dontravis.com blog post #479
I appreciate your letting me express some personal feelings in the last two postings. I promised to get back to regular postings this week, and wouldn’t you know it, Mark Wildyr has a January 20th publication date for his fifth book in the Cut Hand series. (I think he’s calling it the Strobaw Family Saga now.) At any rate, he’s so pleased, he asked if he could do another guest post, so I graciously allowed him to do it.
By Mark Wildyr
Later that same afternoon, Rachel Ann and the boys joined me in the fields to do some desperately needed hoeing. I’d gotten a fair amount of work done before a rifle shot snagged my attention. I stood amidst some rapidly maturing pea vines and cocked an ear to the north. It wasn’t a signal shot. That would have come in threes. To warn off a varmint, perhaps. And then another loud report waved across the short prairie grass. And another. And then I heard the pop of smaller weapons.
I dropped my hoe and yelled for Rachel and the boys to get into the big house before snatching my Henry and running for Yellow Thunder. By the time we came pounding out of the corral, Ides was there to close the gate so the other animals wouldn’t get out. Both hounds raced along with me, yapping their heads off. As I cleared the fields, they halted and elected to remain at the farm.
I rode bareback, carelessly rushing to the last spot I’d seen the cattle. I was halfway to the breaks country along Trickling Water before I spotted some of the animals grazing calmly. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught another riding approaching at speed. Andre apparently heard the shots and was coming to help.
I hauled up beside Face, who was mounted on Star, his black gelding with a white spot on his forehead. He turned to acknowledge me.
“Rustlers,” he said. “Bird shot one of them.”
“Three. The other two had already cut out two head and were driving them toward the breaks. He’s on their trail.”
“Why aren’t you with him?”
“He told me to stay here. Said it might be a trick.”
“He’s right. Stay here. Come on, Andre. Let’s give Bird a hand.”
A quarter of a mile down the way, we came across a big gray that might have been a cavalry horse standing beside the body of a black man. Although the feelings were inappropriate, I was relieved Bird had shot a Negro. Landreth likely wouldn’t put up much of a fuss over him.
I urged Thunder ahead along Bird’s trail. At the mouth of the breaks country, we pulled up as we heard more shots. I motioned Andre across Trickling Water Crick. After he was in position, we both entered the breaks. Just a hundred yards in, I saw Bird sheltering behind a rock and throwing occasional shots at an unseen target in front of him. He turned at my approach and signed that two men had taken refuge in a shallow gully ahead. I caught Andre’s attention and motioned. He’d been around Otter long enough to read sign and apparently understood my arm signals. He dismounted from Scamp and crept forward slowly.
I dropped over the edge of the embankment and proceeded up the crick bed. Bird kept throwing lead to keep the hooligans’ heads down. Before long, I heard a shot from beyond the embankment and knew Andre had been spotted. But they likely didn’t know I was here. Not yet at least. I halted at what I judged to be the entrance to the shallow canyon where the thieves hid. The racking of a round into a rifle chamber told me I was exactly where I needed to be. Without stopping to think, I popped up and saw shock register on a gunman’s face before I shot him in the chest.
I dropped behind the earthen embankment as the second man was bringing up his rifle. His bullet showered dirt down on me. I stayed down as Andre opened up. When the firing stopped, I risked a look and saw both rustlers lying on the ground. Without taking my eyes off the fallen men, I climbed the embankment and whistled all clear to Bird as I examined the two men in the dirt. Both were dead.
We located their horses, along with two of our cattle, deeper in the draw and draped the dead rustlers’ bodies over their mounts. I had just recovered Thunder when we heard gunshots out on the prairie. Abandoning everything, we headed straight for where we’d left Pretty Face. Once we cleared the entrance to the breaks, I saw him standing his ground and throwing shots at half a dozen riders bearing down on him. The rest of the gang, likely.
We rode hard to intercept the hooligans, but it was obvious we wouldn’t reach them before they rode down Face. As a man, the three of us pulled to a halt and took careful aim with our rifles. We were lucky to hit anything at this distance, but one man pitched from the saddle, gaining the group’s attention. Another rider pulled the wounded thief aboard his mount and raced after the others who had turned south at a dead run. I prayed Rachel Ann and the boys had heeded my call to remain in the house.
I told Face to remain on guard and sent Bird back for the bodies while Andre and I kept on the trail of the fleeing rustlers. They rode breakneck through my cornfield and pounded through my yard. Before they made it over the wooden bridge, Rachel Ann and one of the boys – Ides, probably – were tossing lead at them. Once over the crick, the gang turned west. Andre fretted over Libby and Dex, but I was confident the group was on the run. They’d hole up in their hideout and lick their wounds for a while.
Bird was slow to bring in the bodies, so I headed north to intercept him while Andre remained at the house to lend my sister and her family support.
I found Bird and Face working to settle down the skittish steers. The animals hadn’t stampeded, but they’d spread far and wide. I joined their efforts, and before long, the memory of the recent excitement faded sufficiently in those bovine heads for the cattle to return to grazing. Only then did Bird and I gather the three bodies. I wanted a look at one in particular. There had been something vaguely familiar about a man I’d seen at the mouth of the draw. We found the horses with bodies sprawled over their saddles munching grass at the far end of the breaks. I looked at the cadaver, but still wasn’t certain. Death changes a man. The features go slack. I’d wait for Andre to confirm my suspicion this was one of Landreth’s deputies.
As I rode into the farmyard trailing three horses each laden with a dead man, Andre met me in front of the house, two excited boys at his side. Ides rushed in to examine what were probably the first human corpses he’d ever seen. Gabe hung back and clutched his mother’s skirts when Rachel Ann came outside. Her features told of the battle raging inside her. A mother’s instinct was to protect her sons from the sight of such violence. Her red blood won the struggle. This was all too common among tribal families, and often the bodies were of loved ones. Her sons needed to see the world they lived in.
Andre confirmed my belief that one of the dead men was Deputy Sheriff Fred Atchison. This raised the question of whether Landreth, himself, was involved with the gang. After some debate among ourselves, Andre and I took the bodies to town. I wanted to see Landreth’s face when he discovered his fellow lawman among the dead rustlers. I also wanted to see his reaction when he learned a red man killed a white deputy. If I had a problem, I needed to face it head on.
Hauling a body down a town’s street tends to collect attention. An Indian with three bodies gathers a crowd. Nobody seemed to focus on Andre trailing along behind. Everyone looked first at the dead men and then at me.
Landreth emerged from his office on stiff legs when we called him out. His beady eyes locked onto mine after they casually raked the three dead men.
“Rustlers, I said. “They hit us this morning. These three diverted our attention while six others bided their time and went after the whole herd.”
“They get the job done?” Landreth asked, his tone unreadable.
“Nope. Our guard on the herd stood his ground. They’d have overrun him except we showed up and winged one of them. They crossed Turtle Crick and headed west.”
Andre nodded to the horse closest to Landreth. “You oughta take heed of this one, Sheriff.”
The lawman stepped off the boardwalk and lifted the dead man’s head by the hair. He let go and stumbled backward. His wild eyes speared me. “Damnation, it’s Fred! You shot my deputy.”
Andre hawked and spat on the ground. “Didn’t know it was Deputy Atchison until we got him. He was busy tossing lead at me until John caught him exposed.”
“Maybe he thought you was one of the rustlers.”
“No, Sheriff,” I said in a level voice. “He was one of the rustlers. He was with these other two. They rustled two cows and made a lot of noise, so we’d go after them. They thought one man was on their trail, but Andre and I joined Bird and Ité faster’n they thought.”
Landreth went red in the face. “Son of a bitch! No wonder we been having trouble running those yahoos down. Fred was keeping us clear of them.” He went even redder as another thought hit. “Wait a minute. You don’t think I was one of them, do you?”
Andre spoke before I could. “Dunno. I guess what happens from now on will give us the answer to that.”
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