Riding Fence by A. H. Holt

Riding Fence
By A. H. Holt

Genre – Western
Time Period – 1880’s
Location – Kansas and Missouri
Description – Rustlers pushed a herd of Triangle Eight cows and horses through the broken fence. Dan Smithson tracked them til almost dark.

Hashtags

#Adventure #War #Cattle #Cowboy #Frontier #Historical #Horses #Novel #Ranch #Romance #Thriller #Western #Wild West #Cattle Thief #Horse Thief #Rustler #Tracker #Crime #Suspense #Kansas #Missouri

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First Chapter

Dan Smithson lay back on the blankets to prop his head on his saddle, glad to stretch out. He twisted and turned, trying to get comfortable. Suddenly he lunged to his feet, lifted his blanket and ground sheet, and brushed several rocks and twigs from the ground. When he finished brushing the area clean, he turned to check that his pony was still in sight and lay back down.

The dying fire painted his tanned cheekbones a deep red. His eyes were as black as his hair. Thoroughly tired and sleepy, he pulled one of the blankets around his shoulders and watched the moon come up through the canopy of leaves as he waited for sleep.

The sound of his horse munching on the tall grass down by the creek was comforting. He closed his eyes and listened to the night sounds. The water in the little creek made a soft murmuring as it flowed over rocks.

After a few minutes Dan realized he heard something else as well-some sound that didn’t to belong in the woods. At first he dismissed it as a tree branch or leaves moving in the wind, but when he opened his eyes and glanced up, the leaves on the tree above his head were still. No wind stirred.

Turning his head from side to side, he sat up and held his breath to listen. He heard the strange noise again-it was a soft whining and a sigh.

It almost sounds like someone crying.

He had started out from the Triangle Eight ranch house a little after dawn that morning. His regular job required him to inspect the boundary fence from the northwest corner of the property all the way to the south line shack, then back to the ranch house along the center line fence. He watched for weak or broken places in the wire or leaning posts that cattle sometimes pushed over. He expected to spend this night in the line shack and then ride as far as Ma Hainey’s place before suppertime the following day.

Like most riders, he always carried a few supplies for emergencies, times when he had to camp out, but he hadn’t counted on having to use them on this trip. There were always plenty of rations stored in the line shack in case any rider had to stay out overnight and needed them. Dan counted on reaching the shack where he would have a stove to cook his supper on. At the cabin he would have a coffeepot with plenty of coffee and all the firewood he needed, already cut and dry. More than that, he had counted on being in time for supper at Ma Hainey’s place the following night. In his estimation, that woman’s cooking beat any other he’d ever eaten.

The sections of fence he passed by the first half of the day looked fine and he thought he would have little trouble keep ing to his schedule. A little after noon-to his consternation he found posts pulled out of the ground and a long section of the wire knocked flat. When he dismounted and examined the fence closely he could see that none of the wire in the downed section was broken or cut.

Strangely, someone had taken the time to work eight fence posts loose from the dirt, pull them up out of their holes and lay them down on the ground. That pulled the wire down flat at the same time. It didn’t make sense to Dan. Cowhands always carried a pair of wire cutters. Rustlers especially always carried wire cutters. They were one of the basic tools of their business.

It cost Dan several hours of backbreaking work to repair the fence so it would hold cattle if they took it in their heads to push against it. He knew he didn’t have to worry about horses trying to get through the wire. They were smart enough to know the stuff would cut them up if they pushed against it, so they left it alone. It was getting near sundown when he finished resetting the posts and tightening the wire enough so no stock could wander through.

Even though it was late when he finished fixing the fence, Dan naturally set out to discover why it got pulled down like that and who was responsible for doing such a thing. The tracks on either side of the opening made it plain that a big bunch of cattle and as many as a dozen horses had passed through the gap in the fence, and they couldn’t have done it without human help. The tracks were still fresh. He was sure they had been driven through the gap only a few hours before he got there.

The rustled stock left a trail heading west, over toward Elk River. After examining the tracks closely, Dan decided that the animals were being driven by at least three men. All of them rode newly shod horses.

He studied the situation a few minutes and decided he had best follow the trail of the cattle and horses instead of continuing on to complete his routine check on the fence. The rustlers hadn’t been gone but a few hours, and even if they were pushing the herd along at its best pace, he knew he would likely catch up with them in no more than a day.

At first, the tracks led him on a direct route west. Later, they turned north on a path to intersect the main road to Wichita. He felt sure he would lose the tracks when they reached the road. It made sense that the men driving the stock would turn onto the main road going one way or the other. He expected to see their tracks mingle in with everybody else’s and virtually disappear, but to his amazement they didn’t turn either east or west, but continued on in the same direction-straight across the road and on toward the north.

Dan pushed his horse to a long trot and rode until almost dark. Finally he turned off the trail into a little clump of sycamore trees and elderberry bushes.

Me and this horse have worked enough for one day.

He had left the Triangle Eight’s corral that morning before sun up, and he felt whipped. He knew he couldn’t take a chance on overworking his only horse when he was this far away from home, either. The men driving the herd would have to stop and rest. He figured they had probably already stopped for the night. Horses and cattle needed rest as well as men. He planned to grab a meal and a few hours sleep then get right back on the trail at dawn.

Ducking his head to the side to avoid a low limb, he guided his horse into the coolness of a grove of oaks. His chest and shoulders still felt warm from the late evening sun, but deep shadow already covered most of the ground under the trees. The trees nestled around a small pool fed by a lazy creek. Golden leaves floated on the glassy surface of the water. There was plenty of grass for one horse and enough thick elderberry bushes growing under the trees to hide his fire if he kept it small.

Throwing his right leg over the horn, Dan slid from the saddle. Once on the ground he stretched his long arms and rubbed his back with both hands before turning to remove his mouse-colored mustang’s saddle. He took a pair of soft hobbles from his jacket pocket and leaned down to tie them around the pony’s slim front legs. Straightening, he unbuckled the neck strap to slide the headstall over the pony’s ears and remove the bridle.

He stopped a few minutes to rub the horse’s soft nose and ears and scratch some of the damp places on its head where it sweated under the straps of the bridle. Finally, he let the mustang loose to graze on the rank growth of bluestem and gramma that covered the ground in the tiny meadow near the pond.

Gathering up a pile of dry twigs and leaves, Dan built a small fire. When the wood burned down to a bed of red coals, he cooked his supper, and went to bed.

He turned his head toward the sound, straining to hear better. Carefully checking the loads in his pistol, he pulled on his boots and eased out of his blanket. He stood still to listen, holding the weapon ready. He meant to find out what was crying so he could get some sleep. The noise stopped.

Maybe I just imagined it.

Stepping carefully to avoid making noise, Dan moved in the direction he thought the sound came from. He stopped still for a moment, listening. The sound came again.

Someone’s crying or I’ve gone to imagining things.

It was easy for him to follow the sound now. He dropped his pistol back in his holster and walked over to a thick stand of bushes close under a big tree. As he approached the covert the crying sound suddenly became much louder. At the same moment he heard someone speaking softly.

“Please stop crying like that Bryce. Please-please-stop it. You’ll just make yourself sick. I know you’re hungry, but there’s nothing left for you to eat. Go on to sleep now. I’ll find us some more food in the morning, I promise I will. Hush your crying now and go on to sleep.”

Dan stretched out a long arm to grab a handful of the elderberry bush and shove it to one side. Light from the rising moon revealed the white face of a young boy staring up at him. He looked to be maybe twelve or thirteen years old. The boy held another smaller child cuddled in his arms. Shocked speechless, Dan stared down at the children.

The older child drew back away from Dan, appearing to be more angry than afraid. “You go away and leave us alone, Mister. We ain’t hurting anything.” The boy’s face screwed up in anger or fear. His dark eyes were slits and he almost hissed the words.

Swallowing his astonishment, Dan squatted on his heels to be on a level with the boy’s eyes. Striving to keep his voice quiet and calm, he asked, “Who are you, boy? Where’re your people? Where’s your mother and father?”

“We ain’t got no ma, Mister, and our pa ain’t here right now.” The child’s voice trembled a little but still sounded an gry. “He told us to wait right here in these bushes until he came back to fetch us. He had to go somewhere on some important business. He said he’d be back before night the same day he left, but it’s been three whole days and he ain’t come back yet”

Dan shook his head to clear his thoughts. He could hardly believe his eyes or his ears. How in the world could anybody leave two little children out in the woods alone like this?

“What’s your name, kid?”

The oldest child drew back away from the opening a little, looking to the side as though he was considering running away. His voice got louder, but it continued to tremble. “We ain’t got to tell you anything, Mister. You go on now and leave us alone.”

“I heard your little brother crying for something to eat. I’ve got some leftover biscuits and a big can of peaches in my pack. I’d be willing to share with you. Why don’t you come on over to my campsite? You’re welcome to the food.”

“We ain’t supposed to move away from this place. Pa told us we had to stay put-right here-exactly where he left us.”

“Okay then, stay here. I’ll go back over to my camp and bring the food here to you. That way you can stay right where you are. It won’t take me a minute.”

Thoroughly puzzled, Dan rushed back to his camp and gathered up all the food left in his saddlebags. As he approached the clump of bushes again he felt an instant flash of hope that he’d been dreaming.

Did I really just find two abandoned children? What on earth am I supposed to do with two kids this far away from the Eight?

When he pulled the branches aside again the children were still there. The older one sat on a blanket and held the little one close. Both stared up at him with wary expressions. Dan reached out and placed his last two biscuits in the older child’s hands. He pulled his knife out of his boot, and turned away to cut open the can of peaches. Taking extra care, he cut the top edge of the can smooth enough for the children to drink the peach juice without danger of cutting their lips.

When Dan turned back to hand the older child the can of peaches both biscuits had disappeared. A white crumb glittered in one corner of the littlest child’s mouth. The biggest child took the can in both hands to help the little one drink. The fruit and juice disappeared as fast as the biscuits had.

The biggest child kept his dark eyes on Dan’s face the whole time. He continued to hold the little one in one arm. They ate so fast that Dan wished he had more food. He couldn’t help but think they still looked hungry.

“Have you youngsters got bedrolls or blankets or something to keep you warm? It gets cold as-ah-it gets almighty cold out here at night.”

“We’ve got our blankets and Pa’s basket. It’s right here beside us.”

“What’s your name, kid?”

“I’m Anne Marie Gillis, and this here’s my brother Bryce”

“Anne Marie? Your name is Anne Marie?” Dan stood up and almost shouted his astonishment. “I-I took you for a boy. I thought you were both boys”

“I ain’t a boy.” The girl sounded insulted. She held her head up and moved back into the shadows, a little farther away from Dan.

“Well, excuse me all to the dickens, ma’am. You’ve got on that cap and jeans and that big old coat. It makes you look like a boy to me. It’s kinda dark back in those bushes, too”

“I can’t help it if you’ve got poor eyes”

“Look here, Missy. I don’t need your smart mouth”

“I ain’t no smart mouth”

“By golly, you sure are a smart mouth.”

Dan suddenly realized he was almost shouting at the child. He turned away for a moment, telling himself to calm down.

I can’t be standing here arguing with this poor little girl no matter how much of a smartmouthed brat she is.

He carefully lowered his voice and turned back to question the girl again. “Where’d you youngsters and your pa come from?”

“We used to live down to Wichita, but the dirty old scudder that owned the rooming house we lived in threw us out of our room. We’re on our way to New Orleans to live. Pa’s got a bunch of kinfolk living there. We’re gonna live with them. Least ways, that’s where we’ll be going as soon as Pa gets back here. He said we’re gonna have a big steak and a pair of fine horses to ride after he finishes that important job he agreed to do”

“That sure sounds interesting-is your pa a cattleman?”

“No. Our pa ain’t no cattleman. Tending cows is sorry, dirty work and he’d never do it, never in a million years. Cowboys ain’t nothing but trash anyway-least that’s what Pa says. Our pa worked in the Red Dog Saloon in Wichita. He’s the best twenty-one dealer in the state of Kansas. The lowdown sucker of a bartender at the Red Dog fired him off his job, that’s why we had to move on.

“One of Pa’s friends came by our rooming house right when we were packing up to leave town. He paid Pa some money to do a job for him. That’s when Pa brought us out here and said he had to hide us in this place.”

“What are you supposed to do if he never comes back after you?”

“He is too coming back for us. You can’t say that. You’re a stupid cowboy.” The girl clutched the little boy against her and shrieked the words at Dan. The moon glinted on a tear sliding down her left cheek.

“It’s all right, girl. Hush now. Forget I said that. Sure your pa’ll come back for you. Don’t you start crying now.” Her violent reaction to his words made Dan feel miserable.

“I ain’t crying.”

“Well I can see that plain enough. Look here, girl. I’ve got to get me some sleep. Can you two manage where you are for the rest of the night?”

The girl’s tone changed. Her voice softened and sounded dull, as if she was tired or completely discouraged. Turning her head away from Dan she looked at the ground and asked, “Are you going to go away and leave us here too, Mister?”

Dan almost felt like crying himself. “No-no I’m not going to leave you here. I swear. I’m only going to walk back over yonder where I was trying to sleep before I heard that baby crying. I’m gonna fetch my things over here so I can sleep near you two. I don’t think I’d be able to sleep a wink otherwise.”

Hurrying back to his campsite, Dan gathered up his possessions. On the second trip he stopped to kick dirt over the remains of his fire. He dropped his saddle and other belongings on a grassy place close to the clump of bushes where the abandoned children lay hidden. Remaking his bed, he stretched out and pulled his blanket up over his shoulders. His head seemed to be spinning.

Exhausted, he finally dropped off to sleep, asking himself, What should I do with two abandoned children? What on earth should I do with two abandoned kids and one of them a smartmouthed girl?

When he looked inside the clump of bushes the next morning the two children were sound asleep. The girl still had one arm around the little boy.

“Wake up you two. I’ve got some hot water ready and a pinch of tea to flavor it for you. I even found a couple of lumps of sugar you might want. We need to get moving-it’s a long ride to where we’ll get us the best breakfast in this country.”

Anne Marie sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with both hands. She scowled and gave Dan a disgusted look. “We can’t leave here with you, Mister. I told you that last night. Pa said that me and Bryce had to stay put, right where we are, no matter what happened. He’ll tan my hide for sure when he comes back and sees we’ve disobeyed him.”

“Look girl, you can’t stay here any longer, so just forget it. We’ll leave your father a message tied to that low limb right over there. I’ve got some paper and a pencil. I’ll tell him exactly where we’re going and how he can find you. You youngsters have got to go somewhere where you can get some food and where there’ll be somebody to see to your needs.”

“I don’t need you or anybody else to be seeing to my needs, Mister.” The girl yelled, sounding desperate. She stood up and placed her hands on her hips. Dan was sur prised to see how tall she was. She wasn’t quite as little as he at first thought.

“I can take care of me and Bryce all by myself. You ain’t got no call to be messing with us anyway. We ain’t bothering you none. You ain’t nothing but a stinking, lowdown cattle drover, anyway. I can tell that by the way you’re dressed and that saddle of yours. Why don’t you just ride on away and leave us alone?”

“Look girl, you shut that smart mouth of yours and get your stuff together. We’re leaving here right now.”

“I ain’t leaving.”

“I’ll paddle your rear end,” Dan shouted, glaring at her.

Anne Marie stared defiantly back at Dan, a fierce expression on her face. She stood with her elbows out and hands on her hips until the little boy woke up. As soon as he sat up and looked around, he started crying for something to eat. She immediately forgot about Dan and reached down to try to shush the child.

When she couldn’t convince the boy to stop howling for food, the girl’s shoulders drooped as though she had given up. Without another word she knelt to pack up their blankets. She kept her head turned away from Dan the whole time, refusing to look at him.

He tied the girl’s basket behind his saddle along with his bedroll and saddlebags. Carefully arranging the children’s blankets as a pad around and over the horn of his saddle, he made a place for the girl to ride. When he got the blankets settled to his satisfaction he turned to Anne Marie. “Hold tight to your little brother and let me lift you two up here on the front of my saddle.”

“I can walk.”

“You can’t walk as far as we have to go girl, now come here and stop arguing with me about everything.”

Dan caught Anne Marie around the waist with both hands and lifted her up in front his saddle. She still held Bryce in her arms. Looking around the little grove, he made sure the note he wrote for Gillis was placed so it could easily be seen. Satisfied he had done all he could to notify the man how to find his children if and when he returned, he climbed into the saddle behind them, wrapping one arm around the girl’s middle so she couldn’t fall off.

The girl rode without speaking until Dan stopped to open a gate in the Triangle Eight’s boundary fence, then she suddenly woke up. Raising her head she began to ask questions as rapidly as she could speak. “Where’re you taking us, anyway, Mister? Are you taking us to your own house? Do you have a ma at your house?”

“Why don’t you let me answer one of your silly questions before you ask me a couple more?

“Are you kidnapping us?”

“You and your little brother have been abandoned. I’m rescuing you”

“We are not abandoned. I told you that. Pa’s going to track you down and shoot you dead for stealing us”

“Hush girl. You’re old enough to know that your pa woulda been back after you two kids long before now if he was coming back at all. You couldn’t keep staying where you were and you know it. You didn’t even have any food left or anything. Anyway, children have got to live with somebody.”

The girl ducked her head and stayed quiet for more than five minutes before she spoke again. “Where are you taking us then?”

“To the Triangle Eight. It’s a ranch. It’s where I work and live. It’s been in my family since this whole area belonged to the Indians.”

“I never heard of no ranch called the Triangle Eight before. It can’t be much”

“You don’t know everything, Miss Smarty Pants. The Triangle Eight might not be so much to some people, but it’s enough for my family, I’ll tell you that. It’s where I’m taking you, so why don’t you just keep quiet?”

Dan cursed his luck at having to abandon the trail of the stolen cattle and horses, but he knew he had to put the care of two children before chasing a bunch of stolen stock. It didn’t matter how he felt about it. The idea that the stock thieves would get away purely riled him, but he knew it couldn’t be helped-not at the moment.

It didn’t help his mood much when he thought how the ranch foreman, Jack Burton, would fairly split his sides laughing when he saw Dan ride into the ranch yard with two children up on his saddle.

For some reason, Jack always loved to get any kind of joke on me, like he did when I was still about ten years old. Once he got one, he’d ride it into the ground. This one would probably last him a good year.

Henry’ll more’n likely throw an out-and-out fit when he sees me. He’ll probably stomp around yelling that I shoulda left these two youngsters sit where I found them and kept on trailing the stolen stock.

Dan headed his pony on a beeline for the ranch house. The route he took would get them there before noon, barring unforeseen problems. He’d be good and hungry by then himself.

His mustang’s long trot fairly ate up the miles. By the time the sun got up and had good and warmed them, Anne Marie’s head began to droop. The girl gradually relaxed and leaned back against Dan’s chest, fast asleep. She still held tight to her brother.

Places to Purchase

Amazon
Smashwords – Available on April 7th, 2021
Good Play – Available on April 7th, 2021

Facebook Page

Pocket Book (4.25 x 6.875 in) – Coming Soon.
US Trade (6 x 9 in) – Coming Soon.
Hardback (6 x 9 in) – Coming Soon.
Hardback with Dustcover (6 x 9 in) – Coming Soon.

High Plains Fort by A. H. Holt

High Plains Fort
By A. H. Holt

Genre – Western
Time Period – 1830’s
Location – S. Carolina, Virginia and Colorado
Description – Riding west to find a new life for himself and his beloved Amelia, Justin faces murderers on the trail. In Bent’s fort he finds friends, but also a traitor planning to take the fort with the help of the Comanche. Warned, he prepares the fort and its people for the attack.

Hashtags
#Adventure #War #Cattle #Cowboy #Frontier #Wonderer #Historical #Horses #Novel #Ranch #Romance #Thriller #Western #Wild West #Comanche #Colorado #Western Novel #Suspense #Family Friendly #Bent’s Old Fort #Otero County #Arapaho Plains Indians #Santa Fe Trail

Places to Purchase

Amazon
Smashwords – Available on March 28, 2021
Good Play – Available on March 28, 2021

Facebook Page

Lulu
Pocket Book (4.25 x 6.875 in) – Coming Soon.
US Trade (6 x 9 in)
Hardback (6 x 9 in) – Coming Soon.
Hardback with Dustcover (6 x 9 in) – Coming Soon

First Chapter

Milt Anders jumped the four steps and hit the porch at a dead run. His boots heels rattled the oak boards. Grabbing the top of the swinging doors with both hands, he stuck his flushed face into the cool darkness of the Red Wheel Saloon and shouted, “Git out here, you sons! Red Thornton and Wes Lane are at it again. Hurry it up if you want to see anything. They’re just past Pecan Hill and running flat out.”

Boots pounded on the wooden floor of the saloon as five men jumped to their feet. The tall one knocked his chair over backward and spilled his beer as he joined the group running for the door. Pushing against one another to get through the swinging doors, they hurried out onto the porch to cluster around the still yelling Anders. Holding their hands flat over their eyebrows to shade their eyes, every man squinted into the late afternoon sun.

Wes Lane’s big palomino led Thornton’s horse by at least a length. Long-legged and powerful, the horse stretched out, running his hardest. Anders laughed aloud and held his right arm out to point at the riders.

“Look at Wes Lane-slapping his horse’s rump with that little whip he always carries”

Red Thornton’s black appeared a lot smaller than the yellow horse. The sleek mustang stallion ran with his legs bunched close against his belly and his body low to the ground. A cloud of dust thrown up by the horse’s hooves followed the racers.

As the riders approached the wooden bridge across Acorn Creek, the men could see Wes Lane’s right arm swing high and slam down hard again and again. Every time the quirt struck the palomino’s side, the horse flinched a little, almost breaking stride. Foam flecked the animal’s pale nose and flew back against its shoulders.

The black ran steadily. His head was lower, but he gradually advanced until his nose looked almost even with the palomino’s. The straining horses hit the bridge side by side. Their hooves slammed the thick oak planks, sounding like thunder. Red rode hunched forward, low over the black horse’s withers, shouting encouragement and patting the animal’s neck with his left hand.

When they hit the dusty street, the black ran nose to nose with the larger horse. Still flailing wildly with his whip, Wes raked the straining palomino’s sides with his big California spurs. Blood flew in a spattered arc across the horse’s hindquarters.

The black lunged at least a full head out in front of the larger horse as they passed the group of men clustered on the saloon porch. After another hundred yards the racers passed the town well, and the smaller horse showed the palomino his rump.

Wes sawed on the reins and pulled his heaving horse to a stop. His face like a thundercloud ready to pour rain, he dismounted to stand stiffly in the middle of the street. He stared with angry eyes and his fists propped on his hips as Red slowed his black to a walk and turned to ride him back to the well, moving at an easy trot.

Stepping down from the saddle, Red led the black to the water trough, patting the animal’s neck and shoulder and murmuring praises with every step. Trying to hide a grin, he kept his face turned away from Wes’ angry stare.

“You cheated me again, blast your eyes, Red Thornton. That ugly piece of crow bait could never beat my palomino if you knew how to ride a fair race. You crowded me on the turn.”

Red turned, lifting his head to look straight into the eyes of the tall, blond rider. “Face it, Wes, I didn’t crowd you anywhere at all, and you know it. That oversized pony of yours is all show and no bottom. He starts off with a bang, but he’s used up in half a mile.”

“You just hold on ’til Coronado gets a blow, and I’ll beat you on the way back-if that crow bait of yours don’t crowd me”

Red laughed and shook his head as he said, “If you don’t walk that horse some to cool him off, he’ll not be fit to race again anytime soon”

Yanking the palomino’s head up, Wes led the horse by the bridle reins as he walked toward the group of men still crowded around the saloon porch, discussing the merits of the race. He waved to a ragged boy hanging over the hitch rail.

“Here’s two bits, boy. Walk my horse for me. Take him down to the bridge and back a couple of times. After he’s cooled off good, give him about half a bucket of fresh water and tie him right here in front of the saloon”

Tossing his mount’s reins to the boy, Wes stepped up onto the porch and stomped his feet as he swaggered through the crowd of men and pushed open the Red Wheel’s swinging doors. Shaking his head and looking serious, he announced to anyone who would listen, “If Red Thornton ever ran a man a fair race, that black devil of a pony he rides wouldn’t show a chance against my Coronado. You fellas shoulda seen how slick that boy did it. He guided his black close to Coronado so he could crowd me on that sharp turn down there by Lewis Gillium’s place. I had to hold on as hard as I could to stay in the saddle. He almost put me and my horse both right over into the ditch.”

Striding across the room to an empty table, Wes took a seat facing the door and called to the bartender, “Give me two beers over here, Johnny. Red’ll be in here in a minute-soon’s he gets through babying that scrawny mustang of his.”

Outside, Red let his horse drink a few mouthfuls of water, then pulled him away from the trough. “Take it easy, Pitch. You’ll get plenty more water in a few minutes. You know better than to try to founder yourselfdrinking too much when you’re all hot from running. Come on now, you need to walk some more”

Leading the horse by a rein, Red walked up the street away from the Red Wheel. He turned left a few steps past the courthouse and headed toward the livery stable. Burt Glassner, the liveryman, came running from the direction of the saloon to catch up just as Red reached the open stable door.

Burt’s face was red from exertion and he was chuckling as he said, “I saw the race, Red. I was in the Red Wheel getting me a cold drink with some of the fellas when old Milt Anders came running to the door. He yelled out that you and Wes was racing again, and everybody in the place got up and made tracks out to the porch so they could see the finish. This here black horse of yours sure can run.”

“You’re right there, Burt. This horse purely loves to run. Give him a bait of grain and a little more water, will you? Don’t give him too much, now. He’s just like any other fool of a horse and would drink too much if he could.”

“I’ll get old Nate to take good care of him for you, Red. Don’t you worry about him none. I can’t hardly get my hands on that horse without he gets all riled up, but he took to Nate the first time you ever left him here. He’s as gentle as a lamb with him. You going over to the saloon now?”

“You bet I am-Wes owes me a beer, and I mean to collect”

Burt laughed and pushed his hat to the back of his bald head. “Wes Lane won’t be none too happy that your horse beat his out. You can bet on that. He holds a lot of store by that big yellow horse of his’n. You’re bound to the hurt his pride some beatin’ him that wayright out in public like that. It’s the second time you’ve done it too, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s the second time I’ve done it. I know it hurts his pride to lose a race, Burt, but he asks for it. Heck, Wes plain out begs for it.”

When Burt led Pitch through the wide end door of the livery stable, he held only the tips of the reins to stay as far from the horse as possible.

Nate hobbled over to grab the horse’s bridle. “I seen the race too. This here cayuse can some kinda run”

“You got that right.”

“Say, hold on there a minute, Red. I got a question for you.”

“Sure thing, Nate. What is it?”

“I figure Burt’s been living hereabouts more years than God, so he could probably tell me, but I’d rather hear it from you. Why in the heck do folks call you Red? You ain’t got red hair. Your hair’s as black as that Indian’s what runs around with your old man-that Chief Billy something.”

“It’s no big mystery, Nate. I was named after both of my granddads. One of them was William Lane, and the other was Rufus Thornton, so I’m really William Rufus Thornton,” Red began.

“You coulda asked me that,” Burt said. “I sure knew it. Both them names is downright famous around here. Them two fellas come in here together way back. They were tough old birds too. They cleaned out a nest of thieves and scoundrels that was using the valley for a hideoutfollowed them over the mountains on the old outlaw trail. After the crooks was gone, they took up land here, side by side.

“Red’s granddad went by Bill, and his dad goes by Will, so they set out to call the boy Rufus-figured that would keep down the confusion. I guess the name didn’t exactly fit, because it got turned into Red some kinda way, and it stuck.”

“Well, I’ll be swiggered,” Nate said, a slight smile showing under his white mustache. “I figured you’d know, Burt. You know just about everything else.”

Laughing softly, Red waved to the two men as he turned away to walk toward the saloon.

When he reached the porch, he placed one hand on top of each of the swinging doors and pushed them open, stepping inside. The light in the room was poor, but the air felt several degrees cooler than outside.

As soon as he spotted Red standing at the door, Wes called out, “Come on over and sit down, partner. Here’s the beer I owe you. I was beginning to think you were somewhere hiding your head in shame for winning a horse race the underhanded way you won it.”

Winding his way through the tables, Red ignored the way the other patrons looked at him. Removing his hat, he dropped it onto a nearby table and settled in the chair directly across from Wes.

Careful to speak loudly enough for everyone to hear, Red said, “You keep on telling that tale over and over, Wes Lane, and you’re gonna start to believe it your own self. I don’t need to cheat none to beat you on a horse, and every man in Acorn Creek knows it-except you.”

Wes raised both hands, palms out. “I know, I know, you’re the best rider with the best horses in this part of Arizona Territory. I’ve heard it said more than enough times. I just don’t believe it, that’s all.”

“Believe what you like. I know what I can do, and I know my stock. That saying you’re quoting ain’t so very wrong, either.”

“Drink your beer, old son. I need to talk to you about those cattle you’re moving for my old man.”

Red lowered his voice. “Wes, Major Lane gave me my orders about what to do with those cattle. He even backed them up in writing. I’ve got his note right here in my pocket. I’m not thinking about doing a doggone thing with those cattle but exactly what your father wrote down here for me to do”

“You don’t even know the deal yet, Red. You don’t know anything about what I have in mind. You could at least listen to what I’ve got to say”

“That’s true, Wes. I don’t know the deal, and that’s a fact. But you need to understand this before you start talking. I don’t give a rat’s hind end what you have in mind. I’m doing exactly what I agreed to do and not a thing besides.

“My orders are to roust a hundred steers out of that patch of woods near the creek bed behind your house, drive them to the railroad, and turn them over to Major Lane’s factor, who’ll be waiting down there to meet me. That’s what your father said for me to do, and that’s the end of it as far as I’m concerned”

“Come on, Red. Don’t be like that. I need twenty of those cows just twenty head. You can tell the major you tried but couldn’t find the full hundred. He’ll never know the difference.”

“I’m not going to do that, Wes-you can just forget it. Stop talking about it. You’re wasting your breath. I already told you this before we even left the ranch”

Wes leaned across the table and reached out to grab Red’s right wrist in one long, slim hand. His face flushed with anger, and his voice grew louder. “You’ve got to help me, Red. You’ve just got to help me. Listen to me, man just listen. Gil Patten will send some of those bully boys of his to hurt me. They’ll do it too. Patten swore if I didn’t place the money I owe him in his hands by noon this Sunday, he’d see I got two broken legs.”

“Look, Wes, just stop it-stop talking about it. I can’t do it. I just can’t. Back off, for heaven’s sake. I know I helped you the last time you got into trouble, but I can’t do this. I won’t do it. I don’t have the money to lend you this time, and I won’t do your father dirt. And that’s the end of it.”

Wes leaned forward to plead, “All you have to do is look the other way for a few minutes, Red-Bob Jenkins and me’ll meet you down by the river crossing and cut twenty cows out of your herd. We’ll drive them over to Cutter. I can sell them to that Mason Jones fella-the new man who’s running the mine. Those miners are always needing beef.”

Red shook his head and remained silent.

“Stop shaking your head at me, Red-please stop. You’ve got to listen this time. This is important. It may be life or death for me. You can’t refuse me-you can’t. You’ve got to help me”

Wes’ face was covered in sweat, and his fingers tightened on Red’s wrist. “Patten’s men probably won’t stop with breaking my legs. They’ll likely try to kill me this time. You know they will.”

Red yanked his wrist out of Wes’ grip, pushed his chair back, and stood up, reaching for his hat. “I have to get home, Wes. You need to let this gojust forget it. I’m not going to help you take twenty of Major Lane’s cows. I don’t care how much you talk or how sad your story gets”

Wes pushed his chair back and stood also. He rushed around the table to stand close to Red. His expression was grim. “Come on out back and talk to me about this, Red. There’s another reason you’ve got to help me this time.” Lowering his voice, he leaned closer to Red to whisper in his ear, “Becky’s involved this time.”

Red’s face flushed, and his dark eyes seemed to flash with light when he heard Wes whisper Becky’s name. He slammed his hat down onto his head with a jerky movement. His whisper sounded almost like a snarl. “Get out back right now, you everlasting weasel, and don’t you say another word in here.”

Red turned to stride through the back room of the saloon, out the door and down two stone steps to the gravelly dirt of the alley. Wes was right on his heels. Taking a few long steps away from the door so that no one inside the saloon could hear his voice, Red turned to face Wes, his hands on his hips.

“What the Sam Hill is the matter with you, Wes? You know better than that, for heaven’s sake. How could you bring Becky’s name up in there? Have you lost all your sense, all your decency?”

“Oh, calm yourself down, Red. Nobody but you heard what I said in there. The rest of those lazy bums weren’t paying any attention to us”

“Like heck they weren’t paying attention to us. Those two Dolman brothers sat right there at the next table, pop-eyed the whole time we were talking. They heard every blasted thing we said. They both plain jumped in their chairs when they heard you say Becky’s name. I saw them do it.”

“Well, I don’t give a rip what those two clowns think about me or Becky McClain, either. So there.”

“You’d better start caring, Wes, and start it fast. By golly, if you try that again, I’ll teach you to care.”

“Just shut up about it, Red. Talk to me about those cows. I’ve got to have the money to pay Patten, and you’ve got to help me”

“You might as well shut up about it yourself, Wes. I’m sorry, but it’s like I’ve said over and over. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and not one thing more”

Wes stepped closer to Red. His face gleamed white in the weak light, and his voice grew louder. “You’d let Patten’s men work me over when all you have to do is look the other way long enough for me to drive a little jag of cows out of there? You know those cows partly belong to me”

“That’s almost the same thing you told me back in June when you were so desperate for money, Wes. Remember? When you took most of my savings to get you out of the same sort of jam. Remember how you swore to me that if I would only help you, you’d never gamble again, and you’d return my money the next month? Well, I still don’t have any money, and here you are in trouble for more gambling. I’m not falling for it again, Wes. You can just forget it.”

Wes’s face went from white to almost purple with anger. He suddenly lunged forward with his arms straight out and slammed both open hands against Red’s chest, knocking him back against the building.

Caught completely unaware, Red lost his balance and fell sideways, sliding down the back wall of the saloon to strike his head on the sharp edge of the stone step. He rolled off the end of the steps and lay still, his body limp.

“Red?” Wes knelt beside the steps to stare into Red’s still face, muttering to himself. “He’s out like a light. Oh, but he’s all right-he’s still breathing.”

Red groaned, his eyelashes fluttered, and he slowly moved one hand to the back of his head.

Wes rubbed his face with both hands, a desperate look in his eyes. “I thought sure he was dead,” he whispered to himself.

Then he thought about that. “If Red was dead-if he got killed by some freak accident like this one, like falling down and hitting his head on that step-he couldn’t stop me from getting some of those cows of Dad’s and selling them to get the money I need to pay Patten”

Reaching past Red to feel around in the rubble beside the foundation of the building, Wes’s fingers found a piece of granite almost as big as a water bucket. Using both hands, he raised the rock high over Red’s face.

As his back and arms stiffened to smash the rock straight down with all his strength, the back door of the saloon opened.

“What in the dickens are you fixing to do, Wes?” Johnny Yates yelled as the door slammed shut behind him. Yates started running down the steps. “What are you doing out here, you fool? Have you murdered that boy?”

Frightened and overcome by panic, Wes looked down. Red’s pistol lay within an inch of his right hand. He yanked the gun out of Red’s holster and turned to fire at the bartender.

The .44 bullet entered between Johnny Yates’ eyes and took off most of the back of his head. He fell back against the saloon door and rolled off the far side of the steps.

Wes dropped the gun beside Red and ran for the saloon steps. He could hear the sound of boots striking the wooden floor as men rushed toward the door.

He yanked the back door of the saloon open with one hand and yelled at the top of his voice, “Somebody get Sheriff Logan and Doc Bailey over here fast! Red just killed Johnny!”

Red groaned again and put both hands on the ground to push himself to a sitting position. His head pounded. He forced his eyes open to see a crowd of men gathered around him. The alley suddenly seemed to be full of men. He could see Doc Bailey and Wes kneeling beside someone lying on the ground beyond the back steps of the saloon.

“What’s happening?” Red muttered.

Sheriff Logan moved closer and squatted down in front of Red. “So you finally came to, huh? I thought you would-sooner or later. How many drinks did you have tonight, Thornton?”

Puzzled, Red lifted both hands to hold his aching head and whispered his answer, closing his eyes against the pain. “I had one beer-the same as usual, Sheriff. Why?”

“Ha. One beer. That’s what they all say. You won’t get away with this, though, doggone your sorry hide. Not a bit of it. You ain’t gonna get crazy-mad drunk and shoot innocent people down like dogs in my town and get away with pretending you don’t even know what you did.”

“What in blazes are you talking about, Sheriff? You’re the one who sounds drunk right now.”

“Don’t go getting yourself excited, Thornton. I’ve got your gun right here in my hand, and it’s been fired. I can smell the burned powder plain as day. And Wes Lane stood within a few feet of you and watched you kill the man. You and him were the only ones out here, and he ain’t even armed.”

“Sheriff, this is crazy.” Red struggled to get to his feet. “Anybody in town can tell you I never drink but one beer. Ask Johnny Yates-he’ll tell you”

“It’s poor old Johnny Yates you shot down, you miserable drunk. Straighten yourself up. I need to get you locked up for your own protection. People around here were fond of Johnny.”

Motioning to Jack Dorman to move forward and take Red’s left arm, Sheriff Logan pulled him forward.

Red lurched against the two men, still dizzy from his head’s hitting the stone step. “Sheriff, wait. Listen to me. Please. I was knocked out. Wes and I were arguing, and he got excited and pushed me down. I didn’t shoot anybody. I swear I didn’t. I never even touched my gun. Get Doc Bailey to look at the back of my head-I’m still bleeding from where I hit my head.”

“I see you’ve got some blood running down the back of your neck. You musta been so drunk, you fell over after you murdered poor old Johnny.”

“You’re not listening to me, Logan. I didn’t shoot anybody. I haven’t even touched my gun. Wes pushed me, and I fell and hit my head against those stone steps over there. The fall knocked me out for a few minutes.”

“Stop your yammering, and move along, Thornton. You’re still so drunk, you can’t hardly stand up straight, much less talk sense.” Giving a hard yank on Red’s right arm, the sheriff dragged him through the crowd of men filling the alley.

Red’s head cleared enough that he could see men he had always counted as friends and neighbors staring at him with hostile eyes. Still unsteady and confused, he held his head as high as he could and stared back.

As Jack Dorman and the sheriff pulled on his arms to lead him around the corner to Main Street, Red came face-to-face with Wes.

Wes stood in the middle of the street, surrounded by a group of cowboys from White Willow Ranch, waving his arms and talking.

Red called out to him, “Wes, come over to the sheriff’s office and tell him how you pushed me and I hit my head on the step back there in the alley. He thinks I shot Johnny Yates”

Wes didn’t answer. He stared at Red, his eyes as hostile as those of the other townsmen in the crowd. Still without answering, he watched as Jack Dorman and Sheriff Logan dragged Red away.

By the time they passed through the sheriff’s office and reached the door with the iron-barred window to the jail’s one cell, Red was feeling a bit steadier on his feet.

“Get in there,” Dorman said, pushing Red toward the open door.

Catching himself against the low cot as he stumbled across the cell, Red turned to look at Dorman and said, “Jack, you know I wasn’t drunk. You and your brother sat right there in the saloon no more than an arm’s length from my table and listened to everything me and Wes said. You know as well as I do that I hadn’t even finished drinking all of one beer when Wes and I went out back”

Without speaking, Dorman backed away from the cell door with his head down and refused to look at Red.

Sheriff Logan slammed the door so it latched and turned to grab Dorman’s arm. “Hold it there a minute, Dorman. Is Thornton telling the truth about that beer? Were you sitting next to him and Wes the whole time? Is it true what he says? Did he only drink one beer?”

“I don’t know, Sheriff Logan.” Dorman pulled his arm out of the sheriff’s grasp and raised his voice, a stubborn expression on his face. “I don’t know nothing for sure. I didn’t paid no never-mind to what Thornton did in there. All I could say for certain-sure is, he wasn’t hardly in the Red Wheel long enough to get drunk, and I sure don’t reckon he coulda been drunk while he raced that horse”

Shaking his head, Sheriff Logan turned away from Dorman to turn the key to lock the cell door. Raising his head, he peered through its barred window at Red. His voice sounded a little kinder.

“I’ll ask questions, Thornton. Wes Lane’s telling everybody you were so blind drunk, you pulled your gun and shot Johnny for no reason at all. He says he’s the only witness to the shooting, and now you claim you were knocked out. Can you tell me any reason for Wes to shoot Johnny down like that and then turn around and blame it on you?”

Red sat down on the cot and held his throbbing head in his hands as he tried to think.

He finally lifted his head to look up at Logan and mutter, “I don’t know, Sheriff. I just don’t know.”

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Ten In Texas by A. H. Holt

Ten in Texas Western Novel

Ten In Texas
By A. H. Holt

Genre – Western
Time Period – 1910’s
Location – Texas, Pan Handle, XIT
Description – Camping overnight in a draw on the newly released lands of the old XIT Ranch. Will Gantry suddenly feels an odd and welcome sense of belonging

Hashtags

#Cattle #Cowboy #Farm #Home #Frontier #Historical #Farwell #Horses #Novel #Pan Handle #Ranch #Farming #Romance #Thriller #Texas #Western #Wild West #Settlers #XIT #Cattle Rustlers #Mexican Wolf #Texas Trail #Hereford cattle #Polled Angus Cattle #Adventure

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First Chapter

Will Gantry walked his horse down the middle of the broad dirt street. On his left he saw a hardware store, a lumberyard, and a livery stable. All three seemed to be doing a thriving business. Across the way, a two-story, barracks-like hotel appeared a beehive of activity. The building sat halfway up the hill from the railroad, its two-story bulk towering over the rest of the town.

Below the hotel and only a few hundred feet from the railroad, a new bungalow sat in the midst of a well-tended plot. Fruit trees, a kitchen garden and bright green sprigs of Rose of Sharon, newly planted but thriving nicely, surrounded the attractive place.

A semicircle of large touring cars, tops folded rakishly back, sat close to the brand-new railroad station gleaming in fresh yellow paint. Bold, black letters across the gable end announced the travelers’ arrival in Friona, Texas.

Three passenger cars, a baggage car, and a dozen freight cars shunted onto the siding next to the new station. A crowd of people stood in the bright sunshine, silent, listening to the words of a nattily dressed man. Will edged his horse closer so he could hear the speaker’s words.

The salesman delivered a spiel polished by repetition.

“Land is available in any direction, folks. You’ll find that prices are ridiculously low, the terms are within reach of anyone. All the area is virgin prairie, deep in top soil without the hazards of rocks, gullies, swamps, tree stumps or noxious weeds.”

The speaker, for all his eloquence, failed to mention the land also lacked sufficient rainfall to sustain farm crops. Finally, the man waved toward the line of waiting horseless carriages.

A wild rush for the automobiles followed his last remarks. Men clambered for seats as drivers bent to crank the motors to start the cars. Amid the roar of exhausts and swirls of dust, the loaded cars left the station yard.  The majority turned either northwest or southeast, traveling over barely discernable paths. 

Those men who didn’t take part in the general exodus from the Friona station gathered in small groups around the fast-talking land agents. As the sounds of the loaded cars died away, the knots of men separated to drift toward the hotel, the hardware store, and the lumber yard.

With a gentle pull on the reins, Will turned his horse to face the east. He watched with avid interest the activity around the box cars, as the big doors slid back to reveal farm machinery, household goods, and livestock.

Men and boys labored to roll farm wagons down plank ramps and guide them to the edge of the hard-packed dirt beside the tracks. Horses and mules, ears pointed forward, their legs still shaky from the jolting of the long train ride, picked their way down the rough board ramp.

The cold, clear water in the long wooden trough refreshed them. Familiar hands led them to be hitched to their own wagons. It took a lot of time to fit all the tools and implements into the wagons.

When it was time to load a wagon designated to haul household furniture, the ladies in the crowd came alive. Suggestions, demands, cries, even screams of caution rang out.

“That barrel has all my good dishes in it.”

“Don’t drop that box.  It’s full of canned goods.”

“Careful. You scratched Great-Grandma’s bed.”

Despite all the hard work and anxiety of the unloading and reloading, Will sensed a holiday attitude among the settlers and a pioneer spirit. Each family seemed to know that somewhere out on the broad prairie, a tiny speck of land—a place to build a home—waited for them.

“Poor dreamin’ fools.”

There’s no question about it. Few of these families will stay and really prosper. Many will put forth a half-hearted effort, then quickly give in to the ravages of drought, loneliness, and the oppression of poverty. A small percentage are no more than opportunists looking for a gold-brick type of living that could never exist on the high plains of Texas.

The more serious-minded settlers among the group foresaw the hazards of climate and the difficulties of wresting a living, much less a fortune, from the unbroken sod. These families probably spent days discussing the possibilities of bettering their lot in the newly-opened lands. They expected what they already knew, nothing but hard work and privation.

Many risks were considered. Heads of families came ahead on excursion trains, their fares paid by a land company from Chicago or other cities, to inspect the plains country. For the most part, they liked what they saw. Upon their return home, they extolled the virtues of Texas.

Friends, family and neighbors met their glowing reports with true and imagined arguments against taking the risks. Did not wild Indians roam all of Texas, they asked? Would they find churches, schools, and hospitals? 

Some believed repossession of Texas by Mexico was still a possibility. Others asked, ‘what kind of state is it that has to trade barren, God-forsaken land in order to build a capitol building? If Texas is so great, why isn’t it organized as New York City or even Milledgeville, Georgia are?’

Horny-handed farmers listened patiently. Wives, in-laws and neighbors argued and influenced many ambitious men to stay in the supposedly secure environment of the well-settled eastern or mid-western states. Others, the more determined ones, sold their farms to anxious neighbors and chartered box cars for the move to Texas. 

The black horse stamped an impatient hoof.

“Be still.” Will spoke, as if to a person. He continued to watch the heavily-laden wagons leave the depot yard, their human cargoes chattering and bright-eyed with excitement.

The sun moved almost straight overhead before he turned to ride back up the main street. A large new building, also painted yellow, a block to the west, caught his eye. Tall black letters painted on the bright wall announced “Boarding House.” 

Tying Apache at the hitch rack, Will entered the crowded dining room. The meal was being served “family style.” In boarding houses, that’s another way of saying, “We put the food on the table – you catch as catch can.”

Large china bowls of vegetables and platters of fried meat ranged down the middle of the table. Plates of hot biscuits passed from hand to hand and seldom completed even one round of the hungry diners.

Will found an empty chair and heaped his plate with the steaming vegetables. Meat was no problem on the trail, but fresh garden truck took too long to cook at a campfire. A huge platter stacked high with squares of golden cornbread was another welcome sight.  He settled down to business and did full justice to his first home-cooked meal in months.

He didn’t join in the bits of conversation he heard between the clatter of dishes and the slurping of coffee. “This-here stranger, he walks up to me and he says, ‘Friend, what is your main money crop around here?'”

The speaker looked and sounded an old timer. “Suckers, I told him.” The old man’s story got a few chuckles and few hard looks from younger men dressed as land agents.

“For heaven’s sake no, absolutely not. Don’t go to Findley, there ain’t no water out there,” someone said. The remark proved to contain more truth than poetry. “I’d go south or southeast. There’s water, grass, and the best land thataway.” 

Another speaker leaned toward his prospective customer. “Don’t go too far south.  There’s a big ravine down there where a wild Indian couldn’t raise a ruckus with a full pint of whiskey.”

As a newcomer to the table, Will just listened. He noticed a group of big, broad-shouldered men with blond hair at the end of the table. They also remained quiet. When either of the men spoke, he spoke to a member of his own crowd. Their voices and arrangement of English words carried a distinct Germanic flavor. 

Almost finished, Will looked around the table–how plainly these men wore their labels. The serious minded farmers, the flashily dressed salesmen, and the cold-eyed businessmen, most of them speculators, buying large tracts of land for profitable resale. These were men who never intended to spend even one night on the prairie. 

Placing a coin on the table, Will got up and left. A quick glance around the town’s empty streets proved the inner man wants satisfaction three times a day. The crowds were inside, eating. He smiled sardonically as he untied his horses’ reins and climbed into the saddle. He remembered weeks without three square meals.

“Let’s go, Apache.” He turned the horse south toward the railroad.

Where the main street met the east-west road, an eager-voiced young salesman stepped out in front of his horse and looked up at Will. “Are you a landseeker?” he asked.

“Sure am. I’m A. Plowman, at your service, and what’s your name?” Will leaned toward the man with out-stretched hand.

“Aw, forget it.”  Scowling at Will’s humor, the young man retreated, waving Will away.

Come on, Apache.”  Will galloped west out of Friona along the dirt road beside the railroad tracks to check out the town of Bovina.

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