"Gun For Hire"

Gun for Hire

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Sittin' in the saddle from sunrise to sunset each day Texas had plenty time to think. All he had ever done was sell his gun arm. He were fourteen year old when he left Texas with the 8th Texas Calvary, most often called Terry's Texas Rangers, to fight for the Confederacy. He'd been a deputy for a while; until a couple years ago he had marshaled out of Fort Stockton, Texas.

There was massacre of a rancher over around Fort Davis a few years back, owner of the Bar C a well-respected outfit, his wife, sister, and ranch hands murdered. The young daughter, Catherin, went missing. The drovers found her horse wondering the range, but no sign of that gal twer ever found. It weren't till later it were found out she'd been raised with the Apache, and could track as well as anyone of them and better than most white men.

Five years after the massacre I turned in my badge but continued the search for that missing gal. One as trail wise as everyone claims she is must be dead, don't make no sense otherwise. Nothing! I drifted up into Colorado hired on as a line rider for the Lazy Pine.

Riding line was a lonely existence that appealed to me. Up in the southern Colorado Mountains winter could be a real bastard; this was one of those times. With my hat pulled low over eyes collar turned up against the chill of the falling snow, I hunkered down in the saddle. I'd been on the range three, four days riding fence and looking forward to the warmth of the line shack.

On the icy breeze riding down from the north I caught a whiff of smoke. Being near the line shack I veer coming in downwind. Riding up to the lean-to the mustang standing against the back whinny's as I open the gate of the small corral and shelter. Dismounting, I lay my hand on the flank of the unknown horse. "Hum. Cooled, you be'en here awhile fellow."

Texas was tired, frozen, and weary as he tried the door to his cabin finding it bolted. The howl of the freezing wind kept him from hearing movement as the click of the latch echoed its release from inside the cabin. Pushing the door open gun in hand he felt icy steel touch the base of his skull. A young sounding voice bid him drop the six shooter and drift toward the fire. Doing as told he hears the door close and turns to face the hombre holding the pistol at his gut. Surprise glazed across his half frozen visage, staring at him in buckskins and bare feet was the most fetching redheaded woman he had ever laid eyes.

With the wind howling around the line shack over a hot cup of coffee and a blazing fire names swopped. The name Cal Calder, the comely gal gave, did not fit the image of the flaming haired lass facing him. It was well into the next day Texas found out the gal who claimed to be a drover looking to hire on was Catherin Cahill the missing heiress to the Bar C. He'd been hunting her. In his search he heerd tell of a white Apache called Flaming Arrow, which she confessed to be.

As the story unfolds Texas tells Cal, I served as Marshal out of Fort Stockton and the real name is Jeb Smith. When I hired on as a line rider for the Lazy Pine drovers called me Texas 'cause I hailed from the great state.

It was right then Cal remembered sharing a camp with him near Marfa way before he rode into the ranch to find Cahill's slaughtered.

With three and four feet of snow it was not smart to set out on the trail, Cal stayed riding fence with Texas for the rest of the winter. Come Spring thaw Texas drew his pay and the two ex-lawmen head south stopping in Santa Fe.

Chapter 1
Spring Arrives in the North

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Entering the hotel, Jeb saunters up to the desk turning the register around signs in just as the clerk returns from the back. "Howdy, what can I do for you?"

"Be needin' a room. That one up front will do." Old habits die hard, always covering his back looking on the street was just one way. Between the war and selling my gun arm I stayed alive by being cautious.

Jeb had signed Cal's name first on the register then his own. Hearing the raucous laughter he glances toward the other room and sees old men sitting around a table. Must be the old ranch hands sharing a beer.

"Deputy Calder, that'll be 4 bits up front."

Grinning, "That's my partner." Sticking out his hand, "Names Jeb Smith, Marshal out of Fort Stockton. Some folks call me Texas, suit yorself." Pausing he says, "We'll be here a couple of days. Where's a good place to get a steak, maybe a beer."

Taking Jeb's hand in a friendly gesture, "Thar's a couple of places, the restaurant here and the cantina at the edge of town."

Jeb nods. "The key." Taking the key from the clerk he moves up the stairs a bedroll under each arm. Unlocking the door tossing stuff on the bed, he strides to the window looking out on the street. Off on the north edge of town where they rode in, Jeb spies a dust devil whipping across the land tumbleweeds scattering in its bluster. He sees a few riders up and down the dusty road knowing it will get busier as the sun moves closer to the western horizon; drovers coming in off the range for a night of cards and 'who shot john'[whiskey]. Just as he is turning away he notices Cal leaving the telegraph office heading toward the hotel. Deciding to meet him downstairs he picks up his hat moves out the door and down the stairs. Reaching the bottom step he hears Cal ask for a tub and hot water to be sent to the room. He grins as he hears the clerk protest.

"No. No, bath. Go down the street to the barber shop."

Jeb roars with laughter as he hears Cal, "Senor, you will provide a tub and hot water in the room within the hour." He slaps a five dollar gold piece on the counter, "In an hour."
He's still laughing when he approaches the front desk tipping his hat to Cal his eyes twinkling with mirth. He watches with amused interest as the clerk's protests die his face turning red as he gushes, "Si. Si. Senor! Muy Pronto." Dashing toward the back he calls. "Maria! Juan! Muy pronto!"

"Well, Senor Calder, I reckon you'll get your bath." Jeb dodges as Cal takes a poke at him.

While his face reveals nothing he sees the same glint piercing the green eyes he knows stems from Apache training; and most assuredly spells trouble down the road for him. With evil intent in his voice, "Seeenor Caaalder, I will wash your back."

Patting the pistol at his side then sticking thumbs in the gun belt as thought waiting for him to make the move. In a harsh voice, "Think again, Cowboy?" Cal's comment garners attention from the old ranchers in the next room who stop their palavering expecting trouble any second. The old codgers shake their heads as the two lawmen walk out the door laughing.

Standing on the boardwalk Jeb lights a ceegar. "I'll see to the mustangs then wash up at the barber shop, meet you back here in an hour."

"Sure, Jeb, that'll be about time to meet up with the sheriff here in Santa Fe for that beer he promised." Cal reenters the hotel as Jeb takes the reins of the horses walking toward the livery. The clerk and young Spaniard are taking a tub in the room. Cal smiles, I will have my bath. Can't remember the last time I didn't wash up in the crick. Gonna be right nice; yup right nice.

As he enters the room a Mexican Senora is pouring hot water into the tub. "Si Senor! The water is muy caliente. Can I be of further service?"

Smiling, "No Senora. Muchas Gracias." As they leave the room Cal locks the door leaving the key. He knows that sometimes the clerk and others will peak through the keyhole. No one needs to know that Cal is Catherin Calder. Not yet!

As Cal slips into the tub of hot water, he slides lower where the it covers him to the shoulders. Picking up the soap the sweet lavender fragrance recalls to memory of when Cal was not mascaraing as a man. Remembering the time Cat's mother splashed Lilac waters and how fast she skedaddled out with the herd where one of the new hands hee-hawed at the smell. The rest of the drovers warned him, but he was slow on the uptake. If her Pa hadn't stepped between them, she would have shot him. The drovers hurrahed; and it was a long time before they let him forget it. A tear slipped out; the first she could recall ever letting fall. She had been Cal Calder, a deputy so long she didn't believe Catherin Cahill of the Bar C ever was.

"Ah, hell." Cal steps out of the tub, opens his bedroll taking out his good buckskins dressing. Making sure the flaming red hair of Catherin Calder is tucked under his sombrero he leaves the hotel.

Jeb and the sheriff are headed her way. "Howdy. You two lawmen ready for that beer I promised you?"

Cal grins. "Hell sheriff we retired."

Taking his hat off wiping his brow he says, "Nope! Not according to Sheriff Bart Rudd. Telegrapher just brought a wire from him, said you were on a well-earned leave after a job well done."

Stopping in middle stride he says, "What the hell? I resigned." Shaking his head, Cal moves on toward the Cantina at the end of the street unaware of the dust kicked up by a rider heading back to the home ranch.

"Well now Son, I don't reckon I knowed much about that." Handing the paper to him, "Read it for yorself."

Sure nuff he is still deputy at Fort Davis. "Well, I'll be damned." Looking at Jeb, "Bart don't listen to well."

Jeb burst out in laughter, "I'll be danged! You thought you were gonna be ranching." Slapping Cal on the shoulder he moves down the street.

"Whoa, thar Marshal, You better read this one." The sheriff's eyes are glistening with unusual delight as he watches disbelief spread across Jeb's weather beaten face.

Jeb looks at Cal handing him the wire. "How the hell did he know I was returning to the territory?" The cool air moves off the prairie sending little swirls of dust flitting around the three lawmen standing outside the cantina.

Without saying a word Cal reaches into the pocket of his buckskin pulls out a piece of paper passes it over to Jeb. "Hell! Bart must have sent a wire to Stockton."

Standing in the dusty street filled with horses trotting by the Sheriff of Santa Fe slaps both men on the shoulders. "Like I said I'm buying you two LAWMEN a beer."

Stepping through the batwings at the cantina he steps up to the bar. "Set em up, three beers." Picking up the mugs, the sheriff sits at a table in the corner with his back to the wall. He don't expect trouble, but a lawman's gotta be ready. There's a poker game going a couple of tables over, the usual bunch of local drovers. As the Senora approaches, "Senora, frijoles, bistec, tortillas; Tres. Por favor."

"Si Senor Sheriff." The Senora moves toward the kitchen through a door at the end of the bar.

As the lawmen sip their beers a guitarrista strolls through the cantina the strains of musica filtering in the night air, a pleasant balada.

As the senora and senorita set plates of hot food on the table. Cal responds as does the sheriff. "Muchas gracias." Jeb lagging a tad says nothin'. With that laughter erupts as they chow down. Not much is said as they devour the food before them. Finishing up the sheriff orders three more beers; gulping his in a couple of slugs. "Boys, gotta make my rounds. You staying?"

With a nod from Cal, Jeb says, "A day or two Sheriff. Thanks for the grub and beer."

With that he gets up, nods to the bartender, and moves out the door into the night air.
It's late when Cal and Jeb head for the hotel. The air moving off the mountains has a chill. In the distance a lone coyote's howl echoes through the night calling his mate. The smell of sage permeates the air. Stars light up the ebony sky as the moon spreads a pale-yellow glow across the prairie leaving parts of the streets and buildings in shadows. The two hombres listen to the faint strains of the balada from the cantina as the raucous saloon in the hotel drowns out the guitarrista. Stepping up on the porch "Jeb, think I like the Spanish ballads better than that pianee."

Moving through the lobby and up the stairs he hears "The howl of the lonesome coyote sounds better."

Cal turns to look at Jeb seeing the seriousness glinting from his dark eyes, "Yeah! Being out on the prairie, that's the life." Taking his gun belt off, he lays it on the floor unrolling the bedroll spreads it out near the wall opposite the door. Pulling off his boots laying them at one end he sits.

Jeb knowed what he'll say but asks, "You using the bed, Cal?"

Grinning replies, "Tried it, too soft."

Stretching out on top where every time he moves it sways as a rockin' chair. Jeb has spent more time sleeping on the ground than in a bed since he went off with Terry's Texas Rangers to fight for the Confederacy. Thinking on the wire he read earlier. Sure changes things. Guess ranching ain't gonna be. Thought I was tired of selling my gun arm. Hell! It was near dawn, and he had yet to close his eyes just hearing the creek of the springs with every breath. He asks, "Cal, you sleep."

Lying on his back with his hands under his head he hears the serious tone in Jeb's voice. Cal had been awake listening most of the night. He answers, "Nope. Sumthing on your mind?"

The quiet sounds of the early morning when the nocturnal animals cease their hunt and even the coyotes have gone to their lair. The rattle of the springs echoes through the quiet night. Low as though talking to his self, "Back at the line shack I told you I fought for the Confederacy and when I came home my parents were dead and the ranch belonged to someone else."

"Yeah, I recall." Cal waits in the darkness of the room with the waning rays of the giant orb sinking in the western sky curtains swaying in the wind for Jeb to continue.

Chapter 2

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

The pale yellow of the dawn creeps above the mountains into the Hotel room the bed squeaking every time Jeb breathes. He has been silent for a time. Cal lies on the floor head resting on his boots wondering if Jeb will go on with his story.

The rooster's crow echoes through the atmosphere as Jeb speaks. "We had a small ranch near the border. The Indians called it Burned Valley because of the black lava flows. Pa and Ma moved there from Virginie in the forties; they started out with one bull and two cows. No sign of any white man living there, a few Mexican's near the border towns ten-twelve miles south. It wasn't unusual to see Apache riding in the distance, most times they didn't stop. Pa laid claim to a thousand acres of open range. There's good grazing, but tough going. He had a few drovers. Pedro from Mexico had the most experience. Rio was a drifter when he hired on, didn't know whether he was Mexican or Apache, didn't matter he was a good drover. Pa was never sure whether he'd stay or not. One day while out on the range Pa found Dan near death with an arrow in his back. He was ten miles from the cabin; no horse, no saddle, no water. Pa packed him home and Ma nursed him back to health. One morning Pa went out to the barn to find Dan and one of his best horses gone."

A few days later Dan rode back into the corral with his saddle and a big buck. He put his saddle in the barn, presented the buck to Ma and went back to work. According to Ma, Pa never said a word.

After the first year or two they traded in the border towns for coffee, sugar, salt, beans, and flour; things scarce on the prairie. Times were hard. Ma traded with the Apache; she even saved a young Indian boy with a high fever. No one thought things could get much worse, then war came to the valley.

With the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 a boundary dispute resulted in the Mexican American War. Hostilities on both sides of the Rio Grande brought constant raids. Rustlers or the Apache stole the cattle. When the war ended my folks were worse off than when they first settled in Burned Valley with the bull and one cow. The war ended a year after I came into this world. Ma used to bring the cow in to the cabin, laughing, "Well, that's what Pa always said."

After the war Pa rebuilt; Rio, Dan, and Pedro stayed with the ranch. They rounded up stray longhorns as they had done when they first arrived; tweren't many of the ornery critters but enough to increase the herd. Pa sure kept that old bull busy, tweren't long afore we had a slew of calves, heifers, and steers running the range.

Jeb pauses with his story. As he shifts his weight the rickety bed screeches. The sun peeks through the window brightening the gray of the room. He notices that Cal is sitting up leaning against the wall. Reaching for his gun belt he says, "How about getting breakfast, Cal."

Cal is disappointed that Jeb doesn't continue his story. The lawmen pull on their boots. "Sounds good Jeb, here or at the Cantina?"

Standing to the side he glances out the window as he hears riders passing. They are moving toward the outskirts of town where a rooster struts his stuff, Jeb smiles remembering the old rooster back home that always attacked him when he left the barn.

"Jeb, why're you grinning?"

He turns from the window with a wide ass grin. "Just sumthing I was remembering back when I was a boy on the ranch."

When he says no more Cal picks up his hat and heads for the door. "Well, let's get them vittles." Jeb follows him down the stairs where Cal veers from the dining room and steps out on the porch. Without a word the lawmen walk to the cantina. It's quiet this time of morning with one or two patrons. Over in the corner the Sheriff sits. "Howdy boys, sit a spell." He hollers, "Carmelita, steak and eggs, dos; and coffee, muy pronto."

Carmelita sets the steaming plates in front of the lawmen, refilling the coffee. As they finish chowing down the sheriff sits back and rolls a smoke asking, "You boys hanging here a while?"

The lawmen eyeball each other across the table. With a slight nod from Cal, Jeb says. "Nah, Sheriff we'll be moseying on down the trail."

As he stands he sticks out his hand to the two. "Well, boys, if you're ever up this way stop in, I'll buy you a beer." The sheriff steps out on the stoop in time to see the stage pull into the station. His horses are lathered having been run full out. Well, Damn! Pete's real early. He's not due till four o'clock.

He ambles toward the station as the driver steps off the box. "Howdy, Sheriff, just the man I wanta see."

"Pete, whatcha got?"

Pete is assisting the passengers from the coach. "Sheriff, the Winter's relay station back down the trail burned to the ground. Ma & Pa Winter are dead. Dust raised from horses was off to the west couldn't tell where they were hightailing it. Didn't stay to bury them, had to get my passengers here."

"Apache or renegades?"

"Don't know for sure, could be renegades. Saw arrows sticking in the charred wood." Shaking the dust off his hat and clothes he continues, "Damn shame. Good folks! Sheriff what you gonna do?"

"I'll take a ride out and bury the folks." Seeing Cal and Jeb leave the cantina he hails them, "Boys, how about doing me a favor."

Jeb asks. "Whatcha got in mind?"

"The Winter's way station 50 miles east of here was burned out; the Hostler and his wife killed. Need to bury the folks and see if we can find who done it; Apache or border renegades." Looking toward the edge of town where the heat waves obscure the scrubs. "Ride out with me. I could use help, Marshal."

Jeb and Cal agree. "We'll pick up our gear and meet you at the sheriff's office."

As they head for the hotel. "Jeb, guess you're marshaling again."

As they reach the porch. "Cal, I'll get the horses and meet you." Cal bounds up the stairs two at a time, grabs their bedrolls and returns to the desk. He hands the key to the clerk, tips his hat to the old timers in the dining hall; and walks out into the bright sun parching the dry dusty ground.

Reaching the livery Cal goes back to the stall where the mustang is standing. The smell of hay tickles his nostril, a pleasant and familiar smell. Jeb's mount is saddled, and he is just tightening the cinch on Cal's mustang. Cal ties the bedrolls behind the saddles and the two are ready to ride.

Reins in hand they walk their horses toward the sheriff's office; they aren't surprised when he meets them in the middle of the dusty street. "Boys, you got plenty of lead? Don't know what's out thar."

"Sheriff, we'll stop by the mercantile. Where'll you be?"

Looking off down the street toward the livery he says, "I need to see Bill at the mercantile; then saddle Old Paint, say 20 minutes."

As the three lawmen step into the store, the sheriff says. "Bill I need grub for two weeks on the trail, two boxes of cartridges." He sets the items on the counter for the sheriff who places them in the saddlebags he's toting.

Turning to the other two lawmen he asks, "You boys with the sheriff?" Looking up from the counter, "What can I do for you?"

Cal steps forward, "Same as the sheriff there." Grinning, "And a piece of that licorice stick candy." Hearing a ruckus in the street the sheriff starts toward the door with the two men right behind him. A runaway team is barreling down on a small child crossing the street. Cal is the closest and dashes in to the street grabbing the boy. He drops to the ground covering the boy, and rolls to safety. As the team races past Jeb leaps to his horse chasing hell bent for leather after the buggy.

Cal lifts the little boy from the swirling dust as a young frantic mother dashes out grabbing him from his arms. She hugs him tight to her breast. Wiping the tears and dirt from his little face she turns. "Thank you, Mister. Thank you for saving my boy." As she starts back to the walk she is berating the little one for not staying where he was told.

Cal tips his hat to her and looks to the edge of town where he sees Jeb driving the team and carriage back into town with a very frightened young lady sitting beside him. The sheriff walks out to meet the wagon. "Miss Julie what spooked the team."

Her bonnet is trailing down her back, her ebony hair flying loose. Dust smeared on the tear stained face as she tries to straighten her pale blue dress covered with a heavy layer of dust after the wild ride. "Oh, Seenor Sheriff, Don't tell Pa he will have a fit."

The sheriff looks down the street smiling. "Miss Julie, I won't tell him. But you better think of something fast he jist left the bank."

Jeb steps from the wagon offering to help Julie, but she refuses. "I'm okay Senor."

The sheriff laughs. "Yup, Miss Julie, till your Pa gets here." Stepping back from the wagon, "Boys, it's time to mosey."

Cal and Jeb follow the sheriff back into the mercantile. Cal asks. "Sheriff, what's that you said out there. Is the little lady in trouble?"

"Boys, that little gal is not supposed drive the team. She returned from Mexico City where she has been living a genteel sort of life with an aunt. She knows nothing of the life out here. Her Pa is gonna be real mad. He lives for that gal."

Turning back to gathering their supplies from Bill, "You boys ready?" Picking up the saddle bags the lawmen mount and turn east out of town. Before they get ten paces Miss Julie's pa, the banker, hails the three. "Senor Calder. My daughter tells me you saved a small boy."

Cal grins sticking out his hand. "Senior Chaves, a pleasure to see you."

Taking Cal's outstretched hand he asks, "Sheriff, who ees the boy?"

From the saddle the sheriff answers. "The boy is the blacksmith's grandson. He's not hurt, just shook up. His ma was chiding him sumthing fierce."

Senor Chavez offers his hand to Jeb. "My daughter tells me you stopped the team and drove the rig back to town. You have my gratitude, Senor Smith." As the three lawmen ride off Senor Chavez is spewing Spanish at a rapid staccato. His daughter's head is bowed in contrition.

Chuckling, the sheriff leads the trio out east of town toward the open prairie. He sets a steady pace across the valley and into the foothills of the Mountains.

Chapter 3
Evil Lurks

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Dawn lightens the darkness to gray with the mountains cast in deep shadows as the three lawmen ride out toward the way station. Flapping wings of the owl returning from his hunt silence as he settles in a nearby tree. The meadowlarks morning song drifts with the northerly breeze rattling the pines. Cal smiles, "Beats hell out of being caged in by four walls."

Jeb rides up beside him riding that way 'til the trail narrows where he drops behind. The sheriff sets a steady pace, they have the Winters to bury if there's enough left from the coyotes and buzzards when they get there. They ride a trail steadily climbing until the sun peaks above the tree line and they reach the crest; pausing still mounted, he waits for the two to come alongside. "Well boys, it's downhill from here. Reckon we'll reach the way station about mid-afternoon. Let's rest the horses for a spell."

Cal steps back in the trees squatting near a scrub oak he listens to the sounds of the forest. Hearing nothing, he moves where the others are standing with the horses.
"Are we being followed?"

"Naw, Jeb. Why, you asking." Cal rubs his mustang's neck running his hand down his flanks in what could be called a caress. Comes from living on the range most of his life; being one with the animal each dependent on the other.

Tipping his hat off his brow shrugging his black eyes dancing with mischief, "You spotted the moccasin and unshod pony tracks. Wouldn't wanta get an arrow in my back side." Side stepping a punch from Cal. "Sheriff you ready to ride?"

He laughs at the antics of the two lawmen. Must be nice to be young; "Yeah, Jeb, let's do it."

As they ride down the mountain they enter a stand of Aspen bare except for the few green buds heralding spring growth. A roadrunner skitters from a clump of sagebrush sending sage permeating the soft breeze. Except for the clop clop of the horses no sounds are heard from the riders. Spending a lot of time on the trail of outlaws talk is something you don't do much. Pausing among the trunks of the trees the sheriff says. "Boys, we're a couple hours out let's rest the horses. Here chaw on piece of jerky."

Stepping out of the saddle Cal and Jeb sit down with their backs against an aspen. The sheriff stands looking off in the distance. Jeb asks. "What's on your mind sheriff?"

Still gazing into the valley below he says, "The Winters were good people come to a bad end. This is the part of the job being sheriff I never get used to."

Cal shakes his head and speaks. "None of us do, Sheriff, comes with the territory." With that the riders mount moving out of the aspen into pinon and cedar on the last stretch before the way station.

It's been three days since the stage coach hightailed into Santa Fe reporting the massacre. As they draw near there is a whiff of smoke still rising toward the blue sky. Off in the distance a few clouds amble across the blue above. Without a word the three riders spread out approaching the way station from different directions.

When they're sure no unsavory characters are hanging around they cover their mouths and noses with a bandana and ride in firing in the air to scare off the buzzards. The two bodies were ravished by the buzzards, eyes plucked out pieces of flesh torn off in places to the bare bone.

The sheriff takes the blankets from his bedroll to wrap the bodies in for burial. Cal and Jeb locate shovels near the burned out building and start digging graves. The sun is just setting behind the western slope when they place the last shovel full on the graves; and the Sheriff places make shift crosses at each grave.

Cal quietly speaks. "God, please receive the souls of Mr. and Mrs. Winter." Jeb and the Sheriff remove their hats as Cal continues with the Twenty-third Psalm. Upon completion of the Psalm Cal and Jeb walk away leaving the sheriff at the graves.

Going to the side where the corral had been Jeb starts a fire as Cal prepares coffee to brew when the coals are red hot. Soon the sheriff joins them where he sits silent. "They were good people, boys, good people."

Staring into the blazing coals as he puts the coffee pot on the edge of the embers Cal remembers the massacre of the Cahill's. "Lot's a good people come to a bad end."

Chapter 4

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Dawn lightens the darkness to gray with the mountains cast in deep shadows as the three lawmen ride out toward the way station. Flapping wings of the owl returning from his hunt silence as he settles in a nearby tree. The meadowlarks morning song drifts with the northerly breeze rattling the pines. Cal smiles, "Beats hell out of being caged in by four walls."

Jeb rides up beside him riding that way 'til the trail narrows where he drops behind. The sheriff sets a steady pace, they have the Winters to bury if there's enough left from the coyotes and buzzards when they get there.

They ride a trail steadily climbing until the sun peaks above the tree line and they reach the crest; pausing still mounted, he waits for the two to come alongside. "Well boys, it's downhill from here. Reckon we'll reach the way station about mid-afternoon. Let's rest the horses for a spell."

Cal steps back in the trees squatting near a scrub oak he listens to the sounds of the forest. Hearing nothing, he moves where the others are standing with the horses.

"Are we being followed?"

"Naw, Jeb. Why, you asking." Cal rubs his mustang's neck running his hand down his flanks in what could be called a caress. Comes from living on the range most of his life; being one with the animal each dependent on the other.

Tipping his hat off his brow shrugging his bony eyes dancing with mischief, "You spotted the moccasin and unshod pony tracks. Wouldn't wanta get an arrow in my back side." Side stepping a punch from Cal. "Sheriff you ready to ride?"

He laughs at the antics of the two lawmen. Must be nice to be young; "Yeah, Jeb, let's do it."

As they ride down the mountain they enter a stand of Aspen bare except for the few green buds heralding spring growth. A roadrunner skitters from a clump of sagebrush sending sage permeating the soft breeze. Except for the clop clop of the horses no sounds are heard from the riders.

Spending a lot of time on the trail of outlaws talk is something you don't do much. Pausing among the trunks of the trees the sheriff says. "Boys, we're a couple hours out let's rest the horses. Here chaw on piece of jerky."

Stepping out of the saddle Cal and Jeb sit down with their backs against an aspen. The sheriff stands looking off in the distance. Jeb asks. "What's on your mind sheriff?"

Still gazing into the valley below he says, "The Winters were good people come to a bad end. This is the part of the job being sheriff I never get used to."

Cal shakes his head and speaks. "None of us do, Sheriff, comes with the territory." With that the riders mount moving out of the aspen into pinon and cedar on the last stretch before the way station.

It's been three days since the stage coach hightailed into Santa Fe reporting the massacre. As they draw near there is a whiff of smoke still rising toward the blue sky. Off in the distance a few clouds amble across the blue above. Without a word the three riders spread out approaching the way station from different directions.

When they're sure no unsavory characters are hanging around they cover their mouths and noses with a bandana and ride in firing in the air to scare off the buzzards. The two bodies were ravished by the buzzards, eyes plucked out pieces of flesh torn off in places to the bare bone.

The sheriff takes the blankets from his bedroll to wrap the bodies in for burial. Cal and Jeb locate shovels near the burned out building and start digging graves. The sun is just setting behind the western slope when they place the last shovel full on the graves; and the Sheriff places make shift crosses at each grave.

Cal quietly speaks. "God, please receive the souls of Mr. and Mrs. Winter." Jeb and the Sheriff remove their hats as Cal continues with the Twenty-third Psalm. Upon completion of the Psalm Cal and Jeb walk away leaving the sheriff at the graves.

Going to the side where the corral had been Jeb starts a fire as Cal prepares coffee to brew when the coals are red hot. Soon the sheriff joins them where he sits silent. "They were good people, boys, good people."

Staring into the blazing coals as he puts the coffee pot on the edge of the embers Cal remembers the massacre of the Cahill's. "Lot's a good people come to a bad end."

Chapter 5
Searching for tracks

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Come morning the sky is heavy with storm clouds a north breeze whistles through the clearing. Old grey weather beaten timbers of what was the station still smolder. Cal takes the shovel spreading the live embers with dirt smothering the fire. Jeb joins him working together until the last ember is out.

The sheriff saunters toward the boys as they lean on the handles of the shoves. "Cal, you got injun smarts look for sign that might tell me who or at least what direction the varmints lit out."

Cal picks up the shovel leans it against sagebrush. Jeb follows. "Cal you better get with it before that squall gets here."

Nodding, Cal moves toward the section of the corral trampled but not charred. It's been almost four days since the raid he doesn't expect to find anything. He takes his time slowly moving in ever widening circles. About three hundred yards from the corral he picks up hoof prints, among them is one that has a gouge that leaves a vee shaped mark in the soil. He hollers, "Sheriff over here."

When the sheriff arrives he says, "See this flaw in the horseshoe? Some hoof prints are of shod ponies with a few unshod, but it's hard to tell."

Further out where the land has not been trampled Cal sees the tracks of six or seven horses. "Sheriff looks like their heading south."

The sheriff gazes toward the south as drops of rain pelt the dry thirsty soil. The lawmen walk back to the horses pulling out their slickers from behind saddles. "Well, boys, I'll be heading back to Santa Fe."

Jeb looks up at the sky. "Stay the night?"

"Naw! Storm won't last long. I'll be takin' the stage road." Stepping into the saddle he offers his hand to Cal. "Deputy, You'll do to ride the trail with." Taking Jeb's hand, "Marshal, glad I knowed you."

Cal and Jeb tip their hats as the sheriff turns and lifts his hand in farewell. The compadres watch as he disappears around the bend dust flying out behind the fast trotting hoofs.

Turning Cal walks to where their horses are tethered. "Let's move back into the trees away from the station, set up camp and leave early in the morning."

Jeb nods picking up the reins of his mount following Cal into a clump of juniper. "Let's set up camp at the edge of the juniper, Cal. You think those hombres will come back?"

"Jeb, you're thinking good. Nah, but it don't hurt to keep watch." Taking the canteens and saddle bags Cal moves a few feet into the clearing while Jeb gathers kindling to start a fire. While the rain turns to drizzle, across the clearing high on the mountains the western horizon blazes with the brilliant reds and yellows of the setting sun. The two lawmen sit cross legged around the blaze as the wood turns to red hot embers. Cal places the pot on the edge of the coals to boil coffee.

A buzzard soars over the decimation of the way station cawing disgust his free meal disappeared. Jeb takes a piece of jerky passing one to Cal as he pours two cups of coffee. Sipping the brew and gnawing on the jerky gazing into dying embers they listen to the night sounds at home in the wide-open spaces. The prairie turns to ebony as the final rays of the setting sun fade beneath the western hills. Filling the cups again with the brown elixir they move into the grove with the horses and spread their bedrolls.

The weathered lawmen stretch out, heads on their saddles guns resting near their gun hand, hats pulled low over their eyes. Silent, they listen to the flap of the owl's wings in his nocturnal flight, a rodent scampering across the pine needles on the forest floor. The lonesome howl of a coyote somewhere high on the mountain echoes through the night.

The whinny of the ponies puts the lawmen on alert. Cal slips from his bedroll moving deeper in the shadows as Jeb wraps his fingers around his hog leg. A few minutes elapse 'til Cal returns to his bedroll. "A bobcat on the prowl, he moved off into the forest."

The rest of the night passes undisturbed. With a faint glow of pale-yellow shimmering above the eastern hills the friends saddle their mounts. "Cal, whatcha say we ride in the cool morning and rest as the sun moves higher heating the land."

Pulling the cinch tighter, "Sounds good. Jeb, you ever trail this part of New Mexico Territory?"
"Nope. Whatcha thinking?"

"The Apache say one can follow the Pecos into Texas. Reckon we'd be right nigh the Bar C when we hit the border." Mounting he rides up beside Jeb who sits tall in the saddle watching the aspen sway in the breeze wafting down from the north.

Touching the horses flank with his spurs. "Let's ride." Cal moves out behind Jeb their horses ready. The roadrunner sitting under the sagebrush watching with interest as the riders make their way toward the river. Good riddance. Rodents you're mine.

Palavering is not their style spending most of their life on the prairie only their horse for company. These two are like-minded; lawmen, survivors, loners. They trail the Pecos resting the horses every couple of hours. Gazing at the burning sun high overhead Jeb turns his horse toward the sound of water flowing down the Pecos. Cal grins. It's time to rest and water the horses. Riding out of the trees to the edge of the river the horses drink their fill while the lawmen fill their canteens. Leading the horses into the trees they sit in the cool shade. "Cal, you gonna keep deputing?"

"Shucks, Jeb, thought I reetired. Reckon I better think on it a spell." Cal leans against the trunk of an oak asks, "You?"

"Reckon I feel about the same. Don't know if I could settle down to ranching." Jeb squats down near Cal. "Riding line suited me."

Cal's hat pulled low over his eyes voice a whisper. "Catherin Cahill died eight year ago." In the silence the screech of a buzzard wafts on the breeze as it wraps around the trees filling the forest with eeriness at his haunting words.

Not sure he understands, Jeb waits but Cal says nothing more.

In a short time, Cal rises takes the reins of his mustang. "You ready to ride?"
"Reckon so." They hit the trail kicking the horses to a steady trot wandering through the trees never moving to far from the flowing waters. Through the day they come across no other hoof tracks but notice deer trails leading to the river and bobcat tracks in the soft mud at the river's edge. The days on the trail are pleasant as the two lawmen ride south.

Signs of spring herald the time of new growth and rebirth, as they watch the desert come to life, refreshing to the solitary figures seeking shelter for the night. Close to the border they come upon a grove of soft cedar near Eddy but stay near the Pecos rather than seek lodging in the town.

Setting up camp, Cal and Jeb relax in the cool shade as the sun dips below the western horizon. After a cool drink of fresh running water at the Pecos the horses graze nearby. Coffee boils on the glowing embers as a pan of beans simmers. "Jeb, how far you reckon it is to Pecos?"

"Five days should put us there." The lawmen sit chowing down on the beans and bacon sipping the steaming coffee. In the quiet darkness the sizzle of the fire, the running water, and the grazing horses are soothing sounds echoing on the air. Leaving the fire stoked with a log or two, they move back into the shadow of the trees. Heads resting on their saddles, eyes covered with their sombreros, guns at their fingertips the pards catch a few winks of sleep always alert to sounds around them.

In that solemn time before dawn Cal hears Jeb come to a sitting position across the small stretch of ground between the trees. He waits until he sees his dark shadow move toward the clearing where a wisp of gray smoke glides skyward from the coals.

Jeb fans the coals into glowing embers adding small sticks to get the blaze going then adding a couple of small logs. He strides down to the river returning with the coffee pot full of fresh water. As he nears the fire he sees Cal sitting cross legged eyes gazing into the blazing fire. "Didn't mean to wake you, Cal."

"You didn't, checking on the horses." Watching the expression or lack of one as Jeb approaches the fire, Cal ponders the sadness emitting from the depth of his eyes.

Jeb puts the pot at the edge of the embers and sits on the other side. Pounding hoofs alert them to someone approaching from the west, "Rider coming." They wait to see if he passes on by or hails them. The clop clop ceases just beyond the fire light.

"Hello in the camp."

Cal slips into the shade of the pinon and disappears. Jeb says. "Ride in."

A lone rider enters the camp riding a roan sits his saddle waiting for an invitation. "Howdy. Saw the glow of your fire."

"Step down. Pour yourself a cup." Jeb eyeballs the rider, "Names Jeb. What's your handle?"

The stranger sips from the tin cup. "Ride for the Lazy D. Thought I'd ride into Eddy for a night of who shot john; maybe sit in for a few hands of stud." Squatting on his haunches he says, "Bill. Bill Cane." Being from one of the ranches nearby his question is expected, "Jeb, where you headed?"

Jeb allows a slow grin to creep across his face. "Been up north, Colorado," is all he says. Stars dot the ebony sky as Cal remains in the shadows gun drawn listening. Off in the distance the howl of a coyote drifts on the night air.

Bill sips the coffee as the spring night turns cool. "You looking for work? The Lazy D could use a good man."

Aware that Cal has a bead drawn on the hombre sitting across the fire he tips his hat back off his brow the glow from the fire highlighting his features. "Nah, Gotta job."

Sure the rider is alone Cal strides out of the darkness letting the rider see him holster his six shooter then says, "Howdy Marshal."

The cowboy looks up as he hears Cal but stays squatted across the fire. The calmness of the rider eases Cal's mind. He's either one cool hombre, or he's a harmless ranch hand. He approaches the man. "Howdy names Cal." Turning to Jeb, "He's alone."

"Bill's the name, Taking Cal's hand. Howdy." He tips his cup and drains the contents. "Thanks for the coffee; gotta a poker game itching for my pay and a pretty little filly aching for my company." He mounts and rides out toward Eddy.

The lawmen see the Lazy D brand on the rump of the horse as he rides out of camp. Jeb remarks, "Yup, he's a drover. He didn't flicker when you called me Marshal." Picking up the pot, "Wanta cup?"

"Thought you'd never ask," Cal sips the brown elixir. As the embers fade to gray ash the hoot of the owl touts his nocturnal wanderings. In the ebony dome stars twinkle in the pale glow of the full moon rising above the eastern hills casting shadows in its brightness.

A sigh of contentment escapes as Cal settles down his saddle for a pillow and a blanket to ward off the chill as Jeb begins to tell his story.

Chapter 6
Signin' up

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Leaning against a pinon Jeb's voice is low. "The ranch was doing well after the war with Mexico. Then Texas voted in February '61 to secede from the Union." Staring into the darkness he listens to the lonesome wail of a coyote high on the ridge; an eerie howl against the glow of the pale orb. "I heerd tell about a regiment of Texas Cavalry mustering in Fort Bend County to aid the confederacy. Regiments were being raised all across Texas I couldn't wait to join up. Pa's dead set agin it said I had chores on the ranch. One night late while everyone was abed I snuck out. Leading my saddled horse into the timber away from the bunkhouse where the men were sleeping, I lit out for Houston where Terry was gathering a cavalry unit."

Silence ravishes the night as Cal lay waiting for Jeb to continue. Just when he thought he'd say no more.
Me and that old mustang rode during the day camping at dusk. Siting by a small fire back in a grove of mesquite chewing on jerky, I brewed a small pot of coffee. I's sitting in the shadows when I heerd a rider moving close. Un-holstering my six shooter, I wait.

"Hello in the camp."

Listening for other horses Jeb says. "Ride in." As the horse and rider ride into the glow of the campfire he continues, "Howdy step down and sit a spell." Tossing the rider a tin cup, "Help yourself to the coffee."

As he steps to the ground he drops the reins of his mount. "Thanks partner, Names Jess."

Looking at the hombre the thought crosses his mind. Why he's just a young sprout no older than me. "Whar you headed Jess?"

As he helps hisself to the coffee he says, "I didn't catch your name."

"The name pa and ma give me is Jebidiah but call me Jeb. Most folks do" Listening for other riders hearing nary one. "You live around here?"

"Naw Jeb I'm hail from over Pecos way. I heerd they's a mustering-men to fight for the confederacy. A guy by the name of Terry is gathering men at Houston. I figure to join up." Taking a sip of coffee, "What about you."

Grinning like a braying ass. "Well, I's a aimin' to join up, same as you." Adding another log to the fire he says, "Reckon we could ride together if'n you'r a mind to."

"Jeb, I'd like that a lot, yes I would."

Putting his cup in his pack he says, "Jess, I reckon daylight will come early. I'm beddin' down."

In the shadows of the mesquite grove Jeb watches as Jess moves to the other side out of the glare of the fire. Unsaddling his mount and staking him near grass he uses his saddle for a pillow.

Snores emanating from Jess echo through the light breeze rustling the leaves. Jeb hears the owl's wings flap as he soars through the night in search of prey. The stars twinkle bright as the moon rises above the horizon casting a pale light over the land. With the natural sounds of the night, Jeb drifts to sleep.

We hit the trail as dawn turns the ebony shades of night to gray. Tweren't long 'til the sky turned pale from the light of the rising sun. Jess had the look of a sodbuster. Don't make no nary a mind long as he aint giving me no trouble. Stopping as the sun is high overhead at a small crick, we rest the animals filling our canteens. Off in the soft cedar I spied a deer, drew my rifle, aim and fired. "Well Jess we'll have fresh meat tonight."

We spend the time near the crick preparing it. He was a fair hand with gutting and cleaning. As dusk creeps across the prairie we built a fire back off the water roasting a big chunk of that varmint. "Jeb I bet you can smell this here venison off a ways."

"Yup, load your pistol. We might be gettin' visitors" With that I reloaded my rifle checking my pistol. Edging back into the shadows I listen to the night. At midnight we laid the rest out to cool. With a full gullet we dozed. Long bout midnight I heerd riders, and sigh when they keep drifting. Maybe they didn't see the gleam of the embers. Not much bothered Jess; that told me he weren't trail wise; or he'd be a sleepin' with one eye open.

Most days we rode from sunup to sundown. We heerd riders off in the distance, moving east like us'n. I calculated we were three or four days from Houston. Jess kept inching ahead. As we drew closer, there were more riders heading to join up. A rider joined us, but quickly put spurs to his mount taking off at a gallop.

Riding into Houston I never see'd so many people in one place, it twere a teeming with ranchers and such from all o'er Texas; a looking to join up with Terry. Somewhere in the crowd of mares and people Jess and I got separated.

Wow! All these folks, meandering through the crowd of men I stopped at the livery. An old man with a gray beard brown with tobacco stains was sitting on a bale of hay, "Howdy Mister. Can you tell me where I might find Mr. Terry?"

Eyeballing the young'un he spits tobacco wiping his chin with the back of his hand. "How old are you Sonny? What you want Terry for?"

Jeb bristles. "I come to join up." Picking up the rein lying across the saddle he turns to leave when the old man cackles. "You and a thousand others, what makes you think he'll want a runt like you?"

"Old timer, the confederacy needs men, they need Texas men. I come to join up." Jeb stares at the old man his eyes black steel. Dust drifts through the air as the two leer at each other.

Standing in front of the bale he was a sitting on. "Son, I reckon you're hell bent on fightin' in this here war. You'll find Terry at the old capitol building." Shaking his head his beard more brown than gray he returns to his perch on the bale of hay. Lighting his pipe he watches the sprout ride into the crowd.

It didn't take me long to find the place where you sign on. When I got to the table where that fellow was taking our names he said, "Howdy Son, You here with your pa?"

Tweren't too happy he asked about Pa, I's growed. In a voice deep as I could make it. "Sir, I come to sign up in this here cavalry. Where do I sign?" That feller just shook his head turning the paper around.

When he done that I took that thar quill and like thousands of others I signed er. There were so many people crowding in that Houston town, I moved toward the edge of the crowd sorta looking for Jess. But if he were thar I shor didn't see him.

It tweren't no time till we were high tailing it east; a few of us on horseback others riding the train. Two three days later we reach Beaumont where all the horses are sent back to Houston; saddles, tack, and such loaded on carts. It was a sorry thing to leave that thar mustang I raised from a colt. But they promise us horses when we get to where we's a goin'. And I's gonna be fightin' for the confederacy! I shore do like that.

Going down the Neches to Sabine lake we veered to Nibblet's Bluff across the Sabine in Louisiana. Boy, t'was it a hot mesquite infested country; I never see'd so much water. Day after day rain poured from the heavens everything was sopping wet. I never see'd so much sickness afore that thar march was over; those too sick to walk were load on carts and wagons; t'was a sorry sight.

Never cottoned to walking; I'll be danged if we didn't marched plum to New Iberia water dripping off sweat soaked clothes. Don't reckon I knowed what hot was living in Burned Valley. Didn't make no friends to speak of we were always on the march, just too damn tired to do more than drop when we stopped for the day.

Living out on the ranch all my life where there weren't too many people passing out our way. Being more at home on the range I guess I stayed to myself. There's a few men my age but they scattered among the others. Yes sireee we are a real gaggle.

We were sitting around the campfire one evening when the old timers started in on me. "Boy, how long you been off the teat."

Another with a long scraggle of a beard chimed in. "Hell boy you ain't dry behind the ears yet."

I sat there a grinning at their teasing. Tweren't nothing I hadn't heerd afore. As the night wore on the camp noise died out and the sounds of the nocturnal animals echo through the muggy air. Being around a lotta folks is unsettling, the only visitors back on the ranch were Apache or mescans; most riding off in the distance.

There's a lot of complaining about having to walk. "We didn't sign on for this here being a foot." The officers kept saying. "You getting' horses, good ones." Can't say I blame um I weren't too happy about walking either. Being raised up on a horse I spent most days and lots a nights in the saddle---- One ranger walkin' a few rows behind spoke loud and not too friendly. "Hell! A man ain't nothing without his cayuse," T'was the way of it!

At New Iberia we loaded on boats; sweat soaked bodies crammed into that boat with lots guys hanging over the edge seasick, t'was a sorry sight.

One afternoon late I was standing by the rail looking out across the water when I heerd this voice behind me. "Howdy, mind if I join you?"

I look to see who was asking. "Nope, reckon not." Sticking out my hand, "Names Jeb."

The man in buckskins with red hair stickin' out from under a coonskin cap stands bowlegged at the rail. With a big old grin on his whiskered face he takes Jeb's hand. "Howdy! Bear's the name. Where you hail from?"

"Over in Fort Bend near Burned Valley. My folks have a spread been there since the forties. Where do you call home?"

"Don't call no place home. Grew up in the hills of Tennessee farming, one day I jist wander away and ain't been back." He stands puffing on an old corncob pipe gazing out across the water. "Son, tain't none of my business, but why'd your folks letcha join up?"

A grin crosses Jeb's face not reaching his eyes. "Pa was agin it. So, late one night I lit out, me and my old buckskin." Jeb turns back to looking at the churning water as the boat moves toward New Orleans.

We were a bunch of rag tag Texicans; we were between New Iberia and New Orleans when we kept hearing us being called "Texas Rangers"; never knowed how it come to be. We liked it; yup, we liked it jist fine. On reaching port it surprised Terry and the regiment that a certain esteem accompanied the name. We like it, but now we had to live up to it.

Bear took me under his wing. "Sonny, you stick with me, we'll fit then thar blue bellies. Old Bear sure could drink corn liquor, but ever time I thought to get a drink he took it right out of my hand downing it in one gulp hisself. Then smiling he says, "Give sonny here a sarsaparilla." Ever time he did that the whole regiment would hurrah. It was right about then I called him Pap.

T'was early October we took the rails to Nashville. Along the early route we passed cypress with moss hanging from the limbs, but as we moved north there were oak, pine, and beech all along the tracks. The air-cooled further north we traveled.

Arriving at Nashville we camped at what the citizenry call fair grounds. Didn't look like much, land cleared, not much else. "Pap, you reckon what makes us so special?"

Pap puffed on his old pipe sitting up wind from the campfire, hunkered down to keep warm. "Sonny, I reckon it's cause we's Texas Rangers." His voice carries a sense of pride. Watching the fireflies flitter through the darkness I sit pondering his words.

Reaching over I place another log on the smoldering embers. "I reckon as how you're right, Pap."

Over the next ten days a few members of the regiment borrowed horses entertaining the Nashville ladies with their riding skills. One blustery day near the corral two rangers were showing off; riding hell bent for leather down the street charging each other guns drawn. Dust swirled around the riders settling across the bystanders.

Just as the ranger on the roan drew toward the corner where the bank stood, a young boy in short pants darted into the street. The crowd paralyzed with fear gasp as the horse and rider barrel down on the boy. Sheb approaching from across the street swerves between the riders grabs the boy by the seat of his pants hauling him up in the saddle. Twisting his mount away as a horse at the hitching rail bucked hoofs pounding the dirt where the boy had stood.

The crowd roared with elation, guns blasted into the air at the heroics of Sheb. When he turned back to set the boy on the boardwalk the boy's ma grabbed that young'un. "Thank you! Thank you!" Tears streaming down her face, she walked away clasping the lad to her bosom. The lad couldn't a been more'n two three year old.

Fellow rangers slapping Sheb on the back saying, "Come on I'm buying." Charging into the Saloon yelling; "Set em up barkeep." The ranger plopped down money on the bar as the bartender poured drinks for everyone. When he got to me, Pap took the glass downed it grinning. "Give Sonny here a sarsaparilla."

"Come on Pap, I'm old enough."

"You ain't growed; I bet you ain't more fourteen year old." Pap downed his whiskey stood waiting for Jeb to finish his sarsaparilla. "Let's vamoose, things apt to get a little rowdy."

The old mountain man and the young'un step out into the dusk just as the golden orb decorated the western horizon in reds and gold. Moseying on back to the camp sitting by the campfire Pap regaled me with stories as a mountain man up in the Rockies.

During our stay, we experience our first death after an outbreak of measles. Many of the men tired of waitin' defied orders leaving camp drinking and creating disorder in the town. I might been one of um, except Bear kept me clear of such goin's on. I think he woulda took me by the scuff of the neck and walloped me if'n I give him any sass. When the town sheriff tried to quell the melee pistol fire erupted. The men weren't too well discipline, restless and expectin' to be fightin'. They came to fight and tweren't no fighting. We were just a sittin' and a sittin'.

Commander Johnston moving the regiment from the town of Nashville orders us to Bowling Green, Kantuck. We didn't much more and get setup we were on the moved again to Columbus a few miles west. Here we were under General Albert Sidney Johnston's command. "Well, Pap whatcha think about us going to Kantuck?"

"That's where they said we get mounts, sonny. Guess its okay by me."

Terry's orders had him setting up camp fifteen miles from the headquarters in Oakland. It's here that we became a regiment for real. Up to this time we were just a gaggle of men dead set a fightin'. The officers are elected by the men; under Colonel Terry we are designated the 8th Texas Cavalry. "Are we really the 8th Texas Cavalry, Pap?"

Wiping tobacco off his chin he ran his hand downs his pants. "Ah, sonny we's Texas Rangers. Don't matter what they call us does it."

Chapter 7
The Ravages of War

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

T'was June when we march toward Chattanooga where the Union army was a threaten'. "Pap, they ain't pushing this here cavalry. What you think's up?"

Sloshing through the muddy field he don't say nothin' for a while. "Don't rightly know Jeb. Heerd Forrest was a getting' a cavalry brigade. Could be somethin', and then again, could be nothin'."

"Well, you don't say."

31 December 1862- 2 January 1863 Murfreesboro

Many a day we marched making camp late in the evening and movin' out by day break. We raid this place and that place always movin' in Middle Tennessee and Kantuck. Most of the battles were just skirmishes.

Early July

Murfreesboro citizens are badly treated by Crittenden's troops. Lots of the citizens jailed and a number are hanged. Forrest orders the locals released. Family and friends are there to greet them when they stroll out of their confinement. That thar Yankee General who refused the offer of parole is placed under guard of two rangers. I heered that he changed his mind, nobody knowed why but he was paroled by Forrest; Tweren't no business of ours; he was a blue bellie.

Through July and August under orders from Forrest we harass Buell's yanks. Our raids add confusion to the enemy and soon threatened Nashville. T'were late August Captain Houston was kilt in the attack on a stockade bridge at Short Mountain Cross Road eight miles from McMinnville which was key to the 'Yanks' supply line to Chattanooga.

Early October under Gen Wheeler the confederacy held the town after a skirmish at "Rebel Hill".

Wharton took command of the Brigade leading the right wing of Wheeler's cavalry as General Bragg commander of the Army of Tennessee and the Yankee commander Buell raced in columns for Kantuck. We fit one battle after another always on the move through trees and brush over a broad front.

Pap and I got separated; it weren't easy to keep up with a pal. Trees, smoke from the powder, dodging canyon and lead, charging the enemy and trying to stay alive. During a brief lull I wondered if I'd ever see Pap again.

[8 October 1862] Perryville

In early Oct we reach Perryville; t'was the damnedest thing. Here we were on one side of town and them blue bellies on t'other. We jist kept eyeing them yanks. With the sound of footsteps moving around behind me, I stepped back in the shadows of a barn my bowie knife in hand. I heerd a familiar voice. "Sonny how the hell are ya?"

As Pap stepped out in the moon light a grin spread across my powder blackened face. "Howdy Pap. I reckon I's okay. Glad to see you're still kicking."
He stuck that old corncob pipe between his teeth stood there looking at me. "Hell sonny, I ain't that easy to kill."

With the dawn we see'd the blue coats lined up on the hill glaring down at us. Guess it was about midday we're marching through a corn field when canyons roared down on us. Fire and smoke belched all along the line. The Rangers are out front crossing the stream fire and smoke billowing all around. A regiment is behind us when we're ordered to attack. We kilt most every man in their first line of defense, all up and down that line you could hear the rebel yell renting the air. Charging through their second line we encounter the third line from which four napoleon guns belched their deadly fire.

Not a man flinched as hot lead pelted our faces. We lost several color bearers in one volley from that canyon. Men falling on all sides screams of agony echoing through the smoke-filled air. To retreat was certain death. We're ordered to take their guns. As we charge its everyman for himself. Charging through the smoke this big yank rose before me, sticking him with my bayonet to the hilt I then hit him with the butt of my rifle; kept moving forward as blood splattered over me when a Reb running beside me falls to the blood-soaked ground. The aroma of the hot blood ravishes my senses as he falls, I keep running trying not to spill my guts.

As we dropped back into Perryville them blue bellies chased right after us. As night fell skirmishes continued in the dark streets of the town. Standing in the shadow of a building, a Yank came out of the darkness right toward me, I turn firing just in time as he fell right at my feet. Jumping over his warm body I darted across the street as a ball of lead sailed by my ear landing in the store's wall in front of me. From the darkness a shot rang out, and I heerd the thud of a body falling behind me. As I dove into the shadows I heerd Pap say, "It's about time you showed up sonny."

Tired and weary blood splatter and gun powder covering me I manage a slight grin that doesn't quit reach my eyes. "Thanks, Pap."

With Union reinforcements threatening on the flank and darkness blankets the earth tweren't long afore we pulled out. As we retreat leaving the wounded behind, we march past bodies strewn on the roads, fields and every part of the town; it jist didn't seem possible, I could walk through the ghastly mess of dead bodies, arms or legs missing; sometimes a head and not feel sick. I felt a deep weariness.

For days we engaged in one skirmish after another. Yet them Yanks never attack. Twere the second night, we're at that place call Harrodsburg. For once we were sitting near a camp fire with several other rangers listening to gun fire off in the distance the smell of black powder in the air. Hunger a constant companion and little supplies any whars.

Staring into the pale glow of yellow flames of the fire, I wondered what the hell I's a doing here. I felt a strange sensation and look up into the questioning eyes of Pap. "Did you say somethin'?"

"Shor did Sonny. Whatcha you thinkin'?"

Shaking off the feeling that kept me staring into the glowing embers I say, "Thinking about Paw and Maw, Pap and the ranch."

Stickin' that empty corncob in his mouth, his eyes gazing into the darkness he replies, "Sonny, best not be thinkin' on sech. Tweren't do no good."

The night passed with little activity around us. Toward morning sounds coming from the woods north of us had us sneaking into the shadows of the trees. In the blink of an eye them Yanks t'were a firing at us, t'was a mere skirmish but when the firing stops Pap lay twenty feet from me draped across a fallen log his cob pipe laying on the ground where it fell from his lifeless mouth. As the firing became sporadic, I moved over to Pap, I sat there cradling his body in my arms. As one ranger prods me to get moving, I grab that old pipe and stuck it in the blooded pocket of my buckskins.

The next few days are a nightmare, we're engaged in skirmishes. Along about the fifth day we receive orders to move out. The rumor spreading through the cavalry has us headed for Knoxville. As we march through the Cumberland Gap down into Tennessee t'were little supplies and even less grub. I march with the Rangers during the day spending the nights alone when not acting on orders. One night, jist before we cross into Tennessee, I was sitting in the shadows under a hemlock back away from the campfire.

I watch a figure approach from out of the darkness cocking that old flint I jist sitting when a familiar voice says. "Howdy Jeb!" Squatting down beside me he says, "Too bad about Bear. He was a good man."

Without the twitch of a muscle Jeb says, "Yep, Karl. Sure twas." Then continue my stare into the darkness.

As Karl rose, he touches my shoulder with understanding of the emptiness I feel. "Jeb come to the fire with me. Tain't doing nobody no good away out here."

Looking up at the man standing in front of me I see real concern mirrored in his eyes. With a slight nod of the head I move with him to the campfire where three or four others sit. As I approach Riley pulls a jug out of the shadows. "Johnny Rebs, this here is jist what we need. Sit a spell and join us Jeb." As that old jug makes the rounds, I take a sip and soon the agony of loneliness drifts into the deep abyss of my soul where it would stay for the rest of the war.

By dawn of the next day we're on the march moving into Tennessee. As we approach Murfreesboro the scouts report that them blue bellies are coming t'ward us from the west. The troops shor were welcome thar. That general moved us near Stone river where we encountered a dense forest of cedar and limestone formations makin' it difficult for the wagons and artillery to move through. I's with the troops on the west bank of the river.
Sitting by the campfire, listening to the low voices from the men on this side of the river; two men are playing cards. Others like me, jist sittin' a tin cup of coffee cooling in the winter chill when word come down the way them blue bellies were just down the rode a piece.

The cavalry got orders to go behind the enemy lines and jist harass them yanks slowing them down. We destroyed supply wagons which included ammunition. In that thar raid we took four supply wagons and a passel of Yank prisoners; returning to the main force, preparations were a foot to attack the next morning.

Karl and I were sitting the in pale glow of the dying embers when the musicians from the Union side struck up the tune "Yankee Doodle"; as the voices rang through the cold night air.

Our musicians answered with "Dixie". Weren't long before one band played "Home Sweet Home". Everyone one on the battle field, Yankee and Rebs joined in singing that favorite song.

As the refrains fade into the night Karl says, "Jeb whatcha thinking?"

Looking across the dancing flames of the campfire I feel a shadow walk across my soul and shiver; not from the December cold. "Wondering how my folks are back thar in Burned Valley, Karl."

"Knowed whatcha mean. I got a couple young'uns back to home." Gazing into the darkened Cedar he continues, "Guess I'll try to catch a few winks. You'n?"
I nod wrapping the blanket around me trying to ward off the chill creeping deep into my bones and doze. Seems like I jist closed my eyes when we got orders we' be attackin' at dawn.

When the order given, we move in a mass toward the left flank of the Union army. Afore we knowed it our side had taken several artillery batteries without them blue bellies firing a shot. We push on through the Yanks meeting heavy resistance. For a time, Karl is beside me but as we move forward dark clouds of spent powder fills the air. I'm jist too busy loading tamping and firing trying to stay alive.

Screams of the wounded and dying drown out the musket and rifle fire all around me. As I push on, I stumble through maimed bodies with no heads or torsos; blood and guts spilled everywhere. The hot blood in the cold air and the smell of burned powder wreaks havoc with an empty gut, bile rising despite my effort to keep it choked down. By mid-morning we pushed them Yanks back to the railroad and the Nashville Pike.

The Yanks had rallied a new line of defense in a small half oval with its back to the river. We watch as the wave of rebs reached the yanks line of defense charging in small groups suffering heavy casualties. Black smoke from the flints filled the air as rifle fire echoed in the freezing temperatures. Reb and Yank fall screams renting the late afternoon. When the Yanks brought two more brigades to the front the battle was soon over.

Across the way we could see the union line being reinforced. Bragg's orders were to dig in facing the Union soldiers preparing to hold or push the blue bellies back.

While two forays against the union line are not too successful; in the rear we continued to harass their line of communication on the turnpike toward Nashville. We observed convoys of wounded under heavy escort 'cause of the cavalry. Hidden by the cedar trees in the area we take enough shots to let them blue bellies knowed we were about. We could hear the musket fire versus the rifle fire and soon artillery boomed across the atmosphere.

Late in the afternoon we got word that Bragg ordered an attack on union troops holding a hill across the river on the east. Breckinridge charged with a vengeance pushing the Union troops across McFadden Ford where we met with heavy fire; masses of artillery. Reb bodies strewn all over the hill side decapitated from artillery fire, arms and legs missing. One body missing the torso arms and legs spayed out. The stench of powder and hot blood mixed was almost more than a body could stand. Soon we're ordered to retreat.
In the wee hours of the morning new orders are to capture a supply train coming from Nashville. The train carries an infantry brigade to reinforce the Yanks position; we did not secure the supply train. Karl and I were a few yards apart in a perfect location to pick off them blue bellies; them Yanks pour out of that train chasing us out of the trenches, I escape capture by crawling into the woods just before we are over run; Karl, weren't so lucky. I started back after him when catching my eye, he mouthed "no". As I hesitated, that blue bellie belted him one in the gut taking his musket.

Me and a few of the rangers made our way back to the main body of troops cold, tired, and hungry. Early on the 5th we were on the march again. Scuttlebutt had us moving toward Murfreesboro. Although the Yanks held Murfreesboro they did not stop or chase us as we move through the city.

We trudged through wet damp forest, mud and mire reaching Tullahoma thirty-five miles to the south. We bivouac in a small clearing at Tullahoma surrounded by hemlock. The wood soaked and icy, but we get a small campfire going. My loaded musket across my knees I sit near the blaze with a blanket soaked from the icy rain wrapped around my shoulders. The three or four sitting at the fire are rangers, but we don't know each other well. I sit listening to the silence of the forest around us and the low conversations twixt the men thinking about Karl and wondering where them Yanks took him.

With Pap and Karl gone the war becomes a grind of load, fire, and duck as we fight one battle after another. The yanks spent several months building their forces at Murfreesboro before they attacked us trying to force us out of the area. In September we moved North rumor had it we were heading back to Murfreesboro. We soon met up with the union cavalry and mounted infantry. An assault against them blue bellies line of defense held we jist couldn't break through that Yankee line. Those fellows had repeating rifles against our flint and black power.

As dark fell across the land silence permeated the powder filled night as few campfires dotted the trees. The moans and screams of those wounded and dying on the battle field rent the air. T'was an eerie sound for those of us sitting back in the shadows, I sat listening to the night musket across my knees pistol in my hand.

By early September all but a small group of blue bellies left behind to guard the railroad had cross the Tennessee below Chattanooga, Yanks scattered over a wide range of some forty miles. We're encamped at Lafayette when we received orders to attack the Yanks moving toward us. Moving into position we wait for orders, but the attack did not happen. Though, it looked like we outnumbered them blue bellies. No order came to attack.

Bragg rode in finding no preparations made. By this time the Yanks had already gone on passed. Our orders were to keep maneuvering around for the best advantage.

Once in position the attack begins with the cavalry covering Bragg's right and left flank. We deploy to the left parallel to a line of them blue bellies. We could hear firing up and down the line, the smell of black powder drifting on the cool breeze as screams and yells of the wounded and dying add to the melee of battle resounding through the atmosphere. The thickness of the trees provides cover for us and the Yanks. Load! Tamp! and Fire! Load tamp, fire! No time to think. Just keep on keeping on. I notice the falling of my companion as a bullet hit him square in the chest. Life is rote, kill the yanks and stay live.

With the sun sinking behind the horizon the firing dies down and I sit behind a tree with a loaded musket and a sharp eye out for movement. By 0900 most is quiet along the front. Bet them yanks are tired as me; but we'll keep doing what we're doing. God! I'm so tired. The chill of the darkness seeps through my weary body as I long for sleep.

September 19, 1863

The Texas Rangers slipped in behind the yanks on Chickamauga creek. Meeting up with the old

group under Hood who figured to be as good as we were. There was a heap a hurrahing and carryin' on and sech.

At the dawn we see union troops moving toward an area leaving a gap in their lines. A Reb assault attacks them with an eight-brigade driving the blue bellies from the field. The Texas Rangers moved forward meeting with increased resistance. All around me blue bellies and Rebs were falling, blood splattered over me carried the reek of death, hot searing stench.

The union forces rallied with a defensive line holding that line until twilight when they withdrew to Chattanooga. Our forces around the surrounding hills besieged the city. We lost twenty rangers that day, but a lot more of them Yankees lay dead on the field of battle.

It wasn't long after the siege at Chickamauga the Rangers are busy with outpost and other cavalry duties. We went with Wheeler raiding into Tennessee behind those Yanks' lines. Guess it were early October we a crossin' that Tennessee River. I could hear my teeth chattering from the icy water seeping through my tattered clothes. Everywhere we went, we destroyed all the supplies and at McMinnville we captured and burned enormous stores. On the march we headed toward Murfreesboro a rampage of destruction and capture of Yanks and supplies.

From there we continued toward Murfreesboro on the route to Nashville. We crossed the Tennessee near Decatur where we ravaged them blue bellies always on the march with constant skirmishes. Death and destruction all around me, dead lying along the way; twenty or more of us lay dead or wounded along the battle scared countryside. There was a dozen or more unaccounted. The rangers battle weary are jist plum tuckered out.

Don't rightly recall when I heerd Colonel Cook and Major Christian wounded in Tennessee, I jist knowed Captain Jarmon be given orders; and we's somewhere in Georgia. My ole clothes are nothing but rags and the cold seeping to the bones. There jist weren't no way to get warm. For the next few weeks our camp life was the normal stuff; jawing, playing cards, seein' to the horses. Sitting by the fire one-night Karl showed up. "Howdy Jeb. Good to see you."

"Howdy Karl, sit a spell." Picking up the pot, "Have a cup of what this here Reb calls coffee."

Laughing, Karl says. "Beats hell out of nuthin'." Taking a sip of scalding brew, he says, "Glad you still kickin' sonny." The two Rebs sit starring into the fire. "Jeb, heerd we's movin' out in the morning."

"You don't say! Where we headed?"

"Heered tell it might be Knoxville, Jeb."

"Ain't them blue bellies thar, Karl?"

'Hell, let's get some shuteye, for they order us out." We left at lawn on the fifth ordered to Athens, Tennessee to support Longstreet's battle at Knoxville; those yanks whipped up on us real good

Hovering in the cold shivering with the damp we learnt that Bragg lost the battle at Missionary Ridge. For the winter the Rangers stay in East Tennessee. Our horses worn out, supplies short and the whole bunch plum beat to a frazzle.

Sitting in the cold frigid wind I heard Karl say, "Hell, boy there's yanks all around us."
"Yup, Karl, that's a fact." Shivering in the bitter cold with ragged clothes and constant barrage of gunfire took its toll on all the men.

A barrage of gunfire erupted. Karl felt blood running down his face as a ball whizzed by my head. Ducking behind a fallen log black powder smoke swirling all around, I was just too damn busy trying to stay alive. By the time the barrage ended, I couldn't see Karl any whars.

"Hey, Ranger, anybody see'd Karl?"

The smoke blackened Reb shook his head, "Nope."

We are on the move, again. Returning to the main army we learned that we're assigned to Hume's division. For a month, we Texans got a rest while we were at Dalton. A few of those wounded during the winter returned to the unit.

In early May orders sent us to the front where we fit battle after battle. Weariness and survival were a day-to-day struggle; always the same load, fire, duck. For a time, we are with the cavalry doing our stretch on the pickaxe and spade. Karl wounded during the icy cold winter weren't one of those to return. It is strange to be among hundreds of men and feel alone, isolated from human company. But that's how I felt. Following orders and keeping to myself when we weren't fighting.

In Georgia we defeated a group raiding the countryside; behind Sherman's army burning and destroy railroads through Marietta and Resaca. The cavalry met heavy union opposition and was forced into Northern Alabama. By September we reached Florence fighting our way back to Georgia and the army and destroying everything in sight. Its shore didn't help much, them Yankees had expert railway repair men following behind us fixing what we done tore to-hell.

The unit pulled out heading for Tennessee, but the Rangers stay with Wheeler to guard Sherman. That winter and into the spring we trail Sherman through Georgia and on to the sea at Savannah; where he veers north moving into the Caroline's. Every weary step of the trek we fought skirmishes harassing not doing any real damage to them yanks; we harassed his foragers keeping them from getting food and other necessities an army needs to keep moving. The feeling among us Rebs was to do everything we could to narrow Sherman's rampage.

In March we attack them yanks somewhere near Bentonville. We had our backs to the river when them yanks attack. Late in the afternoon we charged them yanks; load, aim, fire, move. Pushing through a gap in the union line we scatter among them yanks. Bodies were falling around me from both sides. A ball whizzed by my head as I dove behind a wall a blue belly fell across me. I froze realizing his warm blood is seeping in to my ragged pants. I took a deep breath shoved the body off my legs. Scrambling from the ground, I dash through the roar of battle cries, smoke ridden atmosphere, charging forward leaving a blue belly with a ball in his gut as his scream rent the air. More yanks arrived halting a push through their lines. It was well after night had fallen, we're ordered to move back. Weary and spent from battle we dug in.

The next morning the cavalry moved in on our flank at Mill Creek. We engaged in a light skirmish throughout the day. Several of our officers wounded or killed, can't rightly say. Jist knowed we were taking orders from the captain called "Doc". A couple weeks after that somebody else giving orders and the rumor was Lee had surrendered.

Turning each company to the commander who tells us we can surrender or leave as we like. A few days later, on April 26 some ninety men remained in the field when the surrender was official. This was all that remained of the 8th Texas Rangers.

Chapter 8
War's Over

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Ragged and just plain worn to a frazzle I straddle my old cayuse and head for Texas. The destruction is all around me. Bodies lying where they fell, blood soaked ground, the air rancid with death, death everywhere. A few miles west I spied union soldiers piling corpse in a shallow pit sprinkling them with lye and setting them on fire. The stench is more than a man can bear. I steered plum clear of them yanks.

Off in the trees dismounting I fell to my knees bile spewing forth as I gaged with revulsion. Backing into a thicket with my horse unable to move another mile I sit with my rifle across my knees my back against a tree. The chill of the night creeps into my soul as an owl swooped by on his nocturnal hunt. Off in the distance I could hear riders drifting west. Jist too tired to care if'n their yanks or rebs.

Traveling in them Blue Ridge Mountains is hard going but I figure there were more places to hide if'n need be. Over the next few weeks I met up with rebs trying to get home, none of them t'were Texans.

With the gray light of dawn it's time to move out. Through the trees I see a flicker of a fire where them yanks were yesterdee. Saddling my mount veering north heading west, I ride out. Twas a mite hungry; last meal was two days ago. Hadn't seen even a rabbit since I rode out; kinda helped myself to a rifle and what few cartridges was in that yanks poke, but hadn't seen nary a thing to shoot. Staying off the main trails and roads trying to keep clear of the union troops wasn't an easy trick. Then yanks were everywhere; long about time I crossed in to Georgia I ran into a few yanks, they set out a chasing me. I slapped leather and hightailed it outta thar; rounding a bend I ducked into a thicket. Clapped my hand over my horse's mouth and danged if I didn't almost forget to breathe myself. They act like they hadn't heerd General Lee surrendered. Hell this here war's over.

Staying in the heavy tree cover I move on dropping down into a canyon. A day or two later long about dark catching a whiff of smoke in the air I move with caution until I could see the campfire. Well, I'll be danged sitting around that thar fire were a whole passel of rebs. I yelled out, "Hello in camp."

Them fellows didn't move a hair just kept drinking their coffee, but I saw two pick up rifles and fade back in the shadows.

That fellow closest to the fire spoke, "If you're a yank, keep moving; if a Johnny Reb move into the light."

It was sure good to hear a southern boy talkin'. I stepped into the fire light, "I's a reb, fit with theTexas Rangers."

"Well Reb, help yourself to a cup of what us rebs call coffee." As he squatted down, Calab noticed he were jist a pup with ragged clothes and shoulders that sagged. He see'd weariness, even despair in his eyes.

"Thanks, mister. It shor sounds good." Silence prevails, rebs just sittin' no palavering. Jeb helps himself to a cup, leaning back on haunches he sits staring into the flames. "Well, fellows, I'll be movin' on."

One of the group sitting off a bit said, "What's your handle?" What's you called?"
With a hint of a smile he replies, "Jeb Smith."

"Yeah, I heerd of you; you were with Bear tweent you?" As he speaks he moves near the fire. He was a burly man, older than the rest of them sittin' thar.

"Yup, but how'd you know that mister?"

Well, sonny, Calab's the name; I heerd Bear had taken a young pup, named of Jeb, to heel. Just figures!

A shadow creeps across Jeb's face for all to see, shaking his head he laughed. "Yup, thought old Bear t'was ne'er gonna let me taste whiskey. He jist kept ordering sarsaparilla."

As the fire died down each reb fell asleep where he sat, I moved a little ways back and leaned against a tree and like all the others a rifle across my knees. As I listen to an owl's wings as he soars above the trees my head droops against my chest in sleep.

Long about daybreak a horse sniggered behind me....t'was my old pal. Just as I rose, Calab spoke, "A'fore you be ridin' out son, have a cup of coffee with me." He was sittin' near the glowing embers of a new fire.

Glancing around I see'd twern't nobody there. "Where'd ever body go?" Moving to the fire as Calab put the pot on to boil, I squatted.

Spitting into the fire, he eyed me cross the red glow, "Pulled out about midnight." Before continuing, he starred me in the face, "Sonny, you don't wanta get hooked up with them Rebs; they're headed for trouble." Moving the coffee off the coals, "Just keep ridin' to Texas; go home son."

Puzzled by his words, what you gettin' at, Calab?"

"Thar ain't no good can come of those boys. Jeb, you had your fill of fightin?'

Pondering his question, it didn't take me long to say, "Hell yes!" Looking him slap dab in the eyes waiting to see what he'd say tension mounting.

A grin touching his lips but not his eyes he says, "Well, them boys aren't done fightin'; They're head down a bad trail."

"Caleb, I wanta get back to Texas and the ranch; I jist lit out one night without saying a word. Pa's gonna wollop me good." I sat there staring into the embers thinkin how I snuck out in the night.

Caleb cleared his throat, "Son, he jist be glad to see you." He looks out into the gray dawn and continues, "You mind if I ride away with you?"

A grin crosses Jeb's face, "I'd be right pleased."

Pouring the coffee and grounds on the fire, he picks up his rifle. "Well sonny let's ride."

Saddling his horse he is sitting in the astride as I tighten the cinch on my old cayuse.
Mounting I say, "Well, Caleb, what ya waiting on?" Putting spurs to flanks we move out through the pines heading west.

Chapter 9
After War's End

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Days on the trail trying to avoid carpetbaggers, Yanks, and Rebs who are still fighting the war; some folks jist don't know when to quit.

Game is scarce, the country ravaged by the war, more times than not we go hungry. As the sun sets behind the pines we move off the trail into a thicket, gathering a few twigs Caleb starts a small fire as I forage for anything we can eat. Through the brush, I come up on a small shell of a cabin. At the edge of the clearing are two graves.

Foraging I find what was a potato patch, and dig a few small spuds. Guess the folks won't mind if I help myself. Putting them in my poke I head back to our camp. Handing the taters to Caleb who had scrounged roots and berries, we sit our rifles beside us.

Looking across the dying embers I ask, "Caleb, you got family?" He took so long to answer, I wasn't sure he heerd me.

"Nah. Lost them in a Comanche raid before the war, been drifting ever since. That is 'til I joined up. Guess I'll keep drifting further west, might even head to the Rockies."

Close to midnight heerd a rider moving through the trees off a hundred yards or so, Caleb slipped back into the brush; staying by the fire I gripped my rifle.

Returning to the clearing in a whisper Caleb says, "Two or three Yanks moving north. Son let's move on down the trail. They might not be alone."

Without saying a word, I pick up my saddle bags moving toward my old cayuse. We head south, its slow going at night. The stars glistening in the ebony sky instill a longing to be back under a Texas sky. A slight breeze rustles the pine needles as we move down the trail; in the distance the hoot of an owl echoes through the night. We move on heading southeast. Day after day we see Yanks and Rebs ridin' off aways. A few hails us in passing sometimes sharing canteen of water.

We ain't had no coffee is so long can't recall the last time had a taste of that stuff. Near the Alabama Mississippi border we come upon an old country store a few rebs sittin' on that thar porch. We didn't get no pay when we lit out jist twernt no point in stopping but we palavered for a while.

Caleb is the first to speak up, "Howdy!" Glaring back at him is six pairs of dull lifeless eyes hung in gaunt cadaverous faces of tired weary men.

An old timer sitting on the porch in a worn-down rocker points his corncob pipe at him, "Sit a spell if'n you're a mind too. Where you be going, mister?"

Stepping down from his horse Caleb answers, "Well, mister, I'm jist a travelin', Jeb here's headed for Texas." Caleb sits on the bottom step as I dismount. "Jeb, show some manners to these here folks"

Removing my rebel cap, "Howdy, names Jeb Smith." I keep standing holding the reins to my horse; jist ill at ease. Guess been fightin' too long; don't cotton to being' around good folks.
Over at the end of the porch near an old gnarled tree a fellow ask, "What outfit was you with Jeb?"

Grinning through the dirt and grim mired on my person, I stand straighter as I reply, "Terry's Texas Rangers, Sir."

He moves from his perch by the tree stickin' out his hand, "Sonny, I'd be might pleased to shake your hand."

Jeb stands there his mouth hanging open when Caleb says, "Dab blame it son shakes his hand." Turning to the newcomer, "How you know about the Rangers?"

"Ah shucks I was in the hospital with one of them rangers. Let me see now." Looking toward an old lean-to he says, "Yup, I recall now, he said his name was Karl."

A dark shadow crossed Jeb's face as his eyes glazed over with sorrow. Shaking his head his mind returned to the group and found them eyeballing him. "A tall lanky towheaded boy?"

"Well, now that you mention it, he shor was. You knowed him, son?"

"Yup, we fought together til I see'd him fall. Then word came down the line that he didn't make it."

The old man looks at Jeb then says to a young man sittin on the porch, "Jim Bob, bring these rebs a cup mud. Betcha they'd cotton a taste."

Grinning like an old possum Caleb says, "Reckon it'd taste mighty good. We be thanking you."

Jeb looks off in the distance where a blue jay is squawking up a storm, "Been awhile since we had a taste. Would pleasure me some."

The old man moved up on the porch and sat in an old rockin' chair, "You boys sit a spell. It's a right fur piece to Texas."

Jim Bob brought cups of coffee. The aroma of the brew mighty pleasing as I Sip the coffee listening to the older men palaver a wave of homesickness crept through me chilling me to the bone. I had to be movin' on down the road; wouldn't be polite to pull out now but come first light I'd be riding.

Caleb and the others were still a visitin' long after the sunset the western sky ablaze. Leaving them to their storytelling I moved into the trees. Removing the saddle from the old cayuse wrapped up in my old blanket leaning against my saddle with my rifle across my knees, I dozed.

T'were about midnight when Caleb joined me, "Jeb you sleep, son."

Moving the hat off my face the moon was bright through the trees I answer, "Nah, Caleb just restin'".

"Your restless son?'

"Caleb, you could say that, got a yen to get back to Burned Valley and the ranch. I been gone now on five year. Pa may tan my hide for lighten out like I did."

That old man said nothing for a bit. When he spoke, there was a sad tone to his voice I hadn't heerd afore. "Sonny, you left that there ranch a young boy not even dry behind the ears, but Jeb you're coming back a full growed man. He ain't gonna wallop you, he'll be mighty pleased to have you home."

The old man lay across the way; soon his snores were echoing through the trees. Smiling, I dozed listening to that old man along with the rustling of the leaves as the breeze whistles through the night air.

Chapter 10
A Lone Cabin

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

As the sky lightens in the east, we're riding out headed across northern Mississippi through stands of oak and hickory. As the sun rises higher across the pale blue sky, I listen to the songbirds chirping their morning greeting. See a squirrel dart from limb to limb in an old snarled oak we ride past. Caleb looks at me grinning. His eyes say it all; neither one of us can shoot that darn varmint even though we twere damn hungry. The sun is on the downward slope when we happen on a small creek with cool clear running water. Reining in and dismounting, we search the edges for mussel.

Caleb picks up hickory nuts, lays them on a rock taking the butt of his pistol crushing each one. I stand there watching him trying to figure out just what he is doing. "Caleb, whatcha you beatin' on them thar nuts fer?"

Grinning, he eyeballs me, "Jeb, this darn poor substitute for the real thing, but it makes putty good drinking stuff we call coffee. You game sonny?"

Laughing at his comical face and speechifying. "Yup, Caleb. It shore sounds good, mighty good." Relaxing alongside the creek we enjoy a real tasty meal along with the hickory coffee. Bout the best we'd had in a while.

"Jeb, we made ten miles today. Let's spend the night and head out bout daybreak."

"Right good idee, Caleb." Taking the saddle off my horse I move back into a thick clump of oak. Laying my rifle across my knees I watch Caleb move in the other direction leaning back against a hickory pulling his old hat over his eyes. We'd been bedding down apart to prevent those who might stumble upon us knowing thar t'were two of us. We couldn't be sure of either Reb or yank travelin' the lone trail. Many jist like us were trying to get home, others were jist mean and hadn't stopped fighting a war that was over when Lee surrendered. Listening to the howl of a coyote calling for his mate, I drift off to sleep.

The sky was turning gray when we rode out staying off the main trails riding through the forest always toward the west. After many days on the trail we came upon a small trading post near the Arkansas/Louisiana line. "Jeb let's see if they got tobaccie and maybe a shot of redeye, shor taste mighty good."

Halting my mount in the shade of an old gnarled pine, I look around. Didn't look to be many a hangin' round, couple old fellas on the porch and a tadpole sitting on the steps with a sling shot. Ridin' up to the hitchin' rail and smiling down at the young'un I ask, "You fixin' to shoot sumthin kid?"

Grinning up at me, "Naw Reb. That thar war's over Lee surrendered. Didn't you know'ed?"

The gray haired be whiskered gent sitting in the rocker spoke, "Step down Johnny Reb and sit a spell."

As I tie my old cayuse to the hitching post Caleb rides up beside me. "Mind if I join you?"
"Howdy, Name's Jeb Smith, this here's my friend Caleb." Leaning against the porch railing an old hound dog comes sniffing around. I reach down to scratch behind his ear.

The tadpole says, "That's ole Jake. He's the best coon dog in these here parts." His eyes twinkling, he continues, "Ain't that so gran'pap?"

"I reckon tis sonny. You run on home now, your maw'll be lookin' fer you." Waiting until the boy is on his way he says, "Where you fellows headed?"

As I look through the trees a squirrel darts from limb to limb going higher among the branches. I wait for Caleb to say sumthin. Guess he aint gonna answer. "Goin' home to Texas. My folks have a ranch down near the Mexican border."

Caleb jist been standing near the horses purtty soon he asks, "You gotta any tobaccie or a shot of whiskey? Shore been a spell since we had either."

The old man eyes him good then pitches him a pouch and quick as a wink Caleb snares it out of the air. Spittin' off the porch he wipes his whiskers and says, "You're welcome to a chaw; and if you're a mind to there's a jug on the table inside. Help yourself to one swig; and a second one if you can pay for it."

Caleb takes a chaw flipping it back to the old man. "Reckon, I'll have to pass on the jug, taint got no money and nothin' to trade." He pauses nods and speaks to the men, "Old timer, guess we'll be travelin'. Thanks for your hospitality."

Getting up from my perch on the step I pat that ole hound dog, tip my hat and move to the hitching rail. Stepping into the saddle, I heered that ole man say, "Thar's unfriendly yanks out by the creek a mile south, y'all might want skirt around the rowdies.

Caleb tips his hat says, "Thank ya Mister, we'll be doing jist that." Turning his horse trailing behind we hit the trail moving north, soon we come to a small clearing. Caleb pulls up beside me. "Jeb if I recollect, we are on the southern edge of Arkansas, we'll be partin' company. I've a mind to see the Oklahoma Territory; and y all be heading to Texas." Takin' his hat off and dustin' it, he continues, "Son, it be a pleasure knowing ya, I'll be leavin' you now."

Jeb sat his horse looking across the way. "Caleb, if you're ever down Texas way we'll cork a jug." With that I move southwest as Caleb moves northwest. That ole timer will do to ride the trail.

Chapter 11
Unexpected stop

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Staying in the pines, I stayed away from other rebs and yanks roaming the countryside. The two skirmishes encountered back in 'bama make me edgy meetin' up with others. Caleb and I had strayed away from others through Missip' and Louisian. I had no money t'werent no point in entering a town. I had all the fightin' I wanted.

The days and nights ran together I jist kept traveling west; must uh been near the Texas border when I rode upon a cabin back in the piney hills. I was about to ride on when I spied this here young'un running across the way with a blue belly right on his tail a yelling, "Maw! Maw! Pulling my pistol, I ride into the clearing pointing it at the yank. This woman in a calico dress holding a shotgun steps outside taking a bead on that thar yank. She fired hitting the ground throwin' dirt on that fella as the boy veered toward me.

Touching spurs to my old horse, I rode between the boy and the yank pointing my pistol at him.

He turned on me, "I'll kill you Reb."

As he moved to draw my old shooter barked. He fell from the saddle as the boy reached his Maw. Stepping off from my horse with pistol still in my hand I walked over to where that hombre lay. My shot hit him right between the eyes.

The woman still holding the shotgun walks in my direction asks, "Is he dead?" With a sigh of relief, she lowers the gun. "Who are you, Reb? Whatcha doing in these here parts?"

Holstering the shooter and tipping my rebel cap I reply, "Names Jeb Smith, Ma'am. I'm headed down Texas way."

Being cautious she ask, "You fit in the war, what outfit?"

Grinning with pride, I reply, "Ma'am I was with Terry's Texas Rangers." I walk back to my horse preparing to mount.

"Well, Jeb bet you could use a good meal." She moves toward the run-down cabin turning as she reaches the porch. "Come on son, taint much but yo're welcome to what we have."

Taking the boy by the shoulder and shoving him toward the door, "What was you doing, boy?"

The young'un looks up at his ma shrugs off her hand entering the cabin ahead of her. As I step up on the porch, I hear him say, "Ma I snared a rabbit and that blue belly stole it from me. I threw a rock hitting him in the head. He grabbed his horse and set chase. Standing taller with manly pride, "But I ran where he couldn't go a horseback but when I broke out of the trees, he set that horse one me."

I rapped on the door and heard her say, "Get yor self in here." When I step into the small cabin, I see the furnishings are sparse. "Ma am, where's your man?"

The silence in the cabin was deafening. The woman faces the fireplace and I watch her shoulders sag. She says not a word but stirs the pot on the hearth.

The boy looks at me and as our eyes meet, I see sadness, "Pa's dead, kilt in the war. He was a Johnny Reb like you, mister."

With the death and misery the past five years, I'm at a loss what to say to the family. Finally, "I'm right sorry son. Ma'am can I help with the chores" I can't pay for the meal, but I'll work."

She turned from the hearth, "Mister you ain't nothin' but a boy. Set yorself down."

"Ma'am, where I can wash up?"

"Jake, show Mr. Smith to the lean-to."

"This a way mister." Following I notice there's little wood in the woodpile and even less to cut. "Mister, you gonna stay awhile"

Thinking about what he asks and looking at all the work the place could use, "Don't know sonny, I'm a headin' back to my folks place down Southwest Texas way."

Returning to the cabin the woman has bowls of food set on the table showing me where I should sit. Removing my hat, I take the chair she says. Sitting herself at the end she says, "Well, I declare I'm forgettin' my manners Mr. Smith. I'm Callie Horton; this here's my son Jacob. Set to while the food is hot.

It was hot mush with a few berries and tidbits of what could been a small rodent. In times like these you jist don't' ask. Takin' a spoon full I say, "Ma'am it's real's been a while since I had home cooked vittles." And it shor was the truth.

Jacob finds his voice chattering through the meal despite his Ma telling him, "Let the man eat in peace." As we finished the mush, Ms. Horton pours cups of coffee. "Mr. Smith, whatcha do before the war?"

"Ms. Horton"

"Mr. Smith the name is Callie, Ms. Horton sounds so uppity."

With a grin more childish than one of a Johnny Reb, "Fair enough, if you make it Jeb." Pausing as she nods her head I continue. "My folks own a ranch down near the Mexican border. It's been a few months since the war ended. Our commander said we could jist leave or wait for the official release by the yanks the next day. A bunch of us Rangers jist lit out. Them yanks be a takin our guns and we figured we be needin' them. Met up with a Reb went by Caleb, an old mountain man headed for the Rockies. We parted company a way back."

Taking a sip of coffee, Jacob asks, Di'ja see yanks travelin'"

"Yup, Jacob, and rebs too. Them yanks was still fightin' the war. Caleb and I ran for our lives twice. We came up on rebs that had gone plain bad. After that we jist stayed off the main roads riding in the trees."

Standing, "Sorry, ma'am I didn't mean to get carried away. I ain't talked so much since ever."

Clearing the table, she goes to a chest in the corner. Pulling out a blanket she passes it over, "Jeb you can bed down in the barn. Nights have a chill."

Taking the blanket, "Thank you ma'am; I'm awful tired, I'll bed down now." Closing the door behind me I walk out to the barn, ramshackle like the cabin and fences around the place.

Walking to where that yank lay, I take his feet and drag him into the brush. The buryin' can wait till morning. Picking up the blanket I'd dropped I settle down in the barn.

Standing in the barn door watching the sun's rays wash away the night turning to gray silhouetting the trees against a pale sky. Turning back into the shadowy interior I search for a shovel to bury that yank lying out thar in the brush. Picking my way through the myriad stuff I find a shovel near the back wall scattering field mice scrounging for feed.

Stepping into the early dawn the woman hails me from the porch, "Jeb vittles 'bout ready. Come on in set yor'self."

Stopping in a few feet from the porch, "Morning Ma am, I got burin' to do." As I move on toward the woods she calls out.

"It can wait til you've et. Now get on in here." With that she turns walking back into the cabin as the boy strides by a comin' from the outhouse fastening his overalls.

Grinning like a possum he says, "Come on, Maw aint' no good when I tarry. She gets right huffy."

Standing the shovel by the front steps I follow that young'un indoors. Callie is jist sittin' out bowls of mush and warm bread, we didn't do no palavering jist chowed down. Wiping my bowl clean of them vittles I says, "Ma am, that was real tasty. I'll be seeing to the buryin' of that fella."

Found a spot away from the cabin where I dig a sizeable grave. He might a been a yank still fightin' the war, but he deserves a proper burial. Well, least ways the best I can do. Looked for somethin' to tell me who he was, but tweren't nothin' to say. Glancing up through the trees I see the sun is purty high as I hear footsteps coming this a way. I step back in the shadow of a big pine and wait gun drawn. Tweren't long a for Jacob comes through the brush. "Watcha doing boy?"

"Thrusting a canteen toward me he says, "Maw said you's to have water." He stands poking one bare toe in the loose soil where I had dug the grave, trying to get the courage to speak.

"Thanks Jacob!' Taking a long swig, "Shor tastes good son. Thank your Maw for me." I hand the canteen back to the boy and continue to fill the grave. After dumping the last spade full on the mound and packing it down, I lean on the handle gazing at nothin'. Nothin' but death and destruction the last few year. As I return the spade to the barn, I notice the boy's chopping wood. He is a little shaver to be doin' such a big chore. "Jacob, whatcha say I help out." I pick up the axe, "I'll chop, and you stack." With the sun descending on the western horizon we had a sizeable pile of wood out back of the cabin. Shaking my head and with a beaming grin on my face; It shor feels good doing somethin' I use to have a set-to with Maw and Paw 'cause who likes to chop and stack wood.

As the last log is stacked I heerd Callie call from the porch, "Fella's, vittles is on." I look up and see her standing thar with her apron wrapped around her shoulders. Tweren't shor if she twere cold or jist habit. I recollect Maw standing the same way.

The dishes are cleared from the table and Jacob has gone to bed. I sit on the porch staring into the darkness listening to the breeze rustle through the trees and the hoot of the owl as he searches for rodents on the forest floor.

Callie steps outside her arms wrapped around her to ward off the chill as she moves to the edge of the porch. "Jeb, you shor saved my boy; and for that I'm beholden' to you."

The lamp casting radiance around her shadowy silhouette gives an angelic glow to her slumped shoulders. In a whisper I ask, "Callie, you have folks where you can go?"

Gazing into the depth of the ebony night she is quiet, unmoving I doubt she will reply. With her voice full of sorrow, she says, "Folks died in an Indian raid a few years back, two babies buried out by that old Hickory, my man kilt in the war." With her hand she wipes her hair off her face, "Jeb, reckon me and the boy'll stay here on the land." She pauses bowing her head then continues, "If you mightin' see your way to stay I could use your help son. I can't pay you."

It tweren't nothin' I woulda expected to heer from her. I stand and walk out a way near the woods listening to the silence pondering her words. I think of the woman and boy alone and the yank that stole the boy's rabbit and then chased him; the same yank threatened to kill me. I walk back to her at the edge of the porch I say, "Callie, I reckon I'll stay." I went to the barn where I lay awake into the night. It is near dawn when I doze listening to the breeze rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees.

Chapter 12
Hungry Reb

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

A loud crack startles me, grabbing my gun I creep to the barn door peeking through the gap between the boards noticing a figure sneaking toward the house, I move through the shadows until right behind him sticking my gun to his head. "Don't move and don't make a sound. Now turn around, walk to the barn. Make a move yore a dead man." Keeping the gun to his head we enter the barn and light the lantern sitting on a barrel by the door. As the light illuminates the enclosure, I see a gray uniform glaring at me. "What cha doin' here, Johnny Reb?"

Hostility glarin' out his eyes he says, "Taint nothin' to you when you's hiddin' in this here barn."

Cocking the pistol, I say, "You 'spect on growing any older, you better spill it." Side stepping, I move from the door into the gray shadow picking up my rifle. "Reb, you gonna talk."

He notices the rifle and as his shoulders sag, he says, "Looking for grub, ain't et in a while."
"You alone?"

"Yup, parted ways awhile back, them rebs killin' jist cause they can. Mister, I'm jist plum tuckered out."

Sittin' the rifle against the barn, I cock the pistol, "With the left hand remove that hog leg and toss it on the ground then step back." With my shooter, I motion for him to move toward the barn.

As the darkness recedes to the gray shade of dawn I listen for others. "Johnny Reb you can rest a spell. There ain't much food any where's bout here; Jacob caught a rabbit a day ago. Come morning I can offer you corn mush." Watchin' his face, "or you can move on now. Sliding down the barn wall he dozes. Taking a blanket, I spread it across him and go to the cabin.

As I step on the porch Jacob runs hell bent for leather from the back, "Jeb who's in the barn."

"Whoa thar boy!"

"Well, who is it?"

Opening the door, I step inside, "Callie could you spare a bowl of mush. Thar's a Reb in the barn who shor's plum tuckered."

"Jeb, we can't go feeding ever body comes by." Turning around, she sees the two standing thar jist staring at her. Glancing at Jacob, she shakes her head saying, "Son, we can barely feed ourselves."

"Maw I'll trap another rabbit. I will I knowed I will." Looking over his head at Jeb, "I reckon we can manage it son." She hands a bowl of mush to Jeb.

Taking the bowl, I walk out to the barn. The Reb rouses as I step into the dark interior handing him the bowl, "Et up."

Squatting on haunches I ask, "Whatcha called Reb?" Before I get the words out, he is gulping the food.

When the bowl is half empty, he looks up and says, "Jude, Jude Parker." Then he finishes the contents in the bowl. "You gotta name."

"Yup, Jeb Smith." This here rebs clothes are dirty, tattered offering little or no protection from the weather as many of us wandering across the country. "Where you hail from Jude?"

Staring toward the door a shadow moves across his features; glancing at the ground he replies, "Up Oklahoma way. What now, Jeb?"

Thinking on how to answer his question I opt not to tell him I'm staying. "Jude, guess I'll ride southwest, anxious to get back to the ranch and my folks. Been gone a while." Looking to see his reaction, I see a blank stare into nothingness.
I reach for the bowl to take to Callie. "Thanks Callie." As she takes the bowl, "I'll be riding out a way, gonna look for meat for us. I want a make sure that Reb moves on north. Tell Jake I'll be back by night fall."

With a nod she says, "Jeb take care."

Tipping my hat, I hear the screen door slam behind me as I move toward the barn. Jude was standing outside the barn door. "Thanks for the meal, Jeb. Hope you make it home."

Jude starts toward the woods heading north. Entering the barn, I saddle my horse leading him into the yard.

Jake comes from the back of the cabin buttoning his overalls and steps toward me, "Jeb, you leavin'?"
Making sure my voice resounds through the nearby woods I say, "Yup Jake, I'll be moving on southwest." As I move closer to him, I add in a whisper, "Talk to your maw, now."

He looks puzzled but walks at once to the porch where his maw is standing with the apron wrapped around her shoulders. As she puts her hand on his shoulder, I smile and tip my hat riding out as they enter the cabin.

Jake is upset as he watches out the window as Jeb leaves. "Maw, why's Jeb leaving. I thought he was to stay."

Callie pours a cup of coffee for her and the boy. "Jake, sit here with me." When he sits across from her, she says, "Son, he's gonna look for meat for us; and he wants to be sure that Reb moves on north. He'll be back by sundown." Sipping her coffee, she continues, "Jake, keep your rifle with you and stay near the cabin, son."

Walking to the hearth, he picks up his rifle from over the mantle, "Maw, I'll be in the loft of the barn. I can see good from thar." Jake climbs the ladder moving to a window where he can see the house and the barn door and settles down to wait with his rifle in his hand.

I'm the man now that paw is dead. I'll keep a lookout out for rebs or yanks until Jeb gets back. As the afternoon wears on, he sees a rabbit out near the tree line; as much as they need meat, he doesn't leave his perch. Jeb's after meat, I gotta take care of Maw Besides that's what I was doing when Jeb killed that Yank chasing me. Jeb will be back afore long. Maw said sundown.

Chapter 13
Biding Time

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

With Jude moving North, I turn my horse southwest planning to circle ahead of him. Moving through the trees, I hear varmints scurrying through the brush. As the golden globe rises higher in the sky removing shadows, the forest comes alive with the tat-tat-tat of the woodpecker, the warble of the sparrow perched aloft, and the flap of wings as the eagle soars high in the blue dome above the oak, hickory, and a dotting of pine. I rode for an hour then veered north to come in ahead of Jude remaining in the trees.

Riding into a dense thicket near where he would cross the border of Texas into Oklahoma; at least that's what I surmised. An hour passes when I hear something moving through the brush ten to twelve yards north of where I stand. Placing my hand over my horse's nose to quiet him, I wait. Silence creeps through the morning as the birds quiet with the intruder's approach.

That ole Reb paused ten feet away wipes his brow replaces his rebel cap and moves northwest. As he travels further away the natural hum of the forests returns to the aura of the woods. With relief I mount riding due east in the search of game to help Callie and Jake back at the cabin. They shore got it hard.

Dismounting, I lead my horse searching for squirrels or a rabbit; hell, I'd take a deadly old rattler. Skinned out and fried they taste good enough to eat. It's gettin' on toward evenin' when I spy the trail of a snake slithering through the dirt and I look to see where he's coiled.

Shor 'nough he's basking in the afternoon sun under a low-hanging branch. Pulling my old hog leg, I shoot him in the head as he makes his first warning rattle. Taking my knife, I slice off the head and let the blood drain out before coiling to put in my knapsack.

The sun is dipping below the trees to the west. Riding east I'm an hour's ride from the cabin if don't run into any trouble. Staying in the lengthening shadows, I move with caution through the undergrowth to avoid those who're up to no good.

Approaching the cabin in the darkness I ride in slow noticing a light in the cabin window when I hear the click of a rifle. I stop and hear a young voice say, "Who goes there?"

Smiling I answer, "Jake it's Jeb, can I dismount?" I heerd scurrying feet and Jake comes flying out the barn door as my boots touched the ground. Then Callie's silhouette stands in the cabin door with the glow of the lamp behind her. Her apron wrapped around her shoulders against the night chill.

Jake reaches for the reins saying, "Jeb, I'll take care of your horse."

Nodding, I reach for my knapsack striding toward the porch tipping my hat to Callie, "Not much game, Callie, kilt a rattler. I'll skin it and tack the skin up on the barn." No words came from her lips, but a shadow of revulsion crossed her eyes. "Callie, it don't taste bad, jist fry it up like you would a chicken."

Nod a word did she utter as she turned back to the cabin shutting the door behind her. Taking the pouch to the barn I skin out the meat as Jake watches. "We gonna eat that old rattler, Jeb."

"Yup, son, we need meat; its meat."

Digging the toe of his boot into the dirt floor he asks, "Whatcha gonna do with that thar rattle, Jeb?"

In the dim glow of the lantern I see the same look I had in my eyes the first-time paw skinned out a rattler thar in south Texas. I understood the hungry yearnin' for that rattle. Grinning at the memory I ask, "Jake would you like to have it?"

His youthful face aglow with hope his toe poised in mid-air, "Could I Jeb, could I have that rattle?"

"Well, I reckon as how you shor can?" Cutting it off the end of the skin I hand the prize to a boy whose exuberance shows in the light shining from his young eyes. As he darts toward the barn door, I say, "Whoa boy, take the meat to your maw. I'll be in soon."

Shaking my head, seems a hundred years since I was as young and innocence as Jake but the truth of its jist five long years of shooting and dodging bullets. Stepping inside the barn using my knife I scrape the meat off the skin rubbing salt into the hide. Picking up the hammer I move to the south side of the barn nailing that rattler's hide up to dry.

That old moon is high in the sky as I move toward the cabin. I stop to wash my hands in the lean-to, picking up my rifle I step inside the warm cabin. The fresh aroma of cooking meat reminds me of my hunger. Callie fixed a mush with the rattle snake meat fried as I told her. Sitting at the table her eyes held the unasked question about the visitor early today. "Callie, that Reb moved on North." Her body relaxed.

Jake was a magpie throughout supper until Callie says, "Jake let Jeb eat."
Blushing, I tilted my head down and mutter, "Ah shucks ma'am that's how the boy learns, asking."

Jake grins, but he keeps quiet, guess 'cause his maw said too. Shows respect, that's how it should be.

As Callie clears the table I step outside hearing her say, "Jake, bedtime." A sadness creeps across my soul and a dark shadow shades my eyes as I recall those exact words from maw. It was the night I snuck out to join the Rangers; I been gone quite a spell.

Standing in the cool evening breeze listening to the sounds from the forest around the cabin, I heerd an old hoot owl swoop through searching for his supper, a bat or two winging through the trees, but no big game to feed Callie and Jake when I leave. With that uneasy thought I move into the barn settling in the corner away from the door my gun at my side.

Awake before the sun is full over the trees. I search the barn looking to mend the corral; finding rope, old rawhide and dull axe with a grinding wheel back in the darkest corner I set to mending the corral. Callie is determined to stay on the land and I jist can't ride off with things in such disrepair, wouldn't be right.

As the sun tops the trees spreading a pale-yellow sheen across the land, I'm mending the west side of the corral when I hear Callie call out, "Jeb, come eat."

Moving toward the cabin I notice that her apron folded over her breast with her arms inside it. For a moment I saw maw standing there calling me for supper as she had been the morning before I rode off to join the rangers. Only the discipline of five years of war keeps me from mounting my old horse and riding hell bent for leather home. Instead, I shake my head of the vision haunting me and say, "Be right thar, Callie." I wash up at the lean-to before entering the cabin.

As I sit down to the meager meal I heerd Callie ask, "Whatcha doing Jeb?" as she pours the mush and berries into the bowl, she sits in front of me. "Jeb you be needin' different clothes; them's plum wore out. My husband's will most near fit you; I'll be layin' them out for you."
Taking the bowl sitting it on the wooden table I reply "Thought I mend the corral, Callie, before I leave."

As the words leave my mouth, Jake comes from the loft yelling, "Jeb, you aint leaving, are you? You ain't are you?"

Glancing at Callie I smile saying, "Not today Jake. One day soon I'll be riding out. I shor wanta get back home, been now on five year since I saw the folks."

Callie grabs Jake by the arm pushes him toward the stool, "Sit yore self and eat that mush while it's hot."

As Callie joins us at the table conversation stops as we eat. Finishing the meal, I say, "That was right filling, Ms. Callie." With a wink at her I turn to Jake, "Whatcha say we go hunting after I finish the corral. We shor could do with fresh meat."

Knocking the stool backwards with his excitement spilling over as he shouts, "Can we Jeb, can we?" Then quick as a rifle shot he straightens his shoulders picks up the stool and in a mature manner says. "Jeb, right nice of you be taking me with you." In the blink of an eye an enthusiastic young boy took on the demeanor of a serious young adult.

Looking at Callie I reply, "With your maw's permission, we'll leave at sunrise."

Jake looks at his maw but says not a word waiting to see what she'll say. She clears the table, then turns back and smiling she says, "Yes, Jake. You mind Jeb here, do what he says." Wiping her hands, she adds, "Finish your chores."

Standing erect joy bubbling out every pore, he replies in a man's way, "Okay maw."
With hat in hand I say, "I'll be thankin' you for the clothes, Callie."

Leaving the two in the cabin I step outside on the porch listening to the night sounds just enjoying the quiet; so peaceful after the war years with Terry's Rangers. Moving toward the barn a restless urge to hit the trail is strong. Settling in the hay with my rifle I know that soon as I can get meat for the folks it'll be pastime to travel.

I jist closed my eyes when I hear my horse whinny in the back stall. Without moving I open an eye glancing around, nothing is moving in the barn. Slipping out the side I see movement at the edge of the clearing and a set of eyes in darkness. Well, that old bobcat jist ain't gonna get any older. Taking aim, I fire dropping him in his tracks. As the rifle sounds, I hear footsteps hit the porch, and I yell, "Stay put, Jake."

Walking to the edge of the woods with pistol drawn I approach the kill. Yup right between the eyes. Holstering my six shooters, I pick up the carcass heading toward the barn as Callie steps on the porch beside Jake.

"Jeb, what's going on out here?"

Approaching the porch with my burden I stop saying, "T'was a bobcat; we've got meat. Jake come daylight I could use your help if you're a mind."

"Jeb, I can come now."

"Boy, you need your sleep."

Callie laughs, "You might as well give in Jeb, he aint' gonna be sleepin' none." Turning back to the cabin she continues, "Get on with it you two."

Striding through the barn door, "Jake light the lantern; and pull that bench over here close." Standing my rifle by the door where it's right handy I pull my knife and lay that bobcat on the bench as Jake sets the lantern on the edge. "Fetch a bucket of water, son."

The sun is peaking above the pines as we finish gutting and skinning that cat. Glancing out the barn door, there's a pale glow in the window of the cabin. Guess Callie is stirring. Handing the carcass to Jeb, "Boy, take this to your maw."

Shuffling his feet, as he walks across the ground I smile. That boy is plum wore out, but he ain't goin' to own up to it. It's jist a part of growing to be a man. Despite the weariness in his young body, he sprints to the barn skidding to a halt near on top of me. "Jeb, whatcha gonna do with the skin of that varmint?"

"Whoa, thar boy." Tilting my hat back, I peer at the anxious look glaring from those intent young orbs. "Well son, hadn't given it much thought, got any ideas?"

Jake shuffles from one foot to the other digging his toe into the dirt on the barn floor with his head lowered and his voice to a whisper, "You reckon I could have that hide?"

"What was that you said boy, speak up, son."

The harsh tone of my voice startled Jake jist as I intended. He steps away from the bench straightens his shoulders and asks, "You reckon I could have that hide?"

Putting my hand on his shoulder I ask, "You know how to cure it out, son?" That young anxious face staring up at me reminded me of me the first time Paw let me have my very own hide.

"Yes, Sir, Paw taught me fore he went off to fight them yanks."

Nodding I reply, "You got yourself a bobcat son."

Stepping out into early dawn the shadows are disappearing as the sun climbs higher over the trees surrounding the clearing. Waiting on the porch Callie calls, "Breakfast is ready. You fellows wash and set yore self to eat."

Jake rushed through his food and darted out the door. Callie rises from the chair, "Well, I declare that boy is shor a puzzle."

Smiling I reply, "Not so's you notice, Callie, he's young. He's a goin' to the barn to tan out the bobcat." Standing Jeb continues, "I'll be working on the corral for a spell," and steps out on the stoop. High overhead an eagle soars across the blue dome of sky, 'tis a sight! Entering the barn, I see Jake working on that pelt as I gather a few tools to work on the corral. Neither of us said a word jist going about our chores.

Worked on the corral most of the day, it was late in the afternoon lengthening shadows spreading out among the trees when Callie brings a bucket of water to the corral, "You be needin' a drink, Jake," handlin' me the dipper.

"Thanks, Callie."

She looks at the dirt between us digging her toe into the soil; it's for sure she got sumpin on her mind. "Jeb, I'm not one to be beholdin'; shor can't pay you for the work." Pausing, she looks at me, "I reckon you best be movin' on."

Understanding her words and not sure what to say, I ponder on it before saying, "Callie, you feed me purty good that's more than a plenty. It's me who should be beholden to you." And before she can protest, I continue, "Being here with you and your son has been right nice after years of fightin' and killin'. If you don't mind, I'll stay a spell."

She nods her head takes the dipper walkin' toward the cabin. After a few steps she turns, "Jeb grubs ready, come up to the cabin." Moving toward the barn I hear her call to Jake. Smiling, I pick up the tools and move toward the lean-to to wash up as Jake dashed across the yard inching in front of me. That boy's growin' up to be a good man; he's nigh on fourteen. Same I was when I lit out to join the Rangers. We ate a real tasty supper of bobcat and beans from the garden. Callie is right handy in the kitchen. Jake chattered on about tannin' the hide from the bobcat and how he stretched it on the side of the barn to dry. I tipped my head so he wouldn't see the grin on my face. I remember feeling jist as proud when I was a wee bit younger and paw gave me my first hide.

'Twas the cool of the evening, out on the stoop watching the stars glowing across the ebony sky the three of us jist sittin', except Callie, she's snapping beans from her garden. In a small patch she planted a few stalks of tobaccie so's I could enjoy a good smoke, a habit I picked up during the war. The shoots 'twas peaking though the soil, she meant well, but I doubted I be here when it's growed. Gazing into the night, I move to the edge of the stoop. "Callie, I'll be turnin' in now."

"Night Jeb," she picks up her bowl of snaps, "Bedtime Jake."

Sauntering to the barn I had fixed up the tack room with a makeshift bed for privacy. Lighting the lantern I set to cleaning my pistol. After finishing it, I was still restless but didn't want to be wandering around the clearing. Repaired a harness hanging in the barn which it took little effort. Hum, bet they had a cow. Jist afore dawn, I nodded off my head resting on my chest.

Hearing the rooster crow heralding the dawn arising, I slip on my boots, six shooters, and hat stepping out doors. Off in the distance I heerd the lonesome wail of a coyote heading to his den. As I look toward the cabin, I notice the pale-yellow sheen of a light in the window. Callie must be up.

Today's a good time to fix the porch and re-caulk areas where the wind keeps seeping into the cabin. As the ebony night lightens to gray, I take hammer and nails move to the corner of the stoop and jist as I pull up one of the sagging boards, Callie calls out, "Jeb, coffee's hot."

"Yes'um, that shor sounds good." Entering the cabin Jake is descending from the loft, "Howdy Jake."

Yawning Jakes asks, "Jeb, what we doing today?"

"Son, I'm repairing the porch. Thought we go to the creek later get buckets of mud and mix in prairie grass to poke in between the logs to keep the winter winds out." Seeing him poised to charge to the creek I add, "Finish your chores, boy."

Callie turns from the hearth, "Jeb here's a bowl of mush to go with the coffee. Sit."

Smiling, I do as she says watching Jake swallow his breakfast and dart out the door letting it slam behind him as he goes to complete his chores. Enjoying a second cup when Callie sits across the table, I notice a shadow creep across her brow. "Callie, you got sumping to say?"

"Naw, Jeb, jist thinking how we gonna manage when you move on." As her words fade her hands over her face with a slight shiver, she straightens and sips her coffee.

Not shor what to say sipping the coffee looking into the fire in the hearth I say, "Callie, I t'was the same age that boy when I left home to join the rangers. He'll do." Turning my gaze to her I ask, "You move into town?"

Shaking her head, "Jeb what could I do? Left my paws farm when I married Calvin, don't knowed nothin' but farming." Twisting her hands, she continues, "This small orchard is all I have; and it's only a few acres."

Standing I say, "Callie, you think on it. Jake and I will prepare a larger patch for the garden today then we'll enlarge the root cellar. You're right good at growin' stuff you and the boy will do jist fine."

Jeb and I lay out a small plot on the south side of the cabin; rich soil, plenty of sun. Clearing the weeds is a back breaking hot task. As the temperature rose in the day, I pulled my shirt off with sweat making lines in the dirt covering my body; tweren't long afore Jake stripped off his shirt hanging it on a nearby bush. Nary a word said as we work.

We stand from our task as Callie brings water a midmorning. "Thanks Callie, shor takes good." As she hands me another dipper full, I pour it over my head to cool off.

Jake with dirt smeared over his face where he'd wiped the sweat from his brow looks at her, "We's fixin' a nice spot for your maw."

Careful not to let Jake see me grin as he takes a second dipper from his maw and pours it over his head. Yup that boy learns fast.

As we work, the breeze rustles the trees at the edge of the clearing, a hawk soars overhead, and the sun beats down hot and miserable as it makes a gradual descent to the western horizon. There's a right nice pile of weeds at the south end of the plot where we're resting. "Jake, reckon your maw can get a late planting done afore the snow comes."

"Yup, she'd like that, Jeb. Last year the deer kept eating what she planted.' He pauses looking across the way, "Taint no deer this year reckon it's no worry"

Taking the tools "Jake, let's put these in the barn and mosey to the creek and wash off this dirt." As we approach the cabin Callie steps out on the porch. "Callie, we're going to the creek, we'll be back soon."

She raises her hand, "Supper'll be ready."

As we return from the creek, Callie standing on the porch a horse and rider a sittin' there. Jake runs toward his maw when I catch him by the arm motioning for him to be quiet and to follow me. Moving around the edge of the clearing out of view of the rider Jake and I enter through back of the barn, leaving Jake in the barn with his rifle I say, "Cover me Jake." I pick up my rifle stepping out the barn door walking toward Callie. Reaching midway between the house and the barn, I call out "Howdy Mister."

He turns in the saddle, "Howdy, Can I water my horse, Mister?"

As I reply, "Help yourself, over by the corral." I notice he is wearing Reb pants. "Where you headed?"

Letting his horse drink he takes his hat off wiping his brow and says, "Texas Panhandle, worked as a drover up that a way before the war." Leading his horse away from the trough, "Mister, I aint et much in a while. Could you spare a meal?"

"Whatcha you called Reb?"

"Well, mister, most folk's jist call me Cal short for Calvin Bent."

Looking at Callie I call to Jake, "Whatcha see, boy." I knowed he been watching as I told him. He's up in the loft where he can see good.

"Nothin' movin' Jeb."

"Come on down son." Smart boy, Jake comes in from behind the house. "Cal, Jeb Smith, that thar is Jake and Callie on the porch."

Callie smiles at me and Jake, "Cal we's a sittin' to supper you welcome to what we got. Jake show him where to wash."

As they finish the meal I remark, "Cal you're welcome to sleep in the barn tonight if you're a mind."

"Be obliged, Jeb. I'll be ridin' afore sunup."

Standing I pick up my hat, "Callie, thanks! I'll be showin' Cal where to bed down." Heading for the door I turn, "Guess I'll turn in."

Callie nods as she gathers the dishes from the table. "Jake, bring in the wood before you turn in son."

"Yes um, Maw."

Darkness covers the land as quiet of night brings the forest alive with the flap of the owls' wings searching for dinner. In the distance a coyote's howl echoes through the night air. I lay awake listening to Cal snore across the barn. Knowing he is leaving early for home sends a shadow of yearning for me to ride out. Shaking my head, I won't be leaving for a while; still have the root cellar to dig for Callie. Listening to the quiet my head droops and I doze pistol in

Long before I hear the rooster crow, I sense movement in the barn. Cocking one eye open I see Cal saddling his horse. As he turns, I sit leaning against a bale of hay, "You ridin', Cal?"

"Yep, eager to get home, it's still a fur piece." Cinching his saddle Cal continues, "I'm obliged to you."

I follow as he leads his horse outside the barn. He mounts tipping his hat sinks spurs and gallops west as the eastern sky fades from ebony to gray. Stopping at the edge of clearing, he turns in the saddle looks back and rides down the trail.

It's quiet in the cabin Cal's leaving did not wake Callie and Jake.

Gazing at the sky with the clouds drifting overhead, there's a chill in the air as the wind picks up rustling the leaves of the trees around the cabin. The bears are foraging for winter except that one that came a visiting a couple weeks back, he's curing. We salted a part and roasted a part; showed Callie how to make pemmican.

Jake and I are washing up for supper. Glancing at Callie standing on the stoop with the apron over her breast her arms underneath, it's so like maw. There's a gnawing itch to see my folks. I knowed it's time to hit the trail.

The moon is on the downhill side of midnight when I saddle my old cayuse leading him out of the barn. No light glows from the cabin's window, but there's a shadow at the edge of the stoop, Callie. As I walk toward her, she steps down to meet me, "Jeb, here, take this sack. You'll be needin' vittles." When I stand ridged not moving, she shoves it at me turns and walks back into the dark cabin.

Quickly, I turn my old cayuse riding into the darkness of the forest. I didn't look back at the cabin where I had spent the past several months.

Chapter 14
River Rising

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Staying off the main trails travel was slow. With the sun high overhead, I stop in the shade of an old pine somewhere near the Texas Border. Leaning against a snarled tree, I dig into the sack Callie poked in my hands. A hint of a smile crosses my face eating a biscuit with a slab of meat, washing it down with water from the canteen.

Stepping into the saddle I move southwest toward the Sabine. In the timbers, I hear horses to the south. Not too eager to meet unsavory cahoots, I sit in a clump of pines. I had all the fightin' this here Reb wants.

Keeping a steady pace I make fifteen miles before stopping. Brilliant golds and red set western sky aflame. The shadowy trees offer a haven for the night. Taking the saddle from my horse putting it under a big shade tree I tie him near grass a few feet away. Pull the gun from the scabbard laying it across my torso pulling my hat low over my eyes I listen to the night; owl in flight and rodents scampering through the needles and underbrush. Near midnight a breeze rustles the leaves as the moon shines through the branches illuminating the glen off to the east. T'was then I drifted to sleep awaking just as rising sun was casting an eerie gray pall over the forest.

Awaking I ate pemmican with water from the canteen. Riding west I encountered four five riders. Rebs, they were, but jist trying to get home. We'd seen the same action. We're ragged, hungry, and just plain tired.

Moving toward the setting sun in five days we reach the Sabine. With the gray of evening shadowing the trees the noise of running water caught my attention. At the small pond my cayuse drinks his fill. I listen for sounds of other riders. When I hear none, I step down from Lancer to fill my canteen. Back in the trees I kindle a small fire as the shadows lengthen. Hording the coffee Callie had given me I brew my first pot. Leaning against the trunk of a tree I sip the coffee with my rifle across my knees. It's been right long time since I left my folks ranch. I can see maw standing on the porch her apron wrapped around arms calling me to supper. With those thoughts and the quiet of the night I doze.

Around midnight riders approach the river. Keeping my horse quiet I wait. The voices echo in the night but couldn't tell what they said. Soon they slosh through the river. Returning to my perch using my saddle for a pillow, I sleep.

With the rising of the sun we're on the trail moving in a more southwesterly direction. Close enough to smell water when I run across Yankees, they give chase. Shore don't want to palaver with no yanks. Touching Lancer's flanks, he bounds off hell bent for leather dodging in among the trees we lose them blue bellies. Hid in a thicket, I wait until the sound of their horses fade in the distance. Stepping from the saddle I lead Lancer through dense undergrowth until I reach a clearing. Hearing only the rustle of the leaves in the wind, I say, "Lancer, we stay here tonight old pard." He nudges my elbow as I lift his pack and saddle. "Well, pard, its tepid water and jerky." In the shadow of a tree, I watch him nibbling the sparse grass as the sun sinks below the trees. We gotta be near the Trinity. With my rifle across my knees and pistol in hand I doze.

As the gray shades of dawn creep across the land it's time to ride. A mile further we make the Trinity where Lancer drinks his fill as I see to my canteen. Hearing the brush rustling behind me I whirl around gun in hand. Startled to see a young lass I ask, "Gal, you alone?" She nods.

"Whatcha doing out here?"

"Come for water."

"Where's yore folks?"

As she moves to the water she says, "Back in the woods a spell. We're headed out west."

"How many in your party?"

"Mister, jist Maw, Paw, and my brother; we supposed to meet a wagon train at Fort Concho."

The lass who can't be more seven-year-old, I say "Here give me that thar bucket, I'll get yore water and you take me to your folks."

"Paw won't like me takin up with a stranger; he's gonna be real mad."

"It's okay gal, you'll see." Filling the bucket, I turn saying, "What's yore name, gal?"

Smiling she says, "Carrie".

Moving toward her I say, "Okay, Carrie lead out."

She follows a deer trail back to a wee clearing where I see one wagon; a slight fire going where a woman is tending to a skillet of bacon frying from the smell.

Jist as I step out of the trees a burly man steps from behind the wagon with a rifle aimed at my belly. "Carrie, get over here gal?" He watches her take the bucket from me and move toward the fire. "Who are you, Mister?"

"Howdy, names Jeb Smith."

"Where ye headed?"

"South Texas down around Burned Valley; folks have a place down there."

Motioning with that thar rife he says, "Move on out where I can get a good look at ye."

With Lancer following I move further into the clearing. "Well, son why didn't you say you was a Johnny Reb."

"Mister, you didn't ask. And with you holdin' that thar rifle on me I wasn't getting' to frisky."

"Maw pour this here Reb a cup of mud." Turning back, he lowers the rifle, "Come on to the fire son."

Settling down around the fire the man speaks, "Names, Horace Clettus, me and mine fought for the Confederacy. Who was you with Jeb?"

I couldn't help myself as I sat a little straighter and taller when I say, "Terry's Texas Rangers by gory."

A big old smile crosses his whiskered face, "Yup heard tell about you Rebs."
He pulls out an old corncob pipe a filling it, sets ember to it, puffs a time or two then says, "Well, sonny, how far is this here Burnt Valley where you's a headed?"

Shaking my head, I reply, "Don't rightly know Horace, never left the ranch 'till I joined up with the Rangers; left from Houston straight to New Orleans. Was at a lot of different places during the war don't rightly recall their names."

Scratching his long gray beard, he asks, "Seen any yanks, Jeb."

"A feared I did, out run one bunch; after that stayed off the roads real cautious. Don't cotton to fightin', jist wanta get home see my folks."

"Jeb, that's how come we's hid out in this clearing away from the river. "Them yanks aren't too friendly, they act like they still fightin' the war." Knocking the burnt tobacco from his pipe he jist sits.

We been sittin' a spell when the sun sinks below the tree tops and the brilliance of the golden red sky fades to gray. In a soft voice his woman says, "Paw supper's ready."

Standing Horace pokes his pipe in his pocket and says, "Jeb will join us Maw."

As she hands the kids their plates, they move to the edge of the wagon. Picking up two plates she hands me one then to Horace.

"Thank you, Ma am." She nods and sits across from Horace on a small box. "Ma'am, 'tis shor good eaten."

Lifting her eyes with a wide smile she asks, "How long it been since you had a good meal?"

Looking into her blue eyes I reply, "It's been quite a spell, ma am."

Rising Horace says, "Jeb gotta see to the horses, join me." He steps off into the trees a short distance from the camp. "Jeb, we's headed for Fort Concho. Son, it's a fair piece from here. Think you could travel along with us for a spell; shore could use your gun."

Standing by one of the horses as he gives each one grain not sure what to say I ask, "You expectin' trouble?"

"Yup, talked to an old buffalo hunter a while back, he said the Comanche are on the prod. We'll be headin' into their territory in a few days."

Pondering on his asking' I hear the flap of an owl's wings on his nocturnal hunt. Comfortin' to know t'aint no one roaming the woods I reply, "Reckon as how I could if you're shor what you're askin'.

"Son, you be a good man; I got my family to look after. I could use you that's for shor. T'was to be four other wagons with us to the Fort; one turned back, one sunk crossing the Sabine. Don't know about the other two, they never arrive."

Grinning, he says, "I reckon you're either a good shot to survive the battles I heered the Rangers fought; or a coward." Before I could get my dander riled, he continued, "I don't figure you for a yellow streak. So yeah Son I'm shor."

"I reckon I'll stay then."

As he walks back to the wagon, I fall in beside him. Arriving at the camp Horace says, "Maw, Jeb will be travelin' with us for a spell."

With that said I take Lancer and move back into the woods settle down for the night. With my gun hand ready and my rifle across my knees, I rest my head on my saddle. Listening to the sound of crickets chirping and rodents scampering through the underbrush, I doze.

With the first light of dawn the wagon is ready, Horace slaps reins on the team his horse tied on behind we move out heading west. I ride ahead of the team keeping an eye on the horizon in search of any hostiles that might be wandering around in the area. We make ten miles by sundown when halting for the night. Mrs. Clettus cooks up some biscuits and beans with a pot of hot coffee. Shor taste good after a day in the saddle.

Carrie Sue brings her plate and sits beside me, jist grinning up at me afore she says, "Mr. Smith, can I tell you sump thing". And without waiting for an answer she continues, "You the first stranger I didn't get in trouble for talkin' to. Paw says you okay."

Looking to see Horace's reaction to his girl child I smile when I see a twinkle in his eye saying, "Well, I be thankin' you, Carrie Sue, for a tellin' me. I'll try not to disappoint you and your paw."

Tommy finished his meal handing his plate to his maw, "I'll be gatherin' the wood fur you, now."
Without looking up from her mending his maw says, "Stay close son."


Catching Horace's eye, I stand saying, "Tommy, what say I give you a hand?" Not waiting for his answer, I stride toward him.

As I reach his side, he looks up at me saying, "That's right nice of you, Mr. Smith."

Grinning I say, "Tommy, since we's gonna be working together how about you call me Jeb."

Hopping on one foot then the other his eyes a glow he says, "Let's get to it, Jeb." With that we saunter a short distance from the camp picking up dry branches and brush on the ground for his maw come breakfast.

We hadn' much more than got back to camp when Mrs. Clettus sent the kids to bed. "You youngins be turning in we's gonna be leaving at sunup.

Travelin' with the Clettus's we're makin' about ten miles most days, been on the trail a couple weeks since leaving the Sabine. It was nearing sundown when Horace pulled the wagon into a small clump of oak for the night. Still sittin' the saddle I say, "Horace, I'll see if I can scare up some game. Won't be goin' fur, keep a watch. We, shor nough in Comanch land. Touching spurs to Lancer, I heerd Tommy askin' if he could be a goin 'and heerd his maw tell him to build a fire for supper.

Couple of miles from camp I come across another rider's trail, notice him sittin' on the rise at the edge a small valley. Checkin' my gun Lancer and I keep ridin' like we ain't a see'd him. His horse whinny's. Drawin' closer to him I hear the cock of a rifle as he calls out, "Sit easy Mister."

He strolls off the rise toward me that old rifle point right at my belly. I see an ole grizzly man long gray beard streaked with tobaccie wearing buckskins. At about twenty feet from where I sit, he calls out, "Who are you? Where you headed?"

Resting easy in my saddle knowing my six-shooter is handy I reply, "Jeb Smith, headed for Fort Concho."

"You alone?"

"Nope! Travelin 'with a family trying to reach the Fort." Watching as he lowers the rifle I ask, "What's yore handle?"

He eyes me real close then says, "Gus Cooper, mountain man." Grinnin' he says, "Don't call no place home, sonny."

Smiling I reply, "Yup! Knowed a man like that in the Rangers during the war; didn't make it Gus." Looking off toward the west I ask, "Seen any injuns, comanch?"

Running his big ole paw across his beard he answers, "Nah, I heerd they were up near the Oklahoma Territory a couple weeks back." Stickin' his rifle in the scabbard he says, "I'll be moseying down the trail, sonny. Watch out for them yanks, they shor ain't friendly."

Tipping my hat, I say, "I'll do er Gus." Moving on down the trail Gus heads north I watch a rabbit dash through the grass. Turning, I move to reach the wagon which should be coming up behind me; knowed tweren't more a couple miles ahead of it. Sitting in the saddle gazing north I see storm clouds gathering, guess we're in for a bit of a blow. As the sun sinks toward the western horizon casting a golden glow tinged with red the rumble of the wagon drifts across the air. Riding to meet them I see a grove of oak off to the south. Reaching the wagon, I say, "Horace pull into that clump of trees, oughta be a good place to camp for the night, gotta storm headed this way."

Nodding his head, Horace pulls the wagon into the grove with the wagon tongue facing north. Helping the Missus down, we unhitch the team hobbling them at the edge of trees. "Jeb, how close you say storm is?"

"Reckon, it'll be here about midnight."

Spitting he says, "Maw, you and the young'uns sleep in the wagon tonight, I'll sleep under it." Looking away from his family he asks, "Jeb where you be beddin' down?"

Nodding in acknowledgement of his question I reply, "I'll be back in the trees; don't want no surprise visitors."

Horace walks over close asking, "Son, you see sign to make you think we have visitors?"

"Nope, but there's yanks roaming up near the border and we're in Comanch territory I'll be sleepin' light."

After a supper of cold biscuits and rabbit with plenty of hot coffee, the youn'uns and Mrs. Clettus are asleep. Horace under the wagon is no more asleep than me. Listening to the rumble of the storm as it comes down on us. Close to midnight the wind howls as thunder roars across the sky followed by earsplitting bolts of lightning and the rain spits on the ground before becoming a real frog strangler drowning everything until the leaves sag water running off the tips. Toward morning the thunder and lightning abate leaving a steady downpour.

As the darkness turns to gray skies of morn, I hear Ms. Clettus rattling pans. Then from under the wagon I hear Horace say, "Maw, stay put; we'll be eatin' a cold breakfast. I'll see to Jeb."

He turns in my direction as I rise to see what's on his mind. "Morning, Horace."

"Morning, Jeb, Whatcha think. Can we travel?"

"When you expected at Fort Concho?"

"Well, Jeb, before the first freeze is what they said."

Laughing I reply, "Hell Horace that could be any day or not at all. With this rain you might get bogged down in the mud; and the Trinity's gonna be runnin' high. You'd lose a lot of time to cut north to miss the Trinity, but you still got the Brazos."

"Guess I better think on it, son."

"Be a right smart idee, Horace. I'm gonna ride out a bit."

Horace nods ascent as I pick up the saddle and walk toward Lancer who whines at my approach, "Easy boy." Rain dripping from the brim of my hat I ride out looking for tracks. Don't cotton to anyone slipping up on us. Two miles out I run across a trail of unshod ponies, three or four travelin' toward the Trinity. Sittin' easy in the saddle alert I continue the pace. Not long til three braves appear sittin' on a rise off to the North from this distance I can't tell if their Apach or Comanch.

Coming up on them from the North, four riders riding hard spill lead. The braves ride toward me; hell, their only youn'uns. Ducking into a stand of trees, I wait. Leaning over their ponies they dash into the trees coming to abrupt halt when they see me sittin' rifle pointed to the sky. Without thinkin' I motion for them to move on out. As the riders approach the trees ridin' hell bent for leather they come to a screeching halt staring me in the face. The rider out front says, "Who the hell are you?"

Watching as the three trailing him come to a stop I ask, "What's all the shootin' Mister?"

Looking me over he says, "Injuns. You seen any them critters?"

With my rifle lying across the saddle I reply, "Saw three sittin' on that rise yonder, but they disappear with all that shootin'. Whata they do?"

One of the other rider's yells at me, "They're Injuns!"
The hombre doing all the talkin' asks, "They ride in here?"

One of three riders with the talkative one says, "Come on Jess, they'll get plum away."

"Nah, mister, I stopped here for a short rest; ain't seen no Injuns. Where you boys hale?"

He sit's easy in the saddle says, "We work on a small ranch near Weatherford, but we're ridin' posse."

"Injun trouble?"

"Yup, raided a small settler north of Weatherford, killed the couple, haven't found their little girl."
Looking at the rider I say, "If she ain't dead they'll raise her as their own."

"How you know this mister."

"Jess, I grew up down in Burned Valley where my folks have a ranch; Mescalero always comin'' by the ranch."

"Cowboy, how about joinin' us?"

"Wish I could, but I'm guiding a family to Fort Concho, gotta get on down the trail."

"Keep watch out Mister, the Comanche are runnin' free."

Without another word, the four hightail it right outta that forest. As I prepare to ride out the three Injuns ride up in front of me and Lancer. My rifle still rests across the saddle, I make no move waitin' to see what happens. With the posse riding off to the northwest, they know there was no betrayal by the lone white eyes.

The young brave sitting in the middle took his arrow poking me in the chest as the others circle without one hoop or holler. After a time, they sit before me, this time when he pokes me with his arrow, I grab it from his hand holding it without moving a muscle. The young brave's eyes glisten not showing an ounce of fear. Horses, nose to nose, our eyes locked in a staring gaze only the wind flipping the hair of the brave. The rifle unmoved I ask, "Da nzhq." [It is good.] I try once more to communicate, "He Abaachii miizaa diints'e?" [Do you understand the Apache language?] They shake their heads. "Dak'aa nkee golkjjh". [It is about to rain.] With the negative movement, I hand the arrow back to the one in the middle.

With that the three young braves turn their ponies riding like the wind north. Smiling I surmise they're Comanch. Turning Lancer to the East I ride toward the Clettus camp. The rain moves out leaving a muddy mess. Riding back to camp, I wonder if they will relate their adventure with the white eyes claiming to have counted coup.

Arriving at the camp to find the river running bank full is too dangerous to cross. Horace hails me with a tip of his hat asking, "What you see son?"

Moving to unsaddle Lancer at the edge of the trees, he joins me. Keeping my voice low I reply, "Ran into three young braves being chased by some settlers. The youn'uns hit in the brush until the searchers left."

"What fer?"

"Horace, some settlers were massacred, and the cabin burned; a young lass taken."

Shakin' his head he asks, "Those braves the ones?"

Thinking before I answer. "Naw, don't think so. They headed north after circling me."

"Jeb, why the hell didn't you kill them redskins?"

Rubbing my chin where a stubble of a beard was itching, I reply, "Horace, I grew up around injuns. Then thar youn'uns was out to count coup. Figure they did just that when they poked me with an arrow." Surprised them when I grabbed it then handed it back." Laughing, "Bettcha, they're telling tales around the campfire for days to come."

Removing his hat, running his fingers through hair streaked with white he says, "Son you are one brave bastard or a dam fool." With a grin, "I think a brave bastard."

We hear Mrs. Clettus call us to supper. Tommy grabs his plate and sits so close I can't rightly move. "Supper's mighty taste, Ma am."

"Here, Jeb, have another helping."

"No, Ma 'am I had plenty." Sitting in the light of the campfire I sip hot coffee gazing into the flames. Rising I say, "Ma 'am, you and the youn'uns sleep in the wagon tonight."

Moving into the trees where Lancer waits laying my slicker on the ground, I wrap a blanket around me resting my head on the saddle my rifle beside me and pistol in my hand, I doze listening to the silence of the night. Toward dawn I hear riders off to the west as they keep riding my muscles relax. Glancing through the trees I see Horace up setting flame to the fire.

Giving a bird call getting his attention, I motion not to light the fire.

He kills the ember moving toward me asking, "What's up, Jeb?"

"Riders off yonder needn't let them know we's here," I reply. Continuing, "Smoke carry down wind." Saddling Lancer, I say, "Wait till I return."

Horace nods returning to the wagon as I move out toward where the riders passed. I come on the trail of shod ponies half mile from the camp. A way further the trail turns north toward Weatherford. Sitting in the saddle looking around listening to the silence I opine could be the posse.

Returning to camp Mrs. Clettus and the youn'uns are sitting by the wagon. "Where's Horace, ma am?" Before she can answer I hear movement behind me whirling with my pistol drawn, I see Horace step from behind an Oak.

He grins big saying, "Son, you sure are edgy. Whatcha find?"

Holstering my six-shooter, I reply, "eight to ten shod ponies heading north, could be a posse out of Weatherford." Carrie Sue run right into me wrapping her arms around my legs smiling, while Tommy sticks out his hand in welcome his eyes dancing with delight. Looking over their heads, Mrs. Clettus nods her welcome.

Tipping my hat in response, I say, "Horace, let's check the river."

The flow was strong in the middle with debris floating swiftly downstream. Shaking my head wiping the sweat from my brow I say, "Horace, too much debris, we'd best wait another day or two. There'll be another wagon train."

Worry resounding in his voice as he says, "Yup we best be waitin'; shor hate the delay." Turning back, he says, "Guess I better be tellin' the Missus."

Walking back to the wagon I say, "Horace I'm gonna ride downriver for a look see." As I mount Lancer Horace nods and continues to speak with his wife. Riding along the bank a mile, I find no better place to cross. Glancing down river there's a pile of driftwood along the bank, lying near it I see what looks like a man; approaching on foot with caution I see a young injun boy. I turn his body over finding a bullet wound in his side. He's unconscious but has a pulse. Picking the boy up I take him to the woods away from the water wrapping him in my blanket. He has a sheaf, but no knife. Taking water from my canteen I bath his wound. He's lucky the bullet went plum through. Building a small fire, I heat my knife to cauterize the bullet hole. Turning him on his stomach, I stick the red-hot knife to his body. The searing pain of burning flesh rouses the brave, not one whimper comes from his mouth. Good thing I'm a sittin' on him or he'd be high tailin' it out here.

When he settles down, I say, "Da nzhq [Greetings].

His dark intense eyes open wide. He replies, "Aoo, da nzhq." [Yes, greeting.] "Abaachii miizaa, dints'e". [the Apache language you understand it]

Seeing the fear in his eyes I reply, "diists'e. [I understand.] Hat'eo miizhii? [What is his name?] ha'shjjnaa? [where from].

With caution he says, "Runs with the Wind."

Placing the knife in the glowing embers his eyes follow my every move. When blazing hot removing it I say in English "Got do this "Runs with the Wind". Reaching to hold him he stalls my arm saying, "ash'ff, bff, an" [do it].

Nodding I force the glowing knife across the wound searing the flesh. The pain shows in his young eyes, but no sound is uttered.

Touching his shoulder, I say, "dii hooyee nzhq [you good]. How you say warrior?' Not waiting for him to answer, I continue, "You understand English?"

"aoo, white man in black robes teach."

In tending the wound, it was clear he was shot in the back, "Runs with the Wind, who shot you?"

With bitterness in his voice he says, "White eyes with four or five riders, they go north."

Looking toward the river pondering what to do I ask, "Where is your people?"

His quiet response, "Many days march from here."

The sun is sinking low spilling a radiant red glow across the western sky. Putting a few more branches on the fire, reaching into my saddle bags, I take out jerky handing a strip to Runs with the Wind. Waiting for the coffee to boil I chew the jerky.

The darkness covers the land as an owl takes flight on his nocturnal search for food. The young brave is resting quiet. I feel his brow he is hot. Damn, gotta get his fever down. Walking to the river filling the canteen, I listen for riders. Hearing none I return to the boy bathing his body with the cool water. Near midnight he sleeps.

With the dawn saddling Lancer, I place the young apache in front of the saddle wrapped in my blanket and ride for the Clettus wagon. We're a mile out the injun's body burns with fever. Approaching the wagon, I call out, "Horace."

He comes running to the edge of the woods where I had stopped. He stands holding the reins of Lancer. "Hey boy, whatcha got thar?"

In a low voice I say, "Horace, a young apache. Found him lying in the river gun shot."

As I finish Mrs. Clettus walks up behind Horace and says, "Jeb, whatcha waitin' on bring the boy here."

Taking him from my arms she says, "Horace, his burnin' up; bring me lots water from the river." Turning asking, "Where his folks?"

"Ma'am, he said they were many days march away." Pausing, I add, "Be careful ma'am, he's hurtin' but he is a young apache warrior."

Tsking she replies, "He's a boy, and he's hurt. That's all I need to know. Now, get on with you."
She lays him by the wagon directing Carrie Sue to bring more blankets from the wagon. Looking to his wounds raises her eyes saying, "Jeb, you did good for the boy. Now, go find green moss best look along the river bank."

Calling to Jimmy I say, "Let's go boy."

A short piece down river we find moss undisturbed by flood water. Showing Jimmy how to gather it, I keep watch listening for riders. Returning to the wagon Mrs. Clettus takes the procured item packing it on Runs with the Wind's wound.

By Morning the young injun boy's fever had left him. Returning from the river I heard scuffling sounds coming from the wagon and Mrs. Clettus scream. I ran throwing back the canvas just ahead of Horace catching her as she rushes from the wagon tripping on her skirt. Hopping into the wagon with my gun pulled I face an angry injun holding a knife his back against a chest. Lowering the six shooter I say, "dooda, dooda! Shiich'oonii." [No, No! Friend.]

Runs with the Wind's eyes lock with mine in defiance. Holding out my hand I continue, "besh, dakoo." [knife, now] When he hesitates, I repeat, "Besh, dakoo." [knife, now!] My Apache is sparse and I'm not sure I am saying it right, but with my hand extended I slip the pistol into the holster. Horace stands behind me rifle in his hand when I say, "Horace put down the rifle."
"Son you sure?"

Keeping eye contact with the injun I say, "Yes, lower the rifle." Watching Runs with the Wind, not sure what he will do, I feel relief when he extends the knife. Taking it, I see it's one of Horace's hunting knifes. Again, I extend my hand to the boy I ask, "chii she'yiilhjjh?" [Hungry]

He folds his fingers together taking them to his mouth saying, "Aoo."

Without turning around, I ask Mrs. Clettus, "Ma am, food for the boy." I hear her walk away as the youn'un tenses only noticeable if one looks. He is a brave young warrior. Returning she sets the plate on the back of the wagon. Moving back toward the edge I reach for the plate holding it where the boy must move closer to reach it.

The boy inches closer, grabs the tin of food shoveling it into his mouth dropping it on the ground when finished. Smiling at the boy, I turn to Horace asking, "What's the river like this morning; can we cross?"

"Don't know Jeb; better take a look."

I step out of the wagon, turn back and invite Runs with the Wind to come out with me. Without saying a word, he follows me to the river. The Trinity's flow is four or five feet below yesterday's level. "Well, runs with the Wind, I speck we better try it." As I turn toward the wagon he stays staring across the wide expanse. It's only a short time 'til I hear the soft pad of his moccasins behind me.

Approaching the wagon Horace is hitching the team while Mrs. Clettus and the youn'uns pack up the wagon. As they near the river I say, "Horace I'll take the lead, you straddle the lead of your team." Motioning for the Injun to climb up behind me I prod Lancer to cross.

As we start across the river, Runs with the Wind pokes me on the shoulder. When I glance back to see what he wants, he directs me to move at an angle across the riverbed. Lancer has an easy time crossing the wagon behind us with Horace riding his team and Mrs. Clettus on the seat holding the reins. Once on dry land water barrels full we move west over rolling hills the sun baring down drying out the land.

Chapter 15
Runs With The Wind

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

Travel is slow, a breeze assuaging the heat as Horace and the kids walk beside the wagon; Runs with the Wind and I walk leading Lancer. A rabbit scampers across the land leaving paw prints in the soft wet ground. The sun is high in the sky when I say to Horace, "We'll be scouting a head, will meet up with you before sundown." Horace waves his hand in acknowledgement as we ride away. With Runs with the Wind behind me we move ahead.

An hour after we left, I see prints of unshod ponies in the drying soil moving west. Reining up Runs with the Wind drops beside Lancer examining the prints then looks at me says, "Apache."

Looking at the horizon searching for any sign I ask, "How long ago?"

Climbing up behind the saddle he says, "Two day."

Sitting gazing through the trees I ask, "Your tribe?" Not expecting an answer.

Runs with the Wind responds, "Brazos three-day ride, we go?"

Looking overhead at the hawk soaring in the blue sky thinking what he had asked, I say, "Padre taught you well, son."

Pounding his chest as warrior he says, "Me learn good!"

With reins in hand, Lancer moves out across the land, off in the distance I see a grove of oak and hickory. A rabbit scurries through the grass as we ride toward the stand of trees. As I approach the site with caution, we ride into the opening upon a campsite. Runs with the Wind hops off Lancer checking the ashes he says, "A day old, white man."

Stepping from the saddle I hand him a piece of jerky and the canteen. He takes a sip and passes it back. We sit in the shade of the trees my rifle across my knees, I say, "Runs with the Wind, my name is Jeb."

As I glance at him, his face is unreadable as most warriors are, he says, "You white eyes why you called Jeb?"

"You injun, why you called Runs with the Wind." That garnishes a nod of the head from my young warrior.

From his squatting he says, "Two-hour sunset, we go, Jeb?"

Standing I smile, "We go."

The sky was turning gray with the coming of night when we arrived back at the wagon which had stopped in a small stand of trees for the night. As we approach, Jimmy calls out. Horace stands in the shadow of an oak rifle in hand he steps forward, "Howdy, Jeb."

Jimmy takes the reins of the horse as we dismount walking off to the edge of the clearing, he hollers, "Jeb, you wanta unsaddle Lancer?"

I shake my head in a negative response moving to stand beside Horace. "We ran across the trail of Apache heading west, two days old. I suggest moving out at dawn."

Horace rubbed his bearded face saying, "Reckon you be right, Jeb." Turning he says to Ms. Clettus, "Maw, feed these boys."

'With a smile as big as the sun she replies, "Comin' right up, boys."

Sitting back with a giant sigh, "Ma am, that was right good eatin'". Rollin' a cigarette I smoke while Clettus chows on 'baccie.

Jimmy and Runs with the Wind sit quiet listening to our palavering about the war when I hear Ms. Clettus say, "Boys' bedtime." Jimmy crawls under the wagon as Runs with the Wind moves toward my horse unsaddling him, he lays down near the saddle.

Standing I say, "Night Ma'am" and stroll to the edge of the clearing. Settle down with the saddle under my head and the rifle across my middle. As I place my hat over my eyes, I hear Runs with the Wind say, "you, good white eyes." I don't reply as none's necessary. He is stating what he sees.

Before the sun rises over the horizon, the wagon is ready. Jimmy, Carrie Sue, and Ms. Clettus in the wagon, Horace sits on the seat holding the reins when he calls to Runs with the Wind, "Climb aboard son, ride with me a spell."

The boy looks at me when I nod, he climbs up beside Horace who slaps leather calling to his horses and the wagon rolls. Lancer and I ride out ahead looking for trouble. Mid-morning, there's a dust trail off to the north. Watching it move further north with no alarm, I return to the wagon.

Pulling up beside Horace, he asks, "See anything, Jeb?"

Shaking the dust off my hat I reply, "Trail of dust moving north." I drop to the back of the wagon calling out, "Jimmy, Carrie Sue, walk a spell." They hop out the back and as I ride forward, Runs with the Wind has dropped to the ground. Watching his eyes meet mine I nod my approval and keep riding.

Day after day our journey making twelve and fifteen miles a day is uneventful. We were nearing the Brazos when I see a large cloud of dust rising across the prairie. As the dust nears where we sit in the saddle, I recognize a cavalry patrol. Spotting us, they continue in our direction. Pulling rein near the wagon I say, "Horace hold up; Runs with the Wind get in the wagon; no matter what happens don't leave it."

Continuing I watch the cavalry officer ride ahead of the column. As we near where he sits, I say, "Horace pull up, I'll see what the officer wants." Riding to where he sits astride his mount I ask, "Captain, what can I do fer you?"

"Howdy, where you headed?"

Tipping my hat back I reply, "Fort Concho, the folks are to meet up with a wagon train headed west."

The captain asks, "What's your name, son?"

Nodding I reply, "Jeb Smith"

"Jeb, how many in your party?"

Replying, "Mr. Clettus, his missus and two chillin'"

Looking me over he asks, "Well Jeb we're lookin' for renegade comanch. You seen any injuns?"

I take my time in answering before saying, "Well, now, Captain, back near the Trinity seen a few off in the distance heading north. Now let me see, that would have been two week ago. I can't say we see'd any injuns since then." I pause looking off west then continue, "Why you askin'"

"Jeb, we're out of Fort Griffin, renegades killed and burned out four families near Weatherford. We been trailin' after them for fourteen days, lost their trail awhile back." Turning to his troops he calls, "Jeb be on the lookout for them devils are on a killin' spree."

Tipping my hat, I reply, "Will do, Captain." I watch them turn north with a sigh of relief I return to the wagon.

Horace asks, "Jeb everything all right?"

Grinning, "Yep, they're after the Comanche that raided those farms up near Weatherford. Keep Runs with the Wind in the wagon. Let's keep a watch on them Yankee boys."

Turning Lancer west, I yell, "Move out." With us just a couple days from the Brazos I am anxious to cross.

A day's ride after we palavered with them Yankee boys, we ran across a sod hut about sundown. There were arrows strickin' all over the place. As Horace pulls the wagon to a halt and steps down, I say, "Stay put, keep the missus and the kids in the wagon. Runs with the Wind, step down." He alights from the wagon, "I continue, Let's have a look see son."

Runs with the Wind picks up an arrow, saying, "Comanch." I nod moving to the sod hut, pushing the door open to have a look, a sod buster lying in the middle of the mess. He was scalped. Looking around, I find a doll showing there was a small girl child here at one time. I didn't like to think about her fate.

Closing the door, I call to Horace, "There's burying to be done, a man scalped."
As Horace approaches Runs with the Wind motions for me to follow him over the slight rise. What I see makes me gag. Lying in the grass what once was a woman but now is unrecognizable; her breast sliced off, gutted from her pelvic to her throat then scalped.

Turning back toward the wagon where Ms. Clettus is getting off the seat I say, "Stay there and keep the kids in the wagon."

Behind the cabin Horace was diggin' a grave, "We'll be needin' two." Taking his hat from his head he wipes his brow asking, "Bad son?"

Meetin' his gray eyes glaring from the whiskered weathered face I nod. Approaching the wagon, I ask, "Ms. Clettus could you spare a quilt." She said not a word, reaching in the back pulls one out handing it to me. I nod saying, "Thank ya ma'am."

Runs with the Wind meets me a few yards from the wagon says, "Ten maybe fifteen unshod ponies moving north; two day 'go."

Noddin, I keep walking over the hill where I wrap the woman in the quilt, carrying her to the graves Horace is digging. He rests on the shovel as I approach. Laying my burden down beside the grave I say, "Horace, I'll finish up here, take the wagon a fair piece down the road. Find a good place to camp for the night. I'll catch up with you."

He asks, "Son, how far to the Brazos?"

Runs with the Wind answers, "A long day."

Horace nods, climbs on the wagon slaps reins and the horses move out pulling their load across wind sweep terrain.

Leaning on the shovel I watch the wagon pull out across the prairie. Shaking my head, I return to my work. As the sun makes its descent to the western horizon, I pause to say about the only prayer I can remember, "Our father which art in heaven...for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever." Slapping my hat on I say to Runs with the Wind, "Let's ride son." With the young warrior behind me we move out.

The sky is gray with the sun hid behind the western horizon and dark shadows hover among the mesquite, scrub oak and pine. The glow of a fire in the distance garners my attention; as we approach the groove of mesquite Runs with the Wind slips off the horse moving with stealth staying low and, in the shadows, he moves into the darkness. It isn't long till I hear his soft moccasin tread moving in from the other direction. As he reaches me, he says in disgust, "white man build big fire, little one do well."

With a big grin I ask, "The Clettus's wagon?" as I reach to pull him up behind me.

Without a word he nods, asking, "We go?"

Nudging my horse with my knees I say, "We go."

Sitting straight like the warrior he is we ride toward the camp. As we approach, I call out, "Hello in the camp."

I hear Horace cock that old rifle of his as he calls, "Ride in." Moving into the firelight where he can see us, he says, "Boy, I about give up on you. You run into any trouble, son?"

Dismounting, I reply, "Naw! That coffee sure smells good."

Tommy runs up grabbing the reins saying, "Jeb, I'll take care of your horse." Trotting off to a nearby oak he tethers him removing the saddle laying it by a tree a little way from camp. He's smart, he's seen me move back into the shadows to bed down.

As I squat by the fire Mrs. Clettus pours me a cup of hot coffee and a plate of beans and biscuits, "Thank you ma'am." She hands Runs with the Wind a plate filled with food; he takes it off a little way sitting in the shadows of a pecan tree.

I sit by the fire eating. As the shadows turn to ebony with millions of stars overhead handing my plate back to Maw Clettus, I say, "Mighty tasty ma'am."

As she walks toward the wagon she calls, "Tommy, bedtime."

"Ah, Maw, Do I have too?"

Hearing his lament Horace says, "Son, listen to your maw. We'll be on the trail by sunup."

Turning back to the fire, he asks, "Runs with the Wind, how far to the Brazos?"

The young warrior moves to the dying fire squats between us, "Sundown tomorrow." Then nods and moves into the trees opposite where my bedroll lays.

Sitting my cup down standing I say, "Horace, I'll be beddin' off in the trees thar, you sleep under the wagon. Runs with the Wind and I will keep watch."

Horace nods.

The night passes quiet with no sound other than the flap of an owl's wings searching for a rodent in his nocturnal hunt. There was no fire when I approached the wagon, Horace had the horses hitched and Runs with the Wind was helping Tommy saddle my horse. Maw Clettus handed me hardtack climbing up on the wagon seat.

Mounting my steed, Runs with the Wind sits behind me; Horace slaps reins and the wagon moves out with us riding next to it. We'd been on the trail a couple of hours when I hailed Horace, "Gonna ride ahead a bit."

Turning to Rides with the Wind, "Son, you ride with the Clettus's."
He leaps down and climbs aboard getting in the back to stay out of sight.

Clettus removes his hat wiping his brow, "Be careful, son."

Putting my heels to Lancer, I move out trailing west. I'd been watching a dust cloud drifting across the horizon. Swirls of heat rising from the surface of the earth. Could be a Yankee Calvary from Fort Concho or Comanch; shor' hope they keep moving west.

Been riding for over an hour not seeing much other a few jackrabbits darting through the broom weeds skittish as all get out. Guess they don't wanna be et. Watching the horizon with dust swirls near where I spec the Fort be, I turn my old cayuse back toward the trail I come over.

Reckon Horace should be comin' not far behind. Put my cayuse in a gallop putting distance behind as the sun scorches the earth from high overhead. When I catch up with the Clettus's he had pulled the wagon under the shade of a snarled pecan tree. He's standing beside the wagon with the young'uns under the cool shade.

"Howdy, Jeb, what's up ahead?"

Dismounting, I reply, "Mostly jackrabbits. A dust swirl off to the west could be at the fort or there bouts." Turning to see Runs with the Wind coming from the grove I ask, "Son, you cotton to go to Fort Concho?"

He motioned he would go far away then said, "Not good go Fort, they no like injun."

I wasn't looking forward to parting with the young warrior, but I asked, "When you go?"

Without saying a word, he took his knife from its sheaf slicing his thumb handing me the knife showing I should do the same. Following his instructions, I hand his knife back. He takes it pressing his thumb to mine and says, "Blood brother, Jeb and Runs with the Wind."

A big old grin breaks across my face as I say, "Blood Brothers." He sheaves his knife leaves running across the prairie without a backward glance. As I watch him disappear, I wonder if our paths will ever cross again, my little Apache warrior.

True to Runs with the Wind we reached the Brazos just as the sun was sinking behind the western horizon. Them Texas sunsets are shor somethin' to see, be right glad to head on south to home.

Horace called out as he pulled the team into the shade of a cottonwood saying, "Jeb, will cross in the morning, son."

Dismounting I reply, "First light I'll find us a place to cross." Unsaddling I move back a ways from the camp. Could be them thar comanch still out around here. Jist as I was setting down, I heard running feet, stepping into the shadows I pulled my six-shooter and waited. It wasn't long until Tommy burst out of the trees tripping over my saddle. "Boy, what's your hurry?" His eyes almost bulged out of their sockets as he looks up into the barrel of my pistol. When he rights himself, I grab him by the shoulder and pull him to his feet saying, "Son you don't run up on a man like that. Ye'll get yourself kilt."

He drops his head and mumbles, "Sorry Jeb."

Releasing my hold on him I ask, "Whattcha want son?"

"Maw says come eat."

Holstering my pistol, I answer, "Let's get to yor mom's fine cookin'." He walks ahead of me through the small mesquite toward the cottonwood where the wagon sits. His walk is slow and his shoulders sagging.

As we reached the glow of the fire Horace pulls Tommy to him sitting him down beside him and asks, "Son, you learn anything about running up on a fellow in the dark?"

Tommy downs his head and in a shaky voice says, "Paw Jeb had a gun aimin' at me."

Horace glanced across the blaze of the fire weighing' his words, "Son, Jeb been five years in the war, we done see'd killin done by them thar Comanch, Apache been around, or we wouldn't run across Runs with the Wind. Son, I reckon as how Jeb jist didn't know who was a chargin' at him." He pauses asking me, "Jeb, you got anything to add."

Tilting my hat back off my face I nod at Horace as I say, "Tommy, if you wanta go on a livin' don't go charging into any camp. It's 'Hello in the camp' son; only move in when invited."

Horace smiles, "Good advice son." Turning to Ms. Clettus he says, "Maw, them vittles ready?"

Finishing the fine meal, I say, "Thank you ma am!" Standing near the fire turning to Horace I say, "Come morning I'll look for a place to cross the Brazos." As He nods, I move back in the trees where my bedroll and horse are waiting. Off in the distance the howl of a lone coyote rents the air while overheard the flap of wings as the owl searches for food. Sleep is slow in coming as I listen to the night when toward midnight the sound of horses awakens me. Without moving a muscle, I listen the sound fading as they move north across the prairie. My hand rests easy on the handle of my pistol I doze.

As the sky lightens to gray in the early dawn my horse is saddle ready to ride out. We need a shallow crossing, reckon I'll try it up stream; moving along the edge of the river tracks of a deer are visible in the soft mud. Noticing tracks of unshod ponies at the water's edge about three miles from camp I ride alert. Stepping down to examine them they appear to be two or three days old and move across the river at a slight angle. Riding across the bottom is passable and it's three feet at the deepest spot. Heading back to the wagon arriving just as the Missus is cleaning up.

As I ride in, she calls out, "Jeb, saved a plate for you son."

Dismounting, "Might nice of ya ma'am."

Sitting by the fire Horace asks, "Find a crossing son?"

Gazing in the campfire I glance across at him saying "Yep, three miles upstream, good bottom, shallow. Might be we should move out as soon as you're ready Horace."

Through a mouth full of grub, he asks, "Trouble son?"

Sipping hot coffee, I reply, "Don't think so. Injun sign three four day old. We'll be cautious jist the same."

When the Clettus' wagon is ready to roll I ride out in front staying close to the river as possible. The sun is high in the clear blue sky as we approach the crossing. As Horace pulls the wagon to the river I call out, "Jimmy, hop on behind me, we'll lead out." Riding to the front of the wagon I say, "Horace follow me across I've checked this part of the riverbed."

Tipping his hat putting the team in motion he yells, "Sure thing, son."

I notice the missus crawl in the back with Carrie Sue, good idea Horace had thar. We move across the Brazos without incident. I shor breathed a lot easier when that thar wagon pulled up on dry land.

Dismounting, I say, "Clettus be a good time to fill the water barrel and water the horses, we gotta a long haul to the Colorado and on to Fort Concho."

Horace pulls the wagon back from the river into a grove of trees, mesquite, oak and a scrawny old cedar. As he climbs down from the wagon seat he says, "Maw, fix some biscuits and beans."

Turning to Jeb he says, "Son, let's eat, then we'll travel til sundown."

With my hat tilted back, nodding, I dismount tying Lancer in the shade of a pecan tree where there's grass for him. Off in the distance I hear the caw of a crow. If he's squawking, thar ain't no miscreant near the camp. As the missus puts coffee to boil, I amble through the trees toward the north. Gone might near a mile when I stop behind a large pecan seeing a wagon overturned, I move with caution toward the wreck. Leaving the cover of the trees with pistol drawn I creep forward reaching the overturned wagon. With caution I open the back flap where a woman's body sprawled out an arrow piercing her gut, legs pushed up her dress covering her face blood everywhere. Letting the flap drop searching the area, a short distance from the wagon a man lay with arrows through his body missing his scalp. The markings on the arrows were not that of the Apache could be Comanch. Scattered among the debris a rag doll lay a hundred yards from the wreck. I widened my search but found no child.

As I return to the Clettus wagon, I nod for Horace. As he starts toward me Tommy runs to follow. Horace notices the dark shadow of my eyes and says, "Tommy stay at the wagon."

With a solemn face he asks, "What's up, son?"

When he is standing in front of me, I say, "Horace, get a shovel and come with me; there's burring to be done." As he starts toward the wagon I continue, "Don't let the youngin's or the missus come!"

Without turning he calls, "Tommy bring the shovel, then help your maw."

As we move through the woods I say, "it's a fur piece best we walk, Horace." His reply is a nod of the head. We travel in silence till we reach the rise leading to the slaughter.

Shaking his head in disgust he asks, "How many bodies, Jeb?"

"Two, a man and a woman," I reply. Taking the shovel, I move to the shade of a snarled pecan tree to dig. With each shovel full I feel the shadowy darkness of death. I'd had enough death during the war, lost the best friends I ever had. I shore feel old beyond my years. Shaking my head, I continue the digging.

Horace walks up to the grave asking, "Jeb you see a little girl." He was holding the rag doll in his hand a darkness clouding his eyes.

"No, shor didn't. Be it comanch, they took her to raise as one of their own."

"Son, there's a couple quilts I'll wrap the lady in it for burial." Shaking his head, he continues "Seems like the decent thing to do."

With the burring done, we fashion two crude crosses. Looking through the debris found a family bible with the name Jennie Collier married to John Canton. "Jeb what should we do with this here Good Book?"

"Guess, we outta take it to Fort Concho. Somebody might be a wondering what happened to these folks."

Horace says, "That's a right smart idee, son."

We set out toward the Clettus wagon I say, "We be gettin' a late start, Horace; reckon we best move on down the trail though."

"Yep, Jeb, we can travel till sundown. Best we do that." Arriving back at the camp, Horace says to the missus, "Maw, pack up we'll eat on the trail; young'uns get in the wagon." Mrs. Clettus never said a word she packed up and was sitting on the seat in a short time.

Saddled and ready to ride, Horace nods and slaps leather as I approach the wagon. As the horses move out the creaks and groans of the old wagon breaks the silence. Off in the distance scavengers circling. The trail rutted from other wagons made for rough going. As I ride north, I see no Indian sign; jist where a snake slithered through the dirt and found him hiding in the shade of a scrub oak.

Chapter 16
Encounter with Calvary

By Catherin Elizabet Belle

The sinking sun lights up the western sky with golden hues and vibrant reds casting an eerie pall as night descends on the prairie. Horace pulls the wagon into a small clump of mesquite as the radiant sky turns to gray. As he steps from the seat he turns saying, "Maw, we'll run a cold camp tonight. You and the kids stay in the wagon."

Mrs. Clettus nods her head, passing out jerky with cups of water.
"Thank you, ma'am" I move to the far side of the stand of mesquite, unsaddle Lancer and settle down in the darkness leaning against a tree with my rifle across my knees. The night cricket's chirp, the rodents scurry across the fallen leaves, and the breeze rippling through the leaves, I doze in the early hours before dawn.

Clouds move in during the night shutting out the sun with a promise of rain. Smoke wafting on the air tells me the Clettus's are busy at the campsite. I saddle Lancer. As I approach, Carrie Sue comes running grabs me around legs and says, "Jeb, Maw says vittles ready."

My eyes twinkle with delight as she dances around me then takes my hand pulling me toward the campfire. Never been around young'uns before Carrie Sue and Tommy, they're shor full of fire.

The Missus calls, "Jeb sit yore self-down a spell."

I jist get a sittin' when she hands me a cup of coffee, "Thank you ma'am, I'm right beholden to you."

She says, "Posh son, we'd be in a real fix if you hadn't come along when you did." She goes on with her work.

Clettus comes from behind the wagon saying, "Howdy Son." He sits hisself down saying to the missus, "We'll be moving soon as yor ready, Maw." He sips his coffee and picks up his plate from the ground saying, "Jeb how far you think it be to the Colorado."

With a shake of my head, I say, "Horace, never been over this trail afore, don't reckon I know." Handing my plate to the missus I mount Lancer saying, "I'll ride out a way."

Horace dumps his coffee and his plate he says, "We'll be right behind you, son. Thirty minutes at the most. Be on the lookout."

A touch of my hat I ride west out of camp. A couple miles down the trail I meet up with a cavalry patrol. Sitting my steed, I push my hat back and wait til the Colonel halts the troop I say, "Howdy, Colonel."

He looks me over then asks, "Who are you? Where you headed, mister?"

Watching the swirl of dust settle behind the troops I reply, "Name's Jeb Smith, I reckon I be heading to Fort Concho? Where you bound fer, Colonel?"
"We been on patrol about ten days, Comanch are on the prowl, you seen any injuns?"

Thinking back to where we buried the two, I stoke my beard before answering, "Bout three days back we ran across a wrecked wagon; buried two people, man and woman."

The colonel sits a little straighter in the saddle saying, "Injun?"
With an eye off in the distance I say, "Yep, Comanch arrows. The woman assaulted and gutted, man scalped. Tracks of unshod pony's day or two old led north." Pausing before I continue, "Colonel, there was a clothing for a girl child and a doll, but no sign of her."

"Jeb, if she's young they'll take her to raise as their own. He turns in the saddle to speak to his Sergeant. "Dismount the troops we'll rest a spell." Still sittin' in the saddle he asks, "You travelin' alone Jeb?"

Settin' my hat on my head I say, "Naw, there's a wagon about an hour behind me, family broke down and missed the wagon train then set out on their own hoping to reach Fort Concho for the next wagon train headed out west."

The colonel interrupts me saying, "Damn fool thing to do."

I continue, "Yep, I came up on them across the Texas border at the Sabine; been riding with them since then."

Watching a dust devil dance across the prairie the Colonel dismounting gets my attention. "Well, Sir, I'll be moving on."

He shakes dust of the trail off his hat asking, "You goin' on west, son."

Sportin' a grin I say, "No Sir! I'll be riding south from Fort Concho. I ain't been home since before the war, wanta see the folks."

He dons his hat asking, "Where you call home?"

I was remembering Maw standing on the front porch apron wrapped around her arms callin' me to sup I say, "I'm sorry, Colonel, what did you say?"

His eyes question but he only asks, "Where you call home?"

"Ah shucks, sir, my folks have a ranch in Burned Valley down near Quemada." With my foot in the stirrup I prepare to ride out then pause and ask, "How far to the Fort Concho?"

As I pick up the reins the colonel says, "Fifty maybe sixty miles. Keep a sharp eye out, those red devils may still be in the area."

Finger tips to my hat I ride out without looking back until I'm out of sight of the soldiers. Off in the distance there's a cloud of dust rising into the air, with caution I ride into a grove of mesquite and wait. On one of the older mesquites there's a lot of mistletoe growing on the trunk. Maw would sure like that come Christmas. She held great store about bringing it in the house. Said it made the room purty.

Well, I'll be damn, That's the Clettus' wagon! He musta been pushing them horses hard to catch up with me afore dark. I ride out to meet them as they near the grove. Pulling alongside the wagon I say, "Howdy, Horace, you pushing them horses awful hard aint you?"

Horace reins in the team and removes his hat saying, "Yes siree bob! See'd a big ole dust cloud a way North? That's where them Comanch headed. I tweren't taking no chances on gettin' scalped, no sireee, I'm not."

Couldn't help grinnin' when I say, "Horace, they's most likely that cavalry patrol I ran across a way back; they t'were trailing comanch."

Pulling on his whiskers he says, "You don't say, Jeb. Then soldier boys outta Fort Concho?"

"Horace, pull the wagon up in that Mesquite grove up ahead. We'll rest the team." He slaps leather rolling down the trail toward the trees.

As the wagon rolls toward the grove I sit in the saddle watching a dust devil skipping across the prairie, a crow soars in the blue sky to the south. Only the sound of the wagon wheels disturbs the silence of the countryside. With spurs to Lance I ride after the Clettus' wagon.

Pulling deep in the grove of Mesquite Horace sets Tommy makin' a fire for the missus while he and I see to the team. As he unharnesses the lead Horace says, "Jeb, whatcha you gonna do when we reach the fort?"

I heerd but don't give no answer jist keepin' on with the work. A coyote 's lonesome howl echoes through the evening shadows creeping toward darkness when I say, "It's been nigh five year since the war ended, Horace. I've a hankerin' to be on my way south back to the ranch and my folks."

Horace hobbles the team before saying, "When you be leavin' son?"
We walk toward the camp Carrie Sue's wee voice rings through the night air singing to her doll. As we approach the fire the missus hands me a cup of mud. I turn to Horace saying, "I reckon I'll turn south at Fort Concho."

Sitting on a log near the fire he sips coffee then says, "Son, you bein' here pleasures me." The missus hands out plates of biscuits and beans calling Carrie Sue from the wagon. We sit around the glowing fire listening to the hoot of the owl as he soars through the night seeking a rodent on the prairie floor.

Rising from the stump I say, "Thank you Ma'am...mighty good eats." I turn to Horace and say, "I'll be out thar a piece keeping watch. What time you plan to hit the trail?"

My eyes twinkle as he stokes his beard before replying, "I reckon about sunup, son. We got five hard days travel to reach the Fort."

Touch the hat to the missus, nod to Horace then stroll toward the north side of the mesquite grove where Lancer's grazing. Leaning on the saddle under a tree with the carbine lying near, check the six-shooter and settle back with hat over my eyes listening to the rodents scampering around the wagon. As the stars glisten from the Texas Sky, the night grows quiet, chirp of crickets lulls the tension, I sleep.

The sun tips the eastern horizon glazing the sky with a golden glow as we hit the trail. The wagon rolls across the prairie with the sun's heat parching the land, dust swirls dance across the sky. Rabbits skitter away while roadrunners dart here and there. Around midday dark clouds gather and hard wind whips up the land, shor don't look good. I touch spurs high tailing it to the wagon, "Horace, slap leather." Galloping, not looking back to see if the wagon follows, I ride to a small gully, hold up at the edge I motion for him to follow me. He pulls the wagon into the hole. I yell, "Horace get the missus and young'uns' under the wagon back against the bank cover with whatever you can grab. Hurry!"

Horace's eyes go wide with alarm hearing the roar of the twister skipping across the land. Carrie Sue is crying, and Tommy is pale with fear. I yell above the roar, "Cover the kids with your bodies, now." In a flash they are against the wall of dirt, wrapped around the young'uns. Back against the dirt I watch the cone of debris twirling above us. Never been much of a praying man, not since the war, I utter a silent prayer for the Clettus's. As the calm descends Horace rises. Again, my voice takes on the rough command saying, "Stay put, it's not over." He eyes me but doesn't move. While we have a lull, I check the horses as we hadn't had time to unhook. Lancer stayed with me through the turmoil. Hours seem to pass as I wait for the eye to pass and the storm to reach us once again. The wind seems to grow in intensity as I wait with a kerchief tied across nose and mouth eyes held close against the debris. An eternity as the twister crosses the prairie.

Horace raises his head asking, "Now, son?"

I reply with a grin "Yup, now!" Standing I look around to see what damage we have. The land is soaked water runs through the gully where we sit, wagon tarp tattered, half ripped off the frame.

The family soaked to the skin and covered with mud look at me with puzzled expressions as the soft steady rain pours down on their heads when Horace asks, "Son, What the hell was that?"

With a grin I tell him, "That's a first-class Texas Twister, ain't much spared in its path."

Shoulders sagging, the missus asks, "What now?"

Carrie Sue runs and grabs me by the legs tears mixed with the rain. Picking her up I say to her and the family, "We salvage what we can and move on."

The water continues to rise in the gully, "Horace let's see if we can get this wagon up top. Missus climb up top handle the reins; Tommy and Carrie Sue you ride Lancer. Horace we'll lead the horses. It's gonna be a touch pull but their strong."

The water continues to rise in the gully took two hours of hard work slipping and sliding, pushing and pulling. Horace and I covered in mud as we reach the top. We still have a muddy mess to drive through with horses spent. Across the prairie there's a stand of mesquite a mile to the west, I say, "Horace off to the west there's a small grove, let's make for the trees yonder and camp for the night. We need rest."

As the wagon pulls into the trees, the sun drops behind the western horizon casting an eerie gray across the land. A rabbit scurries through the brush as Tommy rides up beside me. Taking the reins, I help Carrie Sue from Lancer as her maw calls to her and the boy. "Gather firewood young'uns', we'll have hot vitals for supper."

Horace and I unharness the horses hobbling them near a stand of grass. He removes his hat and wipes his brow saying, "Jeb, their tired, maybe we should rest tomorrow."

I tip my hat back looking into the night I reply, "A right good idee. Best I can figure we're about twenty miles from Fort Concho. With a rested team we might make it in two days."

As we return to camp the Missus hands each of us a cup a joe. "Thank ya ma'am." We're a weary bunch Carrie Sue is asleep with her plate in her hand. Her maw takes the plate as Tommy lifts her gently placing her in the back of the wagon. She hands Horace and I our plates of hot beans and biscuits; chowing down, I say, "right tasty eatin' ma'am." Her eyes belie the grin on her tired face. "Thanks, ma'am, I'll be turning in now."

Horace nods as I move toward the north side of the grove of mesquite. With a slight motion of his head he signals he will be bedding down on the south.

My saddle for a pillow, I recline near a snarled mesquite listening to the wind in the trees. An old hoot owl searches for a stray rodent darting through the grass. There's a million stars shining from the ebony sky; 'tis a comforting sight to behold. My last thought before sleeping "shor a hankering to be home."

Near dawn loud noises coming from the wagon wake me, with pistol in hand I creep through the trees. The chilluns hanging out the back of the wagon and Horace comes charging from the south. As he reaches the edge of the clearing, I hold up my hand signaling him to stop then motion to look under the wagon. Horace pulls his hat off wiping his brow with a big old grin spreading across his weather tanned face.
Under the wagon tearing through the pans is a big old 'coon. Carrie Sue and Tommy are climbing out of the back when I tell them, "Stop". Tommy hears me and stops Carrie Sue as she hangs her leg over the backboard.

When the missus sees Horace, she starts to climb from the seat, and he motions for her to stay put. Horace and I move toward the wagon making lots of racket. That mean ole coon raises his head and hightails it outta thar. Seeing him skitter away the chilluns laugh with their three elders a joinin'.

The missus climbs from the wagon saying, "young'uns gather the wood and we'll be havin' hot breakfast.

While Horace checks the team, I bring Lancer into camp. Sitting by the fire he tells the missus, "We'll be resting today. The trail could use dryin' out.

The sun is creeping higher with a breeze wafting across the prairie. I sit my cup on the ground saying, "That ole sun'll dry the road afore long, Horace. Whatcha say we check the wagon axles and wheels."

A grin spreads across his sunbaked face as he says, "Right smart idee, son."

The next two days we work on the wagon, waiting for the sun to dry up the muck and mire from the rains sweeping across the prairie. On the Third day horses and family rested Horace and I sitting by the campfire sipping coffee in the late evening shadows he says, "Son reckon we oughta mosey down the trail come sunup."

"Right smart idee." As I stand, I hear riders near and fade into the shadows as Horace nods.

In a low voice he says, "You, young'uns get in the wagon, be quiet. Maw stay close to the wagon." Without a word they do as told.
Tain't but a short time till he hears, "Hello in the camp."

After checking his six-shooter, he says, "Ride in slow."

Two mounted riders move into the firelight and stay seated in the saddle. The older hombre says, "That thar coffee shore smells right good."

Horace tips his hat back says, "Step down, help yourself." As they approach the fire, he asks, "Where you fellows headed?"

Squatting before the fire they sip coffee the older gent says, "Gotta homestead up near Buffalo Gap, headed for Fort Concho for supplies. Name's John Pallone, this here's my son, Josh."

Horace strokes his beard, a habit when he is pondering, then he asks, "Any Comanch up your way?"

"Naw, seed a cavalry patrol riding northeast up toward Fort Griffin. Figured they be headed back to the fort."

"Well mister, we seed them four days back, they were chasing them red devils, been raiding all across this here country."

John sits his cup by the fire; he stands tips his hat and says, "We'll be moving on, I thank ya for the hot coffee." His son follows him mounting his horse as his father steps in the saddle, they ride west out of camp.

As Jeb hears the horses ride toward the Fort, he moves out of the shadows. Sitting beside Horace he asks, "Whatcha think."

"Don't know son, he could be a telling the truth. It shor is odd they ain't seen no comanch." He looks where the missus is still standing and says, "Maw, you and them young'uns sleep in the wagon. We'll be pulling out early."

Horace moves out into the shadows south of the wagon while I move out to the northwest. Jist if those hombres happen to circle back with ill intent. The gray shadows turn to ebony with stars dotting the dome with their brilliance. Nothing like being under a Texas Sky. Off in the distance I hear the howl of an old coyote calling to his mate...taint long till a lonesome wail rends the air in answer. Silence creeps across the land with gun in hand my chin falls to my chest.

T'was midnight when Lancer snickers. Two shadows creeping around the trees moving toward the wagon. They don't see me sitting at the base of the scrub cedar. When they are five yards ahead of me, I creep behind them jist out of sight. As they enter the clearing where the wagon sits, I'm right behind them. I cock that old rifle, the one I carried through the war. "Drop the guns! One false move and you're dead!"

The older man says, "Mister, you wouldn't shoot a man in the back!"

"Drop the guns or you'll find out. This here rifle is pointed right at your back, you wanta chance the odds."

Horace cocks his rifle and steps out from behind the wagon and says, "Gents I reckon you best be dropping them six-shooters." Smiling that toothy grin of his he continues, "Ye jist might be laying across them saddles of your'n."
The old man says, "Drop your gun son."

With the guns on the ground I say, "Kick them to the man in front of you and unbuckle your belts." I wait until Horace picks up the pistols then I tell the two hombres, "On the ground." When I'm sure they are flat I tell Horace, "Bring a rope." I see Tommy's arm extend out of the wagon with a rope dangling from his hand. Horace takes it and moves closer. He stands with the rifle pointed at the two as I tie their hands behind them. I sit them near the fire, I tie their feet then loop the rope around the two of them back to back with the older man facing the fire.

Horace, hollers at Tommy, "Build up the fire son." Tommy jumps out of the wagon and soon has the fire going from the embers of last night.
"Well, well, Jeb It's the visitors from last evening. Where's your horses, boys?"

With no response I put the tip of my rifle to the boy's head, saying, "He asked you where your horses are?"

The old man's shoulders slump as he replies, "North edge of the grove."

I lower my rifle then ask, "Horace, you got this?"

With his gun on the pair he says, "Yes siree bob, son! You get thar horses.

I trace my steps to where the two intruders rode in on the north edge of the trees with caution I walk soft, they mightn't be alone. I breathe easy when I find two horses. Leading the cayuses to camp I tie them to a cedar near the tongue of the wagon.

As I approach the fire Horace says, "Son, I'll take the first watch. Spell me at midnight."

With a nod of my head I move to the far sight of the clearing back into the shadows where my saddle lays. Check my pistol laying my rifle across my knees, I pull jerky from my saddle bags. Our supper kinda got interrupted. Soon the hoot of an old owl and the howl of the coyote in the distance calms the night as I drifted to sleep.

When the moon is high in the sky, the crack of a twig wakes me. I grin when I see a possum sneaking through the brush. With my rifle in hand I move toward the camp where at the edge of the clearing, I give a low whistle.

Move forward only when I hear Horace say, "Come on in son."

As I reach the fire he says, "Son, I'll bed down for a bit. We'll move out at sunup."

I squat by the fire before I answer, "Sounds good, we should reach the Fort Concho in two days."

The old man asks, "whatcha gonna do with us?"

With a look to Horace, I say, "Mister, we'll taking you to the Fort."

He snarls and in a harsh voice asks, "You gonna keep us tied up?"

Without turning Horace says, "Yup", and keeps on to his bedroll under the wagon.

The old man says, "That's downright unfriendly."

I point my rifle at him and say, "Sneaking into camp to rob or kill could a got you kilt. I'm just a wee bit unfriendly. Don't press your luck,"

Sitting by the fire with my rifle cocked at the two cahoots, soon their heads rest on their chest. Along toward sunrise I pitch a log on the fire to keep it high enough so that the hombres are visible against early morning sky. Off in the distance I hear the lonesome howl of a coyote headed home from his roaming. The lonely wail echoes my itch to get back to the ranch and my folks; been nigh on nine year since I joined up.

I turn to the sound of Horace crawling from under the wagon. As he nears the fire he asks, "Son, why didn't ya wake me."

With a smile I say, "Tweren't, no need, Horace! Couldn't sleep."

He squats by the fire saying, "Them hombres give ya any trouble, son?"

With that I stand, take my rifle off cock, and stretch, then say, "Horace, why don't we move out and eat down the road."
Horace scratches his old gray beard looks up saying, "Right smart idee son. By the time we get hitched should be light enough to travel." He goes to get maw and the kids ready to travel.

Sittin' my hat firm I bring the two would be thieves' horses. Un wrap the rope from around them and untie their feet. "Okay, you get on your feet."
The old man struggles to stand as the boy attempts to help but gets slapped away as the old man says, "Leave me be, boy." The boy tumbles to the ground, lays there, then gets to his feet backing away from his paw.

I look at the boy saying, "Get on the horse boy." He climbs in the saddle and when he's settled, I take the rope and tie his feet under the horses' belly.

His paw starts toward me and finds my six-shooter in his gut, "Mister, whatcha do that fer."

I took him by the arm and led him to his horse, "Get in the saddle."
With one foot in the stirrup he says, "You ain't gonna tie my feet, Mister," He hoists himself into the saddle, kicks at me. As the gun aims a few inches from his gut, he sits still. With nary a word I tie his feet under the horse. Taking the reins, I attached them to Lancer.

Horace has the team hitched and sittin' on the seat. Tommy jumps in the back after dousing the fire. With the two hombres in tow, I say to Horace, "We'll ride a head, if one of these galoots makes a move, kill um."
Horace nods, slaps leather and we roll toward Fort Concho.

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