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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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I was dumbfounded when Little Flower balked at Eddie's proposal. My heart ached for the young man as he sulked out onto the porch of the hotel to be alone with his thoughts. I thought back to when I had tried to convince Calico to pick me, I guess I should have known Eddie might have some problems too. I knew also that I would like to be alone when Calico would shun me back then, so I let Eddie have time by himself outside.

 

I kept thinking about the train trip home, we had devastated the gang of outlaws and I was pretty sure that we wouldn't have the same problem on the way home, but "buts" no pun intended kept coming into my mind. What if there was a large amount of money being carried, for instance. Or braves on the warpath, I had always be confident when dealing with these kind of situations, but on the train I would only be another white man. I tried to think of different plans for the trip home on the train. I was developing a plan, but I would need to talk with the sheriff and the marshal about it, and the railroad as well. But I sure wasn't about to be in the same situation that we had been in on the way to Denver.

 

I was lost in thought when Cali finally came back from meeting with Little Flower and assured my that everything was okay, at least she thought so. My heart still ached for Eddie, maybe I should have left well enough alone! It was too late now to go back, so we'd just have to make the best of it.

 

Worst of all that night all that Calico wanted to think about was the upcoming wedding, I was feeling kind of randy, but I was the only one. After a while I gave up trying and went back to planning for the return trip. I was trying to figure out how to get my hands on one of the fire breathing beasts that spit lead, a Gatlin Gun!

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I was almost in a state of panic the next morning when first Laura, then Biblepuncher, came knocking on the door of mine and Cheyenne's room, telling us that neither Little Flower nor Eddie had returned to their respective rooms the prior evening. All I could think was that those two had better not done something crazy, like eloping! I left the twins with Cheyenne, and asked Laura to help Rose and Tommy get dressed, while the preacher and I went looking for my two oldest. I shouldn't have worried though, obviously at some point they had come back inside, we found them sitting on a couch in the corner of the lobby, sound asleep. Eddie had his arm around Little Flower's shoulders, and was holding one of her hands with his other one. I hated to wake them, they looked so sweet like that, but they needed to get changed and cleaned up too, and we all still needed breakfast before heading to the courthouse.

Biblepuncher reached over and gently shook Eddie's shoulder until the young man woke up, and then Eddie woke Little Flower up as well. I could tell by the way they were acting that they'd come to some sort of mutual agreement, so I sat down on the couch with them and asked if they were ready to let us know what they had decided. I had never seen two faces light up that fast, and Eddie quickly told me "We're gonna do it, and we like the idea of having the wedding down at the cabin when the leaves start turning gold. Biblepuncher, are you willing to do us the honor of performing the ceremony?"

The young preacher agreed instantly, and then I sent the two teens upstairs, with orders to get changed as fast as possible, the rest of the family was already coming down stairs, heading for the restaurant. They promised to be back down as fast as they could, and as they were heading up the stairs, Little Flower paused long enough to give Cheyenne a big hug. Cheyenne reached over and shook Eddie's hand, tell him "Congratulations! I'm really happy for both of you."


We didn't have to wait too long at the courthouse, the judge had all the paperwork ready and signed off on it with a smile on his face. He told us "There's a lot of unpleasant things I have to deal with in this job, this isn't one of them. Any time I can help a child become part of a loving home, then the job is more than worth it. If you ever decide to take in any more, just let me know, I'll be more than happy to keep helping you out." Cheyenne just shook his head, telling the judge "Not planning on it, at least not for now. I think we'll stick with having our own for now...."

"What do you mean 'we'?" I asked, "I didn't realize 'we' were pregnant...", and all the adults in the room started laughing. I didn't think it was all that funny, I was starting to feel a little nauseous, if 'we' were pregnant then when was he going to take a turn with this morning sickness stuff?

We returned to the hotel and sat around talking about the wedding for a while, until it was time for lunch. Afterwards, I put the twins down for a nap and left the other kids with Cheyenne, Morning Star and I wanted to do some more shopping. I don't think Cheyenne liked that idea very much, but I wanted to get some gifts for the children. First stop was to order a new saddle for Eddie, it would take a while to get it, but he'd been using an old one that used to belong to a hand that had moved on, it was time he had one of his own. Next we went to a general store, we had given Little Flower a lovely jewelry box and a matching necklace and earrings set when her adoption had been finalized, and I wanted to get something similar for Laura. Rose was easy to buy for, I got her a beautiful porcelain doll, with a couple of extra dresses and a little cradle too.


I had to look around for a while before I came up with something for Tommy, but finally found the perfect gift, a small model of a train engine with moving parts, and a couple of books about trains. One of the books was a little advanced for him, but I knew that it probably wouldn't take him long to figure it out. He loved to read, and he loved trying to figure out how anything mechanical worked. I kind of already knew that we were probably never going to turn that one into a cowboy, but that was fine, the boy needed to follow his own interests. But it was time to start teaching Eddie more about the ranch than just how to take care of the horses, at some point we wanted him to start helping Cheyenne to run the ranch, not just work in the barns. It would be years before Mathew would be ready, if he grew up to be interested that is.

After that, we headed back to the hotel, but we had to make one more stop, at the post office. Morning Star wanted to send a letter to her father, in care of the indian agent for the reservation. As we were leaving, we walked by a bunch of wanted posters hanging on the wall. One of the posters caught my eye, the drawing on it was the spitting image of Biblepuncher, well, of what he had looked like when he first came to the ranch. He had since shaved his mustache off and cut his hair, and looked much different, but I remembered how he had looked in the beginning. I read the rest of the poster, it was from Waco, Texas and said "$500 Reward, Wanted Dead or Alive, For the Murder of a U.S. Marshall". There was a lump in my throat as we walked out of the post office, I knew that our young minister used to be a gunslinger in Texas....

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Dang it all but Calico was in one of her "moods". First she came out of nowhere when I told the judge we were happy making our own children, though that did seem strange telling the judge that. But then that wasn't was got Cali going, it was that she was the one that was expecting. I knew that, boy did I know that! I didn't regret it, but I knew it. Actually there were parts of it that I enjoyed.

 

Babysit? I had plans to make and people to see, we needed to get back to the ranch and the only way to do it quickly was on the train, and I wasn't about to be in the same predicament as the trip on the way to Denver. Worse yet the kids were asleep and I couldn't even play with them! A knock, was that a knock at the door, yes it was! I opened the door and, what in the world was Mother Benedict doing here?

 

"I hate to bother you Cheyenne, but we need fresh meat for the orphanage and I've heard tell of your shooting and hunting abilities and I was wondering if" the Mother started saying. "EDDIE" I hollered, "we've got work to do, Mother you've got two of the best, that is if you can watch over the kids for us." I evenly more quickly told her. " Well, if you're able then I'm willing" was the Mother's reply. With that I fetched Eddie's new rifle and gave him his wedding present that was now his birthday present, I grabbed my Sharps and everything we would need for a days hunt, and we were on our way to hunt antelope just outside of the city. Biblepuncher was just coming out of his room as we were leaving, and we grabbed him to go along with us.

 

We stopped at the fort on the outskirts of town to check on my idea of a fire breathing dragon for the train on the way home. My jaw dropped when Lt. Orouke told me that there was a payroll going out on the train with us the next day. We quickly developed a plan to place a Gatlin Gun on the train with the payroll chest. It would be placed so that as the doors were slid open the Gatlin Gun would be exposed and with an open field of fire available. He would have a squad of men board the train the night before so that no one watching would be tipped off.

 

With that taken care of the Lt. said he had been thinking of the kids at the orphanage and sent Smith and Jones to accompany us on the hunt. But dang it all, my rear end was really starting to hurt, it was bad enough I didn't have my saddle and Blackie, but this stupid wound was really getting annoying. I could only hope that we would spot game quickly. We sighted Eddie's new rifle in at the fort's range and then we were on our way, my wound hurting with every bounce in the saddle. Maybe watching the kids wouldn't have been to bad after all. I kept telling myself that this was fun, fun that's what this was going to be. The Lt sent a wagon along to carry any game we might harvest and it didn't take long for us to spot a herd of antelope a few hundred yards away. Eddie looked puzzled and asked, "how are we going to hit them from here, heck I can hardly see them." I gingerly got off my horse and got Eddie into position with his new rifle, as he looked through the glass his eyes got big, "I had no idea something like this existed" he nearly shouted. I told him to hold off on his shot till the rest of us were in position too.

 

We counted down and fired in unison, when the smoke cleared there were five antelope laying on the earth, then all of a sudden my wound was really hurting. I turned to try to get a glimpse of why I was in so much pain only to find an arrow sticking out of my,,,my rear right where I had been wounded. Then we heard the horses, a small band of eight braves were bearing down of us. We all quickly reloaded, except Biblepuncher who stood and pulled his pistols and as each man was ready we fired. Four of the braves were thrown off of their mounts from the force of our rifle bullets tearing into them, then as the remaining braves rode even closer Biblepuncher opened up on them. The cadence of his fire was memorizing, the four of us couldn't take our eyes off of him to reload as he mowed the remaining braves down off of their horses.

 

Smith quickly pulled the arrow from my bum and formed some mud and pushed it into my wound, now even bigger than before. They wanted to head straight back for the fort but I insisted on retrieving the antelope first, with me riding in the back of the wagon. We didn't waste any time, after we picked up the antelope the ride improved greatly for I was laying on the antelope using then as cushions. As we neared the fort a patrol met us and escorted us in, we gave a quick report and then headed for the orphanage to drop of the antelope. The nuns nearly fainted when I stood after laying on the antelope, I couldn't understand what all the hoopla was about until I looked down, I was nearly covered in the blood of the antelope.

 

I was really glad that Cali wasn't here to see this,,,,no it couldn't be, what was she doing here at the orphanage, oh was I in for it now.....

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I wasn't real happy when Morning Star and I returned to the hotel and found that Cheyenne and Eddie had left, and that Mother Benedict was having to take care of the younger children. The Reverend Mother did explain that she had asked Cheyenne to go hunting for the orphanage, but all the same, he could have waited until we got back, or sent someone to look for us, he knew which stores we were planning to shop at. And why ask the nun to babysit the kids? Where were Laura and Little Flower, or even Cora or Buick? After all we had gone through to convince the woman that we could do a good job taking care of all those youngsters, then Cheyenne makes her pitch in and do it? That was rather humiliating, to say the least.

Turns out that Laura and Little Flower were with Cora, she had some magazines full of pictures of wedding dresses, and Little Flower was trying to decide what style of dress she wanted. They could have just as easily done that and still kept an eye on the younger kids, oh well, no real harm done. Buick was nowhere to be found at all, I was a little surprised at that, but Morning Star said she assumed he was out taking care of business for the ranch, and didn't seem concerned. Morning Star did say she would watch the babies if I wanted to go to the orphanage with Mother Benedict and wait for Cheyenne there. I hadn't said anything to her about the wanted poster, but the sooner I could talk to both my husband and our preacher, the better.

I wasn't really feeling up to going anywhere, a nap sure sounded good, but I just couldn't shake the bad feeling that the drawing on that poster was in fact Biblepuncher, and I had to know for sure. So I went with Mother Benedict back to the orphanage, and sat down to wait for Cheyenne and Eddie. While I was sitting there talking to a few of the nuns about what things the children might need the most, one of the boys came over to us. He looked about the same age as Tommy, and didn't look really happy. "Why'd you have to pick Tommy and his sisters, what's wrong with the rest of us? Aren't we good enough for you?" he asked, obviously very upset and hurt. The nuns quickly tried to hush him up and send him on his way, but I saw no reason not to answer his question, the other children deserved an explanation.

"There's nothing wrong with any of you, I'm sure you're all wonderful children, and we are intending to have all of you take turns visiting us. As for only adopting Tommy and his siblings, well, their father was a good friend, and in a way, it's my fault he lost his life. The only way I can ever repay him for that is by giving his children a home, it has nothing to do with Tommy and his sisters being more important than the rest of you. My husband and I are trying to do what we can for all of you here, and we're praying that you all will someday find families to love."

I don't know if the boy understood any of what I said, as soon as I was finished speaking he just turned around and walked off, head down. That broke my heart, all of these kids deserved a good home, if only there wasn't so many of them! The nuns assured me that I shouldn't feel guilty, that they at least knew we couldn't possibly take all of the orphans, but it was still very depressing, and I was really starting to feel lousy.

That feeling didn't improve any when the men did return. I was glad to see that the hunt had been successful, but I could have fainted when Cheyenne stood up, covered in blood. He quickly assured me that it was mostly from the antelope...mostly? "What do you mean, mostly? What happened out there? Or do I not want to know?" I asked, exasperated with him. I was definitely not in the mood for this!

Eddie, Biblepuncher, and the troopers all started laughing, Cheyenne just blushed a little, and told me, "Well, we had a bit of a run in with some braves, let's just say that my previous injury may take a little longer to heal than we originally thought...."

The other men were laughing so hard they could barely stand up, and it took a minute before Lt. Orourke could control himself enough to tell Cheyenne "You better get that arrow wound looked at as soon as possible, I don't think it was that bad on it's own, but it's in kind of a bad spot, if you know what I mean...."

Well, I sure didn't, and at first Cheyenne didn't want to tell me, but I finally put my foot down and demanded to know the whole story. This was all we didn't need right now...but all the same, I had to admit that it wasn't exactly his fault. One of the nuns had sent for the doctor that volunteered his time helping treat the kids when they needed it, and while the doctor was checking Cheyenne's new wound, I managed to pull Biblepuncher aside for a private chat.

 

I told him what I had seen at the post office, then asked him point-blank "Is that wanted poster for you? I think we deserve to know." The preacher just sighed, and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them and told me "When I first came to the ranch, I told Frank and Cheyenne that I hadn't exactly left Texas because I wanted to, but asked them if I could wait to tell them the whole story until I was ready to talk about it. I wasn't sure at the time just how much I could trust them, maybe that was a mistake. I realize now that you and Cheyenne deserve to know, but would you mind waiting until I can tell both of you at the same time, so I don't have to repeat it? It's not something that's easy for me to talk about, even now. I will tell you this much, I was accused of a crime I didn't commit, and that is the honest truth."

I didn't really want to wait, not that I was concerned about him being a murderer, I was just worried about him possibly being arrested, especially if he wasn't guilty of anything. But he had a point, Cheyenne needed to know as well, so I agreed to wait until the three of us had a chance to talk in private. But first things first, we needed the doctor to finish treating Cheyenne, then we needed to start getting ready for the trip back home the following day. And I definitely needed some rest, I was beginning to realize that "morning sickness" didn't necessarily occur just in the morning...

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When I stood up in the wagon covered in the antlopes' blood I knew by the look on Cali's face that I was in trouble, but for the life of me I didn't know why. I had done the nun's a huge favor and got stuck with an arrow while doing so. She had seen me covered in blood before so that couldn't have been it, could it? I don't think that I was the only one that Cali had a bone to pick with either, as the doc was dressing my wound I got sight of her and Biblepuncher talking about something and by the way the two of them looked neither was enjoying themselves. I bet she had found out his secret I thought to myself. When he had first come to the ranch he had hinted about some thing in is past and my father had him checked out. My father an I agreed on one thing when we found out what the problem was, it wasn't cut and dried and that this wasn't Texas, and at the time this was only a territory and not the state of Colorado. We knew his heart and that was good enough for us! Well for my father and me anyway.

 

Before we left the orphanage Lt. O'rouke assure me that he would have his men in place on the train before sunrise and that the Gatlin gun would be in place as well. He would have men in every car, including the engine and all armed with the Winchesters that we had provided. I was feeling pretty good about the trip home now, and was almost looking forward to another run in with the gang of outlaws should they prove themselves foolish enough to attack the train again.

 

I knew one thing for sure though, my butt HURT! I was thankful for one thing, that the arrow had hit the same cheek as the previous wound. I could still ride, a little awkward maybe, but had the arrow hit the other cheek I wouldn't have been able to ride for weeks. Cali knew that weak spot too, on the way back to the hotel she smacked that cheek and asked me, "Just what were you thinking, don't you know you could have been killed out there?" Here was the pot calling the kettle black! How many times had she headed off, and on her own? I just tried to sheepishly smile as I told her that I was in good company, and that I had returned relatively unscathed.

 

I did notice that as we walked by an eatery that she turned green and nearly lost her stomach on the sidewalk. That reminded me of why she was soo testy that day. I didn't say a word as I rubbed her back and offered to find some water and wafers for her. All she said was, "this is YOUR fault you know!" Well yea, but we were both there, and I hadn't heard any no's at all. But, I was learning and I kept my mouth shut. I didn't want her to start saying no now!

 

Back at the hotel Cali wanted for Biblepuncher and me to get together and talk but I wanted to talk with all of the adults about the plan for the train on the way home. Cali didn't like it much but Biblepuncher seemed relieved as I pulled rank and insisted that we could do that later. I knew that sharing the news about a payroll being shipped and the army accompanying us was more important.

 

Everyone's eyes were wide open as I told them about the payroll, but as I went on and told them about the army riding along and that they were bringing a fire breathing dragon, when I said dragon Eddie's eyes got real big again. "DRAGON? Where did you find a dragon? How, what ..." Eddie blurted out. I explained the Gatlin gun analogy and Eddie calmed down as the others tried to keep from laughing. Well, at least they were laughing at someone else for a change.

 

Then it was Cali's turn as she, Biblepuncher and I stayed behind as the others left the room. I knew that this wasn't likely to be much fun.

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By the time we got back to the hotel, I was really feeling awful, I just wanted to get this talk with Biblepuncher out of the way so I could lay down. But Cheyenne insisted on talking to everyone about the next day's trip, and I finally just gave in, I simply didn't feel up to arguing about it, and he did have a point. The last thing I wanted to think about was having to get back on a train, and finding out about the payroll didn't help. I was glad to hear that there would be soldiers in every car, that would be a big help. I told Cheyenne, "Good, that way if something does happen again, I can concentrate on the kids, and just let the men handle it this time." He looked at me funny for a minute, then quietly asked "You really aren't feeling well, are you?" I just shook my head, it wasn't like me to depend on anyone else to protect me, but then again wasn't that what the troopers were going to be there for?

After Cheyenne was done outlining the plans for the train ride, the rest of the adults excused themselves so that he and I could talk to Biblepuncher in private. I could tell that the preacher was getting nervous, and I couldn't help but wonder just how bad his story would be. I figured that being accused of murder was no easy thing to live with, but we had a right to know what was going on. The preacher took a deep breath, and started talking.

"I grew up on a ranch down in Texas, with my ma and pa, three older brothers, and an older sister. When the war started, Pa and my two oldest brothers went off to fight. My other brother joined up as soon as he was old enough too, I was too young. I did what I could to take care of my ma and my sister, but it was rough. I just wasn't old enough to take proper care of the place by myself, and we ended up losing most of the cattle to Comanches or thieves. I did learn how to handle a gun real good, had to, hunting ended up being my only way of putting food on the table."

"By the time the war ended, we had gotten word that pa and all three of my brothers had been killed. Ma died not long after that, I think of a broken heart. My sis married some carpetbagger that was hanging around town, don't think she loved him, but she didn't want to end up an old maid, and too many of the men that had left our area never came home. Her new husband wanted nothing to do with me, and I ended up having to use my skills with a gun just to survive."

"Didn't matter to me what I did, as long as I got a meal out of it, and ended up doing things on both sides of the law for a while. Eventually I started getting a reputation as someone you didn't want to mess with, I was faster than most, and I never thought much about the morality of what I was asked to do. As long as I had food and a place to sleep, I'd hire on for just about anything. Lived like that for several years, and finally ended up getting involved on the losing side of a range war."

"That in itself is a long story, one I won't bother you with right now. Let's just say I managed to make myself a lot of enemies, not the least of which was the county sheriff, who was on the payroll of the other rancher, a man named Wallace. My boss, Mr. Wagner, got ahold of some information that he thought would prove it, so he sent a telegram asking for the U.S. Marshall for the area to come investigate. When the Marshall showed up, he was only there for a few days before someone shot him in the back on a road outside of town that lead to the Wallace place. The sheriff got people to believing that I had done it...he didn't have any evidence, but no one wanted to stand up to him, the whole town was scared to death of the man. I really wished I coulda had the chance to find out who really did it, but I didn't have time."


"I left the area with a posse hot on my trail, but managed to lose them pretty quickly. To this day I still can't understand why anyone bought the sheriff's story, I mean, the Marshall was there at Mr. Wagner's request, to help him out. Mr. Wagner was probably the best man I ever worked for, up until I came here, why would I shoot the Marshall like that when he was on our side? Didn't make any sense, but I guess some people will believe anything depending on who it is doing the telling."


"It was while I was trying to get away from the posse that I found a little church that was having services, and went inside just to try and let my horse get some rest. I didn't figure anyone would think to look for me in there, and I could blend in with everyone else. But listening to that preacher's sermon, well, that changed my whole life, and I knew right away what path I wanted to follow from then on. I stayed around to talk to the man after everyone had left, he taught me how to pray, and gave me a Bible to study. Then he told me that God had a plan for me, and that if I devoted my life to God's service, I would be rewarded with a far better life than I had ever dreamed. He helped me escape that posse, and I've been forever grateful to him. He probably saved my life, and my only hope is that someday I'll be half as good of a man as he obviously was."


"Well, so far he's been right, my time here has been the happiest time of my life, and I can never repay the kindness that you two and Mr. Culpepper have shown me. But obviously I'm still wanted for the death of that Marshall, so if you think it's best that I leave, so be it. I only ask that you not turn me in for something I didn't do, and let me go in peace."

Cheyenne and I just looked at each other, no way were we going to let him go anywhere! We had total faith in the preacher, and it was obvious that we would have to do something at some point to help clear his name. At that point, there was a knock on the door, and Buick asked if he could come in and speak to the three of us, that it was very important.

"Hate to tell you this," Buick started, "but I think you may have some trouble heading your way. Ever since we first met up with you the other day, I've been noticing that everywhere we went there was a man close by, just watching us. I didn't want to say anything at first, since I wasn't sure if I was just imagining things, but this afternoon I went out and did some asking around. Turns out the man I saw is a Pinkerton agent, and he's been asking a lot of people questions about Biblepuncher. I haven't been able to find out why, no one seems to know, but he must have a reason. Just thought you might want to know..."

Cheyenne, Biblepuncher, and I just looked at each other. Buick hadn't heard our conversation, and didn't have any idea what was going on. But if there was a Pinkerton snooping around, we were sure it had everything to do with the Marshall's murder, and obviously someone had finally been able to track Biblepuncher to Colorado. All I could do was hope that we could get our preacher out of Denver and back home without him getting caught, and from there try to think of a way for him to get out of this mess....

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Pinkerton? Hmmmphhhh!!! I had heard enough about Pinkertons from my father when he attended the Cattlemen's Association meetings. If you needed thugs to hire to try to get your way they were who you hired. If you were the rancher that had to go up against them, then they were no better than hired gunslingers with a badge. I wished that I had been aware that we were being followed by a pinker, he wouldn't have been able to follow us much longer.

 

Cali and I sat for a while trying to come up with a plan, then, eureka I had it. We would get an extra uniform from Lt. O'rouke for Biblepuncer, or better yet, have Smith and Biblepuncher trade clothes and places tonight. Then we would make sure that the pinker would find us and then confront him about tailing us. With Smith in Biblepuncher's clothes we should be able to throw off the pinker until we left town. If the pinker followed us on the train, well it's a long lonely stretch from Denver to Ft Collins, or if we were attacked again, well we would just have to wait and see what our options would be and act accordingly. Cali wasn't so sure about my plans, she kept asking me what if something went wrong and such nonsense. I knew she had a point, but I was just plain mad! And I didn't like pinkertons at all!

 

We did agree on switching Smith with Biblepuncher, that is if Lt. O'rouke would go for it, but after Biblepuncher taking a stand against the braves the way he did I knew that the Lt. would have a soft spot for him. Besides, I would assure him that I would take the blame if needed and tell whoever that we had knocked Smith out and then made the switch. Did I mention that I didn't like Pinkertons?

 

I went to the fort to talk with the Lt. alone, the less people that were part of this the better. He wasn't to quick to warm up to the idea until I told him that I would accept all blame and that perhaps another crate or two of Winchesters could possibly find it's way to the fort, and maybe a Sharps or three. He thought about it for a minute or so, and called for his orderly to get Smith and to have him report to him immediately.

 

I wasn't long before Smith appeared and we let him in on the plan, seems that Smith liked the Pinkertons even less than me. We left, Smith and I within minutes and headed back to the hotel. There I found Biblepuncher and let him in on the plan. Then he and Smith changed clothes and then Biblepuncher reported to the fort.

 

Now it was time to play the Pinkerton, our group went out of the hotel for supper, wandering around for a spell until we were sure the pinker had seen us. We made sure that the pinker wasn't able to get a good look at Smith even as we sat for supper. As we left the restaurant everyone went straight out into the street but I went left and Smith went right, as the Pinker exited the establishment we both pulled our pistols on the pinker demanding what he was doing following us. He was quite dumbfounded as he stared down our barrels, especially when he looked hard into Smith's face. He stammered uncontrollably until I interrupted his unintelligible speech. "I don't reckon you've got any call to tail us any longer, and if you disrespect my family like this again, well you and I might have to dance." The pinker tried to stammer something about him being the law and tried to show us his Pinkerton badge. I told him the last time I'd seen a Pinkerton badge on my ranch that I had used it for a target, while the fellow was wearing it, and with that we left him standing there more red faced than I was naturally.

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Boy, I never realized just how much Cheyenne hated Pinkertons, but then again the subject had never really come up before. Knowing that one was trying to tail Biblepuncher had me plenty worried too. I wasn't so sure about Cheyenne's idea to have the preacher and trooper Smith switch places, but by then I would have agreed to just about anything to get our friend out of Denver safely. We had come to depend a lot on both his counsel and his help.

At the restaurant, I knew the Pinkerton had followed us in and was watching us the whole time, and that made me so nervous I could barely eat. Actually, I didn't feel much like eating anyway, but Eddie and Smith split the rest of what was on my plate, so at least the food didn't go to waste. For once Cheyenne didn't seem to notice that I wasn't eating, but I knew he had other things on his mind. When we left, I kept the kids moving straight out onto the street, and left Cheyenne and Smith to deal with the agent, the sooner I got those kids away from any trouble the better.

Thankfully, the man backed down pretty quickly, and we were all able to return to the hotel without any more problems. We put the twins, Rose, and Tommy to bed, then the rest of us sat around talking some more about the plans for the train trip, to make sure we were all clear on what to do in case of another attack. I was really starting to get worried about it, and wasn't looking forward to the trip, though I really did want to get home. Little did I realize I was not the only one scared...

Little Flower and Laura had gone to their room after a while, but it was only a few minutes before Little Flower was knocking on our door. When Cheyenne let her in, she told us that Rose had woken up crying, that the child had had a nightmare and now refused to try and go back to sleep. Laura was trying to calm her down, but she wanted me. After telling Cheyenne not to wait up, as I didn't know how long I'd be, I followed Little Flower back to the girls' room to tend to Rose. The girl had calmed down a little, but there were still tears in her eyes, and as soon as I walked into the room she threw herself at me and wouldn't let go.

I knew how terrifying nightmares could be, lord knows I'd had enough of my own, so I sat in the big chair in the corner and held her on my lap. "Mama, I don't wanna ride the train again, I'm scared!" Rose told me, and I just hugged her and let her know that I understood, but we didn't have much choice, and that her father and I and the rest of the adults wouldn't let anything bad happen to her. She did finally go back to sleep sitting on my lap, and I hesitated to try and put her back to bed, afraid that she'd wake back up if I moved. So I ended up spending the rest of the night in that chair, with Rose on my lap, and didn't get much sleep myself. By morning, I was stiff and sore, and still very tired, but had to start getting everyone ready to leave anyway.

Little Flower and Laura said they'd help Rose get dressed and ready, so I went back to my room. Cheyenne was already up, and trying his best to deal with the twins, but both were awfully fussy and he had his hands full. I finally managed to get them fed and changed, then started to get changed myself. As I was dressing, Cheyenne came over and put his arms around me, whispering "I sure missed you last night, I hope that doesn't happen again any time soon..." Boy, that man had a one track mind, I was beginning to get the feeling that we were going to end up with a whole lot more than eight children, unless I got the chance to have one of those nice long talks with Sadie...or maybe it was time to arrange to have that dang water hole filled with dirt!

I just rolled my eyes, and told him in no uncertain terms to behave, that we needed to get going if we were going to catch that train. I think he was more than a little disappointed, but we couldn't expect the railroad to hold the train for us, he'd just have to wait until we got home. As we were headed for the depot, I spent the whole time praying that we would in fact make it home, and in one piece!





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It was a long night, not only was my mind filled with thoughts of the upcoming day's possible events, but I was alone. The next morning I thought I saw my chance as Cali was changing clothes, but to say I got rebuffed would be an understatement. Truth be told I needed to get my head together anyway, I sure didn't want to make a mistake and add more misery to my posterior!

 

We all had breakfast and headed for the depot, I couldn't catch a glimpse of the pinker any where, and that made me a tad bit nervous. What was he up to now? I knew he wasn't fool enough to fall for our trade of Smith and Biblepuncher, or was he, I hoped. We boarded the train without incident and once on we found the troopers all sprawled out on the seats, they were all fast asleep, but then they were told to stay out of sight. We all took our spots and pulled down the shades, no use giving any thing away if we didn't have too. The train left the depot on time and at last we were headed for home. This visit to Denver didn't do anything to improve my dislike of a big city and I was yearning to be back at the ranch.

 

Once we were away from the city we rolled up the shades and starting getting to what we hoped would not be our fighting positions. Cali, Cora, Bea and the children were all mustered into the rear of one car with Eddie and James with them as their guards. I made my way to the freight car where the payroll would be kept, along with the dragon, the thoughts of the dragon breathing fire brought a smile to my face. The Lt. was there and we had a good time telling "war" stories as the train chugged along towards Ft. Collins. I was hoping the whole trip was going to be as smooth as this first leg had been.

 

But dang it, the train started to slow, we checked out the rear windows, no one. Word make it's way quickly back through the train that the tracks were blocked and a group of riders were waiting. We had given the engineer orders to try to stop the train so that the freight car would be nearest any large group trying to stop the train and his skill was evident as the train came to a stop with the freight car even with the riders, but a shot hadn't been fired yet, by any one. Then I heard why, I recognized the pinker's voice calling for us to let them board the train. Hmmph! I thought and slid the large doors apart to expose the dragon. The looks on the Pinkerton agent's faces was priceless, their hands went straight up into the air, but that didn't stop the pinker was complaining about what was going on and that he wanted to board the train to search for Biblepuncher, but that wasn't the name he used, but I could care less.

 

The Lt. had had enough of the pinker by now and asked him what the penalty was for holding up a train. The pinker tried to say this wasn't a hold up but the Lt. was relentless on him and then told him he had two minutes to clear the tracks before they would be fired on as outlaws. The whole group of Pinkertons quickly looked at each other and even more quickly pushed their horses towards the blockage on the tracks and within the two minute limit had it cleared and the engineer had the large black beast moving towards Fort Collins again. As the freight car moved past the Pinkerton agents, that were still afoot the Lt. ordered Jones to fire off a burst from the dragon that scattered every one of the Pinkerton's horses. I laughed until my stomach hurt, along with my, my uhh, yea my butt. I knew we hadn't seen the last of the Pinkertons though, it would take them a hard day in the saddle to catch up with us, if they managed to round up their horses that is. I knew we would need to have a talk with the sheriff in Fort Collins when we got there, this wasn't even near being over.

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We made it onto the train alright, except that Rose was just as hesitant this time as I had been on the trip down. Between me and Laura we managed to calm her fears, but she kept a good hold on me the whole time. Cheyenne made me, Bea, Cora, and the children sit in the back of our car where there were no windows, which was fine with me. Then he excused himself to join the Lieutenant in the freight car, at least he kissed me before he left, so maybe he wasn't too mad about that morning.


After a while, Biblepuncher joined us, taking care to stay away from the windows. He apologized to me for all the trouble, until I assured him we were more concerned about his welfare than anything. "I just hate having this pop up now, so you and Cheyenne have to deal with it...maybe it would be better if I just moved on...." he tried to tell me.

Immediately I told him in no uncertain terms that he was not going anywhere, and both Eddie and Little Flower objected to his idea as well, pointing out that he had promised to marry them. James quickly spoke up, "Is there any way that your former employer, Mr. Wagner, could help clear this up? Or some of the townfolk, any way one of them might be willing to speak up if we could get them away from the sheriff? If necessary, I would be willing to go down and get statements from them, and Buick told me this morning that he's sure he could talk Deputy Gibson into going as well. Buick would, but with Morning Star expecting again and the way his ranch is growing, he can't take the time away. But we're willing to give it our best shot."

Before Biblepuncher had the chance to reply, we felt the train start slowing down. Word was passed to the troopers in our car that the tracks were blocked, and a group of men was waiting for the train to come to a stop. We heard those men shouting for Biblepuncher, and for a minute I thought the preacher was going to give himself up. Just then Rose reached over and hugged him, and told him "I'm praying for you, does that help?" He just looked at me, muttering something about "out of the mouths of babes" and then he told Rose, "Yes honey, that helps a lot, thank you so much."


I don't know what Cheyenne and the Lieutenant said to the Pinkertons, but it wasn't long before we were moving again. We heard the Gatling gun go off, but some of the troopers were staring out the windows, and started laughing, so we weren't too worried. As we continued on our journey, those of us in the back of our car discussed more ideas of what to do to help Biblepuncher, when all of a sudden the train started slowing again. The troopers reported that there were a few more men on horseback to the side of the tracks up ahead, but they weren't sure what those men were up to, they didn't seem to be doing anything except watching the train.

The troopers, Biblepuncher, Eddie, and James started preparing to fight if it was in fact another attack, though I reminded all of them not to shoot unless fired upon. It may be that the men the troopers had seen meant no harm....we'd just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I was really starting to feel very sick, worse than ever. Bea noticed that there was something wrong, and insisted I try to lie down. There really wasn't anyplace to do so, except for the seats, and it wasn't easy convincing Rose to stay with her older sister in the back of the car.

In addition to being nauseous, I was also starting to feel a bit of pain, and that scared me more than anything. I almost wasn't able to stand up, it took both Biblepuncher and Eddie helping me for me to get to my feet and move the few feet to the nearest seat. I was starting to feel faint, and asked if someone could go fetch Cheyenne. But just then, we heard the unmistakable sound of a gun shot, we weren't entirely sure where it had come from, obviously no one would be getting Cheyenne from the freight car any time soon....

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We all had a really good laugh at the way the Pinkerton's horses scattered. We were feeling pretty good about the surprise we gave them too, and the surprise that would be waiting for them at Fort Collins if they showed up there. The Lt. didn't like them any better than I did and was going to enjoy telling the sheriff there that the Pinkerton's had interfered with the train which was tantamount to holding up the train. I was much more devious in my thoughts though, I was going to make sure the sheriff gave them a message, Step foot on the Culpepper Cattle Company lands, be buried there! I may have even leaned towards inviting the Shoshone in on it too. But that may have been a little to far, I didn't want the Shoshone blamed for attacking someone when, well maybe I'd give them the opportunity. Dang it, I was having all sorts of evil thoughts bouncing around in my head concerning the Pinkertons.

 

We were all startled by the slowing of the train again and word quickly reached us about the horsemen beside the tracks. It was a good thing that we hadn't celebrated by opening up any of the bottles that we had found in the freight car. We slid the door open enough for me to peer out of it and forward along the tracks, I had to squint a bit because I couldn't believe my eyes, it was Ol Grizz sitting on his horse behind three bedraggled looking troopers. I watched as Grizz fired his pistol into the air as a signal for the train to stop. I stepped aside to let the Lt. have a gander at the sight, his face immediately reddened, "those are the three we've been looking for since the Sand Creek Massacre! They were due to hang but escaped, they'll hang this time" the Lt. said with a hate in his voice I had never heard before. As the train stopped as we came even with Grizz and his prisoners the Lt. jumped out of the door, the looks on the prisoners' faces told it all.

 

The three men decided to take their chances and spurred their horses away from the train hoping to make a hasty retreat. Grizz quickly drew a bead on one of them but the Lt. even more quickly to him to hold his fire and then yelled for Jones to fire up the fire breathing dragon. The words had hardly left the Lt.'s mouth when the dragon began speaking and smoking. You could see a the ground exploding in a trail to each rider, after the rounds found the first rider the other two split further apart. The dragon began tracking it's second victim and soon he and his horse went down together in a cloud of dust. Jones had to change magazines but before he could get ready to fire again I already had my Sharps at the ready. I gave the Lt. a quick glance to look for approval and from the evil smile that came across his face I knew that I had the go ahead. I found the rider in the glass, took a breath, set the trigger, and then squeezed the trigger. As the rifle settled down I found the rider again, had I missed? Then I saw the rider crumble in his saddle, he held on for a few strides and then slid off the mount and land in another cloud of dust.

 

I looked again at the Lt., "Well that wasn't as good as hanging them, but it was a close second" the Lt. said with a laugh. Grizz wasn't to happy, he thought he would have to fetch the bodies to be able to get the reward but the Lt told him to let the buzzards have them and assured him their would be no problem with the reward. The troopers helped Grizz load his horse with theirs.

 

I heard Cora nearly scream my name, calling me to come quickly. I stood there frozen for a second or two, my mind trying to comprehend why she would be calling me so frantically. The Lt. practically pushed me towards the door the Cora was still standing in waving for me to follow her, finally she cried out, "It's Calico, you've got to come quickly!" My mind was still trying to deal with it all, what could have happened? There wasn't any gunfire that was in her direction, all this continued to flow through my mind as I followed Cora into the car where Calico was lying across the seats obviously in tremendous pain. I managed to slip her head up and lay it in my lap as I kissed her forehead. I had to wipe my tears from her face as I looked into her pain wracked eyes.....

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Cora finally managed to get Cheyenne's attention, and when he came running I could tell he was very upset. I just looked at him and told him, "I don't feel so good....", he kissed my forehead and whispered, "Hush, we'll get you to a doctor as soon as we can." It was only a few minutes before I could feel the train start moving again, I just hoped we weren't far from Ft. Collins.

Turns out we were pretty close, and it didn't take long to get there. As soon as the train ground to a halt, Biblepuncher picked me up in his arms, and asked Cheyenne where he wanted him to take me. Cheyenne's answer was the boarding house that wasn't far from the depot, he knew the owner and it was the closest place he could think of. Biblepuncher quickly carried me from the train, and with Cheyenne leading the way and the others following behind, it didn't take long to reach the boarding house. On the way, Cheyenne tried to send Eddie to get Doctor Baker, but I just shook my head, and tried grabbing his arm. "No, I want Doc Eells, not Doc Baker, please....", so Eddie quickly returned to the depot and asked the Lieutenant if he could borrow a horse. "Take mine, he's the fastest," was the answer, and in seconds Eddie was in the saddle and racing for the ranch.

In the meantime, we had reached the boarding house and gone inside. Cheyenne immediately asked the woman who ran the place, Lil, if she had any empty rooms we could use, she took one look at me and said, "Use my room, it's straight down the hall on the left, easier than trying to get her upstairs. Have you sent for the doctor?" Cheyenne thanked her and responded that someone was on the way to fetch Doc Eells. She led the way to her room and opened the door, and Biblepuncher gently laid me down on the bed. He, Cheyenne, and Lil stayed with me, while everyone else waited in the lobby.

I don't know how long it was before Doc Eells arrived, but Eddie must have been flying. Doc asked Biblepuncher and Lil to wait out in the hall while he examined me, I think he knew better than to ask the same of Cheyenne. After he checked me over really good, he went out to the hallway and I could hear him ask Lil to please bring a pot of boiling water, one of cold water, and a cup. Then he came back in and started digging around in his bag for something. So far the doc hadn't said much else, and I could tell Cheyenne's patience was wearing thin, he wanted to know what was wrong with me. Lil was back almost immediately, she said that she had been about to make herself a cup of tea when we had shown up, so she already had the hot water ready.

Doc Eells took the teapot and the cup and started making a cup of tea himself, and that was the final straw for Cheyenne. "Fer cryin' out loud, Doc, I didn't have Eddie haul you down here so you could have a cup of tea with Lil, are you going to do something for Calico or not?!" Doc didn't even glance at him, merely continued with what he was doing, and said over his shoulder, "The tea isn't for me, it's for Calico. Her main problem is that she's severely dehydrated, how long has it been since she's been able to keep anything down?"


Cheyenne looked at me, and I tried to think about it.... "Maybe three or four days, I don't really remember now..." I whispered. It was true that the morning sickness seemed way worse this time around, but I didn't think it was that serious. Doc finished making the tea, then brought me the cup. "Here, drink this, but just sip a little at a time, don't try to drink it all at once. It's Lu's special stomach ache mixture, if you can keep anything down, this will be it. We need to get some fluids in you, and then you need rest. You've been pushing yourself way too hard lately, and if you aren't careful you're going to lose the baby. You need to take it easy for a few days, and drink as much tea or water as you can handle, then you should be fine. Lil, is it ok if Mrs. Culpepper stays here for a couple of days?"

"Well of course, can't believe you even think you have to ask! Just make sure you leave me plenty of that tea, and I'll take good care of her. Oh, and one more thing, I noticed that something seems to be wrong with Miss Cora's shoulder..." Cheyenne told her about how we were attacked on the train going into Denver, and the injuries our party had suffered. Lil nodded, then told Cheyenne, "With Cora hurt and Calico needing to stay here, sounds like you could use a bit more help with the young ones. There's a couple staying here, looking for work, you might want to consider talking to them. The man, Blazen Vaquero, was working on a ranch down in Mexico for a while, but he and his wife, Sonora Blaze, got to missing the good ole U.S. Of A., and he's looking for a job up here. They seem like really great people, and Sonora might be willing to pitch in with the kids until Cora heals up a bit more."

Cheyenne agreed to go talk to the couple, and see if they were interested in coming out to the Culpepper ranch, at least for a while. I didn't really like the idea, my babies were my responsibility, and Biblepuncher needed all the help he could get right now, and then there were the upcoming fair and wedding...last place I needed to be right now was stuck in bed, and not even my own! But Doc put his foot down, I wasn't going anywhere until he gave his ok, and that was final! I knew better than to even try and argue with Cheyenne, I'd seen the tears in his eyes, and knew he was terrified that something was horribly wrong with me. If it would make him happy, I guess I could at least try to follow the doctor's orders this time around....but only til I started feeling better, I had to help our preacher, and I had a wedding to plan!

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I sat with Calico a while in LIl's room until I could tell that she was indeed feeling better, I would deal with Doc later, I'd get even with him for making me wait like that! When I knew Cali was getting stronger I kissed her and told her that I needed to take care of a few things, including talking with the sheriff about Biblepuncher's problem.

 

I found Biblepuncher waiting outside the rooming house, walking back and forth on the wood walk. "Ever hear of the City of Refuge?" I asked him. "Sure" was his quick reply, "in the old testament if you wronged someone or even killed someone, if you could make it to the City of Refuge you were safe there." "Well" I told him, "Your City of Refuge is the Culpepper Ranch. Get on your horse and don't even look back until you're at the ranch. I'll take care of things here, now make tracks!" He tried to argue with me but I spun him around and kicked him in the seat of the pants and told him to "GIT, NOW!" The last I saw of him was after he had gotten his horse from the livery and was headed for his City of Refuge.

 

I didn't have to look for the sheriff, he found me. He had heard from the Lt. about the problems with the Pinkertons and the train, but couldn't figure out why they had dared mess with the train. We stepped back into Lil's place where she had a pot of coffee waiting. We sat as Lil poured our cups full and then I told him the whole story about Biblepuncher's problems. The sheriff put his face in his hands and groaned, "You know I've got to lock him up, don't you." he almost apologized. "No, he's gone to the ranch and that's where he'll stay until we get this figured out and Texas is contacted. Furthermore, if a Pinkerton steps a foot on the ranch he'll be buried there" I told the sheriff as seriously as I could. "You've got your mother's spunk and your father's stubbornness" the sheriff told me almost laughing as he said it. "If you give me your word he'll stay there I'll take care of the Pinkertons" the sheriff assured me.

 

We finished our coffees as I told him about the attack on the train and about getting stuck in my lower cheek with an arrow. The sheriff snorted coffee out of his nose when I told him about getting stuck and he told me he thought that I was listing a little to one side. The Lt. joined us for a while before going with his men to Fort Collins to bunk there until the return trip to Denver. He did tell the sheriff that the railroad was going to wage a complaint against the Pinkerton's for stopping the train, something I was glad to hear, oh how I hated those Pinkertons!

 

The Lt and sheriff both excused themselves and I went back to Calico's side, as I cuddled up beside her I told her that I had sent Biblepuncher to the ranch and that the Pinkertons would be warned to not step on the ranch's dirt. That news did bring a smile to her face and just one word, "Good." Then she closed her eyes and drifted off to a much needed sleep. When I could slip out without disturbing her I went out and asked Lil where I could find the couple she had told us about, Blazin Vaquero and Sonora? She told me that they had gone for a ride and that she would set up a time for us to meet, I told her to make it for in the morning over breakfast, maybe by then Calico would feel like being a part of the discussion.

 

I found Doc leaving the saloon and he assured me that with proper rest and nutrition that Calico would be fine in a couple days and if she did what he told her that we could return to the ranch then. He said he wanted to stay in town until morning to keep an eye on her and that then he would return to the ranch. He wanted me to join him back in the saloon for a few drinks but as exhausted as I was I declined and went back to Calico's side and immediately fell asleep, dreaming of those dreaded Pinkertons.

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It was so sweet of Lil to help us out, she was such a nice lady. She only had two spare rooms available, and since Cheyenne and I were using her room, she shared one of the upstairs ones with Cora. The girls took the other one, and Lil made a pallet on the floor for Rose, the two older girls took the bed. Lil also managed to come up with a trundle bed just big enough for the twins, she said it had belonged to her son. I tried to convince everybody to put the trundle bed in with me and Cheyenne, but Lil and Cora both refused, saying they would watch the twins for one night. Eddie and Tommy took blankets out to the barn and slept in the hay loft. Doc spent the night on the couch in the lobby, so he'd be close by in case I needed him.

In the morning, Cheyenne asked me if I felt up to going to breakfast and talking to the couple that Lil had suggested he hire. I was feeling a little better, but told him maybe we better clear that with Doc first, as I felt up to going to the dining room but did not feel up to arguing. I always seemed to lose those arguments with Doc anyway. So Cheyenne fetched the sawbones, and after checking me Doc said, "Ok, you can get up for a little while, in fact I think it would do you some good to try and eat some toast if you can. We need to start getting some food in your system at some point, I'll just make sure Lil has some of Lu's tea ready for you as well. But then it's right back to bed for you, missy!"

We went to the dining room, and sat down, it was only a few minutes before we were joined by the couple Lil had told us about. We started getting acquainted, and it wasn't long before I was getting the feeling that this couple would fit in at the Culpepper ranch just fine. The man, Blazen Vaquero, had worked cattle ranches for years, in fact had been foreman at several places, and made it clear he was willing and able to do about anything we needed him to. His wife, Sonora Blaze, looked like a tiny little thing next to her tall husband, but with a smile a mile wide and a lot of enthusiasm. We explained to them both that although we were primarily looking for ranch hands, we also were in need of someone to help me with the twins and Rose for a while, til I felt better. The older ones didn't really need a babysitter, and for the most part Laura and Eddie could handle Tommy when they weren't all in school. Little Flower had already told me she wanted to make her own wedding dress, that would keep her occupied most of the time for the next few weeks.


While we were talking, a rough looking man had also come down for breakfast. As he sat down, the four of us tried to wish him a good morning, but the man just growled something under his breath and got busy eating. He didn't say a word to anyone the whole time he was there, and left as soon as he was done. After he was gone, Sonora leaned over and told us, "I'm glad it didn't take long for him to eat, that man has been making me nervous the whole time he's been here." Vaquero nodded his head, and let us know, "I tried to talk to him the other day, I got the impression that he's some kind of a bounty hunter, but he refused to tell me much beyond that. I'd hate to be whoever it is he's looking for."

Cheyenne and I looked at each other, I could tell he was having the same thought as I was, was this man possibly be hunting Biblepuncher? We had no way of knowing, but later on Cheyenne told me in private that he was going to send a description of the man back to the ranch with Doc Eells, so that the hands could keep an eye out for him. If he was after our preacher, this could be trouble, and we'd had enough of that from the Pinkertons already!

By the time we were done eating, it had been arranged for Vaquero and Sonora to accompany Doc out to the ranch that day, as long as I was staying with Lil I didn't need Sonora's help with the kids just yet. We also decided to send the older kids back too, there was no reason for them to stay in town, and they'd missed enough school already. Later on James and Bea came to visit me, and James let us know that he'd already sent a telegram to a lawyer he knew down in Austin, to try and see if the lawyer could provide us with any information on the situation with Biblepuncher. James assured us that his friend would be discreet, and we crossed our fingers that he could come up with something that might help. In the meantime, Cheyenne insisted that I get some more sleep if I could, he was still very worried about both me and the baby. As I laid down to rest, I certainly hoped that I would recover from this as quickly as possible, I felt so useless just lying around when our friend needed all the help he could get!



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After I had gotten Calico to lay back down to rest Cora offered to watch Mathew and Sarah so that I could tend to business around town. When I stepped out from the Lil's boarding house my stomach nearly did a back flip. The Pinkertons were just riding into town and they spotted me just as I saw them. They made a beeline straight for me and I didn't have to study them much to tell that they were in a sour mood.

 

They dismounted in front of me then I heard, "You're all alone now half-breed we'll see how brave your are now!" I didn't flinch as the two who appeared to be the leaders stepped up in front of me while pushing their jackets back away from their sidearms. "Where you hiding the kid now, you can't keep us from him forever," they continued to yell. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the bounty hunter taking this all in but very content to just watch.

 

"You got a mind to pull them pistols?" I asked the Pinkertons, "if you do the two of you will surely die first" I told them before they could answer. "We've never seen a breed who could shoot a pistol worth a pile of horse manure" they finally snarled back at me. I glanced to my right into the street that led out of town and saw two crows fighting over a scrap of food that had been thrown into the street, I turned towards the crows and while I was doing so drew my pistols and turned the two crows into feathers floating through the air. I stepped back to face the Pinkertons spinning my pistols and holstering as I did. "I reckon I could hit the two of you from here if I needed too" I told them, then I spoke loud enough for the bounty hunter to hear.

"I'm giving notice that any man that steps for on the Culpepper Cattle Company lands uninvited will be buried there!" I then turned to walk back into the boarding house and as I did I heard the unmistaken sound of pistols being drawn from leather and as I turned back to face the Pinkertons saw the all six of them had a revolver aimed at me.

 

"You all put them shooting irons away" I heard the sheriff holler at the Pinkertons. "Not on your life sheriff, we're here on official business and we don't care much for you or any one else in this one horse town of yours." This I going to get interesting I quickly thought to myself, but then I heard the sound of windows opening followed by the sound of rifles levering not to mention the sound of horses hooves coming up the street being made by the Lt and his men coming back from the fort.

 

It was kind of fun to watch the Pinkertons look one way and then the other as they tried to see what kind of mess that they had gotten into this time. "I'll take those sidearms boys" the sheriff told the Pinkertons, would want you get hurt in our one horse town here, and by the way, since we only have one horse, I'm taking five of your horses for a while. That will leave you one for one of you to leave on." The Pinkers tried to complain saying that I was the one who had been doing the shooting to which the sheriff replied, "We're a one crow town too and those two were interlopers too, sorta like you all are. Second thought I think I 'll let you have your horses back as long as I see a bunch of horses asses leaving town in sixty seconds."

 

I always had like Tom, our Sheriff, who reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a deputy's badge and without asking pinned it on my shirt. "You see that boys, now he's the law here too, I reckon you should take real serious his threat about stepping on his land" the sheriff said loudly enough for all to hear.

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I heard the commotion out front, but I wasn't too worried, Cheyenne could take care of himself, and I knew Sheriff Tom had his back as well. As far as I was concerned, if anything bad happened to those Pinkertons, well, they had it coming. A few minutes later, Lil came in to tell me everything that had happened, she'd been watching out the window. She also told me that Sheriff Tom had made Cheyenne a deputy, that kind of surprised me, but if the Pinkertons tried causing any trouble out at the ranch, it might come in handy. Turns out she had talked to Cheyenne for a few minutes after all this happened, and he told her to let me know that he and Tom were going to follow the Pinkertons out of town for a while, to make sure they headed off in the opposite direction from the ranch.

She was just about to excuse herself so that I could sleep when the door opened, and the bounty hunter walked in. He had his pistol drawn and pointed at us, and was holding a big, evil-looking bowie knife in the other hand. "You, Mz. Culpepper, on yer feet! Yer comin' with me," he growled, "And don't you even think o' givin' me any trouble!" Lil turned ghost white, but still tried to come to my defense, "Mr. Smith, I must protest! Mrs. Culpepper is in no shape to be going anywhere, and you have no right to be ordering her around like this. Just what is the meaning of this nonsense?"

The bounty hunter pointed his pistol at Lil, who looked for a second like she was going to faint, and told her, "You'll just keep quiet and stay outta this, if ya know what's good fer ya. I ain't asking yer permission, that lady is coming with me now and that's final. Now, let's go, and don't think of trying anything stupid, either of ya!" I quickly threw off the covers and stood up, telling the man, "And you just stop threatening Lil, all she did was offer you the hospitality of her home. I'll do what you want, but you can't hurt her, is that a deal?" I don't think Lil really liked the idea, but there wasn't too much she could really do about it, and the man did admit that he didn't want to harm her, but wouldn't hesitate to do so unless we both complied with his orders. He put the knife away, but kept his pistol out as he dragged me by the arm towards the back of the house and out the rear door.

There were two horses out back, saddled and ready to go. Mr. Smith, if that was in fact his name, pushed me towards one of them, telling me to climb on up. I looked at the saddle for a second, then said, "I don't hardly think so, I can't use that saddle wearing this nightgown, I'd need a side saddle for that. Just where do you want me to go with you, isn't there some other way to get there?" He shook his head, and grabbed me again, "You'll just hafta hike that nightgown up a bit, this is no time fer you to be acting all prim and proper! You're gonna take me to this ranch of yours, and when we get there you're going to invite me in for a nice visit, so that half-breed husband of yours won't have any call to complain about it! Do as I say and you won't get hurt, now git up on that horse!"

I had no intention of inviting this bounty hunter onto Culpepper lands, it hadn't been hard to figure out why he wanted to go there. But for now all I could do was try and go along with him, to give Lil time and opportunity to send someone after Cheyenne and Tom. So I pulled the nightgown up around my thighs, and somehow managed to mount the horse. Then I tried pulling the nightgown down as far as I could, but I still had plenty of leg showing, and I saw that the bounty hunter had in fact noticed, and had a really sleazy look on his face.

He forced me to ride directly out of town to the south, so no one would see us, then we turned and headed west around the town, then a little bit to the northwest towards the ranch. Obviously he already knew the location of it, he'd done his homework on us. When we were about halfway there, I started getting a little dizzy, I really wasn't in any shape to be riding, and asked him if we could stop and rest a minute. I was kind of shocked when he actually agreed, he didn't seem the type to really care about my physical condition. I was more shocked after he had helped me off the horse...as soon as my feet hit the ground he was trying to kiss me! I quickly twisted around and broke out of his grasp, but I was furious, how dare he!

He got an evil grin on his face, and asked me, "What's the matter, ain't I good enough for the likes of you? You and me could have a little bit of fun right now, that preacher ain't going nowhere just yet any way! Can't blame me fer wantin' some of what you got to offer, if the rest of ya looks like them legs you been showing off then I really would like ta see some more..."

I was horrified, I couldn't believe this snake would even think that I would agree to any such thing, and I told him so! For a minute, I thought he was going to slap me, but then he just backed off and snarled at me to get back on the horse, that there wasn't nothing wrong with me that prevented me from riding, and he didn't want my husband catching up to us. I was sure he didn't, but I was hoping for exactly that, and preferably before we got to the ranch. As we continued on, the bounty hunter pulled his horse right up next to mine, close enough so that he could run his hand up and down my thigh. I quickly pulled my horse far enough away so that he couldn't reach me, and he just laughed and told me "You don't know what yer missing, honey, why don't you give some thought to coming with me when I'm done with my 'business', and I can show you what a real man is like..."

I started getting really nauseous again, but this time I didn't think it had anything to do with morning sickness!

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Tom and I hadn't gotten far out of town before we heard a rider coming up on us from the rear, and he was coming fast. We spun our horses around to see Lt. O'rouke pushing his mount towards us as hard as the animal would run. He pulled up as he neared us and didn't wait to pull along side of us before he hollered out that Calico had been taken by the bounty hunter.

 

My hand reached down instinctively to feel for my Sharps in it's scabbard and as I feel the familiar form of the stock I almost smiled, it had been a constant companion for years and had never failed me. The Lt. continued saying that he had already sent Smith and Jones in pursuit figuring that Calico and Smith, the bounty hunter were headed for the ranch.

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Tom and I hadn't gotten far out of town before we heard a rider coming up on us from the rear, and he was coming fast. We spun our horses around to see Lt. O'rouke pushing his mount towards us as hard as the animal would run. He pulled up as he neared us and didn't wait to pull along side of us before he hollered out that Calico had been taken by the bounty hunter.

 

My hand reached down instinctively to feel for my Sharps in it's scabbard and as I feel the familiar form of the stock I almost smiled, it had been a constant companion for years and had never failed me. The Lt. continued saying that he had already sent Smith and Jones in pursuit figuring that Calico and Smith, the bounty hunter were headed for the ranch.

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After I had felt for my Sharps I straightened back up into the saddle, right on my wound. I felt the pain shoot up to my teeth and all the way down to my big toe, I winched from the pain without saying a word. O'Rouke saw my pain and questioned my about being able to ride hard enough to catch up with Calico. I knew it wasn't going to be easy but I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't go after Calico and not only rescue her but lay a final judgment on Smith.

 

O'Rouke quickly sized up the situation and said he would send two more men to follow after me with supplies in case things turned away from the ranch. Tom also said that he would raise a posse and personally lead it. With those assurances, though I really didn't think I needed all the back up, I thanked them and urged Blacky towards the ranch, slowly gaining speed as he warmed up to the run. I was hoping that the pain would subside but I was beginning to feel a familiar warmth running down my leg. I didn't bother to look but instead leaned forward and hugged Blacky's neck trying to take the weight off of my wound.

 

I spotted Smith and Jones not long later and was beside them soon after. "Did you see that rider to the south?" they asked, "he was riding hard towards the northwest and did a mount change without ever breaking stride. We couldn't really see who it was but we swear it looked like a grizzly bear riding those horses." I chuckled to my self, "Ol Grizz, how in the world did he know what was happening?" In unison the three of us took off towards the ranch again, this time at a fast trot.

 

As we rode I told Smith and Jones about Grizz and assured them that we could trust Grizz completely and then we discussed our plan. I pretty much just told them if they had a clear shot at Smith to take it, and if he moved after the shot to shoot again. I could see both of them grin with that plan and we urged our horses on towards the ranch, our eyes searching for any sign of Calico and Smith off in the distance.

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Just about the time I was beginning to think that I couldn't ride any further we caught sight of two riders way off in the distance. As our eyes strained to distinguish the riders we say another rider closing in on them from the south, it had to be Ol Grizz.

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The bounty hunter and I rode a bit farther, and we were starting to get close to the ranch when he pulled up beside me again and brought both horses to a halt. "Changed my mind, we ain't in that big of a hurry, get down!" he ordered me, and I didn't like the look on his face. I shook my head, but he got off his horse then reached up and pulled me off mine, and I just didn't have the strength to stop him. I did try to fight him off, but in my weakened state it wasn't hard for him to shove me down on the ground, and then he started trying to rip the neckline of my nightgown open. I was really starting to panic, and started praying for help, any help, I wasn't strong enough to either stop his attack or get away.

Then he pulled back a little, and glanced over his shoulder as if he had heard something. Then I heard it, but at first I wasn't sure if it was hoofbeats or the sound of my heart trying to beat it's way out of my chest. It must have been a horse though, as Smith quickly got back to his feet, and pulled me up as well. The man then grabbed his pistol and pointed it at me, as I was finally able to see that Ol' Grizz was riding straight for us. Grizz reined up when he saw that, but kept his rifle pointed at the bounty hunter, and I had no idea if either man would be willing to back down.


"Back off old man, this ain't none of your business, so just ride on!" Smith shouted out to Grizz, but I was sure that Grizz had no intention of doing any such thing. Turns out I was right, Grizz yelled back, "At least I'm old enough to know only a low down, yellow-bellied snake would do that to a lady, and I ain't gonna let ya do it ta Miz Culpepper! Let her go, and I'll think about lettin' ya ride off, that way!" and Grizz pointed to the southeast, the opposite direction from the ranch. Just how did he know that the bounty hunter was trying to take me to the ranch?

For a split second, I thought I heard another soft noise behind me, but I didn't dare turn around to look. I didn't want to risk distracting Grizz, and if there was someone else behind us, if it was another friend I didn't want to tip off my captor. So I just froze, and then noticed Grizz seemed to wink at me, or maybe he had some dirt in his eye, I wasn't sure....until I heard the rifle go off. Smith's hand slipped off my arm, and he fell face first into the dirt in front of me, and I could see the bullet hole in his back, directly over his heart. I quickly tried to pull the torn parts of my nightgown together to cover myself as I turned to see who had fired the shot. To my surprise, it was Running Bear, one of the dog soldiers that we'd caught attacking Grizz last year.

"Where is your husband?" he asked me, "I need to speak with him." It figured, he just killed a man that was trying to attack me, and all he wanted was to talk to Cheyenne. Grizz had ridden forward, and told the brave in his tongue "Her man will be here soon, trust me. For now, I think she needs to get back to the ranch as soon as possible, come with us and wait there." The brave nodded, and helped me back up on the horse I had been riding, then the brave took the bounty hunter's horse for himself. I knew both horses belonged to Lil, and would have to be returned, but if Running Bear needed a horse he could have his pick from any of the ones in the Culpepper stables, except for Blackie and my autumn pony. And I was going to make sure that if he and his village needed food, that they could have all the cattle they wanted as well!

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We watched as Ol Grizz neared Calico and Smith the bounty hunter but never saw where the man that shot Smith came from. We sat there on our mounts amazed by what had just happened. How did Grizz know Calico had been taken captive, and who was the shooter and where did he come from?

 

Now that Calico was safe, at least that's how it looked from the great distance we had been viewing from, we would need to notify Cora and her parents in town who were watching the kids, as well as the sheriff who had been raising a posse. We all turned out horses to check our backs and were not happy to see what appeared to be the Pinkertons coming our way. "Let's see if we can warn them off with a few shots in front of them" I told Smith and Jones. We dismounted with our Sharps and quickly drew aim on the riders, then pulled down to hit just yards in front of the advancing Pinkertons. We counted down and fired in unison, our rifles settled down in time for us the see the three puffs of dust hit just in front of the riders. That stopped them for a few seconds but then on they came, this time at a full run. "Are they nuts?" Smith shouted, and we reloaded. We agreed to all shoot at the lead rider, this time taking each shot as we were ready, the second shot rolled the rider backwards out of his saddle and onto the ground, the third shot found the rider who had been following him and threw him onto the ground as well.

 

We looked at each other briefly and then back at the nearing remaining four Pinkertons. They continued on towards us, and as they rode we could see them drawing their pistols. We each picked a separate rider as we reloaded and with little time to spare found our targets and fired again, this time each bullet found it's mark, leaving one lonely rider now within pistol range, but we didn't need to do anything else as the lucky lone Pinkerton turned tail and headed back south as quickly as his tired mount would take him.

 

We stood there for a few minutes pondering on what would have made these men so stubborn. We knew we would never know the answer and started thinking about our next move. As we tried to decide who should do what I started feeling dizzy, then the pain from the wound re-introduced itself, along with the wet feeling in my moccasin. Smith and Jones both noticed the blood oozing from my buckskins at the same time and asked my what was closer the ranch or town. The ranch was closer but I couldn't remember if Doc had planned on returning to the ranch yet. But, Calico was at the ranch and that is where the three of us headed. I remember seeing the ranch buildings come into view, but after that it was all at best a blur.

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When we approached the ranch gate, I saw about a half dozen hands on horseback just inside the gate, all heavily armed. As we got closer, I pulled a little bit ahead of my companions and waved at the men, wanting to make sure they knew who was coming. Karl quickly urged his horse forward, and when he was close enough to get a good look at me he reached behind him on his saddle and grabbed his slicker, and silently handed it to me. I was grateful for his kindness, as I was having a real hard time keeping that nightgown closed, and although Running Bear had seemed to act like he didn't even notice, ole Grizz had an even harder time keeping his eyes in his head.

I tried to explain to Karl and the others just what had happened to me, but when I got to the part about the bounty hunter attacking me, I just couldn't go on, so Grizz took over the narrative, being nice enough to not give any more details than necessary. I was totally humiliated about the whole thing, and still a little bit shaken about how close I had come to...well...I didn't even want to think about it, it was just too horrible. It had been a really bad day, and I still didn't feel well, all I wanted was to get back to the ranch. Oh, and I wanted my babies too, but they were still back in town. Karl and Prairie Dawg offered to ride with me back to the ranch house, if Grizz and Running Bear were willing to take their places among the guard. Karl also offered to hitch up the wagon and take it and Laura to town to fetch the twins and Cora.

The three of us rode on to the ranch house, leaving the rest of the men watching the gate. Running Bear had already noticed more riders approaching, but still too far away for identification. I hoped it would be Cheyenne, but just in case it wasn't I knew the best thing for me was to get to the house and get inside. I needed to change and get cleaned up, and I also knew that I needed to let Doc Eells check me over, Prairie Dawg had already told me that he had returned a little while earlier. In fact it had been Doc's idea to post the guards at the ranch entrance. I was also informed that other groups of men were scattered around the perimeter of the ranch, keeping an eye out for any unwelcome trespassers that didn't bother with the front gate.

Several people saw us approaching, and Skipper, Laura, and Little Flower all came running to help me, by that time I really did need it. I was exhausted and still very upset, and I let my friend and the girls lead me into the house and up to my room. Laura then went to find Prairie Dawg and Karl, it had been decided that both men would accompany her back to town to get the twins, one to drive the wagon and one as a guard. Skipper sent Little Flower to find Lu and have her get a hot bath ready for me, while Skipper went to find Doc. While I was waiting, I grabbed my buckskins to change into after my bath, I didn't feel like putting another dress on, I hoped Cheyenne would be home soon and I knew how much he liked seeing me in those buckskins. After what had almost happened to me that day, I needed to know he still found me attractive, at least I was sure hoping he did. I really didn't care what anyone else thought!

I had just finished with my bath and was getting dressed when I heard a commotion out front, someone was approaching. I quickly pulled my buckskins on and went out to the porch, Doc had been waiting for me in the den but went outside with me to see what was going on. Three riders were just pulling up in front of the house, and I saw immediately that it was Cheyenne and the two troopers, but it seemed like something was wrong with Cheyenne. When he saw me, he tried to smile at me, then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he started to fall sideways off his horse, thankfully Trooper Jones was there to catch him. Biblepuncher had also come out to see who had arrived, and immediately raced over to help Jones get Cheyenne off his horse. I noticed right away that the preacher was as heavily armed as the rest of the men, something we hadn't seen from him before.

I didn't really think too much of it at the time though, I was too worried about my husband, from the looks of his britches he'd reopened his wounds, and was losing a fair amount of blood. All thoughts of having Doc check me over disappeared, Cheyenne obviously needed the man's help far more than I did. As the troopers, the preacher, and the doc carried Cheyenne inside, I held the door open for them, then instructed them to put Cheyenne in the den. As Doc started to check him over, I stood back out of his way, but close enough to watch what was going on and help if needed. Then I felt a strong arm go around my shoulders, and heard Biblepuncher whisper in my ear, "I'm praying for him as hard as I can, and I doubt I'm the only one. I'm sure he'll be ok, but you need to take care of yourself as well. I know you won't leave his side, but at least sit down, I can help Doc Eells if he needs it. Last thing the doc needs right now is you passing out too."


I had to admit that he was right, so I let him pull a chair up closer to the couch for me to sit on. All I could really do was to join the others in praying for my husband to be alright. Hop Sing brought me some tea, and that helped settle my stomach a little, I don't know what else he put in it but it wasn't long before I started relaxing a bit. As Doc was working on him, Cheyenne did regain consciousness after a few minutes, he was in quite a bit of pain but was able to reach over and take my hand, though the way he was squeezing it was a little uncomfortable at times. Doc finally managed to get the bleeding stopped, and the wound re-bandaged, then he told me "Ok, this time you both need to listen to me...you both need rest, do you think this time around you might actually try and get some?"

Cheyenne glanced over at me and grinned, then told the man, "Aw Doc, that ain't no fun...." I knew right then that my husband was gonna be just fine...





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Rest? The two of us rest? I almost laughed at the thought of the two of us actually getting the chance to rest, but then if we were resting then we could be, hey that wasn't a bad idea after all. The idea of resting my rear end from a saddle though had it's merits. I was glad I was the one with that wound though I thought as I was helped up the stairs to our room. The several shots of whiskey to help with the pain was working on my feet too, at least I thought I still had feet.

 

Calico was talking with someone in the hallway about the children still being in town and was making sure that they would be returning by late the next morning, the thought of their little smiles and kisses made me even warmer than the whiskey had made me. Ah, yes, life was good, a wonderful beautiful wife, kids galore and a ranch full of good friends, yes, life was good.

 

It got even better when Calico finally came into the room and helped me out of my buckskins, what was left of them, and then the best part was when she took hers off. I tried to get up to help but between the pain and the whiskey I had to be content with watching, that I could do! She showed me her torn nightgown and used that as an excuse to crawl in beside me without any further dressing. I laid my head on her shoulder as she caressed me with her good arm and hand and I thoroughly enjoyed it for the short time I managed to stay awake.

 

The next morning came all too quickly, though we didn't join the others downstairs until our growling stomachs had us laughing so we didn't have any choice but to manage to get down the stairs for something to eat. Hop Sing had tea for each of us, mine helped with the pain and Calico's helped calm her stomach, though she did have a good morning without any sign of upset, which I was thoroughly grateful.

 

Karl came in as we were eating and filled us in on everything that had been happening on the ranch. After a few minutes I had to stop him, my head was beginning to spin with all the details and told Karl that he was doing just fine and for the next week or so he would continue to run the ranch. He was a little surprised at first, but then saw the way Calico and I were giggling back and forth at each other and agreed to run the business aspect of the ranch. I think he was beginning to like being out of the saddle and the barns and right then I knew that I would have him taking a much larger role in the running of the ranch. Eddie would soon be old enough to start learning the business end, but first he would be learning what shovels and fencing were for and how to use and install them.

 

Karl had his cup of coffee refilled and then disappeared into the den to start on the paperwork that had been waiting for me. Calico and I decided to go for a short walk and headed up the trail to the water hole, not that I could get in it with my wound, but it was our spot here at the ranch, and was a good spot to go to reflect and make plans for our future. The leaves would soon be turning, and we both agreed if it wasn't for Eddie and Little Flower using my grandfather's cabin for their wedding and honeymoon we would be heading there as soon as we could.

 

We stood there at the water hole for a while just holding each other, talking about the upcoming wedding and looking forward to children returning to the ranch from town soon. Calico just couldn't resist the lure of the water hole though and after shedding her buckskins slid into the coolness of the pool of water. It wasn't long though before we heard the sounds of hooves and wagon wheels approaching the ranch. She got back into her buckskins as quickly as one could with a broken arm and then the two of us headed back down the trail to the house. Doc saw us coming down from the trail and almost turned red immediately, "I thought I told you two to rest!" he almost hollered at us. Calico in turn turned a little red as she had to admit the she was the only one that had gone into the pool which calmed down Doc. But then Doc turned to me and told me in no uncertain terms that my butt needed to stay out of the pool until the wound started to heal properly.

 

Before Doc could finish the kids came running around the house looking for us, oh what a wonderful sight they were, arms outstretched and yelling for their mommy and daddy, and then Cora carrying Mathew and Sarah in her arms. I had to admire how good she looked and thought to myself that she was going to make some man awfully happy some day. Tommy really got my attention when he came up beside me and smacked me right on my wound. The wince on my face and the grunt that came from deep within me reminded him quickly of the wound and then he almost started crying over the thought of my pain being his fault. I quickly regained myself and gave him a big hug and reassured him that I was alright.

 

After lots of hugs and kisses and happy tears we all went inside to find something for the kids to eat. They devoured everything that Lu Sing put before them making me extremely grateful that we had the means to feed them all. Then I remembered the promise to the nuns to have the orphans come out to the ranch on a regular basis. Maybe our rest would be shared with a little work as well. Then I glanced over at Calico, and the swelling of her, uh, well I was reminded that we had another child coming. Calico saw the smile growing on my face as she patted her tummy. Ah yes, life was good.

 

Our sawmill was going to be fired up and soon, Eddie and Little Flower would soon be needing a place of their own and we would soon be needing new barns for the Clydesdales.

 

Then Calico blurted out, "Running Bear, I forgot all about Running Bear, where is he, he didn't leave did he?"

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I'd forgotten all about Running Bear, he had said he needed to speak to Cheyenne. Karl had come out of the den to get another cup of coffee and he heard me, and told us "Oh, Running Bear is still here, and so is Grizz. They knew you needed some time to take care of yourselves first, so they're camped out beyond the barns, waiting for things to settle down a little. I offered to let them stay in the bunkhouse, but they both said no. If you're ready to see him, I can send someone over to let him know." Cheyenne nodded, so Karl left and we went out to the porch to wait for Running Bear.


When the brave arrived, we offered him a chair, but he declined, and instead leaned against the porch railing while he told us the reason he had come to the ranch. "My village is in trouble, they can not stay in one place too long without fear of being caught by the soldiers who have been chasing them. The men have not even been able to hunt, and the children are starting to get hungry. The elders have decided to take the village north, where the soldiers can not follow, there they may be safe. But my sister can not go with them, she has two small children and will soon have one more. Her husband was one of those killed fighting the soldiers earlier this summer, and I have been trying to provide for her and her children since then. Our grandfather also can not go north, he is very old and not well and he would not survive the journey. My younger brother also wishes to stay with my sister and grandfather."

 

"I am in need of a place to stay, where my family can be safe and I can provide for them. It is my hope that you would allow us to stay here on your lands. We will remain far away, over by the hills, so that we are not in the way, and I will ask for nothing else. There is still time for me to go up into the hills and hunt for enough meat to see us through the winter. You will have my word that we will cause no trouble, and all I ask is that you not turn us over to the soldiers. I know in my heart that your father would have allowed this, I hope that you will at least think about it."

I was sure Cheyenne was just about to agree to it, but I immediately shook my head, and both men weren't really happy when I did. "Running Bear, after what you did for me, I can not ever repay you, but I also can not allow you to take your sister to the opposite side of the ranch if she is going to be having a baby soon. I know Cheyenne will allow you to stay, but I must insist that you remain much closer to the rest of us. Your sister may need help, either from our medicine man or from some of the other women here. You can pick any spot that you wish, but it must be within sight of the ranch compound. For your sister's sake, I hope you can see the wisdom behind my words."

I knew I was taking a big chance, the decision was really between the two men, and I shouldn't have interfered. But Cheyenne did see my point, and it didn't take long for him to convince Running Bear that my idea was a good one. Things were starting to get a little crowded around here, and we weren't even ready for the visiting orphans yet! But I didn't really mind, in fact it made me feel really good to try and help out as many people as we could, it would have been selfish not to considering all we had been blessed with. Since we needed to return Lil's horses to her, Cheyenne took Running Bear out to the barns to let him have one of our horses, and the brave left to go bring his family back to the ranch for the winter. I was kind of shocked to see that Grizz had volunteered to go with him and help, that seemed like a strange friendship.

I noticed that there seemed to be another rather strange friendship brewing, this one between Cora and Biblepuncher. Ever since she had returned to the ranch, the preacher had hardly left her side. I wasn't sure if it was just because he was still concerned about the injury that she had suffered during the attack on the train, but he didn't seem anywhere near as worried about Eddie or Cheyenne. Oh well, as long as it didn't distract her from caring for the children it was none of my business. And she was still doing a good job with the kids, though Sonora was starting to pitch in as well now that her and Vaquero had settled in. While the twins were asleep the two ladies were also starting to make plans for redecorating the house that the orphans would be visiting. Tommy and Laura had gone back to school, Eddie and Little Flower were busy making their own plans, and although Rose insisted on staying near me she was content to keep herself busy playing with the doll I had bought her. Things were slowly returning to normal, well, as normal as things ever got around the Culpepper Ranch!

Later in the day, Sheriff Tom came by to let us know that he and his posse had not been able to locate the last Pinkerton, but it wouldn't surprise any of us if the man kept running. Cheyenne asked if Tom wanted him to return the badge, but Tom shook his head, "No, you just keep it for now, there's no telling if it might still come in handy, I don't think this whole thing is over just yet. You do realize that I really should be arresting Biblepuncher....."

"Oh no you won't, not while he's on Culpepper lands,” I told him, and Cheyenne quickly seconded that. “Now you both just calm down, I said I should be arresting him, not that I was going to do it,” Tom said, “I already got a visit from that lawyer of yours, he told me straight out not to do anything until he'd had a chance to look into the situation. I guess he's been in contact with some people down in Texas, and that friend of yours, MacKane, sent some deputy he knows down to Texas as well to see if he could come up with some information that may help. I'm willing to wait until we hear back from them before doing anything, I just wanted to warn you that just because the Pinkertons and that bounty hunter are taken care of, doesn't mean that there aren't others still hunting for him. You all need to remain cautious.”

Well, we had already figured that out for ourselves, but we were glad to hear that Tom was willing to go along with the idea of waiting to see if we could resolve this without Biblepuncher having to go back to Texas for trial. The chance of him getting a fair one down there just didn't seem worth the risk. I was keeping my fingers crossed that this wouldn't take long, I hated having the poor man trapped on the ranch, but it just wasn't safe for him to go anywhere just yet.

 

Later that night, after all the kids were in bed, Cheyenne and I finally had some time alone. I was glad to see that he was starting to feel a little better, and his wound was showing some signs of starting to heal. I had had a small glass of wine, and he had just enough whiskey to help relieve some of his pain, so we decided to take Doc's advice about getting some rest. Well, maybe not right away....

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Running Bear, here? I thought quickly when Calico blurted it out. I would have to keep him away from Smith and Jones and if not I would have to trust them to keep that information to themselves. When we learned that Running Bear needed a place for his family to stay the foothills wouldn't do. It just wasn't safe enough. With them close to the ranch proper there would be much less of a chance of them being found by chance. I wasn't too worried about the army because I had an agreement with Capt Baylor that the ranch was a safe haven for any tribe that was peaceful, or even individuals who sought refuge.

 

I was beginning to wonder how my father had balanced it all, running the ranch, a family, staying friends with tribes and the army. Maybe that was why they had sought him out to run for the governorship when Colorado finally became a state. I was glad he hadn't, that would have taken him away from his family and the ranch. But, just how did he do it all?

 

We were able to get Running Bear to agree the area we wanted him to set his teepees on, and then started putting our attention to other things. We got men started on the house that would board the orphans, we needed another barn for the Clydesdales, the list seemed to never end.

 

I was glad when Tom arrived with the posse, it got me out of the house, or at least away from all the stuff. I had to let Karl handle more of the paperwork and such, I wanted to breathe the outside air. Oh well, I would have to work on that more. Anyway, Tom arrived with the posse and let us know the lone Pinkerton was nowhere to be found. They did mark where the others had fallen and asked to borrow a wagon to retrieve the bodies to take them to town for burial or whatever.

 

Tom understood about our loyalty to Biblepuncher and knew all to well how the law could be manipulated. We would have to make sure that Biblepuncher stayed on the ranch, but then the way that Cora and he had be exchanging looks, I was pretty sure that he wouldn't be wandering to far away from the ranch.

 

 

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There was a flash of lightning and loud clap of thunder and the skies opened up as if a rive was flowing down from it.

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It was mid afternoon of the following day before Grizz and Running Bear returned with the brave's family. I could see them off in the distance, setting up two tipis, and I hoped they would be warm enough over the coming winter. I knew they were used to living in tipis, and would probably turn down the use of a building, but I still worried. I'd have to go over later and make sure that they had everything they would need to keep those children safe when cold weather hit.

Cheyenne was out supervising the men who were starting the new barn for my Clydsedales. I'd wanted to help with that but I wasn't feeling all that well that afternoon, so I stayed behind at the house. Eddie had gone with Cheyenne for a while, but his leg had started bothering him so Cheyenne sent him back, and he was sitting on the back porch, waiting for the cookies that Little Flower and Laura were baking to be done. I heard Eddie call out “Ma, can you come here please, we got company,” so I stepped out on the porch to see who was coming. Eddie gestured in the direction of the tipis, and I noticed that Running Bear was approaching, and he was accompanied by a young man that looked about the same age as Eddie.

When they got close enough, Running Bear said, “White Deer, I am ashamed that I did not say this before, but I have one more favor to ask of you and Soars with Eagles,” then he hesitated. I nodded at him to continue, and he pointed towards the young man standing next to him, who didn't look real happy. “This is my brother, Lone Wolf, he has known 16 summers now. My sister Two Birds and I have agreed, we wish for him to learn the white man's tongue, and the white man's ways. The day is coming that if our people are going to survive, we must learn to co-exist with the white man. This is not what I want, but I see no other way. Lone Wolf does not agree, but Grandfather does, and has told him to cooperate. Can you and Soars with Eagles help?”

Well, it was obvious that the younger man didn't like the idea, but I thought Running Bear was probably right. I knew it must be hard for the proud brave to admit such a thing, much less ask for our help in teaching his brother. Their people may have won a few battles, but we all were aware that ultimately they had no chance of winning the war. It was a sore spot for both me and Cheyenne, because of the respect we had for the tribes, but there wasn't much we could do for the indian people as a whole. But individuals, yes, there was much we could do to help, and I saw no reason to turn down Running Bear's request. I knew Eddie was wondering what was being said, as the brave and I had been speaking in his tongue, so I turned and gave him a quick translation of the conversation.

“I've got an idea ma, why don't me and the girls try to teach him English? He might not mind so much if the lessons are coming from someone his own age. Little Flower has been teaching me and Laura sign, so we should be able to use that to help him learn our words, can we give it a try?” Actually, that sounded like a great idea to me, the young man might be more comfortable working with the other teens, rather than adults, so I let Running Bear and Lone Wolf know what Eddie was suggesting, and at least Running Bear liked the idea. I wasn't sure Lone Wolf did, at least not until Little Flower and Laura came outside, with a plate of the cookies that they had made.

Laura graciously offered the cookies to our guests first, and although I knew they had no idea what a cookie was, they both took one to be polite. But it was obvious that Lone Wolf was far more interested in Laura than the cookie, as soon as he saw her his eyes had lit up and gotten real wide. I glanced over at Laura as she was giving Eddie a cookie and noticed that she seemed to be sneaking a couple more peeks at Lone Wolf as well...ok, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all...hadn't we he had enough problems with Eddie and Little Flower already? No, I told myself, it was still a good idea, maybe Lone Wolf would be more likely to go along with this if he thought Laura was cute. I just needed to make sure Eddie would be present at all times, he was as protective of his sister as he was of his future wife.

Running Bear and I left the four youngsters to get acquainted over the rest of the cookies, the brave returned to his camp and I decided to go let Cheyenne know what was going on. I let Rose come with me, and as we walked towards the new barn I noticed two things, that it was getting really cloudy off to the west, and that there was a buggy approaching. At this distance I couldn't be positive, but it looked like the Winchesters' buggy, and I sure hoped that it was Jim, and that he was bringing good news...

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As we were working on the new barn for the Clydesdales I found myself looking towards the mountain more and more as the day wore on. I wasn't much help to the men, between worrying about my wound opening up again and the lure of the mountains I was pretty useless. To say that I was glad to see Calico was an understatement, actually I was hoping that she had an itch that needed scratching, but it was with news that Mr. Winchester, our attorney was at the house.

 

We talked about Running Bear and his family, especially Lone Wolf. I had a hunch that Lone Wolf and I would get along, well if Lone Wolf fit his personality. I was already planning on how to break the ice with the young brave, I would show him my grandfather's headdress that he wore as the chief of his tribe and perhaps the two of us would spend a few days together in the mountains. I was feeling pretty good about getting the young brave to trust us and feel welcome. Now, the idea of him and Laura getting together, hmmmm, I really wasn't so sure, but then how in the world could I protest, so I chose the wise choice and kept my mouth shut, I would agree to whatever Calico wanted for them, if that ever did become an issue.

 

As we neared the house I saw Biblepuncher and Cora on the back porch, but something was different, they were sitting facing each other, he had his hand on her shoulder and they were praying. I wonder, I thought, had he been able to reach her with the Gospel? As we neared them they both looked up, she had tears in her eyes, but the largest purest smile I think I'd ever seen. Biblepuncher had a huge smile too and all he said was, "She gets it!" I hugged Cora and she whispered in my ear, "I'm so glad you had patience with me and let me come to the ranch" she wanted to continue but I interrupted her, "I know, I'm glad we didn't too."

 

Then the four of us went in to meet with Cora's father, Mr Winchester and find out what new information that he had to share with us. We were all really hoping for good news, but were ready for anything, well, we were trying to be prepared anyway.

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As we were all heading into the den to talk, I heard the twins, obviously nap time was over. Cora and I were going to go get them, but then Sonora came out of the library and told us she would see to them, so that the two of us could remain downstairs. Cora went back in the den, but before I did I went to find Hop Sing, to ask him to please make us a pot of tea. When I returned, Cheyenne had already opened a bottle of his good whiskey, and was pouring some for himself and Jim, then he offered to Biblepuncher as well, and the preacher nodded. I knew the man had to be really nervous if he was having the whiskey instead of tea, as he usually didn't drink much alcohol.

After we were all settled, Jim started telling Biblepuncher what he had learned. “Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the sheriff who accused you of this crime got himself killed in a gunfight about six months ago, and from what I understand nobody in that town was too upset about it. The new sheriff, a fellow named Ryder, isn't on anyone's payroll, and seems like a fair man, all he wants is to uphold the law. My friend down in Texas has informed me that this Ryder is positive that you had nothing to do with the Marshall's murder, and is willing to help try and find the real culprit. Gibson just arrived down there, and the two of them are going to work together and see if they can come up with anything.”

“Now for the bad news, even though this Sheriff Ryder doesn't think you're guilty, the arrest warrant was issued by the head office of the U.S. Marshalls in Texas, not by the old sheriff. So Ryder doesn't have the authority to have the warrant rescinded, the only way that will happen is if someone can present evidence to prove who really did do it. And that will most likely be easy said than done, especially after all this time. But I have people working on it, we just need a little bit more patience, this could take a while.”

Patience may be a virtue, but it's one thing that was in short supply around the ranch right now, and I think we all were a little disappointed. But still, the murder was a couple of years old by now, and for us to expect it to all be cleared up in a matter of days was probably too much to hope for. For now, we just had to make sure Biblepuncher remained safe, that was the important thing. He did have one question for the lawyer thought, “Has anyone figured out yet just how the Pinkertons and that bounty hunter knew I was here? I never told anyone where I was headed when I left Texas, at the time I didn't even know myself where I was going to end up.”


Hop Sing came in just then with the pot of tea, and Jim waited until he had finished pouring some for me and Cora before answering. “Well, I'm afraid that's the other piece of bad news. Do you by chance remember Mr. Wallace's daughter, Annie?” Biblepuncher nodded, saying “Yes, unfortunately. There's one woman I'll never make the mistake of calling a 'lady'. I've never met another female with a mean streak like that one has. Even worse than her father, and that's saying a lot. As much money as he has, Wallace can't even pay a man to court his daughter, ain't nobody that stupid. I'd rather tangle with a grizzly bear, it's safer!”

I think we all got a bit of a laugh out of that one, then waited for Jim to continue. “Yes, well, you probably aren't going to like hearing this, but Annie Wallace has been in Fort Colllins recently. I guess her father is looking at getting out of Texas, rumor is that he needs to now that he no longer controls the sheriff, and is searching for new land to buy. She's been here in Colorado looking at several pieces of land for sale. I think she may have seen you in town at some point, and recognized you. Probably did everything she could to make sure you didn't see her though. That's pure speculation on my part, of course, but it does make sense.”

The lawyer was right, that wasn't good news, but there wasn't much we could do about it at this point. Cheyenne invited Jim to stay for dinner, and he readily accepted, so I went to ask Hop Sing to set an extra plate for dinner. As I was leaving, I heard Biblepuncher ask Cheyenne if he could speak to Jim alone for a few minutes, so Cheyenne followed me to the kitchen. When we got in there, Cheyenne put his arms around me and whispered in my ear, “In a way I'm kind of glad I never had to ask your pa if I could court you. Biblepuncher is so nervous right now I swear I saw his hand shaking the last time he picked up his glass! Poor guy, I sure hope Jim has no objection...”


I smiled up at him, and replied, “I hope so too, I think they might be good for each other. But I'm sure my pa would have told you yes, and in fact once we get the twins to bed tonight I might just hafta tell you yes myself....ifn' yer feeling up to it, that is.” Boy I loved the way that man's eyes could light up like that.....

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When I heard that Wallace wanted to buy property in Colorado I thought to myself, "No way on God's green earth will he buy land here!" I may not have been able to be a part of the state government because I was half Cheyenne, but I did have friends in high places and I was not going to hesitate taking advantage of those ties. I would have to have a talk with Jim after dinner in private.

 

I had to wait until Biblepuncher had a talk with Jim first, I knew that he was in agony, an agony I never had to face. But, I had enough of an ordeal trying Calico to say yes to me. I often would think about all the trials we went through together, I usually would end up laughing and shaking my head in disbelief that we were both still alive.

 

Biblepuncher and Jim were talking and I was trying to listen as best as I could from outside the room but Calico pulled me into the kitchen and started whispering in my ear, that conversation got my attention! And, she never went back on her promises either. We would have to wait though because it didn't take long for Biblepuncher to come out of the den calling for Cora, "We've have to wait, but he said YES!"

 

While we were all celebrating, I took Jim aside and told him to make sure that Wallace wasn't able to buy land anywhere in the state. He wholeheartedly agreed and told me that he would be contacting the cattleman's association as soon as he could. That was all the longer that I could stay at the party, Calico had caught my eye from the doorway and with just her eyes let me know that I'd best follow her.

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The next several days went pretty smoothly. The wounds suffered by Cheyenne, Eddie, and Cora were all healing nicely with the help of the salve we'd used so successfully in the past. I was slowly regaining my strength, and although I did still have a few bouts of morning sickness, the worst of that seemed to have passed, and my appetite returned. The wedding plans were coming together nicely, though I think both Eddie and Little Flower were bouncing between being excited and getting nervous. Spending time with Lone Wolf seemed to help calm them both, although the Cheyenne youth was disappointed to find out that Laura spent most of her days at school, and was only able to join the others in the afternoons. Eddie and Little Flower had both stopped going, it was decided that they would continue to study on their own as time permitted with Laura's help, but had too much going on right now to keep attending.

Jim Winchester sent word to the ranch one day that he had found out that the Wallaces had in fact made offers on two different pieces of property, and it just figured that one of them was down by the Golden Aspen, and the other wasn't far from our place. We certainly didn't want them living either place, and we responded with a request that he do everything he could to try and stop either sale from happening. Cheyenne was absolutely furious when he heard that news, and it took quite a while for me to get him to calm down. I suggested that as soon as possible, he take Eddie and Lone Wolf and go up to the mountains, the three of them could do a little hunting, and it might get his mind off the situation for a while. It might also be good for Lone Wolf, I could tell that the young man wasn't too happy with having to live on the ranch, though to his credit he didn't seem to place any blame on us for it. And Eddie needed to get his mind off the upcoming wedding, the waiting was driving him nuts.

Cheyenne did decide that before he would take the boys hunting, he wanted to go to town and send a few telegrams to some old friends of his father's, to see what help they could offer in getting any sales of land to the Wallace family stopped. There were a few things I wanted to pick up at the general store, so I left the twins with Cora and Sonora and we took Rose with us, she didn't want to be left behind. When we got to town, we left the buggy at the livery stable, and while Cheyenne headed to the telegraph office, I walked with Rose towards the general store. As we approached the front door, Lil stepped out, and I stopped for a minute to talk to her. I had noticed a woman that I had never seen before was approaching from the other direction, but I paid no attention to her at first. Lil asked me, "How have you been feeling, Mrs. Culpepper? You sure had us worried there for a while, I hope you're doing better."

Before I had a chance to reply, the woman walking towards us said, "Mrs. Culpepper? Let me guess, you're the wife of that filthy half-breed that fancies himself a rancher? How disgusting....", then out of the blue this woman reached over and slapped me, hard. I don't know who was more shocked, me or Lil, and for a second neither of us could react. But Rose didn't hesitate, she screamed at the woman, "Don't you touch my mommy, you meanie!" This evil woman then reached down and tried to slap my little girl, and that was all it took to get me going. I shoved that creature back against the wall of the general store, and punched her as hard as I could in the gut. If she wanted a fight, I was more than willing to give her one, but I wasn't going to waste my time on any pathetic little slaps! But before I could do much damage, Lil had grabbed me and Sheriff Tom, who had seen the whole thing and come running, grabbed the other woman and pulled her back far enough that I couldn't reach her.

The woman started screaming at Tom to arrest me for assault, but he just informed her, "Sorry Miss Wallace, but I saw you attack her first, if I'm going to arrest anyone it'll be you. Now you just take yourself back to the hotel and stay there until Mr. and Mrs. Culpepper leave town, or I'll have no choice but to lock you up. Git!" He let her go, and the woman stomped off in the direction of the hotel. So that was Annie Wallace? Now I understood Biblepuncher's reaction to her, and I didn't blame him one bit. Mr. Olson had heard the commotion and had come out to see what was wrong, and between him, Lil, and Sheriff Tom it took them several minutes to get me calmed down. I wanted nothing more than to follow that shrew and finish what I had started....but I did have Rose to consider, so finally I let them convince me to let it go.

I took Rose into the store so I could buy the items I'd come to get, and bought the girl a few pieces of candy to make up for what had just happened. Tom followed me into the store, and he did suggest to me that I wait until Cheyenne and I had returned to the ranch to let my husband know what had happened. "I know you were justified in what you did, but I'd really prefer to not have any more trouble. I'll do what I can to convince Ms. Wallace to take herself elsewhere, but please, no more fighting, ok?" Well, I wasn't going to make any promises, but I did tell him I'd at least try to behave myself, as long as she kept her distance. The fair was only a few days away, and I had no intention of my family having to skip it just to avoid her...

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The next morning I woke up in a daze, we hadn't gotten much sleep that night. That day we headed for Fort Collins, Cali and Rose had shopping to do and I had my mind set on blocking the Wallaces from buying land any where in Colorado. I was having a hard time focusing though, thoughts of the past night kept creeping their way into my mind.

 

Once in town Cali and Rose went their way and I went mine, I headed for the telegraph office to contact just about everyone I knew that may be able to block the Wallaces from getting a foothold in the state. That took quite a while, but I finally got done with it and started looking for Cali. It didn't take long to find her,actually they had spotted me first and Rose came running down the sidewalk and jumped into my arms, all the while shouting Daddy Daddy. "Mommy hit..." Rose started to say but Calico quickly interupted her, "Mommy hit the stores hard didn't we?" Rose screwed up her face as Calico interupted her, but like I said I was in a daze and seeing Cali didn't help that much either.

 

I left them outside the livery as I went in the fetch the buggy and as I came out I saw Calico bent down trying to tell Rose something, although Rose was holding her own, Rose finally said, "Oh, all riight!" Hmmmm, I thought, I wonder what was going on now.

 

The trip back to the ranch was pretty quiet, I could tell that Rose was just about to burst she wanted to tell me something so badly, but every time she would try to say something Calico would point out something in the distance and ask Rose what she thought it might be. I may have been in a daze, but I was begining to get the idea something had happened in town and Calico wasn't wanting to talk about it yet.

 

I kept looking toward the mountains and they lure of the hunt was beginning to swell up within me, almost bringing me out of the daze, but about the time I was really thinking about hunting I would catch a sniff of Calico again and the daze would sweep over me again. Then I started thinking why in the world had we brought Rose....

 

Finally I was able to focus on making plans to go to the mountains to hunt, perhaps Lone Wolf would agree to accompany me to hunt the way my grandfather had, would be good for Eddie too, he was getting pretty wound up with the upcoming wedding. That was it, the three of us would head for the mountains!

 

Sniff, Sniff, oh oh, here came that daze again.....

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Boy, that was close, maybe I should have thought to warn Rose not to say anything. Good thing that Cheyenne seemed a little distracted, or else he would have been asking questions. It wasn't that I felt bad about what I had done, but he probably wouldn't have been too thrilled to find out that I had been fighting again in my condition, especially after I had gotten so sick on the way back from Denver. And he would have been right, I really needed to learn to behave myself a little better.

On the way back to the ranch, he started telling me that he wanted to take Eddie and Lone Wolf to the mountains to go hunting for a few days. It sounded like a great idea to me, all I asked is that they be home in time for the fair. I thought it would do them all some good to get away for a while, I just wished I could go with them. Of course, Cheyenne and I wouldn't have any privacy if I did, but at least we still had tonight...

After dinner, the older kids went off on their own, and Cheyenne and I spent a couple of hours playing with the twins in the parlor, and that seemed to help him relax a bit. They finally got sleepy, so we put them to bed then returned to the parlor for a drink and a bit of snuggling in front of the fireplace. "I am going to miss you, even if I am looking forward to this," he told me. "I'll miss you too, but it's only for a few days, and you need a chance to get away for a while. But for now, maybe we should turn in, you and the boys will want to get an early start..." I told him. Well, I didn't need to tell him twice, he grabbed my hand and started pulling me towards the stairs, but I sure wasn't going to resist. Of course, since we were up early the next morning he didn't really get much sleep, but I knew that once they got going he probably wouldn't feel all that tired, and at least the next night he should be able to get some sleep.


The next morning, we had breakfast a little early, then the three of them started getting ready to leave. Cheyenne sure took his time kissing me goodbye, and I noticed that Eddie was doing the same with Little Flower. Lone Wolf just stood patiently off to the side, silently staring at Laura, who was watching from the porch. Obviously Laura and I were going to have to have us a little talk while they were gone. But I had other plans too, plans for a surprise that I had in mind for Cheyenne. After the men had finally left, I went to find Karl, he was aware of my idea and had promised to help.

Since there was so much building going on at the ranch right then, I knew we'd probably have a little extra lumber available, and I was going to put it to good use. Under Karl's watchful eye, some of the men started putting up a little building, not far from the back of the house. It didn't have to be too big, just big enough for an extra large bathtub, one big enough for two people. The only other request I had was that it have a fireplace. Since we couldn't use the natural water hole in bad weather, well, I wanted to have the next best thing, an indoor one that we could enjoy in the winter. The entire time the men were building it I had my fingers crossed that Cheyenne would like it!

Sadie arrived that day for her visit, unfortunately Blackjack hadn't been able to come with her. I sent Prairie Dawg and Skipper to town in the buggy to bring her back, and I was glad to see my old friend. After she had gotten settled in to one of the guest rooms, I had Little Flower and Laura both join us in the parlor for a little 'girl' talk. Little Flower was thankful to have someone to talk to about such personal things, and both her and I learned a lot that might come in handy. Laura on the other hand made it clear that she wasn't really sure why she had been included in the conversation.

"Well, honey, you are getting old enough now to start developing an interest in boys, and I have noticed at least one young man that seems to be interested in you, though I doubt he'll be the only one. At some point down the road, you'll be wanting to get married and have a family, and some of this information may be useful," I said. Laura just shook her head though, and told me, "I'm not so sure about that. I mean, I like boys well enough, but I don't think I want to get married. What I really want is to be a school teacher, and Schoolmarm told me she thinks I'd be really good at it. She's going to do everything she can to help me, but she already warned me that most schools won't hire a teacher if she's married. Schoolmarm is one of the few exceptions, and most likely because the school here is just for the ranch kids. I don't want to do anything to mess up my chance of teaching."

I had to admit, that came as a bit of a shock, as she had never mentioned it before. I knew she was a good student, Schoolmarm had told me that much and had said that Laura was very intelligent. If that's the path the girl wanted to take, it was fine with me, at some point when she was older she might meet someone that would change her mind, but if not that was certainly her choice. I was proud of her for having such a worthwhile goal, and reminded myself to talk to Cheyenne about it when he returned. If there was anything we could do to help her follow her dream, we really needed to do so. Of course, once Cheyenne did come home such a talk could wait, at least until he saw the new bath house.....

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By the third day I was getting pretty lonesome, and so was Little Flower. Having Sadie there helped a little, she and I, along with Little Flower, Cora, Sonora, and Laura (when she wasn't in school) worked together to put the finishing touches on some quilts I had made. We spent almost as much time talking as we did sewing, and that was a lot of fun. I was just glad to be able to be sewing again, Doc had finally said I didn't need the splint on my arm anymore, and to just keep it wrapped and try not to injure it again. Sometimes I think that man knew me just a little too well!

Having the splint off not only meant it was easier for me to sew, but that I could start riding again, something I had been missing very much. Doc would have preferred for me to wait a while longer on that, but I wanted so much to go for a ride, he just shook his head and told me to watch out for snakes a little better this time. After checking with Karl to make sure he didn't need me for anything for the next few hours, I headed for the barn to saddle up my autumn pony. While I was getting her ready, I had the feeling she was as anxious for a good long ride as I was. As I led her out of the barn, I saw that Biblepuncher also had saddled his horse, and he asked if he could ride along, as he wanted to talk to me in private.


We both climbed into our saddles and headed off in the direction of the tipis. While Lone Wolf was off with Cheyenne, Running Bear had gone on his own hunting trip, and I wanted to check on Two Birds and her grandfather, to make sure they were doing ok and didn't need anything. On the way, I told Biblepuncher to go ahead and tell me what was on his mind. "Well, to be honest, I wanted to let you know that I had an interesting little talk with young Rose the other day," he started. I just cringed, somehow I knew exactly what she had told him, I had warned her not to tell her daddy but didn't think at the time to ask the child not to tell anyone else.

"Now, while I'm pretty sure that Annie Wallace got what she had coming, it had made me realize ever more so than before that my presence here is putting you all in danger. Plus the idea of not being able to leave the ranch doesn't sit well with me either. Cora and I have talked, and we both agree that it's time for us to move on, and start looking for a new home elsewhere. I could never live with myself if something happened to you or Cheyenne, or even worse one of the children, because of me. I'll do what I can to help find you a new preacher, but Cora and I need to leave. We sure don't want to, but it would be best for everyone if we did."

I really didn't want him or Cora to go anywhere, and I told him so. "Now, I know this has to be hard on the both of you, but please reconsider, at least for now. Give the lawyers and the lawmen time to see if they can work this out, so you won't have to keep living like this. If you run, you might never find out if we manage to clear your name. You're a good man, and we need you, and Cora as well. You've both become like family to us, and we'll do whatever it takes to help you through this."

"I love you all like family as well, and that's why I need to go, so none of you end up having to pay for my sins. Yes, I am a sinner, I freely admit that now, and I spend ever night praying for forgiveness for all the bad things I did when I was younger. I may not have murdered that marshall, but I did send a few men to their graves, in what at the time I thought were fair fights. Now I understand that what I did was wrong, but I can't go back and change my past. I can, however, take steps to make sure I don't make the same mistakes in the future, one thing being to get out of here before the Wallaces' have another chance to send anyone out here to cause you more trouble."

Neither of us got the chance to say much more, as we were approaching the tipis and Two Birds had come out to greet us. Biblepuncher didn't speak Cheyenne and Two Birds didn't know much English so I had to translate, but at least the woman had no objection to him coming with me. As I was talking to her to find out if she was feeling ok and if there was anything they needed, I noticed that her grandfather had come out of the tipi he was sharing with Running Bear. Two Birds introduced him to us as Stands Alone, and I made sure to tell him that we were honored to have him spend the winter on our land. He slowly nodded, then looked at Biblepuncher, and motioned both of us to follow him into his tipi, saying only one word, "Come."


We went inside, and the old man followed us in, motioning again for us to sit down with him. He sat silently for a few minutes, just staring at Biblepuncher, which I could tell made the preacher a little nervous. Then Stands Alone asked me to translate his words to my friend, so I nodded, and waited for him to speak. "Your love of the Great Spirit is strong within you, young warrior, as is your love of your family. This is an honorable thing, and I admire you for it. But do no let your fears for your family cloud your judgment. As long as you continue to honor the Great Spirit, He will continue to protect you and those you love. But you must stay here, if you should leave someone you care about will die. If you stay, you and only you can prevent this bad thing from happening. This I know in my heart. That is all I can tell you, go now and think about my words, before you make your decision."

The old man then closed his eyes, and softly started chanting. I got up and left the tipi, with Biblepuncher following me. As we mounted our horses to return to the ranch house, Biblepuncher asked me, "How in the world did he know I was planning on leaving? There's no way he could have heard us talking before, we were too far away, plus Cheyenne told me that the old man's hearing isn't so good any more. He doesn't speak English anyway! And you didn't say enough words to him to have told him much if any of it. There's no way he could have known what I've been thinking, not that I doubt him, but this just doesn't make any sense!"

"Well, my friend," I told him, "you should know by now that life doesn't always make sense, at least not in the way we want it to. All I can tell you is that somehow he DID know, and you might want to do some praying about whether or not you want to take the old man's advice." Neither of us said anything else on the way back to the house, we were both lost in our thoughts about what Stands Alone had said....




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