil we found after the cows got stuck. He didn’t act surprised, but seemed mad. He told me to get on out o’ there and stormed back in the house. Well, ol Joe here may be stupid, but I ain’t that dumb.” “So, I rode my horse back to the tree line and tied him up and snuck back to the house near the window in his study. I seen him writin’ somethin’ and heard him tell Henry to get it to Sam

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Cooney and wait for a response.” Joe laughed quietly. “He almost seen me. He got up while writing the letter and came right to the window I was hidden under. “Anyway, after Henry left, I heard him talkin’ to hisself. He said somethin’ about how this was Sam’s fault that he didn’t have the land yet and he better clean up this mess right quick. “I got myself outta there soon as I heard him head to the back room. Henry was gone for the rest of the day, ‘cause he had to ride into Prescott to deliver the message. Later that day, I started back to the forty and I rode across the tracks of several men who had been there recently.” Tenderly probing his jaw, Joe stopped. “Sorry, it’s hard to talk too much with these stitches and all.” Aspey signaled to the waiter. “Could you bring these boys a drink?” Turning back to the men, he asked, “You hungry? Can I buy you dinner?” Grinning, both exclaimed, “Yes! Last meal we had together seemed like forever ago.” Waiting until the waiter brought their drinks, they sat in silence. Slim was deep in thought. He had been with the Bar 7 for over ten years. It was his home, the only place he had ever felt needed. He was giving it all up and for what? A person he hardly knew, but he had always felt a deep respect for her father. After this was over, he’d ride out somewhere and start over. He sighed deeply. Ten years. And nothing to show for it except a few dollars and a good horse. Joe would need to follow his own destiny. Slim had his share of the gold claim, but if all hell broke loose here no telling what could happen. As the waiter set the drinks down and the men ordered food, Joe took a small sip. “I don’t normally drink, but tonight I think I need this.”

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Swishing the whiskey around in his mouth, he felt the burn and sting of the drink on the raw flesh inside his cheek. His eyes watered and he swallowed quickly. Shaking his head, he looked at Aspey. “Well, sir, I followed them tracks back down the trail a mite and seen where they’d been campin’ the last few days. They was expectin’ to come back, because I found a hanger, a thin bag, hanging from a limb by an old saddle. This bag held enough cash money to pay a cowhand two, maybe three months’ wages, and a note from Sam Conney. The note was all ripped up and greasy, but I made out enough of it to read some of it.” Aspey leaned forward, trying not to appear too eager. “Sam had written directions to the Baggin ranch and a note telling him where to meet after the deed was done. I think he was talking about the attack on the ranch, though I ain’t positive. “I tracked the boys down the country and seen where they laid up watchin’ somethin’ over a hill fore awhile. When I walked up to the top, first thing I seen was the Baggin ranch, large as life.” He stopped and looked at Aspey with a red look on his face. “I should have come out sooner with this, but I been kinda laid up for awhile.” Slim grunted and bit off a large portion of the thick steak that had been placed in front of him during Joe’s talk. Chewing slowly, he spoke from the side of his mouth. His next words sent a thrill of delight through Aspey. “He’s still got the note in his saddlebags. We didn’t know if it would help, but you can have it if you want.” “Little by little it was all coming together,” Aspey thought. Stubbing the blunt end of his cigar out on an ashtray sitting on the table, he leaned forward.

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“Are you willing to testify if needed?” Joe nodded. “I ain’t got nothin’ to lose, so why not? Right now, I don’t even work for him or for anybody,” he replied, sour faced. “Where’re you staying now?” Aspey questioned. “We’re over at the Old Town Palace,” Slim spoke up. “I went into Leo’s this morning and got the rest of my stuff that Doug brought down from the North Forty.” “I’ve got to ride out to the Double Diamond tomorrow. I’ll speak with Amy and Stephen and see if they got something for you. From what I’ve seen, she’s got a big spread but no hands to run it.” Aspey stood, thanked the men for the information and, leaving some coins on the table, walked out. The information helped him build a case of circumstantial evidence, but without actual proof of Leo and Sam’s connection to the three men, it would be difficult to convince a jury of guilt on Leo’s part. Without Sam around, everything hinged on Leo. Not wanting to decrease Joe’s happiness and words of hope, he had kept his mouth shut about the desperation he was feeling for factual events. Hearsay evidence would not work in this case. There was no proof Leo hired the men, just that he had written to Sam, who still wasn’t connected to the three murderers. “I sure hope we did the right thing today,” Slim commented, as he watched Aspey walk away. Joe slowly looked around the room. “Either way, we done cooked our goose. All these people seen us talking to him. Word’s gonna get around. Watch your back!”

***

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In the Baggin ranch house, things were somber. Henry helped Doris clean up the trappings from breakfast. Dave Strunk had gone to the barn to repair a wagon wheel. Amy sat at the table with her head in her hands; Lydia next to her feeling helpless to console her. Stephen, Jerry, and Tony sat around the table with sober looks on their faces. “Where’s the original deed to the land?” Tony asked. “Let’s check and see if maybe he made a mistake.” “There ain’t no mistake!” Stephen said. “I found that marker right where it was placed when Pa bought the land. We’ve got the water, but Leo’s got the oil.” “Well, if it was his oil in the first place, then why go through all this trouble to steal what’s his anyway?” Amy asked. Nobody spoke. Why, indeed? That was the question that had yet to be answered. The silence seemed to overwhelm the room. Outside, the men heard a dog barking in the distance. When the yelping got closer Tony got up, his brow furrowed. He walked to the door, opened it, and glanced outside. On the horizon, a dust cloud was growing as it moved nearer the house. Suddenly, all his senses kicked into high gear as his eyes sharpened, his hearing grew more acute, and his hands started to tingle. All his instincts told him trouble was coming. He turned, yelled back into the house, and grabbed for his rifle beside the door. Ed, before he’d left, had purchased extra ammunition in anticipation of more trouble. Grabbing two boxes of cartridges, Tony went to the front window and closed the shutters before opening up the loopholes beside them. Springing into action, Jerry and Stephen took their rifles and set up on either side of the house in the bedrooms. “What’s going on?” Amy asked in alarm.

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Tony almost shouted, “Riders, coming this way fast and a lot of them. You women get set to load some guns for us. Henry, you know how to handle one of these?” he asked as he tossed a rifle to the man. Henry nodded and found a spot by the front window where he could peer from the shutter. The women didn’t need to be told to stay away from the windows and each set about making sure each man had several loaded guns at hand. Lydia was calm and cool as she had learned to handle herself well during the numerous gun battles in Apache country. The men waited in silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts. They peered out the holes and watched, as the billows of dirt grew ever larger, soon appearing just behind the small knoll that lay right in front of the road leading to the house. “Amy! You and Lydia keep an eye on the back. I think they may try circling us,” Jerry called out. “I imagine Dave can handle himself out there as long as he doesn’t run out of ammunition.” The day grew warmer as the sun beat down on the landscape. All animal sounds had ceased when the riders came close and now started to chip, hum, and whistle again. Waiting inside the house, the occupants grew sweaty as the room filled with the oppressive heat of the stove. The house was heated beyond a comfortable level without the windows open to allow ventilation. Upon hearing the yap of a dog again, they followed the sound, then watched as a yellow dog ran into the front yard with his tail tucked between his legs, his head bent low, his mouth open wide. A shot rang out and the dog stumbled and fell, rolling in the dirt. Yelping wails came from its mouth as the dog tried to stand and bite at the offending pain. Falling over, the dog yelped louder, causing the girls to run to the front and peer out the loopholes. “Someone shot him,” Tony said through clenched teeth. “I’ll kill the bastard myself if I find who it was.”

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The wailing wore on their nerves as they watched the poor animal struggle to his feet, crawl a few steps, and collapse. Bringing his rifle up, Jerry took careful aim and pulled the trigger. The roar of the gun was amplified in the room. The bullet flew straight and true and the dog flopped to the ground. Quiet ensued. A volley of shots broke out, all aimed at the house. Sharp whines of ricochet could be heard as the bullets struck the metal spikes embedded in the logs. The rest thudded against the wall, burying deeply in the aged wood. Pulling back from the loopholes, the men tried to see where the shots were coming from through the slats of the shutters, but couldn’t see anyone. All they knew was they had come from the other side of the ridge. “They’re gonna flank us,” Tony yelled as he ran to the back room and peered out the shutter. Seeing movement, he snapped a shot, hearing, with satisfaction, the yell of someone hit. The shape disappeared and another took its place, firing at the window. Slugs tore through the slats, breaking them to pieces and sending splinters flying across the room. Feeling a wetness on his cheek, Tony reached up and wiped it way. Looking at his hand, he saw it was covered in blood. Not feeling any pain, he reached up and felt around his face. In his cheek, he found a piece of wood sticking out, just above the jaw line. Pulling the splinter out, he returned his attention to the shattered window. Should he open the shutters, or take the chance of more flying debris? Crouching underneath the window he opened the far shutter pulling back quickly when a bullet came whizzing by, exploding the pane of glass as it came through. The Widow Doris crouched to one side of the fireplace but it was not with fear. Amy saw that she was kneeling in silent prayer. She admired the faith of this woman. Whenever there was a

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situation where most women would panic, Doris always turned to God. Amy continued to reload rifles, but felt calmer as she sent her own entreaty upward.

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Chapter Thirty

Ed heard shots coming from the direction of the ranch. He reined in his horse and the rest of the men followed suit. Ed sat still, trying to pinpoint exactly where the shots came from. Levitt pulled up beside him with a worried look on his face. “Looks like we got here too late,” he stroked his chin, which held a large growth of hair from months on the trail. “…Or just in time?” Ed rejoined. His mouth was suddenly dry. Oh, Amy, I hope I’m in time! Ed urged his horse to the top of a rise, pulled out his spy glass, and scanned the area in front of him. Moving it slowly from left to right, he stopped suddenly, adjusted the focus and swore. Handing it to Levitt, he pointed in the direction he’d been looking. “Tell me what you see there,” he said. Adjusting the focus for his eyes, Levitt exclaimed, “Oh, Lord, Ed! They done got them locked up in the house!” “Look to the right of there about ten paces,” Ed said. Shifting the scope over toward their left, Levitt saw a large dust cloud rapidly approaching the ranch from the south. Tucking the scope back in itself, he handed it back to Ed. “Which one should we take?” Just then, they heard the roar of a rifle coming from the back of the house then three shots coming from inside the house. Pulling out the scope again, Ed focused on the closed shutters of the ranch house and watched as a rifle suddenly appeared, then he saw a puff of smoke and heard a shot.

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On the east side of the house a second rifle followed by a third, poked out of the broken shutter and two shots were heard, followed by white billows of smoke from the ends. “She’s got some help in there and it’s more than just that widow woman.” Ed said calmly, although he didn’t feel calm at all inside. He was fighting the desire to ride up with guns blazing, shooting everything in sight. How dare they attack her! “Let’s ride and surprise the second crew comin’ in. It looks like they have things under control in the house for the moment. Last thing they need is more reinforcements coming in on them. We’ve got a better chance of stopping them out in the plains than being holed up in the house!” Ed was gritting his teeth hard as he spoke. It was probably the toughest decision he had ever had to make. He so desperately wanted to ride to her and see that she was safe. He wanted to hold her in his arms… after all these months she was so close. All morning he’d anticipated arriving at the ranch, and now that would have to wait a while longer. He kicked his horse hard in the flank and it jumped into a ground eating pace, stretching its neck out as it ran. The wind blew hard against his face as Ed concentrated on the dust ahead. Behind him he heard the others hot on his heels. Rifles were out, loads checked, and loops filled as the men rode, clutching the horses with strong legs from much time in the saddle. Rounding the bend of the road, he spotted an outcropping of rocks along the trail that would give them some cover. Springing his horse up the steep sides, he leaned forward to help him make the climb. The horse stumbled and then, finding his footing, reached the top and sprang over it.

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Ed, seeing a wide area of grass, threw his feet out of the stirrups, and landed on the ground before the horse even came to a stop. Running to the edge of the cliff on the other side, he stared down at the trail. They had cut it close. Coming around the bend, the group of horsemen rode hard and fast toward the ranch. Lining up his rifle, Ed sighted along the barrel, found the sight, adjusted it with a slight movement, and slowly squeezed the trigger. Just before the hammer fell, he stopped. Something was faintly familiar about the men. He motioned to the others to hold their fire and stood, outlining himself against the sky. The first horseman saw him and reined so suddenly his horse skidded to a stop. His pistol pointed in Ed’s direction. “Better not be as bad a shot as you were when I last saw you,” Ed shouted. Jim cocked his hat back, took a long look at Ed, and grinned. “You look like a stiff breeze could blow you away, Ed. I thought I was seein’ your ghost. Not been eatin’ right, hey?” “That’s what ridin’ on the cattle trail will do to you, Jim.” Turning to the other men, he nodded, “Nice to see you, boys. Got my message, I take it.” Behind him, Levitt cleared his throat. “Might not be any of my business but you think y’all could play reunion some other time? Amy’s back at the house needin’ our help.” “Oh, dear Lord...! Jim, Amy’s surrounded.” Explaining what they had just seen, Ed grabbed his horse and led the way down off the hill. They outlined a plan, and then set off toward the ranch, riding fast. As they neared the ranch they heard shooting and the galloping of horses circling the house as shots sounded from the inside, more an attempt to keep the raiders at bay than hitting anything.

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The party split up and headed toward the house with one side coming in from the east and the other from the south so they would not cause crossfire. Jim’s party took the back of the house, riding low in the saddle and firing at the surprised men who turned around to meet them. The first volley felled four men as the shots rang true finding their intended targets. As the bullets slammed into their bodies, the men fell soundlessly; perhaps with their last thoughts being, this wasn’t supposed to happen! Ed led his crew in from the east, keeping low in the saddle and firing rapidly, more to distract the attackers than anything else. Whipping around, the leader of the raiders looked at the new opponents with shock on his face. The Daultons had pinned their law enforcement badges on the outside of their coats and they glittered in the morning sun. “It’s the Law,” he yelled. “Fall back, men!” Earl glanced around to see if he had been heard above the ruckus. Several of his men were down, with many others mounted up and running hard toward the mountains. “Another place, another time,” he said aloud as he swung his horse around to follow them. Leo had not told him about the law being involved. Meeting with him briefly, early this morning, all he had told him was the house was protected by two ladies and a couple of men, one of them being his own servant. They had been given bad information and he would make Leo pay for it when he saw him again. As he was running his horse he heard yelling behind him. Turning in the saddle, he watched as the lawmen started out after him and his retreating men. “Go with Ed,” Jim ordered his men. “I don’t want a single one to escape. Anyone who attacks a couple of women shouldn’t be allowed to live, but we’re going to bring that Miller gang in and let the court take care of their kind.”

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Jim walked his horse up to the house and was astonished to see four men and three women step out to greet him. None of them were injured. Jerry was still bandaged from his earlier wound, but he held a rifle in his hands, ready to use it again. He was even more amazed when he saw the Tucson blacksmith coming from the barn. “Talk about timing,” Stephen said, walking out to Jim. “If you had showed up a couple of hours later we’d not have made it! Who all’s with you?” “Ed and his crew took the rest of my men and are going after the attackers.” Jim replied as he climbed down from his horse. The pretty blonde woman stepped forward and gasped, “Ed? Ed’s here?” Jim nodded, and told how they’d met up with him that morning. He was surprised to see tears flowing down her cheeks. “Is he okay? Is he hurt? Where’d he go?” she asked, all in one breath. Doris stepped forward and put her arm around the girl to support her. She could see the conflict of emotions was about to overtake her and feared she might faint. “He looked fine to me,” Jim assured her. Turning to his brothers he said, “You guys are all right?” It was Stephen, who spoke up first. “Jim, we need to go help them boys. The leader of the gang was Earl Miller. I recognized him when he got too close. If I’m right, we’re gonna need every one of us to fight him.” “You’re sure?” Jim looked around the yard. Seeing the men they had shot lying on the ground, he walked over and turned them face up, one by one. Not recognizing any of them, he turned back to Stephen.

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“I don’t see any of his gang in these faces. But, if you’re right, how did they get here? Last I heard they were up north.” “Someone went and got them, I reckon,” Tony answered. “When I went to the bunkhouse at Leo’s, there were a couple of men there. They said somethin’ about more men bein’ up at the North Forty since the bear attack took out two of Leo’s men.” “Amy, will you be all right here with Jerry?” Stephen asked. “Were gonna go up after Ed to help track down these skunks.” Amy nodded and turned to grab Jim’s arm. “Bring him back to me safe and in one piece. Please!” The boys mounted their horses and it was just a matter of minutes before they rode out after Ed and his crew. They soon heard gunshots echoing in the valley before them. Spurring the horses faster they came upon a scene of carnage below them. On the ground lay the bodies of three more strangers who had been shot from their horses by the Daultons. Their riderless horses milled around cropping grass as they kept watchful eyes on the men. In the distance, shapes of fleeing riders were disappearing into the mountains. Recognizing Ed’s tall frame in the saddle, Stephen rode out to him, waving his hat to keep from being shot, since it had been years since they had seen one another. As Stephen approached Ed the rest of the men were riding back from the hills. Joseph rode up to the group and said to Jim, “They’re long gone. We lost them when they ran over the peak. I counted only nine or ten men. How many did we get at the ranch?” Stephen replied, “There’re at least eight or nine dead there. If you didn’t scare them off with the first volley then I’m sure it was the sight of your badges flashing!”

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“Regardless, once the men are fed and rested from the ride up from Tucson, I want to go after the rest of them. We don’t want their kind running loose. If we could get Miller himself, that would be enough to satisfy me. Let’s rendezvous back at the Baggin ranch.” The men noticed two riders in the distance coming from the direction of town, so they pulled up and waited for them to approach. Stephen recognized the heavy man as Slim. The tall lanky rider beside him was carrying his arm in a sling. The bandages wrapped around his head, which had started out white, had turned a dingy gray from the weather. He wore no hat, but had a rifle in his good hand. Stopping their horses a few feet away, the men looked worried, but seemed intent on speaking their minds. “We heard shootin’ goin’ on. Everything ok?” Slim asked. “What can I do for you, Slim?” Stephen replied, somewhat coldly. “Spoke to your friend last night. He said you might have some work for us.” “What friend?” “Name’s Aspey. We ain’t workin’ for Leo no more. We done quit him after we found out what was goin’ on,” the tall man spoke up. “Who are you?” Ed asked. “I’m running this spread and I’m the one doing the hiring.” Turning to Ed, Joe introduced himself, then added. “Me and Slim worked for Leo for a while but after I got laid up by a bear attack we found ourselves without any place to go. I think I know the reason Leo wanted your land!” “We already know why,” Stephen replied bitterly. Seeing the question on Ed’s face, he explained the oil and the land contract with Bob, the railroad purveyor. “So Leo was involved in the attack on Amy?” Ed anxiously asked.

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“We’re bettin’ on it, but don’t know for sure yet. All the signs point to him, but as yet we got nothin’ in stone.” Stephen shook his head. “Aspey had been up here for a few days trying to find something on him. Since he filed court orders against him all hell’s broke lose. We might be able to use this attack against him if we can find out he brought the Gang in. It would be quite the coincidence if these men should show up and attack this ranch just because it was there, don’t you think?” Jim had been sitting by quietly, taking in the conversations. Now he spoke. “So we should try to take some of these boys alive if we can?” “Appears so,” answered Ed. “My fault. I didn’t know what was happenin’ down here or I would have followed them now.” “Don’t worry, Ed,” Jim said, “We’ll do our best to bring back someone who can testify.” Slim looked at Stephen, sorry that he had been on the opposing side. Trying a little levity he said, “You’ve grown a wee bit, son. Last time I saw you, you were knee high to a grasshopper and half as tall!” “You put a couple of pounds on, yourself,” Stephen returned grinning a bit. “You ain’t had anything to do with any of this?” Shaking his head, Slim said, “We’ve been up on the North Forty for years, and kept away from the happenings of the ranch pretty much. Only thing I did was hire a man down Tucson way awhile back when I rode there with Leo. “Leo went out and met someone, then come back, and we rode home. After we got back, things started going wrong.” “Who did he meet?” Jim asked.

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“Don’t rightly know. But within two, maybe three weeks, Miss Baggin got attacked. I expect now it was someone hired to do it, but I don’t rightly know!” Riding back to the house the men were surprised to see Aspey waiting for them in the front yard. He was checking out the bodies with Jerry’s help, searching through the pockets for some type of identification. Finding nothing of help, they turned to greet the men as they rode in. Aspey walked over to Jim and spoke in a low tone. “I filed a criminal indictment against Leo Grant this morning. Got enough proof to bring him into court for murder and attempted murder. Hearing is set for the end of this week and the trial for next week. I’m confident that we’ve got him!” “How?” Stephen was astonished, and began asking so many questions Aspey could not answer them fast enough. Finally, Aspey held up his hands. “Please. I’ll explain it all to everyone inside.” About this time, Amy, hearing voices outside, came out to the porch. Upon seeing Ed, a flood of emotions crossed her face. With a squeal of delight and relief, she bounded from the porch and threw herself into his arms. Ed’s heart leapt with joy at seeing her again. All those long, lonely nights on the cattle drive, dreaming of holding her in his arms and now here she was. He noted with pleasure that she was wearing the pink gingham he’d bought for her. As he held this living, breathing angel in his arms he was overjoyed by the sudden realization that she felt the same for him as he did for her. Forgetting that they had an audience, Amy reached up and put her hands on both sides of Ed’s face. She didn’t even seem to notice the dust and dirt of the trail on him or that he had a month’s growth of beard. She held his face in her soft hands so tenderly and looked into his eyes… searching. And there she found the answer to the question her heart was asking. It was true, all

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the things she’d imagined and dreamed for the past long weeks and months were real. She smiled a contented little smile and rested her cheek against his shoulder. This is where she belonged, safe in the circle of his strong arms. Ed felt his pulse quicken with desire, and then, as if waking from a dream, realized that the yard had grown quiet. Looking around, he saw that the other men had discretely stepped into the house, leaving the lovers to themselves. Ed breathed in deeply of her lovely scent. Lilacs! Forever now that would be the smell of coming home for him. “Oh, my love,” Ed whispered into her ear, “I’ve missed you so much.” Pulling her close, he crushed his lips against hers half expecting a push away, but surprised when she responded with equally if not greater force in return. His tounge found hers and again she responded with a heartfelt passionate kiss, which set him reeling in his boots. He felt dizzy and staggered against her as she held him up. “I feel the same way, sweetheart,” Amy whispered in his ear. “Right now your shoulders are the only reason I’m still standing.” “You mean you missed me as much as I missed you?” Ed asked with an expression of genuine shock, however at the same time, knowing he had known all along. “More than you ever will or can know honey.” Amy stroked his hair that had grown long and shaggy while on the trail. “I want you with all my heart!” She touched his face and looked deep in his eyes searching for rejection, dismay, or reluctance. Finding nothing but and intense desire flowing out of Ed’s every pore, she breathed a sign of relief.

***

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Amy and Lydia hardly slept that night. The excitement of the day had them both wound up but Ed’s sudden return was the topic of conversation. They talked long into the night about their hopes and dreams. Lydia, having been familiar with the Daultons in Tucson, assured her friend that it was one of the finest families around. Their loyalty and dedication to each other was well known, not only in the Territory but far beyond its borders. The two finally drifted off to sleep, each with her own dreams in mind. As the ladies made a hearty breakfast the next morning for almost twenty men the house was crowded, with only standing room available. Once it had seemed large, but now the group of men made the room seem to shrink so much that Amy could hardly get around. Finally, she had to shoo a number of them out onto the porch. She could tell by their posturing that those who were single were succumbing to the charms of Lydia. They were acting downright daffy in the presence of a pretty woman. Lydia, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the attention. She’d worked at the livery long enough to know the effect she had on men and found the best reaction was none at all. Ed had taken a bath and shave in the bunkhouse the night before and Cookie had washed his clothes for him. He’d taken some ribbing from the boys but they each were secretly envious of him. They’d all had a bath and shave too but it was different when you had a reason to clean up. Of course Ed had dished it right back. He’d noticed how some of them had taken extra care with getting slicked up too. Lydia was a beautiful woman and, as far as they all knew, she wasn’t spoken for. Now Ed sat at the table with his coffee cup in hand and Amy kept stealing glances at him. Doris could see the girl’s distraction and smiled. Ah, young love.

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Ed and Levitt told about losing the herd, the men who had died, and meeting with Nathaniel. Tim and Felix shared their stories while Cookie and Henry pitched in to help the ladies make breakfast. Feeding the men in shifts, they listened as Aspey explained his findings. The papers had been served on Leo Grant and he had ridden into town behind the sheriff to hire Bruce Griffin, a criminal defense attorney. “I know him. He’ll be tough, but I’ve not had a good challenge in awhile, so I’m looking forward to the case.” Drinking his last sip of coffee, Aspey stood up. “I have a lot of things to prepare for. We need an unbiased jury. That’s going to be the hardest thing. The town is split right down the middle from my inquiries. One side is so afraid of Leo that they don’t want to be on the jury; while the other side thinks it was a random act of violence that Leo is being blamed for just because he has a large spread. “I have the order for a possible sequestering of the jury should the need arise. Right now, I’m busy gathering more evidence. I need some of you boys to hit the town and find anyone that has been bullied by Leo or his hands in the last twenty years he’s lived here. There’s someone, believe me. Someone like Leo does not get where he is by smarts alone.” Aspey turned to leave, then slapped his forehead. “While I have you boys here, I need to take a deposition from you on what you told me last night,” he said, speaking to Slim and Joe. He sat back down and pulled out paper to take the depositions from Leo’s fired hands, having them sign it as a true and correct statement of fact. Then he glanced at Amy. “I doubt you need any more help here, but it might be wise to have the boys hole up in the bunkhouse for awhile. I think they should be around for the trial. If Leo keeps on his present course he may try to prevent them from testifying against him.

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“They came to me about some information that will help you and I told them you might have some work for them. That was last night, before I knew the Cavalry would arrive…” smiling up at the group of men, he added, “…just in time!” Amy looked at Ed for agreement and said, “Of course. They can bunk with the boys. Joe here’s gonna need some care for those wounds, anyway. Fact is they need cleaning now.” She led him over to the basin and began unwrapping the dirty bandages. Joe turned red. “Ma’am, you don’t need to trouble yourself on my account. I’ll get some new ones put on with Slim’s help!” “Nonsense!” Doris said, jumping up. “You came to help us out. You didn’t know what was going on. You did the right thing coming forward. Now, you sit back and get some mothering. Jerry, you let us check your dressings too.” As Amy and Doris cleaned the wounds and replaced the bandages the other men gathered around Aspey and listened as he told them what he required. It was decided who would ride into town and do Aspey’s bidding and who would ride with Jim to track down Earl Miller and his gang. Ed would stay and organize the efforts of the smaller group while the balance would go with Jim. Slim sat at the table, waiting for Ed to finish giving orders. Ed saw him quietly waiting, and pulled out a chair to sit in front of him. “This man you said you hired, was he bout 5’11”? One hundred seventy pounds? Black hair? Mounted on fine black stallion? Up from Tucson?” Nodding his head, Slim replied, “That’s him.” “What was he hired for?” Jim had been listening, standing to one side, but now came over and sat down.

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“Pardon the interruption, Ed, but I have one question for Slim, if you don’t mind.” Waiting, and seeing Ed nod, Jim spoke. “You hired this man in Tucson?” “Yes sir!” Slim had a confused look on his face. “Did he come to you for work or did you track him down and, if so, why him?” Jim asked. Seeing a look of astonishment come over Slim’s face, Jim’s mind ran ahead and a small smile played across his lips. “He came to me, lookin’ for work. You think he was in collusion with Leo the whole time?” Jim smiled and nodded. “He was in collusion with someone alright.” “Did I cause all this by hiring him?” Slim was anxious. “I don’t think so. Sounds like either the right place at the right time or otherwise.” Ed looked at Jim with a question in his eyes. “You gonna explain to me where you’re going with this?” “I got some checkin’ to do, but when I find out for sure I’ll let you know first thing.” Slim was worried. “I’m sorry if I did something that caused this, sir. When I hired Doug, he had good references from the local Marshal and a couple saloon men down there. They said he had done a good job runnin’ the Circle R ranch and was needin’ a change of scenery for awhile.” Jim smiled. “It will all be okay, trust me. There’s a little somethin’ you ain’t aware of and, once I check it out, I think it will be okay.” Ed stood. “Let’s get moving. I’ve got witnesses to track down and you’ve got an outlaw to find.” Amy rushed over. “Do you have to go now? We need to talk about what we’re gonna do. We owe the bank money and there aren’t any cattle to sell to pay them back.”

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Jim looked back at Ed, “Seems to me if you all are gonna scrap like a married couple you should at least do it legally!” Laughing, he walked away. Amy blushed and lowered her head. Ed got a strange look on his face as he looked around the room and noticed he was the center of attention once again. “Would you have a cowboy with nothing to his name?” he asked softly. Amy burst into tears. Throwing her arms around him, she said barely above a whisper. “Of course. I’ve loved you since the first time you held me in your arms when the Indians attacked us. All I’ve thought about is you.” Lydia smiled knowingly. She hadn’t thought it would take long for it to come to this by the way Amy had talked last night. Aspey cleared his throat, breaking in on the two. “Sorry to interrupt, but I think you should wait until after the trial; to marry, that is!” “Why?” Amy turned on him. Red faced, Aspey cleared his throat and continued. “It might look like collusion if you both told the same story to the jury as a married couple. They’ll want to hear unbiased testimony and if you are married it’ll be hard to separate truth from love. “Fact is, I think we should keep everything to ourselves about this display of affection until it’s over.” He hung his head, “I’m sorry, but I needed to tell you how it would look.” Ed looked down at Amy. She nodded and said, “Just knowing you love me is enough for now. Whatever comes in the days ahead, with the trial and all; that is my strength.” Ed reached up and brushed a tendril of hair from her brow. It was going to be difficult to keep it a secret. He couldn’t help but look at her with love written all over his face. He’d just have to avoid looking at her when they were in public.

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For now, he’d work hard to do anything he could to bring this business with Leo to a close. He wanted his “forever” with Amy to start as soon as possible and regretted a single moment lost.

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Chapter Thirty-one

The town was boiling over with excitement. Jury selection had been completed by the end of the week and the trial was set to begin the following Monday morning. Amy and Lydia had come into town with Doris and reopened her house. Even though there would not be room for all the men to sleep there, at least it would be a central place for them to meet and eat. Using pre-emptive strikes Aspey had eliminated several people that the Daulton’s had told him were friends to Leo or would vote for an acquittal regardless of the evidence. The judge he had drawn was not known to be a pushover. Considered a “hanging judge” by many, he also had a reputation as a fair man when it came to the law. Aspey went over the testimony several times with Slim, Amy, and Ed, and was confident he had done his homework. It would be in the hands of the jury by the end of the week. The only problem with juries was that you could never tell how they would vote. He might present an airtight case, but still lose out to a split decision or worse, a full acquittal for Leo. Jim sent wires at the telegraph office for hours on end. The lines hummed and sang the messages back and forth. A new witness was riding in from Tucson. Hopefully, he would get here in time. His testimony was pertinent to Aspey’s case. Without him Aspey would have a hard time showing the chain of events that led him to reach the point where he could file charges and make them stick. Monday morning seemed to come slowly for the others, but not for Aspey as he scrambled to tie up loose ends in his case. Sending several Daultons out to the North 40, they found it deserted. Sam Cooney and the McCloud brothers had disappeared.

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Prescott was full of people when the court doors opened Monday for the morning session. Army guards were sent from nearby Ft. Whipple, and stationed around town to maintain peace by order of the Governor. The detachment consisted of thirty men armed to the teeth. Judge Malone called the court to order, greeted everyone, and asked if Aspey was ready to present his case. Aspey stood, “Yes, your Honor.”…and so it began. He started by telling the jury about the first attack on Amy by the three men and said he could prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the men were hired by Leo Grant, through a man named Sam Conney, to steal the deed to the Baggin ranch and leave no witnesses alive. Furthermore, he had a surprise witness who would come forward and tell how he had seen enough to prove Leo Grant was not only aware of the plot, but that he had hatched it himself. And last, but not least, there would be the testimony of Bob Patterson, a railroad engineer who received a letter from Leo about some oil and water rights on land he said he owned. This engineer came out to Leo’s land and found several hundred thousand dollars worth of oil on land that was in dispute. Aspey described each step in the chain of events that led up to the pending purchase of the Grant land by the railroad. “You will hear something so strange that I myself at first did not believe it. All this could have been prevented, had not the greediness of Leo Grant overcome his basic common sense.” “Gentlemen, the witnesses and evidence will tell you a story of greed and dishonesty by this town’s most prominent citizen.” When Aspey had finished, he walked back to his desk and sat down, looking at the jury. Bruce Griffin got up and gave his opening statement. Bruce told how Leo had been a distinguished member of the community for over twenty years; there was no doubt in his mind that Leo had no part in this plot. Leo was an innocent

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bystander being brought into court because he had money, power and prestige. What did he have to gain by attacking his neighbors? Nothing. It was unfortunate that Mr. Baggin and his daughter were attacked, but Leo had nothing to do with it. The Baggins were just envious of Leo Grant’s wealth and success and so he was a convenient object to blame for their misfortunes. He would show them that the plaintiff’s attorney had no proof in casting these aspersions on his client’s character. Sure, Leo wasn’t the most likeable person… this comment earned him a glare from Leo… but that was not a crime in the Arizona Territory. Aspey noticed the jury taking it all in. Several members looked at him with a glare. The defense had effectively undermined his opening statement. Aspey was worried. He prayed his riders arrived in time. This was going to be harder than he thought. He should have told them up front about Leo owning the land, but he had a reason for waiting. He wanted to build the suspense, bring in the murder, and tie in Leo’s lack of knowledge about the land boundaries as the motive. Leo’s money provided the opportunity to be able to do the job and the attacks were the method used to take something from someone else. That is why the deed to the Baggin ranch was being looked for in the first place! After Bruce sat down, Judge Malone looked at Aspey. “Mr. Diesel, you may call your first witness.” “Thank you, your Honor,” Aspey replied calling Henry to the stand. After being sworn in and adjusting his chair to face the jury, Henry looked at Leo, nodded, and waited. Aspey picked up a letter from the desk in front of him and walked over to Henry. “Please explain your current occupation and the reasons behind why you were employed by Mr. Leo Grant for almost five years.”

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Henry swallowed deeply, took a long breath, and told the jury about his indentured status; the need to work off his passage to America when Leo bought his ticket from the wharf in San Francisco, years earlier. “Did you send a letter to the U.S. Marshal in Tucson on September 12th of this year?” “Yes.” “Why?” “I was afraid of the man Leo had me contact that night. His name was Sam Conney, a known outlaw and killer for hire. “Leo sent me to fetch him after he received word about something that had gone wrong. I had overheard talk of Dan Baggin’s refusal to sell his property for the last several years. Apparently, Leo had tried to buy him out before I ever came to work for him, but Dan refused to sell.” “Did you hear anything that led you to believe Leo had a hand in the attack that took place on the Double Diamond?” “He was very secretive, but sometimes, when he got mad, he yelled, ‘I will kill him if I have to. I want that land before something happens and he finds it.’” “Objection… Hearsay.” Griffin was on his feet. “We have the defendant right here. Why don’t we ask him what he said instead of relying on a disgruntled ex-employee for statements allegedly made years ago? He’s saying he remembers exactly what was said. Nobody can remember something like that.” Judge Malone looked at Aspey and admonished. “Where are you going with this? This gentleman being an ex-employee gives me cause for concern that anything he states happened and could be a way for him to retaliate against the defendant. “I will sustain Mr. Griffin’s objection. Re-phrase the question.”

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“Why did you write a letter to the U.S. Marshal?” Aspey asked. “We needed some help up here. I’ve grown to love the little town of Prescott and most of the people. I was always treated right and made to feel welcome, even in places they didn’t allow black folk or foreigners. I was pretty sure Leo was talking about the attack, because after he got back from Tucson the month before, he mentioned to a friend that he would be rich soon and his problems were being taken care of.” “How did you happen to be around when the supposed conversation took place?” Aspey held the letter in his hand, waiting. “I’d brought them some iced tea when they were on the veranda. Leo was so used to me coming and going he didn’t notice me. I just set the tea down and walked back inside, but as I was leaving he said somethin’ like that.” Henry looked at Griffin and smiled. Griffin was halfway on his feet to protest, but when Henry finished with “Somethin’ like that,” the objection died on his lips. “So you could have heard wrong, being you were moving away from the conversation?” Aspey was trying to remove the defense attorney’s ability to negate this testimony on crossexamination. He wanted to let the jury know he was not asking Henry to recall the exact words, but simply to state the facts of the case. “No. I was so used to Leo calling me and asking me to do things I’d trained my ears to hear everything I could because I might need to take it as a command. I thought Leo was going to ask me for something else to go with the tea, so I was focused on what he said.” “Thank you. Now, returning to the letter. Can you identify the letter you wrote?”

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“Yes, sir. I have a distinct writing style that only I use because English is a second language for me. I was taught to read and write in Russian and it is still hard for me to spell properly some of your English words. I place them the best I can on paper.” Noticing the jury growing restless, Aspey handed the letter to Henry and asked him if this was the one he had sent. Henry nodded affirmatively, and then, in response to the judge’s request, spoke up with a loud, “Yes.” “What did you say in the letter?” Aspey asked, and then turned to the judge. “Your Honor, I’d like to enter this letter into evidence.” “So entered,” replied the judge. “Your Honor, may the witness read the letter aloud, since nobody can be expected to remember exactly what they have written?” Henry, upon receiving permission from the judge, opened the letter and read what he had written about his fear and concern that a land grab over mineral rights was being committed and his worry that his employer had a hand in it. It asked the Marshal for help from outside the community of Prescott. “That was the second letter I sent, by the way.” Henry’s face lit up. “I forgot to tell you, I sent a letter out several months before the attack because I feared Leo would try and kill old man Baggin one day after he was in a foul mood after riding over to the Double Diamond.” This time, Griffin leapt to his feet. “Your Honor. This is outrageous. Why, all of a sudden, does he conveniently remember something that happened earlier? I move this entire line of questioning be struck from the record!” The judge thought a moment and then responded. “I think I’d like to see where this goes” Looking at Henry he asked, “Do you have proof that you wrote a previous letter?”

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“No, sir.” “Objection sustained.” “But…” “Sir, there will be no more statements about the first letter. Do I make myself clear?” Henry nodded and looked back at Aspey. The back of the courtroom was abuzz over the revelation of the possible existence of a first letter. Judge Malone banged his gavel and frowned at the seated spectators. “I will clear this court if you can’t be quiet!” “Continue, Mr. Diesel,” he instructed Aspey. “Your Honor, if it pleases the court, I did do my homework. I will introduce testimony that will show evidence of a first letter with another witness.” Aspey was not too concerned. There was always a way to repair things if you had done your job right. “Well, then you may bring it into evidence at that time… now, please continue.” The judge said with slight impatience in his voice. Aspey turned back to Henry. “What made you quit the employment of Mr. Grant?” “I heard some yelling one morning and came out in the yard to see a man named Paul Boto ride in with blood on his leg. He yelled for Leo and when Leo saw him he went crazy. He started yelling and barking orders at me to tend to Mr. Boto’s wounds. While I was tending him, Leo questioned him about what went wrong. A few days before, this same man and a couple of other fellows had threatened me to mind my own business. Anyway, when I heard talk around town later of how three men had ridden out and were shot by the Daulton boys, I put two and two together. Everything Paul Boto told Leo finally made sense to me.”

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Henry finished up by telling the jury the names of the men and that he had Bob Patterson as a witness to the men having been at the ranch. “I’d like to recall Henry at a later date, if need be.” Aspey requested of the Judge. “So be it.” “Mr. Griffin, cross-examine” The judge cleared his throat. “Please keep this brief, gentleman. From what I see, this is going to be a long trial. I have only scheduled one week to hear this, so let’s keep it at that.” Bruce Griffin stood. Approaching Henry, he led him through the same type of questions Aspey had asked. However, he also got Henry to admit he disliked Leo immensely. “Is it not true that after being treated, as you say, so much like a lowly servant over the years, that you had a deep resentment for your boss?” “Objection. Leading the witness. He’s trying to make it seem like he harbors a grudge and is trying to get even.” “Sustained. Ask a different question, Mr. Griffin.” After trying unsuccessfully to trap Henry in his earlier testimony, Griffin turned to the jury. “Ask yourselves a question. If you were treated badly, wouldn’t you hold a grudge?” “Your Honor, I object.” Said Aspey “Sustained” Making his point and driving it home was all Griffin had left at this point. He dismissed Henry with a backward wave, not even bothering to thank him for his time. The seed of doubt planted itself in the minds of the jury members when they saw the defense treating a witness as nothing more than a bother and a waste of his time.

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Aspey called Amy Baggin to the stand. She wore the pink gingham Ed and given her and with her hair pulled back with a ribbon, she looked fresh and young. As she sat in the witness box she smiled sweetly at the jury and tried to avoid looking at the audience and Ed. Aspey went through the events of the attack that resulted in her father’s death as well as the repeated attacks. As she described her father’s death, she broke down in tears. Struggling to maintain her composure, she looked at Leo. “You killed him and I know it. Why? What did we ever do to you? Pa let you water your cows at our waterhole when the drought was bad. He left you alone. Why couldn’t you leave us alone?” “Your Honor, this is prejudicial to my client’s innocence.” Griffin spoke softly. No sense in getting the jury of twelve men riled up. Amy was a pretty woman and men generally listened to what a pretty lady had to say over one not so blessed with good looks. “I agree. Miss Baggin, please keep your thoughts to yourself. The facts of the case will prove if Mr. Grant is guilty or not. Please just answer the questions you are asked.” Judge Malone was frowning. “The jury will disregard the last statement made by Miss Baggin.” Aspey was pleased inside. Of course, telling the jury to forget something was like sharing a secret with the local gossip and asking them not to tell. It would never happen. After finishing her testimony with Aspey asking the questions, Griffin began the crossexamination. He stood and walked slowly to the stand. “Would you like a glass of water or a break, Ma’am?” he gently asked. Shaking her head, Amy waited. “Have you ever had any dealings with Leo Grant other than those that bring us here today?”

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Amy looked at him, confused. “What do you mean? Do you mean, has he tried to court me or asked me to dance? The answer is yes, he has, and I told him repeatedly I was not interested.” Griffin held up his hands. “Your Honor, I was seeking to uncover other areas that could be the basis for the hatred that has grown into years of personal assault and verbal abuse… Not whether they had a romantic notion on their minds.” Judge Malone looked at Griffin and smiled. “You opened this line of questioning without an idea of what she would say. When I was an attorney, I always knew what the answers were to my questions before I asked them… might be wise for you to do the same. I’ll allow her to continue to determine if her spurning Mr. Grant’s advances might have been the source for animosity in him.” Griffin looked helplessly at Leo. He had not told him about any romantic feeling he had harbored toward Amy. “Come to think of it, I didn’t even ask him”, Griffin thought. Amy waited, looking at the judge. Nodding to her, Judge Malone smiled. “You may continue with what you were saying, Miss Baggin.” “Several times during my childhood, Mr. Grant tried to ask me to the Saturday night socials. I refused him each time, but he persisted.” Amy told several more stories about Leo and was dismissed by Griffin the first chance he got. She had damaged his client’s reputation. Now he needed to undo that damage. There was always a way. Finding it wasn’t always easy, however, and he’d have to cross that bridge soon. Aspey was called to continue and as he brought in Ed, Levitt, and Jim, he walked them through their parts in the defense of the attack by Earl Miller and his gang. Judge Malone stopped the proceedings at five o’clock that day, telling everyone to be back at eight sharp.

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Chapter Thirty-two

The next morning the courtroom was even more packed. People were standing wherever possible because no seats were left. Aspey walked to the front of the court and asked to have the next witness brought in… Marshal Bill Trimball. Marshal Trimball wore his best black suit with his badge prominently displayed on his chest; also highly visible were his pair of Colt .44 revolvers. He dressed for respect, and one look at the jury told him he had achieved the desired effect. As he was sworn in, the court became quiet. “Mr. Trimball.” Aspey begin. “Did you receive a letter from a citizen of Prescott several months ago about some concerns he had with a land grab over mineral rights?” “Yes, I did.” “What did you do?” “I became very concerned with the contents. That was because I had received a letter from this same citizen a few months before, asking me to investigate some improprieties occurring between the Double Diamond and Bar 7 outfits. “I wasn’t able to send anyone up immediately due to repeated Indian attacks on the settlers in the Tucson area. I had no men to spare, so nothing was done at the time.” The Marshal continued, “The other reason I held off on doing anything was the fact that there had been no actual crime committed yet and, without a crime, I have nothing but speculation.” “Why did you respond to the second letter you received?” “In the second letter, I was told of a murder that had been committed by unknown persons. Furthermore, I was informed of an attack on a young lady and given an idea that this citizen had

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an intimate knowledge of the crime. The letter was full of information only a person close to those involved could have known.” “Do you have that first letter with you?” Marshal Trimball reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper that had seen better days. “I have it right here. Kept it for evidence just in case.” “When you received the second letter, what did you do?” “I took one of my best men and sent him up here in an undercover capacity. I also sent up an old Indian scout to keep his eye out on my man.” “How did you work that out without jeopardizing your officer’s life?” “Fortune was on our side. We received word around Tucson that the foreman of the Bar 7 up Prescott way was looking for a hand. I went to the saloon keepers who are law abiding citizens and talked to them about suggesting my man.” “I then had my deputies approach this foreman and offer some good words about my officer. The barkeeps confirmed everything to the man.” “Who was the foreman?” “I found out later his name was Slim, although lookin’ at him I can’t rightly figure out why.” The courtroom burst into laughter. Judge Malone pounded his gavel on the desk. “People; please keep it down.” After the laughter died down, Aspey continued. “Is that undercover officer present today?” “Yes, sir. He’s waiting outside.” Turning to Daulton’s, Aspey said, “Your witness.”

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“I have nothing but highest regard for this man,” Griffin replied, as he stood. “He has said nothing which I dispute. The one thing I would ask is this: “Was Leo Grant’s name mentioned at all?” “No sir.” “Did the letter indicate in any way that Leo Grant was involved?” “No sir.” “Your Honor, I have no further questions for this witness.” The judge called a recess for the lunch hour. Giving instructions to the jury not to discuss the case outside the court, he admonished them to keep opinions to themselves until he gave them the case. Every restaurant in town was packed with people waiting for tables. Everyone tried to eat in a hurry and get back to the court. Only those who made it early were allowed inside. The stragglers stood outside the building, milling around and gossiping about the case. Who was the undercover man that had ridden into their midst so cleverly that nobody knew he was a lawman? Upon returning to court after lunch, Aspey called his surprise witness. Approaching the stand the witness was sworn in, and took the chair. The courtroom was filled with gasps when they saw who it was. Slim and Joe stared at him and then broke out laughing. The judge threw them a stern look that shut them up. Lydia seemed to come suddenly awake from her spot on the bench next to Amy. She sat straighter as she recognized the man as the one she’d seen the day she’d arrived on the stage. Hmmmmm, he cleaned up good! “Please state your name for the record.” Aspey begin. “Doug Rawlins.”

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At Aspey’s direction, Doug testified that Leo Grant believed he had hired a gun hand, not a cowpoke. He described his first day riding into the Bar 7 and Leo wanting assurances he would use a gun if needed. He furthermore told how Leo was ridding the North Forty of a good man, Joe, and had plans to rid the ranch of Slim as well because he was not the kind to go along with murder or a land grab. Doug went into detail as he described how Sam Cooney had brought in some men to run Amy Baggin off her land. He went on to tell how he’d overheard the plot from the McCloud Brothers bragging about a fire they’d set which would have been successful in destroying Amy’s property if the wind had not turned. He finished up by describing his exhausting ride to Utah to bring in Earl Miller and his gang. Stopping he wiped his brow and looked at Leo. “When I was ordered to fetch the outlaws, I had time to send a telegram to Marshal Trimball and tell him what was happenin’. He advised me to do what I needed to do and he would send help.” “That’s when the Daulton family came in?” Aspey asked. Doug nodded. “I was told afterward by Marshal Trimball that he had spoken with Jim Daulton just before he headed north. They arrived just in time to stop the recent attack on the Double Diamond.” Turning to Griffin, Aspey said, “Your witness.” Griffin rose slowly. He was not ever made aware of all this information. It would do no good to try to slash Doug’s credibility, especially since he had been undercover and had risked his life for something in which he had no personal stake.

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“Mr. Rawlins, did you ever hear Leo Grant order a killing?” “No, sir. But he…” “Thank you.” As Doug tried to explain what he had been about to say, Griffin turned to the judge and said, “Your Honor, the question was asked and answered. I would like to move on.” “You’re right. Mr. Rawlins, please hold your comments. You can address them on re-direct, if necessary.” “So, if you never heard Mr. Grant make any type of death threat, how do you know he had anything to do with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Dan Baggin’s death?” “I don’t.” “So, according to your own testimony, Mr. Grant had no factual knowledge of any crimes being committed, isn’t that right?” “No sir. That’s incorrect. I was physically present when I was ordered to move out two good men and replace them with known outlaws. I was present when I was told to go get a band of known outlaws to perform the task of driving Amy Baggin and her help off her land.” “I meant about murders.” Griffin knew he had asked the question in the wrong way. “I have no further questions for this witness, your Honor.” The Judge glanced at his timepiece, which was held by a chain to his long black coat. “We’ll wrap it up today and reconvene first thing in the morning.” The courtroom burst open as people streamed outside talking about the events of the day. More buggies arrived that evening only to find every room in every hotel was booked. Many people camped right outside the courthouse and soon the town looked like an army camp with cooking fires lighting up the night.

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There was an air of excitement with this much attention centered on one of their leading citizens. Hawkers sold goods that had become scarce after the first day of the trial for twice their value. Diners stood for hours on end waiting for a table. The kitchens ran out of food that could be prepared to follow the menu and began serving whatever meals they could put together, which was generally steak and potatoes, along with gallons of coffee. Wednesday morning arrived to find army officers searching people prior to entering the courtroom. Griffin had requested the extra security after Doug’s damaging testimony. Griffin and Leo talked deep into the night. Griffin told him that he was afraid they were going to lose the case. Watching the jury’s reaction to the sworn statements by the law enforcement officers had a shattering effect on his presentation. U.S. Marshals were generally taken at their word and this jury was no different. Having the hired killers brought in may have sealed Leo’s fate before the trial ever started. Today, it would get worse. Bob Patterson was being call as a witness on Amy’s behalf. His testimony would certainly bring a motive for the crime. There was something missing, though. Things were just too pat. When Griffin was given this case there were people who swore to him that Leo was nowhere around when the crimes occurred. There wasn’t anybody who could prove he had a hand in the failed attacks. That would be his saving grace. There were still options open to them. Leo was worried, however. If any of the deputies scouting the county for Sam Cooney and the McCloud brothers found them he was a dead man. Griffin waited outside the courthouse for his client in the morning. Eight o’clock arrived, but Leo did not. Time ticked slowly by and he was still nowhere to be seen by eight-thirty. Judge Malone was not a happy man.

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“Mr. Griffin, if your client is not here within ten minutes I will have no choice but to find him guilty in absentia. This case will proceed to a guilty verdict.” Griffin shook his head. “Your Honor, I spoke with my client last night. He gave no indication he was ill or otherwise unable to be here. May I send a rider out to his ranch and make sure the stress of this trial has not caused him to become ill?” Judge Malone nodded. “We’ll recess until this afternoon. Court is adjourned until then.” Griffin hurried out of the court with Deputies Matt and Donald hot on his trail. Tom gave them instructions and they rode off toward the Bar 7 with a posse of men in tow. When they arrived at the ranch, the house was quiet. The wind blew dry leaves across the empty front yard. In the stable two horses milled around, looking for hay to ease their appetite. Leo’s horse was gone. An eerie silence greeted them when they opened the front door to the ranch house. The men searched the house, checking every room and then met back in the living room. “Ain’t nobody home,” said Matt. “He done skipped out.” Moving a couch in the living room, the men discovered the safe that Henry had told them about. The safe was unlocked and empty. “He’s running,” Donald spoke. “We need to get to town and put a warrant out for his arrest. If anyone had any doubt of his guilt he just blew it.” The men felt disappointed as they rode back toward town. They had been looking forward to the rest of the trial and seeing the big man brought down. The evidence so far had him hung. It would have been interesting to see what his attorney would have been able to pull off with all the testimony against him. Bruce was good.

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Matt pulled Tom aside when they got back and explained what they found. Tom went directly to the Judge’s chambers. The Judge called both attorneys in and told them about Leo being missing. Judge Malone looked at Griffin. “You can proceed without him if you like, but from what I’ve heard so far, you won’t get far. I see you have been surprised by some of your own client’s actions and the lack of information he gave you thus far. Griffin just shook his head. Judge Malone called the court back into session. As he rapped his gavel against the wood and asked for quiet a hush fell over the crowd. He cleared his throat and after informing the jury of Leo’s disappearance he said, “I am declaring this trial over. The actions of Mr. Grant, as well as the facts which have been presented to us these last three days, prove beyond a reasonable doubt in my mind that the evidence is true and correct, and the court assumes the presumption of guilt. I therefore would like to poll the jury to see what they thought so far of the defendant’s presumption of guilt or innocence, if that would be acceptable to the attorneys.” Aspey stood and waited for Griffin. When he stood, Griffin held his hands out in front of him, palms up and open. “I have to other choice but to accept your Honor’s decision, as hard it is. If it pleases the court to poll our distinguished members of the jury, I have no problem with that.” Aspey nodded his head in agreement. Judge Malone turned to the jury. “How say you in the matter of the Arizona Territory vs. Grant?”

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A thick-necked man stood and pointed to the other members. “Them folks wanted me to speak on our behalf when the trial was gonna be done with. I would have been right pleased to see Mr. Grant rot in prison, but since I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to any of the folks, I speak for myself.” Grunts and nods of agreement followed his statement from the jury. “Hang ‘em when y’all find him,” spoke a thin man wearing wire rimmed glasses. “He done cooked his own goose bringin’ in them outlaws like he did.” Judge Malone looked over at Griffin. “I am issuing a warrant for the arrest of Leo Grant. He is found by this court to be guilty of accessory to murder, and aiding and abetting known criminals in a criminal enterprise to gain a means of getting rich. His sentence shall be as follows…” “But your Honor,” Griffin said. “It was Mr. Grant’s land all along. How could he have committed a criminal enterprise when it was his own land he was selling?” The jury gasped and questions began to fly around the room. “It was his own land?” Judge Malone pounded his gavel repeatedly. “Quiet! Give me a minute and I’ll explain it to you!” he roared. “Mr. Grant was under the assumption that the land belonged to the Baggins. I read the depositions of all the involved parties and, if this trial had continued, I’m sure Miss Baggin’s attorney would have brought this out. I sentence the defendant to hard labor for twenty years in the Yuma Territorial Prison. Furthermore,” he yelled above the dim, “I grant all land and titles of the Bar 7 to Amy Baggin for the pain and suffering caused her by Leo Grant.” Addressing the deputy in the courtroom, he instructed him, “Deputy, go get the property clerk over here right now. I want a new deed notarized and witnessed in the presence of the jury.”

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“This court is adjourned!” Slamming his gavel on the desk, he rose and walked to the jury box, where he began handing out cigars to the jury members. “While we’re waiting,” he said with a smile. Lighting up, they sat down and began to enjoy the day.

***

Leo rode up the back hill, sneaking into the yard where he knew Sam was waiting. He needed him dead. Otherwise, he could tell the world about his plot. He was unaware of the judge’s decision to find him guilty. Pulling up, he studied the house but saw no movement. He dismounted and cautiously moved forward. Once he was done with this he would ride out and start a new life. He was startled by the sound of a gun cocking. “I knew you would try something like this,” a voice behind and to the side of him spoke. “You’re the only one who can tie me to anything, Sam,” Leo said, as he moved his hand slowly down toward his gun. “You think you can just pull a gun on me and get away with it?” Leo, drawing as he turned, felt the first shock of a bullet hit him like a hammer on the chest. Trying to bring his gun up, he found he couldn’t move his hand. Sam walked in firing, striking Leo’s body with several more rounds. “Yes. Yes I can,” were the last words Leo heard before he died.

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Chapter Thirty-three

After the trial, Doris had invited the Daulton men and their various new friends over to her house for a celebratory dinner. With the help of Henry, Lydia and Amy, she was able to put together a simple but filling meal. After the meal they all sat around in the parlor and on the large porch of Doris’ Victorian house discussing the trial. Laughter rang out as Slim mimicked the Marshal’s comment, “I found out later his name was Slim, ‘though lookin’ at him I can’t rightly figure out why.” When she’d finished cleaning up in the kitchen Amy went in search of Ed. When she asked Stephen if he’d seen Ed he replied, “He said something about going to the livery to tend to the horses. Ed was deep in thought as he kept busy checking the horses and tack. He was mostly just making busywork and needed a place away from the crowd so he could think. His pulse quickened when he smelled the now familiar lilac of Amy’s perfume. He turned to watch her walk through the open doorway of the stable. “Hey there!” he said as he exited the stall he had been working in. Amy skipped the last few steps to where he stood. He could tell she was excited by the flush in her cheeks and the sparkle in her eye. She began chattering excitedly about her newly gained wealth from Leo's land. She was happily talking about the amount of money they would have to rebuild the ranch, buy a new herd and pay the new hands. She suddenly noticed how quiet he was. “What's wrong?” she asked, concerned.

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“Nothing…I mean you know… the trial and all being over and you being a rich woman, why would you still want to marry a poor cowboy?” Amy trilled her high-pitched laughter and patted him on the back playfully. “Don't worry. I'm sure I can find a use for you around the ranch. Maybe you could earn your keep shoveling out the manure from the barn. And there are always fences to be repaired out on the range. Then maybe…” she said with an impish smile, “you could just shut-up and kiss me you fool.” She stepped closer into the circle of his arms and reached up to hold his face in her hands, tenderly stroking his cheeks with her thumbs. “Don’t be a fool Ed. I fell in love with you for better or for worse. Together, we got the better but it would never have happened without you calling in those family members of yours. All that I have was yours the first day I laid eyes on you, including me,” she shyly finished. Ed could see that she sincerely meant it and, with that, all doubt left his mind. He chuckled slightly in relief and hugged her close. “Amy, darlin’, lets not wait. Let’s get married today. I’m sure Judge Malone would do the honors for us. I know your sisters aren’t here, but we’ll invite the whole family to come out in the spring to celebrate with us. I can’t bear the thought of waiting another day to make you mine!” There was a short intake of breath as Amy considered his words. She was slightly overwhelmed by what she was feeling but she knew she didn’t want to wait either. Fire coursed through her veins as she thought ahead to their wedding night and then she blushed as if Ed could read her thoughts.

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“Oh, no, I’ve pushed her too fast.” Ed thought. “Of course a girl wants a big wedding all planned out. What a clumsy oaf I am.” He was about to open his mouth to take it back when Amy replied. “Ed, I love you so much and I don’t want to wait either. If you’ll go ask the Judge, I’ll go see Millie and find something to wear.” Ed grinned with delight and dipped his head to kiss her upturned mouth. She returned his kiss with passion and he suddenly felt weak in the knees. He reluctantly turned her loose and said, “I’ll meet you on the courthouse steps just before sunset.

***

Amy stopped by Doris’ house, slipping in the back door to avoid all the men on the front porch. She breathlessly told Lydia and Doris of the wedding plans. Lydia hugged her friend with delight. She was so glad they’d decided to come up to Prescott when they did. She wouldn’t have wanted to miss Amy’s wedding for anything in the world. “I’ve got to find something to wear! Becky took mother’s wedding dress with her when she got married and I always figured I’d have plenty of time to make a dress.” she said with dismay. Doris smiled. “Amy, honey, remember when I said you were the daughter I never had but always wanted? Well, I’d like you to have my wedding dress; if you’ll take it.” Tears came immediately to Amy’s eyes. She hugged the older woman and said, “God must have known I’d need you. I’d be honored to wear your wedding dress.” “Well, come on then, honey, time’s a wasting.” And she took the girl by the hand and Lydia followed them up the stairs to the attic. Using a duster made of turkey feathers, Doris brushed off

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the old trunk in the corner. Unfastening the leather straps, she lifted back the lid, and removed the quilt stored in the top. Underneath was a package wrapped in paper and tied with string. Pulling this out she turned to Amy. “I was a Philadelphia bride and this dress was the finest Doneker’s had at the time. There are even satin slippers to match.” “Oh!” was all Amy said as she unwrapped the dress. It was beautiful. It reminded her of the lace wings of a butterfly. “Oh, Doris, it’s so beautiful!” “Wow!” was all Lydia could say. Before Doris could reply, Amy slipped out of her shirtwaist and tried the dress on. It was just about right but needed to be taken in a little at the sides because Amy had become so thin in the past few months from worry and sorrow. “Let’s go see Millie,” Doris suggested. “I’m sure she can fix it in no time at all.” “Oh, Millie! I forgot I was going to go tell her anyhow.” The women bundled the dress back up in the paper and snuck out the back door of the house. It was only a few minutes before they were in front of Millie’s store. The door was locked and the blinds pulled. “Oh, no!” Amy cried. “Now what will I do?” A voice behind her said, “Well, you could start by moving out of the way so I can unlock the door!” Millie stood there with a big smile on her face. “Word around town is there’s gonna be a wedding on the courthouse steps this evening. Anyone you know?” “Millie!” Amy laughed. “Well, I wanted to surprise you, but no matter. Doris gave me her dress… do you think you can make it fit me?”

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By now, Millie had unlocked the door and the women were inside. Millie left the blinds pulled and locked the door behind them so they could work undisturbed. Amy introduced Lydia to Millie. Both women agreed they felt they knew each other already because Amy had talked about each of them so much. It was not long before Millie’s deft hands had made the needed adjustment to the dress and it looked as if it were made for Amy. Millie pulled a hatbox from behind the counter and removed a beautiful white hat with a lace veil. “I noticed you looking at things when you were in town last month. I didn’t guess incorrectly that there would soon be need for a wedding hat.” Amy tried on the hat and was astonished to see how perfectly it complimented the dress. She teared up again. “Awww, honey, now don’t cry. You don’t want your eyes to be all red when your fella lifts that veil in a little while.” Doris patted the girl’s shoulder. “Just a minute.” Millie said as she disappeared up the stairs to her living quarters. Amy looked at Lydia and Doris questioningly. Millie returned a moment later with something furry in her arms. “This is my wedding gift to you. It’s an ermine stole and I think you’ll need a little extra warmth once the sun goes down this evening.” “Oh, no, Millie, you’ve done so much already!” Amy quickly declined. “Now, Amy, I said this is my wedding gift to you. Don’t deny an old woman her pleasure, and it pleases me to see you so happy!” Amy relented and hugged the soft fur about her, stroking it like a kitten. “Now, come upstairs and we’ll do your hair up and get you all ready for your fella.”

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***

The sun was just beginning to fall in the western sky and cast shadows over the Butte that stuck up like a thumb at the end of Gurley Street. News had traveled quickly in the little frontier town and most of the people who had come for the trial had stayed for the wedding. This was a real treat and such entertainment wasn’t often to be had in this rugged land. The owner of St. Michael’s Hotel was offering half-price drinks in honor of the couple and had put a pasteboard sign up that said, Good Luck and Godspeed, Ed & Amy! Amy felt a little shaky as she and her friends walked the short distance to the courthouse square. She didn’t realize what a huge audience she would have. She was calmed a little when Stephen strode out to meet her. “My I have the honor of giving the bride away?” “Oh, Stephen, I’m so glad you’re here. At least one of my family members can share this with me. But, you know, I really feel as if Doris and Millie are family too. I have Lydia and now all the Daultons…” she broke off with a laugh. “Are you sure it’s legal? You being related to the bride AND the groom?” Stephen laughed too. “Well, sis, you can’t get rid of me. We’ll be kin comin’ and goin’!” They had reached the courthouse steps now and, as the crowd drew back to let them through, Amy could see all the Daultons lined up in a large circle. She noticed too, their new friends: Slim, Joe, Lou and Doug. There too, were the hands Ed had taken on the drive: Tim, Felix and Levitt. Ed stood at the center of the circle wearing a new outfit. When the Daulton boys had heard of the impending wedding they’d insisted on taking him to the mercantile and buying him a complete

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new outfit from head to toe, including his underwear. They’d even bought him a new hat and boots and now he stood there, hat in hand, waiting for Amy. As the crowd parted to let her through Ed gasped at the vision of loveliness before him. She looked like an angel gliding toward him, and the sleeves of the dress enhanced that effect. Lydia walked behind her holding the train of the dress out of the dust. She had gone back to Doris’ house and changed into a lovely gown of turquoise colored silk, but Ed had eyes only for Amy. As Ed stood with the best men he had chosen, Tim, Felix, and Levitt he thought about the reasons best men were needed in the first place. Back in the eons of time when a bride was taken in marriage, it was usually by force. The best men were the groom’s friends brought in to keep the bride’s family from stealing her back and, if necessary, fight to the death for the groom. Ed smiled at the irony that this tradition had been kept until this day as Amy had freely given herself to him. The crowd suddenly became still as conversations halted. All eyes turned toward the courthouse. Stephen handed Amy to Ed and said, “Remember, even when they're wrong, they're right.” His face was so serious that Levitt guffawed beside Ed and a chuckle broke out among those close enough to hear the exchange. Ed took Amy's hand in his and was in a daze for the rest of the ceremony. He faintly remembered his first kiss to her as man and wife and then a sense of pure pleasure overwhelmed him. Holding back the tears at the joy of finding his soul mate, he checked himself. It would not do for a grown man to be seen crying. Upon hearing the announcement “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Daulton,” the congregation applauded and cheered at the top of their lungs. Laughter broke out among the

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people as several of the single cowhands whistled and slapped their hats against their knees. Looking radiant, Amy smiled at Ed.

***

The night had been arranged so that Doris and Lydia would stay at Millie’s for the night so that Ed and Amy could have her house to themselves. “There’s no point in you riding all that way back out to the ranch tonight.” she’d argued. “Besides, you’ll want some peace and quiet, not a noisy ranch with all those men celebrating!” Ed took Amy by the hand and led her up the steps into Doris’ now quiet house. The entire assemblage of guests had whooped and hollered them down the street. They waited and cheered as Ed carried Amy over the threshold of the door but had now left them alone to sanctify their marriage. Shyly, Amy let herself be led into the bedroom. Love was almost a tangible thing in the air as the two lovers slowly undressed each other for the first of what would be many times. Amy trembled with a strange mixture of fear and excitement. Ed took her in his arms and whispered to her how much he loved her. He kissed her lips gently at first and then with more urgency. Amy responded, pressing her naked body fully against his lean, muscular frame. Feeling his manhood grow between them, she let a gasp escape her lips and pulled him toward the bed. Amy ignored the momentary pain she felt initially as every fiber was suffused with a pleasure like she had never known. Stars lit the night sky outside as inside the room love was made, time and time again.

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Kissing Amy and pulling her close, Ed felt her shoulders surge toward him as her breast pushed into his chest. Holding her arms tightly at her sides, Ed pulled her close to him and rubbed her back with a soft hand, massaging her muscles for maximum relaxation. All too soon, the night turned into day. The two lovers lay in each other’s arms watching the rising of the sun on their first day as man and wife. Neither was tired; even after being awake all night. They were too much in love to go to sleep even for a moment for fear of losing that feeling. Amy lay in Ed’s embrace remembering all he had taught her during the night. She had never known that love would be like this. She smiled as she reached up and stroked his tousled hair, wondering what their children would look like. She wanted two girls and two or three boys, as long as they looked like her husband. Her HUSBAND! How wonderful that sounded. Names were running through her head as she drifted into a happy sleep. Girl…Jennifer, or… boys…

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Epilogue

“What happened to those men up on the North Forty?” asked Ed’s granddaughter, Alberta. Amy smiled at her. “We ran into them again.” “What happened?” The other granddaughter, named April after her mother’s sister, questioned. “And did Great-uncle Jim catch the Earl Miller gang?” “I want to know about the gold claim Slim and the others found,” Brian added. “Did you guys get any gold from the crick?” Ed peered over at him through his glasses. “To answer all those questions is another story for another night. Your grandma and I will tell you some other time. Right now, it’s time for bed. Your mom and dad won’t be happy when they get home to see you’re still awake!” The elderly couple led the children to their beds. As they tucked the youngsters in they kissed each one and stroked their soft hair lovingly. “When will you tell us the rest?” Alberta wanted to know with a yawn. “This was just the beginning, Hon.” Amy said. “We have lots more to tell….”

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